Posts Tagged With: life

The Back Six

Six trips. One month. Nuremberg, Portland, Lancaster, Cambridge, Coventry and Eridge. July.

A rather grainy view of the German heatwave, in a tiny town outside Nureumberg.

A rather grainy view of the German heatwave, in a tiny town outside Nureumberg.

The summer of 2013 was real. Temperatures were regularly into the ‘shorts’ region, with maximums between “ah, that’s nice” to “bloody hell, where’s the cold water?”. At Portland, the rock was practically sweating, despite deceptively chilly sea temperatures; formal jackets for a German wedding were quickly discarded post-ceremony; and there was carnage in Cambridge as every man and his dog grimly gripped poles and pushed their way down the river. August brought some relief.

An image of a man about to slide down a boulder in Brimham.

Easy grit. The pleasure of pitting skin against stone is uniquely, er, exfoliating. Or excruciating. Take your pick.

Brimham Rocks, in Yorkshire, is a wonderful place. It’s as though some demented rock-giant haphazardly slammed a bunch of pancakes and scones together in piles. And made them into rocks. Or something like that. They’re just so strange. It was my first taste of outdoor bouldering (low-height rock climbing without ropes) and I can’t think of a better place to explore as an introduction.

I also tasted bitter defeat as an Australian in the crowd on the decisive fourth day at the Durham Ashes test. It was entertaining, but not the kind of climax we’d hoped for.

Oh well. It got better. September.

Monk Mountain.

Monk Mountain.

Two weeks in Greece emphatically underlined the most active northern summer of my life. The view above was my first glimpse of the beauty I’d not really expected from this part of the world. Halkidiki was a wilderness of tiny coves, clear water and secluded beaches. Hiking the Vikos gorge and gazing across Meteora added adventure, and Santorini didn’t fail to deliver postcard-perfect sunsets.

I didn’t take any pictures in October.

The year hadn’t really been about photography for me. It was about exploring. And, well, it all came crashing to a halt in October. The days were getting shorter, my bank balance was cowering in terror every time I went near a cash machine, and I was just plain worn out. So my camera was parked on a shelf. Oh, and I started Spanish lessons. And played a heck of a lot of new board games. That was fun.

Here’s a bonus photo: finding space in the last moments of light…

November already? Where did the year go? Ah, that’s right. It went to Fontainebleau on a rock star bus with all the cool kids.

If you’d told me before I left Australia that, one day, I’d be sweating my way through a crushing crowd in a London Underground tunnel, dressed in a ski jacket and lugging a big portable crash pad, I’d probably have backed carefully away from you then called the police.

But that’s only because time travellers and prophets are dangerous.

The surging tube crowds safely (and uncomfortably) negotiated, we jumped aboard the Boulder Bus, a 15-sleeper tour bus complete with seedy LED strip lighting and actual legroom in the bunks. A French patisserie was like a beacon in the pre-dawn, and we eagerly filled up on fresh treats before entering the Magic Forest.

No, seriously. The forest is magic. This picture proves it.

No, seriously. The forest is magic. This picture proves it.

I’m really not sure what my fascination is with climbing on top of rocks in an inefficient and difficult way, but I suspect it’s a primal thing, like robot animals (that was the end of November). Anyway. December.

Slow shutter swans.

Slow shutter swans.

I’d have hated for the year to end quietly. A trip to explore the Jurassic coast near Swanage was the ideal time to unwind, cross Durdle Door off my list, eat fish and chips, drink ale and go for long walks. I didn’t even bother unpacking, because two days later I jumped on a train to Exeter, to train my second Green Steps course of the year. Bringing a switched-on group of students through major environmental and organisational issues and solutions over five intense days is a tough gig, but immensely rewarding. As my train hissed and sparked back through floodwaters late in the month, my mind was filled with big ideas.

It’s hard to think how I can top 2013 for the sheer quantity of mini-trips I squeezed in and how consistently excellent they turned out to be. 2014’s shaping up to be a different beast. I’ve done the England Sampler and dipped my toe across the Channel a few more times. I’m itching for a really big trip.


Categories: bouldering, climbing, Fun Things On Land, photos, Travel | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

The 6 Pictures From 2013 I Wouldn’t Have Lived Without, And You Shouldn’t Too

Sorry. Buzzfeed-style titles are just so inspirational.

