31 May 2022

Catch-up dissertation presentations

This year, we did our dissertation presentations in person again. That is; most students did their presentation live. But there are always students who are ill, are dealing with a family emergency, or have some other reason why they can't present on the day. And this year there were quite a lot of those. 13% of the cohort had something or other going on which made them eligible for presenting at the later date. So I organised a sort of online additional event in which we could mop all of these up. I had to squeeze it between the exams and the deadline for all marking. And that ended up being the last day of the exam period. Two of the students still had an exam on that day, but we could make adjustments for those. We also made separate arrangements for one student who had an important appointment on that Friday, and two students whose supervisor couldn't attend the Friday session.

We did this session online, as we know quite a lot of students go back to their parents after the lectures stop. All exams were still online, so they didn't need to be on campus to do these. I had made four parallel sessions; that way all students had at least two members of staff marking, but nobody had to attend more than seven presentations. It seemed like a Goldilocks situation!

As I am the module organiser, I had my own session on the Friday afternoon, and was second marker the students with separate arrangements. But it wasn't an onerous task. Student presentations are quite intense, but they are quite enjoyable anyway.

At the end of the day, an additional 15 students had presented. Only 8%! But we have done our best for those who didn't show up. And now I need to continue my efforts at making sure all presentation grades are published where they should be

30 May 2022

Getting ready for the solar panels

If all goes well, my solar panels will soon be installed. And given the season, I expect to get more electricity than I need during the sunny hours of the day. But I use electricity as well in the evening. And my biggest use will probably be the kettle. But what I can do is just boil all the water I need for the rest of the day in the afternoon, and store it. I already own an impressive collection of flasks, but in order to keep me going for an entire day you need more than that. So in preparation for my anticipated addition to the house, I have bought two 2L additional flasks. Four litres will even keep me going for a while! And of course I also use electricity for computers, radio, the fridge, and lamps during the evening, but the services these provide can't really be provided earlier in the day, and then stored. So I suppose this is the only feasible adjustment! I also intend to use the washing machine when it is sunny. But I use the kettle many times a day, and the washing machine only once every few weeks. So that will be a much smaller change…

29 May 2022


In October 2016, I joined Strava. I vaguely remember that friends of mine were on it, and suggested I join. And I did. (It could also have had something to do with my good results; I broke my 10k record, and came first woman in the Parkrun for the first time ever.) But as with all modern technology, I suppose my heart wasn't in it. I logged four runs that autumn. And ten runs in 2017. And then nothing.

Then I had been bombarded by Strava records of Martin's mountain bike shenanigans for months and months. And at some point I just wanted to be able to open them and have a closer look. Where was my Strava password? I dug it out. Then I could look at the details of his rather stunning ride. He rides where I hike, but because he goes faster, he can cover a lot more ground. If I would bring my bike, though, I would in all likelihood not go faster. But one can dream!

When I had my Strava password ready anyway, I logged my next run on Strava myself. I had to wear an armband for my phone, because it was warm weather and I wasn't wearing anything that could contain a phone. And it was even so warm I didn't fancy wearing a belt. It is a bit of a faff, but I did it.

A bit more than two weeks later I could be bothered again. And then just over a week later again. And then I was on a roll. And since then I have had an unbroken record. Well, almost unbroken. When I had to go to Menai Bridge to assist on the ship I did log my commute in, but then I forgot to log the way back. In my files, it now looks like I teleported back. But I suppose it is a bit addictive to have all your runs there. And the weather hadn't been to hot to wear a belt.

So what do you get with Strava? A log of your activities, your friends being able to see what you have done, you being able to see what they have done, and some competitions with yourself and others. If you have done a particular stretch faster than before it will tell you. And if you have done a particular stretch faster than anybody else it will most certainly also tell you. And it can compare your weeks, and your months I suppose, and whatnot. In other words; your runs become data, data is something you can play with.

I don't know if I will keep this going but I must say I think I will. Nobody likes a truncated data set! So I may have taken yet another step into this century…

An example of a logged run

28 May 2022

Not needed on the research vessel

One Thursday, an email came through from the head of school. It was a call for help. We have gone through years of covid restrictions, and these restrictions have led to all sorts of things, among others restricting the opportunities for our students to experience going out on our research vessel. It is not a big vessel, and if you are expected to keep 2 m apart you can hardly put anyone on it.

Restrictions have largely been lifted now, and the School decided to offer current third-year students and opportunity to at least get a little bit of an idea of what goes on on board of this vessel. Getting the entire cohort on board and actually sailing off was not feasible, but what they did instead was just leaving the boat where it's normally docked, and spending an entire week letting students sample for suspended particulate matter (SPM), chlorophyll, and plankton, from the ship, and process the samples onboard. They would have two-hour slots, and they let seven students in each slot. That way you can give quite a large number of students a taste of Marine science!

If you want to show small groups of students three different sample processing methods, you basically need three members of staff, and hence that there was a call for people to volunteer to join in. And I decided to sign up. A day later I got the request to be there for three slots on Tuesday, and I said okay.

