Picnickers, yesterday, looked out from the Greenwich Observatory (or near it) over the universe (or at any rate over London).
At the time, I somewhat misunderstood who these folk were. There are several overlapping sets of starry people:
– The Royal Observatory, that is, its staff.
– The members of the Observatory, that is, those who have paid to become supporters of and free visitors to this and the other three Greenwich “museums” (which include a ship, the Cutty Sark).
– The Flamsteed Society, which is the Greenwich astronomy club, naturally a large flourishing one.
– And the Fellows of the Royal Astronomical Society, which is based not at Greenwich but at Burlington House in London (along with other august institutions such as the Royal Academy and the Linnean Society).
I’ve sort of drifted into being a member of all but the first. A friend, a member of the same things but a more attentive one, suggested we go along to the picnic. (I had forgotten seeing the invitation to it.) I vaguely thought these dozen pleasant people on the grass were members of one or other of the clubs. Only afterwards did I realize with amazement that it was a function of the Royal Astronomical Society, which I had pictured as an Olympus of professors and researchers. I had been aware of it mainly through email calls for papers to be presented at learned conferences, and yearly calls for membership fees of increasingly astronomical size – well, amounts comparable with the periods of the longest short-period comets. I should have looked around me more carefully on the grassy slope and identified some astrophysicists and cosmologists, instead of just eating strawberries and climbing trees and lying on my back to look at clouds.
A friendly Fellow wearing a wide-brimmed hat, under which he looked to be about 27, welcomed us and told us that this was the 27th of these annual picnics and that he had organized all 27. There’s some connection here to Time Dilation, or Inflation Theory.
I don’t know whether all 27 have been in the well-chosen shade of the same tree. You could say the picnic spot is at the Observatory, which is only yards away but hidden by trees. By taking a few steps you can glimpse it
and other attractions of this sunny hilltop.
Postscript: The 27-year organizer is Dr. Q. Stanley, always known only as Q. I heard back from him, seconds too late to put in the first version of this post. He adds, and I have to add too: “Don’t for get David Lally , known as The Lally, who is my Co-organiser. Guy Morgan gets the champagne in for the day, which we decide upon, Jeroboam, Methuselah, etc., earlier in the year. He and I split the cost, some others do contribute a bit, which is optional. ”