27 January 2023

Save the crab apple tree from ivy

In 2022, I had been doing a lot of murdering. First I murdered the Buddleia next to my kitchen. And once that was gone, I murdered the ivy that had been threatening my roof. And I had been on murder sprees before; for instance, the Buddleias that were threatening my view from the conservatory and my apple tree also went to meet the maker.

When I was pruning my crab apple tree, I decided that again I needed to murder one creature to help another. There is a lot of ivy growing up this tree! And I can't imagine that is good for it. So I made a start to get rid of it. The only thing I did was climb in and remove as much by hand as I could. At a later date, I will need to go and saw through the thicker bits, and use my ladder to reach places I couldn't reach now. Then crowbar off everything I can't just pull of by hand.


After the first few minutes 

I think that when it comes to volume, I have most of it off! It already looks tidier. I'm not sure when I will get back to this, but it would be good too rid the poor tree entirely of this parasite!

26 January 2023

Scratch post refurbished

Once upon a time, Kate gave me scratch post. I hadn't even put it down on the ground or the cat already had her claws in it! This clearly was something she appreciated. And she didn't tire of it. And that's a good thing! Except that the rope that was used to make it was of questionable quality. First of all; Mevrouw Moor was pulling fibres out of it all the time, and they all annoyingly ended up on my bedroom floor. And secondly; with all these fibre is removed, she basically pulled the whole thing apart. At one point I had to act!

I bought 10 m of rope from the local builder’s merchants. And when I saw an opportunity, I stripped all the seriously damaged rope off the cardboard base of the post. That was quite a pile! It went in the bin. And then I could put the new rope on instead. It is a bit thinner than the rope I have used to turn my staircase banister into a scratch post, but I think it is the same quality. This doesn't shed!

When I was done I put the scratch post down. And as I hoped; within seconds, Mevrouw Moor had her claws in it. Excellent! I hope my repair lasts long. And that she enjoys the scratch post no less than she used to!

Start of refurbishment


Finished!


25 January 2023

One Kate gone, the other one back

The Kate situation is a bit of a revolving door! In December, I had caught up with one of them, when she briefly was around. The other one had been on Iceland for a few months. And now they have swapped; Kate is back from Iceland but now the other one is away again. But that meant I could catch up with a Kate again! 

We would go for a walk. Nothing too wild! I was a bit too aware of approaching term, and she had loads to get on with it as well. But it was good to catch up! We were barely done talking by the time we got back to the cars after a little loop in the vicinity of Capel Curig. But she might be around for a while now, so there is no reason why we can't do this again!

Wintery view of Moel Siabod



24 January 2023

Annual tree pruning

It's one of those chores that has to be done every year! I think it is a bit onerous. The main work is pruning my crab apple tree. It is a bit impenetrable, so it is difficult to reach all the new bits with my telescopic tree pruner. I am working that thing at its full length, and both the pruner and its cord snag all over the place. But I want it done! That tree needs to keep its shape. And I had hoped to do this in the Christmas holiday, but I hadn't found the time. And with climate change doing what it is doing, spring can hit any time. So on Saturday with still a fair amount of snow in the garden, I got my act together.

This time, I also used my big ladder! I can reach quite a lot with that. And that is a lot more comfortable. So quicker than normal, I was done with the crab apple tree. And then I proceeded with the plum tree and the Cotoneaster. 

I only got rid of the produced waste the next day, but I was glad to see my garden looking smart again. Not that it will last; in spring the tree will send new shoots up that will have to be lobbed off next winter. But this annual task at least is over for this season!

Before 

After

23 January 2023

Progress on the bridge

I suppose that if you have a bridge that is almost 200 years old, not every builders’ merchant stocks spare parts. So if at some point you decide it has become so rickety and in need of repair it has to be taken out of use, you can't just order spare parts that arrived the next day. So I figured it probably would take a while before any actual repairs would start on the bridge! I guess you have to find people who can supply the materials you need, and then some clunky tendering process has to take place, and only after that is finished you can start the actual work. So I wasn't overly surprised that during my frequent bridge crossings I rarely saw anything happening there that pointed towards the problem being solved.

Then one day I saw some men in some cherry pickers and something was clearly happening! It was all on the west side of the bridge. Local media had been saying all along the problem was with the hangers. And they were doing something with these! During later crossings I saw what actually was going on; on that side of the bridge, they were attaching four steel cables around every hanger, attached to a custom made block below the anchoring point of the hanger. I could see the reasoning! If these steel cables temporarily take the weight of the bridge, the hangers can be replaced. And I could imagine that that is something they can do without disturbing the pedestrian traffic over the bridge!

I hope that this means things are moving now, and it won't be too long for the bridge to reopen. I am totally used to the situation as it is, but I am sure it will be even easier to get used to the situation as it was!

The first sign I saw of work

A whole row of supported hangers

Cables waiting for a block

Some cables lying ready for work recommencing later


22 January 2023

Therapy

I've not had much therapy in my life. There were years when I was younger when I really would have benefited from it, but was too young to realise that. When I was 17, I got a kick in the arse from a friend, and I went to the appropriate health body for some help. They did give me a therapist, but the combination wasn't good; I didn't have the impression he was saying anything I hadn't already thought of a hundred times, and I didn't trust him. My sister wasn't a qualified therapist back then, but she did have some knowledge on therapy methods, and she said that his were about 100 years out of date.

