31 July 2022

Climbing again

 I felt like I was really out of practice. I had barely climbed the previous year. I had to look up how often I had actually climbed, and it turns out to have been three times. More than I thought it would be! Once at Craig Caseg Ffraith, once in Penmaenbach and once in the Gwydr Forest. But then before that had, of course, been in summer 2019. So I really WAS out of practice! And the regular Monday evening outdoor climbing (weather permitting) seems to not have happened. There was some activity in messenger on a regular basis, but that always involved indoor climbing, and that doesn't sufficiently float my boat. And Charlotte explained to me why all of that was, and had indicated that there might be some outdoor climbing either on the Monday or on an arbitrary evening coming up. And she was right! But I had to pass on several occasions because I had already been booked for other activities. But then one week there was a call for Tuesday climbing. And I was available! I let her know I was keen. And she would pick me up.

That day I would be in the office. And I had a meeting in the afternoon. I wasn't sure if I would get home before the meeting afterwards, but it wasn't intended to be a particularly long meeting (I'm sure everyone sees what's coming) so I should manage to make it. But then the intended end time of that meeting approached and we were clearly not anywhere near finishing. I was starting to get nervous.

I wondered about how I could sort this. Then I thought that maybe, I could hitch a ride home. Going by car is a lot quicker than by bicycle! And I had a look at the other people in the meeting. Martin was in it! So I surreptitiously sent him a text during the meeting; would he be willing to give me a lift home if that would mean I would be on time for climbing? And he said yes. So now I had to hope that it didn't overrun that much that even when travelling by fast car I wouldn't make it.

The meeting overran by some 75 minutes. Assuming this was done I verified Martin was ready to go home, threw my belongings into my bags, left the bike and got to his car. And not much time later I was home. So I got into the house, threw the bags in the corner, fed the cat, threw my climbing kit into my bag, grabbed something really quick to eat, chucked in a leftover sandwich and two litres of water, changed from a shirt into a T-shirt, and then just managed one mug of tea before Charlotte appeared in my street. Success!

At the nearest gas station we picked up Cat, a climber I didn't know yet. And then we were ready to go to the venue. But it wasn't that easy. When we were leaving the forecourt we almost collided with a woman who was driving into the forecourt via the exit! What a bad idea.

Fortunately, from there we reached our destination (Castle Inn Quarry) without incident. And then we needed find a route we were happy with and that was available. None of us wanted to start heavy! And I forgot what are first route was called, but it was indeed the sort of route that you do as the first one in an entire season. We walked around and fixed a top rope. And we were go! And it was a beautiful evening. I myself was a bit distracted by the amazing fossils in the limestone….

The first rope has been thrown down from the top anchor! Ready to climb…

Selfie with bright sun and Carboniferous limestone 

Charlotte belaying Cat from the top

After me and Cat had climbed it, Charlotte noticed that a route a bit further on became available. We quickly grabbed our stuff and went! She had had her eye on that one. There were several routes quite close together; Charlotte lead the first, I and Cat followed, and then we rethreaded the rope to the top of the next route along, and climbed that one too. In the meantime, swallows were zipping around us.

Me in action; pic by Cat

At some point when Cat was belaying Charlotte, I decided I could spend my time well by doing my physiotherapy exercises. And one of them involves hopping on one leg. It looks a bit daft! But the ladies were facing the other way. Cat, however, heard me behind her, turned around, show me doing my daft exercise, and then gave me a look that made me burst into laughter. Charlotte, who was leading a client, obviously had no idea what was going on, and she might have still been a little bit shaky from the incident with the woman going the wrong way. I was afraid she thought I was laughing at her, which I most definitely wasn't.

By the time we had all climbed all three routes we decided it was enough for the night. It wasn't very late, but we still had to get home! So we drove back, through a glorious sunset.

Stupidly enough, on a roundabout just before the A55, another nutcase tried to come to harm by throwing themselves in front of Charlotte’s wheel. This time it was a motorcyclist cutting her off. What were people thinking that evening!

Bad pic of beautiful sunset! 

With all these people behaving like idiots in traffic, I can't imagine this was a particularly relaxing night for Charlotte. But otherwise I think it was a success! I think we all got sufficient climbing done, and it just was a lovely sunny evening with good company. I hope we can do it again soon!

30 July 2022

Trying out the new bike

While I was in the field I received a message from the bicycle repair man; Kate's bike was finished. So after the fieldtrip I retrieved it. I barely recognised it! It looked so clean and shiny. And I looked forward to trying it out. But that was not going to happen that evening. And I also realised the brakes weren't actually braking; I would have to sort that out first.

The next day I sorted the brakes, and in the afternoon took it into the hills. I spent the first several hundred metres adjusting the seat height. And getting used to the gears. And as soon as I went off the road I realised it didn't actually have a lot more suspension than with the old bike. But that's okay! This one has emotional value.

I had decided I was going to combine the trying of the bicycle with another mission; I wanted to scout out Twll Pant Hiriol, the strange dent in the hill I had seen many thanks for the distance, and about which the historian who has done the last guided walk I had been on had been telling. It sounded like a place I wanted to pitch my tent in one of these days; but I wanted to make sure there was water there. The historian has said there was, but this was a dry spell!

I did the first part of my normal bike route, and I didn't spend more time on the bike than normal. And then I continued to the leat that signalled I would have to turn left. During that stretch I had a realisation. I had felt some strange motion in the bike. First I thought that maybe I hadn't fixed the front wheel properly, and it was about to fall out of the frame. Then I wondered if I was getting a puncture. But then it suddenly dawned on me: this was the suspension! There wasn't much of it, but I was convinced that that was that strange motion was. Cool! 

The leat came with a little path that wasn't very bike-friendly. I got distracted and ended up on the top of Llefn, but then retraced my steps as that meant I had overshot Twll Pant Hiriol. And when I got to it I was surprised to see how big it was. It really didn't struggle to contain a big roundhouse! But that day, there was no water. So it wasn't a good location for me and my tent. 

