Through the microscope

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Drawn by my daughter (14)

Creativity and mental illness (rant)

My PhD superviser,  was known to a great many people for being rude. A visiting speaker once came to our Institute and announced that he was “The Rudest Man in Science”. I think he probably is. I’ve not met anyone nastier than him and I have not led a sheltered life. I watch the TV programme House and chuckle because Gregory House is supposed to a very rude man. My PhD supervisor was several orders worse. A vile human being. He was into psychological warfare, too smart for violence. He belittled people, he was obstructive, he humiliated people, he tried to make people look and feel stupid, he criticised them personally and professionally and he got punched on at least two occasions that I know of. He had complaint letters pinned on the wall from people he had insulted at conferences and he was proud of them. He was never racist or sexist any other -ist. He was a scientist and to hate someone for their race or sex would be illogical. he wasn’t insecure, he just enjoyed hurting people.

Most of the PhD students he was responsible for left before completing because he offered no support and bullied them. I went to other labs to get the help and information I needed. I knew everyone in the Institute and a lot of people at other Institutes and Universities. I trotted off to Oxford to learn how to section for microscopy, I phoned and emailed people all around the world. He considered this a failing, I considered it to be standing on the shoulders of giants.

Everyone who helped me came under fire. Anyone who helped me was a has-been or a wanker or a washed-up idiot.  I found myself an unofficial supervisor, a very pleasant human being who I still speak to on Facebook, he also happened to be my supervisor’s biggest rival. My unofficial supervisor read my thesis, he supported me, he organised and attended my viva voce. He was the reason I made it through. The day I was awarded my PhD the supervisor I had ditched came marching into the office to ask me to prove I could make a 1 molar solution because he didn’t believe I could do it. Not that it ever stopped him using my buffers…

Although he was a pathetic excuse for a human being he was a brilliant scientist. He still is a brilliant scientist. He’s now a Professor at Rothamsted Research Institute working on GM oil crops. I’m sure his work is as brilliant as ever but I shall never understand why a man as talented and intelligent as him felt the need to be so mean. If I saw a news article stating that he had falsified data I wouldn’t believe it. I hate the man but I have the utmost respect for him a scientist. Genius or madman? Genius. He wasn’t mentally ill. If I believed he was it would be easier to cope with.

Which brings me to the subject of madness and creativity. Lots of psychological studies have concluded that people with serious mental illnesses such as bipolar are creative and/or highly intelligent. I’m not convinced for several reasons.

1) Most of these studies are retrospective. They look at well known historical figures and diagnose them with mental illness or sanity posthumously. The history books have taken very little notice of scientists or women. There are (relatively) few biographies of great scientists and few of women which makes comparison tricky. The data is dodgy and that’s without touching on culture.

2) Not all eccentric behaviour is a symptom of mental illness yet mentally ill people can be eccentric. An eccentric person may behave strangely when well and when unwell. Not all bad behaviour occurs because of mental illness (even in the mentally ill). It’s very hard to diagnose anyone posthumously. Isaac Newton may have suffered from severe depression or he may have been a cantankerous old goat. Perhaps he suffered from mental ill health and he was a cantankerous old goat too? How will my PhD supervisor be viewed by history?

3) Most of these studies compare artists with scientists. Why? They are not comparing creative with non-creative. Why assume scientists to be less creative? Look around and tell me that scientists aren’t creative! We have space probes, we have information pouring into our homes, we have medicine and technology and these people are saying science is lacking creativity? I beg to differ. All we lack is flying cars and that’s debatable. They are comparing creativity of one kind with creativity of another kind and claiming one kind is more creative. That’s subjective. All you can conclude from most of the research is that based on dodgy data gathered posthumously, artistic people are more likely to be crazy than scientists. You can’t conclude that creative people are more likely to be mentally ill by comparing creative people with other creative people.  Even if you modernise and compare living artists with living scientists there are pitfalls. There’s a strong possibility that mentally ill scientists are less likely to succeed in their field than mentally ill artists. Long hours, a great deal of study required  and almost certainly less tolerant of the mentally ill. A different culture.

4) There are plenty of intellectually less able people with mental health problems. I have worked with kids who have special needs. Kids who can’t read or write well and who never will’ kids who lack abstract thought. Kids with Down’s Syndrome for example. They’re never going to top the IQ charts and few of them are creative in the psychological survey sense of the word but they are still people with (for want of a better word) – souls. They can still suffer from depression, PTSD, hallucinations. They can still feel mental anguish.

5) Very few scientists are Philistines and very few artists are Luddites – even my nasty PhD supervisor collected art deco pottery. As technology marches on the distance between art and science decreases. We create for each other. Computer programmers designing photo editing software. I rest my case.

I’m not anti-psychiatry. I’m a big fan. I’m not against the investigations and studies but they have to be done properly. posthumous diagnosis and viewing artists and scientists as opposites is silly. Art and science have a great deal in common. I wouldn’t want to be without either.


