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

New Year, but not new resolutions as such.

I think I did New Year Resolutions like twice when I was a teenager and they always fail by March at the latest. Writing down something major to change and then just expecting to stick to it through the year is a hilarious and depressing way to start a year. Heck, I’ll be struggling to remember it’s 2018 and not 2017 until April. Why would I expect major life changes to stick so easily?

Instead dear readers, I’ve decided to do a year of 30(ish) day challenges. If I can make it through a month and it sticks, awesome. If not, it’s only 30 days, and that’s something worthwhile in itself. I won’t lie, I’ve done some of these challenges because I wanted to fit it neatly into this blog. Also, I realised a lot of the original challenges were weight and diet related and it looked a bit bleak. Whilst weight is a big issue for me, I don’t want it to take over my life for a year!

There will be some things that overlap and some overlying things that runneth over. For starters, actually sticking to my calorie target for bare minimum weight loss will be in the background this year, particularly in this first quarter of the year, which I have termed the Diet Quarter. Speaking of which, the other three quarters have been named as well – the Willpower Quarter, the Mental Health Quarter, and the Exercise Quarter. Why is exercise at the end of the year you ask? Well for one, M would graciously let me attempt all the cooking over Christmas, but we all know that would end poorly. Secondly, enjoying nature for 30 minutes is much more pleasant when you aren’t cold and being rained on. Also, I’ve got grand ambitions for starting jump rope as an overlying thing that will runneth over throughout.

So here below is the approximate plan for the year:

The Diet Quarter

 

January

A traditional Dry January, with some provisos. Our wedding anniversary is right in the middle of the month, and I want to celebrate it with something more than Diet Coke. I do not want to hear about your mocktail ideas instead. Just let me have this. It won’t be as strict as my Sober October challenge was, as I’m not raising money in my name. If you feel so inclined, I’ll leave a link for one off donations to the UK eating disorder charity Beat throughout the first three months as part of the Diet Quarter. Be healthy in what you do and all that, yeah?

February

No snacks. Sounds easy, will likely be very hard. Having tracked my food throughout the year, I know full well that snacks are the main reason I am not back at the weight I want to be. Mercifully a 28 day challenge, but hoping this one will stick.

March

Mindful eating and all that jazz. Mostly just retraining myself to eat small, slow bites and not eat meals like a starving animal. I’m halfway tempted to buy one of those forks that vibrates if you’re eating too quickly, but may just eat everything with tiny cutlery for children over the first fortnight. That would at least bring humour into the situation. This is also a good challenge to gear myself up with for the next quarter as well.

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Sweet dreams are made of this.

The Willpower Quarter

April

The no-money month. Okay, okay. Obviously some money will be spent, but on things that absolutely have to be had – food, toiletries, train tickets – those kinds of things. Again, looking back over bank statements over the last year, I am guilty of buying snacks at the station, ordering takeaways when we had food we could make, and buying random toys and clothes under retail therapy that while used didn’t need to be bought. It would be really nice to be able to take all that money saved and throw it at some debt.

May

No mindlessly checking my phone when I’m at home. We all do this, and I think we all know it’s not great (especially around other people). So for the month of May, if I’m at home my phone will be allowed to roam the house with me and I can answer calls and texts, but will have to be left in pre-decided Phone Homes where I can’t readily pick it up and scroll out of boredom/fidgetiness. I married a great guy, and I should be using the limited time in the day to actually see and talk to him, not just show the poor soul the latest internet memes. He’ll just get those while I’m on the train. 😉

June

Rolling into the mental health of the next round will be finding something nice to say about myself every day. Listing general good things about the world is much easier than being kind to myself, and that’s incredibly messed up. So to push myself into a new mindset, let’s use all of this newfound willpower to start thinking nice thoughts.

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The cats of the internet will have to wait.

The Mental Health Quarter

July

Spend at least 30 minutes a day outside in nature. Like proper nature, not just a walk around the block or a stroll from one museum down Exhibition Road and into another. I’m setting down the rule that the 30 minutes have to be walking on something unpaved. I’m debating if listening to podcasts whilst wandering is acceptable. We shall see. Regardless, getting out every day and getting some sun while this country actually sees any is going to be important.

August

Taking over cooking. I should explain. I am physically capable of cooking. I have actually cooked things successfully. I still cook occasionally when M is on night shifts. Generally though, he does the cooking and I’ll help out occasionally and otherwise clean up the leftover mess. It works, and we both like the roles we have. However, everyone always tells me that it’s therapeutic to cook, and that it’s good for the soul and all that. So I thought I’d give it one more go and see if by the end of the month I too have achieved the chef’s nirvana I hear rumour of.

