31 May 2021

Glorified picnic

Kate was in town! And it is starting to become a bit of a tradition to meet up and go for a walk. And we had a whole bank holiday weekend to choose from! And we settled on Saturday, although we couldn't start early. The other Kate is in the process of moving in with her, and that meant that some time needed to be dedicated to that. And two Kates in one house is asking for confusion, which I also pointed out to one of the Kates, and she said I could just call her by her second name Igraine. So for the clarity of this blog, I might do that! The Kate who is one of our PhD students stays Kate; the Kate with whom I went on a bike ride will now be Igraine.

Anyway; on Saturday morning, Igraine would bring over some kit to Kate's house. So I would show up at lunchtime and then we would do a modest walk. And when I arrived, both ladies were still there. So we had a coffee together! Then Igraine went home to pack, while Kate and I went a bit further up the valley. I wasn't feeling overly adventurous and it was already past 1 PM, so I wasn't up for a massive expedition. And Kate was okay with that! We would explore the ruins of the village associated with Rhiwbach mine. There are ruins on two levels, and I had only been to the upper ones. A nice little gem to explore on a lazy Saturday!

We drove to where the road ends, and walked up the path to the mine. This is also the path you use if you have been inside the mine and walk back out. I hadn't been in several years!

It was a nice relaxed walk to the mine, and then we had lunch among the ruins of the lower village. I had not been! It was quite nice. Then we walked up to the higher level. I had been there in various different types of company; I had had lunch in the mill with my father and stepmother, and I had explored a small level with my Cornish friends. This time we explored a bit further west and had a look at the lake there, and some more of the spoil heaps. It is a strange landscape!

When we had seen it all we went back. Among the spoil heaps Kate had suggested I just stay for dinner. She intended to make a pasta bake! And who can resist a pasta bake? And I couldn't accompany her in the kitchen, so she brought out the guidebook for the Slate Trail we intend the walk later this summer. I could read that outside while she cooked. I also popped to the shop to get drinks!

When dinner was almost ready we decided to put the garden table in the opening of the garage door. It was raining, but if we would be sitting there we will still be sufficiently outside. And from the garage door you still have that amazing view you get there. It was a lovely dinner!

After that I went home. I figured the cat would be wondering where I had been! And it had not been a spectacular day, but a good one after all! And we will get all the diehard hiking once we get to the Slate Trail…

Looking back on Cwm Penmachno from the mine

The lower village seen from the spoil heaps

one of the mill buildings in a state of disrepair

The sluice at the lake

another view on the lake

30 May 2021

Unexpected job interview

In October, I suddenly had to rethink my future, when I was told my job was on the line. I did some quick thinking! And started looking on job websites. I didn't get very far; by then my RSI was getting very worrying. But one of the last things I did before I signed off sick was apply for a job. I had seen that Adult Learning Wales was looking for tutors. And I had nothing to lose! With considerable difficulty (because of my arms) I hammered out a bilingual application letter and submitted it. I received an automatic acknowledgement of receipt. And then it was silent.

Nothing happened for months. And then suddenly I got a text message. A lady from that body wondered if I was interested in teaching a course in the use of mobile phones. Mobile phones? I am a bit of a troglodyte. It is a miracle I can use my own phone. But she asked if I was interested in discussing the matter further. And that I surely was. And the discussion turned out to be part of the official application process. And why not!

I was aware I still had a busy full-time job, but I also know that that might not last. It is always useful to already have a foot in the door somewhere else. So I figured it would be a good idea to talk with them, see what possibilities were, make sure my face became familiar to them, and see what would happen.

For the interview they asked me to do five minute micro-teach. And I had done micro-teaching before, as part of both my graduate teaching assistant qualification back in the day, and my PGCertHE. So I had a think. What should I teach her? And I settled on teaching her to make a perfect tense in Dutch. It was very unlikely she would already be able to do this! And I would restrict myself to regular verbs. So I made some teaching material. If you do all that verbally it gets a bit dry. So I made cards with information on, like the structure of a regular Dutch verb, or pictograms of verbs, with their English and Welsh translations. And I made sure I know all the terms in Welsh.

When the day came I joined the Teams meeting. And I met the lady! She was nice. And he asked if I wanted to do the teaching first, and I thought "why not". So I taught her to make a Dutch perfect tense from an infinitive! It went well.

After that we had a bit of a discussion about what they were, what they taught, how they taught it, what my experiences were, what I would be comfortable teaching, et cetera et cetera. It was very interesting! She said the people registering for their courses were a blend of people with no qualifications whatsoever, highly qualified people who just want to broaden their horizons, and everything in between. The courses they taught not particularly fixed; it dependent on both supply and demand. They do not teach Welsh, but they appreciate it if their tutor can teach in Welsh, as quite a lot of the people on the courses would be Welsh speakers. And she explained what sort of support there is in the background from Adult Learning Wales. It all sounded great! It is satisfying as well to teach about palaeoclimate, but I can imagine that if you teach more basic things such as how to prepare for speaking in public, such as in a political meeting or in a job interview (which was one of the examples she gave) the results can become a lot more concrete, and a lot faster.

I also explained I was an overworked academic with RSI, but that didn't put her off at all. She said there tutor generally had other jobs as well, and that if you were too busy with other obligations they were fine with not having you teach on the other their courses for a while. So it sounded quite like this could be a match! I can just start very slowly and build up experience and a portfolio, so were my day job to come to an end for any reason, I already have something else to fall back on. And they have someone else on the books. It sounded like they appreciated having a wide variety of people, and I'm sure they don't yet have a Dutch Micropalaeontologist. They also said that my PGCertHE made me perfectly qualified. And nothing would happen yet; they don't teach over the summer break, and their courses start generally in August or September. And I would have to liaise with their planners. And of course I needed to be officially registered.

