26 December 2010

My Winter Christmas

So here I am in Dublin for Christmas, my first winter Christmas. And it is a proper one with all this snow, even the locals have never had such a white Christmas as this.

The house here is decorated to such an extent as I think I have ever seen. Everything is traditional and organised and perfect. And of course it is a catholic household so there is a nativity scene and a statue of the Virgin Mary and I went to mass on Christmas eve. Which was sort of interesting I guess, and also rather long and cold.

And Christmas dinner was delicious and eaten at a beautifully decorated table. Again though, different to my own NZ Christmas. There was turkey and ham, and christmas pudding. But no pavlova or trifle or cheesecake. And no sunshine to lie in afterwards.

Now, the day after Christmas, I am still very full and sitting by the fire. The snow is melting away somewhat. Soon I must go back to Galway and get back to work. There will be no big excitement for New Years, it is too cold and transport cannot be relied on - as soon as you went to the effort to organise something I bet that it would freeze and snow again. On a more positive note though, the icicles are very pretty.

24 December 2010

21 December 2010

Nearly Christmas

Here in Galway the temperature has dropped to -15 degrees at night time. The streets outside are covered in such a thick layer of ice that they should just let us all stay home from work on account of the terrible health and safety hazard that is getting to work. There was a lunar eclipse last night, or actually this morning at about 8 am, and then sunrise and the sky was supposed to go bright blood red. A friend bet that I wouldn't actually manage to get out to see it. Luckily I didn't take that bet cos come the morning there was no way I was going out in that ice. I kept getting up, looking out the window and then getting back into bed. But if the sky had turned bright red surely I would have noticed, so I think maybe this whole eclipse+sunrise thing can't have been so big as it was purported to be. It was probably pretty enough but I think I'll keep an eye out for one happening in summer.

Speaking of summer, despite the rain I would quite like some of that Invercargill summer right now. Maybe the rain would melt all this ice. It's pretty enough on water and trees, if only I didn't have to walk to work. Which I can stop doing in two days, I will head off to Dublin for a short break. That is if the bus makes it what with all this snow and ice. But it won't be much of a break. I want to fit in time for shopping, time to talk to friends, time to relax, and horribly enough time to work.

And speaking of work. The book chapter that I am a co-author in has been published and we have a copy in our office! The exclamation is primarily for the fact that my name is in print in a science book. And then it is only an exclamation as a matter of course really because when it comes right down to it my name is not even in print as I would like it to be, it is not my full name. I checked and double checked about a dozen drafts and when it comes down to the actual printing my name is wrong and there are spelling mistakes in the text. But on the upside, who reads the text anyway, my beautiful pictures are in print. Now to the real hard work, which is to finish up everything and become an expert in my field so that I can submit some real publications. But look, my name, in print!

But of course with it being Christmas and all I must make truffles. Only being me any kitchen endeavor is liable to make for a good story and once again I have done something ridiculous. It could be worse though, when compared to other incidents of mine this one is really quite minor. Basically I was again reminded that not all glass bowls are heatproof. So I was making truffles and had the glass bowl over a pot of water in order to melt the chocolate. And I heard this cracking noise. And then I heard it again and it was quite loud so I thought to myself what is that noise? I picked up the bowl and looked at the bottom of it and yes, what would you know but there is a big crack in it. So I move it from over the water, and just in time too because in the next couple of moments the bowl just very gently becomes two halves of bowl and all the chocolate mixture begins slipping out. So I move it real quick over a clean pan and manage to rescue most of it, and it's all ok, there are still lots of yummy truffles. I think I owe my housemate a new bowl though. What was amazing was how quietly the bowl just broke in half. Like there was no big deal about it, it just suddenly wasn't a bowl any more.

09 December 2010

Update from Galway

It is very very cold here. It went from frosty to really snowy back to frosty and icy. Now it has thawed a little and is wet and sludgy. It gets dark really early too, so every day it seems like it should be time to go home at about 4, or even earlier, but there is still many hours left of work to be doing. It is going to be a very long winter, I have an awful lot of work to do. I have perhaps been slacking off a little over the past few weeks, but still, even if I hadn't I would still be in this situation. The situation being that I have until the end of February to finish all the things I am currently working on, so I will have to be working about 60 hours a week until then. Very sad.

It is still snowing in Dublin though, and over the UK. The mail is held up and travel is held up and people are having accidents. Yesterday and the day before a rescue helicoptor was flying back and forth over the river. As a joke I bet a friend that they were looking for a body. His bet was that it was something to do with the secret police and the new world order. But word has it that it really was looking for a body, that somebody somewhere left a suicide note and then jumped into the river. It's a really fast river too, and the water is really high over winter. It always freaks me out a bit that there is such a strong river in the middle of a city, in many places without fences or barriers. They broke up the big sheets of ice so that they could look properly.

But luckily this morning I arrived at work and my parcel from home has arrived! So my mood has improved by several orders of magnitude. There was nobody around my own office so early so I went in search of a friend to come help me open things. Because everything was wrapped up separate in christmas paper.

Now I have lots of NZ sweets to share, and I have everything I need to make real lolly cake, and our classic kiwi dip. I have lots of random kiwiana stuff, and I have a kiwi shaped cookie cutter!! That is probably the coolest thing. Plus the box had about a million stamps on it.

So a dash of Christmas has come early for me, and now there is only two weeks in which to get an insane amount of work done, then I will relax for at least one week! And maybe go somewhere for New Years but maybe there is no point making plans because that snow is like sentient malevolence going out of its way to stop all modes of transport and be a bit of a kill joy. Still, at least we can make snow men.

28 November 2010

Winter has arrived in Galway

So the other night I was walking to a friends place that was much further away than I anticipated, and at first I stepped outside and said 'yay it's not raining' - a real Galway sentiment - and then before you know it it's not only raining but sleeting and then snowing! Real thick fluffy floaty snow. And that was cool. For about 15 minutes. After that it was just cold and wet. But still, at first it was really cool.

And then last night it snowed again - that's two nights in a row! But on this occasion I only watched from indoors which is really the best way to see snow, from inside a warm room. This morning the snow was gone and everything was covered in ice and frost, even the spiderwebs. So I went out taking photos before I am completely over the novelty of this cold weather.

21 November 2010

Animal Week

1. A Dog.

This week my housemate found a dog. She's a very nice old dog, she followed us to work two days in a row, and the second day stuck around all day, in the rain and cold, until it was dark. So now she is in our apartment and we are trying to find her owners. She has no name because she is not ours though we would quite like her to be.

2. A Guillemot - this bird was found on a sampling trip, it was injured in some way and the intention was to rescue it but it died. So next thing you know this bird was in the -70 degree freezer, waiting to be stuffed. A project for a rainy day and all that.

Well, today was that rainy day.

Some people may be disconcerted by finding such a scene upon entering their office. But me -  no. I walked in on bird dissection - being conducted to jazz music - and was not at all fazed. Perfectly normal course of events really, and something you can easily get away with in a zoology building.

So the empty carcass is above, and it had to be filled with a make-do skeleton. Which was constructed with wire and paperclips.

And then the bird was stuffed with cotton wool, and stitched up. My only part in all of this, other than photography and unhelpful comments, was the stitching.

And now the stuffed bird has been all stretched out to dry, and when dry will be posed in some manner, and hopefully will look good. And if it begins to smell, I will be evicting it from my office. Oh, and it's name is Gill.

3. Another Dog.This dog is not stolen, and has a name. He is Barney and sometimes comes to work in the weekend, which means I get to play with a dog. Isn't he adorable?

06 November 2010

My 23rd Birthday

Sadly, I don't have a decent picture. I guess it is not generally the first thing on your mind. But I kept asking for the x-ray and last I heard I will be able to get it next time I see the doctor which will be in too weeks. I am gutted, I wanted a shocking picture for this and facebook. And I can't believe I neglected to get someone to take a photo of the blood spilling out.

