No one woke me up when September ended!

But seriously, that Green Day song has been the bane of my birthday for YEARS now. Oddly enough, no one mentioned it this year. This was finally the year I was allowed to sleep through September ending. Wild. So, what’s been happening?

Well, for starters we have a new and furry family member in our house! Her name is Ophelia and she’s the prettiest kitty in Colchester. (Significant Otter will argue the prettiest ever.) She spent the first week in our house hiding behind the sofa, and the next two only hanging out with us when we were sitting. Nowadays, she goes where she pleases and loves hanging out with us. This does lead to some comedic moments, like this morning when she accidentally fell in the laundry basket and nearly destroyed it getting out. However, she came out unscathed and came to purr on M’s legs whilst he tried to sleep a little longer.

I’ve also been on a bit of a museum binge (Surprising, I know.) recently and been to some new ones. My colleague managed to score some tickets to the Bart’s Pathology Museum, which is only open a few times a year. It’s a room filled with jars of human bits and skeletal remains. Basically, it’s disgusting and fascinating in the same go, and each jar has a little blurb of information on it, so you could easily spend a lot longer than your allocated hour there. It was originally used by the university as a teaching collection, but now the room is only ever used for exams. M says he’s sat some there and was wholly unimpressed. I loved it. Unsurprisingly, they don’t let you take close up photos of the specimens, but you can take room-wide shots. The room itself is cool just for its architecture.

Next was a staff field trip to our satellite museum in Tring. Someone described it to us before going as a Dead Zoo, and that’s actually a pretty apt description. Not in a terrible way, but I wouldn’t go if you have issues with taxidermy. It’s a small museum, but absolutely stuffed to the gills with specimens, and really helpful and friendly staff. Tring is a bit out of the way, but it’s definitely worth a stop. We got a fascinating backstage tour of the collections, and saw more eggs and bird remains in one room than I’ve probably ever seen alive in one area. They’ve got one of the best and most diverse collections for each, so if you’re researching birds, you’ll likely end up in the little town of Tring.

After a museum binge, I had two different work trips through September. First was the ToScA 2017 meeting, in which I had to give a talk on my work with the blue whale. It was only slightly terrifying, and I think it ended up okay. Over the three days, I met a load of interesting new people, learned some new tips and tricks in the tomography world, heard some cool new work going on, and got to have dinner on the HMS Warrior – the first ironclad ship built in 1860!

Towards the end of the month, I got to fly on one of the few uncanceled RyanAir flights up to Edinburgh to attend a Standing Up for Science workshop. While there, I learned all about working with the media as a scientist and how best to get work across to someone who will inherently not know what the topic is on. It was a really handy course, and I met even more cool people in varied fields with some fascinating works. It was a good month for meeting people! Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to wander Edinburgh as I’d hoped, and was on the last flight of the evening home for a weekend with the family.

Towards the end of September of course, is my birthday! I was working late on the actual day, but the Saturday morning M and I had a nice lie in and then wandered over to the nearby village of Coggeshall. It was such a cool place, with over 300 listed buildings and two National Trust sites. I spent the day blissfully looking at old things, and my beloved M came along for the ride, enjoying a scone with me in the garden of the Paycocke’s House and a pint of beer at the medieval pubs I had earmarked. We ended the adventures with dinner at one of the pubs, which had a steak so good that I think we would both gladly go back the 13 miles to have it again. The weather behaved, my gifts from everyone were fabulous, and it was all in all a really good day.

Sunday morning began October, and with it my Sober October challenge. I’ve signed up to be sober for the entire month in order to raise money for the cancer support charity Macmillan. It’s a great cause and a good reason to give up alcohol for the month. I suspect by the end of it I will be a bit healthier and Macmillan will have a bit more to put towards helping people whilst they fight cancer. I’ll be taking donations all month, alongside of sorry looking photos of me in pubs with friends and a soft drink in my hand, so if you feel charitable, donate a pint’s worth to the cause. 🙂

And most recently, there was the car wreck outside of the Natural History Museum that had everyone in a tizzy. Turned out to be just a really bad taxi driver, and nobody had serious injuries. I wasn’t even at work when it happened as it was on a Saturday, and got woken up from a nap with my phone blowing up to ask if I’m okay. Grumpy yes, but okay. Honestly though, don’t let these things put you off coming to London. It’s a wild city with so much to offer. And if you want to see us here at the NHM, we’ve still got the Whales exhibition open where you can stand next to a flipper for a sense of perspective – and the ice rink will be opening soon!

