On Sunday night I head to Manchester. Once again I face the gauntlet of airline seats so vast that a garden gnome would feel claustrophobic, this combined with an atmosphere so thick that a very sharp knife would be required to even dent the said fuselage smog. The mere thought of airline food has me reaching for my supply of melatonin in the vain hope I will sleep through the optimistic nudge from flight staff asking that I partake in there wares. At times like this, I recall a French PhD student's comment while on fieldwork in the UK. I asked him his view of British Cuisine, his thoughtful reply was, 'Phillipe, this is not cuisine; this is food'...this makes my airline food by comparison look protenacious at best. If....a large 'IF' underlined in bold ink, with large flashing lights...I manage to nod off to sleep, I always end-up precisely folded into my available space like a piece of well-packed, pre-assembly Ikea furniture. The uncomfortable 1 or 2 hours of sleep (at best) is always broken by the announcement of our impending arrival to UK shores...an unhelpful one hour in advance of landing...I beg airlines to let us economy class folks sleep till 10 minutes before we start our descent, in the same way that they allow business class passengers! I was not aware that the upgrade correlated with how much sleep you were allowed on a long-haul flight. I often look enviously at the light blue drapes that lead through to the peaceful world of business class, where the dim-lit cabin affords its occupants those precious extra minutes of slumber.
As soon as we hit the tarmac at Manchester Airport, it's off to the University of Manchester to work through my haze of jet-lag. I'm sure that the US military sleep-depravation exercises did not feel this bad. My schedule next week is complex...I say 'schedule' now, given each time I asked a US colleague to share their diary with me, this was met with a frightened expression, often with rapid recognition that another 'British-ism' had crossed their path. A diary is a very private 'dear diary' kind of place in the USA...and is nothing to do with a schedule... pronounced 'sked-duel'. I tried arguing that this was pronounced incorrectly and should always be a 'shed-duel'....this is usually met with disdain and the follow-up of 'So, which 'shool' did you attend to learn English?'. My reply to that is, 'In an English 'shool' in Wells, England...where they taught me to speak English'. Churchill was right, we are 'two countries divided by a common language'.
However, back to my diary! The week will be driven by working through a PhD thesis recently sent to me to proof-read by one of the graduate students I co-supervise at Manchester. This will be punctuated with many meetings, the CT scan of a Gobi dinosaur's twisted vertebra, pyrolysis gas-chromatography mass spectrometry of some dinosaur fossils and a podcast. The latter is with a team from the Royal Society (London)...a function of a research paper that will soon be published in one of their journals. More on the contents of the said paper later, now...I must pack.