28 February 2022

Quarantine lifted for the fully vaccinated

Suddenly, travel restrictions were lifted! Suddenly, you could travel from the UK to the Netherlands without going into self-isolation! That meant that I could consider travelling. So when would be a good time? In early spring, there is such a thing as "reading week" in the University. It's not really a holiday, but it is a week in which there are no contact hours with undergraduate students. These are expected to spend some time on coursework. I think the origin of reading week is actually that there were some entire days free in which people could timetable fieldtrips. But either way; that would be a good time for a trip across the Channel. I tentatively booked. And then just hoped that the rules wouldn't change before I would travel! As happened the previous time.

The rules are now quite relaxed; I need to get an LTF test with negative result before I fly out, and I need to fill out a form in which I explain why I don't have to self-isolate, and I need to have a covid pass. And that's it!

I really looked forward to finally seeing people like my mum and my sister again! By coincidence, my dad was out of the country himself, so I wouldn't see him. But I think it is likely that travel restrictions will never go back to how strict they were before, so I think it will be easier to come back. And my Finnish sister has already announced her first trip here! International travel, here we come again!

27 February 2022

Spring in the air

We had had quite a lot of time with rather bad weather. Weekends were drenched and one storm after the other appeared. Everything comes to an end at some point, and so did this. And in the last week of February I found myself sitting in the garden to have my lunch for the first time this year! It was sunny and quite pleasant. And the neighbour's dog was ecstatic to see me there again. Spring has come! Soon I won't be able to see the field on the other side of the river any more. But the days will be long and as long as my garden won't become a building site, it will be a great place to have meals and to socialise…

26 February 2022

Back to sage on a stage?

 A lecture used to be a person standing in the front of a room talking at people in the rest of the room, most likely aided by stuff to look at on a blackboard, whiteboard or screen. The University was already putting pressure on us, teaching staff, to go with the times and do something a bit more innovative. We had starting that, but quite a lot of lectures were still just that. And then the pandemic hit.

We suddenly had to do everything online. I got into the routine of recording my lectures, and then going through the material with my students in live sessions. What I do in these depends a bit on the module. If you have a small group you can just set them a task and then go through what they have done. Or you can show them a figure and ask them to interpret it. What are these peaks in the graph? Maybe they are interglacials! Or ice rafting events. Or whatever. If it is a big group you can do quizzes, and then talk through the answers. I quite like how that shows how much the students have understood! It is very rare that a student will volunteer the information that they haven't understood something, but if there is a quiz and they are answering it anonymously, you can pick out that they didn't, and explain things again.

And when we were allowed to teach in person again, I continued with the concept of recorded lectures and live digesting it. In my first year module, I would just do quizzes. You can do these in such a way that both the people physically present and those joining online can join in on equal terms. And I quite enjoy it! And some of the students clearly did too. But then I started to get requests from students. They said they struggle to learn this way. They preferred to be talked through the material live. They said that that way, they could ask questions if there was something they didn't understand. I was a bit surprised by that. Many years of teaching has taught me that the chance that a student, especially a first year student, asks a question, is very small.

I decided to try to get a clearer view on the matter. The next time I saw the students, I just used one of my quizzes to ask them how they want to be taught in this module. And there indeed was a majority for live lecturing! They just want me to stand there and talk at them. I will try to keep the lectures brief, and then do a bit of an interactive thing afterwards, but if this is how the students wants to be taught then so be it. 20th-century teaching, here I come!

24 February 2022

Powerless while the world burns

It looks like we are in the early stages of a new war. And I am just going about my business. I suppose there are always wars going on; there is trouble in Myanmar, and in Ethiopia, and Syria, and probably several other places. I suppose what is happening in the Ukraine just feels closer than all the other wars, because it physically is. And I feel powerless. What am I going to do? I can hardly go there and stop Russian tanks. I don't think the UK government will care an awful lot about what I think of the whole thing. My MP is a decent bloke, so he would do what he can even without me or anybody else trying to pressure him into it.

I know that Greta Thunberg says that you're never too small to make a difference, and she has proven that that is true. I don't think I'm in her league, though. I don't know how to make a difference! I'll just worry. And continue with my life. As one does…

21 February 2022

Storm Eunice keeping it modest

Three people died in the country. All train traffic in Wales was suspended for the entire day. Hundreds of thousands of people didn't have power. Roofs blew off buildings. The University decided that because of storm Eunice, no one was supposed to come in, and that all work had to be done remotely. 

I was sitting in my office; from there I have a view over the street. Next to my garage, there normally is a row of wheelie bins. When it gets a bit gusty, these tend to start doing a little dance. And on a day with an amber weather warning for wind, and with all measures taken I mentioned such as suspending all train traffic, you really expect an energetic fandango! But nothing happened. The wind never got so strong it was worthy of comment. 

I walked to the shop in the morning, and that was very uneventful. And in the afternoon I did go for my usual run; I made sure not to pick a route where I run with the wind in my back first, and with a headwind on the way back, but in hindsight I could have. This was also very unremarkable! So storm Eunice might have let herself be felt in many areas and the rest of the country, and in other countries too, but it seems like Bethesda was just one of those places where it has pretty much passed unnoticed. Good, I suppose; no one likes storm damage. But it was a little bit underwhelming!

19 February 2022

Storm scuppers day in the field

Some things are not meant to happen! For the ambitiously titled module "Earth, Climate and Evolution" we go into the field with the students twice. When the draft timetable came out, it became clear that one of the dates reserved for this was unusable. This was the week where my colleague Lynda takes her students into the field for 2 1/2 days, and in which the third year students do their dissertation presentations spread out over two days. This week has a bank holiday in it, so it is only four days long. And the students Lynda has in the field are partly the same students as the ones that do their presentations with me. That meant the week was already just about long enough to accommodate all that! So there was no way we could also have a first-year fieldtrip in that week. But fieldtrips are timetabled for the whole day, and there aren't many days when a cohort of 70 students has the whole day free. The only date timetabling could find as an alternative was in mid February. It would have to do!

We saw the students to Friday before. I was joking that given that the first half of the week with our fieldtrip in it had terrible weather, we would have run out of wind and rain by the time the trip was on. And to be honest, even though I knew that is nonsense of course, I did not expect the forecast to be so bad that we would have to cancel the trip. But the day came closer, and the Met office was showing a yellow weather warning for wind on the day. And that is a bad thing. The wind can be vicious in Cwm Idwal! And there is no way you can talk to a group of students in such a way they can make out what you are saying in a howling gale. I told the students that if the weather forecast wouldn't improve, we would call off the trip.

By the Wednesday, the weather warning had been upgraded to orange, and the Health and Safety Officer of the University got in touch to say he suggested we call off all Friday field trips. And so we did!

The good news is that we tend to book three days in the timetable for our two days in the field. So now we will go in late April! And we could still get a weather warning, and have to cancel the trip, but the chances are bit smaller by then. So a lot of faff for nothing! And I hope all the students are snugly indoors with a big hot drink while storm Eunice is raging outside…

17 February 2022

Belfast (the film)

You can't really be online on a regular basis and not come across advertisements for the movie "Belfast". So I was well aware of it. And it looked like my kind of film. Just a family trying to move through life. So when one weekend had a weather forecast of wall-to-wall rain, and the film was shown in Pontio, I decided to go there. I like films, but don't go very often. In Amsterdam I did, but there were countless many arthouse cinemas within biking distance, and here in North Wales that is decidedly different. But never going is not a good option either. And my previous dose had been more a recorded interview than a full-flung film! 

It seemed no one else was keen so I did my usual thing and went alone. And there are spoiler alerts in the rest of the text.

To my surprise, the film started with aerial footage of modern day Belfast. I knew the film played decades ago. But it all would make sense. There was a reference to how stories begin, and the camera was raised over a wall in colour, and behind that was the black-and-white world of 1969. And it struck me as a rather old-fashioned version of 1969; I had no problem imagining my parents in that scene as little children, but in 1969 they had already met and were about to get married the following year. And they were not particularly young newlyweds! Was this part of Belfast a bit stuck in its ways? Or do I just have a weird view of Western Europe in the middle of the previous century?

