Thursday, 25 October 2012

Enthusiasm Unbound

On Monday I took part in my third Unbound literary event at the Tabernacle in Notting Hill, London. As always, it was a spirited 'bookslam' with a number of Unbound's authors pimping their books to an enthusiastic, supportive and wonderful audience. The evening was introduced by one of the publisher's founders, Mr John Mitchinson ...

... and he was followed by a succession of speakers, including myself. Here's the line-up, including a quick precis and hyperlinks to their books.

To kick the evening off, we had a great presentation by David Bramwell about his book The Number 9 Bus to Utopia in which he visits a number of communities around the world that believe that they have discovered a better way to live your life.

Next up was Robert Llewellyn talking about News from the Squares, his sequel to the hugely popular eco-friendly sci-fi novel News from Gardenia ...

'Queen of Tarts' Tamasin Day-Lewis then tempted us to buy her new book Smart Tart by selling slices of a freshly made chocolate tart in return for pledges. Mitch could not resist ...

Up next was the always entertaining Keith Kahn-Harris talking about his 'big fish in small ponds' project The Best Water Skier in Luxembourg. Keith's just back from meeting the most powerful politician on Alderney and is now preparing to meet the top heavy metal band in Botswana ...

Closing off the first half with his usual thump and gusto was performance poet George Chopping, author of the rather brilliant Smoking with Crohn's.

The second half kicked off with me talking about police work, fruit and the structure of the universe; all part and parcel of my new book, Constable Colgan's Connectoscope ...

Jessica Jones then told us all about her bittersweet memoir The Elegant Art of Falling Apart; an often hilarious, occasionally tearful account of how she beat breast cancer, survived broken relationships and a breakdown to become the strong, witty, wonderful lady that she is.

Lisa Gee regaled us with tales from Hayleyworld, her hilarious biography of William Hayley; terrible poet, terribly nice man and terrible horseman ...

Penultimately, Benet Brandreth and Robert Hudson gave us a sneaky preview of the next series (and future Unbound book) of Warhorses of Letters, the acclaimed BBC radio comedy  ...

... and we were serenaded on our way by a fantastic acoustic set from Luca Serino and Harry Shearer of The Fireflies.

Another wonderful event to be part of. I hope that everyone's book does very, very well (and that The Fireflies get a music deal and the great producer they deserve)!

All photos (c) Stevyn Colgan

The 2012 Halloween Art Challenge

Last year's art challenge was such good fun I thought we'd have another go this year. If you didn't see last year's entries, you can see them all here plus a spooky slideshow that my friends Steve Hills and Terry Bergin put together.

This year the theme is Your Worst Nightmare. What I want from you is a piece of artwork that shows me what scares you the most; it can be a drawing, a painting, a sculpture, a collage, photograph ... anything that explains your deepest fears. Clowns ... spiders ... crazed axemen ... Bruce Forsyth naked ... whatever your worst fear is, show it to the world.

As usual there will be postcard doodles - a subject of your choice drawn by me - for everyone who enters. And there will be a prize for my favourite - I've doodled this weird A3-sized Dracula-like thing and put it in a tacky plastic frame I found down the charity shop:

Sorry - it was really hard to get a good photo behind that shiny plastic.

Anyway, send your pics to me by email: or via Twitter - I'm @stevyncolgan and make sure you add the hashtag #halloweenartchallenge

Closing date is Midnight GMT on Tuesday 30th October.

Freak out and get creative!

Image (c) Stevyn Colgan

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Kitchen Drawer Surprises

I was doing the washing and drying up this morning and found myself pondering upon the humble melon baller I'd used last night. Melon baller? Surely that wasn't its proper name? It started me off on a little quest to discover what the proper names of my kitchen utensils are.

Sadly, many are simply called what we imagine they're called; the spatulas, ladles, slotted spoons and cookie cutters are just that. But there were some surprises. For instance, I discovered that I own a makisu, a tamis and an araignée. Who knew? Maybe you do too.

