31 October 2023

Teaching in Welsh into higher gear

Last year I had started teaching on the Welsh version of our Environmental Data Analysis module. Up until that time, I had only done limited Welsh language teaching. I dealt with some Welsh language assignments, and gave Welsh speaking students guidance on assignments in Welsh. And not directly teaching, but I had lead a practical session for a visiting Welsh language school, partly on my own. That was quite daunting! But it went okay. But then it was agreed I would join this module that was entirely run in Welsh. Last year, my contributions were still limited: I translated a PowerPoint presentation, and I helped with a practical. A lady from Natural Sciences was leading it. 

By the start of this year, that lady had retired. I naïvely expected some discussion about who would take on which parts of her teaching. But Dei, who is module leader, is totally snowed under, so I suddenly got an email on a Thursday afternoon that suggested I was expected to teach a two hour computer practical about statistics the next Tuesday on my own. No one had mentioned any of that! And I figured I could, but then I wanted to know what I was expected to teach. Dei was too busy, so I dived into the documentation with my colleague Mollie

It wasn't particularly easy to figure out what would need doing! The module website didn't give many clues. I figured I would do the retired lady’s material. But there was also material from the English version of the module, that had been translated by the university’s translation services. I had already gone through the other material, but I agreed that it would be better to do the same thing as the English cohort. So then I started preparing that. And ended up with more surprises!

It was clear that that English cohort is expected to watch the Powerpoints online. They are ready-narrated. Ours weren’t! And even if we would find a time to sort that out, there would be no time for the students to go through them. You can't really ask them that at very short notice. They also have other modules to do! But we realised the practical required no fewer than three different presentations in order to cover the material. I didn't really think three Powerpoints and the practical would fit inside the slot. But we would have to give it a go! Luckily, frantic figuring out what we needed to teach when revealed that the next session, to be lead by Mollie, was not anywhere near as busy as that, so we could let my sessions bleed into hers if needs be.

There also was a quiz that would test the students on the things they would have learned during the practical. We didn't have a test! But at least, that we could quickly do. As long as we had it ready at the start of the practical, that was early enough. 

I was still very busy with the dissertation module, and it was also the time we needed to file our exam questions. I made sure I knew what our students had to do in the practical part, with the Welsh vocabulary. I don't normally use the Welsh terms for things such as standard deviation or interquartile range! But I didn't really have time to do more preparation than that. 

The day came. The students looked friendly. And so I started! I must admit I was disturbed by how halting my narration of the PowerPoints was. But the students look very forgiving. And as soon as I could go freewheeling,  everything was fine. And the guiding them through the practical was fine as well.

One of the slides. Thanks to my colleague Jenny, and Canolfan Bedwyr for translation

Time flew by! Before I knew it, the two hours were up. And I had to live strictly at the time it finished; I was headed for Jaco and Marjan for dinner. We Dutchies don't eat late!

That night I was knackered. I must've been slightly dull company! But my first independent Welsh teaching, and then immediately two hours at one go, with a little time for preparation, was done!

I'm sure we'll do it again next year. But given that Mollie and I now made an effort of making sure the module website was in good shape, and we can just roll it over into next year, and then it will just be clear what needs doing when. And then we can do it a lot more smoothly! I actually already look forward to it.

When I started learning Welsh at the very beginning of my time here at Bangor University, I hoped that one day I would indeed teach in Welsh. It took a lot longer than I thought it would, but we got there now! May  much more follow! 

30 October 2023

Sinusitis due to impact?

Fifteen years ago, I accidentally skied into a rock. I wasn't wearing a helmet. I absorbed quite a lot of the impact with my head. It could have ended really badly! But it didn't. I just got up and brushed the snow off me. But the next day I was ill. And I stayed ill for a while. In the end I sought medical attention, and was diagnosed with sinusitis. And I have always been convinced that the two are causally linked. But I don't know an awful lot about how sinusitis really works.

Not too long ago I was discussing with someone, and I can't remember who, whether indeed there was a causal relationship. They said that sinusitis means a pathogen has ended up in your system, and you can't create a pathogen out of nowhere from impact with a rock. And that is true! But I figured that if you shake someone's head vigourously enough, substances might end up in places where they normally are not. So I would imagine that pathogen just came from somewhere else in my head. It would have stayed there if I would have managed to avoid that rock.

It's not as if I haven't seen any medical professionals in the last 15 years! But I never really thought to ask. But when I found myself standing next to our medical officer, whose day job is paramedic, during a cave rescue training exercise, I saw my chance. And I asked him if indeed it is possible that the impact caused the sinusitis. And he answered it with a wholehearted yes! And he is only one medical professional, and there is no guarantee that there is consensus on this topic, but I still feel vindicated. He even provided two separate possible mechanisms, but I'm afraid I wouldn't be able to reproduce them here. It went a bit quick. But in the days after, I realised I was really glad I had asked someone. So now I'm putting it here! Does anybody else care? I have no idea! But I clearly do…

The hut I spent the first days of my illness in

29 October 2023

Surface controller at Minera

After having had my first taste of being a controller during an evening exercise in Cwmorthin, this stakes would be upped. We had a full day practice coming up, and our chairman had decided that we, the aspirant controllers, would have to lead that. He would set up a scenario.

