When I was on boarding school we were allowed out on one trip per weekend. Supervised, of course, but once that list went up in the common room, you’d rush to put your name down. There are only 15 seats in a school mini bus after all and you didn’t want to be one of the few left behind – unless the trip was boring.
One such day I rushed to put my name down on the outing list only to realise, days later, that was for the Observatory. Yes, the observatory that the suburb is named after yet no one visits. Great. Basically a school trip away from school.
Saturday arrived and we went off to the Observatory. Down the Liesbeek Parkway into the dark corners of the River Club road, skimming the ground of Valkenberg and entering the dark, frog croaky venue. Knowing that the official Cape Town nut house was hundreds of meters away was very creepy but not because of the genuinely mentally challenged, because of the ones who pretended they were – the criminals.
I remember sitting cross legged and feeling like the lecture had gone on a little too long for what it should when eventually we were escorted across the cool, crispy lawn to the giant telescope. It was here that I looked at the bright, beaming moon in great details. Every crevice, hill and dip in the surface was shining on my retinas through the giant lens. I never forgot it.
For many years I’ve wanted to return to the Observatory (no, no serial killers broke out and got us). I recently followed the SAAO on Twitter (South African Astronomical Observatory) and have been popping onto their website from time to time to check if there were any events – which they were! On the weekend of the super moon (last weekend) the Observatory had an open day. Mr Love and I made our way down the same dark road, across the river, around the bend, past the spooky house, to the Observatory.
We listened to a lecture by a Dr. Daniel Cunnama (UWC) who taught us about Women in Astrology throughout history. His information was very interesting but that perhaps we had taken the wrong entrance and landed in Valkenberg because there were some nutty audience members. 10 minutes in, a Rasta left with his 5 kids in tow. There was a women at the back with a whimpering dog which let out a bark every now and again. It seemed some fellow was having his birthday party at the lecture as people kept arriving and greeting him (although he had arrived late too), a father sat talking (not whispering) to his children who were playing games on their mobiles – it was really odd. While I was glad to see it so well attended, perhaps tv should consider doing a show on how to behave in the theatre or in lecturers because, my days, these people did not behave well.
None the less, we tried our best to ignore them and learn something about the history lesson which was, in fact, interesting on both an astronomical level (what women discovered what) as well as on the sociological level (their roles, who was acknowledged, who wasn’t, etc). After the lecture we popped over to the museum and took a look at some of the interesting objects on display.
We were then taken into the room with the giant telescope, the floor was elevated and raised us closer so we could look through. Only to realise that the window wasn’t even open and the man who usually hosts the viewing was out of town! What a let down! I was really swept away and looking forward to taking a look at the moon again. Woaw woawwww!
Once outside again, we did have some very helpful astrologist type hosts who had set up smaller telescopes on the lawn outside. I peered inside and saw a cluster of stars. I pulled my head away to try and see what I was looking at when Mr Love said, ‘No doh doh! Those starts are in the next galaxy!” Oops – my bad. I didn’t realise we could even see that far. The next telescope had become unaligned (as the firmament is moving) so the steward set it on Saturn. I was able to see a tiny, white shining shape surrounded by rings, far, far away. It was magical.
I’d highly recommend spending an evening at the SAAO in Observatory. The lectures are only about an hour and considering we sit through Ancient Aliens once a week, it won’t kill you to listen to the information of a local lecturer. Although they don’t deliver their information like Robin Williams would, the content is interesting and you are able to ask questions. Visit the Observatory on a date night or with friends, it’s well worth the trip.