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...


Dr [in search of a...] House, MD

So...Next blog. Busting these out left, right and centre now. Days are starting to role quicker and blur into each other, with my thoughts are still trying to keep up. Lets have an update of the past couple of days. Crazy days (standard) OK, so yesterday. The sabbath day, I spent profoundly house hunting. I found out in the morning that my initial plan 'a' house fell through. I had (perhaps rather naively) spent the past three days under the belief that plan 'a' would work. It didn't. So I resorted to the house hunting search plan 'b'. Plan 'B', although a good musician, is a rather strenuous activity. For those who have yet to experience such an episode, house hunting is very much aided by the tow prerequisites of a car and a mobile phone. I had neither. I was fortunate enough to have a couple of newly acquired friends who offered both their time, car and land line to help. I had been scrolling through roughly 4 house renting websites and set to work calling and viewing in a rather ad hoc fashion (believe me, it was ad hoc). I saw 5 houses in the morning and a further 3 more in the afternoon. Given my (very wishful) budget the majority of houses were either too longer contract, poor locations, unfurnished or just plain simply..ugly dives.

My shortlist consisted of two houses:

House (A): only 4 years old, 5 mins from the U of A, basement apartment, shared with 2 medical (female) students, next to a coffee shop. Which all sounds great but came with a price tag of $750 per month. Tres expensive

House (B): I guesstimate 400 years old :P, about 10 minutes on the south side of campus, cute Chinese landlady, five other international students, run down house, but $400 per month and an 8 month lease.

Choice was live rough and on budget but possibly freeze, or splash out and be safe, but feel the bite of the financial burden the rest of the year. After much venting and deliberation with my mother over Skye (thank you mom, you're awesome:standard). I decided to take option A. So that evening I trekked (again) across town. I swear I had walked over 20 miles all over university area of Edmonton. I was knackered. I signed the lease and I gave my landlord my last remaining $500. He dropped me back at the youth hostel. As I stepped out of the car and he drove off, a sudden and overwhelming serge of financial fear and worry. So overwhelming in fact I went and put my back back in my locker headed out to the nearest local Tim Horton's (this is about 10.45pm) and ordered an extra-large hot chocolate and just sat starring into the abyss thinking of the huge decision I had just made and the implications of it. House hunting is a stressful ordeal and I dont wish it upon anyone, tenfold for those who take it on by themselves. At least in previous years, I had done it with a number of other people and psychologically the burden is spread across everyone. This was me, my money and my place, quite possibly for a significant period of time.Here I was in a foreign country, making huge financial commitments to someone I had met that very day. Nonetheless, I am pleased and comforted by the fact that,. although i spent far more than I had hoped. I will sleep in the comfort I shall be safe and warm and given my present situation I felt that really is paramount. The winter looms and I know its going to be COOOOLLLLDDD. Everyone harks on about it and its just going to happen, so I just want to know I will be warm. I dont think I could handle my first winter, in a house that I dint feel comfortable in, with strangers, in a country hundreds of miles away from home, freezing and feeling miserable. So I guess in that respect, its money well spent. The picture on the top is it! Its there for all you viewing pleasure, I hope some of you might grace its presence in the near (or distant) future

Well I move into my first Canadian dwelling on midday Wednesday (1st sept). There I shall finally have somewhere to stretch my legs. I shall meet my housemates for the whole year (like them or lump them...sure they will be amazing). As of then I shall officially be living in Canada. I will have finally moved to Canada. Then I can really start to sink my teeth into all the academic demands I have (courses, admin, publications, conference preparation, proposal development etc) Of which I haven't even written one word. A scary thought. Cant wait though. They say that a PhD is a roller coaster with more downs than ups, but in the end its worth it. I fully respect I am in that naive, motivated and raw setting all those who set forth to begin the extremely lengthy and challenging pursuit that is a PhD. For now I should use that energy and positivism to my advantage, get things sorted and start to spread my wings.

Today I had yet more orientations. This one was the international orientation. Smaller is size, but it did no harm to go over what was said in the graduate orientation, so that I fully understood it and finally understand stuff that I was not clear about. We then had a mini tour around campus, we hit the international centre. I still find it an abstract reality that I am in fact now an 'international student'. I know I am, buts it's weird to consider yourself in such a way. I shall learn. We grabbed a rather overly large Chinese lunch (On the house with the cheque picked up by the phys ed & rec department- thank you indeed). After filling our stomachs, I certainly wobbled to the LRT (local rapid transit). Edmonton's metro service and headed downtown to 'Canada Place' (the government centre) to get our Social Insurance Number (SIN). I am now officially entitled to work in Canada. I am now apart of the system... taxes and all. pppfffftttt. Since then I have 'hung out' with some friends, we went on a tour/coffee crawl in and around Edmonton (was fun and good company), got massive ice cream at the 'marble slab' (of which I could write an entire blog on in its own right), a little sushi and a little billiards.

