30 July 2021

Plant library

Some people in Gerlan, including my friend Dani, had had a brainwave. They decided to create a plant library. It is far from uncommon to have plants in your garden or house that do well, and become too big or numerous to still fit in the space allocated to them. You can just chuck them away, of course, but that is not an ideal solution. So they decided to put up some shelving on a bit of empty ground, attach a sign "plant library" to it, and hope that the idea would take off. I thought it was an excellent idea. And I have a Contoneaster frigidus in my garden, and it's a beautiful shrub with decorative berries, but in autumn these berries fall off and create new Contoneasters. More of them than I have space for! I have put two of the babies in a pot, and these now live in the upstairs garden, but new plants keep popping up. I decided to dig a few out and place them in the plant library. To help any new provider of a home for them I put little signs with their names on it in the pots. If anyone wonders where to put them, they can just google the plant! I hope they will bring someone joy. And if so, I can supply more…

my plants

 the library

 waiting for a new home

29 July 2021

Move the plants out

 Even if I keep the door of the conservatory open during the day, it gets hot in there. And I keep watering my plants like there is no tomorrow. One plant had already succumbed to the circumstances; this was the courgette plant that had yielded my first courgette. As I write this, I have eaten two. I can't be sure it was the heat that they did in, but it is a plausible hypothesis. So if these plants are already struggling like that, they have no chance of surviving me being away for several days. So they have to go outside! And then I would just have to hope that it would rain once in a while. So I started bit in advance.

I managed to gather all the arms of the pumpkin plant, and fold them into the pot. Then the pot went outside. Then I made the one tomato plant that stands right by the window join it. Having cleared the area right by the window, I could now move the sort of improvised curtain that the previous owner had made from the back of the conservatory to the front, where it would stop a lot more sunlight. That would keep the temperature if not low, then at least a tiny little bit lower than otherwise.

The butternut squash plant had grown all the way from the back of the conservatory to the front, and then vertically up the wall. Another branch had gone over my comfortable chair. It looked very difficult to move that! But when I had Martin coming over for cup of coffee, I seized my chance, and asked him to help me. Together we placed that plant outside as well. I now still have the second courgette plant and the second tomato plant inside, but these are not difficult to move. I can do that closer to the time.

For now I still have to water them like the clappers, because it is still sunny, and there is no hint of rain. But there is rain forecast for the coming days! So I hope nature will help me keep them alive. I might even find food when I come back! But I won't count on anything. I have given the slugs free rein again…

The pumpkin plant and a tomato plant outside

The curtain I am sure the previous owner of the house had made

28 July 2021

Taking an intern into the field

I have an intern! For the first time ever. And I probably should say "we have an intern" as the project the intern is working on is mainly Jaco's, with me bolted on. But still. Jaco had been involved in research where he quantifies the relative influence of the sea and the river in various estuaries, and he figured he could do something similar in the estuary we will be using for our September fieldwork. So when the internship application process finished and yielded an intern, we made sure to back into the field. We were still in the middle of the heatwave, but we figured we could do this.

We gathered in Malltraeth. The idea was that we would first have a look at the actual river, and then walk to the very end of the estuary. And the estuary has no shade! I made sure I applied sunscreen twice, and wore an ugly sun hat. Our intern had brought neither sunscreen nor hat. Oh dear. We didn't have a hat to spare, but we could kit him out with some sun cream.

When you are negotiating an estuary, you are likely to sometimes want to cross the channel. Jaco and I were prepared for that. The student a bit less so! It must have been a bit of steep learning curve.

We did what we came to do quite effectively. After a few hours we were at the end of the estuary! And from there on, our only task was to get back to the cars. It had been my explicit request to walk back through the woods, as there is more shadow there. That was a bit more work than I expected! We first had to walk back to the dunes, then through the dunes to the woods, and from the edge of the woods to the actual path. In my flawed memory, the path ran close to the edge of the wood, but that was only true further north. We had to bushwhack it a bit before we got to it! And it is not a dense woodland; the amount of shadow wasn't overwhelming, but it was a lot better than the estuary.

I had been carrying the necessities for the day, and by the time the reached the dunes I felt the shoulder straps of my bag cut a bit into my shoulders. And our student was lagging behind a bit. So when we reached the parking lot by the road, I suggested a little break. I liked a drink and a bite to eat, and I figured our student could do with the breather, and I liked to give Jaco some of the fieldwork weight I had on my shoulders. And that's what we did.

