Wednesday 30 September 2009

Helping Granny - A tale of our time

I've been intrigued by the restrictions of twitter and also about the impact of social media on family life. Tonight, an idea thats been germinating for a while came to fruition in the form of a short story in tweets via The Twitter messages or "tweets" are reproduced below, with the identifier #grancare - an easy way for Twitterers to follow a thread amongst the flood of messages.

I want to try a short story, in tweet chapters so to speak. If an illustrator want to collaborate for a future repeat, great! #grancare

Helping Granny, a tale of our time #grancare

Granny lived alone and had coped quite well. Like anyone, sometimes she was sweet, sometimes she laughed, sometimes she spat fire! #grancare

One day, her grandson Errol came to visit. They drank tea, ate lots of cake and Errol listened enraptured to Granny reminiscing. #grancare

In a quiet moment, Granny confided to Errol "Things are such an effort nowadays - the sales calls on the phone, the junkmail!" #grancare

I find it hard to remember which pills to take and when and I think Ive read the newspaper twice today!" she added chuckling #grancare

"Most of all, it's very quiet at times, with families too busy with their own lives to call or far away to visit" Granny sighed. #grancare

Errol drove home from his visit to Granny very thoughtful about her words. "What can I do?" #grancare

That evening, Errol sat in the lounge with his laptop in front of the Telly, with his cup of hot chocolate and supply of biscuits. #grancare

He logged into facebook and read the many entries by family and friends. Suddenly he began to write a new post. #grancare

"Dear all" wrote Errol "wouldn't it be great if we all phoned Granny a bit more often and visited more regularly?" #grancare

The next day, Errol innocently logged into facebook and received an unexpected surprise! #grancare

Errol had forgotten that Auntie Sandra was the black sheep of the family and only spoke to Uncle Eric. #grancare

The whole Sanderson family held the Hendersons in contempt ever since the unfortunate incident of the aspic at Ronnie's funeral. #grancare

Emily was on an extended research project in Borneo and Errol's brother was preoccupied with his sextuplets starting school. #grancare

"I'm tied to a tree fighting loggers" came short shrift from Emily "and my solar powered mobile is breaking down!" #grancare

"Our stretched family limousine can't make the hairpin bends or climb the hills near Granny's" wailed Errol' brother. #grancare

The Sandersons were unanimous in blaming the Hendersons and conversely the Hendersons said they'd done more than their fair share! #grancare

Uncle Eric told him to sod off! Only Auntie Sandra responded positively, (if Errol understood her text in nuspeak correctly). #grancare

Somewhat shaken and deflated, Errol swapped the hot choc for a full bottle of finest malt and was unconscious for the weekend. #grancare

The next week, he resolved to call Granny - but the line was engaged. Using callback, Granny finally got in touch. #grancare

"I don't know what's got into everybody!!!" she raged, "I haven't had a moment's peace from the phone!" #grancare

Then she added more mollified "Your brothers visiting next week! He's hired a bendy bus. And Eric's coming for lunch next week!" #grancare

"You could visit more often" Granny said pointedly. "But I visited last week" Errol sighed. "Oh yes! - But you're always welcome!" #grancare

An hour later, Errol rang off and sat down to log onto facebook. "No", he suddenly decided happily, "I'll twitter today!" #grancare

Friday 18 September 2009

A Cambridge Contribution on Microscopes, Explorers, Medical Pioneers and Inventors on the Fourth Plinth

The Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square was unoccupied since its completion in 1841, when money for a planned equestrian statue failed to materialise - until the Mayor of London and various arts groups initiated a series of exhibitions upon it. One & Other is the current event, assisted by Sky Arts, a brainchild of Anthony Gormley, of "Angel of the North" fame. See him talk about his vision here

Antony Gormley on the Fourth Plinth from One & Other on Vimeo.

For 100 days since the middle of July, members of the public have been occupying the plinth for 1 hour each, 24h a day, come rain or shine. They are chosen by a draw from those who had applied to be part of the project. What you do on the plinth is entirely up to you, as long as it is legal. The project will provide not just a piece of art but also a social record of our society in 2009.

With around 30000 applying for 2400 places, I thought it was worth joining. The August and September draws came and I was unsuccessful. Resigned, I was therefore surprised to have a call a couple of hours after the September draw results asking
"We have a slot free on the Plinth. It's at 2am on 16th Sept are you interested?"
"YES!!!" was my resounding exhilarated reply!

I set off at nine pm to catch the train to London, where a narrow band of rain had been inundating the Plinth with nearly an inch of rain over the past hours. I arrived at Trafalgar Square with rain still bucketing down at 11pm. Fortunately, there was a warm welcome and a cup of tea in the temporary two storey One&Other building on the square from which the event was run, within sight of the Plinth.

There was a camaraderie in that cabin amongst the Plinthers who had just completed, and those who were to go up in the next couple of hours. Stories and experiences, ambitions and fears, Distances travelled and places to go all discussed. Plinthers would go out to view the current incumbents and lend support in a constant ebb and flow. There was tight security, but very sensitively handled. Safety was paramount too. We were all also interviewed and photographed individually as part of research by the Wellcome Trust as well as to provide material for the forthcoming record as a book of the event.

I was extremely lucky! The rain stopped just before I got onto the cherry picker, Stuart of security walking ahead of us as we slowly drove to the plinth, only missing the red flag that men walking in front of early automobiles used to have. I turned to One & Other Jamy who was escorting me and found out that his hobby was Birding with a pleasure at having recorded some Ospreys earlier this year. The Cherry picker rose well above the plinth and then delicately lowered to the edge of the plinth where Mike from Wales had been dancing for the full hour, ready to come off on a physical and emotional high.

And then I was alone on the 1.5m x 4m plinth, 8m above the ground with spotlights and cameras trained on me and a group of friendly hecklers below. (Video of event with times of highlights in text below video available here).

The main thread of my stay was people's hobbies, demonstrated by mine, microscopy. The link to the plinth was the Victorian connection to the birth of amateur microscopy and its flourishing in the Victorian age. I was able to include my favourite 17th Century scientist Robert Hooke, of the Royal Society, who's excitement initiated real interest in microscopy with his book Micrographia; Darwin, who used a simple microscope on the Beagle and later at home, for example on his studies on the goose barnacle; John McArthur, early 20th Century medical researcher in Malaria who settled in a nearby village in Milton, Landbeach, and who invented the McArthur portable microscope used by the Trans Antarctic Expedition headed by explorer Vivian Fuchs, later Sir Vivian Fuchs, and head of the British Antarctic Survey, now based in Cambridge. John also developed the 1972 prize winning McArthur Microscope in plastic for the Open University, who used nearly 8000 of these for students studying biology in their homes for over 25 years.

I'd brought my Watson Kima microscope along, dating from 1957, just one year after I was born (and the year that the Trans Antarctic Expedition successfully completed its journey after 99 days), to look at a few prepared slides, one of Black Oak by Ernie Ives, a Foraminiferan mount by Brian Darnton and a Head louse prepared by myself. The spotlights onto the plinth provided sufficient light and an additional bond of the activity to the plinth to let me view and photograph the samples.

There had been queries about bringing glass slides onto the Plinth for safety reasons (glass was excluded). however, I conducted a full risk assessment - the first submitted by a Plinther! And special permission was granted in advance. (Copy of Risk Assessment here)

The highlight for me was the sample that I had plundered from the fountain in Trafalgar Square (with permission!). The small amount of green sediment captured in a plastic Petri dish not only contained algae, but a free living nematode! A particular delight as I'd worked on parasitic nematodes in the past.

The hobby of microscopy was brought bang up to date by using a digital camera to capture images and then to upload them using a dongle on my laptop to a Picasa album for all to see (see the album at , for time reasons, I did the upload back in the One & Other shelter).

This would all have been a little remote for the viewer at times as they could not see the samples and photos there and then. I was therefore extremely pleased that, thanks to the generosity of Peter Burt and Jamy Limited, I had a brilliant banner with large photos that I could demonstrate to both the small audience at the base of the plinth and the cameras.

All that remained at the end was to round off with a summary and to pack up. The last few minutes were used to photograph the steel Plinth surface which, after 60 days or more, was showing interesting surface effects (see slide show at top).

