Wednesday 20 June 2012

Morning at the Museum

Today I had a fantastic day, I was truly honoured to have been invited along to Bangor University’s Brambell building to look around the University’s natural history museum!
I have always been interested in natural history and always thought it was a great shame that apart from Stone Science in Anglesey there are no natural history museums in North Wales to help nurture any interest children might have in natural science. This little-known collection is occasionally open to the public and school groups so as you can imagine I was in my element browsing through this collection of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects and fish. The collection started out in the 19th century and continued to grow over the years with donations from zoos, circuses and stately homes. What makes this collection doubly exciting is the way in which the exhibits are displayed. The staff have worked hard to make it both informative and accessible to visitors. It retains the air of a bygone era when conservation was unheard of but the specimens are presented in such away that allows the viewer to get up close, a sure way to maintain interest in the natural world in both children and adults.

As I walked in through the main door I was greeted by a collection of eggs and a long line of skeletons, several species made up the line including a gorilla, a tiger, hippopotamus and the skeleton of a baby elephant. Legend has it that this baby elephant belonged to a circus but it died during a visit to Bangor.  Above the skeletons was a vast array of mounted animal heads, staring down from the walls that ranged from the now extinct Irish Elk to a Cape Buffalo. Many of them have their stories included on the mounting base, clearly trophies that have been donated by guilty ancestors, not wanting to be reminded of their family’s sporting past. It is sad to think that these animals died for someone’s leisurely pursuits but personally I find comfort in knowing that these animals will now live on in the museum as a means to educate future generations that will both appreciate, study and conserve these animals.

The collection is divided into several categories with no corner spared, each one highlighting a creature of some shape or form, marvellous representatives of the wonders of nature. All I could do was say ‘fascinating’ and “oh, wow!” as I wondered around the displays. The second floor (with a view overlooking the first floor) of the museum was equally fascinating as this section was devoted to the specimen jars. Rows of jars and tins each one in no apparent order but each one seemed to belong, and each seemed to have a story to tell. Some items may prove a little too much for some visitors such as the rabbit, hedgehog and cat that had been partially dissected with the organs labelled but I thought it was incredibly interesting! As I write this I really can’t focus on one particular element because selecting my favourite from the collection is quite a challenge! The anteater skeleton perhaps? Or maybe the cabinet containing several species of New Zealand birds (Included a Kakapo, which is now under threat of extinction). I was suitably impressed by the narwhal’s tusk, The Elephant trunk preserved in formaldehyde?  I shall cheat and say I liked the whole museum! Before I left I took a moment to examine the various mineral cabinets scattered throughout the museum, which until recently had been in storage I find this interesting as I found the museum itself to be a real hidden gem! My sincere thanks to the University for allowing me this opportunity.

© Arfon Jones 2012. All images are copyrighted throughout the world.

Wednesday 13 June 2012

My Turing Sunflower

I had hoped to make this a double header sun-themed science thread. 
Unfortunately (if not rather predictably) the weather prevented me from observing the transit of Venus on the 6th. Dense low forming clouds prevented me from seeing this celestial event that will not occur again for over a century! I’m still rather bitter about this so let us hastily move on to the other sun related topic I had intended for this thread, Sunflowers.

I think its safe to say that we have now firmly established that I like science, but did you know that I am also partial to a spot of gardening as well? Well I am, More so if I can combine science and gardening together and that’s just what I have done! Like thousands of others I have planted a Turing sunflower in honour of the great mathematician Alan Turing on this his Centenary year as part of a new research project led by MOSI (Museum of Science & Industry, Manchester)
Alan Turing the famous code-breaker, developer of the Enigma machine and the founder of computer science/ artificial intelligence in his later life became interested in phyllotaxy (the mathematical arrangements of leaves on plant stems) and the spirals on sunflower heads that conform to a Fibonacci number. Turing hoped to explain the ‘Fibonacci phyllotaxis’ but tragically died in 1954 before the work was completed. This year the University of Manchester is encouraging everyone to grow 3000 sunflowers to celebrate life of the great man and complete his work! Mathematicians at The University of Manchester hope to analyse thousands of sunflower heads to test the extent to which they follow the Fibonacci rule, to explain why this happens and the reasons why they sometimes don’t. The results will be announced during Manchester Science Festival (27 October – 4 November 2012) alongside a host of cultural events across Greater Manchester to celebrate Turing’s life.

