New Year, New Books

First of all, welcome to 2015! I hope you all had an excellent Christmas (or an excellent holiday if you don’t celebrate Christmas) and a brilliant New Year! I was nice and warm in bed when the clock struck 00:00 on New Year’s and it quite a productive evening for me. In order to fill the hours leading up to midnight I finished my book, Eugene Onegin by Pushkin, and evolved my Zubat on Pokémon Ruby, which was great because Zubat’s bloody useless until it’s evolved into Golbat, i.e. something decent.

Anyway, for Christmas, my Dad gave me a £50 Waterstones voucher, which was good because you can buy quite a number of books for £50. So, a few days after Christmas, my Mum and I went to Oxford because she wanted to go around the Ashmolean Museum, and the Waterstones in Oxford is bloody massive, which was ideal for me. I already knew one book I definitely wanted to get, which is Lamentations by CJ Sansom. It’s the latest book (just released) in the Matthew Shardlake series which I really like. So, after picking that up on the ground floor, I headed straight up to the fourth floor, which is where the best section is…the Philosophy section. The great thing about the Waterstones in Oxford is that its Philosophy and Popular Science sections are not only next to each other (which is very convenient) but both sections are massive.

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Look at that big, beautiful building. And all it contains is books.

So, after flitting between the two sections, scanning the bookshelves and picking up certain books for about half an hour, I’d made my choices. Altogether I ended up buying: Lamentations, The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks and The Logic Of Scientific Discovery Karl Popper. The Selfish Gene is a book I oft-quoted in A Level Philosophy, so I thought it’d be interesting to read. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat is by a fellow schoolmate of Jonathan Miller’s (Beyond the Fringe) and what it’s about is interesting (people with neurological disorders who experience things such as phantom limb pain and who can’t feel their limbs etc.). The Popper book sounded interesting and I know Popper from A Level Philosophy because of his arguments against logical positivism. So I thought it’d be interesting to read some of his stuff.

So that was my book haul that day. I already know a few books that I’m going to buy with what’s left on my Waterstones gift card (about £15 I think) so I’m looking forward to getting through these books so I can go out and buy more books.

Anyway, on a slightly different note, let’s talk poetry. Now, I’ve never really enjoyed poetry. I’ve never been into it and when we did the poetry module in GCSE English, I began to almost despise poetry, because we analysed about four poems to absolute death. And I mean it. We analysed the living shit out of these four poems and the whole nature of poetry became so analytical and clinical that I just didn’t like it. It’s like when someone explains a joke, hence ruining it forever. Once you analyse a poem, it’s ruined. It’s no longer a poem. It’s an intricate web of hidden meanings, metaphors, similies, emotions, moral messages…it’s like solving a scientific problem, like deciphering a code. It’s just not fun.

So doing GCSE poetry analysis kind of killed the whole thing for me, but I thought I’d try and read Eugene Onegin anyway. It’s a ‘novel in verse’ and I thought I’d give poetry another try and in all honesty, it was the first work of poetry I’ve actually genuinely enjoyed reading. It was just masterful. A bit weird, but brilliant all the same. Basically it’s a bit sad because Onegin and this young poet guy, Lensky (who’s Onegin’s friend), challenges Onegin to a pistol duel because Onegin was being a dick and flirting with the woman Lensky was engaged to. Anyway, this duel happens and Onegin shoots Lensky in the chest, killing him. It’s all just so futile, really. But that aside, the actual poetry was great. This is the stanza immediately following Onegin’s shooting of Lensky:

His hand upon his breast he presses

Softly, and falls, as, misty-eyed

His gaze not pain, but death expresses.

Thus, slowly, on a mountain-side

A mound of snow, already teetering,

Descends with sunny sparkles glittering.

Onegin, shuddering, swiftly flies,

To where young Vladimir lies,

He looks and calls…but there’s no power

Can bring him back. The youthful bard

Has met an untimely end. Hard

The storm has blown, the finest flower

Has withered at the morning’s dawn,

The fire upon the alter’s gone.

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‘Onegin and Lensky’s Duel’ by Ilya Repin.

It’s greatly tempted me to try some more poetry, but I know every poet’s very different and there’s a high probability I won’t like their stuff, but you’ve got to try these things, haven’t you? I might try some more 19th/early 20th Century Russian poets, because Russian literature of that era really does it for me.

So I’ve Actually Learned to Cook for Myself

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For anyone who doesn’t really know me, I’ll tell you right now that I am not a fan of the kitchen. Unless it’s for going in the fridge to get food, that is. I don’t like cooking and I couldn’t even tell you the name of half the utensils in the kitchen at my house. Before coming to university in late September, I’d cooked a total of three, perhaps four proper meals for myself (proper meals being anything more complicated than baked beans, tinned spaghetti and soup). So you could say my parents didn’t exactly have high hopes for me being able to fend myself food-wise upon leaving home.

For the first week I was at university, they were right. I was reluctant to actually cook a meal in the kitchen, so my food for the first week consisted of Uncle Ben’s rice, ready meals, toast, fruit and cereal bars. Not the healthiest diet, I’m sure you’ll agree. By week two however, even I was beginning to see the flaws in this kind of diet, so I wondered what options I had available to me and came up with these three:

  1. I continue on this diet of ready meals and snack foods and see how long it takes me to either run out of money or die
  2. Don’t cook for myself at all and starve to death
  3. Actually pull myself together and learn how to cook

So naturally, because I like to think that I do have some degree of intelligence, I chose option 3. So, the Monday of week two, I decided to go out and do a food shop for the week. Now this was a very daunting task for me because I’d never had to go on a full shop for myself and buy enough food to last me a week. However, after calling in a little of help from the mother and boyfriend (who’s been through university and therefore knows the do’s and don’ts of student shopping) I managed to complete this task.

For my first attempt at cooking for myself, I decided to set the bar rather low and start off with something elementary, i.e. pasta. With the advice from one of my flatmates, I managed to cook myself a decent meal. Nothing was burned, nothing set on fire and nothing was inedible, so in my mind I did a rather good job. Since then (it’s been nearly about two and a half months since I’ve started university) I’ve managed to perfect nearly all kinds of pasta dish and cook some other meals to a fair degree of deliciousness. For example, I cooked myself a miniature roast yesterday and since I’ve done that a few times now I managed to get the timings for all the various foods almost bang on.

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FullSizeRender3 This book (bestowed upon me by the bf) has been quite useful. It contains simple meals ideas for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert and sorts the meals into ones which are cheap, impressive, spicy etc. I’d say a student cookbook like this is pretty essential for a student. Below is an example of what a recipe looks like. For each recipe they also have a photo of what the finished product looks like.

When I went home for the weekend a few weeks ago and told the ‘rents that I’d actually been cooking for myself (and had cooked such things as a roast) my Mum firstly asked if I was joking and when I told her that I wasn’t, she still didn’t believe me. To be honest, I don’t blame her. I’d find it quite difficult to believe that someone like me, who couldn’t even cook pasta until two months ago, was making roast dinners. But eventually I persuaded her that I wasn’t lying and that I was in fact maintaining a fairly balanced diet.

So the lesson here, ladies and gentlemen, is that even the most hopeless case can actually pull of some surprising things when the alternative is bankruptcy and/or starvation. I think all I needed is a kick up the arse, really. I needed to be thrown into the deep end of the pool.

On another note, we received our January exam timetables today and I have to tell you, I’m not looking forward to exams. I’m going to have to revise my arse off over Christmas if I have any hope of passing.

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Five exams. Some people I know on different courses don’t even have January exams. It’s pretty rubbish, really.

Anyway, have a great Christmas, everyone! Auf wiedersehen!

Being A Student Is…

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As a new (UK) university student, you learn to quickly adapt to the student way of life because, a) the only adult supervision you have is that of your personal tutor, who you only see for half an hour every two weeks, and b) everyone else around you is integrating into uni life, so why not give up your old, healthy habits and join them? So for me, as a first year scientist, being a student is…

  • Putting at least two mattress protectors on your new bed because you’re not entirely sure what those stains are
  • Making the most of Freshers’ and staying mainly sober so that you can enjoy watching everyone else getting completely wankered
  • Knowing which nights to spend at the Students’ Union, because other nights the DJs are awful
  • Going to Tesco Express at half eleven at night in your pajamas and a hoodie because you realise you don’t have any vegetables to cook your dinner with
  • Not even feeling self-conscious about going to Tesco Express at half eleven at night because you know the cashiers are more than used to disheveled students who’ve partly lost control of their lives coming in at all hours of the day and night

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  • Having to get used to the smell of food during lectures, especially from that guy who brought an entire three-course meal to the lecture and is eating chilli con carne from a Tupperware pot
  • Finding it extremely difficult to get out of bed in time for 9 or 10AM lectures, even though you had to get up earlier for school
  • Finding it extremely difficult to not fall asleep during 9 or 10AM lectures, because you’re actually barely half-conscious
  • Developing an unforeseen coffee addiction to help with the aforementioned problem
  • Keeping your own toilet roll in your room because when the main communal supply runs out, you’re not going to be left up shit creek without a roll
  • Standing outside in the cold at two in the morning because the fire alarm had gone off due to someone burning toast
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Actual photo of a university lab professor when demonstrating in front of students

  • Leaving your results and analysis to fill in when you get home because it’s a Friday afternoon and you just want to get out of the lab
  • Constantly reminding yourself to eat at least one piece of fruit a week in order to avoid scurvy
  • Telling yourself during the first week that you’ll keep up with lecture notes and revision, but by week 8 you’ve missed at least three lectures and haven’t gone over what material you did manage to get down
  • Accepting the fact that it’s useless trying to take notes from some lecturers because they go through the PowerPoint so fast you could blink and miss an entire section on the role of Ca²+ as an intracellular signalling molecule

So as you can clearly see, university is a fun place. All this on top of cooking for yourself, doing your own laundry and generally having to maintain an acceptable standard of personal hygiene makes your first year especially fun. Not to mention waking up to find that some unknown drunk people had stuck an uncooked burger patty to your kitchen window with tape the previous night.

University life is full of surprises – most of which are pleasant – and it is like leaving home and entering a different world, where people take subtle sips of a whisky from a flask during a 9AM lecture just to take the edge off their hangover, and leave broccoli in the fridge for weeks so that it has a nice covering of mould. University is a glorious place…a place to pick up bad habits and good memories and retain them for the rest of your life.

I Am Still Alive

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Despite what you may have thought, this three-month radio silence wasn’t because I died. I am not typing this from the afterlife (although, if there is an afterlife I fully expect there to be computers and Wi-Fi). If you’re expecting a reason for why I haven’t posted since July 1st then I’m afraid I’m gonna have to let you down, because I don’t have a reasonable excuse. It has really just been a combination of not having anything to report, laziness, and, lately, business. The past month or so has been rather quite hectic, so I’ll give you a short summary of what’s transpired since my last post:

  1. I got into Cardiff University to study Biochemistry, so I’m here now.
  2. I have a boyfriend. That guy I mentioned in my last post? Yeah, well that happened.

Obviously the move to university and all that has taken up most of my time and thoughts, but it’s still not a good excuse for not having posted in over three months. So I apologise. I apologise profusely for my blog neglect. I think this is probably what would happen if I was to ever have a child…I’d be really into it for a year or two and then all of a sudden I’d forget about it for three months.

Anyway, university. Firstly, this is my room:

Photo on 15-10-2014 at 21.29 #2I moved in September 18th, so I’ve been here a while. Basically, I’m in a flat with four other people; two girls and two boys. They’re all very nice and we get on well. Fresher’s fortnight (which is just a two-week period before term officially starts when all the first years go partying, get drunk and generally build “great memories”) was alright. I went out a few times but I didn’t get too drunk, because I don’t drink. The only time I’ve been in a horrific state was when it was my best friend’s birthday (she goes to university on the other side of Cardiff) and I drank slightly too much and came home and was sick eight times. It was vile and I felt like death. I do not recommend.

Anyway, one of my flat mates, Lewis, is an absolute animal and I kid you not, he went out every single night of Freshers. And he’d always bring stuff back from his nightly, drunken adventures. One morning I went into the kitchen to find two traffic cones on the table, another morning I found a half-eaten piece of bread and the end of a pitch fork. One night he dropped his keys down a drain and had to buy a small magnet the next day and tape it to the end of a spoon to retrieve them because he didn’t want to pay the £20 to get his keys replaced.

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The traffic cones

Other than Freshers, nothing much exciting has happened. The fire alarm went off at 11PM once because someone burnt their toast, but that’s about it. The Monday after Freshers finished, we were launched straight into our courses and I tell you, the people doing Arts and Humanities courses do not know how easy they have it. The two other boys in my flat are doing Chemistry and the two girls are doing History and Modern Languages. The girl doing History has a four-hour week most weeks. That’s more than I – and everyone else doing Science degrees – do in a day. I have a few 9-5 days, but other than that they’re 10-2, which isn’t too bad.

For my course all the Biosciences students have a common first year, which means students doing Zoology, Biochemistry, Genetics etc. are all together this year learning the same stuff. It kinda sucks because it means I have to do modules in Anatomy & Physiology and Ecology and stuff like that. I mean, I came here to do Biochemistry, you know? But the point of having a common first year is that we get to have a taster of all the Biosciences degree courses in case we want to change our course next year. That’s pretty good, because if someone’s not enjoying their original choice of, say, Ecology, they could switch to Neuroscience or something.

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My very own lab coat!

So I have a lot of work at the moment. Our practicals are every Friday and they’re three hours long, we get pre- and post-practical online tests, we have module assessments, essays, and group work projects. So it’s a handful. But I’m managing at the moment. My autumn essay title is:

With reference to named amino acids, write an illustrated account of the various types of covalent and non-covalent bonds between amino acids. How do these bonds contribute to the secondary and tertiary structure of a protein and ultimately its function?

It’s not due in until December, but I’m about half way through it already. The only difficult thing about it is citing and referencing sources, which takes a lot of time and effort and which I’ve never had to do properly before.

Anyway, enough of this boring stuff. You know what’s really sad? The fact that I haven’t written anything new since FEBRUARY. How horrific is that? I did literally nothing over the summer holidays, which is just plain awful. NaNoWriMo is looming next month, but I very much doubt I’ll be able to do that on top of university work. I feel like a need to start something new just to have an escape from everyday things, but I literally have no ideas. I feel like my writing juice has completely dried up. I just seem to be brain-dead by about five everyday, so I just sit and watch Netflix for most of the evening. It’s so bad.

If any of you are tackling NaNoWriMo next month I wish you the very best of luck!

Anyway, I shall go now. It’s felt good to type this up and I apologise again for my lengthy, lengthy absence! Auf wiedersehen!

Well Strike Me Down with a Ham Sandwich

I have a date.

When I told my Mum her first response was “with a guy?”

I was like “yes, Mum. With a male of the species.”

I think it’s safe to say a fair amount of surprise registered on her face.

So anyway he’s 21 and a civil engineer and because I don’t know him that well yet I’m doing a Safety Date, which is where me and him are going out to dinner, but my two friends will also have a date at the same place. It’s just so that I have two people there, really. It’s almost sad that as a woman I have to take so many precautions when going on a date, but then I think that I’d rather be safe then show my defiance against the patriarchy. So my friend’s picking me and my other friend up, I’m meeting him at the restaurant and then he’ll drop me near my house (not at my actual house, obviously).

So yeah. I don’t even know how this happened really. But anyway, his sense of humour’s right up my street and I’m fairly sure he’s a gentleman. But, as my friend said, you can never be sure. I actually have a contingency plan for if things go weird when he’s dropping me home and my Mum’s given me some tips because she used to date every guy under the sun, some of whom were quite dodgy. I might try and subtly gather info about his views on feminism and women’s rights in general, because that’ll be a strong indicator of whether he’s decent or not.

So yeah, that’s an update on my life right now. Exams went well, I just have to wait until mid August for my results now. It’s going to be a nerve-wracking wait so I’ll have to try and not think about it too much.

It’s Nearly All Over. Just One More Exam.

My final A-Level exam is tomorrow, at 09:30, and after that it’ll all be over. I’ll be free for the summer. I’ll have around thirteen weeks – thirteen weeks - to do absolutely nothing.

Tomorrow I have unit 5 of Biology and I’m not even joking, I am so unprepared. My revision’s been really behind and I haven’t actually properly revised at all for it, and I need an A in Biology overall. Since I came home at midday, I’ve gone through every past paper and their mark schemes and I’m reading the revision guide and my revision notes at the moment. I went through the most recent paper and tried to figure out what’s probably not going to come up on tomorrow’s paper, because it’s very rare for them to do two similar papers, one after the other. A basic rule of thumb is that if there’s a long question on a particular topic – say, biotechnology – then there’s a high chance there won’t be any large questions (or any questions at all) on it in the next paper. So, after having looked at the most recent paper I’m quite upset about the fact that hardly anything came up about protein synthesis and cellular control, which means there’s a high probability we’ll get a bitch of question about it this year, which sucks because it’s a difficult topic.

Anyway, I had my Ethics exam today at 09:30 and it really could’ve been better, but I think I managed to scrape by. I’d made the decision to only revise four out of the seven topics within A2 Ethics, because revising all seven would just be impossible – there’d be far too much information to retain. So, I revised four topics and hoped to God at least one of them would come up, otherwise I would’ve been screwed. And, lo and behold, two of them did come up, but they weren’t particularly nice questions. The two topics were business ethics and sexual ethics. The other questions were about conscience and free will and determinism, but I didn’t answer those.

The question for business ethics was really difficult and I didn’t like it that much. It was “Critically assess the view that businesses have a religious moral duty to put their employees first.” We’d literally never learnt about business ethics in relation to religion during lessons, so I was so, so thankful that I’d read about it in the text book. The sexual ethics question was nice though: “Critically assess the view that Utilitarianism is of no use when discussing issues of sexual ethics.” That was fairly easy to answer; I just narrowed my answer down to classic and modern Utilitarian views on contraception and homosexuality and then compared that with the views advocated by Natural Law. I think I got John-Stuart Mill and Immanuel Kant mixed up at one point, because I went on about how Mill was in favour of contraception since it was a tool for the emancipation of women, but I’m pretty sure Kant actually said that because he was all about autonomy and the rights of the individual. But oh well, it’s done now. I think the rest of the essay should make up for that blunder though.

But yeah. There’s sixty-five pages I’ve got to read through in the revision guide for unit 5 Biology and that’s going to be such an arduous task. You know you’re a bit screwed for the exam when, a day before the exam, you look at a massive section in the book about auxins and think “what the fuck is an auxin?” There’s just so many words and definitions we need to know for unit 5 and it sucks. A lot.

Talk Science To Me

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So I’m extremely tired right now and I’ve literally just sat on my bed, stared at my wall and thought up various science sweet-nothings. Like, this is what I do with my life now. I’ll share them with you:

You’re the fourth dimension to my special relativity

You’re the uncertainity principle to my quantum entanglement

You’re the work function to my photoelectric effect

You’re the scalar to my matrix vector

You’re the entropy to my Gibb’s free energy

You’re the condition changes to my Le Chatelier’s Principle

You’re the specific heat capacity of water to my enthalpy equation

Are you an ion, because you slip through my membrane easily

Are you high-frequency electromagnetic radiation, because you get me excited

I could go on, but I don’t particularly want to. I just texted my friend (who’s been revising Biology today) some of them and she replied with this:

You must be auxin, because you’re causing me to have rapid stem elongation

Whether she got that off Google I don’t know, but it’s brilliant.

But yeah, this is what I do for fun these days. I think the stress of exams has actually caused me to go mad.