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Universal

On Sun(s)

The weird idea that Earth could be getting a second sun, at least temporarily, if Betelgeuse, one of the night sky's brightest stars, goes supernova, recalls a dream, many years ago, of climbing a ridge in the desert and seeing a dawn uncannily like this photo...

S-TWO-SUNS-large

On Stars...and On Us

The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff - Carl Sagan, Cosmos

While the saying “we are stardust” seems poetic but vague, it is literally true. The atoms of our bodies were created in the cores of stars billions of years ago. 

On Roy Harper

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And the town label makers stare down with their gallery eyes
And point with computer stained fingers each time you arise
To the rules and the codes and the system that keeps them in chains
Which is where they belong with no poems no love and no brains 

- from McGoohan's Blues

Roy is, for me, among the most singular poets of this or any age, someone whose songs and messages have been with me, through all emotions, for more years than I care to remember. 

Welcome back, Roy; hopefully you've got many years of creativity still ahead; after all, my other great musical hero, Leonard Cohen, is still going strong beyond 80.  Indeed, great to see one true genius recognising another.  In "Uncut", Roy chose his 10 favourite albums. Under the sub-heading "The Perfect Record for a Mid-Life Crisis", he picked Lenny's "I'm Your Man" and had this to say about it: "What a great record - and what a crisis I had.  Cohen is the best songwriter of them all. I don't think I'm overstating that.  He has the spirit and is a man who cares about his poetry more than any other songwriter that I know."

Roy was honoured by Glastonbury Festival founder Michael Eavis at the 2013 BB Folk Awards. Great to see this truly unique talent finally getting some of the five-star plaudits he has long deserved. Roy's latest (hopefully not last) concert at the Royal Festival Hall in London in October 2013 did not disappoint. Roy followed this up with a session on 6 Music.

After a three-year hiatus, for unfortunate reasons well documented elsewhere, Roy returned in triumph to the Royal Festival Hall in September 2016.

On Marcel Proust

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After the BBC opened up its archives of In Our Time, I came to the episode about Marcel Proust.

As the programme notes make clear, "À La Recherche du Temps Perdu has been called the definitive modern novel.  Proust's stylistic innovation, sensory exploration and fascination with memory were to influence a whole body of thinkers, and innumerable critics and novelists since.  But how did he succeed in creating a 3000 page novel with such an artistic coherence?'"

On the Universe

Imagine our universe as only one of an infinite number of possible universes - be they "Quilted", "Brane" or, most strangely of all, "Ultimate". Brian Green tackled this almost mystical idea head-on in The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos. Greene discussed his ideas further during a March 2011 edition of Start the Week.

Imagine too flying through the universe. This animated flight through the universe shows close to 400,000 galaxies, and was derived at John Hopkins University from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

Another video meanwhile takes viewers from the Himalayas through our atmosphere and the inky black of space to the afterglow of the Big Bang.

On Time

According to Thor Heyerdahl, it is almost impossible grasp the meaning of time.  He didn't believe it exists and he felt this again and again, when alone and out in nature.  As Henry Ford said, it feels at such moments that "life is just one damn thing after another".  Nevertheless, in the BBC’s The Wonders of the Universe, Brian Cox argued that, thanks to the second law of thermodynamics, entropy means that does indeed flow, and in only one direction.

"As a species, we can never know where our true potential lies until we confront the systems that keep us tied to the past. And that is where the true adventure will begin" - Thomas Frey