Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Sticks and stones...and John Deeres

Right. It was a brisk Wednesday morning last week when I set out, as usual, from my new home in the village of Madingley to bike to work. Madingley Road is quite busy and narrow, but has a separate cycle path that's empty and safe.

Or so I thought, until a large John Deere tractor abruptly turned off the road without signalling, and ploughed into me.

Well, I guess I should watch my words when describing a tractor collision - it wasn't ploughing at the time it hit me. But it was going at a decent clip. Decent enough to knock me off my bike and fracture a bone or two.

I've been vain about my bones all my life. I've fallen out of trees, fallen down stairs, crashed into all sorts of objects all my life, without any lasting damage. But this Cambridgeshire tractor has now finally stolen my immortality. I disentangled myself from the bike - on long-term loan from the Finn, and it didn't sustain a single scratch - and felt that my right arm was a bit funny. A couple doctor visits and x-rays later, and "funny" was updated to "fractured". Possibly more than one fracture exists, as my wrist is more painful than the already-identified fractures. But yet another x-ray will be needed next week to determine if it is also damaged. Here's one. Don't bother looking for the hairline; you won't see it. I do appear to have a benign tumour shaped like a little arrow in my upper arm, though, which worries me a bit.

In the meantime, no casts are needed, as the fractures are just hairline. But the arm is only half-useful. I shall report progress, which I hope to be rapid.

In the meantime! This weekend was spent with friends from Halley last season, in Cornwall. Here they are, Jim and Tamsin, at Tintagel:

As well as Tintagel, we saw some nice pubs, nice beaches, and nice farms. Plus, the village of Cheddar. Guess what manner of food we sampled there?

The fractured arm didn't help this weekend, but then again, it didn't really harm it either. But here's hoping it goes away soon. Real soon.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Gluttony and Sloth

Ah, two of my favourite sins. And I have been busy with both of them these days.

When last I wrote, I was halfway through Karthaus training...and it finished as it began: with copious quantities of food. All day, sitting in a classroom; all night, eating huge Italian/German meals. I put on at least 3 kg, I think - and that was skipping most lunches, too. Spare time in the first week, I spent hillwalking - but the second week, any spare time I had in the evenings was dedicated to avidly watching the stock market meltdown. Such entertainment! As I am a general proponent of chaos and disorder, it was an incredible show. (Apologies to any who have lost money this last few weeks; of course, everything will bounce back eventually.)

On the Wednesday, though, was a day of activity. We attacked a nearby glacier, with much uphill walking to the top:

And much more downhill walking/running, when we realized we were late for the last bus back to Karthaus. Here you can see our goal in the distant valley, where the bus was 45 minutes away.

Missed it by 5 minutes. No big deal, as we just got taxis. But it was a strenuous trip down, and pride was on the line. Anyway, many people were sick after this trip - I believe immune systems were low, and a nasty bug was sweeping Karthaus. All my roommates were sick, and I was paranoid. So I began washing my hands once an hour. And it seemed to work! I got a bit of a reputation for a clean freak - a bit of a novelty for me - but I seemed to evade the illness that hit 75% of Karthaus.

And then it was over. There was a party Friday night which I excused myself out of early, as I had a 6:30 taxi the next morning. But there was time for one last crazy run through Karthaus with my camera in video mode: [pending]

...so there you have it. Saturday was spent in the Italian/Austrian/German/Scottish transit system, with one exception. As we sped towards Munich, one of my companions and I speculated about Oktoberfest, and we wondered when it began. I had this niggling feeling, from undergrad days, that Oktoberfest actually began in September. This was confirmed when we arrived in Munich to see several people in liederhosen. We arrived on the opening day! And I happened to have four hours to kill before my flight. So, I managed to haplessly wander into one of the world's best parties purely by chance.

And it was big. With all my possessions on my back, I couldn't get into the big beer halls very well for a drink, but this didn't bother me too much. As a person who can't stand lager, I felt like a devout Jehovah's Witness adherent who got a free ticket to Mecca. But beer aside, there were many pork products and nut products that were enjoyable enough.

Next stop, Scotland. Here, I resolved to undo some of the damage from Karthaus and walked quite a bit, often with my full gear on. However, the good food kept a-coming - I found sushi, a Michelin-star restaurant, and breakfast haggises in the Edinburgh area. Other than that, Edinburgh was uneventful. Nice place, though.

And then finally, a first-class train ticket back to Cambridge. (It was on sale for £45.) And I sit here in my new digs for the next two months in the village of Madingley. I'm sharing the place with my generous hosts, office-mate Julian and his wife Martina.

Which brings me to the second half of my blog title. This place has a television.

I haven't lived with a television since the summer of '03. I had forgotten what it was like. I sat and watched "My Name is Earl". Then "Star Trek: Voyager". And then "Embarrassing Surgeries". And finally "Extreme Slim Celebrities 3".

And then I realized I had a problem. I had forgotten the catatonia that sets in, when one has a bazillion channels of television in a relatively isolated place. I immediately switched off the TV and came up to my room to write this blog.

But it's still down there. I haven't got much else to do at the moment. And there isn't a gym nearby.

