27 September 2022

Archaeological jolly

I am on the email list of the Gwynedd Archaeological Trust. They soon as I became aware of their existence, that is why I wanted to be! I love archaeology, and I love learning about the history of the place where I live. So I had already attended several events they had been involved with.

When I received an email about a big project doing excavations with the help of volunteers, looking for Neolithic axes, I was tempted. The excavations rent for two weeks, and the first one was in the welcome week. I don't have to organise that anymore! So I figured I could afford to sneak off for a day in order to run much around in the surface sediments, looking for traces of human inhabitation of thousands of years ago!

I went to the farm where we were told to gather. When I got out of the car I saw a woman who looked familiar. It turned out she didn't know me at all, but she was very friendly so we ended up chatting. And in the meanwhile, the little verge filled up with cars. I also greeted one of the archaeologists leading the session: John Roberts, who I had met several times before.

After a while we were briefed by the archaeologist who seemed to lead the project; a lady called Jane, and then we walked up the hill. We could start! Some other people had been lugging materials up the hill with a little vehicle. Now we were asked to each grab a bucket, tray, sieve, trowel and spade. Then we would be distributed over the various locations where they wanted either a test pit or a proper trench. They wanted two volunteers for the first pit, and me and my chatting mate stepped forward. And so it began!

Walk to the site

Someone had already demarcated a square metre, and cut the turf in manageable chunks. So we first lifted these off and put them on a tarp. And then we started to slowly scrape away at the soil underneath. What was scraped off we put in a bucket, put it through sieve, and checked everything that remained in the sieve for signs of being of archaeological interest. The answer generally was: no. But when we were in doubt we put it in the tray anyway, and the resident archaeologists made the rounds to check people’s trays. What was not interesting got chucked onto the big pile of soil that had come out of the sieves; what was interesting was bagged up for later analysis.

Work in progress 

It was quite physical work! But I like that. And in addition, the landscape was beautiful, the weather was too, and I greatly enjoyed the company of my digging mate. She was called Lisa, and after a while we figured out she was an old friend of my neighbour! The pandemic had got a bit in the way of that friendship though.

We didn't find much of interest, but at some point we found something that could be a flake. And one of the archaeologists confirmed that it was one! Lisa and I high-fived. A flake! Success. And we later even found a suspected second one. But then it was time to call it a day. We left our test pit; the next day some other team would make that go all the way down to the glacial till. And we tidied up our materials.

Lisa and me at work. Pic: GAT/Carneddau Landscape Partnership

Our flake!

Our pit

Jane then showed us the treasures of the most productive group; they had been the only ones in an actual trench where they knew there was going to be something to be found. They had dozens of flakes! And a piece of rock that they had been chipped off. Spectacular!

I also took the opportunity of bugging John, the archaeologist, again. I had been on a very protracted mission triggered by one slide he once showed as part of an online lecture. He had skipped the slide, but later during a guided walk I had asked him but he would have said. And when he told me, I tried to find the location, but in vain. This was my chance to ask where it really was! And he didn't think I was crazy or obsessed (or at least didn't let on), but just showed me on a map on his phone. That's another weekend run sorted!

By the cars I exchanged phone numbers and said goodbye to Lisa. I hope we'll meet again! And then I tried to drive away, but John and Jane flagged me down. John had a flake to show me of which he wanted to know what the lithology was. And we talked a bit about chert and flint; Jane knew all about what it is archaeologically, but not geologically. So this time I could nerd at them instead of being nerded at! That was a nice change. And then my day was over! Back to the grinding stone of my day job… Luckily that is also interesting! 

26 September 2022

Spending the funeral bank holiday on the Heather Terrace

There suddenly was a bank holiday where there hadn't been one before! And I didn't mind that. It would be just after our fieldwork; that had started on a Saturday and ended on a Saturday, so with that bank holiday Monday we had a two day weekend after all. I was a bit tired, and behind on all sorts of chores! So the Sunday was for sorting that. And then on Monday I wanted to go for a walk.

I had thought about a loop around Marchlyn Mawr reservoir, but when I checked to what extent I could see the mountains from my street, I noticed that they were largely invisible, so that route might largely be in the clouds. I quickly considered my other options, and realised that this might be the day I might finally do the Heather Terrace on the flank of Tryfan. I never had! And given that it goes along the flank and not over the top, I had faith it would not be in the clouds. And I figured that I would find somewhere to park given how many people would be watching the Queen's funeral on TV that day.

I was right! I parked up and started. I don't think the Heather Terrace path is something you can easily navigate to from that side of the mountain, so I leaned heavily on my phone and my Footpath app to get to the start of it. But once you're on it, that's it! No more navigation needed until you get to the pass on the other side.

Near the start of the walk, facing Tryfan Bach

Close to the actual Heather Path

I enjoyed the walk. It is a nice path! And it had some goats on it that were both decorative and sonorous. There also were three climbers there. And a few more walkers; I clearly hadn't been the only one who thought there were enough people at the funeral; our attention was not needed.

