Saturday, 21 June 2008

when lilacs last in the door-yard bloomed

Things I missed about Alberta: lilacs. Perogies. That accent. The big huge sky. Cars that stop and wait patiently for you to cross the street.

How come I never realized that there are no lilacs in Wales?

Of course the main thing is the people. It’s been great seeing everyone. I spent yesterday sitting on patios with people whose company I enjoy. Life is good.

The trip over was long but kind of hilarious. The plane was furnished with the usual orange flight attendant (only one orange one this time) with peroxide-white hair. However, I was also sat next to the most hilarious possible seatmate – a Geordie who was at least six pints down and hadn’t slept in 24 hours. He started off the flight in fine form by doing an increasingly jiggly dance in his seat as the plane waited to take off. Finally, with six pints straining at his bladder, he could stand it no longer and made a dash for the loo… just as we began taxiing down the runway. A series of increasingly stern messages was broadcast over the intercom: “Passengers are reminded that the fasten-seatbelt sign is on…” Eventually they caught him and frog-marched him back to his seat. As soon as the plane was in the air, he was off like a rocket, running back down the aisle toward the toilet.

By about Hour Three he had hit the sentimental stage, and was telling me (actually quite touching) stories about his “wee bairn” who got leukemia at only three years old. Eventually he went back to listening to music and I was half-watching the film (Dumb and Dumber, inexplicably) when he leaned over and poked me and whispered something about the toilet. I looked back, and sure enough the flight attendants were gathered around the back loo. Turns out he had been caught smoking (!). Sure enough, the stern announcement came over the intercom: “Passengers are reminded that the toilets are fitted with sensitive smoke alarms… passengers caught smoking may be removed from the flight, have their passports confiscated and may be refused passage on the airline”. Then one of the stewards came marching down the aisle with a long legal document and read it (ALL of it) out to him. He seemed very contrite. He wasn’t a bad guy, just a drunken dumbass.

Once off the plane, things got far more annoying. It is always my nightmare that my luggage won’t arrive, and this time it came true. There were only about twelve bags with Vancouver tags left on the luggage thingy, and my bag had not appeared. (The plane was to fly onwards to Vancouver after dropping us in Calgary). Several large scary Aunt Agatha-style Englishwomen were in the same boat. We went and badgered an airport employee, and it transpired that they had accidentally unloaded some Vancouver bags and left the same number of Calgary bags on the plane. They loaded the Vancouver bags back on – and then took off with our luggage! Turns out there was a Globespan executive on the plane, who told them to IGNORE US AND FLY OFF TO VANCOUVER WITH

Anyway, I got a trip to Tim Hortons and a new dress (two, actually!) at Winners courtesy of Mom, so I wasn’t as upset as I might have been.

The high school reunion was weird. Loads of people have barely changed. They nearly all have kids, though. I was told that I have changed completely, that I never used to wear dresses, that I should be in jeans and a t-shirt (thanks Jonathan), that I have an accent, that I don’t have an accent, and that I’m way more outgoing now than previously. Looking at the little slide-show of high school life… I HOPE I’ve changed! There were a couple of extremely cool people to hang out with, though, and some interesting conversation was had. Better than the first half, which was all, “Sooooo…. What have you been up to for the last ten years?”

Have spent the last week in Rocky and Edmonton. Rocky was mostly sorting out my affairs (the financial kind, not the interesting kind) and have been having a slow start in Edmonton as I always forget to warn people in advance that I’m turning up. But there is a dance tonight and a tea party tomorrow, so should get to see a fair few people.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

all work and no play

Have only been updating when fun things are happening, so thought I ought to drop by to mention that it's been 13-HOUR DAYS ALL WEEK! (Er, except for Tuesday, which was 3 hours work and many more hours on the beach with the fencers). We are giving our final thesis presentations tomorrow and we're all stressed.

My stress is compounded somewhat by the fact that I only sorted out my results, er... today. Had a pile of data and no idea what to do with it, and the supervisor's been off gallivanting lately. But Jen the PhD student came to my rescue yesterday. We spent 4.5 hours looking at it last night, with an additional four or so hours this morning. This is merely a drop in the data-analysis bucket, but I am so grateful it is done. And.... it was kind of fun! We are both nerdy nerdy nerds and both extremely curious to see what would come out, so the time flew by. Dear lord. I have been forgetting to eat and everything! PhD studenthood, here I come.

Have also been chairing 3rd-year undergraduate presentations (and marking them). This was more fun than it sounded, plus ten quid a go, so I've done a lot of them this week. But perhaps I need to learn to say no...

The fencing beach BBQ was awesome, though. Proper British seaside fun. The fencers are all leaving this week and I'm going to miss them horribly....

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Summer Ball baby!

I finished my last final exam on Friday afternoon. It was horrible (confusingly written, badly spelled and the "multiple choice" section included random short answer questions. And they accidentally printed the answers to one of the questions on the exam. "Excuse me, it says to draw a diagram, but there's a diagram already there!" "Oh! Er... maybe just don't answer that one." "Maybe you should tell the rest of the students?" "Oh! Right. Er, do you know where your colleagues are?" ). (oh yeah, and the lectures were given by two lecturers. However, only one was there at any given time. I asked one to clarify a definition, and she told me, "Hmmm, I don't know what that means. It was Martin's question. Just answer it as best you can." Yikes!)

Ooops, that was a longer rant than I intended. It really was a horrific exam, though, to cap off a really rotten module.

ANYWAY. Point being: the weekend was free! And man was it fun. Friday night one of the cute li'l fencers cooked me dinner. Saturday was the last fencing session of the year (sob) but it was a good one - I finally seem to have got the hang of timing my lunges properly and did really well in all my bouts. Very depressing that this didn't happen until just about too late - it's only been in the last month that I've gotten past my plateau - but at least it DID happen and I now feel like I can hold my own.

Saturday night was the Summer Ball, which is sort of a Brit equivalent of the prom, only more so. They cordoned off the Main Arts complex (the old and pretty bit of the uni) and had several marquees, bands, a disco ball, and a FERRIS WHEEL! The evening starts at 9pm and ends at 5am. Everyone gets dressed up - like REALLY dressed up, we're talking ball gowns - and it's actually really cool. It was expensive, but I reckoned it was my only chance to check it out, so in the end I decided to go. I didn't have much time to throw together an outfit after fencing, but I gave it my best shot and the end result did not look out of place.

The ball was a spectacle. I think it was worth the entry cost just to see the sheer number and variety of frocks! (The men in kilts did not hurt matters either). There was a free casino, several bands (Athlete, the Fab Beatles and the Cuban Brothers), a couple of cocktail bars and that sort of thing and the ferris wheel. The best part, however, was being declared a VIP. I was hanging out with some of the fencers, one of whom has political aspirations and is mates with the AU (Athletics Union) president. Somehow the AU president ended up producing VIP passes for me and the other fencer. This allowed us into the VIP tent and to sit in the balcony of the hall where the bands were playing. It was great - swanning my way past the massive bouncer, flashing my VIP pass. The balcony had seating (carved benches covered with red velvet, naturally) and a great view of the stage.

I did manage to stay till the very end. We danced to the Beatles tribute band until 5 am, at which point we were booted out to full daylight. Heck of a night, though.