I left this therapist as he wasn't adding anything to my life and then I muddled on on my own for years. I sort of figured that this sort of unhelpful stuff is what happens if you ask for help. But obviously, nothing had been solved, and I later hit a rather rough patch, and went back. And this time, things were different. This time they offered me both therapy and antidepressants. And the latter really made a world of difference. It quite snowed under any potential effect of the therapy I got with it. That was group therapy; it was enjoyable, but I didn't feel like it made huge difference. And I've never been in therapy since.

I didn't stay on these antidepressants very long. I think I got the hang of everything by myself, after they somehow jumpstarted the engine. And my life got better and better, over decades. So long, actually, that I started to take that trend for granted.

And then, in short succession, the underground men got hostile, lockdown was called, I developed serious RSI with which both the NHS in the University seemed reluctant to help me with, I got threatened with redundancy and I found myself an EU citizen in a Brexit country. That's quite a lot to deal with! And that's when the positive trend halted. And even reversed a bit.

I am still in quite an acceptable shape! But I wanted my positive trend back. And I also think I have a few hangups that might be self-reinforcing, and which complicate my relationships with my fellow humans. And I am nowhere without my fellow humans. So after a period when I thought that any person involved in mental health care really had more urgent things to do, thanks to much more serious effects of lockdown on other people, I decided that the time had come to look after myself. And what helped was that a friend casually mentioned they had a counsellor, and that they were happy with this person. And given that I recognised a few things in this friend, I thought that if this counsellor was good for them, then maybe they also would be for me!

When I looked up the Counselor online, I saw that she was on Christmas holiday, but would be back in early January. And once she was, I sent her a message. And she said she took on new clients. So we had a brief telephone consultation to establish whether if she and I might be a good match. We decided it looked like we were. And I was particularly drawn to the walking therapy sessions she does. 

So one January afternoon I drove to Llanrwst to meet up with this lady. It was a bit challenging as there was a fair amount of snow and ice on the road, but I got there without incident. And we had our introductory session! This was mainly just me telling her why I was there. But I do think we had good rapport. So we made an appointment to do it again!

We will need to meet more often before I will see a difference. But I am confident that it will happen! And I hope that after the decline that started in 2019, 2023 will be the year in which that negative trend is bent back into it original positive direction!

Picture taken during the first session

21 January 2023

More dates

On January the first, I had a first date with a man I had found online. And as I write this, we have already had the fifth date. There is clearly a connection here! And I’m not going to say much more about it for now, but I thought I’d give at least a slight update. When the time is right I’ll get a bit more specific! 

Pic taken during date #3



20 January 2023

Unexpected treasure

I was just walking from one building to the other at work, when I noticed that some flakes had either fallen off a stone in the wall, or had been broken off by some kind of violence. I suppose most people walk past this. But I am a geologist, and I saw and opportunity for seeing a fresh surface! So I picked up the flake. And it looked like an oolitic limestone! I think these are lovely. You don't get to see them very much! I know there are oolitic horizons in the regional Carboniferous limestone, but I couldn't remember seeing anything this beautiful.

In case one wonders; you get ooids if you have bits of carbonate, like shell fragments, rolling around in water that is supersaturated with calcite. The supersaturation makes the calcite precipitate on the substrate of the fragment, and the movement of the water (you might get this in a tidal inlet) makes sure that all sides of the fragment get coated, which in the end results in the round shape. I suppose cave pearls are not that dissimilar in formation.

In the olden days I would've just showed off with this, but the olden days are over. I never have my reading glasses with me at work, so I couldn't look at the flake in close up! So I walked into Jaco's office; I was fairly sure he would have a hand lens. He did! And it sure is an oolitic limestone. I'm keeping that!

It's such a small thing; a nice flake of rock. But I really enjoyed finding that!

Unassuming rock in wall

What it looks like in close-up (use full screen!)

19 January 2023

Another NWCRO kit check

I will not quickly forget the first NWCRO kit check I attended! It would be indoors, and even inside buildings it can be a bit cold, thought I'd brought my thin down jacket, but it was still Covid time, and for safety reasons they had the windows and doors wide open. And it was winter. It was so cold!

This winter we would have another one, and I wasn't sure if I wanted to come. But then some very subtle hint reached me via email, that we could have a little discussion about becoming controllers if we were there. So I took the hint and put it into my diary. And that morning I put both my down jackets in my bag, just in case. I was sure this time the doors and windows would be closed! But still.

I got in and made myself a cup of coffee. Then I was okay to start! But there first was some general catching up. Mainly with Nick and Jonty; I knew Nick had also been asked to become a controller, and Jonty had been on the previous training. And both work at Go Below, so they know about the most recent developments there. Miles is keeping me informed, but it was good to hear things out on their mouths this time!

Nick and I also decided to corner Dewi, who had approached us about becoming controllers. We wanted to know who the four people were that he had asked. It would really be useful to know that! And he thought he had told us, but he hadn't. It turned out that Ed and our equipment officer Tom were the other two.

But then it was time to do the actual kit check. We have a lot of gear! And we need to check that everything is in good order, and is where we think it is. As we don't get called out often, are material doesn't have a lot of wear and tear, so we don't often have to throw anything away because it is worn out, but sometimes we have to throw things away because they just are getting old. That especially holds for ropes and webbing.