All in all, it’s turning into a fine autumnal season. I’m looking forward to seeing what October will hold. 🙂

 

— Kate

Hidden Places: Castle Combe

Still lurking about in the Cotswolds, may I direct you to visit the little village of Castle Combe? This one is about 5 miles northwest of Chippenham, and is located in two parts. There is the narrow valley of the Bybrook River, where most of the chocolate box cottages live, and an Upper Castle Combe on higher ground where a modern motor racing circuit can be found. For today, we’ll be walking down into the lower portion.

If you’re coming in hopes of a castle, I’m afraid it’s long gone now. However, the 14th century market cross still stands, as well as two of the old village water pumps. In the same area you can also see some old stone steps near the cross that were used by horse riders to mount and dismount.

The village reached its economic height in the 15th century whilst under the guidance of Millicent, wife of Sir Stephen Le Scrope, and then Sir John Fastolf, who was the lord of the manor for nearly 50 years afterwards. The wool industry brought a lot of wealth across England, and did so in this village as well. In this case, Sir John Fastolf made a killing by supplying wool for Henry V’s war in France. Because of this business boom, most of the buildings that you can still see today are from the 15th century, with a few older buildings such as the Church of St Andrew built in the 13th century.

Castle Combe was once used for filming the musical rendition of Doctor Doolittle in 1967, and the residents became so irritated with the producers mucking about with their village that they attempted to sabotage the entire thing. Between the locals and the constant rain, the production had a rough go of it. It appears that filming shied away from the village for a few decades, but most recently it’s been seen in the movie War Horse and in an episode of Downton Abbey.

If you want to visit today, there’s a car park at the top of the hill. Be sure to bring your umbrella though, as it’s a decent enough walk and you’ll regret it otherwise. (We managed it!)  There’s a lovely inn you can stay in if you’d like a quiet weekend, and a couple of pubs to visit – of course. Apparently there used to be a little local museum, but my sources tell me that it’s been shut for a few years now. Pity! Regardless, it’s a lovely day trip, and I intend to go back sometime when we have more than a few minutes gap between rain showers.

 

— Kate

 

Hidden Places: Lacock

Everyone always goes to London when they come from America. I get it. It’s got all the big museums and attractions. I’m not saying you shouldn’t go to London. I love London. But if you want something old and beautiful and uniquely English, you need to go to the West Country to visit the little village of Lacock.

Lacock is in Wiltshire, about 3 miles away from the much larger town of Chippenham. Nearly the entire village is owned by the National Trust, and it fiercely maintains its quaint, historic appearance because of this.

IMG_5330
Pretty sure I’ve seen this in Harry Potter.

Lacock has been around since at least the time of the Domesday book, in which is was mentioned as having a population of about 175 people. There is an abbey in the village that was founded in 1232 and is frequently used for films as it is in fantastic shape. The village itself survived through the ages off the wool trade and being a crossing point for the nearby River Avon.

With the exception of the abbey, most of the houses in the village are from the 1700s. However, there is still a medieval church, a 15th century inn, and a 14th century tithe barn still standing. They’re all beautiful architecture, and it isn’t uncommon in the warmer months to find people using sites for wedding photos!

The Talbot family (of historical photography fame) have owned the village for centuries, up until 1944 when Matilda Talbot gave the estate to the National Trust. You can see the grave of Henry Fox Talbot in the Lacock village churchyard. Unlike other National Trust sites though, this is still a living estate! Lacock obviously thrives off tourism, but people live in the village and even have a small school.

