It is apple season! I have a reasonable crop this year. Initially, I decided to keep the apples on the tree, as I figured that would be where they would keep the longest. But there were creatures already feasting on them, and I had not forgot the year when my last apples had been stolen (I don't seem to have mentioned that on the blog). And the damage in an earlier year. So this year I decided to take the crop down and store it indoors. I hope that will turn out to be a good decision! I really enjoy having my own apple tree. And if this works I do it again next year!
14 October 2021
I had greatly enjoyed having a beer just before the start of term with Martin, Sue and Dean. So I decided to invite the whole bunch down to my place. I had hoped we could sit in the garden and enjoy the autumn colours! But I figured we needed to decide that on the day. So I just suggested they show up with a warm jacket, and said I would prepare a fire indoors and one outdoors, and that we would decide on the spot which one we would light. And so it happened!
During the day I had prepared soup, bread, and guacamole. And I had placed my fire bowl outside. It was raining in the afternoon, so I figured we would be indoors. But then the sun came out!
Sue and Dean arrived first. And things escalated fast. Sue had brought catnip toys with catnip in, and stronger stuff than what she already had. And the cat figured that out immediately! So when Martin arrived only minutes later, the cat was already high as a kite. And that was not a problem, as that meant Martin amused himself with observing the rather daft cat while I gave the other two a tour. And then we decided to head outdoors! The weather was amazing. And we had a lovely night! We never bothered to go indoors. It stayed warm enough all evening and the midges were not an issue. And we could see enough to get to our drinks. And the cat even came out, when she had recovered a bit from her trip, to do the rounds and see from how many people she could get cuddles (answer: everybody). I think it was a success!
The previous time we had met, by the way, Sue had said in jest that she only took people who have a two-tier garden seriously. I can now confirm my garden has been judged sufficiently multilevel. In case you wondered!
13 October 2021
The Japanese knotweed is slowly coming closer to the house. Every year I go out with my poison injector and try to fight it back. So far with little success! But I keep trying. I am not entirely sure what else I could do.
Last year I had only got the injector out after a serious flood, so there was little left to inject into. This year I had feared the same would happen. I had struggled to find the time in September, and there is no reason why you wouldn't have had a flash flood by early to mid October. But as it so happened, it was okay! So after the second week of term I assembled my murder weapon again and set to work. And then we'll see how much comes up again next year…
12 October 2021
Good friendship manages to come through periods in which the friendship can't really blossom. It took me years to build up a good friendship with my then colleague Suzie, but then when lockdown hit, the friendship was strong enough to be able to weather the storm. We made sure to catch up on screen while that was the only thing we were legally allowed to do! And then lockdown was released, and for a while we could meet, but only outdoors. We met once, but we had chosen the venue badly, and a long-eared bat took up quite a lot of our attention. We barely caught up!
The tide has turned now! We can freely meet up indoors. I had been trying to arrange that we would. That was not straightforward; the logistics of having a baby and a small child makes pretty much everything in life difficult. And there were matters for which she needed to be back at her parents' house. And the baby seems to be prone to catching colds.
One day we almost managed. She had suggested the best way of seeing each other would be when the oldest kid would be in school, but that would be during working hours. However; I am on campus pretty much every day, and I need to have lunch anyway, so the idea was that we would have lunch in a café. And while we were trying to organise that, Martin joined the plan, as he also hadn't seen her in ages either and hadn't been enjoying that. The first attempt was aborted for baby reasons, and moved to a day when I actually didn't have anything to do on campus, but I was perfectly willing to bike to Bangor especially to see her.
Then the actual day came, and another text arrived mentioning baby issues that prevented Suzie from appearing. Bummer! I texted Martin to ask what he wanted with the situation; I figured he would already be in Bangor, teaching, and with no lunchbox in his bag. He might want to just continue without Suzie, or maybe prefer to just get a quick sandwich and get on with things. There was no reply. It is not unusual for people to switch their phones to silent when they teach! He probably had no idea Suzie wasn't coming. And then the moment arrived that I needed to either jump on my bicycle to make it, or not show up at all. And I figured that if I expected to have lunch with two friends, and I would walk into a café and meet nobody at all, I would be a bit deflated about that. So I went anyway. And that seems to have been the right decision.
