Thursday required an early start to beat the infamous N1-traffic and have breakfast at the Rcafe in Long Street (go here to find out more) before starting our day. We left Brackenfell at 05:17, which was actually later than our original ITD of 05:00. ITD? My shorthand for Intended Time of Departure. We were parked in front of Rcafe by 05:45 which meant that the trip had taken us a mere 28 minutes. As soon as the doors opened at 06:00 Lynnette and I went inside to order two much needed Americano’s to start the day properly. What really amazed us was that the owner and staff recognized us the moment we walked in the door and it was a few days more than a year since we’d last been there! Auke arrived shortly after us and ordered his cappuccino. After breakfast, we headed for the Iziko South African Museum (click here for more information) where Benjamin was waiting to unlock the gates for us and set out the traffic cones to prevent vehicles entering our display and observing space in the amphitheatre. The weather was clear but blustery. The wind was, in fact, such a nuisance that I eventually took down and put away the posters, as the frames were being badly scratched every time they toppled over onto the brick paving. Anyway, by 08:00 we were ready to roll and all we needed was a visitor or two, which we soon got.
Thursday’s are popular school days at Iziko and we had three groups that we managed to convince that they should take a peek at the Sun. There were several other school groups whose teachers waved us away when we invited them to view the Sun. Being a weekday many of our visitors were from outside the country’s borders as most South Africans were hard at work earning an income. Many of the tour guides with the groups declined to let their tourists take a look at the Sun. Their reason was mostly that they had a schedule to keep to and did not have the time. Nevertheless, we had groups from Gabon, Thailand, Hong Kong, France, Netherlands, Israel, and Germany.
It was also nice to have the research staff from the backrooms of Iziko pay us a visit. I was especially pleased to make the acquaintance of Jay van den Berg a palaeontologist on Dr Roger Smith’s staff and Clair Browning the newly appointed Curator of the Karoo Collection.
The problem of getting people to sign our visitor’s book was highlighted for the umpteenth time. Many people who viewed the Sun through our telescopes flatly refused to sign the list and some actually became quite agitated when asked to do so. This problem is exasperated when one is busy and you simply do not have time to chase after people and ask them to sign. So, once again, our signature total (288) and counter tally (597) do not agree. I am more convinced than ever that the answer lies in devising a means to automatically count the number of people who look into each telescope’s eyepiece.
Because the Sun appears as a very bland and uninteresting white ball as a result of of the solar filter fitted to Lorenzo, many viewers say it looks like the Moon. So I decided to do some experimenting with filters to make the image more “exciting”. The images were all taken with my mobile and I am afraid that I do not have the world’s steadiest hand, so the photos are not of the best quality.
Sunday was an almost perfect day for an outreach event in the amphitheater of the Iziko South African Museum (click here for more information) in Cape Town. Lynnette and I, unfortunately, got there a bit later than we had intended. Auke had almost finished setting up by the time we arrived and we just managed to get Lorenzo setup before the first visitors put in an appearance.
While we were setting up, Benjamin, the museum security guard, came round to say hello and put out the traffic cones thereby preventing people from attempting to park among the telescopes. Throughout the rest of the day, he appeared every now and again, keeping a watchful eye on the ever present idlers and strollers who often have less than honest intentions.
We had a steady stream of visitors throughout the day. However, every time a tour group passed through the activity around the telescopes peaked and required all hands on deck. It was really a pity that, other than one lone sunspot (2670) which was about to disappear over the rim of the sun, there was no activity to be seen. I found the overseas visitors far more aware of astronomical matters than the South Africans. Having said that though, Lynnette had one local three-year old who knew the names of all the planets and, when quizzed, also knew which planet was the smallest and which was the largest!
All in all, it was a very pleasant day with the wind dying down by mid-morning and the few clouds that there were never really posing a serious threat to our solar observing. One of the problems, that occurs every year, with this kind of event is the effort to get people to sign our visitor’s register. Some people just refuse point blank and others again refuse to give contact details. During periods of high activity, when everyone is manning a telescope, we also lose signatures because there is nobody available to monitor if visitors sign the register or not. Our counters, as is usual, gave far higher figures than the number of signatures but, because one is busy with visitors, one probably also misses visitors with the counters. Maybe we should get some inventive person to install a counter at the eyepiece that counts when people look into it.
Thursday was a very different kettle of fish at the Brackenfell Public Library compared to Tuesday. No sun, lots of low gray clouds and a cold, blustery north-westerly wind. We implemented plan-B and moved inside, as discussed previously with the library staff. Amanda helped us get organized in the library hall and pointed out the spots in the foyer we could use for posters and A-frames.
Despite putting up notices inviting people to come and flummox us with their astronomy queries we had the grand total of two visitors the entire morning. Those two were actually old friends, Billy and Halcyone Brits who had heard that we would be there and come specially to see us.
The afternoon wasn’t much better as the cold weather seemed to have thinned out the number of learners quite drastically too. Following Lynnette’s suggestion, we gave a talk to the small group that was there. This talk was one we had previously compiled with input from the staff at Boesmansrivier Primary School for use with their learners. The talk was quite enthusiastically received by the learners present. Their enthusiasm was, in fact, at times more than just a bit rowdy!
Murphy saved his final trick for the end of the day. When we tried to start the Vito and leave for home it refused point blank. Not too much of a problem as I had a spare battery at home. We phoned a friend who nipped round, picked me up and dropped me at home. I picked up the spare battery, popped it into the boot of the Polo, and headed back to the Library where Lynnette was waiting.
Murphy now played his next trick. The new battery was about one millimeter too large to fit into the battery compartment of the Vito and the battery leads were too short to reach the battery in any other place outside the battery compartment, where we would be able to shut the door. Lynnette and I quickly ran through plans C to Y before I hit on plan-Z. I connected the spare battery and, while I was holding it, Lynnette started the Vito. Lynnette then kept the engine running quite fast and I disconnected the spare battery, connected the old battery, and slid that into the battery compartment. It all worked perfectly without any shocks, sparks or short-circuits. I was very careful not to throw a clearly crestfallen Murphy the middle finger as he has a very long memory.
Lynnette drove the Polo home and I followed in the Vito, finally bringing the day to a close.
We set up just outside the entrance to the Brackenfell Public Library. The forecast said it would be a sunny day so we also put up our gazebo and decorated that with some of our banners. The banners look nice, provide added wind protection, make the gazebo sturdier and also help prevent uncontrolled access. Sunelle, Lötter and her staff used the material we gave them, predominantly from our own stocks, to put up displays in the entrance foyer and several other parts of the library
As we have experienced in the past it takes a lot of effort to get the public to come and take a look, despite the fact that the telescope was very visible, as were our A-frames and pull-up banners. One has to resort to accosting people, as they approach the entrance and begging them to come and take a peek at the Sun and its lonely sunspot.
This all changed dramatically during the afternoon when the schools closed; we were almost inundated! The Library serves as a focal point for learners whose parents are at work as they also use the library hall to do their homework. The youngsters from the apartments across the road from the library simply use the library and environs as an entertainment area. For the latter group, our presence was a welcome added attraction to their normal routine.
Thanks to the sunny weather and the eager learners it was eventually quite a pleasant and productive outing.
August in the Western Cape is known for wet, blustery and cold conditions so we were mentally prepared for the worst during National Science Week 2016. However, the weather was uncharacteristically fine except for the last two days. Fortunately for us the Iziko South African Museum (go here to find out more about this exciting venue) allowed us to move inside and use the large open area adjacent to the now non-existent cafe. Thank you Elsabé and Theo for all your efforts on our behalf.
National Science Week had to be move forward by one week due to the local elections. That also caused some problems because we had already started making arrangements and the change meant changing other things as well. The run-up to National Science Week was a also unsettling because our sponsors had organizational problems, which meant that both the funding and the display material were very, very late. Late funding meant that we had to postpone all purchases and rentals until the very last minute which resulted in a lot of frantic rushing around with panic levels going off the scale every now and again. Scary stuff but we made it in one piece although it was really touch and go with some plans having to be partially shelved due to a lack of time to implement them properly.
Our setup this year shared the amphitheater with the impressive DNA model of the Past All from One Exhibition. Please go here to read more about this interesting exhibition sponsored by Standard Bank.
We had many visitors from overseas and also many visitors from other African countries. Despite the rather nerve racking preparation phase everything actually went off quite well. We definitely had more dubious characters hanging around this year than in 2014. Special thanks to the Iziko security staff who were very efficient and here Benjamin stands out and, quite honestly deserves a medal for his efforts. Despite their surveillance we had items “disappear”, among others Lynnette’s phone and that loss is still having repercussions almost a month later.
But, by and large it was a successful week with lots of sunshine making it easy to demonstrate and discuss renewable energy. The solar cooker, solar oven, and various solar power driven devices were all put to good use and other equipment was used to demonstrate the existence of energy at other wavelengths in the solar spectrum. We also used the telescopes equipped with special filters to good effect so that people could take a look at the sun, the source of all this free energy.
