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About Me, Plus.. a bit of a rant!

The following ramblings are an attempt to explain what my hobby and philosophy of life are about.

To be honest, I find that some amateur astronomers' websites are a trifle dull. OK, many have great images, but there is never any glimpse of the person behind them. When I first entered amateur astronomy there were lots of unique characters about, but modern websites could almost be computer generated and you don't get any idea of what the site owner is really like. Perhaps this is because people seem terrified of revealing what they really think these days. We still apparently have Free Speech, but when you do speak freely, the 'thought police' pounce. Unlike most people, what goes on in my head is also what I say. As a general rule I've found that the most politically correct people, on the surface, are the most scheming hypocrites underneath! As I'm the same inside as I appear outside you know where you are with me. This is the exact opposite of what you get with, say, most politicians, where the external appearance is projected as someone who cares passionately about Great Britain and its people, but all that is going on inside is: "How can I get richer, fiddle more expenses, hide my mistress from the press and appear on TV more!!" Oh, and "How can I fiddle a knightood too?" might be added to that list. It does appear, more and more, that those who have (or crave) letters after (or before) their name, or who are portrayed as 'Experts' in some field are, in fact, simply experts at self-promotion and little else.

This 'rant' page started off quite small, but proved so popular that it grew very quickly. Having pondered its popularity I've concluded that amateur astronomers are as interested in free-speaking astro 'characters' as astronomy itself. That is how it should be. The Universe is amazing, but the human brain and human characteristics are, arguably, even more amazing. In addition, many amateur astronomers (though not all!) are rather different to the run-of-the-mill brainwashed sheep that seem to exist in droves in this dumbed-down world we live in. I think it was the presence of such genuine characters in astronomy that largely attracted me to the hobby in the first place.... People watched 'The Sky at Night', in Patrick Moore's era, partly because of astronomy, but mainly because Patrick Moore presented it: a real character, who spoke his mind and was a true survivor, outlasting all his critics.

In 2013 I completed a comprehensive biography of Patrick.

Biography of Patrick on Amazon UK

and I then wrote a sequel!

Biography sequel of Patrick on Amazon UK

PROOF THAT PATRICK'S CAR WAS OVERTAKEN BY A DOG!

So, as I say, I'm as interested in astronomical characters as astronomy itself and I particularly like real, dependable and unique characters who aren't just cloned sheep, namely photocopies of everyone else. I really can't stand these Xeroxed people or people who invariably grin like idiots while hiding a cupboard full of their skeletons and addictions behind them. I don't trust people who, like many government ministers, grin like a village idiot but are as slimy as an eel! Give me someone who looks mildly hacked off (e.g. Andy Murray, Harry Redknapp, Jeremy Clarkson or Ronnie O' Sullivan) anyday! It's interesting that, in the modern world, there now seems to be an easy tool to detect the self-obsessed.....and it's pretty accurate and simple. Just look at the people who spend all day tweeting drivel on Twitter to their very sad 'Followers'.... The more someone tweets, the more self-obsessed they are......it's as simple as that! An infallible tool for pyschologists! Obsessive tweeters think they are special if they amass hundreds or thousands of followers....... whereas they are rarely special at all, just utterly sad attention seekers who have purchased their Twitter followers! Incredibly there are even fake astronomers in this category.

I've been a dedicated observer in the amateur astronomy world, boy and man, for almost 50 years now and, in the last 30 years or so, I've seen many 'fly-by-night' astronomers come and go. Media astronomers (male and female) have come and gone, as have loads of telescope dealers. I've seen astronomers bankrupted, divorced into poverty, jailed, ordered to do community service, become alcoholics, and even added to the sex offenders register! I've seen astronomy publications rise and fall, and telescope manufacturers do the same. TV astronomy producers and their assistants materialise and dematerialise, as do magazine editors: you count them in and you count them out. Throughout all this I've simply continued observing the Night Sky and writing about it.

Apart from observing, photographing and imaging the night sky I did a fair amount of voluntary work in the BAA throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Specifically, I was the BAA Lunar Section photographic co-ordinator from 1983 to 1991 and then from 1990 to 1997 I was the BAA Papers secretary and the monthly meetings recorder. I was also the assistant Editor of Guy Hurst's 'The Astronomer' magazine for most of the 1990s. From 1990 to 1999, and again from 2002 to 2006 I used to present monthly 'Sky Notes' at all of the BAA's monthly meetings. I tried to make these as humorous and politically incorrect as possible....which seemed to appeal to the members! From 1997 to 1999 I served as the BAA's 55th President which was an honour, but perhaps not really me at all, as I hate waffle, hot air and chairing meetings.....YAWN!! But perhaps my greatest contribution has been answering thousands of emails about telescope and equipment problems and helping people out in this respect.

When I was 15, in 1973, I built a 22cm reflector, including grinding and polishing the optics and testing them. Everything was put together using a hack saw, a drill, screws and bolts. I even poured the boiling pitch to make the tool to polish the mirror.

Me, in the mid '70s with the 22cm Newt.

I gave that telescope away to Braintree & Halstead A.S. in the 1980s. It still works apparently! Ever since 1973 I've been interested in testing telescopes and their optics. In my engineering degree at Brunel my final year core subject was control theory, the theory and design behind feedback loops and critically damped systems, slewing, overshoot, undershoot etc....I chose this topic so that I could better understand telescope control systems. So I know a thing or two about optics and mechanics (unlike some telescope manufacturers and many dealers!!) This combination of optical, electronic and mechanical knowledge gave me the confidence to publish my first book (Astronomical Equipment for Amateurs) in 1998 This book singlehandedly sparked a landslide in telescope equipment books. I've now written thirteen books: eight on practical astronomy, two about Patrick Moore and three small children's 'Space' books, along with hundreds of articles about amateur astronomy. The few critics of my books and hundreds of articles never seem to have the energy to write books or articles themselves. There's a reason for this; criticism is easy, writing books and quality articles is hard. Whenever I write a book or a magazine article I write it within the deadline: otherwise I couldn't live with myself. If I say something, I mean it. A bit obsessive perhaps? Yes, but I'd rather be reliable and obsessive than spout bull and hype, which seems to be a 21st century disease.

I started off as a visual observer, with my small telescopes and then with the home made 22cm Newtonian. But when I acquired serious equipment, in 1980, I became a lunar, planetary and cometary photographer, doing all my developing and fixing and printing too. Two bathrooms in my previous homes became photographic studios too, where much enlarging and printing took place. From 1992 I started to use the early CCDs, buying one of the first Starlight Express cameras in those days...the 3rd one made by Terry Platt if I recall. By the mid 1990s I was a total CCD convert and am a 100% digital imager now.

With all this hard-earned knowledge I've never been afraid to help other amateurs or to state my case, of which I'm certain.

For what is a man, what has he got?

If not himself, then he has naught.

To say the things he truly feels;

And not the words of one who kneels.

The record shows I took the blows -

And did it my way!

Apologies to Frank Sinatra.... I've done it my way, but I have certainly been inspired by the late Sir Patrick Moore, the longest duration TV presenter in history, and he was no stranger to controversy. Political correctness had no place in his world, or mine. I agreed with many, but certainly not all of his views. He was a survivor in the astro world. I like to think, in my small way, I have survived too. TV astronomers come and go, but he was different because he said what he thought and was a true observer, not just a vacuous media 'personality'. Others fake enthusiasm but his was genuine. The real McCoy.

Patrick has a healthy rant about falling TV standards.

I have had a long term dedication to astronomy and helping other amateurs. As mentioned earlier, I've also sorted out endless people's telescope and observatory problems and, on numerous occasions, given old gear away rather than sell it. Every week I write *detailed* answers to amateurs with equipment problems. Sometimes I get several queries a day. Every plea for help is answered and I've been doing this since the days before e-mail. I guess if I didn't help people the barrage of e-mail (and post) would stop, but I don't like to see beginners making expensive wrong decisions. I just find it difficult to say no. Without a shadow of a doubt I have answered more telescope and equipment queries than any other UK amateur, and all this advice is for free!!! I must be mad!

