It’s crazy how fast time flies and how things progress.

Honestly, I pay for this domain name. I need to stop abandoning it for long stretches. Also, if I keep it alive this year it’ll be a 5 year old blog. I don’t think I’ve ever kept a plant alive that long.

So. Anyway.

When last we spoke, it was the beginning of a long, dry, hot summer in the UK. We didn’t see rain here in Essex for over 50 days. It normally rains here at least once a week if that gives you an idea of how crazy it was. Ah, but ignoring the parched earth it was glorious. We roamed the local country park a few times both with and without picnics. We went to Mersea Island and played on the beach. We even accidentally came at high tide and had to drive through the sea a little bit. Don’t worry, the Mini did fabulously.

Unfortunately, one of the side effects of this summer was the need to leave the windows open as much as possible, especially at night to try and drop the temperature in our bedroom from 29º down to 25º (if we were lucky). During the daytime we mostly had to chase flies and the occasional rogue wasp out of the living room because of this, but then the Flying Ant Day Accident occurred.

Flying Ant Day is a strange British phenomena. Normally, these pavement ants do not have wings and are happy to live their lives underground. However, there is a point in the summer that they reach breeding season and all seem to grow wings and fly en masse. (Apparently it’s not just a single day and happens across the UK all summer long, but it’s still an impressive swarm when it happens near you.) This type of swarm is like midges or gnats, but much larger. They don’t really do anything to you other than get in your face, but in a swarm it’s awful.

HOWEVER, they do seem to like the light, very much like moths. And we have a streetlight outside of our bedroom window. “Well that’s a bit creepy to watch, but surely no harm right?” you say to me. Oh but wait. One of us accidentally left the bedroom light on when we’d gone up to open the windows and then shut the bedroom door so the cat couldn’t get out of the house.

Perfect. Storm.

M was still having a glass of water and otherwise getting ready for bed downstairs whilst I came upstairs to sort out my clothing for work the next morning, only to be confronted with something that looked like a scene out of a horror film. HUNDREDS OF FLYING ANTS ALL OVER THE ROOM. They were in the windowsill, the curtains, the lampshade, the bedding, the laundry, and all over the floor. They were crawling the walls and ceiling. Honestly, the photo doesn’t do justice to the horror of it.

My initial reaction was just to stare at them and then scream for M to bring up the fly spray. (Why I thought a can of fly spray would fix this I don’t know.) I stood, riveted in the doorway, somehow thinking that if I took my eyes off of the swarm that they’d all come down the stairs and into the rest of the house. Thankfully, M came up and had more common sense in how to deal with the scene.

Long story short, M emptied an entire can of Raid in our room and half filled a Dyson vacuum with flying ants before we went to bed two hours later, sleeping in the guest bedroom. Everything in the room that could be washed was washed, including the bedding that I had just changed that afternoon. 😥

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Plagues of ants and drought aside, nature decided to just get a bit rude in general. The heat spiked to new and exciting levels, and the train network is not currently equipped to deal with weather so extreme. This had happened last year and there was about a week that it was nigh on impossible to get on a train into or from London.

This year they did try to do some things to help with the heat. A lot of the rails in the stations had their sides painted white in an effort to drop the heat whilst the trains were at the platforms and prevent the tracks from buckling and warping. However, when the weather stations starting predicting a heat spike so intense that it could make new records, the train companies just decided “sod it” and preemptively cancelled trains at about 9:30 the night before. Awesome, right? At one point they could only run a train an hour from Colchester to London, and I’m amazed those trains didn’t get stopped more from overcrowding and overheating inside of them. It was insanity.

Supposedly, Greater Anglia is getting new trains out in 2020 and they’ll all come equipped with blessed air conditioning. Why do I feel like the seats are going to be even smaller though?

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When I was able to get into work, I was able to work on my last project as staff at the NHM. We’ve already processed all the Toxodon fossils that Darwin sent back from South America on his Beagle journey and posted them online, but the chance came to reunite two portions of a Giant Ground Sloth skull that haven’t been together since Darwin cut them into two pieces. Not only did I get to witness the event, but I got to scan said pieces! It was all very cool, and a fitting way to end my work.

You see, I had applied and been accepted to do a PhD at UCL whilst working alongside the NHM. But we’ll get back to that later!

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FINALLY, we got rain in Essex again. It took weeks for the grass to go back to green and the cracks in the earth to heal, but it was amazing to have it back. We joked that my mother in law is apparently a water spirit, as every time she comes to Essex it rains. If we’d have known, we’d have had them over much sooner!

