My interest in astronomy started when I got a 40mm refracting telescope for my 15th birthday. I found I could actually see galaxies and star clusters with this tiny instrument, and soon wanted a larger one. I now have a 400mm (16") Newtonian reflector mounted on a motorized equatorial fork mount. My main interest is in deep-sky observation of galaxies, clusters, nebulae and comets, and my pet hate is the Moon which drowns them out! In August 1999 I visited Guernsey to catch the total solar eclipse - click here to read my story.
I started playing with the first affordable computers around 1978, programming them in Machine Code then Assembler. I bought my first real PC (an Amstrad 1512) in 1987, and taught myself Visual Basic while recovering from an eye operation. I wrote several commercial VB applications including a robot driver. In 1995 I switched to Borland Delphi, and I really love programming in Object Pascal. I am looking forward to writing cross-platform programs with Delphi XE2. I also enjoy creating web pages using Dreamweaver.
I caught the hobby electronics bug at the age of 12. My parents felt they hadn't bought me much for Christmas, so they got me a Philips Electronic Engineer kit. I soon had all the kits, then progressed to building circuits with a soldering iron. There were seven different monthly magazines packed with circuits in those days, and I built radios, amplifiers and metal detectors. Sadly, everything is mass-produced and much cheaper than you can make it yourself now, but I still love tinkering with electronics - and it's been part of my job for the last 30 years as well! My favourite components are PIC microcontrollers, and I love programming these both in the 'C' language and in Assembler.
I have been interested in mushrooms and toadstools for many years. The interest was rekindled in 1979 when our garden erupted with fungi after a particularly wet August. It was then that I met local mycologist Sheila Wells and soon got completely hooked on fungi. The fascination is in the multitude of shapes, colours and smells, the challenge of identification, the diversity of microscopic detail, the excitement of finding something rare and unusual, and of course meeting and foraying with like-minded people. I am a member of the British Mycological Society, and Webmaster for the local foraying group.
I started gardening at The Elms back in 1972 at the age of 14. After struggling with droughts and clay soil I eventually discovered the secret of success - garden compost! Over the subsequent years I have built up a huge collection of shrubs, perennials and aquatic plants and now open regularly to the public. Every year I raise some new and exciting plants from seed, and I am not afraid to make major structural changes to maintain interest. At the end of 2011, I doubled the size of the vegetable plot, and planted a small orchard.
Outside the fungus season, my main natural history interest is in moths, especially the micro moths known as Pyralids. There are over 2400 species of moth in Britain, and on most calm and moon-free Friday or Saturday evenings from May to October I run a Robinson trap. This attracts moths using a mercury vapour lamp, and they are caught safely in a special box where they rest inside egg crates until I try and identify them the next morning. They are then released unharmed. So far, I have recorded over 230 species.
I love the company of animals, especially dogs, with whom I have a real affinity. I have had a dog nearly all my life, and find it miserable living without one. I believe that dogs are intelligent and sentient beings with real thoughts and feelings, who are positively beneficial to their owners' health and happiness - and I am sure all dog-lovers know what I mean! I have had two Golden Retrievers, two Yorkies, a Westie, and now a dear little Lhasa Apso called Dougie whom I adopted in 2007 after a friend's mother died. You can find more pet pics in the Photo Album.
I have been playing keyboard since 1984, starting with a Phillips organ costing £200. Progressing through half a dozen other organs (some of monstrous proportions) and several keyboards, I have now got a Roland G-70 Arranger Workstation, which is a superb gigging instrument although very heavy to carry. I've also got a Yamaha PSR8000. I play entirely from memory, and enjoy tackling anything with a memorable tune. My favourite era is the 1960s to the 1980s, with a few from more recent times. Book me for your party - £25 for the first hour, then £10.
Swimming is my favourite form of exercise. When I lived in Norwich, I swam half a mile of racing breaststroke every week with my friend John Beck. Living in Ramsey Forty Foot, the nearest pool is 3 miles' cycle ride away. After Mum passed on, I shared her Koi Carp with my brother, half going back into the lake. I then converted the Koi pond (4m x 3m x 1.5m) to a swimming pool, warmed to 27C by a 1.5kW heat pump. In 2010 I built a permanent cover over the pool, and in 2011 changed the plumbing to allow it to be used in the winter.
In February 2000 my brother John and I realized a lifetime's ambition to plant a small wood. We planted nearly 1400 native trees and shrubs on around a hectare of ex-farmland. In 2008 the canopy closed, and the tallest trees were 7-8m high. The wood attracts a lot of wildlife and we are encouraging this by underplanting the trees with hazel and other native shrubs. In 2010 the first thinning of the trees was done. Several interesting fungi have already appeared, and it is fascinating to follow their progression. Click here to read the story of Shotbolt Wood.