31 March 2022

Mountain top to lake in March

The great weather was still holding up! Time for another venture into the hills. Kate agreed, and suggested something that would involve Dinorwic Quarry and the hilltop above it. And it sounded good! And we met at the high parking lot, where we just about found space to park. And in the glorious sunshine we walked up through the quarry until we reached the road. From there, there was a path to the top; neither of us had done that part of the route before. And without incident we reached the summit. We had been there before! And again it was gorgeous. And Kate had been thinking about looping back around the left, but I suggested we loop around the right instead, basically coming down how the previous time we had come up. That way we would come down back to the level of the quarry, and walk through it back to our cars. And that's what we did. And we had lunch on the hillside. 

View into the quarry

On Elidir Fach

On Elidir Fach

View from Elidir Fawr

Coming back into the valley

Scenic bridge

The path back into the quarry

The path back into the quarry was gorgeous! I was glad that we had done that. And when we got back to the cars, Kate said she was going to jump into Llyn Padarn. Did I want to join? And that lake is quite busy, so not a place where you can jump in in your birthday suit. And I had bad memories of getting in in my underwear, which I had once done after a race. But she said she had another bathing suit with her and that sealed the deal! I made sure to put it on there and then, as I figured it would be easier to do that on our remote parking lot with no one else around than at super busy Llyn Padarn. 

We drove down, found a parking spot, and got ready. And then it was time to walk into the water. I found it cold, and felt slow and a sissy. But when I got in, Kate was expressing her surprise at me already swimming. She was taking her time! But she was wearing neoprene socks, and I wasn't, and the first thing that gets too cold is always my feet. So I swam a bit and then got out again. Kate was quite comfortable and didn't look like she was coming out at all. She wondered if I was going to come back and I did. I swam a few more loops. But I didn't want to push it and I came out again. But she didn't stay an awful lot longer so we dried off and got back to the cars. I was cold by then! But it had been good. And I managed to get out of the bathing suit without offending public decency too much as well. So we hugged and each went our way. Quite an excellent day with both a mountaintop in it and my first swim of the year! I can't remember when the last time I was swimming in open water in March…

30 March 2022

World's steepest street race

The race that had lured me back to racing had been 'the World's Steepest Street Race' in Harlech. I had seen it advertised and it sounded right up my street. If I go for a daily run and the weather isn't too wet and therefore the hills not too muddy and slippery, I go for a run that goes straight up the nearest hill, and then loops around so I come down on the less steep trajectory. And this race would do the exact same thing, but then on the road and as a race. And I had never been to Harlech.

The day approached and no racing number appeared. I checked the detail; we had to pick them up on the day. And the race would start at 5 PM, but they wanted us to pick up the numbers between 2 and 4 PM. I didn't like that; it meant there was a compulsory period of picking your nose for an entire hour before the start. They also said there was going to be a compulsory safety briefing at the start at 16:45. So you had to be all ready to set off and then just hang around idly at the start for 15 minutes!

I wondered if I should make a bit of a day out of it and go visit the castle. I packed a bag with hot flasks and some food and a book and set off, but not stupidly early. I had wanted to do some gardening stuff first, and I was also feeling a bit lethargic. Not good for race day! But I knew that the race itself would wake me up. It always does.

It is a fair drive to Harlech. I felt a bit bad about driving so far for just an estimated half hour of racing, but here we were. I had suggested car sharing with my colleague David who I knew was going to be there as well, but he had said his car would be entirely full with his family. Unfortunately!

When I got to Harlech I found the parking lot where the race information had suggested we should park. It wasn't usually far from the actual start, but not particularly close either. I parked up and went to get my race number. I also went to the loo (the parking lot where my car was did have public loos but they were closed), and walked past the start so I would know where that would be. Then I walked back. I wanted to eat and drink something before the start but there wasn't an awful lot of time left, so I figured I shouldn't go far. I was parked right next to the dunes so I decided to go into these. Not an unmitigated success! By the time the path into the dunes (which unsurprisingly, but annoyingly, got very sandy) allowed you to come off it, you were almost in the sea. It would have to do. I ate a sandwich and drank some tea. Then I went back to the car to change into my running kit. And about 16:40 I set off to the start. I had a few minutes to spare. To my surprise, they did the safety briefing at exactly 16:45. I assumed they would just say 16:45 so people would be there 16:50, and then they would do the announcement. But no! I spent my time doing some last stretching; my left buttock felt a bit tight and I thought I might as well stretch my calves. They would be given something to do! I also spotted my colleague David and had a bit of a chat with him. And then we lined up for the start.

At the start

I made sure to start fairly, but not overly, close to the front. I didn't want to have to wrestle my way through crowds on the way up! I figured my strong point would be the way up, so I didn't want to be too boxed in. But I didn't want to burn out too soon either. I think I paced it well. I was having to work for the way up but I wasn't wearing myself out. I did see people burn left and right; not everyone has the opportunity to practice on an incline with an average grade of 32% and a maximum grade of 36%. And it is indeed quite a steep hill! I'm happy I don't live on it; I don't think it is very practical. But it was fun to run up. 

Running up

David had vanished in the distance; as soon as the gun went he was gone like a bullet out of a rifle. But I think he may have regretted that; the extremely steep part of the road is over fairly soon, but then there still is quite a lot of the hill still to go. And I saw him get closer and closer. He was walking! And he kept looking back. It happened twice that I got to within some 20 m of him and he restarted running. I think there was some collegial rivalry there!

When the steepest part of the race was over the landscape widened out a bit and it was beautiful. The late sun made it extra special. I had been quite grumpy about the forced time wasting, but now I was running I was happy. And then I reached the top of the route. Now the downhill would start! It is not my forte but I would see what I could do. I spent quite some time running behind a bloke in a white top. The field had thinned out considerably, and there weren't very many people in sight. At the start they had said there were some 200 runners, but I would later find out there had only been some 150. Quite something different from the almost 700 of the Anglesey half marathon!

On the not-so-steep part

Those views!

I had to dodge a big tractor on a narrow road; that safety briefing had not been for nothing! Their main point had been that the roads weren't closed for us. No kidding. Shortly afterwards I lost the bloke in the white top, but soon afterwards I heard footsteps behind me. A woman in blue and a man in pink overtook me. We then stayed close to each other for quite a while. Sometimes I overtook them; sometimes they overtook me. But then we reached a steep downhill bit and that did it for me; I'm not good with that so they vanished in the distance.

On the downhill; notice the man in pink approach

The locals were out and cheering us on, by the way; they were a cheerful bunch! And very encouraging. The atmosphere was amazing.

I tried to not lose too much time on the steep downhill, but I also had to be careful; on one of the steep bits we had come up as well I stumbled. I was glad I caught myself! Falling on my face right there could have ended rather messily. But it didn't. There were some gasps from onlookers…

Coming down steeply but cheerfully, with the castle as a lovely backdrop

When the route became quite flat again I accelerated a bit. I felt safe to do so, and because of having focused more on avoiding accidents I also had the breath to do it. I thundered towards the finish. I felt confident I had done okay! I was looking forward to finding out what my time had been and what my position was. I had no clue.

Tired at the finish

The first thing I saw behind the finish was David drinking from a cup. A cup! I looked back and saw I had thundered straight past the people handing out a drink, an energy bar and a memento. I went back to get mine. Then I congratulated David with his result. He introduced me to his partner and we had a nice chat. This was not without difficulty; at the start, the organisation had been handing out cowbells for the crowds to cheer us on with, and both his daughters had grabbed one, and were clearly not yet tired of walloping them around. But it was nice to have a chat. David made me laugh; his partner said to me she had earlier owned tried to walk this famously steepest hill, but had had to stop. Then David interrupted with 'but that wasn't the actual hill yet!' I think she thought we were slightly mad. 

The finish underneath the castle

After a while I said my goodbyes and went back to the car with my treasures. I went straight in and drove home. I went over Maentwrog this time; it's a beautiful route. Although I took it by accident. While I was driving I heard the 'ping' that I thought was the text message giving me my time and position. When I got home I had a look. 30:13. That looked okay! Of course I have nothing to compare it to; I had never run a 6K race with such a steep hill in it. But I was pleased. I was more pleased by my gender position; I had come 3rd! That is a bronze medal! I hadn't seen that coming. If I would have realised that the time I might have stayed for the medal ceremony. But I didn't. And the advantage was that now I could have a quick shower (I was quite sweaty) and then have some food. I finished at around 17:30, so probably got back to the car at 17:45, wasn't home until close to 7 PM, and was quite up for some food by then! They expected to hand out medals at 18:30, so that would have meant quite a late dinner. I am not sure if I was more proud of this then I was at having finished first woman in the Parkrun once. But proud I was!

I had already decided that I was not going to run this race again unless I would be going with someone. All this faffing around is not a problem if you are in company, and all that driving is less bad if you are car sharing. Too bad really; I really enjoyed the race! Just not the run-up to it. But when I got home I did register for a next race; again a half marathon. That one is in Llanrwst so a lot closer to home!

28 March 2022

Second incarnation of the side gig

 The first set of lectures for my side gig was done. But that also meant the second set was nearby! This would be an audience of Quakers from mid-and south Wales. And I had done the series once before, so I knew where the room for improvement was! Sure was some. So I sorted that, and then logged into Zoom when the course was about to start.

Soon a man called John logged in. And then later a lady. We had a bit of pre-class chat. They were lovely! But no additional people appeared. Just two! Oh well. So be it! I started. And the lecture went swimmingly. At the end, we had a little discussion. Exactly as I hoped. It went so well I really looked forward to the second episode. More next week!

Annual Parys Mountain trip

Every year, we take a cohort of first-year students to Parys Mountain. And it was that time again! And it looked like it was going to be an excellent episode. The weather forecast was amazing. And covid restrictions weren't particularly strict anymore.

I suggested I would travel on the coach. It is a fair trek to the site, and I wasn't too scared about covid any more. I think I will get it at some point anyway, and then I might as well get it not very long after my booster shot. No need to go there with more vehicles than necessary!

We were almost complete. Good stuff! And as soon as I came out of the coach I immediately started to take items of clothing off. It was warm. And there was hardly any wind, which is unusual for Parys Mountain.

On the parking lot, Dei did his usual spiel of subdividing the students into small groups representing various continents, and making them re-enact all the tectonic movement that had resulted in the situation as we would be seeing it. I think that makes it quite evocative! But when that was done we went to the viewpoint. On this trip, it generally is the case that I do the talking about geology and Dei does the talking about industrial archaeology. I actually like industrial archaeology a lot more then he does! But I suppose it is a tradition now.

I talked about the rocks we saw, and the funny chemistry, and the brittle and ductile deformation that had affected the rocks. I showed the students the stockwork in the centre of the pit; this is rock cut through extensively by hydrothermal veins. This is how the seawater was transported through the rock, up to the surface, where it would come out as a smoker of unidentified colour. We know there was a black smoker! Because we also saw deposits of what had been black smoke. But most of the deposits we saw were more yellow in colour. Lots of sulphide! But what the miners had been after was copper.

The big pit

Evidence of extensive hydrothermal activity

By the time I had talked about all that we were all hungry, so we went to the ruins of the office buildings on the hill and had lunch there. I also changed into a tank top and shorts. It was only March, and I was in the middle of Parys Mountain, but I didn't want to be wearing any more than that.

After lunch, Dei took over and talked us through the mine, how it had been developed, what all the industrial remains were, et cetera. I could now just enjoy, and take pictures. Suited me fine!

Dei talks industrial archaeology

It was that kind of weather

We were back at the coach quite early. There still was a bit of day left! And that was it for Parys mountain for the rest of the year. One more trip to do in this module, but I wasn't sure if I was going to be involved in that. You don't need three members of staff for every single trip! 

27 March 2022

Hill reps - really

When you are doing the Steepest Street in the World Race, you want to be okay with steep ascents. Your legs and lungs need to be ready for it, and you need to know how to pace yourself. Hence that I was doing my normal route with extra enthusiasm. From my front door to the top of Moel Faban is some 250 m up, and thereby quite comparable to the race. And when I couldn't physically stand up on the top of this rather small hill I sought solace on the incline on its flank, which was rather sheltered. And I actually enjoyed it. So the next time I did a run I made sure to go there again. I approach it from halfway up, and I decided to run to the top, walk down, and then run the whole way up again. The whole incline is about 50 m up. About 1/4 of the steep slope of the upcoming race!

The next time I came there I did it again. This time I had the extra entertainment of the Coast Guard practising their first aid skills right next to the incline. And after I had run up one and a half times, I couldn't resist going up one last time. I surprised myself! Since when do I enjoy this? Hill reps, that sounds way too much like hard work. But this incline is right on one of my common running routes. I seem to have got the bug now. I think I will be doing incline reps more often. And I think it's good for me! Give these lungs something to do...

At the bottom of the incline

At the top

26 March 2022

Sunny walk

The forecast for the weekend was wall-to-wall sun. Proper sun from dusk to dawn. Not a quite sunny afternoon like the week before, which I had wanted to use for a walk but in which I had ended up punished by quite strong wind and rain. This looked like they were of certain of it. And the Friday already was gorgeous. So this looked like the real deal! This asked for a bigger walk. And I asked Martin if he would be up for that. I had asked him a while ago, after he had been walking on the ridge to the south of Nant Ffrancon, if he fancied doing that sort of thing together one day. And he did. So why not now. And I suggested the Nantlle Ridge. I think it's beautiful, and it's best done with more than one person is then you can have one car on the eastern side and one on the western side. He hadn't done it before! And he suggested the Sunday for that, as the Saturday was a bit windy for a ridge like that.  

That Saturday I went for my usual run, with my upcoming race in mind, but when I got to the top (which is only 400 m high) I was literally unable to stay upright. The wind was so strong I had to put my hands on the ground in order to not be blown away. I had to evacuate speedily. And I did find a somewhat sheltered incline on which I could do a few reps in order to train for the rather steep race, but when I got back I immediately first checked the weather forecast, which now had serious winds on the Sunday as well, got my maps out to think of some alternative routes, and then phoned Martin to suggest we might choose one of these. He agreed. And we picked a there-and-back starting on Crimea Pass. When I said it I realised the topicality of the location! 

He picked me up in the morning and we parked on the pass. It was a glorious day! I immediately took off several layers, and left one of them in the car. I could walk in a T-shirt with a longsleeve over the top. And we set off on the old rail track. I have done this route twice before; once running with Gordy and once as part of a Swamphike.

Near the start of the route

There wasn't very much wind; it was almost as if we could have done our original plan. But we were a bit sheltered by a ridge, so it could be deceptive. And it was a tramway, so very gentle slope. A very civilised stroll!

At some point the track comes past an old chapel on the other side of the river. When I had been there with Gordy we had decided to have a swim right there. But that hadn't been in March! It is a beautiful spot, though, and I suggested coffee and cake there. That proposal was accepted.

The view from the coffee break spot

We then walked on to Dolwyddelan, and towards Llyn Gwynant on the other side. There were parts of the route where the wind had free rein, and then we could feel there still was strength in it. This told us we had made the right call! You should never judge the weather on the ridge by the weather in the valley. And we were in the middle of nowhere and we barely saw a soul. There was one bloke on a mountain bike. And later we saw two pedestrians from a bit of a distance. Or maybe the same one twice?

I had wanted to have a look at the map and decide how to proceed, if at all, where the path crosses the county border, but that is on a high point, so it was a bit exposed. (Nantlle Ridge would be more exposed!) We decided to walk on a bit further and do the deciding in a sheltered spot. And Martin voted for turning back. I suggested we go a little bit further; there were some amazing views coming up. So we did, and then picked a spot for lunch. We had amazing views over Nant Gwynant. And it was sunny and sheltered and lovely. We didn't hurry lunch. And I introduced Martin to ontbijtkoek sandwiches! He had been surrounded by Dutch people since 20 years ago and still not ever tried ontbijtkoek. What were these Dutch people doing. I also decided to change into shorts. 

Snowdon comes into view

As lovely as it was to laze in the sun we did get at some point get up and turn back. And we saw the same landscape again, but now from the other side and with the sun coming from a different angle (in our faces; the sunscreen even had to come out!), so it didn't bore me at all. And at approximately 4 PM we were back at the car. A good day in the hills! Martin's watch told us we had walked 21.7 km. It didn't feel like that many! My feet were fine. I thought it had been a success! Hopefully, more trips like this will follow. Watch this space...

Walking back with the sun in our faces

25 March 2022

2022 vegetables planted

I have not been overly successful growing vegetables, but I am not giving up! And it was mid March and it was time to get ready for this year's prep. I first planted some sprouting garlic, and sowed peas and courgettes. The week after I added pumpkin, cabbage, carrots, and beetroot. The courgettes will stay indoors but the rest will move out. I hope my output will be bigger than last year!

24 March 2022

Good day on the beach in spite of the tides

It was time for our annual day on the beach with the freshers! And it would be back to normal. The previous year I had lead the trip for reasons of covid, and I had had Guy as my wingman. But this year, Lynda was back in charge. And we would do the usual thing; I would go to the beach early to demarcate nine sediment sections the students would have to log, and Lynda would follow with the students. We would have two groups; the students go to both Gallows point and to our beach, and the swap-over is around lunchtime.

The day before the trip, the Gallows point team pointed out that tides would be getting in our way. That worried me a bit; I had been on the beach when it was practically not there at all due to high tide, for my interview with S4C. But can you do if you can't access the beach? Lynda was leading this; she would have to come up with something. But I made sure I was on the beach on time. I didn't linger, and I did manage to put all nine sections up without the cut off by the tide. And I put more sections close to the exit of the beach.

The beach when I was setting out the sections

Only about a metre of beach left at one of the bottlenecks when I was done!

Beach selfie

When I was done the school photographer appeared. I did have trouble to see the point of him; I know Lynda had wanted him to take drone footage, but you can't do that when you can't access the beach. And it was a very windy day. And he also has his normal camera, but what would he photograph if we couldn't get onto the beach? And if he can't make himself useful he shouldn't be there. He decided he was going to go to Gallows point to see if he could be of use there. He might be back in the afternoon when there would be opportunities for photography here. 

Then Lynda appeared with the students. We gave them the materials and took them to the beach. We could still access the first section, where she always does a bit of a spiel in which she explains how you log a sediment section. And that is what she did, while I was keeping an eye on the incoming tide. And it was clear that by the time she was done, we couldn't access the sections anymore. So now what?

Lynda had a plan. We would just go to the nearby village and have a coffee. And if we would be back in an hour's time, the tide would have receded again and we would have access to the beach. And so we did! We found a café that had plenty of space, and was quite happy to serve us hot chocolate and cake and whatnot.

To my relief, when we came back we could indeed get onto all of the beach. So we got working! And the weather was nice as well. Lynda then had to negotiate a bit with the Gallows point team regarding how long we could keep this group of students with us. But we came to an agreement. And the new students just came out of the bus when our students came off the beach. A smooth transition! It also meant we did have no lunch break, but we managed. Lynda had said we would have lunch in the village, but I hadn't quite trusted that statement, so I did have sandwiches with me. I was glad I did! And I could eat one of them while she was doing her a spiel for the second cohort. She had to do it after that.

In the afternoon, Lynda also played a bit with the 360° camera she had access to. I look forward to seeing the results! And the photographer didn't come back, so I took some pictures of the goings-on for social media.

