Oh, hello, stranger
I’d like to pretend that I’ve been so godawfully busy that I haven’t had a chance to get near a computer, hence no blog updates.
The truth? I got lazy. Sorry about that. I’m terrible at this consistent blogging thing.
So what HAVE I been up to?
This is THE big thing in my life right now. Next week, in fact, I am running my first ever 5k race (want to sponsor me?) I wouldn’t say I’ve taken to it like a duck to water – it is a serious struggle for me, having spent the majority of my life so far sitting down. But after Christmas, when I weighed in at no less than 13 stone, I knew something had to change.
I started running. OK, I started jogging, got out of breath after about a minute, walked, jogged, walked, then shuffled home. Next time, it was better, and it’s slowly getting better and better. It has been HARD, but RunKeeper is incredibly helpful in tracking my progress (and reminding me that I AM making progress).
Oh, and what else? FITOCRACY. Omfg. I discovered this social network entirely by chance – someone I follow on Twitter made one aside comment about it, I had a look, and the rest is history. Now I’m a premium member* – and I NEVER buy premium membership. For anything.
Fitocracy combines my favourite thing (gaining points for doing something, questing and levelling up) with one of my least favourite things (sweating). You can log everything: it links to RunKeeper, so I can automatically log my runs, walks and cycle rides for points. But arguably even better: it has an exhaustive list of weight-lifts and bodyweight exercises, most of which I have never even heard of (Fire Hydrants? Lizard Push Ups? Pendlay Rows? LOLwut?), meaning you can accurately track your progress in non-cardio exercises (and trust me, my lifts have come along in LEAPS and BOUNDS. I can deadlift half my bodyweight!) Oh, and those weirdly named exercises: trust me, curiosity will get the better of you, and you will rapidly expand your repertoire.
But most importantly: the community is massively supportive. Every time you log a workout, post an update, reach a milestone, complete a quest, there are troops of fellow Fitocrats giving you “props” (like a Facebook “like”) and commenting with “excellent! Keep it up!” and the like. They are SUCH a boost.
So now I run 3 miles about 3 times a week, as well as lifting weights, and, thanks to my new birthday present from Ben, the odd cycle ride (we managed 25 miles to the coast and back last week).
Which leads us nicely into…
2. Getting to know my local area
Particular in and around my town. Running and cycling has forced me to find new routes around town (well, mainly Ben finds the routes, and I follow and admire the scenery). Especially in the summer, with the yellow fields of rapeseed and gorse, deer and bunnies all over the bleedin’ place, and of course, beer festivals in tiny villages -
3. Improving my local area
Yesterday, I did something that I haven’t done since I was about 9. I went on a litter pick. I’ve been meaning to do this for quite some time – I hate it when I go for a walk and I see rubbish lying by the side of the pavement. Yesterday, I finally thought “sod it”, grabbed a handful of carrier bags, my grabber, and went for a walk. I had planned on going out for about an hour, walk maybe a couple of hours around town, but I was cut short – after only 35 minutes of walking, I ran out of bags. Seriously. Such a shame that my sleepy little town in rural Suffolk boasts quite so much discarded waste. But still – improving by small but important degrees.
It was my birthday. No, I didn’t really do anything special. I don’t really make a big thing about birthdays any more (sad, I know). I even got up at 7:30 and went for a run. But I had the day off work – Ben and I had a fry up in Lowestoft, bought cake on the way home, relaxed, and went for a cycle ride.
Other cool things: my dad and my uncle both gave me Amazon money for Kindle books (eeee), Beth gave me money for Fitocracy premium membership (see the *), Ben bought me a mountain bike, and my work buddy Claire (who I taught to knit) knitted me a wicked hat, got me a mug with “Asty Pants” made, and made me some “Amaze-balls” (they had to be called this. There was no other option).
Thank you to everyone who wished me well, sent cards, all that stuff
5. Big Bang Theory
Yes, I know I’m late to the party, but it really is a rather enjoyable show. Yes, like the rest of you, I love Sheldon. But you know what? I think I like Leonard more. Even when Sheldon comes out with lines like this:
“My mind is going into it PRE-BLOWN. And once a mind has been blown, it cannot be RE-BLOWN.”
Anyway, that’s it for now. Do prepare yourself for future posts about exercise. Sorry, in advance.
*Thanks to Beth, who sent me a birthday card, with cash, and a note saying “take this and use it to buy Fitocracy premium membership…and some chocolate. Or, like, fruit.” <3 Beth
OK, time for some cautious optimism. We are getting closer and closer to leaving London.
“What?!” I hear you cry. Oh, you didn’t know? Well, I haven’t really made a formal announcement (because it’s been so touch and go) but basically, we’re moving to Suffolk. Various reasons, but a big one being I REALLY want a garden. Some space. Outdoors.
Southwold beach, about 15mins drive from our future house
The details are sketchy (because clearly Ben has a job in London, so won’t be upping sticks entirely. Yet) but we have just received an email from the letting agent in Suffolk saying we can have the house we want. We’ve arranged a day to collect the keys in the middle of August – not as soon as I’d've hoped, but soon enough (“that’s not soon enough!”)
But moving brings with it heartache and change. I’m really bad at change. I think that’s what’s held me back in the past – fear of change. It’s kept me in stagnant relationships, it stopped me wanting to go to grammar school (I know, I know), but slowly, gently, I’m learning to let change into my life. This is a big one (all at once) as I will be moving away from everything I know – volunteering, choir, friends, my mum (ARGH that’s the hardest one). However, I like to think that this year is a bit of a break through for me become a bit more independent – I’ve got my own car, I’ll (hopefully) be getting a job soon, and my own place (it’s in my name, people! Booyah). Scary shit, right? Right. But I repeat: garden.
Also, it’s not all 100% scary – my choir master from the English Arts Chorale lives in Suffolk too (and commutes to Surrey every week for choir – mad I know) – he runs two other choirs there, so at least I have somewhere to sing. Added to that, Ben’s parents and sister live about 15-20mins drive from where we’re going to live, which makes it feel a bit safer.
Yesterday came the first “cut off” – I said goodbye to SANE and to the EAC. I’ve been a member of each organisation for 15months and 3years respectively, but it felt a lot longer (in a good way). But Suffolk is a long way away, so I had to say goodbye. It was hard, but the cake I baked made it a bit easier. I will definitely keep in touch with the folks at the EAC (I can’t get away from them – they do joint concerts with the choirs in Suffolk!!) and I will continue to spread the news of SANE’s good works. But it’s still difficult to accept that I am no longer directly involved – both groups have meant a lot to me in different ways. Both have helped me to grow.
Anyway, I’ve rambled enough (and I’m getting sad, like when I had to leave the Horniman). More news on the move as-and-when.
Oh, and as always – sorry updates have been sparse lately, but given the above (and the dissertation) I hope you’re happy to forgive and be patient.
July 12, 2011 | Categories: Britain, car, family, holiday, London, Mental Floss, money, music, philosophy, sociable, Suffolk | Tags: debate, dissertation, excitement, family, fox, holiday, humans, I love, London, new, optimism, philosophy, shiny, sociable | 5 Comments »
I’m free! Had my last exam yesterday, and now all that stands between me and MSc-dom is a lengthy research project. But that’s fine. That’ll be fine.
Sorry about the lack of post yesterday (and you might want to get used to the idea of a post every other day, or so, rather than every single day: things are only set to get busier). But obviously, I was cramming in the morning, and drinking in the evening.
Well, not strictly true. I shared a few drinks with classmates (and my supervisor – he definitely is a social creature) after the exam and then headed back home to… the Streatham knitting group. Arguably, it was a very subdued way to celebrate exams-over, but I don’t care. I love knitting. And the people in that group are super lovely.
But yes. Research now. It’s going to be a shockingly short 10 weeks…
June 1, 2011 | Categories: books, brain, Britain, holiday, London, Psychology, sociable, university | Tags: debate, dissertation, excitement, funny, humans, I love, London, me me me, new, optimism, psychology, sociable, UEL, university | Leave A Comment »
The workplace can be an impersonal place. I find it makes work easier if you make you work station a bit more fun, a bit more “you”. I think it’s really important to personalise your surroundings, especially those where you spend the majority of your waking hours. For me, that would be my desk at home, and for Ben, that’s his desk at work.
As a result, my desk is overflowing with stickers and brightly coloured things (including some pheasant feathers in my pen pot). But you can’t go too over-the-top in the office – it has to be small and subtle.
With that in mind, I’ve gifted Ben with various bits and pieces for his work desk – a little blue wolf from IKEA (I liked his funny grin), a tin of Stewie mints from Cyber Candy (he LOVES Family Guy) and…. a diplodocus.
I’ll explain the diplodocus. He’s the newest addition, having joined Ben’s desk-gang only yesterday. Ben was having a tough day at work on Tuesday, and sent me a message telling me so. Then he sent me a message saying “if you loved me, you’d buy me a dinosaur!”
Naturally, I asked him to specify what kind.
And one afternoon detour via the Natural History Museum left me with old dippy.
I hope the wolf isn’t mean to him. He’s a big softie.
What about you? What little trinkets or personal touches have you brought to your workplace?
February 10, 2011 | Categories: family, London, museum, Natural History Museum, sociable | Tags: animals, comedy, dinosaur, dog, excitement, fox, funny, I love, London, new, shiny, sociable, soft toy, wolf | 1 Comment »
Special thing for you lot today. A short film from Paul, who is Ben’s sister’s other half (got that? OK, fine, he can be Mancunian Paul).
There’s some naughty words in it, but I know you’ll be fine with that because you put up with me swearing every other day anyway.
Paul hates bad things. He’s a Bad Thing Hater. What better way to express his frustrations than through the charming method of rhyme? I think the video pretty much speaks for itself. Enjoy!
January 17, 2011 | Categories: debate, family, music, philosophy, Suffolk | Tags: comedy, complaining, debate, dissatisfaction, family, funny, humans, I love, music, new, rant, sociable, Suffolk, video | 2 Comments »
OK, as we’re now well into January, I need to note that this is the third and FINAL part of my Christmas haul. Also, by making this the final part, it might kick me into writing something other than “cop out” posts (i.e. easy writing )
First up, a little’un – my mum is one of those people who buys lots of little things for people (as well as “full on” gifts): she’ll see something that reminds her of you, and she’ll just buy it. So amongst everything else, I got from her a pack of paper napkins with stars on, and a tin of Wasabi peas (nom!). The Twiglets are just a Christmas staple.
