Heavens

Just seen a lecture at the Herschel building in Newcastle, which reminded me of lovely Greenwich, where the Observatory’s been going since the late 1600s, when England was as alternately as war with the French or the Scots, or the Dutch, the Germans, the Spanish, when not quelling rebellions within its own borders.

The observatory, high up atop the hill, up above the town and the forest of ship’s masts and sails upon the river, the town with its tight cobbled lanes of inns and taverns and squalid houses of ill-repute, sailors, loose women with all the filth and violence and stink of old beer, piss, shit, horse shit and wood smoke. When you’d have half a dozen children and expect to outlive most of them.

London would have been so, so much smaller then and relatively far away, farmland and not sprawl separating it from Greenwich, with the only pollution coming only from wood-burning fires of homes and businesses like blacksmiths, brickworks and glass makers. Would the astronomers invite the merchants and naval lords, merchants who traded in goods brought to perilously from all the world over, and navy men who’d seen so much of the world that had yet so much to discover, to come up for the price of fine wines and tobacco and pipes, to spend the evenings that wore on from basking in convivial mirth, to them sitting mouths agape as they heard and were maybe invited to see the latest discoveries among the black sky, the Heavens heaving with so many thousands more stars than we’d see now. Merchants, navy men, astronomers, atop a hill from where they came to understand things no-one had ever conceived and maybe see what had never been seen.

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