Only when we were almost back at the cars they did it dawn on Jaco and me that maybe our student had blisters. We had been walking through saltwater after all, and we all had sand in our shoes, and all that can chafe and rub. It turned out that he did! In hindsight, we should have left him at the parking lot, got the car, picked him up, brought him back to his own car, and then all gone our separate ways. It was a bit late for that now.

When we were all back at our cars, we had achieved scientifically what we had intended to, and nobody looked particularly sunburned, so I think this was a success! And the rest of the internship will now be university-based. No more fieldwork. At least not much; maybe Jaco and Jack, the student, will go back to the river at some point, but they don't need a Micropalaeontologist for that. I think we had a good start! I hope that is representative for the rest of the project…

Some lovely exposed sediments, and vegetation with fairly clear zonation in the background!

Pretty intertidal vegetation

Ripples in the sand

27 July 2021

Exam passed against expectations!

 Everything had gone wrong while I was desperately trying to pass a Welsh exam. I was certain I had bombed it. And I don't particularly need the qualification at the moment, but it is always nice to have, of course. But then I only got the email that gave me my result. I made sure to sit down to see that one. I opened the email and my eye immediately fell on the Welsh word for congratulations. What? I read the mail carefully. And then again. It really said I have passed! Even with "clod", which is as much as recommendation or praise. Crikey! I was quite chuffed. And it came on the same day I heard I had passed my proofreading course. A day of good academic success!

I also think this might have been my last Welsh qualification; I don't think there are any more. This is it! I have my A-level, I have the highest "Welsh in the Workplace" there currently is, and now I have my "Certificate of Language Skills". I can't think of any more! And that doesn't mean I don't have anything to learn any more; au contraire. But any future employer can't possibly wish for more evidence. And I won't have to sit that exam again!

26 July 2021

Proofreading progress

 I passed my second proofreading course! I am glad. The pass mark is 60, and I had scraped through the second-last exercise with just that grade. But I had managed to score a 73 on the last one! So that means I passed. That doesn't mean I'm now a qualified proofreader; that requires a third course. And I'm not going to start that soon; my tutor had said she figured I first needed bit of practice, as the next course is quite a step up. If you scrape through the previous course, you will get yourself into trouble in that one. It sounded a bit like the sort of advice I sometimes give students who have scraped through their Bachelors, and that now want to do a Masters. Bad idea! So I am heeding her advice. I have a book that comes recommended by the chartered Institute, and I will plough through that first. That will give me some experience and some skills. And then I can launch myself into the third course. Stay tuned!

25 July 2021

Climbing Cae Hydgyll

In the weekend, the usual messages started pinging in my phone about climbing on the Monday. And soon a plan was formed: with four people we would go to a crag I had never heard of, in the Gwydir forest. I was going to share a ride with my friend Charlotte. She picked me up from home and we were off. We had to wait for a bit as the two men seemed that bit late. At some point I got a text from one of them; he said he was at the designated meeting place. He clearly wasn't! We were. When he said where he was neither Charlotte nor I recognised the place. We told him to come to us. And it turned out that we had been at the designated meeting place, but that he had actually been where we would go from there! Some slight confusion. Fortunately nothing too serious. We loaded up the kit (it was a trad crag) and walked down the path. It wasn't far, and suddenly saw the crag. There wasn't an obvious paths to it. This didn't look like a busy crag! Glyn basically hacked us a way with his walking pole. And then we could start! The idea was that Charlotte would lead the easiest route on the crag in Glyn would lead the rest. I thought I would just clamber around a bit on the side of the crag until the ropes were up. It turned out I was actually on a route… That one was clearly fine for people who were not confident in their trad leading.

Soon Glyn had a rope up, and I could follow. It was a fun route! And quite doable. It was hard on the hands, though, as the rock was pointy and unforgiving, and the holds were often so far from each other I had to step and reach, and could not take my time finding the most comfortable way of grabbing hold of them. The evening progressed, Charlotte led her route, and Glyn led two more, and I seconded both. One I did twice, as the first time I did it in a rather ugly way. Glyn wasn't having it. But by then I was ready to call it a day. The midges were out, and my hands felt like they didn't have any skin any more.

