Russia trip – gaps 

The crisp air after leaving the plane on arrival in St Petersburg, my driver talking about how he doesn’t drink vodka any more but likes whisky if he drinks (not whilst working). Also apparently there is a museum of umbrellas and museum of mittens.

After leaving the hotel, everyone still out shopping,  some bands playing music on the street, children captivated by human statues on stilts.

Trying to answer the automated alarm call at 5am. The station looks a bit like Leeds with shopping hall before platform and a fab wall map

On arrival in Novgorod, the packed city feel disappears. The hotel (Volkhov – recommend) which has a homely feel on the floors with stuffed bookcases and sofas / tables. I’ve stayed in 5* in PwC days but this felt much more relaxed and sense of space.

The efficiency of the pedestrian crossing with drivers who stop. Russian older ladies mostly wrapped up in woollen hats and scarves, the men with thick possibly sheepskin /leather coats and caps or thick fur hats.

Two street accordion players on either side of entrance to the Novgorod Kremlin playing different songs at the same time. An eternal flame burning brightly in the rain inside the Kremlin and ladies reflecting / possibly praying near the flower wreaths.

A fantastic wind tunnelling across the Volkhov as you get to the middle of the bridge from the Kremlin. Hundreds of brightly coloured padlocks. Excited children like beautiful small angels zigzagging along and a few cyclists navigating the narrow spaces at speed. Some Sunday strollers gazing into the Volkhov before turning into the park. 

Men and women praying in the churches and cathedrals, like UK they sell religious items such as icons and the warm but tired looks on the sellers faces.

Everyone taking photos whilst walking round the Kremlin, some group selfies but mostly of buildings. Everyone talking in lively but calm tones all the time producing soothing rhythms against the patter or rain and swoosh of the wind.

2nd night of undisturbed sleep then ambling along to bus stop with commuters briskly criss-crossing the city centre roads. That global look which people have when waiting for a bus – waiting for buses to turn the corner with hope building before you can even see the number.

The fog smothering outside sounds until you walk along tree lined roads and birds flying overhead. The occasional neighbourly dogs coming to have a curious sniff before finding somewhere interesting to sit or a car to bark at.

A few people fishing by side of Volkhov / lake Ilmen. Visibility is about 2 metres of water. A small ‘crocodile’ of schoolchildren and teacher head off into the monastery. 

A few dog walkers in a local park back in Novgorod and a group of mothers with prams clustering around a kiosk. Buying what I thought was a type of bread roll – do you want it heated – no – wander off and then bite into cold cabbage inside – different – wouldn’t eat cold again.

Wandering back through Kremlin with a female group that looked a bit like Pussy Riot doing a shoot by the memorial statues outside the state museum (NB know nothing about Russian non-classical music)

An engineer in the hotel who looked like a Borg with shaved head and a black strap round back of his head with a red light on it.

Getting bus ticket this morning with platform number on the ticket. Yes!  One less question to ask. Quite a few people with larger bags and one women with flowers waiting for bus – feels suddenly like an overnight coach trip to Bodrum but without the summer heat. It’s quite clear night and some stars popping in and out.

Seem to be permanently saying ето вон там? over last few days whilst finding anything varying from cafes, bus stops, churches and monasteries. Always helpful directions back.

Back at the bus station one young woman chain smoking with couple of friends and trying to act cool but without some of the additional drama that you can find in UK. 

This trip, postcards will be posted in Russia with Russian stamps (my brother particularly will be happy and probably twin niece & nephew). Now everyone will know привет.

Smiling older women, it is permitted here (was told by friend who was born & spent childhood in St Petersburg not to in St Petersburg and to look like you’re about to murder someone if walking in Moscow).

Not everything is pretty, people have health problems e.g. older people stooping but this is same as UK. Didn’t see much obvious poverty that is different to UK (of course am in tourist areas) but it seems like quite a lot of people are fairly content compared to TV news feeds, movies of Russia in 90s and earlier. They walk and talk in a relaxed way. The police are not especially visible, no idea about others but guessing not completely dissimilar to Turkey and other countries. 

Another reason why we should be collaborating in a friendly way – people are looking beyond traditional boundaries and whether future is going to be a Russian national internet managed entirely by algorithms or some connection to global cables, infrastructure and global Icann – depends what other countries do too, level of government involvement /regulation,  what Russian developers decide based on their own biases.

