Saturday, 15 January 2011

Christmas Cheer

The last weekend in Southampton before Christmas was basically a weekend of eating. Work Christmas ball on the Thursday night, followed by Roast on Saturday night at Joe and Claud’s (fortunately they live just around the corner, so could just waddle home when I’d eaten and drunk too much). Joe always makes amazing face-sized Yorkshire puddings that are big enough to hold the rest of your meal in. Amazing. Played the After Eight game as well (place an After Eight chocolate on your forehead, and by wiggling your face around, get it into your mouth as quickly as possible without using your hands, and without it falling off your face), which always guarantees hilarity. Teeny was not so good at it.

The Sunday evening was another mammoth eating session. 14 of us were doing a massive Christmas meal and Secret Santa, split between our house, and our friend’s house across the road. Canap├ęs and mulled wine at our house, and some party games including pass-the-parcel and modelling balloons, and then across the road for the main course, pudding and Secret Santa. I was in charge of pudding, so made treacle tart and sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce. I am pleased to report that both of them went down a treat, and came home with a small amount of sticky toffee pudding and that’s it! Ate farrrr too much, we had a mammoth turkey between us all, and different people had all contributed some different part to the whole evening. Very well organised and a lot of fun. The Secret Santa person I’d drawn from a hat was proving very difficult to decide what to get her (we had a £10 limit), so I ended up painting her two little canvasses, with a basking shark and a whale shark on (her PhD is based on Basking sharks). I think she liked them (I hope she liked them!).

Next day was followed by Thai takeaway in order to celebrate my housemate Rich going through his viva (oral defence of his PhD thesis) successfully and becoming Dr Rich. Next evening somehow ended up as going out for curry with an office mate, a friend who used to work in Bermuda, their old housemates, and one of my friends who works in Bermuda but was home in Southampton for Christmas. The weather had another attempt at snowing, but nothing really settled in Southampton. However, the midlands had been hit pretty badly, so headed home on the Wednesday afternoon with slight trepidation about how long it would take me to get home. Fortunately, apart from the fast lane of the motorway being mostly covered in snow, the only real problem I had was once I got onto our estate. Because it’s an un-adopted road, it means the council won’t clear it or grit it, so it was still 6 inches deep in fresh snow! Finally managed to get into our driveway, and I have to say, much as I hate my little car sometimes for its practicality (or lack of), it was actually remarkably good on the snow, I think because it’s front-wheel drive and so light. Dad’s car was terrifying on the snow when we went to church on Christmas Day. Poor sis was ill with flu over the Christmas period, so spent most of the time either curled up in a blanket on the sofa, or in bed :( Not very festive for her unfortunately (but pretty quiet for the rest of the family!). Ridiculously cold for most of the week I was at home, think we saw temperatures of -13 in the mornings, and daytime highs of around -5 or -6’C. Very unusual for the midlands, certainly in my memory it’s not been that cold. Did some baking on Christmas Eve with my friend Millie (we made the Christmas muffins again), helped mum decorate the Christmas cake, made gingerbread men and generally got in the way.

Christmas was full of food, family time and festivities. Unfortunately had to come back to Southampton on the 28th Dec to get into the lab in order to filter 80 water samples in time for the middle of the first week of Jan. The guy in charge of the analysis machine I needed to use (ICP-AES) was going on the Antarctic research cruise on the Friday 7th, so needed to have all the samples ready, measured and analysed before he left. I was filtering 2.5ml of my samples at a time, washing with 5ml of ammonium bicarbonate, and even running on average 10 hour days in the lab, I was only getting through about 18 or 20 a day. SO DULL!!! To top things off, I started feeling poorly on the 29th, and by New Year’s Eve had no voice. Pulled a 12 hour day in the lab, came home at 8.30, ate dinner with my housemate and his friends, saw in the New Year and then promptly went to bed. Felt like death warmed up on New Year’s Day, but still had to go into the lab. Proper fever, shivering, sweating, coughing, dizzy, headache, and generally feeling extremely sorry for myself. When I wasn’t at work in the lab? At home in bed. Fantastic start to 2011. But, it paid off as I managed to get my samples done in time, and analysed before the lab tech went off to sea. Nothing much to report since then, made a cake for the boy’s birthday which I was particularly proud of (my sponge cakes never really seem to work, but this one worked, looked nice, and dare I say it, tasted bloody marvellous). Job done.


Welcome to winter

Well, where to start really. It’s been an awfully long time, which I don’t really have any excuse for. I’m good at remembering that I need to do things, but bad at actually galvanising myself into action for doing them. But, seeing as it’s a Saturday, the house is empty, my washing is in the washing machine, my clean clothes are folded, I’ve had a bath, and I am armed with a cup of tea, I decided it was probably time to remedy my literary absence.

So, I arrived home from Bermuda at the beginning of November, straight back to Southampton, to basically be dumped. Fantastic news to come back to. Fortunately had already planned to go home for the weekend to see the parentals, so had some much needed mummy hugs and home-cooking :) Managed to time the trip home with Bonfire Night, so went to the local fireworks and bonfire display with mummy B, and we drank mulled cider and bought toffee apples. New cycling shoes had arrived for me too whilst I was away, which was exciting, but not all that useful seeing as I hadn’t replaced the bike I sold in Bermuda in July! Needless to say that’s pretty high up on the list of priorities!

