|The ERC HQ: Heaven|
But before revealing my genius, let's take a step back and see how the idea came to be.There were two triggers, which both came from the recent trip:
- The Parliamentarium. This is the latest effort by the EU to convince all the naysayers that the Parliament is not just an expensive way to straighten our bananas, but has actually, y'know, stopped neighbours tearing chunks out of each other for the last sixty years. And you know what? It's actually very good. What could potentially have been a deathly tour into the minutiae of supranational legislative processes is actually presented in such a way that it inspires and cheers you. So what if they straighten a few bananas? They've found a way of getting people to talk to each other on equal terms. Museums tend to dwell on warfare and horror, on sacrifice, grimness and, well, pustules. But here was one that focused on quiet determination and success through bureaucracy. That's quite a feat for visitors' centre.
- The ERC Headquarters. Like the poisoned characters entering Heaven at the end of Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, we stared around at our surroundings in disbelief. Choirs of angels sang away in the distance. Lions lay down with lambs amongst the verdant greenery. Little elfin children skipped happily around around our feet. This was the entrance to the Covent Garden Building which houses the ERC. It was exciting enough to be at the epicentre of pure research in Europe, the beating heart of the beast that discards all other criterion in favour of Excellence. But for the reality to match my dream! It was almost too much.
Which is when I came up with my Great Idea. A visitors' centre - nay, a visitors' experience - based around research funding. If some American fella can build one around an oversized mouse, then surely, surely there's room for Funderland (TM)? Obviously, the details are still to be finalised, but here are some broadbrush ideas:
- 'Doom': This gives the public a sense of the grant writing process. It's a log flume ride. First, you go through a long dark tunnel that at times seems endless. You lose the will to live and are just praying for it to be over. However, before you know it the end is in sight and you start to panic. 'Wait!' you think, 'I'm not ready!' Whoosh you go, down the flume, and you feel momentarily exhilarated. This doesn't last. A big rubber hammer marked REJECTION hits you on the head and you enter the tunnel again.
- 'High n' Low': This is a giant, swooping rollercoaster that tries to reflect the typical reviews and grades for a funding proposal. Extreme highs! Unjust lows! Breathtakingly short! Interminably long! It's all here.
- 'Herding Cats': For animal lovers, FP7 coordinators and research administrators everywhere. You're given 13 cats, a rattle and a short piece of string. You have to try to herd all 13 cats through a complicated maze before the 'Submit' klaxon sounds.
- 'The Treadmill': There's a giant screen showing Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein doing a big, complicated experiment involving lots of expensive machines. They've just reached a point where they're about to solve a big, complicated question when - oh no! - the screen flickers and fades! It turns out that the screen is powered by sixteen treadmill 'grant' generators. Each has to be constantly kept going. If a visitors gets bored and steps off, someone else better step up! Ah the joys of the big project!
- 'Let's Interdisciplinate!': Visitors are given a random selection of five household objects. They have to work out how each can inform the others, and can benefit from the experience of the others.