Thursday, July 8, 2010
It is with this that I feel a full year is enough time to sign off on this blog. You can always come back to this and learn what my first year was like. I simply live here now.
I also want to inform you of a new, kickass blog called Tattooed Science. The writer seems nothing short of genius in her witty insight to the scientific world!
All the best!
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
A year. A year. A year. A YEAR. When did that happen? I really can't process it. I knew it was coming, but nothing could prepare me. Now I'm sitting in my office, on June 2nd, remembering sitting in my office on June 2nd, a year ago. It was a different office, I didn't know anyone, all I knew was that I was scared out of my mind. New country, new people. I had the motivation to be there, because, well, it's Scotland, but I could not help that nagging feeling that I was way in over my head. I wandered around in a daze for days and honestly, I can't remember one specific day from the first few months. I hated where I lived, I missed everyone back home and I did not know how to do my research.
Now a year later, I find these blogs really difficult to write, because my day seems so routine now, I don't have a concept of what is interesting to people. Here's what my day looks like:
06.30 - Alarm goes off...snooze button hit
06.45 - Alarm goes off... buried it under my pillow
07.00 - Forgot that alarm also vibrates...unhappily awoken to a vibrating pillow
07.15 - Open eyes
07.30 - Sit up
07.35 - Stand up
07.45 - Made it to the bathroom
08.00 - Emerge squeaky clean and dressed. Go to kitchen to turn on the kettle
08.05 - Make some tea, pack my laptop into my bag, eat some toast and jam and make a lunch with bacon, tomato chutney and lettuce
08.15 - Leave my flat, flatmate still asleep and walk to the university to some music
08.35 - Get to the office, check/respond to email, read the news. Get long email from friend in Edinburgh about coming through this weekend, write back
09.02 - print off and handed in my First Year Report. Do a happy dance down the hallway
09.05 - code isn't working. curses ensue...
10.23 - wrote a long email
11.13 - Tea time in the common room - meet a new REU summer student from America...remember how I felt coming to these coffees a year ago
11.52 - Get back to office. Friend suggests we take the new summer student out for lunch...put sandwich back for dinner tonight
12.05 - Leave for a super early lunch due to lab tour dress rehearsal at 14.30
12.20 - Enjoy a Caledonian 80/- and a scampi and chips - way more satisfying than a BLT.
13.18 - Get back to department. Lab tours postponed until 16.00... help someone with their statistics (hurray, BA in Mathematics!) and get back to simulations. Anomalies arise; rerun simulation
13.57 - Best friend gets online. Stress from simulation begins to wane.
16.01 - Weekly group telecon...cannot describe the excitement this brings
16.24 - Still discussing first thing on agenda... lightbulb in office starts freaking out
16.45 - First item finishes
17.13 - Telecon over!
Now that I am done with my workday, I can tell you what the rest will entail. I am going to go home, eat my BLT with some chips and have some of my leftover beer from the party. Then I will clean the rest of my flat from Saturday.
To update you quickly on the last, well, month, I have mostly been earning some extra money helping out with exam season, by reading and grading exams, I have been writing my first year report and basically keeping my head down, working away. There have been the occasional pub nights, the occasional concerts; nothing terribly exciting.
Last week my next-door-neighbour sent me an email saying she was in Edinburgh and I offered to come through for dinner to keep her company. I met her at Waverley Station and she showed me some quick Harry Potter sights that she saw on her walking tour the previous days. It was really cool to see the Elephant Cafe again because that is the cafe that my family always used to hang out at when we were visiting Edinburgh as it was always close to our hotel. A few years later, Harry Potter hit big and it was revealed that the same coffee house was where JK Rowling wrote the series. I had not been back to the cafe since that came out, but when I got to go there last week, it definitely was. It seemed a lot smaller (as I was a lot smaller when I was last there) but it was definitely the same place. It is so the type of coffee shop that my mum would hang out at. After that, I took her to a seafood restaurant that my friend recommended off of Princes Street. Pretty touristy (as is a lot of Edinburgh) but the food was really great. We then met up with my friend and his girlfriend for drinks at a nearby chain pub. I hung out with them until far too late and had to get the last train home to Glasgow. One of my friends referred to it as the "Wrong City Syndrome" where you get up at the end of the night and you have the "...... ..... damn." moment when you realise you have to travel to another city first. Definitely the worst train ride of my life. I should have had more to eat than 6 scallops at dinner.
On Friday night my neighbour came back through Glasgow and I took her to Mr India's and the Friday night ceilidh in the city centre. We had a fantastic time and I still have the ceilidh bruises on my arm. She left the next day as I had a party to get ready for! My friend (with a car) picked me up and we went to the big supermarket outside of Glasgow. We, of course, had to stop at B&Q (equivalent of Home Depot) as her and I both love these kind of stores. We begrudgingly left after picking out material to rebuild the seat of her dining room chairs to go and actually do some shopping. We got carried away and I spent far too much money on this party. Stupid alcohol. I made it back home, got to catch up with a friend on Skype while I prepared some food and got the place all ready to go.
The theme of the party was America and people did a pretty good job of coming through on such a vague theme. Mostly, it was a chance to buy crap, synthetic American food. One of my friends mentioned to me later how entertaining it was to see me getting so excited about seeing crappy food again. Someone managed to find a fridge-pack of Mountain Dew Code Red, which had clearly been imported from America (flavor spelled the American way) and we were pretty sure that the chemicals were actually illegal in this country. Eurovision was also that night, so people made me promise to stream the final on BBC iPlayer. I am so glad that I have such a huge flat for people to lounge around in and break up into groups. As it was meant to be a cocktail-type party, people really stocked up on the hard liquor. Though a lot of money went into this party, I am not going to have to buy booze for like a year from the party profit. We experimented making Long Island Ice Teas, which I do not recommend approaching them from an experimental standpoint, as you have to taste it every step of the way, but we made a sufficiently decent batch by the end. The last crowd left at 4:30am and I promptly crashed.
Sunday I spent the whole day in bed. The whole day. Stupid Long Islands.
Monday was a Bank Holiday here so we had the day off. I went over to my friend's house as her boyfriend had just left for America for three weeks and she wanted to work on the dining room chairs. Her and I sat in front of her flat in a grassy patch and sawed some blocks of wood, put some primer on them and drank some beer. There were some little kids running around (as it was a supremely nice day) and we must have been a sight. It was basically like, "see kids? when you're a grown-up you get to play with saws and wood and paint and beer all day!" I must say though, it was a good bank holiday to be covered in paint and sawdust, drinking cheap beer. Inevitably, there was a call for a barbeque at the University again, so we went over there and enjoyed a good barbie for the rest of the evening. It's light until almost 11 here, which is unbelievably phenomenal.
Last night I had roller derby practice again. I am getting a crazy good workout with these ladies. It is basically rebuilding all my dead muscles that I had when I was a dancer. I am not technically on the team yet, as I have to go through a few months of training before I can join them, but I really just wanted to get in shape and this is a great way to do so. It is hitting my bank account pretty good though. I hope I do not have to give it up due to finances. I love the ladies though and the workout is fantastic. Three hours on Tuesday evenings...crazy!
That's it for me now. I am off to Edinburgh on Saturday and then Hannover, Germany for a 4 day meeting with some collaborators. Like I said, I have basically hit a routine here, so my updates are going to be more infrequent, but I will keep you up to speed with all the exciting events! Cheers for now!
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Today I was sitting at Cardiff Queen Street station with my mates, all of us looking slightly pale, wearing 4-day old clothes covered in miscellaneous stains, stinking of whisky and beer waiting for the airport train. One of them says, "Let's figure out how many alcohol units we had this weekend." Some very scientific calculations ensue, with the response "Wait, so we had at least 50 alcohol units, each, over 3 days?" We all high-five each other until it is pointed out that 50 alcohol units is what is recommended for women over the period of a month (maximum of 2 each day, which is about one drink). My friend says "It's okay, Erin, you drink like a guy anyway." and there is a brief pause before someone says, "You know... we're a government statistic."
So yes, we have made it back from our Cardiff liver-destruction holiday. We all decided to have a wee reunion of folk who had left Glasgow and visit some of them down in their new home. Of course, in case you had not been following, on Thursday we had the general election for the United Kingdom. Without trying to explain British politics, essentially no one was elected because they did not get enough constituencies, so they are trying to negotiate between parties at this point. Sadly, the party to get the most votes was the Conservatives. Anyway, this was a hot topic of conversation over the weekend.
I went over to my friend's house in Edinburgh before our afternoon flight and we caught up and made bruschetta for a nice, healthy lunch to make up for the destruction that was about to annihilate our system over the next few days. Hey, at least we had foresight, right? So we watched a video of a heavy metal concert in Greece over lunch and then went off to the airport. We met up with another friend of ours at the gate who promptly greeted me with lamentations about the election. They had the news on at the airport with the speeches from the party leaders that everyone was watching. I am impressed with the level of intelligent discourse from the general public when discussing the election.
Volcano-be-damned, we made it to Cardiff. One of our friends met us at the airport and drove us to his house. We lounged about and made tea while we figured out what people were doing and such. Finally we went out to a micro-brewery (yes! they have them here!) for some pizza and beer. A few others from the department at the university came by as well later, so we had a good group of people and discussed politics at length over pitchers and pitchers of beer. Of course, as this was the first reunion night, one of the boys who will never be forgiven for this, started ordering us shots of Jagermeister with the beer. Over the course of many hours we polished off 8 pitchers of beer (about 35 pints, us scientists figured out) and £60 worth of Jager shots, actually running the bar out of it. I will not mention how many of us were drinking as that is a bit embarrassing. After staying at the microbrew until they closed we went out to a generic chain pub and settled in for a pint. Finally we went back to one of their houses and listened to metal music and lounged about and drank more beer until we all eventually crashed around 5:30 in the morning, when it was light out. The group staying at the other friend's house went home and two of us stayed and crashed on the couches.
The next morning (okay, the next afternoon) we woke up at about 12:30. The other crowd came over bearing litres and litres of Irn Bru (hangover cure 101), morning rolls with bacon, sausage and eggs and copies of The Guardian so we could read about the election (how classy is that?). After we pontificated over protein and caffeine we wandered out to explore downtown Cardiff. It was a miserable day but we persevered. We were going to go to Caerphilly Castle that day, but we had gotten up too late. We thought about going to Cardiff Castle, but it looked like a renaissance festival-ish parody (and it was £10) so we gave it a pass and wandered around the arcades instead. There was a wee cafe that looked cute, but us looking like a bunch of metal-head miscreants earned us scorning looks from the Daily-Mail-reader-types and they did not have any seats, so it didn't matter. No one would guess that the majority present had PhDs and well-established careers in Astrophysics. We were then relegated to an outdoor cafe with crap tea for 60p while we figured out our next move. We decided to go see a film that night, so we went back to the house and settled in with some new records until the new episode of Dr Who was on (which is obligatory and watched without question every Saturday night).
After Dr Who we went to the cinema and watched Four Lions which is a new film about incompetent terrorists. It was absolutely hilarious and very sobering, so well-done to the directors for making such a thought-provoking film. Apologies, but I doubt it will be widely distributed in America; not just because of the serious terrorism stuff, but because it is very, very British with jokes that I certainly would not have understood a year ago. We all enjoyed it but did not really know what to make of it. After that we went to a Thai restaurant nearby and were again treated like miscreants. Okay, so we were not dressed very nicely, but they put us in a back room and stuck us with a really mean, scary waitress. It is totally undeserving, too, because it's not like we do not have money and do not behave ourselves. The food was awesome though and we had a good laugh about it before heading to a pub. After the pub we went over to our other friends house (it's about midnight at this point) and settled in with some beer and played the game Zombies, which was really fun to play with super-competitive people who love each other, but love screwing each other to the wall even more. It turns out I am a zombie killing machine. I left a wake of zombies in my path. Of course, this meant I was close to winning so there was an epic betrayal resulting in my death and loss of my zombie count. It was tragic. Their loss too, because we did not finish until 4:30am. Half of us wandered into the dawning sky back to the other flat to crash well and proper.