I biked in that day, and got to the ship. There I found my colleagues Dei and David. Dei suggested I take charge of the SPM. That was fine with me! David quickly talked me through the procedure and then I was ready. Our head boat technician first explained CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) measurements to them, and then we split them up in little groups and started sampling. We only had five! That was two groups, so basically only two staff was needed. I was a bit uncomfortable with the situation. I was mainly just hanging around! And I had plenty to do.

The wet lab of the research vessel (or at least the SPM corner of it)

At 11:15 (we overran bit) we had a quick coffee break, and 11:30 the next group showed up. And that was a group of only three! You really don't need three members of academic staff to show three students around. So they suggested I just go elsewhere, and I accepted that suggestion. I didn't have my computer with me as I expected to be busy all day, so I just found myself a computer in a teaching space, and started marking dissertations.

After the second batch we would have a lunch break; I had told Susan I would join her when she would have lunch with a new member of administrative staff. It's nice if new people get to know people! And I had told Dei and David to join as well, although their lunch break would start half an hour later, and Dei has a bit of a habit of getting carried away and overrunning. They didn't show up…

At the end of the lunch break I went back to the ship. But this time again, only three students had shown up! I thought this was a bit ludicrous. All the students had explicitly registered for this opportunity. And of course something can come in between; you can fall ill or sprain your ankle or anything like that. But in these three session, practically half the students had just not shown up. I don't believe they all had sprained ankles. 

Whatever was going on here (it did remind me of my last fieldtrip where about also only half of the explicitly registered students showed up), it was clear I wasn't needed at all. I decided the pop back into the office building to see if one friend and colleague I hadn't seen much recently was around. He was! So we caught up, and then it was time for me to get back onto my bicycle and head back home. More dissertations were waiting to be marked. This had been a rather weird day. I hope in the next academic year, this sort of stuff will happen a lot less. But I have no idea if it will!

27 May 2022

Making progress in the Pumed Gainc

There is something about buying a book at its official launch! I did it only once. And then I started reading it. It reads well! I'm enjoying it. But I also make sure to read with attention; it is rather Lovecraftian, and you seem to have to read rather closely to get an idea of what's going on. And it being Lovecraftian, the question probably is where which Great Old Ones are lurking end how exactly they are going to turn everybody insane. And in this case, you also have to keep track of where it fits in Welsh mythology. I have read a version of the Mabinogion, but I haven't been submerged in it since childhood so I assume my knowledge is rather sketchy. But we'll see how I do!

After a while I decided I should write down the words I don't recognise, and that my dictionary app doesn't know either. I know Peredur has a list somewhere that explains obscure vocabulary. I'm sure these words are on it! And I to run into one of those about once every three pages. Not bad I think. It's a lot worse in the book I lay aside in order to make space for this one.

Mentioning that book; after how smooth it goes to read this one, I am really hesitant to go back to the other one, which happens to have been written by Peredur's grandfather. That is like running through treacle! But I am stubborn and I fully intend to get through that somehow in the end. But first the Pumed Cainc. Bring on the ancient gods!

26 May 2022

Marking and herding

The dissertation module always creates a lot of marking at the end of the academic year. The presentations are rather quickly got over with; most students just present live on the day, are marked there and then, and the various markers agree on a combined grade right after the session if they can. Some people have to leave right after their session, obviously, so some staff will have to communicate after the actual two days which the presentations are held in order to agree on a mark. And then, of course, they need to put these marks online; the marks as given by the individual markers so the external examiner can have a look at that, and the agreed mark somewhere where the students can see them as soon as the grades and feedback are released to them. And I am module organiser, and I have to make sure all of that happens. We have a deadline for this.

The same week we had the presentations was also the deadline for the submission of the actual dissertation theses. These are not marked instantly! And I suppose there is the risk that people get distracted by all the dissertation marking on them forget to put their presentation grades online. So I need to keep an eye on all of that. And do my own share of the marking. Ideally, all presentation grades would be logged in the very week the presentations are held, but that is clearly not the case. I just keep bugging people! I'm sure we'll manage by the deadline. Although I don't think we'll manage a long time before that…

25 May 2022

Dinnertime goods exchange

It started with Martin having a bit too much yeast (this sounds a bit wrong but one can just have an overabundance of culinary yeast) and texting the group whether anyone was interested in some. And that set in motion a chain of events. We all started offering things. I have more mint and oregano than I can possibly eat. Sue and Dean had loads of things on offer. Anchovies, lamps and CDs. I could do with a lamp in my conservatory, and I like anchovy, and I'm always interested in listening to some new music. And then there was another dinner at their place. 

When we were discussing who would bring what, Sue asked for beer, and she kindly offered to come pick it up from my house the day before, as she would drive past anyway. So I made sure there was a bag with beer ready in the hallway. And I had put some mint in there too. She had expressed an interest! But when she arrived at my door she walked straight past the bag and asked where the cat was. Reasonable question! And we played with the cat for a bit. Susan was surprised at the cat's enthusiasm, but I explained that she normally only gets into my house when there are at least two more people running around. That might be a bit much for a little cat! Now she was my only visitor. She might want to do this more often…

It was absolutely gorgeous weather when I arrived the next day, happily unburdened by heavy beer, and I suggested we first have a drink in the garden, and that suggestion was accepted. I had never been in their garden! It is lovely. And Peas joined us. But after one beer we went inside as we had a substantial dinner to get through. Cheese fondue followed by beef stew! And then tea with chocolate. It was, of course, a lovely night.

At some point, Dean showed up with the anchovy there had been mention of. And Sue started carrying loads more things into the room. The lamps, and CDs, and even some cat toys that Peas didn't like. Martin and I went through a big crate of CDs. I'm not quite sure he lives in the right century for that technology, but we both found stuff to our liking. I picked Stereophonics, and Christy Moore, and the Jam, and Morcheeba, and Elbow, and loads more. I had my bag full when I left at the end of the night! 

When I got home I just planted my bag in the hallway. It was late and I could deal with that tomorrow! But the next day I unpacked the bag and presented the toys to the cat. She was quite impressed by the startled-looking chicken thigh! And in the afternoon I was listening to some Elbow while reading my Welsh book. Very nice! And the lamp was standby in case I wanted to keep reading after daylight would fade. A dinner with lasting influence!

Some of the loot

24 May 2022

More plastic-free endeavours

I try to avoid plastic! And the plastic to really avoid, of course, is single use plastic, but if you can avoid using different plastics that might still be a good idea. I am a big fan of packed lunches, and cooking for more than one day in one go, so both means I have use for Tupperware. And that is generally made of plastic. I had bought quite some tubs a fair while ago, and they were all showing signs of wear and tear. The weak spot were the lids; these had four plastic flaps for closing, and where these hinged was wearing a plastic wore out. I had several clubs where one or two of them had already broken off. If you lose more than that, or you lose two that are not on opposite sides, then the tub doesn't close any more and it is not fit for purpose anymore.

One day I wanted to give the cat her worm medicine. I hide that in nice food, and she thought it smelled so amazing she couldn't wait, and jumped onto the working surface in the kitchen. Doing that she threw one of these lids on the ground, and an additional flap came off. That meant the tub was now defunct. And it is in regular use! I wanted the replace it. But this time, not with plastic. And I suppose it takes a lot of energy to make them in metal, and that must compensate for the hydrocarbons used in the plastic, but firstly these should last decades, and secondly, when their time comes, they won't harm the environment if they end up as landfill. So I decided to go for it.

It took me some googling, but in the end I found a producer who makes metal Tupperware that I thought would answer my requirements. So I bought some! And it was taken into use the very same day. I hope I won't ever have to replace these!

The ones on the right fit inside each other!

23 May 2022

Recce in the estuary

In the olden days, we would do our yearly third year field trip in the Taf estuary, where we would take a sediment core (or at least try) that would have interesting things to show, and we would take surface samples to help us find out what it actually was the sediment core was saying.

Last year we had to move the field trip to the Cefni estuary, and we tried to do a similar thing. Some exploratory work suggested that the surface samples were a bit less interesting in this estuary, but we hoped the sediment core, for which we did not do any exploratory work, would be equally interesting. We didn't try because you can't feasibly do that with the percussion corer we use on the day, and we didn't seem to have a hand coring set. But the technical staff were alerted to that, and I sort of assumed that had been sorted.

When we actually were in the field with the students, the core was very dull. A few centimetres of salt marsh sediments at the top, and then sand as far as the eye can see. That's not much we can work with. So we needed to think of somewhere else to go. Luckily, we had noticed that there were several layers of salt marsh sediment outcropping a bit further down the estuary. If these came to the surface, they must also be present in the subsurface. Or at least, that is what you would assume. And I had indicated I wanted to do a recce to try that out. I had asked Martin if he wanted to join me; this didn't look like a good job for just one person. And he did. So one relatively quiet week we made plans to quickly pop into the field after work on a sunny evening.

I knew we didn't have vehicle access, and I also knew how far the location we had in mind was from where we would have to park up. So I was thinking of bringing my big black bike. We might just use that to carry the coring kit, but we could even use it to get to where we needed to be. So I managed to squeeze the big thing into my little car, made sure I had water, a jumper, a jacket, water and some emergency food, a field notebook and something to write with, and a tape measure with me, and then set off to pick Martin up from the office. I had only mentioned the bike that day, when he was already in the office, so he was not in the position to bring a bike himself.

We only had 2 m worth of coring kit. I had thought we would have as much as we could possibly need, but I had taken my eyes off the ball the previous autumn, and no further purchases had been made. But 2 m would do!

I drove us to Newborough Forest and there the fun began. I suggested we would indeed both pile onto the bike, and make our way that way. And we did not have a bag for the coring kit. Martin chose to sit on the back so he was holding that. This meant he was practically holding a jousting lance. It reminded me of the Dutch tradition of 'ringsteken'! That is traditionally done with horses and not bicycles, but hey, a bike is only a steel steed. Quite a lot of dog walkers we came across looked at us in a funny way. And it was a bit bumpy; my tyre could have done with a bit more air, and we were riding on a gravel road, but it was a lot quicker than walking. It sort of worked! Until we hit a sizeable bump and my gear jumped. We decided we would walk the rest.

