Category Archives: personal

A tale of two tellies, travel shenanigans, and a late birthday celebration

I’m starting writing this post on 9th July, more than a week into the first month for some time when I’ve felt I had the time and mental space to write a blog post. Basically most of June passed in a blur; there were exam board meetings at Keele, external examining in Dublin and Sheffield, interviews for a new lectureship, and a lot of meetings associated with my position as acting head of school (now 7 months in and with no immediate sign of an end in sight!)

Starting with the ‘telly story’, our TV was beginning to show its age: it couldn’t pick up the HD channels (which was an issue when some favourite channels became HD only), and the remote control had finally given up the ghost having fallen from the sofa onto the floor one too many times. Of course, if the problem had only been with the remote, it could have been replaced. But for a number of years now we have debated whether we would buy a new TV or not. We don’t watch much television: the news channels, some sport (when it is shown), programmes like the various NCIS franchises (CSI having come to an end), and the odd drama series (often with ‘odd’ being the operative word). So it was decision time – to buy or not? Angela perused the sales; if we were going to buy it would need to be delivered, so that introduced some limitations. But she found a curved screen Sony OLED TV at a good price that could be delivered quickly for a very reasonable cost, and to cut a long story short, we went for it. We now have an amazing very large OLED TV which is a joy to watch. It actually doesn’t take up as much space as you might expect because it is really thin, so it can be positioned along a wall, occupying essentially dead space. We’ve had to invest in some adaptors to allow it to talk to our DVD player/VCR (!) and I still have to set this up, but the TV is great. We have been able to watch Wimbledon and the Tour de France as we have never seen them before, as well as some excellent drama series that have been shown recently.

Moving on to the travel story, on the last day of June we had a day trip to London to see the Hokosai Exhibition at the British Museum. It was amazing, and Angela is going to see it again next month. We had a nice day, and caught the 20:00 train back home to Stoke with no forebodings.  However, it slowed down a bit before Milton Keynes, and finally crawled into Milton Keynes station, where it sat for 4 hours! The reason: there was a person on the track near Rugby who was threatening suicide. The police tried to get him to move, and he then apparently got onto a bridge over the line and threatened to jump off. Anyway, it took 4 hours to resolve this, and get him to safety, and in the meantime all we could do was wait on the train. The buffet car had closed, and there were very few announcements (because the train manager was only getting very irregular updates). We had eaten just before catching the train, which was fortunate, but there was no free WiFi (Virgin Trains charge outside First Class) and phone reception was poor, so it was hard to find out what was going on. I had only brought one phone charger with me, and even that was running low. Eventually we got the all clear to move, and set off, finally rolling into Stoke station at about 01:30. Fortunately there was an enterprising taxi driver who had heard about the problems, and waited for the train. But ours was not the last train, so hopefully those on the later trains also managed to get to their destinations!

Finally for this post, I had my 60th birthday in January, but I was too busy with marking, teaching and administration to really enjoy it, so we delayed the celebration until July. We booked the KPA for 7 July, ordered a buffet and arranged there to be choice of real ales (including a personal favourite), and we had a great evening. About 20 people attended, and Angela provided an amazing pre-recorded sound track of 6.25 hours of music chronicling my life. The buffet provided by the KPA was great value, and definitely recommended.

Now it’s the 18th July, which gives you an idea of how busy I have been, even though it’s outside of our teaching semester. But I have managed to plan (and start) some new research projects, which is great. I’m not attending any conferences this summer, but next year we will have EURODIM2018 in Poland, so I need to prepare for that.

Looking ahead, a lot has happened very recently in politics on a personal level, but this is still rather in a state of flux. I hope to report more on this in my next post.


1997-2017: A political transition from triumph to despair

Just over 20 years ago, on May 1 1997, a General Election took place which Tony Blair and Labour won decisively. After years of supporting the Labour Party, and having become a member earlier that year, it was a wonderful time for me, full of hope for the future and a belief that things really ‘could only get better’. To put the icing on the cake, GB won the Eurovision Song Contest a couple of days later with Katrina and the Waves, with their song ‘Love shine a light’!

I have often asked the question ‘what went wrong’? World events didn’t help, and although I supported our intervention in Iraq at the time, clearly Labour lost a lot of support because of this. Making Gordon Brown leader didn’t help either (he was a great Chancellor of the Exchequer but no leader). In politics, parties tend to lose support after a long spell in power, and the 2010 election result was no surprise. Since then we’ve had 5 years of coalition government, and less than 2 years of the Tories, with David Cameron presiding over the EU Referendum with its disastrous result, and Theresa May taking over as PM. Now we have another election on June 8th, with an almost certain outcome of a large Tory majority and a hard Brexit. Labour have made themselves virtually unelectable thanks to their leader (and some of his shadow cabinet) , and it’s too soon for the LibDems to make much of a comeback, although they are making a spirited effort, which I am trying to help.

For me, we have truly gone from a time of positivity and belief in the future, to one of sheer despair. Sad times indeed.


Unexpected recollections

In the past 2 weeks I have run a meeting (see previous post), and also managed a few days off over the Easter weekend to recover from the meeting and the Spring Semester teaching period (although that still has a couple of weeks to go!)

The meeting that I organised was a 70th birthday celebration for Richard Catlow, who was my postdoctoral adviser, and who really got me started on my career. I managed to get many of his former group members to attend, and this brought back all manner of memories. In my days off I mulled over these with Angela, and we thought it was worth writing them down, so here are a few random memories from ‘back in the day’>

  • When I first joined Richard’s group, both at UCL and then at Keele, there was a lot of rivalry, even sometimes bad feeling between group members. Now we all get on fine, but it wasn’t always like that! I don’t know if this happens in other research groups; I have never had enough people working for me at a given time for this to be a problem!
  • In London last weekend we visited the American Dream Exhibition at the British Museum. Among the paintings exhibited was this one by Andy Warhol:

Of course, ALPO in this picture is a make of dog food. But seeing it immediately reminded me of my work many years ago on modelling AlPOs (aluminophosphates). Much work has been done on these materials since then, but back in the late 80s I had a PhD student working on modelling these materials. I do remember a lecture by Jack Klinowski where he showed this picture, but I hadn’t seen the original until last week. Oh, and the student decided research was not for her, and left without completing the project.

  • Another random recollection concerns a conference I attended on zeolites, held in Amsterdam in 1989. I was then a recently appointed lecturer, and wanted to keep costs down, so I stayed in a very cheap hotel next to one of the central canals. It was so basic that the shower room down the corridor was just a recess in the wall with only a curtain to preserve the modesty of the person in the shower! Having spent a month in Amsterdam a couple of years before, I knew the area well, but probably I wouldn’t stay in such a place now!
  • Finally, for now, I must thank David Coombes for reminding me that just over 20 years ago, on 21 April 2017, I was external examiner for his PhD viva. It was a Monday, and the viva was supposed to have taken place the previous Friday, but thanks to an IRA bomb scare, trains weren’t running on part of my route. This was of course prior to the Good Friday agreement that put an end to most of these problems.
  • I did think of some more things to write here, but didn’t note them down at the time, so they will be added later if and when I remember them!

My review of 2016

In writing this review, I am reminded of a program on Facebook which gives your most used words, to show what you have been posting about. In that spirit, to describe 2016, certain words/phrases come to mind: Mame, Brexit, ICDIM2016, Pokémon Go, NSSO, Digital Forensics and AHoS! I will explain the significance and meaning of these as we go through the year.

I was grateful to have been well during Christmas 2015, having been struck down with flu/a cold the previous year. The New Year got off to its normal start, with exams, and then the new semester got underway on 25 January. My teaching was largely unchanged from last year, and my project students were making good progress, so when I was asked by Stephen Hearson to play in his production of ‘Mame’, I accepted. It involved a full week of performances (22-27 February), and normally I would not be able to commit to that. But 2016 was exceptional (I certainly wouldn’t be able to do it in the coming year), and although it was hard work, I was glad to have played; it was my first experience of pit playing for many years.

In March I attended my first LibDem conference, which took place in York, where the Social Democrat Group that I’m involved with were running an event. It was an interesting experience, and it was nice to spend a couple of days in York, which was still showing signs of the flooding that had taken place a few months previously. The event went well and the group attracted some interest, although it is obvious that we have a long way to go!

April and May were mostly spent doing teaching and administration at Keele, although we got away to London in the Easter vacation (we actually went in late March) where we went to some exhibitions and saw The War of the Worlds musical.  1 May marked 30 years at Keele for me (see blog post about this). In June, as teaching activities came to an end, I had my last external examining trip to Nottingham Trent University, and an EPSRC Panel Meeting. The EU Referendum, on 23 June, resulted in a vote for Brexit, which was very dispiriting and worrying, and which I’m still coming to terms with (although nothing has actually happened yet, there have been serious knock-on effects like the fall in the value of the £ and general loss of confidence in the UK economy).

In July, Mário visited me in advance of the ICDIM2016 conference in Lyon. We had a useful few days working together, before travelling to Lyon via London. We took the direct Eurostar service from St Pancras, which was very smooth, and got us there in a few hours. The conference itself was good, although it was a bit stressful for me given my relative seniority in the conference organisation, etc. But we presented our work, and got some useful feedback and new ideas for future work, as well as seeing old friends and colleagues. On returning from Lyon I started properly preparing for the new module on Digital Forensics that I will be teaching starting in January 2017 (alarmingly close as I write this!).  I also was occupied in supervising a summer project student, which is something I haven’t done much before, but which went very well.

