The relief model globe above enabled me to live off royalties through the late nineties. While I was working on it my passion for detail led to the same relationship with the client as that between Michelangelo and his clients of the church when he was working on the Sistine Chapel: “When’s it going to be finished?” My client groaned when I told him I’d just reached Stalingrad.
In 2011 I was informed that it had been donated to The Royal Geographical Society.
It wasn’t until I visited them last autumn and found my 42” whopper of a globe under the spiral staircase next to the library in the new annex that the significance of it being there hit me. Portraits and the odd bust of the heroes of British exploration adorned the RGS such as Livingstone, Stanley, Burton and Speke;l- their expeditions supported and their great discoveries announced from there. I’d just joined the ranks of the great explorers! Even if I was not exactly in the great establishment itself but in the annex. More than good enough for me! I felt it to be a great honour.
Apart from this splendid pomp and circumstance the rest of the winter was nondescript enough into 2015. Actually deteriorating towards spring when I was obliged to fill in an ‘application pack’ in order to gain work I only wanted for a day or two each week. Application packs have the same effect on me as Kryptonite has on Superman! Debilitating with silent but deadly reproach for all the things one hadn’t supposed to have done with one’s life while being blind to achievements such as the globe in the Royal Geographic Society, which had nothing to do with application packs! Needless to say there was the ritual of failure in not getting the job after the maximum waste of time imposed. A can of worms I thought I’d left well behind.
And they’re ‘packs’ these days instead of the forms they used to be. What effect is all this paperwork shit having on issues such as global warming and the biggest mass extinction mankind is imposing upon the world since the end of the Dinosaurs?
Then there was the Easter Science Fiction convention.
I was to head a panel on Exoplanets. I was happy to as I’d hardly ever done that before though I’d been on many panels. I loved the ‘think tank’ creative discussion on them and this would strengthen my involvement in planetary related matters. Panels were the only way I’d been involved with that since the last planets I’d made were in the last decade.
So it was a comedown to be told the weekend before the convention that my event wasn’t in the programme. Plus the line from the programme organiser that ‘there were too many science items.’ ‘I’m sorry I thought this was a science fiction convention’ was my email response. There was agreement but evasiveness as well so I resigned myself to this result.
The convention was actually one of the best I’ve been to socially. I was hailed by 2 friends as soon as I entered the hotel: John, an old friend from Reading and Steve, who’d put me up for a night on the Hampshire walkabout. There was heartening widespread interest over why my planets weren’t in the art show? (Laziness and reliance on the panel I was to have headed.) Also there was a plus of seeing planes take off from an upper floor of the hotel since we were at Heathrow.
Shame about the 2nd round of bad news at the end. John discovered that what was to be my programme event had resurfaced at the end of the convention under a different name. Now it was headed by a woman who – for reasons best known to herself – wouldn’t talk to me. A complaint to Operations led to an attempt to include me – which prolonged the suspense – but the 2 astrophysicists forming the smallest panel in convention history had been preparing for months apparently and didn’t want anyone else. As for the woman she’d had a lot of experience moderating – of course she had – and had been called in at the last moment. As for the programme organiser he had let things get into a mess without telling anyone. Despite this he’d managed to give me a result that my worst enemy couldn’t have bettered.
Anyway, enough of the blues, though it suits the blog title.
Not long after the convention I was off to the Isle of Wight. An easy trip since I live in Gosport. There were fog banks in the Solent which made for some interesting photography. The Spinnaker Tower and a Gun Wharf highrise in Portsmouth extending above the fog like an alien city.
The fun with the fog continued. I took buses across the island and was making for a youth hostel near Alum Bay where the fog seemed to be lurking again. So no sooner had I checked in at the hostel and headed up a lane than I was in it. Passing a pub and heading west down more mysterious lanes and through a spooky wood. Then there was Alum Bay itself where there was actually a hole in the fog revealing a tourist trap shopping complex already closed; that seemed deserted apart from a couple in a shop whom I couldn’t see, just hear, having an argument.
I’d last been here as a small child so what with the fog it was unrecognisable. The cablecar lift I came across too, must have been added since I was last here. There was still a track down to the beach which really was totally deserted, just like the opening scene for a mystery horror film, the beach clear enough but disappearing into the fogbank covering the Needles and the lighthouse there, where the steady slow rhythm of the high pitched foghorn must be emanating from. The effects for photography were brilliant: the multicoloured cliffs of Alum Bay like otherworldly mountains, the fogbank along the beach and out to sea, the whole atmosphere of the place which could transfer well to film.
On the way back even the pub was a bit mysterious. The main door was locked and I had to enter by a side door. Once inside it was like any nice pub and the food was good but there was a strange conversation with the barman over that. Apparently they served such and such and “crap.”
“Sorry I didn’t catch that”
“Oh. Okay.” One aceepts to hide confusion which could only cause irritation.
It was only later I realised that I must have been mishearing crab as crap. After all they served seafood there.
Next morning the fog hung around the south side of the island treating me to some great photos of a graveyard, the odd mansion and the silhouette of a sea stack at Freshwater as I hiked through there. The best bit though was probably a large gravelike stone on top of the chalk cliffs as I trudged up there. It’s inscription ‘In the midst of life we are in death’ added to the atmosphere as did the solitary crow which hung around obligingly. Or was it waiting to see if I was going to deliver the real thing by going over the edge into the grey void and the crashing rocks below, where the slope above the cliff became narrower, steeper and slippery further on. I abandoned that for the road.
The fog hung around the coast and rather than inland revealing spacious scenery for the Isle of Wight. It had a touch of the Californian coast about it: a terrace of wide rolling fields broadening the further one looked, ending in crumbling cliffs one way and chalk hills the other; beyond was the biggest hill mass, not chalk, abruptly ending in landslide erosion into the sea at the island’s southern point.
The sun was scorching for Easter! A real change for the last time I was here persistent rainfall forced an end to the hike at a pub where there was a log fire.
I was staying here for several days. The Dinosaur Farm Museum in the middle of this scenery. And it was spring. Lambs with their ewes, ducklings in the pond. The track through the back of the farm was the same: ducks and the odd cockerel and that raucous gaggle of geese. The lifesize juvenile Brachiosaurus had moved though, to the front of the cafe which seemed to be used now as a storage area.
Oliver was at the museum in the barn. We’d met in 2001 when the farm was the base for a BBC2 documentary of Isle of Wight Dinosaurs and my Lower Cretaceous Earth globe was on television for the nation. Now he was managing the museum, extending it from the barn to the outbuildings.
The cafe was indeed a storage area. Something to do with economics as usual; but the exercise of walking would help me work off those pub meals and alcohol at Brightstone, a village a few miles away.
Barbara showed up. She ran the farms and the caravans. Mine was the first one and very comfortable it was too. One could really get away from it all here, with the wide open landscape and the peace and quiet. Apart, that is, from the occasional muttering quacking from the odd wandering duck, which appealed to my sense of humour.
The day after arrival I went on a ‘Dinosaur expedition.’ Joining a small crowd in which there was a sizeable number of children. Oliver had the model I’d made in 2002 on display. Western Europe 120 million years ago in the Lower Cretaceous complete with Iguanodon and Brachiosaurus migration routes and outlines of present day coastlines plotted on to the prehistoric landmasses of high and low ground, forests and arid savannahs. Just right to show what the world was like then; or this part of it anyway.
Try not to become confused. The whole region was further south because of continental drift; southern England being on latitudes 30/35 degrees north. Where the Meditteranean Sea is now. The Isle of Wight was at the northern end of a great floodplain or swamp – depending on the season – which stretched through the English Channel and down through France to the Tethys Ocean, which began where the Alps would stand. This was the Wealden Swamp. A big river flowed through the Isle of Wight region from Cornubia; a massif extending across Devon and Cornwall past the Scilly Isles into the Atlantic Ocean as did Ireland. By the way there was no sea between Ireland, Wales and Cornubia, just more floodplains. The Lower Thames valley was different too, being not a valley at all but a range of hills with the geology of the Pennines extending into Belgium. On the other hand there was a North Sea of sorts with its southern coastline along the Frisian Islands, but the Wash was expanded into a gulf covering the Midlands.
There was some guesswork about this model but most of France and Germany did not seem radically different from the way they are now. Spain however was tilted further north along a rift extending from the Mid Atlantic which became the Bay of Biscay, and not all of Spain was there. The Granada section was sliding along the bottom and very likely forming a land bridge with Africa. The Balearic Islands formed a small plate jostling Spain. For these reasons I suspected mountain building in these areas.
Oliver wanted southern Britain towards the top right hand part of the model because Brachiosaur remains had been found in Spain and Portugal which – together with the stones – indicated migration routes. Also Newfoundland could be included because this part of the North Atlantic had only recently started to really open up and was not much wider in the Lower Cretaceous than the Mediterranean is now. One thing I was wondering about when I built Lower Cretaceous Earth was whether the rift that formed the Bay of Biscay lined up with the rift between Greenland and Baffin Island? Latest research confirmed this.
I had this vision of the Wealden lowlands through the Channel and France being a lush steaming swamp but Oliver had the opposite idea for the model;– a flood plain in the wrong time of year for a flood, parched under the arid heat of a dry season. Since he was the client I had to conform.
The truth was the whole region could have had a climate like Africa or Australia: Extreme wet and dry seasons: Very dry with seasonal fires judging by the burnt wood found on the beach. And then torrential rains, floods and lush vegetation. Forests of giant conifers were widespread but we felt the vegetation would be more subtropical on the floodplains. I saw a similar vegetation regime in Africa with palms and ferns around rivers but thorn trees elsewhere.
A good modern day example in fact would be the northern Kalahari which could be very dry but having crossed the fringes I knew how green this country could look after heavy rain, when there would be seasonal rivers and swamps, lakes too which could dry up during a dry season. I had my satellite photos of swamps and river deltas to refer to while working on the model.
This was the best time of year for a fossil hunt: just after the winter storms before the main mass of summer tourists had scoured the beach. Maybe that was why one man had such beginners luck picking a Dinosaur vertebrae off the beach just after we got there. It was only human size but incredibly well preserved; as though it had just been taken out of a hospital! Apart from its much darker hue.
I seemed to specialise in dead wood. (Anything for a laugh!) I’d found it in the past and found it while staying here, including tree fern. They’ve lasted from the Carboniferous twice as far back as the Dinosaurs to right now. I have one in my back garden.
The main Dinosaur attractions on this beach were the Iguanodon footprints which could always be relied upon to be there. They were in the form of rocks up to a couple of feet across or maybe even more. Impressive especially with children to scale. They were formed when the feet of Iguanodons or bipedal herbivourous Dinosaurs like them compressed the ground underneath their weight so the footprints weren’t worn away and solidified into these rocks. Many were created by animals the size of double decker buses and because there were whole outcrops of these rocks – and the fossil record is incomplete – there must have been Wildebeest like herds of these Dinosaurs back then. What a world it was.
Much rarer were the more pointed footprints of carnivores; like gigantic bird talons. I’d thought I’d found one rock which was definitely more that way than the average Iguanodon but Oliver assured me it wasn’t.
I traversed a lot of beach while I was here, finding clues as to what I’d find if I could time travel back to the time of the Dinosaurs, but no Dinosaur. One of these days…
Time came to depart and I was up at dawn; hiking out of the farm and down the main road towards Blackgang Chine. There would always be a chance of a major find on this coast because it was eroding at the rate of a metre a year. It was actually not that safe because there was a risk of landslides along the beaches from Alum Bay through this whole region and it wasn’t advisable to get too close to the cliffs or sit under them.
Then there was the problem of coastal erosion inland. Roads and footpaths had been compromised or closed around the southern point of the island and those houses I could see not that far from those crumbling cliffs would probably not last for more than another 20 years.
Where the land started to ascend to those southern heights I found a huge inn come hotel that – great – was actually open for breakfast. Further on Blackgang Chine seemed too expensive for just me so I got a bus to Ventnor and saw the Botannical Gardens instead. I took the bus because I had a lot of ground to cover in one day for a photography course I’d booked was starting that evening in Shanklin and I needed to get to my digs and clean up in time.
I’d already been there for a nearby New’s Year’s Eve do at a retreat and it was they who were running the course. My boarding house was not far from the main road and the retreat was about the same distance away from that road on the other side. The course was good and informative. A sample of the photos we were taking while there is below: sunlight through the leaf of a subtropical plant. The company, food and drink were good too and to crown it all there were some beautiful old pubs nearby. I even bought a stick of rock. Must have been the first time I’d bought this sweet since childhood. Well, that was about it for the Isle of Wight.
A few evenings ago I was back at the Royal Geographical Society. There was a party there and it was a good one;- waiters with champagne and wine or whatever, round table banquets of African food. The band was African too. There was dancing and – why deny it? – beautiful women. Damn political correctness! There was also the sort of conversation I enjoyed: travel, interesting lifestyles and work and I could contribute. With my trans African expedition when I was 28 and the nearby globe under the spiral staircase.
And all this where the Great Explorers had once announced their discoveries to the old empire and the world and had organised their expeditions. Splendid stuff what!
Meanwhile I’m planning more ‘expeditions’ and on the next one I’m going to have to travel light for all I’m taking is my camera and a bag small enough to fit overhead in a plane instead of in the hold. Why? Because the next adventure involves 13 flights through a country with an undeclared war in part of it, another in economic turmoil, one where you could say ‘here be dragons,’ a tropical paradise and more. I’m mad enough to try it! So don’t miss it.
© D Angus 06 15