In earlier times I didn’t like the term “bucket list”; it seems a little gloomy unless the bucket is already in sight. Thus I preferred to see such items as gaps in my current CV. Since then the coronavirus has changed this view – who knows which of us might be next? So, bucket list it is, and even without Covid restrictions I’d have difficulty making a big dent in it this summer.
Starting from my retirement in 2000, at least there are several substantial ones that I’ve already managed! Some of those have tales to them, so click on the green button to see more about them.
Those will have to wait until we can move about more freely, once more.
They say there’s a good place in Wales.
I’ve watched videos of it on YouTube and tried a good number of times – but rarely even manage to raise a visible spark. Winter is the time to try again, when we have open fires in the living room.
Google can’t seem to find anywhere that offers this.
Time to resume my search for an agent willing to take it on, after a pause to set up this website.
2001, a classic geological site in Greenland.
2012, a prize-winning orange cake.
2019, I never got around to it in my younger days!
2020, with a harness and a top rope – so much easier than the Antarctic rock faces!
2020 – and this is it, coded from scratch!
Ever since I heard of Skaergaard as a student, I wished that I could see it. This site in East Greenland is a classic example of what geologists call a layered intrusion, and in that glaciated environment it’s beautifully exposed. Molten rock, or magma, rises from deep down and forms an “intrusion” wherever it finishes up, intruded into whatever rocks are nearer to the surface. As it cools, normally it just produces a mix of different minerals, or crystal types, which is much the same throughout. Occasionally, for various reasons such as the early crystals sinking and forming a layer at the bottom, layers of different crystals can form. These are not only interesting geologically but also valuable – most of the world’s platinum is mined from layered intrusions.
After I retired in 2000 I did an internet search and was surprised to find that an opportunity to visit Skaergaard was available. There was a geological conference somewhere, and as an extra they were arranging a visit there. Better still, they were allowing outsiders to apply for tickets, to make up the numbers. I booked my place, on a ship that would sail from Iceland.
Next I learnt that one of the others, Grant Cawthorn, was arranging some excursions in Iceland with a local geologist as guide. I was one of several others who joined him, and that was a fantastic bonus to what was already shaping up as the trip of a lifetime.
In Iceland, everything is centred on volcanoes. I was a little disappointed that the routes selected to show the geology didn’t take us to any of the geysers though we did call in at the renowned Blue Lagoon for photographs and souvenirs. A distinct oddity that we did see was a cat-litter mine: whenever the owners had an order to fill, they just scooped up some of the volcanic ash making up the hillside and sent it off. And at the hotel, I had a shock when I first went to wash my face. The water, volcanically heated, smelt strongly of rotten eggs!
In Reykjavik we boarded the Grigoriy Mikheev, a repurposed Russian research ship which took us to Greenland. The cabins still had the original labels above the doors, and my rusty memory of Cyrillic characters told me that the cabin I shared with one other had originally been for the “Navigator”. Not large, but lots of storage space.
Each morning (weather permitting) we would be taken in Zodiacs, the large inflatable boats which carried a dozen passengers, to the start of the day’s hike. One of our guides always carried a rifle in case we ran into a polar bear and things got dangerous. As it was, we never even saw one – on the geological trips, that is. Once, while we were out, a few others – including the cook, the doctor and his wife – made a shorter excursion to an abandoned village and saw a young bear in the distance. They made a run for their Zodiac and got away, but for the rest of the day everyone seemed to be inventing new versions of the old joke “I don’t have to run faster than the bear, I only have to run faster than you!”.
As we had heard, the geology was beautifully exposed on the ice-scoured slopes. Often the geological details were of the type that could be clearly seen from a distance but seemed to fade away as one got closer but there were also many places where the structures were gloriously visible.
At the start we were told that, at that time, an exploration company held all mineral rights in the Skaergaard area but it was assumed that we were allowed to take samples of limited size for purely scientific purposes. To many of us, this was one of the main reasons for the trip – to collect material for research. The processes that form such layers, such as crystal settling, renewed inflow of magma, water vapour from surrounding rocks, or most likely some combination of these, are still not fully understood. There’s still plenty to investigate, especially given the economic value of such intrusions.
Another aspect of this topic came up later, when our planned route took us to one of the most photogenic examples of small-scale banding. There we saw a ragged scar where the clearest set of bands had been drilled out and sampled – by a party from a British university, we were told, a year or so earlier. Much debate followed: was it legitimate scientific research, or vandalism of a classic geological site?
During the evening as we sailed back to Iceland, two topics came to the fore. One was the impressive display of Northern Lights; people kept stepping out on to the deck for a last look before we went home to lower latitudes, or to take yet another photo. The other topic was some news, still coming in, from the United States. There seemed to have been some sort of terrorist incident; would it affect our flights home, some asked? The date was 11th September 2001, and it was not until the next day that we grasped the full magnitude of the attack on the Twin Towers in New York.
In retirement I began baking, mainly cakes, for the simple reason that I could enjoy them exactly as I wanted them. Getting confident after several years, in 2012 I entered one at a local show. It wasn’t a big event, but there were certainly a dozen or so others in that class and they were not beginners. Success, a first prize! I also entered some jelly (the seedless jam type, not the dessert served at children’s parties in my childhood) and that got Highly Commended. Alas, these days I rarely make either – the doctors told me I must cut down drastically on my sugar intake.
We didn’t actually set out to do this. Gail wanted to visit the “Scarborough Fair Collection”, a museum with lots of nostalgia displays but mainly fairground items, all in a couple of large warehouse-like buildings. Some of the rides were turned on briefly during the day, and for the first time I got to ride on a Galloping Horses roundabout at a cost of £1.
For years I’ve been wanting to try a climbing wall with top rope for safety. This year, for my birthday treat (78th) I located a good place here on Teesside. Eldest son Russell and family joined in, not just to celebrate but for the grandchildren to show me how it’s done. It seems they regularly go to a similar one in their own area.
The boys soon showed me the ropes, as it were, while Russell was our photographer. For a gentle start, Ruben led the way up the scrambling net.
Next was an intriguing climb with a transparent wall so that two people could race up and have a clear view of the opponent on the other side. My greater reach gave me an advantage over William but his eight-year old nimbleness more than made up for that. In short, he won.
The “Stairway to Heaven” was an individual challenge. I’m not sure that one or two of the highest poles were meant to wobble, but they did and it was quite disconcerting! After the series of upward steps, near the top were two going down which disrupted any rhythm I had built up.
I thought that Russell was taking photos but later I found that he had filmed the climb.