Show me the highlight was noticing we have a dog harness (it is not unusual for us to be called out to try and save dogs who have accidentally fallen into a mine), and figuring that in order to check it we need to put it on a dog. And there was a dog! One of the blokes had brought one. And he was okay us putting the patient canine in the harness. That worked! We might have to make Ralph the dog an honorary team member.


By noon I was getting hungry. And I think it was about 1 o'clock when I decided to just shout at our equipment officer if he could please call a lunch break. And I wasn't the only one who was feeling that! At exactly the same time, Dewi was shouting something similar from the other side of the room. Together we had enough influence, and a lunch break was called there and then. Finally! I was starting to eye up my fellow team members as potential snacks. 

By about three we were done. That meant I could phone Guy to say I was on my way! I would drive past his house on my way back, so I wanted to call in for a cup of tea. And I did. And it was really great to see him!

And that was our kit check for this year! I suppose the next thing that needs to happen is that the four aspiring controllers get together. Watch this space for that!

18 January 2023

What are "foraminifera" in Welsh?

If you do a talk about foraminifera in Welsh, the first thing you need to know is the word for foraminifera in Welsh. And that immediately proved a bit of a stumbling block! None of my dictionaries has heard of it. And the University has a special website where you can look up academic and scientific terms in Welsh, but even that site hadn't heard of them. Now what?

With a term like this, it's not unreasonable to just take the English word and Welshify it a bit. So I devised ‘fforaminiferaidd’ and ‘fforaminiferoedd’ (Welsh has very many ways of turning a singular into a plural), but also figured that maybe an actual translation was a possibility. Foraminifera just means ‘bearers of holes’. Surely I could turn that into Welsh! To carry or to bear is ‘cludo’ and a hole is a ‘twll’ so hole-bearers would be twllgludwyr. 

You can see the holes in this picture

At the beginning of my presentation in the front of the other advanced Welsh learners among the academic staff, I threw the question into the group. What did they think? And they were pretty much unanimously in favour of twllgludwyr. And the tutor even said that the website with specialist terms I mentioned above is made in the house; maybe they should just add my concoction to it? I don't think there are many people who do discuss foraminifera in Welsh, but just suppose that there are, they might want to find this word!

I am actually quite chuffed at the thought that I might be contributing a word to the Welsh language. Let's see if this really happens! If so, it will sure end up here on this blog! 

16 January 2023

Talking about foraminifera in Welsh

In January, we would have the second meeting of the Cymraeg+ project. And we would all present an aspect of our teaching to each other. We would have to keep it limited; we would only have five minutes each. I was looking forward to it, though! One evening earlier in the week I had made mine. I always find it very difficult to talk for a very short time. There is so little you can say! And I had had to make a similar decision the previous time I prepared for a presentation in Welsh. But I had decided I would just explain just how much information you can get out of the calcite of foraminifera tests. 


In the actual meeting, it was difficult to get to the point where we would actually give a presentation. The Cymraeg+ tutor is quite verbose! But we got there.

The first your presentation was from a lady from disability services, and she spoke about dyslexia, I will does correlate with. It's not that interesting! And I thought he was totally ready to do a presentation like this for the audience it was actually intended for.

I was next. And I talked about my forams. And I think the audience now realises a lot more how important they are than they did before. I think it went well! Although I realised I didn't know what the word for configuration was. And ratio. Ffurfweddiad and cymhareb, it turned out.

Then there were talks about natural flood management and narcissism in sport. Also very interesting! And it all went well! We all welcomed the opportunity for practice, but I think we all can do this. But that doesn't mean, of course, that we shouldn't try to keep improving.

Given that we could look up all the vocabulary for the talks in advance, but if you get questions from the floor you don't really know what's coming, and we want to be ready for that too, next time we do something similar, but then with bigger question-and-answer sessions. I look forward to that too! And I might even build on from what I told them this time…

15 January 2023

Divvying up another colleague’s load

I suppose it's part of anybody's job to sometimes pick up tasks from colleagues who can’t do them themselves! My colleagues have had to pick up after me when I signed off with RSI. And we've had to cover for colleagues who were either ill or had ill loved ones. And we are there again. One of my colleagues, a physical oceanographer, had to sign off sick for quite a while a few months ago. He is still gone.

The first thing I had to do when he signed off was make sure I didn't give him any dissertation students. The news of him signing of sick reached me between having assigned all students to a supervisor, and me publishing this list to the students. So I quickly had to shuffle things around a bit! But thanks to kind colleagues who were willing to take on an extra student, that was fairly quickly sorted. I took one myself.

That was the dissertation module; the actual teaching of that module would be in the second semester. But we were still in the first semester. And the man who had signed off was teaching in my module, but he had already done all his teaching, and the assignment he had was an online test, so that marked itself. So in that sense, everyone got away lightly. And in his own module the situation was similar. His input had been earlier in the module, and now it was up to the other people in the module to finish things off.

The next thing that happened was the exam period. And one of our other physical oceanographers was so kind as to volunteer for marking the absent man's questions on the exams of both modules. That was very generous!

That was the exam period sorted. But soon, term is starting. The teaching he has that I'm not involved in is being organised outside my view. But there is one module that we both teach on in the second semester. His contribution to the module had to be re-distributed!

He had five lectures and an assignment. One of the lectures is on a topic that I have been teaching on in this very module, so I volunteered for it. One of the research stuff kindly took on the rest. And I took on the assignment. Not that I am looking forward to a big extra marking load, but due to convoluted circumstances I had marked this assignment before. I figured that meant it should be me who takes this on. I already know what it's about! I can hit the ground running.

