Category Archives: Feelings

Ah, Cambridge…

What can I say about Cambridge? It’s so very different from Newcastle that I don’t know where to start. Some of the things I’m listing pertain to my new and old neighborhoods specifically, but I think they’re characteristic.

Some things I notice that I like:

  • It’s full of Italians.
  • I can get to London in 45 minutes, which means I can attend Polyphony Down the Pub on occasion. (And a senior off-peak day return ticket costs only £16.40.)
  • It’s full of bicycles, and the infrastructure facilitates them. (When I’m fully back on my feet I may buy one.)
  • They recycle just about everything. Including food waste.
  • The colleges at the university are gorgeous.
  • The bus fare machines don’t spit out a useless paper ticket if you’ve used a pass.
  • There are a lot of local greengrocers and other shops with fruit/veg on display outside.
  • It’s easy to get good Chinese food without paying through the nose.
  • It’s awash in science. Science parks, science campuses, research organisations…
  • The river is puntable. Haven’t done it yet but am considering it.
  • It has a rather intellectual atmosphere, to some extent.
  • It should have more early music. I haven’t found it yet, but I’m told it’s there. Once I’ve got my impending new hip in and working well…
  • Pubs are reasonably likely to serve Aspall cyder. It is close to Suffolk, after all…
  • It doesn’t have a seriously ugly part right in the city centre. (Newcastle peeps, you know I’m referring to the eastern side of Pilgrim Street and that general area, and you know it’s true.)
  • It has a bustling outdoor market right in the city centre. Seven days a week.
  • My neighborhood is not nearly as swarming with students as my Newcastle neighborhood was (which is less now than it used to be). My next-door neighbors on both sides are very nice, and we have good conversations. Some things in common.
  • My office and officemates are nearby.

Some things I notice that I don’t like:

  • They recycle food waste. Which means we have to hang onto it for two weeks until they come around and empty the green bin.
  • It’s not very well served by public buses. Not compared with Newcastle, anyway.
  • It’s despairingly flat. People tell me it will grow on me and I must visit the fens. Stay tuned.
  • There is no castle.
  • The surrounding area has almost no ruined castles or abbeys.
  • There is no indoor market. (I quickly got spoiled by Grainger Market.)
  • Although there are some impressive churches, there is no cathedral. For that you have to go to Ely. (Which I plan to do fairly soon.)
  • There is no river gorge with several impressive bridges crossing it — the Cam River is not very wide and its banks are low. (Don’t even think of bringing up the Bridge of Sighs. I’ve been to Venice. Several times.)
  • It’s swarming with bicycles. When I’m driving, this makes me just a teeny bit nervous.
  • There are a lot of modern, sterile apartment buildings.
  • The Apple Store has a long waiting list for Genius Bar appointments.
  • There aren’t any back lanes where they could put community bins or even make it easier to put out our wheelie bins. We have to drag the wheelie bins around to the front, find a place to put them amidst the squeezed-in parked cars, and then drag them back around to the back.
  • The water is rather hard. Every time I go back north, I am reminded of how much my hair likes the water there.
  • My neighborhood doesn’t have parking permits. Sometimes I have to park in the next block or even on the next street over.
  • It gets HOT here. Last September I was here for a few days when the high temperature was 34C (93F). Whew!
  • It takes a lot longer to get to a decent airport. (I don’t count as decent any airport that’s served mostly by Ryanair.)
  • It almost never snows here, they tell me, other than a light dusting.
  • It takes a bit of effort to get to the coast, and even more to get to any hills to speak of.
  • Much less active local RSA chapter.
  • And of course — it’s expensive. I’m paying roughly twice the rent I paid in Newcastle, for an unfurnished place that has slightly more room inside (and admittedly a large-ish back garden). Asking prices of houses for sale are even more out of line.

This list is probably biased by the fact that I’ve just spent a weekend in Newcastle and had a day out in Northumberland. Once I’m really settled in — substantially recovered from hip surgery and able to move reasonably well again (which includes being able to finish unpacking from my move) — I’m sure that my increased ability to explore will increase the size of my positive list. I’ll post further impressions as the mood strikes me.