Because the village is so fiercely maintained in its historic state, it makes for prime filming. Signs for businesses cannot be posted to the wall like any other town, which makes it easy to work into many different time periods and places. Among other things, you’ll have seen the village in Pride and Prejudice (1995), Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, and Downton Abbey.

All of this culminates in a gorgeous afternoon out, walking down the charming roads, having a pint in a medieval inn, and maybe even doing a bit of crafts shopping in the locally owned shops. Some of the houses will be opened during the day so you can get a feel for the interior of them, and some you can even rent for a holiday if you feel so inclined! I would definitely consider it as something slow paced to do, and a stunning base camp to go see the Neolithic attractions that Wiltshire is so well known for.

IMG_5357
Just a bit of medieval doodles. No big deal.
So if you’re looking for something off the beaten tourist path as an international visitor, I cannot recommend this place highly enough!

 

–Kate

Offbeat Objects: The Great Bed of Ware

If you’re in London and the queue for the Natural History Museum is looking a bit too manic for you, pop across the street to the V&A Museum to see an Offbeat Object that you very well might have missed otherwise, and makes for a great tale. Today’s recommendation is – the Great Bed of Ware!

IMG_4859
Human on the side for comparison.

You may be thinking, “It’s just a big bed, what’s the deal?” Well folks, let me tell you the story of this bed. It’s 3 m wide (~10 ft), so already larger than a California King sized bed (measuring in at a paltry 1.8 m / 6 ft wide). History says that it could comfortably accommodate up to three couples in it. Allegedly twenty-six butchers and their wives spend the night in it for a bet once.

And not only is it gigantic, it’s pretty old. We aren’t sure of the exact year, but it was constructed around 1590. The first mention of it in writing comes from a letter written by a travelling German prince staying in the White Hart Inn in 1596. It was already 100 years old at the time of the 26 butchers stunt! It was likely always in the town of Ware until it’s movement to the V&A in 1931. The local inns purchased it off one another over the years as an Elizabethan tourist trap, as Ware is on the road between London and Cambridge. The bed was as famous in its day as some of the more unique American road stops are, like the giant ball of twine or world’s largest chair. One could even argue it was more famous than that, as Shakespeare used it in 1601 to describe something enormous in The Twelfth Night with Sir Toby Belch describing a sheet of paper as “big enough for the Bed of Ware.”

Moving it from Ware to London proved an interesting challenge for the V&A. The bed had to be carefully dismantled and packed up over six days. In total, it weighed 1413 pounds! It took another nine days to physically move the behemoth, and then required ten strapping carriers to porter it through the museum’s corridors. Unsurprisingly, it’s not been moved from its display since – but that’s mostly because it’s been a crowd-pleaser since arrival.

IMG_4853
Once a tourist attraction, always a tourist attraction.

On its display now, you can get very close and personal with the bed. If you do, you’ll quickly notice another thing about tourist attractions that seems to withstand the test of time – graffitied initials all over the bed. Visitors have carved initials all over the wood, or applied red wax seals with their stamps on it. Not even the lion at the top of the headboard was spared the indignity of a seal to the nose. Whilst it was probably pretty tacky then, it’s fascinating to see this 400 year old graffiti and wax seals up close today.

IMG_4851
Ye olde “RB <3s EH” kind of action going on here.

A final note – this is an authentic Elizabethan bed, and although much larger than most, it gives a great idea of how people of some means would have slept. The wood is mostly bare now, but conservators have found evidence that the carvings would originally have been painted. The busy scenes around the bed would have been meant to be enjoyed and looked at for some time. The bedding is obviously more recent, but has been made with period materials and kept to look as much like a bed of the time as we understand it to be.

It’s not often one goes to see furniture on a museum visit, but I cannot recommend this one enough. Also, if you’re big into Elizabethan era things in general, you’ll find that the bed is in the middle of a bunch of artefacts from the period. Now go! Find something new and obscure to tell your friends about!