When we were done we sent goodbye. I felt good! And then I did my official registration, and sent the planners my documents. We will see what happens next!

I did wonder if there was something wrong with having a side job next to an academic job, but quite quickly I caught myself and figured this was exactly one of the problems with academics. They get brainwashed into thinking you can't do anything other than your job! The people have lives next to their job. Some people raise children. Some people maintain a high profile sports career. Some people have a sheep farm. And side jobs are not uncommon; I know people who run their own business next to their job in University, or who write novels, and whatnot. I also managed to learn Welsh next to my job and I don't regret that at all. And if I do a Welsh class one evening a week, then I should be able to teach adults one evening a week! I think my horizon just got a little bit broader…

Some of my teaching materials. I thank Wikipedia for an English version of the "kofschip"! Show numbers

28 May 2021

First dog walk of the year

When my cat moved in with me, her owners moved a fair distance south-east. That was the whole reason she needed a new home. But I was quite curious what sort of place my friends were ending up in. And now I was finally going to find out, some three months later.

It was pretty much a one-hour drive over one and the same road. So the navigation was easy! And the plan was that I would first walk the dog with my friend Guy, while his wife Kate would look after the other dog, who was in season and wasn't let out. And so it happened!

We walked the dog in the rain. It was that kind of period! And it didn't matter. He showed me around the fields in the vicinity of their new place. They even had bison! It was good to catch up again. I think the last time I saw him was when he brought me the cat.

When we were done walking the dog we went to have lunch all together. It was really good! I had seen Guy on several occasions, as he had had lots of things to do in the vicinity. I hadn't seen Kate for so long I had started to wonder if she was a figment of my imagination! But she clearly wasn't. That was good! And you still cannot take social interaction for granted. And I hope that in the not-too-distant future they will be able to up around my place and visit the cat. I hope they will be satisfied with her new setup! 

Guy and Pi in a soggy field

If you view this picture in fullscreen you will see the bison!

27 May 2021

One person’s bad weather is another person’s fun

The newspapers are full of this May being an unusually wet one. And it is! We have had quite a number of washouts. And that is not overly inviting; go outside and you get soaked, and the beautiful hilly landscapes become hilly swamps. But with all the rain, the rivers are high. And then at least the river kayakers have fun! You can sort of wait for it; when it starts raining seriously, then you get these colourful flashes at the bottom of the garden. This time I managed the snap one through the bedroom window! They always look like they are having a whale of a time. And the good thing is, I am sure they also have a whale of a time when it is dry and sunny, but in different ways. It sounds like these river kayakers are quite clever people!

Notice the blue, green and red kayaker coming down the river sideways

26 May 2021

Trying to improve my veg beds

I had been conspicuously unsuccessful growing food. I could grow peas! But not much else. I had had three cabbages, but altogether they had only yielded one meal. All my leeks together had also only resulted in one meal. My cauliflowers had come to nothing. Things had been looking good regarding courgettes, but the slugs got to them before I could. So I had decided to grow my courgette family indoors this year. I still wanted to use my veg plots for something! But maybe the soil was a bit poor? So I decided to see if I could enrich it. I have a compost heap. The whole point of having one is creating compost! And I also always have a commercial bag of compost lying around. So I decided to dig around in my raised beds, and mix in some more organic material.

The compost heap is small and young and didn't yield much. I only had one bag of compost. There wasn't an awful lot to mix in! But it was something. And that's better than nothing. As some of my plants haven't survived the harsh early spring (a Coprosma that probably indeed was a bit too fragile for the local climate, and a Hypericum that really should have managed), I will have to go to the garden centre anyway; I might buy another bag or two. If I do that before I move my peas and brassicas outside, I will mix some more in. I hope that helps! And that I get better yields. For now I think I have only made an open invitation for the neighbourhood cats to have a good poo. But so be it!

25 May 2021

Improving the harmony of one of my raised beds

When I had put plants into my biggest raised bed, I had a design in mind. I imagined big shrubs in the middle, surrounded by intermediate shrubs, and then low plants around that. I still think that is a reasonable idea. But the problem is that if you go to the garden centre and buy plants, you tend to buy them fairly small, and have to predict how big they will become, and how much time that will take. And that doesn't always go well. I had bought some plants, and had looked on the labels how big they were supposed to get. And I had an idea, of course, from seeing them in other people's gardens. So I had a spindle bush in the middle (Euronymus japonicus "Ovatus Aureus") which was expected to get very big. And I had a cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa Wilma) a bit to the side. And then some smaller shrubs around. And I hoped everything would grow into a harmonious whole.

My spindle didn't turn out to grow very much. The cypress did! So the whole bed started to look a bit unbalanced. And I had pondered if I should interfere. Surely, these plants wouldn't like being moved around? But in the end I decided I was going to try it anyway. So one reasonably dry Saturday I took my spade to the raised bed, and moved the spindle to the side, and plonked the cypress into the middle. I hope they will recover! Digging out the cypress was easy. The spindle was putting up more resistance; it turned out to have a modest halo of small roots around the base, and one very big root going off to the other side of the world. I didn't even have to dig that out entirely! I just made it go around the corner to the new location of the shrub. And now I have to wait, and see if indeed the cypress keeps growing in its new role as the centrepiece. And whether the spindle will ever catch up.

Now I have done that, is the bed harmonious? Well, no. It is still clearly a raised bed filled by someone who has little gardening talent, little eye for design, and no plans of throwing a lot of money at the garden. And by someone whose poor soils might hinder the plants growing so big they fill the bed and make it look mature. But improvement has been achieved! As long as there is progress I'm okay…

before: the cypress to the side

 after: proudly in the middle!

24 May 2021

Nerdy book about quarry hospital

This entire village shows its existence to the local slate quarry. I like learning about it. And the quarry had a hospital; I found out about it before I lived around here. It is now a ruin among the trees.

