Thursday, December 28, 2006

Christmas Cheer

But first a link to photos of the pre-Christmas holiday in Florida where we dived the Keys, ate far too much (hardly a new thing) and best of all, met the manatees! I'm afraid I'm not going to write much about it. But it was a really lovely if brief holiday -- I really liked the chilled-out Keys atmosphere, and the manatees were really something special. There are probably very few other wild animals you can just go and meet and they will come up and play with you. I made friends with one in particular who kept holding my hand (really!). Aww. It is sobering to know they are severely endangered though, mainly by habitat destruction and boat-related accidents.

After America I came back to ostensibly work for a week, a difficult task when Christmas holidays were very palpably in the air. Christmas itself I spent at my friend's house in Oxford, as she'd very kindly invited me when she found out I wouldn't have any family in the country over Christmas! It has been a really long time since I'd spent Christmas in the way that I did as a child and I had a lovely time re-living it. A 7lb turkey and compulsory Brussels sprouts, presents under the tree and even a stocking full of goodies from my friend's grandma! It was such a shame that some of the family came down with some sort of nasty stomach bug/food poisoning over Christmas Day -- so it wasn't quite as full a party as originally expected, but the rest of us soldiered on and I discovered that I am not bad at all at Absolute Balderdash (useful skills for a PhD student).

Since Boxing Day I have been in London meeting up with friends, hitting the sales (oof) and today I watched both the Royal Ballet's Nutcracker and Guys and Dolls. Dr Johnson knew what he was talking about. It has been a most pleasant day indeed wandering around Covent Garden and the West End between shows. I'd not originally thought of going to see the Nutcracker -- I had already seen this production twice -- but I am so glad I did really. The costumes and sets and production design in the Royal Ballet's version are simply gorgeous and there is so much going on it sometimes doesn't matter there is little drama and virtuoso dancing in it. Who needs pyrotechnics and tragedy when you have a giant growing Christmas tree? Marianela Nunez and Thiago Soares danced a lovely grand pas de deux, she was so happy and had such a stage presence I almost didn't mind the very slightly off-sync allegro section at the end of the pas de deux. And I enjoyed Ricardo Cervera's Hans Peter/Nutcracker very much -- I'm hoping to see him promoted to principal sometime soon! The Snowflakes were also simply beautiful and so effective -- all kudos to Peter Wright of course, who apparently choreographed all that based on original notes that went something like "waltz for 4 minutes". Guys and Dolls was less breathtaking, I'm not sure if it's the musical itself (weakish story) or this production of it (minimalistic sets but without the razzle-dazzle of Chicago to compensate), but it did have its (few) high points especially in some of the big dance numbers.

Walking home from Piccadilly after the show I plugged myself into my iPod. Is it just me or does walking with music make other people also feel like they are in a music video/tv show/film? Suddenly life has a soundtrack (in this case the Grateful Dead followed by Robert Plant and the Strange Sensations). It was also nice to be out in the cool night air (autumnal rather than wintry weather these few days) after the too-hot theatre, and enjoying the sights of the Christmas light up along shopping streets no longer insanely thronged with crowds -- now just the odd party, couples, singles like me wandering along party-wards or home-wards. I was just heading up pedestrianised South Molton Street, lit up with gorgeous blue and yellow fairy lit columns on either side, Robert Plant still loudly singing away, when I thought I'd perhaps stop and take a photo. So I did almost stop, turned to look around myself, and then somehow segued into realising that the young man walking down the street the other way had similarly turned to look behind him -- that in turning myself we had both turned to catch each other's eyes. We shared a smile. I turned back, took two photos up the street. Put my camera away, was about to continue up the street, but on impulse turned again -- he was still at the bottom of the street, watching, smiling. And as I turned back again, continued to walk home, Robert Plant made the encounter seem like, well, something out a film. I smiled all the way home.

So merry Christmas everyone and have a very happy new year.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Fish, dance, the usual.

Apologies for the long absence. Not all that much exciting seems to have happened really... weekdays I do my 9-5 (more typically 9:30 to 6, actually) in department, ostensibly reading papers but really just blanking out most of the time, and weekends I mooch. It's a good life. Occasional twinges of guilt, but I figure the first year of PhD must be something of a grace period, so I'm enjoying it mostly.

I haven't been totally unproductive (although it probably comes close!) as I've finally figured out where I will be watching my fishies -- on the Great Barrier Reef! A picture of where I will be working follows... Yes, you may now turn as green as you like.

I'm also dancing far too much, as usual. Three-quarters of the way through term I foolishly decided to take on far more choreography than I'd originally intended. I currently have six dances (ranging in length from 1:15 to 13 minutes) bouncing around in my head, three of which are my own choreography, which one would think makes it easier but doesn't really... nevertheless, I am enjoying it. I seem to have experienced something of a shift in style, my body and brain now want to do contemporary movement rather than the old ballet that I used to stick some flexed feet into so I could call it contemporary. I like to think that it's all producing far more interesting stuff to watch. I haven't done a ballet class for months and while I used to miss it so much, now I think if I went into one I'd probably find the forcing of my body into turnout and square alignment and holding everything permanently (you never let go of a single muscle in ballet, I think!) very restrictive. It's discipline that I still value tremendously of course and I really should go back into ballet class, and you want dancers to be able to produce perfect arabesques and pirouettes so that they know exactly how to let go of that, but I suppose I knew I was never built for ballet. It's nice to finally stop feeling a bit of an imposter in the whole "I dance contemporary" thing, at least!

It is absolutely brilliant though. In the finale piece of this year's show I get to be a fish for about 5 seconds, doing breast stroke (okay, so maybe more a frog) in mid air. Everybody thinks it is hilariously apt and that I should probably do it in full scuba gear.

Only another week of work before I rather cheekily take off for slightly over a week's holiday in the States. We are going to Florida to dive and meet the manatees! I can't wait.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

What Nemo Did Next

Recent conversations with a banker and a lawyer (to be) have reminded me that the little fishy world I inhabit is in fact unutterably cool and interesting, and that most people don't know that much about it, and therefore it is bloggable! Ha. You spend your days in the office reading paper after paper after paper, and occasionally you get excited by something stupidly esoteric that only your supervisor would also get excited by (you hope), and you forget that the basic facts of the system are really pretty fascinating in themselves.

What Nemo Did Next, if he had a long and happy life, is that he turned into a woman. Quite a lot of marine fish are sequentially hermaphroditic, changing sex either from female to male or from male to female at some point in their lives. Nemos (or more accurately the clown anemonefish Amphiprion percula) are a particularly well-studied system due to some funky guy who figured it all out whilst living in Madang Bay in Papua New Guinea, isn't the marine biologist's life a tough one? These clownfish live in anemones, as you know, and in each anemone lives a little social group -- the largest fish is female, the second largest male, and all the rest don't actually breed. There is a really strict linear hierarchy based on the relative sizes of the fish in the social group, so the female is Top Fish, followed by the male (clownfish have got it right!), followed by the rest in decreasing size. When the female dies, everybody else grows quickly and moves up a rank: no. 2 changes sex from male to female, no. 3 becomes the breeding male, and every one else is one step closer to the Top Fish Position. So if you think about it, Marlin (Nemo's dad) should really have turned into his Mum within a few weeks of his Mum being eaten by the big scary barracuda. Not that his Mum was his real Mum anyway, he was adopted, because when the eggs hatch (after being very very carefully tended for 2-4 days by the father and not the mother -- did I say something about clownfish getting it right?) the larvae just get swept away by the current and eventually when the baby fish get big enough they pick a random anemone to join -- hardly likely to be the one they came from originally.

But you know, I love the film, and they got the coral looking quite realistic, so I don't really mind that they didn't try to explain to all these kids that what Nemo really wanted to be when he grew up was, well, a girl.

P/S Lots of other fish do it the other way round, with females turning into males, especially when the males need to be big and powerful in order to maintain harems of females. So when you are small, you might as well be female so you can reproduce a little bit; when you get bigger you change sex into male so you can reproduce a lot (by mating with lots of females in your harem). Currently I'm hoping to study some fish which do this. It's very cool because some females, instead of patiently waiting to move up the hiearchy step by step towards big male-ness, try to employ alternative strategies like changing sex earlier and hanging around as a small bachelor male, growing quickly (not using any energy on producing eggs as a female) to a size where they are big enough to compete for harems; or changing sex and trying to sequester some of the harem's females for themselves so splitting the harem, etc. etc. And it's even cooler because more and more such fish are turning out to be able to reverse their initial sex change, which brings up all kinds of other questions about whether a small male might give up and change back to female.

So anyway really my PhD is about how fish try to have as much sex as possible. If you think about it. Hmm.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Happy Stomachs

The boyfriend is visiting, which always prompts eating a lot of good food. Highlights from the past week include:

- Sunday roast at the Eagle, a lovely (if touristy) pub in central Cambridge, where Watson and Crick announced their discovery of DNA. It also has a ceiling with graffiti by RAF and US Air Force bombers during WWI and II. But all that pales in comparison to the Yorkshire puds.

- Buttered scones and apple pie washed down with good old quality English Breakfast tea at the Orchard. Down in the village of Grantchester a few miles south of Cambridge, the Orchard has been serving "morning coffee, light luncheons and afternoon tea" to Cambridge students since 1897 under its apple trees. It was home to Rupert Brooke who was often visited there by his pals "The Granchester Group", including Virginia Woolf, Bertrand Russell and Maynard Keynes. But still, you know, what would it be without the scones?

- Lovely Vietnamese food at tiny little Thanh Binh on Bridge Street. Had an exceedingly yummy duck hotpot with vermicelli.

- Unagi bento set and salmon sashimi at Teri-Aki. Felt thirsty afterwards, but the lure of Japanese food and MSG filled miso soup is simply too much.

- Dinner at the Vaults on Trinity Street, an underground restaurant/bar. Very stylish stuff and such brilliant food. All dishes are starter size, much like tapas, but food is a diverse mixture of European, Middle Eastern, Oriental. My favourites were pigeon breast with chorizo in a red cabbage sauce, roasted aubergines stuffed with tomatoes and spicy rice, and butternut squash mash.

- My very own culinary work. College has taken my gas ring away by command of that paranoia incarnate known as The Fire Safety Officer, but I am surreptitiously cooking on a very serviceable electric cooker I own. And thus managed to produce:

1. The classic melon and parma ham (and some salami for good measure)

2. Tapenade spaghetti -- so yummy I was quite impressed, but the ingredients make so much sense really. And so unbelievably easy to make as it is a no cook sauce! Will definitely add this to my list of everyday things to make for dinner.

3. Cod poached in a tarragon broth -- again surprisingly yummy, I was quite sceptical about having to pour loads of orange juice into the broth, but it was great and went wonderfully with the fish.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Life between tea breaks

The first week of real PhD-ing is just over and it hasn't been bad at all, really. As far as I can tell academic life is really just one long glorified tea break interspersed with occasional bouts of work. The tea room serves tea (20p), coffee (35p) and various unhealthy tempting munchies everyday at 10:15 and 3:15 for about an hour. So you get into the office somewhere between nine and ten, and then you contemplate tea at about ten or eleven, and then you have lunch about twelve or one, and then you contemplate tea again at three or four, and then you go home about five or six.

It is incredible how anybody gets any work done (something my sister was also amazed at when she rejoined academia after years in finance -- the culture shock!), particularly as throughout the week there are also lots of exciting talks and seminars about ants and moths and cuckoos and whatnot (ain't zoology great). Somehow we manage it, though, I think I have learnt a significant amount about humbug damselfish over the past few days following the great paper trail through Web of Science, albeit probably less than I would have if I didn't have so much tea. (I only actually go to tea once a day, three breaks in a working day seems very slightly excessive...) In my bid to do a proper literature search on these little fishies I have properly availed myself of Cambridge's impressive library facilities, even making an early evening trip to the University Library in search of this 1977 paper in a journal called, deep breath now, Helgoländer wissenschaftliche Meeresuntersuchungen. It took me 20 minutes to even find the journal in the stacks on the top floor in the furthest corner of the South Front, and then I had to walk to the other corner of the library (please understand this is a library which stocks every single published book in the UK and then some) to photocopy it. Now that is what I call dedication. But I do love the UL, it makes me feel like the human species does know a little bit about the world and it is so nice to know that I can read about it all. Um, theoretically.

There is a lot to be said for tea and lunch breaks though. It is lovely to be in an environment where everybody is honestly excited about their work -- and what work it is. Up on the third floor where I have lunch with members of the Large Animal Research Group (mostly meerkats, to be honest, although also deer and sheep) and my own Evolutionary Ecology Group (bit of a random name, Behavioural Ecology and Conservation Mostly Underwater is slightly more accurate but a mouthful), the conversations veer back and forth between the next Nature paper somebody's got coming out, sightings of the rare Giant Crested Newt, anonymous papers involving beard clipping mass as related to testosterone levels as related to the next time the hirsute Anon. would see his girlfriend, Pratchett and Dawkins (in that order; we have our priorities right), and feeding discarded kittens to pet snakes, I kid you not.

Outside of the working day life continues much as before, although much improved by the fact that because I spend all day in department I feel no pressure to work after I get home, leaving me time to do too much dancing as well as a happy level of socialising. The lack of essay crises is novel and a wonderful thing indeed.

Sunday, October 01, 2006


I write this ensconced very familiarly at my old desk in my somewhat palatial college room which I am lucky enough to be inhabiting for the second year in a row. Unfortunately it remains very bare and sad looking because the porters are holding hostage all my boxes which I left over the summer till tomorrow. I am living like a refugee and this morning had to shower with two hand towels. In a bid to make it temporarily seem a little more like a home I have put up some of my old posters which I rather cheekily hid in a high cupboard over the summer; and also went shopping at the trusty beginning of year poster of sale. My room is newly beautified by this little series of posters: penguins, snoopy, and a close up of a cow. Must keep up the zoologist face, you know.

September passed very pleasantly indeed in a whole series of trips around South-east Asia:

Was lovely for all the usual reasons of seeing the boyfriend, old friends etc. Went to watch E's dance performance at NUS; supper at Holland Village very convivial. Even went to Sentosa and spent a very happy day cycling, kayaking through the muck that passes for sea there, trying to get the boyfriend to sit on the beach; dinner at the lovely and very tasty Capella at CHIJMES. Such idyll.


Having just gained a professional diving qualification I naturally just had to get into the water again. Bali was a fantastic holiday all round -- far too much to see and do, charming, quiet, tremendously value for money into the bargain. The tourist tackiness we had expected was actually the exception to the norm, and despite the obvious tourist orientation of the entire island, we thought that the development had been done with lashings of taste and care to preserve the famous Balinese charm. The architecture is so lovely, everything done in dark wood and stone and completely open to the environment, melding seamlessly into the gorgeous plants and gardens everywhere.

Diving was amazing! There was amazing macro (little critters) at Tulamben in the north east of the island. I've never been muck diving before but could spend ages and ages peering amongst the sloping seabed of fine black volcanic sand looking for brightly coloured nudibranchs, crazy shrimps and crabs of all shapes and sizes, and various other denizens of the watery world. Saw so much that I'd never seen before in my life and couldn't identify at all. Highlights of the macro were probably the boxer crabs, tiny little 1cm crabs which stick anemones on their claws and wave them around kungfu-style to ward off danger, gorgeously coloured harlequin shrimp, and squat lobsters (AKA hairy blue crabs). I also spent probably something like 10 minutes watching this one cuttlefish. They are the coolest creatures ever, the way they change colours is phenomenal. It would flick from a smooth white with pulsating black, blue and silver spots, to mottled brown with spikes all over its body, and back again through a hundred incarnations within seconds. Despite the display being visual its speed and variety puts you in mind immediately of speech, and I did feel as I swam along with it that it might be talking to me. At one point it spread out its two side tentacles, stretched forward the rest in a tight triangle, pulsating strips of black and white at tremendous speed down them, and glooped a little fish or something (I couldn't see) from the water. It made me want to squeal into my regulator, it was so exciting.

And then, and then, and then there were the MOLA MOLA!! Also known as oceanic sunfish, these are the most massive bony fish in the world and we were tremendously lucky to see two of them as they came into the reef at Nusa Penida (an island off the east coast of Bali) to get cleaned. Both were about my size from fin tip to fin tip and these were small for the species. The Mola mola made the entire trip worth it even if everything else had been a disaster. It was so surreal swimming along with these unbelievably bizarre fish. I shall leave a picture to do the talking:

There was so much cultural stuff to do and of course we had no time to do it because we were underwater all the time. A second trip is definitely called for. We did, however, make it to Jimbaran to have seafood on the beach where a local band played at our request Rasa Sayang (Mum) and Hotel California (my sister and I); they could do Japanese and Spanish songs too! And we also watched a stunningly beautiful sunset from the temple at Uluwatu on the south west corner of the island. Finally, the females of the party had of course to try one of the Balinese spas -- we hadn't much time, but the little local one we went to for an hour long massage delivered quite the goods for USD25!

Went back to Kuala Lumpur after Bali just in time to leave for yet another jaunt, this time in Hong Kong. I'd never been before and actually really liked the city, it has that sense of bustle and life that makes you want to explore and get carried along with the thousand and one events happening all the time. We stayed right next to the financial district which was certainly impressive.. the view almost everywhere you turn is quite phenomenal, particularly from Victoria Peak at night. Tower after tower, it is such a vertical city! It feels so different from Singapore; more like a Chinese version of New York I think -- less sterility, more life. There was a strange mixture of feeling more familiar than Western cities because of the Chinese culture and food, and more remote because I don't speak Cantonese. But it is perhaps similar to Singapore that there doesn't seem to be much to do! We largely went shopping and I was surprised at the sheer number of high fashion brand names -- I had to console myself with Espirit and Mango. I have such a lovely polka dotted... but you don't want to know about that, so I shall leave you instead with a picture of the Fragrant Harbour (as my sister calls it).

And now, alas, the Exciting Pre-PhD Summer is most definitely over. Real life beckons, or rather the PhD beckons as it can hardly be called real life. For the next three years I shall hopefully regale you with the trials and tribulations of how to figure out what little fish are doing underwater. See, now I just have to figure out which fish (possibly humbug damselfish so far) and where to do it! Piece of fishy cake. If only!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Underwater shenanigans

After the dancing madness, my Exciting Pre-PermanentheadDamage Summer continued with diving fun at Pulau Perhentian, off the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. I spent almost a month there doing my divemaster course with a dive shop that my family knows and loves (my sisters and I first did our Open Water courses there 7 years ago).

The divemaster course was pretty hectic, especially the first few days where we were trying to "anticipate and provide for instructor's needs" (oh, Americanism) without quite knowing where anything was kept, on top of reading the endlessly boring Encyclopedia of Recreational Diving for our theory exams. The first couple of weeks I largely spent tagging around after diving students herding them to the boat and babysitting them underwater, with the trusty Encyclopedia my companion at breakfast, lunch and dinner (I had such fun reading about the 1980s revolution in BCD design). There were also such underwater shenanigans like exchanging all my equipment while sharing a single regulator second stage (i.e. one thing to breathe from) with a guy about twice my size. In separate developments I had to rescue the same guy from underwater unconsciousness -- this is okay underwater but the dragging up the beach to begin CPR business was a bit tough on my rather ickle frame. More power to me for managing it somehow (!). Towards the end of the course, however, I started being able to dive better sites as I guided certified divers -- some of them were gorgeous with fish soup (i.e. you can't see for the fish in your way) and nudibranchs galore. I even had time in the last few days to sit on rocks staring at the sea, always a good way to contemplate the beauty of the world and the fragility of our coastal ecosystems -- or else just blank out with tropical island bliss. I made friends with the 5 dive centre cats who eat and sleep all day while divers tramp around them (I loved their names: Gizmo, Fat Boy, No Name, Monkey and Tom Tom). One afternoon I even had a go at sitting on the beach, a novelty after three weeks of just tramping up and down it loaded with full scuba gear!

It made me very brown and very happy. I like being on little islands, even without the luxuries of civilisation (air conditioning, hot water, internet connection, etc.); the peace and beauty and unspoiled life of the reefs more than make up for it. Even the things you lack make you appreciate a chocolate milkshake or a RM2 ice lolly with that much more pleasure. I didn't want to go home and even now after a week back in the city I would rather have the beach and the scuba tank than these airconditioned offices and noisy cars and endless shopping centres. And yet I have always thought of myself as a city girl. My PhD years, hopefully, will be the ideal mixture of Cambridge cafes and Malaysian fish.

And now I am spending happy hours looking forward to a diving holiday in Bali in a couple of weeks! Mmm. The addiction is growing stronger.

This is Gizmo:

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Dance Dance Dance

In the middle of a two week contemporary dance summer school at Laban, a professional dance school in Greenwich. It is an absolute killer dancing six hours a day (!!!) but so much fun, and possibly the best way possible to do a two week intensive exercise regime. I do two contemporary classes, a ballet class, and jazz. By the time you get round to the jazz at 4:30pm everyone is so tired that it takes all of our lovely bouncy teacher's energy to keep us on our feet, as well as promises that "next week, you will all be like Rambo!" and "if it hurts now, that is good, it will stop hurting soon". I think anybody who really likes dancing has more than a streak of masochism. The wonderful thing is realising that your body does indeed get used to it. On Wednesday most of us could barely stand up without groaning, but by soldiering on through the deep aches in hamstrings/calves/quads/abs/back/shoulders/neck/everywhere, Thursday and Friday miraculously saw the aches diminish if not actually disappear.

Despite the physical activity being the most prominent part of the course, there is so much to be said for the dance itself. I do a gorgeous Cunningham contemporary class which is an oasis of calm and beauty in the middle of a hectic day, all 20+ of us reflected in the mirror as we plie and rise and carve out simple but perfect strong shapes in unison. And jazz at the end is just so much frantic fun, from grinning and posturing to get one through an ab-killing held pose, to the manic routines where your dog tired body manages to do it yet again (and again and again), and it's still a laugh every time. I'm so glad I signed on to do this, and meeting people from all over the world (from Korea to Iceland) who have flown in just for these two weeks of dance is an amazing opportunity. Although I long ago gave up any dreams of really being a dancer, I am very excited to be given a glimpse into the world of budding professionals and at Laban at least it's wonderfully supportive and not at all the cut throat place I always thought it might be.

Laban's crazy but very cool building:

In other news I just had a meeting with my PhD supervisor. Other than me being totally useless having not actually thought about PhD ideas prior to the meeting (...), it was okay -- although slightly freaky because he started going on about how if I want to set up my own field site in Malaysia (let's say), I would probably have to buy a boat (!!!) and hire a local fisherman to be my boatman and even possibly build a hut (not literally with my own hands, but close enough) in order to live on site. Heavy, heady stuff. Still, it sounds like an express course to growing up properly, I suppose you either sink or swim when you are out there in the field, and I am quite determined to only sink on purpose when I am starting a dive, thank you very much. This is the stuff of (slightly intimidating) dreams. Erm. :)

Friday, June 30, 2006

A Big Furry Hood

Yay, I've graduated!

