Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Autumn (Fall)

Over the past two weeks or so and with the passing of my 23rd birthday (thank you kindly to those who send me cards and messages)the slow realisation of autumn has hit home. Usually my birthday fits nicely with the beginning of autumn. The Canadians (like most places I guess) love Fall. They love the idea that all the 1st years (freshers) are all in good spirits yet to be dampened by the avid cynics and the examination blues. For me usually autumn goes past rather unconsidered, under appreciated and under valued. This years I have been thinking about the 'fall' and autumn for two reasons. Firstly, Canadian although has a relatively unimpressive population of 33 million compared to the UKs 67 million (approx). That said, where the Canadians wipe the floor with everyone hands down, is the population of trees. Within Edmonton alone surpasses the trillions I swear. They are everywhere. Trees are in abundance and are used in abundance. You rarely see the usage of brick for housing here. There is no need to manufacture them due to the pure amount of wood. As a result fall seems all that impressive when trees are continually dumping a blanket down, rather than the odd speckle present in most UK cities. It has to be said that Edmonton is rather beautiful in autumn. The shades of yellow to red, to brown is just phenomenal. I am constantly reminded of this when I walk the couple of blocks to campus with the roas lined with leafs with the feeling it is genuinely raining them. The rustling of the leaves, the swaying of the trees in the wind and the damp stale smell which always characterises autumn. The few nice days that are left until the cold winter just beg me to pick up my camera and just go walking taking pictures. Such urges I ha vent been able to hold off and gave in. The second reason is the sad and hard hitting reality that autumn is a precursor to the inevitable reality that this place shall get horrifically cold and continually so for the next 5 months or so. The fear of snow, snow, snow just makes me appreciate the time I have left. Its like a prisoner roaming the yard, knowing it is the only part of the day to get out and stretch. It genuinely feels like that. I am not taking a nice day for granted here. Over the past three years I think I have slowly grown an appreciation for a more outdoorsy sort of lifestyle and dabble in the countryside more than I ever used to. I always considered myself an urban teenager. I grew up in a city, I socialised in a city, for all intents and purposes I was a city boy. But since being at the barn, you realise there is a more to life than cement and traffic. I took a run today, the route I took is called the 'two bridges' route (for the reason you go across one bridge, along the river valley and across another bridge and back along the river valley). The route is amazing, yet challenging due to the valley hills you obviously have to tackle. What was most amazing about it was the views you got of the valley. I ran at around 7-7.30pm ish and the sun was just setting. It was that perfect orange hue sort of colour. I was running over the bridge and you see this quintessential view of the valley with trees lining either side, the river in between and just a crowd of yellow and brown trees quilting the valley hills. Was amazing. Really beautiful and appreciated so so much. Although if you really think about it Autumn has entirely sad connotations. Autumn is a time of death, leafs die and fall anyway and you are left with the bare minimum to survive. It is a survival tactic right? Something that seemed so full of energy, full of life seems lifeless and bare. The colour becomes a dampened feeling of monotone grey, limited in scope and excitement.

The irony here is that I have started to think and feel rather differently. I feel positive. I feel excited. I feel great. I have started to really find myself in all this chaos and come to the realisation that this is truly remarkable. The opportunity here is great. I was told that by a few people. 'You should enjoy the opportunity'. I agree. Its good advice. But to me I never really knew exactly what that opportunity entails, I had to see it first. I think the more time I spend involved in everything and anything, the more I realise that this is an opportunity. I have many people to thank for that, particularly my family, my mother. Thank you mum. You are the everything. So yes Autumn is upon us and the reality of a STUPIDLY COLD EXISTENCE over the next 5 months scares the daylights out of me. But in a good way. Yes, I cant believe I have been here for 5 weeks now, I remember when my brother went to San Diego for a month. It seemed like a life time. It really feels like yesterday I left. To some extent it will certainly feel that way when I go back. Time for me is flying right now, I have no idea why. I guess they say time flys when your having fun. I am in good spirits and I haven't really ever been any happier. I am very much still living in the moment and although I would love the idea that Edmonton could stay like it is now, warm and beautiful. I think the I will have to soon accept defeat on the former and experience a whole new Edmonton. Edmonton on ice. Lucky I have now got the biggest coat available on the shelf and a beaver hat. ahhh yeess !

Saturday, 25 September 2010

We simply do not know!

Social norm: I don't know what to do with my life...?!
Blog's response: Good

It is a common cliche that life is a train. This idea that we are all passengers on this great voyage into the unknown. The analogy is so idealistic and somewhat beautiful that many never come to question it. Yet contained within it is an assumption that we cannot control our life. We are all victims of the notion of fate. Life is as structured and rigid as the steel tracks of which the great vehicle runs on. I have seen this same feeling, same desire in so many people I have met. More often than not we all want to know where we are going in life. What is the end goal? What are you trying to achieve? Interestingly enough, I think if you truly answered these profound philosophical questions most of us would quit our day jobs, change our lives irreversibly and go ride an elephant on India or something. I accept that I do not understand fate. I do not understand the role that chance and coincidence play in my life. Perhaps I never will. But my life so far has taught me two things that I hold dear and would defend deeply. It is these two things I wanted to share with you. I hope that by reading this you will see similar feelings in regards to what I talk about and reflect (ever so slightly) on them. So, here are the two assumptions that I feel people make throughout life that I have thought about in recent times

(1) You have to know where you are going

(2) Chaos, chance and coincidence happens & should happen

I find that we are all scurrying around trying to find this omniscient reason for living. We all feel that we must decide who and what we are, when really we have no idea who are what we are. We make a number of decisions throughout our lives, some we are sure with, some we aren't and we get pigeon-holed into a place that is acceptable somehow to society. We have a role and we are a citizen to a greater cause. Whatever that may be. My mother used to tell me an old saying which has been so ingrained in my mind that I would comfortably refer to it as somewhat of a family motto. She often said "If you work hard and you didn't bother anyone doing it, then you've done well". This is a philosophy which permeates my entire family, based on the old values of those at the head of it. My grandmother and grandfather. My family background, from my mothers side certainly, is a history of grafters. They worked from nothing to something. On many occasions she has told me stories about how they went weeks with electric, worked 20 hour days just to make enough to survive, after all "it was how it was back in those days". My grandad was a builder by trade and my Nana did everything else that wasn't building. My family trade, as a general rule of thumb is the hotel/guest house trade. Admirable certainly. If any of those physics majors tell you that something cannot come from nothing, well I encourage any physics major to go justify that to my grandmother. She would in all probability beat you to death with a scone followed by shaking her head in disappointment. Anyways, tangent...although I agree entirely that someone should work hard. Life is as much as you put it. Input=output in my opinion, although I am in a privileged place in life where autonomy and safety nets allows me to make such a statement. What I don't agree with is that it is predetermined. More specifically and importantly I don't believe that you have to predetermine it yourself. You often hear it don't you " I want to be a doctor", "I want to own a restaurant". Whilst I do accept that in order to achieve some goals, you have to somewhat play the game and jump through the right hoops, I don't accept that you cant then go off and play another game. If you accept that you can do anything you set your mind to. If you accept that just because you go through one door another can always be revisited, revised, re adapted and readopted at any point. Then all that weight I often see in people who feel disappears.

Again I hear it: "I don't know what to do with my life".

Well, my response to that is...'great'. Not 'oh my god sort your life out' which is the undertone that most people make right? We all assume that not knowing what to do in life is like some disease. Like an illness we must shake off. Not knowing what you want to do in life has all too often plague me throughout my studies. I often felt the pressure, the demand and the necessity within our social norms to know exactly were I 'fit' in all this mess. I worried about it, I sat and had long semi-philosophical debates about were my life was taking me. Where the train was stopping next, whether or not i should get off or wait a little longer for the next stop. Or...just keep travelling. After a decade or so of this same thought. I have come to the painstakingly slow realisation that you really don't have to know. You really don't. After all, in the profound world of natural science the default assumption echoes this exact point. The default asnwer is and should always be: "we simply do not know". We have not worked it out yet and therefore we dont know and that is ok.

In fact, I applaud those who accept that they simply don't know. Regardless to whether or not you have a profession or at least chosen a direction for a profession the same point still lies. If you can realise that it is not important to know. If you can realise that it doesn't matter whether you wake up tomorrow and want to be a plumber (no offence intended) and that you are, like most people on the train with your head out the window and the wind blow in your hair. You are on a journey of many oceans and many seas and it is quite remarkable. To date I have gone through life not knowing where I am going. Whilst I accept I am fortunate for a number of reasons, I think that instead of people fearing what is unknown and unsure that we should embrace it. We should see it as part of the fun in life. Part of something great. It is perfectly fine. It is more than perfectly fine. It is perfect. If you can accept that you simply dont know and that is ok. It is a powerful thing.

Life is about the journey. Not the destination.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Sport Policy: my ergogenic aid & afrodisiac

I just got back from a basketball referee clinic and sat down and found myself reflecting on my week. My week primarily consisted of reading, reading, sleep, reading and reading. With the intention of writing...eventually. But not this week. So as I sat there drinking my tea I realised how much I really just wanted to write something.I was also thinking about I recently acquired friend of mind whom genuinely lives for her work. She will tell you this straight up. She admirably wakes up at 7am every morning heads for the 'office' as she calls it. For the commonman its a 'convenient coffee cafe'. This is what most of us refer to it as. There she works 7am til 9pm at night. I know people say that the days of 9-5pm have gone but christ....I love my work, just as much if not a little more than the next man but not to the extent it is my life (I like to think. Saying that, the truth is my work is continually starting to define who I am as a person; like it or lump it). It is admirable. She got me thinking about what got me up in the morning? I feel like I intrinsically know. I know what took me thousands of miles around the world far far away from those whom I consider(ed) my entire life. My life, like the universe, is continually expanding... I am glad and proud to say that. So here it is. This is a blog about my caffeine. My metaphoric (and sometimes literal) drug. My ergogenic aid. To be honest, its now the main reason why I get up in the morning. Sad or bizarre as it my seem to most. I will keep this blog brief as much MUCH MUCH more is written elsewhere (if you appreciated that pun, then you too are in my position as a budding academic).

My main interest and what I intend to really focus on over my PhD is Sport Policy. * posh condescending voice * 'Sport policy you say matty? Well what is this sport policy you speak of?' Well, sport policy as an area of interest I think is truly remarkable. The power of policy is something not to be overlooked but revered. Within sport we all study our own niches. I should mention at this point, for those who think sport as a small subject of study...think again. Its really not. Its huge and the more you study it, the more you realise this.

Most people's limited experience of sport is that of the gym, the experiences you once had in secondary school(or high school), those guys you see on television and the occasional run around the block because your mother said you needed to lose a few pounds. I accept that to me, many other subjects probably exist in my mind as similar uni-directional forms. I do accept my own ignorance in that respect. So assuming that is the case, I shall endeavour to enlighten you into my world a little.

Whether it (pause for collective breath) be sport nutrition, sport coaching, sport kinesiology, sport psychology, bio mechanics, sport administration, physiology, sport tourism, sport sociology...and many ive missed im sure of it. Whatever floats your boat basically. But sport policy for me in intriguing for two reasons. Firstly the usage of policy and government politics, power and funding permeates all these aforementioned areas. It is this overarching framework which dictates where and how money is spent. The power of government and its role within sport, for me, is often hugely overlooked and underestimated. Secondly, I am intrigued at the contentious and political dimension associated with policy. The justification, the rhetoric, the intentions,the power relations, the expectations and the reality exposed as a consequence. More generally policy notoriously difficult to get right. Most people accept this. Governments often try in vein to produce the best policy documents to justify spending with the belief that it will somehow improve the efficiency and effectiveness of spending. Questions such as 'is that expenditure justified? Can money be spend in better ways? Why are governments spending money here? What are the broader implications of such change in these policies? These are but a few initial and arbitrary questions that fascinate me.

For my PhD I want to compare two countries sport policy. Canada and the UK. I want to how these countries have changed their spending in elite sport. More specifically how this change of spending has affected the organisations that prepare elite athletes for the likes of the Olympics. These are called National Governing Bodies (NGBs) or National sport Organisations (NSOs)outside the UK. My assumption here is that huge variance in funding has some implication to how these sport organisations function, are structured and organised. Again, insert the big questions such as...Is this the most effective way to spend our money? Can government improve policy so that we can get more from our NGBs, so we can be more successful at the end game- the Olympics? From this you can clearly see how I am somewhat combining Business theory with sports. It is this reason why I chose to work under the fantastic Dr Marvin Washington of whom him and I inadvertently share this appreciation for mix of two fascinating fields of study. The University of Alberta, as a few have rather (mind numbingly) pointed out, does not have a specific sport policy programme. Which is both a shame and a blessing. It means that I can truly develop my ideas without being pushed inadvertantly in one way or the other. But it also means that I am not surrounded by people whom directly are interested or even appreciate the work I do. How that quite pans out will be intriguing no doubtm, especially as I have spent the past four years under the wing of a sport policy institute. A good sports policy institute at that. Hopefully I can take away a lot from what I have learnt at Loughborough and equally develop some interesting ideas from the new academics around me to find my own unique style and approach.

I hope that in the not too distant future I can start to publish some pure sport policy articles. Being in a new country means new things. New food, new people, new weather (argh), a new university, new relationships but in a geeky and nerdy sort of policy. A new political arena, a new political and public way of thinking. A new policy system, a new policy structure.I have spent the last four years developing my understanding of the UK Sports system and its policies. I respect that some people spend their whole lives in such a pursuit. But I have a great opportunity to translate these skills. Compare them. Contrast them. Its dynamic, challenging and intriguing.

