31 December 2021

Project duvet cover

 My double duvet is Dutch. That means it doesn't have a size that you can easily buy duvet covers for. And I had a duvet cover I liked; it was getting old so it was starting to show signs of wear and tear. I had repaired it several times. But one night I was lying in it and I just wanted to move to duvet a bit, but I gripped straight through the fabric. It is so thin now! And brittle. It was clear that it was quite beyond repair by now. So I had to act.

Some googling showed me it is really difficult to order of fitting duvet cover online. The next best thing is by a duvet cover that has either the correct width or length, and an overabundance of material in the other direction. Then you can just make it a bit smaller. So I decided to go for that! Even that narrowed the choice down quite a lot, but I found a model in the right width of which I thought it would look fine in my upstairs bedroom. It was quite a lot too long.

When I took the old one off I noticed it had four repairs and three unrepaired occurrences of damage. I think I got my money's worth out of that one! And now it can be a sheet that could protect my floor next time I want to do some painting work…

It arrived, and then the dance began of fitting it. Putting a double duvet in the duvet cover is always a bit of a faff! 

When I took the old one off I noticed it had four repairs and three unrepaired occurrences of damage. I think I got my money's worth out of that one! And now it can be a sheet that could protect my floor next time I want to do some painting work…

But I wanted to get it right with the new one, so I made a bit of an effort. As it had a pattern I didn't want to just put a huge hem in the bottom; that would really move the pattern to an unbalanced position. I shortened it on both sides! But doing a bit of needlework while listening to an interesting podcast is not a punishment.

I slept downstairs while I was faffing with this duvet cover. When it was finally done I look forward to having the choice again! And I am ready again for several decades. The old duvet cover lasted a fair while, and I see no reason why this one won't!

The cat 'helps' and clearly thinks it smells weird


30 December 2021

Looking back on 2021

Last year I provided a small overview of 2020, and I expressed my hopes for 2021. And now we are a year later. How did my hopes turn out? And how has 2021 been?

What I wrote was: "So what now for 2021? I intend to become so good at voice control I pretty much don't have to use a mouse at all for the entire year. And I hope I will get vaccinated. And I hope everybody else does too! And I hope I will be back working full-time in no time. But that I will have the wisdom to not work myself an injury for an employer who might just as well turn around and decide they don't need me. And I hope I will get to see, and hug, the people again I wish I could have seen and hugged last year! Stay tuned…"

Most of that actually works out quite well. My mouse has seen very little action in 2021! And the situation is not an unqualified success, of course; after a long time of my RSI healing, it then went into reverse and got worse again. I am still in the process of trying to sort that. So my wish for 2021 is: that I manage to find the best possible technical solutions for my issues, and that I get rid of my RSI altogether.

Going back to work full-time worked out pretty much instantaneously. The problem with work was not how many hours per day I did it; the problem was how much my hands got to do. And I did learn how to work my computer pretty much entirely by voice. It's quite slow, but you can get almost everything done.

I also hoped I would get vaccinated, and boy did that work out. I don't think I expected to get three doses within the year!

My desire to not work myself into the ground was not an unmitigated success; my low point basically was the start of term, when I was already feeling on the brink of burnout. The combination of fieldwork, dissertation module and welcome week was quite heavy. And it is disheartening to already feel like you're burning the candle at both ends when it's only August! But this was an unusual situation. I should never again have the responsibility for both the fieldwork and welcome week, which happen back-to-back. And it will never again be the first year we run the fieldtrip on Anglesey.

And what about seeing and hugging people? Well, again not an unqualified success. I was again allowed to hug the people I actually got to see, but I only got to see people within Wales. I didn't make it to the Netherlands in the entire year! It has been close, but there has been no cigar. But the times you could only see people that lived within walking distance, and then only from a distance of 2 m; that time seems so far away now.

Time has the habit, though, of throwing things at you you didn't see coming. So apart from whether my expectations came through a not, what else happened this year?

One thing I knew that would happen was that we would start the new term with two colleagues fewer: Suzie and Adel left. I am glad to say I am still seeing Suzie, lockdown and baby permitting!

One thing I totally didn't see coming was that in February, I got a cat. And it's been amazing! She does complicate going away, but going away wasn't a very 2021 thing to do anyway. And having a silly creature tearing through your house and scampering through your garden and sleeping by your side is great. I was a bit grumpy when Guy told me, when he handed me the cat, that I would fall in love with her and never give her back, as I like to think I make such decisions myself, but he was totally right. As I write this, it has obviously already almost been a year that she's lived here. Time flies!

I also did some quite needed work on the house and the garden. When I bought the house I realised that one thing that really needed doing was a bit of work on the extension. Some of the wood needed repair, and all of it needed an urgent paint job. And this spring I got around to it. And after years of focusing on the downstairs garden, and allowing the upstairs garden to still be a bit of a jungle, I pulled out infeasible amounts of brambles and buddleia, and turned it into something resembling a garden. I have been enjoying that ever since!

I have also been forced to change my habits and think about my own interaction with carbon emissions. My boiler broke three times in a row, so I really need to think about a replacement. And I want that replacement to be as environmentally friendly as feasible. And it having broken gave me the habit of having my showers cold. As I write this I still have that habit!

Something that might reach into the future was that I started liaising with Adult Education Wales. I had fired off an application letter in the distant past when redundancy was looming over me, and now they suddenly got in touch. 2022 will be the year this collaboration will take solid form!

Spring and summer also brought sadness. When the ban on seeing people in your garden was lifted I immediately invited Martin and Fran down. It turned out Fran was ill and couldn't really come over to my place, so I went up the hill instead. And that would happen more often. Fran didn't get better. I wish we could have hung out more before she fell ill. She died in summer and she is sorely missed.