From there I biked down the hill. That was still quite challenging for me. Until I got to the big path; from there I zipped back home. First ride done! And on the way back I realised the saddle was a bit too low, and I could feel it in my knees. I now understand why people like Kate and Martin have saddles they can just lower and raise with the press of a button. You want it low when you are going down a bumpy bit, but you want it at normal height when you reach the roads and you're just cruising home. And ideally, you don't want to have to get off your bike to make these changes.

This will now be my standard bike! For in the hills, that is. It hasn't made me a better mountain biker, but I'm sure I'll have a lot of fun with it!

Bike by leat

Twll Pant Hiriol

View over Anglesey from roundhouse 

29 July 2022

Cutting down the berry shrubs

When I bought my house, one of the raised beds in the garden was quite full; in one corner the plum tree, in another corner a gooseberry bush, in the third corner a wild tangle of redcurrant and blackcurrant bushes, and loganberries and raspberries in the fourth corner. And soon I found out that, in order of appearance, I really liked the plums and the gooseberries, I never ate the redcurrants as the birds would beat me to it, I quite liked the blackcurrants, and I didn't think the raspberries and loganberries were very good. So the first thing that change towards me ripping out the latter. But I wasn't quite happy with the uncivilised tangle of currants. And one morning, when I tried to harvest the last blackcurrants, I started cutting off the redcurrant stems. It makes sense to cut these down to make some more space for the berries I actually do eat. And if I came across a wonky blackcurrant stem I would cut that back well. I don't mind having a smaller harvest next year if it means I tidy up my raised bed a bit! And that way, I cut back almost everything. All the redcurrants were gone, and of the blackcurrant bush, only one relatively tidy bit in the back was left.

While cutting I was also harvesting. This was the last of my blackcurrant harvest! And it got mixed in with a fair amount of gooseberries, I couldn't help pulling some off.

When I was done, I looked at the results. The patch looked a lot tidier, but in a bit of a plucked chicken kind of way. I will have to ponder what step to take next. I might want to try to dig out some of the vegetation I don't want to come back. And I will have to think about what I want to be there instead. But a first step has been taken! One more step towards a garden the way I want it to be. Not that I don't enjoy it as is,; I most certainly do! But I am aware of how much work there still is to be done. 



From another angle

28 July 2022

Fieldwork in the Dee Estuary

Your research is only as good as your samples allow it to be! So for a project all about foraminifera analyses, getting samples is important. For my project with my student Alexander, the idea was to compare foraminifera assemblages from the Dee estuary (with her highly industrialised catchment) with those from the Cefni estuary (with much less industrialised catchment). So we needed to visit both locations. And I wanted to start with the Dee. It's a lot further away, it's a lot bigger, and I know it less well. It is easier to adjust what we do in the Cefni to what we do in the Dee than the other way around! And it had taken Alexander a bit of a while to come up with a sampling strategy, but once we had it, we could go. I made sure to book the GPS and a School vehicle. And one rather overcast Friday morning I picked up Alexander from main campus!

I had checked the route beforehand; it shouldn't be too difficult. Just head for Manchester until you see Birkenhead indicated, and then go left twice. That's it! And it really was that simple; just on memory, I got to where we needed to be. And there happened to be a pub there.

I looked at the endless Saltmarsh with its complete absence of shelter, and as my student I barely knew, then I thought maybe we wanted to pop in for a coffee so we could also use the facilities. Having a wee in a saltmarsh with a stranger not very far away is not everybody's idea of fun. So we had a quick beverage in the pub! And then we started the GPS. We were go!

Right by the pub there were actual stairs leading onto the marsh. We took them. It didn't lead to a path, though. The vegetation (mainly sea club rush) was almost as high as we were, and the going was tough! And within 10 m we were standing in the slop. I was glad I had warned Alexander beforehand.

Decorative Parkgate at the head of the marsh

Soon we took our first sample. And got ourselves a GPS location. And then we were on a roll. The one thing that worried me a bit, though, was that the going was slow and the marsh is big and I absolutely did not want to be chased out of the estuary by the tide. Soon I was evaluating scenarios in my head. Scenario one: get all the way onto the sandflat and back in all is well. Not very likely. Scenario two: sample the high and mid-marsh and come back next week to sample the mudflat and sandflat. And then park the car somewhere where you can get to these places without first having to walk over several kilometres of vegetated marsh. Scenario three: sample mud and sand in a big channel and hope for the best.

Big channel

When you are on a saltmarsh, you end up having to cross tidal channels. That slows you down! I have done it many times before, but it still takes time, and Alexander sometimes spent a bit more time looking for a good place to cross. I suppose that's fair; he weighs more than me, so has a higher risk of sinking down deep and getting stuck. But we got a good routine going with me crossing first, taking over the GPS, and him then following. And we were making good progress, but time was ticking away.

I settled for scenario three in the end. It's not ideal, but safety first! I don't say that sort of thing very often, but one doesn't mess with the tide without regretting it. And if push comes to shove we can always tack scenario two on at the end.

Without any scary incidence we got back to the high marsh. We seemed to have found an easier route back, a bit further two the west. But it was too good to be true; at some point we hit a channel. And it looked too deep to cross. We then had to follow it back east to cross it where it was barely existing; that was the exact place where we had crossed it on the way out. But following that channel was hard work; we were again in the person-high vegetation. But what can you do! We had to get back.

Trying to get back through the Sea Club Rush

When we got back to the car we tidied up the GPS and then went into the pub for another beverage, and the opportunity to change in the toilets. And then we could accept the way back! Luckily I found it easy to find my way back. And once on the motorway things got a bit slow; there was a broken-down vehicle that had caused big traffic queues. But we got back to campus in the end. It was already beyond office hours for the technical staff, so I just put the GPS in my own office. Nobody would be needing it over the weekend! And then I could go home. Not a perfect day in the field, but good enough. And next week we’ll be doing the Cefni! 

