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Monday All the Best: Dr Tom Mason

BY KERRY McKITTRICK

Dr Tom Mason, 64, is the director of the Armagh Planetarium. He lives in Richhill, Co Armagh, with his wife Rosemary and they have two grown-up daughters, Katie and Sarah

MY BEST MOMENT

There are a couple to choose from. The first was during my time as the director of the marine geo-science unit in South Africa. We were mapping coral reefs and once, when I jumped overboard in my snorkel gear, I turned around and discovered I was surrounded by a huge school of barracuda. They're big fish with lots of teeth and I could hear the teeth clacking. It was an out of world experience.

The other one was when I was still a student in Fermanagh. I was working south of lower Lough Erne mapping rocks when I found somewhite quartz pebbles which had little crystals of a mineral called anhydride. That proved that 340 million years ago Fermanagh was a sub-tropical paradise.

MY BEST SONG

I have a couple. I like the Carol of the Bells because we use it in our show for children. The other I like is A Spaceman Came Travelling by Chris de Burgh.

MY BEST WAY TO RELAX

I like to do arty things. I go to a print workshop in Bangor with some friends at the weekends and create prints on copper and plastic. I also like to sculpt and have just found a clay that turns silver when it's fired. I also like to draw and sketch.

MY BEST JOB

My best job was as professor of geology in South Africa. My life has been split into three bits. I was born here and after my education I went to South Africa in 1974 when the Troubles were kicking off here. I came back because I achieved my ambitions — I wanted to be a professor before I was 40 — and because my daughter wanted to be a vet. There's only one place to study veterinary science in the whole of South Africa but seven in the UK. Katie now lives in New Zealand with her husband and they're both vets, specialising in working with large animals.

MY BEST ADVICE

It related to when I was mapping in a game park in South Africa. The place was full of lions and crocodiles and rhinos which are bad-tempered animals. The best advice I had was if you come across a pride of lions or herd of buffalo then stop, slowly back away, but do not run. At the same

MY BETS GIFT

It was probably my mum persuading me education was a gift. I was born in east Belfast where opportunities were limited. I got my 11-plus and went to a school where I was mixing with people who saw it as natural to go on to university. I didn't appreciate that gift for a number of years, but I am glad now that my mother encouraged me to make the most of it.

MY BETS ACHIEVEMENT

It's probably being awarded the MBE for services to astronomy and education. When I took over the planetarium it was on the cusp of closing but I managed to secure £3m in funding from the government and we fixed the problems. Now, we have one of the best planetariums in the United Kingdom and we're very well known internationally.

MY BEST BUY

The house in Durban which we bought in 1979. It was a very run—down property but in a nice address. I fixed it up and we sold it for three times what we had paid for it. That enabled us to buy the kind of house we couldn't afford before, one with a swimming pool, and it's where our girls grew up.

The Planetarium’s |digital show, Mystery of the Christmas Star will give a scientific |explanation of the |star which led the |Wise Men to the stable at Bethlehem. For more information visit www.armaghplanet.com or www.armagh.co.uk

MY BEST MOVIE

I love Amadeus. The story is so dramatic but it's all about the music. I loved the character of Salieri in it, too — he stole the show.

MY BEST BOOK

I'm a big fan of Iain M Banks' science fiction writing. He also wrote ordinary fiction but because he died earlier this year I'm saving those novels up for some day when I'm on a beach somewhere, so I can really get into them.

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