Corpses coming to life

They take Halloween really seriously round here. Houses get covered with fake cobwebs, there are tombstones in people’s gardens, and skeletons dangle from trees. Folk wished me “happy halloween” on the way home, and urged me to make sure I had enough candy in the house. The weather changed right on cue. After four warm bright and dry months I found myself walking home in the gathering gloom and a blustery wind, with the smell of coming rain in the air. I could hear distant cackling. What about this “trick or treat” thing ? Did I have a choice ? If I say “trick” , do my windows get smeared with blood ?

I was somewhat prepared. Although “trick or treat” is rare in England, something similar is normal in Scotland, where it is called “guising”. As explained here on Wikipedia, the main difference is that in Scotland the kids are expect to perform (sing a song etc) to get the sweeties. When the kidlums came to my door and I asked if they were going to sing, they were a tad puzzled. Oops. On the other hand, they don’t do the November 5th Guy Fawkes thing in Scotland. (Or America of course..) I remember asking friends when we first moved to Scotland why they didn’t celebrate Guy Fawkes night, and got an odd stare. “Well”, they explained patiently, “we don’t really see that burning Catholics is that much fun”. Ahh. See what you mean.

Anyhoo. All seems quiet in science politics land. The STFC earthquakes have ceased rumbling. The Wakeham report, having exploded with all the force of a suburban Roman Candle, has fizzled out in the drizzle. All is darkness and silence. But wait ! As midnight arrives, the corpse comes back to life

Can anybody tell me what prompted this non-story ? And who are these “leading physicists” anyway ? Am I missing something important out here on the Western Rim of the World ?

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20 Responses to Corpses coming to life

  1. Kav says:

    Bill Wakeham gave a presentation at the IoP with a discussion bit afterwards. I missed the talk and have no idea what went on but I know the BBC were planning on being there.

    As to why they are covering it, I suppose that they think there is still mileage in the story – let’s face it I suspect the community is quiet more through battle fatigue and grudging acceptance of our current lot rather than satisfaction in the way things are going. The BBC is probably picking up on that.

    I’m not sure when you last read the article Andy, originally I don’t recall many folks being named but I now see that it mentions several distinguished professors by name.

    In other news it seems the STFC corporate strategy consultation will begin in December and a framework has been put out. I know I am not alone in enjoying the opening paragraph.

  2. Kav says:

    Halloween was one of the things that bugged me in America when I lived there. It’s a real culture shock when you encounter the American celebration for the first time.

    Being back in the UK for the past 4 years I have noticed an upswing in Trick-or-Treating. It goes beyond the group of grubby lads who used to extort with menace in my street when I was younger. Costumes are more elaborate and there is a definite family feel to the proceedings.

    I left it to my wife to answer the door this year; I don’t think she was impressed at my shouting from the kitchen: “It’s crass comercialization of a pagan festival! Oh and you’ll all burn in hell!”

  3. andyxl says:

    Kav : (1) you are the grinch who stole Halloween !!! (2) I will do my standard Scottish thing and point out that when you say “UK” you mean “England”. In fact, one of the many things guaranteed to annoy Scots is English folk visiting around Halloween who say “Tsk ! All that American stuff is even here now.” No. Excuse me. We’ve been doing this for hundreds of years. (3) Many thanks for the link to the STFC strategy doc. It makes more sense if you understand that “stakeholders” does not mean “the community of university scientists” but “the S&I campuses, the Universities as coroporate entities, other quangos, etc”

  4. Iain Steele says:

    By “Scotland” you actually mean “the North of the UK”. Growing up in the North East of England we always went out on Halloween with turnip lanterns and a poem collecting money. There was no concept of a “trick” however. As the one who was “good at maths” my job was always dividing up the money!

  5. ian smail says:

    …just back from the hatchet job which astronomy grants panel has become (“of all your limbs and head, which would you most like to keep?” see: it is like halloween – but without the possibility of coming back to life after we’ve cut off the appendages).

    it was markedly less pleasant this round because we knew we had to cut from the start – and then just for entertainment they added uncertainty by adding £9M of uncommitted funding with a limited shelf-life to the mix. what do you do with ~£4M of astro funding which has to go by 2010 and shouldn’t leave you with any long-term commitments? no – i asked that question before and was told FEC – which i guess is one solution. but i doubt its the one STFC executive will decide upon.

    anyway – for those members of the astro community who think they’ve gone away – the 25% cuts are still in there – until STFC decides where the new money is going (and whether they’re willing to use it to fund lines which run beyond 2010) – there’s no other way to plan. and even then ~£4M spread over 3 rounds doesn’t amount to a hill-of-beans (a term i’m sure AXL is now cogent of).

    and just to reopen another old thread. i *really* don’t see the point in PI’s asking for large increases to their funding in the current situation. i can appreciate that people want to put forward their “best” science – but asking for 3-5x current commitment on a rolling grant simply highlights that they are unable to identify their own priorities and want the grants panel to make that decision for them… hardly giving the PIs top marks for management. if they want to play the apple-bobbing approach to grants – then they should unroll and try for standards (see i knew i could bring in another halloween reference).

  6. Phil Uttley says:

    Also being from the north of England (the western bit this time), I second Iain in saying that we had been bobbing for apples and scooping out turnips for donkeys years before any of this supposed ‘American’ take over of ‘English’ halloween (by English, read: the south). And while we are railing about national confusions I’ll have a pop at all the southern softies who think Birmingham is “north” and anything further south is the entirety of England. And while I’m on the topic bear in mind that (in their traditional borders) both Lancashire and Yorkshire *each* have populations the same as Scotland…

  7. Kav says:

    Andy, mea culpa.

    We also had trick or treat in the north-west of England when I was growing up but my perspective is that it has grown in significance in recent years.

    Ian, the problem with your view that PIs should be prioritising is that the PIs will go into the system thinking that no matter what they put in there will be a cut applied. Rightly or wrongly.

    So common sense dictates that they push for more in the ‘knowledge ‘ that if they put in only their high priorities they would still get cut. Now I can see your point if they are asking for 3-5x the current commitment (with zero change in their academic staffing level of course), but again it depends how they perceive the cuts to be applied.

    If one assumes that the cuts will be applied against the worst science then a PI who has high confidence in their proposal (as they should if they are submitting it) ought to bid for as much as they can justify. It *might* be that another PI will submit a worse overall proposal and be de-rolled and then funds would be available to cover the superior proposal.

    From those two standpoints I cannot see why a PI should not bid for as much as possible. It would be bad management to do otherwise.

  8. They do celebrate Halloween in the Harry Potter books, so there have to be some people in England who celebrate it. Here in NJ, I and a friend went as Pluto and Persephone to our astronomy club celebration. Even though we pretty much wore generic Greek god and goddess costumes, everyone easily guessed who we were. I wonder why? 🙂

    I don’t know what would happen if you open the door to trick or treaters and say “trick,” but I guarantee that if you told one of the many Pluto lovers in this country that you would reverse your 2006 IAU vote against Pluto, you might end up being the recipient of a lot of candy–and gratitude!

  9. telescoper says:

    The Halloween thing is interesting. I was born in Newcastle and we certainly didn’t celebrate it then when I was a kid as I mentioned in my blog last week, although some scottish invaders lived nearby who did celebrate it with turnips. There was definitely no trick-or-treat down our way.

    And, by the way, neither Yorkshire nor Lancashire is in the North! Durham isn’t either.

    I was surprised on Saturday morning to find the Radio 3 news had a story lamenting the cuts in physics funding – usually its only opera houses and orchestras that get a mention there, but there wasn’t much coverage of the story in the newspapers.

  10. Paul Crowther says:

    Mischief night (“celebrated” on Oct 30th) was more the thing in Yorkshire a few decades back, rather than Halloween. These days getting chocolates handed out for dressing up as a monster seems to be preferred to behaving like little monsters, at least amongst the pre-teens.

    BBC science journos have persevered with the physics funding saga, unlike the national
    press who are more preoccupied by much more important matters such as prank phone calls from BBC comedians.

  11. telescoper says:

    Thinking a bit further about this, and factoring in the fact that I now subscribe to The Oldie, I realise Halloween in England might be more time-dependent than space-dependent…

  12. andyxl says:

    I feel schizophrenic now, as I am simultaneously paranoid Scot (lived there for fifteen years now) and snobby Southerner (born in Kent). Just to complicate it even more, my grandfather was from the Shetlands, which isn’t really Scotland either. They think they are Norweigian. Come the New Year they march down to the beach and burn boats, and I believe no candy is involved.

  13. Michael Merrifield says:

    As a Man of Kent (not to be confused with those dreadful Kentish Men from the wrong side of the Medway), I can confirm that Halloween was celebrated there as far back as the late 1960s, with apple bobbing, ghosts and jack-o-lanterns. We tended to hold off on serious legitimized begging until Guy Fawkes, though.

  14. andyxl says:

    Mike – how strange. I too am a Man of Kent and spit on those mere Kentish Men, but don’t remember any Halloween Festivities at all. Mind you, I am not one your trendy Dover or Maidstone types, but a troglodyte from the Isle of Thanet, which is basically a sea of cabbages surrounded by ticky tacky houses. Maybe we were just culturally challenged in Margate.

  15. Michael Merrifield says:

    Maybe my parents were just weird! My father was deeply into ritual behaviour and folk magic in an academic kind of way (he was an archaeologist, and can lay claim to be largely responsible for the current tendency to assign a ritual meaning to anything that gets dug up these days — I refer you to this rather strange fan site), so he could just have been experimenting on his children.

  16. John says:

    Laurel: J K Rowling wrote the HP books while living in Scotland. Anyway, there are many things that happen in the books – flying on broomsticks for example – that I’m pretty sure no-one in England (or anywhere else in the UK) actually does.

    Andy: Did you get to visit any haunted houses? Some folks round here went to amazing lengths – one house we visited had a gorilla in a cage hidden in one dark corner of a room. It would lurk out of sight until the unwary got within a foot of the bars….

    All lots of fun, commercial or not.

  17. andyxl says:

    No haunted houses unless you count the local Republican HQ.

  18. David says:

    John has clearly never encountered my erstwhile mother-in-law.

  19. David says:

    “Flying on broomsticks”, Andy. I was bringing the corpse of an old joke back to life.

    Or not, apparently.

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