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30 August 1998 Journal Entry August 30, 1998
Cambridge, England

First a word from my backgarden neighbour.


Late summer greetings to you all. I hope everyone had good summer adventures. I'm presently writing my thesis and awaiting to hear on my postdoc job applications. Within 30 days from now I *should* be submitting. So wish me luck!

Guilt aside (for taking time to write something other than my thesis), I have not been up to much since I returned from the COHSI commissioning run in March and my southwestern adventures with Doug in April. I sort of have writer's block at the moment!!! :)

In late April, one of my scholarship bodies this year, Zonta International (they sponsor the Amelia Earhart Scholarship for graduate student women in the aerospace sciences), held a reception for the three scholarship winners in the UK. I was invited down to the Oxford Air training school for a reception and met the other two winners as well as am amazing set of well travelled, exciting, energetic women from all over Europe. The UK Zonta International Organization has a great web site ( and details of the reception can be found at

While I was in the Oxford area, I visited the Marlborough Maze located on the grounds of Blenheim Palace. For those who saw the movie "The Avengers" the scenes of the palace in which the evil Sir August lives, were shot at Bleinheim Palace. Sadly the hedge maze scene in that film was not using the Marlborough Maze, but rather a Hollywood style one, since the yew trees in the former are in need of repair. The maze is the largest symbolic hedge maze in England. The Duke of Marlborough had achieved a great victory at Blenheim in 1704 when the Ango-Austrian army under his command defeated the French and Bavarian armies in the War of the Spanish Succession. The victory saved Vienna from French invasion. In return for this war victory, Queen Anne granted him a palace, which became Blenheim Palace.

The Marlborough hedge maze was laid out to contain hedge arrangments showing trumpets, cannon balls, flags, and other symbols of war and victory. There were also two wooden towers you needed to climb in order to get through the maze (I tried to see if you could complete the maze without them, but failed!). I just adore mazes! :)

Marlborough Maze View 1 Marlborough Maze View 2 Marlborough Maze View 3
Marlborough Maze at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire. The central section of the maze spells out "Blenheim".
In May I visited a good friend of mine, Chris, who is studying mathematics at the University of Warwick, near Coventry. He took me on a tour of Coventry, most known for being the first British town to have been heavily bombed by the Germans during WWII. It has always been an industrial center and was a big target. We visited the Cathedral there, now ruins from the bombing, but kept as a memorial for peace. In the 10th century, the province of Coventry was ruled by Earl Leofric. His wife, Godgyfu is better known. Also known as Lady Godiva, Godgyfu is immortalized in the folklore story of her riding through the streets of Coventry, naked on a horse, to protest tax rises her husband was to inflict upon the townspeope. There is a monument dedicated to her in the center of the city.

Conventry cathedral Leofric & Gofiva
(left) Coventry Cathedral remains, bombed in WWII.
(right) Town Hall, showing the arms of Leofric and Godiva. Beautiful colours. The town shield has an elephant-very odd because it would have dated back to the 900sAD, did the British know about elephants then?
Chris and I took a small excursion to the neighboring town of Stratford upon Avon, best known for being the birthplace of William Shakespeare. I visited his birthplace, as well as the houses occupied by his parents and wife, at various points in their lives. A very picturesque town (sadly overrun by tourists) with wonderful places to picnic along the banks of the Avon.
River Avon Will's birthplace
(left) Stratford upon Avon-Avon river (lots of swans).
(right) Shakespeare's birthplace at Stratford upon Avon.
I made a short hop to visit Kennilworth Castle in Kennilworth, a town just S-E of Coventry. Beautiful castle! It is probably best known for Queen Elizabeth I's lavish stay there in the July 1575. Supposedly she stayed for 19 days at enormous expense. Her arrival was greeted an amazing aquatic display (pretty extensive waterworks occupying ruined ditches now), which it is believed young William Shakespeake, then age 10-11, might have seen from a distance and recalled upon it in his play "midsummer night's dream" which he wrote for her majesty some 15 years later.
Kennilworth Castle View 1 Kennilworth Castle View 2
Views of Kennilworth Castle. Magnificent Norman keep.
In June, I made a special excursion to London for the day. Friend Martina wrote our local MP (Member of Parliament) to get tickets to climb Big Ben and see the Houses of Parliament. Isn't that a great idea? In fact, Big Ben is NOT open to the public unless you do write your MP. We also received special passes to by-pass the long queue of peoping waiting to see the Houses. That was neat.

Big Ben is that famous clock tower atop Westminster (still has a status of Palace today. In fact Henry VIII amongst many monarches lived there. As a Palace, the commoners cannot dine there nor can anything be "dug" underneath it like say, the Underground. Just some trivia.). The ringing of the central bell, known as Big Ben, heralds the start of the news on Radio 4 (and we learned that Radio 4 actually starts its news after the "last" dong of Big Ben rather than the "first" dong, the latter which is correct, so the BBC has erred.) as well as provide the time of day for Londoners and foreigners apart at all angles with its 4 clock faces.

We climbed the tower, a total of 339 steps, which ascending maybe about 565 feet (172 meters, 188 yards) tall. A narrow winding staircase. At the top were four bells (really "five bell sounds" since one bell had two hammers) surrounding Big Ben, the central bell weighing about the same as my COHSI, 1.6 tonnes. :) The bells chime out four lines from Handel's Messiah, the first line played on the quarter hour, the first two lines played on the half hour, the first three lines played on the third quarter hour and the verse in totality on the hour followed by the dongs of Big Ben itself (note F, in key of F), one dong per hour.