I think we'll cope until he comes back! I'm not sure when that is. And no one ever really wants to take on more work, but I do like that we are such a well oiled machine that if someone signs off, we make it work. I don't think this will be the last time!

14 January 2023

Welsh community at work?

For a long time, within the academic staff, only my colleague Dei and I spoke Welsh. The good thing is that our offices are only a few meters away from each other, so it is quite easy to pop into each other's office and have a chat.

Then, not a long time ago, we got a new Welsh-speaking member of staff: Iestyn. His main job is research, so professionally I don't have much to do with him. And he is also, strangely enough, a freshwater scientist! That doesn't go very well together with my lovely foraminifera. But he got an office in my corridor. That was good! I sometimes pop in for a chat. I had also been trying to get him to join us for lunch, but so far with little success. Sometimes one of my colleagues was a bit more successful and dragged him to coffee, and then he would ask me to join as well. However; that colleague is now on sick leave and might be gone for a while. I am redoubling my efforts!

And then, the long-anticipated lady who was especially hired to do Welsh language teaching in marine biology arrived. Iestyn confessed he was looking forward to that! And he also said she would get an office in that same corridor, where all three Welsh speakers already were. That would be cool!

I could really imagine that we would get some Welsh language critical mass that way. And I looked forward to that! My Welsh is never going to improve unless I use it more. And if I can actually use it in a professional context more that would be fab!

Then the day came she appeared. The Head of School brought her into the corridor. And I thought what Iestyn had predicted would happen. But then it didn't! I don't think she dislikes us, but she just liked an office one floor lower better so she chose that. It is still really close!

As I publish this, she has only been in the job for a week, and during that week all of us have at least worked one day at home, so there hasn't yet been that much interaction. But I think that will change and I look forward to it!


13 January 2023

Chester date

When you have given in to internet dating, I suppose a reasonable thing to do is to regularly scroll through the new faces appearing on the site. I certainly did that. It didn't result in me finding someone I found worth contacting very often. I suppose the discerning reader of this blog already guessed that, as not much news on this topic appears on this site. But only a few days ago, there was mention of someone worth contacting. And of course, this man appeared (or at least, I noticed him) at pretty much the same time as another one. It's a bit Murphy's Law! Why can't they appear one after the other, so you can just politely focus on one. If that goes well then mission is accomplished; if it doesn't, you just wait for the next person to appear, and that might then not take that long. But no! Of course that's not how it goes.

I had decided with both men it was worth meeting up to see if we actually liked each other in person. And both meetings would be after Christmas. And one acted quick, so we saw each other on New Year's Day. And it was good! But there was the other one as well. I saw him a week later. 

This man I saw in Chester. I had never been to Chester, and although we had initially thought we might want to do a walk somewhere where there were interesting Neolithic features, practical considerations trumped that, and a city walk it was. 

This was also lovely! And I'm not just talking about Chester. I had a great time with this man. Of course I did. It would be way too simple if he would have been a really bad match.

I went home and I had to think the situation over. What now? I would definitely have organised a second date with each of these men if they would be the only one in the picture. But I wasn't comfortable with having a second meeting with both of them. I know a second date is only a second date, but I already find it feels like adultery! So I had to make a choice and let the man I wouldn't choose know.

The one thing that stood out during my first first date was how quickly I felt very comfortable in the presence of this particular bloke. And that is important! And I had a great time with the other one as well, but there was a bit more of a polite distance there.

Another argument was distance. The first one lived a lot closer than the other one! And let's not pretend that logistics don't matter. I was reminded of just how far Chester is, then he lives near there. So the next day I composed a message and told Mr Chester that I had really appreciated my day with him, but that I would not pursue a second date. And he sent a very understanding message back.

So there we go. One week in which a lot more happened than in several years before that! So watch this space. Who knows what will happen next!

A section of Roman wall with moat 

Chester city centre

More city wall



12 January 2023

Re-reading the Pumed Cainc

When I was in the Netherlands, I managed to finish the Welsh book I was reading: Pumed Gainc y Mabinogi by Peredur, the linguist who is so kind as to meet up with me so I can practise my Welsh. It has taken me quite a while to get through it! Not because it doesn't read smoothly, but because I just hadn't picked up a book for weeks if not months on end. But now I have time. I spent quite sometime in trains when I am in the Netherlands, and I also couldn't speak, which pushed me in the direction of just reading!

So what do I think? Well! I think that I don't understand yet what he's on about. So I set out immediately re-reading it. In order to understand the plot, I think you need to really have the Mabinogi well settled in your head. And I don't! I only read it once. And given how long it took me to read it, I had also forgot quite some details from the first half of the book.

I started again. I was reading a bit quicker this time, and I took notes when I thought I came across something that is important for understanding the plot. And every time I thought I was missing a clue from the Mabinogion, I looked it up. I ended up with quite a big file on my phone with notes about every chapter, and relevant fragments copied over from internet about the various details of the national epic. As I write this, I am just over halfway reading it again! And I'm not there yet, but there clearly is a story appearing.

I'm still surprised that he got away with this. What he is basically doing is saying that some characters from Welsh mythology are actually Lovecraftian horrors! That is quite something. You would think people would gather with pitchforks and torches at his house. But I haven't heard of any backlash! I'm glad.

I will just keep ploughing on and then report back when I have re-read all of it, and have done what I can regarding understanding what exactly is going on. 



11 January 2023

Brief rescue training

We didn't waste any time in 2023! On the third day of the year we immediately had a rescue training. We would go and visit Pant y Wrach, just to check it out, and to see if a potential rescue in there would confront us with difficulties we need to think about before push comes to shove.

Dave, the bloke who had taken the lead organising this (as our training officer wasn’t around), had asked me to take the lead on the evening. I was okay with that; if you have the lead, you can delegate! And I am terrible in remembering things, so I wasn't sure how to find the entrance. But I knew there wouldbe people who could.

When I drove away it was raining lightly in Bethesda. But as soon as I got out of town, the rain got heavier! Conditions were actually quite poor. There was a lot of standing water on the roads. Extra careful driving was necessary!

When I got to the meeting point I saw two cars already there; they turned out to be Dave’s and Jonty’s; the latter I had corresponded with in my function as membership secretary, but I'd never met him. It was nice to put a face to a name! 

Three more people appeared. One of these was another new face. We have been having a good influx recently! Basically since our emails started to work again. It does help, being contactable.

When we were a complete we went to the venue. I didn't remember how to get there, so it was a good reminder. But when I got to the entrance, it all came back to me. We first inspected a crawl through a dig. It looked good! And then we discussed a pitch head. It had some questionable looking old anchors, and some newer ones. We discussed if that would do. It probably would! Rigging from the new anchors, preferably…

Then we just had a look at the rest of the mine. The part that is accessible from that entrance is quite small! And there is more further to the east, but it was terrible weather and Dave had recently done a recce. He said that it was one big mess of brambles and blown over trees. So we decided to leave that for some other time!

Jonty behind a flooded winze 

Sharon looking at a dead end

When we had seen it all went back to the car is. We will still very early! Which is how I like it. We had a little chat afterwards. Some of us had recently been in a new part of CRTT, and they figured that we might have to go there with the team, as it looked like a likely place where things would go wrong. I think checking that out is a good idea!

I managed to drive back without flooding the engine. Some of the puddles were a bit scarily deep! But all went well. So the year has started for the rescue team! The next thing to happen is a kit check. I am not sure yet if I will participate in that…

10 January 2023

Plagiarism cases kicking off

Shortly before Christmas, Jaco had sent the email out to the whole school that from the start of the New Year onwards, I would be the person with whom you need to flag up cases of poor academic practice or worse, such as plagiarism, collusion or data fabrication. The official title is Academic Integrity Officer. I had asked several colleagues how often they refer a case; most said about once a year. So I didn't think it would be very busy.

The University opened again on Tuesday January 3. By 9:05 I had two suspected plagiarism cases in my mailbox. I had a look; they were fairly straightforward, but they were my first two cases! I did check my documentation to see if I can wasn't forgetting anything. And I decided that I had to write a standard email of my own to inform students they had been caught engaging in academically undesirable behaviour. You can't just use the text of your predecessor if you are the plagiarism czar!

I also looked up how you document these cases. I had to update the form with which you do that. It is important that it is documented; if only because if students stray again, the penalty can be a lot heavier. But luckily, it is very rare that happens!

The next day I got my next two cases. This is full on! And the second batch needed a little bit more discussion.

77% similarity to a previously submitted assignment; something one doesn't want to see

This first week is really brought the message home that this is my task now! It looks like this is going to be a considerable part of my working life. It sure got in the way of my marking. Fortunately there were no suspect cases in that! But the exam period is approaching. Let's hope that doesn't lead to any cases at all! 

09 January 2023

Moel Hebog with Kate

Kate was in the country! That is not necessarily something you can take for granted. We decided we should make use of that opportunity, and she had suggested a walk. I had suggested the Monday before University would open again; that was forecast to have good weather. And she had never been on Moel Hebog, so that was an obvious target!

We met fairly early, as we figured it was going to be a busy day in the hills. We parked up in Beddgelert. So far, the promise of a lovely day was not turning itself into reality! It was raining, and they were dark skies all around. We were not in a hurry, so we decided to just sit in the car for a few minutes. And that was a good call; the rain stopped, and the skies became lighter. Time to set off. 

Pretty soon it was a glorious day. And you don't have to get far in Beddgelert to be in beautiful terrain. And we took it easy! We made sure we had plenty of coffee breaks. Other beverages are available.

Outskirts of Beddgelert

More outskirts of Beddgelert

Kate on the slope of Hebog

Not quite summit-selfie

Without incident we go to the top, and had another break there. The view over the estuary was lovely. And then we went back down again. We had expected it to be all boggy, but it was alright!

Summit view

When we got back to the car we changed shoes and decided on where to have a hot chocolate. We chose Gwynant but it was closed. We then tried Plas y Brenin and it was closed. And for the third time in some two weeks I had a hot chocolate in Cafe Siabod. A fine end to a good day! 

Soon, Kate will be travelling again. I need to get my quality time in while I can…

08 January 2023

New year’s date and walk

I made several predictions for 2023 in my blog post in which I mainly look back on 2022. One of them was that this year, there was going to be more action on the dating front than in the previous one. And that was an easy prediction to make! I already knew it was true. Because on the very first day of the year, I met up with a man I had found on a dating site. We went for a lovely little walk. And that was a lot less wet (but still not to be confused with dry) than the walk I had done on the day before. And I had a great time! So for the first time in my life, I set out to make a online-inspired second date happen. Watch this space!

