The Adventure Continues...

Rants, raves and random observations from an itinerant epidemiologist.

100 in 1000
  1. Spend a week up a mountain learning to ski
  2. Visit Karoline's place in Moravia
  3. Hold a conversation in Czech (only)
  4. Drink 500ml of each of the following beers:
    1. Pilsner
    2. Staroprammen
    3. Budvar
    4. Velke Popovice
    5. U Fleku
    6. Gambrinus
    7. Krusovice
  5. Respond to at least one GOARN request (WHO and MSF are also acceptable)
  6. Travel across the Atlantic
  7. Return to South America
  8. Read a book to, or with, an impressionably aged child
  9. Participate in one NanoWriMo Challenge and come within at least 10,000 words of the goal length
  10. Have my nose pierced
  11. Have my next tattoo drawn
  12. Purchase the perfect jeans (x 2 pairs)
  13. Attend a spin class 3 times a week for 8 consecutive weeks
  14. Bake Viv's cheesecake
  15. Make David's casserole
  16. Make David's Chicken Cashew-nut Stirfry
  17. Invite 4 people who don't know one another too well to dinner
  18. Ride from Vienna to Venice on a motorbike (pillion acceptable, those less desirable)
  19. Attend a book group for at least two books
  20. Go on a choir weekend (learn and perform difficult piece in two/three days)
  21. Visit Madame Tussaud's (in London)
  22. Take an architecture appreciation course
  23. Join an all-girl group and sing a solo
  24. Publish in a scientific journal (top two authors)
  25. Cook a duck or other 'waterfowl'.
  26. Locate the Al-Timimi's from Doha Veterinary Practise
  27. Have a pedicure
  28. Maintain a Brazilian (ouch) for three months.
  29. Find a trustworthy Czech hairdresser
  30. Treat my inner-6-year-old twice a week (at least)
  31. Do the liver-cleansing diet properly (12 weeks)
  32. Don't eat out for one month
  33. Find a flat and flatmate
  34. Purchase one Joseph sweater
  35. Purchase one of the following pairs of designer shoes (they MUST also be COMFORTABLE, and be able to be worn with 4 different outfits and 2 types of occasion): Jimmy Choos, Manolo Blahniks, Christian Louboutin (Ebay or 2nd hand are acceptable)
  36. Send 5 books to the booksphere and track them.
  37. Go hanggliding
  38. Read 10 'classic' books (from 1001 Books to Read before you Die)
    1. Moll Flanders
    2. Everything is illuminated
    3. Madam Bovary
    4. Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintainance
    5. Catch-22
    6. Odysseus
    7. On the Road
  1. Run (non-stop!) for 5kms outside (preferably in a street race thingy)
  2. Send Christmas Cards on time
  3. Make a collage/mural out of street lights on my wall
  4. Buy a bed, build it, and sleep soundly in it
  5. Go to Africa
  6. Host an 'event' (classified as and when)
  7. Organise a 30th Birthday Party
  8. Wear a costume
  9. Sing on stage
  10. Buy a painting that evokes memories of Prague (cannot involve queues!)
  11. Learn a god-damned card game that stays in my memory (other than fish/snap)
  12. See sunrise. Be sober. Have woken for it. Excludes months Nov-Mar
  13. Take a walk and flip coins at each intersection
  14. Win something
  15. Draft a will
  16. Take a roadtrip
  17. Go to Italy already
  18. Sea Kayak around Abel Tasman Park (NZ)
  19. Get plants
  20. Take a train to another Eastern European Destination (accession countries are acceptable) alone preferably.
  21. Get UK to give me a provisional motorcyclists license and simultaneously get a 'card' license.
  22. Go SCUBA diving again - at least two dives lasting 30mins each.
  23. Go to a dentist. *sigh*
  24. Do a Czech Wine Trail. And live to tell the tale
  25. Make an 'outbreak emergency kit'.
  26. Go to bed prior to 11pm every night (inc weekends) for four consecutive weeks.
  27. Marvel over lack of tiredness
  28. Dine at a Gordon Ramsey restaurant (or Nobu)- preferably for free.
  29. Bet on the nags
  30. Do something for charity (applying and getting a 'red card' will count)
  31. Walk along the Champs Elysee
  32. Do 100 sit ups in a row
  33. Do 50 pressups (arms in tight)
  34. Make branston pickle (or nearest substitute)
  35. Cook something 'new' and 'adventurous' at least once a month
  36. Find a mentor
  37. Be a mentor
  38. Learn what mentoring is all about
  39. Meet an online person in real life
  40. Resist the flirt. Once. Just one night. It's okay if people don't immediately succumb to my natural charm. Really it is.
  41. Spend time at a spa (spa towns in the CR don't count)
  42. Send a care package to someone
  43. Get a Tata Bojs CD
  45. Order new contact lenses.
  46. Make a list of things I take with me when I pack for different occasions
  47. Eat lobster. Prepared by someone else.
  48. Back up the blog
  49. Put everything onto an external hard drive
  50. Find a DDR mat and console and 'dance, I say dance!'�
  51. Go to the beach and lie on the warm sand. For an hour. (with sunscreen on, natch)
  52. Take and complete a course in either: Tango, Salsa or Flamenco
  53. Join the Municipal Library of Prague
  54. Move to another country
  55. Go to a live concert of a band I actually like
  56. Pay off debts (student loan excl.)
  57. Send thank you cards for every gift I receive (other than the gift of happiness, blah blah blah).
  58. Get an agent (literary or theatre)
  59. Go to a sports bar without cringing, by personal choice
  60. Ride a rollercoaster
  61. Hold a snake
  62. Spend a day wandering around a museum (not art gallery!)
Day +2 – Orientation in B
Monday, 30 January 2006
So, it’s Sunday, and as with all Sunday’s this one started leisurely. Of course, Saturday didn’t end until 3am, or rather, 4am when I finally convinced my feet to warm up to the point where I could drift off to sleep. The blankets are thin here – apparently, they’re highly unaccustomed to the temperatures they’ve had this winter (-8oC, the phrase ‘get hard’ springs to mind), and the last time the temperature was recorded so low was in 1972.

This has led, as you can imagine, to an enormous amount of logistic problems. Firstly, people have been using more electricity – which puts strain on the ‘national grid’. Thus, there are blackouts. For instance, now. I’m writing this while my computer is on battery power. Shops are dim on the inside (from what I saw – I haven’t been ‘shopping’!) and have big signs saying ‘we’re open’ on them.

Some places obviously have their autonomous power supplies (aka generators) which can run on petrol, which is very cheap here. However, with more people turning to their generators, there are queues at the petrol stations (here on every roundabout). And don’t even ask about car accidents. Cars have apparently taken to driving down the white line on their side of the dual carriageway (two lanes on each direction) to avoid the icy patches in the woefully inadequate gutters. It doesn’t rain much here, so drainage is predominantly from the surface. And when the temperature does as it did today: hovers around the 0 to -1oC, you get slush melting into water, that refreezes at night into black ice. Mmmm…tasty. And again: the car driving with both hazard lights flashing – and no one else quite sure whether it’s the CAR that’s a hazard, or the road ahead! (more reminders to Qatar).

So today, we went for a Sunday promenade, having assembled for breakfast at 9am. KK is an ex-military man (Estonian and Norwegian) so he’s nicely regimented: makes sure we communicate appropriately. At the reception, we first met Sultaan (yes, really…were his parents setting him up for a life of misery and namecalling or what?) who used to work at WHO and now works for an unpronounceable foundation which is ‘doing’ MMR vaccination. Then our guide for the day, Samir, joined us. I’m not sure whether I’m a liability or an asset on missions like these, as I find both our guides spent a lot of time talking with me. Quite charming, I assure you, but I have to share them about with the other team members. The special attention has obviously not escaped KK’s powers of observation, when we needed to ask the guys at the desk about internet access, he said to the team that “Naomi should ask, she will have a good response.”. And I’m not even being flirtatious either. Good for the ego – not so good for the conscience.

What does B look like by day then? Well, there’s a tower in the middle of what is called the old city. It’s a tower in which a king imprisoned his daughter – who had the misfortune to fall in love with a ‘mere’ commoner. When the tower was built, the sea was higher than it is now, and so she threw herself from the tower into the watery depths below. Hence, the tower is now called the ‘maidens tower’. The walls of buildings are thick, and decorated with a variety of ornamental styles, some latticework, some iron work. It’s quite beautiful, in a stark, sort of Arabic/sort of not kind of way. Though this was part of the former Soviet Union, there seems to be very little in the way of ‘reminders’ – we couldn’t even find a statue of Lenin (except on the touristy stalls).

We finished the old city in record time (there doesn’t appear to be much to it) and strolled (believe me, this was strolling, I haven’t walked so slowly in my life!) along the promenade/corniche. The sea breeze was, er, invigorating, yet a quick look into the murky depths by the seagull ‘hangout’ certainly reminds you not to swim. Raw sewerage. Blee.

After being exposed to more ‘nature’ than we needed to be, we wandered up to the street of stalls. There, Samir purchased us each a wee memento of our stay in A, apparently a traditional guardian/talisman against people who intend you harm. It’s silver tipped on both the upper edge and lower edge of a small piece of intricately woven material. The bottom piece of silver (okay, metal of some description – but silver coloured) has metal dangling from it (drop-shaped) and an eye stone (you know, those blue disks with the white and black pupil. We’ve been instructed to hang them close to the entrance of our homes. Sadly – they don’t offer much in the way of barrier protection from virions…but they’re very lovely regardless.

Then to a restaurant which had a menu of about 200 items, of which 3 were available. The chicken, we were assured, was ‘off’ the menu today. Apparently the MOH has advised people stop selling chicken (kebab style), and since it’s come off the market in the open-air kebab stands, other restaurants have followed suit and pulled it from their menus also. I say it’s discrimination – but it’s probably better than putting your food workers at unnecessary risk. So: lunch was a Slavic salad (potatos, beans and mayonnaise) and an American salad (coleslaw). KK said that there would be war in my stomach. Ha ha. Followed by a lentil soup.

I have promised Maarten that I will eat something weird, and I would have accomplished it today had there been sufficient left: Dovka – warm yoghurt (ick!?) with vegetables and herbs suspended in it. I don’t even have raita with curry – let alone a warm yoghurt that was displayed under the soup section of the menu. However, it’s very difficult to follow the UN instructions and eat ‘things which have been cooked, that aren’t meat’. I mean: this morning I had poached eggs (gonna stick to scrambled from now on) which had runny yolks. They were perfect, but sadly, also possibly perfect for transmitting Salmonellosis – among other things. Then mayonnaise in the salad this afternoon. I almost called KK on it (he got almost the same two salads that I did) but thought what the hell in the end. There have been no recorded cases of AI here, the chances of me picking it up from consumption of a salad in a highly reputable restaurant are slim indeed. (QRA quickly done on napkin!)

