All posts by Rob Jackson

Chemistry/Forensics Academic (Reader), researcher in Computational Solid State Chemistry; blogger, trombone player, CAMRA member.

My Politics in 2019

This is a post that I have been intending to write for some time, but as with so many things, life intervened and distracted me! But 2019 so far has been a significant year, both for UK politics (which is desperate just now), and for my own political situation (which, oddly, is more positive, as I will explain).

Before talking about the awfulness of current UK politics, a word about my situation. As I’ve discussed before, I was a Labour member and voter for years, but finally left the party in 2013. I had two years in the political wilderness, although I voted Labour in the 2015 election. Finally, Corbyn’s election as leader gave me the motivation I needed to become politically active again, and I joined the LibDems in 2015. I got involved with my local party, and helped set up the Social Democrat Group to encourage dialogue with Social Democrats in other parties (principally Labour). I attended the two party conferences in 2016, but then had doubts about whether the LibDems were the right political home for me, with (seemingly) not much interest in the Social Democrat agenda at the time. I left in 2017, and rejoined Labour for a few months, only to quickly realise that Labour was definitely not the place for me either! So for about a year, from April 2018 I was back in the political wilderness, as I needed to think things through. Finally, a few months ago, I decided that the LibDems came closest to my political position, particularly with the Brexit situation (and I have to thank my political colleague George Kendall for saying at one point that one very rarely is a fan of everything a party does, and there was enough in the LibDems policies, particularly on Europe, for me to feel at home). So I rejoined, and was welcomed back both by my local party and the Social Democrat Group, for which I am very grateful. I even attended the party conference in Bournemouth last week, helped out on the Social Democrat Group stand, and voted in support of the motion to revoke article 50 if we form a government (unlikely though that is). The Social Democrat Group has also achieved some more relevance with the recent defections from Labour and the Conservatives, and we hope we can help the party to encourage more.

And so, to current politics. To summarise, Boris Johnson as PM has prorogued (suspended) parliament until the Queen’s Speech in early October. The deadline to achieve a deal with the EU is 31 October, but just before the proroguing took effect, opposition MPs united to pass a law to require that the government would have to ask for an extension to our membership if no deal is reached by 31 October. They also voted down the government’s call for a General Election, twice. Now we are in a waiting game, and it remains to be seen whether the government can reach a deal in the available time, and if not, whether they will obey the new law and ask for an extension (Boris Johnson has hinted that they might try to circumvent the law). The problem is that if no deal is reached, and no extension sought, there is the danger of leaving the EU with no deal, which would be an unmitigated disaster. Then there is a question of a General Election. If the government seeks, and is granted, an extension to our EU membership, the opposition parties will no doubt remove their opposition to having a General Election, and one might be held before the end of the year. Then I’ll be campaigning for the LibDems as best as I can, and there is a real opportunity that they will win seats from both Labour and Conservative, although probably not in enough numbers to form a government. But they may have enough to make a difference, and perhaps to enable a second referendum to take place, which would hopefully finish the Brexit nightmare once and for all.

So, with the new semester a week away, with all that involves, we are in very challenging political times. It remains to see what happens, and I will certainly write more posts as things develop.


GBBF 2019

Last week (from 6-8 August 2019) was my annual visit to the Great British Beer Festival, held as usual in Kensington Olympia. It was well up to standard, and educational, in that it had a key keg (designated ‘kk’ in lists below) bar for the first time, and I learned more about this type of beer – more on that later. This was probably partly the result of the member survey CAMRA held last year, which confirmed support for key keg, although I found reference to a supportive motion passed at a Members Weekend back in 2015. There is also the fact that many of the most innovative brewers are supplying their beers in this way. It’s certainly fashionable now, and I note for example that the Stoke BeerFest will have a key keg bar too this year.

Our arrangements were the same as last year – staying in the Holiday Inn Express near West Brompton Station, and bringing our own food to cover lunch at least. Angela attended on two days – the Tuesday and Wednesday. The CBOB this year was Surrey Hills Shere Drop (4.2% abv), but the queues to sample if after it had been announced were too long to contemplate joining. I’ll look out for it in the year to come. And I didn’t have any particular favourites this year – everything I tried was good.

