From dolphins to torpedo fish

The dolphins ‘belong’ to Nick Green, from earlier on Thursday, while the torpedo fish – much to my surprise – turned up in the Michael Faraday launch talk by Professor Frank James in the evening. It’s not as outlandish as it seems. The fish can generate electricity in some form, and that’s something Faraday was interested in.

Professor Frank James

The serendipity I have mentioned led us to the London launch of Faraday’s letters, and more serendipity still provided a half hour interview with Frank James before the event at IET. That’s when my common sense kicked in, and I said we’d love to, but that any interviewing had better be done by the Faraday descendants, because they might understand what it was all about. There is only so much pretending I can manage.

So the Photographer and the Resident IT Consultant shared out the time between them, and very pleasant it was to sit back and just enjoy the talk. For me. All in all it was one of my more relaxed interviews. Good questions were asked, and interesting answers from Frank means we have something to look forward to reading (when someone else has typed it all up).

Michael Faraday

Earlier in the day the Resident IT Consultant had hared off to Highgate cemetery, only to be fobbed off by the forced guided paid for tours of the place. So, no grave photograph. We do have the Faraday statue from outside the IET to offer instead.

Faraday descendants

We’d barely been introduced to Frank when the Resident IT Consultant whipped out the family tree to show him. Our bit, since clearly someone who has spent 25 years on Faraday will have seen something of trees already. Later on Frank introduced us to someone who’s not called Blaikley, but who was descended from one, and who had his own family tree to brandish. So there they were, comparing trees, and seeing where they might connect. (As a mere outsider, I gather this non-Blaikley gentleman is the cousin of the people who lived near great aunt A and were her support in the years before she died.)

Michael Faraday

My Photographer was able to take pictures of the exhibits of old letters, including one where Faraday had written first in one direction and then the other, apparently to save on paper. That’s not all she did. Picking up freebies was equally important, and I have to say that the photo of Faraday on those bookmarks is disturbingly similar to what the Grandfather looked like (if you disregard the hair style).

The archivist at IET mentioned they had wanted to do Faraday tweets, but found that he was always rather lengthy and that tweets would so not have been his style. (Now, who does that remind me of?) She thought blogging would have been more Faraday’s thing. (That sounds about right.)

There were copies of The Complete Corresponcence of Michael Faraday for sale, or rather, to look at, with a view to ordering. I was awfully tempted, because £315 is a pretty good price for what’s a lot more elsewhere. Common sense prevailed, however.

The Complete Correspondence of Michael Faraday

After drinks and some very agreeable canapés it was time for the talk from Frank. He admitted that if he’d known he was in for 25 years of research he might have had second thoughts, but reckoned he’d still have gone ahead. Ten years was his first estimate.

The talk centred on Faraday’s religion, the Sandemanians. They don’t sound particularly easygoing, but it’s an interesting subject nevertheless. Frank gave a brief background to Faraday’s early life, how after seven years of learning book binding, he left it to study science. For someone so seemingly sensible it was a surprise to hear that Faraday looked into seances – scientifically, of course – and that his work covered both lighthouses and the torpedo fish.

Faraday letter

Ada Lovelace was an acquaintance (we saw one of her letters), and it seems that Mary Shelley’s father William Godwin was a Sandemanian friend of Faraday’s (so the Frankenstein connection has almost come full circle this week).

After Frank James’s talk, philosopher Mark Vernon presented his rather different point of view on science and religion, which when it came to question time almost led to blows between members of the well informed* audience and Mark. Almost. So it was a good thing when we could all troop out for more drinks and nibbles.

Had we not had a train to catch I’d still have been there eating cheesy breadsticks.

*I have to say I didn’t entirely understand the questions, but they did seem to have a lot of opinions.


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