Sunday 28 August 2011

Sick Venom Elementz, Sick arts cuts: Two faces of the generation gap.

When I sat down next to a young woman of 16 on a crowded bus, we ignored each other initially. Not only were we strangers, we were separated by an age factor of at least three and the unspoken assumptions each generation has about the other. Until I started the conversation.

I found that I was sitting next to a member of a dance group that had came second in their group in the national XXL Street Dance Championships ( The dance groups Elementz Ent. & Venom are the over 17 and under 17 collectives of dancers from all over the UK, based in Cambridge ( The video above illustrates their style and previous performances included Move It, Kidz Take Kontrol, GWI Street Dance Weekend and the iDance UK Hip Hop Champs.

Street dance hit the consciousness of the broader public with the group Diversity winning Britain's got Talent in 2009. Physical, vibrant and often very expressive, street dance occurs in many forms throughout the world (, with those derived from breakdancing and popping being the most familiar within the uk.

The young lady, who incidentally already held a clutch of GCSE that would open doors to many professional careers, was obviously passionate about street dance and contemporary dance and this struck a chord with me. Whilst not a dancer myself, I find the exploration of physical language beyond the conventions of traditional ballet in contemporary dance gripping in a good performance.

The BBC recently ran “Dance! The Most Incredible Thing about Contemporary Dance” which introduced me to both the Pet Shop Boys' collaboration in the contemporary ballet “The most incredible thing” which I thoroughly enjoyed. Other names were The Cholomondeleys and Featherstonehaughs ( who have been providing innovative shows for over 23 years. Sadly they are disbanding this year after the 100% withdrawal of their Arts funding. YouTube has a collection of video samples for both of the above. ( and

The one thing that had surprised me was the frequent use of the word “sick” to describe the performances of Elementz Ent. & Venom online – until I learnt from my daughter that “Sick” was now the new “Cool”, meaning awesome or brilliant.

So in the end I find myself feeling sick in a positive sense about the vibrancy and success of Cambridge based Elementz Ent. & Venom and sick in the conventional negative sense, that cuts in arts funding have brought forward the demise of The Cholomondeleys and Featherstonehaughs.

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Colonies of Stentor polymorphus associated with Ramshorn snails

This article and the accompanying video illustrate the consistent association of Stentor polymorphus colonies with Ramshorn snails in a Cambridge pond.

Avid pondwatcher, Michelle Fleming, had posted images on Facebook of her Ramshorn snails sporting green somethings in the hollows of the centre shell whorls. Her pond is situated in a residential garden, just off Newmarket Rd in Cambridge.

The images were tantalising enough for me to invite Michelle and partner Mike to visit with some specimens for a closer view under the stereo microscope.

Viewed between 6x and 20 times magnification, green trumpet shapes became visible, that retracted on being touched. At less than a millimetre in length, they were identified as a colony of Stentor polymorphus.

Stentor species are large single celled organisms with cilia at the end of their bell shaped aperture, which waft in food to be eaten. S. polymorphus absorbs chlorella algae, which live symbiotically within its body, giving the Stentor species its distinctive green colour.

The unusual feature of the specimens from Michelle's pond is that they appear to be consistenly associated with the Ramshorn snails (Planorbarius corneus). Furthermore. They preferentially form in the centre of the snail shells whorl, which forms a bowl shaped environment. Whether this is due to selective settlement by the Stentor or because of removal by abrasion during the snails motion is not known, thought the former appeared more likely.

The specimens studied were unaffected by the snails motion or occasionally being agitated in the water during sharp turns of the petri dish in which they were observed and it took physical contact with a leaf or brush to induce contraction.

Future readers could check their ponds to see if they observe a similar association and whether it is limited to snails with a concave centre to their whorls.

Monday 22 August 2011

To Huntingdon and back by bike along the guided busway

Ever since the trip from home to Huntingdon last week, using public transport and the guided bus took a minimum of two hours one way, the nagging thought grew – I should be able to do that by bicycle! (see previous articel on the HBN blog "A businessman's experience and view of using the guided bus to travel to Huntingdon" at

I had not cycled for nearly a year, however, a few short test trips suggested that maintaining an average of ten miles per hour on the bicycle was feasible, and that even if I averaged at 8 mph, I should be able to get to my meeting of the Huntingdonshire Business Network within 150 minutes. The safety fall back position was, that if I encountered problems – I could ditch the bike and take the guided bus!

The main concern was that whilst the forecast was for sunshine, there would be a headwind on the way to Huntingdon of about 10mph.

However, the trip started auspiciously at 08:55 and once past Histon, the open stretch was not too much of a problem and I stoped occasionally to take photographs. I reached Swavesey, which was exactly half way to Huntingdon distance wise, at just over one hours cycling.

From thereon, the ride became more difficult. The tarmacked cycle path gave way to a gravel track and also began to undulate. This was where I found that whilst I could cruise on the level, I did not have any energy reserves to power up the inclines. Instead I would slow to a crawl in the lowest gear. It therefore took me another thirty minutes to get to St Ives Park and Ride, arriving there at 10:35

I sped through St Ives itself (well apart from photo stops of course) and then encountered the next major hurdle, the hill out of St ives towards Houghton. A long gradual climb meant I was cycling at a rate where a tortoise could have overtaken me. Once it was on the downhill stretch and then back onto the level, the main hazard was the busy road traffic.

The ride into Huntingdon was straightforward but my energy levels were now very low, with no reserves. Fortunately, the feared hill to the Huntingdon Indoor Bowls Club where the meeting was to be held, was not as bad as I thought, in part as I had been joined by Ruth Ekblom, another HBN member who had cycled over from Godmanchester.

I arrived at 11:32, just in time for the meeting, after 2h 37mins.

Mervyn Foster and Ruth Ekblom reassured me that there was a route via Godmanchester and Houghton Mill to St Ives that would avoid the killer hill. Ruth kindly offered to accompany me and set off at a pace that I had no hope of maintaining, 10mph was really my limit at this point on the level. We departed at 14:12 and arrived at the outskirts of St Ives by 15:08, again with many photo stops.

From there, I managed to get to Swavesey guided bus station by 15:41. I then cycled to Over in about 10 minutes to attend another regular Friday meeting.

Departing Over at 17:34, I arrived at Swavesey bus station at 17:46 to take the thankfully tarmacked track home. It was now a matter of sheer will as I really had no energy reserves at all. I would cycle at an aerobic rate. If the lactic acid built up due to a slight incline or trying a faster speed, I soon had to stop and rest. The wind had turned to be more southerly and the gradual sweep around Longstanton meant I encountered a headwind that again slowed me down.

I stuck with it, mile by mile, occasionally overtaken by old women and children, never mind the more serious cyclists who would zoom by and disappear into the horizon at a fair lick. At last, I arrived home at 19:24.

Overall travel time to Huntingdon was 2h 37 minutes, whilst the return travel time (ignoring the Over stop) was 3h and 29 minutes.

Surprisingly, my legs were fine the next day, but my backside was saddlesore. It was with hindsight that I learnt from my cycling neighbour that the best cycling trousers have padded bottoms to avoid this situation arising!

On balance, I do think it is possible to cycle to Huntingdon in two hours or less – there were sufficient regular cyclists overtaking me in their streamlined gear to make the point. However, I personally would have to train a lot to build up the stamina for the 45 mile round trip!