Obituary: Simon & Leslie Barnett

Simon Barnett

Simon Barnett

Simon Barnett, son of Leslie and Helga, was born in Scotland on January 4th 1966. The family soon moved to Helga’s homeland in Germany, where Simon went to Kindergarten, and he and Leslie then relocated to England when the latter’s marriage to Helga failed. Accordingly, Simon’s very early childhood was somewhat unsettled. They laid down roots in Cannock, Staffordshire, in 1974, when Leslie married Mary Oates. The new family – including Mary’s children, Philip and Carolyn – established a family home in Hatherton Road. Simon was eight years of age, just old enough to start school at Walhouse Junior School in the same year as his step-brother. The union of Leslie and Mary was a marriage that would last for almost forty years.

Simon had a variety of hobbies and interests and he often exhibited a unique and quirky sense of humour. Whilst he was able to, he enjoyed gardening and growing wild flowers. He was fascinated by the paranormal, especially the supposed eye-witness accounts of those who had claimed to have seen ghosts or UFOs. He had an interest in the weather, particularly tornadoes, and he liked film and television programmes, being a great fan of the comedies of Laurel and Hardy and Steptoe and Son. Above all though, in terms of television, he was a life-long devotee of the Dr Who TV series.

From an early age Simon struggled to fit in both at home and at school. He suffered from Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism, which was sadly something that was neither understood nor properly diagnosed when Simon was young. He suffered from this condition throughout his life and the later development of chronic Obsessive Compulsive Disorder was particularly debilitating for him.

Asperger’s was very much something that defined Simon’s life, in so far as it helped to shape who he was. His various fascinations and his drive to attain knowledge were largely instigated through the obsessions that his condition instilled in him. Whilst he struggled on a social level, which at times he found very difficult, his condition also enabled him to attain great knowledge and to master a variety of subjects and principles that most people would find enormously challenging.

His father, Leslie, was a key figure in the support of Simon’s ability to pursue his interests. He joined Wolverhampton Astronomical Society so that he could take Simon to meetings and accompany him there. Leslie also travelled with Simon on trips to observe and photograph eclipses. His commitment to Simon was always paramount and their closeness gave him a particular appreciation of Simon’s intellectual capacity.

Simon always displayed a keen intelligence and a need to understand the world around him, particularly in relation to two key aspects that would instigate and dominate his most prominent interests for his entire life: time and space. As a young child he would dismantle watches to see how they functioned and he enjoyed amateur astronomy, eclipses being of special interest to him. These two passions grew over the years and would eventually flourish. Simon became a qualified horologist, earning the equivalent of a Degree in Horology. His great skill in this area allowed him to build, repair and restore clocks, of which he had a considerable collection. Astronomy though, was probably always his greatest love. It led him to join Wolverhampton Astronomical Society, where he served and contributed keenly for several years. His knowledge continued to grow and he was soon able to create extremely complex star charts and plot predictions for the forthcoming night sky. Sadly, his health problems took him away from the Astronomical Society, but he continued to pursue and enjoy astronomy until he tragically passed away on March 15th 2018, aged 52 years of age. His devoted father, Leslie, died just over two months later, on May 25th, aged 83.

Carolyn Oates (Leslie’s Daughter)

Simon remembered as a Society member, by Phil Barnard

Simon joined the Society as a beginner, but one with a clear intention to learn all he could about astronomy as quickly as possible. He is remembered at that time for his constant questions put to the more experienced members. So it wasn’t long before Simon had become an accomplished observer, often using locations around Cannock Chase. His expertise was duly recognised in 1993, when Simon was co-opted on to the Society Council as the first recorded Projects Officer, which continued until 1996 when he became an elected Council member in that office.

For many years Simon produced a regular quarterly star chart for the Society, although Simon’s version bore his own particular stamp. He was fascinated by thoughts of how the solar system would be viewed from locations other than planet Earth, for example how beings on other planets would be able to see their own local eclipses and solar transits. I once emailed Simon to ask if he could tell me from where an ancient transit of Venus, which occurred on 24 May 1032, could have been observed. The answer came back almost by return, complete with maps and a diagram showing the path of the transit!

It was Simon’s idea to make video recordings of Society meetings, the intention being to give members the ability to see talks they had been unable to attend. He continued to do that for selected talks, and usually including question time, until his camera became unusable. Although some Paul Pope lectures have been recorded since then, the process wasn’t continued on a regular basis thereafter. By that time, a seemingly sensible idea had proven to be uneconomic. However, the Society now has a library of some 30 videos, which have now been converted to DVD. That video collection may not be unique but it is certainly a very rarely achieved historical record, surely of value to future historians. The videos are now held digitally, as ‘The Simon Barnett Video Archive’.

Although his health problems had prevented him from attending meetings in recent years, Simon’s passing was a great shock to all who knew him, and he will be very sadly missed.

Leslie Barnett

Leslie Barnett

Carolyn has acknowledged above the contribution made by Leslie Barnett to Simon’s continued interest in astronomy, but he is also remembered as a former Society member.

That Simon was able to attend so many meetings, in spite of his long-term health problems, is due in no small measure to the dedicated care of his father Leslie. Leslie’s own interest in astronomy was strongly influenced by Simon, whom he accompanied to meetings for many years, previously at Beckminster Church Hall and latterly at the Highfields School Environmental Centre. This was in spite of his own deteriorating health. His devotion to Simon is well-known to the longer-serving Society members. It was clear to all who attended Simon’s funeral that the obvious deterioration in Leslie’s own health was clearly influenced by the loss of Simon. He too will be sadly missed.

Phil Barnard