28 May 2024

Heavy water habit impeded

One of the features of UK office life I really like is the boiling water taps. Instant hot drinks! Best thing. And many office buildings have one, including mine. It even  has two! But I always use the one on my floor. And many others do too. 

When I get into the office in the morning, the first thing I do after logging in is filling up a flask. That gets me all the coffees I need for a while. And after lunch I just keep filling it up for my considerable thirst for hot water. 

One day, something looked off with the appliance. It has a little drain that drips condensation water. That was now draining a lot more than that. 

Some days later something else was amiss. It only produced a trickle! It took forever to get a mug full, let alone a flask. I found myself answering emails while waiting for my flask to fill up. 

This takes forever 

It got worse! A while later it stopped giving boiling water altogether. Now what? Estates had long been notified, but they are notoriously slow to react. Our head technician said that if he’d put a kettle in that little kitchen, they would surely not bother with repairing the tap. 

There was another tap there, right? Yes! Down two flights of stairs. And it works. But there is an issue. Normally, nobody uses it. That floor has no offices, and the student space there is barely used. On my floor, there are 10 offices, and a well-used student space. That means that tap gets flushed through a lot. The one downstairs doesn’t. The water in it has been there forever! It’s like drinking mercury. It tasted bad, but it also makes me worry about potential health effects. Is it harmful to drink such metally water?

If we now all use this tap that problem will solve itself, of course. But you seem to need to get through a LOT of water before you get rid of the taste. It really makes for awful coffee! And throwing boiling water away hurts one’s environmental conscience. 

I’m sure we’ll get there one day, one way or the other, but for now I find it very annoying I don’t have access to palatable hot water in my building. With my 5+ flask habit, that’s a nuisance! 

27 May 2024

More additions to the morning routine

I'm not quite sure when I started doing a morning exercise routine, but it is quite a while ago. I think it started with strength exercises. That was inspired by prusicking up a 50 meter pitch in a Cornish mineshaft, with that pitch being a bit awkward to get off. When I was trying to do that with tired arm muscles I found it difficult. So I decided to boost these muscles! And that resulted in a chin-up bar. It is still in daily use.

If you train your arms and your legs, it makes sense to also make sure that what’s in between is doing okay, so I ended up adding core strength exercises.

I also have to stretch my bum muscles every day, otherwise they seize up, and then first I can’t run, but if it gets worse I even struggle to walk. To be avoided! So that was added to the mix as well. 

When I developed a mild ankle injury, the physiotherapist gave me exercises for that as well. When I stopped these after about a year, the problem came back, so I restarted doing the exercises. More additions! By now I’m up to only some 15 minutes, though. 

When I’m done with the exercises, by the way, I have breakfast, and after that I do my RSI physiotherapy exercises. So many parts of my body that will only function when I train them every day!

I thought my knees were sort of OK, but their performance during the Snowdonia Half Marathon suggested otherwise. I want to be able to run half marathons, so I googled exercises for runners who want to avoid knee injuries, and found a set on the NHS website. I’ve added these now as well! That ballooned my regime, but a woman’s gotta do what a woman’s gotta do. 

ITB stretch

I suppose with age you need to choose: lose your abilities or work harder for them. I’m choosing the latter! 

26 May 2024

Garden made less embarrassing

I really needed a weekend in the garden! It had started to look like one big embarrassment. Some of that is due to it having been super busy in early spring (with my applications and suchlike), but after that I think I just had too much of a busy social life. That is a good thing! But when the days are long and there is plenty of rain, the garden will grow into a monster. And I needed to tame it.

The weekend after the race I had nothing big planned, so that was when I set to work. I had already cut the grass a while ago; that really made huge difference. I had at some point considered cutting it, but the dandelions were out, and I thought that would be cruel to pollinators. But the dandelions had had their time, and the grass had been way, way too high. So I had prioritised that. But there was so much more to do.

Some of it was to do with the raised bed in the back that I had been clearing of ivy. That is a lot of work! But I have more raised beds. The raised bed with the apple tree was okay. The raised bed with the succulents looks after itself. The two really small bed tend not to require much attention. But the other four bigger ones really needed work. The one that had had the walnut tree was very overgrown, mainly with grass and dandelions. The bed with the plum tree was so bad I decided to give up on it for this year. Maybe next year! The big central bed was also suffering from invasion of grass and dandelions. And it had become overcrowded. The plants I had to put in it had, of course, all been growing, and by now several plants were basically pushing each other out of the way. So I needed to make some changes there.

The big central bed: weeds and overcrowding 

That weekend I cleared almost all the ivy! And I tidied up the bed that used to have the walnut tree. The other walnut tree bed temporarily mainly has oregano, a pumpkin plant, and potato plants. That will do. And I got quite far with the big central bed. It has had an enormous amount of grass and dandelions removed, and I took out three plants for which there wasn't enough space. One is now in the position of the walnut tree, and two are in pots in front of the house. I'm not sure if that is permanent, but it will do for now.

Much more ivy removed 

The big central bed: not finished, but clearly progress! And yes, different angle, but this shows the progress better…

It's clearly not done yet, but I am happy with the progress! My garden doesn't look embarrassing anymore. And the raised bed in the back is almost ready to be taken into use. Progress!

