Posts tagged "life"

Singing with nightingales

life nature

Back in the mists of time before Covid, Mr Bsag and I booked tickets for a Singing With Nightingales event (hosted by the folk singer Sam Lee) for April 2020. I had wanted to attend one of these events ever since I had heard about it, and the tickets were a 50th birthday present, partially funded by kind gifts from friends and family. I don’t need to tell you what happened next, because you were all there: lockdown happened, events were cancelled, and all of our lives contracted. I booked again for April 2021, determined not to be denied my fix of folk song and bird song, and once again, plans had to change. Luckily, this time the event was just postponed, rather than being cancelled, so last week, we set off for Sussex to attend the event. After all the waiting, all the pent-up need be somewhere other than our local area, it could have all been a huge anti-climax but (spoiler alert!) it was not. It was one of the most magical evenings of my life.

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Creativity

life mumblings

It shouldn’t surprise me because it always happens this way, but somehow it does surprise me, every time. I have recently finished a piece of work which had consumed almost all of my time and focus at work for a number of weeks. There was a fixed deadline and it was a substantial and complex piece of work. For these reasons, it was also a bit stressful, but that’s the way work is from time to time. What surprised me (and shouldn’t have done) is the way I felt after I had finished it.

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Digital spring clean

life geekery

I’ve had a bit of an obsession with spring cleaning recently. I’ve tidied and cleaned elements of our physical space (nothing makes you more aware of how much junk you have accumulated than a period of lockdown), but I’ve also had a ‘services and digital’ spring clean too. It has taken quite a bit of time, but I do feel better for it.

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Cutting my own hair

life

I finally gave in and gave myself a haircut today. Surprisingly, the results were not terrible. Along the way, I have learned a little bit about the process of cutting hair, and realised that very few parts of this process are in any way possible to do well when cutting your own hair.

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Comfort re-watching

review life

In these times, I think we all tend to find comfort where we can. We certainly haven’t run out of new things to watch, but Mr Bsag and I have both taken comfort in re-watching some high quality series again. I don’t know whether it is significant that both happen to be set in earlier periods (late 1950s to 1970s) — perhaps that distance in time helps to immerse us in the fiction and disconnect us temporarily from the present, I don’t know.

The two series we are working our way through again are Endeavour (the prequel to Inspector Morse), and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel which is a comedy-drama about a Jewish-American housewife who gets into stand-up comedy. Technically, Mr Bsag is watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (or TMMM as I’ll call it for brevity) for the first time as he only saw bits when I watched it the first time, but got drawn into it. Both series are superb, and are a rewarding re-watch for different reasons. I’ve also found myself newly drawn to some of the peripheral characters in both series.

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Confessions of a reluctant exerciser

life mumblings

I’ve never been an enthusiastic exerciser, at least not exercising for the sake of it. I’ve always enjoyed walking and cycling, but as a beneficial by-product of going somewhere interesting and enjoying the outdoors. Apart from a brief period of running while I was at Oxford, and practising Tae Kwon Do in my teens, I have never really done an organised exercise program. That wasn’t too much of a problem while I could be active as part of my normal day, but during lockdown, that outlet mostly disappeared. In truth, I had already started to realise that as I was getting older, I needed to get serious about doing more weight-bearing exercises to prevent my muscles from wasting away. Predictably, my plans to do something about that always started tomorrow.

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The joy of the usual route

life mumblings

There’s a kind of quiet joy to be had in walking the same route every day, even when it is forced on you. My daily walk takes me on a roughly 2 mile route, the middle part of which is a circuit around our scrubby local ‘nature reserve’. The sweeping, majestic plains of the Serengeti it is not. It’s a strip of land on either side of a small stream, circled on all sides by housing estates. But it does have wild flowers and some mature trees, and — as all I’ve had in the way of nature during lockdown — I have come to love it.

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Making things in isolation

sewing life

Well. I don’t want to dwell, but I can’t avoid the elephant in the room. This wasn’t — to put it simply — the 50th birthday I would have imagined only a few weeks ago. I’ve had Happy Birthday sung to me on a WhatsApp voice recording, lots of lovely messages and phone calls from friends and family, and I’ve had the fun of finishing sewing this chunk of riotous colour: a Granville shirt by Sewaholic.

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Listening for the return of spring

life mumblings

Do you ever experience that thing where an inability to tackle something new and difficult means that you become able to tackle something else which was the previous thing you were unable to deal with? Perhaps that’s just me. I just can’t put my thoughts together about the recent General Election result in the UK yet, but this has somehow unblocked my previous inability to write about how I felt in the early months of this year when I feared that we might never hear birdsong again. So here goes…

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Watching ravens

life

Mr. Bsag and I have just got back from our holiday in Pembrokeshire. We’ve had a blissful time disconnecting from online stuff, walking (a lot), and feeling our shoulders drop and relax as we looked at the sea and watched the wildlife. Our idea of a perfect holiday is to be somewhere very quiet with easy access to the coast, with bonus marks for a wood burning stove for cosy evenings. The place we stay in western Pembrokeshire ticks all those boxes and — unusually for Wales — we even had great weather while we were away. I have had an incredibly busy year so far, so I felt ready for a break. I’m happy to be home (and very glad to be reunited with the cats) but I’m already missing the wildness. I’m trying to remember some of the beautiful things we saw in as much detail as I can. I want to be able to take those memories off my mental shelves to look at and console myself with when I inevitably start feeling hemmed in by all the concrete again.

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Finding serenity

life mumblings

The past few weeks have been somewhat busy and disruptive, with a lot of different projects on the go at work, and renovation work on our bathroom at home. As often happens at times like these, I’ve been daydreaming about calmer, more serene times whenever I’ve had a moment or two to myself. I kept finding my thoughts going back to a particular experience on holiday in Pembrokeshire.

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Welsh wonders

travel life

About two weeks ago, we returned from a holiday in West Wales, on the lovely Pembrokeshire coastline. When I was a child, we often spent our holiday in Wales, but in mid-Wales, rather than the coast. I had never been to that part of the Pembrokeshire coast before, and it turns out that I have been missing out on a treasure.

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Walking through the past

mumblings life

Panorama from Brandon Hill Park, Bristol

A few weekends ago, Mr. B and I went to Bristol for the day. He had got a print into the Royal West of England Academy’s annual Open Exhibition, and it was the ‘varnishing day’ and preview. The first part was artists only, so after we had enjoyed a lovely late breakfast at Yurt Lush (my favourite yurt-based cafe), he went on to the gallery while I re-acquainted myself with Bristol.

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Borobudur Temple

travel life

I always smile wryly to myself when first year undergraduates say goodbye at the end of term with a “Have a nice holiday!”. They tend not to realise (at least until I’ve enlightened them) that they may be on holiday, but we academics are not. Summer can be one of the busiest times, when you try to cram in research, conferences, and updating your teaching for the coming year. This year has been no exception, and I have barely stopped since the Spring. I have just got back from a return trip to Indonesia1, this time for a conference. It was a productive and useful trip, but as is often the case for conferences, we spent most of it in a windowless room, listening to talks, rather than exploring the country. The one exception was a brilliant visit to the Buddhist temple complex at Borobudur.

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Listening to the landscape

culture life

At the weekend, we got back from a week away in our favourite holiday spot: North Norfolk. As ever, it was wonderfully peaceful and laid-back, but we also got nearly a full week of bright sunshine with almost no rain (which was unexpected). I had a lot of fun with my Fujifilm X100T, particularly as the weather was so co-operative. I’m starting to settle in with the focal length, and I’m finding that the creative constraint of having a fixed lens is making me see some interesting compositions, often before I’ve brought the viewfinder to my eyes. I certainly took a lot more photos than I have on recent visits, and you can see some of the best shots on Flickr here (the first 10 or so are from the same location this April and are with my Sony, but the rest are taken with the Fujifilm).

We managed a nice mixture of doing things and doing nothing1. On one of the doing things days, we re-visited a National Trust property called Felbrigg Hall. We’ve been there a few times now, and have enjoyed wandering around the extensive gardens and parklands, as well as seeing inside the house. This time, we noted that an event (the artists, Strijbos & Van Rijswijk, call it ‘physical cinema’) was happening at Felbrigg called Walk With Me. The idea is that you walk around the parklands and gardens wearing headphones connected to an iPad. The artists have planted geotagged sound beacons around the area, so that as you walk, you hear sound effects, music and dialogue, triggered when you enter the radius of one or more of the beacons. These overlap in quite an artful way, so the effect is usually natural and seamless.

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Wrapping bars and dressing wounds

bike life

It has been a while since I last wrote. I’ve had one of those periods of time when it is one thing after another, and I’m constantly trying to recover from the last thing when the next comes along. The most recent thing was that I came off my bike on the way to work. One minute I was pedalling happily around a corner in the park, and the next I was hitting the ground hard.

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On keeping it together

mumblings life

I’ve been trying to marshal my thoughts into some coherence for more than two weeks now, but I think I’ve been gripped by disbelief. I keep thinking that I’m going to wake up, and find that it has all been a horrible, disturbing dream, and that my country isn’t really a chaotic, directionless, leaderless, vicious, fearful, isolationist, xenophobic place. While I’m waiting for that to happen, I should really try to write something about it, and the way that coincidence has made me even more sensitive to the current situation. This isn’t going to be comprehensive, or even cohesive: it’s just a few of the things that have been circling around in my brain and making it itch over the past few weeks.

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Natural sounds

life travel

We’ve just got back from a week’s holiday in North Norfolk (I’ve posted a few photos here). In recent years, we’ve taken to renting a cottage in Blakeney, which is a bit unadventurous, but it has exactly what we need: the sea, huge skies, open spaces, and best of all, quiet. I think quietness is what we both crave most from a holiday destination, and it is the thing which is most difficult to find at home. We’re not looking for silence (that would be creepy — particularly in Norfolk if you’ve watched a lot of MR James adaptations!), but a predominance of natural sounds, particularly bird song.

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De-cluttering

mumblings life

There’s not much that’s as satisfying as a good old clear-out is there? I don’t mean the kind of organised, mindful, zen-like exercise (like the KonMari Method, which has recently become flavour of the month), but the bin-bags-at-the-ready, frenzied-whirlwind of a clear out. The kind where you accumulate a small mountain in your ‘recycle/take to the tip’ pile, and can be occasionally heard to cry out in anguish, “Why did we ever think we needed TWENTY-SEVEN London Tube maps? Do they breed if left unsupervised?” That kind. I had one of those last weekend, and I am now enjoying the space and ordered efficiency of our spare room, before it inevitably succumbs to entropy, and those tube maps start breeding again.

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Weary winter

life
It seems that winter has arrived. Suddenly all the colour has drained from the leaves and the sky and everything seems dim and desaturated. The day feels like twilight, but without the magic of that transitional time. This is normal, of course, and normally I don’t mind this time of year. In fact, I usually enjoy the dark and cold, and the opportunity it brings for cosy indoor living, with candles and fairy lights, and mugs of tea. Continue reading →

Passing the Bechdel Test

life
There aren’t many dramas on TV (or films, for that matter) that pass the Bechdel Test, meaning that they feature at least two women, who talk to each other, about something other than a man. There are even fewer dramas with leading women in positions of some power, who are friends with each other as well as colleagues, and talk to each other about all kinds of things. However, Scott & Bailey is one such TV drama, and one that I really enjoy. Continue reading →

Secret history of our streets

mumblings life
I’m just catching up with a series of documentaries about particular streets in different areas of Scotland, called The Secret History of Our Streets. I didn’t realise until I looked up the website just now that this is actually the second series — the first was on streets in London. Having seen two out of three episodes of the second series, I’m really sorry that I missed the first, because it has been fascinating. Continue reading →

WWI Photographs

life
Since this year is the centenary of the start of the First World War, there have been a number of interesting documentaries on TV about the Great War. One of these was a fascinating programme about the photographs taken by soldiers themselves in the trenches: Hidden Histories: WW1’s Forgotten Photographs. I have been meaning to write about it for quite a while, but it has slightly haunted me, and I have been struggling to find the words to express what I’d like to say about it. Continue reading →

Warhorses of Letters

review life
I am in awe of fabulously creative writers. I’m talking about Robert Hudson and Marie Phillips — the kind of people who can write a radio comedy series about a love affair conducted by letter between two warhorses, or as they describe it, “A gay, equine, military, epistolary romance for the ages”. Not only have the three series of ‘Warhorses of Letters’ been hilarious, but the very last episode that I listened to last week (and again this morning) was so utterly moving that I was astonished to find myself with big fat tears rolling down my face. Continue reading →

