Monthly Archives: May 2013

On receiving handmedowns

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Perhaps I’ve been looking very old and impoverished lately, as people are giving me their handmedowns:

How lucky could you possibly get?  Not only are they really good things, I get to think about the givers every time I use them 🙂

Just local

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Standard warning for random readers:  it is very dangerous to look directly at the sun, especially through binoculars or telescope – permanent blindness is the likely outcome.  NEVER do this unless you have a solar filter or solar scope bought from an approved astronomy dealer, and have the advice of experienced astronomers.

Safety first:  Take out the Baader filter; examine it indoors; examine it outdoors; put on 5 inch telescope and look at the ground; aim at sky and look for holes; aim at sun and look with bad eye; finally look with good eye.

Through the skeins of cirrus the disc of the sun showed several active areas of spots, plus one on the limb.  I watched peacefully for a while, swapping eyepieces and Barlow in and out.  Eventually I tried to document what I saw by snapping down the 9mm eyepiece with my little hand-held Canon Powershot.  One or two were reasonable; but don’t show the details of the monochrome disc floating in the eyepiece.

Active areas 1756 and 1754  07.37 BST 26th May 2013

Active areas 1756 and 1754 07.37 BST 26th May 2013

(If curious:  a reference image and images from serious astronomers can be seen at http://www.spaceweather.com.)

Putting a glow into the gloaming

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Remember to turn it down

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Burrowing into cupboards, this ancient and cheapo turntable emerged.  No speakers;  it did however plug into the back of the enormous television.

still turning

Another corner yielded the LP collection, a random handful of which turned out to be the early music section.

33s

After some poking in menus, I found the channel to play audio, and the elephant gave birth to a mouse – a whisper of sound, even with the volume ramped up to 45.  Just knitting would compromise one’s ability to hear.  Is it the turntable or the settings on the monster?  No idea; but must remember to turn down the volume before inserting any modern media…

The wilding of England

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Nettles, ivy, brambles, fat hen, groundsel, vetch, dandelion, bindweed, cleavers, chickweed, buttercup, shepherd’s purse, herb robert, black medick, scarlet pimpernel, speedwell, yellow archangel, ribwort plantain, daisy, cat’s ear, dock, couch grass, yorkshire fog, meadow grass, false oat grass.

It sounds lovely until you start digging them all out of your vegetable patch.

I’ve been re-reading After London by Richard Jefferies, which divides itself, like Gaul, into three parts:  the long prologue which describes the reversion of England to wilderness; an account of the social regime which arises (after many generations) as a result, seen through the life of one family; and the quest of the protagonist, Felix Aquila.

After London

The first part is  a Victorian science fiction story in which London mysteriously fails, the population crashes, technology is forgotten, and coastal or climate changes cause the formation of an immense lake in the centre of southern England.   A modern equivalent of this story would probably be an urban gothic dystopia, but Jefferies was a countryman and a naturalist.  In his story, weeds seed themselves across formerly cultivated grounds, brambles race across roads and railways, and wild woodlands expand and re-establish themselves.  Domesticated animals disappear or go feral, creating new breeds adapted for life in the wild, and humans live on the edge.

The middle (and for me less interesting) section of the novel envisages a semi-feudal society arising in England, and develops the curiously ineffectual main character.  Pure science fiction returns when London makes its appearance during the final quest sequence, as Felix journeys across the Lake and into the toxic bog which has engulfed the great city.  One might suspect that the story is an allegory of Jefferies’ own life, and this was how, in his heart, Jefferies experienced the living but stinking London of his day.

Forget the plot and characters, as Jefferies himself did, stopping his narrative with brutal abruptness as Felix turns for home.  The weeds, the woods, the water, the weather, the fetid breath of London – these are at the heart of his imagining.