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The True Dimension?

John C Vetterlein

This account has been long in its formation (at least thirty years) that in no way reflects the extreme brevity of the finished product.

My thoughts on matters cosmological go back a long way further than that. In common with most, moonstruck young people questions as to the "how" and the "when" came as naturally as tripping over a straw bale.

At secondary school, I was advised by my science teacher not to get carried away by my obvious mathematical precocity. Never the less, I found my agility with mathematics useful compensation for a lack of cash to spend on telescopes (post-war Britain was far from affluent). However, I made good use of libraries and read copiously on a wide range of topics, not least cosmology itself. This has been my practice throughout a life now approaching its eighth decade. Moreover, I have kept in touch with diurnal events these many years and continue my researches with the open sky.

My detachment from current theories must have come about as a result of frustration and, to some  extent, annoyance. I am frustrated when people rant on about their pet theory without giving adequate preparatory information; I am irritated when some bright spark dismisses metaphysics and philosophy as irrelevant to cosmological argument.

And so, upon examining my progress on the book, which I had originally entitled "Big Bang - Fact or Fiction?", and finding it of inordinate length, I was grateful to one at least, namely Stephan Hawking, when he announced in typical a priori fashion: “Philosophy is dead. It has not kept up with modern developments in science. As a result scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.” [Eureka (The Times) Issue 12 September 2010—Science, Life, The Planet.] This, together with his quaint notions for a "theory of everything", made me realise that what I had to say by way of counter to all this stuff could be done in a relatively few words. For, if the basics lack credibility then no amount of formulae spinning will convince the truly inquisitive mind.

And, on the point of mind; I should add that my lifelong maxim has been to greet death, when it comes, with an open mind. Shall we proceed?

John C Vetterlein


"Our Pleasures are the Planet’s Sacrifice".

A book of essays by John C Vetterlein.



In The Carneddau

The author lived sporadically (“the 1300 foot contour line ran through the kitchen!”) in the Carneddau between 1965 and 1974 before he was “driven out” by low flying military aircraft and vandalism—vandalism to the property in Cwm Eigiau caused by a handful of individuals during his absence.

At work in the front room, Hafod y rhiw, circa 1968.
(Craig Eigiau “filling” the window.)

Craig Eigiau with Llyn Eigiau in "low ebb". Seen from Hafod y rhiw, circa 1968. (The craig rises to some 1200 ft. above the lake.)

In the Carneddau is based on diaries kept throughout the period. Topics covered include: the intricacies of the landscape and the weather, the use of the mountains by sheep farmers and the leisure and sporting fraternity.

“I do not find it easy to write about the land which is my home at the time when it is my home. The severance from Wales I have borne with a sadness impossible to define. I miss the landscape and the people. But the landscape has always been at the mercy of the pillagers; and now I am fearful of returning knowing I should be affronted by what I see as exploitation and degradation caused by the so-called wind farms, to say nothing of the continuing abuse by the military.”       [From the Preface.] 

Carnedd Llewelyn from the east (Craig yr Isfa left)

The Carneddau form the most sustained level of high, mountainous terrain in Wales. The area takes its name from the two principle summits, Carnedd Llewleyn and Carnedd Dafyd, 1,064 m (3,491 ft) and 1,044 m (3,425 ft) metres O.D. respectively. There are several other summits in the massif above the old 3.000-foot contour. All these lie to the north of the Nant Francon Valley whose southern flank includes the spectacular Glyder Range and the world-famous pyramidal summit, Tryfan.

The Carneddau are a diverse habitat ranging from the long summit of Tal y fan—610 m (2,001 ft)—in the north to the imposing Pen yr Ole wen—978 m (3,209 ft)—in the south. There are many lakes at differencing heights above sea level including one of the deepest lakes in Wales, Llyn Cowlyd. Hafod y rhiw is situated in the Eigiau Valley, closed at its southern end by the Bwlch Tremarchog. (The pass of the three horsemen would make a rough translation from the Welsh). Seen in the dip of the bwlch from certain vantage points is Tryfan with its towering, three sentinels of rock.

In Cwm Eigiau: The late Millicent Vetterlein below Craig yr Isfa, showing the Great Gully on Carnedd Llewelyn (Photo: F C Vetterlein, August 1967).



Llyn Eigiau viewed from the northern flanks of Pen Llithrig y Wrach (2622 ft.). The long summit in the left, distance is Tal y fan. (2001 ft.). F C Vetterlein looking north photographed by Millicent Vetterlein August 1967.

