Chasing The Eclipse

Solar eclispes happen more frequently than you might imagine – there’s usually one per year.  However, they tend to only be visible in often very inaccessible places, such as the middle of the Pacific ocean, or over the polar ice-caps.

In 1999 I travelled to France, and managed to get into the zone of totality just south of Paris.  We met up with my cousin and his family, who are also dedicated space and astronomy nuts.  Sadly, we were clouded out right at totality, though I can still remember my amazement at this great dark shadow rushing towards me at over 1,000 miles an hour.

eclipse watching agust 99

In 2003, I took my gang to Iceland, where the promise of an annular eclipse, a ring of fire rising over a glacier at sunrise was too tempting to refuse.  Well, I say “promise”: the good weather prospects were less than 30%, and indeed I ended up seeing only murky grey cloud becoming slightly paler.  But still we had a fabulous week in Rejkjavik.

lhj iceland

In 2009 my husband and I went to China, and joy of joys were in the right place at the right time to experience 6 magical minutes of totality.

getting ready

And of course had an unforgettable trip seeing other fabulous sights such as the Great Wall, the terracotta warriors, and the brash skyscrapers of Shanghai.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Eclipses go in sequences called saros: from Wikipedia

a period of approximately 223 synodic months (approximately 6585.3211 days, or 18 years, 11 days, 8 hours), that can be used to predict eclipses of the Sun and Moon. One saros period after an eclipse, the Sun, Earth, and Moon return to approximately the same relative geometry, a near straight line, and a nearly identical eclipse will occur, in what is referred to as an eclipse cycle. A sar is one half of a saros.[1]   

When my cousin and I were researching the France ’99 event, we discovered that the next one in that saros would occur on the day of their 25th wedding anniversary, and it would be in the USA.
So I’m currently well into my planning and anticipating this year’s holiday. We will fly from Dublin to Chicago, spend a few days there, before catching the  California Zephyr train, which crosses the States terminating in San Francisco. Along the way we will stop off in Lincoln, Nebraska, and drive to the little town of Beatrice which is in the centre of the zone of totality. Beatrice is one of my online usernames, so it seems fitting to go to a town with my name on it.

So what should I pack? Chicago is the windy city, even in August, there might be rain, there will be fog in San Fran, and of course we have planes, trains and automobiles to catch.

One of the most valuable pieces that a traveller can carry is a versatile wrap, pashmina, shawl. It serves as a blanket when trying to get some sleep, is a stylish cover up for evening strolls, and can be folded into a cushion. I love this Ichi reversible wrap in dove grey and mustard, which I found on sale for £10 in a little boutique in Carrickfergus called Lisa’s Attic.  It looks good, though the mustard side is a bit fluffy and sheds hairs over the clothes beneath.

Some companies specialise in being comfortable and stylish. I swear by my Craghoppers trousers and tops, which have features like security pockets, quick dry, and mosquito repellent. And I’ve just discovered Like Mary, an online company which makes gorgeous wraps and shawls, as well as other travel friendly clothing.

I treated myself to some cropped harem pants. I’d bought a pair of cheapie harems in Majorca and I love them for relaxing and travelling, as they take up very little room and are easy to dress up or down.

I alao bought some wrap dresses and tunics.  I was very pleased at the quick delivery service.  And when I had to return the wrap dress as it just didn’t suit me, the refund was also very prompt.  I packed the grey patterned tunic on a recent day trip to Dublin.  The sun was shining and I teamed it with leggings and a cardi for a stylish and practical outfit.  The tunic is lovely and roomy, with great pockets for thrusting your hands into when the breeze picks up.  It takes up little space in my bag, and washes like a ribbon, so it is destined to become a firm travel favourite.  My only quibble is with the itchy scratchy label which was annoying my neck, but I was able to remove it without too much trouble.

And they are a bit marmite, but I adore my Crocs!  They are lightweight and comfortable, especially when doing a lot of walking around a city.  And they are waterproof – I even hooked them over my wrists while swimming in Orlando.  So I’m not taking them out of my travel staples just yet.

Now, I wonder can I find a set of eclipse viewers among my souvenirs…….

