Snuggles

8B4546F2-0E26-42E4-A1B4-0BD4AE52EA15It’s always a struggle whether to take him with me when I go away. A struggle with my conscience as I would hate for him to get lost, a struggle to conceal him from the wife as I have to smuggle him into the luggage when she isn’t looking. However, it’s worth the struggle, and the smuggle when I get to snuggle him at night. Nearly 50 years old and still taking the same 50 year old teddy bear to bed. When I can get away with it, that is!

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In the midst of sadness and despair

It is incredible how one single moment can turn everything around when you are in the midst of sadness and despair.

I’ve had a lot of instances in my life where I have felt like just giving up, either through bad life choices, laziness, tiredness or simply because the task ahead seems too difficult to undertake, and some small gesture or word from someone, in a single moment, has done just that. Snapped me out of whatever brooding mood I was in.

I could write about them for hours and bore you all to sadness and despair, however, I’m going to mention one moment in time from many, many years ago. I was seventeen, studying at sixth form and thoroughly pissed off with how my life was panning out.

I was having a torrid time at school, really struggling with my studies, and being at a new school I didn’t know where to turn to or who to talk to. Not that I would have anyway, I was a teenager after all. Also at this time I had split up with the first real love of my life (oh the woes of teenage emotions) and coupled with the grief at school and not really knowing what to do I decided I was going to bunk off.

I spent a whole week in February getting the bus in the morning, traipsing around the city all day and getting the bus home at my regular time. However, the week I chose to do this we had one of those snowfalls in the East of England we barely see these days.

I remember it being a Tuesday and I spent the whole of that day walking around and around in the freezing cold, wandering in and out of the shops to keep warm but mostly walking around listening to Suzanne Vega’s Small Blue Thing over and over on my walkman, feeling particularly wretched and miserable, lost in the misery of my teenage angst. When completely out of the blue someone asked me if I was alright. I’d seen him a couple of times during the day as I traipsed the streets, and they had obviously clocked me a couple of times as well.

I remember after that not feeling quite so bad, not enough to stop skiving for the rest of the week, which, incidentally, I got an almighty bollocking for when I was found out, but enough for me to realise that things are rarely as bad as they seem, especially when you’re seventeen and you’re a bundle of teenage emotions.

It’s a day that has always stuck with me, the week is blur, as indeed is most of the months and years following, but that particular day in the cold and wet of the streets of Norwich with Suzanne Vega singing in my ears, has endured in my memory thanks to the kind words of a stranger.

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The Edge of Forever

I stopped, thrusting my ski poles into the crisp snow as I did so and pulled down my scarf, lifting my goggles to take a good look around me, I unclipped the karabiner from my supply sledge and turned in a slow circle, taking in everything around me, my sharp breaths turning to vapour that froze in my beard as I did so.

All around me was whiteness, as far as the eye could see. Above me the sky was a brilliant blue, the single slab of azure a stark contrast to the white at the horizon. The sun beat down on the shimmering landscape, creating millions upon millions of glistering ice diamonds, I could just feel its heat, almost imperceptible against the cold and offering no respite from the biting coldness in the crisp air.

In the distance I could see a dark blue line slicing through the icy whiteness that lay ahead of me.  Re-coupling my sledge, I pulled up my scarf, adjusted my goggles, and gripping my ski poles set off, trudging purposefully forward. As I drew closer to the line  it grew darker and wider, snaking into a massive crack from left to right, from horizon to horizon, taking up the whole of the periphery of my vision. I carried on towards the growing and darkening crack that lay ahead of me and it wasn’t too long until I reached it, a wide gaping crevasse across my path.

I left my sledge and walked along the edge in each direction, looking for somewhere to cross. There was no natural snow bridge, and the best I could find was a spot that seemed no more than ten to twelve feet across. Having retrieved my sledge, I tied the fastening of the karabiner to my ice axe and hurled the trusty tool across to the other side, followed by my back pack and walking poles. Then, tentatively, I crept to the edge and peered over, it felt as if I was standing at the edge of forever, I’m not very good at heights, and this was particularly high, at a guess, and having researched the ice sheet I was traversing thoroughly,  it must have been over 2500 feet deep, dropping into blackness and descending into the very bowels of the earth.

I took several meaningful strides back, as if pacing out my run to bowl at a demon batsman, and before I could give myself time to think about what I was about to do, I ran at the gap as fast as I could and launched myself into the air, landing heavily but with no injury on the other side. I retrieved my axe from the ground and began the long and slow job of hauling my sledge across from the other side, using all my effort to prevent it falling into the void and taking me with it.

Exhausted, but with all my belongings and myself now safely on the other side, I sat on my sledge to rest, waiting for the thumping in my chest to abate before resuming my journey across the beautiful white wilderness.

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And completely by mistake, the switch was made.

It was just one of those things that happens. It wasn’t really anybody’s fault. The technology had been created decades ago and had simply been forgotten about as the cold war ended, the Berlin Wall fell, communism collapsed, and other world events unfolded.

It had been discovered completely by accident, back in the fifties when a scientist working in a government nuclear facility, hidden deep in a bunker in the middle of nowhere, had made a simple mistake with his calculations and there it was, in the middle of the room, the tiniest of holes in the fabric of spacetime. The trouble was, it didn’t stay tiny for very long, it grew exponentially, getting bigger very quickly. Luckily, the clever boffin realised exactly what he had created and managed to do something about it. He couldn’t fix it, or reverse what he had done to get rid of it. This was real life, not the movies, complicated sciency things just didn’t work that way.

