Wales: A Camping Calamity

Wales is a country where it rains roughly 98.73% of the time. I know this not only because I have a bachelor’s degree in geography, but also because I have attempted to go camping there on several different occasions throughout my life.

I’ve chosen the word ‘attempt’ for a reason.

While the country is stunningly beautiful, there really is little variation in the weather. It’s not one of those adventuring experiences where a few minor things go wrong and you’re forced to band together, talk about ‘Band of Brothers’, and ramble on through despite it all. Maybe break out the fire-lighters instead of the hand crafted ‘bow and string’ method. No amount of ‘stiff upper lip’ positivity is going to dry your socks out for the 17th time when you are essentially sat in a lake the size of a country. That you paid to get into.

Despite this wealth of knowledge, a group of friends and I decided to go back and attempt to camp there again. Pat and Pete – the punk liberal intelligentcia – were always up for some sort of foray into, or with, nature. They were the sort who, in the words of Stewart Lee, would go anarcho-punk orienteering: they had the boundaries marked out on the maps but they would cross them out and make a spud cannon instead. Then there was Kim, the rational and calm cornerstone to our quartet. She’d seen every antic we could pull, and was somehow both positive and caring when we’d come back to base camp having lost a fight with a pine tree.

If we were playing a role playing game you would have sighed at the dungeon master and asked for a better party.

So why did you bother go back then, you ask?

Did we want to practice our survival skills? Perhaps overcome previous barriers and become more developed individuals? No…

We went back because they had built a trampoline.

…A really big one.

Bounce_Below__Llec_3307609b
I told you it was big. ‘Bounce Below’ image by @alamy

Not only was it a really big trampoline, it was also built in a giant abandoned mineshaft underground*. This gave the impression of bouncing up and down several hundred feet in the air while in an eerily-lit cavern. As we were (and still are) dirt poor we decided that we would have to brave camping again. We would also drive because a majority of the countryside is inaccessible to anything other than small cars, bikes, or putting saddles on the local sheep**.  We would backpack between campsites over several days and have some hiking adventures along the way***.

Blue Lagoon at sunsetAbereiddi Pembrokeshire South Coastal Scenery
One of the places we hiked to during our trip, looking suspiciously dry and serene. Photo by @bluestonewales.

The road trip began well. We set off from a sunny Southampton in high spirits. Driving to Wales took several enjoyable hours where we passed the time by singing along to music and joking around. Once in Wales there was another couple of hours of driving to do before reaching our first campsite…And then another couple of hours…After yet another hour we were beginning to distrust the SatNav. It didn’t matter which celebrity voice actor read out the directions, they all translated to ‘fucking lost’.

By now the light was fading, and the weather was getting worse. The rain had intensified and the single track roads we were carving down in Pete’s tiny car were beginning to fill with mud. Still, the SatNav insisted we were going the right way****. We pressed on into the night, each looking up different routes and attempting to locate ourselves. Meanwhile, it had become apparent that the thrashing rain wasn’t the usual, totally normal thrashing Welsh rain we were used to: it was definitely part of a storm. Still, we kept trundling through the countryside, listening to the wind whistling against the dinky car and the distant rumble of thunder on the horizon.

Eventually we stumbled across a few blurry buildings in some fields far away. These had to be the basis of the campsite we theorised, because fuck all else would be built out here (unless, of course, you have seen the film ‘Dog Soldiers’). We carefully made our way to the buildings… but there was no sign of any other tents. Or indeed, anything you would even vaguely associate with camping. Just some empty fields and some outhouses.

Polite SatNav Brian Cox was in the back of our minds, meekly chiming in ‘fucking lost’.

But, the old wooden sign on the way down the track had definitely mentioned the name of the campsite. By now it was late and the storm was raging around us. We made the choice to pick a spot in a field where it was relatively protected from the worst of the weather. In gale force winds we tried – and failed – to pitch the tent several times. We had to use the car beams as our only source of light in the pitch black fields of rural Wales, which meant that every task had to be done in front of the blinding, retina-searing headlights. Add to this the maelstrom of noise from shouting survival instructions at one another and  the storm itself, drenched clothing and freezing hands and you have an episode of Ray Mears ‘Extreme Survival’ right there.

Finally, we made a camp.Soaked and utterly exhausted after our saga we crashed with the tent billowing wildly around us. But it didn’t matter. We had somewhere relatively warm and out of the rain that was big enough for all four of us to sleep in. The question of where we were faded to the back of our minds as sleep enveloped us in a cosy embrace.

