Saturday, November 24, 2007

Seeing Stars

This is ace ( CLICK HERE). It shows you (or reminds you) how to spot constellations, stars, planets and how to navigate North using Polaris. It's the best guide to teach people how to read the night sky that I have ever seen.

I am a big fan of star-spotting and spent ages when I was younger learning as many constellations as possible: in Norfolk, in the countryside where I grew up there is a lot of sky and minimal light pollution. I once took a man who had a job in the same kitchen I was working in to see a son et lumiere show at a Norfolk country church, as he was interested in local history. He seemed distracted and chain-smoked through the show, fidgeting on the straw bales we were sitting on. But after the show had finished, I found him gazing raptly heavenwards, as the crowds dispersed. Soon we were the only people left, and still he stood, and wouldn't move.

He had lived all his life in London, and he had never seen the night sky in all its beauty. He'd seen it in films, he said, 'but I thought they was exaggerating for effect'.

He was so overcome by the brilliance of the stars - it was one of those nights when you can see the Milky Way as a thick stripe across the sky - that he cried, silently. 'All my life', he told me, again and again over a pint later, 'that was there. And I never knew. I'm fifty seven years old, and I never knew.'

He died a year later. I found out afterwards, that he had been given the diagnosis of inoperable cancer the day before he saw the stars with me. It was the end of the season, and the kitchen closed that week, and the live-in workers went back home. After that summer working in Norfolk, the man went back to London to stay with his sister, and he never saw the stars in all their beauty again.

But he wanted ''Starry Starry Night'' played at his cremation.

It's a full moon tonight and the sky should be beautiful.
So I will be taking a moment to look for the stars.


Blogger Unknown said...

The best starry sky I ever saw was up in the Pyrenees. It's one reason why I want to live there.

November 24, 2007 4:25 pm  
Blogger Graham the Funky Aardvark said...


Both the stars and the story

I now have a cheesy grin, with a teary eye... thank you :)

November 24, 2007 7:36 pm  
Blogger Rachel said...

I woke up at 5am today and the stars were lovely. I always think of that man whom I worked with when I see a starry sky.

November 25, 2007 1:56 pm  
Blogger Tina - omme i London said...

That's so beautiful. I grew up underneath the milky way and had the opposite experience when I moved to the city. "Where have all the stars gone?" was my question to the world.

November 25, 2007 10:30 pm  
Blogger Rachel said...

A cloudless night like this
Can set the spirit soaring:
After a tiring day
The clockwork spectacle is
Impressive in a slightly boring
Eighteenth-century way.

It soothed adolescence a lot
To meet so shamelesss a stare;
The things I did could not
Be so shocking as they said
If that would still be there
After the shocked were dead

Now, unready to die
Bur already at the stage
When one starts to resent the young,
I am glad those points in the sky
May also be counted among
The creatures of middle-age.

It's cosier thinking of night
As more an Old People's Home
Than a shed for a faultless machine,
That the red pre-Cambrian light
Is gone like Imperial Rome
Or myself at seventeen.

Yet however much we may like
The stoic manner in which
The classical authors wrote,
Only the young and rich
Have the nerve or the figure to strike
The lacrimae rerum note.

For the present stalks abroad
Like the past and its wronged again
Whimper and are ignored,
And the truth cannot be hid;
Somebody chose their pain,
What needn't have happened did.

Occurring this very night
By no established rule,
Some event may already have hurled
Its first little No at the right
Of the laws we accept to school
Our post-diluvian world:

But the stars burn on overhead,
Unconscious of final ends,
As I walk home to bed,
Asking what judgment waits
My person, all my friends,
And these United States.

When I was at school, coincidentally the school that this poet went to, this poem used to comfort me and ground me...

The things I did could not
Be so shocking as they said
If that would still be there
After the shocked were dead

The stars he saw from the chapel roof were the same as I saw, though half a century divided us. That puts it into perspective.

November 26, 2007 12:10 am  

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