Monday, 22 December 2008

A Pre-Christmas Post!

Greetings one and all!
Yes I know, postings are becoming rather infrequent these days for which I can only apologise. But hey, the time spent on the OU course is proving to be well spent. We've now covered three computer marked assignments and three tutor marked assignments and with the third TMA still to be marked, my lowest mark is 87%. So that's not too bad eh?

AND! Developments have recently taken an exciting step forward. My wife was recently forwarned about the possibility of a job coming up at a university in the East Midlands that would represent a significant step up the ladder for her and so as soon as it was advertised she applied for it. After being invited for interview a week or so ago, she was offered the position last week! How fantastic is that? This means that our dream of moving to Ruth's home town of Loughborough is now defiinitely on and my own dream of getting into Leicester University to do that Geology degree is back on too!

At the moment, I can think about little else except Leicester Uni and it's geology courses. This weekend I have had to somewhat hurriedly assemble my UCAS application which needs to be submitted by January 15th 2009, in order to be considered for 2009 entry. All that I need now is for my chosen referee to provide me with the all important reference and that should hopefully be enough to gain me a place, fingers crossed.

Reading through Leicester University's prospectus, I can barely contain myself! The course sounds like it is everything I have longed for, for years. Decades even! If I get onto the 4 year MGeol degree, I can look forward to field courses in Arran, Wales, Spain, Tenerife and even Switzerland in the fourth year! On top of that, is the possibilty of doing the third year abroad in . . . . wait for it . . . . Arizona at the University of Arizona in Tucson!!!!!

Oh my! However, as awesome as that sounds, spending a whole year away from my family would be rather too much to bear, so I think I'll have to be realistic and perhaps aim for some sort of field work out there during a summer break maybe? We'll see, but anyway, that is getting way ahead of myself. The great thing is that already it has given me a new lease of life! All of a sudden there is a goal to work for, an exciting future to plan, rather than plod on indefinitely in a job that I'm afraid has bored me to tears for longer than I care to remember.

To be honest, I feel a bit selfish. Since Ruth got the call, offering her the job, I've been excited by the chance I now have of finally getting to study geology. Of equal importance of course is the fact that at last, Ruth will be doing a job where she will be respected for what she is - an extreamely intelligent and gifted woman in her field. I don't think her current employers fully appreciate quite what they have and frankly, don't deserve her! In the not too distant future, I can see us both in high flying academic positions making a real mark in the world! For me, if I can contribute in some small way to help unravel the mysteries that surround how Grand Canyon came to be the way it is, I will depart this earth a happy man!

As I have said many time recently, we only get one crack at 'life' so you've got to make the most of it! Life is just too short to simply waste sitting in front of a CAD terminal all day long. It's now time to take life by the scruff of the neck and GO FOR IT!!

On that exciting and positive note, may I wish you all a Happy Christmas and an exciting and fulfilling New Year!


P.S. I'll leave you with a photo or two of a holiday which turned out to be by far the highlight of a difficult year - Arizona and Grand Canyon!

Above: Grand Canyon and the Colorado River - March '08
(Photo by Alyn)
Right: Bright Angel Lodges - the BEST place to stay
in Grand Canyon - we'll be back!
(Photo by Alyn, March '08)
View of the 'Red Rocks' approaching Sedona, March '08
(Photo by Alyn)
Meteor Crater near Holbrook, Arizona.
So big I couldn't fit it all in the photo!
(Photo by alyn - March '08)
The Wig-Wam Motel, Holbrook, Arizona on the legendary Route 66
(Photo by Alyn, March 'o8)

View for the top of Round Mountain, Globe, Arizona, March '08

(Photo by Alyn)

Friday, 21 November 2008

How about some British Geology?

Greetings folks!

With my head throbbing due to the new demands being made on the 'grey matter' lately, I think it's time to take a 'timeout' from Open University study and have a little look at some examples of the geology that Britain has to offer. My post vacation obsession with Arizona and Utah, has meant that Britain has been somewhat overlooked in this blob, so time to redress the balance a bit. While obviously smaller in scale, Britain's geology is no less interesting.

For example, it's not only the southwest USA that can point to spectacular arches! Oh yes, here in the U.K. we have some awesome examples too. Okay, granted, we can't really boast 200 plus in one National Park like Utah, but nevertheless we have some spectacular coastal examples, such as in the photo I included at the end of my last blog:- Durdle Door on the south coast:-

Who guessed right? Yes, it's Durdle Door in Dorset, England.

(Photo by 'drumaboy @ and reproduced here under the Creative Commons License)

This arch was formed by the sea eroding though lines of weakness in the Purbeck Limestone which comprises the arch. For more information on the formation of Durdle Door, there is an excellent web site produced by Ian Wilson from Southampton University. To visit it click here

One of my favourite regions in Britain for sheer, spectacular beauty is the Lake District. I spent several walking holidays in my youth clambering up the awe inspiring fells. My favourite peak by far is Helvellyn and at a relatively modest 3117 feet above sea level, it's ascent never the less is still a challenge, especially negotiating the imposing 'Striding Edge' shown here:-

Striding Edge, Helvellyn, Lake District, Cumbria, England.