Here's my list so far:

Pinces à escargots – Tongs for eating snails. Used in conjunction with a slender two pronged snail fork called a fourchette à escargots.

Banneton - A wicker basket which provides shape for  sour dough during proofing, and draws moisture from the mixture.

Chinoise - A conical sieve.

Lame - Used to slash the tops of bread loaves in artisan baking.

Araignée (or 'Spider') - A wide shallow wire-mesh basket with a long handle.

Tamis – A drum sieve.

Makisu - A bamboo mat used for making sushi rolls.

Pique-vite - A 'pastry pricker'; a revolving spiked drum.

Mezzaluna – a ‘half moon’ shaped double handled curved cutter originally used to cut pizza, now used more often to chop herbs. The pizza cutter or pizza wheel has become the more commonly used utensil.


Cuillère Pommes Parisiennes - a 'Parisian Apple Spoon' or ... melon baller.

Do you know any more?

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Elephantine Talent

This extraordinary pencil drawing by elementary school teacher Adonna Khare was the the $200,000 prize winner at this year's ArtPrize 2012 open art competition in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It's amazing isn't it? It's kind of Heironymous Bosch meets Patrick Woodroffe meets M C Escher. I love it. Here are some close-ups:

Pencil Mural Wins $200,000 Art Prize

And her other work is just as amazing:


Do visit her website here. And watch this video!

My thanks to Chrissi Broughton for bringing it to my attention (and she got to see it for real).

Saturday, 13 October 2012

An open letter to Jasmin H

I'm sure, by now, that you've seen the letter below, penned by Jasmin H, a home-schooled 14-year-old from Scargill in New Zealand, and published in the October 3rd edition of The Northern Outlook:

I decided that, rather than ridicule her as so many websites are doing - it's probably not her fault, people, and she's 14 - I'd write her letter:

Hi Jasmin

I read your letter in the newspaper and decided that I would write a letter to you. I should start by saying that I'm not homosexual and I have no agenda in writing this letter. I'm a married man, an ex-cop in his 50's, with three grown up kids in their 20s. Nor am I anti-religion (though I have no faith myself) and would never belittle your beliefs if you have any. I won't be impolite or, in any way, rude or bullying. You're obviously a smart young lady and feel strongly enough and well-informed enough to write letters to newspapers. All I'm asking you to do is read this letter and look at a few sources of information that maybe you haven't seen before. I hope that's okay.

I was a little bit confused by your letter. You say in your final paragraph that you don't believe in evolution. I wonder why that is, considering the weight of evidence for it. If, as I suspect, you are a person of faith, there is no reason why your faith and evolution have to be mutually incompatible. After all, the Catholic church and the Church of England and many other branches of Christianity accept evolution as fact. They simply argue that God created the process. I can't prove that they're wrong! You obviously know something about the subject because, throughout the letter, you talk about evolution as if it does exist, using phrases like 'our level of intelligence should have evolved somewhat' and 'if homosexuality spreads, it can cause human evolution to come to a standstill' and 'the ducks will have evolved further than we have'. Perhaps you're more undecided, rather than disbelieving? I'd like to think that you have an open mind.

Incidentally, you might be interested to know that ducks have been around for a very long time; the fossil record suggests that they were around during the age of dinosaurs - or at least their ancestors were.

That's an artist's impression of a species called Vegavis, which belonged to an order of birds called Anserifomes, which includes waterfowl. Within this order, Vegavis is most closely related to true ducks and geese of the family Anatidae. Vegavis fossils have been found in Cretaceous rocks 65 million years old.

Julia Clarke of North Carolina State University used computer tomography (CT) scans to get a good view of the rock-encased fossil and concluded that the partial skeleton was a new species and very important to the story of avian evolution. "We now know that duck and chicken relatives coexisted with dinosaurs", she says. "This does not mean that today's chicken and duck species lived with dinosaurs, but that the evolutionary lineages leading to today's chicken and duck species did." Clarke's findings provide proof that cousins of living bird species co-existed with dinosaurs. Before the classification of Vegavis, the fossil record of living bird lineages in the Cretaceous period was very unreliable.

