Sunday, 31 October 2010

Happy Halloween!

Ok wow where has time gone. Actually I know exactly where it’s gone....... flown by! So, I had 3 days at home after Hawaii. I got home at 2.30 in the morning on the Tuesday to be greeted by the news that my car had leaked petrol everywhere, and shouldn’t be driven. Then I realised that both the tax and the MOT were due to expire that week, just as I was leaving the country to go back to Bermuda. Fortunately there is a garage just at the end of my road, so I was able to dump the car with them, and get on with sorting everything out for Bermuda. Made all the more difficult by the fact that my room is currently rented out to someone for a month, as I’m away such a lot. But, all of my stuff is still there, and this person I swear has brought ALL their stuff and put it in my room. I swear she has more stuff than me!! So that was a little bit stressful trying to get everything ready in time. Oh, and just the small matter of me doing my upgrade presentation, and upgrade meeting to get out of the way before I went to Bermuda. But, that all went fine thankfully, so I am now officially a proper registered DPhil student rather than an MPhil. Whoop! Carefully planned to arrive in BDA in time for BIOS international sports day (UK & Commonwealth against US and rest of the world).

So back off to Bermuda, this time for a month’s teaching contract. I’m co-teaching a course on Introduction to Biological Oceanography, to 9 foreign postgrad students. None of them have English as a first language...... they come from Turkey, Cote D’Ivoire, India, Iran, Ecuador, Venezuela, Russia, Vietnam and Brazil, with varying levels of interest, knowledge and English abilities! Trying to get them to do a lot of hands-on practical work too as that's part of the objective of the Nippon Foundation POGO course.....

Basically to cut a long story short, it has been an extremely stressful experience, and I am so so glad that Sarah was co-teaching with me, otherwise I would have drowned in stress and probably not slept for 3 weeks. The first two weeks we were averaging around 16-18 hour days.... eurgh. But, it’s all over now, save for some (quite a lot of) marking, and their feedback. I know it's been a great experience for me, and I'm sure that if I was to teach the same module again next year it would be infinitely easier, given that we've actually written lecture material, summary tests, problem sets etc. already. But no, not again.

Took a very brief trip home for the weekend after the first 3 weeks in Bermuda (first week was prep, then two weeks of teaching) for one of my friends’ wedding. They sent out the date ages ago, before I agreed to do this, and I desperately wanted to go. What with buying the flight home etc it means I pretty much just broke even with the teaching, but I can cope with that. I desperately needed a break from being on station and around work all the time. Had a wonderful weekend, the wedding in Cheltenham was lovely, and it was so nice to see Adam and Anna so happy :) Then a drive back to Gatwick from Cheltenham the next morning (via a quick detour around Cheltenham to find a MacDonald’s breakfast!) and back on the plane to BDA! Non-stop lifestyle.

Finished off the week with the annual BIOS underwater pumpkin carving contest for certified divers on station. One pumpkin per buddy team, no cuts allowed until you were in the water with your pumpkin. They are amazingly buoyant, and we had to cut into ours at the surface to let the air out before we could sink with it. Even then we had to put dive weights in him to make sure he didn’t float away! The current was very strong and the visibility was pretty poor, as we were diving straight off the dock into Ferry Reach. We were supposed to be taking the boat round to Whalebone bay to dive, but thanks to Tropical Storm Shary coming through, that idea was abandoned!

In the end we (myself and Becky) won scariest pumpkin, for our anglerfish :) we did have a coat hanger to attach the lure (an orange with a face carved in it) onto the top of the fish (pumpkin) but somehow we lost it in the struggle to get the pumpkin down onto the seabed. Hilarious.

Then, dressing up for the Halloween party at the wind. I went as a pumpkin. So orange!!! Am still finding orange in my ears and elbows and fingers etc, even after 3 showers!!! It was a genuinely hilarious evening, and a brilliant way to end a very stressful few weeks. The best bit was that a lot of people didn't recognise me for a while (mainly till I opened my mouth and started talking!!)

