04 March 2021

Back to Llyn Bochlwyd

 When I decided to try out my biking skills, I wanted to do something with the distance I would cover. So I decided to go for a walk from Ogwen cottage. I decided on a little loop to Llyn Bochlwyd. I first walked to Llyn Idwal, and then scampered up the hill where I had never realised there was the faint trace of a path. It was nice to see some new terrain, even though it wasn't much! I drink my coffee on the slope overlooking a sunny Nant Ffrancon. And after a while I got to the lake. It was lovely and beautiful and there was no one there. I had lunch there. I hadn't been in years!

From there I just went back to my bike. It wasn't a long walk, but it was nice. And my dad had his birthday! I wanted to phone him. So I didn't want to be home too late. It was a nice walk anyway!

Nant Ffrancon and Llyn Idwal seen from an elevated position


Tryfan looming over Llyn Bochlwyd


Walking around the lake


Sunny selfie


I couldn't resist this picture of the water fall

03 March 2021

Arms good enough for bike again

I don't think I have ever spent a year biking so little as I have done in the past year, or at least not since I learned to ride a bike. So when I got serious RSI, I didn't immediately realise it hampered my biking. It took a while for an opportunity to arise to make that clear! But in the beginning, pretty much everything hurt, including holding on to handlebars. I did a few very short rides to the start of a walk, but wearing wrist splints, and these actually combine really badly with handlebars. So the bike ended up gathering even more dust.

When I spoke with my second physiotherapist, he recommended that I give it a try again. And I did! But it was still uncomfortable, especially on steep bits. So I avoided these. What I sometimes did, though, was bike to the end of Gerlan and park there, to make sure I could do the last bit of any walk in the south-western Carneddau quickly and comfortably on a bike. The bit on asphalt is not very scenic, and after a walk sometimes my feet are a bit sore, and doing 20 minutes or so on asphalt is then the last thing you want. And that is only a few minutes on bike so even if it wasn't particularly comfortable, I would sometimes do it. And I had been keen to try if I would be able to do a reasonable bike ride again after several weeks of physiotherapy, but the weekends were so atrocious I postponed it.

Then there was beautiful weekend. Time to give it a go again! So I took my bike and went over the old road to Ogwen cottage. And it worked! My arms were okay with this, both on the steep bits up and the steep bits down. I was really chuffed!

The implications of this are twofold; one, my action radius is bigger now. I can do walks again that start at Ogwen cottage, for instance. That helps! And two: it is legal to exercise with someone else again, but you have to exercise from home. I haven't done this yet! But now that I know I can bike reasonable distances, I can go and organise with a friend that we both bike to some location in between where each of us lives, and then bike a bit together as well. It would be nice! I haven't socially seen people for a while, except the old accidentally bumping into someone on a hillside. So I might be able to widen my horizons both physically and socially now!

Parked at Ogwen cottage; notice they even have parking for electric bikes!



02 March 2021

Spring!

We had had a lot of snow this winter. And after the snow came torrential rain and heavy winds. It had been rather unpleasant! The first day of good weather was the day I installed the catflap. That day I decided to have lunch in the garden for the first time this year. It was lovely! And then a strange week followed: on Monday, when I was in the field, it was amazing weather. Then on Tuesday and Wednesday we went back to heavy rain and wind. And then on Thursday it was great again, and it stayed that way for days! And the forecast was for more! It finally felt like spring. And the second lunch in the garden happened. I think it will be the first two of many! And of course the weather can turn again; after all, the Beast from the East hit in March. Something like that can happen again! But for now I am enjoying this renewed acquaintance with my garden. And with the sun!


01 March 2021

First time this semester: in the field with the students

It had been a while! The last time I had been in the field with students it had been at the start of the first semester. We had gone to Llanddwyn; the traditional first trip of our fieldwork module. By the time we did the second trip of the series, I was already off sick. Now we were doing the third and I was back!

It wasn't going to be a big trip; it was only timetabled from noon onwards, and we were never going to get the full cohort of students. Some were undoubtedly shielding, some might not be on campus, for some both might hold; and it wasn't a big group to start with. But it would be difficult enough as it was given this restrictions. We can only transport ten students in a coach, and you can't rock up at a location with lots of coaches as the locals will get spooked.

For this trip, we had booked two coaches. Some of the students would drive themselves. I would meet the coaches on campus and accompany them to our site. But shortly before I would leave I got an email; another student had pulled out, and we would only have 10 students. So that would only require one coach! But two appeared. To be on the safe side, I asked the second coach to wait until we were ready to leave. In the end, only eight students showed up! So the second bus could indeed just go wherever it wished. And I followed the other coach to Cemaes.

We were there to look at a mélange associated with an old subduction zone, a thrust fault, a fossil stromatolite, Ordovician gravels lying on top of Precambrian quartzite, and some more things. Quite a lot of the history of that subduction zone and how it stopped being that and changed into a thrust zone. Interesting stuff! And we had great weather for it; this could not be taken for granted. We had had amazing weather that same Monday in the field, but that Tuesday the weather had been absolutely atrocious, and a fieldtrip involving other staff and students had had to be called off. The Wednesday was quite rainy and windy as well! But we were out on the Thursday, and it was amazing again. You don't often get that lucky.

We make sure to stay 2 m apart and wear masks, but then we were on the beach and we could start talking geology. It was lovely! The previous time we had done this trip we could walk all the way around, but that had been when we had the entire day. So we walked back to the bus and then walked to the last location from there. And then time was up!

