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I’ve been to visit ‘Faith and Science’

‘Faith and Science’ is a small exhibit which forms part of Sunderland Art Gallery’s permanent collection. It gathers works by contemporary glass artists which represent aspects of, well, faith and science.

I very nearly walked straight past this—it’s positioned very close to the door—but two works caught my eye.

This remarkably prescient 2018 sculptural triptych by Luke Jerram illustrates the electron micrographic appearance of smallpox, HIV and an “untitled future mutation” with a more-than-passing resemblance to COVID-19.

In his statement, Jerram asks, “Has this virus been created in the laboratory or evolved naturally?”

Jerram is perhaps better known for his giant sculptures of the moon and the Earth (the latter currently floating in a dock at Canary Wharf)—who knew that he also basically predicted the pandemic?! He has also since made artworks of both the COVID-19 virus and one of the vaccines.

This 2005 triptych by Katharine Dowson demonstrating mitosis also caught my eye. Interestingly enough, Dowson has also created work inspired by vaccines: in her case, A Window to a Future of an HIV Vaccine.

This post was filed under: Art, Post-a-day 2023, , , , .

I’ve been to visit ‘Black Britain’ by Jhanee Wilkins

‘Black Britain’ was originally—in much rougher form—a blog created by Jhanee Wilkins, a photographer from the West Midland. It’s now an exhibition at the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art.

The exhibition has a simple, repeating structure. Each series begins with an A4 page of text in which a black person introduces themselves and their experience of racism while growing up and living in Britain. This is followed by a photograph of them looking directly at the camera, one of them looking elsewhere, and a third of an object from their lives.

There is something deeply affecting about staring directly into the eyes of a person immediately after reading about their experience of racism. I was moved by the experience of Kae, born in Wolverhampton, who says,

I do not feel represented in this country, I do not feel welcome even after 42 years.

I can only begin to imagine, and certainly can’t fully appreciate, how fundamentally destabilising it must be to feel unwelcome in the country where you were born and have lived your whole life.

I was struck in a complete different way by Anne Marie’s story:

I think mainly, in the workplace that’s where I find that it is awkward for me to completely be myself. If I would like to bring my own food into work to heat up in the staff room, there’s a whole load of questions about what I’m heating up or the smell of it.

This reminded me of how privileged I am to not have to live with self-consciousness about this sort of thing, and to be able to go through life barely giving it a second thought.

‘Black Britain’ continues at the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art until 16 April.

This post was filed under: Art, Post-a-day 2023, Travel, , , .

I’ve been to visit ‘Pyrex100’

Pyrex, the thermally resistant glass, used to be made in Sunderland. In fact, between 1922 and 2007, all Pyrex sold across the commonwealth—excepting Canada—was made in Sunderland. You’ve probably got a bit of Sunderland in your home right now.

The city is proud of this heritage, and so Sunderland Museum has created Pyrex100—an exhibition to celebrate a century since the start of manufacture in the city.

When I think of Pyrex, I think of glass measuring jugs. I was therefore unsurprised to see that the earliest Pyrex manufactured in Sunderland was a range of clear glassware. I had no idea, though, that glass teapots were a thing in the 1920s and 1930s.

Around this time, Pyrex was also a pioneer in marketing products directly to householders—mostly housewives at that time—rather than to their household staff. It’s sometimes startling to be reminded of the pace of societal change over the last century.

Though the designs of these pieces look suspiciously familiar, I was also unaware of Opalware. These were products made of Pyrex, and therefore strong and heat-resistant, but designed to look like china. They don’t look like they’d fool anyone, but I’m not convinced that I’d immediately pick them out as glass.

The crockery we use in our house is made of reclaimed offcuts of glass products: I thought this was a really novel idea when we bought them, but clearly I’m 70 years behind the times.

Commemorative Pyrex was a thing, too: here’s a 1966 World Cup commemorative glass. I would perhaps have expected to see this sort of thing in crystal, but seeing it in Pyrex maybe illustrates that Pyrex was once desirable in a similar way.

And this is the last bit of Pyrex ever made in the UK, which rolled off the production line as the factory closed in 2007. As this was the last commercial glassware factory in Sunderland, this also brought to an end something like 1,500 years of glassmaking history in the city.