Calcite nodules

Approaching the pass

The head of the valley to the east

When I got to the pass I considered my options. My initial plan had been to just go back through the valley below the Heather Terrace, but now I figured I might as well go the other way. The view would be much more different on the other side! So I made my way down to Llyn Bochlwyd, and from there I bushwhacked a bit until I got to the path that leads back to one of the parking lots. From there I mainly walked back along the road. I did enjoy a detour on a little path between the A5 and Llyn Ogwen, which ended right by the campervan of a bloke who was just having a cup of tea. We had a nice chat; he intended to do Tryfan the next day. He was from Dover and he had the week off! I figured he would have a great time.

On the pass

View over Llyn Bochlwydd and Llyn Idwal

Vista over Nant Ffrancon

I had only been gone for an hour or two, but I was okay with that. Still one route ticked off the list that had eluded me all these years I've been living here!

25 September 2022

Locked out of my Co-Wheels account

As soon as I joined the car sharing scheme in the village that allows you to borrow an electric car for a reasonable amount of money, I was hooked. I took it to Machynlleth and to Glan Clwyd. And I planned to take it to many more places!

The next plan I had was to take it to Antur Waunfawr; it is a social enterprise that sells secondhand furniture. If I get a Ukrainian, I need to make sure my upstairs bedroom is fully furnished. A wardrobe would be in order. But my little Corsa is not very good for transporting furniture. The MG is a station wagon; it is a lot more suitable for that! But a few days before I had planned to go on a furniture mission, I noticed some transactions on my bank account I did not recognise. I phoned the bank, and they said it indeed looked like fraud, and suggested I block my bankcard. I would get a new card in the mail. And I indeed proceeded like that.

Something I had not immediately thought of was that that meant that co-wheels would not be able to take the payment from my bank account. So the booking was made void, and my account was suspended. Luckily, a few days later I indeed got first a bank card and then a pin number in the mail. I was back in business! I added the new bank card to my suspended co-wheels account, and tried to pay for my canceled booking retroactively. But it didn't work. I just got a message that said "oops, something went wrong".

I phoned them, and asked if I could make that payment some other way. They said I couldn't. There seems to be only one way of paying for the bookings, and it wouldn't work for me! That was frustrating. They said I should contact my bank.

And when I phoned my bank they first said that they couldn't push the payment through, but there was some software malfunction going on which stopped them from finding out what was going on, so I should try later. That was a bit annoying; my bank tends to only answer the phone after 20 rather dull minutes. But I did. And with the malfunction now fixed, could they now sort me out? No, of course not. They said it was a problem with co-wheels.

So now I had co-wheels saying they could not help me out and the bank needed to, and the bank saying they could not help me out and co-wheels needed to. Great! Stuck between a rock and a hard place. How am I going to get out of this? I think co-wheels should pull their finger out. They should really have a mechanism for letting people pay in more than one way. I can't imagine I'm the only person who ever ended up in a situation like this! And I don't think it's a good business model to have people who desperately want to use your services and pay for them and just telling them they can't.

I will I get out of this? I will go back to co-wheels and be persistent. Wish me luck!

24 September 2022

Wall repair starts

It's a big wall and it will take a while for it to be entirely rebuilt and/or repointed. But the work on my retaining wall right underneath my extension has started! Very soon after my preparatory work. And of course, the first thing that needed happening was it to be taken down.

After a few days it became clear that they were not doing all of this in one go. There just was no space to stack all the rock! So they started on the side where the stairs are. And I was glad to see that they could indeed remove it without the whole garden coming down. Or, worse, the conservatory. And then they built it back up again, this time with mortar. It looked rather solid where they had done that. And that was exactly the point!

The neighbour had been a bit skeptical about the whole endeavour. He thought that that wall might very well survive me. But I didn't want to take any chances! I would rather have it taken down pre-emptively than manically have to find a stonemason if it one day comes down on its own initiative.

The work is proceeding rather fast; these men don't seem to care about weekends or bank holidays. I can look forward to a solid wall rather soon! And then one of the outstanding main issues with the house will have been sorted. And it will mean I will have to do something with that part of garden, but that might be very satisfying! It will be a clean slate. And I have plenty of plants in the rest of the garden that can take some of that space…

After day one

After day two

23 September 2022

Getting ready for wall repair

I had decided I wanted the retaining wall that forms the boundary between the upstairs garden in the downstairs garden rebuilt; I was scared it was going to collapse. But when I was showing the stonemason around that I would later give the job, I was reminded of how inaccessible that wall is. That end of my garden is a bit wild; from the lawn, access to it is blocked on the right by my garden shed, and on the left by a huge Himalayan honeysuckle. And I had had my doubts about that honeysuckle. It is a bit out of control. And it is pretty; but it also means that the part of the garden behind it, that in theory could be a lot prettier, is just entirely blocked now. So when I decided to give the stonemason the job I promised him I would remove it. In the long run, it is what I would have wanted to do anyway!