The walk back to the hotel was in the sun, very pleasant indeed. Samir walked with me, and we discussed the reasons why people leave their home nations. We figured it was because they wanted something they couldn’t get at home, the most important of which was probably salary. I think it’s lovely here. Sure: there’s environmental pollution, and I’m boiling water to put in my water bottles, but again – there’s a variety of history in evidence around the place. There are very expensive clothes shops here too – apparently 1% of the 4mil population in B can afford Hermes, 98% can’t, and the remaining 1% are middle-classed who don’t really care either way.

Upon arrival at the hotel, we organised the internet connections set up (seems you have to set it up for US$8 and then it’s free to use after that) and I was informed that the boys on the desk last night had given me a deluxe room by mistake. So I shall have to move out when another single standard room becomes available. I wondered why I had a different key tag to the rest. So I might be losing my 700 television channels, and my safe in my wardrobe. Which will be a great shame. Not to mention the hassle of transporting all my belongings (freshly laundered for free – what a great hotel) to another place. Still…perhaps when I’m not in a corner room with two balconies (yay!) it’ll be warmer.
posted by Nomes @ Monday, January 30, 2006   8 comments
Day +1 - arrival in B
After what felt like a very early start for the seven of us, we made it intact, with all our belongings to the airport in Copenhagen. Our taxi driver was a mine of information: telling us about the merchant navy, and the real navy. When I asked who the navy defended themselves against, he apologised and told me ‘britain’. Oh. Apparently, Nelson had a bit of a barney with the Danes. And he won by sneaking up on them (how an armada sneaks, I’m not entirely sure, but there you go) during the Autumn: when the Danes had put their boats in dry dock.

I really want to go back to Copenhagen though – it looks like a GREAT capital. Hmm…this could make choosing my next destination after Prague very difficult: I like Berlin, I like Copenhagen…will there be places I’m not so fond of? Or maybe it’s the excitement spilling over!

Photo opportunities for the group at the airport. Yes: those refugee bags are the ones our most important equipment is kept in. Experts ahoy. A flight to London to start with (yay: English reading material – can just fit a New Scientist into bags already filled to shoulder popping with documents), a brief wait (mmm…Alas, poor Starbucks, I knew it well), and then a three hour flight (or thereabouts) to B. After we got off, KK (team leader) mentioned something about it being a horribly long flight for those continuing to Bashkek (capital of one of the stans…will hopefully remember to look this up before posting so as not to appear so damned ignorant – but have changed mind to reflect real lack of knowledge) and I reminded him that after a long haul flight from NZ – England: NOTHING was long if it was in the same continent (Europe). This led to a conversation as to whether the C’s were the tail end of Europe or the fringe of Asia.

So here I am in my ultra-expensive hotel room in B, the capital city of A. If you judge your hotel rooms by the number of channels they have on the television – then this is damned upmarket: I counted 750. Okay, only 5 were in English, and about 150 require additional payment, but there you have it. I wasted two hours of my life flicking through the channels.

Can’t be much worse than watching 40 year old virgin on New Years Eve. THAT nearly sapped my will to live!

Arriving at the airport was like coming home. An indentifiable language that sounds a little like Arabic, and a little like Czech but is, in actual fact, mostly Turkish was being bandied about by the guards (unarmed) and customs officials (friendly!!). The luggage was waiting for us – even our refugee bags containing our Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). The airport code (for those thinking of a far-flung place in which to take a holiday) is GYD – but I doubt Easyjet make it over here.

Upon exiting the baggage claim, we were met by an evocative mixture of scents: crude oil and meat on a spit.

Turns out – when we did an exercise in the communications module – that my sense of smell is my overriding sense. Not sure what that means for my pattern of learning – but it DOES explain why some people are attractive to me up to the point where I can smell them. If I can smell a person – then it’s very touch and go as to whether I find them still attractive, or whether I immediately label them ‘friend ONLY’! (sorry Dad!)

We were met by a WHO liason officer. And two drivers. One car took our team leader KK and our infectious control leader SC. JT (the lab guy) and myself (supposedly the animal health person!!) piled into a DISGUSTINGLY dirty Lada Niva with another driver. Our trolley was abandoned to the few guys in overalls who loiter to take care of such things. Then we drove into the city. Although it was night, there were some sights. Our driver, bless him, put on some music for us. First, we had some Arabic sounding wailing (okay, I admit, I CANNOT distinguish the difference between gulf Arabic and Turkish…I’m sorry!), and then he rummaged for a while (yes, while allowing his eyes to stray from the dual carriageway) in the glove box for a CD. Then we were serenaded by what sounded like ‘clarinet by candlelight’ – we were even blessed with a Celine Dion classic (eek!).

The recognisable and familiar scent of oil has not yet left my nostrils. And the landscape (what we could make of it) was just like it is in Doha – scrubby desert that has a proper name that I’ve forgotten. There are some trees, but what with winter, they’re not green or leafy. They appear to be the types of trees that have spiny leaves anyway…desert dwellers. There’s some snow around – but very little. What there is is filthy, oil soaked. We passed one chimney stack – with what appeared to be the biggest flare I’ve ever seen on top. Okay, so I don’t usually hang out at oil refineries/plants/wells but I’ve seen a few in my years.

Apparently, the area has just hit paydirt (ha ha) with a big oil field. This will change the economic status of the country accordingly. Approximately 50% of people are living beneath the poverty line. During the briefing, our country representative said that A could either go the way of Norway, or Nigeria. It’ll probably go somewhere in the middle. Who knows.

But as we passed the buildings, there are several influences. I’m not sure if it’s Turkish or Morroccan to have latticework (really intricate, and not always symmetrical or repeated) around the doors to buildings – but that’s here. There are no mosques to speak of, which is odd for a Muslim nation. The other religion is Russian Orthodox though (whatever that is), and we were also told that Islam is more of a ‘tradition than a religion’ here. So the rites are followed, but people aren’t particularly religious. They’re very polite though: while I sent a txt msg to Mum to let her know I’ve landed (we loves’s our phone, we does) the driver turned down the music, thinking that I wanted to talk. Aww.

After a very windy trip through the city, over some cobblestoned streets as well (good old Russian shocks meant that we felt them all!), past some very expensive looking shops (clothes, shoes, you can take the girl out of FashionTV, but…) and several ATM’s (it’s important to notice these things), we arrived at a tidy looking hotel. My room is pleasant. Apparently we get internet ‘tomorrow’. I almost asked the concierge whether tomorrow was ‘insh’allah’ but I figured I’d wait at least four hours before insulting anyone. Such restraint.

So tomorrow (Sunday) we meet with our WHO liason officer again and get the guided tour of the city: where the Ministry of Health is etc. Our team leader, KK, says that we’ll be staying in the city. Though I’m not really sure how I’m going to evaluate the veterinary system if I can’t go MEET the vets. So I’m going to push to go out of the city too: to see a bit more what it’s like in the ‘real’ areas – where there are no expats, and the money from the oil hasn’t filtered through.

PPE will, of course, be on board with me at all times.
posted by Nomes @ Monday, January 30, 2006   2 comments
Day 0 - the beginning
Day 0 – the beginning

Today we assembled to meet the team at the WHO offices in Copenhagen. This is, apparently, very unusual. Mostly, teams agree to meet in the hotel lobby of their destination, there isn’t usually such a briefing.

And what a briefing it was too. It started at 1000, and went through till 1800. A lot of ground was covered, from where the countries were, and what they looked like, to the social situation on the ground, the conflicts (A vs. A: G friends with both) and the economic situation. That was enough of a challenge for me to pay attention through…it’s not really stuff that ‘sits’ in my head. Then we covered the situation as we knew it (or rather, as the WHO knew it via various sources of information) and the situation in Turkey.

Lunch was divine (must remember this for future employment possibilities!), several salads (ie. more than 5) on offer, beef, fish, even a glass of wine: all for 40DKK. I have no idea what that translates to in either € or $, so you’ll have to look it up yourself! Then off to be ‘kitted up’. I have two boxes of tamiflu that I can choose to take prophylactically (after high risk exposure – ie. chicken farm visit), or can take to ‘cure’. And there’s boots, overalls, gloves, masks, goggles etc…and a medical kit (syringes – not sure what for, gloves, condoms, tampons, paracetamol, gauze etc…). Unfortunately both of these have to be handed in at the end of the mission.

Then we discussed the safety gear and it’s use in different situations. Sadly, most people are coming at this from a very human health angle – so in their mind, they’re examining a patient with the virus, and the patient sneezes on them. I, personally, am more worried about the dust cloud that’s produced by a chicken. Transfer from faecal material (dust) to the eyes is one of the easy route into the human body: so I’m interested in a totally different angle to the rest of my team.

More discussion about our actual mission (to identify the current situation, look at what needs to be done and possibly locate personnel who can do that in-country), and then the meeting closed. Is that it? That’s all?

Oh no. Then there’s the documents that we were given: about a ream of papers’ worth (not including all the stuff that we’d each personally downloaded or gained access to). Half of the documents are ‘living’ and ‘not for public consumption’ as they’re very basic and ‘truthful’ (ie. ‘these people’ got the job done, ‘these’ obfuscated).

A dinner of sushi, bed (divine bed in Copenhagen…I want that bed back home) and then travel in the am. FINALLY started to get VERY excited about halfway through the briefing. Until that moment, I’d been very ho-hum about it all. But now, the excitement builds, and I don’t need food to feel full, those butterflies seem nutritional enough.
posted by Nomes @ Monday, January 30, 2006   0 comments
Day -2 and Day -1
Friday, 27 January 2006

Spent four hours today getting injected and checked over. The tropical health doctor couldn't believe my weight. She told me that someone with my kilos should look *insert mime for 'big' and 'fat' here* and I didn't. I wasn't sure whether to be scared, pleased or just slightly confused!? What exactly did you think that numerical value looked like in the flesh then?


However, I can confirm with you all that I do indeed have a front, and a back (in six places, no less) and that I've now also got antibodies to Hep A, Diptheria, Pertussis, Polio and Tetanus running around my blood - joining those for Hep A, Measles, Mumps and Rubella (from the diseases NOT the wimpy bloody vaccines) and possibly some lingering for Yellow Fever too. I also have blood. The woman who took it from me is my new best friend.


See, I have hidden veins. I have veins that bury themselves deep against my bones when I need to provide a sample of blood. It's pathological. This nurse said, "My, you haven't got veins...okay...I shall have to feel" and closed her eyes, felt my elbow, jabbed a needle in and extracted 10mls absolutely painlessly. First time THAT'S ever happened. I want her to travel with me. In fact, next time I need a blood sample, I'm on a train to Berlin (four hours) and getting it from her!!


During all this, I was also undergoing 'media training'. I got back from the medical and had to give an interview to radio, followed by an interview (to a person - one to one apparently) on television. It was good fun, even if I broke down halfway through the television interview, stopping the reporter mid-answer (mine) by saying "I'm sorry, we have to stop..." as I'd COMPLETELY lost track of where the hell I was going - my mouth was just talking but te brain had gone on holiday!


The amazing thing was: on playback, I gave absolutely no indication my brain had left the building (which makes me wonder...) and you coulnd't tell I'd disengaged until I actually spoke the words. Weird. No wonder people think i'm confident etc...I'm a REALLY convincing liar. good to know.


After being jabbed, freaking out on television, and generally having a weird day, it was DELICIOUS to head back to the hotel (via Starbucks - the lovely green place!) and pack my bag. I've purchased: yoga pants x 2 (can be worn under trousers), thermal underwear (leggings and singlet), a jacket, and a torch. I've picked up a prescription for the pill (so I can try to avoid menstruating while there - sorry for te graphic details but in future, I may need to remind myself of this), iron tablets, and some antibiotics (just in case of UTI). I've purchased THE MOST AMAZING JACKET IN THE WORLD from North Face, and some Merrall walking shoes. I changed out of my suit, put all te stuff I don't think I'm gonna need in A (sparkly tops? Heels? Out they go *sob*) into a bag, and took it around to Andreas's.


He'd made us all (Maarten, Morten, Lisa, Lisanne, Luise and myself - aka 'the grid') potato soup and an antiplatter plate. God it was divine. We sprawled ourselves on his couch, listened to music, chatted ina   very desultory (read: we wre all knackered and couldn't be bothered) manner, and checked our e-mail on his laptop. It was SOOOOO very lovely to spend a relaxing evening at home for a change. Someone else's home - but good enough that's for sure. And while we sat, my underwear was being washed in his machine.


In a very typical gesture, one of Cohort 10 (the previous years intake – the one for which I was turned down) is in Copenhagen. He found out we were coming, and has invited us for a beer on Friday evening after the briefing. And Luise (from above) will ALSO be in Copenhagen that night (she has family commitments) and is hoping to pop to our hotel to visit us for breakfast on Saturday morning before we fly to our respective destinations. Zosia (from Intunition) did say the other day, "you guys get on planes like we get on trams, don't you?". Um…kinda yeah. AND IT'S GREAT! Already the end of January, and I've been in four different countries this month. My passport would be bursting if we actually got stamped anymore!


Having stowed my belongings behind his bedroom door, and called two women epidemiologists at the RKI who also have size 10 feet (that's european 42, but a WOMAN'S 42 - not a mens!) to see if they could bring me in a range of 'hiking boots' tomorrow: we headed back to the hotel. I packed in about 10mins (I had very little left to pack), and jumped into bed. My eyes were closed at 12:30, and I was asleep at 12:30:03.


Day -1.


Having asked my group if they minded starting at 8:30am so we could get to the 'down the line' (ie. I'm in a studio on one side of town with a camera, the reporter is in their own, and I appear as a small box on your television screen) before I had to catch the plane to Copenhagen in the evening, I stopped at Starbucks on the way to the institute. Sadly, the barista mistook my 'skinny grande white chocolate mocha with extra shot' for 'large latte'. I was so disappointed I almost burst into tears on the U-bahn. That's when I realised I'm freaking out.


Maarten had lots of questions. In the state I was in, I'm not good at dealing with myself – that really tests my limits – so if anyone else has problems/queries etc, it's as much as I can do to convey to them that I coulnd't really give a flying fuck if they can't charge their iPod (though I know how I feel when I can't charge mine, my compassion is clearly the first thing to flee).


Not to mention THE BEST JACKET IN THE WORLD was TOO GOOD and was causing me to sweat almost uncontrollably on the U-bahn (you try wearing four layers underneath a bloody ski jacket…see how warm YOU get).


List of things to accomplish: shoe trying on (aka. The Great <insert rest> of RKI). Turns out that I'm NOT the only woman with the size feet that I have. Christina and Viviane had both brought in shoes for me. The first shoe fit like a glove (yes, yes, call me Cinders) and so I've now got a pair of hiking boots. We still have no idea whether we're going to be office based, or field based. Guess we find that out at the briefing in Copenhagen tomorrow.


Back to a whole load of stuff on camera today. Discovered that my main sense is smell. Also discovered that Morten and I shall never interview one another again. What we had to do was decide what our message was going to be on a topic. Tell another person our topic – then tey could ask ANY question about that topic and we had to still get our message across without avoiding te question. There IS a technique – I promise you. And turns out, I can do it. Just that I can't keep a straight face when he's my interviewer. Or vice versa. What everyone else managed in one or two takes – we took three – because someone kept laughing! How awfully unprofessional.


We struggled on, doing the down the line. I discovered that I prefer performing to a camera – and not with a person. Interesting. And apparently, I already have that whole 'look through the camera at the audience' thing going on with my eyes (whatever that REALLY means). All those years at NZFMA finally came in handy then huh?


Eventually, it was time to go. Though our tickets (they had to issue proper paper tickets) had tyet to turn up at the institute. ARGH!   Reason being, apparently the mission contract hadn't been signed yet. DOUBLE ARGH!!


Finally, an out of breath bicycle courier came and put us out of our misery. So we did the rounds of the fellows, hugs before we went, a quick photo opportunity (the before shot) for Arnold, and then taxi to the airport. Finally found the gate, took another propeller flight (much less scary than the one TO berlin) and Copenhagen appeared before we knew it. Strangely, I've developed a very good capacity for falling asleep on planes – usually about   15mins prior to landing unfortuanately. Oh, and for those who think it important (I do), the SAS snacks are really good.


In total today, I've taken the following methods of transport: underground, tram, walked, taxi, plane and train. Am very disappointed I didn't manage a quick motorbike ride (even a scooter would have sufficed) or gotten on a ferry. Damn!!


Finally at the WHO hotel, left messages for the rest of the team checking in later inviting them to join us at breakfast (no, I have not met any of them, I'm just a friendly kind of girl) and then had dinner with M. Starting to feel the pressure and excitement build. During dinner, two women approached us. One said "are you the epiets?" and sat down when we confirmed her suspicions and invited them to join us. They are WHO people, one of whom is here to make sure we get on the plane (I suspect she's the logistician behind this all!). I HAD to ask: how did she know it was us? We had no t-shirts, no identifying EPIET slogans or anything. Turns out she didn't have super human guessing powers, she'd seen our passport photos. I should've known!! J


So here I am now, in a hotel room in Copenhagen. I've just done a yoga workout (only 25mins but enough to get some blood movement again) and had a shower (DIVINE underfloor heating, fully recommended for tiles). Am REALLY looking forward to our briefing tomorrow. And then…

posted by Nomes @ Friday, January 27, 2006   3 comments
Conflict of Information
Wednesday, 25 January 2006
So, some of you will be wondering how come you got this 'ARGH!' txt message, and then you haven't read anything about the subject matter on the blog.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure how much I'm allowed to tell (always the way!) given the sensitive nature of the topic. So here's what I can tell you thus far. And yes, I'm damned excited.

Day -7
Although it was late when I returned to my hotel room having spent a delightful evening with Andreas and Lisa in his HUGE apartment, I thought I might check my e-mail. Have become quite obsessed with checking it these days, mostly to see if anyone has written to me on my blog. And whaddya know: there’s a message from our head coordinator (AB). Apparently, the WHO wanted myself and another veterinarian (thereby implying they understood that I was one myself) to go to G and A, and A (respectively) for missions involving the following list of tasks:

*cough while deleting TOR so that nothing is remotely identifiable*

So, first of all, I shut down my computer in shock.

Then I compiled an e-mail to AB discussing the fact that I was fairly certain I could cope with 7 of those 8 tasks, but the whole diagnosis thing was a bit of a bugger. I’ve no sodding idea what a *ahem* looks like when it has *nose wriggle*! If it’s anything like I was the last time, it doesn’t get out of bed for 48 hours, spits into a bucket on a frequent (and revolting) basis, and is generally a pain the arse to be around.

So, I calmed (the hell) down, and wrote a succinct response to AB informing him of my doubts. Bearing in mind, this was 4:30am, I’m quite glad that my thoughts were coherent. Nothing like an absolute bolt of adrenalin to shock you into sensible trains of thought.

After pressing ‘send’ (which is still horrible in some cases, even after all these years), I recoiled a little bit, closed the curtains on my rapidly cooling room (no bath, more’s the pity) and did a spot of online research (given I still had 14mins of online time paid for) into signs. Finally fell asleep at about 5:30am after txting Mum to let her know of the possibilities.

Day -6
Woken by AB at 8:00am to have a bit of a gossip about my self-doubt, and whether someone else would be going instead of the person they asked for. I reminded him that I felt confident (which I did, after that) of my capabilities for the most part, so don’t take me off the list. However, we have a vet in our cohort who’s surely a better pick: having worked for FAO/OIE previously. Still…

So he mentioned that he’d inform the WHO that I wasn’t a vet, and if they still wanted me, then would I be good to go? Sure would.

Caught up with Andreas and Lisa quite late in the lobby. Of course, with that lack of sleep on top of not really feeling 100% sure of myself, I was a little jaded even at the beginning of the day. Still, we made a brave effort to sight see a little bit. The pictures tell of what a goddamned awful day it was, and within about 2 hours, my waterproof boots weren’t. There’s only so much this girl can take of wandering around a sodden/slushy/muddy city. Still, some photos are brilliant as a byproduct (if I do say so myself) and it’s quite pleasurable watching my Desktop change with a scene from a new European city every few months.

Checked e-mail in the evening: nothing back from the WHO saying they still want me. Feel horribly unworthy.

Day -5
Still no message. Maarten now certain (having been informed by AB) that he’ll be going with me. AB told everyone. So no need for me to keep quiet until I’ve got the e-ticket on my screen (which I was planning on doing). Ah well. I’m still refusing to get excited until the aforementioned moment. THEN I’ll actually believe that my vaccination status is pants (come on, NZ doesn’t HAVE any diseases…why would I have bothered with HepA and Diptheria?).

Briefly considered checking my mail after a good night out with most of the ‘grid’ (more in other news) but thought ‘don’t be daft Nomes, if WHO hadn’t responded by yesterday – why would they be checking things on a Sunday!!?’

Day -4
Bumped into AB en route to breakfast this morning (soya milk in tow). ‘Oh, by the way Naomi, WHO responded; you’re off.’



Breakfast wasn’t a very satisfying meal. Or rather, I hardly had to eat anything to be completely filled.

And then off to RKI for a day of ‘cohort cahoots’ where we learnt how to write an outbreak report and an abstract. Sucky job – but someone’s gotta do it.