I had also interrogated Eifion about his career. He was using his retirement to develop his own company! He is a resourceful man any had a varied past. I like hearing stories like that. But we packed our stuff and made our way back to the cars. It had been a good evening!

The crag: Cae Hydgyll

Glyn coaching Charlotte

Eifion in action

Me on what was a challenging route for me

Progress on the difficult route

Glyn on a route that made us nervous; the first gear could only be placed rather high...

Me interrogating Eifion while he is belaying Glyn

Beer and barbecue

I suppose that quite an effective way of improving the quality of one's life is having a drink with friends in a beautiful place. So some friends of Martin had decided that that was a good thing to do, and I got invited. They were speaking of the weir, and I had no idea what they were on about. But I was going to find out!

We would gather at Martin's. When I was biking up at the dedicated time I heard someone call my name. It was my old office mate Juan! And his five-week-old son. I had never met the kid yet. So we had a bit of a chat!

I then biked up rather fast because I was late, but I turned out to be the first one to arrive. By the time we were complete it was a while later! We put the food in the fridge, packed our beers, and headed for this elusive weir. You can't see it from the path! And I must have never noticed it on satellite imagery. But it was beautiful. I can imagine why they go there. We had some nice beers in the sun.

When we got home really went back to Martin's, and he lit the barbecue. We had a nice eclectic range of food! And it was several hours later than I normally have dinner, but hey ho. It was a good night!

heading towards the weir

24 July 2021

Heat wave

 I suppose it is officially a heatwave! I had already noticed it was hot. But it was going to get hotter. The situation is now that I have to pretty much continuously water the plants in the unbearably hot conservatory. I have faith that the neighbour's cat finds it so hot she won't even bother to try to sneak into the house, so I keep the door open. I keep the bedroom curtains closed. The cat is pretty much busy the entire day with impersonating door snakes on the floor. The attraction of my double bed, where she used to spend all day, has now faded. I suppose it is now too hot to lie on a duvet! My office needs my big standing fan (which I bought when I was living in my difficult-to-ventilate flat in Amsterdam, which had only windows on one side) to stay cool, in spite of it being north-facing and having very thick walls. It is predicted to end soon, and I must say I hope it indeed will. This is a bit much!

How my office often looks these days

When she doesn't lie underneath the cupboard

23 July 2021

Walk in the river

When I came back from my World War II walk, I was properly cooked. So I quickly got into my swimming gear and headed for the river. I got in a lot earlier than the day before! I had a bit of a swim, supervised by the neighbour who had noticed me on the riverbank, but then decided I might use the opportunity to go for a bit of a walk. I was wet now anyway! And I had had the idea for a long time to just go for a walk in the river. This was a good day for it.

Walking through a river is not a fast endeavour, or at least not when I doing it. I did not intend to fall on my face. But I quite enjoyed it! I think few people get to see the river between the bits that are easily accessible. And it was beautiful and varied! Wide and shallow in some places; narrow, deep and fast in others. Some of the formations of the water-carved slate were amazing. And I even encountered a cute and curious dog along the way.

I only went so far as to be able to see the bridge behind the chapel. I took a picture and then turned back. I should do this more often; I could go further, and I could go downstream, and I could explore the other branch, as a few tens of metres upstream from my house a branch of the river that has split off rejoins the main branch again. And the summer is not over yet!

22 July 2021

World War II defences in the area

My favourite historic period is the Iron Age. When I saw a public walk advertised, by my usual organisation the Carneddau landscape partnership, which would go into detail about local Second World War defences, I hesitated a bit. World War II; that is quite a lot later than the Iron Age! But I figured anything that makes you better understand the landscape is interesting. And pretty much everything gets more interesting if you know more about it. So I registered. This time I made sure I brought a hat! It was predicted to be the hottest day of the year…

Once again I biked to Ogwen cottage. This time I didn't have to bike any further. I parked up, but I didn't see any of the people I know would be leading this trip. But I saw a few blokes sitting on a wall, who looked like they might be other participants in this event. And they were! And I decided to sit in the shade and wait for the thing to really take off. I ended up chatting with an extended family that was clearly also here for the WWII walk. And after a while I saw Kathy, the archaeologist I head seen both in the online lecture and during the walk up Carnedd Dafydd. And even later, Abbie the conservationist appeared, in the company of a bloke in World War II attire. It looked like the leading team was complete! And I already felt bad for the bloke in period costume. It looked uncomfortably hot…