The honeysuckle seen from above; you can’t even see the garden shed

The honeysuckle seen from the front

Originally the stonemason would start in October. That would give me some time to get rid of the honeysuckle. But then I got a message from him; a hole had appeared in his diary and he could start earlier. So that meant that the shrub had to go earlier! 

He would start on the Thursday of the fieldwork; the one day I had off. So in the morning I donned my gardening gloves, grabbed a saw and a pair of secateurs, and set to work. And it is a sizable shrub; I basically just cut it off close to the ground, and removed it. Digging it out looked like a much bigger job. But for now at least the builders had access!


With that shrub gone the garden already looked fundamentally different. A lot more open and tidy! And in the near future, it will look like a building site, but once the wall is back up again, I will have to make that part of the garden look civilised. I think in the end it will look an awful lot better for it! And I won't have to be particularly afraid that all my work will be undone by a wall collapsing on top of it!

22 September 2022

No more oven

The first of my field days with a 5 am start didn't go as I hoped. To start with; when I tried to go home I ended up in a horrendous traffic jam. Luckily I was in a comfortable hire vehicle with a good radio! But when I got home I decided I was going to make pizza. I tend to make it as a tray bake; the entire oven tray full of pizza dough and pizza topping. But when I switched on the oven nothing happened. It just stayed room temperature! I tend not to heat the oven in advance too much; I don't think that is very energy efficient. But it meant that by the time I realised the oven wasn't working I already had the whole pizza pretty much prepared. And how can you get an entire tray full of pizza out of the tray and into a frying pan? Pan pizza is a thing. But unbaked pizza dough is very floppy. I decided my best bet was to just put the whole tray on the hob for a bit. Only so long as to make that crust hard enough to be able to lift it out. And in essence, that worked; the crust became hard enough. But I burnt it quite severely! My house smelled of incinerated food for days.

The ex-oven

I was a bit disheartened. I was tired after my early start, and now food took a lot longer than I had hoped. It also wasn't as good as it should have been. I did manage in the days that followed to scrape the burnt bit off the pizza crust, so the pizza was not lost. But that didn't revive my oven.

I knew from Rose, the previous owner, that when I bought the house, the kitchen was about 10 years old. I suspected, though, that the oven was older than that. I assume she only meant the kitchen cupboards and suchlike. The oven didn't look a mere 10 years old! Or 15, by now. So I wasn't sure there was much of a point in trying to have it repaired. And I wasn't sure if I should; had I not better try to get something a bit more efficient? Air fryers seemed to be widely hailed alternative. Would that be something for me?

This had been my summer of working on the house; now I had an additional chore. Find out if I would be capable of repairing the oven, or have it done professionally, or either finding out it's not worth it or deciding myself I can't be bothered with it. And if the decision would fall on the side of like-for-like replacement, then the question would be whether I would be capable of removing  the old oven myself, and installing a new one, or whether I should have that done professionally. And then make it happen!

In the meantime, I have a small back-up oven. It will do the job as long as I need it to I'm sure! But it is limited. If I have five people over for dinner again, there is no way I can serve them an oven dish. But that's ok; my hob works fine. I don't know how long this will take me, but it is yet another one of those things that happens to you as a homeowner! Something breaks, and you need to decide if you can fix it yourself or not. And fixing it probably means learning from YouTube. And if not, be prepared to open your wallet…

21 September 2022

NHS gives up

Last month I had gone to hospital for an MRI of my neck. The NHS was still looking for a reason for the nerve damage they had found in my arms above the elbow. Maybe there was something my nerves couldn't really get past easily in the vicinity of my spine? And one day I quite unexpectedly got a phone call. It was from the physiotherapist of the local hospital who had referred me for that scan. She said there was nothing untoward they had seen on it, and that means they have run out of options! So the only thing they could recommend me was to manage my situation well. And that means making sure I don't use my arms any more than necessary when working. And I already know that I have to do that. And I am still doing the physiotherapy exercises I had been given a long time ago.

I have bought a little graphic tablet for my laptop, as they are quite affordable, and I don't think it is a good idea to carry the big one with me every time I go to the office from home or back. I just need to make sure that whether I work in the office on campus or my home office, I can do it responsibly! And I know that the University is not keen on giving people two complete set-ups. And I can understand that, but on the other hand; having people sign off for a month on RSI is a lot more expensive than giving them some hardware that would help prevent that! 

I think I will never know why I have that nerve damage they found back in the day when they electrocuted me. But that damage doesn't give me any symptoms! And I will just have to look after my lower arms myself. The NHS has done its best! 

Fighting the symptoms 

20 September 2022

Trying to fight homelessness

One day I went to the local shop, and I was addressed by a man with a dog who had fallen onto hard times and was wondering if I had some change. I did, and we had a nice chat.

The UK is not a welfare state. Especially since more than a decade of tory rule, and a long period of austerity, and now the added cost of living crisis; once you are on the street, it is hard to come off. So that was not the last time I saw him.

Over time I saw him regularly. And that lead to me coming to like him, and starting to trust him. I am totally aware that if you are kind to people, it can backfire! But with him with never backfired. And because it never did I was comfortable giving him money when he needed some. He didn't seem to be the person to then become too pushy or otherwise  unpleasant.

