Archive for the Cardiff Category

REF 2021 Results and Ranking

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff with tags , , , on May 12, 2022 by telescoper

The results of the UK’s Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 have now been published. You can find them all here at the REF’s own website because they are presented there in a much more informative way than the half-baked “rankings” favoured by, e.g., The Times Higher.

To give some background: the overall REF score for a Unit of Assessment (UoA; usually a Department or School) is obtained by adding three different components: outputs (quality of research papers); impact (referring to the impact beyond academia); and environment (which measures such things as grant income, numbers of PhD students and general infrastructure). Scores are assigned to these categories, e.g. for submitted outputs on a scale of 4* (world-leading), 3* (internationally excellent), 2* (internationally recognized), 1* (nationally recognized) and unclassified. Similar star ratings are applied to the impact and environment. These are weighted at 60%, 25% and 15% respectively in the current incarnation of REF.

You can find further discussion of the REF submission rules, especially concerning changes with respect to 2014, here.

The way the star ratings are often reported is via a Grade Point Average reflecting the percentage of in each band. A hypothetical UoA that scored 100% in the top category would have a GPA of 4.0, for example. One that had 50% 4* and 50* 3* would be 3.5, and so on.

In the 2014 REF institutions were allowed to be selective in the number of staff submitted so the GPA wasn’t really a very appropriate measure: some institutions chose to submit only their very best research in order to get a high GPA. The funding allocated as a result of REF turned out to be highly weighted towards 4* so this was a sensible strategy for them, but it made the simple GPA-based rankings even more meaningless than usual. That didn’t stop e.g. The Times Higher making such rankings though.

This time the rules on selection are stricter so the GPA is arguably more relevant, though many institutions have achieved selectivity anyway by moving certain staff onto teaching-only contracts. Staff on such contracts do not have to be submitted. I note that the main REF website does not use the GPA at all but instead gives profiles like this:

I show the example of Sussex because of my bad memories of the last REF (the 2014 exercise). I had moved to Sussex in 2013 at which point preparations were not well advanced and although everyone concerned worked very hard to put together the best submission for Physics & Astronomy we had to face the problem that our staff numbers had grown significantly in 2013 response to an increase in student numbers. While new staff could bring publications with them they couldn’t bring impact or environment, and while the outputs scored well the latter two categories didn’t so the Department of Physics & Astronomy did poorly in the ensuing rankings.

It must be said however that the primary purpose of the REF (allegedly) is to allocate blocks of funding- the so-called QR funding – to support research in the UoA concerned and while the GPA at Sussex was disappointing the fact that the money depends on the number of staff submitted meant that we got a substantial increase in QR dosh. Note further that the formula for allocation of funds to 4*, 3*, etc is not even specified in advance of the exercise: it is likely to be highly concentrated on research graded 4* and that the funding formula will probably different in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. A ranking in terms of money earned is likely to look rather different from one based on GPA.

Another, even more fundamental, problem with the GPA is that the scores are so close together that the differences are of doubtful significance. In the Physics UoA, for example, the gap between top GPA (Sheffield) and 5th place (Bristol) is just 0.05 (3.65 versus 3.60) respectively. I see also that Cardiff is ranked equal 18th (with Imperial College) on a GPA of 3.45.

I say these things just to illustrate how much more subtle the criteria for success are compared to a simple GPA. It’s even hard to tell on an objective basis who to congratulate and who to commiserate.

Anyway, back to Sussex I see that Physics & Astronomy has done far better on environment and impact than last time round and the outputs (95% of which are either 4* or 3*) are comparable to last time (96%) so by those measures they have done well although this might not be reflected in a GPA-based ranking. Sussex is 26th in the rankings with a GPA of 3.35, if you’re interested, which is better than last time, though they will probably be disappointed at the presence of 2* elements in their profile.

