Posted by: David Green | December 15, 2009

A Sustainable Christmas Carol

Christmas opinions were divided at today’s (botany department) coffee break… The Bah Humbug party was slightly in the majority, citing Christmas as a commercial manipulation of people’s hopes and expectations by business and the media. The word cynical was there too. Thankfully, not everyone agreed. Whatever the truth, Christmas has a large and increasing carbon footprint. If you don’t believe me, wander through the streets in your local neighbourhood this evening. In some areas decorative lighting has become a competitive sport. There’s no limit to the tasteless tat some households will buy to outdo the family across the street… Life-size glow-in-the-dark plastic reindeer, a snip at £299.99, inflatable rubber Santa’s, five for a tenner… What happens to all this stuff afterward? How much energy does it use? Is it anything at all to do with Christmas?

In an eco-friendy, lower-your-carbon-footprint sort of spirit, I decided this year to make some presents… Good idea Mr Scrooge (you may say) that’ll save you a few bob. True enough, but not my motivation. To be honest, some of the family are rather Christmas-weary. They’ve got just about everything they want. Another Portable Walrus Cleaner, even one that’s advanced enough to remove dirt from the crustiest sea-bound mammal, will not generate much excitement. So I began to consider what I could make…

Jigsaw puzzles made from discarded museum boxes

In the autumn we had an Ancient Egyptian science and technology Big Saturday and an event to celebrate the international year of astronomy. I made some wooden puzzles (a camel and a scarab for Egypt and constellations for astronomy). They were cut out of old plywood boxes that were being discarded. Hmm… I remembered there were a couple of pieces of wood in the shed. So what about a puzzle?

The thing about puzzles is you don’t really want to do them again and again. They’re fine as a five minute diversion for a family visiting the museum: break them up and the next person comes along and puts them back together. As a present they need either to be reasonably decorative, or fiendishly difficult. Difficulty increases dramatically as the number of pieces go up, especially if there are no straight edges. Decorative requires a nice design and a decent bit of wood…

In the end I tried both approaches. The photo shows the decorative puzzle, I’m having difficulty with the other one, I took it apart to stain some of the pieces and can’t quite figure out how it goes back again…

Owl and family puzzle made from recovered Lime board

Stained tree puzzle (took 2 hours to put back together!)

David Green
Curator of Mineralogy

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