It was going to be an early start. The venue, Minera Lead Mine, is about 1.5 hours away, by car. And I was supposed to be there by 9 AM. Initially I was going to make that more pleasant by car sharing with Nick, but he turned out to be unwell. As only us aspirant controllers were supposed to be there at 9, and everybody else at 9:30, I figured I would travel alone. But then Sharon got in touch; she was up for car sharing anyway! That was a nice surprise.

We got to Minera. I have been before but not often. Dewi, our chairman, took me and Ed apart. We were the only aspirant controllers there, so we had to sort this out! I was out of my depth; I wouldn’t be able to find a single entrance in the area, but I knew there were many. 

Dewi said the scenario was: one overdue person, not an experienced caver but in possession of a rope. He could be pretty much anywhere. We had to do a wide search. Ed decided on the four main entrances to check, and we sent out small scouting groups. We kept the medical chief back; as soon as one scouting party would radio in to say they had located the casualty, we could deploy him straight away. 

Pretty mine relic

After a while, the call came. He was found! With injuries. So we would send in the medic, and set up surface control near the actual entrance. 

I sat down on a mound, and the only thing I then could do was decide which kit to send with what people. Soon they were all in. And we hadn’t established communication yet! We had the Cavelink set up at the surface, and all we could do was wait for it to beep. Hard to tell how long it would take the underground lot to set up theirs! 

Surface control

When it finally beeped, a request came for more kit. I had to file a counter-request for people to come and get it. Underground control clearly wasn’t keeping track of who was where! But some people were sent out and we sent in the requested kit. And then we waited. And noted down all communications that came through. Casualty in casualty bag, stretcher reached casualty, casualty in spinal board, casualty plus spinal board in stretcher, stretcher starts to move, stretcher reaches first obstacle…

Apart from that there wasn’t much we could do. We had lunch. And chatted a bit. And admired all the dogs that walked by. Minera is clearly prime dog walking territory! And we wondered how long it would take. Dewi wanted the crew to get the casualty all the way out. We asked for an ETA. That came back as +5 hours! And it was already 3pm. Then it got adjusted to +7 hours. If it’s a real rescue you just live with that, but this was training, and we all also had things to do the next day. We couldn't wait for that. Dewi figured we should let them get to the second obstacle, because after that there would be space to take the casualty out of the stretcher, and turn him back into a healthy young man. But before that even happened, a message pinged in from underground, to ask if it was okay if they just packed up and came out. We said it sure was!

Paul checks if he can hear the underground lot yet 

From a message like that to everyone actually coming out might take a while. And when everyone is out we need to make sure we check we have all the material, and put that in the correct vehicle. And we needed a debrief.

After the debrief we could leave. For us westerners, it was still 1.5 hours driving. I was home approximately 19:45. It has been a long day! For me it would ideally have been a bit shorter. I spent hours doing very little, and I have more things to do with my life than just cave rescue. But still it had been a useful exercise. But I hope the next time I am acting as a controller, I am at least somewhat familiar with the venue!

28 October 2023

Cat count full again

When I got accepted in the ranks of the Gerlan crew, we all had a cat. And they were prominent in our midst! But tragedy struck, and the cats of Martin, and Sue and Dean, both died. Sue and Dean got new kittens. Martin held out.

Then Tom and Siobhan decided to go abroad for a year. But that meant they had to think of something to organise for their black tomcat Pwd. And they asked Martin to look after him for that time. And he said yes!

He invited us over for dinner after he would have had the cat for two weeks. He was still keeping him indoors, as is customary with new cats. They need to know this is their new home, before they can roam freely. Otherwise, the chance is too big they might not come back.

The company was great in the food was lovely! And it was interesting to see Pwd in his new home. But he gave the impression he was feeling the limitations of his freedoms. Firstly, he used to have free rein of the house. We could just jump undo tables in kitchen surfaces. Martin won't have that! So a lot of corrective action was needed.

Additionally, he used to have a huge territory, and it wasn't unusual for him to stay away for more than a day on one of his adventures. And now he had been indoors for two weeks already. So not entirely unsurprising, some rowdiness ensued. Some tooth and claw action was observed. 

I let my cat out after three weeks, and that went well. So Pwd’s predicament might very well end in another week. I hope to see him again soon, but undoubtedly after he has been allowed outside, and I hope he will be a bit more at rest then! 

27 October 2023

Date gate-crashed by Babet

I was going to drive to Chester for another date, on the day storm Babet would make her presence felt. Visibility wasn’t great, but nothing too spectacular. And there wasn't an awful lot of water on the road. In the vicinity of Prestatyn, there was a flood warning, but no actual flood materialised. This was all going quite well!

When I was on the smaller road, just about to cross the border into England, I suddenly saw some water on the road. The road was still in use. I needed an instant decision. I figured it wasn’t too deep, and I went in. I’m sure people have had that thought, and some of them have come to regret it! I soon wondered if I had made the right call. The water was quite deep, and the cars coming from the other direction were creating waves. Was I going to flood my engine? I sure hoped not! But I geared down and kept going. To the best of my knowledge, stopping is the worst thing you can do in such a situation. And fortunately, the road came out of the dip it had plunged into, and soon I was on dry land again. But my adrenaline levels were very high!

The date went fine! In the evening we just put the world to right. And in the morning I first made sure to check the state of that very road that had been flooded the day before. This time it was closed off! And rightly so. Then I checked if my car was still working. I just wanted to be sure! Luckily it didn't complain at all. And thirdly, I checked how I could get back to Wales while avoiding this road. That was straightforward.  

Road still a bit damp! 

