WE’RE ALL COSMONAUTS, REALLY …
As one gets painfully older, it becomes more difficult to ‘live’ in the present when the past is such a rich place to dwell. Also, as biology continues to fulfil its dark promise of decay, we realise that the future we hoped for in our youth will only happen after we’ve expired.
When I was a boy, back in junior school, I was totally obsessed with two subjects. One was the life of Tsunke Witco, a.k.a. the great Lakota Sioux chief Crazy Horse, the other was space travel.
|The cast of BBC Radio's 1950s epic serial Journey Into Space - star actor|
Andrew Faulds (bottom left) a.k.a. 'Jet Morgan' even became a Labour MP!
Even now I can look back to the spark which sent me into orbit. It was hearing Gustav Holst’s Mars, from his Planets Suite. I remember my inspiring, imaginative Mother telling me as I heard that terrifying military beat climbing to an apocalyptic crescendo that this music was all about the Martians invading the earth. War of The Worlds was one H. G. Wells story she was well familiar with. Throwing a nightly dose of Radio Luxembourg’s serial Dan Dare, Pilot of The Future into the mix, and Dare’s weekly starring role in the Eagle comic, plus Monday night thrills from the BBC’s Journey Into Space and I was already designing rockets and space suits.
I would have been about ten when I discovered there was something called the British Interplanetary Society, and I wrote them a letter. I can’t remember what I wrote, but in those pre - I.T. days, when the good manners of communication still allowed real time for thoughtful human interaction, I received a reply, welcoming my interest. I don’t have the letter now (I wish I did) but it was signed by someone called Arthur C. Clarke.
Space stayed with me, and my Mother nurtured my interest by taking me to see any film which touched on the subject. Prominent among these celluloid signposts were George Pal’s Destination Moon and the utterly weird (and scary) The Man From Planet X. I made rockets from the cardboard tubes from toilet rolls and egg shells. At school I drew space suits and wrote stories about alien invasions. Space was ace.
|The film which scared my short pants off and led me to the cul de sac of UFO research.|
In my teens I discovered Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, H. P. Lovecraft, Richard Matheson, Theodor Sturgeon and many others, the imaginative, often lurid covers of their Sci-Fi paperbacks a weekly bookshop thrill. I also discovered the UFO phenomenon, and that colourful, harmless old fraud, George Adamski. His hilarious book Flying Saucers Have Landed accompanied me everywhere, a kind of down-market companion to Moby-Dick. All this mystery and spiritual speculation convinced me that there must be other species out there in the cosmos, and that one day I might see them.
|The wonderful, inspirational light |
of my literary life, Ray Bradbury
After the Apollo 11 mission in 1969, I thought we were on the way to the stars. I was 26 years old, and imagined that by now, almost five decades later, we’d have bases on the moon and colonies on Mars, and that I might get to see the earth from the comfort of an orbiting satellite hotel.
And that was the future. My wishful past was driven by an imaginary future which never happened, in the same way that the great proletarian revolution never happened, or my guitar playing never reached beyond Jimi Hendrix’s boot heels.
Now, since the publication of my 2013 work The Mammoth Book of Unexplained Phenomena, I’ve become cynical about all those interplanetary hopes and dreams. I look at photographs taken by rovers on Mars and wonder. There may have been someone up there once, but not any longer. Are UFOs from another planet? I doubt it. If so, and they’ve so much superior advice to give us, why don’t they land and get on with putting us straight? We’re still murdering one another, demonising the poor, whilst the rich stuff their pockets and laugh in our faces. Come on, Man From Planet X, or Klaatu from The Day The Earth Stood Still - show us what space means for humanity. Sort us out! We’ve sent dozens of probes spinning through eternity and not received one phone call from ET. If UFOs are anything, then they’re the only true image the future has to offer; they are time travelling tourists, unable to land and interfere with the time/space continuum; three centuries hence some futuristic Thomas Cook will offer trips back to see what a mess we all made of our world.
|Timperley's Interstellar voyager, the mighty Frank Sidebottom - Space is Ace!|
Yet, to quote another terrestrial hero, Frank Sidebottom, Space is Ace and will, for me, always remain so. So now I’m careering out of life’s orbit, past the stratospheric time limit of three score and ten, I have a deep suspicion that once our personal solar batteries conk out, then something else might kick in. Maybe, in death, a gate to the cosmos opens and we’re allowed to enter, as in Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey.
Therefore I think we’re all cosmonauts at heart. So celebrate your past, enjoy the present, and smile cynically at your imagined future, because it’ll only happen when our own internal computer shuts down. Roger that, CapCom.