While the main event was going on oop north, we had an appointment in the south – seminars at Reading University’s new Paleoclimate Centre. Like most centres in the UK, this one mostly isn’t centralised, but more a collection of parts of people from different departments. This does not always work very well – people sign up and then do nothing – but it is potentially a good idea for a topic that supposed to span existing interests. We have found that the wider the interests of the audience, the more interesting and thought provoking their questions, so were glad to have experts from meteorology, climate modelling, paleo-data and archaeology attend our seminars.
We are really enjoying the change from Japan, where we had the guilt-ridden stress of having more money than we could possibly spend, to now, having to budget and think of ways to be more efficient. With the seminar booked for Wednesday afternoon, we thought we should arrange a few other entertainments to make it worthwhile.
We headed down south on Friday, to stay with my uncle-in-law, who lives near Reading. After catching a startlingly good concert in a local church that evening, and cutting up some logs on Saturday, on Sunday we headed to Bristol to meet with Lan Smith, an old friend and colleague from Japan, who was visiting the UK to attend the ecosystem modelling conference in Plymouth. Paul Valdes, who visited us last year in Japan, was kind enough to put us up for the night and with a tandem secreted in our van we were able to cycle into Bristol university with him and spend most of the day with him and other collaborators in the Geography department. We were back at Uncle-in-Law’s that evening.
Tuesday was spent at Reading University where we discussed a plethora of interesting topics with Sandy Harrison, the captain of the new paleo centre. The next day we decided to cycle the 12 miles from Uncle-in-Law to the university. We got lost many times in both directions and I was a bit disappointed that the roads for cycling on mostly were not roads at all, but actually dirt tracks, and so very slow. There is an awful lot of car traffic down south, so the main roads were also not at all appealing. We made it, but have subsequently been disappointed to discover that Reading University do not have an expenses rate for bicycle travel! Not very green! On Wednesday morning we met with people in the Meterology department. Everyone was interesting, but the best discussion was actually a surprise meeting with my school A-level (i.e. when we were age 16-18) physics buddy , Maya Balasubramanyam, who is just polishing off a MSc. I hope she carries on to great things – when we were young we had plans to solve all the outstanding physics problems, and as I have made so little progress, the responsibility must, I fear, fall to her.
On Thursday we got the train to Londinium, to visit Steve Jewson at a company called RMS. Acronyms remain epidemic in the UK, but this company does also have a real name – Risk Management Solutions. Their job is to write software to predict the probability, geospatially of bad things happening due to natural causes, in the next 12 months. They then sell the software to insurance companies. In their California offices they study earthquakes, and in London they do storms, both tropical and extra-tropical. I’ve been worried for a while about how many phd students and postdocs that British universities create – many times too many to replace retiring lecturers. Now I realise that some of them go on to have more useful lives. RMS is full of them. Having said that, the management structure also seems pretty flat at RMS, and not too enticing. Steve seemed to have about 30 people working for him in cubicles, but his “office” was really only a cubicle with walls a door – but no window! And the Brits have the cheek to pretend that they couldn’t abide Japanese working conditions! Nic Lewis visited RMS the same day, and after our seminars at lunchtime, James had an excellent fight with him and Steve about something called “objective probability”. … clearly, to anyone even half-Bayesian there is no such thing, but they seemed to want to cling to the idea nevertheless – apparently because they can sell it!
The weeks’s work over, that evening we enjoyed a delicious dinner at a Malaysian restaurant near Paddington station in Londinium, that we used to visit in the olden days, on the way to Heathrow.
We later visited another school friend of mine, and explored the exotic Thames Valley – it’s a whole other world – before heading back oop north on Sunday.