Altogether the situation with the flood reminded me of the very first day I took my previous car, the Citroen, somewhere. I got away with it then too! In a way this would be a reason to relax, as clearly these cars can deal with something, but I want to veer the other way. I’d rather not be sloshing with adrenaline while driving a flooded road ever again! 

But back to the date; after all that was sorted we went for a nice run. The weather had greatly improved! There was still quite a lot of water on the roads, but it was all within reason. And then after lunch, before I knew it, it was already time to head back again. Next time at my place again!

Much better weather than the day before 

Still quite some water on the roads

26 October 2023

Celebrate and elevate Black women

It's Black History Month. At the University has decided to organise an evening event to celebrate and elevate Black women. And I thought it sounded interesting. I registered! There would be talks and music and a panel discussion and food, and it would be in a lecture theatre in Pontio and the adjacent café.

That afternoon we had a Board of Studies meeting. And there was something going on with academic integrity that required a small discussion by some members of staff. We decided to just stay behind at the end of the meeting and discuss that. And when we had sorted that out, I decided there were a few emails I urgently needed to send. All that meant I wasn't going to make it to the start of the event in Pontio. I quickly looked if there was something like a timetable for when the various things happened, but I didn't find anything. I figured it may be something you could dip in and out of. I went.

I was wrong. When I got there, people were tidying up the remains of a buffet, and the lecture room was closed. I sneaked in while a talk was going on. It was very interesting! But I was also hungry. This event would last until 20:30, and then I wouldn't be home yet. I wasn't going to do a hectic week like this without food.

After the talk a panel discussion started. Main questions were: what is Black History Month? What does Black History Month mean for you personally? What does or should Black History Month mean to Academic institutions? And the main point that came out was that it shouldn't be tokenism. Nothing really should be tokenism. You can decolonise your curriculum, but if the institute itself remains racist, that's not worth much. Celebrating people for a month and ignoring them for 11 months is not good enough. There was also talk of diversity. Black lives are not homogeneous! Just as much as white lives aren’t. So the ladies in the panel figured they needed to know their own personal history, but also needed to know Welsh history. And Welsh history inherently also includes Black history. And that should be acknowledged and appreciated by the Welsh of any colour.

I was limiting my access to this wider source of Black Welsh culture. At the end of the panel discussion, I bailed! And got home to get some food. I felt a bit guilty. I had also seen the Dean of the college in the audience. She had probably made it on time. Why hadn’t I been able to? I suppose I served a useful role as a prime example of some white person who engages in cultural appropriation and is full of good intentions but doesn't make the effort to step beyond that. Oops! Maybe I should plan better next year…

24 October 2023

So many proposals for students’ own dissertation topics

In principle, I like it when students design their own dissertation topic. It shows initiative and inspiration, and it is satisfying to give a student a topic they are evidently interested in. Originally it wasn’t pointed out to them that they could, but you would have always have a few who would raise the issue themselves. Now I actively encourage it. And the numbers have been rising. The total number of students fluctuates quite a bit, so raw numbers don’t say much, but since I took on the module it went from 1% of the cohort to 6% and 7% Last year I had 18 submissions by the deadline for new proposals. This year I had 43.

Occasionally I give my ok to a proposal straight away. Generally, though, I need to bounce it back at least once. This mainly is because I either need to be convinced there is enough data for answering the research question; it is not uncommon, for instance, that a student wants to explore what will happen to a certain parameter under climate change, and then they have enough data about the parameter, but no actual data about the projections of climate change. And it’s also not unusual for students to just list data sources without specifying what exact data from that source they want to use how, and then I have to ask for clarification. 

With 43 proposals and a fair number of additional email inquiries it took up a lot of my time. I did have something to show for it, though; at the time of the deadline I had approved 11 proposals. That is already 8% of the students! And there were still 20 that could possibly get it all done before the deadline for approved proposals. But I was really glad to reach the deadline, because then the deluge reduced itself to a trickle. Five more students managed to get over the line in the time between the deadline for new proposals and the final deadline. A record number!

I have approved projects about marine heatwaves, dolphin calf mortality, primary productivity in the Southern Ocean, the relationship between turtle strandings and NAO, how tides affect deglacial climate evolution, and many more. Very interesting stuff! And even one about micro- and nanoplastics causing neurotransmitter deterioration in marine organisms through induced neurotoxicity (yes really). I’m sure some really interesting dissertations will come out of this! 

A plankton bloom in the Southern Ocean. Pic by NASA

23 October 2023

Visiting Cemaes again; now as a geologist

The day after my archaeological walk in the Cemaes area, I was back on my way there in an coach otherwise full of ocean sciences students. I was going to do the same itinerary again, but this time I (with my two colleagues) was supposed to be the source of information. 

It started with something new! From the village beach we went west. There was an outcrop there of several rock types. I hadn't seen it before! It was an old sedimentary rock with a dyke coming through it, and a stromatolite around the corner.

The ‘new’ western outcrop

From there we went back to familiar terrain. St Patrick's Church, the Precambrian mélange to the west of it, stromatolites right by St Patrick's cave, and the view on a thrust fault within the Carmel Head Thrust Belt. 

When we had seen all that it was already time to get back to the coach! That would take us East to Porth Wen, where the firebrick work is, and the fossil pebbly beach. I think the students thought that being back on the coach meant we were done. When it stopped at a layby I saw many unimpressed faces! But they all accepted the situation and trundled after me to the drumhouse again. I spoke a bit about the industrial remains, and Jaco rounded off with his musings about the sedimentary rocks. Then we were really done! 

