Tuesday, 25 November 2014

A trip to London

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog post about going to see several bands live in Southampton. Both of the bands that I saw were playing in a local music venue. However last Thursday I travelled all the way up to London to attend my latest gig.

The band in question were a semi-acoustic pop-folk duo called Paper Aeroplanes, who couldn’t be more different from the last band I saw in Southampton. The support acts were also acoustic-based; the first were a duo from Mississippi who had only formed at the start of this year, whilst the second was an eccentric solo artist from Australia. The usual moshing and head banging that feature at rock concerts were nowhere to be seen, instead replaced with warming hot chocolate and rows of seating – a very civilised experience!

Paper Aeroplanes’ magical performance

The venue was a beautiful old church, with balconies that overlooked the stage and stained glass windows that glinted in the multi-coloured lighting. It was a very unique setting, which helped enhance the music and make it a very memorable and special night.

The venue’s beautiful architecture. 

The reason for going up to London and to see this band was that my girlfriend and I were celebrating one year together and although the band was her suggestion, I actually enjoy their music too. Before the show, we had decided to eat out and had chosen to book a table at a small restaurant near Euston station, where we indulged on nachos, gourmet burgers and spicy fries, opting for real pig-out food!

After the gig we made our way to Victoria Coach Station and headed back down to the South Coast. The coach dropped of us on Highfield Campus, which just echoes what Kristin mentioned in her last blog: travelling to and from London is a very easy to do from Southampton! In fact, I’ve found getting to most places very easy, whether it’s been to the nearby Portsmouth, Eastleigh and Winchester, or places further afield.

The next day we went out to every student’s favourite ice cream parlour nearby. I had a gigantic brownie sundae with hot fudge sauce, which sadly defeated me. It was the second time I had been in a week, as I had also gone there with my housemates the weekend before, after trying out the (relatively) new and popular gourmet burger restaurant in the nearby Portswood area.

 A ‘little’ treat after a hard week of work. 

Although it may look like all I have been is socialising and enjoying myself, I have in fact also been hard at work with my studies. My modules are heading towards their conclusion and the word ‘revision’ is slowly starting to re-enter my vocabulary. My Master’s project is also progressing nicely; my project partner and I have almost finished the first half of our work load, after using our code to analyse several hundred quasars, creating a comprehensive catalogue of data in the process.

Going up to London and seeing all the Christmas lights and decorations in shop windows has made me feel all 'Christmassy' and with it comes the realisation that this term has almost finished. As I write this, my housemates are getting ready to put up our Christmas tree and I’m sure my next post will feature lots of festive spirit (and maybe the odd mince pie!).


Monday, 24 November 2014

A stroll around campus

It seems like quite a while ago that I started writing this blog - and it’s nearly impossible to sum up what’s happened since! But ever since I began, there’s been an idea lingering at the back of my head for a post to write in my final year: based on the premise of spending a solitary day, probably just a typical Monday, on Highfield campus, I’d simply walk around the University buildings and bullet point the things that’d jump out at me, which made me smile or attracted my curiosity, in turn hopefully revealing the amazing quantity of day-to-day happenings here in the incredibly vibrant University community.

I’d like to spend some proper time on it to do it justice, so hopefully it’ll soon follow the conquering of the annual November deadline rush, where everyone scrambles to get work in before Christmas! But taking part in some photography training at the University last week somehow ended up providing an apt preview of just how long the piece will probably end up being – when I get round to writing it, that is!

I attended the session with the aim of hopefully being able to provide higher quality snapshots of my University life on here through the medium of a camera phone (not always the easiest task out and about in the city!). We received a number of tips about improving the quality of our photographs, and in turn how to go about trying to capture the essence of an effervescent student body. It was fascinating to see just how much a simple camera phone really could achieve through keeping an eye out on your surroundings, particularly if you happen to be in the right place at the right time!