 

— Kate

Whale, Whale Whale…

So on the evening before my parents left they played an episode of Horizon on BBC Two all about the journey of Hope, the Blue Whale now stationed front and centre here at the Natural History Museum. It’s a great show, and I’m not just saying that because I showed up for about 2.5 seconds in it. Seriously, we had to frame by frame it to catch a glimpse.

IMG_5735
Look on the left Ma – I’m famous!

I’m a bit bummed that they didn’t go into more detail about the 3D scanning as it wasn’t just for the missing flipper, but I’m a totally biased opinion on the matter. Just means something for me to go more in depth on at future conferences I suppose. But seriously though, check it out. I worked alongside Lorraine, Richard, and Arianna, and the project would never have happened without them. Absolutely amazing workers, and generally lovely people to boot!

Been mostly just work/sleep/eat/repeat this week, adjusting to the new transport from house to office, but we did a bit more unpacking over the weekend. M about tried to murder a garage shelving unit, but it’s finally up now and still standing last I saw of it. There’s also a floor in the office that was hidden under the boxes. Who knew?

There was a bit of fun in the middle of last week though with the museum Summer Party! We were all issued a ticket and showed up outside to a mostly sunny evening with free food and drink, accompanied by a pseudo-Mariachi band playing some top hits of the last 25 years. If you haven’t already guessed by now, museum life is never a dull moment, and a museum party is an absolute blast. Got home comically late, but it was well worth it.

 

Gotta be honest, it’s been pretty quiet otherwise, just adjusting to the new changes in life.  Will be back next week with any exciting news, but I suspect it may be a general ‘observations on life’ post. Anyway, speak soon!

 

— Kate

The Parentals were Back!

 

Hello again! ‘Twas a lovely little holiday hiatus, but I’m back! We’re now officially moved into the new home and have had the old rental cleaned and keys returned. Perhaps I will post house photos at some point, but only when it starts to develop a state of order. Moving in and then immediately turning around and having family around, then a holiday, then going back to Commuter Life makes for a slow unpacking. But there’s definitely firm progress, and I think we have lofty ambitions to call it settled in by Thanksgiving time. Maybe.

Thankfully, the lion’s share of the kitchen, bedrooms, and bathrooms were unboxed with the help of the super in-laws. They even helped motor us around for such exciting (and necessary) purchases like curtains and curtain rails. Moving into a new house rather makes you forget how many windows a house can have, and how much window furnishing can add up really quickly! We don’t have curtains for every room still, but the living room and bedrooms are sorted, and if people want to be nosey whilst I wash things in the sink, then I suppose I’ll just have to put up with the weirdos for now.

Even with the excitement of moving into the new house, it was still equally rivalled by getting to see Mom and Dad again! They managed to fly in on Monday morning and I met them at Liverpool Street station. The future is weird, and I was able to track them down to the Uber with the Find My Friends app on my phone. Handy, but weird. Ah, it is always so good to see them! Big hugs were exchanged and we headed out for Colchester to try and beat the rush hour chaos.

The next day while still jet lagged, Mom and Dad headed off to Cambridge to see one of Dad’s students and explore the town as I had to go to Manchester for a conference. If you’re into microscopy in any form, I’d highly recommend going to the MMC next year. From top of the line tech companies to amateur fans, it was a very educational experience and I picked up a few new ideas.

After all the dust settled, it was back into work for one more day on Wednesday and the chance to give Mom and Dad a behind the scenes tour of what’s been going on here at the museum. Below is a photo of our newly posed blue whale, Hope, in the main hall of the museum.

IMG_5443
Hope, the new emblem of the Natural History Museum!

Looking at her reassembled and mounted like that, it’s hard to believe that I have handled every one of those bones. (With help on most, mind you!) She’s now quite finished and available to the public, and I cannot recommend highly enough that you come and see her if you’re in town. She’s all of our pride and joy. 🙂

After Wednesday, my time off officially began and started with all of us having a nice long lie in. Between the jet lag and the gogogo! lifestyle of the week, it was much needed. Alas, our weary work was not quite done in terms of setting the house in order, so we put Mom and Dad to work a bit over the weekend. Mom helped with some design quandaries, and Dad performed a miracle and transformed a pile of cardboard boxes filled with IKEA products into a wardrobe, and to professionally hang up all of the curtains.

