The moon, the stars and my pal Nigel: In bed with Heather Couper

Susan de Muth
Sunday 23 October 2011 02:20

Heather Couper is an astronomer. She runs a television production company with Nigel Henbest. She and Nigel live in a 250-year-old farmhouse in the Chiltern Hills.

Iusually get up to go to the loo at 4am and on my way back I always stop to took out of the window at the stars. There are no street lights where we live and if it's a clear night the stars are like jewels against a black velvet sky, the garden is bathed in silver light, and it's utterly beautiful.

It's my self-discipline task to identify the major constellations and if I can't I feel disappointed. This has nothing to do with professional astronomy - it's a treat, a ritual, and a pleasure which is purely artistic.

I get back into bed with great pleasure; I find sleep a deeply sensual experience. Unlike myself, my bedroom is absolutely uncluttered, simple and peaceful. The bed is in the middle and there is a west-facing floor-to-ceiling window with a view 50 miles over hills to the Cotswolds.

There is a photograph of me and Nigel taken just after I'd graduated. I'd realised we weren't going on to the same universities to do our Phils and I was very upset. I've lived with Nigel for 22 years but we don't sleep together and we have our own separate rooms. We're each other's rock. Best pals.

We both travel a lot, but when we're at home we start winding down at about 8pm. We wander into the kitchen - unfortunately food is very important to both of us - and might spend up to two hours cooking a meal. We talk about the day, getting it into perspective and drinking far too many glasses of wine. I'm afraid I drink more than the recommended 14 units a week.

We usually eat around 10.30pm in front of a roaring log fire in our heavy-beamed living room. We have a rule not to talk over dinner. We read instead, trying to stop thinking about work. I like to read our time- warp local newspaper or escapist books about the English countryside. By 11.30, beginning to fall over after a very good bottle of antipodean wine, we say goodnight.

My dreams depend very much on what's happening in my life and are usually compensatory. If I'm busy I tend to have peaceful dreams, whereas when our production company had no work for a period I dreamt every night that I was travelling round the world with a film crew] Then I have one, inexplicable, recurring nightmare in which I am about to take a science exam and realise I don't know the answers.

I adore the night and often walk alone in the dark, even in London and New York. If the stars are out I feel particularly confident. I look up at them, I know their names, and they're like friends. Their beauty makes me feel safe. Yet it's not a spiritual thing: I took eternity on board quite factually at an early age]

The best thing that's ever happened to me at night was seeing Halley's Comet in 1985. It was on its way back after a trek of 76 years around the solar system and as I looked through that telescope I felt very humble. Here was something which happens just once in a lifetime, linking me back to people through the ages who had also seen it. I certainly wasn't thinking in terms of ionised gas]

We live in a place where you get the most unbelievable sunsets on the whole planet - better than in Hawaii. We always watch the sunset - it's like a punctuation mark on the day. If it's a solstice or equinox we toast it with champagne. Occasionally I've been lucky enough to see the 'green flash' just as the sun disappears over the horizon.

I never have any trouble sleeping. Nigel and I have a very peaceful existence. The word 'row' does not exist in our vocabulary. We are friends with each other's lovers, when there are lovers, and neither of us has ever wanted to marry. We have a true bond - at 19 we somehow decided 'let's get into life together' - and somehow it just works brilliantly.

I'm too busy for sexual or romantic relationships. The men I know are usually friends so that if it came to being flung down on a bed and being made passionate love to, I'd think 'hang on a minute, this is my mate] I don't want to do this silly thing with him'.

We have a lot of rituals but the morning one's the best. We take it in turns to bring each other coffee. If it's Nigel's turn he'll put the tray down by my bed before going to the curtains. Then, with a great flourish, he casts them open to reveal the day. There's nothing I like more in the world than just lying in my bed looking at that view.

(Photograph omitted)

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