In August I had my customary trip to the Great British Beer Festival, and Angela joined me there for some of the days. I talk about this in a separate blog post (‘August 2016-culture, beer and Pokémon Go’). As the title suggests, we took in some shows and exhibitions as well. I had been intrigued by the interest surrounding Pokémon Go, and started playing it on August 7th. It has had an interesting and unexpected effect, as I will mention later.

Since earlier in the year I had been planning a 70th birthday event for Richard Catlow, to take place in April 2017, so later in August I met him to discuss this. I will doubtless write more about this event in my review next year!

September included a few days in Glasgow, and a trip to Brighton for the LibDem Party Conference, where (again), the Social Democrat Group had an event (although I couldn’t stay for the actual event). Angela joined me, and we enjoyed visiting Brighton very much. I also started playing in the North Staffordshire Symphony Orchestra in September, although in the end I could only play in their first concert because my work commitments increased in November. Hopefully I can re-join them in April 2017 for their summer concert. Later in September our new academic year got underway, and I was very busy for most of the Autumn Semester.

October and November were mainly occupied with lecturing, and supervising my project students, as well as my new MPhil student. In November I was summoned by the Dean of our Faculty and asked to take on the role of acting Head of our new School (Chemical and Physical Sciences) until such time as a new Professor is appointed (AHoS). I started this job on 1 December, and as yet many of my new duties haven’t fully kicked in. I expect this to change in January however!

In December we managed to visit my mother, who was staying in Highfields Care Home in Halesworth for a month’s respite care (my sister and brother-in-law being in India over Christmas). Angela and I had travelled to London so Angela could go to the Olympia Horse Show, and the next day we went to Halesworth on a day trip! It was the only way we could work out how to do it, and it was Angela’s ingenious idea. My mother seemed OK but was treating the home as a hotel, and not really interacting with others there. We felt this would have to change if she moved there permanently. I had my customary Christmas conference in December, this time in Loughborough. It went really well, and the organisers did a great job. My treasurer’s report was accepted without problems.

And so we come to Christmas, which we are spending quietly at home. January will be full of challenges, so I need to rest as much as possible. A final comment is that, thanks initially to Pokémon Go, I started daily early morning walks around campus in September, and I have been feeling the benefit both physically and mentally from this extra exercise. I will of course continue it in the New Year.

New responsibilities

When I wrote my post on 30 years at Keele back in May, I referred to my increased responsibilities in senior roles in my School. I didn’t mention explicitly that organisational changes were afoot, with my School, Physical and Geographical Sciences, splitting into two Schools, Chemical and Physical Sciences, and Geography, Geology and the Environment. The reasons are mainly research-based. Certainly in the case of Chemical and Physical Sciences, it may sound like a more coherent unit to research funders. Of course the old School offered economies of scale, with only one of each committee needed, when now there will be two. But hopefully that issue can be worked around, at least partially.

The University have advertised externally for new Chairs who will also take on the Head of School role; the Chemical Sciences post is advertised here. But the timescale for the appointments means that Acting Heads are needed (the posts were advertised last week with a December closing date, and if interviews are held in January the earliest someone could probably start would be April/May, and probably later).

Last week I was asked if I would take on the role of Acting Head of the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences. I agreed, regarding it as both a challenge and an honour. I start on 1 December. One consequence of this is my remaining teaching preparation for next semester has been compressed into November. This is mainly the Digital Forensics module, as my other modules are ones I’ve taught before. There are some MChem lectures to prepare as well though! The next couple of months certainly promise to be ‘interesting’.

August 2016: Culture, Beer and Pokémon Go

As we come to the end of August, and I suppose (sadly), the end of the summer, I thought it would be good to reflect on my activities over the last month.

June and July were characteristically busy, with an EPSRC Panel Meeting, exam boards and External Examining at NTU in June, and a conference in Lyon (see previous post) in July. I also spent some of July starting preparation of a new module I’ll be teaching in the Spring Semester 2017, on Digital Forensics. When August arrived I was ready for a break, and I was in London (with Angela) for most of the week of 8-12 August. The main event of the week was my annual visit to the Great British Beer Festival, but it was not only a week of imbibing (!), as I will describe. On 8 August we travelled to London, and booked into the Tavistock Hotel, which has become our main ‘base’ in London (although the County Hotel is still good for overnight visits, as mentioned later). We had tickets to see ‘The Go-Between’ at the Apollo Theatre, and when we got there we were upgraded to better seats, which was an unexpected bonus. Michael Crawford, who was due to play the main role, was indisposed, but the understudy did a great job. It was a musical version of the book, and very effective too. The GBBF took centre stage for me on Tuesday (although Angela went to the Sicily exhibition at the British Museum, followed by a musical based on the Titanic story at the Charing Cross Theatre, before joining me at the GBBF in the evening). On Wednesday morning we went to the Tate Modern to see an exhibition of Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings. I was glad to see it, but found that I liked some of her work more than others. After the exhibition, I headed to Olympia for the GBBF, and Angela went to see the Sunken Cities exhibition at the British Museum. It was very nice that Angela was able to join me at the GBBF on both Tuesday and Wednesday evening.

