Our star, our sun, our salt, our Lymington, and more!
Mark and Hugh's local history column this week features the life which once sustained Lymington and continues with contemplation of some marvellous magnitudes!
Our star, provider of all life on Earth.
At the moment I am living in a camper van in a field on a hill with no electricity; just a solar panel on the roof and a diesel heater which is driven by the leisure battery. As you will be painfully aware, the last three weeks have been rather dreary with never ending grey skies containing seemingly limitless supplies of rain. I am volunteering at a campsite where we are building a sort of outdoor kitchen in a rustic style. This means that your scribbler cum carpenter finds himself tramping up and down in the mud and becoming wetter and wetter. Each return to the camper means a careful removal of clay caked boots which are stowed beneath, well away from the invasive droplets of rain that seem to infiltrate every crevice. Muddy trouser legs smear clay here and there. Sopping wet coats and hats contribute to the damp and cold atmosphere as they hang from their hooks dripping mournfully. It has been a dull time to say the least, so dull that I look forward to the next party-political broadcast.
Then, without warning, there appears a burning globe high in the now blue sky. The ground begins to dry. The battery begins to recharge. Damp bedding laid out on picnic chairs steams as it dries. Fogged up camper van windows once streaming with condensation are now dry and crystal clear. I relish the heat as, for a moment, I choose to do nothing and simply take a seat facing the sun and drink in the life-giving warmth. It’s no wonder that people used to worship it.
Toss a little over your shoulder? Salt, the product that enrichened both the dinner plate and Lymington.
As you can see from above, you need heat to evaporate water. Our south coast is a good place for this as we tend to have plenty of sunshine and low humidity. If you tried to make salt in Seathwaite, the wettest place in England, your dinner might be rather cold before you enjoyed the sharp taste of salt on your roast beef. However, making salt in Lymington became a huge industry. At one time there were many salt pans along the coastline. The process was simplicity itself; evaporation. Sea water was let into small shallow clay lined pans dug into the marsh. Once the sun had done its part of the work the now salty liquid was drawn off into metal boiling pans where heat from burning coal completed the process. The salt making industry of Lymington became a huge employer which, at its peak, burned as much coal as the whole of London. The salt made in our area was world renowned, much of it going to Europe. Unfortunately for the hard-working employees in our locality, politicians in London were once again playing with their little sets of tin soldiers. In 1805 the tax on salt was raised yet again in order to help pay for the war with France. The industry suffered enormously and by 1866 the game was up. The government had killed the goose that laid the golden egg.
A big bang? Where did our sun come from?
From time to time I feel that we all look to the heavens and wonder what the heck we are doing here, where we’re going and how it all started. Clever men postulate ideas that are so far beyond our understanding that they might as well try to explain sobriety to Dean Martin. They say there was a big bang. A big bang where? Over there, behind the moon perhaps? A bang made up of what, which came from where? Then we make the fatal mistake of reading books on the topic of astronomy. The distances are as mind boggling as the number of stars. The whole thing is simply impossible to contemplate. For me, just one light year is a concept beyond my imagination yet these people talk of many light years. There is so much we have yet to discover and understand completely, such as gravity for instance. So, with your permission I will concentrate on what we are certain of and what the average person can reasonably be expected to understand. Without the risk of a complete and utter mental breakdown.
Hydrogen, lively stuff.
As you may know I used to work at an oil refinery and as a consequence became intimately aware of the propensity of hydrocarbon vapours to combine with oxygen and burn. Normally this is politely referred to as an explosion. In a refinery we got to great ends to separate hydrocarbons and air. Both hydrocarbons and air are needed for the burners fitted to your gas oven. The flame you cook with is essentially a controlled explosion. The two most dangerous gases that I know of are hydrogen and acetylene. Our sun is mostly made up of hydrogen and it converts enormous quantities of it to helium, giving up energy in the form of heat and light in the process. On Earth we are said to live in the ‘Goldilocks Zone’. That is to say, like the porridge, not too hot and not too cold. We are just the right distance from our life-giving sun in order that life can be sustained. To give you some idea of scale using means that your rather thick scribbler can understand we need two things, a football and a pepper corn. Then find a willing volunteer and a cricket pitch. If one of you stands at one end with the football and the other stands at the opposite end with the pepper corn, there you have a rough idea of scale. As for the temperature? Try fifteen million degrees Celsius. The hottest fired heater I ever worked on had a firebox temperature of a piffling 1020 degrees. Let me tell you that special glasses were a must in order to inspect this heater. It was hot. Hotter than a flip-flop on mid-summer Bournemouth sands. Remember those days?
Is there anybody out there?
As you look dreamily into the sky do you ever wonder if there is life on other planets? For the answer to this question we need to turn to the amazing astronomer Sir Patrick Moore. He presented The Sky At Night for many years and is famous for missing only one episode which was due to eating a dodgy duck egg. In fact, he almost died. Most of our generation would simply describe him as having a good work ethic. To today’s youngsters he would be considered a ‘legend’. He also took the lead on commentary during the Apollo missions and I can still remember, as a small boy, being entranced by the drama of the first moon landing. You will struggle to find a more knowledgeable or forthright astronomer. When asked if there was likely to be other life out there in space, his view was unequivocal; there had to be. His argument was that there were simply so many stars which in turn were surrounded by so many planets that the odds were firmly in favour. Again, if you turn to books on astronomy you will almost certainly be astounded by the sheer number of constellations and galaxies. There’s a lot out there and brother, it’s all a long way away!
The joy of morning.
If you’re ever feeling down then set the alarm clock early. In order to set the correct time, you will need to use the internet to find the time of sunrise for that day. The sky needs to be cloudless and will be bright long before the quoted time. Get yourself to a place where you can look in the right direction. At the equinox this will be due east, the land of the rising sun. In winter, closer to south east, in summer, north east. As you wait, checking the time, you will see that the day has truly begun. The temperature is slowly rising and the dew beginning to evaporate. But still there is no sun, no glowing orb. You check the time again and see that there is now just a minute to go. As you stare at the horizon you slowly see the appearance of a tiny golden lentil. Our massive star of boiling hydrogen revives all after a chilly night and the miracle of life continues.
More tales and cartoons for Lymington and the New Forest from Mark and Hugh
If you'd like to read previous articles on diverse subjects written by Mark and illustrated by Hugh's cartoons here they are, click the links embedded in the titles:
To Lymington or Cuba
The Auld Mug
Seeds of success
Moonlit meeting with cetaceans
Trees and what they tell us
Cartography and trig pillars
Pony drifts and pannage in the New Forest
A journey from the New Forest via Lymington
The brilliance - and persistence - of Marconi
Equality in the skies
Bees pollinators par excellence
Cordless home entertainment
The joy of sheds
When the Isle of Wight was just Wight
Pond Life in our Forests
Rufus Stone and Sir Walter Tyrrell
Graffiti through the ages
Freedom of the roads
Watch the birdie
Unstoppable momentum of nature
Socially distanced socialising
Calshot Spit, a curse for mariners...