Wednesday, October 24, 2007

More Island Sightings

1. TWO MANTA RAYS, cruising past us on separate mornings at our study site right in the middle of a working fish catching dive. Having never seen a manta ray before it was the most lovely and bizarre experience to be looking up from a chaos of hand nets and clove oil and scared little blue and yellow fish in plastic bags to see this beautiful creature winging past, when I'd always thought that at some point in my life I would have to pay lots of money and travel 3 days on a boat to go to some godforsaken Indonesian Bornean island especially to see them. With the first one, the first thing I saw was a couple of really quite large remoras right next to me which cruise around with it -- the first thing I thought was "crap, there's got to be something HUGE in the water, what are the bets are it's a giant shark?" but then it turned out to be a manta! There are no photos as only my assistant had her camera with her to take photos of caught fish with, and she says by the time she had finished gaping at them and gotten to her camera they were gone...

2. Our frog doing this most horrible looking belching thing on the shelf yesterday. He kept gulping and his whole body looked like it was convulsing with each gulp. We were really worried but later on he hopped out on his nightly hunt looking as healthy as ever so we have decided he was just eating a really big spider. Here is a picture of him, not belching, in Helen's hand.

3. A couple of unbelievable dead calm days. Even on the best of days in Malaysia I had never seen the sea look quite like this -- like glass, so reflective I couldn't figure out where the reefs were to drive around them. Yet if you looked straight down you could probably do fish focals from the boat, so ripple-less and still was it, and we saw some lovely big rays in the lagoon sand on our drive home from work that day, and visibility was like being out on outer barrier at over 20 metres. Apparently more such calm periods are on the way as the summer develops, woohoo, it makes a gorgeous change from the 25-30 knot wind we had for a few days last week.

4. Don't like putting on a suit everyday to go to work? Here are my work clothes:

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Lizard Island Part II

Our first day off here on Lizard, after a rather unexpectedly successful first week, i.e. we are actually on track. Perhaps having gone through the vagaries of last season I am now simply a little hardier and less liable to let things get me down, but in truth there has been very little to do so thus far. This is a rather pleasantly surprising state of affairs -- I feel I must savour it whilst it lasts, before the inevitable big problems kick in (they didn't do so till after the first week last time either... but fingers crossed). I'm absolutely sure at least something is going to go badly pear-shaped at some point, it probably wouldn't be a field season if it didn't, but I'll jump that hurdle when I get to it.

Notables so far:
- A tiny little squid that jumped onto our boat and lay in the middle of it turning very red and looking rather upset. I put it back in the sea but didn't see whether it survived or got chomped.
- A couple of schools of similarly quite tiny little squid hanging about under our boat
- A really large juvenile harlequin sweetlips -- for divers these are the spotty ones which swim in this totally bizarre flamenco dancery way. This one was about 15cm long!
- A green treefrog that lives in our bathroom. He sits on a shelf next to the sink, and occasionally in the packet of new loo rolls. Sometimes in the day he wanders out in search of food I guess, but mostly he sits and watches us brush our teeth. I've found him in the shower cubicle every so often as well, making it a neccessity to ensure one is not cooking frog before turning on the hot water.
- A boat breakdown as we were trying to move from one study site where we'd decided the current was too strong for comfort to another -- rather than not being able to start the boat, for a while we couldn't stop! I had absolutely no control over the throttle, could neither speed it up nor slow it down, trying to put it into neutral resulted in an insane revving noise and general unhappiness, so we drove at this rather compulsory speed back to the station -- at least I could still steer the thing -- and managed to switch it off just off the station, from where we got towed back by our gallant rescuers and switched to another boat. The second one wouldn't start between dives either, so we had to do two dives at the same site, but we somehow managed to get home when we were done. The drama! Later on in the day when we were heading out on the fixed first boat (turned out its throttle cable had broken -- a first in 19 years of the station's maintenance officer's tenure here) I rather belatedly realised that we were very low on fuel and by the time we had refueled it would have been such a short dive we gave up. It was just... one of those days! Much of fieldwork is learning how to deal happily and flexibly with uncooperative weather, currents and broken down boats I think...
- Several turtles coming up for air seen from our boat.
- No sharks at all! Rather odd.
- No crocodiles, which I have no problems with whatsoever.
- Cold water. At 24-25 degrees this may not sound too bad to some but being immersed in this for up to 80 minutes barely moving because you are watching a little fish that moves all of about 10 metres over the dive doesn't help. At the moment I am wearing a LOT of neoprene. Well not precisely at this moment as it is enough neoprene to fairly quickly induce heat exhaustion on land and also as sexy as wetsuits are I don't think much of them as fashion statements, but you get the idea.
- Great weather, after a first few very windy and rainy and generally mucky days. In contrast today it is blazing hot and about 5 knots wind (a nice little breeze). My days off always have gorgeous weather and I am never out making the best of it diving!

I'm settling back in -- it's the early days that are probably the easiest, but life here is good. We even had popcorn and beer whilst watching Crash (new additions to the somewhat limited film library!) last night, followed by our traditional day-off pancakes this morning. Yum.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Cavatelli alla Norma

We were in Sicily on a lovely villa holiday earlier this week -- the last stragglers are only returning to rather less sunny England today, but I reluctantly left on Tuesday to immediately head up north to Newcastle for my first scientific conference, where I learnt very cool zoological facts, e.g. birds can sleep with one hemisphere of their brain at a time. However, science aside, today back in slightly grey Cambridge I tried to recall the heady days of Sicily by cooking the wonderfully simple and yummy home-made pasta dish we were taught at a cooking class on Monday! Such intense solo cooking effort seems to me to only be quite worth it if you record it for posterity...

Making cavatelli reminds me a lot of making pork and lettuce dumplings with Mum and my sisters back in the days, and I think as a cultural event it is pretty much an identical thing. Simple food, fun shapes (I always used to end up making rather oddly shaped dumplings which I would have to search for in the cooking pan afterwards to claim) and the womenfolk sitting around chatting seems to be the idea. It's good fun and I see that generations everywhere are bemoaning the fact that nobody seems interested in this kind of food making anymore. But I like it so much I even do it whilst listening to Radio 4 instead of chatting!

The wonderful Sicilian lady who taught us to make this uses only flour and water in her pasta, without the eggs that they use up North. Just add water in parts and knead (tearing the dough seems to be important) until smooth and shiny, then leave to rest...

Then roll the dough into little sausages and chop small pillows off them.

And use your thumb to squidge each little pillow into a curvy shell-like shape - a cavatelli!

Make as many as you are feeling hungry for.

The sauce is simply fried aubergines and blanched/peeled/chopped tomatoes with a little garlic and basil and seasoning:

Cook the cavatelli, add some grated ricotta salata, and enjoy...

Preferably, of course, from the terrace of a real Sicilian villa overlooking the clear blue Mediterranean. (It will still taste nice if you eat it in a Cambridge student room though!)

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Fringe!

Had an utterly fantastic weekend at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, despite it actually pouring down on us nonstop all day Saturday. Umbrella has never gotten more use and my ballet pumps were threatening to literally fall apart, but they held on (just) for many traipses up and down the Royal Mile, rushing between shows. What we could see of Edinburgh between the rain was gorgeous, all beautiful old houses and quirky architecture, Cambridge on a grander and darker Scottish scale, and I am definitely going to have to go back to actually see the city!

