Wednesday 31 December 2014

New year resolutions with a difference!

New year resolutions with a difference - 5 things I am not going to do!
  1. I am not going to be sucked, or indeed suckered, into writing another astronomy book. 
  2. I am not to be persuaded to restart posting cemetery related material to the less active Facebook groups - especially by people who plainly feel that it is my job or my duty to do so.
  3. I am not going to take on a second school governor role however much the Local Authority would like me to do so.
  4. I am never going to find the energy or the time to scan my entire collection of South African postcards. This is a unique archive that I predict will just be thrown away by my nearest and dearest once I have died. The sad truth is that almost nobody in the UK or in South Africa seems to be interested in South African social history.
  5. I will never watch the entire boxed set of the X Files for a third time. I have watched the nine series of the X files from start to finish twice - enjoying it even more the second time than the first but a third attempt would not be best use of my time.

3 things I am going to do!
  1. I have been asked and I have agreed to ghost write a second book.
  2. I will continue to support the three young people who have become such an important part of my weekly routine.
  3. Over the last few months I have been looking for a new publishing project to keep me out of mischief. I have looked at a number of ideas and I had nearly decided on an old newspaper related blog and/or book. Then quite suddenly an alternative project popped into my mind. It is nothing like anything I have ever done before but in a strange way it is also quite closely linked to a number of my current interests. I'm not going to reveal any details for a while because I would like to check that the idea is as exciting and as novel in three months time as it seems to be at the moment.



Monday 1 December 2014

Writing projects for 2015

Category 1 - new for 2014

Now I have officially given up on astronomical researching and writing I have a gaping chasm in my weekly timetable which I am going to fill by returning to the safe familiarity of postal history.

I have a number of possible collecting and then displaying projects in mind, a couple of which have just started going through the "Is there enough material to purchase at an affordable price?" process.

I might, or indeed might not, consider creating a "Stamp Collecting from A to Z" blog and/or book. I have yet to convince myself that I have the motivation to do the job properly but I would rather not even start work if I thought that only something second rate would emerge.

Category 2 - continuing projects

Images from my grave-hunting blog ( will continue to appear on the plethora of cemetery related Facebook groups. There are over 30 of these groups but many are barely viable with few readers and even fewer posters.

The Social History Facebook group ( I created has over 1600 members but most don't appear to read, comment or contribute and so any quoted membership figure creates something of a false impression.

By definition ghost writers have to remain anonymous. One book I ghost wrote appeared in 2014 and it has sold much better than even my most optimistic predictions. I have had two other formal proposals and I have promised those concerned that I would make a definite decision by January 1st 2015.

Category 3 - officially kicked into the long grass

Although I have been approached to write a couple more books on amateur astronomy - one on variable stars and another on astronomical data mining - I have decided not to accept the commission. The books I published in 2014 received good reviews but the total sales have been disappointing despite me engaging in a sustained marketing campaign on the relevant Facebook groups. If the two proposals had included an element of "money up front" it might have been different but I wasn't tempted by yet another "jam tomorrow" scenario.  

Thursday 27 November 2014

Unreliable v unpredictable

Which is more annoying - a colleague who is unreliable or a colleague who is unpredictable? In my experience the unpredictable colleague is far, far worse.

School Governors are all unpaid volunteers and there is no ethical, logical, moral or practical reason why 90% of the work always seems to be done by 10% of the members. But that is the way it usually seems to be.

As Chair of Governors I am encouraged to delegate work to other governors partly as a contribution to succession planning but primarily to keep my workload manageable. The reality is that if I delegate work to one of my unreliable colleagues I can be at least 70% certain that it will not be done by the deadline. But at least if the person is consistently unreliable I know that it would be a prudent precaution to have a back-up plan for when they let the team down. I have known people who had over 9 months to do a 2 hour task but when the relevant agenda item was reached they claimed to have been "too busy" to do the work. It adds insult to injury that they usually appear totally unembarrassed by their own failure.

An unpredictable colleague - and I have one particular governor in mind - might do the allocated task well, or badly or not at all and there is no way of telling in advance which way they are going to behave. I feel obliged to "give them a chance" because at their best they are excellent but all the time the uncertainty of what will happen on the deadline day is gnawing away at me. If I do the work myself, "just in case", I might be wasting my time because when the time comes they might have done all that was asked of them. But if I don't do the work and they haven't either then the result can be very serious for the school.