Yes, it’s been a while – my longest break since I started this blog way back in the noughties. But there’s a new year to embrace and explore, so let’s take a whirlwind tour of 2013 through my lens and we can all move on, eh? Stop 1: January.

An image of a zombie on an escalator

Stirring the memory-beast that is ZombieLab is dangerous. It devoured 12,000 souls, and grew so large it almost became a victim of its own success. It spawned a BBC appearance for me (with a new job title), dragged the public into peer-reviewed research, and turned January into a dark, demented blur of a month. Let’s move on swiftly. February.

An image of the JASMA demo team doing Tai Chi in Leicester Square

This year, I’ve been learning Wing Chun kung fu at the Jeffrey Alexander School of Martial Arts. On a freezing, rainy Chinese New Year afternoon, the team took to the stage in Leicester Square. Martial arts are a total departure from the freestyle sports I’ve spent most of my life pursuing, with a strong structure, long history and strict training environment. I’m loving the challenge.

Not much else sticks in my mind from February. It was a short, cold month, and I was having the mother of all work-hangovers. I was prepared to plunge into powder, so let’s move on to March.

An image of off-piste skiiers in a tree run in Meribel

I’ve had more dreams about Meribel than anywhere else I’ve visited (link goes to video of the trip). I couldn’t contain my sense of awe as we rode up the gondola on the first day, emerging from the tree-line to a breathtaking panorama of the snow-covered Meribel valley in the French Alps. Six days of good conditions, great company and a sport that has saturated my mind with a desire for more…

Before I get trapped in endless daydreams, we’ll scurry on to April.

Scientists from the Antarctic at the Science Museum

My job at the Science Museum is more than just zombie-herding. In April, I invited scientists studying space weather in to the Museum to show off their work. They brought the Antarctic camping kit they’d lived in for their field trials. Cool.

The year’s been a really positive one at the Museum. I’ve created live events of all shapes and sizes, developed gallery updates, produced films about state of the art 3D printing, and so much more. It’s a ridiculously diverse role and I’m lucky to work with a brilliant bunch. Long May it continue.

An image of David on a Rock

Ah, yes. That happened. While I didn’t win a dream job in Queensland, I did get to run around London for two days with a crocodile and kangaroo, and met an array of people I’d never otherwise have crossed paths with. But it was an exhausting and intimidating two weeks, not least because I was also helping assemble a new display about brain mapping at work.

Later in the month I took off for a deep breath of fresh Italian air, finding some invaluable head-space with a trip to the Puglia region. A day exploring Monte Sant’Angelo was just magic. One word to describe the contrast between bouncing through Trafalgar Square in a Park Ranger costume and sitting alone in the sun-drenched backstreets of an Italian mountain village: stark.

Let’s wrap this instalment with June.

A climber at Portland, Dorset, sport climbing at Blacknor

Portland. The limestone one, not the hipster one. It was the first place in England that genuinely shocked me with its natural beauty. The second day of June was crisp, stunning and blue, and I experienced my first outdoor lead climbing on white cliffs overlooking the glassy Atlantic. Lead climbing still holds mental demons for me, and I plan to wrestle with them more in the coming year. Next time, it’ll be me doing battle with the flake line in the picture.

The summer of 2013 was, frankly, ridiculous. If I’ve tallied it correctly, I stayed in London for a grand total of 3 full weekend days between May and October; everything else was spent exploring England and Europe. So keep your antennae tuned for part 2 of my 2013 wrap. Expect stories of German caves, Brimham boulders, Eclectic games, Santorini sunsets, punting, castles, French forests and flooded Devon streets…

Pro Tip: If you click on the images in this post, you’ll get to see a secret bonus image from each month. Some are related to what I’ve talked about; others are just, well, things. Go on then. You know you want to.

Categories: climbing, Fun Things On Land, photos, Science, Thoughts, Travel | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Two distinct people

I’m transfixed by the images of my past life. Stars, waves and open spaces adorn my walls, reminding me that the world of 2010 was one that had a profound impact on my life. I was on an ‘endless quest for new‘, which has continued unabated for the 30 months since I wrote that post, my past self brimming with inspiration and freshness and self-confidence and, well, bragging.

Yorke Peninsula Star Trail

The moon sets orange over the water, stars streaking across the clear night sky…

The job I’m in now is close to a dream. I’m working with a team of people I really like, surrounded by stunning historical science stories and tasked with finding and drawing attention to new ones. But when I get home I am mentally battered by huge issues of the world. They make me question whether what I am doing now is what I want to be able to reflect back on. Issues I have a burning passion for – environmental ones, mainly, but not exclusively – seem impossibly distant and difficult, but also pressing and existential. And when I look at what I am spending dozens of hours per week on – really look at where the time goes, not what emerges – I feel doubt.

And then I go and read this:

So you look at your life, and the two countries that hold it, and realize that you are now two distinct people. As much as your countries represent and fulfill different parts of you and what you enjoy about life, as much as you have formed unbreakable bonds with people you love in both places, as much as you feel truly at home in either one, so you are divided in two. For the rest of your life, or at least it feels this way, you will spend your time in one naggingly longing for the other, and waiting until you can get back for at least a few weeks and dive back into the person you were back there. –Chelsea Fagan

The whole article hit me pretty hard. London has held me for longer than I anticipated, and it is continuing to plant hooks into me. I’ve made more new and diverse friends in the past 4 months than I have in any time since I first settled into Clayponds. Throwing myself into climbing and joining a Chinese martial arts class has connected me with people who share very little with me but are willing to share a lot.

Twenty Four Forms Tai Chi

Katie leading some of the JASMA demo team in a Tai Chi demonstration at Leicester Square for Chinese New Year

And the stories of other people’s lives in the two places keep me guessing about my own. What’s left of me from 2010 is shouting for me to go back to Australia, to the culture and places and activities that let me live so much more in the moment than London does, equipped with new skills and experiences and a mind a little broader than it was before. 2013 me wonders what the hell I might actually do, if and when I return. London’s shown me tantalising glimpses of interesting futures, but the raw experience of a dark winter makes me shudder at the thought of another year here.

The exhortation I gave myself at the end of my road trip was, in the words of the Temper Trap song I chose, to “Go, don’t stop now, go.” But last week, while being interviewed about my experience with ZombieLab, I was asked if I had a ‘personal motto’, and found myself at a dead loss (it was a little awkward). How do I know where to “go”?

I realise that what I feel is, simultaneously, unique to me and shared by thousands, or millions, of people, present and past. It’s the classic ‘what should I do with my life’ conundrum. I’m under no illusions that there are answers, or that this is even of passing interest to people reading this post. But I’m curious to know: how do you choose your life? Have you faced the ex-pat dilemma? Have you found yourself in a role that just didn’t seem to fit, even though it was a good one? And how did you react?

Categories: environmentalism, Problems, Thoughts | Tags: | 1 Comment

Use your lives

This is a little bit creepy, but I love the message it’s preaching. Courtesy of the occasionally deep, typically crass SMBC.

Let’s see. Discount high school, that was a lifetime of general academic stuff and a bit of social skills.

Science: 4 years of degree, 3 years of research = 7 years. Tick!

Science communication: 2 years. Maybe 3 if you add up the miscellaneous stuff.

Bodyboarding: 8 years (as last two don’t count). Errr, yeah, not so much mastered on this one.

Rock climbing: 1 year.

Photography: 4 years. But nowhere near consistently enough, so I’m halving that to two.

And that’s not even counting all the other random little things I do or want to do. Lots of lives left to explore.

What life have you spent most of your time in, and what is your next one going to be?

Categories: Thoughts | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

Dancing by the river

Busy times. I had to help plan and then run Lottolab’s last major Lates event for the foreseeable future. It went well – I think I’m starting to get the hang of this event management lark – though it was still tiring and stressful. The easiest part of the day was when the event was on, which still seems paradoxical, because it feels like I should be the busiest when the gallery is jam packed with people.

Today was all about dealing with the aftermath. It was a slow process. The unseasonal warmth was welcome on the walk home, though, and I took the scenic route along the Thames as the sun set. There was a funny sight – a guy pulled his bike up on the broad pathway, leaned it on the rail, and just started throwing down dance moves.

He was really getting into it, and he definitely didn’t look like a regular dancer – a little overweight, dressed in cycling gear. Good on him.

Anyway, hopefully I’ll be able to get back on the writing train soon. I’ve been reading Heat by George Monbiot and it is depressing but also reawakening my urge to grab the world by the collar and shake it until it starts behaving better.

Oh, and Underwater Sculptures, because they are cool (click on the image to visit the site):

Categories: Thoughts | Tags: | Leave a comment

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