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The rotten remnants of a wooden sculpture of a fossil. In Gladstone park, just south of the ruins of Dollis Hill House.

The park has several wooden sculptures, all I think around 10 years old, all now returning to the earth.


The dinosaurs of Crystal Palace have stood for more than a century. Since before Gladstone’s first term.

Wither, Brentosaurus.



Written by alexconnor

August 10, 2014 at 18:12

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There are insufficient data to warrant a discussion of this problem.

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Fig 2.

So ends Margaret Thatcher’s one and only published scientific paper. Many people have contributed less to science. But not many of those became Fellows of the Royal Society.

‘The saponification of α-monostearin in a monolayer’ was published in 1951 in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture (not open access…) and describes the results of a series of some somewhat fiddly-sounding temperature- and pressure-dependence studies of the saponification of a glyceride.

Paul Nurse railed a couple of years ago against the modern style of paper writing, preferring the simpler times and terms of his youth. This paper reads as though it should have an list of apparatus at the beginning. Instead it opens with a cursory overview of the context of the experiments – the monostearins studied have found use as emulsifying agents, and their properties in this context are not well understood. The young Margaret Roberts was seemingly tasked with elucidating these for J. Lyons, the food manufacturer. A contemporary in the company recalled that Roberts had the job of “improving the over-run [air content] of ice cream”, which ties in well with the emulsifier work she published (in ice cream, emulsifiers can act as both stabilisers and aerating agents). It ends as all good science should : “The reason why equation (3) is not obeyed at higher temperatures is obscure. … no satisfactory explanation was found and it is felt that there are insufficient data to warrant a discussion of this problem.”

So, no, as everyone knows, she didn’t invent Mr Whippy. Not least because soft-scoop ice cream was already well-established in the US by this time, also because it seems unlikely that any one person could invent such a thing. But it is likely that she worked in the ice cream group and undertook research relevant to the product. And so went Thatcher the Chemist.

But what of the co-author, Hans Helmut Gunter Jellinek ? Much more interesting, if less well documented.

Jellinek was born in 1917. His wife Ruth was born in Stuttgart n 1918, and the two were married in England in 1948.

Hans Jellinek’s career began in England, possibly at Lyons itself, and at some point over the new twenty years he and his wife moved to the USA where he took up a post at Clarkson College of Technology in upstate New York. While holding down a job at what is now Clarkson University, he went to Japan and also seems have gained some local notoriety, and an excellent local-paper headline in the Schenectady Gazette.

He published over 160 articles and books over a 40-year career that ranged from the kind of food research he did at Lyons, to studies of the degradation of plastics, to the interfacial properties of ice and snow.

He retired a professor in 1982, seemingly so that he could spend more time with his work. At this point he received a lovely note from his co-author of 1951. Maybe it is just formality, properness, but I do wonder if, in all the time from joining him as a junior colleague to writing to him as a Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher had ever called him by his first name.

Jellinek letter

Written by alexconnor

April 17, 2013 at 23:09

Memoried and real.

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Memorial (with cup of tea).

The last British-based member of the International Brigades died a
couple of days before Christmas

A big class of jolly Spanish children just sprinted past this on their way to the big wheel.

Written by alexconnor

December 27, 2012 at 15:57

No river, Nor Loch.

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The Nor Loch.

All cities should endeavour to have a body of water. Something to break the confines, open the horizon. Edinburgh had a loch. But drained it and stuck a railway station in there instead.

Written by alexconnor

October 27, 2012 at 16:16

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The things you can see with a digital camera.

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July 1, 2012 at 13:36

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Two roads diverged in a wood.

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Written by alexconnor

April 10, 2012 at 19:39

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The hyperbolic hotel.

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The primary television transmitter for northern parts of the Czech Republic was completed in 1968. It serves the city of Liberec, along with much of Bohemia, southern Germany and south west Poland. Uniquely for a mountain-top transmission tower, it is also a hotel. A hotel from another time.

Egg chairs.

Hotel Ještěd sits a kilometre above sea level, on the top of the highest peak of Ještěd-Kozákov Ridge. It is not, as you might imagine, built in the traditions of a medieval, turreted Bohemian castle. Ještěd is the height of middle-European 1960s luxury.

It is reachable by treacherous mountain road, a hike through an ancient forest, or, and this is preferable, its own dedicated cable car.


It stands proud, king of the mountain, and also of its own ski resort. Thirty metres across at its base, the tower rises as a circular hyperboloid.

It should feel like a lighthouse; it feels like a space station.


Unlike other mathematically-themed hotels, Ještěd isn’t very big. It has 12 proper rooms, with a further half-dozen ski-chalet bunks. The restaurant has nine tables. But mathematics can only take you so far. Ještěd is a triumph of design over all things. Built as a new summit to the mountain, the tower defeated nature long ago.

The interior is inch perfect, besting time and progress. From the egg chairs in the hallways to the banana splits in the restaurant, Ještěd lives and breathes 60s glamour. (Though I can’t imagine that the Liberec of 1973 was any more the Monaco of central Europe than it is today — the Manchester of Bohemia, the guidebook says.) There are drawbacks to perfection. The shape means that as the weather warms, chunks of ice fall from the top of the tower and clatter down the outside of the structure. The sound echoing through the minimalist rooms. The staff are, understandably, a little surly, shut away at the top of a mountain. Aside from the restaurant and some Czech TV, there isn’t much to do, at least for English speakers; this is very much a German beach. But, hyperbole to one side, what a beach.


Written by alexconnor

January 3, 2012 at 22:56

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