It’s been a busy summer.

And yes, I’m starting summer in April. It’s been a weird year.

They aren’t kidding, a PhD is a lot more work than it looks like. Been flitting back and forth between working and travelling, and am going to give you the photo montage catch up. Let us begin with April then eh?

April 2019

In April I went to the SEAHA Conference in Oxford. I got to stay in the swankiest of student accomodation, presented my poster, and then spent time dodging rain and doing some sightseeing in the afternoons and evenings. Also got to have lunch in one of the colleges, which felt very Harry Potter-esque.

Straight after the SEAHA Conference, M and I went to Malta! It was warmer and sunnier than the UK, we had the sea out the window, and there was a lot of Really Old Things to look at. It was an excellent choice. We stayed in Xemxija (which is covered in prehistoric, Roman and Phoenician remains, and the oldest tree on the island btw) and travelled around the country to Valletta, Mdina, and Rabat. Valletta is the capital and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Like most places like this, the main street is flooded with tourists, but if you go two streets down you can wander nearly empty areas. Mdina is the Silent City, as no cars (other than people who live there) are allowed in the walled city, and even then you only really see them parked in a few areas. It’s like walking into a movie set. Rabat is the town right outside of Mdina, which has early Christian catacombs, a Roman villa, and the strangest car park design I’ve ever witnessed.

Sadly, we did have to come home and back to real life. I had some data acquisition at the museum from our scanning electron microscope trials and did work both at home (with cat company) and in the museum.

We managed the first BBQ of the year in April, when a random warm weekend showed up and we decided to make the most of it. It was wise, as the weather was a bit weird after that.

I did also pop down to London to the UCL campus to become inducted into the Institute of Making. It’s the university’s MakerSpace, and gives me access to a huge plethora of tools and ideas for making any old idea I get in my head. The idea is spreading, so check if you have a MakerSpace in your area!

Finally, I got to prep, CT scan, metal coat and SEM data capture a beefly as my first attempt for data for my dissertation. It totally didn’t work, but the beefly did make a nice little victory pose for the scans.

 

May

May was a hectic month. Started it with the annual trip to Lyme Regis with the NHM to volunteer at the Fossil Festival. Lyme Regis still looks exactly as I left it, and the kids still know more about dinosaurs than I do.

Came home from Lyme Regis, washed some clothes, and threw them back in my suitcase to head off to Amsterdam directly afterwards for the 2+3D Photography Conference at the Rijksmuseum. Ophelia did not approve of my leaving. Amsterdam was a fun city to visit, but very expensive. Also, hunting for a historical building will probably lead you through the red light district and you should be prepared for the surreal experience of prostitutes in windows. Would definitely recommend the Rijksmuseum though. They’ve got a massive collection of All Things Dutch, and have displayed it really well.

Back from the Netherlands, M and I decided we wanted to attempt camping again. Reader, one night it got so cold that ice formed on our tent. If there is anything to be learned from this second attempt, it is that camping should never be done as early as May. During the days we had a good time of it though, with rather pleasant weather.

We had to detour down from Suffolk to Chelmsford to get M’s car fixed mid trip, but we used it as an excuse to see the remnants of the Springfield Lyons Bronze Age Enclosure. You can see where the perimeter of a camp used to be, as well as some burials. Again, felt a bit like walking onto a movie set.

We also visited Southwold again, and a new visit to Dunwich – the city that fell in the sea. It’s a really interesting story, and the last vestiges of the thriving medieval city can be walked around. Plus there’s a beach, and that’s always nice on a sunny day.

I tried whitebait when we were out camping one night when we went to the nearby pub. I had no idea what it was. Turns out, it’s like fish fingers that can stare back at you. As long as you don’t stare back, they’re not bad actually. M is still unconvinced.

Towards the end of the month the weather got better and I did as much work as I could outside in the back garden. Judging from the grassprint I left, perhaps too much. When the weather wasn’t behaving, it was all good though as M built me my new desk! It feels like a real office upstairs now.

Finally, we celebrated M’s birthday and had some walks about town to enjoy the new signage that Colchester seems to be putting up everywhere. Some are odder than others.

 

June

In June we went to Italy with M’s family and stayed in a town outside of Venice called Lido di Jesolo. Honestly, if you don’t have ALL the pasta, what are you even doing? The weather was gloriously sunny, the mosquitos were in full force, and there was always something to go see or do.

One of the days there we went to Venice proper. Venice is exactly as beautiful as everyone says it is. However, it is also filled with every tourist all at once. The day before we went a cruise ship accidentally ran into one of the docks, so they banished them all from docking when we were there and I’m not sure it made the blindest bit of difference. Still, you should definitely go. But maybe stay in the city itself and enjoy it when the tourists start thinning out.

Back in London, I was back in the lab helping with an intern doing some SEM work for me. We scanned all kinds of microfossils. We also pushed the SEM to its limits and ended up finding a fault in the contrast that nobody had noticed before and had to call out repairmen. Fun times. We also got to go up one of the towers of the museum, courtesy of my supervisor, which was a legitimately fun time.

There had been a heatwave all month and towards the end it finally broke with a deluge of rain to try and make up for the previous lack of it. SO. MUCH. RAIN. This has been a trend that continued throughout the summer, with a spell of no rain and high heat, then humidity going through the roof, then a torrent of rain.

Back at the museum, I finally got a chance to see the temporary Museum of the Moon exhibit. It’s free, so well worth a visit, but it’s also pretty darn cool.

Mostly though, I was downstairs doing work. Like sorting out butterflies in a box. And then bringing said butterflies to an after hours museum event to explain what I’m trying to do for my PhD to members of the public that walked through. So far everyone has nice things to say about it. So far.

Also, one day I decided to make a log of how long it takes me to get from London back home to Colchester. Not sure I want to know how long it takes going the other way after doing this. I mean, obviously I have an idea, but it just confirms my lunacy in hyper-commuting like this.

July

Not nearly so much going on in July. Went to Manchester for the MMC 2019 Conference and presented some of the work I’d been up to thus far at the Zeiss Microscopy booth. Got to see some really interesting work done in the microscopic world, and even learned a few tips and tricks. And it being Manchester, we got rained on.

Went to a wedding for one of M’s good friends as well. Beautiful converted barn location out in the West Country. Fabulous couple, amazing food, and riotous dancing were all a part.

Otherwise it was mostly just time sat in the lab, working on data acquisition and attempting some experiments.

Oh yes, we also painted the kitchen. And then got a phone call that they could take my gallbladder out the next day. So that happened. And then I got to wear those glorious compression socks for a week. God, those drugs were heavy duty. I didn’t have any pain issues, but I also seem to have lost 4 days worth of proper memories. To be fair, one of those was the hottest day of the year, so I don’t miss that one much.

 

August

August has been frantic catch up of data acquisition post-surgery and then write up of dissertation based off said data. This means I’ve been knocking about the house A LOT. So much so that I got to see our new wheelie bins delivered as our council has decided to join the 21st century and collect rubbish from bins rather than bags on the ground that get savaged by seagulls, cats, and foxes.

The heat came back, and with it I made sun tea. Ophelia guarded it carefully.

Most of the time though, I’ve been dragging the chair and table out and do my work in the sunshine.

There was some rain again, of course right before my early birthday BBQ. I watched the weather apps religiously up until the day and stared out of the office window.

Thankfully, the weather mostly held on the day, just giving us some exceptional winds. It was great to see everyone, though hopefully next time will be a bit less breezy!

 

And there we are, basically up into today. From here on out I’ll just be frantically writing up this dissertation and then prepping for the oral examination with PowerPoint that’s due to come afterwards. Oh yes, and waiting for ethics approval to do the proper PhD work as well with minors. But hey, what is academia if not a long list of things to do, things to chase up, and things to wait to happen?

 

— Kate

Moving to Chelmsford (Summer 2016)

Because we are gluttons for punishment, only two weeks after returning to England (and returning to the correct mental time zone) we up and moved from Norwich to Chelmsford. Thankfully we had done all the house hunting beforehand, so it was just a case of packing up boxes and sorting out moving day.

But oh, were there boxes to be packed. Boxes and boxes. I don’t know how we keep expanding with each move, but it’s going to have to be slowed before we lose an entire room of the house to storage. It’s always good fun to figure out how you last packed all your breakables before doing it again. One year I’ll photograph it all as it’s done so I remember. Maybe.

Due to time restraints and lack of willing (and wonderful) bodies to help us move, we hired movers for this round. It’s amazing how much faster a move goes when professionals are involved. A bit harrowing to watch though. M and I opted to take the train down to Chelmsford and sort out the rental paperwork whilst they put everything on the truck under the watchful eye of the in-laws. Keys were handed over in much better time than anticipated, so we ended up just kind of sitting on the floor of our new empty rental and waiting for the truck and parentals to arrive.

Everyone and everything arrived unscathed, apart from a flower vase that I had improperly wrapped. Not too shabby all things considered! With much help from the wonder in-laws, we unpacked the basics of the house and even built some flat pack furniture without too much profanity and blood loss. In a bit of a box fortress, but a functional box fortress, we bid adieu to the family and began to settle in for the year.

The excitement for the week (post-moving) came the next day with the arrival and installation of a dishwasher! We’d gone a year without one, and let me tell you what a luxury one is when you don’t have it anymore. Not only the ease of cleaning, but also having a space to put dirty dishes before washing that doesn’t cram your kitchen counters/sink and stink up the place. Let’s be honest – sometimes the night’s dishes don’t always get washed right after dinner. Especially when your husband has the ability to use every pot and pan in the house for even a mere casserole.

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What a sight for sore eyes.

Within a week we had tackled the majority of the boxes and put the rest into banishment in the loft. With the house looking vaguely child-safe, we had company over with their bright eyed little baby. Putting down a blanket in the back garden, this was a brilliant evening for catching up and having a BBQ. There were copious amounts of food as per usual, and no one burnt any hair off their face or arms, so it rates as a general BBQ success.

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Plus it may have just been an excuse to use the awesome new grill as soon as possible.

At the end of the weekend, we felt pretty much at home. We’d decorated some, we’d tidied, and we even met the neighbours. Oh, and the neighbourhood cats.

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I was back on the internet scouring for work, and M was doing well in his new posting for the year. Chelmsford is infinitely walk-able and I took advantage of this with my time off. By then I was (and still am) a firm slave to my FitBit. I have to say, the city doesn’t have the same charming feel of Norwich, but has everything you could need and is only 35 minutes away from London by train, so it’s a fair trade. All in all, life was good. Now to just find work again. I make a terrible housewife. 😉

— Kate

How To: Get Around With No Car

Getting around without a car in England was something I was looking forward to, coming from a town in the US where the nearest grocery store was 2 miles away and the main shopping area was close to 3. This however is entirely dependent on how close to (or in) a city you live, though even if you’re in the countryside you can get by with just buses and trains if located in the right spot. Even in the cityscape, you have 4 main options: buses, taxis, trains, and feet.

Buses

Buses in Leicester are next to useless if you live near the city centre, as all of the buses terminate in the centre. This means if I wanted to take the bus to university that I’d have to take one to the city centre (going the wrong way!) and then wait for another one to take me the correct direction towards the campus. If you time it right and don’t miss your connecting bus you’ll get in at … exactly the same time as if you had walked. Needless to say, I don’t bother with the buses in Leicester unless I’ve got arms full with grocery bags or am visiting a village on the outside of the city.

However, buses can be useful in other cities. The one in Colchester is useful for the days you really don’t want to climb up the steep hill to the High Street, and they have a few lines that run across the town. How convenient! The only major issue with this is that (in any town, not just Colchester) you need to know the name of the stop you’re getting off at before you get onto the bus so you can pay the right fare. There won’t always be information as to where each bus line goes, so be prepared to look up this information on your phone ahead of time or brave the possible wrath of a disgruntled bus driver and a queue full of people who would really like you to just not get on.

Taxis

Taxis, while not something I’d use on a daily basis, are not nearly as expensive as you would think, and are sometimes very much worth it. Coming home from the other side of town late at night or with a suitcase is well worth the £6. You forget just how much you rely on your car until you don’t have one, as I have a time or two coming home late. If you can, call a private company in town as the famous black cabs are also generally the most expensive. They’re also the only ones that are legally allowed to be hailed off the street, so sometimes they’re worth it on that alone. It just depends on what you need. In this day and age it’s not so much an issue, but still make sure you’ve got cash on you for these rides just in case (and exact change if you’re going to use the bus!). Also be prepared to tip your driver. The tipping culture is much less extreme here than in the US, but there are still times when it is proper.

Trains

Trains I’ve spoken about before, so I’ll mostly just link you back to that entry. With that stated, trains are my main mode of long distance travel around the country. You can still have some trouble getting certain places though, especially if it’s a small village. You’ll need to prepare to catch a bus or get a ride from someone (or even hoof it) in these cases. This should be factored in to getting BACK to the train station too. Also worth noting is the power of the advance ticket. If you know for sure that you’ll be traveling on a certain day at a certain time, it’s well worth buying a ticket in advance. You can book them up to 12 weeks beforehand, and the sooner you do, the more likely you’ll get a great deal. Add in discounts for going at odd/off-peak hours and having a 16-25 railcard discount and it makes traveling much more feasible.

Feet

So you’re getting ready to go somewhere with no car. We’re going to say just in the city this time, as this is the day to day you’ll deal with. You need to become adept at knowing EXACTLY how long it takes to walk to get somewhere. Google Maps on my phone is generally pretty spot on for estimating walking times (24 minutes to campus!), but it’s always wise to pre-walk the path ahead of time or plan extra time to arrive somewhere when the timing is important. You also need to consider the importance that you will no longer have your car to act as a storage unit. You will become your own pack mule and either learn to travel light or develop new tone to muscles on your back and legs.

A good backpack is a must! At first I was hesistant and tried to get by with my crossbody messenger bag, but even the best of them can’t compete. It’s very common to see people with backpacks on though, even if they’re otherwise dressed really smart, so don’t worry about looking odd for it. Also, this should be a no-brainer, but make sure your bag is waterproof. Umbrellas don’t always cover your back side all the way and no one likes soggy papers or (god forbid) a wet laptop. Along this vein, make sure you either carry your lunch separately or be really confident in your food storage. You’ll always be in the worst spot when the broccoli juices leak out and there are rarely ever paper towels in the bathrooms here.

This bag logic will also inevitably spill over into your grocery bags. There are pros and cons to both though. When it comes to it, plastic bags:

  • Cut off blood circulation to your fingers, unless carrying very light items
  • Can’t be slid over the shoulder
  • Always have a chance of breaking due to weight strain or sharp object edges making holes (cereal boxes are notorious)
  • Bang your things around more, which could be devastating to your bananas and/or glass bottles
  • Some places make you pay for using them, to try to get you to be more eco-friendly

Reuseable bags are however:

  • Generally more comfortable (unless overstuffed and then they like to slide off your shoulders)
  • Fashionable or let you show off your favorite things/places (I’ve resisted the urge to pick up many reusable totes from the museums we’ve visited this year)
  • You have to remember to have one with you when you go out, which you sometimes won’t when you pick things up on the way home
  • Usually pretty good about not upsetting the self-checkout machines
  • Great for rescuing laundry, toting things to friends’, etc.

With this in mind, you’ll start changing your shopping habits a bit. The giant hauls of food don’t happen so often when you realise you have to carry it back. It also helps curb any therapy shopping too when you have to lug it all around town and back home. In general though you’ll just be walking around more, so it won’t feel like much. You just kinda learn to plan your life around it. You get in the habit of walking home with people or calling people up to make the walk pleasant, which is really nice. You can also plug in and tune out with music or podcasts. Regardless, you’ll adapt quickly and if you wear a pedometer you’ll find that reaching those healthy 10,000 steps a day is actually pretty easy to do. You’ll also find that you can in fact walk your bum off, but that it makes finding jeans SO much simpler.

In short, while having a car is really nice and I do miss it on occasion, getting by on foot is entirely doable in Leicester and I love it. At this point I wouldn’t want to drive on a daily basis. Anyhow, it’s getting close to dinnertime and I should probably go find something to cook. Talk to y’all later!

— Kate

ministry of silly walks