After the weekend I have until Wednesday to chill out (mostly do some marking), and maybe meet with people here about my own research, and then I am finally flying back home. Hoorah!!!! I am so excited, because apart from very flying visits in-between my crazy schedule, I feel like I haven’t really been home since the beginning of September, and even then I was only home for 3 weeks. Cannot wait for English winter (I know I won’t be saying this in a week or two, but for now, I’m looking forward to it!!) and proper roast dinners, and having the fire and heating on. Yes!

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Hello Hawaii

Why did I not notice on my flight itinerary that my flight from London to LA was going to be TEN AND A HALF HOURS LONG! Seriously did not know this before I got on the plane and they announced flying time. Not happy. Already got up at 5.30, and been travelling since 6am. Time for a coffee and buy a book before getting on the plane. Needless to say, I read the entire book on the flight, and still had a few hours at the end in which to try and entertain myself. Eventually I found Sudoku on the “in-flight games” section on the little entertainment screens. That kept me amused for a while. Didn’t have long in LA, just an hour and a half or so, during which time I managed to spill a Starbucks frappucino all over myself (and the hallway floor in the airport). Error. LA to Honolulu was another 5 and a half hour flight, and then a shuttle bus to the hotel. By this time it was about 9pm Hawaii time, or 10am the next day UK time, and hadn’t really slept at all. Kept falling asleep on the shuttle bus and was fairly worried I was going to miss my stop, until I realised that our hotel was at the “end of the line” for the shuttle bus. 27 hours of travelling in total.

Bus pickup at 8am the next day for the first day of the conference – 4 cups of coffee consumed by 10.30am. Actually a very useful conference/workshop as it turns out which was good. Conference dinner on the first night, at which I fell asleep at the table. Not cool. Extremely jetlagged. Went out for sushi the next night, I had garlic Ahi yum yum yum. Conference finished on the Thursday, with enough time for me to do a 50minute run before dinnertime. Walked down into Waikiki to get a coffee and then back to the hotel to do some work for my upgrade presentation when I got back to the UK.

Managed to wangle a few days extra, so had Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning as holiday time. Spent Friday morning working, and then went to the Honolulu Zoo :) and whilst I was there of course I took tonnes of photos. It’s actually quite a good zoo, the only thing I didn’t like was the smallness of the tiger enclosure. Big cats should have big enclosures so they can run around and stretch their legs. (Oh, and shave-ice is the best thing ever - shaved ice, with syrup on it..... mmmmmmmm)

After that I spent an hour or so on the beach outside the hotel, went for a swim a few times, and generally just chilled out. Little bit more work after that, and then out for dinner with a friend in Hawaii. Unfortunately was so tired that I was very antisocial and didn’t really make the most of the night! Another friend was staying too, so in the morning we caught a cab back into Waikiki and did the Diamond Head crater hike. Awesome views from the top, although it was already getting pretty busy when we were there.

Afternoon was a trip to the North shore with our friend John and his lovely lady friend Abby for them to do some surfing, and for Sarah and I to soak up some sun :) then to a party in Waimea Bay once John had dropped Sarah at the airport, just the most amazing sunset I think I’ve ever seen, and such a perfect place – pool, hammock between trees, pagoda-type thingy with a bench under it, and waves rolling in past the rocks into the bay.

Sunday morning we mainly spent plebbing around the house, did a bit more work, then went out to a sushi bar for some lunch, before they took me to the airport. Then began the long haul home, 8 and a half hour flight to Chicago, 3 hours in Chicago O’Hare airport, and then a 7 and a half hour flight back to Heathrow, a two hour wait for my National Express coach, and then a 80minute coach journey back to Southampton. Greeted by the news (at 2.30am) that my car was leaking petrol everywhere, and I needed to catch a taxi home from the bus station instead of being collected. I have never been so pleased to crawl into my own bed.

Mountain Madness and Marrakech Mayhem

So once I got back from racing in Amsterdam, I had 4 days at work before the August bank holiday weekend (gotta love three-day weekends!) in which to prepare a talk for a conference. Went home for the bank holiday weekend, saw the fam, and went to a friend’s house for dinner and drinks. Faded pretty quickly so called in the parentals for a taxi home, and curled up in my own bed. Straight down to Cambridge the next day, for a friend’s 30th, complete with bouncy castle in the garden. Felt really guilt because I was so tired that I snuck off back to my tent at about midnight!! Then the haul back to Southampton on the Monday lunchtime, and then conference Tuesday through Thursday.

