31 December 2022

Visiting my dad

My dad is getting ready to move house! He and his wife have been living in their current house since forever. But it is huge, with three storeys, and a garden both in the front and the back, and this is starting to get a bit much. Soon my dad will be 85. And they realise that themselves as well of course, but they like the current house so much they didn't want to trade it in for anything inferior. And nothing they liked came up. Until it did! 

One village further to the southwest there used to be a psychiatric hospital. It is quite famous in the area! Many a disrespectful remark has been made about it. But the situation changed and the building became available for different purposes. And a decision was made to turn it into apartments. My dad and his wife were interested! Of course there is scope for jokes here. I'll leave that to the reader.

Living in an old psychiatric hospital turned out to be very popular! All apartments were sold so quickly my dad didn't get a look-in. But the hospital had a lot of grounds, and more apartments would be built on these. Brand-new ones! And my dad and his wife decided to buy one of those. This decision had been made quite a long time ago. I had been worried about it a bit. Since when do building projects get finished on time? How long will this take? But everything was on schedule. And when my dad phoned me for my birthday he could already tell me he had got the key. Exciting stuff!

I would go and visit my dad when I was in the Netherlands, and we would go and have a look at the new house. And so it happened! When I got there I was first served lunch. I thought that after that, we would go to the new house, but my dad said bad weather was expected and he suggested we go out for a very short walk, and otherwise just stay put. That was okay with me too. I seized the opportunity of getting completely thwacked in a game of Scrabble. 

I could only whisper, and my father’s hearing has never been particularly good, and my stepmum needs a hearing aid, so it wasn't overly easy to communicate. But I think we sort of managed!

I went to bed early in the hope that the next day I would be able to speak. And would be less dependent on my handkerchief. I did feel better the next day, but my voice was still gone!

The next morning after breakfast we went to the new house. It is doable on foot, but the weather wasn't inviting, and we were also expected reasonably early at my sisters place. So we went by car instead.

Their new house is still on a bit of a building site. It is clearly a case of final touches, but they are still unfinished bits, and fences keeping you away from them. We quickly went inside. It is only the essence of a house; walls, ceilings, doors and windows. The floors haven’t been put in yet, and the walls have not been painted. There is plumbing, though! And it has a heat pump, so there also already is heating.

The idea was that we would have coffee there. There already was a little fold about-out table and some fold-out chairs. It was nice to have a first coffee in what would one day be the living room! And after we had had two coffees, they showed me the rest of the house.

Coffee in the new house! 

They also had asked me to hang up some light fittings. That wouldn't be the definitive ones, but then at least there would be light! That comes in handy. Of course I was happy to comply.

We then also combined our forces to hang up a big  heavy plank high up in the storage unit. That really needed a fair number of hands! And we put some stuff in the storage unit that they had already brought in the car.

When that was done we walked a little bit around on the terrain. It looks lovely! I already knew what the old buildings look like, but now I could see how they had blended in the new-build. I think they did a great job in making them blend in. And I could imagine that once all these houses are inhabited, you get a nice little community! I could see why this house had finally managed to lure them out of their previous house.

The old buildings

We also went for a tiny walk in a nearby copse. It was beautiful! But the weather wasn't, so we didn't go far. And then we went back home. It was time to have lunch and then head for my sister together! Stage 2 of my visit done…

30 December 2022

In the Netherlands: friends

Time is always limited with an I am in the Netherlands, so I always only see a limited number of friends. The usual suspects are Roelof and Monique. And this year I would see them early on. I arrived at Roelof and Micha’s place in the afternoon, after I had travelled in the previous night. And we had some good time to catch up! And later, two more friends would join, also from the cohort of ‘93: Erik and Viking. Erik joined us for dinner, and Viking showed up a bit later. It was great to see them! And we also took the opportunity for starting to plan a hike together.

The coming August, we will all have known each other for 30 years. We will also have to celebrate that!

Late night group selfie

What was a bit hard in this company was look after my health. It really is great to see them! And I don't get that opportunity very often. But I had gone to bed too late the night before, and I had a cold, and towards the end of the night I could feel my voice faltering. I made sure not to drink too much, and when it really got late I just said I really wanted to go to bed. I sleep in the living room when I am at Roelof's place, so I can't go to bed unless everybody leaves or goes to bed themselves!

I tried to sleep, but it is hard if you struggle to breathe through your nose. And the next morning I had no voice. Shit! I was here to connect with people, and talking is an important part of that. But I had failed.

There was another disappointment; my next port of call would be Monique, but she texted me her dog had died and she couldn't really cope with visitors. The dog was really old, but I understand it can still hit one hard! I hoped she would be ok. But that meant I had no immediate place to go. I did a lot more drinking coffee with Roelof. And I decided that this would give me a bit more time with my father and stepmother. Sometimes I just see them over the Christmas dinner and don't visit them at home. This time I actually wanted to see their new house. They already had the key, and it was still almost completely empty, but the next time I will be in the country they will be leaving in it.

I couldn't phone them to ask if that was convenient as I didn't have a voice, but Roelof was willing to do the honours. And it was OK with my dad! So Roelof and I had one more coffee and then he walked me to the railway station. I hope I'll see him during our proposed hike!

And with that, the part of my visit that involved people I have no family relationship with was over. It was good to see several friends! Even though I would be paying the price…

29 December 2022

Travel to the Netherlands

I had intended to travel to the Netherlands on the 23rd. That is quite close to Christmas, but that was on purpose. I am uncomfortable leaving the cat alone for too long! But then the strike of the border force was announced. That started that very day.

There was mention of the army stepping in, but I wasn’t reassured. I was a bit scared I’d end up in a long queue and miss my flight. I decided the cat had to take one for the team and miss me for one night more! I moved my flight to the early evening before. I figured I would still be on time to have a glass of wine with my mum that night.

