Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Chemical Handshake or It's All Electrons

Today has seen a series of breakfast meetings being held at locations around the world by women chemists.  These meetings have celebrated the work and life of Marie Curie, who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry 100 years ago, and have been an opportunity for networking and discussion. They are also a prequel to the International Year of Chemistry, the official opening of which takes place in Paris at the end of the month. The Breakfasts have used social networking to link together in a chemical handshake around the globe.

I took part in a three time zone breakfast which we held as a Skype conference call. It all started as a bit of a giggle after I posted the Breakfast link to Facebook and two friends thought it would be a fun thing to do. Before long we were into serious planning involving Skype, Twitter and SMS and the result was our conference call this morning. Kathi, being on GMT -5 hours got up alarmingly early to join the Breakfast while for Debbie (GMT +1) and me (GMT) it was a good deal easier! None of us are professional chemists, but all have been interested in chemistry since childhood and have maintained that interest in various ways.

We chatted for about an hour, with Debbie doing a quick "experiment" and uploading the photos to Twitter for us all to see! We sent greetings to the Breakfasts taking place in two UK schools as well as to one taking place in Prague and another at the Open University, UK. We have also greeted the Breakfasts in New Zealand (where they stated the global handshake over 24 hours ago) and in Peru. We talked about what drew us to chemistry and the part it plays in our lives today. It was a fun thing to do and I think we are now looking for opportunities to do something similar again (possibly at a time that doesn't involve one of us getting up at silly o' clock!).

It was particularly meaningful for me as my late father was a chemist and I grew up reading journals such as Chemistry and Industry and Education in Chemistry (not forgetting Plastics and Polymers). He died four years ago today, so joining this Breakfast and my niece being at one organised by her school seems a fitting way to celebrate his life and express thankfulness for the enthusiasm he imparted and the encouragement he gave. It meant that, for me, our Breakfast linked three generations as well as three time zones.

More information about the event at the Twitter tags   

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Christmas Past

This post has very little, if anything, to do with life in New Normal and isn't really my own thoughts, but it seemed an interesting diversion.

I spent Christmas with my mother. We had a quiet but enjoyable time and got talking about her wartime Christmases and the Christmas of 1944 in particular. Clearly nothing new about that and, knowing my family, possibly normal would be stretching things a bit!

The family background is that her maternal grandparents (who had a large family) had a shop selling records, sheet music, small musical instruments and music sundries such a gramophone needles. She, her brother and mother lived round the corner, her father having died before the war (though for a few years after his death they had moved back with the grandparents). At that point one of her mother's sisters and her two children were living with them and that Christmas the sister's husband was also there on leave and was pressed into service in the shop. Other family members also lived near and the grandparents lived over the shop with their unmarried sons, one of whom was not away as he was in a reserved occupation. One of the married sons was also in the house that Christmas, at home on leave and staying there with his wife.

The run up to Christmas was always busy and as well as the records out in the shop they kept a reserve supply lined up on the dining room table, with record boxes open and sitting in their lids ready for a quick grab. That year the song "White Christmas" was very popular again and it seems to have taken them a bit unawares as it was selling out in the week before Christmas. The son home on leave had to be dispatched to the wholesaler to pick up more. The shop only shut on Christmas Eve (a Sunday that year) when the last of the customers had gone and that was often quite late.  Only when the shop was shut and all the children were in bed or gone to their own homes was the Christmas tree put up and decorated. On top of the tree was a new fairy doll dressed by their grandmother. On Christmas morning it was not unusual to have customers knocking at the side door because they had forgotten to buy such necessaries as gramophone needles and sheet music.

The family had relatives in the Norfolk farming community and my mother remembers them sending up Christmas food on the train each year, including the war years.  It always included one of their turkeys and a box of their cox apples. The family in Norfolk would send a postcard to say the time of the train on which the package had been sent and someone would collect it from the station. Clearly a slightly different postal service from that of today!

After Christmas morning in their own home they walked to their grandparents for Christmas Dinner, the table being extended by the protective top to the billiard table ... Then after dinner the family gathered in the large sitting room of the house in which there was a piano and various members played and sung. Mother recalled that by Christmas 1944 they all knew that the war was drawing to a close. However, there were still rocket attacks from the V2s and there was little or no warning of these.

Because my mother's birthday is two days after Twelfth Night, the decorations were always left up until after her birthday - a tradition we usually continue and are following again this year.

So - quite a contrast with our much quieter Christmas, but then I'm not entirely sure we could take the pace today!

Wishing you all a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year.