A Training Weekend Away

Friday saw me packing my bags before hitching a lift to Rugby station from a close family friend- village life doesn’t always make transport so easy, so it was well appreciated! My journey became a whirlwind of Midlands towns and cities I’d never really visit otherwise, with stops at Nuneaton, Northampton, and Leicester before finally arriving at Wellingborough station. I was pretty nervous, to be honest. I wasn’t in Wellingborough for fun, so to speak. I had 4 days of training scheduled in, with people I had never met before, for a project in a country a long way away. The stakes were pretty high. All I really had to go on was that a guy called Jordan who was also headed to Liberia was already at the station- I just had to find him.

 

IMG_1278
Our lodgings at the Frontier Centre 

 

It turns out that Jordan is very Scottish- think a Glaswegian Robert the Bruce-  but absolutely lovely all the same. No sooner had I met him than every man and his dog it seemed came over, and all were headed abroad on ICS with Y Care. First impressions were good at least! This was the Sierra Leone & Liberia training weekend, fitting due to their neighbourly locations and entwined histories, yet there were also a few stragglers from other ICS nations who hadn’t been able to make their training dates, and even a few from other organisations! In the group we had people headed to Sierra Leone and Liberia, of course, but also Nicaragua (with Raleigh) and a solitary (also Scottish) guy headed to Togo, who swiftly also became known as Togo (real name Ben). Even before we were pushed onto the minibus by Ollie from Y Care, it was reassuring to know that everyone was pretty normal. I don’t know what I was scared of… finding a serial killer in the midst?

 

IMG_1279
No High-Jinks on the High-Wires for me- I wouldn’t be found dead up there! 

 

We soon arrived at the Frontier Centre, an outdoor adventure centre run by Rock UK, featuring high-wires, huge climbing frames, fire pits and lakes for all manner of excitement. Importantly, it was vast, with loads of land to explore. I even found a plane in the woods, apparently part of an NGO partnership display. The Frontier Centre caters to families in the summer as well as school & youth groups, and everyone seemed to be having a great time while we were there! The accommodation was akin to a comfortable dorm, and certainly comfy enough for a training weekend. After all, Liberia is likely to be somewhat different! The food was a weird throwback to school dinners, even down to the dodgy bread and butter pudding and other interesting menu choices. It was good though, and considering it was free, I could never complain! Queuing did make me feel like a child again though, praying I didn’t get the lumpy skin of custard or semolina this time…

 

IMG_1283
There really was a plane in the woods. 

 

The Y Care staff were great, and immediately set everyone at ease on the first day with some icebreaking team exercises that were a gentle way to get to know each other. Everyone seemed lovely, and we’d soon made friends. It was pretty clear early on that the Liberia team was quite small, with just 7 or 8 of us compared to many, many more people that were Sierra Leone-bound. Early on we also discussed fundraising, charting how much everyone had done and how much more people had to raise. I still have a fair bit to do, but I’m not worried just yet. I have plans, and gained some really nice ideas from my peers along the way! The entire training weekend was quite cleverly done with constant group work and presentations along the way, ensuring that we bonded as teams and that we were also comfortable in our skins, which will be important when doing outreach work in our selected nation.

 

IMG_1287
The Nene Way runs adjacent to the site

 

There were too many things covered over the weekend to go into any great detail, but I assure you that we were at it for long hours, going from 9:15AM until late into the evening. We had an entire day of safety & security training from Y Care’s in-house expert, Gurpreet (or G, as he likes to be called), which covered pretty much everything you could imagine. The day involved hygiene, disease, health, safety, not being a target, dealing with confrontation, and it was heavily scenario based which was a great, hands on approach. It was nice to see that everyone was pretty sane, to be honest! We learned a lot about YMCAs, how they operate and how Y Care works with them, which was genuinely quite fascinating and inspiring. I had no idea that YMCAs had helped invent basketball, for example! Importantly, it helps Y Care have a very low footprint on the ground, whilst ensuring ICS volunteers are working on projects that will actually benefit locals. It sounds like a good system to me! We had plenty of fun too- I watched Bridesmaids for the first time, we had a great camp fire, plenty of friendly football and rugby was played and my team nearly pulled off an amazing comeback heist in the quiz, coming from joint last to placing 2nd and losing by just two points. I’m not sure I can claim we were robbed this time, but anyway- we were robbed!

 

IMG_1292
A Quieter Spot 

 

Of course, I also found out what my placement was about! I’ll be working on a Post-Ebola recovery program, particularly focusing on WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) in the town of Kakata, just an hour’s drive from Monrovia. The team and I will be working on outreach and education through the YMCAs and local schools, as well as carrying out more practical work together with research. I’m so excited to get started on such a worthwhile project, and I’ll give it 110% as ever. Hopefully, I’ll be able to make a difference, no matter how small. We had lots of sessions on Liberian life and culture, and I’m really looking forward to being out in such a different place. It’ll be my first time in sub-Saharan Africa (or any part of Africa for that matter), and I literally cannot wait!