25 May 2024

New cat enemy, old cat flap

In the night before the race I suddenly woke up with a start. I heard a blood-curling scream coming from the direction of the cat flap, and then the sound of cat coming through it at warp speed. Through both cat flaps. I ran out of bed to check if the cat was okay. Her assailant had probably gone; there was no sign of another cat anymore. But her tail was still incredibly thick.

Another thing was that she had basically taken the cat flap with her when she stormed in. The cat flap that leads outside was still fine, but the one that leads into the bedroom, which was quite old, had been knocked straight out of its hinges. She always comes through that like a bullet, but this time she must have run so fast she actually demolished it. And after the actual flap came out, I didn't take long for the whole rest of the cat flap to collapse as well.

RIP cat flap

I really hoped she would have peace now that Nemesis had moved! But there clearly sometimes still is a bully cat around. I had heard her howl at another cat before, and then I had caught a glimpse of a large black cat outside. This might have been the same one, but I have no way of verifying that. But she must have been very scared that night. Poor little cat!

The next morning I found bits of cat fur in the grass outside the cat flap. And I put "new cat flap" on my shopping list. I have another chore to do! And installing a new flap is quite achievable, but having my little cat have peace in what should be her territory seems a lot more difficult to reach…

24 May 2024

No more Study Skills Centre support in dissertation module

When I took over the dissertation module from a colleague who retired, I had a lot of work on my hands. Not only was there the usual admin of sorting out a module; it had also been decided that the students should get a statistics practical. And I do not work in a branch of science that is very heavy on statistics. So I was a bit out of my depth.

The good thing of working at a university is that if you are not knowledgeable on a certain topic, there are probably people around who are. And the university has a study skills centre. A lot of their work is dealing directly with students; if these have a question about scientific writing or maths or something like that, they can book an appointment. But they clearly also work for staff. So I got in touch with a lady called Rally, and she was going to help me.

In order to help me, she needed a lot of information, of course, so that already kicked me into higher gear. I didn't have a clear overview of all the statistics the students do; firstly, I had only just taken over the module, and secondly, keeping close tab on exactly what all the projects that are part of the module entail is hardly part of the brief. And after an overview of all the statistics the students use, she also wanted example data.

I also have made sure to always be there for the practical. She leads it, and I try to answer questions. Sometimes I pass a question onto someone else if I don't have a clue, but at least I know what's going on. And I think that is a good thing. And I was right.

Suddenly, after this year's practical, I received an email from one of Rally’s colleagues. They we were going around with the hat for a goodbye present. Rally had resigned! Oh dear! That was disconcerting. She is really lovely, and it will be a pity to not have her around anymore, but now I also was stranded with my statistics practical. Would anyone take her place? So I emailed her manager, and he said that they could no longer help me with this. I was on my own now.

I suppose I can do one of three things now. The easiest is to just bin the practical. The second easiest (if it works) is to convince one of my more statistical colleagues to step in and help. And the third is to step up my own game and do it myself.

At the next suitable occasion, I will see if there is anyone who would be willing to join me in this. It would reassure me. It would be a bit silly to bring me up to the statistics level of a particularly statistical biologist, when I will never be one. So if I could find the combination of the second and third option, that would be ideal. I have to teach statistics in Welsh anyway, so I already do more than I used to, and I had stepped up my game for my Masters project. I can keep stepping up a bit! And design the bulk of a practical. But it would be good if I would have a colleague by my side who can also deal with the more esoteric nuances. 

We have a whole array of new lecturing staff; right now even the last appointee has been announced, and will arrive in July. And I have already met two ladies who recently started, and who moved in from abroad. It's nice to see our team grow! But anyway; I'm sure some of them are quite statistically knowledgeable. And at the moment, they don't have much of a teaching load yet. I hope I can rope one of these in! But it looks like I will be doing a fair amount of statistics, in Welsh or otherwise, this summer…

23 May 2024

Stepping away from plastic tat

Some years ago, during a momentary lapse of reason, I saw one of those things that is meant for hanging small items such as socks and underpants to dry from in a shop. And I liked the concept of being able to basically group all your smalls into one unit, so I bought it. It was, of course, made of cheap plastic, and if you hang your clothes to dry, you tend to hang them in the sun, and that means photodegradation. So one after the other, the clothing pins broke, and then the whole thing collapsed into a pile of shards.

The original product, here shown on Amazon

Undignified end of a household item

As I still liked the concept, I decided I should just continue with that, but with less badly chosen materials. And I decided I could use bamboo, with wooden pegs. And bits of string. The hook and chains that it was all attached to were still functioning, so I reused these. If they give up I can just replace them with durable and biodegradable (at the same time, yes!) equivalents. I suppose I'm ready for a sustainable future with dry pants! 

Remake finished

And in action

22 May 2024


I knew that was going to be a gig in the evening. Soon after I got home from my scramble, I could hear a sound check involving bagpipes. That means the gig that night would be Skerryvore, a folk band that had been announced. I had never heard of them, but I understand they are quite big in Scotland. I thought I might pop in later on.

That afternoon I got a message from Kate. Her neighbours actually had tickets for the gig, but couldn't come! And she herself wasn't feeling hundred percent. Was I interested in the tickets? I figured they would otherwise go to waste, so I said yes. I asked Martin, Sue and Dean if they were keen on joining, but they weren't. So after I had my after dinner tea I went to have a look.

I got there just minutes before the band appeared. I had missed the support act, but I was okay with that. And they started well!

It is a big band; somewhere in the back there are a drummer, a bassist and a keyboardist; at the front in the middle is the songwriter who is also guitarist and vocalist, on the side there is a fiddler, and then there are two blokes who keep switching between accordion, whistle and bagpipes. Especially when they are both on bagpipes, it is a right racket! I enjoyed that. And so did the crowd. As It was a crowd. It looked sold out!

I quite liked how they managed to combine the standard band sound with drum, bass and guitar, and then the more folk-associated instrumentation. They blend it well!

I didn't see it all out until the end. I wanted to go to bed! I wanted a productive day the next morning. And I had already been away from the cat most of the day, of course. But it has been fun! And I wish them all the best!

21 May 2024

Bristly Ridge

Bristly Ridge got its name for a reason. It looks quite spectacular! I had noticed it before, of course; for instance, we had come past it on the New Year's Day walk with Sue and Dean. And I had seen people on the ridge. I had been keen to give it a try myself, but it looked a bit too challenging to just try that on my own. I know about all the callouts in this area; I know very well you can't not take the mountains seriously! Before you know it, Mountain Rescue has to come for you.

Then I suddenly saw a scramble on that very ridge advertised on Facebook. And it was on a day where I had nothing timetabled. So I decided I should just seize that opportunity. And I registered!

I had once done a guided scramble before; on Cneifion Arête. I wasn't sure if this would be similar. I would later find out it wasn't; that was a grade 3 scramble, when we would be doing was only a grade 1.

It wasn't an awful lot of communication about it. Not where and what time to meet, nor what to bring. I emailed the organisation to ask about this, and a man called Richard answered me and suggested he could pick me up. But I didn't get the time and place for pick up until the morning of the trip. He also asked me to fill out some health declaration. So far I wasn't very impressed with how well this thing was organised! But I showed up, health form filled out at 7AM, at the correct time and place.

A man addressed me; it was Richard. He introduced me to the man in the passenger seat: Dewi. It was foggy, and raining a bit, so the views weren't very good, but at least we would probably be okay to park at Idwal cottage. And we were! And met two other participants: Laura and Julian.

Only there did become clear to me that Dewi was going to be our guide, and Richard was going off in a different direction with a different client. Oh well! That's fine. So we set off. While walking, Dewi asked us a bit about our experience. And some generic things such as where we were from. I had the impression we were a nice group.

Starting the walk

We walked up to Llyn Bochlwydd. There we had a little break for coffee and a snack. And slowly, the weather was improving! From there, we walked up to the pass. Again we stopped for a snack. And then the real fun was going to start!

That’s where we were going!

We started walking along the wall to Sinister Gully. And then the scramble began! It was a lot of fun. And the slightly nebulous surroundings were quite atmospheric. And it never got challenging, but I could easily imagine that if you take the wrong turn it might do, and you could easily end up cragfast. Or even slip. And then you have a big problem. It would take a while for mountain rescue to get to you! So I was having a whale of a time, and glad I had a mountain guide with me. I had the impression the others felt the same way.

All three of us in the gully. Pic by Dewi

After the gully it got even scramblier. At some point I recognised the little dip in the ridge that you could see so well from a distance. That had been my inspiration to end up here myself! And we happily climbed up on the other side.

Descending into the dip. Pic by Dewi

Clambering up on the other side. Pic by Dewi

More clambering. Pic by Dewi

We basically climbed our way out of the cloud. Close to the ridge it already got quite hot. And then we reached the actual ridge! It was sunny there. We decided to walk to the Cantilever for lunch. 

I tried to charge my phone and watch with my power bank, but I had made the classic mistake of not checking whether the power bank actually was full. It was not! So that didn't work. Oh well. We had our lunch, and then we did some obligatory Cantilever pictures.

Foggy Cantilever pic by Dewi

At the ridge, looking almost due south

From there we walked on to Castell y Gwynt, and then Glyder Fawr. It was sunny and beautiful. From there we walked back to where y Gribin starts. The midges were out, so we were glad to descend into the mist again. And y Gribin isn't as spectacular as Bristly Ridge; I had quite comfortably done it on my own with a full overnight backpack on, but there was enough fun to be had. And this ridge wasn't going to be taken for granted.

On the ridge

On y Gribin

At one scrambly bit, suddenly Julian's foot slipped. He still was holding on by his arms, but I could see he was desperately trying to find a foothold again, and failing. Luckily, in the end he managed, and pulled himself up again. Phew! 

When he was on solid ground again he was smiling, but he also had a veritable egg on his right bicep. It looked like it had gone into cramp! But we could see from Julian's face that it hadn't. This was really weird. We all hoped his arm would get back to normal by itself. Julian said it hurt a bit, as he had shock-loaded the muscle, but it wasn't bad, and his arm was functioning properly. Hopefully it would be better by the end of the walk.

Dewi decided this was enough excitement, and from there picked an easier going past down. It was still beautiful! At some point we could see Llyn Bochlwyd below us. And we thought we saw Richard and his client walking down. That would be good! After all, we would be car-sharing back down.

Llyn Bochlwyd from above

By the lake we met up again, and from their own we all walked back to the car park together. I had a bit of a chat with Richard. I was totally going to keep an eye on his company! I had had a lovely time. And doing more of that sounded like a good idea.

At the youth hostel I said goodbye to Laura and Julian, and not much later I was dropped off home. What a day! I am up for more of this. I quite like the low levels of faff of a grade 1 scramble, it turns out. Grade 3 is so much handling of ropes and slings and carabiners and whatnot. And this has been the higher end of grade 1, so more exciting than the lower end, but still without ropes, and that seems to be where I am quite happy!

20 May 2024

Work on both bikes

It had been five months since my bike had had a service! And in another month, it was supposed to perform at competition level. It was really time I booked my bike in for another service. Luckily, the repair shop had availability. And on a Tuesday morning I brought it in.

James, the repair man, had a quick look. He saw I needed another chain and cassette. That is not unusual. I also told him that the pedals, that he had put on the previous time, were struggling a bit. He had a wiggle, and said both of them were about to fall off. I hadn't come a day too late! 

I also enquired after his plant. The previous time he had mocked me by planting a spider plant in the mud he had scraped off my bike. Or rather, of a rather limited portion of my bike. And the plant was absolutely thriving! I think it will have children next time I visit.

Having brought in my regular bike also meant I had to bike home on my spare bike. I had brought it into the office the previous day, when I had to come by car anyway, for reasons of a visit to the garage. I had noticed it really needed some lubricant, so I had to bring some into the office. It smelled interesting after I was done with the lube! But then I could ride home without worrying about the chain.

One disadvantage of my spare bike is that it had rather knobbly tyres. These were just the tyres it had when I bought it. But my commute is on asphalt all the way; I don't need knobbliness. And you can feel the extra effort it requires. So when I had come to work by car anyway the day before, I had popped by some shops on the way home; one shop I had visited was Halfords, to buy smoother tyres. But hadn't had an opportunity yet, obviously, to put them on. I did it that very night. And got covered in bike grease, obviously.

New tyres

It was nice to glide to work a lot smoother the next day! But that afternoon I got the call from James; my default bike was ready. So I only benefited from my new tyres for one day! But that's OK. Next time I need it it’s ready for me. 

It was good to pick it up, all clean and gleaming, with its lovely clean cassette and its higher quality new pedals. That would do me fine for my commute, and hopefully also on my first bicycle race next month! I will report back…

19 May 2024

Post-race walk with Claire

My fairly new Welsh medium colleague Claire had suggested an evening walk. She lives in a neighbouring village. That sounded like a good idea! Even when she suggested Monday, the day after my race. I always have post-race legs, but I thought a gentle stroll might even help with that. And the legs ended up in a lot worse state than I had anticipated! 

We would just do a stroll around Moel Faban, my standard running ground. And we agreed to meet at her place, which is more or less on the way. And it turned out she lives in the converted chapel there! I have run and biked past that so many times. I had no idea she lived there. 

I got there and she first showed me the place. In Welsh, of course. That was going to be the language of the walk. And the building was gorgeous! But she will be leaving it soon. Then we set off. If you walk around Moel Faban you spend the first half of the route going uphill. At my request we didn't take the steep route, but I still felt very creaky. I could really feel my legs. But at least this was gentle exercise, so it might even help keeping them flexible.

She also mentioned the famous stone that had is said to been used for sharpening stone arrowheads in the olden days. I said I was aware that it must be somewhere around, but I didn't know which one it was. I had never found the markings! But it turned out we were walking past it, and she showed me. Now I finally know! And in return I explained rock cannons to her, and told her about two locations in the area where you can find them.

Finally: the sharpening stone! 

We walked on. It wasn't raining too hard. And then at a dreaded moment we reached the highest point of our walk. And now the downhill would be a bit steep for a while. That was quite a challenge! My knees were not keen. But Claire had a lot of patience with me.

When we reached the very gentle path again it was like a switch had been flicked. Suddenly I was totally able-bodied again. Nice! The worst was over.

On the way I did get an opportunity to nerd out a bit about slate, and what reduction spots are. Claire is a biologist and she had been wandering about things like that.

We walked down through the Rachub High Street. And got caught up in another adventure! Some ill-advised young man had decided to try to turn off from that rather grandly named but very narrow road into an even smaller side ally. In a van. That doesn't work. But now he had ended up so close to the wall he was scared of scraping along it. Not something most car owners enjoy.

With Claire observing from the front of me from behind we managed to talk him out of his predicament. It was so close! It took a while before he had managed to put more than a centimetre between the van and the wall. But in the end he got away with only his pride damaged. He was so relieved! And we continued our way.

Back at the chapel we had a cup of tea, and then I went back home. I had done some 5 km on my very old legs! And had a lovely time with Claire. We both expressed the intention to do this more often, so watch this space!

