The Friends of Charles Darwin Blog

Maureen Brian, FCD (12 June 1942 – 31 July 2018)

I was sad to learn via Facebook that Maureen Brian died earlier today. She had been unwell for quite some time.

Maureen lived just down the hill from me, and was single-handedly responsible for arranging PZ Myers’ appearance at the Hebden Bridge Trades Club in 2014.

PZ Myers and Maureen Brian
Maureen Brian with PZ Myers in a Hebden Bridge church(!) in 2014.

After I got to know her, Maureen told me she had met me (sort of) once before: on Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday of all dates! She was the person standing behind me in Hebden Bridge Post Office as I bought an entire sheet of Darwin Bicentennial stamps, which were issued that day. She said she’d been very concerned I might have bought the post office’s entire stock, as she was also after a set!

I’ll miss her occasionally outspoken updates, and frequent ‘likes’ on social media.

See also: PZ Myers - Maureen Brian has died


The problem writing a book about Charles Darwin

Darwin ape cartoonWhen friends found out I’d finally written a book, they naturally assumed it was about Charles Darwin. To be a friend of mine is to be accustomed to having Darwin slipped into pretty much every conversation. My friends seemed almost shocked to learn my book is, in fact, about my adventures on the local moor. (They seemed considerably less shocked to learn Darwin has somehow been slipped into many of its chapters.)

But everyone who has expressed an opinion on the matter says just one thing:

‘…but your next book is going to be about Darwin, right?’

Well, that’s certainly the plan.

But there’s a problem writing a book about Charles Darwin. There are so damn many of the things already, how do you make your book different? Which is why I’ve been banging my head against the wall for the last few months.

The way I see it, there’s no need for yet another Darwin biography. And there are people far better qualified than me to write about the latest in evolutionary theory. And the vague idea I had for a book about Darwin’s ‘fools experiments’ has just been done. You name it, the topic’s been covered. I mean, there’s even a book of poems about the dude. So, what should I do? What can I say that hasn’t already been said? What have I got going for me that other writers haven’t already got gone?

It seems to me, my main strength as a writer on matters Darwinian is I’m a unabashed fanboy. A self-confessed Darwin groupie. A Darwin nerd who can string a few sentences together. I’m someone who delights in both the trivia and the essentials of Darwin’s life and works. Someone who, as I say, has something of a reputation for slipping Darwin into pretty much every conversation.

Feedback from my Moor book suggests people enjoyed both its eclectic nature and its humour. They also liked learning new stuff. Eclectic, occasionally humorous stuff about Charles Darwin: I can do that!

So, that’s my plan, such as it is: an assortment of pieces on all things Darwinian. A celebration of the great man’s life and work that doesn’t take itself too seriously. A book non-Darwin groupies might read and remark, ‘Oh, actually, that’s quite interesting!’

I haven’t managed to come up with a decent title for the book yet. All the good ones have been taken. But my working subtitle is a Darwinian Selection (see what I did, there?).

What do you reckon? Has this idea got fully opposable thumbs, or what?


Re. Joyce

Twitter user Sandra Tropp (@SandyTropp) last week drew my attention to the fact that, in his notoriously cryptic Finnegans Wake, James Joyce makes use of a pun very similar to the Friends of Charles Darwin tagline. Here’s the quote (my emphasis added):

The thing is he must be put strait 2 on the spot, no mere waterstichystuff in a selfmade world that you can’t believe a word he’s written in, not for pie, but one’s only owned by naturel rejection. Charley, you’re my darwing! So sing they sequent the assent of man. Till they go round if they go roundagain before breakparts and all dismissed. They keep. Step keep. Step. Stop. Who is Fleur? Where is Ange? Or Gardoun?

(No, me neither.)

It was in 1994 that my late friend and Friends of Charles Darwin co-founder, Fitz, came up with our Charlie is our Darwin motto: a pun on Robert Burns’s Charlie, He’s My Darling—a song about Bonnie Prince Charlie.

I’m pretty sure Fitz would have been delighted to hear he’d been pre-empted by 55 years by none other than James Joyce.


24 not out… So, what next?

24Today (2nd March 2018) marks the Friends of Charles Darwin’s 24th birthday. Happy birthday to us!

At midnight last night, the Charles Darwin £10 note, for which we originally campaigned, finally became extinct.

Time, perhaps for something of a relaunch.

Although you’d never guess it from appearances, I’ve been working hard behind the scenes over the last few months, making numerous much-needed improvements to the website. I’ll spare you the technical details, but the Reviews and Articles sections will be a lot easier for me to maintain in future. I’ve also converted some of the old, blog posts into proper articles—especially those that celebrate anniversaries of one form or another, which might come in handy again in future years.

I’ll keep making improvements to the website over the next few months. The general idea is to bring the site more up to date, and, in particular, to make it more suitable for sharing stuff on social media—which is where all the cool kids hang out these days, apparently.

I published my first book last year. Although, as you might expect, Darwin, the history of science, and evolution feature in it quite a lot, it was never intended as a Darwin-related book. My next book is likely to be decidedly Darwin-related. So, I’m planning to start blogging here more often about stuff I uncover during my research. Obviously, I’ll also include reviews of any relevant books I (re-)read during the writing process. So, watch this space…

I’m also about to start a Friends of Charles Darwin newsletter. Nothing too spammy, you understand: I’m thinking maybe one newsletter every couple of months or so. So please sign up—even if you already asked to be added to the mailing list when you became a member (after 24 years, our existing mailing list is completely out of date, so it makes sense to start afresh).

What else? I guess we’ll find out. But my intention is to start posting more stuff with more regularity on the Friends of Charles Darwin website, Twitter feed, and Facebook page.

If you have any suggestions about other things you’d like to see from the Friends of Charles Darwin, please feel free to add a comment below, or to get in touch directly.


The end of the Darwin tenner

As extinction events go, the dating of this one is pretty precise: the Bank of England’s Charles Darwin £10 note will cease to be legal tender at 23:59 GMT tonight (1st March 2018).

Darwin £10 notes
Some magnificent Darwin tenners.

The notes had a great run: formally announced on 17 May 2000, and issued on 7 November the same year, the Darwin tenner graced many a purse, wallet, and back pocket for almost 18 years. But Darwin would be the first to point out that everything is bound to go extinct in the end. The Darwin bank note has now been replaced by an austentatious plastic monstrosity. Which just goes to show not all evolutionary change is progress. Still, life goes on…

From a personal point of view, the timing of the demise of the Darwin tenner is spectacularly unfortunate, falling as it does precisely one minute before the Friends of Charles Darwin’s  24th birthday. My friend Fitz and I founded the Friends in the Red Lion pub, Parkgate, Wirral on 2nd March 1994, when we wrote to the Bank of England to point out a certain ‘glaring omission’ from their bank notes. Thus began our campaign to see Darwin depicted on a Bank of England note.

In all honesty, I can’t with any real conviction claim we were instrumental in getting Darwin portrayed on the tenner, but I like to think we helped. And we certainly celebrated like hell when the Bank of England finally saw the light:

The founders celebrating
Fitz (L) and me (R), celebrating the announcement of the Darwin tenner.

Time moves on at an alarming pace. Is it really 18 years since Fitz and I partied like it was 1999? I am considerably thinner on top and more grey-haired than I was back then, and poor old Fitz is considerably less alive. After he died in 2014, I took steps to ensure he was buried with a crisp Darwin tenner, just in case the ferryman demanded a fare. I miss the daft, old bugger.

Considering the Friends of Charles Darwin were created with the sole aim of seeing our hero celebrated on a bank note, and considering we got precisely what we wanted almost 18 years ago, it could be argued we’ve long outlived our purpose. But, what the hell, there are plenty more self-confessed Darwin groupies out there, so I might as well keep this thing going a while longer. So, if Charlie is your Darwin, and you haven't done so already, please feel free to join us.

Oh, and I’m thinking of starting a newsletter, so please sign up—even if you're already a member (after 24 years, our existing mailing list is very old, and completely out of date, so I thought I should start it afresh).

Here’s to the next 24 years…