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:  The sunrise was fabulous


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…….



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.


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.


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.


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)!!!!!!!!!!


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!)


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!


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


My home


My local: so much like a British pub!





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



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.


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).


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……..

A land down under

I seem to have done nothing but travel and give talks this month.  By the end of the week in Aug I will have been to San Diego, LA, Melbourne (Australia) and Boston.  I am getting to the point where I dont know what time or day of the week it is!!

I have never been to Australia so when the invitation came in to go to the International Congress of Immunology in Melbourne I decided to go especially given Australia is significantly closer to San Francisco than Cambridge.  None the less it was still a long flight and we crossed the date line which totally defeated me mentally (I arrived before I left on the way back!).  I flew with Quantus who were really good and made a long flight relatively pleasurable and I even got some sleep which is unusual for me on flights.

Its winter in Melbourne and surprisingly cold, but much like a summer in SF (to misquote a supposed Mark Twain comment).  It is a lovely city which sits on the Yarra river which is a beautiful place to run in the morning


The conference started with some 3-4000 people.  I was chairing a session, talking then taking part in a debate (more on that later).  This is an unusual conference for me as I am not that keen on huge meetings as I find it overwhelming and this trip was no exception.  On the other hand I went to a number of lectures outside my main area of interest and learnt a lot, I was asked some very interesting questions after my talk and I was really looked after by my fabulous Australian colleagues Ash, Matt and Kate.  I have huge respect for my Australian friends now as I now realise just how far they have to travel for scientific meetings which they do regularly with great grace and cheerfulness.  Ash and I sneaked off for an afternoon of wine tasting and we went to a brilliant vineyard (Yarra Yerring) where the wines were outstanding.  The Yarra Valley was just beautiful.


One of my buddies, Luke, had, however, dropped me right in it.  As I was on the tarmac at SFO (the airport at SF) I got an e-mail asking me to participate in a debate which sounded OK to me.  The instructions then arrived and boiled down to a team of 4 of us taking it in turns to argue that adaptive immunity was unnecessary (we work in a different area of immunity- the innate immune system).  This would be fine except the instructions specifically stated we had to be funny and entertaining: in other words we each had to do 4 mins of stand up immunology comedy in front of 4000 of our colleagues.  Fortunately I did not fully understand what was required until about 2h before hand so after frantically scribbling some notes I had no time to be nervous and I made a few comments about “sledging”.  This is a favorite pass time of Australian sportsmen and something I was expected to do about my opponents, but I made the point that GB sport managed pretty well with out it (27 Olympic golds for us vs 8 Australia) so I was not going to do it which got a good laugh from pretty much everyone! It was pretty intimidating but a glass of wine before it started helped and I am pretty glad I didnt know what was involved beforehand so I had no time to get nervous.  I am not sure a new career in stand up comedy beckons however!

I found a little time to go to the beautiful botanic gardens and got confused by flowers again.  This time there were daffodils and red hot pokers out at the same time: how does that work?!?!??!



I definitely want to go back………..


A land down under

The quest for gold

I have been a bit remiss in my blog writing because I have been traveling for the last couple of weeks (partly work, partly holiday).  The CEB lab SF has reached the mid-way point of Charlotte and Milton’s internships (see below with the Genentech founders), which also means I will return to the UK from SF very soon


(I am more than a bit in denial as I love it here, but it will be great to spend time with Mike, my family, my friends, the lab and, of course, my cats).

I decided my quest last week was to find suitable locations for Charlotte to do a postdoc in California (its a hard job, but it’s obviously my duty) so I am off giving talks and location spotting at the same time.  First up I travelled to La Jolla, San Diego where I met up Guy who is an old friend of my Cambridge buddy Nick.  We had some really interesting discussions and found we were working on a similar project from different directions so we will collaborate to get it finished, which is fabulous.  La Jolla really is not a bad option for a postdoc as far as I can see- lab uniform is shorts and T-shirts, the weather is warmer and sunnier than SF, but still not humid and the labs overlook the beach so lunch time surfing seems to be an option!  Off to LA next week to scope out another postdoc site, then I fly to Australia for a week so the blog will go AWOL again.


Mike arrived on Thurs and we decided not to travel too much although we spent a fabulous weekend in Santa Cruz with Susan and Andy (another great location for a postdoc), then we took a short trip up the north coast to Mendocino- very lovely, if a little touristy, but much less so than Carmel.  We stayed closed to the sea and the seal toyed with us!

We had one of the best meals of the year ( and I finally found great value, as well as the usual great quality, American wines in the Anderson Valley (Handley wines had a great range of lovely wines)


I am now enjoying watching Team GB compete for gold as the time difference is working in our favor, although it’s limiting the site seeing in SF, but we did manage a walk up Twin Peaks this am (I am so going to miss this town).  It’s the first of my leaving parties tonight with my cycling friends and I can’t believe my time is running out…


I can’t sign off, though, without mentioning Karl the Fog (who has his own twitter feed) who today would not let go of the Golden Gate bridge today.  Can you spot the tops of the bridge?


The quest for gold

They think its all over…

When I woke this morning and listened to “Today” on BBC Radio 4 it was all about the 50th anniversary of England winning the soccer world cup against Germany (the quote is from  Kenneth Wolstenholme‘s BBC TV commentary of the final “They think its all over! It is now”).  I can’t quite understand why they were celebrating England’s failure to win the football world cup in the 50 years since 1966, but maybe that is because I am not a soccer fan, and there is so much else to celebrate in British spot that I have never understood the obsession with football.  There is an obscene amount of money paid to premier league footballers in England and yet they seem unable to perform for their national side.  Minnows such as Iceland and Wales are able to play much better in soccer international championships it appears!!  Roll on the Olympics where hopefully British sport will give us all something to celebrate, following on from Froome’s Tour victory, because things seem to be very difficult at home at the moment from everything I hear on the radio and from family and friends.