We ended up on first name terms; his name is Michael and his dog is called Bailey. And if I wouldn't see him for a while I would start to worry. Would something have happened to him? But he always reemerged sooner or later.

At some point I trusted him enough to show him where I live. I am always a bit hesitant to do that! But now he knows. And if he now is in a situation where he needs a bit of help even more than standard, he can knock on my door. He sometimes does that.

One night I was ready for bed and then there suddenly was a knock, but it was unusually fast. I went and opened the door, and there was no one! But one of the plant pots near my door had been placed right in front of the door, with an old broken roof tile on top of it. I didn't quite understand what that meant. But since there was nobody to be seen, I closed the door again. Then I had an epiphany. I opened the door again and grabbed the roof tile. And indeed, it had a message on it! It was from Michael, of course. His state of mind had been such that he hadn't wanted to see anyone, but he was in dire straits. And the roof tile had his number on it. So I texted him to say that I was okay to help.

A very Bethesda way of communicating

With him knowing where I live and having my number and also autumn having come, it became both tempting and easy to contact me and ask for more support, so at some point I had to say I couldn't keep things up like that. I am really happy I can make a difference in his life. If I would be in this situation, and I am not naive enough to think that that couldn't happen, I would want to have someone I could turn to when times would get especially hard. But there are limits to how much money I can just give away to someone who is a mere acquaintance. I think we need to find a new balance.

On a grander scale, though, he shouldn't be in this situation. They should be a lot more centralised support for people in a situation like his. That's what taxes are for! But this country seems to think that taxes should be low. And one day when I bumped into him I had just decided I should try to write to my MP and my AS (member of the Welsh Senedd) in order to get their attention to the situation. And then Michael pointed out a bloke who walked past. He said it was the local MP. And I don't think so; I know what my MP looks like and this wasn't him. But he may well be some other local politician, so I went after him, and addressed him. He said he was in the local council. Good enough for me! I explained the situation to him and said that I was worried about Michael and that there should be more support for someone like him. And he did listen! And pulled out a notebook, said he was going to take his details, turn around and vanished. And he really did. He said he was going to try to make something happen. I really hope he will! And I am sure the council has had its budget cut to within an inch of its life, but still; a council is a lot bigger than just me, and therefore has more potential for making a fundamental change. I really hope something will happen and he can turn his life around!

19 September 2022

Coring and sieving

It is a tradition that on the last day of our annual third year fieldwork, we drill a core and we do geophysics. We would split up the group in two; one group does coring and the other one geophysics, and after lunch they swap. This year I was not so sure if we could do that; we had a different coring location in mind, and it was lower down in the estuary than the previous year. I feared that we could only be there during low tide. Martin, however, thought it would be fine, and I went with that. If we can't core where we want to, we can still try coring somewhere higher up!

This year we would be a lot more flexible regarding our location, as I had requested the hand coring set and not the percussion drill that we normally use. That thing with all its accoutrements is heavy! You don't want to have to carry that around. But a hand coring set weighs very little and you can walk it anywhere.

All the students would be picked up at 8:15 on the main campus, and I had decided I would go there too. I could just hop into one of the vehicles carrying the students, and that would save another vehicle having to come all the way to the field site. And I decided to drive. It would be a long and tiring day!

While I was in the car I got a phone call, so I pulled over where I could and so that was all about. It was Katrien who explained there had been a miscommunication with Dei; he would be late. She had designed a clever plan to make sure the damage would be limited. It involved everybody leaving from Menai  Bridge. That was fine with me! Gareth, one of the technicians, picked up the students that were there and ferried them to the new meeting point, while I stayed behind in order to greet the students who were still arriving. If they wouldn't find a vehicle or a member of staff they would worry! I surely would if I were one of them. And then Gareth came, and we were on our way, but the plan had already changed and we went straight to the field. We suspected we would find Dei there, but we didn't. It turned out he had direct all the students in his vehicle to where the geophysics would take place. But he had lots of students who were supposed to come coring with me! So there was a lot of confusion and standing around.

The advantage of the standing around was that we came across Martin and Guy who had just retrieved the equipment Martin always places in the field on a fieldwork like this. I hadn't seen Guy at all, because his only day in the field had been the only day where I wasn't in it! It was good to see him. And I had seen Martin, of course, but it is always nice to see his face.

When we could finally go to the coring site we did it in a clever way; Jaco has come in his own car, and that is a lot smaller than the 17-seaters the rest of us had come in, so it could negotiate the much shallower gravel road that goes all the way to the edge of the salt marsh. So we loaded all the equipment into it, and walked in comfort. We only had to carry it where the gravel road became a path.

We had brought handheld GPSs, and I had the coordinates of the core I had sunk with Martin in May. The GPSs were not precise enough to really bring us there, but that was okay; we could just sink a few trial holes. When we hit only sand we decided to go further down towards the centre of the estuary; it was not too long after low tide, and we knew there were interesting sediments outcropping there. And we managed to core up something interesting!