Ducks have been around a great deal longer than humans ... they've had more than a 60 million year head start on us. But, despite this advantage, I'd argue that they're not really more advanced  than we are. Yes, they pair up and nest together but don't most humans do that too? And we have marriage - a consciously made commitment between two people who love each other, whatever their genders happen to be. Ducks only have a primal instinct to pair bond. It really isn't a valid comparison as things differ from species to species.

And you might be surprised to learn that ducks engage in homosexual behaviour too; about one in 10 mallard couples are homosexual, which isn't too far off the figures for humans. Ducks also regularly indulge in 'attempted rape flights' when they pursue other ducks with a view to forcible mating. They also engage in necrophiliac homosexual behaviour (see here). So I'm not entirely convinced that they are a good role model for us humans; by comparison, two people loving and caring for each other is surely a vast improvement!

You also say that, after 2000 years, we should be cleverer than our ancestors but the reality is that you and I are no cleverer than the Romans were. There's been no significant development in human brains in just two millennia. People aren't cleverer today; they simply have access to more information. I couldn't build the Colosseum. Could you? And yet someone did built it all those years ago without books or the Internet. I know more than my grandfather did because I have instant access to almost the whole of human knowledge, but I'm no smarter than my grandad. I'm certainly not smarter than original thinkers like Leonardo da Vinci or Isambard Kingdom Brunel or James Watt or Isaac Newton; imagine what they might have achieved if they'd been able to Google! Da Vinci had ideas about flight hundreds of years ahead of his time; if he'd have been able to talk to other flight pioneers around the world by Skype or email or Twitter, we'd have had jet planes by the 17th century. Knowledge is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

And the most wonderful thing about knowledge is that it's available to us all unless it's deliberately withheld. The greatest gift you can give a child is a sense of wonder and an enquiring mind. Out there, right now, are 14 year olds like you who will one day cure cancer and put humans on Mars and alleviate poverty and suffering. And they will do all that by learning; by reading as much as they can and making reasoned and intelligent choices about what to believe based upon the weight of evidence. I hope that you will do the same, Jasmin. I hope that you will never let closed-minded people with blinkered views deny you the opportunity to achieve whatever you are capable of achieving. Ignorance, in its true sense of 'lacking knowledge', really isn't bliss at all.

I also hope that you'll come to see that it's not a sin to love someone, or to want to spend your life with someone, who just happens to be the same gender. Homosexuality isn't a disease or an illness; it won't 'spread' as you suggest. You can't catch a dose of Gay. It's been around as long as humans have been around - there just seems to be more of it these days because society is becoming more enlightened and less intolerant. People can come out more openly than ever before. The children of gay couples don't automatically become gay themselves and many heterosexual couples choose not to have children.

We are all born gay or straight or bisexual. We can no more choose who we fall in love with than a duck can choose to lay square eggs. Do you have any gay friends? How would you feel if your best friend or one of your relations 'came out'? It wouldn't stop them being the person they always were, would it?

If we all want to live in a peaceful society free from fear, persecution, prejudice and harm, then the foundation stones we need to set in place are knowledge and mutual respect. We should all strive to be less judgemental. In an ideal world, we should all make the effort to understand each other and ensure that we never treat others in ways that we ourselves wouldn't want to be treated.

THAT's enlightenment.

Warm wishes


P.S. If this all turns out to be a practical joke or a 'Poe', ignore everything I've said, okay?

Sources: Live Science, 600 Co  

Friday, 12 October 2012

Even more rubbish art

British artist Mark Oliver's Litter Bugs are made entirely from scraps from old book covers, old broken sunglasses and other grabage. He describes their appearance in terms of adaptive evolution: "A creature whose instinctual and physical qualities have adapted so uniquely to the modern urban environment that it has rendered itself, by nature of camouflage, virtually invisible in its normal habitat." Mark even goes so far as to give them a common name and a scientific name, which often reflects the types of materials from which they are made. The Prophet Moth has a body formed from pieces of a Holy Bible cover, the Conductor Bug is built out of old metal gears and, appropriately, copper conductors, and a number of old, torn encyclopedia pages are the foundation for the Reference Moth's body and wings. Glorious aren't they? You can see more at the Litter Bug website here.


Thanks to my brother Si Colgan for alerting me to the site.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Improbable Oxford

I took part in another Ig Nobel Improbable Event on Friday at the University of Oxford's Collaborative Applied Mathematical Institute. Great speakers, lovely audience and some of the funniest questions I've ever been asked.

The way these events work is that, after an intro, Marc Abrahams - creator and emcee of the annual Ig Nobel Prizes - selects a time keeper and someone to make a noise every 30 seconds. The participants then get up on stage, one by one, and read a two minute extract from a real scientific paper ... that they've only just seen for the first time.

The timekeepers alert you when 30 seconds, 1 minute and 1 minute 30 seconds have passed before gonging you off stage at 2 minutes. What then follows is a question and answer session where the audience can ask the reader questions about the subject of the paper. What makes it funny is that (a) the papers are inherently odd and hilarious anyway and (b) the reader knows only marginally more about the paper than the audience does. It's great fun.

The readers at this event were ... mathematician Dr Mason Porter, science writers and broadcasters Rita Carter and Brian Clegg, Professor Alain Goriely (director of CAMI), Dr Thomas Woolley (one of the bods behind Dara O'Briain's School of Hard Sums)   ...


... some fat old ex-cop and writer, Mark Lynas (author of Six Degrees), a lady whose name I don't have, I'm afraid, as she wasn't on my original list of speakers (But I think was called Xena (?) and works for a charity to do with palm oil), and a REAL rocket scientist and turbomachine engineer, Dr Thomas Povey ...

... and then came a spirited demonstration of a centrifugal force-assisted birthing device by ferociously bearded biochemist Faraz Alam ...

 ... and ended with a hilarious slideshow from comedian and writer Helen Keen and the inevitable bad poetry reading with Marc.

Another great fun event. I look forward to the next.

The 100k Doodle Winning Doodles

A week ago I passed my 100,000th tweet. Yes, I'm THAT verbose. But, to 'celebrate' the fact, I asked people to suggest doodles that I could do on a postcard. I had lots of entries but had to pick the 10 that made me laugh the most. So here they are - they will be posted out to their obviously very odd suggesters first post tomorrow.

@margojmilne, having read my blogpost about people 'stealing' my Burglar Bill cartoon online, asked for a Burglar Bill of her own, so here he is. Meanwhile, @onewordtf asked for 'Mr Potato Head watching porn'.

@tyglet asked me to draw a hammerhead shark having a tea party with an owl. And @music_mystery was obviously exploring some deep desire when they asked me to do 'Stephen Fry cartwheeling'.

'What about an ant orchestra!' declared @kel2708. What indeed. Though space turned it into a small chamber orchestra. And hopelessly romantic @c_dave suggested 'A single rose, gently entwined and proffered by a single tentacle'.

Things took a turn for the bizarre when @twistedtulip asked for 'A fennec fox hiding from Santa and Jesus in a caramel macchiato' and then @drinkmeforfree wanted 'Birds done as pop groups'. Space being limited on a postcard, I hope she'll be happy with this supergroup.
Last but not least, we have @nyc_rgc's suggestion that I illustrate a couplet from Maxwell's Silver Hammer - 'PC31 says 'We've caught a dirty one' and then, in a flurry of rhyme and para-rhyme, @roop asked for 'Whilst shedding a tear a bear hugging a bare hare on a square chair whilst floating in the air'. Pft. Call that a challenge?
Well done everyone! Hope you like your doodles.
Another competition at Halloween!