We awoke to the sound of clicking.

But, at least that meant that the storm had blown out. For a while we listened, wondering what it could be. Wildlife perhaps, a woodpecker? Before we could get any real grasp of it it stopped, and countryside became silent once again.

That was.. Odd.

Fairly quickly the previous night’s ordeal came back to us. Storm. Rain. Lost. Tent… where were we?

Our trail of thought was shattered by the impact of something hard and round to the side of the tent – BOING! – it rolled off back into the field.

We jumped up, confused and alarmed. Rushing to pull some boots on we were targeted again – BLAM!

The fuck!?

We signalled at one another to, one by one, get out of the tent entrance and investigate. SatNav Brian Cox calmly chimed in the back of our thoughts ‘probably fucking dog soldiers’.

Patrick darted out first, with Pete close on his heels. Kim and I paused, listening to what was happening. To our alarm we heard nothing. What had they seen? Why hadn’t they shouted back that it was something ordinary? Was SatNav Brian Cox right?

Then we heard a whistle. The pounding of many feet on the sodden ground. The noise of something… coming.

We looked at one another and raced out of the tent entrance after Patrick and Pete…

… and found them stood motionless several metres in front of the tent… where they began laughing.

It turned out that we were in fact mostly correct about our location. The collection of outhouses and buildings were indeed part of the campsite where the information cabin was located. It also transpired that the reason we couldn’t actually see any other evidence of the other campers was because the allocated fields, you know where people actually fucking camp, were on the other side of the buildings and clearly marked by a fuck-off-large sign that said ‘CAMPING THIS WAY’. So where on earth did we manage to camp, then?

We had instead managed to pitch our tent slap bang in the middle of a goddamn football pitch.

A football pitch in which there were various groups of youths running around and pelting footballs at one another as part of an adventure weekend for teenagers.  

We sheepishly looked around at one another observing a muddy remake of the ‘Battle of Britain: Football Edition’ unfold around us. After one of the ricochet balls set off the car alarm we decided that we didn’t have the troops to hold position and so we rapidly packed up camp and stopped by the information cabin to apologise. When we entered we found an elderly Welsh chap with a rue smile, who winked at us and said ‘Nice spot you found there, I hope you slept well’. Being British we immediately apologised profusely and offered to pay him extra for causing disruption to the youths planned activities. He chuckled, and said “Don’t worry ‘bout it, I’ve gotten my payment in another way!”

We stared back at him, puzzled.

He showed us the series of pictures he had click-click-clicked of our tent in the middle of the pitch, surrounded by excited and energetic youths hurling footballs at one another, with our half-damp and utterly confused selves pondering how on earth we had gotten there.

“Don’t you youngun’s worry, I’ll print this out and put it right on the wall here, so any camper can look at you lot and learn a valuable lesson”.

And so in this mis-adventure we learnt that camping in Wales has many layers. You must be hardy, seasoned to damp weather, and have back up map-reading resources once it becomes obvious that SatNa Brian Cox is a fucking liar even if he does sound politely and genuinely concerned about your welfare. In Wales the least of your problems is the weather, the biggest? Well, that would be yourselves.

1335263327_Coastal walkers
While this is what we had hoped to look like gallantly striding around the Welsh landscape, we definitely looked drenched, cold and tired of standing in rabbit droppings. A better photo from @welshrarebit

 

*Honestly, as soon as we saw the advert for this place we knew we were willing to brave any and all weather to go there, like the giant adult children we are.

 

** While this prepollent approach appealed to the punk brothers, level-head Kim reminded them of the last time they tried to ‘harness nature’ and were left wrapped around a tree in several inches of mud after underestimating a mountain-bike route.

 

***Topped off by the adventure where we went to the British equivalent of the Blue Lagoon – a place on the coast where an ancient mine shaft had collapsed and so the sea had filled it, protecting it from the tides and creating a serene pool. Pete dived into this with his GoPro and lost it at the bottom of the lagoon. So, if you ever want a free GoPro feel free to try and dive to the bottom: there is a buttload of stuff down there.

 

****In fairness, SatNav Brian Cox was right. But, a good rule of thumb is only ever to trust it to an accuracy of about 1 square mile, lest ye repeat the infamous stuck-in-the-marsh incident of 2014.

