Tuesday 29 December 2009


If you look straight up from within the roofless interior of St Michael's Tower on top of Glastonbury Tor, there is a perfectly framed 'skyspace', like a James Turrell installation. A minimalist art work of maximalist impact if approached slowly, as a site of durational process and the active perception of change.

At dusk, the shifts in the sky's luminance and colour are somehow distilled and amplified by the framing; and the sky's planar surface seems to be a material thing, a palpable, phenomenal entity hovering above you in the darkness of the interior.

The image above was taken on a clear evening in late December, the camera balanced on its back on my lap, shooting blind on a very slow exposure.

The sky's colour is created through the contents of the atmosphere, its chemical and particle composition, and the effect known as 'Rayleigh scattering': the interaction of light with air molecules and its elastic diffusion.

What would be the impact of differently constituted atmospheres on the perception of sky colour? In other words, what would we see if we stood on the surface of another planet and looked up? A mini Google trawl soon reveals how common such questions are, and generates some rather astonishing information about extraterrestrial skies:

It is thought that Jupiter's sky is a pale blue, Uranus's cyan, Neptune's azure. Saturn's is yellow.

Venus's atmosphere is so dense that one wouldn't be able to see the sun during the day, or the stars at night. Photographs taken by a Soviet probe suggests the sky on Venus is orange-red.

During the day on Mars, the sky is scarlet. Around dawn and dusk, it's a pinky rose, but blue around the sun.

Images taken from within Titan's thick atmosphere by the Huygens probe reveal its sky to be a pale tangerine. On the surface, it's a dark orange smog.

There is no atmosphere on the moon, so its sky is permanently black. Viewed from the surface of the moon, the sun is white.

For further details of 'alien skies', and a remarkable sci-fi site - a multiply authored, proliferative, work-in-progress exercise in 'worldbuilding' - see the Orion's Arm (OA) Universe Project here

For Wikipedia's fine entry on 'extraterrestrial skies', see

Photographs from Glastonbury Tor: David Williams 2009

Saturday 19 December 2009

how it is

past moments old dreams back again or fresh like those that pass or things things always and memories I say them as I hear them murmur them - Samuel Beckett, How It Is

Photograph from inside Miroslaw Balka's How It Is, Turbine Hall, Tate Modern, December 2009

Friday 18 December 2009

dad (3): lazy chocolate

At Mortlake railway station, seeing my dad off on to his train back home:

Dad: Gawd it's nippy. Fancy a little snack? Some chocolate?

Me: Why not?

Dad: Good-oh.

At the stall on the platform, 2 men behind the counter:

Dad: What do you fancy? A kitkat?

Man 1: Nice cup of tea two sugar.

Dad: Sorry?

Man 1: You want nice cup of tea two sugar, isn't it.

Dad: No thanks, I've just had one.

Man 1: Oh. You look just like man who have nice cup of tea two sugar, he come here all time. But he don't wear hat.

Man 2: All time. But no hat.

Dad: Oh. (Lifts his hat for a second): Must be my double. I have been here before, lots of times, but not for tea. Erm, I'll just have some chocolate thank you. What have you got here? Ah, oo-hoo, a kitkat.

Man 1: Kitkat laaazy. Lazy chocolate. Laaazy man! (To me): I think you no have lazy chocolate, you have ... snickers! More chew! You look like snickers man.

Man 2: Snickers!

Me: Do I? Oh. Actually I think I'll have a caramel bar, thanks.

Man 1: Oh he lazy too! Laaazy chocolate. No good.

Man 2: Must have snickers!

Man 1: This your son? Yes. He look just like you when you young.

Man 2: Laaazy boy!

Dad: Last time I was here, there was a man from Iran. I said, oh you're from Iran: where were you born? He said, Twickenham. And I said, ha ha, I said, oh I'm from England but I was born in Iran.

Man 1: You from Iran? Where you from?

Man 2: Iranian!

Dad: Abadan.

Man 1: Oh Abadan! Abadan good place! Very good place to come from. Lot of oil. You own property?

Dad: Unfortunately, no.

Man: Do you have mistress in Abadan?

Dad: Do I look like I have a mistress in Abadan? ... Unfortunately, no. Ha ha.

Man 1: You only say that cos your son here. But we know. Abadan ladies very famous: beautiful.

Man 1 & 2 launch into joyous rendition of an Iranian song about Abadan girls, Man 1 banging out a rhythm on a pile of newspapers on the counter: 'Aba - daaan!'

Dad: That's nice. What does it mean?

Man 1: It talk about beautiful lady in Abadan. Famous.

Man 2: Aba-daaan!

A high speed train passes through the station without stopping.

Man 1: Too fast for you to catch, laaazy man! But he can catch it, he still young.

Me: Where are you from, then?

Man 1: We come from Mongolia.

Me: Really?

Man 2: Mongolia!

Man 1: Bayanhongor. We speak nine language: Baluchi, Armenian, Arabic, Farsi, Khalka ...

Man 2: Chinese ...

Man 1: Russian of course ...

Me: Wow! Mongolia to Mortlake, that's a helluva journey.

Man 1: What you do here? You live in Mortlake?

Dad: No, I live in Kent. He lives in London. Well, near Twickenham.

Man 2: Kent! Good.

Dad: We've just been visiting my sister.

Man 1: Younger sister?

Dad: Older sister. 96.

Man 1: 96! Good genes! Hey, you gonna be ok, good genes in family!

Dad: Oh, here comes my train ...

Man 2: 96?

Dad (pointing to my trousers): He has good jeans.

Man 1: Oh yes, very funny. Funny man! But laaazy!

Man 2: Very laaazy!

Man 1 & 2 start singing the song about Abadan girls as my dad's train pulls in. Dancing and waving.

For earlier 'dad' posts, see here, and here

Saturday 5 December 2009

open mic

Image from the Glastonbury record shop window, December 2009