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

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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

Hello from the trains!

Let me just get it out there and say that I will not be delving into British politics this week, even with everything going on. Not with a ten foot pole. There are many other bloggers and reporters who have laid it out for those not in the UK, and I would direct you there instead. Seriously, it’ll do my head in otherwise. The only thing I will say is that as an American, I am not allowed to vote. Even though I live here, I can only exercise that right if I become a citizen when eligible in the next 3.5 years. If I were a Canadian or an Australian I could, but apparently if your country left the Motherland like a teenager running away from home and crashing the car whilst doing it, you don’t get to vote while living here.

Also, my heart aches for the latest tragedy to unfold in this beautiful country with the massive fire happening in London and now the attack on people worshipping. The people of the city were amazing as ever though, and so many donations of food, clothing, and basic necessities poured in that collection centres had to turn some of it away. Londoners may not always be the friendliest on the Tube, but they’re always there to look out for other humans in need. ❤

In brighter(ish) news – there’ll be one less reason for spam phone calls here in the UK soon! PPI – or payment protection insurance was a policy sold alongside loans that was meant to cover any loan repayments if you lost your job or got sick. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a massive con that was sold to people who didn’t need it, want it, or could even claim it. Finally, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) stepped in and said no more, and the PPI claims companies began…

Basically, you’ll get a robo-call saying that you might have been sold PPI and they’ll happily find out for you for no charge. The trouble is, these robo-calls happen ALL THE TIME. However, the end is in sight, as the FCA are ending the compensation claims in 2019. It sounds like they’ll just have to double down on the robo-calls saying that you’ve been in a car accident that wasn’t your fault. I sure hope it wasn’t, as I don’t drive!

I mean, I have a US license, but until I get my act together and take the driving test here, I am permanently riding shotgun in the car. But that’s okay, as I’ve become a slave to the train lines. Ah, the things you do for London. Or to not have to live IN London.

Currently from Chelmsford, I’m commuting about an hour and a half to get to work. Mind you, that’s from my front door to the door of my office. And it varies wildly. Some days I can catch the right train from the station, then hop immediately on to the Underground, then arrive at work in just an hour. A perfect run is a rare beast though. There’s usually a little wait time for different bits of the journey, but that’s to be expected when you’re using multiple forms of public transport.

And before you tell me that’s still a crazy long commute, keep in mind that I’m not driving anything. I routinely have my morning cup of tea, do my makeup, and catch up on the news (or snooze) on the way in. The only real trouble is my commuter rage that flares up on occasion. Mostly on the Tube. Honestly, 90% of the irritants are people standing places they shouldn’t, be it someone standing in the middle of the carriage and not moving in so we can all fit on, or someone standing in the middle of the queue to the ticket barriers so we can’t get out of the station. Basically, for the love of all that is holy, please move away from the centre of everything when using transport in London. Oh, and for heaven’s sake don’t put your bag on a seat. You’re a monster. Put it on your lap or the floor like a civilised human and let another weary worker sit down.

Anyway, best to leave it there before the bitter commuter rage engulfs my soul. Time to think of brighter things, like the glorious sunny weather we’ve been having, or that we’re inching ever closer to moving to Colchester! It sounds like all of the I’s have been dotted and the T’s crossed in terms of actual building, and they’ve booked us in to do a final inspection tour this Friday now that the site inspector has given it his clearance. After that, it’s going to be released to us to move in on 30 June! This is going to mean some rather hasty packing soon. Will be sure to keep you updated!

 

— Kate

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The commuting spirit animal.

 

Museum Job! (Autumn 2016)

So that great news I was hinting about last post? Well, after a few months of job hunting and a few interviews that followed, I was offered work at the Natural History Museum in London! Not only was I getting to use my degree, but I was also going back to being able to do 3D surface scanning like I did at my last museum!

I’ve been steady at work on a few different projects, some of which should hopefully be going live in the next few weeks so I can tell you all about them. All I can say for now though is that I am working in an amazing place with fantastic people, and that I have a really, really cool job. Honestly, the commute is worth it to do the things I get to do every day. 🙂

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My home away from home!