Indeed, looking through the Physics list I can’t see any UoA that has a lower GPA this time than last time. The pot of money to be allocated for QR funding is fixed so if every UoA does better that doesn’t mean every UoA gets more money; some institutions will no doubt find that their improved GPA is accompanied by a cut in QR funding.

I’ll end by re-iterating that, having moved to Ireland in 2017, I’m very glad to be out of the path of the bureaucratic juggernaut that is the REF. In its first incarnations (as the Research Assessment Exercise) it did fulfil a useful purpose and did, I believe, improve the quality of UK research. Since then, however, it has become an industry that is largely self-serving. I quote from an article in the Times Higher itself:

The allocation of QR funding could be done in a much simpler and fairer way but the REF is now such a huge edifice it will resist being replaced by something smaller. No doubt before long the staff who spent so much time preparing for REF 2021 will start work on the next exercise. And so it goes on.

The changes in ranking that now occur from exercise to exercise are generally small in magnitude and in number. In other words, huge effort and cost are being invested to discover less and less information.

P.S. For completeness I should say that I am glad we don’t have an equivalent of the REF here in Ireland, we don’t have an equivalent of the QR funding either. This latter is a serious problem for the sustainability of research in third-level institutions, and it is not addressed at all in the recent proposals for reform.

On Researchfish

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Maynooth, Science Politics with tags , on March 18, 2022 by telescoper

One of the things I definitely don’t miss about working in the UK university system is the dreaded Researchfish. If you’ve never heard of this bit of software, it’s intended to collect data relating to the outputs of research grants funded by the various Research Councils. That’s not an unreasonable thing to want to do, of course, but the interface is – or at least was when I last used it several years ago – extremely clunky and user-unfriendly. That meant that once a year along with other academics with research grants (in my case STFC) I had to waste hours uploading bibliometric and other data by hand. A sensible system would have harvested this automatically as it is mostly available online at various locations or allowed users simply to upload their own publication list as a file; most of us keep an up-to-date list of publications for various reasons (including vanity!) anyway. Institutions also keep track of all this stuff independently. All this duplication seems utterly pointless.

I always wondered what happened to the information I uploaded every year, which seemed to disappear without trace into the bowels of RCUK. I assume it was used for something, but mere researchers were never told to what purpose.

When I left the UK in 2018 to work full-time in Ireland, I took great pleasure in ignoring the multiple emails demanding that I do yet another Researchfish upload. The automated reminders turned into individual emails threatening that I would never again be eligible for funding if I didn’t do it, to which I eventually replied that I wouldn’t be applying for UK research grants anymore anyway so there. Eventually the emails stopped.

Now, four years later, it seems the software is no better. That’s not surprising as since everyone has to use it on threat of excommunication there is no incentive to improve it.

Yesterday I noticed on Twitter – not for the first time – an academic complaining about Researchfish. It was however the first time I saw this sinister reply from the company that runs the system:

I’m out of the UK system for good, so I can say what I think. To put it mildly I don’t think this response is at all appropriate. Researchfish would be better off trying to engage with the research community to improve its system, especially the awful user interface, than threatening the people who criticize it.

(And there are other software providers, you know…)

Update; unbelievably, with this crass “apology” they’ve made matters even worse!

Update: “ResearchfishGate” has now been covered by Research Professional and the Times Higher.

And now here’s their second attempt at an apology:

Apart from the very weird prose style, I’ve yet to see much evidence for what is claimed in the second paragraph…

Irreversible Changes

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Mental Health on February 12, 2022 by telescoper

There’s a feature on Facebook that reminds you of things you posted there on the same day in previous years. It’s often a pleasant thing to be reminded of past events involving your friends but occasionally the memories are not so nice.

Over the past few weeks Facebook has been bringing back posts that I put up a decade ago, when I was experiencing serious mental health issues that had gone on for months. I ended up in a terrible state in summer 2012, resulting in me spending some time in a psychiatric institution near Cardiff.

