John spent his career in education and recently retired from his job as an educational adviser and schools inspector. Of his own education, he recalls that the grammar school he attended placed him, despite his protests that he wanted to be an astronomer, on the arts side because, in a one-off test at age 13, he did better in Latin than maths. Mercifully, things are more flexible nowadays. John went on to read languages at Oxford and later also gained qualifications in philosophy and education. He is a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society.
In spite of his school's best endeavours, the astronomy never went away. John is horrified to note that he has been looking at the night sky with some degree of seriousness for fifty years! His first telescope was a 60mm draw-tube refractor by Dallmeyer bequeathed by some long-lost family member who had been a sniper. He made a wooden equatorial mounting for it and still remembers the thrill of seeing, perched on the garage roof, the Galilean satellites for the first time. He recalls an observation of the cusp-caps of Venus made with this telescope being mentioned in the BAA journal. His eye-sight, or perhaps his imagination, must have been better in those days. When he was 14 he took and processed his first photograph of the night-sky - an image of Orion on a Kodak glass plate - with a camera he made himself. A year later he ground and polished an 8" mirror on a barrel in his bed-room - he had understanding parents!
For many years, John provided practical outreach sessions for students and ran a course for teachers in teaching astronomy. He believes that introducing people to the night-sky is one of the most important things that we can do, not just for its scientific interest, or even the experience and enjoyment of the sky's natural beauty, but for its impact on people's understanding of who and what they are and might become. He wishes that people would look down less and up much more.
Over the years, John has owned or used most types of telescope and now owns 'only' three: 80mm and 140mm apochromatic refractors and a 300mm Dobsonian, which he feels give him pretty much all the options he needs. In recent years he has regularly gone in search of dark skies overseas, especially to La Palma, one of the best observing locations on the planet. There, he says, the skies can be so breathtaking that he is happy to gaze upwards for hours with no instrumental aid, other than perhaps a pair of binoculars. For him, this is the ultimate observing experience.
|Date||Talk at GAS meeting|
|4 Dec 2008||La Palma Nights - film and CCD imaging from a truly dark sky site.
John shows examples of film and digital images taken during his trips to La Palma and describes and answers questions about his experience of observing there. He hopes to clarify some of relative merits of film and CCDs and, in so doing, show that, for some applications at least, film should not yet be viewed as down and out.