31 May 2023

More sleeper replacement

My raised beds are made of railway sleepers; given that you can tell they have really been used as such, and they are both narrow gauge a normal gauge, I assume they came from the environment here. There were both type of railroads going from the village in the direction of Bangor. But that also means that must be quite old. These railways were built in the 19 century! So no surprise that they are deteriorating a bit.

I had already been replacing rotten ones with stone. And during the barbecue, another one died. So I had to snap into action again! And this was right by the river, where all stonework is slate, so I decided to replace the sleeper with slate as well. And that worked out. It should be sorted for centuries now again!



30 May 2023

Marking (and academic integrity work) coming to an end

Normally, you get four weeks to mark anything. But at the end of the academic year, things are different! The graduation ceremony is in July, so the powers that be need to know well in advance who will actually get to graduate. And this year that meant that our exam period ran until May 26, and everything had to be marked by June 2. And before the exam period, there is a lot of coursework to do. Some of that coursework has extensions; these can also run until May 26. And then there is the master students, who don't stop until September.

Altogether that meant that I had to mark my dissertations (6 of my own, 8 of other staff), three module exams, the essays of my tutees, one MSc final project, and two MSc literal reviews with project plans. And some of that had to be done within one four-day week. It is a fair amount! And it becomes a lot worse as all of that marking inevitably also comes with issues of academic integrity. I only had to mark a modest number of MSc work, but there was a lot of additional work that involved lack of paraphrasing. Because scientifically, I only have something to do with a few of the students. But when it comes to academic integrity, suddenly every single one of them is my business!

I went into that last, four-day week with only 7 out of 10 essays to mark, and the literature reviews. Not bad going! And 13 cases of academic integrity still to deal with. But the good thing is that when all the grades have to be in, this all stops! With the students not handing anything in for months, there is no marking and no academic integrity work. I'm glad! Time to get on with my Athena Swan work…

28 May 2023

Goodbye from NHS

The NHS has really tried to help me with my RSI. They had checked out my nerves, checked if some of the infrastructure of my arm is not getting in the way, X-rayed my spine to see if there was anything wrong with where the big nerves come out of it; pretty much everything they could think of. (I had already announced the goodbye before, but that had been premature!) Except one thing. They wanted to know if there was perhaps something wrong with the blood flow through my arms. So the last bastion of hope would be: the vascular department. And one day I had an appointment.

I didn't have much hope. Surely if there was a vascular problem come out that would have other symptoms? But I had little to lose. So I went.

I didn't start well. A young man came in with a lanyard; I could see he was not the person I had the appointment with. He asked me some questions that made it clear he didn't know what my issue was. He also seemed to not have heard of RSI. He said he would start by taking my pulse. And he really struggled doing that! My pulse is really not difficult to get. And he must've been a doctor with vascular expertise.

He then did the simplest of tests. While still keeping an eye on my pulse, he raised my arm above my head and asked me to look away from that arm. And then on the other side. And he concluded all was well. Was that it?

When I raised the point that he seem to be making a final decision even though he wasn't a person I had the appointment with, he walked away to have a word with that doctor. He came back to say that he agreed, but that they might want to take some X-rays to be sure. I then told him that the hospital had already taken X-rays. Don't these people check the dossier of their patients before seeing them? He walked away to have a look at the X-rays, and came back and said all was well. They could do nothing for me. So that was it. A bit of an anticlimax! And as I said; I hadn't expected much of this, but this seemed to be a particularly half-hearted attempt at doing something for someone. Oh well. I'll have to sort this myself! With the help of a lot of time…

Battle of the bread machines

Years ago, I had decided that I would buy a bread machine as soon as I have a house of my own. And sometimes life is simple! When the dust had settled, I found a second-hand bread machine online and bought it. And it made excellent bread.

I don't know how long this bread machine had been in use. Probably quite a while! And over the years, it started to lose its mojo. The anti-stick of the pan started to fail, and it became increasingly difficult to get the bread out. I realised at some point I would have to give up on it. And I didn't want to be entirely without a bread machine! So my first try was buy another one online. But I was insufficiently critical, and the thing didn't work. I am one of those gullible people who thinks that if someone sells an electrical appliance, it works. Not so! And the local appliance repair service didn't do bread machines.

Then I thought I’d just bite the bullet and buy one new. And I did! I had a look at the reviews of bread machines you can buy in the region, and picked one that seemed to suit my needs. But then I found out that bread machines are not created equal.

This bread machine took a considerably shorter time to bake a loaf of bread. And as a result, the bread wasn't as crusty! I thought it was a bit disappointing. I didn't quite like the structure of the inside of the bread either. I did the job; it did create bread. But I get so much enjoyment out of my bread when it's good, I figured after a considerable amount of time that I should act yet again. I want a bread machine that makes bread the way I like it! It can clearly be done; my first machine did. But which one? 

