Friday, 4 October 2013

'Funderland' (TM)

The ERC HQ: Heaven
I've just come back from a couple of days in Brussels with a great idea that, quite frankly, I can't believe no-one else has ever thought up. No-one. Ever. I'm slightly scared about revealing it here because it's an idea of such monstrous beauty, as well as being a potential source of happiness for millions and - let's not beat about the bush - everlasting world peace, that there's probably a Mahatma Gandhi out there reading this and thinking, 'I'll have that, thank you very much'.

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:

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.
I could go on all night, but I see that ol' Mahatma in the corner is taking notes. You'll have to come along to the grand opening. I'm negotiating with Swindon Borough Council on some prime real estate off Death Star Avenue. I think that's them on the phone now.


  1. You missed one! 'The guidance maze'. Conducted mainly in the dark, with many twists, turns and wrong turnings, extreme dead ends with occasional spot lights to blind you. With 'Help points' located at frequent intervals with telephones that ring for 5 minutes but noone answers and an email that refuses to deliver...

    Should you exit successfully, you get thrown out into 'Doom' at a random point.

    1. Brilliant! Genius! I'll make sure it's added to the initial plans.

  2. Oh dear oh dear... and what is the first thing you should do with a project proposal... yep... state of the art. I (very) quick search reveals that already exists and is "the largest travelling Theme Park in Europe"... a travelling theme park.. even better! And of course
    there is not only that but the rumoured developments of a film themed research assessment park featuring rides such as the Clint Eastwood / Sondra Locke inspired "Sudden Impact" and of course the sister ride "Deep Impact" and of course the EU themed "Muscles from Brussels" dual rollercoaster "Double Impact". However, my biggest concern is that you have not thought through the sustainability of your new endeavour... I mean, it will surely be Open Access, so how will it pay for the maintenance, staffing and of course the all important indirect costs going forward?

  3. Excellent ideas! It will, of course, be Open Access: anyone can visit the (virtual) site for free, but anyone wishing to visit the real thing will have to pay either a subscription or an APC at the door.
    Very disappointed that there's already a Funderland, though...shall I get in a preemptive writ before they rumble me?