We tried a few locations. We knew we shouldn't bet on one horse! And even spreading our bets didn't quite yield what we had hoped. Quite soon we had a core where we at least managed to hit one layer of fossil saltmarsh sediment. We made sure we logged the location. We had a few more attempts, but we tended to find just sand. And even when we were coring only about a metre upslope from the four outcropping fossil salt marsh layers, we didn't get anything better. This puzzled us. You could follow these layers along the estuary for some hundred metres! Why did we lose them if we only moved a metre sideways? I tried to track one of them with our pallet knife. I could follow it for about a foot and then it vanished. Why did it do that? How could we have such a continuous layer being gone so quickly on the side where it was protected by the rest of the sediment? We were thoroughly puzzled.

We knew we had the one location that would do for the first year. And we know what we would want to look for in the sediment. That was a start. And we could go further; we might even do a transect with the students during the fieldtrip. No reason why you can't use these extra hands when you have them! And there is absolute didactic merit in involving them in our process of understanding the whole estuary. 

We called it a day and walked back to the bike, and then did our jousting exercise again. This estuary is challenging for the sort of things I like to do, either with students or with research. But I am sure we can do something satisfying with it!

Coring up sand

21 May 2022

Trying to avoid greenhouse gas emissions-causing foods

For my side gig, I shine a light on many aspects of climate change. One of the sessions is dedicated to what you can do as a private citizen, and one of the topics I deal with then is food. It makes a difference whether you eat energy-inefficient foods from far away, or just vegetables from your own valley. And on the 'our World in Data' website where you can get a reasonable estimate of the amount of CO2 emitted per unit mass of quite a range of foodstuffs. And you can toggle them on and off; you can avoid clutter by doubling the food you don't eat anyway. Then I toggled everything on I actually eat, and looked at the results. And my three main vices are: cheese, coffee, chocolate, with 21, 19 and 17 kg of CO2 per kg of food. Mind you; be a lot worse; beef is worse at 60. But still. Should I do something about this?

I suppose the biggest change would be to stop eating cheese. I have never stopped eating it, as the mind is willing and all that, but I have cut down my consumption years ago already. I suppose I should reduce it even more. Watch this space.

I don't eat chocolate as is; if I eat chocolate, it is because I have baked with it. And I bake all sorts of other things as well, so I don't use an awful lot of the stuff. I do go through quite a lot of coffee, though. Could I make an improvement there? I am aware that there are alternatives. My mother was drinking one decades ago. And I think it's okay. The local food co-op sells it! So I thought I'd buy a jar and see how I would get on. It doesn't have caffeine in it, but most of the coffee I drink is decaf anyway. So what I might do is have a phased approach: first replace my decaf with this stuff. I admit I don't know what carbon footprint is of this coffee alternative, but it is clearly based on the vegetable that just grows here. (A site of which I don't know the reliability suggests it is low.) And it is made of the root of chicory; I suppose that would be a waste product if it wouldn't be turned into this beverage. So it is likely this is quite an improvement per kilo consumed product! And while I am making this improvement, I will keep pondering the potential improvement I can make in the cheese department…

20 May 2022

Another goodbye

Only the day before I had said goodbye to my sister. And then I had to say goodbye again! Kate was off to sea again, and I wouldn't see her all summer. I think that's sad! The two of us doing the Slate Trail the year before had been the highlight of my summer. But such is life! I hope she has a good trip. And one day the time will come that she doesn't have the habit anymore to vanish off to the world's oceans for months on end. I personally hope that will be sooner rather than later!

Last small walk together before autumn

19 May 2022

Visit by sister: part V

On the last full day we started slow. My sister was still recovering a bit from the day before, and I had forgot to start the bread machine the previous evening. As soon as I woke up I started it, but we couldn't really leave until we had bread for lunch, and that would be 11:15. So we just pootled a bit! And there's nothing wrong with that. But when the bread was ready we made lunch. And we decided to take it easy. We went for the walk near Ysbyty Ifan Marieke had earlier rejected because the terrain was not rugged enough. But after yesterday, absence of ruggedness was exactly what we needed! And I hadn't had a problem with the weather, but my feet were feeling the incessant walking so I didn't mind an easy day.

We drove to the village; I had only once driven through it, and I had never stopped. It is quite scenic. But we were out of the village in no time. And we were also rained on in no time! Quite a serious shower came over, but we could see it was only a shower. We had had a late start, so I was hungry and I think even my sister was, so as soon as the rain abated and we found a place with some shelter, we sat down for lunch.

Ysbyty Ifan

After lunch we continued our way. The landscape became emptier and emptier. And we were on some old agricultural road, which would eventually turn into a path, but we didn't even get that far. We didn't want to spend too much time anyway, and at some point just before the location we had picked for turning back, the path was quite seriously flooded, so we called it a day. We just walked back and got back to Bethesda.

