The Day in the life of Tony Cliffe

The blog that's full of discussion, advice, travel and ramblings!

Category: Advice

Why do I write blogs? It’s a window to the emotional me!

For someone who is well known for their public speaking, I’m often pretty damn awful at conveying emotion to people in speech, at least my own emotion. Sure, I think back to my closing speech as head boy, an address full of emotion and I hoped at the time, inspiration. Inspiration for what was at the time, the next most significant step in our lives. I can recall numerous passionate speeches or talks I’ve given over the years to an audience of 2 up to 1000. I can always find the right words and execute them without bother, to be emotive in speech. Yet, ask me to talk about my feelings, and I can’t do it, I get lost for words.

But, I can write them.

I’ve always been a writer in some form or another, in fact, I was very young when I penned my first short story in primary school as part of a project about “what your parents do for a living”, needless to say, it wasn’t my finest work. Put yourself in the shoes of my primary school teachers who read with wide eyes a story about how “My Dad brings a Doll home called Annie and he jumps up and down on it.” My Dad is a senior paramedic of over 35 years and at the time way back then, was either doing advanced training himself or was training others and therefore would bring home the Resus Annie Doll to practice various medical procedures with tubes etc. etc. Innocent enough! Thankfully my teachers knew what job my Dad did and apparently it gave great amusement to the entire staff room for about a week!

I always loved writing little stories here and there for projects or assignments in English but never thought much of it until as part of our GCSE English coursework we had to write a story. My path to writing was down to one woman, Mrs Bygroves, my English teacher, who asked me to stay behind after class. It was her words of encouragement and telling me I had a gift for conveying the written word and that I should write stories that ignited a fire that had been simmering. The following year I published my first novel and then spent the next few years writing my second one for Amazon.

While a pilot or air traffic controller is always my dream job, to be an established author has always been the dream goal!

Writing stories, however, is a lot easier in some ways because you can base characters on people you know, or make them up! You can make things up, you can create worlds, and the emotion the characters portray is not me. It’s them. Blog writing, on the other hand, well, that’s a different kettle of fish altogether.

I started writing blogs way back in sixth form when I was backed into a corner, while I’m glad those days of the infamous blogs about the daily carryon of morons are well and truly over, it gave me a vessel to explain how I felt about people that I couldn’t express in any other form. People would message me and agree with my points and wait eagerly for the next instalment. Each post was me poking a hornet’s nest which fuelled more blogs and so the circle went on. Then I realised that two things were happening. (a.) I was getting things off my chest and thus feeling better and, (b.) people liked the honesty of it all, and I had so many private chats with people about similar things in their ‘friendship’ groups that they could relate to, or I started to add little nuggets about things outside of sixth form or advice about things that again people could relate to. I began to see that maybe my words could help as well as hurt. A dangerous at the time, combination!

My blogs moved away from the subject of others (thankfully) by time I left sixth form (thankfully that blog site was closed down years ago, and all such posts have since been long lost to the internet graveyards. A dark time indeed that was!) and I started to use it more positively, as a way to document my life, my highs, my lows, my travels and above all else, I hoped that someone would get at least one small thing from each blog that I pen. Be that to know you’re not alone if you’re going through something I went through, or maybe you might have tried that piece of advice I wrote about and it worked or even if I inspire you to go visit the places I’ve been.

Writing is to me, incredibly personal. While the birth of my blogs was born out of a crap toxic time, it was liberating to wear my heart on my sleeve and how vulnerable that can make you feel. In-person, I have many walls, and as a person who usually people just open up to me, I listen and then give logical, rational advice, I often end up getting to know a hell of a lot about you. However, I have that knack of you thinking you know me really well when actually you know the surface. That’s in part, down to a well-tested defence mechanism, at least until I trust you or you pass the Tony Test! Slowly those walls come down and you get to know the real me.

Writing blogs for me is always I see it as a little window into the real me. Little glimpses and access to who I am. Close friends and family know me and who I am, but many people see me in person, at least, as probably one of the most calmest, rational, logical and unemotional people you’ll ever meet. I do take pride in that part of myself. I don’t think I’d be doing myself a disservice if I asked my close friends to list the top 3 things they love about me, I would bet my life that they would say something along the lines of one of the points being “You tell it to me as it is. A spade is a spade. You have such clarity to cut through all the emotion of a problem and look at it rationally, logically and objectively. Then you’ll base your advice off that”. I do love how I can cut through all the emotion in a problem! Plus I love giving advice too!

People can often be put off at times at my seemingly outwardly blunt approach to problems, especially if you’re a very emotionally driven person. You very rarely see me overly joyous nor sad, or angry much in person. People can mistake that for being unemotional or as a nickname that has now stuck over the years The Robot or Tony-Bot as I’m effectually called by some! What people don’t realise is I am probably the most emotionally intense person you’ll ever meet, it’s just I have such strong control over them that outwardly you don’t see the range of emotions that go on inside. That’s when I did fall in love all those years ago it was a beautiful yet terrifying few years because that was an emotion that I couldn’t just keep inside and control of and it was like a floodgate! Scary yet awe-inspiring.

As I said, I often find it difficult to express words of how I feel in person. Not to loved ones or close friends, I’m actually a big soft gooey soppy romantic! They know that. But to those who are not in that inner circle which I’ve dropped walls for, to others I do come across as that stoic, driven, logic guy. Actually, I’m just a big marshmallow with a tough exterior wall!

So for me, writing blogs is a window into the emotional me, the guy who sits behind that exterior facing wall. Writing, therefore, is super personal for me because of every word, every emotion I’m feeling I put it into each sentence, I mean every word that I type.

These blogs are fun to write because they vary so much. The humorous ones where I get to let out that fun side of me and showcase my funnybone. The advice ones I love doing because I can use that big old Tony-Bot logic to give objective advice that may help someone. The travel ones satisfy my inner adventurer, and the emotive ones become my ultimate favourite ones.

The emotive blogs come in two forms, either happy or sad. Writing is a release for me. Some people talk to others, some drink, some have a big old cry. For me, I write. It clears my head, gets things off my chest. When I write happy emotive blogs be that dedications to people or writing about something that has happened be that an epic trip with friends or recalling something in my life it’s my heart bursting with love and joy on the page for everyone to share. Although I still get super nervous when I write about people because I never know how they’ll react. In-person no-one ever tells the other person how they perceive them, but in blogs you do. So I’m always nervous that I hope they appreciate my sentiments and how I see them! Always a relief when they message you with positive feedback, only a few times I’ve had to post edit the odd post. Oops!

Yet for me, the hardest to write and the hardest but most rewarding to read back are when life isn’t so great. I’ve never been on in these blogs or social media to only ever talk about the good stuff. This has always been about me as a person, the good and all the bad. I feel some of my best-written work has been those emotionally charged ones when either I’ve been seething with anger, or I’ve been typing through tears from being absolutely done in and heartbroken. Weirdly enough, they’re often my most read by people, either people enjoy reading my misfortune because of the event, or they appreciate that every word is dripping in emotion! Not sure which aha!

Too many people in modern-day life and especially on blogs and social media paint a perfect life, they’re wonderful, they’re doing this well. It’s false. A perfect life doesn’t exist. It’s irrational and illogical to think it’s true. I’ve documented some terrible personal lows through my blogs, eulogies of passed on relatives, discussions about leaving places and moving on, heartache words of falling out with a friend, to my emotions and recovery of that breakup which at the time ripped my heart into pieces and where I spent the best part of two years teetering on depression and my well-documented recovery of that process.

Life is a rollercoaster and we all go through shit in life. So when times are hard, I want people to read it and be like yeah he doesn’t have his shit together at all. He’s normal. And I also want people to read it and take solace if they’re going through shit too. Plus, as a side note, although annoyingly this is my 3rd blog site now and the other two where deleted without warning! That I look back at those blogs written as a document of my life. I read again all those happy memories in the happy blogs, and I see how far I’ve come from the sad ones.

Writing blogs is an excellent way for me to document things, get things off my chest. As a reader, I don’t know what you get from these blogs, various ramblings from a distinctly average, ordinary guy! I have no idea. I hope that you read them and at times laugh, sometimes cry, I hope you get inspired, comforted, or advice is taken on board.

So when I’m asked, why do I write blogs? I write for myself, a voice for that big old emotional me who sits inside the Tony-Bot. Thanks for reading!

P.S. check back in at the end of the week because speaking of emotion, I wrote a blog many years ago about how female friends had influenced my life. That sadly vanished when my old blog closed down and as its been years since I had that P.C. it’s now gone. It was one of my all-time favourite emotive dedication style blogs. So, this week I’m writing a different one but on similar lines. A dedication to those who broke down the walls.

How to prepare for the PhD Viva

The Viva, the word that is never far away from a PhD students mind. The mythical almost legendary word that looms over everything that you do. When you start the PhD, it seems a long and distant prospect and as you progress, the Viva looms ever larger like a storm cloud bubbling up on a clear summers day. The Viva is the final battle all PhD students know they must face but never want to. The Viva is the most important battle a PhD student will face as if all the other constant battles weren’t enough already! A hill to either die or survive on, the outcome of you becoming a Dr relies on your ability to survive a two to three hour (on average) defence of your thesis with at least two experts.

Many people outside of academia are simply unaware of what a PhD is or even the amount of work, sacrifice and challenges that come with it. Simply too many to list in this blog that’s for sure! However, many people are aware that by the end of your PhD, you will produce a thesis of substantial word count, for example, including references and appendices my thesis came to 212,000 words! If I had to include all my rewrites and deleted and changed words over the course of the PhD, I’d be looking at having written over 300,000! Yet, people don’t understand outside of academia that writing of the thesis is less than half of the PhD, the rest comes down to the Viva. The word that sends a chill up any PhD student (sorry fellow PhD students for the trigger!).

The term ‘Viva’ is actually short for ‘Viva Voce’ which is Latin for absolute hell. I joke. It actually translates to “by live voice”. In layman’s terms, you’ve walked written the walk, now you need to talk the talk. Every country is slightly different, but in the UK at least, it’s an oral exam, a defence of your thesis between usually an external and an internal examiner behind closed doors. They will have read your completed written thesis multiple times and now you sit in a room where they’ll ask you many questions about it for which you have to justify every decision and action made in the time you’ve been on the PhD. As a general rule of thumb, the examiners are looking for three things (1.) Is it your own work and have you written it (2.) Do you understand what you’ve written and what your results are saying and (3.) Does what you’ve done actually contribute new and original knowledge to the scholarly community.

So, how do you prepare for this showdown to get your PhD? Below I’ll outline how I tackled my Viva preparations and if the Viva is on the horizon for you, I hope it may give you some ideas about how to get yourself in the best shape possible for it.

Read, re-read and when you think you’ve read enough, read one more time

By now you’re probably downright sick of your own writing and if you’ve been editing, you’re perhaps resenting your own work with having read it so many times. However, it is vital that you go back and re-read, multiple times from cover to cover. There where three critical aspects that I took to my viva prep re-reads. Firstly, I read a chapter or two chapters a day, making no notes, just reading, remembering and understanding my work. It may seem obvious, but some of your writing is over two years old and with so much going on and so much different sections that you’ve written its good to refresh your brain. After reading it thoroughly, I then went back through and re-read it under a critical eye. I looked for any formatting, spelling or grammatical errors. If you’ve rushed to get your thesis in you’ll probably find a lot of them but even me, someone who spent three solid months of editing and checking my work prior to submission I still annoyingly found 13 errors including an utterly wrong graph!

I hear that many people don’t want to re-read their work for fear of finding exactly that, a mistake. It happens and the examiners will know it happens too. You’re writing in excess of 100,000 words there is bound to be mistakes. Of course, in your edits its best to catch as many as you can but even if you’re diligent you’ll still miss one or two. Chasing the perfect error free thesis is chasing a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, a nice idea but ultimately, a futile one. If you submit a thesis that is strung with spelling and format errors because it’s been rushed or you failed to re-read it before submitting it doesn’t mean the Viva will go badly, but it will cast some doubt in the examiner’s minds I’m sure. You’re giving them more ammunition if you’ve failed to check your work. Use software, colleagues, supervisors and friends and family to check before you submit! If, however, you still find mistakes, relax! Make a note of them (I highlighted mine) so that if the examiners point them out, you can be ahead of the curve as you’ve identified it (my examiners didn’t even point out the mistake in the graph which I was stressing about so much, so don’t worry!). Also, it’s super rare that the outcome of the Viva is no changes, you’re most likely at a very minimum getting minor corrections so don’t stress, you can correct those errors in the post-viva corrections phase!