We arrived late on Friday night and wandered out for a meal (the best we could find was a chippie, but they did very good fish'n'chips, and I'm sure their fried mars bars must have been a gourmet's delight), then sat ourselves down in a pub to try and sort out way through the >200 page Fringe Guide. With around 10 shows listed on every single page of this guide this was a bit overwhelming at first, but eventually by means of enough random flipping (flip flip flip say when... say when.. .stop!) we found some choice ones that we booked online back at the hotel...

Saturday morning we walked around in the rain, visited the farmer's market where we had porridge (not salted, mind you, but brown sugar and cream, yum!) and a hog roast bun in the rain, visited the Edinburgh Book Festival in the rain, walked through a shopping street north of Princes Street in the rain, took pictures of the castle in the rain, tried to go to a contemporary/break dance performance only to find out it was sold out in the rain...

3:40pm: Flanders and Swann: at the Drop of a Hippopotamus. My sister is a proper Flanders and Swann fan so we absolutely had to go to this. Two blokes singing the best of their comic songs in a very enjoyable manner. I particularly enjoyed Ill Wind, sung to Mozart's Horn Concerto in E Flat Major (see the wikipedia article for an excerpt), The Gnu and of course, The Hippopotamus. Mud, mud, glorious mud/There's nothing quite like it for cooling the blood... Time was everyone and the Queen could all sing this! We felt slightly embarrassed that we were quite clearly the youngest people in the show, children dragged along by their parents notwithstanding. Not a new phenomenon however.

5:10pm: Nicholas Parsons' Happy Hour! Mr Parsons hosts Radio 4's Just a Minute, and happily, did exactly what he does best, by bringing in guests and chatting to them about their acts. Aussie comedian Adam Hills regaled us with stories of that wonderful Scottish energy drink Irn Bru and showed us his appendicitis scar and his prosthetic foot, prompting the entire audience to "ooo" like wide-eyed schoolchildren. An amazing a capella group called The Magnets also did a few songs -- they call their music "a capella for the rock and pop generation", and they pulled it off totally with such showmanship and the sharpest suits this side of Milan. Not so much barbershop as Mika and the Scissor Sisters with a beatboxer. We enjoyed it so much we decided to go to see them again later that evening.

7:15pm: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. This was a group of mainly Cambridge musical theatre people and as I had a friend and some acquaintances in it I was really looking forward to it. Again, fantastic -- much as I like the big old Rodgers and Hammerstein style, I also love the more modern musicals that have something darker and meatier to them. In this case, the meat being human flesh, conveniently provided by the rather obsessive barber's neat throat slitting of his customers, who then slid conveniently down to the pie shop below his barbershop where his partner Mrs Lovett made them into truly delicious meat pies for the ravenous public. Macabre, chilling, darkly humorous, lovely tunes, with a great twist at the end, and all done in a stripped down and thoroughly effective manner.

10:20pm: Reduced Edinburgh Fringe Improvised Comedy (or some such). These were a really quite enjoyable improv troupe, complete with improvised songs (an Adolf Hitler in Scunthorpe with a dream of being a professional golfer), spooky stories about deaths on the Royal Mile (revolving around a donkey in a chip van), and pithy mimes ("Liverpool" is apparently universally understood by a 5 second sketch of some unsuspecting guy having his wallet pickpocketed).

12am: Adam, Jason and Friends. On the strength of Nicholas Parsons' introduction earlier in the day we got tickets to see this, which turned out to be in a huge lovely venue up near the castle and was even being filmed. Adam Hill's laidback Aussie chatting style played off really well against Irishman Jason Byrne's absolutely insane antics -- Catholic jokes layered over a stand up style that meant that he never actually ever stood still because he was too busy floating away in bubbles and pulling men around the stage in giant cardboard boxes. Again they had several guests, but the highlight of the night must have been their Punch and Judy act got up to interview Nina Conti's Monkey (a totally foul mouthed little ventriloquist puppet), which surely could have had no better ending than Jason's attempts to pick up his interview questions with his mouth through the puppetry screen causing the entire edifice to collapse... you had to be there. The Magnets rounded it all off a few of their songs, including a repeat of the Jackson 5's "Blame it on the Boogie" which is their big finale piece where they get everyone up and dancing. The fact that we had already been taught the moves that afternoon didn't stop us from enjoying it!

Sunday morning we didn't quite make it out of bed till halfway through it. We thankfully found a wonderful little Mediterranean cafe in the Old Town where we had our first real meal since getting to Edinburgh (apparently everybody loses weight at the Festival running up and down between shows, never having time to eat, and sweating in claustrophobic venues heated by hundreds of human bodies), and very lovely it was too. Finally we headed to our last show of the weekend (boohoo), one of the many "showcases" where they get many different acts from Fringe to come on and do excerpts. Many of these were fantastic, including an American duo who did a hilarious spoof of a particular brand of Christian evangelist (dorks singing "Team Jesus" with a 2-note xylophone accompaniment), Japanese mime artists Gamarjobat who, identified by one guy's red mohican and the other's yellow mohican, do the physical comedy thing in a truly awesome way. And for the finale of this whirlwind tour through the Fringe, we had, to our rather bemused surprise (or not)... The Magnets! and the familiar strains of Blame it on the Boogie. (Although the Sunday 1pm crowd wasn't quite as dancey as twelve hours earlier at Sunday 1am!)

Don't know why I haven't been before, it is possibly one of the most enjoyable ways to spend a weekend ever, seeing act after polished act (most of whom want to make you laugh) for about five to ten quid each and traipsing the streets of a truly wonderful city in between. It's definitely going on the August calendar for as many years to come as possible!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Cookies rrr-umumumumum

I couldn't figure out how to phoneticise what, I have been informed by Wikipedia, is officially known as the "Cookie monster noise" (you would think that the people who create Kermit and Bert and Ernie on a daily basis would have a more creative name for it). Rrrr-ummumumumum it will have to be. Clear I have no future in poetry. Or writing children's books.

Anyway Cookies rrr-umumumumum were what my sister and I made last weekend! More art and craft than cooking, but what fun! Note especially our favourite, the chick on the right.

Technically I think these are biscuits and not cookies, but you do cut them out with a cookie cutter after all...

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Four and twenty blackbirds...

Well really just one. She was not sitting in a pie but rather in my bedroom, whence she hopped out in a most startling manner about twenty minutes ago. And then she sort of did a tour of my living room and desk while I bemusedly wandered around checking that, yes, all my windows were indeed shut. So she must have been exploring my closet and checking the softness of my mattress since my bedder came in in the morning (sometime after nine, before I went to work).

I open a window.

She flaps across to the windowsill, gratefully, I think, but then flies back down again, preferring my carpet.

I open the door. She wanders across, and then down the stairs towards the shared loos and the laundry.

I open the other door, to the outside.

She hops back up the stairs and outside! Hurrah! Here she is in the courtyard where she wandered around for a bit and picked at crumbs. Free as a bird (you don't say).

P/S I hope it really was a blackbird and I haven't just embarrassed myself. Anyway I don't know many nursery rhymes about other birds.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Mm, crackling.

Today I had a craving for roast pork. So I made some!

With roast potatoes, apple sauce and a mandatory bit of green.

