31 August 2020

Storm Francis: wet floors

We had only just had Storm Ellen! And then Francis hit. And Francis meant business. It would be raining all day! And be windy too. It didn't matter too much. I didn't have to go anywhere! Except out for running. And then you get wet but so be it. 

It really rained. And rained! And rained. And the river was high. It wasn't coming near the garden but it looked impressive! And the little kitchen extension where the washing machine stands was burping. There is a drain there, and there is a ball valve in there. The ball valve is there to stop water coming up when the pressure is high, but it tends to burp when that happens. When it rains heavily, it smells a bit unpleasant there because of that. And a bit of water can come up!

I had heard the usual burping but hadn't paid much attention to it. I did my work and went for my run. I knew I would get soaked! So be it. I ran along the Ogwen and admired its strength. And came back in a dripping mess. But that was easily sorted out. I thought my floor by the front door showed the weather conditions well. 

Run aftermath

The Ogwen in the back garden was impressive but it is like that more often; I was so jaded I didn't even take pictures. Except from inside, to send to my sister, who had seen the Welsh forecast and wanted to know what it was like!


Heavy rain, high river

The next day I noticed some damp above the skirting board in the kitchen near the extension. Oh dear! I looked a bit more. The extension had been flooded! The water had now drained away but it had clearly been in there. Not very high! An inch or two. But still! Maybe I should raise the washing machine. I have a small pallet in the garage; maybe that should go underneath. 


River silt in the extension! But notice absence of tide line on the washing machine; the water hadn't risen high

I also looked in the garden. And I saw the riverbank, which only days ago had been a jungle with Himalayan Balsam and brambles and knotweed and whatnot, was pretty much a barren wasteland. I won't have much knotweed to inject this year! And I won't have to wrestle through much vegetation to get to it. There's not much left! 

Not much vegetation left

I also saw all the pictures on internet of many roads flooded, a local bridge closed, the A5 closed due to a big landslide, people evacuated, and whatnot. I had to reassure some people I was alright! And the neighbour came to ask too. He had gone to look at the river in the evening, with a torch, and said he'd never seen it higher. Not in the forty years he had lived here! And that's strange; normally that happens in autumn. But nothing is normal these days. But I'm not too worried. I may live right on the riverbank, but the river here is fast. It tends not to linger! But there was more to Storm Francis than I had anticipated! 

30 August 2020

Post-Thursdaynighter musings

It's been some nine months now, since I got that email that marked the end of my time with the ThursdayNighters. Enough time to reflect on things! So how do I look on it now? Well, I still get all sorts of dirty tastes in my mouth. That might last a while! But well, that's just something I will have to live with. But what is the bigger picture here? 

I've thought about this. What is it I want? I want all people to be treated like people with rights and agency. Including young women. Including by late middle-aged men who have spent their entire life mainly in environments where that is not a given. Is that ambitious? Yes. But does anything change when you are not ambitious? Probably not. So is it a worthy cause? Yes! Did I succeed? No! But at least I tried. 

So what would I do differently next time? I've thought about that a lot. The ThursdayNighters are no use here; the only type of communication they seem to be capable of is emails riddled with falsehoods and ending with 'I am not willing to talk about this'. So no idea what their side of the story is, other than that they are stroppy, don't like me doing things I'm not doing anyway, and things I am actually doing but of which I really don't see what's wrong with it and of which they are refusing to explain this, and that they don't like talking. They may be angry about more things but I can’t and won’t work with that if they won’t articulate it. Anyway; it was up to me and me alone to think about that. 

I also figured it would be a bit of an academic question. When will I ever be in a situation like that? I mean, the ThursdayNighters is an unusual environment, given that it is just a bunch of blokes who like to go underground. Not a club or society or anything. So no rules. Whatever they fancy goes! And when will I be in an unregulated environment full of blokes again? I've had my fill of that. No only do I have no plans join new club-like environments at the moment, let alone ones where I would be the only female; but in this time of Covid, joining any group is a very unlikely thing to do. So if I find myself in a blokey environment, then it'll be something much more regulated like work. I work in science, so blokey environments can't be avoided (like being the only woman on a research vessel, which I can tell you isn't ideal), but at work rules apply. If someone makes inappropriate 'jokes', you call it out, and the men rally around to bully you (much less likely in a work environment!) you can hurl a grievance procedure in their faces. In these days of digital communications, pretty much everything leaves a trail of evidence! And it's not as if grievance procedures are a panacea; history is full of women who walked that path against misogyny and only came up against even more misogyny; most companies, universities, and other bodies, are, after all, still run by men. But universities would not be keen on bad publicity. Being known to let misogyny roam free would not be good for their reputation! So at least that path is there to be walked. So I am not likely to be in a ThursdayNighter situation again any time soon, but still; one never knows, and it's worth at least having thought about it. 