IMG_5504
Possibly the best pub garden in Tetbury.

With the house shaping up into fine form and my parents in need of a proper holiday, we headed out to the Cotswolds Monday morning to meet up with the lovely in-laws at their house. It was a thankfully mostly uneventful drive, with only a 25 minute delay on the M25, unlike the hour doozy we had last time. Mom also had a good laugh at the “Mexican” restaurant at the service station and the fact that they sold chicken wings. Not to say chicken wings aren’t enjoyed in Mexico, but are they really known for it?

We got into Tetbury in time for a quick tour of the town by the father in law, and then headed out for a delicious Italian dinner. Didn’t want to stay up too late though, as we were off to visit the Roman Baths (finally!) the next day.

If you get the chance to go, I would definitely recommend going to visit the Baths. It was everything I was hoping it would be, sans comic amounts of tourists. I suppose you can never really escape the tourists in Bath, especially in the summertime, but it does make it a bit hairy at some points in the building. Regardless though, I think we all learned something new about Bath that day!

We made it home from Bath after a quick bit of shopping after the tour, in which Mom never did find that yearly planner she was looking for. More of the English family was coming in for the evening, and we had all the fixings for a BBQ lined up. In true form, this meant that the rain began at about noon and refused to let up for the rest of the evening. Not to be dissuaded, the Significant Otter put the BBQ under a marquis and cooked everything anyway, with a fire brigade style chain of family members bringing food back and forth with minimal raindrops.

The next day the skies dried up and taunted us a bit as we were planning on being inside for most of the day. You see, we’d signed up for a brewery tour at the nearby Wadworths Brewery. Again, it was an educational experience, and it was really cool getting to see the giant open vats that they brewed some of the ales in. Also it’s been around since Victorian times, so seeing the mixture of old and new machinery and construction was really impressive. And of course, the variety of ales to try at the end of the tour wasn’t half bad either, though I think Mom may argue the best part was getting to meet the brewery horses. Wadworths is one of the last companies to still bring all the beer kegs within a 2 mile radius to the pubs by horse and cart!

IMG_5654
Not pictured – the gleeful fathers ready to learn about (and drink) all the brews.

On the way back from the brewery, M and I decided on a little pit stop for my parents as the weather was continuing to behave and stopped off at the village of Avebury. I was surprised to hear that even though my Dad had lived in England as a kid, he’d never gotten to see the stone circle around Avebury, so I really wanted them to go. I’m glad we did, as it seemed like they had a really good time. Dad got to enjoy walking around the circle and being able to touch (and sit!) on the massive stones, and Mom got to pet almost every dog there. Even M got some ice cream out of it and seemed pleased with the result.

IMG_5706
Some of the smaller stones, looking majestic in the sunlight.

All good things must come to an end though, and seemingly out of nowhere it was soon time to take Mom and Dad back to the airport. We all spent the night at the hotel outside of Heathrow and had to send them on their way in the morning after a massive cooked breakfast. 😦 Overall though, it was fantastic to see them both again, and I hope we gave them a good trip! Looks like it’s our turn to go out to America next year then. 🙂

I suppose this means back to unpacking and behaving like some kind of adult again then eh?

Speak soon!

 

— Kate

Nearly There, Just Missing a Few Boxes.

It has been quite the eventful week! GP visits, packing, paperwork, and really sweaty trains! Where do I begin?

Let’s start with the exciting bit – the house inspection passed and we are officially getting the keys handed over on Friday! We had a rather extensive tour of all the inner working of the house, and learned some cool new facts along the way. I don’t know when I got to the point in life that smooth closing cabinets in the kitchen and built in hair catchers in showers became cool, but it happened at some point. After being taught how radiators work and what not to put down toilets, as well as the useful bits and bobs, we’ve signed off on what will hopefully be some of the last few bits of paperwork before we can move in! Well, ignoring the fact we’ve had to hire movers to get there. That’ll be another 3 forms at least.

