Archive for Cardiff

Back to Maynooth

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Maynooth with tags , , , on March 7, 2018 by telescoper

So here I am back in Maynooth. The University re-opened on Monday after being closed from Wednesday last week owing to the extremely bad weather. I’m told the snow was several feet deep and the town was virtually cut off until the weekend. There is still some snow lying here and there, but the thaw has begun and you can see the effect of the meltwater on the river (the Lyreen) that flows through town, which is usually no more than a little stream:

Picture Credit: Coyne’s Family Butcher, Maynooth

It’s not quite a raging torrent, but getting there!

At the moment there’s no sign of a resolution to the industrial action that’s affecting Cardiff University (as well as others in the UK) so I decided to travel to Ireland yesterday rather than my usual Wednesday. The flight over was virtually empty and so was Dublin Airport, so I got on the bus well ahead of schedule and made it back to my flat (which was cold, but otherwise all in order) in time to buy some groceries and make dinner. The panic-buying of bread had caused a shortage, but all seems to be back to normal again.

I had arranged for someone else to do last week’s Thursday lecture and Lab session so I could attend the event the IOP event I posted about, but as the campus was closed they were cancelled anyway and I now have to find a way to catch up. Do not worry, though, I have a cunning plan.

Unless there’s an announcement in the next couple of days that next week’s strike is off I plan to stay in Ireland over the weekend, which will give me the chance to explore Dublin a bit, something that my schedule has not so far allowed. Next week will be the fourth week of industrial action and the last of the current batch of strike days, this time a full week (having escalated from two, three and four days in the preceding weeks). If there is no resolution by then I don’t know what will happen, possibly an all-out indefinite strike. Nobody wants that, but there’s no doubt in my mind who is to blame for this dispute and it’s not the Universities and Colleges Union. However, there are some signs of movement, so let’s hope for a negotiated settlement. If not, I’m seriously thinking of trying to bring forward my full-time move to Maynooth. There’s little point continuing in my post in Cardiff if I’m going to be permanently on strike.

Anyway, I have a 9am lecture to give tomorrow so I think I’ll toddle off, get some tea and have an early night.


The Philharmonia Orchestra: Beethoven & Mahler

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on February 19, 2018 by telescoper

I spent yesterday afternoon at a very enjoyable concert at St David’s Hall in Cardiff for a programme of music by Beethoven and Mahler given by the Philharmonia Orchestra under Principal Guest Conductor Jakub Hrůša. The picture above was taken about 10 minutes before the concert started, from my seat in Tier 1. Quite a few people arrived between then and the beginning of the performance, but there wasn’t a very big audience. St David’s Hall may have been less than half full but those who did come were treated to some fantastic playing.

The first half of the concert consisted of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 (in C) with soloist Piotr Anderszewski. This work was actually composed after his Piano Concerto No. 2 but was published first. It consists of three movements, an expansive slow movement (marked Largo) sandwiched between two sprightly up-tempo movements, marked Allegro con brio and Rondo-Allegro Scherzando, respectively. I think the first part of the last movement, full of energy and wit, is the best part of this work and Anderszewski play it with genuine sparkle. His performance was very well received, and he rounded it off with a charming encore in the form of a piece for solo piano by Bartok.

After the wine break we returned to find the piano gone, and the orchestra greatly expanded for a performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 , the fourth movement of which (the `Adagietto’) is probably Mahler’s best-known music (made famous by its use in Visconti’s 1971 film Death in Venice). This lovely movement is sometimes performed on its own – a practice Mahler himself encouraged – but I think it’s particularly powerful when heard in its proper context, embedded in a large orchestral work that lasts well over an hour.

Although nominally five movements, this work is really in three sections: the first section consists of the first two movements (the first starting with Trauermarsch (a funeral march), and the second a stormy and at times savage movement, punctuated with brief interludes of peace). The last section consists of the beautiful Adagietto 4th movement (played entirely on the strings) followed by an energetic and ultimately triumphant finale. In between there’s an extended Scherzo, which is (unusually for Mahler) rather light and cheerful. Roughly speaking this symphony follows a trajectory from darkness into light and, although it certainly doesn’t go in a straight line, and does start with a death march, this is undoubtedly one of Mahler’s cheerier works!

The Philharmonia Orchestra gave a very accomplished and passionate reading of this piece, with especially fine playing from the brass section (who have lot to do). The exuberant ending brought many members of the audience to their feet and rightly so, as it was a very fine performance – the best I’ve heard live of this work.

Transitional Arrangements

Posted in Biographical, Education with tags , on January 27, 2018 by telescoper

So I’m here in Dublin airport again, waiting for a flight back to Cardiff. I woke up early this morning so decided to get the 6am Hopper Bus from Maynooth instead of the usual 7am one. There was no traffic and it took only 40 minutes so I’ve had time to have a coffee and a bacon sandwich, as well as finishing the FT prize crossword.

Anyway, teaching term starts next week in both Cardiff and Maynooth so it promises to be quite a hectic period. I’ll be teaching Physics of the Early Universe in Cardiff on Tuesdays and Computational Physics in Maynooth on Thursdays. I volunteered for the latter course primarily to brush up my Python skills, which are distinctly rusty.

At least I won’t have the problem that I had in Nottingham when I was teaching two modules in the same Semester, Cosmology and Theoretical Elementary Particle Physics, both for 3rd year students (so mostly the same students) and both timetabled in the same room. I remember one day turning up and starting a lecture on weak nuclear interactions only to realise I was meant to be doing something about the propagation of photons in an expanding universe.

The midweek to and fro between Wales and Ireland will continue until March where there is a divergence of arrangements for the Easter break. My calculations indicate that happens after 7 lectures  and therefore 7 midweek flights. Should be fun. At least I’m racking up the Avios…




Return to Cardiff

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

Well, I made it back to Cardiff on schedule last night, although that did involve getting home at 2am. I was pretty much exhausted by then so had a bit of a lie-in this morning. I think I’m getting too old for all this gallivanting about. I crashed out soon after getting home and had to spend an hour or so this morning sorting through the stack of mail that arrived while I was away (including some book tokens courtesy of another crossword prize).

I usually try to get to the airport plenty of time in advance when I’m flying somewhere, so got to Copenhagen airport yesterday a good three hours before my scheduled departure. I had checked in online before setting out so I could have left it later, but I’m obviously a creature of habit. As it happened I was able to leave my luggage at the bag drop immediately and it took no longer than 5 minutes to clear the security checks, which meant that I was left with time to kill but I had my iPod and plenty to read so it was all fine.

I was a little disturbed when I got to the departure gate to hear the announcement that `Tonight’s British Airways flight to London Heathrow is operated by Qatar Airways’, but at least it explained why it wasn’t a BA plane standing outside on the tarmac. As it happened the flight went smoothly and Qatar Airways do free food and drink for economy class passengers (unlike BA who nowadays sell expensive snacks and beverages supplied by Marks and Spencer). The only downside when we arrived at Heathrow was that we parked at a remote stand and had to wait 20 minutes or so for a bus to take us to Terminal 5.  I could hear the ground crew unloading luggage while we waited, however, so that meant less time waiting at the carousels…

On previous occasions I’ve been greeted at Heathrow by a packed passport control area, but this time it was virtually deserted. In fact I’ve never seen it so empty. My bag was waiting for me when I got to the reclaim area so I got to the Heathrow Express terminal and thence to Paddington in time for the 10.45pm train to Cardiff.

When I got back to the Data Innovation Research Institute office around lunchtime I discovered that our big screen TV has been installed.


This will of course be used exclusively for skype calls and video conferences and in no way for watching cricket or football or any other inappropriate activity.

Well, I’d better get on. Marking resit exams is the order of the day.




Biographical Note

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Crosswords with tags , , on July 1, 2017 by telescoper

It’s 1st July 2017, which means that it is ten years to the day since I officially started work at Cardiff University (for the first time). Can it really be so long ago? 

Quite a lot has happened in the intervening decade, including spending three and a half years at the University of Sussex before returning to Cardiff last summer.

The first of July was actually a Sunday in 2007, so my last day at work in my previous position at the University of Nottingham was Friday 29th June. I remember they threw a nice leaving party that afternoon and also persuaded me to sign up to Facebook to keep in touch. Facebook reminded me of this on Thursday.

I was a bit slow in putting my house in Beeston on the market in 2007, and rented a flat in Cardiff while I sorted that out. Unfortunately the Credit Crunch and I didn’t actually manage to move permanently to a little house in Pontcanna for almost a year. In the meantime I had to travel regularly to and fro between Cardiff and Nottingham by train.

The main thing I remember about the summer of 2007 was the extensive flooding, much of which was located in South Wales and up the Severn towards Gloucester and beyond. That is precisely the route that the train takes from Cardiff to Nottingham so I had quite a few travel problems!

I didn’t actually start blogging until 2008 when I was firmly established in the house I bought here in Cardiff, and which I’m sitting now as I write this rambling post. 

They say that ‘all good things come to an end’, which implies that this blog should carry on forever. Maybe I’ll keep it going until its tenth anniversary, after which…well, we’ll see. Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam.

Anyway, although pipped at the post for this year’s Beard of Summer award I did receive a bit of good news in today’s paper by way of compensation!

In fact the two books arrived in the post yesterday. I’ll be disposing of them at work in due course..


A Tale of Two Cities 

Posted in Biographical, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on June 5, 2017 by telescoper

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..”

