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

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. 🙂

IMG_2308
My home away from home!

— 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. (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

Well, that was unexpected.

i think it's fabulous. every value i've ever held has been questioned and i'm loving it.

There are things to expect when you move to the UK, and a lot of the things (as an American) are either similar or have been warned about in advance. This still did not make it any easier to translate the weather from C to F for the first few weeks, but at least there was warning. However, there have also been things that no one thought to tell me about before coming over. Not always huge things, and at this point it mostly just gets a raised eyebrow and a “well that’s interesting” response, but I thought I’d share some of the ones that come to mind in list form for a change.

The ‘meh’ attitude

I was somewhat warned about this phenomena beforehand, but it’s interesting to experience. It’s likely that I’m just used to the over-exuberant nature of Americans, but it seems like the overarching theme of life in England is ‘meh.’ Not a depressed ‘meh’ or an apathetic ‘meh,’ but almost like a kind of stoicism. Your food came out wrong at the restaurant? Meh, it’s not bad enough to cause a fuss. Come home to a flooded kitchen? Meh, it’s just a bit of water. I’ve heard some people chalk it up to the war mentality of previous generations and others to the weather, but the exact cause remains elusive. Being around it long enough though does prove infectious. Is this good or bad? Meh, I dunno.

People don’t talk to you

This one absolutely killed me the first few weeks here until classes started. I was lucky enough to have made some wonderful friends at the international welcome week as well as having some locals to call up and talk to, but in those mid-day hours I was miserable. In the States it’s completely normal to chat with staff at businesses or strangers waiting wherever you’re at in public, but here it’s almost taboo. My more socially awkward friends back in the US were excited to hear about this, but the thrill of being able to read your book in public undisturbed is quickly deadened when you realise it’s been three days and the last meaningful conversation you had was with a cat wandering the alley by the cathedral. However, sometimes you’ll get a conversation when people overhear you and realise you’re not from around here, which leads to…

People being excited about Americans

I WAS SO NOT READY FOR THIS. I was under the assumption that either A) Americans were common enough visitors as to be unexciting or B) Americans would be at least passively tolerated and possibly disliked. While I’m sure this is the case for some, it’s at least a weekly occurrence that someone will hear me or my fellow comrades of the North American Alliance speak and ask if we’re American. This will then diverge into four typical responses:

Where are you from?

This is problematic as it seems a lot of us move states (or provinces for Canada!) much more often and further than people in the UK move around. This question is usually just answered with “From the US,” but a lot of times people want to know what state. Sometimes I’m from one state, sometimes another, and sometimes both. It’s pretty remarkable if people actually know where these states are. This will sometimes lead to:

Oh, I’ve been to…

It’s always New York, Florida, or California. ALWAYS. Some very few will have gone to other states, but they’ve also gone to one of the three. I am convinced this is why we get asked such entertaining questions, because the Brits are going to the three most extreme examples of the country and expecting this to be America as a whole. The flipside can be said for Americans going to London though, so I try to keep my dramatic sighs to a minimum.

Why are you HERE?

This one only happens in Leicester really. Granted, I got the same question all the time from Westerners when I moved from the Eastern US so I could see why this comes up. It’s not a glitzy city or super historically important for the most part, but Leicester is seriously underrated, even by the locals. There’s SO MUCH to the UK that avoids London completely. This then leaves me with the last response of:

*insert pick up line*

I will give kudos to people brave enough to try this one, but the lines I’ve overheard have been so cheesy. My favorites so far are the guy who tried to convince my friend he was a big deal because he knew someone who was on Downton Abbey, and the drunk ones standing outside between a McDonald’s and a pub that wanted to say how beautiful all American accents were and how they wanted to sing us Spice Girls songs. Never a dull night in Leicester ladies and gents.

