Orwell Astronomical Society (Ipswich)
SHA Picnic at Orwell Park,
16 July 2011
Anyone would think that royalty was expected by the way members of OASI spent their club night at Orwell Park Observatory on Wednesday 13 July 2011, clearing the floors, walls and ceilings of mud, dust and cobwebs in preparation for a visit by members of the Society for the History of Astronomy (SHA) on their annual picnic. And there was yet more activity on the following evening, when Neil Morley hoovered the entirety of Orwell Park School (well, at least the observatory stairs from the ground floor all the way to the top) while I finished the painting in the dome remaining from September 2010: the blue panels in the doors and window frames and the black skirting.
The sixteenth of July, the day of the visit, dawned, but rain poured in sheets from the sky: perhaps not the ideal day for a picnic? Bill Barton, Neil Morley and I arrived early to set up the OASI display boards and the Millennium Telescope in the Alston Room at Orwell Park School - one of two rooms that the School let us use for the occasion along with the Orangery. The availability of the rooms proved fortuitous given the rain gushing from the sky! The original plan was to use the rooms as an indoor base for coffee and displays while the picnic took place on the playing fields. But because of the weather conditions, now everything was to take place in the rooms - fine except there were no tables provided, just chairs and a tea urn!
Shortly after midday, the first members of the SHA started to arrive. We thought that they may have been put off by the weather, but most of them had travelled the day before and had stopped overnight at various venues around East Anglia. In all, around 20 members of the SHA attended, along with nine members of OASI, including Lorraine Goward and her sons. This number of people fortuitously just filled the Alston Room. The afternoon then took on a slightly elevated class when one of the members of the SHA produced a silver candelabra, complete with electronic candles, which he placed on the grand piano in the corner. At this point Neil began to entertain us with some excellent cello playing, and this set the seal on perhaps the most unusual picnic that the SHA has enjoyed in its almost 10 year history.
After feeding was over, the group headed up the stairs to the observatory for a 90 minute lecture by me on the history of the facility. I tried to remember to include all the details that I omit from the standard talk to visitors, given the glazed reaction that they can induce in the audience, but the members of the SHA enjoyed it all and some even added further details. Then it was back downstairs from the observatory for more coffee and at last a quick spin outside, as the rain had finally stopped. John Wainwright and Tina Hammond took advantage of the captive audience to sell some vintage books and magazines, then our guests departed and we tidied the cups and stacked them in the kitchen, packed away the Millennium Telescope display and handed the room back to the School caretaker.
It was a very successful afternoon, despite the rain. In fact, I received very many compliments about the organisation of the day and what OASI does as a society, particularly in terms of maintenance of the observatory. The SHA made a very generous donation to our 582 Fund (to support renovation of the observatory), for which we express heartfelt thanks.
Pictures below are by John Wainwright.
Paul Whiting, FRAS