Graduation was fun, and definitely quite full of pomp and ceremony. After a fantastic alcohol-filled graduation dinner and post-dinner party, the next morning you blearily figure out how to wear the big furry hood (fake fur, we are kind to the rabbits nowadays). Then everyone from your college walks in a bit of a parade towards Senate House, where we graduate in a lovely ceremony involving lots of latin and silly hats and holding of people's fingers. And then we take far too many photos. Tada!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

London for under six quid

Have come down to London for a few days as the sheer blobbiness of Cambridge was getting a bit much. After way too much TV watching I decided I had better make the most of this scorching afternoon in my favourite city. But how do you spend an afternoon in London without lots of money? (Been shopping recently, therefore feeling guilty.)

1. Tube journey to Westminster -- 1.50
2. Tate Britain. I was thinking about the Constable exhibition they have on, but decided to be cheap and just wander around the main galleries instead.. by the time I'd got through them, even though they weren't large, I was tired and didn't really have the energy to look at the Constables. A pity but it saved me eight pounds, heh. But the free stuff was lovely. My favourites included the Turner gallery, a few Stubbs paintings (including one of a fuzzy English water spaniel), and a gorgeous rather geometric one of the English channel with the light playing on the water (Brett I think), which reminded me how much I love the sea and how much I'm looking forward to diving in August, albeit not in the English channel. I skipped the entire half of the gallery with modern art, to me if often simply seems angry and grotesque. Perhaps that is a valid point, but not a particularly pleasant one!
3. A long walk back along the Thames and up Whitehall. Walking past the houses of parliament with their imposing architecture and weight of history, what should I see but a whole herd of butt naked cyclists speeding by. It was hilarious and not a bad stunt I think, to protest the dependence on oil and the difficulty of cycling in London. I guess normally that difficulty doesn't include "getting your knob sun burnt" as another bemused passerby mentioned.
4. At Trafalgar Square, slightly more dubious street entertainment in the form of many, many football fans cavorting in the fountains in various states of undress, though not quite to naked cyclist protest level. The police looked a bit disgruntled. All in good fun, but as Radio 4 pointed out this morning, if we've stopped all the hooligans from heading to Germany, that means they're still here! All that celebration for an own goal. Hah!
5. By this time, very tired, so bowed to corporate evil and bought a caramel coffee frappuccino from Starbucks. Actually a very posh Starbucks on St Martin's Lane with this black looked-like-gilt-lacquer storefront. The air conditioning was a blast, but in combination with the frap soon drove me out into the streets of summer London again... 2.90!
6. To Chinatown. Buying supplies for a steamboat I'm having tomorrow. This expenditure not counted.
7. Home on the tube, another 1.50, accompanied all the way by another band of young white men in jerseys singing very badly. Only the beginning.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


Exams ended on Saturday. My last exams ever ever ever, thank goodness for never having to write an essay in an hour again ever ever ever, now I just need to write a phd thesis and defend it in front of a committee of experts, should be a piece of cake eh.

After the initial shock of having nothing to feel guilty about I am getting used to the new exhausting routine of sitting on a series of punts and grassy patches sunbathing over the day. I am feeling increasingly like a blob. But next week things start happening, the diary looks busier and far more exciting than it has for a month (wherein it has mainly consisted of: Tuesday - chapters 1-5 Behavioural Ecology).


Thursday, May 25, 2006


I gave in today: microwaveable pasta for dinner. So terribly unsatisfying, despite Marks and Sparks' best efforts, but I haven't really the energy to contemplate cooking much. In a way it will be a welcome break standing around in Sainsbury's (M+S was a random departure from the norm) trying to concoct minimal fuss meals. In my first year I managed it by dint of seriously cheap microwaveable fisherman's pie type things and ham with veggies I could throw together into a salad. It was quite fun actually, my twice daily trip to sainsbury's (once to buy soup for lunch, and once to buy dinner -- one must maximise the time in the fresh air).

After over a month of pretending to work in my room but in reality falling asleep on the sofa and playing some seriously mindless and addictive computer games, I have finally in the last week before exams gained the will-power to plonk myself in the departmental library for the better part of the day (er, only 2 days so far, but I am hoping for a few more!). Followed often by a stint in caffe nero after an early dinner so it is not a totally rigorous scheme (it's not just me! there's this other girl who has done exactly the same work hours in the cafe the past two nights, we even both get a latte and a muffin to stimulate the brain cells, she must be a kindred spirit), I am quite incapable of the sort of dogged hermeticism some others have. But anyway finally I am putting in some hours that I consider vaguely respectable -- less than a week to exams! What great advances I can make in my zoological knowledge in another 5 days is highly dubious, and I am honestly worried because I really did waste time for about a month in a seriously grades-destructive manner, but there is no point regretting not working before the opportunity to work is fully past. The worst bit is comparing my pitiful work over the past few weeks to the last two years' exam prep -- but, again, that is pointless worrying, even if like most pointless worrying it is impossible to stop doing it.

I wish my mummy were here to cook me nutritious brainy food. :) But I suppose in light of actually being 21 I must give up such thoughts and content myself with the ready-to-eat section of the supermarket. Mum did send me twelve whole bottles of brand's essence of chicken though. Screw three years of diligent (?!) study, it is the essence of chicken that will get me my first!

Heh heh. If only superstitions were true.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Bondage and Laughter

It has been one of those really unsatisfying days of work, but you really don't want to hear me moan about how boring yet frightening the whole exam situation is, so I will spare the world, and it is a good deed I say.

Despite ostensibly being at work all day (okay, more like all afternoon and then early part of the night, me being incapable of the 9 to 5 routine), I have managed to see two pieces of theatre as supposedly well-deserved breaks, though I'm not convinced I did deserve them.

Deborah Colker (a Brazilian contemporary choreographer) with her new show at the Barbican was amazing and if not particularly uplifting, at least it was entertaining, gasp-inducing and really rather sexy. The show was called 'Knots' and is quite rightly called the first ever bondage ballet. Lots of very lithe muscular dancers tying each other up, counterbalancing each other at impossible angles while attached by rope, bodily picking up trussed up companions to fling around in the air like so much lustful meat. It was acrobatic and terribly exciting to watch. Near the end of the first half a rope-less duet for two women amongst a forest of rope strands hanging down onto stage was one of the most beautiful moments in the whole show, following which two men and two women threw themselves into various piled up heaps, entangling and disentangling limbs and torsos only to entangle again. Set to Ravel, it was sexy rather than vulgar. In the second half the ropes disappeared, to be replaced by a huge Perspex box in and out of which dancers climbed like so many intent sexy monkeys. Much pressing against the perspex and dancing crazily around inside it.

In all it was a show which took innovative ideas and pushed right to the end with them in terms of the physical and visual boundaries of what you could possibly do, and the dancers were uniformly amazingly athletic, bendy, beautiful and bang on with every step. My two friends came away gushing and it certainly was an awesome sight, but I did feel there was something slightly missing which I couldn't quite pin down for a while. When I came home I read the reviews and they crystallised it for me -- it was a certain lack of innovative choreography, real new ways to move and new shapes to create that don't involve having to tie someone up first. I suppose it depends on whether you are looking for good dance, or good entertainment. I haven't anything to say against the latter (or I'd be far too snobbish for my own comfort), but the show did fall rather into the latter category. I've always been something of a purist as far as dance goes, and props while terribly exciting do cause you to neglect the actual dancing. Then again, Deborah Colker's shows are all prop driven (giant hamster wheels, stages littered with vases) I gather, so it is simply what she does, and she does it very well indeed, and I'd recommend anybody else to go see it if it turns up in your city.