I'm privileged to have known some really outstanding amateur astronomers, some of whom I've known for more than a quarter of a century. Here are some pictures of a few of them. Firstly, 5 consecutive BAA Presidents at Winchester a few years ago. From right to left: Maurice Gavin, Me, Nick Hewitt, Guy Hurst, Tom Boles.

Five BAA Presidents.

Next, a scary group of planetary imagers at Astrofest. From right to left: Me, Jamie Cooper, Dave Tyler and Damian Peach.

Four at Astrofest.

I've also been privileged to know some of the greats who are, sadly, no longer around, like George Alcock, Horace Dall, Harold Ridley, Alan Young and Paul Doherty.

However, I do not like bullshit and bunk so if you live in a fantasy world you may not want to read the rest of this page. I have no time for religion or people whose physical condition is their own stupid fault. Neither do I have time for political correctness, jobsworth officials, or people who live off the taxes I pay! Ditto, UFO spotters, Astrologers, Faith Healers, most politicians and other con artists. I am a VERY reliable person, and I hate unreliable people who say they will do something but they know full well that they won't. I see the world as it really is, so if you don't like the truth go away now!

Most people who have commented on the rant below seem to love it, a small percentage (the fanatically religious, those weighing a quarter of a ton, and the politically correct bunch of jokers) don't. If, after reading it, you come to the conclusion that I am a few bricks short of a full load, then that's fine by me. I'd be very pleased if you came to the conclusion that I am different...I don't like the idea of being branded 'normal'. The world is full of allegedly 'normal' people with huge debts and a bitter divorce or three behind them, an infinity of step children from endless partners, lives full of chaos, alcohol addiction, drug problems, eating disorders, a body covered in tattoos, a bolt through the nose, and no purpose. I've lived on this planet for 58 years and have helped hundreds of fellow amateur astronomers, gained an honours degree in Electronic Engineering, written 13 books and have NEVER claimed benefits or have any criminal record. Plus I've always paid those infernal taxes!!! So, I've a right to a good rant. We are living in a world where bullshit and spin dominates, but people are oh so careful that they don't say what they think, so the 'thought police' don't arrest them. Politicians, religious fanatics, Brussels bureaucrats living off tax payers money, illegal immigrants, sad cases addicted to social media.... None of these people have my respect. Yet most of them live off my hard-earned tax payer's money. Most people really like my 'rant page' though and I have put a fraction of their comments (full names deleted) at the end of this page.

My mission

I seem to have always had a purpose in life, which is to understand more about the universe and science and observe the Night Sky. I have no religious beliefs and believe anyone who reckons they know 'why we are all here' is simply impatient and terrified of the unknown and death. My mission is simply to wonder at the Universe, image it, and try to understand it. My 'religion' is science, but I also like reading Science Fiction and I watch a lot of sport on TV too. I should point out that I disliked sport when I was a child, mainly because 1960s & '70s P.E. teachers always seemed to excel in making all their pupils hate sport! And they were all, without exception, weird! But I watch a great deal of Sport now.......

Deluded Believers

All of the world's major religions are simply manifestations of the fascinating problem unique to humans, namely, our brains are so large, and have such an unequalled language ability, that we are sentient and can ponder our origins and, for some, this leads to religious convictions, simply because they can't admit the truth. The truth is no-one knows why we are here, if there is any reason at all. We may all be part of the Matrix for all I know....it's as good an answer as any....

The famous 'Matrix Reloaded' car chase

Indeed, some respected philosophers and cosmologists accept that we may just be part of a huge software simulation. Surely, in a hundred years or so computer games connected straight to the brain will make reality and fantasy indistinguishable anyway...? One thing is for sure, only science can answer any of the ultimate questions. The other thing that is certain is that no-one has the answers. Because of this, the impatient, the deluded, and those who find the size and age of the Universe intimidating, claim religion holds the solution.

Why am I so totally sceptical of religion? Well, for a start, there are loads of them to choose from, and they are all, without exception, created by men, desperate for answers that only science can provide. The religious devotees all believe they are right, but so do the devotees of the other religions. They all think the other religious lot are a bunch of nutters....strange how they can see this in others and not in themselves! In reality, they are all simply indoctrinated and impatient people, even if a few religious believers can hold down good jobs (like US Senators!!). Once someone is brainwashed at an early age, it is hard to let go of a fantasy.

When the Boxing Day 2004 Tsunami occurred, orphaning hundreds of thousands of innocent children the old, pitiful, religious drivel came out. "God moves in mysterious ways"....or "Disasters have occurred throughout history, my son" or "God cannot interfere as he grants us Free Will" or even, the classic line....."This is just God testing our Faith"...UTTER BUNKUM !!!! A caring and compassionate God who was clever enough to create the Universe would have no problem creating a world without earthquakes & tectonic plate activity, or cancer, malaria and leprosy. Nobody has the answer to life, the Universe and everything, and it is not 42! Religions are just fairy stories like the worlds of Narnia and Harry Potter...they were written by great story tellers of the past and only serve to fuel religious wars and keep the primitive countries' inhabitants happy and under control....Plus, ever noticed the number of priests that are accused of child molesting.... proof of the fact that many of their type are 100% unbalanced!

Child Molesting Priests

Patrick Moore called for the previous Archbishop of Canterbury to be thrown into Room 101, adding that "I wouldn't trust that bewhiskered old coot to run a whelk stall". I would second that, but expand it to all religious loonies. When you confront someone religious about the amount of suffering in the world, especially that of innocent children, they come out with the "he moves in mysterious ways" mumbo-jumbo or, if you really pin them down, they suggest that all those who are disabled or suffering committed some kind of crimes in a previous life!!!! Talk about desperation......Why not just accept it is all just a fairy story?

No-one knows if there is any deeper purpose to the Universe and evolution or the precise origin of consciousness (either in the quantum world or the real world). If you are religious it is either due to family or peer group pressures, a traumatic experience (such as bereavement or disability) or simply fear of the unknown and death. Sorry to be so blunt, but those are the facts. The world would be a far, far better place if people just accepted that there is no fairy-tale 'God' looking after us. There would be no religious hatred, no suicide bombers and everyone would have to just make the most of their lives knowing that life is painfully short and then you die.

Billy Connolly on suicide bombers

As for these Mega-rich Bible bashing US Evangelists....well, I think this classic Genesis Video sums them up nicely:

Genesis' "Jesus he knows me" video on YouTube

In the USA there is a strong Creationist religious movement which is growing in strength and teaching children that the Earth is 6,000 years old and men and dinosaurs lived together only thousands of years ago!! There is even a multi-million dollar exhibition centre geared at brainwashing kids into this way of thinking....what hope do their children stand?? I think it's a good time to live in the UK where most people are not religious and hardly anyone owns a gun.....Get real! It's up to science to save the planet, yet Physics Departments in Universities across the UK are being closed down as soft subjects like "Media Studies" are favored by schools so they can register more exam passes and get a higher school ranking. When I took my school exams you had to get the questions right, or you failed. Nowadays all the questions have multiple choice answers, like on "Who wants to be a millionaire?"........toooo easy! Dumbing down is everywhere..... I think the UK government should 100% fund University grants for people studying useful subject like Science & Engineering, but not for those useless degrees in soft subjects that a five year old could get a degree in. Astronomy funding itself is under a huge threat but we SHOULD spend tax payers money on science not on wars. With all the religious claptrap and pseudo-science Thank goodness for Richard Dawkins.... ;-))))

Loads more Dawkins stuff here!

As Marcus Brigstocke says in this excellent video, after you religious lot have stopped blowing the world up could us atheists please have our planet back?

Marcus Brigstocke on religion

World leaders and superpowers would be far less likely to hurl their troops into wars if they accepted that religion is bunk and death is final, but mental illness, the price we pay for such a large brain, still convinces the ignorant that there is a divine afterlife where billions of dead people float on a cloud playing a harp........Dream On !! In fact, the dead outnumber the living by a huge amount so the number of harps mass-produced for the afterlife must be enormous!

The dead outnumber the living

Still, I suppose being a priest is quite a cushy little number as jobs go, it certainly enabled a lot of historic vicars to have the spare time to indulge in a bit of astronomy!!!

I have actually met a few vicars in my time and they are generally OK (if weird) people (well, apart from the paedophiles amongst them!) they are just living their lives according to a fairy tale, which most grown-ups gave up a long time ago.....like they gave up believing in Father Christmas, or that if they walked into a wardrobe they'd end up in Narnia.

Occasionally, religious devotees see the light and it suddenly hits them that they have just been plain silly in believing these fictional stories, all written by men. Perhaps the most celebrated recent example is the triple jumper Jonathan Edwards, who used to present 'Songs of Praise' but has now seen sense. It takes guts to admit you have been wrong your whole life and escape from family or cultural brainwashing. Religious fanatics, Jehova's witnesses, Scientologists, Astrologers, UFO spotters, Yeti hunters, Faith Healers, Feng Shui weirdoes.....all a load of barking mad fruitcakes or conmen. Put them all into Room 101!

This hilarious ditty by Tim Minchin sums up my views on pseudo-scientific claptrap perfectly!

If you open your mind too much!

Strange how astrologers carried on regardless after the discovery of Uranus and Neptune and failed to see the events of Sept 11th 2001 coming! Just how many gullible idiots are there? Princess Diana's Horoscope for her final week said she had a good week ahead, but strangely missed out the fact she would get into a car with Henry Paul drunk at the wheel!!!

And just how much money have we spent on the religious War in Iraq!!! Looking for weapons of mass destruction that weren't there, just to kill one dictator!? Wouldn't a hitman have been simpler? I think this number by the Rolling Stones sums the superpower philosophy up.

Highwire - The Stones

Science and Aliens

I am fascinated by the big cosmological and evolutionary questions, as it is only by science that we can possibly understand what the Universe and the human brain is about. The Universe is a fascinating mystery, with far stranger aspects to it than anything religion can offer....Quantum Uncertainty, String Theory, Black Holes, they all fascinate me. The microscopic world fascinates me too. The Large Hadron Collider revealed the Higgs Boson in 2012....remarkable! This is an exciting time to be alive. Then there is Dark Matter and Dark Energy. All fascinating challenges waiting to be solved. When we understand these mysteries, and the exact nature of gravity, interstellar travel may become possible and man can spread out into the Universe, away from this increasingly overpopulated planet, full to the brim with religious loonies, vacuous celebrities, people so fat their houses have to be demolished to get them to hospital in a reinforced ambulance, and expense fiddling politicians.

As regards Alien life, well, as Arthur C. Clarke once said "If we are alone...that is terrifying and if we are not alone, that is terrifying too". It is rather odd that, in a Universe that is 14 billion years old, we see NOT A SHRED of extra-terrestrial intelligence anywhere. Where are the Aliens? Surely this is the biggest question of all, the so-called "Fermi Paradox". Our galaxy contains maybe 200 billion stars and has been around for maybe 10 billion years. At light-speed it only takes 100,000 years to cross the galaxy. Surely there should be civilisations FAR more advanced than us who have, by now, populated the entire galaxy? So where are they? Maybe there is an all-powerful 'BORG' type race in our Galaxy, that annihilates any other life form that starts to travel through space? That might explain what we see, although I would definitely class that as Science Fiction. I think we should be a little bit careful about blasting our messages into the ether saying "Is anyone there?". Stephen Hawking holds this view too. I can recommend reading Peter F. Hamilton's 'Pandora's Star' if you want to imagine what might be out there. Sentience and peacefulness just do NOT seem to go hand in hand. It's the survival of the fittest and most ruthless, here on Earth AND, I would suggest, 'out there' too. Alastair Reynolds' 'Revelation Space' Universe books offer intriguing and worrying S.F. answers to this 'lack of aliens' mystery as well. The book "Where is Everybody" by Stephen Webb gives an excellent account of where everyone may, or rather, may not be, in our Universe; and, don't tell me that UFO's have landed and Roswell was real! As the great discoverer George Alcock (see my dedicated web page) once told me: "Strange, all these people seeing Flying Saucers and yet I spend 400 hours a year sweeping the skies, discovering comets and novae and have never seen any....obviously I'm doing something wrong....." Yep, you were doing something wrong, you were living in the real world George. The LINEAR and PanSTARRS telescopes spot anything bigger than a dustbin in low earth orbit these days....but they don't spot UFOs.....

Science Fiction has been a constant theme in my life from childhood to the present day, but unlike some I can separate science from fiction. Hard S.F. points the way in which exciting developments in science and space travel *may* happen. For example, one day soon neural nets or artificial intelligence may become sentient. The brain has 100 trillion synapses and over ten billion neurons optimised for parallel processing. At some time in this century that structure will be replicated in electronic hardware and robots may well become indistinguishable from humans. What are the bible thumpers going to do with their faith if that happens?

Inspired by Patrick and NASA

As far back as I can recall I have been interested in Space Rockets and the Night Sky; from the first TV episodes of Dr Who and Fireball XL5.

Dr Who 1963

Fireball XL5

But it was only when I came across a copy of Patrick Moore's 1968 'Observer's Book of Astronomy', when I was ten, and saw pictures of 'Big' telescopes in amateur astronomers' back gardens that I realised there was such a thing as an 'amateur astronomer'.Without doubt that tiny little book, that fitted neatly in a coat pocket, changed my life. A year later, the Apollo 11 Moon landing really fired my enthusiasm and I joined the BAA. Then, when Patrick showed off his 15 inch reflector on a Sky at Night program in 1973, it inspired me to build my own 8.5 inch fork mounted telescope, including grinding and polishing the mirror.

I still reckon there is NOTHING like watching one of those 3,000 ton Saturn V Moon Rockets taking off live on TV......they were just BLOODY AWESOME. Videos like the one below send shivers up my spine and bring a lump to my throat. I was 11 when Apollo 11 went to the Moon. That, and Patrick's books, fired me up with enthusiasm. The astronauts were heroes, but the biggest heroes were NOT the astronauts. No, the biggest heroes were the unsung engineers and scientists who made the Saturn V and Apollo spacecraft work reliably. The astronauts were privileged to use that technology. In recent years a few astronauts have started charging significant sums of money to sign autographs and pose with people! It's a bit sad to see this. At least Neil Armstrong didn't sink to that level! I'd risk my life tomorrow if NASA were interested in an ageing nerd......Here's a Saturn V launch clip on YouTube....

YouTube Saturn V launch compilation

Here's the awesome Apollo 11 Moon landing.

YouTube Apollo 11 Moon landing

And I won't waste my breath on those sad cases who claim it was all faked. I lump them together with the religious loonies. They are mentally ill, in love with their own voices and envious of the scientists and engineers who made it possible. Intellectually the conspiracy theorists are just amoebae by comparison. The Apollo astronauts aligned laser reflectors on the Moon that any observatory with a powerful laser can bounce a beam off, and they have done, since 1969. Get out of that!!

Let's go back to the Moon NOW as a first step!!! Before the Chinese get there! If we could do it in the 60s, surely we can go back? Although maybe there is no-one who can motivate like JFK anymore?