The day was punctuated with hasty ad hoc meetings and conversations between myself, Maarten (working in the other group in a different room) and the coordinators. Forms to be filled in, passports to be scanned, travel to be booked. We book our own travel. Conveniently, since M and I were involved in our day’s planned activities, and presenton site, and basically travelling to the same places: AB did our bookings for us. I saw the prices afterwards. 3500€ each (roughly). That’s enough for a years rent in Prague (11 months at least!). And that’s to get me to Copenhagen on Thursday night after my media training, then into A on the Saturday (via Heathrow – Nis!??!) and then back to Prague after 14 days (via Vienna – at 0430!!!).

Which means that tonight will be spent in front of my computer answering all of the (apparently) common sense questions on the UN security website. Yay! Then tomorrow I’m off to the Dr for a checkup (weight/height/bp/sugar/heamaglobin etc), to get vaccinated to the hilt, and request the pill (forgive me, I don’t want to be menstruating in A, feminine bloody principles aside). It’s 2140, I’m waiting for Umit to call me back so I can relax for a bit, then I’ll be here all night folks. The ‘test’ takes 3hours (on average) and you can’t progress until you’ve got EVERY last question correct.

Am I nervous? Whaddya reckon? Excited? Hell yes. A bit overwhelmed? Probably – if I let myself think about it. Instead: I’ll just see how it pans out. And not talk to anyone about where I’m going and what I’m doing. At least not following Promed’s reports this afternoon of the political situation: one country accusing a neighbouring nation of nondisclosure. Oh goody: Nomes – the diplomat.

Rumour has it we get special passports…will keep you informed. If someone gives me a sky blue puffa jacket, I may have to kill them. On the other hand, I’m hoping I have a sexy driver…

Day -3
So, stayed up late (until 1.30am) doing the UN Security test. Feel very bleary-eyed and ‘pissed off’ this morning. So much for the whole ‘reduce your stress’ section! Having checked my e-mail this morning: discovered that we leave at 1840 on Thursday evening. Went to RKI and arrived late (Starbucks!!). Thankfully, Luise had already assumed that I’d not even show up (due to having too much to do in preparation), and had grabbed notes for me. Bless ‘er!

Needed to make sure we could print from our computers. Consequently, I spent morning tea with the IT guy – installing his printer onto my computer, making sure that I could print using the USB cable connection.

Back to the lecture again. Thankfully, the guy’s really good at commanding an audience, but I had to dash out again to pee, since I hadn’t at the break (nor had I grabbed tea, but I had water on the desk – no biggie!). But I feel bad for being disruptive.

Lunchtime: Spoke to Viviane about getting our medicals done. She said we should get going at 3pm and printed out how to get from RKI to the Tropical Medicine Institute. Wanted to get that damned test done prior to eating. Maarten came and joined me just as I was about to finish: 93% in the end. YAY! I wouldn’t say it was worth the hours of testing and reading last night but at least I now know how to ‘withstand’ hijacking and rape. Ha ha.

Ate. Everyone is very curious. I can’t say as I blame them, I would be too. Externally, I am too.

However, I’m tied up trying to get things done. Thought I’d go back to the lecture, then off to the medical, back to the hotel for a snooze then onwards to dinner – feeling more myself and less ‘pissed off’. SMS’d Maarten to let him know that we’d be going at 3pm. Viviane said she’d let me know when bus 126 came along when I needed to go.

But, when 3pm came around, she said, ‘no, you’re too late. You needed to BE there at 3pm’. Damn!!! I hate misinterpreting things. Tears welled up (silly, but true). *sigh* I know I can’t know everything immediately. I accept my fallacy, my humanity (most of the time, though I’d quite like to think myself omnipotent).

So now, I get to miss media training tomorrow for the medical at 12. And lunch. Just as well I didn’t want to eat huh?

Really want to sit with TOR and start figuring out how I think these ought to be fulfilled and what I need (literature wise) to complete them. But I need a clear mind to do this: and I can’t see when that’s going to happen as we’ll probably be here until 7pm – then onto the dinner straightaway. And don’t even ask when I’m going to have a chance to purchase a hat and a water/windproof jacket. ARGH! Advice? Say yes: and negotiate getting out of the current module – to do it again next time around!!!

Later: home after shopping and course dinner. Purchased water/windproof coat by North Face (delicious - we LOVE the sales in Europe!) but couldn't find acceptable hat or shoes - damnit. Quite trashed. Spent last half of day extending TOR into dozens of questions. Have a breakfast meeting to go over them with surprisingly calm and nonchalent coordinators. Do they not care because we're going on an OIE/FAO related thing? Or is it becuase they have confidence?

Tomorrow, I'm off to be trained in how to deal with international media. No kidding. By a former BBCWorld newsreader. Cool or what??

*singing* I have confidence in confidence alone...Besides which, you see I have confidence in me! (it's one of the more obscure songs Julie Andrews sang once upon a time)
posted by Nomes @ Wednesday, January 25, 2006   0 comments
New Shoes – more flats!!
Tuesday, 24 January 2006
As I flew in the ‘smallest plane known to mankind’ (I hummed ‘American Pie’ the whole way) to Berlin, I realised that I should’ve just taken the train. For a start, it took me an hour to get to the airport. Then I was waiting two hours (*yawn* European airports see so many commuters, that they don’t really bother populating the airports with shops other than those where one cashmere jersey is folded precisely and placed on a 1m2 shelf and spotlit from behind – terribly artistic, but hardly enough merchandise to keep one occupied for long) before the 45 minute flight. Once in Berlin, it took 20mins to get through “immigration” and collect my (wet) suitcase. Whereas the train takes 4hrs from stanice to bahnhof!

The other reason I thought I should’ve taken the train was: as we were taxiing to the runway – with our props already going in the snow to warm up (one assumes) – one prop suddenly did that whole ‘whining down the octave, threatening to cut out’ thing. Even the hardened commuters (all ignoring the air hostess’s rendition of Saturday Night Fever naked – well, it may as well have been for all the attention she received during her safety demonstration) allowed their newspapers to drop 5cm in consternation, as they collectively cocked an eyebrow in the direction of the stuttering propeller. Nevertheless, we made it (obviously). In the snow and darkness. Me and the entire Slovenian swim team (I eyed their buttocks for possible future nutritional value ONLY, honest!).

As we flew, I looked out of my window seat to see: nothing. Flying in the snow on a January evening in Central Europe is akin to wearing a blindfold – only marginally noisier. I was reminded of the small towns in Scotland that I flew over en route to Edinburgh at New Years: there was one in particular that was shaped EXACTLY like an Ebola virion. Turns out, you’re not allowed to take photos from planes – the air hostess just about hit the ‘eject’ button when I tried it. Sometimes though, it does occur to me to ask, “What do other people think when they look down on a streetlit town? Do they see virus particles? A town with lights? Something else?”. So: answers in comments please. What’s the weirdest or most ‘typical you’ thought that’s crossed your mind when flying over a place?

I’ve discovered what my ‘judging panel’ is for these European countries that I’m visiting, “Could I live here?” This selection criterion has only recently risen to the surface of my mind – it wasn’t important in Budapest, because I simply couldn’t see myself living there. On the other hand, I do feel as though I could happily live in Berlin. Berlin has a bit of the beauty of Prague, along with a tragic history and modern architecture as well. You get the distinct feeling that the Berliners would desperately like to forget the history (or rather, ‘move on’) yet, tourists ask for one thing when they come here. That means that they’re still constantly ‘apologising’. I feel a lot of pity for the Germans, who don’t seem to be ‘allowed’ to feel proud to be German. I hope that feeling is allowed to wash out with the ensuing generations, while maintaining the integrity of the memory of all the bad things that also happened here. Optimistic? I think Utopic actually!!

Not only that, but I found ‘Surf & Sushi’ – a restaurant who’s catchphrase is ‘sushi-internet-cocktails’. If ‘beds’ were added – I’d never leave!

You can’t help but feel peculiar as you approach Checkpoint Charlie – hideously touristic as it is. You’ve seen it in the films. You’ve been raised on the stories. You bandy the phrase ‘6million Jews’ around without really contemplating the streets that said Jews walked along during the deportations. You haven’t seen the signs posted during Kristalnacht. You haven’t seen the front pages of the newspapers in the 1930’s and you definitely haven’t seen photos of people being shot in a field. Take a walk down ‘Topography of Terror’ and you have.

Buildings ridden with bullet holes still stand. You look, you photograph, but you can’t imagine what it would have been like to be a small child in the flat inside, your family under attack. You have no concept of what these streets might have been like underfoot as you tried to keep hold of your mothers hand, your fathers hand and your teddy bear. You can’t begin to feel the confusion of seeing school mates with guns spitting at other friends walking to a train carriage with you. Neither can you imagine a political power so insidiously influential that it changed your opinion of playmates so that you’d want to spit at them.

That sense of utter incomprehension follows you as you visit the ‘main sights’ – the House of Parliament, the walkway by the park with the lights shaped as dentists mirrors, the Jewish Memorial, Potsdamerplatz, the Church of Memories, Brandenburg Tor, the Wall itself. And this lack of understanding, this emptiness of empathy doesn’t usually follow me around a city. I don’t know whether I didn’t want to tap into anything (in case I should burst into tears) or whether I just COULDN’T access the memories, trapped like air bubbles just under the frozen surface of the river Elba. But it made me feel like a foreigner more so than I’ve ever felt anywhere else.

Modern structures are everywhere here. They’ve embraced the age of the glass and aluminium façade. And much as I often dislike this style, there are some damned impressive buildings and ‘squares’ to be seen. Impressive – but not necessarily pleasant. However, I can definitely say that a day like today, crisp, freezing (-11oC at 3.30pm), with the sun beaming down (is that warmth I can suddenly feel?) is a great way to see the city. A far cry from the cloudy, wet, slushy misery that we walked around in yesterday. Or is it just that, since the slush had frozen into ice again (even more treachery underfoot), my feet were dry? And I do have to admit that if you’re going to be overwhelmed by the Jewish memorial, then it’s best to go in the rain/miserable weather to etch the feelings of depression further in your psyche.

Speaking of which, I think I understand what the artist was trying to do – make you feel overwhelmed and lost - but in my opinion s/he failed. But I don’t think he quite managed. If you imagine a rectangular concrete slab with no distinguishing features, the size of your average gravesite, and place a whole load of these in varying heights, in a grid pattern over undulating ground – that’s the memorial. However, because of the orientation (the ‘gridness’ if you will) then there’s never a moment where you DO actually feel ‘lost’ and ‘overwhelmed’ because you can ALWAYS look to the end of a row or column and see your way out. I do think that it would have had far more impact on people had the stones been staggered, or a wall circumnavigated the city block it’s built upon – because then you COULD get horribly lost.

As it was, only the lens cap to my camera got lost. Lisa actually suggested going back to look for it. Um…!?

Alexanderplatz was the centre of the eastern side of Berlin. But if someone could please explain to me why the U-bahnhof there looks like a men’s urinal, I’d be very grateful. It’s entirely tiled, and the tiles are spattered with tags. The ceiling is low. The lights have grates over them to protect them. There’s the faint smell of those urinal ‘cakes’. And when I walked through at 2am on Saturday morning, the floor was wet. All of these descriptors make it sound as though I’ve hung out in some very horrible mens loos…

In the meantime though, I’m sticking with the idea that Prague is probably more my spiritual home: after all, the Czechs make up the largest proportion of ‘as seen on television’ goods purchasers in the EU!
posted by Nomes @ Tuesday, January 24, 2006   4 comments
From awhile ago now...
In the Summertime – remade by Tom Jones and the guy from the Verve into a song that you HAVE to turn up loud in the car and wind the window down to. I LOVE songs like that. I have the sneaky suspicion I’m gonna miss my car over the summer here, so I might have to hire one and go cruising with friends. I already have three invitations to little villages in the countryside to meet people’s extended family, and I’m really looking forward to exploring my environs a bit more than I have. It would be nice to know some geography rather than just the lay-of-the-land-of-bars.

I had a good giggle at the news this morning: a 38tonne sculpture has gone missing in Madrid . According to Lisanne (the EPIET there), they have an amazing amount of Catholicism-related holidays, and if any of those occur on a Tuesday or a Thursday, then you’re allowed to take a Puente – a bridge day to the weekend (preceding or following, respectively). And if I recall correctly, puente’s don’t come out of your annual leave allowance (I’ll gladly accept religion back into my life if I could get away with this sort of carry on). Consequently, for one day of annual leave (Wednesday) you could get a seven day holiday. I’m insanely jealous. But jealousy aside for the moment, the point I was trying to make is that, since everyone is permanently on holiday, planning to go on holiday or just back FROM a holiday in Spain, it wouldn’t have been too difficult for the ‘thieves’ to organise the logistical support required to remove what the BBC described as “four steel slabs”. Having said that, the support would have to be expatriate (otherwise it too, would be holidaycentric) so I’m advising the police look for any recent expatriate buildings that have a panic room. Elementary.

Oh, and while I’m advising judiciary systems across the world, might I also offer my wisdom to the Australian penitentiary system: make the gaps between the bars and the walls a little narrower huh? 56kgs is the weight an awful lot of female friends of mine aspire to (or should that be perspire to?), and it would seem you’d have an awfully hard time containing them should they be found out for any of their nefarious activities! As an aside, he lost 14kgs in a matter of weeks. The Australian Government could end up with a publishing contract: The Incarceration Diet – no handcuffs required (cover of book has fridge behind narrow bars)!

It seems my comments section is likely to go on a diet soon too, as David shall no longer be filling them up with his much-appreciated drivel. RIP Drivel. That means that the rest of you had best get scribbling in case I think you’ve abandoned me. And welcome aboard the good ship Nomes to Jo (in NZ) as well… Pack sunscreen, as I can’t promise that she doesn’t sail too close to the wind/sun at times.

But tonight, I pack. And tomorrow I look up recipes for Czech traditional food. Seems that we’re all supposed to ‘bring a plate’ to this party on Saturday night in Berlin – so I hope Andreas won’t mind us taking over his kitchen on Saturday afternoon and pottering awhile. I think Lisa mentioned picking up French pastries to fly in (lord knows how they’re going to survive until the party if they’re near me) and the rest of the EPIETS are scurrying through supermarkets as I write. Which means this’ll possibly be the last time you hear from me for a while folks (I know, you’ll miss me, that’s okay…absence makes the heart grow fonder – or is it that what the eyes don’t see, the heart doesn’t long for?!). I’ll see what Berlin has in the way of internet cafes with wi-fi. In the meantime, content yourself with the idea that I’ll be prancing around on screen (hooray) and practising pithy one-liners for the international press (okay, well, they’re from England but we’re going to be in Berlin…it’s international okay? Work with me here!). I’ll also, no doubt, have my sense of style thoroughly abused and come home with dreams of wearing a coral suit. I have sharp spike I can screw into my desk for seppuku in that event, so panic not.

In a more serious note (promise I’ll stop these soon): I just found out that a good friend I haven’t seen for some time, one who’s also now expatriated from NZ, has been diagnosed with MS. It’s not often I’m rendered speechless, but - crap. I guess we’re not as invincible as we try to convince ourselves we are.

Hugs to all,Me.
posted by Nomes @ Tuesday, January 24, 2006   0 comments
Responsibilities and rodents
Wednesday, 18 January 2006
Should I be annoyed that it’s gotten warmer in Prague over the last few days? Hell yes! Because with that rise in degrees Celsius came snow - while I was asleep! So I could neither play in it nor had I anticipated it for my 6:45am uphill walk. And I’ve found out a ‘new thing’: more dangerous than snow, more dangerous than ice, more dangerous than an oilspill in open water it’s *drumroll* snow-covering-snow-that-was-snow-but-thawed-then-refroze-into-ice (SCSTWBTTRII – come on Mum, get your scrabble letters out and make me a word).

Oh yes. That stuff is TREACHEROUS. So says my left glute…not because it landed on anything solid (like the ground) yet, but because of the sudden extreme strain as it PREVENTS me from falling flat on my arse. Talk about ‘random’ on the ‘step-machine’. That, combined with the little foot shake (akin to that of a cat walking along the edge of a bath) that one must do after every other step (to get snow off the top of your boots) means that by the time I even got to Jim’s this morning, my legs felt like they’d run a marathon.

Still, I made it in time for the 7am spin class. The guy who takes (all?) the Wednesday class(es – it seems) looks how I imagine a Sonderkommando would: skin, bones, tendons (aka. stringy bits), but with more of the zealous glint in his ice blue (I’ve turned into Clive Cussler – but these eyes are really quite alarmingly light) eyes. Stringy guys aside (honestly, his thighs are the size of my forearms – only more stringy…blee!), the class this morning was one of the best I’ve been to. Namely, because I couldn’t see anything (and not ONLY because I couldn’t be bothered with contacts). That’s right – we spun (span?) in the dark. So, we were supposed to follow the instructions given by SS Instructor. Of course, those were in Czech, so I just had a reasonably pleasurable ‘Sunday ride’ through some imagined countryside.

But eventually, I got bored of that, so I tried to follow the pattern of motion described by Mr Stringy’s knees (bobbly – for those playing at home) and adjust the speed of my own to fit that rhythm. I was so exhausted after one song (Madonna – the guy HAS to be gay: he only plays Madonna or Kylie) that I couldn’t even summon the internal forces required to suck at my water bottle. Neither did I have the strength in my arms to squeeze said bottle – so I was left, sort of clinging to both bottle and bike, nibbling at it like a small rodent, while my legs continued their revolutions at 1498miles/hour going nowhere. Thank goodness it was dark.

Currently, I’m trying to write a study proposal that will investigate whether there has been an increase in the number of cases of adverse reaction following BCG vaccinations in the CR, specifically, to see if this has been affected by including a HiB vaccination at 12 weeks (3-6 weeks after the BCG vaccination).

Unfortunately, the second part of this project (i.e., the relationship to HiB vaccination) was only explained to me today. And the data that supports the theory that there might have been a change is not available (there was some, collected by a hospital, in one year…but it’s not on the central surveillance system). And then my dear boss, thinking that I was taking too long, wrote the questionnaire for the Dr’s last night. Oh, and to top it all off, the justification for the project has been pretty much written (but not in a sensible manner) and is ‘just’ in Czech. So, no wonder my boss wants me to do the project – it needs to be done. But why didn’t someone tell me this way back when?! How the fuck am I supposed to know these things? I’m intuitive, but not a fucking mind reader. (Sorry Mum!) Later on, it transpires that data for this justification has come in from about 12 different data sources, all of which are reporting incomplete data, that’s incomplete for different reasons. ARGH!!!

Felt very very very fed up with work yesterday morning when all this became clear. That and another matter had me incredibly angry (not contrarily malicious, but angry!) until I went to yoga.

And then I was just feeling sore. For anyone thinking that yoga is just ‘stretching’, I can assure you that it’s not ‘just’ anything of the sort. But it sorted out the inside of my head - for a while at least. Reading Andre’s story in A Beautiful Revolution ( helped sort out the rest of it. It’s amazing that those horrible voices can be impossible to ignore in one mind, while in others, they can be silenced following the liberal application of soft cheeses. To the stomach, people, not to the skin. Blee.

Anyway – as things wind down/up for the Berlin trip, I’m beginning to wonder whether my uber-suitcase will fit the following: wet-weather gear, party gear, touristy gear, office gear and studio gear. That’s 5 different sets of shoes!

Not to mention the novel I am, indeed, carrying around in my head (er, that’ll be the ‘story of Nomes’ life’ with the skimpy plotline and absolutely no conclusion whatsoever!). DJ Mike asks whether I have thought about writing a novel and then claims he’d read it. Well, my sweet, would you STILL read it if it meant that men in football jerseys would laugh at you on the tube? Unfortunately, the only genre that is likely to “froth forth from fingers mine” is liable to be published in colours whose names include the word ‘hot’. However, it’s lovely to have such a dedicated fan. I’ll put you in touch with Karo (my gorgeous girly reader from Prague) who is starting up the merchandise store…together, we shall rule the world! Mwahahaha.

Oh – and if we make enough dosh from the mugs/keyrings/stickers/t-shirts – do you think we can fly George over to cut my hair. He did a good job on Lira’s recently – she now looks like Natalie Portman. I’m in the mood for a touch of Keira Knightley (I’ve been practising my vacant expression even) since the media’s current british darling (Sienna) now has my old cut (concave bob – for those wanting to emulate). *sigh* It’s so challenging being a diva.

My RING?!?! I have just applied hand cream and noticed that my hematite ring – which resides on the middle finger of my left hand is no longer where it ought to be (namely; the middle finger of my left hand). I know I've lost a tiny bit of weight recently (hurrah!) but that's ridiculous! Did it break? Was it telling me I no longer needed it? DO I need it? Can I put my faith in myself instead? What about the others I’ve (occasionally) lent it to? Polly!!!!!?!? Replacements welcome…size O. *sob*

Recently, the topic of censorship has cropped up (in e-mail following a blog entry – not ON the blog – else that defeats the purpose somewhat, doesn’t it?). Would I? I don’t actually think I will. The purpose of the blog is to publish (not just publicise) my personal thoughts. Some of which are written down to amuse me at a later date. Some are just in response to what people write in the comments. Consequently, if someone is spending their time writing comments on this blog rather than dealing with a friend who has serious health issues (I could provide links to several resources, all of which claim that threats are not just emotional manipulation - apparently), then I feel at liberty to gently cajole them into sorting their priorities out. Unless of course, they HAVE already sorted out their priorities and are thus parading them. If OTHER people get annoyed/upset/hurt or angry by anything I’ve written: that’s their problem. They alone make the choice; to read or not to read. They could even boycott the blog. Ooh…or start ‘picketing’ it. Or grow up. Regardless, and not being contrarily malicious here (now that I’ve gotten over my initial feelings which were very much in the tune of “Fuck Off”), I shall remain free to write what I choose to write. If anyone has any problems with this: stop reading. The end.

And in the music meme:
Name three songs that chase away the rainy day blahs. Linger, Cantaloupe and Lucas with the Lid On.
Name three artists that cheer you on a rainy day. Skunk Anansie, Tom Jones, Underworld.
Name three albums with sunny titles. Sunshine on a Rainy Day, Walking on Sunshine, In the Summertime
posted by Nomes @ Wednesday, January 18, 2006   5 comments
Who's watching the watchers?
Monday, 16 January 2006
Little did you know (okay, I may have mentioned it once or twice) but I keep track of who comes and reads this (a girls gotta know her audience right?).

Turns out, I can also see the referring sites. So...I'm guessing that Mx either did a search that had nomesboxall+blog in it, or had nomes+prague in it.

But people have also searched for: englech+card, orloj+clock+diagram and US3,+‘Cantaloupe+(Flip Fantasia) and must have been a little pissed off to have ended up on my site.

Now: what's REALLY interesting is that on each of these searches, I was in position two or four on the google results. SCORE!!! I just have to start mentioning REALLY obscure stuff and that'll pull even MORE people in. I AM the black hole of blogging. (David, no comment is required in response to that, thanks kindly!)
posted by Nomes @ Monday, January 16, 2006   8 comments
Er? Who stole the weekend?
Not only has Mx stumbled across my PhD (did you stub your mouse?) while searching for my blog but a) she managed to find the blog and b) she read the acknowledgements of the PhD (which is all anyone who isn’t in the field ever does anyway…). Of COURSE the altos are there, my dear! You and the others were pillars of salt for me during the Sorcerer and more especially when my life felt as though it was falling down around my ears in Les Miserables. If I look long and hard at what happened last year, I know I wouldn’t have been able to remain quite as amused by it all had it not been for all the people involved (which, surprisingly, includes David – whom I miss dearly). You guys, Lira and my parents ARE my family…so how could I publish something which took so much out of me without mentioning you. *hugs all round*

And Mum, that book is so correct. I'm already starting to worry about where I go to from's too amazing (in all of it's facets) to want to leave. I have the suspicion that nowhere else will measure up to this.

This weekend I bought a water filter kit, but naivety stopped me from checking all the bits were there. They weren’t. Namely, the filter bit. Consequently, I have an expensive jug with an electronic timing device in the lid. Lucky ol’ me.

Seems that I’m not the only one who finds the Czech dating scene a little, co znamena, flaky. I ended up on a ‘predate’ on Friday night. This is the name given when someone with whom you have already organised a Saturday afternoon coffee (that’s coffee coffee!) says, “I’m suddenly free tonight – do you fancy catching up for a drink anyway?” and you have no alternative arrangements made! Turns out though, that I wasn’t a back-up date (yes, I had to check) and that it was literally, a plan to play squash that didn’t turn out. Back-up date? Yes…people here apparently arrange to do things with four different people on the same night, then ditch three at the last moment. Leaving the ditched with an dropped stitch in their social fabric. Consequently, those accustomed to being ditched arrange backup date(s). This, as you can see, creates quite a cascade of sms’ at around about 9pm. It’s a wonder the networks don’t fail and buckle. I, on the other hand, have insufficient interested parties to arrange ‘backup’. Thankfully, I have a few novels…

Though 45 minute late, pushing the limit on the social bit of the phrase ‘socially late’, T (Canadian/Czech) and his mate F (Peruvian – yes, really!) were still there when I arrived. (Un)fortunately, T had remembered my drink, and so had a vodka, lime and soda waiting for me on the table. In the CR, they don’t really mix long drinks at the bar, consequently, I literally had: a small glass with ice in it, a tall glass with vodka in it, upon the rim of which was perched a wedge of lime and a bottle of Mattoni perliva (with bubbles). There was no pot-plant into which I could discretely chuck the vodka, so I’m afraid my cleansed liver was, once more, dirtied up a little bit. Still (I assured myself), it’s only the vodka that’s bad for me, right? The lime & soda are fine!

Most bars in the CR are underground. No, not the music nor the clientele. Literally, the bar. Lost cellphone reception as descended into another bar close to old town square. Bumped into Merv again (“the only Maori in Prague”) and a charming Sydneysider he was with (charming as he’d lived outside of Sydney for the last 6 years, therefore had lost the nasal whine from his accent and picked up some manners along the way!), and chatted (probably slurred, but I thought I was sparkling) until 6am.



I’m not sure why, but I seem to have RIDICULOUSLY late nights here on the weekend. It’s not like I’m even DOING anything, as at some point, I’d switched to the very ‘hard’ straight Mattoni. So I wasn’t dancing, wasn’t on drugs, wasn’t singing, wasn’t flirting (any more than I’m always accused of) so why!? Why 6am! Since we were closer to T’s we finished the morning there (dirty minds out of gutters please – I’m practically nun-like). He lives in a small (1 bedroom) apartment in a residential part of town. I’m insanely jealous – as the flat comes with a television AND a separate kitchen which has benches. Which is why I was able to persuade him and F to make French toast with bacon, bananas and maple syrup in the morning/afternoon for breakfast/lunch. They’d never heard of the combination – but were susceptible - and being the kitchen of a Canadian; I was treated with real maple syrup (from the can!)

While the boys went and played squash (what IS it with that game?) I headed home and to the gym. Did the whole ‘rocky’ thing on the way home (running, wearing a hoodie, up a few steps) since I planned to shower at home. Word to the wise: DO NOT RUN WHILE IT’S SNOWING!!!!!!!!!!!! Not because it’s slippery. Not even because it’s cold. But because you choke when you inhale frozen water…and THEN…the shock of the cold air in your lungs makes your body ache from the inside out. Got home, had a 30min conversation with Umit (with my back against the heater to thaw out my lungs), showered, and made it to dinner…this time…only 1.5hours later!

I know…I know! Appalling. Dinner with T (this was the ‘proper’ date) and his mate R (German) then off to The Bombay for a few more drinks.

See, the BEST thing about these ‘dates’ or ‘pre-dates’ or even ‘nights out with mate-dates’ is that I’m learning all of the best places to go. Kočka Kocour, for instance (which translates to Kitten Cat because I’ve abbreviated it’s name to the street ‘name’ – now that I’m so ‘in’), has a waitress who, not only serves you what you want without slamming it down on your place, but she also *gasp* shows her teeth. In a smile – not a grimace or snarl! This, my dears, is phenomenal, which is why I’m literally writing home about it.

The CR is somewhat famous for it’s appalling service. Take, for example, our little group a few hours later, at The Bombay. This gin joint has waitresses that come to the table, ask you what you want to drink then they go get it made up. You pay them upon receipt of your drinks. Anyway, R got wine with cork in his glass. He asked for another. She sighed, and flounced off. The wine that returned STILL had cork floating in it (T warned him that she would have just picked out the cork with her fingers…). So he asked again for a clean glass, with new wine, that didn’t have ANYthing floating in it. Reasonable request you might think. This chick had a small (and mostly self-contained) fit, rolled her eyes (a lot), stood on one hip with a very Nomes-as-a-teenager insolent expression, and therefore: received absolutely NO tip from any of us. But that’s a more normal example of service here.

Not long after, I had my first Becherovka. This is famous for curing ‘what ails ya’. The reason I had it was because I mistakenly said ‘hello’ with a ‘very English accent’ to an Englishman at the bar as I walked past, and he insisted that I have a shot with him. My rules are that anyone staying here a short while, must drink horrible things that are on offer. So: Slivovice, Becherovka or Absinthe. Now, according to the website this used to be imbibed via ‘stomach drops’…a small or very diluted amount was to be consumed. Far less than the 75ml shot that I faced. Still…I didn’t have that knowledge at the time…so down it went. BLARGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The stuff ‘cures’ you by reminding you how fine you are and how unnecessary it is to pour it past your tastebuds. Ick ick ick ick. It’s not even the concentration of alcohol that’s an issue (Slivovice has more and tastes far nicer) it’s the ‘medicinal’ taste of it that’s hideous. Apparently, dried flowers, leaves, bark and ground root are part of the recipe. And yes, it tastes like they are too. Leave me with my potato mash thanks…*rapidly becoming a vodka-only girl*

So yeah. Late night there too…after meeting a 51 year old pilot who used to be a drug smuggler operating around Hawaii and his 19 year old San Franciscan girlfriend. All very ‘Blow’ (not sure they understood why I was sniggering throughout – fobbed them off with my tale of Becherovka), especially as she could remember his daughters names, but he couldn’t!

Summary: Liver: 0, Vodka distilleries: at least 6. Learnt: Becherovka is awful. Almost died once (running in snow). Visited Jim. Had a ‘kiwi’ brunch (cooked by a Canuk/Czech and a Peruvian…!). Met one drug smuggler. All in all…typical weekend in Prague!
posted by Nomes @ Monday, January 16, 2006   1 comments
What you can't see are their hairy legs
Saturday, 14 January 2006
What you can't see are their hairy legs. These blokes were gorgeous drag queens! And talented lip synchers too. I envied then the stage, music, lights, costumes, wigs, makeup...and their legs! X
posted by Nomes @ Saturday, January 14, 2006   5 comments
Thursday, 12 January 2006
Yay you guys for a record number of comments.

A) I'll be in Belgium for the wedding to O'Lette Nine. You realise that this means your name will be L. O'Lette?! And your initials LOL? I think we need a conference. Do you need me to do the Elaine scene from The Graduate?
B) LB - you know that that was all David's handywork don't you, even the comment supposedly from ‘nomes’? That wasn’t me! I especially like the way he's broadcast the name of the tranny-shagging ex...don't you? Glad you're still on board (I've known you were lurking for some time though). Miss you heaps. Give Mac a tummy rub for me. Oh - and why not one for N as well...!:)
C) David - haven't you got some highly strung, 20year old blond soprano to prevent from slitting her wrists? Do you really think you have time for this self-aggrandisement? Not that I wasn't amused to almost peeing my pants though.

And who knew – the Nomes are provinces in Egypt! I accidentally searched for Nomes while mistyping my blog address (you’d think I’d’ve (?) learnt by now wouldn’t you) and that was the most interesting thing that came up. You can do your own search for the boring things should you so desire.
The term nome is actually of Greek origin (nomos) used to refer to the forty two traditional provinces of ancient Egypt. The actual ancient Egyptian term for these governmental divisions was sepat. Nomes, together with their ruling nomarch, played an important role in ancient Egypt.

