Monday, June 28, 2010

...until tomorrow I'll just keep moving on

Tonight is the last night I'll be spending in the flat that's been my home for the last four and a half years. Soon after starting my post-doc position back in 2005 I decided to embark on the property ladder and (after some deliberations about whether to buy somewhere on my own or not) along with my flatmate bought a newly built flat in the salubrious Ruchill district of north Glasgow. After just over seven years of living together (counting the prior time we rented together) our flat sharing partnership is now coming to an end, ending my longest home sharing partnership outside my parental home. It's sad to be leaving a place that's been my home for the longest period other than my 18 stay at my parent's house. It's also sad to be leaving somewhere that I've part owned, which adds more of a personal element to leaving than just getting out of rented accommodation. However, I am looking forward to finally, after nearly 30 years of life, having my own place as I am moving into a flat (albeit renting) alone.

Anyway, here's to Ruchill Street and all who sail within her. I will miss you and wish you well.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

It's a knock out

So there we go! The England team have been knocked out in the second round of the World Cup in a 4-1 thrashing by Germany. It was a very deserved win by the Germans too, although they didn't have to play much outside themselves to beat the team they were up against. We've been consistently poor this World Cup and there'll be a lot of blame to spread around - I'm sure the newspapers will have a field day tomorrow, and Capello's definitely going to be parting ways with his job (in his post-match interview he seemed to think we'd played well, which is taking trying to be diplomactic to a new level). The over exaggeration of our performance that followed our slight upturn in form from the Slovenia game hid what was clear to see from the earlier games - the team didn't seem to know how to play together. I have to mention it (although I'm not using it as an excuse), but the game did produce a howling error from the refereeing officials for not seeing Lampard's goal, which may or may not lead to a FIFA rethink on introducing goal line technology (I've argued against video ref decisions before, but in these situations I can see it probably should be introduced).

In the past in tournaments we have generally upped our game playing against the better teams, but that didn't happen at all this time round. It's very disappointing to see, but it actually lessens the blow of our failure quite a lot (for me at least) - it's far harder to take going out when we've played well and deserved to progress. The blow was also lessened by watching the game at home rather than in a pub in Glasgow, where in many places I'm sure there was much delight in our defensive failures and inability to make any sort of coherent attack. I think now I'm going put my support behind Germany - despite their young team they have some very good players (Özil and Schweinsteiger in particular) who could do well (although they may have to face Argentina in the next round). It's also a bit less humiliating(!?) to go out to the eventual winners.

Monday, June 21, 2010

King of the mountains

Last weekend saw the third bike ride of my new cycle ownership regime. This time, as promised in my last post on the subject, we took a route that didn't just go along nice flat canals and did indeed have some hilly elements to it. The ride was up to Mugdock Country Park. Prior to the cycle we'd had a look on sustrans for the route and thought we had a good idea of where to go - basically follow the River Kelvin up to near Bardowie Loch and then along another bit of cycle route towards Milngavie. We did start by following the Kelvin before having to move onto a road-bound section of the route at the West of Scotland Science Park. We then never actually regained the Kelvin and just ended up cycling up the main road to Milngavie (home to the starting point of the West Highland Way). This is one of those places that are very close to Glasgow, but I'd still never been to, so it was nice to see. After wandering through the centre of Milngavie trying to work out the best way to the park, which we new should be just to the north, we happened upon a road called Mugdock Road, which we figured should take us in the right direction. Indeed it did, although it also meant going up the steepest climb we'd yet attempted - I started to have to properly learn to use my gears. We entered the park at a random point and tried heading towards the visitors centre. Unfortunately it turned out that to get there you had to traverse lots of steep uneven slopes (done via pushing rather than riding the bikes), only to get near the top (but still about a kilometre away from the castle and visitors centre) to find it impassable to bikes (and fat people) due to a very narrow and awkward stone stile-thing. This was probably done to stop mountain bikers using the route, but is was rather annoying. We headed back down and just randomly cycled round to bits of the park that were accessible, stopping for a packed lunch near a river.

We headed back to Milngavie, but wanted to try and find a different route home - maybe even the one we'd tried to travel up. We attempted to follow some signs to Allander Water, which also pointed to Glasgow, and involved a nice (flat) route along a river on which we saw a Kingfisher (or at least a bird that had a bright blue back and orange tummy and looked incredibly Kingfisher-esque). Unfortunately this just led us to a main road with no sign of a continuing cycle route - sustrans seemed to be lying (although the route it seemed to be showing us on Saturday seems to have disappeared from the websites today - suspicious!) We decided to just head back the way we came.

The cycle wasn't as long as our previous two, but the was some actual climbing of hills and offroad action, which provided a bit more of a test than before.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

It starts (again)

The World Cup is back with us! It'll be a fun month. Fun, but also filled with intensely nerve wracking, heart in mouth, excited, nauseating tension when watching England play (hopefully I won't work myself up into this state again). So far I've seen at least bits of all the games except the South Korea vs Greece game - not too much spark in the tournament yet, but I'm sure it'll pick up.