JFK's famous speech

Like Patrick, I joined the British Astronomical Association (BAA) aged 11 (1969) so have been a member for almost 50 years now. Various legendary BAA observers inspired me to become an astrophotographer. These included Horace Dall, Harold Ridley, Alan Young and Cdr Henry Hatfield. Since joining the BAA I have written many articles: 100 monthly features in the Lunar Section Circular (1983 - 1991), countless articles in the Journal, recorded the meetings for 7 years (1990 - 1997), been the Papers Secretary for 7 years (1990 - 1997) and given over 100 talks to the BAA alone since 1981. All for free!! (Sorry if I'm repeating myself here...) My monthly Sky Notes were very popular at meetings from 1990 - 1999 and 2002 to 2006. I prepared over 100 slides for many of the final talks, before my mother became terminally ill and needed my full attention, and that of my Dad. I was BAA President from 1997 to 1999 and asteroid 7239 was named 'Mobberley' by the IAU in 1997, after its discoverer, Brian Manning, suggested his first asteroid should be named after me, for my contribution to amateur astronomy. Thank's Brian! Being President at 39 made me one of the youngest ever BAA Presidents but these days astro- politics bores me rigid. The Night Sky and cosmology are my real interests, as well as doing things with my Dad. In 2000 the BAA Council presented me with their Walter Goodacre Award which takes pride of place above my writing desk and frequently spurs me on.

The last 40 years have been dismal ones for manned spaceflight. In 1972, I was 14; I thought we were poised on the verge of an era of manned space exploration, throughout the solar system. What has happened since then? In terms of manned spaceflight...nothing. Like Eugene Cernan, the last man on the Moon, I don't consider orbital flights any advance at all. Shuttle astronauts are not fully fledged astronauts. They are travelling a few hundred miles vertically!! I do NOT consider that spaceflight. Spaceflight is when you go to the Moon, the planets, and other solar systems.....Sorry, I'm hard to impress! The Apollo moon landings were fantastic - since then, nothing....at least not with respect to manned space travel. PATHETIC!!!!! Still, seeing a Saturn V or Shuttle launch always impressed me and brought a lump to my throat. If only the money poured into wars by world leaders was pumped into NASA, and, say, Cancer research, we would have manned Mars bases by now, and Cancer would be history. Here is a link to a Shuttle launch synchronised to Countdown by Rush.

Countdown by Rush.

Thought I'd throw a second Rush track in at this point too.....

Subdivisions by Rush.

and a third...

Analog Kid by Rush.

Engineers & Bullshitters

Professionally, I was an electronics engineer for 22 years, from 1980 to 2002 (I graduated from Brunel University in 1980). However, electronics was merely a job, not an interest, and I honestly cannot recall many engineering projects that I was involved with, in those 22 years, that were of much use to man or beast!!! My main role in those 22 years was as a software engineer. In the final years I wrote embedded C and assembler code used in microprocessors onboard microwave tags. These microprocessors were mainly Pic 12 and 17 series units, although some were Motorola devices, eg the little workhorse, the HC11. The projects I worked on were many and varied, ranging from component Failure Analysis, to optical data bus projects, European collaborative ventures, RF tags for cars and road tolling, the deeply overspent JORN radar project, testing cables for the Navy, remote meter reading systems, thick film hybrid circuit testing and many other underfunded and impossible timescale nightmares!

Electronics is a strange profession, full of overweight management who get paid far MORE than the working engineers simply for thinking up buzzwords and lying about timescales and budgets. Engineering managers are, essentially, bullshitters who are totally indistinguishable from most politicians, in other words they are all mouth and bull! They spend every day at work trying to work out how to impress their own company directors. Years ago we had a Senior Lab Consultant who made Walter Mitty look like a well -balanced guy; he was completely off his rocker....but he got paid twice what the engineers were on. PLEASE, read the text file on his fairy stories!!

Text File on the absolute nutter who was our top laboratory consultant...!!

I hope you enjoyed that file. Honestly, the stories are all true. He was a barking mad nutter!! Another chap...a Welsh Senior Manager, was the thickest human I had ever met. Then there was the fat boss who just downloaded porn all day; and they were all paid mega-bucks....WHY? One of my bosses strutted around all day looking like he had something rammed up himself and spent months arguing about his height....claiming that he was taller than another employee who had accused him of having shoe inserts! Give me a break !!!! How do these people get promoted to these positions? Well, it's because the people above them are just as bad! One senior manager, about to retire, once told me: "We've always liked to promote these self-obsessed people to get them out of the way, so they don't interfere with the real work"... Words fail me!! Electronics engineers are some of the cleverest people in society and yet they are paid half what some of their line management are paid (for bullshitting), little more than schoolteachers, far less than M.P.'s (mostly slackers, illegitimate child producers and binge-eating, croquet playing, multiple-home owning, expense claiming, bullshitting wasters) and about a third of what Doctors get paid..... Then we are told there is a skills shortage!!! Hardly surprising when a plumber or plasterer can earn more in a day than an electronics engineer gets in a week. In the last decade it has transpired that MP's don't just get their own salaries either. Their wives are employed by them, as are their sons and daughters, for carrying out non-existent research. Their wives spend thousands on taxi trips to London shops and they all have second homes with mortgages and extensions paid for by tax payers money!!!!! And they tell US how to behave and to have pay restraint!!! What total bloody pompous fornicating, gin-sodden multiple home owning sanctimonous, overweight hypocrites........ Oh, and also, the upper class toffs in the House of Lords only go to Westminster because they can visit the local brothels and snort cocaine with the local prostitutes! You couldn't make this stuff up.... It's just great to see these pompous asses snivelling when someone like Jeremy Paxman interviews them.

The famous Paxman/Howard interview!

90% of politicians seem to be, quite simply, like excrement that ended up in the Houses of Parliament when the drains burst. As Patrick used to say, the only man we need in Parliament today is Guy Fawkes. They are all after three things: money, power and a knighthood. If you sacked all the MPs and collected their salaries and expenses you could pump 100 million a year into Cancer Research....Instead of which the money goes into an old boy system and that 100 million allows hundreds of MPs to say "Hearrrr, Hearrrr...." once a week while keeping their families in a life of privilege and luxury. Now, in the 21st century, after seeing what the world's bankers have done for us, after claiming their massive bonuses....the same comments apply. I cannot imagine anyone would be upset if most of the world's politicians and bankers were all frog-marched to the gallows and the public hangings broadcast live on Sky HD. It would be far more entertaining than the endless reality TV and food programs on TV.

Going back to my time in the electronics industry....One of my ex-bosses, whenever presented with a question he didn't want to hear, simply had a massive throat clearing spasm that could last for hours so he didn't have to answer. Another boss was so unpopular that when he left the company people took money OUT of his collection....yes, you read that right. They simply said "Well, that Bastard owes me one" and took a few quid out. In the 1980s the electronics company I worked for was riddled with suicides on a monthly basis. Some parts of the company had a bigger body throughput than the local morgue. When one employee managed to pull his own head clean off questions were even asked in Parliament and on BBC Panorama....nothing happened though. I knew three employees in the electronics industry who committed suicide using the methods of: 1) Weed Killer Butty 2) Self Immolation (petrol) 3) The good old standby, hurling yourself off a cliff. Another young boss of mine (aged 35) died due to the stress he was under, which had turned him into an alcoholic. But still, management just guarded their comfy positions, didn't rock the boat, salted away their share options, and cleared their throats......but NEVER got their hands dirty!! The popular press latched onto the spate of suicides in the electronic engineering industry but, bizarrely, decided there was an MI6/KGB type plot behind it all, and even a Star Wars missile technology link. They missed the whole point. People topped themselves because they were coping with a mental stress level 1000x higher than the Prime Minister, but were paid little more than a bog cleaner, in a company where pay scales were frozen at zero percent for several years. On top of this, their lard- arse bosses were paid double or triple what they were on for talking bull. A small fraction of the suicides are covered on a Wikipedia page, although, again, with a cold war/espionage/hitman type spin. Of the 3 suicides and one premature death cases I knew, all were related simply to job stress and pay, not contract killers!

