Archive for the Uncategorized Category

A Chara

Posted in Uncategorized on May 11, 2022 by telescoper

Having spent a great deal of time recently writing reference letters I thought about how at least to start a letter in the Irish language (though I’m nowhere near fluent enough to continue).

It turns out the correct formal way to begin a letter in Irish to someone you don’t know is “A chara” which means literally “O friend” to be compared with the opening you might write in English “Dear Sir/Madam”. The plural version is A chairde.

The Irish form is interesting for a number of reasons. For one thing it is ungendered so there’s no need for the clumsy “Sir/Madam”. For another it presupposes that the person you are writing to is a friend, which is far less frosty than the English alternative.

The Irish word cara is related to many similar words in other European languages, especially the Italian caro and the French cher and like them can be used as an adjective meaning “dear”. If you want to address a letter to someone you know you can write, for example, A Phádraig, a chara which would mean “Dear Patrick”.

A chara is also interesting from a grammatical point of view because the nominative case of the word for friend is cara but in the vocative case (introduced by the particle “a”) it is modified in a manner called a séimhiú which involves lenition of the initial consonant, hence a chara. The plural form of cara is cairde, which also attracts a séimhiú in the same way as the singular form, becoming chairde. In older forms of written Irish this would have been denoted by a dot over the consonant, but in modern script the modification is indicated by inserting an h.

One of the pronunciational things I struggled with when I was attempting to learn Irish last year was the difference between the c in cara and the ch in chara. The c in Irish is usually pronounced like a k in English but in its weakened form ch it only changes slightly: it’s not like the c in census nor the ch in cheese.

If you try saying the letter k out loud as a child would – “kuh” – you will find it involves contact between your tongue and the roof of your mouth. Move the point of contact back to the rear of your mouth and it becomes deeper and thicker; move it towards your front teeth and it becomes narrower and slightly higher in pitch. That’s the difference between the broad and narrow “c”. It’s very hard to spot in spoken Irish, particularly for a beginner!

There is a vocative case in other European languages ancient and modern, e.g. Latin, but that involves changes at the end of a noun rather than the beginning. The particle “a” which introduces it in Irish plays the same role as “o” in archaic and/or poetic English usage but is part of everyday usage in Irish. It is not a preposition because it doesn’t have any particular meaning other than to introduce the vocative case.

Beard of Ireland 2022. ‘Beard Off’ Final

Posted in Uncategorized on March 14, 2022 by telescoper

Against my expectations I’ve made it into the final round of voting for Beard of Ireland 2022! The competition is stiff and I’m currently in fourth place (out of four). Please consider giving me a vote! You can do so via the post below!

Kmflett's Blog

Beard Liberation Front

Press release 13th March

Contact Keith Flett 07803 167266


The Beard Liberation Front, the informal network of beard wearers, has said that competition for the final of the Irish Beard of the Year 2022 is officially open

Academic Peter Coles and rugby player Jamison Gibson-Park won the first Trim Off round with Businessman Adohan Connolly and Northern Ireland Health Minister Robin Swann winning the second and completing the line-up for the Beard Off final

The 2017 winner was politician Colum Eastwood who bearded broadcaster William Crawley for the annual Award.

In 2018 the DUP’s Lee Reynolds shaved writer Dominic O’Reilly for the honour with Colum Eastwood in a steady third place.

In 2019 Lee Reynolds retained the title

The 2020 winner was Maynooth academic Peter Coles

In 2021 Aodhan Connolly shaved opponents to win the coveted title

View original post 208 more words

After Pestilence

Posted in Uncategorized on March 13, 2022 by telescoper

From last week’s Private Eye.

A Christmas Scene

Posted in Uncategorized on December 24, 2021 by telescoper

There were disturbing scenes in Maynooth today as concerned passers-by and farm animals gathered around a small child mysteriously injured by being hit on the head by a gold Frisbee.

Bird Life

Posted in Biographical, Uncategorized on December 23, 2021 by telescoper

This morning, while I was waiting for my extra special Christmas veggie box to arrive, I was watching the birds in the garden through my kitchen window. For the last several days I’ve been putting out several full feeders only to see them emptied within minutes by a sundry collection of starlings, sparrows, tits, finches, wood pigeons, a dove, and a couple of jackdaws. A rook which on several occasions tried to demolish one of the feeders (ti being too clumsy to get any food by conventional methods) seems now to have given up and merely watches angrily from a tree.

The dove (a collared dove to be precise) is a new arrival in my garden (though not at all a rare bird). It seems rather shy and quiet in behaviour, usually to be found sitting in a tree while all the smaller birds flutter and chatter around. It does seem to like the seed, but also eats the berries on the hedges. It’s a very interesting bird to look at, its grey feathers making it look rather ghostly. The wood pigeons (which are much bigger) are quite noisy but I haven’t heard the dove make any sound yet.

A number of robins also visit the garden. They’re not agile enough to use the feeders but instead patrol around at ground level collecting bits and pieces that have fallen down. One of them however has realized that my stash of food is in the shed and that my entering the shed is a prelude to good being available. The other day as soon as I went in, one particular robin followed me right inside and jumped onto the bench where I was spooning out the seed. I had spilled some, which he/she tucked into, and I gave him/her a bit more. Now the little critter is there every day waiting in the VIP lane. Whenever I open the back door to go into the garden all the other birds scatter in all directions, except the robin who doesn’t seem to be at all intimidated.

With the eventual arrival of my veggie box I have got just about everything I need for a self-indulgent holiday. The amount of food and wine I’ve laid up for myself is probably enough for a month and I thought that this afternoon’s trip to the fishmonger to collect six oysters for Christmas Eve would be my last trip to the shops before Christmas Day, but I think I’ll make one more trip to buy bird food. At the rate they’re scoffing it I’ll be out of supplies by Boxing* Day!

*”Boxing Day” isn’t really used in Ireland; the usual term is “St Stephen’s Day”


Shostakovich String Quartet No. 8, arranged for Wind Quintet

Posted in Biographical, Music, Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 7, 2021 by telescoper

One of the treasured items in my CD collection recently moved from Cardiff is a boxed set of the Shostakovich String Quartets by the Fitzwilliam String Quartet:

When I took it out of the packing case last night it suddenly reminded of the following video I saw a few weeks ago. I think the String Quartets contain some of Shostakovich’s finest music, and the 8th (Opus 110, in C Minor) – written in just three days after the composer saw the aftermath of the bombing of Dresden – is especially intense. I don’t usually like rearrangements of string quartets for other instruments – there’s something very special about the texture produced by string instruments which is difficult to improve upon – but this is really interesting. It’s arranged by David Walter for five wind instruments (clarinet, French horn, cor anglais, flute and bassoon) and played by the Aquillos Wind Quintet, an unusual combination that provides a very fresh take on this piece while maintaining its dark expressiveness and brooding atmosphere.

P.S. Regular readers of this blog might recognize the clarinet player…


Posted in Uncategorized on July 13, 2021 by telescoper

I’m now taking a short break so I can travel to a strange and distant land for a week or so.

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible, but in the meantime there will be a short intermission.

Codes of Conduct to Counter Bullying and Harassment – A Petition

Posted in Uncategorized on June 30, 2021 by telescoper

A week or so ago news broke of yet another case of bullying in an astronomy department, this time in the University of Lund. This and a number of older examples of harassment and bullying have led to the circulation of a letter calling for Codes of Conduct to be introduced in scientific collaborations. I received this letter (from Dr. Clémence Fontanive) through the Euclid Collaboration together with an encouragement to circulate it as widely as possible, which I am now doing. I have signed the petition and hope you will do likewise.

Dear Colleagues,

In light of recent events within the astronomy community, it has become
increasingly apparent that many official collaborations in astronomy
lack Codes of Social Conduct, with policies in place to deal with cases
of behavioural misconduct. We believe Codes of Conduct to be important
tools to make academia a safe, respectful and inclusive environment, and
have therefore written an Open Letter to the Community soliciting their
introduction in all collaborations, with the hope to encourage and
normalise their implementation.

You can read and sign the Letter at the following links:

View Petition

Sign Petition

Please consider adding your name to ours in support. We would also be
very grateful if you could help circulate this as widely as possible to
your colleagues and institutions.

Thank you very much for your support.

Best wishes,
Clémence, on behalf of all co-authors


On Valerian

Posted in Uncategorized on June 12, 2021 by telescoper

Pottering about in the garden this morning I remember that on my little birthday trip last week I noticed a huge amount of the above plant growing on various railway embankments between Maynooth and Dublin.

It’s red valerian (aka spur valerian, kiss-me-quick, fox’s brush, devil’s beard & Jupiter’s beard among other names). I’d like to have some on my garden, actually. It’s very attractive and is probably sufficiently hardy to survive my lack of gardening skills.

Incidentally, is is not the same species as the true valerian shown above (also known as all-heal and setwall) which is also very nice, but has lighter flowers, a very pale pink or white. You will sometimes find this interspersed with red valerian when growing wild. It grows to quite a height and is not particularly fragrant so is probably not one for the garden but is a common wild flower.

Incidentally, in Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express the victim is sedated prior to his murder using valerian, which can be taken as a tonic in the form of a dilute infusion (hence the name “all-heal”), but a powerful hypnotic in concentrated doses. It’s one of many common wild flowers that has medicinal properties but can be toxic if taken excessively.

It’s perhaps also worth mentioning that cats adore valerian in the same way they do catnip.

Round Britain Quiz

Posted in Uncategorized on June 6, 2021 by telescoper

As it is Bank Holiday Weekend I thought I’d set a little quiz, which you must answer without using a search engine. Which of the following is not a genuine UK place name?

Thornton le Beans
Shatton Moor
Jingling Pot
Shitlington Common
Shingay cum Wendy
Pity Me
Sally’s Bottom
Lickar Moor
Nether Wallop
Great Bottom Flash
Hen Poo

Answers through the comments box please!