Category: Travelling

Beach Rocks! (by )

(Back blogged due to server migration)

Exploring South Africa

I love rocks, stones, minerals, landscapes... South Africa was already under my skin for it is the home of the Cradle of Humankind and though we did not manage to go and visit it I know of it and about it and as a teen I read every book our library and the library network had to offer me on human origins and various homonid ancestors. My entire Punk In Pink novel series is based on an alternative history that comes from the fossil gap.


But more than any of that - South Africa has rocks!!! It has many and varied rocks and landscapes that show the origin of those rocks so vividly. Even the birds love the rocks!

The Boulders

The thing is that I am a geologist, yes I am not in industry or working for an institution but I was a geologist way before I ever set foot in Imperial College, and even before I did A'level geology. I was the child that collected stones and shells and leaves and stones and fossils because they were stone shells and leaves and tried to make her take a fossil home from the Welsh Mountains that was bigger than me at the age of 5.

Rising boulder

So I took a lot of photos of rocks and how they fit in the landscape and sometimes you can see write small what is write large like contacts between rock types or the way fractures behave.


I feared that not being active in the field and not studying would mean I could no longer read the landscape, I feared the head injury may have robbed me of what vestage of that ability I had left. But the more we explored, the more I looked, the more I saw, the more the puzzle pieces fell into place.

granite boulder

And once I saw the shape of how it was I began to look for and read the geology of the area - out of books and a map Alaric's Dad and Lynn showed me. I can not tell you the joy of having read that landscape correctly - true I may not be able to tell at a glance what a rock is exactly anymore but I still know enough to tell the rough how it foamed and why it is structured the way it is.


And I might have really liked the feldspars on the beach boulders and the quartz and the mica... and I might have tried to get the girls to look at them and they may have been more interested in the fish (don't worry I took a photo of the fish but you'll have to wait for another post for that one!).

rock in the sea

But Mary would scamper off and find me things and drag me to them and make me look and tell her and Jean would pretend to not be interested but then collected some stones for later...

Boulders at the Boulders

And yes these photos are all from our beach adventure on that last day and believe me if the camera battery hadn't gone flat I would have taken more. I still recall the chinmey climb to the sea we walked past and on other days preserved ripples and fossils and so so much more which I did not get photos of or have come out blurry and which there was no time to sketch.

Interesting weathering

I love rocks but I know most people don't so I have tried to limit the rocky outcrops... I mean posts on them 😀

Beach Treasures (by )

(Back blogged due to server issues)


We saw much wonderful bird, animal and plant life in South Africa, even the beach was teeming with it and I don't mean a few insipid jelly fish. No there were bright green little birds like the one in the just above - I was literally just walking along the beach on our last day trying to catch the rest of the family up as I'd stopped to take photos of rocks when it came and said hello!

Beach succulent

This bird wasn't the only thing that was bright green - this succulent sea grass reminded me of the edible beach walks I used to have my my uncle Jim down at Stone. I did not attempt to see if this was edible - I'm not stupid honest!

Ropy root

Life just seemed to be bursting out of the seams and the cracks and I often did not know which this to take the photo of first!

I loved this root bent and barren looking and then at points like this... wham! Lots of new leaves and the struggle for life to get a choke hold continues 🙂

Algea Sand

Even the sand had an attack of the algea - little Mary who truly came alive in South Africa though she was home sick bless - hurtled into me to announce she had found special green sand and could I tell her how a rock could be green! I probably would not have seen the green sand if she had not have done this 🙂

Beach Palm

Each of us found a different aspect of this glorious shore to explore from Mary and her green things to Jean and the wave patterns to Lionel and the anenomes (more on them later!).

The Boulders Explore (by )

(Back blogged due to server migration stuff!)

Chillax with Grampa Lionel and icecream

On the last day of our fantastic visit to South Africa we did not do much, we got up, I painted and the girls packed and then we headed out to the Boulders Beach. This was the first place the girls had come on the day we arrived - it is walking distance from Alaric's parents house. I'm not sure if there whole area is called Boulders or if each beach/bay thing had a separate name but none the less this was the beach and it has boulders on it!

Alaric and Mary at Boulders

On the first day me and Alaric went shopping with Lionel so we did not go to the beach but the girls did and they saw a penguin catch fish and feed it too its babies (once Mary had move back and was convinced to be quiet!).

Mary on a mission

We'd come here on other days too and Jean always insisted we went in and paddled - the water is cold enough that my feet went blue neither of the girls seemed to notice though and had a grand time making up games of the sea chasing them and little sea goblins and splash you with extra high waves that sneak up on you!

Lionel on the Beach

We found all sorts of treasures along the beach and hidden in the rocks and the girls asked questions and me and Lionel could general answer. I got very excited about the rocks!

Walk along the beach

I took many many photos and after discussion with Alaric have decided that I will split photos of events etc... over several blog posts to make them more managable for people and also to stop you all nagging me as it takes longer to make the longer posts!