Either way. It starts all rather idyllic, but you're not out of the first scene yet when a mob of Protestants marches into the street and starts bashing in the windows of houses that have Catholics in them, and throwing Molotov cocktails. It is deeply frightening. You don't see any people getting actually hurt, but you don't need to. And from there on it is clear that the question, whether it is verbalised or not, is whether to stay and try to make a positive difference, or to leave so as not to have to go through something like this again. The people from whose perspective you see this are a Protestant family consisting of a joiner father who works in England and comes back every other weekend, and a stay-at-home mum, and two sons; one primary school age and the other one of secondary school age. The perspective is mainly from Buddy, the young kid, but the hard decisions to be made are, of course, on the shoulders of the parents.

In the picture are also a girl that could be a cousin, and the boy's grandparents. It is painted as a rather close-knit community. Not very wealthy, but everybody knows everybody. And quite soon you also find hints of financial trouble caused by the husband.

From there the film spends several months in which there is pressure on the father to join the Protestant mob, and on the kids for functioning as things such as messenger boys for the same mob. You can see people recalibrate whether they can actually be friends with people of the other religion. And you can see the father wanting to take his family out of this situation of sectarian violence. He brings in flyers about Sydney and Vancouver. And there is also England, of course, where he works.

During one of the discussions between the parents the woman says that she doesn't know anything other than Belfast. She sees them as a reason to stay, while her husband sees it as a reason to leave. There is a whole world out there! But she really feels the pull of the local community. And she thinks she will be deracinated if she moves. And not just her; all of them. But apart from the violence, there is also massive unemployment, and the husband just wants to give his children both a nonviolent youth, and good job prospects afterwards. You could see both their points. I must say I sympathised with the man; my whole being wanted to move away from there right now. But I suppose I am speaking as someone who never really felt at home anywhere. Neither of my parents came from the town I grew up in, and neither are close with their family, so we already were just one family surrounded by largely anonymous people; we didn't need to move house for that. And when I grew up a bit I felt increasingly ill at ease; the town is a lot more religious and right wing than I am. So yes, I have never really felt that warm bath of a community where everybody knows everybody and where you are really sure that is where you belong. And I can imagine that if you do know that, you don't want to lose it.

Anyway; in the time that the parents have to make up their minds, the grandfather dies of lung problems (he has worked as a coalminer). And you see the grandmother suffering with that. And there is a confrontation that could easily have ended badly for several people in the family, including the kids. And that focuses the mind. They decide to take the offer of the man's employer to move to England. He will even earn more money there.

The film ends with the grandmother watching them leave by bus, telling them to go and not look back, and then lose it completely. I was close to tears seeing that. And then follows a dedication: to those who left. And to those who stayed. I immediately thought of "Green and Grey" by New Model Army. Although NMA is clearly on the side of those who stay.

Go see this film! Go see it if you just want to see a beautiful film. Go see it if you want to feel like you are inside the Troubles. Don't go see it if you want a happy story.

I was also impressed by some cinematic details. The film is in black and white, but there are flashes of colour in it. When the family goes either to the theatre or the cinema, whatever they see is in colour. The audience is in black-and-white, but the reflections in the glasses of the grandmother are in colour. And I seem to remember another reflection being in colour. I liked that detail.
I also liked the casting. I thought the entire cast did an amazing job.

I knew, of course, that it was all based on Kenneth Branagh's own life, but only when I looked up an interview with him afterwards did I realise how close it had been. I just hope he exaggerated the grief of his grandmother…

Scene from the film

16 February 2022

Pictures getting bigger

I had got my hands on several rather large picture frames, and these are great for decorating your house. But as I don't own a clanging SLR, I had wondered what on Earth to put in them. I had several old maps in them, that I had acquired shortly after my arrival in Norway. And I must say, I quite like them. These can stay put. And I had recently just printed a few big pictures taken either by my point-and-shoot camera, or my iPhone, after having seen in practice that that works out. But the biggest frame was filled with a collage. I had not dared print anything out at that size! But I didn't actually like the concept of a collage very much, so when it turned out that I could print pictures much bigger than I had initially envisaged, I got some extra courage and decided to print one of my own pictures for that. And I had one in mind. I had a picture printed out at modest size of New London, an abandoned quarry settlement on Svalbard, on the other side of the fjord from Ny-Alesund. It is not a technically good picture, but I love the combination of the mountains in the background, the bleached wooden buildings, and the collapsed crane. And I decided that was going to be the one I would print out at 50 x 60 centimetre size. And I did! And I am happy with the result. I will now be less hesitant. Not that I have an awful lot more space for more big picture frames, but still. If I ever want to replace the maps, I now know I can.

