In praise of... clouds

Clouds are rarely welcome, unless we're desperate for rain, or they're sparse, white and interestingly puffy. Mostly, though, our spirits droop when we see a grey, cloudy sky, especially if - as today - the sun raised our hopes with a showy, red and gold dawn, only to spend the rest of the day beneath a grey blanket. But yesterday the cloud cover was something of an unexpected blessing, at least over Oxford.

Yesterday's solar eclipse had been preceded by warnings around the danger of looking directly at the sun for anything more than a squint-eyed second. And certainly, if the Oxford sky had contained a brash, burning gold ball unimpeded by any cloud we would all have needed the funny goggles being promoted for the event, and have struggled to photograph it . Instead, we had a pale, aqueous sun, hesitant and tentative about displaying itself too prominently; a sun which glowed atmospherically in the darkening sky as the moon glided in front of it, transforming it into a silvery crescent.

One of the students in our house took this photo using the reflection in a glass-topped table in order to minimise glare. The original photo is therefore upside-down, a reflection of reality, but I've also turned it round so you can see what we all saw: a benevolent white-gold smile beaming down on us from a leaden sky, clearly aware that yesterday was also International Day of Happiness...