Life is full of contrasts, and the highlight of the year was also in summer. My friend Kate had been talking about wanting to do the Slate Trail, and I had subtly enquired if maybe I could join. And she was up for that. So in late July we hoisted our backpacks on our backs and we were off. We tried to cram it in too little time, and we really pushed ourselves to the limit, but it was a beautiful trip and Kate was a great hiking mate. And the fact that we covered ludicrous distances per day makes for good stories afterwards!

In late summer I also decided to stand for (membership) secretary of the cave rescue team. A mail had gone around from the previous secretary, who was the only female in the committee and one of the few females in the entire team, saying she was stepping down. And after my rather unpleasant experiences with misogyny in the underground community, I decided the team really needed significant female input, so even though I was already buckling under the strain of my day job, I stepped forward. And now I am more involved in the team than I ever was.

The end of summer brought a lot of work; I always have a fair amount of work on the dissertation module in summer, and I am also organising Welcome Week. And just before Welcome Week we have our third year fieldtrip. This year would be a lot more work than normal; we had to now do this trip in North Wales, so we were back at square one. And due to Martin being off work I was asked to organise it. That involves a lot of herding cats! And jumping through bureaucratic hoops. It wasn't organised in a particularly perfectionist way, but there was a fieldtrip. And a lot of work has now been done that doesn't need to be done next year. And hopefully, next year the pandemic will be getting in the way to a lesser extent. And Welcome Week was a bit of a struggle too, but I have seen the feedback from the freshers, and considering circumstances we were clearly doing quite a good job.

Then in September, term started again. As I had been busy with almost exclusively to dissertations, Welcome Week and the fieldtrip, I was not very prepared, and I struggled a bit to keep up. But I got there. And we're going back to seeing students face-to-face! It was good to seeing them again, although I can confirm it is not the same if they are all wearing masks. It is really difficult to get to know their names and faces if the only thing you see is pieces of cloth with two eyes looking over the top. And I wasn't quite sure how the logistics would work, but it turned out it was quite doable to just commute to campus by bike, and if there were gaps between contact hours, find a quiet corner and do some work on my laptop.

Autumn and winter did seem to involve a bit of a reversal in time. I had spent years on a trajectory of more sport, earlier days, and less alcohol. I'm not suggesting I became a health freak, but I was quite going with the health-conscious times. But my tightening connection with Mart, Sue, Dean and Tom reconnected me with the concept of midnight, and of several alcoholic consumptions on one day. It has been really good to be accepted in this crew. I've been having great times with them!

And now it is almost 2022. So what do I hope and expect for the New Year? I do hope the pandemic will become less intrusive. I hoped that last year, but well, I will have to just hope it again. I also hope that at the end of the year, will be RSI-free. Another one I was already hoping last year! I hope that my interaction with Adult Education Wales goes well and leads to more things in the future. I hope I'll manage to find a replacement for my elderly boiler that is as environmentally-friendly as possible, and that I will get it installed. I'm not sure I should consider relying on it another winter. And I hope I will find another opportunity to go for a long hike with Kate, and that I will have loads of good times with the usual suspects. Watch this space to find out how this all pans out, and what curveballs life throws at me in 2022!

29 December 2021

Project weight, a year later

In the spring of 2020 I posted that I had been keeping an eye on my weight. When lockdown started, I was a bit scared that losing my commute and always being rather close to my fridge would lead to unwanted weight gain. But by May it was clear that that wasn't what was happening. I just changed my exercise regime from biking to running, and my eating patterns changed, but not for the worse. I was actually losing weight. I had no idea, though, if that would last. But with the first teaching semester over, and me having a bit of a Christmas break, I decided to add my later measurements to my spreadsheet, and have a look at how things were going.

More data is better, so even though there are some gaps in the data there (my interest in the project clearly slumped a bit this last summer), the much longer data series is more informative than the short one. And things are still looking good.

There is a lot of scatter in the data, but the overall trend is still just about down. I tried a few trendlines; the one that fits best is basically the logarithmic one. Rapid drop at the beginning, tailing off drop later on. I get a slightly better r2 if I fit a >2 order polynomial curve through, but that is just what polynomial curves do. And I calculated the difference between all my measurements in 2020 and all of them in 2021, and I was 0.9 kg lighter in 2021. I think the proof of the pudding will be in 2022! At the end of that year I will be comparing two years that happened after the initial rapid drop. No idea what life looks like then, but probably not quite like what it was before the pandemic started!

28 December 2021

Christmas 2021

Christmas started early this year! Susan had suggested a festive meal at her place, just before I would go away for Christmas. I looked forward to it. And rightly so! The food was good, the company was better, and the cat gave his usual acte de presence. I only got to bed at 2 AM. I didn't actually remember that time even exists!

Prep (pic by Susan)

My actual Christmas should have happened in the Netherlands, but it clearly didn't. But within seconds I was booked full anyway; both my Finnish sister, and Jaco and Marjan, suggested Christmas dinner. And that made Christmas 2021 quite like Christmas 2020. With my sister the dinner would take place on a screen; with Jaco and Marjan it would be in person.

On Christmas Day I went for a walk, and then cooked the Christmas dinner I would eat with my sister. We made the same dishes! I made my first vegetable terrine. I don't know if my sister had made one before. It was really nice! And the two hour time difference didn't bother us. And there was even a cameo from the cat she was catsitting. My cat appeared too; she got a sachet of posh food when I had my Christmas dinner. She appreciated that!

