As soon as I'd learnt to read, my parents gave me the Children’s Encyclopaedia, which was assumed to contain the sum of human knowledge, or at least those parts deemed suitable for children’s consumption and comprehension. For some reason I latched on to Astronomy. I found out all about the Solar System, planets, important stars and constellations. The last were especially intriguing, especially how they’d been named, by the Ancients. Line drawings attempted to show how a particular group of stars could be made to look like a Crab, a Water-carrier or a Virgin. I couldn’t see it, either in theory or practice. The diagrams seemed fanciful and contrived, and I don’t recall ever being taken out at night to see the real thing – my parents didn’t operate that way.
Last night, around midnight, I got back from a fairly liquid dinner party and wandered out into the garden. It was a clear, crisp, star-filled night of a sort we don’t often get here in the Thames Valley. I looked up, and there he was – Orion! His arms and legs were akimbo, as if he was dancing. His famous shining belt was pulled tight round his tiny waist, and his widely spaced eyes sparkled with mischief. He looked like a leprechaun, hence presumably his name … Next time I see him I’m going to ask him if he’s really Irish.
One day I’m going to live someplace where you can see the whole bright sky rather than the murky little patch I get here; then maybe I’ll be able to work out whether that's a plough or a big bear, or just the saucepan it looks like.