Portrait of an Island in Black & White


This is a book of photographs. I have chosen to represent my work in black and white rather than in colour for personal reasons. My father was a fine photographer. I grew up in a house of music and cameras. My visits to the darkroom before I was five years of age to watch my father at work with the “bromides” still has a mystical feel for me some sixty years on. This was a time in photography—before the commencement of the Second World War—when colour was in its infancy and digital lurking in the undreamed future.

All the photographs have been taken on the island of Rousay which has been my permanent home now for close on two decades and which I came to know many years earlier. That I am resident on this island is a miracle for me; I never dared to hope I would be in a position to sustain myself here. The island is changing rapidly, like everywhere else; I deplore this fact. There will be no place left soon free of the mad tear-about world that we have fahioned for ourselves.

The many ruins on Rousay are a photographer's paradise. Fortunately a good friend of mine, Tommy Gibson of Brinola, Rousay, and I photographed all the houses and ruins in a project covering the summer of 1996. Since then many of the ruins have been demolished or have deteriorated still further in the harsh winter gales. Our record is a priceless one, I feel.

John C Vetterlein


 BRINGS - Rousay


The images presented here are from the region on the island of Rousay running from Scabra Head to Sacquoy Head, a distance of around 4 miles; it embraces some of the most dramatic cliff scenery in Rousay. The highest point nearby is the Brae of Moan (401 ft). The Brings itself occupies a spit of land in the extreme north-west corner of the island. The soil is poor and supports numerous small colonies of Primula scotica.
Between Scabra and Bring Head, the land falls away into a broad valley, a region known as Quendal. This was once a settlement and includes the oldest known two-storey dwelling in Orkney - Tafts (now a ruin).
The coast from Bring Head to Sacquoy Head in the north, a distance of around one-and-a-half miles, is of great interest ornithologically. The cliffs themselves scarcely reach 200 feet (60 metres) in vertical height but the variety of forms - arches, geos and the stack of The Lobust - provide habitats for large numbers of sea birds. Here the Arctic Tern and Puffin find nesting places, indeed the Brings can be a dangerous place to roam from May to late June when the Terns strive to keep humans at bay.
The sequence of images runs roughly south to north ending in the small lochan of the Loch of Sacquoy. In dry summers the lochan may dry up completely.
Extracted from: Black & White: Portrait of an Island (in preparation).
John Vetterlein,

This is the sixth year in which the Rousay Calendar has been produced in colour.
In 2009, the International Year of Astronomy, we have featured skies predominantly.
John Vetterlein
December 2009 
Asio flammeus - Short-eared Owl



This booklet contains mostly picturesphotographs, or as we say in the digital age, images.


Springfield, where I live, is situated on the east side of the island of Rousay, Orkney. The holding comprises about 18 acres, most of which is rough grazing and heather-clad. The land is above the road about 500 metres from the sea and at an average elevation of 50 metres.


The small house is surrounded by low trees and shrubs, predominately willow and fuchsia. Nesting birds include blackbird, occasionally song thrush, wrens, sparrows and starlings. Crows sometimes attempt to nest on the electricity poles and have been known to use the garden poplar and willows.


Out on the coarse ground oyster catcher, snipe and curlew nest regularly. This year we were honoured by the presence of the short-eared owl. The species is frequently to be seen hunting on this side of the island (see inside front cover). This is the first time in thirty-five years that I have known the bird to nest at Springfield.



From the text:


I had no real expectation that the birds would return on subsequent evenings. However, I made preparations to have all cameras at the ready in case this should happen. To my great surprise and delight, one of the birds returned on three consecutive evenings. It perched on an old willow close to the back of the house and within four or five feet of the window. The bird was quite aware of my presence but showed no alarm: it was almost as if he (or she) were posing for these photographs! On the evening of 16 July this bird (for which I have yet to settle on a name) turned up at 8 20 pm UT. It stayed around for a little over twenty minutes, during which time I secured over one-hundred images. It has not been seen since except in flight at the height of the day.



 John Vetterlein, July 2004


BIG BANG - Fact or Fiction?



The notion of a universe as an entity is fundamentally flawed.

Part I

The title of this book is, I hope, unambiguous. “Big Bang” is not, of course, a literal description of an event but is the word combination used by many cosmologists to describe the theoretical process that led to all the phenomenon we have observed to date in our physical environment, from viruses to nascent galaxies at the threshold of visibility from planet Earth.

Fact or fiction? By fact we infer verifiable phenomena—events, things. If you are reading this then there is sufficient evidence to affirm that the book (substance) exists and that your thought processes (non-physical state) are factually engaging with the arguments set out in the book.

