Oranges, Lemons and Loranges

So much has happened in the world politically, and none of it good, such that I lost the will to blog.  What is there to say, as the madness of a “hard Brexit” looms and the Trump presidency bites, that has not already been said by many others far more eloquently than I could say.  I escaped it all last week for a brief holiday walking and cooking in the Alpujarra Mountains of Granada, Southern Spain.  This is not an area of Spain I knew at all (having had many holidays in the Barcelona region as a child, it was my first Spanish vacation since I was 19).  The area has a fascinating history, including a period of occupation by the Moors, and this influenced the religion, architecture and food.  At one time Christians, Jews and Muslims worshiped together in the local church which seems remarkable in the current climate: much of the world appears to have forgotten the ability to be tolerant.  The area is very quiet, exceptionally beautiful and the sun shone in February.  The benefit of winter sun when you are suffering a grey British winter cannot be overstated.  We stayed at the wonderful Las Chimeneas guest house (lovely accommodation, wonderful home Spanish cooking and great hosts (Emma and David); https://laschimeneas.com/index.php?page=home)

Our room is on the left, the view on the right!

The holiday was organised by the fabulous “Manna from Devon” (http://www.mannafromdevon.com/) led by David Jones and his trusted helper Louis.  It also included Sole’s cooking from Las Chimeneas which gave us a real understanding of local food, as well as more general Spanish cuisine.  A highlight for me was tasting through the “Bodegas Barbadillo” range of sherries, wines which are currently much under appreciated and under valued, with their dry Manzanilla (especially the aged version) being fantastic with tapas and many of the dishes here (a new discovery for me in wine and food pairing).  The citrus fruits were out and there was a Lorange tree (oranges and lemons on the same tree; see below).

Plenty of long and reasonably challenging walks kept the weight down, but I did wish I had bought Eddy with me as the cycling here would be fantastic (lots of climbs, good quality roads and little traffic) so I hope to return with my bike this time next year especially as the weather in Cambridge now is snow and ice, so its back to the turbo trainer for me!  It was painful to leave the glorious weather, the almond blossom and the sunsets in Spain for snow.  The holiday also bought together a great bunch of people and we had a ball with lots of banter and laughter.

On my return to the UK I find Wales have lost to England in the rugby (again), research funding has been reorganised in the UK (hopefully the new council will be able to lobby strongly for UK science, as a hard Brexit may well mean a total loss of EU funding (a disaster for British science)) and I miss the sun already.  It also reminds me how much I love being European.  Still Speed reminded me (again) that my traveling is not something he approves of, even though I tried to persuade him that Almeria was well worth a visit….

Oranges, Lemons and Loranges

The British obsession with weather

Its hard to explain to non Brits why we are so obsessed with the weather, but towards the end of last month we went from -7 to +12 in the space of 3 days (19-54 F).  This was a monumental shock to my system after SF, but the frost does allow for pretty pictures even if its terrifying in the car.

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Kings college chapel in the frost takes some beating!

It was brutally cold.  We went to Deal in Kent (close to Dover) which is a lovely, old fashioned, British seaside town and the wind was bitter.

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It made for some spectacular skies though.

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There is, therefore, always something to talk about with the weather!  I was feeling particularly grumpy about the cold, until Karen and Daniel in SF told me it had been raining for 3 weeks, which stopped me moaning immediately.  California badly needs the rain of course.

The Christmas party season is just coming to an end at work (both in Cambridge and in my new secondment in GSK) and, as usual, I have eaten too much already!!  The college party was first.  This is always an amazing evening full of Cambridge tradition and, as expected, it was fun and full of interesting people.  I missed the main GSK party as it was on the same night as my lab Christmas dinner.  This was also a lovely evening, where I was very surprised to see we had more than 25 people: I am not entirely sure how this happened and I feel very lucky to work with such a great group of talented people.