Things on the boy front have got a lot better since I got back, it would appear that it was a temporary blip in the boy’s relationship mind-set, so things are a bit more normal. It’s prompted me to get off my arse and make more time to see my friends more often though, which can only be a good thing. Back to PhD work with a bump after that, which was a bit of a shock after nearly 2 months off. Lots of labwork on the cards in the near future, which is a good thing as it breaks up the monotony of trying to read journals and write science things. Have submitted an abstract to the ASLO conference in Puerto Rico in February, so that’ll be my next (short) trip abroad.

I also made the decision to go back to rowing competitively for the University club. Basically I just can’t stay away........ and I realised that in reality I don’t do much with my weekends, apart from the odd trip up to London to see friends up there. Especially if the boy is busy working (which he quite often is, not being very good with deadlines.....), I find that I just sort of potter around and waste my weekend. I’m not a massive fan of lie-ins, or the prospect of being a bed-pig (thanks to Stephen Fry and my sister for alerting me to this amazing phrase), so I figured that actually going back to rowing would give me something to do, and also ensure that I went to the gym regularly again. I love exercising, and hate it when I’m unfit, but I’m a fundamentally lazy person, and I need the motivation of training partners, or being part of a team to really get the best out of me where sports is concerned. The only thing I find I am happy going out and doing when I’m feeling half-hearted about life is running. Which is weird considering I used to hate it. I hate to say it, but I find a peaceful sort of solace in long runs on my own. More so at home, where I can run along the river, and through fields and countryside, but I guess I can’t really be choosy in Southampton! Pavements or nothing........ especially if it’s dark.

Sure enough, winter arrived pretty quickly in the UK once I was back. I’d sort of forgotten that I’d missed autumn, as places like Bermuda don’t have seasons that you can see in the trees and the leaves; just the amount of sunshine and rain varies. First notable thing to do when I was back was get back into running pretty quickly, as I’d entered Hellrunner again. I ran it last year with my then housemate, and loved it. It’s a cross-country run, advertised as “between 10 and 12 miles” on an army base in Hampshire and it includes the Hills of Hell and the Bog of Doom. Last year it was unusually warm considering it was the 3rd weekend of November, with blue skies and sunshine. No such luck this year. The thermometer on the car read -1’C when we arrived in the morning, after a week of near zero temperatures, and extremely frosty mornings. However, with some clever office plotting, my enthusiasm about the previous year, and my office mate Katie’s enthusiasm for doing mental things, meant that there was a group of 7 of us running. Anyone who’s spent any time doing outdoor sports, or endurance races or anything like that will be very familiar with portaloos, and the pre-race queues that go along with them. The joys of minus temperatures meant that the flushing mechanisms had frozen, so they couldn’t be flushed. Needless to say we very quickly migrated to trips to the bushes for pre-race nervous wees.

This year all the early puddles were frozen, and the ground was hard and dry, so we actually stayed completely dry until the first mini-bog about half-way through the race. Then you hear the squeals coming through the woods and you realise you’re getting close to the Bog of Doom. I swear it was deeper this year than it was last year. Out of the 7 of us, 3 of us were running out in front, and poor Anya (an orienteer and extremely quick runner!) practically disappeared under whilst we were trying to get through the bog. Even sticking to the sides of the bog I was struggling, and ended up having to put my hands under to try and stop me falling over when I tripped over a log underwater. Eventually finished, and despite everyone’s varying stages of exhaustion and hyperthermia, everyone agreed that they had enjoyed it which I was extremely glad about – had nightmares that everyone was going to hate me because I’d raved about how much I’d enjoyed the previous year! (Photo below from RandR Photos)

The cold weather carried on into early December, and we all woke up on the morning of the 2nd to about 5 or 6 inches of snow in Southampton. We are right on the South coast of the UK, so for us to get thick snow that actually settles and stays is extremely rare. Obviously I took a snow day and went to play on Southampton common. Found the boy and his housemate sledging on an estate-agents sign that worked surprisingly well. I didn’t even try and drive anywhere, so poor mini just sat where she was for a few days. Then we got to the stage where everyone is fed up of the snow because it stops looking pretty, gets slushy and icy, and generally just makes life annoying. I couldn’t drive anywhere as our road was sheet ice and on a hill, and I couldn’t cycle anywhere, as I only own a racing bike with pretty slick road tyres. Not a good idea. Went to visit the sister in Calne 9 days or so later, and there were still small patches of snow in sheltered areas of hills around the Wiltshire countryside. Nice little walk followed by a pub lunch :) Got into the winter baking spirit that week, made some Christmas muffins (with lots of mixed spice, cinnamon, nuts and berries), and then the first batch of mince pies (homemade pastry but not mincemeat I’m afraid!). Even got around to doing some of my Christmas shopping (online of course, I got cross with all the people wandering around at super slow speed in town....)