We forced ourselves up before noon the next day to make it to Caerphilly Castle (see link). Half of us drove there and the other half took a bus. This was absolutely epic and actually it is hard to describe the awesome-ness that was this castle. It was a small town, smaller than Boulder and the city park in the middle of town seemed perfectly normal. A regular sized park with a big lake in the middle. However, that lake turns out to be the moat around a 13th century castle. It seemed so normal too, it really was like walking around City Park in Fort Collins in the summer. Families out, kids fishing in the lake, ice cream vans, the works. The castle, as I said, was epic. It was only £3.60 to get in and it was almost free rein of these ruins. The main tower had been rebuilt in the 1930s but the rest was all original. There was a series of walls to get into the main castle and you could wander in and out of all the rooms and towers and grounds. They also had some replica weapons including this medieval crossbow that we could just go up and mess about with. It took about 4 men to operate and held an arrow that was 1.5 metres long. We figured it would look suspicious to leave and come back with sticks and crowbars to operate it, so we decided against it. It was aimed at the lake (and ominously at the ice cream van on the other side) as well as some other, blocked off weapons that we figured were for their festivals and such.
We wandered by ourselves a bit, exploring the nooks and crannies. It was great because you were essentially allowed to climb in and out of almost everything; you could walk along the walls, poke into the corners of rooms...there were very few places that were blocked off. We talked about how one could siege a war on the Morrison's across the road and how we could utilise the castle for a zombie attack, me being in charge of zombie annihilation. After we had satisfactorily explored every corner of the grounds we just met up in-between the walls at the base of the main castle and lay down in the grass, discussing what a bastard Oliver Cromwell was and the ponciness of Edward II and how great it would have been if the Spanish had made it to Britain to watch Elizabeth I personally take them down.
We went back to Cardiff and after lots of splitting up, getting lost, finding each other again, we settled in a beer garden to figure out what to do that evening. We decided to go back to our home base and order curry, a supply of liquor (three of us decided to split a bottle of Balvenie Double Wood, very recommended) and went back home. We called in an absurdly huge curry order, having to compensate for being in Wales by ordering almost every meal "extra hot". Two gents went out to pick it up and returned back saying with extreme glee "they gave us a crate!" Indeed, it was a crate of curry; a glorious sight. We watched the original Inglorious Bastards from the 70s while we ate. Afterwards, the whisky was poured and it was suggested to watch Yes, Minister so yes, we settled in and six guys and me in our 20s and 30s watched Yes, Minister until the wee hours. It was absolutely brilliant and totally unexpected given how that show is perceived in America. It is fantastic for explaining British politics in the same way the West Wing explains American politics. After this whole holiday, the best thing I got out of it was a giant sense of respect for how well-educated my circle of friends are and the level of intelligent discussion from politics to history to heavy metal to zombies that went on this weekend.
We got up this morning at a reasonable time and went to the airport and made it home, thought threat of the ash was imminent. Ash-be-damned, I'm home and refreshed and ready to face the push to the end of my first year here. Hwyl!
Sunday, April 25, 2010
I heard this phrase from two separate friends this past week; commenting on my string of seemingly unrelenting bad luck over the past year. And it is somewhat true, I guess; financially, romantically, culturally it has been a struggle and it does not seem to be getting any easier. Once one struggle is resolved, another arises, all more difficult than the usual life struggles that my friends here are facing. So these statements set me to thinking, why haven't I thought this? Why is it that I wake up happy and enthusiastic every single morning? Why is it that outsiders have to comment on my situation for me to notice? Am I just in another screwed up relationship, where my love for this country is blinding me to how I am being treated?
This week, I had a nieghbour from back home come to visit me. It was fantastic, because I had a chance to show her around and prove to her what a great city Glasgow really is. I believe I convinced her, at least to the concept of a single malt whisky nightcap every night and having delicious curry as regularly as a pizza. I do love this city, with all my heart. I sit in the corner of Tennent's or the Uisce Beatha and I watch the city of Glasgow live and exist around me with elation and joy. I do not know if I am truly one of them yet. It takes a long time and even though I feel that I am at home here, there is a struggle in the sense that I am still an 'outsider' with a different accent and a different culture. After a heated debate with friends in the pub this week, they did not understand my frustration with the dating culture in particular. They always thought that I was perfectly happy to throw away all aspects about America that continue to haunt me. Then one of my close friends made an astute observation. It was not until she lived in Italy for a year, did she ever understand how actually English she was, and how comforting certain cultural habits were, even if you previously wanted to reject them. This is somewhat true about me as well. I find myself longing for American culture sometimes, particularly when I feel frustrated with certain aspects of my life. I know how to handle them in America and I know how I will be received. Being me, I have spent my life studying how I am perceived by others and what is expected of me. I am starting this completely anew here, and it is not easy. So though I have wanted to live in this country my whole life (well, since about the age of 10) I still find that I am frustrated with it from time to time. I do not know if it will get any easier.
After showing my friend around the city and hearing her reaction, I thought a lot about this culture and why I am, in fact, actually happy. She left yesterday, in what happened to be a gorgeous day of sunshine. I went to the Botanic Gardens (along with seemingly every other Glaswegian from my neighbourhood) by myself and had a think. She commented on the fact that she appreciated how Glasgow was unashamed of it's love for the alcohol. The long queues in front of the cashpoints at 5:05 on a Friday, the crowded corner pub, the impossible table to find if you arrive any later than 4:45, the constant flow of the cellar-cooled ale, Glaswegians love their alcohol. But I realised that it is not only the fact that Glaswegians are unapologetic about that particular cultural aspect. They are unapologetic in every aspect of their lives. They stand by their decisions, their culture, their reputation and embrace it all, wholeheartedly. You would be a fool for even trying to mock any aspect of any Glaswegian's life. This has definitely worn off on me as well, once I think about it. I have become much more proud of who I am, and more importantly, much more defensive about my life. I feel a sense of pride, far beyond what I have ever felt before. You do not notice it, either, until your being is threatened in some way. You become more willing to stand by who you are, the people around you and any decisions you have made, to death if necessary. Not even joking. It is weird.
There is a great sense of camaraderie here as well. Sitting in the Botanics, reflecting on my life, I recall doing the exact same thing almost a full year ago, when I first moved. I went to the Botanic Gardens by myself, on a nice day in June and sat with a book, fighting back tears watching all the couples, families and friends enjoying themselves in the sun and each other's company. At that point, I did not have anyone and felt very very alone. Sitting in the same park, almost 11 months later, I was still by myself, but things had changed. Not only was I waiting for a friend to call to get together that evening, but I was not even in need of a book. I simply was happy being around the people. Maybe that is because I feel like I am one of them, or maybe it is because I have established a life here and do not feel left out. One thing I noticed this time was that there were a lot of other people by themselves, lying in the sun, reading, eating lunch, and I did not feel lonely. There was a young family next to me that started chatting to me, and a young couple on my other side who were talking about their impending exams watching the young kids play with the pigeons. The happy faces, the friendly smiles; I did not feel lonely, though I was alone.
