For some strange reason, the British accent suggests trustworthiness and intelligence to Americans. So rather than the usual reaction to the Brissle accent,
my sounds are translated to,
Anyway, long story short our friends Jaclyn and Willie have let us look after their two 10 week old kittens for 4 days, whilst they celebrate their grandparents 60th wedding anniversary. Meet Grant and Chewie:
Whilst they were a bit shy at first, especially looking around for Jaclyn and Willie after they dropped them off (as, where are they hiding?), they have now taken to us.
And here I am tickling the belly of a snoozly ‘the-kitten-currently-known-as-Grant’:
In fact, when I went to pick something up from the floor just before bedtime the first night, Grant leapt up on my lap for a nap / to give me squatting practice.
On Saturday, I managed to tick another item of our US to do list, namely see an American Football game and tailgate.
My university team the CSU Rams (Colorado State University) played against the Northern Colorado bears, who are a slightly weaker team in the same league. But as good as the game was (I will come to that), the pre-game was even better.
Before the football game, lots of people tailgate, whereby they park up outside the stadium early and setup a grill on the back of a pickup tailgate (hence the name), drink some beer, play some music and play pretend quarterback (I now know how to throw a football properly). Basically, it’s an informal hype up party and is somewhat of an American tradition.
This was a special game for three reasons:
It was celebrating Ag day, when the team and fans all wear orange to celebrate the school’s original colors of pumpkin and alfalfa. So the stadium was awash with orange.
The current stadium is on outskirts of Fort Collins (between the town and the reservoir / foothills) in a beautiful location, but the facilities are quite basic. Over the coming months the team will moving to their new 36,000 capacity stadium right next to the Chemistry Department on main campus (260 meters / 0.2 miles away):
Hopefully this won’t disrupt campus too much and won’t mess up our experiments. Here is an artists representation of the new one:
The Rams had a starting quarterback who is a freshman (1st year undergraduate) who had a great game (QB Collin Hill was 21-of-27 for 315 yards and four touchdown passes – to four different receivers – plus a 51-yard touchdown run!)
It really is quite some experience seeing a live match. Even though this was just a university match, 27,000 people turned up. This is about the same average home turn out for Southampton or Crystal Palace in the English Premiership. We ended up sat right behind the CSU marching band who had different songs for every different event (e.g. one for 1st down, one for 3rd down, one for time outs etc.).
The touchdown song was really quite something up close behind the Euphoniums, especially when accompanied by an artillery cannon and cam the ram (our team mascot) doing a lap of the pitch.
(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
The final excellent bit of trivia is that how popular football in the US is and how the system works. The students get great scholarships and get their tuition free, but do not get paid. The coach however earns more than the head of the University, such is the love of sports here. And his name is coach bobo!
All that remains is to thank Mike for taking me, and for those who want to see a very funny, quite biased, British comedians view on student athletes and coaches; I recommend John Oliver’s show ‘last week tonight’ on HBO.
Last week, we journeyed back to England for family, food, fun and my graduation ceremony.
Food might sound like the odd one on the list so I will tackle it first. We love it here, like a lot, but there are some things we miss and certain British/European/Asian delicacies are one of them:
Luckily, the Pecks and Cheethams took us to play badminton later in the week, so we did work some of the tasty meals off.
We were fortunate to be able to catch up with the Channons, Marchs, Boultons, Pecks, Cheethams and various Warwick University friends at the graduation and afterwards at the pub. We also managed to sticker-ise some twins (sorry but also not sorry Kat and Chris) and I went for a slow run at sea level (Parkrun #33).
Best of all, check out this hat:
We (Cat, Mum, Dad, Nan, Nan & Grampy) spent a fair amount of time at the graduation trying to figure out what my stupid hat was called, turns out Cloth Bonnet (although Tam or Square Academic Cap are also acceptable apparently). Of course everyone had a go and I think you’ll agree it adds a certain je ne sais quoi to most outfits:
Here I am below in various family formations. You may notice I look quite warm / like a professor of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It was about 29 °C (84 F, 302.15 K) and humid, so we all were pretty cooked by the time Simon picked us up to take us to Three Ponds / Derby.