The beers I sampled (mainly thirds but a few halves) were:

Tuesday 6/08

Five Points Citrus Pale (4.2%)

Salcombe Gold (4.2%)

Anspach & Hobday The Belgian Pale (4.0%)

Bluestone Elderflower Blonde (4.0%)

North Cotswold Jumping Jack Flash (3.8%)

Baker’s Dozen Magic Potion (Loral hops) (3.8%) – not rec. on Untappd, entry ambiguous

Stealth Banoffee Spy (4.4%)

Bull of the Woods Twisted Wheel (4.5%)

Wild Beer Pogo (4.1%)

Boudicca Cherry & Liquorice (Prasto’s Porter) (5.2%)

Mourne Mountains Clan Rye (4.3%)

Also tasted – Moncada Apricot Sour (2.7% kk) which was probably the strongest tasting beer I sampled!

Wednesday 7/08

Avid Raspberry Ripple (4.6%)

Cairngorm Caillie (3.8%)

Old School Headmaster (4.5%)

Oldershaw American Hopquad IPA (5.0%)

Problem Child Tantrum (4.0%)

Beatnikz Republic Tropic Fiesta 4.0%

Beeblefish Pan Galactic Pale (4.6%)

Leigh On Sea Brhubarb (3.9%)

Tiny Rebel Strawberries and Cream (4.5%)

Wild Beer Bibble (4.2% kk)

Magic Rock Saucery (3.9% kk)

Revolutions Swoon (4.5%)

Thursday 8/08

Bishop Nick 1555 (4.3%)

Bishop Nick Heresy (4.0%)

Bradfield Farmer’s Blonde (4.0%)

Five Points XPA (4.0%)

West Berkshire Maharajah IPA (5.1%)

St Austell Korev (4.5%)

Electric Bear Zorbing (4.1% kk)

Gun Scaramanga Extra Pale (3.9%)

Skinner’s Hops ‘n’ Honey (4.0%)

Salcombe Seahorse (4.4%)

Downton Chocolate Orange Delight (5.8%)

Time and Tide Spratwaffler (3.7% kk)

Wimbledon Quartermaine IPA (5.8%)

Once again, I refer to my Untappd account ( for tasting notes on these beers. I should note here that I am a total convert to drinking third pints at beer festivals now!

So, to turn to the subject of key keg, I had some interesting discussions with someone I met at the GBBF, who explained the principles. The ‘keg’ is a plastic bag, not unlike a wine bag, which can come in various sizes (I found references to 10, 20 and 30 litres online). The beer is introduced to the keg, and can be unpasteurised, unfiltered and contain live yeast, so in that case it is real ale according to CAMRA’s definition. The bag is then placed in an airtight box, and CO2 (or another gas, although CO2 is commonly used as many cellars have a supply) pumped into the box, which then squeezes the bag to dispense the beer, but doesn’t actually come into contact with it. One question I have is why some of the kk beers I tried at the GBBF were cold (or at least, cold by the standards of someone used to normal cask conditioned ale). I was told that a cooler is necessary for key keg, but given that the beer is sealed in the keg, I’m not sure why. I haven’t found an explanation for that yet, and this is something I will be looking into. One interesting feature of the kk bar at the GBBF was that there were several low alcohol beers (for example the apricot sour mentioned above), which is a definite plus from the viewpoint of pacing!

All in all, GBBF2019 was very good, and as well as looking forward to GBBF2020, I am planning to attend the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival in January, and possibly the GBBF Winter Festival in Birmingham in February, depending on how busy I am at the time!

A challenging trip to London

On Thursday and Friday of this week, we made a short targeted trip to London. The aim was to see a couple of exhibitions that were about to close. I had made the hotel booking a couple of weeks ago, when I thought I was clear of the sciatica, but it made an unwelcome return a week ago, reducing my mobility again. Coupled with the bad weather, I did wonder if I could make the trip at all. But I was determined to try.

We set out mid morning on Thursday, and had a very good trip to London, getting to the hotel (the Tavistock, Tavistock Square) just before 1:00 pm. There was no weather disruption, and although we saw plenty of evidence of snowfall on the way down to London, there had been none in London itself. Our first exhibition was ‘The Last Tsar: Blood and Revolution’ at the Science Museum. To get to the Science Museum involves a fair walk from South Kensington Tube Station, but I managed it with a few stops. I was concerned that this would be annoying/embarrassing to Angela, but she supported me 100% as always. When we got to the exhibition, it was excellent, and there were a few seats inside so I could rest from time to time. The exhibition was about the last years of the Tsar in Russia, and included the latest scientific evidence which explained how and where the Tsar and his family were killed by the Bolsheviks. There was also much interesting supplementary information on issues that affected the family, like the haemophilia which the Tsarina was a carrier of, which was passed on to the one male child in the family. How this originated from Queen Victoria was discussed, and led us to purchase a book called ‘Queen Victoria’s Genes’, by Potts and Potts, which I am currently reading.