Dramatic landscapes

Dramatic mushrooms

On Boxing Day I had to remake my Boxing Day dessert; I had found a nice cheesecake recipe, but the first version turned out as cheese soup on a biscuit base. I had to do better than that! And the second version was notably stiffer, but still not as stiff as it should have been. And I went for a nice run in the low sun. And then I joined the pre-dinner drinks of the Christmas dinner at my father's place that I should have attended. I joined them on a screen, of course. It was good to see them all anyway!

Sunny run

The dinner at Jaco and Marjan's was great too! Jaco had made Christmas tree-shaped pizza with Christmas tree-shaped garlic bread. And they shoved my cheesecake into the freezer, and that was some serious freezer, so when the cheesecake came out it was stiff enough to be cut and served as cake, rather than soup.

The garlic bread

Christmas pizza

What cheesecake should not do

Then Christmas was over! I had been a bit apprehensive about it when I realised I would have to stay home on my own, but I had underestimated my social circle, both the physically present part of that, and the remote part. It had been fine! And of course it was my first Christmas with the cat. But I do hope that next Christmas, international travel will be a lot easier than it has been the last two years…

27 December 2021

Pre-Christmas haircut

I had meant to cut my hair for months already. It kept not making it to the top of my to-do list, but then a Christmas dinner was coming up. I figured this might be the time to move it to the top of the list! And I had envisioned that that day I would have to get lots of things ready before I would leave for Christmas, but then suddenly I wasn't leaving, so the pressure was off. And I decided I might as well take before and after pictures. So here they are! My hairdressing skills in action.

On that note, it is now at least 25 years ago that I had my dreadlocks done. It was quite expensive; it took half a working day and I paid 400 guilders for it. That was several monthly rents! But once you have the dreadlocks, then you can just keep them going with only a very modest amount of maintenance. And my haircuts now take me a few minutes. I suppose that if you average it out I am now paying about 1.3 guilders per month for my hair. No idea how that translates to present-day pounds; something like 60p? Now that was a good investment…



26 December 2021

Travel plans scuppered

Omicron was rampant, and left and right, European countries closed their borders for travellers from the UK. But the Netherlands hadn't done so. And I didn't think they would make last-minute changes. However; I was keeping an eye on things. The day before I was supposed to travel to the Netherlands for Christmas I had another look at the rules. And then my heart sank. So far it had been the case that for some reason, the UK was not listed as a country with a variant of concern, so you could still go into the Netherlands without self-isolating. But then suddenly things had changed. From that very day onwards, travellers from the UK would have to self-isolate for 10 days. So just a day before I travel, I had to cancel everything again. I go to the Netherlands to see people! Not to be locked up in someone's spare room and occasionally retrieve a sandwich that has kindly been put in front of the door. So that was my Christmas plans down the drain, and quite a lot of my mother's as well. My other relatives would just get together anyway but now without me. I haven't seen them in a while!

When I saw that I first did a round of phone calls. I had to tell everyone I wasn't going. And then I saw what I could cancel; my ticket was refundable, and for my airport parking I got a voucher. My various covid tests might come in handy the next time. How long are these things valid? I also went to see the neighbour who now didn't need to come and feed the cat.

I was a bit sad, but immediately people started rallying around them suggesting social activities. Soon I had a virtual dinner with my finished sister on the cards, and a real Christmas dinner with Jaco and Marjan. And I could look forward to some quality time with my nose in the cat's fur. She had no idea what change had just taken place!

25 December 2021

Christmas decorations, again

The previous year I had put up Christmas decorations for the first time! I had to stay home for Christmas, after all. And this year I didn't intend to stay home for Christmas, but I wanted to put the decoration up anyway. And I did! I started with the little glass bells. And immediately, the safety aspect of this decoration was checked by my feline safety inspector. She was hilarious.

The next day the rest came up. It looks Christmassy now! I went a bit wilder last year, but I suppose I just wanted to go all out after not having decorated my house for decades. And it is a good time for sitting by the fire with the cat, but I suppose it is even more snug if you have some tinsel around…

24 December 2021

Birthday tea in the hills

Susan had decided she wanted to go have tea on the beach for her birthday. That sounded like an excellent idea! We had it all sorted; Dean would bake a cake, Martin would drive us to the beach, all good. But when the day came, I got a text; Susan and Dean had got their booster the day before, and Susan was feeling a bit rough. She suggested we still have the tea, but just in the hills near her house. That work fine for me.

I had my booster that very morning. I knew there was a chance I would feel rough too, but I didn't think that chance was too big. By the time I got ready to get onto my bicycle I was still feeling totally fine. I just made sure I had some aspirin in my bag.

I had decided I would just bring lots of liquids. I am a thirsty person! So I had brought three full flasks, and my stove, and two bottles of mulled wine Susan had brought to my place earlier, and we didn't end up actually drinking them.

As I knew I would have to carry it into the hills, I put everything into a backpack and just carried on my back. It was heavy! And it is uphill all the way. By the time I parked my bike some of my back muscles were protesting. But I was there now! And when my bike was parked Martin appeared, and together we went to fetch the birthday girl. It was an absolutely gorgeous day and Martin had his big fat camera with him. Excellent idea! And Susan was still not feeling 100% but still good enough for our little adventure. Dean was fine.

We just walked up the path that leads into the valley from their house. She had a particular waterfall in mind as a goal, but we could tell that that would be entirely in the shade. We decided to set down a bit earlier, when we were still in the sun. It was not in itself a cold day but that was mainly thanks to the sun! And we found a good rock to sit down on, and all the bags started yielding tea paraphernalia.

Dean's cake was amazing, and we managed to finish an entire bottle of mulled wine, and it was all rather pleasant. And when redundant eating and drinking we decided to go to see the waterfall after all. I left my bag behind! There was hardly anybody in the hills, and there were still so many containers of liquid in my back I didn't want to carry it around if not necessary. It was a nice walk and the waterfall was amazing too! And then we walked back.