Towards the end of the summer it was finally beginning to cool down, and the Heritage Open Days EU project kicked off, opening access to historical places that are either usually closed to the public or paid entry only. Most everyone went to the castle, but I had a list of some of the more obscure and usually closed buildings that I desperately wanted to see, and a husband with an infinite sense of patience for my love of all things old.

We were only able to do one of the open days, but in that day we went up and down Colchester and managed to see the inside of the Anglo-Saxon church (the oldest in town), the facade that houses the archaeological discovery of a Roman theatre (you can easily walk by it), the interior and the view from the upper floor of the old abbey gate (the only thing still standing of the abbey), and most of the structure of Tymperleys, home to William Gilberd, scientist and physician to Elizabeth I (and now a place with most excellent scones).

Autumn began to creep in with cooler weather, and with it came the time to go back to school again. I could have sworn I was never going to do a PhD, but here I am. In fairness, my future predictions have been pretty wildly off the mark so far, so it’s not exactly surprising.

Before the official start of term, all of us in the SEAHA program (Science and Engineering in Arts, Heritage and Archaeology) convened in a village outside of Brighton for an induction into the way of things, and a chance to get to know and bond with our fellow students. I am so, so glad they did this for us, and not just because the hotel was amazing. Getting to know everyone in advance really helped make the first few weeks much easier.

One can’t stay in opulent hotels forever, and after the weekend retreat we were ready to begin lectures. Of course, this is SEAHA and we are anything but standard, so they included a trip to Stonehenge halfway through the first module, so we could write up a presentation in the second half about what we would do to modify the current A303 Stonehenge tunnel plans to make them better, using our mixture of experiences. It was more of a challenge than expected, but we ended up with new friends out of the experience and I can now tell you far more about the proposed tunnel project than I ever thought I could.

With autumn also came the harvest season, and this year I was feeling crafty. There are shedloads of sloe berries and growing on the side of a quiet road near the fields I jog past, and eventually I got up the idea to go harvest them and attempt a batch of sloe gin. You aren’t supposed to pick them until after the first frost, but the hot summer had rather killed a fair few of them, so I just picked them and froze them in the freezer at home to make up for it.

They were then added into a jar with obscene amounts of sugar, and of course, some gin. We left them to infuse until just before Christmas, then strained and decanted them out. Some have been given as little Christmas trinkets, with the firm advice that they’ll be better if they’re left until about mid-January to drink. I for one am excited to try ours out, perhaps mixed in with some prosecco, or even by making a proper sloe gin fizz!

As it does every year, my birthday snuck up on me. This year is the last year of my twenties. M thought it amusing to get a tiny cake and put 29 candles on it, so I brought out the fire extinguisher just in case. (Did you know you can buy fire extinguishers and fire blankets on Amazon Prime? Best late night purchase M’s made in some time!)

I didn’t really have any grand goals to achieve by the end of this year, and I’m still not sure what I want to do for my 30th birthday party. On one end, I could have a bunch of people around and make a big do of it, or it could just be the two of us on an adventure somewhere. I should probably sort it out before springtime.

Regardless, this birthday was a fabulous birthday, with cake, a new coat I’d been lusting after, and an evening out in the lovely medieval section of Colchester. 🙂

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Classes back in swing, birthday survived, and coats brought out of storage, we trundled into the cool autumn air. Except this time, I had friends from the US coming around with me! As is the Great American Tradition when coming to the UK, we managed to traverse across a wide swathe of the country in a little over a week. The two of them even carried on into Wales, but alas, I had to get some work done for the module. We did try to give them a weird and wonderful ride through bits of the country that not everyone goes to see on a typical tourist tour, but some things you’ve just got to see – like Stonehenge!

It’s always so exciting when people come to the UK, whether or not they’re coming to say hello. Being on an hour’s ride into London means it’s usually easy to catch up with people, schedules permitting. It was hard to part ways, but back to the States they eventually had to go, and the cat finally decided to come out of hiding and take up her roost in the living room again.

Module one was completed with much grumbling and typing, but completed successfully. I’m now at the tail end of module two, which had a bit of a twist to it this time. We had the option to do a basic laboratory procedure in the lecture hall, or we could liaise with our supervisors and do one elsewhere that might further relate towards the PhD. Needing to learn how to run an SEM and process photogrammetric data anyway, I opted to go back to the NHM. Over the course of two weeks I have learned how to dehydrate a specimen, coat it for SEM, run the basics of an SEM, and process photogrammetric images! It all sounds rather fancy for staring at a fly face for two weeks. I’m currently tweaking the write up of my experiment, and it goes in for submission next Monday. Looking forward to what the next module will hold!

