Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Brilliant YouTube clip

This is fantastic, and definitely worth watching to the very very end!

Thursday, 22 August 2013

What I did on my holidays

My reader told me off last night because it's a month since I posted anything, so I figured I'd do some now.  I've been busy, alright?

A couple of weeks ago we went up to Edinburgh for a few days.  Jenny and her colleague Tim Smithson wanted to look at the fossils the National Museums of Scotland had recently acquired from Stan Wood's estate and to decide which specimens to bring back to Cambridge to work on.  They spent a day and a half asking Nick Fraser and Stig Walsh to get drawers of specimens out of storage, then peered at them through binocular microscopes and going into little huddles to discuss what they'd found.

Eventually, around 2 on the second day, they'd seen everything and decided, so Stig packed the specimens up carefully and we stacked them in the car Tim had hired.  This was a Mondeo estate, which I really didn't enjoy driving until I'd found out how to raise the seat and lower the steering wheel.  This meant that when Tim got back in the driving seat, he had to adjust everything you could adjust in order to get it back to the way he liked it!

I was mainly there to share the driving with Tim, as it's quite a long way to Edinburgh, so to fill the time, I took a hammer and chisel to Wardie beach on the north side of Edinburgh.  It's very close to the NMS storage facility where Jenny and Tim were working, and the rocks are exactly the right age for our project.

The rocks are mostly a soft grey oil-shale, much of which was mined in Victorian times to extract the oil.  The fossils are generally found in hard, ironstone nodules which have formed within the shale.  Many fossil fish have come out of Wardie, and a single a├»stopod, a legless early tetrapod, which was, of course, why I was banging rocks there.

Sadly, although fossils are common in the nodules, they are generally coprolites - fossil fish poo, and while a few are quite pretty, they're not something we generally collect.  Surprise!

I collected this one because the rock happened to break at almost exactly 90°to the coprolite, so the section is almost perfectly circular, and there's a faint outline of fool's gold highlighting it. The turd is about 2cm in diameter, I suppose.

I did also find a fish, but it was so badly mashed, although I brought it home, I eventually accepted that Jenny's lack of enthusiasm for it was justified, so it will end up either as a rock in the garden or in the landfill.

I found a few plant specimens which I plan to photograph so that Jason Hilton at the University of Birmingham can decide whether or not he's interested enough for us to find a way to get them to him.  This one is a natural mold of a brach about 3cm thick and the diamond shapes you can see are the negative of the texture of the
bark.

It's possible there's a bit of the original tree inside there, but you can't tell right now.

Barely back from Edinburgh, last week we went with Royston Priory Singers to Worcester, where we sang all the sung services for the week, the Cathedral Choir School being on holiday.

The only accommodation our gallant organiser had managed to find was in Malvern St James Girl's School, which was a bit of a trek, but in fact it worked much better than I'd feared.

The accommodation was comfortable and the food excellent, which are the two things you always fear are going to be grim when you stay in a school.  We have had some memorably unpleasant
experiences, but I'm pleased to say, this was not one of them.

The clergy were very welcoming and it was a delight to sing in that beautiful cathedral.  We've been there for a few weekends in the past, but this was the first time we'd done a complete week there.  And we acquitted ourselves quite well, we thought, particularly the free lunchtime concert we gave on the Saturday.

This beautiful Sunbeam Talbot 90 was parked in the Cathedral Close on Saturday and Sunday, and it reawakened pangs of longing that I thought I'd grown out of decades ago!

I've owned three of these in the past, one not driveable, that eventually went for scrap when I moved up to the north-east.  I used to think they were the first 100mph production cars in the world, but when I looked them up on Wikipedia just now, it said the fastest of them would only do about 93mph.

One very pleasant aspect of the week was that after Jenny's Beautiful Minds programme earlier last year, she received an email from an old colleague.  Angela Kirton was doing her PhD on ichthyosaurs in the same lab as Jenny in Newcastle, and actually featured in the programme, working in the background. The fact that we were staying in Malvern was a bonus, because that's where Angela and her husband Mike, live, and we were able to meet up at the Red Lion pub and have a very pleasant evening catching up over dinner.  I remember liking them when we were in the north-east, and we still like them now.  I don't think they share our taste in music, though.

Our silversmithing tutor and his wife came to our concert, but I suspect that was out of loyalty more than anything else.  Although he has Classic FM on in the workshop the whole of the time, I suspect they weren't keen on what we did. They live on the Hereford-Worcestershire border, so it wasn't a long drive for them, and it was very nice of them to come.