It never gets old

I’ve lived in the UK for more than four years now. At the moment, I’m doing a fair amount of travelling for work — mostly from Newcastle to Cambridge or Macclesfield and back. As this morning’s train passed through the misty hills of County Durham, I found myself thinking, yet again, that travelling within the UK still gives me a sense of being on vacation. People often ask me why I feel more energized living in the UK, and I think this is a large part of it. I had visited the UK a couple of dozen times or so before moving here, so even when I’m working hard or spending time in a less-than-idyllic setting, life here always brings me a faint whiff of holiday. Even when I’m grousing about separate hot and cold taps or being called “Mrs” without being asked, there’s just something about the atmosphere…

Well, dear Brits, I’m afraid you’re stuck with me for another five years

About 20 minutes before I had to leave my flat this morning, a knock sounded loud on my door. I knew immediately what it was: the answer from my application for a Tier 2 General visa. And it was a yes!

my biometric residence permit (privacy details redacted)I had been dreaming that this prize would arrive before I left, but I didn’t dare hope it would actually come this soon. But it did, and I’m delighted! I now have a permit to live and work in the UK through 3 January 2022. (The “Restricted Work” note means tthat I have to work for the company that sponsored me and that any additional work I might do has to be in the same category.) I wasn’t seriously worried that the Home Office would reject my application, but until they had actually said yes my inner catastrophizer was hard at work.

Once I had received my Certificate of Sponsorship from Sigma, I used the UK Visas and Immigration’s (UKVI’s) Priority Service, which guaranteed me a decision within two weeks of my submitting my application. (I submitted the application online and all document exchanges were done by post/mail.) They made their decision in eight days and I received my permit two days later. Well done, UKVI!

And Merry Christmas to me!


…that I haven’t dreamed about my PhD before now.

A couple of nights ago I dreamed that I had my viva and they gave me a result of “Second, with distinction”. That doesn’t make any sense, because as far as I know only a bachelor’s degree gets a first, second, etc., and “with distinction” doesn’t apply to a second-class degree anyhow. But that was my dream. It meant, I think, that I’m anxious about how well I’m going to do.

It doesn’t help that I’m having problems with my main laptop. I’m not going to rehash the story here, but Apple still haven’t come up with a diagnosis/solution that make the problem go away. It’s seriously getting in the way of my productivity, and I’m really glad I never got around to selling my old one. It doesn’t have the memory, speed, or storage of the newer one, and it weighs a lot more, but it suffices as an interim solution.

It’s been quite a week

It’s been quite a week.

First, the best news: I got word that Sigma UK‘s application for a visa sponsor licence has been approved. That’s a big step in the process of my getting a work visa, and I’m delighted! Now they have to issue me a Certificate of Sponsorship, and then I can apply for my visa. Not sure exactly how long all that will take, but I’m confident I’ll have a work visa before my student visa expires in mid-February.

Next, the mixed news. I had my mock viva this week and got really helpful feedback. Both supervisors said it was extremely well written (it’s always nice to receive praise, but I confess I place greater value on feedback that’s actually news to me); the panel said the contributions to knowledge are sufficient for a PhD but I need to convey them more fully. My primary supervisor and I met afterward, and he had a brilliant idea for how I can fill in that gap. The reason this news is mixed is that I won’t be able to make all the changes in time for a mid-December submission of my thesis. I’m going to make as much progress as I can in the next three weeks, and at the end of the month we’re going to regroup and see where we stand. But this feedback and my supervisor’s idea filled in a space that had been worrying me for a while. Clarity is good.

Finally, the horrible news. I’m sure you know what that is. I won’t say much about the US presidential election here because I’ve said a lot on Facebook and this blog is about other things — so I’ll just write this one paragraph. I’m horrified and disgusted. I know that a lot of people voted for Trump because they felt themselves to be in more and more dire straits economically and wanted a change, and some trusted his promise to go “pro-life”; but his election has unleashed a backlash (or a “whitelash”, as some call it) of bullying and violence against people of color and LBGTQ people, and I refuse to let Trump voters pretend they didn’t know that that would happen. I hope we can stem it.

I also want to say that I’m glad I was already making moves to stay in the UK. I’ve heard a lot of Americans say they want to leave the US, and I like to think that if I hadn’t already been planning to stay here I wouldn’t have done so purely because of the election.

They say that…

They say that writin’ up is hard to do,
Now I know, I know that it’s true.
Do say that this is the end.
Instead of writin’ up I wish that
I could lighten up again…

(with apologies to Neil Sedaka)

The best kind of compliment

Last night I received an email from another graduate student doing research in techno-spirituality. This woman is in a different university, in a different country, and in a different area of techno-spirituality — her research involves Islamic applications, mainly for helping elderly people conduct their spiritual and religious practices. She has asked my input from time to time, and now she’s finishing her thesis. She wrote me last night that the alt.chi paper that my supervisor and I published three years ago — “Spirituality – There’s an App for That (but not a lot of research)” was the primary motivation for her study.