Hayley, Rob and I cycled at the weekend which was fun although we all were aware of the impact the weather has had on our cycling fitness.  Ciara comes over from Genentech this weekend so it will be great to see her- she plans to brave my aluminum road bike (the one I started with in Genentech and that has a tendency to veer to the left).  She asked if we wanted anything bringing over from SF and I said the weather; but perhaps not if its raining!

I guess this will be it now until after Christmas.  I have many hopes for the new year professionally, but my ideal Christmas list would be as follows: Brexit to not be as bad as I think it will be, Trump to not be as scary as I am afraid he will be, and for the horror in Syria to stop.  I think I am being overly ambitious.  To all my friends around the world, I miss you all and I wish I could see you, but in the mean time I hope you have a great Christmas holidays and a happy 2017.

Of course if I was a cat I would be easily pleased at Christmas!!!

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The British obsession with weather

Remember, remember……

The title of the blog comes from an old English rhyme about Guy Fawkes

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot.
We see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!

On November the 5th each year we celebrate the failure of Guy Fawkes to blow up the houses of parliament with bonfires and fireworks.  Its actually celebrating the survival of King James I from being blown up in 1605.  In true British style we continue to celebrate Guy Fawkes failure!

It has been a week or two for rememberence and contemplation.  My gran finally died and I was glad to be in the UK to say goodbye.  Nov 11 is Armistice day when the many people who died in two world wars are remembered.  These people were conscripted to fight wars to maintain our freedom and I have always been unable to comprehend how the world could end up in such a situation.  Then came the US election result…

In my opinion the US election result has made the world a more dangerous place and for the first time in my life I am afraid that we are actually not far from a world war.  The rise of the far right across Europe and the USA is bewildering.  Having been to Rome, Paris and London in the last 3 weeks the levels of xenophobia are awful and this has changed so much in the last 10 months.  Worse, though, has been our collective lack of appreciation for people who feel so disenfranchised by our politicians that they actually believe the rhetoric.  In Brexit people really seemed to believe the Brexiteers when they said an extra 300 million a week would go to the NHS.  Of course they admitted the very next day they had lied. Britain is now in its worst debt level since the Second World War with the costs of Brexit not likely to help.

Donald Trump’s infamous wall, his attitude towards women and his stance on minorities (ethnic and others) are too shocking to contemplate.  Now his cabinet appointments also fill me with trepidation.  Having lived in San Francisco, which I found to be one of the least prejudiced places I have ever been to, I cant really get to grips with Trump as president or the impact it will have (certainly on California).  Calexit sounds an attractive prospect though especially given its the world’s 5th largest economy: it doesnt actually need the rest of the USA.  One can only hope much of Trump’s rhetoric is lies.  It all makes for a troublesome thanksgiving (a US holiday I have always unfortunately missed).  Happy holidays to all my USA friends and lets hope things work out better than we fear….

Remember, remember……

Roman Holiday

Its been way too long since I have sat down to write.  A month has flown by and since returning from SF I have been to Philadelphia, Rome and Paris.  I have had a birthday (hence the trip to Rome).  I cycled with the bike club in Saffron Walden (not sure its for me) and with Rob and Hayley (way more fun- Hayley is as speedy as ever and Rob climbs hills with a grace I am deeply jealous of!).  I have had a nasty fall from Eddy (slipped on a wet leaf, I think, whilst going around a corner) fortunately nothing is broken either on me or the bike, but I do have some impressive bruises and my confidence is a bit battered.

Philadelphia was the first trip (less than a week after returning from SF) and all about science at the US GSK site.   My jet lag had got about as far as the East Coast of the USA so I was fine there, but completely scrambled when I got back just as I was about to fly to Rome (which at least was holiday).  I have just started my 3 day a week secondment at GSK and I am excited by the prospects of the research we can do.  Genentech taught me so much and I am very lucky to have the opportunity to work with another company.  Translating basic science into drugs is the ultimate aim of our research and this is what I hope to learn about during my collaborations with industry.

I was exhausted by the time we got to Rome, but after a lot of sleep I had a great day with Pippa, Tony and Mike visiting my favorite places topped by the Pantheon (a complete Roman temple converted into a church by one of the popes): it always leaves me speechless.