I noticed on the village Facebook site that someone had written the book about it. And I decided to buy it. I would learn more about the local history! And I would be supporting the local economy. It was on sale in the little shop around the corner, where they sell local stuff.

The book reads smoothly, and is littered with pictures. Quite a lot of them are repeated. The book really goes into an anorakish level of detail. For instance, it shows a series of pictures of a particular window frame in three different years, to show its slow decline. It specifies in what period the lintel came down, for instance. And that is the level of detail all around! Most of the pictures are of the actual ruin, as there are barely any pictures of the building when it was still intact. There is a famous picture of the front, with some posing patients. And a few pictures of a later period, when it wasn't a hospital any more, but a residential building. Most of these are family snaps where only by accident some bits of the building are in view. The author did not manage to govern any pictures from the inside. The only interior pictures are from the hospital of the quarry in the next valley: Dinorwic. That is now a museum, hence that pictures are available.

After starting reading the book, I had another look when I was in the area anyway for my run. They are erecting a fence around it; I think they are increasingly nervous about the state of the building, and want to avoid people going in and getting another lintel on their head. I don't think they will work, but I suppose that if I want to see any of the features pointed out in the book for myself I have to be quick!

23 May 2021

“The Welshman“ in Neuadd Ogwen (!)

My first night out since the start of the pandemic! I had seen on Facebook that Neuadd Ogwen would reopen, and that the first night would be a film. The film was "the Welshman". I have never heard of that, and I looked it up. It turned out it was a sort of documentary about a man who had opposed the flooding of a valley. They didn't specify which valley, but I assumed this would be Tryweryn. It sounded good! I booked a ticket. And then I alerted some local friends to this. By the time they had a look, though, it had sold out. I wasn't overly surprised; due to social distancing, they couldn't really sell an awful lot of tickets. And I suppose many people in the village would be excited that the place had opened up again!

On the day, I pocketed my glasses and went. I was escorted to my seat. They had put comfortable sofas and chairs on the floor! I had very nice leather chair. I could get used to this! And I had things to think about so I had no problem spending the time until the film would actually start. In the meantime, the manager was acting as a waiter and taking drinks orders. I decided I might as well get me a pint. It was a special occasion, and I figured the place could do with some bar money!

After some delay, Dilwyn (the manager) took the floor and welcomed us back. It was the first night the hall was open again, so worth a little speech and it was going to be the first time ever this film was being shown. Very momentous! There was a special atmosphere in the room. Then the film started. It basically was just footage of Owain Williams talking about the events of the time. The interviewer was pretty much entirely cut out of the film. And when he was talking, you sometimes saw some actors reenacting what he was talking about.

I knew there had been lots of protests against the flooding of the village, but I didn't know there had been sabotage. But now I did! Williams explained that he had been working in Canada at the time, but that he had come back when he realised what was going on in Wales. He said the Welsh were a resigned lot, used to putting up with whatever people threw at them, and that he thought that was wrong. He decided someone needed to raise their voice. And if not him, then who? So he came back, and founded the Mudiad Amddifyn Cymru (Movement for the Defence of Wales) with two mates. And they decided to take matters in their own hands. And in 1963, they blew up transformer associated with the opposed dam. One of them was arrested; Williams was not it.

The interview got quite emotional. It turned out that he was married at the time, and had small kids, and that his wife was pregnant. And in the night of the attack, his wife was rushed to hospital with obstetric problems. There were problems, and the child died young. The marriage didn't survive. And that some later point, Williams ended up in jail anyway, for about a year, on charges of which I have forgotten the details. He didn't enjoy that. Evidently…

A few years later, Charles would be crowned Prince of Wales in Caernarvon. And not all Welsh were happy with it. I can fully imagine! What does Charles have to do with the Wales? The whole crowning princes of Wales in Caernarvon thing was dreamed up by an English king with the intent of oppressing the Welsh. And I, of course, wasn't even born back then, but I expect to be alive (and even a Welsh resident) by the time William gets the same treatment. And I must say I am not keen myself. Charles has been Prince of Wales for over 50 years, and he still doesn't speak Welsh. William has known since childhood he was destined to become Prince of Wales one day. Does he speak Welsh? No. Are they making any attempt to forge a bond between them and the country they are supposed to be a prince of? Not that I have noticed. I think it is rather outrageous. I struggle to imagine, for instance, princess Amalia being Princess of Frisia, and not speaking Friesian. It does smell of the old English sense of superiority. You don't engage with the culture of the country you oppress; you force your culture onto them!

Anyway; I digress. The MAC planted a few more bombs. Williams explained he was arrested on suspicion of being involved with that, but that there was no evidence against him. And he claimed that evidence against him was forged. So when he was granted bail, he ran! He made it to Ireland, where he was welcomed by members of Sinn Fein, as they were kindred spirits. And he lived there for a while, some of the time in a tent on the beach, under a false name. He occasionally had contact with his solicitor, who was trying to get a case together. And at some point, he chanced it going back to Wales, and was promptly arrested. The case came to court, and he was acquitted, as the court figured the evidence against him had indeed been forged. He escaped a prison sentence of 10 to 15 years!

The valley was flooded anyway, of course. And there is an English Prince of Wales. But Williams said that in 1963, when all of this started, there was no politician in Westminster with special responsibility for Wales. And after the Tryweryn debacle, a Secretary of State for Wales was appointed. And decades later, devolution happened, and Wales got its own parliament. Williams figured he had played a role in that. And I suppose you won't be surprised to read that he is active in the Welsh independence movement.

In a way, this is a bit of a 60s Greta Thunberg story. I knew she was a schoolgirl and Owain Williams was a grown man, but they were both just one person. And both set things in motion that became a lot bigger then they were themselves. So in a way, this is one of those "nobody is too small to make a difference" stories. I don't think this man will live to see an independent Wales, but he has lived to see devolution, and I am sure that already gave him some satisfaction.

