Curiositwitty New Flashes!

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Show 1. Rooms: 44-46, The Donations

Words by: Emma-Lee Moss, Illustrations by: Katie Scott Northeastern Railways Bridge Plate No. 45
Kindly Donated by Chris Donald
Located next to door No. 46

“When I go to a new hospital I like that you can see the numbers on the doors, you can see room number 316 and you can imagine the scale of it. Trainspotters like the railway because it’s quantifiable. They know how many trains there are because they’re all numbered. There’s a book with all the numbers in it, and it’s very controlled and they can understand it because it’s two dimensional. I don’t like buses as much as I like trains. Yes, they’ve got numbers on, but you don’t know where they are. They could have gone on a ferry or anywhere, but with trains they know that metal track on the floor is touching every train you’re looking for. it’s a puzzle that can be solved. That’s why I don’t collect car registration plates, they’re too disorganised.”

Chris Donald is the most articulate person that Sean Lock has ever heard speak about trainspotting and indeed, he manages to inject the listener with a level of sympathy for the hobby you wouldn’t have expected. For him, it’s all about order. “The railways like numbering things,” he says, “and I like things to be numbered.” He developed the love of trainspotting as a child in Newcastle, when his family moved into a house overlooking a railway line. At the time the Railway Children had also just been released, and a curious state of affairs in Newcastle meant that young men were conscripted into the hobby by social mores. Simply put, “In those days, if you were a bloke and you weren’t fishing or trainspotting, you were probably a homosexual. So we used to go trainspotting as a cover.”

Chris now lives in converted railway station in Northumberland. He owns a series of them on the Northeastern railway line, one of which he attempted to turn into ‘the world’s most remote restaurant.’

“It wasn’t very successful,” he says.

Chris makes a point of buying the railway stations in Monopoly, even though you can’t build houses on it, and he’s very unsure what to think of the Channel Tunnel, referring to it as ‘a very grey area’. He also feels rather sorry for the kids of today, saying, “When I was a trainspotter there were about 5000 trains out there. Now there’s about 2000 and they all look the same. Poor kids.”

WAR FACT: According to John Lloyd, some of the most valuable military intelligence of both wars was collected by trainspotters who were sent to Luxembourg to collect information about where the supplies were going. Likewise, enemy planes were told to follow railway lines in England in order to find their targets.

Says Brian, “The town I grew up in was bombed by a zeppelin in the second world war, and the church was hit, as was my uncle’s house. The pilot was caught, and they asked him, ‘why did you bomb Woodbridge?’ He said, ‘I was told to navigate to London, follow the Hailsworth tain and drop it when it terminated,’ but that night it stayed rather longer at Woodbridge, so he bombed Woodbridge.”Grimsvotn: An Icelandic Volcano
Kindly Donated by Brian Eno
Located in the Museum's boiler room, providing heating for the building

“The centre of the Earth is a memory of the creation of the universe.” – Brian Eno

Grimvotn, near the western end of the Vatnojokull ice cap, is Iceland’s most active volcano. At least 60 eruptions have been documented in the Grimsvotn volcanic system during the last 800 years, most of them occurring in the Grimsvotn caldera.

Brian brought Grimsvotn as a springboard to discuss Geothermal energy, a technology in which Iceland is the world leader. About 70% of Iceland’s energy is derived from geothermal energy.

Geothermal energy plants are simple, long-lasting, and cause very little environmental damage. And, contrary to what you might think, you do not need an active volcano to have a Geothermal Energy plant. Southampton is currently meeting 10% of its energy needs by Geothermal Energy, and a city in Italy has been running a very successful energy scheme since 1911. Aside from its simplicity and minimal environmental costs, Geothermal Energy is attractive because of the fathomless quantites of energy beneath the earth’s surface. It’s calculated that there 13000 zetajoules of energy under the surface of the earth. That’s 13 followed by 24 zeroes. Brian thinks that Geothermal Energy could hold the key to some of the major environmental quandaries of our age, and we agree.