You might, like me, have assumed that the word Pyrex shares the Greek root pyr (fire) with pyrexia and, indeed, funeral pyre, given that its main property is heat resistance, and it is glass forged in a fire. But this exhibition made me wonder about the ‘ex’, and so I came home and looked it up.

And prepare to clutch your pearls because—amazingly—the brand has nothing to do with pyr and everything to do with pies.

The Oxford English Dictionary quotes the original company’s assistant secretary as saying:

The word ‘pyrex’ is a purely arbitrary word which was devised in 1915 as a trade-mark for products manufactured and sold by Corning Glass Works… We had a number of prior trade-marks ending in the letters ‘ex’. One of the first commercial products to be sold under the new mark was a pie plate and in the interests of euphonism the letter ‘r’ was inserted between ‘pie’ and ‘ex’ and the whole thing condensed to ‘pyrex’.

It just goes to show that you can never rely on etymological assumptions.

Pyrex100 continues at Sunderland Museum… but it ends on Saturday, so you need to get there quick if you want to see it.

This post was filed under: Art, Museums, Post-a-day 2023, Travel, , , .

30 things I learned in November 2019

1: It feels great, if a little anticlimactic, to finally be able to delete “Locum” from my email signature.

2: The North Shields Fish Quay has really smartened up since Wendy and I last visited. It would be nice to live somewhere with a river view, if only it didn’t have to be near a river.

3: Going to Ikea for the 10.30 Sunday browsing opening time isn’t a successful crowd avoidance strategy.

4: Barriers between healthcare organisations can make simple things—like arranging urgent vaccinations—more difficult than they ought to be. Perhaps someone should invent some sort of national health service which provides care based on need rather than budgets, contract provisions and organisational mission statements.

5: Telling patients that they look far too young to have donated blood 61 times makes them want to go back and donate again as soon as possible to receive more flattery.

6: Sometimes, people who use irritating business chatter do actually understand what they’re on about.

7: Business planning isn’t my bag.

8: Th Guardian Daily app doesn’t work properly on Kindle tablets.

9: Loud Christmas music in coffee shops makes settling down with a coffee and a good book difficult. Headphones and white noise on Spotify are an imperfect and antisocial solution.

10: It’s not easy being green: should I buy second-hand books and support the planet or new books and support the author?

11: Durham County Council has meeting rooms with quite spectacular coastal views in Seaham:

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12: Dementia friendly parking spaces are now a thing… at least in Hemlington:

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13: “At this time of year, it is not uncommon for viruses including influenza and norovirus to circulate in schools. The risk of infection can be reduced by practising good hand hygiene, particularly after using the toilet, after using a tissue to catch a cough or a sneeze, and before eating.”

14: Our TV needs re-tuning. Broadcasts are moving away from the 700MHz band of frequencies to free up spectrum for mobile data instead. Given the profitability of mobile data services and the proliferation of home broadband (especially in the context of PSTN switch-off), I wonder how long over-the-air television broadcast have left?

15: Arguments opposing the Public Libraries Act 1850 included a Conservative view that people “have too much knowledge already” and that “the more education people get the more difficult they are to manage.” In fairness, I suppose people now carry the sum of human knowledge in their pockets and do have a tendency to be rebel against authoritarian control, so perhaps he had a point.

16: The TLS has relaunched with a rather stylish new look. Dr Brian Klass’s comparison of politics in Trump’s America and that in Brexit Britain through the medium of cheese was a particular highlight of this issue for me.

17: Coffee shop Christmas music irritates Wendy even more than me. It’s depressing, or so I’m told.

18: A replacement wing mirror for a 2009 Aygo costs less than £50. I was expecting a much bigger bill after someone completely snapped mine off (and didn’t leave a note!)

19: The brand new Sunderland medical school has some impressive facilities.

20: Colleagues at Middlesbrough Council taught me that routine air quality monitoring still uses diffusion tubes fixed to lampposts; people have to go up in cherry pickers to change the tubes every month.

21: Research into treatments for interstitial lung disease includes a lot of discussion about disease taxonomy and the problem of lumping and splitting: considering diagnoses with the same underlying pathology together (lumping) or as distinct entities (splitting).

22: Cleveland Fire Brigade taught me about their Stay Safe and Warm free one-hour response service for boiler breakdowns where they lend people emergency electric heaters.

23: A wet and dreary Saturday can be a good prompt to light the fire and relax at home.

24: I didn’t know that Sheffield had a hybrid tram-train system until I read this Wired article.

25: Purdah rules can be really annoying sometimes, especially when I’ve done a lot of work to prepare for a meeting I’m no longer able to attend.

26: I thought I learned the etymology of the word “syndrome” after it was featured in a lecture. Yet after thinking about it for a while, the suggestion that it was derived from words for “before” and “diagnosis” didn’t ring true, so I looked it up in the OED online. The lecture version was thus proven to be completely wrong, so I suppose I learned not to take the content of lectures on trust.

27: Only a decade late to the party, I learned that Ecosia—the search engine that plants trees—is a thing.

28: People really don’t know what I do all day. This month, in my health protection role, a meeting of vascular surgeons has invited me to talk about knife crime, a univeristy course has asked me to teach about rural medicine, and a meeting of intensivists has invited me to present on recreational drug toxicology. They may be disappointed at me turning down their kind invitations, but they’d be far more disappointed if I accepted given that I know naff all about any of those topics.

29: Via Lana Greene’s column in 1843, I leaned of the German word “Multioptionsgesellschaft”. It was apparently coined by Peter Gross, a Swiss sociologist, in the early 1990s. It refers to a world swamped by choice, which feels very current: I frequently open Netflix for something to watch and close it a few minutes later with the resignation of not being able to decide.

30: I heard a snippet of a radio programme in which an older person was being interviewed and the subject of loneliness among the elderly came up. The interviewee suggested that while lots of attention has been paid to loneliness recently, too little has been paid to the loss of solitude for many other older people, such as those in care homes. I’d never heard that point made before, and I suspect it will stick with me: solitude is something very important to me.

This post was filed under: Posts delayed by 12 months, Things I've learned, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Photo-a-day 347: Sunderland University


This is the building I was heading to in Sunderland yesterday… I did eventually arrive!

This post was filed under: Photo-a-day 2012, .

Photo-a-day 316: Sunderland Aquatic Centre


Several people have suggested in the last few weeks that I should visit Sunderland Aquatic Centre, on the basis of its “incredible” facilities. So I have, and was duly impressed.

It’s the only 50m pool between Edinburgh and Leeds, and also has a set of 1m, 2m, and 5m diving boards above their own diving pool. Both pools have variable depths.

I’ve never seen a variable-depth pool “in the flesh” before, and was duly impressed! It was somewhat disconcerting to see toddler swims as happening in the diving pool until I realised that the depth is reduced to just 30cm for these sessions. It seems incredible that a 4m diving pool can be reduced to a depth of 30cm at a whim! It reminded me that when I’m a multi-millionaire, I want one of these in my mansion!

This post was filed under: Photo-a-day 2012, .

Photo-a-day 169: Tyne Riverside Country Park


I featured Weetslade Country Park as my photo-a-day picture in both April and May, as it’s probably our nearest Country Park.

Today’s picture comes from the Tyne Riverside Country Park, which is another green space owed to our industrial heritage – it’s another landscaped ex-colliery, but this one sits on the bank of the Tyne. It’s really quite lovely, and there are lots of picnic spots if you’re that way inclined. I imagine it gets pretty cold and windy in the winter, though!

I had thought that this was the third of the North East’s Country Parks that I’d featured, because I thought I’d featured Herrington Country Park back in February, but I actually gave that day over to the Penshaw Monument next door. So, for the purposes of boosting the numbers, here’s a shot of Herrington Country Park from 11th February, as seen from next to the Penshaw Monument (it’s the bit across the road).


As it’s Father’s Day, and dad’s a twitcher, I’ll point out that at Riverside you can see water rails, cormorants, and goosanders (according to the council); at Herrington, you might spot black terns or marsh warblers (according to the Fog Blog); and at Weetslade, you could see meadow pipits or grey partridges (according to the Northumberland Wildlife Trust). As a non-twitcher, I wouldn’t know any of those birds if they flew into me!

This post was filed under: Photo-a-day 2012, , , .

Photo-a-day 42: The Penshaw Monument (and a cow)


Wendy was quite insistent that today’s photo should feature one of the many cows we came across while out and about today, so I’ve included one in this shot (bottom left)!

And here’s another shot of the Penshaw Monument, a little closer up:


This post was filed under: Photo-a-day 2012, , , , .

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