The innuendos

On that vein… the innuendos. We remain convinced that nearly anything can and will become a sexual innuendo at some point. I’m not talking pervy people making sideways comments, but in-your-face jokes and puns everywhere. On BBC, on advertisements, in businesses… You name it, we’ve probably seen one. Personally, I find it to be hilarious and a refreshing change of pace from the Puritan legacy left on the US, but it’s definitely something to warn people know about.

The weather

“But Kate, you knew that it was gonna be drizzly and wet all the time!” Wait wait, hear me out on this one. Yes, it does rain much more often than where I was, but that’s pretty easy to do. However, it’s not the dreariness that everyone goes on about. Actually it’s not bad at all. In Leicester, it’s pretty common to have it chuck down rain for about 10-15 minutes and then be fine to walk in. Most of the time it’s just fine with a hooded jacket and a scarf. The hair will curl or wave something fierce, but the only big difference is how early the sun sets in autumn and winter. This is still offset though with all the walking I do. I think I’m still getting more vitamin D than before. That brings me to…

Walking

Yeah, I knew I’d be walking a lot. I did the Google Maps from my flat around the city and figured it’d be at minimum two miles a day. What I didn’t expect was how far I could get just walking. Walking two miles back in the US would maybe get me to the nearest grocery store, but walking two miles here will get me from my flat to the university and back again with the entire city centre along the way and probably a good five grocery stores to stop at along the way. Walking anywhere doesn’t feel long at all either with everything so close together. It is AWESOME to be in this situation and it’s so hard to explain what it’s like in the ‘real’ United States to people here and why I’m so enthused about it. Interesting side note – I discovered after walking these 2-5 miles a day that one can in fact walk their posterior off. I am moderately devestated about the disappearance of my backside!

Walking with other people

Anarchy is alive and well in the UK and it’s seen best in trying to walk down a street. Back in the US the rule of thumb is “drive right, walk right” and when two people come up to each other walking in opposite directions they’ll usually both sway right to avoid each other. You might think “drive left, walk left” would hold here, but you would be wrong. It’s more like drive left, walk in the middle of the sidewalk and refuse to budge until either the very last second or not at all. If you don’t put on a serious game face you’re likely to be walked into a puddle, even if you’re the one carrying six plastic bags and you’re trying to walk through an empty-handed human wall moseying the other way. It’s brutal.

Taking pork to the next level

Americans LOVE to talk about how much they love bacon, but the British have taken it to the next level. BLTs? BLTs are for the weak – just have a bacon butty. Think you know what pigs in a blanket are? Pssht. Pork products seem to try and sneak into a meal almost every day. I’ve got some bacon and pork chops in my fridge as I type this. Being halal or kosher or vegeterian is a challenge here going out to eat, and I’m not sure how vegans manage it. From what I can gather there seems to be more of a push towards alternative food choices, but America needs to calm down the bacon claims.

Instant chocolate meltage

Unlike Hershey’s, the chocolate here is not coated with wax and will therefore begin to melt as soon as it comes into contact with the heat of your fingers. Plan accordingly or try to eat it from the wrapper.

Missing food I didn’t even really like

There was a long and enthusiastic gushing about Little Debbie snack cakes tonight as I’ve yet to see them anywhere around the city. Talking about the powdered sugar donuts that you’ll find in any US convience store was like describing opening Christmas presents. The strangest thing about this though – I’ve never been THAT big a fan of Little Debbie. Probably for the best really. Everyone knows when you leave for long enough you start craving missing items that you love. US Starbursts, Peter Pan crunchy peanut butter, and pumpkin pie are all things that I can get similar products to that will do in a pinch, but they just aren’t the same. It gets weird though when I realise how excitedly I’m discussing Cheetos and ranch dressing, when I hardly ever wanted them when there was access to plenty. I guess it plays into that whole idea of wanting what you can’t have?

Anyhoo, that’s all the excitement you get for this week. Tune in next week as I finish week one of the more practical work of museums and start delving into readings for digital curatorship. 😉

— Kate