Thursday, 28 January 2016

What do I do all day? (Thursday)

It occurs to me that this is an atypical week to be blogging about what I do, but I imagine no-one wants to read a blog where every day is: got up, went to Uni, read scientific papers, drank tea, read more scientific papers, wrote emails, went home. That's a more typical week, but why blog it when I can blog about mystery boxes and cupboards full of horses?


Last day in Bristol, and it's a crisper morning outside - a relief to my Northern blood, I've been boiling hot since I arrived.  I meet up with the singular Christine Janis, whose lifetime expertise in mammals is second to none. We begin scrutinising the latest re-analyses I've been running for the publication of my Masters thesis, which she supervised, looking at correlations in the shape of extant carnivore's ankles and their locomotion. My second supervisor, Max, joins us later, and we talk for a couple of hours about what to keep, what to cut, and what is still left to do to make a publishable paper.

What does a carnivore's ankle look like? Well, for example here is the ankle (calcaneum) of a polar bear, Ursus maritimus. The top bit is where the achilles tendon attaches - it's what sticks out when you feel your own ankle - and the bottom half is where it articulates with the other bones of the ankle, the foot and lower leg. The shape changes depending on whether the animal is a habitual runner, tree-climber, or digger. My research uncovers that shape change and uses it to understand the habits of fossil carnivores.

It's great fun making such plans and seeing a paper take shape, but inevitably it's also a little daunting. There's always more to be done, so many things that could be included... it's important to remind yourself that while you are a very capable person, you are not superhuman. At the risk of sounding like one of those twee magnets your aunty has on her fridge: you have to think big, but take it one step at a time. You will get there in the end.

At noon I said my goodbyes and fled Bristol for the airport, where I was dreading security. What would they make of the many little tubs of Tritylodontid teeth I was "smuggling" back into Scotland*? Should I declare them?

I make it through the metal detector without beeping, then stand waiting for my bag. The security woman pauses the X-ray monitor and leans in close to examine the contents of my suitcase. There, on the screen, is my camera, multiple chargers, my hard drive, and underneath them a puzzle of clip lock boxes with 166 million year old black shapes inside them. Here we go, I think to myself, I'm going to have to explain... but no. She unpauses the screen and my bag comes trundling down the conveyor without another thought.


I make the mistake of experimentally buying a veggie burger from Burger King for lunch (I haven't eaten from there since I was 13 years old - now I remember one of the many reasons why...), before a brisk and wobbly flight takes me home to Scotland. I step off the plane and POW, I'm whacked in the face with icy rain. I love it! After a blustery bus ride home to my tenement flat in the heart of the city, I make the first decent coffee I've had in days.
This is the life.

*obviously I wasn't really smuggling anything, Roger Benson's Oxford team found them on the Isle of Skye and I was ferrying them home to the National Museum of Scotland to be added to the collection - all the material found on Skye is collected with the understanding that it will go to the museum. Another important piece of our geological heritage, preserved for the people - plus I'll also be studying them for another paper.
Also, the answer is no: there's no problem carrying little bits of tooth-shaped rock on a plane, provided you aren't stealing them or removing them from their home country without permission.

No comments:

Post a Comment