There comes a time when the balance of the generations shifts. From our parents taking care of us, we begin to care for them.
My father has developed severe arthritis in both his knees, and can walk only with great difficulty, and great pain, across the floor of my parents’ house, and then only with the aid of a walking frame.
Living across the country, in London, I am limited in what I can do to help. I am extremely grateful to my mother and sister, who also lives at home, for providing active care for my dad. Nevertheless, recently, I took a car trip northwards to visit them. To break the long journey, I stopped off at Jodrell Bank, home of the world-famous radio telescope.
I had visited it as a child, with a school party, and wondered how I would react today, fifty years on. Predictably, I encountered another school party, on their own journey of scientific discovery.
Today, there are hands-on exhibits, for them to play with, and gain at least a basic understanding of gravity, black holes, and the big bang – through rolling balls, spring wheels and video presentations.
The telescope itself was huge, impressive, towering above the onlookers. A dish aimed at the stars, receiving signals from light-years away, tracking creation’s afterglow in the background radiation.
Without the maths, however, contemporary physics is beyond the intellect of even the educated lay-person, outside of reading simplified summaries in the pages of New Scientist or Scientific American. There is little to look at here in Jodrell Bank. Gazing upwards, at the white parabolic dish, I was reminded of much contemporary conceptual art.
Here, objects express ideas, though their meaning is not always immediately apparent. Requiring gallery audio-guides to explain their significance, it is still the viewer who supplies the interpretation.
So too, at Jodrell Bank, the visitor is dependent on helpful explanatory information boards, trying to think great thoughts while gazing at this massive art installation set in Cheshire’s rolling countryside.
The visitor is required to step back and think on what he or she is seeing, and imagine the abstractions of “science”.
But the steel girders, rivets, and rail tracks, also reminded me that I am like a tourist visiting Roman ruins.
With display photographs of Sir Bernard Lovell building the telescope in 1945, it is apparent this is a historical relic, of bygone glory days, when Britain led the world in science and technology.
These days, the leading radio telescope is in Chile’s Atacama Desert. Soon it will be overtaken by the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope being built in South Africa.
Jodrell Bank does still perform valuable experiments. But increasingly it fills the role of an educational aid for school children.
It also, however, falls into the category of “monument” – a testament to humanity’s search for knowledge and wisdom.
In this respect, as I continue my car journey, it reminds me of my father – also a monument, a sign, of dignity and love.
(Photos: Wikimedia Comons)