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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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. ๐Ÿ™‚

 

— Kate

Seaside Honeymoon (January 2016)

For our honeymoon, we decided to stay in the country and enjoy the quiet Cornish seaside town of Padstow. Well, quiet in January anyway, but that’s a story for another day. It’s a long journey and at the time we didn’t have a car, so we took the chance to ride in a sleeper train all the way from London to Penzance and then get a cab across to Padstow. It was a really fun experience, but you should know that each cabin contains a bunk bed for two, so decide ahead of time who’s sleeping on the top bunk.

However, you get two places to sleep, a coat rack, some luggage space, a mirror, a window, and a washbasin with a towel and soap all behind one lockable door. We spent the first half of our evening in the lounge car watching the English countryside at night pass by whilst we sipped beverages and ate crisps. The rest we snoozed away in our bunks. We were woken at 7 with bacon sandwiches and left the train to a beautiful Cornish sunrise off the Atlantic Ocean. From there, we managed to get to Padstow and had a relatively laid back first day with a nap and a shower high on the list.

Padstow itself is now a tourist hotspot for foodies thanks to Rick Stein and his series of restaurants across town. Seriously, his fish and chips will ruin all other fried cod for you for life – it’s that good. Originally though, Padstow was an old fishing port that goes back at least as far as the Domesday Book. There are remnants of that heritage in the port tours and nautical themes of art and food around the area, but it’s mostly faded into the tourism industry these days.

We did not suffer for being in a tourist area though. Instead, we feasted like royalty and enjoyed the atmosphere of pubs around the harbour. We wandered the streets of the then-empty town as it was in off-season, then wandered out into the countryside of the Camel Estuary. It was a quiet week for just the two of us where it felt like the town was all for us. I would love to go back again in the winter months and enjoy the peace with my significant otter again sometime.

Sadly, we did have to come back to the real world on the other side of the country, but it was a wonderful week long break to have.

–Kate

 

And we come back to Thanksgiving (Autumn 2015)

Good lord, not even Thanksgiving last year, but the year before that. How embarrassing.

This would be our third Thanksgiving together, and the first with guests. The significant otter was excited to put our larger Norfolk kitchen to use at full effect. He was even preparing a vegetarian main course for one of our guests! In our house, he is definitely the cook – though I did get to make the desserts.ย (Not pictured is the pumpkin pie.)

Cupcakes and brownies and cookies, oh my!

M has taken quite a shine to Thanksgiving. I suspect this is mostly due to him getting free license to cook an absolutely massive meal full of complex recipes more than a keen desire to bring Americanism into our home. We definitely still avoid the Black Friday sales like the plague. Regardless, he had been relentlessly prepping for this day for weeks. I’m not exaggerating – WEEKS. He had a spreadsheet of foods needed, when to buy them, and when they’d go into the oven. I’m not kidding on the ‘fond of’ bit.

Finally we get to the week of Thanksgiving and it all kicks off. Because we don’t get the Thursday off in the UK (Shocking, right?), Thanksgiving is generally held on a Saturday for us. This works pretty well for frozen turkeys as the actual day of Thanksgiving is a great reminder to take the bird out to defrost if you haven’t already.

Speaking of turkeys… Did you know it is nigh on impossible to get a fresh turkey before mid-December here? Everyone likes to have them for Christmas, so they just aren’t ready before then. Trust me, I called and walked in about five different butchers around Norwich asking about this. They all looked at me like I had lost my mind. Thankfully, you can purchase frozen turkeys from the grocery store, especially around November time.

So Saturday arrived and I quickly became a kitchen widow. You know how I mentioned the whole frozen turkey reminder thing? Yeah, apparently that wasn’t quite enough time for the size of the bird we had purchased. Thankfully it all worked out in the end. There’s an upside to having a ridiculous amount of food – nobody minds waiting a bit, so long as there’s something to nibble on. And nibble on there was, as M had made a metric ton of pigs in blankets for everyone. Fun fact: pigs in blankets are two very different things in the US and the UK. Be prepared to see a few surprised looks if you don’t warn your guests. Being the blend of cultures that we are, we opted for the UK pigs in blankets for our American holiday meal.