The final day was a little shorter, looking at our ‘Action at Home’ amongst other things before we all headed back off to the train station again. We’d arrived as pretty much complete strangers, but we’d pretty much all departed as friends, which was a great feeling. My journey back was even weirder than the journey there, ticking off even more weird towns- Bedford, Bletchley, Northampton- on a convoluted way home. At least I didn’t have to fly home to Scotland though…

Nearly the entire gang enjoying a campfire partly made by yours truly!

We made some great memories over the weekend, and I can’t wait to be a part of a strong team headed to Liberia. We’ve got some great characters, and I’m sure we’ll get to know each other very well out there. I’ll see you all at Heathrow, folks! Thanks to everyone at Y Care International for a great weekend, the Frontier Centre for a lovely stay and all my fellow ICS volunteers for just being awesome! It’s powerful to see so many young people come together from all over the UK for a common purpose, regardless of our background.

We’ll do great things together, wherever we go- just watch us!

In the meantime though, I have fundraising to do, and that’s been put on hold by a combination of a cold I picked up at training & having four jabs in two days. I’m not going to lie, I’ve been a lot healthier than I am right now… I really don’t think the Yellow Fever jab liked me!

Until next time, that’s all from me!

 

Advertisements

What Have I Done Now?

Avid followers of my blog (if there are any) will recall a post a while back where I commented on a Vice documentary I had seen, focusing on Liberia and in particular exploring the slums of West Point, part of the capital in Monrovia. I still remember being utterly shocked during the documentary, not quite being able to quite comprehend the levels of poverty I was witnessing. It was a different world, and not one I had any experience of. The naive youth of the post is telling- I knew so much less then than I do now, and it shows.

UK Photos
West Point isn’t the most developed of places. 

Now my close friends know that amusing, strange and at times unbelievable things happen to me, often from a compulsive urge to say ‘yes’ to every opportunity that comes my way. Dave ‘#SayYesMore’ Cornthwaite (who is currently pedaling around Norway’s fjords on a schillerbike, as you do) would probably be proud of that, though I feel it might irritate family and Catherine, my ‘lawyer for everyday life’, as she likes to call herself. It’s led to a few interesting experiences during my degree, such as the crazy lightning selfie video, a compilation of which currently has more views than people live in Russia. I’ve narrowly (and at times very narrowly) missed major incidents too- flying over Luhansk the week before MH17 was shot down on the same flight journey, and even the Istanbul airport attacks. As you can see, strange coincidences are not new to me.

 

 

Selfie
That moment when you know you’ve screwed up, really badly.

But this one is really weird.  

I applied for the International Citizen’s Service not necessarily thinking I’d get in, nor really considering where I might end up going. I’ve always felt that Africa was in my stars, and so I was hopeful for that at least. I wanted to be doing Disaster Risk Reduction work and hopefully use my (newly anointed) Geography degree, and thus I applied to Y Care International, one of the ICS programme partners funded by DFID. They mentioned disaster risk work plenty of times, and thus they were the only option for me.

 

Y CareThe assessment day went well, with lots of amusing team-building style activities and some genuinely interesting characters from as far afield as Glasgow and Belfast, which is a seriously long journey to London! The interview was pretty straight forward, and my boring non-drinker status helped me sail through the potentially more difficult personal issues section. By the end I knew that if selected, I’d be headed to one of a handful of West African countries.

‘Great! I’ll finally be headed to Africa if I get in… #LifeGoals etc’…

 

Then a few days ago, I did get in. I still didn’t know my destination…

 

Today I had an email, and found out. Guess where?

L-I-B-E-R-I-A.

I did more digging. The slums of WEST POINT are part of Y Care’s 2 projects in Liberia. Literally a 50% chance of me going there.

Oh my god. 

So 3 years on from my rather inane, naïve blog post, I might be about to witness it in the flesh. Hopefully not General Butt Naked though, who they interview in that documentary…

Christ.

 

Butt Nekd.png
The fearsome warlord in his ‘heyday’… He is now a repentant priest, apparently. 

Now I might not be going just yet- I have a job interview to hear back from, but I’m very, very keen on the opportunity. It would enable me to network for future disaster risk research, something that could have a positive impact in a state such as Liberia, get practical experience of development work and actually do a proper job of it too, unlike those awful ‘I paid £2000 and painted an orphanage wall’ projects. The ICS programme is great, asking you to raise a sum for the charity itself whilst they cover all your costs both before and during travel, making it a great opportunity for all.

Liberia ebolaIf I do end up pursuing this, you’ll get to enjoy more blogs- even from Liberia- and even Vlogs too, charting my experiences over the 3 months. I’ve already started checking out the wildlife, and between civil wars & ebola, there is still some pretty tasty stuff out there. Pygmy Hippopotamus- you’re mine! So after all of that, it looks like the story of Billy and Liberia has just begun, in yet another weird web of coincidences. I’m already anxious to discover the plot!