Last night I went to see Simon Callow in Noel Coward's Present Laughter at the Arts Theatre. I'd not watched/read any Coward before, so I thought I would remedy the situation and rather thought I'd enjoy it -- and I did, tremendously! The plot is inconsequential really, it was all about perfect diction, sly innuendo, silk dressing gowns, flamboyant overacting, dashing arrogance you can't help loving, a neverending stream of one liners, and quite everybody falling in love with the protagonist. Loved it. Would love to see more Coward. It is a kind of entertainment that I sometimes feel a little premature in enjoying (my friend and I were sure we'd single handedly brought down the average age in the audience by a significant number of years), but I think I might as well resign myself already. (I listen to Radio 2, after all: jazz and showtunes, if that ain't old people music I don't know what is.) I've just skipped the whole drunken partying age and gone straight on to sparkling sophistication and maturity, ha ha!

Monday, May 01, 2006


Mostly want, actually, and then not even with any great conviction.

It being the month of my birthday here is a list of frivolity that I would like. I don't expect to get any of this. I'm just bored with revision! Waiting for the work related dreams to start -- when studying for A levels I think there was something subliminal about Giant Bouncing Phenols. Thank goodness it can only be about bird sex this time.

1. A first for my finals. Isn't it annoying when something you want can only be gotten through your own sheer hard work? You're so in control of the situation you only have yourself to blame if you don't get it.
2. Dive equipment - regulator system and BCD!
3. A sheep from market square (fluffy and wooden for the uninitiated, not actually bleating and edible). Not the hot pink one called Barbie.
4. Any DVD of a Mats Ek production. Actually any ballet/contemp dance DVD. Cloudgate theatre?
5. Tickets to the Royal Ballet's June 75th anniversary event, heh.
6. Errr.... er...
7. Man I am bad at wanting things ;)
8. Classical music CDs. No 'Ultimate cool classical compilation No. 2' PLEASE. Something solid. Some Brahms perhaps. Mozart/Puccini operas would probably also go down well. Anything goes, I own nothing but The Planets and Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, I am pathetic. I am also partial to cello and piano music. I think.
9. A new dance poster?
10. Books, if you want to be boring but still appreciated! Maybe Ian McEwan (not Atonement or Saturday), or Jonathan Safran Foer's short story collection. I will read most things if they are not inspirational or nonfiction.
11. Pretty girly things will not be sneered at.

I think that is good enough, I am having lots of trouble with this! I am sorry the list turned out to be really rather useless in doing anything but reminding everybody that it's my birthday soon. ;) I tried. Ah, me and my unmaterialistic view of life. Love, contentment, and lots of parma ham is all I really want. Hah!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Oh, the Guilt.

One of those write-off days as far as work is concerned, so I'm just completely giving up now. I could, of course, be dutifully consolidating my very confused view of parent offspring conflict and the battle of the sexes, in glorified graphed out optimality model / Evolutionarily Stable Strategy format, but you know. Literary stardom calls. Hnah.

There isn't much to write about in the usual attempt to wring something interesting out of my life, as revision is wobbling along rather fitfully between long bouts of procrastination and guilt (I do not so much take breaks from revising as study between my main occupation of breaks) so randomness follows.

I was sitting in Caffe Nero today, pretending to work; two distinguished looking old men at another table chatting over coffee and muffins. Got to thinking, one rarely separates 'distinguished' and 'old man' here in Cambridge. They all look like they have headed entire departments and are chatting not about their pensions, but about the next Nobel Prize and which of their friends might win it. (This doesn't really apply to old women here so much, but that is a whole other morass which I won't jump into, I'm not entirely sure what brand of feminism I subscribe to, anyway -- so probably the confused brand.) It is something I suppose you find in any academic institution and because the whole of Cambridge essentially is an academic instution (take that, townies), it is perhaps more noticeable. I like it, quite a lot really. When I am 60 I want to be having coffee and croissants and discussing the new wave of thinking about fish behaviour. They never stop, these people, never seem to stop being excited; thinking about things isn't something that you stop doing at 65 when people decide to stop paying you to sit at a desk every day -- so much the better, therefore, if thinking about things is what you do for a living. This drives me a lot more than thoughts of retiring in wealth and going to the ballet every evening, really it does. Perhaps 5 years into my academic career, poor and tiring of the fish (no!), I will wish I had just gotten a real job like everyone else. But hopefully not.

Not particularly original thoughts, but I must do all I can to convince myself dull academia isn't dull after all!

By the way, anybody still out there? ;)

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Cake blisters

Spent a few days in London doing very little work indeed. But 'twas fun, I re-read two Pratchett books in four days -- a sorely needed break from Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man which I am wading through oh so slowly, I really can't deal with more than four continuous pages about Hell and Stephen's rather annoying internal battles with his sin, his heinous sin, blahblahblah. And also spent over five continuous hours doing absolutely nothing but cooking.

I haven't the photos but we made my second sister a going away feast as she is moving to the Big Apple. It consisted of all the most labour intensive recipes we could find, by accident rather than any sort of masochistic urge. We made:
1. Lamb and turnip stew (an Indian one). This spent about 3 hours on the stove. :)
2. Okra stuffed with spiced finely chopped onions. These did turn out nice, but I'm really not convinced they're worth the effort. I spent literally hours sitting there stuffing these damn things and started having all sorts of thoughts about stuffing, viz. is somebody employed to stuff fishball mixture into all those stuffed okras and chillis we get for yong tau foo, and are there machines that stuff those rambutans you get with cubes of pineapple in them? (When I was very very little I once asked an unsuspecting family how they got rambutans to grow with pineapple cubes in them... what, it was a valid question okay.)
3. Lentils and spinach. A scant hour to make!
4. Kulfi (Indian ice cream). Made from first principles, meaning hours of the milk reducing on the stove. Seriously yummy stuff, and quite healthy -- no cream in Indian ice cream! With almonds and pistachios. And some melon balls. I didn't know there were such devices as 'melon ballers', but you learn something new everyday.
4. Choc'lit cake! Yummy, yummy choc'lit cake with only about 12 oz sugar and quarter of a kilo of butter and 200 g chocolate and we're only talking cake here, nevermind the chocolate butter ganache and the mounds of icing that went piled on top of it. I got shortlived cake blisters on my right hand from all the attempts to get a whole bowl of coarse sugar and butter 'light and fluffy', but it was all worth it! We put white royal icing around it and piped on little green dots and a good luck clover (which was hilariously wonky). It turned out to be huge, and my other sister is also off on holiday, so I had to bring the remains back to Cambridge. I have been feeding chunks of it to friends to prevent myself from eating it all.

I think I think about food too much. ;)

Oh yes, I've decided to stay on in Cambridge. This news is a little stale now but I think I did tell all the most important people immediately so I didn't bother to write about it. This dear little town has grown on me, but most importantly, I wanted to stay so that I could work on my beloved fish back home in Malaysia (my supervisor did his own PhD on the same system and has a lot of contacts). It's something I know I would love to do, and I thought why take a gamble on the unknown when I can have what I want now. Maybe it's playing it safe, but I'm happy with my decision ultimately -- there is a lot of personal peace in it.