If you felt inclined, you could write a letter to your local MP, asking what the government is doing to fund research into Geothermal Energy, to reduce our reliance on unclean methods of power production. You could write something like this:

“Dear ____

*insert niceties*

I am writing to ask what the government is doing about recent research that shows that Geothermal Energy could help to reduce our reliance on unclean and finite energy sources.

Developments in geothermal technology have meant we have new types of heat exchangers which are much more efficient than the ones we had before, which means we can derive energy even in areas without an active volcano. Southampton has recently joined the Geothermal stable, and is now harvesting 10% of its energy from this source. Iceland is also 70% reliant on it.

This technology because it offers a real alternative to the situation we find ourselves in now. It is clean and virtually infinite (the earth has 13000 zetajoules of untapped energy in it), and can be used, thanks to heat exchangers, both to heat in the winter and to cool in the summer. I cite this report from

“The environmental pollution caused by geothermal installations is small because there are few emissions. Visually a geothermal site need not be offensive because of its construction which only requires a small profile and can easily be screened, by trees for example. Nevertheless, there can be a few problems caused by solids produced where salts carried up in the water must be disposed of and there have been cases of subsidence due to the drillings. Perhaps the worst scenario is when magma has unexpectedly found its way to the surface through the drillings. None of these drawbacks are insuperable…

In summary, internationally the quantity of geothermal energy is virtually infinite and the environmental benefits are beyond reproach. Set against this are the disadvantages that considerable more Research and Development is needed to take advantage of the buried wealth and even when a commercially viable site is identified the initial investment cost can be a serious deterrent. Maybe if some of the multinationals who have the resources to invest in oil exploration could channel them into geothermal exploration, research and development we might see geothermal energy being tapped on a significant scale.”

I hope you will read my comments and agree with me, that the UK need to look into this technology and develop it as soon as possible.

*Some niceties*

Your Name”The Urge To Press Red Buttons That You Shouldn't
Donated By Dave Gorman
Located in the Button Room

On this programme Dave revealed his sympathies for President Obama.

“Part of him must be fantasising about pressing that button,” he says, but it’s harder than the image of the big red button suggests. The nuclear button in fact looks a little like a laptop in a briefcase. To transmit an order to launch missiles, the President must type in a permission code, which is contained in the briefcase, which then allows the keepers of two other cases to send out launch authorisation codes, the unblocking codes and a war plan to missile sites.

So it is a little complicated, but, as we learned on the show, launching a British submarine warhead is a simple case of a right click on a mouse.

BUTTON FACT: A Molly-guard is a shield put around a big important button to stop clumsy people from pressing it. the name comes from an IBM programmer’s toddler daughter, named Molly, who once accidentally pressed a reset button on his PC twice in one day.

APOCALYPSE FACT: On September 26th 1983, lieutenant colonel Stansislaw Petrov averted a nuclear war, when his computer malfunctioned, implying that the US was attacking Moscow.

"Suddenly the screen in front of me turned bright red," said Petrov. "An alarm went off. It was piercing, loud enough to raise a dead man from his grave."

"The computer showed that the Americans had launched a nuclear strike against us."

Instead of telling his superiors of the attack, he reported the computer system as being faulty, however it cost him his job, Petrov took early retirement from the army and later suffered a nervous breakdown.


  1. Excellent stuff! I'm amazed that I'm the first one to comment.

    I somehow managed to miss the first series but will tune in to this one.

    What would I like to put into the collection? Chuggers. I know they have a job to do, but they'd probably be less irritating on the other side of a sheet of plate glass.

  2. Interestingly, a bit we cut from the show, was Sean saying that he doesn't like the word Chuggers. He much prefers calling them Chunts.


  3. Chunts or Chunt sounds a bit like a collective noun for Chuggers; rather like Wunch, as in A Wunch of Bankers.

  4. Waiting for the Show 2 post. Just as well I brought a stool and a flask...

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