The workhouse

life culture
At the weekend, I caught up with the first part of a documentary about the workhouse: Secrets from the Workhouse. It was made by the same production company as ‘Who Do You Think You Are’, and the element of finding out about the ancestors of celebrities was the same. However, in this programme, they focused on one aspect: people who ended up in the workhouse. It consequently featured a number of different celebrities, each of whose ancestors reflected a different experience of the workhouse. Continue reading →

On not being social

life
When I was young, I used to swim at the local swimming baths. While other people ploughed up and down on the surface of the swimming pool, I revelled in swimming below the surface. I would skim along the bottom of the pool, brushing the ceramic tiles with my fingertips, like an inflated manta ray. I adored being underwater. I loved the booming silence, the all-enveloping embrace of the water, and the fact that everyone else was on the surface and I was in my own little world. Continue reading →

In your shoes

life
I’ve been enjoying a TV programme called the Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England with Dr Ian Mortimer. It’s a history programme about Elizabethan England, obviously, but the conceit is that it is framed as a kind of manual for a time traveller thinking of visiting the period. You can imagine the pitch for the programme (“We want to give people a feel for what it was really like to live in the period…"), and there are some CGI graphics to make it look as if Dr Mortimer is wandering around in some futuristic computer interface. Continue reading →

The Return of the Ring

life
I can’t quite believe what happened today. Remember when Mr Bsag lost his wedding ring? If you don’t, do go and read that post then come back — it’s not a long one. I’ll wait here until you’re back. Well, I can’t quite believe it, but he found the ring again. It didn’t turn up — as I rather fondly imagined that it might — in the middle of a potato that we’d harvested from the allotment, but it was almost as amazing. Continue reading →

Norfolk peace

mumblings life
I really needed a holiday. For one reason or another, it seems to have been a very hectic and stressful year. Work has involved a series of Red Queen situations, in which I’ve had to keep running faster just to keep up, and home life hasn’t been exactly relaxing because of the neighbourhood we live in. This has never been a great area, but recently one or two families have moved in who have absolutely no concept of what it means to be a good neighbour. Continue reading →

Taxidermy

life mumblings
A couple of weeks ago, Robert Brook posted some lovely photos from what turned out to be the Horniman Museum. I loved his photos, because I find old taxidermied animals rather compelling. Don’t get me wrong, I much prefer to see animals alive and well and in their natural habitats. But stuffed animals hover interestingly in that uncanny valley between alive and not alive, and I’ve always been fascinated by them. Continue reading →

Opening hours

life mumblings
Sunday trading hours are in the news at the moment, as the government is planning to suspend current Sunday trading restrictions for the duration of the Olympics this summer. ‘Small’ shops are currently already exempt from such laws, but what many people do not perhaps appreciate is how disruptive apparently ‘small’ shops can be. But first, a bit of backstory. When we first moved into our house, there was a pub just opposite it. Continue reading →

Mirra Chair

life
Several years ago, I bought a cheap saddle stool for working on the computer, because I had been having problems with back pain. It was a fairly cheap copy of better made models, but it did the job reasonably well. Saddle stools are — as the name suggests — modelled on horse riding saddles, and maintain a more open angle between your torso and your thighs. They also tilt your pelvis in such a way that your back naturally assumes a more upright position. Continue reading →

Contrasts

life
We’ve just returned from a holiday in Anglesey, staying in the same cottage that we used last year. We were incredibly lucky with the weather, and had a near-miraculous (for Wales) three consecutive days of sunshine and no rain. The Thursday was particularly Mediterranean (you can see the evidence in my Flickr set), and after we returned from a lovely walk on Holyhead Mountain I decided to go for a swim in the sea. Continue reading →

Bags of Tea

life green
Like many a geek, I am an obsessive coffee drinker. I love good coffee, spend ages tinkering around with methods of making it, and find it genuinely hard to do without. I don’t feel quite the same about tea, but I do enjoy good tea, and like trying new varieties. For many years (and for reasons I can’t adequately justify), I’ve made do with tea bags, which is the equivalent of drinking instant coffee. Continue reading →

Busyness

life geek
Wow. Has it really been nearly two weeks since I last wrote here? I seem to have been on a never-ending stress treadmill at work, lurching from one deadline to another, never quite catching up with myself. Just to add to the stress, I’ve also had one of those periods when all sorts of things broke or needed sorting out (including my own body, unfortunately). So, I’ve had 3 rather frustrating trips to the doctor (I’m not ill, just in need of a bit of routine maintenance, but there have been…snags). Continue reading →

Do The Hard Thing First

life gtd
I was reminded again today of the most useful productivity lesson I’ve ever learned. It’s this: do the hard thing (or things) first. There’s always something on your todo list that you really don’t want to do. It’s difficult, it requires thought or negotiation, or it requires you to confront something you’d rather not address, thank you very much. It sits there, mocking you. What tends to happen is that you put it off, and do something on your list that’s easier. Continue reading →

Beer And Morris Dancing

life beer films
Last weekend, I visited the Birmingham Beer Festival with my brother. I’m a member of CAMRA and love real ale, so I always enjoy the opportunity to sample a good selection of real ales. There’s also always a nice atmosphere at beer festivals. While alcohol often provokes aggression, real ale seems to have the opposite effect on enthusiasts, so that you see a lot of large bellies and beatific, peaceful smiles around the venue. Continue reading →

Soothing Tasks

geek life
I’ve had a very difficult month or so for one reason or another. Nothing earth-shattering, really, just the accumulation of a lot of small problems and set-backs, plus a health scare which turned out to be nothing to worry about eventually, I’m glad to say. In the midst of all this, I noticed something about myself, which I should probably have realised a long time ago: I find solving geeky problems soothing. Continue reading →

New shower

life
I've written about the odd shower arrangements in our house before, but the previously unthinkable has now happened: we have a new, conventionally operated, functional shower! It has only taken four years, and the rest of our bathroom still leaves a lot to be desired, but we finally overcame the inertia to do something about it. Recently, it had become even more unreliable, with a dribbly, pathetic flow which was — at best — tepid. Continue reading →

Who put that there?

life
I love our cat Bianca dearly, but there are times when she amazes me. She's beautiful, affectionate and incredibly sweet, but sometimes I feel that she's a refined, crustless cucumber sandwich or two short of a picnic. Take yesterday, as an example. I was watching her grooming, and she was doing that graceful, flexible cat thing, where they hoist a rear leg skywards while they groom what I will tactfully refer to as their 'hard to reach regions'. Continue reading →

Teaching the intangible

life
I've been really enjoying Monty Don's new series, Mastercrafts, about people learning rural crafts. Part of my enjoyment can be explained by my inordinate fondness for Monty Don, but mostly it's because I love watching people skilled in their craft do their work. The programme uses the familiar 'they have only 6 weeks to compete to be the best at X' format, which seems to be obligatory for any kind of reality show these days, but it isn't too obnoxious. Continue reading →

Crochet frenzy

life
For some reason that I still don't quite understand I got a yearning (or a yarning, hah!) to learn a practical craft over Christmas. I spend far too much time in front of a computer (mostly for work, but it spreads into the rest of my life) and while I love messing about on it, and I just wanted something creative to do with my hands that might help me relax away from the screen. Continue reading →

Almost wild

life
One of the things I really like about cats is that they retain a lot of the independence and behavioural traits of their wild ancestors. I realise that this is often cited by people who don't like cats as one of the things they dislike most about them, but it would be a dull world if we all liked the same things. Having a couple of cats in the house seems as wondrous to me as having a couple of small leopards wandering around in my living room. Continue reading →

Soap

life
Victorian Farm is back for a short run of Christmas specials, which I'm pretty happy about. The episodes are as interesting as ever (for example, I now know the origin of the phrase 'grinding to a halt'), but one thing really made me laugh. A few days before, I had caught a bit of Kirstie Allsopp's Homemade Christmas, where she was making soap. Soap making at home basically involves water, caustic soda and a fat, and caustic soda is pretty nasty stuff, as the name suggests. Continue reading →

The Climber

life
Public transport in the UK has countless failings, but if you are looking for a silver lining to the big, grey cloud of its many inadequacies, it might be that they provide a reason to bond with your fellow travellers. Sometimes that bonding just involves rolling your eyes at your neighbour in a wordless "Buses, eh? What can you do...", but at other times, it turns into something a bit deeper. Continue reading →

Ninja shopper

life
I'm off to a wedding next weekend, and I had nothing to wear. When I say 'nothing to wear' I don't mean in the sense that people often mean it ('I've got lots of suitable things, but I want something new', or 'I've worn that outfit more than once'), but literally, nothing suitable for a wedding. Unless you think that jeans, t-shirts, jumpers or one very light, very floral, summery dress are suitable for a winter wedding, I had nothing to wear. Continue reading →

Academic Spring

life
This coming week is Fresher's Week, so once again, the campus will be filling up with students. I always think that the start of the academic year is a kind of Academic Spring. Life seems to return to campus, with fresh-faced green shoots, eager to start their life at University, and there's lots of visible activity. Which isn't to say that nothing happens over the vacation: contrary to what undergraduates (and others) believe, academics don't get the summer vacation off. Continue reading →

They call her the Ginger Ninja

life
One of the great things about having two cats is watching them play together. Bella and Bianca remind me a bit of Clouseau and Cato sometimes (Bianca is Kato), particularly when they are launching ambushes upon one another from inside a duvet cover that's hanging over our bannisters. "Not now, Cato, you feul!"

Claiming territory

life
We've started to allow the cats to roam the house freely at night. Cleo actually preferred to be shut into the kitchen, dining room and living room at night (she'd pester us to tuck her in bed if we let her roam free), but Bella and Bianca seemed to want a bit more freedom. Inevitably, what happens is that they sleep on our bed: not always both at the same time, but at one point or another there will be somewhere between zero and two cats plus two humans on or in our bed. Continue reading →

Taking note

life
So, I have to edit this thing for work. It's not a huge edit, just a bit of information to add to a paragraph of a collaboratively written document. In a meeting last week about this document, I made some notes on the print-out of the document, so that — I thought at the time — I would remember what I had to do when I got around to the writing this week. Continue reading →

Hating fashion with a passion

life
I've made no secret on this blog of the fact that I hate shopping for clothes. In all seriousness, given the choice I would rather visit the dentist than shop for clothes. Basic items like jeans, t-shirts and so on, I buy online, and use a small selection of suppliers, where I know what my size corresponds to in their sizing. I don't enjoy that much either, but a few clicks and it's all over until the clothes arrive and you have to try them on: relatively painless. Continue reading →

A week with the cats

life
For me, this week has mostly been about marking exams and getting to know the cats. I'm sure it will be pretty obvious to everyone which one was more entertaining. Don't worry, this blog won't turn into an 'All Cats All The Time' enterprise, but I wanted to write a bit more about Bella and Bianca, now that we've got to know them a bit better. Bianca {width="240” height="180”} Bianca has a rather lovely dual personality. Continue reading →

New arrivals

life
{width="180” height="240”} Regular readers will know that we recently lost our much-loved rescue cat, Cleo. We were really devastated by losing her, and felt completely bereft without her. While we'll never be able to replace her, and she'll always be very special to us, we really wanted to get another Somali, because we'd fallen in love with the personality of the breed. So we put our names down on the list for rescued/re-homed Somalis, expecting that it might take several months for a suitable cat (that is, a cat happy to be an indoor cat) to come up. Continue reading →

Dysfunctional shower

life
I'm really fed up of our shower. It's exactly the same as it was when we moved in, but that's the problem. Some plumbing genius (and I use the word 'genius' with heavy sarcasm) decided that rather than plumbing in a proper mixer tap to the shower head over the bath, they would bodge something up instead. So what we have is one of those electric showers, which isn't hooked up to the electricity supply, but just serves as a very primitive mixer tap. Continue reading →

Goodbye Cleo

life
{width="375” height="500”} ::: {style="clear: both;"} ::: Cleo Cat (some unknown date around 2002/3 - 9 April 2009) As those of you who are on Twitter might have seen, we had to have our cat Cleo put to sleep yesterday. Cleo had become a huge part of our little household, and because I wrote about her and published photos of her on this blog, I feel that it's appropriate to write her an obituary. Continue reading →

Powerless

life
Well, that wasn't very nice. On my cycle home tonight, I heard a large group of magpies and carrion crows making a real racket in a tree. It looked and sounded as if they were mobbing something, so I looked closer. Right at the top of the tree, there was another bird -- which appeared to be a small bird of prey, probably a kestrel -- hanging by its legs and flapping madly as the magpies tried to peck at it. Continue reading →

Snowy silence

life
The recent snow has had an unexpected benefit for our sleep patterns. Our road is often used as the downhill straight of a racing circuit by idiots on buzzy little mopeds, an activity which they continue well into the early hours. Since the recent snow falls, they have wisely stayed at home^1^, and we have had blissfully uninterrupted nights. The car traffic has greatly reduced, and even drunks turning out of the pub seem less inclined towards noisy fights when it's cold and snowy out. Continue reading →

In which our plans go astray

life
Mr. Bsag and I planned to go to London for the day yesterday. He had some prints in the Annual Open Exhibition at the Society of Graphic Fine Art, and was awarded a Highly Commended for one of them (yay!). He had to go and take down his work at the end of the show, so it was my last chance to see his work and the other exhibits in situ. Continue reading →

Ceremonial

life
One of the dubious pleasures of being an academic is the annual graduation ceremony. On the one hand, it's lovely to see the students you've taught graduating and celebrating their success. On the other, you have to sit through an awful lot of names being called out and hands being shaken. You also have to wear an academic gown and mortar board, which is downright weird when your usual attire consists of jeans and t-shirts. Continue reading →

Happiness lecture

life
I attended the Baggs Memorial Lecture on Happiness at the University of Birmingham on Monday, which this year was given by the Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion. As memorial lectures go, the 'Happiness Lecture' is a quirky one. Thomas Baggs was born in Birmingham in 1889, and subsequently got a couple of degrees at the University. When he died, he left a bequest providing for an annual public lecture on happiness, specifically "Happiness -- what it is and how it may be achieved by individuals as well as nations. Continue reading →

Caged

life
I went to the zoo last week^1^, and found that watching the humans watching the animals was almost as interesting (and upsetting) as watching the animals themselves. They have a snow leopard, and as I approached the enclosure, I noticed a young man in his late teens, with an emo-ish air about him. He was standing in front of the glass viewing window, palm pressed to the glass, intently watching the snow leopard following its endless track around the cage. Continue reading →

Foxy

life
My parents live in a very suburban part of Surrey^1^, but they have always attracted a lot of wildlife to their garden. They have plenty of bird feeders and get a wide variety of avian visitors, and they've seen foxes regularly for a number of years. Recently, however, they've been getting species that you don't usually associate with suburban gardens, like roe deer. The foxes have also been getting tamer (probably partly because my parents and some of their neighbours put out food for them), and they spend a lot of time relaxing in the garden during daylight hours, rather than visiting at night just to grab some food. Continue reading →

Another classic BSAG moment

life
As regular readers will know, my nom de keyboard of 'bsag' and the title of this blog both refer to the look which comes over someone's face (usually male) when I exhibit signs of knowing something about technical matters (see my About page for more details). I had a classic example of BSAG earlier this week when I had to contact some heating engineers about our boiler. We've dealt with these particular people before, and they are great: they are nice guys, do good work and charge a reasonable price. Continue reading →

My precious

life
Yesterday, Mr. Bsag lost his wedding ring. He was working on the allotment and took the ring off because it was rubbing his finger when he was using the spade. Like the big idiot he is sometimes, he put the ring in the top pocket of his overalls which a) doesn't fasten closed, and b) has a hole in the bottom, though to be fair, he didn't know about b) until it was too late. Continue reading →

Ruby Wedding

life
Mr. Bsag and I spent the weekend with my parents and my brother to celebrate my parents' Ruby Wedding Anniversary on Sunday (40 years, for those not fluent in the gemstone to years-married conversion). It was a quiet family do, but great fun, despite the weather doing its best to scupper carefully laid plans with bitter winds and snow. My brother and I hatched a plot to make them a photo book (using iPhoto) of photographs from their wedding day and a selection of other shots from the 40 years since. Continue reading →

Pixellated portent

life
I'm one of those people who really enjoys (in a slightly masochistic way) watching Grand Designs. There's no way that Mr. Bsag and I will ever have the money to buy a plot of land and build a house, but we enjoy watching other people go through the process. One benefit of house-building by proxy is that -- while you don't end up with a gorgeous designer home to live in -- you don't spend hundreds of thousands of pounds and go grey worrying about your house slipping down a hillside overnight and ending up in a pile of rubble by the side of the road. Continue reading →

One of those weekends

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Well, that wasn't the quiet, restful weekend we'd planned. Mr. Bsag has been having terrible trouble with his teeth. Several teeth on one side hurt like hell, and were very sensitive to heat and cold. He made an emergency appointment with the dentist he was registered with in our old house, and -- diagnosing a build-up of plaque -- removed the plaque and said all would be well. But it continued to hurt badly, and on Friday, the whole of the lower half of his face had swollen up and he was having difficulty swallowing. Continue reading →

Take one memory

life
We watched the film After Life at the weekend, and I really loved it. The film's premise is that people who have recently died arrive at a slightly derelict institution, where they must -- with the help of an advisor -- decide on the one memory that they will take with them to the afterlife. Everything else will be forgotten, and they will live in that memory for ever. At the end of a week, the chosen memory is carefully recreated on video by technicians, and they go off to the afterlife to live in that moment. Continue reading →

Just call me Sparky

life
It's funny how completing the little jobs that you've been putting off for ages, but aren't really that difficult, can really make your day. If they involve something you didn't know you could do until you tried, it adds about 100 bonus points. Two things in our house have needed fixing since we moved in over a year ago. The first was the kitchen light. It was one of those 'curved arm holding spotlights' things, with tungsten spotlights, rather than halogen ones. Continue reading →

Fleeting

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This past week was very frosty, so I ended up getting the train to work. The compensatory benefit for putting up with packed, late-running trains and grumpy fellow commuters was the opportunity to see some truly stunning sunrises. The station platform faces east, and you see big, open skies over the nearby range of hills. On Tuesday, I was treated to the display you see in the photo above as I waited for my train. Continue reading →

Old boilers

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'Tis the season for boilers to break down, apparently. My parents were staying with us at the weekend, and returned on Sunday night to a freezing house as a consequence of a non-functioning boiler. It wasn't a total surprise -- they had a plumber over to look at it on Friday -- but they had hoped it was fixed. As they couldn't get anyone over to look at it again before today, they've had a few days of wearing all their clothes in the house, and shivering around a tiny fan heater. Continue reading →

Equinoctial

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I like the equinoxes. Winter and summer I can take or leave (though I'm fond of bright, cold, crisp winter days and cool but sunny summer days), but I love spring and autumn. After the literal washout of a summer that we experienced this year, the autumn is proving to be a real gem. The autumn foliage colours have been stunning, and have been shown off at their best by the bright, low sun. Continue reading →

Bot update

life
Well, the bot larva removal isn't going quite as smoothly as planned. I had an appointment at the hospital this week, where the good people in the Department of Infectious Diseases and Tropical Medicine got a gander at my little resident. It's becoming something of a theme for this particular medical incident, but I got two medical students observing again. I don't really mind, but I do see quite enough of students in my work life, without them appearing in my personal life too. Continue reading →

Wasps

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We have a rather impressive wasps' nest in our loft space. It seems that the wasps (Vespa vulgaris) got into the loft via the ventilation holes in our wooden soffits^1^, and built the nest on the inner surface of the roof, near the junction with the wall. The nest is just above the window of our office/spare room, so as I type this, I can see dozens of busy wasps hanging around the entrance or going in or out. Continue reading →

Snapshot

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A snapshot from my cycle commute home on Friday: An elderly gent is walking through the park with his portly, grizzled, leg-at-each-corner labrador. They are side by side, ambling along at the same, easy pace. It has just stopped raining, and the man furls his golfing umbrella, casually offering it to his dog. Without breaking stride, the dog takes the umbrella in his mouth and carries it. They stroll on, as they probably do every day, taking each others' presence for granted in the best possible way. Continue reading →

Stealth mode

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Cleo is a very stealthy cat. I suppose that it's something of a special cat skill, what with all that selection pressure on quiet stalking abilities. However, most of the cats I've known have had a very heavy tread, so you've usually been well aware of their location. I opened the window in our bedroom the other day, then -- as I left the room -- I suddenly thought that I ought to check where Cleo was, and close the bedroom door so that she wouldn't try to climb out of the window. Continue reading →

Hello kitty

life
This weekend was quite a momentous one for us, because we finally did what we'd longed to do for ages and got a cat. We had cats throughout my childhood, but apart from looking after my parents' current cat while they were away, I hadn't felt that we could keep a cat because we were always renting and therefore in a bit of a precarious position. Now that we have our own house, and Mr. Continue reading →

Comfort and joy

life
As you'll probably have guessed from the lack of posts around here, I've had a madly busy few weeks. Deadlines played their favourite game of hiding round a corner sniggering, and then all jumping out onto me at once, yelling, "Surprise!!" They haven't quite gone away yet, but things have slowed down a notch from mad to merely busy. Anyway, one of the things I had on was a short workshop, at which I was speaking. Continue reading →

Human clock

life
Commuters tend to be creatures of habit, and I am no exception. My return journey timing is a bit more variable, but I tend to leave for work at about the same time everyday. The same is true of many other people I pass along the way, so they become a kind of fuzzy human clock. You know where you normally tend to pass other commuters travelling on your route in the opposite direction, so if you see them earlier along your route, it's a pretty safe bet that you're a bit late. Continue reading →

Rubbish collections

life
There has a been a lot of talk today about the frequency of rubbish collection in the UK. Apparently, many Councils are moving to alternate week collections: recyclables one week, and ordinary household rubbish the next. There have been a lot of complaints about this, with people saying that their bins smell or that they are getting maggot infestations. Inevitably, the Daily Mail has weighed in with the "The Great Dustbin Revolt". Continue reading →

Lord of the Flies

life
Now that summer seems to be a-coming in, midges and mosquitos are breeding like -- well -- flies. My morning ride is fine because it's fairly early and the midges don't seem to be swarming, but on the ride home, I have to wear sunglasses to avoid getting midges in my eyes every few minutes. I don't mind getting a bug-splattered face, but flies in the eye hurt. There's one particular stretch by the river which is particularly infested. Continue reading →

Nostalgia

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My parents visited before Easter, and achieved their long-threatened goal of bringing me a load of boxes of my stuff that had been hitherto cluttering up their loft. "You've got your own loft now, so it can clutter up yours." Fair enough. It's an assortment of random stuff that I didn't really want to throw out, but didn't have room for at the time, including a lot of exercise books from my middle and senior school years. Continue reading →

Pilot Capless fountain pen

life
It was my birthday last week, and I got some money from some very kind and generous friends and family members. I wrote a while ago about my lovely Rotring Newton fountain pen, and I'm afraid that I've enjoyed using it so much in the intervening time that the fountain pen bug has struck. I've been admiring the Pilot Vanishing Point fountain pens (or Pilot Capless or Namiki Vanishing Point -- they go under a confusing array of names), and since I had some gift money to treat myself with, I decided to buy one. Continue reading →

New bike

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At long last (more than two months after ordering it), I've finally got my hands on the bike I bought using the Tax-Free Cycle scheme through work. It's a Fahrrad Manufaktur S200 Comfort, and it's absolutely wonderful. I rode it to work for the first time on Friday, and after Mr. Bsag's bike, it felt supremely comfortable. It has a much more upright position, which is great for my back, shoulders and wrists. Continue reading →

Origami and the art of learning new skills

life
A post by Jason Kottke about origami got me thinking about how we learn new skills and the role of instruction. By coincidence, I spent some time at the weekend trying to do some origami myself. The Saturday edition of The Guardian newspaper printed some patterned and coloured squares to cut out, along with instructions to create cranes, cicadas, penguins and sloths, among other things. I had a go in an idle moment, and did fine with some and got completely baffled by others. Continue reading →

Reliability

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I've been thinking about how people make decisions about their daily journey options lately. My commute by bicycle is about 7 miles each way, and at a very gentle, non-sweat-inducing pace takes about 50 minutes, door to door. The corresponding journey by foot and then train takes about 25-30 minutes door to door -- on a good day. And that's the problem; the train system is so unreliable that on about 4 of 10 journeys each week, you can expect the trip to take up to 50 minutes. Continue reading →

Good fences make good neighbours

life
We fared remarkably well in the very high winds of a couple of weeks ago. In fact, the only casualty was some fencing around our back garden, which was already very rickety. After the winds hit, several of the panels were leaning at crazy angles, but none of the panels themselves were badly damaged. Our house was built in the mid-1980s (along with two others) on the garden of a nice Victorian cottage a few doors down. Continue reading →

Plotting

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The wind has died down a bit now after a stormy couple of weeks, so we took the opportunity to start to define the planting beds on our allotment plot. It actually took a couple of goes, because on our first visit in the morning we realised that we couldn't remember which of the three newly-created plots was ours. Rather than put a lot of work into measuring out beds, only to find that we were measuring the wrong one, we went back home to call the person who looks after the site, and ask him which one we were supposed to be on. Continue reading →

