28 December 2013

Talking to people on planes, trains and automobiles

I'm going to come right out and say it. I do this; I talk to people on trains. I talk to people on planes. And I've spoken to people in automobiles.

You should know, I'm not the most extroverted person. Nor am I always the one to start these conversations. However, what I am is pretty perceptive. I try to apply this skill in all areas of my life. Or maybe it just happens. Anyway. So in these public-transport-chat scenarios, I can quickly tell when it's going south, regardless of who started it. Thus, I allow it to fizzle out, unimpeded.

Still, when the opportunity presents itself, I let it happen. And you know, I've had some of the best conversations this way. I have met some pretty interesting people.

I see the other members of the public sat around me and the stranger with whom I am conversing, looking at us like someone has lost their mind. As if, any second, one of us might display some other twisted and psychotic behaviour aboard the vessel. As if something bad is going to happen.

I just ignore them. Play with your phone, kill the battery. Listen to your music, destroy your hearing. Thanks for allowing me to hear it too. I like doing all these things too; music, books, etc. But sometimes, a chat with a perfect stranger can be fun. Yup, I used the f-word.

All this most frequently occurs when said public transport has failed in some way, which happens on a regular basis in the UK it seems. General confusion ensues, passengers feel a camaraderie with one another, and a select few decide to acquaint themselves. Often just to understand what the hell is happening. But sometimes, it is simply for a chat.

Some examples?

A student doctor on a flight from Manchester to Atlanta, visiting her sister who had moved there. And on the connecting flight to San Diego, a very Christian American lady, fascinated with Britain and British people. She assumed all of us constantly drink tea and love the Royal family. They're nice enough I suppose but I rarely drink tea.

A mathematics researcher at Adelaide University on a flight to Denver. He was visiting his son for three weeks who'd moved there to marry and live with a girl he met via World of Warcraft (WoW). We spoke of ebooks and publishing. Only after he was surprised to discover I was in fact 28, had a doctorate in physics and worked in scientific publishing, of course.

On a train from Bristol to Manchester Piccadilly, a train driver in his late 50s who gave me all sorts of insider info about rail travel, tickets and the like.

A train from Bristol to Birmingham New Street. Twice. A whole host of topics including complaints about CrossCountry trains, Easyjet and Ryanair, and the enduring bad weather.

Oh and there was the taxi from Rhodes airport to my hotel, which I shared with a very drunken man in his 40s from Wales, and a nice young couple from Amsterdam. The couple got in after both of us and I later discovered, after the intoxicated Welshman got out at his destination, that they thought he was my boyfriend! Please bare in mind, he looked an old and quite haggard 40-something due to being ravaged by alcohol and solar radiation; whilst I look pretty much the same as I did when I was 16. I'm not sure what age gap is acceptable in Amsterdam but... In fact, that's all I'm going to say.

Another time, and my last example, I'd just arrived at Gatwick from Rhodes, incredibly happy to be back in blightly, and famished after no food aboard the Easyjet flight. I'd opted to buy some Skips from M&S and was inhaling these on the train platform when a rather charismatic American gentleman in his late 50s I'm guessing decided to give me advice on how unhealthy it was to eat 'chips'. I think I politely laughed and mumbled through the prawn cocktail flavoured tapioca snacks in my gob that I was hungry. He proceeded to sit next to me on the train, and engage myself and another woman in conversation about his adventures all over America and beyond, and his high-flying lifestyle. Once again, she assumed we already knew one another; perhaps she'd seen us chatting on the platform as he tried to decipher the British rail transport system which can be tricky at the best of times. I still cannot be sure he wasn't a complete fantasist who had made all of these life experiences up as it almost sounded too farfetched. But I decided to ignore my cynicism and he was entertaining enough even if he was bragging a little too much.

I doubt many people who know me would describe me as someone who would 'make friends with anyone'. Perhaps it's my awareness of the finite and relatively short period of interaction and the fact that I won't have to, or more specifically probably never will, see these people again. All this means I just think, well why the hell not, right?

Maybe try it sometime? ;)


18 December 2013

#dreams 003

Dreaming about cereal. Because I really do miss it that much. And I woke up determined to fulfil my dream and have cereal for breakfast.

But then I bottled it.

10 December 2013

/ˈkrɪsməs/ wishlist

Generally, I'm not in the habit of asking people for gifts at Christmas. I'd just feel far too rude and as though I'm sticking two fingers up at the spirit of gift-giving. So, if you buy me something, I will take it, smile a hopefully not too half-hearted smile and say thank you.

Some examples? The year my entire nuclear family bought me pedi-related gifts; feet refloxology, foot cream, foot gel, various other foot spa shit. I have no idea what I said during 1998 that convinced them all that such items should be top of their 'presents Jen cannot live without' list. They were adamant it was coincidence but I am sure they conspired against me. Who's laughing now, eh? Er... yeah.

Another year, The World's Sharpest Knife from my boyfriend at the time. If I'm honest, I have a lot less to say about this one; it actually turned out to be a good present. I mean, comparing it with the entire world's knife collection proved to be too difficult but it certainly seemed to have all the functionalities and attributes you would expect from a knife, and it was preeeetty sharp. Aside: I'm not sure I can endorse the Amazon seller for this one. Not with a name like Twin Towers Trading Ltd. Sorrynotsorry.

Oh and one of my aunties* is great for unusual gifts that I'm sure someone would have an awesome use for. But me. I mean really, come on, me? I don't (usually) need control pants, and I'm also no longer a child so what appears to be a thermal vest for a 12-14 year old probably isn't going to stretch over my bosom area, as modest as it may be.

But as a child, I would write my letter to Santa like all the other children and the response wasn't all bad. My siblings and I got some pretty good gifts including a quad bike. But that was stolen within a year. Awesome. One year, each of us received a musical instrument; saxophone, clarinet, keyboard, and for my youngest brother, pan pipes. Please note: three of us were all already musical. My parents weren't trying to create a small ensemble. Truth be told, he didn't ask for these. He didn't even want a musical instrument. He was simply talked into choosing something at the music shop so as to feel involved. I can imagine that when my dad noticed the pan pipes, he thought it would be funny. Maybe my brother obliged because he had dreams of being a pan pipist (panflutist?) and bringing out his own range of CDs for relaxation and spiritual awakening. But, at the age of ~8, I doubt it at. He was probably just rather impressionable. Let's just say, he doesn't play them any more, if he ever did.

However, these memories are peppered with the years my parents, in their infinite wisdom, decided I wasn't getting the gifts I'd asked for. Like the year I wanted Ski Barbie. Maybe it was the sheer number of additional components that I might then request in the Christmases to come; or that I might decide my next hobby would be skiing; or perhaps they were wary of gifts which were anatomically misleading: bendy legs clearly weren't something Affordable Barbie went in for. My parents somewhat made up for denying me this by giving me Barbie Gym/Workout another year, although her legs didn't bend when she rode the stationary bike either. My sister and I were also never given a Ken Doll, despite numerous requests and multiple attempts to 'borrow' my brothers' Action Man. My sister's reaction and solution: Fine. Enter, stage left: one of our shitty Barbies with a crew cut. "Jen, meet Ken".

I've discovered, the minefield of buying Christmas presents for toddlers these days is truly petrifying. My four year old nephew wants, no needs, everything you in Smyths, Toys R Us and Argos. Some of his chosen items include anything Monsters University related. This, I will allow and so have bought him some Mike Wazowski slippers whose mouths open when he walks. But there are many other things I am not sure I can allow, or even fathom. One such example is this thing: a Talking Lambie. Wtf is that you ask? My question exactly. Let me reserve my comments until you have seen, or at least heard it. Please observe the pink fluffy item (centre).

Now, I'm not one to gender stereotype — I don't give two hoots that it's pink and my nephew is (obviously) a boy. But if I saw this whilst searching for a Christmas present in a children's toy shop or website, I can say with complete certainty that I would not exclaim 'Now that is what I need to get a four year old boy!' Sigh. So, after an hour of browsing children's toys websites, even with my sister as a chaperone via Skype, I had to admit defeat and move away from the laptop, dragging my jelly legs and slightly melted brain in tow. Just tell me when I can buy him physics books. I jest. Mostly.