Wiki page on some electronic industry suicides

If you wanted to buy a spare soldering iron tip, in the 1980s industry I worked in, you needed several management signatories: it was bureaucracy gone mad. Some days I spent an entire day walking around the site just to get half a dozen signatories for purchasing something like an oscilloscope probe. I do know a few people who claim they enjoyed their work in the British electronics industry. However, after they leave the industry they always admit they've been lying!! I like a technical challenge, but that was not the challenge from the British electronics industry I experienced; my experience was totally frustrating and, as almost everyone I knew in the 1980s has now left the industry, I am not alone. In fact, barely a week goes by without another former colleague finds this website and e-mails me to say "I couldn't have put it better myself". In the mid 90s I worked on an ailing project associated with a gigantic radar system. Believe me, I could write a book about that mess; the networked company computer system took up to 10 minutes to respond to a single keyboard operation some days!! But the management claimed "The site network has a few problems, but they are all solved now".....Bloody Liars!!

Essentially, in the UK electronics industry there are teams of people sweating over spectrum analysers, oscilloscopes, emulators, and soldering irons, who do the real work, and then there are the overweight bullshitting suits, who are too damn lazy to do any real work and so decide it is far easier to bellow their way to the top. To see these slackers grovelling in front of the big CEOs who control their salaries is, frankly, stomach churning. The bosses I worked for over 22 years can be described thus, in no particular order: The dwarf with a height complex; The chain-smoking chimp; The jumped up little tit; The stammering tosser; Blodwin the Bozo; The Lump of Lard; The Snorting Hamster; The Blob; The spaced out druggie; The jobsworth pensioner; The lisping toff.

One of my work colleagues, a reliable and dedicated company man in his late 20s, lost his 60 year old father, suddenly, from a heart attack. He had been a devoted employee and then suffered this terrible bereavement. Suddenly he was the head of the family with a mother and sister to console as well as a demanding day job. Did the company stand by him? Not at all. He asked for an extra day's bereavement allowance (the company allowed 3 days) and he was told he couldn't have any and the company profits were far more important than one person's loss!!!!!!!! This was a standard 'jobsworth' company line. Some weeks later the company was awarded an 'Investors in People' Award, despite the company treating its employees like sewage. What a load of bloody hypocrisy. Needless to say my colleague went from being a dedicated employee to just the opposite.

For a month I was dispatched to work on an ailing project at a company outpost at Basildon. It shared a lot in common with Guantanamo bay's Camp Delta. The company wouldn't buy enough furniture, except in the manager's offices, so I stood up at my job for a month!!! The management had a buzzword term for this. They said cheerily "Oh yes, the company currently operates a desk sharing policy". I was tempted to stick both my fingers in the grinning manager's eye sockets, twist and pull and say "This company operates a blind eye policy fuckwit"..... But I didn't....pity......Instead, I told my manager (The one we thought of as the stammering tosser) "Send me back to Basildon and I leave the company". I never went back there, but, 5 years later, I gave the company the same ultimatum, with a different site and, again, they pulled me out....They really did NOT like me when I was angry because I was not interested in licking management arse. I knew when I was right and was prepared to argue my case to the death against such pitiful jobsworth suits. I didn't think that getting a degree in Electronics and being 100% reliable made me deserve being treated worse than a mass-murderer.......

Talking of blindness, In the early 90s I helped build a pioneering system called 'React' which automatically identified a blind person nearby and activated various voice messages to help them home in on a help-point/advice centre. Technically it worked perfectly, but because it was not the flavour of the month project, and because of general management sloth the project was allowed to die. This was typical of my experience in the UK electronics industry. Working on projects which, for a small amount of extra investment, would have been great successes...but there never was that investment. Of course, in Germany, Japan, or even China, the money would have been found, because they don't have the same Old Boy management system in place. Hardly surprising that the UK only has a small car industry and does not make things like DVD recorders or Camcorders. We have the brainpower, but the whole country is crippled under a mass of overconfident, arrogant, invariably morbidly obese, badly fitting wig wearing, deadwood, in suits, spouting bullshit and lying about budgets and timescales.

Another project I worked on briefly was the digital design for a next generation super-sensitive Olfactory Sensor, that's a sensor that sniffs chemicals and explosives etc....If enough money was pumped into the research for such a device it could be made as sensitive as a bloodhound, i.e. it could sniff out drug smugglers and explosives easily. Now just think what a difference that would make in the modern world. Sounds great eh? Suicide bombing ended, at a stroke. Guess what the budget for this was.....It was 20K!!! No, that's not a typo.....I think I really do have a right to a rant, don't you? The Super Olfactory sensor was dead before it drew the first breath.....Yet, given proper funding it could have stopped terrorism and drug smuggling in its tracks. Suicide bombers cost the world billions, yet GEC-Marconi would not spend more than 20K on a system to sniff out explosives!

Things improved for me in the late 90s, just a bit, but in 2002 the company literally collapsed, due to the massive egos of the most senior company directors, who, as always, walked away with huge million pound pensions and bonuses to reward their years of making the wrong decisions, using buzzwords, getting fat, and lying about timescales. Managers lie about timescales and budgets to get the contracts and get the Brownie points, and a big pay rise. By the time the shit hits the fan they are always well gone and untraceable. They can never be held to account, but they should be jailed, or hung from a yard arm. This is why so many big engineering projects go over budget and over cost. Because the original contract clinching managers lied to undercut the competition, and the customers, employing similar tossers, didn't suss this out! It happens time and time and time again.

Fortunately, in August 2002, I was offered a nice financial severance package and, as I had paid my mortgage off 9 years earlier, aged 35, and my finances were already healthy (no thanks to my employer, just my meticulous financial strategy over the past 26 years, as employee and sponsored student), I decided to move into astronomical writing full-time. I escaped from Bullshit Universe.

My last day at work...August 2002. With office secretary Pam Betts.

The Bachelor Life

In 2002 I moved back to live with my parents under dark Suffolk skies and rented my house out to a work colleague. My life really started in August 2002. At last I was doing what I wanted to after a 22 year prison term: observing when it was clear, writing when it was not. Bliss !! Plus I was living with two parents who really cared about me and not a spherical wife waiting to divorce me. So many modern marriages seem to be just a divorce with a slow burning fuse on it. In 2006 my parents celebrated 56 years of marriage: an old fashioned marriage where the man earns the money and the woman lovingly looks after him. A rare recipe that worked well in the distant past, but is rarely seen now. Tragically, my mother succumbed to Bowel Cancer on September 8th 2006. But at least I had four 'retired' years at home with her. For that luck, I will always be grateful. I have written a full tribute to my Mum. There is a link on this page. I miss her every day. Hopefully my Dad has many more years left.

I have always been a single man, and thank goodness for that. From what I have seen of 80% of modern marriages they are a religious or business pact between two people who agree to stress each other up for life, often just because two salaries pay the bills. After the naive early years are over most married couples seem to irritate each other and argue every day, just putting on a different face for parties and functions. Yes, there are exceptions to every rule (like my own parents), but look at the current divorce statistics....! In 2007 there were more UK divorces than marriages...I rest my case. Then there are these people who say they are "on perfectly amicable terms with their ex". For F**k's sake!!! If you are on perfectly amicable terms why did you ever split up? Then they seem to instantly rebound into another disastrous relationship as if to say to their ex "See, I can easily find someone else......you were the problem"......Then that relationship breaks up after another seven years or so..... Why not just do without and live a peaceful and tranquil life without arguments?

There is another factor here too. Electronics engineers seem to do very badly in the attractive wife stakes; are they really that desperate ?!! They should do a TV prog called Electronics Engineers wives; it would need to be X-Rated. One Engineer actually admitted to me that his wife had a face like "a blocked drain". But, and I quote, he said "You don't look at the mantelpiece when you're stoking the grate".....!!! Some engineers I encountered ended up purchasing mail order Eastern block or Far Eastern brides!!! Another colleague told me his wife had been so ugly as a baby her dummy had a 12 inch flange!! When I was an engineer we used to have an annual Xmas lunch where you would see the engineers' other halves........ Honestly, it was like watching feeding time at the Zoo. It reminded me of Dad's Army, where Captain Mainwaring's wife was never seen in public.