In between modules, M and I left the country again. My parents were going to see one of our exchange students and her family, and they were kind enough to invite us to stay at their house as well. We took them up on their generous offer and ended up with an absolutely unique experience of the Netherlands that one could only get from a local, and got to see my parents! I would definitely like to go back to the Netherlands, but perhaps when it’s a bit warmer. Those winds coming off of the ocean have nowhere to go but straight into your bones.

Whilst there, we took a train over for a day trip into Germany as my mom had never been. It’s fascinating to see the sharp difference between the Netherlands and Germany, seemingly just across the border. We’d hoped to see the Christmas market in Dusseldorf, but arrived a little too early. It wasn’t a lost trip though, as we got to see the famous Rhine River and a painstakingly redone Altstadt, built back up after the war.

Christmas showed up soon afterwards in a big way. When not covering our house in tinsel and Christmas cards, we were out and about and enjoying the festive spirit of it all. Got the chance to pop into Paycocke’s House and the Grange Barn out in Coggeshall for their special Christmas hours. It really did feel like going back into Tudor Christmastime, and I only wish I hadn’t gone by myself as it seemed like it’s really meant for company to come along.

Getting closer to Christmas, we managed a long weekend journey up to York to catch up with our Northern friends. I probably should have known better than to go into the Christmas Markets in York, but we braved the crowds and found some fabulous little trinkets and all kinds of snacks! Even managed to score a table with seats in The Three Tuns at peak pub hour in the rain, of which I was far too proud. Finally, late into the evening, we saw the Shambles quiet and then took ourselves back to the AirBNB for the night.

And then before we knew it, the last few weeks had passed and it was Christmas! We went up to Manchester to celebrate at M’s big sister’s new home. It’s a gorgeous new build with a massive back garden. Their days of househunting really paid off. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see much of it, as I appear to have caught food poisoning off something just before we arrived. Thankfully the sickbed was comfortable and M made sure to keep a steady supply of Sprite, so it could have been far worse. Other than that hiccup, it was really good to see everyone, especially our ever growing nephew of whom nobody can rival in Marvel knowledge. Honestly, I’d call that kid first on any game show.

We got back home for New Year’s, had a quiet night of it, and then slowly dragged ourselves back into the real world.

So here we are, a lightning trip into the present. Now that I’m not on the trains for 4 hours every day, I should hopefully be a bit better about popping in every now and then. Until we see each other next, hope you’re having a good one. 🙂

 

— Kate

Winter to summer. I miss wearing coats.

Right, so, where was I? Oh yes, coming out of the dark of depression and surrounded by snow. Well, I’ll have you know I’m on medication, back to my usual antics, and Britain is currently melting into the sea from heat. But what’s happened since then eh?

Of course, we went to America! The weather may have been playing silly buggers, but it was wonderful to see my family again, come rain or shine! It was so strange coming back to Tennessee after being gone seven years. Some things haven’t changed a bit, and some things are unrecognisable now. Poor M had to witness quite a bit of reminiscing, but we took him on a goodly few tours of the attractions in the area. All in all, going somewhere warm with warm hearted people was just what the doctor ordered. I can’t wait until I can see them all again next. 🙂

What was not so fun in our Transatlantic Tour was that on about day three, little Ophelia went missing. And stayed missing. Friends and family were out canvassing the neighbourhood, posters were put up, and all the tricks were tried to get her home. Of course, she then remained missing the rest of our trip (nearly three weeks!) and we were all beside ourselves wondering where she was. We got home, canvassed the area ourselves, and then with no luck put ourselves to bed.

Lo and behold! Who would show up meowing at us in bed at 4 AM? Oh yes. She was skinny and a bit hoarse, but our little fur face was home safely! ❤

After the highs and lows of our big holiday, life settled down into more normal paces. Well, normal for us anyway. At work, I finished two projects on digitising whale skulls and some of the fossils Darwin sent back from his journey on the Beagle. They were both challenges to 3D scan in their own ways, but very cool and totally surreal to handle. And now they’re available to a much wider audience than before!