Highlights and sticky notes

After reading my thesis multiple times, I went back through again and brought out my trusted highlighters and post-it notes. I used different colours to represent various aspects of the PhD. Green, for example, was a simple identifier for me of where each chapter began, thus in the Viva when referring to individual chapters if needed, I could just flip to it straight away. Orange I used as fundamentals, i.e. research aims, questions and critical results where purple I used as potential sections of note be that an important paper or parts I feel they may well grill me more on or want to know more about. Find whatever works for you, you don’t want to over complicate it and highlight absolutely everything in your thesis, it’s best practice to only refer to the thesis in the Viva if absolutely essential. So highlight what you feel are the key things and use a system that you know.

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My thesis and appendices with my post-it notes

Prepare Questions and Summary

While making your post-it note decorations on your thesis, I opened up two word documents. The first one I used to summarise each of the key points of that page. For example, when summarising your methodology outlining the key papers and 3 principal pros and cons of the method chosen. This helps in your re-read to focus your brain, and the day before the Viva I found it really helpful to just focus on those summary notes because that gave me the key points I needed to focus on without getting too lost in all the details.

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Example of my summary pages

As I went through, I also came up with questions that they could potentially ask me about those sections and I wrote them down. I also utilised some fantastic sets of questions out there online about viva preparations. The most effective way of preparing for the Viva was actually to be asked the questions so that I could answer them verbally. It’s all well and good preparing your answers in word, but it’s far better to practice verbalising them. My friend Rosie skyped me a set of questions from her Viva cards, I made a note of that question and then answered it. It’s seriously great practice! For example, she asked me what the theoretical implications of my study where and I gave a very long winded and pretty terrible answer. We discussed together how I should tackle that and be more focused and low and behold a similar question came up in my Viva, and I was able to nail it because I had been prepared. So get a friend, a supervisor or even your family to throw as many questions your way as possible. Below is the 19 random questions Rosie used from her cards to help me prepare. After answering all 19 that came to just under an hour of talking, so you can see how quickly a viva can go, especially as these are generic. Sadly, you can never truly prepare for the very specific and in-depth questions the examiners may have!

  1. Why did you narrow your focus of enquiry to this?
  2. How did research questions emerge?
  3. Which previous studies influenced your work?
  4. Who or what was most influential?
  5. What is the area in which you wish to be examined?
  6. How did you choose your methodology and were there any constraints?
  7. Limitations of your method and study?
  8. Did you encounter any problems?
  9. Talk us through how you analysed the data?
  10. What steps did you take to mitigate errors and bias the data in your qualitative methods?
  11. Do you believe your methods entomologically aligns?
  12. If you could start again, what would you do differently?
  13. How did your thinking develop as you went through your research process?
  14. How do your findings challenge the established literature in this field?
  15. How long do you expect your work to remain current?
  16. Where did you go wrong?
  17. What are the theoretical implications of your findings? What are the policy implications of your findings?
  18. How can it influence your findings?
  19. How do you intend to share your research findings?

Give yourself some space

I can’t stress this enough, it seems counterintuitive that as you scramble to cram as much in and practice as much as you can for the Viva that you should give yourself some time off. But seriously, trust me. Do it. Take a day off, go for a walk, go do something you enjoy. A tired brain is not a brain that’s going to perform well in the Viva. I know that its really hard to do because your mind will keep going back to viva prep, but you need to force yourself to do something differently, even if for an hour. I am forever indebted to my friend Ro who gave me no choice but to go out for a walk or my parents who forced me to go food shopping to take my mind off it. It seems small and daft, but it really worked. It gave my brain a few minutes of breathing space and especially on that walk realising that, yes, while the Viva is probably the most significant thing you’ve ever done to date and yes, so much is riding on it. That you have so many people who support you and there is so much more to life than getting three letters after your name. It does put things into perspective.

The day before try not to throw up and get some sleep

I read that some people say not to touch any viva prep the day before to give your brain a rest. I agree in principle, but I still did some prep. I read those summary pages a few times throughout the day and then gave it a rest. There comes the point where you know you’ve done all you can, and you feel as prepared as you can, so doing more won’t help. I spent a lot of that day sitting in the sun listening to music and trying to take my mind off it. Whatever coping mechanism you use to deal with stress now is an excellent time to use it! I also read and made notes of the latest papers that had come out since I submitted my thesis. A read a lot of these viva prep blogs who placed so much emphasis on you knowing every single paper since you’ve submitted. Please do not spend a load of time on this! Examiners can ask you to make sure you’re aware of how your research fits in, but they cannot directly examine you on any paper that’s been published post submission. Focus on your own work, I wasn’t even asked about any new literature in my viva. Imagine if I had dedicated so much time to that, what a waste that would have been!

Go and smash it and some final tips

The Viva is undoubtedly massive, and there is no denying that the day is enormous and massively stressful. You will feel like you’re crap, that your thesis is rubbish and you’ll feel vastly underprepared despite being the most prepared you’ve ever been for anything. It happens. I felt awful before my Viva! I think any PhD student who says they’re not nervous about the Viva is either a liar or incredibly naïve, or at worst has delusions of grandeur. Well, they’ll just set themselves up for a fail. Remember, and again I read this before I went into the Viva but didn’t really believe it until after the Viva, the examiners are not there to trick you or catch you out. They’re doing their job and your examiners should ask some very tough questions, you should expect them, it is a PhD after all. But any question is never a personal attack and its never to catch you out. Remember, despite the feeling of imposter syndrome, you really are the expert in the room. You should try and enjoy it as much as you can too. My Viva was brutal and tough but it was really enjoyable once I got into it. There is no other time in your life as a student where someone outside of your supervisory team will have read your thesis cover to cover, and you can sit in a room and discuss it at length with people who are just as enthusiastic about it as you are. My parents, for example, have only read my acknowledgements of my thesis so, yeah, make the most of two strangers taking an interest in your work because your family don’t!!

I found it vital in my preparations to be critical and honest with the thesis. What is good about it and what are my weakest points. I cannot stress enough how important it was for me to know before I went in what I was going to defend until I was blue in the face and what I was happy to let go. You need to know what battles you’re going to pick in the Viva. You don’t have to defend every word, in fact, if you do you could be posing more problems than its worth. An example, if I defended the term pedagogy in my title and following sections, I have no doubt I would have had major corrections instead of the lower end of moderate. I was wise enough to know it was my weakest part of the thesis and the examiners saw it too, I was happy to not defend it, I’m glad I didn’t. On the flip side, my examiners weren’t that excited about my large section on UAV regulations and asked not once, not twice but three times was it critical. This, to me, was a fundamental aspect of my argument in the thesis and one of my mantras in the conclusion so three separate times, I defended it in the viva. I would have justified it a 4th if I had to because that was one part of my thesis I was going to defend until the end. Of course, by time they asked me a second time there was a flicker of “they’ve asked me this again, should I concede?” but no, it was a test to see me stick to my argument and defend it. By time they asked a 3rd time I was more adamant than ever to keep it in!

Be honest. Seriously, this is my final point and one that is vital in the Viva. Be honest. In mine I was asked if I was familiar with a particular set of literature which to them was essential if I had mentioned one thing, I really should have mentioned this. I was honest that I wasn’t familiar and they simply said thanks for being honest, one of your corrections is to do a small section on it. Then that was it, happy days we moved on. If I had tried to blag it, it would have caused so many more issues! You’re not meant to know everything in the Viva, you’re human. If you don’t know it put your hands up and admit it, they’ll be absolutely fine with it. If you don’t know it and you try and blag it well, they view that very dimly that’s for sure. As the old saying goes, it’s better to be thought of as a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.

So try and enjoy the Viva, if you’ve had the right attitude, if you’ve prepared well enough then I am sure you will survive, and you will get what you’ve worked so hard for, you’ll be a Dr! Good luck and godspeed to you!

If you have any questions or even if you want me to read anything or even Skype you with some viva prep questions, let me know in the comments or get in touch on social media @TonyCliffe210. I’m currently in the process of writing a book about my PhD experience and how to tackle the many issues it throws up, so get in touch if you want to be involved in that! Or you can read about my Viva experience here: The battle of the Viva and my ode to H105 

Or read here my thoughts i penned before the viva: Some thoughts about the PhD journey as i near the final battle.

If you want to chat about the PhD or viva, get in touch, us PGRs need to help each other out to survive.

Go and smash it guys! You’ve got this!

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Post viva you get to wear cool badges!

Another Single Valentines day

Hey guys, well it’s that time of year again where single people like me wallow in self-pity. Doubly so this year as I can’t even comfort eat the numerous heart-shaped chocolates in the shops as I’m lactose/dairy intolerant, so it’s a double dagger to my jaded heart. Cruel. I mean I’m totally cool with being single for the 7th valentines day running, who’s counting…sniff…I say as the crumbs of my 25th consecutive Oreo falls into my beard (attractive I know ladies!).

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Valentines day blogs I’ve covered everything from the perfect gifts, to the bitter blogs about it being a corporate day which has origins in a Roman guy who stalked a girl, then died pushing her out of the way of a runaway cart. People say that’s cute! I say that’s a Netflix criminal documentary. These blogs, the emotional robot Tony (yes I do have them) often allow me to discuss my feelings on subjects of love and women. They’re often my favourite blogs over the years. After all my love of writing blogs came from me trying to deal with the shitstorm of 6th form. Over the years I’ve felt less and less inclined to wear my heart so openly online, I’m sure you’ve either read or can find those past blogs somewhere online. Yet, despite that I still love these types of blogs. Some of them are fun like a blog I wrote about why I’m single The Single Life of a Tony, or one of my favourite and actually most read blog was my joke take on what the perfect woman would be What would the perfect girl be if she existed?! Other blogs, well they’ve been a bit more sombre but packed a message like this one Cheating in relationship, is it in the Jeans?.

For this one, well I’ll try and strike a balance between the two! Lately, I’ve given some thought to relationships, I’ve been a bit preoccupied for a while with other stuff. I’ve had close friends start new relationships and others ending, I’ve seen those on a high and those struggling. Add to that I’m coming to the end of my PhD and in all honesty having absolutely no clue what lies in store for me next and the terrifying feeling I feel about leaving that life and for the first time probably ever, that I don’t have a solid plan or goal, it has made me think about a lot of things lately. Top piece of advice, I may seem like I have my shit together, but I’m just like you, a twig in a river just in for the ride having no clue.

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The last valentine’s day I spent with someone the tap jammed on and the kitchen nearly flooded with boiling hot water, and we spent the evening filling pots and pans to stop the water from flooding the kitchen. If that wasn’t a metaphor for how that relationship would eventually end, I don’t know what is haha! I’m not going to throw shade in this blog at people in relationships and whatever it is you do on valentines day. Whether you make it special or not, it’s your relationship and I for one and not in a position to judge. You know my thoughts on having a day to celebrate your love for another person and whether I think this is how it should be done.

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In terms of me, well yeah another year single. I honestly thought that last year that would have changed but as per usual with me and my love life well it’s often a square trying to fit into a circle, it never quite fits. I’ll pass on three scenarios or instances where I thought it would change, but the universe as usual laughed and went no.

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For the first time in a long, long time did I entertain the thought of being with someone, people commented on how I was smiling a lot more and was funnier and yeah, I did want to be a better person for her. I’ll take a side step here for a second to explain something. Despite my opening remarks, I’m actually a pretty happy single, I’ve written blogs before about how important it is when you come out of a relationship which you give your all in, to recharge, rediscover yourself and ultimately, forgive your flaws. After all, if you can’t love yourself then how can anyone ever truly love you and you to love someone else? What this means, however, when you’re very self-assured of yourself as well while you may miss having that one person to entirely rely on, or the cute things like morning kisses, on the whole, you enjoy life, you appreciate who you are and that’s important because you’re whole as a person and don’t need someone else to make you whole. I think that’s incredibly important! So when someone comes along who when you are a whole person make you sit up and think, well hey, this girl I want to be better than I am now and they’re going to enhance what I have. Take yourself from 10 to 11, that extra level you haven’t unlocked yet.

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So I met someone who for the first time in ages those thoughts crossed my mind, of course as per usual they were taken. I rolled my eyes, we’ve seen this episode before in the sitcom or is that the horror show that is my love life? Anyway, long story short the classic I’ll wait for her to sort her stuff out and I’ll be a gentleman and not tell her how I truly feel about her, it was too late. The moment had gone. That’s cool, we’ve been here before. As another joke, there was someone else who passed the Tony test, someone I didn’t really think would but did, and I enjoyed every moment with them, but circumstances meant that that would never happen. At least I now have a pretty good yardstick of who to compare to, to live up to my idea of a perfect woman. Lastly, while those two were the standard typical me issues, the latter is when I came to realise that I am destined to be single probably for another few years. It’s like every time something crops up to close that door. Those on Facebook will know about the Bumble story.