I think it went well! I never felt like we were taking risks with Covid, and the students were engaged, and the weather helped. I am looking forward to the next one already!

Getting ready for geology at the White Lady


Looking from the viewpoint over Patrick's well to the Ogof Cynfor headland


Dei gesturing wildly inspired by a Palaeozoic dike


Full moon over the bay



27 February 2021

Unusually sunny day filming in the field

We had decided that a module with 80 students is not a module with which you can easily do a fieldtrip, so we had decided to go virtual for our usual two days in the field. That plan had already brought us to a rainsoaked and windswept Cwm Idwal, and now it would take us to Red Wharf Bay. The module is Earth, Climate and Evolution, and the fieldtrips deal mainly with the first two of these.

This time, the weather couldn't reasonably have been any better. It was still February, but there was an almost cloudless sky! It was a little bit windy, but not too bad. This time it would only be Jaco and me, and the photographer. Katrien was otherwise engaged.

When I drove up I was met by Jaco who informed me that we couldn't park where we normally do, but he had found a layby that did the job too. While we walked up I received the result of the Covid test I had done on the way up; negatives, of course. Later that week I would go into the field with students, and I would have to be able to show I wasn't infected.

Because of the tide Jaco wanted to walk all the way to the end and then do all the filming on the way back, but we started with taking some drone footage, as we weren't sure the conditions would stay that good. There is a big lump of limestone towering over the bay, and only a drone can take a nice good look.

The beach looked amazing!

When that was done we went to the end. There I did a little introduction, and then it was time to go look for some of the most recent deposits there (except modern beach sand, of course): Devensian till. Jaco had chosen to walk the slippery way. I'm not keen on falling on my face, so I avoided the seaweed, and got to the till without difficulty. The photographer wasn't far behind. I decided we had better use the time efficiently and just record a spiel about the glacial deposits without Jaco. I was just done when he reappeared. At least he hadn't slipped on the seaweed and got into trouble! He had just got distracted by nice fossils. A much more cheerful reason to go AWOL for a while.

We then went on to the best part of the beach; an ancient karst landscape with weird sandstone plugs, with adjacent a cliff made up of very organic shale, overlain by more sandstone and limestone. The contact between the shale and the sand is absolutely riddled with trace fossils! Here both Jaco and I did a spiel. I did the karst and he did the cyclothem, and the trace fossils.

The best part of the beach

Jaco talking about stratigraphy

Dragon isThen the best bit was over! We rounded things off by pointing out some fossil coral, and a weird layer of solifluction deposits. Jaco decided that he would record a voice over for the drone footage of the limestone cliffs; no point recording that standing on the ground. So that meant we were done!

Even though it had been a lovely sunny day with beautiful geology, I was glad we could call it a day; this way I could pop by the lab to pick up face masks for the next trip, and then get another Covid test, as the University requests two of these before any face-to-face contact. And that worked! I think the students will regret not having been on this trip, as quite unlike the previous outing, this one must have looked amazing in the recordings. But I think the University would not have been thanked if it would have sent many tens of students swarming over this rather popular spot!















26 February 2021

Cat flaps sorted: cat outside

The second weekend the cat had lived here I had removed the old cat flap from the kitchen door. That's as far as I managed to get! So the third weekend it was time to make more progress. I could tell she was keen to go outside. And after two weeks she probably would feel sufficiently at home here to not immediately run away. I was a bit nervous; what if she did run away after all? What if something would spook her, and she just ran away in an arbitrary direction, only to not find her way back? But I had to take the risk. I couldn't keep her indoors forever.

On the Saturday, it was atrocious weather. Fine weather to sort out the catflap in the door to the conservatory. So I started on that. I cut a hole in the door, and try to fit the old catflap I had removed from the kitchen door in. It was a bit of a precision job. The screws with which you are supposed to attach it are about 2 mm from the hole, if that, so while if the hole is not big enough the catflap doesn't work, if you make it only marginally bigger, you can fix it to the door any more. So that was a bit of a faff. But I got it done! And there soon as the hole was in the door, the cat realised what this was for and started hopping through it. When the catflap was in place, that did not deter her; even though it was a bit frictional, she just pushed through. She clearly knew the concept.

I did start drilling holes in the plastic panel of the conservatory, and I started a little bit with the sawing, but I didn't continue as I knew that in order to finish the work I would have to be outside as well. And I didn't want to do in that weather! So that was postponed until the Sunday, which was supposed to be a lot nicer.

On the Sunday, after breakfast, I set to work. I started sawing away. I remained undisturbed, as sawing in a PVC panel with thermal insulation in it makes a terrible racket. The cat didn't like that.

I had to do a bit of filing to make the catflap fit through. But it was good it was a bit tight! That meant the thermal insulation hadn't been too much compromised.

Before I had installed it, I had put batteries in it and bribed the cat with cheese to stick her head in. It was one of those with a chip detector. Given how brazen the neighbourhood cats poo in my garden, I figured they might also brazenly stomp into my house if I would give them the chance. So this catflap only lets Mevrouw Moor in!

By the time I was installing it I had stopped making a lot of noise, so the cat came to have a look what was on. And out she went! I wasn't even finished and she was already at it. I dropped my tools and went with her.

She was careful! She didn't start running away. She just carefully checked out the environment. And after a while, she carefully went down the stairs. I followed. She explored in the direction of the apple tree. I followed. And then the neighbour's dog noticed I was in the garden! That always inspires him to come barking to the fence. That's his way of demanding cuddles! But the barking spooked the cat. She was back up the stairs in a flash.

