Archive for the Biographical Category

Paddy’s Market

Posted in Biographical on January 14, 2017 by telescoper

When I was a kid my Mum would use the expression “Paddy’s Market” quite often, to describe a messy, chaotic place e.g.

Tidy up your bedroom! It’s like Paddy’s Market!

Actually, that’s not so much an “e.g.” as an “invariably”.

Anyway, I always assumed that “Paddy’s Market” was a well-known term, but later began to think it wasn’t used very much at all in the Big Wide World.

The name “Paddy’s Market” clearly derives from the name of a place in Glasgow, which is perhaps testament to my family’s Scottish connections but it may be commonplace on Tyneside (where I was born) and even elsewhere. I just don’t know how widespread is its use.

Anyone out there in the blogosphere care to comment?

Studying Physics & Astronomy at Cardiff University

Posted in Biographical, Education with tags , on January 9, 2017 by telescoper

I just came across this video (featuring, among others, my colleagues Haley Gomez, Carole Tucker and Chris North) advertising the School of Physics & Astronomy at Cardiff University. Since the annual recruitment cycle gets properly under way at this time of year I thought I’d share this here for the benefit of prospective students. We had a record intake last year, for both undergraduates and postgraduates. With outstanding successes in research over the past year (including the discovery of gravitational waves and the opening of a new venture in compound semiconductors) there’ll hopefully be a lot of interest again this year! We’re a friendly lot here, and Cardiff is a great city to live in, so why not get in touch?

Peter Coles and Ken Colyer

Posted in Biographical, Jazz with tags , , on January 5, 2017 by telescoper

My piece just before Christmas about Clem Avery prompted me to do a bit more searching on the internet for jazz-loving family friends and acquaintances. It didn’t take me long to find this (which I got from this website):


The photograph was taken at the Lambton Arms in Chester-le-Street sometime during the 1970s. The gentleman on the left playing cornet is none other than “The Guvnor”, Ken Colyer. Next to him, on trombone, is Peter Coles. No, not me, but my uncle Peter!

Here’s another photo of him, taken from the same website. This also dates back to the 1970s but this one shows him with “Mighty” Joe Young’s band playing at The Honeysuckle in Gateshead. Joe Young is on bass.



Back to Work…

Posted in Biographical, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on January 3, 2017 by telescoper

Well, the Christmas break is over at Cardiff University and I’m back in the office of the Data Innovation Research Institute. To be honest, it’s rather quiet around here. Most staff seem to be still on holiday. There are a few students around, mainly international ones. This is actually a revision week at Cardiff University in advance of the mid-year examinations which start next week and go on for a fortnight. After that we’ll be back into teaching. I’ll be doing a Masters-level module on The Physics of the Early Universe in the forthcoming term, and I’m very much looking forward to it.

The outcomes of the annual round of consolidated grants administered by the Astronomy Grants Panel of Science and Technology Facilities Council were announced just before Christmas, with success for some and disappointment for others. I only have anecdotal evidence from personal contacts but it seems to have been a tough round, which wouldn’t surprise me because the funding for basic scientific research in the UK has been flat in cash terms for many years now, and is gradually being eroded by inflation. It’s a tough climate but when, in a couple of years, we lose access to all forms of EU funding things will get even tougher…

Anyway, as new grants are announced and old ones terminated, this is a busy time of year for postdocs (who are largely funded by research grants) seeking new positions. I’ve spent most of the day so far writing references for applicants and will return to that task for a couple of hours after lunch. It’s particularly tough on those whose positions lapse at the end of March who only got notice just before Christmas that their existing funding is not going to be renewed. There’s little time in such a position to get a new job sorted, but on the other hand, new grants are starting from 1st April so there are opportunities out there. It’s not easy to respond if you have a family or other commitments, though.

Another thing that happened just before Christmas was that the Data Innovation Research Institute here at Cardiff University announced its first tranche of “seedcorn” grants to foster interdisciplinary research. These grants are quite small in cash terms but it is hoped that at least some of them will help develop substantial projects by bringing together parts of the University that don’t previously collaborate enough. Congratulations to those whose proposals were selected, and commiserations to those who were unsuccessful.

I was pleased that my proposal – together with Professor Nikolai Leonenko of the School of Mathematics – was one of the successful bids. That means that, probably in the spring, we will be organizing a short workshop relating to the analysis and modelling of astrophysical data defined on the sphere, a topic which has interesting mathematical aspects as well as very practical implications for astronomy and cosmology. We’ll be starting to organize that soon, which adds another item to my to-do list, but it should be a fun conference when it happens.

Before you ask: yes, I do work for the Data Innovation Research Institute but because I was an applicant I recused myself from judging the applications in case there was any perception of a conflict of interest. So there.

Most of my work between now and the start of teaching term is going to be devoted to a couple of MSc courses we’re planning to launch this year, but I’ll write more about them – and plug them shamelessly – when they’re all formally announced and ready to go!

And with that I’d better get back to work again.

Happy New Year!

Posted in Biographical on January 1, 2017 by telescoper

I was waiting for WordPress to publish the annual statistical summary page for this blog, like it has every year since I started here in 2008 but they seem to have discontinued that practice so I’ll just post the following message instead:

On this I occasion I am reminded of the following reassuring words from the diary of Tsar Nicholas II:

“The year 1916 was cursed; 1917 will surely be better!”

PS. I checked the blog stats myself. I got about 375,000 hits this year, just over a thousand a day, with just under 200,000 unique views. That’s a bit down on last year but that’s not surprsing as I’ve had more gaps in transmission than in previous years.

In 2016 there were 2427 comments on this blog, up about 10% on last year.

Altogether since this blog started in 2008, it has been viewed 2,958,117 times so I should get to 3 million by February!

Memories of Clem Avery

Posted in Biographical, Jazz with tags on December 19, 2016 by telescoper

All the talk about trumpets last week reminded me of an old family friend by the name of Clem Avery. There’s a very nice tribute to Clem on a website run by guitarist Roly Veitch (whence I got the photographs).


Clem Avery (1933-2008)

Clem, who passed away in November 2008, was a very close friend of my father  who died just a year earlier in 2007.  They had known each other since at least the early 60s and had played music together on many occasions (Clem on trumpet and, in later years, bass and my father on drums). That they remained good friends for such a long time is a bit surprising since at one point Clem actually sacked my Dad from his band for being too heavy-handed on the cymbals. Having heard my father play on a few occasions I think Clem probably had a point. But Clem wasn’t the sort of person you could really fall out with for long, and their friendship survived this musical falling-out.

We did try to get Clem to come to my Dad’s funeral but he couldn’t make it. I think it was because he was already suffering from the cancer that would eventually take him.

Roly’s web tribute mentions a long-term residency at the Golden Lion pub in Winlaton during the 70s and 80s in which my Dad (real name Alan) is mentioned under his nickname “Chas”. I heard the band play there on a couple of occasions and they were really good, the presence of Roly Veitch’s (electric) jazz guitar giving them a refreshingly different sound to many other traditional bands.  

I can’t add much to Roly’s piece other than to endorse what he wrote about Clem. Firstly that he was a very accomplished musician who had a far better technique than many much more famous trumpeters. His style was very firmly based on that of Bunk Johnson, though he appreciated good music of many other kinds. As well as playing the jazz that he loved, he also worked as a music teacher and, from time to time, as a session musician. I even saw him on The Tube once (the TV programme, not the London Underground)! When he played trumpet his eyebrows had a tendency to move up and down in coordination. When they were at maximum elevation he looked a lot like Stan Laurel (at least in younger years before he grew a beard). Here is an old picture that makes that comparison a bit easier to imagine:


What I remember most about Clem, however, was just that he was an extraordinarily nice man. He was tall and rather thin with a thoughtful disposition, a  wonderfully laid back attitude to life and a fine dry sense of humour. He was very knowledgeable about many things besides music too. I often sat talking with him in my Dad’s shop in Benwell (where Clem worked on a part-time basis for a while). History (especially local history) was a speciality of his and he was never short of stories to tell.

A New Head for the Old School

Posted in Biographical, Education with tags , , on December 13, 2016 by telescoper

Just a brief post to pass on the news (which I just heard this morning) that the University of Sussex has now formally announced that Professor Philip Harris will be taking over as Head of the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex, the position I held until this summer.

I worked a lot with Philip during the time I was at Sussex as he was Head of the Department of Physics & Astronomy for part of that period. I’m sure he’ll do a great job and I wish him – and indeed the whole School – all the very best for the future!

Incidentally, the news item announcing Philip’s appointment contains the following snippet:

Both departments are ranked first in the UK for graduate prospects in the Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2017 (Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education Survey, 2015-16), with 100% of Mathematics BSc students being in work or further study within six months.

I wasn’t aware of this interesting news before today, and I’m sure it will provide a boost to the School’s efforts in the currently rather challenging student recruitment market. Of course Philip Harris can now take credit for anything good that happens to the School, whereas if anything goes wrong he can always blame it on the old Head of School!