Members' visit to Patrick Moore - Saturday 18th August 2012
One of our committee members, Iain Melville, had visited Patrick Moore in the past and had in fact appeared with his telescope on an episode of The Sky at Night. Iain phoned Patrick’s household and a small group from our society was invited to visit. The first date was cancelled due to repairs to Patrick’s house central heating. The second date was cancelled then reinstated at the last minute resulting in some hasty phone calls rounding up eight interested members. On the 18th August we set off for Selsey, in Sussex, where Patrick has lived most of his life. He lives in a delightful thatched cottage with the name of Farthings (think about it). In fact this was the name of the house when Patrick first moved there.
We arrived at his cottage half an hour late after being stuck on the M25. Margaret, Patrick’s helper, greeted us at the door and we obeyed the “airlock” instructions of the two doors to make sure Patrick’s two cats did not slip past us. Margaret showed us into the dining room where a generous sandwich lunch and drinks had been provided. Once we were settled Margaret brought Patrick into the room in his wheelchair. Unlike the suit Patrick wears on the Sky at Night he was wearing a colourful caftan. He warmly welcomed us and asked about our difficult journey. While we had to ask Patrick to repeat himself on occasion it was soon clear that his mind was as sharp as ever. I just hope I’m that good when I’m in my 90th year. I should of course refer to Patrick as Sir Patrick Moore as he received a knighthood for “Services to the Popularisation of Science and to Broadcasting” back in 2000. However, it was clear that Patrick did not stand on ceremony and as with the Sky at Night we dropped the Sir.
The room was filled with pictures and objects celebrating Patrick’s amazing life. We asked him about the picture on the wall with him playing the piano accompanying Einstein. Patrick told us that they were both attending a conference after which Einstein started playing his violin. As well as proposing relativity theory, Einstein was an accomplished violinist. Patrick heard that Einstein preferred to be accompanied and he happened to know the music, The Swan, from Saint-Saëns' Carnival of Animals. A piano was available so Patrick offered his services. He went on to say that no one had taken their picture together so the picture on his wall was patched together from two pictures. Music had been a great Part of Patrick’s life but he regretted that he could no longer play.
His dining room contained many hundred shot glasses, each from the places he has visited around the world. There was a picture of Patrick with Neil Armstrong, a table full of globes of different planets of the solar system and many other interesting things. Patrick told us how he was visiting a place that was throwing away the globe of Mars, based on very early maps. It is one of his prized possessions.Our member, Sue Latham, asked him about a racehorse called Sir Patrick Moore, owned by a group calling themselves the astronomers. Sue had assumed that Patrick’s permission had been obtained but he was unaware of the horse called Sir Patrick Moore. Apparently it won on its first outing at 40 to 1! Patrick said he was not a fan of horses due to their association with fox hunting which he despised. Asking Patrick about the Sky at Night he mentioned that many popular terms used in astronomy were first used on the program. One example was the Summer Triangle which refers to the three prominent stars Vega, Altair and Deneb. Patrick invited us to look at his telescopes so we followed him and Margaret into the garden. We opened up a small shed on rails revealing a 12.5 inch reflecting telescope. Then we entered a large green dome which Patrick told me was made by his local blacksmith. Once inside there was plenty of room to move around with ample headroom. This housed a wooden Fullerscopes 15” Newtonian telescope. Finally we looked inside the third smaller shed styled building which housed a more recent 5” refractor which Patrick said was used about three weeks previously.
We then gathered for group and individual photographs. Patrick was happy to comply with any of our requests, he was an excellent host. We asked him what the skies were like from his garden. He said the skies were clear except for Aurora Bognis - Bognor Regis being the nearest large town.We returned to the house and took pictures of Patrick’s office. He remarked that he had written a huge number of books on astronomy and showed us a copy of his very first book “The Story of the Solar System”. We finally thanked Patrick for his hospitality and left for the motorway. We were privileged to have spent the afternoon with a unique English gentleman who must be the biggest single inspiration to amateur astronomers in the UK, if not far beyond.