By commencing on a metaphysical note I deliberately set out to probe the language used when specialists attempt to describe their researches to the non-specialist, or, if you prefer that awful phrase “the man in the street”. The reason why specialists sometimes make apparently contradictory statements is because for the purposes of research systems have to be devised in an attempt to accommodate our understanding of the physical “world”. Many of these approaches are unintelligible to most of us. For example, how many readers of Hawkin’s famous A Brief History of Time understand the workings of differential equations let alone the system of tensors? Yet it is through the manipulative use of mathematics that we arrive at conclusions which we then attempt to put into everyday language for the convenience of the “ordinary” reader. 

A good deal of this book will be taken up with the process of clarifying word usage (hopefully avoiding tedium), for unless the logic threads through to the reader from these far-flung concepts one might just as well not touch the book at all. Also, I shall avoid diagrams where possible since they are at best crude analogies and are no substitue for clear, verbal reasoning.


First, I should like to put before the reader some general thoughts. Crucial to the nature of this book, the discussions therein, is the concept of arbitrariness. At the risk of scaring off the purists, I shall quote from a collection of poems of my own entitled Cobbett’s Field. (Incidentally, this was my first published book in the genre.)

Answers are there none (with a second apology to Edgar Alan Poe)

We just have to have names for things,
our brains crave orderliness:
classify, classify and re-classify
(the curse of counting—one, two, three).

No more quoth the raven, no more;
in nature's physical world,
neither number nor equation count for anything.

The last line is the important thing. We must grasp the fact that the physical and non-physical worlds (for want of a better word) are independent of us in as much that our perceptions of them are just that, our biased view of it all. For my purpose here, I shall quote from another entry in the same book:


Things are what they are when they are,
both when the horde perceives them
and in private.

What I am driving at is the business of definition. Take the title of this book I am reading: On Space and Time (C.U.P.) by six contributing authors.

What do we understand by “space” and “time”? We can find a form of words to account for our understanding of each word. (We shall come to this shortly.) One does not have to travel far into the book before we are confronted with discussions (explanations) buttressed with diagrams and mathematical formulae. This at once demonstrates the limitations under which we labour to be understood. I can account to myself the concepts that enable me to live my life without too much confusion, but it all requires a degree of acceptance, for there are no definitives in life, unless we count the finality of death itself as a nonpareil. My own experience of life in fact indicates at every turn degrees of paradox. And so life becomes a compromise; we have to accept that just as there is the recognizable condition of colour blindness, so in other areas each and every brain interprets things differently—we are individuals, in other words.

In science we use the tools of mathematics to enable us to come close to truths about things. Without mathematics we would not have the lifestyles to which we have all become accustomed at one level or another. Thus, we have mastered certain practicalities, some simple, others more complex. But in the area of hypothesis (and cosmology is no more than an exercise in human ingenuity) we are groping in the dark, literally. A glossary of terms illustrates the dilemma we face in our attempt to find definitives.
The dust jacket for the book just quoted presents the case admirably for me: What is the true nature of space and time? These concepts are at the heart of science, and are often taken for granted even by practicing scientists, but, as this volume explains, they remain deeply wrapped in enigma.

This I find encouraging for, despite the certainties expressed by some of the authors, we have been alerted to the possibility that the book may open up more questions than it answers. The same accusation may be levelled at my book.

The philosophical mind—II

The philosopher takes tedium seriously,
takes tedium to task you could say
(gets lost along the way as maybe).

The philosopher is never satisfied
(that’s the hallmark of his trade);
the philosopher is forever falling over propositions
(propositions are made to be felled).

The mind of the philosopher
is the brainchild of the brain—abstract
and in profusion;
the infinity of images from a hunch reality
existing between two parallel mirrors.

John (C) Vetterlein


The following is of interest to these discussions:

In a BBC Radio 4 Programme Professor James al-khalili of Surry University rose to the challenge of explaining in just 45 seconds the Big Bang Theory.

He said: The Big Bang Theory. Well, this is the idea that the whole universe was crested in a single explosion 13.7 billion years ago in which space and time themselves were created. We know this because if we look in our telescopes we see that all the distant galaxies out in the sky are moving away from each other. Basically the universe is expanding, it’s getting bigger like a baloon being blown up. So if we run the film backwards, as it were, we see that the universe was smaller in the past, and if we go back far enough the universe collapses down to a single point, the moment of the big bang. We also have evidence for this because as the unverse expanded from the big bang it was getting cooler, and if we measure the temeprature of space it’s just what the big bang theory predicts.

