When I first became interested in astronomy way back in the 50's, the likes of Skywatcher, Celestron, Meade, Orion, etc., didn't exist. There were no astronomy shops and just a few scattered, newly-formed local societies. But dear Patrick was already 'God' and I borrowed his books from the library and, using 6 inch Perspex blanks which my father made for me from his work at the Gloster aircraft company, I set about 'grinding' my own mirrors - and spent many ultimately fruitless hours in the asbestos shed in our garden. Unfortunately I didn't even have the money or tools to go beyond that stage - not that I ever managed to get them the right shape. And I doubt if they would ever have been suitable for silvering. They probably ended up like all the off-cuts my father used to bring home - as brilliant fire-lighters.
Back then in the 50's the street lights used to go out at midnight. Now, although some authorities are starting to switch off some lights from 12.30 for a few hours, there are still multiple light polluting sources. So although I live in a semi-rural location, the sky glow from Swansea and neighbouring villages is noticeable and I hesitated before committing myself to buying a telescope. But looking online at what was on offer I was pleasantly surprised how little entry level telescopes cost. A 5 inch scope, which to me in the 50's would have been a large scope could be had for as little as about £150, and with a motor to track the movement of the stars. Prices have increased since then and may well continue to do so and my scope would now cost around £180. But this is still excellent value for money.
So I went ahead and bought a telescope - a 5 inch Skywatcher Newtonian, f/r 6.92 with a declination motor - always been a fan of Newton. Perhaps not the right way to go about things but for the money it seemed a good bargain and I had long dreamt of owning a telescope.
I was quite lucky to start with as Jupiter was well-positioned and, once I had got over the hurdle of assembling the scope, I was able to find it, track it and see the 4 main satellites. But what else could I look at? Well, the Moon obviously but apart from that I had forgotten everything I had learnt about what was in the sky and didn't really know where anything was. Of course there are many books that show what you can see at various times of the year and I had few, some, like 'The Observors Book of Astronomy' dating back to 1961 plus a sky chart booklet of about the same vintage. But even better nowadays are the many computer programs which will do the same - and much better. With the aid of these you get a very good impression of what is visible, clouds permitting, from your exact location.
I won't go into detail as I spent a lot of time looking at various programs and what they offer - still do. Suffice to say that the one that I and many others now use is Stellarium. It is freely available and not too difficult to use though, like most software, it does have its quirks. Nowadays, armed with a laptop and a program like this you can, before you even consider buying a telescope, sit outside and learn the various constellations and where everything is, weather permitting of course! And if you have a pair of binoculars then you can begin to explore the skies. Well, that's the theory. The problem with binoculars is that, unless you have some sort of mount or tripod it is difficult to hold them steady enough to really see anything worthwhile - or perhaps I am just too old and unsteady!?
Having retired and with a little more time on my hands I have, for the past three years or so been trying to catch up on the past lost 50+ years as far as observing is concerned. Not sure that wet Wales is the best place to do it, but that is where I am. And I have certainly read a lot and acquired quite lot of equipment. Hopefully in the next 20 years or so this will be put to good use, together with my next, larger telescope!
Nov 2013: Well now 18 months later and my next, larger telescope turned out to be the 6ins Celestron NexStar 6SE. Not what I had originally intended but I am very glad that I resisted the urge to go larger. This combination is just large enough to see most of the fainter fuzzies, if only as very faint fuzzies, but it works very well the the Phillips SPC900NC webcam on the Moon, Jupiter, Saturn and, I hope, Mars, and the initial indications are that it will work well with the Orion Starshoot G3 Colour CCD camera. If I can spend this winter discovering what it can do maybe I can justify a move up to the latest 8 ins Celestron SCT VX.
June 2014: The observatory now appears to be properly dry though it will take winter storms to really prove this. But the pier is now back in place and I think the waterspot problem may have been resolved - spots on the webcam - and I am now in a position to move forward to a bigger and better scope. And after a Stargazer Lounge Forum discussion as to whether I should go for the 8" Edge version it is going to be the Celestron SCT AVX 9.25. I can use the existing .63 focal reducer and the extra aperture should be good for visual observations, especially with the binoviewer.
October 2014: The Celestron SCT AVX 9.25 is now setup in the observatory on the pier. The additional plate that was needed to connect the pier and mount gives about 4 inches of extra height. This is actually quite useful as it means that I can see a little bit more down to the horizon. And I have found that I can also view leaning against the back of the observatory, at least in some positions - extra support, less wobble. First views of the 61% waxing Moon were extremely impressive.
October 2015: Now well used to moving around inside the observatory and using the scope in the dark, though I do now try to set things up during the day if I know I am going to be able to use it that night. The extra length cables that I have for the power and handset are well worth it, wrapping then around the pier when necessary. If I were to get another observatory and could afford it I would go for the larger 2.7m size. When imaging at certain angles there is not a lot of room. I still have a tendency to bump my head against the finderscope.
October 2016: Fed up with having to constantly dry out the floor after heavy rain I decided to resit the observatory so that it didn't face the prevailing winds. I put a 8mm gasket underneath the outer rim and did a rather better job with the silicone seal around the outside. Also checked on any of the wall and dome seals and used Silky to clean up - been a good year for algae. The leaking door bolt hole was solved by placing a 'container' underneath the bolt and drilling a hole to allow drainage outside. I did Aquaprufe the floor again and put in a slightly thicker damp proof membrane. And thoroughly tested it all with a hose pipe!
Inside there is now a 100mm deep 60cm circle concrete plinth in the centre, also sealed - it was first cured for 23 days - and with a damp proof membrane on top, mainly to allow 'easy' movement of the pier. Also used black matt paint on the inside of the dome to repair that section - not 100% but a whole lot better than it was. And removal of bits of rust on the bottom of the pier and repainted with black gloss paint. Similarly with the chrome sections of my adjustable stool.
So all looking good and no signs of leakage this morning after over 1 inch of rain last night! All that is needed now is for the weather to cooperate.
Nov 2016: Discovered that if you stand on the membrane and there are tiny pebbles underneath they will puncture. Only pin-prick holes but enough for water to oouse through. But I think that cold bitumen over these holes may have finally done the trick. Doesn't appear to be any water getting in from the outside.