And then the day came eventually worked out! I had been teaching until 12, so lunch then was an excellent idea. We went to the same café! We knew now it was good (Domu, in case you wonder.) And when I got there Suzie and the baby were already there! It was really nice to see her, and that we were in a comfortable environment with little risk of disturbing bats made it even better. A bit later Martin joined and we could finally catch up on the many months before.
I hope this won't be the last time we do a thing like that! And maybe we can also involve Menai Bridge in all of this; it's closer to where Suzie lives, and unlike me, Martin actually works in the office on a regular basis. An I am sure I will sometimes have to go there myself. And if not, I can just bike a little bit further for the occasion. It will be nice to be able to properly pick up where we left off when the pandemic got in the way!
11 October 2021
Two months ago I mentioned I sometimes left the door open, so the cat could join me. And it has now become a clear habit. When work became unpleasantly hectic with the field trip and welcome week and term in really close succession, and I didn't have much time for the cat during the day, I would just try to make up for that at night. And she would pretty much come join me every night! And it was nice and snug. And there were no further occurrences of her are you bringing live prey into my bedroom.
I now just keep the door open by default. And I have noticed I miss her when she doesn't show up! There was one night where she was nowhere to be seen, and I had trouble switching off so I couldn't sleep. And after an unknown period of time tossing and turning I decided that if I couldn't sleep anyway, I might just as well not sleep near the cat. So I went upstairs to where she was sleeping on the other bed, and cuddled her a bit. She seemed to enjoy that! But then I decided I needed to go to the loo, and she decided she needed to check her food bowl, so we evacuated the room. But when she was done in the kitchen she came join me downstairs. Success!
If I move much, she tends to run away; I don't know if she just finds it annoying, or whether she thinks that if I stir it means that I am about to go to the kitchen to give her food. But it has happened several times I wanted to scratch her head, but had to move in order to be able to reach her, upon which she bolted away. But one night I managed to get within reach without her running away. She really enjoyed the attention! And even though she had started out curled up like a fur hat, she ended up all stretched out. She reached from my midriff to my knees! It was really nice. I managed to make her do that twice now. I think this bed sharing thing may be the new normal. Although her hunting habit seems to change with the seasons, and as soon as she starts bringing mice in, the deal may be off again!
|Cat in bed (during the day, in this case)|
10 October 2021
I had been roped in by BBC Cymru twice before; once because I was a European citizen and they expected me to be able to say something useful about Brexit, so that had nothing to do with Ocean Sciences. The second I was quite recent; that had something to do with a book published by my colleagues, and which for some reason had been linked with outrages sealevel rises in the popular media. And now had that gone? What can I say! Not so well. The first interview was five years ago, so after only a few years of learning Welsh. And the interview was done through a wire. If you're not quite confident in a language, you really don't want to have to respond to it if it comes into your head through headphones, and you can't see the person speaking. And the second time was this year, so after many years of Welsh practice, but still through headphones, talking to an invisible person. I wasn't particularly satisfied with that interview either. I didn't hear it back, though; I don't remember why not.
And then there was a request about the beach where I go every year with the first-year students. Dei initially took that on; he had already answered by the time I came out of the lecture and noticed I had lots of emails about the situation. But later he emailed me to ask if I would be willing to take over. And I was okay with that; not only do I know about this beach because of the trip with the students we do there, but also because this beach actually plays a role in the BRITICE-CHRONO project I worked on. So I know about the location and about why it is so important.
And why did the Welsh broadcaster, S4C, want to talk about this beach? Is it so happens, there is a house just north-east of it, and it is perilously close to the sea. And now the owner had unsuccessfully applied for permission to improve the sea defences. There were lots of people who were worried about what damage the work would do to the amazing glacial sediments on the beach. And now they wanted someone to talk about why these glacial sediments were so amazing. I was glad to hear they would have someone else entirely to talk about the actual work on the sea defences, as I had no idea about these.
