CONFESSION IS GOOD FOR the soul, don't you think? Well, so I'm told. I'm prepared to have a go at it anyway. I've chosen you to hear my sins, but first I need cold air to clear my mind. With luck there'll be something left once the chaff and dust have blown away. Twelve months of doctors and pills have left my head spinning, so although this is my retirement party I've decided to escape a bit early. Our host won't be offended. He knows that I grew up in this neighbourhood, and I warned him that I'd be taking a long wander for old time's sake, so we're clear to go. I think better talking out loud, and having someone with me should keep the locals from thinking the worst.
Perfect evening for it. There's nothing like a winter walk after dark. You have the paths to yourself, and when the air's still and the snow's crisp there's a transformation. Don't you find that the harsh lighting gives the buildings an artificial look, as if they're sets on a giant indoor stage? You can hear the crunch of snow echoing off their walls. You never hear that in the daytime. Only at night. Only in the winter. Look at those windows over there. The inmates haven't drawn the curtains yet, so we're privileged to get a glimpse into the lives of the common five-eighths. Out here it's pale light, white snow and black sky, but on the other side of those windows are warm worlds of amber, red and gold.
Just as well that there's no wind. I didn't realize that it had gotten this nippy, and trust me, "nippy" won't be the word if the wind starts to pick up. I have…where are they… ah, here. Yes, I carry two pairs of gloves with me. I prefer the light pair, but when the need arises I put these on over top. I have an extra hat as well, but this hairy Russian import seems to be doing the trick, so I won't cheapen it by sticking a nylon toque underneath. What's a toque? Honestly, you foreigners. A stocking-cap if you must. Don't they quiz you on these things before they hand out visas? Anyway, my point is that if you're going to survive in a country like this you can't wander about in a coat like the one you're wearing now. You have to dress for the weather. Never mind what the calendar says. If it's mid-July but the thermometer's plunging, haul out the parka and the Sorels. Might as well be comfortable. I wouldn't describe either of us as trendy.
How are you settling in at work? It's good to have you on board; we've been short of lecturers these last couple of years, and at seventy-six it's time for me to sever the last link. I've been retiring from my duties a bit at a time, but I couldn't bring myself to surrender completely until now. Still, in this business you don't get to just walk out. I still have to tidy up forty years of research, but that doesn't cut it with the dean. She's on the hunt for office space, so despite the "down-sizing" that I've already been subjected to I'm being threatened with having to share that closet of an office that I've been shoved into. For a while it looked like I might end up sharing with you. An astronomer having to share an office with an engineer? Oh, how the mighty have fallen. No offence.
What do you make of our young lady dean? Yes, compared to what came before she's easy on the eyes, and she's competent too. That I'll admit, but I warn you, no sense of humour. She may look the part of a Greek goddess, but unless the Greeks worshipped ice water the comparison stops there. What? Not your impression? Hmm, could it be that my charm is fading? No, I'll just put it down to you being a few decades closer to her age. Anyway, she's taken. The husband's a big name in the investment world. Makes ten times what I do. I don't complain. When I chose to be an astronomer I knew that there wouldn't be money in it. There are compensations. How many other people look forward to going to work on Monday morning? I suppose you engineering types feel the same way about your gadgets, but I still think it's magic to be paid to study galaxies.