Things were not going entirely as planned. I had only recently had a cold, and I really didn’t think I had pushed things too far recently, but the day before travel I felt the next one come up. Oh dear! Colds and travel, a bad combination, and one that has spoiled my Dutch trips many times before, like 2018 and 2017.

The day of travel I tried to have some quality time with the cat first. That worked! We had a lovely time sitting in the chair by the fire together. But at some point I needed to go.

I drove to the airport without issues. It was very misty in places, but there was no dangerous driving, nor were there noteworthy queues. So far so good. I got through security without issues too. Then I decided to sit down, have a sandwich, fill my water bladder, and check my flight status. Oh dear. It looked an hour late.

I sat down again. No rush then! I ended up chatting to a lady who was also delayed; she was trying to get to Dubai. She offered me a shortbread biscuit! That was nice. 

I ate my sandwiches and my fruit, and did some reading. Periodically I checked my flight. The time crept back! It turned into an hour and a half delayed. I wasn’t happy with that. There went my glass of wine with my mum! And if I’m not 100% I need my sleep even more than normal. But I wouldn’t be in bed at a responsible time that night. At least there were messages coming through from the usual suspects to keep me entertained.

Finally we could board. The crew said the issue had been heavy mist at their previous destination, Guernsey; they had only just managed to land there. And it had been decided they needed a plane that was more modern, and thus better equipped for such risky manoeuvres. And the plane swapping had caused the delay.

Nightly Amersfoort 

From there on all went well. I arrived at my mum’s without any further incident! But by then it was just past midnight. Fortunately, my circadian rhythm thought it was only just after 11pm. But that’s still past my normal bedtime, and especially past my bedtime when I’m precariously hanging onto my health! I could only hope this would pan out ok…

28 December 2022

Plagiarism officer

 It had been decided I would be the next plagiarism officer of the school. Jaco, who would still be doing the role for the remainder of the year, had given me all necessary documentation, and we had had a meeting to talk through that. He had also suggested we do the cases coming up before the official handover together. That sounded like a good idea. 

Little did I know there would be a flurry of activity. One case after the other came in! And some of them were quite complex. A few serious penalties were in order. And at least one student was quite upset.

I was glad the timing worked out that way! Jaco would ask me what I would do, and after I’d answered him he would say what his judgment was. If needs be an explanation followed. 

He sorted it all, and I was glad we had had that short period of overlap. It had been a bit of a crash course, but at least I go into this new function with a reasonable idea of what to expect. I hope very few cases will be flagged to me, but I am confident now I can deal with whatever is flagged up in an appropriate way! 

An example of the output of the similarity-checking software

27 December 2022

New gadget for the cat

My heating is on these days! But it’s not at a high temperature. If I’m in the office I often have my IR panels on. And if I spend any time in the living room, I light a fire. But of course, the IR panels and fire are off when I’m not home. And I don’t live alone! I felt a bit bad for the cat. 

Then one day I caught up with Miles. He suggested getting her a heated pad. I thought it was a brilliant idea! I like heating only that part of the house where I actually am, with my IR panels and wood fire. I can do the same for her! And in her case, it would be quite possible that if I would heat a particular place, that would be the place where she would decide to be. So I ordered one.

A fair while later it arrived. I put it on the sofa where she likes to sleep, and switched it on. Not much later she came into the room. She clearly wanted a nap, so she jumped onto the sofa. And there was the mat! She sniffed it a bit, and then lay down on it.  She was very comfortable on it! I think this might be a good purchase. I don't mind making myself a bit uncomfortable, but I shouldn't do it to others, especially if they can’t tell me if they think it is not a good idea!

Snug cat

26 December 2022

New roles decided

During my PDR, my line manager offered me a pick from three potential roles I could take on within the School: international student liaison, plagiarism officer, and EDI lead. I was drawn to the last two. I arranged a chat with my colleague who was currently doing the EDI role. She was dead keen to hand the role over to me. 

I also intended to arrange a meeting with Jaco who for now holds the other roles. But then I got an email from him: he said that John, our shared line manager, had told him I was taking over both roles. Hm! That was not what he told me. I tried a few times to go to John’s office, but I never found him available. I decided to send an email asking for an explanation. Nothing was forthcoming.

Later I bumped into him. And then he said I had choice after all! So I told him I would indeed go for the plagiarism and EDI roles. And he was ok with finding someone else for the international students role.

So it’s official now! In the new year, I will start my new two roles. Stay tuned for finding out how that will go! 

25 December 2022

New creamery and cheese shop

In the olden days, there was a local market in Neuadd Ogwen every month. I would go if I could. And one of my standard purchases there was local cheese! Cosyn Cymru, run by a lady called Carrie, produces small scale sheep’s cheese. And yoghurt. And I like sheep’s cheese; especially if it is made artisinally and local. 

When COVID shut the market, she would sell once a week on the improvised market on the parking lot next door. And she would tell me about her plans to relocate. There was an old church down the road, and she wanted to move her cheese making there. And potentially cheese selling. And maybe even a cafe! It sounded like a lot of work. 

Then the market came back. And the opening of the creamery turned out to be nigh! She told me to pop in when I was near anyway, but that never happened. And then she told me about the official opening! It was on a Monday night. But after term.

On Monday evening I have Welsh class. That should have ended by then, but it hadn’t; we had had to skip one Monday for reasons of the Queen’s funeral, and therefore the course lasted one week deeper into December than it originally should have. That got a bit in the way; it starts at 6. The opening was 4-8.

I went anyway! And just as I had parked the bike I saw people walk around, clearly for a tour. I joined! I now have seen the inner workings of the place. And then I went into the shop. It was busy! But I felt a bit out of place; it was busy, and I still had two pieces of her cheese in my fridge. Once it’s cut it doesn’t last awfully long! 

I had to get home and have dinner before class as well, so I slipped out. I will be back when my sheep’s cheese has run out! It’s great to have a new local producer in town with a fixed base. I’ll support her as far as I can! 

