Saturday, November 26, 2005

Fish and the Big Freeze

It is Cold. Every ten years or so a particularly hard winter comes along. Or it is yet another manifestation of climate change and the intensification of extreme weather. Or the Gulf Stream has reversed (although I fail to see very badly CGed wolves running around our frozen streets a la The Day After Tomorrow). Or whatever. At any rate, it is Cold, it has been Cold for two weeks now and it is only getting Colder. Yesterday Cambridge saw its first flakes of snow, while lots of people had to abandon their cars on some moor somewhere else in England which got rather more snow. Pretty, but it needs to snow a hell of a lot more before it is worth this Cold!

I went into the lab today to do a couple of hours of fishy work (it's back to the spiky sticklebacks!) and discovered that I made a mistake on Friday, so I have to re-do another couple of hours of videoing, so I am going back into the lab early tomorrow morning (Sunday!) to do it. All I could think at the point was, I have too much scientific integrity for my own good. At least I was in a good mood today and therefore didn't swear at the fish concerned (which I did do on Monday although I thought I never would, the stress of final year work and PhD applications and all is making me go slightly insane, and why wouldn't these bloody fish eat the bloody bloodworms I was charmingly pippetting right onto their noses), but rather just amusedly thought myself a bit of a git.

Went for dinner tonight with CL and neither of our cards got accepted, so he very charmingly legged it out into the Cold to get money from an ATM (which turned out to have run out of cash so he had to nick some off a passing friend) while I sat in the restaurant and deleted old messages on my phone and pretended that I do in fact have good credit. Haha. Odd really, card's never been rejected before.

Might have had to do with rather large deposit for an Operation Wallacea expedition I am trying to go on next summer. Operation Wallacea is a group of several hundred UK scientists and students who have established field sites in Indonesia, Honduras, Egypt and Cuba, to which they go every summer for 10 weeks to survey biodiversity, plan, implement and monitor conservation schemes, and generally study reef and forest systems. I am planning to go to the Indonesian marine site (the island of Hoga off Sulawesi), to act as a Research Assistant. I hope also to get my Dive Master qualification, and subsequently provide DM cover for hard coral and reef fish survey teams and students doing dissertations on cleaner wrasse behaviour, which I would also be interested in investigating myself. This is all very pertinent to my future career as I am hoping to do a PhD working on coral reef fish behaviour, linking it to population structure and conservation implications. The expedition will cost me GBP1750 and I am going to be actively fundraising so that I can go on it -- if I don't raise a significant portion of this money I'm simply not going to be able to afford to go, although I would love to! As a small portion of my personal fundraising effort I am hereby announcing a Present Amnesty: for Christmas this year and my 21st birthday next May, do NOT give me presents if you were going to -- contribute to my Operation Wallacea fund instead! Any little is really appreciated.

Submitting the Princeton application tonight if I have the guts (and my credit is no longer shot). Fingers crossed. May they invite me to interview in the midst of the New England winter, I can chat to them about the Meaning of Cold.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Canterbury Tales

Yesterday morning I hied myself off to the venerable heart of Anglicanism to take an American standardised test -- three hours of multiple choice questions on things that I learnt in my first year and have since completely forgotten, taken after having woken up at 4:55am in order to catch the 5:41 train from London Victoria. Oh and in way of sustenance one very bad coffee from Canterbury East railway station; my stomach kept growling embarrassingly through the test but then I wasn't the only one (quite a number of us had stumbled out of that 5:41 train!).

After the test I wandered into the town centre (it is a tiny little place, as far as I can figure out it consists of the historic town centre bordered by the old Roman city walls, with a garden, a modern shopping complex, and the cathedral), bought myself a hot-dog by way of further sustenance, and made my way to the Cathedral. It was great! I bought a little two pound official guide and walked all around it reading everything I was supposed to read and looking at interesting gargoyles and archbishop tombs. I even lit a candle in one of the chapels for 20p. Heh. Although I am not religious at all, I have to say that I can identify with the peace and spirituality of some places of worship -- they are calming places, and you can see that they were built to commune with God. I stood upon the site of Thomas Becket's martyrdom and gloried in the movie-like drama as the guide book told me that "at dusk on 29 December 1170, Henry II's knights burst in through the cloister door behind you... they violently attacked him with swords, eventually killing him on these stones". I didn't get to see a good section of the cathedral, particularly the corona chapel (build to house St Thomas' corona, or top of his head, which is somewhat gruesome surely), because there was a choir and musical accompaniment rehearsing Bach's Magnificat blocking the way, but on the other hand I got to hear Bach's Magnificat from the voices of men and babes (babes here referring to little boys and not curvy women, although they would serve similar singing purposes). I shall stop now before I make too many jokes about a sacred place and inadvertently offend some of you!