I hit Google. I asked it ‘which bread machine makes the crustiest bread’? And nobody seems to really test for that, but you can get some idea. And then you can scrutinise the details in the user’s manual. And what I found was that top of the range seems to be a Heston Blumenthal bread machine. It's quite expensive, but then you can adjust everything you might want to adjust! Baking time, baking temperature, whatever. And I would think that that means you can just experiment until you get your bread exactly how you want it.

I mentioned this over lunch to my friends. Martin then said he had a bread machine gathering dust in a kitchen cabinet somewhere. Before I would spend crazy money on the fanciest bread machine around, would I want to try that? And I gratefully accepted that offer. And when he came over for the barbecue, he brought it along. I'm sure it is a fine machine, but I quickly noticed that the smallest bread you can make with it is 1 kg! I prefer to make half a kilo loaves. I don't have much in the way of a freezer, so I need to eat the bread before it gets stale. And that's just hard on your own with such big loaves.

When I had finished the bread I already had I tried the new machine out anyway. And the result was quite like what my new-bought bread machine produces as well! So it was a really kind gesture of him, but I'm not improving the situation by switching to this bread machine.

I'll have a quick look at what my bank account looks like at the moment. But I think I will be turning Blumenthal, and I just hope that he won't disappoint me!

Martin’s bread machine, with the one about to be retired in the background

The darkest-crusted wholemeal loaf it will let you bake

27 May 2023

Worries at work

The memories of the last financial restructuring, with its threat of redundancies, were still fresh. Nobody had been made redundant, but the scars were still raw. Fortunately, we as a School were recruiting well, so there was a feeling we wouldn’t be facing anything like that anytime soon again. On the contrary; we were recruiting so well we were allowed to hire more staff. Hurray! 

This announcement of jobs to be advertised came yonks ago. I can’t quite remember how long! But long. And then endless faffing followed. Every staff meeting we had, the Head of School wanted to discuss exactly what kind of expertise we needed. Get on with it! Get the people in! 

By last January we at least got two posts filled; the replacement of a lady who had taken voluntary redundancy, and a Welsh medium lecturer. But we had been promised 7 posts more. We had to move fast! If you don’t have someone in place by September, they are of limited use in reducing the workload for that academic year. By now it’s May. We are now finally advertising three jobs, plus one temporary job to replace someone who is going elsewhere for a year, and which is only advertised internally, but there is almost no way the permanent people will be in post by the start of term. An additional complication is that this is an awkward time to advertise a job, and as well, they will only advertise for a few weeks. We can only hope that qualified people will even apply! If they don't, we're back to square one. 

Then the recruitment team gave an update. They expected 320 freshers! We already struggled with 200. We have to run practicals several times over as we can’t fit the entire cohort in a lab. The labs struggle to clear up after the previous practical and get ready for the next, as this way they come thick and fast. There aren’t many lecture rooms that can hold that many students. Tutorial groups become big and unwieldy. 

The mood in the room got rather gloomy. One person was serious about wanting to leave. One other was joking about early retirement, but if we get these student numbers, how long will that stay a joke? The risk is a bit that these student numbers will push people over the edge, with consequences for everyone. To be honest, I hope this estimate will turn out to be too high! You never really know how many students you get until term starts. We will wait and see, and hope for the best… 

26 May 2023

In the mud with the camera crew

The day came I would be talking to a camera crew on an intertidal flat! For reasons of low tide, we would meet at 7AM on Anglesey, so I had to get up extra early. And I got there with a few minutes to spare. That was okay; I had actually never been to this location, and getting a few minutes to scout is quite useful. And after a few minutes, a van appeared. This turned out to be the cameraman. The others followed soon after. These were the presenter, the sound man, and two people that I think could be described as the producers. We introduced ourselves. I had met one of the producers online, but the others were new faces to me.

The crew had never been here before, and they didn't quite know what I had in the School vehicle, so we talked through the practicalities. They also changed into wellies. And then we were rolling!

I think it went okay! The hand coring was not much of a success; the sediment just fell out of the auger. But we had the core on the table. So that was okay! And I probably made all sorts of crazy mistakes in my Welsh, but they weren’t complaining about it. I was a bit embarrassed when the presenter at some point was using a very southern term, and I speak North Welsh, but I am in the habit of taking over other people’s vocabulary, so before I knew it I was using it too! My Welsh tutors will not be impressed (except the one South Welsh one).

After the main conversation over the core, the camera people want to do some distance shots, and some drone footage, and then some close-ups of us walking over the tidal flat. And then the presenter helped me get my stuff back to the car and it was a wrap! I said goodbye to them all and just went to the office. By then I really needed coffee and cake! But I think it has been a successful morning. 