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What is left of the forum is beautiful and I realise that Rome (my top European city by a long way) and SF have some things in common – the wild areas (not parks, but ruins in Rome and wild mountains in SF) in amongst the city.

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This time we went to a new museum, Centrale Montemartini (in an old power station) where beautiful ancient artefacts (excess material from the other museums) sit among industrial artefacts- it is really fabulous.  We caught up with our really good friends Guido and Giovanna too, so it was a truly lovely trip.

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Paris was work: I dragged poor Mike along whilst I worked, but at least we got to take home lovely food and the meeting was scientifically excellent.  It was Pharmacology based and the speakers were fascinating- I learnt a lot.

I am so happy to be with friends, family and cats at home, but I miss SF and my friends there terribly…..

Roman Holiday

Parting is such sweet sorrow that I shall say goodbye till it be next summer

This misquoted Shakespeare quote seemed appropriate as I left my friends, my Noe Valley apartment and San Francisco behind. I rode up Folsom on Monday with my buddy Paul (who it transpired had cycled across the Pyrenees on a Brompton (if you have never seen one follow the link and understand why I was awed by this achievement: https://www.brompton.com/)).  The sunrise was fabulous

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I managed to catch some of my friends at work

And I then had a meeting with Vishva who has invited me back next summer so I stopped feeling miserable at leaving everyone and just enjoyed my last two days!  We left on Tues and at the airport found we were upgraded to business on BA which was more than a bit of a result.  A flat bed on an overnight flight is bliss!

The weather was warm and sunny on landing in the UK and the following day I was helping to host a Neuroinflammation meeting in Cambridge which was a bit of a challenge with jet lag, but the fabulous quality of the talks meant I spent most of the day awake with the odd lapse.  Friday was back to back meetings so the weekend arrived very fast.  Eddy was introduced to my friends at the bike shop to be re-built and serviced, I took the Giant out and sped to the gym frightening Mike by my speediness!  On Sat afternoon and evening we were so privileged to be invited to Tris’ 50th birthday party.  This year has to be the year of parties for me (they have all been fantastic) and this one was incredible: an aerial display of a dog fight between a messerschmitt and a spitfire (I wish I had taken a picture but I was too stunned), incredible food and wine along with amazing magicians and a 70s tribute band that had to be seen to be believed (my pictures of this are not good enough for show which is the problem with having had good wine with dinner!).  The weather was so good we were sitting outside at midnight (when, of course, I am wide awake still on SF time).  This has left little time for unpacking which has been challenging…….

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Parting is such sweet sorrow that I shall say goodbye till it be next summer

And now the end is near…..

I have had an amazing last week and couple of weekends.   Last weekend we cycled around Woodside and up Kings mountain.  It was a beautiful ride and a long climb (approx 5 miles) which, for the first time, I managed fairly well without being too far behind the pack.  We finished with a great burger in Redwood city and I was left with the inevitable question: how do I sustain my “climbing” legs in the flat lands of East Anglia?  I ended with dinner with Vanessa.  A pretty perfect day all around.

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On Sunday I took the motion sickness medication and went whale watching off Monterey with Charlotte, Karen, Vishva, Monjul, the boys (German Shepherds), Ivan and his family.

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It was nothing short of remarkable: we saw Humpback and Fin whales (up to 27 m long and 73 tonnes making them the second largest animal on the planet behind blue whales), they swam around the boat and were devilishly difficult to photograph, as usual.

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We also saw two different types of dolphins (Common, Risso’s: even harder to photograph as they move so fast, its a question of point, hope and shoot!).  They were spectacular as they followed the boat, playing, jumping, rolling in the air and putting on an incredible show.

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We also saw seals, a sea otter (on his back relaxing, as usual for these animals) and Harbor Porpoises.  What can I say except I find these sea mammals amazing and I am completely smitten!  If ever you get a chance go and see them: I have been lucky enough to see whales now off South Africa and California.  I am stunned every time I see one.