On the train ride back to London a young father and his little four-ish daughter were sitting near me. Overheard as I drifted in and out of sleep, tired by the 5am start, the test and the tourism:
"Daddy, when are we going in a tunnel?"
"Soon, darling."
"Yes, darling?"
"It's gone all dark!"
"It's a tunnel."
"Why has it gone all dark?"
"We're in a tunnel, angel."
"Oh! Now I can see again!"

At first I thought this was impossibly cute, but after several tunnels and several repeat performances in the same high-pitched shrieking little girl voice, I thought it was just impossible.

As we got off at London Victoria:
"Daddy, where is that girl going? That black girl." (referring to me! I always thought I was yellow. Or brown.)
"I don't know, dear. I don't know her."

You know, I always did want to have kids at some point, but sometimes I wonder.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Summer's end

Okay, yes, I know this order makes no sense whatsoever but here is another thing I dug up from my computer that was written for the blog about a month or so ago (only now I have run out and my next post will have to actually be a real live current one).

I am now a Part II Zoologist. This means I spend much of my time wading through densely written scientific papers, ferrying fish around, squinting at statistics programmes on the computer wondering what the heck my data actually means, but other than the reading load life is really not too bad. It is interesting stuff (the joy of university really is that you get to study what you like), and in my drive to apply for PhDs I am actually reading journals for interest, which in prior experience is only done by the keen nuts who hand in 20 page essays and nod at every obscure theory supervisors mention in passing. Hopefully soon I shall be a nodder too, although I must endeavour to remain seemingly un-keen. But really producing a major dance show and working out the logistics of applying to the states and doing GREs and such are limitations on my maximum potential keenness level. Oh, and my innate laziness.

Summer was great, the fish did me proud, my sister got married another two times, I went diving at Sipadan. It's a pity that the blog wasn't up then because of course I cannot be bothered to write about it now. Oh, but I saw a hammerhead! Well theoretically I saw a hammerhead, in actuality all I saw was a shark's body swimming away from me at high speed, and really a hammerhead body looks like any other shark body... but other people saw its head and I don't care, I shall pretend I did see a hammerhead. The diving in general was simply spectacular -- barracuda point certainly lived up to its name, I just hung there for ages gawping at the huge circling mass, and I actually got bored of nudibranchs at one point. The sheer diversity of crazy things (especially at Mabul island where we lived) was brilliant -- harlequin ghost pipefish and frog anglerfish and everything! I know most of you who read this are non-divers so I shall desist. But fish are pretty! Oh oh and I had a close encounter with a turtle. I had my sister's underwater camera, and I was just doodling along trying to take a picture of some boring fish, when my other sister tapped me on the head. Looked up and there was a little turtle just half a metre away. I snapped -- it lifted itself off the coral -- snapped -- it swam towards me -- snapped -- it kept swimming towards me -- snapped -- it had a good close up look at the shiny strange plastic lens thing -- snapped -- curiosity satisfied, it finned away. The series of photographs is hilarious, of a turtle getting closer and closer and then this completely out of focus photo of a turtle eye, will put the photos up when I can get them off my sister.

And now although I ought to go to sleep I shall quickly do that quiz thing that Qiong deigned to stick me on as an afterthought, although I will remove the last section as I don't actually know 7 other people whose blogs I regularly read!

Seven Things That Scare Me
1. Dark alleyways
2. Cool People, esp. when Drunk in Clubs
3. Losing people I love
4. The Future - exciting, but scary
5. Suddenly finding out I hate research and will have to become a ballet teacher
6. Not ever living in the same country as, well, you know
7. Venerable old men and women on admissions committees

Seven Things That I Like Most
1. People -- friends, boyfriend, family (in no particular order!)
2. My charmed life, in general
3. Living things (I am a biologist for a reason.)
4. Dance
5. Good food, especially of SE Asian/Japanese/Italian varieties
6. Novels about nothing much that you can sink into
7. Long, funny, insightful conversations with anyone (sounds like a personal. yeuch.)

Seven Important Things In My Room
1. Plants (my "tree" - indoor foliage 1m high plant, and two pots of unidentified pretty flowers)
2. Stan and Henry F.
3. Music, means of producing
4. Yes, yes, the laptop and the internet connection
5. My posters and photos -- they make it mine
6. Lots and lots of books
7. Fruit in my fruit basket (!)