Almost inevitably I do the work, feeling aggrieved and exploited, but half the time it never gets used!

Sunday 9 November 2014

Finishing things!

There is an old joke "I used never to be able to finish things but now I ........"  Many a true word is spoken in jest!

I am not good at accepting that friendships or hobbies have run their course. One of the very few times I managed to make a clean break was then I retired from teaching. I will always remember what my Head Teacher said to me on my last day - "Walk away and don't look back." I did walk away and I didn't look back. 

Since I retired I have met a lot of different people and in a few I saw qualities that I hated. It took far too long for the "relationship vampires", the "habitual liars" and the "anything to get noticed scientists" to get excluded from my life and I blame myself for this. Just as disappointing are the few people from my past who seem to have decided to end a friendship that I thought was healthy and that would last forever. I will miss these former friends and sometimes I wonder what prompted their decision but it takes two to communicate and continuing to send emails to people who never reply rather smacks of desperation doesn't it!

“Friendship never dies a natural death. It dies when we don't know how to replenish its source. It dies from errors and tarnishing and from weariness and withering.”

These departures have made space for some new, mainly young, friends to come into my life and they have added a great deal of pleasure and purpose to my weekly routine.

Late News
My daughter sent me a link shortly after I had posted this blog entry. Reading what the author wrote struck such a chord with me that I'm posting a link to another piece by the same author that I hope visitors to this blog will read.


Thursday 4 September 2014

The Cannington College Years - an alternative perspective

A former senior member of staff from Cannington College - long retired - found my blog by accident. He shared his views with me on the strict understanding that he would not be identified.

1 - Norman became Head of Department by accident (Brian's terminal illness) and before he was experienced enough to take on the role.

2 - Norman found it very difficult to manage Mike and Richard and so to prove to himself that he had what was required to be a "boss" he overcompensated and became too macho in his dealings with other colleagues.

3 - Norman needed a 2nd in department but the obvious candidate (Steve) was never going to be acceptable to the rest of the staff.

4 - Norman made a number of beginners mistakes especially when he invested a lot of energy and time in members of the department who subsequently exploited the staff development opportunities that he had given them to find new jobs away from Cannington.

5 - What Norman and his "inner circle" did while setting up Network Training was unfair to the rest of his department. Norman took his eyes off the ball but by then he had his escape plan formulated and so he didn't care that much about public opinion.

Sunday 27 July 2014

REVISITED - I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.

I wish I had had the courage to share with my parents, especially my Mother, how hurt I was by how low down her priority list I seemed to have sunk by the time I was ten years old. By then my brother Stephen was at university and I suspect that my Mother had got rather bored with parenthood.

She had stopped paid employment in 1946 when she became pregnant and never started again. By the mid 1960s her twice weekly coffee-mornings, a “morning” that in practice lasted from 10:30AM to 3:30PM, were sacrosanct and nothing was ever allowed to interfere with her attendance. She used to say, only half in jest, that if she wasn’t there she would become the main topic of conversation. Add to the equation the drama group, the poetry group and the “I’m just slipping out to see Aunty Chris” and her week was comfortably busy. It was just a shame that none of it ever involved me.

I used to devise my own entertainment, sometimes with school friends, sometimes on my own but school holidays always felt rather like living in B&B - with a landlady who wasn’t particularly welcoming and one who rather regretted being in the business at all.

The best example of my Mother’s approach to parenting was when I broke my wrist at school. I would have been about 13. The school didn’t help the situation by sending me home rather than taking me to the hospital in St Albans but when I did get home after a 2 mile walk, a train ride and then another 1 mile walk I was not in a very good state of health. Her response was to give me the bus fare (2s/6d) to take myself to Luton and Dunstable Hospital (about 6 miles away) because she had the poetry group meeting to attend. Getting myself to the hospital involved a 1 mile walk and two bus journeys and looking back I still don't know how I managed to get there in one piece. After what seemed a long wait to be seen I had an X-ray taken and it was discovered that my wrist was broken. I had no money to get home or to even use the pay-phone provided but luckily the lady at the reception desk took pity on me.

Dad drove over to pick me up and we had an "interesting" conversation on the way back! He hadn't realised that I had had to make my own way to the hospital. He and Mum had one of their very few major rows when we got home - she kept saying "but it was my poetry group" as if that was the clinching argument for sending me off to hospital on my own! I rather suspect that social services would be contacted by the hospital if something similar happened today!

