Blog no. 4

There are many adverts on television just now from Plan International which, again, highlight the lack of progress in so many areas of the female world.  During the last 30 years or so, it seems I have evolved into a sceptical, grumpy old woman.  Following a magazine article in 1985, I was inspired to take out a sponsorship for a young girl in the Sudan.  Her story still haunts me to this day.  I wrote and received letters and photos written on her behalf in return.  It felt good to be taking some action.  Then, suddenly, it all stopped.  The Sudanese government refused the support of Plan as it wanted money not actual help…  A similar story emerged in other countries.  I left the organisation when I felt the issues were too big for aid organisations and needed the wielding of some sort of incentive/economic-based argument brought to bear by other governments.  An aid worker shot in Pakistan summed up the situation poignantly.  In this current climate of individualism and nationalism, I feel that globalisation could be used as a good unifying force around the world.  Already, there is united action over climate change by young people.  Surely, this is the way forward for all the major issues facing the human race?  People are rallying round to raise money to help those affected by the fires in Australia.  Hopefully to help people as well as cute koalas.  After over 80 years of action, I find it astounding that Plan’s aid is still required.  And specifically for girls.  It is a sad indictment of our uneven global development that more is not being done at a governmental level for people. 

     ‘Staycation’.  Back in the days of my youth, we ‘went on holiday’ to Cornwall.  Living in the south east, this was an adventure and often involved overnight car journeys, with Dad driving through the night in a bid to outwit the traffic jams.  Before the transformative M5 and road improvements, the nose to tail cars would crawl through Taunton, Honiton, Okehampton, Bodmin…And with what delight did we enjoy the wide sandy beaches and gloriously colourful lanes of Cornwall.  Cornwall.  The name redolent of early daffodils, cream and mystery, of smugglers and shipwrecks, of fun and childhood.  By its very name, ‘Staycation’ implies staying at home although it is, it seems, taken to mean holidays taken in Britain.  I think people have forgotten that foreign holidays used to be luxuries affordable by only the very rich.  They were exotic and to be treasured.  I feel that cheap air travel has devalued the experience of travelling abroad, diminishing the experience to sun and sea.  Relaxation is important but so to is the experience of seeing how other people live, what other places are like.  I am reminded of my OU course, ‘Explorations of human geography’, in which we studied the effects of global travel upon developing countries.  The higher standards demanded by many visitors result in hotels importing most of the consumables needed thus resulting in financial leakage to the detriment of the country being visited.  It is reassuring to note that over the years there has been an increase in sustainable tourism and efforts made to reduce the impact of too many visitors to significant sites.

      Retirement.  Oh dear.  We all know the retirement age has been raised across the board with particular effects for those of us of a certain gender and age yet the BBC News website has a statement on there stating there are more people over the age of 50 in work ‘a record high’.  Why the tone of surprise or why is it even noteworthy?  How many people can actually retire without a state pension at the age of 50.  I struggle with the notion that longevity must equal fitness to work in the first instance and why are we all programmed to work until retirement.  Surely, the best way forward is to aim to have a better work/life balance?  Will Hutton put forward a convincing argument in the 1990s about the lack of necessity for a 5-day working week.  He advocated that, with increased technology, we should be working fewer hours while producing the same, or more than, as before. 

     So, with more free time on the horizon, will I have staycations or exotic adventures…?  Or exotic adventures amidst the diverse counties of the United Kingdom? 

Karen Hedges

February 2020

A preview of a newsletter item

Sights to enjoy in the dark skies

A new newsletter for St Thomas community is an exciting prospect and I am excited to be contributing a small piece. Some of you will have seen me at St Thomas Library either giving a talk or listening to one. A talk later this year will be a follow up one about the Moon. The Moon Part 2. In the immediate future though my next talk will be a private one to a group of local Beavers. I love sharing my enthusiasm for the night sky and the world around us with practical demonstrations and models to bring the subject to life. Look out for a solar cooker making session during the summer.
The object of my contribution here is to entice you outside to observe some easy to find stars. I am a volunteer at the Norman Lockyer Observatory where I have the privilege of being a trained Telescope Presenter for one of the historic telescopes. Come and see me there on Saturday 7 March during the Open Day for Science Week.
I write this as a storm rages outside…cloud, rain, wind, none of which are good for observing. However, February is generally a good time to start as the atmosphere is more stable which enables stars to been seen more easily. You do not have to stay out late as it is still dark in the early evening and don’t forget the dark mornings! The highlight for many people, both seasoned astronomers and those new to astronomy is the splendid nebula in Orion. It can just about been seen with the naked eye. This is what makes astronomy so accessible; no special equipment is needed to witness something special. Once you have the interest, then a good pair of 10 x 50 binoculars will show you an increasing number of visible stars as you gaze more deeply. Telescopes will show you the nebula in all its glory with the formation known as the Trapezium visible. The nebula is located just below the belt – see diagram below:

Once you have discovered the delights of seeing the great red star of Betelgeuse…this is heading towards the supernova, or end of life, stage in its life so well worth catching…, it is nice to ponder on the distances involved in this formation or constellation of stars. That nebula, which looks so clear, is actually 1344 light years away, while Betelgeuse is 640 light years away. A light year is just 6 trillion miles. 6000000000000 miles.
And, following the mighty Orion, are the harbingers of Spring: Leo and Virgo, the latter with the main star of Spica, or wheat sheaf. I’ll take a deeper look at those next time.

Karen Hedges
February 2020
www.karenhedges.co.uk

Blog No. 2

Following on from my comments about Lady Hale in the previous blog post, I was disappointed to see a small paragraph relating to the achievements of the female solo skier across Antarctica tucked away towards the back of a newspaper. With all the royal shenanigans it would have been lovely to have come across this achievement earlier in the pages.

An astronomical highlight was a visit to the Observatory on the night of the partial lunar eclipse (explain briefly) It was good to see the Astroscouts again and to ‘gate crash’ their visit to the big Connaught dome where we viewed the Moon. I am always bowled over by how near the surface looks through a telescope. It was great to show off the Lockyer telescope to a friend who proved an appreciative audience for my favourite telescope. For a first visit to the Observatory, that was hard to beat: sole use of the telescope, a lunar eclipse and a view through a telescope.

A bright sunny day saw Roy and I venture out onto the moors, albeit briefly, just enough to assess the suitability of our clothes and shoes. I need to get some new boots! For those following my fundraising efforts, this was a first step in getting ready.

Thanks to a kind gift from a friend, I have been reintroduced to the writings of Thomas Hardy. I am absolutely enthralled by the interweaving tales of love and astronomy in ‘Two on a Tower’. It was written around the time of the great astronomical discoveries in mid-Victorian Britain. His descriptions of human emotions and angst are enthralling and finely observed. I would have loved a chat with him. Some of his books I have found difficult to get into but this one is staying on the bookshelf!

Spurred on by Thomas Hardy’s evident knowledge and appreciation of astronomy, I took advantage of a particularly clear, starry morning to get my binoculars focussed on the waning crescent moon. I was pleased to positively identify Eratosthenes crater. This just serves to show that astronomy does not always have to involve late nights.

A chance conversation about music at work made me dig out my old LPs and I really enjoyed listening to Barry Manilow’s lovely voice once again. He is now 76 with a somewhat waxy smooth complexion.

Early signs of spring continue to delight with a hellebore in the garden and a display of daffodils down a Devon lane.

December musings

December Musings

     Not just the end of the year but the end of a decade and the beginning of another one.  Ten years ago, I climbed the rigging of a small Tall Ship and celebrated the new year at the splendid Devon Hotel.  These events are still fresh in my mind while my body has shown that it still has some strength in it as one foot underwent a huge operation three years’ ago to remove some arthritis while the other one had to hop.  The hopping took   toll on that foot but I am mobile and looking forward to walking on Dartmoor once again.  The NHS are kindly providing new shoes after a lengthy and unsuccessful attempt on my part to find shoes which would take my feet and the orthotics.  I look forward to the year ahead with some trepidation and excitement, and hope for us all that it is a peaceful one.

     Christmas is an emotional time, especially this year which has seen so many heavy losses to us personally and to people we know.  I hope you enjoy this poem I penned on Boxing Day:

Christmas is for children

so some folks say

perhaps this is so

Hope for the future is

babe in a Manger

light in the darkness

carols and cake

treats in a tree

memories

hopes

dreams of times past

of times yet to be

turkey and stuffing

feeling stuffed to the brim

endless cooking

endless cleaning

and the rest

pies in places best not mentioned

being with family

family time

with people

whose lives interweave

who once were strangers

now are friends

fathers, mothers

sisters, brothers

far flung sons

far flung daughters

flying homeward

Christmas is hope

is love

is healing

is a pause in the busyness of life

The present is holding on

throughout the year

to the peace that comes at

Christmastime

Greetings for the New Year from www.karenhedges.co.uk

Karen Hedges

Boxing Day 2019

Monthly Musing for November

     November.  Yes, it felt like November.  Bright autumn colours, rustling leaves and in tune with Greenwich Mean Time.  I like the clocks going back to the natural rhythm.  Is it natural?  Joan Bakewell, in the I paper, argued the case for the clocks remaining ‘forward’ so we could enjoy the golden afternoons.  In these days of around-the-clock artificial light there is indeed less need for natural daylight during ‘normal’ working hours for farmers and others who need to get up early.  Indeed, many jobs require people to get up earlier than the sun other than outside farm work.

