The Urban Spaceman
First dates were usually a disaster for Dan. Two left feet. All fingers and thumbs. Too loud a voice. Big Osmonds’ smile radiating, Look At Me Everybody. I’ve Finally Touched.
"Would you like to go to Mass, Mary?"
"Mass? I thought you were gonna take me to the pictures."
"You have mysterious, deep blue eyes, Jacinta, which plausibly remind me of a tranquil ocean after a raging tsunami."
"They’re green, you idiot."
"How many children, Alice, do you think we should have, and in what order?"
"Listen, whatever-you-call-you, I’m only out with you for a bet."
"Yeh, our class says I’ll not last fifteen minutes with you. I’ve just lost five shillings."
"Did you know, Sheila," I said breathlessly, as we lay beneath the stars in Riddle’s Field one hot August night, "that we are travelling around the sun at 67,000 miles an hour! An hour, mind you! And the sun, the earth, the moon and the planets are all flying through space at 125 miles a second! A second! And our galaxy is flying through space at 375 miles a second! Isn’t that something!"
"It’s all beyond me."
"You only think that, my Goldilocks. How many children will we have and in what order? Do you like Patrick Moore? Have you ever watched ‘The Sky At Night’?"
"Gosh! Look at the time! Oh, there’s my 20-mile-an-hour trolleybus!"
"But Sheila," I cried after her. "We were getting on so well. Look! The moon’s coming out! It’s a sign! And I haven’t explained light years to you yet!" I shouted, but it was to no avail. Her bus had already passed the City Cemetery, towards, I hope, a happy life with the apprentice plumber she eventually married. Not that there’s anything wrong with plumbers.
And that’s how I became an astronomer. Only the lonely stars would have me. I bought a telescope and searched the heavens for evidence of women and life beyond our solar system, watched all the television programmes on extra-terrestrials, including an unconvincing one which claimed that the US government was cryogenically preserving a number of dead aliens who took a wrong turn near Sagittarius in the fifties and crashed in Arizona.
They even had a photo of this being and, boy, was he or she ugly, and not to be seen with, even in the dark. I’d love to know what their beauty competitions are like. Although maybe sexual attraction is based on the cutest brain cells. It’s a strange world. In the Easter Islands men wouldn’t look at a woman under eighteen stones and they retch when they see skinny women on CNN’s fashion programme.
There was a documentary on the Discovery Channel just this week about astronomers who spend their waking hours listening for signals from space indicating intelligent life. That’s all they do. Drink coffee and listen. And, of course, scientists are also beaming out signals describing Earth’s location and its inhabitants. I was all for this until I read a book called ‘The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee’ by Jared Diamond, a professor of physiology.
Are we mad, he asks. What would happen if extra-terrestrial life found us? If they find us first it means that they are technically more advanced than us and probably contemptuous of our intelligence and he gives examples of humankind’s attitude towards chimpanzees and of lesser civilisations throughout history. Nearly ninety-nine per cent of the genes of human beings and chimpanzees are identical. But do we sit down and try to communicate with them, he asks.
"Of course not. Instead we shoot them, stuff them, dissect them, cut off their hands for trophies, put them on exhibit in cages, inject them with the AIDS virus as a medical experiment, and destroy or take over their habitat." (Or make them act like Charlies in a PJ Tips tea advertisement for less than union rates.)
He points out that throughout history human explorers who discover less advanced tribes shoot them, decimate their populations with new diseases, destroy them and take over their habitat. It’s the history of imperialism. The nineteenth-century novelist Anthony Trollope was only sincerely reflecting the prevailing British attitude towards Aborigines when he wrote: "Of the Australian black man we may certainly say that he has to go. That he should perish without unnecessary suffering should be the aim of all who are concerned in this matter."
Professor Jared thinks we should turn off the transmitters and try to escape detection before we are doomed. His book was written before ‘Mars Attack’ was made, a great Hollywood blockbuster which I finally persuaded a woman-earthling to watch with me. If you haven’t seen this film go out and hire it on video. Mostly set in the USA, it includes a major fire-fight throughout the rooms and corridors of the White House during an attack on the President. It is brilliant and it is funny and, of course, you know the ending. President Al Bush from his stronghold in Florida, unites the people and goes out and saves America!
[ back ]
© 2007 Irish Author and Journalist - Danny Morrison