A geologist, a biologist and an accountant were having a drink in a bar…

If you‘ve succumbed to the questionable temptation to read more than one of these geoblogs, you might have noticed that there’s always a little hook in the previous one so it can segue to the next. The hook last time was a link between geology and literature - the Popping Stone.

Links like that one reminded me of a game, well more a pre-dinner conversation about connections, that was occasionally played in the end-of-the-day bar at conferences and workshops. Multi-disciplinary projects meant we geologists would regularly meet with biologists, oceanographers, atmospheric scientists, and of course there were IT specialists and accountants too. 

The real purpose of the game was to prove to your colleagues how relevant and worthy your profession was. So the others would throw a subject at you and you had to demonstrate a link. For brevity and to protect the innocent, and of course to big-up rocks, I’ve fictionalised and summarised the next bit. There’s a geologist, a biologist and a finance guy (sounds like the start of a joke)...  

Guess what they've got in common? - Ian Jackson

Image by: Ian Jackson

The geologist is in the hot seat. The first subject they throw at him is...Cutlery - easy, steel needs iron, needs ore, needs geologist to find it. Coffee cup - ceramic, needs clay. Window - glass, silica sand. You get the idea. But then they start to get tricky and the answers need a bit of lateral thinking. Music - Hebrides Overture, Fingal’s Cave, basalt columns. Mobile phone - needs a battery, needs lithium. Dentist (where did that come from?) - toothpaste needs limestone. Religion - James Hutton producing rational evidence to prove that Bishop Ussher was wrong and Creation didn’t happen on the weekend of 23rd October 4004BC. Poetry - W H Auden’s poem In Praise of Limestone. Alcohol - groundwater is a big influence on the taste of beer, wines have their terroir. Hollywood - easy, how many movies do you want? The Day After Tomorrow, Jurassic Park, Journey to the Centre of the Earth. 

If you ever fancy a walk on this theme of relevance try Haltwhistle to Cawfields Quarry up the burn and back. It’s a joy for naturalists of all persuasions but in a few hundred metres you’ll see quarries for sandstone, kilns for limestone, shale for bricks, coal mines for fuel, and even the gentle path you are treading used to be a little steam rail line to haul Whin Sill dolerite down from Cawfields.

I digress; the geologist steps down contentedly having proved how pervasive his profession is. But it’s not long before the biologist is scoring freely, with no ‘passes’.  Art - pencils and paper. Red Bull - sugar cane/beet. Cricket - willow for the bat. Cars - rubber for the tyres. Bath tub - loofah. Headache - aspirin derived from the acid in willow bark. She could go on forever.

The finance guy is looking relaxed, even smug. “Do you really need me to play this game?” he says, “money is fundamental to absolutely everything.”  His natural science companions exchange glances. Not everything they say. Money has no guaranteed link to happiness, but being in nature does. And if there’s one thing that has become readily apparent during this pandemic a lot more people are relating to that.

Well enough philosophy for today, my wife is already calling me Aesop and that I should call these missives fables, not blogs. But that mention of Haltwhistle and it owing its origin to natural resources has given me an idea about a more prosaic story, one about a true northern forest that stretched from Alnwick to Alston. Bet you can’t wait?