The Travellers and the Rest

Yesterday’s journey to the Big Smoke wasn’t as bad as it might have been, although it was a bit frustrating at times. The train was diverted through Bath to avoid flooding near Bristol, which added about 20 minutes to the journey time. That was expected, so didn’t cause any major anxiety. After the rather scenic detour we found ourselves back in familiar territory on the Cardiff-London line, Swindon. I never thought I’d see the day when I was pleased to arrive at Swindon! However, my pleasure soon evaporated when we sat on the platform at Swindon without moving, and with no announcements or information or explanation, for another 15 minutes. Obviously 25 minutes late just wasn’t late enough for First Great Western, so they had to hold the train to enhance further their record of unpunctuality. In the end we arrived at Paddington 40 minutes late. Not good.

I still got to the meeting in time for a quick cup of tea before the afternoon’s proceedings. Straight away there was some great news. The President of the RAS, Prof. Roger Davies, announced the recipients of this year’s medals and awards and among them was Cardiff’s own Matt Griffin, who receives the Jackson-Gwilt Medal.  According to the RAS website

The Jackson-Gwilt Medal is available for award annually for the invention, improvement or development of astronomical instrumentation or techniques; for achievement in observational astronomy; or for achievement in research in the history of astronomy.

Matt Griffin’s citation reads as follows:

This year’s winner is Professor Matt Griffin of the University of Cardiff, for his work on instrumentation for astronomy in the submillimetre waveband, the region of the electromagnetic spectrum between the far-infrared and microwave wavebands.

Matt Griffin is one of a select group of scientists that helped establish a UK lead in the technical development of instrumentation for submillimetre astronomy. He has been involved in most submillimetre instrument projects over the last three decades, including the Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver (SPIRE) camera on Herschel. Matt led a diverse international team to bring this project to fruition, encompassing 18 institutions on three different continents.

SPIRE represents a step change in capability. With the ground-based SCUBA camera, 20 nights of observing led to the detection of 5 galaxies at submillimetre wavelengths. With SPIRE, 6000 galaxies can be detected in 8 hours.

Matt Griffin thus receives the Jackson-Gwilt Medal for in particular his outstandingly successful work on SPIRE, an instrument that is transforming submillimetre astronomy.

Heartiest congratulations to Matt and, of course, to the rest of this year’s awardees!

After the RAS meeting it was time for dinner. Owing to a muddle with bookings The Athenaeum wasn’t available for this month’s RAS Club dinner so we dined instead in the unfamiliar surroundings of The Travellers Club, which is actually next door at 106 Pall Mall.Given the trials and tribulations of travelling with First Great Western, perhaps I should apply for honorary membership?

The room we had was smaller than usual, but cosy, and the staff were very friendly. The dinner wasn’t marvellous but as always there was no shortage of interesting conversation, some of it even relating to astronomy! I got grilled by a few people about what’s going on with STFC new consolidated grants system. I told everyone who asked everything I know about it, which didn’t break any confidentiality because I don’t know anything at all.

The table service was a bit slower than at the Athenaeum so it was quite late by the time we got onto the club business. The January dinner is the “Parish” dinner at which new members and, if necessary, new officers are elected by an amusingly arcane process. A few members had to leave  to catch trains before the business was completed but I stayed to the end at about 10.00pm,  placing (perhaps unjustified) confidence in  the 10.45 train from Paddington actually existing and getting there in time to get it.

I did get to Paddington in good time, and the train hadn’t been cancelled, but it was a bit late leaving.  It then apparently developed an unspecified “mechanical fault” which made for slow running. I got into Cardiff about 25 minutes late. No diversions on the way back – presumably the floods had subsided. Perhaps there’s an excuse for the chaos ensuing from the floods, but poor maintenance is surely entirely the fault of the train company.  Not a good day for First Great Western, especially when they’ve raised their already exorbitant fares for the new year..

Oh, and one other thing that’s not at all connected with anything else. As I walked back through Sophia Gardens from the station to my house in Pontcanna about quarter to two in the morning, I saw a fox hurtling across the path in front of me then vanishing into the trees. When I lived in Beeston (a suburb of Nottingham) I saw foxes very regularly, often in my own garden. Likewise even when I lived in Bethnal Green, in the East End of London. I was  quite surprised when I moved to my house in Cardiff, right next to Pontcanna Fields and Bute Park, that no foxes were to be seen despite the apparently more promising surroundings. I’ve now lived here for two and a half years and this is the first one I’ve ever spotted. I wonder why there are so few foxes in this area?


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9 Responses to “The Travellers and the Rest”

  1. Rhodri Evans Says:

    Why so few foxes in Cardiff? Because the Welsh eat them.

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    Tally Ho Peter!

  3. Anton Garrett Says:

    I like the idea of being diverted through BATH to avoid a flood…

  4. If it’s foxes you want there are always lots hanging around the Heath Hospital in the early hours. Goodness knows why. Maybe they eat the cats that eat the rats that … whatever.

  5. Bryn Jones Says:

    I deliberately held back from commenting here about the relative fox populations of Cardiff, Beeston (Nottinghamshire) and Bethnal Green (London), or the last meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society, for fear that the blog and my comments might appear a little incestuous: I have lived previously in Cardiff and Beeston, currently live in Bethnal Green, and attended last week’s RAS meeting.

    However, given that Peter’s latest blog post impinges on ultra-compact dwarf galaxies, there seems no point in holding back any longer.

    At least I’m not a member of the RAS Dining Club.

    I did see foxes regularly in Beeston, particularly in the streets, and do see them regularly in Bethnal Green, although here they are more common very late at night when there no longer people walking their dogs. There were far fewer foxes in Cardiff.

    I did have problems with animals breaking into bin bags in my old Cardiff garden, which I assumed were foxes but didn’t ever see them. The regular tearing open of the bins left a horrible mess. I got so irritated by this that I eventually took action. The next time I had some chicken bones to be thrown out, I put them into a plastic bag, added half the contents of a jar of hot chilli powder and mixed them together. I sealed the bag and tied it to a post at the top of the garden. The bag had been broken into the following morning, but the contents had not been removed. I never had problems with broken bin bags after that.

    • telescoper Says:

      I’ve had that problem only once in Pontcanna, after I put a bag out late at night to be collected the following morning. I am not convinced that it was a fox that did it. It could have been rats, or even seagulls.

    • Bryn Jones Says:

      Or dogs. Or cats.

      I don’t actually know what animals are sensitive to the taste of chilli. Different animals might have different sensory responses.

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