To me business and sport is the perfect blend. And do you know what...I love it.I love what I do. I chose it purely because it intrigues me. Not many people in the world can say that. I hope this gives you a little insight into my way of thinking. My thoughts and genuinely just why I do what I do. I hope I have somewhat conveyed my feelings of passion and hope you take away a sensation of 'oh I kinda get that, I see how you might find that interesting'. I guess no matter how you look at it, the concept of sport policy is not as abstract as say a maths phd or something (with all due respect). But I like to think that sport policy is both engaging and something that most people can have an opinion on. It has relevance to people in their everyday lives and more than you realise.

Let me illustrate with a simple example. Take London 2012.A direct consequence of a government systematically planning and preparing to provide candidacy for and eventually win the rights to host the 2012 games. All tax payers money. You (UK people) are paying for it directly. The figure now stands close to £10 billion. The logo design,cost a mere £400,000. I bet 9/10 of you, straight away have an opinion on this. Its a pretty visible issue wherever you go, its unavoidable. Its in the media; newspapers, tv, radio you name it. We all have our opinions. Some more informed than others. Nonetheless, engaging right? Intrigued?

I hope so...


Wednesday, 15 September 2010

A Ph...what?

I was walking back home this evening after going to a bistro for a hot chocolate to read a couple of journal articles (how middle class am I?) and I thought to myself how hard it is to fully explain to people what it is you actually do. I realised that I am getting into that classic situation.

Do you remember when you where are at school and people would ask you, what is it your parents do? You would start with your mother, no idea why that is, but you always did. You would articulate your mothers profession informatively along with some elegancy and ease. 'Oh my mother works as a hotel manager, blah blah blah'. Then you would move on to your father. You try to start your sentence and then are mentally blocked. You suddenly come to that realisation that you actually dont fully remember or know what your father does. You know vaguely. You know roughly, but dont know.'Oh he's a civil engineer, he...constructs...stuff'. So I thought I would spend some time explaining to people exactly what it is I am doing with my life. I apologise in advance if it's slight condescending for those who already have a grasp, but now I have been here three weeks, just like starting any job, you start to get a good indication of what it is your job entails and how it matched up to that job description you once saw and applied for. I also apologies for the butchering and violence of the specifics. They may well be technically inaccurate or entirely incorrect. So here goes:

What is a PhD?

I have started was is known as a Doctor of Philosophy (abbreviated to PhD) Wikipedia (reliable source that it is) states it comes Latin philosophiae doctor, meaning "teacher in philosophy". The essential idea is you research in a particular field of study with the intention to produce a piece of research which adds to that particular existing field of study.

Where is your PhD?

I am doing my PhD at the University of Alberta in Canada. The university is in the city of Edmonton. Its in the province of Alberta. Its on the west side of Canada and its the English speaking side, not the french (of those who always ask). Within the university I work within the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation.(Phys Ed & Rec). More specifically I am apart of the Research Management Group (approx 8-10 of us) looking at Sport Management.

What is Sport Management?

At this point people always misconceive the term 'sport management'. So I shall clarify and define it. Firstly let me tell you what sports management its not. IT IS NOT SPORTS COACHING. Sports coaching is sports coaching! Nor is it just 'WORKING IN A GYM'(although you could do that if you so wish). These are all common responses to when I say 'I study sports management'. Instead, I like to best explain sports management as the study of business and management but with an interest or application to sport. So for example rather than illustrating with mainstream companies such as Mircosoft and Virgin, Sports managers might look at Wimbledon, Nike etc. We apply business theory and business principles to the setting of sport.

Why are you doing a PhD?

The common question I was asked before I started was 'so your doing a phd..[pause] with the intention of doing what?'. What does I PhD lead to? Well, the natural path (if you will) is into academia. Lecturing, researching or consulting at university or specific organisations (or usually some combination of the above). At this point I accept that I dont fully know where I intend to go with my PhD, but I must stress that I dont think that not knowing is a bad thing. In fact I have followed my life all the way to canada on the same premise that you dont have you know what you want to do and if that is the case, do what you enjoy. Do what gets you up in the morning. Do what intrigues, interests and ingages you. Something pushes buttons for you. If you find something that does, give it a ago. If you find it doesnt anymore or you find something else that does it better. Go do that something else. Life is too short and too awesome not to follow your ideas and do what you want to do. I accept that people should work hard and that you should earn your way. But, if your going to do something day in day out, make sure it makes you happy. For me, this makes me happy and I havent found anything that makes me happier, but fully accept that maybe, just maybe something else does. I just dont know it yet. So if I go do something completely different after four years, after this phd. So what. So be it. If plumming suddenly becomes my new fixation, then wicked. For me, as you may deduce studying is about learning and gain knowledge. It's quite an internal thing for me. Its about betterment. Its not bourlesque, showy and in your face. Its about the intelligent intricacies of life (I accept that is entirely my own opinion-and not that of most).

