North West Astrofest - 2016

Thursday, July 7, 2016

What an amazing event!

 

I was invited by Sue and Andrew Davies – The Knowledge Observatory/Astro Farm in France – to be the opening speaker on Saturday 3 July.  The central day of three, this was the designated Authors’ Day, just one of what was a fabulous 3-day festival. 

 Andrew Davies (at left) with the model Apollo 11 filling the main display area!

 

Even though only able to be there on the Saturday, it was clear from the outset that this was ‘the place to be’.  The ‘heart and soul’ of the organisers, participants and audiences exuded in every moment, and it was magnificent.

 

With its spacious buildings, state-of-the-art facilities and ample parking, the Conference Centre at the Heath Business and Technical Park in Runcorn, Cheshire, made for a perfect venue.  The NW Astrofest website promised the event would offer help, advice and tuition on all things astronomical, that local astronomy clubs would be in attendance, there would be hands-on astronomy and activities for families, telescope surgery, workshops, presentations, astronomy Q&As, trade stalls, demonstrations and exhibitions.  Boy, did it deliver on all counts!

 

From the moment I arrived, I have to say, I totally enjoyed every second.  Every second!  Without exception, everyone was warm, genuine, enthusiastic and kind.  Truthfully, even though I had not met the majority of those who welcomed me, I felt I was greeting old friends and instantly making new.  Some people, of course, I had met before:  Andrew Davies who, with his wife, Sue, is the brainchild and organiser of the Event, was one such person. 

 

I met Andrew when presenting TOUR OF THE UNIVERSE - a national theatre tour with guests including the BBC Sky at Night television programme presenters, Professor Chris Lintott and Maggie Aderin-Pocock, and the BBC’s Mark Thompson.  I instantly liked Andrew; he was genuine, earnest and utterly believed in the outreach of astronomy to ‘heal’ those who have perhaps ‘lost their way’ or, for all of us, to encourage us to look at the ‘bigger picture’ that so provides the great perspective of all.  Andrew made me feel instantly at home and was appreciative of all I could share.  I share his dream and vision.  It was wonderful, too, to again meet up with Jacqui Lightfoot and Emma Doward, whom I also met during TOUR OF THE UNIVERSE.  They were just as cheerful, kind and incredibly welcoming, as ever.  Just lovely!

 Emma Doward (left) and Jacqui Lightfoot - their warmth filled the event!

 

How can I forget to mention Jonathen Harty?  Oh my goodness, he introduced himself as soon as I entered the Reception area, assured me he would be ‘at my side’ all day and, OMG, was I glad he was because he had me in stitches in the first instance and, pretty much, every laughter-filled moment thereafter!  What an incredibly kind, warm-hearted, generous and fun person.  Having also been introduced to his friend, Tracey, I knew I was in for a great time!  Jonathen took all the photos throughout the day and is responsible for those appearing with this feature, unless otherwise stated.  But there are MANY more amazing images of all three days which can be accessed via his brilliant Flickr site – please do take a look – they will make you laugh and smile!  Thank you so much, Jonathen!

 Jonathen Harty - photographer extraordinaire - pretending he's not enjoying himself!

 

And there were others who added to this wonderful experience and for whom I express enormous thanks: Lloyd Pennington who, at the eleventh hour, saved me on a technical level; Julia Hamer, for assisting with book-signing and another lady (below image), whose name, forgive me, I do not know but felt I had known for years and was equal fun.

 

David Galvin, how terrific to meet you at last, David.  You also made me laugh so much and your contribution to the Astronomer Q&A was much appreciated.  When you smile, and talk, everyone around you smiles!  It was a total pleasure to meet you and I truly hope our paths cross again in the future; Gary Palmer, a fabulous solar imager and all round good guy – I hope our paths cross again, Gary; Stuart Atkinson, it was lovely to meet you - great photos of noctilucent clouds, Stuart, and looking forward to joining you in Kielder; Joe Woolf, Andrew Davies’ son, who is a mean guitar player and sure has a voice.  He opened the entertainment at the VIP dinner – what a way to kick it off, and last, but not least, Michelle Clark, a young lady who insisted I sign a copy of my book and who I seem to have immensely inspired.  Michelle, to hear and see your obvious enthusiasm and delight likewise fills me with joy.  Inspiring everyone is what I am about.  It is never too late to dream nor action those dreams.  Remember, ‘Fortune favours the brave’.