So to begin the epic tale. I can do so now because I have most of the feeling back in my fingers, can type away pretty much as usual. The anaesthetic has long since worn off but the tips of my fingers are still tingly so I guess that's something to do with the injury. So what happened? Well it was Thursday afternoon and I figured that it was finally time to do a little bit of work before we took our tea break (by which I mean chocolate muffin break). The tanks by my desk have been needing a clean for awhile so I was finally going to change the water. I took the animals out and put them in a bucket of clean water, took out the air tube but the bit that goes on the end of it popped off. So I put it back on. But it was being a bit stubborn. It was on but it was loose and so going to fall off again so I tried to shove it in harder. The end bit was in my left hand, and what would you know but I pushed too hard, the glass tube broke and went straight into my palm. !!!!!. (Yes the exclamation marks deserved a sentence of their own).

So there I was with a glass tube stick out of my hand, making a fair bit of a fuss but luckily with still enough wits about me to not let my colleague touch it or pull it out. It didn't actually hurt much, I remember though that my hand look awfully white. It was very slow to begin bleeding. And I was taken to the technician who wrapped it up and took me to the health unit, who unwrapped it and then wrapped it right back up and sent me to the hospital. Turns out the Irish health system has a few problems at the moment, understaffing and such things. But I was not at A&E for so long, I guess when there is a foreign object in your hand they want to treat you quite quickly. The had a look, sent me for an x-ray - the x-ray technician is an Invercargill girl! The x-ray showed that there was a broken off piece right in my hand. So I went back to A&E, where they gave me a local and laughing gas (which was hilarious) and took out the main piece of glass. By that stage the blood had finally travelled right up the tube and was spilling out the top, but no pictures I'm afraid. I started laughing from the gas about halfway through the local and couldn't stop. It was all very simple, then a surgeon talked to me and said I can go home, come back in the morning and have the other piece removed under local anaesthetic. Easy!

Of course it was not actually so simple as that. Luckily that evening to celebrate my miraculous survival we went out for burgers - lucky because I ended up missing my birthday, and the various good-times that had been planned. So what happened is that in the morning I go back to the hospital, go to the day surgery ward and a different surgeon takes a look at my hand. And I guess when you don't feel so bad you don't really stop to think about it but hands are pretty complex and serious limbs, so this surgeon said that there are just too many nerves and muscles to risk doing it quickly, I would have to have actual surgery and be put under completely. But you can't have surgery until you are properly admitted to the hospital and given a bed and what would you know but there is a bed shortage in Irish hospitals. So I waited all day in the day surgery unit - least it wasn't A&E. I had my housemate with me which was great of her because it was a sucky day, and I wasn't allowed to eat and drink because of the planned surgery. I had a couple of visitors during the day and finally, at about 4 pm (I'd been there since 8.30 am) I got a bed. And then a couple of hours later the doctors came to see me and told me the good news - I could eat. Which was actually terrible news because it meant they could not fit in my surgery until the next day. So my entire birthday was spent in the hospital with a piece of glass embedded in my hand. I think I must have broken all the visitor rules because a big pile of people came to see me all at once with balloons and cards and gifts. Sadly I was in no state to be eating chocolate. And then everyone left and I had to spend the night in hospital, which sucked.