Back on the train – 4 younger teenage boys in seats in front of me and they are not showing off (maybe too young and the presence of parents etc). Who knows what wonders they will achieve in Russia and elsewhere. удачи but being smart and well brought up, they won’t need much.

St Peterburg – so friendly for a big city #Russia trip 4

International tourism awards well deserved. Only had the morning & woke later than planned but walked from hotel in centre to Russian Museum of Political History – an educational visit here should be required for foreign media as part of their visa (their wealthy elite media owners can afford it).

My niece and nephew will need an in depth Russian perspective on it’s history as they go through teenage years and become more familiar with global politics. 

You easily need a day here but I only had a couple of hours barely started. However viewed modern day political campaigning (top floor) and descended through floors of political history.

Some local campaigns and international events, complete with 80s hair in one photo

Very moved by accounts (audio available in different languages incl English) across pre WWI, revolution, Stalinism, WW2.

They have extra exhibitions about the revolution including a Women of the Revolution.

Once again struck by many similarities between Bolsheivik actions establishing a dictatorship, with the current UK conservative government since 2010. There was an account discussing the concept of 2 faces so Boris Johnson should fit in well on his visit shortly, am sure Sergey Lavrov will enjoy talking with whichever one Boris chooses to present at any given moment. 

The museum has hundreds of artefacts, drawings, photos, letters, speeches on vinyl LPs as well as official documentation, there is great attention to detail and descriptions translated into English.  

On the way there this morning, I rounded the final corner of the St Peter & Paul Fortress which had snow on the beach; and there were 2 guys getting changed after a swim in the Neva. No wetsuits and it’s the Neva!  Wouldn’t want to mess with those two! 

Had to get taxi back to hotel from Winter Palace and very friendly taxi driver told me I spoke some Russian quite nicely. Ridiculously pleased – I’ll take that, thank you very much. 

St Petersburg mosque – from a distance looks like a knitted tea cosy – in this weather 

St Petersburg looking as beautiful as ever and getting ready for Christmas – should be wonderful for anyone going in December

Novgorod,Valday, St Petersburg

The bus left Novgorod at 6.50 and sunrise around 9.15 (due Valday 9.20) so got to see dawn as we neared valdaisky national park which was a fairyland of snowy forest and snowy wooden dachas.

Valday is smaller than I imagined but pretty with snow by the lake side. It wasn’t too cold, I was able to sit with 2 thermal tops and no coat for quite a while on the lake edge of the pier opposite a monastery.

It must be stunning here in the summer. Very quiet at the moment – like Bodrum used to be with seasonal business probably.

Back to Novgorod and present buying, catching a train to St Petersburg. After several days here with incredibly warm, friendly people and beautiful sights, it’s a shame that UK press and unfortunately people who should know better are using Brexit politicking and the forthcoming Russian presidental election to scream abuse at Vladimir Putin, Russian government and Russians in general.

Russia is beautiful and sometimes deliberately misunderstood,   the many Russians I’ve now met are deeply thoughtful, caring and passionate. I think Vladimir Putin is same, overall a kind, busy man with more than enough issues for one lifetime. I can’t read newspapers really yet and not watched Russian TV but wish him great success and sanity at all times if he decides to stand.

Some young people I’ve met who criticise Russian government (yes, it’s allowed) are convinced that the UK is very different to Russia in terms of society and politics – the grass is always greener – I was probably like that too at their age.

I’ve decided to stay on social media until after the election, to play whatever role I can in correcting fake info from US/UK/EU etc, however crappy it gets – to quote Mastermind – I’ve started so I’ll finish. I have kept promise made to myself to return to Russia this year and kept promise to family to keep myaelf as safe as possible (in light of my earlier behaviour in life).

Off to St Petersburg in a few minutes, then fly back tomorrow afternoon, exchanging the mighty Volkhov for the majestic Neva or vice versa. One final post probably for this trip.

St Petersburg and Velikhy Novgorod 2

This morning again found very helpful Russians when I got off bus in the wrong place and additional bonus – a visit to Peryn Skete and church of ‘The Nativity of our Lady’ which is very peaceful with a friendly monk and had tiny chat about Russian dogs. He speaks some English too and there’s an English leaflet available.

