Entomology, chemical ecology, evidence-based environmentalism and science in general. I like big bugs and I cannot lie.

Monday, 31 August 2009


Pestival is an exhibition of insects in science and art, held at the Royal Festival Hall from the 3rd to the 6th of September. I'll be there on the Saturday and Sunday, helping to explain work some people in my department have done on why some people get eaten alive by mosquitoes and others don't, if anyone fancies coming along to laugh at me in a natty mosquito-emblazoned t-shirt. And if for some reason mosquito olfaction doesn't float your boat, there's a lot of other cool stuff going on including maggot painting, a giant termite mound and book-eating insects.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

The best laid plans

Things rarely work out the way you expect do they? I’d hoped to have a few days off after I came back from The Gambia to relax, catch up with Jeff and with friends, organise my life, maybe make a leisurely start on my writeup, then head back to Rothamsted refreshed and raring to go.Instead I caught piggy flu and spent the best part of two weeks getting reacquainted with my bed and necking paracetamol and Menthol Strepsils like there was no tomorrow, or rather like there was a tomorrow and it was going to be full of pain and mucus.I was even more annoyed that after having the opportunity to catch all sorts of exciting exotic things that would have entitled me to sympathy and possibly handsome young doctors poking my liver, I ended up laid low by something that prompts people to hand you a mug of Lemsip and tell you to get on with it. Still, such is life.

I have a very large number of photographs to organise, half of which are already up on Facebook, and six more blog posts to type up from the final month when I didn’t have access to a computer, if anyone’s still interested now you know how it ends. I think blogging will be put on hold for the immediate future though as I have rather a lot of non-blog related writing to do. If you’re stuck for an excuse not to work in the meantime might I recommend the following blogs, which really have nothing in common except for the fact that I wouldn’t mind sharing a drink with the author (indeed I’ve often shared rather too many drinks with one of the authors):

Sunday, 9 August 2009

The wind is in from Africa

The wind is in from Africa
Last night I couldn't sleep
You know Carey it's gonna be hard to leave here but it's really not my home
My fingernails are filthy
I've got beach tar on my feet
And I miss my clean white linen and my fancy French cologne

- Joni Mitchell, Carey

That just about sums up how I feel right now. I fly back to Britain
tonight and I don't think my fingernails will ever be clean again.
I've probably got something worse than beach tar on my feet and my
sheets at home aren't linen, aren't white and if I'm completely honest
sometimes aren't clean but they're my sheets, on my bed, in my flat
and I have a burning desire to sleep on them for a very, very long
time. I'm sorry about the lack of blog posts for the last month or
so, but my laptop cable kersploded during a power surge. I do have a
few posts written on paper which I may type up when I get home, if you
were wondering how it all ends.

I must admit that I've found my time out here very hard, particularly
the last few weeks, and there were times when I've felt about this
fieldwork rather the way I felt about reading 1984: it was very
rewarding, I'm glad I did it but I'm not sure if I'd want to do it
again. And some things were very tough: the heat and the filth and
the exhaustion and the heat, the village with conjuntivitis, the
little girl with the broken arm and the man whose arm I may have
broken in self defense (spoilers, spoilers) and the dog that our
convoy ran over on the way down to Fajara. But some parts have been
amazing - I've seen the sun rise over a glittering river, watched a
bird of prey take an enormous snake and fly off with it, seen a
termite mound so vast it engulfed the lower branches of a bloated,
bubble-barked baobab. I've shared attaya with people, attended a
naming ceremony, sat in Sainie's compound handing her friend locks of
nylon hair as she wove them onto her head, played the best scrabble
game of my life under African stars. I may even have managed to get
some useful data.

I've learned a lot too, how to gut a fish and that Duck Tape is more
useful than all the equipment sold in Blacks put together, gained a
limited and very specialist knowledge of Mandinka (mostly the names of
foodstuffs and insects) and discovered that just because your
supervisor is an internationally renowned researcher published in the
highest impact journals it doesn't mean he knows anything about
restaurant etiquette. I've learned that although I crave the comforts
of home they are luxuries, not the necesities I believed them to be. I
can live without a shower if I have a bucket, without tv if I have a
book and a radio, without chocolate if I have mangos and without
alcohol if I have attaya. The one thing though that I've learned I
can't live without is the people I care about, I've miseed you guys
terribly and am really looking forward to seeing you all again soon.

I'm going to pack up my samples now, then have a pressing appointment
with a bath and a bed. Thanks for reading.