Thursday, 21 August 2008

helpful people rock

Yesterday I had the strangest of experiences: a GP who, despite the lack of obvious physical symptoms (like a broken arm!) didn't tell me it was "all in my head" or pooh-pooh me. In fact, he was actually kind and helpful! I've been waking up more and more often (twice this month) in excruciating pain in my shoulder, neck and all down my arm. It makes it hard to do anything for a day or so, and goes away in about a week. Hardest of all is computer work, which sucks for obvious reasons.

I had another attack on Monday and was starting to get worried, so I reluctantly hied myself to the surgery (which is what they call doctor's offices here). I was all geared up for another bout of "you're-fine-why-are-you-bothering-me?", but instead I got the lovely, incredibly Welsh-named Dr. Rhodri Wyn Owen. He listened to what I had to say, did a quick check of my range of motion and told me I keep getting a pinched nerve down the side of my neck. He said one of my discs is probably slightly out of place and occasionally pinches the nerve. It's the neck version of sciatica. Didn't mom have that at some point, or am I confused? Anyway, helpful Dr. Owen gave me some stretches to do that will help the pain a bit. Sadly there's no preventative measures to be taken, although my supervisor has recommended a memory foam pillow. I shall look into that when I return to the homeland.

My supervisor has been full of helpful advice these days in general. Last week it was how to have a long and happy marriage (always let the man think he gets to decide, but if he decides wrong subtly guide him to the right decision, apparently) (seems to work for her!) This week it was how to get on with a new supervisor. Congruent goals, that's the key. You both need to want the same things, as everyone is essentially selfish and using everyone else to get their goals. They will happily be altruistic, as long as it also advances their own goals a little. I found this hilarious and refreshing to hear, as I'm willing to bet most people operate on this system but no one would ever say it aloud. She's completely right, though. Both of us want the same things (to do well with our projects, to get me through my degree successfully, to publish if we can) and we're using each others' skills to get there. Luckily I enjoy her company as well. My mate Jo's supervisor won't answer her emails, rarely meets up with her and generally makes her feel like an extraneous pest. I'm pretty sure I lucked out.

Monday, 18 August 2008


Today I was told I was the perfect participant by a post-doc running me through an eye-tracker study. Unfortunately, this was because I'm apparently very good at staring blankly at an eye tracker while it is being calibrated, which doesn't seem like a skill that will come in handy in later life.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

It was the best of Bangor, it was the worst of Bangor

Whoa-ho, man, what a good night last night. I did not intend to go out at all because 1). Bangor is boring in the summer; 2). I'm trying to save money, and 3). it's the Contact the Elderly coffee group today (albeit not till 2.30 pm). But events conspired for a fun, cheap night with the other (non-octogenarian) people who will be attending the coffee group today, so who was I to say no?

I never realized just how cliquey our Masters students were this year. Somehow I managed to get myself smack dab into the middle of the biggest one, so of course I wouldn't have noticed. But last night Jo brought along some Irish girls off the course that I barely knew, and they told me that they always felt like the outgroup. Apparently one person in particular deliberately excluded them from things at the beginning of the year and then they felt like they couldn't approach anyone else. oooooops. Had I known this they would have been welcome at my place anytime (as they're fun and hilarious). However, will have to make up for lost time in this, the last month.

Anyway, they came over and told of a party at the Anglican chaplaincy (which is effectively a giant student residence, mostly for foreign or short-term students). We wandered along around midnight, which seemed perfectly reasonable to us. Called the girl who invited us, and she was in bed. oops. So I was designated to go find out if the party was worthwhile, or, in fact, happening at all. I was lurking around the giant oak door (the building is a huge stone couple-hundred-years-old one) and a guy came out, so I tried to push past him in my best party-crashing manner. Unfortunately security is drilled into them there, but once I produced the name of the girl who invited us he took me through a maze of passages to the "party". Which turned out to be 10 people sitting around and two people dancing salsa. I saw an open door to the garden and made a run for it.

Bangor is ridiculous in the summer and no bouncer will let you in ANYWHERE past 12.30 a.m. Anywhere except the Skerries, that is. The Skerries is a pub in Lower Bangor that is sort of of a locals pub (pubs here are divided into student pubs and locals pubs) except that they don't mind students. Rare, actually. Anyway, the Skerries stays open till the owner feels like shutting it. I've turned up at 11 and found it closed, and other times they've let me in at 1.30 a.m. This time they let us in no problem, and there turned out to be a local Welsh Beatles cover band (!) who were really, really good. After a while they started to pack up and the Irish girls were banging on the table for more, so they began to sing gorgeous a cappella versions of various '50s and Oasis songs (they were eclectic!) The harmonizing was incredible, and of course we were all singing along in full voice. By this point we were locked-in (but they were still serving!) and, as the Irish girls are really pretty, one of the band guys got out his guitar again and we all sat around a table in the back of the pub and jammed for another hour. Then we hung around talking to the owner and his friends (and I briefly learned the apparently common Welsh phrase for "a$%hole English people" but then immediately forgot it) until they finally kicked us out at 2.30 a.m. or so. It was the best night I've had in a while. The student venues all feel the same after a bit, but I don't think I've ever had a bad night at the Skerries. And last night sort of encapsulated the very best things about Bangor.

The worst thing about Bangor is that it won't stop raining. WON'T STOP. Argh. Luckily (?) I've been stuck in the lab all week anyway. I'm working as a research assistant for a project that is taking up a lot of time (29 hours last week), plus, erm, trying to finish up a thesis at some point. I was floundering with my data analysis (while my supervisor was in France for three weeks and out of email contact) and then had a bad moment when she returned and told me everything I had done up until that point was wrong. I was too depressed to even look at the thing for a week, as I had just re-written my introduction based on my preliminary results - so if they were wrong, those three weeks of work would have been for naught. Then she called me back in the next week, said she had been mistaken and the data were fine, and went through everything in detail with me so I now know exactly what to do. Which is brilliant news, of course, but I am still catching my breath from the rollercoaster!

So have been in the lab on weekdays, mostly, and doing fun stuff on weekends... but THAT is fodder for another post.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Penrhyn Pictures

So last weekend (or wait, was it the weekend before? It's all blurring together) the sun shone. Jo and I figured we couldn't let a sunny Sunday go to waste, so we made plans to go to Llandudno to the beach. Then we ran into Kiwi Ian, who wanted us to go down to Bangor Pier for tea and scones with him, so we added a detour to the plan. En route, the three of us ran into two of Jo's friends who were just setting off on what they claimed was a three-mile walk to a beach near Penrhyn Castle (just outside of Bangor). Open to suggestion, as always, we gave up on both Llandudno and the Pier and joined them for the walk.

Contrary to the estimate we were given, it ended up being a 7- or 8-mile round trip (as measured by a bit of string and a map) and didn't involve a beach so much as a mud flat by the sea. However, there was a river to be forded, a crumbly stone wall to be climbed, and a bit of grass to have a picnic and a nap on. Plus the spine and ribs of SOMETHING - the kiwi claimed it was a fish, but I reckon either a sheep or a dog. (Didn't take a photo of that, sorry guys!)

All in all, very Famous Five.

We walked back along the shore - turns out you can get all the way back to Bangor, if you don't mind a little bit of a scramble through some bushes if the tide's in. (I got very excited about watching it come in - although I understand the theory of tides, I'm hardly ever staring at the ocean long enough to see one). It was a very cool walk as most of it was beside the crumbling sea-wall of Penrhyn Castle. We came out at the Bangor docks, tired and in need of ice cream...

(sorry about the darkness of the photos - beer was spilled on my camera in a mysterious incident a few weeks ago and it is still recovering!)