     It was a month for catching up with friends old and new.  The winter months generally are great for catch ups in warm, cosy pubs in the shorter daylight days.  The long summer days are ideal for trips to the moors, to the coast and for summer evenings outside.

     In my bid to support local libraries, I have come across Reginald Hill’s wonderful non-Dalziel and Pascoe novels.  They far surpass the stories containing the popular duo in that his writing is tighter and the characters come vividly and compassionately to life.  I cannot put them down.  I enjoy the D&P ones and like to see the TV adaptations but these others, well, I want to read them all.  The one I have dragged myself away from to write this is “The Woodcutter”, following hotly on the heels of “The Long Kill”.  Not to mention, “Deadheads”…a real treat for gardeners…

     Coming from a background of doing everything with one’s husband, my Mum is doing her best to adapt to a future life on her own and has booked an exciting holiday for next spring.  It reminded me that my generation are so fortunate to have access to various groups via the internet.  Indeed, I am profoundly grateful to a group I came across while going through my divorce in Honiton.  We all rallied around to help each other out in whatever way was needed at the time.  And it showed me that I (nor anyone for that matter) need not struggle on alone as help was always available if one looked for and asked for it.  In Exeter there are a great many groups to appeal to any age and interest and through the local community group on Facebook, I am making new friends and enjoying local meet ups and events.  The latest one was an international shared lunch with belly dancing and music and craft to follow.

     Looking slightly ahead to the month of buying gifts…I shall be at a craft fair in Woodbury next week with my books and other things.  The All About Space magazine did indeed include by books in its gift guide and, excitingly, I had my photograph taken with the magazine where it was on sale in WH Smiths.

December. A gloomy poem for the gloomy dark days.

December

Lonely man clutching a bottle
for a prop, a friend
Rain lashed faces
hiding tears, hiding fears
of loneliness, of pain
of longing for times past
Grey days
The dark days before the Joy
of Christmas Day
of days lengthening
of tears in seeing loved ones near
in flesh
or faces smiling in my mind

Remembering times past
of happy times
fun
laughter
tears of joy
When paper bedecked ceilings, walls,
wrapping itself snugly around us all
with love
Party games and party hats
Can anyone balance those plates on sticks?
And what about oranges and coal?
That hefty weight upon the bed
Feet wriggling with delight

Christmas began on Christmas Eve
and carried us through to Twelfth Night
Enough
No surfeit of delight
Eager mouths
enjoying treats
Gluttony
Yes, but for a day
Not a month
or more
like now.

Aliens

Great new adventure story about a rather special planet.  Available NOW from Amazon.  Would make an ideal present.

November Notes

November Notes 2018

Definitely turning into an increasingly Grumpy Old Woman as Christmas advertising seems to be reaching a crescendo…and it’s not even Bonfire Night as I write this paragraph. The local radio station annoyed me even further with their announcement that after a big Firework Display the next major event would be the Christmas Lights Switch On. I messaged them that, actually, Remembrance Sunday was next!
And this year sees the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. It is extra special as well because the 11th November falls on a Sunday. I visited the Cathedral with its splendid display of knitted red poppies and purple poppies with a figure of a horse in memory of all the animals that died too. I remember visiting the Royal Signals Museum near Bovingdon in Dorset and seeing a video of a very proud pigeon (yes, it actually looked proud) receiving an award for bravery. It had delivered a message despite being injured; it somehow knew that the job it had to do was so important. I really enjoyed working for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission many, many years ago with a great bunch of caring people. The gardeners who tended the vast cemeteries in France were second generation who created havens of peace and tranquillity under the guidance of the staff at HQ here in England.
As a bit of light relief, I quite often run a session about star sizes in November for the young observers and use it as an excuse for some birthday biscuits. This year it was particularly appreciated as it was indeed a dark and stormy night and those who came along deserved a treat. Handily, the red star in Antares of the constellation Scorpius, is one of the biggest so makes a nice link between serious learning, fun and my birthday!
My birthday treat was to have an outing to the local theatre to enjoy a really splendid production of Shakespeare’s Henry V, accompanied by Roy and new son-in-law, Tim. We all enjoyed the evening very much. It also provided the opportunity of wearing a nice dress that was awaiting such an occasion. The choice of play was particularly poignant on the anniversary of the ending of the First World War and within all the discussions of Brexit. It just highlighted how intertwined England and France are in particular and how countries should be working together not pulling each other apart. And in these days of globalisation and multinational companies, it is well nigh impossible to separate any one entity be it country or company.
An absolute highlight for this month was the Pint of Science talk given by Astronaut Steve Swanson. He is awesome. He astounded us with the unbelievably wide range of tasks they have to do and the challenges they meet. I turned a shade of green when I saw my daughter go off with her colleagues for a drink at the pub afterwards with him!