Our poster about solar energy depicted the photo-voltaic plant about 6 km outside the town of De Aar in the Northern Cape Province (go here to read more about this development). The other three projects we mentioned and discussed were Concentrating Solar Plants also situated in the Northern Cape Province. !Ka Xu is located about 40 km from the town of Pofadder (go here to read more about this innovative development). Close-by and just off the R358 Onseepkans road lies a similar development Xina (read more about this by going here).. Equally interesting is the !Khi Solar one project which is being constructed close to the town of Upington (go here to read more about this development).
Many of the South African visitors were totally oblivious of the efforts currently underway in South Africa to harness wind and solar energy. It is indeed a great pity that the handout material was so totally unrelated to the topic of Renewable Energy because people looked for something tangible to take away with them after visiting us and were noticeably disappointed when they discovered that the handouts were not related to the topic.
The late arrival of the handouts and posters also meant that we had to improvise in order to organize our usual displays at the three largest public in our area. Fortunately some of the librarians were very resourceful and able to contribute very good ideas.
It is also a pity that we did not get to see a member of the official inspectorate as we felt that we had a very good setup. As luck would have it an official photographer did turn up on one of the days when rain had forced us indoors. Our indoor display was not nearly as impressive as the outdoor one and, of course, the photographer turned up when we had a very quiet period and only a trickle of visitors.
Our total number of visitors was well over the 4 000 and at the three Libraries we supplied material to, we reached another 12 000 to 15 000. The circulation figure of the newspapers we advertised in was over one and a half million, so the exposure for National Science Week this year, was quite substantial. The NRF/SAASTA should be well satisfied with the number of people reached for the money they spent.
We can only hope that we have very good weather again next year and a smoother, less stressful run-up to the event.
National Science Week in 2015 took place from the 01st to the 08th of August. After 2014’s hectic outing we opted for what we hoped would be an easier event this year. We approached the Iziko South African Museum to find out if they would allow us to set up every day in the amphitheatre in front of the Museum. Theo Ferreira and Elsabe Uys were very helpful in arranging all the logistics of the event and without their able and willing assistance I doubt if everything would have run quite as smoothly as it did.
In the run-up to National Science Week there was the usual rush to fix last minute glitches and, of course, our house looked decidedly scruffy with all the piles of posters and handouts.
On Saturday 01st left home early, so as not to be caught in the traffic. We had roped Jaco Wiese in to help out as an extra pair of hands because we expected a fair number of people. Alan and Rose Cassels were also on site as Alan had to man the table with his absolutely superb model of the Southern African large Telescope (SALT). As part of our program the Iziko planetarium agreed to administer a competition for us. After each planetarium show the name of an entrant in the competition was drawn and the first person drawn that had answered the question correctly received a prize from us. The weather was superb for outdoor activities like ours and drew many Capetonians to the Company Gardens, so we had a constant stream of visitors wanting to view the sun through our telescope, which was equipped with special filters to safeguard their eyes.
Sunday the 02nd was pretty much a repeat of the Saturday.
Unlike 2014 when we worked the crowds every day we took a break on the Monday and Tuesday but on Wednesday the 05th we were back at the Museum but, being a weekday we had to start much earlier to beat the traffic. It was also a tough day because neither Jaco nor Alan and Rose were available so Auke, Lynnette and I had to really know our stuff to cope with everything and we were very glad when closing time rolled around. The trip home was not a picnic either, because we were right in the thick of the dreaded 5 o’clock traffic.
We had planned it so that we would have Thursday free but on Friday 07th we were back on site after a very early start from home. Mercifully Alan and Rose had put in leave so they were also there to assist. The day was very successful with a particularly large number of schools showing up. Going home was a bit of a nightmare because, not only was it Friday, it was also the start of a long weekend. We had a long drive home.
On Saturday 08th we could leave home a bit later and the traffic was definitely easier. The day was surprisingly busy, considering the fact that many people had probably gone away for the long weekend, so we were very glad to have Alan and Rose on site again. For the first time that week the weather played up and we had bigger and bigger patches of cloud to contend with as well as an appreciable drop in temperature and a brisk breeze.
All round it was a very successful National Science Week. We were well over our target figures and it was definitely less stressful then a road trip and the idea of having days off in between was a brilliant one. Having Jac and especially Alan and Rose on hand was also a huge help. Next year we plan to hit the Museum again but for eight consecutive days. Okay, so we are suckers for punishment!
Over and above our activities at the Iziko South African Museum we advertised in a number of newspapers, I spoke on one of the local radio stations and we had two static exhibitions at the Bellville and Brackenfell Public Libraries. Our media coverage reached a staggering 518 223 during National Science Week and at the Museum we had direct contact with another 16 430 people. So Star People brought National Science Week to the attention of more than half a million people that week; not bad at all!