So just assume I am in an environment like that again; what then? I have decided that I just acted too late. I called out many more instances of women being portrayed as creatures without rights and/or agency, but not as sexually explicit as the last one. And I always was ignored. And I shouldn't have left it there! I believed in that they were in essence decent people, be it a bit blinkered. And they would see my point at some stage. Maybe if I said it often enough. That was naïve! They just ignored me. And then the sexual assault remark came. And then it was too late. That hurt so much the damage was done. I didn't trust them anymore, but I was hoping they'd win my trust back. Naïve again; they sure didn't! And I think next time, if I would not already have left by then, I would leave now. Not much point hoping that a clique like that is going to see your point when it comes to that. And whenever someone says something upsetting like that, you lose your cool, and this time that was ruthlessly used against me; that could happen again. It's easy to condemn a somewhat raised voice in someone who you see as 'them' as unacceptable, and a response to valid criticism of 'I don't give a fuck' (festooned with gestures) from someone you see as 'us' as a completely understandable and forgivable reaction to a stressy situation. So in short, I should never again be in a position like that! But if I am, I know it's time to go. If the group would be sorry to see me go they can make the effort of trying to make me stay. 

So what would I think would have been a better approach? I suppose just gathering everybody around the first time someone makes some sexist remark, and say that I find that hurtful. And if they then still ignore what I say, I can just leave before things have gone out of hand. And they will have noticed that there are people who don't like that sort of talk. And the disadvantage is that then there will be nobody left who would call that sort of stuff out. And then it may soon become normal again. And the world would not have become a better place. But it hasn't now either! What can I say. If I can't stop the world from getting hurt I can at least stop myself from getting hurt. 

So is all bad? Well, no. I could imagine they at least have stopped not noticing misogyny! Maybe now if someone makes a remark like that they think back to this debacle. And at least be a bit more aware of it. I can't check of course! I do hope so. It's so easy to not notice nasty remarks at the expense of a demographic that's not yours, especially of you're the dominant demographic and you're not trained at it.    

And more? Well, yes! I hadn't realised I had it in me to just start an equivalent gathering myself. But I have! I have more power than I thought. 

The other thing is that I have been reminded of that when you fight, you fight alone. The only people who responded with something along the lines of  'oh dear, I didn't realise what was going on, I'm sorry' when I had sent my message out, explaining my feelings about the whole sexual assault 'joke' situation, sent that message only to me. A reply to all would have taken a stand! But nobody seems to want to be seen to support the respectful treatment of all, regardless of gender. Not in that environment. And probably not in others! But well, I'd rather continue the fight alone than give up. So bring it on. 

And as well; there is something flattering in some ten blokes not daring to face you and tell you to your face they think what you do is wrong. Yes I know they're Brits, but still! I spoke out on my own against some eight of them. And then addressed the whole rest in an email that invited response, and not one of these cowardly ones that ends with 'I'm  not willing to talk about this'. I'm a veritable superhero! Outnumber me all you want, but if I am of a mind to speak out, I will speak out. 

And lastly; as a bit of a communication junkie I struggle to cope with a situation where I'm being treated abominably but get no opportunity to defend my case. But that is just life! The people who hurl false accusations at you from the safety of a computer screen are not the sort of people who will listen patiently when you explain their accusation is false. So it’s just one of those things one has to learn to live with. And it’s hard! But the hard things are extra important to learn. So I’m still working on it, but when I get there, it will stand me in good stead forever!

So in summary? I suppose the gist is: I have not learned to fight better, but I have only increased in resolve! Where will that lead? No idea! Stay tuned... 

