Eclipses and Auroras

You’re going to be disappointed. This is possibly the dullest astronomical post you’ll ever read, if you’re rash enough to read on in the hope that I’m joking.

Well, just so that it isn’t a complete waste of your time, it started with a post that just crossed my radar on the Cornish Story web site. Cornwall and the Scillies were the part of Britain best-placed to see the total eclipse of 1999, and while many were disappointed that Cornish mizzle obscured the spectacle, Alan Murton and his family were luckier than most and got a pretty good view from the cliffs at Perranporth, as described in his article Whose Eclipse?

In his postscript, he says: “Can you remember the full eclipse of the sun?  I do because I was among the lucky ones who enjoyed the sight of the clouds parting a few minutes before totality.”

On another day, I probably wouldn’t have commented on that, but as it happens I’m sitting in my pyjamas with my brain working at half-speed due to a (hopefully temporary) condition that’s too dull and (more importantly) too embarrassing to describe further, and this is about the most useful bit of writing I’m capable of right now.

So yes, I remember it. Mostly because I didn’t see it. I wasn’t in Cornwall, for a start, and hadn’t been for many years (holidaying as a child). I was in London, working for Imperial Cancer Research Fund, which later became Cancer Research UK. And I was probably the only person in the building, everyone else having rushed out to Lincoln’s Inn Fields to see whatever the weather permitted of the eclipse. Why? I was on the phone to some other luckless, totality-deprived individual, trying to get a handle on his or her IT-related problem. No, of course I don’t remember what the problem was: if it was a helpdesk day, it could have been anything. So my view of the eclipse was basically that of darkness suddenly descending on Kingsway: apart from the speed of the descent, it looked much like any winters evening looked from my office, except that I didn’t have to wait for dawn next day to see daylight again. My daughter, who was with her mother  in Austria, did rather better.

Ah, you may say, but you’re in Cornwall now, so you must have seen the Aurora Borealis? Well, I did go out at a ridiculous hour of the morning in the hope of seeing it, but I didn’t see the amazing displays people in Cornwall had actually seen the night before. Because it was an amazingly clear night, I did take some photographs anyway, and because the phone needed exposures of several seconds, I did get to see some effects I hadn’t seen with the naked eye: a mysterious green aura over the nearest large town, and a halo round the moon. Here they are, but they’re hardly prizewinning photos.

Well, I promised you disappointment, and I always keep my promises. I can only say that some of the other photos were even duller. Perhaps I should have tried for a video or two, since I couldn’t realistically do time-elapsed stills.

David Harley

Adventures in Video – Painting the Desert

I don’t have technical skills to generate sophisticated animations and such, and I’d rather not flood the world with too many live videos of variable quality. But some recordings seem to fit OK with a series of photographs. Well, to my ear and eye, anyway. ‘Painting the Desert’ is actually an improvised slide guitar piece accompanied by photographs from a drive through the Painted Desert in Arizona, from when we followed up a work trip to the Bay Area and San Diego with a version of the Grand Circle Road Trip including Zion, Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon, as well as Sedona, Oak Canyon and so on. I have a feeling that I’ll eventually find a use for some of the photos from those attractions, too. In the meantime…

Gigging again in the Midlands

Photos of Don Mac and myself at the West Malvern Social Club a week ago. Our first set together in about 30 years! A couple of days later we gigged at the No. 8 Community Arts Centre in Pershore – which is a great venue – but I don’t have any pictures from that.

Anyway, it was great to play together again, and I hope we’ll get to do so again before too long.

David Harley

Two for Joy

One for sorrow, two for joy… meditations on a very handsome bird with a slightly dubious reputation.

Seeing no less than eight magpies in the garden today – well, I only saw three, but my wife saw five more before I got there – I was trying in vain to remember some of the lines to the nursery rhyme (the Spencer Davies Group version kept getting in the way). I always assumed that the line from that version – ‘ten is a bird you must not miss’ if I remember correctly – was a sneaked-in-novation  to hook viewers of the ‘Magpie’ programme into tuning in next week, but it turns out that at least one version from Lancashire has a similar line. ‘Ten a surprise you should be careful not to miss’: doesn’t scan very well, but possibly good advice, at least some of the time. That Lancashire version actually goes up to 13: I found it on the British Bird Lovers site, though the RSPB site also refers to it.

Wikipedia tells me that it has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 20096. Magpies are frequent visitors to other songs, though, some of which are included in that Wikipedia article. Then there’s this one from Donovan’s ‘Gift From A Flower To A Garden’, for instance. And even one of mine, though in that instance the reference is a little oblique.

I must admit that despite their slightly dubious reputation, being associated with bad luck and even the devil, they are very handsome birds. Not altogether comfortable neighbours, though: when I lived in North London, I used to visit the Rye Meads Nature Reserve.  The first time I took my daughter there, though, I was discomfited to discover that the kingfishers I’d half-promised her had been driven away by egg-stealing magpies. 😦

But here, specially for you, are ‘two for joy’. Though it kind of looks as if they’re not speaking right now.

David Harley