I’ve long been a fan of NASA’s Earth Observatory site, and long been interested in the life and works of William Smith, the engineer and canal builder who, in the late 1700s and early 1800s, realised the importance of fossils for identifying rock strata and came up with the concept of Faunal Succession. He also drew the world’s first geological map, of an area surrounding Bath in which he was busy with his day job, building canals.
So you can imagine how chuffed I am that the Earth Observatory team has used one of my photos to illustrate a lengthy essay about Smith’s life and work. It covers all the essentials of Smith’s life: his dedication to science, his unfortunate failure to stay solvent and his subsequent spell in a debtors prison, and his eventual recognition as one of the most important founders of geological thought.
The article also taught me one or two things I didn’t already know about Smith: I had no idea that the Colliers Way existed, so I plan to walk or bike it soon; and along the way I shall look out for this monument to Smith designed by artist Jerry Ortmans.
It’s hard to explain a love of geology. It probably started when I was a kid, because fossils are easy to find in the clay cliffs above the beach at Folkestone, my home town. We used to go down to the beach for an afternoon of playing in the sand and fossil hunting. Later, I was lucky to have a good teacher of geology who made the science bits more fun (even though my feeble brain didn’t absorb very much of it). Today I just love the experience of picking up rocks that might be many hundreds of millions of years old, of gently cracking them open, and finding within a tiny fossilised creature or plant that hasn’t been exposed to air or daylight in all that time. Picking up chunks of evolution on a windy beach in the rain, staring at a thing that lived and reproduced and died so incredibly long ago; and here it is in my hand, very nearly living again.
In my day it was all Denby crockery and electric toasters.
I saw a modern wedding list today, and items on it included:
- USB record deck
- 500GB external hard disk
- Energy saving lamps
- Solar rock lights
- Laser Cosmos mood lighting
- Lego Millennium Falcon
- Bath towels
OK, so I expected the bath towels.
Like any diligent father, I take my parental responsibilities seriously. I must teach my son to read, to cross the road safely, to behave politely at the dining table, and to appreciate pop music.
I started on that last one early, as early as I could. When he was just a few weeks old, we discovered that Bob Marley was a good way to calm him down. As years went by, I made sure he was introduced to plenty of music, and introduced to it often.
And he never took much notice, until one day when The Beatles were blaring out from the stereo and he asked me: “Who is singing?”
I explained about The Beatles. I explained that there were four of them, that they wrote many wonderful songs, and that sadly two of them had since died.
Barney was listening well that day, because ever since then, he always asks: “Is this band dead?”
Blondie? No, they’re still alive.
Madness? No, still alive.
Erasure? Still churning out the bleepy stuff.
Kirsty MacColl? Ah, well, no. Sadly, she’s dead.
“Why?” he asks as he nibbles another teatime food face.
Well, because she was swimming in the sea and she got hit by a boat. It was very sad.
He digests this information stoically, with a blink, and says:
“It was probably a big barge, cos if a big barge hit you while you were swimming it would push you under the water and you’d drown.”
Although I’m a little alarmed that my son has such a good grasp of the concept of drowning at such a young age, I nod reflectively and change the subject.
Because she is a brave, intelligent and kind-hearted woman, my friend Angela (not her real name) sometimes volunteers to work in the local night shelter for homeless people.
But Angela is a qualified first-aider, which makes her evenings there much more eventful. Over Christmas, she and her husband went to the shelter together. He sat in the common room and played board games with some of the visitors; Angela was chatting to someone at the front door when a shout was heard: “First aid! My mate’s been hurt!”
Angela ran over to find out what was happening. A man told her: “My mate’s fallen over in the toilets. He’s cut himself, there’s blood everywhere.”
Angela pushed open the toilet door. A man lay face down on the floor, which was sticky with blood. It was hard to see because of the blue-tinted lighting, put there to stop drug addicts using the toilet as a place to inject themselves. Lighting aside, the injured man was clearly under the influence of some sort of drug. Getting closer to him, Angela saw that his pupils were tiny, like pinpricks. He wasn’t breathing, but his pulse was racing faster than any she’d ever felt before.