Towards the end of the session we were given an hour or so in which to get outside and start making our own photographs happen, working on the principles of anticipating good pictures, framing shots with the sunlight, and often just by asking people whether they would mind us taking pictures to capture some more naturalistic (although consequently perhaps camera-pressured!) moments. Some people understandably declined (I wouldn’t want my photo taken after a 9am lecture – as a non-morning person, it wouldn’t be a pretty sight!), but the majority were happy to let us go about strolling around campus and quite literally getting a snapshot (or two) of the University in action, which was a hugely illuminating experience.

Ultimately the one thing I took away from the exercise, aside from the useful photography tips, was a significantly deeper insight into the eclectic undertakings of the University community as a whole. In just forty-or-so minutes of the hour we were allocated, I’d already been round and snapped bike repairs on the concourse, passionate discussions between students and lecturers outside lecture theatres, the beautiful greenery on campus, a well-attended daytime concert in the Turner Sims, several games of Squash being played as competitively as ever, bustling bars and cafes in the Students’ Union, and many a friend reunited over lunch! Out of the interests of the privacy of the parties involved I won’t put many of the photos up here – only the people I know and asked personally – but suffice to say that it demonstrated to me that, when I finally get around to bullet-pointing for that future blog post over the course of a whole day, the list certainly won’t be shy of varied content!

The University's Valley Gardens were looking beautiful, even on a Winter’s day!

There was a great turnout at the Turner Sims’ daytime concert!

I was lucky enough to be on hand to capture a hug between two of my friends who’d spotted one another outside the Union!

Even when you’re perhaps not feeling like taking part in the more active elements of University life and you just want to relax, there’s still a lot to make you smile. Slightly wearied by many an assignment the other night, myself and the rest of my house went on a spontaneous trip to one of our favourite dessert parlours nearby for some sugary treats - and left positively bouncing home! It was yet another example of a simple, yet nonetheless brilliant, activity, resulting in a great evening.

A trip to Sprinkles was just what the doctor ordered after assignments galore!

It’s amazing just how much you can see with a simple stroll around campus. And if you don’t believe me, why not come on an Open Day or Campus Tour and try it some time? It might just render you as inspired as its left me.


Tuesday, 18 November 2014

A weekend in London and Southampton Blackout 2014

I spent the weekend before last with friends in London! It's so easy to get there from Southampton. The atmosphere was great, with stores preparing for Christmas and the lights on display made for a gorgeous sight walking down the busy streets. On the Friday evening we went for drinks at bar which was made of ice! Everything from the furniture to the glasses were made of ice and we were given large coats to keep us warm while inside the icy room. Our visit to London was partly as something special with one of our good friends Ivy, who is moving back home to Singapore this week! It’s sad that she won’t be around Southampton, but I know I will see her again in the future so it doesn’t really feel like we’re saying goodbye forever. There are so many ways to keep in touch, so I’m sure we’ll stay up to date with what’s happening in each other’s lives. My friends and I then headed to Canary Wharf for a grand dinner and, as silly as it may sound, this was very exciting for me because I had never been around the Canary Wharf district before and my only prior knowledge of the place was that it was a property square in the board game Monopoly. 

One of our Southampton friends who graduated last year and has recently started working in London also came to join us for dinner. I was then lucky enough to stay at her place and got to see how she was living in the big city. 

Me in the ice bar wearing one of their massive coats - you can see the ice sculptures in the background. 

On the Saturday we met up with Ivy again and one of my close dance friends who moved to Nottingham after our first year. Together we took a couple of dance classes at the renowned Pineapple dance studios which is always a lot of fun! My friend, who’s quickly settling into life in the big city, has a friend who writes a popular food blog which recommended a few good places to eat out near where the dance studio was. We ended up at a vegetarian buffet which I loved because as a vegetarian I had a huge variety of dishes to choose from. I had never been to a restaurant dedicated to vegetarian food, and it was delicious! 

Last Friday our team of bloggers, Robin, James and I were given an opportunity to attend a photography training session which will hopefully help us with our photography skills for the blog, and in general. I definitely need more practice, but you may see some improvement with the photos I show on the blog in the future! I must admit I have a new admiration for photographers and can appreciate how much the person behind the lens determines the end photo! It’s not just about having something nice to take a photo of, or a fancy camera; the way you place yourself to take the photo and the vision of the image you want to take are key! I’ll try and keep that in mind for the future.