The film was rather short. After some 40 minutes, it was over! Both the audience and the organisation had expected it to be some one and a half hours. So the lights didn't come on. I hadn't even finished my beer. But there was an applause, and I stood up to leave. I had a small chat with the lady at the bar, and then with Dilwyn. And then I saw one of the daughters of my Welsh tutor and her partner. We had a little chat! That is one of the perks of going out again. You see people!

I hope more people will see this film! I had no idea about this man, and I am glad I do now. More people should.

22 May 2021

Project extension done, I think!

 I finished the painting of the extension on a Monday morning at 7 AM, as I knew that soon afterwards, it would start raining, and not stop any time soon. I could find these last bits if they were underneath the edge of the roof and would be sheltered from the bad weather. But the edges, which had been caulked a long time ago, needed filling. The old caulk had gone crumbly. But it never was dry long enough for me to decide it was a good time to finish the job.

Then one night I had my usual weekly Skype dinner, but the connection went funny, and we called it a day fairly early, I decided the evening was still young. I also knew it would still be dried the next day, but after about two would get another very wet spell. So I thought this may be just the time window I needed!

I grabbed the caulking gun and the sealant I had in mind for the job. It wasn't technically caulk; that isn't always the most weatherproof and durable. This stuff was. And I wanted it to last.

The disadvantage of it being not caulk was that it was a lot stiffer. I don't like these guns anyway; I have had my share of frustration with them in the dig. At least I didn't have a particularly big one; the real big ones you need big hands for. And quite unlike the specimens in the dig, mine wasn't rusty. But with this stiff sealant, I basically needed to push with both my arms like a bodybuilder flexing the muscle just above their armpit in order to get the sealant out. Not ideal! But I just did that, and squeezed the stuff into the gaps with my finger. I don't suppose it is the way the manufacturers imagined it, but that is the way it happened.

When I was done, I pulled the rope back up over the roof, put the ladder (that I had used to get up to the flat roof) away, de-rigged the whole safety line, and decided to put the neighbour's ladder away some other time. It was now late!

I hope I did a decent job! And I hope it lasts a few years. We'll see!

21 May 2021

Reorganising tasks - for the third time

When I signed off sick, my colleagues took the load of my teaching. Some supervised my students in general modules where they learn things such as essay writing and presentation skills. Some took over lectures. Some work was just not done; I think that's fair, as you have to weigh off to what extent you can put an extra load on people who are overstretched already. And if it is something specialist I teach, there aren't many people who could teach it instead!

Just when I came back to work, another colleague signed off sick with a completely different ailment. Then the process had to be repeated. People took her burden. I wasn't one of the people who contributed to that; I suppose I was already struggling with both learning to work with my new software, and catching up with the marking work that was waiting for me. And I am not in her field of expertise.

Now we have another case of a colleague who needs to ditch responsibilities for health reasons. And this time, I can and do contribute. I took on some more dissertation marking, and I volunteered for an admin task he has. He was in charge of the second chance exams students can do in summer, if they haven't passed the year the first time around. By the time that gets busy I am sure the marking is done. And he really needs to spend his energy elsewhere.

In itself I am not keen on more work, but I am glad I can do something for him. And I am not the only one who came running; the whole team came together to lighten his burden. I am sure it makes a big practical difference. And I hope he feels supported!

20 May 2021

More restrictions lifted

It is now legal to travel internationally! And to go to the pub, even indoors! I have done none of these things, nor do I have acute plans to. But it does feel like a big step. And I will soon do things I haven't done in a long time: I have booked a ticket for a film. I will write about that separately! And I politely have plans of having an indoor drink with friends at some point, but well, no hurry.

What about travel? Well, the only country I am keen to get to is the Netherlands, and you are not supposed to go there unless there is some sort of emergency. So I will have to wait a bit.

And what about the feeling of release? Well, it feels a bit like the calm before the storm. Everyone is worried about the Indian variant, and the media are already full of predictions of another spike, and of articles about universities keeping their teaching online. I was really hoping we could be doing face-to-face things again!

So what is the practical implication? Until I plant my bum on a seat in Neuadd Ogwen to see a film, nothing is really changing for me. But I did take down my Covid paraphernalia. I had a "thank you NHS" rainbow in the bedroom window, and thank you messages for the milkman in the mailman on the front door. But May the 17th seemed to be the moment to take them down. I am sure both men have been fully vaccinated, and probably feel quite comfortable going from door to door by now. I sure hope so! Maybe they have even booked holidays to Portugal or South Georgia or something…

19 May 2021

The houses of Gorseddau

I knew Kate was going to be around in the weekend. So I checked if she was up for a walk. And she was! But the weather forecast wasn't particularly good, so I didn't want to do anything too spectacular. When I was pondering where to go, I remembered my book about slate. It had a chapter about housing quarrymen. And it mentioned one mine I had only visited once, because it is a little bit out of the way. What I hadn't noticed at the time was that a bit away from the quarry, there still were the remains of houses that had been built for the quarrymen. It was basically 18 semis on three streets, and each of the dwellings with a small plot of land. There isn't an awful lot of them left; hence probably that I hadn't realised it at the time. But the book mentioned that it was a peculiar scheme; the roads had been drawn with a ruler with total disregard for the topography. And the plots were outlined on rather barren land, which was not likely to yield an awful lot of food for the quarrymen. The book dryly describes the situation as "like Mynydd Llandygai, but then unsuccessful". Some of the plots in that village are still in use! And all the houses are still inhabited.

Anyway; she was up for it, and we met in Nantmor. While I was waiting for her (I was a bit early) it rained rather heavily. Oh dear! But everything that would fall then would not fall on our heads. But I put on all my waterproofs. And when Kate arrived she did the same.