— Kate

Christmastime in Kensington (Winter 2015)

So at this time I wasn’t working and the significant otter was due at a multi-day conference in London. It therefore stood to reason that if he was going to need to rent a hotel room for a night that I might as well come crash and have a wander whilst he was at work. He was centred around Westminster, but we ended up finding a nice place near Kensington, so I took it as a sign to go see a few of the things I’d been meaning to there.

I decided to try and skip the crowds and go to Kensington Palace first. Had a brisk walk across Kensington Gardens and right to the building itself. I have to be honest, it doesn’t look particularly palatial to me, but nice enough. Pretty majestic statue of Queen Victoria near the entrance to be certain.

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Kensington Palace may best be known for Queen Victoria, as she spent most of her childhood in it under a strict regime put in place by her mother. Though they’ve turned it into a beautiful museum area based on her entire lifetime, it was said that Victoria never really went back to the palace after she became queen. Regardless, it’s highly recommended to see if you’re a Victoria fan, especially after the recent show Victoria has aired. It’s a very intimate look at her personal and regal lives. I regret that I don’t have many photos from the exhibit, but they’ve got a lot of dark lighting for conservation purposes. Plus I was really just enjoying the experience of it all.

Of course, the palace wasn’t just built for Victoria. It was originally merely a Jacobean mansion built in the early 17th century by the First Earl of Nottingham and thusly called Nottingham House. It was when the joint monarchs William and Mary began to look for a healthier location to live for the unwell William that it was purchased and transformed into Kensington Palace. Sir Christopher Wren (the same architect who designed and built St Paul’s Cathedral) was put in charge of its expansion. In order to save on money and time, he kept the original mansion unchanged and added pavilion extensions at each of the corners. For the next 70 years, Kensington Palace was the favourite palace of residence for British monarchy. However, King George II allowed the palace to fall into disrepair after the death of his wife. After his death, the ascending King George III left the palace and it was only used for minor royalty after.

Next of course, were the Kensington Gardens. I had darted through them earlier through a chilly fog, but it has since lifted and exposed a lovely winter scene. Closer to the palace is the Sunken Garden, which was actually only planted in 1908. It was modelled on a similar garden at Hampton Court Palace downriver and follows 18th century ideals of gardening.

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Next was a walk through the wider gardens. Being December, the flowers were all gone, but it has a mystical feel about it, which is something to be admired in a garden in the centre of London. Be brave with any snacks you might eat here though, as the squirrels are so fearless that they have signs warning you of them. They’ll walk right up to you. This is a more recent phenomena, as through the Palace’s heyday the gardens were closed to the public except for Saturdays. Even then, only the ‘respectably dressed’ could come in. If you walk the gardens now, I can assure you that this is no longer enforced. Regardless of dress code, Kensington Gardens are well worth an afternoon stroll and you’ll have plenty of room to do so with over 240 acres! It was originally part of Hyde Park and is still right next to it, so one can easily cross between the two and not realise straight away.

At the edge of the parks if you’re heading towards the museums, you can’t miss the Albert Memorial across from the Royal Albert Hall. It was commissioned by Queen Victoria in memory of Prince Albert after his death in 1861. It was officially completed in 1875 and cost £120,000 at the time (approximately £10 million today). It is 176 feet tall and took over ten years to complete. It had fallen into disrepair over the century and in the late 1990s work began to restore the monument to its former glory. For 80 years the statue had been covered in black paint, which theories believe may have been an atmospheric pollution that destroyed the original gold leaf surface. Following the restoration, it is now recovered in new gold leaf.

 

Finally, finishing the Victorian tour I had accidentally set myself on, I went to see the Victoria & Albert Museum, just south of the gardens. The V&A is the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and designs from around the world and throughout 5,000 years of history. Normally I’m not a huge fan of art museums, but I will always make an exception for the V&A. It is just phenomenal. It was founded in 1852 and is (obviously) named after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The region it’s in has been coined as “Albertopolis” because of so many things in the region being associated with the Prince. Again, I didn’t take as many photos as I would have liked, but I was enjoying myself far too much. I’ll have to take more photos to share later.

 

After all this, I was exhausted and quite pleased to find my sweetheart and plop down in a pub. Managed a record pedometer tracking of 11.8 miles in the day. I perhaps wouldn’t recommend doing all of this in one go like I did unless you’ve got really good footwear and a good night’s sleep, but it was a really good day!

— Kate