Wednesday, 31 December 2008

That'll teach you to mess with Thomas P. Hinkley

Christmas is a strange thing. You spend weeks, in some cases months, building up to a single event and then when it finally arrives it's over pretty much as soon as it's begun. And, when the dust has settled and you're on your fifth day straight of eating a variant of a turkey dinner (Gee Note: I mean I like turkey and all but I'm just saying, turkey salad for lunch followed by a turkey curry for dinner followed by, oh I don't know, a turkey cheesecake for dessert is a bit much even for me) it then hits you that nothing much has changed. Yes, you have a few more cool things to call your own like a new coat, or a money bank that also doubles as a robot, and yes hopefully you'll have a happy memory of spending Christmas with loved ones. But in the bleak aftermath of it all, Christmas is a lot of hard work for the chance to give presents to people you care about on a specific day of the year. In fact if it wasn't for the upside of Christmas (Gee Note: Getting to drink more wine and eat more chocolate in three days than I do the rest of the year combined), I'd go so far as to call it a bit of a pain.

One of the things that I really don't like about Christmas is that television stations seem to get it in to their head that it is correct and proper to fill the air waves with rubbish. Not good rubbish either, like "When Aborigines Attack" or something. No, this rubbish is a special kind of rubbish. The "ummm it wasn't good enough to air at any other time of the year but it's Christmas and nobody gives a monkey's" kind of rubbish. It's not uncommon this time of year to flick through channels to find a program about fat men from all around the world competing to see who can carry a very heavy object the furthest sandwiched between an episode of a long forgotten 1970's sitcom and a variety show where the highlight is a dog that can whistle the theme tune from "Friends".

Now it should be noted that this isn't necessarily a bad thing, as on boxing day this year after one too many glasses of vino I ended up having a whale of a time watching the European Championships for Lumberjacks. Or Timbersports to those in the know. Now for those of you who scoff at the idea of big men duking it out to find out which of them can chop a piece of wood the quickest, then let me just say that you haven't lived until you've seen Dirk Braun and company face the might of the Hot Saw.

Sometimes however, the lack of original programming over the Christmas period really does lead to baffling situations. Such as when one of the cable channels here in the U.K. found itself with a two hour block to fill the night before Christmas Eve. Naturally they searched through their archives, found a film they had the rights to broadcast and hastily shoe horned it in to the schedule. In fact considering the time of year, and how Hollywood mindlessly produces roughly five thousand movies with a holiday theme every December, a good old Christmas movie seems like a sound investment.

So which classic piece of festive cinema did these wise folks plump for? Miracle on 34th Street? It's a Wonderful Life? A Muppet's Christmas Carol? Santa with Muscles?

(Gee Note: Now it may sound to the uninitiated that I made the last one up. I mean who in their right mind would call a film "Santa with Muscles"? Step forward and take a bow Mr. Hulk Hogan. At some point during the mid 90's, probably in between raising his trap jaw daughter and stumbling around a wrestling ring like a drunken gerbil, Hogan miraculously found the time to star in this piece of cine magic as an evil millionaire who through reasons way too silly to go in to here, has a case of explosive amnesia and wakes up believing he is good ol' St. Nick. Regularly voted as the worst movie ever made on IMDB, the writer was so ashamed of the finished product that he sued to get his name removed from the credits. To which I say good on you. Sometimes I wish we could all do that when things don't turn out right. "Yeah, you know that spice rack. That's right, the one that has rusty nails sticking out of it, is as crooked as Richard Nixon, and can only hold things if their lying down and at a 72 degree angle? Well that was nothing to do with me. I mean sure I may have cut the wood, put the pieces together, and hammered it in to shape, but at no point am I responsible for it's complete failure as a spice rack. Anyone dares to say I am will find their ass in court.")

Well, er, you'll be surprised to learn it was none of the above. Or in fact anything remotely close. Nay brave reader, them good hearted folks at the cable channel decided to treat us to that renowned holiday classic "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein".

Yeah, I don't get it either.