We left the exhibition, had a fortifying cup of coffee, and headed back to South Kensington, perfectly timed for the start of the rush hour! But people travelling were very polite to me, and I was offered a seat when we got on the very crowded Piccadilly Line train. We made it back to the hotel (once again, I had to stop every now and then, but the main thing was that I kept going!) We had our dinner in the recently refurbished bar area (which was very nice).

The next day we had planned to go to the Gainsborough exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. In the end I decided not to tempt fate, but to stay at the hotel. Angela went, and enjoyed it, although there was the usual problem of too many people in the exhibition moving too slowly and crowding round the paintings. I would certainly have struggled with that. When Angela returned, we went to Euston, and found no problems or disruption (there had been some overnight snow to the north of London). We caught our train back to Stoke and then a bus back home with no problems.

I was very pleased to have made the trip. I was concerned about my slow walking in London, and possible weather disruption. In the end the first was no problem, and the second didn’t happen. All in all I feel encouraged by the experience, and if my problems continue I know I can do something like this again.

A footnote on the sciatica – as I said, I thought I was clear of it, but it returned. After much thought and discussion, we concluded that it was due to 2 things – going straight back into my old routine without giving my body a chance to readjust, and the return of the cold weather after a relatively mild spell. As a result, I am taking things easy in the hope that it will diminish, and if/when it does, I won’t make the same mistake again, but give myself a chance. I’m hoping for the best.


Feeling better and pain free

For the first time, for two months, I am feeling better. The sciatica has largely retreated, leaving me with the occasional twinge in the knee, but that will hopefully pass with time and exercise. I had an excellent appointment with a specialist doctor on Friday, and her opinion was also that the sciatica has largely gone, and that we just have to watch the knee and hip, and if they don’t get better, action may be needed. I’m hopeful that it won’t be needed.

When you have been in pain for so long, you almost tune it out (although not when it’s severe of course). Sitting here and not feeling any pain is a revelation. At my worst, I couldn’t envisage working, let alone doing any form of creative planning. I am slowly getting that ability to think back, which is just as well, as I have projects to plan for just over a week’s time.

I have discussed with Angela how it all may have started. Certainly, having several hours in a very cold room a few days before I first noticed the symptoms can’t have helped. And carrying two heavy trombones backwards and forwards for several weeks for rehearsals and a concert that happened a week before then didn’t do any good either (and I won’t be doing that again – I will use the alto trombone where possible!) For now I am just grateful that this difficult time seems to be over.

A month ‘on the wagon’, 10 December 2018 – 9 January 2019

I have always felt the idea of ‘Dry January’ was somewhat ludicrous, especially as many people who do it fixate on coming off, and then go totally mad on 1 February, undoing all the good done by their month’s abstinence in one go. This post is not about Dry January, but about my own enforced absence from drinking for other reasons.

In November I got the first symptoms of what turned out to be sciatica (see post on ‘My Annus Horribilis’), but it wasn’t until 10 December that I was prescribed some painkilling drugs which specified ‘no alcohol’ (amitriptyline and later tramadol). So, I have been off the booze since then. I actually came off the medication about 10 days ago, but made the decision to stay ‘dry’ for a month, which takes me neatly to my birthday on 9 January. It means I didn’t drink alcohol for the whole of the Christmas/New Year period. It certainly made everything much simpler (no need to get wine supplies in etc.), and we discovered some excellent non-alcoholic alternatives, drinking the New Year in with a non-alcoholic mulled punch, for example. We are even thinking of doing the same next year, although I hope it won’t be under the same conditions!

I haven’t noticed any difference in the way I feel, probably because the sciatic pain was always there in the background, but it did seem a good opportunity to give my system a rest, and maybe recalibrate it. I’m an enthusiastic beer drinker, as well as enjoying wine and the odd whisky, so a month’s abstinence must have made a difference, especially as it has been my first ‘dry’ spell since I started drinking alcohol at age 18! Angela tells me that I will really notice the effect of the alcohol when I have my first drink, and that a little will go a long way. It will be interesting to see!

I have been paying lip service to ‘Tryanuary’, which counters ‘Dry January’ by encouraging support for the beer industry during January. I’m looking forward to making my support more real in a few days’ time!

My Review of 2018

I write this annual review in some discomfort; for the last two months of the year I have been suffering from sciatica, and although I am better than I was, it is still hanging on. I hope it won’t be too much a feature of 2019!

The first three months of 2018 saw me still as Head of School. It was a difficult time, as documented in another post (2018 – My Annus Horribilis), but I saw it through, while doing a reasonable amount of teaching, including the second run-through of my Digital Forensics module (which somewhat paradoxically didn’t go so well), and my MChem and 2nd year lectures.

In early April, having just finished as HoS, I attended a conference at UCL organised for myself and Steve Parker to mark our 60th birthdays (OK, a year late for me). It was very enjoyable, both from a social and scientific viewpoint, but on looking back, it might have been better (for me) if it had been a bit later, since I hadn’t yet shaken off the effects of being HoS! But I am very grateful to Richard (Catlow), Nora (de Leeuw) and team for organising it. After the Easter Vacation, I had some teaching to finish, and another trip to Canterbury to help the University of Kent appoint a Head of their School of Physical Sciences. This time they were successful, and the chosen person was my preferred one too. Exams started at Keele, and I had a trip to Dublin to do a PhD viva. In mid-June I had my external examining at Huddersfield (for the first time), and Sheffield Hallam (for the second time). (I did my Trinity College Dublin external examining by Skype as I couldn’t make the trip for health reasons). I didn’t attend Eurodim2016 because my time as Head of School had impacted on both my research, and enthusiasm for attending the conference (which can be very political, and I had enough of that!). Nevertheless I was grateful that Mário visited me for a few days after the conference, and we had some useful discussions about research. It was very good of him to visit, and it made up a lot for missing the conference

In August I had my annual visit to the GBBF, which was really excellent, and Angela attended some of the sessions, including the trade session. We stayed in the Holiday Inn near West Brompton tube, which once again proved very convenient for travelling to and from the GBBF.

I saw some excellent exhibitions in 2018, and details are in a separate post (Films, Exhibitions and Concerts 2018), but I will particularly mention the amazing Monet and Architecture exhibition at the National Gallery. Also mentioned in that post are the musical events I attended, but I particularly mention Don McClean and Joan Baez, both in Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall. I also heard Focus play for the second year running, in the 100 Club.

The autumn was as usual dominated by the new semester, with challenging teaching (5 project students again). Towards the end, when I had the health problems mentioned in my other post, I had to take some time off sick, and couldn’t attend my Christmas conference, (both for the first time ever). This was a serious thing to happen for me. I started the Christmas vacation in a rather poor state, and have been slowly improving, although I have good and bad days. Angela as always has been my rock, and I thank her for all she does, and especially in my bad days.

Thus 2018 finished badly, and I hope sincerely that 2019 will be a better year for me.

PS I should add that because of the medication I have been taking since 10 December, I have not drunk any alcohol since then. This has been my first ‘dry’ Christmas – New Year for a long time!

Books read in 2018

This is taken from my Goodreads account, and the contents of my Kindle, and should be fairly accurate!


The Trouble with Goats and Sheep – Joanna Cannon (a new author for me)

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – Stuart Turton (new author)

This is Where I Say Goodbye – James Craig

Origin – Dan Brown

I’ll Keep You Safe – Peter May

Lullaby – Leila Slimani, Sam Taylor (new author)

Three Things about Elsie – Joanna Cannon

The Dry – Jane Harper (new author)

Force of Nature – Jane Harper (new author)

How to Stop Time – Matt Haig (new author)

Dead If You Don’t – Peter James

The Killing Habit – Mark Billingham

The Dark Web – Christopher Lowery (new author)

Fall Down Dead – Stephen Booth

Into the Darkness – Sibel Hodge

Take Nothing with You – Patrick Gale

Untouchable – Sibel Hodge

Careless Love – Peter Robinson

The Clockmaker’s Daughter (Kate Morton)

In a House of Lies (Ian Rankin)

The Comforts of Home (Susan Hill)


With 6 new authors, my reading was a bit more diversified in 2018.

As 2019 approaches, I have two books on my Kindle that might be looked at before the turn of the year, although they will be included in next year’s list:

The Warning – Kathryn Croft

The Rosicrucian Prophecy – John Paul Davies