Anyway, I think my point was at 28, I'm definitely not in the habit of requesting gifts and would feel even more cheeky saying I'd accept the money. Mainly for fear that their reaction, voiced or otherwise, would be 'Oh no you won't, you money-grabbing betch!'. I also don't need any more belongings, especially with the amount that I move house these days! Plus, most people buy things for themselves as and when they want them. But at Christmas, it somehow feels acceptable to wish for things, and to note them down in a list on your blog which is not specifically directed at anyone, even if those this-wishlist-is-specifically-not-directed-at-you people do in fact read that blog. Amiright? So, I present my /ˈkrɪsməs/ wishlist which is totally not aimed at anyone. Anywhere. Ever.

  • 'Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened' by Allie Brosh
  • A pair of £175 leather boots by Ugg. That's right, leather. Not those other ridiculous nonsense. You know what I'm talking about.
  • The vision in my left eye to be perfect. Both eyes would be ideal but I'll take my chances with the right.
  • A lego watch because who doesn't frickin' love lego? Ssh!
  • A time travel device. I cannot imagine anyone would ask why so I am not justifying this one. 
  • Something that allows me to dress myself by verbal command.
  • A laser. Because I miss them.

Now, I realise some of those items might be ever so slightly unrealistic — and you can probably see the point at which my imagination ran wild — but remember, I'm not really asking anyone to buy them for me, am I? Also: stop trampling on my dreams.

If my house were a castle, with a library à la Beauty and the Beast, then a) I probably would've already purchased these items for myself because I own a frickin' castle and so can probably afford other shit too, b) I would be able to store them in my castle, c) I would not wish to move out of said Beauty-and-the-Beauty-omfg-look-at-this-bitchin-library castle, and finally d) because these would most definitely exist in the aforementioned universe in which I live in a castle.

I'm not sure how I attained this castle. It's not important. The point is, I know you want to but please, don't buy any of these items for me. I just enjoy lusting after things.

* actually my Dad's aunty. Ya know, if you care. Or whatever.

I'll come clean, today's post was inspired by this on Deadspin: My kid's insane Christmas wish list. Annotated. You should definitely go read it.

07 December 2013

Christmas spirit

I’m no Scrooge but how christmassy I feel varies from year to year. From 'I could not feel more christmassy if I tried’ to ‘Meh. Bring on January’.

Thus far, this year has fallen in to the latter; I’m just not feeling it. And I’d like to. So, I’ve been making the effort to introduce some Christmas spirit and cheer into the remainder of the month.

Food and drink
OK, these actually appeared reasonably early with November featuring glühwein, bratwurst and gingerbread at Christmas markets in Manchester and Bristol. I have extended this further by visiting venues that serve mulled cider surrounded by poinsettias.

Earlier this week, I decided a christmas jumper would be the perfect way to ignite some festive feelings and this green beauty from H&M was the perfect choice. It made an appearance at work the very next day with positive reviews. I might even wear it for the department's Christmas meal next week!

Advent calendar
You know you work with a bunch of fellow physicists when there’s an advent calendar featuring electronic components that allow you to build something new each day. Let me introduce to you the Conrad Adventskalender 2012. Yes, I do know what year it is. No it is not 2012. Just yesterday we built circuits for dynamic memory (what your PC does) and an LED dimmer (a dimmer switch, anyone?). And I’m not gonna lie, I almost pee’d my pants. Both times. I need to have one of these in my life. Every year. The other bonus? The instruction manual is in German, so we often have no idea what is going on. It’s great! Santa only knows what’s going to happen when we get to 24 components.

Desk decoration
The department Christmas decorations came out on Thursday. I opted for my homemade button-and-pin Christmas tree, some green tinsel and a couple of baubles dangling from the comers of the screen. My PC desktop background is also the 12 days of Christmas wallpaper as shown in yesterday’s Wordless Wednesday.

There is also a daily e-mail competition at work in which the winner is the proud custodian of the office advent calendar. A chocolate one this time! They also set the next day’s competition. Friday’s competition was to send a photo of the most decorated desk. Below is my entry.

I feel I need to explain the uber-Canadian soft toys. They belong to my co-worker and desk neighbour and I thought all the antlers would help me to secure a win. So momentarily adorned my desk with them. You’ll have to ask him why they’re all Canadian. Sadly, I didn’t win. This did. I had assumed it needed to be a photo of one’s own desk. But then, I voted for this entry also so was happy to see it win.

Secret Santa
Who doesn’t have one of these at work these days? The limit is £5 and I just have no idea what to get. Mainly because a) I don’t know the recipient so well and b) I’ve barely looked. Last year, I opted for a Birdies Impossipuzzle which was particularly popular. I’m not confident in repeating that level of success.

Christmas movies
There are some movies that really put you in the festive mood. When I was younger it was Santa ClausHome Alone and The Muppet Christmas Carol. It became somewhat of a sibling tradition to watch it on Christmas Eve and sing 'There’s only one more sleep 'til Christmas’. Loved it. As an adult, Elf worked its way in and The Holiday has become one of my guilty pleasures. That’s right; terribly chick-flicky, lovey-dovey nonsense. But I’m mostly OK with admitting that I like it. Die Hard has never been a Christmas movie for me. I must get some Christmas movies on!

Something tells me this is the main reason why I feel out of the Christmas loop; I have not sorted out a single gift for anyone. Zilch. Nada. I really must. I think the Pinterest Christmas Gift Guide, the website notonthehighstreet.com and Amazon might have to come to my rescue.

How do you get into the festive mood?

02 December 2013

Me again!

The number of times I've done this is a little disappointing; picked up blogging, maintained some semblence of regular posting, only to then give up because I'm busy, have lost interest or have psyched myself out of how much I enjoy it/how much it's read/whether I have anything (remotely interesting) to say. This is of course followed by making another return some indeterminate time later with a post like this explaining/discussing/apologising for my absence. Rinse and repeat.

This time, I think writing just that is enough. We don’t need to rehash the reasons why. But also because it is clear that this is simply what I do. This is what happens over here on this blog. I'm rather envious of bloggers that manage to keep on top of their blogs. I’ve mostly come to terms with me not being good at that but I’m sure I will continue each time to promise myself that I’ll try harder.

So. Yeah. I've come back to blogging once more because I miss it. And I'm aware that pretty much nobody reads this thing. That's OK. I probably wouldn’t read a blog that had turned into a catalogue of regular and repeated blogging failings. I swear I am much more reliable in real life and actually stick to the projects I start!

It feels as though both quite a bit has happened — not all of which will be mentioned here, not because I don’t want to though — yet not much has changed either. I moved house and went to Rhodes and America once more for work; Denver this time. There are a few things on the horizon too including moving house again. Possibly even before Christmas!

The reasons I started blogging back in April still stand but I suppose there are a few more reasons I want to start blogging again. For one, I’m really disappointed I let Project365 slip! It was great fun despite sometimes being difficult to take a picture of something interesting every single day. If I'm strict with myself, I know I can’t just start again with a gaping hole between mid-August and now but that is essentially what I want to do; to cheat I suppose. I certainly don’t want those photos to go to waste. I shall consider this further.

Something else I realised: I don’t really do anything. Hobbies-wise I mean; I do have a job, for the record. I’m not sure I can count quizzing as a hobby; it is a subset of socialising really, or watching TV series. I don’t sing in a choir anymore, the gym is a long distant memory and I dropped the blogging ball. Hence, I have decided it is high time I got another hobby again. Although I'm sure going back to the gym wouldn't hurt either!

To that end, I am planning to take up an introductory sewing course with Bristol’s adult education centre; Folk House. I'm already reasonably crafty, have sewn before, at school and with my mom, cross-stitched for years, and have knitted and crocheted and customised clothes a little. So thought it would be a pretty good fit. Plus, I'm interested in their dressmaking course but if you’ve not used a sewing machine before (that's pretty much me!), they recommend taking the introductory sewing course first, or it is in fact required, I forget. My discovery of this is all thanks to my lovely friend and colleague Amy over at Amy’s Quick Unpick.

I’ve also started reading a lot again, and have in fact joined a book club. So along with the other features around the blog — ScienceProject365#dreams — I’ve added the Bookshelf tab listing the books I’ve read (or am currently reading), which I am slowly updating. Although, I don't have any plans to post reviews.

Anyway, that'll do for now. It’s nice to be here again. *waves!*

04 August 2013

#dreams 002

A hazy mixture of several dreams last night.

Being a guest at a wedding. My brother. An unanswered question. My violin. Tweed. London. Climbing a steep street someplace else. Grass. A missed meeting. An obnoxious American. A past friend. Visiting a craft store. Polite conversation with strangers. The feeling of waiting for something. And my watch missing all the numbers.

...I hadn't even had any cheese.

03 August 2013

#Project365: July 2013

Is it that time again, already? I've been rather lax on the blog this month. Again. Right, let's see what was happening in July.

1. Some more varieties of Ghirardelli chocolate from San Francisco that my colleague brought back from a conference. 2. A new necklace. 3. Strawberries and cream at Wimbledon-themed work charity event. 4. Passionfruit and rum punch at Turtle Bay, Bristol. 5. A boring photo: a training course at work.
6. A strawberry and banana smoothie from Zumo, Bristol. 7. Beautiful tapas with friends at Tinto Lounge, Bristol. We ordered the entire menu. 8. The lampshade suspended from the ceiling of my living room. 9. With the weather come my Birkenstocks. 10. The cork I kept from a bottle of Prosecco. 
11. Pink fizz and Channel 4's First Dates in a blurry photo. 12. Piiiizzzzzaaaaa! 13. My new comic book ring by from a Vintage Fair in Bristol. 14. Selfie, which I now dislike, actually. And Blogger has made up its own display rules for this image. 15. A sweet message from @amyeharvey.
16. The money HM Revenue & Customs owe me. 17. A flamingo ready for @tikidiki's party! 18. Breakfast at Tiffany's from @HotelEcho. 19. Vodka-soaked gummi bears at aforementioned party. 20. My new size 4 Toms, £25 in an Office sale. They were excruciatingly tight when I bought them but now fight perfectly. I want loads of other colours and designs now though!
21. Dreams. 22. My salmon dinner. 23. A market with tulip decorations and a bight blue sky. 24. A view from one of the several bridges straddling the River Avon, Bristol. 25. Our new wind chime with a solar-powered colour-cycling bauble.
26. Star Wars themed keyrings are popular, it seems. 27. Mind the gap: awaiting the train for a trip back to my hometown of Walsall for a hen do. 28. On my way back to Bristol. 29. Batman and Robin. Again, I have no idea why this won't display properly. I have tried to fix it, honest. 30. A very tasty blueberry cheesecake muffin from Sainsbury's.
31. A ridiculously large but wonderful burger from brace&browns, Bristol. I didn't manage to eat everything sadly.
Well, July went by in a whirr as well and August is set to be similar.

21 July 2013

#dreams 001

Whilst I don't normally contemplate blog topics at 5am,  I had a slight nocturnal lightbulb moment the other night. My dream had woken me up and, albeit potentially dull and so-very-everyday, I filed the content away as something I could perhaps share on the blog during periods of bloggers' block.

I'm reasonably intrigued by dreams and what they mean, when I can remember them, that is. So, then I thought perhaps why not have a dreams category on the blog. I'll admit, I thought this a better idea at 5am when still half-asleep and feel like a bit of a wally blogging about it now. But in the spirit of committing to an idea, I'm going to try it.

Here's the first instalment.

I'm sat on a monorail. 
The only times I've been on a monorail are at amusement parks and the airport which probably explains the definite feeling of overall jolliness about being on a monorail. Oh! This monorail is at work; it's for getting around the different departments and is high above the ground. I contemplate this entire scenario being a ridiculous idea but this is immediately subverted by the fact that it exists in a dream and they are the place of ridiculousness. 
It's my stop and I need to get off. But I'm not ready. I didn't know the stop would arrive so soon. I normally get ready super early when disembarking public transport so having to hurriedly gather all of my belongings in order not to miss my stop is quite a foreign feeling. 
My bag is open on the floor of the train, a book on my lap and my phone in my hand. My coat is draped over the seat to my right. I opt to cram everything into the bag and attempt to don my coat. It's summer surely, why do I have a coat? I just about manage to get one arm fully into one sleeve. I've already taken too long! The doors are in a strange place; at the front of the train rather than at the sides, and they've been open for a little while now. My expectation of people joining the train is unfulfilled. I have a feeling the train will soon begin to ready itself to depart. With me on it. I must get off. I'm standing. My seat was close enough to still make it so I make to run.
As I half-step, half-leap through the doors on to the platform, my thoughts rush. I realise three things; i) how strange the platform is; it is sloping downwards and will require me to ascend in order to make it to the real platform; ii) the train has slowly started to slink away; iii) my left arm is stuck inside my sleeve.
The platform is just that little too steep, and it's slippy! My balance is off. The dark wooden awning of the platform is ornate and pretty but there's nothing to hold on to. The faces of the people on the "real" platform are steel-like. They don't see me. No. One person has seen me; she lurches forward to take my arm, to pull me up the sloped platform. But I'm slipping. She can barely reach me.
Can I not just get back on the train? No. It has retreated too far. More people rush in and try to grab my hand, my coat, my bag, anything. And to hold on to the woman trying to save me, as the material of my coat is slowly ripped from her fingers. 
I know my face is like a deer caught in the headlights. No words come. 
And now I'm falling. Gravity has taken over. My mind realises it is too late; there is no way I can save myself now. No way anyone can. 
I will fall and I will hit the ground. 
I jolted so very hard out of that dream I almost sat bolt upright in bed. At least, that's how it felt! And I was wide awake.

For me, the interpretation was pretty obvious but for you to make the same assessment would require some information about current activities in my life that you don't possess.

So do I offer this out as a starter for 10? Yeah, why not. How would you interpret that?

15 July 2013

#Project365: June 2013

It was perhaps only a matter of time before my grip on blogging slipped because a) I've been super busy! But b) I have just about managed to keep up with Project365! Yay me. Although, I can't say I enjoyed bringing Flickr up to speed on that. So, it's time for another round up; June 2013.

1. Shopping, especially for some much needed sun-spectacles. 2. Dusting off a Christmas present only to discover none of my cake cases would fit. 3. Searching for a new abode. 4. Lunchtimes in the park near work. 5. A daisy in the same park.
6. Readying a work presentation. 7. A flirtation with Jay in The Great Gatsny. 8. GOSH Nail Lacquer 605 Blue Balloon. 9. A train ticket, and a visit to York and the university to give the aforementioned work presentation. 10. My nameplate at the symposium dinner with an award-winning chef.
11. Crabbies Ginger Beer. 12. My problem with unfinished books; one of my bad habits. 13. Coke, pour moi?! 14. Stamps. 15. Time to get my craft on.
16. Jen: sixteen years old and blonde. 17. What's in my handbag. 18. Leafing through my high school Record of Achievement. This a) an award for gymnastics, b) not my name. 19. Sunny days in Bristol's Castle Park plus an optical effect. 20. Impact Factor cake FTW!
21. All of my kitchen belongings removed and compiled without my approval. 22. Caipirnhia. 23. The beginnings of my ombre cake. 24. Ombre cake construction. 25. Ta-dah! Ombre cake! (blog post coming soon.) 
26. My cake competition winnings. #smug 27. I purchased me a Bobble to "make water better". 28. A day of fun and frolics at our summer company event. 29. A cloakroom system I found simple but quite impressive. 30. Bruno Loubet's Mange Tout which has almost nothing to do with the book itself. We started calling one of our friends 'mangetout' since almost every meal seemed to feature the pea. 
June certainly feels like more than 2 weeks ago. Especially since my July has been somewhat of a whirlwind!

I hope all the UK residents reading are enjoying the weather.