Saturday, December 29, 2012

(re)-hello, world

So, a small close-to-New-Year resolution/experiment to start writing a blog again.  Reading through it recently made me think my life was previously rather exciting, and the lack of recent entries makes me wonder if my life is now rather less exciting, but perhaps these are causal in the counter-intuitive direction and there is something about the art of public diarying (as opposed to "proper blogging" about politics or suchlike) that is good for you, your sense of place in the world and luck to be living in it.

I suppose "dance, books, coffee breaks and fish" is no longer quite as apt as perhaps "another upper middle class day", however I think I had better desist from such a depressing tagline and get as much dance, coffee breaks and fish into this as I'm able.  Here goes nothing!

I have sadly not seen very much live dance recently -- in fact I've been to the theatre more, with recent trips to the NT to see two very different plays: Scenes from an Execution and The Magistrate.  The first, thought provoking and such a tour de force of acting, but quite frankly a little bit "up itself" for my taste although perhaps that is just me being a philistine.  The second, some lovely light entertainment and also it was nice to see an all singing all dancing John Lithgow on stage (good plummy English accent).  Truly gorgeous sets, so intricately and vibrantly designed and with some whizz bang motors revolving things and unfolding things all over the place.  It made me think that dance just doesn't do clever enough things with sets, or at least I've not seen very much dance that does -- we are usually too obsessed with having enough space to jete.  So much potential there, not just for narrative dances but also incredible stagecraft ideas, I can just see dancers clambering all over bits of moving set everywhere... (expensive, I'm sure, and in need of an extremely gung ho set designer/technical team).

Really must go and see more dance, I've had tickets to multiple things this year but work and various personal emergencies got in the way and I missed the Royal Ballet's Titian tribute as well as Cedar Lake and also Ballet Black.  Gutted!  Must make more of an effort...  Perhaps to make up for it I started watching the Nutcracker on YouTube this Christmas and funnily enough my three year old nephew got well into it and is now even doing pirouettes all over the place.  I am rather pleased with this, even though his uncle's response is that he needs more male influence in his life :)

Even doing dance is happening a little -- CCD has made a little dance film of a piece that Merrilees made earlier in the year, which has been lots of fun.  Trying to see if we can hatch plans for a proper performance next year.  It would be utterly fantastic to get the company back into real performing mode, so I'm very keen, but we will have to make sure we have enough producing capacity to make it happen (I'm fairly confident we will find enough keen dancers which is wonderful).

Quiet: The Power of Introverts
Recent and rather atypical read on my trusty Kindle (which is stuffed with novels and occasional history books brought on by ignorance-induced guilt).  It seemed a bit of a hard sell and unfortunately my scientifically trained brain always goes into alarm-bell-ringing sceptical mode whenever faced with social science, or even psychology when it starts to wander a little down the self-help route.  However, much of the book hit very close to home.  I'm not sure at what point I drifted from being somewhere in the middle of the introvert-extrovert continuum to being a strong introvert, but that is certainly where I self-identify these days.

It is certainly true that work is an extremely extrovert environment.  My workplace definitely is and I will perhaps never stop receiving feedback that I could "be more rah" (there are future CEO Myers-Brigg ENTJs all around me!), but I have learnt (and am still learning) an awful lot about how I can contribute, be heard and even perhaps lead in such an environment.  I'm also lucky enough that we understand the E/I thing fairly well at work and I don't (no longer) feel guilty about not going to dinner every night with the team!  I actually think that pretty much everybody needs to sometimes just get some "head down time" where we can stop talking and actually think -- the good thing is, I generally do get this, and feel like I can shout to make sure I get it if I don't.

