When I passed through Selsey during my round-Britain walk, I had hoped to meet one of the town’s more familiar residents. At the time though, he was busy filming an episode of “The Sky At Night”, the longest ever running television series which he has presented for the BBC every month, bar one, since 1957. So I had carried on along the coast, promising to return at a later date to pay him a visit.
Today was that day.
Sir Patrick Moore welcomed me in his study, rows of books adorned its walls, whilst certificates and paintings of “bogeys” – friendly aliens created by his mother, Gertrude – filled the spaces. These beautifully crafted portrayals of extra-terrestrial creatures could well have been the inspiration for the character of “ET”. I wonder if they were.
Sir Patrick was born in Pinner in Middlesex, moved with his parents to Aldwick just outside Bognor, and then to East Grinstead. After the war, he moved to Selsey, attracted by its seaside location and “no through traffic”, the clear skies were an additional bonus from an astronomer’s perspective providing minimal light pollution.
“When I first arrived in Selsey it was a small village with only two shops: a butchers and a general store. Nowadays, it has a few more shops and local businesses, but has retained its village community during its evolution as a small town.” He explained.
Sir Patrick’s home is the venue for many parties, local events and social gatherings. He enjoys the community and the local people within it.
‘The only love of his life’, his wartime sweetheart Lorna, died when they were both aged just nineteen. “My main regret is that I never had the opportunity to have a family with her”.
Sir Patrick has never married, stating “I never settle for second best”, but shared his home with his mother until she died in 1981 at the age of 94.
As we talked, I became aware of Sir Patrick’s understandable frustration at being confined to a chair. An injury to his spine sustained whilst serving with the RAF during the war had finally caught up with him. He reflected fondly on his days playing cricket for both the local team and the Lord’s Taverners. He was a spin bowler.
“As well as my cricket, I would go down to the local tennis courts every
morning and look for a game with whoever happened to be down there.”
At 87, Sir Patrick’s hands are also failing him. He is a talented composer and accomplished musician. But today, his beloved xylophone is unplayed, and his restricted mobility prevents him from observing the moon and stars. It also means that the 1908 “Woodstock” typewriter that sits in his study has become an exhibit. He has written over 100 books on its keys. His latest took five years to complete, this time on his computer, which he also uses to talk to fellow scientists from around the world using video conferencing.
However his mind is as sharp as ever, his eyes have a mischievous sparkle and maintain a focused concentration – one of them through his signature monocle – as we reflected on his life, for which he has an infectious zest.
“I remember the end of the war, and thinking we’ve WON the war. Now I have watched them lose the peace. Years spent sucking up to the same people. There can never have been such a dearth of statesmen such as there is now. If I was twenty years younger I would be fighting for a parliamentary seat – for UKIP. Not now though, I’m afraid.”
“Of course you could!” I countered.
“An old coot in a wheelchair? No way!” His eyes sparkled again.
As I shook his hand, the very same hand that has shaken those of Orville Wright, Neil Armstrong and accompanied Albert Einstein on piano as he played his violin, I realised I had been in the company of someone who has touched us all, as a nation, and brought space into our living rooms.
“Good luck with your walk and all success to you”.
“Thank you”, I said and left him to get on with his day.