Our visit to Maker Station (by )

As a member of two hack spaces (and co-founder, secretary, and treasurer of one), I couldn't pass up the opportunity to visit a local hack space during our visit to South Africa. A quick web search later and I found that Cape Town's hackspace is called Maker Station. I dropped them a message asking if I could drop by and say hi as an ambassador from the UK, and asking them to suggest a time - UK hack spaces tend to have an open evening sometime in the week when random people can turn up to look around and meet people; so I was expecting something like that, but didn't see a time advertised on the Web site. But they suggested I suggest a time, so I did.

If we'd planned this a bit better, we'd have brought stickers (a traditional hack space give-away gift) from Bristol and Cheltenham Hack Spaces, but we didn't - so, instead, Sarah painted a picture from each hack space:

Bristol Hackspace picture Cheltenham Hackspace picture

For those not familiar with them, UK hack spaces tend to be run like a club or society - a constitution document of some kind sets out rules for people to become members, and for members to vote on a board who are in charge of making sure the space meets its legal obligations and controls the flow of money. Usually, members get unlimited access to the space and voting rights in exchange for a monthly membership fee (with some tools that use expensive consumables requiring extra usage fees on top to cover that). The monthly memberships go into a bank account, and the elected board choose to spend that on rent, insurance, electricity, broadband, consumables, and so on, and the money left over each month piles up until it's enough to buy a fancy new tool requested by the members. Most members have day jobs and hack on projects in their spare time, so hack spaces tend to be quiet during the day and busy in evenings and at weekends; and, as I mention above, there's usually an open evening every week for potential new members to come along and visit, which is also the day members come along to socialise, thereby ensuring there's a good population present to welcome new people. There are no paid staff; the board are all volunteers, and members are expected to unlock and lock up if they visit at a time when nobody else is around.

So I was quite interested to find out that Maker Station was different. We were met inside the entrance by Felix, one of the founders. The entrance led directly to a cafe area, with leaflets of hackerly interest lying around, and a range of drinks and crisps and stuff (including Maker Station logo biscuits they'd made in their own rocket oven!) for sale. The space is staffed and open during business hours; the two founders are there during the day as it's actually their day job, and they have two employees to help (the cost of living in South Africa is much lower than in the UK, which is what makes this practical).

Maker Station cafe area

Chatting with Felix in the cafe

Beyond the cafe was the hack space itself. Much of the space is divided into benches (or larger studios), which are either rented by the day in a sort of hot-desking arrangement:

Somebody making things on a Maker Station

...or dedicated to a single user who pays regularly for it, so has extensive tool and work-in-progress storage dedicated to them:

One of the Maker Station studios

People normally used it during the day, but if people were still hacking when 6pm came, they'd keep it open in the evening as well. One user I spoke to there was making a commission for a client, suggesting that the member demographic was more people hacking on stuff for a living than evening hobbyists. Felix and his brother (the other founder) don't quite make enough to run the place from memberships alone; the shortfall is made up by them working on paid commissions of their own in the space. Felix showed us some current projects they were working on, an exhibit for a local science centre and a small wind tunnel for somebody experimenting with wind turbine designs:

Felix shows off a current project

I didn't get the impression there was quite the sense of community that UK hackspaces have, with their busy open evenings and highly decentralised governance; Felix said that he often found himself acting as a "broker" between people who wanted some skill and people who had it or who a good supplier was for something, while in the UK, such connections usually arise organically on the open evening, so I suggested he might like to set up a weekly social slot in the cafe (and maybe a wiki for sharing information like supplier lists, like we have at Cheltenham Hackspace).

I was very impressed by their facilities. A proper cafe! Lots of space! Many, many, tools, including a decent metal lathe, forge, foundry, and welding gear!

Welding stuff Assorted metalworking stuff Big metalworking lathe

Interestingly, they didn't tend to go in for the stock UK hack space tools of laser cutters and 3D printers. It turns out that in Cape Town there are several suppliers who will do small-job CNC cutting and lasering and 3D printing at a reasonable price using high-end equipment, within easy travel of Maker Station. As far as I can tell, it's prohibitively expensive to get that sort of thing done in the UK other than in industrial quantities, which is why UK hack spaces end up buying their own equipment!

Felix seems to be really good at community outreach and education - something we're looking to expand at Cheltenham Hackspace, not to mention a speciality of Sarah's, so we were interested to hear about that. Here's a video of Felix giving a talk to students about prototyping. One thing that impressed me was that he runs things he calls "disassembly workshops"; take a pile of unwanted appliances, and unleash a bunch of children on them with screwdrivers (and some expert help) to tear them apart. This is fun in itself, and provides an opportunity to learn how the things you're taking apart work, as well as building skills in using the tools and working out how to get things to bits.

Once you have a pile of bits, depending on the age range and abilities, you can let the kids stick the bits together to make art to take home - or teach them electronics by wiring them up to do new things, maybe even so far as building robots out of the mechanical and electronic parts.

