Thursday, June 30, 2005

mozzy food

Meaning me. I am covered in mosquito bites which I’m trying not to itch. I caught and squished one in the shower this morning, but I don’t expect that was the only one.

I couldn’t face another breakfast of dry white bread, butter, feta-ish cheese and salami, so I’ve breakfasted on chocolate and banana in my room. Most healthy!

Yesterday was useful from a work point of view and fun. When the day’s work was over we had a guided tour around Sofia, mostly historic churches and museums. Sofia became the capital of Bulgaria in 1879, at a time when it was a small village of around 120 people. Now, around 1.2 million people live there, about 15% of the population of Bulgaria. Most of the buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, apart from the churches, the earliest of which were started in Roman times. There’s not much evidence of Bulgaria’s Communist past. There’s probably more evidence of the rule of the Ottoman Empire, although they were around for about 500 years. Perhaps it’s all been destroyed. Certainly we saw a park which until recently had been the site of the mausoleum of the first (Communist) Bulgarian president after the first World War. According to our guide, there was a sharp divide between those who wanted to destroy the mausoleum because Bulgaria now has nothing to do with Communism and those who wanted to preserve it as a piece of history. It seems the destroyers won.

The churches here are Orthodox. I think our guide said the Bulgarian Orthodox church is separate from both the Russian and Greek Orthodox churches. Lots of historical splits. Enough history, find a library or Google it. Orthodox churches are big and empty of pews. They share some of the aspects of Catholic churches, candles, imagery, but without that feeling of Catholic Disney land you sometimes get with huge statues. The churches we went into were covered with old frescoes, mostly very faded. Some looked Byzantine in style. And of course there were icons and the smell of incense and a priest with a huge black beard.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

hurrah for wireless internet!

Our hosts have got their wireless internet working, so I've posted stuff I wrote last night. Feeling pretty tired due to hot weather, lack of sleep and disorientation by time difference. Only 2 hours, but still confusing.

I'm OK though. Meeting useful, friendly people, finding stuff out, eating interesting food. (I've now had bread and salami three meals in a row.) I hope tonight's traditional Bulgarian food is something different.

Local wildlife - In a corner of the room is a very green fishtank containg two biggish fish and one enormous one which hangs around at the bottom of the tank looking like a bit of wood. Outside there seems to a dog asleep in the sun on every corner. The birds are very loud in the morning. There might have been a mosquito in my room last night.

I'm tired and I don't make sense.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

bugs get everywhere

Except perhaps seeing a familiar car.
I looked out from my balcony and caught sight of a red bug, just like mine, parked a little way away. I went out to have a look at it. It’s a 1300, looks younger than mine by the design of the steering wheel, but I’ve no idea about Bulgarian registration years. Funny how little things make you feel better.

I do like travelling to new places, really. But being on my own in a strange place after a day of travelling is daunting and nerve-wracking and I’m feeling a little tearful. Silly really. But I don’t think I’m ever going to travel the world on my own. I’d rather have someone else with me to talk to, to plan with, to feel safe with.

I feel like that about life too sometimes.

I’ll stop now, or I’ll get properly maudlin. Onto the balcony to read and eat chocolate, I think.


Wandered around for a while and found a small row of shops with a mini supermarket. Bought a random selection of food, regretted not hanging on to the plastic cutlery from the plane. Not really feeling confident enough to go to a restaurant, so it’s a picnic in my room.

Random thoughts

Smelly tramps everywhere drink cider
The small coins in Bulgaria are stotinki. Brilliant name!
As elsewhere in Eastern Europe, shops don’t like giving you change. But when you don’t speak the language, all you can do is shrug and smile.
1 and 2 Leva notes. Why?
Bulgarian drivers are scary. Even if you’re used to London.
There’s nothing so comforting as a familiar chocolate bar.

