We've just arrived home after a long weekend away in London attending the annual 'AstroFest' conference. Dave started his lifetime ambition of a degree in astronomy last year and managed to bag one set of free tickets for the event, so we bought ourselves another set and indulged in a two-for-the-price-of-one weekend away, while using some of his vast store of hotel points to stay in a large hotel in Kensington for only the price of breakfast.
The conference was a blast. Highlights for me including the particle-physisist Simon Singh (who turns up on learned programmes on BBC4) setting fire to a gherkin live on stage; and collecting a smile from Brian May. Yes. That Brian May. He was attending in his 'doctor of astrophysics' persona, not as a rock guitarist, but I've been a fan of Queen for years so it was still rather special.
The talks were fascinating and much to my amazement I enjoyed the super-scientific ones (Lucie Green on the structure of the sun's surface; Don Kurtz on the role of the Kepler mission in discovering new exo-planets) much more than the more historical ones. Given what a duffer at maths and physics I was at school, that was a major surprise.
In addition to cramming in sixteen talks in two days, we also managed a bit of sight-seeing, including lots of exploring round the local streets. Kensington is an area neither of us knew very well and we fell in love with it. It's full of stunning houses; rows of old mews cottages half-hidden down back alleys; blue plaques to famous residents like Benjamin Britten, Hubert Parry, T S Eliot and Alfred Hitchcock; churches; and garden squares. It's also home to some of the most expensive property anywhere in the country so I doubt we'll be moving there any time soon. Add in a run round the natural history museum and a more sedate visit to the science museum, as well as several nice meals out, and all in all it was a very successful trip. Apart from the train journey home, which should have involved one train and taken about two hours. Four hours, three trains and one bus later we finally made it home. Sunday rail travel is a bugger.
Oh, and the gherkin? Dr Singh hooked it up to an electrical current to show the sodium ions (in the pickling brine) glowing orange... and accidentally left it connected just a little bit too long. The smell was interesting, at any rate.