Big pic!

15 February 2022

Inspiration from side gig

I have five sessions in my side gig. Each of them is two hours long. You can build quite a lot of information in there! And for this job, it is more important that I talk about those aspects of climate that are societally relevant, and not so much about the technicalities. For instance, it is important that I explain what we know about climate of the past, but I don't need them to be able to explain in an exam how fractionation of stable oxygen isotopes works. The thing is; if I teach my university students, it tends to be more important than I explained to them how things work so they can figure out themselves what the implications are. I might explain what ice shelves are, and why they matter, and then ask them to look up to what extent they actually contribute to global sea level rise, for instance. For my side gig I explain what ice shelves are only to the extent of what they need to know to understand their relevance, and then I tell them how much they contribute to sea level rise. So the focus of my lectures is quite different. And that actually leads to me looking at things from a different angle. And for one thing; it's quite exciting! I love climate. And for another thing: with this new perspective, I spontaneously had inspiration for my lectures for the third year's and fourth year's students on climate. When these modules were taken over by my colleague, the content of what I thought changed. And I had made my changes, but I wasn't quite satisfied with what I had come up with. But now I think I know how I want to teach this. I love how my two jobs feed into each other!

14 February 2022

Attempt at Indonesian fried rice

On a fairly regular basis, the usual gang that came into being last year has dinner together. In December I cooked for everybody for the first time, and since then, several dinners cooked by the others have taken place. And I felt like it was my turn again. I do find it a bit of a challenge; my cooking relies quite heavily on cheese, and one of us doesn't consume lactose. But I had decided I could have a go at Indonesian fried rice, or nasi goreng as it is originally known. I know I make a bit of a non-Indonesian thing of it, but that doesn't matter as far as I am concerned; as long as it tastes good. And there is an Asian supermarket in Bangor, so you can get the necessary ingredients.

The others thought it was a good idea, so I started gathering the ingredients. Malaysian nasi goreng spice mix and Singaporean satay sauce from the Asian supermarket, Thai prawn crackers from the big supermarket, Malaysian sambal from Waitrose. I couldn't find atjar tjampoer anywhere. And then combined with whatever vegetables I fancied. None of it was Indonesian, but at least it was the inspiration!

In the previous year I had bought an extra big wok and an extra big pan. That came in handy! I had a lot to fry. But with these implements it was okay. I had the full hog of rice, fried eggs, fried bananas, satay sauce and sambal. And then I could only hope the others would like it! But they are all British so of course they say they do. Let's hope they meant it.

Susan had made wingko babat, some sort of coconut cake, as dessert. It was lovely!

When then I was done we just had a good time with a drink by the fire, with the cat getting a lot of attention. A good evening if you ask me! And now I have a bit of time to think of the next dish that doesn't involve cheese…

13 February 2022

Endless story about Dragon

My quest for frictionless use of Dragon, my voice recognition software, was going rather slow. After it turned out that it was unclear why my laptop wasn't functioning as well with Dragon as my desktop had, the helpdesk caved in and offered me a desktop. The first issue with that was that they forgot to give me a power cable. The next thing with that was it, of course, did not have Dragon on it. So I would have to install it without using my voice. I was very nervous about that! And just around that time, my graphic tablet packed in. Great. I really really don't want to use a mouse more than absolutely strictly necessary. So I waited for the new tablet. And then one day I gave it a go, only to find out that I couldn't log into this computer. So I had to go back to the helpdesk with it.

A very friendly man sorted the computer out. He said that as I had never logged on to this computer before, it could not connect with, well, anything really, in my home office. If I would just login right there at the helpdesk, while it was connected to the University network, then the computer would recognise me and be able to also let me log in when I have it plugged into my own private network. And so that is what I did. The computer was a bit slow, and at some point the man asked if I minded if he left for a few minutes. I didn't. But that did mean I was the only person in the helpdesk! I found that a bit absurd. Imagine the damage I could do! His computer was open. But I am not that way inclined and I just patiently waited. And while he was away, nobody appeared at the counter for support.

Soon I was ready to carry the computer back to my car. And then I went home and tried to install Dragon on it. This didn't go so well; I seemed to need administrator rights. And I don't have these, and they also don't give them to people have their computer at home. I phoned the helpdesk again. And I was answered by someone entirely different. He quickly diagnosed that the computer wasn't set up to be used in a home office. He said that I would be okay if I went into the office with it. But I don't want to use it in the office! But he is partially right; if I get it to work there, at least I know it works. But I don't want to only have to commute to the office every day just because the helpdesk doesn't want to reconfigure my desktop for home use. So for now I am back on the laptop. This saga is long and getting tedious! And I still have pain in my arms. I was feeling more optimistic while things got better all the time, be it slowly. Now I have been first going in the other direction, and then stationary for a while. Not very satisfying! But I might just put my foot down and demand that they configure it for my home office. It's all very well that that is a bit of a job, but if they make me commute when I don't have to, then that is a lot of time waste for me. My time counts too. So stay tuned!

11 February 2022

Enquiring about solar panels

I had recently decided that I really should take steps towards making my own household more renewable. I had decided that it is worth to find out if it was feasible to get solar panels on the roof. And I made progress with that! I contacted a plausible looking firm about this. And one early evening, a polite man appeared in front of my door. He said he had already had a look at my roof. He must have had a good torch! Or help from the streetlights on the parking lot next door. So he could just come in and to be could talk about the panels. No need to traipse around in the dark!

While the cat scrutinised him intensely, he explained he could put 4 kW of panels on my roof; five panels on the south-facing part of the slate roof, and five on the flat roof of the extension. And he could deliver a battery that would allow me to use the energy in the evening I generated during the day. All of this together was quite a lot of money, but I didn't expect anything else. The hardware did come with good guarantees, though. And he created a big spreadsheet with all the data in, and sent it to me there and then.

I was happy with the service, but given that we are talking a five figure sum here, (including battery, that is) I did not want to rely on one quote alone. I contacted another firm. And only a few days later they had a representative in my living room.

This man, also scrutinised by the cat, was a bit more optimistic; he figured he could fit six panels on each roof, generating 4.5 kW. And he talked me a bit through batteries. This offer sounded good as well. He said he would send me a report that very same day. And he did!

The next step will be to compare the two offers, and potentially ask both companies about specific important differences. And then I will have to decide! I hope I can have solar panels on my roof before spring properly hits. I'm not decided on the battery yet. The battery would only be for financial reasons; it doesn't make any difference to how much power I generate, of course. And my energy use is quite low. Maybe I should not prioritise this. I will have to do some thinking during the weekend! But watch this space. The wheels have been set in motion!

10 February 2022

Riverside collapse

I had done the practical with the students, and when I got back to my desk I found a message from a colleague. Did I have a few minutes to talk with her? Of course I did. I called her on Teams.

The colleague in question is also the neighbour. Not technically; she lives in a different street, but our outside spaces are adjacent, and we can have a beautiful cliché chat over the fence between my garden and her terrace. And we regularly do!

It turned out that what she wanted to talk about was not related to work; it was related to us being neighbours. She explained to me that in the good old days, next to my garden, a big wall would rise up from the river bed, and on top of that wall was her decking. But that wall had collapsed. You can't see that from my garden! But she explained to me that this might affect me too; the people she had contacted to come up with a plan to do something about the situation had suggested that maybe the wall between my garden and her terrace would have to be taken down. And she also wondered if perhaps any material could be brought in through my garden. It can't come through her house. I am totally fine with that. Whatever works! It's not as if there is any proper access to the riverbank. I find the easiest way to get on it is indeed through my garden. So we'll see.

I really hope this situation can be fixed soon. And I hope it can be done in the way that is sustainable, beautiful, quick, not damaging to my garden, and not financially burdensome to the neighbour. I know that is much to ask but one can hope! I suppose living by the river comes with its risks. At least it looked like the house itself was not at any risk whatsoever. But that decking cannot be used now for a while! Stay tuned; I'm wondering how this will work out in the end…

09 February 2022

Omicron teaching

Last semester we started to see students in person again on a regular basis. Of course we were careful; we did social distancing, we wore masks, we had 20 minute ventilation breaks between lecture slots, et cetera. But we were teaching, and not much went wrong. Of course we were sometimes contacted by a student who said they had tested positive, and had to self-isolate. But that was pretty much it.

Then in December one of the staff fell ill with covid. And the numbers in the covid update the University sends us regularly shot up. And then another member of staff fell ill; that later turned out to be covid as well. And then two more.

It was bound to come closer. On a Sunday, I got an email that the Monday before I had been teaching a student who had since tested positive. Given that contact wouldn't have been close (I had been in what I think was the biggest lecture room in the entire University), and that I am fully vaccinated, there were no consequences. I didn't have to self-isolate. I was just told that so I could be extra alert on any possible symptoms. If I had any I could go and test myself to within an inch of my life! And I test every time before I see students (or other people) but I would test even more were I to have anything like symptoms.

Two days later I already got the next message. On the Friday I had also taught a student who had later tested positive. Again; I had been in a big room. I'm not worried about it. But given that we now have omicron, and given its transmissibility, I think this is the new normal. Every session of size will now have a student in it that will test positive afterwards! That first session was with literally every third year student (or at least, they all should have been there) and the second session was with a group that should have been 70 students. I think I will get more messages like this from this group! I suppose one day I will get it myself. I can only hope I won't be too ill…

08 February 2022

Cat anniversary

The day came that it had been exactly a year ago that my friend Guy showed up with a cat carrier, bringing me my new housemate. A whole year! It has flown by. I thought it would only be for a few months, but it will be forever. And she enriches my days, every day. It is not unusual that I wake up next to her, do my morning exercises being watched by her, And then get dressed, which often turns into a big playfest. Then I make my breakfast while she is having hers, and have her lick out the cereal bowl afterwards. And when I go to work in my home office, she often walks in to get some attention. And if she doesn't, I'll regularly check up on her. Just pop down to rub her head, stick my nose in her fur, reconnect a bit. Toilet visits tend to be accompanied.

In the evening there tends to be another episode of uninhibited playing. And when I go to bed, she tends to follow in curl up next to me. She is great, and I don't think I did more than a marginal amount of laughing out loud in my house before I had her. But that has changed now! She is fab and I look forward to the second year. Thank you Mevrouw Moor for your company!

07 February 2022

Restart side gig

The first night my side gig should take off only three people showed up. That was not enough! But it was to early to give up; we could just restart in two weeks and see if anything will improve. And we did that.

As it so happened, the Sunday before I was underground, with among others my friend Kate. And she said she would just join! That was cool. And it turned out that it was also needed. Only four of the Llanelli crew showed up! But with Kate there we reached five, and that is the minimum number. So she saved the day.

Of the Llanelli bunch, I had met two before. One I had a nice chat with. The other one seemed to have technical problems. Communication was difficult!

I didn't expect anyone else to I just started. It was a little bit weird to be repeating myself, as I had run through most of the material the previous time, but it went okay I think. And the man with the technical problems even reappeared; this time under his wife's name. Her computer turned out to be better than his! And he said he would use that one next time.

At the end there was some time left, and then what I had hoped would happen happened; the people started asking questions. And we easily filled the rest of the time. This was the best bit! They found out what they really wanted to know, and I could just freewheel. I was quite comfortable with what they asked! And if I am not I can just look it up. I have a week between the sessions!

I hope next week more people will show up. But the first session has now been properly done! The behememoth has been set in motion!

06 February 2022

Putting on clothes while having a cat

Young cats might see everything that moves as an invitation to catch it. I had noticed really early on that if I go for a leak and the cat follows, she might go and claw at the end of my belt that hangs down, and chew on it. But she seems to be getting bolder. Not too long ago she also went for the belt when I was getting dressed. And sometime later she went for another belt. That is slightly disconcerting; the reasonable thing to do if you want to catch the end of a belt is climbing the trousers it is associated with. With claws out!

Then she wanted a shirt I was moving in order to put it on. And the next time I wanted to wear it the same happened. I think she has realised that there is a moment in the early morning, that is quite easy to predict, where I moved pieces of textile around. And if she is around she can have fun with that! She is totally hilarious when she is playing. And she is generally really careful with her claws. And if she jumps at you with her claws in, her feet feel so cute. But she has now sunk claws into my skin for the first time! Oh well. Comes with the territory.

I suppose I spend about eight hours straight every night not playing with her, so by the time it is morning she is keen for some silliness. It works for me! I can just wave anything around: clothes, shoelaces, laser dots; she'll just chase it and have loads of fun. And then we're both ready for a new day.