All in all, it was a lovely meal with lovely friends, and we ended up sat around the table playing games and drinking wine until late in the evening. As everyone was winding up and going to bed, The Event happened. You know The Event. Every family has something go terribly awry every Thanksgiving. Someone burns the turkey. The sweet potatoes were forgotten. Someone says something horrible at the table and no one is able to make a swift recovery in time. Our guests were absolutely amazing, so the politics was safely not an issue. In fact, it was M and myself that managed the 2015 Thanksgiving Event of the Year.

I went to begin another round of tidying in the kitchen. We didn’t have a dishwasher at the time, so I was having to hand wash all the dishes as we went. As one would expect, it was total carnage in the kitchen at the time when I swept in to clean another load of plates. It was when I reached over the counter to grab a bowl from the back that I managed to catch the tip of our (recently refilled) glass jar of olive oil.

It fell over, rolled across the counter, and then shattered into a million pieces, leaving glass shrapnel and a quart of slick olive oil all over our brick tiled kitchen floor.

The crime scene.
The crime scene.

Surprisingly for our inebriated state, no one ended up with cuts from the glass. With the immediate danger cleaned up, the next logical step is to mop up, right?

OH MY GOD NO.

But yes, that is what we did next. Drunken logic dictated that obviously we should just get it up with some water and floor soap, so we mopped the entire floor and went to bed whilst it air dried. But when we came down the next morning, it looked like it hadn’t even dried.

Come find out, mopping is the absolute last thing you want to do when it comes to cleaning up oil spills in the kitchen. M of course was reading this the next morning as we gazed in horror at our new glossy floor tiles. Apparently you want to throw as many paper towels and cloth towels you have at it and then let it soak up as much as possible before blotting away the rest in small increments. DO NOT RUB IT ACROSS THE FLOOR.

It ended up taking about 3 months of twice-weekly mopping and letting our socks soak up the grease before it finally faded away, but at least the fond memories of the night have lasted longer.
— Kate

Trains – Choo Choo?

Came back in last night from Colchester by the train line and I must say, I absolutely adore the train system here. To be honest, I don’t know if it could ever become a thing in the US due to the sheer size of the country, but it works well for the UK. Rather than just gush about how cool the trains are here, I thought I’d just give you an idea of how a typical journey has gone so far (we’ll stay on the rosy side and not go into the fun of when the trains go awry this time).

To begin with, I ordered the tickets online in advance. Not the furthest in advance for optimal pricing this time, but it does make a major difference in cost. Train travel has a lot of options, and booking a particular train for a particular time in advance is typically the cheapest method of traveling on the rail. However, there are also options such as off-peak, super off-peak, or anytime passes that you can buy for a day at different costs if you want some more leeway in when you’re on the train that day. Another fantastic feature is the railcard system. I qualify from age alone to get the 16-25 railcard discount, which takes 1/3 off each ticket I purchase. The card is also good for students of any age, so long as you have proof of student status. There are also a few other schemes such as the Two Together railcard, the Family & Friends railcard, the Senior railcard, or the Disabled Persons railcard. If you’re planning on making at least 2 decent-length journeys while here, these railcards will pay themselves off really quickly. God knows I’ll manage to do it.

So I booked the tickets online through National Rail this time, though there are other options such as the train companies or third parties. If you’re in a small enough place, you may need to have your tickets posted to you overnight or within a week, but living in Leicester means I have the option of picking up my tickets at a self-service machine at the station here in the city. In order to do this, you only need the card you used to purchase the ticket and the confirmation code, which is sent to you via email. When the machine prints out your ticket, it’ll look something like this:

 

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 07.25.18 pmWell, actually you’ll get 2-3 little stubs in total, but this is the actual ticket. The others are good to hold on to for advance tickets as they’ll usually have your seat information if you reserved a spot. Now with this ticket, I have to keep my railcard with me as they will check your ticket on the train to make sure you’ve paid for that particular train (and there are some stiff fines if you haven’t), as well as check to make sure you actually have the valid railcard for the discount.

