Life without Pluto

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Astrolabe in the house – now a museum – of Leonardo da Vinci,  Amboise, France

On 24th August 2006 a group of scientists and astronomers got together in Prague and decided to demote the status of Pluto from planet to dwarf planet. Their decision came after a lengthy period of search for the definition of what a planet is.

Several years later I visited the Jodrell Bank Observatory with two children aged 8 and 10. The Observatory has a brand new visitor centre and I was looking forward to seeing how they had reconfigured the site and displayed the old brass observational sextants and other instruments, including the famous mechanical orrery with its planets orbiting the Sun. I was very disappointed. All of these had gone, along with the Planetarium which had offered interactive quizzes and visual high speed trips across the galaxy.

In their place were two very modern buildings with slick display boards, often accompanied by a video but not much else. Equipment and fun experiments in the hands-on area for children had been reduced and the two children I was with soon lost interest as there was little to engage them. In one area, empty apart from displays on the wall and a large modern orrery suspended from the ceiling, we searched out and named the planets. Pluto, long demoted, wasn’t there and I explained to the children why it wasn’t there, also telling them it had been discovered in 1930. The new visitor centre may be state of the art, presenting bang up to the minute modern science, but all sense of the history of discovery behind it had been erased.

This got me thinking about how life, for those heretical beings amongst us who dare to claim we are astrologers, would be without Pluto. OK, so Pluto has been around a relatively short time and its discovery and subsequent inclusion in astrological charts and interpretations is also relatively new. But its discovery, after lengthy research by Clyde Tombaugh, coincided with the start of an era of world war and disruption, brought to a halt by the dropping of the atomic bomb. Astrologically Pluto is often feared, or at least treated with due caution and respect as it can herald big changes and upheavals often leading to transformation. The Hubers, in their book The Planets, describe Pluto as one of the three transpersonal planets saying, “The stimulation of Pluto’s energy makes us experience an expansion of consciousness affecting all of our lives”. Would we want to be without this?

When using astrological psychology, especially with a client, it would become quite difficult to interpret a chart and give a consultation without including Pluto. Symbolically, Pluto offers opportunities in life for us to transform ourselves and our ways of thinking and move on. It can encourage us to go boldly go where we’ve not been before, sometimes plumbing our inner depths and spaces and demanding that we make ourselves anew.

As an astrological psychology consultant I know that real, deep, life-changing experiences or issues can be triggered by Pluto in the natal chart. I’ve been able to support people going through Plutonic changes as they travel through challenging times. But one thing is for sure, and that is that we’ll come to grief if we try to use Pluto’s energy to gain personal power and control over someone or something. But we can learn to use the energies of Pluto, a transpersonal planet, not for ourselves, but for those things which affect the collective, embracing change, transformation and the good clear out and spring clean that goes with it.

IMG_1621Reflecting on my disappointment that Jodrell Bank had changed and become more slick and glitzy, I can raise a smile at the thought of Pluto at work in this complete makeover. Gone is the old, the history and the links with the astronomical past. However, the best part of the visit was a guided walk around the enormous, and famous, Lovell Radio Telescope. Like following the stations of the cross in a church, we were taken to a series to display boards around the perimeter of the telescope. I learned more in the short talks at each than I ever have about  – yes – the history of this impressive piece of engineering, once the largest radio telescope in the world but now demoted to the third largest.

In the makeover, the baby wasn’t quite thrown out with the bathwater after all. I wonder – did Pluto get the last laugh here?

The Smallest House in Great Britain

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This tiny, quirky, bright red house is wedged into the walls of Conwy in North Wales. It’s been a tourist attraction for as long as I can remember and I went into it many years ago when my children were small. On this occasion, I was there with grandchildren who decided they didn’t want to go in (there was a queue) but went up to inspect it so they could see just how small it is.

I have vague recollections of how poky and gloomy it was inside the two small rooms – one up, one down. It was built in the 16th century. In 1900 it was occupied by a tenant, a 6ft. 3in, tall fisherman, who eventually had to move out ( perhaps he kept banging his head on the ceiling?!). It’s still owned by the same family and is open in the summer season as a tourist attraction.

There is always a lady in traditional Welsh costume on duty to take the entry fee and sell a small selection of souvenirs.

The Steepest Street in the World

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Recently on holiday in North Wales with visiting grandchildren, we took them to Harlech to explore the castle, perched high above the surrounding area. A very successful visit it was, and they enjoyed the ins and outs of this part-ruined but interesting and historic national monument.

After we’d seen the castle we found the recently announced steepest street in the world – Fford Pen Llech –  and walked first down, then back up up it. I can vouch for it’s gradient – my legs really felt the stretch walking back up and I couldn’t stand up straight. The grandchildren, they of the young legs and mobile knees, took it literally in their stride and once back up, went straight to the children’s play area by the castle for more activity.

I went for a sit down!

To the manor born

Hazelwood - I was born here!I was born in a castle – a real castle with lots of history steeped into its walls and surroundings, and a mention in the Domesday Book. The castle is Hazlewood Castle near Tadcaster in Yorkshire. It was owned by barons and dukes for 900 years, and in 1461 a battle in the Wars of the Roses took place on the adjacent moor. It has priest holes and underground passages, and its own chapel. It is now a rather classy country hotel but it retains most of its original features.

Between 1939 and 1953 the castle was requisitioned as a maternity hospital and my mum was booked in to Hazlewood for my birth in September 1945. She left heavily blitzed London for Yorkshire and going north must have felt like going to a foreign land for her; she was a Londoner through and through.

Her stories about the castle as a maternity home included a description of the large Norman Hall as the lying-in ward, where the expectant mums stayed. Babies were born in a separate, adjacent room where Queen Victoria is supposed to have once stayed. It has a huge stone fireplace with ornate chimney breast and is now used as the room where weddings take place.

 The Norman Hall used as the lying-in ward.      The impressive birthing room

During the time that Hazlewood was used as a maternity home, over 2,500 babies were born there. I’ve made a couple of nostalgic visits which brought my mum’s stories to life. Especially moving was to stand in that grand room where I was born.

My dad travelled from London to see me as a new-born. The bus dropped him off at the end of the castle drive and he walked for what seemed nearly a mile between huge rhododendron bushes. When he arrived, the matron told all the ladies in the ward to smarten themselves up as the King had come to visit. Then in walked my dad! It was a story that used to come out at family gatherings, as did the fact that there were not enough cots for all the babies, so a bed was made for me in a large drawer.

In the courtyard

D-Day: a personal 75th anniversary commemoration

I grew up with the photograph on the left in a frame on top of our piano. My mum told me it was my cousin Bertie, who was killed by a sniper along the Rhine, a month before WW2 ended. That’s pretty much all I knew for many years and I didn’t think much about it until I was contacted several years ago by a cousin, Bertie’s sister, who was asking for family stories as she was putting together a family tree.

I’d not seen her for years so I called her to pass on a few details for her project. We talked about the family, which for me was a treat because I’m an only child and very much the baby of the entire family; everyone was and is a lot older than me. I remembered Bertie’s photo and asked about him, and discovered the very dramatic true story of the experiences of this young man who I never knew. He was 23 when he was killed, and he is buried in Hanover War Cemetery.

Bertie was a member of “A” Company of the 8th Battalion of the Parachute Regiment ACC and he was parachuted into France as part of the D-Day operations on 6th June 1944. The weather was bad and the paras, dropping from the gliders which carried them, were blown off course from their target. Bertie, in a group of 40 paras, was found by 17 year old Gaston le Baron who was helping the resistance, and had gone into the marshes near the River Dives to search for the paras who he hoped would help liberate France. Continue reading