Monthly Archives: August 2015

And the garden; oh, the garden


There has been produce this year, but is the game worth the candle?  Maybe, if it’s peas. Or sweetcorn, a tad under-ripe, flawless, five minutes from plant to plate.


Otherwise … I’ve found myself dropping into poetry:

I wish I liked the garden green
I wish I liked its strict routine
I wish I liked to dig and hoe
I wish the blasted plants would grow
And when hacking nettles in the sun
I wish I thought, “What jolly fun!”

With apologies to Sir Walter Raleigh (the other one).



Darkness fell at 6.30 this morning.  And again at 7.10.  And at five to eight.  Having providently cleaned the conservatory yesterday, I sat in it with successive cups of tea, and wedged up clay in small mountains, while torrents of Atlantic hammered on the glass.


It is extraordinarily difficult to throw a pot in multiple three-second episodes.  I found I was quite unable to focus on any specific type of vessel, and created some sort of mindless jar.  At that, it is perhaps the most difficult pot I’ve ever made.  And it gave me a deeper appreciation of film-makers who work in stop motion.  My guest counted the seconds and made the software work.

And upon the sun breaking through, time for the 5″ to wear its solar filter.  The intermittent cloud annoyed, but there is another huge collection of spots – AR2403 – and today the scope would tolerate the 10mm eyepiece with a Barlow, giving a superb view of the fine detail and patterning of the spots.  Only one snap really worked.



Standard warning:  never look directly at the sun, especially not through any optical equipment, e.g. binoculars or telescope – permanent blindness is the likely result.  The photographs were taken through a specialist astronomy solar filter.

Which end is up


The randomness seemed to persist through the week:  unnatural fogs, erroneous chamaeleon-grouting, a persistent inability to cook anything sensible.

I am temporarily one up on the garden, having got the grass cut in a dry interval, and having luckily failed to spread a dead rat all over the garden with the mower – I missed the camouflaged corpse by a whisker.  (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

But as I potted up some dwarf beans in hope of a late crop, I felt a certain affinity with the rejects:


sometimes it is difficult to know which end is up.

An element of randomness


seems to have crept into the weekend.

Yesterday part of next door flew over the roof:


The cables all stayed put.


He must have been a pro.

Then there was some real hard yakka, leaving me tired under a good clear sky.  I wandered Ophiuchus with the 5″, but hadn’t the staying power to hunt the globulars.

I did my homework though.

all Ophiuchus

Then there was wolgrouting


A visit to the greeny sea


down by the calcareous cliffs


the pools and lagoons


and by the gullied sandstone.


Delicate candy stripes of sand


were painted in by the inrush of the waves


and then painted out.

painted out

A pebble full of sparks:


its crevices lead into secret caverns


and crystal caves.

crystal cave

I hold them in my hand.

Tension mounts


After the turbulence of the night, the day quieted and quieted and the air thicked and thicked.  I had headlamps on at five.

This has become disturbing.  In the garden the trees are silent, the reeds in the pond entirely stationary. I watched the leaves not moving, and then I watched and watched the leaves not moving some more.  The air sat heavily upon us.

By the sea, there is only a continuing flat calm, with the last remnants of last night’s surf slopping glutinously onto the sand.  Along the cliff top, every tall head of grass stands paralysed.

nothing at all

Perhaps it is earthquake weather.  Perhaps the sky will fall.  Or in the SF scenario, perhaps alien forces have placed a dome over us and annihilated the rest of the planet.

Calling the world:  Is there anybody there?

Keeping the faith


Well: 12th/13th was to be the Perseid peak, and the absence of the moon a great help to see them … supposedly.  A fine afternoon gave way to a clearish evening.  As darkness fell the cloud built, the wind gusted ominously, sheet lightning played on the western horizon and grumbles of thunder gave warning.

Which I ignored.  You’ve got to have faith.  Wrapped in sufficient layers and focusing on the clear area of sky above, it was some time before I spotted one or two Perseids, and one random meteor travelling against the traffic.  I suspect only the brightest trails could be seen through the vapourous sky, with all the tiny ones being filtered out by the murk, as indeed only the higher-magnitude stars were visible.

Faith rewarded: one cracking fireball, long, bright, persistent, and leaving a visible smoke trail; maybe the best I have ever seen.  Lightning continued to flash briskly along the horizon, while I crossed fingers, legs and eyes to prevent it moving in.  The ISS made a bright pass, and a few more Perseids whipped by.

But by then the clearing in the sky was being encroached, and the stars of the Summer Triangle went out one by one, until a feeble sucker hole with Cassiopeia in the middle was all the sky that remained.  I did my Laurel and Hardy act in the dark with the reclining chair, and bundled it indoors, though reluctant to go in myself, standing about in the blusters and watching the distant lightning. At last the clouds closed like an ocean over my head; only Vega gimleted a few photons through at the zenith.  As for meteors, only Dragon Star Destroyer of Cities could have penetrated the murk.  And it wasn’t our turn to be destroyed tonight.

Photography as a contact sport


Yesterday evening we were clued in by the splatter of rain on glass, and a light in the west, a kind of apricot purple: 1 west

I sortied to the front of the house in hope, and lo to the east: a glorious red sunset rainbow, with the horizoned sun creating the tallest arch I have ever seen:
2 east

The visitor and I shoulder charged, elbowed and dived for the cameras and wedged ourselves simultaneously in the front door.

I couldn’t fit it all in to one image: 3 arc

The crimson rainbow lasted three or four minutes.  The fiery sky mounted, and dropped away in ten. 4 fire

The photos are an example of British understatement.  The camera couldn’t believe what it was seeing.

To the nethermost pit with my social duty


Today I did my housework duty and my social duty and my family duty.  And wished I hadn’t, as the sunny morning and afternoon was overtaken by thick grey clouds, and the sun vanished along with the enormous sprawling sunspot which is currently snaking its way across half a hemisphere.

Still, I pathetically set up the 5″ with its solar filter, trying to line it up ready to observe if there should be a gap in the clouds.  This is pretty much impossible as the only safe way of finding the sun with a telescope is to turn your back, hold a sheet of paper behind the telescope, and watch the shadow of the scope until it is perfectly circular, when it will be by definition aimed at the sun.  But without a shadow this method is unavailable.  And in the most fleeting of sucker holes, the sun was visible just long enough to point the telescope, but not to observe.

At last the sun broke through for a few minutes, now, it turned out, dropping into the top of a tree.  I had some hasty glimpses of what is indeed a monstrous sunspot chain, with a question mark at the ‘head’ and a concatenation of dark cores all the way to the ‘tail’.  It’s a superb object.

Here is my best attempt at an image, complete with tree.  Snapped through a telescope, so south is at the top.

with treeStandard warning:  never look directly at the sun, especially not through any optical equipment, e.g. binoculars or telescope – permanent blindness is the likely result.  The photograph was taken through a specialist solar filter.

So what shall it be?


After a hot yesterday, the stars were popping out.  There would be no moon until much later.  So what should it be?  Observe Saturn in the 10″?  Learn a new constellation using the 5″ (it’s a more nimble cruiser)?  Lie back and look for early Perseids?

I started with item 1.  Saturn is long past opposition, and by 9 pm it is already westering.  I lined up in a twilight sky, but, instead of floating in its usual serenity, Saturn was stretching and contracting like a gelatinous invertebrate, and even appearing to twist itself in figures-of-eight.  The heat of the day was still radiating from every surface, and the resulting turbulent air currents were making the planet unobservable.  Waiting, waiting: the Space Station whipped across the sky, brilliant and silent in its borrowed light.  Waiting, waiting: the earth cooled as the sky darkened, but Saturn sank inexorably into the hedge, still gyrating.

Item 2:  Learn a new constellation.  For this purpose the 5″ is better, but it was already late and I didn’t have the energy to get out another telescope.  So I hastily skimmed a star chart and aimed the lumbering Dob at Ophiuchus, starting with the obvious stars.  I picked out the main pattern, and at one point found a most beautiful double star – one brilliant gold, with a subtle purple partner.  I then clumsily knocked the scope out of position before I had established my double star’s identity, and couldn’t find my way back.

Item 3:  Look for early Perseids.  I packed up the 10″, running with water from a heavy dew, and settled into my garden chair with a blanket against a now chilly breeze. Pegasus lay before me, the necessary Perseus rising to my left.  I scanned dutifully, and saw never a Perseid, only one random meteor which perversely flew with a silent fizz in the opposite direction.  In the small hours hush I listened to the local stream running with an oddly dry rattle and crepitation, and in half an hour was gone.  A hundred meteors may have burst over my unconscious head, but I saw nothing. I lurched, drunken with sleep, to my bed.