This April, one of my sister-in-laws and one of my work colleagues were both absolute Wonder Women and successfully ran the London Marathon! M and I came down to watch them run and cheer them on, but mostly just spent the time nearly seeing them and running back to the tube for the next spot. You may not get nearly as many steps as the runners, but cheering for the marathoners is a pretty heavy walking activity itself. It was really interesting to be a witness to such a big event, and I would recommend doing it at least once. I can’t vouch for the running bit – you’d have to ask them! 😉

In a truly miraculous moment at the end of April, I took the UK driving test and PASSED. That’s right, I’m now licensed and insured to drive both manual and automatic cars on my shiny new British license. Honestly, you should all be more concerned.

May snuck up on us and soon enough it was time to head back to Lyme Regis with the Museum team. We brought down a load of 3D printed specimens and our scanner again, but this year we also had a 3D printer in the background for people to watch. I don’t think many people realise quite how long it takes to print something until you see the process. We were shortly mobbed as soon as we opened each day because this year we had play dough to ‘create your own fossil.’ After a child (or some parents) finished with it, we would do a quick 3D scan of it. Let’s just say we’re still processing some of those files. It was popular.

After hours, it was great to catch up with some people that I hadn’t seen since the year before, and we all got to bask in glorious sunshine at the sea – a rare treat not to be taken lightly. Brought home some fossils found on the beach, and some of our staff even won some ice trophies for going above and beyond in helping make the event happen this year. And so, so many chips were eaten. There’s something magical in the fryers at Lyme Regis I think.

A month went by and we all recuperated from Lyme Regis. At the end of it, M and I took a mini holiday to Hungerford for his birthday weekend. It’s a quiet town outside of Reading, and we went when the weather was perfect for it. Took a stroll through town, had dinner at a lovely place off the High Street, and stayed in a listed pub, The Bear Hotel. Parts of the building go back to the 17th century, but the room we stayed in with the view of the river was very much from the 21st century.

The next morning, we packed up and continued west towards Tetbury to spend the rest of the birthday weekend with M’s family. It just so happened to be the weekend of the Tetbury Woolsack Races, so of course we had to go see them. The aim of the game is to carry a sack full of wool and run up the steepest hill in the village. It was quite possibly the most British thing I think I’ve witnessed to date, and it was really fun to watch! We took a stroll DOWN the hill afterwards, and immediately could see why people were so exhausted by the top of it. That hill is deceptively brutal!

For his birthday, M got a homebrew kit from my parents, which of course needed to be tried straightaway. Well, as straightaway as one can brew things anyway. After a quick stop to the shops for brewing sugar, M was busy concocting his brew. I mostly just stayed out of the way until the bottling process, which is more of a two person event. The beers have now finished brewing and have been sampled. The neighbour gives it a solid rating, though M is convinced it tastes more like real ale than the lager it was intended to be. Ah well, just means we need to make more eh?

What else has happened? Well, M’s other sister and her family have moved into a new, beautiful house and their cats are ALL ABOUT the fact that the downstairs lets them do a circular patrol. We’ve now been in our new build for over a year, and are finally putting down some literal roots in the form of a raised garden bed.

What I didn’t know was that new builds often use whatever junk soil they have available to get the yard to a certain height, and then put on a thin layer of topsoil for the grass to grow on. This was quickly discovered after we tried digging down and hit rock after rock after rock. It was a sweaty, hot day, but after nearly six hours and multiple rest breaks, we finally got the borders in and the plants rooted. As of now, they’re all still alive too!

I have realised at this point that we have had so many BBQs that I’ve stopped taking photos of them. Normally everyone in Britain races to the shops to buy food for a BBQ on a Saturday when there’s a chance the weather might have sun and temperatures above 20C/68F. However with this heatwave, it’s been balmy and sunny for months now.

We’re at the point of planning weekend BBQs without even looking at the weather forecast. People are leaving their laundry on the lines overnight with full confidence that they won’t get dew on them in the morning. Everyone has given up on wearing professional work clothes and just trying to make do with their holiday clothes. Shops have run out of shorts. Truly, Britain is going mad in the heat and sun.

It can’t all be sunny days and BBQs though, and we did have to deal with the stress that is my spousal visa this July. After being married 2.5 years (yay!), it has to be renewed for another 2.5 years. After that, I can apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain, and then even a dual citizenship after that. It ain’t cheap though, and the paperwork required is a righteous pain to compile, even if you’re sensible like we were this time and had organised by month in accordion binders for the last 3 years. All the money has been paid though, and the paperwork sent off, so now it’s just a waiting game to hear back from Home Office. I don’t see why they wouldn’t approve it, but it’s stressful to wait for someone to decide such a big thing in your life.

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The paperwork required this time around for my visa. About half the amount required for the initial application.

After getting that stress sorted, M and I had two partial weeks off, and so we went to the sea to enjoy the sun, and then out into Colchester like tourists. I may have put him on a ‘let’s go find all the really old things in Colchester’ tour, but I think he did remarkably well out of it.

The beach at Walton on the Naze is perfect for lounging in the sand with a book and letting the braver souls toss themselves into the freezing North Sea. (I stuck my toes in it and can confirm that it is still frigid.) The beach huts were absolutely everywhere, and we enjoyed getting a peek inside the ones that were open. They’re basically Sea Sheds, with little kettles, a bed for a nap, and some toys for the beach. I would totally rent one if I thought I was going to spend a few days out there. We also quickly detoured up to the Naze Tower, though didn’t go in as it was getting even hotter and they had the windows shut in it. (!!!)

On our Colchester adventures, we got into town and then promptly into the Castle Museum to avoid the blazing heat of the sun. Colchester is old as all get out, as I have mentioned, and the amount of archaeology they find is impressive. I really enjoy having lived here long enough that I can recognise the names of the streets and villages where the finds were discovered and have an idea of where Roman and medieval Colchester spread.

After the museum, we headed over towards the Balkerne Gate – one of the last Roman gateways still standing in Britain. Next door to it is a pub called The Hole in the Wall, which is quite literal. You can see the Roman wall in the middle of one of the pub walls. Of course we had to pop in, as it definitely fell under the ‘old things’ tour mandate. After a brief stop, we continued on to dinner at the Siege House, which was another old building that was used (and shot at) during the English Civil War. Even if you aren’t into history, the building is beautiful and the food was amazing. Would definitely go back.

So here we are, pretty much caught up with everything in a single post. It’s still too hot in England and the trains are all melting, but other than that life is doing well. Not quite sure what’s in the cards for the next few months, other than praying for rain and keeping on at work. But we shall see, won’t we? 🙂

 

— Kate

February, aka WHY IS IT STILL COLD Month

Right, so. Survived January, only just. I will have you know that the Dry January was under hilariously loose terms and that I only drank eight days out of the entire thirty-one. I have excuses at the ready and everything. There were two days with leftover champagne or prosecco, and we all know that it’s a travesty to pour these things down the sink. There was one Really Long Week that was rewarded with two pints of cider and a tot of rum. Our wedding anniversary was of course accounted for, and there was a birthday celebration in there at work.

Basically, my “dry” January should really be what the rest of the year looks like. I’m aiming to continue only indulging when there’s actually a social event and not just because I’ve made it to the weekend. My sleep is a much better quality, and weight loss is actually much easier to achieve. Shocking, right?

I tried starting up doing some jump rope this last weekend, but it was still raining/snowing and COLD AS ALL GET OUT. I did have plans to start with the new year, but I then managed to fall down a flight of steps at Liverpool Street and shredded my knee, so had to wait for that the heal up. Then the office head cold hit and I sat/slept on the sofa most evenings and complained bitterly about my lack of breathing out of my nose.

Final results at the end of the month: 1.7 kg (3.7 lb) lost

So what else happened this month?

Well, we discovered the BBC Big Cats programme was on, and Ophelia was ALL ABOUT IT. We’ve had to save the download as she loves watching it so much. Guys, we’ve turned the cat into a TV addict. We’re bad cat parents.

As mentioned earlier, our two year wedding anniversary came up! It’s hard to believe it’s been two years, but hopefully it always stays that way. We had a great week of festivities, and even managed to somewhat stay in the anniversary present tradition of cotton for the second year. Though I think really we ended up getting wool for each other. Eh, clothing. We’ll call it good.

Dippy finally went live on the museum’s website, so I’m finally allowed to talk about the 3D scan and print we did of him. Honestly, the print has been sitting in our office window for months now. He’s very popular to take selfies with. Been doing lots of scanning on another two projects in the meantime, which hopefully will be hitting the airwaves soon so I can tell you all about it. Needless to say, they are Pretty Cool.

In Boring Adult Life, we got a new IKEA wardrobe for the spare bedroom, and M heroically put it together over a Saturday afternoon. Slowly, our house is looking less like a visible hoarders home. Just don’t look under the beds or in the wardrobes. It did make a huge improvement to the room though, and has now banished all the cardboard boxes from the house except for the in the office. That will be the final frontier in our house for making a massive storage difference I think. All the remaining cardboard boxes need a sort through, and we probably need another bookshelf. After that though, the remaining piles of stuff around the house should evaporate. From there, we might even consider proper decoration of the walls and things. Heady times.

I suppose I’ll round it out with the weather, being an English institution and all. It keeps snowing and upsetting everyone, except children of course. So far the snow has gotten me stuck at home for two days because the trains were so bad, and ended up with a cancelled driving lesson. Even the cat is having none of this weather and has basically given up on any major adventures into the back garden at the moment. Storm Fiona came breezing in towards the end of the month and caused absolute havoc with all the London commuters, knocking down multiple trees, blowing cars around a bit, and gusting with such force that one had to walk with a forward lean to get anywhere. If it were in America, Jim Cantore would have been spotted nearby, reporting the current conditions to the Weather Channel.

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Finally though, it looks like there may be a hint of spring once this current frozen week ends. The daffodils and snow drops are sprouting, and the trees are showing a slight hint of buds on the tips of the branches. As of 10 February, the sunset won’t begin until 5 PM, meaning I may actually get to leave work with sunlight again. Definitely not counting down or anything (I am totally counting down), but by mid-March the sun won’t set until 6 PM and I might even get to see scenery on my train ride home!

So, this month is the No Snacks month. Wish me luck. Actually, wish me impressive weight loss. That would be much more useful than luck. Hopefully will write again before the end of the month!

 

— Kate

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

April weather means friends flock together.

Or something like that. Over the last few weeks of March and the beginning of April, it seems the stars all aligned and everyone was able to meet up. And so meet up we did.

First and most far flung award goes to the lovely D, all the way from California! She and I met and became fast friends during our course at the University of Leicester, but sadly she had to go back to America at the end of the year. She’d come back for a week to see friends in both England and Wales, and we were graced with her presence for a few of those days. She swears we only let her stay because she brings us American junk food, but she’s welcome even without the Ranch dressing packets. 🙂 I can’t wait until we get to meet up again next – and hopefully it’ll be because she finally got a museum job here!

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Truly a fashion statement.

Next up we had the kitty couple from Leeds only a few days after D had to leave us for Gatwick. Sadly, the kitties were not in tow with them, but it was still a great weekend out. The sun even made a glorious appearance on Saturday, which was well received regardless of the temperature. Ended up going bowling, which I couldn’t even tell you when I did last! Thankfully, they seemed to know I was coming and had the gutter guards up on our lane. I still managed to lose spectacularly in both rounds. It was all good fun though, and you sure can’t beat those shoes.

To round out our meet ups to a respectable triad over the period, we were back up in Colchester to see M’s old friend Dr and Mrs Anaesthetist and their baby, who is quite possibly the cutest child in Colchester. They were currently working on making the back garden a nice English landscape and not the muddy war zone it looked like when they first moved in. The trellis is nearly complete and it looks like grass will be coming in soon. I imagine it will be more than summer ready soon enough.

Speaking of summer ready, we also did some lurking to see how our house is turning out. We couldn’t see much as they’ve done extensive building on the houses in front of it and the security panelling is still up, but it looked to be coming along nicely. The good Doctor later managed to capture a photo through his walk in the nearby woods, and it looks like everything is right on time. So excited!

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Photo courtesy of Dr Anaesthetist and his ability to find loopholes to the building site rules.

 

The good times can never last forever though, and the significant otter and were quickly back in the daily grind, with the poor thing having to work a weekend on top of it! Of course this meant that Saturday was glorious for having a BBQ. Alas! But hey, we have nice weather and the house is still on time. Can’t ask for too much right? 🙂

 

— Kate

Trip to Milan (Autumn 2016)

Shortly after moving in, we got word from my parents that Dad had a conference in Milan the week of my birthday and that Mom was thinking about going along too so she could visit Italy. We did some quick research and found that flights from London to Milan are relatively cheap, so booked it up and planned to meet up with them at the end of September! Time flew past and soon we were through customs, off the train, and walking into central Milan.

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Our base camp for the next few days.

The bit of the city we were in was relatively modern, but there was a wide array of history to be found in Milan during the week. M and I had arrived a day before Mom and Dad, so we had a little tour around the centre of the city to see what there was to see – without visiting all the touristy bits we knew Mom and Dad would want to come along to as well. We stumbled upon a statue of Leonardo da Vinci, whose famous Last Supper painting is in Milan. (We regretfully didn’t book tickets far enough in advance to see it. 😦 ) We also had a nice wander through the massive Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which is one of the oldest shopping malls in the world. It’s named after the first king of the Kingdom of Italy and was built 1865 – 1877. It’s still actively in use today for the same purposes.

