Category Archives: The rest of the world

How to spend Heathrow free wifi efficiently

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The Ashbridges are renowned for the their punctuality, at the very least we hope. So can we really take that too far?

After a long, long wait for a new swanky visa stamp, I am finally making my way back stateside, and with 5 hours on my hands (and I am already checked in) what is a girl to do? Ponder on important life issues perhaps?

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What are the advantages and disadvantages of being 5 hours early for your flight? 

Or not.

 The Advantages:
1) With 5 hours to kill, queues are a joy because there is no way Heathrow madness can affect you. YOU are luxuriously early and time is of no consequence. And incidentally “The Daily Telegraph” indicates that some scientists somewhere think queues are good for you (please don’t judge, it came free with my Buxton Water!). So not only are you standing, but you are standing for the good of you own health. Bonus.
2) The airport lady is still in relaxed mode because at this point, the day is ever so young. She has a good old natter with you and you get upgraded to more leg room and she ignores the fact that your bag is clearly overweight, jam-packed full of M&S office attire. And as you leave she wishes you all the very best in finding a lovely lawyer man “like from that show The Good Wife”
3) You can drink the bottle of water (Buxton Spring) you bought over the course of several minutes, instead of seconds, thus not upsetting your already temperamental tummy given the prospect of long haul flying.
But conversely, what could be the downside to all this promptuousity (Not a real word)?
The Disadvantages:
1) You have hours to wait in terminal 3, which is NOT terminal 5!
2) Heathrow only offers 45 min free wifi to keep guests amused. Timing this is irrelevant as some hours will have to be spent sans wifi

3) When revealing your profession (because Americans are nosey before letting you back into the land of opportunities) you are directly compared to Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. You don’t enjoy this comparison but smile nonetheless because your bag is clearly overweight and your legs dream of stretching out in the exit rows!

And so, in conclusion, being early ALWAYS pays off, although wifi could perhaps be better spent (5 min remaining).
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Geordie Pride: Great North Run 2013

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It doesn’t take much to draw out the Geordie pride in this Northern lass, so a huge global event like the Great North Run just sets me to almost bursting. In fact, this 55,000 field race, from over 100,000 applicants, makes it Britain’s biggest participation event, and the Geordies LOVE to host a big party.

But why is this Great Run so universally loved, attracting people from over 40 countries to the North East of England?

Could it be the weather?

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Probably not!

Could it be the joyous fun of running long distances?

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Hmm…. curious stuff. Yet doubtful.

What could possibly motivate 55,000 people to get up on a chilly Sunday morning, the North sea breeze cutting at their scantily clad bodies, to run 13.1 miles of tarmac roads only to get a medal and short term fear of stairs?

collage gnrThe glee of running 13.1 miles with 55,499 friends at the Great North Run

Today, as my mother and I waited on the banks of the South Shields coastline, gloomy skies above us, surrounded by fellow wrapped up Geordies, we marvelled at this wonderful event on our doorstep (and literally on the doorsteps of many). Catterick Garrison soldiers marched along the final 200m to guide and cheer the elite runners in.

We watched David Weir destroy his fellow elite wheelchair racers as he powered through the finish line to yet another victory. We saw the legendary Dibaba stripped of her 11-year winning streak as Kenya stormed through the tape. Jeptoo crushing her opponents. And then we watched what is being pitched as the greatest finish in the history of this Great British competition. Sticking together for 10 miles or more, Mo and Haile battled along the route with Bekele sitting just behind them. Then as the end drew near, Bekele made a run for it, and it seemed Haile and Mo were left stranded, aghast. But no, in the final 800m, The Mo-Bot, cheered on with a surge of crowd participation (we nearly burst some blood vessels), grit his teeth and gave it some welly. If you were not there, you missed a treat. We were jumping up and down as they fought it out with only metres to go (check out my photo finish above). Mo came in a close second, and this effort of cheer and sheer will to drive him through almost finished off the audience. Then, with a sigh of joy, a rustle and a jiggle of pride, we looked out to the North Sea. A shared pride in being British.

5 minutes later, partially recovered from the exciting drama that had just got us screeching for another British win, we rallied our viewing neighbours to cheer on Dr James Kelly, PhD Chemist, international runner extraordinaire!

“Go James!” we all shouted. “GO JAMES!”

1003927_10100601624052983_896829386_nDr Kelly. The magnificent.

He took only 1 hour and 6 minutes to run 13.1 miles. Placing 22nd! Mind boggling stuff!