August Notes

A hog roast accompanied by tasty, colourful salads kick started August. The whole hog arrived in a metal ‘coffin’ like contraption emitting mouthwatering smells. The event was a lovely anniversary party in Offwell which meant I would be likely to bump into some old familiar faces from my Honiton days. I did and it was good to catch up. Roy and I hit the dance floor for a slow, smooch number before resting once more. The anniversary cake was really pretty, topped by a tractor! The theme was daisies and Deeres…
As the evening was so warm and clear, we wrestled with the binoculars and tripod and managed to view, dimly, Jupiter and, more successfully, Albireo. It inspired us to think about how to make the patio more accessible for star gazing.
Sidmouth is chock a block with people and cars visiting the annual Folk Week Festival. As I drive past the campsite around 8am there are people already heading towards the town centre, presumably on the hunt for a proper breakfast and groups boarding a big double decker bus which is used to ferry the folk to and from the festival and the sea front. My colleague was keen for me to experience the sights along the sea front and persuaded me to accompany him on a walk one lunch time. Walk! It was like having a personal trainer as we whizzed along the sea front at 100 miles an hour and back through the Byes and through the town. However, we did see all the sights and achieved a good round trip walk in just under an hour. And in the evening, once my feet had recovered, I had enough energy to make a cake…
My poor feet sighed yet again, as I found myself standing for most of the day at the annual AstroFair. I managed to be on holiday last year. As much as I love being with the Lockyer telescope, it is physically demanding with insufficient volunteers around. The conversations with people from far and wide as ever made the experience worthwhile. I learn as much from them as they do from me and what keeps me returning to open events time and time again. The Lockyer telescope is special and I am always keen to share my enthusiasm for it. It is historic yet not in a museum. I am trained in the use of it and it is a joy to use. The view through it is stunning and sometimes better than through more modern equipment.
Work continues to be productive in all sorts of ways. I love being upstairs taking ‘screen breaks’ to gaze out to sea…and with all the physical exercise of file sorting, lifting and walking up and down all the stairs, the weight is falling off and I was delighted to be back in a pair of trousers that hadn’t been able to be done up for quite a while. And I feel more energetic.
So much more energetic that I was able to walk from Waitrose area down to the seafront to meet Mum for a wonderful display by the Red Arrows. It was cold, it was wet, but the warmth and excitement of the crowds dispelled the chill. We clapped at the amazing formations which represented various aircraft in the RAF today and in the past. Collective intakes of breath could be heard every time the tricoloured smoke trails intermingled as the jets passed within a hair’s breadth of each other.
More about that stroll…I had been intending to catch the bus but the traffic was heavy and my anxiety as to whether the bus would actually get me there on time got the better of me and I relied on the Map App on my phone to take through the back way to the seafront. It was delightful! I had long wished to take a stroll up the delightfully named Ice House Lane and I was not disappointed. First off was a really pretty cottage with equally pretty garden with the lane winding upwards for a while. I was bit disconcerted when the route took a deep turn to the right – the opposite direction to where I needed to be – but I kept faith with the phone and, sure enough, it soon took a deep turn to the left. No sign of an ice house though. A disused railway line went over the lane, with occasional evidence of life pre-Beeching along the way.
Coming out of a large bend the route dipped into a gloomy looking area, enticingly named ‘Dark Lane’. It was indeed dark. And slightly eerie. Trees loomed in on either side of the deep lane. It speeded up my progress!
Emerging into the daylight once more, the route began to go steadily downhill and merged on the main road. Recognising the road, I breathed more easily and knew I would be likely to beat the bus! This gave a tremendous feeling achievement and very soon I did see the bus arrive just 5 minutes ahead of me. I felt I had earned my fish and supper which was really nice in the sea front café.
The hordes leaving the seafront after the display were impatient in their desire to leave the rain-drenched beach.
And the August Bank Holiday rounded off the pleasures of this late summer month with a trip out to Exmoor. We packed a healthy Devon picnic of pasties and pork pies which, thus fortified, was followed by a healthy walk up Dunkery Beacon. It was so clear we could see Wales. It was glorious. Basking in the sunshine on the top of the hill was a superb reward for our uphill walk.

Holidays

The sleepless nights
The bugs that bite
Routine in disarray
Tempers fray

Icy sea
No cream teas
Lost on the moor
Waves pound the shore

Swimming pool warm
Insects swarm
Bathers are bold
For the air is cold, cold