Balo

A Magical Month

After another gruelling six months of long-distance, transatlantic love, I was finally reunited with Catherine in mid-June, and had the pleasure of her company until mid-July. This gave us roughly a month to reconnect with each other, explore new places and see how the pair of us had grown since we last met, and it was absolutely brilliant. One (tiny) advantage of long-distance is that every time we see each other, it is genuinely exciting. 6 months apart is a long time, but it makes every single second we get to spend in person so much more valuable! We had a blast- I got to attend a conference at the University of Kent, where Catherine presented a paper and did great (I was so proud, but I needn’t have been- this her bread and butter!). This gave us a few days in Canterbury, and we did all sorts- the Cathedral, punting on the river, meals out… Honestly, it was the best start to the trip we could hope for. I’d never been to Kent before, and I have to confess that I was rather taken with Canterbury life!

 

20187238_10211093526789129_1290996884_o
Alpaca Floof. 

 

We then returned to my native Warwickshire, where Catherine continues to seamlessly fit into the family, which I partly put down to a shared sense of mischief and humour. We befriended the many Alpacas at the local Toft Alpaca farm and coffee shop, and also enjoyed some great bites to eat out at Hilltop Farm Shop, complete with adorable ponies. We did endure some truly godawful meals out too- imagine an Eggs Benedict with a burningly acidic hollandaise sauce, eggshells and a texture of rubber and you are somewhere near just one of the debacles, but on the whole, food was pretty good. We did the silly things too, of course, playing cricket in the garden (Catherine’s pretty good and even has her own cricket bat, rare for an American) and a few long walks, including a trip to Brandon where we caught up with a pair of Hobbies and a horde of grumpy old people.

 

20137947_10211093517508897_1749542299_o
Alpaca-spotting (and befriending) with Grandma!

 

The final part of the trip was kicked off by two visits to the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre, initially just to see Oscar Wilde’s Salome at the Swan, but we were so impressed that we had to come back for more, and thus Julius Caesar was duly booked. I’ll do a proper review for each play in a later blog, but Salome was incredible. I’ve seen plenty of plays and Salome must go down as the greatest I’ve seen. Matthew Tennyson was spellbinding as Salome, and I loved the gender-altered specifics of his role. Tennyson could appear vengeful one moment, and then like the weakest, most vulnerable creature the next. Tennyson wore a slinky white dress, and many other characters were in similarly androgynous or gender-bending outfits. Oscar Wilde would have been very proud of this great piece of serious, slightly queer, theatre. The singing was incredible- if you can, just go and see it, honestly. If you are clever (and 18-25), you can get tickets for just £5 under the BP subsidised ticket scheme. Julius Caesar was also very, very good, featuring plenty of gore, bodies and blood, together with the most shocking scene of theatre I’ve seen. I’ve never heard the entire audience at the RSC gasp like that before, and considering the number of tourists from far flung parts of the globe, the universality of that moment was gripping. Brilliant theatre. I’ll reveal what that moment was… another day!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Having spent an amazing few weeks with my family (thanks so much!) we headed off to London so that Catherine could attend another academic event, this time a 2-day seminar at Kings College London featuring a few students from the University of Michigan. I couldn’t sneak into this one, but I got to meet Jess and Lucas again, and see some pretty cool places. Catherine and I had a ball, nearly even in the driving wind and rain outside St. Pauls Cathedral, when google maps had broken. We explored Soho and Covent Garden, spent hours poring over books in enormous book shops and finding hidden gems (like Stanfords Travel Shop!) that we will surely come back to again and again. We met up with her close friends, Lilli & Haley, ate Sushi & Giraffe (or was that at Giraffe??) and explored art galleries and exhibitions. It was great! I’ve never been a huge fan of London, but this trip saw me fall in love with a city I used to absolutely hate. There’s an oft-repeated quote from Samuel Johnson that ‘to be tired of London is to be tired of life itself’- and I’ll drink to that.

 

20196420_10211093508188664_1801642888_o
The number of globes at Stanfords was enough to make this Geographer very happy indeed.

 

Our last day together is always emotional, and I was a little worried that we wouldn’t be able to hold it together too well. It’s a tough old beast, long-distance. Instead, I had two important emails come through. The first was an invitation to a job interview for the Civil Service, that could see me pretty much raise what I need for the Master’s degree of my dreams. Something exciting for the future. The second was an email notifying me that I was to be awarded a commendation at graduation for contribution to the department, something that I am incredibly, incredibly pleased with. Something exciting for the past. Those emails patched over our sadness, and made us unbelieavably happy as we relished in each other’s futures with lashings of Turkish ice cream at Picadilly Circus. Bliss.

 

20137834_10211093527989159_2041468737_o
A better food choice!