Dei was very happy I was willing to take over, and soon I was on the phone with S4C. And we agreed to meet on the beach. It was a beautiful day! And we had made the appointment based entirely on availability, and not on the tides. And so I found myself looking at the high tide. There wasn't much beach to walk around on, admiring the sediments! But it would have to make do. And soon my contact, Dafydd, appeared and introduced himself. While he was assembling his equipment had a small chat about what exactly he wanted to talk about, and how. I was hoping it would be willing to get wet feet (he said he had wellies in the boot of his car) so we could actually get onto the interesting part of the beach. He didn't seem keen! And in the end we settled for him just filming me with the interesting outcrops in the distance behind me. The unfortunate thing with that was that the sun was also in that direction, so I probably just looked like a black silhouette, but it would be silly to film in the other direction as then I would just have been talking in front of some fields and a parking lot.`
|The beach seen from the parking lot|
And then it started. He just put up a tripod with a camera, and a tripod with a microphone, and from behind the camera ask me questions. And I try to answer as best as I could in Welsh. I sometimes hesitated to search for words, but I wasn't self-conscious about that. And I think I got the message across. I felt good about it! It was great that I could look at him and watch him speak. A slight complicating factor was the sound of the waves, but I could hear him well enough, and it is just a lot nicer to talk to someone who is physically present. If Welsh interviews are like this then they're okay!
When we were done he asked me to do the same thing again but now in English. I was happy with that. I turned out to have said something I had omitted in Welsh, so then he asked me to say it in Welsh as well. Some editing would have to glue all of that together!
When we were done and got back to the cars he asked me if I was willing to do some of the interview again, but now with the sun on my face rather than in my back, and I was happy with that too. And then it was a wrap!
I wasn't gonna see my own interview, of course, not having a TV licence, but I was happy with how things had gone and went back to the office. Given that this actually went quite well they might ask me back… Watch this space!
09 October 2021
I had come through the first week of term! And there was still plenty to do, but I wanted to have some fun during the weekend as well. So I contacted Kate to see if she was up for that. And she was! She suggested going to Tal-y-Fan; a modest hill above Penmaunmawr. I thought that was an excellent idea! I had not been, and I had actually not been in the general area much at all recently. The parking lot she suggested we use was one I think I have only been once, during one of my marathon training runs. So it was time I go back.
Even though Tal-y-Fan is not very far as the crow flies, the way we would approach it meant quite a drive. The logical approaches from the Conwy Valley, so that means driving a big U. I suggested we meet up in Betws-y-Coed and then drive together. That would save us fuel, which is always a good idea, but in these current times even more so. And it is much nicer to share a car! And she agreed. And I had managed to get some fuel in the morning so I had no problems getting to Betws.
We drove over the tiny road to the parking lot and parked up. It is a beautiful drive, and just standing on that little parking lot is already amazing. This looked like a good idea! We had to walk down the road a bit to get to the start of the public footpath, but that was hardly a punishment. And soon they were in the hills. It was a bit soggy underfoot, and it was windy, but that was okay. The weather was rather changeable so I had the keep changing between sunglasses and a hat against the rain all the time, but that also was okay. And in not too much time we were at the top! We almost blew off. And we decided to head north a bit, and then loop back via the East to get back to where we had come from. It was beautiful walk! The landscape was empty and autumnal. We had a nice tea break with cake in the middle. We came across two walkers, and saw a little group in the distance. That was all! On a fairly sunny Sunday.
On the second half of the walk I recognised some of the terrain from an earlier Swamphike. This area was nice to see again this well. And altogether we only walked for a few hours, but we both felt our cobwebs had been blown away! Ready for a new week of teaching…
|View from the parking lot|
|There were a lot of rainbows that day|
08 October 2021
This country keeps surprising you! Years ago it surprised me by voting for Brexit. Now my surprise is being illustrated. A while ago the first signs appeared of a fuel shortage. And, of course, as soon there was mention of a shortage, the system turned into a positive feedback loop where people decided to get some fuel in before it would run out, which of course meant that it ran out. And soon I could see that happening in front of my my nose! In the first week of term I did keep an eye out to see what the situation was in my environment. And I saw precisely one gas station that actually sold gas in the entire week. When I saw that, I was driving a rental vehicle with a full tank. I did not need a lot of fuel that week myself; I could mainly manage by bicycle. But it was a bit disconcerting! One of my friends who lives in the middle of nowhere and really needs his car to get around, went to 10 petrol stations that didn't sell any fuel until he finally, at the 11th attempt, managed to fill up. I heard that when Kate visited me, she struggled to get home afterwards as there was no fuel to be had between where I live and where she lives.
When I had a plan to go walking with Kate I knew I needed to fill up beforehand, as I really wanted to be sure I could make it home as well. So on a Sunday morning I ventured out! And the nearest gas station did indeed sell some fuel! Most pumps were disabled, but I only need one. There was also a £30 spending limit.
When I was there anyway, I topped up the pressure in my tyres to make sure the fuel I had just got would last me as long as it could. And that would save me lugging my 30 kg bagpack around!
I don't know when the situation will get back to normal. One wonders what normal even his. The UK deserves everything that is coming to it; of course you suffer negative consequences if you withdraw from a trading block. Of course you suffer negative consequences if you try to keep foreigners out of your country, if these foreigners are the only ones willing to put up with the rather unpleasant working conditions you have created in your deeply unequal society. I think this issue with gas stations closed, big queues at gas stations that are open, and even knife fights on gas station forecourts, might make it increasingly unlikely that other countries will want to follow suit and leave the EU. I will just sit back and manage. I am convinced I can! And I really hope that the next time the electorate has a choice to make, they choose a bit more wisely than they did in 2016…
|The most welcoming pump you will be likely to see these days|
07 October 2021
When I connected my water butt to the drainpipe, I didn't know how quickly it would fill up. I suppose I was being naïve! It is North Wales here, it will fill up in seconds. But that also means it is overflowing in seconds. As things stand now, the overflowing water just runs down the barrel and ends up on the ground. That is not how it should be! I would like the excess water to end up in the drains again. I suppose the more elegant thing to do would have been to somehow restrict influx, but hey, this is my first water butt project, and I am still learning. But when we had a particularly wet day, and I was inadvertently creating a private swimming pool in the upper garden, I decided to make an improvised solution and stick some lengths of hose pipe down the overflow hole, and lead them into the drain. I don't think it's a permanent solution but it sure guided quite a lot of water in the direction it was supposed to go! One day I will have to do a bit more of a proper job. It is autumn now; there will be no limit to how much water will be falling out of the sky. And it should end up in the river, and not in a big puddle next to my conservatory!
06 October 2021
Before lockdown, I got most of my exercise from my commute, and only ran during the weekends. When lockdown started, I started to run every day. I occasionally involved one of my bikes in my exercise regime, but I suppose about 95% of my exercise came from running in that period. But my commute is back! Term has started, and most days I have something to do in Bangor, so then I bike. And if I bike to Bangor and back, I don't run. One can only spend so much time on exercising a day!
My first week of term I biked to Bangor and back Monday to Thursday, and on Thursday I even went on my old bike. When I grabbed my gravel bike I noticed it had a flat tyre, and I figured that if I would fix it I would be late, so I just grabbed a different bike. That is why everyone always needs more than one bike! And the old one rides like a Chesterfield sofa, but said furniture isn't particularly fast. But I got there, and on time (be it a bit sweaty). Friday we were in the field, so that was the exercise I got. If I am in the field all day I don't go running afterwards. I haven't run a metre all week! I miss it. I will have to catch up during the weekend. My second week doesn't have things going on in Bangor every day, so then I can get a running fix. I'm glad!
|Fixing the puncture; it had been caused by a thorn|
05 October 2021
One of the modules I teach on that starts pretty much immediately in the new academic year, is our geology of Anglesey fieldwork module. And Dei, the module organiser, was of the opinion that it is nice to take the students into the field pretty much as soon as possible. So we started in the very first week! This year we found out, though, that there are disadvantages associated with that.
In the week before term started, Dei messaged us to say there were only seven students registered on the module. That was a bit disappointing. I did respond that I agreed it was, but that that did mean the logistics of the module would be very simple. And that we should enjoy that. And a minibus was hired. Sorted!