The suspected fossil saltmarsh layer add guided us

Sediments description

I had requested a second person for the coring, and Jaco had got that task. And he loves his sediments! So basically, once we started coring for real (so no test core this time) I stepped back and let him take charge of the sediment description. He is good with that! I was mainly interested in taking samples of all the various sediment horizons we got. And with his eye for detail, we got quite a number, but I'd rather have too many than too few. 

We cored down to about 80 cm, and then it was almost time to pack up. We decided to briefly try out two new gauges and augers we had, but then we gathered everything and went back to the car. Time for lunch! And then doing the same with a new group.

We went to the main car park, where there are picnic benches, public toilets, and an ice cream van. And the geophysics group. By that time I was ravenous!

After lunch we took the new group to the same site. This time we decided to stay a bit higher up. It was much closer to high tide, but the water was not worryingly high. But there is nothing wrong with being a bit higher up! We managed again to core up something interesting. We described it and sampled it, and took the coordinates. But then it was time to go home!

The second core site

We drove back to Menai Bridge, and there unloaded what needed unloading. And from there we went to Bangor. When we all got out of the vehicle it was the end of the fieldwork proper!

The only thing left to do was a session in the lab the next day. The students have to hand in their field notebooks, but they need a little bit of time to process all they had done all the last day. And with this session in the lab there would be staff they could ask questions, and there would be IT facilities. I thought it was a good idea. Martin had given me the day off; not all staff needed to be there to answer questions. But I had such a big load of core samples I decided to come anyway. I wanted to get the sample processing over with! And it would be the most sociable morning in the lab ever. And Martin would provide coffee and biscuits!

When I got there, I started sieving. The samples each wouldn't take much time; most of it was sand. But there were many of them! I had made the right call, though; there was a good atmosphere in the lab. And I saw the students around me put the finishing touches on their rather good-looking notebooks. It would be a pleasure to mark that!

There was one student who had come by car, and had offered a lift to as many students as it would hold. When she was done she looked a bit bored. She couldn’t leave until her passengers were done too! I saw an opportunity, and ask her if she was willing to give me a hand with the sieving. I had taught them exactly how to do it earlier in the week! And she was so kind. And then one of her passengers was finished too, and he also joined in. This meant that when the session came to an end, all the sieving was done! That pleased me.

When the students were done, Katrien, Martin and I tidied up. Time to go home! Now the fieldwork was truly over. I think the whole trip has been a success. Of course there were things that could have been done better, and we will have a meeting about it, but I went home satisfied! And not anywhere near as stressed as I was last year. We'll see how the students do in the rest of the module; they have some data to create and/or work up, including some foram analysis to do. All of that goes into the final assessment. I hope they get it, and that they will do well! And that this will be a good memory for them forever. I would say it is for me!

18 September 2022

Using a break in the fieldwork to find Ukrainians

There had been no progress on the Ukrainian hosting front. But I had been told about some drop-in sessions at the Quaker hall in Bangor for the local Ukrainian community, and I had decided I wanted to go. It would be a way to make contacts! There would be two of these sessions in consecutive weeks; the first one I missed for reasons of being in the field. The second one fell during the fieldwork, but on the day I would be off. So I could make that! So I got onto my bike and went there.

The Bangor Quaker hall

There were lots of volunteers, and a fair number of Ukrainians. I had a chat with the volunteers. They were very kind! And they were not the people who actually assign guests to hosts, but a crucial thing was that they knew who was, and where to find her. I had a really nice chat with several of them, some of which who asked me if I knew what I was getting myself into, but then decided I should go and try to find this mythical lady who was probably the person I needed to get in touch with. 

Bangor has a sort of a reception centre, and the volunteers told me where it was, and the first name of the lady that could probably help me. It was pretty close by! So I went there, and stood in front of a closed door. I expected that; why would you let just anyone walk in? But there was a receptionist, and he let me in. He told me I could go no further, but I didn't need to; I only wanted him to pass my contact details on to the lady who does guest allocation. And he said he could and would. So I gave him my email address, and told him I was hoping to talk to someone who knows the Ukrainians who are looking for a host. They would be the person who would be able to judge who would feel at home in my slightly odd household!

I really hope he indeed passes these details on, and that I get a message from this lady fairly soon. And that my plan works, and that those involved in the organisation will indeed pick someone who would be a good match with me. If so, that would be good for them, for the Ukrainian and for me! Only advantages; just the way I like it. Stay tuned!

17 September 2022

Looking for modern foraminifera for the fieldwork

When the introduction day was done it was time to get real and collect some samples! And in itself that was not much of a problem, but there was a complication: the tide. I have to do that during low tide, and the week of the fieldtrip had one low tide really early in the morning, and one in the early evening. Neither is ideal! And given that I take the students into the lab to process the samples afterwards, I decided I should go in the morning. But that meant an early start. I would pick up the students at 6:15 in the morning every day, from the main campus. And that meant getting up at 5. I wanted to have time to have proper breakfast! Otherwise I would struggle in the field. And it was quite early. When I woke up that first morning I got to my south-facing window and got blasted in the face by a full moon. I decided to just have breakfast in the moonlight! And when I picked up the students, the sky was beautifully orange. When we got to the field, the morning light was amazing. Things were starting well!

Breakfast moon

Morning in the estuary 

After some problems with handheld GPSs last year, I had this time booked the fancier GPS. So I started that up and took the students onto the sandflat. As the tide was coming in, I wanted to do the lowest samples first! And then work my way to higher ground. And we properly surveyed them in. It was a gorgeous morning but then we had to leave the field and go into the lab to process the samples. We were done before noon! And then I brought the students back to the main campus. My first field day was done! But I was quite tired.

The next day I had more students, and more clouds. The field was still beautiful, but in a different way. More Wuthering Heights than Heidi! And we didn't manage to make the fancy GPS work. But we had the handheld ones for backup, and that did the job too. 

The people who were targeting the late low tide that day got rained on quite a lot! So what we did had its advantages. And I think the day after that was similar; we were dry in the morning, and the afternoon crew got rained on. We also had company in the field; Jaco was doing his thing at roughly the same time and place as us. That was nice!

Dramatic skies on day three

The last day was a bit chilly, and on top of that, the midges were out. It was the least comfortable day, but we filled some gaps in the sampling transect. It was a success after all. And then I had all my samples! I brought the students back to main campus after the sample processing, but given that this aspect of the fieldwork was now done, I didn't need the big Ford Tourneo any more, so I brought it back to Ocean sciences, and spent a bit of time in my office. I made sure to plot up all sample locations. It looked good to me! But then I was very tired, and took my trusted bike that had been waiting for me in the office since Saturday, back home. The fieldwork wasn't over for me now, but the first part was done and dusted!

A foram! With algae symbionts! In the middle.

Last year we had chosen one evening of the fieldtrip to go have fish and chips on the beach. I think that is now a tradition, so after coming home I had a shower, did some things that needed doing, and then was picked up by Sue and Dean to go straight back to where I had been in the morning. We met up with Martin, and we had a very pleasant evening on the beach! For me it was a celebration of four days of sampling for more than foraminifera having come to an end. And the next day I didn't have to get up early at all. Excellent timing!

Dinner on deserted beach

16 September 2022

Start of the fieldwork

After the recent preparations, the day came that the fieldwork actually started! And we traditionally start with a walk around the field site, to give the students an overview, and talk to them about what we do and why we do it. This year was no exception. Martin had sent out a little map with stopping points and the topic to be talked about at these various stopping points, and I could guess which ones would be mine. I had made sure I knew what I wanted to say.

This year we started in the lab. Martin had decided he first wanted to brief the students a bit about practical matters, and he could show them a few images of the terrain that gives an overview you can't get when you're standing in it. And when that was done we piled into some minibuses and went into the field.

We started at the very top of it, by the bridge where the river comes into the estuary. It was gorgeous weather! It was a pleasure to show the students this area for the first time. And after the stop by the bridge we had lunch (time flew), and then we went into the marsh itself. That was where I wanted to do most of my talking! And I did.

Martin talking about the estuary near the bridge 

From there we went onto the sandy part of the estuary. That is mainly a place where Martin does the talking. But there are outcrops of old saltmarsh sediment, and during the coring day I will actively try to catch these in the subsurface, so there I did the second half of what I wanted to say.

Martin talking about the estuary further seawards 


Katrien talking about the estuary by the suspected fossil salt marsh sediments

After that stop there was one more, which was prime Martin territory with lots of beach and nearshore sediment morphology. And then it was time to walk back to our vehicles.

More talking about the estuary 

I got a special mission; we had only one key of the barrier, and one of our technicians was in a hurry to get home. So I was sent ahead with him. I would then just wait for the others, key and all.

I thought it had been a good start! Everything worked frictionlessly. And I think we managed to inspire some interest in the area in the students. And having lovely weather is always nice! And I could only hope that the rest of the fieldtrip would be equally frictionless!

15 September 2022

Smart meter!

If you have solar panels but you do not have a smart meter, you do get the satisfaction of knowing you are contributing to making the world be powered in a slightly more renewable way. But if you want to actually pay less for your energy than you did before the solar panels, you need a smart meter. I had told my energy provider in all sorts of ways I needed one, but nothing had happened. But when my first bill came in, and it was as high as the previous one even though I had produced an awful lot more than I had used, I got in touch again, and given that I was challenging their bill, they started paying attention. And not much later I got a phone call in which they proposed a date for installing the smart meter.

The day came, and the installer arrived. He asked me to remove a plank I had improvised in the little cupboard where my electricity meter lived. But when that was done he could just do his thing. And less than two hours later he switched my electricity back on. It was done!

Before he got stuck in


It was not a big intervention, but now I finally have my solar panels acknowledged. And I can see my energy use. Surprise surprise; boiling water for coffee or tea is responsible for pretty much all the peaks in my usage. 

