Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Meteors, eclipses and a sense of perspective from the night skies

Things astronomical have dominated the news recently. Earlier this month there was the spectacle of the Perseid meteor shower, sometimes referred to poetically as the 'tears of Saint Lawrence'. And then the US witnessed the 'Great American Eclipse' – a total solar eclipse visible across the entire United States, from the Pacific to the Atlantic. So it seemed appropriate that I should be reading a thought-provoking book by Adam Ford called 'Galileo and the art of ageing mindfully'. Subtitled 'Wisdom from the night skies', this little volume is one of a series of slim hardbacks produced by Leaping Hare Press which deal, in a very entertaining and often rather tangential way, with mindfulness. (Other titles available include 'Einstein and the Art of Mindful Cycling' and 'The Art of Mindful Baking'.)

Adam Ford (who has written a number of the books in the Leaping Hare series, is an ordained Anglican priest, but there are more references to Buddhism than to Christianity in this philosophical reflection on what we can learn from astronomy. In a chapter called 'Time Tunnels and Eternity', Ford explains the speed of light and what it means to us. He points out how, if we look up at Orion in December we see Sirius (the brightest star in our sky):
"Like the sound of the woodcutter's axe delayed when seen from the far side of a field, the light of Sirius is somehow delayed by its speed, so we do not see it as it is now but as it was eight and a half years ago. What we see in our present moment is something happening eight and half years ago in our past. What were we doing then?"

Ford goes on to consider that, because of the time taken for light to travel, using light years as a measure of distance, when we look at Betelgeuse for example (450 light years away) "we see it now as it was in the past, in the first Elizabethan era." While the three stars of Orion's belt "are seen even further back in history, for they shine to us from hundreds of years ago before the days of William the Conqueror."


I, with little knowledge of astronomy and still less of Galileo, had never contemplated how, because of the speed of light, when we look at the stars we are looking into the past – a kind of everyday, interstellar time-travel that might help us maintain a healthy sense of perspective when we reflect on our place and time in the world.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Tewkesbury Medieval Festival, July 2017

A musical reception committee
While parts of Europe are suffering a heatwave this August, in England the summer has, for now, been chased away by thick cloud, rain and the occasional rumble of thunder. It's hard to believe that, just a few weeks ago, we were enjoying perfect weather for what was, for me, the highlight of the summer (if not the highlight of 2017) – the Tewkesbury Medieval Festival.  

Now, you might be thinking these guys at the Passengers in Time blog surely aren't into dressing up in costumes and reenacting battles. Maybe not, but of course this blog has always been about books, music and time travel and the Tewkesbury Medieval Festival brings together two of those interests very nicely indeed. You may recall that, back in the spring, we reported on Celtic Medieval Speed Folk trio PerKelt. We were so taken with them we looked them up to see where we could catch them playing live again. Turned out they were booked to play at the Tewkesbury Medieval Festival – reason enough to go along to this free, family-friendly event even if battle reenactments, archery displays and sampling mead aren't really your thing. 

PerKelt at Tewkesbury Medieval Festival
(c) Tony Gillam, 2017
PerKelt were, as expected, amazing, and I found myself beaming with joy and contentment as they performed their sweet, exuberant music in the brightly-coloured dome tent. But it wasn't just the enchanting music or the obvious enjoyment of PerKelt; the whole atmosphere of the festival was delightful – relaxed and relaxing – with the opportunity to see all sorts of interesting stalls and displays within a stone's throw of one of our favourite quaint English market towns. The Tewkesbury Medieval Festival is our new choice event of the year; and, if it's not a contradiction to say so, we're really looking forward to going back in time again next July. 

About me

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Tony Gillam is Senior Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing at the University of Wolverhampton and Visiting Lecturer at the University of Worcester. An award-winning mental health nurse, he is also a freelance writer and musician, has published numerous articles and is the author of 'Reflections on Community Psychiatric Nursing'.