103. Encounters on a Summer Night in
Cardiff is an eclectic jumble of buildings. It is not
an attractive city as a whole, but one can find
individual buildings to admire. Plenty are worthy of
study. Some developers have had the good sense to
preserve the original façade and build behind it. From
my window, I see new skyscrapers rising. Throughout
the city towering cranes are erecting new structures.
The pandemic might have slowed development, but
The view from my flat is a clutter of rooftops. They
are densely packed and nowhere is there a view of the
street. I have two balconies, one off the living room
and one off the bedroom. Both are facing the
southeast. This is the top floor, but it is only a
five storey building. I like the jaggedness of the
cityscape’s nooks and crannies. The fractured facets
of buildings in diverse styles fascinates. Day and
night, seagulls fly in every direction among the
canyons and crags, squawking and screeching, sometimes
Sunday’s sky, the 19th July, was clear as midnight
approached. Jupiter and Saturn were bright. It was a
chance to put my new binoculars to use. I purchased my Olympus PRO
10x42 during lockdown,hoping to expand
my horizons. Saturn remained a speck, I could not see
its rings, but I could make out some of the moons of
brighter Jupiter. That night became the first time I
took the binoculars outside.
Since the pandemic, since the lockdown began, they
have been neglecting to close the gates to Bute Park,
leaving them open all night. While I suppose you are
not allowed to enter at night, in the darkness the
signs giving the park hours are not clear, and are
easily overlooked. I have found the solitude of
occasionally strolling through the park after midnight
consolatory. There is no need to take the face mask
from my pocket.
Darkness was the very reason I wanted to be there.
There was no moon to reflect the pavement. The deeper
I went, the further I was from the streetlamps. BONG!
went the striking clock of City Hall; it was one
o’clock, an hour into the 20th July. When the trees
gave way to Coopers Field, I was perfectly positioned.
Ursa Major was clearly visible in the north. I knew
where to look, beneath the constellation and to the
right, but I couldn’t see it. Nearer the horizon, the
night sky’s blackness was washed out and grey. While
it wasn’t visible to my naked eyes, when I brought the
binoculars to my face, it appeared. Comet Neowise.
It was just a smudge with its tail hanging above it,
but I felt an abstract satisfaction, because while the
vision was ephemeral, I understood its significance.
This was a comet possibly big enough to make dinosaurs
extinct, but it was passing us at a comfortable
distance. It was named for the space telescope that
found it, NEOWISE. The telescope is out there
searching for near-Earth objects (NEOs) whose
trajectories might threaten humanity. If we can detect
them soon enough, we might, in theory, employ a rocket
to divert the object from such a destiny. We will need
to refine our abilities. Comet Neowise, which is three
miles in diameter (five kilometers), was detected only
recently, on 27th March, and not recognized as a comet
until the 31st March. It won’t be coming back for
another 6,800 years, so we can relax about this one.
Wednesday was Quiz Night at The Packet, a pub in
Cardiff Bay where I joined a team to compete against
others. The pub has been closed, the quiz canceled
during the pandemic, but some of us continue to meet
via video conferencing in order to continue playing
the quiz. There are five of us and we each take a turn
at being Quizmeister for the evening. At one point,
one of the players received a NASA alert on his smart
phone informing him that the International Space
Station would soon be visible overhead. We all took a
break to have a look. I stepped out onto the balcony.
Despite the weather reports earlier in the week,
Wednesday night, the 22nd, was clear. Out of the west
and sweeping directly overhead, the ISS moved with
astonishing speed. Still reflecting the sun that had
set more than an hour earlier, ISS was brighter than
any star. Travelling 250 miles overhead and at over
17,000 miles per hour, it took only a couple of
minutes to traverse the patch of sky visible to me. It
passed overhead in eerie silence. Why should we expect
the noise of aircraft?
Because the night was unexpectedly clear, after the
quiz I grabbed my binoculars and returned to Bute Park
to have another go at Comet Neowise. It would be
closer to the earth and, since it was before midnight,
higher above the horizon.
It was not as peaceful as my previous visit. The
number of people on the street surprised me. In
general, there was a disregard for keeping distance or
wearing face masks. At the intersection of Queen
Street and Castle Street, there was one young woman
who spoke and laughed particularly loudly to those
standing next to her. I could envision the viral
particles rocketing from her and splashing her
Entering the park by the Castle North Gate, I didn’t
get deep into the park before I heard voices and steps
approaching. They were a couple, their dark shapes
visible only when they were within twenty feet, their
thick shadows passing me going the other way.
When I reached Coopers Field, I could still hear the
young woman on Queen Street, even though she was 1,200
feet away and there were trees and the Cardiff Castle
compound between us.
It was a clear night behind me and overhead, but where
I wanted to point the binoculars there was a thin
cloud. I waited a long time for it to move, but it
never did. However, it eventually dissolved in place
and there, through the lenses, was Comet Neowise. How
tiny the virus, how large the universe, how
insignificant were both the loud woman on Queen Street
and myself, I was made conscious of all this. To avoid
the noisy woman, I departed the park by a different
gate, the West Lodge Entrance adjacent to the
Pettigrew Tea Rooms. As I approached the archway in
the black, crenellated stone wall, beyond was the
brightness of streetlights. The lit city made me feel
proud of life’s insolence to persist and grow in spite
of the juggernaut of physics, the crushing cosmos, and
I felt happy.
Mr Bentzman will continue to report here regularly about
the events and concerns of his life. If you've any
comments or suggestions, he would be pleased to hear from you.
You can find his
several books at www.Bentzman.com.
Inside Me, his second collection of
essays, is now available to purchase.