This week two national organisations have asked the general public to help with their counting. Last weekend the RSPB had their annual garden bird count and this week the CPRE are asking us to count how many stars we can see in the constellation Orion with the naked eye. The idea is to get a measure of how much light pollution there is according to how many of the stars have been “drowned out” by street  and security lighting etc.

Counting is one of the first things we learn as young children – you may have learnt finger rhymes such as the one beginning “Tommy Thumb” – and it is an important tool of government. Counting people, taking a census, appears in the Bible. However, there it has a somewhat checkered history. In the appropriately named book of Numbers, Moses is told by God to count the number of people in the tribes of Israel who were with him in the wilderness. I suppose it helps to know how many people are travelling with you. Meanwhile, centuries later, King David gets into trouble for ordering a census of his people for no obvious reason – except perhaps to boast about how big a population his country has.

When it comes to counting money I suppose it can work either way. It can be a case of boasting “Look how much money I’ve got” – which is childish at best. On the other hand, keeping track of one’s accounts, knowing how much money you’ve got for paying the bills, giving to charity etc and whether there is any left over for luxuries, is a matter of good housekeeping.

It turns out that I’m not the only one thinking about counting at the moment. There is the national census in March and even the Bishop of Peterborough has seen fit to comment. I don’t think the British census is intended as an occasion for boasting – more like the one in the book of Numbers; trying to find out who’s here with us in order to better inform public policy.

In the meantime, it was too cloudy last night to see the constellation Orion – didn’t see any stars here at all, in fact.

PS a couple of nights later we did have a clear sky and my naked-eye count was 11. Somewhat ironic  because on other occasions it has been fewer. Less light pollution in the week we were supposed to be measuring it!

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