The drumhouse 

It had, in my mind, been a much more positive trip than last year. That year it had been awfully windy, and we had inadvertently organised things such that I had only had the very last outcrop to talk about, so by that time the students were tired and fed up. The other men had got distracted by something or other. I didn’t enjoy that at all! I had been SO aware that these students came into a School without women in high positions. That makes me really keen on making sure that I, as the only woman teaching on the module, come across as just as worthy of being listened to as the men. Because it isn’t self-evident in a School like ours. And this failed miserably. But it had lead to me speaking out to my line manager. And I’m glad I took that step…

22 October 2023

Archaeological walk with weird timing

It was a Tuesday and I was just casually checking my personal mail. And I found a message from the Gwyneth Archaeological Trust (GAT) that said: "Final call-out: guided walk North Anglesey". I must have missed all that earlier calls! I had a look and I saw it was a walk exactly where we take our students, and where we also point out the industrial remains we find along the way. I absolutely love what the GAT does, and I thought it would be great to learn more about these things we visit ourselves. I didn’t care that Anglesey isn’t Gwynedd at all. So I quickly registered! The walk would be that very Sunday. There was still space.

What was extra strange about this was that the trip with the students we do there would be the very day after. Normally this isn't the second trip in the series, but for reasons of tide and vehicle availability, this year it was. It was quite a big coincidence! So I figured I would just go there on Sunday, learn things, and then reproduce them on Monday.

I walked up at the meeting point and saw quite a sizable crowd gather it already. More people must have registered at the last minute! When I registered, the site said that 8 of the available 11 spaces were still available. There were more than 11 people gathered here! And soon the leading archaeologist appeared as well. I had met her digging for Neolithic axes last year. She remembered me!

I also spotted Janet, from the climbing club. I regularly bump into her on activities like this! We seem to have highly overlapping taste in leisure activities.

After some housekeeping we were off. Jane stormed off like a rocket! That seems to be her default walking speed. Good for her. 

The first stop was an old rifle range. Nothing reminded of it, but old maps knew it was there. Then followed a small limestone quarry with lime kiln. The limestone is there as hundreds of millions of years ago, it slid into an oceanic trench. We point loads of lumps of rock out to the students that have suffered a similar fate. I said something about that. It was welcomed!

Nice views

Then we went to the next small limestone quarry with kiln. It is also the spot from which you can see St Patrick’s cave. And there the limestone shows amazing beautiful stromatolites. I pointed this out, and their relevance. Some of the people were quite flabbergasted they were standing on their 800 million-year-old ancestors. And we had a bloke from GeoMon in the group too; he had some interesting stuff to add to that. 

From there we went to see St Patrick’s church. It’s a cute little old church! And I learned about the significance of its stained glass windows. 

St Patrick’s church

The Ichthus stone

Stained glass and tiles

From there we trekked to the porcelain works a bit further east. We were wondering a bit about the porcelain. We also had lunch there, on the beach, as there were sea kayakers on the picnic bench. I had a nice chat with a psychologist with a beagle. 

On the coastal path

The porcelain works

Lunch beach

From there we headed for the firebrick plant on the eastern side of the promontory. We tend to talk about a fossil beach there, and Jane thought it would be a good idea to do that now too. It went down well! And then we had a look at the old quarry with puzzling building in, and the drumhouse. And then the only thing left on the itinerary was the actual firebricks work.

Some machinery above the firebrick works

Initially, we would then take a path back to the porcelain works, but some people were feeling all the ups and downs of the paths a bit, and we decided to just head back over the road. That was a lot quicker! 

At the end, I had learned very little. But it had been a beautiful walk with nice people, so worth it anyway! And severs people came up to me to thank me for my contributions. I was really glad it was appreciated. This is the last walk of the year, but I hope to do something like this again in 2024! 

21 October 2023

Plumbing sorted the Margot way

I had a leaking tap and felt I needed to do something about it. I don’t like wasting drinking water! So the next Saturday I accepted the onerous task.

The first step was closing the stopcock. That was not trivial! It was both barely reachable, and quite seized up. A bad combination. And someone had suggested I may just cut a hole in the kitchen cabinet next to it. A good idea! So I emptied it out, took the shelf out, and set to work. It needed to be a sizeable hole! I wanted to lubricate the stopcock, but then you need a hole that is big enough to let your hand holding lubricant through, plus extra space to see what you’re doing. 

When that was done I tried to close the stopcock. It wasn’t an unadulterated success! There was still some water coming out of the tap. But I figured the water pressure was now so low I could chance it.

Stopcock exposed

I took the tap apart, and given that I saw nothing I could improve on, just reassembled it again, but a bit tighter. That worked; the leaking had stopped. But I knew that using it would probably restart that. So the next step was: make a ‘not in use’ sign. And I found a convenient piece of slate roof tile that would do the job nicely. I engraved the needed message, and fixed it to the tap. Job done! 


In the long run I will have to get an actual plumber look at all this. But for now I’m sorted! 

20 October 2023

Not the Middle East as well

I must admit that when I saw the first headlines appear about the situation in an around Gaza, I looked away. I clearly had a case of news fatigue. But the news doesn't go away if you don't look at it, so soon I did read up on the situation.

We already have too many wars! Every war is one war too many. And given that none of the wars we had at the beginning of the month have ended, the situation is now one war worse than it was, and it was already so bad. 

