Friday, 28 March 2008

A dress and memories

I was unpacking some things that had been in my Mum's storage before she moved house. Amongst them were some clothes, in particular my dressy dresses, the ones I wear for formal dinners (black tie) and more dressy weddings.

And I came across it. A dress that brings back so many memories from when it was purchased to every time I wore it, a dress that so has its own personality. Normally I'm not like this with clothes, I abhor clothes shopping unless I'm in the mood (and weirdly if I'm in the US, perhaps as I suddenly become 2 sizes smaller and tops are long enough).

So I brought this dress at what is now Topshops flagship Oxford Street store in June 1997. I'd been to an open day at the college in London where I would start my undergraduate career in Chemistry (I switched to Geography somewhere else after two years but thats another story). After looking around the place and deciding that it was really where I wanted to go (above Oxford or Cambridge) I decided to go shopping for a dress for the upcoming sixth form party.

In the basement where there were concessions for other small designers. I found it, a floor length, pretty much backless dress, that clung in the right places, fairly high necked and strapless, with a slit up the back so you can walk. Basically the first dress I brought that flaunted my femininity but not too much that I was out of my comfort zone. It was reasonably priced and with a student discount under thirty pounds (my maximum budget). I remember showing the dress to friends when I got back home and them being slightly shocked, it was me but not expected.

I wore the dress to multiple compliments, for me the geek of the year this was unusual. I think I enjoyed challenging people's opinions of me. I got a kiss from the boy I liked (another chapter in our long drawn out relationship) and got scared. I got asked whether I was engaged to a good friend of mine that night, something that shocked my and my supposed fiance so much we laughed for about five minutes. (He was the first of my friends from home to get married though). I had an amazing night at that sixth form party, partially because it was after a summer concert at the local theatre in which I had played in several groups, had a couple of solos go well and sing in the chamber choir finale. Going from the natural post-concert high to a party meant everyone thought we'd been drinking already.

I wore the dress to a post-production party a couple of weeks later. The english class had adapted "Room with a View". I had ended up getting involved with stage crew, partially to manage a good friend who is a designer not a stage management person. We thought we invented the idea of a prop table! It may have played a part in my most short lived dating episode (dating someone to make someone else jealous, very silly and not worth it, particularly when the object of your desire is doing the same thing!).

I wore the dress to a couple of freshers balls (along with my very plain black dress, which has a history associated with it). It became my clubbing dress in London being worn to Turnmills (now sadly closed), Ministry of Sound, Fabric, Heaven amongst other places (it shocked my most recent ex that I once was into the club scene). I wore the dress to my new college freshers event two years after my first experience of starting a degree course.

I hadn't worn the dress in years. So when I found it I wondered did it still fit. My weight went up when I first started university and has fluctuated since. However, I knew from another dinner dress I'm about the same size as I was as a 17 year old (I don't know how but I'm not complaining). The dress still fits, it still makes me feel good and I would feel fine wearing it on a night out. Not to a formal dinner but for something else.

Normally my memories are so lucid when associated with place and landscape (I'm a geographer it figures), this is one of the few pieces of clothing that I can remember vividly the experiences each time I wore it.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Evidence of Snow (in a very British obsession with the weather)

So a couple of images (from my phone so not fantastic). One from my bedroom window. We had around an inch of snow. Bizarrely my boots (fabulous for teaching in) were the safest thing I could find to walk to church in. I forgot about my walking boots, but it was early in the morning. Its tried to snow a couple of times today and we've had some hail.

Sunday, 23 March 2008


I woke up this morning to see abiout 3 cm of snow on the ground. This is not normal, neither the amount or presence of snow or the timing.

Yes, Easter is early this year but snow in late March is not usual.

Dad's is located in a place that is so central and away from the coast that moisture has run out by the time it reaches here whether the front comes from the East or the West.

It was fun walking to church this morning in the snow (the last time I did this was when it snowed on Christmas Eve a while ago) and made decorating the cross with spring flowers seem that bit more special.

Sunday Scribblings: I just don't get it

I Just Don't Get It.

Something that slightly bugs me is the inability of some of my long time friends in London to get the fact I actually teach and its not a minor thing. I've taught more than most grad students do here as my old advisor left at quite short notice so I was on a p/t teaching contract (the year I was 1.5 people: p/t RA, p/t lecturer and p/t PhD student). Some people don't seem to get that I can't go on holiday as I have to teach on a Monday afternoon and you can't just move a 2 hour lecture for 60 students easily. Especially when the 10 week course in a very short term is taught by 4 people who have agonised over the order of lectures. It must be said these are the same people who didn't really get the fact I had a proper job with an office with my name on the door. Perhaps because they've known me since I was an undergraduate.

On the other hand people who I have know since 2001 (as opposed to 1998). who met me in a context where I was employed to teach (albeit music to 8-17 year olds) don't seem to have an issue with it. Perhaps because they're mainly american and therefore PhD students teaching is the most normal thing in the world.

K posted a while ago about how being a grad student isn't a formal job but it is and people don't get it. Yes, you set your own hours (convenient when friends from far away are in town) but this means that you work when others don't so calling at any time of the day may interrupt one day and not another.

Rant over...

Friday, 21 March 2008

Five years

A couple of days ago was the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.

I remember watching the situation unfold on tv comparing it to images and reporting in the first Gulf War. The contrast was amazing, the impact of embedded reporters, my greater knowledge of the region (I'd taken a course of territorial disputes the previous year in amongst the other Asia and Africa centred course of my degree). In the first gulf war the son of the village librarian served in the army and wrote letters back to his old primary school which were read out in assembly. It provided an interesting insight to a 10 year old. Compared to a 22 year old at a college which was the centre of the student stop the war movement (people slept in college nights before big marches). I knew it was inevitable but wished there was another way. In the back of my mind was that if it turned into another Vietnam quickly my american male friends were liable for the draft. I knew really that it wouldn't happen, and that if it would they would escape it like their fathers and uncles had (enter seminary, rabbi school, medical school abroad) but it was scary. My feelings about whether the war was and is justified are very separate from my concern for people are serving in theatre and their families, who deserve our support and respect no matter what our morals say about the situation.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Five things this week

This week has been mixed to say the least.

1. The RAC (a British equivalent of the AAA) are very efficient in coming out quickly and fixing ill tyres. Particularly useful when you are driving to the station to take the train into London to give your last lecture of the year. I made it with 20 minutes to spare (to the amazement of the wonderful department admin staff). If I had been late it wouldn't have been too bad. I work on the primary school adage that a child can only concentrate for as many minutes as they are old. Therefore with undergrads I work my lectures in 20 minutes chunks and Monday's lecture was on my field of study complete with cool 20 min video (that is also partly on YouTube). But all panic re-arranging of the lecture was needless. However, I did lecture drinking a cup of tea for the first 15 minutes.

2. There are lots more academic blogs out there than I originally knew about. This week I've been discovering good ones by females in academia which is cool and nice to know I'm not the only one struggling with writing.

3. I have two chapters overdue to my supervisors. They're nearly done and I'm aiming to have them in their inboxes by the end of next week. The large carrot is that once they're not my responsibility (albeit temporarily) I can book my flight to the US for July/August to see the boy (a family wedding of his is a very convenient excuse).

4. I finally feel happy with the new office setup. I used to have my office space due to my job (part-time PhDs don't get desks but part time RAs do). We moved into a new building about 2 years ago into a room for 12 (but there were generally only about 6 of us in). When I changed from p/t to f/t there was a re-arrangement of rooms and the old researchers room became the final year PhD room so everyone moved around me. I loved being with the RAs because of the people but they've all left (bar one) either to permanent lectureships or back to home countries. I've had some amazing room mates who have helped my PhD. The RAs were chatty, final year PhDs not at all (an old resident of the room called it deathly silent when she came to visit me). After 4 years of a very productive but conversational environment its taken some getting used to. However, the new residents are a bit more chatty (I suppose its tough coming from a room for about 35) and we've all got used to each other. I adore my next door neighbour we've got on well since we started together, just never got to talk much and there is a tea rota in place.

5. Three people I know had interviews on the same day this week. All went well but they're all waiting to hear. Fingers crossed as they all really need/want to move.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Coffee, coffee, coffee

I was surveying the cupboards for coffee this morning and had forgotten I had such an interesting collection.

I've just finished my jar of fairtrade Kenyan medium roast so am onto using cafetiere (french press in USA) coffee. I do have an expresso machine but its currently in a cupboard so it was too much hassle to get it out, set it up. However, I do have some very nice Lavazza Italian expresso for it.

So I ended up drinking Australian coffee (yes, Australian) that my sister and Dad brought back from the Whitsunday Islands on their trip there for Dad's Jim'll Fix It*.

I rediscovered where my Zambian coffee had gone (back of a cupboard behind hot chocolate powder). I have three types, one brought direct from the coffee plantation and two that were grown within a couple of hours from the capital and sold in the supermarket. These range from medium to very strong and need a bit of extra brewing. I did my work/thesis research in Zambia so its nice to have coffee that I know where it comes from and is ethical. As an aside instant in Zambia, much like the rest of Southern Africa generally contains chicory and therefore is no effective at 7am when it needs to wake you up. Therefore, I got into a bad habit of visiting one of the Greek bakeries on my way into meetings to pick up a coffee (and more often than not a pastry too). Seeing as I was in charge of buying drink and biscuits for group research meetings there, I made sure there was decent coffee (generally from Egypt for some reason).

The best airline coffee I have ever had was on Ethiopian Airlines, really smooth not as strong as I thought it was going to be, and amazing service.

I also have Taylors of Harrogate variations, this is a Yorkshire company that has been fairtrade for years (before it became trendy). One of them is half caffeinated and half de-caf so perfect for late night drinking.

I refuse (at home at least) not to drink coffee that is fairtrade. I've known about fairtrade since my childhood, mainly due to Traidcraft at Church. I did my undergrad at a place that charged less for fairtrade coffee and tea (before they got rid of the non-fairtrade stuff altogther). My current university is designated fairtrade. I've just finished lecturing about development in the global south and touched on trade issues. I know its become the trendy thing now but its a small thing to do and per cup the price difference is so minimal.

And I'd never buy or willingly drink Nescafe. Just don't get me started (baby milk, rowntrees, blue smarties, kit kats etc).

As for tea, I work near the original Twinings tea shop in London. As its cheaper and has a wider range (and lovely staff) I go there to buy my tea. When I buy my usual stuff (earl or lady grey, ceylon, ceylon orange pekoe i.e. anything that doesn't require milk) I always pick up a sample tea bag for around 25p to see whats around (rhubarb and roibuis anyone?).

Seeing as I'm living on my savings and a bit of teaching this year. I've cut down on my coffee shop habit. However, I've always gone to the college place (where its cheap but has few opening hours) or Neros (voted the best coffee of the cafes here). I dislike Starbucks not only due to some of their business practices but their coffee is not good and overpriced.

* "Jim'll Fix It" was a TV programme in the UK where people wrote in asking for Jimmy Savile to fix it so they could do certain activities. My Dad's company after you've worked there for 25 years gives you £10 000 (just under $20 000) and 6 weeks extra holiday for two years. Therefore its got the nickname of the Jim'll Fix It. If you have no desire to take up the extra holiday (he gets over 6 weeks per year anyway, the joys of UK/EU employment law) you can retire 6 months early (i.e. at 59.5 instead of 60, everyone can retire at 60 there too). So he took my sister to Australia and New Zealand and he and I went to the USA last summer (plenty of posting material in that).

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Mothering Sunday

Today is Mothering Sunday in the UK. It varies with Easter so is very early this year. This also meant that it falls a day before my Grandmother's birthday and the weekend my Mum moved into her new home. This meant that my sister and I cooked a meal for them at my Mum's new place. Between watercress soup (cooked last night while watching Sense and Sensibility), garlic and rosemary lamb and birthday cake accompanied with rose Cava we were all very full. Going to church and still getting a posy of flowers to take home for my Mum reminded me of all the years I've done that (the only year I got given a posy as a Mother figure I was still at school teaching Sunday School!).

This past year I've gained a new appreciation for my Mum. She always is very insightful into my actions, pre-empting things that haven't really crossed my brain yet. When it comes to relationships with the opposite sex we're even more alike. During my break-up she was amazing and is totally supportive of me moving abroad. Although she isn't one for traveling she's said that if one of her daughters moves abroad she'd visit them. So if all goes to plan in a couple of years she'll be visiting the west coast of the USA.

I thought it would be weird with my parents living apart (they've been separated for nearly 2 years now but were living in the same house until it was sold). While she's been living at Grandma's we've gone out for coffee, cocktails, desert and the cinema far more than we would have otherwise. I think its marked the transition phase more than anything else (despite me not living at home in a under 18 sense for a long time).

I admire my Mum for going back to college and doing the equivalent of a first year of a degree and that she wants to complete it when she retires. Mum's side of the family is full of strong women, its a matriarchal Welsh clan. I was lucky enough to know my great-grandmother and there are some treasured photos of four generations of us together. My Grandma is very strong willed, she refuses to accept her age (but grudgingly obliges in cases such as last month when she was knocked over by a Great Dane).

I feel very privileged to have Mum and Grandma as my maternal role models. They're not perfect but more and more I see how they have shaped the person I am today, and the person I want to be. Now I'm happy when people say they can definitely tell we're related and I hope I can have a valuable relationship with any future children I have.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

7 things

So stealing an idea from the bluefish . Seven things about this week.

1. I survived an earthquake. I have now been in an earthquake larger than one my friends who live in Los Angeles have experienced. Details from the USGS .

2. I'm not on a small island in the Bristol Channel with lots of people I know. I have been the past two years, but couldn't go this year as I have to teach on Monday. This is not as bad as I thought it was going to be. I'm not sure how I could deal with certain people, but its nice to get messages saying I'm going to be missed. But I am missing a pirate themed fourth birthday party:-(.

3. My Mum has moved into her new house. Its very nice but needs some wall colours toning down. Hot pink and lavender bedroom anyone?

4. Errors are fun. This is what I keep telling myself while considering the quantitative errors for all of my PhD thesis work. One of my supervisors is obsessed with errors so they have to be spot on, but it means that I will be OK on them for my viva.

5. My college chapel is still an oasis of calm in the madness (especially in London). On a tough day its so good to stop in, pause, reflect and pray. Its also lovely to hear the choir and organ practice drift up into the department and our office.

6. Friends, even if on the other side of the world are an amazing blessing and support. Its actually quite useful to have people to talk to when you're out of sync with the timezone you're in.

7. In line with point 6 (and a previous post this week). The internet, instant messaging, email and online voice programmes are such a boon when it comes to keeping up friendships.

Leap year post

So taking the meme idea from Revd Dr Mom.

But this seems to be more a general recollection of that time in my life. Two leap years sets takes me back to school.

29 February 2004: First year of my part-time job/part-time PhD. Struggling to do PhD work outside of my classes apart from stuff associated with work. Relationship wise I was single, having dated a couple of guys in quick succession in late 2003/early 2004. This was mainly to get over the boy not wanting a long distance relationship, it didn't really work. This period of time was when I was at my most promiscuous. Not something I'm particularly proud of, and not necessarily would do the same again, but don't totally regret it.

29 February 2000: This was when I was starting to realise my first undergrad degree really wasn't for me. If it was a week day I would have spent it in lab, playing with chemicals. I was with my first long term boyfriend (who by the end of the year I would no longer be with).

29 February 1996: GCSE year at school which means I was hanging out with some unhealthy relationships, but saved by Saturday morning music school friends. We either had just or were about to compete in the National Festival of Music for Youth regionals in concert band. In this year we actually got through to the finals in the Royal Festival Hall in London. We were writing our Records of Achievement, which bizarrely I'm following my 16 year old aspirations (on a varied timeline).

29 February 1992: School, first year of secondary school. Not much was happening, I was finding my feet a bit.

29 February 1988: This would be my first year at junior school, I was probably off sick at home. That school year I spent as much time off school as in, which may have been a good thing as I was bored out of my brain. That year I had chicken pox, suspected German Measles and multiple chest infections. I brought chicken pox home and it spread to Gillian and my poor Mum, who hadn't had it before. Dad had to stay home from work to look after us all.

29 February 1984: I was at playschool. I think we had snow around this period of time looking at pictures of me and friends (who I am still friends with now) in family photo albums.

29 February 1980: Mum was 6 months pregnant with me!