All the while we could see a cloud cover slowly approaching from the north. Martin had already been commenting on it when we walked up to Susan's and Dean's house, but it kept creeping closer and closer. It started on Anglesey, but it crept over the Strait, and then into the valley of the Ogwen. We were glad we were not on the beach, because that would have been in the fog! And we were comfortably above it. These views were amazing. A lovely birthday present from nature to Susan!

Walking towards the waterfall

Martin photographing beautiful clouds

The clouds coming in from Anglesey

The waterfall!

23 December 2021


On Wednesday I booked my booster. And on Sunday morning my time had come. It was a glorious morning. I had to scrape the ice of the car before I could leave! But I got to Caernarfon on time. I parked up and joined the queue. It didn't take long!

I got in, and was waved to a jabbing station. A friendly gentleman stuck my third Pfizer into my left arm. And gestured at the man who would then take my details and put them into the system. Even though he was wearing a rather intimidating looking mask, I recognised him! And he recognised me. It was Chris from Welsh class. I hadn't seen him in a while, and it was nice to see him again. He was wrestling a bit with the laptop; it looked a bit slow, and gave him a lot of turning wheel of frustration. And my name also gave some trouble; he had entered me as Margot with a t, but I was in the system as Margo without a t. But that was quickly solved. And then I was on my way! 

As I had had Pfizer three times, I didn't have to wait 15 minutes before I could leave. I just sauntered out! And walked around the building where in the meantime the queue had become a lot longer. And I could drive off into the glorious day. My booster wouldn't be maximally effective for another two weeks, and that would be after Christmas, but so be it. I felt glad I now was on my way to having reasonable protection against omicron!

The long queue I found when I had had my jab

22 December 2021

Watching yourself on TV

I was on Welsh television in October, talking about the fascinating sediments on a beach on Anglesey and what they tell us about the end of the last ice age. I was asked to do that as the owner of a nearby house wanted bigger sea defences, and the question was whether that would damage the geological significance of the beach.

I don't have a TV licence, so I didn't watch myself. Jaco and Marjan had recorded it, but I haven't been to their place very much recently, and I only got to see it in December. And just after I seen it at theirs, I was contacted by the bloke who had recorded the interview. He sent me the recording! So I could watch it again.

As I expected, only a very small part of the interview was broadcast. But I think I did an okay job. The one thing I noticed was my accent; I already noticed, through having to record all my lectures and live sessions and whatnot, that I don't really hear my accent when speaking English very much when speaking, but I sure hear it when I hear myself back. And that clearly also holds when I'm speaking Welsh! And this was the first time I heard myself recorded speaking that language. Crikey I really sound like I am about the milk the cows. Oh well. I am easy to follow! So even though it doesn't sound elegant, it works well for communication…

21 December 2021

Catching up with Guy and Kate and the dogs

When I had to drive almost all the way to Llangollen for a cave rescue kit check, I knew I would be driving past where Guy and Kate live these days. So I dropped them a line! Were they home? Could I pop by for a cup of tea? And I could! So after most of the day in the freezing school, I then spent on time in their cosy kitchen, where I hadn't been in a long time. It was really good to see them both again!

It was also lovely to see the dogs! I have had a bit of a thing for the eldest of the two, Pi, for years, but the last time I visited them, their other dog Indy decided I was the sort of person you push your nose against. She couldn't get enough of it. And she still thought I was very interesting. She was all over me! Still pushing with that nose.

It was a good coincidence this all happened on the day it did, as the next day I would see Mart, Sue and Dean again, and that allowed Guy to send some birthday cards and Christmas cards along with me. He won't see them again before Christmas!

I am trying to get them to come over for dinner fairly soon. It is always great to see them, and I am sure it is great for them to reconnect with the cat! She is amazing. And they haven't forgotten that. How could they!

20 December 2021

Kit check

If you want to lift a casualty in a stretcher out of some multi-pitch venue, you had better have a lot of kit to do that with. And if you have a lot of kit, it also helps if you know what you have, where you have it, and what shape it is in. So from time to time we as North Wales Cave Rescue need to do a kit check. And that time had come! And I had decided to show my good intentions and go there.

It was a bit of a pity that it took place on a day with blazing sunshine in Bethesda. It would have been such an amazing day to go into the hills! But that's life. I got into my car and drove east. It was a ~75 minute drive, and I soon drove into very scenic mist. And later the mist got thicker and less scenic. And then I got to my destination. I put on my mask and walked in. We were in an old school that had been turned into a community centre. Some six blokes were already working! I didn't feel bad about popping in bit later because of the long drive. One of these men lived barely 2 minutes away.

Dewi, the chairman, had a big stack of kit checking forms, and suggest I start working on the hauling bags. That was fine with me! We had the old forms, so we knew what should be in there. And every bag had its own colour of cable ties with which all the kit was marked. So I started, together with Tom, our kit officer. I basically did an inventory, and Tom made a note of everything that needed to be added to the bag. This was mainly short bits of rope; we retire rope (and other textile-based things such as slings) after 10 years. And we indeed needed to retire quite a lot of it! And we had a 200 m length of new rope, so we could cut off bits of the desired length.

The first bag took us a while. The second one was a lot quicker! And then we were on a roll. We did take a coffee break; I was glad about that. Not only do I like coffee; it was also absolutely freezing in there. For reasons of covid we had the door wide open, and some windows too. I don't think there was any heating on. It would have been foolishness as the heat would just dissipate outside. And I was sitting on the cold floor. I did make sure I sat on every hauling bag I took an inventory of, but they're not made for thermal insulation.