Here in sunny SF we have had a fantastically productive week, with a substantial amount of help from our friends here in Genentech.  I finally cracked a technique I have been trying to get working since January, Milton has found two new phenotypes and Charlotte is powering her way through new molecular techniques that will transform our work in the lab at home.  My imaging experiments are coming along too so between the three of us we are building a substantial body of work that will underpin what we do in Cambridge for the next five years.  We have made many new friends and collaborations which will be critical for the future as well.  For me these new friendships and collaborations are as important as the new technologies.  I am in close contact with many of the people I worked with in the past on sabbaticals and its completely transformative for my life (both professionally and privately).  The lab back home is mid-way through a desperately needed refurbishment thanks to a Royal Society Wolfson grant so we will have a brand new work space to populate on our return.  It also means the three of us avoided the lab clear out and, here I hang my head in shame, my office clear out (Betty please forgive me!).  I am eternally grateful to Pani, Lee, John and Betty for all their hard work.  This is the cleared out lab and the last time it looked like this was when it was converted 20 years ago!


We have been doing the editing for Milton’s paper, most of which was tedious, but straight forward (for poor Milton I hasten to add, not me!), except for when we were asked to convert our written english into american english.  As many of you will know my spelling and grammar is terrible, but I cannot bring myself to make the kind of horrible language changes the editors want so I said no to that one (they will do it anyway, but I have to take a stand!).  Horrible words will appear like accordingly, aforementioned, therefore (in the wrong places) and I will cringe when I read the final version (many years of Duncan and Nick correcting my terrible writing has rubbed off on me after all).

This week has also been sad for me as my granny is finally slipping away at the age of 99.  She is a remarkable lady who lived on her own until she had fall about 12 months ago.  Before I left for the USA I went to see her and she told me how tired she was especially as she had lost her hearing and a lot of her vision so she could no longer see or hear much.  She has recently had a big stroke and is now slipping away.  My sadness is tempered with fabulous memories many of which revolve around food.  She was a fantastic cook making and icing the family wedding cakes up until a couple of years ago.  I remember a huge parcel arriving at my student house on my 21st birthday which was a magnificent iced cake from Grandma!  She has always been there for me and I am struggling with the fact that I am in SF and not there for her now.  Unfortunately I have often been a long way away when close family members have died (Uncle Freddie and Aunty Ave both died whilst I was away) and its very, very hard.  This is one of the reasons I think I have not made it to work abroad long term because, whilst in theory it should be easy to hop on a plane and get home, actually it is not that simple especially when you are working.  My only concern is that Grandma does not suffer and, whilst I am sad, it is amazing to me that I have been lucky enough to have a grandparent for so much of my life.  I knew three grandparents very well as well as remembering clearly 4 great grant parents (including the terrifying (to a small child like me) Mam).  Few people are that lucky.

They think its all over…

Le Tour de Marin

It seems fitting on the day when Chris Froome looks to have secured his win on the Tour de France to write the blog for this week principally about cycling.  The more I cycle the more I love it: yes I get a bit scared by the traffic, the injuries, the idiotic drivers and the descents (more on that later), but it is such fun especially with a great group of buddies.  First I must introduce Eddy: many people have asked me what Eddy looks like so here he is in all his glory!  For those of you not as cycling obsessed as myself the reason he is called Eddy is because he is a Merckx bike, the bike range developed by one of the greatest cyclists ever Eddy Merckx.

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Its been another great week in the lab with the results pouring in, we had a paper accepted into Nature Communications and my pile of reviewing grew (but it all looks interesting).  I knew, however, that the highlight of my week would be on Sat when I was going to cycle over the Golden Gate Bridge and around the Marin Headlands with some of my Genentech cycling buddies.  This has been on my “to do” list for my sabbatical, but I had somehow not got around to it so James, Courtney and Daniel agreed to show me the Alpine Dam route on Sat (their patience is unending as I am still a slow climber, but things are improving).  The weather was predicted to be beautiful and we set off from the Rapha cafe with the sun shining at 9am.  The bridge was relatively quiet and, yes, I did get goosebumps as we cycled over it: it is truly magnificent


We cycled on to complete the Alpine Dam route: remarkably beautiful with some brutal, but rewarding, climbs and incredible views of the sea


Obviously these kind of views require selfies!


And I can’t tell you how much I am going to miss these guys when I return to Cambridge


We returned over the bridge after the best part of 50 miles in the heat: this time it was carnage with people on foot or on hired bikes all over the place.  It was the scariest part of the ride (even more that the descents)!


I did see two of the most bizarre things today.  Firstly two people descending on their bikes going at least 30mph without helmets: this is completely beyond my comprehension.  Secondly on the SF side of the bridge a man in a spiderman body suit (mask and all) with a bike.  He came and asked me for directions (that is also bizarre considering how useless I am at finding my way around), but I was so bemused I missed the golden opportunity to ask him why was he wearing the suit!  One of the guys we were cycling with did ask him why didn’t he just use his web to get across to the other side of the bridge!!  This was a true moment of SF bizarreness.  It was a magical day and I even found I was enjoying the climbing (well mostly)! The day was supposed to end with a dinner with Milton and Charlotte to celebrate the paper, but they both had some clam chowder that disagreed with them at lunch time (poor things) so we will have to celebrate another time.


Le Tour de Marin