Monthly Archives: June 2012

Still blowing


A cheerful gale was blowing across the clifftops.  The horizon was vaporous, the sky was huge and moving fast, and tiny yachts plunged in the white water.

Miniature wild flowers clung to the chalk, keeping their heads down in the least violent part of the air.

Looking into a bay, inaccessible except by sea.  It’s difficult to convey something of the vertiginous effect.

Learning new words


Or old words with new definitions.  Like ‘planet’.  The row over Pluto’s status was considerable, mainly because ‘planet’ had never been formally defined.  When the hunt for Planet X found not one tidily orbiting tenth planet, but hosts and shoals of remote objects, some on the same scale as Pluto,  argument raged, but as of 2006, we do have a definition (of sorts).

The arguments are to some extent ridiculous.  Whatever we call it, Pluto will orbit exactly as it did.  But if detailed inventory and classification was the necessary starting point for zoology and botany, it’s also important in understanding the formation and behaviour of the solar system.

Schilling samples the lives, careers, dedication, and rivalries of the astronomers who searched for new planets – the earliest group formed as early as 1800 and called themselves the ‘Celestial Police’!  He lists the discoveries of the major asteroids and bodies in the outer solar system, and gives a little of what is so far known about them, plus theories for their creation and interaction.  There are insights into the politics of the IAU – our current celestial police.  We also get a taste of the speculations generated by a febrile collection of crackpots (still ongoing, of course).

The main work in reading the book is to sort out in one’s own head the terminology of it all:  asteroids, certainly, but also centaurs, plutinos, ice dwarfs, minor planets, Kuiper Belt objects, the scattered disk, the Oort cloud, cubewanos, plutoids, vulcanoids, long- and short-period comets, trojans, Earth-grazers, planetesimals.

Confused? So am I.  But the story of the Solar System is all the richer for the details,  and in 2015 the New Horizons probe will be looking at Pluto and its moons.  If the technology works, it should be fascinating.

Tidying and art


I turned out cupboards and boxes, dived under the bed to retrieve stray items, moved, straightened, dusted, organised, rearranged, binned.  A few items didn’t have obvious homes, so I put them on an empty set of shelves until I had time to decide their fate.After a while the objects seemed to be commenting on each other and assembling themselves into a required structure.  I resisted the hints they were giving me and put them up as randomly as I could, but they went on forming stories about themselves and their owners.  Where does tidying end and art made from found objects begin?  Or have I just visited too many museums lately?

Exploring other shelves


Visiting the home of a reader is always tantalising.  I have a generous permission to borrow, and this is the long list:

Whatever the decision (and it is difficult to make) I don’t think I will be taking the ‘Red Book’ of Jung, so I browsed it here.  It is thoughtfully provided with a translation for those unfamiliar with German, Greek, Latin, and possibly snippets of Egyptian, but it was enough to begin reading Jung’s remarkable paintings.

I can’t pull a thread out of today


It started with lunch in a cafe which made up in noise and pretension for what it lacked in comfort or atmosphere; but the afternoon improved after that.

I’ve been to many cathedrals, always different, touching, annoying, astonishing, strange, and so it was in Derby.  What about this extraordinary basilica over the altar?

The only coloured glass is two modern windows; the clear daylight allows you to enjoy the soft pinks and creams of the paint and shines on the golden tips of the iron work.

Lots of inscriptions of course.  The ingenious Hannah is a mystery, though it is known that her father was an early engineer:

And this poignant tablet honours the beautiful dust of Sara:

We moved on thoughtfully to the town museum.  Much of it is what you would expect in a good provincial museum, although we liked some of the activities provided for children:

One unusual gallery had been formed around an enormous Bronze Age logboat.  Displays celebrated natural objects and artefacts in wood, stone, glass, and bone:

This drawing was apparently left by a member of the public, and the curatorial staff enjoyed it so much that they incorporated it in the formal display:

In the corner, seats and a table were provided, with paper, drawing materials, touchable artefacts (for children or adults), a notice board on which to pin one’s drawings or ruminations, and a bookshelf including scholarly accounts of art or craft,  practical handbooks of wood, stone etc., a Harrods catalogue from the 1920s, coffee table books, and a judicious selection of novels, for example ‘The girl with glass feet’.

We caught a bus and rattled down the motorway in the rain to our supper.

**Again, some photos are not my own, as my camera didn’t always cope with the low light levels.

Giraffes and jellyfish


Wollaton Hall is Elizabethan and Georgian without and unexpected within, so this post will be inside out.

Absurd architecture in the Great Hall included wooden hammer beams pretending to be stone and a stone screen for the screens passage pretending to be wood.  Looking up was rewarding:

Downstairs,  we enjoyed the computer mounted in a Victorian trunk, a display of ancient cleaning equipment, and a ridiculously effective trompe l’oeil clock, candlesticks and ornaments on a real mantelpiece.  Here’s a watercolour box, just ready to use:

On the first floor, rooms of minerals, slightly mouldering preserved animals, skulls and ecology took us somewhat by surprise.  Stars of the show, these astonishing 19th century glass models of jellyfish and other sea life:

Suddenly we were being looked down upon.  How on earth did they hoist this genuine seventeen-foot-high giraffe up the stairs?

Outside, the house delivers a fine stately home experience in its green open space, superb specimen trees, deer resting in pools of shade, ancient brick paths, formal gardens and grandiose Usual Offices.

There is still a functional ha-ha; Henry Crawford and Maria Bertram could have appeared any moment.

Final astonishment:  this is all offered free, with only an inconspicuous appeal box for donations, by Nottingham City Council.  Thank goodness the National Trust haven’t got their hands on it.

I come from haunts of coot and hern (Thurber)


–  I’ve always wanted to say that, and here they are, somewhat in the distance.  We watched the heron for a time while it effected a heron performance straying onto the borders of caricature.

Recent developments on Jubilee campus have gone red.  The older buildings are calmer:

Multiple pools and streams provide dinner for enterprising undergraduates and herons.

It’s a little hard to decide where biodiversity support ends and corporate inattention begins, but the meadows were in full bloom:

Looking into a placid pool for minnows like the heron:

Three of the photos aren’t mine.  I have the photographer’s permission.

On changing trains


Yesterday I changed trains at a country railway station.   I had time to walk right to the end of the platform.

Someone is trying:

The sparrows living under and in the footbridge shouted at one another with sociable vulgarity and the more distant (and more tuneful) blackbirds sang.

Birmingham New Street.  I had forgotten that it is literally a hole:

Lunch was simple but very welcome when I arrived.

I realised that it was the very first time I have eaten out of doors this year; although to take this photo I had to weigh the toast down with a spoon so it wouldn’t blow away.

Bit of a blow


Sun!  Off to the sea to get some fresh air, and there was plenty on offer.  As I crested the hill, it felt as if the car was being walloped by a giant invisible mattress, and, once I was out of the car, it was difficult to stand steady.

There’s a reason why the trees in this part of the world are horizontal, though it’s not usually so obvious in June:

I’ve heard of fairy rings, but these fairies had a ruler.  (Not a very good one though.  Perhaps the wind was blowing it about.)

Now breathe: