Monday, 22 April 2013

We've been away

It's been a busy few weeks, and it's rather pleasant to be returning to the usual routine.

First, we had a weekend silversmithing course on the Hereford-Worcester border.  I've blogged about these before, so will spare you the detail.  Suffice it to say we had a great time, stayed in the Talbot at Knightwick as usual, enjoying excellent food both evenings.

The following Tuesday we drove to Crickhowell in the Brecon Beacons of South Wales, where we stayed for several days.  Jenny had been asked to consult about some fossil fish and we'd extended the trip slightly so she could visit the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff to look at some other fossil fish.

Crickhowell is a lovely old-fashioned sort of village, with lots of different kinds of shops, but no supermarket anywhere near.  We stayed in the Dragon Inn, which was fine and served us decent food.

The fossils were all a bit disappointing.  An amateur palaeontologist had collected some Carboniferous fish fossils on Anglesea, but they were very small, scrappy and fragmentary.  Jenny put lots of post-it notes into the specimen boxes with comments on each one, but there was nothing there to encourage her to return.

We visited the site up in the hills that she was being consulted about, along with a couple of folks from Natural Resources Wales, but that was disappointing, too.  The site is being designated an SSSI because of the stratigraphy of the rocks, but abundant fish fossils had been reported from the site too, and they wanted to know if they should designate it an SSSI because of the fossil fish, too.

We walked the length of the exposure, past where the fish were supposed to have come from, and found barely a thing.  This actually tied in neatly with what Jenny had found in the research she'd done beforehand. She'd read several papers and somebody's unpublished PhD thesis, and although there were several references to the fish, at no point did anyone say "I found fossil fish there" nor could she track down any specimens anywhere.  So even before we arrived, we suspected we'd find nothing.  We did see specimens of very concentrated deposits of Devonian fishes in the National Museum in Cardiff, but they had come from quite a few miles away from our site.  So it won't be an SSSI on the grounds of the fossil fish!

Last week we went to Milan.  Jenny had been invited to give a couple of lectures at the University, so on Monday we flew out from Gatwick.  We were staying in a curious place, part student accommodation but with one floor for visiting professors.  It was OK, but not brilliant.

The student who had arranged it all took decent care of us, though the whole thing was rather stressful, and indeed, must have been so for him just as much.  He'd booked us tickets to see Leonardo's Last Supper, which was great, but hard work as his only choice was 08:45.  We had to rush over there with no breakfast!  It was worth it, of course, and we breakfasted twice afterwards!

 Milan is not a particularly beautiful place, and we suspect it was badly bombed during the war, as much of the centre is modern.  The Duomo (Cathedral) is fabulous and we really enjoyed visiting it, especially the walk around the rooftops.

We also spotted an exhibition of pictures by Modigliani and some of his contemporaries.  This was also disappointing.  The Modigliani's were good, especially his Blue Caryatid, but most of the work by his contemporaries, by far the bulk of what was on display, was simply not very good at all.  Jenny summed it up well when she commented that you could see work of that standard in any village art show.

On the other hand, the city was full of elegantly dressed, attractive women, and there were masses of scooters and motorbikes rushing around the place, so we were kept entertained the whole time.

I'd read recently that Spanish and Italian are so similar that a Spaniard and an Italian, each knowing only his own language, could understand about 70%of what the other was saying, so was able to practise my Spanish, which worked well!

Jenny's talks were well received, after which it was possible for us to relax a bit, and it was all very satisfactory.

On the way home, we saw warning signs of long delays anticlockwise around the M25 so went the other way, and discovered that whichever way you go, it's more or less the same distance and takes pretty much the same time.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

The Spanish Flat has been sold, hoorah!

We got a bit depressed about the Spanish flat last September because the kitchen was looking really rather tired, and the letting agency were complaining that the place smelled of damp.  The agency staff were convinced the smell emanated from the carpets in the bedrooms and wanted us to tear them up and replace with marble tiles to match the rest of the place, a snip at 2,800€.

After a bit of indecision, we put the place on the market in January, but the sales staff also had problems with the smell of damp, which we were unable to trace.  Anyhow, in February we had an offer, and I'm delighted to be able to report that the sale has now been completed.

And apparently they're really nice people, so I hope they like the place as much as we have done over the years.  They're expecting to spend quite a bit upgrading the kitchen and bathrooms, which will really transform the place, so fingers crossed on their behalf.

I went out on Monday of last week for a couple of nights to collect a few personal effects, meet the sales staff and say goodbye to the chairman of the community that administers the flats, which all went fairly smoothly.  I've raved about Southend airport before, and the only downer was that the return flight meant I only got home at 00.30 on Thursday morning.  Still, that's not the end of the world.

An Innovative Shepherds' Pie

When we got back from Scotland, after a fairly tough drive with lots of snow flurries and dense spray in places, a bit of comfort food seemed to be the order of the day, so we made a shepherds' pie using some lamb and mixed root veg we'd brought away from the previous night's pub dinner, and it really turned out to be special.

First, the vegetables consisted of potato, carrot, parsnip and turnip, which we mashed roughly before mixing with more mashed potato to make the topping.  The turnip especially, was key in this.

Then the other thing we did differently from normal was to put in a teaspoonful of medium curry powder.  Not enough to make it into a curried filling for the pie, but just enough so you knew she'd done it. 

I have to say, it was brilliant, and we'll be doing that again, though possibly not every single time!

Fieldwork in the Borders Region

A couple of weeks ago, Jenny and I went up to the Borders Region to do some more fieldwork in connection with her project.  Also with us were her colleagues, Ket and Tim.  Tim had chosen that week for its lowest tides, exposing the maximum amount of the rock beds we are interested in, but we knew before going up there it was going to be cold, with predictions of snow and easterly winds, so we packed our thermals and I left the wet suit at home.

Tim had booked us a self-catering cottage a little west of Berwick upon Tweed and that proved very comfortable and quite convenient for the various localities we planned to visit, but not all went to plan.

As expected, it was very cold, made worse by the stiff easterly wind, and we had snow flurries every day.  Worse, however, was the low pressure weather system and the on-shore wind, which combined to stop the sea receding anything like as far as we had hoped, and preventing us from getting anywhere near some of the critical beds.  We just cursed and picked away at the edges.

Sarah Davies and Janet Sherwin came up from Leicester so that Tim could show them the rocks in Coquetdale, which will form the basis of Janet's MPhil, which she will start in October, I think.  Dave Millward from the BGS in Edinburgh came down for the day and drove them in a BGS 4x4 as I think some of the places they went would have been tricky in an ordinary car.  Jenny, Ket and I looked at the snow blowing past our cottage and decided that discretion was the better part of valour.  We stayed put!  We would probably have frozen on the foreshore at Burnmouth, but the rest of them had quite a nice day in Coquetdale as the valley sheltered them from the wind.

One thing I found very frustrating about one of the beds we could get to was that we could not relate the photographs I took in October to what we could see on the ground this time.  I'd not included enough of the surrounding rocks in each photograph, so although I had been able to put together a composite photograph showing the bed, with arrows indicating where the various fossils had come from, it was impossible to align this properly with the rocks on the foreshore. This was particularly tough because almost all the bones we've found have been disarticulated, apart from a section of fin, but we can't pin down where exactly the fin came from!  And it's all my fault for not including enough landmarks in my photographs.

Dave Millward came down again from Edinburgh on Friday to show us the site where the borehole will be drilled.  The farmer has cleared an area of concrete which he will be tearing up some time soon in order to erect a new barn, so he has no problems with our using the platform for the drilling rig for the next few weeks, and the borehole contractors are happy because they don't have to do anything much to prepare the site.

By the end of the week we really hadn't achieved very much, but given the amount of grief other parts of the country were getting from deep snow drifts, we were just grateful to get home uneventfully on Saturday!

So here's a picture of an interesting rock we found on the foreshore at Burnmouth.  Don't know anything about it, but thought it looked interesting.  We call it the Helmet.  It's about a metre high.