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Eugh. If that wasn’t a sign, then I don’t know what is. People used to think I’d be taking the piss with how unlucky I am with women, but that just proves it. To quote one of my dear friends “Tony, you really are the most unluckiest people in love I’ve ever met”. I have to agree. If you don’t know the story, well, after months, probably years of “You need to go dating, go on the dating apps” I caved in and dipped my fishing rod into the sea of online dating. Hardly any fish bit except one. A really good looking redhead (you know my Achilles heel), smart, super funny, loved black coffee and aviation, I was thinking well finally, here she is, the one that ticks all the boxes. We get on like a house on fire, and before I could ask to meet up on a date, I get ghosted. No messages for a week. From 100mph to 0. I’d heard about this dreaded phenomenon in the online world of being ghosted. I was, to put it mildly, fuming. After a week I go back onto my message on bumble, I couldn’t face it until then. That’s when the universe played a blinder and to be fair if I weren’t the butt of the joke I’d have pissed myself laughing at it. My phone and the app for whatever fucking reason decided to hold all her messages and not inform me she sent them. So while I thought I had been ghosted, I had inadvertently ghosted her. Her final message “Wow, I really thought we were getting on so well. I didn’t expect you to ghost me.”

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I messaged to explain the situation to no avail. I guess she read that and was like suuuure your phone did that, you complete dick. So yeah, whoop. That was fun, and by fun, I mean about as fun as being on Merseyrail.

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So while my single life is a shitshow as per usual someone asked me a question recently that actually got me thinking about where I stand on it all. She asked me, “Tony, would you trade in all of your degrees, all of your numerous awards and all of your successes for a happy and lasting relationship right now?”

I didn’t even hesitate in answering.

No.

No, I wouldn’t, and I’ll tell you why and why I feel comfortable single. Every degree, every award, every accolade I’ve done that on my own. I haven’t needed someone to confide in, to console, to complete me, that’s all me. It’s a badge of honour. It shows myself that I can do things, I can achieve and when it all goes to crap, I can always rely on myself. Behind those degrees and awards is a lifetime of failure, stress, self-doubt, imposter syndrome to name but a few negatives. Yet, it’s each fall, each hurdle, that I’ve had to pick myself up, learn, move forward, always moving forward. So no, I wouldn’t trade any of that in for a relationship.

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That got me thinking then that while I joke that the universe is against me when it comes to the opposite sex, I think actually I’m the problem! I’ll tell you why or at least why I think I am. The first reason is that I am a problem solver and I give advice, and I don’t beat around the bush. While I am deeply emotional as a person, you’ll never see that in person. I value rational thought and logic over emotions. While that is one of my strengths as I can cut through bullshit and sort mostly any problem out and I would say that those who are close to me value that quality that a spade is a spade. While that’s great as a friend or a colleague would a girl always want to be called out on the bad things to be improved? I’m not trying to be mean, not at all, just if I see you can be more efficient or improve something I’ll tell you. Of course, while I try to be a bit more inclined to the emotionally sensitive people, I imagine that how I come across is a bit abrasive.

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The second problem on those lines is I am so hard on myself. Always have been and probably always will be. Daft but a recent example, I’ve just finished writing my thesis in 2 years 5 months, way faster than the average and while so many people have been like that is amazing, you should be so proud. My first thought, why didn’t you finish it in 2 years 4 months, why didn’t you push yourself to write more papers instead of the one etc. I can’t ever just pat myself on the back, and when others send praise, I brush it off as it’s nothing. What that transpires into is that I demand a lot from myself, so those who I hold dear I demand their best too. I mentioned before that I’m a problem solver, my default is okay, here is a problem, right, how can I sort that for you so that you’ll be happy again or can move forward. What I’ve slowly become to learn is actually a lot of women just want to be listened to, to have someone agree and say you’re in their corner. Not to solve their problems but to say yeah, I’m standing with you on this one.

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Finally, what this all boils down to being single for so long is that I am utterly shitting myself for my next relationship. I’m terrified to take that step again, to open up my heart for fear of the damage an ending will have again. Heartbreak is the literal worst thing you can experience. It’s easier to not be in a relationship to not be hurt, and therefore walls are set in a solid foundation. When you’ve thought for just yourself for so many years, to then, think for two people will genuinely be a challenge for me. I know that one day I’m going to have to find the courage to retake that leap of faith, lately, each time I pluck up the courage something crops up. I know people say everything happens for a reason, well I’d like to see that reason sooner rather than later!

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Sometimes I sit here though, and I’m glad that I’m single. I see the pain that some people post break up go through, and I relive that crap time. I sympathise. I then see people really not happy in relationships but are so afraid to start again, to take drastic steps to be happy themselves that they stay in unhealthy relationships, denying themselves a better option and being in denial that things will get better. One thing that being single for so long gives you is clarity. Sometimes I think people fall in love with the idea of love and not the person. Love is fucking hard. Love isn’t holding hands, it isn’t supporting each other in the good times or telling them you love them when you feel like it. Love is when the shit hits the fan in your life, and the other person stands with you, love is when you’ve been chucking your guts up and look like death, and they tell you you’re beautiful because to them beauty if way past what you look like. Love is when you fundamentally disagree on an issue, but you put that aside and support unconditionally because you’re a team. You rely on each other. Love is making those efforts in the moments where it all seems like it could fall apart, but you work at it because you’re both invested.

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What I see, more often than not, however, is people think they’re in love when in fact they’re in love with the idea of love. They don’t love themselves or know what they want, so they settle for what they think they deserve. What this breads in the end if people who let their partner take liberties or actually when they take a close look realise they have nothing in common or actually we’re a team publically but behind closed doors we’re as far apart as can be. If you’re not happy in a relationship, you really need to leave, for your own sake and for the other person. Sure, it’s a weird single world out there, and I bet the thought of starting again is fucking terrifying, but at least you’re giving yourself the real possibility of finding happiness again. Find yourself or at least a teammate who’s going to always give you 100%.

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However, I see why valentines day is the day it is. Love is crazy, messed up, it’s fire and ice, it’s a rainbow in a storm, a light in an endless tunnel. I get it. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss having someone back me 100% as more than a friend, I’d be lying if I didn’t miss morning messages or random hairs on your clothes, and I’d be definitely lying if I didn’t say I miss the sex life. Which, for those asking is I think has now gone past drought to the UN’s definition of extinct! I’d be lying if I didn’t miss the powerful emotions that come with love. Future girlfriend better get ready for the best 10 seconds of her life!

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So, if you’re in a happy relationship and you love the person you’re with, on valentines day, I get it, I really do, and I applaud you. Tell that person you love them, not just on the 14th but every day. Sure, you’re going to hit turbulence along the way but make it work if you’re both committed. Never lose sight of the fact that you’re a team.

If you’re in a relationship and you’re deeply unhappy. As scary as it is, leave. It won’t get better, it never does, I’ve seen it a billion times before. You’re denying yourself a chance of happiness. If you’re newly single or just single, yeah this day sucks, it reminds you that even people like Hitler had a partner and you don’t. You’re literally less desirable than Hitler. I feel your pain. The 14th is brutal. But guess what, you are strong, you are you, you fight your battles every day on your own, you’re valued, and you won’t be as unlucky as me because I think I’m taking one for the team when it comes to love.

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So for next year, who knows if it’ll be 8 years or I’ll be one of those annoying over the top soppy people. Tune in next year guys. As always though, whatever happens, love yourself and give yourself a break!

Until next time.

A look back on 2018 part 2

July

Starting July with a 50-mile cycle around Lake Geneva in my books is one hell of a way to start a month off!

A fantastic few days away this was. I look back fondly on my trip to Croatia and the trip to Switzerland, perfect days with not a care in the world with the best company. Sadly for a long time that would be the last time I’d see Laura as she headed off to new pastures down south and its when the year started to get a bit crap without my sidekick with me!

But despite the turn for the worse from July onwards, this caption sums life up well.

I brought a new phone in July after dropping mine while trying to take a selfie on the bike in Geneva, oops! The Samsung S9+ is, however, the best phone I’ve owned to date!

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Selfie mode on the S9 plus is awesome!

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I was home for only a few days before I was off on my travels again. This time I was heading to deep South Wales after I was invited by the British Ecological Society to run a workshop on Drone with their A-level course down in Port Talbot. What a totally rewarding and fantastic few days away that was, it was hot and hard work but the kids were lovely, and it really felt like I had made a difference to these kids.

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Moth traps set for tonight

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2 days later I was back on my travels south again, this time for pleasure as we headed off to the Royal International Air Tattoo. The biggest airshow in the world and we just so happened to have front row seats!

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Front row flightline seats! Let's goooo!

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F35 is a bit loud!

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I still snigger at this. Lolz.

I also finally got around to putting some pictures up in my room of my travels.

August

While the UK baked in one of the hottest summers on record, with the office empty of people as they were either on a break, in new jobs or were travelling, I was working flat out on the PhD alone. This summer was one long montage of movie themes and hard work.

In between all the hard work was the brutal extraction and complicated extraction at that of my wisdom tooth. I’d been putting up with the pain since April and finally got it sorted but holy fuck it was one of the worst pains having that out that I’ve ever had and that’s coming from someone who’s had multiple operations and 8 leg breaks!

A summer of editing and writing

Amazing what painkillers and determination will get you.

This picture summed up 2018 at times, just when everything is going well you fall down haha.

While the PhD was the focus of my last summer as a PhD student, it didn’t stop me taking some time out with my Ginger Zinger to go hiking. I’d wanted to head up to Mau Famau for ages and when Ro called up and wanted to go on an adventure, i knew the place to go!

And I’m always happiest outdoors up a mountain! Where the geographer belongs.

September

After a month of solid writing and spending my downtime hiking or cycling I was as fit as I’d ever felt.

Which just left more room for many many BBQs on what was fabulous weather for once!

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Mmmmmmm BBQ!

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And plenty of time catching up with the best people!

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Sunday impromptu walks! 😁

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Another day, another conference. This time I headed up to Leeds to present at the Enhancing Fieldwork Learning conference. One of the best conferences I’ve been to and I loved presenting my work there.

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Light pollution over Leeds at night.

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Finally, a few days off came. Happy times!

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Woo not in work for over a week! 😁

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But the days off don’t last long and once again I was on another train heading north, this time to Newcastle for the BERA conference. The biggest conference I could present at as an Education, PhD student. I was nervous but excited!

While my presentation went well, the conference itself was a bit crap! Too most elite for my liking but thank god my friend and office buddy Vic was presenting too at the conference! She made that conference for me 😀

As a life long Newcastle United fan, after being a Mascot for them as a kid, I finally managed to visit my favourite club!

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I finally visited my favourite club!

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And Vic holds the record for being the only person to get me out to drink in a town centre at 1 a.m. Many have tried but failed!

Back home it was time to relax by going to see the Royal Tattoo but this time in Liverpool. We’ve done the official one on Edinburgh before, but as a treat to my Dad we had a great father-son evening, drinking whiskey, eating steak in Millers & Carter and watching a fabulous show.

October

October started off pretty well I’d say!

After a hell of a lot of work over the summer burring myself, my first draft of my PhD was finished. This was quite emotional to get to this point. The PhD was nowhere near finished but its a major point in the life of a PhD student, the end which was once so far away was finally starting to come into view. It was time to enjoy the moment before months of editing and rewriting was to come.

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One phd draft equals half a forest

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While the family were on holiday abroad, I spent the many nights on my own stargazing in the back garden and rewarded with capturing a meteor!

For those of you who follow my Instagram stories will all recall this night well haha

October brought death in the family that hit me the hardest this year. Great Uncle Peter I absolutely idolised. I was and still am to know he’s no longer with us. When the family asked me to say a few words at his funeral, I wanted to, but I was aware of how much responsibility that was, to sum up, someone’s life who meant so much to you. Weirdly, that’s my proudest moment of 2018. Delivering that Eulogy which was my trademark sincere but full of humour style, what he would have wanted, getting a lot of laughs at a funeral is something not everyone does every day that’s for sure. Seeing the family proud and that I summed him up to a T really helped me and I’m glad I could do him proud one last time. I miss you, Pete.

I didn’t have too much time to process the funeral as I was straight on a flight to Norway for my final international conference as a PhD student.

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It's a bit cold here.

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Bergen was a truly fantastic place to visit for the ISSOTL conference a bit of time for solo travelling.