I was very relieved to see her behind the conservatory door when I came up too! She was a sensible cat, and she had run straight back into the house when she was scared. Excellent!

She didn't stay inside for long, though. She was out again in no time! And she explored the garden of a neighbour, and the area in front of the house. She is the explorer type!

I noticed she never stayed outside very long. Maybe she just wanted to stay close to me! Or maybe she still found it a bit scary. I'm sure she'll make bigger forays later in spring, when I am outside a bit more myself. But the first day was a success. I'm glad!

How it started

Inspection


I wasn't even done installing it!


Sawing a hole in one's house


Ready for the catflap!


Again; before I was really finished installing


Out exploring!



25 February 2021

Creating a memento

 I am convinced that there is nothing anyone can say or do that helps against the pain of your child dying. I am also convinced that some things can make things worse. I could imagine that no one marking the passing of your child would be one of those things. So when the International Office of the University invited people who had known our student who had died to send a message of sorts to the parents, I wanted to make a gesture. I wanted to create something tangible as a message from the country where their daughter had gone. Something that had something to do with what she was studying here. And I decided to send them a shell of an ocean quahog (Arctica islandica), which is a very long-lived species of clam. As they live so long, they are beloved by people who try to make very high-resolution climate records. You can just count their annual growth lines, so you have absolute age control. And the calcite documents things such as temperature.

I had to personalise it, of course; I wanted her name on it. But I assumed her parents would think of her in Chinese characters. So I asked the International office if they knew what that would look like, and of course they did. So I did my best engraving them on the shell. I was a bit nervous; what if you get it slightly wrong and the character then starts meaning something else? But I think I stayed so close to the instructions it really reads like her name.

I don't think this gesture will make a huge difference, but if it gives them the faintest comfort then it will have been worth it!



24 February 2021

Dutch elections

I became eligible to vote in 1993. I could put that right into practice the following year in my first parliamentary elections, which were won by Labour. In 2007 I left the country, never to return (so far, at least). All that means that I have spent approximately half my electoral life abroad. But I'm not giving up my Dutch vote. And there were elections again.

I know it is weird to vote in a country you haven't lived in for a long time, but given that I can't vote in the country I do live in, I'll take this.

I had already received my voting card; the piece of paper you sign to confirm it was you who voted by post. And recently, I was emailed the actual document with which you vote. These documents used to be more fun; in the olden days, you got a piece of paper the size of a newspaper with all the eligible people on it. But they had reconsidered! Now you just have to indicate which party you are voting for, and the number on the party's list of the individual you want your vote to go to. So I had to dive back into Dutch politics to find out who I will be voting for. It's not a big surprise; I tend to end up with the same party every time. And then I had to pick someone to individually vote for. I tend to go for the first non-white woman whose blurb I like. I've explicitly voted for women for a long time. I want women's voices to be heard in Parliament! And I also think the Dutch Parliament doesn't have enough non-white people in it. And my one vote won't make a difference, but it's all I can do. Should I have gone for the first non-white LGBTQ woman whose blurb I liked? Maybe. It's not as if the gay voice is sufficiently heard. I'll consider that for next time. I didn't this time!

Next month we will know that everybody else has been voting. I hope the results are satisfactory!




23 February 2021

House a pub after all

I had mentioned before that the previous owner of my house had said that the place had been a pub. She even knew the name: the Territorial Arms. I had tried to look up information about this pub. I had googled myself silly, and found nothing. I had done a Welsh class in local history, and asked the bloke who gave the course if he had any idea. He was a local historian, after all! But he couldn't find anything either.

I had also gone to the county archives. I had enlisted the archivists, and still nothing turned up. I had started to believe it was an apocryphal story.

And then something happened. For reasons of practising my Welsh, I tend to speak to a linguist every Friday. And this Friday we ended up talking about houses. And I mentioned the pub thing to him! And he said something along the lines of "let me googled that for you", and immediately found something. After our chat he emailed me the January 2011 edition of the local newspaper. And it had an article in it by a very famous local writer/editor (he is a specialist on Caradoc Prichard), about this area of Bethesda. And he mentions the Territorial Arms! And he explains exactly where it is, and that is exactly the location of my house! I was so excited. It was true!

I was also feeling a bit inadequate. I had spent so much effort looking for just that information, and it took him some 10 seconds. He even has quite bad eyesight! But being excited about this new-found knowledge outweighed the sense of inadequacy.

The next thing I did was ask on the village Facebook page if anyone knew any more. Now I had evidence it was true, I wondered if some of the villagers knew more. When was this house a pub? Had it been run by the ancestors of anyone still living here, and did they know that? Did anyone know who the people were who had scratched their names into the hearth stones?

As I write this, no new information has been uncovered, but now I have a start maybe I'll find more in due time. I hope so!

From Llais Ogwan, January 2011


22 February 2021

Book about slate

I finally did it! I finished a book I started months ago. Maybe even more than a year ago. It took a while! But it is a big book, and it is in Welsh, and it is a rather inaccessible Welsh. It is a big book about the history and archaeology of Welsh slate. Right up my street, evidently! And it is a beautifully researched and presented book. But as I said; it's not one of those you read in one sitting. It is one of those books that makes you reach for a dictionary all the time. And sometimes you need several dictionaries, and there are only so many of those I want to surround myself with if I'm reading a book. For instance in a section about fixing roof slates, there was mention that you could do that with a "gwden". I don't know what that is. So I looked in the dictionary. And that informed me it was a withe. What on earth is a withe? And that in turn turns out to be a twig. In the book is full of that sort of specialist language. You can imagine why this book took me a while. But it was a pleasure! And told me a fair amount about my own surroundings. After all, my entire village wouldn't be here without Welsh slate. One of my running routes is an old route for bringing slate to the sea!

