Friday, 12 July 2013

Another Essay from the Train

Another crazy journey, another blog post from the train. Trying to get back from Manchester this time. During my recent Month of Rejection, one of my rejections was from the Bangor University ERP Summer School. Naturally I had ulterior motives for hitting up that one, but there were very genuine reasons for wanting to go: I need some formal training in EEG at this point, I was pretty sure that smart and generous Bangorites would be able to offer some insight into the specific problems I am having with the data analysis Denis wants, and of course my poor CV could use some new entries.

But more of that later. Since I am on a train, it seems like a good idea to start with journey stories. The trip over was fine – annoying, as I had a layover in Washington Dulles and had just had surgery so was terrified of blood clots/DVT/strokes – but the nice man beside me ran the MRI unit somewhere in the North of England, so he was quite happy to let me out often during the flight to walk up and down the aisle in my fetching white surgery support stockings (lovely!)

The trip back, however, is still in progress. The first leg was pretty bad, as I was in the window with a socially awkward, smelly adolescent in the next seat. He spent the whole trip leaning into my mandated 1.5 cubic feet of personal space to crane his neck out the window at nothing (maybe he likes clouds). Finally I closed it to “sleep” (scared to actually sleep due to DVT) to stop him, which worked until I opened my eyes to find him IN MY SEAT opening the window shade himself. NOT COOL on a plane – one must guard one’s tiny area as best one can, and I know for a fact there was a window seat open further back so he clearly couldn’t be bothered to actually book one. Blah.

Anyway, got to Dulles, usual horrible ordeal through customs and whatnot, lugged my luggage to check it back in, went to the gate and emailed Del to moan about Window Boy. I looked up half an hour before the gate closed and noticed that suddenly it was indicating it was a flight to Cincinnati. Crap. So found the new gate, needless to say a million miles across the airport, and plonked myself down. But what’s this? Delayed? Yep. Delayed and delayed and delayed. Finally they just cancelled it. I joined what must have been a several hundred strong queue for the Customer Service (bucketloads of flights cancelled) and then it got interesting.

In short, I was making decisions based on inadequate information and kept making the wrong ones. They had rebooked me to the next morning to LaGuardia, but were not offering accommodation. So I got them to send me to Hartford that night instead. But after multiple calls, it turns out that there is no transit from Bradley Airport after midnight. My only option would be to book a car, at a time my brain thought it was 6am and had been awake for 24 hours. Once I discovered this I stood in the giant queue again to rebook and then again to find out what they did with my luggage. They claimed to have sent it to Baggage Area 5, which I found out after about an hour was a total lie. Finally (11.30pm) I gave in, took the airport “discount” and booked a Comfort Inn that promised shuttles upon demand. Needless to say that took hours, and so crawled into bed for five quick hours sleep before hopping up, finding out the 6am shuttle was missing, taking the 6.30 shuttle and getting back for the 8am flight. At which point I found out someone totally lied and my luggage had been on a 5pm flight to LaGuardia the night before.

Anyway, made it to LaGuardia, collected luggage (!!! Total win at this point) and got in line for the “every half hour” shuttle. Yep, more lies. After an hour the bus finally showed up, and we crawled towards Grand Central. At this point it really got surreal, and I realized that it’s not just me screwing up figuring out what best to do – life is really just trying to mess with me today. The bus driver tried to gun it across an intersection before the red hit, missed, got stuck in the intersection, suddenly an ambulance was trying to get through perpendicular to us, and the cops pulled us over for obstructing an emergency vehicle! So that took a while for Mr. Cop to diligently write out his ticket. So he lets us go, and – we don’t go. The bus is making crazy noises and it will jerk forward but not actually move, and we’re crawling jerkily backwards down the hill in midtown Manhattan. You can imagine how much the other traffic liked that. We were stuck for 20 minutes with the driver trying to engage the hydraulics (I assume) and they just wouldn’t go. There was mutiny among the angry Americans on the bus, who started shouting, “Let us off! We want a refund!” as we lurched another half-inch down the hill backwards. FINALLY, excruciatingly, the driver managed to catch both a bit of boost to the engine and a green light, and we inched up the hill and through Manhattan at a snail’s pace.

After that I ran for a train on my bad leg trailing luggage everywhere, and here we are!

Anyway, the summer school was really good. Got in totally exhausted due to the aforementioned fear of sleep, although I did get stuck at Manchester Airport for a few hours, so sort of napped there. Checked into the Frioedd site and had a nap there, then hit up the welcome reception and the free wine. Monday and Tuesday were lecture-based, so got some good tips about EEG with developmental populations. Monday after lunch, however, the girl sitting next to me asked me as we walked back to the Wheldon building for a painkiller. Of course I had my crazy American post-surgery ones, but I also have a ton of aspirin to thin my blood and ward off clots. So I handed her my pill bottle as we walked up the stairs (still painful for me, so I was distracted) and said, “Sure – the round ones are aspirin, have one of those.”

I think you can see where this is going.

We got upstairs and I said, “Did you get an aspirin?”

“I think so – I took one of the long ones.”

“Uhhh, I think those were my painkillers that the doc said to take half of when I really needed it.”

This girl was roughly half my size but it was a bit late to say anything at that point.

Long story short, she rushed out of the room shortly after and I got a message from A&E later that night. :/ I spent the night horrified I had accidentally poisoned someone. Luckily, it turned out she just had a bad reaction and all was well, although the next day’s class was awkward.

Anyway, between very merry dinners (including a departmental one with more free wine), a departmental ceilidh (Bangor throws the best ones) and many lunch-time meetings about EEG coherence, the week went extremely fast. It was exhausting as I was “on” from 7.30 till I collapsed into bed, either learning EEG analysis or trying to be a decent guest. Saville from fencing and my lovely Thandiwe were both kind enough to host me, which made the whole thing much more pleasant as well as more affordable!

After that mad week, we decided to push through and hit up a festival on the weekend. It’s called Ymuno and is tiny – 500 people in a farmer’s field in North Wales, one tent and lovely music and art. Lowri from the Masters course mentioned she was going and I couldn’t resist. The weather was incredible. However, camping in a field is not really conducive to the lie-ins I was hoping for!

Luckily Del had a plan up his sleeve – he brought all the necessities for camping and then booked us into a studio apartment for the last two days in Manchester! After things wrapped up on Sunday afternoon, we packed up the car, reshuffled everything to make room for a small Australian hitchhiker, and set off. Had a relaxing couple of days and on the last day, Gok Wan was filming Gok Live right outside our apartment! So that was pretty interesting. We joined the unofficial audience and got to see how a TV show is made. All in all, it was expensive and kind of a risk to go on the trip, but an amazing week in terms of useful learning, Del-seeing and fun - so totally worth it!