I am less sure about the soundness of the advice in the book to choose work that is more suited to an introverted personality.  (I recognise the value of understanding yourself and your environment, but balk at the idea that you should use a personality test as some sort of predictor of happiness in a career.)  I've tried the research thing, for example, and even as a strong introvert it can be very isolating.  I don't think it is untrue to say that a lot of people do what they do because of the people around them -- introverts included.  Whilst I get a deep sense of happiness and satisfaction whenever I see a rare day stretching ahead of me where I can just get my head down and think and work by myself, if I did that every day I think I would really quite quickly get bored!  But perhaps more importantly and more generically, I think there is some danger in thinking about career through the lens of personality, in that you may rule yourself out of things.  The author in fact gives a great counter example of an incredibly effective introvert salesman.  Now the idea to me of hard selling things to people I don't know is anathema, but clearly there is an introverted way to do it, and if that salesman had followed the advice in the book he would never have figured that out.

Um, I don't really have these anymore!  Very sad.  Earlier in December this year I did have a couple because D was away and I had a couple of weekends to myself, so I plonked myself in a cafe and read a book and had a too-sweet Christmas coffee.  It was really very satisfying indeed and I must promise myself to magically find the time to do it more often.

None recently sighted other than my nephew's guppies, but tomorrow I leave for the Visayas in the Philippines, hurrah hurrah, I can't wait to get under the sea again.  A whale shark would be wonderful, but some fusiliers will do just fine.

Friday, September 09, 2011

One year on

So I am slowly but surely creeping up to one year on the job, which is something of a milestone. On the whole it has been very kind to me indeed, possibly excepting this last month in which I found myself quite regularly doing 14 hour days and discovering that this is not really conducive to holding all the rest of the parts of one's life together (I only discovered exactly how many other things I was committed to when my work took over and I started enumerating the number of people I was letting down!). On the other hand, the last month has also been a milestone in terms of the independence and impact that I am starting to feel I can personally make on my teams. Nothing comes so easily it seems... We are now nearing the end which means I can have a bit of a breather and write this blog :)

In terms of other commitments, perhaps the largest has been the circus, still work-related, deary me -- other than the fact that it has eaten my weekends, it has been lots of fun, very bruise-inducing, and a great challenge (largely to my upper body strength). Several months on, I feel we've gone from trapeze virgins to trapeze performers (no innuendo intended, no really!) which is not to be sneezed at... We are performing next weekend, and lots of people are coming to watch the somewhat dubious spectacle of management consultants trying to put on a circus.

There is less other excitement on the horizon now that I've only just come back from a summer family holiday in Tuscany (I've been back two weeks but it feels like two months). In the misty future somewhere there is the prospect of Singapore - Bali - Hong Kong - Singapore - Sydney over Christmas and New Year's. I've decided the main purpose of holidays is not so much the holiday itself but so that one has something to look forward to!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Silent weekend/Taking it slower

This weekend was dominated by laryngitis, which I seem to get every few years in acute form. It has been particularly bad this time round and I could only manage a whisper all Saturday and Sunday -- now I can croak, but it takes quite a lot of effort and is not very intelligible. It is weird not to be able to speak -- I carried around a pen and notebook for the weekend -- and sticks you firmly with your own thoughts much of the time, which can be either frustrating or sort of peaceful, depending on how you look at it.

Loss of voice aside, it was actually a rather nice weekend. Friday night after work we went to a picnic concert at Kenwood House (on Hampstead Heath). Watched the Gipsy Kings play, along with a whole sea of other concert goers with picnic blankets and hampers. Lots of fun, if a little disappointingly cold -- most were heavily bundled up by the end of the night. I seem to have spent far too much of my life in sombre concert halls, and am only just discovering live music in outdoor, summer, casual settings. Pulp at the Wireless Festival last weekend in Hyde Park was good too, albeit in a different way -- more beer and chips, fewer picnic rugs, but kinder weather!

Saturday was relaxed. Coffee at our little caf on the railway bridge -- excellent for bacon sandwiches. Skipped trapeze class as the laryngitis has been brought on by quite a bad cold, and hanging upside down did not seem a good cure for either. Dim sum lunch at Phoenix Palace -- never fails. Then a stroll through Marylebone and Oxford Street. Second coffee at Apostrophe in St Christopher's Place, friends enjoying the sun and chattering away, only downside was that the volume of this chatter was such that one with literally no voice found it hard to converse. Then home to roast a chicken. We decided to try out the "beer can up the butt" method, which is a bit undignified for the bird, but produced some absolutely beautiful falling apart moist roast chicken. Definitely worth it.

Sunday. Decided to head to my friend's birthday picnic in Greenwich Park despite some slightly dubious weather and a continued lack of working vocal chords. Turns out to be a good decision -- excellent company, too much picnic food, weather fined up so sunny and beautiful, lack of working vocal chords (plus notebook) probably provided rest of the guests with party entertainment. Although picnic as a spectator event is a bit weird, really. Head home in very leisurely fashion, wandering through Greenwich Village and taking the Thames Clipper back to Waterloo. A really good £4.95 spent, what lovely tourist views all along the Thames, hadn't realised Tower Bridge is such a fantasy.

Monday. Took the day off as I am still coughing and spluttering everywhere, and really quite dubious as to how effective a team member I can be when I cannot speak (will find out tomorrow). First day off since I started the job 9.5 months ago, which means almost first day to myself since that time. Certainly the first day to myself in which I have been forced to not do very much for health reasons. Surprisingly wonderful. Do some work from home, catch up on errands, but fit in a little time in the sun on the Heath at lunch. Very, very peaceful with dogs everywhere, some coming to snuffle my picnic box. Back to it tomorrow -- but good to take it slow every so often.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A few of my favourite things

Not really into brown paper packages tied up in string, but rather:

My new Kindle, which was a great birthday present from D. I carry it absolutely everywhere, it slots into my laptop bag a treat, and it has allowed me to indulge my escapism in fiction despite long(er) hours and a distinct lack of quiet evenings at home reading. I have sadly fallen prey to Amazon's ability to increase the amount I pay for books tenfold (having been a keen purveyor of discount bookstores in my previous life), but quite frankly it makes me happy so who cares? I've been wending my way through more of the Peter Carey ouevre, most recently with Parrot and Olivier in America, and the True History of the Kelly Gang. He has the most extraordinary ventriloquism I've ever read, an ability to inhabit the mind and voice of his protagonists that is uncanny. It is a good thing he is so prolific as I have many more of his books to read. D has claimed veto rights on the Kindle (i.e. he is allowed to take it away when I start reading at dinner or whilst walking down the street or other such childhood habits which my mother had to deal with), which is probably a good thing!

Discovering ashtanga yoga, which I mostly do at a very lovely studio called Triyoga in Primrose Hill (with a couple of branches much closer to my work too). Sadly my favourite teacher has had to stop for the summer as she is due to give birth in about a week (was still demonstrating headstands with three weeks to go!), but I can pop into any other ashtanga class too. I love that it is a bit of everything, exertion, technique, philosophy, endurance, personal space, with a neverending challenge (I know this from one week accidentally wandering into a very advanced class which I should probably not go back to for several years!). When I'm not at yoga I try to make space to dance (contemporary, jazz, ballet, whatever!) or now that it's light late I run around West Hampstead and St John's Wood gawking at the mansion blocks, then I turn left into Kilburn and wonder if I should really be running through this council estate at dusk...

The variety of my work: this week I got to read and write about two large global metals and mining companies, a luxury hotel chain, a pharmaceutical company, a diversified company that does just about everything, a great technology company, and the list goes on. As I'm settling into work as well it's great to be feeling comfortable enough to start getting involved in things around the office outside of my actual engagements too -- I'm involved in UK PhD recruiting but probably more excitingly I am learning the static trapeze! No really -- for our office challenge this year we are putting on a circus! Who knows what a circus put on by a whole load of consultants is going to be like, but I'm having great fun learning to clamber around in the air (blisters, aching shoulders and all). Bonus, they just promoted me (nothing to do with the trapeze skills as far as I know), so feeling particularly positive about the whole job thing at the moment. Give me a few weeks and I may be on a new engagement which has me working all hours, and my tone will surely change...

