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

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

 

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:

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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

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

7 Days: The Seven Kingdoms

7 kingdoms
The Heptarchy is a collective name applied to the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of south, east, and central England during late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, conventionally identified as seven: Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Sussex, and Wessex. The Anglo-Saxon kingdoms eventually unified into the Kingdom of England. The term has been in use since the 16th century, but the initial idea that there were seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms is attributed to the English historian Henry of Huntingdon in the 12th century and was first used in his Historia Anglorum.