23 April 2024

Katrien’s inaugural lecture

During the tenure of our previous VC, inaugural lectures weren't a thing. This VC is clearly in favour of them. And the first people to be promoted to professor in our School happened to be the celebrated three ladies. Three female professors in a School that before then had only had one in its entire history. I liked that it was them who were kicking off this new tradition. On Valentine's Day, we had been able to witness Yueng’s lecture, which was mainly about polar oceans. And now, wedged between full days of student presentations, we would get Katrien’s lecture about geophysics.

I was early. I got a little chat in with Katrien herself. Then one of her postdocs joined us. And after a while the postdoc and I found ourselves a seat while the room was filling up nicely. Let the lecture begin!

Katrien started out explaining what geophysics even is. And then she did a sterling job in explaining why it matters. She explained how you can sometimes do an entire palaeoenvironmental reconstruction just on the basis of the surface topography of the sea bed. She mentions that if you want to build a windfarm somewhere, you need to understand where you are putting it. How strong are the sediments where you put your turbines? And can you predict its strengths on the basis of geophysics? And if you put a wind farm somewhere, you are probably changing the sediments there. Changing flow patterns of the water will cover some surfaces with sand, and might wipe other surfaces clean of the stuff. For instance. If you are a sand eel, you really care about that sort of things. And if you are something that eats sand eels, you obviously do as well.

Katrien being introduced by the VC

Starting her talk

I really enjoyed the talk. And there were some interesting questions. But afterwards there was very little happening, just like the previous time. There was coffee and there were brownies, but I still don't understand who drinks coffee at this hour. A lot of people immediately left. I had a little chat with my master student who was there too, and then I got collared by a lady from the general public who wanted to know if her relative, who lived abroad, could perhaps visit the school on a day when there was no open day on. She was interested in marine science.

I chatted with her for a bit, but I was aware of the big day ahead of me. So after a while I made a glorious retreat. Time to get home and get ready for the dissertation presentations! But I think Katrien sparked an interest in geophysics in quite a lot of minds now…

Preparing the dissertation presentations in record time

The apotheosis of the dissertation module is always difficult to organise. There are normally only some two weeks of teaching after the Easter break, and a lot has to happen in that time. The presentations need to take place, and deadlines for both presentation slides upload, and for the dissertation itself, have to fall in there sometime. Preferably not all the way at the end, as that would mean it is difficult for students to get an extension. Ideally, there would be time between the presentations and the dissertation deadline, that the students can use for incorporating the feedback they got on their presentation in the dissertation.

And there is some logistics there too; I need to make a talk schedule, and a conference booklet with all the talk abstract in them. And of course, I have to make the latter in between the deadline for the file upload, and the actual presentations. And that can be quite limited time!

This year the students had to upload their slides and their talk summary the very Monday after the Easter break, and did their presentations on the Thursday and Friday of that week. The deadline for the dissertation was the Friday after.

For me, this meant that although I had been able to make a schedule beforehand (but not until after the Athena Swan submission), I couldn't start on the conference booklets until Monday. Everything had to be ready and printed by Thursday morning first thing. And it was also Monday that I could start downloading the presentation slides and get them ready for the conveners. Sounds doable, right? It was still a bit of stress!

That Monday I was in the field. That Tuesday I had presentations in another module all day. It was Wednesday I would have to manage all of it. It is not as if I had an interrupted day for that; I had a lecture in the morning, and a staff meeting in the afternoon. And I couldn't work in the evening either; that was when Katrien would have her inaugural lecture. 

I was a bit wild-eyed that day. Technology didn't help. I had been making booklets, and sorting PowerPoint files into folders, on any computer I found myself logged into. All should just be on OneDrive, accessible from anywhere. But when I got to my office and opened the first file to print it, the talk summaries weren't in it. I accessed the file from a different direction; still nothing. I went into Office365; there it did show up with the talk summaries included. But when I clicked "open desktop app", they vanished again. Technology is supposed to help you! Why was this happening? But I did manage to copy the entire file content over into the desktop app, and print the file that way. First file done. I had quite a few to do.

About half the printing done

The printer I normally use gave me an error message at some point, and refused cooperation. I just went to one printer further away, and that gave me an error message from the start. I would have to find more remote printers! I went to the adjacent building with my last printing, and to mine relief it worked. The only drawback was that it didn't seem to be able to insert staples. I had to do that by hand. Not ideal. But I got it done! And by the time I had to leave to go to Katrien’s lecture, everything was ready! Success!

That was the point I could relax. From there on, everything would probably organise itself. And now it was up to everybody else to be stressed! 

22 April 2024

Badly organised day in the field

We had one more field day in the diary in our "geology of Anglesey" module. It's a day that often clashes with the dissertation presentations, so I have missed it several times. This year I was available. I didn't know if Dei wanted me to be there or not. He is very busy, so he sometimes needs a bit of prompting. I started mailing him to ask what the plan was. He just asked if Jaco and I were available. I confirmed. 