 

So I’ll be graduating from Exeter with a strong 2:1 in BSc Geography, coupled with a departmental commendation. I’ll admit to being a little bit disappointed that I didn’t get the First I’d strived so hard for, but after receiving that email I don’t think I care one bit.

After a truly, truly magical month, we said our goodbyes on the Tube in Bethnal Green of all places, and I’m pretty sure we mostly held back tears this time (easier said than done, my friend), which is a great success, all things considered. I zoomed off to a selection day for the International Citizen’s Service, whilst Catherine zoomed off to catch her flight back to beautiful Ann Arbor. But we are happy.

She has plenty of reading for her PhD to be getting on with, together with an important fellowship. I need to get ready for graduation, attend my job interview in London and prepare to move out from Cornwall, so there’s plenty to be keeping us both busy.

Excitingly, this week I’ll find out whether my ICS application was successful- if it was, I might be spending October-December in Senegal, Liberia or Sierra Leone.

Could I FINALLY be on my way to Africa?

 

Road To Grad School: Now We Wait

It’s finally over!

All my US graduate applications have been submitted, and I can’t describe how much of a relief that is. It’s taken a long, long time, and an awful amount of money that I (really) don’t want to think about to apply, but it’s done! I applied to 5 in the end, being able to whittle them down in the last few days. Washington didn’t make the cut by the tiniest of margins- I just couldn’t see enough faculty there with relevant research interests. I can forget about the GRE- the worst thought out exam in the history of the universe, it is literally the 11+ on steroids. Urgh.

 

p1190226
No, I didn’t expect to be studying under a Trump presidency, either. I took this picture during the speech by Senator Tim Kaine, Hilary’s VP nominee, during the campaigning. A nice little nugget of history. 

 

I’m really happy with those left standing, and though it was nice to field speculative emails from the likes of Harvard, Columbia and Notre Dame, I’m sure I’ve made good choices. That also probably says more about their email marketing skills than my calibre as a student!I’ve applied to the University of Michigan, Michigan State, UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara and Wisconsin-Madison, all excellent choices in their own right. I just have to hope that one of them really likes me! I’ve been working very, very hard for this for over two years, so I really, really hope it comes off. Funnily enough, I’m a member of a graduate application forum (really boring, I know) called the Grad Cafe, and there’s is another Brit on there trying to get to the states to study Geography. I’m not alone!

Now it’s just the matter of a long wait to see what happens. Hopefully it won’t be too long until I’m back in America…

 

aerial_UW_17-35mm11_6475
Isn’t Wisconsin-Madison beautiful?

 

Now what? 

Well, it’s dissertation crunch time, which is terrifying. I’ve got two new modules to start too. I’m still chasing some Expedition related stuff, and then we can get cracking on the report for that, which would be a great relief. Meanwhile I’ve got my eyes to the future- I think there’s a nice gap between exams and graduation to either earn money or have one last project before I leave university. It might curtail my cricket season (again, sorry Perran), but I really fancy having a crack at something impactful abroad before I leave. I’ve a couple of ideas, one involving Indonesia, another involving West Africa, but we’ll just have to see.

After an amazing Christmas surrounded by wonderful family and Catherine (at last), I have too many ideas- and this is the time to focus, sadly.

Another Term Ends

After spending approximately a million hours on my essay for Quaternary science, it’s all finally over, in what has easily been the most challenging term (though arguably the most rewarding) yet.

Michigan

I got to spend just under two weeks with my love, Catherine, after nearly 8 months apart, and it was wonderful. The little city of Ann Arbor is delightful, the university there incredible (even if their Wolverines fell slightly short the other day, but we won’t mention that), and we even spent a day or two in Chicago- the great windy city! Chicago has well-documented gun crime problems, but I wouldn’t hesitate to visit. I also got to see Hilary’s VP Candidate speak, Senator Tim Kaine, accompanied by plenty of Trump protestors. At the time we could see no way for Trump to win, but I’m not sure many people did back then. Being with Catherine again was magical, and seeing her again just can’t come soon enough!

California

The most AMAZING field trip imaginable. Yosemite National Park, the Sierra Nevada, I squeezed in a little bit of time in San Francisco to look at UC Berkeley… It was genuinely quite brilliant, and the memories will last a lifetime. I love America anyway, but being in an arid environment for the first time was incredible, and a real change of scenery. Yosemite is beautiful if not as wild as I thought it would be, and I really like the different climatic zones of the Sierra Nevada, from high mountains to absolutely boiling deserts. Sun cream definitely required! I got a pretty good checklist of wildlife too, though I missed out on the bears, with an amazing view of a Bald Eagle in the wild being my absolute favourite, with a random Pelican coming second.

You can read all about that field trip here: 

Cornwall

Jet-lag, deadlines, illness… and working in the shop! I’ve worked my backside off this term, especially on my dissertation, where I’ve been able to create a 3D model of a coral reef from my drone data from Malaysia. I’m excited to see it come to fruition in the future, but it’s going to be one hell of a lot of work!