For Auke, Lynnette and I there remained the site report to be written and submitted as well as the dreaded financial report. As usual the financial report gobbled up many, many hours of Lynnette’s time, but eventually that was done and dusted too and the 195 page document was in the courier’s hands and off to SAASTA in Pretoria.
Mad Dogs and Amateur Astronomers go out in the midday sun (apologies to Noël Coward)
Astronomy outreach during the daytime and in summer is not for the fainthearted or those who forget to apply their sunblock as Star People, being Auke, Lynnette and myself were about to discover at the Root44 Market, on the Audacia Wine Estate on Saturday the 17th, Sunday the 18th and Saturday the 24th of January. On the first Saturday we were very ably supported by Wendy Vermeulen and Brett du Preez who’s innovative solar telescope was also pressed into service. Permission to be there was negotiated by Auke with Surea and Megan and on the individual days JJ and Jason were available for all manner of practical assistance. The wine estate is situated on the R44 between Stellenbsch and Somerset West right next to the equally well known Mooiberge farm stall and strawberry farm with its huge collection of imaginative scarecrows.
The Root44 Market is the venue for the Root44 parkrun every Saturday morning when hundreds of serious and also not so serious runners and walkers descend on the venue to participate in the weekly, timed excursion through the vineyards. Some progress at the highest speed they can manage while others are merely intent on finishing the 5 km and soaking up the beauty of their surroundings. However, it is also the venue of choice for hundreds of folk who want to spend a Saturday or Sunday with good food and wine, relaxing music and the convivial company of good friends in the sort of tranquil surroundings which only the Winelands of the Western Cape can offer.
We were there to generate an interest in Astronomy and especially in space related activities and research. To do this we employed a wide selection of informative posters, and Lorenzo, the 10-inch Dobsonian, equipped with the appropriate Solar filter to show guests the Sun and the rather meager harvest of sunspots. On the second Saturday we even managed to show people the rather pale pre-first quarter moon. We talked to lots of interesting people and also met many astronomically enthusiastic persons as well.
One gentleman turned out to be the estate manager for the Earl of Rosse’s estate in Ireland where Birr castle is situated and where William Parsons, the 3rd Earl of Rosse, built his gigantic Newtonian telescope between 1842 and 1845. Called the Leviathan of Parsonstown it had a 1,8 m speculum mirror with a focal length of 16 m. In 1994 a retired structural engineer and amateur astronomer Michael Tubridy was asked to resurrect the Leviathan of Parsonstown. The original plans had disappeared so intense detective work was called for to achieve his goal. Reconstruction lasted from early 1996 to early 1997 and a new aluminium mirror was installed in 1999.
Our poster display was quite impressive and most visitors found it very informative as well. In fact many of the interesting discussions originated around one or more of these posters. Some visitors started a discussion at one poster and then continued on to a second and third poster, eventually departing after more than an hour of questions and answers; heavy stuff!
However, the Sun took its toll and by closing time on the second Saturday we were done, well done. It did not take a long discussion to decide that we were just not up to another day in the Sun. Auke made the appropriate apologies to Surea and Megan and we spent the Sunday recuperating. All things being equal it is much easier to battle the mozzies and their biting cronies at night than to take on the Sun for seven hours or more.
Yes, I know that is not exactly what the Seven Dwarfs sang in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and neither did we really sing either, but that is more or less what it amounted to as Auke, Lynnette and I set off for the Helderberg Nature Reserve in Somerset West. Auke had arranged with Claudia Shuster and Andreas Groenewald that the three of us would come along and give the Eco Rangers and their parents an opportunity to look at the Moon through a telescope. We brought our two Dobbies, Lorenzo and Maphefo and the Eco Rangers would supply a third Dobby. This whole outing was to have been part of the National Space Week project which SAASTA seems to have allowed to fizzle out.
Claudia was at the gate of the Reserve to meet us and, after parking the Vito, Andreas and others were on hand to help us get the telescopes to the viewing site. The chosen site was a bit unusual as it was situated on the boardwalk at the Northern edge of the dam adjacent to the restaurant in the Reserve. There might be some discussion as to whether this is the “greenest” site we’ve ever observed from but it was definitely the wobbliest. Anyone not treading very lightly on the boardwalk, promptly set the moon yo-yo-ing wildly in and out of the field of view.
After setting up the telescopes we went back to the Vito for the picnic supper Lynnette had packed for us and Andreas explained that he would first take the Eco Rangers on a short moonlight walk through the reserve after which they would arrive at the telescopes in small groups. The three of us finished supper and made our way back to the telescopes in the gathering dusk to await the rising of the moon over the Hottentots Holland Mountains and the Eco Rangers. In the meantime we were entertained by an at times cacophonous chorus of frog and bird calls. Go’here to listen to a recording I made on the cell phone
When the Eco Rangers and the accompanying adults pitched up it was not in the planned small groups at all. Instead, we were inundated by waves of eager moon-gazers from both directions on the boardwalk. Most moved quite sedately but, as is usual with children, there were groups that insisted on running resulting in an extreme case of telescope shakes. At one stage the 1957 Elvis Presler hit “I’m All Shook Up” on Capitol Records did cross my mind as an accurate title for this outing. Eventually the flood dwindled to a stream and finally to a trickle and when the last few drips and drabs had passed we started to pack up.
I carried Lorenzo back to the Vito and installed him firmly in place and then went back for the rocker box only to discover that I had lost the keys to the Vito.
First I double checked all my pockets then checked the Vito, which I had fortunately not locked, but they were gone. Everyone pitched in combing the boardwalk and the vegetation on either side with torches. Eventually we realized that it was very unlikely that we were going to find them so Lynnette phoned her sister Petro who got the spare keys from our house and she and her fiancé drove through to Auke’s place with them. Claudia went home to get some well-earned rest and Andreas took Auke home so that he could bring us the keys when they arrived, courtesy of Petro. In the meantime Lynnette and I spent some quiet time in the moonlight under the watchful eye of the Mother Goose weather vane.
When Auke arrived we could eventually start the long overdue journey home. The next day Auke kindly agreed to accompany us back to the Reserve to search for the keys in broad daylight. The search was, however, fruitless.
Lynnette, Snorre and I got off to a later than planned start and only arrived at Auke’s place at 07:30. We were on the R44 heading for Stellenbosch by just after 08:00 and made good time on the N1, through the Huguenot Tunnel, and past Worcester before stopping off at the Veldskoen Farm Stall for a toasted cheese and tomato sandwich and coffee and some last minute planning.
In Touws River we reported to Adelaide at the reception desk of the Loganda Karoo Lodge and after being assigned our rooms and unloading gear we would not need we headed for the sports grounds where the Makadas Country Festival was to take place. Once there we quickly located Karin one of the three kingpins around whom most of the organization for the Festival had revolved; the other two being Deon Steyl and Willie Marais. She pointed out the site we had been allocated and we started to set up the gazebo, banners, and telescopes.
Here is some background to this Country Festival’s rather unusual name for the unenlightened reader. The railway line from Cape Town to Johannesburg traverses relatively flat terrain as far as Worcester and then begins to gain altitude. Initially relatively slowly until it passes De Doorns and then there is a long climb up through the tunnels to the top of the Hex Pass. In the days when trains were pulled by steam engines a long climb like that required lots of steam and to produce that used a lot of water. Touws River originally came into being as a station where the steam locomotives could replenish their water supply before the long haul through the Karoo to Beaufort-West. So the town was in every sense a railway town and even administered by the South African Railways up to a point in the 1950’s. The electrification of the railways and the introduction of diesel-electric locomotives brought the steam era to a close and also reduced the importance of Touws River for the South African Railways and they began a process of staff reduction.
Apart from the main line a rural line also operated from Touws River to Ladismith. This line was opened in 1925 and was, in many ways a lifeline for the farming communities along the route; it delivered and collected letters and packages; took cans of milk to the dairy in Ladismith and returned the empty cans; conveyed farm produce and farming equipment and, of course, transported people. There are many tales of the train stopping, on request, in the middle of nowhere to drop of a passenger or goods of some sort and also of people flagging down the train because they had to go to either Ladismith or Touws River. These slow trains were also known in Afrikaans as “Melktreine” or “Milk Trains” because they quite literally stopped everywhere along the route to pick up cans of milk.
This train became known locally as the Makadas. Obviously, this was not a line that was ever going to be electrified and neither was it a line generating a large profit for the Railways so eventual closure was probably unavoidable. Then Mother Nature provided the Railways with a perfectly watertight reason for closing the line; the great flood of January 1981. This flood decimated Laingsburg, Montagu and large sections of the Karoo on either side of the Buffels, Touws and Groot Rivers washing away farms, entire orchards and also about 50 km of the approximately 144 km railway line between Touws River and Ladismith. Despite protestations and numerous appeals by many people and organizations, the Makadas line went to a watery grave never to be resurrected. There are several versions about the origin of the name and none of them are really verifiable so I will give them all here.