After a while we set off. The name of the bloke in the WWII outfit was Morgan, and he was going to do almost all of the talking. An we set off down the old road. Soon we encountered old tank barriers. I knew about these! And they stand out quite a lot. But Morgan knew a lot of detail about how they would be used, and why they were put there, and all such things. He also pointed out a cylindrical bit of concrete that turned out to have been a base for a mortar. That would have been more efficient against a tank than the type of rifle he was carrying over his shoulder! I was enjoying this already.

Talking about the base for the mortar

He also pointed out little home guard outposts. They looked quite like the kind of wind shelter you find on local mountaintops; just ring-shaped structures in dry stone. The idea was that you just would have a home guard person in there with the gun. They blend into the landscape, and anyone approaching might not notice you before you notice them. And a bloke with a gun can't do much against a tank, but I suppose the idea was that tanks couldn't get past the barrier anyway, so maybe the outposts were either for an enemy travelling by other means, or for in case people would come out of their tanks.

Morgan in his outpost; notice the role of blocky tank barriers in the background

He also pointed out metal structures that were used for creating barbed wire barriers; he said that in the 40s, there would have been barbed wire all across the valley. Then we walked further down the valley. And now that he had been pointing out the cylindrical structures and the outposts, we saw them everywhere.

We later also had a more theoretical discussion about how the Brits like to paint themselves as plucky and invincible, but that it had been a close call. Victory wasn't inevitable at all! And it mustn't have felt inevitable at the time, either. Morgan was convinced it was mainly a Nazi oil problem that led to an allied victory.

After the discussion, we went up the driveway of the farm at the top of the valley. That is not a public footpath, so I head never been there before! The walk had permission. It was great to see the valley from an unusual angle. And by a beautiful tree we sat down for lunch. I was peckish!

On our way to the lunch spot

I didn't only eat; I also found out that one of the other participants was also Dutch. He ran the nearby youth hostel. This was a difficult time for him, evidently! But it was nice to have a chat in Dutch. The group was, as expected, mainly Welsh, so we had a nice trilingual thing going there. I pointed out to him I was having a biscuit sandwich! I liked his face when I told him that.

I also asked Kathy the archaeologist if she know anything about the strange path between Llyn Ogwen and Capel Curig. It looked like an old tramway! And it has always puzzled me. It really didn't look like an old drove road; it is straight as a line, avoids any steep bits, and is quite wide. So someone really made an effort there! But why was that worth it? What is so important to be transported from Capel Curig to Llyn Ogwen that it is worth that effort? But she didn't know either. Oh well!

After lunch we reluctantly left the shadow of the tree. We were all baking, and Morgan suffered the most! But we still had more to see. After some negotiating of soggy terrain, and some clambering, we got to a dry stone wall that had been modified to provide shot holes. And from there we went further up to a pillbox. I had never known it was there! It was in excellent nick. And we were all glad to be able to pop inside. It was cool in there! After I had my turn, I made my way down to the river, and dangled my legs in. That was nice. By then the trip got a bit slow; one of the men struggled a bit with the physically demanding bits of the walk. At some point I saw him on the hand of the Dutch men. As during the Carnedd Dafydd walk, the stronger participants helped the struggling ones!

The A5 looked at from below; notice the two lumps on the rock above it. These are again outposts for the home guard!

The home guard scrambling up the hill

The pillbox

After the pillbox we were almost there. We made our way back to the road, which had lots of more outposts looming over it, and which also had fastenings for a barrier chain. But that was the end of the walk. We had overrun by at least an hour! And several of us were quite keen to get out of the sun. Especially Morgan. There was a little bit more happening, as the family I spoke of earlier had a history of finding Second World War relics, and they had brought some to show Morgan. He was impressed! And he willingly posed for a picture with the kids. That was really nice. But then I said goodbye to everyone and headed back to my bike. Time to get home; time to cool down!