Here's some photos from a recent disassembly workshop they did: 1 2 3 4 5.

We enjoyed our visit to Maker Station. It was refreshing to see a different take on the usual hack space financial model, and interesting to see how the differing economics of South Africa affected what a hack space needed to be and could do. And Felix was inspiring as an educator and speaker! I'm keeping a close eye on his Twitter feed for good ideas to use in my own sci/tech outreach activities 🙂

Before the lens… (by )

There was the brush...

The Garden

I took a little set of travel water colour paints and a sketch book with me to South Africa, and I painted, generally from memory. I also sketched in pen bits I saw around me especially when the camera kept running out of battary!

Wallace the Cat

Lynn an Lionel's garden or a montage of bits of it anyway 🙂

Water Colour of Alaric's parents garden

I know you are all eager to see the photos of penguins and lions but I thought I would share the paintings and the non-annotated pen sketches. Turns out I can't help but keep a field book and I will confess I had to keep reminding myself that correct angle and scales were not needed for photographs either!

Mary's friends old and new - water colours

Here at least are some paintings of Mary's animal friends 😉

penguin and giraffe

Now I wasn't taking particular care with the paintings, or sketches part of it is trying to over come my fear of being watched when creating art. I loose my ability when I feel I am being scrutanised.

Beach imaginings

On the plane I looked out of the window and imagined what it was going to be like - I looked at the layered sky and tried to hold the image until we got to the hotel. I also tried to think of what symbolised the journey.

A plane journey

Also I am still learning how to paint water colours - still learning how to paint and draw one handed (though I am determined to get left hand back properly at some point!).

Flowers in the garden south africa

There were lots of plants and flowers and landscapes to paint. Alot just at the house itself.

Mountain on the sea

I found myself thinking of the exquisite pictures that Darwin and other naturalists produce and whilst at Lynn and Lionel's I read a book about whales by artist Noel Ashton. I know I can not produce those sorts of images at least not without taking a long long time on each and then colouring pencils would be my choice. But I wont to learn water colours and I want to get better at live drawing and quick drawing - to get my freedom of the mad dash image back.

film sketches

I like doing precise things but also to just take the impression and the feel of the thing. I love mucking around with styles and mainly I was aiming to just capture the essence of the day.

Hopper Penguins Cape Town

The Aquarium offered me birds as well as fish and a rookie mistake with a flat battery and no camera.

Blue the penguin Cape Town

I loved the variety of shapes and colours everywhere - I was worried I'd have a large seizure and forget it all, all this wonder so I set about capturing as much of it as I could - I took nearly 2000 photos!!!

Cowfish South Africa

Cowfish are yellow by the way but I only had a green pen on me for the sketching. I had a limited pallet with the water colours too but that was fine really.

The mountains at dawn

And of course there are a couple of kids stories I have written which I feel can only be illustrated by a certain style of water colour painting and so I need to learn how to paint that style.

painting the polished rocks

I also wrote a few more whilst out there and had ideas for even more!

Unconformities and synforms

Rocks of course feature heavily in the painting, drawings and photography - well I am a geologist by training... love.

Ammonite mug painting

This ammonite mug was my favourite coffee mug and was there most of the time I was painting.

Cycad painting

This is a cycad or "dinosaur tree" it is not the best but I can tell what it is and I put dots underneath it as we saw many cycads on the day we had our faces painted.

Sunset on the beach South Africa

If we ever manage to get back to South Africa - something we would all dearly love then I would also take my sketching pencils and my mapping pens/fine liners (as well as a spare battery for the camera and a back up camera!).

Candy Skull and Surf

Catching the mood also meant being inspired by the place and one such place was the Redemption Cafe in the Biscuit Mill. I loved the skull prints they had on the walls and it got mixed up with the surfing Jean had done as we talked over lunch.

Surf Board painting close up

The image was a montage of thoughts that wanted to be together.

Flower painting

There were things we did not manage to do and see including getting to the Cradle of Mankind and a few more sanctuaries and we hardly touched the museums, galleries or theatre stuff.

Mountains and trees below Table Mountain

Textures can be hard to achieve in water colours I find so I did quiet a bit of experimenting - mainly at the side of the pages but I did do a few pictures that were all about texture.

Malacite imaginings

Some paintings had multiple layers of wet and dry paint which reduced how quickly I could produce the image I wanted.

Live On beach sculpture at dusk painting

I painted the mood of sunset below the mountain in front of a wonderful pizza place. But most of the paintings where merges and mixes of what I had seen, I have taken many photos which I plan to paint more detailed and accurate images from now that I am back in the UK.

Birds on rocks painting

But I still have a head full of images so am still painting straight from the brain!

Beach scene

I would have liked a chance to find more local literature to read or listen too 🙂 I read most of a collection of Speculative Fiction which contained local authors and will be ordering a copy if I can to finish it.

Water colour of Seed pods

Even without getting to galleries etc... we saw some amazing artworks but more on them later 🙂

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