Wednesday 23 July 2014

I don't think that my hobbies ever die a natural death

“Enthusiasm never dies a natural death. It dies when we don't know how to replenish its source. It dies from errors and tarnishing and from weariness and withering.”

What was special about Sunday 20th July 2014?

It was the date I resigned from my final astronomical forum too bored, too frustrated and too tired to be bothered with the bad language, bad manners and bad science for a moment longer. Of course my formal involvement in the hobby - as in subscription paying involvement - had come to an end in late 2013 but July 2014 very much represents the end of an era for me.

It wasn't that long ago that I would have labelled myself as an "enthusiastic amateur astronomer". I was a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and I used to write peer-reviewed articles on both double stars and variable stars. So what happened?

Part of the reason was the lack of new challenges - once you have over 1000 of your discoveries in the standard catalogues the thrill of the chase pretty much disappears - but it was also the ruthless streak that now seems to have sweeping through the pro-amateur section of the astronomy hobby that finally did it for me.

Tuesday 8 July 2014

Death by neglect combined with a chronic failure to take advice

The Adoption and Fostering Forum where I made a number of friends over the last couple of years is no more!
I think the forum was pretty much doomed when in 2013  "Honey" managed to delete a large percentage of the extensive archives when she was attempting to re-launch the site. Exactly what she did, or why she did it will forever remain shrouded in mystery but she certainly managed to annoy most of her regular readers.
"Honey" isn't a person who ever accepted criticism - or advice - about the forum so it was almost inevitable that she would reject a range of options that might (no more than that) have saved the site. The downward spiral continued almost unchecked throughout the first part of 2014 and it now seems that in early July 2014 she gave up the battle, deleted all the remaining messages and has now disappeared from the scene.
I accept that she did invest large amounts of time and effort in running the forum over a period of years but the destruction of all the remaining archives by such a deliberate act is unforgivable. In effect "Honey" has put her own wishes and her own disappointment above those of all the many other contributors to the forum. It would have been such a simple matter to ask somebody else to take over the day-to-day running of the site - I know for a fact that she had at least two offers - but she wasn't prepared to do this 
"Honey" has or had 3 other moderators - "Dishy" who vanished some time ago frustrated by the inaction of "Honey" et al, "Pixxie" who might be "Honey's" sister and "Lamplady" who seldom visited the site. I wonder what they make of all this?  

Tuesday 24 June 2014

Gains and losses

I have just been checking through what I, rather grandly, call my communication archives to see what changes have taken place in the last 12 months.


The Facebook Social History group

I am the Administrator of this group which has enrolled nearly 850 members in just 8 months. I try hard to post one or two items of interest every day.
Happiness factor - 8/10 

My cemetery related blog

This was started back in July 2013 and it gets between 500 and 2000 visitors a day.
Happiness factor - 10/10 


AC/DC - a young blogger and E-pal of mine who remained cheerful and upbeat despite money troubles and the sudden arrival of her live-in boyfriend's sister to share their tiny flat. I sometimes hear how she is getting on via Eve and Ella but I do miss the first hand contact.
Sadness factor - 4/10
Old Timer - His "matter of fact" approach to life was like the proverbial breath of fresh air in the world of blogging. He is a widower but has just got engaged to his first ever girlfriend from way back in his school days. He now seems, perhaps unsurprisingly, to be too busy to stay in touch!
Sadness factor - 5/10

The Astro-CynicsFour years ago there were five of us who shared a common interest in astronomy and also in being a proverbial thorn in the flesh of the astronomical "movers and shakers". We used to exchange emails a couple of times a month and I used to look forward to hearing all the gossip. Then Hannah died and we were down to four and in 2013 two other members gave up on the hobby as advancing years and retreating finances took their toll. Now Charles, my friend and sounding board in the USA, has decided to retire from the world of science to take up golf and fossil hunting.

And that just leaves me - the last man standing

Sadness factor - 9/10

So I seem to have gained 18 points and lost 18 points which rather confirms my view of the last 12 months - "Moderate but not more".

Thursday 15 May 2014

“When people don't stand up for what they think is right, they die one piece at a time.”

This is an email I wrote to the editor of the Astronomical Journal


William I. Hartkopf et al. 2013. The Astronomical Journal 146 76

Many of the common proper motion pairs identified in this paper as new discoveries were identified and published by me as long ago as 2009. At that time my results were also sent – in the form of a spreadsheet – to both Zacharias and Finch and they both, independently, confirmed receipt.

