Cuddly Science at The British Science Festival (by )

Cuddly Science Puppet show Photo thanks to Fiona Austen

The weekend saw me, Alaric and Jean at the British Science Festival in Birmingham. I was doing the most indepth version of Cuddly Science yet - everyone who knows me will no doubt now be sick of hearing about Cuddly Science but just incase here is the run down :)

I came up with an idea during my science communication course at UWE and have spent the last six months working on it, initially just as a piece of course work but I soon realised that this was the thing that would link together all my skill sets. It grew and adapted.

It is a set of puppets, larger than life versions of influential scientists, technologist, engineers, maths peeps and medical persons. Initially I focused on Ada - she was a natural choice as we have taken part in every single Ada Lovelace Day so far!

Ada went on a few trips out and about telling kids about programming computers and her own erratic childhood. But right from the beginning I knew this needed to be bigger, I have a list of puppets that need to be made.

I now have 5 puppets, I only actually had two proper shows prepared for the Science Festival as I'd planned to repeat one of them. But people decided that they were going to keep coming back to my next show so I improvised the last show which was more about the experiments and science games we'd sorted out.

As mostly Cuddly Science is just me, each puppet has their own show with an activity of some sort for the kids to take part in. So Darwin told of how he wasn't very good at school or sitting still and about his discoveries and this led onto DNA (which wasn't about in his day!). We then did a little DNA extraction experiment with the kids which they loved.

Alaric extracting DNA

Ada has a game that Alaric designed and I have done the graphics for, called Robo Bob's Jobs. We want to make a giant version of it as too our amazement there were way more than the 30 people we had designed our shows around and we need something seen from the back etc. The size of the crowed and the increase in business of the library during the day caused some issues with noise levels so I want to get a portable PA system as well. I need funding.

We also had some bits from Universe in a Box which the kids loved and was the stage for Brahmagupta, a 1500 yr old maths and astronomy dude. I generally entertained the kids between shows with the puppets and also during the activity sessions. We also had colouring sheets which I had drawn - manga scientists with room for the older kids to write down little factoids about the scientists etc...

I want to draw some more of these and maybe have a proper bundle for people to take away with them or down load from the web etc...

There were also science crayons for the colouring in - it was very popular and parents were desperate for their kids to have one of each of the pictures.

Science crayons

Those who could here the shows seemed to really enjoy them and I had so many people coming up to me to say how brilliant it was, how the children really responded to the puppets etc... I did get very nervous for the Ada show which was strange as I have done that one several times before. There were a lot of people there but not as many as for the last show which was improvised so should have been more nerve racking!

This is why I am off to do an improve comedy course at the end of the month - I am going to nail those nerves!

The appeal of the puppets was pretty universal and I got people who were just in the library and hoping for a story time - I equipped them with programmes for the rest of the festival and some of the kids would have played Al's game for hours and hours and had to be shoed away by Ada Puppet.

Ada was termed a princess by many and at least one parent turn round and said that they hadn't known girls could programme. I obviously thought about all of this when deciding what puppets to put in but was amazed to see impact straight away. Questions from adults and kids a like - mainly about Ada and Brahmagupta - it was the idea that people like "me" have done big science, tech, etc.... I really did not expect to see it so vividly.

I believe science is for everyone and this has been a big part of wanting to do science communication and the science art and it has made me more resolute and determined that Cuddly Science needs to get out there. It maybe one of my mad hat schemes, it may just be stupid puppets that me and my mum designed and games my husband made and a mish mash of my science education, experience running craft workshops, being in musical theatre, being an artist, poet and childrens instructor. It may have gotten it's inspirations from all over the place but Cuddly Science has the chance to make a difference, to help build a better world.

Cuddly Science awaiting at the Birmingham Library

The library and festival volunteers were amazing at looking after us and a chain of people I know from various things came to see me which was very encouraging :) Jeany loved it, especially when I let her set up the Story Steps at the library!

Jean setting up the story steps Jean too tired to continue with the setting up of the story steps

The library itself was pretty epic! And I loved the fact it was connected to the Theatre with poetry on the doors :)

The library Birmingham

I even bumped into a fellow poet just outside :)

And got to go to dinner with friends and meet their little one and stuff.

More photos of Birmingham:

Jean drinking milk in the Rep Gold dudes Gold Dudes planning topary train Giant flowers on the library buildings with giant crosses on them Reflective buildings Brum in sillohette first proper view of Brum

Jean and Alaric found where they had been doing the custard walking :)

Jean and Alaric find where the custard walking had been

And so yeah - Cuddly Science is GO!

