Friday, 5 December 2014

Presenting: The Flat!

Man, I don't know how I lucked into this suddenly, but have managed to get a decent job at an excellent department (that pays money! not just postdoc pennies), in a gorgeous city that I love as well as a nice flat that is free of housemates and shared only with a lovely spouse. (Who does the dishes when asked). Gonna enjoy it while I got it, is all I have to say.

Snuck home during lunch to take a few pics of the flat - gets dark before I even get to poke my nose out otherwise. The buildings are kind of horrible and '70s on the outside, but the windows are huge so it's full of light. Also, we look out on forest on one side (the edge of a golf course, I believe) and a playing field belonging to one of the colleges on the other, so nothing but green as far as the eye can see. (The only downside is people playing football or cricket at stupid o'clock on Saturday mornings and shouting). It is SO NICE to have trees to look out at, and a bit of a view.

Main room - kitchen is off to left
View from kitchen

Door leads to hallway/bedrooms/loo

Bookshelf with steampunk art by Melissa!

The couch is in a sort of window alcove (with horrible curtains that came with the place)


Small bedroom, currently full of boxes still

Main bedroom

Every single bit of furniture had to be hauled up the tiny narrow staircase - we're on the 3rd (2nd UK) floor. Most of it we bought off Gumtree or Preloved (Craigslist equivalents), include our awesome purple couch/chairs. So excited to have some things made of wood, and not just endless IKEA MDF.

Anyway, there's a hidden futon in the small room, which will someday be a guest room - so guests welcome!

There is still lots (LOTS) to be done, but I feel like it finally feels like actual rooms people live in. Just have to decide how far to risk the deposit to get some things up on the walls!

Thursday, 18 September 2014


Just got back from our trip to Greece. Since what I did right after the wedding was go badgering around Cornwall with Mom, Dad and Jude, while Del went back to work - we decided it would be good to try and get away together at some point. Did not expect it to take this long. However, better eight months late than never.

Basically, we wanted to wait till I was working to cough up the money for a holiday, but then Del ended up unemployed, so we didn't feel like we should be spending extravagantly. Then he got his awesome new job (early reports suggest everyone thinks he is doing GREAT, no surprise) but they wanted him to start work within three days, and then immediately sent him to Rhode Island to a conference/giant meeting on Day 2 of the new job. In return for all that, they agreed to let him take off for a honeymoon within the first month or so of the new gig. 

But my job also involves a bunch of kind-of-important networking-type things that fall at annoying intervals. So as it happens, we managed to squeeze in a week between a work conference and the launch of our health-related website for holiday purposes. I was at the conference all day, got home around 6, went to bed around 10pm and got up at 2.30am to head to the airport.

We ended up just picking any old all-inclusive holiday package that flew on dates that worked for us, given the constraints. I didn't feel like I cared too much, as long as it was somewhere I hadn't been, with a beach and NO HOUSEMATES. So we ended up in Greece, near Olympia. Oh man, was it nice. Being September the weather was perfect for us (not too hot) and the beach was nice and the SEA! So warm and lovely and the most indescribable shades of turquoise shading to dark blue. We basically spent the week eating (all-inclusive!) and lying around reading on the beach while going for the occasional swim. Just what was needed.

Of course, being me I couldn't just have a relaxing holiday and started getting a sore throat towards the end of the conference the day before we left. Yep, giant illness, right in time for vacation. On the plus side there wasn't much to do but relax. On the minus side, the hotel room did NOT have a kettle and said they couldn't give us one, because they only had a few and all the other English people had taken them! So no Lemsip for me - had to suffer through un-drugged. It turned into some sort of wheezy chest-infection type thing (or maybe that was allergies) but has now downgraded itself to a sniffle/sneezing/blocked nose sort of thing.

We did one excursion, to Olympia of course. SO COOL. We debated paying the inflated tour company prices, but worth it in the end as the tour guide was amazing. Curvy Greek lady with long curly dark hair called Helen (or Eleni, it said on her badge) - throw a toga on her and she could have been watching the original Olympics and fit right in. Really glad we got to see one bit of culture, anyway - and re-learn the difference between Doric, Ionic and Corinthian pillars - and also see a bit of the non-resort countryside. We had a fair amount of time to poke around the site, which was great - but sadly barely any time in the museum to see the artifacts and statues. Slightly disappointing.

We also went parasailing!!! Had I thought of it earlier, this would have been a life goal of mine. Basically it was a big rainbow parachute attached to a rope which was attached to a speedboat - they hook you up to a harness, then you just sort of gently float up into the sky as the boat roars away. I LOVED it. It was incredibly quiet up there, and you could see for miles. Didn't feel scary at all. So two thumbs up to Del for thinking of that one.

Tomorrow we go to Cardiff to hang with Del's friend Naomi, who is also putting us up and has promised a small cocktail party tomorrow night. Del and Naomi (who is an amazing artist) are going to a graffiti workshop on Saturday (I will explore Cardiff, I guess) and we will come back Sunday. I am delighted with all this activity. It's been a bit stagnant lately - have not been that motivated with work since it seems I may struggle to get my own projects to work on, and we have both felt tired all the time and not been doing much outside of work. Also, we move to our flat (!!!!) October 15 so there has been lots of packing and moving things to storage ahead of the move. I am hoping things will move faster now, and maybe the inertia that generates will give me enough forward momentum to do something about the work situation*.

Anyway, we are both exhausted so off to bed soon, I think. Vacation is great but tiny crowded budget flights with no entertainment or food are not... happy enough to be home!

*(It's not SO bad, but I really need more to do)

Friday, 18 July 2014


Oh man, summer in the city. It is SO hot out. Well, it feels it anyway - it's only +30 but super hot, humid and sticky. Blah. Turns out the side of the "Suicide Wing" that my office is in doesn't have any air conditioning. A tiny fan stuck in the window is really not cutting it.

That said, it is a job I am very happy to have and it seems to be going well so far. I am still getting used to being in charge (!) - well, obviously my supervisor is in charge overall, but I have my little pile of things to do and no one else is poking their noses in so far. The new person has started - she is from Israel - and seems pretty good although keeps asking me what she should be doing, and I have no idea. But it is so nice to do something that people will actually use (mostly doing translational stuff at the moment) and to be able to do something and not have someone come along and change everything on me. Although I suppose there is still time.

In other very, very, very exciting news - we might have a flat! I have to say, Del being home is hugely helpful in terms of getting stuff done. He has taken charge of the house-hunt and despite the near-impossibility of finding something at a reasonable price in Oxford, he managed to get appointments to see two places. I could only come along to one (it was after work) and quite liked it - very near work, lovely big yard and cute little house. However, it was kind of cramped and dark.

Del took a video of the other one, which was a flat and didn't (obviously) have any outdoor space. He LOVED it and said it had huge windows and a great view. I'm a little nervous to move somewhere I haven't seen myself, but Del has good taste so should be all good. The huge pluses about the flat include a second bedroom (!) and a cheaper price. It's also super close to work but also closer to Cowley Road, giving good access to town on the bus. And hey - spare bedroom! I've always wanted one. Come visit us!!

So yeah, just doing the paperwork on the flat (I have no history of renting here and Del has no job, so possibly awkward) and then I guess we tell the housemates. Sadly, we can't move till October, but at least it means I have my garden for the summer. After that, I guess it's window boxes. Fingers deeply crossed it all works out.

Anyway, off to an impromptu BBQ... man my life has gotten so much better. Good riddance Guelph, don't miss ya New Haven!

Saturday, 28 June 2014


Yeah, so the big news of the month is – I HAVE A JOB!!! In a nice bit of Oxford University, which is a height I never thought I’d scale. Mind you, it’s not a super academic one – strictly research support – but I’d rather be an a good place getting to know people than in a less good place where research output is just as uncertain but opportunities are probably decreased. My CV is quite hilarious, veering as it does between wildly different research areas and going from Guelph (which no one has heard of) straight to the Ivy League and then Oxbridge. Bizarre. 

Anyway, yes, first week is over and it has been horrifically exhausting, but great to have somewhere to be, a very exciting staff ID that gets me in places (free Bodleian access!!) and a potentially interesting set of projects to work on. It’s partly data analysis (they mostly do large-scale stuff scraped from GP offices and national statistics registries – no experiments) and partly translational work, developing resources around self-harm for parents, carers and clinicians. I really like the idea of writing something so useful. 

New lab group seems really great, although the PI is the most old-school person I have ever seen. I literally watched him stop a meeting, pull out a Dictaphone, and dictate an email to be transcribed later by his PA. “Dear John comma please find attached the following colon space one full stop a list of our recent publications full stop next line two”… it was amazing. Especially as later in the meeting we all crowded round my predecessor, who had come in to show me the ropes, and she typed an email there and then AND sent it – so we all know the technology exists! Ah well. It seems that a lot of my job will consist of things like printing off the Powerpoint slides for each talk he gives – in duplicate – so he can have a hard copy (?) and there is a separate copy filed at the lab with a paper index which must be added to and updated each time a new talk is given. 


However, things looking up etc. Del’s case is more complicated. Now that all the papers are signed and the lawyers dismissed, I suppose I can say that he finds himself unemployed, not due to any issues with his work performance, and with a nice settlement to show for the latter fact. He’s having more trouble than usual (usual = about a week) getting a job now that we’re stuck in Oxford due to me (AND MY JOB!!!!) People in Germany and the Isle of Wight are champing at the bit to hire him, but we had a deal: first person to get a job wins the right to decide where we live. So that is that. 

We do, however, need to move soon. Shared living is doing my head in. Housemate who has been driving me mad is moving out this week (most recently: declaring we should have a celebratory garden party, then creating a huge mess in the kitchen, blocking the sink and disappearing for the four days prior to said party. Meanwhile, other housemates clean kitchen, unblock sink, clean house, tidy yard, scrub two BBQ grills, prepare food and drink etc for party. MIA housemate reappears five minutes before guests arrive to make one salad and scamper out to be the life of the party. Yeah.) So things will probably get better, and in fact it drives me less crazy now that I’m gone the majority of the day. I hated spending half a day cleaning since I felt compelled to, as Dr. Housewife, while housemate was ALSO home and spent time mostly coming along behind me and muddying freshly-washed floors. However, now Del is Mr. Househusband and it is his problem. He’s been very good – scrubbing showers and wiping counters and having my cup of tea and dinner ready upon return home. A girl could get used to this kind of thing. I actually think he could make a go of doing his own thing, but that will take time, networking and developing a couple of extra skills... guess we'll see!

Anyway, with one person working and both of us living cheap, all will be well. (Although I do have a one-year probationary period! bizarre).

Friday, 9 May 2014

Up and Down and Round and Round We Go

well. I was just sort of getting used to all the new things (new country, new unemployment, new spouse) when everything looks to be changing again, big-time. No idea how this will all pan out or where we'll end up - although I suppose that is nothing new really. On the plus side, this time I have a companion in uncertainty and a little bit of a nest egg set aside (!)

So yeah, it's been a rough week. I had a tough interview on Tuesday at Oxford. Two mini-talks and LOTS of tough questions. It went relatively well, but I found out after that I had a touch of a flu-like substance (stomach problems and fever). I had it on Sunday and Monday as well, but had chalked it up to nerves/anxiety about the interview. Anyway, it made answering the tough questions - even tougher. Still, they had me critique their grant and (by the looks on their faces) I DEFINITELY came up with a few points they hadn't thought of, even though I didn't have any substantial critiques - it was more adding/checking measures and more practical questions about actually running it.

Anyway. It's all about resilience, I guess. I think doing so much travelling and trying new things in the last fifteen years, although it is not a recipe for a settled life and money in the bank, has definitely given me the ability to take largish life changes more or less in stride.

I did, however, get my biometics and working papers back - and more importantly MY PASSPORT. Trip to Alberta has been booked May 17-June 4, with the end of that in Regina, because my friends are Westjetting me there so wasn't going to turn it down! Never been to Regina, so should be interesting. Looking forward to seeing everyone at Tim's wedding.

In other news, I have been busily planting an extensive container garden in the back of the house. There's quite a bit of yard available, including a patch that used to be a flower bed anyway (which now inconveniently has a cat buried in it so I would feel weird planting my veg there). Besides which, if we have to up and move I don't want to leave my garden! So the plan at the moment is to keep it more or less portable, except for one sunburst squash plant because those tend to go mad, and even if it grew well in a pot I don't think it would be very easy to move. I also planted a bunch of carrot troughs, and a herb Rubbermaid (working with what I've got available here!) plus a bunch of lettuce and rocket (arugula) and spinach for salads. I've improvised a mini-greenhouse with plastic sheeting I found in the shed and it all looks great so far.

Been continuing to help out at the churchyard and got some great photos at the beginning of April that I keep meaning to post. I really need to go back and take some more now that everything's starting to bloom. The butterfly garden (wildflowers etc) is starting to look really great. When I showed up a couple of weeks ago, one of the Ruths (for some reason most people involved with this project are called Ruth) cleared her throat in a very businesslike manner and barked, "Right! Everyone grab a spade: today we are digging up graves."

There was a long pause until I realised that we were only excavating the top layer, not the full six feet, as it were.

It appears as though there was a bit of a fad for putting a stone mini-fence around one's final resting place, circa 1898-1926 or so. There will usually be the gravestone proper on one end, with a small stone wall about three inches wide and maybe six inches tall around the remaining perimeter of the grave. Most of this time this wall is inscribed with the name of the dearly beloved and maybe a nice scripture verse (most faded by this point). Anyway, the point is that they look exactly like raised garden beds and function very well as such. As it's the centenary of the start of the First World War, the church committee decided to scrape the weeds out of a bunch of these that no longer have families around and plant poppies (both red and white). They got some cheap topsoil from somewhere and we have been busily scraping out, filling and planting these most macabre of raised beds.

Here are some photos of the blackbird in the toolshed (since gently convinced to move her nest up away from the rakes) and the churchyard from WAY back when:

 I love her cute little beady eyes and nest carefully constructed on tops of the rakes and brooms.

Didn't even have to use the zoom - she's cool with humans (the gardening type anyway) and let us get as close as we wanted. 

 Had more photos of my fave gravestones but must have deleted them before downloading. Whoops. But you get the idea...

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Life is Totally Different Now!

Well, everybody is sick. Illness pervades the house. I was totally out of commission for two days this week and have been left coughing up disgusting stuff, and poor Del came home from work last night and collapsed in a pile of fever. Madeleine has been running up and down the stairs making hacking noises. Only Nicole has escaped (and am sort of avoiding her in hopes that it stays that way).

Have been meaning to blog for more than a month now, but the more I don't the more the pressure mounts and the harder it is. Luckily my cyberspace frenemy is whining again, which always makes me think a). jeez, at least I'm DOING stuff and b). if she can moan about everything online then I should probably at least update.

So yeah. How's married life you say? Well, it feels a lot like being plunged back into housematehood. I really REALLY liked living alone, and this place is tiny and full (the girls have vibrant social lives and people stay over a lot), so it's a bit hard to get used to again. The Del part is great but he's 1/3 of the housemates, if you see what I mean. But even though he works a ton (gets home about 8pm, usually) it is SO AMAZING to not have to work out Skype times and not have an imminent departure date. More Del time is always a good thing. Doesn't feel much like being married though (except that I already misplaced my ring once).

So what have I been up to? In a way it feels like it should be more, but I've been keeping busy.

1). applied for spousal visa - that took a week and a half of filling forms and locating documents and agonizing. Two weeks later the Home Office sent me a letter saying "we've sent your application to the people who take care of it. Don't bug us, don't phone us, don't contact us in any way if you ever want to see your passport again". So yeah. The waiting begins. They have mine AND Del's so we can't go anywhere (honeymoon? HAH) and, it turns out, we also can't open an ISA (tax-shelter equivalent of an RRSP) without them. So annoying - hurry up Home Office.

2). Applied for a million jobs. Okay, probably about ten. I had an interview on Monday though (for two of them) which I thought went pretty well, but didn't get the job. Was annoyed because I could do an awesome job, but I guess they were either looking for something else, or for someone whose proof-of-eligibility-to-work wasn't stuck at the Home Office for the foreseeable. (Whoops).

3). Applied for a grant for postdoc funding with my friend in Saskatchewan. We CANNOT move to Saskatchewan (it's not a hub of video game activity, how odd) but he promised we could work something out if I managed to snag it. Not holding out hope but it keeps me busy and in grant-writing practice, so…

4). Starting volunteering at the Victorian churchyard-turned-wildlife-sanctuary down the road. I LOVE this place. We get together Wednesday mornings and cut brambles off old graves. More about that later.

5). Almost (so close I can almost feel it!) submitted a paper. It's for one of those Very Special Research Topics - this one is on the Uncanny Valley, and this poor neglected paper has been sitting around for YEARS - Tyler and I collected the data in my final year of Ph.D., 2012, and I had it written and ready to go by June 2013. Supervisor never got around to looking at it and so it languished - till now, when Tyler spotted this special edition and did a little pushing. It's written and ready to go - am just struggling with annoying formatting issues and something about the abstract that doesn't sound quite right. Will give it another look today and try to get it out by the end of the weekend.

6). Working on two other papers, one review paper with Helena which keeps falling down the pile when deadlines come up, and one paper from my postdoc that I dread to look at.

So yeah, basically I'm busy and happy BUT feel like I'm totally being held hostage by the lack of a passport/work permit. Was talking to Olga, Aonghus' girlfriend from Ukraine, at the pub last night and am now counting my blessings that at least I don't have to register with the police every time I change my address or job (!), but it still is really cramping my style.