29 August 2020

Save the apples

It had been a bit windy; Storm Ellen had visited. It hadn't done much, but on my running route I did spot an apple tree that had keeled over. I had already been snacking from it. The apples weren't the best, but they were edible! So now it had fallen over, would the council remove it? I figured I had better come back with a bag and harvest some. One wouldn't want to let them go to waste! And so I did. As they are not the best hand apples I figured I should make apple pie. 

When I ran past a few days later later (I have several running routes) I saw that most of the tree was indeed gone! I had made the right call. Now wait for the weekend and find time to make that apple pie! 

28 August 2020

Run somewhere else

I had been running lots since lockdown! But mostly from home. Maybe even consistently from home. I can't think of a run elsewhere! And it was time for some variation. Furthermore; my car had been idle for a while and needed a ride. So two birds with one stone! I decided to run a gravel road near Rhyd Ddu. So on a rainy Sunday I drove to the village, parked, had a last snack and set off. My timing was great; the rain was stopping! I ran over the road to where the public footpath started. It was beautiful! Past an old farm, over the narrow-gauge railroad, along a slate quarry, and into the hills. The clouds were low and the path was wet, but I had anticipate that! I enjoyed it. Some bits were hard to run as the path was a stream with lots of reeds obstructing the view but so be it. And it petered out really close to the Snowdon Ranger track to Snowdon. Although most of the mountain would be in the clouds today, I could spot several clumps of people walking up. 

I didn't go all the way to the path; that would involve a slosh through a sodden-looking field, with a splash through a stream, and then a clamber up the stream bank. That's not what a run is for. I admired the view and headed back! In the car I had a well-earned sandwich. And then drove home past a big supermarket to get some supplies you can't get in Bethesda. It was a bit of a long drive for only a run, but it had been good! And after five months of none of that, I suppose, this wasn't excessive. Might do more of these variation runs! But hopefully, at least some from a bike...

Beautiful farm

Cloudy day on the narrow-gauge railway

Bronfedw slate mine spoil heaps

A sheep draws the attention away from the Snowdon Ranger path in the background

Cloudy selfie

Bronfedw from closer up

27 August 2020

Warm weather plants happy

When I write this the weather is decidedly autumnal! Bit we had some rather warm days a week ago or so. And when it's warm outside, it is warmer in my conservatory. And I have a few plants who seem to really like that. I have two aubergine plants, and two watermelon plants. They grew like the clappers! 

My aubergines had slowly grown to a serious size, but only after a week of warmth did I see flowers open. I now have my two plants in bloom! I hope that will result in aubergines. And the melons had been planted months after the aubergines, but did some serious catching up. They had been about the same size as the kale and the fennel for a while, but when the weather got warm the melons went into overdrive. The fennels are still seedlings but one of the melon plants is now thigh high! 

I hope I can move the kale and the fennel out one day, when they're a bit bigger. The melons will stay put. I don't expect melons, but I like the plants who remind me of a nice meal; I do, however, hope for aubergines. I struggle to imagine slugs liking aubergines as much as they like courgettes, and when they live indoors, they have a lot fewer slugs to contend with! So I have hope! Stay tuned...

The first aubergine flower!


The biggest melon plant

Potato harvest

I had some potato plants I had planted the first year but sort of forgot about. But this year they were coming into their own! And one day I was going to eat kale, which goes fine with potatoes, so I dug some up. It seemed to be a good time for it! And I dug up big, healthy-looking potatoes. And they tasted good! So this needs a repeat next year! A foodstuff that grows here, that I like, and that the slugs don't like (or can't get to); what's not to like? 


26 August 2020

Tony Dyson

We have a local hero and I had never heard of him! Maybe because I wasn't around in the late fifties. And only interested in Bangor history since having moved to this area. But I am around now and there is always something to learn. So who is this hero? Some of my friends might think 'oh yeah, Tony Dyson, the bloke associated with R2D2' but that's not who I mean. We have our own, non-star-wars-associated Tony Dyson here. So how did I find out? There was an email going out to University staff that there would be a Zoom meeting, called 'panad with Pride' (panad being a cuppa), organised by the Bangor University LGBTQ+ society, during which a scholar from South (!) Wales would talk about the Gay history of Bangor. And for the initiated, clearly not me, that meant: at least mention of Tony Dyson. 