They couldn't tell me yet when this will be broadcast, but they said they would let me know. And I have their contact details, so I can even ask if they forget. I hope that like the bloke from BBC Cymru, they will send me the fragment as an mp4! Then I can watch myself back, even when not in the possession of a TV licence…

25 May 2023


Barbecue season is open! I had wanted to invite the Gerlan Crew into my garden for a while anyway, and a suitable weekend presented itself. And even the weather was playing ball! So I dug my fire bowl out of the garage (with difficulty, because of the fences around to work at Neuadd Ogwen), the garden furniture out of the shed, and a lot of food out of the supermarket. The stairs had already been sorted for this occasion!

I really enjoy my garden! And I think the others do too. And it was really nice to have a relaxed evening with good friends. It's just what one sometimes needs!

24 May 2023

Sea level for Welsh television

A while ago I got an email from some television production company. They were looking at doing a programme about sea level for the Welsh language TV channel S4C. Was I interested in collaborating? And of course I was! I love talking about sea level. And I love an opportunity to use my Welsh. So if I can do both at the same time I'm happy! They were also suggesting filming on location, which is nicer than filming in a lab or something. I had enjoyed it the previous time I had done that.

Their idea was that we would go somewhere where we could get hands-on and talk about sea level records. I am used to getting my sealevel records from salt marshes, but I also knew that that Newborough Marsh isn't very suitable for sea level studies. I didn't really know any North Welsh saltmarshes that were.

Then I thought about the work one of my colleagues, Mike Roberts, has done in the Menai Strait. He had a drill rig, and managed to retrieve a load of cores. These are basically grey sands and silts with sometimes a black layer in between: peat! Not only does peat indicate that the location was above sea level at the time of deposition, but you can also radiocarbon date it, so you know when exactly it was deposited. Lots of peat layers in your sediment core means you can build up a picture of sea level change through time. And an additional advantage is, that these peat layers stand out like sore thumbs, so it is easily explained to someone who is not used to looking at sediment cores. 

I don't know what happened to Mike’s cores, but I do know something else; every year, when I am on the beach with Lynda, the students spend the half day they are not spending with us with several of my colleagues on the tidal flat by Gallows Point, just outside Beaumaris. And there they sometimes take a core, with our percussion drill. This is not far from where Mike had been busy, and they do get beautiful peat layers in their sediment cores as well. 

I asked Martin, who is one of the staff members running the activities at Gallows Point, if that core would be available for this purpose. And he said yes! So that was the location and the material sorted. I had to go into the cold store and check, because I need to know what it is I will be showing a camera crew, but it all looked good. It was a five meter core with a beautiful peat layer at about 4 1/2 m deep. And from Mike's work I could have a reasonable guess at how old the layer would be.

We would meet on a Monday morning 7AM at Gallows Point. The Friday before I loaded up a hand corer, and the core, into one of the School vehicles I had borrowed for the occasion. At home I had a brilliant idea; I have a foldable table in the garage, that I had inherited from Rose; I should bring that! I wanted to show them the core in the field, but the field is a mud flat. You don't want to lay your beautiful cores down in the mud, and you don't want to have to crouch down to look at it with a TV presenter. If we would have it on the table, that would be way better for both the people and the core! So I stuck that in the School vehicle as well. And my rubber boots. I was ready to roll. Bring on the cameras! 

Ready to check the core!

22 May 2023

Marking, finally

When the marking season started, I didn't immediately find time to actually make any progress on that. Too many other things, mainly to do with academic integrity, were getting in the way. But that marking needs to happen anyway, so the week after I indeed managed to knuckle down a bit. I marked quite a number of dissertations, and managed both climate exams.

The part of marking I managed to make quite comfortable is second marking dissertation. If you are the first marker, do you have to provide detailed feedback for the student. If you are a second marker, the only thing you need to do is provide a few sentences to explain your mark to the external examiner. So you can just print them out and read them wherever you want! In my case; quite often, in the comfortable chair (for which I compete with the cat) in the conservatory, with a big pot of tea next to it. Or a mug of coffee.

I am aware of the environmental cost of printing out a dissertation that you will chuck away once you've read and marked it. But the marking has to be done by the deadline, so that means out of hours working, and I want that to not be more uncomfortable than it needs to be!

Progress at Neuadd Ogwen; now for real?

The work at Neuadd Ogwen has dragged on for about 1 1/2 years, and there was still no sign of a porch, even though that as far as I know, building a porch for reasons of increased insulation was one of the main objectives for the building work. 

Last months it looked like there finally was progress, but whatever was built up then was also taken down again. Since then a deeper trench has been dug, and that had later been filled up with concrete. This looked like foundations for a porch that might actually appear at some point. And then one day when I was working at home, there actually was activity! Two guys started building a wall that looked like it would be the outline of said porch.

