Looking forward

2012 began well and ended well, with a bit of a slow decline in the middle. I’ve just passed my 1st anniversary with my boyfriend (so you can see 2012 started very well indeed). January also saw the start of my first job out of university from which I learnt great patience with other people and myself… but ultimately became my low point because I needed to do more. Thankfully I have a wonderful friend who thought of me when an opening popped up in a role which suited me much better, I applied and got the job and hence 2012 ended on a high.

2012 was a lesson in managing my money better and my blog post back in May is now firmly a musing from the past. The managing of money started in the form of cycling to work (saving myself about £100 a month when I still lived in Hackney). The lease ended on that flat in July and I took the opportunity to take a ~£200 a month drop in rent and moved into a room in a house in Harrow. So I saved money on travel, the gym, and rent. Huzzah! I’d made the decision to make sacrifices last year which I hope I can look forward to changing back in the near future.

So for 2013 I’ve decided to make aims rather than resolutions because everything’s getting settled anyway. A friend once said to me that once things start improving after university it’ll start to snowball. And it has! Great words of wisdom. So my aims are:

– continue learning Japanese. My boyfriend speaks Japanese and I wanted to learn another language so I began to learn hiragana over summer and for Christmas I was given books to really get me going. Long may this continue!
– I’ve invested some money in my cycling and got some road shoes with cleats and new pedals for Christmas too so there’s an aim here. The boyfriend and I want to do John O’Groats to Lands End in 2 years time so to build up slowly I want to be able to cycle from London to my parents near Dover. That’ll be around 80-100 miles. Sounds pretty good actually, I’m really looking forward to this one when it’s a little warmer.
– the next few are related to my living situation. I like my privacy and currently live in a room without curtains which backs onto a garden which backs onto an open playing field. The room the most depersonalised I’ve ever rented too, mainly because I knew I’d only be here for a short period of time. So my first aim here is to live in a flat which really feels like home. Now I have a full time job and can live a little further out of the centre of London (although within a 10 mile radius. Harrow is too far), I can afford to leave the student price bracket and feel more like an adult. Feel more settled and more at home when I get home… rather than like I’m squatting I’m someone else’s home. Which is kind of what it is, but doesn’t need to feel like it. Right? I can own furniture, good quality kitchenware, matching towel sets. Basically not feel like a student anymore with mismatching furniture thrown in by the landlord because they don’t think it’ll outlive a student lease. Maybe I’ve just had bad luck with flats. Apart from Hackney.
– secondly for my home I want to buy a really nice piece of artwork. For me this means large scale wildlife or space photography.
– to finish, I want to print and frame more photographs for my walls and shelves.

Did everybody go through this feeling of settling into a home after university? I hope so, I don’t believe I’m one of a handful of people who wants matching towel sets.

2013 is set to be brilliant.

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Another account of a London cyclist’s commute

It’s been a long time since I updated this blog, but I should get more time now I have a new job with more regular hours. I thought I’d give a quick update on my cycling and provide a bit of an insight into what it’s like to commute into Central London. There are plenty of personal accounts of London cycling, one more won’t do any harm.

 

I lived in Hackney when I began this blog and started to cycle to work in Kensington which was about 7 miles each way. Nice and easy, but took a while because of the copious number of traffic lights going through the busiest parts of London. I quickly got used to the distance and the inclines, and I was cutting down my time to about 45-50 minutes. I then moved out to Harrow which is a hell of a lot further to Kensington than Hackney was. Almost double, in fact, but my time is only 5 minutes longer! But I was up for the challenge and quite enjoyed the lack of traffic lights stopping all the time. (I still stop at a red light.)

 

It got quite exhausting doing 12 miles to work and 12 miles home again every day, and for the first couple of months I was lucky enough to have my boyfriend living with me who was happy to provide dinner and support when I got in to recover. Now he’s gone back to Uni in Scotland, it’s become that little bit harder. I am adapting although this does take the form of rubbish food for a quick hit of calories/carbs/sugar. I’m aiming for this bad habit to change once I start my new job and have more time.

 

I do shift work at multiple jobs which can range anywhere between 9-1, 9-5, 10-2, 10-6, 1-5, 1-9, 9am-11pm, 9-6 etc etc which isn’t always giving me the time to eat at regular intervals or at a good time to eat enough a little while before I get back on the bike to get home. Once I do regular 9-5s, I can get into a better routine to change this. I’m thinking of investing in buying energy bars in bulk to give me that boost to get home at the end of the day. Thoughts?

 

So I was doing the Harrow-Kensington ride on my hybrid initially and the behaviour of drivers was different on my A404 route in compared to the through-central route. The roads are at times wider so cars gave me more room which was quite pleasant. To make the commute easier, I recently bought a road bike and carried my bag on my back. My hybrid had a basket on the front which meant I could just pop my handbag with a change of clothes into it and off I went. The only thing which changed was the bike and where I carried my bag but I noticed a dramatic change in the attitude of drivers towards me. I don’t think I changed my cycling style or my attitude towards other road users but cars were driving extremely close to me, cutting me up, telling me to get out of the way – just generally driving very dangerously around me. I’ve had more near misses on my road bike in a month than I had on my hybrid in 4 months. 

 

I like to think of myself as a considerate cyclist: I stop at red lights, I let cars out of junctions if there’s traffic behind me and I’m holding them up a little, I don’t squeeze past cars to get to the front of a queue unless there is a very clear passage to do so, I signal to drivers who are hovering behind me if I’m happy for them to squeeze by me because I’m ready and aware of them. So the only change really has been my appearance. Today I read an article in the Psychologist (here) which identifies these change in attitudes and it makes complete sense. I went from a vulnerable looking lady with her handbag in a basket to a confident looking road cyclist. I should be able to handle near misses, huh?

 

I find it frustrating to say the least, and I know expressing my fear in the form of shouting when I’m nearly hit isn’t the safest way to deal with it. All my near misses have been when I’ve been going in a straight line and cars are cutting across me from impatience or lack of observation. I suppose the positive is that I’ve become extra aware of what’s going on around me and looking much further ahead up the road.

 

I think my message to drivers who see cyclists as an inconvenience is: I’m just trying to get to work without spending a significant portion of my income. Please be patient and considerate. If you hit me then you’ll only be able to tell my family and friends you did so because you didn’t want to wait 5 more seconds for me to get out of your way. Cyclists are not trying to be a deliberate inconvenience.

Tutankhamun, Howard Carter and artificial cranial deformation

Yesterday (09/05/12) Google celebrated the birthday of Howard Carter, possibly one of the most loved Egyptologists to the general population. The discovery of Tutankhamun is certainly one of the most famous events in Egyptology, therefore making him one of the most popular Pharaohs. But is Tutankhamun as significant as he is famous?

This all depends on whether you’re particularly interested in the wares of an Ancient Egyptian tomb (above) or the pathology of a Mummy. The discovery was made so famous partly because of the timing when Egyptomania was still rife in Europe and the West, and it was the first tomb discovered in pristine condition. The obsession the West had with Ancient Egypt since Napoleon’s expedition (1798-1801) caused great problems which are still influencing the workings of archaeology in Egypt today. Most tombs were looted at some point between their sealing of the door and their discovery in the modern day… this is one reason why Tut’s tomb is special. It’s an  important example for us to begin to study to understand what Egyptians considered important to take into the Afterlife with them.

In the grand scheme of Egyptian history, Tut didn’t reign for long. However, we now know that his father was the “heretic” King Akhenaten (below) who changed the religion of Egypt to monotheism in the form of the Aten (the sun disc) and moved the religious capital city to a newly built settlement half way up the Nile. It isn’t clear whether it was Tut who returned the religious capital back to Thebes (modern day Luxor) or another, but we do know that by the time he was on the throne he was based in Luxor.

We’ve all heard the theory that he was murdered and there is still a question mark over this. However, it is known he wasn’t the healthiest of Pharaoh’s. A second, more likely, theory is that he fell from his chariot. Either way, I really enjoy the mystery surrounding the pathology of his family line:

This is a scan of Tut (left) and the remains of a body found in tomb 55 in Valley of the Kings (KV55) thought to be part of the family lineage related to Akhenaten. Considering these elongated skull shapes in his possible children and his own peculiar physical depiction both in sculpture and in painted form, the debate lives on between artificial deformation or pathological illness.

All members of Akhenaten’s close family were drawn as having oddly shaped skulls, prominent facial features and large hips with pendulous stomachs. Three-dimensional statues depict wide and flat skulls with prominent facial features. This was the first time when Egyptian artwork images were not idealized imitations of the Pharaoh and his family. Instead, we can interpret the scenes of the 18th Dynasty as a real depiction of their appearance. An alternative view is that the Pharaoh’s image was generalised to his family to justify their affinity and right to the crown.

If this appearance was caused by disease, studying the mummies which have been identified as being from the 18th Dynasty may be particularly revealing, especially since they are mostly related which is where the discovery of Tut is also important. Another argument has focused on the skull in particular and suggested deliberate cranial deformation. Even though the Royal family was not ever drawn with deformation materials such as banding or wooden boards on their heads, it is still a popular debate. However, Clark et al (2007) state that materials for the deformation only need to be in use for up to a year. In fact, the only thing ever shown on the heads of the adults were crowns, and the children were always hat-less which is perhaps the only typical thing of Ancient Egyptian art in this era.