Pic from the Cosyn Cymru Facebook page

Pic from the Cosyn Cymru Facebook page

Pic from the Cosyn Cymru Facebook page

24 December 2022

Marking a Welsh essay

Students in the School of Ocean Sciences have been able to do their tutorial module in Welsh since before I arrived at Bangor University. The assessments in this module boil down to essays and presentations. My colleague Dei always took these students on. 

Recently, we established a Foundation Year. People with an education that doesn’t quite equip them for a degree with us can just do that year and then they’re good to go for an actual degree. And three of my colleagues are dedicated tutors for that cohort. Dei is one. And that means he’s not available for the freshers, Welsh-speaking or otherwise. I hadn’t realised that. And it seemed nobody in the right place had realised I can teach in Welsh too. So the Welsh speaking students had just been thrown into the big pile and assigned to arbitrary tutors.

One day I got an email from one of my colleagues. One of her tutees wanted to do the tutorial module in Welsh. Could either Dei or me provide her feedback on her draft? I volunteered. And said we should think of how to deal with her presentation. And then got on with my normal work.

Then some weeks later the colleague appeared at my door again. The presentations were the next day! We had to act quickly. I was available and said I’d be there. And so I marked my first presentation in Welsh! 

I figured I’d take on the essay as well. I had marked work in Welsh before, and provided feedback in that language, but this my first Welsh essay. And I suppose the other work had been a lot more data-heavy. Essays are more language-heavy! I enjoyed it.

I was a bit miffed, though; I have been shouting for years about my Welsh capabilities, and the School has an impressive precedent in ignoring that. It’s quite a slight to give students who are enrolled on a Welsh language module to non-Welsh speaking staff if they could have given them to me! And next year I’m sure they’ll be assigned to Molly, our new Welsh medium member of staff. Which is fine, but this year they should have made different choices. The School is not using its resources well! 

23 December 2022

Comfortable but environmentally unfriendly marking

When term came to an end and almost all the work left was marking, I decided to make a slightly selfish decision. I had the essays of my first year tutees to mark. And I printed them out! I tend to zip through such documents. I always check the references, for instance. Are they listed? Are they reliable sources? Are they the suitable source for the information they are a reference to? And on a screen that is a pain. And I prefer to sit by the fire instead. So even though printing is probably not the most environmentally friendly solution, I made sure I had them in hard copy. I only have 10 students. (Ten is much for a tutorial group, but not for a marking load. I have many times more submissions for my shelf seas assignment. I will do that one online.)

It’s been quite nice doing that marking! I sometimes even do it by head torch. I like my living room to be quite dark. And this way it can be. And quite often the cat joins me on the chair, either on the back, or behind me on the seat. 

I want to be quite detailed; the students will do another essay in the second semester, and they will keep writing until the end of their degree. So just on the off-chance they pay attention to all of it, I want to give them as much guidance as I can! And really going through it in detail is best when done in a pleasant way. I hope that it works, and that it will offset the printing. I will find out in the next term! 

Difficult to take a picture of! 

22 December 2022

Birthday walk and pizza

Susan had suggested a walk and pizza to celebrate her birthday! And that sounded lovely. It started to sound slightly less lovely when we became aware of the weather forecast: lots of rain. And also quite serious wind. But we wouldn't let that stop us!

We gathered in the early afternoon in Capel Curig. The parking lot was quite icy! But that didn't stop us either. We set off in the direction of Llyn Crafnant. It was almost dry, and there wasn't an awful lot of ice on the path. It was quite nice! Maybe the worst was that we had all erred on the safe side with our outfits, so a certain sweatiness ensued. 

When we got to the top of the path, we had a little debate on how far we should go. Daylight was limited! There was a suggestion to walk to the lake, and then walk back another way further to the east. But when we got to the road that follows the lake on its eastern side, we realised that that might not be overly feasible. We took some group selfies while we had a view of the lake in the near distance, and then went back! And I think the timing was fine. It was very close to dark when we got back to the cars. We had managed to work up a decent appetite!

Group selfie from the right: Dean, me, Susan, Siobhan, Tom and Martin

And another one from the left! 

We then went to Betws y Coed for the pizza. And this time, we could sit indoors! Unlike ever before. Even though we had lots of warm clothes with us, I quite enjoyed that. And when we walked in, we were even greeted by two of our own students. Or rather, one was an ex-student; she is now the President of the University’s student union. It was lovely to see them!

We had lovely pizzas (I always eat the same one when I'm there). I hope Susan thought it was a worthy birthday celebration! Her real birthday would be the next day, but it is nice to celebrate on a weekend day with friends.

21 December 2022

Meeting the new cats

In summer, Sue and Dean's beautiful cat Peas died. It was very sad! But I suppose that at our age, you are supposed to survive any cat you have. And life goes on.

In October, she got two little siblings from the nearby shelter. They weren’t really used to people, and they were very shy. But over time they started to realise that getting cuddles is actually quite pleasant. I was following the story from a distance (they made for many good pictures and videos), but I really hoped that one day I could meet them myself!

the new cats! Pic by Susan

Susan suggested I would meet them before we would all go for a walk and pizza one Sunday, and that seemed an excellent idea. She picked me up on her way back from the shop. 

When I got there, the kittens were on their little platform on top of the stairs. They looked gorgeous! But I knew they were shy. I decided to see if I could approach them. I really carefully and slowly started ascending the stairs, not making any drastic movements. And I watched out for any signs of discomfort of the little cats. I didn't get very far!

One of the cats ran away, and the other one showed signs of becoming uncomfortable so I went back down. I decided to just sit down and see what would happen. Dean brought me some coffee.

At some point, the other cat came down too. She walked right past me. I thought I might stick out my hand just in case she would want to sniff it. I got a little hiss! That was me told.

Susan has a stick that the cats like to play with. And at some point, I had this little cat (the black one) trusting me enough to play with me for a little while. I was very chuffed! The other cat (the tabby) was only running through the house and hiding.

