31 July 2023

Start of a new DIY project

I have two flights of stairs in my house. One is in the living room; underneath it are a ship’s trunk and a comfortable chair. The other one is in the storage space downstairs. Underneath it is a lot of stuff just piled up. I had long figured that that is not ideal; it would probably be nicer to have some dedicated storage space there. Maybe I should build some sort of storage rack. A long time ago already I had bought some wood I could use for that. But I had never got around to it! But now that I was sawing lots of pallet planks into firewood I had had an epiphany. Maybe these pallet planks could be used as planks for this rack. So my enthusiasm was renewed.

The first thing I did was empty the space. That wasn't too hard! And I knew I had a sketch somewhere of how I could make this envisioned rack, but I decided to start from scratch. I got out my measuring tape and jotted down some initial measurements. And one fine evening I started sawing some of that wood into the right size. Of course I didn't quite get it right the first time around; I had sort of forgot to take the thickness of the wood into consideration. And I needed to do some height adjustment too. 


Soon after the start, though, a skeletal structure was standing. And that makes things easier; the rack was now demarcated. 

Skeleton ready

When I had some time to spend on it on a Sunday it became clear I would need a little bit more wood. So I couldn't finish it before that will get sorted. But it was coming together! Watch this space. Before you know it, I will have an organised storage space under the stairs…

Evidence of trial and error

30 July 2023

Mini mine mission

I was trying to plan another adventure with Lydia, and she reminded me of a tiny mine in the vicinity she had been to, but not properly in. We figured we could do that just in an afternoon! And we picked a Wednesday for it.

She had volunteered to come by bus, as that saves me hassle, and the climate exhaust fumes. This was all agreed on when the weather was quite nice. I didn't stay that way! Around noon it started raining, and it wouldn't stop. I hadn't really bothered to check beforehand, and neither had Lydia. She arrived at my door a bit damp. But we decided to go anyway!

I drove to a feasible RV and we got kitted up. The rain wasn't too bad. Then we walked to the entrance. Not far in a false floor has collapsed, but the rails are still there. You can just shuffle along on them. And then you can rig the pitch that goes into the collapse.

Spot the spoil heap on the slope

Approaching the entrance

I was glad to revisit this mine. I had only been once, and it had not been a pleasant trip. It had been at a time when one of the men had developed a strong habit of shouting at me. He rarely shouted at the men! Little did I know back then that things could get a lot less pleasant than that. But either way; my memory of this trip was not good, and it was nice to paint over that with a nicer experience.

We rigged the rope, and I had a look down. It is a few meters diagonal, and then you can look down into the vertical part of the pitch. I was a bit hesitant about this; you could tell there was an awful lot of water coming down that pitch. I had a look, and indeed; two waterfalls coming down there. It wasn't a long pitch, but you would absolutely get completely soaked. 

Lydia had already mentioned she wasn't in peak health, and didn't want to end up like I had done during a previous trip with a wet pitch. I had come out ill! So she had a look as well, and we decided we should just come back another day when it was a lot drier. It's not far, after all! And not an awful lot of kit is required.

Lydia putting the rope back in the bag

The gaping hole in the floor, festooned with a mine cat

The entrance, seen from within

We did go and check out a higher entrance. One day I want to go there with a drill! If you would put a handline up, there is a little bit more level you can explore. You can see that from where you can safely go. But without a handline I'm not doing it.

The upper level

We walked back down the hill. I had brought cake, but it would be nicer to consume that at home with a nice cup of tea! So that's what we did. After a while Lydia checked the bus times back, and the next bus wouldn't be until 8:30, so I brought her home instead.

It had been a very brief trip, but in a way, it had been nice to get out on such a wet afternoon. The valley is gorgeous also in this kind of weather! And we can just have another look on a better day. I'm sure summer will get dryer than it is now! As things stand, it would struggle to get any wetter… 

29 July 2023

Interviewing a temporary lecturer

One of my colleagues had decided to take a one-year career break. And that meant a temporary cover had to be found. For a long time, I heard no news about this. Later I heard through the grapevine who might have applied for this job. And then, finally, the invitation for the public part of the interviewing process (a trial lecture) appeared in my mailbox. I quickly moved the tutorial I had at that time because I wanted to be there. That turned out to have been a good move. 

The morning of the trial lecture I suddenly received a call from my line manager; someone in the interview panel had had to drop out. Was I available to take their place? And I said yes. I did suddenly feel a bit underdressed; if I would have known I would be interviewing a potential new colleague I would have worn something smarter. I was in my Pompel og Pilt T-shirt

Being now on the panel meant I was sent all the paperwork. And that conveyed the urgency of the situation. The job was supposed to start on August 1, and we were having the interview on July 25. Luckily the interviewee was an internal candidate.