We had a lovely time in Derby though didn’t manage to win either the pub quiz (we came 4th ish) or the best Russian-Olympics-doping-scandal-themed team name (Stop Putin the drugs in me).
We finished off the holiday with a trip to the Blue Lagoon spa in Iceland, but more on that in a later blog post.
For a while now, my friends Jaclyn and Mike have been trying to convince me to play softball with them. After 9 months of avoiding the question with such excuses as “I have old man knees” and “well, it’s just not cricket is it?” I finally gave in last night.
I played for the Scared Hitless team (which I initially thought said Scared Hitlers and was quite confused by the name) who were seeded last in the league and were thus playing the top of the league – who are undefeated – in the playoffs. Coupled to this, our team were missing 7 of our usual 10 players, meaning we had myself and two other people who have never played softball before. It is little exaggeration to say the other team were like:
… and we were like:
We even looked like what I would call a ‘village team’, as only four of our co-ed team had the team jersey on and I managed to wear my Denver Broncos top – just to get across mixed sport messages.
The thing I found most difficult was catching with the glove (on your left or non-throwing hand) as I’m used to using both hands from cricket. Fortunately my team refused as they didn’t want to deal with broken fingers.
I (and we) actually did ok. I got told off once for blocking one of the runners running between bases (I had my back turned so had no idea I was even in the way!), and at one point heard somebody shout ‘back’ (they actually said bag), and I stopped just before reaching home base, so almost screwed that up, but I did get a catch, an out (on 2nd base – pun intended) and make it round to home base twice so wasn’t a massive burden to the team.
The best bit was, the league has a rule that if one team is destroying another (e.g. 20 to 0 after 20 minutes), the umpires will call the game early to save embarrassment. But after 4 innings each, we were winning 5-4. Nobody quite understood how this had happened, especially the really good team who seemed quite annoyed that a bunch of randomers were winning. They then brought there A-game and ended up winning 15-8 after 6 innings each just before time ran out, but this is apparently very respectable against a far better team when half of your team thought you were playing basketball not softball (I made this pun last night and nobody thought it was funny 😦
We were so happy at not being crushed, we went out after for post-match beers.
My favorite bit though has to be when a batter on the other team hit the ball behind him over the safety fence. Another teammate of his near me commented “you hit it the wrong way” to which I countered “he should have hit it over the other fence” (a home run – what you are supposed to do – I think). The guy then said “yea, ha! Who does he think he is, a Mets batter?” which I am assuming is a baseball joke, though I just did what anyone would and laughed nervously whilst nodding.
It will come as no surprise that my birthday (a British person) being on independence day (America’s moving out party for British people) was both wonderful and amusing to our new American friends. Me and Cat ended up having a very busy day.
In order to start my birthday off in style, I ‘decided’ to take part in the Fort Collins 4th July 5 km Firecracker race (though if I’m being honest, a certain Harry-Potter-loving, anti-clapping office friend talked me into it!). Despite the early start (7.30 am), the race was really good fun with a trumpet lead national anthem (I still don’t know the words), and some great fancy dress. This was about the median level of America-loving clothing:
Cat felt this was exactly how not to spend a birthday, so organized a birthday/4th July pool party/bbq at our friend John’s house (thank you John!). It was sunny, hot (36 °C), the pool was warm (29 °C), the food was obviously excellent, the craft beer tasty, and my friends Rachel and Morgan got me some strong American clothing to let everyone know how much I loved the 4th:
Now you might think that the fact the pool was full of inflatables such as a grumpy-looking turtle would not matter to a bunch of serious 20-somethings, and we would just sit around drinking beer, throwing an american football around…
… and you would be wrong:
Though to be fair, I think the turtle won in the end.
