Thursday, 5 January 2012

365 Reasons To Be Proud To Be British: William Smith


January 5th: William Smith discovers the principle of faunal succession. Sort of.

I studied geography. In primary school, I yomped through all the 'Countries Of The World' worksheets so my teacher had to make up more for me to complete. Hence my arcane knowledge of the Gabonese Republic. Who really do have a president called Ali Bongo.

The upside of studying geography was, of course, the field trips. Industrial cider shared with girls who didn't speak your language but understood your intentions. In far-flung places. Like Swansea.

The downside of studying geography? A year of the physical. Standing in freezing rivers with flow meters. Pretending to understand how to use a theodolite. Collecting rocks on a beach that wasn't even fit for naval bombardment. And drawing geological maps. Endless, soul-destroying, pointless geological maps.

Not that I blame the father of English geology, William Smith. Big on fossils, was Smith. On January 5th 1796 he noted "that wonderful order and regularity with which nature has disposed of these singular productions, and assigned to each class its peculiar stratum". Date the fossil, date the layer. Map the layer. And force A-level students to spend sunny Wednesdays slaving over colour-pencil reproductions.

Actually, it was one of our teachers who had taken it upon himself to force us into a syllabus last taught pre-war. He was, I believe, invited to leave the school soon after. Which meant we got a replacement; an ecologically-sound frizzy-haired hotty with an American accent and a dazzling cleavage.

Which taught me a valuable lesson. Don't blame history; just get even with it.


By Simon Johnson with 1 comment

1 comments:

I found myself studying A Level geography in 1995, the field trip location was Malton, the tipple was Hoffmeister and the boy/girl ratio was not favourable. We dug trenches, we stood in fast flowing water, we were turned over by the other residents of our bunk house accomodation...I lost a wallet along with its contents of £5 and my provisional driving licence. What did I learn? I learnt that David Waugh did not have all the answers.

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