Regarding the GBBF, it was as good as ever, with an interesting beer selection, and good food provision. I won’t put my list of beers tried here, but they have been recorded, and are also on my Untappd account, for any fellow beer connoisseurs reading this! My only disappointment was that the Champion Beer of Britain (CBOB) announcement wasn’t made at the opening ceremony on the Tuesday afternoon. Instead we just got the list of finalists, and the results were relayed to us in the evening after they had been announced at the awards dinner. This was a great disappointment, because the Tuesday afternoon session is the Trade session, attended by many from the brewery and pub trade. They don’t all stay for the evening session, and so won’t have been present for the announcement, which when it came was a bit of a non-event. I hope very much that CAMRA return to the previous tradition, as it was a great start to the festival, and something that made the Trade session special.


Going back to our week, Angela returned to Keele on Thursday, taking our suitcase (for which I was very grateful). I attended the Thursday afternoon/evening session at the GBBF and stayed at the County Hotel on Thursday evening. On Friday morning I went to the British Museum to see the Sicily exhibition, as this was due to finish on the coming Sunday. It was very good, and I learned some new things, including the fact that the Normans ruled Sicily for a while! It was then time to return to Keele.

I then had a week of catching up on administrative tasks, but on the following week, on 23 August I was back in London for a meeting with my old postdoc supervisor, Richard Catlow, about a 70th birthday meeting I am organising for him next year, followed by another night in the County Hotel. The following day I managed a bonus trip to see the Sunken Cities exhibition at the British Museum, a couple of weeks after Angela. It was simply amazing, and runs until the autumn, so I recommend it if you have a chance to go!

Finally, in the title of the post I mention Pokémon Go. Having heard a lot about it since it was launched in July, I thought about giving it a try, with encouragement from Angela. So I installed it on my phone on 7 August, and have been playing it ever since. It fits in with my enjoyment of travel to different places, and is actually quite educational, since many of the Pokéstops are at places of interest! Angela then joined on 21 August, so we are both dedicated ‘Pokémoners’ now! I suspect I will be writing a further post on the specific subject of Pokémon Go before long.

Some personal reminiscences of Gurnos Jones

This post was originally written following Gurnos’s death on 3 June 2016, in response to a request for reminiscences. As far as I know it has not been published elsewhere, so I am posting it here as a more permanent record.Jones_Gurnos 90x90

I started my career at Keele in May 1986, some 30 years ago. Initially I was a postdoc in Richard Catlow’s group, but I joined the academic staff as a lecturer in 1988. Gurnos was on my interview panel as Head of Department, along with Brian Fender (Vice-chancellor at the time), and Gurnos appointed me, and was my first Head of Department.

My main recollections of Gurnos as Head of Department are that he was firm in his decision making, but always fair. We had regular staff meetings (far more than we do now), and because we were a small but nevertheless independent department, we were responsible for a lot of decisions that are now made at a higher level. For example, I remember when Biology proposed the Biochemical Engineering degree (which incidentally is still very popular) we discussed whether Chemistry should be involved, and decided against it. A decision like that would now be out of our hands!

The first job Gurnos asked me to do was to run the 2nd year Physical Chemistry Lab. As a non-experimental computational chemist this was a challenge, but Gurnos had the view that as a chemist I should be able to do it. Thankfully everything went smoothly, and the main thing I remember was that students wrote their reports in hard backed lab books, and so carrying large piles of these back to my office, or even home, to mark, was a regular experience. I also became 2nd year tutor, taking over from Andy Fitch when he moved to the ESRF in France. In those days the administrative structure of the department was much simpler: there was Gurnos as Head, and Year Tutors. Students were also allocated tutors in the department (this was long before the University started the present Personal Tutor system).

Most of my lecturing in those days was done in the main Chemistry lecture theatre, which we had almost exclusive use of. The old department office was next to this lecture theatre, and there was a door from the office into the lecture theatre, which made a dramatic entrance from the lecturer a possibility!

My main social recollection of Gurnos was his famous pancake parties, which I was invited to once I had joined the academic staff. They were gatherings of the great and good, and I remember talking to some quite senior university staff there in the informal setting of Gurnos and Pat’s house in Larchwood.

In the present environment things are so different that it is difficult to think that a small department like Chemistry could survive. But Gurnos was a good head, and steered us through some difficult times. I will always remember him with fondness and respect.