Some time after that I wrote a piece for Time to Change Wales from which I’ve taken the following excerpt:

I realize how stupid it was for me not to have sought professional help before. It’s only now, looking back, that I realize how ill I actually was. I had almost left it too late. I know I’m not “cured”. I’ll no doubt have to confront this problem again. But next time I know what to do.

So why did I leave it so long? Fear of the stigma, perhaps. But I suppose also pride. It can be difficult to ask for help, to admit to yourself, your friends and your colleagues that you can’t cope, especially when you’re in a job in which you feel that people “expect more” of you. Difficult, yes, but not impossible, and certainly necessary. Don’t do what I did. Life’s too short.

Although I did not enjoy at all the experience of being in a high-dependency psychiatric unit, I was lucky that I got professional help in time back then. Even more happily, in recent years I haven’t had any problems of the same severity.

I have only just come to understand, however, how far I was irreversibly diminished as a person by that episode, not only in social settings but also intellectually. My ability to concentrate has greatly deteriorated, for example, and I have far less energy. The fact that I’m also getting old – another irreversible change – hasn’t helped!

On top of all this, bridges that you burned when you were not in your right mind can’t be rebuilt, no matter how much you wish they could. You can’t hope to go back to things exactly as they were. It’s taken me a decade to realize that it this is a positive: there’s no point in being haunted by the past and dreaming about undoing things that can’t be undone. Moving on is the only way to move forward.

I don’t know if these thoughts will help anyone else who might happen to read this blog, but I hope they do.

R.I.P. Jon Davies

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, The Universe and Stuff on December 1, 2021 by telescoper

Once again I find myself having to pass on some bad news. I was shocked and saddened last night to hear of the death of former colleague at Cardiff University, astronomer Prof. Jonathan Davies (shown left).  I understand he had been ill for some time, but had preferred to keep his illness private.

Jon followed an interesting route into astronomy. He left school at 16 to become an apprentice car mechanic and did a few other jobs before deciding to study for a degree in Physics at the University of Bristol in 1986, following that up with a PhD at Cardiff University where he spent the rest of his academic career teaching and doing research in extragalactic astronomy.

Jon’s main research interests involved low surface brightness galaxies and cosmic dust which he studied using observations at a range of wavelengths, using radio and infra-red as well as optical facilities.

Jon was always helpful and supportive to other staff in the School of Physics & Astronomy, especially new arrivals. For example, when I was arrived in Cardiff in 2007 I inherited a part of a module from Jon (the “Nuclear” part of “Nuclear and Particle Physics”) and he was very helpful in getting me started on it. I remember also having interesting discussions with him about the physics of the hyperfine transition in atomic hydrogen which produces the 21cm much exploited by astronomers but for some reason not covered in much detail by many quantum mechanics texts.

Jon Davies was a fine colleague and an excellent astronomer who will be greatly missed in Cardiff and beyond. I send my heartfelt condolences to his wife Anne and their family on their loss.

 

Back to the Veggie Box

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Maynooth on September 9, 2021 by telescoper

Still life with vegetables

Since I’ve now been reunited with my kitchenware, cooking utensils and whatnot I thought I’d try to sort out a routine that enables me to eat a bit more adventurously and healthily. I’ve been a bit lazy in that regard over the last few years.

Many years ago when I lived in Nottingham I decided on a plan to increase the quantity and quality of the vegetables I was eating by ordering a weekly box  from an organic supplier. The one I picked there was called River Nene who provided very good stuff all year around. When I moved to Cardiff I had to cancel the arrangement, and I remained predominantly inorganic while I was renting a flat there. When I finally managed to buy a new house and move in, though, I looked to reestablish the regular deliveries. I was pleased to find a company called River Ford, which is kind of affiliated to River Nene, and which undertook deliveries of organic produce in the Cardiff area. I kept that up until I moved to Sussex. I did resume for a while when I returned to Cardiff in 2016 but the company changed the delivery arrangements suddenly and without telling me and I couldn’t use them anymore.