Next up: last time, I mentioned that Ben’s sister had gotten me some beautiful tiny spoons. These are them! There are six in total. Not sure what to use them for (they are SO small and SO pretty) but they look great, right? With their shiny metallic enamel…
Another Christmas staple is BOOZE. We were lucky enough to add four bottles to our drinks…corner… this year. The Wolf Blass is from Ben’s parents, the Laphroaig is from Ben’s sister and her partner, and the Gran Reserva came from Ben’s work.
And perfect for this cold time of year, this adorable, tiny hot water bottle came from Angharad – you’ll notice that stars are a recurring theme in our household, and Angharad made me “squeee!” with this. Needless to say, it is frequently full of hot water and stuffed up my jumper.
And finally, this little beauty came from my aunty. It’s a wooden cat, decorated with burns and wood-stain. It’s a little hard to make out from photos, but he’s sitting bolt upright, staring upwards. It’s hand-made Indonesian, and I like to think that, like me, this little kitty is staring up at the stars.
Well, that’s it, folks! There were other gifts involved, but I can’t list them all. Thank you to all friends and family – I’ve had a wonderful festive season. I hope you all did too. The decorations have come down – but fear not, they’ll be back before you can blink…
January 15, 2011 | Categories: art, crafts, family, holiday | Tags: animals, art, cat, Christmas, crafts, excitement, holiday, humans, I love, me me me, napkin, new, optimism, shiny, spoon, stars, twiglets, wasabi, whisky, wine | Leave A Comment »
Ever feel like there is just too damn much going on, and your head feels like it’ll pop? I get it every now and then. I’ll be going along just fine, making plans, keeping busy, meeting people, doing things – LOTS of things – and then suddenly, out of the blue, I’ll feel the overwhelming sense of dread, that I Can’t Cope.
At the moment, I’m blaming the exams that I’m currently sitting. Yesterday was the first, and a lot better than I was expecting (on Monday night, I was – for some reason – convinced that all the questions were going to be on topics I hadn’t revised. This nearly led to meltdown) but I still have two more to go, and they will be harder.
I am slowly learning how to deal with mental meltdown, but it is certainly an ongoing thing. I think the best thing you can do when faced with the overwhelming threat of failure/embarrassment/painful reality is to take some time out, to step back and get some perspective, and most importantly, do something that reminds you how to have fun. This is what I like to call my Mental Floss (oh, aren’t I witty?).
You see, this is where my New Year’s Resolution #7 comes in – to forgive myself. You know what? You don’t need to be doing something practical and productive 24/7. It is OK to take some “you time” to muck about for the sheer hell of it.
From now on, when I feel the pressure mounting up, I’ll be on here, drafting a Mental Floss post: I’ll be naming 5 different things that are keeping me grounded at the moment: some ways that I’m keeping my mental health in good shape.
So, without further delay:
1) My Wii. As a New Year’s gift to myself, I finally got a Wii, and Wii Fit Plus to go with it. Yes, that is my Body Test result for yesterday, and yes, I do currently weigh in at a mighty 12 stone. I don’t regret it – the festive binge felt amazing, and I do love food. However, I am well aware that I am not in the healthiest of places right now, and as a long-time supporter of the British Heart Foundation, this is not good and it’s not right. Before you start: yes I KNOW Wii Fit doesn’t really come close to proper exercise, but the yoga and muscle exercises I find really focussing and relaxing. And that’s why it’s Mental Floss.
2) Talking of supporting charities, I can’t wait to get back to SANE on Thursday – I haven’t been in to volunteer for a couple of weeks now (due to holiday), and I’ve really missed it. They do wonderful work, and it’s really life-affirming to know that I’m a part of it. That’s there brand new website, by the way – went live only yesterday.
3) My dear, dear books. Whilst I haven’t yet finished reading my first book of 2011, I’ve been reading bits and pieces where and when I can. Obviously, my priority reading is revision for exams, but it’s nice to escape with a non-curriculum book once in a while…
4) The Oatmeal. Discovered this the other day, and it has been making me chuckle heartily. Very similar to Hyperbole and a Half (in terms of whimsical drawing style vs. cynical text), which certainly tickles my funny bone.
5) Staying indoors. It may be no surprise to you (or maybe it is?) that I’m a bit sociophobic. I love to leave the house when it means going for a walk in the countryside, but when it means enduring the bustle of thousands of London strangers, most days I’d just rather not. And at the moment, I have no reason (aside from exams) to leave the house. That is just dandy by me. I know it’s unhealthy in the long term, but for a few days, I think it’s fine to keep your own company.
January 12, 2011 | Categories: books, brain, charity, debate, exercise, food, holiday, London, mental illness, music, neuroscience, philosophy, Psychology, sociable, university | Tags: books, debate, exercise, food, gluttony, holiday, humans, London, me me me, Mental Floss, mental illness, neuropsychology, neuroscience, new, optimism, philosophy, psychology, sadness, shiny, sociable, UEL, university | 2 Comments »
Time to indulge me a bit more whilst I gleefully show off a few more gifts I received for Christmas! Again, everyone has been disgustingly generous this year (or should that be last year? Who cares – I love you all ), but before I share some more pictures of presents, here’s a lovely photo of Ben, all tuckered out, asleep with his mum’s doggy Jimmy:
Now, where was I? Ah yes! First up, Ben’s sister gave me these intensely cool boxes, in all different sizes and patterns. You all know I’m a habitual hoarder and organiser, so being able to stash things in pretty boxes = Joy! Not put anything in them yet, but time will tell. Also, the boxes had in them a dozen gorgeous oriental silk pouches, and six tiny enamelled spoons (a picture of them will turn up at a later date).