Even getting off bus in the wrong place and in some fog, it is only about 30 min walk, mostly along one road from Peryn to St George’s monastery (although you can get the bus right there).

The Vitoslavitsky museum of wooden architecture is mostly undergoing restoration (about 5 min walk from the monastery). It will be ready next year I think (check with Red Izba for when)

I chatted with a lady whilst waiting for return bus to Novgorod and found out that Valday national park is a bus ride from Novgorod (for some bizarre reason I thought it was near Sochi). I also attempted to explain in my crappy attempts at Russian about Henry Viii & dissolution of monasteries.

After lots of helpful discussion with the brilliant Red Izba Novgorod tourist office – there’s not a massive difference in price and less than hour’s difference in bus journey between visiting Staraya Russia or Valday but there are more buses to Staraya Russia (I just missed one this afternoon otherwise may have gone).

So it comes down to personal preferences and swayed by idea of seeing a Russian national park (hopefully less fog), catching early bus hopefully to Valday for the morning before returning to Novgorod then St Petersburg in the afternoon.

Whilst it’s nice, natural to be impulsive when travelling around, I do not recommend what I’ve done at all, instead look at a map of Russia in great detail (also download TopTripApp and other guides) if you want to extend Novgorod trip further afield, plan a Valday trip well in advance (and allow extra day/s) so transport and accommodation could be properly sorted.  They recommend visiting May-Oct and would suggest easily a week visit minimum).

However who knows when I will be back in this region in the future anytime soon, so will try at least (having not got to any other national parks).

This afternoon,  visited Antoniev monstery and the cathedral of ‘The Nativity of our Lady’ (closed Mon, Tues – again plan in advance).

It’s about 30 min walk along Volkhov river from centre of Novgorod

For a lovely place to eat/drink, there’s a restaurant on a beautiful ship moored on the Volkhov opposite the Novgorod Kremlin:

St Petersburg & Velikhy Novgorod 1 – it is ok to visit in November

Russians as beautiful, friendly and helpful as ever. Flew in yesterday afternoon and was recommended Faberge museum which has late opening hours on Saturday (different museums have late openings on different days). The art & craftwork in all of the museum is fantastically intricate.

Then caught train first thing to Novgorod – haven’t caught train before and because it was a) dark and b) some station refurbishment going on, I missed the local terminal but thanks to a fantastic taxi driver who turned into a walking taxi, I ended up in the right place.

Train staff very efficient and train fine –  little things like hooks which slide along like curtain hooks make it easier for everyone esp families to put their coats up together.  Drinking coffee grounds by mistake helped shake off the habitual commuter early morning bleariness.

It is rainy here (saw some snow in distance from train). Once daylight emerged so did the forests which are next to the railway line and they have that wonderful autumny slushy look with little pools between the trees.

Somewhere between St Petersburg and Novgorod is a station called Platform 64 which sounds out of Douglas Adams Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy or similar.

Veliky Novgorod, the birthplace of Russia – is simply amazing – what has been collected and/or preserved and restored over the last 1000 years is incredible. Visited Kremlin & State Museum today which has amazing birchwood carvings and collections of icon paintings where you can see the styles change over centuries. I liked St Nicholas cathedral best – if you’re a fan of the Sistine chapel you won’t be disappointed. Been busy collecting Orthodox church photos for office mate too. 

BTW If you’re in V. Novgorod definitely go to Red Ibza tourist office if you haven’t made plans – staff are fantastic.

Finally made it to a Russian theatre – a mix of Russian poetry, dance, opera with ochestra. I didn’t know artist, just happened to be on today – рустем галич at Novgorod Philharmonic Hall

Wonderful, passionate performances. Couldn’t follow much of spoken language but not a problem. Russian language practice going ok but Turkish words appearing in sentences before I can stop them. This will be last tourist trip – friends probably coming out next year so if I do manage work related projects that involve Russia visits, will tag touristic stuff onto those.

There’s something ‘romantic’ about starting with the beginning of Russia so early on in overall Russian journey. 

EU / UK data protection and learning management systems

In December, I’m chairing (but not presenting) a panel at a small pan-London get-together for learning specialists using Moodle. First thoughts are (e.g. for doing a privacy impact assessment)

  • What are the changes – overview
  • What types of data do you have and what systems hold it
  • Who is the owner (data controller) and who processes it (data processor such as LMS developers, lecture capture software or cloud developers)
  • Where is the info held (does it go outside EEU)
  • Where is it processed (does it go outside EEU)
  • Who to contact in your organisation, any useful documents such as info processing agreement, privacy impact assessment, privacy and data breach policies and learner contracts.