The film ‘The Old Oak’ already emphasised that the war in Syria just isn't news anymore. And that has also been the case for Yemen and Ethiopia for a while. And I think the Ukraine has now joined that undesirable list. Slovakia has already officially turned it back on it, and how many countries will follow? The situation in the Middle East will have everybody talking now, but it won't stay that way. At some point the media can't be bothered anymore, and I think quite a lot of people in the street then just stop thinking about the situation. I myself am one. What was the last time I thought about the war in Yemen before writing this post? And even if I read about Gaza in the morning, the rest of the day I am probably just thinking about the geology of Anglesey or what MSc thesis I have to mark or whether I have uploaded the recordings of my lectures. As cruel as it is, life just goes on.

And this blog just keeps talking about the small things in my life. Like it has done through countless many wars by now…

19 October 2023

New cake competition

In July, we had had the final of that academic year’s cake competition. And Susan won! So I assumed there would be a new competition the year after, in which she could defend her title. But soon rumours appeared about nobody wanting to organise it. I was already resigned! But then last year’s organisers used their charms to rope Susan in, and the competition was back on. I immediately signed up. And soon after the start of the academic year, it started again. I missed the first round, but was baking in the second. 

I had had a wild idea to bake a chocolate and pear cake, and use food colouring to make the cake black and the pears red. It would be Friday the 13th! But the first round already had a cake like that (sans the food colouring) so I had to rethink. And went with tahini-banana cake. Vegan tahini-banana cake. I had not made it before! 

I really wanted to do vegan baking, for two reasons: one is my vegan colleague who really likes cake, and the other is that I am well aware we should step away from animal products for environmental reasons (and also reasons of animal welfare, although in that regard, one egg is certainly not another egg. Environmentally, I think they are much more similar). And if I can manage to bake a vegan cake in which people don't miss the animal products, then maybe I am spreading the word that that is totally doable. And maybe people will follow! In our school, everyone should be well aware of the climate emergency.

The previous time I had done that I had lost. But this was another chance! 

I had to bake it in a bit of a hurry; it had to be done the evening before, but we also had a cave rescue committee meeting then. Luckily, this was online. That saves time! And I managed to have it finished before the meeting started.

The next morning Susan came to pick it up. I don't want to transport my entries by bike, but I couldn't travel with her as I was going to be on the main campus all afternoon. This solved the issue. The cake just went with her and I followed on bike!

I was competing against a ginger cake. I have entered with ginger before! I quite like ginger cake. And I liked this one. I had no idea how this would pan out. And our vegan was absent…

An hour or so later the results came in. I had won! I was excited. It was of course good for my ego, but I think it also means everyone who voted for me now knows vegan cakes can be even better than non-vegan cakes. Maybe they already knew it, but I hope I made a few people see the light!

And now I need to get mentally ready for the second round. Could I pull it off again? Stay tuned!

18 October 2023

Dog issues on the cycle path

I was biking to work like on any other day. I saw a lady on the path, and rung my bell so she would know I was approaching. I then saw she had a dog as well; a bit further away from me, and quietly standing to the side. The woman headed for the dog with a slight jog. She tried to put it on a lead before I would get to her. I appreciated that; most dogs will behave sensibly enough, but you never know. 

I thought I would just bike past and that would be it. But when I got to the dog, it charged. The lady had not managed to put the lead on the dog. I braked hard. I hit the dog anyway, but luckily at low speed. This seemed to puzzle the dog a bit, and the lady managed to put a lead on it after all.

She said she hadn't heard me coming. I said that us cyclists tend to not be very noisy. She also said she thought it would be quiet. Not sure what to make of that! It was prime commuting time. And she explained the dog had been once kicked by a cyclist. That explained why he charged at me. But it did make me wonder the wisdom of her decision to walk it, off the lead, on the cycle path. And especially if she wasn't keeping a very keen eye out for anything approaching. I am Dutch; I think cycle lanes are for cyclists. If I walk on them, which can be totally legal and societally accepted, I really look around me like the criminal on the run. I really don't want to end up right in front of the wheels of an enraged cyclist! 

I was okay and the dog was okay, so it had all ended well. Therefore, in spite of me thinking she hadn't made the best possible decision, I figured that she had realised that now as well, any didn't need pointing out any further. It must be quite unpleasant to see your beloved dog being run over by a cyclist, even if it is totally unhurt. No point in me hammering the point home. So I said I appreciated her apology, and wished her a good day. Then I was on my way again.

It happened at the entrance of that tunnel in the distance

Only a few hundred meters further I bumped into a lady in running kit I recognised from the Bethesda wokerati scene. She flagged me down, and asked if I had seen a person with a German Shepherd. I hadn't! She was supposed to go running with that person, but had been a bit late. Now she didn't know if she had missed them, or whether they were even later than she was. What to do?

We solved it by me biking up the bicycle path, and her driving over the road, as that way, if the person with the German Shepherd would be on their way, they couldn't escape both of us. And I caught them! Unfortunately, they had already been on the run. But it was funny to have two dog-related encounters within a kilometre.

I find that commuting over a bicycle paths gives me very strong opinions about dog walkers. And they go both ways! I really appreciate the dog walkers who keep an eye out, and they have their dogs under control. I recognise a lot of them already. And I really don't like the dog walkers that use the whole width of the path, don't look around them, possibly wear headphones so don't hear you ring your bell, and either are slow to bring the dog(s) to the side, or fail to do so because the dog does whatever the dog wants. 