I really hope they know keep going until it is done! It is not intensely disruptive, that work in front of my house, but it can be annoying when they block the passage between my front door and the road, or the garage and the road. And I don't think anyone benefits from this work not being finished, least of all Neuadd Ogwen itself. So I hope I can soon reports that it is all finished! 

When they block my access


Porch taking shape

Even more progress

21 May 2023

Stairs ready for new season

I had started work on my stairs pretty soon after coming back from the Lleyn, but it was a multi-day project. Firstly, I needed to make sure I had enough granules for the job, and that meant sieving out some badly sorted sand in the river. And then that material has to dry! And you also can’t do the work when the stairs are wet. Luckily, the weather got quite summery soon after. So one dry day I made a modest batch of epoxy and just filled in all the gaps that the wear and tear had caused. It wasn't much work after all the preparation had been done! And now I think my stairs will be pretty close to OK for years to come…

Sieving in action 


20 May 2023

No therapy recommendations

When I terminated my therapy, I asked my therapist to give me recommendations for other councillors I could contact who may be better suited to what I need. I expected to get an email at some point. But then one day an envelope arrived in the post! And it was a card from her.

She said she normally takes a bit more time to say goodbye to her clients. It has indeed been a bit abrupt! It was nice of her to send a card. Unfortunately, she mentioned that all the people she would like to recommend are not in a position to currently take up new clients. I have to go and look for someone myself! Not ideal, but what can you do. I will get on that. It's not as if I have already achieved what I hoped to achieve by going into therapy in the first place, so if I still want to I will have to…

19 May 2023

More medals

The Queen's platinum jubilee was a fair amount of time ago, but I'm not yet done handing out the medals that the long-serving members of the cave rescue team had been awarded for the occasion. We're not mountain rescue; we don't train every week and have callouts every millisecond. I quite quickly got rid of the medals for the people who actually show up for trainings and meetings, but we also have long-serving members that either only show up for our rare rescues, or never show up at all. And I had been under district instruction to only hand them out in person. Well; if that's what I need to do, that is what I do! But it does mean I still have a fair numbers of these silly medals in my cupboard.

Then, suddenly, an email arrived from our secretary. The king had decided to hand out similar medals for his coronation! I had to provide a list of eligible members. Shit! That means I get another box of medals, and I have the administrative task of making sure I have a clear record of who received one and when, and I will probably end up with a bunch of leftovers that you can't really throw away, or give away, or sell, or anything. Oh well. I'm sure he has good intentions! But I must say I personally would have preferred him to keep that initiative to himself…

18 May 2023

Compost heap success

I had started the work the previous week! Now it was time to finish it. I really wanted to give my compost heap two compartments. One to throw fresh plant material in, and the other one to let older material mature. And when it's mature, you use it, and then the other compartment becomes the maturing one. And I had ready what I needed do achieve this.

The previous week I had emptied the space out. This time I wanted to screw half a pallet into position. I first drilled a hole in the slate wall and fixed a bracket; I then fixed another bracket into the stairs.

My thoughts then was to create a third contact point. There was another rock I could sink a bracket into! But some drilling action didn't make much progress. I then realised that particular rock was way too hard. Most rock in my garden is slate! But not all of it is… I left it at two points of contact. If that turns out to be too few I can add some woodwork and add another bracket at the top.

I also had to move all that mature compost I had dug out. I decided it was best to put it to use. Most of it was readily absorbed by my vegetable bed, which this year is already hosting potatoes and onions, with celeriac and beetroot still to come. And the rest was used for my tomato plants. Two of them had to move outside in bigger pots. These big pots took the rest! So now I have to start from scratch with creating new compost. But it is May, and everything and anything is growing like the clappers in the garden, and I will have a sizeable heap of organic material there in no time.

This is a project that all together has taken me five years. But better late than never! Bring on the home-produced compost!

Two compartments! One of them already filling up…

16 May 2023

Yr Elen Ridge

The weather forecast for the Saturday after a very busy week looked great! So I decided I should go for a hike. In the mountains. Just one of those things you can just do without overloading your tired brain with organising it. You just go! And I still had the ridge route of yr Elen on my to do list. Yr Elen is a bit of a weird peak as there isn't much of a path going from the valley to the top (going SE). I had only been there once! But it has a beautiful ridge pointing roughly NE, and I wanted to try that as well. It looked like a fine day hike.

I made my sandwiches and filled my flasks and set off. The logical start- and endpoint of that walk is on the other side of the village, pretty much where Martin lives. I like to avoid the dull bit through town as much as I can! So I biked the first bit, and parked my bike at the end of Martin’s street. Then I could set off.

The first bit of that walk I know quite well; I have walked it many times, and run it several times as well. But that's okay. It is still beautiful! And so was the weather.

Just some hundred metres from where my bike was parked

I had coffee near a bunch of Carneddau ponies. They were quite curious! Then I walked on. I also spotted two ladies going in the same direction.

When I came past a spot where I had camped a few Easters ago I admired the place again, and filled up my water bladder. I knew that once I hit the ridge, I wouldn't come across any more water until I would be in the village again. And when I was done, I caught up with the ladies. One of them turned out to be Stella, my distant colleague! It was nice to briefly catch up. But then we went our separate ways.

Hill selfie

Where the valley makes a turn

My old Easter campsite! 

The ridge isn't really a ridge at its base. It is quite rounded! But the higher you get, the more pronounced it becomes. And of course the views get better and better.

The not yet very well-defined ridge

Views on the sharp end of yr Elen

The ridge seen from the top

At the top I encountered a couple who were also impressed with the view. We had a nice chat, and they offered me a biscuit. They also spoke of the race that was going on a bit further east. I hadn't heard of it, but they spoke of a 100 km race that went over one mountain after the other. It sounded like hard work!

A bit later I did encounter that race, at the top of Carnedd Llewelyn. It really did look like hard work! And one poor sod had run off in the wrong direction, and had to turn back. That must be frustrating. My route took me where this guy had accidentally gone. The runners went into Cwm Eigiau.

The race seen from Carnedd Llewelyn 

Beyond the peak I found me a spot to have lunch. It was so quiet! It was a sunny Saturday, but there was hardly anyone there. I went on to Foel Grach and Carnedd Gwenllian. From the ridge you could see a beautiful haze in the valley.

Much flatter views in the other direction 

More swampiness on the ridge

Mist beautifully ascending the slope

The hazy view into the valley 

Only minutes from town I had the second half of my lunch. And spotted Stella and her friend again. And I had phone signal by now, so I asked Martin if he was home and if I could swing by for a drink. And I could! That was nice. I was a little bit self-conscious about my body odour; I had just walked 20 km in rather vertical terrain in the May warmth. But he didn't complain! It was really nice to catch up with a cold drink after a warm walk. And after the drink I could just do the last mile on asphalt really fast on my bike.

It was dinnertime by the time I got home. I was happy with how things are turned out! I think I needed this after a bit of a trying period…

15 May 2023

Marking or academic integrity

It had been a busy week! It shouldn't have been; it was the first week after the end of term. Normally you start marking then. But this week that did not take place!

On Friday, one of my colleagues who had second marked the dissertation of one of my students let me know he was ready to agree a grade. I confessed I hadn't even started! I said that if only students would just stop copying phrases over from scientific literature, and from less reputable sources, use AI to write their assignments, copy exams over from each other or assignments from themselves, and all things like that, I would've had time to get some marking done. He replied that if only they would stop asking for extensions he would've made a lot more progress than he actually had as well! And I know how terribly many he gets. And he has to give all of them proper attention.

I suppose if I would be an efficiency machine maybe I could have made a bit of a start! But I had a lot of meetings, and a lot of my time was indeed stuff to do with academic integrity. I saw three students, emailed seven others that I intended to penalise them, referred one to the higher authorities, and decided to leave six off the hook. And I also had to properly document all of that. I don't think it should be this busy! But it is.

There were other things going on as well, of course! I am discussing a television programme about sea level rise with S4C, and possible shared MSc projects with NRW. I am communicating with my two master students, and am involved in the progress meetings of other people’s students. I needed to remind the staff that they need to make sure all the grades for the dissertation presentations are documented, and I need to check which grades are not in yet, and why. I also had to restore the spreadsheet where they are documented as someone had made a dog’s breakfast of it. And I had to dig out a model answer for an exam as it seemed to have gone missing. And I needed to get my exam for my Earth, Climate and Evolution module ready. I had been waiting for comments from the External Examiners, but if these would have comments, they would have delivered them by now. I could clearly make the changes we had suggested!

There were also meetings with the University Athena Swan team (and negotiations with the Head of School on how to create our own team) and with the new Vice Chancellor, and with a lady from Learning Technologies about changing the way the dissertation students log their progress, and with the Teaching and Scholarship team.

It was only a four day week! And it seemed to just fly by. I really hope that next week I can make a serious dent in the outstanding marking!

14 May 2023

ChatGPT at work

It was only in December when I became aware of chatGPT. I figured it would barge its way into my life fairly soon! And it sure did.

If a student submits a piece of work as their own when they haven't actually written it themselves, that is academic malpractice. And I am the person who gets alerted to it if someone suspects that has been going on. And if you, for instance, let a chatbot write your first year essay, that does count as academic malpractice. And we are only a few months down the line, but this has started to happen.