(Photo by 'micsten' @ & reproduced here under the Creative Commons License)

This magnificent 'knife-edged' ridge or 'arete' was formed as two opposing glaciers started out on their respective journeys down their valleys, carving out the rocks beneath and behind them, until they met, forming this breathtaking ridge. I've managed to negotiate Striding Edge on two occasions and thankfully got to the top safely enough. I believe there are a few people over the years however, who have not! Negotiating the ridge can be a bit scary on a windy day and there have been a few who have a made a rapid descent. Incidentally, the photo above reminds me of a book I have called "Over the Edge" which as I think I have mentioned before, is a somewhat macabre record of the deaths in Grand Canyon. The girl in the above pic is doing what so many have done at various viewpoints at Grand Canyon, with a two thousand foot drop to their sides! After a split seconds loss of concentration - whoops, one messy descent! The drop at Striding Edge might not be quite as great, but it's certainly no less messy if you slip!

I'm sure somewhere I will have stored away, a whole load of photos from my vacations to the Lake District and will have a few of Helvellyn and other beautiful features from the area. I think I'll go and have a 'butchers' and see what I can find! Anything interesting I will scan and post them on my next blog.

So until the next time!

Cheers for now,


P.S. Nearly forgot to tell you!! Got my first set of assignment marks for S104! For the first tutor marked assignment I got 100% and the first computer marked assignment I got 87%!?!

Yeah, I know, bizarre innit? And the marks I lost on the CMA were REALLY stupid errors like writing a number from the question down wrong!?! So, a good start, but it's maths next and then chemistry after that, so the going is definitely going to get tougher, but that just means more of a challenge. Bring it on!!!

A beautiful photo of Durdle Door, Dorset, England.

(Photo by Mathew Muzerie @ reproduced under the Creative Commons License)

Monday, 20 October 2008

S104: The Story so Far!


Sorry it's been a while, but that's what studying does I guess! As predicted, the greatest challenge before me is not so much the level of the work, but simply finding the necessary time to get the studying done. Family life, as anyone with children will testify, sees demands on one's time that are a bit random (to use my daughters favourite word). This makes planning my Open University study rather difficult to say the least. The OU asks you to do a plan of when you will do the necessary studying, but it wasn't long before the plan went completely out of the window. I'll just have to maintain a flexible approach and do what I can, when I can. But what the heck, the kids education comes WAY before my belated attempts but I will get the job done!

So, what's been happening? Well the precipitation measurement exercise went well if a little strangely. We had to design two rain gauges, one open topped and one with a funnel. They had to be constant diameter obviously and flat bottomed, with the funnel the same diameter as the bottle. Easy! Skills learnt through many adolescent years watching 'Blue Peter' came to the fore to produce a masterpiece of engineering.
So a big 'thank you' goes to Valerie Singleton, John Noakes and Peter Purves (whatever happened to them?) I'm particularly proud of the addition of the rim of corrugated card covered in packing tape around the outside of the funnel to keep the funnel top securely in place! Genius huh? Well, we were required to produce two weeks of data and then calculate a daily mean precipitation for each week. Week one produced nothing. Nowt. Zilch. Diddly-squat! A BIG ZERO seven days running! However, week two brought several days of torrential rain, with one day in particular bringing about 35 millimetres of rain. Don't ya just love Britain?

Since then I've finished my first computer marked assignment a week early and got the first tutor marked assignment done in good time too. I made a few classic mistakes on the CMA, like not reading the question properly and worst of all writing a number down wrong so that no matter how perfect my method was, I was never going to get the right darned answer! Doh!?!

So, all in all, it's been a good start. I'm gradually finding the best way for me to study - what works for me and what doesn't, so that's good. I'm determined not to get too stressed about stuff. The main aim is to ENJOY studying science! As my OU course tutor said on our first tutorial a few of weeks ago, "if we don't enjoy it, what's the point?" Absolutely!

Now here's a strange thing! While out visiting a sixth form college (Pendleton College near Salford) one evening last week, who should I meet in the foyer, showing visitors around, but a guy I met at the first course tutorial! It really does seem a very small world sometimes! Only days before we had been working as a team, bouncing ping-pong balls to determine how the rebound height varies with drop height. Fascinating stuff it was too!

Next up is the book I've been looking forward to most: 'Earth and Space'. Included here are earthquakes; volcanoes; plate tectonics and an introduction to GEOLOGY! Way-hey!!! We've been supplied with a small kit of rock and mineral samples together with some fossil plaster casts and a hand lens for examining them. One activity involves placing a small rock sample in vinegar! Now I wonder what that is a test for??? I think I already know the answer! Should be fun!

I'll leave you with a photo of a wonderful piece of BRITISH geology of which I'll speak more of soon!

Cheers for now,


Guess where this is!

Clue: It ain't Arches National Park!!

Photo by 'Drummaboy' @

Friday, 19 September 2008

Back to the American southwest - if only!

As promised, it's back to geology today and in particular, to the state of Utah in the American southwest. While my family and I were captivated by Arizona during our visit, the next state north from there, Utah is home to some truly stunning scenery and geological marvels as John Crossley's web site highlights.

Dominated by Entrada sandstone, this area has been beautifully sculpted by nature to form over one thousand arches of this layered red sandstone. While many are tiny cavities as small as three feet across, there are others that span huge distances. The largest arch is called 'Landscape Arch' which spans a massive 89 metres.

Landscape Arch in Devils Garden, Arches National Park, Utah
(Photo courtesy John Crossley @

It seems I need to make that trip back to USA fairly soon as this magnificent arch is unlikey to survive much longer. Much of it's length is less than a metre thick and already has several serious fractures. The area surrounding it is now closed and it is awful to think that someday fairly soon it will come crashing to the floor, leaving just a pile of broken rock! Such collapses are not uncommon as on about 3rd August 2008, one of the most famous and most photographed features in the park, 'Wall Arch' collapsed.

Wall Arch before its collapse

(Photograph courtesy John Crossley,

(Wall Arch following its collapse, August 2008

(Photo by API National park Service)

No-one witnessed it's dramatic demise, but that is geology for you! A formation which to you and I may seem beautiful at this moment in time is merely a small step in the geological process of erosion back down to individual particles again, ready to be deposited elsewhere to begin the whole process all over.

So perhaps we need to enjoy spectacular features like these while they are here and not take them entirely for granted!

Double Arch, the Windows section, arches National Park, Utah.
(Photo courtesy John Crossley

Some features are more 'tunnel' than 'arch', such as this formation, aptly named 'Tunnel Arch'!

Tunnel Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

(Photo courtesy John Crossley

The far side of Double 'O' Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

(Photo courtesy John Crossley

Rock formations in the windows section, possibly the surviving remnants of previous arches?
Arches National Park, Utah.
(Photo courtesy John Crossley,

As well as Arches there are other stunning features to marvel at......

A small canyon, near Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah.
(Photo courtesy John Crossley,

Fins near Courthouse Towers in the Windows Section of Arches National Park, Utah

(Photo courtesy John Crossley,

So how did the Arches form?

How on earth did these spectacular arches come to be? The formation of the amazing buttes at Monument Valley I can just about understand, but 1000+ arches in one area? So, a little reading was called for and this is what I found:-

Okay, around 300 million years ago the Colorado Plateau area as Ron Blakey's paleogeographical maps will show you, was ocean. With the passage of time and a great deal of evaporation, a huge salt bed was left behind. These salts were eventually overlain with sand sediments ultimately forming a sandstone layer over the salt bed. However, under pressure salt becomes unstable and the area became subject to distortion and buckling, forming domes and folds. Increasing pressure creates faulting which exposes the formations to the erosional effects of the elements, creating 'fins'. These in turn are eroded away such that in certain circumstances holes are created through them - the start of the formation of an 'arch'.

Okay, that may be a fairly simplistic explanation of their formation, but it at least gives you an idea. Fascinating though, don't you think? Just google 'Arches National Park Geology' if you want more details!

Now, any fellow English persons looking in may well be wondering quite what I have against the geology of good ol' Great Britain! Well, the answer is absolutely nothing and this is something I will start to rectify in future posts!

Stay tuned!

Cheers for now,


Thursday, 18 September 2008

On your marks, get set.......

It's 18th September at last!
So what, I hear you cry! Well, today is the day that the Open University, S104 - Exploring Science course website opens 'for business' and that business is the quest for 'knowledge'! I've had brief look at the site already and it all makes everything seem more real if you know what I mean. After months of build up it's really here and I need to get myself organised, pronto! There are no details of my course tutor as yet - I think these details will be given early next week. Poor guy (or gal?), I'm sure he/she will be enjoying his/her last week of peace before his spare time is forever interrupted by the likes of little ol' me asking increasingly stupid questions over the next nine months!
So the long road to what will hopefully be a degree in Geoloogy starts here! By gum, it's exciting and I have to say a little bit scary, but I've already made a tentative start on the course work and it's a fairly gentle start with a look at Global Warming as I mentioned last week. This weekend I will have a crack at the first 'task' which is to design and make a couple of rain gauges to measure precipitation over a 2 week period. One gauge is to be open topped and the other to have a funnelled top. The former will show the effect of evaporation you see, while the funnel topped one will minimise it! So, this will take me back to my 'Blue Peter' days of making stuff with washing-up bottles and sticky tape! I'm sure I will get some cracking data here in the soggy north-west of England where it's done nowt but chuck it down all summer! Sod's Law dictates of course that we will now suffer the driest October 'since records began', but as the course book says, zero rainfall provides just as valuable data as a fortnight's daily downpours! Once Alyn's rain gauges are up and running I might just photograph them and post a pic on my next blog for you to have a laugh at, or perhaps marvel at my ingenuity and dexterity!!
I've also already had a sneak preview of the second course book which covers amongst other things, geology. Now that book looks like it's going to be great fun! We're supplied with a small kit of rock samples, fossil plaster casts, what looks possibly like litmus paper, a hand lens for examining said samples. All exciting stuff! Now if I remember rightly, there's a test you do for a particular rock, limestone I think, that fizzes when vinegar is poured onto it. The acidic vinegar causes a chemical reaction with the calcium carbonate, I think, maybe?? Please don't laugh! I've probably got that hopelessly wrong, but hey, I've only just started! Gimme a break!
One thing I've noticed myself doing already is thinking critically, an essential skill in academic work I do believe. Global warming for example is a subject that creates a huge amount of debate, not least at my mothers dinner table on a Saturday night! I have long argued that it is the long term trends that are relevant, not one hot summer. After only working through a few chapters of book one, I am already wondering over what length of time does one need to judge such things for the true picture to be formed? Hmmm!?!
Let me finish book one and I'll tell you more!
Cheers for now!

