Archive for July, 2016

Cortina d’Ampezzo

Posted in Uncategorized on July 22, 2016 by telescoper

So here I am, then, in a small hotel just outside Cortina d’Ampezzo in the Dolomites North of Venice.


The occasion for this trip is provided by the recent 60th birthday of John Peacock and an informal workshop organised by some friends. I was up at crazy o’clock this morning to get the plane to Venice and we’ve been dodging  thunderstorms all afternoon but I’m sure it will be a nice weekend.

Until later!

Graduation and Beyond

Posted in Biographical with tags , on July 21, 2016 by telescoper

I’ve found a few pictures of this week’s  graduation ceremony for the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex, at which I had the pleasure of presenting the graduands. These are taken without permission from facebook posts!

Graduation ceremonies are funny things. With all their costumes and weird traditions, they even seem a bit absurd. On the other hand, even in these modern times, we live with all kinds of  rituals and I don’t see why we shouldn’t celebrate academic achievement in this way. I love graduation ceremonies, actually. As the graduands go across the stage you realize that every one of them has a unique story to tell and a whole universe of possibilities in front of them. How their lives will unfold no-one can tell, but it’s a privilege to be there for one important milestone on their journey. Getting to read their names out is quite stressful – it may not seem like it, but I do spend quite a lot of time fretting about the correct pronunciation of the names.  It’s also a bit strange in some cases finally to put a name to a face that I’ve seen around the place regularly, just before they leave the University for good. I always find this a bittersweet occasion. There’s joy and celebration, of course, but tempered by the realisation that many of the young people who you’ve seen around for three or for years, and whose faces you have grown accustomed to, will disappear into the big wide world never to be seen again. On the other hand, this year a large number of MPS graduates are going on to do PhDs – including two who are moving to Cardiff! – so they won’t all vanish without trace!



That’s me in the front row just to the left of the Mayor, in case you didn’t realise. It was very hot with all that graduation clobber on – in fact it was over 30 degrees. Waiting for the official photographs outside in the gardens was a rather sweaty experience.


Graduation of course isn’t just about dressing up. Nor is it only about recognising academic achievement. It’s also a rite of passage on the way to adulthood and independence, so the presence of the parents at the ceremony adds another emotional dimension to the goings-on. Although everyone is rightly proud of the achievement – either their own in the case of the graduands or that of others in the case of the guests – there’s also a bit of sadness to go with the goodbyes. It always seems that as a lecturer you are only just getting to know students by the time they graduate, but that’s enough to miss them when they go.

Anyway, all this is a roundabout way of saying congratulations once more to everyone who graduated on Tuesday, and I wish you all the very best for the future!

Minor Swing (for the National Day of Belgium)!

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on July 21, 2016 by telescoper

Not far from the hotel in which I stayed during my visit to Ghent last week is a small but pleasant jazz bar called Minor Swing. I mentioned to some colleagues as we passed by the place that it was clearly named after the tune by Django Reinhardt (who was born in Belgium). In fact it was something of a signature tune for him. Anyway, Radio 3 reminded me this morning that today (21st July)  is Belgian National Day so I thought I’d mark the occasion on this blog by posting a version of Minor Swing that demonstrates Django’s superlative gift for melodic improvisation, together with violinist Stephane Grappelli and the Quintet of the Hot Club of France.

Let’s talk about the Black Bird

Posted in Film with tags on July 20, 2016 by telescoper

For those of you who haven’t seen the Maltese Falcon, here’s my favourite scene from the film. Everything about this is just right: perfect dialogue (from the novel by Dashiel Hammett, adapted by director John Huston), perfect acting (Humphrey Bogart and Sidney Greenstreet), and perfect lighting and camera work (credit the great cinematographer, Arthur Edeson). This film is 75 years old this year but I don’t think it has dated at all!



Leaving Party

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , , on July 20, 2016 by telescoper

As regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Bonkers) will know, I’m about to leave my current job as Head of School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex. Although I don’t actually finish here until the end of the month, there was a small gathering in the School this afternoon to celebrate the fact that I am leaving. Here is the cake:


This was accompanied by Prosecco, opened in dangerously explosive fashion by Philip Harris, who will be taking over as Acting Head of School after my departure. As such he will be responsible for Health and Safety in the School. I hope he fills in a risk assessment before attempting to open any further bottles of bubbly! I got a lovely gift of a pair of champagne flutes, although I haven’t managed to play any music on them yet.

I’ve also been inundated with gifts by Dorothy Lamb, my Head of Schools Coordinator. Dorothy arranged a special treat for me this morning, in the form of a private screening (in the Attenborough Centre) of my favourite film, The Maltese Falcon. I’ve seen this film dozens of times on TV or on DVD but never in the cinema, so this was a very nice thought. Here’s a still from the movie, which reminds me for some reason of the Senior Management Group:


At this afternoon’s cake and wine party, Dorothy also read out a poem what she wrote, which I reproduce here (including a preamble) in the hope that literary agents and talent-spotters might be reading this blog:

Those of you who read Peter’s blog will know that he regularly posts poems by Stevie Smith, Emily Dickinson, Wordsworth and others, plus occasionally his own work. The last time I wrote a poem was when I was about 8 years old and it was published in ‘The Brownie’ so I thought it fitting that, frighteningly, almost half a century on, I should pen another.

To Peter Coles, aged 53 and almost one sixth
Known for a passion for the cryptic,
Let’s hope his departure is not apocalyptic.
A northern gent in whom we trust,
An honest man, some say robust;
A wealth of knowledge, awesome talent
And, as a boss, sublime, transparent.
With Coltrane, Cohen and Humphrey Bogart
He is not backward in going forward.
With diphthongs, datives, gerunds and such
Though untrepanned, he’ll give the heads up.
A Newcastle lad up at Cambridge
Prosecco chilling in the fridge,
He truly does explain things clearly
Though I’m still ignorant of quantum theory.
He always seems to stay clear sighted
Except when it comes to Newcastle United.
A crossword never left unsolved,
An over never left unbowled,
The poems of the good and great,
The Miss Lemon drizzle cake he ate;
And every due respect he paid
To his trusted Midlands maid.
And so we say farewell to Peter,
Though this poem has the strangest meter,
Whilst lexicons fill every space,
An emptiness will take his place,
A smile of sadness on my face.



Dos and Donts for beard wearers in hot weather

Posted in Uncategorized on July 19, 2016 by telescoper


Kmflett's Blog

Beard Liberation Front

19th July

Dos and Donts for beard wearers in hot weather


With temperatures of 30C and above across much of the UK the Beard Liberation Front, the informal network of beard wearers, has produced a guide for beard wearers covering what is prudent for the beard in hot weather and what is not.

Don’t expose the beard hairs and follicles to the sun for any longer than 5 minutes at a time. The sun can dry out hairs and follicles and cause a withering effect.
Don’t use beard oils or waxes. In hot weather they may drip and may cause the beard to become sticky with beard hairs tangled*
Don’t shave off the beard unless absolutely unavoidable, for example you are already working in a very hot environment

Do cool the beard by placing it from time to time in a freezer compartment for a…

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Private Eye on Physics Graduation

Posted in Education, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on July 19, 2016 by telescoper

Given the occasion I thought I’d just post this rather excellent cartoon I saw last year  Private Eye

Physics Graduation

Vesti La Giubba

Posted in History, Opera with tags , on July 19, 2016 by telescoper

On what looks set to be the hottest day of the year I’m getting ready to head off to the Brighton Dome for this afternoon’s graduation ceremony for the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences. This requires the wearing of ridiculously heavy robes on top of a suit which means that I’ll probably melt even before I start reading the names out. Anyway, the need to wear silly clothes for this performance reminded me of the famous aria Vesti La Giubba, which I translate roughtly as “Put on the costume”, from the  Opera Pagliacci. Here is a collection of recordings of this by the great Enrico Caruso, whose 1907 version of Vesti La Giubba was the world’s first million-selling record.


George Ellis – Are there multiple universes?

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on July 18, 2016 by telescoper

So, back to Brighton and a sweltering office on Sussex University Campus. I made it back to pick up the list of names I’ll be reading out at tomorrow afternoon’s graduation ceremony in time to give me a few hours’ practice tonight. On the train back from Cardiff I remembered a discussion I had at the conference last week, especially about the various views about cosmology, especially the idea that we might live in a multiverse. I did a bit of a dig around and found this nice video of esteemed cosmologist  (and erstwhile co-author of mine) George Ellis talking about this, and also about his favourite kind of universe (namely one with a compact topology).


Jacob van Artevelde

Posted in History with tags , , , on July 17, 2016 by telescoper


This statue stands in the Vrijdagsmarkt (“Friday Market”) in Ghent just round the corner from the hotel I stayed in last week. It is of
Jacob van Artevelde , a merchant turned statesman who brokered an alliance with Edward III during the early stages of the Hundred Years War. Flanders had close commercial ties with England at the time and Artevelde thought it would be very bad for business to be on the wrong side of the conflict.

The statue is supposed to show Artevelde pointing in the direction of England, but it isn’t aligned correctly.

Artevelde was very close to the Plantagenet royal family. His son, Philip, being the godson of the Queen, Philippa of Hainault, and named in her honour.

Incidentally, among the actual sons of Philippa of Hainault was John,  who happened to be born in Ghent, which for some reason was rendered in the English of the time as “Gaunt”. John of Gaunt was the first Duke of Lancaster, and founded the House of Lancaster, which gave us Henry IV to Henry VI (inclusive).  In fact (or at least in Shakespeare) it was the eldest son of John of Gaunt, Bolingbroke, who deposed Edward III’s successor Richard II and thus became Henry IV..