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28 December 2012

Christmas 2012

My first week back in Invecargill was sort of hectic. First of all, it's actually a proper summer here and quite hot, which was a bit of shock to the system after coming from icy cold wind and rain in Galway. I had Christmas shopping to do, gifts to make and food to cook, plus unpacking and tidying up the spare room that I have claimed as my own, and helping mum to unpack and tidy up her new place. In fact, I'm already getting sick of being around my family so before long I'm going to head out to Colac Bay and begin to write my thesis, all reclusive and on my own, with a beach view:



So Christmas itself was exhausting. It all started on Christmas eve when I was sitting on the floor wrapping presents and I saw something move out of the corner of my eye - it was a spider, running across the carpet. Only a medium sized spider, but I just did not have the energy to deal with it properly, so I tried to encourage the cat to eat it. The spider stopped moving as soon as it saw my shadow so at least it didn't go hide somewhere, but the useless cat would not get it for me. And I know that she does kill spiders sometimes because I found a dead one on my bedroom floor one morning, which was surely a gift from her because it hadn't been there the night before. So with the cat being no help at all I grabbed a book and squashed the poor thing, only it didn't want to die so it took several whacks. Just as I was about to turn back to my present wrapping I noticed lots of little insects crawling over the floor and my first thought was 'ew, the kitchen is being invaded by ants'. But then I looked closer and saw that the tiny crawling things were actually tons of baby spiders! The one that I killed must have had a sack of babies and I burst it open. That was the last straw and I had to be completely cruel and vacuum them all up. Poor spiders. They should not come into my house, then I wouldn't have to do that.

With my spider fiasco over, I still had presents to wrap and food to prepare. Mostly it was ordinary food but the frozen banoffee cheesecake was my prize piece for this year and I think from now on I will always make a banoffee cheesecake over a normal banoffee pie. Especially seeing as Christmas was actually a proper hot day. It was awfully hot even before lunch when I had to go pick up various family members, and it only got hotter. Too hot to eat almost. Too hot to sit in the sunshine. Ended up retreating into the house (which was no cooler, my sister's house is practically a sauna) and watching rather un-christmassy movies. That was my Christmas practically over - I got pearl bracelets from Dad from Thailand and a Minnie Mouse watch, and my brother actually came through with a really good gift of frosting equipment so I can go straight back to cupcake making. I spent the evening with friends, who have a brand new puppy that is so cute (and I so want one), but it is very nippy and has sharp little teeth.

Now New Years is nearly upon us and the perfect weather is finally supposed to break, the forecast is solid rain for the next few days. It's a bit of a bummer, but then, it's been sort of strange to have no rain and it will still not be very cold. It will give my sunburn time to fade at least. A bonfire by the beach would have been fun for New Years, but it's really just another day so I don't really mind being kept inside by the rain, to celebrate quietly with friends. The good weather should come back so there will be plenty of time for that.

20 December 2012

Back in Invers

So you know you're in New Zealand when you're walking down the main street and you see a kid eating a pie one-handed while riding a bike. When I arrived at Christchurch airport the other day I had some time to spare and was hungry so I bought a pie, a proper New Zealand pie, with proper New Zealand tomato sauce. And it was awesome. Overpriced though, it was the airport after all.

Today was my first full day home and it was stinking hot (or at least it seemed so to me) but I did very little and couldn't even make the most of it because to me it was too hot, having come from such cold weather just a couple of days ago. Not to mention that I'm completely wrecked - I felt fine yesterday but I guess I must still be on Irish time because I woke at 4 am after only a few hours sleep and I swear I hardly even dozed after that. This evening will have to be a very early night, and then tomorrow I really have to start being back properly and going to visit people (the few people that I have here after leaving all my Irish friends...), plus there is all the Christmas stuff to finish organising. I feel sort of like I have dropped out of time completely - I keep forgetting what day of the week it is and it certainly doesn't feel like Christmas is just a few days away. Guess I've well and truly grown out of the whole Christmas-magic thing, and having a plastic tree that doesn't smell of pine at all really doesn't help.

On the positive side, I didn't have to wait for Christmas to get a new toy - at Hong Kong airport I bought myself a smartphone and now I have been trying to figure out how to use it. I'm still finding it confusing, but getting there. I'm worried I'll break it though, considering how often I drop everything else that I touch. I also have a brand new (to me) bike so that I can get around now that I'm back in Invers - it's not the prettiest but it will do. I need a helmet though, I keep forgetting because in Ireland I got so used to seeing everybody cycle without a helmet. Definitely won't get away with that here. Over the weekend I promised my sister I would help her make gifts for people - which means making truffles and fudge, yum. Hopefully this southern hemisphere summer will stay so good as it has been in the last two days because I'm sure I really deserve some proper warm weather. Coming soon will be lots of photos to make everybody over on the other side of the world jealous, in hopes that they will come visit next summer...but first I have to stop hiding from the heat and sun and get out and do something. So I really need to catch up on sleep. Which means it's my bedtime now, or at least after I have removed the results of my unpacking off of my bed.

18 December 2012

On Leaving Ireland

So for my last days Galway confirmed my reason for leaving and would insist on bucketing down rain every time I tried to go outside. I will not miss the rain, or the big puddles, especially in the dark when you don't see them and then walk right through and get your feet wet. I will miss my friends of course, and some of my favourite shops, and being so close to so many interesting countries (not that I made enough of that). I won't miss my lab or my building or the university, or the messy drunken students that are everywhere. Or the insane crowds that make me not want to go into town in the weekend. I'll miss my nice little apartment a little, but at the same time I'm sick of the dampness so I'll look forward to being in a house again. And I miss our NZ food so I can't wait to be back for Christmas!

I'm now in Hong Kong airport and it is very foggy outside, and I feel pretty gross after a 12 hour flight and a long (stressful) day of packing before that. Not to mention the horrible stress at Heathrow where my flight from Dublin had been so delayed that I actually nearly missed my plane! I got to the check in counter in the nick of time, she checked me in but couldn't print a boarding pass because it had all been shut down. I had to power walk to the gate, I would have ran if not for my heavy carry-on bag, and the man at the gate said 'sorry, the flight is closed'. My immediate response was 'nononono', but then he said relax, just wait, he'll try his best, and luckily they managed to get me through. If they hadn't I would have been screwed because it's all controlled by someone in Auckland and once the flight is closed they can't do anything about it. What a nightmare, I have never cut it so fine before. And being so late meant there was not option to choose my seat and the flight was so crowded that I was stuck in a middle seat. I think I hardly slept at all. I just hope everything from now on goes smoothly. I have another 12 hour flight in about an hour, and then another day of connecting flights to get from Auckland to Invercargill!

So right now I'm in Hong Kong, I have nearly an hour before I need to be at my gate and I have a credit card. Luckily there are very few shops here that I would want to shop at - mostly fancy over-priced designer stuff. But maybe I can find something I like. At least walking around the shops will let me stretch my legs before the next flight, so I think it's time to go do that instead of sitting here at the computer.

02 December 2012

31 Dresses

It's December now, first day of summer in NZ but technically in Ireland winter has already been around for a month, because they're weird like that. I have taken up a challenge for the month, along with a friend of mine, and it's called Dressember - sort of like movember, only for girls and the challenge is that you have to wear a dress every single day. Which I think is surely harder than movember, because not bothering to shave your face is surely pretty easy, and trying to find so many dresses to wear, and to repeat them in new and interesting ways, is much more difficult. Of course, it's not meaningful like movember, though some people try to raise money for women's charities. I'm just doing it for the fun. And not just so that I can feed my addiction to buying clothes either. I think it began in the southern hemisphere, where wearing a dress in December makes a lot more sense. Luckily for me, I'll be spending half my December in NZ so I can wear both my summer and winter dresses. You're also meant to take photos every day, but I'm not sure if I'll manage that. Especially on days like today, which is Sunday, where it is too wet to bother leaving the house. For the first day of the month I got off to a good start though; not only do I have a photo of me in my dress for the day, but it's a photo with Santa:


It is not really a very good photo - it is too white and shiny. Guess I will have to get another photo with Santa to make up for it. But not today, because today I don't plan on leaving the house again. In fact what I would most like to do today is be huddled on the couch in front of a movie with a hot chocolate. However, I have only two weeks until I leave Ireland, pretty much for good. I have so much to do in that time! I should be working right now, except I have lost my ID card and so I couldn't get into my office. I have to pack, I have to give away all my extra stuff, I have to get travel insurance and arrange to bring a second suitcase with me (I hope it doesn't cost too much!), I have to tidy my room and I should probably buy a few presents for people. And I have to say goodbye to all my friends. So much to do, so little time. But I am so looking forward to Christmas, to a holiday from work and to some sunshine. So that I can wear my summer dresses, which will make this Dressember thing a lot easier. Until then I will just make the most of winter dresses, big scarves and warm leggings. Here is what I have to work with for the next two weeks:


That should be enough, so I will try really hard to restrain myself from buying more stuff, because I already have far too much. All my friends here will be getting lots of hand-me-down Christmas presents this year!

20 November 2012

Life Lately...

First of all, I actually stole that alliteration, but it's fitting so I'm going to go with it. So I have't had much to say lately - that's because everything is all negative and I don't want to bring people down. Today I have a cold and my sinuses have been killing me - and this is the second cold I've had in 2 weeks, how unfair is that? Not only do I have a cold, but it is bloody freezing cold outside; there's been some sort of storm moving over the country and there's been crazy winds for the last two days, and even some sort of small tornado in Dublin! Then, as if that wasn't bad enough, when I finally finished work and was ready to head to the chemist to get something for this bloody cold, it started raining. Really raining, torrentially, and my boots got all soaked through and my feet got all wet and soggy. I'm so sick of this wet city.

I only have three and a half weeks until I leave Ireland, which is great because even if Invers is having a crappy summer at least it will be better than constant rain and only 8 hours of daylight each day. Yet at the same time, I am hoping to get all of my practical work done so that I can be finished and not have to come back and keep working. I have two different types of spectroscopy results to understand and analyse, elemental analyses to not only finish, but actually begin, and they might not work at all. And then there is this one other thing that I am doing right now, which if it works will make a much better story out of a pile of negative results, but it might not work. But I really need it to work. Then I can come home, have a rest, write the rest of my thesis and prepare more research articles to publish. But if the practical work does not go as planned then I'll be screwed.  I can't even just work harder and for longer either, because a lot of what I am doing relies on the help of technicians and other academics. But at least that means I have time to pack.

Now it is 7 pm on a Tuesday night and I am in pyjamas and a fluffy dressing gown, in bed under lots of blankets, with lemon and honey to drink. It's far too early to go to sleep but I can hardly keep my eyes open so I'm going to watch Grey's Anatomy and continue to feed my cold.

28 October 2012

Three years in Galway

Justa few days ago marked the anniversary of my arrival in Galway. I arrive in a storm on a long weekend, with no access to the internet, no idea how to get about the city and no friends or friends-to-be yet. I didn't even realise that daylight-savings had changed so I was living in the wrong time zone for at least two days. Three years on things are much better - instead of a perpetual storm the sky is clear, though it is suddenly freezing cold. There are fallen leave everywhere to stomp on. Though that means there are no leaves left on the trees so it is better to look down than up.


Right now it is halloween weekend and the streets are packed both day and night, with children and families during the day and drunk people from mid-afternoon onwards. Right now outside my window they are singing 'wonderwall'. Sometimes I wonder if they would perhaps say less if they realised we could hear them so clearly. 

Today I took the day off work but I should probably try to get back to it tomorrow, seeing as I am planning on coming back so soon. I have the writing well underway but some of the practical work is not done yet. The most likely scenario is that by mid-December I will have the practical work done and a draft of the thesis finished (except perhaps the discussion because that is the hardest bit). When I come back I will first take a break and then finish writing on a part-time basis, and hand in from far away. Sometime next year I will come back for the exam so I think I will arrange it so that I go from summer to summer - it has only be autumn here for a couple of months and I am already so sick of this dreary cold. So fingers crossed that Invercargill has a real summer again this year. On top of the fingers that are crossed for me finishing the PhD without having a nervous breakdown.

Now I am getting tired of the group singing out in the lane so I think it's time for bed. I did housework today (that's how exciting my days off are) so I have clean sheets to snuggle into. I have unplugged the doorbell so that no drunk people pushing the intercom buttons wake me up. Plus the noisy neighbours were given a good telling off by their landlord so they have gotten extremely quiet. So it's definitely time for me to go and get a good sleep. But first I have to change my clocks because daylight savings just ended, like right this minute, and I don't want to be in the wrong time zone again!

18 October 2012

Be seeing you all soon...

Coming home for Christmas, bought the ticket last night, I arrive in Christchurch on the 19th of December:


In the process I learnt my lesson about making somewhat last-minute decisions - it cost me a bloody fortune, as much as last year's return flight did and this is just one way. Yep, one way. Hopefully I will be finished and have handed in my thesis, then I will come back and hibernate for a couple of months (in the sunshine because if it is not sunny I might just run away to Australia). I will have to return to Ireland for the oral exam and to make corrections and then that will be it.

However, if I don't get my thesis finished before I leave I guess I will be coming back for longer. And I really want to get it finished. So I'm going to get back to work now. It is slow, and stressful, and nervewracking and somewhat depressing. But if I can keep working really hard for the next couple of weeks I should have a draft finished. I hope. Cross all your fingers for me.

01 October 2012

Weekend in Donegal

Not this weekend just been but the weekend before I managed to escape the city for a couple of days and headed up to Donegal with some friends, where we had a cottage rented for the weekend - a quaint stone cottage with a huge yard, good heating and an open fire.


Why am I writing about it only now? Because I'm lazy, and busy, and it seemed like a lot of effort. Which it isn't because I'm mostly going to post photos and not so many words anyway. The weekend away was great - the weather was clear and frosty and we were pretty much completely secluded in the countryside, in a nice warm house with a view of the bay. I think the most noticeable thing about the whole weekend was how amazing the fresh air smelt - there is clearly not enough of it here in Galway for me to notice it so much. It felt like being back home again, like wintery days spent in Colac Bay or Riverton or Pukemaori. And it definitely increased my desire to be done with this awful PhD and to find a job and somewhere to live that is not in a dreary city like this one. Somewhere with a view, like this, in the morning:


And like this in the evening:



There was also a beach real close-by, a surfing beach with lots of sand and rocks that reminded me of Colac Bay. We put on wet-suits and went for a swim (see what I wuss I have become, can't even go for a swim in the sea anymore).


And then when we drove away from the beach the sun came out and suddenly everything was all blue and green and I guess pictures like this are why people try to say that Ireland is like New Zealand:



I still maintain that it is really not anything the same, but maybe if instead of living in Galway I had spent these three years elsewhere I would have a slightly different opinion. Finally, to add that last touch to a weekend in the countryside, we had a dog with us. This is Bella and she is adorable, and behaves like a big baby:


So this weekend away in Donegal was a birthday celebration for three friends so naturally it included a treasure hunt and a birthday party with an amazing cake. I spent most of the weekend reading, as I do, and sitting by the nice warm fire. It was so hard to come back to Galway. It is the 1st of October today and I have given myself a deadline to hand in my thesis - sometime in December, before Christmas. That's only 10 weeks away. Two and a half months. I'm not sure if it can actually be done. But I hope it can.

21 September 2012

PhD comics...

There is an online procrastination tool used by many postgraduate students like myself and today, because this entire week I have been feeling particularly tired and procrastinating a lot, I would like to share it. The PhD comics truly reflect my life and thoughts on a regular basis and make me feel better about this whole PhD thing sometimes. Perhaps they would not be understood fully by people that have not been through the postgraduate process, but hopefully they are still a little bit funny. Today's comic is very apt for me, it is exactly how I have been thinking for the entire duration of my PhD.


Now I have to just get a small amount of work done today to make myself feel better for getting so little done all week (not intentionally, things just haven't been working out this week is all). Then I am leaving early and going away for a weekend of birthday-party planning, cake-baking celebrations. And I'm going to do my best to forget all about work and I'm going to read books and knit myself a hat because it's getting cold here and I'm tired of giving away all the stuff I make - I want something for a change. Then hopefully next week will be much more productive (because September is ending and then I just have October and November to get work done because I plan to hand in my thesis in December!).

17 September 2012

Mishaps

On Saturday I was having a nice, lazy weekend day, on which I did a very small amount of work and then did my shopping, and was just looking forward to getting home and having something nice to eat when I realised that I couldn't get home at all because I didn't have my keys with me. I left my keys in my apartment and then left the apartment, for the first time in all the time that I have lived here, and my flatmate is away in Italy. And it has become winter here all of a sudden so at 6 pm the daylight is beginning to disappear. Not to mention it kept raining and the people in the bars were starting to come out into the smoking area - a.k.a. the lane that I live on. I didn't have the landlord's number either. Luckily my friends were at a nearby pub having an early dinner so I stopped in to join them and use somebody's smartphone (perhaps I should get one of those after all?) to check my email and hunt down my landlord's number. After trying to call and not getting through I finally got a message from him, in which he said he was away and couldn't help. So I ask if there is a caretaker or some other person from his company that can get the keys and let me in. No, it seems, there is nobody. Apparently this landlord takes the keys to all of his establishments with him when he goes on holiday. He said I should call a locksmith if I was stuck. Well duh, what did he think I was going to do, hang around in the street for three weeks until my flatmate gets back?

So I walked back into work (with my groceries) so that I could use the internet and the phone and find a locksmith that didn't charge an arm and a leg. I actually have a friend who is a locksmith, but of course he is also away on holiday at the moment. The first locksmith I called was going to charge 75 euro. The next one beat that and told me 70 euro. Then another told me 95! I was about to face up to handing 70 euro over to somebody who would take at least an hour to get to me when I called one last place. Luckily, despite the hour, the guy was there and he told me he would only charge 50! So I took that one and went back to wait outside my apartment again, because he said he'd just be 15 minutes. However, for some reason all of the roads were blocked off and there was a random parade of very noisy race cars going down the main street. So there I was, in the lane, with lots of noisy cars going past on the main street and half-drunk people hang around smoking outside the bar next door and it was starting to get dark. Finally the guy manages to arrive and he takes all of 5 minutes to get me in both the main door and my apartment door, using a bendy piece of plastic. I should probably get one of those just in case (and learn how to use it). Then, after already being the best deal in town, he gave me the poor-student discount because his own children are at university and being ripped-off left, right and centre. So how great is that, it only cost me 40 euro. Of course, it would have cost me nothing if I had not forgotten my keys. But I was all worried that I would have to fork out 100 euro or something like that so it was by far the best outcome.

By the time I got home it was nearly 8 pm and I was so exhausted. I finally got to have nice food (I made pasta carbonara with sauteed courgette and peas) and then I was so tired I just put on a movie. I watched both of the new Snow-White movies and it turns out that the more adult one, with that actress from Twilight, was awful. It was so terrible, the storyline was all over the place and the ending was absolutely crappy. The other one, Mirror Mirror, was far better, though still not very good, and it also had an awful ending. After an entire kids movie with absolutely no song and dance there was a completely random bollywood-like number at the end, which did not go with the movie at all and was just cringeworthy. So to top it off, I recently read a book also called Mirror Mirror, also about Snow-White, by the author that wrote Wicked. It was not good. It was worse than Wicked - it was just a rather lame story that was confusing and hard to get into. By far the best book by that author that I have read is his version of Cinderella.

So the next morning I had to get up at a decent hour because I was going on a dog-walk with my friend and her dog, and about 20 other dogs, because it was a charity fundraiser dog walk, raising money for the association that rescues and re-homes unwanted dogs. And there were so many adorable dogs there! Can't wait to get one for myself. Of course, halfway through it rained on us. And not just a little rain. The shower lasted for no more than 5 minutes but we were soaked to the skin in seconds. After that the walk wasn't so much fun.

Now it is Monday - the weekend has passed very quickly and my schedule at work is so busy that I barely have time to think, let alone sit down and have a bite to eat. So after work I decided to go for a run, seeing as the tag-rugby season is finally all over. First I had to hunt out my running shoes - it's always amazing what you can find under your bed. Finally I found them and what would you know, but I found a pair of socks inside them. Have no idea when the last time that I wore them was, but I assume they were dirty socks. Anyway, I was finally ready and off I went, trying to take it easy because I don't want to get shin-splints again. I ran on grass as much as I could, but the grass was sort of long and wet, so next thing I know my legs are all stinging and itchy - I think I ran through stinging nettle. Not fun. Plus for all that stinging and itching there aren't even marks to show that I was in pain. I hope that the next time I go for a run I remember to watch out for what turned out to be a big, rather obvious patch of stinging nettle.

13 September 2012

Good things and bad things

Good thing: today I save a little bird. It was inside the foyer of the building, fluttering against the glass door. I managed to catch it and put it out the door and it flew off of my hands. But while inside it wasn't actually flying, just fluttering, so I hope that doesn't mean it was hurt or just a baby or something, because I would like for it to have flown away and kept on living. It was really cute too, it had blue and brown feathers.

Bad thing: last night I burnt my mouth on soup so badly that it blistered, on the inside of my mouth and my lip too. Now the blister has broken and I have a gross oozy patch, so it looks like I have a coldsore, which I don't because I never get them, I was just stupid enough to take a spoonful of soup right from the pot. And it hurts and is all tingly. The soup wasn't even that good either, just average.

Good thing: I'm still the flavour of the month at work on account of getting my name in Nature and all, so even though there is so much to do still that I can barely think, everybody is all happy, especially my supervisor. She even suggested that I start giving her chapter drafts for my thesis, which is so positive because it means she's actually supporting my attempt to finish so early.

Bad thing: outside the weather is awful, it is grey and seems dark already and it's so windy, and at 7.30 pm tonight we have our final rugby match, which we have to win so that we get a cup, but it will be cold and half dark. Plus the team we are playing are good, I think we just barely beat them last time, and so many of our best players are away, we will be short on subs and we will all be absolutely exhausted.

Good thing: I have a big lunch-box of chocolate chip cookies to share with the team after the match, and they are the best chocolate chip cookies ever. I feel like I am betraying Cadbury to say it, but these cookies are actually better than the ones I always used to make for everybody, that came out of an old Cadbury cookbook. It was so hard to not eat lots of mixture last night, and then lots of freshly baked cookies (but I managed, because the rugby team would be so sad if I didn't bring cookies).

Bad thing: I have live samples of barnacles here at work again, which is good for some aspects of my work but means I have to look after them, and change the water, and feed them, and on Monday I had to spend the day sorting dead, rotting barnacles from live ones. Plus I am keeping them in the new temperature controlled room, which smells like some sort of plastic or adhesive or some other really chemically smelling thing. So soon I have to go out into this cold, grey day because the barnacles in their new temperature controlled room are in the storage building behind the main building. It's just such a hassle! Stupid barnacles.

Good thing: I got my new Kindle this week! It's so cool, it's small and light and can fit a whole library of books on it. I had to order a case to keep it safe so I'm still waiting for that to arrive, and it is purple and leather and has a light attached so that you can read everywhere and anywhere. All these books at my fingertips is going to be dangerous, I could so easily just read all the time and not work. In fact, I'm off now to have a late lunch and I'll be taking my Kindle with me and reading a chapter before coming back to read boring work stuff.

Bad thing: we lost our rugby match :(

02 September 2012

Work work work

My first paper was published just a couple of weeks ago and the most amazing thing happened last week. I got an email from an editor guy at Nature. He has written a short (very short) summary of my work to be published as a "research highlight" in Nature. As in, the actual science magazine. My name will be in it. With a link to my paper. Now, only scientists get this straight away, so let me explain. You know that song, "the cover of the Rolling Stone"? Well, Nature is the science version of the Rolling Stone. If you publish a paper in Nature you've pretty much got it made. So I have not published in Nature, and I probably never will, but they like my work enough to highlight it and point it out, and my name is there. It will be out this week. It will do great things for my paper and for my CV. Plus my supervisor is pretty stoked, so I should be in her good books for a fair while now.

So with all of that going so well, I just have to make it through the next three months. I need some work to start going right, I need to procrastinate less and be more productive in my writing (sometimes I find myself just staring at my computer screen or a research article for half an hour or more, with nothing new being done). If I can hand my thesis in by Christmas I could have the examination and corrections done by February next year. But in order to hand in my thesis I need to write an introduction, a methods chapter (that's more than half done at least), three more research chapters and a discussion. That's a lot. Though if it's always raining then at least it's easier to stay in the office and not wag work.

Plus to add a little update, it's a whole new week now, it's a Monday (yuck) but good things are happening today, other than eating cupcakes. Because today I won a Kindle! I entered a small writing competition, nothing major, just one put on by a company that makes peptides. Which is good, because the smaller the competition the less entries, which means more chance for me to win. I came third and won a Kindle, and I only wanted to get second or third because first prize was dinner for a group of my colleagues and that's sort of boring. I would rather have a kindle, and spend even more time reading instead of working. So yay! Both of these good, published things will be showing up online this week so the links will be coming shortly:

http://www.thinkpeptides.com/writepeptides-winners.html

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v489/n7414/full/489008a.html


27 August 2012

More Spiders

I am having a rough week. First, the spider under the toilet keeps coming out of his hiding place and hanging around in the evenings.


But that's bearable. I know where he is and that he will stay there, because he is clearly happy enough with his home. What is worse is what happened last night. My flatmate found this in her bedroom:


The picture is no exaggeration. It really was huge. It was too big to fit under a pint glass. I have never seen such a big spider in Ireland; I assumed there weren't any. Admittedly, it's taken nearly 3 years to come across one, but still, I can't help but be a bit worried that there are more of them. Though if I remember rightly it's not actually as bad as the ones that used to come in the house when I was a kid - they were definitely this big but a lot fatter and darker in colour. And I used to have to deal with them because Mum wouldn't. I remember I would get the cup and cardboard (with spider inside) as far as the door, then just throw the whole lot out onto the lawn and not go after the cup till the next day. But even this giant spider isn't the last of my spider troubles. There is another fat black one sitting right in the doorway to the apartment building. It arrived last night and was there this morning, with it's web taking over the top right hand corner of the doorway. I will have to find someone to get rid of it because I just can't handle walking under a spider every day, several times.

On a more positive note, despite the work that I am currently doing not going well at all, the work that I was doing in my first year or so here (which did go well and was enjoyable) has finally been published. It's available online and eventually will be available in a printed journal and now I am a published author, which means I will be able to get a doctorate and get a job. See: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jmor.20067/abstract. Look at all my pretty pictures. Maybe even read it if you like.

Now to end, over the weekend I brought myself a treat. One that is very fitting. A pair of earrings that look like chocolate chippie cookies!


17 August 2012

There's a spider living in my bathroom

See, it's a long story. First of all, ages ago, there was a rumour of a spider living below the toilet. Rumor because I had not seen it, just heard about it from my flatmate. Apparently it was really big. Then it was dead one day, and we vacuumed it up. For the record, it wasn't that big. Maybe Ireland big, but absolutely nothing compared to those huge dark brown spiders that used to appear on the bedroom wall back home. Which I used to be able to deal with, but now would not be able to go near because I am so un-used to big spiders that the smaller ones make me run away.

So, to get closer to the point of the story. The other night I had tag practice and they kept us running for 2 hours in terrible humidity, after which I really needed a shower. I got home and jumped in the shower and switched it on, then I looked down and there was a centipede crawling around the plughole trying to get out! It was really big too! I mean, not like tropical big but pretty big for what you expect to see in you house. It was all crawly and full of legs and I started yelling 'ew ew ew ew ew ew ew' and turned the shower off and jumped out, wrapped my towel around me and rushed out of the bathroom to get my flatmate to come and deal with the centipede problem. Which she did, amid lots of laughter. So the centipede was gone, we put it out the window and it happily landed on some roofing tiles. But that's not the end of the story.

See, in the morning, I was just getting out of the shower (yes, I had to have another shower, because how can you wake up without a shower?) and I saw another centipede! It was big and gross and crawling over the bathroom floor. But then it crawled under the toilet and suddenly it couldn't seem to move anywhere, it was just wriggling about in one place. Then a big spider came out and attacked it. At which point I left. And no, the spider wasn't that big, compared to big NZ house spiders, but I am accustomed to no spiders in my nice little city apartment so it seemed pretty big. Next time I went into the bathroom there was neither centipede nor spider to see, so I guess the spider must have pulled its meal into its hidey hole. I have since vacuumed the house, including the bathroom, so I must have got the spider web, but the spider was hiding, and he has probably made a new web. I have never seen him since, but I know that he is there, beneath the toilet somewhere. He is not as big as the spiders that used to live in the bathroom when I was growing up, but it is still unsettling and I am not impressed.

13 August 2012

Sunshine!

After a spectacularly wet end to summer here in Galway, autumn decided to treat us to a couple of last days of warm weather. It went from this, the weekend before (which I did spend lazing about on the couch after all):


To this on the Friday just been:


It was 25 degrees! I took the day off to make the most of it, because it is very unlikely that it will happen again this year. Spent the whole day on the beach, went for a swim, and only got very slightly sunburnt. It is still the school holidays here so the beach was packed with kids and parents, but luckily we found a nice quiet spot down the end.


Of course, after a long day of sunshine I was incredibly exhausted, and my head was pounding, though that may have been on account of staying up late to finish my book. So I spent the weekend quietly, enjoying the slightly colder, but still good weather. Until Sunday, when we woke up to sunshine, went out to make the most of it, only to have it cloud over. So we went to a cafe and sat in the garden, but then it started to spit and it was awfully windy. So we picked up our things and went inside. Next thing you know, the sky opens up and drops down another heavy, torrential downpour. When it finally stopped we went home, and luckily we live right in the city centre, just in case. Not that it would have helped much, just a few seconds in that sort of rain and you'd be soaked to the bone. Now it is on and off every day, and we can only hope that it stays fine for rugby on Thursday.

04 August 2012

Autumn has begun...

Galway has finally got a pie shop. It is right beside where I live. They have steak and cheese pies. But it is not a steak and cheese pie. If they tried to sell this in NZ they would have to hang their heads in shame. First of all, there are no noticeable pieces of steak in the pie. The gravy is not rich and meaty. There is carrot in it. And the cheese is just not right. Plus the pastry is not so good and the pie is sort of soggy. It does not cut the mustard. Clearly Galway and the whole of Ireland could benefit from a proper NZ pie. I don't know why it is so bad, when the UK is so close and they can make a good pie. They have this franchise over there called Pie Minister and they make amazing pies, with proper steak and gravy and delicious pastry. This Galway pie shop is just a half arsed attempt at making money of ignorant tourists and gimmick loving city people that don't know what a real pie is like. Even the outside of the shop shows it, it is poorly painted and the signage is terrible.

So other than a terrible excuse for a pie shop opening up down the street, absolutely nothing has been happening here. OK, so there was the arts festival, but that's not so great. I didn't even manage to see the Macnas parade, which is the only real parade that they have in this city, because it was on at 9 pm on a Sunday and it was raining so I just did not want to leave the house. And then when the arts festival was over the Galway races began, but I'm not much into wasting money on horses, so I didn't bother with it. For a little while I got excited about the prospect of ladies' day and the best dressed competition, but then everbody from here told me that it is not actually a competition that includes the public, no matter what they say, but it is always pre-determined and the winners are members of societies like the Rotary Society or Miss Ireland or something like that. How crappy is that, when the advertisements say that anybody from the crowd could be chosen? They should have a proper little fashion show included, that would be much better. So after getting all excited about the idea of making something and winning something again I didn't bother because apparently it doesn't work that way, and just in time for the races the monsoon season has hit Galway so there is no way that I was venturing out to the race track to stand around outdoors in a dress an heels while it rained down on me.

However, it is a long weekend here in Ireland and I feel that I need a proper break from work so I hope that the torrential downpours stop for a day or so, so that I can get out of the house and do something, so that my long weekend will not feel wasted. Besides, this apartment is so small and race week is so loud that if I don't get out I will surely go stir crazy, so hopefully I can find some entertainment for the weekend. If not, I will just have to walk around town mindlessly window shopping because I have cute new boots that need to be worn in, until they stop giving me blisters, but I can't go too far in them in case I really need to rush home and take them off, on account of the blisters and all. Yet window shopping is difficult in this ridiculously crowded city, so maybe after all that I will just stay home and read books and watch movies, because that is the best thing to do when it is raining. Besides, techincally it is autumn here now, so a colder season has officially started and it is time to stay in the house and bake yummy things to eat.

19 July 2012

Another week, more moaning about work...

So at the moment life is very busy, except for when I am at work procrastinating. I would like to not be procrastinating, but sometimes the amount of work I can do in the lab is limited by what actually needs to be done, and I'm struggling to motivate myself to work on writing stuff up. I dislike sitting at my desk all day on the computer - I would rather be doing some sort of more active work. Like a couple of days ago when I went out to beaches, having a little look for washed up barnacles and putting up posters to appeal to the public. The weather was pretty grim and there were no barnacles, and I don't like long car rides, but I do like going to the beach so it was a pretty good day. Hopefully I will go out again next week and hopefully the weather will be nicer.


What I am busy with at the moment is dealing with all sorts of  people after sending out a press release to ask for help in looking for stupid barnacles. Though the press release doesn't call them stupid. Instead it makes my work sound interesting and exaggerates how applicable it is. Unfortunately for all of those people out there, I am not actually looking for barnacles in order to extract their glue and use it as a surgical adhesive. What I actually need more animals for at the moment is to collect the adhesive for some microscopy work - there is this microscope that uses lasers to look at the chemical bonds holding things together and we are hoping it will tell us something interesting. And I need more animals to do more structural work - if the lab work goes well in the next couple of weeks I will have DNA sequences to work with, and I will make probes that will attach to that sequence in the tissue - which means that I can look at sections of the animal and see where this DNA is expressed, and if it is in the right place then I will know that it is adhesive-protein DNA. Fingers crossed that it works because I really want to finish this bloody PhD!

So anyway, the press release has so far got a lot of responses but has not yet brought me any barnacles. We released it yesterday, which means that the university sent it to all of the newspapers and radio stations on their mailing list. There was a piece in one of the national papers yesterday and I was called up by three radio stations. Hope I did an OK job of the radio stuff. There is a much bigger radio interview next week but I'm not sure if I am doing that or my supervisor is. And then this morning I was called up by a television person! However, it's for an Irish news show (on national television though). So that means they want an Irish speaker. It will be really good coverage so perhaps my supervisor will do it. And hopefully all of this will eventually mean that somebody will call me up and tell me that they have seen live barnacles that I can then go and collect. I don't need much, just a few good healthy ones would do. The thing is, this is getting so much attention that we really should have done it right at the start, but nobody suggested such a thing back then. I have also got one bad response already, some marine person that contested the newspaper's statement that these animals are rare and that extracting their glue is a feasible idea - well of course things are made simple for the wider public, stupid man who thinks he knows better than us who have been working on it for 3 years or so. I wrote back to him with very lengthy explanations.

In other news, Wilbert the snake is doing very well; he is eating loads of mice and growing very quickly. Except last month the mice I got were not so good and I didn't realise until I had already fed him quite a lot of them. When I got them from the pet shop that had mostly thawed already but I thought it would be OK to refreeze them. Wilbert ate most of them just fine, but then he started refusing his food and he took ages to moult. I think he was not very well. But now I have better mice from a different pet store and he is much happier. He is growing so much that I will try him with a larger size - the extra large mice are called monster mice, which I find amusing so I would quite like to feed him monster mice.


And I went away for the weekend, to Limerick for a day long tag-rugby tournament. The games were just 15 minutes long and it turns out that our team is not so good at short games - we got our butts kicked. It wasn't just that though, we were also playing teams that were better than us and that had real rugby players on them. We only won one out of four games, but at least we won by a lot for that game. And I got a try! It was very exciting. Then this week we lost again - it was the last game of the tournament and if we had of won it we would have won the whole thing, but they were a good team full of real rugby players, and we were off our game after the long weekend. The last time we played that team one of our players had her head split open so at least there were no real injuries this time. Except I have a giant bruise on my shin - someone must have kicked me.

Now it is about lunchtime and I should go do some work. I have DNA fragments to clone and sequence and more sequences waiting to be analysed. Lab work makes me tired, makes me just want to go home and bake something, or sit in front of the tele, or finish knitting that hat that I started the other day. Or finish making the dress that I started weeks ago and then stopped when I got to the finishing touches. Or just go to sleep. But at least I can listen to music while I work, on account of having a brand new ipod. It's pink. My old one finally stopped working - the buttons just wouldn't do anything anymore. It had survived a lot though, it was a good few years old and had been dropped countless times, plus once into a glass of water. But I don't like the new one, it is too small - it is only about an inch and a half square! Plus it has no buttons, it's all touch screen! But then again, all I want to do is listen to music and it does that, so the other things don't really matter. And it has a built in pedometer to measure all my steps, so that's fun. Yesterday I walked 10,000 steps! That seems like quite a lot. Makes me feel justified in going home and blobbing out on the couch.

05 July 2012

It's been a really long couple of weeks here in Galway. The last post ended with chocolate caramel cupcakes, which were a huge hit for my mate's birthday, and after that I did nothing for the weekend. Except run 10k. It was called a mini-marathon, which is sort of insulting really, because it's nowhere near a marathon. Still, it was really hard. Way harder than 8k. I managed to finish in 56 minutes, which is two or three minutes faster than last year. And I decided that running really isn't my thing, and I don't enjoy it enough to want to do an actual marathon, or even a half. I will stick to short runs and the odd 10k for a good cause.

When I finally decided to try do some work, I realised that what I had been planning on working on was already finished, I had just done it so long ago that I had forgotten. On the Monday I had my GRC meeting, which went just fine, and made me determined to make my stupid lab work go well, so that I can finish this stupid PhD. However, that's much easier said than done. So it's pretty much agreed now that I will try to finish enough to write up my thesis at the end of this year. Which is good.

Then later that day I fed Wilbert the Snake a mouse, which must have not been a very good mouse, or maybe I defrosted it too quickly, because when he bit it and wrapped around it the mouse's tummy burst open and spilt guts everywhere! It was gross. He still ate it though. He has been very boring since then - he is getting ready to molt, but sure is taking his time about it. He would not eat his mice this week, which is very annoying, because they went to waste and they cost me 2 euro each! However, after I changed his bedding and water he did get right into his water, his whole body, and went for a little swim, which I had never seen him do before.

After Wilbert's dinner it was time for rugby practice, where we played a practice game against another team and my legs were hurting me so much that I decided I should really go to the physio. I did so the next day, and she was really good. She used some ultrasound thing on my legs to get rid of the shin-splints, then did dry-needling to fix up my calf muscles so that I wouldn't get more shin splints. Which hurt. A lot. Dry-needling is exactly what it sounds like - needles are stuck into you. There were at least four needles sticking out of my calf muscle and she wriggled them around, which made all my muscles twitch. For the rest of the day I was limping and felt as if somebody and tried to tear my calf muscle right out of my leg. But on the bright side, my legs are almost all better. Unfortunately that hasn't made me much faster for rugby. Yet despite my lack of speed I got my first try in our game last week! Yay! It was a very exciting moment.

So that was all the news of last week, and then over the weekend the Volvo Ocean Race festival started. It involved a lot of noise and huge crowds. There is a little 'village' set up down at the docks, with loads of food stalls (really good ones) and little shops, plus a huge stage. A stage with such hugely load amps that I can hear the noise very clearly from my apartment, which is blocks away. So when the boats came in on Monday night and I was trying to get a good night's sleep (which I needed because I had a cold) I was woken up at one in the morning by the sound of Split Enz 'I See Red' and some incredibly annoying woman shouting through the microphone. I listened for long enough to, first, gather that the NZ boat had come into Galway first (but we didn't win overall, sadly) and, secondly, get so annoyed with that woman at the microphone that I hunted in my earplugs and slept with them in. Which is very uncomfortable! The next day I went down to check out the boats and they were much smaller than I expected. To think that a group of people spent 9 months on those little things, sailing across huge oceans with big waves!

Now it is Thursday and I have had to sleep with earplugs every night. The crowds are huge and the rain is not dampening their spirits. For those of us that live here it's pretty funny that it won't stop raining - now everybody will know what Ireland is really like, instead of being fooled by the bouts of good weather that often show up just for tourists. However, the rain has not improved my cold at all, which has gone from a sinus cold to a gross phlegmy cold to a sore throat cold. I was getting better, but then yesterday it rained on us for our entire rugby game. And then as soon as we finished it stopped. Chocolate cookies helped, and so did going home and making soup for dinner. Yesterday was July the 4th so for the Volvo Race Week it was America day, and there were fireworks out in the harbour. They were really good, and the first fireworks I'd seen in ages! It didn't last long enough though. Apparently fireworks are illegal here, to the point where even the cities don't hold a fireworks display at New Years. How crappy is that?!

I have given up on working for the day. It's nearly time for my first yoga class. Because I joined yoga this week. Which made the physio much happier with me. I am very un-stretchy, and it would be easier on my legs if I was more stretchy. I reckon it is going to be hard, but all my friends do it and say it's great. So I guess we'll see.

23 June 2012

The most awful week ever

This last week has surely been the most awful week ever. It all started on Monday. Obviously. On Monday morning my supervisor shows up in my office to tell me that my GRC meeting will be in one week. That's the yearly meeting with my graduate review committee to decide how my PhD is going and if I can continue. Which isn't really a big deal, it's just a formality really. But what it meant was that I spent the week making plans for the rest of my PhD and actually thinking about it all instead of repressing it like I usually do. It wasn't fun. There are only four months until my third year is finished. The first half of the PhD is done and my paper has been accepted (yay!) but I still have a lot of lab work. Can it be done in four months? I don't know. Not to mention that my supervisor doesn't realise that I want to leave so soon. I wrote up a schedule and it is awful - lab work every day, lots of it, and on weekends, no more procrastinating. It will be so exhausting! I am already so exhausted just thinking about it.

So if a week of hard work is not enough (and I really was working hard), we played the most awful, disgusting rugby game imaginable. It's not that we lost - that's really not such a bad thing. We have lost before (although for the summer league we had not lost a game yet). It was the other team that was awful. The were the most vicious pack of savages that we have ever come across. Some of it was also bad luck, but that bad luck definitely had a lot to do with their aggressive attitudes. About 10 seconds into the game one of their guys managed to elbow one of our girls in the face and he split her forehead open! She was gushing blood everywhere and had to go to the hospital for stitches. The ref was useless, the organiser of the league came over and he was useless too - they didn't do anything! You would think that they would be concerned for the players' safety and that at least somebody there would have some first aid knowledge. Instead they didn't even seem to possess common sense. I mean, she had a head injury, there could have been more damage than what we saw, and they didn't even offer to call an ambulance! I think they really should have done at least that. Instead she went off to the hospital, meaning we lost two of our best players and had no more subs. The game continued and a couple of minutes later the other team took out one of their own players - one of the blokes knocked one of the girls down and we all thought she must have broken her shoulder or something because she didn't get up for ages. She was crying and couldn't play the rest of the match. Yet it continued and the ref did not send off the guy that hurt our player nor the one that knocked down the other team's player. If that was our team being aggressive the ref wouldn't even have to do that because our own captain would send us off to chill out for awhile. So the game continued as it started; we were bummed out and off our game after the accident, they were aggressive and the ref was useless. Instead of penalising them he threatened to send our captain off for whining. For the last 10 minutes of the game we played in a torrential downpour. So all in all, it doesn't really get much worse than that.

But we still only lost by about 6 points I think, and we are still at the top of our division in the league. We just have to make sure that we win all of the rest of our matches by lots of points. And that the team we played this last week don't do so well. Which they might not, I'm not sure that they're really so good as all that - a lot of people were saying that the players last week were not the same players as in other weeks, as if they had borrowed some new people just for the purpose of beating us. That would explain the huge aggressive guys on the team, they were probably real rugby players and not used to non-contact sports. I hope so, because after what they did to our player (I mean, she is all swollen and scarred!) we really need to beat them in the league. And maybe meet them in a dark alley and beat some manners into them. It was such an awful, depressing game.

Well, all of that happened on Wednesday, so there were only two days left until the weekend, but they were days full of lab work, so they were not very good days. Not only that, but the lab work was not very successful. So that sucks. The week got moderately better when a woman stopped in with a box of chocolates for me, as a thank you for giving a group of students a tour of the zoology museum. It was very unexpected, and I felt quite underserving of it because I do get paid for my time. Unfortunately I couldn't even stop to chat to her and say a proper thank you because my supervisor was in my office trying to get her head around my research (in other words, wasting time that I could have spent doing real work). But finally Thursday was over and that evening I had a real break from work - I made cupcakes instead, for a friend's birthday. They were delicious, chocolate with caramel frosting and more caramel sauce on top. It was a long evening though, full of silly blonde mistakes, probably on account of my being so tired. First I screwed up the caramel by burning the sugar (it tasted awful). That was OK though, I had enough butter to make more. But then I didn't have enough butter for the frosting. So I dashed out to get some more, and as I went to take the butter from the shelf I noticed the weight of a pack of butter. That is when I realised my blonde mistake. The reason that thought there wasn't enough butter was that I had forgotten how much butter is in a pack of butter. I had used twice as much butter as I should have for the cupcakes! This is why you should always weigh everything!! Luckily cupcakes can survive quite a lot of mistakes and they were still good. Just somewhat denser than they usually are. Everybody loved them and thought they were like little chocolate brownies. So basically, I got through another day of work, then on Friday evening I fed everybody cupcakes, and now it is Saturday and I should have been working but I took the day off instead. Now I'm going to go to bed early and try to recover from my awful week.

11 June 2012

Too much work, too little play

OK, so sorry for being really lazy at the moment but there really is not much to be writing about at the moment anyway you know. I think I last wrote when we were having a couple of weeks of crazily good weather, during which I managed to not get sunburnt. I think that was two weeks ago now. Since then, I have been working. Boring, right? But things are going OK at work for the moment so it's not so bad. However, if I don't stop procrastinating about the lab work that I have to do then things won't be OK for much longer. It's just so difficult to get motivated when, one, you don't know what you are doing and have to teach yourself everything and, two, you just really don't want to do it. At first it was OK because that beautiful sunny weather that made me not want to work went away. We had days and days of endless rain (although it did manage to stop just enough for rugby practices and games). Last week was awful for some reason - we had a long weekend, during which time I did no work and lots of sitting around the house (because it was cold and rainy outside) and for some reason shorter weeks are always less productive because your idea of what day it is gets all messed up.

Luckily I had a nice distraction from work last week - I gave a talk at the aquarium for their 'marine month'. It had absolutely nothing to do with my PhD. I talked about dolphins and how they get caught in fishing nets. There were about a dozen kids there and they were a really good audience, with lots of questions (really clever questions for such small children actually). So that was fun, and I was looking forward to Saturday, when they were going to have a dolphin/whale rescue demonstration, using an inflatable whale to show the public what to do if you come across a stranding. I was asked to come along as a scientist and answer any biology questions that people might have. However, it was cancelled, because they have lost their whale. But that wasn't such a bad thing as it was looking like the weekend was going to be horrible and rainy. Only the next thing you know, Saturday arrived and it was warm and sunny! The weather here changes that quickly, and I had no plans for a nice sunny day, but all my friends were going to the one day festival being put on by Mumford & Sons. Has their music reached NZ yet? They're really popular over here. So a friend of mine had a spare ticket and it had been years since I'd been to a concert of any sort, so I forked out 40 euro and went along. It was good - I think most people would have said that it was really, really great - but I think concerts just aren't really my thing. I like the music but I hate all the people crowding around and pressing into you. There was some stoner half asleep and leaning all over people and somebody in front of me kept farting. Plus there were less than 100 toilets for a crowd of thousands, it was awful. Makes you think it would be easier to be a boy. But even they weren't allowed to avoid the queue - there were security guards standing around to prevent them from peeing wherever they wanted. Which is good, sort of, except that then there are twice as many people in line for the loos and you miss out on all the music while you wait. How terribly inefficient and under-prepared is that!

Well, after such a big Saturday I did very little on Sunday, which is a shame because the weather was nice but there is just not that much to do here and I was tired. I sat around watching movies on tele (Nanny McPhee and E.T. were on) and reading my book instead. It's an historical fiction novel about Charles Darwin. Then I made an awesome dinner for my flatmate and I, and it was still such nice weather that we went out for ice-cream, which involved manoeuvring crowds of people who were out to watch the football. All night I could hear people yelling the 'ole' chant. I guess Ireland must have won or something. I hope it doesn't continue tonight because I really would prefer a good nights sleep. On Wednesday is our Zoology colloquium, at which all of us students give a talk about our research and then we have a departmental BBQ. There are not so many students these days so it should finish early, which means food will be early, which is perfect because I intend to leave early and go to our rugby game, which I'm sure will be far more fun than the departmental BBQ. For my contribution I will be introducing the Irish to lamingtons. Chocolate ones. Should be good. And that is all that is going on in my life at the moment, and there will probably be nothing exciting happening over the next couple of weeks either, because the life of a third year PhD student is terribly tedious. To make matters worse I think I have a bit of an RSI from spending too much time typing, and now I have a very sore wrist. Just goes to show that working hard is not good for you.

PS - sorry, no photos either, like I said, nothing much is happening at the moment...

27 May 2012

Heat Wave

It has been strangely hot here. The entire last week has been nice weather. Finally it was Saturday and I didn't have to work. It was 27 degrees! We drove out to a beach, the coral beach, which instead of sand has a type of coral called maerl all washed up. Lots of little shells too and for once I refrained from picking them up. Instead I lay on the beach all day. I am so impressed with myself - I didn't get burnt for once. I was very smart and wore plenty of sunscreen and kept reapplying it. We even managed to go for a swim. The water was icy cold! It was the type of cold where you step in and immediately have to stop out because the cold gets right into the bones of your ankles. Then you get back in and wait until it feels ok, then inch in bit by bit. Only there was lots of seaweed so we didn't want to go deep. Instead we had go back to the shallows and sit down, slowly, bit by bit, then edge back into the slightly deeper water. Eventually the water was up to my ribcage and after that it was ok to sort of swim a bit. In a shallow, paddling sort of way. There was a small boy that was threatening to splash us. He must have only been about 3 but the water was very cold so it was a pretty heavy threat. I stayed in the water as long as I could and then the sun did not seem so hot. In fact it took quite a long time to warm up again. Finally I was warm again and then it was time to go home because it turned out we had been at the beach for hours. Everybody else was burnt and will be so uncomfortable tomorrow but I am good! On the way home we stopped for ice-cream - here it is not common to get scooped ice-cream, instead the soft-serve ice-creams are really common. They call them a 99 - once upon a time I guess they cost 99 cents. They pile so much softserve into the cone and stick a flake into it. It is so much that even I struggle to eat it. I really wish it would stay so warm for the entire summer. I will be so sad if it gets cold again.



14 May 2012

How was Portugal?

So, sorry about the delay, but Portugal was really tiring! The conference would go from 9 am until after 6, entire days of just sitting there, listening to people talk and discussing work stuff with various other researchers, not to mention having to contend with my supervisor shooting ideas at me so quickly that I can barely comprehend them. I had my talk on the first morning of the conference, so the two nights previous to that I had not gotten anywhere near enough sleep. I mostly knew my talk but when we arrived at the venue the conference room was huge! Enough for about 500 people surely! There were less than a hundred of us, which I think was sort of worse than if it had been full. The screen was really gigantic, it was all on a much larger scale than anything I'd done before. I talked and talked but even while speaking I could not keep track of whether I was saying the right things or not. I got to the end and had no idea if I had really said what I was supposed to say. I had to answer a couple of questions and then it was over and I could relax. Here is me at the podium (photo is way too zoomed in!):


It was definitely the scariest talk that I have done - the room was so big and the audience were all experts in my field and could actually judge my work. However, over the next three days people kept coming up to me and telling me that I gave a good talk so it must have been OK! I was very glad that it was over. After that the conference was mostly talks that were about adhesion but not so much the biological side of things and I found most of them very hard to follow. Unfortunately the one talk I really wanted to hear, by the only other person that really looks at barnacle adhesive, was not so great. He is Japanese and his accent was really strong, plus his English was not that good and the talk itself was not well structured so it was hard to follow. On the up-side, he is really interested in my structural biology because his lab is entirely molecular based, and he gave me a barnacle brooch - it is an acorn barnacle but that's OK because my barnacles are ugly anyway. So here is me (centre right of crowd, white shirt) talking to the foremost researcher in my field (the Japanese guy,  you can even see a white barnacle brooch on his jacket):


Sadly the conference took up most of my time in Portugal. They fed us really well, and listening to talks all day is really tiring so I ate way too much. For the first two evenings I had dinner in the city with various other researchers and students. The weather was gorgeous, it's a shame we had so much of it being stuck indoors all day.


The restaurants serve more fish than anything else and have no idea that cod is an endangered species. The fish is generally fried whole and they serve it to you just like that, with the head and tail and everything. I have never had fish like that before - in fact I think I at more fish in Portugal than I every have before. Some of it was good but it was all very salty - the Portuguese seem to like excessive amounts of salt even more than I do. The hotel was really nice and breakfast each morning was included - they had these little custard tarts which are a Portuguese speciality and they were so amazing! Each morning I had to go back for seconds and thirds, it is lucky such yummy little tarts are not available here! On the Thursday evening was the conference dinner, at which they first plied us with alcohol and tiny little snacks, then plied us with more alcohol as we waited for our dinner. There was a fish course (cod, of course), for which I used the wrong knife - I know that you are supposed to go from the outside in but it was such a big plateful, it seemed to large for the small knife and fork. However, then came a meat course, which I think was suckling pig because they have a lot of that over there, and my big knife and fork were gone so I was left with just the small ones. I was not the only one to make that mistake at least! They kept on topping up our drinks so I have no idea how much I had. Finally there was dessert, which was a buffet, there was so much good stuff and as usual my eyes were bigger than my stomach so I ended up feeling terribly stuffed full. There was lemon meringue pie and pavlova (not as good as a kiwi one) and chocolate tart and chocolate mousse. The best part though was the bowls full of fresh strawberries. They brought out the entertainment then, a traditional Portugues music group, singing Fada songs, which is now recognised as being a part of the cultural heritage of Portugal. It is basically songs full of emotion in which the singers stand with their eyes closed and put as much emotion into every single word as possible. There is guitar in the background and it ends in a big crescendo. It is really strange to see people up there singing with their eyes closed and lots of exaggerated facial expressions.

So, anyway, the conference finally ended on Friday and for the afternoon I joined a tour organised by the travel agency that organised the conference. There were not many of us on it but that was actually quite nice. Unfortunately the conference had run late, so our tour was running late, so some things were cut a little short. It was still really good though and I wish I could have stayed in Portugal for longer. We managed to pack a lot into a single afternoon and I took enough photos to make up for not having had any time earlier. First the bus took us through Lisbon, a suburb of which is called Belem, which is named after Bethlehem, and has a big old monastery, which you can see in the photo below. It also has a famous pastry shop where the traditional little custard tarts are made, the original recipe of which is a well guarded secret. And for good reason too, otherwise we would all be that much fatter.


There is a tower along the river that was to guard against invasion (by the Spanish I think but I'm not sure). We did not have time to get out to see it but the side facing the river is shaped a bit like a ship, so that approaching enemy vessels would see what looked to be a giant ship waiting to chase them off.


The day was very overcast, so the ocean was a greenish-grey colour and just faded into the horizon. The photos don't do it justice because I took them through the bus window. There were a lot of little forts along the coast, you can see one in this photo below, and there were also a lot of fishing boats, which I guess would explain the huge bias for fresh fish on the menu.


We drove and drove and drove - I was getting very hungry. We went though a small town that makes the best ice cream in Portugal (and the world, apparently). They told us all about it but we did not stop to have some! There was a tree with crochet-art wrapped around it, featuring geckos, which are an adhesive-capable animal so I had to take a photo of it.


Finally we left the coast and started driving inland, into the mountais. We passed fields of trees that are subject to such strong wind that the trees are growing along the ground - they were clearly pine trees but they looked like low bushes, only you could see a trunk at one end. I tried to take photos but they really didn't show them in such an impressive way as I saw them so you will have to take my word for it. We finally made it to another small town and stopped for lunch. Again, before we even began eating the alcohol was flowing and they always top up your wine glass without even asking first. Lunch was something that I have never had before - squid! It is roasted on great big metal skewers, which are then hung on chains above your table and you can just slide it off with your knife and fork.


They served it with fries, which were actually really delicious fries, and a spinach puree that was quite awful. The squid itself was very interesting - it was slightly fishy and very chewy. I don't think I liked it very much, it was edible but I would never choose to order it, no matter how traditional it may be.


When lunch was finished it was already late afternoon and we had not yet reached our destination. If only the conference had ended early! We next stopped at a place called Capo da Roca - the most western point of Europe. Despite the overcast day it was still a really beautiful place, largely on account of the impressive rock formations at the base of the cliffs.

 

The greenery that was all around was not grass but some type of succulant. The flowers were unusual and really pretty so as usual I stopped to take photos of them. We could not stop for too long but really, there was not that much to see other than some impressive cliffs.


However, before we could leave we all had to have our photos take at the pillar signifying the most western point of Europe. So here I am and this means that you cannot complain that I never put up pictures of myself on here.


Finally we continued to our destination, a small town called Sintra. Sintra is a place full of interesting architecture and castles. I think it is where the nobility used to live, plus the Spanish nobility had a holiday home there. The man that would have been King if Portugal had not become a republic lives there still. There is a castle right on top of the mountain that has views of the sea and the plain on the other side, however we did not have time to go up there. I'm not sure how interesting it would have been, however. There is also a convent that looked very nice to visit but if I want to see everything I guess I will just have to go back there one day.


The first stop for me and my room-mate (did I mention that I got paired with a random student at the hotel? Luckily we managed to get along really well!) was the shops! There were not many of them, but both of us had to buy a couple of souvinirs before leaving Portugal. Unfortunately I ran out of money and so did the ATM so my spending was limited! I did buy a cute little handbag (actually I'm still not sure if it's really cute or really ugly but I like it anyway), I brought a silver necklace strung on a cord made of cork (they grow cork trees in Sintra - I never even knew that cork was a specific type of wood!) and we brought shots of cherry liquer in chocolate cups! It is a Portuguese thing and they were only 1 euro. You sip the liquer, then when the cup is still half full you pop the whole thing in your mouth and just bite down on it. It is very strong but the shop-keeper was right - the flavours really do complement each other.


After the shops we made our way to the only palace that was within walking distance, but luckily it was the one that I most wanted to see (I actually had no idea what we would see before getting on the tour bus, but they gave us some brochures and maps to look at before we arrived). It was called the Quinta da Regaleira and includes a small palace, a chapel, a tower and a large area of gardens. The architecture is very gothic and the gardens half wild.


The chapel was Roman Catholic with pictures of saints and carvings of cherubs. I did not go inside; I've seen plenty of churches after all my travels and there was a big puddle in front of the entrance. Besides, we were on the search for the bathrooms and they definitely were not in the chapel so we continued on rather quickly.


Luckily, we found bathrooms easily enough and then could continue our explorations. The tower was next - it was an octagonal tower and you could climb up it. The first spiral staircase was enough enough but they got narrower and narrower until they were all but vertical - the last one was more like a ladder and it was precarious going in my jandals (I very nearly wrote flip-flops there because over here they don't understand the word jandal, I have had to change my vocabulary!).



At the top, after catching my breath, I could take a look around at the panoramic view - you could see across the park and down onto the chapel and castle in one direction, the town centre and the ocean in another and behind us was a mountain.


And look, here is another picture of me! Am I not terribly vain and narcissistic today? Now you really can't say that I never show photos of myself. Here you can also see the cool pillars of the wee tower room that we were in. Then, after the photos were done, we had to make our way down the steep staircases, which was even more precarious than going up!



The next step was a small, artifical lake (personally, I would call it a pond myself). It is called the lake of the waterfall but the waterfall is not turned on until the summer I guess, so it was just a lake. The day was incredibly bright and the area very rocky, so my photos are a little over-exposed. This is also one of those instances where a photo does not do the scene justice - the entire park was like an illustration in a story.




Instead of crossing the bridge we walked over stepping stones because I wanted to find an entrance to the tunnels that cross beneath the park. The tunnel that I found was very dark and it took a lot to convincing my new friend to join me. Luckily my key-ring has a small torch on it and eventually she believed me that it was a very short piece of tunnel so she came along.


After a short walk through a pitch black section of tunnel (it was so dark that even my pathetic key-ring torch was useful) we came upon daylight and could look out at the lake. I think that in the summer time the waterfall would be falling down past this opening.


The rest of the tunnels had lights along the floor, though there were side tunnels that were in complete darkness. I would have like the time to explore further. The map and brochure had showed a structure that they called the Initiation well, so we followed the tunnels to find it.


This well  is not so much a well as a reverse-tower - there is no water in it and there is a spiral staircase running around the egde from the top to the bottom. We did not climb to the top so I only have the photo showing the view up. It was very wet and slippery in the bottom of the well, despite it not being a real well.


We followed yet more tunnels to get out and even though we had not seen anywhere near everything it was time to leave. I would love to go back, to see more of the gardens, the grottoes and the palace. But at least for our short visit it was spring, so there were flowers and the trees were green.  To go back to my habit of taking photos of flowers, here is a flower that I always think looks quite like a bird.


Sadly, the day was pretty much done after seeing the palace. But to look on the bright side, we were all incredibly tired and getting hungry so it was time for dinner. We drove for what seemed like an age, through what seemed to be the middle of nowhere, until we finally came to yet another small town and stopped at a restaurant. This town was far from the ocean so we felt quite safe from being served more seafood. There were pictures of pigs everywhere so it was pretty easy to guess what the main course would be. They brought it out to show it to us before the carved it up - a very young pig (though not quite a baby, really), all de-boned and roasted. Poor baby pig!



I think that might be the first time that I have really eaten a baby animal - I have had lamb of course, but the lamb that we eat is generally a year old, so it is not really a baby. Suckling pig, however, really is a baby animal, because, as the name implies, the animal has not yet been weaned. It doesn't really taste the same as ordinary pork and is far softer. It was much nicer than the squid! However, Portuguese cuisine seems to be awfully heavy on protein compared to how I would normally eat. There is some salad served and some potato, but very little in the way of vegetables! Finally, with the massive overload of protein out of the way, it was time for dessert. So here is the second amazing Portuguese dish that I have discovered, and like the little custard tarts I would like to reproduce if I can be bothered one day. It was called Doce da Casa, which means sweet of the house. So basically, it is the house speciality and should be different every day and between every restaurant. However, it seems that one particular dish has also take on the name and Doce da Casa will generally look like this. It consisted of a very light vanilla custard, topped with soft biscuit that was absolutely drenched in coffe, with some sort of very foamy, uncooked-meringue-like cream on the top. It was delicious! I had two! Luckily, my room-mate also loves food and had a second one so it wasn't just me being piggy!


Now I am back in Ireland. The trip was great and I wish I could have stayed. I was so tired that when I got back to Ireland I left my poster on the plane (I had a poster to present at the conference aswell, you see, which was placed in a big plastic tube for travelling, which I had wedged beneath my seat on the plane, where it was so out of my way that I forgot about it!). I tried to go back but couldn't, and then though maybe I'd just leave it, but my supervisor will probably want it again one day and the plastic tube was not mine so I had to find somebody to help me and wait for them to go find it. I spent the weekend recovering from my very tiring trip and now I have so much work to do. However, some of my lab work may finally be working out so I cannot slack off, though it is so cold and rainy that I would love to just stay in bed all morning with a book or a movie.