We walked past the location of a picture I bought last year

07 January 2023

New use for coffee grounds

There is a drain in the extension of my kitchen, where the washing machine lives. There has to be, I suppose; otherwise the washing machine couldn't live there. Rose, the previous owner of my house, said that in her time, that kitchen extension had flooded with water coming from that drain. When she had complained about that, the council had put a ball valve in to make sure that wouldn't happen again. And indeed, I can't say it's bone dry when it is bucketing down outside, but the water levels are never problematic.

One thing that valve does in heavy rain, though, is start to burp. I suppose the air pressure in the drain system just gets so high that the air has to go somewhere. So it starts burping into my kitchen extension! And water coming from the drains is not the freshest there is. So basically, my house then smells as if the whole town has been burping into it. Which pretty much is what has happened. And with a cat in the house, I can't really close all the doors to make sure the smell stays local. I just put up with it and wait for the rain to pass.

One day, Martin came over for coffee, on a rather soggy day. I normally only drink instant coffee, because that is the quickest and easiest way to get your kick, but he is a bit of a coffee purist. So that morning I popped into the shop to get some proper ground coffee. And when we were done, I did the usual thing of flushing the grounds down the sink. And where they then end up is, of course, in that drain.

Later that day it got so wet that my drain was again burping. But this time, everything was different! The foul air had to pretty much pass through coffee grounds to get into the house. So it actually smelled of coffee! And that is a lovely smell.

I am going to make sure that every time I expect heavy weather, I drink proper coffee and no instant stuff. And put the grounds in there! It will keep my house smelling lovely. I suppose this counts as serendipity. It's totally good enough to have a friend over for a coffee, but if it solves one of your house problems it's even better!

Drain and smell masker

06 January 2023

Cat discovers lap(s)

When I got back from the Netherlands, I suggested to Martin we catch up. And I suggested my place as a venue, so I wouldn't have to be away from the cat. And so it happened! I made real coffee (more about that later) and he brought Stollen. And all was well.

He was sitting in the chair by the fire. It is a very ugly chair, but it is comfortable, and positioned well! I like it too. And so does the cat. And quite often, we sit in it together.

With Martin in the chair, the cat still was keen on getting her share of it, and she sat down on the backrest. She does that a lot with me as well! But then she didn't leave it there. She walked onto his lap, and hesitated there for quite a while. But then her little bum went down and she sat! This is the first time I have seen her sit on anybody's lap. I sort of expected she would choose Martin for that. She had clearly considered it. A year earlier, already! And she had later stood on his lap for a while, seemingly pondering if she would go for it, but in the end deciding against. But I can't find a reference to that on the blog. But now it was official. She had sat on someone's lap and it wasn't me.

Later she even laid down. And then walked away. And then came back and did all again! This surely was no fluke. She was really comfortable on his lap.

First lap!

Two days later, I myself was sitting in that chair again, by the fire. I had cold feet (I had done another very damp walk) so I was sitting in some permutation of the lotus position. And then she sat on my leg! Also for a fair while. I was scared the fire would go out, as now I obviously couldn't move. But she got up again.

And second!

Later she changed to her more traditional position; between me and the backrest of the chair. I suppose that's very snug; she is in a very confined space then. And I can still tend to the fire. So I suppose all together, I prefer her to sit there, but I was really glad that she has now finally sat on my lap! And not even that much later than her first lap! She might do it more often from now on…

05 January 2023

Looking back on 2022

2022 has come to an end! Politically, it was a wild year. But what was it like for me?

One of the first things that happened was that I started my side gig. I taught a small group of people from south Wales about climate change. And pretty much as soon as that had ended, my contact person had a suggestion for another small group of people to teach as well. In total, I did the course three times! And it didn't go as well as I hoped; the numbers of people that showed up were low, and there were technical issues. And I needed to get into the swing of this new way of teaching. I'm still learning! But at least the ball is rolling now, and in 2023 it will roll again. It won't roll to financial stability; having taught that course three times, I basically could pay for one solar panel with the money I earned. But I did find it enriching. I hope my learners did too! 

The next big thing to happen was big for the entire world: the war in the Ukraine started. It is far away, of course, but the direct effects on me were twofold: I angrily switched off my boiler and did any heating of the house I needed with my wood stove. And I registered as a potential host for a Ukrainian refugee. By the end of the year I was still primarily relying on my wood stove, but nothing has happened regarding the Ukrainian refugees. I have put a lot of effort into trying to get involved in the process of allocation; I think it is very important that guest and host match, and I know I am slightly eccentric. But I didn't get anywhere, and the council did not contact me with a potential guest. So absolutely nothing has happened on that front! 

When it came to energy, more things happened; I got my solar panels, with all the faff associated with that, and my infrared panels. I am quite chuffed with all of these! And I started using the shared electric vehicle in the village. And if I had to go into the office, but had a reason not to bike, I got into the habit of hitching a ride with friends (mostly Susan) going the same way, rather than putting an extra car onto the road. My carbon footprint must have come down! I was also involved in the regional citizens’ assembly. So far, basically, we have only talked; in 2023, we should start to take decisive action. I really hope it will be a success!