I have a great sense of respect for immigrants now. You do not understand the frustration that comes as you start to feel part of a city and part of a culture, but the first thing people bring up when you talk to them is that you do not belong there. Nothing rude, of course, but it is a constant reminder that you are an 'other' no matter how much you feel like you belong. Not only are there more aspects of the Scottish culture that I do not understand, but I constantly have a stigma over my head as being an outsider; people are much more quickly jumping to conclusions because of their assumptions of my place of birth.
You do start over when you immigrate. Which I realise can sound like a fantastic opportunity; the whole 'clean slate' concept has always appealed to everyone at some point in their lives. But what you do not realise is that you do, in fact, start over. Completely. You are cut off from everything that was familiar and comfortable. You cannot easily go back, you cannot easily keep in touch. It is a constant struggle, but at some point, you do have to accept that you have moved on. Keeping who you once were is simply too difficult. Friends and family are moving on without you, even if they have the best intentions of not doing so. You are just simply too far away. The friendships you thought you would always have sometimes fall through the cracks, because that is simply easier to let happen. The friendships that do continue are a constant effort of scheduling, emailing, any sort of communication possible to keep all updates on each others lives so there is some possibility of recognition if and when you get the chance to see each other again.
I gave up a lot to move to this country. I really wanted it, and in fact, I really needed it. However, I have given up a lot. I have accepted the fact that I will not get to see my relative's and friend's children grow up, I will not be able to be there for every wedding, every graduation, every life experience that my friends have had and are having. This is heartbreaking in a sense, but it forces me to ask myself if it is all worth it. I now, after about a year, have close friends whose weddings I want to attend, whose kids I want to see grow up, whose housewarmings I want to attend here in Glasgow. I have a new family here who would miss me as much as I would miss them. When it seemed that, due to financial reasons, I would have to go back to Colorado, my friends here seemed devastated at the prospect, which meant a lot to me, probably more than they knew. One of my friends here also just submitted her dissertation and I was mentioned in her acknowledgements, which to her may mean little other than a drinking buddy and a neighbour, it meant a lot to me. Hopefully, one day, I will feel like I belong a little bit more, but as things stand, it is not that bad. Though it may seem to outsiders, and even to close friends like this has just been one bad experience after another, I am content in simply waking up every day to a cup of tea, rainy weather, queues outside of pubs, steak pies, scoobie snacks, ales, curry, single malt whiskies, bagpipes, highlands, cars on the other side of the road, great friends, fantastic colleagues, the list continues on and on.
I have written this over the span of about the last 24 hours, with lots of care and thought given to it. I sit here now, in my kitchen, alone on a Sunday night writing this on my laptop with a view out my back window. I can hear the neighbours upstairs, the magpies on the rubbish bins, the rain falling on the cars. I am looking out on green grass, cars, clotheslines, an old dairy building, a dilapidated park and an abandoned school building. I have only a bottle of wine, leftover curry carnage, the magpies and the rain for company, but really, I am happy. The ambiance around me almost brings tears to my eyes. This is actually what I always pictured my life to be. Through all the struggle, through all the disappointment, through all the months of being alone, I feel like I will make it; that this is in fact, now my home.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Wow, what a crazy two weeks. So, what's been going on... the week before last was a little slow; catching up on work and everything. We spent most of the end of the week preparing for our National Astronomy Meeting. On Friday, after dealing with the incompetence and lack of awareness by some of the PhD students, a few of us went to go try a new bar in town. They had a decent special on wine so two girls and myself split a bottle. Then this awful band started practicing and we realised that we have reached that age where we start whining when a band starts to play. So we decided to go back to one of their houses, order Mr India and watch Star Trek. It was an awesome evening. We now have another recruit for our Star Trek nights!
On Saturday, I had a nice lie-in before finally getting up and packing to go hang out in Edinburgh for the night. I went to the Queen Street station and got the train to Edinburgh Haymarket. It was a beautiful train ride as the weather was absolutely lovely. That train journey always reminds me of Colorado on a nice day. It is a stretch of farmland with the highlands behind them, but instead of Colorado, the farmland has the quintessential 'rolling hills'. When I arrived in Haymarket I met up with my friend and his girlfriend in their flat. We had a few beers and put on some heavy metal LPs. We also watched a documentary on the heavy metal culture and his girlfriend made some bolognese. Her sister and one of his friends showed up as well before the show we were going to. We wandered into the streets of Edinburgh and decided to walk to the gig, about 20 minutes away. It was really great to walk through the city. Edinburgh has such a great cityscape with fantastic old streets and buildings. We went to a metal show in a venue down an alley with about 4 bands playing. The gig was fantastic and had some bands that completely rocked the house. After the gig ended, we went outside and hung out with one of the bands as they packed up their equipment in a hatchback. They had an inflatable football that we kicked around in the street a bit and they were playing the Star Wars soundtrack from their car. Afterwards we went to a pub called The Doctor and had some gin and tonics and ate some really good beef jerky that my friend had brought from America. He also had brought me some pickle relish and Fat Tire beer. What a great present. We then went back to the flat and crashed until the afternoon on Sunday. After a quick breakfast I caught the train back to Glasgow and on the way, I got a text about a last minute barbeque that night on the University hill. The weather was stunning that day and so I jumped right on that. It seemed that all of Glasgow was out enjoying the rare sunlight. We met at the university flagpole that overlooks all of Glasgow and the Clyde river. We had a little portable barbeque and made sausages and drank beer while lying on the grass in the sun. It was absolute bliss and super relaxing. We are now enjoying sun that stays up until 9:30 at night, so if the sun is out, it's fantastic!
I woke up early on Monday to go help out with our meeting. I was in charge of helping out the press room the whole week, which was not too terrible and I got to see a bit of the action. I wished I could have seen more talks, but they needed someone to man the press room and help if necessary. I kept track of all the news stories on the meeting as they came out all week. It was pretty interesting to see the science press working, especially against an election this month. On that note, it is really bizarre to have a one month election cycle. One month for everything. Debates, registration, adverts, all the things that us Americans were inundated with for 18 months straight condensed into 4 weeks.