Ahh, it was amazing seeing the place at 99% complete! Because I’m a nerd and have nothing better to do on public transport, I even made a little before and after photos between when we last saw the interior in May to now.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Being so close to completion means it was also a week of frantic packing. Unfortunately, that’s where the GP visits cropped up. I’d been poorly on and off all week and didn’t get much sleep. Poor M had to pick up the slack and pack singlehandedly during the workweek, on top of doing his normal 48 hour a week job as well as cart me around for doctor visits. Honestly, I married a saint of a man.

Whatever it is that’s afflicting me, it was mostly contained over the weekend and I managed to get a hefty portion of the house packed whilst M was working the night shift at the hospital. It was a grand team effort, with him building boxes in the evenings before work and me filling them all up while he was asleep. It’s this time of year when we pack up to move every year that I (secretly him as well, a little) contemplate a severely minimalist lifestyle that doesn’t involve ALWAYS having to buy new packing boxes. Honestly, I don’t know if they’re dying at an alarming rate or if our stuff is expanding, or both. It always seems to be a different size that’s gone missing each year too. Moving is fun like that.

As this will hopefully be the last move for awhile, we’re getting movers to help successfully transport everything to the new house without completely scuffing the walls up. I will be eternally grateful to them for moving all the heavy bits in the middle of the summer, especially if the weather decides to give us a heatwave again.

And about that HEAT. Britain is not an island meant for weather above about 27° C. And it hit 33° C this last week. The trains literally started melting the tracks. They were actually buckling. Greater Anglia tried to work with this by moving trains really slowly across them and not running as many trains in general. Of course, the trains they did run were the mostly older stock which have little vent windows and no A/C. How many trains had further delays caused by passengers passing out in the heat inside the carriages is beyond me, but they intentionally cancelled 47 train journeys on the hottest day. This led to some great British sarcasm at work:

DC0ygABW0AAO1eE

At one point Greater Anglia even put up a picture post on their Twitter account (now deleted) with bullet points on how to beat the heat and all that with tips about drinking water and only pulling the emergency handle at the stations. The best tip though? I swear to god they had put on there “Decide if you really need to use the train today.” Yes, because I’m sure loads of London commuters can just call in to work to say it’s too hot. We’ll all take the bus. Honestly.

Thankfully, the lab has been a blissful 22° C for the last two weeks, so I can even enjoy a hot cup of tea in the dead of summer. Unfortunately, I’ve been limited to only one cup a day for two weeks by the GP to settle out the whole upset body dilemma. The first three days I had a raging headache and wanted to sleep on my desk, but it seems to be getting better now. I might even (*cue shock and horror*) consider keeping my caffeine intake lower after all of this. I’m really feeling like I have more overall energy, and I don’t have the constant desire to snack on things. Meh, we’ll see how it all plays out!

What else has happened over the week? Got to walk through the staff portion of a hospital, got my annual dental check up (no cavities!), accidentally walked outside and witnessed the Chelmsford Naked Bike Ride in full swing, and managed to finally kill our shower and am having to revert to baths for the week. Let’s be real – if the letting agency knows we’re moving out Saturday, what are the chances of the shower being fixed before then? In the meantime if you need me, I’ll be hanging out with Rubber Ducky.

Man, it’s going to be a hectic next few weeks, but all filled with very lovely things. After this week we move, then the next week my parents come to visit, then the week after we’ll be taking them down to Tetbury so all the parentals can see each other and enjoy the English countryside. I will attempt to keep up, but I make no promises!

So far, this week is off to a good start, and maybe we’ll even have all of our packing done in time for this move! Wish us luck for the relocation, and I’ll talk to y’all next week! 🙂

 

— Kate

anatomy of a cup of tea