Going down with Mister Chad
One of the reasons I forgot to leave Sharm all those years ago was the breathtaking view of the celestial bodies upon the surface of the imaginary sphere under which we live. The incredible spectacle of the firmament from ground zero. I always used to think that astronomers were weirdy beardy pipe smoking vegetarians in cardigans who wear socks with their sandals and drink room temperature beer with twigs in. Coming from pea-souper land, where the vis in the streets can be down to 5 metres some days, I was just not used to seeing stars, not in the sky anyway, and never at night. After a night on a Sharm liveaboard my life was forever changed. From the roof of Angelina IIs bridge, moored up in Shaab Ali back in that summer of 96, it was an almost out of body experience to lie on my back and actually see The Milky Way for the first time with my naked eyes. Previously Id only seen them in the sweet shop. The infinite vastness of the heavens laid out before me, stretching away into infinity as if on a Microsoft screensaver. It was almost religious.
Despite numerous requests, Santa didnt bring No.1 son a telescope this Christmas. I suspect he couldnt find one in Sharm. He did send a letter, though. A slightly more constructive letter than the one No.2 son got, which explained that the requested elephant had not been delivered because it wouldnt fit down the chimney. Santa wisely suggested that No.1 son pop over to Wadi Mander instead and see Mr. Sabri, because Mr. Sabris got some monster telescopes which, incidentally, wouldnt have fitted down the chimney either. And telescopes he certainly has, firmly mounted on concrete plinths in the middle of the desert and even fitted with GPS and motors which is more than Angelina II had in the old days.
Not wishing to seem totally ignorant about matters astronomical in front of Chad Minor, Id previously called a carpenter friend in Oxford who builds telescopes out of wood - and square ones to boot since he patently has a thing about stars. He explained to me that Venus was currently in the crescent and insisted that Uranus was blue although I assured him mine was a healthy pink the last time Id looked. Unfortunately, Saturn was side on but that was probably just as well. Given that Venus had forsaken her furs and Uranus was blue, any more rings in the sky would have simply complicated matters. Having now seen a crescent Venus, a blue Uranus, Jupiters moons and the colourful aftermath of some exploding star several billion miles away, I must confess Im impressed with what one can do with mirrors. Putting on lipstick will never seem the same again.