Sunday, 19 February 2006

From Washington to Monkey Puzzles

There's something mildly frustrating about flying from London to Washington on a Wednesday, and leaving Washington to fly back on the Friday. You never quite get a decent night's sleep. So I woke at 3am the first night, and 4am the second. The meeting I was at (an NIH grants review panel) started at 8am each morning, so I could have done with more sleep. Still... I'm told that the advantage of your clock not resetting itself is that when you get back, exhausted, you sleep like a baby the first night, and then feel right as rain. Whatever that means – Am still exhausted. So evidently right as rain I am not.

The meeting went well. As someone told me the first time, people 'leave their egos at the door', and all one hears is constructive and serious discussion of the merits (or otherwise) of the grants. It reminded me how cooperative academia can be (elsewhere buried on this website is a complaint I have regarding how uncooperative it can sometimes be). Even when a grant application was weak, those weaknesses were discussed at length so that a consensus could be reached.

Anyway, now that I'm back in York, a big thank you to United Airlines, whose engines kept going the full 7.5 hours to get me back. This despite their planes seeming to be amongst the oldest aircraft gracing the skies above the Atlantic. On the way over, the movie was projected onto one of those old-fashioned screens like you used to get at school - an oblong box that opened up to reveal nothing more technologically sophisticated than a roller blind. I didn't realize planes had those anymore.

Not much had changed in the 3 days that I was away from home. Except for an interesting but rare atmospheric phenomenon that I'd not experienced in ages. Locals with far more experience than I tell me that it's called 'the sun'. Amazing. So off to the garden centre we went, to buy a selection of ferns, ivies, and a monkey puzzle tree (Silvia's national tree - see below for examples from our Argentina trip). We bought what my children would call a 'tintsy' one - all of 18 inches high. We shan't wait with baited breath for it to grow - they're very slow-growing. Planted it sufficiently close to the house so as to cause problems after one or two hundred years' worth of growth. Monkey Puzzle trees are the most primitive living conifer (or so a Google search revealed), and they get their name from the fact that monkeys can't climb them. Bizarre. Especially as there aren't any monkeys near where they grow. Why not call them Armadillo Puzzle trees? Or Llama Puzzle trees? Or Psycholinguist Puzzle trees?