12 June 2021

Barbecue in the garden

 After six months, I would have dinner in person with Jaco and Marjan again. The weather was good enough to have dinner in the garden! And we decided to go for barbecue, as that is that sort of food preparation that takes most advantage of the weather. So as there were all sorts of other things going on that day, I had been hurried and stressed when I was preparing it. But not too long after they arrived, all the stress faded away and I could just enjoy this occasion.

My friends eat meat and I still think, in spite of being a fairly strict vegetarian since lockdown (because if I eat meat, that tends to be because other people are cooking for me), that an entirely vegetarian barbecue was not really a barbecue. So we had meat! That was the first time in a fair while. My friends had brought hamburgers and I had brought some kebabs. And in addition to that we had halloumi, bell peppers, mushrooms with blue cheese, and of course things such as salad and bread. And it was lovely! It was sunny and the food was good and the drinks were too. And we had the surprise video call from Marjan's mother. It was a bit of a pity that the cat didn't come out to say hello.

After the barbecue I served tea and apple pie. It had been Jaco's birthday!

Not too long after the pie Marjan got cold and we decided to call it a day. And just before my friends left, the cat came down and they could make each others' acquaintance. The summer season has been opened!

Jaco in the garden

11 June 2021

Stressed interview about flooding

It all started with a book. Two of my colleagues had edited a book, aimed at children, that had 50 oceanic topics all dealt in one page, written by one specialist. It is called 30 second oceans, I suppose because you should be able to get through every topic in 30 seconds. I think it is a good idea! And of course they were seeking some publicity for it. And one of the bodies that was interested in providing that was the North Wales newspaper the Daily Post. They had done an interview with them, and that appeared on their website. In the interview, my colleague Mattias had applied what the book said about sea level change to North Wales,  pointing out that we have some low-lying infrastructure here. As there already are issues with flooding, further sea level rise is bad news for the area.

For some reason, the daily post had decided to enliven the text with animations of North Wales experiencing 30 m sea level rise. The comments section of the article showed signs of the public thinking that was excessive. 

So was this the stressed interview I am talking about? No, that is still to come. On Monday morning and email landed in my inbox. BBC Cymru wanted someone from Ocean Sciences to talk about this in Welsh. And I figured I might as well do it; I speak Welsh, and I am a sea level scientist. So I volunteered. I phoned the lady who had contacted the school. I was a bit confused about what she said then; she asked me what I thought the main points were from the report that the interview with Mattias had been based on. Report? Main findings? It was all based on the book. And it didn't really have new findings. It only gave one page of information! I asked her to send me any report she meant, and I contacted Mattias and Yueng. Then I found out that they know nothing about the report either, and that neither of them had the faintest idea where the animation had come from. And the book only says that average sea level rise since the 60s has been 1.5 mm per year (at the moment it is more: 3-4 mm/a), and that that is the most it has been in the last 3000 years. It also says that total possible sea level rise due to ice melt is some 65 m. That's all they say! And Mattias had not given any numbers. The public, however, would see the animation, and not know that these animations are not at all connected to the book, or to the research Mattias and Yueng do. They would logically link it to what Mattias had been saying, and concludes that these scientists are scaremongers and alarmists. Not good!

I had agreed with the lady she would phone me around 3 PM. But then I got an email; something had changed, and that it was going to be Cardiff who would phone me, and they would do that at around 4 PM. That was fine with me. There was nothing happening on that front at 4 PM, but well, one can be a bit late. I didn't have any contact information of the Cardiff crew so I couldn't contact them. And it was also the day I had promised the students their dissertation grades. I had spent the afternoon checking whether all grades were in, and trying to do something about it where they weren't. And at 6 PM, Jaco and Marjan would visit. We would have a barbecue in the garden! The first time since Christmas we would have an actual dinner in person. And I could sort all that if I would have that interview at 4 PM, but at some point I would have to light the barbecue et cetera! I didn't like this at all. By 5 PM I emailed the original lady again; had something gone wrong? She mailed back there had been some confusion; she thought Cardiff would do the interview and Cardiff thought she was going to do it. But she would kick Cardiff in the bum.