September

Easing out of the mental health months will be a month-long project of writing down the different aspects of my life that I am thankful for. These always start off easy, then get cheesy, then get downright ridiculous before being abandoned somewhere around Day 16 at most. This time, I’d like to finish a full 30 days. It’ll be interesting to see where I end up delving towards the end, and also finding out if there are any themes that emerge.

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See? There’s some greenery.

The Exercise Quarter

October

Actually getting 10,000 steps EVERY DAY for a month. Usually if I’m on a work day, I get all the steps. However, any holidays or weekends are usually atrocious. Right now post-Christmas, my FitBit says I have an average of 5,998 steps per day if that gives you an idea of it. I’d like to add a monetary challenge to this to incentivise myself and make it hurt if I don’t reach it, but I don’t want to give money to some Evil Organisation. Also, if it goes towards something like a gadget for M that would drive me crazy, he’ll likely try to hamper said efforts. I’ll need to think about this one.

November

Stairs only. I will regret this with every fibre of my being with any deep line tube travel. I will definitely regret it with the fact that I currently work on the 5th floor (US 6th floor) of the building. But if this challenge doesn’t fall under exercise, I don’t know what would.

December

Finally, I want to end the year with some extra space in my clothes so I can eat ALL the cheeses. I’ve finally stopped lying to myself and telling myself I’ll run in the winter. Instead, I’ve found a few indoor 30 minutes or less routines. I’ll pick one closer to time and subject myself to it for the month. I may even convince the Significant Otter to join in. Maybe.

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Okay, these stairs could get a pass on grounds of health and safety.

So there we are – game plan for the year laid out. Now to see what madness comes of it, and to see if only taking little steps of 30 days at a time makes it any easier for things to stick. Wish me luck?

 

— Kate

Almost Christmas!

I’ve gotten my yearly reminder that my website renewal is up, and it finally guilted me into coming back to write again. Blogging on the regular is harder than you would think y’all. So what’s been going on around here since?

Well, Storm Ophelia came across the British Isles. Absolutely ravished poor Ireland, tearing roofs off of buildings and sending in gigantic waves. It brought us a lot of rain and winds, but nothing like there. The main feature that stood out was the creepy yellow sky that coloured England for a few hours over lunch. The photos I took didn’t do it any justice, but it looked like something from a doomsday scenario. Of course, science will always explain the magic, and it turned out to be sands swept up from the Sahara Desert that the storm’s winds carried all the way up to England, obscuring the view of the sun. A lot of folks on Twitter that were familiar with sandstorms said it looked exactly the same as they remember.

It was a good thing we survived Doomsday, as soon after was the arrival of our new nephew! He came into the world with all ten fingers, all ten toes, and the sweetest little face. 🙂 Everyone in the new little family is healthy and home now, though perhaps with a bit less sleep these days. I’m looking forward to seeing them all again this week!

October came to an end, and with it my obligations to sobriety. By the end of the month, I managed to raise £175 for cancer support, and we celebrated November 1st with a bottle of champagne. (I would say I had a drink at 12:01, but let’s be real, I’m old now. It was the next evening.) It also helped soothe the pain of my failed driving theory test on the 31st. I missed by ONE POINT.

We managed okay though, with a chill staycation in Essex the next week. Saw the coast, rode some tiny trains, tried some new pubs – it was like Spain without the sunshine or Spanish language. Catching up on sleep though – that was ace.

Came back to the real world again and straight into another conference. This time, it was to the British Museum for the first 3D conference they’ve held. It was a wide variety from arts to sciences, tiny to massive scales. Saw some folks I’ve gotten to know over the year, and met some new ones that were pretty darn cool.

Back into the daily grind, it’s been all hands on deck at work. Something about the magic of Christmas means everyone needs to get things wrapped up or begun before we all disappear for the holidays. It’s been good though. It’s nice to be busy and useful! When possible, I was cramming in more studying for this next driving test. Nothing says cool kid like reading a theory test study guide at lunch break. After failing the last driving theory test, M booked the next one on a weekend straight away, and it turns out the second time was the charm! We celebrated by going home and going back to sleep after an 8 AM pass.

Before you know it, it was the end of November. My parents enjoyed being empty nesters by going to Las Vegas for Thanksgiving, and as usual we held our feast the Saturday after. This time around, our warnings were heeded and our guests came properly hungry. Everyone still had to be rolled to the sofa afterwards, but it was a definite success.

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The next few weekends had been booked full. We went up to Leeds again to catch up with friends and got to witness the Leeds Christmas Festival in all of its German Market glory. Hopped about the city centre at various bits of nightlife, and even ended up in an old industrial mill that’s been turned into a bit of an events place. That evening it happened to be an Apres Ski theme.