Anyway, I found a company called HarvestDay that provides a similar service here in Ireland that delivers fresh, seasonal organic vegetables direct from the farm to the customer. I decided to place a trial order to check them out before placing a regular order. The first box came this morning, delivered by a nice young man called Josh, and I am very pleased with it. Among other things there was a squash, Calabrese broccoli, spring onions and Cavolo Nero as shown in the picture.

There are several reasons why I choose to get my vegetables delivered this way.

First and foremost, organically grown vegetables fresh from the farm definitely taste far nicer than the bland varieties carried by most mainstream suppliers, including both supermarkets and local greengrocers. Once you’ve tasted how ‘carrotty’ a carrot should be you’ll never want to eat one of those supermarket ones that look too orange to be true and have no flavour at all.  This applies not just to carrots but to most vegetables: fresh organic ones are so much better.

Some supermarkets do carry organic ranges but the prices are usually astronomical, and they are often shipped in from all around the world. That brings me to the second point which is that all (or virtually all) the vegetables I get in my weekly box are grown locally. They’re correspondingly fresh and the environmental impact of bulk transportation is also lessened.

Third, the nature of the scheme is that all the vegetables are seasonal. I think it’s quite sad that people have largely lost respect for the seasons by virtue of the fact that you can get strawberries all year around in supermarkets. I think it’s good to celebrate the natural cycle of things by eating  the correct food when it happens to be ready. You wouldn’t want to have Xmas dinner every day, so why not be prepared to wait until October to eat fresh sweetcorn?  To every thing there is a season. There’s always something yummy to eat if you’re prepared to be imaginative with your cooking.

And that’s the final point.. If you place a standing order for a small box of vegetables every week, the composition varies from week to week and with the time of year. The company does email and post on its website the contents of the following week’s boxes, but I generally don’t look at it. When this sort of box arrives, it’s usually a mixture of staples plus things that are not so familiar, and often something I’ve never cooked before.  If it hadn’t been for the veggie box, I would probably never have found out about how to cook chard, romanesco, jerusalem artichokes and celeriac. I look forward to these surprises. Not knowing exactly what’s coming forces me to cook new things, and if I don’t know how to cook them there’s always google. That’s why I get vegetables this way rather than going to a shop. It forces me to be a bit less lazy.

Of course, the summer salads and lighter things have now finished and, with winter coming on, there will be more root vegetables. I think the heavier vegetables tend to put some people off a bit, but there’s enough variety to keep it fun. My practice is to eat the more perishable things first, then move onto the rest. If it looks like things are going to go off or be unused I usually chuck them into a vegetable curry, which can be frozen or eaten over several days. Spicy dishes improve with time.

Each box looks like a lot of food, but I always manage to eat most of it. I have to admit that not all my culinary experiments are successful, but more often than not I am pleasantly surprised. I tried curried beetroot a few years ago, with more than a little trepidation. It turned out to be absolutely delicious, even if I did have to ad-lib a bit with some of the ingredients. The only drawback was an unexpectedly colourful trip to the lavatory the next morning…

Remembering Charles Byrd

Posted in Art, Biographical, Cardiff with tags , , on September 4, 2021 by telescoper

Most of the belongings I’ve just had delivered to Maynooth are of sentimental rather than financial value so I suppose it was inevitable that I’d get a bit sentimental opening them up. The painting above is by a Cardiff-based Welsh artist called Charles Byrd and it was painted in 1963, the year of my birth. The story of how it came into my possession over a decade ago can be found here.

I unpacked this yesterday along with most of my other artwork but I haven’t decided where to put it yet so it’s sitting on my desk until I decide where to put it.

It was with some sadness that I found out recently that Charles Byrd passed away in 2018 at the age of 101. There’s a nice little tribute to him here. I found out reading it that in the least years of his life he lived in a little flat on Llandaff Road, very close to where I lived in Pontcanna, though I never met him, which is a shame because he seems to have been quite a character!

Rest in peace, Charles Byrd (1916-2018).

