Gifted eccentric with rose-tinted monocle

80 Not Out
June 25, 2004

In Japan, people such as Patrick Moore are declared a Living National Treasure. In the UK, he has to make do with being Sir Patrick. In his autobiography, he reveals much about a long, successful and eccentric life. For this reviewer, it confirmed a suspicion that he is a great national asset, but that one of him is enough.

Moore loves to proclaim his amateur status as an astronomer. He is no authority on matters such as the outer reaches of superstring theory. But he is a formidable expert on the solar system and a gifted observational astronomer. He first presented his lunar observations at a scientific meeting at the age of 14, discovered one of the Moon's largest impact basins and with more luck would be credited as discoverer of one of Saturn's moons.

More to the point, he is a science communicator of huge talent who has worked his gifts to the full. He has made a fine living doing what he wanted to do. In these pages, eclipses, space shots and starry nights loom large. So do fun activities from cricket (although this book's title is the only place where he has ever been "80 Not Out") to music and amateur dramatics. In all he does, his skill and dedication lead to a quality result, whether he is looking through a telescope or playing the xylophone.

(The same cannot be said of his publishers. This book has a huge number of misspellings, punctuation howlers and other errors.) His account is an honest one. Although he is too modest to dwell on his terrifying air force experiences of the Second World War, he bares his soul about his lifelong mourning of Lorna ("the only girl for me"), killed in bombing in 1941, and of his mother, with whom he had always lived, 40 years later.

Moore's success means that he has not been much challenged about his beliefs, and this book contains the full set. A few are rational, such as his hatred of hunting and capital punishment, or his mystification at the politics of Northern Ireland. Some are repulsive: he preferred South Africa under apartheid. Most are idle. Here, as elsewhere, the use of the term "political correctness" provides a sure indication that a white man is about to say something lazy. Moore is convinced that there is nothing wrong with Egypt except for Egyptians; thinks that politicians and pen-pushers - especially the gruesome types who frequent Brussels - are out to kill our ancient freedoms; and loathes any attempt to do something about race and sex discrimination. Like many men of his generation, he feels that women in high places are a bad idea, but he makes an exception for Margaret Thatcher. In this area, his beliefs seem about as rational as the Venusian-speakers and flat-Earthers he takes to task elsewhere.

Moore has been around the world many times and is no racist - he just likes England best and has a misty view of the place that forms all too easily when one lives in a gorgeous house on something close to a private income.

And as a genius communicator whose principal product is himself, he is well capable of self-parody, as his pantomime appearances prove.

80 Not Out may set the reader's eyes rolling, but it is never dull. And along the way, it gets across a good deal of sound science. One small question though: why did the arrival of a tornado in his native Selsey, in Sussex, make the door bulge inwards because of low air pressure? Should it not have bulged outwards?

Martin Ince is contributing editor, The Times Higher .

80 Not Out: The Autobiography

Author - Patrick Moore
Publisher - Contender Books
Pages - 288
Price - £17.99
ISBN - 1 84357 048 3

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