Monday, 10 August 2009

The Sky at Night

This Friday, Jupiter is going to be the closest it ever comes to the Earth when it reaches opposition. I learnt this not from my stay-at-home friend Google, but from an actual real person while sitting around a campfire in East Sussex on Saturday night. We were watching the most beautiful nighttime horizon with a huge orange rising moon alongside one very bright lone star. Which turned out to not to be a star, but a planet – Jupiter. And it was stunning.

I have always thought it would be interesting to know more about the night sky, but like many potential hobbies that involve dedication, research and memory, I have coped-out and kept it to a simple love of looking up. But on Saturday night I learnt enough about Jupiter in twenty minutes to inspire me into both a lengthy chat with Google and a trip to Waterstones’ astronomy department.

It’s become a bit of a trend with me recently – properly enjoying things I’ve proclaimed to loved for years but have actually just borrowed because they sounded cool and/or impressive. I honestly don’t think it’s laziness, more a confidence thing. If you have your own opinion, you’re exposed to debate, challenge and public shame. And debate and challenge have never been overly embraced in my family. Or public shame. So I’ve always taken the position of an optimistic life-lover – chatty conversationalist, rather than an expert in any one area of it. And now it seems that my strategy is paying dividends.

My theory is that I’m more comfortable collecting people than information. I have always been attracted to people whose influences are perfectly matched to my ambitions. Lots of my friends have instinctively turned out to excellent early adopters of all the things I can now say, hand on heart, that I love.

Assimilating other people’s interests is a handy skill to have. My favourite wines are actually the chosen wines of people who paid attention when they were drinking the local grape in rural French oyster shacks as teenagers. This was about the time I was worrying about whether my combination of white Wham jacket and cerise leggings was lost in translation at the campsite disco. My favourite music is handed to me on an i-Pod by people who take time to read the culture page reviews in the Sundays, or switch the radio on occasionally. And my favourite restaurants are invariably my husband’s – it’s hard to be discerning when you’re always drawn to the paella.

In fact, child rearing might be the only area where I haven’t relied compulsively on other people’s opinions. And, ironically, it’s since the babies started spending more time out of the house that my interest in the radio, the wine cabinet and the long-term implications of Peter Mandelson running the country have developed with more confidence.

And so, on Friday night, Jupiter will be in a perfect line with the Earth and the Sun, and (if you’re reading this in the northern hemisphere of course) can I suggest you pour yourself a glass of something fine and enjoy a view of the daddy of all planets that will make you glad to be alive. With my compliments.

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