Wednesday, 28 April 2010

A stab at professionalism

I have a new and easy way to encroach upon your lives and give you just that little bit less personal time. Or you could look on it as advertising. Or maybe - at a push - the provision of informative geological snippets. In any case, I have set up a Facebook page for the shop, which seems to be the way to go at the moment. Try this...

If the link above doesn't work... to sign up, I think you have to search for Mr Wood's Fossils in the little box, and the page should appear. Then you have to 'like' it. I think. I set it up, so I didn't have to do that bit. You can post stuff on the wall, complain about shoddy service, make rambling incoherent suggestions, start discussions. All sorts. The best bit, though, is the 'Reviews' section, where people can say how brilliant everything about the shop is, even the dust, and how they can't wait to go there again. I might go and write a review now.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Phoenix flowers

In South Korea, a lotus has been grown from a 760 year old seed. It had been found with nine others when excavating the ruins of a castle in South Gyeongsang. Scientists planted them all and three have grown into healthy plants - albeit ones afraid to go out in the dark and with a liking for Cliff Richard. It's not the first time plants have been successfully grown from ancient seeds. Lotuses have been grown from older seeds before, plants grew from 500 year old seeds in the bombed wreckage of the Natural History Museum during WWII, and a few years ago Israeli scientists grew a date palm from a 2000 year old seed.

So - I have been given some inspiration. For the next few weeks, I will be sitting on my dinosaur egg while at work. When (or - I suppose - if) it hatches, I will convert the basement into a Dinosaur Park and become terribly rich. Maybe I should do the conversion before it hatches so I don't have to put up with Kenny (or Hilda if it's a girl) trampling all over my stuff upstairs while I work on it. Anyway - print out this page for free entry in the first week of opening. You deserve it. Oh - and bring some cycad leaves.

Friday, 23 April 2010

On show

This week, I've had a tv set designer in picking out some stuff for a kids' science show. A week or two ago someone came to pick some minerals for an display about colour, dyes and pigments and a month back a museum phoned to ask if they could borrow a large piece for a temporary geology exhibition. Sometimes, designers come with very specific thoughts about what they're looking for and it's not always easy to find them something that'll fit the bill. It's all the stuff of nature. It's not like you're picking out a t-shirt - I'd like this belemnite, but do you have it in red? Anyway - on these occasions, the designers went away very happy, which is always satisfying. It'll be great to see some of my rocks on tv, even if they don't have speaking parts. Last time it happened, I went with them, for a live evening talk show on a regional station. I'm pretty camera shy in any case, but the thought of live television had me very nervous.

Had to get the train to the studio, along with a box of stuff to talk about. Got off at some station I didn't know was there, and walked up a hill to this huge semi-derelict mental hospital. It looked like half of the building was open to the elements, with tumbled walls and missing roofs. There were a few cars parked outside, which offered some reassurance, but wandering through the building to find the green room took me through corridors of ruined rooms and I couldn't find a single person. Eventually I found a bare-walled room with a formica table, some plastic chairs and a drinks machine. There was a guy sat playing guitar. He was to go on before me, and play out over the end credits. He was friendly, less nervous and we talked.

The host came in with some crew and we went over the questions he would ask me - a big help, and I felt a lot calmer. We were led to the studio area, and turning the corner from the green room, the building was transformed into modernity. Lights, carpets, plants, pictures and finally the studio itself - a simple talk show set with comfortable chairs around a low table. I watched the show until it was my turn, slipping into the seat while the singer did his turn. My go. After a brief introduction, the presenter led me in with a couple of the discussed questions and then veered wildly off course by asking me about the whale jawbone monument on top of Berwick Law. I know enough about the story of the bones, having grown up not far from there, but I was a taken a little off guard by this random diversion. Didn't really know where he was going with this, or how to reply. 'Must have got lost', I said. He stuck to his list.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Monkey puzzle

Araucaria is a genus of tree with a number of living species, the best-known of which is Araucaria araucana - the monkey puzzle tree. My favourite tree, probably, if only for its name.

It's a bit of a survivor, this tree, as it's been around since the Jurassic. Araucaria mirabilis was growing in what's now Patagonia in Argentina around 210 million years ago. There used to be quite a lot of beautiful fossil cones from this locality on the market a few years back, but the source has dried up and new regulations have largely made Argentinian material a thing of the past for the fossil trade. There are still some floating around, though, and I have got some sliced cones - shown here. Quite nice, as you can see cross sections of the seeds, but not quite as satisfyingly tactile as the complete cone.

Thursday, 15 April 2010


British airports will be closed today because of the huge cloud of volcanic ash drifting over from Iceland. Despite throwing tons of bright orange liquid rock into the air and making a lot of noise, volcanic activity has its downside. Ask the crispy-coated people of Pompeii. They hated volcanoes.

When Krakatoa blew its top in 1883, a little to the WEST of Java, the explosion was four times more powerful than the biggest ever nuclear bomb detonation. The bang was heard over 3,000 miles away and around 21 cubic kilometres of rock, ash and dust was chucked up into the sky. All this stuff floats around for ages, making a mess, ruining stuff and making the weather go all funny. And it killed over 36,000 people. Also very bad.

But there have been eruptions far more powerful than Krakatoa. Whether they contributed to the demise of the dinosaurs or not, at the time of the extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous around 65 million years ago the Deccan Traps in India were spewing out ash and gas that would have been spread across a large part of the globe and affected the climate pretty dramatically. The huge meteorite landing in Yucatan at the same time sent up enough junk to make the sky all black and kill nearly everything. Impact Winter, it's called. So - combining the two makes for an unhappy time for the dinosaurs, known to be fond of an outdoor lifestyle.

Another mass extinction, at the end of the Permian about 250 million years ago, can be landed squarely at the feet of Vulcan, the cantankerous god of fire and volcanoes. The Siberian Traps were thousands of times more powerful even than Krakatoa. Again - nearly everything died. Statistically, we're most likely overdue another super-eruption somewhere. But statistically, we're most likely due for another enormous earthquake and meteorite impact. Stock up on the beans and bottled water and check for loose roof tiles while you still can.

The bad news for this guy is that the last time Eyjafjallajokull erupted, 200 years ago, it went on for two years. Not only that, but there is another, larger volcano nearby which is very often triggered by it. This could take a little while.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010


All my US stuff arrived. All someone else's US stuff arrived too, and has gone back on the truck. I plastered my crate with lots of address labels to go alongside the big shark logo stencils. Worth it...

So. Now it's all in the basement, and waiting for someone with lots of energy to unpack it all, count it, price and label it, move it to the store room, make price and info tags and put some on the shelves. Time for coffee.