Then comes the fun part. Caught the train up to Gatwick on Friday morning, and met up with my friend Steph. We did our undergraduate and masters degrees together, but we haven’t managed to meet up with each other since we graduated over two years ago. Every time she comes to Southampton I seem to be in a different country! Royal Air Maroc flight, all was fine apart from some pretty alarming rattles on take-off, and some HORRIFIC turbulence about 15 minutes before landing. Not a fan. Taxi from the airport into the centre of Marrakech, and then the joy of trying to find our hostel in unmarked streets. Took an afternoon walk around Djeema el-Fna and the souks, and just tried to take in some of the amazing amount of sounds and sights. We landed on the Friday that was Eid, to celebrate the end of Ramadan, so when we came back out for dinner later, the whole square was packed, total chaotic business everywhere! Met up with my other friend Steff and her friends, as they happened to be in Marrakech at the same time, and were just coming to the end of their holidays. It was actually quite useful because it meant that they’d already had a chance to do some shopping, and could tell us decent prices etc (I’m not a fan of the whole haggling for purchases malarkey, I’m always scared that I’m going to get ripped off).

Walked to the new city the next day with our massive backpacks, in the 38degree heat! We were trying to be respectful, as is suggested in all the guides, so we made sure that we had our shoulders and backs always covered, but there were a huge number of women tourists who obviously didn’t care about that..... Anyway, we finally found the hotel we were staying in to meet our hiking group, and best of all, the hotel had a swimming pool!!!!! Whooot! Instant afternoon by the pool :)

Set off the next day up into the Atlas mountains, with a group of 14 of us, from all over the world which was quite fun. Drove as far as Imlil, and then walked up to Aremd which was where we would be based for the next few days. Had some lunch, and then a few of us went for a gentle potter around before we did a couple of hours walking later in the afternoon to see the nearest village etc.

We stayed in Aremd for 4 nights, and did some fabulous days of walking. The group was a really good, friendly group, we played a lot of cards, insulted each other a lot, and generally had a fab time. Weather was fab, hot and dry during the day (such a nice change to Bermuda!) and then cooling down quite considerably at night which was lovely. We had 2 more nights at the hotel in Marrakech when we came back, and on one of the days we had a proper guide to take us around Marrakech and see some of the sights which was actually really useful. Went to a couple of cool places, some cool areas of the souks, and also to a traditional Berber pharmacy. I bought daddy some Moroccan spices :) yum yum.

Basically spent the next two days walking around Marrakech, shopping, playing cards, trying to talk French (and mostly succeeding!), and then had one last night in a hostel (with a pool!!!) before our flight home. Found a maggot in a date that I was eating and nearly threw up on Steph. Eurgh. Same horrible turbulence about 15 minutes out of the airport, but apart from us leaving an hour and a half late, not too bad. Had to drive back to Southampton from Gatwick as the boy had come to collect me, but actually probably shouldn’t have been driving, considering he’d dislocated his shoulder earlier on in the week........ eventually got back to Southampton at about midnight, unpacked my bags, repacked my bags, sorted my laundry, and set my alarm for 5.30am the following morning so that I could catch my 6am National Express coach to Heathrow, to fly to Hawaii.........

Time to travel

Haven’t been managing very well to keep up with this blog, but at least it’s still running (even if it’s more like a slow shuffle instead). I’ve barely had time to stop and breathe in the last few months, and I get the impression that won’t really stop until mid November when I get back to the UK. For now anyway, I’m going to try and keep more up to date, starting with some of the places I’ve been in the last month or so. I seriously need to plant a small forest soon, my carbon footprint this year is horrific (although I am building up a steady amount of air miles!!!)

So, first stop, Morocco.........

Thursday, 26 August 2010

August activities

Well. Somehow now it’s nearly September. I arrived back in the UK just over three weeks ago. After one night at home, straight back to Southampton for rowing training for EUSA regatta. And when I say straight back, I mean straight back to a training session, still with the car fully loaded. Note; don’t ever try and move house in a classic mini. It’s a ridiculous idea in theory and in practice. After 4 days of outings, I was finally ordered to have a day off, when the jetlag STILL hadn’t gone away (not really surprising), but in general, the two and a half weeks of training have just blurred into one. I had one day off after that, so went home for a lovely Saturday walk in the countryside with one of my friends from school followed by the mandatory pub lunch (after a total soaking in the rain).

