Sunset last night found me rummaging through cupboards retrieving sleeping bags and heavy jackets. An old wool hat, some gloves. It might be cold up at Devils Dyke and I wanted to be prepared. The Perseid Meteor Shower had come around again.
The forecast was clear skies and, as I watched the sun set, the clouds scarpered and the stars came out. I stuffed my jacket into a bag and a toy noise machine fell to the ground. A joke Christmas present. Press a button to get special effects noises. A thunderstorm, a crow. Absent mindedly I put it in my pocket and picked up the camp bed.
A final glance out the window revealed the moon just setting. Excellent! The seeing would be good. Hot chocolate into a thermos and camera packed I staggered downstairs overloaded with gear while a grating witches cackle emerged from my pocket. Outside there was a bit of wind, good thing I’d prepared. Car loaded, I set off.
This year Talking Bollocks had correspondence at both major seeing points in Brighton; Devils Dyke and Ditchling Beacon. Our Ditchling correspondent texted to say he was making tea and would soon set off. Around 11pm, up at the Dyke, cars were still arriving and I parked up. A party atmosphere. Laughing and drinking. Standing and staring. As I walked I almost stumbled over prone figures lying on the ground. Camp beds, sleeping bags. People were making a night of it. A cool wind was blowing from the south west but the sky was clear and it wasn’t long before I saw a shooting star streak across the sky accompanied by whoops and cheers from the darkness.
The real trick is to know which part of the sky to look at. I had no idea. I wandered around the back of the little wood where the wind drops away and found three guys with cameras and tripods. They pointed out Perseus with a laser pointer. Oddly this actually worked, the laser being visible for a good way as it bounces off water vapour in the air. These guys explained that they travel around the UK taking pictures at night. Sometimes storm chasing, sometimes meteor chasing. As, I stood, face raised to the heavens, their conversation floated over. F stops and ISO ratings. Tea and biscuits. Techy and camaraderie. The sky seemed full of aircraft but, as they predicted, this soon died down.
A text came in from our Ditchling correspondent who reported that it was like a festival up there and the shooting stars were plentiful. After an hour or so I decided to bed down. Returning to the car I collected my gear and walked through to the back of the wood and set up my bed. I stuffed my sleeping bag into the bivvy bad and took a final swig of hot chocolate then lay back and watched the skies. A meteor zipped across the sky every few minutes. Some thin and feint and some bright and wide. I drifted off to sleep.
About 2pm I awoke. I was uncomfortable. Could be worse. The Fastnet yacht race has started and they should be round Land’s End and into the Irish Sea by now. Could be choppy though they should get a good view of the sky. As I tossed and turned blood curdling screams emerged from my pocket. I was cold and something was digging into my back. The zip in the sleeping bag had broken and bits of me kept emerging into the cold air and the slope of the bed didn’t help.
About 3:00 I packed up and returned to the west side of the Dike to find the place almost deserted. All but one party of revelers had gone home. Before leaving I stood about a bit and took some more pictures. Now and then a car would arrive., drive around the car park and depart. Astronomers or doggers? It wasn’t possible to know.
Then foot to the floor and down the winding lanes back into the empty streets of Brighton to arrive at the sea front about 4:00am.
Not a bad place to live. Rural and urban. Thoughtful and rowdy. Nerdy and obscene. Brighton & Hove!