Monday, 4 October 2010

Tea with the Stars

A few weeks ago I blogged about two wonderful people here in Pembrokeshire, Steph who gave my charity a lot of equipment and Tony who offered me a free venue to hold a fundraising astronomy talk.

The fundraising astronomy talk has turned into nothing less than a fundraising astronomy lecture series, and we've named it Tea with the Stars. I'd like to invite anyone who lives nearby to pop along. I'm afraid we are charging - obviously, because it's to raise money for charity - but you get a free tea thrown in, and a telescope tour if the weather permits!

It's at Nant-y-Coy Mill, near the village of Treffgarne, which is on the road between Haverfordwest and Fishguard. If you're travelling north it's immediately after the especially wriggly bit of road around Treffgarne Gorge (by the way, the geology round there is fascinating!). The talks are on alternate Thursdays at 7.30 p.m. You can see Tony's PDF here, and their general events page here (Hayley might well be interested in the paranormal evenings, the last of which I understand continued until three o'clock in the morning!).

We launched on Thursday 30th September, so I can announce that I co-founded two lecture series within ten days of each other. My talk was about Galaxy Zoo. I thought, therefore, that I was prepared and it would only take a little while to adapt my old talk from Intech Planetarium. Wrong. I was up until 6am. That did not in any way aid me in concentrating at work. When I got home, I had time to go to bed for half an hour before heading off to Treffgarne - believe it or not, that actually did me huge good!

Now if you'll forgive me sounding like an advert for five minutes, Nant-y-Coy Mill, now run by the Pembrokeshire Tea folks, is an absolutely beautiful place. An ancient stone house with a water wheel behind it . . .

Up close:


I was very flattered to see this, and apparently a lot of people asked about it:

(The piece of paper asks people not to touch the telescope and advertises a coming astronomy lecture series this autumn.)

Outside is even more gorgeous. Here's my least fuzzy dark photo of the woodland, and there are a few more on this page . . .

But there was no tme to appreciate all that on Thursday evening. It was getting dark and pouring with rain. I poked my head into the kitchen, failed to spot anyone, so went straight upstairs to the gallery. Tony heard me on the stairs. He'd arranged the gallery beautifully and had the projector all ready. It turned out the little remote thing you hold in your hand to make the slide change only works on Macs, and my laptop was constrained by very short wires, so we decided I'd simply sit with it at the back rather than stand at the front. Actually I preferred that!

Seven o'clock came. Tony got me a cup of ginger tea. It was very subtle, not at all like that choking powdery lemon and ginger herbal stuff in bright yellow boxes. Nobody arrived. The wind and rain lashed down and the blueness outside intensified. We stood at the door looking out, but realised getting wet wouldn't help. Seven fifteen. Nobody. Nothing. We wondered if we'd launched the whole thing too soon. We lamented not getting round to going on the radio or into the local rag yet. Tony'd been so busy - though he had found time to stick up a lot of posters. Tony asked me what I'd do if nobody came at all. I replied that I'd wait until eight and then go home in a bad mood. It sounded so straightforward, but it didn't stop me pacing around. By seven twenty-five we were ready to crawl into the dry stone walls. By seven twenty-nine I was ready to go home. At about seven twenty-nine-and-fifty-five seconds, a vanload of five people arrived!

We welcomed them in and brought them in for tea. It was one of their colleagues who had brought along various extended family. A few minutes later a sixth person arrived, a geologist who had driven twenty miles down from the Preselis. Tony and Michael got them tea and sold little cakes to those who'd eat them, and insisted that the lecture fee be given directly to me, not even reclaiming costs for the tea, bless them. The atmosphere was very friendly, as it so often is in Pembrokeshire, chatting away as if we all knew each other. (I got into some trouble when I spent a summer in Devon for forgetting that that isn't always the social setup.) I think they were quite disappointed to hear that the lecture wasn't going to be in that comfy room with the sofas, but upstairs. However, as soon as they reached the top of the stairs, the cries of "Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaw!" began!

I knew we had to have stars and tea as our logo, plus some of my more colourful mugs, but it was my sister who thought of the Clangers. For anyone who doesn't know, they're an utterly adorable TV program about little creatures who live on a small planet out in space, and are able to take a musical boat out into space to catch things - here they are on Wiki, the BBC and as the world's cutest conspiracy theory. Actually they often point out useful scientific facts as well - when you're little, you don't immediately realise that "You don't see light unless it shines on something." Which makes a lot of things clear!

Perhaps I shouldn't have started the lecture by making Clanger noises, but I think people forgave me. I started by saying that as we were so few, rather than have a Q&A session they should interrupt me with questions whenever they wanted.

And off we went.

I focussed on the early doings of the Zoo - how it began because of Kevin having 900,000 objects to classify and how successful it was; the clockwise/anticlockwise results, the Voorwerp, the rings, the peas, the irregulars, and finally the red spirals/blue ellipticals result. It was a very beginner audience, who had no idea what a quasar or a spectrum was, or why some stars were blue and others red, so I hope I answered their questions properly and didn't go over their heads too much. I told them I'd be doing a lecture on exactly what a spectrum is (it'll be called "starcodes"); and I guess I can use the Black Holes lecture this November to talk about quasars. I used a saucer to demonstrate quasars and ring galaxies (the geologist very nicely lent me hers!).

Anyway I don't think it went too badly, because there was the occasional gasp of "It's so beautiful" during the lecture, and afterwards, "I'm overwhelmed!" They all said they'd come to the next one and tell other people about it. The attendance may have been tiny, but it did mean each one got plenty of attention.

Afterwards I carefully put away my things - not only my laptop and its bits and bobs, but also my work newsletters, leaflets, cards and so on. Then I realised I'd lost the bag I'd brought them in. I also couldn't find my two copies of the September edition of Astronomy Now, which I'd brought along to show off, I mean give people a chance for further reading (where's the spade?). I spent about half an hour looking for them. Tony, who had also seen that bag, helped me, and in the end gave me a spare and promised to arrest it if he saw it.

When I got home I found the plastic bag which had contained the work stuff in my laptop case, the magazines on the sofa and that I'd left my mouse behind instead. Well done Alice . . .

I went and picked it up on Saturday, showing my mum around the beautiful walk instead. When we arrived in the building, I found I needed ask no questions: Michael called from a little office behind the counter, "Hi Alice, I'm using your mouse!" I'd left it on the projector.

But at least I did not do what I did just before my first ever public lecture at Intech Planetarium, namely, walking into one of the instruments projecting the Hubble Deep Field onto the planetarium ceiling and knocking my glasses off in the process!

I'll be talking about Cassini on October 14th, black holes on November 11th, the Zoo again in the New Year, and spectra in February. Tony, meanwhile, will be talking about telescope design on October 28th, non-standard cosmology on November 25th, and astronomy and art in the New Year. We're keeping a few slots open for local astronomy buffs, and have already had an offer to do dark matter.

If you live in Pembrokeshire, I hope to see you there.

1 comment:

Alice said...

Is anyone else having trouble opening the Clangers conspiracy link?

Ridiculously, I'm able to open it fine from Google (first hit if you type "Clangers moon hoax") but someone pointed out to me that you can't access it from this blog. The same just happened to me. Anyway, if you Google the above, you'll get the exact same site, and it's really funny.

Can anyone shed some light on what on earth happened? I'd be very grateful if so!