The next few months could be trouble, methinks. And very recently, an event occurred that will make me even more sedentary. But more on that next week.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Rainy, rainy Karthaus

And Guten Tag from Italia!

'Tis a rainy day here in the Italian Alps. But all is well.

It has been an intense couple days, here. After a thankful 5:45 am departure from Bishops Stortford, it was a relatively uneventful flight to Munich. I wandered Munich aimlessly for a bit - all post-reconstruction German cities look somewhat similar to me - and then I settled into the hostel for the night. Lively place - Organizing trips to beer gardens, full of people. I went to one of the famous beer halls and had my obligatory Munich beer. And, while I'm sure it was a very nice lager, and a nice patio, both failed miserably under my standards for a decent pub experience. I'm sorry to beer hall fans; I'm aware my criteria should not be applied in such situations. But Munich is a place to get drunk, and a rural British pub is a place to soak up atmosphere. And I want the latter.

Anyway. I caught my train, and next thing I knew, I had left Germany, blasted through Austria , and found my way to northern Italy. A train trip here, a bus transfer there, and I arrived in Karthaus.

Karthaus is a village of about 300 people, centred around an old monastary. After a dissolution by the Holy Roman Emperor in the 1700's, it was converted into a town, and the monastary was absorbed into a village - people literally built houses attached to it, so the town has a cool labyrinthian feel.
It's been a busy social schedule here - intense glaciology courses by day, overloading us with charts and equations, and intense eating and drinking at night. All of the five course meals we get each night is locally sourced and made - as well as the wine. We have about an hour between the end of courses and the start of the meal, which lasts the rest of the night. Most of us use that hour to run up the mountain side a bit, to make a token effort at balancing the calorie intake.

Today is Sunday, our day off. We were supposed to visit a glacier, but the weather didn't cooperate. So we went to the castle home of a famous climber, Reinhold Messner. Very nice and envy-inspiring.

Some of us begged off after this and came back to the village; most of the rest went to the annual gathering of the sheep from the mountains. I kinda regret missing that. But I thought that an afternoon off was a good idea. Still a long week ahead of equations and wine.

Yes, life is tough for a junior glaciologist. But I feel slightly better about using that job title, now.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Let's blow the dust off this tome...

And here we kick off season two of Ryan's Antarctic adventures! And we begin this tale, as so many other classics begin, in the top floor of a flophouse in Bishop's Stortford. On a Sunday night.

Well, a "flophouse" may be an exaggeration. The place is a 15th century inn called the Boar's Head. When I walked in at 5pm to book a room, it looked like a sleepy old man's pub - not my type, with TV's, one Green King ale, and a fruit machine - but good enough for a night's accommodation. My room was fairly plain, but serviceable. But then things went downhill.

The sheets stink. Literally, they smell bad. And at 11pm, when I thought the pub would close, an army of chavs came in, cranked the music, and seemed to engage in a contest of who can shout the loudest. And there was about a half inch of plywood between them and my rank-smelling bed. "Time to write my blog," I thought.

So, let's back up a moment.

Since I last wrote, our protagonist returned from Antarctica to a flurry of social acivities, including two really fun weddings in Oxford. And then a trip to Canada, to celebrate a belated Christmas with the family in the Rockies. And then, back to work.

When I first came back to Cambridge, I needed a convenient place to stay. My opportunity came, oddly, in the men's room at Halley, where our vehicle manager Martin Bell suggested I could live at his place in Cambourne. Informally named "the Bell Hotel", it remains a place where itinerant Antarctic pilgrims pass through to and from Antarctica. Kind of like an Antarctic halfway-house. Usually, it's full of vehicle mechs in the fall, but pretty quiet in the spring. Thus began my 3 month stay in Cambourne, a development 5 miles to the west of Cambridge. Highlight of the social scene in Cambourne is the parking lot of the local grocery store. But there are also buses to Cambridge every 10 minutes, so I wasn't far from the action.

However, I knew that my college, Wolfson, would have spots opening up in the summer time, so I moved back in there June 1st. And there I have remained, up until today. It's been quieter than the past, but still good.

Work has been steady, not too stressful; I've had a few good holidays, and found a few new pubs for my list (and two new all-stars: The Square and Compass in Dorset, and the Pub with No Name in Hampshire). And now, after a semblance of steady reality, it's time to go hobo again with an extended period of travel. Starting today.

Every year, at a quiet mountain town in northern Italy, a secret enclave of glaciologists gather to spread their lore among younger, worthy acolytes. And I have been chosen to join their numbers. Two weeks of modelling glaciers on computers, and exploring glaciers on foot. Should be good! I shall report from the town - called Karthaus - if facilities and oaths of secrecy permit.

So, I have moved out of Wolfson, and am once again homeless. After this two-week conference, I'll stop through Edinburgh on the way back, and then move onto the floor of my office mate Julian for a little while. Then it's back to Canada for a few weeks, and then back to Cambridge for a month and a bit - and then, off south again.

So, I've just handed my keys in to Wolfson, and decided to stay at a cheap place near Stansted, as I have an early flight in the morning.

Which brings us back to Bishop's Stortford, and my less-than-quiet Sunday night. I hope the next few months of transience are more pleasant.

And I hope that the variety of beds I will sleep on, will smell better than my current one.

Stay tuned...