Spending weekends with D. I like our rituals, coffee somewhere on West End Lane, dim sum at Phoenix Palace, a Sunday evening movie, rambles through the Heath; but I also like that weekends are often very different: I head when I can to Bath's Georgian teahouses (loving the fact that I don't have to get on a Tube for two days), we've gone back up to Cambridge often to do dance performances/graduate from PhDs/see lovely friends, and London often provides with randomness when you're out of ideas (a very urban beach/sandpit on the Southbank, the Wireless Festival in Hyde Park in a few weeks, canal walks through unexplored neighbourhoods yielding finds such as establishments selling meat pies and jellied eel).

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Living in London

[insert usual apologies for neglecting blog here]

I have now been in London some 8 months which I suppose is long enough to feel somewhat settled. As I spent a fair amount of my early twenties agonising over whether I should really be spending quite so large a portion of my life in the rarefied atmosphere of Cambridge, and yearning for the-grass-is-greener 'Real World', it is reassuring to find that life in London is, after all, rather jolly good (although the literal grass is definitely not as manicured as Cambridge's).

How my time is spent, in order of decreasing average number of hours spent/week:

A taxi driver told me once that this phrase "covered all manner of sins", but I will try to cover my sheepishness at now being a "management consultant". The glaring difference in 'cool factor' between being a marine biologist and a management consultant is by no means lost on me, but I remain convinced that it was the right choice. My new profession would have me now come up with "three killer reasons" why this is so, and despite my best attempts to be contrary it is in fact three that spring to mind:

As advertised on the tin
1. This job is a fantastic way to broaden your horizons. I now know far, far more about Industries X, Y and Z than I ever thought I would, and my understanding of how this society works, and how people work, is the better for it.
2. My work now actually requires me to talk to people, probably more than my introversion would have me do naturally, which is great -- because people here (both colleagues and clients) are interesting folk by and large, hugely supportive, friendly, and come with a rather refreshing lack of academic pseudo-autism.

As not advertised on the tin (or at least advertised in smaller font)
3. For all that we get criticised for going in and telling people what they already know, in at least some of the work I've done I have felt a massive sense of service. To help people see how they can make things close to their hearts really happen, to do it with a sense that they always come first, to see my work making a difference to individuals -- this is more satisfying that I ever thought it would be.

I have been incredibly lucky such that 8 hours is not a problem to obtain; I also for the first time in my life have a real-sized bed rather than a college single; I have slept on said real-sized bed far more than the 'jetset' consultant lifestyle might have allowed (the furthest away I have worked is Birmingham!) -- all good things.

I live in West Hampstead and am quite a fan of the Jubilee line no matter how we like to moan about it (although last week's peak hour delay due to a "loose screw" was probably cutting it fine). It takes me half an hour to the office, so I don't much mind it really. Also love the 139 bus, particularly as on the way home from late nights in Soho it deposits me about 30 metres from the door!

The awesomeness of living in a big city means that there is a neverending supply of fantastic restaurants to discover, many of them neighbourhood gems rather than glitzy Michelin starred pretentiousness. Quickly becoming favourites: Tamada (Georgian, giant xiao long bao!), Saracino (best Italian meats ever), Atari-ya (great sushi, and even has a cheap and cheerful takeaway joint near Selfridges), Koya (uber bouncy tasty udon near office), Miyama (who needs Nobu for miso black cod), Toresano (taste of Spain), Japan Centre (how does the itsu next door survive), Phoenix Palace (old standby for comforting quality dim sum), the Gallery (great Sunday roasts, always good for a drink) etc. Also had the fortune of visiting lots of great cocktail places all with some kind of clever name or other which I can't really remember now -- Experimental Cocktail Club was very tasty, and had a great birthday night at B@1 recently where the staff are fantastic and they do a mean espresso martini.

Rather hungry now, perhaps I'll be back in another year to write about London Pt II? :)

Monday, April 19, 2010

In a land far, far away

It has been six weeks since the viva, and I have been sadly lacking in communication. Partly this is because from Down Under the old world of manic thesis writing and worrying about fish seems exceedingly far away, and so too the usual procrastination devices of blog writing and the like. However, here I am to make amends!


D and I spent almost a week on Ko Tao in the Gulf of Thailand for a spot of diving and some R&R. We had no idea the red shirts were massing in Bangkok as we chilled out on the beach with endless mango shakes (so good surely because they must be 20% maple syrup?!) and accompanied by numerous scruffy but lovable beach dogs, after long days of diving. It was lovely for me to be underwater again in Gulf visibility of 20-30m; although much of the reef seemed sadly degraded and not particularly hard coral spectacular, the fish life was really pretty wonderful and I had some amazing dives at Chumphon Pinnacle and White Rock absolutely mesmerised by the shoals of fusiliers and yellowtail barracuda and "ikan bilis" being hunted by trevally. There is nothing like being surrounded by a school of gleaming flashing silver fish as the sunlight filters through their backlit streamlined forms. Other highlights included a sea krait out for a good old hunt, a scorpionfish I spotted on a ledge at 28m, going on D's last open water certification dives and a very, very cute little octopus on a snorkel off Nang Yuan Island which is actually 3 islands connected by a beach (and was famously once rented out in its entirety by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers).

The apres dive action was very lively, as the island is absolutely filled with backpackery types and has bars everywhere along Sairee Beach and in the village. It was pretty good fun if you wanted to partake of it -- I am not used to being able to go diving and then having access to a Long Island Iced Tea in a tiny shack along a road heaving with partiers and scooters. Beach BBQs and Thai pancakes were very yummy eating, and the daily THB300 massages were absolute bliss! Overall a pretty good place to unwind.


In total I think I spent about three weeks in Sydney getting to know it properly. It is, overwhelmingly, a beautiful city. Everywhere you go the harbour gleams boisterously at you and the cockatoos and lorikeets caw above your head and the bridge and opera house peek round every corner looking more photogenic by the second. A surf beach is never far away filled with tanned beautiful people baking themselves or frolicking in the sea, with a promenade lined with breakfast places serving corn fritters and scrambled eggs till noon. And all this under that famed Australian sun in a huge sky -- the light down here gorgeously gilds everything (I liked very much the Aussie light in the landscape paintings of Elioth Gruner in the NSW Art Gallery).

But being in the city for a few weeks with a local boy I think gave me a better glimpse than that of the stereotypical. Whilst we spent plenty of time on the beach and in Circular Quay staring at that famous view and in the prettykins wine bars of Surry Hills, we also had time to wander about in some of the inner city suburbs which are perhaps the most interesting parts of the city. I loved Newtown with its edgy university atmosphere and buzzing mix of vintage clothes stores for the daytime and an endless stretch of cheap Thai eats at night. We also got to visit the pretty villages of Balmain and Glebe with their cafes and bookstores, Italian Leichhardt and Five Dock where a truly excellent flat white to drink over the morning paper whilst one surreptitiously watches the Italian men talking with their hands costs only $2.50, and just five minutes away from Five Dock we stayed in Chinese Ashfield, which although bereft of good flat whites had probably the best xiao long bao in Sydney.

I loved the international nature of the city -- whilst this is of course common to any big city, I felt particularly at home with the influence of Asia and SE Asia in particular on food (hooray for laksa and sushi rolls everywhere!), and what I hope is a real tolerance that arises from being a young city subject to wave after wave of immigration. I must admit that there are things I missed from the cities of Europe that I know -- a subway system, real life in the centre of town rather than endless suburbs, grand boulevards lined with beautiful old buildings, a high street rather than shopping malls -- but then, what other city can claim beaches like Sydney's, or national parks of gum forest right in the middle of the city, or of course that endless sparkling harbour? Or, when you come to it, the kind of people who name an old fossil find the "Demon Duck of Doom" (Bullockornis planei) and then put this on a sign in the Australian Museum?