She had to kneel down in the sticky bloody mess and resuscitate him. She asked the first man – the one who’d said his mate had fallen over – what the injured man’s name was. She got a blank expression in reply, then: “Danny. He’s called Danny.”
Angela worked with Danny, trying to get a response. She held his hand, saying: “Danny, if you can hear me, squeeze my hand. Danny? Danny? Are you with us Danny?” Nothing.
Despite the dim light, Angela saw what had happened. Danny fell chin-first to the floor, probably unconscious, and punctured his lower lip with his teeth. There was a wide gash opening up an obscene extra mouth underneath his existing one. That’s where all the blood was coming from. She closed the wound as best as she could and tried to dress it, and gradually the bleeding slowed down.
Finally, just as the ambulance crew arrived, Danny’s hand gave the tiniest of squeezes. She cried out: “You can hear me! You’re going to be alright, Danny. There’s an ambulance here, we’re going to get you into hospital.”
The paramedics worked around him and slowly, Danny came round. He blinked. He looked at Angela, still holding his hand.
“Who’s Danny?” he asked, his voice cracked by his splintered lip.
“You are, aren’t you?” replied Angela.
“My name’s Dave,” he said. “I could hear you going on about Danny, but I thought maybe you were talking to someone else.”
They picked him up on a trolley and took him away. Angela – a woman I cannot fail to respect enormously when she tells stories like this – got up from the pool of blood she’d been sitting in, and went to find her husband. He was still playing board games.
(Old footage, given new life by the wonder that is iMovie 08)
I’ve had a letter from First Direct, packed with meaningless marketing speak. It tells me that my account(s) with them will be changing soon, because apparently I’ve asked for this to happen (I haven’t). It gushes with excitement at how the changes will be good for them (because I apparently asked for them) and how much better off I’ll be, and how there won’t be any hassle for me during the switchover, none at all.
Thing is, I don’t trust gushing marketing speak. It makes me suspicious. What are they trying to hide?
I’m crap with understanding and organising finances, always have been. What I need is someone to explain these changes to me in language I can understand. Enter fool.co.uk:
I expect that this news will be greeted with dismay by many of First Direct’s 1.2 million customers. Indeed, it could be argued that First Direct has shot itself in the foot once again. It set itself up for a customer exodus when it introduced a monthly fee of £10 in February…
Damn right, and I nearly closed my account then. This new change won’t help me one little bit, but might make managing my money more complicated. I think I need to pull my finger out and shop around.
Recommendations welcome. (Especially from fellow freelancers who know the pain of income figures that sway alarmingly up and down from month to month.)
As part of the town Arts Festival, Bradford on Avon’s library car park was turned into a beach for a day last weekend.
The attractions included an authentic 1930s helter skelter, which all the kids (and quite a few of the grown-ups) had a lot of fun on. Apparently there was a good view from the top.
This follows on from the turfing of the main street at the same time in each of the last two years. The beach was better, I think – more fun for the kids, more fun all round really. Hope it happens again next year.
There was consternation in the Quiet Zone carriage. First it was someone’s phone going off, which caused a chorus of tuts – but the resulting conversation was brief and didn’t annoy for too long. Then another person made a phone call, evidently trying to locate some lost property from somewhere. There were more tuts, some Dark Looks, and finally a young man stepped in with a curt warning to the offender: “This is supposed to be a phone-free zone, mate.”
The caller – an elderly American – looked completely astonished. Clearly he hadn’t noticed the signs on every headrest, every window, every available bit of wall space. “I have to ring off now,” he said into his phone. And then, to the rest of the carriage: “Sorry.”
Then at the next station, a disabled passenger boarded and found the only wheelchair-friendly seat surrounded by luggage. The guard was summoned, and another offender had to step forward in front of the tutting masses. He moved his suitcases and stowed them somewhere more suitable. The tuts subsided into silence as the train moved off. There were still a few Dark Looks being cast around, though.