Students by a section with detrital Carboniferous coal in it

Some ladies enjoying the sedimentology

The beach got very wide towards the end of the afternoon

When the students were more or less ready we called it a day. I wrestled the section numbers out of the cliff face again. The rain will soon wash off the chalk with which I indicated the sections! To our disappointment, the coach was not there when we came off the beach; the driver had sneaked off to do a school run, but after only a few minutes he reappeared. 

The students will now have logged an impressive set of sediments associated with the last deglaciation! The week after they will compile the data together. And I had been a bit nervous about this day in the field, because of the tide issue, but I think it went well!

23 March 2022

Pondering my drystone slate wall

I am one of those people with a two-storey garden. The upstairs garden is at the same level as the ground floor, where my front door is, and the downstairs garden is about half of the old slate yard, which was sold to the owners of the houses now occupied by me and my neighbour in the 80s. They split it, and turned it into garden. I am not sure if my neighbour originally had any garden, to be honest. But there is a big elevation difference, and that is spanned by a big slate drystone wall. I had wondered a bit about that wall when I bought the house. The surveyor said it was going to be fine for another 20 years or so, but I was not sure about how much surveyors actually know about this sort of thing. And for the first year, I had more important things on my mind. But I did have my mind on that wall. Right above it are both my master bedroom and my extension. If that wall would come down, what would happen to them?

I've pondered a bit about how to go about finding out. The problem is that I figured if I would have someone look at that then they would have an incentive to say it was shit, even if it wouldn't be. Because then they could get the job. And that would help pay their mortgage. So what to do? But then I spoke with Susan and Dean, who had had a wall on their property prepared after it had collapsed. They had good experiences with the stonemason. And they gave me his contact details.

The slightly wobbly wall

Idiosyncratic details: a part that sticks out for no apparent reason and with a gratuitous piece of rusty metal in it, and a stone signed 'JI'

One day he came to have a look. He was not impressed. He said it had been badly done; first of all, he said you should not make walls like this using slate. The rock is too porous, so water gets in, and the freeze-thaw processes you get in winter than split the rock. He pointed out several cracked stones. He also said the stones were too small. And they were also put in in the wrong orientation. You should not be looking at the long edge! That should be pointing inwards. He also said that if you really want a slate wall, it should not be taller than I am. This wall certainly is. And he noticed the difference between the lower rock and the upper rock; he figure its height had been increased at some point. That may have been ill-advised.

His judgement altogether was not positive. This wall would come down. And it should not be rebuilt in the same way. But he said that my extension and conservatory were not actually leaning on it. If the wall gone down, it would only be the wall. Now that was a relief. And I don't think he had only said it was crap because he could get work out of it; he had argued everything quite convincingly. 

I also showed him the collapsed wall of my neighbour. That left him speechless. I can imagine!

He later sent me a quote for redoing the entire wall, but that was not really anything I could afford given that I also wanted solar panels, and have the western façade of the house re-rendered. I will just have to hope it doesn't come down anytime soon! And when I have recovered from the panels and the rendering, I can start saving money for my wall. If it comes down before that, it will not fall on anything crucial. Just a bit of neglected part of my garden. The most proximal part of the wall would fall against my neighbour's extension, but that part of the wall is in the best nick. The further away it is from the original houses, the worse shape it is in. So that is convenient.

I think I will just leave it as is for now! But I have the contact details of the stonemason. Maybe he'll be back…

22 March 2022

Low key rescue training

The first round of my side gig was done, I had my Tuesday evenings free again! Free, that is, or dedicated to Welsh class. But the cave rescue team also trains on Tuesday night. Thanks to my side gig I had missed trainings, and I thought it was time to show my face again. Welsh can wait.

Some time ago the decision had been made to do recce missions; we have a bit of a dichotomy in the team, with Easterners and Westerners. Typically, the Easterners know the way to, an inside, the venues in the East, and the same for the Westerners. So if we would sometimes do a recce, then the people in the East would learn their way around the venues in the West and vice versa. And this was a recce in the West. Convenient for me; this mine was only half an hour away. I also knew it would be riddled with Thursdaynighters. But they won't keep me away.

I got there and changed. There were two blokes I didn't know yet; they were new probationary members. Everybody else I recognised as being from the west. And the two new people turned out to also be local. I'm not quite sure if this recce mission was a success! But it is a lovely mine and well, we were there anyway. We decided to send one team in at the top and another one further down the bottom, and then we could each come out where the other team had gone in. Our training officer handed out laminated plans. I tried to keep track of where we were! I can't claim to be particularly good at this. I quickly thought I was somewhere on the map that turned out to be the wrong level. Oh well. So some of the recce was a success after all!

