Instanding fusion reaction

Just in case the English language were to be considered to have come up a trifle short lexically, I have invented my own word to launch the title.  I have decided that the antonym for outstanding must be instanding – I rejected outsitting as ugly and outlying is already in use.

In fact, I am being overly harsh to the fusion reaction in question: the churning maelstrom that constitutes our local star.  Without its efforts (though I’d question whether the unalive can be considered to be putting in effort), my own paltry existence would not be possible.  Indeed, without the work of its predecessors over some thirteen (and a chunk of change) billion years, many of the elements would not exist which have been brought together in the occasionally harmonious conjunction I like to call my body.  So, I think I can admit that I’m pleased that stellar fusion is a part of my universe – though if you want me to be impressed, you will have to move beyond slave-like adherence to the laws of physics (which, by definition I think, is impossible).  Shania Twain and I are as one in this (and probably only this) one area.

My objection is to the annoying tilting of my life towards the great celestial gasbag which occurs at this time of the year.  In common, I assume, with many others, I find myself, during the long dark months of winter, eagerly anticipating the return of summer.  Why?  I’ve seen fifty examples of summer by now – surely, given such an extensive catalogue of disappointment to draw from, I should have preserved some memories to insulate me against such expectations?  Apparently not.

Readers who share these soggy isles with the author may expect me to denounce the frequent rain and disappointingly low temperatures: instead, and ever the contrarian, I shall object to those summery conditions which are assumed to be a cause of universal delight.  I speak, of course, of that over-praised combination of a peerless blue sky, strong sunshine and temperatures rising well above 20ºC.

I don’t object to the vault of heaven being suffused by a universally cerulean hue, but one can fairly quickly have too much of a good thing and better people than I (Gavin Pretor-Pinney for one) have explained the vital interest that clouds can bring to the sky. I could point to the fact that aircraft contrails rarely offer the imagination the fecund raw material provided by a single healthy puff of cumulus.  Or we could consider the magical beauty of a sun-illumined land- or cityscape “popping” against the backdrop of threatening charcoal storm clouds.  As my final example in support of our unfairly maligned vaporous friends, just think of the glorious canvas they provide to the long-wavelengthed palette of the sun as its light encounters the horizon.

I have nothing against sunshine when its photons catch me with a suitably glancing blow.  For three seasons of the year, the over-excited ultraviolet rays (whether A or B) cast out by the sun are attenuated by a hefty thickness of atmosphere.  As a result, my ravaged epidermis and I can go outside without fear of further damage or precipitating uncontrolled cellular reproduction.  However, during the summer I am forced to coat any exposed flesh with greasy, titanium dioxide based gunk to avoid providing some free marketing for Messrs Farrow and Ball and the sort of wall-colouring they would recommend for rectory or “eating room” (their rather sinister words, not mine).  Use of this gunk is not without expense and it is inevitably transferred to my clothing and certainly encourages me to perspire more vigorously: a triple whammy of unwanted outcomes.

This brings me to the temperature itself.  As I have aged (it seemed the best available option), I find that life is at its best when the mercury is resting somewhere in the sixties, as defined by Mr Fahrenheit.  It can peep into the low seventies (just for a quick look, but no loitering), but anything above that seems to encourage my fellow bipeds to expose excessive swathes of their flesh (and sight of such flesh rarely rewards the viewer).  It also places severe restrictions on my own clothing choices, if I am to minimise my discomfort, and usually leads to a shortage of pockets.  In this country, any warmth above my optimum level seems to be accompanied by excessive humidity, further increasing the discomfort.  To strengthen my case still more, I would note that very little of the built or transport infrastructure of this country seems to have been designed or constructed with such warmth in mind – as with snow, it seems to come as a dreadful shock every time.  I’m not sure precisely how much DNA we share with the humble (and probably apocryphal) goldfish but, when it comes to engrammatic efficacy, it may be more than is commonly realised.

The one key thing in summer’s favour is the wealth of tasty local fruit and vegetables that it grants: either directly or by putting in the preparatory work for an autumn harvest.  However, I’m fairly sure this bounty could still be delivered with a few more clouds and less exuberant use of temperature.  For this writer, spring and autumn are the pick of the seasons: summer with its myriad flaws trails in a very distant third or fourth.  With a little luck, the mere creation of this post will spare me (and possibly you, dear reader) from fostering unrealistic hopes (how sad is it that so many hopes are abandoned by their parents?) in the short, chilly days of the coming winter.  It is as well to be prepared as the current scientific consensus suggests that summers (as rated by me) will be growing worse, rather than better, as the century ages (and us along with it).  Time to learn some Norwegian?

The heat is on

Not, I should make clear, the heating.  That hasn’t been on for months – I am either very green or cheap, take your pick!

No, South Cambs (and much of the rest of the UK) has been basking in what I think we used to call a “summer”.  This is a season I vaguely remember from my distant youth, but haven’t seem much of in recent years.  So long has it been, that I have had to dig out long forgotten clothing, from the places I had squirrelled it away, appropriate for temperatures touching the eighties (Fahrenheit).

I must admit that I’m not terribly keen on hot weather – and hot, sunny weather even less.  I’m fine up to around 70°F, but much above that I grow rapidly less keen – though with very low humidity it can be acceptable in a holiday destination.  As a result, beach holidays do not appeal – I can spend about 5 minutes on a beach before I’m bored, you can’t even comfortably read a book because of the glare, and what something else to do.

I realise this is not a common view in the current era, where we are all assumed to want hot, sunny weather.  I have no particular aesthetic objection to acquiring a modest tan – though recognise this view is very much of my time, a few years back I’d no doubt have been coating myself in white lead to appear as pallid as possible.  Whilst exposure to sunshine is probably less deadly than lead-based cosmetics, it still isn’t terribly good for one – even ignoring the potential cellular and DNA-damage, it is terribly ageing and I’m looking quite aged enough already thank you very much.  As a result, I feel I have to coat myself in foul, titanium dioxide based gunk to protect my alabaster limbs and face from the sun’s ultry violet rays (I know, I’m not a proper Englishmen – must be my Welsh roots showing, we of the Principality are much better in rain than sun).  As this blog may have mentioned before, I hate getting my hands dirty (literally, I’m fine with figurative filth) and suntan lotion makes me feel dirty.  Roll on MAA-based lotions – well, it works for coral and seem much less objectionable (well, at least according to the late lamented Material World).

Cycling in hot, sunny weather is also a terribly sweaty experience – one is relatively fine while moving as a result of the natural, forced-air conditioning.  However, as soon as you stop at a junction, one is instantly rendered rather wet (and not in a nice way).  This is not the ideal state of arrival at a concert or theatre – few of which provide showering facilities for their patrons (or probably their performers in some cases!).  As the government seems to have money (ours) to burn on infrastructure projects, can I suggest public showers in our major towns and cities?

So, all-in-all, if we are going to be changing this climate (and we seem very keen to do so) could I put in a request that we cap the temperatures for the southern half of the UK at around room temperature with light winds and easily forecasted rain.  Otherwise, I may have to defect to Alex Salmond’s new kingdom.

Egocentric? Moi?

As a single, white, middle-aged man living in the West I am probably at quite a high risk of coming to believe myself to be the centre of the universe. Despite the risk factors involved, I fondly like to imagine that I mostly avoid the worst excesses of the egocentric (but then, perhaps this is true of all egomaniacs?).  At least I have been spared the horrors of fame which seems to substantially raise the risks.

Usually, if my ego threatens to break loose of its bonds, my habit of travelling by public transport quickly disabuses me of any notions of being the centre of the universe.  When travelling by Greater Anglia, it is usually pretty clear that no passenger (sorry, customer) is even remotely near the centre of their corporate universe.  Last week, even a stray swan was further up the pecking order then we mere customers – I know that urban myth suggests swans can break your arm, but I’d never previously heard anyone suggest they can break a train.  Other than some of our larger waterfowl, I’m not entirely clear for whose benefit Greater Anglia is run.  I suspect one objective is just to be marginally better than First Capital Connect and so stay off the bottom of the rail satisfaction league tables.

In my more paranoid moments, I do wonder if the fact that Greater Anglia is owned by the Dutch may be relevant (let’s face it, much of our critical infrastructure is owned by Johnny foreigner).  By keeping a significant portion of the UK’s working population regularly heavily delayed and so tired and frustrated, they are helping to keep the country from economic recovery to the benefit of our competitors in the Netherlands (and elsewhere).  However, my more rational mind tends to remind me that the people of Holland really don’t need to exert themselves to delay our recovery when our own government is doing such an excellent job on its own.

Whilst Greater Anglia is doing its best to keep my feet firmly on the ground (well, it’s often cleaner than the seats), my life a-wheel oft has the opposite effect.  On Friday, I headed into Cambridge to visit the flicks and then go on to a soirée to celebrate mid-summer.  The weather forecast said “dry” – so I took some precautions – but nevertheless headed out into dry sunshine.  Within 100 yards of leaving home, the sun departed and the rain arrived.  I put up with this for a mile or so, but it became more insistent so I removed by shades and put on my jacket before continuing onwards.  Within 100 yards of this wardrobe change, the rain stopped and the sun re-appeared and so I found myself squinting and sweating.  After a couple of miles of this, I changed back out of my jacket and replaced my sunnies.  Again, within 100 yards of me re-starting my journey the sun once again disappeared and it started spitting.  This spitting grow stronger and after a mile or so had become torrential rain, and so I was once again forced to change my attire.  This time it took some 200 yards before the rain vanished and the sun returned – but I’d had enough and so sweated and squinted the remaining three miles into town.

It would seem that the rain and sun were following me with an explicit plan to be as irritating as possible – a plan they delivered on with admirable thoroughness.  It reminds me of a story from childhood where the sun and wind have a competition to make a passer-by remove his coat.  Perhaps I am the centre of the universe?  Or of someone else’s nursery story?  Or at least a VIP in the world of earth-based weather phenomena?  Lest we forget, when I last visited Florida it snowed – for the first time in 80 years!  Coincidence?  Well, quite possibly yes.

Yesterday, I headed down to Lewes for a concert – and so had to cycle to the station to catch a specific train.  The day was dry except for one (relatively brief) period.  From the earliest time I could sensibly leave for my train until just after the last time I could leave and hope to catch my train it rained.  Well, more than rained, it hammered down with Biblical intensity.  As with the previous day, the extraordinarily tight focus on my own outdoor movement plans is highly suspicious.  This time, the plan failed – I made it to the train with nearly 30 seconds to spare.  However, I did have to ride like the very wind and endure significant initial moistening on departure.  I think this failure did rather knock the wind out of the weather’s sails, and for the rest of the day it only made very lacklustre attempts to drench me.

The way things are going, I fear I may be entirely lost to solipsism after a couple more times out on the old velocipede.  Then again, as a philosophy it doesn’t sound much fun at all given how much fun the world outside the self can offer!

On Friday, my slightly damp body was delivered to the quite excellent Before Midnight at the Arts Picturehouse before I then went on to a truly marvellous party (one I feel Noel Coward himself may have approved of).  Fine company and conversation were accompanied by a little gentle music provided by some of the guests.  Added to this, I managed to eat a truly prodigious amount of cheese washed down with more than a little white wine.

Yesterday, good company and fine music were once again on the cards as soon as I reached East Sussex (by now having dried off), this time thanks to the Esterházy Chamber Choir and their summer concert.  The concert had a strangely appropriate first act closer (as I believe they say in the business known as show): a setting by George Shearing of “Hey, ho, the wind and the rain” (by old Bill Shakespeare, but placed into the mouth of Feste).  Does someone if the choir have the second sight?