Meanwhile it's back to the work. I am now trying to write an essay plan about why females often copulate with more than one male. Doing behavioural ecology does funny things to your view of the world. Did you know that in reed buntings which appear on the surface to be monogamous, 86% of a male's reproductive success comes from extra marital affairs? And that in dunnocks (a little brown bird), females do this wonderful balancing act where they shag two males just enough so that both males help to look after their chicks, but they make sure to shag the alpha male more so that the chicks are of better genetic quality -- the beta male often ends up helping to raise offspring which just aren't his. Ah, the joy of internal fertilization... (beats spewing eggs into the sea any day, surely). Ahem.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Illustrated culinary adventures

Some recent things that have come out of my very own little gyp room (kitchenette). It is not to be sniffed at and remarkably well equipped for being small enough that only one person can actually stand in it. And it has been helped by the likes of Gary Rhodes, my Mum, many years of eating, and the team that wrote something called the Food of China.

1. Salmon with a tomato and herb salad (and some potatoes thrown in for carb value)

2. Roast chicken with sauteed potatoes (and A LOT of salad thanks to K). I forgot to take a photo of the bird so here it is in the process of being mutilated by Daniel. So we aren't very good at carving...

3. Panfried pork fillet, with home made chips, lemon herb sauce and random green bits.

4. Roast pork with crackling, home made chips and spinach/tomato salad. Also made an apple sauce as well as the trusty Bisto gravy. No photo because I was too busy eating.

5. Hainan Ji Fan!! Okay so I've never seen Hainan Ji Fan served with a beautifully arranged ring of cucumber before but I was feeling decorative... not, of course, anything like Nam Heong but it's actually recognisably tasting of what it is supposed to taste like.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Oh, the beauty

Saw Kenneth Macmillan's Romeo and Juliet at the Royal Opera House on Thursday. Alina Cojocaru and Johann Kobborg. Forced myself out of bed at the unheard of time of 9am to queue briefly for day tickets -- got one in the stalls circle, so a sideways on view but close to the stage. Turned out to be a gorgeous place to sit, as Macmillan's ballets call for acting as well as perfect pirouettes, and from that close the acting is visible -- and what acting it was. Not that they are mutually exclusive: his steps are always an illustration of a personal emotion. Whether Lady Capulet's soul-shattering grief, clenched fists beating the ground over Tybalt; or Romeo's sheer joy (perhaps with a tinge of macho showing off?) at the beginning of the balcony scene, turns in attitude and exuberant tours jetes; or Juliet's stiffness as she dances with Paris after her lover has left with the morning sun.

It has been a while since a ballet has affected me so deeply, not since Cranko's Onegin several years ago, also with Alina. (Mayerling was for me a bit too much; syphilictic madness I can't relate to as much I can love..) Alina is so small she is totally believable as Juliet, but not just in the girlish first scenes -- she grows so much with the ballet, it is apparent already as she begs Romeo not to leave; as she sits for that interminable time on her bed gathering her courage to run to Friar Lawrence; and it is truly heartrending when she awakes to find Romeo dead, kisses his lifeless lips. Kobborg's Romeo was interesting, heroic but with a careless side, a dark side; his dancing was clean and perfect. The marketplace scenes had so much little detail for each corps dancer you never tired of picking out new vignettes happening in a corner of the stage. The sheer power of the balcony scene, lifted by Prokofiev's soaring music, confirmed it for me as my favourite piece of ballet ever. And in Act III as the tragedy wound its way to its conclusion, I thought that the power of ballet to tell a story and to move audiences surely must be at its pinnacle here. It was not Shakespeare made pretty and put en pointe; it was Shakespeare itself, dance proving a more than able replacement for words -- and perhaps more global.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

An encounter with geese

The tree outside my window is covered with new leaves and I am just about to put the winter coat into the closet: sure signs that spring is upon us. So I went to pay a visit to my favourite "isn't Cambridge just gorgeous" spot, Jesus Lock, and took some pictures -- of geese rather than ducks or swans this time, in my bid to photograph a diverse mix of Cambridge waterfowl. Just the moorhens to go now.

And on the way home I met a pair of doggies and their owner.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The simple things.

I am feeling expansive and warm; my linguine bolognese (I prefer linguine to spaghetti just because it cooks faster!) dinner was one of those surprisingly satisfying ones (every so often my cooking astounds me and sadly it is always by pure luck) followed by a healthy 'king of crunch' Braeburn, leaving me feeling particularly smug about my well balanced and very cheap student meal. Go me. Also I am looking forward to the 5 week holiday that I've just embarked upon in gastronomic terms, having just bought Gary Rhodes' 'keeping it simple'. Lots of pretty pictures and very usefully laid out. As a student I really cannot be bothered to make things which take 4 hours and about 30 ingredients to make, and am much more concerned with learning to roast the perfect chicken than how to dress it in the celebrity chef's equivalent of McCartney and Manolo -- usually involving spices which I can just about spell but don't have a faintest idea about the taste!

Forced myself to the library this morning to meet a friend for something after 6 hours of sleep (Yahoo! arcade games are too damn addictive), then sat fairly productively there for about 4-5 hours with a lunchbreak at my beloved German cafe. It was a pain struggling very slowly through all these papers, what does intragenomic conflict have to do with behavioural ecology anyway, blahdeblah, but I persevered with the help of a 35p mug of coffee from the tearoom when I found myself watching the bloke next to me falling asleep over Albert's The Cell more than my paper (and no, he wasn't a very interesting sight either). Ah, we scientists. So sacrificial. So damn keen. Another friend came into the library which was being used as a holding room for PhD interviews and looked so bored I found Dr. Seuss' The Lorax for her to read (it is on our overnight loan shelves -- recommended Conservation Biology Module reading!), unfortunately then her interviewer came to get her while she was reading Dr. Seuss, I hope I am not the cause of a bad impression!! Oops. She was trying to read the current issue of Nature before Dr. Seuss I think; obviously it failed as stimulating pre-interview reading material.

Doing several hours of work -- after multiple botched attempts on previous days when I got up about lunchtime and then didn't get to the dept so did no work whatsoever -- made me feel positively angelic so I wandered around in Borders and bought myself Mr. Rhodes (whom I shall always know as the perfect poached egg man having first seen him on telly making one) and also Ian McEwan's Saturday. Read a few pages before dinner, there is something incredibly emotionally and intellectually satisfying and pleasurable about sinking into a great book. Like many other authors whom I enjoy he is a master at the detail of a life (extra)ordinary, I don't pretend to understand why the sentence "The overfull litter baskets suggest abundance rather than squalor; the vacant benches set around the circular gardens look benignly expectant of their daily traffic - cheerful lunchtime office crowds, the solemn, studious boys from the Indian hostel, lovers in quiet raptures or crisis, the crepuscular drug dealers, the ruined old lady with her wild, haunting calls." can make me smile, pause to think, enjoy -- but enjoy I do. The simple things: food, books, the lack of study related guilt.

Spring is being very reluctant to arrive and I dearly hope it changes soon. I want to sit out by the Cam with my book and feed the duckies and feast on the sight of the daffodils in bloom across the bank. I am aware now I think that my time in Cambridge may well be fast drawing to a close (I am leaning ever more perceptibly towards Princeton, for a new start) and I suppose like everybody else I want my fill of this beautiful town before I uproot myself to another one.