 David Galvin, whose big character also added to the event!

 

For my part, I opened the Saturday with a presentation that was a little ‘different’.  Accustomed to talking astronomy, this was NOT astronomy but about how I became involved in astronomy.  It was a totally different tack.  I wasn’t sure it would work … but it certainly did!  Feedback was overwhelming, all day and half the night! 

 Yours truly, presenting.

 

 And again ...  (Photo credit: Stuart Atkinson)

 

Wow!  Great, I got it right.  BUT, what makes it right is having such a wonderful, receptive audience. 

 

Everyone was so attentive, enthusiastic and warmly welcoming.  I had so many questions at the end, followed by a lengthy book-signing session!  

 

 

 The smiles and laughter say it all!  I had the most amazing time!

 

It was so lovely to hear how I had inspired everyone.  Great!  My job was done.  But, ultimately, I was simply being ‘me’, sharing who I am and why I do what I do.

 

But I was one of three speakers that day.  Nigel Henbest and Heather Couper also gave wonderful presentations.  What a change for me to be able to just sit and listen to Nigel regale us with the history of the constellations and to marvel at Heather’s potted history of the almost 14-billion-year-old Universe, both talks so interesting and spiced with humour.  It was also a great privilege to meet them.

 Nigel Henbest in action - so funny and informative!  Terrific talk!

 Heather, busy book-signing after a terrific talk!

 

Our day finished with an Astronomy Q&A session.  Nigel, Heather and I were joined by world-renowned solar imager, Gary Palmer to form a panel, chaired by Andrew.  This was amazing fun.  Fabulously insightful questions tumbled forth, eliciting truly varied responses, which further fired our audience!  What inspired us?  Who would we like to meet, dead or alive?  What epoch would we like to return to?  Is writing a chore, challenge or joy?  It’s all three for me!  Subjects such as the Flat Earth Society were tossed our way.  What did we think of Social Media?  Lots of laughter!  The time just whizzed by!  I could have talked for hours.  I frequently do!

 

 

It was a brilliant, brilliant day, followed by lots more fun at the evening social event.  Great people.  Great food.  Loved every moment.  I have no doubt that everything was equally fabulous on day three, with speakers including Stuart Atkinson, Nick Howes and Gary Palmer!  Feedback says it was!  How could it be otherwise?

 Nick Howes getting 'geared up' for day three!

 

What can I say?  Thank you to Sue and Andrew for inviting me, and an enormous thank you to everyone, everyone who made this so special. 

 

The North West Astronomy Festival is the ‘heart and soul’ of astronomy, on every level, and it was a privilege to be a part.

 

As mentioned, please do check out the many wonderful images on Jonathen Harty's Flickr site - you truly will laugh and smile!

 

Feedback on Facebook and Twitter has been terrific, so I have included a few comments below:

 

Inspiring talk!  (Gavin Price)

 

Wonderful, entertaining talk.  Great Event!

 

Your talking was so inspiring … it really struck a chord … seeing your journey was a privilege. (Jonathen Harty)

 

One of the highlights of NW Astrofest for me was Jane and her inspiring talk about the best bit of astronomy.  Outreach. (Johnimus Prime)

 

Brilliant lecture. (Anthony Gill)

 

A true inspiration. (Michelle Clark)

 

So wonderful to hear you speak.  Thank you for sharing your story. (Vicky Dews)

 

Lovely to meet you and listen to your talk.  (Maureen Williams)

 

I thoroughly enjoyed her talk on Saturday.  Sometimes you do have to take a chance outside your comfort zone.  So glad I did with astronomy!  (Damien Weatherly)

 

Undoubtedly the best talk of the whole event, coming at the audience from a totally different angle, very inspiring to newcomers like myself, not too heavy on the physics, truly inspiring.  Thank you for being a bit different Jane Green. (Mark Charles)

 

Hope Jane can come back next year!  (Blackpool Astronomy Society)

 

I have been invited back for next year when I WILL talk astronomy!  What can I say?  Roll on 2017!

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