We set off. I had had time to look at the map in the car so I thought I knew where to go. And the path was beautiful! It went through the woods, and where it came out we saw a little structure. We decided that was a good location for a coffee. But the view puzzled us. This was not where we were supposed to be! Where we were, there were no paths on the map. None of the iterations of map that we had. But we didn't have trouble to find out where it was we were. And we decided to just bushwhack to where we were supposed to be.

The river Glaslyn looking mysterious

the beautiful path

The view over Beddgelert from the hilltop we weren't supposed to be

Along the way we decided to walk the Slate Trail later in the summer. I'm looking forward to it already! But back to the here and now; the weather was great and the waterproofs came off. We navigated without problems to where we needed to be. And then the moment came; we saw the quarry over the ridge of the hill. And with that, we also saw the houses!

Beautiful ruins and beautiful weather on the way to the quarry

The path brings you to the top of the quarry, and it is difficult to cross over to the other side, what with the gaping pit in the middle. So we decided to just walk to the bottom and from there hit the road that still lead in the direction of the houses. It was quite the road! And it had a really funny leaning wall looming over it over one stretch. And after a while it came through a dreamy copse; later I realised that was where the quarry manager had had his house. Behind the copse we found another ruin; that one looked industrial. And then we came to the junction of the road that lead to the Victorian idea of a housing estate!

me having a look at whether we could cross the quarry (picture by Kate)

the leaning wall (picture by Kate)

the ruin next to the reservoir near the junction of the road (picture by Kate)

We walked up to it and had a look. These weren't big houses, but no one would have expected them to be. And it was indeed funny to see the complete disregard for the topography in the layout. We set down in the middle of the remains of one of the houses and had some lunch. And we decided to walk down to the end of this road, and then bushwhack back to the road with the leaning wall. That was harder than expected! The terrain was atrocious, with unstable and steep clumps of grass teetering above marshland. I think we just about managed to get across with dry socks and no twisted ankles. By then my knee did hurt, though; I am getting old. And we saw bad weather approach. It started raining, and the waterproof jackets came back out.

one of the ruins

one of the roads with the ruins, with the quarry in the background

last view on the quarry before we descended into the next valley. You can see the rain coming over the pass

On the other side of the hill there was rain as far as the eye could see. This was going to get interesting! We strolled briskly. And this time, we took the route we had intended to take on the way out. It wasn't ideal; thanks to the weather, the path was a stream. And everything next to the path was a lake. Soon we were completely resigned and sloshed through calf deep water. It was completely impossible to avoid! And I was getting cold; I knew my waterproof jacket wasn't really waterproof. It had never really done what they needed to do even though I had purposefully bought a high-end one. And for that reason I am hesitant to do it again. I can throw hundreds of pounds at it again, but will the result be any better? I know it can be done; my waterproof trousers really really are waterproof. Maybe I should just buy a few second-hand rain jackets hoping that one of them will be better than this one. The trousers were second-hand!

Snowdon in the rain, the Moelwyns in the sun

me in the rain (picture by Kate)

the path…

Along the way we passed a big shelter, and sat there for a few minutes. Then we went back to the path. It was a bit challenging! It was steep and rocky, and it was also a stream, so it was very slippery. But we managed to negotiate that successfully as well.

Fairly soon we were back in civilisation. We found a roof to stand underneath, and changed into dry clothes as well as we could. We wanted to go and have a nice hot chocolate at a café! We chose the old chapel at the start of the Watkin path: Caffi Gwynant. And it was open!

They had roofed picnic tables on the terrace, so we were dry. I was just warm enough! But it was nice to drink something hot in civilisation. We went for seconds. And then it was time to go home! It had been a much more epic walk then I had anticipated. Some 10 miles, and 700 m ascent. And a heck of a lot of rain. But a good day nonetheless!

18 May 2021

Cold showers

 One day, my shower suddenly wouldn't get warm. I had no idea why! But I wanted my shower, so I just went for a cold one.

I'd like to have the choice in how warm my showers are, so I had a look at the boiler. I didn't see anything wrong with it! I pressed the "reset" button just in case. Maybe it would help.

By the time my next shower was due, I had checked that the heating worked, so the boiler itself was working. I switched on the hot water, ran up the stairs, checked the boiler had fired up, and ran downstairs again for my shower. Which stayed cold. This was confusing!

My first hypothesis had been: the boiler wasn't working, but that was clearly not the case. My second hypothesis was: the boiler was working, but only for the heating. Not sure how that makes sense but it is worth considering. But that seemed disproven too now. Why would it fire up if I switched the hot water on then? So now I have third hypothesis: something else is wrong. I know it's not very specific. Googling, and looking up the users manual, hasn't helped very much yet. I suppose it's not urgent; it's May, so cold showers are not much of a problem. But sooner or later I will have to solve this. One day autumn will return and then I will want to have hot showers again! And I might want to wash my hair before that time, and I don't want to do that with cold water. I will give it a few more days to see if I can solve this myself. the previous time I had boiler issues, I did manage to sort it in the end, so I'm not giving up yet. I hope I won't have to call the plumber in!

17 May 2021

Blogger causes trouble

 One morning I checked my personal mail. And to my surprise I had a barrage of emails from Blogger, which are clearly the hosts of my blog. They all mentioned that one of my blog posts had been removed because it had violated their malware and viruses policy. And that if I violated their policies more often, they would terminate the entire blog. What? Malware and viruses? I just write some text about my day-to-day life.

I decided to later go into the office, check these guidelines, find out if I could appeal, and such things. I have been blogging since 2007! That's 14 years of text and pictures they are threatening to throw down the drain. And if there is an easy way of breaking this whole thing up I don't know about it. So this did worry me.