It is particularly mind boggling to me in fact, as I continue to battle with my very conservative half marathon time of 2 hours this year. 3 times I have tried to become a runner. And 3 times I have slowed to an almost stop as 9 miles rolls in and Beth’s quads say NO MORE NOW! I ran a Central Park half (twice) and I ran to Brooklyn (slowly), and each time I took 2 hours, or thereabouts. I even got beat by a baby yesterday. A BABY. This is no joke. I should add here that his dad was pushing him in a perambulator, but still. OUCH. All summer I have been loving the camaraderie of a wonderful nationwide venture: Park Run. A weekly 9am jog around a local park, mine is Saltwell Park in Gateshead, but you can find more convenient runs all over the country. To me, after repeatedly hitting a 9 mile wall, 5K always seems more doable on a Saturday morning when the day is my oyster (is that a saying?). I have seen little progress, but I always finish with my heart pumping effectively (phew) and my legs feeling like they don’t much like the idea of long distance but will at least humour me in this resolve. As long I go nice and slow.

So to me, a loser to babies and almost anyone else, anything near the 1 hour mark is genius. Bravo James.

Once the elite runners ran (in the actual sense of the word) towards the warmth, a shower and a long sit, the fun runners began to filter through. And I like to call this time “when Beth comes into her own”. I can clap loudly for England. Oh yes, and the cheering. I go at it like there is no tomorrow. If your name is on your shirt, I’ll scream it. If you have a crumpling frame, I’ll squeal to distract you as you approach the end. And if you are standing next to me. Apologies.

What a day. What a northern Geordie filled day. Can I be any more proud of my people?

Nope!

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Fish and Chips for lunch, home, and a lie down. Too much excitement for this Geordie.

As the money runs out in one of the poorest countries in the world….

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The money is running out. I know we said the last push was final, but you can’t blame a girl for trying. Check out the images above and the website here: http://www.gofundme.com/housing-in-bangladesh

Come on. It’s just like a registry list, except there are no nut bowls or thick fluffy towels. In fact it’s a steal. One very poor family is getting a house designed just for them and how they live. This special Geordie is changing their lives. And you can help her.

And if you can’t afford anything, a simple exploitation of social media could go a long way. So please, pass it on!

Progress – Jo Ashbridge – RIBA Boyd Auger Scholarship

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So I have not been around for a while. Mainly because I have been indulging in a little too much Tribeca Film Festival 2013 (reviews to come) and galavanting about on various red carpets in search of film gold. But this Monday morning I wanted to help out the little sister with more gushing publicity.

Miss Jo Ashbridge is nearing the end of her time in Bangladesh and also her funding. So with social media hopefully on her side, we hope this final push for a new home for one lucky family, will be a roaring success. She has already designed some magnificent mahogany windows and doors for detailing and is working painstakingly hard to perfect this new house for the beneficiaries.

Sometimes giving to charity can seem a bit vague. Where is your money going you might ask in one pensive moment? Administration costs? Salaries? Well here is your chance (roll up. roll up people) to give directly to the cause. The cause in this instance being shelter, something I cheekily presume is taken for granted by all you readers. Sterling pounds and US dollars (currencies we are by no means restricted to) go a tremendously long way in Bangladesh’s neck of the woods so please get on it if you feel so inclined.

And if these images of progress don’t get your cash flowing maybe this video update will spark something inside your hearts. (Can you spot the Channel 4 documentary styling along the way? Look how interactive this is)

Progress – Jo Ashbridge – RIBA Boyd Auger Scholarship

Gushing over? Yep (for now!)

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Cutting windows and doors

Fishing trip

Fishing Trip

Nobu para children

Nobu para children

Casting concrete

Casting concrete

On site detailing

On site detailing

Site Progress

Site progress

Absolutely Dwellable!

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So it is that time of year again. The back end of winter with an occasional, but not too frequent, sunny day. The rest of them are soggy and cold and I HAVE HAD ENOUGH (stomps foot).

Roll on summer I say. Or at least Spring for more than 24 hours at a time?

With a little over 2 months between jobs, I have decided to spend my free summer-planning time (I’ll admit it: time could be more productively spent reading academic papers) working on where to go and when. Two summers ago, my family and I “vacationed” (as the Americans prefer it) up on Cape Cod. Rustic beaches, white picket fences (see post on all things Cape), fresh fish and chips and those pies! So this year we are looking for a more exotic destination. A little less North East coast and a little more grass skirt?

I just thought of Hawaii.

Hawaii-ocean

Sold? I am

Yes I did. Just popped into my head. Just like that.

But I am new to this playful search for the perfect family trip and so have employed the use of the new spangly Dwellable app (because ‘all things iPhone’ amuses me).