Amazing views of the river just below the pillbox

I couldn't resist a picture of the bridge from below

21 July 2021

First dunk in the river this year

My day in the valley trying to brush up on my natural knowledge had been quite hot. It was really the sort of day where you want to cool down in a river! So that is exactly what I did. It was the first time this year I went in. A bit late, it being mid-July, but I hadn't felt that cooked before this year! And it was lovely. The water wasn't very cold; I could just wade straight in without the urge to make any funny sounds, or losing control of my breathing. But it was still cool enough to be refreshing. It is really nice to be having a swimming spot right by the garden!

20 July 2021


 When I found out about the Carneddau landscape partnership, and liked it on Facebook, I didn't realise how much they would be offering with regard to activities. It started modest with an online lecture about archaeology, but from there things really took off; a week or two after that I was on top of Carnedd Dafydd with the same organisation. And two weeks after that it really kicked off; there were two separate activities that weekend, and I registered for both. I had had such a good time!

The first one was called the Bioblitz; the idea was that people would do a bit of a biodiversity survey on the terrain of a campsite-cum-conservation site. And part of that there were two guided walks; one about birds and one about plants. When I registered, I could only register for the one about the birds, as the other one was booked full. That was a pity! I know so little about this, and I had had so much fun increasing my limited knowledge the previous time. But I know little about birds as well; it would be fun to improve on that. I already made a concerted effort to get to recognise the ones in my own garden, but when I am in the hills, I always see lots of little birds scooting away, having no idea what they are.

I biked up to the campsite; incidentally, it was the same campsite where my bike had had its maiden voyage, but then I had come to climb. It was incredibly busy in the valley. Of course it was; it was a sunny Saturday and few people were travelling abroad. But I was on bike so I was going to be all right!

When I got there I saw a woman who looked somewhat official, and indeed she was associated with the event. She recognised me from one of the pictures of the Carnedd Dafydd walk. She pointed me in the right direction. And there I found lots of gazebos with nature-oriented people in them. I found myself at an RSPB stand. There was a very enthusiastic duo there who had been rummaging around in an owl pellet. It had been borrowed up by a barn owl! And I think barn owls are cool, so I ended up rummaging with them. They had a small mammal guide, so I tried to identify a skull I had found. I decided it was not a shrew or a vole; it was a mouse. The identification guide only had two mice; the wood mouse and the yellow necked mouse. Neither me nor the people behind the stand could tell the difference from the drawings of the skulls in the guidebook. So there goes; I identified a mouse! Not very impressive, but it was a start. And soon the actual walk started. It was led by the bloke from the stand, who had a bit of a thing with barn owls. But we wouldn't see any, of course. He had a sidekick who spoke Welsh; he was from the British Trust of Ornithologists. And we were off. The BTO guy had a thing for twites; I had never heard of them, but it seems there are rare but present and nesting in Snowdonia.

The BTO guy talks about twites

I was also approached by one of the other participants; I hadn't looked at her closely, so I hadn't recognised her. But she had been on the previous walk! It was nice to see her, and we caught up a bit. She is clearly also keen on activities like this, so I think I will see her again!

The first bird we actually saw was a magpie, but anyone can identify those. It got better when we heard a willow warbler and saw a whole array of redpolls. I had never heard of them, but they are very cute! Later we saw a meadow pipit; it was sitting quite ostentatiously on a rock, and seems to relish all the attention. The RSPB guy, Jack, also heard goldcrests. I would have to look these up as I had no idea what they were!

A meadow pipit!

By then the walk came to an end. And I was keen for some food! So I went back to my bag and had my coffee and my cake. And I have a rummage through the flyers the RSPB had there. And I wondered if I could blag my way into the plant walk after all. They had allowed additional people on the bird walk! They might very well also do that with the plant walk. But that wouldn't be in another hour. I decided to go have a walk to the nearest hilltop; the nose of Gallt yr Ogof. I just made it to the top and back before the walk left! And indeed they let me on.

View from the hilltop

This time, we were all encouraged to grab an identification sheet and a magnifying glass. And then we were let loose into the meadow! The biodiversity expert in charge also had some more specific identification guides; one for trees, one for grasses, et cetera. I took the grasses one. I was keen to see if I could identify anything! I been doing some very limited grass identification (for grass, read: grasses, sedges, and rushes) in saltmarshes, but there was a lot more going on here. And one of the participants turned out to be quite a plant specialist as well. The biodiversity expert ended up asking him for advice quite a lot!

Staring at plants

What are all these grasses?

I turned out to be absolutely crap with the grasses. I sometimes had a reasonable guess, but I found them hard! I suppose it's easier if you have a more extensive guide, where you can see the various stages in the development of the grass. And the variability within the species. But I had fun! And the others were sometimes drawing attention to whatnot, such as eyebright, tormentil, bedstraw, and an orchid. On the way back we accidentally saw some sundew. That was a nice cherry on the cake!


By then I was thoroughly boiled. I later heard on the radio that it had been the hottest day of the year so far in most of the country. And I had been traipsing around without the hat! So I thanked the organisers and headed back to my bike. It had been a good half day! And I still had another one to look forward to an the day after…

19 July 2021

Not only in Welsh

Every language has its quirks. Welsh is no exception. I do find it weird, for instance, that some numbers are gender specific and some aren't. If you can't remember what gender a noun is, you should not have two, three or four of them, because two, three and four have masculine and feminine forms. If you just have five or six it doesn't matter; the number of stays the same, whatever the gender of the noun. But something that bothered me more is that "only", as in "there were only apples", in Welsh is "dim ond", which literally translates to something like "nothing but". "Dim" means "not". That means that in Welsh, the sentence "there were only apples" is negative. And sometimes I want to use negative sentence that features the word "only". But how do you do that if any sentence with that phrase in it is already negative?

When in my summer class, we were asked to translate the sentence that had "only" in it, I saw my chance. I asked her how you would make that sentence negative. The sentence was something like "there are only two left", and that sentence can have a negative. Maybe someone tells you there are only two, say, tickets left, but you have information that they don't have, and you can tell them that there are not only two left; actually, there are 10 left! So how do you do that? Then it became clear I wasn't the only one who struggled with that; a bloke from Harlech clearly chimed with my request, and started to jump up and down too. And the tutor had to think about it a bit. But she came up with an answer!

She found a way by going formal; both "not" and "only" are concepts you expressed differently in formal Welsh. So she exchanged "dim" in the middle of the sentence for "nid" at the start, and "dim ond" for "yn unig". And that's how she managed it! No weird repetition of "dim", which would make the sentence ungrammatical. So now I can finally say something like "there weren't only apples" in Welsh! And I will sound like a 50s newsreader but I don't care. If this would be the only thing I learned in the summer school, it has been worth it!

18 July 2021

Welsh summer school

Every summer, the body that organises Welsh teaching for adults organises summer schools. I have never actually joined them! Even in summer I have a fair amount to do. And I am sometimes a bit hesitant; you tend to learn languages a bit quicker if you are Dutch than when you are British, and most of the people in such schools are of course British. So there is a beautiful valley not too far from here where they do week-long residential summer schools, and they have a really good reputation, but I was arrogantly afraid I would get a bit bored.

This year they offered online courses. And one of them was short! Just four afternoons, between four o'clock and half past six. And as I have not been doing a proper course the last semester I registered.

On the first day, I recognised a lot of faces! It often is the same bunch of people who show up for classes like this. It is nice to get to know some of them a bit. The tutor was new to me! That is a bit unusual; I have done so many classes I know most of them. And that it was an online course had perks; most of us were from around here, living in places like Benllech and Criccieth, but we had one bloke calling in from Ottawa. He was originally from the Conwy valley, but had moved to Canada decades ago. And now he had decided he wanted to stay in touch with his mother tongue. I think he'll be glad if online courses continue after the pandemic!

The first session seemed a bit slow; the tutor had a lot of work talking some participants through the technology, so there was a lot of time spent in breakout groups just discussing either the topic tutor had given us, or straying from there. But from the second day on, that got better. And we even did some proper exercises, with grammar and all! So I was glad I had registered. I came across several things that I remembered having revised during my sick leave, but which I had forgotten since…

17 July 2021

Berry time

It always happens so fast! One moment you have some unripe berries in the garden, and the next they are all ripe, and you have to hurry up to process them. And that happened again! And my first harvest went into a blackcurrant clafoutis, which I baked for the lunch in the garden session with my colleagues. The second batch became compote. And then it was time to tackle the gooseberries. And I am sure that by the time I have eaten those, the plum tree will be yielding fruit like there is no tomorrow. I like the fruit season!