Exercise and a Diet that’s Wise…. (by )

I'm just over two weeks into the 1000 calories a day diet the Drs put me on, there is a 200 calorie buffer which is just as well otherwise I would have been down to one meal whilst I was at the Science Festival. It isn't much different from my normal diet except I've basically cut out bread and goat / vegan cheese.

My friends have sent me lots of recipes and I am eating more fish.

The diet was annoying at first, then I got more energy which was amazing! Then I got a cold, I'm on number two now complete with mouth ulcers :( Normally I drink loads of fruit juice but erm... calories. So I have been measuring the fruit juice out and watering it down with hot water to make special teas which are included in my cal count.

My energy has kind of flopped again but I think this is due to the popranolol which I have started to prevent the headaches etc...

Right shin is aching slightly so I may need to look at the exercise regime again :( I'm currently aiming to complete the 10, 000 steps a day plus do 1 hr on the exercise bike. Dad fixed the peddles with blocks so I am no longer over reaching and hurting my knees on the thing. It still could do with being more recumbant. Due to a friends cat emergency I still do not have a treadmill but there is one waiting for me! It will be essential for the winter months when walking outside becomes painful.

Things I've found the hardest have been being out at events and meeting up with friends - I couldn't have the scampi and chips as it was more than my daily allowance though fortunately our friend works in the place and knows how to sort the calories so got it scampi with salad - I actually did not know you could do this in restaurants. I also couldn't have the pasty from the services which was over 800 cals :( This has made long car journeys a little hellish especially finding that even the M&S salads tend to be loaded with dressings etc.

Also the calorie information on packaging, if it is there at all, is really dam confusing! They will mention "portions" with out indication of how much of the pack you hold that is, or they will give you 100g and not always the weight of what's in the pack, even when they do give the pack weight or portion size you have to do maths. I worry that I'm getting it wrong.

I am starting to struggle, my body kept me awake last night with hunger, pains in my stomach and I am a whimp for mentioning them I know, also for some reason the ulcers in the bit between my stomach and gut have decided to flare up too as is the acid reflux I get - it maybe coincidence.

A strange side effect has been that Alaric has forgotten to eat a couple of times because I have no calories left and have skipped a meal, this then means he skips a meal and he can't afford to do that. I think I've worked out the calorie budget now so that I don't have to skip and avoid this problem.

From observations I think it is bread that causes alot of the bloating that comes and goes randomly. Which is interesting.

I am finding the thought of a low calorie diet for the rest of my life quiet depressing. I was already hacked off that everyone else seems to by chocolate bars and stuff all the time and not be fat, but I have what I have and I don't want it to get worse. Insuline intollerance and thyroid problems are feed back loops and have thresholds were you can deal with them with diet instead of drugs. I want to deal with them without drugs

Add in my frame ie bone density and structure and height and gender and age and hormones and no wonder I wasn't shifting any weight. I have issues with chronic pain and fatigue and a pelvis that likes to act up sometimes making any and all movement painful and/or impossible. These are not good combinations and the pelvis again is a feed back loop. The heavier I am the more likely the seperated pelvis stuff is, to act up and make walking hard.

turns out my 1600 cal a day was a no go, the 2000 cals a day for a woman is not for women like me, the cake is a lie! To maintain weight and not put it on I am looking at 1400 cals a day max and the 1000-1200 cals is to loose weight.

I am hoping against hope that loosing some weight will take the loading off of the pelvis and make exercise easier. I want to do climbing again - it perhapse isn't the most sensible choice but if the pelvis stabalises a bit it is doable and would be fab for over all fitness. The bleeding has settled so that I can now go swimming for two weeks out of every four so I should be doing that, not that I can currently think of how to fit that in :/

It's also a money thing - swimming and climbing and belly dancing and Krav Maga all cost money and clash for that matter and that is before you take Jeany and Mary into account. The money issue has been a big thing with the food to - to eat healthy costs a butt load more than eating stodge that fills you up. This sucks, fortunately we are in a much better place to deal with this now than we were but in general for society it is a HUGE issue.

Anyway I am basically hoping I can loose weight and then exercise more and in so doing maybe up the calories I am allowed... maybe.

Another thing is that I am not on my own with this, Alaric is helping though is concerned as he thought I wasn't eating enough to begin with. There is also the fact that I've watched two friends fight with similar issues and are starting to win!