Note that the estimated age for the Globular Cluster M13 within our own Galaxy is given by some authprities as:

The age of M13 has been determined by Sandage as 24 billion years and by Arp as 17 billion years around 1960; Arp later (in 1962) revised his value to 14 billion years (taken from Kenneth Glyn Jones).

These evaluations are somewhat dated. It will be interesting to see whether in another thirty or forty years hence anybody will have the courage to debunk the current Big Bang theorists, most of whom appear to have overlooked the fact that these things are mere hypotheses.

JCV 2010 July 15 


The Brightling Observatory: ISBN 1-902582-40-3

 I first became involved with the Brightling Observatory in the autumn of 1964 when working at R N Irving & Son, Teddington Road, near Hampton Wick, Middlesex.

The owner of the observatory, Hugh Malleson, had written to Ronald Irving concerning the dome which, as may be seen from the photographs, was mounted on the highest part of the building. The observatory had been used as a dwelling only in comparatively recent times (see historical background). Commander Malleson (Royal Navy retired) wished to use the observatory for its original purpose but found that the lead-clad dome had become to all intents and purposes a fixed structure. Ron invited me to look into the matter and so I made a visit to the observatory that year to assess the position.

The observatory was close to the highest piece of ground (620 feet OD, marked by an obelisk) for many miles and was ideally suited (or was in the days of its inception, Eastbourne now posing a light pollution hazard) for astronomical work.

I found the dome (approximately 8 feet in diameter) had been surmounted by a Negretti and Zambra cup anemometer, the control panel being read in the main room of the house on the ground floor. The narrow shutters were hinged but immovable, as was the dome itself, the large iron wheels on which it stood having seized. The construction of the dome was from wood sections covered with lead.

We undertook to remove the shutters and to replace them with a single lateral sliding stainless steel shutter. In addition we agreed to free the wheels and to conduct experiments to see if it might be possible to attach a motor drive for rotating the dome.
Freeing the dome for rotation was not such a great problem but, owing to the nature of the wheels and the track, rotation by hand proved a strenuous exercise. This was partly solved by fitting a low geared 1/3 h.p. electric motor acting by pressure and friction on the inner rim of the base of the dome. The speed of rotation was necessarily slow.

Up to this time Malleson possessed only a small Japanese refractor. We had often discussed the possibility of installing a larger instrument and so we eventually undertook to supply a Cassegrain type telescope of 8.5 inches aperture. This posed a problem at once since the aperture of the old dome was too narrow for a telescope of this aperture to function effectively.

Thus, a year or so later, Hugh Malleson (who had by now become a personal friend along with his wife, Vera and daughter Sophy) asked me if it might be possible to replace the entire dome with a lighter structure of modern design. As a result, I designed and made at R N Irving & Son the dome which is featured in the second series of photographs. This comprised a mild steel frame clad with stove enamelled duralumin sheeting. (It is to be noted that the anemometer was retained. This necessarily obstructed access to the zenith as well as posing some problems for the shutters.)

The dome rotated by means of ballraced wheels mounted on a circular track and driven by a small electric motor. The dome could be locked against rotation from the wind. There was also provision to prevent the dome from lifting.

The Dall-Cassegrain telescope was completed towards the end of 1966. On 1967 January 21, I was at Brightling carrying out final adjustments to the telescope and its mounting. The notes I made for the optical adjustment are too copious to be included in their entirety here.
Suffice to say the instrument was something of a prototype (the forerunner to the now familiar Schmidt-Cassegrain). Dall was a highly competent optical draftsman and the system, once adjusted, gave good results.

I was fortunate in that Jupiter was close to opposition (20 January). I noted that powers of 180x gave excellent image quality, but that there was considerable vibration from the observatory floor. This was especially so whenever anybody mounted the stairs. This weakness proved the limiting factor where the telescope was concerned. Long exposure photography was difficult since one had scarcely to move one’s body throughout the exposure! I had to conclude from this that the dome itself would have had limited use in Fuller’s time, presumably more as a “lookout” housing a small refractor, possibly. The larger instruments would have been used at ground level. I was unable to find any information as to the specification for the transit instrument.

The equatorial telescope mounting was by Ron Irving. There were some problems with the manual slow motion drives but the electric drive, once it had been fitted with a frequency stabilizer, proved satisfactory for most work. Hugh Malleson used the telescope mostly for interest. His photographs of the Moon were of a high standard.

[The observatory was featured in the “Observer” newspaper supplement, 1969, January 12.
A less informative piece appeared in the “Mail on Sunday”, 1996, May 12, by which time the building was under different ownership.]

John (C) Vetterlein 2001




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