I genuinely haven’t had a day off this term, so I fully intend to take some now- I’m going to the beach tomorrow! I’ve spent enough long nights in the library, from 9am to 10pm… I’m ready for a break. These limited images are from the sole field trip on the Quaternary science module, with a sense of deja vu as we headed back out to West Penwith again. And yes, it rained a lot, though I did get to test out my new clothing which was something. I also saw a female Hen Harrier, one of the more at risk species in the country.

The Term Highlight

That moment when the coral reef model worked for the first time. I couldn’t believe it, and I may or may not have shed a couple of tears.

 

The Term Lowlight?

Getting on the bus at the Moor and trying to pay with contactless. Oh my word, the humiliation and the laughter I caused. It’s taken a good few months for my self-esteem to recover, and I’m sure the bus driver has dined out on that incident many times now. ‘Oh ar, this ain’t London lad’ etc etc…. The pain!

What’s Next? 

I’ve also been working really hard on my graduate applications, with UC Berkeley submitted already and more to follow in the next few days. Balancing everything has been hard, but I’m very happy to be in the position I’m in at the end of it all. I have a feeling that my dissertation followed by exams and other deadlines is going to wear me out next term, so I’m planning one final adventure abroad in the summer. Not for as long as previously, just to do something a little different whilst I still have the chance. I like the look of Bolivia and India in particular, both countries I’d love to visit, with amazing wildlife and very different cultures. I’m always keen to learn.

But mostly…

CATHERINE IS COMING OVER FOR CHRISTMAS IN A COUPLE OF WEEKS AND I CAN’T WAIT!

 

 

 

I Stood On Cape Cornwall

I’m not going to lie, the past couple of months have been pretty hard. The decision to direct an expedition and have a part-time job alongside my degree may not have been the brightest, and it has certainly expanded my capacity for stress.

Deadlines have gone well though; I feel like the exams were okay and my job is like any job in retail, I imagine. Spending every moment of every day either in the library, at work, or asleep for the past two months has not been ideal however, and today was my first true day off in a long time.

With some of my wonderful flatmates departing soon for graduate life and beyond, we managed to steal an impromptu trip out to Mawnan Smith, finding a deserted beach and calm waves- the perfect tonic for all the built-up stress of the past months. Climbing up cliffs, searching for fins at sea and even just breathing the clean coastal air was a welcome change from the stuffy library. There wasn’t much around wildlife wise, but a Shelduck, Great Spotted Woodpecker and a trio of my favourite bird, the Fulmar, was enough to keep me amused for ages.

DSC_0422.JPG
Mawnan Smith Beach

Expedition wise, everything is going brilliantly. We’ve secured funding from a few sources, including the Royal Geographical Society, negotiated a partnership with Craghoppers and have so much exciting science to look forward to- we really are just counting down the days now. Still, there is plenty to do, but I think we are past the hard slog of endless grant applications. The interesting stuff has finally started! I do still need to secure my drone, though that is another story for another day.

With Malaysia, Michigan and then California all scheduled for the summer, it is going to be a pretty special few months. Make no mistake, I’ve worked hard to get there, though.

Why is the post called ‘I Stood On Cape Cornwall’? I’ve been considering my USA Grad School applications in the future, and it’s made me think about where I am now, and the kind of place I would like to live in the next few years. Sometimes you need to take a step back to realise how lucky you are, because Cornwall is a very special place, yet it has taken a while to rediscover that Cornish magic. It may not have the best infrastructure in the world, and it certainly doesn’t have a Nandos, but it is still Cornwall- a unique celtic culture matched by an enchanting, rustic setting, from the deserted mine works to the golden beach of Porthtowan. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s only taken three years, but I’m finally starting to feel like I belong here.

For this is my Cornwall, and this is my home. 

 

 

 

The Charge to Christmas

It has been a great few weeks back down in Cornwall. My modules are all absolutely awesome, the assignments are going nicely and my first shifts at my new job (working at Hawkshead Falmouth) have been pretty good too!

Now though, Christmas is around the corner, and I fly to Michigan on the 12th of December to be with my long-term partner, Catherine, for the first time in 6 months. Perhaps understandably, I am ready to be there right now! I’ve never been to America, so I’m doubly excited over visiting; hopefully I’ll find some interesting wildlife too! Michigan_Stadium_2011

Project Colugo (the new moniker for the Perhentian Project), is going excellently. There is plenty of interest from members of the Herp society, and I think we will have a really, really excellent team to go out there. With support from a world-leading academic, the support of the local university and NGOs on the ground, the dream that I first drew up in the jungle in 2014 is finally going to be realised. Obviously I’m very excited about the reptile/colugo research, but the prospect of using UAVs to map and analyse the environment is tantalising. With the research, a really strong community aspect and plenty of contacts, we should be able to secure the funding we need to make this a reality. I think Ellie Ryder, our DIrector of Media, shares my enthusiasm- we could be on the brink of something that is really quite special.Colugo

Finally, I’m about to sort out my research internship properly, and whatever comes of that will be even more exciting. My stomach is actually functioning right now (largely thanks to not eating tomatoes, who knew)?

