Postcard from Cardiff

So here I am in Cardiff for the weekend, relaxing after a very busy and stressful week. It’s nice to have the option to get away like this, especially in the spring sunshine, so I’m glad I kept the Cardiff house going rather than try to sell it the moment I got the job at Sussex University. I have been working very long hours recently and with another month to go before the end of teaching term, I think I need to make better use of the weekends if I’m going to avoid a state of complete exhaustion.

On Friday I attended a meeting of the Council of the Royal Astronomical Society (of which I am an elected member) followed by a very interesting Open Meeting and a nice dinner with the RAS Club. After all that I took the late train to Cardiff instead of going back to Brighton.

During the journey I thought quite a lot about Tony Benn; the news of his death at the age of 88 was announced on Friday morning. Although I didn’t agree with his political views on some things, he was a person I admired enormously and I am very sad that he is no more.

I only ever met Tony Benn once, many years ago, as it happens, on a train from Brighton to London. It was one of those old-fashioned carriages, divided into compartments each with a door. I had almost missed the train and was so flustered when I got on that it took me some time to recognize the gentleman opposite who was just lighting his pipe.

I summoned up the nerve to speak, shook his hand, and introduced myself. We were the only occupants of the carriage and we talked for the entire journey – an experience I’ve never forgotten. In person Tony Benn was wonderful: charming, kindly, impeccably polite and above all absolutely fascinating to talk to. As I recall it, I did most of the listening. Not that I minded. I’m a man who likes talking to a man who likes to talk..

People also forget that Tony Benn was one of the very few politicians to champion LGBT rights. It’s now a fashionable thing, but it wasn’t then back in the dark days of Section 28.

So I’d just like to record a little personal farewell to Tony Benn. There’s nobody of his stature in current British politics, and none whose company I’d like to spend a train journey in, either.

Yesterday I was out and about in sunny Cardiff running various undemanding errands, in the course of which I came across an internet cafe. I’ve never actually used one of those before, and was quite surprised that an hour’s access cost just £1. I took the chance to sit down for a bit and wrote yesterday’s blog post there.

Saturday was the last day of the Six Nations rugby and Wales were hosting Scotland. The two sets of supporters were mingling and imbibing throughout the city. When it came to the match, Wales thrashed Scotland 51-3.

Earlier England had comfortably beaten Italy so were top of the table, but would only win the competition if Ireland lost the last game to France in Paris. It was an exciting finale, with stout Irish defence enabling them to cling on to a lead of just two points. So well played Ireland, who probably deserved the title, but also good signs for England whose young side have performed admirably this year. Better luck next year?

At least English supporters can now enjoy one of their favourite pastimes: blaming everything on the French.

It’s warm and sunny again today so I think I’ll take another walk around. I really miss Cardiff, but one has to follow one’s star wherever it leads.

3 Responses to “Postcard from Cardiff”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    Which trains this weekend Peter?

    Interesting that Ireland won the Six Nations but England the Triple Crown.

  2. Bryn Jones Says:

    A few points.

    1. I think Peter has been wise to keep his old house in Cardiff. I sold my Cardiff house after I moved to Nottingham, leaving me to rent homes from then on. I now regret selling my old house.

    2. Friday’s Royal Astronomical Society was indeed interesting. I learnt a lot about the Earth’s magnetic field and its various components from the first talk. The research in the second talk was important as it shows that great care must be taken in interpreting spectra of solid bodies in the Solar System, particularly because of the effect of atmospheric gases on the absorption bands, and the need for appropriate laboratory comparison data. Steve Fossey’s talk about the discovery of the supernova in M82 was interesting and entertaining. It showed how modest telescopes can be used to monitor transient phenomena of considerable importance. The precision of the measurement of masses and radii of stars in eclipsing binary systems shown in the last talk was astonishing, particularly the results using photometry from the Kepler mission. The quality of these parameters is incomparably better now than when I worked on stars 20+ years ago.

    3. I did not meet Tony Benn. I found his commitment to his principles admirable, and his concern for the disadvantaged excellent. However, I also remember the negative effects of his campaigning on the unity of the Labour Party and on its electoral image in the 1980s. The left and centre of British politics needed then to unite in a reasoned, intellectually-robust, criticism of the failures of Thatcherite economic policy. Tony Benn’s campaigns seemed disruptive and self-indulgent to me, creating an image of an irresponsible left-wing in denial about the need for change that Thatcherites were able to exploit to their own advantage. Unity was needed across the centre and left of British politics to defeat the Conservatives electorally in the 1980s. Tony Benn was one of many who made that impossible.

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