Catching a belt

05 February 2022

Picture purge

From quite early on, I have been peppering the walls of my house with pictures. A beautiful picture is beautiful, and the vast majority also comes with good memories. Most of them I have taken myself. I also had a few big frames, though, and I wasn't sure if I can fill them with pictures from my point-and-shoot cameras. But back in the days I was still a Thursdaynighter, and one of the others is a photographer, and he often brings an SLR underground. And he does manage to take good pictures. So I had several of his pictures (with his consent) printed, and had framed them. And then the night of the misogyny event happened, and its vitriolic aftermath. And suddenly these pictures did not represent good memories any more. The aesthetic value of the pictures hadn't changed of course; and initially I had thought to just leave them there. I left them there for years, actually. If this man can't behave in anything I recognise as acceptable ways, then let him be of practical use. He is at work. But it became clear that I can't separate the picture from the photographer, and if I saw any of these pictures, no matter how beautiful they were, I was just thinking of misogyny, bullying and cowardice. These are not good things to think about. So the pictures had to go.

I am almost complete with my purge. I don't currently have enough big prints to replace the offending ones. I will have to print at least one big picture especially for the occasion. But I have faith that will be okay. I have several large pictures that I took with my point-and-shoot camera, and they are okay, and I also saw several pictures taken with an iPhone that a friend had printed rather large. They were gorgeous! So I don't even need to restrict myself to pictures taken with a camera that is only a camera. I will now have an iPhone picture printed off, at a large size, and then I can complete the purge! And then I can look at each and every one of my pictures and think positive thoughts. Excellent.

Almost sorted. The small frame never had an offending picture in, and the two other ones on the left have had theirs removed, and now I only need to replace the picture on the right. 

04 February 2022

Progress at Neuadd Ogwen

In December I had announced that building work on my neighbour, Neuadd Ogwen, had started. I knew that the main thing the builders would be doing was do up the lean-tos on the other side of the building, and integrate them better (I think so far, you could only access them from the outside); and close up the two doorways on my side of the building, and replace them with one big doorway in the middle.

We are now weeks later, and work is progressing quickly. I could sort of see the builders make a passage from the main hall into the lean-tos , and I could see from the garden that scaffolding went up around their outsides. But then the work on the new big exit started. And that is really on my side of the building, so I had a front row seat to see what was going on. It looks like a lot of work to smash a hole in a wall that thick. The builders confirmed that. And the number of times the skip lorry had to come to pick up the full skip and replace it with an empty one provided additional evidence.

The one thing I am slightly nervous about is the stairs that lead to the old exit; I suppose these have to be removed. I am sure that would be a very noisy job. Smashing a hole in the wall was a job they mainly did with sledgehammers, so that mainly causes some dull thudding. But removing concrete steps will probably involve jackhammers. We will see!

New gaping hole in the wall!

03 February 2022

Back to Parc

A few weeks ago I had gone down a local lead mine with one of our students: Lydia. And we both had a whale of time! And of course that meant we wanted to do it again. And this time we hoped to recruit a few more people. Kate was keen on joining, as long as we didn't do it on a weekday. Miles was interested too. And Amelia, a lady who has joined the rescue team but who I had not yet met, and who had only not joined the previous time because she couldn't make it.

When push came to shove, only Kate joined us. Maybe next time we will find a few more people! But three is a good number. I picked up Lydia and met Kate at the parking lot in Gwydir Forest. We got kitted up and then we could resume our exploration!

Lydia had only been in Parc the previous time, and Kate hadn't really spent a lot of time there either. I know the place best, but my memory is hideously bad and I know I would be certain to see new things. Or at least things that I thought were new to me.

We went down the ladderway, of which I thought it was missing the last ladder. That illustrates my memory skills: and I had clearly forgot that I myself had been involved in making it so, years ago! That shows you how unreliable my memories are. But it did make things easier. I could just go down the ladders and rig the pitch down the ore chute. When Lydia came down she rightly concluded that my rigging could be improved on; I had rigged off two pipes, and if the second failed the first would provide backup, but if it would be the first failing, the second would fail too. So she redid it. And then we were good to go down.

When we were down the others asked me where to go. I had no idea! All directions were new to them, and none of them are new to me, so we could just randomly pick one and explore it. And so we did. And it didn't take long before it all looked rather unknown to me! Although I knew I must have been there before. And after a while I did realise I was somewhere I had been before, but not explored extensively. I seemed to remember thinking I should come back and spend more time there! Well that had somehow come true.

