by Giles Turnbull
In 1988 or thereabouts, the AS Level Geology group from my school went on a field trip. We stayed somewhere in Weston-Super-Mere, and spent the days exploring the geological delights of Avon and Somerset.
Of which there are very many. The “father” of geology as a science, Willliam Smith), made his first discoveries as he and a gang of navvies dug out the Somerset Coat Canal. Smith – ignored and derided for years – noticed how the rocks they dug were consistently laid down in different areas, and how the fossils within each stratum were always the same. His theories were the basis for modern geology.
I’ve got photos of that field trip (real, old-fashioned photo prints; none of them have been scanned, yet). I was 17, so I took photos of my mates, not of the rocks. As far as most of us were concerned, we were on a little holiday and it was an excuse to have fun. I barely remember a thing of any of the geology we learned on that trip – only that my final result for the AS Level was disappointingly low.
What a pity, because now I live within an hour or so’s drive of most of the places we visited on that trip, I’m extremely keen to re-visit them and to understand, better yet remember the reasons why they are so interesting and important.
Everyone say: “Yay!” for Wikipedia, because it has lists of Geological Sites of Special Scientific Interest for nearly every county in the UK. The Avon and Somerset lists bring back all sorts of memories. Hulking a huge rock sample from Aust Cliff back to the minibus; sketching rock formations in Barrington Combe; pissing about in the back streets and alleyways of Portishead; exploring Brean Down; buying fish and chips in Clevedon. All of them memories of the fun and games of the field trip, no recollections of the geology.
Thankfully, some of the Wikipedia pages have links to fascinating (and mercifully short) PDFs from English Heritage, explaining precisely why each site is so interesting.
It was on this trip that my friend Dave Bower and I formulated the geological theory of “buggeroids”. A buggeroid was a rock that simply should not be where we had found it. It buggered up our geological theories, demonstrated that we were plainly wrong. Hence it was a buggeroid. I have retained – and found useful – the buggeroid theorem in many other aspects of life ever since.
On a windy day last summer, I took Barney for a day out to Portishead and Clevedon, in an attempt to re-discover some of the memories of the field trip. We had a lovely day together, but I didn’t remember much geology. Perhaps with Wikipedia and English Heritage’s help, I can re-assemble some knowledge of it in time for another attempt later this year.