The locomotives that exclusively worked the line from 1925 to 1968 were Class 7 locomotives and they had a very distinctive sound which was totally different from their successors, the Class 24’s that made their appearance in 1968 and eventually took over completely in 1972. Makadas is, according to one source an onomatopoeic word representing the Class 7’s distinctive sound.
The second explanation of the name is linked to the fact that the train regularly carried loads of dry manure which was smelly and gave off a very fine dust. In the early years of its operation, the train crews were all English speaking and they apparently referred to it as the “Muck and dust” train because of this specific freight. Afrikaans speaking people are known for their tendency to mangle words from other languages until they sound vaguely Afrikaans so it would not have been difficult to convert “muck and dust” to Makadas.
The conductor of the Makadas used to walk up and down the platform urging slow-moving passengers along by shouting “Make a dash” and this too would have been easy for the Afrikaans ear to convert to Makadas. The “Make a dash” is also attributed to the fact that passengers waiting for the train would sit under trees, often situated some distance from where the train would stop and when the approaching train was heard or seen they would “Make a dash” for the siding, halt or station.
We put Lorenzo up and fitted its solar filter and we were soon in business showing interested parties the Sun and the sunspots. Later in the afternoon we also had the moon to show people and, as the Sunset we set Maphefo up too. Maphefo had not been set up for Solar viewing because I had forgotten the solar filter. By the time it should have been dark we realized that there was no way it was ever going to really be dark because of the floodlights around the sports grounds and the extra lighting that had been erected for the Festival. So we had the Moon, Saturn situated about 10 degrees away from a particularly bright spotlight, the Pointers, Mars, Antares, three of the stars in Crux and a few other objects. By 21:30 the stream of viewers had dwindled to a drop or two here and there so we packed up. Security at the site was excellent so we left all our banners, tables and chairs on site and headed for the Loganda to get some well-earned rest.
On Saturday morning we started the day by setting up Hans van der Merwe’s water rocket and what a hit that was. Everybody wanted to help refuel, fetch the rocket pull the “firing-string” and in general, get involved. Lorenzo did duty as a solar scope all day and by the time sunset approached all three of us were quite fed-up with showing the Sun. We were all three “medium-rare” after spending the whole day out in the Sun. We decided to pack away everything except the two telescopes so that we would not need to do so in the dark when it was time to go home. An important aspect of the Festival was how clean everything was. There were small teams of cleaners doing the rounds on a regular basis. They picked up every scrap of anything lying around and put it refuse bags they carried with them. The same applied to the toilets where a team come round on a regular basis and made sure nothing was blocked, thet the tanks were full and that there was enough paper. Ten out of ten for the organizers of the festival on these two counts.
After sunset, we had both Lorenzo and Maphefo set up to view the Moon and the few other objects visible under the heavily light polluted conditions. By 21:00 we had run out of viewers and decided to head for the Loganda, supper, and sleep. Snorre spent both days sleeping in his carry cage under the tables in the gazebo and only needed one or two excursions to the nearest sandy patch to relieve himself during the day. Our room in the Loganda had a wide windowsill and he spent two very frustrating mornings there watching the pigeons parade up and down on the outside windowsill, totally unperturbed by his whisker twitching presence on the other side of the glass.
After breakfast, we returned home to the usual grind of unpacking and packing away and wondering if it was really worth all the trouble. Despite all those doubts, we will do it all again.
National Science Week in 2014 took place from the 02nd to the 08th of August. Before that event could take place there was a lot to do. Lots of planning and discussions, lots of paperwork to be sorted, equipment to be hired, telephone calls to be made, e-mails to be sent and frayed nerves soothed because the money from SAASTA was not forthcoming. But eventually, all the loose ends came together and we could go and get the job done.
Sunday the 03rd of August
On Sunday the 03rd of August Lynnette, Petro, Snorre and I drove to Somerset West in the hired Quantum with a large trailer. National Science Week, 2014 had kicked of for us. Petro was going to house-sit Auke’s Aunt, will the rest of us did our National Science Week thing on the West Coast. After unloading Petro and her belongings we loaded Auke and his paraphernalia, said our goodbyes, and hit the road. We did not take the N7, as we wanted to avoid the road works between Citrusdal and Clanwilliam. We could have avoided them by taking the road along the northern bank of the Olifant’s River, but that road is unsurfaced and apparently quite bad in places, so we opted for the slightly longer West Coast route. This took us past Malmesbury, Hopefield, Langebaanweg, Saldanha, Velddrif, Laaiplek, Dwarskersbos, Elandsbaai, Leipoldtville and Graafwater. We reached our destination, Clanwilliam and the Long House Guest House, our base for the next six days.