I also went back to racing. With amazing success! I ran several minutes off my personal best on the half marathon, and I finished as third woman in the world’s steepest street race. I was really proud of that! Although I must've overdone the training, and I ended up with an ankle injury that only went away after both rest and physiotherapy. The injury also lead to me temporarily shifting the balance from running to mountain biking. If I have the choice, I will run, but it was really good to have this alternative available. And I even got two social rides out of it!

Two big projects having to do with the house also finished; one was rendering the west facade, and the other one was stabilising the wall between my upper and lower garden. It felt good to have that out of the way! Even though I later found out that the rendering had been totally unsuitable. One day it will have to come off again. I also dealt with some vegetation that was being potentially threatening the house.

In spring, I got a visit from my Finnish sister. And in autumn, my Dutch sister visited. It was a really good year for visits!

Over summer, I had a MSc student. Unfortunately, he did not pass, so I hope he will successfully resubmit his thesis in 2023.

After the summer, term started easy for me. I didn't have to organise welcome week anymore! So I could just spend my energy on the field work. I wasn't responsible for that this year, but it was still far from trivial, with a lot of early starts because of the tides. But at least we didn't have Covid restrictions anymore that made of the logistic nightmare. I think it was a success! 

After that I went back to the office full-time. That was a big change! It was good to physically see colleagues again, and see students in a normal way, without face masks. But the cat started giving herself bald patches, and she is still doing that! The hypothesis is that she misses me. I'm still pondering how I can strike the best balance between holding down my day job and keeping my cat happy.

The going back to Anglesey was also affected by the old bridge closing for motorised transport. But you can still cross it on bicycle, so although I was worried when it briefly closed for all traffic, no further disruptions have followed for me.

It was not a year in which I went underground a lot. I have people to go in the ground with; both Kates, and Lydia, and Miles, but all of them have a tendency to either be busy or away. And I suppose I am regularly quite busy myself. I did have some work to do with the rescue team, though, and that is likely to only increase in the New Year.

I also started to officially teach in Welsh. And that really should increase!

What was it I wrote as my expectations and hopes for this past year? “I do hope the pandemic will become less intrusive. I also hoped that last year, but well, I will have to just hope it again. I also hope that at the end of the year, I will be RSI-free. Another one I was already hoping last year! I hope that my interaction with Adult Education Wales goes well and leads to more things in the future. I hope I’ll manage to find a replacement for my elderly boiler that is as environmentally-friendly as possible, and that I will get it installed. I'm not sure I should consider relying on it another winter. And I hope I will find another opportunity to go for a long hike with Kate, and that I will have loads of good times with usual suspects. Watch this space to find out how this all pans out, and what curveballs life throws at me in 2022!”

Some of that happened! The pandemic is really less intrusive now. And I did get to do my climate course several times. And I totally did get quite a lot of time with usual suspects. But the rest didn't happen! My RSI hasn't gone away, I still have the elderly gas boiler, and I haven't gone on particularly long hikes with Kate. But at least I've got a few shorter ones in!

So what for 2023? One thing I want to do is improve my general quality of life. I feel like I had a peak in summer 2019. And I want to turn that into a local maximum. And just get the curve to go up again! Preferably past that point. But let's first aim for a positive gradient. I also expect that there will be more happening on the dating front in 2023 than it did in 2022. To be honest, I have no idea if anything is going to happen with Ukrainians or with going underground. Or with boiler replacement. But I do think my role in the rescue team will become even bigger, and I do think I will make moves towards more Welsh provision at university. Which I think is a good thing!

I hope I can restore the cat to her full fluffiness. And I will have to sort out my garden! Some of it is currently a blank slate, and if I don't fill that then voluntary creatures like brambles will.

I also hope that at the end of 2023, I will still be enjoying the company of my hill-dwelling friends! Stay tuned for another year in the life.

04 January 2023

New Year’s Eve

I was being Margot cargo when either Susan asked me what I was doing for New Year's Eve, or I asked her. I can't remember! But neither of us had plans, and we decided we should team up. And then, of course, get Martin involved. And he was up for that! So at least we know with whom to celebrate it. How exactly was something we needed to sort out later!

During Susan’s birthday we drafted Tom and Siobhan in as well, but we didn't get an awful lot further with the details. I think I suggested something similar to that very day; go for a walk first, and then eat something together. That was accepted. We later sorted out the details; we would first walk the loop around Llyn Idwal, and then meet at Martin's. The weather forecast was pretty bad, but it’s not a long loop!

When the day came Martin pulled out of the walk. The rest of us were still up for it! And we met at 2 pm. Even though it is not a long walk, we didn't want to be walking in the dark. And it was quite grim! We started out walking straight against the wind, and it was also raining quite seriously. And the path was full of puddles. But we knew that Martin's living room would only feel better after something like this. So we kept going!

Heading into Cwm Idwal


The valley with lots of streams


Soggy selfie

When we got to the head of the valley we did have to pretty much wade through some streams. Everything was in spate! Unsurprisingly. But we knew we all could take off our shoes later. And on the way back we had the wind in our backs and that was already more comfortable. 

The head of the valley

When we got back to the road we got back into our vehicles and headed for town. Sue and Dean had offered to pick up my food, drinks and bike, and lug me up the hill. That was very kind of them! The weather was still very bad. They delivered me to Martin’s front door, and then went back home to change into something drier, and finish off their own food. That took them a while! We just started with tea and coffee with the four of us.