Dyson was actually a London-born man! But he chose Bangor to take up an academic position in English literature. And he didn't restrict himself to literature. He was gay and wasn't happy with the fact that that was illegal (or at least, putting it into practice was). And he wasn't going to hide that view. Au contraire! He was going to shout it off the Bangor rooftops. And he did that well. He managed to rally loads of politicians to his side. And with patience and insistence he managed to get his way, be it that it took a decade. In 1967 gay sex (if consensual, private and not involving men under 21) stopped being illegal. Success! And was it perfect? No clearly not; why the difference in age of consent with the straights? But it was 1967. And it was a massive step forward! And I didn't know this man had been so pivotal in that change. One learns! 

If you read up on the history of a place, you might end up just reading about straight white cisgender able-bodied men. And this sort of talks is important to address that imbalance! The speaker had actually published a book: A small gay history of Wales, and I should read it, but then again. I should read so much, and I have barely read books at all since lockdown. So maybe I should first address that imbalance, and then go order and read that book! I will learn more.  

File:A E Dyson.jpg

Tony Dyson

25 August 2020

From berries to plums

Summer is progressing, and the berry season came to an end a while ago! The black currants ran out first. After that, the goosberry shrub yielded another load. My last berry dish was actually some black currant compote I had frozen to stretch the season out a bit. But it had to come out of the freezer as other things needed to go there. So that was the very end of it! But when the berries go, the plums come in! The tree was having ripe fruit. And if you just eat the plums raw, it gets a bit dull at some point. So I decided to give my plums the berry treatment: bake them into something and have them with coffee. So I did! And it worked. And I think that I might have to do that again, or make a batch of compote, with the remainder. And then the plum season will have gone. This wasn't a bumper year! But then the apple tree will take over. I like these apples as hand apples! And apples keep better than soft fruit. But I think I'll turn some of them into the occasional apple pie anyway! Especially damaged ones, as these don't keep very well. And then it'll be autumn and I'll go back to buying all my fruit! 

24 August 2020

Furniture for the garage

When I got the garage more or less in order, I did place quite a lot of stuff on the floor. Not much choice! There was one shelving unit bit that was full soon. Then there were some shelves in the back. They were full soon too. And I stacked the firewood high. That helped! But I still had lots of stuff on the floor. And I happened to mention that to Kate when I saw her in association with a walk. And she said she was trying to find a new life for a cupboard! Or two, really. So that matched up nicely. And the Tuesday after she came to bring them! We put the bits in the garage. 

By Saturday I set to work. It's hard to put big furniture together on your own! But I have practiced. So I managed to get the first planks in with the cupboard standing up. That was not a very good idea. The thing came with these wossnames that you need to turn with a screwdriver (no, not screws) and the bottom shelf, some two inches off the floor, needed that doing too, from underneath. So I had to lay it down! Could as well have done that straight away. Oh well. At least I now could get the doors on easily. And then it came up again! And I could put the loose shelves in! It was done! There seemed to be a shelf left over but that seemed not to be a problem. I suppose I could get more of these pegs and then add it. Even though it seemed to already have sufficient shelves. Anyway; I put my paint and accoutrements in the new cupboard and decided it was time for a run. 

When I got back I started on the other one. That was smaller and thus easier! It was up in no time. But I had so many shelves left over But not normal ones. They had funny asymmetric fixings. I pondered it a bit. Then I figured maybe they were separate items. You could make two side tables with the left-over bits! But they were still a bit weird. They had fixings for being attached to something. And then I remembered the funny tops of the cupboards; they had excessive-looking fixings too. I figured the extra bits were an optional top shelf for people with high ceilings! But I couldn't fit that under my ceiling beams. Nor would I be able to reach these top shelves. I decided to stick with the side table option. I could have plants on them in the conservatory! So that was me done. I will have to do some reorganisation now to use this new cupboard space! I hope I get everything tidier! 

The raw materials

First important steps taken!

Going horizontal after all


The small cupboard (yes I know, uneven shelf spacing)

The extra bits: side tables? 

They could probably be fixed to these! 