Monday the 04th of August
On Monday the 04th of August it was cloudy and rainy but luckily we could set up in the hall of the Clanwilliam Senior Secondary School, courtesy of the principal, Mr Munnik. The program for the day was very well coordinated by one of the teachers, Mrs, Cornel de Waal. We had loads of learners from the host school and from the Sederberg Primary School right next door, where Mr Barends is the principal. Mr Nel, the principal at the Augsberg Agricultural Gymnasium, also arranged to have a large number of learners from his school visit us. Several of the educators from the various schools accompanied their learners. Snorre’s contribution was to undertake several parades around the school hall and spend time on the table amongst the hand-outs, having his head scratched by all and sundry. However, for most of the day he was quite happy snoozing in his carry-cage.
After the end of the normal school day we had a steady stream of learners who lived close to the school or in the school hostel, as well as members of the public visit us. Although we were on site until well after sunset, the weather never cleared up sufficiently to justify setting up a telescope. It actually started drizzling right on cue as we started loading our stuff back in the vehicle.
The team will always have fond memories of the Clanwilliam Senior Secondary’s hospitality. The lunch and other refreshments provided were life savers for the presenters.
Tuesday the 05th of August
On Tuesday the 05th of August we had an early breakfast and then set of in the rain and predawn darkness northward on the N7 to Klawer. This section of the N7 is also under reconstruction, or as SANRAL calls it, rehabilitation. We arrived at Klawer Primary School and the principal, Mr Esterhuise, showed us to the class where we could set up for the day. It rained on and off while we were unloading making it very difficult to keep things dry and not to tread mud into the classroom. The school kept a steady stream of learners coming all day and in most cases they were accompanied by their educators too. During the afternoon and early evening we had more learners, their parents and also other members of the public visit us. Snorre again made one or two appearances as “The Cat on the Table”. He also took a walk around the school grounds on his leash with Lynnette but spent most of the day in his carry-cage, which he seems to prefer when there is a lot of activity around him.
We set up a telescope late in the afternoon, when the weather looked as if it might clear, and actually managed to project the Moon for short periods before the rain sent us scurrying indoors and convinced us we should pack up and call it a day.
Negotiating the N7, which, as already mentioned, was in rehab, in the dark was not fun but we eventually made it back to Clanwilliam and the Long House where we unhitched the trailer and then had a well-earned supper before going to bed.
Wednesday the 06th of August
Wednesday the 06th of August started with a repeat performance of the previous day, as we again headed north up the N7, but this time past Klawer and on to Vredendal and the Vredendal Primary School. The only difference was that we started out so early that we had to skip breakfast, which was a major inconvenience. At the school the principal, Mr Moon, had arranged for us to use the school hall and also had extra hands lined up to help us unload. We had a very busy day with a constant stream of learners and educators from our host school as well as leaners from Vredendal High School, courtesy of the principal Mr Swanepoel, and also from Vredendal Senior Secondary School thanks to the principal, Mrs Henderson’s efforts. We also had a visit from the SAASTA representative, Me Lithakazi Lande, who had driven up from Cape Town the previous day. Unbeknown to either party she had spent the night at the Yellow Aloe Guest House which is right next door to the Long House. A major difference was that she started later than we did so she could have breakfast before tackling the N7. She, however, also complained about having had to negotiate the road works on the N7 between Citrusdal and Clanwilliam the previous day, justifying our use of the West Coast route. Lithakazi left before lunch as she had a long drive down to Vredenburg ahead of her and I gave her a detailed description of our route so that she could avoid the dreaded N7 between Clanwilliam and Citrusdal. . Unfortunately the partially overcast weather and especially the high level cirrus clouds made the projection of the Sun impractical. Snorre only made one or two forays out of his cage to eat, drink water and use his sandbox but, other than that, seemed disinclined to spend time outside the cage. Fortunately he was not registered with SAASTA as a presenter otherwise we would have had to deduct form his pay for non-performance.
During the afternoon we had a few visitors but we also had to share the hall with a dance group practicing their moves – very loudly!
That evening we had a good attendance of parents and other members of the public and we were also able to project the Moon as well as show a variety of other objects through the second telescope. After closing up we again had to run the gauntlet of the N7, its rehabilitation, the darkness and the seemingly never ending stream of heavy vehicles, before we could get to Clanwilliam, supper, a cold beer and a welcoming bed.