I decided to keep the little monitor that shows me my usage inside the cupboard, which is normally closed. I don't like such modern things in view in my living room! And that does mean I don't keep a close eye on it, but I can look up my usage whenever I want. And I am now quite curious to see what my next energy bill will be! I will be one of the few people who sees their bill go down in this period…

A spike for breakfast and a spike for coming home out of the field! Picture taken after a few days since installation…

14 September 2022

Getting the field ready for the field trip

Our annual field trip was nigh! And this year, Martin was organising it, so I didn't have to stress about it. But it does require some preparation. Earlier in the year we had already gone on a coring recce. Later I had prepared my part of the documentation for the students. And even closer to the time, some flags had to be planted. The students survey a set of transects through the estuary every year, and it is important, for reasons of the data being comparable from year to year, that they survey the exact same transect year after year. So we had to put the flags that demarcate the start of each transect in the same places we had done the previous year. Over lunch one day, Martin mentioned he had to go into the field to put them there, but hadn't used the GPS for a while, so wasn't sure he remembered how it worked. I had just used it with my master student so I offered to go with him. And he took up that offer.

On the day, he would combine picking up the key to the gate with placing the flags. So after an early lunch we set off to the main entrance of the Newborough Warren, picked up the key, and then went to the western end of the area. There we first parked up quite far into the estuary. It was nice not to have to walk! Or even ride. Martin had printed a map and a list of coordinates. What could go wrong!

Then we put the first coordinates into the GPS so it could lead us there. I had not been shown that very useful functionality when I had asked the appropriate technician to talk me through how that piece of equipment worked before I took it to the Dee estuary with my master student! Now at least I know it is there, and approximately how it works. That alone might very well have been worth the trip. But strangely enough, it said that first point was 4 km away. That puzzled us, as we should be nearby. We tried another point and that worked. The GPS lead us to a post which was indeed a start of a transect, but it was so conspicuous we didn't even need to place a flag.

After a while Martin had a revelation; the second set of coordinates were for the wrong transects. But we were probably okay with the first set. So we set out to get these done. Somehow the second set would have to be done later; maybe during the introduction day. Or tagged onto some other activity going on in that side of the estuary.

The second start of a transect we wanted to mark with a flag was not that far away, and mostly over a path. We placed the flag by a shrub, and then went back to the vehicle. Our third location was a bit higher in the estuary so it made sense to bring the car.

This third location was in the middle of the marsh. And it was old-fashioned saltmarsh trudging! I am always very aware of the risk of spraining my knee, so I am very slow in terrain like that. Martin was sprinting ahead. At least I could follow his trail. That made it a little bit easier to see if there were half-hidden holes I could potentially step in. 

Carrying the GPS around

Martin + GPS in the far distance

There was nothing at the location where the GPS told us to be that stood out, but we just put a flag in. And we made it back without incident. And I remembered where that had to go; really close to the parking lot. So we got there and I placed it. But Martin argued the GPS told us I was wrong. We placed the flag where the GPS lead us. So much for human memory! By that time it was raining and we were glad that we could leave.

Some communication with Guy who had placed the flags the year before, and surveyed them in with the GPS, revealed that we had been quite right; that second set of locations was wrong, and the last flag had indeed been there I remembered it. And the other locations were also a bit off. We would have to rectify that during the actual fieldtrip! Oh well. It had been a nice half day in the field. Now I think we will never again go by a little map and a list of coordinates alone, especially without checking. But it is easily done; these days just before a fieldwork are hectic, and you rush things. But in hindsight we had to accept this rushing had only made things worse. An explanation with pictures makes it a lot easier to see if you got the right point, and it may save quite some time!

13 September 2022

Back to Bwlch y Plwm

Kate had suggested an underground trip before term would start again. There were not many takers, but I thought it was an excellent idea! And when the day came close, she suggested Bwlch y Plwm. It is a through trip; you go in at the top, go down the first pitch, pull the rope down behind you, use it to rig the second pitch, pull the rope down again, and walk out at the bottom. And that is rather straightforward. The only thing with a trip like this is: once you pulled the rope down the first time, you are committed. Nothing should go wrong after that, as you can't go out the way you came in. 

There were two challenges with this trip. The first one was that I wasn't sure I would be able to find the entrance. I have never been good at that, but now I also hadn't been in many years! Kate said she would manage. And the second thing was, obviously, the rigging. Neither of us had a rope that was long enough for the second pitch. And I am not one who objects to just tying two ropes together, but it does include a complication. More opportunities for a rope to get snagged!

We agreed we needed to have a call-out, and I found Martin willing to be that. But I know he was busy on the eve of the field trip, of which he is the organiser this year, so I didn't want to set it too late. I told him to phone the police if I hadn't been in touch by 11 pm. But I wanted to be out by 10. I'm not much of a nightcrawler!

We met at six in Betws, and drove down together. It is fair way! And Kate parked somewhere quite far from where I had parked in the past. That threw me a bit; didn't that mean we would be quite far from the entrance? And how would we find it? But she was reasonably confident. So we got kitted up, and made a plan while doing it.