Phthalo blue and carbazole violet

life
Mr. Bsag and I went to London yesterday to run a few pleasurable errands. I visited Bikefix to test ride a lovely, Dutch-style bike for commuting to work (more on that later, I'm sure, if I decide to buy it), and Mr. B went to a printmaker's supply shop called Intaglio. He's been printmaking for a couple of years now, and someone recommended this shop. It's in the Borough area, which in itself is an fascinating area of London. Continue reading →

Happy New Year

life
Happy New Year to everyone! As I've almost certainly said somewhere here before, I'm not really one for making resolutions in the New Year, partly because I think that the coldest, wettest, grimmest time of the year is the worst possible environment for encouraging you to stick to them. However, I have been thinking about some things I'd like to change a bit in the coming year. The second half of 2006 involved a lot of upheaval; we bought and moved to our first house, I had a long trip to Brazil, and then I was in hospital or recuperating for much of the rest of the year. Continue reading →

Christmas roundup

life
I'm back after the usual round of visits to relatives, which were slightly complicated by the fact that our car decided to have a festive breakdown. It has been somewhat grumpy of late, but a couple of days before Christmas, it failed to start. After a phone call to my auto consultants (my Dad and brother), the consensus was that the battery might be just resting rather than dead. So I bought a charger, charged up the battery and it started the engine, though now the lights behind the instrument panel were flickering on and off. Continue reading →

Human nature

life
Against my better judgement -- because I was pretty sure that it would end with me yelling at the TV in frustration -- I watched one of the Morgan Spurlock's 30 Days documentaries, which involved an atheist woman (Brenda) staying for 30 days with a devoutly Christian couple (Michael and Tracy). Actually, it was pretty interesting for the most part. The Christian couple were intelligent and reasonably open-minded (though Michael made some rather shockingly intolerant comments when discussing the "In God We Trust" phrase on dollar notes), so there was less overt conflict than you might have expected. Continue reading →

Pruning

life
One of the previous owners of our house planted a bamboo plant next to a little bubble fountain. It's attractive, and gives the garden a slightly Japanese feel, but they neglected to plant the bamboo in a pot sunk into the ground. Consequently, the plant has drawn up complex invasion plans (complete with little model bamboo plants placed on a huge map, which are pushed about by uniformed young women with long sticks), and is gradually strangling any other plants rash enough to be sitting immobile in its rampaging path. Continue reading →

Rasterbation

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{width="240” height="138”} I've been itching to try out The Rasterbator (careful how you say and type that one), which accepts an ordinary, low resolution image, and lets you print it out at almost any size by stitching together a number of A4 sheets. In my new office/spare room, we have an enticing blank wall that was crying out for a nice, serene, but striking image. It's a pretty easy process. You upload an image (you can see my original here), then choose what size of paper you want to use, whether you want landscape or portrait orientation of each of the sheets, and how many sheets you want to form the final image (which determines the size). Continue reading →

Terylene warrior

life
I've been watching the first couple of episodes of Into the West, and enjoying it in a guarded way. I find the bits with the settlers deeply dull, but I'm very interested in the parts of the story concerning the Lakota. I don't know how historically accurate any of it is, but Steven Spielberg seems to have managed a fairly balanced view of both sides so far. I'm pleased that they chose to have the Native American tribes speaking their own languages (though I'm in no position to say how authentic either the language or pronunciation is), but I do wish that they wouldn't make the translations for the sub-titles so stilted. Continue reading →

Healing

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Wound healing is a pretty amazing thing. I'm a biologist, so I know how it works^1^, but I still find it fascinating. Four weeks ago, I had a relatively large (but very neat) cut through my body wall, something that ought to be fairly catastrophic -- there's a reason we have all those layers of skin, after all. But now I just have a red scar, and the skin has knitted itself together nicely. Continue reading →

Feeding Birds

life
I'm beginning to think that wild bird food is one of the best value entertainment purchases around. In our old house, we had a bird feeder, but got a pitiful number and variety of birds visiting it, for reasons that still aren't particularly clear. In our new house, the situation is completely different, and we find it hard to keep up with the ravenous demands of the avian residents of our garden. Continue reading →

Dignity

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Last Tuesday morning, I was waiting in a wheelchair for a scan. I'd had a lot of pain in the night, and had been given a strong painkiller, so I felt fogged and dizzy, and worried about what the scan was going to show. I'd been admitted to hospital at the last minute, so I wasn't really fully prepared and had to borrow one of those awful, open-backed hospital gowns, and had no slippers or bathrobe. Continue reading →

The Lost Week

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So, I was hooked up to a series of tubes (no, not the Internets, unfortunately) for a day, then fitted in for surgery the following day. I was discharged yesterday with a souvenir 15 cm incision, decorated with alarmingly gothic-looking surgical clips (Hellraiser goes to Office World) that I'm hoping to pass off as a duelling scar^1^. I'm incredibly sore (I never appreciated how much you use your abdominal region to do everything), weak and very tired, but relieved as anything that the worst is over, and that I still have all my internal organs in their rightful places. Continue reading →

Coaxed

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{width="298” height="224”} This may look like a perfectly ordinary coaxial socket, but it represents an enormous amount of pride and achievement on my part. When we moved into our house, there was an existing TV aerial in the loft, but it wasn't particularly good for Freeview reception. So, sweating copiously in the sauna-like atmosphere of the loft, I wired in a new aerial that was more suitable for digital reception. I was quite proud of that, but I wasn't going to stop there. Continue reading →

Bats

life
It should be fairly clear from the image at the top of this page that I'm very fond of bats, both megachiroptera (fruit bats) and microchiroptera (insectivorous bats). Not only are they flying mammals, which is a great start, but the micro bats also eat biting insects which would otherwise eat me, which endears them to me hugely. If all that wasn't enough, they are also furry, squeaky and cute. I'm labouring these points, because you'd probably otherwise get the impression from the following paragraphs that I hate bats. Continue reading →

Library

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In the centre of Birmingham, I overheard this exchange between a mother and her 5 or six year old daughter: Mum: ...and then we'll go to the Library. Daughter (bouncing up and down with excitement): Yay! I love going to the library! Yippee! Talk about the perfect kid. On the subject of libraries, we now have a library literally four doors down from our house. It's pretty tiny, and has somewhat eccentric opening hours, but. Continue reading →

Emerging from the boxes

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Well, we're installed in our new house, and just beginning to emerge from the piles of boxes. We've put together more Ikea furniture than I care to think about, some of which went together nicely, and some which we had to battle with. Just don't mention wardrobes to me for a while... It's been completely exhausting, stressful, and it seems to have gone on for quite a while. None of it was made any easier by my discovery (a few days before we were due to move) that I have a medical problem I didn't know about. Continue reading →

Hot

life
On Thursday, I abandoned the train at New Street Station because it was clear I wasn't going to get much further very quickly, and tried to head out of the station to catch a bus. I left the platform by the escalators, and there were so many people on the concourse at the top, that there was a cartoon pile-up. People stepping off the escalator had nowhere to go but to crash into the backs of those in front of them. Continue reading →

Cloistered

life
Generally speaking, I'm a Reality TV hater. If I happen to pass through a channel showing Big Brother, Strictly Come Dancing, Celebrity Tank Driving, Life Laundry, How To Be Thin/Pretty/Young or any of their ilk, I hit the 'next channel' button with a little cry of distress. I'd rather watch paint dry. But somehow I've got sucked into watching The Convent, and I'm finding it fascinating. I nearly got put off by the trailers in which the four women who were going to spend 40 days in the Convent of the Poor Clares in Arundel were portrayed as petulant, rebellious drama queens. Continue reading →

Song to the Sunset

life
He was sitting at the very top of the fir tree in our garden, facing West. The sky was dramatically dark, and against the lowering clouds and his own black feathers, his beak was set ablaze by the setting sun. And he was singing. Gorgeous, bubbling, liquid gold notes dripping and splashing from his beak, cascading into the garden. Lazy, sweeping bass notes, trills and rolls and achingly sweet crescendos. Continue reading →

Observations

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A demolition grabber is in repose, resting its rusty steel forehead on the ground, neck curled after a giant's meal of twisted metal girders and dusty concrete. It sleeps. At Duddeston, the plants are waking after the winter, roiling over the platforms and tracks in great, green clouds. On the abandoned platform, an open book lies on its spine, pages riffling gently in the warm breeze. The embankments are decorated with an indigo froth of bluebells, seeming to float slightly above the grass in the late afternoon light. Continue reading →

On not doing things half-heartedly

life
Over the course of the time that we've been looking after M, my parents' cat, one thing I've noticed is how whole-heartedly cats do physical things. They might spend 90% of their day sleeping, but when they stretch, they really go for it. They arch their backs (the inspiration for the cat pose in yoga, of course) and seem to stretch out every single muscle fibre in a shuddering, eye and ear scrunching movement. Continue reading →

Chaps not included

life
I've been trying to find a really comfortable office chair for ages. I used to use one of those kneeling chairs, but found that the pressure on my knees was too much after a short period, even though the chair kept my back in a comfortable and natural position. Since we moved, I've been using our landlord's standard office chair, but I don't find it comfortable and my shoulders and back are beginning to suffer. Continue reading →

Bristol

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I was speaking at a conference in Bristol for the first part of last week, and I was reminded once again what a wonderful city Bristol is. As long-time readers may remember, I was an undergraduate in Bristol, and I retain a great affection for the place. If you combined the excitement and urban grittiness of Birmingham, and the physical beauty and quirkiness of Oxford, and you'd get something rather like Bristol. Continue reading →

Big step

life
Today had our under-the-asking-price offer accepted on a house we really want to buy, which was simultaneously exciting and terrifying. I don't want to get too excited at this stage because there are about a gazillion things that could go wrong with the sale (though there's no chain at all, which does simplify things a bit). But somehow I can't help getting excited. Eep!

Knitting on rails

life
Travelling on the same train each day to work means that I generally encounter more or less the same group of commuters. So when I got an earlier train one day, I was surprised and rather delighted by the travelling knitting circle I encountered. There was a group of six women who were already on the train when I boarded, and were occupying the six facing seats on one side of the carriage. Continue reading →

House guest

life
We have a furry house guest for about 7 weeks. My parents are going to Australia and New Zealand on holiday, so we're looking after their cat, M, so that she doesn't have to go into a cattery for the duration. M was a rescue cat and spent some time on the streets, but she's also very fond of human company, and didn't get on at all well when she had a short stay in a cattery once before. Continue reading →

Journal TextMate plugin

life
About a month ago, I mentioned that I'd made some customisations to TextMate to help me with the plain text journal file I keep to jot things down on a day-to-day basis, and a couple of people expressed an interest in me releasing a bundle with the modifications. It almost didn't seem worth doing because what I'd mostly done was to add minor things to the Markdown bundle. However, I thought that people might be able to add to it and improve it, so I decided to bundle it up. Continue reading →

Conversation editing

life
I don't want to give the impression that I make a habit of eavesdropping on other people's conversations, but there are a few people whose loud conversations in quiet places make me want to get out a red editorial pencil and make lots of those proof-reading deletion marks. I'm no Dorothy Parker, but I try to keep my mouth shut if I've got nothing interesting to say (obviously, my blog is exempt from this rule, and I blether on about all kinds of nonsense). Continue reading →

Dawn swimming

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When I was a kid, I used to go swimming every week at our local swimming baths (as we called it then, rather than 'swimming pool'). It was a lovely Victorian building^1^, with the original tiles, a cast iron turnstile that could stop a charging rhino (handy for all those occasions on which a rhino is desperate to get in for a swim without paying), but rather short on modern conveniences like footbaths or a metric length. Continue reading →

Happy New 2006

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{width="189” height="240”} We are usually boringly unsociable on New Year's Eve, but this year we travelled to Shropshire for the New Year's Eve wedding of some friends of ours. We decided to make a couple of days of it, and stayed in a very grand Bed and Breakfast place on the Estate where the wedding was being held. This isn't the kind of Estate that we are used to (with tower blocks and urban decay), but the big, posh kind with avenues of trees, grazing sheep, a huge house and acres of farmland. Continue reading →

Happy Christmas 2005

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{width="180” height="240”} We're going to take a couple of days off to eat, drink and scare ourselves deliciously with all the BBC4 ghost stories and Conan Doyle stuff we've been recording on the EyeTV. Happy Christmas, Festivus, Winter Solstice, or whatever else you feel like celebrating (or not celebrating) to you all. (Imagine that I just said that exactly like the Queen, complete with that funny, forced little grimace she makes at the end of her speech). Continue reading →

Qualified

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We had the assessment for our First Aid at Work course today, and I passed! So I'm now Licensed To Bandage. I even get to carry a little green card in my wallet to certify that I'm a First Aider. Nothing in the course is particularly hard if you know a little bit about the basic plumbing and wiring of the human body and apply common sense, but it is good to feel confident about the correct way to prioritise treatment and the techniques you need to help someone. Continue reading →

First Aid

life
I'm on a four-day course this week to become a qualified First Aider for work. As a biologist, I've got a reasonable grasp of how the human body works and the kinds of things that can go wrong, and as my Mum was^1^ a nurse, I've absorbed a lot of very sensible information from her about first aid, so I'm not finding anything too difficult so far. We've spent quite a lot of time today either pretending to be unconscious^2^, or pretending to treat people who are pretending to be unconscious. Continue reading →

Busy weekend

life
I've had a pretty busy weekend, as my parents came up to stay, and we met up with Mr. Bsag's parents (plus our two brothers) for a pre-Christmas dinner on Saturday. On early Friday evening, we wandered around the Frankfurt Christmas Market in Birmingham, and managed to just about eat our own weight in free samples of stollen (fruity, spicy Christmas bread). The lights around the Bullring and the Christmas market looked quite striking, and I put a few photos up on flickr. Continue reading →

Empty house

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However, my other reason for liking the programme is because of the glimpses of people's lives that you get through their abandoned homes. It can be achingly sad and intimate, particularly when the former owner has lived there for many years and moulded the house into their shape like an old overcoat. One house belonged to a person who had gone into hospital suddenly, obviously expecting to return, but had ended up in a nursing home. Continue reading →

BSAG revisited: Holocaust

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[First published 27/01/2005] It seems appropriate — on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz — to talk about a film I watched the other night. [Holocaust A Music Memorial Film from Auschwitz](http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/classicaltv/holocaust/article.shtml) interspersed interviews with people who had been forced to play music while imprisoned in Auschwitz and photographs from the time, with performances of various pieces of classical music within the camp and buildings themselves. It might sound like an odd idea, perhaps even rather disrespectful, but that isn't the way it came across. Continue reading →

BSAG revisited: How I fell in love with Mull

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[First published 30/09/2003] I've briefly mentioned my summer working on the Isle of Mull before. What I haven't really told you about is how I came to love the place. I went there just after graduation to work for a charity running whale-watching tours and doing research on the local whale population. I had no idea what to expect, as my last visit to Scotland had been when I was in a pushchair as a child^1^, and I was woefully prepared in practical terms. Continue reading →

Mini bikers

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We had a family celebration at the weekend, and all converged on Bourton-on-the-Water to eat, drink, go for walks and spend some time together. We chose Bourton mainly because it was the nicest place to spend a weekend that was roughly equidistant between all of our home towns. And it is lovely — if somewhat 'chocolate-boxy' — but the main street is fearsomely busy on sunny weekends. If you walk away from the main street (and we did that as much as possible), you can find peace and quiet, but the centre of the village was packed with people strolling about, paddling in the river and eating ice cream. Continue reading →

A walk down memory lane

life
Mr. D. tagged me with this particular meme, so here we go. I'm going to do it a bit half-heartedly, because I'm starved of inspiration for the '5 things...' bits at the end. 10 years ago... I was in the final year of my PhD, in the agonising and seemingly endless process of writing up my thesis. It was quite a time of transition. When you've spent so much time working on something so intense and rather narrow, you really want to be rid of it, and yet don't want to let it go — it's a strange feeling. Continue reading →

I don’t think so

life
I think that my Dashboard Weather widget has taken a bit of a funny turn. This is what it was reading last night (yes, I did manually refresh it) for Birmingham. That's Birmingham, UK, not Birmingham, Alabama, and 30 degrees Centigrade, not Fahrenheit. It was also just after 10pm, and nowhere near 30 degrees. Hmmm.

Procrastination index

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It's that dreaded exam marking time of year again. In universities all over the country, academics can be heard pacing around their offices and muttering things like "Come on! Just one more script, then you can have a break." to themselves. I don't know what it is about marking, but it's one of the most severe procrastination generators that I'm faced with in my daily life. There are a number of things that make almost anything more attractive than the prospect of marking scripts: Continue reading →

Sunshine

life
For a number of reasons, I've had some niggling worries on my mind recently. None have been particularly earth-shattering, but they were annoying enough that I've been mildly gloomy and pre-occupied, as if I've been walking around with a small stone in my shoe. I had a very busy day yesterday, but suddenly almost all of the things which had been bugging me resolved themselves — just like that. To top it all, the weather — which had been grey, wet and oppressive all day — abruptly changed for the better, and everything sparkled in the brilliant light. Continue reading →

Tea leaf

life
I lived in Oxford for 13 years, and over that time I owned a succession of bicycles, some of which were quite good quality. Despite the fact that Oxford is one of the great bike theft capitals of Britain, I never had a bike stolen. Mr. Bsag went to Oxford today on the coach, taking his nearly new Brompton folding bike with him. You can probably guess what's coming next. Continue reading →

National Sealife Centre

life
We decided to spend the day visiting the National Sealife Centre in Birmingham. They used to feature British marine life, and had an exhibit following the course of the River Severn from source to estuary, but evidently they decided that British fish are a bit — well — drab. It's true that there are some very lovely fish, crustaceans and molluscs in British waters (we even have cuttlefish), but the overall tonal palette is somewhat on the brown side. Continue reading →

Leaving a legacy

life
The need to write a will has been bobbing about in the back of my mind for a while now, so when I read this article by Reid, it struck a chord. I had also been idly wondering what would happen to my online existence if my organic existence ended suddenly. I know that it sounds like a bit of a morbid topic (and don't worry — I have no particular reason to believe that I'm about to check out), but it is worth giving some thought to. Continue reading →

Blockbuster Choruses

life
I'm not sure that choral singing is something that most people would classify as an adrenaline sport, but my experiences on Sunday have lead me to believe that it might be. I went along — with about 1,100 others — to participate in the 'Blockbuster Choruses from Scratch' day, held at Symphony Hall in Birmingham. The idea is that you get some rehearsal with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) and Chorus during the day, then perform a short concert in the evening. Continue reading →

Holocaust

life
It seems appropriate — on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz — to talk about a film I watched the other night. [Holocaust A Music Memorial Film from Auschwitz](http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/classicaltv/holocaust/article.shtml) interspersed interviews with people who had been forced to play music while imprisoned in Auschwitz and photographs from the time, with performances of various pieces of classical music within the camp and buildings themselves. It might sound like an odd idea, perhaps even rather disrespectful, but that isn't the way it came across. Continue reading →

Tallis Scholars

life
One of the things I really enjoy is watching people who are very skilled do something difficult, making it look simple and graceful. It doesn't matter if it's filleting fish, laying bricks, forging iron or singing polyphony — I find it all fascinating. We went to see The Tallis Scholars at Symphony Hall last night, and quite apart from the sublime sound they made, I was fascinated by how effortless they made the difficult task of singing Renaissance music seem. Continue reading →

Martial arts

life
Reading The Fencing Master reminded me of what I miss about doing martial arts. I studied TaeKwon-Do for several years, and also had a brief bash (if that's the right word) at fencing. I must be the world's least sporty person, but I really enjoyed both — perhaps because there was as much emphasis on just doing and enjoying them as on winning a competition or match. The Fencing Master is full of wonderful descriptions of the experience of fencing, and of the curious mixture of analytical planning and instinct it requires. Continue reading →

Inventive station announcements

life
Commuting at the moment is really irritating. There's a limited strike on the trains, so while they are still running a service, there are cancellations and delays every day. Instead of taking me less than an hour each way, for the past week the journey has taken more than 90 minutes for a distance of about 12 miles as the crow flies. Last night, travelling home, I was feeling like it might be my lucky night. Continue reading →

Epiphany

life
Yesterday was Epiphany (or so the hubby tells me, and he knows about these things), which meant that the Christmas decorations were supposed to come down. I always find it a rather sad a dreary time. Taking decorations down is much less fun than putting them up, and everything looks so drab in contrast. The worst job was getting the fairy lights off our rite of passage tree. I thought when I got them out of the box in their super-compressed state that the chances of getting them back into the same box were vanishingly small. Continue reading →

Post Christmas Post

life
We're back from a few days spent with our respective families. I would have posted about something trivial or geeky (or both), as I usually do, but after the tsunami that would feel incredibly fatuous. All I will say is that I've never felt so lucky to be safe, warm and surrounded by my family. This evening, I'll be thinking about the hundreds of thousands of people who have had their loved ones, homes and communities swept away from them. Continue reading →

Christmas cheer

life
I've just got back from the annual 'Black Country Beer Bash' that some friends run every year. We all meet up at a nice pub in the Black Country and drink lots of real ale and eat mountains of food. Mr. Bsag and I haven't made it for a couple of years because of the inconvenience of distance, so we hadn't been to this particular pub before. The Olde White Rose has more real ale pump handles than I've ever seen outside a beer festival — it's wonderful. Continue reading →

Bringing home the tree

life
I had a conversation with some friends at work the other day about real Christmas trees. We decided that the point at which you buy your first real tree for your own home (with lights and baubles and everything) is the point at which you feel truly grown up. So — at the age of 34 — I am finally an adult. In my previous homes, I was either not around for Christmas, so there didn't seem much point in getting a tree, or I didn't have enough space for one. Continue reading →

Do It Now by Steve Pavlina

life
A few weeks ago, I read an interesting article called Do It Now by Steve Pavlina: When watching TV, read a computer magazine during commercials. If you're a male, read while shaving. I use an electric shaver and read during the 2-3 minutes it takes me to shave each day. This allows me to get through about two extra articles a week -- that's 100 extra articles a year, enough to keep up on a few monthly subscriptions. Continue reading →

Power of Nightmares

life
I normally avoid talking about politics here because I don't do it well, but the events of today have left me baffled and depressed. I know that I'm not a US citizen, and so have no right to have a say in who becomes President, but when this particular US President has such a huge and largely deleterious effect on world events, I think everyone has a right to express their opinion. Continue reading →

Crap towns

life
The Idler has a fascinating collection of peoples' rebuttals and confirmations of their list of the worst towns in Britain: We're making our decision on the number of nominations each town gets. So we'll be surprised if it isn't Hull — but you never know. There are a number of strong contenders across the South West, there are dozens of costa-del-granny seaside towns forcing their way up the rankings, more and more of you are furious with life in London. Continue reading →

Going in at the waist

life
I steeled myself yesterday to do the thing I hate most in the world: go clothes shopping. I don't mind at all when my clothes are old or unfashionable, but when they start to lose structural integrity I'm forced to the shops. I have no interest in clothes at all, and resent the amount of money I have to spend on them which could — for example — be much more enjoyably spent on buying hi-fi, computer equipment or music. Continue reading →

Survival

life
I was watching a programme — with featuring Ray Mears — about bush-craft and survival in the rainforest, and caught myself avidly trying to work out how he made his hammock knots. "When", I thought to myself with a smile, "am I going to have to tie a hammock knot?" But ever since I can remember, I've been fascinated by learning how to do things. It doesn't really matter if I'll never have to use that knowledge, or if I can get along fine without it. Continue reading →

Getting Things Done: The practicalities

life
Before I start, if you don't know what Getting Things Done is, you might like to read my previous entry. I was planning to describe how I actually use the GTD system, but before I had before I had put fingers to keyboard, I saw this entry on Merlin Mann's 43 Folders blog, in which he invited readers to respond with their GTD methods. So, here's how I do it. Continue reading →

Getting Things Done: The Theory

life
I have a real problem with self-help books. The buzz-word laden jargon, excessive capitalisation to Make Ordinary Ideas Seem Great, and the utter tosh that often appears on their pages makes me want to set fire to the entire shelf in the bookshop. But I've just succumbed and bought what is my very first self-help book. I'd been hearing a lot of geek love for the book Getting Things Done (usually abbreviated to GTD) by David Allen. Continue reading →

Bright idea

life
Whose bright idea was it, I wonder, to install a TV system on the commuter trains through Birmingham? This system serves up reheated (and consequently somewhat dried up) news, public service adverts (the importance of literacy and numeracy for children and adults) and out of date weather reports. The other evening — after it had been pouring down with rain all day — I got a weather report compiled in the morning telling us that we were going to have showers that would clear up towards evening. Continue reading →

Duddeston Station

life
One of the highlights of my new daily commute is passing through Duddeston Station. The station was once an important terminus, but now only two platforms are in use, and the sheds are bricked up. The wonderful part for me is that they haven't dismantled any of the other platforms, rails or gantries, but just allowed nature to creep back in. I'm sure that this is probably a lack of money and/or laziness on the part of the authorities, rather than any act of charity towards the wildlife, but the end result is what matters. Continue reading →

