The Parentals were Back!

 

Hello again! ‘Twas a lovely little holiday hiatus, but I’m back! We’re now officially moved into the new home and have had the old rental cleaned and keys returned. Perhaps I will post house photos at some point, but only when it starts to develop a state of order. Moving in and then immediately turning around and having family around, then a holiday, then going back to Commuter Life makes for a slow unpacking. But there’s definitely firm progress, and I think we have lofty ambitions to call it settled in by Thanksgiving time. Maybe.

Thankfully, the lion’s share of the kitchen, bedrooms, and bathrooms were unboxed with the help of the super in-laws. They even helped motor us around for such exciting (and necessary) purchases like curtains and curtain rails. Moving into a new house rather makes you forget how many windows a house can have, and how much window furnishing can add up really quickly! We don’t have curtains for every room still, but the living room and bedrooms are sorted, and if people want to be nosey whilst I wash things in the sink, then I suppose I’ll just have to put up with the weirdos for now.

Even with the excitement of moving into the new house, it was still equally rivalled by getting to see Mom and Dad again! They managed to fly in on Monday morning and I met them at Liverpool Street station. The future is weird, and I was able to track them down to the Uber with the Find My Friends app on my phone. Handy, but weird. Ah, it is always so good to see them! Big hugs were exchanged and we headed out for Colchester to try and beat the rush hour chaos.

The next day while still jet lagged, Mom and Dad headed off to Cambridge to see one of Dad’s students and explore the town as I had to go to Manchester for a conference. If you’re into microscopy in any form, I’d highly recommend going to the MMC next year. From top of the line tech companies to amateur fans, it was a very educational experience and I picked up a few new ideas.

After all the dust settled, it was back into work for one more day on Wednesday and the chance to give Mom and Dad a behind the scenes tour of what’s been going on here at the museum. Below is a photo of our newly posed blue whale, Hope, in the main hall of the museum.

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Hope, the new emblem of the Natural History Museum!

Looking at her reassembled and mounted like that, it’s hard to believe that I have handled every one of those bones. (With help on most, mind you!) She’s now quite finished and available to the public, and I cannot recommend highly enough that you come and see her if you’re in town. She’s all of our pride and joy. 🙂

After Wednesday, my time off officially began and started with all of us having a nice long lie in. Between the jet lag and the gogogo! lifestyle of the week, it was much needed. Alas, our weary work was not quite done in terms of setting the house in order, so we put Mom and Dad to work a bit over the weekend. Mom helped with some design quandaries, and Dad performed a miracle and transformed a pile of cardboard boxes filled with IKEA products into a wardrobe, and to professionally hang up all of the curtains.

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Possibly the best pub garden in Tetbury.

With the house shaping up into fine form and my parents in need of a proper holiday, we headed out to the Cotswolds Monday morning to meet up with the lovely in-laws at their house. It was a thankfully mostly uneventful drive, with only a 25 minute delay on the M25, unlike the hour doozy we had last time. Mom also had a good laugh at the “Mexican” restaurant at the service station and the fact that they sold chicken wings. Not to say chicken wings aren’t enjoyed in Mexico, but are they really known for it?

We got into Tetbury in time for a quick tour of the town by the father in law, and then headed out for a delicious Italian dinner. Didn’t want to stay up too late though, as we were off to visit the Roman Baths (finally!) the next day.

If you get the chance to go, I would definitely recommend going to visit the Baths. It was everything I was hoping it would be, sans comic amounts of tourists. I suppose you can never really escape the tourists in Bath, especially in the summertime, but it does make it a bit hairy at some points in the building. Regardless though, I think we all learned something new about Bath that day!

We made it home from Bath after a quick bit of shopping after the tour, in which Mom never did find that yearly planner she was looking for. More of the English family was coming in for the evening, and we had all the fixings for a BBQ lined up. In true form, this meant that the rain began at about noon and refused to let up for the rest of the evening. Not to be dissuaded, the Significant Otter put the BBQ under a marquis and cooked everything anyway, with a fire brigade style chain of family members bringing food back and forth with minimal raindrops.

The next day the skies dried up and taunted us a bit as we were planning on being inside for most of the day. You see, we’d signed up for a brewery tour at the nearby Wadworths Brewery. Again, it was an educational experience, and it was really cool getting to see the giant open vats that they brewed some of the ales in. Also it’s been around since Victorian times, so seeing the mixture of old and new machinery and construction was really impressive. And of course, the variety of ales to try at the end of the tour wasn’t half bad either, though I think Mom may argue the best part was getting to meet the brewery horses. Wadworths is one of the last companies to still bring all the beer kegs within a 2 mile radius to the pubs by horse and cart!

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Not pictured – the gleeful fathers ready to learn about (and drink) all the brews.

On the way back from the brewery, M and I decided on a little pit stop for my parents as the weather was continuing to behave and stopped off at the village of Avebury. I was surprised to hear that even though my Dad had lived in England as a kid, he’d never gotten to see the stone circle around Avebury, so I really wanted them to go. I’m glad we did, as it seemed like they had a really good time. Dad got to enjoy walking around the circle and being able to touch (and sit!) on the massive stones, and Mom got to pet almost every dog there. Even M got some ice cream out of it and seemed pleased with the result.

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Some of the smaller stones, looking majestic in the sunlight.

All good things must come to an end though, and seemingly out of nowhere it was soon time to take Mom and Dad back to the airport. We all spent the night at the hotel outside of Heathrow and had to send them on their way in the morning after a massive cooked breakfast. 😦 Overall though, it was fantastic to see them both again, and I hope we gave them a good trip! Looks like it’s our turn to go out to America next year then. 🙂

I suppose this means back to unpacking and behaving like some kind of adult again then eh?

Speak soon!

 

— Kate

Nearly There, Just Missing a Few Boxes.

It has been quite the eventful week! GP visits, packing, paperwork, and really sweaty trains! Where do I begin?

Let’s start with the exciting bit – the house inspection passed and we are officially getting the keys handed over on Friday! We had a rather extensive tour of all the inner working of the house, and learned some cool new facts along the way. I don’t know when I got to the point in life that smooth closing cabinets in the kitchen and built in hair catchers in showers became cool, but it happened at some point. After being taught how radiators work and what not to put down toilets, as well as the useful bits and bobs, we’ve signed off on what will hopefully be some of the last few bits of paperwork before we can move in! Well, ignoring the fact we’ve had to hire movers to get there. That’ll be another 3 forms at least.

Ahh, it was amazing seeing the place at 99% complete! Because I’m a nerd and have nothing better to do on public transport, I even made a little before and after photos between when we last saw the interior in May to now.

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Being so close to completion means it was also a week of frantic packing. Unfortunately, that’s where the GP visits cropped up. I’d been poorly on and off all week and didn’t get much sleep. Poor M had to pick up the slack and pack singlehandedly during the workweek, on top of doing his normal 48 hour a week job as well as cart me around for doctor visits. Honestly, I married a saint of a man.

Whatever it is that’s afflicting me, it was mostly contained over the weekend and I managed to get a hefty portion of the house packed whilst M was working the night shift at the hospital. It was a grand team effort, with him building boxes in the evenings before work and me filling them all up while he was asleep. It’s this time of year when we pack up to move every year that I (secretly him as well, a little) contemplate a severely minimalist lifestyle that doesn’t involve ALWAYS having to buy new packing boxes. Honestly, I don’t know if they’re dying at an alarming rate or if our stuff is expanding, or both. It always seems to be a different size that’s gone missing each year too. Moving is fun like that.

As this will hopefully be the last move for awhile, we’re getting movers to help successfully transport everything to the new house without completely scuffing the walls up. I will be eternally grateful to them for moving all the heavy bits in the middle of the summer, especially if the weather decides to give us a heatwave again.

And about that HEAT. Britain is not an island meant for weather above about 27° C. And it hit 33° C this last week. The trains literally started melting the tracks. They were actually buckling. Greater Anglia tried to work with this by moving trains really slowly across them and not running as many trains in general. Of course, the trains they did run were the mostly older stock which have little vent windows and no A/C. How many trains had further delays caused by passengers passing out in the heat inside the carriages is beyond me, but they intentionally cancelled 47 train journeys on the hottest day. This led to some great British sarcasm at work:

DC0ygABW0AAO1eE

At one point Greater Anglia even put up a picture post on their Twitter account (now deleted) with bullet points on how to beat the heat and all that with tips about drinking water and only pulling the emergency handle at the stations. The best tip though? I swear to god they had put on there “Decide if you really need to use the train today.” Yes, because I’m sure loads of London commuters can just call in to work to say it’s too hot. We’ll all take the bus. Honestly.

Thankfully, the lab has been a blissful 22° C for the last two weeks, so I can even enjoy a hot cup of tea in the dead of summer. Unfortunately, I’ve been limited to only one cup a day for two weeks by the GP to settle out the whole upset body dilemma. The first three days I had a raging headache and wanted to sleep on my desk, but it seems to be getting better now. I might even (*cue shock and horror*) consider keeping my caffeine intake lower after all of this. I’m really feeling like I have more overall energy, and I don’t have the constant desire to snack on things. Meh, we’ll see how it all plays out!

What else has happened over the week? Got to walk through the staff portion of a hospital, got my annual dental check up (no cavities!), accidentally walked outside and witnessed the Chelmsford Naked Bike Ride in full swing, and managed to finally kill our shower and am having to revert to baths for the week. Let’s be real – if the letting agency knows we’re moving out Saturday, what are the chances of the shower being fixed before then? In the meantime if you need me, I’ll be hanging out with Rubber Ducky.

Man, it’s going to be a hectic next few weeks, but all filled with very lovely things. After this week we move, then the next week my parents come to visit, then the week after we’ll be taking them down to Tetbury so all the parentals can see each other and enjoy the English countryside. I will attempt to keep up, but I make no promises!

So far, this week is off to a good start, and maybe we’ll even have all of our packing done in time for this move! Wish us luck for the relocation, and I’ll talk to y’all next week! 🙂

 

— Kate

anatomy of a cup of tea

Hello from the trains!

Let me just get it out there and say that I will not be delving into British politics this week, even with everything going on. Not with a ten foot pole. There are many other bloggers and reporters who have laid it out for those not in the UK, and I would direct you there instead. Seriously, it’ll do my head in otherwise. The only thing I will say is that as an American, I am not allowed to vote. Even though I live here, I can only exercise that right if I become a citizen when eligible in the next 3.5 years. If I were a Canadian or an Australian I could, but apparently if your country left the Motherland like a teenager running away from home and crashing the car whilst doing it, you don’t get to vote while living here.

Also, my heart aches for the latest tragedy to unfold in this beautiful country with the massive fire happening in London and now the attack on people worshipping. The people of the city were amazing as ever though, and so many donations of food, clothing, and basic necessities poured in that collection centres had to turn some of it away. Londoners may not always be the friendliest on the Tube, but they’re always there to look out for other humans in need. ❤

In brighter(ish) news – there’ll be one less reason for spam phone calls here in the UK soon! PPI – or payment protection insurance was a policy sold alongside loans that was meant to cover any loan repayments if you lost your job or got sick. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a massive con that was sold to people who didn’t need it, want it, or could even claim it. Finally, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) stepped in and said no more, and the PPI claims companies began…

Basically, you’ll get a robo-call saying that you might have been sold PPI and they’ll happily find out for you for no charge. The trouble is, these robo-calls happen ALL THE TIME. However, the end is in sight, as the FCA are ending the compensation claims in 2019. It sounds like they’ll just have to double down on the robo-calls saying that you’ve been in a car accident that wasn’t your fault. I sure hope it wasn’t, as I don’t drive!

I mean, I have a US license, but until I get my act together and take the driving test here, I am permanently riding shotgun in the car. But that’s okay, as I’ve become a slave to the train lines. Ah, the things you do for London. Or to not have to live IN London.

Currently from Chelmsford, I’m commuting about an hour and a half to get to work. Mind you, that’s from my front door to the door of my office. And it varies wildly. Some days I can catch the right train from the station, then hop immediately on to the Underground, then arrive at work in just an hour. A perfect run is a rare beast though. There’s usually a little wait time for different bits of the journey, but that’s to be expected when you’re using multiple forms of public transport.

And before you tell me that’s still a crazy long commute, keep in mind that I’m not driving anything. I routinely have my morning cup of tea, do my makeup, and catch up on the news (or snooze) on the way in. The only real trouble is my commuter rage that flares up on occasion. Mostly on the Tube. Honestly, 90% of the irritants are people standing places they shouldn’t, be it someone standing in the middle of the carriage and not moving in so we can all fit on, or someone standing in the middle of the queue to the ticket barriers so we can’t get out of the station. Basically, for the love of all that is holy, please move away from the centre of everything when using transport in London. Oh, and for heaven’s sake don’t put your bag on a seat. You’re a monster. Put it on your lap or the floor like a civilised human and let another weary worker sit down.

Anyway, best to leave it there before the bitter commuter rage engulfs my soul. Time to think of brighter things, like the glorious sunny weather we’ve been having, or that we’re inching ever closer to moving to Colchester! It sounds like all of the I’s have been dotted and the T’s crossed in terms of actual building, and they’ve booked us in to do a final inspection tour this Friday now that the site inspector has given it his clearance. After that, it’s going to be released to us to move in on 30 June! This is going to mean some rather hasty packing soon. Will be sure to keep you updated!

 

— Kate

rude rabbit with carrot
The commuting spirit animal.

 

Buying a House (Winter 2017)

Even though the significant otter will still be rotating every year for the next 3 years or so for his training, we at least know approximately the towns he’s going to be sent to and can finally plan around it. With that in mind, we started house hunting!

Initially we thought about finding a DIY project, but kinda realised that with both of us ending up with 1+ hour commutes, it wasn’t likely to pan out. Plus, there are some big incentives to buy a new build property these days.

We started looking in Chelmsford, but the London commuter belt has been ever widening and what you can get in Chelmsford is proving smaller and smaller. From there, we branched out to Colchester and struck gold.

Honestly, I prefer Colchester to Chelmsford, even if it’s adding time on to my commute. It’s close to London, but not so close that it suffers in shopping and city centre functions for it. There’s a nice feel to the town, plus more historical things for me to enjoy when M is working weekends. 😉 He’s keen on it too because there are old friends nearby and he’s always liked some of the pubs in town. That and the steak place.

Anyway, long story short – we put a deposit down on a new build house in Colchester! Everything is going to be so shiny and new, and we even got to decide things like counter tops and tiles and carpeting! I’m going to end up going overboard at Lakeland trying to keep this place immaculate. It’s just such a wonderful thought to have a place to finally put roots in and call our own. 🙂

After we put in the deposit, we got to go see how the house was looking at the moment. It’s an active building site, so you have to request an appointment and have the lovely staff take you out there. With hi-vis jackets and hard hats on, we were off through the mud to see our new treasure!

Of course, we’ve been back a few times since, and have made it a habit of lurking at the site gate to try and see what they’ve done to the house. On our last trip up to finalise cabinets and tiles, we managed to get a brief glimpse. It appears they’ve started adding the rendering and have put the roof on!

At the moment, the completion date is set for sometime in the month of June. With the roof on, it hopefully shouldn’t have any major delays from here on out, but we shall see! Regardless, both of us are super excited for this grand new chapter in our lives. 🙂

 

— Kate

Museum Job! (Autumn 2016)

So that great news I was hinting about last post? Well, after a few months of job hunting and a few interviews that followed, I was offered work at the Natural History Museum in London! Not only was I getting to use my degree, but I was also going back to being able to do 3D surface scanning like I did at my last museum!

I’ve been steady at work on a few different projects, some of which should hopefully be going live in the next few weeks so I can tell you all about them. All I can say for now though is that I am working in an amazing place with fantastic people, and that I have a really, really cool job. Honestly, the commute is worth it to do the things I get to do every day. 🙂

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My home away from home!

— Kate

Trains – Choo Choo?

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Kate