© Arfon Jones 2012. All images are copyrighted throughout the world

Monday 11 June 2012

The Jubilee Menai Strait Party

The Jubilee, I love it. It’s one of those rare occasions that this country gets to unite and celebrate its history rather than some silly sporting event that predictably fizzle out at the crucial point. 
Wanting to celebrate the Jubilee with Beth and my daughter (who missed the last one by being born 4months after) we attended a street party with a difference, this year we attended a Strait Party, as it was set on the banks of the Menai Strait! Organised by the National Trust in the grounds of the magnificent Plas Newydd, situated along the Menai strait. This former home of the Marquess of Anglesey provided a historical backdrop and marvellous views of both Snowdonia and The Britannia Bridge for the special day.
We took our seats at the Strait party table and watched the boats sailing along the Strait (although admittedly I was more interested in the Cormorants).  Just as the food was about to be laid out a few drops of rain started to fall BUT this was no problem for me as I had come prepared! I had brought along a little invention of mine, cobbled together the night before ‘The Union Umbrella’ allowing me to be both patriotic and dry at the same time! Once all the food was brought down the sloping lawn via a ‘food chain’ everyone enjoyed a delicious selection of cucumber or coronation chicken sandwiches, pork pies and a selection of cakes! Finished off with a complementary glass of champagne to toast our Royal Highness’s 60th year on the throne.  At one time ‘we’ appeared on television as part of a live link up with ITV coverage of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
We moved on to the lawn to listen to the brass band that delighted the crowd. At one point they played ‘Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines’ as RAF’s Sea King search and rescue helicopter (Of which Prince William now serves as captain) performed a flyover the Strait as the crew waved to the crowd that responded with waving their flags. The weather held back until it was time to leave, and that was our Jubilee celebration! 60 years of the reign of Elizabeth the Second where a good time was had by all.

In the North Wales Chronicle with Beth (and the 'Union Umbrella’)

© Arfon Jones 2012. All images are copyrighted throughout the world.

Sunday 10 June 2012

Waltz on the Wye 2012: (2 of 2) The Contraption Exhibition

I mentioned in the previous post (in great detail!) how I had a table at the Mechanised Market. As busy as it was I did manage to slink away from the stall for a short time to quickly pop to Chepstow Castle to take some pieces for the contraption exhibition.  A strange thing to do really considering how I didn’t actually have any contraptions this year!  The truth is that I wanted to make full use of this glorious location and introduce the public to my newest creations. So I took along some exhibits from my ever growing collection of ‘Wonderments and Atrocities’ the ‘Womblus Wimbledon Vulgaris’, ‘Mus Digitatus’ and The Finger of Paul Daniels.I then ‘hung around’ incognito for a short time to observe people’s reactions, which pleased me as they achieved the exact response I was hoping for.

Photographs the ‘Womblus Wimbledon Vulgaris’, The Finger of Paul Daniels and ‘Mus Digitatus
provided by Mr PP Gettins

My creations where in good company this year, standing amongst an amazing array of bright ideas, creative designs and ingenious methods! I had taken several photographs however my atomic blast camera flash didn’t do all of them justice so please forgive me if some pieces do not feature in this blog...There were several returning faces at this year’s exhibition, starting out with Mr. Matt McCall whose hats and goggles never fail to impress. Determined to make up for the poor selection of photographs I had taken of his work last year I took several this time round and here they are.

You will recall that last year’s winner was my arch-nemesis Mr. James Richardson-Brown, with his K-1909. This time he brought another famous robot with him, the Terminator!

I was pleased to see that organiser Andy Dingley had followed up last years ’s Pufferfish lamp with an Inflatable Glow Fish that did just that when you approached its cage! (He was also responsible for the amazing tentacle seen beckoning people into the castle to see the contraptions)

Other favourites included the HMS Victorian Enterprise (I am afraid I didn’t catch the artist’s name if this is you please drop me a line so that I may properly credit you.) and Vincent Swann’s Handyman’s Exo Spine

This exhibition had an extra coup to it this year as it had a special guest artist displaying his work, expert prop maker Mark Cordory! Obviously as a fan of ‘Knightmare’ and ‘Doctor Who’ it was fantastic to be able to see his work up close as each one was a splendour to see.  I sincerely hope to see Mark and his work at future events very soon. Once you have finished with these photos check out his site for further examples.

And the winner of this year’s Best Contrapion prize was awarded to Jarkman for his Skeleton pocket watch. This beautiful time peace was completely custom made from brass and ebony and was quite superb to look at but alas I have no photographs instead I urge you to follow the link and see how he made it! It’s worth noting though that not all fantastic designs and ideas where on display at the exhibition. Aside from the fabulously dressed folk that came in to look at the exhibit Miriam McDonnald (who recently, responding to my work called me the “Butcher of Trumpton”) was due to deliver a talk on how to knit ankle-less socks once she had finished minding the exhibit. As I was unable to attend the talk she very kindly showed them of to me and I thought they where simply marvellous, follow this link for more details and free pattern!

© Arfon Jones 2012. All images are copyrighted throughout the world.


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