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Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Visiting the Dark Side

Yesterday - Halloween - was  Dark Matter Day. All across the globe there were events celebrating the unknown and I attended two of them in London, in the afternoon at the Royal Astronomical Society (RSA) and in the evening at King's College London.

Frankly I was scandalised by what I learnt. Apparently scientists discovered that we'd been underestimating the mass of the universe by a factor of 5.  I don't know about you but if I'd been out by a factor of 5 in my job I'd have been out on my ear. But not scientists - oh no - not even an apology for suddenly discovering that the Universe was 5 times more massive that they'd told us previously. Imagine waking up one morning to find that your credit card balance has increased 5 fold!

I'm totally amazed by this. Why no statement in Parliament, why no Royal Commission into why the Universe is now 5 times more massive? Where's that  Department for Universal Heaviness - it could be headed by one of those useless Brexit ministers. Instead it's pushed under the carpet and we've been kept in the dark about Dark Matter.

It wasn't just  the RSA that blandly told us we're massively more massive than we thought we were. My alma mater King's casually informed the assembled audience that the universe was morbidly obese. That is, frankly a national, if not cosmological, scandal. Scientists, many who are even more intelligent than me, appeared not to be concerned. I'm no scientist, but if the Big Bang discovered it was 5 times more massive than it thought it was maybe it wouldn't have gone Bang. You see my point.

All this appears to me as a job creation scheme for theoretical physicists, mathematicians and computer programmers. Look, someone comes up with this idea about spinning tops (aka galaxies) and why they're spinning faster than they should be - maybe they were given an extra push early on? Then there's these great big magnifying glasses in the sky and something to do with radio waves from Radio Luxembourg a long time ago when Jimmy Saville spun the  discs. All of a sudden loads of post doctorate bods, on the dole, and thinking they might have to sign up with Uber, start theorising about Dark Matter. There you have it  - the Black Economy.

I won't talk about Dark Energy. It's all summed up in that great 1985 Dire Strait's hit "Money for Nothing". Great days. When Pluto was still a PLANET!!!

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Life as an intellectual is not easy

Having seen "Blade Runner 2049" and "Loving Vincent" in the same week as attending my Poetry Group, the Poetry Writing Course at the City Lit,  the Poets' Corner Book Club and having picked up my pre-ordered copy of Philip Pullman's first volume of the "Book of Dust" trilogy I am exhausted.

One minute, I'm writing free form poems, analysing others creative efforts, then I'm off immersed in a film about Van Gogh's death and a film made of acrylic paint. No sooner has that finished but Waterson's are telling me Mr Pullman is awaiting my attentions. Then there was the visit to the local Empire to take in, analysis and digest  Denis Villeneuve's reworking of the Blade Runner story.'s the Book Club where we gave Jane Harper's "The Dry" a good going over.

Frankly by the weekend it was all I could do to home bake 12 organic wholemeal rolls and a pizza before hurrying down to the allotment to give the grass paths their last mow, pick the remaining apples (quite delicious - sweet and crisp), harvest the butternut squash, dig up a horseradish root (nothing compares to freshly grated root mixed with English mustard, wine vinegar and double cream, with a dash of salt and pepper), and cut some Swiss chard for my neighbours. The spinach will have to wait - I've just finished sowing my early broad beans and Japanese onions and have pruned the blackcurrants while contemplating the significance of Stephen Hawking's  1965 PhD thesis on expanding universes. 

It's a lot to take in but it is expected of us intellectuals - especially as Waltham Forest is vying to be London's first Borough of Culture. No honest. Waltham Forest is  a hive of creative activity not to mention local honey - I bought four jars from the guy that has bees on our allotment. There's drama, all sorts of art - high, low and indifferent, music - folk, rock, chamber and orchestral as well as choirs coming out of your ears. I have to do my bit to develop this cultural miliau.

Unfortunately my creative thrust has come up short. The groundbreaking crime thriller set variously in the present, 80's and 50's - has been killed off. Also my groundbreaking sci -fi novel "Departure" - following on where Denis Villeneuve's "Arrival" left off remains earth bound. An exciting and unusual plot line failing to ignite. Currently my hero is stuck just off Enceladus meeting up with a member of super species from the centre of our galaxy. In addition my purple patch of poetry creation is now decidedly off colour and I'm forced to construct rhyming couples of a dubious nature. I take comfort in the knowledge that Ibsen and Chekhov suffered from similar deserts of inspiration - although they clearly wound up at the oasis - I'm not sure I won't have my bones picked by the vultures long before I reach any palm fringed pool of sweet, cool water.

Yet in the despond of despair and after a couple of glasses of California's best Cab Sav we intellectuals must struggle on: it is our duty; we owe it to you all. After all without us, and I include Prof Hawkins and Mr Pullman among others, our Post Brexit UK would be calamitous. Wouldn't it?

Monday, 16 October 2017

Disappointed with how things are progressing?

At the moment, if I weren't such a cheerful chap I could be seriously down in the mouth. It's not just one thing that could drag me down but an accumulation of "nasties".

The biggest nasty and the one I can do nothing about is getting old. Do you know, sometimes I wake up in a cold sweat at night - all because I retired 10 years ago. Or an event comes into my head: a party at some friends' house. Then I recall that they're not my friends any more since I haven't seen them since that party 34 years ago. The shock is palpable. Or that my mother died 36 years ago and I'd just started my last job when my father died - 14 years ago. Or that it's 50 years since I shared a flat in West Hampstead with some college friends.

Meeting up with old friends can be traumatic as well. Are they still healthy? Will they mention a work colleague who's died recently? Are they losing their hair, their memory or mind and all they seem to be gaining is inches round the waist.

I don't feel old, except now two or three hours down the allotment means I'll fall asleep on the settee afterwards. I see some of my friends slowing down, mentally and physically - I don't tell them. I wonder if they're thinking the same about me. I'm torn at times between thinking it's time to relax, slow down, put my feet up or whatever euphemism fits, and then again determined to keep pushing myself. Usually the energetic me wins. So I go down the allotment 3 times a week and weed and dig or cut up wood. I'll join another evening class, writing or poetry group, write a few poems or chapters of my many unpublished "novels". I'll try one of the brain teasers on line - until they get too difficult, and set up a new spreadsheet to calculate our net worth or whether we can splash out on a new bathroom.

I'm looking forward to the trip to Antarctica with my friend Peter this March. I've enjoyed figuring out how I can afford it and enjoy telling people about the up coming trip. I've started head planning other adventures. Fifteen years ago I spent a day , with Peter, gliding. Why 15 years has lapsed since then I don't know, but I think that's something to consider. That and power flight! Also I'm attracted to going to hard to get to places. The Pitcairn Islands strikes me as a pretty good idea. Except, I saw a programme about New Zealand sub antarctic islands - they look pretty inhospitable and fantastic. I did, however, see a programme about the Outer Hebrides and St Kilda. A trip to those places would be a sort of half way house.

I reckon by planning something in the future; something different I'll keep living. I've seen too many just relax into inactivity and slip away without really noticing. If I can feel like I'm keeping my end up life-wise, then Brexit, the calamitous state of UK, European and American politics, the increasing unfairness and the obscene worship of money, status and position won't weigh me down so much.

Not if I've icebergs as far as the eye can see, roaring seas and penguins in March and a trip to Disappointment Island in say 2019.