Long story short: she has been offered the job, and has accepted. The official message to announce her appointment has been received. So by August 1st I will have a new colleague! Welcome Charlotte! And this is only a start; the entire school is waiting with bated breath for the permanent people (2 out of the promised 7, for now) that should be appointed around this time. I hope I can provide an update on that soon…

28 July 2023

Tackling the really big wood

When I had my garage roof renewed, some really big blocks of wood came out of that. They were so big that I hesitated to turn them into firewood! But when I had been busy with my pallets, I somehow just lost my apprehension, and just started to tackle them. The wood wasn't actually unusually hard! So you could just saw through even these big beams in a few minutes. And my log splitter could split them. Four years of apprehension just evaporated! If only life was that easy every day…

Big beam! And this was even the smaller of the two…

No more beams; just bits of firewood

27 July 2023

Reconnecting with Kate

In January I did a goodbye hike with Kate, before she would go abroad for several months. And I hoped to see her again after she'd come back. That was around Easter. But after she came back, all sorts of things happened in her life, both good and bad, and it was late July by the time we would finally see each other again. We had made a plan; we would just catch up over a coffee or something on the Saturday, and then go for a walk on the Sunday, as that had much better weather.

I was a bit apprehensive; would she cancel for reasons of even more things happening in her life? But she didn't. So on the Saturday morning I drove up. And I walked into the door.

Quickly I got barked at by a black Labrador. I had figured she had acquired a dog in the time I hadn’t seen her, but this was the first time I met him. He was a bit like Monique’s dogs; very noisy, but you could tell he was actually quite pleased to see me. I had just met Bryn!

Then Kate wrestled herself past him and we finally met. We had a lot to talk about! And that went well over coffee. She had already walked Bryn, but she figured we might do an additional walk together. It was a very wet day, but we are not made of sugar. So we did that walk! And we made a plan for the real walk of the next day.

On the short walk

Descending into the village 

I had emailed Miles beforehand that I was going to see Kate, and therefore would drive past his house. Maybe I could pop by for an additional beverage along the way? But that was a bit naive; it was a Saturday, so he was at work. But I also drive past his work. He suggested I would indeed swing by and just drag him out of the office. Then we would go to the café for a coffee. But he wouldn't be there very long, so Kate decided we should just go after our walk. And we did!

That was a bit of a trip down memory lane; when Kate and I had walked the Slate Trail, we had also come past his work, dragged him out of the office, and had a beverage together. But that was outside, and today was not an outside kind of day. I must admit this was the first time for me inside the café!

After a while, Kate had to go back, as she expected a delivery. I lingered a little bit longer. And when I got back to her place, the delivery was already there. It was white goods. So together we removed the appliances they would replace, put a new ones in position, cleaned out the old ones, loaded them into her car, and brought them to a place where they could get another life. The dog helped with everything except transport; the car was full and he wasn't coming. But by then the afternoon had progressed quite a lot! After we got back, I had one more cup of tea and then I said goodbye. I would see her again the next day, after all!

It had been really good to see her! And in hindsight, I was glad we had spent more time together then I thought we would. When I checked the weather forecast again the next morning, I saw that the largely dry day had changed into quite a wet one. I alerted Kate to the situation, and she suggested we postpone the real walk. She had plenty to do! And, frankly, so did I. So we aborted mission!

We still had had the most of the Saturday for reconnecting. And I hope we can do that walk again soon anyway. With Bryn. There is always more to catch up on!

Margot's Blog: Moel Hebog with Kate (mmmmargot.blogspot.com)

26 July 2023

More bike maintenance

In March I had brought my bike to a repair shop that was new to me. I was glad someone had pointed me in its direction! I had been wanting to have my bike serviced for a while? And finding out about a very conveniently located repair shop that wasn’t snooty about what bike they serviced was just what I needed. And boy did the bike need it too. The rear wheel was almost falling out. 

I then kept biking. I cover quite some distance in an average week! And when I quit my therapist I went back from four bike commutes per week to five. And in summer I could feel the gears slipping a bit again. Time to booking back in! 

While the bike was at the bike shop I did a quick back of the envelope calculation; I estimated I had biked some 1000 miles and 100.000 vertical feet between services. I figured the bike had earned some attention! 

The next day I got an update: the bike needed a new chain, new cog wheels, a new tyre, new brake discs and pads, and some new cables. It wouldn’t be cheap. But it would be worth it. 

On the Friday, when I had biked in on my spare bike, I got the message to say it was finished, so I picked it up. And the repair man couldn’t believe it had only been four months since the previous service. But the evidence was there! 

With my office bike in there as well, I now had three bikes in the office! That was a bit much. But when I biked the repaired bike back home it was good to feel it being in good nick again. 