At some point, Tom jumped off his stool and needed to urgently stretch. He had cramp! It turned out that he hadn’t actually eaten anything substantial that day. And he had run 20 km, and spent some 10 minutes in ice-cold water. And the man can eat! I figured we needed to feed him really quickly. I really don't want to get to 6 pm without a meal, even if I haven't done much at all the entire day. And my food intake isn't much compared to Tom's. Luckily, not much later Sue and Dean appeared. We could start!

I had made a quiche and I suggested we start with that. In the meantime, final touches could be added to the food that Sue, Dean, Tom and Siobhan had brought. I just felt vicariously a lot better after Tom had shoved a good piece of quiche down his throat!

The other food was lovely too! And after the food we went to the living room. We just hung out until it came fairly close to midnight, when port, cheese and bread appeared on the table. A worthy way of saying goodbye to 2022! And then it was 2023.

And not much later we called it a night. None of us are nightcrawlers and party animals! But I was glad to get into the New Year in such stellar company. If a year starts like that it must be a good one!

03 January 2023

Chat GPT

I had heard of some AI chatbot on the radio, but I had not paid an awful lot of attention to it. But then I went to see Roelof. And he mentioned it by its name: chat GTP. And he actually gave me a demonstration! And my mind was blown.

We just asked all sorts of things. Could it write a text from the perspective of a sea otter? Could it write a script that calculates prime numbers? Could it wide a poem about me and my neighbour with her collapsed wall? Could it write Cynghanedd, a notoriously difficult form of Welsh poetry, about whales? It could do all that. Some things better than others. I am easily impressed by coding. If it works it's good! I was less impressed by the poetry, but it clearly could write in all sort of languages.


Example of something I asked it do

The thing that shook me, and convinced me that this was going to play a big role in my life, was that I asked it to write a text about microplastics, with citations. It duly did that, but all the citations in the text were to websites. That is not the level we expect from our students! But you can give it feedback, so we asked it to make sure the references were to peer-reviewed literature. And it did that.

As I was with friends I did not take the time to check out the citations used. But one of the first citations used was to a paper by Andrady et al. And Andrady is one of the names you can't avoid when you are writing about microplastic in the ocean; he wrote seminal review papers. So I was convinced the programme had actually found useful literature. 

If I can ask this chatbox to write an essay about any topic, then my students can too. And it is not plagiarism, as the chatbox writes original text. But it is not the student's work either. So what are we going to do about this? I had just taken on the job as plagiarism officer, and now this. This is a total game changer. And this is not something I can deal with on my own. This needs to be at least university-wide. I suppose even worldwide, but we need to start somewhere. One of the first things I need to do when the University opens again in the New Year is find out who else is dealing with this sort of thing. We will have to stick our heads together!

The makers of the chat bot have realised this too. I already heard they are designing a digital fingerprint! I'm sure our similarity checking software will be able to pick up on that. But we will still have to think about how to deal with all of this. I'm sure we will be able to, but at the moment I must say I am a bit taken aback by the huge leap the world took when I wasn't paying attention. Time to get my arse in gear and make my middle-aged brain catch up with modern times!

02 January 2023

Christmas with my mother

In the Netherlands, you get two days of Christmas! I had spent the first day of Christmas with my sister, and would spend the second day with my mother. I got in and I had to confess that I couldn't speak. That was a bit annoying! My mother used to have acute hearing (both my sisters inherited that) but age is taking its toll, and now sometimes she struggles to hear me even if my voice is totally normal. But we made the most of it!

It was a beautiful day, and I suggested we go for a little walk. And my mother agreed. We went to the supermarket for some wine; a worthy mission!

Some of the afternoon we just spent at the table by the window, each doing our own reading. Talking was difficult! And sometimes just being in each other's company is good enough. I made excellent progress in the Pumed Gainc

Later in the afternoon, her friend Mieke joined us, to drink that wine we had bought. It is always good to see her! It would've been better if I would've been able to speak, but you can't have it all. It was a lovely Christmas session.

When she left I had some soup, and not an awful lot later it was bedtime. I was hoping I would wake up being able to speak!

The next morning I did what is sort of become my routine; I do my morning exercises, have a shower, put the kettle on, and wake up my mum. And I could talk to her this time! Success! It was a relief. I'm sure we would have said a lot more if I could have done that the previous day as well, but you make do with what you have. I was grateful for these few hours.

Morning over Amersfoort 

After breakfast I briefly went into town; my mother had wanted to knit me a jumper, and I had only got her one colour of wool. Firstly she thought maybe the wool wasn't enough for the jumper, and secondly she thought it might be a bit more interesting with more than one colour, so she sent me back to the wool shop. But it was closed! At least the weather was absolutely gorgeous. And Amersfoort is a stunningly beautiful town.




I also made sandwiches for my trip back. I had to leave shortly after lunchtime! I had received an email saying the airport would be extra busy, and I needed extra time. And I didn't want to rush. So it was time to kiss my mother goodbye again and head back to the cat!

The trip back went unbelievably smooth! The train was on time, both passport control and security were a doddle, and the plane was on time. The roads were not clogged. The weather was a bit of a contrast with the Netherlands; it was bucketing down, which made driving a bit challenging. But I got home without incident. And I could finally cuddle the cat again! That was the most important bit.

It wasn't my best Christmas trip because of my imperfect health, but I still felt like I had had some quality time with important people! And that matters. And now I was back, and was already staring the new year into the face!