We also played some disk dunk, which is like a cross between Frisbee and basketball. Your teammate throws the Frisbee towards your bin and you have to dunk it in for points. Check me out below inventing the reverse dunk and doing a celebratory lap hi-5 lap of the pool:
To finish off the evening, the whole of Fort Collins decided to throw me a fireworks show to make me feel welcome (is a solid joke and I’m sticking by it). It’s quite hard to put into perspective how impressive the fireworks show was, but needless to say they did not hold back, and my eyes and ears hurt afterwards:
Last week, I went to visit Salve Regina University / Rhode Island for the Bioanlaytical Sensors Gordon Conference (translation: making devices to measure and understand biology stuff, to help fight diseases and things ). This is by far the best work-conference I have ever been on, even though the science was out of my specialty. I will do my best to explain:
In order to make it to the conference on time, I took an overnight flight to Boston / Massachusetts (arguably the most stupidly spelt state). I shared half my seat with a well built, leather jacket clad biker, who seemed very friendly. Although, unfortunately we did not become friends quick enough to let me sleep on his shoulder! The highlight of the journey was probably taking the train to Kinston train station in Rhode Island. It had a very western feel to it and was lovely and quiet at 7am on a Sunday, with just little robins for company.
So to give you some idea, Rhode Island is in the top right of the US:
The University is on the southwest coast of RI, right by the Atlantic Ocean and it’s very pretty. The middle brown building in the middle of this picture below is where we had our poster sessions:
This particular conference is fairly high profile, with about half the people attending being professors (though you would not guess it from the casual picture below), and everyone talking about their latest crazy ideas:
As I’m fairly new to research level biology, I was quite lucky to get accepted. I managed to employ two main faces during conversations, firstly, the “hmm, yes, I see, very science-y, have you considered science scince science?” face:
And of course, the “I hope you didn’t notice most of that going straight over my head” face:
There were some great posters and some mind blowingly good talks (for the scientists: Elizabeth Hillman, John Rodgers, Kevin Plaxco and James Ajioka), also, very interesting evening discussions in the bar.
One of the nice things about this particular conference is that everyone stays together in student halls. This means everyone eats all their meals together and you make friends fast. The food was absolutely 10/10 (for example, we had fresh lobster on the last day), but the rooms were… interesting. It has been a few years since I lived in student accommodation, and I loved it at the time… but it was strange going back to being Harry Potter and living in a cupboard under the stairs.
At least the outside looked very pretty, maybe that’s how they get you…
Another nice aspect about the Gordon conferences is that you do science talks and posters from 9 am till 9.30 pm, but get a 3h break in the middle of the day. This is great for the professors as most of them get about 1 week holiday a year, so this is like a backup holiday / work outing for them. This also meant we could explore Rhode Island / do team building in the day.
I’ll be honest, the first activity break I just went to bed (after 2 hours sleep the night before), but during the rest of the week I did manage to do a Boat trip around Newport harbor:
I also played football (Soccer) the day after Iceland knocked England out of the Euros (leading to many good jokes like the Italian professor diving, the German Postdoc pushing other guys of the ball, and every time I managed a pass / save, i’d get comments like “Hey maybe you should drop Roy Hodgeson a call, he could do with people who know the basics of Football”)
Best of all, I went for a swim in the sea with some Postdocs and Professors from around the world. It’s strangely nice to have swam in both sides of eth Atlantic Ocean, and given that Fort Collins is 15 hours from the sea, it was very refreshing.
When friends and family come out to visit us, we like to do different and interesting things. But also, we like to do things with people that they could not do in England. For example, hiking in the mountains is a very Colorado thing to do.
So, with the cousins here, we received a very kind offer from one of me and Cats closest friends here, to try something we had never even considered before:
Now, before we go any further, a few things to point out for those of high blood pressure or of concern for our wellbeing or safety:
We are fine.
No really, we still have the correct number of limbs and no extra holes.
We took a very safety first approach and spent almost as much time going over proper gun safety and use, as shooting.
Anyway, we first learnt and were made to demonstrate the three rules of gun safety. ALWAYSkeep the gun pointed in a safe direction, ALWAYSkeep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot and ALWAYSkeep the gun unloaded until ready to use.
There are also other general rules like don’t drink and shoot, wear eye and ear protection (guns are like, well loud) and of course; never point a gun at something you don’t want to shoot!
We then went to a gun range out in East Colorado and did some target practice:
The kickback of the pistols (Smith and Wesson Revolver and Glock 27) was surprisingly large, hence why me and Cat aren’t shooting one handed like James bond or something…
Simon however, is a lot stronger than us and showed us how it was done. It does really put all the video games, American TV and films in perspective though. After shooting about 5 rounds my hands were tired and my brain hurt from concentrating. I have absolutely no idea how people do this for real!
We then moved on to some larger guns. Fortunately, this involved sitting down with some 25 yard targets which turned yellow when you hit them:
We were quite happy with that grouping considering it was our first time and that was using a Ruger semi-automatic rifle which had no sight, so was difficult to aim. I should also point that the target that says ‘rope’ is actually mine. When we took Smraizle to Silver Grill on their first day here, I asked four times to book a table under Rob but ‘Rope’ is what the woman choose to hear and write down.
Cat, Simon and Marie didn’t think this was funny at all, and defo did not spend the rest of the holiday calling me Rope McCannon and creating a complete backstory… Anyway, I think we all look quite serious here with the big guns (Ruger sem-automatic rifle and Remington bolt action rifle), if we were American, these would be great profile pics:
Talking of kickback, the bigger the gun, the bigger the kickback, hence why sitting down and having the back of the rifle in your shoulder helps, though we did have some small bruises on our shoulders to remember the day by.
Finally, we are very grateful to John for the experience. Here he is demonstrating his shotgun:
I include a picture of him here not us, as his expression is serious and concentrating and ours was more like panic and anticipation like this guy:
We have had a fun few weeks recently coinciding with the varied but improving weather here.
Starting of this crazy time was that I finally did my Half Marathon (see here for background). Unfortunately, Fort Collins decided that the weekend was a really good time for some snow and cold weather (10 C) which made it a lot more challenging (wet feet = blisters), but I did finish in 2h 26 m 23 s without walking or coming last which was nice.
Here I am looking a bit worse for wear with about 100 meters to go and at the end looking like my feet arn’t in a bad way, with a winning medal / bottle opener:
And here I am just after, wide awake, looking really happy with my efforts at lunch at IHOP (the international house of pancakes):
Although probably aimed at people slightly (or arguably a lot) younger than us, we had a great time as they have arcades, mini golf courses, paddle boats, a big slide, laser tag, go karts and best of all… batting cages.
Cat actually did pretty well and hit a lot more than I did on the slow softball setting. I’m moderately ashamed to say I actually found it quite difficult (on the medium softball setting), as the bats and balls are different to cricket and without gloves, my hand hurt from the contact – such shame.
ST GEORGE’S DAY
Finally, we decided to throw a St George’s day party for our friends, partly to be social and show off our digs, but mainly to see what our American friends thought British people looked like. To be honest, we looked more like a Halloween party than an English one:
We were brought some spotted dick, biscuits, tea, and variety of English beers (e.g. Old Speckled Hen, Holy Grail) and managed to play a few classic Channon party games (consequences, the chocolate game and the Maltesers spoon game) which went down very well, as they always do. Though I did feel sorry for one guest who kept having her hat taken off just as she was about to get some Chocolate, every single time:
As far as “British themed fancy dress”, big props have to go to the innovative ones e.g. Abbey Road, a Palace Guard, a Corgi, Where’s Wally, Zombie Princess Diana and three of the Spice Girls. One guy dressed as Angus Young (Scottish) from ACDC (an Australian Rock band), but that was all good. Cat decided to dress as me, which was actually really disturbing. Especially so with the drawn on chest and facial hair and some very unflattering impressions “Ello I’m Dr Rob, can I talk to you about cricket?”
Perhaps we need to do a better job of teaching our friends our culture…
Last Friday, our friends Jaclyn and Willie invited us to see an American event that we had not previously even really been aware of; the Toughest Monster Truck Tour. My words cannot possibly do justice to just how fantastically American this event was, but I will do my best:
It took place in an Ice Hockey arena where local Colorado team “The Eagles” play in a town south of Fort Collins called Loveland. Before the event even started, everyone stood up and sang the National anthem towards a big US flag, then the announcer made all the Veterans in the audience stand up and have a round of applause from the audience for protecting our freedom. We were surprised and impressed by the patriotism (considering most English people don’t even know the words to the 2nd and 3rd verses of God Save The Queen) and we thought the applause was very sweet, although neither of us knew the words to the anthem!
Anyway, the trucks themselves were massive, like really really big and impressive:
Size: 10 ft high, 12 ft wide, 18 ft long
Weight: 9,500 lbs (roughly 3 mini coopers, and even the tires weight 500 kilos!)
Fuel: Methanol (56 yards to the gallon!)
572 cu in Ford Racing V8 engine, with a 871 BDS supercharger, in a Ford F150 body.
The sound was ridiculous and everyone had earmuffs on. Also the cars were really getting through fuel, so the whole arena smelt of weird nitro/alcohol fumes. We were lucky enough to see the tour championship and see 6 Monster Trucks (Big Foot, Quad Chaos, Heavy Hitter, Over Bored, Dirt Crew and Dawg Pound) perform three challenges;
A knockout race for fastest Truck:
And a freestyle round featuring some fantastic air:
The eventual winner – Big Foot 22 driven by Dan Runte – stormed the show and won his 5th consecutive championship (Big Foot is also the original Monster Truck so that was pretty cool), although he might have been beaten by 2nd place ‘Heavy Hitter’ had its front left tire not become detached from the axle half way through his freestyle performance!
Not wishing to let people’s adrenaline return to safe levels at half time, we were treated to a BMX and Freestyle Motocross show featuring some cool BMX backflips (which we didn’t get a picture of) and some pretty impressive Motocross stunts:
My favourite was actually this one below. The resolution isn’t great, but the driver us actually lead down on his bike with his hands behind his head like he is napping:
How is one expected to get a decent night’s sleep after all that excitement?
You’ve almost reached the end of our adventures with the extra Channons, but we definitely have some more great pictures to show you before we’re done. After our week skiing we all headed back to Fort Collins, so that we could show Barry and Margaret our wonderful town.
As you may know we adore Fort Collins, so we were very keen to show them the sights. As well as that our local area has a staggering number of things to see, so there was plenty to keep us all busy.
First, we went to see Estes Park which we have visited previously. We had a great time even though everything was still very much under 50 inches of snow, including visiting this awesome frozen waterfall:
Not pictured in the shot is the small child that was sitting behind the waterfall refusing to come out. The two people on the left are the concerned parents, who were trying to convince their son to stop trying to knock icicles above his head…
Still, it was a beautiful day! We enjoyed a life of contradiction, spending the first half of the walk around tutting at people being loud whilst we quietly watched the wonderful birds, including several of these pretty guys:
We then decided we’d had our fill of sophistication and birds and started lobbing snowballs at each other and making a right scene. Heartwarmingly, we managed to inspire a Sri Lankan family who were visiting and had never conceived of such an idea! They started having a big snow ball fight of their own and seemed to have a great time. I’m ashamed to say I was most definitely not the winner of our showdown, but I did get a couple of great shots in! Tired out, we walked around and enjoyed the rest of the park in a more sedate and respectable manor:
As well as Estes Park, we went further south to see Manitou Springs (a very cute town) and Garden of the Gods. Both were excellent, despite the scorching hot weather! You can feel that summer is starting to kick in a little now, so hats all round.
It was very pretty, and we walked around the town for a while before stopping for lunch. Our lunch included some of the local spring water that the town is famous for, which tasted very fresh and lovely! I also finally caved and bought a Cowboy hat to keep me cool, which is actually extremely practical at keeping the sun off my face. I love it so 🙂
After Manitou Springs we went just around the corner to Garden of the Gods, an amazing national park.
Garden of the Gods is quite unusual in that it features a lot of tall and strange rock features, often features which seem very unlikely. Here is one of the most famous views, the balancing rock:
It was hard to get far enough away to take the picture properly, but needless to say it’s a pretty big rock balancing on a pretty small one!
With all these rocks around climbing was inevitable, and extremely good fun:
Selfies were of course also inevitable, but we had to wait until Barry wasn’t watching so that he couldn’t be disappointed in us…
We also spent far longer hiking than expected! We parked the car so that we could step out and have a quick look and ended up hiking for well over an hour. It really was gorgeous. Here are just a few of these wonderful sights:
So yes, super pretty and a new must visit spot for us to take visitors to!
Sadly despite our best efforts and wonderful tours we didn’t manage to convince the parents to illegally defect and stay in Fort Collins forever, so they are now safely back in the UK. That said it was a magical two weeks and we had such a good time, so we’re looking forward to convincing them to visit again soon!