There was some distraction as well when Tom's wife and their dog popped by. It was a very charming dog, and a lot of us seem to quite like dogs! But otherwise we just worked on. At some point I ate some sandwiches and then I moved on to rigging bags. These are a bit dull! Hauling bags have all sorts of belay devices and pulleys and jammers and whatnot in, but rigging bags are mainly carabiners and slings. The good thing is that they are smaller, so I moved to a table so I could sit on a chair and not on the cold floor. And behind me, all sorts of other work seemed to be progressing well.

When I was done with the rigging bags it looked like we were wrapping up. And I was cold. And I still had quite a drive ahead of me. So I asked Dewi if it was okay if I would leave. And it was. That did involve some faff, as both Tom and his wife were blocking me in, and the building also had a bit of a tricky driveway. I got away in the end. I was a bit sad that it had been an absolutely glorious day in Bethesda, and I had been cold all day in a very misty village near Llangollen, but that's life sometimes. I knew there were some tourist attractions nearby: a ruined abbey I had driven past on the way up, and the Pontcysyllte aqueduct a stone's throw further east. But I decided to skip them. I wanted to become comfortable now! And that would work out. So altogether worth it; I hadn't actually done much with cave rescue recently, and now I have made a bit of a contribution after all. And I would get comfortable before I got home…

19 December 2021

Booster efforts

 I hadn't been overly worried about covid for a while. There didn't seem to be an awful lot of it around, and a didn't find myself in high-risk situations very much. But then do things happened: my plans to travel over Christmas, and omicron. And suddenly the threat came closer.

The radio and newspapers were emphasising that being double-vaccinated gave you good resistance against the Delta variant, but for the omicron variant; not so much. And that was quickly becoming the dominant variant. And I was among the lucky ones; I have had two Pfizer inoculations, which seems to give you a 40% immunity against omicron. Two AstraZenecas seem to only give you some 20%. But 40% still isn't anywhere near 100%! So booster seemed to be a good idea.

One day an email came through; a medical centre about an hour's drive to the west offered boosters to people who were members of emergency services. Being in cave rescue, I count as that. But how often do I actually end up rescuing anyone? I decided to let that pass by. I would just wait my turn. 

Then a text message came through; a friend had been alerted by his neighbour that there was a drop-in session in Bangor. Well if you can just appear unannounced, why not? So I chanced it. I went quite late, though, and by the time I got there they had run out. Oh well. Bangor isn't far, and I got to listen to Joe Lycett being silly on the radio on the way back.

The next thing that happened was another message from a friend; she had seen that you could now book an appointment! As soon I saw that I went to the site. You could book slots in Bangor! There were even slots available for the next day. I picked one I thought I could do and filled out my details. When I got to the end of that, the site told me someone had beaten me to it. The slot was taken! I went back to the calendar that had the days with slots available in black. The next day was now grey. It hadn't just been the one slot I had chosen that had been taken! They all had. But to make things worse; all other days were now greyed out as well. Oh dear. I quickly had a look if there are other locations. And I saw Caernarfon offered slots as well. I quickly selected one, and filled out my details again. And this time I was quick enough! I could get my booster on Sunday morning! And Caernarfon is only a little bit further than Bangor. The vaccination site is even on my side of town. I'm sorted!

18 December 2021


This year my birthday would be both special and not very special! It wasn't very special, as it was a Tuesday, so just another working day, and even one that ends with two hours of Welsh class. That meant my time was only mine from 8 PM onwards. That's not much!

It was already getting a bit special as I allowed myself an extra long run in the afternoon. I did a loop around Moel y Ci. A very inefficient one! That was nice.

Some unexpected handsome buffalo along the way

Sun on the Carneddau in the background

It was really special, though, as beforehand, Susan had asked me if I had any plans for my birthday, and if she could make a cake for it. That is rather unprecedented! I sometimes manage to convince people to spend time with me on my birthday, but this level of enthusiasm was unexpected. And I admit my own enthusiasm might not always be skyhigh; my birthday falls awkwardly towards the end of term, and that tends to be a hectic time. I barely have time to think, let alone organise something for my birthday. And it is the sort of time when people organise Christmas related social events; that tends to fill up the diary. 

Last year my birthday was so uneventful it didn't even get a mention on the blog. I was catching up on not having blogged for weeks, though. The year before it had fallen in the weekend; that is great, and I had managed to spend it with Kate. But this year that wouldn't work as she was away!

Susan's suggestion was heartwarming. And we agreed that she would indeed bake a cake and that she, Dean, and Martin would pop over to raise a glass and eat some cake on my 46th. 

After Welsh class I just had time to light some candles and a wood fire, and then there was a knock on the door. They had arrived! And some cake was eaten and some glasses were raised. It was lovely. And the cat gave acte de presence. The laser pointer even came out! This new crew, and the cat, brought some birthday magic back into my normally rather "bah humbug" kind of life!

17 December 2021

The Dragon saga continues

Me and laptops have not been a success story in the past two years. When I was sent home at the start of the pandemic, and wasn't allowed to bring my work computer home, I was forced to work on my private laptop for months. That led to severe RSI. I later did manage to get my computer home, but it was too late and I had to sign off sick later.

I went back to work when I got voice recognition software which allowed me to pretty much work the computer without touching it. It is slow and frustrating, but it did help; my RSI slowly got better. And all the work was at home. It wouldn't stay that way, though; this academic year we are doing most teaching in person again. And that means being on the main campus, and also having time in between contact hours I need to fill. And that meant I needed a laptop. I can't work the computers in the lecture rooms or in the library with my voice; I can only do that with my own computer. The voice recognition software is not put on the network. But I can't go around lugging desktop around; hence that I got a laptop. But ever since I got the laptop there was trouble.