Now I only have to eat roast pork for the next half a week... but this is not such a chore. I shall feed some to friends.

I think, if by some kind of freak change of opinion I ever (purposely) become pregnant, I will be cooking all the time. Oh dear.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The new world.

Spent the first half of June blisfully blanking out the PhD in sunnier climes across the pond, on a giant family holiday. So very needed, after the travails of field season, and all the more fully enjoyed.

Every time I visit New York I like it more and more. This time round it turned out to be a great cultural tour, my parents being very enthusiastic about such things. All these things I'd not done on previous visits because I was being a cheapo student got done and were really totally worth it.

My second evening there we went to Carnegie Hall -- just a block away from my sister's place! I love that people are living and there are corner delis selling flowers and pastrami sandwiches literally next door to the hall, yet you step inside and it is hallowed as any other great performing venue brooding darkly over a rain-soaked square -- and watched the Emerson String Quartet play the entirety of Beethoven's, no prizes for guessing, string quartets. Starting at 5pm with a dinner break at about 6:45 and starting again at 8pm, this was something of a marathon, but it was amazing music, amazingly performed, and I'm glad I went. It is probably a good thing it was Beethoven and not, say, Schubert, because Beethoven is always complex (and sometimes humorous) enough to keep you awake!

Also trips to Broadway, once to watch Journey's End, a British import: 4 men in a WWI trench talking to each other, largely about how scary dying is and how nevertheless sometimes you ought to go and get yourself killed anyway. Pretty grim-sounding, I know, but it was actually quality theatre, if only I hadn't been jetlagged and perhaps if I'd been male I might have loved it (the boyfriend did -- I wonder what they teach you in NS, hee). A second, more jovial time, to watch Spamalot! So daft you couldn't help enjoying yourself. Enjoy I suppose is the key word here. Sometimes I am a bit of a theatre snob and feel that at some point at least you should also be moved and awed, but I know that I really shouldn't turn up my nose at bad puns (at one point after a rather Tarantino-style fight scene somebody wanders across the stage gathering arms for the poor...) because I do still laugh! :)

We also queued for 5 hours in Central Park, along with many other patient people with picnic blankets, food delivery from the local deli, and a couple of dogs, for free Shakespeare in the Park tickets. It just seemed like something you should try once, and it wasn't at all the ordeal it might have been (other than the temperature -- we ended up making a playlist of sunny songs on my iPod to ward the cold off), and the play actually turned out to be really excellent. I thought it was an incredibly accessible piece of Shakespeare -- I suppose Romeo and Juliet is fairly accessible anyway -- but still it seemed particularly modern in this production. The outdoor theatre and the revolving stage with a giant pond in the middle were also something to be seen. There were even celebrity actors, although the only one I actually knew was Camryn Manheim (The Practice), who was a fantastic Nurse.

Finally, and I've saved this for last because nothing triggers fangirl reactions in me quite like this, was the ballet. I had never been to the Metropolitan Opera House before and it was simply gorgeous. Everything an opera house should be, red velvet and gold everywhere, and the foyer with all those gorgeous curving staircases was a work of art in itself. We saw a new production of the Sleeping Beauty. Great costuming, fireworks for Carabosse, loads of wire flying (woo!) -- it was definitely a big one for the kids. But also, of course, there was also Paloma Herrera rock steady in the Rose Adage, Angel Corella whizzing off his trademark lightspeed turns, and Sascha Radetsky (yes, he of Center Stage) seeming to literally defy gravity in his Bluebird brises. Despite enjoying it, though, I felt it didn't quite have the magic of the Royal Ballet's Nutcracker, nor any of the more modern ballets that I love.

And so I had to go again! We were wandering by the Lincoln Centre one evening at the appropriate time when a funny feeling came over me and I had to go and find out what was on. And it was Manon, the MacMillan ballet that I had yet to see. And so the boyfriend in an act of tremendous kindness and understanding actually encouraged me to abandon him on our last evening in New York and go to watch the ballet instead. Er... so I did. (Oops... but he likes bookshop browsing. ;)) I shall resist going into yet another MacMillan related rave, I've done them too many times on this blog, but I loved it, it was all worth far more than the last-minute-$25-student-ticket price I paid to sit ten rows from the front. To be honest it's a bit of a fragile story, but with choreography like this it was all okay. MacMillan's ability to draw little character vignettes never fails to delight me -- I particularly enjoyed Lescaut's (Sascha Radetsky again after Ethan Stiefel injured himself in Act II and couldn't continue beyond the intermission -- the drama! though I didn't even notice he was injured) drunken bits in Act III. But of course, Manon is a ballet built on pas de deux for the central pair. I had the incredible luck to find myself watching Alessandra Ferri and Roberto Bolle dance these exuberant joyous unrestrained declarations of love and passion, weeks before Alessandra was to retire (which she has done by now), replacing Xiomara Reyes who unfortunately was also injured. Again, surely the best spent $25 of my life. Roberto, whom I'd seen just a few weeks before in London, seemed almost too tall for Alessandra, but I did still like him very much. He has such really beautiful lines and is a gorgeously clean dancer, although I sometimes felt that he has yet to gain the maturity of interpretation that dancers like Jonathan Cope bring to the dramatic MacMillan roles. Alessandra was, quite simply, wonderful. Small and girlish and mature all at once, in a body made for ballet and perhaps an intellect made to act dramatic roles. But of course Manon is, after all, her role (she was MacMillan's muse before Darcey). It seemed strange to be watching these two ballerinas retire at the same time, both still totally at the top of their game, and it is a shame to see them go, but I'll count myself lucky that I did manage to watch them.

I've ended up writing far more and far too haphazardly than intended about the cultural New York experience, so I'll have to leave the rest to another time. But in case I never quite get round to it, the rest was eating: Grimaldi's for definitely the best pizza in New York, the Brooklyn ice cream company next door for fantastic simple ice cream, Joe Shanghai still for its amazing xiao long bao, Burger Joint for the most unexpected yummy hole-in-the-wall burger experience ever, and Han Bat for late night satisfying Korean.

And to think today I had to have a ham, egg and tomato sandwich from EAT for lunch. Sheesh.

Monday, May 21, 2007


I almost called this blog entry "Cooking, yoga and novels" but then I realised that makes me sound a bit like a new agey housewife (where oh where is the PhD work in this pithy rundown of bloggable bits of my life?). Hence domesticism. Actually the PhD work is at this moment being a little frustrating and aimless, so it is far better to write about cooking, yoga and novels...

So. Over the weekend in one of my usual epic waste time on the web sessions I wandered into the brave new world of podcasts courtesy of the iTunes store. Podcasts being the only thing you don't actually have to pay for in this store I had a little browse. And I found Gordon Ramsay making sticky lemon chicken with champ! Having almost all the ingredients already I decided to give it a go. It was most exceedingly novel to have Gordon yammering away in full colour and sound on my iPod (what a way to follow a recipe, just plug yourself in whilst in kitchen) as I've not used its video function before. I was spared almost all stove-top swearing, perhaps because it was for Times Online. Have to say it smelled really lovely all the way through cooking. I am not really a fan of lemony anything in my main course (other than fish I suppose), but still it was more than passably yummy. I cheated by not using stove heated double cream + full cream milk in my champ (glorified mash with spring onions in), I used my regular semi-skimmed instead, which I am sure deadened the full creamy taste of the champ and I should be ashamed of myself really and what would Gordon say, but on the other hand I can claim to have made the 2% committed dieter's version of sticky lemon chicken... voila. Microwaved leftover version for tomorrow's dinner. Hee.