I'm sure there will be other opportunities for getting a bit closer to them! But I'm glad I've seen them in person now. And I'm sure they'll continue their process of gaining trust in humans. Maybe one day we can pet them!

20 December 2022

Captivating carbon capture

For one of my modules, we expect the students to take a topic associated with marine geology, and write an article about it. They are also expected to present their work. And in order to give them a bit of an idea of the possible topics, we invite external speakers to give presentations about their field.

We have six speakers. The topics vary immensely! It goes from reconstructing climate from the geologic record via the porosity of aquifers to the dangers of mass movement on submarine cables. And we have a talk on geological storage of carbon dioxide. That's done by Allard. I noticed on LinkedIn his career had brought him in that direction and I saw an opportunity!

He did a fab job, and he must have touched a nerve with the students. Literally half the students decided to use his talk as the base for their project! And that inevitably meant a significant amount in repetition in the presentations, and in marking the popular scientific articles, but it was good to see he had been so inspiring, and that the topic resonated so much. I hope this branch of technology will need more employees in the near future! 

Is carbon capture and storage (CCS) actually the answer? Well no, of course we need to stop producing the CO2. But before we get there we need to make sure that the carbon dioxide we do create doesn't end up in the atmosphere. The energy transition will take time! Building windfarms, for instance, takes a while. So I think it is a fantastic idea. And I think our students agree…

The Sleipnir oil field, which is used for CCS. Pic by Bair175

19 December 2022

Strikes everywhere

I had been on strike. The railways were on strike. Royal mail was on strike. Nurses were going on strike. Ambulance personnel was going on strike. Everybody is on strike in this country!

None of this affected me much. Maybe not even my own strike! I suppose it had increased my marking pressure, and it will reduce my wages in January, but none of that is life changing. And there was no urgent mail I needed to send or receive. As I write this, I am still in excellent health. I don't travel by train very often.

Things changed when border control announced a strike. I did plan to cross the border! And I didn't quite like the idea of being stuck in a queue so long I would miss my flight.

I had booked my flight to the Netherlands to be in the period of the strikes. The radio news mentioned that the army was going to be deployed to cover for the border control, but I decided not to risk it. I rebooked my flights to avoid the strikes. That should give me an uneventful trip. And the good thing is that it gives me more in the Netherlands. The bad thing is that it gives me more time away from the cat! I feel a bit bad about that. She is still having bald patches, which might be associated with her just not getting enough attention from me. But when I get back after my trip I will have time to spend with her!

18 December 2022

Term coming to an end

As I write this, I have one student presentation in the diary. That is all! This concerns a student who had been ill just before the presentation sessions the week before. So she got permission to do her presentation a bit later. And apart from that, there is absolutely nothing in my work diary. All the work I'll now need to do is marking! Not that that isn't enough. And soon, the university will close anyway. Time for a Christmas break! Which is always too short. But I'll make of it what I can! Before the second semester hits…

17 December 2022


It was that time of year again! My birthday was coming up. This year it would work out well: it fell on a Wednesday, and I normally have dinner with Jaco and Marjan that day. And they suggested we have dinner in person on that day. Jaco would cook! So that was the actual day sorted.

The weekend before we would go wine and cheese tasting, so that was a nice thing to do on an evening that is not a week night, but really close to my birthday.

On the actual day I took it a bit easy in the morning. I had an additional shoelace session with the cat. And then I went to work. And when I showed up for lunch, I was faced with heavily decorated cake and people singing for me. That was heartwarming! Susan had sorted that, and Guy was also there with a card and a present. And the cake was lovely.

In the afternoon I had a session with Jenny, my Welsh tutor. It had nothing to do with my birthday but I always enjoy our encounters.

At the end of the day I went up the hill. Jaco had cooked lasagna, with the sheets made himself! It was nice to end the day with them. And then it was time to go home and get ready for two more days of heavy marking. I'm 47 now; I hope it will be a good age!

16 December 2022

Marking as far as the eye can see

Marking has a bit of a habit to ambush you! A load comes in, and you think you'll just deal with it, but before you have managed, then generally the next batch has already been added to it. And this year I suppose it was worse than normal; I was on strike for three days. On these days I otherwise would have been marking. I never really know how to combine working with a strike; you can't really not do it, and if you just don't give feedback, which would make it a whole lot faster, the students don't learn anything from the assignment. I am under no illusion that all of them closely scrutinise what you write to them, but if there is nothing to read,  then even those who might consider that, can’t.

It started with the palaeonvironmental reconstruction for my 3rd year module, then the field trip report of my glaciology module, then presentations and popular scientific articles for the 3rd year module again, closely followed by the assignment I designed after my friend and colleague Suzie quit, and then first year presentations and essays. And then the report for our fieldwork module. I won’t have to be bored! I suppose the question is: how much of that will I manage before the end of the year? I hope most! 

15 December 2022

Wine and cheese

One day, a cheese shop appeared in Menai Bridge. It took a long time for me to actually go there. But once I did, it was lodged in my consciousness! The first time I went for the Octoberfest gathering. The second time I was getting ready for my sister’s visit. That time, Susan joined me. And she noticed a sheet of paper announcing upcoming events. Things like wine and cheese tasting or cheese and whisky tasting. We were interested! And not much later, we registered for an evening with cheese and wine. 

On the day this evening would take place I had first been into the hills, so I needed a shower before I would be comfortable attending such a civilised event. And when I got out of the shower I decided to just seize the opportunity for looking uncharacteristically smart! I put on my polkadot dress and smart boots. And it was cold outside, so I put on a jacket as well. And before I stepped out of the door, I added my smart coat.

Given that the roads were treacherous, Martin had offered to drive us all in the Land Rover. I did mean he couldn't drink much, but he didn't mind. And when we got there, we were the second group to appear. It was the four of us, and then two couples (I think), and then the company was completed by two friends, one of which was actually a colleague of ours! It was good to see her. And then there was, of course, the organiser: Ed from the cheese shop.

The program

We sat down by plates that already had the cheese on. A sheet of paper by each plate explained what the cheeses and wines were. The first wine had already been poured! It was a British sparkling wine. It was meant to go with truffle brie. 

Ed gave a bit of an explanation with every cheese and wine combination. After the truffle, that taste went mild; the next cheese was a young goat’s cheese. And we worked our way up to stronger and stronger cheeses, ending with a good blue stilton. That had to be paired with port! 

It was nice to catch up among ourselves, but also nice to chat with the people we didn't know. And we heard a bit more about it background of the cheese shop. Ed had first had one in London, but had come to North Wales in search for a bit more space, especially for his children. I think he's established the shop now! Which I think is harder than it would be in London. The space he was looking for also means there are fewer people around that could buy your cheese. My guess is that if the shop survives the winter he'll be fine. Although I know very little about retail.

When it was done we went home. It has been quite a civilised evening, but I still was fairly full! Especially because of the Mont d’Or. Of all the other cheeses, we just had a modest slice on our plates, but there were four entire Mont d’Ors on the table, with bread to combine it with. We were encouraged to finish them! That was a lot more cheese than any of the rest. And at the end of the night, all these cheeses (none had been entirely finished) found someone to go home with. I was one of them.

I also had drunk more alcohol than I normally do! Not to excess at all, but I am quite a lightweight. I would find the next day I was quite happy to make it a relaxed pottering Sunday! Even though the weather was a lot better than it had been the day before…

14 December 2022

Finally using the winter tires

When I lived in the Netherlands, I did pretty much all my transport on bike. As you do. And although I learned to drive in Norway, I did keep my bicycle as my main means of transport. Whatever the season! But it being Norway, you really have to have winter tires on your bike, as you will be riding on black ice for a lot of the time. Everyone who bikes around has spikes in their tires in winter! And so did I.

When I left Norway, I left my spiky bicycle tires behind. Other people had more used for them! And of course, it can be quite snowy and icy in Britain, but not very often. I sort of managed with only summer tires. At some point I did order a pair of spiked tires; I can't remember what prompted that. But they had been just hanging in my garage without being used. But when I wiped out of the way to work, I decided that it was time for them to snap into action. Especially as when Martin drove me home, we hatched a plan of going for a small walk the next day, from his house. And if the going is slippery anywhere, it is slippery on his road. I wasn't attracted to the idea of negotiating that without spikes!

That very evening I dusted the winter tires off. I was wondering if I could put them on my green gravel bike. And it looked like they would fit! Normally it has much thinner tires, but it would work; I would have to remove the mudguards though, and not only replace the tire but also the inner tube. But I had spare tubes, so I could. And the mudguards were easy to release. I got it done!

I was clearly out of practice. I remembered the complete ease with which I would negotiate icy roads on a bike with spiked tires in Norway. I now couldn't help but be a little bit cautious on the slippery bits. There is no need! But tell my brain that.

I got to Martin's without incident! Most of the road was clear, but indeed the road he lives on was covered in ice. And after our little walk I also came down safely. That is even more important!

I knew that if the conditions wouldn't improve, I could just use the spiked bike for my commute on Monday. The cold spell we were having was not going to be over by then!

Ready for the cold spell

View on the walk

13 December 2022


 After the Welsh in the Workplace program the University has, which encourages well you learning employees to develop their skills in using Welsh as a work language, the University had thought of something new. It was a very small scale project for supporting the Welsh teaching of Welsh learning teaching staff. Jenny head told me about it, and asked if I was interested. Of course I had said yes. And I was admitted under the program. I understood there were four of us on it. And I had seen all the other faces before, of course; you tend to keep bumping into each other if you learn Welsh at a similar level.

The first thing that happened was that I had a chat with Siân, who had supported me through my Welsh language teaching qualification. We discussed what sort of support would work for me, and in what way I envisioned it. She also spoke with everybody else. I said I had been making teaching material in Welsh, and could really do with a bit of help. I also figured that doing a bit of teaching practice to a supportive community might help with just building up a bit of experience and therefore confidence.

She immediately took me up on my suggestion for help with teaching materials. What I have been putting online for my first official Welsh teaching has all been checked by her!

After a while I heard that the University has decided to hire a retired teacher for a few hours a week (or something) to support us. And on a very slippery day in December, we had our first meeting!

This meeting was a bit overstaffed; apart from me, the only other person who was there who was participating in the program was Bid, from Forestry. We were supposed to have Ross from Sports Science too, but he couldn't come for reasons of Covid. I wasn't sure why the other two I had expected were not there. Maybe something to do with the atrocious conditions on the road?

On the other side of the program we had Jenny, and Siân, and Rhian-Mair, the lady who had been specifically hired for this. So Bid and I had an excellent opportunity to exchange thoughts with all three of them!

We made a bit of a plan for the coming months. One of the first things to happen is that we just introduce an aspect of our field of expertise to each other. Given that we are all in different schools, this will be interesting! And we are also expected to go and observe lessons by native speakers.

I suppose we will develop the program further as time goes by, and we get input from the people who couldn't make this meeting. And I expect to get a clearer idea of my needs as in the new semester, Ocean Sciences will welcome its new Welsh medium lecturer Molly, and I intend to make the dissertation module bilingual with her. I could imagine I will need a bit support with that as well!

12 December 2022

Winter in garden and on the road

One Friday morning I was making breakfast in the kitchen, when I got text from a friend that said it had been snowing. And it had! So low down in the valley? I hadn't expected that. It wasn't very spectacular my altitude, though.

When I left for work, I walked the short stretch to the main road. That bit was slippery! But I figured that as soon as I would be on the road I would be fine. The traffic would get rid of the snow. And I was correct; on the road I was fine. And when I turned off to follow the bicycle path I was still fine.