Tomorrow I conquer the bank account and try organise my life a little more. It currently feels like a freight train heading in every direction away from me. I shall pull in the reins a little. Wednesday is the big move, coffee with my newly acquired'buddy' (as apart of the buddy system) and I want to attend a workshop on cellphones (yes a workshop on cellphones) so that I will be more informed of the Canadian mobile phone market before Thursday where I shall grace and explore the great West Edmonton Mall (WEM), the single largest indoor mall in the world (apparently). I shall inform you in subsequent blogs no doubt. Well I bid you a Good evening. If you'd like my new address just contact me and I shall provide.

Roll on another day of action! x9

Friday, 27 August 2010

Tim Hortons & 'Godfather' Marvin

Second blog. Third day in Canaidia! Things are all still new. I have finished my two days of orientations now. I have international orientation on monday (30th), so yet more admin. Last night there was a Physical Education & Recreation Graduate Student (PERGS) meal down Whyte Avenue. It was a nice italian resturant, that was reasonably priced. Really nice and diverse bunch of guys consising of fire fighter trainers, yoga instructors, economists and rural landscape phd students, along with a couple of sports management guys (self-included). I sampled a typical canadian beer, my plan by the time I leave canada is to try every beer possible. I am currently on two and counting. The meal was short but sweet. Met a really cool girl called jenny, a fellow english(person), she was from Bath, she was bubbly and full of banter. She pronounced bath properly (as in bbaaarrrth), yet said bathroom (in a northern town), this led to Bethan, one of the girls on our table to state the quote of the night "you say barrrtth, but you say BATHroom?". It was perfectly delivered and had me in stitches. After I headed back to the youth hostel, I walked by a coffee shop called 'Tim Horton's', I couldnt resist and decided to go in for an XL hot chocolate. Their hot chocolate can only be described as 'divine'. So so awesome. I have to tell you a little about Tim Hortons.Its basically the equivilent of costa combined with the bakers oven or greggs. Its very cheap and seems quite a popular novelty in canada. On my very first day on the way to orientation, I had some time to kill, and coincidently their is a Tim Horton's on route to the general services building. Everymorning since, I have gone via Tim Hortons (aka my little morning sanctuary) for a plain, buttered bagel and a large hot chocolate. (There is an x-large, but I only get that if I just get a hot chocolate. The hot chocolate itself, I swear is genuinely addictive. It doesnt have an ingredients label on it, but if it did, if it said "cocaine 25g: 300% of your GDA", I would not be in the least surprised. The sugar levels I swear are somewhat enviable at minimum. Anyways, enough about my rant of Tim Horton;s.

After I got my hot chocolate, one of my room mates from the youth hostel coincidently caught me in the window whilst walking by, we walked back and I proposed a game of pool as it was his last day in edomonton. He was from Dubai, about 35 years old , clever and looking for a job in finance adminstration, but lucky for me his pool skills werent up to par with the rest of his personal portfolio.

This morning I went to see my new supervisor. The godfather that ius Dr Marvin Washington (such a cool name, for such a cool guy).Despite the fact a note that said "back in 5 mins" on his door, infact more accurately resulting in a 45 minute wait, he was really nice. A very casual and laid back, yet intelligent guy (that combination in my eyes is a very powerful one. He told me a little about himself, his expectations (which were minimal, but firm). He very much suggested a have free reign of my thesis, and suggested I speak to a couple of key academics, to both say hi and also to try get the ball rolling for starting some side projects and work to crack on publishing. I have a desk. Its a large desk, in an open plan space, like an office I guess. We are on the 6th floor of the General Services Building. He said he was keen for me to write some abstracts in order to get to some conferences. He was highly inviting and positive. He will be great to work with over the next four years no doubt.

Since then, ive been sending emails left, right and centre. Getting some ideas out. Working on possible leads for funding and updating marvin. Tonight im going to a BBQ, should be good. Marvin also suggested that I go explore edmonton I little, since right now I have time and once things get going I wont. I think this weekend I shall do exactly that. I will go to the west edmonton mall (the largest indoor mall in the world) and go explore I little.