Nomarch! *fits of hysterical giggles*

It’s crazy how the boys want shorter entries while the girls want longer ones. What does THAT tell you?!!!! *snort* Ooops. Water through nose. Not good. Feel as though drowning…*gurgle*

Do you remember the Berlin Wall coming down? Where were you? (answers in comments please) I can remember Dad calling me into the lounge to watch it on the news *yawn* telling me something along the lines of ‘This is important!’. Said importance was definitely lost upon this particular 12 year old, but there you go – I saw it on telly. I’ll go along and have a look at it though while I’m in Berlin. And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is weird. Going and seeing something that you’ve seen as part of a momentous occasion on television. Kind of like, being the person who ‘detailed’ the car after JFK’s assassination. Kind of. Are there any places you’d particularly like this virtual tourist to go see while I’m in Berlin? Do let me know…

Last night, at rehearsal, a young lady auditioned for us. As the most recent member of intunition to go through this, I know how scary it is. See, up on a stage, I can audition reasonably well now, even in front of a director I know. I’ve prepared, I’ve warmed up, I WANT the part etc. However, in front of a bunch of cool girls who I’ve only just met – yet who all seem to get along like a burning house – the thought of sitting on the couch and singing out loud is enough to turn your mouth into a sponge and your vocal chords into barbed wire. I had real troubles sqwawking out Son of a Preacher Man (and we all know how much I like that song) – and when the girls chimed in with their parts (I didn’t expect it) it threw me so far off that I couldn’t do the key change and needed help. How embarrassing. And they STILL let me in (shows our desperation a little, no?). So…when this chick auditioned, she was really quavery. And so I suggested we all sing for a bit together – a warm up, maybe go through some songs we know, give her a part and see if she can pick it out etc, she blew us away completely. She sight sang Java Jive having played it through once (she did need a little help for the rhythm, but that’s understandable) and then sight read the four parts on the keyboard. Er…hello newest member of the group! I still haven’t had much in the way of sheet music from you guys…help me out here. If you’re next in a music shop (or passing buy) think of a cool song (i.e. Respect/Never Gonna Get It/Raining Men/Java Jive/In the Mood/Dream a little Dream etc) that you know, and grab the sheet music for the acapella arrangement. We’re running out of music…Brett – there’s gotta be something in your library???

Anyway, after a mindblowing audition, we went (ran – ouch! – air with a 45oC differential to that in your body hurts when sucked into your lungs) for a bus into town: to go to a drag show. It was in Czech. And the compere (who compered entirely in Czech) looked IDENTICAL to Eddie Izzard. I checked his website – apparently it’s not one of his languages – and this chick was a little taller and skinnier perhaps – but what a similarity. Oh – and I realised why John must have found me attractive: I found myself admiring the shoes/skirts/ensembles on some occasions wondering where the girls shopped. One of them did a scarily convincing rendition of Madonna in her new video. Scary I tell ya. That and a medley from Sister Act were the only English songs. Yet it was just as entertaining (even if I was ABSOLUTELY terrified that I’d be asked a question – there was significant ‘audience participation’) as it would have been in English, I’m sure.

Below a certain temperature, air loses it’s ability to retain water vapour. This means, that since it’s been amazingly clear (but hovering around -5 to -10oC) over the last few days, when I woke up this morning to an overcast sky, I knew to pack an umbrella and not bother with tights beneath my trousers. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the sole nod that I give to winter here. Apart from that (oh – and a singlet under my top) is the ‘more clothes’ that I wear in comparison to a Wellington Winter. Add to that the fact that I can, indeed, USE my umbrella to keep dry, and you’ve got one happy kiwi/brit girl residing in Prague during winter. Amazing how weather changes your view of the world though: winter here so far is no hardship (I did buy two pairs of winter boots, this may have biased my opinion). Although we’re only supposed to be getting 2 hours (average) of sunlight per day, I’d say we were closer to 6. And since I’m off to see Jim at lunchtime these days, I get 30mins exposure to real sun. So why wouldn’t I be fine? I’ve gone weeks in NZ without exposure to the same – in summer no less. So while my bestest friend is rollerblading along Wellington’s Oriental Parade (am jealous of that…more later), and my parents are sweltering in 38oC of steamy Australian heat, I’m snug as the proverbial bug (sans rug) in Prague. And I have reason to tell people, ‘today, it warmed up; so it snowed!’.

Did you know that it’s healthy to walk barefoot? Oh yes, apparently everyone is now following the great kiwi tradition of forgetting one’s shoes. How do they do it without getting stones/prickles/glass and vomit in their feet – that’s all I want to know. I’m not even going to go into the hot tarmac issues during summer – or the freezing blocks of ice at the ends of your legs in winter. Still, according to all evidence to date, I’ll be fine just where I am. Cobblestones are sufficiently treacherous challenging to have the same effect on one’s wellbeing. So that’ll explain the good mood then.

Today’s been vastly chatty. First: L was online for the first time when I got to work this morning. Obviously not her first time online (oh no, not she) but the first time we’ve coexisted in cyberspace (sounds v. kinky, no?). Then, while chatting to her, Mum rang and we spoke (IRL!!) for over an hour. THEN followed up by testing skype (it works, but I need a headset – and maybe a webcam too…donations to: me!) which worked with parents, but not with L. The best thing about being on Skype with the parents was definitely hearing their voices together. I love talking to Mum, we have a good old gossip about you all, but I miss ‘my parents’ (amalgamated as a block entity) as well. You guys aren’t allowed to divorce. I still couldn’t handle it (even at this vast age).

Speaking of which – happy b’day to L for Sunday. May the lampshade be a great hat (I knew she’d love it Nis…), may the dress develop a lycra rash and may the geegees run like the wind for you (or, all the other ones go lame – but recover immediately afterwards therefore not require a bullet or anything nasty like that!).

And if anyone points out that I missed their birthday’s then they’re gonna have to work on their art of shameless self-promotion aren’t they?

So…after talking all morning, I then had to pretend to be a bilingual (perfectly so) person in a multinational teleconference (States, England, CR) in order to ‘harmonise’ a questionnaire. How did I do this? Well, speakerphone on, Vlad at my right elbow with the Czech version, me with the backtranslations in front of me (English) and a lot of ‘sentence by sentence’ reading (PAINFUL – agonisingly so) and then muted (literally, I pushed the button, as, like most guys, Vlad can’t whisper!) conversations to ensure that the Czech made sense and then reassuring the others that ‘indeed, that fits the Czech idiom’. What a con. An hour and a half to do 5 pages – which were mostly blank space. Then, to top it off, I had to make the changes to the Czech document and forward them on to everyone else (which, of course, was impossible, Vlad did it).

Then, who should come online but Umit. So spent an hour or so chatting away to him too. I’ve read about three paragraphs of stuff about adverse reactions to the BCG vaccination – so if anyone out there knows much about it – please fill me in!
So…last night a Czech drag show, and tonight, going to pay Jim a quick visit before heading into Andel (for those with tourist maps – it’s at the lower left hand corner – on the west side of the river) to a karaoke/bowling bar. Of course. Attractive combination. As Umit said, “you have an ecclectic taste in afterhours”. I’m not sure whether you’re supposed to sing ‘strike’ or whether you’re supposed to bowl and sing “rolling, rolling, rolling…”. But, intrepid Prazdan explorer that I am, I shall, undoubtedly, fill you in.
posted by Nomes @ Thursday, January 12, 2006   3 comments
Tuesday, 10 January 2006
You can say that however you want (I had in mind an antipodean/southern drawl of the words 'go' and 'on'...) but it actually stands for Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network.

They want people to go help in Turkey. I REALLY REALLY REALLY want to put my name down for it – but at the previous instances (Kashmir, Darfur) I’ve discussed it with Vlado and we’ve decided that we shouldn’t send me away until after I’ve set up projects to run at home (here) while I’m gone. It’s a reasonable reaction, but…you know, power, glory…all that jazz that comes with being part of an outbreak response team (ie. overalls/chicken sheds…see? With all my previous experience, I AM the PERFECT candidate!). So…I’m going to do some serious work on a study protocol – and if I get it done by the end of the week, I’m going to consult with darling Vlado and remind him who gave up her Sunday afternoon (okay, who required a reason to get out of bed – but I won’t mention that) to back translate a questionnaire for him (well, tidy up the English after he’d back-translated it anyway)!

For those of you males out there reading this, wondering how on earth you meet such a fabulous specimen as myself (those anonymous comments will get you nowhere) let me advise you that to meet intelligent women with a great sense of humour – hang out in Public Health. The sense of humour is definitely required for the salary – and the whole field of STI research (how do you keep a straight face presenting an outbreak of Hep E that was spread by fisting in darkrooms?!), and intelligence and a sense of ‘helping others’ is required for the analytical side and the stamina behind it all. Also – there are dozens of desperate women in the field (this is the bit that’ll really help you out) since there are few men in it – and we’re all too busy saving the world (sentence at a time) to go out and meet men from other fields. For instance, the class in Ceske Budejovice that Vlado co-teaches has 31 people in it, 5 of whom are male. Good odds huh? Then factor in that public health is also a popular field for gay men (why, I don’t know) and you’re down to about 3 eligible men. One of whom will have a penchant for dressing up in womens clothing, another will have a mummy complex and you’re left with one who thinks he’s a playboy/stud.

Speaking of which – what do you do when your boss shows you a cartoon from Playboy? There was a context – so it wasn’t uncomfortable, but the magazine was a recent copy. Does he have a subscription? Do I really want the answer to that question? (I think not, my sweets). And what then when he suggests a ‘business trip’ to Bratislava some time in April?! Poor Vlado – I’m sure it’s all normal behaviour here, no one else bats an eyelid (least of all, Marta, his wife) so it must all be on the up (ha ha) but still. I’m glad I’m me, and not some shy retiring sort…though I would know more about the Czech workplace harassment laws if I were!

Took down the Christmas decorations two days ago (a day late – were I in Baker Island), so a big ups for Mum who sent them to me. Had she not, then I wouldn’t have had ‘the pretty lights’ to see by at night – it took me a week to discover from where one purchases lightbulbs. And also a big ta to Helena, Luise and Marisa who all sent Christmas Cards. You guys are so disgustingly organised, you make me feel chaotic.

After doing the questionnaire thing yesterday, I went on a retail therapy crash course. Having parted with €480 in the space of 4 hours, I have scant little to show for it. The first payment went to Marella, part of the MaxMara chain of clothing stores for a grey suit. I was fairly certain I’d wander around the store, feeling the fabrics and looking at the sizes and then walking away disappointed again. However, this time, I said to the sales assistant, “I need a suit – not black.” And she popped out the back, returned with three suits for me to try on (jackets all in different styles) and voila – one fit perfectly. Amazed? I sure as hell was. She even advised me on other shops to try in town. This, after spending 4 hours wandering the shops on Friday afternoon to no avail and much self-esteem damage? This, after being told in one shop on Saturday that “we only have small sizes” in the typical Eastern European snarl? So I have to take the trousers in a week in advance of my needing the suit (Berlin) with my heels so that I can get them adjusted – they don’t even bother hemming them – that’s how ‘proper’ a suit place it is. Oh – and yes, the label says “Made in Italy”, AND it was discounted 40%.