Next up, Ben’s nephew and niece bombarded me with presents! Not actually FOR me… For the rats. Lucky little gits! I swear, the rats got more presents than me! The ratties are on holiday at the moment, but when they get home, they have a rubber finger groomer, a bag of yoghurt drops, a packet of rat “donuts” and a seed star to enjoy. And Angharad got the rats a gift too!! A mineral gnawing block! The lucky little blighters
Next up, a parcel from Ben’s sister and her partner Paul, with a gifttag that said “To Astrid – pimp your pussy!” Hmmm…. I was a little concerned, I won’t lie. But, on opening, I was presented with a “decorate your own bobble headed kitten” kit! Brilliant. I have enjoyed making them as camp as possible I’ve decorated the pink and the blue kittens already, and still have a purple one to do. In the background of this photo, you can also see the gorgeous art noveau Absinthe tin that Rebecca gave me. THAT was full of chocolate – nom!! (Long gone)
And last up for today, not one of my gifts, but something I gave to Ben: a KidRobot Futurama doll. I’m new to the world of KidRobot, but from what I understand, you buy the figures boxed, without knowing what will be inside. I was hoping this would turn out the be Bender (as Ben’s full name is Ben Bender Bending Rodriguez Coxon), but Leela is damn cool, too!
There will be more, oh so much more! Watch this space
January 4, 2011 | Categories: art, crafts, family, food, holiday, philosophy, rats, Suffolk | Tags: Absinthe, animals, art, box, cat, Christmas, crafts, diy, dog, excitement, food, fox, funny, Futurama, holiday, humans, I love, me me me, new, optimism, philosophy, pouch, rat, shiny, sleep, sociable | Leave A Comment »
Well, who’s been a busy little bunny? That’s right: ME
Where have I been?
What do you mean, it looks like a clinic? Well it’s not. It’s the Clinical Neuroscience Centre! Oh yes.
I have been at the British Neuropsychological Society (BNS)’s autumn conference. Dr Ashok Jansari is the BNS’s new treasurer, and he was looking for some assistants to help him man the registration desk. I leapt at the chance: we would be getting free entry to the conference, and Ash would take us along to the Wednesday evening drinks reception, to meet leaders in the field of neuropsychology. In the space of a week, everything would become Very Real.
On Wednesday morning, I braved rush-hour on the tube, and made my way nervously to Queens Square (nearest tube: Russell Square): I had already visited Queens Square on Monday to see a UCL ICN talk, so luckily I knew were I was going. Grabbing a coffee from the local Pret, I headed on in the the Centre, and down the stairs to the lecture hall foyer.
Ash wasn’t there yet, but the lovely Dana Samson (from Brussels) received me and my fellow UEL volunteer assistants – we’d be manning the desk in the foyer, signing people in a taking money where necessary. Soon, Ash’s American research assistant arrived, with member name badges, and bags of energy. And last of all, Ash turned up! A little flustered (he is still fighting off a lingering cough) but ready to face the crowds.
We set up – we were each given a member list to keep track of who was and wasn’t a member (and therefore who needed to pay for the day – members can come to the conferences for free). At this point, I got stupidly excited: on the list were Prof Elizabeth Warrington, Prof Alan Baddeley, and Dr Paul Broks. Unfortunately, no sign of Baddeley or Broks over the two days of the conference, but Warrington did come on both days, and made us all feel quite giddy with the geeky equivalent of star-stuck.
As there were a handful of us helping out on the desk, as well as some assistant psychologists from UCLH, we were able to take it in turns sitting in on the conference’s lectures. I would give comments on all the lectures I saw, but this post would end up being obscenely long. Instead, I will comment on just one, which I felt was probably my favourite of all (not just because I found it the most realistically applicable research, but it was the one which I fully “got” – a lot of the talks did contain information that passed me by without introducing itself).
So, “Neural Correlates Of The Urge For Action”, presented by Stephen Jackson. Maybe it’s worth giving the abstract, as presented in the programme -
Objectives: Our objective was to investigate the neural correlates of the urges that may precede some forms of action. A number of psychiatric and neurological disorders, particularly those with a neurodevelopmental origin (e.g., ADHD, OCD, Tourette Syndrome), are characterised by the presence of unwanted and involuntary thoughts and actions that are difficult to suppress. Individuals with Tourette syndrome perceive a relatively constant demand to suppress their tics in social situations and while involuntary suppression of tics is possible, many individuals report that it can be uncomfortable and stressful to suppress tics and that the urge to tic becomes uncontrollable after a period of suppression. This suggests that tics may be executed to remove the unpleasant sensations associated with the urge to tic.
Methods: We used quantitative meta-analytical techniques, along with new investigations using ultra high field functional MRI, to examine the neural correlates of urges that precede action in both healthy individuals and those with Tourette syndrome. We also carried out functional connectivity analyses on our new data to investigate the patterns of inter-connectivity between brain areas identified in the meta-analyses.
Results: Our data indicate that a network of brain areas including: cingulate cortex, insular cortex, and several thalamic nuclei are particularly involved in the urges associated with involuntary action.
Conclusions: These results are discussed with reference to the suggestion that the insular cortex plays a key role in body representation, and that the anterior insular cortex (AIC) in particular is important for the conscious representation of subjective feelings through the integration of the body’s visceral states with emotional signals.
The difficulty suppressing urges is not restricted to those suffering with tics, such as the TS, OCD and ADHD cases discussed: as Jackson pointed out, we all suffer with unwanted yawn urges, and suppressing yawns does not make the urge to yawn go away. During the questions at the end of the talk, I asked if Jackson had performed any similar studies into the urge the scratch an itch: my mum used to tell me that if you ignore an itch, the urge to scratch it will go away by itself, but if it bears any relation to yawning urges, then my mum was simply wrong (YES! Victory). As with cases of chicken pox, psoriasis etc. where scratching the itch only makes things worse (spreading infection, exacerbating inflammation), it would be interesting to know what causes this urge to scratch, and if there is any therapeutic application for Jackson’s research: to get rid of that itch without scratching.
I hope that’s given you food for thought: I wish I could comment further, but my brain is pretty fried for thinking solidly, quite out of my depth, for two entire days.
For me, the highlight of the conference was being able to talk to leaders in my future field (argh, what a frightening though), and being Ash’s assistant gave me this amazing opportunity. It meant I had to skip an evening of lectures, but as I can catch up with studies in my own time, but can’t relive the BNS drinks-reception experience, I think it was quite a fair trade off. All of the other volunteer assistants decided to go to the lectures, which pretty much left me traipsing along behind Ash like a lovestruck nerd all evening. At the end of the talks, we reconvened just down the road in National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery’s Old Boardroom, for drinks and further neuro-chat.
I was able to talk at leisure with fellow post-grad students, Ewan (from Orkney) and his colleague Simona (from Germany), as we sipped the gloriously free wine. However, as we relaxed in to things, we broke out of our safe circle, and took the plunge, talking to our elder, better, wiser heroes. I managed to corner Dr Jamie Ward, a synaesthesia researcher from the University of Sussex (whose book, The Frog Who Croaked Blue, has been on my Amazing wishlist for quite a while now), to talk about cross-modal technology, as well as discussing ecological validity with Ash. I tried not to plague Ash with questions, but it was tricky – he’s knowledgeable AND charismatic, so easy to talk to.
After a couple of hours steady wine quaffing, Ash was trying to corral people in the direction of dinner – he had invited anyone who had the rest of the evening free to join him for a meal and further chat. He asked me if I was coming. I could have cried with glee. I calmly and coolly replied “oh sure, absolutely”. Inside I was squealing.
And then… Well, that’s for tomorrow’s blog post. After all, a restaurant experience deserves a post all its own.
Oh, and I’m now an Associate Member of the BNS. What a delightful mix of exciting and utterly terrifying.
I’ll be keeping this. Forever. Eeeee.
October 22, 2010 | Categories: debate, food, jobs, London, mental illness, philosophy, Psychology, science, sociable, university | Tags: BNS, books, dissertation, excitement, food, funny, I love, jobs, London, me me me, mental illness, music, neuropsychology, new, optimism, philosophy, psychology, science, shiny, sociable, tea, UEL, university | 1 Comment »
Synaesthesia. What does this word mean to you? You may never have heard it before. You might have an inkling of what it means. You might be a synaesthete yourself.
Synaesthesia is (typically) Greek – it pretty much means “mixing of the senses”. There are many types, because we have many senses, and they can be mixed in a variety of different ways. The most common kinds are colour-grapheme synaesthesia and colour-auditory synaesthesia. Fairly self explanatory, but to clarify: colour-grapheme synaesthesia is when printed letters or numbers cause the synaesthete to experience particular colours (well, see above!) and colour-auditory synaesthesia is linked to music, voices or “noise” producing an experience of colours. The colours experienced are internally consistent: if a synaesthete experiences a middle C as blue, it is ALWAYS blue. If a sharp rap on the table is experienced as a flash of white light, then this will always be the case. That is not to say that all synaesthetes experience middle C as blue or a knock on wood as white flashbombs, but those are some examples.
Various neurobiological theories exist, trying to explain synaesthesia. The most popular is that synaesthetes have unusual, cross-sensory connections in the cerebral cortex, which have been “improperly pruned” during development of the nervous system. It’s difficult to know for sure, but what is certain is that these vivid, cross-sensory experiences are very real, and for more people than you might expect.
What advantage might it hold for synaesthetes? Well, a lot of incredibly creative people have utilised their quirk to their advantage: for example, the physicist Richard Feynman reported seeing equations in colour, which no doubt helped him to visualise his work (and may well have helped him win that Nobel prize!!). Kandinsky on the other hand claimed to be a colour-auditory synaesthete: he used music to illicit colourful tones in his minds eye, and utilised this as part of his artistic process, creating “visual symphonies“.
So what? It’s an interesting quirk, but why research it? It doesn’t seem to cause any harm, so why should neuropsychologists (including me, a mere student) be interested in studying it?
