Alongside the rather fierce (and hard to kill) cockroaches and angry centipedes, something else appears to have been lurking inside our Philadelphia wardrobe over the summer. I took out my favourite green jumper (or sweater, as we’re in the US) this morning to discover it looked more like something Rab C Nesbitt might be seen wearing: Yes – we have moths! Now, I thought moths were only a figment of the imagination of septuagenarian members of the WI, but seemingly not. My favourite jumper is now perforated. This was not, however, the disaster it might have at first appeared, as I’ve always hankered after a bit of a holey jumper to complete my transformation into my Science Idol, Nobel prize winner and all round star (Sir) Tim Hunt, who is rarely seen not wearing a holey jumper. I therefore put on a bright t-shirt to make the holes stand out even more, and went to work. So it seems I owe a big thank you to our resident hungry Tineola bisselliella (as wikipedia kindly informs me) caterpillar; my transformation into all round scientific genius is now one step closer!

In 1992, the highlight of my performing musical career was an appearance in the primary school production of Oliver!, where I sung beautifully (and in tune), and played the recorder. As I got older, the natural progression to a more ‘grown up’ instrument was expected, and so I picked up a clarinet, and on one very good day in 1993, I managed to produce a single, in-tune note (I think it was a B). And thus ended my musical career, as the other sounds emanating from a succession of broken and cracked reeds, although impressive in their range of volume and frequency, could not have been described by the deafest of posts as musical. I persevered, trying and failing (admittedly without lessons) to produce anything tuneful from a piano; eventually even my voice gave up the fight, degenerating to produce a range of sounds not dissimilar to those I’d coerced from the clarinet a couple of years previously.  I soon gave music up as a lost cause to pursue an equally fruitless career as a footballer.

Until, that was, this Saturday. The day dawned much like any other. The impending doom of my 30th birthday loomed on the horizon, but nothing else seemed especially amiss. Ali, however, had other ideas, and a cunning glint in her eye that foretold of troubles to come. After a hurried breakfast (based substantially on coffee) I discovered that the glint related to a special birthday surprise that involved leaving the house sharpish. I’ve always been wary of surprises, but at this point I was still half asleep and a bit non-plussed by the unusual level of activity at 7am on a Saturday. We quick-marched to the Italian Market area of Philly and stopped outside a rather dusty looking shop with the curious name Liberty Bellows. In the window, amongst crib books and music stands, were displayed a staggering, beautiful array of keyboards, organs, concertinas, harmonicas, melodicas and accordions. Ali knocked, and after a moment the door was unlocked and un-bolted. Inside the shop I was introduced to Michael, a tutor, and a lovely old student Hohner accordion that now appeared to belong to me. I had a bit of an Edward Woodward moment as remembrances of musical failures past came flooding back, but by this point I was fully committed; there would be no turning around.

For the next hour, under the expert guidance of my new musical tutor, I proceeded to violate said accordion in a vain attempt to learn to play ‘Happy Birthday’ to myself. My poor tutor rapidly rifled the pages of the exercise book backwards to page one: ‘What is a note?’. However, to my surprise, by the end of an hour I was markedly improved. Not anywhere near to decent, but at least showing some twitching signs of life. And it was fun – I think in the years since I last played anything I’ve learnt to swallow a little bit of pride, and maybe accept being a bit rubbish at something until I can learn to be better at it. So I carried my new accordion proudly home, and resolved that by the time I turn 31 we will play ‘Happy Birthday to me’ together in something approaching musicality.

So far I have annoyed the neighbours twice in two days, but I can play C’s and G’s on my left and right hand (apparently there’s also an A, but no T or U), and I can play two bars on an ‘out’ squeeze and two bars on an ‘in’ squeeze. It’s harder than it sounds. More musical updates to follow soon.

We’ve been sweating in the middle of the East Coast Heat Wave for a couple of weeks, culminating in a whopping 42C (107.6`F) in Philadelphia last weekend. This prompted even my lab manager Jean to admit that it was “quite warm” (for context, Jean has asked me regularly, as the temperature have climbed through the 30’s whether it is “hot enough for you yet”. Well, it was. But I’m delighted to say that I was woken this morning by the pitter-patter of tiny rain-like-feet on the roof, so feel inspired to pick up the laptop again.

Rain in Chinatown

We haven’t been entirely idle, having had our first UK based guest come to visit, and making trips to Boston and Hagerstown in Maryland on preceding weekends, which I’ll probably get around to posting about soon. But back to the Heat: It has been so hot recently that the air-conditioning has been almost constantly on, and we have been found almost constantly in the air-conditioning. Trips to work are starting earlier, and we’re coming home later. We’ve also been seeking out anything to make the apartment a bit cooler. Ali vetoed my bucket-of-dry-ice-on-the-floor idea, but we did agree on this rather cool print:

Squally Showers

Squally Showers is by illustrator Kavel Rafferty, and by reminding us of summer weather back home does an incredibly effective job of knocking several degrees off the temperature!  Ali also made me a conversion chart between a real temperature scale and the rather stupid one that seems to be normal over here.