What is the processes of your PhD?

Along with the epic task of adminstratively soughting out my life in canada over the past three weeks, I have also sought to work out exactly what it is I shall be doing here. The main aim, as I mentioned at the beginning is to produce a big research project that is original (otherwise known as a thesis). This is the main reason for carrying out a PhD. Now if I was in England, a PhD would last thre years, you would be pretty much thrown into that specific research project and you would just get on with it. Canada, amongst other countries, does things differently.Personally, despite being longer and seemingly tedious, I think it does it better in terms of personal development. They take four years. With this typical format: from what I currently gather your proposals (document of what you fully intend to do) are usually produced in your 2nd-3rd year. After which you take a 'candidacy exam'. This isn't an exam, in the traditional sense. But rather you have a 'candidacy committee'. These consist of your supervisor and a selection of two other academics of your choosing which have expertises in your particular field. You then defend and justify your proposal. If (and hopefully when) you pass that, you then conduct your research in your last remaining 1-2 years and write it up. After you have finished that you take your 'final defense'. This is in similar fashion to your candidacy exam, but with two more academics on the committee (now 5) whereby your justify and defend your research in its entirity.

What are you researching exactly?

For My PhD: Sport Policy: the effects of funding conditions on the organisational structures, functioning and management of national sports organisations (NSOs)

My main interest and what I intend to really focus on over my PhD is Sport Policy. Sport policy as an area of interest I think is remarkable. The power of policy is something to be revered. Within sport we all study our own niches. I should mention at this point, for those who think sport as a small subject of study...think again. Its not. Its huge and the more you study it, the more you realise this. Whether it be sport nutrition, sport coaching, sport kinesiology, sport psychology, biomechanics, sport administration, physiology, sport tourism, sport sociology...anything. Whatever floats your boat basically. But sport policy for me in intriguing for two reasons. Firstly the usage of policy and government politics, power and funding permeates all these areas. It is this overarching framework which dictates where and how money is spent. The power of government and its role within sport, for me, is often hugely overlooked and underestimated. Secondly, I am intrigued at the contensious and political dimension associated with policy. The justification, the rhetoric, the intentions, the expections and the reality. Policy notoriously difficult to get right. Governments often try in vein to produce the best policy documents to justify spending with the belief that it will somehow improve the efficiency and effectiveness of spending. Questions such as 'is that expenditure justified? Can money be spend in better ways? Why are governments spending money here? What are the broader implications of such change in these policies? These are but a few initial and arbitruary questions that fascinate me.

For my PhD I want to compare two countries sport policy. Canada and the UK. I want to how these countries have changed their spending in elite sport. More specifically how this change of spending has affected the organisations that prepare elite athletes for the likes of the Olympics. These are called National Governing Bodies (NGBs) or National sport Organisations (NSOs)outside the UK. My assumption here is that huge variance in funding has some implication to how these sport organisations function, are structured and organised. Again, insert the big questions such as...Is this the most effective way to spend our money? Can government improve policy so that we can get more from our NGBs, so we can be more successful at the end game- the Olympics?

What are you doing right now?

So PhD project aside. I dont officially start my phD until next year possibly the year after. So this year is sort of a preparation year for doing some courses and working out what you wnat to do. Well as you can see from the above. I know what I want to do.
So I am using this year to do some other cool projects. This is what I shall be doing for the entire year:

Curent projects:

Project # 1 International Sport Policy & Athletics (Track & Field): This is my major project that I am working on this year. Its looking at comparing countries policies in one sport. Athletics. It looks indepth at the entire system which athletes go through to compete at an elite level. From which you should be able to make comparisons of what countries are good at and bad at to identify where money can be just spend to improve the sport in your given country. I am collecting data on canada. I am the canada representative. Really intriguing study. should be a LOT of data to collect.

Project # 2 Corporate Social Responsbility (CSR) and Sports Partnerships: I am also working on developing my MSc research project into a working paper to be published. I am examining how corporate organisations are using sport as a means of achieving their CSR objectives.

Project # 4 Organisational Change and Sport Organisation Archetypes: This again is a article I wish to write using my BSc research project to see if UK universities are following similar shifts in business management than Canada and the US.

Project # 5? Heart Rate Variance in Swimmers :In addition to these. And if that wasnt enough. I have also just embarked on doing some research assistant work with another academic in my department. He is a physiologist by nature and is conducting a study looking at (from what I can first make out) heart rate variance in varsity swimmers. Although this is not my main area of interest, I am sure it will be a cool project to work on 6 hours a week, and something nice to diverge away from.

