Wednesday, 18 August 2010

getting out a bit

Here's a picture I'm quite pleased with. It's Jet the retriever. The picture was a commission from a friend, for her brother's birthday. R shares his birthday with the opening of the grouse shooting season, which seems somehow appropriate...

It's been a good time for watching the night sky, lately. Last week I was down at Richard's, in Oxfordshire, and I was camping in the garden. At 0200, I looked out and saw a perfectly clear sky full of stars and Milky Way, so I shuffled out a bit and lay snug in my sleeping bag, watching as shooting stars flared across the sky- it was the height of the Perseid meteor shower.

In the city, where the darkness of the night is diluted by the loom of the city lights, or on a cloudy night, if a shooting star were to go shooting across the sky then you might see a sudden glow or a flicker in the corner of your eye and think "Was that a shooting star, or was thart my eyes playing tricks on me?" And you just would not know for sure.

But here in this garden in Oxfordshire the stars were sharp and glinting, and the shooting stars zipped suddenly and silently across the night. If the night had been a big piece of silk, and Saladin had been on the other side, showing Richard the Lionheart how sharp his scimitar was by slashing across the cloth so that the bright mediaeval sunlight suddenly streamed through the line of the blade, it would have been a bit like that. Suddenly there, suddenly gone.

I saw six or seven shooting stars, and then I got sleepy, and my blinks got longer until when I opened my eyes again I saw that it had clouded over, so I wriggled back into the tent.

Last night I was a bit wakeful, so I went up onto the roof. No shooting stars this time, but just before 4:00 a bright white light- the brightest thing I've ever seen in the night sky- moved silently eastwards, passing overhead. "Ooh, a satellite" I thought. And then I went to sleep, while tawny owls hooted from the Downs.

When I woke up again it was cloudy, and there was a long red streak on the horizon. And my sleeping bag was a bit dewy. Time to go down.

I did a bit of online research, and found that what I'd seen was the International Space Station. By this time, they'd already been round the world a few more times, and were over the Indian Ocean, somewhere off Madagascar. And as I'm writing this, they're zipping past Spain. Crikey. And all before breakfast, too. Good morning, Alexander, Tracey, Mikhail, Fyodor, Shannon and Doug! Busy lot, aren't you?