The path

Scenic signpost and sister 

We had decided we were going to make pizza that night, so Marieke went to the shop while I got the bread machine ready to make the dough. And then we ate pizza. A fine result for a day if you ask me!

The last day was only a half day. My sister would get a train around lunchtime. She suggested we spend the time before she would have to leave in the garden. I thought it was an excellent idea! I had told her before she arrived that I was of a mind to drag her into the garden and make her tell me how I could make it look better. She has an eye for that and I don't. And she had plenty to say. And changing your garden design is a lot of work, and I am not going to follow all her directions, but even the advice I will take to heart will take me a while. But there is time! She already started to change my raised bed with mainly heather; that now has a bigger focus on heather. One of her main peeves was that I have too many different things in each bed, and that makes it fragmented and busy. So now that bed has some low shrub on the left and heather on the right and that's it!

New and improved: heather bed

In the meantime I was sawing some big branches off my willow tree as they were getting in the way. And the bigger bits of wood were cut to size to become firewood in a few years.

She didn't get around to do anything practical with the other beds. It was time to make a packed lunch and leave! So I brought her to the railway station. Where her train promptly was delayed. By more than the margin she had to change in Landudno Junction! That made me nervous. She was more composed. But in the end the train came and she got on it. Her visit had come to an end! It had been good. We had properly caught up about all sorts of things. And we did some lovely walks as a bonus. I hope it won't be three years before we see each other again…

There she goes

(By the way; everything worked out with trains and planes in the end!)

18 May 2022

Visit by sister: part IV

Another day, another walk! It was Saturday and the weather looked good. Where should we go walk? Given that it was now weekend, I was of a mind to avoid the busy areas. I contemplated another walk in the Ysbyty Ifan area. But my sister wanted the terrain a bit more rugged. Could we just try do the walk we had abandoned the day before again? We had decided against it for reasons of wind, and today was not windy. I figured we could. Just check if there would be space in the Park and Ride! We made sure to have a backup plan and we were off. 

There was space in the Park and Ride. The plan was on! So we parked, and minutes later we were all my way up the side of the valley. As it so happened, we had started this walk a few years before, but it started raining, and we didn't have enough time to do the whole walk anyway as my sister needed to catch a train. And my shin hurt. We didn't get far! But now we did. 

Climbing out of Nant Peris

We walked up in glorious sunshine, and the route was beautiful. All was well! Until it wasn't. At some point my sister expressed the desire to stick her head into a stream. I know that that is a bad sign; it might indicate a headache. It turned out to be one. And we were just approaching the ridge.

We reached the ridge, and enjoyed the views. We also now had to contend with a lot more company. The ridge is busier than the approach we had taken! But we walked up to the top of y Garn, and just beyond, and then reconsidered our options. Given the headache situation (neither of us had thought of bringing paracetamol) we might want to cut this walk bit short. My initial plan had been to go over the top of Elidir Fawr, but we binned that. We could go down in Cwm Dudodyn instead. That saved some 200m climbing and descending again! 

Almost at the ridge

On the ridge!

View from y Garn, looking east

View from y Garn, looking north

And I thought we would go all the way to Bwlch y Brecan and catch the path from there, but we saw another path veer left from Cwm y Cywion, and we decided to chance it. I assumed it would go down into the valley, but it turned out it just followed the ridge of Esgair y Ceunant. I liked that! I had never been before. And my sister was quite OK. 

Sister and sheep fold on Esgair y Ceunant

Pretty flower

Looking back into the valley

We drove home, and there my sister made sure to recalibrate her biochemistry. And we had the rest of the soup. My sister made some sort of potato farls, but then Finnish, to go with it. And I baked a cake (badly). And then it was pretty much time to call it a day again. This day hadn't quite gone according to plan, but I think we managed to make the most of it! The next day would be our last full day together…

17 May 2022

Visit by sister: part III

On the second full day of my sister's visit, we intended to go into the Llanberis area, as it was now only Friday, and in the weekend this area gets incredibly busy. The idea was to roughly do the walk I had done with one of the Kates a few months earlier, but then in the other direction. But when we were driving to the starting point, we decided it was too windy to be on top of the ridge. Only decided how we would deal with this: I would park up in Llanberis, my sister would go look for souvenirs for the home front, and I would advise an alternative plan. And I came up with something; I sort of recycled one of the plans I had made for a walk for me and Martin recently. She thought it was a good idea! So we drove to Nantmor. 

From there we would first walk East to pick up the path that goes towards Cnight, but as soon as that path bears right and goes up, we went straight ahead and walked into the valley there. I had wanted to do that for years! Now I was doing it. It was beautiful!

The area before the path to Cnight

The map suggests the path only goes to an abandoned quarry, but in reality a path continues to the little nameless lake (at least it has no name on the OS map) just beyond, and then down on the other side, and down by the side of the stream back to the Nantmor road. And from there we walked back northwest to Llyn Dinas. We had another break there, and then we walked back through Cwm Bychan. I thought it had been a great walk! My sister agreed.

Walking up to the lake

The lake itself

Descending into Nantmor


Almost back at the parking lot

On the way back I had been wondering what to cook, but I decided what I wanted to happen was that we made something quick and easy. We were only home a quarter to six. And I wanted to pop into to Wholefoods Coop! We were using up a lot of flour and suchlike... 

The neighbour had been gone the previous days, but now we saw his car again. He was back! And therefore, so was his dog. He heard us and came out barking his head off. And he really likes my sister so they had a really nice reunion…

Dylan is very happy to see my sister again

For dinner, we just made another batch of soup. We still had bread to go with it, and we made garlic butter to make that more exciting. Another day done!

16 May 2022

Visit by sister: part II

My sister had arrived! For the first time since 2019. And the first day had been mainly taken up by travel and the consumption of food, but we knew that the main focus of her visit would be going for walks. And the second day we could have a more substantial walk. And I had an idea; both when I had walked the slate trail with Kate, and then I had walked a loop near Blaenau with Martin, I had been looking at some old tram tracks on the other side of the valley. I was really tempted to look at them from a bit closer up! And she was up for it. So we drove to the road to Ffestiniog and parked up there. It seemed the most reasonable place to start.

I know there wasn't an obvious way to get to them, so we had to improvise a bit. And my map in my phone didn't quite agree on what was there with regards to paths. So quite soon we were bushwhacking, climbing over barbed wire fences, and being hindered by swamps. The swamps, though, were mainly in the middle of public footpaths, so that wasn't necessarily the fault of the bushwhacking. It was a little bit embarrassing though! But at some point, we came upon the actual slate trail, so from then on, things were comfortable going for a while.

When we got to the junction where we ended up on the tram tracks I had only seen and not walked on, I was enthusiastic. Finally! But by the time it had been 11 o'clock and I really wanted coffee and cake. My sister was a bit surprised that so soon after breakfast I already wanted food again, but I really did. Then we walked to the top of the tram track. I knew the actual quarry was a bit higher up on the hill, but Marieke didn't want to go and see it. And it was a bit windy so she didn't want to just relax a bit where she was and wait for me too long. I quickly went up and had a quick look! I really enjoyed that. And there was a bit of a path going further into the valley. When I got back to my sister she suggested we go and follow that for as long as that is possible. And when it petered out, we decided to just got back in the direction of the car in a clockwise way.

The tramline!

Where the tramline gets to the spoil heaps and the incline

Exploring the actual quarry

Marieke on what I think is the weigh bridge

Another sister selfie

We had lunch near the quarry. And then we somehow managed to get back to where the car was parked. It wasn't very late! I suggested we might see if Kate was home; we would drive straight past her house, and it would be nice to have a cup of tea with her. My sister thought it was a fine idea. And Kate was home! And a fine cup of tea was had.

After tea we quickly dived into Betws-y-Coed; we both bought hiking socks, and my sister looked for souvenirs to bring home for loved ones. And then we went home for dinner. We still had soup from the previous day, and I just made more naan bread! And then another day was done. The cat was still not allowed to use the cat flap after Finnish bedtime...

15 May 2022

Visit by sister: part I

Travel restrictions have been lifted, and I could finally received international visitors again! I had already been in the Netherlands a, but another thing that was due to happen was my sister visiting me. She had last been here in 2019. It is easy to see why 2020 and 2021 didn't feature any visits! 

She was due to appear in April, but she contacted Covid herself just before travelling, so we postponed her visit again. And shortly before she would appear in May, I was a bit scared I had now got the virus given that I was having usually serious headaches, but some testing revealed I didn't. The headache was probably just due to the dissertation presentations

On the day she was due I went to the station to pick her up from the train. She didn't emerge! She had one train later than I expected. Are then there she was!

We went home and had some lunch first; she hadn't had much to eat all day. And I by the time we were done with lunch there wasn’t time for a particularly long walk, so we just walked one of my normal running routes. But that was okay! And then we went home to cook dinner. It's always good to have my sister involved with that; she is a better cook than I am. But I put my new naan-baking skills to good use.

Sister selfie


I had also assumed a bit that as soon as she would walk into the door, she would throw herself onto the cat and ignore me. That has been an exaggeration! She was glad to see the cat welcomed her, and she did agree she is cute, but it was not as if there was no attention left for me. From either the cat or the sister!

Given that my sister lives two time zones away, and she had had to get up extra early to get here, she was very tired in what in Wales was only the early evening. So she wanted to go to bed, and sleep undisturbed. And there was one complication with that; she prefers the downstairs bedroom, but that is the one with the catflap in it. And it is a noisy catflap! So the cat was banned from it. She wasn't pleased with that; she really wanted to go out, but this just wasn't her lucky day. I've just works out like that sometimes! I hoped that my circadian rhythm and that of my sister would align a bit more; when I go to bed, the cat does too, so then the catflap is not in use until the next morning. But we would have to see!

We knew we could do some more substantial walks on all of the following days, but for now it has just been good to see each other again, and catch up on things, especially the sort of things that are best discussed in person, and without any time pressure. And festooned by the consumption of liberal amounts of tea!

14 May 2022

Walk with Kate

Sometimes, the two Kates seem to be a bit like Superman and Clark Kent. The one Kate has been away at sea for months, and I had seen quite a lot of the other one. But when the one came back, the other one spontaneously vanished. And then they did another swap. It must've been quite a while since I saw them in the same space! Probably at the start and end of the Slate Trail. But one at a time is fine too. And after my post-Easter adventures with the one Kate, it was nice to see the other one again. And he suggested we do a walk that takes us right past her commute (which may not be her commute for much longer). She had looked at these hills pretty much every day for a while and now she wanted to know what it was like to be on top! And I thought that was an excellent idea.

She had suggested to meet in Capel Curig at 10 am, but I could easily imagine that by then the parking lots would have filled up, so we chose 9 am instead. And I think it was a good call!

We went up the hill in the direction of Gallt yr Ogof. It was a nice day with nice weather and it was all very pleasant! And we had coffee and cake along the way. And from the moment we came to Y Foel Goch the views went from pleasant to spectacular. You are looking straight at Tryfan from there! And Glyder Fach. We made sure to have lunch before we lost that view. And then we just walked down into Cwm Tryfan. 

When we had come all the way down, we just followed the old road back to Capel Curig. And then we had a drink In CafĂ© Siabod. A good day! And when she will drive past the next day, she would finally know what it's like to be on that very ridge…

Near the start of the walk

The ridge

Hill selfie

Tryfan comes into view

Looking down into Cwm Tryfan

Lunch break. Pic by Kate

The old road

Cute kids

12 May 2022

Clean windows after building work and before visitor

Removing parts of a building tends to involve a lot of dirt and dust. It sure did with Neuadd Ogwen. And all that dust flying around had a bit of a tendency to attach itself to the windows at the front of my house. I didn't feel the urge to do something about it, as I figured it would immediately be resupplied. But the work has now come to a bit of a quiet phase. And as well, I will have a visitor soon! So I decided to clean my windows. I know the work isn't fully done yet, but I will just do it again at the end of that. For now I am enjoying having translucent windows!

The state the building is in now; notice the dusty aggregate, and the temporary stairs to the back doors.



The cat 'helping' with the upstairs windows

10 May 2022

Messy waking service

I was dreaming something that involved big industrial spaces, and some strange manifestation of my kitchen, and probably lots of things I can't remember when suddenly I was woken up by the sound of the cat running up the stairs. That was directly followed by the sound of the cat running into the bedroom, but not just that! There was another sound involved. Some very energetic flapping. Oh dear. This was a bit more than I had bargained for, just a split second after waking up. I opened my eyes and saw lots of feathers flying through the bedroom. And then the flapping sound came past the bed in the other direction. She was taking the bird back out of the bedroom! And then she dumped it in the landing, against the door of the office. I saw now it was a pigeon. A pigeon? These are a big! And she must've dragged it through the catflap. Not trivial… but I had only just woken up, and I had a clanging headache as well (probably from the incessant student presentations) so I really needed a few seconds to come to terms with all this. I took the easy way out and just closed the door.

I gathered myself a bit, and put a top on. It was 6:30; my normal time for getting up. So at least it wasn't stupidly early. Then I opened the door again. The pigeon was still there. Was it still alive? I had a slightly closer look, and that immediately resulted in a clear answer. It started flapping again. At the same time, the cat appeared again, and together they vanished down the stairs, in another cloud of feathers. I followed.

I caught up with them again by the front door. I'm not quite sure if she had let go of the pigeon or whether it had wrestled itself free, but it was flapping underneath the tiny table by the front door. I saw possibilities! I quickly started closing all the doors leading into the rest of the house, and then I opened the front door. 

In spite of pigeons not generally being very clever, this one got the hint immediately, and vanished out the front door. I could hear it fly away. Problem solved! The cat looked a bit disappointed, but she would just have to live with this. I wasn't keen on a live pigeon in my house. And now I could just go and get myself a paracetamol. Then I removed all the feathers from the ground floor. And then I started the day as normal. 

There were no feathers downstairs; it was clear she had brought the poor animal straight up the stairs. Probably to show off! When I removed the feathers from the bedroom, she was sniffing them and purring  excessively. She looked so proud of herself! It was very cute. But I still hope she doesn't make a habit of this…

The aftermath

09 May 2022

Dissertation presentations!

The day had come! The first batch of Ocean Sciences  dissertation students would give their dissertation  presentations. For the first time (since me organising this) we were using Reichel Hall; a University building a bit away from the main campus. I think I was in it in my first week, as the School had an away day right there.

I made sure to be there early. We would start at 9 am, and I wanted to check that everything was okay. I also had to prep all the rooms; I had a load of paperwork prepared for each of them. But when I got to the door, it will still closed, and my staff pass did not give access to it. Luckily, a lady from catering was faffing with tablecloths; I just knocked on the window, and she let me in. We had a small chat but I struggled with her accent. I left her to it, and started prepping the rooms. And soon I started finding the staff that was going to chair the sessions in the various rooms. That meant I could show them the paperwork I had prepared, and how I expected them to use it. I had sent them an email about this, but you can't take for granted that that gets read, understood, and remembered!

By the time I had explained things to staff in both rooms it was time to start. I had promised to join Katrien’s session; she had a co-chair, but he happened to be in Italy, so was a bit limited in his capabilities. And so it started! There were several talks about the Fukushima incident and its effect on the marine realm, and talks about topics as diverse as reconstruction of continental drift, and scour around marine infrastructure. We had a coffee break in the middle, but I realised I had failed to properly advertise that, so we didn't have it at the same time as the other group. That was a bit of a pity! Something I would get right in the afternoon. And when we were done it was lunchtime.

There were Bangor University brownies! They are renowned...

I quickly shoved some sandwiches into my face, because with lunch came a change of crew; the morning staff and students would leave, and a fresh cohort would arrive to fill the afternoon. So I had to do my rounds again! Go into the rooms, collect to the leftover paperwork, put new paperwork down, explain to the staff what I had in mind. In theory, I should have been agreeing marks with Katrien and Mattias, but there wasn't time and I just gave them my marks to sort it out. And this time I had my own session to run. It wasn't a big session, considering; we were three members of staff, and none of us had a complete group of students. 

Our session was quite diverse in topics as well. We had flooding, marine plastics, corals, sediment distribution and oceanic alkalinity. And a lot more. Quite a lot of our students overran, but with so many students absent, that wasn't a logistic problem. I personally found it very frustrating, though; they know timing is part of the mark, and we have a timer there for them to see, and if they just keep talking you see the grades drain away. I have a problem with that!

This time we made sure to do the coffee breaks at the centralised time. It's great is everyone is in the coffee room at the same time; that is much more social! And I switched two Welsh in my communications with the catering lady; that helped!

The corridor with all the rooms; I didn't want to take pics of actual presentations so as not to stress students out...

This time, I could sit together with my co-chairs after the session ended, and agree grades. That was quick; our individual grades weren’t very different. And at the end of the day, I again collected the leftover paperwork from the rooms, and went home. First day done!

When I got home I quickly inhaled some food. I had Welsh class at six! But I had announced I would be a bit late. I was only some 10 minutes late in the end. But it was a bit hard to concentrate! My mailbox had been entirely swamped with emails from students. Some had asked for permission to not present on the day, but separately, at a later date. Some said they had found a mistake in their PowerPoint slides; could they bring a new version on memory stick? All such questions. I wasn't very happy with that; all these emails that come in after the last working day before the actual event. And I know, of course, that academics don't only work working days, but I had spent an entire Sunday  preparing for this event and I had decided that that was enough. And all the day itself you can't expect me to be available for all sorts of individual queries. Everyone knows I am the module organises; surely I have my hands full on a day like this!

We have procedures for students with issues such as anxiety; they can have a meeting with the appropriate support services, have their special needs centrally registered, and then we can take them into account. Students who suddenly say they suffer from anxiety zero working days before a big assessment; I could see why that could happen, but it also means it is too late for us to take into consideration. Nobody benefits from that! And if it is just general nerves, then I personally think the best way of dealing with that is just plough through it. If you let it get the better of you, it will do the same the next time! I absolutely remember how nerve-racking it can be to give a presentation, but if you do it often enough, you don't care anymore at some point. And being totally relaxed about public speaking is a very useful skill to have.

By 9:30 and I had answered all the emails in my inbox. Anyone who would still be firing anything off from then on was, again, too late. Time for some brief relaxation and then bed. There was another day like this to come…

The next day I arrived early again. This time we had three rooms instead of two, so there was more preparation to do, but this time I didn't have to actually mark any talks so I could just sit in the coffee room during the sessions and catch up on some work.

My office for the day

This day seemed to have fewer students not showing up. There was one session in the morning that overran; they only vacated their room right at the time that the afternoon session would start! (in spite of the numbers it should have fit, by the way). But given that the students from the morning session weren't expected to attend the afternoon session and vice versa, it was no problem. The afternoon session could just have lunch while waiting for their room to become available, while the morning session could just have lunch afterwards. So it worked out!

There was one other issues; there was one afternoon session where the chairs were afraid the talks wouldn't fit within the session. And that was true; I had had to behave a bit like an airline, slightly overbooking the rooms. Otherwise it wouldn't work! I had seen in advance that loads of students had asked for, and been granted, extensions, so I figured it would fit on the day. But this session (only) ended up with one student too many. I didn't think it was a big issue; one student is 15 minutes, and overrunning by that amount of time is hardly the end of the world. But this session struggled a bit with timekeeping, and in the end they overran by about an hour. I had offered to jump in as soon as one of the other rooms would become available, and then just grab one member of staff and a few students, so two students could present at the same time. This offer was appreciated but not taken up. They said they just prefer to crack on. So I left! 

This time, I had neither Welsh class nor an overflowing inbox to come back to. With the presentations now done, there were no panicking students firing off emails anymore. So I got home, opened a beer, and went into the garden. I needed some fresh air now! After a long day in beautiful, but rather indoors, Reichel Hall. I had made it!