It's a beautiful mine and I enjoyed being in it. We didn't linger too much; we did look around a bit in the various nooks and crannies but then we found the ropes the other team had put up and prussicked our way out. We were out nice and early. Time to change and home! I had a heavy day at work the next day, so I was quite glad to be home at a reasonable time…

Dave prussicking out under the watchful eye of Gethin

21 March 2022

Henry VIII and his local influence

 An email came in from Cymdeithas Hanes Dyffryn Ogwen (the Ogwen Valley historical Society, in loose translation) that there would be a public lecture again. A while ago I had attended one about sheepfolds. I know how to have a good time! But this time it was about Henry VIII and Cochwillan. Cochwillan is one of the local Estates. And it had a lord, at the time of Henry VIII, who seems to have had a bit of a wild life. He seems to have married a 13-year-old, left her, married her sister, left her, married yet someone else, then went back to the sister, and then back to the original wife. Not quite sure why these ladies consented to all that, but maybe they didn't and they just had to put up with it. But the speaker, Gwilym Owen, not only told us all about this, also showing us the evidence he had for this; but he also discussed how the shenanigans of Henry VIII might have inspired this. If people don't approve of you leaving one wife and finding another one, but the King does it himself, then you can just let these people stew. What are they gonna do if the highest authority in the country is condoning it?

An additional link he made was to the laws of Hywel Dda; a Welsh 10th century king, who for famous for having created a set of laws that were still seen as unusually fair. (Hywel Dda means Hywel the good.) They were also much closer to gender equality then any set of laws in many centuries since. His rules were overruled when Edward I conquered all of Wales a few centuries later.

It was also interesting to see the fragments of text the man had used to reconstruct what had been going on. The English had amazing spelling back then; there was 'ryotowslye', which of course in modern spelling is 'riotously'. I didn't manage to take any more examples down. The Welsh was barely recognisable until he pronounced it. But weirder things than spelling were clearly going on in the 16th century!

20 March 2022

Knotweed update

 I was just having lunch when the radio grabbed my attention. There was a consumer programme on, and they were going to discuss new regulations with regard to Japanese knotweed. That was music to my ears! It is hard to sell house if there is knotweed anywhere near it, but the dangers of this plant might be a bit overstated. And now new regulations would be coming in; If you buy a house you need to have it surveyed, and the Royal Institute for Chartered Surveyors has now released new guidelines. It seems that until now, surveyors had to basically raise big red flags if there was knotweed within 7 m of a property. Now they seem to be asked to do a bit of an evaluation of how dangerous it is; is it likely to, over time, topple over a dividing wall? Is it just sitting there and doing nothing? So I hope the stigma of knotweed will be a bit lessened now. I am aware that I have knotweed nearby, and that that could become a problem were I to want to sell the house. But it doesn't seem to be encroaching on the house at all. So should it really be such an issue? I hope this is a step in the right direction. But I will still try to kill it. Just in case!

19 March 2022

Walk near Deiniolen

It had been months since I had gone for a walk! It was about time I went again. And when the forecast for a Sunday was glorious sunshine, I decided I needed to take advantage of it. Unfortunately, the forecast was also very strong wind, so I didn't want to be anywhere high. I decided on a bit of a maze of little public footpaths in the vicinity of Deiniolen. The weather wasn't as nice as I had hoped it would be; as it so happens, when I set off, it was atrocious. Rain violently slamming into my face. But I knew things would improve! So I just continued with my plan. I didn't intend to be out too long, but I wanted to see some beautiful landscape. And in the end I did. And it did get dry, and even a bit sunny at times. It was a short walk but I enjoyed it! This area is absolutely littered with beautiful ruins. And in between the ruins there are beautiful old dry stone walls and mossy trees and grim-looking rocks. Lovely!

Tan-y-Braich near Dinorwic

The sun coming out

Autumnal scene in March

Beautiful path

Old path with heavy duty demarcation

18 March 2022

Thinking about housing Ukrainian refugees

I had been feeling powerless when the war in Ukraine broke out. But then Ukrainians started to flee the country in droves. I can understand why, as I suppose everyone can. But fleeing your country must be a terrible thing to do. Once you have managed to get out of the country, you hope the worst is over. And it looks like for many, it is. Poland seemed to be doing an amazing job opening its arms to countless many refugees. I was embarrassed about the UK not following suit. The Ukraine can't currently look after its own citizens, so someone else will have to do it. Everyone in that position would hope for a helping hand, and I sure would, so then there need to be people extending it. And the UK initially only let people into the country with family here, reluctantly handing out only hundreds of visas, but even the Tories realised in the end they couldn't keep that up. They had to widen the criteria for people to come here. And while Westminster was considering this, I was thinking about whether I should offer my spare room. It is only a spare room! I suppose every refugee would prefer independent housing. But my spare is still better than nothing, and also better than a field bed in a sports hall.

Then the UK decided anyone could "sponsor" a refugee. Or several. And even offered financial compensation. And even though it is of course good idea to help people help people, I couldn't escape the impression that the British government had purposefully kept Ukrainians out in order to create outrage, so that they then immediately afterwards could palm off the accommodation of refugees to private citizens. It's convenient for them if they don't have to organise reception centres and suchlike! It's a bit like David Cameron's "big society" which sounded like a nice name for his government trying to make private citizens do what the government should be doing. But even if it was an evil Tory plot, I still figured it would be the right thing to do. If I would ever be bombed out of my country I would want someone to give me a home! So then I should do the same for someone else who actually is.

And in the meantime I had also been discussing the matter with my friend Charlotte, who pointed me in the direction of a local organisation that supports refugees. Maybe they could help with the process. I gave my name to a local organiser but nothing happened. I then registered on the government website. You need to offer accommodation to one or more named person(s), and I don't have a named person, so I will need to get in touch with the municipality or the county. I am sure they are on this. The local organisation Charlotte suggested seemed more busy with sending goods to Ukraine, rather than being involved in finding people a temporary home.

I suppose this process has only started! I'm not even sure this will lead to something. Both me and my accommodation will have to be vetted. But I think it will be okay. I find myself rather harmless, and my spare room is better than a smoking ruin. Watch this space! Enormously big changes might be afoot…

15 March 2022

Talking about modelling without modelling

Years ago, I was asked to teach a fourth year module on climate. It started in the second semester, so after the January exams. The school was feeling cheap, so they hired me by February 1. I had never taught on this module before. I had little choice but to take the materials I had inherited from my predecessors and just teach that. That year I fried my brain; it is difficult to keep up with a module at that level if it is not slap bang in the middle of your expertise, and if you don't get time to prepare.

I've been teaching on it ever since, and I now have had time to think about what it is I want to teach and teach that. Things changed, though, when the module organisation went to my colleague Mattias. I had to rethink my contribution to the module. Last year I taught on it, but I wasn't quite convinced I had found the final shape of my material yet. It basically was my job to talk about palaeoclimate; my colleagues will talk about the physics of climate. But there is quite a lot to say about palaeoclimate; which parts should I talk about? But thinking about palaeoclimate for my side gig gave me a new perspective. And I had an idea.

The reason we are also interested in climate is, obviously, that it is vitally important to our lives, and also changing rapidly. It is important to know what we are changing it into. The only way of doing that is modelling it, but the thing with models is, that if you put garbage in, you get garbage out. You need to be able to understand how climate works to be able to turn it into the equations of a climate model, you need to have good data from the past with which you can check the performance of your model. If it can recreate the climate of the past, then you have a good reason to believe it can also predict the climate of the future.

Decades ago, some people decided it would be a good idea to get as many research groups together who are engaged in climate modelling, and get them to model the same periods of time. Afterwards, they will be able to compare the various results, and used that to figure out which parts of the climate models robust, and which model might need tweaking where. This was the beginning of the Palaeoclimate Modelling Intercomparison Project. Initially, they didn't compare many periods, and these periods weren't a very long time ago; they restricted themselves to the present day, 6000 years ago in the early Holocene, when it was a bit warmer than it was in preindustrial times, and 21,000 years ago, at the end of the last ice age. And they stuck with that in the next two projects. Climate modelling progresses rapidly, so these intercomparison projects have to be done again and again. At the third iteration, the last millennium was added as a period to model. This is the period in which human influence becomes dominant over natural climate forcing. You can calculate how much effect, for instance, changes in the orbit of the Earth, or sunspots, or volcanic eruptions, or El Niño have on the energy budget of the Earth in W/m2. And you can do the same for greenhouse gases. The latter now have a bigger effect, and dominate everything. So if you can model the last thousand years, then you have clearly managed to put these factors successfully into your model.

Over time the people involved realised that maybe, they needed to model more periods than that; We are interested in what happens when climate gets considerably warmer than preindustrial times, and neither the last 1000 years, nor the early Holocene or the last glacial maximum are good times for that. In the early Holocene it was less than a degree warmer than in preindustrial times, so basically colder than it is when I write this. And, of course, the coldest part of a glacial period is not good analogy for our future. So decades after the first PMIP, the number of periods studied was greatly widened. They had to get back into the past a lot deeper!

Additional periods studied were: the last transition from ice age to current interglacial 26.000 years ago to the present day, a period of profound warming, but only to levels less warm than preindustrial times;  the previous interglacial at 127.000 years ago, when it was only about a degree warmer than preindustrial times, so similar to the present day. Sea level was some 6 to 8 m higher than it is today; that is something to think about. But they had to get back further in time. The next step was 3.2 million years ago. That is before the Quaternary; in this period it was a few degrees warmer than preindustrial times, but CO2 levels in the atmosphere lower than they are in the present day. The climate system has not caught up yet; we haven't reached the temperatures we had back then, but if we only model a time period like this we are still being very conservative in what sort of climate change we get ready for. So the project goes further back.