One of my favourite memories of this year was sitting in this coffee shop, with my cold hands wrapped around the cup, watching the people of Bergen pass the windows as coffee house music floated around me. It was the best coffee shop I’ve ever gone into. I had just stepped off a 3-hour Norwegian Fjord cruise, despite being layered up I was frozen to the bone. I spent 2 hours warming up, chatting to the locals and going through the hundreds of pictures of what was an amazing few hours in the Fjords.

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Coffee views!

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And the Fjord, wow. They were stunning.

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😍

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Bergen is surrounded by mountains, and every night I was there I took the lone hike through the forest up the mountain for a nighttime hike. I was rewarded with stunning clear skies and amazing stars.

Bergen is just as stunning at night as it is in the day.

That was it, my last two presentations as a PhD student was officially over. I’d presented in different countries and at two major international conferences. Hundreds of miles away from home at the top of a mountain I reflected on the journey on a such a cold but clear night. The following is one of my favourite pictures of 2018. Where the adventure will lead next, I have no idea, but I can’t wait to find out.

You’d be mad after a week of hiking and travelling to come home and go straight back out hiking, but that’s exactly what I did!

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Frozen in the rain but worth it!

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October started with a £100 win, and it ended with one too, boom!

And the Pumpkin of the year…

November

Autumn had arrived, I hate Autumn, and I hate winter, but I love it for the colours and photography.

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#autumn🍁

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Remembrance Sunday help a poignant and special meaning this year.

As with the lows in life, there are often the highs too. I was on my travel again to the Midlands to see my best friend from Uni, Han get married to Dan. A couple I had shipped for so long and was so happy to see get married! And what a wedding!! It was amazing, and it was great to catch up with the old housemates, and they’re witness to a very rare thing, me dancing!!

This sums up editing a PhD thesis.

Again, when you’re about to give up its often the moment that you make a breakthrough to carry on. I got my first ever academic citation from my paper I wrote last year! Aaaaaaaahhh!!!

December

What better way to start December than having our yearly jaunt around Liverpool Christmas market with Ro!

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Yearly christmas market selfie! 🎅

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The next day I took Em out for her Birthday meal in Millers & Carters. Can you get a better present than steak?

Of course, Meryseyrail where still being Merseryrail so I had no choice but to drink coffee and go Christmas shopping.

We finally got a new kitchen!

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Our new kitchen is done!

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Which meant our Xmas celebrations were way off kilter and at the last minute we managed to get out tree up. Phew.

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Tree is finally up! Merry Cliffemas!

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But to me, the best gift for Christmas was being reunited with this one for a little while before she headed back off for new adventures and more hard work!

Who knows what 2019 will bring? For me, I should finish my PhD and become Dr Cliffe. I plan on going travelling to new countries, continue to photograph everything in sight, value and cherish the moments I have with those that I love and hold dear whether they’re near or far. I don’t know what job I’ll have or where I’ll end up or what 2019 will be like. This year can be topped, but as I look back, there has been a lot of highs and some crushing lows. The hardest thing for me in the second half of the year was adjusting to work-life alone again. Laura heading off, Katie and Rosie moving to different countries and Vic travelling over summer meant a lonely summer slaving away on the PhD. I realised how much I’d come to rely on their company and humour each day. They made 2017 for me, and the adventures we’d shared in the first half of 2018 meant everything. 2019, I head out alone again on this road, but while they’re not here next to me, they come on this journey in my heart, and whatever we do in 2019, I’m sure it will be worth it, we’ll get there!

So no matter what your goals are or your aspirations for 2019, remember with the right attitude and hard work you can achieve it. I wish you, my followers and readers, a 2019 that is better than 2018 and I hope its a fantastic year for you. As always, you’ll see my 2019 on here, the good and bad. Who’s ready for another year of adventure hey?

Until next year,

Toe

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Editing Northern Lights Pictures: How do i do it?

So you’ve been out in the cold, you’ve followed my tips and hopefully you’ve got some great shots of the Northern Lights or the Stars! I hope you enjoyed it! Now it’s time to turn those good pictures into great ones! Using one of my own pictures I’m going to show you how to turn your RAW image from this…

Original Image

Original Image

To this…

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Edited Image

This tutorial is for Photoshop Elements which is a cheaper version of the full blown Photoshop. I’ve used elements for years as I find it easier and more user friendly to use than Photoshop and I find it brilliant for editing pictures.

  1. So firstly you’re going to want to go ahead and open up your image in your photo editing software. If you’ve shot in RAW then you’re probably going to be faced with something like this, with numerous sliders. These tools are what we’re going to use to enhance our image. While some may say its cheating I never think it is. Your eyes are far better seeing colour and definition than a camera is so all you’re doing is bringing that information from the camera up to the quality that your eyes see it. Plus i see photography as a form of Art and editing is like a painter painting! This image is straight from the camera unedited. It’s a pretty good photograph in its own right. However I want that reflection to really stand out, I want some colour and lightness in the shrubs and foreground and I want those stars and Northern Lights to really pop and show its beauty as i see it. So let’s go about doing that!

    Photo1

    Editing in Raw

  2. Exposure: The first step I always do with any night time shot is higher the exposure up. This brightens up the image and as you can see already the greens of the Northern Lights appear brighter and so do the stars.

    Photo2 exposure

    Adding Exposure

  3. Contrast and Highlights: For this I’ve lowered my contrast a little making the shrubs less black. If I plus my contrast that would make the shrubs blacker almost making a silhouette look. If you want that look then go ahead but for the purpose of mine I want them to be in colour. The highlight scale does as it says, it makes the brighter colours brighter or darker depending if you plus or minus it. I pulsed my highlights but not too much. The green really stands out now and still holds some important detail such as the swirl and the pillars of light from them. If I heightened the highlights all the way up the green would be really bright but there would be no detail in them so it’s a real fine line to walk!

    Photo3 contrasthighlights

    Adding Contrast and Highlights

  4. Shadows: Shadow slider is the opposite of highlights, it will make your dark areas lighter or darker depending if you plus or minus. As before, we want those shrubs to have detail and not be a black silhouette so I’ve plus it and as you can see now there is detail and some colour in those grasses!

    Photo4 shadow

    Brighten those shadows

  5. White balance: Increasing the white slider makes the image brighter and has the effect of making those stars and northern lights pop.

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    Increasing the white slider

  6. Clarity and vibrancy: Clarity changes the contrast and makes the image sharper at the expense of some noise. The shape of the Northern Lights is now more refined than before and the whole image looks better for it. Vibrancy increases the vibrancy of the colours in the image to make them stronger. Once that is done click open image. That image now looks much better than the raw image and that should make any image of the stars looking good!

    photo6 Clarity

    Clarity and Vibrance increase

I go one step further and get a little more technical for my final step. While I’m happy with that image as it is I still want to make that reflection look a little stronger and add a bit of light to that foreground.

  1. To achieve this I duplicate the layer, then add a new adjustment layer and crank up the brightness of the image along with reducing some contrast. The problem this causes is the whole image becomes brighter but you lose the detail as discussed before. So to stop this I open a mask layer, invert it and paint back in the brightness in the areas I want it. Such as the reflection of the lights, the top left Northern Lights and the red car light in the distance. Once all of that is done I collapse my layers, add my name and my final image is produced!
    photo7 duplicate layer

    Duplicating the layers

    photo8 brightness

    Adding brightness before masking

    photo9 layers

    Masking in brightness

    And there we have it! A final edit picture!

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    Edited Image

 

Night Sky and Northern Lights Photography tips

So I thought I’d do a quick little photography blog tonight! Barb my awesome cousin in Canada is lucky enough to be off to the Yukon soon to hopefully see the Northern Lights and she asked me about what camera settings I used to photograph them in the heart of Iceland. A few people have asked me this exact same question, so I thought I’d do a little tutorial about how to photograph the Northern Lights or if you’re not lucky enough to go to a place to see them, then these tips will work for any starry night sky shot. Sure there are tons of other online tutorials on how to do this but I thought I’d offer an insight to what I did and what I found works for me. I hope this tutorial is easy to follow because while I like my photography I’m certainly no expert or speak much in expert speak!

What do I need?

Well firstly and well obviously you’re going to need a Camera! While any camera is capable to some extent of taking star or Northern Light pictures, yes even your smartphone is capable! Although they won’t be anywhere near as good as a proper camera. DSLR type cameras are the best for this kind of job. I’m a Canon guy although Nikon etc. are just as good. This tutorial will follow an outline for Canon cameras and although Nikon use different symbols, the process is the same. You can also use a compact camera providing you have the option to manually change the settings. The camera I use is a Canon 1200D which is a pretty solid but entry level DSLR and I bought that a few years ago for around £300. So you have yourself a camera? That’s a good start!

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My camera gear minus the tripod

Next you’re going to want a lens that has a wide focal length or field of view. Imagine that as a lens that can grab as wide a picture as possible. Most DSLR or compact cameras zoomed all the way out will have quite wide fields of view. The lens I use for night time shots is this stock 18mm to 35mm lens that came with my Canon 1200D.

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My Canon 1200D with a small lens on. Any DSLR or compact will do the job providing the lens is up to the job.

Most importantly though you’re going to want these two inexpensive items, without them it doesn’t matter if your camera costs that of a small car, you ain’t going to get any good shots! Those two items are a Tripod and a remote shutter. The first is essential! While I highly recommend you buy a remote shutter (£10 if that) you can get away with not using one proving your camera has a timer but I’ll explain why you should use a remote shutter later on. A Tripod though is fundamental! I have a good one from Amazon for around £15 that folds up neatly into my camera bag and that’s been on countless trips. They’re great for normal photography too! So invest!

If you have all those items then we’re good to go! Before you venture out into the wilds of Iceland you’re going to want to practice in your back garden and you’re going to want to use these settings! If you just want the basics without the explanation then here they are, below that is a more detailed explanation!

  • Manual Mode
  • Manual Focus
  • Lens zoomed out
  • F-Stop 3.5 or lower
  • ISO 800
  • Shutter Speed 10-25 seconds
  • Shoot in RAW

Settings

If you have a DSLR or a compact camera you’ll often have a little twist dial with different letters and pictures. On my Canon it is as shown below. Whatever camera system you use (read the manual if you have too!) you’re going to want to put the camera into Manual Mode. If you’re an avid photographer already then you’re probably well used to this mode however if you’re not then this mode can feel a little daunting. It allows you 100% control over whatever the camera does which is both scary but ultimately rewarding as it’s all about your skill to get the picture rather than the camera’s brain. It’s really important that you get familiar with this mode and not rely on other settings as in the dark the camera’s brain will work overtime and won’t produce what you want in your image! For me, my Manual Mode is designated by the letter M.

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Putting the camera into Manual Mode via the dial.

Now that you’re in Manual Mode firstly you’re going to want to zoom your lens all the way out for example mine goes all the way out to 18mm. Make your lens go as far as possible to the lowest setting. The second thing I want you to do and this may be a button on the camera or you may need to go into the camera settings once it’s switched on and turn your Focus to Manual Focus.

IMG_20180111_204548

Lens zoomed all the way out to 18mm. My auto/manual focus button is on the side of my lens.

Turning the camera on now it’s time to navigate the settings to get it set up for some night sky photography. There are certain things you’re going to want to change.

IMG_20180111_204623

Manual Mode Settings page. Here is where you’ll change the following settings.

Aperture

Aperture is a setting which tells the camera how much light the lens will take in, for night time photography when its well… dark you’re going to want as much light hitting those tiny camera sensors at the back of the lens as much as possible. In order to do that you’re going to want the lens to open as wide as possible. Imagine you’ve woken up at night and you’re trying to find the light switch. Your eyes will open as wide as possible to gain as much light as possible, that’s what the camera needs to do. On the flip side in bright sunlight your eyes squint because it doesn’t need as much light for example. Some lens and cameras can go lower than F3.5 but 3.5 is a good setting to use. Any higher and it doesn’t really work. If you look on your screen you’ll see a number with an F on it. Use your navigation buttons, highlight the F number and lower it to as low as it will go.

Shutter Speed

One of the most important things for night time photography is not only the eye to be as wide as possible to collect light but it needs to be open for a long time to capture as much light as possible. Between 10 and 25 seconds I find perfect for night time sky photography. Any longer than 30 seconds then due to the earth’s rotation the stars will begin to move and have a streaky effect across the sky. While that can be cool, we want nice sharp stars!

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You don’t need to head out to the countryside to photograph sharp stars! This was taken from my back garden in a town last summer.

If you’re unsure where to change your shutter speed settings then it’s usually next to your F stop and is a number with a / in it for example 1/1000th (Which means the lens will stay open for 1000th of a second. Of course that’s too quick we want 10 seconds at least! So change that until it reads 10. Usually it will go up in 5 second blocks). You may notice that mine says Bulb instead of a number. On my camera the bulb setting means the lens will stay open for as long as I let it until I tell it to close. This is one reason your remote shutter comes in handy. You may find 10 seconds is too dark, 15 seconds too light but 13 seconds perfect. So you have that control.

