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

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

Green Fig Tree

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

cats in a kitchen with a kettle