I’m in that strangely beautiful position of having all the opportunities I could ever want; I am only limited by time.

Everything is going swimmingly, and as things like this can swiftly change, I think it is important to record such moments in my blog like this. Last year, everything changed very quickly, so I’m well aware of how fragile such times can be.

In the meantime though, I’m just going to enjoy it.

Billy.

_MG_7111E

A Good Week

After a few days of self-pity and demotivation, I’m back on the path forwards again! The weather is turning down here, with the sea getting ever choppier, the wind becoming more biting and the rain heavier still. It is becoming more of a struggle to slowly lumber up the hill in the morning to the bus-stop, but I shouldn’t moan- I was 10x further away from it last year!

I got to play cricket the other night at the Truro Cricket Centre with Perranarworthal CC (a great bunch), and despite not having any kit managed to get a bat thanks to a very kind friend. Imagine my horror when it turns out we have a new player, who is faster than said friend, is left-armed, and likes to bowl at my ribs! I remembered to get in line with the ball though, and didn’t get hit, which is a plus. More excitingly, I managed to launch someone into the netting high at the other end of the hall, which is very, very rare when I bat! I bowled atrociously, and even resorted to medium pace which got me a wicket, but I take comfort in the fact that even Adil Rashid went for the most expensive test debut ever, and still took 5 wickets in the 2nd innings. There is hope for us all, it seems!

Much more excitingly, I’ve been fortunate enough to secure a research internship with the University’s Drone Lab, which should see me learn a variety of highly valuable skills related to fixed-wing and multi-rotor craft. The use of UAVs for scientific study is an incredibly exciting field and I’m very lucky to have this opportunity to learn first-hand about their use. I’m not naive to the role this could play on my PhD application, and I’m keen to make the most of this opportunity

Perhaps even more excitingly, I’ve managed to secure a job with Hawkshead in Falmouth, working with a fantastic team whom supported me well during and after the Malaysia Expedition. Hawkshead are a kind-of combination between Regatta and Craghoppers (my favourite brand), so I am in very good hands indeed! I’m looking forward to starting in the next couple of weeks, and with a trip to Michigan in December, things are looking rosy once again.

Today marks the one year anniversary with my wonderful girlfriend, Catherine, which is the most wonderful gift of all. I can’t wait to see her in December, but I take comfort in the fact that, despite the 3600 mile distance between us, we remain closer than ever. It has been a long wait, and Michigan’s winter may have a fearsome reputation, but it will all be worth it in the end. I’ve never been in a serious relationship before, really, but with Catherine, everything is right. My world just seems complete. Here is to many more wonderful years together! ❤

It has been a while in coming, but my life is really starting to work. I’m heading towards my PhD application goal, I have a new source of income in a lovely environment, and I have a brilliant partner.

And at this stage of my life, I don’t think I can argue with that!

I went shooting. And I totally get it.

At the start of Freshers I thought that you know what, I’m going to try something new this time around. I fancied a non-threatening step out of my comfort zone. Ultimate frisbee was my first pick, but the rain was quite threatening and didn’t want to get wet, which ruled that out. I considered sailing or kayaking but remembered that the sea is absolutely bloody freezing over here (though it is at its warmest right now), but my fun-to-chance-of-drowning ratio was unacceptably high. When I saw an FXU Rifle Club taster day coming up, I figured that this might be my last chance to do something quite different. Rifle 1

Don’t get me wrong, I definitely had the ‘army phase’. I did the occasional air rifle shooting, and tried the strange sport of airsoft for quite a while, before deciding both were a bit infantile. Despite living in the middle of rural Warwickshire, surrounded by rolling farms and being close to quite a few estates, I somehow missed the traditional rural rites of clay pigeon shooting. Perhaps that was a blessing… The FXU Rifle Club promised something very different. Actual rifles. Real bullets. Everybody fancies themselves as a marksman, right?

I agreed to go and paid my notional £11, and we soon had a quiet, awkward motley crew of students in the back of the minibus… and 2 friendly FXU staff members! I don’t know if being quiet and awkward is a prerequisite of going shooting? I guess you aren’t supposed to be visibly happy about it, as people might get the wrong idea. Upon arrival at Truro Rifle Club, we had a considerable safety induction to ensure that we all knew how to shoot and handle the rifles safety, ran over the club rules and discussed the future of the club. It struck me that the rifle club seemed to want some new blood, so to speak. The club is set in what looks like an old quarry, providing the steep protective banks which are a necessity so you don’t end up killing people in the local area. A lot of rifle clubs I have seen tend to be set in old quarries, and there certainly isn’t a shortage of quarries Rifle 2in Cornwall! The 15 of us were split into smaller groups of 5, and whilst one group was shooting, the other got to view the facilities. There is a much longer 50 metre range, which looked like an incredibly long distance away, especially without the use of a scope. Apparently iron sights are the name of the day.