I didn’t hear anything so I assumed he didn’t need me. But on Sunday I decided to check anyway. The trip was Monday! It turned out he needed me anyway. He said I might as well meet at the beach. He specified the car park. 

I got there, surprised to not see Jaco’s car. He tends to be early. I got into my welly boots and had a coffee. Nobody appeared. It was a bit like an earlier trip, where Dei had figured wrongly I wasn’t coming, so just left me to my own devices on this same car park, while the others were on the other one. I figured that if nobody would show up half an hour in I would just go home. If you want me to contribute to your trip, then at least have the decency to tell me beforehand (during working hours), and direct me to the actual RV! 

I checked my phone. I had a missed call from Dei. I phoned back. They were indeed at the other car park. Dei said I might as well stay there; the group would walk past on the way to the beach. But I didn’t. I figured it was bad enough I had been sent to the wrong place. If I would just tag along on the way, I thought the message would be that men explain geology, and women tag along as assistants. Not on my watch. I got there just as Jaco was about to start his spiel. 

The first half of the trip is just Jaco running around with his hands in the air, being totally absorbed in the geology. He does it well! But I was still a bit grumpy. And I made sure to tell Dei that I wasn't pleased with how things had been going, and I expected better from him in the future. I hope that helps.

Beautiful rock

When Jaco had pointed out everything he wanted to point out we decided to have lunch. We figured a little grassy field in the dunes would probably be the most sheltered spot. It was indeed very pleasant!

After lunch the students were tasked with actually measuring the orientation of the strata. They tend to not have done this before, so in the beginning they struggle a bit. We each took a few students under our wing. And we clambered over the rocks to find good places to measure. The weather was nice, I felt useful, and my students were good company. My mood brightened again.

Lovely rock pool

We worked quite fast. In not too much time we were finished! And then we admired a few seals who had swum into the bay.

When all the measurements are done, Jaco tends to collate them, and discuss with the students what it means. But I was thinking of the dissertation presentations that were nigh, and for which I had a lot of preparations to do. I figured I might let Jaco do the data spiel without me. We would walk past my car anyway! So I peeled off. Does that mean I was now doing to myself what I had been grumpy about Dei doing to me? You could argue it is. Women don't explain the results to you. But it felt different as the decision was mine. It is not the same if I am just not deemed important enough to even know where we are meeting!

Altogether I left in good spirits. And that's the important bit. The day started shit, but luckily some stunning geology in the sun with nice people sorted it out. As it should!

21 April 2024

Not entirely successful rescue training

If we as North Wales Cave Rescue get called out to assist humans, it is most often in CRTT. (Dogs are more unpredictable.) So we had decided we should do a big communications check. We wanted to try if it was possible to establish communications from one mine entrance to the other; both above ground and underground. 

Above ground the issue is that there is an hill in the way, that radios struggle to get past. But we would bring a repeater, and see if that would sort that issue out. We could also check if it was possible to establish communications between the mine entrances and the respective parking lots.

Underground we use Cave-link; it uses the rock as an antenna. And in theory it should be possible to set up a surface Cave-link at one entrance, and communicate all the way to the other entrance. But that is the theory! We would find out what the practice would be. We wanted to first establish contact with a location in the mine quite close to where the surface Cave-link was, and then move the underground Cave-link to the middle of the system, and then to the end. We would find out if it had sufficient reach! And if not, we could try out how far we would have to move the surface Cave-link to re-establish contact if the underground Cave-link would move further towards the other entrance.

I got to the parking lot in good time. In the weekends, that parking lot gets very very busy! And I already found Jonty, our training officer, and Nick, another team member making plans. I joined them. The rest of the participants appeared as well. It was a classical cave rescue demographic: except me, all men (plus one dog!). We subdivided ourselves into an underground team of four, and an above-ground team of three. I would be in the former. So I got into my kit.

We all walked to the entrance of Rhosydd. There the two people who would place the repeater peeled off. The rest of us continued to Croesor. It was quite windy (that seems to have been a complete constant in the past weeks) but otherwise the weather was fine, and the views were great! And we managed to keep communications via radio quite long.

Walking up to Cwmorthin 

Above Rhosydd

Beautiful dam along the way 

Looking down on Croesor

Once there, Ed set up the surface Cave-link, well the underground crew took the other Cave-link with us. We had planned to set it up some six minutes inside the mine. So we found a spot, rolled out the antennae (these are 50 m long; this is not trivial), and then switched this thing on. At least; that was the plan. Nothing happened.

When we were sure we couldn't switch it on I went outside to tell Ed. And Ed had radio contact with Cave-link specialist Tony. The diagnosis was quick: it probably had a flat battery! That was a bit of a bummer. That meant half the training had gone straight down the drain. I suggested to Ed we would bring the useless Cave-link out, and then just do the trip anyway, as two of us hadn't done it in a fair while, and wanted to be more familiar with this venue where we were needed so often. One of them was me; I hadn't done it in nine years! Ed thought it was a good idea, so I went back in to tell the others. I sent Jonty out to agree new callout times with Ed. And I sat down to have a sandwich.