Monday, 8 September 2008

Greetings from Wayne and 'Grumpychops' Unmasked.

And there I was thinking no-one actually reads this stuff! This blog started out quite innocently, as a simple outlet for whatever I feel the need to write about. While I have tried to write as if to an audience of millions, I presumed that realistically only the occasional 'e-wanderer' would actually stumble on this venue and even less actually find it's contents worth commenting on!

By September 5th 2008, I had received two comments on my blog: the first from my step-daughter and a second from someone who shares my love of rocks and rocky places which were nice to receive. However, the third comment arrived in the early hours of Saturday morning UK time and left me shocked, humbled and inspired in equal measure! On Saturday morning my wife alerted me to a new comment on the blog and urged me to quickly go and have a look at it as she thought I'd be quite excited by it! Hmmm!?! Intriguing!

It was with some surprise that I saw the name 'Wayne Ranney' leap out of my monitor and smack me between the eyes! Now, for the uninitiated, Wayne is the author of the book 'Carving Grand Canyon', a book I've mentioned several times already on this blog. Not just 'a book about Grand Canyon', this book takes a look at the complex theories as to how Grand Canyon was formed and tries to unravel the mysteries surrounding it's formation. In short, a superb book! Now I can only presume that Wayne has simply searched to see who might have his book listed as one of their favourite books in their Blogger profiles and stumbled upon my 'humble blog' that way.

What a small world we now live in eh? Little old me, waffling on about a geology book and then the author, thousands of miles away, visits my blog and leaves a message. It made my day, I must say and you can read Wayne's comments by clicking here.

WOW! It's not just the fact that he visited my blog, but that he's actually read some of it! "thanks for all your fine writing" he said! Crikey!

What more can I add except to repeat my reply to his message. Thanks again Wayne for your kind words. I am now inspired to take my 'humble blog' a lot more seriously and concentrate on the geology theme for the majority of the time. The 'moans and groans' that were the spur to start this blog will be confined to the past!

What did strike me as a bit daft though was the realisation that Wayne Ranney was writing a message to 'Grumpy Chops'! So, maybe it's time to lose my anonymity, at least partially and make this blog a bit more personal and friendly? So with that aim in mind, say a big 'Hello' to . . . .


There! That wasn't so bad was it? Much more open and approachable than 'Grumpychops' is it not? 'Alyn' is a welsh spelling, courtesy of my welsh mother and has been both a blessing and a curse over the years. I've lost count of the multitude of different (incorrect) spellings of my name that i have been subjected to! Alan, Allan, Allen, Alain, Alun, Alwyn . . . . The list goes on, but Alyn is the name and the one you'll see on this blog from now on!
So that's it for now. Next time we'll be back to geology! Promise!
Cheers for now,

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Palaeogeographical maps of the world

The Earth as it is today.
Taken From Dr Ron Blakey's web site

A while ago I included a link on the blog to Ron Blakey's web site. This includes amongst other great stuff, a series of fascinating maps of the world as it looked at significant points in time. These illustrate superbly the concept of plate tectonics and the drift of continents over huge spans of time.

Today I've added a small slideshow of this series of maps towards the bottom of the right hand column. While being a bit small, it does show how the continents moved around the planet, going back in time from the present back to 600 million years ago and the Late Cambrian period. Clicking on any individual slide will take you to a full size image with a brief caption illustrating its place in geological time.

It's always worth keeping in mind whenever one looks at a particular bed of rock that the environment in which it was laid down was very much different to its current situation. These superb representations certainly help me to grasp how environments change over time. It's amazing to think when looking at a certain geological feature that where you are standing was once ocean or was once subjected to a great out pouring of lava from a nearby volcano!

Incidentally, a series Dr Blakey's images will feature in a soon to be published book written in collaboration with Wayne Ranney, author of 'Carving Grand Canyon' which I've mentioned several times. The new book is entitled 'Ancient Landscapes of the Colorado Plateau' and will shed some more light upon the complex story of how the Colorado plateau evolved over time and contributed to the formation of Grand Canyon.

Geology eh? Don't ya just love it?


Cheers for now!


The Earth some 600 million years ago! So which bit became Britain?

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Don't Panic!!!

Okay, so I'm panicing!

Well only a bit! You see, last Friday a package arrived containing the first batch of study material for my Open University course, S104 - Exploring Science. I made the mistake of quickly flicking through 'Book 4' which covers chemistry! Blimey! There across the page I was confronted with pages of chemical formulae. You know the stuff: H2 SO4 - that kind of thing, except great, humungus, long ones. All of a sudden my 'O' level in chemistry seems light years ago. In fact it damn near IS light years ago - 32 to be accurate! It's quite shocking to realise, it was the spring of 1976 when I did my 'O' level in chemistry and managed a grade 'C'. In fact I remember my chemistry teacher trying to persuade me to go on to do an 'A' level in the subject, but I instead chose to do Maths which with the benefit of hindsight, was perhaps a mistake!

Anyway, now that I've composed myself a little, I reckon I'm suffering from the same syndrome that other newly enrolled OU students suffer from - 'First Study Package Panic'. That great idea you had ages ago about studying something that really interests you is suddenly happening! It's here and it's starting in just over three weeks! Gulp!

But hey, one only needs to follow the advice given on the Course Guide - read the guide first and prepare properly. Book 1 is obviously the better place to start and this covers a great topic to get things off and running - global warming! Now this is a subject that I love, not least bacause it always gets me arguing with my mum! She is convinced that there is no such thing as global warming, it's all happened before and is nothing to do with human activity. Well, that might be true in part. It has all happened before but I believe that it is the rate at which it is happening that is the problem and that surely has got a lot to do with human activity. So, once I've covered Book 1, I should be ready to take on my mother again in another heated debate on a Saturday evening over a bottle of Cabernet!

Yep, after flicking through the course materials, there is a lot of exciting stuff ahead including home experiments and studying rock samples and fossil plaster casts, so I can't wait to get cracking. So keen am I that I've bought a new pencil case - a lovely 3 compartment one in 'mock Croc'. Oh yes, new course = new pencil case! It's only right and proper in my book! Sure there will be challenges ahead, not least actually finding the time to do the studying amongst the detritus of the everyday working life. Oh to ditch the day job and devote ALL my time to it, but alas, that wouldn't pay the bills. So, I'll see how I go and review my progress regularly.

Meanwhile, if there are any other S104 enrollees looking in, do get in touch and we can share thoughts on the challenges ahead!

I'll keep y'all posted!

Cheers for now,


Grand Canyon, Arizona - very hot! Due to global warming?
Well, possibly, a bit, but what's certain is that this is the most pathetic excuse for showing ANOTHER photo of the wonderful Grand Canyon!!
(Photo by Grumpychops, March 2008)

Friday, 29 August 2008

More of the delights of the American Southwest

Forgive me for indulging myself somewhat. After my family's wonderful holiday to Arizona and Grand Canyon I have I'm afraid, become slightly obsessed by everything Arizona and southwest USA. The wet, miserable, dull and drab 'summer' weather here in north-west England only serves to increase my yearnings for more of the magnificent Grand Canyon and southwest USA!

During our March trip I bought a few books as I tend to do. Wayne Ranney's 'Carving Grand Canyon' is superb and well worth reading if like me, you are intrigued by the mysterys surrounding the formation of Grand Canyon. Another excellent book that I picked up over there is 'Geology Underfoot in Northern Arizona' by Lon Abbott and Terri Cook, which takes a look at the geology of the Northern half of the state and encourages the reader to get out there in your car and see the various features for yourself. This book also emphasises to me just how many magnificent geological features there are in Arizona that I didn't have time to visit last March and only increases my desire to return. While we saw and were mesmerised by Grand Canyon, Meteor Crater, Painted Desert, Petrified Forest and Salt River Canyon, we barely scratched the surface of what Arizona has to offer.

There is an excellent web site called 'The American Southwest' run by a guy called John Crossley, who surprisingly resides in Bristol, England. His site covers the National Parks of this region of USA and includes a huge library of photographs. As well as the beautiful photographs and brilliant text guides to each area, he includes maps, hotel guides and some superb panoramas!

I'm delighted to say John has given me permission to use a few photographs from his site on this humble blog of mine. Such as this one....

East and West mitten Buttes, Monument Valley, Utah.

© copyright 1994 - 2008 John Crossley.

This area was I believe used as the backdrop to many classic Western films in the 1960's and 70's.

Merrick Butte, Monument Valley, Utah

© copyright 1994-2008 John Crossley

And then there is this extraordinary place, The Arches National park, also in Utah:-

The far side of Double 'O' Arch, Arches National Park, Utah.

© copyright 1994 - 2008 John Crossley.

Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

© copyright 1994-2008 John Crossley

There are over 1000 arches of Entrada sandstone in this national park, ranging in size from the 89 metre span of Landscape Arch to small cavities of a mere 3 feet, which is the smallest size for an opening to be actually classified as an arch! John's web site will tell you all you need to know about where to find this place, so I won't repeat it here, but when I make that return trip back over the herring pond, I will definitely check out these breathtaking national parks.

I could attempt to explain how these awesome features formed, but on reflection perhaps I should wait until I do that geology degree and have a more thorough understanding of it all before I do that. Other blogs do all that way better than I could at the moment, such as 'MJC Rocks at 'Geotripper'. He's been running a brilliant series of blogs on the whole Colorado Plateau which has been superb. But then, he is a lecturer at Modesto Junior College! I only hope my future geology lecturers are as good as this guy!

Many thanks again to John Crossley at 'The American Southwest' for permission to use these photographs!

Cheers for now!


Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Return to education

The last few weeks have been a little crazy, racing around the country in search of Carillons, but that's another story. Suffice to say, it's been an education and that is something that is going to play a big part in my life in the coming months and years all being well.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, Geology has been an interest for most of my life and really ought to have been my life's vocation. However, due to the unfortunate combination of a lousy maths teacher and my school's refusal to allow me to drop my 'A' level maths and concentrate on my geography and physics, I failed both maths and physics. That scuppered any hopes of getting into Oxford Poly to do the Geology degree course that I had set my heart on, but at least my excellent grade 'B' in Geography meant I could activate 'Plan B'. Being the cautious type, I did at least plan for the nightmare scenario of not getting the required two C's and only managing the one Geography 'A' level. As a result I embarked on a Higher Diploma in Geographical Techniques at Luton College and my life took a different course as a result.

A working life that started as a Cartographic Draughtsman has evolved into that of a CAD Technician. Yes, still drawing but now with the computer rather than Rotring drawing pens; on a computer monitor, rather than drafting film. They call it progress and I suppose it is of a sort. But like so much of modern life, it doesn't make it any better or more pleasurable. Quite the opposite in fact. Where I used to have the satisfaction of some degree of artistic creativity, that is now all but gone. So not surprisingly my heart yearns for something more, something to feel passionate about, that will stimulate my mind for the next 20 years plus. What frightened me was the thought of plodding through the next 17 years bored senseless, waiting until I retire to a life of gardening and incontinence! No thanks! Not for me, ta!

High time then for a change of direction. To make a start, I have enrolled with the Open University to start their Science Foundation course "Discovering Science - S104 which is due to commence on 29th September. Exciting! This will hopefully kick start the 'grey matter' and re-familiarise myself with the concept of study. As around 30 years have passed since my last period of formal study the next 9 months could prove challenging, particularly as I will be attempting to do it all around usual family/work life! So, if there is anyone out there from UK who has done S104 or S103, it's predecessor, do post a comment and let me how you found it!

For now I will leave you with another reminder of just why I want to study Geology and if I ever work out how to set up this Picaso Slideshow thingy I'll show you a whole lot more!

Cheers, Grumpychops.

The 'Tee-pees' at Painted Desert/Petrified Forest, Arizona. A stunning place!

(Photo by Grumpychops, March 2008)

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Lovely Rocks!

It's becoming a bit of a family joke now, particularly after our epic, life changing trip to Grand Canyon. As my step daughter 'Splodge' commented after my last blog (see below), my love of rocks is a well established fact. Only last weekend, my mother commented to Rufus, "oh, he likes his rocks, doesn't he"? This was after I was telling her the age of my favourite rock sample, a piece - well, actually more of a slab, of mica schist from the Scottish highlands. Now, there's a story to this piece of rock.

Let me explain.....

Let me take you way back to the summer of 1976, in that long forgotten era when summers were long, warm and sunny! Yeah, you remember, that big bright shiney thing that we used to see in the sky every now and again? No? Oh well, don't despair! Anyway, this particular summer my mother and father decided on a family summer holiday to Scotland, which invariably isn't the wisest choice if one is hoping to experience a prolonged period of sunshine. If I rightly recall, my younger sister, being a bit of a 'sun-worshipper', wasn't best pleased with the choice of destination, but for me, even at the tender age of 16, I was more than happy to make do with countryside, forests, hills and ...... ROCKS! Add to that plenty of walking and I reckon you've got the perfect holiday, even when it's with your parents!

This year though turned out to be exceptional. It wasn't just warm, it was hot - damned hot! It was one of those 'hottest since records began' sort of summers and for Scotland was quite unprecedented. On one particular day my father took us on one of his now legendary walks. I must emphasise, they were legendary for all the wrong reasons! You see, my father had the map and chose the route but somehow 'scale' didn't seem to register. More often than not, after what seemed like hours of aimless trudging, one of us would dare to ask "so how far is the car park then?" to which the reply would be "it's just round the next bend, not far."

Bless him! In fairness, they were invariably cracking walks.

Anyway, on this particular walk in the highlands I was to stumble upon a nice shiney rock, glistening at me in the summer sunshine. I can't even remember exactly where we were other than to say it was somewhere in the vicinity of Ben Nevis, but there on the ground, was this....

On closer inspection the rock contained numerous small flakey minerals on the surface and was made up of crystals in striped bands. Being the curious type, I just couldn't leave this rock behind until I found out what it was. The only way to do that would be to take it with me, back to the car and then home. That seemed like a reasonable idea, but what I failed to consider was the effect that such a great slab of rock would have on my puny teenage wrists!

