On the last day beach outing in South Africa we came across the rock pools with many and varied creatures, some bright and some not so bright.
There were anenomes, barnicals, fish, clams, many bright shells and so on. Though some where deeper than others and all had fresh (though sea salty) water washing over them as we stood there watching. Some were deeper than others.
Mary was most taken with the red anenome 🙂
I liked the fact that the ripples in the sea water cast little rainbows even over the more subtly coloured creatures like this clam.
And as promised here are the fish 🙂 or some of the fish anyway 🙂
I probably would not have found the rock pools if Lionel had not pointed them out as they are sunk into fractures in the rocks which are slippery with algea. They were worth the slipping risk!
The girls loved the rockpools
Alaric spent ages with them looking in their wibbly wobbly depths 🙂
I just loved how you could see a whole little ecosystem there contained in a cradle of rock 🙂 It made me miss Ewan Laurie lessons and paleobiology and being shown byssal threads on field trips 🙂 I may have board the kids with all this along with dentition and muscle scars on shells which apparently I tell them everytime we are at a beach (oops!).
We actually came home with a book on the oceanic life in South Africa and I will attempt to look up some of what we saw. It also made me determined to do more with the poems and stories I've written about rock pools in the past 🙂
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 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.
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.
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!).
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...
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.
I love rocks but I know most people don't so I have tried to limit the rocky outcrops... I mean posts on them 😀
The girls are seriously proud of this 7 cake monstrocity.
They have certainly enjoyed eating it 🙂
There is a lot of hidden stuff that went into this cake.
One of the themes was mud which is why there is chocolate orange mud flows 🙂
But there were all sorts of challenges and Jeany decided she wanted to try and complete as many as possible.
So within the river valley there is structure for a cross section.
And then she just got plan creative - with the structure of the cake and I believe some youtube research.
These are the marzi-bones fossil human ancestors or related species buried in a cash by volcanic ash - they may or may not have already been dead when this happened some more excavation will have to occur to find out!
The top layer of the Mud Tower is a chocolate gravel lens between a sandy mud and a volcanic ash.
You can see the colour difference really well in this photo.
Here is Jean cutting open mud tower to reveal whats within.
Spoiler... the chocolate gravel lense.
Here's the river valley with birds foot delta - at this stage the volcano is dormant or extinct.
This is the main part of the cake with Mud Tower and the ammonite loaf as zoomed in bits and the past hidden behind the lush "hill".
Of course there is a hidden volcano and... erm Jurassic Park toilet death scene...
The geologist hammer was another challenge - but being Jean it is a geo-thor hammer so is the wrong shape (to be honest she sneaked a time travel train into it so I was amazed there was no tardis). I did the writing.
Within there is an ammonite - this one was completely and utterly Jean's own idea and it worked and she is soooo happy she is taking it into school tomorrow 🙂
This was the tense moment of cutting in and finding out if the idea had worked. It's a bit flatter than intended but we agreed it's had metamorphic stuff happen to it thanks to the volcanos proximity.
The cake did kind of over flow but that's not surprising - here's how it was made...
Did I mention that she called this cake collective - Geologist Despair.
Volcano before lava.
She did try to put structure inside the volcano but it didn't work that well.
The volcano was fun to put together - she remembered Dino-Mountian I'd made her for her 5th? Birthday 🙂
How the river valley was put together...
One time travel train and it's in a tunnel - the tunnel was the challenge 🙂
And before the tunnel, infact she did a lot of icing moderling for this.
Of course Mary pulled her weight too 🙂 Mainly with rolling out icing and smearing chocolate everywhere!
She did most of the Mud Tower by herself 🙂
Mary put chocolate gravel leaking out of an erroded side and some other bits including sticking out marzi-bones 🙂
Mud cracks were a challenge - Jean went with the existing cake cracks and made the lonely tree which was another of the challenges.
Lonely tree... did I mention the lonely tree?
Other general cakey making pics...
Creating the Marzi-Bones...
I really love this idea 🙂
This has been EPIC - it took 3 days to make the cakes - Alaric is taking Mud Tower into work tomorrow etc... Both girls have enjoyed it so much and of course we used home grown eggs. The cakes themselves range from chocolate orange to mint to vanilla and strawberry in flavour. There are three icings and marzipan involved and some of the cake is me friendly ie gluten free (the volcano) and some is Mary friendly and so on.
Jean was a little sad as she had meant to put Mary Anning in and a geological map too but she forgot and just don't ask her about how atomically correct her loo death scene is ok.
That awkward moment when someone takes a photo of you picking berries along the foot path to town and you realise OMG! I've turned into a hippy! I'm not even just picking black berries but ones people give you funny looks over as they think they are poisonous (which they are if you don't cook them!). My top was not quiet tie dye but near enough and my baby had no trousers on whilst my eldest skipped about in a hand painted t-shirt - yep I'm one of those mums - also urban blackberrying - BEWARE THE CYCLISTS!
This was a post I put on facebook and some interesting things came out of it - for a start I had to qualify that I meant the Rowan berries as toxic unless cooked. But they are not very toxic as in it is something that builds up over time and can sometimes lead to liver (or maybe kidney failure) from what I've read. Anyway the chemical is broken down by temperature extremes so that is freezing and cooking. Which is why the old country lore is that you don't pick until after the first frost.
And the classic argument over elder berries and weather they are poisonous. Main issue being that ripe berries aren't but they have to be really ripe and that they just aren't very toxic again though the leaves and stems are. Again cooking brakes down the cyanid within (it is also in apple pips and various other things) - some people have developed a tolerance from eating them as a kid etc...
Then I was asked what I thought of berrying along busy roads - which is an interesting one - this was my response.
Ok when the petrol was all lead based it was a big problem but now it should be ok - some of the ones (berries I'd picked) today were from road sides - it helps that my friends did the soil surveys a few years back - only thing I would say is that they shouldn't be eaten directly from the bush still if from heavy roadsides as there will be dust on them but a quick wash should sort that out. (However be aware this is my opinion and I haven't seen any data for years).
Also unless you have a map of the UK with metal ions on it etc... you are going to struggle to know what is safe where anyway - there are areas of Wales for a start where heavy metals weather out of the soil and plants there should be avoided for human consumption - add in illegal human refuse dumps and so on... Somewhere may seem nice a pleasant - even have farm crops growing on it and really not be good at all.
But the risks are minimal anyway as it is build up that's the issue wand everyone eats from a wide variety of places these days.
Having said all this people swapped recipes for things, and then I found out that haw stones contain cyanid - but again the cooking will brake this down - but this lead me to think about the confusing wealth of info out there on edible plants etc... I have not found an actually study of this specifically to tell the public the exact risks of things - for a start a table of how much cyanid is on average in various foods and compares say free food to stuff like apples and almonds etc... Also people seem confused by cyanid groups verses cyanid itself which react very differently - if we cut everything with the groups in out of our diet we would quickly starve (if I remember my A'level chemistry correctly).
Also I have been freely dispensing information about blackberries to people who enquire whilst I am out and about and often on of a group will be really taken with the idea whilst another will have apoplexy about them being dirty etc... There is very little in the way of public knowledge about this stuff - have any tests actually ever been done I wonder? How dirty is a blackberry straight from the briar and what do the soil test etc... mean around the road sides.
In the wake of Jamie Olivers comments about food and poverty and people being silly for not knowing - it would make sense to have an education program, healthy eating reduces costs to the NHS and benefits etc... it is a long term thing. People are scared of food they haven't grown up with or don't want to squander tight budgets on culinary experiments that might go wrong or really just can't get the fresh fruit and veg from the shops but also do not feel safe or confident in going out and finding their own in case they poison their family - these are reasonable fears and so easily addressed.
Jamie has always had a big head but he's also got a big heart and has done a hell of a lot with the school dinners and stuff (I think he just needs to stop and have a little think again over what he is saying and step into others shoes for a bit), but you know he really shouldn't have too - we should have a Ministry of Food anyway :/
So if I was in charge what would I do?
Well I would have all school children out on wilderness trails learning identification of edibles or more importantly poisonous plants. I would have fruit trees planted along verges and in parks - I would get tests done to see exactly what impact traffic fumes etc have and if the levels of harmful things are too high I would look at traffic regulations and find ways to reduce those. I would have cook-ups at community centres and places so that people can come along and learn to cook for free etc...