One of them is taking up extreme sports in a life changing time which you can read about here and the other has taken up walking for charity and you can still donate here!

My friends Elizabeth, Becca and Buko have sent me wonderful recipes to help as well and I've made the staff at the climbing wall (where Jean and Mary go climbing and have have rehersals) promise not to serve me certain foods and so on.

Stats wise I am coming up to 200 Km on the recumbant exercise bike - I think that is over 100 miles. This is basically since the beginning of the summer when I got the thing - intially I was only doing 10-15 mins on there. I am trying to do an hour a day on there. I still keep failing and end up doing half an hour instead but I am now adding in sprinty bits and last night I actually got up to 30 km per hr :D

According to the pedometer I am doing over 10K steps each day and about twice a week get over 20K, once a week I get to 27-29K but this was over the summer with outings with the girls and activities to get them too - term time is slightly different although this week I have already had to walk into Gloucester twice and will be doing it again tomorrow.

I climb about 400 stairs a day on average - some days are up in the 700's and some are down below 300, stairs are something that really really hurt on bad days so this isn't that surprising. Minutes of activity range around the 130-280 range but I know for a fact it does not register any of the arm movements when I'm allotmenting etc...

5-10 kilometers a day apparently with calories burnt ranging from 600 to 1670 though there are spikes for the larger numbers.

The gamification is working well with pushing me to complete the goals on the pedometer and I am steadily populating myland (an app on my phone connected to the pedometer) with creatures - I can now generate gems in game and so on.

A big thing for me has been realising that I am allowed to moan about this stuff, one of the things I was finding depressing was the issue that I am complaining about dieting when I know there are people out there without enough food to live. That sucks big time but me not being able to express myself and my frustration is not going to help them at all.

Also realising that I am in a position to as it were "waste" food has been very helpful. I was bought up to finish everything on my plate but actually I can't afford to do that and we have chickens and cats and a wormery so nothing is actually being wasted as such. I can't get those left overs to people who need feeding - if I could I would. It is basically impossible to gage if the girls are actually going to eat or not and that's ok because the issue isn't that we are wasting the food but rather that there is no food at source or accessible to those who need it (the latter being a horrible horendous issue that is actually present in the UK as I speak).

I am finding it hard though, fatigue is up and the drive to eat is growing, I have another week before I go back, if I have not lost weight I will cry because you know I am weighing out my damn food and exercising into pain and not being able to sleep due to hunger. It had better work! Also I am aware that I have lost my sense of humour at the moment as my mum found out when she tried to joke with me over the fact I was measuring out my breakfast.

Science, Literature, Art and that is just the start (by )

At the weekend I found myself in Birmingham using puppets I'd designed and my mother had made and drawings I'd done and a game Alaric had designed and I'd made and some basic DNA extraction with household chemicals... to teach very young children about science, or more over to show them what a fun and interesting world it can be.

It was over whelming and amazing and I need a PA system due to noise levels. I wished I could have stayed for the whole of the British Science Festival. I want to take Cuddly Science further - it was a project I created initially for my Science Communication course at UWE last year/this year - it needs to be so much more.

I am going to be spending this weekend at the Battersea Literature Festival, I will be reading a poem or two but mainly listening to some amazing poets who I admire very much. I have a list of things that need to happen to take the writing stuff further and I am excitedly awaiting the next writing challenge. There are box for the selling and I want to get out there and perform a bit more next year - I already have some bookings.

Art wise I have been pushing myself and submitting for stuff I really want to get but probably wont and that doesn't matter as it has helped me up my skill level allowing me to start producing manga style science colouring sheets for things like Cuddly Science... It's all looping around - all those different skills are interbreeding and producing... well stuff.

I still hope I get those projects.

The comic book is well into being created - it is sci-fi/fantasy and is part of what I call The Punks World. It will be lunched in Feb.

There are Christmas Presents to be knitted, preserved, painted, folded, harvested, papier mached and sewn before then. And Cheltenham Literature Festival where I will be doing fun writing games and activities and crafts with the kids.

This is all scarily starting to look like a career! There is more to come. At the weekend someone asked if I came from a Science or an Art background - I said Both. I was also asked what my career was and I was as always kind of stumped but they said that I'd reached the holy grail of "various" and yeah I think that is a pretty accurate description.