In the meantime, I started to get dinner ready. I put the garden furniture out, and the fire bowl, and big slabs of slate to put the fire bowl on in order to protect the grass, and I got oil and a poker and all sorts of things we would be needing. I kept an eye on my phone so I would notice if Cardiff got in touch. For now they hadn't, but I did get some other messages. Lots of students were telling me they couldn't see their grades! In all the stress, I must have mis-clicked a button somewhere. So even though Cardiff hadn't been in touch yet, I knew I had to get back inside and sort that out. And then I heard voices. Jaco and Marjan were here! 

I quickly explained to them that there were still two issues I had to see to before I could sit down for a relaxed barbecue. They understood! So I first went inside to sort out the grades for the students. And shortly after that, the phone rang. It was Cardiff!

We had a little discussion. They still wanted to do the interview, basically ASAP, and they wanted to talk about the amount of sea level rise by the end of the century. I had prepared for that so it was okay with me. She had to send me a link so we could have a secure connection and then we could talk.

While I was waiting for that link to arrive, I briefly sat down with my friends. It didn't last though; I got a message saying "have you received my link?"; I checked my spam box and it turned out I indeed had received the link. So it was time to run inside, tell the interviewer that IPCC expects sea level rise of 26 to 80 cm by the end of the century, unless West Antarctica runs amok and makes things worse. And that was it! I don't think I did very well. I had been on Welsh radio before, and already noticed I lose my ability to speak, especially in Welsh, if I am suddenly talking into a media microphone. But I managed to say something useful I think. And I don't watch television so I didn't see the final result. It was going to be broadcast on breakfast television.

With my job done I went outside again, grabbed me a beer, and sat down. I could really use a relaxed barbecue now!

Cleaning in Menai Bridge

 The previous weekend, I had helped my friend Kate Igraine to put some items into storage. Her time in Menai Bridge was coming to an end! But when you leave your rental property, you need to empty it and clean it, and that is a bit of work. So this weekend I was back. I personally never liked these last stages of moving house. When you want to spend time in your new house, but you still have to do the tedious job of cleaning the kitchen cupboards and stuff! So I had offered to help her. If you do it together it is less tedious. So on a sunny Sunday morning I biked over. We first had a coffee, and then we got to work!

I started out taking fixings out of the garage. Garages are good for storing outdoor gear, and that might be associated with all kinds of hooks and loops and pulley systems and whatnot. And that needs to come along! So that kept me busy for a while. Then I swept the courtyard. Kate did the run to the recycling centre, which tidied up considerably. Then we had another coffee. With brownies!

After that I cleaned the kitchen. Then I thought it was time to go home and look after my own place. Kate thought she would only need an hour or two more to finish everything off. It turned out otherwise. But she got it done! And the next time I see her she lives in the new house! I am glad I could lend a hand.

10 June 2021

Checking the tent

I have plans to go walk the entire Slate Trail later this summer. And that means my tent will get some action again. It needs to be in good nick! And I had noticed the previous few times I had used it that the main zip was getting a bit iffy. And if it split, I always managed to close it anyway, but it is only a question of time before at some point you can't close it anymore at all. And that is bad! You want your entire tent to be waterproof. And also, you wanted to be a bit of a blob with not too much purchase for the wind. So I figured it was time to have it repaired. I had a bit of a look on the website of the manufacturer; where could you get a thing like that repaired? And in the UK, there was one address, in Scotland. I contacted them and they said they were perfectly willing and able to either change the runner, or the entire zip, for a reasonable amount of money. So that sounded like a good idea! But I wanted to check. I hadn't pitched that tent in a fair while. Was that zip really as I remembered it? So I pitched it in the garden. And yes, as it was indeed how I remembered it.

One complication I sort of had not taken into account was the cat. She thought it was mightily interesting what I was doing! And as soon as that tent stood, she slipped underneath the outer shell. Oh dear. What it would she be doing in there? Would you be trying to sharpen her nails on any of the delicate fabrics? I tried to shoo her away. If you think of your cat "she really wouldn't do that, now would she" then probably she would.