Evenings at the Microscope by P.H. Gosse

Evenings at the Microscope by P.H. Gosse

I’ve been a little bit naughty. I’ve wanted a copy of this for a long time. It was written in 1874, it’s not a very rare book – I have seen it for sale on eBay and on AbeBooks and other sites popular with book worms on numerous occasions. I could have waited a bit longer but I didn’t. I’ve always thought it must be a very interesting book to have at hand and I reckon it will give me plenty of ideas and help keep me focussed.

The microscope nerds on the microscope nerd forum have been talking about having a monthly theme which I think is a marvellous idea. I have a feeling that this monthly theme thingy will start well but fizzle out because nerds are …well, they’re nerds. They can get very passionate and obsessive about something and nothing will stop them pursuing that interest.
If the theme is not what they are interested in at that time then the theme can go hang. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with this at all. It’s what makes nerdy people so interesting.


I also follow my own interests, but I think that a theme, or a handy book from 1874, will help me focus when I’m unsure what I want to do. Usually this happens because I am overwhelmed with ideas and not because I lack them so in actual fact it could just make it all a great deal worse!

There’s another possibility of course. There’s a possibility, a slight chance, that I am trying to justify my purchase of an attractive old book. Maybe I am not being entirely honest with myself? Here goes some honesty:

I wanted the fine, attractive, old book so I bought it!

That wasn’t so hard to admit was it, Penelope?

The finished bag!

The bag is finished. I very much enjoyed making it. Next I am going to make a Wonder Woman bag for my lovely neighbour.

Oh, and I have to play with some diatoms too. I’m pretty much in love with life at the moment.

Live long and prosper, humanoids!





The world map quilt is finished, I’m almost finished with the bag and I have a new stereomicroscope.

I have so many wonderful things to do. 

I plan to make more bags, the first one has come out so well, I’m delighted. My lovely neighbour, who helps me out and keeps me sane,  wants a bag, so she shall have a bag. I’m also planning on making a quilt featuring narrow boats. Another friend of mine has a narrow boat. He took me and my family out for a pootle on it last week and it has inspired me. I plan on doing the water bargello style and putting a foundation pieced narrow boat in the water. Perhaps I’ll add some appliqué flowers in a traditional narrow boat painting style.

I absolutely have to play with my microscope soon too, so many wonderful toys to play with. So little time!

Fortunately the week after next is half term break. I get a week off. I can definitely fit some microscopy in then.


A bag for my sister

Here’s a bag I’m making for my sister. I adore this fabric by Michael Miller.
The pattern is called “genevieve” I bought it on craftsy from Chris W.

An awful lot of cutting out but I think its worth the trouble.i just need to line it and fix the handle and it’s done.


World Map Quilt Progress

Not much progress on the world map quilt I’m afraid. My mother-in-law was visiting and so I haven’t had time to quilt. She recently lost a very close friend to cancer and she needed company more than i needed to sew. 

I have managed to chalk in the next lot of sea currents. For a long time I had problems marking out on medium to dark fabrics. On pale fabrics I usually use water erasable pens – they seem to be available in either blue or purple. Erasable pens are brilliant on light coloured fabrics but hopeless on brights or darks. I have never found quilters’ pencils to be any good so I was delighted to discover a solution when I went to the quilt exhibition at the NEC in Birmingham earlier this year.

I came across some Clover Chaco liner pens. They are small pens which contain powdered chalk, they have a little wheel instead of a nib and they’re really very good. I recommend them. They come in a variety of colours too. I have misplaced my white one (grumble) but I also have a yellow one. I shall order myself a pink one soon. They aren’t brilliant at tight curves but they’re better than anything else I have found.

Here’s a link to the clover pens on Amazon incase anyone is interested in buying one.



Guest stops play

My mother in law is visiting which is why I haven’t been online much. I see various people have stopped by and I very much appreciate it. I should be back tomorrow to give people the attention they deserve. Xxx

New fabric from Spoonflower


A delivery of fabric from Spoonflower

I love Spoonflower they allow you to buy fabrics which you can’t get anywhere else. Designed by individual artists rather than big names. You can even design your own fabrics if your talents lie in that direction.

Quilting the Planet

The Ocean currents for the quilt

Quilting the planet

Well, not really quilting the planet but it;s the kind of daft idea I’m famed for. I’m quilting a map of the world. I have had this fabric for about 10 years. I started doing it by hand (Oh Canada! Why are you so wiggly?) but got distracted by small children and life. I have recently decided to have another go at it.

I have a lovely sewing machine now, a Pfaff Ambition 1.0 and it makes quilting a great deal easier. This time I have decided to quilt the ocean currents as well as going round the continents.

I’m still not sure about Canada though.  Very wiggly.

I’d better get on with it before all the boundaries change again.

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