The Sky at Night Situation

Last night, having been alerted to the imminence of some sort of ‘ids’ appearing in the sky (I think they were Orionids, but I’ll look it up in a minute) I went out to look at the night.  The darkness is practically total here; apart from a couple of security lights set off by the occasional cat, there’s nothing to pierce it but the stars.

Orionids.  That’s it – which presumably means they’re connected to Orion, though I’m not sure why.  They are remnants of Halley’s comet, streaking across the sky.

Here’s a picture from 4 days ago:

I never really took to astronomy, though my mother was very keen and used to get us up in the middle of the night to watch an eclipse or check out Orion’s position in the sky.  Besides ‘Dad’s Army’, ‘The Sky at Night’ was her favourite programme and she would always stay up to the ungodly hour of 11.30 to watch the squint-eyed Patrick Moore talk in breathless tones about what Mars was up to these days and what you could see this month, whether you had a top-of-the-range telescope or just a pair of naked eyes.  Fascist though he supposedly was, you couldn’t help liking Patrick Moore – and in later years it was quite touching to see his grizzled head next to the long curly locks of Queen guitarist Brian May, also a very keen astronomer.

Like I say, I never really took to astronomy.  It’s one of those things I think I ought to take an interest in but somehow I don’t, much – I don’t know why.  In theory I am interested by the movements of stars and planets, but in practise when OH utters some universe-shattering piece of information about them (I’m sure I’ve given plenty of examples in previous posts) I can’t summon that much enthusiasm.

But it’s not because I don’t feel anything when I look at the stars.  On the contrary, I feel a sense of distance and a sense of closeness.  I feel lonely and I feel connected: I feel a sense of wonder and a sense of ignorance.  And last night, as I spotted Mars so clear and blinking and red like a small, faraway sun, and recognised both Orion and the Plough but not much else, I felt a profound sense of belonging to the entire universe.  We are stardust, after all, as the song reminds us; the blood of the stars flows in our veins.  We are connected to everything and everything is connected to us – and recognising that matters a great deal more than recognising a constellation which is, after all, a random pattern which depends on where you are standing.

Anyway, here’s a fascinating bio of Patrick Moore in all his glory: racist, sexist and homophobic (though not in public) but also generous, dedicated and with a terrific ability to make fun of himself.

And here’s his final programme, recorded shortly before he died:

And let’s not forget his facility on the xylophone:

And here’s Ronnie Barker doing a brilliant skit:

And here he is playing along with John Colshaw:


RIP, Patrick, whichever planet you’re on.

Kirk out

Mags and Bags and Fag-Hags

Now, you won’t believe this but I used to be a fag-hag.  Yes, at one point I was a 20-a-day person: there weren’t many brands I hadn’t tried at one time, from Disque Bleu (throat-scorching) to Silk Cut (pointless) and just about everything in between.  I usually settled for B&H, being seduced by the shiny gold packaging – but latterly I began to roll my own as it was a lot cheaper and you got the buzz much faster.  I smoked for ten years before giving it up – in the main because I couldn’t afford it, but also because I realised, as anyone eventually must, the damage it was doing to my health.  A couple of years later I started doing yoga – and I’ve never looked back.  I now have a generally disgustingly healthy lifestyle, what with being veggie and eating lots of fresh veg, not having a car, and doing yoga every day.

I’m also fairly righteous in the area of carrier bags.  I was pleased to hear that they’re going to start charging for these from 2015 – and that the money will go to charity – since they are an absolute blight.  It’s not only the supermarkets these days, it’s the small shops: whenever I go into Londis they offer me a bag every time, even if I’m only buying a packet of biscuits – and when I go shopping locally I have to keep repeating like a mantra; ‘No, I don’t need a bag, thanks,’ till my mouth gets tired of saying the words.

This must cease.

I’d like also to see a decrease in the number of highly distasteful lad-mags on display in the shops, but I’m not hearing any noises about this.

My thoughts on the subject, however, were interrupted by Mark talking about Welsh.  Well, he started with pop-stars: apparently they no longer sound American as the ‘intervocalic ‘t’s are no longer tapped and voiced.’

‘Do you mean they don’t pronounce a ‘t’ like a ‘d’?’ I asked wearily.

‘Well,’ he said, sounding like a rather over-excited Patrick Moore, ‘it’s not exactly a ‘d’ – it’s like a sort of half-d.’

‘Like ‘medal’ instead of ‘metal’?’ I asked.


‘Sounds like a ‘d’ to me.’

But he was off on another tack, talking about how someone he recently met is Welsh but his accent sounds strange it because ‘it is non-rhotic but his short ‘u’s are not Welsh.’

Oh, right.

‘The English ‘u’, he goes on, just as if I have shown an interest, ‘is either rounded or shortened and rounded, so there’s an un-rounded open ‘u’ and then there’s a rounded one – and then on this side of the isogloss there’s only a rounded ‘u’ and it’s not ‘oo’ either.  I can’t actually pronounce it.  You know?’

He actually expects me to understand this.

You have no idea what I suffer, readers.  And all this first thing on a Sunday morning…

Kirk out

I Did Do It…

Now!  All this week, with it being Valentine’s week, I will be posting an extra blog post every day about the story of Mark and me; the near-disaster of our first meeting, the bizarre unexpectedness of our getting together; the startling proposal in a London pub which frightened many onlookers, the unusual wedding in which something blue was very much in evidence and when Tubular Bells went on longer than expected, and the disastrous honeymoon which nearly ended in our being stranded in France.  Finally on Friday we will have the aftermath of that marriage and what happened next.  So keep your eyes open for these extra posts, which will be scheduled to appear earlier in the day than these regular posts.