Artificial deformation was practiced widely but sporadically in the rest of the ancient Near East as far back as the Neolithic. Aside from Akhenaten and his family, the only known example from Egypt of clear adjustment of the skull was from a Coptic cemetery 1800 years after the existence of Akhenaten (below).

Since its discovery in 1924, the skull was quickly but wrongly linked to Akhenaten’s court and his new capital at Amarna. This tenuous link was soon retracted, but it does illustrate how desperate people were to find an explanation and further evidence of Akhenaten’s strange appearance. The strange shape of the skull has been attributed to bandages around the head to elongate the skull. The placement of the bandages has left impressions in the contour of the surface in more than one location. If this body was native to Egypt then this would count as direct evidence of artificial deformation of the skull being practiced in this area at this time. Unfortunately, the body has been linked to the Caucasus where this cultural phenomenon was frequently practiced. Nevertheless, the recent CT scans of Tutankhamun’s mummy have shown the real shape of his skull. Here is a digital reconstruction:

The same interpretation could be made with Tutankhamun’s skull due to the exaggerated post-bregma dip, although the curvature is not to the same extent as the Coptic cemetery skull. On the other hand, it could just be an exaggerated natural post-bregma dip which is commonly seen in individuals of black biological affinity. Whichever reason, there is no doubt that the occiput is overhanging more than would be expected. Braverman brought together a number of images from the 18th Dynasty family, including Tutankhamun’s great-great-great-grandfather, Thutmosis III (below) who exhibits the same condition but without any visible bandage impressions. If permission was given by the Egyptian government to be able to look directly at their skulls to see the sutures, past research theory could be applied. Cranial deformation can influence the number of wormian bones in the sutures, although unfortunately does not seem to affect the presence of them outright.

Unless Akhenaten’s Mummy is found the real explanation for these cranial deformations cannot be drawn to a satisfactory conclusion. There are too many pathological conditions to discuss which have been used to Akhenaten’s strange image, but a few which may be more likely than others are Marfan’s Syndrome (a particular favourite of many Egyptologists), craniosynostosis, and hydrocephalus.

So actually, the world is right to place so much emphasis on the discovery of King Tut’s tomb, but not for all the right reasons. Howard Carter spent the rest of his life cataloging the items within Tut’s tomb and was at times accused of stealing artifacts. It’s a shame the implications of Egyptomania are still hindering Egyptology and destroyed so many Mummies and their possessions, but it did do a lot for public awareness post-Carter.

I survived the first journey!

I set out really early yesterday just incase I got lost or the traffic was awful, leaving myself 1hr 45 minutes until my shift started from leaving my front door. I noticed 2 things:

1) most of the journey time is taken going from Dalston to Angel because of the sheer number of traffic lights.

2) I am the only cyclist in London stopping at traffic lights.

I know that’s a well known characteristic of London cyclists but I’m just not prepared to risk my life, even in a clear junction, just to not have to stop. Going along Essex Road there’s a t-junction with traffic lights where one road is joining Essex Road. Cyclists will normally just keep going along the road if no cars are joining from the minor road. Today, the normal traffic lights are down and replaced with temporary ones and traffic coming from the other direction are forced onto our side of the road.

3 cyclists still continued through a red light inches away from oncoming traffic who won’t have seen them because of the angle they were driving at around the road works.

They may have felt confident in their cycling, but you don’t know if a driver was about to take the corner wider then the rest and hit you head on. None of them were wearing helmets either.

Besides that, the rest of the ride was a good route thanks to the wonderful people of twitter and their advice. I rode straight on at Angel making my way on to Russell Square, past the British Museum, down Shaftsbury Avenue briefly before turning off towards Seven Dials down to Trafalgar Sq.

It’s a pleasant experience riding up the Mall. It brings back a bit of love for London and certainly a change of scenery seeing monuments and places you miss going by tube. The whole journey from door to desk (with an outfit change) was 1hr 20 which means I don’t even need to leave the house earlier than usual! I like the idea of doing this everyday, but we’ll we how that changes as this month progresses… after 3 hours answering phone calls I was flagging and was very glad when dinner time came round and I could eat at the staff canteen. Yesterday was an odd day as I’m not normally entitled to eat there, so a cycle commute followed by a 4 hour shift and another cycle home/onto my other job may be a strain. But I’ll learn and adapt.

Tomorrow… I start cycling

I’ve cycled in London before so I know the dangers of nearly being hit when drivers/pedestrians don’t see you, but tomorrow I begin a commute from Dalston to Kensington crossing central London. A friend has lent me a high vis jacket and in the morning I’ll pump up the tyres, don my helmet and I’ll be ready to roll… well… cycle.

Wish me luck.