The next weekend was not quite so exciting. Well, maybe snow is exciting for some, but not when you used to live in what felt like Snow Central. Yes, it snowed in England. And properly this time. It started snowing in the night on Saturday and continued nearly all day on Sunday. Not only did it snow heavily, but it didn’t melt. And then it started snowing again on Monday. All the while, I sniffled and coughed on the sofa with a steadily worsening cold. Of which I then passed on to M by Tuesday. I don’t know what’s up with this year’s variety of cold, but it is akin to the flu in severity. You only really get to miss the aches and constant fever sweats. Wash yo hands ladies and gents.

On the brighter side of things, the snow finally melted away completely today, the two of us seem to be functional (if coughing) humans, and in a new Christmas record all the gifts are wrapped by the 17th. So there we are, caught back up on life and the universe. I’ve got ideas and plans for this blog in the coming year, and of course would always welcome ideas from the peanut gallery. Chat more later?

 

— Kate

 

Christmas 2016

Christmas snuck up much quicker this year. Suppose it helps being employed! However, M and I were quite pleased to have all the presents wrapped and accounted for BEFORE Christmas Eve. We were even packed up and ready to travel before strictly necessary. It was wild.

There were also all the Christmas parties in the world to go to during December. At least it felt like it. (Not a complain by the way!) So maybe that’s what made it feel like it was coming up so quickly. So many opportunities to wear my reindeer antler headband. Looking back, I can see why my jeans were so tight by New Year’s.

The husband had work until Christmas Eve, so we left the evening of and headed out to Tetbury. It was nothing short of miraculous that we managed to get our luggage, all the presents, and ourselves into the Little Red Mini, but it was accomplished!

It did make for a bit of a laugh when we finally arrived at the in-laws around midnight and added our presents to the pile. Seems everyone was feeling extra festive this year. After we got everything in the house, we snuck up to bed to get a few hours sleep before the youngest in the family woke up to Christmas magic. We almost made it until 7 am.

Gift opening took less time this year than last, but it was mostly due to a new opening system. That and everyone looked like they could use a nap before Christmas dinner. Post-present, post-nap, we all got dressed up nicely and came down for the Christmas feast. All the traditional foods were served, including the ever misunderstood Brussels sprouts.

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In case you wondered what they looked like in the wild.

Dinner concluded, the annual Christmas game began. It goes as thus – wrapped presents appear on the table. Everyone picks a number out of a bowl. Depending on the year, the person with the highest or lowest seems to go first. They pick a present, but don’t open it. The numbers go around with everyone picking a present in order. Then they’re all opened and the real game starts.

Unlike other varieties of this game that you will see, the family rule is that it continues until everyone is happy with their gift and no one else swaps for an entire round. This makes what could otherwise be a 20 minute game into a two hour event. Keep in mind, these are not high ticket items, but you’d be amazed the bargaining power of a cat head timer or a pack of wooden spoons. Bargaining and pleaded was completed, and we all headed to the living room for the evening.

The next day was Boxing Day. Tradition in this house is to do a cold cut spread, and this year it was EPIC. Keep in mind, there were twelve adults present, but there were still bits to nibble on the next morning.

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After two days in the house, M and I really needed to go for a walk, so we took a joy ride over to Cirencester and wandered the town. He ended up being dragged into the Corinium Museum to satisfy my never ending need to see old things along the way, but handled it admirably.

We did have a time frame to stick to though, as we were due at his aunt and uncle’s house for the belated Boxing Day party and (this year) murder mystery dinner!

After Boxing Day festivities, it all went quiet in the Cotswolds as we relished in that limbo period between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. Most of the family headed out to Manchester to celebrate the youngest’s birthday, but we stayed behind as M had to be back at work too soon to allow it.

He did however plan to meet up with his friend from Leeds, who was currently in the area visiting his family. He went out to pick him up from the nearby town and I hung around the house, figuring I’d give them some male bonding time. Little did we know just how long they’d be gone.

I never quite got the same story out of both of them, but from what I gather, they were about 3 miles away from the house with groceries in the back of the car when suddenly M either overcorrected or just didn’t see it, but managed to hit a pothole. I only wish I could see this pothole, because the damage it did not only shredded the tyre, but upset the wheel too.

So the boys got to sit on the side of the road for about 2 hours as one AA van came out and agreed that the tyre couldn’t be reinflated, then a tow truck followed along to get them back. When they got to the street, the truck couldn’t go down it, so they had to take the poor limping Mini off the back of it and slowly drive it to his parents’ house.

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The poor car. 😦

The next morning, we got to call every tyre place in the region to find someone who could not only replace a tyre, but also a wheel. In Christmas holidays.

Miraculously, one was found that didn’t cost an arm and a leg, and we headed out only a day later than intended. It’s not a holiday without something happening now is it? 😛

Thankfully, the journey home was uneventful and the overall festive period was much enjoyed!

 

— Kate

Trip to Leeds (Winter 2016)

Fast forward into early December! We’d taken some friends up on their offer to come and see them in Leeds. M and I took the Friday off and trundled into the Little Red Mini to adventure forth up the M11. It was a welcome break to not have to go around the M25 for a change. It was exciting as a first trip up to Leeds, and because the lovelies we were going to see for the weekend had cats. 🙂

We arrived after a slight detour off the motorway and through a village and turned around to go for dinner at a nearby Indian restaurant. The samosas were legit, man. The guys are childhood friends and were quickly thick as thieves again, cracking jokes and catching up. Myself and the lovely K caught up as well on life. We haven’t seen each other since Thanksgiving last!

It was a lovely evening, but we were up and ready for the next day’s adventures. First to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. The park is an open-air gallery showing work by many modern artists, including the well-known Henry Moore. The YSP is situated in the grounds of Bretton Hall, which was an 18th century estate until recently, when it became a college.

If you’re in the area it’s a great place for a peaceful walk, as well as enjoying art (and possibly some chips at the centre).

We returned back to theirs in the afternoon and has some down time before we then drove over to see the seasonal event going on – the Magic Lantern Festival!

The festival was held in Roundhay Park in Leeds. It was a mixture of traditional Chinese culture and Christmas festivities all wrapped up in gigantic lanterns lit and inflated across the park. We entered through a massive lantern gateway and joined a moving troupe of families as everyone marvelled at the lanterns and took photos. The pathway meandered through the park at a leisurely pace, leading up to the ultimate lantern to be found at the end of twin dragons over a pond.

With about a million photos each, we all nipped off to a nearby pub to warm up and inspect our pictures. We had also met up with some of their friends at the festival, who joined us afterwards.

From there it was back home to order some of the best local delivery pizza I have had in ages, and then we all chattered away the night!

The next morning was a bit of excitement, as the shower started leaking into the ceiling below, onto the heads of our hosts drinking tea. It was a tense moment, but her dad was able to come over and diagnosed it as a simple seal issue. It was fixed, the ceiling was dried, and all was well with the world again!

We finally headed out and had an uneventful drive home. The highlight of the drive was probably the news that the cats were finally getting the hang of the cat flap and no longer merely stared at it and cried. Progress for kitties. 🙂

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Until next post!

 

— Kate

Christmastime in Kensington (Winter 2015)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

— Kate

3 New Cities, 2 New Museums, and 1 Sleepy Kate

It’s been hectic since getting back from Christmas break, but it’s been educational and fun and MAN have I been lucky to see as much as I have in these few months I’ve been here. To catch y’all up with what all has occurred I’m doing another photo-heavy post, but I’ll try to get some actual writing in later this week and (in theory) be back to the usual by this weekend on scheduling. With no further ado, I launch you into the King Richard III Visitors Centre!

After finding the king in a car park in 2012, the Leicester city council rapidly put together an exhibit in the Guildhall. Soon after, they purchased the historic school building nearby the site and created the permanent visitor centre. They were faced with an interesting dilemma in that they actually have no artefacts to display. Richard is being reinterred at Leicester Cathedral next door, and there wasn’t much in the car park to tie directly to the king. However, the exhibition is put on using digital and print storytelling techniques and used 3D scanning and printing to display the skeleton in more creative ways than they could have with the actual thing. It may cost £8 to get in, but I’d say it’s well worth it for an afternoon adventure.

Next was a day trip to Bath. It was a whirlwind tour through, but we hit all the main spots and I’d love to go back at some point. The city is very strict on how they portray their image and it shows in the modern buildings blending almost seamlessly into the older ones.

The day after Bath we were in Lacock. Lacock is the coolest idea for a heritage project. Basically, the National Trust owns nearly all of the buildings in the village, so they have strict control over what is done to them. However, they rent them out for people to live in, and there are still enough shops (albeit mostly for the tourists) that it still feels like a functioning village. One that hasn’t progressed past the 1700s, but a functional one nonetheless. While we were there we got to walk through a house from the 1450s that was available to rent by the week if you fancy a novel holiday…

The next adventure was Brussels, as it was Valentine’s Day weekend and going to Paris would be absolute madness. Brussels was a much better choice, and we had a fantastic time! Unless you’re going to see all there is to see of Brussels and the museums they have, going over a weekend is plenty of time to feel like it’s worth it. Also much better to have good company that can speak a lick of French or Dutch. 😉

Finally, there was our programme trip to Manchester last week to see the Imperial War Museum North as a field trip. They were another case study of very little actual artefacts, but you wouldn’t realise it right away. Most of their displays are papers and letters, but they use multimedia and interactives to really offset what could have been a super dry experience and instead make it a very personal one. It’d be worth a visit if you’re already in the Manchester area.

So that’s all for now, but I’ve got another field trip Friday to Hampton Court Palace outside of London and possibly a visit into London for another wander this weekend. We shall see. It’s just going to be busy whirlwind life for the next month and then dissertations begin after that. Woo.

Wish me luck!

— Kate