M and I called it a quiet night with just the two of us and waited to catch up with the parentals. The next day we went hunting for history with Mom (Dad was at his conference) and found a rather macabre church nearby that of COURSE we had to go see – the San Bernardino alle Ossa. The church itself is standard Catholic beauty, but the small side chapel is a whole other ball park. The chapel was originally built as an ossuary in 1210 when the nearby cemetery ran out of space. A church was attached in 1269, but the bones were left be until 1679 when it was transformed into a chapel and the bones collected over the years were used as decor in the Roccoco style. You have to ask to be taken to the chapel, but it is still open to visitors today.

From there we thought it might be best to take a trip back to the living, so we headed out for lunch and then left M at the hotel so Mom and I could check out our very first cat cafe. It was all you could hope for and more! The cats were all very sociable and we had little furry friends hanging out on the sofa with us as we drank tea and split a slice of cake. The staff have to give you a warning not to feed the kitties, but that was easy enough. Man, if I had a cat cafe within easy reach of me, I would definitely be there all the time. So much fun!

 

We spent the evening back in the Milano Navigli district where Mom and Dad were staying and all met back up for dinner at a Texas themed rib joint. (Hey, why not?) After dinner, we strolled around the canals and had a nice night outdoors. It’s a really trendy part of the city, and a great place to go in the evenings – though very popular, so book ahead.

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Bright and early the next morning, we dashed across town via the Metro system and made it to the train station just in time to catch a train to Switzerland. We’d heard Lugano was just as lovely as Lake Como and only half as busy, and Mom thought it’d be fun to check two countries off her list in one trip – so off we went! Mom and I were rather disappointed that they didn’t bother to check passports, as it meant no new stamps for us.

Still, Lugano proved to be exactly as gorgeous as everyone said it would be, and very quiet.

 

We mosey’ed about for the afternoon, had lunch, and then climbed back up the side of the foothills to the train station to go back to Milan. Went out for dinner, then got the parents into an intense round of Pandemic back at their hotel. If you haven’t played this board game, you really should give it a try. You can play with 2-4 people, so it’s great for couples or groups. There’s also a ton of expansion packs, so you always have something new to add to it. For this round though, we just went with the original so we could teach everyone. It was a good night. 🙂

The next day was my birthday, and a day Dad had off from the conference, so we went out to do all the touristy bits in the city that we’d been wanting to see. It wasn’t even breakfast before I was dragging people to look at some Renaissance era buildings that we walked past.

The big deal for the day though had to be the Duomo, or Milan Cathedral. This building took nearly 600 years to complete and is the largest church in Italy. The roof is open to tourists and allows a close up view of some of the beautiful architecture that would otherwise go unnoticed at such great heights. The view of the city at the top is nearly as breathtaking as the building itself.

 

Inside is a world of history. The construction began in 1386 with the demolition of older buildings on the site. Construction began quickly and already famous artwork was created for the site, including the tomb of Pope Martin V in 1424. In the 16th century the building was still not completed, but the Spanish domination of Milan put it to a standstill and made the cathedral usable in most respects. The next major works did not begin again until the 17th century. Due to this, the cathedral contains a wide array of styles bridging through the time periods. The cathedral was finally declared completed in 1965, even though there are still some uncarved blocked that are meant to be statues. Regardless, this is an impressive building, and it even contains the remains of not only a saint, but reputedly one of the Holy Nails from the Crucifixion of Christ.

The cathedral is not only the centre of Milan now, but apparently is on the spot of the centre of the Roman Mediolanum. A paleo-Christian basilica was discovered underneath the foundations of the current building that date to 355. You can still see and even walk into the remnants of the old octagonal baptistery.

Feet utterly aching from walking for hours, we took a breather and then all regrouped for birthday dinner at this hole in the wall place that looked authentic as all get out and proved to be utterly delicious. Let me spare you talking about all the food we had during this trip and just give it to you all at once. Good lord, I think I gained ten pounds, but it was all so good!

The morning dawned, and we were on our last day. Determined to go find something Roman whilst in Italy, I then dragged my beloved family across town to go look at the Roman Museum and nearby amphitheatre remains. Got my Roman fix, and got some bonus Etruscan artefacts in there as well. Score!