Well, to finish the story. The doctors came to see me bright and early and reassured me that I would be seen that day. It was not so reassuring as immediately but better than nothing. I called a friend who brung me comics to cheer me up and at 11 am they said I could get ready to go off to theatre. Which made my day. You would think it would bring on more negative feelings like a bit of nervousness or something but really, I couldn't be happier. I just wanted to go home. So they put me under at 12 midday - first I was given a pre-anaesthetic that I was told is about the same as 4 glasses of wine. And before I knew it I felt all buzzy and started just giggling away to myself. Then they put something else in the iv line and the next time I opened my eyes it was an hour later and there was a big fat bandage on my hand. The anaesthetic didn't bother me at all, I was immediately wide awake and not sick or groggy. I was very thirsty though. I had to wait about 2 or 3 hours before they'd let me drink - I luckily had a book to read. And then they took their time to give me my recovery toast too. But finally when the nurse said I might as well just wait for dinner I informed her that I was not staying for dinner, I was going home, and so I got my toast and I kept in down no problems and before you know it I was out the door.

So now I have a big bandage on my hand that I was strictly told not to touch for two weeks. That's such a long time! It will get dirty and gross, I'm not impressed. I clearly can't work, so I will spend two weeks catching up on reading and learning new stuff. My hand is not really very sore, no more than any other cut. But I have to be careful not to pick stuff up because gripping things makes it hurt. It's really hard to go about one-handed. But it's all good. To keep it out of the way and not feeling too tired I have a sling, but I didn't want a boring hospital one so I am using my various scarves - at the moment a pink silk one with sparkles. And in order to keep the bandage clean I am covering it with a prettier bandage layer - today a piece of white sparkly netting. I will have to go get some remnants from the fabric store. When they finally take the bandage off you see I don't want it to be all dirty and gross, it's bad enough that I can't wash my hand. And since I had to spend my birthday in hospital I went shopping yesterday - I was given vouchers you see - and now I have new clothes to cheer me up. So here is a birthday that I won't soon forget, let's hope that all my bad luck for my year was used up in this one incident (would have to be about the worst stupid thing I have ever done) and the rest of the year can just be good. It will be two weeks till I see the doctor again but I will try my best to get a copy of the x-ray, they keep telling me I can have it, and then I can show everyone the impressive piece of glass embedded in my hand!


27 October 2010


First of all, it rhymes with both. Howth. Which is silly, if they want it to be Ho-wth they should not have that W in there, it looks to me like How-th. But if you say it like that you will be laughed at. Anyway, Howth is a suburb of Dublin, and I was there to look for samples on a data buoy that was being serviced. So in the picture below you can see some of Dublin city across the water, because Howth is a peninsula.

And here is a very picturesque island, that lies just off of the harbour. It was nice. I didn't have my camera with me at sunset but it was nice early in the morning too. Howth is very small, there wasn't much option for dinner really, plus being a student there has to be some semblance of budgeting. So dinner was had at a pub/restaurant and first of all there was this oldish fella sitting at the bar and he had the hugest moustache I have ever seen - it was like some sort of little animal stuck onto his upper lip. And then there was this chick that kept going in and out, walking past the table back and forth. And she was wearing a white maxi-dress and it was so see-through - her companions should have told her. But then, she probably knew already. Perhaps she was a hooker. Probably not, but still, it's amusing to make up stories about strangers.

But anywho, the sampling was completely fruitless, there was nothing on the buoy except for seaweed, a couple of starfish, and strangely enough scallops. Strange because scallops are supposed to live buried in the sand of the seabed. Secretly though, I'm not overly disappointed about the sampling, I'm sick of barnacles. I have given some to the aquarium and they are doing well so if I get my way I will give them all the rest for Christmas - so I will get to have a break from work! And maybe I just won't take them back (that's probably entirely wishful thinking). The weather was good, apparently it is always much better in Dublin than Galway, and the water was really still, so the marina made for pretty pictures.