ISO

Out of all of the items so far you’re probably most familiar with the terms ISO and then seeing some numbers after it. I won’t explain the complexities of ISO numbers but set it as 800!

RAW over JPEG

Your smartphone and your cameras default shoots in JPEG. JPEG is an image were your cameras brain takes the information from the sensors and produces a picture. While this is perfectly fine, you’re very limited to what editing options you can do to it once you put it on your PC. I always shoot in RAW. RAW is an unedited version of what the camera sees so you have complete control over all aspects of the image in the editing phase. As you can tell us photographers are a controlling bunch! If you don’t want the hassle of editing in a software editor then use JPEG but be warned you can’t make your images really pop! You can set your camera to shoot in both however if you want to.

Other settings

If you change those three settings then you’re pretty much guaranteed to get a decent star or Northern Lights shot! So start out with those. However if you really want to go the extra mile, your camera may have a white balance setting. I usually use Cloudy to enhance colours of the Northern Lights but if you’re just shooting stars I recommend the florescent white balance.

Why use a remote shutter or a timer and a tripod?
So that question you ask yourself, why do I need a tripod and a remote shutter or timer? Well as mentioned above the camera will have the lens open for a long time. It’s impossible even for top Snipers to hold a camera for 15 seconds completely still! Any movement within those 15 seconds will make the image blurred and the light source streak across the image, ruining it. Tripods are excellent to make the camera nice and stable and free from movement. Even if you have a tripod, the very act of you physically pressing the camera shutter will move the camera body slightly, introducing movement. Even though it is brief it can cause that issue. That is were a timer or a remote shutter takes that movement away but with a remote shutter you have that finer control over the time.

Okay so you’ve survived that complicated set up…I hope you’re still following with me! Now it’s time to go outdoors and put all of this into action. Get the gloves, hat and coat on oh and your shoes and lets head outside.

So we’re outside, the camera is on the tripod and all your settings are in place, don’t forget to take that lens cap off! (I can’t begin to tell you the amount of times I thought my camera lens was broken only to realise I left the lens cap on). Doh!

With the camera switched on you’re going to want to manually focus your camera on an object. Be that a tree, a bush, a lamp anything! I always try to have something in the shot as it gives it a sense of scale and looks better.

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Night Sky is good to capture

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Night Sky Photography is far better with a landscape in the photograph or a foreground.

Take a few pictures and keep manually focusing until your images look sharp and in focus. Once you find that sweet spot do not touch the focus or the lens. Leave it as is and move the tripod around and snap away! You’ll want to change the shutter speeds each time to see what you get. On a night shoot I may take over 400 pictures and maybe 20 will be any good. It’s all about practice, changing things and keep trying! You have to keep trying and you will find at least one brilliant picture in there!

So good luck! I hope you get some cracking pictures of the northern lights or the wonders of the night sky! If you’re shooting in RAW and want some editing tips then follow this link to my editing blog post here: Editing Northern Lights Pictures: How do i do it?

 

Cheating in relationship, is it in the Jeans?

It’s been quite a while since I last wrote a blog that was solely dedicated to relationships or my usual non-existent love life. The last proper one was probably in 2015 An honest look at why i’m single or one of my favourite blogs of all time the one about the perfect girl which can be read here What would the perfect girl be if she existed?.  They’re often some of my favourite ones because there is so much scope for in-depth discussion or plenty of avenues for humour and stories.

I’ve actually been meaning to do one of these for quite a while and that’s due to different things that have happened over the past 6 months with friends, which often prompted me to get down and write about it. The main thing is, as much as I love my girl mates, they have made some truly bad decisions lately :P. Or at least from my part what I see as bad decisions. Decisions that I completely disagree with but as friends you fully support, albeit reluctantly at times. That topic is cheating in a relationship. I was going to dedicate an entire blog to the subject as I see it as far more common from my girl mates and never from my guy mates, so it got me thinking why that is. While I morally disagree with their actions, I fully understand their reasoning for doing so. Sadly their reasons are justifiable something I never thought I’d agree with and sadly each one of them has the exact same reasons. Which, while not perfect from the girls it means guys are not doing what they should be doing in relationships. Which is a worrying trend and precedent for relationships in general.  Which is something I’ll outline in more depth in this blog.

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A few years ago in a Valentine’s Day blog I compared two different types of love with food (naturally love and food are the same thing with me!) Asda smart price vs M&S food. I’ve now updated such analogy with Primark Jeans and Levi’s. All will become clear I assure you. However, I didn’t go ahead with writing a full blog on it because I wanted something a little lighter and happier slant on love than what that would be. As my parents have just celebrated 30 years since being married and my best guy friend is getting married this weekend, I thought it was a good time to mix the light and the dark side of relationships. Starting in the dark and working towards the light…then throwing my somewhere in between love life in there too! (Edit: But while planning this blog i realised that i may not have time to write about the wedding and the anniversary. Maybe next time!)

Disagree with the action, agree with the justification

So to the dark side first. Everything I’m about to say has been said to them so now I’m just getting my thoughts out there to a wider audience. One time it happens doesn’t need to be talked about but four times needs addressing ha-ha! So let me put my stall out and my stance on cheating before I go into anything in more depth. I fully and wholeheartedly disagree with it. I’ve been the unfortunate victim of cheating in a relationship and let me tell you it sucks. It’s one thing for someone to tell you that they don’t love you anymore but at least they had the respect for you, to tell you. So while they may break your heart for a time, at least you’re not in a relationship in denial. When someone cheats on you, it’s basically someone saying you’re not even worth that respect. Sure, you could be the most horrible boyfriend in the world but they still deserve a “this isn’t working” rather than cheating. If you’re unhappy in a relationship then leave before you do something with another person. We’re humans and evolution has programmed us to procreate so it’s natural to be attracted to other people at times in a relationship. You’re allowed to window shop but it’s important that you don’t enter said shop.

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Taken? Then look but don’t touch.

I get it though, it can be daunting breaking someone’s heart but ultimately if you’re not happy then you’re only cheating both of you out of a love life that you deserve. If you’re the one doing the breaking up then sure it’s going to hurt, you’re going to be the bad guy for a time but ultimately it’s the right decision for you and both of you. If you’re the one who has been broken up with, sure it’s going to absolutely kill you but once the heart has healed you see it as a blessing in disguise. I hold 100% respect to an ex who told me they didn’t love me anymore. That took immense amount of courage to do that so I respected her for that. Let’s face it too, people fall out of love. It happens. People get with each other and then circumstances change, they change and that’s all part of growing up and moving forward. These things happen, it’s not a bad reflection on either of you. Sometimes relationships just fail and that’s okay. Take away the lessons from it and move forward. It is a bad reflection on you however if you then cheat in that relationship while lying to each other that you love each other when you don’t. They deserve better and quite frankly you’re better than that.

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So yeah, I’m fully against cheating in a relationship and at no point in any of the conversations I’ve had with these people do I agree with what they have done. Yet, I can 100% understand their reasoning’s and their attempts at justifying their position of why they have cheated. That’s where I’ve had the moral dilemma of disagreeing with the action but understanding the reasoning behind said action.

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Out of the four close girl mates that have done the cheating, each time I sat and listened to their story of events and their reasoning, it was as if the conversation was recorded and repeated. Just change the names and that would be it. The circumstances and reasons were exactly the same. These four girls are vastly different in personality, jobs, morals, and outlooks on life. Their only common factor is they’re friends with me. So, if they all have the same reasons for cheating then that’s clearly an issue that needs to be addressed.

So what was their reasons I hear you ask? It was a variation on a lack of affection and support from their boyfriends. Now I’m not talking about someone missing an event or not backing them up in an argument. I’m talking about no flowers, no hugs, and no simple things like taking an interest in their family or how their partner’s day has been and just a general lack of being a good boyfriend. That’s the issue. Too many times have I seen guys who treat their girlfriends as if they were there guy mates, devoid of emotion or at least insensitive to such things. Sure, it’s good to be in a relationship which isn’t smothered by romance and it’s healthy to have a laugh and goof around like best mates and it’s vital you have your own pursuits outside of the relationship. Yet when no affection or support is offered, she will look elsewhere. That’s essentially what happened. Being in a relationship devoid of that and as soon as someone comes along who offers that person that love, support and affection it’s not hard to see why it happened.

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That frustrates me, a lot. It seems guys have forgotten the fundamentals of relationships and being a good boyfriend. Affection and intimacy is a big part of a relationship. Now I’m not saying you have to buy gifts and flowers every week for them but once in a while so they know they’re appreciated, or even if you just tell them, that goes a long way. I’m not going to outline the fundamentals of good relationship etiquette, go google the millions of blogs and magazine articles who already outline the obvious. Yet, somethings aren’t as obvious that I feel if guys did more, maybe their girlfriends would be less inclined to look elsewhere for affection.

  1. Take an active interest in their lives:

    Yeah some of her hobbies may be about as exciting as watching paint dry and maybe she works in a field that you have absolutely no clue about. Does it hurt to ask about it or try to take an interest in it? For example my ex, I knew nothing about horses nor do I really care about show jumping or take any interest in horses outside of betting on them on the Grand National weekend. I knew it was important to her and a big part of her life so I tried to take an interest in it and let her explain things and occasionally go along to her events. Would I choose to sit on a cold field watching people jump horses, to which I’m always allergic to? No. Did I do it anyway because I wanted to support her? Absolutely. Likewise, she would humour me by asking about cycling or aviation. It’s about sharing in those new experiences. It’s important especially if they work in a tough job or sector that even if you have no clue about it, just ask her anyway. 99% of what she says may go over your head but she’ll appreciate you asking. After all you’re there to support them.

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  2. Support them:

You won’t always agree with somethings they said or do and that’s fine because we’re not all the same and debate and argument in relationships is a healthy thing. However they need to know that no matter what, you have their back. Like for example with those girl mates, I fully disagree with their actions, I told them that and the reasons why but ultimately I still said “I stand by your decisions and I’m here to support you”. That’s just what a good friend and what a good boyfriend should do. You’re meant to be a team! You need to have each other’s back. I’d hate to be in a relationship and not feel like I had the backing of my girlfriend.
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  1. Be emotional:

I’m not talking about serenading her with an 80’s power Ballard while sitting on a sit on lawnmower outside her window (totally on the list to do one day :D) or writing a love poem to her. I am talking however about show her you care. Tell her you love her once in a while. I’m an emotional robot for a lot of things in life and that’s why many people come to me for advice, especially in terms of relationships because I can easily switch off my emotions to give objective and logical advice. In a relationship you just can’t be that person. I can control my emotions because I’m a deeply emotional vibrant person. I’m sure close friends and past girlfriends have witnessed how deep my love and affection goes. Even if you’re an emotional robot, you need to show some sort of feelings towards them otherwise, you’re just friends or just two people who occupy the same space. Compliments are always a big boost too. Even the girls who say they hate them, they’re lying. Everyone loves a good boost in confidence. Yet, compliments from most guys on their girls appearance are quite shallow and usually only used in the bedroom. Women are so much more than just appearance. Maybe next time compliment her on her personality, how driven or caring she is or how intelligent she is. Show her you love her for more than just her looks because we’re all so much more than that.

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But I guess this all comes down from both sides as a lack of effort and back to that old analogy of Asda smart price food vs M&S. So let me update you with how I view relationships at the moment at least in this context.

Primark Jeans v Levi’s Analogy

Primark Jeans are basically what ‘relationships’ have become lately. A quick comfy convenience that doesn’t require much effort or thought, lasts a few weeks to a few months and once it’s broken it is easy to replace. Like, Primark Jeans are very common, relatively cheap and do their job but within a few weeks to a month they shrink or come apart at the sides. There is no point working to repair them because you can just pick up another pair and you were never invested in them anyway from the start. Contrast that to a £100 pair of Levi jeans. You invest a substantial amount of money into them and usually as you’re spending that much you’ll spend your time finding the right pair before committing to the purchase. Not only do they last far longer, if they were to become damaged, you’ll work to get them repaired. Does that make sense? I’m definitely a Levi jeans kind of’ guy. I’d rather invest more and have it for longer than go through 10 pairs of Primark jeans. I just wish more people would be Levi kinda’ of people.

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I guess to conclude this part of the blog, while your reasons for your actions may be justifiable and if you feel yourself going there, end it with your boyfriend or girlfriend first before you go there. It’s not healthy for either of you and if you continue to have your cake and eat it too, karma will come back to make you choke on it. Do the right thing. Likewise guys, step up. If a girl loves you make the effort to support and love them back. This isn’t a one way street, you’re a team and teams require teamwork and effort from both.