23 August 2020

Improve the air quality of the guest bedroom

When I had wondered about the damp problem in what is now my home office, I had considered lack of air circulation as the culprit. And I had found out the air vent didn't actually vent anything. So I took off the vent, found the channel blocked, had it swept, and found it didn't solve the damp problem. But it did improve the air quality! And since then, the musty smell of the other room had been conspicuous. So I needed to move the bed to the side, get that vent cover off too, get the channel swept, and put a different vent cover back. So I took off the old vent, chucked it, saw the mess behind it, and called the chimney sweep. And while waiting for him I bought a new vent, sawed it to size, and tried it in position. And started to tidy up. The old vent hadn't come down without taking some plasterwork with it! 

The chimney sweep got three bags of gunk out. Then I could clean up, touch up the paint, put the cover back, and put the bedroom back in order. I hope that will be the end of the stale air there! 

What it looked like initially when I took the cover off

Chimney sweeps in action

Their dog waiting eagerly in the car (full screen mode needed)

Looking smart again! And now actually letting air in! 

22 August 2020

Students have picked their topics - in summer!

It had been an exciting time! I had been told the dissertation module had to move to the first semester. And  if the students start in September, they need to have their topic in September. But that means allocating the topics before then. And having the students indicate their preferences in summer. And I've never asked a whole cohort of students to do something like that in summer! But 2020 is a year of firsts I suppose. So I had got the topics together, provided documentation, and asked the students to fill out the topic choice form. I had set a mid August deadline for form submission. 

I had been nervous about this! Can you assume that students read their university emails over summer? Email seems to be for old people these days. And would they be angry about this infringement of their summer? So many ways in which this could be unpleasant! But I could see the hits go up on the documentation, and the number of filled out forms. 

Students are also welcome to design a topic themselves; this year, the uptake was low. Would this have to do with the students not being around each other, around staff, around the library, et cetera? We may never know. There were a fair few submitting a draft, but I've never approved a first version. The research question tends to require a bit more specification, and the data tends to need a bit more clearly identified too. And some students decided to stick to the provided list of choices after they realised how much work it would be to get their own design up to scratch. 

Quite close to the deadline I could finally release the module website. Central services had added the students to it! It felt really good to have such a structured and familiar platform to share information. It had been a bit improvised so far. 

Then the deadline came. How many would miss it? I did remind the students several times. But there still were some that just hadn't submitted. So I had to double my efforts! I mailed all who hadn't submitted. And I contacted student administration if there were some people I didn't expect. The class list tends to still change a bit over summer! With students either deciding if they'll go on a placement year, or doing resits because they hadn't passed the year the first time around, or things like that. I had just mailed everyone who might pass the 2nd year and who might not go on a placement year next year. Covid complicates placements too! 

The next move was to publish the list of indicated choices: for practical and technical reasons, I ask the students to give the numbers of the topics they want. But it's easy to mean topic 43 and accidentally click topic 44! So there needed to be some time for a check. And while that happened, I could start collating it all into one big workable spreadsheet, and chase up the latecomers. 

My list of non-submitters shrunk. Good! But I wanted it down all the way. The university gives us access to the students' telephone numbers, and I am a bit hesitant using these, as I can imagine that their lecturers coming in through their phones is the last thing students want, especially in summer, but here I figured the damage of them not picking topics would outweigh the potential damage of their irritation. And after two rounds of attempts I had the non-submitter list down to just one! And one student is feasible to just squeeze in at the last minute. I don't know what more to do. I can hardly go and visit them! So I'll leave it here. 

Now I have to start the big job: allocate all students a topic... it's not a pleasant job but it needs doing! And I've never got it out of the way this early in the year. So I should get it done and enjoy that for the rest of the academic year! I may even find a few days for myself after this is done... 

21 August 2020

Stairs project entirely done now!

The slipperiness of my garden stairs had bothered me from the start. I had done some attempts to do something about it but I had not been convinced by anything! Until I tried fine gravel and epoxy. It seemed to work a treat on the wood stairs! And I had done a trial bit on a loose piece of slate. With success. So one sunny day I sieved out a bit more sand, dried it, made the last batch of epoxy, and tackled the slate part of the stairs. The slate never gets as slippery as the wood! But wet slate can still be treacherous. So I hoped my last epoxy would do me for these steps too. And it did! When I was done, the entire flight of stairs was festooned with grippy strips. I'm so happy with this! It's now a pleasure to come down there stairs, even in the rain. Success, at last! 