Delivery Day

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Maynooth on September 3, 2021 by telescoper

At last I have been re-united with the belongings from my Cardiff house! I have to say, though, that it nearly didn’t happen. When I booked the removal as a return load I was told delivery to my Maynooth residence would happen “sometime in the week beginning 30th August”. I was further told that I would be contacted nearer the date to confirm date and time. That second bit didn’t happen and it was a surprise to me when two guys turned up this morning with all my stuff in a 40-ft wagon; I was in the house at 9am when they arrived so they just got on with unloading my stuff. I don’t know what would have happened had I been out. It wasn’t the fault of the two blokes who came with the lorry of course. In fact they were really helpful. Probably someone in an office hadn’t done their job.

Anyway, a couple of hours later they had unloaded my possessions and I made a start at the unpacking. I managed to get most of the 20 boxes of books onto shelves and also put up most of my pictures. I’ll probably move some of them later but they’re out of the way when they’re on the wall. Having worked at this all day without a lunch break, I stopped at 6.40pm. I haven’t yet started on the kitchen things but I’m satisfied nevertheless with progress.

I should be able finish the unpacking over the weekend. The kitchen will be slow because having been accumulating dust for the best part of two years all the pots, pans, crockery and glassware will have to go through the dishwasher before I put them away. I’ll also have to disinfect the fridge/freezer too. Then I’ll have to think about what to do with all the empty boxes and waste packing materials. They can all be recycled, but there’s far too much to fit in one wheelie bin!

So here I am. just over a year since I got the keys my Maynooth residence is definitely starting to feel like home. Better late than never!

Packing Up

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Maynooth with tags , , , on August 11, 2021 by telescoper
Inventory

So here I am sitting in a virtually empty house in Cardiff, the bulk of my worldly goods now in transit to Ireland. The house seems a lot bigger with nothing in it. It also feels a bit strange to see all your possessions listed in an inventory.

The 9th and 10th of August were the first opportunities to do the removal from my Pontcanna residence, so I flew over at the weekend to be here to supervise the packing. I paid for the removals firm to do the actual packing, which was well worth the extra money. The company told me it would take two full days to pack up, which surprised me. In fact they did most of it on Monday arriving at 9.30am and departing around 3pm. Yesterday they arrived at 8.30am and were finished by 10.30am. They could easily have done it all in one day but they only had a smallish van which they filled up before leaving on Monday.

My stuff now gets stored in a container in a warehouse for a couple of weeks or so before being delivered to Maynooth by ferry. They’re doing this removal as a return load, which means waiting for a lorry to arrive to the UK from Ireland which would otherwise return empty. Taking my stuff on the return journey makes it more efficient for them and also quite a lot cheaper for me. This seemed the best option as I am not in a particular rush to receive delivery. I’ve waited a year so a couple more weeks won’t matter!

The fact they finished early yesterday got me out of an awkward situation. The powers that be scheduled three repeat examinations simultaneously at 2.30pm yesterday so I assumed I would have to be scrabbling around with my mobile phone in amongst the boxes and packing materials, which might have been awkward.

As it turned out I had plenty time to walk across Bute Park to Cardiff University where a former colleague in the School of Physics & Astronomy was kind enough to let me use an empty office and eduroam did the rest. All three papers passed without incident, and I had the added bonus of a few pints in the Flute and Tankard afterwards.

Yesterday was A-level results day so there was much talk about the new academic year. It seems Cardiff University is going to resume face-to-face teaching in September. I hope the School of Physics & Astronomy gets a good intake of first-years and that all goes well for all students and staff as they prepare to resume some form of normality. Cardiff has been very good to me over the years and I wish everyone there all the best for the future.

