Thursday, 30 July 2009


Some good news. This is only loosely related to the shop, but it's commuting to work, so I reckon it counts...

The X29 is now a double decker. I get on the service near the start of its route back into the city, so always get a seat in the morning, but by the time it had got closer to the centre, the single decker was very often packed solid. So then it became a game of 'Who Gets the Seat?' Who might take offense? Who deserves it more - the shaky old lady or the man who looks like he's being eaten from the inside by beetles? And then - where to stand to best let people past?

Now there's space for everyone. Someone will still have to sit next to me, though. Nobody likes doing that, because I look like someone shaved a bear, and have to crush my legs sideways to cram them into the seat space, every jolt threatening to shatter my kneecaps. But someone will eventually overcome their fear of discomfort and the unknown and perch beside me. Today it was a nicotine-sodden chain smoker who played with his temporarily extinguished cigarette for the entire journey. Brilliant.

Monday, 27 July 2009

What's it called?

A problem I encounter relatively frequently is one of common names. More for minerals than fossils, but there are examples of both. I mentioned briefly when writing about chalcopyrite that it is often called peacock ore. It's pretty clear where the name comes from in that case. It's shiny and colourful - so are peacocks. It's not always so obvious.

This morning I had a call from a customer looking for minerals only by their common names - she didn't know the geological names - and I had heard of none of them. A bit of digging found a reasonable answer for one of them and a fairly tenuous answer for another. There are often more than one common name for a mineral, and also the application of the label may also be heavily subjective. Nobody is 'in charge' of assigning the names, anyone can do it and there's no comprehensive database to check up on.

As an example, a great many shapes and variety of quartz crystal have common names attached. I currently have optical, candle, elestial, cactus, fenster, laser and faden quartzes. And this is before colour is considered...

The mineral above is known as lemon (or citrus) chrysoprase. It's not chrysoprase. It's magnesite with nickel in it. So a number of the common names are misleading as well. There are loads (that's an accurate figure - you can quote me) of 'jaspers'. If someone wants to market a stone they've found in commercial quantities, they seem to resort to calling it 'Something Jasper' if they're not 100% of what it actually is.

The picture to the right shows a Devil's Toenail. It's not really from the devil's foot. There are millions of them, and the devil would have had to spend all his time growing toenails and shedding them instead of going around being bad just to make a beach-load. They are actually Gryphaea, a type of oyster. With fossils, while there are some locally specific common names, it's less of an issue. Michigan's Petosky Stones are coral, Dudley Bugs are beautifully preserved Calymene trilobites, and there are a few more notable examples.

The crystal healers are very big on common names and I have a fair few as regular customers. I'm happy to help them find out the geological names of what they're looking for and to try and track down examples, but I feel sometimes the names are a little exploitative. I've seen some ugly rocks given appealing names as a sales aid. If you dig up a lump of murky brown calcite, it's going to be a bigger seller as 'Dolphin's Heart Calcite' than 'Mud-lump Calcite'. You get the idea.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009


The French stock has been here for a week or so, but I haven't. Finally getting round to unpacking it all and pricing it up.

Aren't I lazy?

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Release the simians

Monkeys were on the loose in Edinburgh Zoo yesterday. In Chester Zoo, two days ago, a bunch of chimps were running free after they escaped from Monkey Island. If there isn't a film called Escape From Monkey Island, there should be. Is there something in the air? Some sort of simian revolution? Sleepy keepers? Whatever it is, I'm all for it. I know monkeys and such can be dangerous when they find their freedom, but it's understandable. They would surely be expected to take a little time to adapt to their new society. Learn that is unacceptable to throw your faeces at others, stand to one side on escalators, etc.

Once I've found out a little more, I hope to release some monkeys in the shop. They would have to be of a smaller genus. Maybe capuchins. If this is some new movement, I want Mr Wood's Fossils to be involved.

Near where the fossil show is in France, there is a tourist attraction called Montagne des Singes. Monkey Mountain. Reassuringly, the name says it all. These forward thinking French folk have fenced off the top of a hill and filled it with macaques. Once you have paid, you can have a handful of unseasoned popcorn and enter the world of the monkeys. Once in, the rules are much like those of stripclub (so I hear). They can touch you; you can't touch them. I've been a couple of times. It's great. If you go, it's best to hold one piece on the flat of your outstretched hand and wait patiently. Don't charge at them, screaming, throwing handfuls of popcorn in their faces. They react badly. I'm talking about monkeys, here, not strippers. Just to be clear.

I should also point out that there is a worthy ethic behind the mountain. It's a breeding program that has steadily been re-introducing the animals into areas where their numbers have dwindled in the wild. It's been pretty successful so far.

Sunday, 5 July 2009


It's Sunday, and I'm in the shop. Dusting and cleaning the inside of the display cabinets. I hope you appreciate this. Please all come in and say how nice the glass shelves look.

I got so carried away I even forgot to eat my Monster Munch.

Friday, 3 July 2009


Security at this year's St Marie wasn't quite as prominent as usual. Perhaps it was the same, and because I didn't really spend much time in the town in the evenings this year I just didn't notice. During the day, you need a pass to gain entry to the fenced off show area. Different types are available - day passes, week-long trader passes, etc, but all require a little plastic card on a printed necklace thingy. Long queues usually build up on the show's official public days, and the pass holders can skip these. Individuals vary, but often a cursory glance is all that you might expect.

At night, however, the situation changes and the heavy security is drafted in. These guys clearly dream of being SAS or Imperial Stormtroopers. It looks very much like they got to design their own uniforms, too. Boots that go up to their armpits, huge telescopic truncheons, lots of guns, leather gauntlets, flak jackets, etc. A little bit of overkill, maybe. And then the dogs. Look like they've somehow got some tiger and bear genes into the rottweiler pool. If they wanted, they could probably bite people through the wire fencing.

In fairness, there is a huge amount of money in the show. In fossil and mineral form, perhaps, but vulnerable to theft all the same. Last year, a friend of mine had his bag stolen from its hiding place under a table. It had seventeen thousand Euros in cash, his passport, camera, credit cards, everything. All gone with little or no chance of seeing anything back from the insurance. This was in broad daylight, in a busy selling tent. It's not uncommon, sadly.

At night, the nature of the show means most of the stock is left in tents overnight. Tents that are secured only by a little bit of rope tied at the bottom. So it's quite reassuring to have the bear-dogs on the prowl.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009


Back in the shop after the French trip, and handsomely patterned with red blotches and welts. I stayed on an organic apple orchard; great for cider lovers but equally great for fans of mosquitoes. It was too hot to sit inside and we had a few meals sat round tables outside. Whatever anti-bug measures we took didn't really seem to put them off too much.

Lying on a tiny, narrow bunk bed in sweltering heat with a sheet pulled over your head whist being dive-bombed by the high-pitched whine of the mozzy does not make for a good night's sleep.

Still. I had a good time; always nice to spend time with the people and while the weather was oppressively hot at times, there was at least a fridge nearby.

Brought a few smaller things back in my hand luggage, but the rest will be a week or so yet.