And here in lies the big question. What can what we know about synaesthesia help science in any way? Yes, it’s really interesting, but does it have any practical applications? This, according to Dr Jansari (with whom I had a meeting yesterday) is the big So What? We need to be able to answer that, in order to make a study out of it actually worth doing.
One possibility is that artificial synaesthesia (i.e. helped by computers) could be utilised by people with sensory deprivations, to help them experience the world in a more holistic way. Sounds impossible? Might not be – the intriguing Steve Mann (also known as Mann as Cyborg) started an experiment in the 1980s (using his weird and wonderful wearable computers) to map senses to other senses (synaesthetic synaesthesia, if you like) – such as experience sights as sounds, and so forth. This has made very slow progress (or at least seems to – Mann’s own website is a bit of a shambles and it is very hard to get any information on him), but you may have, in the past couple of years, about a gadget that allows blind or visually impaired people “taste sight”. The concept is phenomenally weird, but most reports I’ve read have said that it is actually pretty effective.
So there might be a point to researching synaesthesia, after all, beyond my natural British obsession with the weird.
So, are you a musical synaesthete? Do you see colours or shapes when you hear music? Or do you know anyone who is? I would love to hear from you!
- The UEL Synaesthesia Research Team
- The neuropsychology of synaesthesia
- Oliver Sacks – Musicophilia
- The Synaesthesia Battery
October 14, 2010 | Categories: art, books, London, music, Psychology, science, university | Tags: art, dissertation, excitement, I love, London, music, neuropsychology, new, optimism, psychology, science, Stratford, synaesthesia, tea, UEL, university | 3 Comments »
It’s been an odd sort of weekend. I only managed to update the blog yesterday by scheduling a post – isn’t technology magical?
And why did I need to schedule? Because I was away! I have been staying with the lovely Vin, in her enormous (no exaggeration) house in the East Anglian countryside. It’s her birthday tomorrow and so she invited me to come up and go to the theatre with a few other uni mates.
I had prebooked train tickets – if you are going any distance I would always recommend this. I managed to get them at £6.60 each way. Bargain. Getting up at 7am, I packed a bag, picked a nice dress and hopped on the bus. Of course, I got to Liverpool Street far too early, so killed time in the shops. Chocolate and New Scientist saw me through until my connecting train.
Eventually, I got up to East Anglia. I waited at the station for Vin, but she and the boys were late in coming – we had intended to take the train to Norwich, but ended up having to drive. We only got to the Theatre Royal 5mins late, so didn’t miss too much.
We were in to see Sheridan’s “The Rivals“, starring Penelope Keith and Peter Bowles, and directed by the very talented Peter Hall (of the RSC). It’s a bit of a farce, with plenty of dramatic irony and lots of confusion and hilarity. Vin originally described it to me as a “Victorian romcom” (well, it’s set in 1775 so a bit older than Victorian, but you get the idea), and yes: it ends up with everyone getting happily married, but it’s a very complicated journey to get to that point.
The costumes were beautiful, the comic timing was spot on – Lydia Languish did slow the pace a bit, but it looks a very tricky part to time well. Jack Absolute was GORGEOUS, as was the servant girl Lucy. We saw it on its final day in Norwich, but if it does come to the West End (which I hope it does) do try to catch it, because it is a very light hearted and enjoyable watch. Oh, and malapropisms are wonderful things. I will forever try to be the pineapple of politeness.
After the play, we headed back towards Vin’s going via a curry house. As I mentioned in a previous post, Vin is on a bizarre diet which means she isn’t eating like a normal person. Her mum is on the same diet. So is our old uni mate Ben (who lives with them). So that left me, uni mate Luke and family friend Kumba to stuff ourselves with curry. Ace. I picked a wimpish but delicious chicken passanda, sided with saag aloo and poppadoms.
I didn’t know what to expect with Vin’s house. I have never been before. I have not even seen photos.
Well, it is huge. It is GORGEOUS. She has a library, for christsakes. And yes, it has a SECRET DOOR BEHIND A BOOKCASE.
It also has two resident Newfoundland puppies, Thor and Jester. At only 16 weeks old and already the size of small bears, they are a bit of a handful (and are still going through the nippy bitey stage, which would be cute if they weren’t so HUGE) but they are adorable and dopey.
Anyhow, after curry, we retreated to the living room to sit in front of the fire and play Articulate. Not even fuelled by booze, we got incredibly competitive. I teamed with Ben and Luke, whilst Vin was with her mum and Kumba. I would like to state (for the record) that our team won, because THAT IS HOW WE ROLL.
The dogs got a bit tetchy after a while, so we put them to bed and hung out in Ben’s room for a while (well, Ben and Luke mostly sat on each other. Vin poured water on them, but I think that was unwise. I sat in the vibrating LazyBoy instead). Around midnight, enough was enough for me – I retreated to my room (one of SIX bedrooms), read a bit and went to sleep.
The following morning, at about 6am, I needed a quick trip to the littlest room (except in Vin’s house, they too are huge and there are four of them). I got a bit lost and walked into Luke’s room by mistake. I tried another door: more success this time.
The house was pretty much awake by 10am, so we had a bit of breakfast (those of us who eat, anyhow), and then Vin and I went to take the doggies for a walk. The hilarious thing is, despite them being the size of small ponies, they refuse to get into the car boot by themselves, so Vin had to lift them in bodily. And take them out on the other side.