Northern New South Wales

Halfway through our stay in Sydney we took a road trip up the northern coast which turned out to be a real highlight. It is far too big a country, with us clocking up 2500km in just over a week, but there is plenty to see on the way. We first spent a couple of nights in the Hunter Valley. That we were greeted on arrival with wine, cheese, olives and port and then left to ourselves in our lovely B&B is probably a good indication of what tourism in the Hunter is like. We took a little tour of the wineries (unfortunately we did not find much spectacular -- it is perhaps more of a white wine place, although we enjoyed several of the 07 Shiraz) with plenty of kangaroo spotting in the fields along the way so I got my marsupial fix. It was pleasant enough, although I think we felt a bit like a carbon copy tourist couple!

Heading further north, we stopped in briefly in Sawtell, just south of Coffs. It is a bit of a family holiday zone, so there were yet more endless beautiful beaches and cafes to wander about, and can I be blamed for getting D to take me to see the Big Banana? Finally we headed up to Byron Bay, stopping for coffee at a very pleasant historic river town called Ullmara which with its placid river and sunny beer garden and cafe was a rather nice surprise. At Byron we had a day at the Blues and Roots Festival -- I was pretty excited as it was my first time at a music festival and best of all I got to see Buddy Guy play! He is a true blues showman, in one long set he had the audience entirely enthralled as he told us stories, sang beautifully and also played some fairly mean guitar. Other big names that day included Joe Bonamassa (fantastic guitarist, but not much of a singer...), the John Butler Trio (really enjoyable, though I don't yet understand roots music really) and Jeff Beck (bit of an aging rock god). And all this with only small downpour at the end of the night so minimal mud! After camping the night we spent the next morning eating an enormous breakfast in Byron and frolicking at the beach along with hundreds of other souls trying to avoid being taken by the enormous rip (NSW beaches are really not the wallowing type).

And then we turned back down south, driving to Dorrigo via some lovely if slightly frighteningly windy mountain roads. Dorrigo was interesting, a tiny little mountain plateau town which is an odd mixture of proper redneck country town (two pubs and an exceedingly old school RSL where they shut at 8:30pm) and a couple of rather swish cafes and B&Bs. We spent very little time in town though, as we spent our days walking in the spectacular national parks all around, and our evenings gazing out over the endless rolling views whilst the resident ponies chomped away in the field in front of the house. The walking was wonderful, particularly interesting because the area is filled with completely different microclimates and forest types -- we did one walk in subtropical rainforest, another in dry alpine gum forest, and yet another in an absolutely unexpected and wonderful Jurassic Park landscape of enormous basalt escarpments, moss-covered Antarctic beeches and cycads sprouting their fern-like fronds in any available space. Pretty wonderful and it was a good way to end the trip (discounting the mammoth drive back to Sydney).

Lizard Island Part IV
I write this from an unexpected but lovely stint on Lizard -- I did tell myself I would find some way to come back on the last day of my last field season and here I am! I am helping an old acquaintance with her PhD -- absolutely brilliant to be here without having to worry about my own project. All I do is go diving, laying transect tapes, collecting corals or the like, and when I am done I chill out on the beach with a beer and a book. Today it is a bit blustery so we have had a dry day -- I spent the afternoon getting crabs out of their home corals to weigh and measure them, and collecting their eggs to measure fertility (they go back to their corals after this and are fine). They are very cute little critters! Not a bad way to spent two weeks I think, though I am also looking forward to getting back to Cambridge and the rest of the year. I think it has taken most of the last six weeks to really relax out of the PhD and finally gain some perspective, for which I am very grateful.

Friday, March 05, 2010


Sat for 140 mins in a small room talking about my PhD. Had cup of tea and avoided biscuits in middle (neither of my examiners were eating any).