I then had to get the tent ready for shipping. That involved folding it up tightly. I made sure the cat wasn't in the room. But of course, as soon as I started handling the tent, she appeared, and was way too interested in what was going on. I could imagine her trying to catch moving guy lines, and in the process stick her claws through the material of the tent. So I chucked her out of the room unceremoniously! Oh dear. But soon I had the tent packed up in a reasonably small box, ready to go to the local post office.

I think I also will have to sometimes go away for the night in my other tent, to get the cat used to the idea of me not being home all the time! I haven't spent a night elsewhere since she came to live with me…

 tent pitched; cat already lurking

 two seconds later…

09 June 2021

Long run after all that cycling

 I had spent two days in a row getting my exercise out of cycling; once to Menai Bridge and back, and once to Bangor and back. And the funny thing is that it felt insufficient! So on Saturday I wanted to go for a nice long run. And I decided to more or less run the route I had only walked once; basically, following the coastal path all the way to where it turns into the valley where Aber Falls are. There turn right and head back, over the crest of Crâs, and then Moel Wnion. The main difference was that back then, I had looped around Moel Wnion at a rather low level, and this time I intended to go straight over the top.

It was nice weather for it. Nice but not too warm! And not so sunny there were other people on the path. I happily told along the coast, and easily found the path heading uphill. There are two paths; the previous time I had taken the steep one, but this time I didn't want to. And it is such a beautiful area there!

I had intended to run over the top, but I when I saw that path and its run-friendliness (or lack thereof), and its alternative, I decided to take better path that curves around it. This was still a different path than the one I had done the previous time. I was going to hit new terrain! And it was lovely. Even without doing the top it was a long enough run! I might do the route over the top some other day. And only really close to the village I met other people. It was half term! I suppose everybody was on the top of Snowdon.

When I got back I had a shower, and then was hungry, so I had dinner. And then I was pretty much ready for bed! That's not where I went; I had stuff to do, but I felt quite rosy. I suppose that's a good thing!

Crâs in the distance

Sea views

 the waterfall seen from one of the tops of Crâs

running selfie

08 June 2021

Work on the vegetable beds

 I had improved my veg beds by chucking several bags of shop-bought compost, and some home-made stuff, into them and mixing it in. But that only serves a purpose if you then put vegetables in them. And some of my veg had grown big enough! It was ready to go into the big wide world. The first thing that went outside was my peas; the slugs don't like them so they are a safe bet. And the next were my cavolo nero. These might be more to the taste of the slugs! I just had to keep my fingers crossed for them. And I had bought three aubergine plants on the Friday market; these joined the rhubarb in the other downstairs vegetable bed. In the upstairs bed I put kale and carrots. I spread some organic slug pellets and placed some protective metal cages over the small plants. Otherwise the cats will just dig them right out!

With all these vegetables moving out I had space to put some of my seedlings into separate pots. I still have beetroot, kohlrabi, and cabbage still waiting to move out. There still is space there! Would I have a better harvest than last year? Let's hope so!

the upstairs vegetable bed with potatoes, beetroot, kohlrabi, kale, carrots, sage, mint and oregano

the downstairs veg bed with peas, leek and cavolo nero

The cat demonstrating why these protective arches (in this case, over aubergine plants) are there

07 June 2021

Back to the pub

 It has been legal to meet inside a pub for weeks now! I haven't done it yet. But for the first time since it became legal to go to the pub at all, I was going for a pint. I had been seeing my Welsh tutor on Teams through the entire period, but we prefer to meet in person. And she had suggested we meet up in Bangor or Menai Bridge. I had volunteered the Tap and Spile, as I am working at home, and this pub is nicely close to the start of the bicycle path to Bethesda. And I knew they had outside tables. The weather was going to be lovely!

I got there first. I suddenly was biking down the bicycle path all the time now! The previous day I had biked to Menai Bridge to go to the lab. My bike finally has something to do again. And I sat down at the table and waited for Jenny. It wasn't the most scenic pub terrace ever; it's a nice pub if you want to sit inside, but if you sit outside you are basically on the pavement right at the road. You are really close to Bangor Pier, but you just can't see it from there. I suppose my choice wasn't perfect. But it was convenient!