In the two weeks of training, we totalled 14 outings in 12 days (had two days off), and 175km of rowing. That’s not a huge amount when you compare it to what the top level crews do as training, but when you consider that in theory I am supposed to be working full time as well, you can imagine that it becomes quite a drain. I didn’t unpack from Bermuda for 5 days because I was so busy.

Caught the early morning flight to Amsterdam on Thursday, and then had Thursday evening outing, Friday early morning outing, race for lanes on Friday afternoon, Saturday early morning and late afternoon outings, Sunday early morning outing, and final on Sunday afternoon. Exhausting. We got fairly well dominated by what we think are actually the world cup under 23 crews from Poland and Germany, and a crew from Durham university that we know has several girls in who have done internal squad stuff at under 23 level as well. So in that respect we didn’t do badly for a small university boat club, especially seeing as we get (in comparison) very little funding from our athletic union.

Racing was at the Bosbaan rowing lake (the first man-made racing lake to be built apparently!).

Saturday daytime gave us an opportunity to go off into Amsterdam and explore by bicycle which was awesome. It’s a really lovely city, and I’m desperate to go back again when I have a bit more free time and can enjoy the atmosphere properly! Cycling around was awesome fun, I've never seen so many bikes in my life! Also loved the fact that we hired bikes where there are no brakes, you have to pedal backwards to brake. Nearly took a couple of people out (several times) by instinctively reaching for the handlebar brakes and not stopping in time!

Back home now for another 2 weeks or so, still need to write a conference presentation (first presentation at a conference – eeeeek!!!), and try and fit in an upgrade meeting with my supervisors sometime before the 10th of September – not quite sure how that is going to happen.

Just realised that my holiday I booked months ago is actually really soon, and hadn’t even thought about checking all the logistics of it, like how I’m going to get to the airport, whether I need any vaccinations, what money I need, what clothing I need, whether I need to buy anything before I go, what stuff I need to collect from home etc. Fortunately the friend I am going on holiday with is slightly more clued up than I am. Morocco here we come!!! (and then straight off to Hawaii 12 hours later – that’s a totally different stress in itself, although the flights are booked now, all I have to do is work out how to get to and from the airports for my respective flights). The worst thing is that no-one has any sympathy for the stress because it’s super fun places that I’m going to!!! :) Super looking forward to holiday though, Fear not - pictures will follow!

Monday, 9 August 2010

Goodbye Bermuda

Well again, a lot of time has suddenly passed in the blink of an eye without me even realising it. Where had I got to? Well, the cruise was definitely an exciting one. We got to release some baby turtles, caught a giant squid head, saw dolphins and whales (both of which I missed), and got visited by a US Navy helicopter and planes whilst they were out doing training on an aircraft carrier. I say visited, they just did a fly-by, but 80miles away from land, that’s still pretty cool :)

Got back in from the cruise on the Tuesday evening, totally shattered. Wednesday turned into a pretty manic day, unloaded the ship in the morning (quickest unload EVER!) followed by finishing up in the lab (subsampling 46 samples to take home), and then having to cycle into Hamilton for 3.30-4. Had to cycle in as was supposed to be selling my bike to someone, except she ran out of time to come over to collect it. So me being the nice person that I am, cycled it out to her instead. And the
n she paid me just with Bermudian dollars so I then had to spend the best part of 45 minutes queuing to get it changed into American dollars so I could actually pay it into my bank when I went home. Great. And I was supposed to be meeting with my supervisor, and meeting people after work. I was SO STRESSED by the time I got back to work. Apparently they have never heard me talk that fast, but it all calmed down once I’d had a beer, had a shower and chilled out a bit.

A few of us went out for dinner which was nice – there were 3 of us leaving the island that weekend so we thought we’d try and go for dinner before we all went our separate ways over the madness of cup match weekend. Nothing like pizza at the Wharf. Except I somehow unintentionally got pretty drunk. Error. Then back to a party that all the members of staff on station were invited to :) they provided the beer, excellent food, and great company. What more could you ask for?