One problem was that the laptop struggled to hear me. If it just doesn't hear what you are saying, then voice recognition software doesn't work. And then you need to use your hands again. And there also was a problem with there seeming to be a mismatch between Dragon and Office. What used to work flawlessly now was laboured; for instance, I suddenly couldn't enter text into Excel without using my hands. And given that Excel is the sort of programme where you want to put a lot of small bits of text into a file, you quickly have to use your hands quite a lot. And I was starting to feel my RSI getting worse again.

I first tried to sort it myself. I wasn't successful. Then I went to the helpdesk; they did what they could but they couldn't actually do anything. Then I was contacted by the Dragon specialist of the helpdesk and she couldn't do anything either. Then I went to the Dragon helpdesk itself, and they could help me with the audio problem. The software problem persisted. So I decided that if the software worked better own a desktop than a laptop, then I should just get an additional desktop. I'm sure the University doesn't pay much for them! And me going off on sick leave is a lot more expensive. So I suggested that to my line manager, and he supported it. I then contacted the helpdesk again.

The helpdesk didn't just want to give me a desktop; they said there should not be a difference between how a desktop and a laptop collaborate with Dragon. They figured there might be something wrong with the laptop. I thought that would be surprising; that thing had been brand new when the problems became apparent. But I was happy to let them have a try. They suggested they look at that on a Monday.

That Monday we had an entire day of student presentations. I was going to be on campus anyway, and I didn't need the laptop as I was just going to be sitting there with the piece of paper in front of my nose. But we started at nine! And so did the helpdesk. But the bloke I had been communicating with said he started earlier than that, so I made sure I was on campus early, and phoned him. I handed him my laptop, with lots of peripherals: power cable, headset, and graphic tablet. I said that if there was any doubt he would give me my laptop back in a way that was as favourable to mouseless work as how I handed it to him I would not find that acceptable. I remembered getting the laptop! And not managing to make Dragon run on it. That just won't do. So I also demanded that both my Dragon and my Speechstart work flawlessly when I got it back. And he said something rather insightful. He asked what version of Office I had had on the desktop: it had been Office 365, and the new one had Office 2019. He thought that maybe the problem was not with the laptop, but with Office. And that would explain things. If I would now get another desktop it would probably also have Office 2019 on it. And then the problems would just persist. But he was going to have a look what he could do. Maybe he could adjust some settings to make the collaboration better?

Later that morning he contacted me; he said he had done what he could. I could pick it up and then judge if it was good enough now. If not he wanted to swipe the entire laptop. And that is always a faff! So in the rather short lunch break I went back and picked it up. It looked like it worked better. I hoped it worked well enough! But that would become clear in the coming days, when I was not in student presentations for the entire day. If the communication between Dragon and my other software will only get worse and worse over time then I have another problem; will I ever manage to actually get rid of the RSI? My progress has definitely been stalled now. I have even got worse again. And I'm not enjoying that. This issue is not over yet…

16 December 2021

Student presentations; no need to decide on either virtual or real

In one of my modules, the students are expected to do a presentation at the end of the module. Last year I missed it, due to being on sick leave. So this year was my first covid-affected presentations session of this module. And it looked like it was going to be almost normal! Everyone submitted a slideshow beforehand, and almost everyone showed up. We were all masked, but those doing a presentation could take their mask off, as they were far enough away from everybody else.

Not everybody could be there; there was one woman who had been told to self-isolate. And another one came up to me early on in the day, looking a bit rough, saying that she wasn't feeling too well and whether it was okay if she went home. Of course it was. She did feel she was okay to present, though.

During the first coffee break I tried out the technology with one of the physically absent students. I wasn't quite sure if the students in the room would be able to hear it if the student presenting from home would be talking into the Blackboard Collaborate session (this is the software in which we do our online teaching). But she came through loud and clear! And she could follow everybody else's talks as the camera and microphone in the lecture room were doing a fine enough job. So when it was her turn she just presented like everybody else. She just wasn't physically present!

This was the first time I had a blend of students presenting in person and students presenting remotely, and it worked flawlessly! I was impressed. I'm not sure you could pull that off in any lecture room, but I like how flexible the system is when the technology allows it. I could imagine this is the new normal. I prefer a speaker present in person, but you can't always have that, and this is clearly the next best thing! This 21st-century thing isn't so bad after all…

15 December 2021

Careful parking needed

In spring 2019 I announced that the venue next door, Neuadd Ogwen, was going to have some building work done. I didn't really know when it would start, but I don't think I imagined it wouldn't start for years. Last year I thought something was finally happening, but this was unrelated work. It happened since that some builders were conspicuously eyeing up the building; they confirmed that had something to do with the expected work. But now finally something really seems to happen. And that something started with Neuadd Ogwen's manager, Dilwyn, knocking on my door. He said it was really going to start now. Even before the New Year! And he said it was going to be a bit of a building site, so he wanted to talk it through with me. He said that he expected that for quite a while, I wouldn't be able to park in front of my house. The terrain in front of my house, by the way, belongs to Neuadd Ogwen. And he said he would buy me a parking permit for the parking lot next door. That sounded reasonable. 

A week or so later I found some men clearly eyeing up the space in front of the house, so I walked out to see what they were up to. And they were planning to put a skip there. They thought they could place it in such a way that I would for now still be able to park there. As it so happened, my car was parked on the street, as there had been a concert, and a van belonging to a performing artist had blocked the way. I pointed out which one was mine but then I had to leave to teach.

When I came back there was indeed a skip, and it even had a fence around it. I don't think that will stop anyone from throwing things in, but there we are! I eyed up the gap they had left for my car. It looked like it was the size of my car, but not any bigger than that. I gave it a go and managed to squeeze the car in. I scraped the tyre a bit along the support of the fence! But then I realised I could rotate that support, which gave me a few crucial extra decimetres. So I did that.

