The Extreme Sport of Meteor Spotting
That’s right. Extreme.
Thursday night was the peak of the Perseids meteor shower. Amazingly our dismal August weather cleared up at just the right time to get a spectacular show. We started out in the back garden, but found that the light pollution was far too intense to see any but the brightest meteors. So we decided to relocate to Temple Newsham Park which happens to be just up the road from our house.
For those not familiar with Temple Newsham, it really is one of Leeds’ crown jewels. The house itself is rather dour and imposing, but the grounds are acres of spectacular cultivated and natural beauty. The perfect spot for a night of stargazing then. Except we didn’t stop to think about how much it would appeal to drug dealers, noisy drunk teens with exceedingly poor taste in music and cars, and unmarked transit van drivers. Amazingly the presence of two police cars doing a slow sweep of the park didn’t put the shady elements off their pursuits either.
We found what we thought was a quiet, secluded and suitably dark spot for our meteor spotting, spread our blanket out and got down to the business of gazing at the sky. Within two minutes a low slung VW Golf GTI with tinted windows, a stereo complete with sub-woofer large enough to cause an earthquake and what seemed like about 20 chavs on board came tearing into the gravel parking lot. We all know that gravel parking lots have very specific rules in terms of driving conduct: a minimum speed of 50 mph, creating a dust cloud similar in size and shape to a mushroom cloud, screeching and screaming loud enough to be heard over the car stereo, and of course the obligatory hand brake turns designed to leave those aesthetically pleasing doughnut marks for marking one’s territory.
How wonderful it is to be surrounded by nature, to be immersed in the sounds of nature: the gentle breeze rustling in the trees of the nearby woods, owls softly hooting in harmony, a hedgehog scuttling through the bushes in search of food and of course, the mating call of the Halton Estate teenager: “Kell you sket come get some gear innit”, “safe bruv”, all to the dulcet tones of Ice Cube and The Dogg Pound.
The arrival of another similar brigade made us seriously consider calling it quits and retreating to our small back garden, but fortunately the chavs seemed to have another pressing appointment and left en mass. All seemed quiet, but we decided to move close to the car where we could make a quick getaway if necessary. The next arrival was a large white transit van with single occupant, blinding us with his high beams. He chose a spot at the far end of the parking lot where he turned off his engine and thankfully his headlights. We assumed that he was not there for the same reason we were, but whatever his purpose we were clearly of no interest to him. Fine then.
A clapped out M-reg BMW was next to pull up, making its way directly to the van. Two doors slammed, muffled voices were heard and apparently the transaction was complete. No doubt a perfectly innocent and above-board exchange of goods for cash. Both cars left and we were alone once more with the odd strains of chav activity from the far side of the park.
We had just begun to settle down, having enjoyed some spectacular shooting stars when we found ourselves blinded once again by the headlights of a very slow moving vehicle heading in our direction. Like a pair of frightened rabbits we decided by means of telepathy that it was time to go. Unceremoniously dumping the blanket on the back seat of the car and scuttling to the front doors, a very sedate and civic voice from the now stationary car said “Everything all right here?” My eyes hadn’t adjusted to the suddenly bright light yet, but I was pretty sure from the tone of his voice that this was a police car, not some shady merchant or axe murderer. Having already made ourselves look extraordinarily suspicious, I heard an incredibly shrill voice come from my mouth saying something along the lines of “Absolutely! All fine here – thanks, guys!” Great. So having been literally the only people to arrive at Temple Newsham with non-lawbreaking intentions we made ourselves look like two of the most suspicious.
It did turn out to be the most prolific meteor shower either of us has ever seen, even with the relative light pollution that is impossible to get away from unless one is deep in the countryside. I wonder if the police made a note of our number plate?