Too many bikes in the office 

On the Monday I hitched a ride in, so I could ride the spare bike home. And then all was well again for the next four months or so…

25 July 2023

OCD-ing the conservatory table

Years ago, I had made a table for in the conservatory. If I sow vegetables, I always keep them on there until they are big enough to go into the garden. But I had eyeballed it a bit. It wasn't very straight! And if I sit in the comfortable chair in the conservatory (which is also the cat’s favourite chair on warmish days) I look straight at the front left leg which is at an unfortunate angle. And I am barely and OCD case (I hope this is not using the condition’s name in vain), but this is pushing it even for me. But now I have finally done something about that! 

My activities with firewood resulted in plenty of wood splinters. And one day I brought a few of them in. I just unscrewed the leg, put the wood splinter into the screw hole, and then put the screw back above the splinter. And it worked! An actual joiner would still groan at the quality of the work, but if you're not paying attention you won’t notice it's not a straight angle anymore. I will be more comfortable in that chair from now on!



24 July 2023

Another try at staying dry

I live in North Wales and I like the outdoors. That means I can do with a good waterproof jacket! Finding one is not easy, though. Many years ago I had gone to a good outdoor shop and said: I want a waterproof jacket. I don't care how much it costs, as long as it is properly waterproof. What they sold me, a Rab, didn't do the job.

During one Swamphike, which was quite a washout, I was walking around in a pair of salopettes I had bought secondhand, and that expensive jacket. The trousers were flawless. The jackets didn't stop anything! I got home soaked above the waist. That was not pleasant. But that told me that buying secondhand might actually get better results than buying new. And because it is cheaper, you can afford to have a few attempts.

Currently, I have an old jacket that is supposed to be waterproof that I bought new, but reasonably cheaply. I commute in that, unless things get really damp. But it is coming towards the end of its lifetime. I think I will replace it with the expensive jacket.

Then I have a jacket that I bought secondhand. It is a North Face, and more waterproof than the expensive jacket, but still not something you would confidently go into an autumnal multi-day hike with. And then I saw a more high grade North Face jacket advertised on Facebook. It was described as "very waterproof ". Of course people will say it is waterproof, but they might actually be right! The bloke who sold me the salopettes certainly was. So I took the gamble and bought it! Now all I need is a washout to try it out. I don't think I will have to wait very long…

23 July 2023

Cake competition final

In early April I reported that I had been booted out of the cake competition by none other than Susan. She was through to the third round. I can't remember how many rounds there were, but she came through all of them! And then only the final was left. And it would be between her and Robin, the researcher with whom I had made the SOS picnic bench. So I was looking forward to the finals! I would by definition be quite appreciative of the winner.

It was a bit of a wait; Susan, of course, had been on the other side of the world. But the day came! And I did know what to expect; we had had dinner with the usual six the Friday before, and she had baked a trial cake for the occasion.

I got there early, so I was able to take a picture of both intact cakes. And then it really started! They were both really good. Robin Hood baked is sticky toffee pudding baked cheesecake, and Susan a carrot cake with orange.

I told Susan I was a bit conflicted about the whole competition thing. Could I vote in good conscience? I knew who had baked what, and I was good friends with one of the bakers. Not sure if being friendly, but to a lesser extent, with the other baker made things less bad or worse. But she told me she just wanted me to vote for whichever cake I preferred. So I did.

Normally, you get the results a bit later on by email, but given that this was the final, the organisers counted the votes there and then. And then the Head of School stood up to announce the winner. It was Susan!

Very backlit picture of John handing her the shield 

She gets the wooden spoon that is the trophy, and her name will be engraved on the winners’ plate. And she can decide where the money goes to that has been raised by this year's competition.

She chose the pet shelter she got her cats from. A worthy recipient! As our competition tends to only raise a few hundred pounds, she figured a small local charity would be the best, as they would actually notice an amount like that. And it has something to do with cats. 

22 July 2023

Axe and pallet with Charlotte

I hadn't seen Charlotte in a while, so I dropped her a message to see if she was up for having a cup of tea or coffee or something. And she did! So I biked up the hill on a rainy Saturday. And I had finally remembered that ages ago, I had offered to sharpen her axe. I had mentioned my activities with firewood, and she had complained that she had a blunt axe and not the means to do something about it. I clearly did! So I had brought my multitool up. But first we had that cup of tea.

After a lot of talk I reminded her of the axe. She went to get it, while I got my multitool out. But then I stopped. It was European multitool! And I had forgot to bring an adapter plug. I couldn't plug it into her sockets. Bad organisation.

My European multitool

She suggested we just both go to my place,  where I have plenty of these plugs. And so we did! And the axe was sharpened. So now she can tackle her firewood again.

We clearly had been talking about firewood anyway, so I had mentioned the pallets, and she said that if there were more on offer, she was interested. Two days later indeed another one appeared! So I had alerted her to that. And that very day she came down to take it apart. It's not something you can fit into a modest car intact. And when she was done with the pallet, and I was done with what I had been doing, we had a nice drink in the garden.