Thursday the 07th of August
Thursday the 07th of August was a much easier and shorter drive after breakfast to Graafwater, where we were to set up at Graafwater Primary School. Mr Pieters, the principal, was on hand to welcome us and organize the willing hands that helped us unload. That morning we saw many learners and educators from the host school as well as learners and educators from Graafwater High School, organized my Mr Koertse, the principal there. During the afternoon we were visited by numerous children from the nearby residential areas. Late in the afternoon we unfortunately had to call in the help of the principal as the children became difficult to control. There was an altercation involving sticks, stones, lots of shouting, climbing on the roof, running around and at least one knife. The problem was caused by two groups of older youths that arrived at the school and appeared to be competing for control of the younger children. Snorre seemed more amenable to sitting on the table in Graafwater, but quickly took refuge in his cage when the attention becomes too demanding.
Later in the afternoon Mr Pieters brought along his telescope, which was malfunctioning, and, much to his delight, we quickly set that right for him. It was more an operator malfunction than a telescope malfunction as he was using a 4mm eyepiece with a 3xBarlow and was totally mystified by the fact that he could not get anything into focus. After the telescope “repairs” we got busy with the evening’s proceedings. We projected the moon and could show a variety of other objects to a large group of people through the second telescope while Auke took people on visual expeditions through the night sky. After packing up, it was an easy drive back to Clanwilliam for all the usual rewards after a rather stressful day.
Friday the 08th August
Friday the 08th August saw us setting up on the premises of the Sandveld Winkel in Leipoldtville, courtesy of Mr Dirk Eygelaar and Mrs Marie Eygelaar. The site was a stone’s throw away from the Leipoldtville Primary School and the principal, Ms Hammers, had everything organized so that the educators could bring the learners to us in groups during the course of the day. We broke for a light lunch with the Eygelaars and during the afternoon many children from the nearby residential areas visited us. During the evening we had a good attendance by members of the public, who came to look at our moon projection and view other objects through the other telescope while Auke did his thing with the sky tours. Snorre had the day off, because he was able to spend the entire day stretched out on an easy chair in the Eygelaar’s home, far away from the attention of those eager little hands.
Unfortunately the clouds moved in early and put an end to our show. After supper with Mr and Mrs Eygelaar we set of to Clanwilliam and a very welcome night’s rest.
Saturday the 09th of August
On Saturday the 09th of August we set up in front of the Clanwilliam Tourism Office. This was going to be a long day of real sidewalk astronomy with lots of feet passing from the residential areas to the town’s shopping area and back again. Unfortunately a technical hitch prevented us from projecting the Sun but we were able to project the Moon, from shortly after moonrise in the late afternoon. A great deal of interest was shown in actually viewing the objects through the other telescope.
Sometimes things happen during outreach events that make one wonder about people’s motivations and the following is one such incident. One lady left in a huff after spending quite some time in the queue waiting for her turn to look through the telescope. When she got to the telescope, and before looking through the eyepiece, she asked where the food was. On being informed there was no food, she turned on her heel and marched off, announcing that if there was no food she also did not want to look through the telescope. Apparently some people do not see well on an empty stomach, so next year we will have to budget for soup and sandwiches – SAASTA please take note. Snorre again spent the whole day with us, but in a non-participative capacity snoozing in his cage under the table most of the time. He asked to be let out on one or two occasions for food water and also to use his sandbox, but showed no interest whatsoever in sitting on the table. I think the noise from the passing traffic was not to his liking.
A special word of thanks goes to Esther Steens and her staff at the Tourism Office. They stayed on several hours beyond their normal closing time, so that we could have electricity for the projection and to make their toilet facilities available.
Sunday the 10th August
On Sunday the 10th August we had a leisurely breakfast, said goodbye to René and her staff in the kitchen at the Long House, who had so willingly supplied the early eggs and bacon and especially the coffee every morning. After breakfast we packed up and headed down the West Coast back to Cape Town. Unfortunately the crayfish for lunch did not materialize but maybe next year we can fit that in. After exchanging Auke for Petro in Somerset West we drove back to Brackenfell, where Lynnette and I set about the onerous task of unpacking, putting everything away and returning the Quantum and trailer to the hiring company. Snorre was very glad to be back home and free of his leash and harness.
On Monday the 11th of August we started the huge administrative task of preparing the final report and the financial report. One of the difficult and often delicate tasks is to get the schools to complete and send us the final documentation required by SAASTA. Some just don’t send, others send but don’t complete, while others supply information that does not match what we already have about the visit and poor Lynnette has volunteered for the task of sorting all this out.
Will we do it again next year? Maybe but only time will tell.