Perseid Gazing

If you have two identical zip-up sweaters, and they are both in rotating use, then you are 87% more likely to go out without your house keys. I may have just made that statistic up. Let’s not dwell in it.

I went out to the back garden on Friday night at around midnight, after the telly had closed down. No, of course the telly didn’t close down but do you remember how it used to? The announcer would wish you a good night and the test card might come up. Here in Ireland, they put up a film of a billowing flag and played the National Anthem. We didn’t tend to stand up unless we were heading for bed, as we frequently were, or locked out of your house in the back garden, as I was, even though the telly was not shut down, just switched off.

I’m losing you. Let’s get on with this.

There was a black cat on the front door mat who didn’t bother to move when I opened the door. It just looked up and enquired about the possible of a) food and b) access, neither of which were forthcoming. Our own adopted wild cat is not sociable by any definition of the word, so it was nice to have this black bundle purring and making itself available for my patented single finger head stroke on account of my allergy to cats. I closed the front door behind me so the cat couldn’t duck in and then realised I had the lesser of two zip-up sweaters on… the one without the house keys. It wasn’t a problem, I texted my sons and one of them opened the door for me. All good.

(This thousand-word thing is going to be a breeze. We’re a quarter of the way through and nothing’s happened yet… welcome to my blog.)

As the title, so very far above, suggests, I was venturing into the garden on a quest to view a little of the Perseid Meteor Shower which assails our world around this time every year. I always try to get a look at one or two meteors at least and I have done so ever since the night, as teenagers, my friend Fergie ran a lit match across the front of Dermot’s binoculars as he scanned the skies on Cairn’s Hill and his back stiffened in a way that I still laugh to myself about.

So, I went out to catch me some Perseid.

I was an evening too late for the peak activity, but it was cloudy on Thursday with no chance of a sighting. Friday was good. A nice clear sky, no moon. We get a bit of light pollution from down the town but there’s still plenty of stars to see.

I have two moulded plastic chairs in the back yard, and I kept some of the large red cushions from the old couch when we replaced it last year. So, I brought two of those puppies out and laid myself out on one of the chairs. They’re moulded at quite a reclined angle so it’s a good way to view the sky. I zipped up my lesser-of-two sweaters and waited for some action.

The experts say that you have to be prepared to wait a while and, really, you do. Although you might be able to see plenty of stars up there, it does take some time for the eyes to adjust. You can see a shooting star any old clear night and there’s usually a satellite or two easing across the firmament. But the Perseid can give you a bit of a show, if you hang in there and if you’re lucky.  Your average shooting star is just like a little dot of a star that races along the sky or drops easily down. But the Perseids can come bigger and faster than that. One of the ones I saw last night even seemed to leave a vapour trail behind it.

It was a good show, but it got pretty cold. Those experts recommend a hot water bottle, but you’d want to be a special breed of a lad to go to all that trouble. After a while, I was ready to go in.

“One more,” I said to myself, “I’ll hang in for one more.”

But the one more was not forthcoming. Plus, there in the darkness, I was becoming increasing aware of the danger of one of our transient garden cats coming and jumping on me and dispatching me from sheer fright.

It was time to go in. I even had my door key. Let’s go.

It was then that my mind turned to God, of all things. I’m not a terribly Godly person but, in that moment, in the dark, I got to thinking about how, if God wanted to send a sign, he probably wouldn’t levitate the old Volkswagen Beetle up the road or cause the neighbours to turn purple.

He would probably send something like a shooting star.

“So come on, God,” I defiantly thought (quite loudly), “Send me one more Perseid Meteor so I can bugger off to bed.

But no meteor arrived. It was almost as if God was now holding back on the shooting stars on account of my cheeky request.

Then I thought about my brother, Michael, who passed away suddenly such a few short weeks ago. Perhaps he was now up there with some access to the controls that ran the shooting star machine. Perhaps he could send one down for me.

But I couldn’t even begin to play that game. I could play a silly game with God, who I am never terribly sure about, but I couldn’t do it with my brother, who never-ever let me down.

So, instead, I thought about my little Nephew. Today, we will place Michael’s ashes in their final resting place in the new wall in Sligo Cemetery. “I don’t want anyone having to look after a grave for me, stick me in the wall,” Michael had said. His firmly stated wish perhaps echoed W.B. Yeats in a funny way. “In a year's time when the newspapers have forgotten me, dig me up and plant me in Sligo”

His young Nephew, Eamon, will read a few words for him at the simple ceremony. Michael loved books and he effortlessly passed on this love to little Eamon, who just lived a few doors up, plying him with wonderfully illustrated editions of great works and Eamon, in turn, making his way down to Michael’s house to get him to sign all the books for him.

Today, by the new wall in the cemetery in Sligo, Eamon will read an extract from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupéry:

“You alone will have the stars as no one else has them. In one of the stars, I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so, it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night. You - only you - will have stars that can laugh. And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me. You will always be my friend. You will want to laugh with me.”

I never saw that one last Perseid Meteor. In the end, I just went off to bed. But I was happy enough to have seen as much as I had seen.

Nothing more required.


Christopher Daley said...

It is always difficult to be happy with enough. I strive to find that balance. You always help me. Sending hugs to your family.

Ken Armstrong said...

Thank you, Christopher. My best to you.