I didn't think one thing would lead to another like that, but it was nice to combine the useful with the enjoyable! And we are clearly both getting ready for another winter, where all that wood-related activity will facilitate woodfire enjoyment. Ideally, we would meet for climbing, but this will do as well…

21 July 2023

Sending off all my stamps

If you get the piece of paper from Royal mail through the door, it generally means that they have tried to deliver something and you weren't home. But one day it meant something else. It was a message that they were changing their stamps; all new stamps would have a QR code. If you still had stamps without, you needed to trade them in. The ones without a code would not be valid anymore, quite soon! And I still had some £30 worth of stamps lying around. So I sent them off with the form. I must say I was a tiny little bit wary; would this really work? Would I really get like for like replacements with codes sent to me? But there is only one way to find out. The stamps I sent off would soon be worthless, so if I didn't I would certainly lose out!

Goodbye old-fashioned stamps

20 July 2023

Start of rebuilding wood piles

I went into last winter with five piles of wood; one was just wood piled up on the floor, but the rest was in various racks and cupboards. One of these is a rack where I put wood from the garden; that has to dry for a considerable amount of time, so even if the other stacks are depleted, I can’t necessarily use that one. In February, the biggest stack had already vanished. And I wasn't done burning yet.

Through winter, I did keep replenishing the stacks. I still had quite a lot of potential firewood standing around, waiting to be sawn. Some of that was quite old, and some of that was still stairs of Neuadd Ogwen. But by the time it was spring and I stopped burning wood, there was really barely anything left. And I knew that if I wanted to do it all again the next winter, I would have to replenish. Hence my pilfering of the building waste of a nearby hotel, and my enthusiasm for Neuadd Ogwen’s pallets

I had made sure to quickly take apart the big pallets. But just taking them apart is not enough! Then the wood needs to be sawn. And the weekend after graduation, I took apart the last small pallet, and got working on the sawing task. 

End of day one

By the end of the weekend, one of my firewood racks had more than a meter of wood in it! And there still is a lot to do. But that pallet wood is quite soft, and you cut it quite easily. So if I just do half an hour of sawing on most days, the rack will be full quite soon. And that will also mean that all these bits of pallet are out of the way. You never know when the next batch of firewood presents itself! I want to be ready for that, and have space. I easily have enough wood ready to be sawn to fill three of my stacks, and the fourth is still full with wood that is by now dry enough to be burnt this winter (it’s my dead Buddleia; not very good firewood, but better than nothing), but that still leaves the biggest stack non-existent for now. But summer is not over yet! We'll see what else I can get my hands on…

Retired pallet

19 July 2023

Splendid placebo effect

My neighbour, the one with the aggressive cat, gave me some cream she had applied to her cat when she had bald patches. She suggested I try it on my cat too. I immediately did. The cat purred, so she didn't mind it, but I wasn't very successful in applying it afterwards. If I approach her when she is lying somewhere, she often jumps up because she thinks she can convince me to go to the kitchen and give her food. And, of course, she always lies on at least some of her bald patches. And sometimes I just want to leave her alone.

Strangely enough, her hair was starting to grow back, and she didn't seem to remove it as much. It looked like the most powerful placebo effect ever! There is no way the few blobs of cream I applied had all this effect. But I am really happy she almost looks like a normal healthy cat now. I have no idea what exactly was going on, but as long as it's getting better I am not complaining! And now I have to just hope it doesn't come back…

Beautiful healthy cat

18 July 2023

Marking boycott: not with us

In late April, I mentioned that the union had called for a marking and assessment boycott. And I mentioned that I wasn't sure how many people would participate in that in our school. And therefore I also had no idea what the effects would be.

By now, graduation has been. All our students got their full grades! So it turned out that nobody in our school was keen on this type of industrial action. It does mean we have not furthered the cause of the union. It also means that we had a whole cohort of satisfied students. What is right? I don't know. But I admit that I marked everything, so I have to accept my part in not supporting the union. And therefore not supporting its quest for better working conditions in this latest round of actions. But also, we didn't contribute to the heartbreaking stories in the newspapers of students losing their visa, or losing out on jobs, or things like that, for reasons of not having their full grades.

How does this story develop? I don't know! Stay tuned…

17 July 2023

Graduation summer 2023

In a way, graduation is very dull. You just sit on a podium and clap. At some point you stand up and sing the Welsh National anthem. But in another way, it is very exciting. All the people you clap for are the people you have taught for years and who now have completed it! And they are very happy and smiley and so are you. And after the ceremony you can mingle and congratulate them. And it's the most relaxed you'll see them because they're done. You are no longer a person who has the power to give them good or bad grades. You are just someone who is happy for them. It is different! 

Given that I lead the dissertation module, I will at least on paper have dealt with every single one of the students. Sometimes it's just nice to get finally get a name with a face. But the ones you really look out for are the students you know yourself; especially tutees and dissertation students. Or project students, if they get their masters. 