16 July 2021

Garden put to good use

When I first saw what would later become my house on Rightmove, I disregarded it; it was too big. Why would one person need a three-bedroom house? And it also had a big garden. I'm not much of a gardener! But then I remembered the mantra 'location, location, location', and bought it anyway. But I hoped I could sometimes use my house to be hospitable. And when it became illegal to entertain indoors for a long time, it became an extra waste to not put my huge garden to use. And then a few opportunities presented themselves in short succession.

I wanted to catch up with Kate. She had suggested popping by at my place. But then she ended up sea kayaking with the other Kate. She then suggested they pop by together for a cup of tea! But I figured that after a day of sea kayaking they would be hungry, so I suggested they come over for dinner instead. And so they did. I had made my interpretation of pizza, and it went down well! It was nice to catch up. And it's nice to cook for friends.

The other opportunity was on the next Monday. We had the book signing session, and quite a lot of us would have to come to one and the same place to sign these books. And some of my colleagues decided that we could then all go for lunch together. We haven't seen each other very much in the last 1½ years! And one of my colleagues quite likes the chippy here in the village, and I like my big garden, and we figured that if we do all of that in Bethesda, chances were that Martin would join us. So that's how we organised it!

After the book signing, I hastened home. And I got my garden ready. And after a while we sat there with four of us. Not much, considering that all academic staff together is something like 27 people, but still nice! And we had a nice uncoordinated amount of food. I had made blackcurrant clafoutis and olive bread. And others had brought chicken fajitas and crisps and whatnot. It was great! And then when I didn't expect it any more, a fifth person appeared. He had accidentally initially driven to the wrong village! But in the end he had found it. And he had brought some more food. He had strawberries and baklava! What a choice.

I quite like it that my garden clearly sometimes functions as a social hub! I suppose that I live quite central, and I conveniently live next to a parking lot, which makes the logistics easy. I hope it serves that purpose a few more times this summer!

15 July 2021

Book signing for graduates

This is the second year in a row we do not have a graduation ceremony. That is a pity! It is nice to be able to finish off a formative period in your life, like your time at university, with a bit of a sense of occasion. And even though we know we could not possibly replace the pomp and circumstance of lots of people in gowns, and the grandiosity of the main hall of the University, we did want to do something, at least. And as two of my colleagues had edited a book about the ocean, we decided we should send out a copy of that book to each graduate, with a personal message in. So they had organised a book signing session at the university's print unit. I biked up there to do my part. It was nice to at least provide a personal message to my tutees! It is nicer to personally congratulate them, but well, what can one do. There will be a catch up ceremony when that sort of thing is advisable again, but it's not quite the same if you have that more than a year after you actually graduated. I hope they appreciate the books! And the messages. It's all you can give them in this strange period…

I forgot to take a picture of the actual book signing, so a picture of the sign of the Print Unit will have to do

14 July 2021

Beet harvest

I have one vegetable bed in the upstairs garden, and two downstairs. I have made a conscientious effort to fertilise the ones downstairs; I didn't do anything about the upstairs one. However; for some reason, the upstairs veg bed is a lot more productive than the other ones. I had planted potatoes in both; in the upper bed they came up and looked good. I had pretty much already given up on the ones downstairs by the time they showed some hesitant foliage. I had also planted some trial beetroot in the upstairs bed. They did well! So I sowed more, and planted it out in the downstairs bed. I don't think that will give me a good crop. But one day I figured that the plants in the upstairs bed probably yielded enough root material for a meal. So I pulled them out! They had clearly spent a lot of energy on the plants; these were huge. But in spite of that I still had a meal out of them! I was proud. I think I need to do some serious improvement of the downstairs veg beds and then I might might be a bit more successful in producing my own vegetables. And I am already looking forward to my potato crop at the end of the season! Not sure if the other vegetables will do much; I still have some kale, kohlrabi and carrots upstairs. I have hope! And I have some herbs there, which are doing well. I could make some mint tea soon! And pasta with Sage! Watch this space…

Huge beetroot plants with small beets, but still just enough

12 July 2021

Goodbye Fran

It all started with an autoreply of my colleague Martin. Something was clearly amiss. But it could be anything, really. Then it became legal to invite people over to your garden for coffee or dinner or things like that. So I invited Martin and Fran (from up the hill) down for dinner; they had inaugurated loosening of restrictions in my garden before. And if there was something amiss, Martin would tell me. Unfortunately, he did. He answered that coming down wasn't really an option; Fran was ill so if I wanted to see them I would have to come up. Oh dear, so that was what that autoreply was about. But coming up was what I did. And she was a lot more ill than I had anticipated. It was sad to see! But she was making the most of it. And it was really good to see them.

