Oscar Wilde once said, ‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.’ Port Glasgow’s outstandingly beautiful library is as far from a gutter as imaginable, but an exhibition currently being hosted there suggests that more than just a few Inverclyders enjoy – and benefit from – turning their eyes to the skies above.
The exhibition, entitled Space & Time, has been created by Inverclyde Skywatchers, and showcases many of the topics investigated by the group during the last eighteen months. A wide range of space-related subjects are covered, from the history of astronomy, with the early attempts of ancient South American and classical civilizations to interpret the cosmos, through to more modern technological developments and discoveries, such as the Apollo 8 moon orbit, and finally to contemporary (and very local) opportunities to study the universe at such places as Paisley’s Coats Observatory and Galloway Forest Park, the UK’s only Dark Sky Park, where light pollution is controlled specifically to allow a clearer vision of the wonders of the night sky.
Inverclyde Skywatchers meet each Monday at Greenock’s South West Library, from 3–5pm. The group was started in April 2015 after Marion McNeill and Margaret Lees, both of Gourock, and a number of other local residents were inspired by astrology classes given by Iain McEachran. All had an existing interest in astrology and wished to pursue this on a more regular and long-running basis. I particularly like the fact that Marion’s interest in astrology began as a child with the songs her German mother sang of the stars. A varied programme of talks, meetings and trips is now offered by the group.
I have to confess that, initially, I approached the exhibition wondering quite what its link to the aims and themes of SMHAFF would be. Indeed, little is made of any such link anywhere in the exhibition. However, as I admired and took in the imagery and information on the display boards, I grew increasingly intrigued and beguiled by the group’s extensive knowledge of their subject. In fact, it drew me in and distracted me from the hustle and bustle of traffic and ‘real life’ beyond the library walls, transporting me elsewhere – above, to a realm far greater than that of Port Glasgow, or even our world: the realm of an eternal and, as yet, unfathomable universe.
This I found both awe-inspiring and relaxing, and it occurred to me that to find the time to gaze up at the night skies – or even just to read about them, or visit an exhibition such as this – is always a deeply worthwhile and therapeutic activity, leading one to any number of philosophical or spiritual thoughts. Ultimately, we all of us suffer days when we feel we are, figuratively, in the gutter, but to look at the stars can often stimulate us to rise above our down-to-earth gloom.
Public interest in Tim Peake’s recent travels aboard the International Space Station testify to the public’s enduring fascination with the night skies and the nature of the greater universe beyond. Inverclyde Skywatchers are providing an excellent local arena in which this fascination can be explored and expanded upon.
by Mark Jones
Space & Time runs until Friday 28 October at Port Glasgow Library and entry is free. Opening times: Mon & Thu 12-7pm, Tue & Fri 10am-5pm, Wed & Sat 10am-1pm. Click here for full details.