Art, science, craft, tech, singing, acting, improvising, working with kids, cooking, growing, explaining, knowing... all these things are becoming interconnected webs that I use to make workshops or books or a piece of art or to explain something in a way that will inspire or help. Sometimes it's hard to hold the shape of it all in my head at one time.

At the moment I tend to stuff like Artist and writer or the slightly longer... Artist, Writer, Science Communicator and Workshop Leader. I would love to say Creative but people think unemployed flake if you say that :/

Not really sure where any of this is gong but it's all exciting and should be interesting!

Cherry Trees and Memories (by )

Mary's Cherry Tree

Today I said goodbye to a lovely lady called Mary who ran the shop and stuff at Thriftwood when I was on service crew. On the way home tonight looking at the moon I found myself with the image of the "Great Scout Campsite in the Sky" were Mary and Barbara are making tea and eating cake and my friend Alex is trying to get everyone to have a go at stuff they think they can not do whilst wearing the most eye watering dodgy trousers ever and Chill is putting plasters on everyones bumps and bruises. It made me smile and I know that the image will live in my heart if not my mind and that the people mentioned above were so full of love and caring and touched so many lives that if I have one tenth of that compassion I will leave this world a better place than I found it. They filled mine and so many others hearts with love.

Thriftwood Lake

It was strange to be back at the wood - it was different but the same giving me a kind of vertigo, there were new buildings and my climbing wall that I helped build was out of commission behind barbed wire. The coral I always wanted for the archery range was an actuality and there were new toilet blocks.

Thriftwood Lake island

I walked past the area where me and Mary had set out planters full of plants to make the office/reception area look nice. I'd done a similar thing in Cranham with Barbara and the Beavers when we first moved here to Gloucester. With both ladies gone the memory of planting flowers cut deep.

But there was also a lot of joy - I recall the cupcakes Mary had made for exam results day, to celebrate or comisserate, depending and helping her in the shop, sorting teddy bears and little archery statues and putting ice lollies in the freezer.

The squirrel statue that was being made when I had morning sickness that was Jean, was still there, I helped build that complex - the "new shop" - the statue which was chain sawed out of a tree trunk had been stained and vanished, it looked wrong to me as I recalled the blonde splintered wood.

Jean loved the place and was very excited, she wanted to know when she could work there but then she wants to work at the climbing wall in Gloucester too. She played with my friends little girl and I got to meet everyones children. What!!!!? We all have children? It was only "old crew" who had children... oh.

Jean walking around Thriftwood Lake

I had not been there for almost 9 yrs - we'd gone there on the way home from the hospital so that I could show baby Jean the campsite. A lot of the people who were crew with me then are still there now - with their kids and it was great to catch up.

It was interesting to note that those without kids do look pretty much exactly the same where as the rest of us looked a bit chunkier and tired!

Seeing Bill (Mary's husband and the old Warden) being his old hyper cheerfully gruff self whilst occasionally wiping a tear from his eye, put a poinancy in my heart. It was a happy and sad day.

And I miss it all, I miss the crewing and the climbing and the archery and I miss the people. I miss Mary and Barbara being kind and practical and efficient.

Thriftwood was may plain of passage, I worked summers and holidays and weekends there, alot of it volunteer and some of it paid, I made life long friends and introduced my brother and husband to the place. I learnt many many skills that have been more than useful. Before we moved to Cranham me and Al toyed with the idea of wanting to run a campsite - we scrapped the idea when the Drs said they couldn't do anything for my back and that I would just get worse.

Ten years ago we had our wedding reception and fire ceromony there. It has always been a place of high energy of laughter and tears and when you are there for any amount of time you find the quiet places. It is easy to slip into those places once you know them, even when the campsite is brimming with kids and jobs that need doing. They are the still places where you can think and just be.

Tree stump and wooden pilings in Thriftwood Lake

What’s Acceptable When it Comes to Body Image (by )

This video has been doing the rounds as it's the number one butt on the Internet, apparently. My social media is split between people perving and people being horrified that it exists.

It's Nicki Minaj Anaconda.

Taking the first - well, people will perve, both male and female; desiring or liking the aesthetic is not a problem as long as you don't a) think it gives you a right to the person b) make people feel uncomfortable c) assume that there is nothing else to them other than the physical appearance of their body.

The second one I have far more of an issue with. It is her body, she gets to decide how it is portrayed and to me it is much better to have her at the centre of the music and not a background pump-and-grind for some male lyricist. There is a very real issue with being told you can be a free and empowered woman as long as you conform to a set of behaviours and often this includes losing all sexual characteristics - instead of "sex on your own terms" it becomes "no sex what so ever", or a rather staid version. People are all individuals and as such we are all going to have different wants and tastes - she is expressing herself, it's not hurting anyone.

I'm seeing it argued that it is not good role model material in spite of being about having "curves" (more on this later). But, you know, music is an art form, it is about expression, about conveyance of what the artist wants to get across - now that may be a higher order better world stuff, or it may be a window into their own world and existence, or it maybe be a mood or feeling or story they wish to express - all of these things are equally as valid as another. Saying someone should not write, dance, or sing in a certain way as it isn't good for the kids or middle class sensibilities is censorship.

Censorship is a gag that chokes the creatives and the inventors and the scientists of a culture. Watersheds and age certification are not censorship, nor are warning labels as they act as guidelines and gives adults the choice of material consumption.

Obviously, the internet is still trying to sort this sort of stuff out but that is kind of a separate problem to what I wish to talk about.

You see there is another video about basically exactly the same thing which is considered far more acceptable by many of my friends - thus far I have many seen other women sharing this one:

It's Meghan Trainor All About That Bass

But you know, they are basically the same! The themes of the songs are the same but framed slightly differently, there isn't even that much extra clothing in the second one and the dancing is only a little less... bendy-bumpy. There is swearing in both, bum wiggling and grabbing and tongue in cheek humour in both.

So why is one so much more acceptable?

If I am being cynical, I would say it comes down to fear of the different and sub-cultures. I think this is what is being seen by a lot of people - second video shows an empowered woman being a bit earthy and bold where as the first video is a sexually excessive gang culture bling bint who is hanging it all out.

This is fixed into the concept of our own perceived body images for both women. One is assumed to have body confidence to begin with and therefore flaunting it is tarty, whereas the other is assumed to have low body confidence and so she is being brave and edgy.

Sadly I think there is some racial stereotyping going on here. Both of these videos are so similar that this really shouldn't be an issue at all. They are both going on about how large bums are beautiful.

Apart from the censorship angle there is something else going on here when people say that a piece of music should not have been made (this seems to especially apply to the work of female pop stars who can't win, whatever they do). What you are saying to the artist is, "You do not fit with my view of the world, you are different from me and therefore I wish to pretend you do not exist. You opinions and life views are not valid, you background renders you opinions invalid - you are invalid." Think about that for a moment - no one, dancer, builder, prostitute, doctor, is invalid; they all have feelings and thoughts and lives and ideas to express. They are not somehow less human and need to be hidden away from the "proper" people of the world.

Comments like "It's not even real music" bug me even more - how is it not real music? Again what you are saying is that it does not conform to the narrow range of music that you have been exposed to and/or told is "proper music". Also if it's not your thing then don't seek it out - don't listen to it. This is easier on the net than it ever was with telly - we get to be incredibly selective with our viewing if we wish. Don't like? Don't listen, or seek it out but then don't say it shouldn't exist or should be banned.

Now to the positive role model issue: showing people that they can make a living by dancing scantily clad is not actually an issue - the issue with role models is when that is the only model people are giving. When they are shown that that is the only option for them. And as always - if you think something is a rubbish bit of art, do not spend your energies moaning about it, but create your own, maybe even counter-examples, maybe even become the role model you think is lacking? Help create the diversity so every one sees there are multiple options and do not degrade someone for their life choices.

Right - now to the negative bit. I actually do have issues with both of these videos.

Both of them are about large bottomed girls, about how they are attractive and wonderful and so on. Brilliant - great! Challenge the fashion of beauty but... both of them use the phrase 'skinny bitches' as if women of slighter builds are at fault rather than a fashion industry pushing stuff for their own agendas. Both portray thinner women as "doing it on purpose" as if they are malicious and horrible rather than just naturally being built differently.

This is really really wrong because the truth is that the world isn't split into the fat and thin; it is split into the body confident and the body ashamed. Pretty much if you fall outside of the average zone you get abuse because you are too thin, or too fat or your boobs are too big or you're as flat as an ironing board. And just because people appear confident, it doesn't mean they actually are either; please remember that when you loudly comment about low plunged necklines or knobbly knees etc...

And lastly, because it seems to fit so well, here is my poem about body image that I performed at Pride this year:

WordPress Themes

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 UK: England & Wales
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 UK: England & Wales