But, get it home I did and I then set about the task of identifying the great lump! This however, was not an easy thing to do. When attempting to identify birds for example, it seems that so many of them fall into that miscellaneous category 'little browny-grey bird'. Rocks are similarly difficult to identify, especially if you know nowt about them and have no idea what to look for. Enter my 'big brother' who had I think by this stage embarked on an 'A' level in Geology, so knew a bit about the subject."Oh that's mica schist", he proclaimed confidently." You see all the shiney bits? They flake off in thin layers."

They did too and he was right as it turned out. The more one looks at this piece of rock, the more fascinating it becomes. As well as the mica, the crystals beneath are laid out in stripes and the whole slab curves in a gentle 'S' shape. Add to that some rust coloured areas on the rear, (which I presume is exactly that, iron oxide?) and it makes for the most exciting lump of rock I've ever seen. After being in the care of my mother for the last 19 years, my chunk of Scottish schist has been reclaimed and is currently sitting on the television stand where our huge widescreen telly used to be before it conked out last week!

Now this is the point when my eldest step daughter gives me that 'look' that says "you are so SAD"! Well, maybe it is a little, but when I look at that piece of rock I see about 500 million years of history before my eyes. I wonder what the world was like back then, when the sediments were originally laid down and what happened 100 million years later when the original rock was metamorphosed to become the schist that it is now!

You see, that's where the fascination lies. It's not just the lump of rock, it's the history story, the complex puzzle and the inevitable questions that mount up as you try to make sense of what lies in front of you. That's what happens when I look at my lump of schist and that's what happened when I visited Grand Canyon. And that my friends, is why I HAVE to study geology. Educational inadequacies (both my own AND my school) were responsible back in 1978 for my working life following a completely different path to the one I ideally wanted, but there comes a time in ones life when those dreams need to be fulfilled. Studying geology has been a dream of mine for longer than I care to remember. It simply has to be eventually and with the support of my wonderful wife, it will be in the not too distant future.

Cheers for now!


Thursday, 3 July 2008

Holiday in Paradise!

In my 'debut' blog last week, I did promise not to make every blog of mine a collection of moans and grumbles at life's injustices. As therapeutic as that may be for me, it will almost certainly make for a very dull read for anyone else. That is assuming of course, that anyone else does indeed read this stuff! Doubtless I will need to get things off my chest - I'm long overdue a rant about the abominable treatment of 'Nellie' (my 1964 Morris Minor!) and I by other road users! Arrrrrrgghh!

Don't get me started! I'll save that for another time.

So, to try and enlighten you all as to what sort of things, other than my dear wife, make me squeal with joy, or at least say "Wow!", take a look at this......

The magnificent Grand Canyon - awesome or what?
(Photo by Splodge during tour by Papillon Helicopters)

Firstly, here's a few facts about Grand Canyon, taken from one of the best books covering the geology of the region: 'Carving Grand Canyon' by Wayne Ranney:- Grand Canyon is...

  • 277 miles long

  • on average 10 miles wide and 18 miles wide at its widest

  • on average 5,280 feet deep and 6,000 feet deep at its deepest

  • 7, 000 feet above sea level at the South Rim & 8,200 feet at the North Rim

  • and finally about 4.5 million people visit Grand Canyon each year!

Nothing, but nothing could ever prepare you for the emotional impact when you first set eyes on Grand Canyon. One of the seven natural wonders of the world, its awesome beauty is well documented, but it is the sheer scale that staggers the mind. 277 long miles long is about the same as the distance between Kendal and London roughly. So look at the above photo and try to envisage 277 miles of similar geological features!

If you are visiting Grand Canyon and want to get a handle on the sheer scale of this phenomenal natural wonder, a helicopter tour is I think essential. My family and I went with Papillon Helicopters who were quite excellent. There are many such tour operators offering tours of varying lengths and costs, but whatever your budget, just do it. You will not regret it!

It is said by many that to appreciate Grand Canyon at it's finest one needs to get up good and early and wait for sunrise. We did this twice and it was well worth the effort. Dawn temperatures in March are a little chilly, but a small price to pay given the spendour that unfolds before your eyes. As the sun slowly creeps over the rim, small patches of canyon wall begin to catch the light and the whole canyon magically comes alive.....

Grand Canyon South Rim at dawn, from outside Bright Angel Lodge.

(Photo by Grumpychops)

Now here's a staggering thought - 1.8 billion years of earth history is represented by the rocks exposed in Grand Canyon, the oldest being the vishnu schist at the bottom of the Canyon while the youngest rocks present are the Kaibab limestone at the top at a mere 255 million years old. The layers inbetween tell one of the most complete geological history stories on earth.

Even so, if you were to ask the simple question, 'How was Grand Canyon formed?' the only response to which all geologists will agree upon is that the Colorado River carved the canyon. Exactly how, when and under what circumstances has been the subject of fierce debate for decades and is likely to be so for the foreseeable future. Sadly, much of the evidence that could answer the questions has been long since eroded and washed away leaving huge gaps in the story. Research that is attempting to solve the puzzle continues apace. However, I suspect a complete answer will forever be tantalisingly beyond our reach!

I will delve deeper into the differing theories surrounding the formation of Grand Canyon in a future blog. Stay tuned and in the meantime, I'll leave you with another breathtaking photograph.