All still ok

I had to go to Bangor. And the bicycle route takes you over the bicycle path all the way to the old quarry harbour, and then along the shore. I didn't want to take that route; towards the end, fences block your way at the moment, and you have to take some curbs to go around them. I'm not keen on curbs. So I peeled off a bit earlier; the bicycle path has a junction that brings you to the main road straight through campus. I took that. But it is less travelled. And when it went both uphill and around the corner, I hit a patch of ice and wiped out. It was a very elegant fall! No damage whatsoever to either me or the bike. And given the black ice, there wasn't even damage to my ego. I slithered my way to the road, and was fine then for a while. Until I hit the road going up to the Main Arts building. That is not very busy either. And that was also very slippery!

Oh dear

I had a meeting about a new scheme aimed at helping me and a few people in a similar situation with our Welsh language teaching. Jenny was there too; of course she had also come on bicycle. And she had also not managed to remain upright on the way there. Sian, my other Welsh tutor, had driven in, and fallen on her face on the parking lot. It really was that kind of day!

After the meeting I went to Menai Bridge. The bridge, that Jenny had already warned me about, was indeed very slippery. I almost managed to make it to the other side without incident. Until, that is, I got to the bit where it slopes back down on the Anglesey side. That was impossibly slippery! And there were roadworks going on there. One workman saw me slither around and offered to help. How his boots found purchase on the road is a mystery, but they did. With his help I managed to get back to the road on my feet.

I had lunch with Martin. He had his thoughts about how suitable the weather conditions were for biking around. And he offered me a ride home! And I thought about that for a bit and then accepted. I wasn't keen on doing any more wiping out. By the time I would be getting home, moisture on the roads might have started to refreeze again. And that would be a recipe for disaster.

Thanks to Martin I got home in comfort. And I knew the snow wouldn't be going anywhere in the coming days. I would have to make sure I was ready for it!

11 December 2022

Welsh book to reluctantly rush through

I must admit it I don't read much! Somehow, there never seems to be time. I read a Saturday newspaper per week and that generally is it. I have loads of books I want to read, but it doesn't ever really happen. I haven't made an awful lot of progress in the Pumed Gainc in a long time, for instance! 

Recently, another book joined my to do list. That wasn't my idea; we are expected to read it for Welsh class. Porth y Byddar, by Manon Eames.  I had heard of it; someone had recommended it to me. So I did look forward to reading it. However; the day came that we were expected to read the first two chapters as homework. So I started reading.

The setting is basically flooding of the Tryweryn valley. The book starts shortly before the decision is made for that to happen. Interesting subject matter! I had found it very interesting to see a film about one of the people who had tried to sabotage the project. And I almost every day I see murals reminding me (and everybody else) of this event.

Chapter 1 shows your Wales in the rain. And England in the rain. And then it shows you two powerful Englishman who are involved in decision-making. And that was enough for me to decide at this book was not for me. Wales is painted as a complete chocolate box fairytale country, while England is nothing but grey and damp and dirt. And of course, the powerful men are hideous and ugly and uncouth and one has a fat wife. We know enough!

In chapter 2 you get to meet the Welsh. Of course they're all lovely and hard-working and modest and kind and all sorts of things. This is a children's book! The Donald Duck wouldn't have more outrageous caricatures.

I had started reading properly; reading every word, looking up any words I didn't recognise, et cetera. But I have abandoned that now. I just read it as fast as I can. If I don't know a word; too bad! I know it is meant for teaching me Welsh, but this is just too much. I will read it; we do discuss the book in class. But the Welsh learning will have to come out of the class itself, not out of this book.

I might have been spoilt so far! The three books I have read for Welsh glass before (Blasu, y Sw, and Llyfr Glas Nebo) were all marvellous. Maybe it just couldn't last! And when this one is out of the way, I really should go back to the Pumed Gainc…

10 December 2022

Marking instead of rescuing

We had another cave rescue training planned! It was quite far in the east; Google Maps said it would take me one hour and 20 minutes to get there. That is a bit far on a weeknight, but so be it. I did decide, though, to use the electric car, as these are serious distances, and it is worthwhile trying not to emit greenhouse gases while getting there. So I booked the vehicle. I also emailed some other people who live in the west, who might want to jump in. If some of them would take the bait, I could save a lot more exhaust gases than just my own! But only one person responded, and he said that he thought it was an excellent idea, but due to circumstances he couldn't take it up.

On the evening I got ready, and then walked to where the car is parked. I tried to flag myself in, but it didn't work. What was that? By the dim light of a street lamp I found the phone number to call on my access card and phoned it. Of course I ended up in a queue.

After while I got through. I then had a discussion with a rather helpful and polite man on the other side. It had been a problem with my account again! When I booked the vehicle, I sort of assumed that if it would let me make the booking, I would have enough money on my account. That was naive. And of course they couldn't take the payment there and then. The good news was that I could cancel my booking, and I could get some of the money back.

Next time I will have to manually check that I indeed have the money on my account! It has to be there beforehand, otherwise none of this works. We have a committee meeting coming up; also quite far away. I might try again then.

But what for that evening? While sorting all of this out, so much time had passed that I didn't think it was worth going back home, switching to my own car, figuring out how to get where I needed to go (I had counted quite a lot on the GPS of the EV) and then setting off after all. I didn't want to drive all that way only to find an abandoned parking lot and having no idea where the others had gone! So I sent a message to our training officer, and decided I had an evening in. And I could put it to good use; I had quite a big pile of marking left to finish, and I could make some progress with that now. Not ideal, but making the most of a bad situation! And I'm sure the cat was happy to have my company. 

09 December 2022

Cwmorthin with the YCC

I must admit I have stopped keeping an eye on the website of the York Caving Club. I had kept my membership for a while after I left York, but I let that lapse. And I know they tend to show up in December, but I normally am quite busy with teaching around that time, and not really have the space in my head to consider whether maybe my old friends are showing up. It is not unusual that I get a message asking me if I am around and if I want to join anything. But it doesn't always happen!