Temperature conversion

Unfortunately she underestimated the range over which the scale would be needed, so I had to modify it slightly (Chart minus graffiti can be downloaded here). I’m off to enjoy the rain.

Work has been very much been in charge for the last few weeks (aside from a flying visit to London town for a few days), and my blog has been one of the first things to suffer. Hopefully I’ll be rectifying the problem shortly (as Network Rail might say).

In the meantime, it’s come to my notice that rapidly increasing numbers of my friends have turned their hands to blogging, and their abilities are putting mine to shame. This blog is therefore going to be a connection to some of their wonderful sites; please visit and see what they’re all up to. In fact, maybe everyone should put a ‘Poke’ button on their own web-page, and then we can all connect in some sort of grand social experiment. That can’t have been done yet…

But as a serious point, I wish more of my friends would take this up; it’s an amazing way of keeping in touch with what people are doing, especially when, like me, you’re terrible at actually keeping in touch.


Laura moved to Boston a couple of weeks before we moved to Philly. Her blog is her record of settling in a strange place, meeting people, making friends and finding things to do. It’s also a great guide of activities in and around the Boston area.

South America Travel Blog

I never had Jordan down as the blogging type, but his blog is an awesome account of his travels around South America, seeing amazing things, places and creatures, all topped off with a healthy dose of West Midlands humour. I hope he carries on when his travels are done!


Andreas has been blogging for as long as I’ve known him, and probably much longer than that. He writes beautifully about his travels, reading, science and life in london and beyond.


Ok, I’m a bit biased about this one! Ali has also been blogging for as long as I’ve known her, in this blog and others. This is her wonderful account of life, knitting, gardening, musings, colours and just about anything else you can think of.

One of the unforeseen benefits (if I say it enough I’ll believe it) of Taco Belle’s residency in the apartment is her provision of an early morning alarm call. Taco likes to take her breakfast sometime following the start of the dawn chorus and sometime before the end of the dawn chorus; either way, dawn is involved. I’m a fairly light sleeper and weak willed when it comes to cats, so I succumb easily to her claw laden, paddled requests. Dragging myself from bed, bleary eyed and serving kitty breakfast has few benefits.

Sunrise 1

However, every cloud has a silver lining, and in this case a golden one. Following an overnight rain, when the clouds are low and the mist rises between the Delaware and the Schuykill over North Philly, the early morning light becomes diffused and scattered golden.

Sunrise 2

The three chimneys seem to be the subject of many of my pictures. Partly, this is because of their position as the primary view from our apartment window; mainly, though, they are very beautiful. They remind me of an ocean liner or battleship from the 30’s, steaming through the mist. The chimneys or smoke stacks belong to the Willow Street Steam generation plant, a redundant part of Philadelphia’s city-wide district steam system, which still operates and sends steam spilling from manhole covers on cold winter days. It’s asbestos lining means it can’t be demolished, so it stays, sailing along outside my window in the morning light.

Willow Street Steam

Another new addition arrived a couple of weeks ago: A danabouttown bike. The bike is a Schwinn Series 3 PDG paramount. I really wanted to collect an American-made racing bike when I moved out here, but collectible American-made Schwinn’s are really expensive, especially for the commute to work. I cringe every time I hit a pothole as it is, and Philly has some potholes of crater like proportions!

Schwinn outsourced manufacture of the Series paramounts to Asia, and because of this they are much less collectible (and therefore less expensive)  than equivalent American made bikes. Mine arrived with a rather uncomfortable looking saddle, and some non-original (and ugly) Specialized handlebars. The saddle I’ve already replaced with a brown Concor supercorsa, which I have on most of my ridable bikes now. The handlebars I will replace with some more elegant 80’s Cinelli Criteriums. Otherwise the bike is all original, with a Shimano RX100 group set and Mavic rims.

I’m very happy with the bike; it feels very crisp and tight to ride, and very lightweight compared to some of my other steel frames – the oversized tubing feels quite different to the Reynolds 531 or 653 that I’m used to. And it is a rather snazzy 90’s blue with red-speckles, what’s not to like!

(photos courtesy of Ali)

There has been a new addition to the apartment on the 8th floor this fortnight past. Taco (Belle) was posted as needing a home around the corridors of Penn after the new year, which coincided with our spell of winter blues and consequent kitty-weakness. We haven’t had a cat in the house since Vince died last year, and I think we were starting to miss the litter on the floor, pulled threads in the sofa, puncture marks in the wrist and hungry welcome home/feed me when we came home from work in the evening.

Taco (Belle)

After spending the first couple of days nested in the top of the wardrobe, she started to make herself at home, and we were soon tripping over toys chased around the living room floor.


Taco is a proper south Philly tabby, and probably should have been called Liberty (Belle) instead. However, the possibilities for a number of deliciously mexican-themed moggies is enticing; watch this space for Burrito, Nacho, Enchilada, Guacamole….

Taco at home