Emotionally, I came off on a high that stayed with me for several days. I spent some time back in the One & Other shed uploading pictures. Then, because there was no tube running and no trains to Cambridge till early morning, I set off at around 4am to wander the streets of London with the camera, finally progressing the Victoria Embankment from the Houses of Parliament in the dark to St Paul's at dawn.

Arriving back in Milton, I collapsed in bed and finally slept, with a deep sense of satisfaction at taking part as a small facet in this snapshot of people in Britain in 2009.

I would like to express my special thanks to all those who commented and supported me on my Plinther's Chris_T_1 One&Other page.

Friday 4 September 2009

Hidden art and desecrated graves in Cambridge

It was a big mistake getting off at Elizabeth Way bridge with a camera last Saturday, as my original intention was just to visit the bank and Waterstones. Instead, I stood captivated by the murals in the Underpass and decided to see what other interesting Art I could find by meandering through the backstreets of Cambridge..
My first find was the Cricketer's Arms in Melbourne Place. Windows on the first floor sported three pictures of first, a Cambridge United footballer, a cricketer and an Irish Rugby player. Chatting to the publican Martin Hyde, who was delighted in the interest, I discovered the following.
The pictures had been designed by the pupils of nearby Parkside school as part of a competition set up by Martin to convert the ugly blacked out windows into something a lot more interesting. A teacher then converted the ideas into scaled up paintings in emulsion.
On my way to Mill Road to see Martin's other pub, the Earl of Beaconsfield and Disraeli painted as a leprechaun, I discovered Mill Road Cemetery.
With graves predominantly from the 1880s to early 1900's, it was a peaceful picture of genteel neglect in the glorious sunshine of the day. A number of the monuments were broken and there was evidence of vandals desecrating tombs and gravestones both from the distant past and extremely recently. Poignant WWI memorials were scatted with the bodies of the young who died, including one in 1918 close to the end of the war and another at Paschendale. The delightful find was the memorial to John Reynolds, who ran the telegraph coach from London to Cambridge back in the 19th century.
Just before Kingston Street, I asked two ladies if they were aware of any interesting art or signage nearby. None they could remember, and yet within 50 yards I found the wonderfully decorated 80 Kingston Street. Chatting to Claire, who just happened to be at a window, i discovered that this was the home of the women's Paradise Housing Cooperative, colloquially know as housing “The Birds of Paradise”.
Taking time and looking around, I found the leprechaun, Mill Road bridge mural and many other artwork and signs, where a little imagination had created a small but positive impression on their environment in Cambridge.
Click on the slideshow to be taken to the Picasa album with captions to the pictures.
(Oh yes, and despite wandering around for 4 and a half hours, I did get to Waterstones and the bank too.)

How do others see your company?

Meeting with a group of German IT companies in Potsdam in preparation for the marketing assistance programme to the UK, I was again struck by the diversity and ingenuity of their ideas. As part of the afternoon they were supposed to fill in company information forms, ostensibly to assist with our market researchers. Like forms everywhere, my fear was that they would inexplicably lack the company's vibrant USPs, so essential for our market researchers to understand if they were to successfully find interested UK contacts. Having been up since 4 in the morning that same day, the silence of studious form filling was also likely to be highly soporific!
So we tried something different! Pairing up, one of the pairs would describe their company, its goals and ambitions, which the other partner would then interpret and use to fill in the form. The roles were then reversed. At the end, each company gave a presentation. In fact, we've We even had one company brave enough to give the presentation of their partners in English to general applause!
The background hubub and engagement was stimulating, the presentations informative. The companies gained useful insights and practice in honing their pitch in a safe environment. Even better, there was also a bit of networking afterwards! An application for a XING group has been initiated.
My suggestion is therfore to use a future networking meeting to try this with a trusted partner.
1. Describe your company, ethos and offers briefly
2. then see what your partner understood and reflects back to you
3. Of course, you can return the favour!

The slideshow is of Potsdam and the museums in Berlin, two cities in constant change, which may also reflect the positive forward looking attitudes of the companies from this region.