When we got back, there was enough time for some bread and cheese, and then I had to catch my coach to Colchester and connecting train back to London. And now I’m here! Phew.
I’ll be back there soon. If just to sneak in to the secret library.
Yesterday? Dull. Today? TOTAL WIN.
Apart from a slow start (Ben ordered some new tyres for the Capri, so I had to wait in to receive them), I was set to have a day of fun. My friend Sarah was coming to town! This is never a bad thing.
So, tyres were set to arrive any time between 8am-6pm (TYPICAL), but I decided to phone them up and try to get an ETA. They said between 12-1pm. They came at just after 11am
Checking out Sarah’s location, I found her waiting at Starbucks in Waterloo with Angharad (of Edible Glitter fame). We had a brief chat (and gave Sarah a chance to finish her tea), Angharad gave me incense and tea from India, and then we set off to find lunch (it was 12:30 at this point – high time for sustenance).
We umed and ahed for a while, then, inspired by my recent guest post, we decided we’d try out Belgo’s lunch menu, at their Covent Garden branch. With the aid of Google Maps (I love my phone!) we walked up their from Leicester Square tube station.
We headed inside, but it was surprisingly busy for a weekday lunch! After a while, we were guided downstairs to the underground restaurant, and seated at our table. The rumours we true: the waiters are Trapiste Monks (ok, not real ones, but still: mighty cool). I didn’t get a photo of it, but they also had a CAGE OF BEER. You have to see it to believe it.
We chose “light” lunches from their express lunch menu (one main meal plus Cristal beer/house wine/soft drink, £7.95 a head). Angharad was taking it easy with a goat’s cheese salad and a water, Sarah went for the beef carbonnade and a coke, and I chose the spit roast chicken with chilli and ginger sauce, and I had a Cristal (they wouldn’t let me substitute it for a kriek, and I even offered to pay more!!).
We made a valiant effort – Angharad was pleasantly surprised by her salad (that goat’s cheese looks delicious), Sarah used her beef carbonnade as a dipping sauce for chips, and I ate nearly all of my chicken. Oh, and I stole a crayon from a child for St Mary Crayon.
Next, we gathered ourselves and headed towards the Royal College of Surgeons. Deciding it wasn’t far to walk, I consulted my trusty phone-map again, and guided us in that general direction… Unfortunately, as we’re set for an entire weekend of rain, we did get rather wet.
Eventually, we did find ourselves at the RCS. Entering in the rather austere and beautiful main door, I tried my best to look like I was meant to be there, and asked at the front desk for the Hunterian Museum. The nice fellow handed us three visitors’ badges and directed us through the gate.
Well, there he is! John Hunter: collector of anatomical freaks. Recently, the Hunterian was featured on Channel 4′s series “Genius of Britain“, and Lord Professor Robert Winston specifically drew our attention to the 7’7” “Irish Giant” skeleton, which Hunter bought £130.
But this is not all there is the the museum. In a relatively small space, the Hunterian is crammed full of general guides to anatomy (the Evelyn tables were our favourites), anatomical anomalies (such as the Irish Giant), remains ravaged by diseases (bones pocked and worn by syphilis, a skull swollen by hydrocephalus) and plenty of things in formaldehyde. There was also a huge collection of surgical tools (old and new) and videos of various surgeries (some which I was engrossed by, some which I was grossed out by).
Unfortunately, no photography allowed beyond this point (in accordance with the Human Tissues Act), but you know what you could do? You could go there yourself.
The Hunterian Museum is located on the first floor of the RCS (entrance via Lincoln’s Inn Fields). The nearest tube stations are Holborn and Chancery Lane. They are open Tuesday – Saturday, 10am – 5pm. They do a guided tour every Wednesday at 1pm. And what’s more: it’s completely free!
October 1, 2010 | Categories: food, London, museum, science, sociable | Tags: bones, excitement, foetus, food, fox, Hunter, I love, London, museum, new, optimism, science, shiny, sociable, surgery, tea | 1 Comment »
I need to share with you the contents of last night’s fortune cookies:
Right, well now that we have those two tokens of optimism in mind: I officially enrolled today! Yes, yesterday’s induction was just a bit of show and tell – today was the proper enrolment shizzle. Today, I got my student ID and all that jazz.
I had my first ever ride on the DLR – from Bank all the way to Cyprus (the station, not the island). DLR is neat in the sense that you have a nice view of the city, but it does throw you around quite a lot. I can’t say it felt all that safe.
Advantages of UEL Docklands over Stratford campus? Cyprus is a dedicated station for UEL. So you step off the DLR and… There is UEL. UEL Docklands campus itself is pretty impressive -
Unlike Stratford (which is set mostly in a gorgeous, old-fashioned building), Docklands is quite modern. And, despite warnings from Dr Jansari yesterday that enrolment would be lengthy and horribly busy, the actual enrolment process was slick, quick and painless. The staff were really organised and helpful, sporting the latest technology to see them through (namely iPads – I’m not an Apple user myself, but they seemed to do the job). Within five minutes of arriving, I had my own student ID card (woo! The photo actually turned out all right this time!) and UEL Progress card. Having taken over an hour to get to Docklands (remember, I am based in Lambeth), and expecting enrolment to take ages, I was left a bit dazed and not really knowing what to do with myself.