Generally things are going well. They are going a little slower than I would like to be honest. I've had a lot of free time to sit and write these blogs and be on facebook a little. Which is nice, but I am getting itchy feet to jujst get on with something. I'm sure I will in due course. The term all kicks off on the 8th september. That is when the undergraduate masses invade campuys and when my two modules begin. Marvin also encouraged me as part of my modules I take, if I write essays to develop them into research exciting prospect. I cant wait until the 8th too because that is when all the sports kicks off. The basic deal here is that $5 gets you into any game/event on campus. Really looking forward to the basketball and ice hockey games now! they will be amazing. Right i'm going to go to the gym before the bbq, burnt it off before I put it back on again.

Thanks for your messages guys. To be honest, I am feeling really home sick at the moment, I havent really made any friends yet and feel a little isolated, despite things happening slowly. I miss england and everyone there massively at the moment. So thanks again so much for the messages. Love you all.

Mat x

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

"Tired, Overwelmed and Dirty..."

Ok, quick blog. My first blog from caniadia! whoop whoop! How to sum up how I feel right now...well. I feel tired, overwhelmed and dirty...but in a good way. I landed yesterday after a 9 hour flight. On the flight I spoke for about 4 hours to a couple of teachers from alberta. Keith and Erin. They were lovely. Our conversation mainly consisted of what advice to give to a UK student going to canada. Which was useful, but admittedly a little one sided. I landed and walked through the terminal. Travelling alone, when tired is a scary feet. I went through customs and spent an hour getting my study visa. They officially gave it to me and stapled it to my passport. I walked out of the doors feeling somewhat liberated by the thought that I officially had the right and priviellage to study for four years here. I found the U of A small kiosk, no one was there so I signed myself in and took their instructions. I jumped on the $18 shuttle service, the driver was a skinny japanese man, who amusingly tired to help me with my luggage. Nice man, but unable to lift 21 kg. I got chatting to a fellow U of A student (oh yeh, im now a U of A student i thought to myself). She was called Jenny. we chatted and she offered me a place 2 crash if I needed it. We exchanged numbers...well I got hers, cos I dont currently have a mobile (cellphone as the cool kids call it). Not a bad start if you ask me). The japanese man dumped me off at the Hi youth hostel where I was checked in by a rather attractive half-canadian, half danish women. She was nice, but seemed the type that would flirt with a lot of people. Im currently staying at w201 with 8 others, all guys and all as random as each other. I met a man from trinidad (who's story was he was waiting 2 retire). Other man was from india, he was nice, he was here for a job interview. The outcome I eargly await this fine evening. I then proceeded to take a shower and panic that I hadnt contacted my mother. I spend a good part of 2.5 hours trying 2 get my laptop to work in the hostel, which apparently was easy (i disagree). I got flustered and tried to use the phones. No luck, so I decided to venture out for the nearest internet cafe. I found one and finally, in the words of ET 'phoned home'. After which I relaxed mentally. Still the whole place was very still is. Everything here is very americanised. I know the canadians hate being compared to, let alone in the same breath as americans. But the bloody well are americans. The fast food, the massive dodge rams. just american. I then proceeded to spend the next 3 hours walking up and down, up and down, up and down what is called Whyte Avenue. It is a rarity because it actually has a name for a road rather than a number. It is apparently the 'place to be' in terms of bars, clubs and resturants. It was nice. I loved it because it was just all very new, everything, everyu shop to me was just ...novel. I got hungry and headed to a typical american pizza joint and destroyed a 12 inch pizza. I plodded on back to the hostel and crashed for the night. I was awoken about 6am, by the indian man going to his job interview. I asked him 'mate, what time is it?' of which he replied '6am you idiot, go back to bed!'. I didnt. My bodyclock is messed up. I got up and headed to orientations. Orientations ran aaaaaalllll day. Standard as orientations go. There was a small humnber of us. 30 total postgrads in the whole faculty. Amsuing considering that my sports management MSc at Loughborough had 50 alone. Size wise, it was microcosmic. We had numberous speakers come in and tell us about the tiniest niche that was essentially their live (the IT man, the student activities woman etc) somehow important to us in someway. We also introduced ourselves. I introduced myself as Mat Dowling, studied at Loughborough for four years, my interests are mainly basketball and squash, im jetlagged and I also need a place to stay, so if anyone your guy'. We had lunch upstairs in the graduate lounge above what they call the 'butterdome'.(for the reason that from the outside it looks like a giant slab of butter i.e. yellow and rectangle shaped). The 'butterdome' from what I can currently establlish is the nickname for the sports stadium facility in which most of the physical education and recreation faculty is based . For the U of A the faculty of physical education and recreation is co-existent in terms of providing recreation and elite sport and studying it academically. Interesting model compared to Loughborough whom very much seperate the work from play. I am one of seven PHD starters this year and being an international student I am somewhat of a novelty. Hopefully I shall be a nice novelty and they shall be impressed with my work.

After that, more orientations of varying degrees of boredom and standard administrative importance. I then took a stroll to work out where my supervisor is based. 6th floor...ironic or deliberate for the phys ed & rec people? mmmm. Unfortunately he wasnt in but, I have just arranged my official first meet on friday at 9am. Should be interesting. I then walked around a little until I accidently walked into what I believe is the students union hub, and here I am! Things are going well, but I'm very tired and very overwelmed and oddly in need of a familiar face or someone to go through all this with. Hopefully with more time that will happen. Much canadian love. blog soon. please do keep in touch guys. I feel like I need it. Miss you all.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Canadian fixation: 'T' minus 2 days

Ok. I cant sleep. My brain is in overdrive. My world is in overdrive. I feel nervous. I feel confused. I feel bloody excited. I just feel emotional and oddly I bloody love it. Canada is now two days away. Come tuesday morning, my life entirely changes. I am off on what can only be described as a journey of a life time. For me it cant really come quicker enough, I really cant wait, but at the same time I feel I have so much to do with not enough time to do it all. Funnily enough and I guess not surprisingly Canada is literally constantly on my mind. I can think of nothing else. If I think of something else, it is usually in relation to Canada in some way. This is all new, its crazy. This is not the kind of shit my family do. Saying that, I cant help, deep down that this is something dad would of approved of. Moving across the pond is in my blood in that respect. Its just going to be life changing. A new world, new people and I really just have the absolute mentality of 'fuck it', lets do it all, lets take on the world, lets go with nothing and no one and make something or yourself. But just something, something wicked...something pure...and something that just ticks everything for me and makes me truly happy. I had a small, yet elite, gathering of mates yesterday, they were all amazing. I genuinely wish the night didnt have to end. I've had some amazing texts, amazing facebook posts and some amazing cards that I have massively appreciated and really touched me. It showed me two things. Firstly the obvious apparency that those whom I associate with are and forever will be, just awesome. Secondly that these awesome people are inevitably going to be missed deeply and unimaginably so. A good friend of mine recently said to me that 'mat you don't have to worry about us (your friends), the good friends will be the ones that are still there for you when you get back'. This sentiment stuck in my mind as being entirely true. I genuinely feel that. I know these are the boys who will always and forever be there for me and vice versa. Thank you guys. Your colours were truly shown and you definitively represented. I will miss you all so so much, but I shall always be on the email of a call or the end of a letter. You al have my cards- use it.

I have so much to do! I must crack on. I bid you a fair evening and thanks again.

My life is remarkable. Thanks to you.


Monday, 9 August 2010

Our Ships; Our Islands

OK, I cant sleep, so I thought I would blog nostalgically and share an old extract from my very first journal. It is written by past matty, I wrote this when I was 17. Its random and free written. I like some of the ideas within it. Some of it even I find incomprehendable and have no idea why I wrote bits or what they mean. I assume I wrote it in reference to continuing education and probably watched "about a boy" that night or something. But its what i like about journals. I think its what they are all about, just writing whatever comes into your head.

Thought it was very apt given my up and coming (all too soon) move to canada in two weeks today! So without any further a due:

Our Ships; Our Islands

"Our lives are driven by the opportunities we take. The paths we choose to follow through with our own ambitions and self-belief. We really must believe. Believe in our self, and our actions through ourselves. Have the confidence to follow our hearts for a change. Our heads are governed and rules by our logic and organised through our cognition. We rarely act on impulse...why? Perhaps through an inherent fear of failure, fear of being somewhere you initial didnt't intend to be; this place that you could never imagine. Why cant you imagine this place when this dream is idealic but achieveble. Well...if the truth be told it is because you haven't seen it. It is in effect just an idea, not yet a physical landscape. Yet, we conceptually believe it is the landscape we have in our heads, so why don't we try more? Why are we so scared to fail? Is it because we will find it impossible or essentially too hard to escape from? It is exactly that attitude one must question. It is that conjuction with timing. You cannot jump off the ship too early, you must leave port and set sail and travel to be taken to the islands of opportunity. They only exist as a concept, but still we phsyically know them as the horizon. Bring me that horizon. The fine line between what is real and what could be possible. This ship contains all those with the will to see new lands, those ambitious enough to float on wood for a while. These select profile pf individuals have the motivation to take the boat ride, but the jump off is the skill and the sort after ability. When and how does one jump? What island is better than the other? Do you compare by appearance? If you wait too long the ship simply turns aound and goes back home. Is that a mature approach to take? Of course to jump off this ship could well mean death by drowing. The island is hard to reach, depending on the current, the weather, your personal fitness and motivation all contribute to the success of reaching that island. There are those who just go for the ride and the experience of sailing, perhaps to then sail their own ship. Man is an island. Well, man is an island chaser more accurately. We all want our paradise islands complete with our dreams on top. Those islands constitute every desire, want or need of a given person. It stands for everything you literally stand for. Your island is waiting and forever changing. It changes even after attainment. Is is the ship which I stand and I still want. I am educating myself on board, visiting far lands, watching out for my island and my horizon. I know it is there, somewhere beyond that horizon. Still I cannot see it, but I know it is there. For me I still sail and I will continue to do so until my heart tells me... now. NOW! DO IT NOW... JUMP!"


a short reflection...

"It is easy to be the person you have always been, for it requires no change, no self-reflection, and no growth. It may appear that changing yourself requires giving up something. In reality, there is no need to give up anything- you must simply add to what has been" Anon

- I am sick of the norm of mediocrity...

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Costa moments (part #2)

"Friendship is for life. It involves an exercise of choice not compulsion. This is what makes it the purest of all relationships. However, you must choose your friends carefully. And cherish and nurture the friendship for a lifetime. It is not difficult to find friends. The tough part is to honor the friendship" -Anon

Most recently I have been thinking a lot about friendship. This is a continuation of my last blog. if you consider the analogy of my last blog akin to a 'cover letter' into my feelings of friendship this blog as somewhat of a 'footnote' to my feelings on friendship. Something that provides a little more clarity, intrigue and in all honesty a dash of cynicism.
My true friends inspire me, they comfort me and they are most precious to me. I have always said, and I am sure many of you have heard me say this, that friends should add to your life. What I mean by that is that a good friend will, in some way shape or form, provide you something you don't have. This does not imply you take from friends, far from it. Just as you gain something from them, you should try your up most to give as much as possible to them, far more so than you receive. For me friendship is not false, it is as honest, patient and kind as love itself. For that reason I keep a small, but elite, group of very close friends who mean the most to me. I am not the type to keep up pretenses or pretend to keep up with the jones's (mr or mrs). I am who I am and I expect the same honesty back. To me the best friends are those who tell you straight, even when what they tell you is not what you want to here. In fact, my best friends are those who do this best. They tell me the cold, honest and bitter truth even if at the time I dont want to here it and I love them more it, because that
is there opinion, it is the truth and a true friend tells you entirely straight (like pear cider, made from 100% pear(s)!) - if you get that reference, you are one of them.

I find that all far too often people are friends with people who do quite the opposite. They simply suck the soul out of you, often for selfless and self-defensively through often irrational motives normally due to their own insecurities, obscurities and absurdities. They bring you down, the suck like a leech every feeling of good-will, compassion and empathy leaving with either angry, uncompassionate, irrational and frustrated. I never do understand why people still remain friends with people like that. Oten because 'they have history' and go way back or because you almost feel sorry for the inidvidual and feel a sense of responsibility to try help them. If friendship drag you down, them they aren't friends. Because that is not what friends do. OK, they occassionally lean on you, but everyone needs a little support every now and then. We are all human, some more than others perhaps. I have a really diverse and often conflicting friendship 'circle'. [I love the usage of friendship 'circle' implies a continue loop or fence] Reminds me of a great quote I was told recently about friends. "one should not circle themselves with a fence, but rather friends". nice isn't it? Implies that friends are the very insultation of you to the world, they are the boundary, your communication, your connection with the real world. Nice analogy.

Anyways [coming back from the circle tangent], friends are diverse and often to conflict. I dont mind that. In fact I applaud that to some degree. My friends all add to my life in their own, special, unique and gifted way (and trust me they are extremely unique and gifted- some more 'special' than others ;) :p ) . Some are into music, some into sport. Some into numbers some into narratives and so on and so forth.

I have no concept of time with friends. Albeit some of my closest friends have known me the longest and thus know me very well. Saying that, I have some close friends in my life that have known me in my entirety for a relatively microscopic period of time. I have always been intrigued by the link between time and influence, in that time, although does somewhat induce inlfuence, it is not casual. Some friends I have 'acquired' (for want of a horrific use of a word) have been so so influential on my life and interestingly they are people who I never originally thought they would. How wrong I was and how amazing that is. I also find that with find you realy and truly realise who your friends are. You realise of those who are selfless and selfish in their own right. Those who give more than they receive and those who change their face like the wind changes direction. I accept as much as the next person that friends fault. They occassionally fail as we all do. Its what makes us human after all. I accept that. What I don't accept is living lies. Living a fallacy, one after another. I am not angry, it is not in my nature. I read recently whilst walking through the city of london a quote which I shall leave you with. A quote that rather sums up my thoughts on my life at the moment and in particular this blog

"There is nothing in the world to be feared; but only understood" Marie Curie

To whom it may concern, from this I hope that you and I better understand the value of (our) friendship and from it the true value of those around us which of we should consider and accept as unfortunately imperfect, but most precious. We all have choice; so until next time...

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Costa moments

To whom I am proud to call a friend,

Thank for for our coffee catch-up at costa today. I just wanted to say that you keep me sain during my times of insanity. You accept my flaws, my imperfections even went I do not. You know the world is your oyster and go for it- and so you should. You should follow your ideas, they are brilliant. They are yours and I will be there for you every single step of the great journey that we call our life. To you who when I cry you are always there. Not by duty, but by compassion. You pick me up when I am down: and down I shall undoubtedly go...we all go at some point. I know you will always be there even if I am not around. Physical distance is nothing to compared to mental closeness. You make me smile with pure articulated genius. You are genuine and honest; a rarity amongst these parts. You follow your ideas because you know that they are important.You are passionate. I admire, love and appreciate for everything you do. I dont think I ever could tell you enough. You are your own and you know it. You live for it. You live in your own world content in the knowledge at any point you can step into mine. You call me from time to time, just to say hi, just to hear a friendly voice. You think of me when I wish to be thought of. What is important in my life is inherently important in yours. We talk of each other with interest, respect and happiness. We lean on each other, propping each other. We have 'coffee' by day, a pint by night. We share are thoughts, our feelings and our worlds. We stroll the streets without purpose, but with companionship. We sit and watch the world go by because somehow it is better to share. I dont know what I would do without you. You have been my rock. My consciousness. You say what I need to hear without a whisper. I am so glad you are in my life. You have quite simply changed it for the better.

Do you fancy coffee next week?

Upmost & Kindest Regards,

Mathew Dowling

Wednesday, 23 June 2010


"Once again, my life has been saved by the miracle of lasagna" (Garfield, 2004)

Ah yes, the great academic that is Dr. Garfield (phd in lasagna) of which I shall come back to shortly. Its been a fair while since I last blogged, purely down to the fact that my life recently has been hectic, fluctuating, at times stressful. I have been busy busy busy in both work and play. Since my last blog I have revised for and sat my final series of exams at Loughborough. I assumed it would be my last ever, but it turns out that my adventures to alberta rather inevitably result in yet more examinations this december. mmmmmmmmeeeeehhhh! Oh well, im over it. So now I have the summer ahead with the goal to break-even with the banks and complete a 20,000 word dissertation...I wouldnt have life any other way....I mean that in an 'its busy' sense, because if I could have it any other way I would have achieved my desired outcome by then :P I wanted to keep this one short and simple today, primarily to keep in touch with the common 'blogger' due to my absence, and partly because I appreciate my blogs at times can be long and tedious essays; of which requires the upmost self-discipline and appreciation for my incessant ramblings. I wanted to share with you a feeling which I can only best describe as a 'novelty' in my life, something which I rarely share when it happens, and usually prefer to point out the obscurity and complexity of life.

I wanted to share with you a feeling of contentedness.

Its a feeling that I rarely express or feel, in fact I will even go as far to say that, and those particularly close to me will entirely appreciate this, is that I am not an easily content man. Things hardly ever are quite enough for me at times. I do not mean content in the fact that I am happy with where I am at and I dont what to move. Quite the contrary. Nothing cataclysmic or revolutionary has happened, but this feeling is more precisely a series of incremental and slow evolutions. I feel that my life is forever changing and progressing. Relationships, my studies, my family life, my friends etc etc. But right now I feel in all departments, everything is just pointing in the right direction and everything for me is going the way I want it, and I take a lot from that, and feel its nice to take time out to appreciate that. I have so SO much to do in every single department of my existence, but I am content in the fact that I know they will go the way I want them. I can sit here and type with an understanding that life around me feels in a perfect equilibrium and I feel so comforted about it. I feel in control. I feel great. Life is great, and its not about the big things, but I have come to realise that its also not just about the small things either. Its about a balance of things. Balancing it on that tiny tightrope of happiness and at that point we can just sit back and go 'yeeeeaaaaaaaa' [peaches]. I have got great friends, great prospects, great family and maybe canada changes your perspective on what you have. But I have something amazing right now and I love it. I love what I do, I love the people I have recently met, I just love life.... I really do. This is of those times where you smile at the word and it smiles straight back at you. I love my world and everyone in it; and for that I cant think of anything else more inspiring. Its just a nice thought that, even if you feel that you aren't quite where you want to be in the grand scheme of things, just to reflect on the fact that actually, you are going the right direction, its just that you are not there yet. Sit back and enjoy life. Somehow I think that garfield just got it right. It is a rather bizarre and odd metaphor but it is genuinely the best way I can describe how good life is.... through lasagna. Its the combination of good meat, these things that really give your life substance (friends, family, your work) and the layers and layers of pasta which give you the energy to make things happen, just makes something so so tasty right now!...and as for lasagna and life as a whole, I feel hungry...


Thursday, 27 May 2010

Tennis balls

"Time is precious, you should spend time with whom you want, you're off to Canada for four years in 87 days" Clare Rogers

How important are people to you? How many do you value those around you? How do you know? How does it change? We all go about are lives rather diligently with routine and regularity, over and over again. We walk down the same path that we forget where we set off from and moreover where we were heading in the first place. This quote was teh instigation of this blog and another reminder of a general and slow realisation I have had through a series of events including: my dad's death, moving to the barn, university life, challenges like cycling through france and running marathons in scotland, relatonships and friendships moving into and out of my life, some through choice others through circumstance, old faces, new faces, with all the above blended with a splash of my impending voyage to the far distant shores of Canada I find the beverage somewhat bittersweet.

I have realised how important people are and how much I value them. My move to university and the saga of my father has made me realise how amazing my family are. How much I used to take them for granted. Although it pains me to admit it at times my family are very influential on me. My mother is just the most phenomenal women and I love her deeply. She is my rock. My brother is my alter-ego, my go to guy, my wingman (in a more platonic sense, rather than pulling before you ask) and I know that he will always be there and look out for me. Even my aunties and uncles are key figures in my life. My uncles in particular have always acted as somewhat of a father figures to me. I admire them greatly for their trades, their intelligence and ability to reason with me unlike any other. Although at times I may not agree with them, they have always been the most level headed of individuals and never shy of a thought embossed in wisdom far beyond my years, and forever shall be.

My friends far too often amaze me. I have been fortunate enough to live with a group of people I am truly close to and be surrounded by intriguing people far better than myself. They know my world more than I know it myself and they far too often remind me of that fact. I don't tell them enough how much I appreciate them, so now is better than anytime to do so. I have friends in my life that have been through the agess. Friends I have known since I can remember. I have kept some friends from my earliest of adolescence, it is those that I know get where I am coming from (quite literally). It is these friendships that have been through the wars and out again. They have been battered and bruised over time and yet still remain impeccable. They are the most amazing friendships that I just cannot say how much they make me feel. My Cams boys (and girls) are wicked (they always have been and always will be) and I genuinely feel emotional at times about what they mean to me. Somethings are rarely spoke because they simply are too hard to explain. I simply leave you with the most appropriate comment I can articulate.....yyyyyyyyyyeeeeaaaaaaaaahh peaches.