Seven Random Facts About Me
1. I like sea slugs
2. When in leadership positions, I appear to be scary without trying
3. My left leg turns out more than my right
4. When I was 7 I stole a pack of smarties from the sundry store
5. I never use short forms in my text messages
6. The better I know people, the more childish I am with them
7. I sleep a lot

Seven Things I Plan To Do Before I Die
1. Go to New York -- this December!
2. See a whale shark (fingers crossed)
3. Be a superwoman. Career and kids and all.
4. Find out something significant nobody has ever known before (i.e. do a PhD!)
5. Go skiing (again)
6. Become a good cook (just because I like eating good food!)
7. Make the world a happier place (haha)

Seven Things I Can Do
1. Dance
2. Multitask
3. Take exams
4. Dive
5. Hit the snooze button every 9 minutes for 2 hours
6. Identify hundreds of fish, inverts and coral (at least at some point in my past)
7. Love

Seven Things I Can't Do
1. Sleep properly in cattle class
2. Wake up when the alarm goes off
3. Turn solid double pirouettes every single time
4. Be a Cool Person
5. Pay attention during statistics lectures
6. Remember to attach files to long emails
7. Grow taller ;)

This is taking too long and I need to be in the library early tomorrow, so that innate laziness will remove the penultimate two sections too. Bleah. :)

Happy Hens

I wrote this in summer near the end of August but the website had just gone down at that point so I never got round to posting it:

Why I am feeling happy as an organic hen, despite it having pissed down all day today:
1. Work was remarkably fluid and blessedly short now that I am down to dealing with only 18 spiky glassy-eyed but adorable three-spined sticklebacks a day, as compared to 38 last week.

2. Allowing me time to sit in a succession of cafes and common rooms where it was warm and not pissing it down and read Stephen Fry's "The Hippopotamus", a highly gripping, funny and inspirational novel about a deluded fifteen year old boy who has sex with an older woman, a horse, a former priest and a 14 year old girl with braces (orally), in that order.

3. At lunch, as I rose to put my tray away like a Good Citizen, my innocent wandering eye lit upon the open page of the book that the sad looking bloke in the mackintosh sitting next to me had been engrossed in: "Fifty Ways to Keep Your Lover". Feeling at risk of bursting out in public and unjustifiably cruel laughter, I hurriedly picked up my bag and cleared out to laugh further away from the source of merriment.

4. I am going home in 5 days, to see family and what friends remain in south east asia and me lovely lovely boyfriend (you are allowed to puke now, unless you are the said boyfriend).

5. I bought a Big Issue, which always puts me in a good mood because it assauges my guilt about not Saving the World. Cheap and awful, I know. Oh well.

6. Radio 2 plays wonderful jazz.

7. I'm alive! I'm alive!

That's seven good reasons to be happy, I think.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Friends, Lovers, Chocolate

I woke up at 1:30 in the afternoon today – such a decadent student lifestyle, indeed – after a somewhat alcoholic friend’s birthday party that involved an early morning trip to Homerton (a cab ride away, which is rather unheard of in our little town), chosen largely because it was the only one of our rooms with more alcohol. I think the thing about drinking is that one doesn’t take it as the principal thing (or at least one shouldn’t) – it is drinking in good company that makes the difference.

I spent the afternoon blearily talking to those whom I love in different ways, and then took myself out into the rain to run errands and grab a coffee in my favourite coffee haunt, Caffe Nero in Heffers bookstore, ostensibly to work over but I ended up carrying on reading Alexander McCall Smith’s “Friends, Lovers and Chocolate” instead. It was a pleasing read. Philosophical, gripping. Not words one normally puts together (especially not I, anyway, one who is often dismissive of philosophy in a way that really bemoans my inability to quite get to grips with it – too much fuzziness for a scientist). I value these peaceful afternoons more and more, snatched out of final-year madness – I think moments like these are needed, are good for whatever soul I may have, although I am aware that it may only be a vain justification. But what good can come of going on and on like the Duracell bunny without ever pausing for breath? There is a roundedness to character that comes, I think, or taking time to absorb words and thoughts crafted lovingly in novels and books.

I love, too, the whole atmosphere of an afternoon spent reading – is it perhaps unique to a university town? I suppose not, I suppose the lovers of books and coffee are everywhere now (and really I am only a fraud because I only read fiction and mostly current fiction at that), but forgive me if I take a certain pride in this town I have come to love, a town where people have thought and written and read and learned for eight hundred years. I was raised to believe in tradition and history; I am drawn to the old and sedate and dignified (and crumbling), and I don’t really see that I should need to apologise for it. (I think I feel the need to apologise for far too much, really. Must we really take the burden of the world onto our shoulders?)

So it was time taken out, and much like something I wrote also about coffee (my poison of choice really!), I refuse to feel guilty for it. Tonight I must plunge back into final-year madness, and contemplate the joys of population biology – not really such a chore as the greatest thing Cambridge has given me is a true love of my subject matter, something I feel truly lucky to have – but I thought I would try to capture the moment while it lasted, and share it with some of you.