I suppose there are two questions here. The first thing is: is a chatbot not just a tool? In what way is it fundamentally different from using the spellchecker of Microsoft Word? What are we doing if we are not teaching our students to work with the tools available to them?

The second question is: how will we even be able to tell? As things stand, we are not able to conclusively prove use of artificial intelligence in student work. We can only suspect.

The thing about the work that has been flagged up as potentially written by AI is that it isn't very good. I suppose with every day that passes, the tools will get better, but as things stand, chatGPT doesn't do a particularly good job at this specific kind of work. One of my colleagues suspected that an essay draft had been written by AI. He then basically asked chatGPT to write an essay about the very same topic. And the result was eerily similar to that which to student had submitted. And it had nonsense in there (both versions) that someone in the field will immediately spot. 

Another colleague had a similar case. And a third colleague thought she'd put it to the test. She took some genuine student essays, and had a few generated by chatGPT, and then asked us all to have a look and see if we can tell the difference. I think that after 15 guesses by colleagues, only one of them was wrong! So it looks like old-fashioned intelligence can still spot artificial intelligence.

For now I think this gives us the answer to that first question. Yes we need to teach the students that you can use it as a tool in certain circumstances, but we also need to show them what its limitations are. We might not be able to prove use of AI, but we can tell when a language model has just been talking through its hat. So yes, submitting work written by AI will yield a lot more result than not submitting work at all, but if you want to do a decent job, it really pays off to do the thinking yourself!

13 May 2023

Therapy terminated

I had started therapy in January. And I know it is a slow process. If you feel like you need therapy, you'll probably have issues with patterns in thought and/or behaviour that you have acquired over a long time, and that you now want to get rid of. You don't do that in a day!

My therapist kept asking me how I thought it was going. In the beginning I said that it was going slow, but that was to be expected, because it was still in the beginning. But by now I was starting to think that there wasn't really noticeable progress at a time when there should be. It was nice to have someone like her to talk to, but if she doesn’t kick me in the bum and make me see from a fresh angle how I interact with the world and how I could do that differently, I’m not getting out of it what I need.

And then there was a dénouement. I had explained to my sister in a letter why exactly I had chosen to go into therapy. And he suggested she answer that in a video call. So we had one on the eve of a therapy session. And my sister totally does kick me in the bum! And she knows she can, and she is aware there are situations in which she shouldn't, so she kept asking for consent for doing that, but she did get it every time. Nothing is better for you in the long term than that! And by the time we hung up, I realised that one video call with her had been more effective than four months of therapy with my therapist. And I know my sister knows me better than anyone else, and she's a seasoned therapist herself, but still.

The next morning when I saw my therapist I did mention that. And that I figured I needed someone who indeed kicks me in the bum, shows me where my interaction with the world goes wrong, and what I can do to practice to improve that. And I asked her if she could recommend someone who could do that. Unfortunately, she said that the person she would most warmly recommend had an enormous waiting list, but she promised to think of some other suggestions. I figure the therapists in the region generally all know each other!

The timing wasn't ideal; the situation with Dave had resulted in some big extra dents in my confidence. But I didn't think that was reason enough not to terminate this therapy. If I can find someone else who is more suited to how I roll, they will be more effective at dealing with this! And it's not as if I am not used to picking myself up.

At the end of the session we hugged. It would be the last one. I hope I can find a therapist who manages to find the right buttons in me to push!

Old picture of the view from the therapy

12 May 2023

Compost heap progress

After buying my house I soon decided I wanted a compost heap. But it only very occasionally ended up at the top of the to do list. I first made a preliminary one. Then I decided I should move it to underneath the stairs, so I did. Nicely out of the way! But the thing with a compost heap is: you want to leave it alone so the compost matures, but you also want to add new things to it all the time. These are not very compatible! So I decided that I at least needed two compartments in my compost heap. One side where I would add the fresh stuff, and one side where I would let the older stuff mature, and occasionally withdraw compost from it. I had even identified half a pallet as a good divider. But the months came and went and nothing happened. Until I suddenly had a Monday to myself I shouldn't have had to myself, and wanted to get satisfaction out of doing chores that had been nagging at me for a long time!

I dug out the entire compost heap. I hadn't added anything to it this season, so it was all quite mature. And I hadn't filled up my entire raised bed yet, so I could just keep it up nearby. Then I figured out how I could fix the pallet. Some of that would mean fixing it to slate! I decided to try to use conventional screws in combination with resin. Fixing it to the actual stairs is easy; that is made of wood.

I didn't get beyond the plan. There is only so much you can do in one day. And it was a very rainy one! Not ideal for work in the garden. But there is another weekend coming up. I have faith I can get it done! And it is spring, so all vegetable life in the garden is going completely berserk, and there will be plenty of input as soon as I have my revamped compost heap!

