Lakeland splendour

Summer’s are days of wonder and promise, of slender afternoons, blue soft lakes and sudden aching skies. Pale birches lighter than air, and air steeped in pale sunlight.

And then come those days towards the end of summer, when the sun holds a deeper brilliance and an edge. And suddenly stars leap into the wide skies and autumn gazes levelly through the trees, comfortable in her sparkle and her darkness.

And there is movement in the lanes, and I hear voices in the evening, whispers of light and life. The students are back.

A flame starts to creep up the trees, and blue winds stir my heart like the call of a distant horn. The evenings grow deeper and softer, and the forests are wrapped in rain.

And one day the sound of the rain gives way to a silent sparkle, and there’s a fine mist of snow on my glasses when I come in from a jog around the lake and put the kettle on for tea… And watch the flakes descend outside.


A merry air

Lean out of the window,
And set alight
The autumn air.

The trees are waking
By the shore.
I watch the flames
Creep from the floor.

I raise my fist
To the call of doom,
For I heard you growling
Through the gloom.

Growling of winds
And savage air,
Lean out of the window,

Sons of winter and stars

An account of Tuska Open Air Metal Festival, 2017

So here’s some background for non-metalheads: Tuska is one of the two biggest metal festivals in Finland, the other being Nummirock, which translates roughly to ‘rock on the heath’. (Finland, incidentally, is the country with the largest number of metal bands per capita in the world.) Tuska is held in Helsinki, and its name translates, delightfully enough, to ‘excruciating pain’… which, needless to say, told me this was a festival I couldn’t miss!

So as one would expect, the density of black t-shirt wearers grows exponentially as one approaches Suvilahti, the festival venue, and explodes at the field itself. It would perhaps be harder to explain to a non-metalhead the warm, cosy feeling that permeates the festival grounds. In general, Finns are known for respecting other people’s personal space, and metal audiences are particularly polite and kind and committed to the music they love; so this was a crowd of thirty thousand people without the slightest chaos or crush, right up to the front rows. It is hard to say which was nicer, headbanging to Wintersun in a whirl of long-haired people and snowy music, or lying on the grass in the sun outside the Inferno Stage listening to The Raven Age.

One of the greatest pleasures of Tuska is the company of fellow metalheads, particularly those from around the world. I was fortunate enough to be sharing a hostel with a wonderful group of lively and diverse international metalheads, united by their love of Finland and good music.

Tuska is also a very family-friendly event; I saw lots of metalhead parents with small children, always wearing suitable hearing protectors. These young metalheads were appreciative connoisseurs, raising their fists and expressing informed opinions to their parents.

Tuska happens on the same weekend as Helsinki Pride every year, so lots of people, including me, visit both. This means that the Pride is full of metalheads upholding the rainbow spirit in their black t-shirts, since they genuinely support equality but own no clothes that are not black. It isn’t really surprising that metal and pride are so compatible, since pride is about embracing diversity and the warmth of love, while metal is about space, symphony and silence and the depth of feeling, respecting diversity by its very monochrome anonymity.

And of course, Tuska is about some of the best music in the world… Some of the bands I got to hear:


Brother Firetribe, sunlit, textured and vibrant in the breadth, warmth and balance of their music.

Wintersun blazing like a field of snow, catching you up in the whirl of a blizzard.

Insomnium, crimson, intimate and magnificently tender.

Mayhem, drawing you into great abysses of ice and filling the arena with all the ecstasy of cold. (The band members were a magnificent sight, emerging from the smoke in their black hooded cloaks.)

Sabaton, in all their epic richness of colour and sound.

Vorna, deep and warm and blazing, like a winter fireplace.

Barren Earth, wandering on desolate moors in the gathering dusk.

Mokoma, realising all the glorious potential and vitality of sheer noise.

Lost Society, in all their urban neon vigour.

Soilwork, pounding in the veins like a fever.

Amorphis, playing the timeless and clear music of this land and its waters. (They played in pouring rain, but this did not appear to affect either the performance or the enjoyment of it.)

HIM, the cosiest possible ending to a long day: thousands of people standing together under the almost midnight sun, singing along to songs they all knew and loved.

Battle Beast, a gleaming and vital cascade, epic and gloriously young. (Noora Louhimo and her spear… oops, mic… in ‘Lost in Wars’ formed one of the most visually compelling spectacles of the festival.)

The Raven Age, pure, clean and good metal.

Baroness, burning and passionate.

Apocalyptica, distilling magnificently the essence of metal and the majesty of classical harmony. (The sheer delight of watching thousands of people headbang to four men on cellos is without parallel.)

Sonata Arctica, crystal and soaring.


To quote Wintersun, we are sons of winter and stars. Or perhaps Battle Beast’s ‘bastard son of Odin’ would be a compliment esteemed equally by most metalheads. I look forward to joining my fellow bastard sons of Odin again next year!

Of the Coming of Men

In the days of old there were three houses. The Noldor, disciples of glory and doom: it is their story we hear, for it is thanks to them there are stories. The Teleri, inheritors of longing: yearning for the sea is their greatest gift. The Vanyar, the people of unity and peace: the people history would love but could never know. And then the first men came into the west, and Finrod found them as they camped at the foot of the mountains and felt love stir in his heart. But he bade his time awhile, and watched from the shadows as they made camp.

They laid their harp by the fire, and surrendered their big, cold thoughts to its crackling. And the elf walked into the company of these men whose dreams were so much younger than his own. His dreams were wrapped in twilight thunder and the shade of silent woods, and he loved this people with their stars of ideas, whose dreams were clean as swords.


I am a Noldo, and I have held my sword to the stars and sworn its keenness to their light. Ours is a song of the night, a symphonic loneliness that each of us inherits and makes his own. We are disciples of glory and doom, and we have given our lives to fate and song. I have slept evenings beneath the spray of stars, and woken to the flickering emptiness of nights. While somewhere beyond the smoke-clad trees… Where is the day? We knew not the happiness of a peaceful dawn, but we have burned with a splendid fever, and kindled the waiting dreams of fate to song and flame. Could anything be too high a price to pay?

I am Telerin, and I have walked wrapped in the blue thunder of thought by anxious seas, steeped in their silent sheen, seeking to learn what it was I longed so deeply for. I have cast my eyes on distant shores, and turned from my past and my land: I have sighed for the ineffable and sought to weave the infinite music of the waters into the earthbound strings of my harp. I do not seek myself any more, for I have no self: it was lost amid the gleaming waters long ago, and I am not certain how to find it. What name, what certainty could bind you together against the sweeping waves? How do I proffer my sword to any cause or any truth when I have known how little all our truths are before the beauty of that infinite we cannot know? And so I am drawn to the littlest things, that need not flee before the greatness of the great because they do not seek to stand ahead of it: the warmth of silent rocks and the grace of white ships, the immortal dances of words and the silent pressure of a hand. I cannot drink of the oath-cup with my brothers, but I shall stand with my brothers and wish that I knew how to fall with them.

I am of the Vanyar too, and I have known the calm of silent mountains and warm dwellings untouched by the fever of exacting dreams. I have known what it is to know and be glad, to lay doubt aside and take comfort in companionship and song. But I have moved far from that land, and now I cannot know that rest. My soul was forged in pride and loneliness and doubt; they are the strings to my harp, the keenness of my sword, the flame of which I light my song. I would wish my destiny on no-one else, but it is irrevocably mine and I would wish myself no other: I cannot live within the light. But I know it is there, and my heart is glad to know it: I would swear my smoke-tinged sword to the service of that peace, though it is not mine.


And the first men stirred to the sight of Felagund with his song of dusk and his clear northern eyes. Felagund, who had known the grinding ice and the first light, the silence of the first stars and the despair before the coming of the sun. Felagund, who wove three songs of conflict into a harmony of difference, and drew them with every note from his harp into the song that they had not known could be theirs too.

I am a physicist

tove jansson tähtitorni


To me, science was always defined by Tove Jansson’s picture of the Observatory in the Lonely Mountains, from Comet in Moominland: scientists in an observatory high in the mountains, tiny creatures with huge telescopes, cast long shadows on the silent walls as they gaze at the stars, alone with the night.

And perhaps my reality isn’t so different in its way: the reality of the student sitting up late into the night, poring over timeless equations, and notes more timelessly human, typeset in LaTeX. Listening to In Flames’ Dialogue with the Stars, and holding my own dialogue with the stars.