Indefinable, that’s what hootoo are

Some disturbing news this week: as part of the BBC’s rationalisation (i.e. money-saving) of its online services, it is “disposing” of h2g2. It could have been worse – some sites were closed immediately, whereas this approach seems more akin to putting us in the animal rescue centre and hoping a new owner will fall in love with all our waggly quirks and big melting brown guide entries.
I’m finding it hard to be my usual positive self about this move. And who would want us? Part of hootoo’s problem has always been that it’s impossible to define. It’s not a social network, although the community aspect of it is very important, and indeed the “nicest bunch of wierdos on teh internet” has already set up its own community consortium (please follow h2g2c2 on Twitter, or search #saveh2g2) with the aim of taking over ourselves if a new home/ owner can’t be found.
It’s not a comprehensive encyclopaedia, though its been dubbed “the bastard uncle of Wikipedia”, as it predates that site but takes a different approach to recording and sharing information. The Edited Guide Entries, aiming to provide a unique guide to life, the universe, and everything, contain some gems, as does the Underguide, a repository for fiction.

view from teh back of teh HSS

Never too far

Why has the site been so important to me? Well, it’s where I met my fiance. (And my previous serious bf, come to think of it). But it’s not a dating site.
It’s where I learned to improve my writing, particularly fiction. And Vogon poetry.
It’s where I learned how to use a mark-up language.
I’ve been archiving all the stuff I’ve written over the years, a task I can only manage in small bursts as it makes me cry. All my various columns in The Post, hootoo’s weekly newspaper where I am proud to be assistant editor. My first set was Murder on the Dancefloor, tracing my dancing exploits from tap-dancing in Luxembourg, to taking up Scottish dancing, and watching my daughter follow in my pointe-shoe footsteps and transform from cute Irish dancer to leading lady.
My Rear View set took me from being a pillion passenger to learning how to ride a motorbike myself, to following Roger and the Calums heros to The Gambia to build a road.
Take it to the Max followed the exploits of training a very boisterous puppy.
Eclipse hunting took me to China, from whence came a series of Little Bea in Big China.
I’ve met friends from all over the world, from Seville to Stockholm, Reykjavik to Alphen an der Rhein, Frankfurt to Torquay…and thankfully I’m in contact with all my good friends outside hootoo.
Its hard to know what the future will bring, or how hootoo will change. But change is inevitable. It’s highly likely I wont be able to access the site from work once it loses its BBC host – and that’s OK, I don’t feel I should be jumping up and down demanding access as a right from my employer’s equipment. If we have to have ads or some sort of subscriptions, well, you don’t get much for free these days.
As Chinese New Year approaches, I am reminded of the curse “May you live in interesting times.”

One week later

Last Saturday, having a bare necessities of a working loo and a fridge, I slept in the new house for the first time. So I’ve been here now one whole week.

The to-do list has shortened from eleventy-million items to a mere handful, and I’ve slept really well every night – despite the noise from the nearby planes trains and automobiles! But trains only run between 6 and 11, and planes between 6.30 and 10, so the only continuous noise is the traffic on the bypass, which is distant enough and constant enough to be almost a white noise background.

a plane landing against the setting sun

Planes and cranes

The most striking thing is how quickly I felt at home here. OK, I’ve lived in lots of different places, but I’ve lived in Belfast longer than anywhere else – East Belfast in particular. I love being so close to shops, that an Indian takeaway can find the address easily, that I can just walk across the footbridge to Victoria Park, that I can see the sunset from my back garden.
Had a real houseful on Friday – cousin Karen called in as she lives nearby, a friend M was staying the night, daughter and bf were also staying as they were heading to Dublin first thing on Saturday, AND I was looking after Max for the weekend. I was in my element with the place being full of life and chatter. Karen reminded me that it was 11 years since the France eclipse, and so we dug out the video tape of Jem’s 6th birthday in Disneyland Paris, and had a good ole reminisce…

China Eclipse

OK,  I’m back from China with about 3 hours of video footage, 600 photos, and 10 A4 pages of journal.  But I thought I’d do a quick and dirty edit of this part of the trip first, since it’s the most topical.

Wow, what an eclipse!  Those of us for whom it was the first time were suitably impressed – Tony the bluff Yorkshireman declared himself to have been rendered speechless.  And even those who’ve seen one before gave it a 9 1/2 out of 10.  The 22 degree aurora and diamond ring are particularly good, as are the amazing colours in the dark sky, and we even got to see some stars.

Rumour was our plastic chairs on a reserved site, in a protected zone, cost about £100 apiece.  Hell they were worth it.  China Daily reported that about 7,000 were at this site, and one vendor had sold out of his 100 boiled eggs by 6.30 am, and regretted not having learned more English at school!  Even if the eclipse itself had been cloudy, as it appeared it might be en route, the journey there, zig-zagging through the bamboo forest used in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, was worth it.