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 Car! (Autumn 2016)

Whilst M has been legal to drive since this last summer (Hooray for passing the driving test!), we’d been so busy that he hadn’t been able to actually acquire a car to use with said licence. That was rectified at the beginning of October when he bought his mum’s old car. We are now the proud caretakers of a fabulously British little red Mini!

M’s travel time to work was reduced, and we could now drive out to Sainsbury’s for our groceries on a bi-weekly basis rather than relying on a big grocery delivery once a week and sporadic runs to the nearby Tesco.

This also means it’s so much easier to get to see friends and relatives across the country, of which you will see in later posts!

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The Little Red Mini will become a solid companion over the next few months, with a few good stories revolving around it as well. 🙂

 

— Kate

Seaside Honeymoon (January 2016)

For our honeymoon, we decided to stay in the country and enjoy the quiet Cornish seaside town of Padstow. Well, quiet in January anyway, but that’s a story for another day. It’s a long journey and at the time we didn’t have a car, so we took the chance to ride in a sleeper train all the way from London to Penzance and then get a cab across to Padstow. It was a really fun experience, but you should know that each cabin contains a bunk bed for two, so decide ahead of time who’s sleeping on the top bunk.

However, you get two places to sleep, a coat rack, some luggage space, a mirror, a window, and a washbasin with a towel and soap all behind one lockable door. We spent the first half of our evening in the lounge car watching the English countryside at night pass by whilst we sipped beverages and ate crisps. The rest we snoozed away in our bunks. We were woken at 7 with bacon sandwiches and left the train to a beautiful Cornish sunrise off the Atlantic Ocean. From there, we managed to get to Padstow and had a relatively laid back first day with a nap and a shower high on the list.

Padstow itself is now a tourist hotspot for foodies thanks to Rick Stein and his series of restaurants across town. Seriously, his fish and chips will ruin all other fried cod for you for life – it’s that good. Originally though, Padstow was an old fishing port that goes back at least as far as the Domesday Book. There are remnants of that heritage in the port tours and nautical themes of art and food around the area, but it’s mostly faded into the tourism industry these days.

We did not suffer for being in a tourist area though. Instead, we feasted like royalty and enjoyed the atmosphere of pubs around the harbour. We wandered the streets of the then-empty town as it was in off-season, then wandered out into the countryside of the Camel Estuary. It was a quiet week for just the two of us where it felt like the town was all for us. I would love to go back again in the winter months and enjoy the peace with my significant otter again sometime.

Sadly, we did have to come back to the real world on the other side of the country, but it was a wonderful week long break to have.

–Kate

 

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Hello all!

No grand adventures this week, just mostly working on my dissertation’s literature review and being a test subject for new recipes. I’m totally cool with both. The weather is officially spring now, with temperatures hanging around 14 C and even getting up close to 20! It’s been deliciously warm and sunny the last two days, so I’ve been taking breaks between reading with walks around town and through the park. It also gives me time to listen to the news and not slowly become one with a desk chair, and is well appreciated.

In terms of dissertation though… I can see amongst my friends that dissertation is nearly their entire life, at least according to Facebook. And it brings some real pressure with it. I mean, getting through your undergraduate degree is stressful enough, but then grad school starts. You are let loose with some vague references to literature and told to come back with something good and useful. You get a sampling of this in your undergrad, but it’s a new learning curve to adjust to when you go for your master’s. And really, I suppose if you’re still in the running by the time you get to your actual dissertation, you’re doing pretty well. Still.

Recently, I’ve been really struck with something. I think it’s because with the end of taught lectures a lot of us are scattering to the winds and I will be losing friends back to other countries again. That and the prospect of actually looking for a real career soon is looming. I don’t think it’s regret that I’ve been struck with by any means, as I’m happy with my life choices, but maybe something similar. Have you ever stopped and realised you’ve missed an opportunity in life? That you’re officially past your sell-by date on something in particular? I noticed it at the ballet a couple weeks back. Watching the ballerinas glide across the stage, I realised that yes, I could definitely still go into ballet and probably be decent if I tried hard enough, but in all likelihood my chances of being prima ballerina at the Royal Opera House are long gone by now. It wasn’t a sad feeling, just kind of odd to consider.

