Hotel Espana, Barcelona

Past students who enjoyed a downmarket Hotel Espana with me and colleagues on field trips in 2001 and 2005 may be interested in news of a revamp and a review in the Daily Telegraph which now rates it one of the best budget hotels in Barcelona:

The 2001 December field trip is infamous for the huge snow fall that fell on our first night and remained for the whole week, cutting off the region of Catalonia and causing power black-outs in the city. All our field work sites were inaccessible.


Ironically Barcelona in December was a late replacement for our usual summer field trip to the Yorkshire Dales. That year the Dales were largely out of bounds due to the foot and mouth disease outbreak.

Our day at Glastonbury (with Don McLean)

Don McLean came to Glastonbury and sang folk, pop, country and rock. He even sang “Sea Man” – an acapella song he wrote 30 years ago while living in Israel.

He sang songs from five decades.

He sang Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley and demonstrated his own legendary singer-songwriter status with four of his top-10 hits, three of which reached number 1.

Don sang for an hour – just 12 songs – to an estimated audience of 100,000.

I was honoured to be there with my wife as Don’s guests. It was an extraordinary day: surreal, exciting, amazing and a truly unforgettable once in a lifetime experience. Finding ourselves on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury was a jaw-dropping moment.

We watched as the crowd increased by tens of thousands in the 20 minutes or so before Don was due on stage in the early afternoon “Legends” slot. My unsteady video captures the moment Don took to the stage and, later, part of American Pie. The sight and sound of that huge crowd singing along with Don was a sensory overload (in a good way!)

Watching the BBC coverage later, I noticed Don say “wow” as he came out on stage and clocked the crowd for the first time. Wow is a good word for it.

A big name in the UK music industry advised us that Glastonbury crowds will vote with their feet if they don’t like an act. They stayed with Don throughout and the big roars of approval weren’t just reserved for the classics – Vincent, American Pie and Crying – but relatively little known Don McLean songs like “Love in my Heart (Food on the Table)” also went down a storm.

Don and his brilliant musicians nailed every song; they were clearly determined to do their best performances. As always, Don was tuned into the audience; he chose to sing American Pie slightly earlier and surprised everyone by finishing with “Sea Man”. The crowd would be dancing all day, but this song gave them something to think about.

For someone so often associated with just one or two songs, Don has a back-catalogue of hits and other influential songs that surprises many. Beneath the Pyramid Stage a huge Greenpeace banner was visible for all to see. However few present would know that a Don McLean song, “Tapestry”, was an inspiration for that movement’s formation after the co-founder David McTaggart heard Don perform the song in 1969.

After his set, Laura Marling was among the first to congratulate Don. Marling won Best British Solo Female Artist at the 2011 Brit Awards and is a brilliant contemporary singer-songwriter who is clearly appreciative of Don’s work.

A quick interview with BBC TV followed and then with a wave from Beyoncé’s dancers we were ‘out of there’ on Don’s tour bus to Heathrow in time for his flight to Canada for the next stop on the tour. Sadly we said goodbye at this point and headed from the airport to our train connection back to Bath where our adventure had begun early that morning.

Fieldwork in Nigeria

My research student, Balarabe Getso, is about to commence his wet season field work on the River Kallawa in Kano State, Nigeria. I intend to join him later in the summer.

Our research project is concerned with endocrine disrupting substances in aquatic environments. This has become a well researched subject in Europe and North America but little work has been done in the developing world despite significant and widespread associated pollution problems and impacts on aquatic life.

Azerbaijan for Eurovision victory?

My probability model of Eurovision Song Contest voting is predicting victory for Azerbaijan in tonight’s contest in Oslo. The model has a high success rate but this year the contest is more open than normal with several countries in with a shout.

Predictions for the top-10 are:

1. Azerbaijan 1.14
2. Armenia 1.56
3. Israel 3.46
4. Germany 3.66
5. Turkey 4.51
6. Greece 5.42
7. Denmark 6.87
8. Ireland 7.97
9. Belgium 14.58
10. Romania 15.48

and for last place:

25. United Kingdom 133.65

…a few hours later…and the winner is…GERMANY…

Deserving winner but a rubbish performance for the computer model (r2 0.51 for correlation between prediction and result) but at least it got the UK result correct.

Crete Field Trip

The field trip to Crete (June 16-23rd 2009) involved three staff (Dr Alan Howard, Richard Tegg, Ken Beard) and 28 students registered for the degree in Human and Physical Geography at the University of Reading.

We were based in the village of Chora Sfakion in the Sfakia region of south west Crete. Fieldwork was undertaken in the village, at Loutro and in the Samaria Gorge.

Daytime temperatures ranged from 28 to 36 degrees and, whilst not in the sea, work was undertaken to model the extent and impact of a major flood in December 2000 in the Ilingas Gorge and the potential impact of tourist development on society in this area (Sfakia remains largely untouched by the mass tourism associated with northern Crete).

Group Photo - 22/6/2009, Chora Sfakion
Group Photo - 22/6/2009, Chora Sfakion

 During the field trip our students made use of various Web 2.0 technologies in order to produce group blogs and videos of their experiences. These were completed in the field utilising ubiquitous wireless internet access available in the village of Chora Sfakion and the mini Dell laptops we provided. The students did an excellent job and the process of writing daily entries on their group blogs (hosted on enabled them to reflect upon the educational experiences they encountered. The blogs have been compiled here:

where you will also find all the light hearted videos each group produced while in the field. A random choice of video is displayed here: