A day amidst the Dreaming Spires

What changed it all...

I enjoyed a lovely day out yesterday with my friend Tracey, an Oxford-based Massage Therapist (if you need one, I’ll give you her email)!

We went to the Oxford Museum of the History of Science, which is of course the Oxford version to the home of my residency, the Whipple Museum. Whilst the Whipple Museum holds a number of objects crafted by the Herschels (especially by William,) the Oxford MHS has the telescope with which William discovered the Georgian Star, Georgium Sidus, later re-named Uranus. Even though I’ve been to the OMHS a number of times, this was a fresh – and obviously very exciting – discovery. I took a picture. And I touched it. Very lightly (you aren’t supposed to touch it).

The OMHS always runs really interesting special exhibits in their downstairs gallery. The current exhibit is ‘Eccentricity,‘ a great theme, focusing on eccentric characters an/or objects related to the collection.

As relevant to a Museum which houses some of the world’s finest, oldest, and rarest astronomical objects, eccentricity is also an astronomical term:

Definition: eccentricity: The eccentricity of an ellipse (planetary orbit) is the ratio of the distance between the foci and the major axis.In other words, the more flattened the circle (ellipse), the more ‘eccentric‘ the orbit.

I’ve begun to re-draft Double the Stars: The Life and Adventures of Miss Caroline Herschel, and it’s always particularly inspiring to encounter ‘Herschelailia’. It’s everywhere! (Well, particularly if you tend to frequent Observatories and Science Museums…) Caroline’s sweeper, with which she discovered comets, is in the London Science Museum, as well as the giant mirror for the 40-foot telescope, which famously caused the flagstones of the workshop to explode when the molten metal leaked  onto the floor: if you find yourself at the Herschel Museum of Astronomy in Bath, you can see the cracks in the flagstones from the damage.

Some other particularly eccentric, and fabulous, objects captured my imagination on the visit to the Museum, including a ‘Logic Piano:’ Photo & caption below…

After the Museum visit, and a break for lunch, I explored the Bate Collection of Musical Instruments, an absolutely charming and off-the-beaten-track sort of place which I highly recommend if you have even a vague interest in musical instruments. It’s free to get in, and you are greeted with the gift of a handset which you can take around while you look at the overwhelming, crammed-in displays of instruments: it all has a bit of a feel of one’s grandmother’s attic. The handset is  programmed to play snippets of music from certain (labelled) instruments. I want a spinet. Or a parlour guitar. Sigh.

The Logic Piano

The Logic Piano

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