Oh yes, thanks for the comments everyone. :)

Friday, March 17, 2006

Ah, tradition

Is a gorgeous thing when it involves fancy schmancy dinners consisting of:

Melon and Parma Ham w/ Pflanzreben Riesling Rolly-Gassmann 1998 (white wine)
Scotch Fillet Steak, Red Wine and Shallot Sauce, Herb Scented Potatoes, Tomatoes and Mushrooms w/ Domaine Marcous Chateauneuf du Pape 1998 (red wine)
Individual Chocolate and Hazelnut Mousse with Coffee Sauce w/ Domain de la Rectorie Benyuls 2001 (dessert wine)
Cheese w/ Warre 1983 (port)
Amaretti Biscuits

Which is why I am very very pleasantly full now and also very slightly woozy! College Commem Feast was gorgeous as I suppose it must always be, and I think I had a far more convivial time this year -- less time to be stressed out about talking to Nobel Laureates and also I am probably far better at dealing with those four confusing glasses of alcohol and all the cutlery and all the standing up and sitting down and looking at ease with pomp and ceremony and laughing politely during speeches and making small talk with important old men. I chatted rather pleasantly to Profs Handley and Davidson (whose place names I have stolen as a memento!!) on my right and left about conservation, fish and fluid dynamics, China, archaeology, US vs UK PhDs, the number of years they have been to commemm feasts (40! have yet to beat Aaron Klug from last year), Darwin, David Attenborough, bilingualism, women in academia, how to name species in Latin, Malaysia, classics, etc. etc. etc. I think my social skills are far more attuned to retired professors than Brits my age -- perhaps not quite so bad a thing?! I was lucky enough to be sitting at high table again where you get to exercise such rarified skills as talking about the world in general rather than Cambridge drinking holes and what one is doing over the next holidays, and also can now claim to have sat only 3 places away from the Master himself. (Although my sister chatted to Sir Michael Atiyah so I can't quite beat that!)

Also at the feast:
Toasts to the queen, the college benfactors, the master, etc.
The choir singing God Save The Queen, Pastime with good company (written by dear old Henry VIII himself, our founder), John Brown's Body -- I did not know they sing the same songs every year!
Speeches by the Rt Hon Oliver Letwin (son in law of the nice old bloke sitting next to me) -- tolerably funny, and the Master -- not so funny.

I came back from London just in time for the dinner, after a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful week with the Boyfriend mostly here in Cambridge ostensibly finishing off my term (I have had my last ever examinable lecture EVER, woo!) but really just spending many happy hours, well, being in love. I am such a sickening sap. But I know you will read this when you get home so what the hell. :)

Sunday, March 05, 2006


So today was absolutely beautiful, still is. I woke sometime after noon, lazed around, talked to the boyfriend, refused to do my essay.

Thought I would go pay a visit to the duckies, I have missed them dearly, haven't been to see them properly since term started. (Also I had several pieces of stale bread in my room which I had to get rid of.) The walk there was peaceful, through the late afternoon shopping crowd, then down Portugal Place and across Jesus Green. Families playing football and collies fetching. Everything green and crisp and it seemed for a while that the Met Office mayn't have been quite so utterly stupid with deciding spring has already arrived. I love this town and it is so difficult to consider whether to be gung ho and young and must-see-more-of-this-world and uproot myself to America (albeit New England, so it is not as if I am going to Texas; I'm not sure any force could make me spend 5 years in Texas actually), or just stay here in lovely old decrepit England with the ducks et al.

The ducks didn't want any of my stale bread! :| I watched them a while, but not long before coming back. Rejection from poultry is hard to take.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Academia vs Actually Getting a Job

The woes of being a finalist, AKA the complicated affairs of my potential career which has taken over my life for the past few days (or really the past year). I've taken liberties with the chronological order of things as the real order is just mind boggling, really.

1. So since all that fishy watching seemed to be going so well, I thought okay, let's watch fish for the rest of my life, it is pretty good fun, I've been very lucky with my undergrad research efforts and may turn out not to suck at it, people will think I am very clever and it will make my parents happy.
2. I apply for PhD positions at Cambridge and Princeton. Much stress.
3. I GET PhD positions at Cambridge (if funding appears) and Princeton (with funding). Much happiness. On balance, after a lot of faffing, I decide the Princeton PhD is probably a better one.
4. I start to have doubts about whether or not watching fish (or zebras or red winged blackbirds or whatever) is the way to go. What about the real world? I've never really given anything else a go. Ooh, exciting, could actually get a job which might possibly involve some creativity, designs and words (I swear scientific articles aren't really writing in any sense of the way I love it), a real product you can hold in your hands, living in a vibrant city that breathes with things that happen, actually get paid more than a pittance, and generally be a part of the Real World. On the other hand the Real World could suck and I might hate it. The point really is, I don't know which.
5. Exploring the Real World requires taking a year off, knocking on many many doors, getting rejected almost as many times (hopefully only almost!), having the tenacity of... of... a queen termite, but in the end being rewarded by definitely a better understanding of what the Real World and Real Jobs are like, probably a better idea of what I like and don't like, and possibly a newfound passionate interest in making magazines or advertisements or whatever it may be.
6. So, can the PhD wait (to be taken up after a year, or not)?
7. Princeton's blunt answer is no, and also I will lose this funny fellowship thing they have decided to give me, and in doing this I will piss the department off (apparently they can't give it to anyone else so the dept will lose the fellowship money which comes from the university), and possibly bias my chances should I decide to re-apply. I mean, people are human, I don't blame them (much).
8. Cambridge looks (so far) like it will let me defer; also should I decide to go back into academia I could always apply to other universities, of which many excellent ones do exist, I know it in my heart ;)
9. Lots of people tell me I am young, I should take the year off, it leaves my options open
10. Princeton faculty try to persuade me that should I go there I will be brilliantly motivated, I will do a great PhD with a department that they seem to think I will fit very well into, etc. (but of course they do) And I believe them, I don't think it's in any way a bad option, I think it could be the start of a brilliant career - but is it one I want?!
11. I am Confoozled.
12. I decide I am going to talk to as many people as possible about their experience in the non-academic industries I am vaguely interested in -- if it still excites me, perhaps it is worth closing the Princeton door.

There we go. Still generally Confoozled although I would dearly like to be less Confoozled at least within the next few weeks, mainly because being Confoozled is psychologically tiring and takes up a lot of time that could be better spent in trying to pass my final exams, or actually feeding ducks. Any thoughts much appreciated, although the situation only seems to get more complex by the day, and I don't think many of you actually still read this blog ;)

Saturday, February 18, 2006


What do you do on a Saturday evening in when you don't feel like being in the least productive because you've managed to wring an essay out of your braincells over several piously hardworking hours being the sole sad person in the Zoology library? And you feel much better both physically and emotionally after the rollercoaster of the first half of term? And you haven't caught up with most of your friends for aeons? Reach out, of course. But none of them are obligingly online at this moment so I am filling in some of the big gaping holes in this little blog'o'mine.

My dance show was a lovely success but then it is every year; producing it really is simply a matter of making sure it happens, and then in some kind of amazing artistic emergent properties kind of phenomenon it just grows wings and turns into a really exciting and visceral thing which sells all the seats in the theatre towards the end of the 5 night run. Much crazy printing of programmes in the Trinity computer room (which my co-producer and I colonised for several hours over several days) in order to save money. Much dramatic dancery horror in my toe bleeding all over stage (two nights in a row before I clued in and bandaged it to within an inch of its life), although apparently the audience couldn't tell and in true professional fashion I couldn't either till I got down to the dressing room (I caused my stage manager much anguish because her health and safety record needs to be squeaky clean for her satisfaction). Much interesting talk in the dressing rooms viz. whether or not one wears underwear under tights, and whether or not this is disgusting. Some comment on how ubiquitous costume item appears to be "girl boxers" from topshop -- not sure if topshop knows it is a lifesaver for dancers who require big pants to protect their modesty. Much laughter last night when one of our dear dancers simply didn't make it onto stage for a short 40 second interlude; the remaining two of us simply danced it without her in a very bemused "what the fuck?" fashion; and dear E didn't realise till we came downstairs afterwards to find her standing and ready to go on. Many, many, many boxes of chocolates (yet to get through them). And of course bucketloads of beautiful, virtuoso, exciting and original dance.