Jenny appeared and we had our first in-person talk since forever. It was really nice! And I normally only drink half a pint, but I figured the pub needed some support so I had an entire one. We want to keep meeting in person from now on! And for next time she suggested a pub just around the corner, which actually has beer garden…

The view from where we were sitting. The road with all the cars on leads to the Pier.

06 June 2021

Courgette plan seems to work

 After a very disappointing first try of growing courgettes last year, I decided to do things differently. Last year the only creatures who enjoyed the courgettes were the pests in the garden (probably slugs). They even ate most of the plants. Slug pellets and copper tape didn't help! So this year, all my plants in the courgette family are living indoors. And so far they seem to like it. I have two courgette plants, one butternut squash plant, and one pumpkin plant. And they all grew to considerable size, unconsumed by invertebrates. The pumpkin plant especially is huge! And all the plants have started flowering now. That meant it would soon become clear if this would work!

One day I saw my biggest courgette plant had indeed started to make a courgette! And there were no munch marks on it! I don't know how big will get, but I have faith that it will be me who eats it in the end. And I am also curious to see how things will go with the other two species. I hope I will have a bumper crop! Courgette soup, here I come!

The first indoor-grown courgette

The pumpkin plant

05 June 2021

Back in the lab

 When Jaco and I came out of the field, he basically was ready for the actual fieldtrip. He knew all he needed to know about the site, but I wasn't done yet. I could be certain of nothing at all until I had seen my samples under the microscope. So when I got out of the field I went straight into the lab. I wanted to sieve out these samples, so they could go into the oven to dry, and I would be able to have a look at them the very next day. And so it happened! It was completely weird to be back in the lab. I hadn't really spent any time on campus since the start of the first lockdown. And I hadn't done much lab work for a while before that. So it was a veritable trip down memory lane!

 Our eighties-style lab

The next day I came back. This time I came straight from home, so I was on bicycle! That was the first in quite a while. But no time to ponder that too much; it was time to take the samples out of the oven, and put them under the microscope. As soon as I put the first sample under the microscope I knew things were okay. There were forams everywhere! And they were looking good.

During the morning I went through all the samples. The upper marsh looked the best! And there was a clear change in assemblages from the upper to the lower marsh, even though by the looks of it, the difference was small both horizontally and vertically. One thing that was a bit disappointing was the lowest sample; these tend to be the most spectacular, but this one wasn't! I didn't spot any exotic species. I probably had not sampled low enough. That's why you do recce's like this; then you can spot such things and rectify before the actual field work takes place.

I also bumped into a colleague, who I hadn't seen in a long time (of course). We caught up a bit! Then he alerted me to some people having coffee on the balcony at 11, and he even made a pot of coffee for the occasion. I didn't have any coffee accoutrements with me, so that was appreciated! And it was nice to have a first coffee break with colleagues in 1.5 years.

I only had the lab booked for the morning, so I made sure to tidy up and clean and be out of the lab by noon. I know enough now to be able to have a good think about how exactly I would want to do my foram business on the actual fieldtrip. I figured I could get a bit more thorough than I would have done in the south. There just are things you can do in a dedicated teaching lab big enough for 150 students (in times without social distancing) you cannot do in a holiday chalet!

 Pretty Elphidiums

04 June 2021

Finding a North Welsh estuary for fieldwork

 In pre-pandemic times, we would go to South Wales each year to show the students the many faces of an estuary. We would have them survey it to check for whether it is filling up with sand or not, they measure sediment transport, they check where the boundary between salt and freshwater goes, they check for sedimentary structures, they do geophysics behind the barrier, they take a sediment core, and of course they look at microfossils. This past year, we had done it all pretty much online. I think there was a geophysics session, and there may have been some sediment sieving, but there certainly was no residential fieldtrip on the other side of the country. And this coming year we are expected to have an actual fieldwork, but this time in the north, so we won't go residential. We just think the pandemic situation won't allow it. But that did mean we needed to find a suitable estuary nearby! And in a meeting we had decided we would try it with the estuary of the River Cefni, on Anglesey. So we needed to do a bit of a recce there.

I had told Jaco I intended to go, then he had suggested we go together. That was fine with me, and on a sunny Wednesday morning we met up at a convenient parking lot. We put on our mud-resistant shoes, and off we were. We were on the marsh in no time.

It didn't look like it had anything like the beautiful vegetation zonation the Taf estuary has, but there were zones of sorts, and I took a sample in each. Most of my samples are always in the vegetated zone, where Jaco has little to do as there aren't any bedforms, but sampling doesn't take much time so soon we were on the sand flat. In theory, that is where it gets interesting for him. But there was nothing to be seen there other than worm poo and bird footsteps. That is not what floats his boat, so we kept walking. Quite far into the estuary we finally found some ripples! Of various types. It seemed enough for what he wants to do with the students.

We were done, so we walked back. We had only spent about an hour in there, but we probably gathered enough information/material will be able to now prepare our parts of the fieldtrip!

One of the vegetation zones on the saltmarsh

Jaco on the sand flat

a shell bank


03 June 2021

Moving washing machines, trees and desserts

It was a hot day and I didn't take any pictures! But the day really happened. And it was a good day. I first did some chores, and then I drove to Menai Bridge. I was going to help Kate Igraine to bring some big stuff to storage, on the eve of her house move. As she is joining existing functioning household, she doesn't have to bring everything. The house already has things such as a cooker and a washing machine. So we would lug some items like that to Holyhead, where some enterprising spirit has put some shipping containers on some arbitrary plot of land, for exactly that purpose. And driving on a hot day is not ideal, but it had to be done. And it was a sunny bank holiday weekend, so I ended up in a queue before the bridge! That hadn't happened to me for a while.

We first had a cup of tea. Then we hoisted the cooker into her car in the washing machine into mine. Then we filled both cars up with whatever would fit. Then we were good to go! And we drove in convoy to Holyhead. And in no time we had all the stuff in the container. This would never have been this efficient with only one person and one car! So success. And we celebrated with some nice squash.

On the way back home I drove past the garden centre, as I wanted to buy a lot of compost, and some plants. That was a success too!

That evening I would have dinner with my friends on the hill. I would bring dessert. I had prepared it the previous day. I was confident I would manage to bike it up the hill in good order. But I wanted to bike more up the hill. The previous time I been there, they had mentioned their rosemary had died, and that they hoped to get some cuttings from somewhere. I had taken cuttings from my big rosemary shrub, but these had died. But then later I had realised I have another rosemary bush, near the kitchen door. I could just dig that out and give it to them in one piece! I had dug it out in the morning, and put it with its roots into a bag with some soil. Now I needed to figure out how to get it up the hill. It was a veritable tree! But I managed to put it in one of the panniers, strap it to the seatpost, and thereby make sure it wasn't hanging too horizontally, and thus not taking up ludicrous amounts of space. I was still twice as wide as a normal cyclist! But that couldn't be helped. The other pannier was for dessert and extra clothes, as it was a hot day, but I also needed to be ready to bike down the hill in the evening.

It all worked! I must have attracted some attention biking through the village, but I got there without incident. And it was a lovely warm and sunny evening. We had a lovely time! And my dessert (two flavours of chocolate mousse) finished in a satisfying way. What a way to end the day!

01 June 2021

Bicentennial mural

 When I had just signed off with RSI, I saw posters at the nearby village hall. They were drawing attention to an initiative associated with the bicentenary of the village. The council wanted to celebrate this with a mural, and had proposed several designs. The population was encouraged to vote for them. The most popular one would be realised. I didn't vote, as the voting was online, and I did not want to switch my computer on.

I suppose the response might not have been positive. Nothing happened for a while, and then there were new posters with new designs. It was months later, and by then I felt comfortable voting. But I wasn't sure when anything would really happen.

A short while after the side wall of the local charity shop had been used as a canvas for displaying old and new pictures from the local high street, that same wall acquired scaffolding. And soon a mural started to appear! So it was happening! And the painter is making good progress.

I quite like this; if you now enter the village from the direction of the coast, one of the first things you see is this mural. And before the painting it was just a rather non-descript wall. It is already looking good! And it's not even finished yet…