I think it is fine to share infrastructure like that. But you shouldn't share it in such a way that you hinder other people, as that is more claiming than sharing. And especially if it is a recognised bicycle route, you need to use the path in such a way cyclists can just get past without issues. We cyclists don’t block the way of dog walkers. And I'm sure these dog walkers would be quite grumpy if arbitrary pedestrians, with dogs or otherwise, would block their commutes.

I think this is one of those situations where conflicts will never be weeded out. Which is a bit of a pity, as it is such an avoidable kind of conflict. But there we are! And today was a day where things didn't go as they should have. I think that actual accidents in which a cyclist or dog gets hurt are rare. But far from unthinkable! But I will still try to get my commute over in a reasonably short time. Dog walkers or not…

17 October 2023

In the Senate of the University

I had never paid an awful lot of attention to what the Senate of the university does. Official documentation says it’s the academic authority of the university. Important, clearly! We would get regular updates in staff meetings. But one meeting, our Head of School said that my colleague Laura, who was taking a year out, had been one School representative in that body, and she needed to be replaced. I know the other two people our School sends there are male professors at least 10 years older than me, so I figured a little bit of diversity was in order. So I volunteered myself. And that meant that one Wednesday I sat down in one of the glamorous halls of our main building on the main campus, not entirely sure what to expect.

I had some clues, of course; I was sent the documents associated with this meeting beforehand. That was 162 pages! But you don't need to read all of these; everything comes in two languages, so in fact you only need to pay attention to 81 pages. But I didn't know what the level of discussion about all these documents would be.

I found myself between a lady from law and another lady from geography. I knew the latter a little bit, and it was nice to meet the former. In the entire room I recognised about half the people. 

It started. It was, obviously, chaired by the VC. Pretty much the first item on the agenda was a minute of silence for all the people associated with the University who had died since the previous Senate meeting. This, of course, included our student Alex

After that the meeting was mainly a case of the VC going through the documents associated with the meeting. Everybody else was just staring at their laptop screens. I was one of the few who were sitting there with a paper notebook.

In the course of the meeting, the floor did start to offer some questions and comments. I sometimes struggled to hear what was going on! The room we were in has sub-ideal acoustics, and some people’s voices are quite compatible with it, such as the VC’s (fortunately), but those of some other people just get lost in the space.

There was mention of the university’s financial situation, of the outcomes of the National Student Survey, and our success (or otherwise) of recruiting students from the local area, and all sorts of things like that. Nothing was unusually relevant to Ocean Sciences, so none of us three delegates opened our mouths at any point.

The meeting was scheduled to be two hours, and two hours it was. It seems unusual the full two hours were needed! But the meeting was closed and people started to leave.

I wanted another cup of tea before I would bike home. I don't like biking around thirsty. And I also wanted to say hi to a lady I had recognised from Welsh class. I think this was the first time I saw her in person! And there were also uneaten brownies. University brownies are excellent, and I don't think they should ever be thrown away. And I always bring my packed lunch, so in the afternoon I have empty Tupperwares. I struck!

I also ended up catching up a bit with the head of IT, with a bloke from CELT, and, finally, our Head of School. We actually had some School matters to discuss.

So ended my first Senate meeting. I think it is useful to be in the room where it happens. And I suppose it is largely a good thing if what is said in there isn't directly relevant to the School. No news is good news!

16 October 2023

Beautiful but tiring field day at Llyn Llydaw

New Year, new field trip with the students in my "Ice and Oceans” module. It is a lovely trip! Even though sometimes, it suffers from difficult weather. And last year, a whole new source of stress reared its head; my first aider didn't appear. The location where we would meet has no telephone signal or internet signal, so I couldn't contact him, or his line manager, or anyone else for that matter. I had to make the split decision whether I was going to let the trip go on or not. I decided to go for it. I am a trained first aider myself. And first aiders are almost always only there for just in case. But it did make it stressful!

This year I really didn't want that to happen again, so I asked our head of technical staff (who also function as the first aiders) if he could make as sure as he could I would indeed have a first aider appearing this year. He decided to go with an entirely different one. That suited me fine! I had faith he would appear. But the day before, a different issue arose. Lynda, the other member of academic staff who always goes with me, wasn't feeling well. Would she be able to make it the next day?

The next morning the answer came: no, she wasn't feeling sufficiently well. So again this would be a two staff trip. There's not much margin for error with that. Maybe next year I should book myself a demonstrator in case something like that happens yet again.

Apart from Lynda not being well, everything else looked fine. I was prepared, the coach arrived on time, almost all students showed up, the sun was shining, and Pete (the first aider) was already waiting for us when we got to Pen-y-Pass. All good! So the students subdivided themselves into small groups at the parking lot, and received the materials they needed per group, and then we were go.

It was such a beautiful walk in weather like that! And along the way I did show the students examples of what they would be looking for, and examples of things they could mistake for what they would be looking for. 

The walk up

Once at location, I did another brief, and then the students fanned out to find things to measure. By that time I was desperate for coffee and cake. But I also was keen to check whether all students were indeed measuring what they should be measuring, and not anything else. So I managed to consume both coffee and cake while walking from group to group. Most groups were doing absolutely fine!

Students getting on with it

There were two groups of which it was a vital that I found them. They were not actually measuring what they should have been. If you get that sort of data in the data set, it becomes really hard to interpret! So I helped them find a better spot. 

Then it finally was a bit calmer. There was still time to spend; the coach wouldn't be back for a while, so I could sit down with Pete and have my sandwiches and my tea. That was nice. Some of the students just went on a small explore of the surroundings.

The surroundings

Cheerful selfie

When that was done I started rallying the students again. They were quite spread out. I wanted to do a quick debrief, and then we could all walk back to the parking lot together. I wanted to be there before the coach; I was sure some people would have to go to the loos. And the ladies’ toilets might get some queues…

I was the last one to go to the loo, and when I came out the coach was there. Mission accomplished! We had pulled it off again, even with one person down. And how! The day before had been a complete washout, and we had been so lucky to exactly hit a window of great weather. But I was knackered by the time we were done. I suppose it was the being responsible for how 39 students were doing, on my own, had taken it out of me a bit. But soon afterwards I would find out if we would have beautiful data this year. I had good faith!

15 October 2023

Firewood with joist hangers

The building work at Neuadd Ogwen is still ongoing. One day I was working from home, and through my office window I could see that they had offcuts of wood. So I walked out and asked if I could steal them. And the builders said yes. And it got better than that; they said that there was more where that came from; did I want that too? And of course I did! And the bloke came up with some planks. It looked like good firewood! But it did have big bits of metal attached: joist hangers. I didn't think that was a problem. I could probably get them off! And in the unlikely case I couldn't, I could just burn the wood with hangers and all, and just fish the hangers out of the ashes afterwards.

A few days later when I was only working at home in the morning I saw more offcuts flying around, so I just went to gather these as well. The builders again said there was more; this time they said they would just pile it against my garage. That was kind of them! And when I got home after work, indeed there was a pile of offcuts by the door. Quite a few of them again with joist hangers.

Gift from the builders

In the weekend I did have a go to see how easy it was to get these hangers off. And fortunately, it is quite easy! They are fixed with a lot of nails, but they aren’t very long. With a crowbar and a mallet you can get them out without too much trouble. I have already made good progress with that! I will have to make a trip to the tip to get rid of all the metalwork though…

Work in progress 

I still have the job of making space for my workbench, of course; and after that, I should set up my new saw, and then I can deal with all this extra wood quite quickly. And it's just offcuts, but it has bolstered my rather depleted stocks considerably! 

14 October 2023

Plumbing worries

My washbasin in the bathroom has a hot and a cold tap. I never use the hot tap. I don't think anyone would expect me to, but apart from me thinking you don't need to burn fossil fuels to get clean hands, it also takes quite a while for the boiler to kick into gear (if it is even switched on) and to get you your hot water. I am not going to let that much drinking water go to waste! But there are loads of people in the world who seem to instinctively reach for the hot water tap when they wash their hands.

When one day my cold water tap started to leak, I tried to do some plumbing. I stripped both taps, which wasn't easy; they were quite seized up, as most items with a screw thread in this house are. This situation didn't look good; in the long run, I need to get a professional sort it out. But what I basically did was switch the taps around, so the cold water tap with all its wear and tear would just swap places with the rarely used hot one. That was a fine temporary solution. And given that I never use the hot tap, things went fine for a while.

It tends to go wrong when I have visitors. They don't know what I've been doing with these taps, and just try to use the hot tap. I really should have put a notice on it saying "do not use" or something. So far I've always managed to squeeze it closed again after someone had used it and it started to leak, but this time it wasn't collaborating. It leaks now. And I need to act!

Not good

Many months ago I had already intended to start the process by doing what I thought was closing the stopcock. But the water kept going, so I clearly hadn't. It wasn't a question of there just being water left in the pipes! And then life got in the way and I never got around to picking that chore up again. But now I had to see if I could.

The stopcock is in a very awkward position. It is in the very narrow space next to a kitchen cabinet, removed from sight by a dummy kitchen cabinet door. It’s 56 cm into the gap, and I don’t have particularly long arms. So I basically have to open that door, push my shoulders in the opening, with my back to the wall, and then reach as far as I can into the narrow space. I can just about reach the stopcock! But in that position it is difficult to put full force on it. That stopcock really needs to move to a more practical location.

Notice some pipe work in the gap

Behind the pipe work is the stopcock! 

I contacted my plumber, but there was no reply. Through the grapevine I heard that he was quite busy. I need to see if I can book him in in the quite far future. And in the meantime, I need to summon the strength in my fingers to close that bloody stopcock, and see if I can change the washer on the hot tap. Once I've done that, I will certainly put a notice on it saying it is not in use. And if I can get the plumber to come by for the stopcock, I might ask him as well to replace the entire taps. It looks like the metalwork is at the end of its life. And then I will have been future-proofed! But first I need to get down to this smaller leaking issue myself.

I don't want to have a leaking tap! I really try to not be wasteful with drinking water. And now that silly tap is thwarting all my good progress. I know what I will have to do at the very first day off that presents itself…

13 October 2023

From kitsch to kitsch in the kitchen

When I was in Norway, I figured it would be a good idea to have an oven glove. And I bought a nicely kitschy touristic one. It did the job for a long time! But it was starting to feel its age. By now there is a hole in it, and the insulating material on the inside has started to come out, so it is not fit for purpose anymore. I had been looking for a replacement for a while, but I thought I had set a nice tradition, and I wanted another kitschy touristic one. And I never found one!