20 August 2020

First three household walk!

The rules has actually been relaxed a week earlier, but we had not all been available. So a week after it had become legal, the usual suspects were out on the hills again! Kate and Fiona were both up for a scamper. And they had been OK with my suggestion of having a look at the Penmaenmawr abandoned stone quarry. Good! That has been on my wish list for a long time. Fiona, ever a sucker for some archaeology, suggested to tag on a detour to the nearby Druid's Circle. That sounded good! 

Kate would drive past my house to get to the meeting point, so she picked me up. And in Llanfairfechan we met Fiona. And we were off! She knew the way. 

It was a nice walk through lovely countryside to get to it. The first structures we saw were a tiny reservoir, and some adjacent machinery. Cool! The we walked around the hill to the actual quarry. And the views were amazing! We had coffee there. And then we went a level or two down. That's not all the way, but we don't have to do it all on one go! There was much to see and the weather was amazing. But when we sat down for lunch it was becoming rather hot. So we decided to ditch the Druid's circle. We just walked back. And we were rather sweaty when we got there! 

The funny thing is, that we hadn't done this since late March. It was mid August now! You would think it'd feel very special. But it didn't! We just carried on where we had left off, in these distant times where we didn't know lockdown would be more than three weeks and when a cold wintery wind still blew over the hills. And it wasn't just me; I asked the others too if they thought it felt normal. And they said it did! But let's hope we can get a few of these in. It's far from unthinkable we'll get a second wave and will have to go back to solo walks. So let's enjoy this while it lasts! 

The machinery near the reservoir

Kate and Fiona staring into the depths


Drumhouse seen from incline

Pretty thistles

You can see the active quarry from there

19 August 2020

Disaster tourist

We had a spectacular thunderstorm recently! In essence, it was the same weather system (I think) that was associated with the fatal train accident in Scotland. It went like the clappers! The thunderclaps were ear-splitting and the rain (plus hail! In the middle of a heatwave) was torrential. I could imagine that causing trouble. And it has: the day after I saw on internet there had been a landslide on the old road to Ogwen Cottage. That's where my running route goes! My longer route, that is; I have a shorter loop in the other direction. But with this landslide there and my disaster tourist instincts alive I decided this would be a long run day, in spite of the heat. So it was! I plodded to the site. Crikey! A lot of mud had come down. And rocks. It must have been majestic to see that all come down. No damage to the road, but for now it had so much schloop on it only very well-driven 4WDs would get through. I'm sure the council will clear it up soon! Bit for now, that very quiet road is even quieter than before... 

You can trace the scar quite far up on the hillside

Impassable road! For 'normal' cars...

A sheep inspects the situation

18 August 2020

Quarantine-free period over

When I had my trip to the Netherlands, I figured I had managed to use a window of opportunity that could close any time! And indeed; about two weeks after my return the window has closed. It's only been open for some six weeks or so. Now people coming back from the Netherlands will have to self-isolate again! I'm so glad I went when I did. 

I have UK-based friends who currently are in the Netherlands. They are less lucky! I offered to do their shopping for them if they need that. We'll see! And they'll be financially OK as they're working at home anyway, but I could imagine they get cabin fever if they can't leave their house. And their garden isn't huge...  

Unexpected meal from my own garden

I had wondered if I would ever have a full meal of veg from my own garden! The cabbage is doing well, but still not cabbage-shaped. It's just loose leaves! And the slugs get to the courgettes first. I did eat one; this wasn't slug-eaten, but the end was getting slushy so I decided to eat the rest before the whole thing would turn to mush. An I have chard in containers but you need half a garden full of the stuff before you have a full meal. At least in my experience!

I had hoped, early on, on a meal of peas, but you need loads of them for that. I had so far just harvested whatever peas were ripe if I was having a meal (say, Thai Green Curry) that would be enhanced by a handful of fresh peas. That was nice! But not the same. But one has to appreciate what one has. So one day I was about to eat spaghetti, and the sauce would benefit from some peas. So I set out harvesting! And then I shelled them. And the pile of peas kept growing! So by the time I was done it was clear I should reconsider my meal ideas. And I put the spaghetti back where it came from and boiled potatoes! To have a plain potato-and-veg meal, but with home-grown peas. I was chuffed! It finally happened, when I wasn't expecting it! 