Anyway, speaking of Monday, I had the most wonderful, fantastic, liberating, thrilling, exciting night that night. I finally got to go to the Barrowland Ballrooms to see a show. Not just any show, but the Dropkick Murphys. The Barrowlands is Glasgow's most famous concert venue. It used to be an old ballroom (obviously, from the name) and has low ceilings, wood floors and in a delightfully sketchy location in East Glasgow. On Saturday, it's also home to the black market, The Barras. It lived up to everything I expected from it. The floor was sticky with beer, there was no airflow and the people were going nuts. It was the first time I had seen the Dropkick Murphys live as well and they exceeded my expectations. They played all my favourite songs including ones I did not expect at all. At one point, the singer said "We never play this, but you seem the crowd to like this sort so here is FIELDS OF ATHENRY!!" The Fields of Athenry was my first favourite Dropkick Murphys song, so I went friggin nuts. They played a brilliant show. Glaswegians are just as nuts about music as I heard. It was a crazy, primal show; so much sweating and dancing and singing. Airflow would have been nice, but people were pretty good at getting their passed-out friends out of the crowd (not even kidding!). I had a few close calls after 4 of the best songs all in a row, but I managed not to pass out from the heat. It made it such a more fantastic experience. My friend who came with me really got into the show as well, which made it even better, especially as it's not her sort of thing, but she absolutely loved it. We left covered in sweat and beer (as plastic glasses of beer are constantly thrown into the crowd, it felt great!) and we could not hear or speak. It always feels great.
On Wednesday we had our conference dinner in the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery. This was an absolutely phenomenal event. They have a giant organ in the entrance hallway. As the delegates were arriving, we were lead through the gallery and up a large marble staircase to a champagne reception over-looking the dining area and amongst the art and statues. It was an elegant reception and everyone seemed to really enjoy it. Thanks to the fact that Glaswegians were organising this conference dinner, you can scrap the idea that there were going to be the standard one bottle of white and one bottle of red wine for a table of ten people. No no no, this is a glaswegian event. There were four bottles of wine and five bottles of beer for a table of 10. Thankfully, this got everyone properly liquored up for the ceilidh after the meal. Most people had not been to a ceilidh before but most of the people got up to dance. We had a smashing time. After the dance, we decided to have an after-party at the Oran Mor which lasted until 2 in the morning. We filled the Oran Mor with astronomers and drank whisky all through the evening ending with the obligatory chippy at the corner of the Botanic Gardens.
Thursday morning we woke up to the most bizarre news we have ever heard. A volcano had gone off; no one could fly in, out or around the UK. My friend did not get to move to Berkeley, I have a friend stranded in Austria, my friends from America could not come visit me and our speakers could not arrive or leave from the meeting. Sadly, the sky was not as apocalyptic as we hoped and many people were in denial about not being able to fly. We are going on four days now of being completely cut off. The inconveniences I mentioned are only a small fraction of the problems that my friends are having. Though my plans for the week have been completely thrown out the window, I thankfully am not flying myself. We did however have to deal with the chaos of trying to get our delegates from the meeting home. They did a pretty good job of giving each other rides back to London and other places. It has been just such a weird experience, which is still going on.
On Friday night we finished up the meeting at around three in the afternoon and took the leftover alcohol up to the common room and drank our beer, reveling in the post-meeting enthusiasm. We had another great day in terms of weather, so we went out looking for beer gardens, but could not find a good place. We went to the chippy for dinner and then crashed the Ben Nevis for some whisky. As I was completely knackered from the past week, I went home relatively early.
Last night I went across the street to my friends' house. Him and his wife are from Mexico and made Mexican food for a few people. We had a ton of great food and drink and enjoyed good company. The best part? Living across the street from them...well, really, the posole was the best, but just walking across the street at night was really nice.
Anyway, so that has been the last two weeks for me. Since I do not have visitors the next week, it should be pretty boring, but I will still let you know if anything exciting happens! Ta for now!
Monday, April 5, 2010
I realise it has been a month since I last updated. Do not worry, I have not forgotten about you! The biggest event that happened since the beginning of March would be the two weeks I spent in California. So I will quickly fill you in on the past events.
We left for California on Thursday morning. A bright and early cab ride to Glasgow Airport started the 24 hour travel marathon. After waiting for about 4 hours in Heathrow, then an Air New Zealand flight to LAX. Air New Zealand was amazing and really comfortable. The plane was also really empty so my office-mate and I got to share a row, and it's always nice to have space and company on a long flight like that. We got to Los Angeles in the early evening. I called some of my family to let them know that I arrived then met with people in the bar for a quick drink and some food before crashing.
The next day was our 'jet-lag recovery' day so I got together with my family. It was great to see everyone again and to relax. I went hiking with my aunt and my wee cousin after breakfast in Eton Canyon outside of Pasadena. It was so fantastic to bask in the sunlight and get some exercise after the flight.
The meeting started on Saturday morning, bright and early. The second day is always the worst when it comes to jetlag and sitting in a windowless, over-airconditioned conference room does not help the situation. Especially when it's coming on 2am my time. The weekend is simply the smaller working groups, informally discussing our current projects. I gave a presentation on my work and got to put up with some pedantic egos. Thrilling, let me tell you.
This hotel is a special place. It does free drinks for it's residence for two hours every single evening. And these are not small drinks, let me tell you. Say you ask for a vodka and cranberry juice, which is mostly what I drank to start the night after the meeting. They fill up the glass with ice and vodka and then put a splash of cranberry in there. It is just asking for alcohol poisoning. As these free drinks are timed to be post-meeting and pre-dinner, it makes for interesting evenings. The problem too is that we are relegated to a one-block radius around this hotel, which means cheap, nasty American chains. I was not able to finish a single meal any night I was there.
It was good to catch up with everyone but I get quite sick of the science chat and most of the personalities. I found a good group of people to hang out with and spent most of the time with them. The funniest bit was that during lunch and coffee breaks, the only people outdoors were the ones from the furthest north. It was so clearly a bunch of people who had not seen daylight in a very long time. Our skin glowed white like a sheet of paper.