Then came welcome week, and its beach trip. During that trip, one of my colleagues went around and told all the students that if they could choose our module, but hadn't, that they should reconsider. And he must have had very good arguments. Immediately afterwards, the registrations for the module started to rocket. And two days beforehand, we suddenly had 17 students registered! That was a completely different situation. Poor old Dei had to scramble to organise transport for all of these. But he managed it! We had three vehicles, and three drivers, with the needed qualifications. One of the vehicles was so big that neither Dei nor me are allowed to drive it. But we had our lab technician Gareth with us so we were okay!
We always start this module with a trip to Llanddwyn island, with its world-famous pillow lavas and melange. The pillow lavas are associated with a mid-oceanic ridge, so the birth of an ocean; the melange is associated with a subduction zone, so the demise of an ocean. And then there are some other rocks in between; some deep-sea muds, and an outcrop of carbonate which is probably a fossil stromatolite, which grew on a seamount. You get the whole ocean, basically! And the island is very beautiful so always a pleasure to walk around on. And the weather was lovely too. The students seemed to have a good time!
|Dei gesturing next to a pillow lava|
|Lighthouse looking more cheerful|
|Some of the famous melange in the foreground|
I did manage to shock one of the students with my usual consumption pattern when I am out in the field; during lunch I was seen eating a biscuit sandwich, which I think is a perfectly reasonable thing to do if you want to make sure your lunch has enough calories to keep you going, and over the course of the day I emptied three hot flasks and drank most of the water in my water bag. That is just how I function. But this student was speechless at both incidences. I suppose he will have to get used to it!
In the end the only just managed to pull off the logistics; the third vehicle had been hired from a different company than we usually use, and they had a strict curfew for the vehicle to be back. But we got bit carried away, and Dei only made it back to the rental company in the very nick of time. But all's well that ends well! And in two weeks we intend to visit Rhoscolyn with these students. I hope the weather will be similar. But either way; I look forward to it!
04 October 2021
With a new academic year, I normally start a new Welsh class as well. I had been doing without for a while, as the previous period there had been nothing that seemed suitable. There had only been one class that I thought was at the right level and with the right topic. Some classes are classical language learning classes, but some focus on something like history, music, film or something along those lines, and such topic has to fit you. The interesting class had been at an awkward time that often clashed with my job. I would have had to miss a lot of classes! And that seemed a waste. I decided to just check if there were any spaces left just before the deadline for registering; if no one else wanted the space I could just do the sessions I was available for. But by then it was fully booked, undoubtedly by people with better availability than me! So I made do without.
This year there was a class available that was called "conversation and story" and that sounded good. It would still be online. And when term started, the course started too.
There were not many familiar faces, but that is okay. Nice to meet new people! And the course was clearly up my street; a combination of conversation and grammar. I need practice with both! So I am sorted again until Christmas. And then we will see what happens after that!
03 October 2021
It has happened! Academic year 2021/2022 has started. It was of a lot of work to get ready for it, but when it started moving, the worst was over. And it went okay!
Last year we were teaching almost exclusively online. And this year things are improving. Anything that involves more than 100 students will still be online, but I do not have many sessions like that. That is basically only my dissertation module.
In most of my modules, I don't have anything near that number of students, so I can see them in person. What I do is I ask them to watch my pre-recorded lectures, and then I discussed these live. There is a bit of a catch; there might be students who are self-isolating, and can't be there for no fault of their own. We need to cater for them too. So when I have a live session with most of the students, I need to make sure I am also in an online session at the same time. The students who are online can hear what I say, and they might be able to see me as well, but that depends on the technology in the lecture room. They can ask questions in the chat of the online session if they want. So once in a while I have a small look at whether anything has appeared in the chat. And then I can just answer verbally.
So how did it go? To my surprise, it went rather well! Most students are there, and then sometimes there is a message in the chat. The system isn't flawless, of course; I had a student, for instance, who said they couldn't hear me. I couldn't help that; the other online students could, so the problem was not on my side. And I once accidentally was in a session in last year's module. If you go to the website where all your modules are listed, you by default see the ones from the previous academic year. I have no idea why! So it was easy to accidentally go to the wrong version of a website module. But I realised what the problem was after not too long.
