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Two Brains, Four Pendulums

At our wedding in June last year I quipped that I was marrying The Man with Two Brains which meant I don’t have to have one … tryingly, he is insistent that I do have one and that I must use it and I would like it noted that on 21st December, two days after he arrived for the Fete de Noel I did.

Here in Champs sur Tarentaine-Marchal we are a tiny population (1036 at the last official count which plus me is 1037 and The Bean 1037.00001 with an area of around 60 sq km that is a mere 17 habitants per square kilometre – do you notice the mathematical slant of this post?)  It may be a small commune but Champs is big on community.  At the end of our drive is the Salle de Fete and from my balcony I have witnessed a wedding reception, several private parties, Halloween fancy dress, aerobics classes, scouts (pronounced Scoots here) and most notably the Pompiers Ball which will get a special post all of its own.  Prior to December 21st I had also attended a ‘conference’ organised by Raymond Piccoli.  The subject matter was the Climateology of the Solar System.


Raymond you see is Directeur of Laboratoire de Recherche sur la Foudre (don’t reach for Google Translate – it means Lightening Lab)  which was set up by an act of Government who fund it alongside the Gendarmerie Nationale and it is based here in Champs.  Raymond organises public meetings once every two months with key-note speakers and this time it was the turn of Two Brains … Professeur  Blundell spoke for an hour (in French) on Black Holes and the Smithsonian Institution’s Sub Millimeter Array of which he is Director.  I understood every word of course.  It is a little appreciated fact that I missed my vocation as a high-flying astro-physicist.  Honestly!  Why do I feel you may be unconvinced?


I can tell you that this was probably the hardest audience the venerable Blundell had ever addressed – ranging from young children to a group of Astronomers who had travelled down from Paris for the event (that’s a cool 500 km and 5-6 hours drive from here) but PowerPoint and String are a great combination and the audience of between 40 and 50 people remained engrossed and engaged throughout.  And I can honestly say that I don’t think it was the promise of Kir Royale and cake courtesy of the Mairie that made them stick around. Amongst the audience in addition to Monsieur le Maire was the head of the Gendarmerie for Cantal and his wife.  He I had met before and been transfixed by his beautiful pintucked uniform shirt (he likes to wear the old-style Gendarmes shirt but rather beautifully does not expect his epouse to iron it for him ….)  She made me feel far better about my French by bearing out my theory that as long as I stick to shopping I am entirely fluent.

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Of course preparation is crucial in whatever you do and Raymond had covered all bases including the local radio station (104.4 Radio Bort les Orgues) which nearly caused a collision when I heard my favourite voice whom I call over-emphasising-announcer-lady talk of the Soooob-MillAYMettre Array and realised it could only be Two Brains presentation in Champs (sur Taren-TAINE) that she was referring to whilst out driving a few days prior to the event.  Two Brains had spent every waking hour prepping his PowerPoint and rehearsing his perfect French (and he does speak very good French having spent 9 years in Grenoble in the 80s) but on the plane over and clearly with not enough to occupy him he decided to make pendulums to demonstrate the differing orbits of planets in the solar system.  From there we learned about Foucault’s Pendulum (which is 67 metres long and lives in Le Pantheon in Paris) … you see – I told you I understand.  Doubters!  Minutes before he was due to arrive at le Salle we were sitting in our kitchen tying 4 pendulums made from the joiny bits of my adjustable screwdriver set (this post is frankly zinging with technical jargon, don’t you agree?) and string.  My latent Blue Peter Presenter satisfied, frankly they were a triumph.  Four audience members including a young child and the head of the Gendarmerie de Cantal stood and swayed their pendules and the audience gasped in amazement.  OK, I exaggerate but they did remain fully engaged and I do like a teeny bit of artistic licence along the way.  The talk focussed on trous noirs and Two Brains ended with a song.   We came across the glorious @songadaymann (Jonathan Mann) a year ago.

He has written and performed a song a day for several years and kindly gave permission for his super-massive gem, ‘Jet-Launching Structure Resolved Near the Supermassive Black Hole in M87’ (song #1367) to be used.  He is basically singing a paper written by Shep Doeleman a Smithsonian Scientist of some renown and I am confident that you will share my delight in this brilliance.

Talk over and the masses flocked the bar where cake, chocolate, sparkling kir and organic fruit juice were served.  But the real fun started once the guests had departed.  Only then did the adjunct maire nip to her car and produce several bottles of champagne – to be fair the rest of the afternoon is slightly blurred …..


PS (there must always be a PS) … February 22nd, Salle de Fete, Champs sur Tarentaine – be there.  I will be.