27 July 2022

Prima facie

"An unexpected event forces her to confront the lines where the patriarchal power of the law, burden of proof and morals diverge". This is what the blurb in the Pontio flyer (where it would be live-streamed) said about Prima Facie, or rather, about the crux. I would claim that at first sight (see what I did here?), this looks like a fairly cerebral play. Not the sort of art that clobbers you around the head like there's no tomorrow. It looked interesting, and both Kates were interested too.

I had never seen Jodie Comer do anything; that is what you get if you don't watch any type of television. But I know she has quite a good reputation. And the trailer looked interesting. 

On the actual day, one of the Kates was not feeling very well, so it was only the two of us going. We took our seats quite late. And it was very busy! This was clearly a popular event. There was an introduction by Emily Maitlis, and an extract from a discussion Maitlis had had with the writer of the book this was based on, a legal professional, a DCI, and Jodie Comer. There was also a small performance by Self Esteem, who had composed the music for the play. I only became aware of her existence during Glastonbury, because I heard her on the radio, but she made quite an impression and I was glad she was involved in this. And then it started.

It starts with Jodie Comer talking you through a case she has won; not what it was actually about, but how you lull a witness into a false sense of security, and then expose some inconsistency or other. She explains about the taxi rank principle, and about legal truth versus other types of truth. She mentions you should never trust your gut; only your legal mind. She barely draws a breath! I thought it was exhausting to even watch.

If you still want to watch this, then stop here; spoiler alert.

She also explains about her working class scouse background, and the feeling of not really fitting in in the legal profession. And she talks about the "work hard party hard" mentality at her law firm. And mentions drinks and dancing and flirting after work. And a fling with a colleague that could be going places. 

And then it turns dark. She gets drunk with the fling, takes him home, and you see it coming; he rapes her. And then she panics. She knows exactly what happens with victims of sexual assault in a court room. She takes them apart herself on a regular basis! So she knows how bad this looks. She has been seen flirting with him, she took him home, she is drunk, etc. She basically just flees her own apartment and after some roaming of the streets, she decides to go to the police to report the sexual assault. And keeps thinking of things that weaken her case. She had a shower, erasing evidence! The bloke is in her bed! And she already gets the nasty questions you get when you are in a situation like that. And she has to decide whether she wants to press charges (if that is the appropriate phrase here). It is a big decision! And she knows that her assailant is both a colleague and a barrister. Pretty much the worst he could be. But she goes for it. And she also has the unpleasant realisation that it is the legal system that will now decide whether there is a case to answer. It is entirely out of her hands whether the Crown Prosecution Service will take on the case. But we find out they do.

The play then fast forwards some 2 1/2 years. It takes forever for a case like this to go to court! And then we find her going to court. And now she feels unprotected without her wing and gown and all the paraphernalia. And when she steps in, she realises that pretty much everybody is male. The judge, the barrister doing the defence, et cetera. The jury has only four females, but she knows that females can easily turn against other females as well. 

There was one fragment I thought was especially touching. Her rough, no-nonsense mother is always there for her when she needs her. And she is there in court as well. And whether it was in this scene or an earlier one, but that some point Comer says she sees a look in her mother's eyes that tells her she has been violated in some way as well. And she says she will never ask. It looks pale as I narrate it, but in the play I thought it was powerful. 

In court, you can tell she is in an agitated state. Now she is struggling to play the game she played so well in the first scene. She realises she is vulnerable, and is easily fooled by the barrister seeming to show kindness and sympathy. 

In the actual scene where she is raped, the man has his hand over her face and she struggles to breathe. But now the defence is subjecting her to really detailed interrogation. She had just vomited, right? She must have had awful breath. And she had had consensual sex with the man before. Where were her legs? Where were her arms? How could he AND control her arms, AND have his hand over her face? Did she scream? Did she push him away? Is it possible she was just holding her own hand over her mouth in order to protect him from her awful breath? And is she just blaming him? Weren't they colleagues, and therefore rivals? Doesn't she benefit from ruining his career? Et cetera.

He gets acquitted. But she remains on stage, suddenly with the fourth wall having come down. And she pleads for a change in the legal system. It does not protect victims of sexual assault. And everyone who is paying attention knows it! The government has even publicly apologised for it. So there is a strong case for this, and I support it. And who knows; maybe this play might play a tiny role in this. I think the people who pay to see this are the ones already know how broken the system is. But if no one writes a book about these things, and performs a play about it, and talks about it afterwards, nothing will ever happen!

I came out of the cinema rather battered. As I have explained earlier on, I did not expect it to be so full on. I had expected the slightly more tangential approach. Not actually be in the action for most of the play! But it was okay. Fortunately, Kate thought so too. Not an easy evening, but well worth it. And Jodie Comer was very impressive. But from here, the fight against society not taking sexual assault seriously will just go on. And on…

26 July 2022

A will

I own a house. Or rather, I am in the process of buying off a mortgage on the house. So I own a partial house. And that is great! But what if I get run over by a bus or something? As far as I know, it is my close relatives who would then automatically be the ones who need to deal with that were I to suddenly die intestate. And I did not want that to happen.

As things stand, I have two sets of close relatives; the first ones are my parents. I know I am very likely to survive them, and I hope I indeed to do, but you don't write a will without thinking of unlikely but possible events. And I wouldn't want my parents to have to deal with this. I think they would find it a burden rather than a nice surprise in otherwise unpleasant circumstances. And I wouldn't want them to have to do anything together; if you put them in one room they will politely enquire after the other person’s wellbeing, but that doesn't mean they are a good team.