It’s a nice feeling of accomplishment to be considered and cited as an expert in my field. I find it far more gratifying, though, to know that my work inspires and motivates others.

I love this work.

Online dating

Tonight I’m here to confess that I have begun exploring online dating. I’m not going to give any details about how it’s going (I’ve gotta keep some things to myself, eh?* :-) but I will say one thing: There are a lot of fakes out there. And I am learning to spot them rather quickly. (OK, that’s two things. But they’re intimately related.)

Two guys tried to convince me that they had grown up in Italy. (Heh heh. My profile doesn’t mention that I speak Italian.) So I wrote to these guys in Italian. One pretended that he had been away so long he had forgotten most of what he had learned as a child, and the other insisted on using English because I am American and I “wouldn’t understand Italian very well”. So I called their bluff. (Fortunately, automatic translators have not yet reached the point where their output would be mistaken for natural speech.) Haven’t heard from either of them again — which is A Good Thing. ;-)

Other red flags I’ve noticed are:

  • “I don’t know how to describe myself. Ask me anything.” They want to find out what you care about, without revealing anything.
  • Describing who they are and what they’re looking for in language that sounds like what they think women want to hear (sensitive, communication, etc.)
  • Refusal to answer questions about what prompted them to move to where they live and what they like and dislike about it. (I want to know what makes someone tick.)
  • Pushing to move to direct contact (phone, usually) before any correspondence of any substance has been exchanged

I’m sure I’ll identify more red flags with time. There’s probably a list somewhere, too; I haven’t looked. My friend Dave says these people have a manual that tells them what to write and how to respond to people they’re trying to con. Another friend (the one who encouraged me to do this, btw) reminded me of the usefulness of Google, especially its reverse image search, in which you upload an image and it finds similar images on the web. In doing this I found that one guy was using photos from an Australian actor’s website. My friend and I often say to each other, “Geeks with Google, FTW!”

I should also reassure my friends that I am keeping myself safe. Just for communications resulting from these contacts, I have created a new email address and bought a cheap (99p!) pay-as-you-go (what we call “prepaid” in the US) mobile/cell phone. The phone number cannot be traced to me, and I won’t give anyone my regular number until I am truly confident I can trust him. So far I have met one guy in person (nice guy but no chemistry) and followed the guidelines: meet in a public place, tell a friend where you’re going, tell the friend what time you’ll text or ring them to let them know you’re safe… I have also talked to four guys on the phone — one is fake, two may become friends but aren’t good matches, and the fourth may be a possibility (and without going into detail about how I came to this conclusion, I will say that I trust him enough that I gave him my regular phone number) and I look forward to meeting him in person (which won’t happen until next month, for scheduling reasons). We may turn out not to be a good match, but at least I am in no doubt that he is who he says he is, and I’m confident that he’s a good guy. And that’s not such a bad thing.

*Besides, one or more of the guys may someday read this. Not gonna make that an uncomfortable thing, nuh-uh.

Homesick for snow

My Maryland house in the snow

My Maryland house from my neighbor’s,
early in the January 2014 snowfall.
(Photo by Mary Donovan)

Just last night I expressed how much I hate the hot summers in DC. Today I’m thinking about how much I miss the winters. They’re having lots of snow this year (here we’re not — I’ve seen only one light dusting so far), and my house in Maryland has two woodstoves. (Well, OK, it had one when I lived there; the other was installed in my new space just before I moved to the UK.) I remember how much I loved building a fire and tending it all day, with the snow piling up outside. After it gets going, the woodstove in the den will heat the whole main floor all by itself if the outside temperature is not much below freezing. And what a lovely smell!

Snow gives me a sense of peacefulness and calm that I find nowhere else (except in singing Renaissance polyphony); I’m far more cheerful than usual. I didn’t even mind shoveling my 60-foot front walk.

The last time I felt homesick was the Fourth of July last year (my first July 4 here). I think I’m going to create a page (under “Living”) about things that make me homesick. (There are lots of things I miss, but not many that make me actually feel nostalgic for being there.) Stay tuned.

Newcastle is good for my health

I’m finally ready to write about this. I’ve passed a milestone — the 25-pound mark. I’ve dropped almost 27 pounds since my first checkup with my UK GP last January. True, 27 pounds in more than a year is pretty slow, but actually I was a slug last winter and I’ve been working on this only since the middle of August. I’m averaging 0.9 pounds a week, and although I’d be happier if it were faster I’ve got a regime I can live with and manage comfortably, and at my age a pound a week is nothing to be embarrassed about.