This year was special; this time there was a friend graduating. Lydia, with whom I have been going underground several times, was getting her Masters. And I was prepared; I had made her a memento. 

When the day came I biked to Main Arts; the weather forecast had been horrible, but I hadn't got particularly wet. Fortunately! I went to pick up my gown; this time they gave me a Bangor gown. Fine with me! And then I went to the council chamber where we always gather before we march ceremoniously into the hall where it all takes place. Only in the council chamber did I change into my smart shoes.

Me in my Bangor outfit

There was a good turnout. It was quite a procession! And I ended up on the second row, but with quite a good view. Then it started.

The acoustics are such that if a speaker stands on the podium, the audience can hear them well, but the people behind them might very well struggle. And I'm not particularly good at hearing what people say on the best of days. So the speeches were a little bit lost on me. But then, one by one, the graduates were called forward and we could do our clapping. And be reminded of all the students. Somewhere towards the end come out because of her Masters, was Lydia. She was in a glamorous dress and heels! And with lipstick! I had never seen her like that. She rocked it.

We also did indeed sing the national anthem, like last year. I wasn't sure if that would happen again! There had been no mention of it. I don't think we were very loud. I couldn't hear anyone of the staff singing. And I know the song, but my singing ability is very limited, so I don't go particularly loud myself either.

Normally, when the ceremony is over, we get lead into the inner courtyard for a picture of the whole cohort. This time it didn't happen. Maybe because of the weather? Instead we came out in the open space that I suppose technically is also a courtyard, but not enclosed. There I tried to find the relevant people to congratulate. I found many of them! Including Lydia. I was glad she appreciated my memento. I also had a chat with her grandparents.

A picture from the School of Ocean Sciences Facebook page; four of our new graduates. All having done degrees that I teach quite heavily on. The chap furthest right would later get an award for the best dissertation in the physical sciences.

After that ceremony there was also reception in a different building. After a while I gave my gown and hat back, and biked up there. There I had a long chat with one of our new BScs, who was about to move to Australia to continue his studies. And two friends, one of which was going back to the States, and the other one was expected to graduate next year. Among other things, we spoke about the influence of AI on education.

I also had some lunch and some bubbly wine to celebrate. And after a while, there was a brief ceremony in which two students received a reward. One had had to be especially invited; she had won the prize for the best biological dissertation, but she was doing an integrated masters, so she wouldn't graduate until next year. But she was there!

After the ceremony I decided to go home. I still had a tutorial to do from my home office, with one of my master’s students (not the one doing fieldwork). I got back into my comfortable shoes and left. It had been a good day! And I hope all our new graduates will have an amazing future!

16 July 2023

GPS in the marsh

 I have an MSc student who is doing a fair amount of fieldwork. And it helps him if he knows where the observations he makes are taken. Not just what location; also what elevation. And for that you need our expensive GPS. The first time we went into the field it wasn't available, so there were still quite some points we had to survey in. He had noted the locations with handheld GPS and suchlike, but that wasn't quite enough. And our technical staff won't let students walk away with a GPS like that; a member of staff has to be with them. So we had to go together!

My intention had always been to sometimes go together; first get him started together, and then do every Nth day in the field together. And it was about time I joined him! So first we picked up the GPS from the responsible technician, and then we were on our way. It was a beautiful day for it!

On the sandflat 

I had imagined we would survey in whatever needed surveying in, and then add some observations to that. But quite soon it became clear that that might have been a bit ambitious. A salt marsh is not always easy going! Sometimes you are trudging through confusing vegetation in which you can't see the ubiquitous pits and gullies, sometimes you are wading through chest-high rush, sometimes you are slushing through the mud, and sometimes you might be doing several of these things at the same time. It was a bit slow going. And sometimes finding the exact location took a bit of time as well.

Striking red leaves among the vegetation 

For reasons of tide we set off at noon, and when we had surveyed everything in we decided it has been long enough. We went back to campus. It was close to 4 pm.

The week after we would have a tutorial, and the idea was that by then he would have collated all the data gathered so that we could see what kind of a picture was emerging. I hope that will be as good as being out on the marsh for the afternoon!

15 July 2023

Other deadlines down

We had had to submit the details of our modules for the upcoming academic year. But when that was done, more deadlines loomed. One was for the evaluation forms for all of our modules. We have to do that every year. 

The MSCI projects had a deadline too, of course. And then there was Supplementary Assessment Week (SAW). Students who couldn’t do assessments due to illness or a family bereavement or something like that can get another chance that week. Additionally, students who haven’t done well enough to pass the year can try to crank up their results so as to be able to progress or graduate after all. And all my modules had students like that! 

I used to have alternative assignments ready, but this year I had to make quite some changes. Nothing I set should be able to be completed by AI! So it was more work than usual. 