The book goes systematically through any aspect of slate you can think of, and then some. It discusses quarrying and mining; power sources used; processing of the slate; transport within the mine; travel by road, rail, and boat; uses for slate products of various kinds; the accommodation of the quarry workers; and so on. And it even gives grid references for locations of interest.

And now what? I don't yet have another book lined up. In any language! I will have to pick one soon. But I think I will be returning to this one quite often. It is a bit of a work of reference you can always return to if you want to look something up. And I have some ideas of places to check out once we can travel again!



21 February 2021

Update on arms

It is several months since I signed off work, it is seven weeks since I returned to it, and almost 3 weeks since I saw a physiotherapist. So how are things going?

Well, I think I can mainly summarise things with the word "slowly". I am diligently doing my exercises, and I still work my computer by voice. So it would be nice if things improved, but progress is barely perceptible. I can still feel my arms all through the day, and doing the merest things with my computer is still painful (and unavoidable, as, for instance, if the software crashes, which happens now and then, you have to sort the situation out by hand).

I have been thinking of testing out if my arms are already good for cycling. I suspect not! But you don't know until you try. The problem is just that the last few weekends have been characterised by frost, strong winds, heavy rain, or some unpleasant combination of these factors. I know I can bike a few minutes to the other side of town; what I want to know is if I can bike all the way to, for instance, Ogwen cottage, without feeling like I am making the situation with my arms worse. That would increase my radius! And if I could bike all the way to places like Bangor or Capel Curig, I could go there to exercise with friends who live on the other side of places like that. We are only allowed to see people for exercise, which has to start from home, so that limits one's radius a bit. And if I am not confident biking, I can pretty much only exercise with other people who live here in the village.

An additional factor here, course, is that I now have a cat, whom I feel I do not give sufficient attention during the week, so I want to spend some time on her during weekends. That doesn't help the situation with me not trying out my bike. But I am sure the time will come! And in the meantime I just continue with my exercises, and hope for the best. In early March I will speak to the physiotherapist again. Unfortunately, this time it will (again) only the phone call, and yet another person. The physiotherapist I saw last time will be on Covid duties. But we'll see what they say! I would really want to get back to normal. It would be nice to just be able to use my arms for whatever pleases me without thinking too much about it…

20 February 2021

Stuff with which to keep the cat occupied

After the first day when Mevrouw Moor was mainly busy getting used to her new situation, it became clear that she loves to play. And he wants to play with me. And that is fair enough! But what with? I started out with the classic shoelace. Cats love chasing a shoelace! And she was indeed keen on trying to catch it. But it wasn't ideal.

I then made an improvement; I tied a bit of elastic string to a bamboo rod, and some normal string to that, and a small rubber ring and piece of ribbon to the end. That was a much better toy! Because of the bamboo rod you can make it move around a lot faster. And the ribbon draws attention. And the elastic material provide some bounce. So that kept us busy for a while!

In the meantime she also sometimes plays alone, as I, after all, have a busy job to hold down. She does a lot of zoomies through the house, and I have witnessed her attacking the bath mat. Quite cute!

Then a friend mentioned laser pointers. Of course, my laser pointer! I have one, as in the olden days I would teach to people physically present. Those were the days. It had been gathering dust for a year! I brought it out. And the cat went ballistic.

Since I introduced her to the laser pointer she is not interested in anything else anyone. That red dot is the bee's knees! And the funny thing is, she knows it's me who creates that dot, she knows what I make that dot with, she even knows where I keep the laser pointer. But it doesn't seem to matter! She wants to chase that dot.

She makes me laugh when she is chasing it anyway, but she once made me laugh more when she couldn't find the dot. Sometimes it's behind her and she's not aware of it. But she knows where it comes from! So once when she couldn't find it but she saw the laser point in my hand she just attacked the laser point itself. The cheek!

I will have to keep a close eye on the batteries. I need to have a new pair ready for in case the original ones run out! I don't think she would take kindly to having to make do without her beloved red dot for half a day or so!

The early stages: a shoe lace


The toy


The cat improvising something


And the pinnacle: a red dot!


19 February 2021

Filming in the field again

 When the pandemic hit, all fieldwork was cancelled. We thought that would only be for the rest of term. The situation was more serious than realised at the time, and almost a year on, we are still in lockdown. In summer I decided I didn't think my autumn fieldtrip would be feasible, so I organised a virtual equivalent. And now it is as good as spring, and we are still unsure about taking large numbers of students into the field. So for one of our first year's modules, we decided to go virtual again. And that meant going into the field to record footage.

We would go on a Monday. That Sunday the weather was atrocious. The forecast for Monday wasn't bad, though! But things can change quickly. And when I was about to leave, I made sure I was dressed warmly, and waterproof.

I found more warmly dressed people at Ogwen cottage. I did a little introduction at the cottage, and then we started walking up. It started to rain! And it wouldn't stop again. And the wind was strong. Not ideal circumstances for filming!