Home grown pea meal! 

17 August 2020

Grades debacle

When I was young, everything was simpler! Or maybe I should say: when I was young, I lived in the Netherlands, and some things are (or at least were) simpler there. In my time, only medical degrees had a student cap. And for all the other degrees you might want to study, you only needed to have the A levels required. I don't even know if all degrees demanded any specific ones. I think that for studying physics, you needed physics and mathematics. Mind you; my school wouldn't let you do physics without mathematics, as the latter is the language in which to express the former, and that might have been a national rule. So just pass these A levels and you can just pick a university to go to. They would take you! Doesn't matter if you scraped through, or got the best grade in the country. Mind you; I found out myself how unwise it is to go and study a topic that you already had to work hard for in secondary school. Bad idea! If that takes an effort, university will kill you. Or at least, kill your ambitions in that direction. But with these A levels you get into geology too. I didn't do anything like geology or geography in my A levels but that was OK. You couldn't do geology in my school anyway. And geography was focussed on human geography, so no use for Earth Sciences. Anyway, the rest is history! 

Here all is different. The various universities have various entry requirements. A certain grade will get you into one university but not another. So your grades matter! It's not a matter of 'pass or fail' like it was in my time. So no A level being sat was a big deal. How to determine someone's grades? Because, as I said, they matter! So the government coming up with some algorithm that would adjust the grade estimates of the teachers, generally down, and sometimes by a lot, caused uproar. The Scottish governments swiftly did a U-turn. The universities had already been informed of the grades. In England, there seems to be some juddering behemoth of an appeal procedure in place. We will see. 

I'm not impressed. The A level exams were cancelled in March! It should be possible to have thought of a good way to come up with grades a bit earlier. Not afterwards. Or in the very week of release. And it is typical the results, over several years, of the entire schools are used to recalculate the grades. So if you're in a school that doesn't do so well, you may be the most brilliant student ever, but you won't get good grades! And if your school has massively improved recently, that effect is largely undone by taking the pre-improvement results into consideration. There is no shortage of people pointing out that this is a system that advantages advantaged people. If your school does well, you can be a weak student but still get a good grade on the coat-tails of your more academic peers! Oh well. When they made Gavin Williamson education secretary I stopped having high expectations. Well actually I did when Johnson became PM. Either way! And there is no shortage of people pointing out that a process like this, that would elevate untalented but privileged people, would be exactly what would get men like that into jobs like that...

PS That post didn't age well! The day I published it, the English government made a U-turn. Not very unexpected as they do it all the time, and rather late for the students. But better late than never... 

16 August 2020

Project lamp

I think lighting is important! It really makes a difference for the atmosphere of a place. I like low and warm light. So I tend to have reasonably bright lamps in my ceiling lights, for when I'm doing pragmatic things, and smaller lights with less power spread around. In the living room, I had a lantern (another one of this type) hanging between the two windows. It was lovely! But recently it had been playing up. It would come on, but then start fluctuating, and then went out. What was that? I associate fluctuating light levels with fluctuations in power, but then all lights do it. This was just one! And I figured it wouldn't be the bulb, as bulbs either work or they don't, right? I wondered if it was a loose contact or something. I did some googling and that was suggested. I did wiggle the cable as much as I could to see if that did anything, and it didn't but I couldn't get to where the cable was connected to the lamp holder, and that was probably the crux. 

So how to take this thing apart. There was a nut at the bottom! A good place to start. It didn't turn easily. I managed to fix the lamp in my workmate so I could get good purchase. I did manage to turn the nut, but it turned taking its thread with it! That's no use. Now what? I pondered all sorts of options. Then I decided to ask Facebook. 

After a while, people pointed me in the other direction. The lamp holder itself! There were two slots in it. You could shove the prongs of pliers in them and fix it that way. Then you could turn the nut! And that did it! But then what? I had a look at the contacts. They looked fine. Wiggling didn't do anything. And you couldn't take the lamp holder apart. Not that I could see, anyway (does that say much?). So now what? 

