A FEW years ago I reviewed a book about clouds. Not a subject I would read a book about by choice, or liable to get a pulse racing, but part of the fun of all-is-grist-to-the-mill reviewing is the occasional sparking of a new interest.
The Cloudspotter’s Guide by Gavin Pretor-Pinney wasn’t one of those occasions. I don’t blame the author, passionate about his subject in a well-written book, but I still have trouble distinguishing my stratocumulus from my nimbostratus and my cumulonimbus from either.
Which might seem odd because I’ve always enjoyed sky-watching. I’ve just found life too short to master the technical terms – “cotton wool” “goats’ hair” and “looking black over there” seem quite enough – and have only a basic knowledge of astronomy.
Those lacks don’t detract from the pleasure of watching clouds move almost imperceptibly on a summer’s day while lying back for a few minutes after a mid-walk sandwich. Or watch them race before the wind or tower over open countryside or see for myself why New Zealand is the “land of the long white cloud”.
But I’ve never been tempted to join the Cloud Appreciation Society – now a membership of 22,000 in 83 countries and increasing – or to think that clouds look like anything more than clouds. No, that one doesn’t look like a polar bear in sunglasses, that one looks nothing like a whale or even a dolphin, and that one definitely is not Sherlock Holmes and a rowing team.
Cloud Appreciation Society members think differently and a selection of 85 photographs has been published, as Clouds That Look Like Things, to “prove” their point.
Mr Pretor-Pinney, who made the selection from more than 1,000 submitted by society members, said: “Lying staring up at the sky and looking at clouds is fun, and great way of relaxing.” Correct. With him, so far. He added: “In a way you need to be relaxed to see shapes in the clouds.”
As relaxed, I wondered, as those who boost viewing figures for UFOs round about 10.30pm on Saturday nights?
No, just don’t try too hard: “Some of the pictures are quite obvious, but others take a bit of time to work out and people will see different things.”
How true. No need to get heavy about what is harmless fun, but in the need to capture every image and try to give it meaning, surely some of the pleasure of simply watching clouds drift by is lost? I’m quite happy to have my clouds look like nothing, but clouds, as long as I’m there to enjoy them.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 25 mph
Wind direction: East
Temperature: 9 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: North east