arrived, hot, hungry

I made it. I’m sitting in my hotel room in Sofia feeling very hot, a little thirsty and wondering where I’m going to get some food from.
The flight went smoothly. I spent most of it gazing out of the window and trying to work out where we were. We were supposed to fly over Paris and Belgrade and I might have spotted them, but then I might have been wrong. Lots of mountains though, which I suppose was Switzerland, or somewhere. As we got nearer, I noticed the pattern of the fields here, like patchwork, small rectangular blocks of brown, green, yellow. They looked like brush strokes in oil paint. Sofia is surrounded by green, with huge mountains in the distance. I love the moment when you get off a plane and stand on the ground you’ve just been flying above. For a while, the sky seems enormous, and the land very flat, especially when ringed with mountains, as here.
One of the conference organisers met me at the airport, along with another guy from Hungary and we got a taxi to the hotel. I think I might be the only person at the meeting staying here. It’s a very small meeting and there was a choice of two hotels and I went for the cheaper one. It’s small, clean and neat with black wooden furniture, buttercream walls and a print of wintry cottage roves on the wall. There’s a small bathroom with a shower, but no shower curtain which I think might feel rather odd. I’m sitting at a desk by the window looking out another low building and trees.
I have nothing to do now until tomorrow morning when the meeting begins, so I think I’ll go out for an explore soon. I need to find some food. The meal on the flight over was interesting - bread roll, cold meat (couldn’t work out if it was chicken or fish), strange cheese and ham roulade, potato croquettes, cucumber, Milky Way-like chocolate bar – but not very substantial. The heat, relief at getting here, nervousness at being alone in a strange city where I don’t speak the language and the fact that I got up early are combining to make me think I’ll go to bed fairly early. We’ve got a full day tomorrow, meetings all day, then a tour of Sofia and a meal in a Bulgarian restaurant. Thursday, the meeting finishes around lunchtime and hopefully other people will be around until Friday so I’ll have people to talk to and find food with. I wish I’d printed out some of the maps I found on the internet. I can remember bits of them so once I’ve worked out which way’s North, I might be able to work out a useful direction in which to walk. I hope the shops don’t all close at 5pm, or I might be very hungry until breakfast tomorrow.

Monday, June 27, 2005

jetsetter (sort of)

I'm off to Bulgaria for a couple of days (for work). Laptop is coming too, so there might be blog posts. Or there might not. Probably retrospective posts and photos when I get back.

So today, in addition to all the things I've got to do for work before I go, I've been trying to learn the Cyrillic alphabet and searching the library for Bulgaria literature (in translation, obviously) to read while I'm away. Unfortunately either the library here has a particularly poor selection or there just isn't much writing in Bulgarian that's been translated. So I've ended up with a selection of English (and Welsh) stuff instead; Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie, In Parenthesis by David Jones, Travelling People by B. S. Johnson and The Invention of Dr Cake by Andrew Motion. None of which I've read before, some of which I might read this week.

Friday, June 24, 2005

home and dry

It was breezy all the way home and it drizzled, but it didn't actually start to thunder and pour until I gt home.


storm clouds gathering

The sky's gone grey, there's the prospect of a storm in the air.

What are the chances of getting home (on the bike) before it breaks?

up do

up do
Originally uploaded by the pig wot flies.
This hair belongs to my other sister, DP. Looks like we're all doing the growing our hair thing at the moment.

hot head

How do people with lots of hair cope when it's hot?

This is the first summer since about the age of 10 that I've had long hair. Not very long, but long enough to be too hot on the back of my neck unless I tie it up. My sister, HP, has proper long hair, which she almost always wears down. I don't know how she manages not to melt. I might reconsider my hair-growing effort if this goes on much longer.

Although I do like having a swishy ponytail. And being able to have proper up-dos. And when it's long, my hair is definitely blonde. It always looks a bit mousier short.

Trivial thought over. Back to work, you!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

book tag

Ooh look, I've been tagged by someone I only know through her blog. Hello to Mara's Child of Beyond Lilith.

1. Total number of books I own

Now there's a question! I've never counted. Perhaps 10m of shelfspace worth? Which is a few hundred at least.

2. The last book I bought

I seem to have been too skint to buy books lately, so the last book I bought must have been at Word Alive in March, which means it was a triple purchase of a small paperback ESV Bible (now getting lots of use, so perhaps hardback might have been sensible), Not even a Hint by Joshua Harris (relationships advice, quite hard-hitting, still boggling at some of it, but on the whole useful, if taken with a pinch of salt) and The Challenge of Islam to Christians by David Pawson (not read it yet).

3. The last book I read

Atonement by Ian McEwan. I got into McEwan while doing English Literature A-Level when one of my classmates lent me The Child in Time in a bid to persuade the rest of the class that we should study it. He didn't succeed, but I loved the book (the fact I had quite a crush on him at the time might have had something to do with it!) and sought out more. Atonement is beautifully evocative and sad. It's about consequences and trying to atone for past wrongs, although the way it's constructed means this doesn't become clear until the end.

4. Five books that mean a lot to me

Imagine: A Vision for Christians and the Arts by Steve Turner
This made me think about the reasons why I do things and doing everything for God's glory. It also lead me to read...

The God who is There by Francis Schaeffer
The way Schaeffer takes on philosophy head-on helped a huge amount when I was doing my MSc and getting bogged down. I love the way he tackles big ideas and is also passionate about people.

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
Unclassifiable literary detective fiction, sort of. Very silly, very clever.

Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne
The real Winnie the Pooh, with E H Shepherd illustrations and no Disneyfication or American accents. Pure childhood escapism.

Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers
Well, all her Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries really, but especially the later ones with Harriet Vane. A quintessentially Oxford book.

5. Tag five other people, and have them do this on their blogs.

See previous post.

the trouble with white linen trousers

- They had a black mark on from the bike before I'd even got out of the door

- I just caught the pocket on the arm of a chair and ripped it.


there and back again

Suddenly life's got all hectic. On Monday I went to Edinburgh, Tuesday I went from Edinburgh to Glasgow, then home again via Edinburgh. So I'm a bit knackered this morning.

I'd been to Scotland before, but never to either of its big cities. I was looking forward to seeing Edinburgh and it lived up to expectations. In parts, it looks like a grubby version of Bath or Cheltenham, but the city centre is fantastic. You have to go up hill to get anywhere, and all around are old stone buildings, and in the distance sea and hills.

I liked Glasgow more than I expected. It feels very European; the wide streets and squareness of the buildings reminded me of Geneva for some reason. I wandered around and tried (and failed) not to look like a tourist. There will be photos, once I get them developed.

I was working, really, but the sunshine and gorgeousness made it feel like a bit of a break. Plus I had Belle and Sebastian permanently stuck in my head, which is no bad thing.

I also had some time to think about work and I'm feeling a lot more positive than in my last post. I've met more of the other people involved in the project which helps a lot, I can put faces to names. Learning who's who, and what they do is helping me to understand how this whole project works. I've also realised it's up to me to decide what my job's about, rather than waiting for other people to tell me what to do. I think it's partly culture shock. This is a project run by academics which means it works differently to projects in other sectors. That does mean the prevailing culture is blokey and probably more gets decided on in the pub than in meetings, which isn't exactly my cup of tea, but it does mean there's a certain amount of autonomy in deciding what to do and how to do it. Provided you deliver what you're supposed to.

Talking of which, I'd better get on.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

leptons and mesons and quarks, oh my!

This post started life about a month ago when I was feeling happy about work and wanted to write something about what got me to where I am now. I put it aside to be finished when I had more time, but never managed to come back to it in the right upbeat mood. I decided I was unlikely to be able to finish it cheerfully, so here it is, Eeyore-style.

My ambition, aged 13, was to become a particle physicist. This was probably my first serious plan for what to do when I grew up. Earlier ambitions included being a nurse (I think most girls go through that stage) and being an author (abandoned when I decided my writing most closely resembled Enid Blyton and she was a bit rubbish). But there something about the weird quantum world that caught my imagination and the idea of being able to investigate it appealed.

The desire to do something with physics lasted into my A-levels, apart from a brief period where I wanted to do medicine (until I decided it was too hard). And so, I ended up at university signed up for a Physics degree, a four year MPhys. This was where it all unravelled. For a start the maths got really REALLY hard. I'd always found maths easy at school, I didn't seem to have to work at it, it was just obvious. But somehow degree-level maths wasn't as instinctive and I struggled. The physics course seemed to be composed mostly of boring bits, electromagnetism, thermodynamics, not too much of the cool stuff that had got me hooked. And as for practicals. Aaaargh! First year practicals meant spending every Friday underground for eight hours screaming at oscilloscopes or trying to get my programs to run properly. Doing stats was a nightmare, no-one told us how to write stuff up properly and the whole experience put me off practicals for life.

There were good bits too. The second year particle physics lectures for one. I remember one that left me bouncing all day about just how amazing the process from the Big Bang to the formation of galaxies is. All the numbers were just right. The occasional above-ground practical that went well and one that got us extra credit. But it was hard work and I narrowly scraped through Part A finals. At this point I still wanted to continue on and do the 4th year, but my tutor was adamant that my marks weren't good enough and I would have to switch to a BSc, meaning I was suddenly faced with only one more term before I was out in the big bad world, rather than the four I'd anticipated.

Strangely enough, that last term was the best. I'd done most of my finals and had only one short exam to do and an essay to write. I chose a course on cosmology and my project tutor came up with an essay on CP violation. These took me back to the things I'd loved about physics in the first place - the amazing big stuff; stars; galaxies; pulsars and the weird little stuff; quarks and their strange behaviour. The essay - my first lengthy piece of writing since A-levels - helped me realise it was the ideas of physics and their impact on the world that I really loved. I wasn't cut out for a life in research, being terrible at both the practical and theoretical sides, but I could do something with words and communication.

So I did a Masters in science communication, which I loved. It was full of philosophy and media studies and lots of the sort of social science stuff that annoys hard scientists and while I didn't agree with all of it, I enjoyed getting my brain stretched in new ways. Since then, I've stepped sideways a bit into cross-disciplinary stuff, with a (very) brief foray into event management and now in my current job, I'm sort of back where I started, in a physics department, surrounded by particle physicists. And sometimes it's great. The guys I work with are, on the whole a lovely bunch and very willing to explain the physics of what they do.