Later, we who teach with Martin took over his teaching and admin roles, as he needed to look after Fran. She didn't get better. She had kidney cancer, and it was aggressive. And recently, she died.

A strong contingent from the School showed up at the crematorium. I was sad this was already the second time this year I had to go there. These are still Covid times, and only a limited number of people were allowed inside. Outside, there was a 30 person limit. I'm sure that more people would have shown up if these wouldn't have been such strange times. We were invited to come wearing something bright, and celebrate Fran's life rather than mourning her. That's hard, though! But we tried.

I didn't know her very well! I saw her every winter as she always organised a Christmas do at their place. And she and Martin had come over for dinner several times. We have also been visiting Suzie all together. But now that she suddenly was restricted in her movement, I came up more often. I was glad to have that opportunity!

And now? We will keep looking after Martin's tasks until he is ready to take them back. And we are trying to support him emotionally as best as we can. And the invitation to the cremation service suggested we don't bring flowers, but give a donation to support kidney cancer research. I hope all together we have raised a lot of money. Maybe that means someone else will be spared this fate!

11 July 2021

Proper climbing after hesitant start

I had done my first climbing since the start of the pandemic three weeks before. The weeks after that the climbing was indoors, and I had had a friend visiting on Monday, respectively, so I bailed out. But the week after that I joined again! We would be going to Penmaenbach. When I got there, I was the first one. We would be with five in total. One of them was my favourite climbing partner (even though I hadn't climbed with him for a long time): Glyn. He has this special skill of putting you at the bottom of an impossible route, and then just talking you up. If you're completely stuck, he just says reassuring things such as "it's only a step-and-reach move, you can do it" or "just trust your left foot, you'll be fine! You're on the rope, nothing can happen to you!" and then you magically can do it.

We distributed the stuff and walked to the crag. When we got very realised there are more midges than we had hoped. Glyn had a longing look at some routes a bit further away from the sea, but they sounded difficult. I figured we would probably start closer to the sea where the easier routes are. And we did! Tony and Glyn led to the first two routes. Then Ika and I seconded them. I enjoyed that route! I had done it before and it wasn't very difficult, but it was nice to do a proper route. And when I got to the top I had a slight job; Tony had decided the carabiners in the anchors were too old and rusty and had removed them. That meant I couldn't really lower myself from the top of my route, so I rigged from the top of the next route along. At least I still remembered how you do that!

By then Glyn saw an opportunity and suggested I go belay him on one of the routes he had seen earlier on. I was up for that! And he enjoyed a route that clearly challenged him a bit. That meant it wasn't for me. And he had the added challenge of some rowdy crows higher up who were chucking stuff at him. There were also nesting kittiwakes, which were further away, but their voices carried. And then we even had a kestrel land. 

By then others appeared, so Glyn then brought another rope on an easier route, while Tony seconded the original route. And when he was down, I went up. And he did his magic, and I got to the top! After the not very successful first night of climbing three weeks before that was quite an unexpected triumph. And by then the sun was low and it started raining. I thought that would be the end of things. But then Tony end Ika were keen to try that route as well. While they were climbing, the evening light went absolutely beautiful. And the rain stopped again! We all keenly photographed the amazing evening light on the rock that suddenly looked like Uluru. But at some point it got too dark and we had to scoot. But it had been an amazingly successful night! I had climbed two routes, one of which I had never expected to climb. And I had enjoyed an amazing sunset with friendly people! I felt really good after that. I expect all climbing nights to be like this, but my enthusiasm for climbing has been seriously rekindled!

The first two routes (me on the right one); pic by Glyn

Glyn on the difficult route (pic by Tony)

Ika on the difficult route and me on the more doable one (pic by Glyn)

Group picture: Ika, me, Eifion, Tony and Glyn (pic by Glyn through timer)

Ika belaying in beautiful evening light

It almost looked like another planet

Evening shot of Ika on the crag