18 May 2024

More drastic measures with the tyre

I had gone to the tyre centre on a Wednesday. I hoped they would sort out my slow puncture forever! But by Sunday, my tyre pressure had already dropped to less than half of what it is supposed to be. I needed to get back. 

Not good

On the Monday, I loaded my spare bike into my car, and set off. That I wanted to bring a bike to work without sitting on it had nothing to do with the car, by the way. More about that later. At the tyre centre I didn't have to wait long. Another chap took my wheel off. After a while he came back and told me there was nothing he could do for me. It wasn't the tyre; was the rim. They could try to seal it, but that had already failed twice before. So he said they wouldn't charge me anything, but they couldn't solve my problem. So I just continued to the office.

In the office I looked up some scrap yards. I knew there was one in Gaerwen; I had scrapped my Fiesta there, back in the days (can't seem to find the blog post about this, though). And I phoned one. They said they did indeed have rims in the right size in stock. So I decided to leave work a bit earlier and go and pick it up.

The people I had phoned turned out not to be the scrap yard where my Ford had gone. Oh well! They still had a rim for me. They said it wasn't the same shape, but it was the same size, and I don't have that car for good looks. I bought it. And with the bike having been delivered in the office, I had plenty of space in the boot. And I drove it straight back to the tyre centre. 

The scrap yard

Replacement rim!

There all the men recognised me by now. And one of the chaps who had already had a try earlier now swapped the rims over. It didn't take him long! And then he popped into the office. When he came back he said they wouldn't charge me for this either. He felt bad that I had come there four times before my problem was finally fixed! That was kind of him.

While he had been in the office I had had a good look at the car. To be honest, I couldn't spot that one of the rims was different from the other ones. It's not obvious at all!

But with material change now having been made, I hope that this is sorted now, and that I can stop spending my time inflating my tyres. If this topic doesn't come back, it will have been a success!

17 May 2024

Looking for a catsitter

I will be going to Finland this summer! And not just anywhere in Finland; Finnish Lapland. That means I will spend quite some time getting to Helsinki, and then a lot more time to get to our final destination. So I will be staying away longer than I normally do when I go to the Netherlands. And that means that I was feeling bad for both the cat and the neighbour; the cat, because she would have to do without me for quite a while; and the neighbour, who is perfectly happy to pop in every day and give her food and snuggles, but who I do not want to burden was too much of that.

Kate travels quite a lot, and she nowadays has a dog. So she has the same issue, but worse. And she had just registered herself on a pet sitting website. People just come and stay in her house for free, and walk the dog. So far she only had good experiences. And if it works for dogs, it probably works even better for cats, as they are less hassle. Basically people get a generous pied-à-terre for free in a busy time in Eryri. And you get snuggles with the best cat in the world! Who doesn't want that?

I did kick the can down the road for a while as things were busy, and you need to upload pictures of your house, and some bits were not very presentable after this busy time. But time was running out, and I sorted it out. My listing is finished! I hope someone will be attracted to it. I will report back!

16 May 2024

Some garden progress, finally

One of the first days of April I started a project in the garden. I tried to reclaim the raised bed closest to the river from ivy. I didn't make a ludicrous amount of progress, but I hoped I could just keep pushing it now and then in the evenings and weekends. But my evenings and weekends just vanished like election promises.

It was practically mid May when I finally found time again. After the Snowdonia half marathon I had nothing else on that afternoon. And in spite of my sore knees, I did a lot of satisfying work. I did make some ivy progress! The ivy is pushed further back. It is starting to look like a raised bed. And some totally rotten tree stump appeared from underneath the ivy, and spontaneously disintegrated.

I will still have to find time for pushing this even further. And I just have to hope I can enjoy that raised bed, once it has been populated with plants, for a while, before the whole shebang collapses into the river. Because it could

By the time I did get around to this, it was sunny, and the days were long, and it had been raining sufficiently, so everything was growing like there was no tomorrow. There were so, so many other things to do in the garden as well. I did a lot of these too. And the garden started looking again like a garden, rather than some embarrassingly wild place. But I can't stop here! I really hope I can come back to this topic on this blog quite soon!

15 May 2024

Snowdonia half marathon: torture with reward

I hadn’t done a half marathon for a while. I had become quite comfortable in the 10k races. But then I won a race voucher in the Bangor 10k. What race to use that for? It had to be a race of the same organisation, of course. And I settled on the Snowdonia half. It’s a beautiful race in a suitable part of the year. I'm not sure how much longer they can call it that though; the National Park is now officially called Eryri.

I had done some longish training runs. Running short distances with a lot of uphill only trains your heart and lungs, and not your legs! At least not for half marathon purposes. But my training runs had never been more than 14 km.

On the day I drove to Llanrwst (alone, as Marjan was elsewhere) and parked, as had been recommended, by the local school. The start was a bit of a distance away, so I just left everything I wasn't going to bring with me on the race in the car, and went straight to the start. There I got my race number. I also wanted to go to the loo, but I saw the size of the queue, and I decided to go for a little warm-up run instead. The outskirts of Llanrwst are very wooded! I was sure I would be able to find a suitable copse for a wee. And I did. And then I went back to the start. I wanted to start quite close to the front!

the Llanrwst bridge

Ready to race!