So, to business… yesterday I failed to go to Peter’s as I felt all floopy; the same thing happened when I set out for Yesim’s in the evening and turned back in a flurry of snow.  So we shall see what today brings and whether I will actually make it into town to see Peter and claim my free bus ticket.  Last night, having failed to get to Yesim’s Music Circle I watched ‘Film 2013’ (or the programme we always call ‘Film…’ because the year just will keep changing) and found it every bit as annoying as the last time I gave it a try.  I found the presenters insincere, brittle and smart-arse and their comments unenlightening.  Irritating as Barry Norman could sometimes be, he was intelligent, knowledgeable and interesting, whereas Claudia Winkelman and her colleague simply indulge in sofa-bound breakfast TV-style banter with the odd ‘clever’ comment thrown in.

One thing we did enjoy over the weekend, however, was a documentary on Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie.  We had to negotiate this on youtube as it was from some obscure TV station, which also meant that at each ad-break the voice-over would summarise what we’d just seen, recap the entire premise of the programme and tell us what was about to happen (presumably to save us the trouble of actually watching the thing.)  I wasn’t a great fan of ‘A Bit of Fry and Laurie’ as I found it a bit too clever and up-itself; in my view they come into their own in series such as Blackadder and Jeeves and Wooster.  Stephen Fry came across as sweet and a little bit shy but Hugh Laurie seemed the epitome of the curmudgeonly and gloomy comic; however the friendship between them was genuinely touching, especially when they discussed the time when Fry disappeared (I remember it well) and Laurie put out a public plea for his return, saying ‘You just don’t appreciate how much we love you.’

There was a lump in my throat…

Here’s the link, though of course it’s in several bits:

Well in spite of such programmes as ‘Film…’ the British Film industry seems to be doing quite well at the moment.  I remember a time back in the 80’s when it was considered to be on its last legs, but things turned around and we won several Baftas.  Mumford and Sons also won a Thingy (I can’t remember all these awards, but it was a big one) and I was pleased, not only because they are English but because they are a genuine band who play stuff they like and follow their own voice.  They remind me in a way of The Proclaimers, the raw-voiced, odd-looking duo who had a hit with ‘Letter from America’:

‘When ye goooooowwww, will ye seeeend bach

a letter fraaaaam Americaaaaa’


They were like a raw Highland version of Simon and Garfunkel.  But genuine.  And there’s the rub: it’s getting harder to find genuine people in public life.  As soon as anything idiosyncratic rears its head, it’s immediately seized on, packaged, marketed and served up to do the same thing over and over until it gets tired and finally dies.  It’s like the ‘I didn’t do it’ boy:

So let’s celebrate those in public life who can still surprise us: people like John Prescott, Robert Peston, Jo Brand, David Attenborough and Sarah Millican.  And let’s remember mavericks who are no longer with us: Joyce Grenfell, Patrick Moore, John Peel and Spike Milligan.

Remember to read the other post!  It’s called ‘My Mushroom Valentine’.  And share your Valentine stories this week…

Kirk out

PS  Grammys!  That’s what they are!

Patrick Moore, Patrick Moore, Riding Through the Glen

So farewell then, Patrick Moore.  Longest-living broadcaster, self-taught astronomer (he was Home Educated!!!), enthusiast and lover of the stars (and not in a Hollywood way) Patrick Moore has died at the age of 89.  Monocled to the last, broadcasting to the end, he will be much missed.  Though hardly enlightened politically – he was reportedly very right-wing and thought women shouldn’t be allowed to run the BBC – he nonetheless seemed able to transcend all this when discussing the stars: one of the most touching sights was to see him side-by-side with Brian May, also a keen astronomer.  To see the ancient, monocled, squinty man in a three-piece-suit sitting next to the long-haired guitarist in faded jeans and tee, both eagerly discussing Saturn; was a sight to warm the asteroids in your belt and melt the supernovae of your heart.  Incidentally, ‘supernovae’ is one of those words which will always summon up for me Patrick’s posh, excited-schoolboy voice (pronouncing the word correctly, of course, with an ‘ee’ at the end.)*  He will also always remind me of my mother who worshipped the very ether in which Patrick Moore broadcasted; he was largely responsible for us getting a TV as his programmes helped to persuade her that programmes could be educational.  I suspect my own children, however, will simply be reminded of this song:

There are fewer and fewer of these characters on TV now – presenters and ‘personalities’ seem to be so tightly controlled – or else the reverse: enfants terribles who are equally tedious because we know in advance that they are going to smash the place up.  We have very few genuine individuals left: Patrick Moore was one; Robert Peston is another.  Treasure them.

A great night at Yesim’s last night: we had the most people EVER: Bobba from Pinggk! who declared it one of the best groups he’d attended; Carol Leeming, Rowan and Willow Songsmith, Jonathan’s friend Steve and many, many more.  The Yesim’s Music Circle Song was sung with terrific gusto  – loads of voices and a plethora of instruments – and I sold three Tomatoes Poetry Pamphlets!

An e-book is coming soon – watch this space…

Kirk out

*incidentally I have just discovered why my phone appears to have started screaming – apparently Orange has been taken over by something called EE…