I wandered aimlessly for 30 minutes around a campus that I would probably never see again. I got a free T-mobile goodie bag. In my goodie bag there were T-mobile branded post-its (like I don’t have enough bloody stationary…), a free bag of microwave popcorn (woo!) and, most importantly, word FRIDGE MAGNETS!! I immediately tossed the ones that actually said “T-mobile” on them (pointless advertising on my fridge? I think not), and added the rest to my collection of poetry fridge magnets. My fridge now looks like this:
You do need to get your own word magnets. You can amuse yourself FOREVER.
And so forth.
Anyway, after getting my free toys, I got bored and headed home (reading Pinker’s “The Language Instinct” all the way home – and hearing Black English Vernacular in action as I passed through Brixton, innit). When I got home, I penned the email I promised to Dr Jansari regarding my dissertation, basically BEGGING him to be my supervisor. Well, he responded within minutes. He was incredibly positive, and has suggested we arrange a meeting to discuss ideas. He also asked lots of questions about my first degree etc., which I take to be a good sign.
Man, I kiss ass GOOD.
Right, I’m going back to my goliath pint of tea, and getting on with business. SHIT, I’M DOING A MASTERS.
(Lovingly hand painted by Ben. See? I told you we’d done the pottery painting thing before)
September 23, 2010 | Categories: London, Psychology, university | Tags: dissertation, Docklands, excitement, fortune cookie, London, me me me, new, psychology, tea, UEL, university | Leave A Comment »
Let me get something straight first: I was expecting Stratford to be an absolute dump. Ben used to work over that side of London, and on hearing my uni was based there, exclaimed that it was a “shithole”. However, according to classmates, it’s been vastly revived over the last few years, and is much better than it used to be. I don’t know what it used to be like, but I really quite liked it. Plus UEL’s campus there is spiffing.
So what met me first as I found my way out of Stratford station?
And there’s a Nando’s not too far away. Hurrah! At least I have somewhere to crawl and refuel after a gruelling 6 hours of lectures on a Wednesday evening.
After some wandering around and getting vaguely lost (don’t worry – I always do this. UEL isn’t really THAT hard to find. I am just useless) I finally found the Stratford campus. Unfortunately it’s having restoration work done on it at the moment, so you can’t really see it fully, but it is a LOVELY building.
Our induction was led by the lovely Dr Ashok Jansari (who I had been dying to meet – a little bit like the geeky celeb moment I had at RIGB’s Ramachandran lecture). He gave us a general overview of the course and the campus, as well as talking us through some of his own research (in response to questions about dissertations). He was then kind enough to provide us with a light lunch (French bread, crisps, cheese and the like), during which I managed to corner him and generally kiss-arse. I explained how HE is the reason I came to UEL, and I’m really interested in long-term amnesia so wouldn’t it be lovely if I could do my dissertation with you as my supervisor don’t you think that would be a good idea Iloveyou? He looked a little bit afraid, but he did talk to me a bit, and ask me my name, so that can’t be bad, right?
We also had the chance to meet the charming Ian Wells, who will be teaching our Research Methods module. Having just completed (and passed! I got the email today! Hurrah) PY1026C (research methods 1) at London Met, I hope to have a fairly decent head start on the basics, so perhaps I won’t be completely in the dark for this one. We shall see! As for our other module this semester (Cognitive Psychology & Psychobiology) I’m hoping sheer enthusiasm will see me through.
As for the dissertation question? I’m not sure yet. I would love to have Dr Jansari as my supervisor, but I worry that my main interests lie just outside of his current research projects. Nevertheless, I intend to pen him a polite and concisely worded email about my ideas and preferences for a dissertation topic.
We also had a talk from the Psychology library specialist, and then a final Q&A session, but by this time (5pm) we were all thoroughly dazed, and needed to get on down the pub. So we did.
I only stayed for the one drink (an organic cherry beer that I haven’t tried before) but had a nice chat with a fellow Philosophy graduate. Mostly we talked about shooting hookers on GTA4 (ahem) but honestly? I think we were all a bit “psyched out” for the day.
I did the sensible thing and left around 5:30 – unfortunately, I failed to realise (too late!) that this is one of the busiest travel times in London. I was crammed up against strangers in a sweaty tin can, underground, all the way home.
Upon arriving home, I made the silly decision to start my new exercise regime! I have been meaning to do this for ages, but I had a serious reality check when I made the fatal mistake of popping myself on the scales when I was at my mum’s this weekend. I’ve decided to start gently, in the hope that this might trick me into thinking it’s manageable and therefore encouraging me to “keep it up”. I did 20 minutes on the rowing machine, beat up the punch bag a bit and then 30 very painful sit ups. It’s a start, eh?
Unfortunately, I undid all of my hard work by taking Ben to Happy Inn (a Chinese buffet situated in Wing Yip, Croydon) to celebrate… Our two year anniversary!! That’s right folks. We’ve put up with each for two whole years, without killing each other or anything Seriously though, it’s been wonderful, but I’ll save you all the soppy stuff, and just post a pretty picture instead:
September 23, 2010 | Categories: exercise, London, Psychology, science, sociable, university | Tags: excitement, exercise, London, me me me, new, optimism, psychology, science, sociable, Stratford, UEL, university | 3 Comments »