Just before I was ready to go into the office I checked my email again. Another barrage of messages! This time they all said that the team had re-evaluated my posts, and that they had reinstated them because they had decided they weren't in breach of the regulations after all. It looked like this had all ended in a damp squib. Well, I'm not complaining about that it all got sorted! But I did have a bit of a nervous morning. I hope this will still last time that happens.

16 May 2021

Bilingualism or interaction?

 If a pandemic stops you from meeting in person, you can just meet online. I think the amount of familiarity and proficiency with software like Teams, Zoom and the likes has skyrocketed. But if you are bilingual, things can be a bit complicated.

The University is proudly bilingual. Our branch of the University and College Union is too. And that raises some issues. This is Wales, after all, where a majority of the population doesn't speak the language of the country. The majority of the union members doesn't either. And if there is a bilingual event at the University, we tend to get a translator who does synchronous translation into English in a corner, and everyone who needs that gets a headset through which that translation is conveyed. So how does that work online?

We started out having union meetings on Teams, but that platform does not allow for synchronous translation. So the last meeting I attended was done through Zoom. The problem with that is, that your meeting then has to be classified as a conference or symposium. And that means that the speaker/chairperson has all the power, and everybody else has their camera and microphone automatically switched off. Only panel members can switch people's microphones on, and only actual panellists can have their camera on.

A union meeting should be a place for discussion. And as it was now, most of us were voiceless. And that is not ideal! And I can fully understand why the Welsh-speaking union members (and especially members of the committee, as they lead these meetings) want to be able to contribute to such meetings in the language of the country. But I think that if technology dictates that you need to choose between interaction or bilingualism, and you are a union, interaction should weigh heavier. This opinion was strongly voiced by one of the members, and I think she is right. And I think that an actual solution to this issue would be that technology steps up its game; it should be possible, surely, to have synchronous translation in meetings? Of course, if people can just switch their microphones on at will, you can get a situation with people speaking through each other, and no translator could keep up with that, but hopefully efficient chairing could avoid that.

I suppose this is another example of technology starting out catering for the majorities. These big technologies tend to stem from the USA, where a big majority speaks only one language. And it is that majority that holds most of the money. So the technology works well for those! And now it is time for them to step up their game and cater for more of a variety of people. Bilingual meetings should be possible. But for now, before we get to that point, I suppose we need to accept that the union is monolingual for a while…

15 May 2021

Women and the Great Strike

 After several online lectures to celebrate Bethesda's bicentenary, I saw another lecture advertised. It was organised by Llandudno Museum. It would be about women in the Great Strike. I was interested!

It turned out this talk was based on the undergraduate dissertation of the speaker. Quite something to give a public lecture about it!

It was an interesting talk. The whole problem with this sort of topic is that, at the time, few people would have found what women did, said and thought very interesting, so it wouldn't be documented very well. And the archives are full of old newspapers, but these would all have been written by men, and might provide a bit of a biased view. And the woman had had only the amount of time one is supposed to sink into an undergraduate dissertation to dig around in it, so it was undoubtedly not the very last word to say about this. But it was a good start to redress the balance!

So what had she found? I already knew that there had been instances of strikebreakers having to walk past crowds of women shouting abuse and possibly throwing stuff at them. That was already publicised back at the time. But she had found more. I knew about male choirs travelling the country, fundraising for the strikers, but she dug out a female choir which had gone around the country and raised considerable funds. She also mentioned newspapers reporting that if families were having hard times, this would be the fault of the woman who would spend the man's wages on fripperies. She said she had found no evidence of that being true.

Another woman she came up with was Florence Dixie; I had not heard of her, but she was distant relative of the big bogeyman of the conflict: George Sholto Douglas Pennant. She had written him letters in which she implored him to, basically, not be such a complete bastard, but that clearly hadn't helped.

Another thing she came across were women who had moved to south Wales, probably to follow their men who had found a job in the coalfields there. They complained that their children grew up with southern habits. I suppose the clear difference between Gogs and Hwntws was established in the very earliest 20th-century already! But my guess is, that it might be as old as there have been people in Wales…

14 May 2021

First harvest

 I was in the garden after a day with heavy wind, and I noticed one of the stems of my rhubarb plant, which I had got from Suzie, had been damaged. Closer inspection showed it was two of them. I decided it was time to harvest these! So that evening I had rhubarb compote (with sour cream) for dessert. I suppose the season is open! It might be a while, though, until the next foodstuff lands on my plate…

13 May 2021

Suzie (finally!) and a bat

I was finally going to see my friend Suzie again. We had to think carefully about where to meet up. She was heavily pregnant, and due the next month! But I was really glad to see her; the last time I saw her, she must have been pregnant already, but I didn't know. That gives an idea of how long ago it was. (It didn't seem to have made it to the blog.)

We weren't allowed to meet indoors yet, and the weather forecast was atrocious, so we needed something with a roof but no walls. And I suggested we just find ourselves a ruin. I suggested Parys Mountain on a whim. But she thought it was a good idea! In hindsight, I'm not so sure how brilliant that idea was, but I didn't know what her action radius was.

I drove all the way to the mine, and met up with her and her by now four year old son. And we walked to the nearest ruin we knew of with a roof: the windmill. It turned out it was actually quite far for both mother and son! But we were committed now. And we got there.

We set down on the floor and got our flasks out. We both had brought cake! We had enough to catch up on. But suddenly, Suzie jumped. A bat had just fallen out of nowhere and landed right next to her! That was bad news. A bat is not supposed to lie on the ground. And one supposes that a healthy bat doesn't just fall from its perch. What to do? We just googled things like the RSPCA, and local bat volunteers. The suggestion was that a bat lying on the ground is indeed bad news. And I got someone on the phone who would contact someone else who would know what to do, and call me back. But in the time that took, the bat flew up, and vanished in the rafters. Good news! The person who phoned back was not at all annoyed that their weekend had been disturbed; they were merely happy the bat was okay.