Then I went along to the gym. I know…I got suckered into signing up for the whole year in advance (which means I get two months free). And so now I’m a member of the largest gym in Prague, which has a solarium in the foyer (as you do) and…even serves alcohol. And cigarettes. (?) It’s also open ‘non-stop’ as they say here, so I’m going to try to make it my spiritual home over the next wee while…and in order to assist with that, I’m going to rename it ‘Jim’. So that instead of ‘going to the gym’ which sounds like drudgery and pain, I’ll be ‘off to Jim’s’ which sounds much more pleasant and enjoyable. First session: spinning at midday today. Given it’ll be in Czech, I should come home with new vocabulary along the lines of “dial it up” and “dial it down”. If I get confused, I’ll feel like I’ve just done the Tour de France/Spain AND Italy…but returned home with fewer pairs of shoes.

“All this is in aid of what?” I hear you ask. Although it sounds rather like New Years Resolutions – it’s not at all along those lines. Thing is, I’m sick of not doing any exercise. And I’m REALLY sick of the food here – it’s horribly unhealthy, butter deep fried in lard type stuff. So…I’ve unearthed my copy of the Liver Cleansing Diet, invested in a water filter for the fridge door (“as seen on tv!”, apparently, even without a tv I can still find this stuff to buy!), have searched high and low for carrot juice (to no avail) and am hereby renouncing alcohol, coffee, red meat and dairy products for the next 8 weeks at least. See – the last time I did this thing for real was while my tranny-shagging ex-fiance was in East Timor, and I felt absolutely fantastic (I still didn’t know he was shagging tranny’s back then…I wasn’t so amused when I did find out!). I woke up WITH energy (which was a very peculiar feeling indeed) and just felt good all the time. So I decided that it was high time I did it again, and there’s nothing easier than imposing a strict eating regime on yourself when you’re living alone, and can hang out at Jim’s at ANY time, right? Oh – and btw – the solarium does‘ happy hours’ from 8pm through till 4am. Midnight burn anyone?

So far, I'm still resisting the Suduku craze. Yes, I know how it works, and yes, I've helped a friend with a particularly difficult puzzle. But I know what sort of an addict I am - one who can't be trusted to sell cocaine - for instance (that was JUST an example, I've never even tried the white powder known formerly as Charlie). I know damned well that the endorphin rush from completing a sudoku grid will far outweigh that from completing a womans day crossword puzzle - which means that I'd be more and more likely to abandon social interactions for a little book and a pen (perhaps pencil - some of them are quite challenging). I'm not sure how many of you out there are converts, but if I dip more than a toenail into that particular water, I'll be sitting up at 3am figuring out whether a 8 should go here, but that means that it can't go here and I could but a 9 in this place instead which would then leave the 8 free for...

How cold is it here anyway? Put it this way, this morning, my breath wasn’t just taken when I exited my building – it was stolen. Literally ripped out from my lungs. I later discovered (when I sat at my cosy desk by the heater in my office) that it was a mere -9oC. (er, +6oC in London at the same time, I thought it was unseasonably warm when last there!!) No wonder I’d been hypoxic when I left. This also means that there is considerable delay induced in visiting Jim. There is absolutely no way I’m prepared to have a lock of fringe welded to my glasses rim with ice – so I have to blow dry my hair after washing it. AND although I may be slightly damp from perspiration (at this point) following a shower after a spinning class, moisturiser is a must. Even after using the gloopiest one I can find (a sample of a CD delight) I was still struck with a slightly alarmed expression as, once more, air was removed forcibly from my lungs when I left Jim’s. You know the one, eyebrows up but apart, nostrils slightly flared in dismay and a rigid mouth. There are little patches of ice everywhere as well – so no longer are the pavements merely dangerous terrain – their murderous now. These patches appear to have developed where water has collected and neither evaporation nor drainage has come to it’s rescue. It’s no wonder the pavements are the way they are then – even I know that water expands when frozen. Forget hot ice I’m more worried about cold ice. But the days are DEFINITELY getting longer already – it’s no longer pitch black when I wake up at 7 – there’s a hazy shade of winter in my room instead. The sun has also been shining (hence the cold temperatures) every day – so as long as I get a moment or two outside at lunchtime, then I don’t feel as though I’m in the Arctic Circle.

The Czech people are very studious. There’s not a single Czech person I’ve met yet who has not been in school for at least one night a week. I’m not sure whether they refer to tertiary education as ‘school’, hell, sometimes I find myself referring to work as ‘school’, but maybe it’s a national pride thing. What I can tell you is that my boss’s third and youngest son is also a stunner (it’s just wrong when they’re 14!) so I’m going to assume that his ex-wife is a model. And the poor boy has large exams coming up soon, and is thus being forced to study by his parents (all four of them). Consequently, he’s also got that ‘Oh God, when will it end?’ expression that hovers around the features of teenagers everywhere – especially those with clever parents.

They’re also (the Czech people) excellent botanists – or so one must assume when visiting their offices. It’s next to impossible to find an office in any building I’ve been into thus far that hasn’t devoted one wall to an indoor jungle. Either these people are getting some serious negative ions from their plants or there really isn’t enough work to keep them busy. There are always Benjamin Ficus’ climbing up over a frame somewhere, usually a few variegated (see, I remembered it this time Mum) species and numerous cacti as well! The variety is astonishing. And just when you think it was safe to turn green – there are usually cuttings sprouting roots somewhere in water in the room. Yes, the green thumb is very much alive and kicking here. Just not in my office (seriously, we’re the only ones in our building without plants…!).

I think they’re (still with the Czech people) generally a fearful race. Okay, so history will prove me incorrect (they’re more ambivalent than fearful – having been overrun by all surrounding empires at one point or another) but I suspect they all think that the tram/bus/metro isn’t going to stop. I can’t think of another reason why they would start queuing at the doors a good two minutes before the stop has come into the sight of the driver – let alone before the vehicle has stopped moving. Perhaps it’s excessive politeness – in which case they must think me awfully rude as I wait until the vehicle has ‘come to a complete halt’ before bolting from my position and out the door. I think I also take my seatmate (where I have one) by surprise – I must look as though I’m half asleep and have only just realised that we’ve stopped at my stop! Nothing like injecting a bit of humour into the lives of others though, right?

And it’s no wonder this place is famous for it’s porn movies. At Jim’s, there are no dividers between the showers – it’s all one open area with some hooks on the wall as you enter the area upon which you may hang a towel. Not for the weakminded, that’s for sure. If ever I was to display lesbian tendencies – this would be where I’d go. However, today when I left the shower (wrapped – I haven’t been going there often enough to feel comfortable walking through the changing room dripping and naked yet – though many women have!) there were two servicemen who ‘escorted’ me down the length of the changing room. I did feel like saying “is that a ladder you have there or are you just pleased to see me” but couldn’t think of the word for ladder in time! Wouldn’t you know it, they were fixing a light cover – which afforded them a rather generous birds eye view of the changing room. For once, it was opportune that I needed to remove my contact lenses…

So – to round off the last two days reflections, I’ve trudged a million miles with 200k of wet laundry (okay – so it might only have been 1km with 10k or so…), spent €480, eaten nothing but healthy stuff, been to Jim’s twice, spoken to Marten once, written to Grandma, sent in my homework for the Berlin module, printed dozens of articles on BCG vaccination adverse effects (though not read any yet!) and watched 1.75 episodes of Spooks (prior to battery of computer dying!). So far, I’m having a good week. Oh, and after further consultation with Vlad, we both agreed that it’s better to apply for something and be rejected, than not to apply at all (story of my life really, I wonder what Christian F is doing now!); consequently, I’ve applied for the Turkey mission. A VERY good week indeed.
posted by Nomes @ Tuesday, January 10, 2006   11 comments
Memories of Snow
Friday, 6 January 2006
I'm having to relearn how to walk all over again. While I was partying hard in England/Scotland, the weather here deteriorated to a stunning -8oC in Prague (which apparently means about -12 everywhere else!). There was a whole lot of snow on the ground when I returned, and it's snowed (albeit momentarily) each day since I've been back as well. My 'winter' coat certainly isn't cutting it anymore and I'm giving serious consideration to purchasing the abysmal sleeping bag coat.

Yesterday when I travelled to Ceske Budejovice (ches-keh boo-day-oh-vits-eh) the snow was absolutely incredible. The trip to South Moravia felt like a long walk through a wardrobe - it really WAS Narnia outside the windows. The pine trees were bent into sad looking bottle brushes with the weight of snow on their boughs, and some were lying down, broken by the volume they'd collected. It occurred to me that this wintering of the trees is a perfect way of culling the overgrowing (they'll collect more snow) or the weak (they won't withstand the weight) and getting rid of the rotten branches (they'd break really easily) - which would mean that in spring, the remaining trees (or tree minus some branches) would have better opportunities for growth. Really - this weather/ecological system thing is amazing.

Which makes me think of the article I just read in New Scientist. It made me want to work for NASA (and very little could actually do that) though I suspect I'd be better off working in the NS offices instead. It was about the two probes that landed on Mars - engineered to operate for only 90 days - called Spirit and Opportunity. What great names for two little robots that are still going through storms, up and through large craters and around humungous boulders etc. I'm afraid it definitely beats our project name Chris (CLASS-A - for the first Campylobacter Laboratory Assessment project!).

Today we went to Plzen to meet with another epidemiologist (I feel as though we're on the great epidemiology lunch tour of the Czech Republic) which was lovely. The trip out was less pretty though - to a totally different part of the country (look it up for heaven's sake!) and this time we saw fields with forests distant, and went through some fairly industrial looking areas. However, the highlight of the trip was definitely seeing a family of deer pawing the frozen ground. Poor things - I do hope they found food. Note: these aren't domesticated beasts for food either - these are the wild ones. I looked for a Lion or an Ice Queen - but alas...

I think they should put london cabs in more cities. My favourite thing about them, apart from the fact that they can take more people - which means the individual bill is less costly - is that they sit people in such a way that you can actually have a conversation in the back. I wonder if they can be purchased for private use? (Rowland? Mums?)

Staying in two beautiful flats while I was away made me very hungry to get out of my tiny space. It's not just the fact that it's small, but it's relatively poorly equipped too. I really need some shelves, but is there any point if I'm not going to stay there? Likewise with a television and a microwave. So many other places advertised on the net come with all of those things - PLUS a washing machine (divine!). So...I'm gonna try to concentrate on getting rid of debt back in NZ and then move move move! :)
posted by Nomes @ Friday, January 06, 2006   3 comments

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