It was worth getting out of bed to see the sliver of moon over the sea. Venus was nearby. It was even better that I caught a glimpse of the space station too, a speck of light in the immensity of the void. There are people up there, also enjoying the dawn. They enjoy it numerous times in the twenty four hour cycle. The spacecraft got away, before I could find my camera. That was the cardinal rule of photography….’Don’t move! Now you’ve ruined it.’ Children with speed streaks and bird wings instead of arms. Faces blurred, as memory blurs. The space station moved, but the moon gave me a few minutes’ grace. I thought of George Clooney’s film, Up in the Air, billed as a comedy, but bleak and lonely in its conclusions, a winking speck of light in the night sky, to signify his passing. George came to mind again, in Gravity, suave as a coffee advertisement, schmoozing his way through a spaceship crisis. Planets and asteroids swam past in the blackness. Did he get the girl or did they just drift apart, like so many couples? I don’t know. Coffee should keep you awake, but I dozed off, lulled by the magnificent special FX. (We say FX in movieland instead of effects. Effects, Effects! Write it out twenty times, boy.) I once fancied his Auntie Rosemary. Is it ok to fancy someone’s auntie?
When asteroids threaten the Earth and all the wonderful variety of life that flourishes on it, there is no need to worry. Hollywood springs into action. Hardy men and some good looking women, in figure hugging space suits, heavenly bodies, are dispatched to intercept them and blast them to smithereens, or deflect them away from our gravitational pull. Nations come together in the hour of need. We realise that we all share a common humanity. We gaze skywards at the approaching apocalypse. We watch, via space telescopes, the tumbling, cratered, mass of rock, whizzing out of deep space, heading directly for Washington, New York, Los Angeles, London. Nothing to worry about. It’s special FX. Nevertheless, I’m glad that I don’t live in any of those places. Monsters, Martians, Aliens, Plagues, Giant Ants, Killer Bees, always head for places with photogenic landmarks. Big Ben…bowoing, bowoing. Washington Monument…photo opportunity for the President. Even the Sun went on the blink once and had to be re-ignited by thermonuclear devices delivered by intrepid astronauts. A damn close-run thing.
I saw an asteroid once, many years ago, before Sputnik bleeped its way into our consciousness; before Goonhilly Downs bounced television pictures into space and down again, on the other side of the Atlantic; before Yuri Gagarin astonished the world. The asteroid came at me in slow motion. (Slo-mo, I understand, in Movieland.) No simulation there. It tumbled and grew in my vision, a sinister black mass, bigger and bigger with every nano-second. I had plenty of time to take evasive action but I had no time to decide. It was thrown by a classmate after a frank exchange of views, on the way home from school. I had time to marvel at his skill. I had time to fear that it might hit one of the petrol pumps in the Caltex garage. There were glass valves on the pumps, where you could see the petrol surging through. If it hit the glass, a Niagara of petrol would gush forth and flow down the hill, towards the school. We would all be incinerated. The school would be incinerated. There would be trouble then. I hoped it wouldn’t hit the glass. It didn’t. It was a brilliant shot. It got me right on the temple. I saw stars and supernovae, the rings of Saturn, Jupiter’s moons. I slid into a black hole.I heard alien voices from beyond our galaxy.
“He’s gone up through Ruigrok’s field. We can catch him at the mill.”
My companions seemed to think that this was a good idea. I went along with them…on wibbly-wobbly legs and right enough, we homed in on the culprit, the miscreant, at the mill. A fight was inevitable. Honour must be satisfied. I had no wish to fight. I actually liked the chap. I already had a lump on my head, quite enough to be going on with, at the time. I was bleeding spectacularly.Right was undoubtedly on my side, but my knees were letting me down. He wore glasses, so I couldn’t punch him in the face. There were rules, in those days…before Bruce Lee made kicking and hitting below the belt, acceptable in polite circles. Ah, so!
Three black-robed figures hove into sight. Time lords from a passing starship. Eh, no. They were three nuns taking their daily constitutional, my father’s cousin among them. Divine intervention.
“Stop that at once, you boys!” We had only reached the shoulder pushing stage. “Go home now or I will speak to your parents.” That was enough. In the nick of time. You don’t argue with time lords.
We parted with many backward glares and muttered threats, but nothing ever came of it. That was sixty three years ago, if I am not mistaken. I had a few drinks with him in later years. We sorted out the world and probably the universe, but the asteroid attack was forgotten. I recall that he was critical of De Gaulle. ‘Je vous ai compris,my arse.’ I met him the other day. He looks a bit shook. I wonder if I could take him…Ah, never mind.
In the time it took to sort out the camera, all these blurred memories came into sharp focus. Photographs on the wide screen, the Imax, the Vista Vision, the Todd A O, of memory. The space station was gone. Venus and the cuticle of new moon had yielded to the greater light, Helios, Sol, The Sun. He’s looking well. No need for re-ignition. Another day.