I decided the first place to stop would be in the shelter of the big erratics close to the lake. We talked geology there. Then we walked on, and in the shelter of a wall we talked geomorphology. While I was talking, the rain intensified, and I started to worry about the camera. I knew this same photographer had buggered a camera in this very valley photographing this very excursion before! No need to do that again.

We got to the top of the lake, and talked about the two types of volcanic rock we had there. By then I could feel the rain on my skin! My jacket isn't as waterproof as I would like it to be. And then it was time to get back to the rock step from which you can look into Nant Ffrancon. We found a sheltered spot where the wind wouldn't blow away our words too much, and filmed the last bits. You could just about make out the features that we try to point out from there in the horizontal rain.

We'll have to figure out what to do in the session we actually have with the students, but we now have footage! And I think that when they see it, they might not feel too bad about not having been in the field with us themselves…





18 February 2021

Cat flap removed

I had decided that the only places I could have a series of exits for the cat were the bedroom and the conservatory. Both had outsides you could saw a hole into. It isn't ideal, as that is where I sleep, but the alternative would be cutting holes either in brick or in glass. That just didn't attract me! And if my sleeping and the cat getting in and out are really incompatible, then I can just move into the other bedroom. I am a posher, I can choose! And I had decided that I would just recycle the catflap that had been put in the kitchen door.

One Sunday I sat down and got to work. It was a doddle to remove the flap. The next task was to close the hole! I had decided I would just screw some old bits of skirting board over it. And so I did.

I also wanted to improve the thermal insulation. And make things look better on the other side! And what I did was glue some insulation material into the hole, cover it with something pretty, and then screw the frame-like bit of wood over the top that had held the original catflap in position. (The person who had installed this had sawn a hole in the door that was way too big, so had had to attach the flap to a smaller piece of wood with a hole in that had in turn been placed in the hole in the door.) And I was actually quite chuffed with the result! In hindsight, I wished I had done this on the inside rather than the outside, but I can't be asked to swap things around. It will stay like this! The only thing I intend to still do is paint the skirting board pieces in cheerful colours.

So I now have fewer cat flaps then I had before, but I still think I have made progress. And I have learned from the mistakes of my predecessor and I will make sure I won't cut a hole in the door that is bigger then the outer perimeter of the entire catflap! And in the process, I gained a kitchen door that is less badly insulated than it was before!

The inside of the door now

Hole in door insulated

Hole prettified


Finished!


17 February 2021

Goodbye to a student

One sad day we received a message from the Head of School; one of our students had died. She seemed to have had a medical condition (not Covid) that none of us knew about. I had only just marked an assignment by her, and I struggled to get my head around this news. She was way too young! And she also was Chinese, which made things worse, as due to the distance and the pandemic her entire family had probably been on the other side of the world when this happened.

Some time later we received information about the cremation. I didn't know her well, but I decided to go; her family couldn't be there, and I wanted to make sure that the occasion didn't go unnoticed. If the people closest or her couldn't pay their respects, then the people a bit further away should. And I had my two negative tests just in time to be able to go there. If I would have tested positive, of course, I wouldn't have gone.

On the very day it was cold but sunny. Masked people arrived at the crematorium. All the people there knew our student through University. A short service followed, in which her personal tutor gave a speech. It was really painful sitting there, feeling the absence of her close relatives. I can't even begin to imagine what it must be like for them.

Writing this also feels very inadequate. But with so few people in a position to mark her passing I feel that I should. So hereby. Rest in peace Wenyan.

16 February 2021

Get tested

The whole pandemic had seemed quite far away this whole time. It dominated my life, of course, as it decided I had to work at home and couldn't travel and couldn't see people and all these things, but that was more government measures than the pandemic itself. And then one early evening I suddenly got a text from a friend. She had been contacted by Track and Trace; she had been in touch with someone who had subsequently tested positive, so she had to self-isolate. And, ominously, she was feeling ill herself. So what did that have to do with me? I don't see anybody, do I?

Well, actually I did. That same friend had phoned me on Monday morning, quite upset. She really needed a listening ear and I told her she was welcome. So a bit later she showed up. I served coffee and cake, and I listened. And it seemed to have made a difference! And was that a breach of restrictions? Well, that is open to interpretation. The rules explicitly say "You are allowed to provide care for or to help someone who needs it, such as an older person, a child or a vulnerable adult, even if they are not part of your household or support bubble." And I count this as an example. There is protection of life, and there's also protection of quality of life. I already knew this friend was a rather sociable person who hadn't taken well to lockdown, and I also knew she was struggling with work-related stress. And things had clearly got too much! So I stand by my decision to invite her. But now that had taken an interesting turn. 

The first thing I did the next morning was phone my dentist, with whom I had an appointment that very morning. That just didn't feel right. I hate cancelling on such short notice, but I'm sure a dentist prefers that over rummaging around in the mouth of someone who has been in touch with someone who had been in touch with someone who had tested positive.

The next thing I did was get myself to the nearest test centre. The University has its own! The big glamorous hall that is used for graduations is now just that. And me going there was slightly more complicated than it should have been; I flashed my card at the barrier of the parking lot but it denied me access. And the building itself did the same. Luckily you can see the people in reception from the door, so I just waved at them and they let me in.

From there things were easy. The lady at the entrance to the hall talked me through the whole process of signing in digitally, and then I went to a booth, stuck a swab into my face, put it in a vial, then walked out again. It was such a quick process!