So I was going to now go into the light and talk about my Mum and Dad’s 30th wedding anniversary and my best guy friend’s wedding coming up at the weekend but I realise that this blog has gone on much longer than I thought it would! I guess I had a lot to say, so I’ll save that for another blog. I will however now move into more positive light and move towards talking about my still pretty much non-existent love life but why I hold great hope for the future. A bit lighter to end!

So ironically not a great deal has changed since those last blogs and I’m still waiting for my ginger, cycling pilot baker girlfriend to appear. But alas it isn’t all that bad! I think I’m the happiest I have been since 2011/12 and I’m just enjoying life and travels and friendships. It’s only been maybe the past few months where I’ve actually considered and entertained the thought of being in a relationship again. Everything is now set up for one and I know emotionally and physically I can give time and effort into investing myself back into a relationship again. Of course, that’s easier said than done. You all know how I have that tick box system in my head and how despite having way too much self-confidence there is still the crippling fear of being hurt again and not living up to expectations in a relationship. I guess that’s normal but I am ready to give up my selfish ways and compromise and share my life with someone in a way that is more than I do with friends. Maybe I have the courage to take that leap of faith again but it has to be with the right person. The beauty of being single and loving yourself for who you are is that you know exactly what you want and what you need. I have felt really positive lately about the future outlook to my love life which has been dormant for far too long! I feel like good things are on the way and I’m excited for that adventure again, as if the PhD and starting my own business wasn’t enough of an adventure already!

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Someone for the first time since my ex which is what four maybe even five years ago now has passed the Tony test, not that they know that of course! I do like to keep things to myself and my cards close to my chest. That over complicated tick box exercise which is my defence mechanism. That’s a big thing for them and for me because it literally never hardly happens! Whether or not that will ever develop into anything in the future is not up to me to write, I’m sure the directors of the universe have plans to either develop it or not but I really don’t care. What will be will be and I’m not even giving it any thought!

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However in the meantime I really am enjoying the PhD life and the friendships that come with that. It’s one thing to be single for a long time and while that’s great for exploring yourself and being 100% happy with who you are, it actually makes you really appreciate the journey you’re on and where you’ve been. You also really appreciate those in your life as friends both old and new. Every day lately has been an absolute laugh and that’s mostly down to old but also new friends, especially those from the PhD gang. Memes, gifs, puns and jokes galore along with the beauty of getting to know them in more depth! I’m loving it and I’m really grateful for where I am in my life right now.

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Before I wrote this blog I went through some of my old ones trying to find my last dedicated relationship blog and came across one of those blogs I wrote just after that breakup. It amazes me to see how far I’ve come since then and that it truly was a blessing in disguise. The things I’ve achieved and who I’ve become since then actually makes me proud to see who I am today. So, I guess to round this blog off on a positive note. If you are that girl who is thinking about breaking it off with their boyfriend because they are either not affectionate, caring or you’ve just ran out of love for them. Set them free. It’s their choice to be another Primark Jean for another woman but maybe you might set them free to become a Levi. They may just thank you. Don’t try to wear two jeans at once because no one wins then. With that in mind, maybe you’ll realise that while shopping in Primark has its perks, you might dip into your pocket and invest in a pair of single Levi jeans. We do exist 😀

Until next time,

Toe

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Travels, a monkey gif and an achievement unlocked.

Hey guys,

How are you all doing? Thought I’d check in with you readers and update you on life. Long-time no blog but I feel like I open all of my blogs that way lately! I am working on trying to get more regular blogs out. I am planning however to do a special edition dedication blog soon which I’m excited about. Every so often I do one of those special edition blogs and more often than not they tend to be some of my favourite pieces. The dedication special edition blogs have been dedicated from family to PhD friends and to individuals. The next one will be very fitting and worthy of one. So check back in a few weeks’ time for that one! In the meantime please do leave a comment or get in touch via social media if you have any topics you’d like to see me write about. Some of my old blogs have come about from suggestions from you guys so please, fire away.

So my last blog was about me fulfilling a lifelong dream and goal of finally getting a pilot’s licence Hard work gets you your dream… eventually. Granted it wasn’t the one I ever thought I would get but hey, beggars can’t be choosers right? So that was where I was basking in the glow of self-achievement and feeling the immense amount of stress and pressure flow out of me. That sense of achievement and elation quickly faded in all honesty as I’ve spent the past two weeks and probably the next two, writing an operations manual for my UAV operations. It’s as boring and as dry to write as it is eating plain Rivita. 88 pages of policy, specifications and procedures have been written so far. It’s as exciting as it sounds. Yet, I am grateful to be doing it in a way as it means I’m in a position to write one. Only qualified pilots get to so, so I shouldn’t complain too much. Plus, every time I pull on my RPAS pilots high Vis jacket, I look down at those silver RPAS pilots wings pinned to my chest and smile. A symbol of a great deal of hard work.

The week following that flight exam didn’t allow me much time to bask in said glory however. It was a busy week in work, the big graduate school conference was that week. As one friend put it to me on WhatsApp “Tony, do you ever stop?”. As a PhD student you’ll attend many conferences related to your field and some are more important than others. The graduate school one in University is one of the key conferences of the year. They’re paying you a lot of money to do your research so you do have to show up and show what you’ve done to keep everyone happy. Our PhD family is very well established but it’s nice to see what other PhD students are up to in the University. Usually at conferences I’d give a presentation but for this one was just a poster and I was pretty happy with my poster! I bent the rules a little, it wasn’t what should I say … academic. Yet, why stick to boring rules anyway?! I think with some modifications that poster could do well in future events.

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My poster

I didn’t win the top £300 prize but that’s no surprise. Unless you’re curing cancer or doing some hard science PhD you never get a look in. I’m certainly not saying that my poster would have been a worthy winner, it was probably too left field despite many positive comments from others that day. It’s just that social science, education type research or posters, never win. There is an ever present bias in research against such subjects and that won’t change any time soon.  Kudos to the winner and all but there are some great sport or social science research that goes on and they had some amazing posters to reflect that but alas, I’m not the judge so. The day wasn’t a complete waste, in fact it was one of the funniest days I’ve had in a long, long, time! Conferences like that can be dull at times and I always try to make them fun by saying a joke here or there. They’re just too much of an easy target for my sarcastic comments.  Little did I know a simple office monkey gif would have me and Katie laughing for hours like we were back in school. I’m sure you’ve all been there, serious situation you’re not meant to laugh, yet you cannot help it. I had my head almost between my knees while biting my tongue trying not to laugh.

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The gif that has so much meaning to it 😀

It was the final of the three minute thesis challenge but I spent the whole hour trying not to look Katie in the eye and trying to stop my head from exploding from holding my laughter in. In fact, I’m actually laughing as I type this! I haven’t laughed and had tears in my eyes from laughing for ages that day! Some friendships and relationships are defined by either pictures, a song or moments, I think that gif will be forever synonymous with our friendship. While having an important Skype meeting in the office for the journal I’m an editor for, she sent me the same Gif and again, trying to keep a straight face on a Skype call took every ounce of self-control! I hate you ha-ha!  I also walked through a chair and nearly fell up the stairs that day of the conference and had cake which made my tongue blue. Such a random but fun day.

After the conference, it was back off on my travels again for my birthday and a stag do. This time, Tony Travels took me to Berlin for my best friend, well actually he’s more my like the brother I never had, stag do. New country and new city ticked off the list. It was a great few days seeing the sites, an amazing car museum, watching a Bundesliga game in the Olympic stadium and playing darts in a bar full of monkeys…don’t ask.

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A random Berlin bar with monkeys…everywhere. 

Still not entirely over being hustled by the 70 year old Wolfgang and his groupies who just so happened to be Berlin champions. Little did we know. It was like the blitz all over again, we were battered by the Germans that night!

It was really cool to go to Berlin but they weren’t that accommodating to English folks. Especially not a group of lads. Would I visit Berlin again? Possibly but it’s not on the list for a while. I got to see most of the sights and it was amazing to see the Berlin wall etc. but I do feel there are better European cities that are out there that are friendlier. Very little war jokes either which was very un-Top Gear like. Although, I did have to laugh as we walked through a Berlin park at night with a group of 20 young German lads walking in front of us and one of us said “Help yourselves everybody, there’s no fighter escort!”. I appreciate 98% of you won’t get that famous quote from the Battle of Britain but I did. One thing I will say though however is how embarrassing Brits abroad are. That flight out to Berlin full of Stag and Hen do parties was a disgrace. Someone actually pissed themselves on the plane. Yes, we were on a stag do but the Groom doesn’t drink so we had a very cultural Stag do with museums and football games and sightseeing, not being pissed off our faces like those on the plane where going to be like. No wonder the Germans hate us! At least the flight back was nice and quiet and I’m still getting stick for being the only one with priority queue ticket and then us all being put on the same bus, thus rendering my priority ticket and absolute waste of money much to the amusement of the rest of the stag party. Hummppphhh.

It was fun to spend another birthday out of the country. Last year it was my final day in North West Canada that I spent my 24th birthday and this year my 25th was spent in the heart of Berlin. Not sure if I’m making this a habit but it is kinda’ cool trying to turn a year older in a new country each year. My goal this year was to go away every month in 2017. I failed that goal in January by not going away but have gone away every month since. It makes for one hell of a blog at the end of the year I’m sure! My trips have been:

  • Ireland in Feb by myself
  • Amsterdam with Emma in March
  • Then it was back to Ireland for a cycling holiday this time with Shaun in April
  • Berlin in May with Luke and the stag party
  • In June me and Shaun are off to the Isle of Man for the Road cycling national championships

As July approaches I have no plans sadly but maybe that’s a good thing for the planet and my bank balance. I’m sure my carbon footprint could do with a rest but I’m still potentially going around the country visiting old Uni friends in July. So the rest of my year’s plans look like this so far, with maybe a conference to throw in to that mix too!

  • August I’m off to Prague with the wonderful PhD ladies Laura and Katie
  • September off to Iceland for a solo adventure which bleeds into
  • A solo October adventure in Canada
  • and finally currently trying to plan a European trip somewhere with Karen in November followed by Amsterdam again but this time in December with Rochene! I’m really enjoying these travels and its great having so many different travel companions along the way! I feel a bit like the Doctor ha-ha.

I seriously advise if you can to try and get away for a few days a month. It works great for your productivity and you get to explore these places with awesome people! I am grateful that I can be in a position with the job I do, to be able to travel when I want to. I’m certainly trying to make the most of that freedom while I can!

The month has been after the exciting start, rather more mundane.  The PhD has plodded along with not a great deal to do other than tiny bits here and there. University is winding down for the summer and I’m spending more and more time outside burning in the sun at lunch which is nice! Our PhD family finally moved into our own new big office! So now it really does feel like a sitcom! Room 105.

Just yesterday I got news of another big achievement. I could get used to getting a new achievement unlocked every month! Two months ago I wrote a paper of the benefits and drawbacks to virtual field guides in geoscience in higher education. I didn’t tell anyone, not even my supervisors because I did it just as a little test. I submitted it fully expecting to be rejected. I mean, what PhD student who’s 8 months in writes a paper, let alone gets it published. So I was under no illusions that it would come back as a rejection which is why I submitted it. It has to be peer reviewed and when it’s rejected the reviewers will give me some constructive feedback which will help my writing style over all. So that’s why I submitted it. I was shocked to see it come back with major revisions but not a rejection. I was like oh wow…okay! The revisions weren’t actually that major. I spent about two weeks revising the paper and actually putting some effort into it! I sent the revisions off and found out yesterday that its going to be published in a very good educational Journal! I appreciate those not doing a PhD but that is massive news. It eclipses getting the pilot’s licence. Breaking that glass ceiling of getting your first published paper is huge. In this world, it’s publish or perish. It should keep the wolfs at bay for a year or so. It’s good to get a name for myself early on in my career and it’s great to see your hard work paying off. I’m aiming to get at least four published papers done before I come to do my viva. It’s very rare but not impossible to do. That’s one down in my first 8 months. That’s because your viva is there so that your Thesis and research is peer reviewed and in that hell 4 hours of a viva when the examiners ask you about your research and question why you’ve done this or that over the past three years its so that they can say yes, this person is an expert, their research is sound and has been checked by more than three academics. Now you can go forth and become a doctor. If you’ve got four papers published from your thesis before you enter your viva, you’re effectively immortal. Your work has already been peer reviewed because journal articles are peer reviewed by experts. So it’s almost impossible for them to fail you in your viva. Imagine it as in a game, each paper you publish is like collecting a token and when you get four you can use that as a cheat to help defeat the big boss at the final level. If you publish six then you don’t even have to do a viva! You get your doctorate via publication. Now that is rare and I’m not aiming for that because it hardly ever happens….seriously like ever.

In other events I’ve been house viewing with Katie the past few weeks and that’s been fun, it’s that anticipation of if the landlord is a murderer and has lulled us in with an advert just to kill unsuspecting victims. The first apartment I’m still so confused by, it was this big grand old hotel off Sefton Park, it had a vibe that it gave off the impression that people lived there but it felt like no one did or hadn’t for years. Very blink episode from Doctor Who. As an author that really got my creative juices flowing. Maybe I’ll write a short story next Halloween based on that place with its big gates and fallen trees in the driveway!

Of course we had the election take place and I won’t go into that in this blog because I feel my ranting would go on for days but I am so proud that my generation finally stood up and made a difference. Come on Jezza lad!

I also went to watch Wonder Woman with Vic the other day, I highly recommend that movie. In fact I’m going to actually state that it is the best super hero origin story of all time. Yep. It’s that good. It’s not the fact that the actress who plays Wonder Woman is an actual goddess either. In the movie it is said that she has been created from clay and sculptured by the gods. It’s hard to disagree that Gal Gadot hasn’t been sculptured by the gods. She actually comes close to dislodging my ultimate woman of Amy Adams. So close. But yeah despite her being an absolute babe, the way the movie shoots her it’s a breath of fresh air. As a guy of course you appreciate her beauty but as a character she is so much more than that and that’s what makes that movie so great. Other female superhero roles are so overly sexualized that it takes away their bad ass-ness. For example Black Widow. Yet the way the movie portrays wonder woman is when she’s on screen she’s feminine, strong, powerful and beautiful all at the same time and she’s one hell of a bad ass! I think it sets a precedence for how female leads should be portrayed in movies and that’s a good thing for everyone. So go and watch that movie!

So that’s a whistle stop tour of my month of May and early June. Keep an eye out on that special blog soon and remember to get in touch if there is a blog you’d want me to write about. I love hearing from you guys!

Until next time,

Toe

 

 

PhD as a sitcom: It’s the friends that make you appreciate the journey

Before starting the PhD there was a sense that there was no doubt that it was a long journey ahead. I’m no stranger to long journeys or solo travel so the PhD was almost an intellectual perfect fit. I often pictured any long piece of writing, be that the two previous dissertations or the two novels that I’ve wrote as long climbs. Long climbs for example on the bike are always more about mental strength than physical. Cycling up a long hill, looking up but nothing but steeper road and no sign of any peak, is exhausting and everything in your head tells you to quit. Yet, when someone else is cycling with you, you keep going, you jeer each other on. The PhD is exactly the same.  Any article I read about doing a PhD before I started was everyone said how lonely the PhD experience was. I had images in my head of three years of solitary confinement and turning into Tom Hanks from Castaway. Perhaps the Thesis would be called Wilson?

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In some aspects as a PhD student you are on your own little island but others are on that island too. Ironically, like lost, it’s an Island that tries to kill you at every turn and we try to escape it over the course of three academic seasons.

I’ve been very fortunate to be in a position that not many new PhD students get to be in and that is a part of a cohort. My PhD was created through a new stream of funding and they wanted to develop a new PhD community in the Education faculty. So I was really lucky to start at the same time as a group of students were starting. So in September we all boarded the PhD boat and it set sail into the bold new waters of undiscovered research. At the moment that boat is somewhere between the Costa Concordia and the Titanic but what matters the most for this metaphor is we’re all in it together!

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Accurate representation of the PhD ship on a daily basis.

And that’s important to me. Those of you who know me well enough will know that I pride myself on the company I keep and I cherish my friendships.  As much as I love friends and family who are not involved in the PhD, they simply do not understand the stresses and strain of the PhD. That’s not their fault. It’s an entirely different world. I might as well be on the Enterprise as it’s a vastly different adventure to anything else. PhD friends however just get it and like Vic put it so well “You’re the only ones I can talk to about this stuff”. She’s right. For example the stress of the RD9R form, initiation to the PhD, quest or journey to hell and back, whatever you want to call it, was about as annoying as hearing Adele on the radio every two minutes! I could have complained to friends or family about it but I don’t think they quite grasp the scale of the torture of an RD9R form. On the other hand, my fellow PhD brethren fully appreciate my anger at it all. We all seriously had good and bad days with that form!

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Those that know me well will also know that I am rarely one to ask for help or seek council. When I do, you know it’s bad. I prefer to deal with issues myself but doing this PhD it’s almost as if the currency of a PhD is collaboration and help. You don’t help others for any person gain, it’s just what you do here in this weird and wonderful PhD world. If you don’t help each other out on this island you’re all going to starve. If one of you is a dick, then you’ll get murdered and eaten. I’ve read lord of the flies, no one wants to be Piggy.

That being said I love helping others out and I love giving objective advice. I’ve been on the other side of education as a staff member and I’ve seen all the issues that come with it. Therefore I’m well equipped to deal with most problems in academia, be that god awful supervisors to vast amount of red tape. The former I am so lucky to have brilliant supervisors for my PhD but I realise that I am one of the lucky ones. You read about horror stories of terrible Directors of Studies, unfortunately a dear friend is the one who has that nightmare! Pretty much the empire strikes back with that one. This is how villains are created! You know when you thought you could rely on someone being nice and then they turn really horrible on you. Her supervisors have basically pulled a Paolo from Lizzie McGuire.

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So, the PhD friends have made this PhD so special in just the short 6 months I’ve been at it. I still don’t think the PhD is hard. That’s not some ooh look at me doing a PhD and finding it easy. The Research Assistant job was just way way harder. I guess I have a busy GID department to thank for my training in those two years! So the research is fun but what makes it more fun is the people. As much as I am a self-centred narcissist at times I deeply value teams and team goals and I demand success from myself, so I demand it from others. I want other people to succeed. Yes, I like to be the leader of said teams or a point of contact for advice. It makes me feel like I have a purpose, which fuels my ego. Pretty straight forward cycle. However, I love giving advice, there is nothing better than seeing your words being put into action for the benefit of others! It’s one reason I’m in academia and that’s to make a difference. Yet, in this job I don’t actually see myself as better than anyone else, we’re all equals in that office because we all have our different strengths that we all bring to the team. We’re pretty much the PhD avengers. Viva people and research degree committees are pretty much Hydra too.

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You know well by now that I feel like my life is a TV show in a parallel universe due to the vast randomness that happens to me and all the drama that happens with my fellow cast members! If it was a TV show, I’m sure the audience all have their favourite characters (as do I!) but if my life was broken down into a series then this new series would be the PhD one. I’m pretty sure if the PhD was a series or a new TV show, we’d deffo be rocking 9.5 on IMDB. We even have our own theme song too! ‘Sheryl Crows – Winding Road’ if you wanted to know. It’s literally the perfect song! This group has it all. Vast amounts of comedy and I mean vast. Every day is a laugh and some of the one liners in this group are amazing! Sarcasm is rife, intellectual debate and comedy is pretty much how we talk to each other. You’d struggle to write a script as good as this. Yet, there is plenty of drama, there has been tears and what makes every TV show compelling is the dynamic and bond between the characters. It’s pretty much the TV show community. Everyone is there for everyone else because we’re all in this sinking research boat together. It’s amazing to be in such a friendly and collaborative environment. No problem is too big or too trivial. Everyone chips in to help out. Not for personal gain but because we want all of us to succeed. Statistically one of us will quit the PhD at some point. I like to think despite us all wobbling at times that we’ll be unique in doing this journey together. I’ve pulled one person back on the ship after nearly going overboard and I’m hauling another in as we speak. There will be no better sense of accomplishment to when we all graduate, knowing we’ve got through three years of the hardest mental challenge ever together.

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So, a little bit about my PhD dudes!

Emy: The Dad. is pretty much a time lord. I swear. For 52 he looks about 27! I don’t know if he bathes in a Lazarus pit but damn I hope I look that good when I’m that age! Emy was the first PhD student I met in H003 and for a about two weeks it was just the two of us in that office. Emy, is like the Dad of the group, he’s the wise figure head. His life experience is invaluable to all of us and I think I speak on behalf of all of the group when I say we massively respect him looking after a family and doing a PhD! His desk is a work of art in the sense that I thought mine was messy but holy cow, you need a Sherpa to navigate that desk! Luckily his advice and guidance far outweighs his sprawling mound of paper!

Laura: Cycling Bae. Laura was the second PhD student I met in H003 and my mornings would not be complete without our morning chats! Or should I say rants 😉 and by rants I mean I sit there and listen intently and filter the information before giving wonderful advice ;). If I do say so myself. Laura though is very funny and we have real deep and meaningful chats and we have our little side adventures. Be that our cycling trips or sneaking into meetings that we’re not strictly meant to attend. Laura is probably the most studious out of all of us. She’s pretty much replaced Alex from masters in undergrad in that regard. A very hard working person! Also, there isn’t a staff member or trick about the uni that Laura doesn’t know!

Rosie: My office P.I.C. That’s partner in crime if you weren’t down with the kids. There is a two hour window in the day when we’re not in the office together and that’s pretty much when 90% of our work gets done. We talk constantly! Probably to the annoyance of others in the office, sorry guys! I often like to think of myself as one of the most laid back and chilled people you’ll ever meet. Rosie blew that straight out of the water. I think Hammock is a pretty apt nickname. We’re very much alike which is no surprise considering we’re only born three days apart. Practically twins! Also, a southerner who hates Margaret Thatcher!? What a winner. Rosie is also a constant source of good food and tv advice and especially sweets…but not before 12. You have been warned!

Vic: Miss Fun and well miss organised. Vic is always the one to keep us motivated, happy and all together. Forever organising stuff as a group. She’s incredibly funny too but I don’t think she realises how funny! She says what she thinks which I love and is a real down to earth, honest and genuine girl. As she’s older than me she is pretty much almost like the mum of the group for her caring nature. Now that she’s our post grad rep I couldn’t think of a better role for her and I know any concerns we do have are certainly in her most capable of hands. In the nicest way, she has that fun quirky charm which I know we all appreciate!

Hannah and Cara: I speak about them as one because they’re almost impossible to separate. They’re a package and a double act. Like Ant and Dec but way funnier, cooler and generally more likeable. They don’t spend as much time in the office as those core group of the original H003 but they’re always fun to be around. Again, always a good source of humour! They really do have a hell of a lot to juggle and I am amazed at how well they do all of it!

Katie: The newest addition to this mad house that is H003. Even though we’re only 6 months in, we all kind of feel veterans of this PhD game now. Battled hardend and wary already! We probably came across as miserable buggers when she first met us when we discussed the RD9R form and what lay ahead! More so than anyone else are we here for advice for Katie because we wish we had someone who’d been there and got the battle scars, so we want her to have an easier ride! Yet, its almost as if she’s been here from the start. She’s fitted in perfectly! Again, I feel kinda’ guilty that she drew the short straw sitting next to me because I really do talk a lot! On the plus side of that, she has a great sense of humour, sarcasm in spades and what a wonderful surprise to find we share a love of writing and the anguish of what it’s like to put words on paper through novels and blogs (get back to blogs!!). Also it’s so fun to see another person who has random and weird train journeys! See everyone, it really isn’t just me, it happens to others too!!

Some new PhD students will be starting soon but I think this core of students is the one. The beauty of this is that I am always in the mind-set that it’s the people that make the place. These people make that place. The PhD although not hard, is by no means easy. Its mentally challenging, its one hell of a roller-coaster ride. We all share and celebrate each other’s highs because we know in a blink of an eye we’ll get a crushing low. Everyone else in the PhD environment puts you down, tells you you’re crap and that your work is never good enough. If it wasn’t for this bunch of PhD avengers I doubt any of us would have any positive outlooks on life. For someone who is highly independent I never thought I would rely on a group of people as much as I do now. They’re friends, they’re a family. The PhD is one long and arduous journey in a boat that is constantly trying to fill up with water. Yet, with these people, I know we’ll survive and we’ll get off this PhD Island one day. For now at least we have many episodes to come and I cannot wait to see them play out! I’ll end this blog with a quote that I find very apt. “It’s the friends we meet along the way, that help us to appreciate the journey”.

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We’re the new saved by the bell

Until next time,

Toe.

What would the perfect girl be if she existed?