Thursday was the beginning of Cup match, but what with me being British and all that, I decided that I can watch cricket pretty much whenever I want to, especially when it’
s raining (which it was forecast to do, all weekend). Soooo, we went out to Camp Space, on an uninhabited island, had a massive raft up, listened to the Go Down Berries playing live, floated around in the sea whilst the weather was awesome, had a very wet soggy bonfire once it got dark, and then eventually sought shelter in JP’s boat. Oh, and before we got to the island, we got to play in an infinity pool with the best views ever. I loved life that day :) The whole day was like something out of a crazy American movie set, didn’t really seem like this kind of thing happens in real life. Apparently it does in Bermuda!

Friday afternoon was basically just about getting home from Camp Space, having a hot shower, eating the remains of my pizza from the wharf, and having a proper cup of tea. Managed to have a meeting with my supervisor which was very good. Friday night turned into a totally riotous night once everyone else came back from the cricket. Needless to say, people go thrown in the reach, cameras and keys got lost (including mine), and general fun and hilarity was had by all.

Saturday was a lazy day, not helped by monsoon type rain. It did mean that I managed to get my washing done though. Also did all of my packing which in hindsight was a brilliant plan, as there’s no way I’d have wanted to do it on the day I left. Had a big bbq in the evening which was great, bloody love barbeques.

Sunday morning was waterskiing in St George’s Harbour (except I was being wimpish and didn’t actually have a go!), followed by another fairly lazy day. Spent a few hours just relaxing and chatting, before a sneaky beer in the evening and then to the airport :( sad times. Olga and I had to be called by name as the last two passengers on the flight because she was in duty free buying rum. What a weekend to leave the island. Unfortunately I didn't really sleep on the flight which was a bit rubbish, but it was lovely having someone else to talk to for the flight home :)

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Ship side of the Sargasso

Woooooh I’m on a boat.... well, I’m not actually on a boat yet, but I will be in a few hours. 6 days at sea, but the weather looks as though it will hold and the seas will be kind to us (2-4 foot swells) so that’s all good. 6 days of ship food too mmmmmm.

Fairly uneventful week, lots of getting stuff ready for the cruise, lots of acid washing, lots of organising, and lots of emailing.

Went for a 45 minute kayak after work on Monday (fairly quickly!) which was good apart from when I a) thought I was sinking (once I got out to the sea, waves were breaking over me from all sorts of directions) and b) thought I was being chased by a shark. I just have to explain this. In my mind, employing logic and reasoning, I know that I’m not going to be chased by a shark whilst I’m in Ferry Reach. And, as one of my friends loves telling me, more people die every year in toaster-related deaths than get killed by sharks (I have no idea whether this is actually a true fact or not). BUT. This is what was landed last weekend in Bermuda, caught off Challenger Banks ~12 miles out to sea (NB. Only about an extra 4 miles out from where we were diving the day before!!). So, I’m sure you’ll understand, that I have an over-active imagination, and now I’m a little bit freaked out to swim in the reach on my own. I did do some swim sprints on Tuesday (mainly sprinting in case a shark was chasing me), but on Wednesday there were other people swimming too which was better. Had a little play paddle boarding too which was fun.

Only five days left on the island once we get off the ship :( sad times. But, having said that, I am super looking forward to seeing everyone when I get home. Also getting on the training in a big way when I can finally get back in a boat!

Things I am looking forward to at home:

- A double bed

- A duvet

- Being able to sleep without a really noisy fan or sweating

- Having a kitchen and being able to cook!

- The price of food........ nom nom nom

- Having my lovely little car back to drive around in

- Training

- Seeing all my friends and family

Things I will miss about BDA:

- Rolling downstairs to work (takes about 2 minutes if I walk slowly)

- The temperature (but NOT the humidity)

- The sunshine (~11 hours of it a day)

- The fact that the sea is currently 28.5C SO WARM!!! And its beautiful blue colour

- Friends here

- Running along a sea cliff (although I’ve swapped running for swimming now coz it’s too hot to run!)

