Monthly Archives: November 2012

The disallowed skirt


I am required to look respectable.  I am ceasing to look respectable, mostly because I hate to shop.  The least respectable part of me at the moment is the skirt, so I went looking for replacements.

However, it seems that The Powers That Be have decided that no-one may wear a skirt any more.  I missed the legislation, but I infer that it took place, as none of the normal clothes shops contained any skirts at all, except three or four specimens so hideous that the faded, shrunken, holey garments I currently possess are preferable.  In the fourth shop a couple of dull-but-decent ones turned up on a sale rail.  I don’t like them – nobody could – but I don’t think they are actively offensive.

And that’s an hour and a half I won’t get back again.inordinately dull

The royal racketeer


Among the vagaries of education and inclination, Henry VII somehow got left out.  I have been filling the gap:

I’m struggling for a word to describe the experience of reading this story, seeing Henry’s reign degenerate into something combining the less attractive features of a police state and a mafia organisation, in which perversions of justice and extortion were carefully audited by the king himself.  His plan was to rule by fear and by debt, and he succeeded.  It is a fascinating, horrible spectacle.  I certainly understand the inception of the Tudor dynasty better than I did.

A slight disappointment: we hear a little about Henry’s devotion to his wife and his piety, but I’m not sure that a portrait of Henry the man emerges in the book.  Then again, if Penn’s narrative is anything to go on, even Henry’s contemporaries had difficulty detecting anything human when they met him and his ubiquitous account books.

Bargain admission night


so we headed off to the flicks.

Argo was showing, apparently based on real-life events, but one of those stories so unlikely that you don’t know how to tell where history leaves off and dramatic license begins.  There was a sober prologue about the Iranian revolution, which brought back disturbing memories from the time, and the action was both humorous and surprisingly tense and dramatic (considering that the outcome is perfectly obvious from the word go).

It was an enjoyable evening out, but a pity about the final ten minutes or so:  fine for those who like their Turkish delight sandwiched in layers of fudge and generously topped with whipped cream, but I’m afraid some of us were surreptitiously collecting our bags and gloves.

Darkness at noon


Night was falling and it wasn’t yet one in the afternoon:  clouds, low and massive, blocked up the sky, and the rain smothered what little light crept in.

The geologist lectured on local and international landslide phenomena, a brisk overview of requisite geologic and climatic conditions.  Dramatic images flashed up on Powerpoint slides, some of them of events within the audience’s own knowledge and memory.  Landslides are surprisingly weather-sensitive, our geologist said, rough seas de-stabilising from below and heavy rains lubricating from above, geologic flaws and high water tables weakening within.  The preventive engineering options available seemed few – and puny.

Outside, the rain lashed on, surf boomed on the other side of the promenade, and lakes formed on the super-saturated fields.  We listened with a personal and slightly pained attention.


Somebody remind me. Wasn’t I once some sort of astronomer?


As night fell yesterday, there was  a fair sky for the first time in weeks, but rafts of cloud in the offing, a gusty breeze, far too much domestic lighting, and a half moon riding high.  The warm sofa beckoned.  Drag all that gear out into the cold and then be rained on?

I had to take a firm line with myself.  On with the thermals.  Never mind the 10″ – out with the 5″ baby reflector and the megabattery.  Forget levelling, collimating, aligning. Forget charts and programmed observing. Don’t be subtle. Just stick in an eyepiece and chase the moon along the sky: it is big and obvious enough, after all.

The moon happened in episodes between cloud belts. The terminator ran a few degrees west of the meridian.  Shadows exaggerated the vertical scale of the Montes Appeninus until they looked like a monstrous sheer wall facing in towards Mare Imbrium.  The mare proper lay in darkness, but the area round Archimedes was beautifully lit, showing its terraces and ejecta, the wrinkle ridges running by, and the rays around Aristillus, as clear as you like.  I struggled to draw notes at the eyepiece as the moon came and went, the wind whipping at the paper.  (And this is the tidied up version!)

After a time, Jupiter was visible in the east, and a transit of Ganymede was beginning. The shadow clipped the southern polar region as the moon approached the planetary disc.

More clouds and cups of tea; then I went out again.  By then, Ganymede was just making its exit from the transit, and suddenly the seeing became extraordinarily good.  I rushed for the 2x Barlow and the 9 mm eyepiece and for a few moments had a superb view: belts and zones, Great Red Spot, and all.  Then patches of atmospheric turbulence alternated with small lenses of steady seeing for an hour, while I admired what this simple little telescope can do when it wants to.

The wind picked up, shaking the scope,  the clouds moved in heavy and threatening, and I retreated.  Yep, I do remember now: definitely an astronomer.  Of some sort.

Running before you can walk …


… is not always a good idea, as any toddler knows from the lumps on his or her head.  On the other hand, the impetus of running sometimes gets a toddler further across the room than an attempt to walk.  And it is much more exciting.

I want to start running in real Old English texts.  Each unit of the Teach Yourself course is based around a few snippets:  four lines of the Anglo Saxon Chronicle here, five from the Dream of the Rood there, then a few verses from the Seafarer.  Just as I am getting going, we drop to the carpet for a brief disquisition on the accusative or the genders of nouns.

Press on…