Category Archives: Glasgow

That time I accidentally moved abroad

I recently booked some flights back to Australia for Christmas. Inveterate travel cheapskate that I am, I decided to save money by flying Air China, via Beijing. It only adds 10 hours! It’s several hundred euro cheaper! How bad can it possibly be??? That last question is hypothetical, please don’t regale me with stories of how bad it will be.

Anyway, I’ve already done worse. I once flew Perth-New Orleans, via Singapore, London and Chicago. 3 airlines. 40+ hours. Shoving all my stuff into a carry-on so I wouldn’t have to collect bags and possibly miss a transfer. I even got extra security questions at Heathrow due to my weird itinerary.

Also, completely unintentionally, that trip was when I moved overseas.

It started innocently enough. I intended to go to a conference, spend a month in Italy, a few months in Scotland, be home in time for spring. And even that trip was more than I’d really wanted. I’d have been happy to just go to the conference. I’d moved around a bit the previous few years — a couple of 3-month stints overseas, plus changes of housemates and a move within Perth — and I just wanted to stay put for a while. Get some house plants. Give the batch of sourdough starter I’d made a chance to take off.

So when my PhD advisor said he was moving to Scotland and suggested I should also spend a few months there, I was unimpressed. “But I like Perth! I’m writing up, anyway, it’s not like I can’t just work from home if I wanted to. And why does it have to be Scotland, couldn’t you have picked somewhere sunny?”

In the end I’m not as strong-willed as all that, especially not against someone who managed to convince me to start a PhD in the first place because — this is what he said — if I went into industry I might have too much money to know what to do with it, and I’d end up owning investment property. I can’t remember what the arguments were for Scotland, there may not have even been any.

I agreed to some months in Glasgow, a “summer”, if you can call it that in Scotland.

And it was cold, and wet, and for a while there were mushrooms growing in my bathroom, and there was that time the office smelt exactly like a gas leak but it was actually just the drains. And there were the friendliest most sociable colleagues I’ve ever met, and nights spent dying of laughter while drinking whisky in a dark pub, and amazing scenery in the highlands. And I loved it, and with hardly any arm-twisting at all I agreed to stay another 6 months.

So pretty. Except that this it-will-be-dark-in-10-minutes dusk photo was taken at, like, 3pm.

Glasgow can be so pretty. Except that this it-will-be-dark-in-10-minutes dusk photo was taken at, like, 3pm. Winter in Scotland sucks.

When that time was up, the obvious thing to do next — as someone who didn’t want to leave Perth, remember? — would be to move home. So of course I took a job in Torino, Italy.

That was 2 and a half years ago, and I will grant that at some point, the move overseas stopped being accidental. You can’t live in a place for 2 years and not notice that you’re not living in your old hometown any more.

This image maybe over-represents how much sunshine and blue skies Torino really gets.

This image maybe over-represents how much sunshine and blue skies Torino really gets.

I can’t stay here forever, eventually my work contract will run out. What’s next?

Sometimes I’ve considered just not stopping, keeping on moving every 6-12 months. There’s an entire corner of the Internet full of people who’ve decided to perpetually travel. I can see why. Waking up in a city you’ve never been to before is genuinely exciting. And the possibility to re-invent yourself constantly, always being around new people who don’t need to know about your old hangups or unwanted personality traits or past mistakes — if you squint and hold your head at a funny angle, it looks like redemption.

But inertia has kept me in Torino for a while, and I’m glad it has. Waking up in new places is nice, but so is sleeping in your own bed. And what’s even better than having people not know you were a mess a year ago, is having people know perfectly well what a mess you are right now, and they love you anyway. Which, yes, Captain Obvious, but I’m a slow learner.

So I’d like to settle down somewhere eventually. Where? When? Who knows… I’m not sure I’m ready to move back to Australia just yet, but I suppose I shouldn’t rule out the possibility of doing it by mistake.


Isle of Arran, September 2011

Another “where was Zoe?” catch-up post.

At the start of 2011, I’d planned to finish my phd by september. In july, we’d pushed the end-date back to early 2012 so I could write more papers. Which is great! Yay papers! But by september, the grey skies of a Glasgow summer and the apparent endlessness of my phd were getting to me, and  I was well and truly ready for a holiday. I don’t think my advisor was surprised when I emailed him one day and said, “I’m taking a few days off.”

That was pretty much all the prior preparation I’d made for this trip. The night before I was supposed to leave, I was madly researching places within a few hours of Glasgow, and had a gchat with a friend who had travelled in Scotland more than me, consisting mostly of me saying “where should I gooooo? I can’t decide anything and the weather forecast is bad everywhere :/” So, on the basis of a toin coss and his suggestion that “Arran is nice, it’s like a mini-Scotland, and it’s easy to get to”, I hopped on a train to the coast on a drizzly morning, with a backpack full of books just in case the rain kept up all week.