I then had an additional task; get to the library to check why my card wasn't working. The library is just downhill from where the testing centre is. And I very safely handed my card through the crack of the door. The librarian saw there was indeed a problem, and made me a new one. Problem solved!

Before I was home again I got the text with the result: it was negative. Good! That was what I had hoped. And with this negative test I was confident to go for a run again. And so I did!

The next day I went back for my second test. These quick tests are not very precise, so you get a much more statistically robust result if you go more than once. And again it was a really fast experience. And again the test was negative! And by the time I received that result I received the news from my friend; she had tested negative as well. She had sought medical attention in the meantime and her symptoms had been ascribed to something not Covid related. So all was well in the end! And she was also discussing reducing work-related stress with her boss, as of course the pandemic had not been the only problem here.

After the second negative test I considered the matter closed, and felt free to do things such as go shopping again. The pandemic had never been this close, but I was glad it turned out it still hadn't been anywhere as close as I had feared!

The University testing centre


15 February 2021

Cat or therapy?

Since late March last year, I haven't been to a pub, I have been to an indoor café twice, I have had no social visits, and the only time I paid someone else a social visit was at Christmas. I have seen people, of course; most of the time it was legal to go for a walk with someone. But life has undeniably changed quite a lot. And I am fine, but there are a lot of people who are struggling with this. I know for sure that I would have, if this would have happened earlier in my life! And I had a few bad days in autumn when the combination of threats to my job, the severe RSI situation, and brexit worked together to make me feel rather vulnerable, but that hadn't lasted. I have adjusted to this situation swimmingly, if I can say so myself. But I think a lot of people who live in some sort of family configuration think that sitting out a Welsh lockdown (which is a lot stricter than an English lockdown, for instance) on your own is very hard. I clearly remember, for instance, discussing with my sister, who is the matriarch in the family of five. The idea of having to spend almost a year cooped up with four other people sounds horrendous to me! She thought that doing it alone would be horrendous. It was good that we both thought it was the other one who had the tough time. Both of us were actually doing well!

I think there are more people who think it is horrendous to sit out lockdown on your own. And I suspected my friends of the cat are among them. It turned out that they were happily taking all their other pets with them to their new rented accommodation! And it seemed somewhat unlikely that you can take two dogs and a cat, but not an additional cat, so I wondered if there might have been an ulterior motive in their question if I wanted to look after their cat. They might just have decided I was lonely and that what I needed was a cat, but that I was in denial, and wouldn't get one on my own initiative. 

Given that I am not English I just asked them. They said the new accommodation allowed for two pets. They had managed to convince the landlord that they were an exceptional case that could bring three, but that four would have been pushing it. So hence me and the cat!

And she is here to stay for a while! My friends have signed a tenancy agreement for a year. And a year is a long time! I know what my life will look like for the coming few months, but sooner or later we will be going back into the office and that will change things. I don't think she'd like it; she already objects to me not interacting with her for eight hours straight during the night! But of course, we also might run into the next round of budget cuts and redundancies, and that would change everything all over again. We'll see! We'll make work somehow.

And is she therapy? Well, in a way, she is. She wants me in the living room, interacting with her, and that helps me not spending all day every day in the office. And she's just super cute. Even if she's only asleep in her basket downstairs. It looks so snug! It calms the soul. I suppose this worked out well…



14 February 2021

Amateur

 When I finished my Dutch book I knew where to turn next. I had bought a book about a trans man who registers for a boxing match more than a year ago, and it had still just been sitting in my book cupboard. It was time it came out! And it was such a good read (but also a very small book) that I have already finished it.

So is this book about boxing? Well, yes and no. The writer had transitioned, and was coming to terms with his new life, and struggled to make sense of a lot of things. And he thought learning how to box might help with that. And he hadn't ever boxed before, but there seems to be some circuit of charity fights in New York, where mainly well-off white blokes square up against each other, and that provides a good opportunity. If you want to either seriously compete, or go professional, you need to invest quite a lot of time and effort in it, but for this charity fights the bar is lower. I mean, it's a bit like running a marathon for a charity. No one cares if you run fast or slow; people care if you raise money!

There is a lot of boxing in the book, of course, but quite a lot of it is rather philosophical contemplations about gender. For instance, the author has transitioned around the age of 30, so knows exactly what it is like to navigate the world as a woman. And in order to find your place, you sometimes have to fight. Not physically fight, of course; but your presence is often not something you can take for granted in, for instance, a professional environment. So she had learned to be extra assertive. To be really alert to dangers walking home alone. To be ready to act if there was a threat. And then she transitioned. And as he puts it, suddenly he has gone from threatened to threat. Suddenly his presence IS taken for granted. Suddenly people listen, and don't talk over him. And he realises he has to do some serious recalibration. Instead of fighting for being taken seriously, now suddenly he has to make a U-turn and make a concerted effort to not be so assertive that no woman in his company will ever get a word in sideways. Suddenly he has to consider that if he, for instance, goes for a run, and approaches a solitary woman from behind, that that can be perceived as a threat, and that he has to make a concerted effort to signal he is not a threat. All of these things. And suddenly people are less likely to get physical with him; fewer hugs, fewer friendly touches. Except, of course, that men are now more likely to pick a fight with him. The book starts with that; he takes a picture of a restaurant he wants to take his girlfriend to, but there is a car in front of the restaurant, and the owner of the car is not pleased about that picture being taken, and goes all menacing. So even though he says he has gone from threatened to threat, I suppose that mainly covers sexual violence. When you are a man, you are more likely to become a victim of physical violence! And he manages to shrug this car owner off, but he wants to delve deeper into the world of male aggression to learn more about his new life. And also has to decide whether to tell the organisation that he is a trans man. I have no idea what the rules are in actual boxing competitions, but as I said before; these charity fights are different. So he decides not to tell. And find himself a gym. And starts training…

I can't say this book made me think boxing is a good idea. But it is clear that it helps the writer. He learns how to keep going under attack, and learns to be in a very masculine space. And realises that where men box, masculinity doesn't seem to be in question, and the men are less scared of things like physical touch, or showing emotions. He has the impression that elsewhere, masculinity needs to be asserted; so you keep your hands of other men, and keep a stiff upper lip. Not so in a boxing gym.