My other close relatives are my sisters. These are really not on good terms! I wouldn't want them to have to deal with anything together. And of course they could find a way of avoiding it, but I think it is my task to do that. And I am sure they could think of something useful to do with the house, but they both already have one, and have such fine careers they could probably buy another one if they so wanted, so they are not particularly plausible beneficiaries either.

Then I have a friend who was there for me when literally nobody else was. She took me under her wing when I was 17. Since then, however, my life has been largely getting better, and I got me an education to PhD level, massively improved mental health, and a steady job. And a house! She was not so lucky, so if either of us now has the other one under their wing, you could argue it is the other way around. And she is a clever administrator who wouldn't struggle very much with the paperwork involved in inheriting a house. So I asked her if she wanted to be executor and beneficiary! And she was. And that meant I could write the actual will. And with the house out of the way, I could then deal with my sisters separately. I optimistically assume there will be something left in my bank account!

I found a random lawfirm who does wills, and had a phone conversation with them. They then sent me the will resulting from that conversation. And I like that a will seems to have a plan B incorporated; it also specifies what happens if by some strange coincidence, my beneficiary dies at the same time as I do. And all I needed to do was to sign it together with the witnesses and send it back to them! And, of course, tell the people involved where my will is held.

I hadn't quite realised the writer of the will and the two witnesses have to all sign it in one go. I had asked Kate and Martin, and they know each other a bit, but they don't socially hang out. But there's no reason why they shouldn't! So they accepted my suggestion I would cook a meal for both of them, and then we could all three sign the document. It was really nice! We could sit in the garden.

I know I didn't sort this out very quickly after having bought the house 4 1/2 years ago. It was weighing on my mind a bit! I know I have a life expectancy of several more decades, but that is not a guarantee on anything. And if I know suddenly find myself vanishing under the wheels of a bus, at least I can die knowing I am not causing my relatives unnecessary unpleasantness, there is a volunteer for dealing with the house, and my friend won't have me anymore but she will have a very tangible reminder of the important role she played in my life. And a house, which provides options. I was glad to get that off my to do list!

25 July 2022

New old bike

When someone said they were throwing away a bike unless I had some use for it, and I said I would indeed have some use for it, I had no idea just how much. I had used it as my office bike; a bike good enough for commuting between Bangor and Menai Bridge, but not so good I would worry about it being stolen while I was lecturing. It dutifully did the job for a while, but then the pandemic hit and I was expected to work from home. I took the bike home as well.

Then I got tired of the same old runs, and decided to broaden my horizon a bit. I took the old bike, which of all my bikes is the least unsuitable for mountain biking, and took it through the hills. And then my ankle started playing up. Then suddenly I started taking it into the hill is pretty much every day!

When I got the bike, I had asked the local bicycle repair shop which thought it was a piece of rust to just make it good enough for its job as an office bike. And they duly did that. But now it's gone back to its origins as a mountain bike. The suspension didn't work anymore, but at least it had a small frame, wide handlebars and wide rims! And somehow it coped.

Then I went for a walk with Kate. And she just happened to have brought her old mountain bike up from the south. She said she had got it at 18 (she is in her 40s now) and it had been a good bike at the time. It really needed some work now, but it still could be a good bike! She wondered if I wanted it. And I did.

Not only would it hopefully be a much better bike than what I am using so far, but I also like the idea of giving her old bike a new life. It is so much nicer to be on a bike that you know someone you care about has already spent decades on! So I hope it can be restored to a reasonable order. And she can come visit it to see if I look after it well!

On the day we went for a walk in Beddgelert she handed it to me, in three bits. At home I assembled it and went for a test ride. As things stand, it was in a worse state than my office bike! And I realised immediately it needed more work than I could give it. So the next working day I phoned the repair man. He was on holiday. I phoned again when he was back. He agreed on taking it on the next week. So off to Mynydd Llandygai it went! And we will see how it comes back…

24 July 2022

Neighbours in the garden

In February, the wall that holds up my neighbour’s  decking collapsed. And I was incredibly naive about it. I thought it would get sorted in a few weeks! But it is now late July, and literally nothing has happened. And that is a right pity; they live right on the river, but they can't sit outside looking at it. The only outside space they have now is between their house in my garden, and the sun never gets there.

In February I didn't expect them to want to spend a lot of time outside. But it would soon be spring! And I developed a habit of telling them when I would be away, inviting them to just sit in my garden instead of indoors, and hoping that they would indeed do so. They never did!

Then I developed a new tactic. I thought that if I would just cook dinner for them, they would come, and then maybe after that they would feel a bit less awkward about using my garden when I'm out. And both neighbours either have worked, or still are working, at the University library with Marjan, so I could cook for all five of us in one fell swoop. And that's what I did!

It was a nice evening! It was lovely weather, and the midges didn't appear. I personally was happy with the meal I had cooked, and Jaco had provided the desert, so that was excellent. And the neighbours had brought something to drink! And we had plenty to talk about. Not only about libraries. 

I mentioned this to several friends and colleagues. They all said that they will never sit in my garden when I am out. British people just don't do that! So maybe my cunning plan hasn't worked at all. Well at least I had a lovely evening in the garden with nice people and good food! That's worth something. And additionally, I hope that at some point, repair activities will finally commence, so they will get their decking back…

23 July 2022

Painting the render

When the renderer was done, I could paint the wall! Or rather, after it would have dried. The solar panel people said they would bring my second batch of panels in early August, so there were several weeks in which I could get the job done. Internet said it would take 4 to 6 weeks to dry; the renderer himself said one week. I asked the neighbour. He said that some 10 days would be okay. He had painted the newly rendered house of the other neighbour after some 10 days. I decided to give it just over two weeks. And it was warm and dry weather, so I figured it would dry well.

I had done some googling of what paint to use. The result I ended up with was Emperor masonry paint, preceded by Emperor masonry primer. It was delivered even before the renderer was done. He looked at it and said it was good paint. I suppose he had nothing to win by saying that! So I assume he meant it.