By that time it was seven, and we didn't know how long it would take us to find the entrance. And we were working on a tight deadline! I really wanted to avoid us causing a call-out. So our plan was: find the entrance, rig the first pitch, go down, go back up again, and if we had time and felt like it, go in through the bottom entrance and have a look around. That's the most interesting level anyway! And we were parked right by it.

We set off up the hill. Soon the terrain started looking familiar. But the actual entrance didn't show itself! We were just on a wild goose chase. And at some point I suggested we would just sit down and have our sandwiches. And I suggested we find a spot with a good view. Kate pointed to a good spot, and we climbed towards it. It indeed had a good view! And it had something else: the entrance! We had now accidentally found it. But sandwiches first!

When we had eaten our dinner we went in. The pitch is really close to the entrance. Kate rigged it and went down. I followed, but quickly reversed as she asked me to bring her bag which she had forgot. And then we were both at the bottom of the first pitch! Memories came flooding back. And we explored the little there was to explore at this level. And then we could come out again! I went up first, and was soon back at entrance level. Then Kate got on the rope.

Pic by Kate

Nice drippies. Pic by Kate

She struggled. She was wearing a new harness, and after a while it became obvious that she had not configured it in such a way she could comfortably get up a rope. Luckily I spotted what she could do about it and that helped! And she came out. And we walked back to the car. It wasn't very late, but it was good enough for me. That lower entrance could wait! Now that we know where the entrance was, we could come back some other day and get there a bit more efficiently. And then just do the entire trip within the given time. And Kate agreed. So we got changed. And I texted Martin. 

It hadn't been a spectacular night underground, but that was okay! We had had plenty of time to catch up, and we had even got underground and done a little bit of SRT. So a good night! And I have faith we will come back one night!

12 September 2022

Finally removing the nicotine

I have no idea when I might get a Ukrainian in my house. But I do know how long I have been postponing a job I really should have done, probably as soon as I moved into the house. Although there were so many jobs my head was reeling! But anyway; Rose, the previous occupant of the house, had been a heavy smoker. It has been nice to pull lots of wallpaper that was sticky with tar and nicotine off the walls. I also had had to clean some ceilings, as you should not paint over cigarette smoke stains.

The upstairs bedroom, though, was the room that was in the best state of the entire house. It didn't have wallpaper to start with, and I didn't have a problem with the colour scheme or the carpet. So I just used that room as bedroom or office or both at the same time, without doing much work on it. It had been rewired when the whole house had been rewired, and I had to hide the evidence of that. And I had had the chimney swept. That was pretty much it! So the nicotine was still on the walls. And that is only just good enough for me, but certainly not good enough for a Ukrainian. 

It was time to get active! I got the sugar soap out again, and got to work. It wasn't even that much of a job. But they were places where clearly the walls have got wet, and the smoke stains had started dripping down. That was pretty horrible! And now that has been resolved.

Not a good look!

I need to do some serious re-jigging of that room if a Ukrainian would really be occupying it. And that is a bit more organisation. But the first step has been taken!

11 September 2022

Wall repair organised

I don't know exactly when I started to be a little bit worried about the dry slate retaining wall between the upstairs garden and the downstairs garden. I think I might have got a little bit more worried about it when I had a lot of business with it, at the time when I was painting the extension. I was walking around on it a lot, and was also aware of how narrow the ledge is between the extension and the face of the wall. 

Things weren't improved when in the area, two fairly similar walls came down in February. They are probably all a similar age! And I know walls are not like radionuclides; they don't have a half life, but it didn't make me feel any better about the situation.

When I had a stonemason coming round he did reassure me that the extension wouldn't come down with the wall root of four. I still prefer it not to fall down only it's only initiative! And the original stonemason was clearly a bit of a perfectionist; he didn't like slate, and would have wanted to build the wall back up in different work. I am not keen on that; firstly, my garden is an old Slate Yard! If it is demarcated by a wall, it should be a slate wall. And additionally; if you want to remove all the tonnes of slate that make up the wall now, and bring down all the tonnes of other stone to build it back up, it becomes very expensive. 

I figured I should find out if I could find someone who was willing to take the wall down, and then just put it back with the same Stone come out but now with mortar in between. I am sure slate is an imperfect material, but I am also sure that that way you could make that wall state upright for another hundred years at least! Long enough for me.

Some light googling lead me to the "my builder.com" website. There you can give a brief explanation of what job you need doing, and then companies can respond to that. You can shortlist them and invite the shortlisted companies to give you a quote. I didn't expect things to go very fast; I was just doing some preliminary googling. But I wasn't complaining when I immediately got a response from one of the shortlisted people, and he was even available to come and have a look that very same day.

Two men appeared, and they had a look. They figured they could do it with the very same stone, and as a result there "was a lot lower than that of the previous stonemason. I told them that if they could put that called into writing I would give them the job! And that happened.

If all is well, the work will start in October. It should be done in one or two weeks. And then I will have bought myself some peace of mind! I look forward to that!

The wall