By Thursday morning I had finished the evaluations, sent off the MSCI projects, and got everything ready for SAW. That felt good! The rest of the week was already full, but the week after I would be able to spend some uninterrupted time on big chores like Athena Swan or getting my module websites ready…

14 July 2023

Diversity in Mountain Rescue

It was a while ago I attended an online meeting about diversity in mountain rescue. Or, more precisely, diversifying pathways into mountain rescue. One of the men in the team had alerted me to this event, and it sounded interesting. So I signed up! And it happened shortly before Monique came to visit, so my attention was pulled into other directions.

For those who missed this; cave rescue falls under the umbrella of mountain rescue, so this was also applicable to the likes of me. And I saw one or two other people from cave rescue in the audience. There were also representatives of the army and the fire service and suchlike.

It started with a talk by an army bloke. He told an anecdote of hearing some unacceptable language, and not really knowing what to do with it. In the end he did nothing. And he figured that that was the standard response. But by now he had, he said, a queer child and a trans child, and he had started to wonder if these would have felt okay in a situation like that. Or if they even would feel safe? And he had realised that a lot of attitudes that are tolerated shouldn't be. And he recognised some of these attitudes in mountain rescue as well. And he wasn't happy with that.

He also provided the best soundbites of the evening, one of which was taken from a speech by David Morrison, a big cheese in the Australian army, who had been addressing misogynist behaviour in the army ranks. He said: the standard you walk past is the standard you accept

Of the other one I don't remember the provenance, but that was: if you have to explain it's banter, it's fucking not banter. 

I think both of these are useful to keep in mind. And admittedly, and fortunately, I haven't encountered "banter" in cave rescue, but I know that several members of the team will indeed "explain" something is banter, and walk past it. So it is something of which it would be good if all members of our team, just like those of any mountain rescue team, would keep in mind. 

There were also testimonies that were taken directly from mountain rescue. People assuming that if a car has a mountain rescue sticker on it, the man in that car will be the mountain rescuer. Assumptions that a woman on the hills would be a casualty carer. Women hesitating to join because of the macho image of mountain rescue. People being rescued and then saying "thanks guys". The situation in mountain rescue doesn't seem to be too bad; they seem to have a higher percentage of women than you get in a typical cave rescue team. But there clearly still is a lot of work to do.

Is this all about women? No, of course not. It was pointed out that quite a lot of mountain rescue teams are very white and cisgender and straight and full of able-bodied people. And I suppose on the disability side you will never get proper representation, because some disabilities just don't combine well with mountain rescue, but plenty do. And more diversity in general would be good.

So what were the suggestions of doing something about this? Everyone in the team should mind their language. And everybody else’s language, too. If you go recruit new members, don't go to where only a limited number of demographies is represented. (We don't recruit, by the way; people find us.) Make sure your marketing materials have a reasonable level of diversity. If you do outreach, try to do that in teams that are not a monoculture.

Some of this clearly doesn't apply to us, but it was still useful to hear! Our team hasn't heard it yet; in theory, there was a good opportunity at a committee meeting we had, but we were overrunning, so I said I would just write a little report. And that was what prompted me to also write a blog post. I suppose it will be our next committee meeting where this actually gets discussed. I hope it helps!

13 July 2023

Snowdonia trail 10k - plus travel

I had had the idea in my head for a while to do a race in Llanberis, and go there on bike. It's not very far; 10 miles! And going to a race without emissions makes me feel good about myself. It also saves parking worries.

With this in mind I had registered for the Snowdonia trail 10k. I had run it twice before; in 2016 and 2018. It felt a long time ago!

The race would have a 9:30 start, and I did not want to have to rush, so I left at eight in the morning. Quite early! But so be it. I brought lunch, coffee, water, and a jacket for in case. I had considered filling up with water after having done the climb to Mynydd Llandygai, as that saves me biking a heavy bottle up 270 m, but I decided that was too much faff. And it was okay. It was quite pleasant biking there!

On my way to the race

When I got to the site, the half marathon was just starting. Maybe one day I'll do that distance. It is a beautiful route! But with the additional two hours biking I had decided that this year wasn't going to be the year for that.

I parked up, and saw some very tired-looking people finish. This was something new to me; I was aware of the longer distances, but this was the finish of a 24 hour race. How often could people get to the top of yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) and back within a 24 hour period? No wonder these people were looking tired.

I took off my T-shirt to reveal my tank top with race number, went to the loo, drank a cup of coffee and had a fruit bar, and made my way to the start. They sounded the horn while "she Sells Sanctuary" was playing! A good start.

At the start

We happily trundled to the other side of the valley, and then along it. There is a beautiful stretch over a small path until you get onto the Llanberis path. I also got talking a bit with a lady running at a similar speed. 

Running in the direction of yr Wyddfa

Nice ruins along the route

Underneath the railway. The lady in the blue top would come 3rd! 