Then someone suggested it may have been the bulb all along. These LEDs are not like incandescent bulbs; these either work or they don't. LEDs can be temperamental! So I thought I'd plonk another one in. I thought I'd screw the evidently working (and identical) bulb out of the lamp on the writing desk. And promptly pulled it in two! Crikey. Another one down. I found another bulb and put it in the deconstructed lamp. And of course, it worked. I could have saved myself a lot of hassle! But I have now learned about LEDs, and have become sceptical about the type I'd been using. Lots have been playing up! The quality seems not to be very good. Disappointing. And I learned about how to get one of those pesky lamps apart. One day I might want to indeed change the lamp holder! Now I know how. And I have my light back! I really missed it... 

The nut that baffled me

Taken apart!

15 August 2020

Project stairs: the real deal

The decision had been made! After a trial of two substances with which I could stick fine gravel to my garden stairs to make them less slippery when wet, I had decided on epoxy resin. Time to make a batch, and set to work! I had fine gravel waiting. 

I followed the instructions; heat up the epoxy, poor it in to a container, add the hardener, stir, apply. Or at least that's how I remembered it. All went well! I applied the epoxy and sprinkled the gravel over it. All went well. I noticed after a while the epoxy was steaming or smoking; that was not unexpected as the manual had pointed out that the reaction between the two components is exothermic. But it seemed to go a bit fast! And between the fourth and the fifth step, suddenly my epoxy has set. What? It is supposed to have a 48 hour setting time or so! What's this? And then I remembered that in the instructions, you have to let the epoxy stand for ten minutes after you've pored it. That's to get the air bubbles out. But inevitably, it cools down during that time. I didn't care about bubbles so I hadn't waited. But maybe my liquids had been too hot! I had not used up all the epoxy, so I threw that batch away and, after lunch, made a smaller second batch, for the remaining step and a half. 

This time I didn't heat the epoxy. And all went well! And I had some left, so I glued some gravel to a piece of slate too. Would this trick work on slate too? Would the epoxy hold? I would find out! If so, then I could do the slate steps too! That would be great, as slate can be quite slippery too. watch this space! There may be another stairs related post to come... 

My suddenly set batch of epoxy; I was just in time to get the brush out



The trial piece of slate

14 August 2020

Short walk into local cwm

I run into Nant Ffrancon at least once a week. In a good week, I do it many times! And I always see the small cwms above me, and I had only been in one. And I had figured I could do a few more in busy times. Bike to the start of the walk, scoot up the hill, explore the cw, come down again, bike home. Sounded spiffing! And one day I suggested it to Fiona for a Saturday walk and she was up for it. We agreed to meet on the old road. I'd bike in! 

It would be a very sunny day! I had packed my sunscreen. And I biked down. I had chosen my office bike to see how it would cope with the steep bits of Lon Las Ogwen. I was a bit late so I rode fast. And hit a rock. And felt my tyre go floppy. Oops! I phoned Fiona that I would be a bit late. 

With a bit of a delay we set off. And between Snowdonia Cottages and Maes Caradoc farm we scrambled up. When we got quite high we started traversing. And then the cwm came into view! It was beautiful. Well worth the trek! And it had several sheep folds. And quite a few scramblers heading for the ridge. Not us; we had planned to just traverse out again. We sat down for lunch. Very nice!

We had planned to traverse into Cwm Ceunant but it was a bit uncomfortable going. There is no path as far as we were aware! So we decided to come down just downvalley of Snowdonia cottages. I'd been in Cwm Ceunant before so no particular need to visit that! So we cut it short a bit. And the rocks there were amazing. We had seen the amazing ripples from a distance, but now we also saw them up close. And there were so many trace fossils! Tracks of worms and trilobites and who knows what else. And some sedimentary structures. Great! That made scrambling down the uncomfortable slope a lot better. 

When we were down again Fiona drove me home with my flat tyre. A short but nice walk! And if I ever want to ogle more trilobite tracks I know where to go now. I'd seen some on the other side of the valley, but on this side the place is just littered with the things! And I've learned to not be snooty about small bike rides and have a puncture kit with me even if I bike less than five kilometres... 

A sheep shows how effective these walls are in keeping sheep in

Fiona in front of the Atlantic slabs

Me on a rather geometric rock; pic by Fiona

In full page view you can see the big ripples

Trace fossils

More trace fossils