- Going out on the ship

- Having a bar on station (although I think my liver will be happy about this fact)

I guess on the up side, I’ll be back here for a month in October/November teaching, so I’ll get to see people before too long :) I have got some pretty epic weeks ahead of me before then though so we’ll have to see how that all unfolds. For now though?? Time to go float around in the Sargasso Sea on a boat. Back in time for Cup Match weekend WHOOOOP!!


Sunday, 18 July 2010

Jolly good July

Another week gone by. Although I have to say, this one has been a little more normal compared to the craziness of last week. Sunday was spent generally monging around, not really doing much, and that sort of set the tone for the rest of the week really. Pretty quiet during the week. Training started off really well with a 10km run. I took minicam with me, to do a picture document of where I run out here, to send to the girls back home. Unfortunately it ran out half way through the run, but it’s the same route back so it doesn’t really matter. Comedy value. I like to think so anyway.

Tuesday was an awesome day. Went out for the day on the SSV Corwith Cramer with 4 other staff/interns from BIOS, to see the work that they have been doing on investigating plastic accumulation and dispersal in the North Atlantic subtropical gyre. I love sailing, always have done, and so was thrilled to rock up and discover it’s a lovely, square rigged boat (kind of like a mini tall ship I guess). All the people on board were graduates o their semester at sea programme that they run for U.S Undergraduates, and everyone gets involved equally in the scientific sampling and processing and the physical sailing of the boat. One of my group was pretty seasick, poor girl seeing as it was her birthday too, and another one was pretty knocked out by the seasickness tablets that she took. A small selection of photos from the day are here. I got as involved as I could, so that pretty much counted as my days exercise :) hauling on ropes n fun stuff like that.

Haven’t been able to do that much training this week after that which sucks. Tried playing ultimate Frisbee again on Wednesday, and within about 5 minutes was fairly crippled by the return of the dreaded shin-splints. Ouch. So I went for a quick swim instead (proper swim, proper swimming costume and goggles rather than just fannying around in a bikini), but that was also fairly short-lived due to the number of jellyfish in the water. Fortunately I didn’t get stung by any, but getting a faceful of jellyfish a couple of times was enough for me.

Got some exciting/scary news this week though. My application for funding was successful to go to a conference in Hawaii in September which I am super psyched for, and have also been offered a three week teaching position back in Bermuda in October/November. I am super scared about this, just generally as I’ll be co-teaching a basic graduate level course, but also a bit worried about how much it’s going to affect phd work in this period. In theory it shouldn’t, as I’ll be applying to the graduate school to suspend my phd for 6 weeks or so, but still a little scary. They were both things that I’d be stupid to say no to. It does mean that between now and the end of November I’ll only be in the UK for around 7 weeks out of 20 though which does bite a bit. Not sure that the boyf is too happy about this, but there’s not a lot I can do about it.

Came second again in the pub quiz this week. Sad times as this was my last one. Our various teams were joined by people from the Corwith Cramer, which proved pretty advantageous on a few questions :) went back to the station from that in the boat which always makes me happy. Friday was the perfect end to the week, went out fishing on a friend’s boat after dinner, got to drive it on the way back in which was fun too :) Last boat I drove was when I was driving the barge (in fact I think that might even be me in that picture, not driving, but on the deck at the back of the boat). Saturday I got to go out on a station dive (basically one of the guys on station runs dives that the BIOS staff and interns can participate in, for reduced cost), which was super exciting and super scary in equal measures as I haven’t dived for just under three years or so. All went according to plan though and we had two good dives which was great fun. Very small selection of photos from that are up here. I did take way more than that (I get a little snap happy), but managed to cut it down to a few of the better ones.

As i write this am watching the replay of the Bermuda vs Finland lacrosse match from the World Lacrosse championships which are ironically being held in the UK at the moment (in Manchester). A friend of mine is playing for the BDA team so thought I’d pay attention to it. Know quite a few people that play lacrosse now, but most of them are girls, and it’s a totally different game. Not least because men’s lacrosse seems to be pretty violent.

Right enough prattling on, time to go and clean my bike off and then maybe a sneaky little trip to the beach for the afternoon.

Enjoy. xx