It is absolutely lovely to be able to teach to actual people again! Teaching to a screen is just not the same. It is quicker, of course; I don't have to bike to my screen. But so far (and that's a week) I quite like how this year is going!
02 October 2021
It happens all the time that several members of staff are involved in marking one piece of work. Normally, all of that happens online. (I say normally; that is only true since a few years for coursework, and only true for exams since lockdown, but I suppose that feels normal by now.) But our fieldwork involved field notebooks, and these are actual pieces of paper. It had been unusual to mark them, but a nice change. And then I was done, and the next member of staff needed to do their part. Martin had decided he was next, so I could just deliver the books on bike. I was done at about 2:30; basically time to go for a run! And then I thought of something clever. I have recently been running the same route again and again; it is very beautiful, it isn't too long for a workday, and it starts at the front door. I had chosen this particular route as it is off-road for most of the way, and I expect autumn to stop me from running there. It will get too muddy and slippery! And I wanted to enjoy it while I could.
Martin lives so far east if you start running uphill from his house, you end up on the next leg of the Carneddau. I don't normally run there! There are pretty much two ways of getting there: one is over the road (how I cycle), and the other one is running sideways out of the village, and then just turning right until you get to that next foothill. I don't like the first option as I actively try to avoid the village when I run, and I don't like the second option as it involves public footpaths that are rarely used, and the least pleasant part of that is a river crossing that isn't practically there. So you end up fighting your way through hostile vegetation, and then crossing a river that is really difficult to cross without getting wet feet. And I do sometimes bike to a starting point of a run, but I generally prefer to just run from the front door and not having to think about a helmet, keys, clothes to wear biking back downhill, et cetera.
This time I was going to bike anyway. So I put on my running clothes, strapped the box with the notebooks to my pannier rack, and set off. All went well; the box was safely delivered into Martin's hands, and he had no problem at all with me leaning my bike against his house and then going for a run. So I was off!
The two obvious options from there were either to go up through the valley (that leads to Ffynnon Caseg) or over the ridge, towards y Drosgl. I chose the second option as I didn't think path through the valley was very good for running. And over the ridge is quite steep in places but that's okay. And it was quite windy! I didn't intend to go particularly far, but once I was on my way I was enjoying myself immensely and was tempted to go all the way to top of y Drosgl, but there is no clear path there, as the main route skirts around. I didn't feel like bushwhacking so when I encountered the main path I turned around. And with the several steep bits that took a while as well! All in all I was gone for about an hour. All my cobwebs had been blown away.
When I got back to my bike Martin offered me a cup of tea. That was gratefully accepted! Maybe I should do things like this more often. Yes there is the faff of first getting on your bike, but it sure is nice to run in a slightly different environment!
|View through Cwm Caseg to yr Elen|
|It was windy up there!|
01 October 2021
When you have a garden for the first time you learn all sorts of things. For instance, I became aware of the amazing growing power of buddleias. There was one growing right in front of the conservatory, threatening to block the view, and after cutting it back a few times and the shrub growing back pretty much as fast, I decided to kill it. I did the same with a specimen that was trying to crowd out my apple tree. And I tried it with a specimen that was overgrowing the upstairs garden. It looks like my garden is a dangerous place for this species! But the biggest one of all is next to the house, by the kitchen. Every year it looms over the road and over where I park my car. And the neighbour had worries about what it might be doing to my foundations. So it had to die! But I decided that when I was super busy. So nothing happened.
Then one day I was waiting for Kate to appear; she would drop by for lunch. I wasn't quite sure when exactly she would appear, and I decided to turn that into an advantage; if I was at the front of the house and see her coming. So I grabbed my saw and made a start! I started with the branches that were crowding out the car. The biggest bits of wood I cut into stove-sized pieces, and the rest went to the riverbank. I managed to process two big branches before the kitchen called. It already looks tidier! And there is a lot more to do but I have made a start. I'm sure I will find time to reduce it a lot more in size! And then I will be relying on the plant poison Rose left me to make sure it doesn't come back…
|How it started|