Then the race crossed over to the other side again. Soon we were climbing up the slate quarry men’s paths. It’s hard work! And I overtook the lady again who had run away from me on a downhill bit. And some blokes. I knew they would probably storm past me again on the final descent…

Steep uphill north of the valley; the bloke in the blue shorts I would see again twice more!

They did. But because downhill I don’t dare go full pelt, I had some energy left for the flat bit before the finish, and I managed to storm past one of the blokes who had overtaken me earlier. Then I was in! Finding the lady again, waiting for me. She said she had come in 4th! I congratulated her. And was surprised. That meant I was 5th! I didn’t expect a result like that. Not bad! 

I went to get some fruit, and my finisher pack, which was a mug, a coaster and some food supplements. Then I walked back to my bike. I saw there was an ice cream van; that looked attractive! I dropped off my stuff, bought me some ice cream, and went back to the finish to cheer some people on. 


I there found the bloke (in the blue shorts) I had stormed past. He recognised me! He had reroofed my garage. I thought that was funny; I had just noticed a week earlier the cement was falling out of the roof ridge. I told him that! He took it well, fortunately. And he said he would have a look. 

With that surprising interaction done, I went back to my bike in order to go home. I thought I'd have a picnic along the way. I wanted to finish my coffee, but probably somewhere prettier than on this field. Ideally, I would drink my liquids before I would do the ascent. It is pretty brutal, and any weight you don't have to lug up is bonus!

Looking back at Llanberis from the slightly brutal road back up

Obviously, I didn't find a spot I liked until I was on the top of the hill. I had all my drinks there, and my sandwiches. And I got a text from the organisers; I had actually come 4th! So the lady I had been talking to had been bronze! Such a good performance. 

I then went home. I was tired! So I avoided sitting down too much. I figured I would be tempted to not get up anymore. And I had to self-medicate; I had done three hours of sport on a sunny day, some of it strenuous, on less than two litres of drink. That's not enough for me! So a fair amount of paracetamol was consumed. 

Scenic tree on the way down 

I also looked up all the results. I had done well! I had been some eight minutes quicker than my previous record on this course. I felt good about that. And I had finished only seconds after the bronze lady. And I hadn't pushed it hard. I had even stopped a few times for pictures. I clearly could have run myself another podium position. It is almost as if I am getting good at this. Not bad at my age!

12 July 2023

Chemistry tower coming down

A few years ago, the University had decided that there wasn't enough enthusiasm for chemistry in Bangor, so that they would close the chemistry department. Quite a rigourous decision! A university without chemistry? But I suppose it does have to make financial sense.

Chemistry had its own building; the chemistry tower. It was a building with a strong 60s feel to it. And the University had been wondering about its future for a while. I had heard rumours that they might want to turn it into a student accommodation, but that of course would require a change in planning permission. And because no one really knew what to do with it, it wasn't really getting a lot of maintenance. And one day, one of the slabs that covers the concrete came down in strong wind. I didn't hit anyone, but one person was close enough to tell University management that that building couldn't maintain the way it was. It had to either be safe, or not be at all! And we just had got a new VC, and he made the decision. It had to come down.

The building after things started falling off

You don't just tear down a tower. Some preparation goes into that! But the work has now started. The area has been fenced off for months, and now the whole building has been packaged in plastic to avoid dust becoming a nuisance. I trust it will become smaller and smaller now! My last lecture in that building has long been. I hope the empty space will be it to good use…

What it looks like now 

11 July 2023

Commuting a little bit faster

I suppose I already realised in my teens that if you bike a particular route every day, one of the few ways you have of making it more interesting is seeing if you can race yourself. Can you do it a little bit faster than before? And back in the days, it was my old Casio watch (I actually still have a near-identical model) that was doing the timekeeping. I could do these 14 km to secondary school quite fast after a while! And when I think back to that, I feel pity for everyone else in that school, as it was the time before breathable waterproofs, and most kids came on bicycle, so on a bit of a muggy day you must've had hundreds of rather smelly kids roaming the building. But that is another topic.

I now have a 14.5 mile commute (two ways). I used to ride a different route, which was longer by 3.5 miles, but I changed that to ride a more direct route which brings you over two hills. It is quicker, and a better workout. In the greater scheme of things, these hills are not very serious, but they still require some effort!

If I am teaching, I often bike over Bangor, but now it is summer I rarely have to be there. This way there is less variation in my route, and I have taken to seeing if I can improve my hill performance. I Strava every commute, so I know exactly if I am getting better! And I am.