Disturbing the peace

life
Burglar alarms are nothing but trouble. At 1 am on Thursday, I was woken by a piercing siren; the burglar alarm on the front of the house was shrieking away. This was a bit perplexing because I have never actually set the alarm, since we've had builders in and out the whole time. I got dressed and went out into the rain to check that it really was our alarm, and found to my consternation that it was. Continue reading →

Wild man

life
I've never been particularly interested in local newspapers, but since I'm in a new area now, I thought I would glance at the local free-sheet that popped through the door. Little did I suspect that I was living in an area where thrilling and mysterious events occur. It seems that the local park (which is actually quite a large Country Park, rather than the typical bandstands and flowerbeds type of thing) is inhabited by a wild man. Continue reading →

Playing house

life
I've lived in a lot of different places. At one point (as a PhD student) I was moving on average once a year. In the last few years I've settled down a bit, and stayed in one place for a while, but still none of these properties felt entirely like home. That's partly because they were all rented, and consequently I had to put up with other people's choice of decor and furniture. Continue reading →

Moved

life
Well, we're more or less installed in our new home! I would have posted sooner, but I couldn't get the Telewest cable modem working with the Mac for a while. The moving guys were fantastic (and got a big tip!) so the physical part of moving was fairly untraumatic. I'm not sure that we would go for it if we were paying for it ourselves, but getting everything packed by experts is a huge luxury. Continue reading →

Educating children

life
Airports can be interesting places for short periods of time. You cross paths with all sorts of fascinating people. While I was waiting in the check-in queue, I overheard a father explaining — in great detail — the entire plot of Part 2 of Wagner's Ring Cycle, Das Rheingold to his early-teenaged son. The boy seemed to be listening fairly attentively to tales of Rhinedaughters and the symbolism of the Ring, which probably made him a bit unusual amongst the ranks of teenagers. Continue reading →

And I’m back…

life
I'm back from the conference, and immediately immersed in packing up the office, sorting out things in the house, and trying to recover from sleep deprivation and a very sub-optimal diet. I realised that I didn't say which country I was going to. I went to a very pretty rural part of Germany. On the way to the hotel, I eyed the flat gradients and wide, well-kept cycle paths with an enormous amount of jealousy. Continue reading →

Ikea

life
Since our plans had to be radically restructured, we decided that we would make an en route visit to Ikea. We weren't intending to buy anything^1^; it was more of a reconnaissance mission to check out the lie of the land and sit on some sofas. Our current flat is fully furnished, and while we have a few pieces of furniture that we have somehow managed to shoe-horn in amongst the truly horrible pieces that came with the flat, we'll need some more after we move if we're going to avoid sitting and sleeping on the floor. Continue reading →

Assorted things and outcome thereof

life
So, we're back after our short trip away to sort a lot of things out. The work thing fell through at the very last minute. And when I say 'fell through' what I really mean is 'crashed to the ground and smashed into millions of tiny pieces'. I don't want to go into too much detail (for one thing, I'm still fuming about it), but it will probably take quite a bit longer than I had hoped to get my research up and running. Continue reading →

Overhearing tour guides

life
Our new office has a sort of micro-balcony, on which it is possible to stand (not sit) in the sun and eat a sandwich. While the weather has been nice I've been taking advantage of it and catching a few rays and some fresh air at lunch time. One of the side-effects is that I get to hear the commentary from the open-topped tour buses that go by. These advertise a live^1^ guide, and this poor guy has to run through the same old spiel about 25 times a day, day-in, day-out. Continue reading →

Disappointment

life
Bugger. Last week, we went to look at some properties to rent in the area we'll be moving to. One house was OK, but nothing really endeared us to it, one was appalling (and on a very run-down council estate, complete with boarded-up houses and burnt-out cars), but the last one — with apologies to Goldilocks — was absolutely perfect. We told the estate agents that we were very interested in the place, and wanted to arrange a moving date toward the end of July. Continue reading →

Anonymity

life
After all the kerfuffle here, and my careful attempt to describe what I work on without revealing my name, I thought it might be a good idea to talk a bit about more about why I chose to remain anonymous, and to discuss the issue of privacy for bloggers. I need to go back to when I first started blogging, back in October of 2002. I was feeling stifled by academic writing, and I wanted to stretch my wings a bit — write about all the other things I'm interested in, without having to be mind-numbingly pedantic over every single word. Continue reading →

Stupidity

life
When I was in New Caledonia, one of the most common sounds was the chorus of mothers yelling at the departing backs of their children running off to play, "Mets tes claquettes!"^1^. I became rather fond of it. But yesterday I wished that I hadn't put mes claquettes on. I cycle in to work, and so wear my stiff-soled cycle shoes. As I don't want to lug a change of footwear in to work every day, I keep an old pair of trainers and a pair of flip-flops^2^ in the office. Continue reading →

Making sense of the world

life
There has been a bit of a chorus of interest^1^ in what I actually do for a living. Because I'm one of the handful of people (and the only woman) to work on my current study species, I can't tell you exactly what I work on with without giving the game away. However, I can give you a broad overview of my research interests. I work in the area of animal behaviour, and — more specifically — on how animals make sense of events in the world around them. Continue reading →

Enthusiasm returns

life
It's amazing the difference a new job makes. For the past few months — when I had no immediate prospect of a job, and it looked like I might have to leave academia — I was completely unenthusiastic about work, and I found it really hard to motivate myself. Now that I know I have a permanent job and I'm starting a new project, I'm fizzing with ideas and enthusiasm. Lately I've been waking up early — not with the feeling of dread and worry that I experienced before, but bubbling over with ideas for experiments^1^, which forces me to get up and write them down. Continue reading →

Revision

life
I like giving revision tutorials. Of all the different kinds of interactions with students, revision tutorials have the highest job satisfaction index (subjective benefit to student divided by amount of work required on my part). They come in clutching terrifying lever arch files, bulging with lecture notes, revision notes and ten other kinds of notes, and a look of panic etched on their features. Then they fire a load of random questions at you, which you try to answer in a clear way without recourse to books. Continue reading →

Glories of the British pub

life
Mr. Bsag's next art exhibition starts tomorrow. He was frantically blasting spray-mount on price labels, while I was trying to produce a new architecture and design for his website, and cursing the day I ever decided to use a footer. We had both been slaving away indoors while the sun shone and the breeze blew balmily outside. We had had enough. "Oh, let's go to the pub". Our local — the Mason's Arms — is a lovely, friendly Victorian pub, nestled in the hollow made by a former quarry. Continue reading →

An announcement

life
This is an embarrassing post to write, because if there's one thing I find awkward, it's blowing my own trumpet. However, I'm in need of work contacts, so I'll prepare my embouchure. About a month ago, in response to my rather anguished plea for career suggestions, several people suggested technical authoring. I thought it was a pretty good idea, so I did a bit of research. It was clear that having some kind of portfolio (in addition to this weblog) would help me a lot, so I decided to see if I could persuade a shareware developer to let me write a manual for free, in return for using the result as a portfolio piece. Continue reading →

Dental anguish reloaded

life
It's finally over! I've had my wisdom tooth out, and as with many things that you dread beforehand, it wasn't as bad as I had feared. There was a huge amount of pressure and really nasty grinding noises, but the tooth came out without too much of a struggle. I feel a bit worn out now, and my mouth feels sore and bruised, but I'm really glad that it's out. My dentist even gave me it the tooth in a little tooth fairy envelope. Continue reading →

Stacked

life
I had to go into the library book stacks today, in search of a journal article. If you've never seen stacks before, they are huge rolling shelving systems which can be stacked together or opened up to get at a particular shelf. They scare the life out of me, to the point where I'm reluctant to look up papers in journals with titles in the A-J range in the Psychology library. Continue reading →

The Somme

life
We watched a really moving documentary yesterday about and archaeological expedition to try to uncover a German dug-out that had been occupied by the poet Wilfred Owen during the Battle of the Somme. Owen lead a platoon into No Man's Land to try to occupy an abandoned German dug-out near the village of Serre. Life in the trenches was hazardous enough, but crossing No Man's Land under bombardment was tantamount to suicide. Continue reading →

The Roaches

life
We spent the weekend with some friends who live in Leek in Staffordshire, which was a lot of fun. On Saturday morning, we went for a great walk up The Roaches — a ridge of gritstone with some fantastic views over the surrounding landscape. Gritstone is remarkably sparkly, and since the surrounding earth is formed by the weathering of the same rock, even the mud wore a fetching disco look. Apparently, the rather odd name 'Roaches' is a corruption of the Norman-French name roches or rocks. Continue reading →

A to B

life
We subscribe to a fantastic magazine called A to B. It's lovingly produced by David and Jane Henshaw in Somerset, aided and abetted by young Alexander (who is apparently an enthusiastic magazine packer), and covers alternative modes of transport. There are articles on the increasingly arcane art of combining train travel with cycling, folding bikes, trailers and electric bikes: everything you need to know to avoid relying on cars as your primary means of transport. Continue reading →

iPod surprises

life
One of the joys of listening to an iPod on random play is that you occasionally hear a track so surprising that you would be prepared to swear in a court of law had absolutely nothing to do with you, because you have no recollection of putting it on the iPod, and you can't think why you would have done anyway. As an example, I was happily listening to my iPod this morning, when the intro to a new track began: Continue reading →

Daydreams

life
Our trip to London on Sunday made me remember how much I enjoy daydreaming. I can't read in buses or cars without feeling sick, which means that I can't be tempted into trying to work. I listen to my iPod and daydream — I really need to do that every now and again. Life is often so hectic and relentless that having a space to just think about things is incredibly valuable. Continue reading →

Valentine's Day soppiness

life
Mr. Bsag has fallen in love again on Valentine's Day. He found the Retired Greyhound Trust's page, and hasn't been the same since. Every few minutes, he finds another really cute photo, and makes the kind of cooing sounds that people usually reserve for small babies. Now that I've seen them, I'm going all mushy too. Spike in particular, seems like the kind of goofy-looking dog I could do business with. Continue reading →

I'll name that computer in one

life
Mr. Bsag generally has a rather troubled and tempestuous relationship with computers — he doesn't get on well with them, and they don't like him much in return. However, he does like spotting guest appearances by Macintoshes on TV programmes and films (it's amazing what several years of intensive brain-washing by a spouse can do). We were watching something on TV, and he thought he spotted one: Him: "Look! It's an iBook! Continue reading →

Trapped

life
I woke up to a loud scrabbling sound this morning. "Gotcha!", I thought. Reel back a couple of weeks, and Mr. Bsag is showing me a cherry tomato which has a ragged hole in it. He thought that it had burst, but it had a suspiciously nibbled quality to my eyes. Sure enough, when I got a torch out and looked down the little gaps by the side of the kitchen cabinets, I found the tell-tale signs of a mouse. Continue reading →

Insecurity and isolationism

life
I know that many other people have linked to this polite but heartfelt rant about the new US visitor registration programme — it articulates everything that I've been fuming about over the last few days. If you want a slightly less polite but no less heartfelt (and very funny) rant, then head over to d4d. What with 'sky marshals', no loitering near the toilets on long haul flights, and now needing to be fingerprinted or photographed when you enter the country — well, hands up who feels like visiting to the US now? Continue reading →

Dr. Bridget’s Postdoctoral Diary

life
We had much amusement in the office today over a brilliant 'Bridget Jones' pastiche by Kat Arney. I was supposed to be job-hunting on Nextwave, and looking for tips to make myself utterly irresistible to potential employers. Instead, I spent the next 20 minutes laughing my head off, and then forced my Postgrads to stop work too while I impressed on them how hilarious it was. This passage in particular struck a chord: Continue reading →

New Year's walk

life
I've always thought that New Year is an odd time. On the one hand, it can be a exciting time of new beginnings, but on the other it can — as Lyle points out — be a very disappointing time, and something of an anti-climax. I normally quite like New Year (though I'm not one for a big celebration), but this year I look on the coming year with a certain amount of trepidation. Continue reading →

Previously, on but she's a girl...

life
I thought that I might do a quick round up of the past week or so. Mr. Bsag and I went to my parents' place for Christmas, and we're off to Mr. Bsag's parents are next weekend. Such is the cost of marriage: two sets of parents to keep happy over the holidays. Anyway, we had a very cheery time, even though it was a bit of a brief visit. Continue reading →

Inventive Tube map

life
This is a great alternative rendering of the map of the London Underground. Many years ago, I used to go out with a guy who lived in Ongar, so I have painful memories of the weeks it seemed to take to get from central London to deepest, darkest Essex on the Tube. Once--on a return trip--a drunk man fell asleep on my shoulder somewhere around Theydon Bois. In typical British fashion, I was too embarrassed to move somewhere else and wake him up. Continue reading →

Hunter’s moon

life
Yesterday, I walked across the meadows after dark on my way home. I was slightly preoccupied with feeling a bit nervous--the path isn't that well lit, and I was trying to look as if I had serious ninja skills--so I got a bit of a shock when I saw a bright light near ground level. For a moment I thought it was a security light shining on the ground, but I realised with a slight shock that it was the moon reflected in the black water of the river. Continue reading →

Four-by-Four

life
I caught a bit of Top Gear yesterday--yes, I know, but it was an accident, I promise. I watched--tutting and rolling my eyes skywards--as Jeremy Clarkson burnt several inches of rubber off the tyres of a Bentley by pulling 'doughnuts', and marvelled again at the weird things that cars do to otherwise semi-normal people. Perhaps Jeremy Clarkson doesn't entirely count as semi-normal, but I'm sure that you get my general point. Continue reading →

Computer asana

life
Much as I love my computer--and technology in general--it plays havoc with your posture and suppleness. There were huge numbers of beginners in yesterday's yoga class, all showing the classic slumped and hunched posture of people trapped behind a keyboard all day. Not that I'm any different--for the past few years, I've had less and less activity to do at work (my field work used to be fairly active), and I too am gradually stiffening like a gnarled tree. Continue reading →

Bad taste brain

life
I was extremely nervous about something I had to do at work today. I really don't want to go into details (apart from anything else, I don't want to re-live today), but I will say that it involved wearing smart clothes--highly unusual in my universe. This meant that I had to get the bus in to work, and was standing at the stop in the cold, nerves all a-jangle. It wasn't long before a song started going through my head (I hadn't put my iPod on yet). Continue reading →

Late bus

life
I'd just attended a college dinner and was pleasantly full of food and wine. The waiters at the formal meals have a sneaky way of filling your glass over your shoulder while you're looking the other way. A brief flicker of bewilderment passes over your face as you look at your glass and think, "I'm sure that was nearly empty a moment ago", before you shrug it off and carry on drinking. Continue reading →

How I fell in love with Mull

life
I've briefly mentioned my summer working on the Isle of Mull before. What I haven't really told you about is how I came to love the place. I went there just after graduation to work for a charity running whale-watching tours and doing research on the local whale population. I had no idea what to expect, as my last visit to Scotland had been when I was in a pushchair as a child^1^, and I was woefully prepared in practical terms. Continue reading →

Getting lost in Somerset

life
Once you get off the major roads, finding your way around in Somerset isn't easy. On our recent holiday, we managed to get ourselves lost repeatedly. Most of the junctions of minor roads are marked with old-fashioned finger posts, which--unless some drunken prankster has yanked the signs around so that they point in the wrong direction--have a number of white wooden signs pointing in the general direction of the destination, with legends like "Little Snoring 5 miles". Continue reading →

More on languages

life
Language seems to be a bit of a theme this week. I noticed that Maciej Ceglowski[1] of Idlewords had written about a Quebec blogger who was threatened with a fine by the Quebec Office of the French Language because parts of his web page were in English. In other words, exactly the opposite problem that we have in the UK--too many languages on one page. Idlewords is always a great read, and his article also provided two other points of interest. Continue reading →

Language is a virus...

life
...to which the British seem immune. I was listening to a report on the Today programme on Radio 4 a couple of days ago about the Swedish Euro referendum, and one thing amazed and embarrassed me. They were doing a vox pop and found at least half a dozen Swedish citizens who spoke virtually flawless English. Now, they may have searched for a while to find enough people who fitted the bill, but even so, I can't help thinking that the situation would be vastly different in Britain. Continue reading →

New fridge

life
For weeks we have been dicing with food poisoning daily because the fridge was on its last legs. We put a thermometer inside to monitor the temperature, and most of the time, it struggled to keep below 11°C--hardly an ideal environment for preserving food. As we rent the flat (and our landlady owns the appliances), we couldn't just go and and buy a new one, so we had a long period of negotiation with the landlady before she agreed to pay for a new one. Continue reading →

Smelling the roses

life
I'm back, feeling--as I had hoped--rested, relaxed and rejuvenated. It's amazing how even a few days in a different environment, with lovely scenery, good food and drink, no phone, computer or TV can work wonders. We had a wonderful slightly-less-than-a-week, first at my uncle and aunt's house in Bath for their ruby wedding anniversary party, and then on the Somerset/Devon borders for a spot of R & R and walking. Continue reading →

Allotments

life
I've been thinking a lot about allotments recently. At the beer festival yesterday, we met up with an old friend of Mr. Bsag's, who was telling us about his battle with Sainsbury's. They are trying to buy up land — on which he has an allotment — to build a supermarket. This is really beyond satire. The supermarket buys up land so that people — who previously grew their own healthy fresh fruit and vegetables very cheaply on that land — can pay large sums to buy poorer quality produce from Sainsbury's instead. Continue reading →

Language schools

life
I've had to get the bus into the work for the past couple of weeks[2], so I've been spending quite a lot of time with some of the hordes of language school students currently tooling around in Oxford. This tends to slow the journey into work a bit, as it takes some time for the driver to ascertain where they want to go and show them how to use the machine for passes. Continue reading →

Racing punts

life
For a good few years — while I was doing my PhD — there was an annual punt race between two of the research groups in our Department. The format was as follows; the teams punted in a leisurely fashion up to the Victoria Arms — a very pleasant pub on the banks of the River Cherwell. After several drinks, the teams raced back from the pub to Wolfson College punt harbour. Continue reading →

The end of a tree

life
This evening I had to get rid of my elderly Ficus tree. I bought it soon after I came to Oxford, from a guy who used to sell all sorts of odds and ends from his house in aid of the RNLI. At the time it was only about 30 cm tall, rather sweet and vulnerable, and I secretly thought that I had probably signed its death warrant by buying it. Continue reading →

Make Do and Mend

life
Watching 'Number 57: The History of a House' the other day, which had reached the 1940's and 50's, made me think about the 'Make Do and Mend' attitude that people in Britain had to adopt during the years of the Second World War. The lack of almost everything meant that you never threw anything away if it could be re-used, mended or salvaged in some way. Although it must have been utterly miserable for those who had to live through it, Britons must have been at their healthiest and most ecologically-friendly in the war years. Continue reading →

Casualty

life
I suppose it had to happen sooner or later. No sooner had I been musing about the possibility of ending up in Casualty as a result of my prospective Lomo project, than I did actually end up in Casualty — without the involvement of my camera. I was cycling in to work as usual, and coming around a slightly tricky roundabout, when I saw a car in the road to the left pause on the stop line. Continue reading →

Picnic

life
It was Mr. Bsag's birthday today, so — to distract him from his advancing years — I threw a surprise picnic for him. We must both be getting old if we prefer a picnic to a night on the tiles to celebrate, but it was really nice. I chose 'Parson's Pleasure' — a lovely, shady bend in the river, where Oxford Dons (Professors) used to swim naked. No naked old men today, but some people were swimming. Continue reading →

All hands on deck

life
This past week has been a very busy one for me, and a week filled with a rather unaccustomed amount of manual labour. We had an urgent building project on at work, which needed everyone to muck in and help to get the final stages done on time. I quite enjoy doing practical things every now and again (I might have mentioned before that academic life can equip you with a rather quirky set of skills — such as basic carpentry), but it always amazes me how seemingly quick jobs can take huge amounts of time to do. Continue reading →

Best. Job Title. Ever.

life
I quite like 'Biologist', but occasionally I wish that I had a more interesting job title. I think I've just found the ultimate. On University Challenge yesterday, one of the contestants in the College of Arms team was a Mr. Cheesman, who is 'Rouge Dragon Pursuivant'. Imagine how cool that title would look on your passport... Apparently, the other three Pursuivants are 'Rouge Croix', 'Bluemantle' and 'Portcullis', but I think 'Rouge Dragon' is the coolest. Continue reading →

Sometimes life just isn’t fair

life
So, it has been confirmed: women are valued less than men, even when they are virtual men and women. Edward Castronova has done a rather clever study on the prices which EverQuest avatars (a computer generated body with skills and assets) fetch in online auctions. Female avatars fetch 12 to 16.5% less than male avatars with comparable skills. Given the fact that female avatars only make up 20% of the population, you would think that rarity might give them more value, if nothing else. Continue reading →

Invasion of the 2mm long ants

life
For months now, we've had raiding parties of tiny ants swarming around our flat. We find the odd ant in the bread bin, in the bathroom basin or crawling over the carpet, and since I'm generally tolerant towards wildlife in the house, I haven't really done much about it. But now they've pushed me too far. The espresso machine was spluttering this morning as if it was empty of water, so I removed the reservoir to refill it. Continue reading →

Rivière Bleu

life
It's mosquito and midge season. This means that I'm more or less permanently covered in huge red or luminously throbbing bites. Biting insects of all species adore me; I'm like caviar to them. In any given room full of people, I must light up like a Christmas tree on the mosquito target guidance system. To make matters worse, I'm also allergic to the bites, so they come up the size of golf balls. Continue reading →

Noise

life
I had some heavy duty marking to do today, so I thought I'd work at home and avoid all the interruptions and distractions of the office. This was supremely deluded as it turned out. First, there were the workmen, coming to fill in the deep trench across the parking area in front of the flats. They buzzed my flat to ask me if I could move my car, then trundled up with their big grabber crane, to fill in the soil. Continue reading →

Good company

life
For the past few days, I've been hanging out with two friends from the States: Joe and Morgen. It was great to meet them — we had only corresponded by email and phone before, but they were every bit as charming, funny and interesting as I expected. I was trying to do my tour guide bit, but managed to be inaccurate to the tune of a few centuries either way on the dates of old buildings and colleges. Continue reading →

Smells like summer

life
For the first time this year, cycling back home yesterday, I smelt the summer smell. That indefinable scent of grass and nectar and warm air that means that summer has arrived at last. Of course, since this is Britain, this means that we have perhaps two or three days of summer weather to enjoy before the drizzle sets in again.

Revision

life
I'm doing some revision tutorials for students at the moment, with finals looming next week. The look of panic on their faces makes me feel empathetically nervous. They hold themselves as if they fear moving too quickly, in case knowledge spills out of their brains like water from a carelessly held glass. I vividly remember that feeling. During my finals, I stopped watching factual programmes on TV to prevent vital information about mating systems in birds being displaced by the date of the Battle of Bosworth, or the properties of quarks. Continue reading →

Some thoughts on psychology from the seat of a recumbent bike

life
In Britain, where they are relatively rare, recumbent bikes attract a certain amount of attention. This, I think, puts me in a good position to comment on the psychology of groups and social behaviour. People on their own very rarely shout anything out, or if they do, it tends to be friendly and positive. Groups of people are a different matter, with groups of young men or boys being the most likely to voice their opinion on my choice of transport — loudly and at length. Continue reading →

Soft rain

life
When you're busy and stressed, it's all too easy to forget about the simple pleasures that don't need to be slaved over or paid for. Yesterday evening I walked through part of the University Parks, across the water meadows. It wasn't typical feel-good weather — there was a very soft rain falling, and the skies were charcoal grey — but I did feel good. The evening was a riot of bird song. Continue reading →

Traffic flow

life
There's a very busy crossroads not far from my home which is controlled (like most crossroads in the UK) by traffic lights. At peak times, it can take ages (even on a bicycle) to make it across the junction -- when the school run bites, glaciers can move faster. You have to wait in the queue for what seems like hours, then about three cars manage to dash across the junction before the lights turn to red. Continue reading →

Monty’s back

life
When you start watching gardening programmes (especially the relatively staid Gardener's World), you know that you're getting older. I don't even have a garden (just a rather small balcony), but I hit 30 and found myself starting to take an unhealthy interest in garden centres and not changing channels when the gardening programmes came on. It's a mystery, but as far as I can tell, it's an inevitable part of the aging process. Continue reading →

A new view

life
[28th March 2003] We loved sailing so much, we couldn't resist going again. We had beautiful weather, and when I wasn't in the driving seat (I don't think I have the correct nautical term there), I curled up on my side on the canvas stretched between the main hull and the outrigger hulls. From this position I have a whole new view on the world. In the middle of my field of view, a very thin band of human habitation divides my view in half, stretched tight from top to bottom. Continue reading →

Birthday dolphins

life
[29th March 2003 - my birthday!] We've been having so much fun on the water, that we decided to have another aquatic adventure. We're in Crystal River now, up the Gulf coast and on (as the name would suggest) a very clear river estuary. We took out a kayak, and had a wonderful few hours pootling about between islands, up creeks (with our paddles), and around harbours. While we were paddling around in a quiet area, I suddenly saw a couple of dorsal fins. Continue reading →

I'm ba-ack!

life
I've come back with a cold, a cough that makes bystanders edge away from me for fear that I might have SARS and some fantastic memories. My ears also popped on the way back to earth and I now have interesting some interesting new auditory sensations -- an underwater sound complete with sonar ping in my left ear and a high pitched whistle in my right. Ah, the joys of air travel. Continue reading →