1- The issue is simple. Did the staff at the USNO use the astronomical results I had shared with them in October 2009 without proper, indeed any, acknowledgement? Secondly why did the superintendent of the Observatory then fail to respond to my two letters on the matter?

2 - That many of my results are identical to those subsequently published as their own by USNO staff
is both beyond dispute and easily proven. Both my results and the USNO results are in the public domain and the numerous similarities are plain at a glance.

3 - That the USNO staff had prior knowledge of my results is also beyond dispute and easily proven. I have copies of their emails in which they confirm receipt. 

4 - This is the second time I have had this problem with USNO staff. I have in front of me an apologetic letter, dated January 2011, from R S Steadley, at that time Superintendent of the US Naval
Observatory, in respect of a similar problem that also involved third parties being given credit for my peer reviewed discoveries.

"Papers published in the AJ and ApJ should include citations to previously published papers which are directly relevant to the results being presented. This requirement is especially important when new ideas or results are being presented. Deliberate refusal to credit or cite prior or corroborating results, while not regarded technically as constituting plagiarism, represents a comparable breach of professional ethics, and can result in summary rejection of a manuscript."

Monday 12 May 2014

May 2014 - still grinding along!

It has a long time since my previous post but then nobody can say that I didn't warn you that this blog was never going to revert to its former regime.

Since January I have been writing astronomical articles and booklets pretty much full time. The books have all been uploaded to Amazon and the sales are starting to trickle in. I now feel that it is time for a change so I have decided to stop the astronomy research and writing for a while and instead to divide my energy between the second volume of "Baby Nicola's Diary" and a second social history book - this time on unusual ways of dying.

After feeling rather demotivated in my role as Chair of Governors at a local school I seem to summoned up some more energy and enthusiasm and - although I say it myself - I put on a cracking performance with the HMI during her recent visit.

I am still in email communication with Eve and Ella and "Student Sally" every week and working with them continues to give real meaning to my life. I know that is horrible jargon but it is far too easy to drift into a placid, totally stress free, routine where nothing seems to happen to distinguish one week from the weeks on either side.

So is everything in the garden rosy? No, not really but it is rather difficult to put into words what has upset me without seeming petty. But I do think that the "Wow, how amazing, have an MBE" said to somebody who had served as a school governor for 11 years when I have done 30 years is part of the problem!

Wednesday 8 January 2014

2014 - time for another change?

With hindsight I shouldn't have stopped posting to this blog. That decision was just another example of "the way I am" - I either do something wholeheartedly or I don't do it at all. I know that my nearest and dearest sometimes find this character trait rather wearing, as indeed do I. Perhaps 2014 will be the year when I finally do something about this aspect of my nature that has cost me so dear more than once!

I'm not going to make any public commitment regarding the frequency of posting to my re-launched blog because if I don't have a target then I cannot fail to achieve it - and if I'm not failing to meet some self-imposed challenge then I shouldn't feel the need to beat myself up if events conspire to thwart me.

So what has happened since July 2013?

The good
The Ragleth Writers is a top-priority fixed point in my month. I have not missed a single meeting since I moved to Ticklerton.

The Walking for Health group on a Wednesday is good for me both physically and emotionally. It is a shame that it sometimes clashes with other equally important events.

My cemetery blog attracts as many as 2000 visitors a day which exceeds my wildest pre-launch dreams by a factor of 10!

The bad or sad
My long running email conversation with a fellow amateur astronomer and teacher in the USA has come to an end after 6 years. I wrote a long email to her in the summer and a much shorter "Happy Christmas" email last month but neither received a reply. The exchanges had flagged somewhat over the last 18 months as our family and hobby priorities changed but prior to that our regular correspondence had been a source of much pleasure to me.

Eve and Ella have finally decided to go public with their decision to stop publishing their monthly newsletter and blog. They mentioned this to me some months ago so it didn't come as a total surprise. However my email inbox is full of shocked responses from their wide circle of friends and it is obvious that their decision is seen by many as marking the end of an era. The good news is that the entire operation has been passed on to very capable replacements who, by the way, have already been shouldering quite of a lot of the burden since September.

The ugly
The long running saga of who owns the copyright to the 4 books on Nigerian postal history written by me as part of the Philip Cockrill series came to an end. The Court of Chancery in Bristol found 100% in my favour and I was awarded costs plus damages. Despite this the illegal copies are still on sale in the USA - although not in the UK.