The data protection network is always very useful for latest updates for organisations generally. Bristows who are linked from there also do very good updates

Tai Chi,  Chi Kung links

Cloud Hands (Mike Garofalo) has lovely form posts and the best resource I have found online for tai chi
If you’re ever in Scotland or Wudang – Rachel Dunsmore & Soenren. I saw her perform Chi Kung forms once, it was amazing and she is lovely person:

Cheyne Towers – based in North London, also amazing Chi Kung:
If you’re ever in Surrey, Master Worsfold or other instructors teaching Tai Chi amd you also get Chi Kung in with it – the Medicine Garden in Cobham

Several updates

Off to Russia in under 48 hours – just short  visit as planned – St Petersburg and Novgorod. Usual friendly efficiency from Visit Russia office. My work office mate possibly influenced location choice – he has never been to Russia but really likes Orthodox churches – there’s plenty of those in Novgorod. 

Just waiting for physio appointment – about 3 weeks ago (similar to previous pre-visit to Russia) back misbehaved again. Am neurologically not right – just in case anyone had any doubts…

I remember blogging about my wonderful speedy recovery last April and then promptly decided to risk walking up a mountain. After we had attempted Snowdon, my brother was sitting on a chair in the cafe and I was on all fours on the cafe floor insisting I would be fine…then not quite staggering around St Petersburg a couple of weeks later…

So no mountains this month. 

It’s been quite busy year so Dec / Jan will be quieter. Twitter handover still not happened yet and may not until late January but may pause/stop personal account at end of year. 

Russian language learning being unnecessarily fragmented due to lack of personal organisation and willpower but after next week will have better idea. Still can’t understand anyone talking at normal pace but know how to ask to repeat more slowly or write down. May start a weekly language course with the Russia language centre in early 2018 – a colleague doing something similar and it’s working really well for them.

Have made list of Russian/Central Asian unis and separate list of water journals. Will start to look through and find researchers then maybe contact some (won’t be doing next week because too soon). Also found a Russian environmental lecturer in UK – we’ve made contact over a different matter but it may be useful to follow up in 2018 once I have a more structured plan.

We weren’t successful in an artificial intelligence bid but looking at another project which is along similar lines related to bots and conversations. May do a SEDA / HEA associate fellowship in spring too – a few hours a week mostly during working hours. Don’t want to let the team down with lack of appropriateness.

British TKD Nationals suddenly moved to Feb, there are no major sparring / kyorugi competitions before Feb – not looking likely but will be continuing with coaching in the meantime.

Cancer Pain update from Matt Brown and Paul Farquhar-Smith

Saw this via cancerpainres twitter list and posting here too – I don’t know either author but they both work at the Royal Marsden.

Article: Pain in Cancer Survivors – filling in the gaps


Cancer survivorship represents a growing clinical challenge for pain clinicians. The population of cancer survivors is rapidly expanding and many of these patients experience pain as a sequelae of their disease and its treatment. 

The features, patho- physiology and natural history of some painful conditions observed in cancer survivors, such as direct tumour effects, can- cer induced bone pain (CIBP) or chronic post-surgical pain have received extensive exposure elsewhere in the literature. 

In this narrative review, we attempt to ‘fill in the gaps’ in the knowledge, by providing a succinct outline of a range of less well known pain states encountered in the cancer survivor population. 

These include neuropathies as a result of graft ver- sus host disease (GVHD), novel chemotherapeutic agents and monoclonal antibodies (mAb), and radiation induced pain states. The increasing prevalence of visceral post-surgical pain and aromatase inhibitor-induced arthralgia (AIA) is also detailed. Additionally an overview of suggested approaches to the assessment of pain in cancer survivors is provided and potential treatment strategies, with a focus on novel approaches are discussed.

impact of learning technologies and psychology

‘Guest lecturing’ next week – will be delivering a talk then running a hands on workshop for a group of psychology students on 1st December. Will be doing a quick rattle through the last couple of decades and then explore some of the issues regarding on and offline learning that use technologies, with a focus on children / young learners.

Slides (just a discussion starter, not meant to be informative)