So yeh. When you write it down. It looks and sounds a) geeky and b) a lot of work. I guess perhaps its because it is.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The boy who stole orientation

"You eventually come to the realisation that you have two homes. One you were born with and always feel fond of; the other you choose as your own..." (ad lib adopted Camilla, 2010)

Since my last blog, this one small piece of advice has been repeating itself around and around my head. Today was the first time, I kind of realised what it meant. I shall explain why. Today I was (un)officially an honorary undergraduate. I was invited down by a couple of my newly acquired (awesome) friends to experience (again), what it would be like to be a fresher. I had joined the ranks of the 2014 class arts faculty. I learnt the chants, donned a U of A shirt and marched all the way down to Hawrlak Park for the grand finale of the two day orientation (fresher's week equivilent for those back in the UK). Unlike loughborough students are divided purely on the basis of faculty. The big three at the U of A comprising The Faculty of Engineering, The Faculty of Science and The Faculty of Arts (temporarily my home). Boy was their a lot of engineers, like you wouldnt believe. Although my undergraduate days are well and truly over, this event offered two things: a new beginning (albeit not 'officially' mine) and huge levels of nostalgia. There is something inherently fun and heart warming about it. Yes, I know its corny and classic. But I liked it. It was fun and life should be about people coming together, celebrating and feeling good. They had a ballot box with prizes, cheerleaders, mascots, hundreds of volunteers and get this... a candle ceremony. Oh yes, a candle ceremony (I shall see if I can whack a picture or two I took into this blog...wait).

I found it really nice to turn back the clock four years now and remember once again what it was like to come to university, all those mixed feelinsg, all those expectations, anxities, hopes, fears and excitements built up in side. I found it equally fascinating to see how somewhere else did it. I remember and recall my 'freshers week' fondly. Oh and yes its true, Loughborough really does 'walk on water' and we f***ing oughta', but the U of A takes students on its own journey. Tomorrow I start my first classes and the fun well...begins. Today I realised that this place offers something quite remarkable. It offers everything I ever really wanted in life. I get to do exact what I have always wanted to do, study what I want to study, exercise as much I wanted to do and also be surrounded by some really awesome people both academically and personally. U of A, U, U OF A, U of A, U, U of A...yyyeeaaa wooooo! This is the home I have chosen. It's not where I am from or where I have come from. Nothing can ever replace home, cambridge, the barn and my family will always be deeply embedded in my thoughts and feelings. But, nonetheless, this is oil city, this is edmonton, this is the U of A, and this is time to shine whilst having fun doing it and it is now home. Time to enjoy it a little more I feel.


Thursday, 2 September 2010

You've got mail !

To: Friends and Family in the UK

From: A guy typing in a Canadian basement apartment

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing you to inform you that today I felt particularly homesick and oddly for no reason. I think the reality that this is going to be what 'I do' for the next four years somewhat caught up with me. I had a fantastic meeting today with my supervisor and another academic and we concluded a really exciting, yet challenging piece of work for me to sink my teeth into over the next 7 months or so. Academically, I am charged. I finally get to do some stuff that I find interesting, stimulating and something that I enjoy. Yet, today I felt sick, not because of my stupid canadian manflu, but mentally. This is not a holiday, its never felt like a holiday. A holiday I could handle. You dont seem to batter an eyelid, a wink of sleep or a spilt second of thought that you miss home when you go spend two weeks in disneyland. You know its temporary, you allow it to be temporary mentally. I mention my work because I know that right now, keeping busy is something that actually distracts me, something that makes me think about something else. Its these times, late at night or first thing in the morning when you are alone. You sit or lie with the reality that everything you have ever known is actually half way around the world and the commitment you have just made is a big one. A huge one. That I just stepped into.

I know all the cliches, I know that home is only a plane journey away, and that family will always be there come rain or shine (or snow). I also know that what I am doing now feels really right and I cant genuinely conceive that people do this as a job. They continually test the limit of knowledge, they develop it and they wake up knowing that today you will learn something interesting or something new that you didnt know yesterday and something that somehow puts another tiny tiny piece of this jigsaw together. From that piece somehow you feel satisfied in its acquisition and even more so by placing it and joining it to the bigger picture that you try and construct in your mind.

I just miss what is also really important to me. My friends and family. It takes many ups and downs along with enough plays to shame shakespeare to realise that what stood right in front of you was in fact the most important thing. For me, it took a move half way around the world to realise what is now so very far way, is in fact what I hold closest. I know I have only been away a week, but as I said, the mentality here is not a a holiday one. Its another home one. I have had lots of messages and chatted to a fair few people over the past week, and they have all been so nice. Some even made my cry and only two things make me cry in life. Girlfriends and my mother. Apparently one to add to that list, is sentimental comments from half way around the world.

What I have here is an amazing set up and I feel entirely privileged to be here. I am one of seven phd starters in my faculty. The only european phys ed and rec graduate starter. Amazing. I sit and think, wow, how many people in the world get this opportunity? How good of an opportunity is this? How free do I feel? I have been given something quite remarkable. The opportunity for me to finally combine work and play in a way I didnt think possible and just...thrive (and bloody love it, absolutely love it). In the words of the canadians, 'its kinda neat', my reply is yeh, but its entirely bittersweet.

I just miss home. Its just so different mentally, than being at Loughborough. Loughborough in relative terms was easy. I have never miss home more than I have this week. Its not just because my immediate family are awesome (but trust me it helps), its not just because I genuinely love where I live. The barn is beautiful. Its, just... I am so bloody far away. I feel foreign, in a foreign land. Oddly, I have never felt any more British than I have done in the past week. People at home used to mock me for my odd accent of a patchwork of southern English, American, Australian and south African (I have been asked on more than one occasion). My accent is vvveerrry much British. Blindly obviously so. In one way its kind of cool to really appreciate where you are from. The conversation at lunch today sort a similar line of reasoning, in that what makes a person remarkable is their ability to know where they come from, whilst being able to be open minded enough to embrace and accept other cultures as just 'the way we do things around here'. If you can accept that and accept that their are some things that are better and worse in other cultures and take something from that. If you can do that, you really have learnt something and it would have been all worth while.

I know I have only just got here, its only been a week 'happy weekieversay matty' (thanks fran), but I am unbelievably excited about Christmas. That will only build as christmas draws in. The oddest thing about this whole venture is that I know christmas this year will be the best christmas I have ever had. Unquestionably. I will love it. I will love, just doing nothing. The presents and the formalities (for once) I shall care little for (although nice of course). I shall just enjoy, sitting doing nothing, eating 'quality street' in the knowledge that I am home. I will go out in Cambridge, quiet inconsequentially and inconspicuously, grab a pint of my usual (gay man's drink) Fosters (tops) and be mocked at in almost certainly, excessively for how I am now the token Canadian Mountie and whether or not I have hugged a grizzly bear and whether or not it is now mandatory I cover my weetabix with maple syrup. Through the thick of bant (or as they say in lboro...panda..ha good times) and abuse, I will quietly sit and smile to myself knowing that actually...I love this. I love it. I love my life and those in it.

I just wanted to give you another side of how I feel occasionally. Bold action this may be and a great adventure full of pirates, dragons and damsels in distress but it comes at a price.

I miss you guys. I think about you everyday and I cant wait to see you again.

If you have any questions or queries please do not hesitate to contact me further. Either way I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Deepest and Kindest Regards,

Mathew Dowling

Monday, 30 August 2010

"Tu vuo fa l'Canadiano"

As the title suggests, yes today I officially pretend that I am Canadian. I moved into my lovely abode. I officially moved into my first (maybe last) canadian home (who knows). Wow, a scary notion that one. I keep saying it to myself and the reality never really kicked in until now. I in Canada. Nonetheless I am still very much not feeling canadian. The everyday colloquialisms are an endless treat and they regularly amuse me as they frequent my daily conversations. I went food shopping for the first time today. Was actually more of a big deal than I generally would have thought. I had no expectation about it, getting food was and still is something that was waayyy wayyyy down the list of things to 'give a damn about right now', so I hadnt really thought about it. Food generally, is expensive here. Meat, cheese, bread and cereal all generally speaking expensive products. DAAMMNN it, my staple diet! I guess because of the limited number of stores in addition to the transportation allows for a price premium (basic principles of supply and demand at its best). Most canadians seem to blame such prices on the recession and state of the economy.

I woke up this morning, after about a 14 hour sleep due to some (really not so exciting) Canadian bug. I was bed ridden for 24 hours, much to my annoyance. If there is anything I hate more in the world, it is being ill. Its that feeling of helplessness and the necessity to do nothing apart from sit and wait and let your body take its natural course. Frustrating one which I hate not having any direct, immediate control over. So where was I...oh yes. I woke up early and checked out of the youth hostel first thing. I headed straight onto campus to finally get my student ID card (yeeeh, part of the system now fellas!). They call it the 'one card'. As in the ONE card that solves all your problems in life, poverty, famine, slavery, obesity the works. A truly remarkable and life changing card for those who seek a pilgrimage of knowledge....ok, im playing this up a little. I found the name rather ironic on the basis that we were told 'you need to get this one card, you can do everything on it', shortly followed by a talk that began with 'oh, and you need this card as a swipe card to get into your building in the evenings and weekends'. Oh how I was tempted to be the cynical at the back of the home and go 'well, you said it was a ONE card, this is quite clearly and inevitably TWO cards', but apparently Canadians don't appreciate such dry and inappropriately blunt British humour (its something I will have to work on).