We define for ourselves the meaning of truth, and find the answers in what we cannot know.

We play with numbers, and suddenly a world builds itself out of them. We create a language to express our ideas, and the language acquires life, and creates new ideas for us to express.

We listen for the underlying song of the universe, and experience the ecstatic loneliness of understanding time.

We are theoretical physicists.

(Read more about the #iamaphysicist day here!)

A defence of laziness

Worn, dappled afternoons, delicately brown around the edges. The exquisite twentieth-century binding of Hamiltonian afternoons.

It is on these afternoons that I feel closest to the gentle curving at the heart of the world of Platonic forms. On these afternoons that I feel part of the highest endeavour of man, one with the quest of the ages.

Laziness: the highest ideal of human existence. The art of insinuating oneself unobtrusively into the fabric of the universe. The pursuit of the elegant and the expedient. (At higher levels of intellectual endeavour, aren’t those two almost synonymous?) But let us distinguish between the implicit and the explicit. The explicit inclusion of the ideal in our theories would lead us to embrace as equivalent ideals the sustainable and the non-invasive.

It was laziness that led man to invent the wheel. The quest to avoid work leads man to his highest intellectual triumphs. No lazy man would choose to fight a war with his neighbour when he could have him over for non-strenuous conversation instead.

It’s laziness that leads electrons to travel every path that exists to see which takes the least work. Come to think of it, laziness is actually the governing principle of the universe.

My quest as a scientist is to balance a curious interest in disentangling by hand the threads of the universe with an equal interest in seeking the high, the pure, the Platonically convenient. I’ll let my thoughts wind their way into the complexities of infinite infinitesimals without the officious hindrance of effort. Of such are the songs of existence born.

Possibly I met you yesterday. In fact I’m inclined to think it of significant probability. Significant or non-negligible, I don’t mean important, just large. Hm, I suppose large things are important in their way, things you can see form part of the fabric of your thoughts. And that makes the dimensions of the universe uncurl in your thoughts a little bit more. Nice.

The gradual yielding of correlations to synonyms. Resonances of light and language.

Glorious smoothnesses on the surface of a specious theory. Time rolled the curving of time to us, and we caught it with our machinery. Hello, LIGO. Are you listening to the universe?

Oh, hello. Have you come to sing to me again? I like listening. Lazy listening to the song of your movements. The universe is a complaisant conspirator.

I haven’t quite made up my mind about Einstein. For a scientist, I consider him insufficiently removed from sanity. Then again, there’s no getting away from his inarguably Aeschylean genius.

Forms live forever. That’s a long time.

But I believe in positional objectivity. I like you from the left. Well, I’m sitting on the left. No, no, I hope you’re not offended!

You mean so much to me, I couldn’t possibly pay you a compliment that wasn’t semantically defined. That would be untrue to you and the universe. How can what’s semantically perfect be incomplete?

But of course I needn’t have worried! We both hear the song of the particles. Of course you understand.

Dance of the Quarks

She held herself up with the lift of her head, feeling in the line of her arabesque for one of the flaming Platonic lines of the universe.

Then she bent her head to the turn of her thigh, arm tracing down to the waiting smoothness of her stocking.


Lightly fall feet to the ground: perfection is the inevitable accident. And they whirl and draw with the light falling on the curve of arms and necks the snow.


Feet traced the scratched floor, swept over it like eddies of snow. They rustled together in an embracing, exclusive stillness, a glimmering dry charm.

There was nothing in the universe but the leaping lines of the music and the warmth in her still, pulsing arms. And the strange lights that clothed them, that they could not see.


She stood taut as a spring along the line of her pointed toe, spin lifted so she could glance sideways at a neck, her neck. She knew that if she moved, space would wake and send lines of snow spiralling along the glittering fields her arms pointed to life. And she would spin faster and faster into the snowstorm that her arms created, that drew her pirouette into its own. But she didn’t move: she stood thoughtfully wrapped in the shadow of her reflection, and waited for another’s explosion.


Between the surface of thin frosted lights and the top of the glittering momentary hallway that the music drew into being….

Fell the flakes to the floor, swirling to the bottom of the universe where high heads and cold arms rested.


A dancer’s a stir in a breathless field of tulle and thought. The field wills me to life. I give it its life.