When it was finally my go, a lot of things were going through my head. I was definitely nervous and there was a child-like anticipation about what I was going to do. This was new territory, and slightly taboo territory at that in modern British society. The guns were locked on a shelf on a wall, and you had to unlock them and then place them on the floor next to your firing point. With a red flag locked in the breech, it was completely and utterly safe. Lying down next to them, I was struck both by how light the rifles were in comparison to their look of wood and ironmongery, and also how different they were to anything I had handled in the past. Previously I had been used to the rugged, hard lines of airsoft assault rifles and the ergonomic, almost attractive lines of air rifles, but these were a different beast entirely, made completely for accuracy from the ground up. I wouldn’t say they were attractive, but they felt comfortable in the hand.

Lying prone, with the barrel of my rifle resting upon a little stand and with the stock comfortably rested in my shoulder, I removed the red flag from the breech and inspected the tiny little .22 bullets for the first time. They really are quite small, but there is no doubt that they could do some serious damage in the wrong hands. I pushed the bullet forward into the breech, cycled the bolt firmly forward and for the first time I had a live rifle in my hands. The iron sights took a little getting used to, as they were quite basic and far detached from the luxuries of scopes that I had enjoyed in the past. The premise is that you line the black centre of the target with the middle of your sight so that there is an equal space between the sides of the target and your sight. If it is equal on all sides of the target, then theoretically it will e heading towards the bull. We were allowed 5 shots on each target, and 10 shots in total for each round of shooting.

The first shot was an experience. A loud crack resonated through the ear protectorRifle 3s, the tiniest little kick in my shoulder, and a thwack at the other end told me all I needed to know. There was a huge mental rush and then a wave of focus as I tried to get the next shot in the right place. I couldn’t see what my shooting looked like, but for the next 5 shots I was feeling more in tune with the rifle. I held myself perfectly still, regulated my breathing properly and truly, truly focused. The next 5 shots went by in a blur. We made the guns safe, and then walked down the range to inspect our targets. My first grouping was a little ropey, but my second featured 3 shots in the bull, and two one band away. Pretty bloody good for my first time. Needless to say, I was quietly thrilled with my efforts, and proceeded to try not to look to happy in front of everyone for the next few minutes while I awaited my turn again. Instead I engaged Rob Gofton on cricket and what the FXU is up to this year… I keep forgetting that you should probably avoid talking about work when someone is away from their day job! Sorry Rob!

For the second round of shots I tried to be even calmer still, and focused incredibly hard. I tried to relax as advised but with a live rifle in my hands, I found that considerably easier said than done. Having adjusted my sights to my coach’s suggestions, I sent the first 5 down range in quick succession, and he said that they were good and then told me to adjust my sights again… Back to exactly how they were the first time around. Muppet. The next 4 shots felt very good, and I knew I must be close to what I was aiming for by my coach’s occasional expressions of interest in my shooting. He seemed to be cut of the ‘You earn respect’ generation but in this instance it was definitely a good thing. I liked his style. Anyway, I sent my fifth shot down range and he gave me a satisfied indication of my performance.

Again, we made the guns safe, and we checked out targets. My first 5 were a little high and to the left, but both groupings were really quite tight. When there are no individual holes, because the bullets have hit so closely together that it looks like one larger hole, you must have done something right! We got to keep our targets, and enthused at the thought of finding a new sport, we headed to back to Falmouth with our heads held high and the words of an FXU chap telling us that there is money available through Sport England to buy some fancy rifles for the club. Happy days…

Truth told though, i was mentally exhausted. Concentrating so hard for short period was incredibly intense and it left my body and my mind completely taught. It was honestly akin to my mental tiredness when i scored my hundred earlier in the season… but achieved in just 15 minutes of shooting, and not 2 hours of batting! I was in serious need of a therapist, but thankfully I found some Ben and Jerries in the freezer which is the definitely the next best thing.

Was it enjoyable? Yes, in a very different way!

Would I go again? Definitely, though over time the cost might be a bit much for me. I genuinely think that the intensity of concentration required will help me focus in exams and when batting.

Was it safe? Completely. At no point was there every any risk to anyone whatsoever. I arguably felt safer than I do playing cricket, or riding the bus from campus to Falmouth. The people at the rifle club were experts, and whilst they had a vested interest in getting us to attend they were professional and treated safety with the utmost importance it deserves when shooting a potentially lethal weapon.

Do you ‘get’ shooting’? Definitely. The mental rush, the smell of cordite and the loud report of a rifle. It is more than a little exciting. You should try it!