One of the main hills

I quite like it if I come home and I see I have biked myself a gold medal on a particular segment! And I am fully aware that this will end somewhere, but the question is: where? For now I seem to be able to regularly get a little bit faster than ever before. I think that's a good thing in many ways! It motivates me to push it a bit harder, which keeps me in shape, and a potentially dull commute gets a competitive edge. I don't see any disadvantages! Let's see how far down I can get these times…

A personal best! And I wonder now what on earth my heart was doing on June 27…

10 July 2023


If you want to know if AI can do the assignments you set your students, the best thing you can do is try it out. I suppose many of us academics are doing that sort of thing right now. And one of my colleagues, who is quite on the ball, was talking about various different AI tools. I had only been using chatGPT. He also mentioned Monica; I had never heard of that, but it turns out it is some sort of interface where chatGPT is plugged straight into your Internet browser. So I gave that a little Google, and seconds later I had Monica installed in my Google Chrome as some sort of a plug-in. If I now want to use AI, I just hit ctrl-M and up Monica pops. 

Time moves so fast! I am so aware I am already part of the old guard who is struggling to keep up. But I feel very modern with my Monica plug-in. It is quite handy! And I have the free version, so I can only ask it a limited amount of things per day, but I am already wondering if it is worth paying for more. It should be the University doing that, of course, but I'm not sure if they will be moving that fast.

Now that even I, a thoroughly middle-aged lady, have AI at my fingertips, you can bet on that that either already is the norm among the students, or soon will be. I think I am witnessing a monumental change in higher education! And I'm part of it! Which is exciting, but also quite a lot of work…

09 July 2023

Devising MSCI projects with collaborators

When I was talking to Natural Resources Wales about the project my current MSc student is doing, we also ended up talking about possible future projects. They have a list of priorities on their website, and that is largely focused on things like sedimentary processes and the ecosystem; in other words, modern processes. There is not much in there that goes back in time! And I like to go back in time in my research. But it was one thing I thought we could both be interested in. I like salt marshes as a sedimentary archive, and they like salt marshes as an interesting ecosystem, coastal protection, and carbon storage. And carbon storage is a long-term thing. That can go back in time! Would there be a potential for collaboration there?

Some video calls later there was a preliminary plan. Maybe one day we could have a student do a bit of a study on how much carbon is stored, both in the top layer and any potential fossil layers with high organic content, in three particular salt marshes in North Wales. And no time later I got an email: the deadline for suggesting projects was nigh. I quickly wrote up our idea! And sent it over to NRW for approval.

Arbitrary picture of eroding saltmarsh

One project is not much. We won't get many students, so we don't need to suggest that many projects per member of staff, but I figured two would be in order. And I thought of a project where we trace the relationship between mine pollution and the microfossil assemblages through time. Foraminifera are increasingly used as biomonitoring tools; it is very useful if you can check whether you can indeed spot a relationship between their assemblages and the amount of mine pollution you can detect. But I am not good with the chemistry of such a project. So I had a quick meeting with our local specialist. He was up for it!

I now have two projects ready that I am actually quite enthusiastic about. If and when I get permission from NRW I will send them both in. And then I'll have to wait and see if any student is interested! But if not, that's okay; I will just submit them again next year! Even though by then our chemical colleague will have retired. I might have to check if someone in the School of Natural Sciences could step in then…

08 July 2023

Pallets as far as the eye can see

The work at Neuadd Ogwen, which started in 2021, is still ongoing. At the moment, the roof is being insulated. That requires a lot of material. And material tends to come on pallets. I saw some leaning against the wall, and ask the workmen what they intended to do with them. The answer was: nothing! So I immediately saw opportunities. 

I had come through half of the winter burning the original temporary steps they had demolished somewhere along the building works, and the second set of temporary steps had got away to my chagrin, but this was more unpainted wood I might get my hands on! So I asked if I could have them, and they said yes. And I put them in my garage. There were three of them; they pretty much filled up the place. These were not half-hearted pallets! They were more or less double the standard size; roughly 1.20 by 2.40 m. And the men said there would be more coming the day after.

The first sight of the pallets

The next day I found no fewer than five pallets that size. Five! I knew I couldn't store them in my garage as they were. I would have to demolish them there and then. I got my crowbars out.


I managed to demolish one before I realised I would have to think of something else. This was a lot of work! No way I could do them all in one evening. So I put the demolished one in the garage, and decided to stack the rest against my conservatory. I could just one by one take these apart after work!

Emergency pallet storage

When I came home the next day I was wondering if I would find even more pallets. But I didn't! So I just demolished another one. And another one the day after. And another one the day after. My plan was working!

Along the way I also noticed that the neighbour’s cat was using them as a ladder to either just sit on top and then scowl at my cat through the bathroom window, or get onto the flat roof of the bedroom. Another reason to try to get rid of them as soon as I could!

As I write this, I still have a lot of space taken up in the garage by pallets. I hope I can get them out of the way soon. And then I can do a bit of reorganisation! And I should start to saw the planks into shorter bits, so I can stick them in my currently rather empty firewood racks. I look forward to a tidy but well-stocked garage again!

My garage after demolishing four of the pallets