A little accident

life
[Sunday 23rd March] Today I had my first ever motor accident. And it happened in a foreign country and in a hire car. Mr. Butshesagirl and I were leaving the conference hotel to visit Okechobee, and a colleague asked if she could follow us in her hire car, as she was a bit nervous about navigating on her own and she was going in the same direction as us. I was just waiting at the exit to the car park -- minding my own business -- when there was an almighty bang and we got thrown forwards. Continue reading →

My favourite noble gas is argon

life
It's amazing what you can find in small provincial market towns. We went up to visit friends who live in Leek this weekend: it's a small town in Staffordshire, 25 miles or so from Stoke-on-Trent. In the evening, we went out to a (of all things) a Belgian beer house and restaurant called 'Den Engels'. They have somewhere in the region of 77 different types of genuine Belgian brews*, and some rather quirky ordering policies. Continue reading →

Wetlands

life
This afternoon I walked home along the cycle path that cuts through the University Parks and over the meadows bordering the River Cherwell. In winter, the meadows are almost permanently flooded: today, the water was pooling around the roots of the rushes which were bent over and broken -- seemingly oppressed and battered by the weight of winter and the coming darkness. I know how they feel. In the little pools, ducks dabbled. Continue reading →

Otis Lee Crenshaw

life
My masseter muscle is still aching from Sunday night. You see, we went to see Rich Hall (in his Otis Lee Crenshaw persona) at the Playhouse in Oxford, and I laughed so much I pulled something. He came on to the stage, guitar in hand and started strumming. This went on for some time, and everybody was wondering what this gentle sounding song was going to turn into. Eventually, the lyrics came in: "Let's all get together / And kill George Bush". Continue reading →

Between worlds

life
{width="263” height="197”} I went for a walk with my camera in the University Botanic Gardens this morning (more pictures in Wings Open Wide tomorrow). I haven't been there since I finished The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman, and I wanted to look at the bench featured in the book. Here Lyra and Will each agree to sit once a year — in their own worlds — and think about one another. Continue reading →

Hacking the circadian clock

life
And I thought I was a geek… This guy has hacked ‘floatbg', a background changer for X, so that the colour gives some cues to the time of day. This was because he was spending so much time in his windowless loft that his circadian clock got completely randomised. He puts it much better than I could: "It was easier than hacking my medulla oblongata. I hate hardware." You know, sometimes I look at the weather on my menubar and think, "It's snowing? Continue reading →

A bad weekend for life

life
Seven die when the Space Shuttle Columbia breaks up on re-entry, 40 die in a train crash in Zimbabwe, at least 20 die in an explosion in Lagos, and seven children die in an avalanche in British Columbia. And those are just the spectuacular deaths. Hundreds of thousands will have died unspectacularly from disease, war or famine. Life is fragile.

Walking

life
Mr. Butshesagirl and I went for a walk this morning to get some fresh air and some perspective. We chose a circular walk taking in Muswell Hill (no, not the one in London) — from the top you have a view over two counties; Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire. It turned out to be much muddier underfoot than we'd anticipated. Every step was accompanied by the schplock of mud reluctantly releasing wellington boot. Continue reading →

Friday accomplishments

life
Sometimes to-do lists have a function. It's true that most of the time they just mock you silently for falling behind with their endless tyrannical demands, but sometimes — just sometimes — they are a source of satisfaction. This morning, I had 15 items on my to-do list (anything over 10 makes me hyperventilate), and they were all reasonably non-trivial and urgent things. This evening, I have 7½. The bonus is that it happened on a Friday, so that I can go into the weekend with a profound feeling of Zen calm with my productive day behind me. Continue reading →

Exploring

life
In Bristol at the weekend, we decided to visit Explore, one of the exhibitions in the "At-Bristol" complex. It's a funkier and more up to date version of the Science Museum in London, with lots of buttons to press and levers to pull. In no time at all, we three adults (or so we like to imagine) were elbowing small children aside to have a go on the digger bucket or the reaction time tester. Continue reading →

Bristol

life
Mr. Butshesagirl and I have just got back from a weekend in Bristol with my brother. We were originally intending to go to a Flaming Lips gig, but the promoters screwed up badly, and we found out last week that — despite having ordered and paid for our tickets — we weren't going to get any. Ever since, we've been tormented by rave reviews for their live shows. Dammit. Since we'd already booked train tickets and a hotel room, we decided to go to Bristol anyway. Continue reading →

I fear for my sanity

life
I continued to work on my grant applications today, setting out my ideas for experiments in the project. I switched briefly to my browser (Safari yay!) to look some information up, then switched back to the text editor again. For a fraction of a second I thought, ‘Hang on — someone's nicked my super-cool experimental idea.' Then I thought, ‘Oh. Yes. It's me.' Sometimes I worry about myself, I really do. Continue reading →

More than this

life
I've taken to listening to my iPod, with all the tracks shuffled, while I'm on the bus or walking through town. This allows me to shut out the noise of traffic, but it also sometimes leads to a happy synchronicity between my mood or surroundings and the music. This happened today. I was walking through Queen's Lane towards the Bodleian Library early this morning, with the sun warming the stone of the colleges to a lovely honey colour, and sparkling off the frost. Continue reading →

New Year, New Resolutions

life
I don't hold much truck with resolutions: either they are so easy to keep that there isn't much point in making them, or they are so hard to keep (and here I include those old favourites, 'lose weight, get more exercise, be more organised') that they are impossible to keep. I also question the sanity of trying to change your life at a time when it's dark and cold, and you are deflated and depressed after the fun of the festivities. Continue reading →

Ghosts of Christmas past

life
It struck me when I went home to my parents for Christmas, that you never really leave your former selves behind. Superficially, a lot has changed in the house that I grew up in, but when I walk around in it, I keep finding myself drifting into layers of my childhood - seeing myself aged 5 or 9 or 13. There's an old Russian saying that you can't step in the same river water twice. Continue reading →

Back on Boxing Day

life
We've just got back again after visiting my folks for Christmas. We're laden down with nice presents (including the extended DVD of The Fellowship of the Ring, so many hours of happy watching in store there), and left-over food. So, what happened chez les parents this year? A huge quantity of very nice food was consumed. My mum went over the top as usual with the catering arrangements, and we had enough food to survive a reasonably extended seige. Continue reading →

Happy Christmas!

life
Mr. Butshesagirl and I are off to my folk's place for Christmas tomorrow, first doing mightly battle with the jams on the M25. Since we'll be deep in ancient dial-up territory (and no doubt, busy stuffing our faces with mince pies) I'll be off the air for a few days. Have a good holiday yourselves, and remember - it's rude to eat all the green triangles from the box of Quality Street. Continue reading →

Radio days

life
I was reflecting today that I would rather give up watching TV than listening to the radio. There's The Archers of course, but Radio 4 and now Radio 7 have some excellent programs. This afternoon, we listened to "The Northern Irish Man in C S Lewis", a play about C S Lewis' early childhood in Northern Ireland, and the events that influenced his writing. It had great acting, evocative sounds, and set the scene beautifully. Continue reading →

Christmas spirit

life
It was my last day at work before Christmas today. When I got off the bus, the nice bus driver (the nicest driver on the route) wished me Happy Christmas. It reminded me of the driver (aka Mr. Nice) we used to have on our school bus. I went to school just outside Croydon, a good 15 miles from my home. A lot of girls (I went to an all girls school) were in the same boat, and there were no public bus services on the route, so the parents clubbed together to hire a coach. Continue reading →

Partaay!

life
This afternoon was The Great Work Christmas Do. There was a slightly different format this year - gone were the tiny sandwiches, sausage rolls and cheese and pineapple on a stick. This year we had a proper sit down Christmas dinner with all the trimmings, and (more importantly) lots of free booze. Me and my co-workers are a cynical old bunch, so our expectations of a 3 quid dinner weren't what you might call high, but it was really quite impressive. Continue reading →

An admission

life
I made a big decision today. I came out as an Archers listener. Note that I said "listener", not "fan". This is very important. I don't, for instance, feel the need to write to the BBC and complain that cows take about 300 days to be cured of mastitis, and NOT two weeks as the so-called writers believe^1^. Nor do I believe that Ambridge is a real place. I know this because: Continue reading →

Sparkle

life
There's a house in the street opposite which is laden with Christmas lights. It has snowmen, reindeer, Christmas trees, stars and bells, all twinkling and flashing in technicolour. Yes, it's tacky. But when I came past it on the bus this evening, the lights were like a defiant shout against the cold and dark, and they made me smile. Christmas (as the pre-Christian winter celebration), should be all about light and warmth, sticking your tongue out to the dark and saying that you aren't afraid of it - that you aren't afraid that Spring will never come. Continue reading →

Mac lover

life
Oh my. It looks like I might have to stop describing myself as a Mac lover. I don't take it quite that far, though. True, I have been known to stroke my TiBook lovingly, but there's nothing going on between us. We're just good friends, aren't we darling? Take a look at the picture of "iMac Boy" that accompanies the piece, and answer me this question: why does his mouse look so angry? Continue reading →

A moment

life
I missed capturing a moment as a digital image today, because I didn't have my camera with me. So, here it is translated by my brain from the image formed in my eyes. Our bus approached a deep flood in the road, water arcing up on each side. Kids in grey hoodies ran alongside, exhilarated, trying to get soaked, dolphins surfing the bow wave. Sun shattered the water drops into sparks, igniting their smiles. Continue reading →

Bon voyage

life
Today we said goodbye to Martin - a friend from work who is going back to the US after two years of penance in the UK. Martin came here, with his wife and 6 month old son, from Hawaii. He emailed me before they arrived with a few questions about housing, transport, nice areas to live and so on. My first question to him was, "Are you completely insane? You live in Hawaii (sun, tropical beaches, mountains, relaxed life-style) and you want to move to Oxford (rain, historic buildings, more rain, cold). Continue reading →

Pandora, I really don't think you should do that...

life
In the little coffee room on my floor at work, a fridge-freezer has just appeared. It's a standard domestic model, only distinguished by the sign on the door. "Experiment in progress. Do not open." I am aflame with curiosity. What's the experiment? Why is it taking place in a fridge? What dreadful calamity would befall me if I took a peek? Is it all a Cunning Plan to stop people stealing this guy's milk? Continue reading →

Recumbenting in the rain

life
Once again, the heavens opened this morning while I was cycling to work. I know I go on about the weather a fair bit, but; I'm British, and therefore obliged to squeeze weather-related conversation in at every possible opportunity. I cycle almost every day, and therefore have much more contact with the weather than those who commute by bus or car. Literally. This morning I discovered an unfortunate side effect of the recumbent position: when you're wearing a waterproof jacket and over-trousers, the angle between your upper and lower body provides an excellent container for rain. Continue reading →

The Tao of pottering

life
Sometimes it's just nice to potter. Work is, by necessity, so focussed on getting results in the shortest possible time, and the remaining time so packed with other chores that need to be done, that I really appreciate being able to just potter without any pre-determined goal. This morning was a pottering morning. Being a geek, this meant tinkering with a design for a gallery for this site (not quite finished yet), while listening to a great Sunday morning mix of Beck, The Velvet Underground, Jimi Hendrix and Peter Gabriel, and singing along cheerily. Continue reading →

Adventures on a recumbent, Part 2

life
I had my second fun ride (ie. not to work) on the Kingcycle today. Mr. Butshesagirl and I devised a fun, but not too hilly route, trying to avoid very busy roads. Then we just got out the door with the bikes when the rain started. Why does that always happen? We doggedly carried on, but decided to truncate the route a bit. I've discovered a couple of things about recumbent riding. Continue reading →

Comfort me with apples

life
This weekend, Oxford Town Hall is packed out with Olympic standard beer bellies, all doing their best to get their way through 120 real ales and 18 ciders and perrys at the Annual Oxford Beer Festival. Mr. Butshesagirl and I went along last night to sample some of the nectar on offer. Well, it's only polite. We decided to start with cider (I spent my formative years in Bristol, and unlike many of my friends, didn't develop a learned aversion to cider from over-indulgence) - mixing beer and cider is a bit of a bad idea. Continue reading →

Recumbent riders do it feet first

life
Two weeks ago, Mr. Butshesagirl and I visited Kevin at D-Tek in Ely, an Aladdin's cave of recumbent wonders. We'd been thinking for some time about buying a recumbent bike, partly because of my slightly dodgy back, but also because we'd tried some E-bikes and a WizWheelz trike out on a trail in Florida, and had a fantastic time. After trying out practically every bike or trike in the place (Kevin has the patience of a saint), I fell in love with a Kingcycle. Continue reading →