Long-time no blog! Sorry, I fully expected to have at least a few blogs a month but it has just been so incredibly full on. I’ve had a lot to deal with lately and its big stuff in terms of where I’ll be come August. It’s no coincidence that the mileage on the bike has rapidly increased in the past two months! I vent and relax by two ways, by cycling because that means I don’t have to think about a problem or I write, where I get to distract myself and have some fun or I tackle the issues. I’ve avoided a big issue for long enough so the latter I will do next week and will be in a blog about what big decisions I have to make in the next few months. Real big decisions which are weighing on my mind a lot, ironically once again history repeating itself as I was in this position around two years ago when decisions are made out of your hands which define which way you’ll go. So look out for that one next week.

However tonight, is more about distraction. I don’t want to get too depressed with how bleak the outlook to my other problem is. I was today going to write a blog about cycling and my love of it however I thought me discussing Lycra, shaved legs, mental strength, Strava data and puking at the top of a climb is probably not a fun blog after all (although I will do a cycling blog at some point!).

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So I sat down and thought about a conversation I had in work before I went on Easter annual leave and I thought it would be fun to do this one instead. It follows on from previous blogs when the issue of relationships has come up (here we go again I hear you say!). Once again last week I had the same old “why are you single chat” someone who clearly hadn’t read my previous blog (https://thedayinthelifeoftonycliffe.wordpress.com/2016/01/24/an-honest-look-at-why-im-single/) and despite my explanations the good old you’re just too picky comment occurred again! By this point it is about as funny as hearing Adele every time I walk passed a radio. Which, is about as funny as meeting an ex’s mother by saying “oh is this your nan?” Yep…I did that once!

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Seriously wanted the sky to swallow me up when that happened.

So anyway this person despite my protests kept saying I’m too picky and that I compare every girl to some perfect girl in my head. This couldn’t be further from the truth so I’ve decided to indulge in their illusion of me comparing people to this mystical “perfect girl” that apparently I have in my head to compare to. Contrary to popular belief I don’t have a type per say. I have favourable traits but I’ve been attracted to many different girls, so while out cycling the other day as the forecasted sunshine turned to gales and wind and nearly choking on a leaf that blew into my face, I gave this some thought, as if I was creating a real life Sim, what would the perfect girl for me look like, act like and be like? Well here it is. Please bare in mind this is very satire and not in any way serious! Although if you do so happen to match this description, please apply within!

Looks

Okay, so let’s start with looks. “Beauty is on the inside”. Nope, sorry, it’s on the outside too. I don’t want to wake up next to a troll every morning no matter how beautiful you may be on in the inside. I have to look at myself every day in the mirror which is a shock within itself. Beauty and the beast I most certainly reside on the beast scale.  I’d rather not wake up terrified by rolling over to look at you. You may fart rainbows and bring life to sick puppies but if I’m not attracted to you then it won’t work. Is that wrong to be honest? People on high horses may say so but let’s face it, we all do it. You do need a physical attraction to someone to make things work. The difference is my idea of beautiful looks may be different to yours. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder after all but it’s definitely not a troll. Please see attached picture of scary Icelandic trolls that my sister brought me back!

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Hair colour

Okay so first and foremost let’s just get this not so secret, secret, out there, if you’re ginger you get extra points. Seriously I have a huge thing for ginger girls. It all stems from my first ever crush which was Ariel the little mermaid. Regardless of the fact she was a cartoon, nor the glaring omission of her having a tail and probably smelt of seaweed and fish, she was really hot. You may laugh but she was the original definition of babe. Granted she wasn’t the sharpest tool in the box, for Christ sake it’s a fork not a hair brush. Even a hermit crab could work that out. Or when a creepy classic Disney villain asks you to sign a contract, you don’t. However let me take this opportunity to say that why are clam bras not a fashion staple in this country? So you allow people to walk around in crocs, yet not hot women ginger fish women in clam bras? Where is the justice in that?

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Still a babe!

Sorry, I digress. I’ve always had a thing for ginger girls, I’ll come onto eye colour (to which I have no real preference) but if you’re ginger and have blue eyes, I kind of melt inside. Despite my ever present love for Taylor Swift and however much I would love to “Shake it off” with her, the one women I think is perfect in terms of looks, body type and I rate, shock horror, higher than T Swizzle is in fact Amy Adams. She is the definition of babe. Ginger, blue eyes, curves in the right places ahh ginger blue combo is my Achilles heel.  I’m yet to meet or know a ginger haired girl who wasn’t a little crazy in some way. I’ll come onto personality etc. later but I may as well address an observation here. I’m a pretty reserved, predictable guy. I find comfort in order and knowing what to expect and to an extent I would like that in a girl too, it scares me if a person yo-yo’s too much. With that in mind however I love someone who is a little unhinged at the same time.  I find that very enticing, especially because I’m so straight laced! It’s a sweet and sour combo. Every red head I’ve ever known does give off the vibe of being a little crazy in some way which only adds to the sex appeal. Gingers are fairly rare and so if I had to look back at my crushes both people I’ve known and celebrities, blonde is definitely up there. Taylor Swift, Hilary Duff, Avril Lavigne, my last girlfriend, all blonde. There’s something homely about blonde chicks and those on the lighter end of the spectrum. So the perfect girl would have ginger hair but I’d settle for blonde for example. Ha, who am I kidding I’d settle for anything with a pulse…kidding!

Eye colour

I’m not particularly fussed, it’s more about the depth of colour and what I would see in them. Eyes tell you everything you ever need to know about a person. You could be all smiles and laughs but if you’re in pain, if you’re sad, if you’re angry, if you’re happy your eyes will scream it. A lot of people don’t pay as much attention to people’s eyes as they probably should. Windows to the soul, so use them. But if this is an exercise of building up a picture of my perfect woman, we’ve already established she’d have red hair and her eyes would be blue. Blue just so happens to be my favourite colour too!

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Body type – I’m not exactly the fittest guy in the world so as long as you’re not bigger than me (hard to beat) I don’t really care! Although I must confess I’ve never been a fan of really skinny girls. All bones while cuddling, no thanks. I don’t want to date a CAFOD advert. Plus I eat a lot so I’d just feel really bad if all you ate were carrot sticks. By all means a girl who looks after herself is a good thing, I don’t want you dying early on me but the more crap you eat once in a while the more attractive you become. Nothing sexier than a girl who loves burgers and steak over celery and low fat insert never heard of vegetable smoothies. Have you ever smelt those things by the way? You shouldn’t be drinking something that smells and looks like something the incredible Hulk would flush down the loo. Just an average body type would be fine, whatever that is. As long as you’re happy with your body then so will I. Never a fan of the girls who say “oooh I’m too fat or I’m too ugly”. Zip it. If you’re not happy do something about it although 9 times out of 10 you’re absolutely perfect the way you are. People get too caught up in body image and type. Sure super models are good to look at but are they good for anything else like cuddles? Probably not. Plus, why even post that shit anyway? “You’re proppa fit babezz” … “Tar hunnies!” Eugh. Nearly throw up in my mouth every time.

 

 

Moving on, I can’t address body type without addressing the age old question. Guys fall into the Boobs, Bum or Legs category and I’m firmly in the first category. Bum’s never really seen the appeal, I mean I appreciate a good bum but I can take it or leave it. Despite cycling a lot my arse is as flat as my saddle. From the back of my neck to my heel is a vertical drop, you could base jump of that shit all the way down, so as long as you’re packing more in the trunk than me then I’m game. Plus I’ve never really seen the appeal of a bum because well…it’s a bum. Some guys go on about doing anal with a girl I mean dude, human evolution didn’t happen so that you could put your little dude in that hole. That and a graphic description from a friend is enough to make me feel queasy. Corn on the cob is all I’ll say on that one and I quote “imagine having sex inside a warm hula-hoop”. Never looked at beef and onion hula hoops the same way ever again. Now neither will you, enjoy!

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A good set of pins is always welcome, however and maybe because I’m a cyclist if you have well defined calves, which stands out to me. Only because in a narcissistic manor I do find myself admiring my own legs at times. It’s my only good feature okay! Stop judging. All cyclists do it. Trust me I have little to work with here, unless you like noses in the shape of a penis and hair the texture of an expensive carpet.  So bums and legs are not a deal breaker but boobs kinda’ are. Boobs are the best invention ever and clearly the pinnacle of human evolution. Yes, they’re just muscle and fat but they’re boobs! 34C boobs are the perfect size. Most guys go for giant boobs but maybe because I have had loads of girl mates over the years that I just feel genuinely sorry for girls with huge boobs. That backache and having a forward centre of gravity must be a killer! I’d hate to have a sack of potatoes pulling me forward all day, every day, so despite appreciating them I can’t stop thinking about how sore you might be! Yet I don’t want them too small because if my moobs are bigger than yours then that’s just embarrassing, not for you but for me! Pretty sure I’m rocking some sort of A cup.

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Personality

So while looks are important they probably only make up around 25% of the perfect girl or any girl for that matter. Personality is the big deciding factor. You may look like a goddess but if your personality resembles a brick then that’s not much good. I have always and probably always will be attracted to really driven and ambitious women, which is both good and bad at the same time. The perfect girl would have something that gives her fire, direction and purpose. Be that to be successful in a job or passionate about some cause. I absolutely love it when someone has that motivation and drive to make it happen because I’m like that. The problem arises in relationships and it happens all the time is when yours and her ambitions don’t align. Two driven people heading in different directions. So if the perfect girl could accommodate that then sweet. Following on from that I absolutely love a girl who keeps me on my toes and knocks me down a few pegs. I love a good mental sparring and especially in the form of sarcasm. Banter and quick wit are so endearing. Again I’m like that so someone who can counter me is both a fun challenge and it’s a cute form of flirting. I think so anyway.

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As much as having no common sense is pretty cute in a girl sometimes because you just want to pat them on the head and wonder how they’ve survived this long, the perfect girl really does need intelligence. I’m really nerdy. I have Stephen Hawkins books and a guide about quantum mechanics on my shelf as my idea of ‘light reading’. I don’t expect you to have an A Level in Quantum physics nor a PhD but I do want a level of intelligence. I love talking about the complexities or nature or the vastness of space or global news events and what that means. My mind needs to be stimulated and learning and I love a good debate. If a girl disagrees with me but puts up a great argument man I love that! Comes back to that passion before and that grit and keeping me on my toes that I love.

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The perfect girl would have some sort of creative or caring aspect to her personality. I’m never in relationships for the short term it’s always the long term. It takes me literally half a year to decide to go out with someone so I want to make sure it will last. Caring and kindness are beautiful qualities and the perfect girl would possess them in abundance. She would need to be family orientated too. I have a huge, crazy and very wonderful family and I’m a big family person so she would need to be the same too. We’d make good parents that way in the future! Adventurous side as in someone who wanted to travel or explore is really good to have too. I’m really not a nightclub or going out kind of person. My idea of a great night out is a pub quiz and bed by 10pm. I can’t be arsed with drunkenness or immaturity. The perfect girl would be someone who likes quiet restaurants, walks and strolls and more importantly cuddled up in front of a warm log fire watching movies or tv and chatting about crap.

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I do tend to splash out on loved ones in the past but I wouldn’t want a high maintenance girlfriend. One who can rock the nice expensive dresses but isn’t too obsessed by brands, price tags or looks. If you’re the kind of girl who wears a dress only once then you ain’t for me. To me, who’s financially savvy i.e. tighter than a ducks arse in water, I see that as an incredibly wasteful use of money.

Finally, the perfect girl would hold a pilot’s license, be a cyclist but not as good as me because I couldn’t hack that because I’m a shovenist pig, cook and bake, again shovenist but damn I love cake. If you can’t cook I don’t mind because I can pretty well but if you make a Victoria Sponge then yeah you’re marriage material.

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So wow, that was fun. Now I realise that this blog probably sounded like the worlds most complicated job advert. Now that is some lonely hearts advert right there. I’ve just realised that now that I’ve created this ‘perfect girl’ in my head will I now judge all non-existent females who are interested in me against this person? Have I now made a paradox? Oh no, what have I done!

Remember, this blog was a bit of fun and the perfect girl does not exist for the umpteenth time!  unless you happen to be a ginger, blue eyed, 34c, ambitious, driven, intelligent, witty, baker, cycling pilot. In which case I would say apply within but we all know my ability to flirt is on par with Andy Murray’s ability to smile. So for the last time I do not place women against a perfect girl in my head. I am single for far greater reasons, mainly a firm lack of interest from any female to actually compare to. So that was my sim life creation of the perfect girl. Ironically I do feel that whoever controls my love life is in effect has made a sim, put me in a swimming pool and has taken out the ladders. Swimming around an empty pool of life while the grim reaper sharpens his stabby thingy. At least I haven’t wet myself…yet.

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Until next time.

Toe