Incidentally I popped in to the Data Innovation Research Institute (where I used to work) while I was at the School of Physics and Astronomy, just to see if I could say hello to anyone I used to work with. The office is just over the other side of a car park from the Queen’s Buildings. I found that the folks are being relocated from the old office to a new building along with Mathematics and Computer Science up near Cathays Station. There was only one person there, packing up his stuff for removal…

Quinquennial Reflection

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Covid-19, Maynooth on July 29, 2021 by telescoper

One of the consequences of having written a blog for quite some time is that the back catalogue of posts provides reminders of significant anniversaries, and the opportunity to reflect on them. In this vein I noted that five years ago today, 29th July 2016 (a Friday), was my last day in office as Head of the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at Sussex University, a position I had held for three and a half years.

All I really remember of that last day was doing some packing and saying goodbye to some of the people I’d worked with there. I also broke down in tears twice. It’s not easy admitting defeat. Fortunately, it being summer, there were only a few people around to witness the waterworks.

I didn’t tell many people at Sussex of the main reason for my departure. There were work-related reasons – largely intense frustration with certain decisions made by Senior Management – but the main reason was that my Mam had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and her decline weighed too heavily on my mind for me to be able to function in that position. Although I think quite a few folk there feel I let them down by leaving before the end of my term, I still think it was the right decision. In fact I don’t think I really had any choice.

Incidentally, in summer 2016 there was a handover at the top of Sussex University. Michael Farthing had been V-chancellor when I arrived and he was replaced by Adam Tickell whom I met only once and only briefly before I departed. Now it seems he is stepping down after his 5-year term to become Vice-Chancellor at Birmingham University. There’ll no doubt be a new VC in post soon.

The first I knew about her final illness was at the end of 2015 when I visited Newcastle for Christmas and noticed how much her memory and behavior had changed. Shortly after that came the official diagnosis. Her condition deteriorated rapidly thereafter as dementia cruelly took hold and in 2018, being virtually completely incapacitated, she had to move into a care home. Fortunately she seemed relatively happy there. In the end it was pneumonia that took her, but at least she slipped away gently towards the end of 2019.

By leaving Sussex to go take up a part-time position, I had a notion that I might be able to help look after Mam, but I found the whole situation too painful and other things got in the way. In other words, I made excuses for myself. I wasn’t strong enough to contribute anything significant and the burden fell almost exclusively on the shoulders of others. I know I’ll never be able to put that right.

Having moved back to Cardiff it seemed my future was settled. I had a part-time position for a fixed term of three years. There was no guarantee (or indeed likelihood) of employment beyond that so I’d reconciled myself to taking early retirement in summer 2019 and disappearing into well-deserved obscurity. I fancied I might try my hand at setting crosswords to while away the time.

Then in 2017 I heard about a job opportunity at Maynooth, applied for it, and much to my surprise was offered it. I decided to accept it for reasons outlined here. I started here in December 2017, initial part-time alongside my part-time position at Cardiff. I resigned entirely from Cardiff in 2018 at which point my job here in Maynooth became full-time.

It seems no sooner I had I settled in as a full-time member of staff than I was made Head of Department of Theoretical Physics and no sooner had that happened than the Covid-19 pandemic struck. That not only increased my workload a lot (as it did for every member of staff) but made the logistics of buying a house and moving my possessions exceedingly difficult. If I’d known there was some urgency I might have been able to do it all in 2019 before the pandemic, but that didn’t happen. I did manage to buy a house in 2020 but my remaining belongings won’t be joining me from Cardiff until next month.

Despite the complications – and workload issues – I don’t regret the move to Maynooth. Whether the University feels the same is another question.

I often think the University would have been better off appointing a more junior Lecturer than a senior Professor given that so much of the workload in my current position involves teaching relatively introductory material and there is consequently very little time for research. Even less than I had at Sussex, actually. I have only published a few bits and pieces since 2017.

On the other hand, I am pleased at the steady progress being made by the Open Journal of Astrophysics and hope to have some further news on this front next month.

In summary, then, it has been a very strange five years altogether. Nothing has really gone the way I anticipated. Best laid plans and all that. The strangest thing, though, is that July 29th 2016 seems in the incredibly distant past. Perhaps that is because so many strange things have happened?

