24 May 2010

Six months in a crowded isle

It’s been over six months since I arrived in the UK with only a vague idea of where Loughborough was, and most of my gear on a boat. Showing surprising foresight I’d booked a weeks hotel accommodation in what turned out to be the delightful village of Quorn. All of which was a good start, which went downhill when we found Loughborough. Oh dear. Not the nicest of towns, and on our first visit, full of teenage mothers and old people. This hasn’t changed. But I’ll get back to Loughborough later.

Found a very nice flat in a converted mill, we’re on the top floor and thanks to basic thermodynamics, it’s very warm, and with my gear arriving, it began to feel far more like a home. I helped this with my purchase of a mid-range of tv/stereo system - something I’d been promising myself for years but had never got around to getting. The irony being I play LPs through it, and am looking at 8 track units. Oops I’ve digressed. But since I’m on music, I’m thrilled at how cheap music has become here. It’s the same price for an iTunes album as it is for a physical release (cf NZ where it’s much cheaper on itunes), therefore my intention of downsizing the CD collection has taken a knocking. The other great great thing about the UK is that books are cheap, apparently there’s no VAT on them here. What a bloody good idea. And they keep offering 3 for 2 deals, which means I’ve been trying stuff I might not usually give a go.

As I said, we’ve an apartment in Shepshed, which is lovely, very warm and airy. My whisky, CDs, DVDs and vinyls make for a nice lounge area, all set off with the large red leather couch. So yes, very pleased with this place, and although pricy by Loughborough standards, it’s quite reasonable. Shopping in LB isn’t the best, good quality groceries are difficult to find. Fresh maybe best, but it’s not necessarily best for LB. Leicester has decent food stalls, so we’ve popped down there for veges/fruit occasionally. But also look at the trip to London (between 16-20 quid return) and the Borough Market, and it looks tempting. Pop in an art gallery and I’m sold. I think it’s fair to say I don’t like LB, and Shepshed even less. It’s insular, has crap food, is narrow-minded, the LB movie theatre only shows mindless Hollywood crap, and the CD shop is one of the highly generic small HMVs. There’s also no decent clothes shops, thank god for the internet.
Most of the advertising for LB does mention its proximity to other places (Leicester, Nottingham, London etc.), which is certainly a plus. The few times I’ve been to Nottingham, I’ve enjoyed it. Leicester is bit more meh, but the food market is good. And I do like London.

Moving here has been helped by having a bunch of people to impose on. Most of them seem to be based around gigs and booze, which is fine by me. I may not be going to as many gigs as I was in Wellington (well any excuse to hit Bodega and SanFran BH), but since being here I’ve seen: Summer’s End Festival (incl. Steve Hackett, Pallas and Pendragon - crickey), Marillion, Tragically Hip, Pineapple Thief (twice), Oceansize, Doves, The Enid, Mark Lanegan, Anathema and I’ve got The National later in the year. Given that was one reason why I moved, it’s working out very well. I’m also intending to hit some opera soon, as it’s been awhile since I heard any.
The beer is ‘quite good’ too. This is one area where LB does shine, the Swan in the Rushes (our local for Fri lunches at work) is rated number 3 by Camra and has a fantastic number of real ales on tap. Ahhh bliss.
I’m liking the cheese too. The best place is still Neal’s cheese yard in the Borough Market, but LB has a good cheese shop - picked up a lovely St Agur blue there the other day.
Coffee was a major worry, as it's drunk over here, but not made with passion. I wasn't panicking as Monmouth Coffee Company could supply my needs, but since then I've switched allegiance to an Edinburgh roaster. He's a Kiwi who moved over, runs whisky and coffee tastings, and gets my vote. His shop supplies a rather good tea/coffee store, and his roasting company website is here.

The other reason I moved over, Sharla, worked out well. Yeah so I might be going for understatement there.

The job, oh yeah, another reason to move. It’s good, at times I get frustrated by the moribund culture, but I’m learning to work around that, or just plough straight through. As my role was a new position there’s been a certain amount of blindly stumbling to find out what I’m supposed to be doing. Having spent a few years doing that in science already, that just made me feel comfortable. So yes, overall I’m enjoying the job - my minions, which I’m pleased I got to help pick, are absolutely superb. And I’m saying that knowing at least one of them reads this... We’re currently redesigning the labs and moving my lot down to the bottom floor to increase visibility and give the students a better ‘learning space’, which is interesting and has certainly helped me focus where I see my career wandering next.
Speaking of which, I occasionally get asked about the science thing. I cannot get over how relaxed I am now I’m not working in science anymore. I miss aspects of it, and unlike most people, I’m still passionate about my PhD topic. I’d love to be working in it, but it’s not going to happen, there’s no money and I’m sick of begging for money every six months.  So yes, I’m pleased to be out. I’m feeling much better about things - and after the significant break, I’ve worked up enthusiasm to finish some papers. One has been submitted, and the other I’m tidying up a GenBank submission for. That’s probably it for the PhD papers, aside from a review of reptile molecular evolution, although I’m not sure I want to go there.

Although tidying up the papers has emphasised I still like writing. The blog is nice, but it’s not structured and I don’t do much editing on the posts (as I’m sure you’re *well* aware), and so I think I’m in the mood to do some writing and see where it goes. I don’t think I’ve got a novel in me, but we’ll see what happens.

I think a lot of this has come about from the levels of exercise I’m currently doing. I walk to and from work each day (weather permitting), which is an hour each way. And I’m doing a bit more exercise in the evenings, I’m finding if I don’t do this, I’m getting very antsy and grumpy. Odd. Very odd. I’ve started swimming again too, and have just got a bike. Don’t panic, it’s not affecting my love of beer.

The ability to get places quickly, and cheaply, is a major plus. This week I was down in London for a gig and the Sevens, and on Wednesday I’m over in Germany for a few days of beer drinking, and some art galleries (hopefully). I like German beer, although I’d rate the UK andBelgium over it for places I’d go to for beer, but a bierfest seems a good plan to me.
I’m missing decent rugby, the 6 nations was crap, low skill levels and slow recycling of ball. But most games I want to watch are available online (if you know where to look) so I’m coping. Currently I have the England v Mexico game on, well it’s going to kick off soon, and I’ll try to sit through a bit of it. Not hopeful of a full game, but we shall see.

Overall, I like it over here. Obviously we won’t talk about the service industry. But the opportunities for most of my interests are almost limitless here, and for that reason alone I don’t think I’ll be heading back any time soon.
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