Monday, 22 June 2009


Now that Wimbledon has started, it's likely to rain. People have been saying that it'll be a long, hot summer this year. I hope so. Has been a while.

The weather does make a difference to turnover - people prefer walking around when the sun is out and they have less chance of catching pneumonia. And I think the sun puts people in a better mood altogether. Strange that psychiatrists are so busy in California.

I don't get a lot of passing trade. The shop's slightly tucked away, off to one side of the Grassmarket, a market square in the middle of the city's Old Town. A lot of money has been spent on redeveloping the area over the past couple of years, and I'm hoping more tourists will be directed down here; that more locals will rediscover it. It does have a fair bit to offer. A range of little, independant shops selling something different to what can be found in any other city centre. Cafes, restaurants, and pubs, too. It's hoped a regular market can be sited here shortly - would be great to use the space as it was originally intended. A return for the gallows is less likely, thankfully.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Jumbo burger

There was an interesting find recently in the Czech Republic. It was reported as the 'World's Oldest Barbecue' and was a 4' roasting spit, alongside cooking tools and the butchered bones of various animals - fox, bear, deer, and mammoth included. The site was dated at around 31,000 years old.

There seems to have been quite regionalised hunting techniques, generally to make the most of the animals available to hunt in any given area. In some areas where there would be a range of options, though, it looks like there was further specialisation. Some sites show weapons were developed to hunt mammoth; in others hunters seemed to concentrate on smaller prey. Were they just scared? Was this some lifestyle choice? Did they have some sort of pact with the mammoth? We may never know. They may have had the right idea, though. We're used to getting our meat pretty easily. Think about what the poor caveman had to do to get a few steaks. Heading out with a sharp stone tied to a stick, looking for a huge, hairy elephant to prod to death...

There are a few stories about scientists eating mammoth meat from Siberian permafrost finds. These probably stem from the Berovska mammoth, found in 1900. The meat, when still frozen, looked in good enough condition to be edible, even appetising. Some was fed to the expedition's dogs and was eaten without complaint - but dogs tend not to be overly fussy. Once thawed, the meat was apparently a little less appealing, but a couple of bites were taken by some intrepid folk.

More stories are told about Siberian natives eating frozen mammoth meat, though; enough to suggest they are likely to be true. The main difficulty is keeping the ketchup in liquid state.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Peacock awe

It's a strange day when I don't sell a piece of chalcopyrite. There are a handful of minerals that sell far more then any other. Three or four calcite types, iron pyrite, and chalcopyrite.

The form I sell is technically bornite, which has a higher concentration of copper. Usually chalcopyrite has a brassy yellow colour and is almost always massive rather than crystalline. Bornite, with the extra copper, is a lot more colourful. The vivid blues, purples and aqua greens have earned it the common name peacock ore.

Like malachite, though, it is an important copper ore and is usually crushed up for the copper. Seems a shame, but it's also good to have running water and electricity, too.

I found some bornite once. I think it was during my mapping project up in the North of Scotland. I didn't put it on my map. I had more important things to do. Vast, foot-sucking bogs don't map themselves you know.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Dawn raiders

Phone call from my new-ish rubbish collection company:

Hello - is this Mr Dale?
Yes it it.
I'm phoning from the cardboard collection department at Xxxxxx.
Our driver tells me there was no cardboard out for collection on Friday.
It was out - it was out all day and nobody came.
Well the driver says there was nothing there when they came by.
What time was that? So far they've come at about 11, 12ish and about 4.30.


Seven fifteen in the morning.
Oh. Well, I hadn't made it into work by then. I'm open from 10 until 5.30
Ok. I'll tell our drivers. You couldn't put it out the night before?
Thanks. Bye.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

St Marie showdown

St Marie aux Mines is a small Alsation town, and the fossil and mineral show takes over a large part of it for a week in June. A few central streets are fenced off and tents erected all over the place. A few of the locals get a bit fed up, understandably, but the town does very well from it financially .

At one end of the main road through the show is the 'logistics tent'. This used to just be a handy place to park, then a handy place to store shipping crates, then eventually a handy place for an opportunistic haulage company to fleece everyone for as much as they possibly can. At first it was okay to keep the crates there. Then it was okay as long as you paid them some storage fees, then it was okay as long as you paid storage fees and shipped exclusively with them. Now it's just a case of charging extra for unloading, forklift hire, supervisory costs, paperwork, disposal of paperwork, time, water and air.

Anyway. That's where my crates have been stored during the show for the past few years. It abuts a row of small terraced houses and sits beside a narrow, winding road used as the main vehicular exit from the show. I go to and from my crates a lot, gradually filling them as I buy. I'm often down in the logistics tent shifting stuff around for others, too. So I spend quite a bit of time there.

Last year, my crates were right against the far wall of the tent, next to the outer wall of the houses. I had gone down to repack a crate for a friend as mine were finished and sealed. There was a bit of a crowd gathereing in the road on the other side of the mesh fence. They were looking at the upper floor of the house next to my crates. I moved to the fence and looked. A man was leaning from the window shouting and waving his arms around. My French isn't brilliant, but I asked the shipping company rep what was going on.

Turned out the guy had locked himself in his house, turned on the gas and was going to blow himself up. By this time, the police had arrived, and were milling around with the crowd. Then a couple of fire engines, an ambulance, then a van full or armed cops. There were plenty of rumours going around by now. There was a baby in the house. He had split up with his girlfriend. He had a gun. His girlfriend had the baby. The baby had a gun.

Meanwhile, all traffic from the show was halted. The road was closed and many members of the French emergency services stood around smoking.

After an hour or so, things had settled down a little and we knew a little more. He DID have a gun, and waved it around a little. There was no baby. He WAS threatening to blow the house up. He had split up with his girlfriend, and she had been seeing his best friend. The man was angered by this.

A neighbour from across the street berated the gun-waver from her first floor window. At length. She spoke very quickly and I didn't really get much of it. She disapproved of his actions, though. I got that.

The police didn't seem to be overly worried, and everyone was allowed to hang around, as long as they didn't get too close to the windows. The van had pulled up in front of the house and a handful of police with guns and smoke grenades crouched behind. Others, with rifles, went to the other side of the stream behind the house. The much-discussed girlfriend was brought down and stood, with a cop, outside the house talking with her disgruntled ex. Then she went away.

I was a bit worried about what would happen to my crates if the house did blow up.

Somebody came out from a car to talk to Mr Angry. This went on for a while. Then there was a lot of hanging around. At some point, some of the police went in, and the guy was walked from the house into an ambulance and taken away. Then the traffic was allowed to move on again. Bit of an anti-climax, maybe, but no blood was lost. The shipping company didn't even charge us for watching it.