This year I got a message. It was from Gary; he asked me if I knew a more efficient way to get into Cwmorthin than to first drive to Conwy Falls, get the key, then drive all the way to the mine, do the trip, drive back to Conwy Falls, and only then drive back to the hut they had rented. Of course, this hut is in the complete opposite way from the mine. And I did know a way; just have me along on your trip! They said I should just come to that on Saturday morning and then we would go from there.

When I got there they were already champing at the bit. Sometimes the faffing can be quite extensive, but not this time! So they all got into some car or other and off to Tanygrisiau we went. I had told them I do have a key, but I also have a terrible memory, so maybe they shouldn't use me for navigation. I couldn't even remember how to get to the bits of the mine I had seen with Miles and Lydia! And that was the most recent time I had been in there, except for some Cave rescue training where we barely get to 100 m from the entrance.

Matt was leading the way on the through trip, but quite soon I said we could check out the relatively new bridge. They were up for it! I couldn't quite remember what was on the other side of it. Obviously. When we got there, we saw that it leads to a zip line. We didn't have enough tandem pullies with us to make that really work. So we just went back! And then went the other way. We descended an incline they didn't know, and explored some strange corners. We just explored any passage we thought looked interesting! And that inevitably brought us back to the main route at some point. That was by the drill, and the compressor chamber. There we had some food.

We had actually spent quite a lot of time down there already by that time, so the idea was to do a tiny little bit of extra exploring and then get back to the through trip. Of course, that didn't happen. We got distracted by other options. And these brought us to the corkscrew! Some chaos ensued; one of us didn't quite like the corkscrew and started to go back down, and Matt didn't want us to split up. So everyone who had already done the entire thing was basically told to turn back and do it again in the opposite direction. Okay then! I did suggest we should scout if there was an easy way to get back to the level where we had started, but that idea was torpedoed. One bloke ignore that and did get the fun of doing the bridge that follows the corkscrew, and then a clamber down some steps.

We then just followed the route back to the entrance. We had one last stop; Matt wanted to do the catwalk. I wasn't keen; I have done it several times before, and I had just felt the call of nature, and taken my harness off. And I was quite content watching them do it.

Then we did get out. There will still a little bit of daylight! And it was a very beautiful day. We got back to that parking lot, where we changed.

The Yorkshire delegation was going back to the hut, which is also in the opposite direction from where I live, and would go and have a really late curry dinner in Porthmadog. I wasn't keen on that! I still have a lot of things to do that weekend. And I am not keen on later dinners. So I just gave them a hug and wisdom all the best N make the resolution to keep an eye on when they would next be around. I think it will be September!

Matt said that if anything on their trip list, wherever it was, tickled my fancy I was welcome. They could always put me up for the night! I also got an invitation from Jerry and Tegs, to visit them in south Wales. Their place sounded amazing! So maybe I shouldn't even wait for the YCC to come back. I can travel either east or south and reinforce my ties with this daft bunch!

Entrance pic by Gary

Group pic (without Gary, who took the picture)

Checking out a roofing shaft

Looking across the chamber with the Catwalk (couldn't be bothered to organise a better picture)

08 December 2022

Brit Rock film festival

When I saw that the Brit Rock film tour would visit Bethesda, I was interested. And I figured I may not be the only one! I alerted Charlotte to it, both as a friend and as the chair of the climbing club. And she was up for it too! And two more ladies from the club joined.

We met in the foyer of Neuadd Ogwen. We had some time for a chat before the films would start. 

The program comprised three films. It started spectacular, with Sea to Summit: a film about a small group of adventurers who wanted to climb a wall on a remote Greenland island (Qaarsorsuaq). That meant trekking an enormous distance from the last infrastructure by inflatable kayak and on foot to even get near. And imagine all their kit! 

When they got near, the logistic challenge wasn’t over; the wall rises up straight from the sea. So they would have to kayak over, get straight onto the wall from the kayak, then install anchors, hoist the kayaks out of the sea and onto the wall, and then they could start some proper climbing. And were the weather to turn hostile while they were at the wall, they had to just wait it out on portaledges, as getting back over the water in foul weather could be seriously dangerous.

As I suppose everybody in the audience already guessed, they made it in the end! But what an expedition. I think they were at it for two months. Maybe more. Not my idea of fun but what an adventure!

The second movie, Queen Lines, was a bit more puzzling. It was about in American girl who had come to Britain for some climbing, and found a man to climb with. And they were targeting routes in Dinorwic quarry and in Devon. Why we were following them was not entirely clear; it looked a bit like a love story, but at no point was the relationship between the two discussed. And they did some serious climbing, but how special that was was not really clear. In the end, suddenly the announcement came that the big climb she had done in Devon constituted a first female ascent ever. That is quite special! So maybe that had been why we had been watching it. But altogether it seemed a bit of an aimless film. The blurb suggests the girl is entertaining and compelling, but that didn't really come through to any of us.

And then there was the last: Ephemeral. This was a film about making climbing films. It was very entertaining! A man had decided he wanted to make a film about Scottish winter climbing, and he had a particular wall and a particular climber in mind. And then he had to make it work! It turned out that that wasn't necessarily easy. There was some interesting footage of him having got himself into position, and the climber vanishing from sight within 30 seconds. Or him trying to walk around to the top of the climb, to film the climber from above, and completely failing to spot him. And getting really cold and covered in snow. And all sorts of such misery! But in the end he got the footage he wanted. And the winter climbers got some spectacular routes in.

When it was done we didn't linger but went home. We are all that kind of age! But I was glad we had gone. It was nice to watch some spectacular and uncomfortable climbing from the comfort of a seat in Neuadd Ogwen! In good company. And I hope next season will bring some climbing for myself as well…

'Ephemeral' on the screen in Neuadd Ogwen

07 December 2022

Post-pandemic cake competition

I didn't use to bake. I basically only baked when I was entering in the cake competition just out of good intentions, and not out of any faith in my baking capacities. And I didn't tend to get very far. My last attempt had even been vegan, and I hadn't been overly surprised it was knocked out in the first round. I only once won a round. And once it was a draw and then both me and my opponent had to go through to the next round!