The weekend I had assigned for it I got my stuff together. What I first needed was a ladder to get on top of the flat roof. Then I needed to check if I needed more ladders. I did! I first lugged my stepladder up onto the roof. But I decided that wasn't enough, so I lugged a proper ladder up as well. 

What I also needed was a brush (I had decided against a roller, on the basis of that I have got me a brush finish, and it is a bit of an uneven surface for a roller), and a container for the paint. The containers they had come in were way too big and unwieldy. I decided to go for an old plastic milk bottle with the top cut off. That meant I couldn't use a particularly large brush, but so be it! If I ever do this again I will just invest in a better container… I'm sure that helps my efficiency. And the primer was really liquid; it actually looked like milk, so it was no problem whatsoever getting that into the milk bottle. And then I was off painting.

Doing the primer was really quick. Especially the second layer; the first was on the raw render so the wall did quite some sucking up of the liquid. But it was quite comfortable. It's not very messy either. I could already see the hydrophobic qualities of the material when I put on the second coat! I could do that only an hour or two after the first coat. But I had to wait some eight hours before I could apply the first coat of actual paint. That was okay; the days are long. I could just do that in the evening.

Applying the primer

The easy application of the primer had lulled me into a full sense of security, though; I had underestimated how long it would take me to put a layer of actual paint on. The first obstacle was getting the paint into the milk bottle. This stuff had the consistency of yoghurt! And the tub was so big, there was no way you could tidily just decant it. I got myself a scoop from a cut-off water bottle… Quite a mess was the result, but it could have been worse! And then I was painting.

It is a bit of work, and the evening progressed. The swifts were circling overhead. I was hoping I would make it before it was too dark to see anything! And will be honest, by the time I was finally done, "anything" was pretty much all I could see. Distinguishing things had become a bit problematic.

The amount of daylight left when I was done with the first coat

The next morning I wanted to get the second coat on soon as I could. It would be a warm day! So after breakfast I got back onto my roof. I was glad to see it all looked even; the part of the wall I painted in the almost-dark wasn't looking any less good than the rest. And while I was getting increasingly sweaty in my overall I put the second and last coat on.

Finished painting!

I then had to get the ladders back down, and clean out the scoop and the brushes. And then I could take that overall off, and tidy the rest up. Job done! And now I was keen for the sun to move around the house and shine on my newly painted wall. It looked good! And now I only have to wait a few years to see if the water damage in my bedroom reappears. I really hope not! But it will take time to find out.

Now I need to get that off...


The neighbour said it looked good, but now the rest of the house looked grubby in comparison. He suggested that maybe I should paint the entire house. And he has a point! Maybe I should… No rest for the wicked I suppose!

22 July 2022

Brian & Charles

When I was looking at what films Pontio would be showing this month I noticed a film called Brian and Charles; the blurb said the entire film had been shot in Penmachno. That immediately made me want to see it! I have a disproportionate number of friends living in Penmachno. And I thought we could even all go there together. The Kates and Miles thought it was a great idea, but unfortunately we couldn't get our diaries to line up, so a gang of four going to see this undoubted work of art was not going to happen. But I still wanted to see it. And I still did after I had seen the trailer when I went to see the Quiet Girl. So I went.

From the trailer you already know that it is about a bit of a weird, lonely and awkward man, who is a bit of a Wallace-type inventor, and who builds a robot who becomes his friend. And that that might be lovely, but there is a hard world outside, which may well threaten his new-found bliss. And of course there is a love story in there (not with the robot, of course.) And from the trailer it is also clear that you don't need to expect too much realism. This robot is clearly more sophisticated than anything any robotics lab in the world can currently make, but also, this is a film. So that doesn't have to be a problem.

So what was it like? I loved the scenery, although I failed to recognise most of the crucial locations. Most of it is actually in Cwm Penmachno, which doesn't help. And I figured the man was a bit of a caricature, but of course he was. It was that kind of film. And you see him struggle on bit, trying to keep his spirits up. And then he finds some fly-tipped rubbish that seems to contain everything you need to to build a robot, so he does. And initially it doesn't work, but then after night with some serious thunder and lightning, it comes to life. They quickly become friends. And his life is immediately better. He does the "I'm home!" thing, which he clearly hasn't done for a while, and he has someone to cook for, and all these things you want from a companion. But he is also scared that the outside world would not receive him in a way he would find acceptable, so he tries to keep him hidden. But that, of course, is a fruitless exercise; this robot is more than human-sized and has opinions of his own. And he wants to explore the world. And how can you stop him? Sometimes Brian has to go into town to do some shopping, or to do a chore for one of the other villagers. (Sorting out someone's blocked sink is the only hint you get of how he actually earns a living. But if you see him drive around you wonder about the price of petrol, and you know it doesn't add up.) So sometimes Charles needs to be left alone, and then who knows what he gets up to.

If you want to see this film yourself and you don't want spoilers, then stop reading here…

Early on in the film, Brian bumps into a lady called Hazel, and it is clear he fancies her. He is not the kind of man to take this premise and lead it to a Hollywood outcome, but then there is Charles. He convinces Brian to take him into town one day, where Hazel sees him sitting in the car, and strikes up a conversation. Charles then convinces Brian to invite her along for the walk they had in mind. He turns out to be a good matchmaker.

The village also has a terrible bully, and the bully finds out about the robot, and of course wants him. And wants to destroy him for his own amusement, course. He is a bully, after all. And bullies get their way. And you see Brian struggle against the brutal force of the bully. But he is also an inventor. So together with Hazel, he starts making things that are clearly intended to help him win Charles back. And then there is a climactic scene where the bully wants to burn Charles on a bonfire. Suddenly, Charles can't walk on his own accord, so just lies helplessly on top of the bonfire. And no inventions are deployed. Brian patiently waits for the bully to set the whole thing on fire using a lot of petrol, and only then drags Charles off the top of the bonfire. And lugs him into his van. In his turn, the bully patiently waits for Brian to do that before he comes stomping in, demanding his robot back. Brian, Hazel and Charles speed away in the van. And then you get a car chase, which ends in some convenient spot. A showdown follows, which is witnessed by an increasing number of villagers who all show up to watch, and seem to get the courage to speak out against the bully, now that Brian shows how that is done. Then one of the inventions is finally deployed; it is a device that shoves the bully off his feet with panache. No laws of physics were employed here. But it works, and the bully and his entire family are forced to retreat under a barrage of cabbages fired from another invention.

The film suggests that that is it; the bully has seen the error of his ways, and is not mentioned again. And now the village is all happy and peaceful and Charles can just be part of the community. But he still wants to explore the world. The film ends with Brian giving Charles present: a round the world ticket. There is no mention of where he gets the money from, or how a robot can suddenly travel internationally, but hey, it is that kind of film. Brian who now has Hazel's love and a village without bullies claims he is not coming with Charles; he has everything he needs. And as a background to the closing credits, you see lots of Polaroid pictures of Charles in front of international landmarks, that he has sent back to Brian. A feelgood movie if there ever was one!

So what did I think? It was sweet. It is not my normal genre; it was a bit of a caricature. I quite like my disbelief to stay firmly suspended. But it still was worth it. And once in a while doesn't hurt to watch a movie in which antisocial behaviour can just be solved forever with one well-aimed shove of a Wallace and Gromit-esque invention. And where boy meets girl and they live happily ever after.

I wondered if the film was really about parenthood. You get the initial bliss and disbelief when they are newborn, then you get the negotiating when they are small children, then you wonder if you can keep them safe from the big bad world when they are teenagers, and after that you have to release them altogether. But if you've done a good job, they will still stay in touch! But there also was a message in there about community. Nobody dares say anything to the bully, but once one person starts, the others take courage as well, and when the entire community doesn't accept the bullying anymore it can exorcise it. I don't think I've met a bully yet who was that easily persuaded to change their ways. Doubling down seems to be a more plausible reaction. I suppose the parental message is a bit more realistic.

It was also a bit old-fashioned; it is a rather straight white cisgender business. Everyone needs to be coupled up in straight relationships. When Charles wears something feminine he is sent back indoors to change into something more appropriate. And I know; Penmachno isn't the most diverse place in the world. But this is a film; you can do what you want. They could have been a bit more inclusive.

Altogether it was quite sweet, though. I would recommend it! But you have to go in with the right expectations…

Brian's house

21 July 2022

Joining mr Fearless

I am Dutch; I was practically born on a bicycle. And it is not surprising for quite a while now people have been suggesting I go for a bike ride with Martin. But I am Dutch. I totally see the point of a bicycle as a means of transport. If I have to, I can even see it as a tool for staying fit. But I just don't see it as a tool for getting adrenaline kicks. I am not an adrenaline junkie in the first place, and I prefer to get the adrenaline I still generate from activities that aren't actually dangerous. I know; mine exploration can be dangerous, and there certainly sometimes is adrenaline involved. But otherwise; if I want to be scared I will go climbing. I know I am on a rope, but that doesn't mean I'm not scared. But if I fall? In the worst case you swing a bit and end up with some cuts and bruises. At the level where I climb, serious accidents are, I think, rare. So given that Martin quite likes hurling himself down heart-stopping slopes with bumps and jumps, I hadn't really felt like joining him. If I can do a route, it's dull for him; what he enjoys would land me in hospital. I can do without that! And I can of course just walk scary bits, but then we're back at the dull argument.

Then one day after seeing my standard loop on Strava he had suggested that we do a bigger loop together; he had more or less the route in mind I had done the first time I took my bike into the hills, but then in the opposite direction. I had made sure I reminded him of my bike before we agreed on anything. He knows I am not a mountain biker, and when he would feel just how little suspension that thing had, I figured he could make an informed judgement on just how slow I would be coming down the challenging part of that route, and whether he then still wanted to go together. But he didn't change his mind. And then he sent me a link to a Strava recording of a ride he had done with his e-bike (that same loop, but with a detour to the summit of Moel Wnion) and suggested a day for it. And I said yes!

I didn't intend to suddenly turn into some daredevil, but I did decide to wear a bit more protection than I normally do; my new biking routine only featured a helmet and riding glasses. I got out my knee pads, elbow pads and gloves. I had picked my standard route on the basis of it being easy, and this route had difficult bits! 

We met at a convenient junction. And he had showed up on his analog bike. That seemed the wise choice to me; he had floated the idea of going electric just the day before, but I figured he would already be spending so much time waiting for me at the bottom of the slopes; if he would also have to wait for me at the top of the slopes it would get very dull. And we started fairly steep uphill, on what was still my standard route. We didn't push it too hard! And we weren't even out of the gate into the moorland when I had to put my foot on the ground for the first time.

The path quite soon has a very soggy bit that people avoid by taking small renegade paths a little higher up on the hill. I have never managed to negotiate that without a little bit of walking! And today was no exception. But as we were going uphill, getting off your bike doesn't make you an awful lot slower.

From that soggy bit onwards there is a long stretch that is totally doable for someone like me. But I knew that there was a rocky bit coming up after that. When we reached it, Martin said it was a good place for a breather. I didn't need a breather, but I was happy to join in. He wanted to get his heart rate back down, but mine hadn't even gone above the level down to which he wanted to get his, which took a few minutes. I figured the exam period hadn't done him any favours.

I gave the rocky bit a go for about one meter and then gave up. It is treacherous, and if you fall over you'll probably break some ribs! Not my idea of fun. But it isn't far. I knew, though, that there would be several individual rocky patches in the way that were a bit too much for me. But given that we were still going uphill, I don't think I was slowing us down considerably. I did let Martin pass there, though, and that way we reached the pass.