For as long as this skip will stay there, it will be a bit tricky to park, but I think I can do it. And I think this is only the beginning! But the end result will be excellent. I think Neuadd Ogwen will really benefit from having back doors that are well-insulated with regard to both heat and sound. And the work will take months, but I'm sure it'll be fine!

14 December 2021

Office away from the office

In recent weeks, it has happened several times that I had a gap between engagements on campus. And what I need in a gap like that, basically, is a supply of hot drinks and a computer I can speak to. And since I have a laptop, that last feature is sorted. And one of the buildings I often teach in: Thoday building, which actually looks a bit like my old secondary school, has a little kitchen with one of those boiling water taps and some tables nearby where you can sit. And I always end up there. I can just keep refilling my flask. Sometimes work can be difficult there; other people use the space as well, and if my microphone picks up what other people say then things get confused, but quite often it is quite quiet there. So this has now sort of become my office away from the office! I even have a default table. And I sometimes end up having a bit of a chat with people who walk past. We are all in the same college! 

We as the School of Ocean Sciences actually do have a hotdesk on main campus, and I used that when I only had a desktop. But it is in a building without a boiling water tap, and where I don't know anyone. So off to Thoday it is! And these are the tail ends of teaching, but I suspect I will be back at my table in the New Year before too long…

View from my impromptu office (boiling water tap just out of view)

13 December 2021

Side gig takes off after all

Only last month I announced that I would not be doing any adult education this year. The idea to do any in the first place had resulted from my threatened redundancy earlier on in the lockdown period. I had agreed with my contact person from Adult Education Wales that they would offer a climate change course, but nobody registered. We could always try again in the New Year. But before the New Year had even started, one of her colleagues had asked around a bit, and found an audience in Llanelli for this course. So now it will go ahead after all! And it will start in January. I am glad there is a bit of a lull in the teaching so I can complete my teaching material. There is a still fair amount of work to do but I have faith I can do this. And that means I will have made a start with finding an alternative path! That will be a good feeling.

12 December 2021

Omicron travel plans

I haven't been back to the Netherlands for 1 1/2 years. The previous Christmas period, lockdown was pretty strict. And in summer there never seemed to be a time when I could go there without having to self isolate in either direction. Summer, of course, was also busier than I would have wished it to be. And now we have the Omicron variant. It is closing borders, and making the English wear masks again. And there is no reason to believe that it stops there. But it is not an unusually dangerous variant, or so it seems. And it has already reached both the Netherlands and Britain. I don't think there is much of a reason to close the border between the two countries. It wouldn't make much of a difference. So I have decided to try to travel. I haven't seen my mum in way too long. And I am keeping my expectations modest; I am well aware that the rules can change at any time. And I also know that even as the rules are right now, things could go wrong. If I test positive for Covid when in the Netherlands, then I can't come back for a while. And I would be stuck. I don't get claustrophobic in confined underground spaces, but I would get claustrophobic in the Netherlands. And I have a cat now. And with great cat comes great responsibility. I will have to be careful! But I don't intend to go and frequent nightclubs or things like that. And I won't stay very long. And if I don't go now, then when? This pandemic is not over yet. It could be a fair while. And sometimes one has to take risks to see loved ones. So wish me luck.

11 December 2021

Gaining a module, losing open days

During my PDR had suggested I take back a module I used to be the module organiser of: Earth, Climate and Evolution. When I had flagged to my previous line manager that I felt overwhelmed, he had taken this module and given it to someone else. That had not been what I had suggested; to me it made more sense to lose Peer Guiding and Welcome Week, as that directly clashed with the adjacent fieldwork. But one does not look a gift horse in the mouth; I was fine with losing that module. I was fine with losing anything.

Fast forward a bit, and I lost a big climate module. That was my cue to suggest I take the module I had lost back again. That didn't happen as the head of school didn't want to make any decisions. But then I had another PDR, and he seemed to have learned that not making decisions is not a good thing. So this time he listened, and gave me my module back! It is not as if I have nothing to do, but that module is one that I am the main teaching staff on anyway. I might as well get the credit. And if I have that module, which is one I really enjoy, then that takes up space that can't be taken up by things I don't enjoy it all. So even though this means extra work, I was glad I got it back.

The waiting was still for the message that indeed, Welcome Week and Peer Guiding would have been taken off me. But something else happened; totally out of the blue, I got a message that I was no longer required to organise Open Days. That was bonus! The rationale was that central organisation had decided it was good to get a bit more continuity. In the years I organised open days, it was always a colleague who organised them in autumn, and me organising them in spring. And now my colleague would organise all of them. He wasn't complaining! I hope he sees open days a bit like I see the Earth, Climate and Evolution module, in the sense that he had rather spend his time on that than on other work-related things. And I suppose that when they had to choose between him and me organising the Open Days, he was the obvious choice. Apart from the fact he is a totally competent man, he had also not felt the threat of redundancy in the previous round. Open days are important for the future of the School, and that is possibly best in the hands of someone who is confident they themselves have a future in the School!

