Sunday, 23 March 2014

Imagining Science

The lovely Mrs. Im has been organising Reading Science Week for the last few weeks, and she finally pulled it off this week. She was overseeing the program of events mostly, but she also organised and ran her own exhibition, Symbiosis - a collaboration between art and science. She is raising money for brain tumour research, and although the exhibit is now finished there are still pieces available to buy online. So far she has made well over £300 for charity just from that exhibit. The Rising Sun Arts Centre, where it was held is a really lovely venue, they do a lot of events and exhibitions but they also have a regular project with adults with profound learning disabilities - they run groups for them, ask them to help out in the cafe, and help them do the books afterwards. It's pretty amazing. As part of the exhibition, the group, called the Move Up project, also created some pieces around the idea of symbiosis specifically about lichen.

Art work by Immy Smith on paper dyed by Scott Mantooth
The exhibit itself comprised of various paintings done on canvas or on luggage tags and a giant book full of more paintings of lichen and information. Lichen are incredible - they are a mix of funghi and algae that live together on trees mostly, but can live in all sorts of places. Some strains have been used as dye, some as food (particularly Reindeer Moss, which is the main food source for reindeer but also as food for humans toot) and they are used as an indicator for air quality. By looking at the lichen that grows in your area, you can tell the quality of the air because the colour of the lichen will show how much ammonia and how much nitrogen is in the air. One of the biggest clean air surveys in Britain was done in '80s by getting school children to go out and count up types of lichen in their area, they managed to map the whole country. The survey is now being done again, so if you get out and about and you would like to take part, check it out:

I helped Im set up and had a chat to Larry, the founder of Rising Sun, he was a very interesting man. We had quite a few people wander in and out throughout the day. During a quiet moment Im and the two volunteers and I had lunch together which was really fun. The room was pretty big, there were luggage tags hanging off of fairy lights, some paintings on the wall and a giant book made by Beth Coin and painted in by Im, Michelle Anderst, Scott Mantooth and a few other artists. There was a roll of paper laid out at the far end with some twigs and magnifying glasses so that people could draw - that had been a favourite with children who came by, on Saturday there was a gentleman called Dennis who had learning difficulties who came in, sat down and drew lichen and twigs fairly much for the whole day. Some very interesting people came in it was a really nice atmosphere. In the afternoon, Larry asked if I'd be ok manning the cafe, to which Im replied 'I can't think of anyone else I'd rather trust with our tea and cake needs', so I got to serve people for a couple of hours. It was fun being behind a bar again. At about 5pm we packed up the exhibit for good and got everything back in the car.

(L-R) Sharon Birzer, Jen Purnell, Immy Smith, Michelle Anderst, Stephanie Pui-Mun Law, Veronique Robigou, on luggage tags hand-dyed by Scott Mantooth. 
From there we grabbed some dinner at a local pub, The Lyndhurst, and they had llama on the menu! If I ate meat I would totally have gone for that! As it is I had some thai udon noodles, and naturally, managed to throw sauce down the white scarf that I was wearing. Once we'd scoffed some dinner we went on to the first ever Science Slam at Reading - a bit like a poetry slam but with scientists. Six contenders had six minutes each to explain their PhD topic and then we had to rate them on how entertaining they were, how easy the science was to understand and whether we would want to know more about it. There was a science advocate, a cyberneticist (systems engineer), an electrophysiologist, a psychologist, a biologist and a forensic chemist - I learned a bit about the unfortunate Carl Schelle, how your brain can tell what is your body and what is not, how the epileptic brain sends out very different signals and what can be done about it, how we need to keep more hydrated, how we can use the microwave spectrum to measure how much snow there is in the world (and thus make sure our water supply is secure) and finally how we can use infrared spectroscopy to look at molecular structures to tell if bank notes are forgeries (as well as works of art and other things). Charlotte won with her talk about epilepsy - she kept it pretty simple with no costume changes or voice overs (Water Woman, I'm talking to you!) and she had no difficult experiments to perform (a la the snow lady), but she was very clear, got the audience to participate somewhat and explained interesting things. It was a very enjoyable evening, but we were all shattered. We went home, had hot chocolate and went to bed.

This morning, Mr. - is -thinking made us all scrambled egg, beans and sausages for breakfast with olive bread and jalapeno and cheese bread. Yum! After that Mrs. Im grabbed the giant book and headed out for the last of the Science Week events and I jumped on a train home. What a fascinating weekend! I'm glad I got to support Im and learn some exciting stuff at the same time.

Sunday, 16 March 2014


It's been about a month that I have been in the new house now and Middle B asked me how things are going. I feel pretty settled - there is still stuff in my room that needs to be put away, I still need to pick up my sewing machine, there are always going to be things I procrastinate about... but on the whole I am a pretty happy bunny. My skin has cleared up completely (I am only wearing mascara as make up at the moment, hurrah!), I've started eating much better because I'm cooking for myself regularly and I've been walking to work, a nice 45 mins partly up a hill. I've lost a few inches which is always nice. I've been inspired to cook for other people and started baking again, which is always a good sign - if I'm baking it means that all is well! My flatmates call out to me if they see my light is on, they stick a head round the door if they come past. I've invited people home, which I haven't done for years. We all tend to eat together if we are around, and my breakfasts have been getting exciting again. All in all, I'm pretty inspired, all the more so since the sun has come out this week. I made Sunday dinner today and it was glorious. The only things that I need to sort out are a new mattress and some pillows - my back hurts and I've been pretty tired, I'm confident that I can sort that out soon enough. I feel nurtured and homely and cared about. That's a lovely thing to come home to.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Coffee and Curry and Cake, Oh My!

We're well into March and the cherry blossom are out and the sun is shining all over the place. I went for acupunture the other day and a lot of my frustration seems to have cleared, so I'm back to being a pretty happy bunny. One of the things that has helped a lot was going to see Mr. and Mr.s Im over the weekend for a little surprise celebration for Mr. F's birthday. He knew that I was turning up... so we all had a quick cup of tea and then we hustled the lads out to go food shopping, Mrs. Im created a really long list of things at the supermarket and at the crazy curry shop (and she let them in on it) so that the boys would be away for quite a time. Meanwhile we blew up balloons, iced a cake and waited for a few faces from his past to come by with cake and presents. They hid in the dining room until the lads came back and he was well and truly surprised to see them all. He got to chat with all of them while Mr. Im and I started making curry. We ended up with a spinach and brown chickpea curry, tarka dahl, spicy rice, normal rice, lemon noodles (Mr. F's favourite) and a beef and pepper curry which was made by Mr. Im and therefore probably hotter than the surface of the sun. I chopped up the chillis for the thing - there were a lot of chillies in there. We mostly we drank coffee, ate curry and later ate cake - there were five cakes, and four of them were lemon... did I mention that Mr. F likes lemon? I also made a white chocolate chilli cake, just to even up the balance. I got a chance to talk to Mrs. Im and Mr. Im and have a bit of a catch up and to meet some of Mr. F's oldest friends which was also lovely. A lot of geeky science conversation abounded with a fair bit of nerdy cult film references for good measure. Mr. F and I were sharing a room so naturally we talked for quite a while before bed... I did draw the line when it was gone 4.30am and actually went to sleep.

This morning we all had curry for breakfast.... dahl for breakfast is amazing! and lemon noodles! The lads had the beef curry - it takes all sorts, I suppose. We all mooched about in our pyjamas until about 1pm and drank coffee and ate more cake and talked more rubbish. Mr. F said it was the best birthday celebration he'd ever had. Hurrah.

I got the train back and came home to a huge Sunday dinner with the housemates: Spinach and ricotta cannelloni, beetroot, carrot and cumin salad, garlic bread, and key lime pie to finish. Yum! I'm well and truly stuffed now. I'm going to sleep well tonight I can tell you.

I had a totally lovely weekend, maybe the best I've had for a long time. Happy birthday Mr. F!