But now I'm back in Galway and so unimpressed with all this bloody rain. After spending all my money on holiday, I got paid and sorted out the credit card. So to relieve the monotony of rain and cold weather I am giving the credit card some more exercise - I have in the last week or so brought a sewing machine! And a guitar! Plus halloween is coming, they do it properly here, so that means costumes and parties and pumpkin carving. Some fun is definately in order, work is hectic this week, I keep getting rained on and my shoes don't keep the water out. I had to go buy an extension cord to plug in the new sewing machine and the hardware store near here, it's a big one too, would have to be the most sorry excuse for a hardware store ever. No extension cord. And I got rained on. But on coming out of the store the rain stopped and the sky was this weird green-yellow colour, I wished I had my camera with me. There was a rainbow too, it was really bright and a complete half-circle, with another shadow-rainbow behind it. But no camera. So I went across to the big supermarket and I was getting a few supplies, and you know I just cannot bring myself to change my opinions or take back any comments about supermarkets in this bloody country. Today, the supermarket had lots of blue food colouring but not other colours. What's up with that? And no vanilla essence, just almond and brandy and lemon. Weird.

25 October 2010

Seals in Galway Bay

Well you can't actually see any seals in any of these photos. That's because when a seal is in the water they are not overly photogenic - all you can see is it's head. Plus they move really fast. So instead all I ended up with were photographs of birds. See, on Sunday I was told that there were seals all over the bay, so I went down to take a look. And yes, there were seals, bobbing in and out of the water. There were also loads of birds, all over the water. Why? A big school of mackeral seems to have been hanging out in the bay, attracting seals, birds and people with fishing lines. And there wasn't really much to see, but what little there was to see is very rare for Galway, so it would have to be the event of the week. The results of which are going to provide us all with a good feed of fish and chips (words that I must concentrate on saying correctly so as not to be laughed at over my accent constantly).

21 October 2010

Dubai Desert Safari

There is not actually a lot to say about desert safari. It begins with a 4-wheel drive ride through the dunes, you stop to take photos, and you arrive at a pretend bedouin camp where there is dinner and a belly dancer. You see I have done this before, but out of Abu Dhabi and it was a bit better that time, it was not so touristy, and the tourists really get in the way of feeling like you are in a big empty desert. And when there are only three camels and a huge line of tourists, I just can't be bothered. I wanted to take lots of nice pictures of the desert sand, but there were so many people around and by the time we stopped the sun was already going down, and not so much in a really spectacular way but more in a sort of washed out and at the same time really bright way. Not to mention a big group of idiots on quad bikes tearing up and down the dunes - apparently this is how the locals spend their weekends. So I was left wanting to go out to the desert again - I guess there now has to be a next time and another trip to UAE. I hear you can do a camel trek into the heart of the desert and camp overnight. Except maybe there would be sand spiders and scorpions.

So the safari being so crowded meant that there was more on offer - at the camp there was a lady doing henna so I got some more of that up my arm. And there were, as there is everywhere, stalls selling the same old tourist stuff. There was a buffet of arabic food which was quite good, I like the food there at least. And the belly dancer was really good. But I tried to take a video of it just for all of you that have never seen this stuff. And while it doesn't show so much because it was dark, it's better than nothing, but the stupid blog won't upload it. Perhaps the internet here is too slow. Whatever the reason, I am not impressed. Still, here are nice photos of sand instead.

As well as the safari the last few days of holiday were far from restful. Mum got a new job and has moved back to Abu Dhabi - so I helped her move in. Dubai is too big and shiny, so next time I go visit it will be back to Abu Dhabi as usual. With the cats. They missed me. Or at least one did. The other doesn't like me, if I make a sudden move he hisses. So perhaps I will save up my money and go back, take a different group of friends, introduce everyone to the more western part of the Middle East. It's difficult though, because while it's nice to visit I want to see new places as well. This will be the last of my travels for awhile I guess - perhaps next time France or Spain? So I leave you now with one last picture of the desert, with tracks in the sand - possibly a camel. But more likely from people.

18 October 2010

Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa

So now I am no longer in UAE but before leaving we visited the Dubai Mall, biggest mall in the world (apparently) and the attached Burj Khalifa, tallest building in the world. Nowadays you can get about the city on the metro, it's only been open for about a year or less. Unfortunately it is still under construction so the nearest station to where Mum lived was not yet open. So before the ease and air-conditioning of the Metro was a 15 minute walk in the sun and heat to get to the station. But above you have a glimpse out of the front of the train, which has no driver but is all controlled by some computer system somewhere. Luckily the windows were clean so you can see quite clearly what I cold see. And here below is the Burj al Arab, the Sail, world's first 7-star hotel. And this view is from the train, brought to you via my camera's optical zoom.