The week continued to be busy, I did my last experiment; imaging with Cecile and the results are beautiful.  I wrapped up everything at work and socially it was a week of events.  We had the last full ride with most of my cycling buddies: it was the Brexit leaving ride.  Courtney baked delicious muffins, then made me wear a red, white and blue tutu (never again)!!!!!!!!!!

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This is the view we cycle up Folsom for (I will miss it for sure and I never thought I would say that because of the pain of getting to the top!)

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We cycled San Bruno again on Friday (the Coyote came out, in all his glory, to say goodbye on Folsom).   I am happy to report I managed the climb OK and James forced me into a PB, but we didn’t get a view this time as it was foggy!

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Mike arrived on Thurs and a glorious San Francisco summer weekend arrived.  Friday night was lovely and spent with Cedar and Jayetta.   On Saturday I did all my favorite things (apart from cycle).  The images below capture perfectly why I have fallen in love with the city

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My home

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My local: so much like a British pub!

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The views from Sanchez and 21st (panoramas on all 4 sides: absolutely amazing)

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Back in the AT&T park for a baseball game this time (SF giants against St Louis Cardinals) in the Genentech Corporate box: I still think this must be some of the best views from a sports stadium in the world (the cardinals won which generally pleased everyone in the box, as many come from St Louis)!  I could get to like baseball as the tactics are fascinating.

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Finally the view from work.  I love the sea and mountains none of which we have in Cambridge.  On the other hand Cambridge does have beautiful architecture, history and great science too.  I long to see my family, friends and my cats; so returning is a bitter-sweet experience.  I never expected to love a city so much, to make such wonderful friends and to have achieved so much scientifically (as well as on the bike!).  I am determined to return, as SF has got into my soul as so many people told me it would.  Will I sign off with this blog?  I think not, as my SF friends want the news from the UK, so I will continue but with less frequency!

I hope you have enjoyed this “Letter from America”

And now the end is near…..

The sands of time……..

Are running out on my time in SF.  Today Milton and Charlotte finished at Genentech.  They made me proud as a PhD supervisor and we got a massive amount of work done which will set us up so nicely for our return.  Suffice to say we have all found a new love: San Francisco and we will never forget her.  I never thought I would feel this way about a city but its beauty and wildness take my breath away: where else would you see a very vain coyotee admiring the scenery from the top of a wild mountain in the middle of the city (he was looking down upon us on our bikes).

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Mid-week I cycled up San Bruno again (with the ever patient Daniel and Amin) which amounts to about 1300 feet if you include Folsom as well.  It was much more comfortable this time especially as I managed not to get lost after careful monitoring by my companions.  I wasnt even that slow apparently so my climbing legs have come along nicely, but  I am not sure how I will sustain them in the flat lands of Cambridgeshire!!!

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Last week I spent in and around Boston (which was a bit challenging after just arriving back from Australia!).  I had a wonderful time though.  I gave a talk in Harvard and got loads of excellent questions as well as meeting some new colleagues.  It is so good for my science to go and talk to others and think about the questions they ask.  I come away with a refreshed view and new ideas.  This is one of the major reasons why I travel: to get others perspectives on our work and how it may be improved.  When I come back from sabbatical my science always grows in response to everything I have seen and been asked by my amazing colleagues.  A bonus of giving a talk is that you usually get taken out to dinner.  We had a brilliant evening in a fantastic restaurant with great company.  I then went to stay with one of my best friends Kate, and her family, in Wellesley.  On the evening I arrived we went to visit Doug and Christine and the group of people I worked with on sabbatical in 2008 were reunited.  It was a great evening.  The rest of the weekend was lovely and I finally got some rest so I was completely refreshed and ready to give our lab meeting presentation to Vishva’s lab.  The three of us presented and this went well.  We had some more excellent questions and we are now planning the next collaborative section of the work.  I have been invited back to SF and I know I will be desperate to return.  My last weekend before I have to pack up has now arrived and its going to be fun with hopefully good photos for next week.

 

The sands of time……..