Archive for the Biographical Category

Talked Out

Posted in Biographical with tags , , on May 16, 2017 by telescoper

It has been a busy day. Partly this was because I had to give a talk (of which more in due course) but mostly it was thanks to the kind hospitality of my hosts, particularly Lauro Moscardini, whom I have known for many years. I’m just back to the hotel after an extremely pleasant dinner with Lauro at Trattoria Serghei, which is just a few yards from my hotel. I had Tortelloni Burro e Salvia followed by Coniglio Arrosto, accompanied by a fine Sangiovese, in case you’re interested.

When I got up this morning I soon realised the weather was beautiful so instead of getting the bus to the Observatory I decided would just walk there. It turned out to be a good decision. Despite being rather further than the previous site, it only took me 45 minutes to get there, and that included a stop for a coffee. The building is brand new. So new that it’s not fully occupied, but I managed to find my way to the guest office easily. Impressively, despite the incomplete state of much of the interior, I found the WIFI working perfectly.

Anyway, it has been a busy but very enjoyable day. I’ll say more about what my talk was about when I get back home. I’m doing another one on Thursday on a completely different subject, and will no doubt have a completely different dinner too!

Arrivato a Bologna

Posted in Biographical with tags , , on May 15, 2017 by telescoper

After after a journey consisting of train+bus+plane+bus I’ve made it to my destination. I’m here in Bologna for a few days, giving a couple of talks and hopefully having some useful discussions. They’ve booked me into the Hotel Paradise shown above. The title may be a little overstated but it’s a nice friendly little place right in the centre of the city.

Tomorrow I shall be visiting the Osservatorio Astronomico di Bologna, which is part of the Istituto Nazionale de Astrofisica. I’ve been to Bologna before, but the astronomers have moved to a new building which is further out of town than the old one, so it will be a bit of an adventure trying to find it. No doubt I’ll demonstrate yet again my ability to get on the wrong bus…

Anyway, that’s all for now. It is necessary for me to eat a pizza. I hope to have the chance to take a few pictures while I’m here, but that can wait!

Spring Rain

Posted in Biographical, Poetry on May 12, 2017 by telescoper

This poem accurately describes what happened to me walking home yesterday evening…

The storm came up so very quick
It couldn’t have been quicker.
I should have brought my hat along,
I should have brought my slicker.

My hair is wet, my feet are wet,
I couldn’t be much wetter.
I fell into a river once
But this is even better!

by Marchette Chute (1909-1994)

Local Election Issues

Posted in Biographical, Politics with tags , , , on May 4, 2017 by telescoper

Though very much overshadowed by the looming General Election, today sees important local elections in various locations across the United Kingdom including here in Cardiff where all seats on Cardiff City Council are up for grabs. This is an example of a unitary authority, unlike some areas where there are county and borough councils that operate on different levels.

Councillors are paid an `allowance’ which varies across the country but in Cardiff corresponds to a basic amount of £13,300k per annum. Not exactly a luxurious income, but it is essentially a part-time job. That doesn’t mean that it’s easy though, as many difficult choices have to be made when budgets are tight.

Since my current job at Cardiff University is part-time I did toy with the idea of putting myself forward as a Labour Party candidate, but in the end didn’t pursue it – largely because I’ve not had as much free time as I thought I would. In any case we have three very good prospective candidates in Iona Gordon, Kanaya Singh, and Caro Wild. I wish them all good luck!

When I first moved to Cardiff, in 2007, the Liberal Democrats were the largest party in the Council, a position they consolidated in the 2008 elections, where the administration that was formed consisted of a coalition between the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru, the Welsh nationalist party. At the 2012 elections the Liberal Democrats crashed and burned and Labour regained the position as majority party it had lost to the LibDems in 2004. These local elections normally take place every four years, but were deferred by one year by the Welsh Government, which is why they are taking place now rather than in 2016.

Local elections return councillors for each of a number of wards within each area. Some wards return only one representative while others can have a number of councillors. My own ward, Riverside, for example, has three councillors. When I moved to my house in Pontcanna in 2008 all three councillors belonged to Plaid Cymru; at the 2012 elections all three were Labour. I think the past success of Plaid Cymru in Riverside may relate to the presence of Welsh language media organizations in the area. It’s a very mixed ward, actually, with some very posh areas in the North (towards Llandaff) and some very working-class areas to the South.

What will happen this time? I honestly have no idea. It is very difficult to predict local elections on the basis of national politics for a number of reasons. One is that turnout is very low – 30% is very high for this kind of poll. Seats in the council can be gained and lost by just a few hundred votes. There’s also the fact that those people who do vote tend to do so on the basis of very local matters, e.g. the efficiency of the refuse collection service, rather than the national and international issues that will dominate the General Election. Not that this will stop the pundits prattling on about the results.

I can see Plaid Cymru doing reasonably well, but would be surprised if either the Liberal Democrats made a substantial comeback or the Conservatives made big gains. We’ll just have to wait and see, though, as I’ve been massively wrong about such things before!

Anyway, I’m going to a concert tonight to take my mind of things and have no intention of waiting up until the early hours of the morning to hear the results come in, so I’ll update this with the results tomorrow morning.
UPDATE 8.30am, 5/5/2017: Riverside ward returned three labour councillors and Labour retained control of Cardiff City Council.

 When Things Could Only Get Better..

Posted in Biographical on May 1, 2017 by telescoper

Twitter reminded me this morning that it’s twenty years to the day since the Labour Party under Tony Blair swept to a landslide victory in a General Election. ‘Things can only get better’ was the anthem of the times.

How things have changed.

Twenty years on Labour is in disarray, the United Kingdom is more divided than ever, and we’re about to crash out of the European Union. From where I’m standing things can only get worse. And a lot worse, at that.

Anyway, going back to 1997, I remember that the election happened while I was in America; I had cast  postal vote before going on the trip. On the day, I went to a party at the house of a British colleague. Because of the time difference the results came in during the evening there, rather than the early hours of the morning as they would have done at home.

When it became clear that Labour had won, I was already a bit tipsy and decided to celebrate by going to a tattoo parlour to be commemoratively inked. I left with this.

The ‘New Labour’ symbol was a red rose..

The photograph was taken some years after the event, at a conference in Italy. I still have the tattoo, of course, although it has faded a bit (like the rest of me). Among other things,  it reminds me of a time – not too far in the past – when there seemed to be a future.

The Irish Question 

Posted in Biographical with tags , , on April 7, 2017 by telescoper

Not surprisingly, given the imminent likelihood of big cuts to UK Astronomy funding as a result of our withdrawal from the European Union, quite a lot of the conversation at this evening’s RAS Club dinner revolved around ways of keeping EU citizenship in the post-BrExit era.

Through a bit of independent investigation I discovered a few weeks ago that, at least in principle, I qualify for Irish citizenship. This is because one of my grandparents (my grandfather on my mother’s side) was born in Northern Ireland. That is sufficient for me to claim Irish nationality, if I can prove it.

The problem is that the grandfather concerned died quite a long  time ago, when I was a kid. In fact, all my grandparents are deceased. To make matters worse I don’t know exactly when he was born or where or when he married my grandmother. This is a problem because I need to produce both his birth certificate and their marriage certificate, along with my mother’s birth certificate (and mine) to establish my case.

It is almost certain my grandfather was born before Ireland was partitioned in 1921, so his birth records may not even be in Northern Ireland but could be held in Dublin.

It looks like I have some interesting research to be getting on with!

Easter Fatigue 

Posted in Biographical, Education with tags , on April 4, 2017 by telescoper

This is Week 11, which is the last week of teaching here at Cardiff University before the Easter break. In the early hours of this morning I finished marking my last set of coursework for the term and later on delivered my last (2-hour) lecture on the Physics of the Early Universe.

I’ve booked two weeks of annual leave from Friday and am really looking forward to a bit of rest, though I will have quite a few private matters to deal with while I’m away from work.

Such is the topsy-turvy world we live in that I note that this month’s meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society is  on this Friday, 7th April. This is contrary to the settled order of Nature, as these meetings are always on the second Friday of the month. This year, however, the 2nd Friday of April is Good Friday. This, after all, is Eastertide, when Christians celebrate the invention of the chocolate egg by doing arms deals with despotic middle-eastern governments. 

I’m only joking. Of course. Chocolate eggs have nothing to do with the true message of Easter, which is depicted in the following.

Anyway, it’s the fact that Easter moves about in the calendar that is the reason this term has been so long and I am tired and grumpy. I don’t like chocolate either.

On the bright side I did receive two pieces of good news today in between the other stuff. I hope to be able to pass them on tomorrow, or at any rate before I go off on my hols…