Tuesday, February 18, 2020

BlueSkiesResearch.org.uk: Blue Skies Research on tour: Exeter edition

A while ago Mark (leader of the top secret project we are involved in) suggested that it had been a while since we visited the Met Office in Exeter where he works (blog tells me it was exactly 5 years ago, shortly after we had returned to the UK and before Blue Skies Research was really that well established). And then a few months later an invitation dropped through our letterbox for Malcolm’s birthday party. So, a cunning plan was hatched…we could travel down on Thursday, give seminars about our recently submitted papers (see previous posts here and here) on the Friday and stay for the Saturday party.

I always enjoy visiting the Met Office, it’s a hugely impressive place with a massive concentration of bright people working on interesting problems in the geosciences. Of course there must be some boring handle-turning in the day to day work and it’s a long way from just about everywhere. But Exeter is a nice enough place. Tickets and hotel were booked (not the Royal Clarence which has burnt down since our last trip) and the trip down was uneventful enough. Unfortunately Mark texted while we were on our way to say he was ill and was going home from work rather than meeting us for dinner that evening.

We got down in time for me to go for a short run in the fading light. The river seemed a bit high with all the recent rain.

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I didn’t run along this side of the river where the path was submerged! There was a better path on the other side. And then on Friday morning, having scoped out the route through town, I managed to get a bit further along the river for sunrise.

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Actually this particular bit is a canal.

We then had the (what we later discovered to be quintessentially Exonian) experience of seeing our bus vanish up the road a few minutes before we got to the stop at the scheduled time…fortunately there was enough time in hand to get to the Met Office. Mark was still absent but had already arranged a full day of activities with people to talk to.

Seminars seemed to go ok, we gave a double-header with two fairly short talks summarising the two papers. Here and here are our pdfs if anyone is interested. I think there was also video streaming for people who couldn’t make it on the day, but probably no recording of this. It seems that a lot of people do a bit of working from home and/or part-time hours which is in principle a good thing though did mean there were a few absences.

By the end of the day we were quite tired from the unusual amount of talking – cats are a little less demanding! We are generally happy to work by ourselves on a day-to-day basis but it’s also great to have the occasional opportunity to bounce ideas around with people doing related work and we had a lot of interesting discussions.

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Saturday was party day, and fortunately Storm Dennis passing over didn’t cause too many problems though I think a couple of attendees didn’t make it and it also meant the local parkrun was cancelled so we just mooched briefly through town in the morning. Of course we had seen the news of lots of rain and wind across the country and wondered if our trip home on Sunday would go smoothly.

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Birthday boy above

I woke early on Sunday…and quickly found that there were almost no trains out of Exeter. Just one early train to London in fact, 2 hours earlier than our plan, so I quickly booked us onto it and we got to the station in plenty of time…to sit on the train for 20 minutes until they told us it wasn’t running after all and we would be offered a bus to Taunton instead. We briefly considered just going back to bed and staying an extra day but instead decided to take any option going in roughly the right direction and crossed our fingers, which in practice meant going to London and then out towards Leeds and amazingly managing to get home at the originally planned time. Train apps are a bit of a life-saver in these situations (also helpful with the train cancellations on our previous London trip) as it would have been rather more challenging to work out route options otherwise. I don’t really blame the train companies in these situations, there’s not a whole lot they can do about such a volume of rain in a short interval. It seems that the Exeter area was particularly badly hit this time and once out of the immediate vicinity, there was a reasonable service though at times it felt more like a cruise than a train journey!