It all started last spring, when I noticed that my feet and ankles were getting somewhat swollen at the end of the day. At first I thought it was left over from two transatlantic flights I had made in March, but it hung around. So my GP put me on a diuretic. That didn’t help much, though. So I naturally turned to the Web. I found information provided by the UK National Health Service and the US National Library of Medicine, both of whom said that fluid retention — edema (or “œdema” in the UK) — might be exacerbated by eating too much in the way of carbohydrates. I also discovered the “Two-Day Diet“, which has you eat very low carbs for two days a week (preferably consecutive days) and then eat moderately for the other five. I’ve been on a modified version of that for six months now (I have a little more fat and dairy than they call for on the two days), and I can say I’m more comfortable with it than I’ve been with any other program I’ve tried. And of course we know that the most successful program is the one you can stick with. By the end of the two days I’d kill for a few rich tea biscuits with (no-sugar-added) peanut butter, but I actually find that it’s easier to eat moderately the rest of the week after I’ve gone VLC for two days. I treat myself occasionally, and as long as it’s occasional enough (a dessert once or twice during the five days) I don’t feel bad about it at all.

The other thing I’m doing is getting more exercise. Last year, for example, I rode the Northumbria Shuttle bus whenever I needed to go to the Squires building or the library. This year I’m walking — it’s only just over half a mile, ferpeetsake. I walk to Grainger Market at least twice a week for fruit&veg (as well as chicken and eggs, but I don’t buy those every time), and sometimes I walk downtown and back twice in a day. (Sometimes I stay at home all day, but we’ll pretend that that doesn’t matter.) I aim to average three miles a day, and although I’m not recording my walking (I just notice, at the end of each day, how many steps I’ve walked that day) I think that’s about what I’m averaging.

Why, you may ask, couldn’t I have done this in Maryland? I could have done the eating plan, of course, but the walking is a different matter. Four good reasons come to mind:

  1. Access. Shopping is not easily walkable from my house in Maryland. The grocery stores are about the same distance from the house as Grainger Market and Morrisons are from my flat in Newcastle, but to reach either of them (and I detest Safeway, so Giant is really the only choice) I’d have to cross catty-corner one of two major intersections that have three lanes of traffic in each direction. Also, I bring my Grainger Market shopping home on the bus, and the buses don’t run as close to my Maryland house as they do to my flat.
  2. Temperature. For five months or so in Maryland, it’s just too damn hot. In Newcastle, when it gets up to about 23C, people start complaining about how hot it is. (I just laugh. :-) But the DC area usually has at least four months of temps above 30 each day, including probably a month or more of temps 35 or higher. I’ve long said that if I lived someplace where it never got above 30 I’d be in heaven.
  3. Appeal. The centre of Newcastle is just a nicer place to spend time in than is the commercial district of Wheaton. I know my Montgomery County peeps won’t like hearing that, but they should come visit and they’ll see. (Half of my route to the city centre is not all that appealing, but I can live with that.)
  4. Safety. Newcastle is far safer for a woman alone to walk around in, especially at night. Except in a few areas, in fact, it’s very safe, and I don’t worry about it.

One might argue that I could have improved the situation by moving into DC. It’s probably true that I would have had much better appeal and access than in Wheaton — perhaps even good enough — but there would still be that pesky heat. DC would be worse, in fact, as the city tends to run about 5F warmer than the part of suburban Maryland where I was living. I’m not sure how the safety compares in the urban areas of DC where I would consider living, but I can’t imagine they’d be as good as Newcastle. And they’d cost more.

Admittedly, I’m less inclined to get out and walk when it’s raining — especially because Newcastle is windy enough to make umbrellas impractical — but today I did it (I needed to go to my GP’s and do my weekly weighing) and I was fine, if slightly damp. I do need to buy a very warm jacket that’s also waterproof — my down jacket is plenty warm enough, but it’s not even remotely water resistant, and I don’t always want to wear my rain poncho over it. (By the time I thought of that this year, nobody had any left in my size.)

I’m feeling better — more energetic and slightly more flexible. I’m not yet seeing much of a difference when I look in the mirror, but a couple of people have remarked on it and my clothes are definitely looser, so I know it’s happening. (Loose jeans in the winter are a good thing, too, as I can wear thermal long underwear beneath them and save on my heating bill. :-) And my ankles are back to normal. (I’m elated about having found a solution to that problem that doesn’t involve medication!) I’m looking forward to improvements in my singing and my sleeping, as well.

Slowly, slowly — but steadily.