As planned on Saturday evening I stayed at home,  cooked myself dinner, opened a bottle of wine, and watched an old film on DVD. Self-indulgent, I know, but a good way to  have a pleasant evening while avoiding  the crowds at the UEFA Champions League final.

Some time after 10pm  I checked Twitter to see what the score was (4-1 to Real Madrid), and just to check that nothing untoward had happened before or during the match.

It hadn’t, but that was exactly when news was coming in of another terrorist attack in London, this time on London Bridge and in the area of Borough Market. Stories were initially very confused, and I went to bed before a clear picture emerged.

I checked the news feeds again when I woke up and felt the saddest I’ve ever been on a birthday, but still determined to go to Der Rosenkavalier. The best way for us all to beat terrorism is to carry on regardless.

Likewise I didn’t think twice about coming to London today for the Euclid meeting this week. That said, I did arrive very late. Torrential rain overnight in Cardiff, combined with a blocked gutter, led to a flood in my kitchen. I had to call a useful person to fix it the problem, which delayed me by a few hours. Fortunately it was only rainwater in the leak, not nasty stuff backed up from the drain.

Now I’m in London where it is also tipping down, but at least I’m in a pleasant hotel and looking to get a good night’s sleep. The sound of rain can be restful, at least when it’s not flooding your kitchen.

I made my way to the hotel, which is in Bayswater, after a wine and nibbles reception at the workshop. I have never stayed here before and it took a while to find. I was a bit nervous too, as the place is remarkably cheap by London standards. Before correctly locating the hotel I wandered into another establishment on the same street with a similar name. It was quite obviously a brothel, and they politely directed me to the correct address. The hotel turned out to be fine, though obviously without any of the ‘extras’ that would have been available at the other place.

I can’t stay the whole week here as I have to get back to Cardiff to vote on Thursday, but it’s been nice to catch up with news of the Euclid mission and to meet some old friends. There are about 400 cosmologists here in London for this meeting, some of them familiar some of them less so. The mission won’t be launched until 2021 at the earliest, and it’s unlikely I’ll be involved very much, but it’s still exciting to see it all taking shape.

Cose da sapere su Cardiff

Posted in Bute Park, Cardiff, Football with tags , , , , , , on June 1, 2017 by telescoper

Cardiff is gearing up for the UEFA Champion’s League final between Real Madrid and Juventus which takes place in the Principality Stadium on Saturday night. Cardiff University has produced this nice video featuring some students from Italy telling visitors about `things to know about Cardiff’, which I thought I’d share here:

There’s also a Spanish version here.

As you can imagine there’s quite a lot of disruption going on in the City ahead of this event, which is expected to attracted over 200,000 visitors. Last night one of the main roads was closed to allow the construction of a temporary footbridge to help manage the flow of people from Bute Park into the Stadium in the period just before the kickoff. There is only one small exit from the Park opposite the ground, which would probably cause considerable congestion, so the bridge will provide another route out, over the famous Animal Wall.

Cowbridge road was closed to vehicles and pedestrians for this operation, which I assumed would mean a bit detour for me on my walk home from the pub last night. Nevertheless, out of curiosity, I followed my normal route until I reached the construction site. A small group of people and a couple of very friendly policemen were there. I asked nicely if there was any possibility of getting past the road block rather than walking all the way around by side streets, and one of the officers said that if I waited for about 5 minutes they were going to open it up temporarily and let people through, which they did.

Cardiff Castle and Bute Park are being used to host a few thousand `Corporate VIP Guests’ during the weekend of the Final. For that a huge part of Bute Park – the entire area of Coopers Field – is closed to the public. Not only that, but the temporary buildings that have been erected there will cause so much damage to the grass that it will have to be completely re-seeded. This area will not be re-opened to the public until September at the earliest. This seems a very heavy price for the ordinary folk of Cardiff to pay for an event very few will be able to attend.

As well as congestion and crowd control, there is also the threat of terrorist activity (especially in the wake of the Manchester bomb). This morning as I walked into work I saw several groups of armed police officers. I’m not sure if they are intended to make people feel more secure, but they just made me feel nervous.


It’s quite easy to infer what the biggest concern is for the security services. The presence of vehicle barriers all round the city and the suspension of all vehicle traffic within a wide perimeter of the various fan zones suggests that they are worried about potential attacks involving cars or lorries running amok among the huge numbers of pedestrians. It’s sad that we have to think of such things, but these precautions seem entirely necessary.

I was toying with the idea of taking photographs of some of the security measures but on reflection thought that might not be a wise thing to do in case I was mistaken for someone plotting an atrocity!

My own plan for the Final is to shut myself in my house, batten down the hatches, cook myself a nice dinner and drink a nice bottle of wine. I’m completely neutral as far as the match is concerned. Whether it’s Real Madrid of Italy or Juventus of Spain, may the best team win!