Well, reality always takes a hand in these things and although I retained an interest in all things space wise, an Astronaut - I was not to be!
However within a few months of starting work at Marks & Spencer in Boston, Lincolnshire (18 miles south of home) I noticed a poster advertising the September (1980) meeting of what was then known as the Boston Astronomical Association. The meeting would have a NASA video about the planet Mars - something I was particularly interested in. Although I was relatively shy back then (!) I convinced a friend to go along with me. You could say that the rest is history as we both joined the society but whereas my interest flourished my friend's faded and within a year I had joined the Committee - so much for being shy!
The society changed it's name to the more 'friendly sounding' BOSTON ASTRONOMERS and within a matter of a year or so (sometime 1982 I guess) I gave an impromptu talk on Saturn based on the Voyager missions when a planned 'Starwatch' was clouded out and the next thing I know is that the Secretary of our group has mentioned this to CLEETHORPES & DISTRICT A.S. . I then get a telephone call asking whether I would talk to their group! I accept the invitation thinking it was just a one- off but very soon I am getting requests from several societies and so it begins...
By 1984 I was asked to talk at my first Convention at Doncaster and I began to give regular talks at the newly founded Amateur Astronomy Centre located near Bacup, Lancs. I became a Fellow of the British Interplanetary Society that same year and by now had become the Programme Secretary & Observations Officer of Boston Astronomers. Having invested in a second hand 10" Newtonian Reflector a couple of years previously I gained a minor reputation as a Deep Sky Observer and enjoyed giving practical talks on how to find many objects in the night sky as well as how to capture the heavens on film without expensive equipment. By the next year I was, like many people, getting ready for the return of Halley's Comet and purchased a 14" F5 Newtonian Reflector from a local firm called Beacon Hill Telescopes and with this instrument I became the first in the area to recover the Comet - a week after it had first been recovered in the UK by non other than Patrick Moore & John Mason. I still say to this day that if Mom & Dad's house had not been in the way of where the comet was then I could have been the first in the UK - but they decided not to demolish the house for me - Understandable I suppose !
After attending since 1982 the British Astronomical Association's annual weekend course held nearby at Horncastle I joined the B.A.A. at the September 1985 course & the following year was invited to become the organiser at a time when it seemed that residential courses were on the wane. Indeed the first course I organised had just 26 people in attendance! Since then, however, the BAA Horncastle Astronomy Weekend (as it is now known) often has 75 or more attending - close to the maximum the college can take (80) so I suspect I must be doing something right!
The following year I became Chairman of Boston Astronomers & for a few years I helped the F.A.S. organise some of their Conventions around the UK and also became the President of SoLAGS and Vice - President of Northants Amateur Astronomers.
Meanwhile the number of talks I was being asked to give was continuing to rise and because of the increasing involvement with talks to Schools & other public groups a kind friend by the name of Merlin Ellis put me forward for membership of the Royal Astronomical Society. So 1991 saw me elected a Fellow of the R.A.S. & when my work colleagues heard about this they contacted Head Office. That led to me being featured in the Company's in house International Staff magazine - it was through this that I found out that one of the worlds leading Astrophotographers was actually a manager working for the same company but in Canada - Jack Newton! He & I were to meet up a few years later in 1995 when he came over to the UK for a holiday & lecture tour which included visiting my own town of Horncastle and we hit it off straight away.
In 1992 I met & began courting Lorraine from Coventry and in 1993 several things happened including finally on the night of March 21st/22nd (after 3 previous attempts) succeeding at observing all Charles Messier's deep sky objects (known as the Messier Marathon) from COAA - as far as I know the first UK person to have done it. Then in May, Lorraine & I became engaged to be married and later that year I was asked to take part in the BBC series 'Heavenly Bodies' which had Peter Davison (Dr Who, All Creatures Great & Small, At Home with the Braithwaites, amongst many of his TV works) as the host. Despite the poor weather we had a great day and when the series was finally aired in 1995 I was amazed at how several hours worth of filming can be reduced to just 5 minutes!!
By now I had decided to become self employed as an Astronomy/Space lecturer & writer as I was now averaging just under 100 talks a year. I was able to voluntary reduce the number of hours I worked at M&S giving me more time to devote to my lectures. I ran courses to such groups as the local WEA (Workers Education Association) and for local Adult Education courses plus the change in hours increased my availability to Schools. Local (BBC) Radio often contact me for live comments on ongoing space activities especially concerning the ISS and Shuttle and in the meantime I also continue to organise the regular BAA 'HORNCASTLE ASTRONOMY WEEKEND' held each September at our local College. Unfortunately all this does mean I have had to step down as Chairman/organiser of Boston Astronomers due to my commitments but there again I did give the group over 18 years very active service!
Lorraine & I were married at St. Mary's Church, Horncastle on March 14th 1998 and then spent the Honeymoon (or as our Best Man - Nick Norman said "shouldn't that be Honey -NO- Moon?"!!) at our favourite foreign destination - COAA ! We both always enjoy our visits to Jan & Bev and it also gave two friends on holiday with us (Mark Dunnett & Stephen Tonkin) & I a chance to do the 'Messier Marathon' again at which we succeeded - so at that point there were three UK Marathoners and since then I understand a couple more have done it!
Now that we are in the 21st Century things have got even more interesting with the annual production of my observing guide to the year "NightScenes" which has gone nationwide - initially via Ottakars and now Waterstones Bookshops. and is now into it's fourteenth year of publication. I had occasional articles appearing in the UK's 'Astronomy Now' magazine as well as an average of 100 talks/lectures a year - you could say I was a bit busy!
The FAS awarded me the 'Eric Zuker' award for 2002/2003 for contributions to Astronomy - something of which I'm very proud!
During 2005 I was invited to join the Omega Holidays team of Astronomers who take the public on night flights to see the Northern Lights and during March 2006 they also invited me to be one of their Solar Eclipse Astronomers, traveling out to Turkey to view and talk about the Solar Eclipse of March 29th that year. In early 2006 the BBC Sky at Night magazine asked me to write an article about the Messier Marathon and later that year review some equipment for them which led them to ask me to become the Reviews Editor for the BBC Sky@Night Magazine - a position I relish and hope do a good job!
Finally in the summer of 2007 after many years of building up my reputation I took the decision to leave the employment of M&S after almost 28 years and am now fully freelance as an Astronomy consultant and writer/broadcaster. It was a sad day for me to leave my many dear friends there (I still go in and shop and torment them though!) but it was time to move on.
During the Summer of 2008 I was part of a team aboard the Russian Nuclear Ice Breaker Yamil taking almost 90 people to the North Pole and on the way back view the Total Solar Eclipse from the Arctic - this is with Poseidon Arctic Voyages - an amazing experience and I have a page about it here. As well as the northern Lights Flights Omega Holidays organised a trip to see the 2009 China Solar Eclipse and along with Pete Lawrence I was a guest Solar Eclipse astronomer for the Omega Wuzhen site from which despite the weather we actually saw Totality so check out my report here.
In the meantime I am involved with even more public astronomy events in Lincolnshire and sometimes wonder how I found the time to work all those years for M&S!
2012 sees the publication of my book ‘Nightscenes: Guide to Simple Astrophotography’ to add to the growing collection of publications I have now written and I now produce a blog for the Sky at Night magazine about equipment so do check it out!
So there you have it - a potted history !