But sometimes, like today, it's dreadful. I don't feel at all suited to what I'm doing and I'm lonely. I miss having an office full of people to bounce ideas off. I miss having colleagues my own age. I miss non-geekery. I miss having female colleagues to talk to. I don't know whether to stick this out or start looking for something else. Realistically I'm committed to stuff until about November, so it would be inconvenient to leave before that. So I'll stay until then. But I'll keep my CV updated.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

film tag

Emerged from a weekend of weird sore throat coldy thing to discover I've been tagged by Nayf with a film meme thing. Since it's the blog equivalent of those annoying chain emails I tend not to pass on on principal, I'm not tagging anyone. But here are my answers, if you're interested.

1. The total number of DVDs, videos, and films I own.

That would be none. Unless you count the ever expanding pile of things I've videod off the telly and not got round to watching yet.

2. The last film I bought.

See above. Oh, I did buy a Wallace and Grommet DVD for my dad last Christmas.

3. The last film I watched.

Spent Sunday afternoon on the settee watching How to make an American Quilt, which is cheesy and weepy and too annoying to watch unless you're ill and have no brain power. The last film I saw at the cinema was Star Wars Episode 3, which was dreadful. Partly because I'd sort of decided against it before it started, but I can't help thinking if it wasn't part of the STAR WARS franchise, it would be panned.

4. My favourite five films of all time, ever.

Hmm, tricky. Off the top of my head:

Delicatessen - crazy Frenchness, canibalistic butchers, underground vegetarians, weird sickly yellows and reds.

Garden State - written and directed by the guy from Scrubs (Zach Braff). Saw this a few weeks ago on DVD. I wished I'd seen it on the big screen, there are so many wide angle shots and big open spaces that don't work so well on a postage stamp sized tv. Quiet, melancholic, but hopeful. Plus any film that soundtracks a climactic moment with Simon and Garfunkel has to be good.

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown - crazy Spanishness with gazpacho soup.

Lost in Translation - beautiful wonderings round Tokyo.

Amelie - similar to Delicatessen in style and quirkiness. Pure escapism with a warm fuzzy glow.

5. Tag three people and have them blog this.

See above.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

rip it up and start again

Not quite, but almost.

Very Cherry is finished, but I think I can make it fit better. So I'm ripping it back to the armholes and adding some short-row shaping.

The upshot of which is I still have knitting to do, hoorah.

Monday, June 06, 2005

time flies like a banana

This week in the world of this pig:

I am knitting Very Cherry. I bought some gorgeous chunky purple wool on Saturday and started knitting as soon as I got home. Trouble is, with chunky wool and thick needles, it's growing very fast. So soon I'll have a new top :-) but nothing to knit :-(. HP is also without a knitting project (although she should be revising) so we may be working together on something more experimental.

I have finished reading A Dance to the Music of Time, Anthony Powell's twelve novel sequence following the lives of a huge and interconnected set of characters. It starts somewhere in the 1920s and ends in the late 1960s, with occasional flashbacks to the childhood of the narrator, Nick Jenkins. I read it for the first time after seeing the TV version and my mental pictures of the characters are still influenced by their TV portrayals, especially Simon Russell-Beale as the monstrous Widmerpool. You could see the books as a sort of index by which to measure the progress of your life, in which case I'm somewhere between A Buyer's Market and The Acceptance World (Books 2 and 3). On the other hand, the books are rooted in specific times and settings, particularly books 7-9, which deal with the Second World War. These are probably the best of the sequence and are self-contained enough to be read without reading the preceding books. The war seems to happen offstage, as Jenkins spends his time first with a Welsh regiment, then working for Widmerpool and later in Allied Liaison in London.

The thing that did annoy me was the way in which the narrator knows EVERYBODY. Obviously, the novels wouldn't work without this. Characters recur in different situations, marry, divorce, change allegiances and jobs and by the end it becomes inevitable that wherever Jenkins goes, he will run into old friends, lovers and enemies, and that anyone he meets will confide in him secrets about everyone else. At least there are no Dickensian tyings together of all the plot strands into one tidy package, although with a few hundred characters, this would be a feat of literary engineering.

The good thing about reading a novel sequence is that for a few weeks deciding which book to read is easy. But now I've finished. So what next?

Wednesday, June 01, 2005


limestone holes
limestone holes

Originally uploaded by the pig wot flies.
Today I'm feeling flat and uninspired. This is possibly connected to the fact that I have to write an essay tonight. As usual I've left it to the last minute and I can't get my thoughts into a coherent order.

And it's a short week and I don't know what day it is.

And for some reason thinking about whether or not to go to a meeting in Bulgaria is flumoxing me.