Monday, 23 June 2014

Some stories you might have missed - June edition

33 amazingly useful websites you probably didn't know existed

Simulate the creative environment of a coffee house with Coffitivity

Dinosaur feathers discovered in amber

Casting Call Woe - Bloody hilarious. And also a bit tragic.

It's a plastic world - Fascinating video. And, while we're on the subject, Our plastic waste is changing the geology of the Earth's rocks.

Andrew Shears' excellent blog on the United States that could've been - all the states proposed that didn't happen

And, last but not least ...

Vintage Chocolate Bar Wrappers. How many do you remember?

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Bletchley Rocks!

I spent a fantastic day today at Bletchley Park; home of Station X - the code-breaking hothouse that shortened the war by at least two years - and the birthplace of modern computing. I was there at the invite of my good friend Dr Sue Black whose tireless campaign to save the place from falling into disrepair and ruin has finally borne fruit. Today was the official opening of the new visitor centre and, to mark the occasion, Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, was in attendance to perform the grand opening and to plant a new tree in the park. The day also marked the end of Phase 1 of the project to save and restore the site.

You may be wondering what my involvement is in this business. I'll explain. Sue has nearly finished writing a book called Saving Bletchley Park (see here). It's a blow by blow account of how the campaign began, who the major players were, and how the money was raised. However, the campaign needed to be set against a historical perspective; to tell the story not only of how it was saved but why it had to be saved. So Sue asked me to research and write this part of the book with her and, as this day marked the completion of the first phase of reconstruction, a description of the day would make a perfect wrap to Sue's story. So I came along, camera in hand, to talk to some of the key players in the campaign and to get some nice 'after' shots to go alongside Sue's 'before' shots of what Bletchley Park looked like when she started the campaign five years ago.

I'm not going to write much more as there's very little more I can say. It was wonderful to walk around the grounds, to chat to veterans and trustees and to see how wonderfully and sensitively they've restored several of the code-breakers' huts.

I should explain that this isn't some Disney-esque theme park attraction; everything has been done as authentically as possible even down to the half-full ashtrays and grime around the light switches. The huts look as if the staff have simply stepped outside for a break and left the place feeling a little like the Marie Celeste. To see the dingy, narrow corridors, the gas masks and scarves hanging on coat-hooks, the rolled-up maps, and the chalkboards scribbled over with arcane codes is to get a sense of what life was really like during the War. Even in Alan Turing's office, with its iconic tin mug chained to the radiator, it feels like the great man is somehow still in residence.

Lunch on the lawn was a splendid affair and also an opportunity for me to chat to the great and the good including the ex-head of the Royal Navy, Baron West of Spithead (who once appeared on an episode of The Museum of Curiosity) and General Sir Michael Rose, ex-head of the SAS. And, of course, I must mention the Duchess of Cambridge who stoically stood smiling through all of the sandwiches and speeches before performing her royal duties.


What's happened at Bletchley Park is testament to Sue and the others who have run this campaign. It's proof that the ordinary man or woman - no disrespect intended - can make a huge difference ... just as the thousands of ordinary people at Bletchley Park did during WW2, despite knowing that no one would ever learn about the extraordinary work they did for a least four decades.

All photos (c) Stevyn Colgan and may only be reproduced with permission

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Cameo, Cammeeeeee O. Cameo, Cammeeeeeee O.

I love the sheer inventiveness of Judith G Klausner's art. I also love the fact that it's made from stuff I like to eat like biscuits and gummi bears. Food and art. That's pretty much my whole world.

There are Oreo Cookie cameos...

Gummi bear stained glass panels ...

Embroidered eggs and mould ...

Condiment wallpaper (no, really - it's printed with sauces and quite lickable) ...

... and so much more.

Do visit her site here.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Star Wars WTF?

The city of Wolfsburg—in Germany—is currently hosting what may be the worst Star Wars exhibition ever.

A few years ago I went to see the proper Star Wars exhibition at County Hall in London (see here) and it was pretty damned cool. But this one in Germany - which costs around £8 to get into - looks more like a Louise Tussaud waxwork exhibition (see here and here).

Want to see more wonders like 'filthy Ewok on a mini-bike'? Watch this video (see below). It's in German and the fun stuff starts at 4mins 15scs when the guy visits the exhibit.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Journey to the Centre of Wales Part 2

On Saturday - my last full day in Wales - I paid a visit to Erwood Station, an arts colony founded in 1984 and based within the now disused train station.

There was lots of lovely ironwork and pottery and prints by local artists. But my favourite work was the beautiful turned wood of James Smith; I especially liked his reclaimed fencepost vases.

From Erwood I drove to Dan yr Ogof to visit the National Showcaves of Wales. Now, I have a confession to make here ... my actual reason for going was seeing this photo online:

I am a sucker for piss-poor dinosaur models and these looked a bit ropey - especially the iguanodon in the foreground who has neither of the distinctive thumb 'horns' that make his/her species unique. I expected lots of such crappiness ... but was delighted to be completely surprised by what I found.

You arrive at the showcase site and are immediately greeted by a life-sized diplodocus that, actually, was pretty well sculpted. Behind this behemoth an equally well-rendered brachiosaurus rose above the trees. These were great models!

 You actually have to walk under the diplodocus to get inside the park where there's lots to do - for free! How many venues can say that? There are lots of dinos around (even on the roof of the cafĂ©), you can pan for gold, and there's a farm with shire horses, emus, alpacas and other creatures.

But should you decide to spend some money on the caves, you get much more to see. For a start, lots more dinosaurs and other prehistoric beasties. I read somewhere that there are around 200 life-sized models, which is pretty cool for the kids. And big kids like me.

Then there are the caves themselves, which are stunning. Cathedral Cave in particular, with its high stalactite peppered ceiling and waterfalls, is magnificent. The only let down was the Bone Cave, which entailed popping on a hard hat and stooping along a low roofed walkway just to see a rather poor audio-visual display with mannequins about the human habitation of the caves.

'But Steve! What about the crappy dinosaurs?' I hear you cry. Well, I'm delighted to report that they are still there. However, the people who run the place are pretty shrewd; as newer, more accurate and better made dinos have been installed, they've moved the older ones deep into the bushes or set them at a distance so that they still provide some spectacle but don't stand out. That said, I did go dino-hunting and found myself a crop of brilliant bad ones. 

I can't leave Wales without mentioning the countryside through which I drove - often having to avoid sheep with no concept of the Green Cross Code - to visit these places. Late Saturday and my drive home on Sunday was wonderfully sunny and showed the landscape off beautifully. I just had to keep stopping the car to get out and snap a few pics. Sadly, no photo can capture the sheer scale of my surroundings. Glorious.