Yesterday saw England's first match of the tournament with a game against the USA. Our group is, or at least should be, a relatively easy one to qualify from (unlike group D, who's teams are playing today, which may be this World Cup's group of death!), but as usual we want to make it hard for ourselves. Before the game started I managed to get myself into the normal pre-match bundle of nervous energy, which everyone knows is best tempered by beer. When the game kicked off it was hard not to fear the worst, but after a goal from Steven Gerrard in the fourth minute (which due to ITV HDs slight hiccup, we missed) things settled down a bit and I could relax slightly more. We generally seemed to dominate the game from then on, but up front weren't producing much to test the US keeper. The nightmare struck when a reasonably long range effort on our goal by Clint Demspsey was woefully mishandled by keeper Robert Green and carried on into the net just before half time. We made a good attempt on the break after the restart, but went in at half time 1-1. There were some good pieces of play by England in the second half, but still we lacked anyone able to finish - in fact the US were closest to getting a goal, only denied by the ball luckily rebounding off Green (or maybe he produced a save, but I don't know how much he knew about it) and onto the post rather than into the net. We pressed forward more towards the end and kept the ball in the US half (which was good as we could easily be outpaced at the back, especially if they took on the aged, and now rather slow, Jamie Carragher), but it ended 1-1. It's not a score that's the end of the world, but it would have been nice to start with a high. From the looks of the other two teams (Slovenia managed a 1-0 win over Algeria earlier today, but it was through another goalkeeping howler) they should pose too much threat, but then again who knows what might happen!

Monday, June 07, 2010

Standard service

Yesterday I travelled out to Hannover for a collaboration meeting. As per usual I checked luggage in at the airport. I probably could have managed to get away with having hand luggage only (it would have required a slightly more conservative packing attitude than I normally have, but was easily possible), but despite certain previous problems I like to entrust my luggage with the airline and let my bags travel unaccompanied in the belly of the plane (I'm sure bags are more comfortable in this environment, travelling with their baggy brethren, rather than being stuffed into an overhead locker) - everyone else I was travelling with was less trusting/more sensible. My lack of luck with bags making it to meeting's with me has become legendary, although is probably now exaggerated beyond reality, so when we were waiting at the baggage carrousel my travelling companions were less than convinced I'd be reunited with my luggage. I was still optimistic to the last, but my bag did not appear. I knew the drill that I had to follow and left my details for forwarding my bag when it undoubtedly would arrive - the best case was that it would just be on the later flight from Amsterdam. And indeed it was - I was reunited with my clothes later that evening after returning from the pub. I am not cursed!

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Flight to the lakes

Several months ago I heard that Flight of the Conchords were playing in Glasgow at the SECC. I'm a big fan and thought it would be very nice to see them. Tickets went on sale at 9am on a Friday morning and I knew that they'd be popular, but still I stupidly didn't go online straight away to buy them. I went to the gym instead. It was about 10:30am before I made my attempt to purchase tickets, but alas every site I tried was sold out. My dream of seeing the Kiwi comedians was over...

But wait! My flatmate hadn't been quite so lax in his ticket buying and had been online at the right time. He bought ample tickets with a spare one that he kindly offered me. So it was the case that a few weeks ago I was able to go to see them in concert. It was a very good gig. I was very impressed by Bret and Jemaine's singing voices and the way in which they (seemingly) improvised around technical problems. They played the majority of their classics, bowing down (or so it seemed) to audience pressure for a couple of songs. There was a bit of playing around with some of the songs, which didn't work on all occasions, but mainly added to the show. It wasn't just a show of song after song (it kind of a comedy gig too) and inbetween songs there was a lot of banter with the crowd and even jokes designed to run through the show. The gig overran, but no-one minded and the finale was pretty awesome.

Now for a change of story...

I had to run away from the gig pretty quickly as I had to get to bed to be up early. My girlfriend and I were travelling down to the Lake District in the morning to stay at a holiday home owned by her parents. We were up at 6am for the drive and made it down to Ambleside just after 10am. We weren't due to enter the cottage until 4pm, so started the holiday with a walk up Loughrigg. This has great views down over the Langdale Pikes and Grasmere. It wasn't the most challenging of hill walks, but was certainly challenging enough for two people not used to getting up a 6am. However, we made it over Loughrigg and down the other side to have lunch at Chesters - a nice, if slightly pretentious, restaurant-cum-interior decoration store, with very nice cakes. Getting back to Ambleside we were able to get into the holiday home, which was very nicely done up. We had to have a brief snooze before heading out for dinner at Ambleside's (if not the UK's!) finest Vegetarian restaurant - again very nice.

The next day saw us take a walk up to Grasmere (I think I'd been before on a school trip back in 1994) - we were attempting to follow instructions from my girlfriend's dad to give us the route, but we failed to take the planned path and ended up walking mainly along the main road to Grasmere. Grasmere was very pretty, but (in a similar way to Ambleside) seems entirely based around tourism - it's all lovely cafe's, restaurant, outdoor gear stores, or quaint crafty shops. It's great to visit, but isn't necessarily a taste of the real Lake District. We were able to get a very nice lunch there though (I forget the name of the cafe) again with particular note of the cakes - this place was famous for it's lemon meringue pie, which I had. We took a more scenic route back via some caves and hilly bits - we didn't see much wildlife, but saw many sheep and lambs, including a lamb that was a bit too adventurous and got stuck behind a wall next to a river.

We only had the weekend away, but the start of our drive back to Glasgow saw us stop off at a really nice pub called The Queens Head near Troutbeck. I was able to get a proper Sunday roast after a weekend of mainly being vegetarian/cake-arian [Update: I have been corrected by my girlfriend who reminded me that I had actually had a sausage sandwich for lunch that day - and very nice it was too]. It set me up for the drive home.