The Dubai mall, like everything else in the UAE, is ridiculously ostentatious. The first of the ostentation that I came across was the Star Atrium - a central area with stars hanging from the ceiling down the length of three storeys.

Then there was a candy store. Outside of which was a sign saying no photography, but nobody stopped me so I guess they weren't too concerned about enforcing it. The giant lollypops were actually plastic but the effect is all that mattered.

Across the way from the candy store is a huge aquarium, with reef sharks and rays inside. The wall of the aquarium is the largest single acrylic pane in the world - they have the Guiness World Record plaque beside it. Then if you can tear your eyes from the fish and look up you see that the ceiling is covered in little stairs, packed close like the milky-way but not very authentic looking. And neither actually made very impressive pictures so here is another of the candy store - I didn't actually buy any, though the jelly-beans were tempting with all their flavours.

So if you walk down the mall someway you come to the gold souk, which is more expensive than the real gold souk of course but looks very nice. It is half empty though, which could just be because the mall is new but it looks like there were more shops there that have now closed, so I guess it goes to show that there really is not actually a need for the mall to be so big.

So if you continue past the gold souk you come to the waterfall, which is huge and there are actually two of them, both with these weird man statues diving down the water.

And finally you get another atrium of some sort, a larger one, surrounded by all the really expensive designer clothing stores, which is full of paper butterflies streaming down 3 storeys. Which more so than the stars made me want to fill my room with paper butterflies. When it comes right down to it though, a mall is just a mall and I think I like the Abu Dhabi ones better, I know where everything is. But on the other hand, this mall had the hugest bookstore, like a little mall in itself, I could have spent a fortune in there.

Finally it was time to go up the tower, after getting lost and nearly being late, because there is a specific time for which you book your ticket. You begin by going in and walking for ages, past panels of information concerning the design and building of the tower. Which is somehow based on the petal pattern of the lotus flower and most definately does not bring attention to the outrageous human rights issues that surround the labour force of the UAE. There is an interactive screen that shows a timeline of the building in which the tower itself acts as the line.

And the tower is not only the tallest in the world, it holds a bunch of other records too, like tallest man-made structure and stuff. I don't remember. But anyway it has 200 storeys and the fastest elevators in the world (as in, they are as fast as is possible but there are others just as fast elsewhere. So there are none faster, but some just as fast. So not a world record). We get in the elevator, which was surprisingly crowded. You would think for all that money (like 40 NZ dollars) they would give you a bit more space. And it was fast, you could feel your ears popping, but you couldn't see how fast it was because it was not the type that has windows. Perhaps you can tell already by my tone that I left this particular tourist attraction a bit disappointed. The biggest disappointment being that you could only actually go just over half way up - the elevator went to the 124th storey, out of 200. I asked what was up further, they told me offices and telecomunications. And here is the view, and I will stop complaining very soon. Just one more.

You see the problem with Dubai and the heat is that it is hazy, so on this particular day (as with most days) there is no horizon and nothing is clear. It looks sort of clear here but only because you don't know any better. And the view like this, with little open windows to poke your camera out of, was only around half of the building. The other was all glass, and facing into the setting sun so there was not chance of a photo. But there was less to see on that side at least. Still. The point is that in a country like this don't expect so much from the view. Then the day before I left, the temperature dropped a few degrees and suddenly everything was so much clearer. Just as I was leaving. But there you go.

Below is the view from the tower, the towers you see are not even the bulk if the city, just one of the many new tower-filled suburbs that is being built, and all the stuff close to the ground are villas. And at the bottom of the picture you can see the overpass with all the exits and entries onto the main road.