December 2010


When, during the last few days ofJanuary, I heard that the keeper’s wife had found her false teeth embedded in ice over night (resembling those prehistoric insects which have been found embedded in amber) I knew that this winter was becomlng pretty rough. I awoke on the 26th to find all the outside pipes frozen, and there was a sullen lake in the bottom of the bath which refused to gurgle away. I have no truck with blowlamps. I wrap rags round thc pipcs and set them alight with the help of paraffin. Then I sit down and await that discreet gurgle and the subsequent rush of water down the plug hole. This system of unfreczing pipes is better than calling the plumber or fiddling around with blow lamps which snuff out in the slightest breeze. But don’t make the fire too big or you may have to call the fire brigade. This method is not recommended for wooden bungalows or lath-and-plaster Essex walls.

Denys James Watkins-Pitchford

by fake science

One pair of winter boots, a fleece, a down gillet, a buffalo and two woolly hats were required this evening. The rest was supplied by the bowl of stars that is the heavens.  Before dinner I had seen shooting stars interrupt the view of the multitude of stars in the pleiades.  I saw the band of Jupiter and his Galilean groupie moons.  I had picked out the double stars inside double stars around the plough.  Orion was just beginning to rise from the trees and it was time to go in and eat.  The scope stands sentry with the snowmen, ready for later.  Later I will try and pick out nebulae and clusters and the craters on the moon.

A few nights ago I looked up at the stars and Orion was hunting the moon.  I wondered what our ancestors would have made of such a sight.

orion over the cottage on the 18th

The image shows Orion, a well recognised figure in the night sky and a thing of much importance thousands of years ago in Ireland.  On the night of the 18th of  December he was hunting the moon with his bow held forth.

he has the moon in his sights (18th)

This morning the moon had still eluded him as I caught a moon rise in the hours before dawn.

this morning before dawn the moon is still bold and un-scratched (8 second exposure on camera)

Orion, (or Lugh, or Cúchlainn, or Setanta, or The High Man) still has his other arm with the club, or maybe spear, or fist.  Tomorrow morning the moon will be in range and The High Man will strike the moon and it will bleed red.  Then, as the moon is wounded, the sun will begin its deep cycling up of energy.  From tomorrow the sun will start slowly clawing back the darkness from the fallen moon.  We shall see warm days again in the far future.  The High Man has triumphed.

stellarium predicts the moon will be caught just before dawn tomorrow morning

Tomorrow morning is the solstice, and full moon, and lunar eclipse, and a horizontal eclipse.  At 7 to 7:30 am the full moon will turn blood red before it sets (in the north west) and falls and is replaced with the solstice sun from the exact opposite direction.  No one is really sure how red or it will turn, deep, or ruby, or pink, as the exact colour is weather dependent and unpredictable.  However, it will be worth getting up and seeing if the clouds are not in the way as it is an extremely rare event.

Image via irishweather online

Another 5 to 10 cm predicted for localised parts of Ulster for tonight.  Hard to predict where as they are showers from streamers from the Irish sea, but North Antrim seems to be in the line of fire.  Another 5cm seems to have fallen here today.  This makes me wonder why I cleared the drive.

The chickens aren’t enjoying it all. Although they do have some new friends.  Garden birds are finding their way into the coup every day.  Warmth and food are the main attractors.  I keep releasing them but a handful keep returning.  One of the robins (I know, I should, by logic, only have one) has taken up permanent residence and refuses to leave when I release the others.

The Christmas carols are blasting out around the cottage. Massive icicles are hanging from the eaves.  The snow is lying one foot thick and it is snowing some more now.  Tomorrow a 4×4 is being driven far by a colleague to pick me up for work.  If you are imagining a Landover then don’t, it has leather heated seats and he keeps randomly switching them on so I think I am wetting myself.

Tonight I cracked open the last bottle of the fat black cat real ale.  I promised myself that a new batch would be started only when the old batch had finished.  A couple of months ago I tentatively sipped a quarter bottle.  Two nights later I tried a half bottle.  Two nights later I braved a full bottle.  I seemed to have got the microbiology correct and it actually tasted good.   When I first bottled it all I was surprised at how much I had made, but most of it ended up being given away to friends.  So, a week ago I looked at the last two bottles and was surprised at how little I had made.

With the carols and the holly and the twinkling lights I got carried away and began to brew.  Pots of water boiled and measuring scales were out.  Culchie living meant I could stand in the patio, at minus 8, with a big plastic barrel and swing it about manically without anyone seeing and wondering (sterilising it with solution means it can pop open mid shake or swing, not advisable indoors).  I was all finished and sealed the fermenting mixture up when the lovely Sharon popped in and reminded me that fermentation usually takes six days.  In six days time I will have to set aside a couple of hours to bottle it all.  I mentally counted six days from now and sighed. Whoops.

That special time of year is nearly upon us and this year it has many more reasons to be special.  It is the solstice.  It is no coincidence that Christmas falls so closely to the solstice.  Many believe that the Christian festivals were timed to replace the festivals of old religions as a smooth transition rather than out with the old and in with the new.  If you are not convinced of this, then ponder the things that define Christmas other than the birth of Christ.  Things like the tree indoors, the red and white man that can travel up and down chimneys and the flying reindeer.  The Fly Agaric may be able to answer some of these oddities.

Equinoxes, solstices, and full moons were all significant gathering times for humans for tens of thousands of years.  This might explain the strange wandering timing of Easter; the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox.

Some books state the summer solstice as being the most important event, others say that it was the winter solstice.  In Ireland the winter solstice seems more significant with places like Newgrange aligned to it.  The winter solstice is the point where the sun is at its lowest in the sky and the shortest day and the longest night. The solstice was the sign to everyone that, although the hardest part of winter was yet to come, the sun was slowly crawling back and spring will return eventually.

This winter we find ourselves in a second cold snap before it is even January.  The metoffice suspect that it may end up being the coldest December since records began.  Is this a randomness of the weather system or has it deeper connections?

the waxing moon today

A more special and strange event will take place on the solstice this year (21st December).  It is irrelevant to the weather and would take place if we were here or not.  It is a stunning example of the mechanics of the sun, earth and moon.  Not only is it a full moon on the same day as the solstice but there is also a lunar eclipse!

how the moon should appear on tuesday just after 7am – close to the horizon looking NW

On Tuesday morning between 7am and 8am the moon will turn blood red.  If the sky is clear and it is visible it should be quite dramatic as it is close to the horizon.  Just before half seven would seem like the best time to see it as dawn will swamp it at 8am.  Look for it at the point were the sun normally sets on these winter nights, to the NorthWest.  I wonder what our ancestors would have concluded from such a sight if they too had such a winter.

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