Kate and me in the level; pic by Lydia

At some point I stepped into a stope that seemed to be a dead end. But even dead ends might hold fascinating stuff! I walked into it, hearing Lydia behind me commenting on the paradox of it being dead but me still wanting to go in. But then you could clamber up at the end, and I did. And from there it even went further. But there was also a ladderway going up! And the ladders looked in good nick. A treasure! I scampered up. The ladders did hold. I had the feeling very few people ever ventured here. That is the amazing thing about some of these totally trodden mines; normally, you can still find funny little nooks and crannies where few people ever come.

The ladder way went up to a higher level; it was a false floor. It even was the end of it. On the right, there was a sheer drop. On the left it looked like the level might go to rock. I wasn't quite certain of getting off the ladder, though. Yes, the woodwork was probably excellent condition, but I rather be a little bit more sure. I attached myself to the ladder and took a few pictures. Lydia came up too; she stayed on the ladder below me and stuck her head over the edge. She agreed with my judgement; maybe skip this bit. This was a region to explore only with the aid of a drill, some bolts, and an additional rope!

The ladderway

The level it leads to

When we got down again, the other ladies were ready to go back. But what about the way onwards? They hadn't noticed there even was one! And Kate didn't quite like the look of it, so I scampered in with Lydia to have a look. We found ourselves in a big stope with quite some collapses to scramble over, and a tidy level going parallel to it. In the end smaller level went off to the right. We explored that until it ended in a gaping hole on either side. Time to go back and tell Kate what we had seen!

Me in the small level; pic by Lydia

When we got back we went back to the level we had come from. By that time I really really wanted to eat and drink something. Lydia had some granola bars or something on her, but Kate had left her bag where we had entered the level. But they were okay with sitting down a bit and letting me refuel. And then we went further into the level we had been exploring all along. After a while it forked. Where to go first? Lydia checked the right passage, which involved some crawling due to a collapse, while I decided I needed more water to wash down my sandwiches. We heard strange noises come from the passage, but we couldn't hear what she said, so I put my flask away again and had a look. It turned out the floor had dropped rather abruptly, and left Lydia up to her chest in cold water! She had loads of fun with that, but didn't intend to explore the rest of the level. It looked like the water levels wouldn't be dropping any time soon.

Lydia in deep cold water

We checked that the other passage was also quite flooded. We weren't quite feeling it! We decided that for today, we had gone far enough, and we would go back to where Kate's bag was. And so we did.

We then had to decide whether we would also explore in another direction. We decided against. I figured I would enjoy that more if I would be fresher. I had now drank all my water and would not last an awful lot longer. The other ladies also had satisfied their exploration urge for the day. So we went back up the pitch!

As all three of us had brought cake, at the parking lot we did have a cake session while the rain intensified. And then we all headed home again. It had been an excellent explore, and I quite like that we still have so much more to look at! One day I might go back, mentally prepared for swimming, to check out these flooded levels. And we only went in one direction from the ore chute, and there are more where that came from!

Exit selfie

02 February 2022

Ontbijtkoek attempt #2

A few months ago, I had tried to make ontbijtkoek for the first time. It was clearly recognisable as such, but it wasn't perfect! And I figured it was time for another try. I tried different recipe, and a different cake tin. The first time around I thought maybe the batter had got a bit thick due to the difference between regular Dutch buttermilk and whatever it is you can buy in the local shop here. And I had used a rather large tin, which meant the cake was a bit thin and therefore should have been taken out of the oven a bit earlier. And I had thought the spice mix had been a bit unbalanced.

This new recipe used regular milk, and I used the narrow cake tin, and I decided to first make a batch of allspice, based on a recipe of my favourite baking website: Rutger bakt. He used a few more ingredients than I owned, but everything I had on that list I chucked in. I have now a certain amount ready made, for the next time I need it!

When it came out of the oven it looked amazing. I quickly tried. I thought it was a bit sweet! Otherwise it was a success. And the next day I went underground, so I made packed lunch, and that involved an ontbijtkoek sandwich. And with the mitigating effects of the bread, the sweetness was totally fine! So I think I may have found myself a go-to recipe. And I never have to be without ontbijtkoek again! 

Making allspice