Almost meeting famous people

July 16, 2007

Sitting listening to Brian May reheat his thirty year old PhD project at Michael Rowan-Robinson’s birthday conference, it occurred to me that my life has been gently brushed by greatness. You may think I am an ordinary sort of chap, but I will have you know that when a small boy I used to live across the road from Norman Wisdom‘s Aunty. I realise that at this point all the non-UK readers are staring blankly, but my Brit chums are certainly impressed. A few years after this, my best friend had an older brother whose boots were stolen by Donovan on Margate beach. I went to the same school as Ted Heath, but of course he was there some years before me. When I went on my first observing run to CTIO, there was an anti-Pinochet riot in Santiago just before I got there, and another one just after I left, but when I was there it all seemed pretty normal.

And so it goes on through life. Most of the time History is something that is happening on TV, but every so often it gets within a few feet of your nose, just for a while, and when it does you are too polite to point. My son Kit joined a local kids drama group, along with one Jessica Rowling. At the next show, J.K. was there with all the other proud parents of the spotty young luvvies. It was really sad though. There was a kind of bubble of empty seats round her, as nobody wanted to be obvious. Our friend Alethea, one of those pushy confident upper middle class mums, instructed her husband Baljean to go and talk to Jo. I have never seen anyone look so miserable. (Baljean, not Jo). At the next show, she had friends with her, so Baljean was spared. By this time I was of course plotting marriage between Kit and Jessica. Unfortunately Kit decided this drama stuff was bore-ring, and he returned to more normal teenage boy pursuits like playing Grand Theft Auto and having his BB gun confiscated by teachers and so forth. So thats that.

Of course when I was a lad I daydreamed of being Fred Hoyle, as well as Jimi Hendrix. One day somewhere into my second postdoc I realised that there are more rock musicians in the world than astronomers. Hey, this is cool and one dream is enough. So many years later there I am, at a conference specially to celebrate the 65th bithday of my long time collaborator and friend, Michael Rowan-Robinson. Much sentimental talk of the good old IRAS galaxy redshift survey days, and how we discovered the most luminous object in the Universe. I was slated to review the subject of the Unification of Active Galaxies. What a clever chap. My talk is loaded up here. It was I hope a good talk. (Fellow blogger Andrew Jaffe‘s certainly was).

But suddenly up pops fame again. Not only did Brian May give a cogent talk on Zodiacal Dust, he added a movie he made of the dust being made in solar system collisions, complete with grandiose guitar sound track. And two days later Richard Ellis started his talk accompanied by a BBC film crew, Caltech having issued a press release about the six faint smudges that MIGHT be redshift ten galaxies. I got back to my room and thought well I can blog about that. But of course Chris Lintott, who was also there, had already done it.

Oh well.