   /kəˈloʊkwiəˌlɪzəm/[kuh-loh-kwee-uh-liz-uhm] –noun
1.a colloquial expression.
2.colloquial style or usage.

Recently (and to psycho-analyse myself) I seem to be going through a stage of Canadian mockery. I have no idea why and perhaps one of the many PhD (goers) whom shall inevitably read this, might be able to shed some light on such anecdotal behaviour. Something to do with the breaking down of one identity to form another, perhaps some attempt to protect my discontent for acceptance of another hegemonic culture...I dunno. Nonetheless, I find it fun and relatively good banter with some of my acquaintances.

By noon, I had, had (the double had's just annoy me) coffee with my 'buddy' which was nice. It was nice to speak a little more bluntly than usual. I took my daily dosage of skype and facebook (which is a little more extensive than usual) except, I still end doing less actually 'doing' and just staring blankly. Its a nice brain freezer, I dunno. I have too many people I wnat to keep in touch with, tell then about my days and ask them about theirs at the moment. Funny how it takes you to go half way around the world before you want to say HI again isnt it? Such is life.

Then then got my arse into gear a little and went to move into my new house! yyyeeyyy. I am living in a nice basement apartment just off the university. Apparently a stones throw away, but this is a theory that I shall definitely test when I get some down time (I endeavour to literally throw a stone). I have a wooden (laminate) flooring (apparently according to my mother, thats stereotypical canadian, alright mother 1-0), a double bed, my own bathroom (so I can sit and stare at the mirror and self-loath). Its a lovely apartment, great location. The location thing will certainly earn its looney (thats a dollar for the non-cool kids-great example of my colloquialism banter) come november when the 'great chill' shall covet thy earth and all shall be banquished to the world of snow, snow and more snow. Oh yes england, the difference between canada and the UK is that canada just knows its coming every year. England just blindly believes snow doesnt exist until it suddenly becomes a great excuse not to go to work for a day and take a long weekend off. My housemates are very nice, Brena (Canadian) and Lauren (American). That's right, the power three house. UK, America and Canada. A good combination if you ask me and they shall be awesome to live with im sure. Both friendly and chatty. I have finally, at lllllaasssst been able to just spread my life about. There is nothing more enjoyable than simply providing objects that you own, just a little personal space. Space that you have decided it deserves, a book here and mug there. A shirt in here, oh and my toothbrush there. Odd behaviour and a rather instinctive one. Yet highly enjoyable. So tonight I sleep in my castle. My world and content in the knowledge that my world shall not be rudely invaded and awaken by 7 other men snoring, packing bags and shifting places. Sound in the knowledge I no longer have to padlock my belongings in the fear that just maybe, JUST MAYBE tommorrow that passport and wallet just might not be there. OK (im sounding so very middle class right now). You catch my drift, and although seemingly little to most, its a very liberating feeling.

So what have I got lined up. The fun doesnt stop. I have a MASSIVE meeting tomorrow at 11am (8pm GMT). Should be really interesting. Banging my supervisors head with another big wig academic within my department to see what direction my phd might take and how I can get involved with a bigger research consortium (named SPLISS). Shall be interesting, in a I like this sports policy crap although its kinda geeky, sort of way. I have lunch planned with another friend of mine, always good times. She makes me smile. With the possibility of a BBQ later, depending on whether this stuuuppid and unwelcomed canadian bug checks-out early. It better. I also need to acquint myself with my new office, along with a 20 item long 'do-to list' which I shall definitely start to chop down. I can feel like, I am nearly at a stage whereby I can function, you know? I can actually organise and arrange my life and start to have some sort of valued output. Friday I shall be FINALLY attending the infamous WEST EDMONTON MALL, this shall be an epic day out (and yes, the mall is soooo BIGGG it constitutes an entire day out)
I shall blog about this particular venture alone.

"In fact something quite amusing I found out today:

Google--> Edmonton
Look at images

From it:
you get a picture of the west edmonton mall.

Yeh, not the first one, that is pretty standard. Yeh... that is right, the second one, yeh the one with all the slides and rubber dingy's. Yeh that is how canadians shop, apparently...kinda cool huh?"

Well, for the first time, this (for now) faux canadian wishes you good song and cheers. As you might infere from this blog, my mood is somewhat brightened and less anxious than the previous. Hopefully this is the start of actually getting into the ryhthem a little more, finding myself and actually settling down so I can go and have some fun. Cant wait.. roll on tomorrow...