I’m also seeing crossroads in my past and just find it interesting to see how many different directions my life could have gone if I had made just one different choice, said yes instead of no, or no instead of yes. When you’re younger you don’t really have this because for the most part everyone is supposed to be achieving the same goals. When you’re 25 though, there are suddenly a lot of options that you could (or have) chosen – marriage, babies, education, moving, careers, passions, travels… It suddenly makes it a lot harder to think you know if you’re doing well or not. I can also see why people have an odd mental timescale of when they’re supposed to have done things by, though it seriously depends on what social circle you’re in.

It just makes me think of the quote from Sylvia Plath:

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

Relate to that girl, but don’t be that girl! Really, I’m just writing down what I’m sure literally everyone in my social circles is thinking, so I’ll wrap it up. We’re all in flux right now and nothing is permanent and to be honest, I don’t know if it ever will be entirely, nor would I want it to be. I guess go with the flow, enjoy the ride, and all those cliches?

— Kate

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The Scottish Referendum

So unless you’ve been living under a rock recently, you’ve probably heard (at least in passing) that Scotland is having a vote to determine whether they want to leave the United Kingdom today. As an American, I feel I have absolutely no right to weigh in an opinion on the matter, but I’ll do my best to explain what is going on if you’ve been out of the loop.

Scotland has been a separate country in the past, becoming an independent kingdom in the Middle Ages.  By 1603, Scotland entered a personal union with England when James VI of Scotland succeeded Elizabeth I as the ruler of England. The two countries were very briefly united under a single government when England was a Commonwealth in the middle of the 17th century, but this did not last when the monarchy was restored in 1660. However, in 1707 Scotland and England united to create the Kingdom of Great Britain. Almost 100 years later Ireland joined to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. (I’m choosing to skim over Irish history here, to deal with for another day.)

Back to the present, there was an agreement in November last year between the Scottish Parliament and United Kingdom government created the Scottish Independence Referendum Bill. The official question on the bill is “Should Scotland be an independent country?” and voters can only respond with Yes or No. To pass this bill, there will only need to be a simple majority. This will take some time to count though, as nearly everyone over 16 is able to vote (4.3 million people) and the news is reporting 97% of all possible voters registering.

The polls closed about 2 hours ago, but there are 32 local authority areas to count. Current estimates are saying that we should all expect the final results to be announced by chief counting officer Mary Pitcaithly at 6:30 to 7:30 Friday morning. Any guess is as good as another as to what we’ll hear tomorrow, as the latest polls taken 2 hours ago stated that “No” was at 54% and “Yes” at 46%. I have not had any Scottish people to ask on opinions, but nearly all the English I’ve asked think it’ll never actually happen.

So what are some of the reasons I’ve heard from either side? Please, please keep in mind that I am not saying these are the be-all, end-all reasons for the independence referendum or that it’s a comprehensive look at a complicated issue. On the Yes vote they believe that Scotland:

  • Can stand on their own for an economy with the strength of the oil industry and the general workforce of the Scottish people.
  • Won’t have a fair voice in government with it continuing to operate in England and want to have the final say for what is best for Scotland and not just the financial district in London.
  • Is an independent country and should be treated as such, not as an afterthought from the government now.

On the Better Together (No vote) they believe that Scotland is better staying with the United Kingdom because :

  • Economic security for Scotland, in the United Kingdom without Scotland would still be the same, whereas Scotland would become a relatively small player internationally.
  • There is no guarantee of continuing membership with the European Union or NATO (especially as Spain is threatening to veto based on their own nationalist concerns).
  • International opinion from both the US and EU political and business leaders indicates that they would prefer the United Kingdom to remain, well, united.

So what do you think will be the turn out? Do you think Scotland has thought this out far enough into the future? What would change? We’ll all find out in about 7 hours! Regardless of the outcome, I’m excited as an outsider to witness this major point in history and wish only the best to all the affected parties. Will report back with results in the morning (though surely I’d hope you’re all watching the world news for this!).

— Kate (and M)

 

map of the countries in the british isles