And then the pandemic hit. That was the end of the cake competition! But it was the start of something else; I started baking myself. I got into the habit of having a coffee break that involved cake at around 10:30. If I did that, then I would be okay having lunch at a normal time. And then I would have dinner at a normal time too. And that would be it for the day then. If I would have lunch a lot earlier, I would probably either need to have a coffee break with cake in the afternoon, or have dinner earlier, which would probably then require another meal of sorts in the evening. When I was still at work, I would have lunch with my colleagues at a set time, and I would generally be senselessly ravenous by then. If it's just me on my own I'm never going to wait that long with having my sandwiches! But this new regime, with making waiting for lunch doable by having a snack late morning, worked well for me. And I'm not overly keen on cake you can buy in a shop. I do like home-made cake though! 

When the pandemic was over and the cake competition would start again, I immediately signed up. I don't think my chances have improved; yes I have become better, but so has everybody else! But at least it would be easier as I would have recipes that I would have already tried out before.

Due to the strike, my round was postponed. And it was December by the time I got to bake. And I had decided to bake ginger cake. That was one of my later attempts and I really liked it!

I made the cake the evening before. I normally make it quite flat, but given that normally I am baking for one person, and not for an entire academic School, I needed to go bigger. And my oven only has so much space! So I had to bake higher. I was using two cake tins I had inherited from Susan. That did mean, though, that I wasn't used to the timing and temperature, as baking a flat cake is a lot quicker and easier to get right. They came out a little bit dark! But I had faith that they would be well-baked but still moist.

On the day itself I decorated them a bit with warm date syrup and bits of crystallised ginger. And then I was ready to bring them to work. With these cakes I was going to drive. Apart from not fancying lugging two big heavy cakes over the hills on bike, I also didn't think the cakes would benefit from such transport. So by car we went!

When it was cake time I saw what the competition was. a gorgeous Thanksgiving cake! I was wondering who had baked that. And I figured I was going to be eliminated. That cake was excellent. And mine was indeed firm but moist, but also a little bit burnt at the bottom! Oh dear.

By the time the results were announced, I was supervising a practical on the main campus. And I had done it again! It had been a draw. And that meant we both were on to the next round. I now also found out who my opponent had been. It was a lady who does research on, among other things, the psychological impact of protecting the marine environment. I'm happy she will bake again!

The next round will be in the New Year. I am already thinking of potential recipes to use!

The undecorated cakes

Ready for transport

06 December 2022

Own apples into December

This was a good year for my apple tree! The harvest was plentiful. At some point I wondered if I could eat all the apples myself. I did give some away to Martin! (I had got some of his pears; his pear tree also had a very good season.) But after baking two apple pies and storing the rest of the apples in a cool dark place, I had faith I would otherwise manage on my own. And that is actually quite nice! Apples from your own garden are always the best. And it is satisfying to have them until late in the season. And I just managed to make them last until early December! I think that's a good score. In all likelihood, next year won't be very good. But that's life!

What was left by the start of December 

05 December 2022

A SEG! In disguise.

 I had applied to get a SEG in October.  It's the scheme through which you can get some financial remuneration for the electricity you generate with your renewable setup but don't use yourself, and therefore feed back into the grid. I had hoped it was just a formality! But it quickly turned out that it wasn't. My application was rejected. And after some emailing to and fro I figured I knew what the problem was. Scottish Power had received my form, and acknowledged that, but hadn’t checked it yet. Octopus had applied for my SEG, which had been turned down because of this unchecked form. Scottish Power had declared they wouldn’t tell me when they would get around to checking it, so Octopus had to just re-apply at random, hoping at some point they would do so after the form had been OK’d. It didn’t sound ideal!

One day I noticed an email from Octopus. Would that be good news? I opened it and it said it was. However; it was not the good news I expected. To my surprise, the email told me I had successfully transferred from my previous energy supplier to them! What? I had not asked for that! I had only applied for an SEG. This was weird. I decided to phone them.

I had a very helpful lady on the phone who confirmed that at least this email was genuine; it was not a scam by an Octopus impersonator. And she confirmed that my SEG application had been successful. Clearly, somehow the wrong automatic message has been sent to me. That was a relief! And later that day the correct message reached me; my SEG had been approved. Hurray! 

I'm not quite sure what the next step is. I suppose that I will just get a little update once every few months that tells me how much I have fed into the net and how much money I will get for that. I have a smart meter; they can just take the information from there I suppose! And given that I am writing this in December, for now I am not actually feeling an awful lot into the grid. But the day will come that I will! I am glad that this has sorted itself without any further hassle. Sometimes things just work out. Fortunately.

The confusing email

04 December 2022

First aid refresher course

 It was that time again! My first aid qualification would run out in spring, so I had to renew it. And that meant going back again to Parc Menai to do the same first aid course that I had already done twice before. I wasn't really looking forward to it; the tempo is slow, and basically someone teaches you things you already know for two days in a row. But I want the qualification; its use had been hammered home when I was taking students into the field and my dedicated first aider didn't show up. If I wouldn't have had the qualification, I probably would have had to cancel the entire trip. Can you imagine the mayhem! So I had better sit through this in the most gracious way possible.

I did my best! The instructor tries to make it interesting. He tries to engage the audience, and he emphasises things that have changed in the last three years. But he still has to teach us the same curriculum, and almost all of us had done it before. We knew his jokes! 

I am aware that the repetition makes you really learn things. So I do think I have the material clearer in my mind now than I did, say, two years ago. But I suppose I could have just run through the syllabus again on my own. In about an hour. Oh well. I’m sorted again for three years! Maybe one day they’ll make it partly online…

Lunch day 1

Coming back from lunch day 2