Towards the end of my sandwiches I noticed we still had the Cave-link. Jonty had forgotten to bring it out! That was a bummer; now we had to bring it through the entire system, and one of the two pelicases it comes in is quite heavy. I hadn't been carrying much so far, so I stuck it in my bag.

When Jonty got back we got ready to move. We were close to the first pitch, and I went down it. I started walking towards the second one, but not much activity happened behind me. The men shouted at me that there was a technical issue. And a while later they shouted to ask if I could check if there perhaps was a telephone in the pelicase. There wasn't, but that told me what the so-called technical issue was. Jonty has lost his phone! So he quickly decided to go back out. And Nick insisted on coming with him. That only left two people, and not just any two people; David and me.

I have a problem with David’s societal views and how he expresses them. I am sufficiently polite to him, but I do not enjoy his company. So I suggested I just prussick back up and we abort the whole thing. But then my sense of duty kicked in. This was my opportunity to get more familiar with CRTT. And David is a team member, whether I like it or not, so in an emergency there is the possibility I will have to work with him. So I shouted up I was willing to continue. And then David came down.

At the top of the next pitch I was confused. I heard voices, and saw a little bit of light. We knew there were two cavers in the system; we had seen them go in. But they should be way ahead of us! What were they doing so close to the entrance? Had they encountered a problem and had to turn back? In that case, we probably would have to turn back as well. We waited for a few minutes at the top of the pitch to see if they would appear. They didn't, so we went down anyway.

The next obstacle is a zip wire. I had done an old version before! It was a bit of a faff to attach myself to it. I was wearing a double set of cowstails, as I know my normal cowstails are not compatible with the use of a tandem pulley on a zip wire. And coming off on the other side was interesting as well. That is easier for tall people!

Then we got to the ladder bridge, and the traverse, which has been made an awful lot easier since the first time I did it. Then there was the first wooden bridge, that you can just walk over. And soon after that the Bridge of Death, which I remembered as interesting if you're not very tall. In the middle of the bridge you have to move whatever it is that keeps you attached to a wire to the other side of an attachment point. That was okay! No issues. Coming off on the other side was more interesting.

When you've done that, the next thing is the boat chamber. It is a flooded chamber with a canoe in it, which is attached to a length of polyprop rope that is fixed to both sides of the chamber. The idea is that you pull it towards you, gently lower yourself in it (you access it from a vertical drop, so you have to get from the rope straight into the canoe), pull yourself to the other side, and then get out. On the other side you can scramble up the wall.

We met the other two cavers again. They had probably just been taking pictures or something. They said the canoe was giving them wet bums. Oh well!

When they were done we pulled the boat towards us, and David lowered himself first. It was not just a bit damp! The thing was lying really low in the water. It looked a bit scary. I made sure to put the waterproof case with my phone and car key in it on my person. If the canoe would go down, my pack would disappear immediately; the heavy Cave-link case would see to that. I made sure it wasn't attached to me in ways that are difficult to undo if you are suddenly in ice cold water.

I really gently lowered myself as well, and we were on our way. For a few metres. It looked like the rope had snagged, so I prussicked back up, released the rope, and lowered myself again. Attempt number two! This time it worked. And it felt very wobbly in precarious, but we did get to the other side without capsizing. Success!

Once you get to the other side of the boat chamber, you've done all the obstacles. There are a few collapses you have to scramble over, but that's it. If people have made it that far, their only enemy is the difficulty of finding the exit.

We came out and found (most of) the cold surface team. Two people had already gone home. We went back to the cars and headed home.

I think we need to do this exercise again! We are alright with surface communications, but I still think it would be a very good idea to try out the Cave-links in this system. Let’s see when Jonty gets away with putting another full day training in the calendar! 

20 April 2024

Flour mishap

I buy my flour, and everything else I can, in the local whole foods co-op. I really like the place! But it has restricted opening hours; two hours on a Friday, and four hours on the Saturday. It happened a few times in a row that I was away during both intervals, so my flour stock was running low. Luckily, one Friday I could make it again, just in time to buy wholewheat flour before it would run out. And the day after I had to bake bread again.

I emptied the last remnants of the old bag into the bread machine and opened a new bag. And jumped! The flour was white! There must have been a stickering error going on. I had to bake white bread! 

I could have gone to a normal shop, of course; they have wide opening hours. But I wanted to go to bed. So next morning I was greeted by fresh white bread. 

It’s so trivial! But I really like my bread wholemeal. I will pop to the supermarket for some bog standard wholewheat flour before the wholefoods co-op opens again. Having to make do with white bread once was good to show me just how much I love my bread the way I normally bake it. Back to normal asap! 

Ethiopian food in Tregarth

Susan has spotted that at Moel y Ci, the farm with shop and café, sometimes hosts a pop-up restaurant. She had seen an announcement of an evening where they would serve Ethiopian food. We had tried to go there, but it was cancelled due to family circumstances. We managed to book on a later iteration. And that day had come! Unfortunately we had to go with only the three of us; Martin’s plans had changed and he couldn't join us this time.

Susan picked me up. It is a bit long to walk, and they are not cyclists. On the way we passed Charlotte. And she was going the same way!

When we got to Moel y Ci we realised we didn't know where exactly this dinner would take place. Clearly not in the café! Susan looked up the instructions. They said we had to get past the café, so we started to walk in that direction. That way we bumped into Charlotte again, who told us we were going the wrong way. She had been before! That was fortuitous.

She was going to meet up with other friends, but it was nice to be able to introduce her to Sue and Dean, and vice versa. And when we got in we were pointed to a different table. Charlotte's friends were already there; at least quite a few of them.

More people came in. To my surprise, at some point, a cave rescue couple came in. Or rather; a Llanberis Mountain Rescue couple who happen to also be in the cave rescue team. They joined us! That was nice. More introductions followed.

I was quite peckish after my very windy walk earlier that day! And I also liked that I had remembered to bring some beers. I had two alcohol-free ones and a real one. They don't have an alcohol license, so you are invited to cater for yourself. So the starter and the first alcohol-free beer quickly vanished.

I hadn't had Ethiopian food since I left Amsterdam. The others had never had it. They were impressed! And I already knew what to expect. It was really good. And I could have eaten the whole thing. But I knew there was going to be a dessert, and we had also been invited to bring Tupperware for any leftovers. So I paced myself, and saved a portion for a later date.

Pic by Susan

The real beer also easily vanished. But by the time I had finished the second alcohol-free beer I had had enough beer. Good planning! 

The dessert was brownie with ice cream, and that indeed completely filled up any remaining space in my stomach. And then it was time to go home.

I had had a great time! And the others too. It seems that these evenings book up really quickly. I still hope we can do it again!

19 April 2024

Race recce with Kate

Kate was back! She has been off skiing forever but she was back. And she was up for meeting up. And she had an idea of what to do: in September she will do the Dragon’s Back Race, and she wanted to scout some of the route. Was I interested in doing Cadair Idris? I thought that would be ambitious. I was going out for dinner with Sue and Dean later, so I had to be home at a reasonable time. Even getting to the start of a hike that is 1.5 hours. It sounded like it could get hurried and stressful! Not my favourite kind of hike.

She then suggested a different part of the route that started at Sychnant Pass. That sounded better. We settled for it. And she came to pick me up.

When I stepped out of the door I could already hear Bryn bark. He was glad to see me! Soon after that I heard the ‘whump whump whump’ of his tail against the panels of the car. He is a sweetheart.

We drove up to the pass and on our way. We started on a path I had never done before! But it was beautiful. And after a while it came back to a route I am familiar with. I have, for instance, done that with the other Kate. And our goal was Tal y Fan. And from there to Bwlch y Ddeufaen. And then back.

It was really windy! That is a bit tiresome. You have the constant howling of the wind in your ears. But it was largely sunny, and dry, and the ground was not as sudden as either of us had suspected. So it was a great day anyway! And we didn't let the wind get in the way of catching up.

Bryn’s wind face

Sea views

Dreamy house

Kate had been ill not too long ago, and wasn't quite back to normal fitness levels. So the uphill bits were a bit trying for her. She even suggested not actually going to the top of Tal y Fan! That's not like her at all. We went anyway. We took one submit selfie and then quickly retreated. It was so ludicrously windy up there! And we binned Bwlch y Ddeufaen.

View from the top 

Summit selfie with wind hair

Below the summit we had lunch. I managed to eat all of it myself, in spite of Bryn’s efforts. A bit later on Kate had to wrestle him because he wanted to eat a sheep’s bone. She thought it would be bad for him. He wasn't going to give it up without a struggle! 

When we got back to the car I was glad to get out of the wind. I was really glad we hadn't tried Cadair Idris! Imagine the windspeeds up there. And I don't think Kate would have quite enjoyed the ascent. 

I got home in good time for the dinner, so I even had time for a bit of DIY! And I hope that some other day in the not too distant future, and a less windy day at that, we can scout Cadair Idris after all…

18 April 2024

Out of the cake competition in the semifinal

I’m out! But I came far. I reached the semi-final of the SOS cake competition with my vegan cakes. And I was booted out by only two votes! I think that is a good result.

This round was a bit unusual for two reasons; one was that it contained three cakes, and the other one was that it fell in a week in which my circadian rhythm was compromised. I think the three cakes were a result of someone new arriving at the school, and being drafted into the cake competition which was already underway, which led to an odd number of bakers.

I knew I had to bake my cake this evening before, but that provided a bit of a challenge, as that day and the day before I had got up at 4:30. I was completely knackered! And that didn't help the baking process. I initially forgot baking soda and had to mix it in at a late stage. My production of buttercream didn't go overly smooth either. But in the end, a cake was produced.

It was also unusual as Miles had suggested he come over that night. I said that was fine, if he was okay with having to witness me baking. But by the time he arrived, the cake was already in the oven. I should say cakes; I baked a big one for the competition, and a small one for myself. The oven was on anyway! 

I was completely knackered when he arrived. I really had to give myself a peptalk before going down to the kitchen to put the kettle on. But he was very understanding. And he got to try the small cake. He liked it!

I had gone for a mocha cake. I like them, and I figure I could do them myself as well. The recipe I had used for my hazelnut cake, actually, was based on this mocha cake recipe, as I had lost the original hazelnut cake recipe. So I had practiced! And I had wanted to decorate it with coffee bean-shaped pieces of mocha chocolate, which you can buy anywhere in the Netherlands, but turn out to be a lot more difficult to get a hold of on britain. I had tried all big local supermarkets and failed, and had to buy them online.


The final product 

Susan would pick the cake up and drive it to work. So I just left it by the front door, and got on my bike.

When it was time for the cake competition I went up to the coffee room, and I noticed there weren't that many people. And there were three cakes! The other two were blueberry crumble cake and a bara brith (Welsh fruit loaf). I figured the bara brith was unlikely to win. The crumble cake sounded good though. And it was! 

There were so few people that there even was enough for seconds! This would be one of those days when I don't find it difficult to wait for lunchtime to have lunch. And I was glad to see our vegan appear, and have a good chunk of my cake.

When a while later the email with the results came, I saw I had indeed lost to the blueberry crumble cake, which had been made by one of our master students. The bara brith had been made by a previous winner! I don't think he was on top of his game. And Susan told me that the difference was only two votes. Not bad!

I was okay to bow out like this! There will be one more semi-final, and then the final. Exciting stuff. And then I have the summer to think about recipes to try out when the competition starts again in the new academic year!

17 April 2024

Cycle to work day

At the end of the citizens’ assemblies for sustainability, some subgroups were formed. They dealt with specific topics, such as energy, housing, transport, food growing, et cetera. And I ended up in the transport group. And one of our ideas had been a ‘cycle to work day’, when some of us in the transport group would cycle in at a particular time, and hope to inspire lots of people who normally take the car to join us. 

Reality was a bit stubborn. No new commuters showed interest. In the end it was Pete and me, who were the ringleaders, and an additional couple who bike everywhere anyway as well. I know the bloke as he works in the School of Natural Sciences, and his partner I know from Welsh class. They are lovely! But they also are the converted.

We decided we could just use it as a publicity event. Chris, our facilitator, showed up to take pictures, and the idea was that, upon arrival in Bangor, we would get interviewed on camera. They could use the footage to try to spread the word! If we do it again, maybe people will have seen the footage, and might be more inclined to give it a go.

Pete and me gathering in Bethesda. Pic by Chris

The full team. Pic by Chris

In the worst case, we just had a nice social ride to Bangor! Pete and me just politely followed the route. The others either peeled off because they needed to get to a different part of town, or took a detour as they thought that otherwise they wouldn't get enough exercise. As I said; they bike everywhere anyway!

It was Pete and I doing the interviews in Bangor. I was doing them in Welsh, and Pete was doing them in English. He was a bit more fluent! But I hope they got some useful footage out of us. 

It would be nice if we could inspire a few more people to give it a try. It is actually really nice to commute by bike. It's not just an environmental issue. The route is very beautiful. And it keeps me fitter than ever before. And I never have to worry about parking! Surely, all of that together could convince a few more people…

15 April 2024

Second morning in the field

After our glorious morning, sampling for my MSc student’s project, in Dulas Bay, we had two more sites to do. She did the second site without me that same evening, and we would go out again together in the Cefni Estuary the next day. Another 4:30 alarm! But again that went well. And soon Finley and I were on our way.

At the other two sites, the sampling locations were not far from the road. But here they would be! I had hoped we could borrow a vehicle from the school, as these are quite big, and you can just throw two bicycles in the back. But they were not available, so we had to go in my little Corsa. That can only reasonably contain one bike, so I had proposed a repeat of the Dutch way of getting to the far end of Newborough Forest I had practised with Martin: two people on one sturdy bike. I had made sure it was ready in the back of the car the day before.

Finley had never been transported, or transported others, like that. She chose to be on the back. Maybe for the better; I am certain I am heavier. But she took to it well! And we got to the end of the woods at a good speed. There we left the bike.

This time we had left the big GPS behind. We were going to do this with a handheld GPS. Would we find the exact position back? No. Was it time to abandon striving for perfection, and going for acceptable? Yes. But how many decimal places were the coordinates we were working on, anyway? Even with a sophisticated GPS you can only get to a position as precisely as the data quality allows you.

The sunrise was not anywhere as spectacular as it been the day before, but we still got some nice skies. And the area was completely deserted! We had the whole place to ourselves.

It was a bit of a faff to find the locations back, but we did it. Sampling completed! And then we had a new mission: drive to the garage where Finley's van was. It was ready for her, but public transport in this area isn't impressive, so we couldn't let an opportunity of being able to tag that onto a car-facilitated field day slip. So not only had we finished the sampling; she also had her range of movement back! Success!

14 April 2024

Spread the plant

When my office mate Paul left for Exeter University, I inherited his office plants. I tried to look after them well! Both still in the office, and at home, where I moved all of them when lockdown hit. I wasn't entirely successful; not all of them have survived the years since his departure.

One of the plants was something that looks a bit like a two dimensional aloe vera. It found a home in my conservatory, and it seemed to like it there. But I had decided that maybe I should move it back. It's a big plant! And there is more space in my office. So when I knew I was going to go into the field, and therefore had to drive to the office, I thought that provided a good opportunity. But I picked it up, and figured that it had outgrown its pot. I should really repot it before I move it.

Enormous plant! Crocs for scale

After the first day in the field I set to work. I took it out of the pot, but noticed it easily split into several individual plants. That was fine, but also more work! I turned it into four big plants, and two small plant pots with some pups. And I decided to take two of the big plants into the office. The third one could stay where it had been, in the conservatory; I have to think about where the fourth one will go.

Many plants now

It might be a bit trivial, but I really like this concept of looking after something that lives, and being a sort of a custodian to it. One of Paul's other plants already has grandchildren, one of which also living in my office. And now this plant has reproduced, in its own way. He left seven years ago, but his plants are still providing snugness to my office! And I hope he has nice replacements in the south. And when he inevitably stops working one day (due to retirement or otherwise), maybe someone will inherit those plants, and has many more years of enjoyment for them…

13 April 2024

Sunrise in the field

After the not very successful morning in the field with my master student, we need to go back and improve on our performance. It took us a while to get to that point, but after Easter we had two days booked out. We would try to do all three field sites in these two days. And we had to do them in my little car, as one School vehicle was in the garage, and the other one was in an even worse state. And the tide times were not convenient.

The first day we would meet in Bangor at 5:30. It was surprisingly easy to get out of bed and get my arse into gear! And when I got to main campus, I noticed first light at the horizon. When Finley appeared we headed for the first site: Dulas. We wanted to resample the locations of an earlier student.

At Main Arts just before dawn 

When we parked up, the estuary was bathing in an absolutely gorgeous sunrise. We first took a few pictures! Then we switched on the GPS, and headed out to the most distant sample site.

It was a bit of a walk, and it was a bit difficult to navigate to the exact spot. I thought I had managed to define stake point that the GPS would navigate me to, but I didn't quite. At least the machine knew where we were, quite unlike the previous time!

Looking away from the sunrise it doesn't look so glamorous

Altogether it took us a lot more time than it would have if we would just have decided on samples spots there and then. I doubted we would be able to do the second site as well, but it wasn't far away, so we could at least have a look. So after we got back to the car, we drove to the harbour of Amlwch. The tide had indeed risen too much by then, and it wasn't feasible to sample that location as well. At least we got an idea of where you can park, and how you can get into the harbour in a practical way. And the weather has turned poor; I didn't quite mind getting back into the car and having coffee and brownie. I had had breakfast before 5 am; now it was almost 9 and I was hungry!

Amlwch harbour 

I drove Finley back to Bangor, and told her to keep me posted on how she wanted to proceed. We still had the evening low tide, and the early low tide next morning. Did she want to do both sites? Or just one? And later she emailed me to say she intended to go back to Amlwch that evening, without me, and that she wanted to do the third location together, early the next morning. So that was decided then! And I could just go do some work in the office, and just hope that the next day we would get an equally beautiful morning in the field…

12 April 2024

Bonus Roman fort

I'd known for years that there were remnants of Roman occupation in the vicinity of Trawsfynydd. I had never seen them. I am not in that area very often, and if I am, I sometimes have stuff to get on with. But I had seen it is really close to the power station which was race headquarters. So I figured I might go and have a look after the race! 

On the day of the race, some really heavy showers came down. I did not want to visit that fort in any of these. But when I left it was windy but dry. So I gave it a go! I parked on the layby on the other side of the road, and started on the path. Surprise surprise, it looked quite like a stream! But soon it looked like not a path at all. But I knew in what direction it was, so I didn't mind. To get to the fort you have to go through a copse, and it was stunningly beautiful! I hadn't expected that.

It doesn't look like this path attracts throngs of visitors

Would it have been raining? The path ducking underneath the old railway to Bala, which got flooded by the Tryweryn reservoir

Fairy woodland

On the other side of the copse it is just fields, and you can see the mound that is part of the fort from a bit of a distance, so I got there quite easily. Navigation-wise, that is; I was still seriously buffeted by the wind. And another rain shower came over, but luckily it wasn't a really heavy one.

I knew from having a bit of a Google what approximately to expect. You can see some banks of the old fort. The mound, Tomen y Mûr, is quite central, but might not have been part of the fort. It seems to be an 11th century motte, conveniently located in the same place. The map speaks of an amphitheatre, but I had the impression that it needs a specialist eye to see that. I sure didn't see it! It seems to have mainly been a wooden structure, and these often leave only subtle traces. 

When I was standing on the top of the mound I could only just remain upright; the wind was still that strong. I also had a look at a little stretch of wall that has been reconstructed, to give an idea of what this place will have looked like in the 2nd century CE. But then I was ready to go back to the car again. Home was beckoning, with food and hot drinks!

Looking back at the power station 

Looking at the piece of reconstructed wall, from the motte

The wall, with the motte in the background 

I was glad took the extra effort to go and have a look! It's not really a place you want to travel far for. There isn't that much to see. But just extending a visit in the area a bit to see this is quite rewarding. Especially as it is not just historically interesting, but also a beautiful landscape!

11 April 2024

Unexpected car diagnosis

My car has been making strange noises for months. I had no idea what the cause was, but it didn't sound like a serious issue. It just sounded like some loose panel or something. And the car was handling fine!

When I walked back to my car after the award ceremony of the Trawsfynydd race, I saw something move underneath the car. Hmm! That might be something amiss. So I got down on my knees and had a look. And there was some aluminium panel that had broken loose from one of its fixings, and it was flapping around in the strong winds. That must've been the source of all the noise!

Not the best pic, but you can see the loose sheet, and the bolt with rusty washer that used to hold it. And a strip of the blue car that contained the helpful men! 

I intended to just take a picture of it and send it to Martin. He knows about cars. He would undoubtedly be able to tell me if this was a problem or not. But two men who were about to leave as well saw me stare at the underside of my car, and asked me if something was wrong. And they offered to have a look.

They said it was just a heat sensor. A heat sensor? It was just an aluminium sheet. But they did say it was ok; it would be safe to drive like that. And one managed to more or less fix it back into position. The sheet had torn a bit, so I'm sure it will need replacing in the long run, but this guy had clearly managed to fix it so well it would get me home.

Martin called it a heat shield, which seemed more logical to me. He also didn't seem worried. I suppose I might have it dealt with the next time I send my car for a service. At least I now know what the issue was! 

10 April 2024

Ras Trawsfynydd

I had accidentally come across a race I hadn’t heard of before: Ras Trawsfynydd. It would be my second race of the year. It didn’t have much vertical, but the route looked beautiful, so I looked forward to it. And it was also a fundraiser for South Snowdonia Search and Rescue, which is of course an excellent cause. A few days before, Marjan messaged me to say she was not well, so I wouldn’t have a supporter. That was a pity! But not a dealbreaker.

I drove down in good time, and was beautifully directed to a parking spot in the shadow of the decommissioned nuclear power plant. It was a foreboding presence! I had never seen it from this close up. It looks a bit spooky. And the fact that we would be racing through a weather warning for wind was not making it any less spooky. The skies were threatening!

The power plant, seen from the reservoir dam

I went to the toilet for a last time, and went to fetch my race number. Then I went back to the car to change into my running gear. And then I was ready. This time I didn't want to do what I often accidentally do: appear at the start so late that I am starting somewhere in the rear, and then having to overtake loads of people. This time, there was no chance of that. For some reason, people weren't approaching the start at all, until they were specifically asked to do so by the organisation, only seconds before the start. I pretty much started in the second row! A bit ambitious, but I could keep up with the speed of quite a lot of people around me.

At the start 

Starting so far at the front made it easy to keep tabs on how many women there were in front of me. Quite soon I spotted four of them. That would not be good enough for a podium position, but the race was 14 km; a lot could still happen. Maybe I could overtake one or two?

The route start very beautiful. But after only a few hundred metres it started raining quite heavily! That was a bit of a pity. Luckily, it was a brief shower. And the wind blew us dry quite quickly!

The lake; just ignore the fact I took this picture before the start

With so few women in front of me I resisted the temptation to take pictures. My desire for a medal was bigger than my desire for photographic evidence of the beauty of the route. But believe me when I say it was gorgeous!

Pic by SSSAR

In the beginning I was leapfrogging with a few people. Two of them women. That was exciting. After a while I seemed to manage to leave one woman behind me. And I was just chasing a few people ahead of me. One of them also a woman.

The woman in front of me very slowly but steadily increased the gap between us. But there was a man in front of me who didn't. I was trailing him for quite a while, until, about halfway there, I overtook him. It turned out that he then spent quite some distance in my slipstream. He was welcome! I had done the same with him.

I figured that on the western side of the lake, the route would be gorgeous, but on the eastern side it couldn't last. And it didn't! The lake is quite close to the main road, and it was unavoidable to run along it for a while. That wasn't my favourite part of the race. I was glad to turn into a path again. Even though it started raining heavily again, and we had a headwind. It was a bit difficult to see where you were going with the rain buffeting one’s eyes. 

I also heard someone approach. It was a man in a Meirionnydd. We exchanged some brief pleasantries; we needed our breath for running as well, of course. And when I knew that the finish wasn't far away I kept my tempo up. I wasn't competing with him in particular; it is always more rewarding do not let women get past. But who knew what was happening behind me. And a good time is nice! So I kept going, and even ended up in a mild "swift mode"; when I breathe so hard it starts sounding like the screeching of a swift. 

When we got back on the terrain of the powerplant he overtook me. But he couldn't keep it up! I got past again, and I could hear I created a bit of distance.

I thundered over the finish. What a race! It had also stopped raining. I cheered some people on that finished shortly behind me. And I sneakily enquired what my position was. I thought fourth! But it became clear I can't count, and I had come in third. A medal! I was chuffed. And that meant I wanted to stay for the ceremony.

I spent some time at the finish, chatting with some other finishers, including the lady who had come fifth. She was an Eryri Harrier; as far as I know, the strongest club around. And also the club that organised series of short fell races that Harri (of Parc y Moch fame) had been plugging to me. I am awful at fell racing! But it still sounded interesting. She also recommended I sign up. And she also turned out to practically be Martin’s neighbour. It's a small world!

After a while I decided I should go back to the car and put on some dry clothes. It wasn't currently raining but it was very windy, and I was quite wet. That couldn't remain comfortable for long. It was nice to get out of my damp kit. And I decided to have some lunch inside the car. A good idea; it soon came down in buckets! But I was nice and sheltered in my vehicle.

When my lunch was finished and the ceremony was approaching I went back to the finish. I chatted a bit with the lady who had come second. She had changed as well; I didn't recognise her anymore. You don't tend to get a good look at your competitors. When I was running behind her I recognised her from her outfit and her hairstyle, but now she was wearing civilian clothes with a hood. 

There weren't very many people left! I think the terrible weather had chased a lot of them away. Several people who had won a prize weren’t there. And their ceremony was unusual; normally, they announce the winners counting from bronze to gold, but not here; the reason was that they didn't have fixed prizes. They just had a table with an assortment on, and you could just pick what you wanted. And gold gets first pick, of course! And when it was my turn I picked a pot of local honey. And found out that both honeypots on the table were part of the same prize. Success!

With my honey I went back to the car. I think this race is run every year; I'm keen to run it again next year! It was lovely. And the chance is slim we will have to run through a storm again!

09 April 2024


In November, we had tried to go to Manchester, to see an exhibition about golden mummies in the Manchester Museum. It had been Susan's idea. I don't have an unusual fascination with mummies, but it sounded like a fun day out! We didn't make it, though; there had been an awful traffic accident on the route, and traffic was completely jammed. We had to turn back, and abandoned mission.

Suddenly a message came from Susan; should we try again? On a Saturday? And I said yes. So we tried again! It wasn't without risk; that Saturday there was a weather warning out, courtesy of storm Kathleen. And storms sometimes also cause traffic disruption. But she and Dean just picked me up, and we drove Eastwards without incident. 

We had a bit of lunch and then headed to the museum. We had a time slot to enter the exhibition, and it wasn't that time yet, so we first had to look at the general archaeology section. That was a bit confusing; there didn't seem to be much of an order with regard to time and place. But I like seeing old stuff! And then we went to see the actual exhibition.

The museum

I thought it was a bit underwhelming, but so be it. The wrapping of some of these mummies is amazing! And when we were out, we just headed to the café for a drink, and then to the natural history part of the museum. That was fab! Some of it was a bit slapstick; some of the taxidermy seems to not have gone entirely according to plan. But it was great to look at animals and rocks and fossils and stuff like that.

A golden mummy

A non-golden mummy with impressive bandaging and portrait
The building on the inside 

Not sure East African spring hares really look like this 

They also was a geological overview of time. I like that sort of stuff! And there even was a bit about the history of understanding of the climate system! That is really up my street. It started with the scientists of the time still sticking to the biblical flood assumption, and then the evolution of understanding of things such as geological time, and the ice ages with their causation. And there are also were samples from the Challenger expedition! That is such a crucial event in palaeo-environmental research. It was people on a wooden sailing boat cris-crossing the Earth between 1872 and 1876. And the reports they wrote on the basis of what they had done are still so valuable in the present day. Their foram report is still a seminal work. Many of the species they describe have since been renamed, but who this day and age can spend four years on a research cruise? I assume they also had a lot of time to deal with their samples, and publishing their results. Probably, the people involved were independently wealthy. And I'm glad that nowadays you don't need to be anymore. But they did the work, and they clearly had the time to give all of it their full attention, and not just the spectacular bits, and it is great we can still benefit from it.

Challenger samples

When we had seen all that we were a bit museumed out. And we got back without incident. A good day out!