I would have a government leaflet/website that told you all about were it legal to forage (in clear terms) and the risks set out (this is the risks not just the hazards) but I would include the same for processed and main stream farming foods. I would initiate more allotments and community orchards and let the public know the things exist!
Schools are starting to grow veg and stuff thanks to the super markets and there has been an upsurge in general homestedding activities but they are being seen as a very middle class thing as they tend to be the ones with the time and spare resources to plough into learning about these things. I am finding it very frustrating trying to get hold of an allotment and to be frank most of our shopping bill is fruit and veg and that is just wrong! It is stupid that processed foods cost more than fruit and veg fresh from the field/vine.
As one of my friends posted on FB recently - growing your own food has become a middle class want rather than a working class need - but the problem there is that it is really still a need for EVERYBODY regardless of income or age. I've been reading up on things like depression, stress, learning difficulties etc... all being helped by... well nature - yes I know it all sounds hippy but these are medical studies etc... I think it would need a lot of work though - most of those being pushed into poverty at the moment are households were both parents work (I know surprising isn't it?) and therefore they are not going to want the extra stress/time restraint on already tiring lives - but maybe allotment sharing could come into place or something like that.
You also need to make sure people know they can join these things and that they are not exclusive schemes - I remember some of the allotments near were we grew up were very particular about who they let on to the site etc...
I hear that high end offices in London are now installing gardens on their roofs were people can grown veg and even keep bees. I have hope and I am enjoying my blackberrying - I've received one jar of jam from a friend and the neighbour nabbed me yesterday to shyly ask if I would like some of her 'bramble' jam once it was cool.
I spent last week working at the Times Cheltenham Science Festival and as part of it I got to go and see a few of the talks which was brilliant. The first one I selected was Mars Curiosity as I spotted it had my old personal tutor Sanjeev Gupta in it. I also got a ticket for Jeany even though at 7 I thought she might be a bit young but she would never have forgiven me if I had gone to see such a talk with out her!
Sanjeev taught one of my favourite subjects at uni Earth Surface Processes so I was very excited to see how Mars research was going especially after seeing the prototype with Jeany earlier in the week. He looked basically the same but has grey hair! He still moves around far too much for a decent photo but that is what energises his talks (of course he didn't recognise me when I said hello - boo hiss but it has been ten years).
The other talker was Lewis Dartnell who was very engaging and handled the childrens' questions brilliantly at the end including the sad, 'When is it coming home?' Jean has been going on about forever vacations on Mars ever since!
Jean did get a bit confused about the fact the robot is ingesting Mars and yet needed batteries! I explained in whispers that it was eating the rock to see what it was made off and not as food. I was impressed she knew what ingesting ment to be honest. They went through the grissly details of man missions and radiation sickness and stuff Jean is still determined to go to Mars if she can or failing that she asked me if she could build a robot to go and then worked out that the 2030 mission would be a good one for her (she'll be 24).
After the talk I had to head over for a meeting but took Jean to Alaric and Mum and Dad to get the book she wanted signed. My meeting ended really quickly and just as well as I received a phone call from Al saying they couldn't find the book! I asked and was told it had sold out but then I saw a copy on the signing table and ended up talking to a lady who turned out to be the authors wife! It was the last copy!
Jean went and got it signed and I felt an ache of sadness for my impact lithologies and endolithic organisms and a moment of doubt about science communication instead of trying to go back but I missed that boat a long time ago. Jean was instantly obsessed by the book and Alaric and Lewis had a conversation involving lots of hands about space ship design. We had to drag the still reading Jean away from the table so that he could go home!
Jean has had her noise in the book ever since, it is a good childrens' book, informative, fun and easy to read but also it is gamified - the kids get to choose where they go on a stella holiday - Jean has always loved books like You Choose so this is right up her street. The illustrations are lovely and colourful, some simple and some intricate giving it a wide appeal to kids as it has different levels you can appreciate it on. It is one of the best I have seen recently and Jean took it into show and tell at school this week along with her cave man stickers and her t-shirt saying Question Everything. She proudly showed the other kids that it was signed with her name in as well 🙂
Jeany was very excited that they had mentioned Liecester as we had spent the previous week going around the space centre there etc... with my friend Becca 🙂 (still need to process the photos and blog about all of that!)
Here is me and Jeany in our festival t-shirts - I'm hiding it at the end as it isn't that flattering of me! hee hee!