Being amphibious. “Never be unseated by the shying of that undependable brute, life, hag-ridden as she is by my own queer, difficult nervous system… I am writing this partly to test my poor bunch of nerves at the back of my neck – will they hold or give again, as they have done so often – for I’m amphibious still, in bed and out of it: partly to glut my itch (‘glut’ an ‘itch’!) for writing. It is the great solace and scourge.” (Woolf, A Writer’s Diary, 86)
Walking the river, reading Woolf. “Even now I have to watch the rooks beating up against the wind, which is high, and still I say to myself instinctively ‘what’s the phrase for that?’ and try to make more and more vivid the roughness of the air current and the tremor of the rook’s wing slicing as if the air were full of ridges and ripples and roughness. They rise and sink, up and down, as if the exercise rubbed and braced them like swimmers in rough water.” (A Writer’s Diary, 131) Drawn back by a swimmer seen on the bank a month ago. The memory of a tractor ploughing to the North, trailing gulls like a banner from a bi-plane. It’s Septimus, I said, home from the war and content.
The beautiful Swiss town of Lugano. A real treat to be invited here to run a workshop looking at creative approaches to academic writing for the UK-China Media and Cultural Studies Association. The group was set up by postgraduate students from the University of Sussex, University of Leicester, and Cardiff University. This year, their summer school was a truly international get-together, with media students from across Europe, the USA, and China’s Sun Yat-Sen University. Many thanks to Tianyang Zhou for organising things.
Poems in public places can surprise us, distract us, make a tube ride less dull… this poem makes the world a nicer place to be – literally. Simon Armitage’s poem celebrating the air we breathe is the world’s first catalytic poem. The result of a Sheffield University project and collaboration between the department of English and scientist Professor Tony Ryan, the poem is printed on a banner coated with a photocatalyst that eats pollution. Clever.
Reading at Keats House it seemed only right to begin with ‘Newton Sees the Seventh Colour’, given that Keats accused Newton of destroying all the beauty of the rainbow by reducing it to a prism. ‘Philosophy will clip an Angel’s wings, / Conquer all mysteries by rule and line, / Empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine- / Unweave a rainbow… (from Lamia) Still much beauty in and around the house in Hampstead, including the garden where ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ was written. And a good Templar night had by all at the launch of Mark Fiddes’ surreal and witty iOTA shot pamphlet The Chelsea Flower Show Massacre.
With this year’s celebration of women in science, technology, engineering and maths coming up on Tuesday 14th October I’ve just come across some hand-written letters from Ada to Michael Faraday on the wonderful findingada.com.
Exciting to see, and these letters capture Ada in typically playful mood. Alongside talk of a scientific paper Faraday has shared with her and her analytical ambitions, Ada teases Faraday for his deeming of himself ‘a tortoise’ in comparison to her. ‘You have excited in my mind a ridiculous, but not ungraceful, allegorical picture, viz: that of a quiet demure plodding tortoise, with a beautiful fairy gambolling round it in a thousand radiant & varying hues…’
See more & find out about this year’s Ada Lovelace Day celebrations at findingada.com
Thoroughly loving being drawn into the world of Charles Babbage & Ada Lovelace for my new project, the drama The Difference Engine. Drawn together by a shared passion and drive to imagine what if…, the irascible middle-aged Victorian inventor and the vivacious young Countess make unlikely friends. But reading letters exchanged by the pair during the 1830-40s their relationship really comes alive. Ada, novice mathematician hungry for knowledge, was intrigued by Babbage’s plans to build a huge and technically complicated calculating engine – a ‘machine that can think’. Beset by financial & personal troubles, Babbage came to see Ada as his ‘Enchantress of Numbers’, one of the few people who believed in his dream. Together, ahead of their time, they realised the possibility of the computer & computer programming. Although the dream of Babbage’s engine wasn’t realised in his lifetime it was finally built by the Science Museum in 1991. And the archive of letters and writings from Babbage and Ada has bequeathed us the ghost of their fascinating relationship – just waiting to be restored to life…
Picture from findingada.com, where you can find out more about Ada.
There’s something quite beautiful about this – the mechanism devised by Victorian inventor Charles Babbage for his envisioned calculating machine. Babbage’s dream began with his plans for the Difference Engine, then progressed to the Analytical Engine – the ‘machine that can think’. This is a section of the Analytical Engine mill, an experimental model still under construction at the time of Babbage’s death and now part of the Science Museum’s collection. Like all good science, this has an elegance that makes it also a work of art.
Find out more at http://www.sciencemuseum.org.
Picture Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library
Good to spend time talking about poetry and science with the lovely people at York St John University last week. I shared some of my experiences using science as inspiration with students on the undergrad programme, and – as always – picked up lots of new nuggets of information. Such as brain-computer interface technology, which aims to use electrical impulses to mimic central nervous system connections & restore movement following paralysis. (I’m intrigued, and want to know more.) As well as an attractive campus, as the photo shows, with views of the Minster, YSJ has a popular and growing creative writing programme. Find out more on the programme’s blog. Thanks to Abi Curtis & JT Welsch for making me so welcome.
Have just completed a series of Live Lit sessions with the inspiring Mark Hewitt. It’s returned me, with lots of bright new ideas, to my work on Charles Babbage – the 19th century scientist behind the world’s first mechanised calculating machine, forerunner to the computer, which was never actually built in his lifetime but now has pride of place in the Science Museum’s Computing display. It’s another of those instances of a moment in time from the past shaping our lives today – in so many ways. And at the heart of the story are two fascinating women, Georgiana Babbage and Ada Lovelace. Two very different characters who have a hand in the creation of this amazing piece of mechanical history. Now, there’s a story to be told… watch this space.
Photo: Marcin Wichary, The Computer History Museum