You also follow some of the developments of trying to find a new place in the world. He realises soon that and not only is everyone silent when he speaks in the meeting (which most certainly wasn't the case before the transition), but he also has started to talk over women. And he takes men more seriously. And wonders what is going on there. And it is infuriating to read that even people who know damn well what it's like on the other side display that behaviour, but at least he is aware of it. That he keeps a tally of who he talks over, and notices the gender disparity, is already half of the problem solved. And when he realises he never asks his sister for any boxing advice even though she has been boxing for years, and even ignores her when she talks about it and continues to exchange ideas with men, he makes the effort of apologising to her. It's not the mess you make; it's the mess you leave behind!

I thought it was a riveting read. He has written more; I might buy more of his books. I can recommend it to anyone! And the fight? How does that end? Well, you might have to read it yourself to find that out!



13 February 2021

Project cat flap

I had a cat now. I also needed a catflap! Or maybe more than one. Once the cat is settled, the idea is that she can just walk in and out, so I needed to make a plan. The house did have a catflap, but it only led from the kitchen to the space where the washing machine stands, so that's not much of an improvement. So where to put one? I didn't want to put one in glass; I don't even know if you can. The space with the washing machine basically has either brick or glass between itself and the outside world. That didn't seem to be a good option! So where else?

Another option was the front door. It is a PVC door and you can saw in that. It would also be a reasonable place to enter the house. But the door's panels were a bit complicated and I didn't really see that work. So where else?

Then there is the location where the from door used to be. At ground level, it is now a little cupboard with the electricity meter in it. Its outer wall is rather thin! But in order for it to become a catflap you need to leave the cupboard open and I didn't like the idea of that. So where else?

The option I settled on was the bedroom. It has a rather simple door to the conservatory; I foresee no problems sawing in that. And then the conservatory is mainly glass, of course, but at ground level it's just plain PVC. I think that is something I can saw in! And it will mean that I will close the catflap at night as I don't want the cat to be able to stomp into my bedroom and wake me up at whatever hour she thinks is a good idea, so she will be committed by the time I go to bed; it's either in or out, and then you can't change your mind anymore until I get up in the morning. But I still think it's the best option!

I first tried the local pet shop to see if they sold catflaps, but they didn't, so I ordered one from Waitrose. I didn't want to buy from Amazon! And I decided that the catflap in the door to the conservatory could just be the recycled catflap from the kitchen. It must have been quite old, but I'm sure it would still do the job. And then I could also make their door a bit better insulated. That catflap was installed in an atrocious way! And I won't do a tidy job, but I'm sure I can improve the insulation.

I have gathered the material I want to cover the gap with in the kitchen door, and the ordered flap is on its way, but it will still be a bit of work before this is all sorted. But that's okay as the cat has to stay indoors for a little bit longer anyway! Stay tuned…

The questionably installed catflap in the kitchen


11 February 2021

Project scratch post

 When you have a cat, and you don't want your furniture to be shredded within days, you need a scratch post. Or maybe several. And now I had a cat! And it had been such a faff getting my sofa into the living room that I wanted to keep it serviceable for a while. So I needed scratch posts! Fortunately, I had some left-over carpet, so I could make some myself. I cut a strip off that I attached to the side of the stairs, and another strip I put on the post at the bottom of the stairs, and I attached two bigger strips to the wall in my bedroom and office. It was a bit of work but if it works it will have been worth it!

The next thing now was to make it clear to her that that was what they were. I would ostentatiously scratch them with my nails myself, hoping to give her an idea. And I would wiggle shoelaces near them so she would get her claws into them anyway. Maybe then she would like the feeling and do it more often! So far, success has been scarce. But there is time! I hope I'll get the idea across. Otherwise I'll be left with a shredded sofa, and shredded carpet…



The name of the cat

 When my friends spoke about the cat who would become my lodger, they always called her Tiny Cat. And they kept calling her that! It doesn't sound like a real name. So when she was delivered to my house I asked if that was really her name. And it turned out that officially she is called Tabitha. I didn't like that name at all, to be honest! She is decidedly bigger than the cat I had 20 years ago, so in my mind, she isn't tiny at all. So I'm probably happy with her keeping her old names, but she needed an additional one. And I know that I don't call animals by all sorts of pet names like "beestje" and "maffe poes" and "kitty-cat" and whatnot, but still, she needed the name I would use. And the good thing is that I had been thinking about that recently anyway! I had decided my step great-grandmother needed a tribute. And he was called Mina Maria Johanna Christina Moor, and I didn't think her given name suited the cat, so I settled for Mevrouw Moor (Ms Moor). So that is her name now! I don't know if it matters much to her but it's good she has a name for living here.    

Looking as sophisticated as my step great grandmother


10 February 2021

Cat!

 I used to have a cat. I like cats. I got that cat when I was still a child. But I didn't stay a child. At some point I was a PhD student, and that turned out to not be very compatible with having a cat. I made long days! And that meant the cat was alone at home. She didn't appreciate it. If I had been particularly absent she would beat me up. She had clearly had a rough youth, and she still had some rough habits left over from then. So if she wasn't pleased, the claws came out! So when she died at the venerable age of 17 I didn't get a cat again. I was still in academia, so still would piss off a cat with my prolonged absences.

When the pandemic hit, and I suddenly was at home all the time, I was thinking about a cat again. If I am at home all day, I can just have a cat who won't be lonely. Cats are quite independent and can amuse themselves when you're working. It just makes a difference whether you are physically present or not. If every time you go to the loo you give the cat a cuddle I'm sure they will thrive. I know I am now writing as if all cats are the same, and they most certainly are not, but I think that as a rule of thumb it works.

My first thought was giving a new home to my friend's cat, as she said the relationship between her and the cat had broken down. When I thought I would lose my job and would be working at home on something else forever I could really see that happen. But then I kept my job, and knew that sooner or later I would have to get back to the office. And then the problem would resurface!

Then I offered looking after another friend's cat while she would be off at sea. For her work she has to go offshore fairly regularly. And that offer stands but the friend is still on land!

Then I suddenly got a message from yet other friends with a request for help. They had been intending to move house for a considerable amount of time. And now they were approaching the sale of their house, but they had not found one to buy yet. That meant they would have to rent for a while, while looking for a place to live in in the long run. And then they found out that landlords are not overly keen on their tenants having pets. And they have lots. Could I perhaps look after their cat for a while? And I said yes. The pandemic was still raging at full strength, so I figured I wasn't going to go back to the office until September. That surely should give them enough time to find another house! And so it was agreed. It wasn't clear yet when this would happen as you never know when completion of the house will take place. But then suddenly completion loomed. When was it convenient for me to accept the cat? So it was happening!

On Friday, 5 February, so less then two weeks after the initial request, I saw a Land Rover approach my house. The cat was imminent! My friend carried her in, and a box full of supplies. And we opened the carrier. A cat walked in my house!

She immediately started exploring. She was fearless! I expected that; my friends are really good with pets, so I expected a mentally stable and confident cat. And my friend and I had a bit of a chat. That was nice! It was also the first social (indoors) visit I had had in a long time. And I was curious to hear the details about where he was going. They are moving into their new abode within weeks.

After a while my friend left. And then suddenly the cat wasn't so confident any more! She vanished behind the sofa. And when I leaned over she would meow at me, let me stroke her, and purr profusely, but she wasn't keen to leave her hiding place. I went back to work and just came down every now and then to see how she was. No change!

At some point it was time for dinner. She still wasn't leaving the sofa. But when I came up after dinner I managed to lure her from behind it. And as soon as that had happened, she was unstoppable. She went exploring through the entire house. And she came to sit with me on the sofa, and seemed to enjoy that immensely. I think the big threshold had been crossed!

The first day

When she finally dared to come out

What she did as soon as she entered the office





Tired after an intensive day!


That night I left my bedroom door open. I wanted to know how that would go. My cat back in the days would sleep in my bed and that was quite snug. She would be allowed to wake me up once for demanding breakfast, but if she woke me up more than once I would lock her up in the kitchen. Let's see how this little cat would behave.

Lights went out and within no time I felt her feet walking on over me. She was looking for a place to get comfortable. And she settled on a position as the little spoon. Me underneath the dDon 20uvet and she on top. That was lovely! But it didn't last. She went on a wander, and went meowing into space, and all that sort of stuff, so I decided that the experiment had not been a success. I locked her in the old part of the house and kept the extension for myself! That way I got a good night's sleep. She didn't like it; she was meowing like her life depended on it, but my sleep is not negotiable.

In the morning, when I came out of the bedroom, I immediately heard a thud, and the sound of scampering feet combined with energetic meowing. She figured it had been long enough separate and she wanted cuddles again! Oh dear this was one needy cat. But then again, this was only her first night, and maybe she would become a bit more blasé. We will see! My first 12 hours with the cat were done. Stay tuned! I'm sure there'll be more cat-related stuff on this blog in the coming months…

The next morning


09 February 2021

Phone as new

When I had to be in Bangor for physiotherapy anyway, I took the opportunity to visit one of the phone repair shops on the high street. I wasn't happy with the fact that I had smashed the screen! And I'd rather have it fixed than buy a new phone. So I walked into a tiny shop that does completely improvised. A flashy venue this was not! The dead in methods; as long as they could repair my phone. So I handed it over. The bloke said it could be done, but he noticed that not only was it smashed but also bent (I think that happened during my run from Rhyd Ddu), so not only did he have to replace the screen, but also the housing. That was fine with me. The electronic seem to be rather robust so if changing the entire outside makes it last until autumn, when it is up for renewal, then that is worth every penny as far as I am concerned!

He told me to come back in an hour. And then asked for 20 to 25 minutes more. But then he had indeed managed it! My phone looked as new again. And I had helped the local economy. This man clearly has no clue about how to make a shop look attractive, but if my phone now lasts until autumn, then he has proven that he is good at what matters! And then I'd come back were I ever to be clumsy enough to smash my phone screen again…