I suppose it wouldn't be so bad if it was a good film. But alas, it isn't. Made in 1994 it is directed by and stars Kenneth Branagh as the titular Dr. Frankenstein, with Robert De Niro (Gee Note: He's a very good actor and a lovely guy, with a cheeky smile and a mole under his eye. His name is Bobby ooooooh, Bobby De Niro aaaaaaaaah….) as the monster. Now I like Branagh as an actor, but as a director he tends to subscribe to a Mel Gibson-esque more is more style of film making. As such his movies tend to be overblown, and in the case of Frankenstein moments that should be all kinds of subtle and creepy come across as just plain silly.

Which is a massive shame as the story of Dr. Frankenstein and his monster is, in my opinion, one of the best. It's the reason why I find Andrew Crosse such a fascinating character.

You know the kind of people I love? The eccentric inventor type. Those with no training in mechanics or science who have a passion and a love for it anyway, to the point where they dedicate their lives (Gee Note: And more often than not their basement or shed) to the pursuit of discovery. Sadly the perception of these good and noble folks has changed over the years. Not too long ago if an "eccentric inventor" was featured in a movie or television series they were seen as loveable types, with big hearts and bonkers ideas. Over the past week alone, thanks to the land of the lost repeats that is Christmas T.V. I manage to spot the "loveable mad scientist" in things ranging from Mary Poppins to Young Sherlock Holmes. Hell there was even one in a Quantum Leap episode (Gee Note: Man, I love Quantum Leap. Remember the one when Sam leapt in to the body of a monkey? That was great. Also, it has a brilliant theme tune. Dah dah dah dah dah daaaaah boom boom dah doo dah doo dah doo daaaaah).

In recent times however society has decided to mock these individuals. Soulless television shows such as Dragon's Den and American Inventor take it upon themselves to poke fun at the good folk who willingly turn up with their labours of love. Rather than celebrate these people for daring to think, daring to imagine, daring to dream, with a sneer these programs tear them down to strips, berating all but a few for believing that they could change the world.

Mind, through out history the eccentric inventor has always had occasional problems conforming with the rest of society. Andrew Crosse was a prime example of this.

Crosse was born in Somerset, England in 1784. He was the first son of the wealthy Richard and Susannah Crosse and after they had both died by the time Andrew had reached 21, young Crosse took over running the family estates including the mansion at Fyne Court. Now seeing as running a mansion basically involves sitting around all day on a comfy sofa while a butler brings you fruit, one would have forgiven Crosse for spending his life in the lap of luxury. However Crosse wasn't about to allow servants catering on his every whim and enough money to sink a small Caribbean island to spoil him. Instead he decided to do something he had wanted to ever since he convinced a school master to allow him to sit in on a lecture about natural sciences. Andrew decided to experiment with electricity.

It's probably fair to say that in the 1800's the study of electricity was more of an art form than anything else. No really it was. If you're having trouble visualising this imagine your in London's West End, and you somehow find yourself in possession of two tickets for the hottest show in town. You arrive a good couple of hours early only to find the queue to get in already stretching around the block. When you finally do make it inside you have to push your way through a mass of bodies just to get to your seat which, despite the empty space in your wallet saying otherwise, aren't that great. However at the end of the show you sit in your chair amazed, they sweat pouring from your back, the hair on your arm standing on it's end. Then the applause starts. You leap to your feet with the rest of the audience, and deliver a standing ovation to the single person on stage that lasts almost a whole half hour.

You've just witnessed Nikola Tesla turn on a light bulb without using wires.

See? Electricity was pretty much the rock and roll of it's day. And Crosse embraced it whole heartedly. He set up massive pylons around his mansion to "catch" lightening, scaring the bejesus out of local folk any time a thunderstorm rumbled through Somerset. While walking past his mansion any time of the day, loud crackling could be heard while flashing blue lights emanated from the windows.

Crosse was experimenting with electrolysis, separating chemically bound compounds and elements by passing an electric current through them (Gee Note: Which, personally, I think should be a requirement for annoying celebrities when they divorce. Like Madonna and Guy Ritchie for example. Those two deserve to have their skin scorched just for Swept Away alone). He successfully separated copper form its ores and, get this, at some point created a water powered battery. Which really tells you all you need to know about the man. I mean why generate power safely when you can add an element of chaos? Nobody's ever really had a bad experience with electricity and water anyway right? Right?

Now if you believe Creationists, God created life about 6000 years ago. If you believe anybody who isn't crazy religious, life started approximately 3.5 billion years ago when randomly some amino acids collided with each other. Rather than call National Accident Helpline to see if they could claim up to £10,000 in compensation, they decided to react and hey presto life was born.

However if you believe a certain section of today's population, Andrew Crosse created life in 1836.

Crosse was conducting an experiment to do with electrocystalisation, or the appearance of crystals in certain minerals when electricity is passed through it. On the 14th day of his experiment he noticed that tiny little bumps had appeared on the stone he was sending the current through. Or, as Crosse described them, “Nipples” (Gee Note: “Dude, you grew boobs on a stone? HIGH FIVE!”). On the 26th day the nipples, er, hatched. And there in front of Crosse stood what he could only describe as the “perfect insects”. A couple of days later they started to move their legs. A couple of days after that and they had removed themselves from the stone and were quite happily gadding about and doing all kinds of insect related stuff.

Now Crosse was a bit eccentric. But what he wasn't was completely insane. So he surmised that somehow the eggs of these insects must have been embedded in the stone and then stimulated by the electricity in to hatching. So he conducted the experiment again. With a different piece of stone.

To Crosse's amazement he got the exact same result. More nipples, more insects, more head scratching from Crosse.

Crosse still believed that his initial hypothesis was correct, and that eggs must have been present in both stones. He mentioned his experiment to a couple of friends and then, by all accounts, thought nothing more of it. However, Crosse's friends must have been the biggest blabber mouths in the entire country as the story that wealthy landowner Andrew Crosse had created life all by himself soon made it's way through every social circle imaginable. Before long a local newspaper printed an article about the experiment, and it was duly picked up by other papers across both Britain and Europe.

The articles were, and this will shock those of you who believe that the media getting it all bass ackwards is a new concept, ill informed. They claimed that Crosse was this maniacal scientist hell bent on world domination by creating a race of super bred mutant mites. OK not really. But they did leave the reader with the impression that Crosse claimed to be able to create life as easily as most people wake up in the morning (Gee Note: I say most people. If you're me, waking up in the morning is really hard. Because, you know, bed's comfy).

After these articles, Crosse began receiving hate mail accusing him of blasephmy, and every once in a while a death threat (Gee Note: Yes because murdering another human in cold blood is exactly what Jesus would do). A local Reverened by the name of Phillip Smith was so incensed he started to campaign to have an exorcism performed on Crosse's country estate. Admist the controversy the London's Electrical Society commisioned W. H. Weeks to repeat the experiment. Which he did. To his astonishment Weeks reported the same results, insects and all. The Electrical Society kept the report to themselves however, aware of the backlash against Crosse and afraid to be tarnished by the same brush.

Crosse kept his head low until the storm died down and, when it did, carried with things as normal. He lived a relatively happy life until the age of 66 when he died of a stroke. In the time between those two points he was an advocate of education for the lower classes, served as a magistrate, and remarried after his first wife's death in 1846.

Since his departure from this existence, Crosse's experiments have been hotly debated. Several have tried to repeat the experiment, most notably Henry Snoad, but none have managed to duplicate either Crosse's or Weeks results. Nowadays most agree that, at least in Crosse's case, the scientific instruments used were probably contaminated by dust mites or cheese mite (Gee Note: Which don't actually taste of cheese, despite their name. I know, I was dissappointed when I found that out as well).

But on the off chance that Crosse did in fact perform a miracle, then there is at least one piece of good news. The insects have already been named Acarus Crossii in his honour despite the fact that they may not even exist.

And I think that's a fitting tribute to the man. It's much better than being laughed at on national television anyway.


Naveed said...

*rushes off to zap rock with electricity*

Patricia said...

Good article. I think the TV is full of junk on Christmas because people are either off to the movies or they've rented the latest DVD. I think few people actually watch regular programing, so why waste the good stuff on the few?