Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Drumming fingers

Today is a quiet day. A couple of customers have been in, but no sales. There are days when it does get a little frustrating; when you want to go marching up and down the street with a placard or something. There are things I should be doing. Still a big batch of sectioned ammonites to be priced and labelled, still the hoovering I meant to do yesterday. Still coffee to make.

I was born profoundly lazy. Nothing can be done.

What can I do to motivate myself? Set goals? Reward myself with a caramel wafer? Stab the back of my hand with a fork? One of the forks in the shop is pretty sharp. That may work.

Hang on.

No. I have a sore hand, but no inclination to go into the basement for the boxes of fossils. Maybe I should start with small, manageable targets. I will make some coffee.

Thursday, 23 April 2009


This weekend I'm setting up a Mr Wood's Fossils table at a convention. This will be the first time I've done it, and it's taken quite a while to get ready. Working out what stock I should take, trying to remember what else I may need. It's a long list - bags, pens, labels, tablecloth, float, stands, fliers, and plenty more.

The convention is taking place not far from the shop, but rocks are notoriously heavy. And I have a lot of them to lug about. Hopefully a good few less afterwards. Because it's a Saturday, I wouldn't have been in the shop, so I'm not paying any extra out in wages and it wasn't not expensive to pay for the table - so hopefully it'll work out pretty well. Even if it proves a bit of a washout, I have to think longer term. I could pick up a few new customers, so I'll be handing out cards and fliers left, right and centre.

I don't spend that much on advertising, though I get approached a lot. It's really difficult to know what's effective. Or at least cost-effective. Word-of-mouth has always been the most powerful marketing tool for Mr Wood's Fossils. I place a lot of emphasis on customer service in the hope that customers go away with a good impression, remember the shop and maybe tell a couple of friends. I'm looking forward to the weekend - at least to see what it's like to run a stall. Maybe it'll be something I could do a little more often.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009


When people say you can't polish a turd, don't believe them.

Coprolites are fossil dung. The one above is from a turtle. Probably quite a big turtle. I get asked how you can tell which animal 'laid' it. It's not always possible, but at times a direct comparison can be with recent examples. Preferably not that recent. In other instances, clues can often be found in the stratigraphy. It's usually possible to piece together a reasonable understanding of the palaeoenvironment; where and how the animal was living. Also, sections can be made, allowing a look inside the jobby. Exciting work.

A site in Moab, Utah provides a great deal of this stuff, and very often you can see little cross sections of undigested plant material in the polished surface. Found amongst the coprolites are the occasional gastrolith, or gizzard stone. Like some animals today, many dinosaurs ingested pebbles to help them break down tough plants in their gut. I wouldn't suggest you eat a handful of gravel before your tea, but it was very helpful for some of the sauropods of the Jurassic.

Much of the plant material in these coprolites is preserved as a vibrant red jasper, and the most colourful stuff is graded out and used to make jewellery. A few years ago there was a bit of a Hollywood craze for wearing coprolite jewellery. Didn't really catch on here, unfortunately.

Thursday, 9 April 2009


Monday's earthquake in Italy has left over 200 dead, many more injured and thousands homeless. Towns and villages were devastated. The timing of the quake, in the early hours of the morning, must have been a factor in the number of deaths, but the fact is that there is still no reliable way of accurately predicting an event.

I did see the story of a seismologist who had measured increased levels of radon gas emissions in the days preceding the earthquake. He was convinced something was coming, and felt his advice was going unheeded. He took to driving around the streets with a megaphone, trying to warn people to leave the area. It's a sad tale, but imagine what your reaction would be to that scene. Disbelief, at least. Concern for his sanity, possibly.

The truth is that it's an incredibly tricky business, seismology. Many influencing factors, unpredicability of timescales, and then the difficulty experienced by the frantic Italian in his van. Who will believe you? Err on the side of caution and you cost thousands of people time, money and inconvenience. And run the risk of crying wolf. Err on the side of negligence and the risks are considerably higher. Thankless task.

I read today that the Italians authorities are flying in dozens of clowns to go round the temporary camps 'entertaining' people. That's terrifying. You've lost your home and everything you own. You and your family are living in a tent, surrounded by hundreds of other shell-shocked families in tents. And then round the corner, through the rubble, comes a gang of twenty clowns.

Thursday, 2 April 2009


Knee-deep in rocks, fossils, paper, cardboard and scraps of sticky white labels. Getting there.

Currently in the middle of washing a load of Californian jade which had been lying in somebody's basement in Arizona for years. It's nice stuff, and I got a great deal on it.

Somewhere along the line, a few boxes got a bit of a soaking. Not a problem for most rocks, you'd think, but there are some which will have an adverse reaction.Will have to repack quickly...