Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Seeing the Sights in London

I'm still feeling rather tired after a visit to London yesterday. The main purpose of the visit was to attend the lecture on "Darwin and God" at Westminster Abbey to mark the publication of Origin of Species on 24 November 1859. A report on the lecture will appear on the Hastings Humanists blog. The free lecture also provided an opportunity to see the interior of the Abbey without paying the £15 entrance fee that is now charged.

In a way the Abbey is as much of a national mausoleum as a church. The memorial to Isaac Newton is in a prominent position on the choir screen at the end of the Nave, and slabs marking the burial places of Charles Darwin and John Herschel are nearby in the left aisle. Poets' corner I didn't get to see. Religious symbols, like crucifixes, that one would see in catholic churches were not prominent. Perhaps one day, when the old superstitions have died away, it will become a shrine to the development of rational ideas.

I also passed some of the time with a visit to the Cabinet War Rooms, the bunkers from which the strategy was directed during the second world war. It now includes an extensive Churchill Museum, but I feel that this gives rather too much of bias to the presentation, placing too much emphasis on the one man, and detracts from the claustrophobic and intensely focused atmosphere of the War Rooms. Much more memorabilia of the other cabinet members and leaders of the armed forces would give it greater authenticity.

I also went down Craven Street, by Charing Cross station, with the idea of visiting Benjamin Franklin's house, but it proved to be closed on Tuesdays. The big wheel, the London Eye, was also a temptation but I think I'll leave that to a clearer and less windy day.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Falling Leaves and Litter

Our tree is now rapidly losing its leaves. Some of the other trees have already lost them all. They are forming piles in on the pavements and in our garden area, blown there by the wind.

There is a supermarket plastic bag caught in the upper branches of the tree that has been there since last year. There are also large lumps of light polystyrene plastic that have been blowing down the hill and cluttering the place up. Where they have come from I don't know. Probably some black waste bag that broke open.

Someone, presumably in one of our flats here, has left an old door-frame in the front garden. It has been there several weeks. It will probably be up to me to arrange for it to be taken away. More recently someone has also left some bits of wood from carpentry work lying about, still with nails sticking out of them. I'd have thought any competent carpenter would know to remove the nails and dsipose of the waste safely. I find such carelessness annoying, especially when it's left to others, i.e. me, to tidy up.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Weather for Sea Gulls

I took some photos from the promenade trying to give an idea of the heavy seas blown up by the high winds we have had since Thursday Evening. Static photos however cannot compare with a motion picture or the real experience. The sea gulls at least seem to enjoy the gales, perhaps they bring in some fish, but my impression is that the gulls simply like being in the element for which they have evolved to survive. A phrase I claim to have originated is that "Beauty is in the eye of the survivor".

Monday, 9 November 2009

Light and Dark

This is the last photo from my walk that I'll be publishing for now. I thought the contrast between the darkness of the foreground and the sunlit scene of the reservoir beyond was striking. It can obviously be taken as a metaphorical image of someone looking out from a world of darkness, depression or imprisonment to an unattainable world of enlightenment, happiness or freedom beyond. Not that that's my frame of mind I should add!

I've been reading the book The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes about science at the end of the 18th century when Joseph Banks, William Herschel and Humphrey Davy were active, and also The Lunar Men by Jenny Uglow, about the group that included Erasmus Darwin, Joseph Priestley, James Watt and others. Both reproduce paintings by Joseph Wright. I saw these, by chance, when I was in Derby a year or so ago and happened to pass time by visiting the City Museum, which has a whole room devoted to his paintings. Holmes writes that "Wright became a dramatic painter of experimental and laboratory scenes ... The calm, glowing light of reason is surrounded by the intense, psychological chiaroscuro associated with Georges de la Tour." I'm not sure that I entirely go along with this interpretation, but Wright's treatment of light is certainly striking.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

A Tangled Bank

This is another of the photos I took on my walk through Ecclesbourne Glen last month. It makes me think of the famous final passage in Origin of Species in which Charles Darwin writes "It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us." And he goes on to expound in brief the thesis of evolution by natural selection.

There have been some beautiful sky scapes visible on the sea front over the last few days, particularly on Friday mid-day where there were extensive cumulus clouds out over the sea, silvered with sunlight and in numerous shades of grey, and this afternoon when, looking towards Beachy Head the sun's rays were shining down through the clouds. Until I first saw this effect some years ago I had assumed that artists paintings of sunlight as rays pushing through the clouds were just a matter of artistic convention; but they really were trying to capture the reality. Alas on both occasions I went out without my camera. I must try to carry it more regularly.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Tidying Up

Tidying up did cheer me up a bit. A bit more progress on sorting my knight's tour material might help. The problem is that I keep changing my mind about what is the optimal method of arrangement. The way it is going seems to be to place emphasis on the different types of symmetry rather than on the board shapes. Thus instead of having a section on rectangular boards it seems better to classify rectangular tours across several sections according to their symmetry, and whether closed or open.

I tried switching on one of my convection heaters last week but it produced too much smell of burning dust. So today I took it all to pieces and cleaned it internally. I'm sure it could be made to come apart more easily. So many screws to take out, and so many pieces, like the wheels, to remove before the actual bodywork could be opened to give access to the oil-filled radiator! Fortunately it all fitted back together again and it is now working OK without the smell. It was all a bit like playing with the Meccano that I used to enjoy as a boy.

There is a central heating system and radiators, which came with the flat, but I'm not at all certain how that works. I use it to provide hot water for washing, but hesitate to use it for the radiators, since I'm not sure how much gas it is likely to use. I expect a cold spell will be needed to stimulate me to try it out.