Photos and

The next few weeks went by in a cloud really and I'm not very sure where they went. I spent two weekends in London with Mum and sisters doing lovely exciting things like having Chinese New Year dinner (general steamboat yumminess), watching Mary Poppins the musical (excellent, I'd recommend it to anyone), and walking the doggie. The weeks in between I tried to do some work and also spent much time stressing about my interview at Princeton, which was this weekend just past. The interview itself (or rather the 6 interviews) went okayish, one can't really tell with all this American friendliness. Got caught in the huge snowstorm -- whilst seeing two feet of snow dumped on unsuspecting Princeton was beautiful (you couldn't actually see the porch steps of my host's house when I left), it wasn't so pleasant for me as I'd just at that point spent over 12 hours in bed feverish, aching and listless and then had to spent almost another 12 hours in the airport (drugged up on Tylenol, alternately reading Brokeback Mountain and Cosmopolitan, just what every sick person needs for the airport really, a short story about gay cowboys and a magazine filled with half naked blokes), and on the plane. It had been parked well away from the terminal building so they had to snowplough it out, resulting in something like 5 hours of delay, followed by another 2 hours while they tried to pump water back into the plane (it'd all been removed for fear of it freezing over), only to find the pump was blocked by ice -- or that is as much as I caught from the apologetic captain while dozing fitfully under my blanket in my little cattle class space as we sat on the runway. At least my illness helped me sleep the entire flight away, but I can't say I was overly impressed by my New England send off!

Far better now, just catching up with work (much more to do this weekend really) and speculating feverishly about what to do if I suddenly go utterly bonkers, decide not to do a PhD and dedicate my little life to the greater pursuit of knowledge about fishies for no pay, and actually join the real world upon graduation (or at least after a few months of gallivanting around watching fish for pleasure). It is quite exciting really because having a degree in Zoology doesn't really point you towards any job alternatives from watching fish, so everything is open. Having once again convinced myself that I simply fail to be interested in the jobs that will make me lots of money (they are mostly about making lots of money, which, strangely enough, doesn't fascinate me), I have been flirting with ideas of perhaps going into science communication (science writing, editing, broadcasting, etc.) -- very much an in thing to do for disillusioned scientists, it sounds so exciting, doesn't it? But I am first waiting to see whether this never before heard of urge to actually get a Real Job is only a temporary insanity or not -- perhaps a PhD offer will come in and I will be back to my geeky world of libraries, endless arcane papers with crazy equations, and little beady eyed fish. I have only had this new craziness start for a few days (spending entire days in Princeton trying to sound like science is my all consuming lifelong passion has had a reverse effect), so don't worry, I haven't done anything drastic -- yet! Will try to keep you updated on where the whims of my fickle mind take me. Back to where the Clever People sit in tearooms discussing the niceties of zebra social society models, my parents will urge me. Ah well.

Being young and full of potential is usually a good thing; when it makes you feel like you could do anything, when it's all exciting, when you could jump off a cliff and never crash. At other times it is frighteningly open and stressful. I suppose it is all a matter of knowing the glass is half full and that it is up to you to fill it -- you might as well go about it with a verve. K observed to me today that it is the next 5 years of our lives that will really be the exciting ones, as we all make decisions and start to carve out our adult spaces (before we all get married have kids and become utterly boring). Tonight I'm feeling pretty good about that.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

I'm alive -- barely

Been away for far too long, just thought I would post a couple of lines to let everyone know I'm still around... Got very caught up with the dance show, not doing enough work mainly because mum visited (yay!) so spent a couple of weekends in London, and then the weekend just past flew to New Jersey for an interview. It was a shockingly tiring weekend particularly with some 2 feet of snow resulting in a 7 hour flight delay (in some senses it has been a shockingly tiring month), I am now down with some kind of truly evil flu kind of thing (apparently it is too severe to be just a cold, according to the medical student ;)). Need desperately to get better to I can get my act together and start sorting out my work and last minute PhD funding applications -- but having spent literally all of today in bed (other than dragging myself to a morning lecture) doesn't bode well.

But anyway I shall not wallow in self pity -- off to a dance rehearsal where I will sit and watch because yesterday I made the mistake of actually dancing, which resulted later in a coughing fit that felt rather like I was coughing my insides out (like sea cucumbers!), so it may not be such a good idea really... Here is wishing my immune system perseverance.

I hope you are all well and in far better health than me :)

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Late night nostalgia

Sometimes I think I was at my best when I was about 15, and it's all been a casual slide downhill since then. This is, of course, only the ought-to-have-been-expected result of being thrown into the real world (insofar of course as this venerable university can in any way be considered real at all), where popularity is not defined by grades and you no longer have to fold (not roll) your socks down such that the width of the fold is at least 1.5cm. Ankle socks with frogs on are now allowed, thank goodness. (I don't actually own any ankle socks with frogs on, although a debating coach when I was 15 did, and we loved her for it.)

But then again, that is too pessimistic a view. So here we go, a little of the good and bad (in all honesty, cross my heart etc.) approximately five years on. (I think I lost some years in between, mostly to exam fever and non-salaried copywriting drudgery, but nevermind that.)

THE BAD (because I am a sucker for happy endings)
1. When did it cease to be easy, socially? I never expected to even have to think about it. People are lovely when you get to know them -- underwater, next to sheep poo, in dance class -- but I have yet to get the hang of the whole making friends over a pint business. This does very little for one's self-esteem, which does little for small talk abilities, which makes it one big vicious circle (on the plus side, I have now developed very thick antisocial skin).

2. Goodbye hobbies. I spend more time sitting cynically with coffee and Stephen Fry (or Begon, Townsend and Harper's Ecology when all else fails) then industriously charcoal-ing or harping on about sunsets and apples. So perhaps I was never destined to be Whistler or Wordsworth, and it happens to everyone, but still there is a bit of a loss.

THE GOOD (it was a pleasant surprise that that didn't last long)
1. Scientific geekdom is a pleasant place to be antisocial or not in, as one wishes, particularly when you have the prospect of doing most of it underwater in the Indo West Pacific. Fish never expect you to be clever, witty and sexy (or maybe they do, but you don't particularly mind disappointing them). And they can be reliably depended upon to do interesting things (swim, feed, have sex, lay eggs, fan air over nests, brood young in mouths whilst starving, etc.), unlike some human specimens. You just need to have the right frame of mind.

2. 20 poems. (I'm only ever cryptic about You Know Who, no not the scary evil wizard, yes I know that's a bad joke.)

3. So yes, I've lived a little in some other country out of SE Asia and not from mummy's lap, as I was itching to do when I was 15. Some of it has been breathtakingly beautiful, most of it has been grey, much of it has been peaceful in a solitary kind of way. The thick skin developing and the delayed teenage angst has been largely dealt with. So now I can feed my duckies and do my own laundry in peace (huh, where did that combination of riveting activites come from?). On balance, it's been nice. And I'm far from done -- the HDB towers will not take me yet! (As I've tried to explain to many people, Singapore simply doesn't strike me as a place to be, well, young.)

4. Old friends are truly wonderful beings. I was silly to half-expect to move on entirely, and I'm very very glad that I haven't.

There we go, more goods than bads without even trying. It is too late, I will be sleepy tomorrow morning, I hope this entry doesn't sound awfully cryptic and self-serving tomorrow such that I will be tempted to delete it. Happy Chinese New Year everyone if I don't get round to another entry before then!

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Big Apple

Just a redirect to a group blog at me and four 4/1 friends in New York over Christmas and New Year's; be warned that you may understand very little of it!

Back in Cambridge now and absolutely loving it. Ah, the comfort of my room, the heavy English coins, the nonstop drizzle, the 4pm loss of what daylight dared to poke its face through the clouds. It feels like home. Back on the show production job; academic work shall soon raise its guilt-inducing and frankly quite terrifying head.