We climbed all over the bell tower. We learned that the gold adorning the various bits of the parapet and spire was actually gold and not paint, paid for out of the British tax payers money. It supposedly lasts longer through the weather, as indeed London is often rainy, foggy, sleety, you name it. We saw the clock mechanism (what a great piece of instrumentation! Lots of brass.) which operates all four clock faces and the five bells. The hour hand of Big Ben is approximately 8feet long, with the minute hand a small 14 feet. Suppsoedly when then minute hand is at its quarter hour position (at the number 9), it is its most weakest and if a bird was to say want to take a rest on such a lovely horzontal branch, its weight would be great enough to jam the clock mechanism. Someting which has happened in the past, and not a pretty sight. Martina and I learned that the clock mechanism suffered from metal fatigue which caused the wheels and gears to basically "explode" under the unfamilar new stresses after a part collapsed, causing lots of damage. This was in the 1970s and it was luckily fixable.

It actually took 36 hours to raise Big Ben (on its side) up the tower back in 1850-something. It would then take FIVE years to get the clock mechanism just right. Talk about instrumentation (I guess I should learn a lot from this knowledge that good instruments need time to get perfect). The pendulum which swings to keep the seconds actually has a 2 second period (compared to most grandfather clocks which really need one second). But the clock was then in operation in early 1860-something and has worked ever since (with the occasional but fixable mishap). Big Ben was actually cracked the first time they played it, and then they rotated it. This motion did not supposedly affect its tune, and its current position is that position. So no cracks to Big Ben since then.

But, cracks to the Bell Tower! The London underground like most undergrounds is busy and well the city needs to expand it. So they are. Since they cannot build under Parliament (since Westminster is still a Palace and well the obvious security reasons are evident), they are building very close by. In fact the Tower has suppsodely MOVED 3mm to the side of where it originally was built and it is showing slight evidence of beginning to sink. A few cracks have appeard just over the last few months, one even started a few weeks ago. So people are pretty nervous. Sad, eh?

A foggy day in Londontown.
Bell Tower The bell itself
(left) Martina and the clock tower.
(right) Big Ben, the central bell among five.
After the clock tower, Martina and I had special passes to see the houses of Parliament in session. We had lingered too long at the clock tower and had missed the procession of the Speaker. But we whisked by the queues and queues of tourists. :)

The difference between the two houses was striking. I was first shocked by the lack of MPs in session. We were to learn that meetings were going on outside the main hall all the time. I actually found it very disruptive to see people coming in and out during sessions, often interrupting MPs who were putting forth statements. The seats were green and the woodwork was a plain light wood. The Speaker wore a gown, and three Clerks wore wigs and gowns. Lots of notes were passed back and forth between the Speaker and various ushers. Martina and I giggled at the reporters at the upper tier above, taking notes on special court-taking devices.

The House of Lords was even more emptier. The gaudiness with its gold leaf and red colours was breath-taking. There was a throne where Her Majesty would sit at the opening of Parliament. She was not present, nor was the Lord Chancellor, who when present sits on a sack of wool. Don't ask me why! :) All the House of Lord members partake in gov't duties, voluntarily, not receiving a penny from the populace. The Lords is made up of bishops, life peers, and hereditary peers, although they are working to remove the hereditary peers. Maybe they might add in other religious heads. We'll see. The structure of the House of Lords is under debate with the new Labour gov't in session.

We ended the day with a evening at the play Cats in London. :)

Back in Cambridge, the summer has been very pleasant. Got out punting again on the River Cam, towards Grantchester, for a day's outing. We jumped the bridges, lost the punt pole, and ate our strawberries and cream.

Bridge Jumping Upper Cam Where did that Pole go? Moo!
Punting in Cambridge. (left to right) Jumping the bridges on the upper river on the way to Grantchester. Friend Liz backtracking to retrieve the punt pole which had got stuck in the Cam mud. Cows munching along the backs.
As the writing got tougher and my wits were nearing an end, I escaped again to London for a weekend. I met up with Liz, a woman I met at the Zonta meeting in Oxford in April, and she toured me about London. We made a trip to The Old Royal Observatory in Greenwich. I walked the Meridian line, even if I cross it an awful lot here, being 5 minutes east of 0deg longitude. Saw the quite ugly Millenium Dome, from the distance. Learned how the Longitude problem was solved for sea going travellers (the key was to make a clock which kept time on a ship, subjected to lots of turbulence and vast changes in temperature and humidity-solved by John Harrison, a clock maker). Set my watch by the big Millenium countdown clock. :) And spend the evening at the Royal Albert Hall, at one of the Proms concerts. The next day I redezvoused with more Zontian members for a summer garden party, which was a load of fun.

Old Royal Observatory
Old Royal Observatory, Greenwich
That's about all for now. 30 days to submission. I'm about 60% there. My thesis instrument is still undergoing teething problems, but we are improving and understanding it better. COHSI is planned to return to the telescope sometime between November 1998 and April 1999. I am not quite sure where on this planet I will be by then, so stay tuned.

With Love