We are saddened to learn of the death of Sir Patrick Moore, the astronomer, author, cricketer, chess master, golf pro, musical composer, xylophone soloist, ballet choreographer, comic actor, anti-immigrant campaigner, & all-round great guy. (Not to be confused with Patrick Moore, the partially reformed Greenpeace psycho.)
They are going down ninepins, these oldies: the men & women of our parents’ generation whom we remember in their prime. This item, from the BBC memory bank, in which Moore was interviewing the late (& also beloved) Neil Armstrong about standing on the Moon, gives the flavour of that era when, for all its flaws, adult life & intelligent conversation were still quite common. Alas, from every side the moral & intellectual sinkhole of hippiedom was encroaching, as Moore was explaining even at the time.
He was all of one remarkable piece from the beginning — even the monocle he wore from age sixteen, when he lied about his age to join the RAF at the outset of World War II. Though he longed for a wife & children, he never married. This was because his fiancée, a nurse, was killed by a German bomb in London. Through seventy years he stayed true to her memory. In everything else he remained, though sometimes eccentric, almost inhumanly constant.
Moore was “basically a solar system man,” & a leading amateur Moon mapper — the inspiration for one of our childhood hobbies, which was looking through a cheap cardboard-tube telescope then trying to draw lunar landscapes in pencil. It began under a Christmas tree. Our papa had noticed a certain obsession with extraterrestrial objects, & found us a copy of Guide to the Moon (often revised & today entitled, Patrick Moore on the Moon). Little things start a child up, & in this case it was a passing remark that photographs of lunar & other surfaces convey little information, when they are not actually misleading: one must draw, sharply, what one has seen. (Drawing is also the best way, by far, to trick the eyes into observing. Today, schoolchildren are not taught to draw, & graduates of art colleges can’t draw unless self-taught, for the ability to do anything with competence is held to endanger “creativity.”)
We accumulated, over time, a lot of reasons to admire this man, whose interests & attitudes often crossed over our own (at greater altitude). Take cricket, for instance: we were both spin bowlers, a craft in which it seems to us only wily reactionaries flourish, & in which no physical athletic type has an intrinsic advantage. He was big & wide, we were wiry, & like Moore a useless batsman, almost invariably out for a duck (zero runs), & usually a golden duck (out on first ball). Also, a useless fielder. But when leg spin is called for, especially unorthodox leg spin, “I’m your man.”
The essence of the spinner’s task is to read his opponent’s mind, & bowl to the blank from which it has wandered, in hypnotizing slow motion, making use of physics in the thirteen fundamental ways a hard, variously spinning, centre-seam ball may rise from contact with the ground — multiplied by combinations & the changing conditions of ball, ground, humidity, temperature, & lighting — then decorated by sleight of hand to prevent the batsman from guessing what comes next. (A googlie or a chinaman?) North Americans are unfortunately impoverished by the experience of baseball, where the pitcher is limited to the “full toss,” i.e. the ball isn’t bounced off the ground, & so the range of possibility is severely reduced. It is a game wherein the pitcher would be hit out of the stadium ball after ball if his opponent had an intelligently-designed bat to swing with.
And yes, we have never met a spin bowler without a lively interest in astronomy. The Greeks called this “syndrome” (concurrence of symptoms), & we’ve often thought a man’s whole outlook on life may be deduced from what his attention is naturally drawn to. A leftwing spin bowler is, for instance, a contradiction of terms. (We met one once, but after watching him surrender three sixes & a four in a single over, realized he was no exception.)
Moore, for instance, wrote (under the pseudonym R.T. Fishall) a very serviceable book entitled, Bureaucrats: How to Annoy Them, full of useful tips such as spreading a thin layer of candle grease across parts of a form marked “official use only,” to prevent the bureaucrat from writing in the space & thus drive him out of his little wee mind. Innumerable other suggestions, while dated to technological conditions a generation ago, may be easily adapted to the present for, as Moore noted, the bureaucratic mind has not developed in any way over the course of history, & is the closest thing we find in nature to a dead loss. We once forwarded to Moore from our commonplace book some quotes from e.g. the Rajataramgini of Kalhana (the 12th-century Kashmiri historian) which exactly describe the breed. Example: “The crab kills its father & the white ant its mother, but the unspeakable Kayastha [member of the bureaucrat caste] destroys everything he touches.” We received a kindly note in response.
Patrick Moore’s ebullience, his extraordinary learning & extreme precision with fact (the Apollo mission used his lunar maps), his indifference to criticism, & devastating wit when confronted, made the usual progressive trolls in England leave him mostly alone. They could not even mock him, for he excelled at self-mockery, too. He even survived in the BBC, setting the record as presenter for a single programme, The Sky at Night, which began in 1957. Its following was so large & enthusiastic that the devils couldn’t dare take it off the air. They had to be satisfied with merely shifting it repeatedly through obscure slots in their late-night schedule — even when Moore founded the United Country Party, “to keep England English.” It is, to our knowledge, the only TV show after which a Main Belt asteroid has been named (Caelumnoctu, the show’s title in Latin; another asteroid had already been named for Moore himself). His last appearance on television was last week: he missed only one episode over more than half a century (after a near-death experience from eating a poisoned goose egg). The show was broadcast live, by long tradition; & the BBC finally honoured him by losing the tapes of many hundred episodes & other inventories of important records.
His political career was at no point successful, but consistently entertaining. United Country went farther, to argue that neither Germans nor Frenchmen could ever be trusted (a point Moore was happy to make in fluent German or French). On the other hand, he admired Liechtenstein as Europe’s last absolute monarchy, & had a soft spot for Catholic Irishmen. He also campaigned for the Monster Raving Loony Party, under Screaming Lord Such, & was at his death a patron of Ukip. He refused to be interviewed on air my females, argued that they’d ruined everything, & coined, we believe, the phrase, “Adam & Eve not Adam & Steve,” along with other philosophical maxims such as, “The catless life is not worth living.” He joined the Flat Earth Society because, while he disagreed with their views, he admired their spirit.