A Sassenach Soliloquy

Sunday, September 18

Moving on...

As is clear, pressures on my time have prevented this blog from flowering. I want to recommence blogging, but it seems best to right this one off, and start again. Hence, if you wish to catch up on my existence, I can now be found at Diary of a PhD. student.

Tuesday, March 22

Life eh? I love it.

I'm just back from a couple of hours with new hobby: swing dancing. After a few beginners lessons, today I moved up to the improvers class, and discovered that I can do this.

I used to do salsa, but haven't had a lesson for years. I always found it tough though; the rewards were excellent, but I always found the lessons taxing. This evening was different; fun and relaxing, and both those things because it was - can I say this? - easy. Not easy, you understand, but no so challenging that the fun was removed until it was mastered, as was the way with salsa.

And it all just fits in with how life is going at the moment. On several occasions recently I've gone to bed sad that the day is over: sleeping might be nice, but it's dull compared to life. The essays I'm building are fascinating, and I feel good about what I'm writing. Frisbee remains fun, and my diet and lifestyle and healthy and feelgood. I'm in love. Unknown and exciting adventures await me at the end of this degree, and next week, on the date of my eponymous birthday, I'm feeding my travel bug, and heading to Spain for a few days.

When life is not so good, I want to be reminded that life can feel this way.

Thursday, March 17

Lifting my head from the page

Wow, where did that go? Semester is almost at an end. Those miserable months of January and February have never gone so fast.

That'll be love, of course. Spending time with T. is great, but I fear we're turning into exactly the sort of couple I always despised - people who rarely go out and spend time with their friends. I must make more effort.

Otherwise, little to report at present, except that the PhD application is in, my first semester marks were excellent and my head is currently buried in books about historical linguistics, memes, theories of language evolution, evolutionary psychology and beauty. Therefore I fear that a return to regular blogging is some way away yet, though I'll give it a try. Watch this space.

Monday, January 10

Back to school

Ok, semester has started and thus my brief return to blogging is finished before I'm even back in the habit. Hey hum. The degree is more important I'm afraid.

Anyway, it's been an emotional weekend but one which I shouldn't blog about just now. It's had a happy outcome though, and one which should leave T. and I's relationship the stronger for it.

And with that I'm signing off until there are some hot cross buns in the shops and the wind has stopped blowing in Edinburgh. Bye for now.

Wednesday, January 5

"How will I blog this?"

It's still the Christmas break - the new semester starts on Monday - and so I'm still blogging until then. But I have to remind myself to do it; I have to remind myself that I have a blog and that I want to keep it updated. I've enjoyed rereading stuff from Verona and no doubt the same will apply to now, particularly so the more time ticks by. Yet it wasn't always thus. In fact, the reason I mention reminding myself is because it never has been an issue before; previously The Blog has always been in mind and, once I'd started it, day-to-day occurances quickly became thought triggers for blog updates.

The break I took during last semester - and that I will take again this semester - has removed that sense of "How might I blog about this?" from my day-to-day life. I'm not sure how I feel about this; on the one hand that half a mind on how you could describe an event often makes the event itself more, say, humourous, but equally it perhaps helps to remove oneself from the immediate reality of the event, which is something best avoided.

I'll miss having the blog while I'm studying, but it's certainly for the best; the fewer distractions the better. But otherwise I'm very much looking forward to getting back into it. I'm rested and remotivated, and the coming months have a lot for me to be excited about.

Tuesday, January 4

"..your application... has been successful..."

Back in November we received an email:

"The League of European Research Universities is holding a conference on 'The Credibility of the European Project' for students from the League’s members... During a 4-day forum, selected students from the above universities will discuss some of Europe’s current challenges. Together with leaders in the fields of politics, academia and business they will share their vision on the future of Europe. Discussions will be organised around the following subthemes:

1. The European project is not restricted by geographical boundaries.
2. The European Union faces a change in comparative advantages.
3. Thanks to its Constitution, Europe is finally a true state.

Funding towards the costs of travel will be provided by The University of Edinburgh: accommodation and meals will be provided by Bright... This is a highly prestigious conference. The resulting conclusions will be published and will be presented to the European Commission..."

I applied - for which I had to write a 500ish word essay - and then, recently, I received this:

"Congratulations! I am writing to inform you that your application to participate in next year's Bright Conference in Leuven, Belgium has been successful. You will be one of twenty postgraduate students attending this conference..."