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How to tell that you are too tired to be doing academic work

 

  • You had to spend 10 minutes convincing yourself not to change the title of the paper that you are writing to be a bendy, flaming, rainbow-coloured Microsoft word 2000 art title.
  • Finding colleagues in the lab and saying “I know i haven’t finished this coffee yet… but do you want to go for a coffee?”
  • You’ve used the same verb five times in a single sentence.
  • Proof reading entails reading just one paragraph 10-12 times, thinking that that it is the entire document.

See-Saw

The triplets have had a see-saw in their back garden for as a long as I’ve lived in the house next door. They have a lot of toys really, but most of the other ones they play with are designed for individual use. I suppose this is because three-year-olds readily fight one another over the colour of snot, so there is no sense in putting a shared toy into the middle of that.

In my time as their neighbour I have only seen them use the see-saw once, and it was a complete disaster. In hindsight, I have broken the components of why it was a disaster into handy steps for future use. I feel these should probably be incorporated into the small print of any kind of shared garden-based kids toy.

  1. Do not put the see-saw on top of an elevated wooden platform. Sure, I understand that you may want your garden to look nice and have an area for BBQ’s, but seriously a see-saw doesn’t belong on it. It belongs on something soft which has been heavily screwed down onto.
  2. Do not put the see-saw in the corner of said wooden platform, where one seat backs onto the hard, brick garden wall. This will almost certainly cause whoever is sat on that seat to repeatedly hit the wall.
  3. Do not use the see-saw in the rain. Just, do not. No.
  4. Has it been raining? If the answer to this is anything other than “absolutely fucking not” then do not use the see-saw.
  5. Do not provide two seats for a brood of three kids. This is never going to work. In the long sad history of bad ideas, this is the worst. Especially when the three kids in question are the hell-spawn.

“The Bike Phenomenon”

I strongly believe that, as someone who is forced to endure whatever the latest toddler fad the neighbours have been obsessed with, I should get a say in whether they are allowed to be bought their own copies of said fad.

They have been through a few fads in their short and chaotic lives: space hoppers, skipping ropes, little green squidgy balls (which probably have a name but I am too old to know what it is). Of the three, the latter caused the most damage to the triplets. It turns out you can really hurl a small squidgy ball in a garden enclosed by walls and fences, and you will probably hit everyone including yourself thanks to the power of physics*.

Bikes have been a popular fad for children basically since time began. They’re right up there with fire, sliced bread and Furby’s. For the triplets however, bikes are literally the most intoxicating and magical things in their existence. We quite often encounter the triplets being herded into their car (which is usually parked outside the front of their garage) while we are either returning to or leaving our own garage. This is because we have a garage full of bikes which are used to go places. It is sort of the primary use for a bike.

The proximity of our bikes to the hell-spawn has resulted in some odd phenomena, ‘the bike phenomenon’.

Stage one of the bike phenomenon begins with slow, quiet jabbering among themselves. This occurs in the early minutes of first seeing the bike and knowing that it is there and that it exists on this mortal plane. Presumably the jabbering aims to inform the others of the change in events, so that they may all move on to the next stages in unison.

Stage two follows once enough primary jabbering has been achieved. By now they all know that there is a real-life bike nearby and it almost certainly exists and is bigger than them. It might even be red. This is where they begin the bike chant: they each start saying the word ‘bike’ quietly and repeatedly, while exchanging looks with one another, and then back to the bike.

Bike, bike, bike

Stage three begins when enough excitement has been generated by the bike chant. This is apparent by the increase in volume of the bike chant. A bike is here, and that is fucking exciting. They are convinced that they have never seen a bike before, despite the fact that they almost certainly see one nearly every week.

BIKE, BIKE BIKE…

The ultimate phase of the bike phenomenon happens when the sheer exhilaration of the bike becomes too much for mere mortals to bear. They simply must be as near as possible to the bike, and/or touch it, to glean its magical powers. As one they will begin to shuffle towards the bike from all directions. This makes it incredibly hard for us to go about our business (opening the garage and stowing the bike away). As they close in their chant morphs into the phrase ‘Big bike. It’s a big bike’, as if they had little to no spatial perception of the dimensions of the bike before they came within close proximity.

Thus, it becomes a race against time to get the bike into the garage, and to shut the door as quickly as possible. The mounting unease which is generated by unison chanting is disconcerting, and frankly, odd. As is their sheer wonder at a bike – which they see a lot. I suppose it’s good for them to be excited by something other than hitting one another, but I can’t help but wonder whether its healthy.