When that was sorted, it was pretty much time to leave again. And we walked back to the cars. It had not been long rendezvous, but I suppose soon we will just be able to meet up in her garden, and that is logistically a lot simpler. I look forward to it!

probably a brown long-eared bat

12 May 2021

Indoor squash

 After the relentless attacks of the slugs last year, I had decided that this year, I would keep my squash family indoors. So in early spring I sowed pumpkin, butternut squash, and courgette. And they came up! And they became sizeable plants, without any slugs doing considerable damage. And I also managed to keep the cat from murdering them. And it's still early, and none of them have come into flower yet, let alone fruit, but things are looking good! When it gets warmer I will have to make sure I water them enough, as the conservatory can get quite warm. But if I manage that I have faith this year will turn out better than last year considering growing my own vegetables in the squash family!

A courgette plant 

The pumpkin

11 May 2021

Post-pandemic voting

I am such a Welsh veteran by now, I was already going to vote for the Senedd for the second time. The previous time I was a bit confused by the Welsh system. This time I was used to it!

Like the previous time, we would be voting for the Senedd and the Police and Crime Commissioner. And I know who I would be voting for. I went early in the morning. It was still quiet! But with social distancing still in force it still meant I had to wait a few minutes. And from the polling station, one actually had quite a good view on the very snowy mountains. I hadn't expected them to be so white so late in the year!

Later, the results came in. As I had expected, my constituency keeps its Aelod y Senedd: Sian Gwenllian for Plaid Cymru. That suited me fine! The regional seats went to Conservative (2x), Labour, and Plaid. Two Conservative seats too many! But I did what I could.

The PCC went from Plaid to Labour. And all over Wales, Labour did well! As I had expected. Everyone I knew was pleased with being under a Labour government during a pandemic. I know I live in a bit of a bubble, and I won't know that many people who would have preferred Johnson, but still. I'm glad we keep Drakeford for a while! Keep at it, Wales…

10 May 2021

physiotherapist calls on backup

 The previous time I saw my physiotherapist I was a bit scared. I had been receiving therapy for months, and they still seem to be so little progress. Yes I could do hard work again, like what you are doing in the garden or when doing DIY, but any manipulation of a computer by hand or still a big issue. Was it ever going to get better?

Typically, a short time after that meeting I started to notice significant progress. And that made me really happy! There was hope after all. Maybe I would one day be back to what I was before the pandemic. Armwise, that this, anyway. Pandemics have more effects than just RSI.

The physiotherapist still a bit puzzled by my condition, though. And she had talked with a colleague who was an arm specialist. And she had booked me an appointment! To see both of them at the same time.

I got to the hospital and was called up. There the arm lady, called Haf, interrogated both of us regarding what the situation was and what the physiotherapist, Gabby, had already done. The physiotherapist had decided I had a tennis elbow, possibly in combination with golf elbow, but she wasn't sure. And now this arm lady had a bit of a prod herself. She figured I was sore where my arm muscles were attached to the bone. And she was wondering if maybe it was a nerve thing after all. It seemed like my symptoms were bit confusing and a bit in between the various possible ailments. But human bodies are not all the same.

We had a bit of discussion. If it was muscle weakness issue I should continue my exercises. If it was nerve pinching problem, maybe I should stop them, as bigger muscles only means more pressure on the nerves. But I was convinced it was the exercises that had caused my improvement. I didn't want to give them up! So we reached an agreement; I would keep the exercises for strengthening the muscles for pulling your hand up or down, and stop those that strengthen the muscles that rotate your forearm.

After that the arm lady went on her way, and the physiotherapist took me to a different cubicle to do some nerve stretching. She wanted to check if there was something wrong there! And it seemed that my radial nerve was a bit tight. Maybe that was part of the problem? She gave me an exercise to stretch it a bit.

In two weeks I will speak with her again. We will see if the changing exercise regime will have helped! But I think the problem with my arms I have is a bit difficult to diagnose. At least I am making progress. Even if they don't really know what's going on!

09 May 2021

Welsh exam done by voice

Everything becomes more difficult if you can't use your hands. And when it comes to computer work, that holds especially if you're not doing that work in English. I had had loads of trouble with the Welsh dictation software, but even with that software working, I was quite crippled. If you are lucky and you articulate well, the software can get some six words out of ten correct. And then you are left to correct the rest in software that doesn't speak Welsh. That is a complete faff! So I was looking towards my upcoming Welsh exam a little bit of trepidation. I figured I would be okay on the Welsh. But would I be okay on the technology?

The weekend before the exam I tried out the software. It wants to check lots of things, and you can see if it all works under a false name. The software wants to check whether it is compatible with your operating system, with your microphone, and with your camera, and it wants to know if it can detect your face. And you need to do a room check. These exams are done at home, and everyone gets a remote invigilator, and these invigilators want to see your room, to see if you are not hiding any fluent Welsh speakers under your desk, or something. So I logged in under some generic name and managed the checks.

When the actual day came I was ready at my desk at 3:30. My exam would start at four, and from half an hour in advance onwards I could do these checks, now under my own name. So I went through the whole rigmarole. And then I got a screen that said my checks were being verified. And that screen stayed there. And stayed there. And stayed there. Would these checks actually be performed before the exam will officially start? Luckily, with only a few minutes to go, a message appeared, saying that if the text would not be complete by four, they would be performed in the background, and I could start on the actual exam. I wish they would have displayed that from the start! That would have saved me some worries.

The verification window that made me nervous

Another problem was that suddenly, the letter "D" didn't work anymore on my keyboard. No time to deal with that! As I don't normally type anyway, that seemed not such a big problem, but of course as my voice recognition software doesn't understand Welsh, it could prove annoying. But what can one do! We weren't allowed to login earlier then half an hour in advance, and if I would do the normal things you do to remediate problems, such as switching it off and on again, I would probably have to do the whole logging in process again, with these annoying checks. I left it as it was.