A few friends of mine do have astronomy tolerant wives, at least they seem like that for the first few years....but many others are divorced....acrimoniously divorced with REAL HATE in many cases. Also, a significant proportion of married astronomers seem to have their hobbies banned, either by their wives or by their mother-in-laws!!! Sorry, that's not for me. An attractive, intelligent, female astronomer, now that sounds bloody fantastic, but they are rarer than Rocking Horse Shit. If one had turned up in my 20s, fine. But I have never been interested in something that looks like John Prescott with a skirt and wig. If you marry something like that you will regret it for life or be divorced very quickly. Why settle for something second best when you deserve better? I guess most people just decide at some point that their dream partner will never turn up, so they settle for whatever monstrosity is within reach when they mentally make that decision. Well, that is not the way I do things.

Brilliant animation - I guess you'll do!

There is obviously a duty on the male astronomer too. Friends of mine have divorced due to an astronomy obsession on the man's side and the wife saying it's OK to be out every night imaging, but not really meaning it.....the resentment builds up and up and up. Eventually something snaps and, in mere days, its all over. One of the biggest problems with modern society is couples who want it all: hobbies, careers, children. Something always snaps. I've seen it so many times and I see others hurtling towards the same abyss, eyes firmly blinkered. How can they be so stupid? I may come across as a male chauvinist here but there is no way I would ever be so arrogant as to inflict my hobby on a non-astronomical partner. There is yet another issue here too. When you marry someone you do not just marry them, you marry their whole interfering family who start telling you how to live your damned life. A married female friend of mine told me recently how lucky I was that I had no family baggage and no in-laws running my life. I couldn't argue with that! If I want a new telescope I buy it. If I want to go on a total solar eclipse trip I book it. I don't need a permit from the mother-in-law...LOL!

All things considered I am proud of the fact that I am single and have avoided all this sort of hassle, and I feel somewhat smug that so many people seem to have regarded me as wrong throughout my life, simply because I was an independent thinker. I am not a pack animal. Throughout my life people told me I would not achieve things, simply because I was a very quiet person and never spoke about things if I wasn't totally sure of the facts. For example, I was told I was not O Level material (I got 9 in real subjects), I was not A Level material (I got Maths, Physics and Electronics in the era when exams were hard to pass!), and I was also told I would never get a degree or sponsorship for a degree. I got both, and left Uni 5,000 in profit in 1980 with a second class honours degree in a REAL subject, Electronic Engineering, not the "History of Art" or something plain useless to society.

I could afford to retire from my day job at 44. So, considering all the people who have, my whole life, told me how I should live my life, and I now find I am better off than them in EVERY regard, well, I feel I got it right. One thing I have NEVER, EVER, done is to tell friends of mine how they should live their lives. Yet, quite a few of my *former* friends seemed to be compelled to tell ME how I should live mine, even when their own lives were a walking disaster area!!!! Extraordinary!! Maybe you are now finally understanding why I wanted to have a good rant?

Gut buckets

Another thing I can't understand is these people who become spherical. They'll get no sympathy from me if they have a heart attack! It's a 21st Century epidemic. At 6 feet, I am the same weight now (aged 58) as I was at the age of 18, namely 11 stone. If I started waddling around like a gutbucket, lard arse or wobble-bottom, I'd be ashamed of myself. All these weak-willed slobs need to do is eat less, and yet they can't even achieve that. Pathetic!!!!! You see them at supermarkets, trolleys piled high with junk; they are beyond my comprehension I'm afraid. I saw a chap in Bury a year ago who was so fat he needed 4 passers-by to pull him out through his car door. Someone should have offered him a "Waffer thin mint" (Monty Python - Meaning of Life) to put him out of his misery.....

Python's Mr Creosote.

And, they'll expect the National Health Service to give them a heart by-pass operation, or a gastric band, paid for by my taxes !!!! I am therefore being robbed, as surely as if I was mugged in the street!

As for smokers and lung cancer....well....In 2006 my Dad and I looked after my Mum, every day, while she died from bowel cancer. The experience is scarred on my brain even years later. She didn't ever smoke, but got cancer anyway. Take it from me, you do not want the big C in your life. Her final months were horrendously grim. She was a kind, caring lady with a sunny disposition who brightened our lives. No-one deserves to die in terror and misery, least of all her. We need billions putting into Cancer research instead of into pointless wars. However, the National Health Service has been drained of resources by Gut Buckets, Alcoholics & Smokers, so there is no money left to treat those who have been sensible in their lives....like me!

The Royal family are sitting on billions and spend our tax payers money and then they pretend they care about the poor and sick!!! Pull the other one. Hey, Queen, and Phil the Greek, if you care, sell Buck House and the Crown Jewels, raise a few billion and give it to Cancer Research.....but of course, they won't.....billionaires never do.

My Dad had an open mind on religion before my Mum's horrendous demise, but after she died all he said was: "Well, if there is a God, he is an UTTER BASTARD". Without your health you have nothing. Speaking as someone who was a regular blood donor from the age of 24, I just hope the countless gallons of blood I've donated have gone to help those whose illness is genuine and not self-inflicted!!!

Spherical 30 stone people do not have an unusual metabolism; they do not retain water, they retain chips. Some people seem to find my hatred of such slobs "offensive". WHY? In every single case if you want to lose weight, just EAT LESS!!!! Or, exercise more. Preferably both! Why is it offensive to moan about people who are overburdening the NHS and are too fat to work so live off benefits? I have paid a huge amount of tax in my life. Since 1976 I have paid tax into the system but taken nothing out. I have been to the Doctor 3 times in the last 32 years, for a 15 minute chat. In those 32 years I have paid huge amounts to the inland revenue in tax, and in National Insurance. Why should I not moan about slobs living on benefits? Benefits that I and every other responsible, health conscious person has paid out for in tax.

Eat less and you will weigh less, it is as simple as that. It's not rocket science. You only have one body. Take care of it. You only have one life too......and, before you tell me Patrick Moore was overweight. Yes, obviously....that's a no-brainer. But, in my view, that was his only failing In addition, he raised loads of money for charity, but he never even mentioned it.

There used to be a revolting spherical chap in the BAA who we nicknamed Mr Creosote (Python - Meaning of Life again...) he was utterly gross and stank the lecture theatres out. He was so lazy he used his trousers as a toilet and never had a trouser belt, so he would occasionally go into Full Moon mode, which caused people to spontaneously chuck their last meal up. A few years ago he literally detonated in his London flat. Maybe it really was a Waffer thin mint that tipped the blob over the edge..... The authorities came in, sluiced his sty out and incinerated the corpse. Good riddance.......

I'm told when he blew up it registered on the Richter scale....I think that might be an exaggeration.

All things considered I will continue leading my civilised and tranquil bachelor life according to the gospel of Sir Patrick Moore. Patrick was nearly always right on most things and, like me, he had no time for political correctness: a system whereby you are encouraged to say one thing and think another, so everyone is even more confused than normal! Political correctness is just a symptom of a society where overpaid human rights lawyers rule the world, in societies where criminals are treated better than their victims. 40 years ago it was fashionable to be a racist and to smoke. Now it's fashionable to be politically correct, binge drink, and put an inquisitive inflection on the last word of every sentence, like an Australian, or to precede every sentence with the word...."So"..... I'm not impressed by these fads, or persuaded to live my life like every other photocopied person. I do things the way I want to do them and I'm also 100% reliable. One of my former bosses called me "The Postman", as I always delivered the goods, even if he never did. Like Patrick, I ignore fashionable trends and just carry on doing astronomy.

With Patrick at a BAA Lunar Section meeting in 1984!

With Patrick at the BAA Centenary meeting in 1990.