The next periods fall under the "deep time" umbrella; three periods from since the extinction of the dinosaurs are included in the current project. They are in the Miocene: 23 to 5 million years ago; the Eocene-Oligocene transition around 34 million years ago, and the warmest part of the Eocene 55-50 million years ago. If you go that far back in time you finally reach temperatures and greenhouse gas concentrations we haven't already reached, or might be reaching in no time. And the complicating factor is of course that if you look at this kind of timescale, a lot of parameters will be different. Ocean currents ran completely differently 50 million years ago, because of the different configuration of the continents; for instance, seawater could freely flow from the Indian Ocean through the Mediterranean Sea into the Atlantic, and could continue westward and flow between North and South America, as these two were not connected yet. But no one said it would be easy. And it is also the fact that things happened then that haven't happened in the periods earlier included into PMIP that makes this so valuable. We need to know what the ice sheets in Antarctica and on Greenland will do when we keep raising temperatures. We can get a bit of an idea from the last interglacial with its sea level metres higher than today, but we will want to know where this ends with our current atmospheric composition. And there are more feedback mechanisms we need to look out for; one I am worried about is methane release from seafloor sediments. They have been known to be associated with spectacular climate events; it is important we model periods in which this indeed happened, so we know are climate models can predict it.

I decided that I would follow these periods and discuss them with my students for the climate module I teach on. I am not a climate modeller and neither will I ever be one, but the modellers gave several periods in geological time extra significance, and I am rolling with it. The students need to know how these periods compare to the present they, and they need to know how good the data is we have about them. If they know that, then they have a better chance of being able to properly evaluate the robustness of the climate models. I think that makes them better climate scientists. So that is what I have been doing. I still need to do some polishing of these lectures for next year, but I am satisfied with the concept. I hope the students are too!

14 March 2022

Blanket fort for the cat

When I do laundry, this tends to get the attention of the cat. If the weather is not good enough for hanging the wet clothes outside, I hang them in the office. I keep that room heated, as I spend a lot of time in it sitting down and not moving much. And it doesn't matter if it doesn't look decorative. I like to keep the living room scenic! But the office is a pragmatic space. And she likes it because she can claw at all the garments I take out of the basket to hang them up, and she can claw at them again when I take them down when they are dry. And she can clamber through the clotheshorse when it is up. And she can sit behind it. When it is in position, I often find her dozing in the corner behind the drying clothes. And I figured she likes to be nearby when I am working, but she likes to be a bit hidden. When I bought a new chair for the living room, she also turned out to be a lot keener to sit underneath it then on top of it! So I decided maybe I should build her a blanket fort. I've done that now! And the next time she came into the office, she checked it out. I think it's a success. And the next working day she was meowing at the office door. When I opened it she walked in and went straight into her fort. I take that as approval! I'm glad I could make her a bit more snug! 

Having fun with the clotheshorse

Hiding behind the clothes

The improvised fort

13 March 2022

First climate course for adults done

 The first round is done! My first five-session climate course for Welsh adults is done. It was never well-attended, but the people who did show up were lovely. And there were some interesting discussions! And at the end there was even some feedback, about how I could perhaps do things in a different order. And Kate asked me about my main takeaway points, and thinking about that also gave me new ideas. I hope I'll find some time to polish up the course before I give it again! I'm glad I negotiated a week between finishing the old course and starting the new one. And I hope the new group will be bigger. I also hope some of the people from the previous group will join the new group, if they have missed particular sessions. They can just dip in and out as they wish. Stay tuned for more tales from the side gig!

11 March 2022

Very overdue repair of sunglasses

When I lived in Norway, I bought a new pair of sunglasses. Or rather; a pair of multifunctional glasses. It was a plastic frame with three sets of lenses; one clear pair, one orange pair and one brown pair. You could just put in what you wanted. And these glasses didn't last in their original shape for very long; they were not very strong, and I broke both legs. A bit of splinting is tempting then; it is a fairly straightforward repair. But I did a bit of a hash job on it. On one side I repaired it with a nail and on the other side with a twig. That wasn't a particularly good job, obviously. I later tried to improve on it, but I still didn't quite nail it. And at some point I decided to just buy a new pair. And I did.

I rode around with these for a while; I don't normally use them as sunglasses, as I have a pair of prescription sunglasses (also bought in Norway) who do a fine shading job and also allow me to see better. But I really need an additional pair just to keep the insects out of my eyes during my commute; especially the downhill bit. If you forget your glasses you arrive in Bangor with Insectageddon in your eyes. It's very unpleasant! And I use them with the clear lenses. The bicycle helmet has a bit of a peak, and that keeps the sun out of your eyes. The new glasses were the lightest glasses the shop I tried them in were selling, but they were still considerably darker than the clear ones. And that's not really a good thing. So I took the opportunity of wearing the new pair to undo my old repairs, and spend a bit of time on finding a more permanent solution.

I decided to saw some pieces of thin rod to size, file off the edges, bend them in the shape of the legs of the glasses, and attach them. I decided to go follow a two-pronged approach; I first superglued the broken of bits of leg back, then superglued the rod to the top, drilled some holes in the legs, and then wound some brass wire around the whole thing in order to fix the rods into position stronger than only with glue. I made sure to avoid sticky-outy pointy bits! And I think I was successful. I think I have given these glasses a new lease of life. I can have the new glasses as backup. They are also okay for running. But now I can bike to Bangor with clear lenses protecting my eyes from the copious insects that populate my route! Success.

About to start the repair