10 December 2021

Abergwyngregyn horseshoe

 When there was another Sunday with a good weather forecast coming up, I decided I needed to go out again. I had felt a bit cooped up. With the frantic marking in the past week I really wanted some fresh air. And I had something I don't get very often; I was gripped by a desire to not be at home. On the Saturday I was going to have tea with Martin and I volunteered his place. As much as I love my house, I just didn't want to be in it too much over the weekend! But the Sunday was for the hills. Initially I was going to go with Kate, but something that in the way and I ended up going alone. And I decided to do a walk I had thought about for a while; just East of the furthest reaches I can easily do from home, there is one valley I don't visit very often. In summer I'd been there with Caro, but we had walked through the bottom of the valley, there and back. And I thought it would be nice to walk around it. I had a bit of a look at the map; I decided the best thing to do would be to park by the start of the path to Aber Falls, then walk to where I had started with Caro, but instead of taking the path into the valley, just find my way up to the crest. They didn't seem to be any paths to it, but I knew there was one on the ridge. And from there it would just be a case of following the horseshoe! That would bring me to Llwytmor, where I had been at the end of the previous summer, and then I would find my way down to intersect the path that brings you past the waterfall, and then eventually back on the main path, back to the car park. I had walked that path in the other direction with my sister, and I know it was beautiful. And so that was how I executed the plan.

The beautiful weather didn't actually materialise, but I had enough clothes with me. Walking to where I had started with Caro was a bit dull, but that was why I wanted to do it in the beginning and not at the end, when I would be tired. And it was a bit of a slog to bushwhack my way up to Foel Ganol, but I got there in the end. And from there it was a bit windy and cold, as on the ridge was completely exposed, but it was okay. I just put on gloves and a hat and went onwards. The skies were amazing! And some occasional sun was seen in the distance. I was making good progress. In this cold winter you are not going to dawdle.

Cwm Anafon

Carneddau ponies

My first stop was for coffee and cake. I had some gooy chocolate cake (recipe from Rutger bakt) with me; excellent food from the cold hike. And then I walked on. On Drum I came across the first other person; when I was only about 2 m away I suddenly realised there was someone sitting at the Tor. I walked on, and it got busy; I overtook two people who were going in the same direction as me, and there were two people coming in the other direction. Some waving took place. And we were coming to the summit of Foel Fras; it was very icy there! It was the highest point of the route, and it stood out like a sore thumb; it was white with rime, and pretty icy. I was glad conditions wouldn't stay like that; I didn't have things like crampons with me. It was totally fine on Foel Fras, but if the snowline (I suppose I should say ice line as there was no actual snow; only hail, black ice and rime) would have been lower I would have had to either have such things with me, or reconsider my route.

Dramatic skies

Stepping stones over the boggy saddle

Cold on Foel Fras!

I quickly descended out of the iciness. And I was getting a bit cold! I moved fast. And I enjoyed the barren plain between Foel Fras and Llwytmor. 

View into the valley of Afon Rhaiadr Fawr

Typical high-latitude swampy terrain

When I approached the peak of Llwytmor I saw the silhouette of a man was waving a flag. I wasn't sure what that was about. I didn't think much about it; I got to the block field that forms the peak, and was just scrambling around. I didn't actually intend to stop. A more sheltered space would have been nicer! But then suddenly a head appeared above the wall of the winter shelter at the top. A young man told me had put the kettle on, and asked if I wanted a cup of tea. And I still had two flasks with me, but I thought it was really nice he asked so I clambered in and joined him.

We had a bit of a chat about where we had come from, were going to, and how we loved these hills. And he explained to me what he had me doing with this flag, for it was him. He said that his grandma could see this hilltop from her house, so he had phoned her and asked her to look up! He knew she would be able to see the flag. I thought that was very cute. We also talked about what we did; he was a roofer, and when I told him I worked in Ocean Sciences, it turned out he knew one of my colleagues and asked me to pass on his regards. And I will!

Even though we were sitting in the winter shelter, we were not particularly sheltered, so we didn't linger. After a while we said goodbye and went our separate ways. I had stupidly not put on my down jacket in there, so now I was cold. I soon stopped to put on the jacket now. I don't normally walk in down, but today was a good day for it. I immediately felt better. And I was just bushwhacking my way down the hill.

Approaching the end of the hanging valley

Winter selfie with lots of clothes

The path on the steep slope past the waterfall

Near the river I had lunch. And then I found my way to the path that had come up from the bottom of the valley. It had a weird crossing of a stream in it; I didn't remember that! I was probably on a slightly different iteration of the path. But soon I found a part I recognised, and from there it was a very gentle stroll down. Along the way, the gloves, hat, and down jacket came off again. And then I was back at the car! I was feeling a bit sweaty, but then had probably been my brisk walking in the cold wind. It had been beautiful!

09 December 2021

Booster shot - for the cat

One day I suddenly got an email from the vet. They wanted to give the cat a repeat vaccination. I didn't know that was a thing, but my friends Guy and Kate, from whom I had got the cat, confirmed it was. She would also get a regular checkup. That sounded like a good idea.

The cat didn't think so, of course; she hates being put into her basket, and she also hates car rides. My heart always bleeds when she is meowing pitifully in the back of the car! But it is for the best.

I encountered a different vet this time. It was a kind lady. The cat wasn't so sure about all of this; when we opened the door of her basket, she didn't want to come out. She was so shy! Quite different from the previous time, when she had gone on an explore, stomping all over the keyboard, and wanting to jump onto the blue roll dispenser. We had to drag her out. 

The vet was pleased with her general state of health, and even with her weight; the previous time she had been criticised for that, being 4.45 kg. This time she was 4.40 kg; not much different, but it was fine as far as the vet was concerned. She was happy with anything under 4.5 kg. I think I can manage that. She also gave her the injection. The cat didn't seem to mind too much. But what she did mind was having to go back into the basket. But that's life!

She was still complaining on the way back, but I knew it was not long now. Soon we would be home! And then it would be over again. I don't think she will have to go back overly soon now. I hope not…

I was scared she might now mistrust me, and avoid me in case I might want to put her back into the basket. And for a short while that was the case, but after an hour or so she was fine again. And she did her usual sleeping on my bed. She had forgiven me again!