At the start. Notice all the snazzy shoes!

The horn sounded and we were off. The race goes up quite soon, so I was in my element. And it is a road race, but a very beautiful one! I was enjoying it. It was a bit hot, but not unbearably so.

After about 3 miles I realised I was having a lovely runner’s high. Excellent! The weather was beautiful, the area was beautiful, and I was feeling great. All good. And after while, Llyn Geirionydd came into view. It is quite pretty.

I had a little bottle of water with me, but it was such a hot day at that two of the water stations I actually accepted a bottle in addition to that. 

From the FB page of Daniel Hill: me after some 3 miles 

We ran around the lake, and then for a short while, the road was used in both directions. I was running past the stragglers still making their way to the lake. I was happily thundering along, and I saw some expressions of disbelief in the people coming the other way. I suspect some people had seen me at the start and didn't think I was going to be so fast.

We then ran towards the second lake: Crafnant. Still very beautiful! And I decided to eat my gels. I had brought some; I don't normally use them, but I had won them in an earlier race, and this was an excellent opportunity to use them. A half marathon is enough to run yourself short of sugar, but with these gels, that is not going to happen.

From the Run Wales FB site: Llyn Crafnant

At some point I suddenly heard laughing behind me. What was so funny? And then I saw I was being caught up by the bloke with whom I had battled it out over the last kilometre or two of the Trawsfynydd race. He thought it was funny the same thing might be happening in this race. We had a little chat. Then I left him behind again. I was still on a roll!

Towards the far end of the lake it was getting quiet. For quite some distance, I could see no runners in front of me, and not hear any behind me. I suppose it was a good sign.

What wasn't such a good sign was that around the 10 mile sign, I started to really feel my knees. If I run, it is fairly standard that my right knee feels a little bit out of alignment; something on the outside of the knee doesn't feel quite right. But that never gets bad. But now it was getting bad. And my left knee was joining in!

I could also start to hear people behind me. The Trawsfynydd bloke, and a chap in a green shirt, approached, and then overtook. And then we hit the infamous last hill. Normally that is where I shine! I have no problem whatsoever to run up hills of that size and steepness. But now my knees felt like they were not going to hold my weight. I had to walk little bits. It was frustrating! I had all the breath in the world, but still couldn't get up the hill. I suspected it wasn't going to get better when I got to the top.

If I can barely run I can take pictures!

Me and the bloke in the green shirt

Indeed it didn't! My knees were still protesting. I tried to jog, but especially on the fairly steep downhill bits I just had to walk. Frustrating! This is where everybody else accelerates like the clappers. I was starting to get overtaken by loads of people. Two separate ladies who overtook me asked me if I was okay. It was very kind of them to ask!

I sort of hobbled onwards. Not far now! And I was overtaken by a swift woman just a meter or two before the finish. But she looked young. Not my category! And that was quickly proven; the bloke with the clipboard at the finish told me I had won in my category. Wow! In spite of the knees!

I collected my T-shirt and medal, and went to congratulate the Trawsfynydd bloke. This time he had beaten me. And then I went back to the finish to cheer other runners on. And drink lots of water! And admire a little bloodhound who seemed to think it was a bit too hot in the sun…

It had taken me a bit less than two hours, and two and a half hours after the start they would do the medal ceremonies. I stood on the side next to a lady with elaborate glitter in her hair. I had seen her early in the race! I thought it was quite charming. I didn't ask about the environmental credentials of the glitter; I hope that was exemplary. But either way, it looked very cheerful.

Then the ceremony started. Glitter lady had come second overall! And the woman who had won gold I had seen at the start; she looked really fast. And I was proud to get a medal and a voucher for being the fastest woman over 45, at 1:57:44. I can pay for my next race with that voucher! Which race will that be? This same race next year?

After the ceremony. Pic kindly taken by Silver Glitter lady

I hadn't been comfortable these last 3 miles, but it could have just been a lack of long training. I remember one of my early training runs for the marathon. My legs really didn't want to collaborate anymore towards the end of the run. But I just trained more, and all was well. I suppose it is worth finding out if my knees are really too old for the half marathon distance, or whether I am still completely fine as long as I properly train. But I suppose I have a bit of time to think about that.

When the ceremony was over I had to rush back to my car. The organisation had warned that the school where I had parked (on their request) would close its gate at 13:00. I didn't want to end up locked in! So I briskly walked back, chucked my clobber in the car, and drove off. I got through the gate at 12:58. Only when I got home did I take off my running shoes. And then I was ready for a sizable lunch and a lot of water!

14 May 2024

Tyre sorted, hopefully: part 2

In November, I hoped I had my tyres sorted for the foreseeable future. And that was almost true! Three tyres were ok after that, but one wasn’t. I basically had to re-inflate it every time I used the car. That got tiresome (pun!). So I decided to go back to the tyre place. And I chose a day when I had a meeting at work in the afternoon, and a cave rescue committee meeting in the evening, for that. In between I could get it fixed.

Awaiting my turn 

The queue was short. Soon a young chap was on the case. He needed some violence to get the wheel off. And after some tests he concluded the problem was with the little lead weights. He took them off and replaced them with a different type. And he said he’d not charge me as it should have been sorted in November. If all’s ok now I probably won’t blog about it again. Not very newsworthy! But if it isn’t, the topic will come back up. Let’s hope not! 

13 May 2024

Material girls

I was reading two books at the same time. I had started ‘material girls’ by Kathleen Stock, which Miles had given to me, but I found it unsuitable for bedtime reading. It is basically a philosophical polemic about feminism and trans activism. So I read a different book as bedtime reading, and I read this book during the day. It was almost an equal finish!

I am aware, by the way, that only reading the book by this author can get you ostracised by some. But so be it! I've read it.

So what is it about? The author argues that trans-activism these days strays into territories where it doesn't belong. She thinks that the excesses thereof are getting in the way of feminism and gay rights. And you can probably see most of her arguments coming; I'm sure most of us have talked about trans people in professional sport, and in single-sex spaces, such as changing rooms and prisons. She is all in favour of trans activism, but she is not so keen on mission creep. And there are no easy answers!

I suppose sport is just a simplification of life, and not all the complexities of life fit in it. If I run a race these days, there tend to be two categories you can register in: the open category, and the female category. This allows anyone to register, whether they identify as male or female, or not. And for anyone who is cisgender this is easy: males in the open category, females in the female category. But what if you are a trans woman? You would be totally welcome in the open category; it is open, after all. But would you? If you consider yourself a woman, you might very well register in the female category. Would that get you into trouble? I don't know! But registering in the open category comes with its own problems. Most people will equate it with the male category. You might not want to be associated with that. And if you had any artificial lowering of your testosterone levels, you probably wouldn’t do very well in it. But what can you expect an organisation to do otherwise? And this is a summary of my view than Stock’s, but I think it is relevant in this context.

Decision-making on trans rights and obligations in sport is clearly difficult, but Stock strongly argues for keeping the female category for cisgender females. And she argues that. And I see her arguments, but I'm not convinced by the introduction of third category. It would be so small, yet populated by such a wide variety of people! 

It's not all this practical, of course. Stock is a philosopher, and it shows. She discusses the concepts of sex and gender and suchlike in detail.

She also argues against letting people declare their sex themselves. As soon as you allow that, you would let basically anyone into single-sex spaces. A lot of trans women present as rather feminine, but if anyone can legally be a woman just by declaring themselves to be, the problem is you can't really have single-sex spaces anymore. Self-declared trans women who present as male would look indistinguishable from cisgender men. So if you have a single-sex changing room, for instance, you can't tell anymore who belongs there and who doesn't. And that's scary. And the chance of anything going wrong is small; most people, be they cis or trans, are of good faith, but I think all woman are aware that you always have to keep an eye out for those rare people who are not, and might not be able to resist a loophole if they spot one.

In this example I focus on trans women basically because men are on average so much stronger than women, and have such higher occurrences of an inclination to engage in sexual violence, it makes sense to be more nervous about men having access to women-only changing rooms than the other way around. But the argument does go both ways, of course.

In daily life I am fine with people just declaring their sex themselves, but I agree with Stock that as soon as you are talking about protecting vulnerable people, protection trumps identity. If you have a woman prison, you have a very high concentration of vulnerable people, and a lot of them will have suffered sexual violence. So I would agree with the Scottish decision to not let trans women with a history of violence awards other women serve in a female prison. The safety of all the other inmates then trumps the right of the perpetrator to serve in the prison that aligns with their gender identity.

And where do the gay people come in? She basically argues that being gay and being trans are too different things, and of course you can be both, but she just thinks that gay issues and trans issues are not the same. I can’t remember an example off the top of my head. And I'm not going to reread the whole book to find one.

There was one detail in the book that particularly struck me. And that was the suicide rate, and incidence of violence towards trans people. Stock mentioned an often heard statistic of almost half young transgender people having attempted suicide, and traces it back to its root. And it turns out to be the rate of a non-random selection of young people of which a big majority is not trans at all. It is still a shocking statistic, but it doesn’t say anything about young trans people at all. 

The violence statistic she digs out is presented as hate crimes, but it turns out it actually concerns self-reported incidents, and that could just be someone purposefully misgendering someone. And that is hurtful, but not the same as crime. She also deals with the murder rates of thans people versus the total population in the particular time period, and concludes according to these official figures, you have a decidedly lower risk of being murdered if you are trans in the UK, but I am not sure whether the police would necessarily know if a murder victim would be trans, so I'm a bit sceptical about these numbers. But anyway; Stock says there is no good reason to make anyone think they are at a lot more risk of suicide or assault than they are. The nocebo effect is real! 

And she says that she hopes that activism in the future comes with less philosophy, and with more data, and acknowledges that that might be a bit of an odd declaration for a philosopher, but this is an example of what she means. And I fully agree with the power of data!

So now what? I think the philosophical bit of this book is going to quickly gather dust in my brain. And the more practical parts of the book haven't really changed my opinions. But it was interesting to read someone really going into detail on a topic that is so hot at the moment. So I am glad I read it! Maybe especially because she ended up in such hot water for her opinions. The best way of finding your feet in heated debate is to make sure you have actually looked at the evidence, after all…

11 May 2024

Het duister dat ons scheidt

I was still reading through my pile in the living room, with books people had lent me or given me. I had reached a Dutch novel by Renate Dorrestein: het duister dat ons scheidt (the dark that divides us), which my sister had given me. I had been reading two books at the same time, as I thought the other one was a bit too chewy for a bedtime reading. And this was fiction.

Warning: spoiler alerts.

I didn't know what to expect. It just started with a new housing project by an old small village. (Well actually, there is one scene before that, but I'll skip over that for now.) It is the late 70s or early 80s, and the new housing estate is full of young couples that all have children at roughly the same time. Of this part of the book, the protagonist is the collective voice of all these children. It follows them for six years. All children except one: Loes, who lives in the old part of the village, and who the children look up to.

I quite liked this part! You get the sense of the pioneer mentality, and the sense of a new slate for all these people that moved to a new neighbourhood, all at the same time. And then the novelty wearing off. And the children not quite understanding what the adults are doing and why. And then the suburban standards in the housing project contrasted with the more unconventional household Loes is growing up in. That's enough of a book for me! But then things got spectacular.

The father of one of the children gets murdered, and Loes’ mother ends up in jail for it, although in the book there are hints that she just took the blame, and that it was Loes who actually did it, although she is only six years old. She stays where she is; her mother was living with two men who are assumed to be tenants, but who actually are Loes’ mother’s partners (yes both of them), and therefore probably also Loes’ father (just one of them, obviously, though). The men are barely domestic gods, but they make it work somehow.

All the children in the village turn against Loes with her murderous mother. And six years of relentless bullying starts. That was hard to read! She just puts up with it.

At the end of the six years, Loes’ mother returns; probably released early for good behaviour. And then the family dynamic turns a bit strange. The newfound equilibrium is broken, the mother has changed, and things can never get back to what it was. Loes’ mother also finds out her daughter is being bullied, and wants to put an end to it. Unfortunately, she only ends up being bullied alongside her daughter. And she decides they have to leave. Leave to somewhere entirely different. And they pick the Scottish island of Lewis. And entirely different it is.

Loes has unlearned to socialise with other kids, but she finds solace in the baby next door. Overtime, though, she does end up in the community of local children. In the beginning she just keeps her head down. It doesn't entirely work, and there is a bit of a vision of even worse abuse than what she had been trying to escape. But it doesn't come to pass! The kids here are less cruel. Sometimes one gets ostracised, but that never seems to last very long.

In spite of the new environment, harmony never really returns to the family, and at some point, the mother just leaves. It is suggested later that she wants acknowledgement for her sacrifice, but never gets that to the degree she would like. And then just gives up on the situation. And again the remaining three make it work somehow.

In the last part of the book, Loes is 18, and is about to go to Amsterdam, to get a qualification in childcare. She gets there without problems, but her past is never far behind, of course. And she also finds out that her mother now has a job in the jail where she used to be imprisoned. And she decides to go and meet her. And they have a discussion about everything that has happened. Only then do both Loes and the reader get the final jigsaw pieces. The reader finds out that it was the two men who committed the murder, with Loes witnessing. Loes find out what the reader has known for a long time; her mother had had a heated affair with the murdered man, way before he moved into the housing estate. He may very well have been her father.

This makes Loes think a lot, obviously. She realises that in a way, she always let the other kids just bully her because she felt guilty for letting her mother take the blame for the murder. If you are guilty, you deserve punishment, right? And she thought the murder was mainly to protect her. Now she realises it might have been ordinary revenge on a love rival. Her mother may not have sacrificed herself for her daughter, but for her partners! And on the other hand; these partners might have stayed around only for her; not for her adulterous mother. A lot of her perspectives are abruptly changed.

The book ends there. The reader doesn't find out if Loes finds her feet in Amsterdam. And is basically left to ponder things for themselves.

Did I enjoy it? Yes and no! It was a very gripping book, but as I mentioned; the bullying scenes are difficult, even though most of them are never specified but largely hinted at. There is some glimpse of redemption at some point, though, but I figured the summary would be a bit long if I included that. 

I tend to like my books with less action, but this one kept me thinking about it for quite a while afterwards. And that is a success! So altogether I would say this was a good choice. Not all good choices have to be easy…

10 May 2024

Bank Holiday pizza

There was something going on at the local cheese maker and seller: a pizza van! That was really something we needed to check out. And probably support. Susan had suggested the bank holiday Monday, and that worked for me. I didn’t expect Martin to be up for it; he is very busy with a research proposal. But on the day he came out of the woodwork! 

I thought we should have a drink with the pizza. I packed a flask of water (of course) and some beers, both with and without alcohol. And I noticed I had a bottle of Prosecco. That might actually be quite suitable! And I rolled some shot glasses into a dishcloth (they are less fragile than wine glasses) to go with it. And then I was ready to get onto my bike. 

The van has some garden chairs out. Luxurious enough for me! The others came on foot. And they were up for the Prosecco.

Opening the wine; GIF by Sue and Dean

The pizza van

Elegant Prosecco ladies

The pizzas were good! And Susan had brought dessert for Martin and me. It was all quite nice! I sure think we have to go back and support them a bit more…