 

*I would like to mention that at no point did they stop to consider the physics behind that particular situation – they just kept lobbing the squidgy balls at high speeds around the garden while simultaneously crying. Much like the space hoppers, really.

The Three B’s: Bells, Birthdays and Bikes

This morning I was awoken by such a cacophony of bells it could only be attributed to the hunch-back of Notre Damme on crack.

I had had several extremely long weeks of work – the kind where sleep is lacking – and had been looking forward to having a morning off. Predictably this was snatched away from me by the neighbour’s triplets.

The intense ringing was high pitched, grating, and my fucking god was it tenacious. I laid in bed for a while wondering if it was even worth finding out what new toy they had, for surely sooner or later it would penetrate my life and I would come to resent it more and more each day. After 20 minutes of bell-ringing had gone by, showing no signs of stopping, I decided to get up and take a look.

I was horrified to find my predictions had come true. Someone had bought the triplets their very own bikes, equipped with bells. Individual bells.

Loud, individual bells.

As far as I could tell it was their birthday. This was tenuous link to make, as all I had to go on was some smeared icing across Thrasher’s face, a bedraggled grandparent in the corner of the garden, and a giant deflated balloon which had been burst and now remained slumped on the floor while the kids ran over it in their new death machines.

The only consolation was the fact that all of the adults seemed to be having as hard of a time dealing with this new development as I was.

Each parent added their shouting to the chorus of bells, while each grandparent meekly tried to swerve out of the kids paths. It was the sort of present a distant aunt would bestow on young children; to the kids this was literally the best day of their short lives, to the adults this present would cripple them if they couldn’t find a way to dismantle and/or destroy it. Cool Aunt would remain cool whatever the outcome was.

With my intended lie-in ruined I blearily moved downstairs into the living room. This is a good tactic when there is a particularly immense amount of noise coming from the garden, as the back door leading to our garden has a conservatory which acts as a welcome extra buffer for sound. Much to my dissatisfaction, the pitch of the bells managed to ring throughout the living room, too.

I hastily dressed and headed out of the house. My entire day was preoccupied by working out potential ways to somehow remove the bikes from my life. And, so, by the time the day was over I had achieved no work, but had a lot of budding ideas.

The Characteristics of Peer Reviews

The chances are that if you are working in academia in any capacity you will have to publish your work. The old peer reviewing system employed by most conferences and journals eventually becomes familiar to you. Ingrained, almost.

Reviewer 1 – Between 100-200 characters long. minimum grammar. Little structure, if any. Probs good paper though, I liked how they had a title.

Reviewer 2 – Between 1,000-2,000 characters long. Often content written by reviewer 2 resembles an entire rant cunningly disguised as a peer review. It is imperative that their opinions on the research area are fully stated, and stated at length. Reviewer 2 tends to organise this into a single monster of a paragraph where basic grammar becomes a fleeting memory, lost in the timeless void of incandescent rage. What they lack in structure they make up for in sheer indignation.

Reviewer 3 – Between 800 – 1,000 characters long. Overly polite, reviewer 3 is simply pleased to be here. The paper was pretty cool, the research topic is pretty cool, there are probably maybe some bits that could be improved with infinite time and effort, but they realise that you probably won’t do these and instead flag up small errors to fix instead. The only one of the reviewers to focus on one point per paragraph following a chronological structure. Ends their review with “cheers”.

Regular Workplace VS. the PhD Workplace

 

Workplace Scenario

Regular Workplace

PhD Workplace

On not completing work on time…

“Sorry, I’ve been swamped with another project and HR messed up their resource allocation. I’ll get right on it.”

“Yo, I didn’t do the work because I was so depressed even a kinder bueno and sit down didn’t help.”

On having your work critiqued by a colleague…

“Interesting, why do you come to that conclusion if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Go suck a dick, Keith.”

On having a comment made about your workplace outfit…

“Oh thanks Linda, I got this top a couple of years ago but never had anything to match it with. I’m glad you like it!”

“Huh, thanks. I thought I should make an effort because I’ve literally worn my pyjama trousers for the past 9 consecutive days. You just can’t see them when I’m chained to my desk.”

On meeting a new colleague…

“Welcome to the team, it’s nice to meet you. Where did you work before? Maybe I can show you around later.”

“This is my coffee mug. If you use it I will stab you. If you move it I will stab you. If you consume coffee intended for this mug, I will stab you.”