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Posts tagged ‘Astrophysics’

Truly ‘t is a rare bird in the land

Those of you familiar with my nonsense will know that I refer to my spouse as The Husband with Two Brains or HB². But he has another moniker, one that arose when he wasn’t even in the same country as the protagonist, let alone the same room.

Some while ago, probably 6 months after I moved to France, I was taking coffee with Raymond (adopt French accent, for he is indeed a proud Frenchman). Raymond came into world of HB² quite by chance some 20 years ago. A knock on his office door, a frantic colleague needing help with someone he suspected to be a Frenchman who had appeared uninvited in the lab. Under gentle interrogation it transpired that Raymond had spent all his savings on a single air fare to New York in pursuit of an Astronomy Professor that he particularly admired. He being, at the time, a student and general helper at the Astronomy faculty in Nice. Picked up by the Police wandering aimlessly, he somehow persuaded them to put him on the Amtrak to Boston from where he found his way to Harvard and there the story brought him into my husband’s orbit. Struck by his tenacity, his extraordinary affinity with the night-sky, which is akin to the ancient astronomers who first mapped and tried to understand the world beyond our globe, and touched by his desire to learn, my husband took him in and found him work in his lab. Eighteen months later he returned to France to complete a degree having finally accepted that to be taken seriously in the world of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Cosmology and all the attendent highbrow orbits he fancied dabbling in, he must have a degree. Since that time, Raymond remains devoted to Two Brains and I would suggest with some reason.

Back to the café where I had enjoyed a coffee and a chat with the same Raymond and asked his advice. I was concerned about my husband at the time for reasons I now fail to remember – living lives separated by 3,000 miles nurtures anxiety, or at least that has been my experience. As we stood to say our au revoirs, Raymond clasped me by the shoulders and, as he faire les emphatic bises (the air-kiss-kiss we do in France but with supplementary vigour to impart fortitude), declared that my husband is really un cochon rouge – a red pig. I queried this with a smile intended to make me the fool and a gentle ‘quoi?’ and he repeated ‘il est un petit cochon rouge’ – so in fact not just any red pig , but a small red pig. My husband stands almost 6′ and though of light and lean frame is not one to ever be described as little, particularly in France where most men are of, let’s say more concise hauteur. Including Raymond. To be doubly belt and braces sure that I understood him Raymond then announced in English ‘he is a red pig, a small red pig’.

Later that evening on the phone to The Brains I asked him, having Googled colloquial, slang and vernacular French all afternoon in vain. I enquired in a roundabout Winnie the Pooh sort of casual way what calling someone un cochon rouge or indeed un petit cochon rouge might mean. The answer came back ‘red pig or little red pig’. So not helpful at all. Accordingly spurred by what had now become an obsessive need to understand, I made a full confession, including sharing my troubled mind over he who owns both brains and was subjected to a stunned and complete silence. The identical stunned silence it turned out that Raymond employed a few weeks later when asked what he had meant by calling The Brains a red pig. He claimed he had said ‘un petit cochon rose’ and meant that my husband is more sensitive than he lets on. Less macho, less girder-built. I can firmly report that he did NOT. No sir. Not. At. All. I heard him entirely distinctly and he called my husband a little RED pig. Of course it has stuck. It begged to and would have been dreadfully rude to ignore it.

Therefore, when staying in Boothbay Harbor, Maine as recommended by my blogging friend ‘The Weird Guy with a Dog’ whom I wholeheartedly urge you to check out, and confronted with this wingèd porcine outside a pretty store selling eccentric ironwork, I was minded to abduct it but made do with a photograph for now. I perfectly intend to own it when we have a house to put it on – after all who can resist such a wondrous hog, seemingly dancing in the air, gleeful cheeks a-puffing, perky ears a-flapping and that tail uplifted with such blithe abandon. Nothing at all like my husband but portraying perfectly the joie de vivre I suspect we all aspire to and with the added advantage of telling you which way the wind blows. It is a rapturous porker, a piggy I will dream of until I return to make it my very own. I was inclined to share this story by the Weekly Photo Challenge prompt this week ‘Rare’ – if it piques your interest, you can see a sensational selection of entries here.

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PS: The quote is Martin Luther, Priest, Scolar, questioner and reformer ‘A faithful and good servant is a real godsend; but truly ‘t is a rare bird in the land’. Raymond has been a good and faithful servant to The Brains these more than twenty years and as you will discover when I write more of him is surely one of the rarest of birds you will encounter in a lifetime. Actually Luther was uncommonly fond of his rare birds giving the accolade to wise princes and even more to upright ones. That would probably apply today though to politicians rather than princes, I would suggest.

In my mind I am free

I consider myself to be pretty fortunate.  It’s not that I have led a seamless life.  It’s not that they had a canteen of silver spoons at the ready to shove into my gaping, greedy mouth at birth, it’s certainly not that life has dealt me no challenges.  Not at all.  I’ve lived a life.  On occasions a seat of my pants-on-fire scorching my behind sort of life.  But the thing is this.  I embrace the challenges, I smile at the misfortunes because they make me the person I am now and they led me to where I am now and in the great scheme of things I am pretty damned prosperous …. which is not to say monetarily rich.  I do not measure wealth and success in pecuniary increments.  So although I may not do it immediately, I do always search for whatever the mechanism is that works to put whatever the adversity may be in a positive place and I do always get there in the end.

Around two months ago I went back to France for a quick visit to make sure my plants weren’t expired in my flat and my car hadn’t entirely given up the mechanical ghost.  From there I flew to England to make less necessary checks on my ludicrously independent and gloriously enduring mother.  And my daughters (the three out of four who live there) came and visited.  One daughter (one more than I might expect) said it was a shame I wasn’t staying longer.  I explained that I had an important follow-up appointment with my physician after my oncologist had delivered her verdicts.  This left the said daughter entirely unmoved (we lived my cancer a few years ago which is hard on children of any age and  it’s easier for them to button their ears to any talk of the on-going care I have, easier to imagine I am now immune.  I am, after all,  their indestructible mummy).  So I mentioned an appointment with a bloke the same afternoon.  This had the said girl-child herding me tout de suite to the airport to ensure I did not miss this incredible, enviable and  priviliged opportunity.

So who was it that so impressed a 20-something?  Who could it possibly be?  Royalty?  No.  Hollywood A-lister?  Nope.  Rock legend?  Nah.  I cogetated this and I realised that there are only a tiny handful of people who could possibly engender such a response from pretty much anyone.  A response that is mid-way between hugely impressed and achingly envious.  The Pope might be one.  The Queen of England another.  The third and in this case the actual is Stephen Hawking.

I am seldom lost for words.  This is a trait.  A personality thing.  I’m articulate and gregarious when the need arises.  I write words down  too and from time to time I believe they are almost coherent.  But this day.  April 19th 2016.  In Cambridge Massachusetts I was humbled to the point of speechless.  I had no concept of what to expect.  The preparation that goes into getting this man into a room however big or small is immense.  The deference with which he is treated I would mostly sneer at since essentially the circus is just that, an act put on for an audience who need to believe that this person is not of the same world as the rest of us.  But in this case it is entirely justified.  That he gave a talk that I mainly understood even though it was to an assemblage peppered with the greats of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Harvard University; that he is brave enough to sit before any gathering, withered in his chair and at the effect of software to speak the words he has written for the occasion and the pregnant pauses in delivery that are inherent in the system; that he has such a self-depracating sense of humour.  All of this I had not imagined even though I imagine I have quite a fertile imagination.  I simply had not gone there.  Which is the point.  This is a man whose life should have been at it’s end at 21 years of age.  He says everything else has been a bonus.  And he has taken that bonus and run with it.  I felt the withered insignificant teeny tiny little squib in the room.  This was like listening to God (I have my own mish-mash belief system that does not allow for a single deity and which I need not share since it is merely mine).  I came out of that room entirely changed.  A better person.  Purer.  Which is the other point … the title of this weeks photo challenge is Pure.  And this man, with his failings, with his warts, with his reliance on science to keep him going is about as pure a mind as I have ever encountered.

The picture I have selected to illustrate this fact is taken at altitude above San Pedro de Atacama in Chile.  HB² (my husband to the uninitiated) built a tiny observatory there some years ago simply because he could.  I love this.  Just do it.  Because you can.  That is the Hawking way.  You can if you will.   Stephen Hawking may not have visited this observatory but he will surely know that you need the purest atmosphere to observe the stars.  To find the answers he seeks.  The answers we all silenty crave.  The observatory is in the picture but you may not be able to see it.  A man like Hawking sees what we cannot see, makes sense of what we cannot make sense of, delivers it to the world in a form that from Nobel Prize Winners to young children everyone can have a piece of.  And that, if I may is pure genius.

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And of course PS: Hawking is responsible for the quote in the title ‘Although I cannot move and I have to speak through a computer, in my mind I am free’ (‘How to Build a Time Machine’, 2010)… and that freedom is purety incarnate, surely and defines what I feel makes ME fortunate.

You can find all the other, laudible entries to the challenge ‘PURE’ right here