First of all they got me right in the mood. Who doesn’t enjoy a real live water washing up on sand moving image?

With the rain dribbling down the window pane outside, a beach scene is all I need to get into character. I can just picture myself. Lounging about, upturned coconut beverage in one hand, the other providing shade from the bright sunlight as I watch other holiday goers frolick in the sea. I dont need a woolly scarf with this backdrop. Nor do I need an umbrella, or a Wellington boot (look it up Americans), and not at all would I find a cut off glove, fingers poking out, of any utility. No no no. Grass skirt with bikini for decency is all I need. And Dwellable is here to help. I can almost run through my day on the beach, taxing though it is not, while simultaneously searching for the perfect rental.

Dwellable iphone

Love a snazzy app to make a cool day warmer

Loads of images, easy filters to get straight to the point (budget-wise and more) and all the necessary clicks to discover the holiday destination of my dreams and book with the owner. Really very nice Dwellable. Really VERY nice.

friendly Hawaiian sea turtle at Laniekea, north shore, 2002

My new friend says hey

And now with summer in mind, my ability to match up destination to calendar to price and then sealing the deal all in one swoop, click, swoop and then click, I can get onto the superfluous business of working out a water sport of choice.

Windsurfing anyone?

Every Little Helps

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Please help Architect & Sister Jo Ashbridge reach her goal. Help her build a home for a family in Bangladesh.

http://www.gofundme.com/housing-in-bangladesh

To inspire you I have re-posted my favourite blog post on the process to date. I love a good bubble/cry (see last post) so I tend to read this over and over again just to get my eyes watering. Pitched as a real life “Spartacus” moment Sister Jo is making her mark halfway across the world and her humble family is bursting with pride (WOW I am feeling gushy today. Apologies all).

Community Engagement

To better understand household assets we are conducting a survey within the hamlet of Nobu para, based in part on the Bangladesh Population and Housing Census 2011 carried out by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, with a increased focus on the housing conditions. There is one family in particular that is in desperate need of improved living space and they are interested in our new techniques, having previously attended a ‘Building For Safety’ workshop.

My project however requires the backing of the community, exactly 50 individuals across nine households. Equally, beneficiary identification must be a collaborative effort and the final decision approved by majority. This process will ensure both ownership on the part of the individual household and the entire hamlet, and reduce the likelihood of future conflict.

Today we held a community meeting in the local pre-school. It had been scheduled for 2pm following feedback of household availability so that everyone’s voice could be heard. At 2.10pm there is only myself, the SAFE team and two older men living in adjacent houses. Today is Shoroshoti Puja, a festival in worship of the Hindu Goddess of education. Perhaps they have all decided a little dancing is in order?

Then, one by one people start arriving, signing their attendance, until all households are represented. Where the male head of the household is unable to attend, their wives and elder children are present.

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We open the meeting with personal introductions, inviting all the villagers to speak. I present my project, the research undertaken to date and overall goals and SAFE talk of their motivations. I have secured funding to design and construct a new house with one family, the remainder of the funds targeted at further research into earthen plasters (following my initial findings last July), amenities and additional workshops to connect with the entire village. Even before we can present our analysis of the housing survey, the entire room are in agreement as to which family should be chosen.

Now the issue of household contribution, something which has been playing on my mind for some time now. Personally I do not believe in ‘basic aid’. Please don’t misunderstand, I am not against aid. I am not a staunch follower of Easterly. It might be easier if I saw the situation as black and white, if I could argue a position with uninterrupted conviction. The reality is my mind changes on a daily basis. It changes when I am welcomed into the home of a family who are clearly existing hand-to-mouth, when I am offered their last packet of biscuits and all they ask is that I come back to visit. It changes when I see children living under simple tarpaulin sheets on the streets of Dhaka, unable to escape the monsoon rains or indeed their situation. It changes when I see such entrepreneurial spirit that it takes my breath away. It changes.

But I do believe that if aid is the only reasonable option in a certain circumstance, it should not be simple. It should not be presented as aid, it cannot ignore the beneficiaries and what they are able to offer to the process. Perhaps the line between aid and development is not so defined. Perhaps aid could aspire to be appropriate development.

In this project we are asking for a contribution. This is where theory and reality collide. The chosen beneficiary household is very much at the bottom of the ecomomic ladder. The family own the land on which they reside but no additional agricultural land. Tarinduro (father) works as a day labourer earning between 100-200 BDT (£0.62-£1.63) per day, but this is seasonal work and even then not guaranteed. With the eldest son in high school, their daughter in primary and youngest son below school age there are no additional incomes. They can contribute earth, following the demolition of their existing house and they may be able to help with labour. Are these true contributions? If we ask for construction material or small financial assistance, they will undoubtedly be forced to take out a loan… potentially initiating a spiral of debt. Is the theory flawed?

We present this to the group and ask their advice. We argue that I am not a member of the community, and cannot be expected to take the entire financial burden. Can the community offer any assistance? We are inundated with questions… what type of house will we be constructing… how much will it cost? Many of which we are unable to answer in detail as we are at the very beginning of the design process. It’s a tense moment. We have identified the most vulnerable household within the community, but their neighbours are certainly not affluent. The majority also live in bamboo and earth dwellings, albeit better constructed. Their plots may be slightly larger, they may own three cows… but no one is connected to the grid, only one household has a latrine and it is currently out of use. Are we asking too much?

Then from the corner one man raises his voice… “I can offer a bag of cement”. Suddenly another voice… “we can offer a few pieces of bamboo”, a ripple effect… “we can give two bags of cement”… “we will help with the labour”… It’s a real life ‘Spartacus’ moment. I am overwhelmed and have to take a breath to hold down the tears.

OK, so here we go!”

Do Humans Have the Genetic Ability to Become Mutant Superheroes?

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My latest post on policymic.com

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My favourite mutant segmented tube!

Before I jump into why humans may or may not have the potential to spawn superhero offspring, let’s first consider the simple earthworm (bear with me). No. In fact. The mutant earthworm.

These super power night crawlers are as distinct from normal earthworms as humans are from mice. Specifically, invincible segmented tubes have recently appeared in an old copper mine in Devon. This is no ordinary copper mine of course. Left derelict after dangerously high levels of arsenic were discovered in the soil, this mine has been abandoned and was supposed lifeless for nearly two centuries. But Professor Mark Hodson, at the University of York, has discovered a new species of earthworm capable of living in these poisoned soils due to the process of natural selection. Somewhere along the timeline, chance mutations occurred in an earthworm rummaging in this lethal plot and it didn’t die along with its peers. One thing led to another, and now these “superworms” reside there with a genetic profile all of their own, surviving their regular earthworm ancestors in this elegant example of evolution.

But do modern day humans also undergo evolution, so that we too can adapt to form superstar abilities?

Well, around 60,000 years ago, humans left Africa and started to spread across the globe, to all corners and all environmental extremes. We see differences in our populations as a result. The original dark skin has been replaced with paler skin, particularly in Europe and Asia, due to genetic mutations occurring in the migrating populations reaching land of less sunlight, i.e. the north. But many scientists believe that nowadays, natural selection has been slowed by our human resourcefulness to invent. Perhaps, they propose, we have cleverly educated our way out of evolution through advances in modern medicine and engineering.

And yet there are still cases being discovered where human populations have evolved to their more extreme surroundings. Take the Nepalese and Tibetans for example. They have lived in high altitude Himalayan villages for over 10,000 years. A sea-level human would struggle and could even die from this low oxygen environment. Visitors would have to adapt to the low oxygen by generating more red blood cells to carry more oxygen around the body. But more red blood cells mean a greater chance of blood clotting, and this is bad news.

When scientists tested the hemoglobin in the red blood cells of Sherpas and Tibetans, they found that these locals did not need to overproduce hemoglobin to sustain their daily life in the clouds. In fact, these discrete populations have evolved to improve their oxygen circulation instead. With wider blood vessels and a unique and more complex network of capillaries they can happily go about their business without any risk of altitude sickness. Superhero name? Hemoglobin man!? OK no. I agree. That was weak.

However, except for these few specific cases of extreme environmental pressures, the current form of our species seems to not really take part in natural selection. In Shakespeare’s day, one-in-three babies didn’t reach 21 years of age. Today, 99% of children make it to adulthood. That is nearly all of the population reaching reproductive age and passing their genes forward. Furthermore, by sheltering our bodies with clothing we don’t even need to evolve to have thicker fur like polar bears to withstand cold temperatures, or by farming the land, populations can rely on plentiful and regular supplies of food, so the genetically weak can be nurtured. Survival of the fittest and the less fit and in fact the really unfit is now possible on our technologically advanced planet.

The advent of superhero humans will just have to wait then, because short of a deadly pandemic ravaging the Earth or another Armageddon-type event (Asteroid threat) that would drastically alter the playing field, our species will continue along a relatively stable genetic path.

And unfortunately for this amusingly misleading headline, this means no sign of our version of Spider-Man in the near future.