Mobberley background

Throughout all my astronomical endeavours I was encouraged 100% by both my parents. My father, who is still alive, never tired of wanting to build me run-off sheds and equipment to make my hobby easier. I can't imagine a better father or mother to have had and I miss my Mum terribly. I could not have been luckier with my parents. They looked after each other and were responsible adults. I have always felt a sort of inner strength from knowing they backed me 100% and believed in me. Others are rarely so lucky. My Dad is quite a character. He was in the RAF aerobatics team in the 1950s and 60s and survived a mid-air collision (before I was born...GULP). See this article from the Brentwood Gazette sixty years after the event:

Brentwood Gazette piece.

He also landed an RAF Victor without any electrics (due to a fuel leak) in the early 1960s, saving the lives of all those on board. He was awarded the Air Force Cross for that in 1965. He was an RAF 'Nuclear Deterrent' pilot flying Victors during the cold war period in the 60s, on call if World War III started! Up to the age of 70 he was still flying planes and only retired in 1998, aged 72. He is still going strong at 90, but then his mother was still going strong up to a few days before her 98th birthday, and his sister survived until 96. The Mobberley family tree (and my DNA is definitely from my father's side...pictures of us at similar ages are almost identical!) has a good number of long duration survivors. Even in the 19th Century they were surviving well into their 80s.

Small montage of my Dad, his parents and his father's parents.

However, my Mobberley DNA does have a few quirks. I have two completely different eyes, one with excellent vision and the other very poor (mainly astigmatism and long-sightedness) thus I have very poor stereo vision. This seems to have been passed down from my great-grandmother Hannah Mobberley (maiden name Massey). When I was a child I had two eye operations to attempt to correct problems with my eyesight. The first operation was a typical West Suffolk Hospital bodge...they made things worse. The second operation was little better. If I had received better medical treatment I might have full stereo vision now, but then, aged 3 and 5 you don't realise just how bad the NHS can be. You assume Doctors know what they are doing. HAH!!!! Many are just blundering through their jobs like so many other people, they just get paid far more. Conversely, surgeons who transform people's lives by removing tumors, fitting new hips, transplanting hearts, they are brilliant people, but the typical GP....well, they are a very mixed bag! Some of them can't even speak English despite getting paid 100K a year. And as for hospital administrators on 200K/year who can't even keep their hospitals MRSA free....can someone explain their salaries to me please? How are they worth 10x the salary of a nurse???

Another Mobberley family curse is mouth ulcers. My father and grandmother had them...anything sharp that cuts the mouth results in a week of pain. I have had some success in reducing the incidence of these and treating them myself....again, no thanks to the medical world.

I have had a fair amount of back pain too over the years but that has largely been cured. Again, it has been cured by me.....Physiotherapists and chiropractors are just conmen. They take your money and either make your back worse, or have no effect..... I spent several years working out a regime to get my back in shape, and, since late 2000 I have been mainly pain-free, if I am careful. However I vastly prefer visual observing with a Newtonian telescope where I don't have to bend down...continuous bending on cold, damp nights really does me no good at all! Apart from those niggles though, I am virtually never unwell. Mouth Ulcer remedies are always welcome. My Dad has spent the last few years compiling a family tree for me which is summarised in the diagram link below.

A compact summary of my family tree.

A newspaper article on my Grandfather Jim Mobberley (1888 - 1970) when he retired from a life in the Coal Mines in 1954 is shown here.

Rugeley Times Dec 4th 1954.

Astro Holidays

I have been on quite a few astronomy holidays and trips in recent years. I suppose my first real astro-trip was to see Halley's Comet from Tenerife in March 1986. A few years later I visited the French lunar photographer Georges Viscardy at his observatory in the hills above Nice. In 1991 I started serious eclipse-chasing with a holiday in Hawaii for the big 'July 1991' eclipse. Tragically we were clouded out, which was really disappointing when we had all travelled so far. I have learnt quite a few things about enjoying astro-holidays to the full since then. When you are a single traveller, like me, you will only really enjoy a holiday if you are in the company of like-minded friends who are tolerant of your needs and preferences. There are few things worse than finding out that you are in a hotel where you don't know anyone else and everyone on your itinerary is a complete nerd, or an alcoholic. The only sensible plan is to make sure you travel on the same itinerary (and are in the same hotels...the two things are NOT always the same thing!!) as people who you want to be with and who want to be with you. The company of such astro-friends will make or break the holiday, as will the company of people who you can't stand. Being stuck in a hotel on your own, far from home, with no like-minded friends around, can be an utterly depressing situation and a total waste of money. So, before you embark on an astronomy holiday, check out who of your friends are on the same itinerary AND hotels AND plane flights. I repeat: You may think the same itinerary means the same hotels and plane flights........IT DOES NOT !!! It just means you see the same sights at the same time. When an eclipse is taking place, there will be hundreds of travellers and they will not all fit in one hotel and one plane. You may be totally separated from your friends but not realise this until you get to the airport. Many astro- holidays seek to give the best value-for-money by whistle-stopping around at break-neck speed so you see everything. However, I do not like being in a different hotel every night and on a different plane or bus every damn day.....I like a relaxing holiday, not an endurance expedition. You have to expect a certain amount of chaos when travelling to third world countries, but why make it worse?? Dehydration can be a real problem with lots of air travel in hot countries, so drink plenty of bottled water, NOT tap water (especially not in India......!!!) Also, avoid salads and ice-cream in dodgy countries, UNLESS you want to spend all holiday welded to a bog seat !!! After Hawaii, I saw all my foriegn eclipses.....I've been to ten Total Solar Eclipses now....after Hawaii, there was Peru in 1994, India in 1995, the Caribbean in 1998, Cloudy Cornwall in 1999, Zimbabwe in 2001, Libya in 2006, Siberia in 2008, China (mainly cloudy) in 2009, and the South Pacific in 2010. Peru was a great trip as I had my father for company. India was gruelling and the eclipse was short, but it was an amazing experience, although I was glad to get home. The Caribbean eclipse trip was the best of the lot...a beautiful eclipse from a beautiful setting (Knip Bay, Curacao) with great people, Scuba diving, and a very attractive Scuba dive partner.....

Off Scuba diving with my entertaining dive-buddy Beverley in the Caribbean!

Zimbabwe was a superb eclipse but a depressing holiday. For most of the time I was just on my own, in hotels where I knew nobody....a very lonely and depressing experience. I like being on my own in my house at home, but NOT when I am abroad in a dodgy country. If a holiday is BAD, I say so....I'm not one of these people who has to pretend everything is fantastic... it doesn't always work like that and that was the case in Zimbabwe for most of the time. Again, I was glad to get home. So, I've seen seven total solar eclipses now and had two cloudy ones (Hawaii and Cornwall '99....when I was the BAA President and was surrounded by 500 fellow BAA members on Aug 11th 1999) and one almost totally cloudy one (China 2009). If every holiday could be like the 1998 Caribbean one, all would be great. I didn't want to come home from that one (partly because it was back to work next day.....ugh...) On three of my eclipse trips (Chile, India and Curacao '98) the Queen guitarist Brian May was on the same eclipse tour.

Posing with Rock Giant Brian May on the Chile-Peru border in November 1994.

I also bumped into him at Patrick Moore's Venus Transit party in June 2004. He is a genuinely nice, surprisingly quiet chap, but always fails to bring his guitar and amplifiers along........much to everyone's disappointment ;-)))) There are a lot of pictures floating around showing Brian, Chris Lintott and Patrick Moore on that Venus Transit day.....almost all are mine.....stolen!! The picture in the front of BANG! is mine, but with no credit and no payment ever coming my way....despite huge sales...... Typical!