The work has started 

11 May 2023

Taking it out on the garden stairs

When I came back from my hike with Dave I sank down on the bedroom floor and had a cry. I suppose I needed that. But after that, what I find is that the best way of coping with things like that is to go and just make yourself do things that will make you feel good if you have done them. DIY tends to be a good example. And I knew that, now more than average, I needed my friends. I had invited them over for a barbecue next time they were available, but that did mean they would have to come down the stairs in the garden. And these are very slippery if you let them. A few years ago I had applied excellent anti-slip, but that does suffer from wear and tear, and that process had been greatly accelerated by the heavy work of the repair of the wall. So it was time for some maintenance.

Quite a while ago, I had already made sure I had materials to do that. The hardware shop near the office had sold me some epoxy, and the hardware shop near my house had sold me a bag of coarse sand (which also includes very fine gravel). That's all you need! Except that I had bought the epoxy before the repair of the wall; it wasn't a big amount, and after the repair man were done with my wall I knew I needed a bit more than that. But I could at least make a start with the resin I had.

The very day I came back from the fateful hike I painted the stairs. I didn't want to apply the epoxy until after I had painted it! And it's not an awful lot of work. I must admit that this time, I only did the top and not the underside. That doesn't seem to be needed equally often.

The next day I had a try with my new resin. I still had a little bit of sieved sand left over from the previous time. I only need the coarsest fraction, on the border between sand and gravel. The rest I need to sieve out. So I made two strips of antislip on the most damaged steps. I think the resin works. But now I need to first make a bit more pure fine gravel before I can move on. But the work has started! Soon my stairs will be in fine nick again.



Starting repairing the antislip

10 May 2023

Difficult conversations on the Lleyn

I had barely seen Dave since our walk to Pen yr Helgi Du. Surely not a good sign! As I once read an agony aunt advise: if they really want to be with you, they will find a way to be with you. But the problem is a bit that if you don't see someone, you can't talk about why they might not be keen to see you. Even thought this can be quite a pertinent question. 

The second weekend of May he would be available. And the plan was that we would go on a multi-day hike. And I love those! But it was clear that the main purpose of this hike, for me at least, would be to have difficult conversations. An unusual main purpose for a hike, but if you need to have them anyway, you might as well have them while doing something you love.

We decided to hike the far end of the Lleyn peninsula, basically because neither of us had done it before. And the mountain weather forecast for Snowdonia wasn't very good. It would be better to stay a bit low! And then you might as well be on the coast, as that tends to be a rather scenic part of low-lying areas.

We had already made a start with difficult conversations during the preparations, but there was more work to be done. And, of course, there was the hike. We drove to Methlem to start the walk, and from there hit the coastal path. Or rather; we ended up on a tiny little track underneath the coastal path. That made for a slow going! But it was scenic. After lunch on Dinas Bach, which was about an hour in, we headed for the official path anyway.

On our way 

Rugged coast

At about 4 pm, when we were at the top of Mynydd Mawr, I suggested a break. I wanted to get my shoes off for a bit! And heartbreak is tiring. And it turned out to not just be me who needed that. We both dozed off in the sun.

When we got going again we realised we should start to look for places to fill up our water containers, and seek a place for the night. Saint Mary's well was not far away: we went there, and found it involves a beautiful stream that was perfect for filling up. And on Mynydd Bychestyn we found a place to stay for the night. It had a view on Bardsey island and a much smaller island called Carreg Ddu, and a nearby little stream. Perfect.

Water! And Bardsey Island; anonymised on request

dinner prep

We soon noticed that the tides there come rushing around the promontory, and force their way violently past Carreg Ddu. That was quite spectacular!

The tides and Carreg Ddu

Sitting by the tent after dinner we talked. Not easy, but necessary.

The next day we woke up in fog. We followed the coastal path to Aberdaron, and from there walked back to the vehicle in as straight a line as we could manage on public footpaths. We had our last lunch at Garreg Quarry, of which we realised later it was less than a kilometre straight inland from Dinas Bach. 

The symbolism is strong 

So what came out of the conversations? We are now going our separate ways. I hadn't been imagining things.

I felt stupid for letting him drag me to his friends and his sister, only for things to crash so shortly afterwards. And for dragging him to Yorkshire. That had been Roelof’s idea, but still; I should have overruled that on the basis of it being way too soon. Captain Hindsight would've done that.

I am sad now. We are all flawed humans, and he is no exception, but I thought we were unusually compatible. And for two months we had a really good spark. Maybe that’s easy for two months. But I found it special! And he might be back on the blog one day; after all, we live really close to each other, so we are bound to bump into each other in the area sooner or later. Nobody benefits from it if that is awkward or painful. So I would like it if one day we can at least just raise a glass to the two good months. 