I also appreciate a number of shortcomings I have maintaining my friendships. I appreciate I suck at texting back (often I dont) and I assure you its not because of value but rather a bad habit persistence of reading my phone and then being distracted by something shortly followed by a temporary episode of amnesia. I also dont call enough, i dont call those who are important to me merely for the sake of calling them to see how their day was. When I was younger, about 16 years old, I thought of an analogy to describe friendships and the maintenance of them. It was inspired by a rather long walk home from cambridge to where I lived at the time in histon. This was a round trip of nearly 2 hours. During which I somehow managed to acquire a tennis ball and played with it all the way home. The ball plus a continually thinking mind got me inspired and I thought about this idea. I find friendship maintenance is rather akin to you sitting in the centre of a large room surrounded by a series of tennis balls all rolling away from you. Hundreds of them. These tennis balls (or any balls for that matter) roll away from you. The rate at which they roll away from you depends on your strength of friendship and the environment and the circumstance of which you interact with the friend. If you for example lived next door and saw the friend everyday your interactions would be frequent and thus the tennis ball would be rolling at a slow pace. Conversely should your friendship be someone you once met say on holiday and they live in another country; the tennis ball rolls away a lot quicker, after all you know litle about one another and only interacted on a singular event basis. You in the fray of all this are constantly acting and interacting with your friends to either pull them back right next to you for them to start their journey once again or you are influencing them in terms of their pace of roll. Indeed I have come to realise over time some balls simply get too far out of your reach and are impossible to grab once again unless you get up and fetch it. Equally some roll at such a slow pace you rarely need to rekindle it. There are some that are behind you back, some that you miss that they even rolled away from you in the first place. To me this game and a game it is indeed, is a question of time and influence...that was my analogy anyway, I thought it was a rather apt depiction of friendships, we all play this game and we all have our preferences, techniques and consequences. The balls that say and the balls that go dictate our friendship circles and influence our lives to create a game very different from the one we started....

To me people are not aware of how amazing those around them are or can be. If you experience what its like to lose someone really close to you (and I wish it apon no one) then you know what I mean by appreciating someone more. When someone dies you realise a) who is realy there for you when you need them and depend on and b) whom you really care about and want in your life at times of need. Things get totally realigned. Rather perversely you see the world for how is really should be to everyone. You are care-free about those stupid things in life you get entirely engulfed and consumed in. The pull of life suddenly becomes weightless and you feel, you alive. You are very conscious of the fact you are alive and how much of a privilege that really is. My realisation that I will be leaving to Canada and my life will change is slowly becoming a reality and once again I am starting to appreciate that weightlessness and how much I value and admire those around me. Those friendships I have old or new, I just dont want to change and if they do i hope they can only change for the better because they amaze me and I love them all for their own unique and special contribution. Even the smallest of things, the little facebook comments here, the catch up coffees on a weekly basis, the catch up calls on a yearly basis, the catch-up whatever from 2 years ago! It matters not. Even those who I feel most emotively for, those of whom I have rather (unfortunately for them) subjected them to as much of me as possible, I cannot regard as anything but incredible. The Cp's, Ily's and Dougal's of this world are significant, significant! parts of my life and no matter how hard and how bittersweet it is, I want them in my life and central to it at that. Life is far to short. Cliche, but so SO fucking true. I hate those people who shut people out of their lives (and I have done it and still do and fully accept hypocracy in this), especially when they are close to you. They know you better than anyone else and I know it hurts. It undoubtedly hurts and the emotion and awkwardness can have powerful leverage but the fragility of life and the amazingness to genuinely share it with someone, anyone, to me is second to none. Undoubtedly. Unquestionably.

From this blog I hep you take away three themes ribboned throughout. Firstly the significance and value of those around you, your friends. Next time you are around them or you get a text, get a phone call, consider the fact that they are in your life and how amazing that is and they are. Believe you and me they are!

Secondly for those of whom you have lost contact with. I hope you find somewhere in you to perhaps rekinder something that once was, failing that appreciate what they did for you in your life and how that fact will never change. You may change and circumstance may change, time may go on, but at that time and place they were something to you and they influenced your life at that point in time. For those who unfortunately break up (...and some relationships are simply not meant to be) with people I ask you to consider something which feels counter-defensive and almost counter intuitive- stay friends. Realise through all the bullshit, hurt, anger and frustration that you only feel that way because you have strong feelings for each other and that you were emotnally attached to them. They meant something to you and you only kid yourself if you ingore the fact that they meant something to you. I for one feel strongly that those I have dated have been some of the most profound influences on my life and I am a product of that. I feel stronger and I only have them to thank. These are key tennis balls, ones that have potential to roll away fast, yet I find myself wanting and trying to pull them in the closest.

The third is that I feel that this a game I want to play more. I have found a new fondness for the game of tennis, so to speak. Those of whom I contact, even in its brevity, its because I care and because you are important to me. I know our lives are changing and I for one will be going through a significant change which will affect and involve the game we currently play. But I will do my upmost to play. You mean the world to me and even if you are not in it I will do my best to make your you are...