QUEEN - Hammer to Fall

I have also been on a second comet photography trip to Tenerife (to see comet Hyakutake in March 1996) and three Leonid meteor trips (1998 Darjeeling...an utter disaster; 1999 Sinai...a great success; and 2001 Palau (in the Pacific), a great holiday). Now that I'm self employed and have a very healthy financial situation, I could do a lot more travelling of the world. But the problem is always one of who to travel with, so as to really have a great time. I would not enjoy travelling on my own, so I tend to stick to the big events where I go to the big Total Solar Eclipse expeditions with (up to 2006) the same company (Explorers). That way, I usually end up with a crowd of people I know....I was on a Mediterranean Cruise for the 2006 Eclipse.....at least you can't split everyone up on a ship (unless it hits an iceberg) !!! For the 2008 eclipse I travelled to Russia with Voyages Jules Verne which worked very well. There are humorous accounts of all my foriegn astronomy trips on my Total Solar Eclipse page. With my father now 90 I am loathe to travel on foriegn holidays any more in case something happens while I am away. Some people seem a bit baffled by this, but, well, just let me live by my higher moral standards, please!

Telescope Reviews

One of my real gripes is 'Telescope Reviews' especially in astro magazines and web forums. In every other field (cars, cameras etc....) reviewers of products call a spade a spade. But in some US astro mags and forums a telescope review is always good if the manufacturer funds a lot of adverts in the mag or online. This is unique to astronomy and is simply corrupt. There are some telescopes drives (and the odd mirror) out there that are simply CRAP but are given good reviews because of mega bucks in advertising revenue. There are even some dodgy telescope ads that quote Patrick Moore as endorsing their products, when he had never properly tested them!!! Patrick was too semi-paralysed to observe anything other than naked eye stuff since the start of the 21st century...... In my experience the best affordable telescopes are the Newtonians made by Orion Optics (UK) and all of the Schmidt-Cassegrains made by Celestron. I would strongly recommend those specific products as both good AND affordable. You only rarely meet anyone who has had a bad experience with a Celestron SCT. The big C14s on a sturdy mount (CGE, Losmandy, Astrophysics or Paramount) are a real joy to own. I have a lot more to say about this subject on the Equipment/Telescopes page. UK C14 owners, apart from myself, include Tom Boles, Mark Armstrong, Damian Peach, Dave Tyler and Pete Lawrence. They are just a brilliant big-aperture optical package.

My proudest achievements are:-

The BAA's 55th President 1997-1999

With the BAA Council in my last year as President....Eclipse Year, 1999.

The BAA Goodacre Award 2000

Asteroid 7239 named 'Mobberley'

Ten 'Sky at Night' appearances (3 as the sole guest)

Preparing to film a 'Sky at Night' with Sir Patrick Moore

My 10 astronomy books (plus 3 children's Space books)

Discovering a nova in M31 on Dec 18th 2003

Being a qualified PADI Open Water Scuba Diver

Me in Scuba Gear on the Caribbean island of Bonaire

Some of my sources of inspiration, friends, and leading UK astronomers are:-

My Dad, Squadron Leader Denys Mobberley AFC

My late Mum, still a huge inspiration

The late Sir Patrick Moore

Guy Hurst (Editor of 'The Astronomer')

Tom Boles, Ron Arbour and Mark Armstrong (Supernova Discoverers)

Damian Peach (World No. 1 Planetary Imager)

Gary Poyner (World No. 1 Variable Star Observer)

Peter Birtwhistle (NEO Astrometrist Extraordinaire)

A wide variety of 1960s - 1990s music.

The novels of Stephen King, Peter F. Hamilton, Alastair Reynolds & Neal Asher

Dr Who episodes, especially those of the Hartnell, Troughton, Pertwee & Tom Baker era

The books & philosophy of Richard Dawkins

Stand up comedians/comedy writers esp. Spike Milligan, Billy Connolly, Jethro, Ken Dodd, Jack Dee, Tommy Cooper, Les Dawson, plus classic radio comedy shows of years gone by like 'Round the Horne', 'Hancock's Half Hour' and 'The Goon Show'. And, of course, the 1930s astronomer and film star, Will Hay.

Unsolicited Praise for this web page (a tiny sample!)

Martin, I am reading your rant now and I am having a good time. There is soooo much truth to it. I can't tell you how much. Financial and material and emotional independence are the keys to freedom in many respects. They are all like poison ivy. Some people can get out of the trap. Let's not talk about religious entanglement. I cannot agree with you more and have to thank you for such a great rant! I loved every bit of it. Jenny
Hi Martin, My colleague and astronomer extraordinare ( www.[namewithheld] ) passed me a link to your site, which I duly followed I enjoyed your rant - glad to see some proper invective published. I thought: - Religion - spot on - Eng jobs - it was clear that you'd worked for somebody like GEC / Marconi / Ferranti etc. I cut my teeth at Thomson Marconi on sonar, and can relate to your experience. However I fled to proper companies where commercial pressures are real, and my experience of those companies is entirely different. And more encouraging! - Bat fastards - agreed - you don't see fat people in famine conditions. Therefore fat people get fat by eating too much. Bo**ocks to 'it's my metabolism excuses. - Engineers wives. When younger I used to agree, looking around at my Dads friends wives. The outlook was grim. Fortunately, my generation (or my graduation class and my colleagues) seem to have done decidedly better, and provided the husband isn't a minger, then the wife will be similarly OK. Only the ugly blokes have married welders benches! - Also agree with the description of 'normal' people. My inbuilt optimism says that there aren't as many as you suggest, but the huge numbers that do exist are simply referred to as scumbags. With regards, Chris.
Hiya Martin, sorry to bother you again, but I just read your "rant" page and can't stop laughing. Your comments about the electronic industry ring a bell as I have a friend and electronics engineer who says exactly what you wrote. I used to be in the police force and we had the same trouble with senior officers and politicians buggering up things . Like you I'm financially secure (police pension), But I have had cancer and now the kidney failure. My life expectancy is not to great maybe 15 yrs I suppose(transplant if it happens may help). At 51 that's a bit worrying. But I endeavour to jenoy life. I even purchased a 5 berth sailing boat and took up sailing. With the collapse of the PhD and recently feeling better (after 5 yrs of kidney failure and the NHS not helping) thought I'd get into astronomy again and see where it takes me before I give up the ghost. Like you I'm single and thank God for close family and good friends. Anyway as I said your rant struck a cord with me and cheered me up on what has been a bloody awfulday. Regards Eric
Hi Martin Have just found your webpage, great rant! But can assure you that having worked in local government for forty years as a civil engineer (a dying breed). I can tell you that the people you refer to are alive and well dreaming up totally useless schemes to waste council payers money. Regards Bob R******* (gratefully retired)
Hello Martin, I've just spent an entertaining half hour or so perusing your web site - very good, absolutely no holds barred! Do you still e-mail images? I seem to have dropped off your circulation list, and would love to be back on it again if it's still on the go. I may not be the ***** Section Director anymore, but I haven't lost my passion for the night sky! All the best, Dave
Hi Martin To me your rant was one of the best things i've read on the internet and i agree with a great deal of what you said and in my opinion and no doubt countless others if you don't like what your reading then why read it just move on and let it go. To me Martin you have taken you place as one of the greats of UK astronomy i've read several of your books,seen you on the sky at night and enjoyed many of your "sky notes" talks you have given at BAA meetings. So keep on ranting mate !!!! and if i see you at astrofest next year i for one would buy you a pint. Happy Christmas and heres to many clear skies next year. All the best M.H.
Martin, Having just re-visited your "rant" page I've got to just write and express my whole-hearted support! What a refreshing change to read REAL views and not some mealy-mouthed cr*p spouted because some trendy, lefty w*nker thinks it's what everyone wants to hear! These days, I am heartily SICK of being told I'm a racist if I as much as dare to mention that I think there are too many immigrants allowed in to our crowded island, that I'm homophobic if I express the view that I think that being homosexual isn't entirely normal and that I'm a fascist if I voice the opinion that the unemployed should be made to do something useful (like clean our filthy countryside up) or have their "benefits" cut. Like you, I've always paid my way and, as a single man, been hammered for tax! Anyway, didn't mean to start a rant of my own, just letting you know that you are one of MANY who are sick of the PC police in this sadly declining country! Enough waffle - keep up the good work Martin! All the best, Tim


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