So, I shall try to resist the rise of my ego and maintain myself at a suitable distance from the centre of the universe – something which I’m sure any decent cosmologist would tell me doesn’t even exist.  Whilst I’m pretty sure I’m not the centre of the universe, I do sometimes wonder if I am (in fact) a minor character in a very long running sitcom.  As a result, I do always have half an eye out for the studio audience…

Pharos

Over this last weekend, there was a strange light in the sky over South Cambs.  Village elders claimed that this was called the “sun” and used to be a regular visitor – but I’m sceptical and suspect they were gently ribbing we younglings.  Some even claimed that the brief warming we experienced was an atavistic glimpse of something called a “summer” which apparently once lasted for many weeks, but that’s clearly fantasy.  Still, I did use the opportunity to sport both my panama hat and my fivefingers to considerable acclaim (well, the hat part anyway).  Luckily, the normal world order has now been restored and I have been zipped back into my waterproofs for the week.

As part of my efforts to keep the arts going in Cambridge going single-handed, I was out every evening last week from Monday to Saturday.  This did enable me to cover theatre, music, comedy and cinema – but also took its toll.  I’m not sure how my mind and body would have stood up to such exertions when my telomeres were rather longer – largely because I was not foolish enough to put matters to the test in my youth – but by yesterday I was really quite tired.  So, I scheduled an evening catching up on the output of BBC4 – that pharos of the mind – which I had missed during the week.

Between the cerebral delights of BBC4, my recording device chose to revert to Channel 4 for some reason and so I caught brief glimpses of one of the Twilight movies.  Young people today are often criticised for having very short attention spans, but many of them (I believe) enjoy these films despite the fact that this one, at least, was interminable.  I managed to watch an episode of the Bridge, a documentary on the Antikythera mechanism and hold a telephone conversation of reasonable length and yet still the film was continuing when I shut-up shop for the night.  The plot seemed to revolve around a miserable girl moping a lot, quite often in heavy rain.  She seemed to keep afflicting herself on some lad who initially had long hair and dressed relatively normally but later had clearly had a haircut and spent most of his time wandering around topless in shorts and heavy rain.  I presume he had been driven to this by the relentless melancholy of his female chum, perhaps in the hope that he would catch his death of cold and be spared her attentions?

Anyway, this lad (I think he may have been the J of the series’ very own Jedward) seemed to have a very healthy all-over tan for someone who spends quite so much time in the rain.  I do not seem to have been similarly blessed despite the recent precipitation – perhaps I should be cycling around topless?  If nothing else it would resolve the issues caused by my waterproofs (human skin, as recently reported, is waterproof thanks to some of the fats in the stratum corneum) and as a bonus could yield a healthy glow.  However, it was not the boy’s skin tone that caught my attention but his teeth.  Even in the screen-based “entertainments” from the land of the free, where the whiteness of one’s dentition is seen as strangely important, I have never seen such brilliantly white teeth before.  They were literally fluorescently white: positively glowing.  If his movie career doesn’t take off (and on the evidence of the clips I saw, acting may not be his strong suit), he could find work with Trinity House keeping ships safe from rocks (and other maritime hazards) around this country’s shoreline.

Cake Walk

Safely ensconced at Glandwr Mill, it would seem that the title of this post does not create quite the dialectical opposition I had previously suggested.  My first two days in Cymru have each yielded both a fine walk and an excellent cake.  As a result, I can confirm that T H Roberts remains the cake connoisseur’s cafe of choice in this part of the world.

The rain, for which Wales is justly famed (and which my Sawston garden sorely needs), does serve at least two very useful purposes.  This morning’s downpours permitted a guilt-free lie-in and lazy morning (neither of which will be delivered by tomorrow’s sunny prognosis).   When the sun came out this afternoon (I’d always suspected something, you never hear mention of a girlfriend), we discovered it had also re-charged the local rivers so the Torrent Walk more than lived up to its billing – some seriously raging waters and evidence (for the more fanciful rambler) of a game of Pooh sticks played by local giants (I suppose there might be a more prosaic explanation for the tree trunks in the river – but I’m sticking with whimsy).

Tomorrow’s itinerary does not allow an excursion into Dolgellau, so any posts tomorrow night could see our hero going through the cake equivalent of cold turkey.  What this will mean for the quality (or even quantity) of any material produced is hard to judge…