Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Trip to France - part 1


And so our much anticipated trip to France has finally arrived. A week of long drives, wine buying, good food, a few sights.

An early start to get us to Portsmouth for 7:45. The crossing to Cherbourg is on the super-fast car ferry and only takes 3 hours. I still find this surprising given the long overnight crossings we used to make. The sea is pretty flat but there is a gentle roll to the ferry throughout and Linda struggles to get her "sea legs". In part this might have been due to wanting to sit by the window - which always produces a bigger movement. I spent the "voyage" reading a couple of chapters of Annan's The Dons

Pretty much the whole of the rest of the day is taken up with the drive to our first stop just north of Bordeaux. We have a break at one of France's typically great service stations where we both have huge slabs of lasagne to keep us going. It takes over 6 hours to drive the full distance and we arrive just after dark. Just as well that we had google map directions as the village we were staying in was not an easy find.

Our first location is the Chateau des Tours Seguy which we found from a French bed and breakfast guide. It is a working vineyard offering B 'n' B as very much a side thing. It is a suitably rustic place and should be very nice for the first two nights.

But they don't do evening food so it is off into the nearby town of Blaye for some dinner. We find a place called the "Auberge du Porche" which does us a great meal, though we would have been happy with just about anything by then.

Breakfast is in the main room of the chateau, with a big log fire going. Our hosts are keen on historical re-enactments and they pass round some photos of them at various events - most are connected to The Song of Roland, which I remember reading a version of when I was about 10. The three children are in the next room doing their music practice. This consists of various medieval pieces - a slightly odd accompaniment to breakfast. We are soon stuffed with home made bread and hot chocolate

Linda in front of the vines of the Chateau des Tour Segay

Our planned day out is based on a drive to St Emilion and visits to some of the villages nearby. After yesterdays rather poor weather, there is a hint of sunshine this morning - just enough to be forced to stop the car at one point and try and take a picture with the sun steaming across the landscape.

On the way to Bourg

Our first wine-buying stops is a co-op in Bourg. I buy two half-cases largely at random. Then a few miles later we stopped at a tiny direct seller and had our first wine-testing - a Chateau La Rose Garnier, 2006. So six more bottles bought there. Then on to St Emilion itself where our first stop, opposite the car park is at the little shop for the Chateau Petit Gravet. In a slight difference to other places I've been to previously, this one sold multi-vintage half cases so we picked up bottles of their '04, '05, '06, '07 and '08. After buying these, the guy in the shop asked us if we'd like to go on a visit round their vineyard that afternoon so, in a change of plans, we arranged to meet him at the shop at 3:00pm
One of the bigger St Emilion chateaus on the way in to the village
Chateau Petit-Gravet shop in St Emilion

So we have time for lunch in the village. I am feeling brave so have a huge salad of lardons and foie gras, etc. This is the first time I have had foie gras for years. I do have reservations about its production, but the taste is just amazing. Linda settles for omelette and chips

Linda outside Le Medieval - our lunch location

We are accosted in the street by a wine seller who has perhaps the most expensive wines in the village. We are shown downstairs to a correctly temperatured cellar. There he has a selection of Petrus for sale at around E1,000 per bottle. Also a complete collection of Chateau Mouton Rothschild with labels painted by famous artists - Picasso for instance. We avoided buying any of these but did break our self-imposed budget limit of E12 in buying a E25 bottle of Pomerol, which we plan to drink at Christmas perhaps. Our host - Phillippe Theze - gives us a taste of another Pomerol on sale at E30 each if we buy 12. Very nice it was too, but we are sticking to our budget for now.
Bottles of Chateau Mouton Rothschild with the artist labels

Petrus - behind a wire fence

We have time for a walk through the village eventually coming to the Maison du vin where they have a huge selection of St Emilion wines to buy. There is one for E18 with the most beautiful bottle but we don't buy it at the time - which now seems like a shame.
Just down from the wine place we stop for a drink in what turns out to be probably St Emilion's most expensive cafe - E8 for a coffee and a coke, we are not impressed

Possibly a former convent?
Linda viewing wines in the Maison du Vin
At 3:00 we are back at the first place and follow the guy from the shop down to the vineyard close to the village. It is a tiny place, just three or four old farm buildings and maybe 5 or 6 acres of vines. But the tour is very good, taking us through the on-going processing of the 2009 grapes to the barrelled up 2008. We have signed up for their mailing list and should receive some offers to buy each years vintage at a discounted price. Both of us feel that an annual purchase like this would be very nice.