One day after burning my fingers again through a gap in the insulating material I decided it was enough. I would just go onto the internet. Surely you can buy these things there. And you can! So a few days later my replacement arrived. And I was really happy to see it came in plastic-free packaging! I am now all set up for more baking. And my hands will be comfortable and insulated when I retrieve anything from the oven!

Out with the old and in with the new! 

Apple tree empty already

Last year I had apples all the way to December! This year I didn’t even reach mid-October. Oh well. Mast years, fallow years, and all that. The apples that were there were good! 

No apples!

12 October 2023

Bangor 10k, now bronze!

All the way back in 2016 I had run a personal record on the 10k. That was a good year for my running; I had only just set that record during the Caernarfon 10k not long before that, and later I would be first woman in the Parkrun. But the years after that I seem to have flagged a bit. And then lockdown happened! That stopped racing altogether.

When I came out of lockdown and realised I was faster than ever before I was keen to revisit some of these records. So this year was the year I wanted to sharpen my 10k PB. My first attempt at that was, as in 2016, in Caernarfon. And I did manage to shatter the old record, in spite of having been on call-out the night before; that had meant no dinner, and late in bed. Not ideal! So I had hopes for improving it even further in Bangor.

I ended up with a supporter! Normally it is Marjan, but she wasn't feeling well. It was extra fortuitous that I had my date over. He was happy to come along! He had a book with him, so he could just wave me out at the start, wave me back in at the finish, and read the book in a quiet corner in between. I was a bit worried that he might feel bad about not being able to run it himself; the race had sold out quite a while before. But he was okay with that.

I made sure to start not too far from the front. The weaving through slow people can really affect your time if you start too far in the back. And I didn't want to start right at the front because I'm not that fast. And there were many runners; the 10k and the half marathon start at the same time. But things went well.

We went down the High Street and then towards the pier. The kilometres seemed to just fly by. Then we headed for the bicycle path I often commute on. On the pier you make a U-turn; I could therefore see how many women there were in front of me. Not even that many! And at the furthest point, where the 10k runners do another U-turn and head back for the town centre, you can see exactly how many women there are in front of you. 

So few people doing the 10k were ahead of me! A lot of the people I was running behind just kept going. They were clearly doing the half marathon. But I turned around knowing I was in bronze position. Exciting! Now I needed to make sure I stayed there.

The field had spread out quite a lot, so there actually weren't very many people within view either in front of me or behind me. And I just tried to keep my pace up. I was getting tired by this point! But not exhausted. And the encouragements from the other runners and from the spectators was invigorating.

When the finish was in sight I knew I would win bronze. And I approached looking for my date. When I spotted him he also shouted I was going to be bronze. He couldn’t know I already knew. And I thundered over the finish quite satisfied. 

Almost there!

Really there! 

I was quite tired then! But recovered quickly. I told my date he now had to stay until the medal ceremony. He was ok with that. We went back to the finish to cheer other runners on until that time.

When the ceremony came, it was just a question of being called forward, getting congratulated over a fence, and getting the medal and a voucher. A bit underwhelming, but I got a £40 Run Wales voucher so my next race with them is effectively free! 

Chuffed with my medal and voucher

I had run it in 43:33; almost half a minute faster than my previous PB of 43:59. So I know N=1, but I was right to think that I could improve on a personal record that I had set after a night with a callout. And it wasn't as if this course was flatter; it actually had a third more verticality in it (243 ft vs 181 ft).

The previous time I had felt my heart was out of control, but my smartwatch suggested it had been working harder this time. It said I had run 2 miles with a heart rate over 180 (average rate: 173), when in Caernarfon I had never got over 178 (average rate: 155). Not sure how precise these smartwatches are, but it may mean you just feel it differently under different circumstances. I had been 3rd woman out of 88, and 12th person out of 148. Pretty good if you ask me! And, as tends to happen, the women faster than me were quite young: both in the 21-34 years category. I’m chuffed I can outrun so many people at my kind of age! 

11 October 2023

5th date

The previous time I had been on a certain number of dates, a period with no mention of anything like that on the blog had been bad news. After some dates with someone else, such a tumbleweed-infested period had arrived again, but this time it wasn't bad news. This time it was just a case of two people living more than an hour away from each other, and having a lot of other things to do. But we found some time again where our diaries lined up. On two separate occasions!

The first was the simplest; he just came over for dinner. That was good! The second was a lot more complex. He came over, and we went for lunch in the Green Olive. We were going to see ‘The Old Oak’ in the evening, and the screening started at 18:30, so that meant we would have to have dinner either unusually early or unusually late. Neither appealed much, so we made lunch the main meal of the day. And the Green Olive has never disappointed!

Between lunch and film we went for a nice walk. We tried out the new part of the coastal path, on the grounds of Penrhyn Castle. And I already reported on how the film went.

Remnant of wall by the coastal path

Looking inland, to the castle, from the path

The next morning I would have a race. It was sold out, so my date couldn't just enter it as well. I'm glad he wasn't too disappointed by that. And he just came as my supporter. Which was extra nice given that Marjan, who is my regular supporter, was slightly unwell and had had to bail out. At least I could give a rather good indication of how long it would take me! I had only just run a similar 10k seven weeks before.

I'll report on the race in the next blog post, but suffice to say it was a lovely day for it, and my date didn't seem to have been bored, in spite of not running himself. And after we got home we spent a few more pleasant hours in each other's company. Needless to say these hours involved a fair amount of food and tea.

I don't know yet when we will see each other again, but I already look forward to it. And next time should be in the Chester area again. It's my turn to travel!