Monthly Archives: October 2014



Standard warning for non-astronomers:

NEVER look at the sun with your naked eyes, and especially not through any optical instrument (including the viewfinder on a camera) as this will cause permanent blindness.  The photos below were taken with an astronomy observing-grade solar filter – never attempt to make a filter yourself.

AR 2192.  Not a euphonious name; but this is a mummy of a sunspot.  It’s tracking off to the limb of the sun now, and is foreshortened to our viewpoint – I wish I had seen it a couple of days ago when it was facing Earth bang on.  Apparently it only managed to cause a few radio blackouts while delivering its flares, so we got lucky again.

I took out the 5″ scope, the Baader solar filter, a neutral density filter, and my little Canon Powershot.  Taking snaps down the eyepiece is always a question of luck, especially as the scope is not properly collimated, and there was quite a breeze to make everything wobble.  These are the best I could do.

28 Oct full sun

28 Oct detail

I put away the camera and admired the elaborations of this spectacular storm as long as I could stand being under a black hood in full sunlight.  It’s the only kind of astronomical observation in which thermal underwear is not part of the standard kit.

For serious images of this object look at the gallery on the Spaceweather site:

On becoming a poet


Interesting account of how a longstanding literary critic (aka hack) could suddenly begin to write high-level poetry.  Key was Thomas’ involvement with a group of poets working alongside one another, especially Robert Frost.  The story is embedded in the wider account of Thomas’ life – a difficult man who had a difficult life, not noticeably improved by high art.


The biography fulfilled an important part of any such work:  it made me want to read more of the poems.  But my personal sympathies were with Mrs. Thomas.



Re-reading The Sterkarm Handshake by Susan Price:  SF meets historical, when 21st century R&D plants an experimental time travel portal into the lawless border country of the north in the 16th century, a couple of dimensions removed from their own world.  The handshake of the title is proverbial, the Sterkarms being mainly left handed and therefore in a sound position to shake hands with an enemy and simultaneously knife him in the guts.

A strong point of the story is the convincing rendering not only of historical details but of a truly different mindset:  the Sterkarms’ psychology may not be really like 16th century reivers (how would we know?) but they are not modern people dressed in funny clothes.  Characters are good too, all complex and interesting bar one – the villain of the piece.  Windsor is disappointing, but then one has met people whose humanity seems to have been swallowed up in vanity and self-deception, so perhaps this can pass.  The plot allows us to see the 21st side through 16th century eyes as well as the 16th through 21st eyes and the power between the sides wobbles interestingly.

I think my favourite moment is a segment almost in the middle when Young Per, the 16th century protagonist, is trying to find his way back to the time portal from the 21st side, escaping from Andrea, the young translator from the 21st whom he loves but has ceased to trust.  On his journey he meets a 21st-side Sterkarm, who casts back to his dialect and roots, and begins to talk to Per.  Andrea is trying to protect and help Per, but there is a delicious black comedy in her outrage that she has lost her monopoly over their communication, and that a total stranger can oust her in Per’s confidence merely because he is a Sterkarm and therefore family.

The ending too is satisfyingly ambivalent.  Are we pleased with what happens?  Did Andrea do right?  Is it the best for Per and Andrea?  Does anyone get justice?

I’ll be holding on to this for a few years and then I’ll start to think, “I must read that bit about Joe Sterkarm again…”

Hidden treasure


Today we turned out a neglected box and found the following items: 1 tools From top:  an ivory needle case; a trowel three inches long; a heavy brass spinner from a long-forgotten game; a ferocious hat pin; and a button hook, which judging by the eyelet at the top may once have been part of a woman’s chatelaine.  In the centre is a Mystery Object. 2 settee A message to Dolly from Bert:  Please look behind the settee … She must have liked what she found, because she kept the note forever. 3 flint And a flint point, most delicately serrated, about an inch and a quarter long.

Re-inventing the placket


After the megasort:  salvaging a length of fabric which had spent untold years under the stairs.  I wanted a long skirt for winter lolling, but had no pattern, so I made something up.  The first scrunch of the shears is a nerve-racking sound at the best of times.

1 scrunch

Elasticate the waist? but no elastic.  Of course a fitted waist is neater and often more comfortable so I re-designed, but no zipper either.  Then again, zippers make nasty noises:  chalk squeaking on blackboards is nothing to it.  Dredging around in the past, a memory stirred:  the placket.

I was nine when I made my first and last placket, and I was baffled by both the construction and the purpose, as I sewed awkwardly (and bloodily) away under my teacher’s despairing eye.  However, trying not to think but to visualise,  I made a prototype, tweaking and fiddling and trying to remember the trick of turning the corner at the end of the slit.

2 pilot

Preparing to insert the real thing required all the food groups, plus drugs, stimulants and fluids.  Not to mention chocolate.  Thus fortified, I jigged the placket in quite neatly in the end, unlike the facings, which were awkward as I had changed my mind so much when cutting the skirt, and had run out of fabric to cut a second set.

3 food groups

The buttonholes are the letdown.  My technique was never great, and with this soft fraying fabric I made a pig’s breakfast. But they are disguised slightly under the buttons.

Surprisingly, the skirt fits and feels friendly.  Pity I can never tell Mrs Walsby that she didn’t waste all her time.

4 disguise