Can't wait.

Sunday, January 2

Career planning

I have a week before the new semester starts. I have some things that need doing, and hopefully T. and I will get to spend a couple of days on one of the highland islands. Perhaps the most important of those things I have to do is think, hard, about the project I’ll do in the summer, and about my PhD proposals. Funding deadlines begin to loom as soon as the 1st February.

Yet I have no idea as yet. The course that should focus my mind – The origins and subsequent evolution of language – is run during this semester, so I’ll only be a few weeks into it by the time I have to have finished my applications. And our unassessed evolution of language seminars are also this semester. Does the deadline really need to be so soon?

I don’t have to do a PhD, of course. However I’d like to; it’d be fascinating, an obviously good thing to have on the cv and would mean three more years in a great town. But, more importantly, it fits into the career plan that I’ve begun to create and shape in the past two years or so. The job I really want (not to mention giving me three more years to find/create it) is to popularise Science on TV.

Why? Well, it’d be fun for a start, and should provide a healthy income, and that’s the fundamentals taken care of. But there are many other reasons that make it The Job For Me, and they fit into two broad categories: because it’d be rewarding, and because I think it’s important. Those reasons are not, of course, unrelated. And perhaps there’s a third category of reason: I reckon I’d be bloody good at it.

Science, and what Scientists do, is grossly misunderstood by the public and often misrepresented by the media. The basics, like the Scientific Method, are little known despite their simplicity. For example, many people think that ideas somehow get promoted from theory to fact, and don’t appreciate that every idea in Science is there for the shooting; nothing is sacred.

The problem, I think, starts in the classroom. What we teach is not Science, but other people’s Science: We only replicate what has gone before and is known. Did your Science teachers ever ask you to form a hypothesis before the experiement? Probably not, and even if so, did you understand why they asked? If so, you’re either extremely lucky (to have such a rare teacher) or a natural scientist (in which case you already know all this).

And I’m sure it can be made appealing. For example, a few weeks ago I was watching the excellent new food program Full On Food (BBC2, 8pm, Wednesdays) and Heston Blumenthal was on. If you don’t know who he is, go and google his name. He’s head chef and owner of The Fat Duck, a restaurant that possesses a rare three Michelin stars. And one of the reasons he has those stars is the outstanding originality of his food. Salmon infused with liquorice, anyone? How about bacon-and-egg ice-cream? He produces these dishes after much scientific work: He forms hypotheses about what is happening when we eat, tests his hypotheses and produces dishes that exploit that understanding. He is a Scientist, and a successful one at that. Why isn’t there a Science show exploiting such a sexy – and proper – use of Science? There should be (in fact, I think that the format of Full On Food could easily be adapted for a Science show), and I have the energy, passion, knowledge, good looks and communication skills necessary to present it.

Now, do you have any friends who work for the BBC? Can you put me in touch?

Saturday, January 1

Tumbling into love...

Yesterday morning, on the train back up to Edinburgh, I received a phone call from one of my coursemates: "Hey, we're all going to Hogmanay and we've got a spare ticket. Wanna come?". I guess so.

It was fun, although the evening its fair share of the usual NYE pressure (read 'stress' for some) of a dozen half-drunk people's desire to be in the same place as each other but also within a crowd of many. The atmosphere was good and, at times, I thought, rather romantic.

At one point, shortly after the fireworks, I noticed one particular couple: He was carrying her in both arms, with her arms around his neck and the two of them entwined in a kiss. Amongst all the noise and tens of thousands of others, to bear witness to this personal moment touched me, and I found myself wanting the same, with she replaced by T. and he replaced by me.

T. was, unfortuantely, in London; she has many friends there she hasn't seen since she came to Edinburgh. And so I found myself in what was, for me at least, a rather unusual situation: I was surrounded by pretty women - on the one night and in the one place that snogging strangers was de rigeur - yet I wasn't single. And so after years of chosen singledom, I now chose otherwise.

But my instincts and, yes, talents in the field of chasing pretty girls are well-honed, and part of me wanted to take advantage of that. But choosing not to wasn't self-discipline. Put simply, I wanted those other women to be T.: I missed her. Can we, then, distinguish thus: To desire women is part of being male, but to learn that real pleasure lies with one particular woman is part of being a man?