Arran turned out to be exactly the right place for a quiet few days away in autumn. Some things that stick out in my memory, in no particular order:

  • Seeing Goat Fell emerging from the clouds as they lifted a bit on my first afternoon:

    Goat Fell and lots of clouds

    Goat Fell and lots of clouds. I didn’t climb it, but the views from the top on a clear day must be amazing.

  • Not understanding more than 10% of what the landlady of my b&b said in the four days I was there. I thought I was ok with Scottish accents after several months in Glasgow, but not Aberdeen accents, it turns out. She was lovely though, as was her husband (who was in charge of cooking the full scottish breakfast every morning). They were both full of suggestions of places to see and optimism each day that the weather would surely clear up after a bit of morning rain.
  • Seeing plants and animals other than the pigeons, grey squirrels and rats that live in Glasgow: red squirrels! pheasants! sea lions! deer! those toadstools with the red caps with white dots! (true story, I had seriously thought they were fictitious, because they’d always been presented as the place where fairies live)
  • Sitting on the bus between villages on the west coast of the island, with the sea on my left and green hills on my right, and everything bathed in late-afternoon magic light. I was heading back to my b&b after an afternoon of hiking, and it is hard to imagine a more perfect autumn day.
  • Even getting some full sunshine one morning:


    Blue sky, warm sun, green grass…

(In case you’re wondering: in the end, I only read 1 of the books I’d brought — a rather depressing Margaret Atwood novel.)

Glasgow, May 2011-March 2012 (A day in the life)

Another catch-up entry.

I lived in Glasgow 11 months, during which time I finished my phd thesis and wrote a bunch of journal articles and therefore didn’t do very many interesting tourist-y things. So, since whenever I say I’m a physicist I get people saying “what do you even do all day?”, I thought I’d sum up my time in Glasgow via an imaginary-but-realistic day:

  • 6-6.30 am: wake up. In summer, this would be hours after it got light (whoo blackout curtains!). In winter it would be hours before it got light (ugh).
  • 7 am: I think I can see how to fix the chapter I’ve been trying for a week to make readable, so I skip breakfast at home and go to a cafe near campus with ok-ish coffee and decidedly mediocre pastries, but no wifi so I can actually get stuff done. Stay there for about an hour, or until I get dirty looks from the staff for taking up a large-ish table for too long having bought only a small americano.
  • 8:30-ish. Go to my (shared) office. No-one else will arrive until 9-ish, so in theory this is prime working time, but in practice I check my email and facebook and then check facebook again just in case someone did something interesting in the past 5 minutes. Get an email saying I need a form signed, attempt to find supervisor, who isn’t in.
  • 9-12.30. A mix of chatting with office-mates, replying to emails from collaborators, checking up on simulations that I’m running to get better data for one of my thesis chapters, staring out the window, procrastinating on the internet. Try again to find supervisor, who is now in a meeting. Come back later, supervisor has disappeared into thin air.
  • Of course, morning tea at 11, where I plan to just duck in and say hi and make a cup of tea, but in reality I hang around far too long and get caught in a discussion with other phd students about which professors would come out victorious if we instituted a physics department death ring, in the style of a roman circus.
  • 12.30-1-ish. Lunch. Let’s imagine this is one of the 3 sunny days per year, in which case lunch involves sitting out in the beautiful university grounds, enjoying the view. (More realistically: duck over to Marks & Spencer through the drizzle, buy sandwich, eat at desk because the office is the only room with decent heating.)
  • After lunch: Much like the morning really. Finally find supervisor on 5th attempt, get form signed. Get into discussion about how to arrange the 6 subfigures and insets of a figure for a paper we’re writing: for space reasons, we can’t split it into 2 figures. Fail to convince supervisor that it is not physically possible to make all the subfigure labels larger while making the overall figure smaller. Go back to office, open image editing software, despair of life, decide to go home, make note “to do: fix fig 2 :(“.
  • 5.30. While walking home, decide to go for a run this evening. Upon getting home, decide that watching videos on youtube is more appealing. (Actually, to be fair on myself, I did end up running ~2x per week while I was living in Glasgow, as opposed to 0x per week now.)
  • Invariably, I’ve brought home stuff to work on, but oddly enough, I struggle to find the appeal in spending time after dinner trying to read a paper I’ve been attempting to understand for the past 3 weeks. Read trashy blogs instead.