With that, M and I had to head out before Mom and Dad did, so we all got in a ton of hugs and parted ways towards the airport. It was such a great trip being able to catch up with my family and see some history on the side! We flew back to the UK, which was significantly cooler than the Milan we left. We were coming through customs and I told the guard how glad I was to be home, with which his response was a gloriously sarcastic, “Well you say that now.”

Never change Britain.

 

— Kate

Essay Week

Blood, sweat and tears have been spilled, but the word count has been reached and the grammar has been checked. The module one essay was turned in Monday morning and I’ve been trying to recover since. Have finally gotten to the tail end of whatever gunk I caught, just in time to start a new module. The lesson learned from this? I should never, ever become an ethicist. If it’s not practical and real world work, I’m out of my element. Needless to say, it’s not been an exciting week of traipsing the English countryside for me, though if the weather isn’t too miserable I may go check out Abbey Park this weekend. The Weather Channel is predicting only a 20% chance of rain Saturday, but trusting the weather forecast here that far in advance is lunacy.

Aaaaanyway… I was lame and did not go out for Bonfire Night. Instead I wrote on my essay and watched fireworks in the distance from my flat whilst hacking up a lung and going through obscene amounts of camomile tea. Actually, I watched fireworks go off for the next 3 nights after and got the most spectacular text from it:

I mean, I feel it'd be a reasonable excuse.
I mean, I feel it’d be a reasonable excuse.

For most of the week it was some variation on this grumbling, but somehow between the frantic bouts of inspirations and the frequent breaks for Buzzfeed articles a miracle happened and a paper appeared. From this point I’m just choosing to not think about it any more and start focusing on the next looming deadline – presentations.

Back home, it seems that my parents have gotten SNOW already, and tonight the weather is threatening -20 to -40 F with the Arctic chill sweeping through the North American continent. I will take drizzle any day over that, thank you very much. In fact, I’ve gotten to the point of walking outside without a jacket when the sky is grey because “it doesn’t smell like rain outside” and it’s accurate. I’m impressed with myself.

Oh! Speaking of dying, I got to visit a real-live NHS doctor’s office this week. Was actually just for the routine check up I booked before coming down with plague, but that’s life for you. Of course, this is only one clinic in one city, but I was really impressed with the service. At the front desk I signed in through a touch screen that told how many patients were ahead of me and then sat down in the waiting room. In the room was a scrolling marquee that would chime whenever a patient was to be seen with their name and the room they should go to on the screen. When it came to my name, I walked to the room and was greeted by a friendly nurse who took my vitals and asked what I needed to be seen for. She updated my prescription and even helped me out with it because there’s no direct version of it here in the UK. (Definitely check your medicines before studying abroad for this!)  It felt really weird just walking out of the building after without talking to the front desk about billing. It felt even weirder filling the prescription. It literally consisted of me handing over the paper, the pharmacist finding the pills and putting the data in the computer, then handing them to me. No insurance fuss, no dread over what the final bill was going to be. Granted, I didn’t have to pay for my medicine in this case, but not all medicine in the UK is free. It’s a complicated system, but it’s still much clearer and less dread-inducing than medicine in the US.

Otherwise I’ve been more resident than tourist, so I tried to get a few photos of just everyday things around town that stood out in one way or another. Some of the things that get me the most are the food products. Sometimes the food is exactly the same as in the US, sometimes it’s arbitrarily renamed, and sometimes you’ll find something completely unique. I’ve learned to not go into the shops for groceries with any preconceptions.

I’ve also been really missing my fuzzball kitty and I’ve been told he misses me, though it seems Mom and Dad have been excellent cat keepers thus far as he’s snoozing behind their heads on the couch in the evenings. It made me sadder to see this poster on a street coming home, but it gave me some faith in humanity to see what people had added.

Lost Cat Poster

My kitty, safe with the parentals, looking surly as usual.
My kitty, safe with the parentals, looking surly as usual.

And to end this fascinating blog update, there was this weirdness I ran into today walking to the Fees Office on campus and laughed harder at than I probably should have. There were no gardeners in sight and though overcast it wasn’t raining. However, it looked like someone just kinda thought, “Meh, this is good enough for now,” and just walked away from it. Maybe it’s just the adjustment of living with what feels like a ‘meh’ mentality here from most people, but I found it hilarious. I dunno.

"Meh, this is good enough for now."

I guess if I’m laughing at a lone lawnmower it’s probably time for me to get some sleep. Hope all is well where you are, and I hope to write again this weekend!

— Kate