In the meantime, there is no point in moping. I am already in therapy for being better able to deal with rejection and ostracism, so we can just scoop this up as we go along and add it to the pile. And then I can just continue my life as it was before. After all, I have a cat and a house and a garden that all love to mop up any attention I do not spend on dating. So back to normal…

09 May 2023

Cwm Idwal trip

On the afternoon of the last day of term we would do the second and last field trip of our Earth, Climate and Evolution module. I was looking forward to it! I love Cwm Idwal, which is where we go (unless there is a pandemic or a weather warning) and I was also boosted by the fact that the other trip had gone well.

I had to be on the main campus until lunchtime anyway, so I just found somewhere to have my sandwiches. After that it was time to go find our coach!

I had feared we would have a lot fewer students this time around, because it might be tempting to skip the trip and have an even longer weekend. But we only had five students fewer than the previous time! Even though the weather forecast wasn't anywhere as good as it had been for the previous trip.

Martin had warned me it might be very busy in Cwm Idwal, what with the bank holiday and all. But when we got there it wasn't bad at all! We split into our groups and we went on our way.

I like talking geology, and I had a nice group of students. And the weather stayed kind! We had no rain whatsoever. I did put on a scarf at some point. I didn't need a jacket at all!

I think it was a success. And the week after the exam period would start. This was the last thing the students would do face-to-face. I think it was a worthy end of term! 

Sunny path to the Cwm

View on the way back. Bragging rights for who spots the students by Darwin’s erratics! 

08 May 2023

Athena Swan

Given that I am now the School of Ocean Sciences equality lead, it is my task to try to make sure that our School either keeps or gets a gender equality award. In higher education in the UK, there is some framework called Athena Swan, and it gives out bronze, silver and gold awards. We as a School have a bronze award. And we’d like to keep it. I had a chat with Katrien, my predecessor, and we figured it would be reasonable to reapply for it. We didn't think we would be ready for a silver!

And in order to apply for this kind of award, you have to submit an awful lot of information. You need all the statistics about gender balance (or lack thereof) within the staff and the students, and also in how applications for promotion are treated. And what our policies on parttime working and maternity leave are. And whether anything is changing in that. You also need to discuss whether there is gender equality in what grades the students score, and whether any gender does better in any module and why, et cetera et cetera. It is a lot of work! And some of that, we academic staff don't even have access to. So for all these numbers, we need help from HR, and from student administration.

When it comes to finding out whether students and staff of various genders feel treated equally, and how they feel about that opportunities for working parttime and such things, of course we need to sort ourselves out. But altogether, HR plays quite a role in getting the application together. So the first thing I did after I had had my handover was email a lady in HR who would help me with our application. I had no idea how you go about it! Especially given that there is supposed to be a permanent committee focused on these things within the School, but it seems to have died in the pandemic. There was nothing in place. So I asked to meet her. And she was up for that.

We had a nice chat! And the amount of work that needed doing became clearer to me than it had been when I had only looked at the documentation I had got from my predecessor. I have access to our previous submission, and the information pack about what a new submission needs to look like. The procedure seems to have changed quite a lot! To the annoyance of quite a lot of people.

The next thing I need to do now is get a committee together. I suspect there will be overlap with the previous one, but for reasons of turnover and suchlike I expect some new faces as well. We'll see! This is going to be a big job…

07 May 2023

Snatch rescue

We shouldn't have had a rescue training! But our training officer had forgot, so we had one anyway. And we were going to do snatch rescues; I'm not sure if there is a clear definition of this, but it boils down to someone being stuck, and then a rescuer being lowered to them, attaching themselves to this person, and both then either being hoisted up or lowered down to safety.

We met somewhere about an hour East. That also meant I could try out my new satnav set-up. I didn't quite work as intended! The telephone holder I had bought would not stick to the windscreen. I improvised with the old bracket of my broken satnav, and a few elastic bands. It did the job!

We would do this at the surface! There was a useful gorge we could take advantage of. So we carried our kit to this gorge, and set to work. Maybe we were a tiny bit distracted by the fact that our team member Tom had brought his rather charming dog. And the dog is quite keen a lot of attention!

The main thing we did was set up a rig at the top, and lowering a pretend casualty down, on a fairly old rope, to somewhere halfway down or so. Then we would lower a pretend rescuer down on a double rope. They would indeed attach themselves to the casualty, and then cut the (old) rope. We then just lowered them down. And from there they could walk back up!

In action

We took turns. The old rope was long enough to do this several times! And we practised cutting the rope in a safe way. It is important you only cut that one specific rope and nothing else. One way of doing that is cutting it with a piece of string. That works!

We stopped when the light was fading. This was a surface exercise, after all! And we carried everything back to the cars. This would be our last exercise before the AGM!