Grand Canyon South Rim from the South Rim Trail

(Photo by Grumpychops)

Friday, 27 June 2008

We're off and running!

Well bless my soul! I've been threatening this for a while and now I've gone and done it! My very own Blog!?! Who would've thought it?

It was a rather bizarre and somewhat surreal experience at a Post Office that finally tipped me over the edge and the net result is this blog! Rather than give myself an ulcer I believe it's now time to 'vent my spleen' and start to fight back! Hopefully, this blog will prove to be my means of 'letting go', a way of ridding myself of the 'angst' that accumulates with each passing day. But I won't let this blog become just a set of grumbles, moans and whinges as that would prove to be dull in the extreame. Soon I will expand on the things that give me a buzz and make my life worth living! Don't expect anything structured or particularly coherent - it's more likely to be just the random (my step-daughter Splodge's favourite word!) ramblings of a 40-something, frustrated geologist!

So, let's start by exorcising a couple of demons by relating firstly the Tale of the Post Office, and follow that up with the Tale of the Pastie Shop, the incidents that were the catalyst that led to the creation of this blog......

The Tale of the Post Office

T'was an ordinary Friday in June 2008 and I was armed with a bag of modest eBay sales neatly packaged in 'Jiffy' bags and with the postage pre-paid online through Paypal. All that was needed was for 'Flossie' in the Post Office to stamp my 'proof of posting' receipts and I would be away! Oh that life in 'Great' Britain - 2008 could be that simple!

Perhaps at this stage, I need to point out that this sorry saga was acted out in a certain, non-descript town in Cheshire, noted for very little other than its impressive array of 'pound shops'. Its Post Office, though equipped with 5 counters rarely if ever has more than 2 staff ready and willing to fulfill ones every postage need. Thirty minutes standing in a queue was normal, until the day I made the discovery a few weeks ago, that the nearby Co-op has a Post Office within it too and there one finds little or no queue to frustrate ones tortured soul! So it was to this establishment that I headed.
On arrival I find no queue! Hoorah!
However, at the window, I notice 'Flossie' gabbing away to a friend/colleague, and oblivious to my presence. After a minute or so, I notice a little note scrawled onto a piece of paper and stuck onto the glass saying "Closed for lunch"!
"Err, excuse me, what's this 'closed for lunch'?" I ask. "This is a Post Office, for heaven's sake, you can't 'close for lunch', it's your peak time isn't it?"!!!
"We are understaffed and I'm having my lunch, so we're closed", says Flossie.
"Excellent" says I, somewhat sarcastically. "No wonder they are closing you all down! You bloody deserve to be if this is the standard of service you're providing!"

"I'll go then shall I"? I ask.
No response.
"Ta-rah then"! Says I .
No response.
Flossie continues with conversation.

So off I toddle, cursing and swearing as I go, to join the humungous queue at the main Post Office. Yep,huge queue as normal, takes in excess of the usual half an hour but I at least achieve the objective of posting said packages.

Now all that would've been bearable if it wasn't for the fact that it was almost immediately followed by:

The Tale of the Pastie Shop

By this time I'm getting pretty hank (as in 'Hank Marvin' - starvin'!) and so nip to a certain Pastie Shop for a yummy vege pastie (if they have any at this late hour (1.15pm!) that is). However, my path to nourishment is blocked by an old geezer on a massive (and I mean MASSIVE!!!!!) motorbility scooter. So MASSIVE is his mode of transport that it won't fit into the shop! So he is being served outside the damned shop by a 'Pastie Shop' employee. Meanwhile a woman with a massive (and I mean truly MASSIVE!?!) pushchair, can't get out of the shop because of the 'stretch-Hummer' motorbility scooter! Exasperated, she tries to push past and must've inadvertently laid a glancing blow upon the aforementioned disabled bloke who then lets rip at the poor woman.

"Don't you hit me, I'm disabled, blah-blah…".
Major barney ensues and I stand there, still trying to get into the pastie shop for a bloody pastie!
"Oh for God's sake I just want to get in and order a bloody pastie, do you mind"?
No response. They just carry on with their barney.
"Oh, F***IN' 'ELL" I yelled and left.
At this stage I needed comfort food, so headed for the chippy and got a portion of chips! Sorry, but it just had to be I'm afraid.

Now, is it me or is this country just going to the dogs? Has it already gone?
I am reminded of an experiment some years ago, where scientists put increasing numbers of rats together in an enclosure and noted their reactions. At a certain number of 'rats per square foot' they started to go mad and eat each other. That I believe, is what is starting to happen to us 'homo sapiens' in good old Great Britain, post millenium. Too many peoploids on too small an island! Be warned, it could get very, very ugly!

There, I feel better all ready! Damned good for you, this 'blogging'!

Rest assured good people, we can fight it. It doesn't have to be this way! Together we can be a force for change and with that in mind, in the coming weeks/months/years I will try to take a more positive outlook concentrating on the more exciting, stimulating things of life and in particular, what makes ME tick.

Stay tuned, post any comments you feel compelled to share and come back soon.

Finally, as my employers say way too often,

"Keep yourselves and your loved ones safe"!