Such a splash-out dinner must have been just reward for the bikram yoga class I went for earlier this evening. It's a series taught by a dancer I'm friends with, but I'd just never managed to drag myself over to class before. It was tough! I've only ever really done one or two yoga classes in my life before and I think they were more ashtanga. But this! I fell out of balances all the time and I am absolutely certain I will ache like anything tomorrow. Think I may try to keep going for it -- it's not as fun as a dance class because it requires such iron determination (in dance class the music and the performance aspect usually keep me distracted from the pain), but it is a good challenge. We also did some Pilates work, which I hate because my abs are nonexistent, but it will be very good for me, what sort of fake dancer doesn't have a strong core huh.

Finally I treated myself to a bunch of novels on the last of my book tokens from college, one of which was David Mitchell's "Black Swan Green". So very very readable, I found myself staying up till 4am last night finishing it off. I am not sure I have that much to say about it. I could only describe it as another nostalgic isn't adolescence such an awful and wonderful journey book, but that would only be its structure I think and not really its heart. Not how it carries you along on such an enjoyable ride. The only other David Mitchell I have read is Cloud Atlas, which was a world away, wonderful but I am always wary of 'gimmicky' devices like that of Cloud Atlas, so I didn't quite expect this straightforward, feel-good, funny, intimate narrative. But it was quite simply a good read. What an unsatisfying review this is. I should've left it as "I recommend it"!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Darcey dancing.

Yesterday in a bit of a birthday treat to myself a friend and I went to Darcey Bussell's 'Farewell' show at Sadler's Wells. It was an amazing evening which lived entirely up to all the most ridiculous heights of expectation I'd elevated it to, helped by the centre front of stalls seats I had managed by some miracle to get (they were the last two seats in the entire five night run of the show). Funnily enough it wasn't so much Darcey that I enjoyed so much as the chance to watch varied excellent choreography, all of which I had heard of often but never managed to watch before. Of course, though, she was as beautiful and as amazing as ever. She still has ridiculously high extensions. She still reaches all those extensions with a gorgeous fluidity that melds itself, chameleon-like, into wildly varying choreographic styles. It is simply a real pleasure to watch her -- those giant grant jetes (and giant they are -- you don't quite realise how tall she is until well into the show when tiny Tamara Rojo comes on) eat up the stage in a truly exuberant fashion that is hers alone.

Funnily enough, for a dancer who has danced all the biggest classical roles, I enjoyed the Sylvia pas de deux the least in the entire show, perhaps because sometimes these classical pieces can seem a little odd taken out of context, perhaps because I am perhaps no longer as enamoured as I used to be with the classics. On the other hand, I really enjoyed her Cinderella variation, shown on film, Ballet Boyz style, while she changed backstage betwen dances. Such speed! Such turns! Such neatness! It really does put paid to all the "Darcey is too tall to dance Ashton" myths.

The rest of the first half was made up of two modern pas de deux, both of which I loved. The first, from William Forsythe's In the middle, somewhat elevated, was fantastically exciting and sexy to watch. From the moment the sinfully good looking Roberto Bolle swaggers onto stage and muscles his way into an off-centred balance it holds you in a really physical way. And then Darcey comes on and the remainder is a whirlwind of thrown 180 degree extensions as she is manipulated into one impossible angular pose after another. If anything I liked Chris Wheeldon's Tryst pas de deux even more. Johnny Cope came out of retirement to perform this with Darcey and I could not imagine this being danced by any other than these two gorgeous dancers on whom it was created. In feel it could not be further from the Forsythe, all melting gentleness from which emerge the most breathtaking moments of counterbalance and flexibility that if you hadn't seen for that split second between all the rest of the flowing moment you would think weren't humanly possible. Whilst the Forsythe for me blended into one long impression of Darcey's leg up by her ear, the diversity of the beautiful images left indelibly by Tryst I think makes it for me the more appealing of the two works (though both were brilliant in very different ways!). Darcey on pointe in fourth, tipping so perilously and yet also so stably from side to side, pendulum-like, balanced on just one of Johnny's arms round her waist; Darcey held high as if caught upside down in soaring mid-flight, balancing for one long beautiful moment on the soles of Johnny's feet; Darcey in a full split sitting almost comfortably across his thighs in an expansive grand second plie, look ma no hands. It shouldn't have been possible, but they did it, and they did it in such an unassuming and quiet way that made it all the more powerful and impressive.

The second half of the night was a full performance of Kenneth MacMillan's Winter Dreams, based on Chekhov's Three Sisters. Not being familiar with the play I had a lot of fun concocting my various theories of what complicated love entanglements were going on -- though I did understand that it ended it tragedy for everybody (not uncommon for Chekhov I understand). But more seriously, this was perhaps the most satisfying part of the evening. I've already waxed on and on about MacMillan's ability as a dance dramatist in this blog, but I can't stress it enough. His ballets have an amazing ability to make me lose sight of the dance for the story that they are so movingly telling. In a way I suppose this is a pity because I rather enjoy enviously admiring the beauty of an arch or the line of an arabesque, but on the other hand this is the dramatic form of dance at its very very finest. I thought that of all the choreographers of the evening perhaps MacMillan understood Darcey's dancing the best, with her lush fluidity more obvious here than anywhere else. Jonathan Cope was a revelation, such an amazing actor; his was truly tortured role as the husband who is left by Masha (Darcey) for another man, layered with complexity and filled with so much pathos. But again, it was a quiet, internal torture that he put himself through, and the choreography was quirky but so very, very effective in his hands. Their farewell pas de deux, again, was fraught with emotion.

I tried to understand, what it is I love so much about these ballets, why being moved by the story and the characters is so emotionally fulfilling. Why not, indeed, watch a play, where they are not restricted to stylized dancing but instead can speak their despair, where lovers can fall into each others' arms without triple pirrouetting first? I don't really have a good answer, but some part of it would be that the dance form really is more global. Other than the obvious language issue, the minute you open your mouth you are labelled, particularly in this land of a thousand accents, and with that labelling comes a host of associated social contexts which I think many of the stories that are told through dance can shed. True, this makes them simpler, less interestingly complex. But that doesn't make their simple stories any less powerful. Another part of my answer would perhaps be that often, in our deepest agonies of joy and despair, there are no words, not if you aren't Shakespeare. It is a physical feeling, falling in love as Masha does, being tied to your loneliness as her husband is; and dance is perhaps one of the best ways to express such things. Don't we all want to leap for joy sometimes, even if it's not with pointed feet and in a full split as Darcey can?

Enough rambling, I must have utterly lost all of you by now; forgive me but I no longer write a diary and thus have no other outlet for these ramblings that could only interest, well, me.

I had a really lovely birthday, despite the fact that I spent most of it working as usual. After work I had a really nice long dinner with a friend who shares my birthday, and I've also received in the mail not only my teddy bear all the way from Australia (hurrah) but also this ecstatically received present from the boyfriend. He knows me and my gluttony inside out and I love him for it :)

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Bank Holiday Weekend

Came down to London for the weekend after finishing unpacking (I had to move back into my college rooms which I had fully vacated during field season), mainly to see whether I had left vital items -- chequebook, office keys -- in my sister's house. Thankfully I had, along with mountains of other crap I had to shed on the way to Oz, and I will not have to do some embarrassed foot shuffling in front of our facilities manager (who is actually very nice, but probably still wouldn't be pleased if I had actually lost my keys). Speaking of embarrassed foot shuffling I did however have to do this in e-mail form to the (again, very nice) directors of Lizard Island Research Station to explain that, of all the things to inadvertently leave behind, such as important pieces of scientific equipment or diving gear, I had left my teddy bear. It took me days to build up the confidence to write this embarrassing email. Why I am now publishing this on the world wide web I do not know.

Time in London really quite nice despite being quite disappointed that my sister and her husband had gone off for a Bank Holiday Weekend jaunt in Lisbon and so I had to spend it by myself (no dog to play with either as it's gone off to the dog sitter's!). I have managed to avoid too much couch potato-ing (the temptation is always very strong when I stay here at my sister's because I don't watch telly otherwise, the common room always seeming far too far away) by means of going for a jazz class at a nearby dance studio that I've always meant to try (a fantastic workout, loads of fun and it just felt so good to be dancing again after two months of exile), wandering through the National Gallery's Manet to Picasso exhibition (all paintings in the permanent collection which I have seen before, but I do still enjoy looking at them and the exhibition audio guides were full of quirky little art history details), and hitting the Chinatown grocery stores! Well I also hit a clothes store -- not in Chinatown -- and they gave me a pair of dungarees for free. It would never cross my mind to buy a pair of dungarees. Perhaps I am not alone in this, hence being given them for free. What to do with them? I feel that I need to paint some walls.

In Leicester Square tube a rather nice looking Indian bloke came up to me whilst I was debating with myself the relative benefits of the Northern or Piccadilly lines and started up a rather flattering conversation. This does not happen to me often. When it does it usually comes from drunken and extremely unattractive hairy men. I couldn't stop myself being quite happy, really, that I can actually be hit on by a normal person -- although I must be terribly naive to think that someone who tries to pick up girls in tube stations could be normal at all -- but he did seem it, anyway, so I will allow myself the delusion. I almost wished I'd stayed to chat instead of rushing off with my two gigantic bags of Chinese groceries, but of course I didn't...

Monday, April 30, 2007

Up Close and Personal

I write this in Cairns airport, with a latte and a wireless connection for breakfast. Funny how easily one settles back into it, when yesterday I was soaking in the great blue sea on my last swim, nothing but coral reef and horizon as far as you could see. (Unfortunately it turned out to be my last wade as the tide had gone out; I plonked myself down in the knee deep water and watched a juvenile damsel use me for shelter.) I got into Cairns last night and at first it was fairly unsurprising, but then as I walked down the esplanade towards the town centre and the number of people went up and I hit my first restaurants, buzzing with neon lights and chattering customers and enticing menus, it all seemed so very, well, novel. It's only after two months on a tropical island I suppose that I would actively choose to walk the restaurant and souvenir store strip of road, rather than through the grassy parkland flanking the sea. I am glad to be back in civilisation, I do like my lattes and I have always really been a city girl, but I also already miss the peace and beauty and solitude (when you want) of Lizard. Although most researchers on the island work their butts off and barely ever see the scenery, there is still a calm to it. When you are bumpily driving along in your boat getting soaked with cold spray at 7 in the morning, not quite awake, having just dropped a tank on your toe, with three dives ahead of you and recalcitrant fish, you generally still manage to recognise that it is a beautiful drive, the best commute in the world. So I am glad to be done with field season one, but I'm also already looking forward to number two.

We stopped fieldwork a few days before leaving the island to allow plenty of time to pack and clean (I never did get eggs again successfully, which is a real shame, but I still hope to make it work more reliably next trip). The directors of the station, Anne and Lyle, decided to spend their day off on the outer Barrier Reef and very kindly invited us along, and so after well over a hundred dives in my two rather nondescript study sites in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef lagoon, we finally got to experience what it was all meant to be about.

On this particular day what it was all about was this:

Cod Hole! Where the visibility is close to 30 metres (in the Coral Sea, just beyond the outer barrier, it regularly exceeds this -- after some 6 metre vis dives on an island where there is a known crocodile this sounds like paradise) and the coral is kaleidoscopic and the huge potato cod are extremely friendly. A couple of them took an especial shine to me and would swim right at me then just sort of stay there, bumping my knee in a friendly fashion every so often for a good half an hour, the perfect fish face models. I couldn't actually get far enough away from them to take anything but fish face photos. We have a theory that they thought the blue coil lanyard on my camera housing was a pilchard, which the big dive operators feed to the cod in a bit of a circus act -- 20 divers with cameras sitting in a large circle with a lady with a large box of dead pilchards in the middle, moving round it with the cod following her and feeding it in front of each diver so that they could get a good shot. Well away from the mayhem of the circle we had our own much more personal experiences with the fish. They were wonderful individuals and their trust and heft and personality put me in mind of a slightly more taciturn version of the Florida manatees. But then again, they would never be so friendly if they didn't hope that I'd produce food from somewhere. We also did a quick snorkel on close by reef called No Name (!), which looked like a gorgeous dive, a wall that dropped off vertically to maybe 30m, deep blue water beyond it, schools of unicornfish and anthias everywhere, the occasional shark patrolling -- that sense of excitement, what will I see next, was palpable and rather different from the tens of dives I had done counting foraging bites (sometimes in Chinese and Malay to keep myself awake).

Edit 4/5/07: Back in Cambridge! Woo. As promised here are a few more photos. I write this at 6:45 am -- jetlag always makes me feel virtuous coming this way.

The wall on the outside edge of the north tip of No. 10 Ribbon Reef:

A couple of fish faces.

Um, and a fish eye...

Goodbye Lizard!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Caviar in Bags

Less than a week left to go here on Lizard. I've started to enjoy myself a lot more these past few weeks, partly because we simply stopped exhausting ourselves with work (cutting down from an average of 4 to 3 sessions in the water each day), and partly because I have reached that happy state of existence where I am very philosophic about my research: getting data is good, not getting data is not so good but not a good enough reason to fret myself awake at stupid times in the middle of the night. So anyway I hope to finish up with fieldwork in the next few days, leaving a few days for gear to dry out and be packed up, and all sorts of other exciting end-of-season work like taking our boat out of the water to waterblast all the slimy green stuff off it (we actually do this every few weeks, it's amazing how much difference it makes to the speed, no wonder all those boat guys in Malaysia are constantly hopping off the side and cleaning their boat from underwater while we're diving), and lots and lots of cleaning.