Back to chateau via one of the local supermarkets. We had arranged a wine tasting with the owner at the Chateau des Tour Seguy and thought both of us were pretty tired, it was another interesting event. We have selected four half cases to take with us when we leave tomorrow.
Dinner is food in our room tonight along with two episodes of CSI, then an early night - another long journey tomorrow

Another scrummy breakfast - we buy our four half cases of wine (one Rose) from what has been an excellent first location - http://www.chateau-les-tours-seguy.com/

We had hoped to take the Blaye ferry to Medoc this morning but when we arrive there the next ferry is not for an hour and we don't have the time free. A trip up the Medoc arm of land will be on next times list of things to do

It is a steady drive down to our next spot, mostly motorway. Our first big argument of the trip in the car - a shame given how nice it had all seemed yesterday; its like a good day produces some sort of a subconscious reaction that demands that things revert back to a negative.
One of our stops is at a service station near Carcassonne where I stopped overnight on the way back from Italy last year - the one where I remember reading Naomi Wolf's The Treehouse, having a nice steak at the restaurant by the canal basin, and, on waking at 4:00a.m seeing Orion for the first time that season, low in the east, despite it being August.
Carcassonne from the motorway picnic area

We exited the motorway just past Carcassone and make our way down towards the village of Lagrasse. This is a much wilder area than perhaps we had expected, and we are very pleased as a result. The hotel - La Fargo - is very out of the way and apparently relies on its cooking to attract visitors. We have a little house all to ourselves, there being about a dozen rooms in all. We very quickly confirm that we would like the "Gastronomique dinner" which turns out to be really excellent - more foie gras for me. We have some local wine from the large chateau that we passed on the way in and have asked to buy six of these.

Looking back to Lagrasse in the early evening

Amazing colours of the autumn vines

Our room at La Fargo, Saint Pierre des Champs, close to Lagrasse

Off on another long drive today, in the direction of Minerve, one of the main Cathar towns and then Carcassonne. First stop is Lagrasse for a brief look round in case we want food out tonight. Several shops selling local wine - Corbieres - and other local produce. Always a big favourite for me.

An usual shop in Lagrasse - not sure we ever found out what it was

Lagrasse from the road back towards the motorway
Just past Lagrasse we find another "regional products" shop which has bottles of the 2009 "Primeur" and red rice. We buy 6 of the former, plus another 12 corbieres reds, and half a dozen bags of rice. This particular delicacy is hard to find in the UK but is a key ingredient in our favourite fish meal.

Minerve is one of those Cathar "impregnable" perched on the top of a promentary and with gorges on all sides. A few years ago I read a number of books on the history of the Cathars. South-west France has certainly embraced the tourist possibilities of the Cathars, with signs up all over the place for things related to the local "Cathar tours"
Minerve doesn't disappoint at all - quite spectacular, and beautifully preserved.
Minerve from the car park

Totally unspoilt

The local bookshop, sadly closed
Linda examining the gorge that was supposed to protect Minerve from the Crusading forces of Simon De Montfort, but sadly didn't

From there to Carcassonne where we have lunch in the main square that is home to about 6 restaurants. Then to the gallary of the photographer Gerard Sioen that I had visited last year. We buy three posters - one of some grapes, another a view of Carcassonne in winter and finally one of the autumn coloured vines.

More autumn vines

We stopped off at Lagrasse on the way back and bought another half dozen bottles of local wines, plus some snacky food for tonight. More CSI watching and some reading.

On departure from La Forge, we buy six bottles of the local wine that we had enjoyed the night before last. Our wine buying is going very well it seems to me - approaching 75 bottles so far!

Today is mostly about the drive to Provence. Highlight is a picnic at one of the brilliant picnic sights by the motorway - something that France does so well. Tonight's hotel is in another remote hotel setting - the "Hostellerie Le Roy Soleil" in Menerbes.
Despite the long drive, we go out again late afternoon and visit a local olive oil manufacturer. Then a quick visit to a couple of local villages to look for possible restaurants, finally ending up in Gourdes, a village close to the Abbey de Senanque, one of the sights we hope to visit while here.
In the end, we dine at a small restaurant where none of the staff speak English. It is decorated like a 1940s French film set and isn't bad at all.

Linda outside La Forge as we get ready to leave

Picnic by the motorway - so less crowded than last August when I last visited this area of France!
The village of Gourdes, from a well-marked viewing point. Very pretty as the sun sets

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Getting ready for PhD application, etc

As we get ready for the French trip I am trying to get as much of the PhD application underway as I can. I have sent emails to John and Miklos, my professional referees. The Oxford application requires that references are received by the due date (Nov 20th) and so I have had to explain the process to them both and try to get them onside for that date. I wonder if this will turn out to be the hardest task?

I have printed out some pages from the 2009/10 Oxford prospectus, and copies of the two essays that I intend to enter as examples of my written work, after some editing. Then there are some pages from a website aimed at helping prospective PhD students write their proposals. I have just about got my proposal worked out, but it isn't written yet, so any advice to to be welcomed despite this website being aimed mainly as scientists.

Now down to last minute packing before France - mainly what reading to take. I have settled on Sobel's Galileo's Daughter as being easy reading but still on my main themes. Also Annan's The Dons and a small selection of magazines

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Dear Jonathan at 16

My cold continues - getting slightly worse each day. My throat is really sore, I have a thick chesty cough, I am really tired, yet not sleeping very well. Very little work is getting done. I am mainly reading things I have clipped out of the newspapers over the past couple of months.

This last weekend there was an article about a book in which "celebrities" have written a letter to themselves at 16. Emma Thompson urges herself to not be so concerned with dieting; the letter from Alan Carr, who I have only the vaguest knowledge of, is actually quite moving.

As I am pretty depressed at the moment about a lot of things, I suspected my letter to myself would be quite bleak. I actually wrote this in my main diary a few days ago and wasn't planning to put it here at all. But hell, why not

Dear Jonathan at 16

I know you are not finding being 16 very easy. The world seems a very confusing and bewildering place. You have read lots of books from the library on teenagers and think that what you are facing is just normal. But sadly you are mistaken in this. Your "social problems" will continue at University, at your first job, your second job, your third job, and so on. At 29 you will discover what the reason is - you have _______ ________

Discovering this will bring some comfort, but you won't have found a solution. But as time goes by, some things will provide you with comfort. You will discover that your responses to the things that interest you are far deeper than those that others feel about the things that interest them. Their experience of music will never be a deep as yours, for instance. So allow yourself to fully submerge in this. Read lots, look at the sky at night, go fishing, walk in the mountains. These activities will always rejuvenate you and help you face the future

At 16 you got the job at the restaurant. That will be vitally important to you in ways you will not know for years. So enjoy the experience as much as you can.

If you get the chance, try to spend more time with your father. You will not realise till it is too late that you should have done this, both for you and for him.

And here's the big secret. You will meet someone special and you will have a beautiful daughter. You will put everything you have into helping her grow up and you will do a good job. And whenever things do seem really bad, you will reflect on this and it will all seem worthwhile

Best wishes

Jonathan, aged 46

Monday, 19 October 2009

Cold now firmly in place - not swine flu?

My cold is now firmly in place and productivity has dropped dramatically. It is a reminder that my work is actually quite hard that a cold or a headache slow me down so much.

The natural fear at the moment is that it may actually be swine flu. I was listening to Radio Five the other day and was surprised to her that ace film reviewer, Mark Kermode, has had swine flu. And he was at great pains to tell everyone just how bad it is compared to normal flu.

So I am having to have a snooze in the middle of the day and have read just over half of Mary Beard's It's a Don's life. No proper work though

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Cold coming on, A Don's Life

The last day or so has suggested that I might be coming down with a cold, despite taking lots of tablets of various sorts. This is terrible timing. Term has only just started and I am just finding my feet with the new course. We are getting reading for the trip to France (in which of course I lose a week's work). I am trying to get a plan in place in which I can get my Oxford PhD plan in by the November 20th deadline, but this will involve a huge effort. So not good timing to be feeling unwell.

Mary Beard's It's a Don's Life has been published a week or two earlier than I expected. I always feel that there is not enough written stuff about academic life, so this is a very pleasant arrival, even if it is highlight from her blog. Perhaps if I am unwell for the next few days I should concentrate on reading this. I am impressed already by the comment that she has such a busy day-to-day routine that she has to do her own work in the libraries in the evening, especially Saturdays. Whenever we are in Oxford on a Saturday night, I am always impressed by how many people are working in the Said Business School. I'm not sure I would be among them.

Latin 1 - the big push starts here

After a couple of weeks when the Latin course has been pretty straightforward, there is the first sugestion today that from now on, things are going to get serious. Conjugations of verbs have begun to appear with the instruction that we must learn them perfectly. Noun declensions have also appeared. Then our vocab list seems to be leaping up in size. So perhaps from here on, Latin will have to be allocated some decent time each week.

Of course I have a very specialised reason for studying Latin - that I want to be able to have a decent go at translating some medieval Latin science. It seems to me that in theory at least, translating science should be easier in some respects that literature as there is less emotonal nuance to be concerned with, and less complex tenses. And it is often said that in translating science, it is the science rather than the language that is the hard part. So I have my fingers crossed that this will be the case.

That said, I am rather looking forward to learning some verb conjugations and noun declensions!

Emma becomes a "senior scholar"

Among the many strange and unusual things that go on at Trinity, Cambridge, is the election of those students who got a First to the status of junior or senior scholar. For this they receive some money, something they can put on their CV when asked if they have ever won any academic prizes, and the opportunity to attend one or two additonal "feasts" during the academic year. And if they return to Trinity as post-grads they get an elevated status room. Which is all good if you ask me.

So we depart at 2:30 this afternoon to drive to Cambridge. Within 15 miles we are in solid traffic due to an accident on the A34 just beyond the roadworks at Pear Tree. This delays us close to an hour and suddenly there is the slight possibility that we might not get there on time. It is a close run thing but we are there by 5:15 for the 5:30 event. Emma is not pleased. It turns out that the event is in the college chapel which is all rather nice. After a short speech from Martin Rees - Master of Trinity and excellent astronomer - groups of "scholars" are presented to the master by their college tutors. Names are read out and the Master of Trinity, by the power vested in him, welcomes them as scholars of appropriate level.

It has to be said that Emma is among the most glamorous of this year's scholers. Most people who get Firsts are more nerdy it seems - especially among the odder computer science and mathematics scholars. This aspect has actually put Emma off the idea of being a postgraduate, people might think she was a nerd!

After what is actually quite a short ceremony we are invited to the "Master's lodge" for drinks. This is a lovely building just across the quad from the chapel and is filled with fine portraits of Newton, Galileo, Elizabeth I and so on. A brief bit of mingling with Emma and we meet her tutor, Sachiko Kusukawa. Much to her surprise it seems, I mention that I have read her book over the last year (the excellent The Transformation of Natural Philosophy, about the educational reforms of Philip Melanchthon). She seemed surprised that anyone had read it - much less the parent of one of her students. But my other reading suggests that this book is well-cited in the literature, though I suspect now that this means that it is recognised as the definitive work of the moment on this topic, and maybe isn't studied in detail.

We have dinner at the Hotel du Vin which was ok, though I felt the service wasn't very good. By late evening I wasn't feeling very well either. Really tired, bloated, etc, my usual current symptoms. A problem back at Emma's room rather spoils the end of the evening. Then the long drive home which is truly awful - I was so tired. I am reduced to listening to radio two to keep awake. Oddly, they played a track by the Clash at one point. I was quite impressed by Mark Lamaar as a DJ - he seemed to know his stuff.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

A wasted trip to London

Today's lesson - he that does not check his email will not discover that his seminar scheduled for today has been cancelled!

Terrible journey to London. It took nearly an hour to get to Thornhill park and ride after two cars had broken down on the ring road. But on the way down I was able to read quite a bit - mainly Heidegger's Letters to his Wife, and looking up some bits from Kitty Ferguson's book on Tycho and Kepler.

I learn that the seminar is cancelled about 11:10, when no else has turned up for the seminar and I eventually sought out the department office. Rather than find something to do in London, I headed straight back home getting in just after 1:00.

The second book order from Germany arrived today - volumes 2 and 4 of Kepler's Collected works, Astronomiae Pars optica and Dioptrice. The latter contains Kepler's Conversation with the Starry Messenger. It is also an uncut book, in quatro, and is a really tatty book. Now that one really looks 60 years old! The books had to be signed for and I had a long chat with our postie about why it was that I receive so many books in the mail. In addition to the Kepler, today's mail included Bronk's The Romantic Economist and a facsimile edition, printed to order for £10, of Tycho's Astronomiae Instauratae Progymnasmata. This contains his De Stella Nova 1572 and De Cometa Anni 1577. Sadly it is not a great facsimile with lots of printing smudges and so. It is a nice thing to have but it wouldn't be easy to work from. I expect that many old books will be available as print for order in the next few years.

The afternoon is spent on homework for tonight's biography class and tomorrow's latin.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

The arrival of the Kepler books

A huge box loaded down with packing materials and sent from Germany has arrived this morning. It contains 11 volumes from Kepler's Collected Works - the GW collected edited by Max Casper. This is perhaps the most exciting book purchase I have ever made!

So I now own volumes 1, 3, 4, 6, 9, 12, 13, 14, 15, 18, and 20.1. All his major works, plus three of the five volumes of letters. Some of the books are uncut. Some are hardback, some paperback. A couple have hard cardboard outers. All in all, they are probably the nicest set of books I own.

Flicking through them, and a couple of attempts at some Latin translation, mainly using one of the translation programmes I have acquired. As expected, this suggests that translation will be long drawn out process. Still I have perhaps two years of Latin study before I would expect to be able to really get to grips with it. By contrast, Linda had little trouble reading out the gothic-scripted German letters and telling me what they were about (at least to some degree)

Few things are more exciting that £600 worth of books!

The frontpiece of Astronomia Nova - volume 3 of my set - note that Mars is considered to be a star!

Pressure of work forces change in plans already

I feel that I really ought to focus carefully on time management this term. I have to prioritize effectively. This last week has rather run away with me. I haven't yet done the Latin homework for Friday, nor the biography homework (for which I can't remember the task). I have read only two-thirds of one of the two Philosophy of Economics readings, and have made no progress on the comet piece for John Milton to review.

On the other hand, I have prepared some detailed notes on Keplerian astronomy after Kepler which have prompted some interesting thoughts about future work. Yet this work was not part of this week's work plans at all - just a whim that results in me being deflected from the tasks at hand for quite a few hours

So today, only in week 2 of term, I have skipped a trip to London for the P of E lecture and seminar, instead doing a morning's work here. Will that be the pattern for the rest of term? So I catch up with some things, fall further behind with others. I must psyche myself up to definitely go tomorrow though. I wonder of some of the reason for missing today is due to the really early start required to get me to LSE for a 9:00am lecture?

And then two weeks from now we will be in France and I will miss everything. Our trip is now fully booked. A B'n'B near Bordeaux, then hotels near Carcassonne, Avignon and Cahors, all booked through Expedia. The wine budget is just about set and I am pondering on what reading to take. I don't want it to be too academic, but I would like it to be reasonably serious. Maybe the biography of Hannah Arendt that has just arrived or the volume of Arendt-Heidegger letters. Maybe Westfall's Never at Rest, though that might be a bit much. But taking the Land Rover enables more books that we would usually take.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Another non-LSE trip to London

Another trip to London on matters unrelated to study. Not clear how this went - at this stage it often comes down to something small and/or out of one's control. But in general it all seemed to go ok from where I was. I will hear in a few days time whether I am going to the next (and last) stage.

The preparation for this has taken many hours away from study. I am currently estimating that I have lost maybe 50 hours so far to this project, mainly through having to read loads of material, none of which is exactly thrilling. But it needs to be done as the opportunities to be caught out with a silly mistake having not done the reading are frequent.

There is also the mental psyching-up that takes place before such events; the constant imaginings of what could occur and how one would respond, and so on. Though I am finished in London by before 12:00, the rest of the day is pretty much a write-off as I feel very drained. I tried to do some Latin homework on the journey back but it wasn't a great success given the need to refer to three things at once. Perhaps that's why people like the seats with tables downstairs on the coach.

Hard to be enthusiastic about the process overall. I am convinced it is all a mistake and I see little reason to be involved in it. I hate doing the prep work as it distracts me from my "real work". It all seems to look back to an earlier part of my life which I had hoped was gone for good. Such a move seems highly regressive compared to what the future could hold. I can't believe that I would look back on this in the future with any degree of pride, compared to what I would ideally like to do going forward.

A sad realisation I would say.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Tycho Brahe's collected works & the village wine event

A morning in Oxford; Linda at the hairdressers, me at the Radcliffe Science Library. First task was a review of the volumes of Kepler's Collected Works that I haven't ordered but which are available. Not sure that any of these stood out as essentials at this stage. On the other hand, several of the volumes that I can't currently get are ones I would really like - Volume 10, The Rudolphine Tables and the two missing volumes of letters, volumes 16 and 17.

But I also wanted to have a good look through the RSL's 15 volume edition of The Collected Works of Tycho Brahe as I have seen a set of these advertised recently. The RSL edition is the 1906 onwards printing and is everything you would like an old edition to be. The first few volumes cover his most famous works, later ones are mainly letters and observation note books. Back home, it seems that one of the sellers of this might be willing to sell individual volumes for about E80 each. I might be very tempted by volumes 1 to 5 say.

The frontpiece of Tycho's Astronomiae Instauratae Progymmasmata, Introduction to the Instauration (restoration) of Astronomy

Tonight it was the more-or-less annual "Wine, call my bluff" in the village. Linda has arranged for us to be on a table with our neighbours, Debbie and Roy, and we also have one of Linda's pilates customers, Fiona. I am nominated to be the table's captain and do a fine job of marshalling our table's thoughts on which wine is which. Sadly we don't maximise the value of our joker and I suspect that this costs us the win. Despite getting five of the six wines right, we finish third. As with last year, this is a very good evening. Most tables are ful of Linda's customers it seems!

Friday, 9 October 2009

"Writing biography" and "Latin 1" - week 2

Week two of the biography course is pretty good again. I sit with Nicki again and learn more about her own PhD which, it turns out, took her 10 years to complete as she was working full-time throughout. And I discovered that Katie works in Solihul and lives north and Banbury travelling over 100 extra miles to attend this course after work. We are mainly critiquing various bits of text tonight. One of these covers a quote from Constance Reid's Hilbert and addresses the difficulties caused by having to cover highly-specialised knowledge in a biography. This is the number one issue for me on the course. Most of the other participants seem quite happy with the method Reid uses even though they get little understanding of the maths from this. And I agree that Reid's tone is one of lightness and assumed expertise. But I feel I would want to aim for something more than this.

One or two new people attend who missed last week, one of whom I already dislike - a man about 70 who started his contribution to our group discussion by saying that he believes that there are two ways of doing anything, the right way and the wrong way, and that he likes to think that after 70 years he knows what the right ways are. This seems to be just an excuse for holding old-fashioned and reactionary views on just about everything to do with our course. I could imagine that I might find this increasingly annoying as the weeks go by. Either that or I will find myself taking the mickey out of him all the time.

"Latin 1" the next morning goes quite well. My translation homework looks ok - not perfect but a decent enough start. Then we start some formal grammar, studying the first two verb conjunctions. I am quite impressed with this course so far, especially Alison the teacher. She also teachers "Latin 2" and "Reading Latin Texts", two more twenty-week courses which, if all goes well, I might be doing over the coming years.

Later that afternoon, I take Linda to her appointment at the eye hospital - progress is being made, but perhaps a little slower than would be liked. But good news nonetheless.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

First two days of the new term at LSE


My new academic year starts with a Philosophy of Economics lecture at the somewhat early time of 9:00am, necessitating a 5:45 departure from home (though that did get me to LSE an hour early). The lecture room is packed as this is a course that also applies for undergraduates and many have turned up just to see if they might want to attend it. A large group at the back who chat through out and send constant text messages are presumably not so keen.

At 10:30, the first post-grad seminar in P of E occurs. We discuss Lionel Robbins's Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science. When we introduce ourselves at the start of the seminar I mentioned that I had attended Robbin's two year course on the History of Economic Thought in the early 1980s. Of course most of the other seminar attendees weren't even born then. I make a number of contributions to the class, some of which I consider highly controversial but they provoke little debate. Afterwards I had a quick word with the teacher to lay the groundwork for possibly missing a good number of the future seminars. I mentioned how surprised I was that my comments hadn't engendered violent disagreement and he was inclined to agree.

Two hours in the library reading a Barker paper on Copernicanism, then off to see Miklos during his first office hours of the new year. I set out my possible PhD plans and was very pleased to discover that Miklos thinks they are a decent enough set of ideas and that he would be pleased to write one of my academic references. So that is a really excellent development.

In the meantime I have received two texts from Emma who has something urgent she needs to discuss. We finally talk just after I have checked into my hotel in Queensway and she is settled in the hairdressers having her hair dyed. She mainly wants to discuss her plans to do an extra language credit this year and also some developments in her dissertation plans. Also her tutor wants her to consider staying on and doing a D-phil or a PhD!

A quiet evening reading. Mainly the next required material for P of E and Annan's The Dons, my current easy-reading.


Working by 6:00 in my hotel room, then off to LSE around 8:00 for a bacon roll for breakfast and some more time in the library. Three books taken out - Drake's Galileo at Work, in which there is a ticket for when Victor Blasco took it out last year - I wonder what happened to Victor?. Also Evan's magnificent The History and Practice of Ancient Astronomy and Dierdre McCloskey's The Rhetoric of Economics.

John Milton is delayed half an hour before the history of science seminar. I sit talking to another "mature" student with a background similar to mine. He is about 40 and has just retired having set up a software company providing training for city traders in things like FRAs. He has a few questions about various aspects of being back in academia and about the course.

Today's "seminar" follows the pattern of last year where John talks for most of the time. Today is an introductory talk and sets out some warnings on various matters e.g. against assuming that words that look like modern equivalents have the same meaning then as now.

Afterwards I ask John about coming to see him and he offers a meeting there and then. So just like the Miklos meeting I set out my PhD plans and again he is very supportive. He is happy to read my comet paper and suggest how best to use it for an application, and he is happy to be an academic referee for me. In our more general talk about the state of PhDs, he confirmed a number of views I have come across related to finance etc. And he also had a number of interesting comments about academic publishing. King's has just had a freeze on book buying as times are hard. LSE, by contrast, has just bought Sardinia House opposite the NAB, so presumably has quite a lot of money at the moment.

So an excellent first two days at least from the point of view of my PhD application

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Some remarkable purchases . . . .

As with many "bibliophiles", I am a keen searcher of rare-book websites. Most such book dealers now have really good websites, often with really good catalogues that can be downloaded. For instance, one of my favourite sites is for Jeremy Norman in California who mainly deals in rare books related to science, medicine and technology (http://www.historyofscience.com/). His latest catalogue is a rather yummy 101 pages full of beautiful illustrations of books I can't afford.

There are also some book websites that contain links to rare book sellers and I have just had the most amazing find on one of these. Searching for "Kepler" and lurking right at the very back of the website as prices started to rise from the less than £20 that I usually focus on, were some volumes from Kepler's Collected Works - the Gesammelte Werke edited by Max Casper published in the 1940s or so. This is the first time I have ever seen any of these for sale and I think there are only a few copies in the UK. A careful work through the website reveals about 15 of the 22 volumes are available. An hour spent sorting out what is each volume and I have placed an order for 8 volumes for a total price of £650. I have bought them from a book dealer in Worms in Germany. Fingers crossed that nothing goes wrong with this.

My order consists of Vols 1, 3, 7, 13, 14, 15, 18 and 20.1. Volume 1 contains Mysterium Cosmologicum and De Stella Nova, 3 contains Astronomia Nova, 7 is Epitome astronomiae Copernicae, 13-18 are letters and 20.1 is miscellaneous astronomical writing (including the Apologia Tychonis contra Ursus). Several other volumes were available and if this order goes ok, I may well buy the others.

Further website searching later reveals a complete edition of the collected works of Tycho and the complete Galileo. And a first edition of Kepler's Rudolphine Tables for £165,000!

This is quite incredible news and is the greatest book buying I have ever done. I am so excited about getting these. Hopefuly they will arrive before the end of October. In the meantime, the pictures below are from De Stella Nova in the collected works. The pull out diagram of the nova is quite wonderful

The Nova is located by the right foot of Ophiuchus near the centrefold

Friday, 2 October 2009

First session of my new Latin course

My Latin course is taking place at Ewert House in Summertown in North Oxford - the same place that Linda took French and Spanish many years ago. Linda once signed up for "Latin 1" but discovered it was too easy for her and gave it up. If I proceed from here onto "Latin 2", maybe Linda would like to do the course with me?

Like last night's course, there are about a dozen of us on this course. And as with last night, most are older than me. Many look to be retirement age. Interesting that they want to do a course like beginners Latin. Our teacher is Alison. She starts by noting some sort of illness that she has which causes her to require vast quantities of drink from one of the nearby machines and has apparently resulted in her being the "large lady" she now is. But whatever she has, it is not contagious it seems.

We have a brief outline of the structure of the Jones/Sidwell Latin course that we are following and then launch straight into some translation. Occasional digressions to consider pronounciation, or aspects of the theatre in Greece and Rome. But generally the theme is that we are there to learn to translate and that one of the most attractive aspects of the J/S course is the focus it places on translation. Grammer, etc, will come through this work. So we are immediately working on a selection from Plautus' Aulularia. We all have to do some reading and translating out loud - which I am not so keen on - but will probably manage ok. Some of the others seem to be returning to Latin after extended breaks (as I suppose am I in theory), and so seem quick off the mark. But overall it seems ok to me.

Jones & Sidwell's main textbook (Grammar, Vocabulary and Exercises) has one of the most intimidating contents sections of any book I know - full of terms that I have vaguely heard of but have no idea what they mean like "ablative", "future participles", "Deponent, perfect indicative", etc. But I need to remember that our 20 week course is aimed at just covering the first third of this. "Latin 2" covers the rest and there is even a "Latin 3". In an ideal world, based on building my knowledge to a sufficient level to be able to work on Medieval Latin science texts, I will spend the next three years doing these courses. There is even a Sidwell book specifically on medieval Latin continuing on from Part 5. I also note that Oxford University runs Latin seminars in the history department. Hard to see myself at one of those, but possible I guess.

So an ok start to the course. We have homework set for the next week. Twenty-odd more lines to translate, a bit of vocabulary to learn. I feel I should try to get a little bit ahead if I can do over the next week, so hope to translate the whole passage by the end of the weekend. I does feel really strange to be studying something like this.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

A morning doing Latin & my first evening class

Faster than expected, the new term has just about arrived and I no longer have any time to do pre-course reading for my two Oxford Uni DCE courses. Tonight it was the first class for "Writing Biography" - for this I have managed some reading, especially Michael Holroyd's Works on Paper and two books by Hermione Lee, Body Parts and Biography - a short introduction.

Tomorrow is the start of "Latin 1" and other than some playing with tranlation programmes, before today I haven't really done anything for this. I have bought a few books though - Latin for Dummies, which I have decided to not take with me tomorrow, and Peter Jones's Learn Latin, that went with the Daily Telegraph series from years ago.

So today I have started on the latter and, in a couple of hours manage to read chapters 1 and 2 and do all the exercises. So now I know something about the five conjugative forms of Latin verbs.

Despite having studied Latin for two years at school, I feel I perhaps learnt more from this morning than I managed to do at school. We had a traditional Latin teacher at school - the sort who would ask you to do something and then lift you up by the ears if you made a mistake. Strange talk of "datives" and "accusatives" whatever they are. Exactly like the Roman soldier in The Life of Brian who corrects Brian's attempts to write "Romans go home". Mr Chapman never took any of our weekly tests in for marking himself so myself and Jonathan Oliver simply agreed to say we got 6 or 7 out of 10 when he took in the marks. Either than or we wrote the vocabulary down on the facing page and just copied it from that for the test.

I was made to do Latin rather than the classical studies course that I would have preferred, because I had shown some promise at French in my first year. Sadly that was the peak of my language achievements at school. I came third bottom and bottom in the class for my two years of Latin. In the year two reading exam I was the only person asked to stop before reaching the end of the passage as I had already lost too many marks and my score was now nil. I remember it features Icarus and the line "Icarae dicit" (does that mean "Icarus", he said) or something like it. That I remember this after 30 years is a sign of the trauma I went through. On the other hand, our Latin group was split across the three school forms and so Latin classes were the first time I had lessons with Rachel Sharman and Alison Griffiths, two girls I much admired while at school. Not sure that makes up for the hell that was Latin though.

And sadly, by the time I reached 17 or so, and it was time to consider applying to Oxbridge, the Latin experience requirement had been dropped, so the main argument that had been put forward for me doing Latin turned out to not apply. Perhaps that's one reason why I went to LSE instead

Moreover, as a result of doing a second year of Latin, I was unable to do art O'level and instead had to wait till I was in the sixth form to do art again. I was extremely bitter about this at the time I remember. Still Latin wasn't as bad as German where I was beaten in the end of year exams by someone who arrived at our school at Easter and so only did 6 weeks of German before the exam.

And I failed French O'level a few years later.

So off to Oxford late afternoon - just time to buy Jones and Sidwell's Independent Study Guide to Reading Latin, then off to Rewley House. There are about a dozen people signed up for the biography course. Our first session is quite general. We do an exercise in little groups where we describe ourselves, ask some questions of the others and then have to give a short speech to the class about one of the others in our group. I talk about a woman called Nicky who until recently used to work at the Radcliffe Science Library. During break, I discovery that she has a PhD in early reformation poetry and is well up on people like Erasmus. She also knows the work of Lisa Jardine (and husband Nick).

Another woman on the course - Katie - reminds me of someone and I can't think who. She is a Buddhist and is thinking of writing a biography of a Tibetan Lama. Maybe she was at the retreat I went on? We travelled down in the list together and I mention that I'm sure I recognise her and she says the same about me. Later it occurs to me that she actually reminds me of Belinda, the bass player of My Bloody Valentine - so maybe we haven't met previously

An interesting first session. Not yet sure how much I will really get out of it, but a good start.

Recent pix of Bilinda on the MBV tour last year

More how I remember her back in the 1980s