From the pass, a path goes up to the summit of Moel Wnion. It is grassy with barely any rocks, so fairly easy to negotiate! And this was in the route he had proposed. His front wheel was pointing downhill on the other side, though. I reminded him of the proposal. So we went up! And it started quite okay, but there was a nasty steep a bit in it. I noticed Martin was lagging behind. I did consider that the route he had sent me on Strava had been done on his e-bike. In hindsight I figured he had wanted to avoid this bit! Oh dear. But he stepped up to the game.

It took me quite some stubbornness to bike up that hill. It might have been grassy, but so steep my breathing started to sound like a swift. But I got to the top, and I was quite chuffed with how things had gone so far! And I was impressed with my cheap-ass bike that had never been meant for more than Menai Brigde-Bangor ferrying. And I knew that for me, the easy bit was over now. From now on, everything would be downhill. And if it is so steep you turn into a swift biking up, then it must be scary coming down.

Tired old bike on Moel Wnion

After a while Martin appeared. Together we admired the view, and we took a summit selfie. And then it was time to face the downhill! Martin put his glasses and helmet back on, and then basically changed into Roadrunner. A figure getting rapidly smaller and vanishing towards the horizon at implausible speed! I followed with a lot more caution. But even the steep bit was quite doable and I arrived without further ado back at the pass. But then the real challenge appeared. Martin did his Looney Tunes thing again; it would've been interesting to watch, but I had to focus all my attention on what my front wheel was doing. There  were quite some bits where I decided this was not for me and just carried the bike over! But Martin wasn't complaining.

Approaching silhouette under dramatic sky

Summit selfie

Somewhere halfway the difficult bit we bumped into a pedestrian we had a chat with. And then we went on our way; I was glad to see the end of the difficult bit. Maybe one day I'll bike this, but it will need a better bike and a lot of practice!

Beyond the difficult bit there is a nice long smooth grassy slope down to a wall with an awkward ladder stile over it. I enjoyed that! The slope, that is. And it was so relaxing I could look at some crazy sheep that came dashing from the right at implausible speed, only to make a U-turn, and make an effort to run in front of Martin's wheel at still the same speed. Fortunately, no collision ensued.

Soon after the wall, you join the North Wales coast path, and that is a very civilised gravel road. We zipped down that! And from there we were back on country roads.

I said goodbye by the gravel road that leads me back to my house; Martin has a fair bit more of the asphalt road to do to get home. I said thanks and hoped we’d do it again! And next time, maybe on a different bike. And that might hold for both of us. It looks like the mountain biking is here to stay, and like most things, it is more fun in good company!

20 July 2022

Graduation nr II

We had already had a fairly standard, but of course still festive, graduation ceremony this year. But we were due another one, and this one would be unusual. It would be the ceremony for the students who had graduated in the two years that hadn't had such a ceremony for reasons of covid. I thought it was good we had such a ceremony, but I had no idea how many people would show up for it. It is a nice way of marking an important transition, but if you are already two years into your new job you might feel so distant from this transition that you don't feel the need to mark it any more.

In order to complicate things for us staff, we had the late afternoon slot, from 4 PM onwards. And that meant they had planned the concomitant reception beforehand. And that in turn meant we would be socialising with students we hadn't had anything to do with for one or two years, that we wouldn't have seen during the later parts of their education for reasons of online teaching, and of whose names and faces we would not have been reminded during the actual ceremony, because that was still to come. I did look up my old dissertation students and personal tutees, to make sure I knew who to look out for. But I could only hope I would indeed recognise all of them.

I went to the reception in my full gown and hat. That was a bit warm! But it did mean I didn't have to lug a bag around. And there weren't very many people. It was lovely to see Rhian Tait, Rachel Turnbull, Dan Lambley and especially Jo Rogers, and to hear what they are getting up to these days. But none of these had been either my tutees or my dissertation students, so there were a lot of people I would have liked to see but didn't. And I knew I couldn't linger very much after the actual ceremony, as I had birthday beer by the weir pretty much immediately afterwards.

Gown pic with Joanne Rogers

After a while, when the whole room where the reception was held had already been deserted as the few people who were still there had gone outside, it was time together in the council chamber, waiting to be marched outside. We were clearly a smaller group than the previous time! One of us had been taken down by covid in the meantime, and yes that could have happened during the previous ceremony, but I wasn't sure about the other people not there.

Given how few people had attended the reception, I was pleasantly surprised to see a full hall. And then they were called up one by one. Quite a lot of people appeared! Some had actually changed quite a bit since I last seen them. One of my tutees had grown a beard, for instance. That does change one's appearance!

At the end of the ceremony we gave a slightly demure rendition of the national anthem. We were missing Dei, our main singer! And then we were taken outside again for a group photograph. And then went back to the other courtyard. I did find two of my old tutees: Charlotte Lewis and Margaret Pound, and I gave them a hug and it was really good to see them. I struggled to spot other particularly relevant people in the crowd, and I was a bit tired and thirsty, and I knew I had more in the diary that evening. So I just slinked away. And in hindsight I was glad I did! At home I got into my more pragmatic outfit, had a bit of dinner, got my bag together, and then set off up the hill. No time to spare...

We have now caught up on the backlog. The next ceremony will be in winter, for students who didn't pass their final year in one go and had to do supplementary assessment in summer, or master students who are just not done yet in June. And I know that we have rising covid numbers again, but let's hope the situation is such that we can have a ceremony without issues! And we won't build up another backlog…

19 July 2022

A sign of war relief activity from the council

I was just in an online seminar when my phone rang. I didn't recognise the number. The person on the other side turned out to be a man from Gwynedd Council who phoned me in relation to the fact that I had put my spare bedroom on the "homes for Ukraine" website. He wanted to know if that offer still stood. He said that there was a centre in Bangor for Ukrainian refugees, but it is was full to capacity now. They were now looking for accommodation in the area. 