I am pretty convinced that the rampant alcoholism that takes place at these meetings is due to the fact that we are all working towards and for something that has not been detected yet. One night I went out to this dive bar called the 'Drinkers Hall of Fame' with 4 guys. We were the only ones in the bar (as it was a weeknight) and the bartender introduced us to good tequila and let us stay until he wanted to go home. The worst night was when we started our drinks during the free drink hours and I had the experience of a Tokyo Ice Tea, which is a Long Island but with tequila as well. Death in a glass, especially on an empty stomach. After that, I missed the Glasgow people going out to dinner so I went out with the group from Australia to the Outback Steakhouse. This basically made my life complete as you all know what a garish representation of Australia that place is. The best was the 'Aussi-tizers' and the 'Steak on the Barbie'. There was about 10 of us, I was the only girl and we drank lots of Australian beer. I do not think the staff knew what was going on, but we definitely cleared out all the tables around us in a very short period of time. We finished our food and went back to the hotel to find that the Academic Advisory Council opened a tab at the hotel bar for all the students and postdocs, wearing mardi-gras necklaces. Apparently we racked up a pretty hefty tab (about $1200 from what rumor has it) and the carnage that remained was not pretty. I, personally, reached a point in the night where I had to go to bed. No questions asked. I left my purse, my camera and didn't say goodbye to anyone. Bedtime. Oh and those glass elevators are one hell of an experience with that much alcohol in your system. On my way to bed, I saw a friend and asked him to keep an eye on my stuff and he was just like, "No. Bed." and walked away. The next morning, I came down to breakfast to see everyone sitting at the tables staring at pieces of dry toast. I crawled into the back of the conference hall and about an hour later, one of the guys from Australia came in, pulled a chair against a wall, propped his feet on another chair and promptly fell asleep. Oh, and that day was St Patrick's Day, but that holiday seemed a bit lack-luster after my previous 6 days so I decided that it would be more fun to go over to my grandmother's. She got some corned beef and we watched the Lion King. It was WAY more fun than going out drinking again would have been.
Finally, the meeting was over and my parents came out and met me at the hotel. I was so sick of being confined to that block for the last six days that all I wanted to do was get very very far away. We went to Cal Tech, visited lots of family, went to Old Town Pasadena, all that fun stuff. It was fantastic to take those days off and let my brain relax. I really enjoy Pasadena, though we went shopping there and it was a harsh reminder how body type expectations are so different in California. We went shopping at my mum's favorite store which has a branch in Glasgow. Everything in the Glasgow shop looks great on me, but nothing fit me in the LA store. It was really depressing. I also got to see one of my old neighbours who lives in LA now. Him and I went to a farmer's market and ate at a Korean Barbeque. It was fantastic to catch up with him again and to see how our lives are doing. After that, my parents and I then went down to San Diego, ate seafood on a pier and sat on the beach. Paradise.
After sad goodbyes, I started my multi-plane journey back to Glasgow. Oh, and this was exciting: Princess Anne was on my flight back to London. She got to get on first and then we all waited in the plane while she exited to her convoy on the tarmac. Short woman in a white jacket, that's all I got. Still cool, though. I did not manage, again, to sleep on that flight and once I boarded the London-Glasgow flight, I passed out before we even took off and woke up when we landed, desperately needing more sleep.
I was welcomed back to pouring rain and an incredibly foul-mouthed, but really friendly, taxi driver. I called my friend and we met up in Tennants. I was walking to meet her and was walking in the rain, down the usual Byres Road, happy to be back, but then a car nailed a puddle at Mach 10 and splashed water all over me. Welcome home. Anyway, her and I caught up and then I went home and crashed. It took me quite a few days to get over the jetlag, but finally was able to.
On Thursday, I got to catch up with a friend back home, which felt really good. I have been really afraid of losing touch with some people, so it was great to reconnect again. On Friday, my friend and I planned a Star Trek night to battle homesickness, our usual cure, but the evening turned out different than expected, in a great way. Another friend came over as well and we ordered Mr India's (tried the Chicken Hot Pot, new favourite!) and sat at the dining table drinking wine and eating curry for 9 hours. Nine hours. We left at 3:30am. I do appreciate living in a city where I can walk home at 3:30 in the morning and feel safe. It was a really really fun evening. The next night I went over to another friend's house for some wine and chat. We played Perfect Dark on the xbox and complained about work.
This last week I was struggling with my code, but I think I finally have it working. We also had a visitor open day in which we have to go down and talk to prospective undergraduates about why they should study physics. My few hours down there was relatively quiet, but still fun. I always like seeing parents and their kids. The parents are so enthusiastic and the kids are so not. Ah, to be 17 again.
The next day we had a party at one of the faculty member's houses and everyone came along. There were four reasons to have the party so there was a lot of champagne and food. The quality of stories that came out of that party are endless. It was even in the middle of the week and once we ran out of port at two in the morning we all decided to go home. I made it in to the office at ten and the department was dead. We are hosting a big UK Astronomy meeting next week so we all spent the morning stuffing folders and putting name-tags together. It was good, mindless, hangover work. Of course, in the classic way of our research group, we got an email at about noon saying that there would be champagne available at 4pm in the common room to toast two people who were leaving the group. When I need a liver transplant, I am going to charge it to our group's expenses. That same day as well, one of my closest friends had her PhD defense (called a 'viva' in this country) so we all sat in the common room drinking the champagne until the text message/email flurry was sent around saying she was done. At six she was out and newly minted with 'Dr' and we went to the astronomy coffee area for some more champagne. We gave her some presents, one being a giant rock, a memory of 'thesis mountain'. We then hit the West End pubs for proper celebrations. One of the best places we went had lots of rum and good cocktails. She got a 'six rum cocktail' that had six shots of rum, a special grapefruit liquor in a beer stein with an absinthe-soaked sugar cube lit on fire on the top. Once that place closed, we went to the Oran Mor until about two in the morning at which time, Scooby-snacks were calling. We have a theory that the scooby snack is a delicate mix wherein if you're sober enough to talk yourself out of it, that is a good thing because you don't have enough alcohol in your system to absorb the whole thing. If you have enough alcohol in your system that a scooby snack sounds good, then it is the best thing for you.
She crashed on my floor that evening and we had a very slow morning the next day. Thankfully, there's a bonus to living in a religious state as we get Friday and Monday off around Easter. On Friday night, we wanted to fulfill the promise that we would go dancing before she left. A few of us all went and had a really fantastic time. It was great to be with a bunch of people who were all really happy and positive and enthusiastic. I unfortunately blew my whole budget for the week, but it was worth it as she is leaving. We started out at The Captain's Rest where two of the people we work with are in separate bands and both bands happened to be performing. Then we went to the city centre and went dancing until about three o'clock. Got some great chippy and the taxi home.
Saturday I went to the Glasgow Roller Derby fundraiser at a great underground place in the city centre. It was funny, too, because the world Irish Dancing Championships were taking place at the Concert Hall. Talk about the ultimate flashback. For Easter I went to my friend's house for dinner. It was three couples and myself, so it felt a bit like Bridget Jones, but we all had a really good time. I ended up crashing there after the Ouzo knocked us all out. Today I walked back, crawled into my pajamas and spent the day lounging around, eating and writing this!
The weirdest thing about this weekend was the fact that it was leaving parties for two of my close friends. Think about that. I have close friends here, and now some of them are leaving me. It is actually really sad and I will be missing a lot after this. It really cements my dislike in the mobile academic life. It is just too difficult and you don't feel settled. I do wish both of them luck though; life in Glasgow just will not be the same without them.
Until next time! (which will be a lot sooner than a month, I promise)
Friday, March 5, 2010
The next day was a big day. Not only was it because it was nine months to the day of moving to Glasgow, but I was getting my first tattoo here to commemorate the occasion and my flatmate and I were hosting our flat-warming party. The party was great fun though we are going to have to have another one soon because some of my favourite people were not in town and could not make it. I do not know when then hell I will get the chance to do it as my weekends are quickly filling up, even as I type this (Hooray! I am going to a show in Edinburgh in April!). Anyway, the flat-warming was a success with about 50-60 people showing up. Thankfully the living room is gigantic and was fully capable of holding everyone and it did not feel too crowded. My flatmate invited some of his friends from school who were super uncomfortable with that many scientists and over-compensated by either being obnoxious, drunk or rude, or all of the above. Thankfully, everyone handled it pretty well and overall the night was a success. Not only that, but flat-warmings are very different in this country. People bring tidings of wine, champagne, port and single-malt whisky (large quantities of the latter two, bizarrely). My share of the port is sadly gone but we are saving the single-malts for later. It was nice, too, because I realised how convenient my place is for hosting parties, so this will be utilised in the future. The street I live on apparently used to have a large hub of PhD students residing there so everyone is glad to see it occupied again.
The next day I got up (very slowly) and made my way down to the West End to meet up with a friend from Edinburgh. He used to be a student here and we met through various people and got on 'like a house on fire' (his words). His girlfriend is this crazy gothic victorian artist and he is crazy into metal music, so yeah, we get on pretty well. We caught up over lunch and strategised about future escapades and carnage, including a siege of Cardiff planned for May. We also chatted a bunch about how the department has changed and how sad it is that I was not there three years prior, in it's heyday. This friend who is leaving and I were talking about the same thing recently. The regular crowd is made up of instigators and followers. Back in the day, the majority instigated adventures and since they all have left or settled down, the amount of craziness has ceased. Once she leaves, I am going to be the only true instigator left, which makes me really sad. Ergo, I am spending much more time with the older people who have hence moved around the country or instead save up the craziness for meetings and conferences, which results in some pretty shocked livers. It is fantastic, too, because though I was not around for their PhDs, they adopted me straightaway as one of the 'regulars' and now include me in any planned escapades, further proving how fun it would have been to be around during that time.
On Monday, I got together with the Leaving Friend and went out with her and a few of her friends for £2 mojitos on Ashton Lane. It was basically soda with a shot of rum, but usually a coke would be £2 so why not throw some rum in that. We chatted for a while then got the standard chips on the walk back home, you know, to keep us warm. I am telling you though, I have got to change my eating habits. I think I am only going to purchase food from the local grocer as opposed to Waitrose and buy any meat from the local butcher. I think I will eat much healthier that way, plus, it is always surprising how cheap fresh food is, so I need to take advantage of that.
Tuesday was a mental day in the department, so much so, that I ran away for the afternoon. It started with all of the computer network systems down and the wireless consequently not responding because everyone was trying to use that on their laptops instead. The biggest stressor was the fact that registration for a conference our department is hosting closed the next day and they were not able to process the flood of registrations coming in. Definitely worth running away from. I went home, Leaving Friend called for me to pick up some stuff she was getting rid of and we walked down to Cotswolds to buy some ski gear for the next day.
So, skiing in the Highlands! The previous week at our usual afternoon coffee, a bunch of us decided to go skiing at Glencoe due to the massive snowfall and fantastic weather that followed. I, always having my 'Danger, Will Robinson' radar out, was afraid of the massive avalanches that were happening on the same or adjacent mountains. However, I decided to throw caution to the wind, as well as work-responsibility-guilt and skive off for a day. Seven of us in total went, including two Swiss sisters, an Indian guy who had only been skiing once and the rest all fairly incompetent, but gutsy physicists.
We met up at seven in the morning, loaded up the cars and headed up to Glencoe, about a 2 1/2 hour drive (in America, you could push it to an hour, but these are Scottish highways and therefore take some serious navigating). It is nice to have finally become intimately familiar with the A82 route to Glencoe: the winding around Loch Lomond, the Green Welly stop in Tyndrum, the herd of stags lingering in the glen and various other homey landmarks. The day was absolutely beautiful and we finally arrived at Glencoe as one of the first people there. I went off to hire a pair of skis and boots while everyone else suited up their hired snowboards. The resort was very much an anti-Colorado resort, in good and bad ways. It was very functional by the carpark, one room for hiring equipment, one window for buying passes and a pub area inside where booze and chips and sausages could be purchased. There was a 2-person chairlift at the start that took us up and over the first hill, leading to the base of the actual ski area. Then, the dreaded tow-pommels awaited us. You know, those things that are basically a steel pole suspended from some rope with a disk attached to the bottom. You put the pole between your legs, the disk behind you and you go. There was an eastern-European working it at the beginning saying (in a thick accent) "Right, between your legs, do not sit, look where you are going, do not fall, good luck." and clicks this little wire and you take off. And I mean take. off. This thing booked it. I was a little shady at the start, but really, if you just stand up, almost lazily, it just pulls you up. Easiest skiing ever. Plus, this was to get up the beginners slope, so the incline was almost non-existent. I was a bit shaky at first, but once it came back to me, it really was like riding a bike, it was almost instinctual.
As opposed to skiing in Colorado, people who want to go skiing did not actually grow up on slopes, so we were all a bit rough to start (aside from the Swiss girls, but they don't count). We did the baby slope/tow cable for a while, getting more and more comfortable with it. After that, at the top of the baby slope, you can ski off to the side and down another route to a chairlift. This is an old-school chairlift: one person, wooden seat and a single metal pole that you just swing in front of you to hold you in. This took us to the top of some green runs, very nice, very happy. A little more of an incline, but plenty of space to slow down if needed. These slopes were also not nearly as 'manufactured' as Colorado slopes. Even for being green, they were bumpy, hilly and there were definitely places that you could fall off, well, fall off if you're green, ski down if you are on a red slope. After all, all runs point to the tow cable! That one was quite fun, especially because you did have plenty of areas where you could get some pretty good speed. We did that happily for a few more times before lunch, three hours later. Two of the people (one Swiss and one guy who I am convinced needs more excitement in his life as he has two young kids) actually skied to the carpark whereas all of us who valued life decided to take the 2-man chairlift back down for lunch.
After lunch, the Swiss girl we knew talked us in to going to the top of the mountain where the only way down was blue slopes on one side and certain death slopes on the other. "Oh, you'll be fine, the blue doesn't have any more of an incline than the green one" LIES! ALL LIES! But before we get to that adventure, we had to actually make it to the top of the mountain. At the top of the one-person chairlift and the top of the green slopes, you could walk up a bit (where other's ski down) to a T-Bar. Oh god, the T-Bar. This is basically a T suspended upside down from a wire. You share the T with another person, hoping to god you do not die. None of us knew how to do it. The poor snowboarders had to face the side and put their half of the T in between their legs and hold on to the middle pole whereas the skiers (me) had to simply rest our butt on our half of the bar and try not to slip off the side. Leaving Friend and I shared it and looked like absolute fools. She was snowboarding and was clinging to the middle pole. We were both convinced that was it, not so much because of the position, but the tow was almost straight up and if you fell off, you could not get onto the slopes and would simply slide straight down, hitting every other person in your path. Right at the start she got her foot caught and held on to me for dear life as she got her balance back. We were laughing so hard and had to try to stop laughing in order to not fall off. It finally got us to the top, which truly was phenomenal. We ditched our skis/snowboards immediately and scrambled to the summit for pictures. It was such a beautiful day as well, you could see for miles and miles in all directions. It was also very disconcerting as two days prior, there had been an avalanche right on this mountain so you were not sure how much on the top was actually supported by rock. Remember, Scotland does not have the fear-of-suing infrastructure that America has so everyone is responsible for themselves and could wander anywhere. We were exhausted anyway and therefore just collapsed on the top, a safe distance from the edge and rested a bit. We took a ton of pictures and rested there, trying to put the thought that we actually had to get off that goddamn mountain out of our mind.
Finally, we came to terms that we were going to have to make it down. We walked back down to the top of the T-bar lift and gathered our equipment. Off to the left and around the summit was a path leading to the top of the 'blue' runs down. This 'path' along which you were meant to ski was really narrow and just plummeted off the side. The two Swiss girls hopped on their boards and went right along it with the rest of us standing there, almost comedic-like, with our jaws open waiting for the first person to go. Without a word, one of the guys just takes off his snowboard again and starts walking. The other guy got onto his hands and knees on his board and scooted along like a skateboard. We followed suit and walked along to the top of the blue slope. When we reached it, panic set in; this was much steeper than the slopes we had been on previously and it was also super narrow, so you had to turn more often, meaning you gained a lot of speed. After some convincing we slowly started crawling down. I literally got on my skis and pushed myself horizontally, turned once, started gaining speed and did a controlled fall to stop myself so I could turn around and keep going. After a few grueling minutes, we all made it about halfway down where the path narrowed even more, but there was a giant rock off to the side that we all aimed for and fell down on to contemplate our existence and come to terms with our imminent death. Off to the left, you could see another blue arrow pointing to a side, with a longer route down. After the arrow however, the ground just fell away. We did not look over the edge, but we saw a lot of people ski over to it, look over, ponder for a few minutes then ski back down our way. Then it hit us, that was where the avalanche two days prior happened. Two novice skiers almost died on it. You could totally see how that would happen too, because there was so much snow and the mountain was so exposed to wind. Every time I tried to slow down, my skis would slide down a few feet before finally gripping the ground, sending a flurry of snow down in it's wake. However, I think after a few minutes of sitting on the rock (keep in mind too, we have been skiing for 4 hours that day already and our muscles were pretty exhausted) our brains finally came to terms with the fact that we had to get down the mountain and so we all started going for it. It is funny as well because your brain sees the whole way down the mountain and thinks that is what it has to do, when in reality you just have to make it to the end of the run. The path slid off to the right and there was the bottom of the lift. We made it! I think I could probably do it again now that I knew what to expect, but we were so tired by then, it was time to give up.
Skiing is a funny thing, because you do not feel as tired as you actually are. After we got to the bottom of the blue slope, we took the usual green way down and I fell about two times, nothing bad of course, but mostly just trying to take a turn and my legs not having the energy to push me around. The second time I fell, my legs could not even push me back up; that is how tired I was. We finally got to the top of the baby slope and just decided to do that a few more times before riding back down. We wanted to end on a good note after all and the baby slope was much better than ones in Colorado; it had some length to it and there were a few areas where you could actually get some speed, just very simply with plenty of space to gain control. Once we all met back at the bottom, we turned equipment in, changed into warm clothes and crawled into the car for the ride home. The ride home was really stunning because the Sun was setting and the highlands were all covered in snow. We stopped a few times to take pictures and got back to Glasgow by 6:30. Once we got back, we dropped the snowboards off in the department, trying to keep our head down so no one would see us and then ran off to Tennents for some steak pie and beer. I got back home at about eight o'clock, got into a steaming hot bath and listened to some Tom Waits. It was a brilliant end to a brilliant day.
Coming up this week, more work, some more work, some shopping for Victorian dresses, some drinking, more working and more drinking then packing to go to a meeting in California (hence all the work). So it will not be a terribly interesting blog, but always worth updating. Until next time!