I started. The first part was to correct a text with purposeful mistakes in. I wanted to be fast with this, as I knew I would need lots of times with actual writing exercises. I did what I could, and then moved on.

The next part was to summarise an English text in Welsh. I was okay with that! You were not allowed to use many words, but as writing for me takes so long, that was okay for me. But even here, a complication arose. When I was sort of done, the software suddenly told me the exam was suspended. The screen froze and I couldn't do anything. I still had 41 minutes left! What was going on? I quickly emailed my invigilator. And after some type minutes, I was back. I now had two clocks ticking back the time. One that was still ticking back from 41 minutes; the other one hadn't stopped and was at some 35 minutes. I figured I should have the full 41 minutes.

The disconcerting message that my exam was suspended

I started on the free writing exercise. I had to support my employer in their imaginary application for the prize of "employer of the year". Yeah right! I decided to use it to vent some of my frustrations. I wrote about how fantastic the School was with regards to gender equality and ethnic diversity. If only! But I didn't get far. My Internet dropped. It only dropped for a short while, but I have to do the whole set of checks again. That also involved a pass code that I didn't have at hand as I didn't think I would need it after the initial login. I didn't keep my email open. That might not be in line with exam conditions! So that was more stress.

By the time I was back, time was short, and I decided I couldn't wait for my voice recognition software. I switched to typing as it is faster. But it wasn't very fast; I couldn't type a "D". Every time I accidentally did, the voice recognition software opened a dictation box. It's not supposed to do that! The actual shortcut for that is Ctrl+Shift+D. But it had a weird mood and now all it took was a d! That was really disruptive. In hindsight, I probably should have closed the entire voice recognition software. But I was under stress and didn't think of it. And then suddenly time was up. I had not been given the full 41 minutes! And everything that is not in the exam screen is lost then. And I was typing in Word. So some of it was lost. I only had some 63 words in a 300 words exercise! So there clearly was not good enough. Oh well.

I emailed my invigilator to say I had run out of time. I suppose I will have to try again next year! And for now, I was glad to close down the computer and go downstairs for dinner. I was tired, and my arms hurt after all that typing.

A few days later I bumped into the lady from Canolfan Bedwyr, who had helped me prepare for all this. I told her of my issues. And she said there had been lots of technical problems all over the country. She said there would be another try in early autumn for people who hadn't been able to do the exam now for such reasons. She didn't know if I would qualify as a person with technical problems. I would like to say I am! The RSI is not their fault, and neither is the faulty shortcut key, but the fact that my exam was halted for several minutes is maybe not their fault either, but it is their responsibility. So I would like to make my case. But we will see. If not, I can try again next spring. By then I surely hope I have functional arms again, and can just vibe the whole thing without having pain in my arms for days after.

I expect to hear I have failed soon, and that might be as well the moment to discuss a second chance in a few months' time. I have never failed the Welsh exam before! And I think I wouldn't have, if my arms would have worked. But that is life I suppose. No one said it was going to be fair!

08 May 2021

Last (half) fieldtrip of the year

We would have our last trip on Lligwy Beach, and on the day of my Welsh exam. And, as it so happens, on a day with a fair amount of predicted bad weather. Altogether, it could've been better. I had told Dei and Jaco I had my Welsh exam, so I would have to leave earlier.

On the actual day, I drove through the rain to the parking lot where we had gathered before. There was nobody there. 

A while later, there was still nobody there. I was wondering if something had gone wrong. I knew there was another car park. Were they there? I had a look. I could see that car park if I walked to the last dune before the beach. I was sure I would see two buses if they appeared! I wasn't so sure about the cars of Dei and Jaco. To be sure, I texted them.

I used my time to drink coffee and have a sandwich. I didn't think there would be time for that for a bit! Then I had another look. I saw two little figures in very visible jackets. That looked like Dei and Jaco. I phoned them. There was no reply. I sort of figured that if they realised I wasn't there, they would keep an eye on their phones. But by now I wondered if they didn't think I was going to be there at all. Should I just go there? Seemed a bit silly as they would have to walk past me to get to the beach.

Finally I got Dei on the phone. He admitted he thought I wasn't going to come at all. Great. I could have stayed at home! Instead, I was now walking through rain and hail to a bunch of students and staff they didn't even need me there. I was a bit grumpy. I could've prepared for my exam instead. It is quite easy to end up as a sort of a fifth wheel on trips like this, and this trip seemed to be exceptionally suited for a situation like that.

I got there, and in the pouring rain Dei and Jaco gave an introduction on the trip. Then we set off. The idea was that Jaco would first talk to students through the sedimentology of the outcrop, and then we would have the students measure the dip of the sediment beds, as they were deformed. There was published article about this beach, which suggests that the structural geology was quite complex. We, on the other hand, thought it was fairly simple.

We walked the end of the beach, and Jaco had to students look at the sandstones and the muds. He had them look at the conglomerates and the lateral extent. He had them look at the internal structure, and what it meant.

This took a while. While looking at all that, we made our way back to the start of the beach. He did draw attention to the inclination of the beds while we were moving along the section. We also pointed out desiccation cracks. But by then it was pretty much lunchtime. Only after that vote the students that measuring bedding planes.

I had pretty much not opened my mouth the whole morning. I had enjoyed the geological excursion, though. Jaco was pointing things out that I hadn't seen before; partly because he had done another recce without us, and partly because he just noticed new things and draw attention to those. I have been quite grumpy but I was feeling better now. And the sun has come through! That was better than the rain and hail.

I had my sandwich and my apple and my tea and I left. Time to get ready for my exam! This was a bit of an anti-climax to the module but so be it. Next year will be better!

 Pretty bridge between the two parking lots

Beautiful sedimentary rocks on the beach