A week and a half ago had a Happy Scientific Moment. We were trying out this method which sometimes sounded to me totally implausible. Basically you wait for your fish to spawn with bated breath (well not really because one must Never Stop Breathing while on scuba, for fear of a very painful condition known as a burst lung or two). If they are being cooperative, which is only about 50% of the time currently, the male and the female will swim upwards together then simultaneously release eggs and sperm in a little cloud in the water column. You then rush towards the area where they have spawned with this gigantic plastic bag and you surround the entire gamete cloud with your bag. Then you bring it to the boat and try to figure out how on earth you are meant to lift 33 litres of water in a plastic bag onto your boat; then you subsample your bag; then back in the lab you filter your subsample several times and count eggs and sperm. I couldn't get any sperm, possibly because my methods weren't quite correct and also I had no clue what fish sperm actually look like (I had never before seen this done in my life and was simply following the descriptions in papers); but I did unbelievably get some eggs despite the total mess we'd made of the whole thing, and staring down the microscope I found that they were mostly actually fertilized. It really makes very simple logical sense but for a while it gobsmacked me that you could do this at all; that you could take a big plastic bag and collect gametes with it and subsample and filter and stain and stick in a petri dish and look at under a microscope and COUNT fertilised egg ratios. I suppose it is only because I am a whole animal biologist that I find it amazing, because most of the time I do things that any child could do, counting the number of bites a fish takes or following it around, so anything that involves a slightly more complicated procedure (and things that require a microscope!) seems incredibly sophisticated. But anyway, it worked. Once. We've only been able to do it again once more, due to the fish being uncooperative, and that time it failed utterly with no eggs at all. I'm hoping to repeat it successfully just once more before the season is out, just to prove it wasn't some kind of weird fluke, as the aim really was just to pilot the method for use in the next season. But it might require underwater Barry White broadcasts, as one of the other researchers suggested.

When we are not waiting for fish to get it on we somethimes find time to go on little excursions.

On the way up to Cook's Look, the highest point on the island:

Finally made it!

Another trip to Coconut Beach round the other side of the island, totally deserted with no sign of human habitation...

...except for the fact that the seagulls will come and sit next to you when you are having lunch.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Island Food

Work progresses as usual, we are well into the slog it out and try desperately to collect enough data (I only have 3.5 weeks left) phase of this field season. We are hampered every so often by exciting events like a tsunami warning due to the Solomon Islands earthquake, that prompted us all to go sit on a rock on high ground with a good view of the sea and eat an apple each whilst listening to the radio. It was quite a bizarre event, all the research station staff and volunteers and researchers (at the time, a grand total of eight) suspending normal activities to go sit on a rock. At any rate there wasn't even a ripple in our area and we went out as usual in the afternoon having been told that the threat had passed.

So in answer to "am I sick of maggi mee yet", the answer is actually no because I only brought four packets of Maggi Mee with me from Cairns and I've only eaten three of them. We order in food from a supermarket in Cairns (barge day -- every second Wednesday -- is rather like a fortnightly Christmas), and cook all our meals in very well appointed kitchens in our houses. I am vaguely sick of spaghetti aglio olio e pepperoncino which is what I always make for a quick lunch (or sometimes when I am very hungry I have a ham sandwich instead, which is even quicker); but we have also had both red and green curry, once I made a rather improvised hainan chicken rice, every Thursday (our day off) we have pancakes for breakfast, every Saturday evening which is the weekly barbecue night we have a gigantic steak each, and it is truly amazing what one will find in the "free food" cupboards (food left over from other groups which have left). Free food had provided us with pizza bases, popping corn (for our movie nights in the library), huge bottles of supermarket home brand bright green lime flavoured cordial that I have discovered is actually made of apples and lots of chemicals and which we have fondly christened our "detergent" drink, more bread than one could ever eat, proper Lee Kum Kee oyster sauce, a whole array of spices, and etc. As is usual when one is diving a lot we eat like pigs, the Tim Tams (Aussie chocolate biscuits with a chocolate filling and chocolate covering, hmm why does this make me think of certain college folks...) get wolfed down as soon as they appear on barge day. But the sheer amount of physical work this whole marine biology thing is turning out to be means that I think I am actually burning it all off as fast as I can eat it.

Which all means that I feel no guilt in baking up the Cadbury's chocolate cake mix that I impulsively ordered on the latest barge cycle, it is Easter this weekend after all!

P/S Fish in the last post was a female, also fondly known in my books as individual A8_3... (I don't give them names, firstly I am looking at close to 50 fish and I'm not that creative, secondly I don't really think you are supposed to according to some points of view -- not anthropomorphising them and all that). Don't worry, they always recover pretty quickly from the stress of being caught and in five or ten minutes they are usually swimming about and eating happily again -- though they do get very paranoid about divers which is a bit of a pain when you are trying to watch them still!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Tricky Little Blighters

...are fish when you are trying to catch them, according to highly reputable scientific sources (such as my supervisor). A good two weeks after starting on the whole fish catching mission I have managed to catch a grand total of 9 of the things. They swim a heck of a lot faster than you. They maneuvre faster. They can go down little holes in rocks and don't come out. They find the one tiny hole you have left when surrounding their shelter with fence nets and zoom out of it at warp speed. This is not, by any means, a piece of (fish) cake. (Sorry.) After a brief spate of beginner's luck (midway through the first week), we hit a total dry spell, days and days and hours underwater with nothing to show for it, but most recently we have had some minor success again, so it's no telling what will come next! It is kind of fun trying to outwit them. Whether or not the effort (on average so far probably something like three hours to catch one fish, which we keep in a plastic bag and admire for all of about two minutes to take measurements and squeeze their bellies and also to tag them, followed by immediate release) is proportional to the results is something I am not thinking about quite too hard...

Otherwise, research is chugging along. I'm at about the halfway point, and am finally sort of getting on with data collection (it seems a bit odd that it took a whole month just to set things up, but I hope/think I didn't just waste it all), or at least as much data collection as I can manage given the fact that the Tricky Little Blighters are so good at not being caught and also for well over a week now they have not been spawning at all, despite singing of suggestive songs at them underwater.

Life here has become very much the norm, my three or four dives/snorkels a day (this is a punishing physical regime, I think it's been a very long time since I was so fit -- lugging dive gear around and pulling up the boat anchor is bloody hard work), as much sleep as I can get at night, and our very much needed one day off a week where we sleep in till 9 and have pancakes for breakfast! I imagine after the next month when I re-emerge into the world of civilisation there will be something of a culture shock. I haven't actually touched any cash for a whole month, excepting one evening when we went to the staff bar of the resort, which is the only bit us scruffy researchers are allowed into.

Here is a picture of a Tricky Little Blighter that we managed to outwit, hurrah.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Fishy trials and tribulations

Have fairly rapidly discovered that one of the difficulties of being on field season is that you think about your fish literally all day every day, and often dream about them in the night or wake up at 5am finding yourself trying to plan the next day's research activities. Hence today we are taking an Entire Day Off, what a luxury, not really one which I feel I totally deserve but I think it will prove good for my sanity, I not only see bicolor angels everywhere now but they are always buzzing around the back (and often the forefront) of my mind in their exasperating cute little fishy way. The Entire Day Off consists really of just staying on dry land and allowing all these little cuts and scratches (I am a walking feast for the mozzies here and I am very bad at not scratching, so I have many!) to dry out a little, and letting me catch up a little with land-type work; so in reality I am not totally avoiding the bicolor-related thoughts, but I do intend to spend some of the afternoon mooching in a way that totally belies the fact that every hour I spend at the research station is very Expensive and Valuable Fieldwork Time that should never be wasted on pain of producing a crap PhD. I also woke up at 9am today, the luxury (we normally wake around 7 and are at the dive shed to leave for morning dives/snorkels at 8:30). We may climb Cook's Look which is the highest point on the island (a reasonable height I think, it takes about 3-4 hours round trip) later in the afternoon if the weather holds.

The past week has been a bit of a rollercoaster, things looking totally grim and prompting thoughts of quitting and becoming an investment banker one day, then bright and sunny with research for life beckoning the next day, and then the cycle repeats. The main issue has been study sites, which I had thought I had settled on by the end of my first week (according to plan) but which then proved to be a problem in terms of diving regulations, as I need to dive at dusk at my sites to watch my fish spawn, and a couple of the sites were too far away for the station's directors to be happy for us to do that without a third person to sit in the boat as an extra safety precaution. So halfway through my second week I found myself starting the search for study sites all over again. Having thought I'd found a wonderful one closer to the station, I then discovered that once the south-east tradewinds start blowing (which happens any day NOW) that site would be too exposed and rough to dive. And so on and so on -- if it wasn't one obstacle it was another putting a big black cross against site after site. Finally I think I may be back on track (though I am now very wary of being overly optimistic and am totally mentally prepared for it to all collapse tomorrow) as I've found yet another site, still exposed to the tradewinds but marginally more sheltered, and the station directors have very very kindly allowed us to dusk dive at one of my further away sites. Phew. You didn't need to know that, but it makes me feel better to have complained about it all one more time!

In happier thoughts, next week I am going to try to catch some fish (to measure and tag them, and also to squeeze their bellies to see what if anything comes out...!) which sounds like most frustrating fun, everybody has warned me how much of a total nightmare it can be, so we will see. Er, maybe that's not a happy thought after all. Anyway I am glad to be starting on something new instead of searching for yet more study sites -- in plan anyway.

Home sweet home:

Wet season means I've been taken out of or not been able to get into the water countless times due to the weather, but when it's nice, this is the view from the dive shed of our beach and weekly BBQ area:

Looking the other way down the beach towards Palfrey and South Islands at low tide:

Research station boats -- mine is No. VII with a 25hp motor in the front and behind it is Kirsty K, used for longer trips to reefs outside of the Lizard Island Group.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Lizard Island Life

End of my first week on Lizard Island -- it has been a good week in that we have more or less achieved what we wanted to for the first week, which I must keep in mind is far more than can be expected for most fledgling projects of this kind! In celebration we are taking the afternoon off, actually just time out of the water to catch our breaths and sort out various mundanities of island life like laundry and collecting the next fornight's worth of food from today's barge and thinking about some science...

This place really is the most luxurious field station one could possibly want to work on. Perhaps the pinnacle of this luxury is the (solar) hot water showers that are available not just up at the houses that we live in but even round the corner of the dive shed. I think this is the first time I've ever had a hot water dive shed shower in my life, including visits to fairly swanky resorts. (I wonder if the Voyages resort a few beaches down, the only other development on the island, can boast as much.) More totally unexpected amenities include spacious kitchens far better than my own (and a free food supply from research groups who have left!); washing machines; satellite phone and Internet connections at reasonable rates; a well stocked library with all the theses ever written about Lizard as well as other science and fiction; lovely composting toilets; and I could certainly go on. Normally, the privations of tropical coral reef island life (in the past this has included tent living and unsavoury loos 200m from camp) one tries not to mind because of the beauty of the area and the simple fact that you get to dive gorgeous reefs every day; but here we are totally well supplied with creature comforts in addition to experiencing views like the following (this picture taken on the way home after a particularly exhilirating dusk snorkel in which I observed my fish spawning for the first time; fish sex and romantic sunsets complete one's day very satisfactorily):

So yes, it is an extremely nice life. The Research Station is fairly empty at the moment with only one other small group of researchers here other than myself and my field assistant, so I can certainly see how one would go a little stir crazy after a while (as is this time typical of tropical island life, one's world revolves around a very small triangle of house, lab and dive shed; with all other forays outwards always by boat with scuba gear), but I hope to put that off for a while at least. I am too busy now dealing with my visions of my little Centropyge bicolor -- I have started to catch sight of them everywhere out of the corner of my eye, including whilst on dry land walking through a field... hmm.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Yellow Brick Road

Am on my way to Lizard Island, Queensland, Australia! I will be there for the next two months watching my little fishies (Centropyge bicolor or the bicolor dwarf angelfish for anyone who wants to know). Am meandering over very gradually via London, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore (current location) and Cairns -- so it is taking a little while. I'll try to post on this blog when I can about the trials and tribulations of being an intrepid field researcher on a resort island on the Great Barrier Reef...

Friday, February 09, 2007


In a paper about some fish:

"During courtship the male approaches a female, swims parallel and slightly behind her, then the pair swim side-by-side and, wriggling frenetically, rise slowly for 2-3 m into the water column, release eggs and milt in a visible small cloud, and move back immediately to the bottom."
- Marconato et al (1995) The mating system of Xyrichthys novacula: sperm economy and fertilization success. J. Fish Biol. 47:292-301

Am I alone in thinking that if I ever watch these fish court and mate I will laugh so hard at the thought of their frenetic wriggling that I'll spit my regulator out by accident (either that or somebody will think I am suffering CNS oxygen toxicity and convulsing much like that man in the PADI video...)

Thursday, February 08, 2007

What I Did This Morning

Just a little taller than me thanks to the rather chic hat the other Trinity people who gamely joined us in building our snowman put on him! I donated my scarf for purposes of picture taking...

I also built him a baby brother on the Trinity Bridge, looking out onto the Cam towards John's.

And this was my view out the window when I got up.

Finally, my favourite snowman (of many seen over the day as I trekked all through the backs on my way to the University Library). This little guy was guarding a doorway in Clare's Memorial Court.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A Long and Rambling Post

Right then, to it. Mainly because I am so disgustingly full from my chicken curry dinner that I can't even be bothered right now to move myself downstairs to shower, and that is a disgusting level of fullness indeed. Reminds me of our Florida holiday meals, wherein somewhere after the main course we would be at a happy level of fullness, considering whether to get dessert (usually Key Lime Pie, yum) to achieve an unhappy (=disgusting) level of fullness... and of course we always did. Oh yes, also just earlier this week some friends and I went to La Tasca, pleasantly surprised to discover the happy phenomenon of their Monday "Tapas for a Tenner", where of course you feel obligated to order more after the first very robust round just because of the whole all-you-can-eat mentality. Oh, the gluttony. I convinced myself during the dance show that I must be bouncing up and down on stage so much (literally - the techies took to calling me anti-gravity Tzo, not sure if this is a pleasing nickname really) that any backstage consumption of bananas and Quality Street and one evening actually two entire dinners (pre- and post-show) was fully justified. Alas, no such excuses anymore. Still, gluttony is such a very wonderful vice.

My field season looms ever and ever nearer. I am not panicking. Yet. I shall save panicking for when I get to Lizard Island and find all the dwarf angelfish have emigrated to Antarctica. Meanwhile I am employed in still remarkably little science and quite a lot of last minute equipment and logistics sorting. For instance sometime next week I have to submit my first food order -- you order food from a supermarket in Cairns, which delivers it to the barge yard, and then the barge chugs its way over the Lizard Island every fortnight, and so food must be ordered about three weeks before you even get a sight of a single blessed carrot. I've had to ask my field assistant whether she has favourite cereals or whatnot. Apparently the only thing she won't eat is spinach... so I imagine we'll just go without, I do quite like spinach but not to Popeye levels.

I've also been engaged in a bit of a dive bag saga, having decided that my beloved bright yellow duffel/mesh bag simply wasn't practical enough (you can only carry it in one hand or on a shoulder, hardly the most ergonomic of things). So having spent literally days browsing through dozens of dive gear and regular luggage shops and half settled on about 8 different bags in turn, I made the discovery that the place to go is.... Argos. So today I went and bought the most humongous rolling holdall they have, still "cheap as chips" as somebody on a dive forum very astutely recommended it as. It's even got lots of pockets inside to organise stuff in, and I am very hopeful for it -- if only it doesn't fall apart as Argos stuff is rather prone to do. I do realise this must be one of the most boring paragraphs I've written in this blog (maybe not, you can make me eat my words if you can find one about statistics in the archives), but after all you read this at your own peril.

What else... oh yes, the dance show! It was our annual thing, become a bit of a tradition over the years as we occupy the same five night slot at the ADC (oldest student theatre in the country, its venerable-ness not quite compensating for the dilapidated dressing rooms, do I really care so much that Emma Thompson and Stephen Fry might have preened in front of the same mirrors -- though they are meant to be renovated soon) each year. I was fairly heavily involved this year artistically, though I'd handed on my previous producer's role. It seemed like the show was longer in the gestation this year than previously, what with more pieces than ever in it (25!) and many of the most active dancers in up to 5 or 6 dances and so having a very hectic rehearsal schedule. Nevertheless by dint of running it umpteen times in the few days running up to the show it came together, and I think by opening night we were as solid and beautiful as we have ever been. There was a unique diversity of styles this year, the show having evolved quite a lot from its what I think were quite purely contemporary (of the "be a tree" school of dance) roots -- the first half in particular being populated with everything from bellydancing to Irish to flamenco to hiphop to tap to breaking to a piece that was Baroque court dance inspired! The second half was far more contemporary in feel and I think it worked out fairly well, as the more serious contemporary pieces do take some settling for the audience and perhaps they were more ready for it by then. Commercially we did our best ever -- three of the five nights utterly sold out and the other two certainly not to be blinked at. Bizarrely, neither of the student newspaper reviewers liked it much -- but ah well, what do the critics know? ;)

I was most exceedingly pleased by our contemporary teacher's very kind remarks that I should really choreograph, seriously. I would indeed like to never really abandon the dance that has become a "full-time hobby" as my college friends put it -- I will never make a dancer (that hallowed creature), simply not got the body or skill for it, but it would be so much fun and so satisfying (in a very intellectually exciting way) to be able to continue making dances if people want to see them, in between fish watching seasons. Of course there is the whole temptation of taking it even further than that, of getting myself some real training and exposure, but other than parental horror, I'm not confident enough -- raw blinding talent in the arts being something still seen by me as a prerequisite for any sort of success and certainly not something I would ever dream of claiming for myself. But then I don't really need to succeed, do I, if I do it for fun? Full-time hobby is probably the best way to do it. At the other end of the scale sometimes I wonder if I should allow myself any space at all to hold on to dance, single-minded determination another one of those things I sometimes think of as neccessary for success in anything, but then again, I would like to remain sane and balanced, thank you very much.

Pictures of the show linked in the post below and backstage on facebook -- not so much fun if you've not actually seen the show, particularly as we are not professionals and when photographed have a very bad tendency to be caught very inelegantly between positions, but there are some lovely ones if you would like to have a look!

Sunday, January 28, 2007


Five night dance show run ended last night -- I haven't the time to write now as I am off to a rehearsal (no, it never ends), but here are some links to some initial photographs:

Duncan Grisby:
Claude Schneider:


31/1: Edited the link for Claude's photos -- more up now on his main cantabphotos website.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Jumbo polythene bags, anyone?

For the past couple of days I have been engaged in ordering various bits and pieces of equipment for my impending field season. The essential equipment of a marine biologist seems to consist of the most bizarre things, leading to my faintly bemused perusal of websites selling all manner of what can most accurately and precisely be described as "bits and bobs", ranging from Simply Scuba, gps4less, Millipore filters and Net Manufacturers UK (perhaps understandable) to Food Safety Direct,, Lakeland Limited - The Home of Creative Kitchenware, Tooled-up and Forsport UK (?!?). Yesterday I spent something like an entire hour trying to find giant ziplock polythene bags (to collect pelagically spawned eggs and sperm in, in case anyone is wondering). Nobody makes them except for ZipLoc itself, which sells them for an exorbitant price. So I resort to regular jumbo polythene bags (from a packaging website) and then I spend another hour trying to figure out the best way to clip these shut in some sort of secure waterproof fashion. Options range from bits of string and clothes pegs to NASA quality Clip'n'Seal (sold only in the US of A) to some kind of miraculous one-handed plastic clip made in Sweden called Twixit that is mysteriously difficult to track down (in the end the home of creative kitchenware comes to the rescue).

Oh and of course not to forget the snazzy Durarite underwater paper and all-weather pens (writes underwater and upside down!). Expensive, but I couldn't resist and it is probably actually quite useful as unless I carry a giant plastic slate down (which is what we normally use underwater, with a pencil) I'll never get an hour's worth of observations down.

You know sometimes I think I ought to be spending a little more time thinking about Science. But then, intrepid and resourceful field biologists surely must know the ins and outs of standard UK polythene bag sizes. It's all part of the training, I'm sure...

Monday, January 01, 2007

New Year's Eve

Passed very quietly indeed; I didn't much feel like going out to a friend's party in the evening, so stayed in, watched the countdown and the very impressive looking South Bank fireworks on telly, had a Sex and the City marathon, and felt rather pleased and not at all sorry for myself -- more proof, if I needed any, that I have definitely arrived out the other end of that social insecurity that seems to hit all who move overseas for university. Woo, 2007, and all that. I've never been much of a one for New Year's, probably because my family never really "did" New Year, and also after last year's Times Square insanity I almost feel like I've been there etc.! Nevertheless, wouldn't want to rain on anybody's parade, any excuse to have a party and such -- I even had a celebratory glass of Pimm's while watching the countdown ;)

Earlier in the day I took myself to the V&A, had a bit of a wander and went to the da Vinci exhibition they currently have on. It was interesting enough -- not of his art, but rather about how he 'thought' on paper, so lots of sheets of his notes and diagrams were on display, carefully exhibited by theme. I came away without having gained much knowledge other than that he was a genius and a damned good artist, but somehow I think these are not new conclusions. Still the notebooks were interesting, full of his 'mirror' writing (apparently because he was too lazy to train his dominant left hand to write left to right) and gorgeously sketched doodles of craggy Roman face profiles. Some of his anatomical drawings in particular were wonderful (he'd even noted the optic chiasma), and the exhibition was careful to point out examples of his highly lateral thinking with constant almost seamless drawing of analogies between nature and machine, microcosm and macrocosm. He seemed to think that natural design was the ultimate perfection; a very worthy philosophy, I suppose, although now I think we would hesitate to design a machine with an eye that has a retina wired in backwards like ours does.

Elsewhere in the V&A I also enjoyed:

This 1955 Givenchy dress which I fell in love with,

A light installation in the central courtyard,

and a rather jolly sculpture of the quack doctor Joshua Ward.

Afterwards I wandered next door to the Natural History Museum to have a look at the ice rink: