Thursday, 30 August 2012

From chutney to the stars

When Professor Stephen Hawking told the capacity crowd at the Paralympics opening ceremony the other night to “Look up at the stars” and be curious, I’m pretty sure my green tomato chutney wasn’t featuring in his mental landscape. Being curious about everything though makes for a fascinating life. Having been both amateur astronomer and chutney-maker in my time I can vouch that both involve a good deal of exploration, of one’s self and one’s environment.

As a small child, before my brother was born, when sent to bed in summer I’d invariably creep to the curtains and watch the sun set and the stars come out. As an adult, after putting my children to bed, I remember watching progress of, I think it was, Comet Swift-Tuttle standing in a cardboard box under an ideal dark sky in the garden of our thatched country cottage, hoping my feet wouldn’t get too cold. Even today I’m delighted by the continuing detailed images from Hubble, like this picture of globular cluster M68. This is probably more what Stephen Hawking had in mind!

Chutney too has warranted a lot of curiosity, from receiving an Olive Odell book on preserving as a young wife, to my continued lapping up of new recipes and new fruits to try. My Medlar tree delivered in abundance for the first time last year, involving a frenzy of recipe searching, and netting several jars of very tasty medlar jelly and even a medlar tart, recipe origin anno domini 1545, thanks to a fantastic site full of ancient recipes – it’s a whole universe for exploring in itself! Curiosity is something that should never be allowed to fizzle out in human beings, however tired or busy we become. You just don’t know what you can do until you try.

Stephen Hawking’s words at the opening ceremony were poignantly motivating, telling us that whatever difficulties we face in life, there’s “always something you can do”. And finding out what you can do is a worthwhile journey to make. I didn’t know I could spin – or would even like to – until trying it four years ago, and my has there been much fluffy water under the bridge since then. Fibres from Ramie (my latest conquest) to Yak, Possum and Llama, Angora bunny fluff and Angora goat (mohair) and multifarious sheep crosses, have expanded my horizons beyond my wildest dreams, from my first faltering try at a spinning wheel.

What we as a society can do if we try is summed up for me in that other Curiosity, the one sitting quietly working away on Mars and sending back phenomenal images like this of the landscape at the foot of Mount Sharp on the Red Planet. Whilst I’m enjoying a bit of blue sky backing the red colourings around me in at the start of autumn, Curiosity is almost mirroring the colours I see in the landscape of another world. And that, to me, is utterly fascinating. Here’s wishing you a week full of worthwhile curiosities.

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