Sunday, December 26

Cheap thrills

Shopping for Christmas stuff a few days ago with T. we wandered around a few trendy stores in Covent Garden where t-shirts cost £30. Why so much? It's not hard to find a funky, equally well-made t-shirt in a charity or second-hand store, so why pay these silly prices? "Because...", I guessed, "..fashion represents an easy way for people with no style to look good".

You don't have to think much on the high-street; the marketeers who group consumers and channel their product accordingly do all the thinking for you. As a customer you just have to identify the shops that have targeted you as their core audience.

But buying - how shall we say? - independently, you have to think more. Lots of the stuff in markets and second-hand stores and charity stores and the back of your parent's wardrobe is, simply, rubbish. Or perhaps it doesn't work on you. You have to make judgments. You have to think, and have an eye for the aesthetic. But it's fun, isn't it? The joy of finding a real gem of a piece buried among all the crap far outweights the guilty pleasure of buying what you can't afford, consequences be damned. Just like learning to cook well actually reduces your food bill, then learning to dress well reduces your clothing bill. Fashion may cost too much, but style is cheap.

Thursday, December 23


I promised to blog at Christmas, yet I've been back in London for 48 hours now, and semester finished almost a week ago. And nothing. I plead, as ever, busy-ness. (When I first wrote that it came out as business, but that wouldn't be right, would it?)

But I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm presently as happy as I've been for a long time: at least five years, and perhaps longer. My life stimulates me in all the best ways; intellectually, physically, culturally and, yes, sexually, to pick just some. To tease things out a little, dear reader, I'll talk about each of those in that order, thereby saving the salacious bits 'til last.

The MSc. is wide-ranging and fascinating; I have entered a exciting field. I'm working hard but enjoying that work and, as an older(ish) student, I take a more mature attitude to my study than I have previously; my time in other careers has taught me how to work. There are, inevitably, a few minor grumbles, but very little to fuss over. I have eight coursemates, and we have bonded collectively better than I could have hoped. Our academic backgrounds - Maths, Computer Science, Biology, Ecology, Anthropology, Linguistics, Modern Languages, Literature, Classics - are as many and wide as nationalities. Discussion and chat is varied and, often, vigorous, just as it should be.

I am exercising regularly. Some canoeing, but mostly more Ultimate. I have been training with both the student side and one of the non-student Edinburgh sides (a nice way to introduce balance to my life) and next month I will be attending trials for Fusion, the best side in Scotland and the fourth-ranked side in the UK. If I get through them it represents an outstanding opportunity to take my Ultimate skills to a higher level, and perhaps compete in the European Club Championships in the summer. The sport is fun, and I know that the endorphines it produces contribute to my present sunny outlook. Even better, we play in the park that's two minutes from my front door, and halfway between the flat and University. That's right: I walk five minutes across a park to Uni. No commuting for me, and I get to lunch at home too.

As everybody knows, Edinburgh and culture have a close marriage, and I wonder if perhaps I haven't made the best use of that yet. But what I have I've loved: outstanding pubs (that stay open 'til 1am), arty cinemas, good live music, cheap matinee theatre and great funk nights out. In the New Year I will add swing lessons to that list of experiences. Edinburgh will surely never tire of providing; I have simply to search for its treasures.

And then there's the sex. I had some in the first half of the semester, but the last two weeks have perhaps been amongst the most significant of my lovelife, ever. The girl in question is a coursemate. We didn't realise our mutual attraction to each other 'til the very end of term, which is something of a tragedy. But, like new lovers in perpetuum, we are making up for some imagined lost time. As I said to her last week, I feel something rather significant in my life starting. I've blogged before that I'm fussy with women, or least with those I get into relationships with. That remains true, and for the first time in a long time - perhaps ever - I feel like I've met someone from whom I can ask vitually no more. I hope I feel that way for a longtime to come.

So, the decision to go to Edinburgh was, unquestionably, the right one. I am happy, in the very best sense of the word, and that was true even before T. and I began our romance. Since I made the bold decision to quit my career and life in London nearly two years ago I have been rewarded with a series of life-affirming experiences and, I think, become an adult. In many senses Edinburgh feels like the culmination of that journey. So now it's onwards, onwards to the next big adventure.