I confirmed I was still up for it. I did point out I have a cat, so I shouldn't get people with cat allergies.

I know that before I will get refugee, I will still first have to be vetted, and they will introduce me to potential housemates to maximise the chance that it all works out well. So I don't think I will have anyone in my house within minutes. But it is clear that the council is actually actively doing things. I am glad it is! And I am awaiting news.

Were I to get someone, that will be a bit of a culture shock, but I will do my best to make it work out. And it will be one of those ways in which you can make a real difference to someone. I feel like I could pull my weight a bit more in trying to make the world a better place. And I have an excellent tool for it. A house! If that can be a home for someone who otherwise doesn't have one then that would truly matter…

18 July 2022

Enjoying the summer lull

It is summer! There are no contact hours with the students, there is no marking. There is plenty to do regarding preparing for the next academic year, but the deadline isn't close. This is supposed to be the most relaxed time of the year! And it isn't always; I clearly remember last year when I was already teetering on the edge in August, and wondering what my life had come to. But this year is different. I am not organising the field trip and I am not organising welcome week. So this is my opportunity for taking it a bit easy! And I decided to do just that.

The traditional thing to do is go on summer holiday, of course; but that sort of thing is never a straightforward if you are a solitary living creature, and it is even more complicated when you have a cat. Spending through the nose on solar panels (that still don't work) and rendering doesn't improve anything. So I decided that this was my year for staying home and spending time on all these chores that need doing but tend to fall by the wayside. I had already made quite a dent in my long term to do list! And also wanted to spend some time with nice people.

I had one week where I was doing social and/or cultural things four nights in a row. It was a bit full-on, but it was lovely! On Tuesday, Miles came over for dinner for the first time ever. And it was a nice evening so we sat in the garden. On the Wednesday I had my friends and colleagues Sarah and Laura over. More dinner in the garden!

On Thursday it was graduation again (see separate blog post to come), and after that we sat by the weir with a bunch of friends in honour of Fran’s birthday. And on Friday after work I first went biking with Martin, and then went to the cinema (more blog posts to come). That last thing should've been a social occasion, but that didn't work out as the people involved couldn't get their diaries together.

Maybe four nights in a row is a bit overdoing it, but I am really enjoying just saying yes to things, and organising things as well! Tuesday was Miles's idea, Wednesday was mine, Thursday was a bit everybody's, the biking was Martin's idea and the film was mine. I'm really enjoying this! And the week after was maybe not quite as busy but it still had several social occasions. Soon enough it will be term time again, and these shenanigans will just be too much. I'm enjoying it while it lasts!

A vegan tart I made for Sarah and Laura

The vegan chocolate mousse I made as dessert 

Posing by the weir; pic by Martin

After the buddleia, now the ivy must die

When I bought the house, there was ivy growing up the wall. I wasn't quite sure what I thought of that. I like a bit of vegetation, but I wasn't sure weather ivy would do damage. And it threatens to obscure my office window. I thought I might have to deal with it, but initially I had too many other things on my mind. And it kept growing in that time. But priorities shifted when I had dealt with the Buddleia.

I was just talking with the neighbour about it, and he warned me that he had seen it was starting to get into the roof. Once it does that, it can damage it! And a damaged roof is most certainly not a joy forever. So that did it. The ivy had to die.

Ivy getting out of hand

Fortunately, it was really easy. It wasn't difficult to pry the stem at the bottom away from the wall, and then saw through it. Some bits I could even just rip out. I made sure to disconnect all the ivy on the wall from its source of food at the bottom. The next step is that I have to actually remove it! That will be a bit of a process as it goes up really high on the wall. But at least I have now made sure the problem won't get worse. And when I have got rid of the stuff, I suppose I should repaint the house! One is never in need of a chore if one owns a house…

17 July 2022

New picture acquisition

I like filling up my house with beautiful pictures. Most of them are made by myself, but I have a few professional ones. And one day I saw a lady advertise a professional print from a local artist, of some quarryman's cottages in evening light. And they were the cottages I had walked past the year before. It was exactly the sort of scene I love! So I contacted her and bought it. And the photograph was amazing. I was less impressed by the frame; it was very fake and some of it was the colour of fake wood, and some of it was silver. But that is something you can do something about. And I had all my painting implements ready anyway. So after I painted the ceiling, I just kept going and painted the frame with white primer. I chanced painting it without taking the picture out of the frame! And I'm not sure if this primer white will be the colour it will stay; I don't think it matches the passepartout, but it will do for now. It is a lot more beautiful than I thought it was before! And I put it on a prominent place in the master bedroom. I am really chuffed with it!

Upcycling in action


Walnut tree supported

One day I came into the garden and saw that one of my walnut trees was drooping all over its raised bed. That was not good! I remembered the person who sold it to me had suggested they needed to be staked, but it had seemed unnecessary. Pay attention to the word "seemed". I decided I had to stake it now! And I had lots of potential stakes in the garage. So I just picked out one that seemed both long and sturdy enough, and sawed a point to it. Then I dragged it, and a stepladder, into the garden. I do not own a sufficiently large mallet, so I decided I just would dig a hole for the stake, and then bash it in to the best of my abilities with a rock taken from the river bed. I decided to go for two sizes; a small one for the first bits and a big one for the rest. I hoped I would be able to hammer it down so much with the small rock that the top of the pole would become reachable with the big rock. And so I set to work! And it sort of worked. I did manage to bash it in a little bit with the small rock, and with the big one, which was a bit uncomfortable but that was inevitable, a bit further, in the end resulting in a stake that was just about solid enough to support the tree. And I just tied them together with an old shoelace. Sorted! Now I hope it'll hold. One way to find out…