Having learnt a lesson from the last five years I’m not going to make predictions for the next five, nor even the next one! I hope we get through the pandemic sooner rather than later, and I hope the restructuring of Physics at Maynooth enables it to grow and prosper.

Back to Civilisation

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Covid-19, Cricket, GAA, Maynooth with tags , , , on July 24, 2021 by telescoper

So last night I returned safely from Cardiff to Ireland via Birmingham. Travel both ways was relatively uneventful. There can’t have been more than 30 people on the flight in either direction. I did however almost screw up the return flight by omitting to fill in the obligatory Covid-19 passenger locator form which I hadn’t realised is now online-only. I only found out that I had to do it before they would let me on the plane, resulting in a mad scramble with a poor phone connection to get it done. After a few goes and quite a bit of stress I succeeded and was allowed to board, conspicuously the last passenger to do so. We still managed to leave early though, and the short flight to Dublin – passing directly over Ynys Môn was relaxing and arrived on schedule; the immigration officer scanned my new-fangled Covid-19 vaccination certificate but wasn’t interested in the passenger locator form that caused me so much stress on departure.

I returned to Cardiff to take a bit of a break, to check up on my house and also prepare to move the rest of my belongings to Ireland. I was relieved when I got there last week that everything was basically in order, although there were lots of cobwebs and a very musty smell, which was hardly surprising since I hadn’t been there for 15 months. The inside of the fridge wasn’t a pretty sight either.

One night last week after meeting some friends for a beer in Cardiff I walked back via Pontcanna Fields and saw, much to my surprise, Camogie practice in progress in the twilight:

Camogie Practice, Pontcanna Fields, Cardiff.

The logistics of my planned removal proved a bit more complicated than I expected but eventually I cracked it and all the arrangements are now in place. I should receive delivery here in Maynooth next month. I’m doing it on the cheap as a part-load, which is why it will take a bit longer than usual.

Cleaning and packing was very hard work owing to the intense heat over the last week or so – it was regularly over 30° C – during the day, so I took quite a few siestas. My neighbours tell me it’s been much the same here in Maynooth, although it is a bit cooler today, around 20° with a very pleasant breeze.

Despite the hard work it was nice to have a change of scenery for a bit and also to meet up with some old friends from Cardiff days. Everyone has been in a state of limbo for the last 18 months or so, and although we’re not out of the woods yet there are signs of things coming back to life. When I went to Bubs in Cardiff for a drink last week it was the first time I’d been inside a pub since February 2020!

Incidentally, most people I saw observed social distancing, wore masks, etc. The rules in Wales are still fairly strict. Although open for indoor service, bars and restaurants seem to have few customers. Some people on trains to and from Birmingham didn’t wear masks. One group of unmasked and obnoxious English passengers on my return journey were loudly boasting how backwards Wales was compared to England, where the rules have relaxed despite a huge surge in cases. I moved to another carriage.

The only other thing I managed to do was attend a Royal London One-Day Cup match at Sophia Gardens between Glamorgan and Warwickshire in the baking heat of Sophia Gardens. It turned out to be a good tight game, with Glamorgan winning by 2 wickets courtesy of two consecutive boundaries. Most of the time I was sitting there in the shade I was thinking how glad I was not to be fielding in such conditions.

One thing that was very noticeable during my stay in Wales was that it was very hard to get fresh salad vegetables and the like. That may be partly due to weather-related demand or it may be due to a shortage of lorry drivers or other staff owing to Covid-19 isolation requirements and may be a consequence of Brexit. Who knows? I’ll just say that there’s been hot weather in Ireland, where the Covid-19 pandemic is also happening but there are no reports of shortages of fresh food here. I’m very much looking forward to having a nice salad with my dinner this evening.

Anyway, I suppose that’s enough rambling. At some point I’ll have to open up my email box to see what horrors lurk therein. Still can’t be worse than the fridge I opened last week. Can it?