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Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Looking at clouds

May 20 2009
Pretor-Pinney: Pretor-Pinney:
In praise of the most egalitarian display of nature If you spend time looking up, maybe the Cloud Appreciation Society is for you! Scientists study them and try to predict the weather, kids look at them to recognise their favourite animal in them, poets sing about their beauty. Now, a newly-founded organisation observes and appreciates them, for mere enjoyment of the mind and the heart. Clouds - it may seem as though there is little you can do with them. At first they might remind you that the rain is coming and that you will have to find some shelter to protect yourself. The British Isles have no significant natural barriers to block masses of water vapour gathering upon its territory. This is probably what makes Britain's skies so 'busy,' and what makes days swiftly turn from sunshine to rain in any season. Yet clouds strike almost every person of any age for their beauty. A swirl of Mother Nature's paintbrush over our heads, to make us feel more protected from the sky's massive depth. The Cloud Appreciation Society is made up of individuals who love clouds and love watching them, a remarkable activity to pursue in today's busy lifestyles. Their founder and chairman is Gavin Pretor-Pinney, who also founded The Idler magazine. Mr Pretor-Pinney, along with all the members of his society, says that he thinks life would be poorer without these glorious "patron goddesses of idle fellows", as the playwright, Aristophanes, called them. He urges us to look at clouds, appreciate them, recognise them, just for the sake of doing it. You will never ever see two clouds that are equal, you will never see a sky that looks the same as yesterday. Yet you will succeed in emptying your body and your mind, and returning to the simple pleasures of childhood. So why has Mr Pretor-Pinney, 38, alumnus of Oxford, become such an advocate of cloud appreciation? In his words, he finds that we are all equal in front of clouds. He told The Pavement: "What attracts me to clouds is that they are equal to everybody. They represent the most egalitarian display of nature, as one doesn't need special equipment or to be in a special place to appreciate them. "Everybody has a good view of the sky; you don't have to live in a particular area to observe them. Plus, they are the most powerful and evident manifestation of nature in a city." Mr Pretor-Pinnney started focusing on clouds in 2003, when he took a seven-month sabbatical in Rome. His dormant fascination with clouds, which had accompanied him throughout his life, manifested itself while he was studying frescos in the Italian capital. "I was questioning people, chatting to them about clouds, an unfocused type of research. I was perceptive and open to what could develop. I was simply there observing," says Mr Pretor-Pinney. He believes clouds are an infinite asset of nature, available for anybody to appreciate. The website of the society addresses cloud-lovers: "You love lying in the park on a summer's day and looking for shapes in the cumulus clouds. You think a mackerel sky of puffy altocumulus stretching off towards the setting sun is one of the most beautiful sights in the world. In short, you love clouds." It continues: "And together we'll fight the sun fascists and their obsessions with 'blue-sky thinking'." The society's manifesto states that "clouds are unjustly maligned and that life would be immeasurably poorer without them." Mr Pretor- Pinney, and his fellow-members, want us to believe that clouds are expressions of the atmosphere's moods, and should be read like a person's face. The society's website (www. cloudappreciationsociety.org) explains how to join the society and provides a space to publish pictures, art works, poems. Members discuss types of clouds, events for cloudspotters, and share their mysterious passion. Mr Pretor-Pinney's book, The Cloud-Spotter's Guide, was initially turned down by many publishers, but finally it was taken up, and eventually arrived in the top 10 of the Sunday Times bestseller chart. The encyclopaedia defines clouds as "visible masses of condensed droplets or frozen crystals suspended in the atmosphere above the surface of the Earth or another planetary body." However, Mr Pretor-Pinney believes that they are much more, ascribing personalities to them and describing them as travelling wonders of nature. "Clouds don't respect boundaries, either cultural, social or political ones," he says. "All we have to do is look up, marvel at the ephemeral beauty, and live life with your head in the clouds" without being ashamed of it. So, the next time you curse a cloud for the potential rain it brings, just think what art you are missing out on. As Baudelaire said: 'I love the clouds, the clouds that pass, up there, up there, the wonderful clouds!'"
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