2015 Cricket Season Review

Preparation for the 2015 season started very early for me, as far back as October. I’d joined a new side, Perranarworthal, and winter nets started in October and ran all the way through until a couple of weeks before the season, providing me with my best practice period yet. The standard at indoor nets was little more varied than I was used to, but I quickly realised that the indoor pitch was a lot more bouncy than the outdoors pitches, which was a shame. There was one very good all-rounder who was the fastest bowler and probably the most promising attacking batsman, a youngish bowler who was capable of getting some impressive swing, a very promising young keeper, a Cornwall County ladies player and a whole host of canny medium-pace bowlers (my nemesis). Of course, there were more people than that, with many great characters, and it is fair to say that I absolutely loved the club (and still do). The ground is great, the people are great and the atmosphere is really positive. After a lot of work by all involved with the club, Perran is starting to stand tall once again.

More than anything, Perran taught me to enjoy my cricket again, something that I lost at my previous Cornish club. Everyone was exceptionally accommodating, especially as a non-driving student, even allowing me to lead some training sessions (which perhaps, in hindsight, was an overeager mistake on my part). My performances, however, were dreadful. I looked like a million dollars in the nets over the Winter. I felt good, I was coping with everything thrown at me, and was capable of middling the ball nearly on demand. Good times. Starting out in the first team, I didn’t really get a chance to prove myself, and after a while the novelty of being a specialist fielder wore off. I jumped down into the twos expecting to get some runs on the board, take a few wickets here and there, and more than anything, learn.

With a really promising young captain at the helm (who has had an incredible season by all accounts in his 1st season of captaincy), the team put together a run of decent performances early on in the season, and we did well against some strong sides. I, however, was faring miserably. I wasn’t miffed about not getting a bowl- the pitches weren’t quite there yet- but I was given so many opportunities to score runs against attacks that I felt like I should be really hurting. Something wasn’t right at least; I didn’t ‘get’ the bounce off the pitch at all, and I couldn’t even deal with average medium pace. Suffice to say, my stats for that part of the season were dreadful. 5 innings for just fourteen runs is the stuff of nightmares.

Perhaps mercifully, my season down there was cut short by a change in personal circumstances then sent packing back up to Warwickshire. I’ve been playing for Rugby for a long time, and was glad to join their ranks again. Naturally, after being away for so long I was put in the 3rd team. I wasn’t really feeling it at all, but in my first game back I turned up and was asked to open, and so I strapped by pads on, told number 3 and 4 to get ready and made my way slowly to the middle. The bowling was pretty dreadful to be honest, and playing on astro probably didn’t help them either. I scored a once bounce for over square leg early on, and thought ‘hmmm… I don’t feel too bad here’. After a while I felt even better, and managed to flay the bowling to all parts, including a through glorious on-drives, a pretty nice clip over the bowlers head and plenty of pulls and hooks. I think I only scored one boundary on the offside in the entire innings! My back sore and my mind tiring, I was absolutely stunned when I genuinely made it to my first ever century. A rather subdued celebration followed as we declared on 300-odd instantly, but I can’t describe what the innings meant to me. Scoring a hundred had been a goal of mine since I was about 8, and passing that landmark felt very good indeed. I was 101*, and I was a very happy man.

Then the strangest thing happened. I became completely demotivated by my century. It was like I had achieved something I had wanted to do for so long, and now there was nothing left to do, or nothing else to give. Regardless, it wasn’t good. I moved up into the twos, and I think it is fair to say that I ‘found my level’ of cricket, if that makes sense. The standard seemed to perfectly suit my development at the moment and I enjoyed every hard-fought game. I made a couple of gritty knocks in touch situations- a 21* recovery effort after a lot of wicket fell perhaps being the highlight, but nothing outstanding. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the standard in the twos and could feel myself learning in every game. Something still wasn’t right though, as the occasional misfield crept into my game. I remember misjudging a catch terribly at Handsworth (my favourite ground), resulting in it sailing for 6 over my head, and then actually dropping one in the deep when I was well set later in the season. I never drop catches, so this was a bit of a shock.

As for bowling, I FINALLY got a bowl in virtually my last game of the season, and took three wickets for six runs in just 15 balls. Undervalued, honestly. I don’t think I played much after that with a lot of personal things to sort, so I bowled 15 balls all season, which isn’t great. I didn’t train anywhere near as much as I normally would though, allowing personal things to impact my game, and perhaps I got out of the season what I put in this year.

My statistics for Rugby were good this year though. I only played 6 games, and made 166 runs at an average of 41.5, which places me in the top 4 in the whole club. Admittedly, others who played a lot more than me have been hard done by there. At least I know that somewhere in there is a good player.

To be honest, I’m not sure if I will play cricket again next season. I’ve always played cricket but there are parts of it that I’m starting to tire of to say the least, and perhaps it is time to try something new. Maybe the bug will bite again, but at the moment, that may be it for a while. Maybe I’ll have a go at T20 for once. Looking to the future, I’m considering trying ultimate frisbee, tennis, squash and shooting. I have a taster session lined up for the new university rifle club so I am really looking forward to giving that a go… It is something very different, at least!