Archive for Nottingham

Moving Memories

Posted in Biographical, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on November 13, 2018 by telescoper

Yesterday evening I suddenly realized that today would be the anniversary of a significant milestone in my life. It was 20 years ago today (on 13th November 1998) that I moved from London to Beeston in Nottingham prior to starting as Professor of Astrophysics at Nottingham University on 1st January 1999. That means I’ve been a Professor for almost twenty years!

I remember it was Friday 13th November 1998 when I took possession of the house I’d bought in Marlborough Road. I picked that particular day to complete the purchase (and sale of my flat in Bethnal Green) because a removals firm offered me a very cheap deal: normally nobody wants to move house on Friday 13th, so they were happy when I turned out not to be superstitious. The move worked out very smoothly, in fact.

This picture taken in the Beeston residence that very day. You can see one of the removal men in the background:

I was still working at Queen Mary until the end of December 1998 so I had to commute to London and back for over a month after relocating, which wasn’t ideal, but bearable knowing that it wasn’t going to last forever, and that from the New Year I would be able to walk into work on the Nottingham University campus rather than trekking by train to London.

I did think leaving London would be a wrench, and that I would probably end up going back frequently to spend time with my old friends and visit regular haunts, but that didn’t really happen, and after living outside the Capital for a while I lost all inclination to ever return. Living in London is great fun when you’re young, but loses its attraction when you’re getting on a bit. That’s what I found, anyway.

It was exciting starting the new job in Nottingham. There wasn’t an Astronomy group as such prior to January 1999, but with the formation of a new group the School of Physics became the School of Physics & Astronomy, and the influx of astronomers helped the School both to expand its research portfolio and become more attractive to students. It was hard work helping to build that from scratch, but I’m glad that it worked out well. It is good to see the Astronomy group and indeed the whole School continuing to prosper, although some of my former colleagues there have now retired.

I moved to Cardiff in 2007 and eventually sold the Beeston house in 2008, after a long delay due to the Credit Crunch, and bought a house in Pontcanna which I still own.

It’s strange to think all that happened 20 years ago. I’ve just finished giving a lecture to our second-year students, most of whom weren’t even born in 1998! And I certainly never imagined back then than in twenty years I’d be living in Ireland!

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..


Parametric Resonance – It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on March 10, 2015 by telescoper

It’s a small universe world. This  lunchtime I turned up to the local Cosmology discussion group for a talk on reheating after inflation during which the topic of parametric resonance came up. To illustrate the concept the speaker showed this nice video, and there was my esteemed former University of Nottingham colleague and fellow jazz enthusiast Roger Bowley explaining all!



Supermoon Surgery

Posted in Biographical, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , , on August 11, 2014 by telescoper

I have a busy day today (including my Annual Appraisal) to kick off a very busy week dominated by the release of this years A-level results and consequent admissions business, so I’ll just post a quickie though one which is at least fairly topical.

Last night (10th August) I took a (not very good) picture of the Moon with my phone:



This is a so-called “supermoon“, a not particularly rare phenomenon which takes place when there is a Full Moon that coincides with the Moon being at the point of its orbit which is closest to the Earth, i.e. its perigee. A much better name is “Perigee Full Moon”, but that somehow doesn’t seem to have caught on in the popular media. The Moon orbits the Earth in an ellipse rather than a circle and at its closest approach it is about 14% closer than at its furthest (apogee). It therefore looks about 14% bigger and about 30% brighter during a Perigee Full Moon than during an Apogee Full Moon.

The Moon was certainly looking very bright when I took the picture last night, at least compared to a few minutes later when it disappeared behind a supercloud.

The Moon’s proximity to Earth during this Full Moon does have a noticeable effect on terrestrial tides, but not a particularly strong one; certainly not enough to trigger the end of the world. Actually, the tides have an amplitude just a few inches higher than average during a Perigee Full Moon. In any case roughly one in 14 Full Moons is a supermoon so it’s actually quite a common event, and as far as I’m aware the world didn’t come to an end during the last one or the one before that or the one before that or…

Anyway, all this supermoon malarkey reminded me of something that happened about 15 years ago,  just after I had moved to Nottingham to take up the position of Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Nottingham. I was sitting in my office, working – blogs hadn’t been invented then – when the phone rang and the voice at the other end said May I speak to Professor Coles please? When I replied that I was he, the caller went on to explain that he was a surgeon who worked at Queen’s Medical Centre, a hospital located right next to the University of Nottingham, with teaching staff working for the University.

It turned out that news of the setting up of the new Astronomy group there had made it into the University newsletter which my caller had seen. He asked if I had a few moments to answer a question about astrophysics which had been bothering him for some time and which he had just been discussing with some of his colleagues.  I said yes, and he asked: Does the Moon rotate?

I paused a bit, thinking how best to explain, and he went on to clarify his point, which was that if the Moon always has the same face towards the Earth does that mean it’s not rotating?

Understanding his question, I went on to explain that, yes, the Moon does rotate and that the reason it always shows the same face to the Earth (more-or-less, ignoring libration) is that the period of its rotation is the same as the Moon’s orbital period around the Earth. I also explained how to demonstrate this with two coffee mugs, moving one in a circle around the other and rotating the outer one so as to keep the handle pointing towards the central mug. Moreover, I explained the physics of this phenomenon, which is called tidal locking, and pointed out other examples in astrophysics.

After this spiel the caller said that was all very interesting but he had to go  now. Assuming I had bored him, as I fear I tend to do rather a lot, I apologized for going on about it for too long. He said no he wasn’t at all bored by the detail I had put in, he found it all absolutely fascinating. The reason for him needing to go was that he had to go back to tell the answer to the colleagues he had been discussing it with  just before phoning me.  They were all  in the operating theatre,  standing around a patient lying on the operating table, waiting  for him to return and complete the operation he had left in order to make the call…

Carbon Footprints

Posted in Biographical with tags , on October 20, 2008 by telescoper

I found out this morning about an altercation during the early hours of Sunday morning in Cardiff’s city centre that resulted in a welsh rugby player having to go to hospital with facial injuries. This all happened about four o’clock in morning somewhere in the Mill Lane area of the city. Any civilised person who knows Cardiff will realize that’s generally an area to be avoided on Saturday night because of the very high density of rather seedy late-night venues and their undesirable clientele. It looks like it might have been a closing-time row but anyway it seems no serious injury was done so it will probably all be alright in the end.

Most of Britain’s cities now seem to have their weekend no-go areas as the national obsession with binge drinking and picking fights for no reason seems to have become entrenched over the last few years. Although these places are loud and unpleasant you can usually avoid trouble quite easily by showing a bit of discretion and walking away from obvious disturbances or, better still, avoiding these places altogether. If drunks want to fight each other, why not have a designated area so they can be contained? Two drunks are unlikely to inflict serious injury on each other if they are too inebriated, and the only real worry is when two gangs decide to embark on a mass brawl. That’s why there’s always a heavy police presence in such places.

I doubt if this kind of crime will attract much attention nationally, but it does remind me of the problems that developed in Nottingham (where I used to live) after the enormous increase in the number bars and clubs in the city centre about ten years ago followed by the more recent relaxation of the laws on licensing hours. Nottingham’s central area, including the Lace Market, now has over three hundred and fifty drinking establishments and at weekends these draw an estimated 100,000 people into the city on Saturdays. The consequent pandemonium never really affected me personally as I didn’t go to the pubs and clubs in that area, and had anyway been been brought up in Newcastle which has a similar reputation, but it did cause a considerable strain on the local police force and may have contributed to their difficulty in controlling Nottingham’s soaring crime figures.

On the other hand, when Nottingham acquired the nickname of the Gun Capital of Britain this definitely did have an impact close to home for me, as it clearly affected the number of student applications to the University of Nottingham. Although (as far as I know) no student was ever involved in a gun crime, there was also a rise in low-level crime including burglaries which did affect many students especially those living off-campus in the Lenton and Radcliffe areas. On most admissions days we had to contend with questions from both parents and students about crime and it was a constant struggle to counter the impression that Nottingham was a completely lawless place.

My own house was burgled a few years ago too, and several other members of staff I knew there had break-ins and other experiences with crime while I was living there. Ironically, in my case I’d just been involved in running an open day for prospective new students which had gone very well and I’d spent the evening having a few drinks in the Staff Club on the campus at University Park. I walked home to Beeston, which is near the campus, but when I got to my house I saw all the lights were on, which they weren’t when I left that morning. One of the ground floor windows had been forced open and the house was very cold, caused by the fact that the window and back door to the garden were open. Once I’d recovered from the shock I started to worry that something might have happened to Columbo, but he appeared very soon showing no signs of harm having probably slept through the whole thing.

I looked around the house and discovered that they had taken quite a lot of things, making good their escape through the garden at the back of my house thus avoiding drawing attention to themselves in the street at the front. They had taken a bit of foreign currency, a portable CD player, TV, a vacuum cleaner and various other inconsequential things. But they also took a lot of my CDs, some of which were quite obscure and difficult to replace. Although I was fully insured, so I didn’t actually lose anything much in a financial sense, I was definitely very annoyed about losing some of my favourite music. On the other hand, I wasn’t too bothered about the mess the burglars had made because my house is never very tidy anyway.

I called the police and they were at the house within a few minutes. After a cursory look around they left me a card, logged the incident and went away, telling me to try not to touch anything until the forensic officer came the next day. I called the insurers and the next morning a guy came to fix the window and door. By then I had calmed down and was just interested in getting things back to normal.

Then a SOCO (Scene-of-Crime-Officer) arrived to do some forensic tests. I had been an avid watcher of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation for some time so I was quite interested to see what sort of tests they would do.

It wasn’t anything like the TV. The lady that came sprinkled powder here and there and then announced that the intruders must have worn gloves. Then she went into the back ground floor room that led into the garden. This room had a wood laminate floor which was covered in muddy footprints.

“Oh great,” she said “I can use this new stuff!”

She rummaged in her bag and brought out some kind of graphite powder and sheets of plastic stuff like clingfilm. She poured the powder all over the floor and lifted several footprints using the sticky plastic.

“I never tried this before. I’ll let you know when I get back to the lab whether I can identify the prints.”

And off she went, leaving the powder for me to clean up. That turned out to be impossible because it was stuck deep into the grain of the wood. It was a hell of a job to clean off the fingerprint stuff too. They never show you that in the movies.

Anyway, the next day I got an excited phone call from the conscientious SOCO. She had identified the footprint. It was a size 7 Reebok trainer. Gee, I thought, there must only be a few thousand of those in Nottingham. Obviously, this discovery didn’t help much and the crime remains unsolved.

I was thinking of sending a bill for the cleaning, but decided against.