This ticket was actually run through machines at 6 different points, so HOLD ON to these more-orange-than-golden tickets. In this instance I was coming from Colchester back to Leicester which meant feeding it through the gate at the platform to get to my first train, then to get off that train platform in London at Liverpool Street Station. I then fed it through the Underground turnstile to get from Liverpool Street Station (Don’t just call it Liverpool, even if the context is known. You will be giggled at by locals.) to King’s Cross St Pancras International Station and again through a turnstile to get out. (Technically there is King’s Cross Station and then across the street is St Pancras International Station, but the Underground stop is good for both. Trust me, you don’t walk far to get to either – maybe 5 minutes if there’s a queue to leave the Underground?) Pro tip at this point – see the little cross at the bottom middle of my ticket? That means that your fare on the Underground is included in the cost of the ticket so long as you’re going from point A to point B. Just run it through the Underground turnstile like a day pass and it lets you right through. Of course, (as I am coming to see about a lot of things) the Brits kinda just assume you know basic facts like these and it’s not mentioned in any obvious points. Finally, this ticket will be run through a machine again to get on the platform at St Pancras, and then depending on the time of day you get to your destination it’ll go through the exit machine and possibly be eaten. I got in late on this round and they’d just opened all the exit gates so they wouldn’t have to be staffed in case of machine muck-ups. You can also see the stamp on the bottom middle where the train conductor checked my ticket.

So what about the trains themselves? Well, it depends if you end up on a commuter train or a long distance one. From Colchester to London I was in a commuter train similar to this, run by Abellio Greater Anglia, which stopped about every 10 minutes for about an hour to get to London:

This is one of the more spacious commuter trains. There’s been at least one I ended up crammed in the exit passageway by the door, standing for the whole ride. At least you can stick your head out the window?

 

Then when I left London for Leicester, I got on a train with East Midland Trains that only stopped at Leicester, Loughborough, East Midlands Parkway, Long Eaton, and Derby (pronounced Darby). Seeing as I was the first stop, it was a nice straight shot. That train looked more like this:

You can’t fit more than a small duffel bag or a jacket up in those racks btw. RyanAir-sized luggage is even too big. There is a luggage rack on each end of the carriage though.

This all seems pretty straightforward, but then the anthropologist gets let loose and it gets to be pretty entertaining. (For me anyway.) It’s one thing to ride the trains. It’s another thing on how to follow the cultural norms of the trains. Let’s continue with this particular train journey. From Colchester to London, I had stood at the platform and just kinda zoned out until the train arrived. Unlike in the US, it’s pretty odd for a stranger to come up to talk to you. As the train came in to the station a woman had asked me if she had the right one, and we all quietly shuffled into the carriage. It’s not an everyday phenomena, but sometimes when I say something I’ll get people asking if I’m American or Canadian, which happened this time. She said she could never tell the two apart, and a very well-timed Canadian that just happened to be on the train chimed in to represent the Canadian homeland.

From that point, Canadian Jake and I chattered for the rest of the ride into London. If you catch other North Americans on a train and they seem friendly enough, it tends to be fine to talk to them, even if they’re strangers. It can be a nice little slice of home to hear a reference (like “Rocky Top”) that’s totally lost on the locals here. I’m glad I talked to Canadian Jake, as I now know of a promising burrito joint at King’s Cross to check out.ย Getting on to the train to Leicester was more of the average experience. Everyone is very polite and courteous, but beyond that you really don’t talk to anyone you don’t know, even at a table seat. You just read or write or gaze off into space and hope you don’t accidentally end up staring at someone. Train trips are MUCH faster with friends.

Speaking of friends, I watched two girls out of the corner of my eye at the table seats to the right of me pop open a bottle of wine and have a few drinks while nibbling on snacks on our journey north. Drinking laws are much, much more lax here than they are in the States, and you can not only buy alcohol on the train from the food carriage/trolley (depends on the train), but you can totally just bring your own and drink it – the staff on the train couldn’t care less. I’ve not yet done it, but it feels like I’m being a little wicked and breaking all the rules I’ve grown up with. Give me a month or so though, as it’ll probably amuse me far more than it should. It’s the little things that are fun like that. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Hmm… Have I missed any important bits? Have any questions? Feel free to leave me a comment, especially if there’s something about life here you’ve been curious about. Otherwise you are subjected to my totally random topic choices! Well, I’ve got a field trip tomorrow with the programme to Sheffield at 8 am, so I should probably wrap things up soon anyway. All is doing well here. ๐Ÿ™‚

— Kate