That evening, myself and a few of my fellow Green Action committee members - along with around 250 other student volunteers - took part in the annual Southampton Blackout 2014! Blackout is an annual event organised by the University of Southampton and SUSU to raise awareness on sustainability and to encourage staff and students to switch off to save energy (which also saves money!). 

Myself and a couple of my Green Action committee members at the Blackout event. 

There had clearly been a lot of planning put into the event and I was very happy to take part! As a student volunteer, our roles were to switch off all unnecessary electrical equipment on campus as well as take an energy audit. In addition to taking part in a great event we were all given a free hoodie as well as pizza, when everyone gathered to celebrate a successful night!


Friday, 14 November 2014

Variety is the spice of life

We have now reached the half-way stage of semester one and the introductory lectures/chapters of each module have long disappeared; replaced instead by engaging and challenging new material. It is also at this point that I find the modules that I am taking seem to click together and a wider picture of the topic begins to form in my head.

Perhaps the module I’m enjoying the most this semester is one called Sustainable Energy Systems, Resources and Usage. This module focuses on sources of sustainable energy, as well as the various impacts that humans have on the Earth, both in a quantitative and a qualitative way. However, unlike the majority of modules I have taken at the University, this module is not run by the Physics department, but by Engineering instead.

Having the option to choose modules from different disciplines really allows you to broaden your horizons by delving into other interests. I chose to do this particular module because I enjoyed a Physics course last year which touched upon nuclear energy and I wanted to learn more about renewable and sustainable options from a mathematical point of view.

During my time at the University of Southampton I have taken a few modules that have not been directly from Physics. In semester one of second year I opted to take a Maths module that was orientated towards scientists, aiming to develop the mathematical tools we have at our disposal. I found this course to be extremely rewarding and I got my best ever mark in this exam, so in semester one of third year, I once again chose to attend a module from the Mathematics Department!

I have found it is good to have a bit of diversity across your modules, because no matter how much you enjoy a particular subject, a wide range of topics helps keep you engaged and it also encourages the development of new skills.

This ethos can be applied across everything you do whilst at university. One of the reasons I joined the Art Society this year was to improve my art skills, as I had only ever done it as a hobby and I had little experience in anything other than sketching. Last week we had an oil painting session and I was a complete beginner. I began quite cautiously, but I quickly got the hang of it and I was pretty pleased with my painting of an owl!

'Owlbert' the Owl - not bad for a first attempt at oil painting! 

The same can be said for all the different sports that I have played at university. This year I am mainly focusing on the Intramural Badminton League, where I play for the one of the Physics teams. My partner from last year graduated over the summer, so this year I have enlisted the help of my badminton-playing housemate. We lost our first few matches of the year as we are still learning each other’s games, but we have been training together quite regularly and are hoping this will allow us to become more competitive.

 Getting to the Badminton courts at the University nice and early on a Monday morning! 

They say variety is the spice of life, and nowhere is this truer than at university. Whether this diversity comes from your studies or the societies you attend, having variation will lead to a very fulfilling time as a student!


Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Passing the mantle

I know I’ve written this a lot recently, but wow - it’s a curious feeling knowing that it’s your final year at University! And when it has become to be something of a second home over your time spent there, like Southampton is for me, it’s odd to imagine there’s a world beyond it - I can’t quite get my head around it!

But, as the weeks tick by, the MEng Software Engineering Group Project deadline draws ever nearer (terrifyingly so!), and the pile of job and graduate scheme applications continues to grow (or in most cases fill up my email inbox!), the reality that life at Southampton is drawing to a close, for me as a student at least, is beginning to sink in. The last iteration of many annual festivities have already taken place – such as the final attempt to get a Halloween costume right last week, and the final attempt to put on a decent fireworks show on Bonfire Night without blowing anything up (congratulations to my friend Charlie for a great display last week)!

The fireworks at my friend Georgia’s birthday party on Bonfire Night were fantastic! 

Although I can already feel the first pangs of sadness creeping in (I really will miss it!) with the knowledge I’ll soon be moving on after what seems like no time at all since those heady days back in my first year, I’m still trying to get as much out of being in Southampton as I can – such as by signing up to society socials to popular nearby places like Playzone, for instance! In fact, I feel like I’ve almost made it something of a personal crusade this year to attempt to get out there, meet people, and prosper from the fantastic opportunities and experiences that the University and Students’ Union continue to offer on a daily basis. In doing so, I have been well and truly reminded of how it’s just impossible to get through everything there is to do here – well, without taking on ten more degrees, I guess!

It’s with this in mind that I’ve continued trying to make the most of the brilliantly supportive frameworks, systems and resources in place within the Union’s Performing Arts department while I still can (possibly with a career path in mind!). Last week I successfully pitched to a committee for the opportunity to direct a production of the farcical award-winning musical The Drowsy Chaperone through the musical theatre society, Showstoppers, to take to the stage in March 2015. Tackling the challenges of a musical, and in particular the unique elements of the brilliant ‘Chaperone’ (which includes a particular song one poor actor will have to sing while roller-skating!), is definitely something I’ve never attempted before – so another new, exciting opportunity, and another item off my start-of-year bucket list!

But while I’m extremely excited about upcoming auditions, rehearsals and performances – there’s something incredibly satisfying about building a production from the ground! – I also go into it in the knowledge that, as probably one of the more experienced (read: old!) folk from within the Performing Arts, it’s important that I do my best to give back such opportunities to future students, so they can go on and enjoy them as much as I’ve done in my time here. Although when I started out I could never have imagined I’d be one of these ‘older generations’ of society members, it’s great to know just how much they all have to look forward to – and that, hopefully, I can help them to have an equally fantastic time in Southampton too!

It’s with this in mind that myself and my fellow final-year Co-Director, Andy, decided to open up the voluntary jobs on our Chaperone production team – including Director, Producer, Choreographer and Musical Director, roles – to the general Performing Arts subsection and its membership base in its entirety, hoping to attract some new faces and garner production team experience for as many people as possible. After all, from next year, they’ll be the ones directing, producing, choreographing and musically directing the shows of the future. We figured it’d be great to offer them the opportunity to pick up some new skills (there’s no real other way to practice directing a room full of 25 people) and learn how student productions work in general!

Hence, with auditions for the show approaching (and if you’ve ever fancied trying acting out, I’d definitely recommend it!) and another great show on the horizon, we go into The Drowsy Chaperone not only nostalgically aware of the show’s proximity to the end of the year and a fantastic spell in Southampton, but also very excited to be working with the fresh faces at the forefront of the team! After all, however amazing it’d be, I guess we won’t be around in Southampton forever!


Friday, 7 November 2014

Rollercoasters and inspiring green events

Last Friday I took the train to Thorpe Park with my housemate to celebrate Halloween with a night full of horror mazes and adrenaline inducing rollercoasters! This was my first visit to Thorpe Park and it definitely won’t be forgotten, I can’t remember the last time I’ve screamed so much! While I have to somewhat shamefully admit I had my eyes closed a lot of the time while walking through the different horror mazes, all I can say is that they were very effective. Because we went during one of the park’s special ‘Fright Night’ events, we prioritised going to the different horror mazes and packed in a few rollercoaster rides towards the end of the night. The funny thing was that after being scared out of our minds in the mazes, the crazy rollercoasters that would normally have me screaming at the top of my lungs actually became surprisingly relaxing! Anyway, I had a lot of fun and it was exciting to travel out of the city and see a new attraction within the UK - just one of the many which you can visit from Southampton!

Entering Thorpe Park… totally innocent and unconcerned about the horrors I’d encounter in the evening! 

Thorpe Park at night! 

This week, Green Action had our first meeting to introduce the Fossil Free campaign we will be running this year to our members. It’s exciting to start taking the first steps in the campaign. Our meeting included a short presentation from the committee and then a discussion and some brainstorming of ideas on how we’ll make this campaign a success and how to get more people involved.

Members of Green Action at out Fossil Free meeting

We’re currently a relatively small group of students but hopefully in the near future I’ll be posting a photo of a huge crowd of people getting involved in the campaign! I’ve already spoken with two other societies, Marine Conservation and Oxfam Society who have expressed an interest in getting involved. I will no doubt keep you updated on our progress.

The campaign isn’t just something that we’re running in Southampton. There’s a huge movement globally to push divestment from the fossil fuel industry and as the effects of climate change are becoming more and more conspicuous there is increasing awareness of the need to make a change towards a greener economy.

At the Ecocide Law Talk 2014 in the Turner Sims.

On the topic of the environment, climate change and a sustainable and green future, I also attended a very inspiring talk given by Polly Higgins, a leading expert on Ecocide Law, which was held at the Turner Sims venue on campus. The talk was very interesting and very relevant considering the launch of our fossil free campaign. There was also a fascinating discussion afterwards with the addition of a few guest panelists who were all clearly very passionate about putting a stop to ecocide and promoting a greener planet. They raised a number of compelling arguments supported by both shocking and relatable examples as to why an ecocide law is needed.

I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to attend the talk and feel like I’ve had my eyes opened and gained a number of new perspectives on different global challenges, including food security and overpopulation. My motivation to step up and take more action has gained new vigour and I’m feeling more hopeful about a healthier and happier future for our planet.


Thursday, 6 November 2014

Gigs and ghouls

On Monday evening, after my meeting with my Master’s Project Supervisor and rushing home to eat some pre-made pasta, I made my way to the Talking Heads to see a band I’ve been wanting to watch for years. Fortunately for me and my busy timetable, this pub and live music venue is only a minute walk from my student house – literally just around the corner!

The band in question were Tesseract, who play a type of music called ‘djent’, which is a sub genre of metal characterised by rhythmic complexity and skilled musicianship. They were supported by two instrumental bands; the first was an extremely talented solo artist called Navene K and the second a djent trio lead by guitar virtuoso Tosin Abasi. All three acts were brilliant and, as a guitar player myself, it was incredible to watch these highly technical players perform only a few metres away from me – although I was a little deaf after the show!

The Talking Heads is a great local venue for live music; the shows are very intimate and you often get the chance to talk to the support acts once their set is over and they have packed their equipment away. As well as seeing Tesseract there, I also went to see a British progressive rock band called Anathema at the end of Freshers’ Week in September. They are one of my favourite bands, so when I first heard they were playing so close to me in Southampton I couldn’t quite believe my luck!

Anathema’s ethereal music was fantastic to witness in person.

Coming from a medium sized town, I’m not used to having bands playing on your doorstep – I used to have to go into London or to festivals if I wanted to see a particular act. However, being in a bustling city like Southampton  with numerous live music venues, there are always bands playing in and around the city. In fact, there are another two gigs that I want to go to this month!

Apart from the gig, this week’s main event was, of course, Halloween. My Halloween celebrations started on Wednesday with a spooky themed Art Society (ArtSoc) session, where we indulged in some Halloween arts and crafts by making and decorating origami pumpkins. I opted to go for a traditional orange pumpkin, but others went for black or even pink with moustaches! We were provided with a whole array of different materials and decorative items, which really reminded me of doing art in junior school, where you tried to use everything you could and you didn’t know when to stop.

Who said pumpkins can’t have style?

In the second half of the session we began to paint our own and each other’s faces in preparation for the social that was planned for after the session. We began the social in the University’s pub, The Stag's, where I got to meet some new faces, before we made our way down to a local nightclub. The night ended with an impromptu late-night curry in a local restaurant; the perfect treat after a long night of dancing! I followed this up by attending a Halloween themed gathering at a friend’s house on Friday, where I dressed in a creepy clown costume that I put together myself.

No one can blame me and my friends for not making an effort!

As I mentioned at the start of this post, alongside my Halloween celebrations and gig attending, I have been hard at work with my Masters’ project, which is really starting to take shape. Although it’s quite a large workload, the satisfaction you feel when you make progress or get some good results makes up for the hours that you put in. The past month has been very busy, but also very rewarding and I have no doubt that November will be the same.