However, what he did do, was create another one. This had the effect of sucking the first one into the second one but didn’t stop the second one from growing the same as the first, albeit a little slower as it digested the first one. So, he created a third to swallow the second and a fourth to swallow the third and so on and so forth until the growth of the hole was sufficiently slowed to give him an hour or two to devise a better solution. Which he did, a rather clever one in fact, he sealed the hole in a rather cleverly constructed quantum box. Far too complicated to explain in ten minutes, but suffice it to say, it was a very clever solution and it worked perfectly. The hole in the fabric of space time was contained and the whole of reality was saved from being sucked into it as it grew and grew.

What should he do with it now? The container itself needed containing, so he popped it in on a table in an unused room and put a sign on the door which simply read “DO NOT ENTER”. He wrote a report to his superiors on the whole incident and carried on with his work.

Over time the need for the facility waned, and it was eventually shut down, the bunker was forgotten about and after several decades, all that remained of its existence was a decaying slab of concrete hidden in the undergrowth of the woods that had grown around it, the buildings containing the hidden entrance having long since collapsed into rubble and been pilfered away.

Eventually the slab collapsed, and a hole appeared, it was then discovered by a couple of boys playing in the woods. A hole in the woodland floor with stairs leading down into the dark. The boys slowly descended the stairs, one of them sliding his hands along the damp wall for stability in the dark when his fingers inadvertently flicked a switch and the whole of the underground lair lit up, the decades old self-sustaining power system being still operational. Emboldened by the sudden illumination, the boys ventured on, eventually finding a door with a big “DO NOT ENTER” sign on it. Surprisingly, the door was unlocked, and they ventured in, discovering a very odd-looking box on a table. One of them lifted the lid and peered inside, reached in and lifted out a strange wobbly ball. They played with it for a bit before leaving, promising each other they would come back tomorrow, taking the wobbly ball, which seemed a bit bigger than before, with them.

That night, in the bedroom of Robert Bobfrey, aged 12, of 10 Wilmington Avenue, and completely by mistake, the switch was made. The whole of spacetime collapsed in on itself, turning all of reality inside out as it did so. No one seemed to notice, even though everything was backward, they just carried on doing their thing the opposite way around in their newly created reverse reality. If only the scientist had locked the box.

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Slipping through the seams, there was no turning back

She placed the small piece of paper, imprinted with a pretty rainbow onto her tongue and lay back on her bed, her eyes wide open, waiting for something to happen. And then it did. One minute she was there on the bed. The next she wasn’t, slipping through the seams she tumbled down.

She thought something felt funny when she noticed the bed was getting bigger. Not just the bed, but the bedclothes too, along with everything else around her. The windows were getting bigger but further away, the door was further away and growing as well, and as for the cat, well, the cat was huge and getting bigger and louder, the murmur of it’s purr as it lay half asleep on the bed had become a thunderous roar, taking on the sound of the most frightening flying machine imaginable. And the sound was getting louder. In fact all the sounds around her were getting louder, and louder, and LOUDER. There was just a raging cacophony of so many sounds intermingling as one, an incomprehensibly massive noise, which as she shrunk became quieter and quieter, until it became nothing but a background hum as the noise grew imperceptible to her.

Now she was aware of other objects surrounding her, everything that had been her bedroom was now lost to her vision. Instead she could see giant mountains and great canyons around her, but not like any mountains or canyons she was familiar with. There were strange long bridges interconnecting everything, and great towers, columns, and monoliths all around her over which clambered the most fantastic of creatures she had ever seen. They were both horrific and fascinating as they too grew larger before her eyes, great big magnificent beasts towering over her, until they began to blend into her surroundings and disappear.

After a while, well it felt like a while to her, but would have been no more than the blink of an eye to us, everything around her became darker, merging in to everything else as she started to float, as if in the darkest areas of outer space, great spiral galaxies whizzed by her, just like they did in those old animations she remembered from science classes.

And then with a thud, she stopped floating and landed. Although she couldn’t see were she had landed, or what she had landed on, she had simply stopped and was now surrounded by nothing but blackness, a terrible blackness that was engulfing her and bearing down on her, a pressure that should have pressed her into nothingness but instead just held her where she was. Completely motionless, with complete nothingness preventing her from moving, from seeing, from hearing. There was no turning back. The dosage had been too high for her mind to cope with, although her heart beat on as strong as ever. What should have been a quick trip through a beautiful and colourful psychedelic world had become a never-ending journey into the void.

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Two became one, or… The Universe Just Wasn’t Big Enough for Both of Them, or… A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

merging_galaxies_ngc_4676_(captured_by_the_hubble_space_telescope)

It happened about 290 million lightyears away. That’s 1.7048014 x 1015 miles, rounded to 8 digits or  2,381,607,497,437,875,000 over 1,397 miles if displayed as a fraction.

A figure that may be easier to digest is 18,339,912 astronomical units, an astronomical unit being roughly the distance from the Earth to the Sun, which varies as the Earth makes its merry way around the sun due to its elliptical orbit (which, as you know, partly gives us our seasons), so another figure that’s not quite exact, but as an Astronomical Unit was set in 2012 to be 150 million kilometres (93.2 million miles) it is about as accurate as we can get given the circumstances and the vastness of all things space and my limited ability at maths (all mathematical credit goes to my Casio FX-83WA scientific calculator, which I’m so pleased with, I’m giving it a picture credit).

big calc

Basically, it happened a very, very, verrrrrrrrrrrrrrryyyyyyyyy long time ago and very, very, verrrrrrrrrrrrrrryyyyyyyyy, far away.

What am I talking about? I’m talking about something that happened 290 million years ago. I’m talking about two galaxies colliding and merging into one, I’m taking about interacting galaxies to give them their technical name, and to be completely precise, I’m talking about the Mice Galaxies, or NGC 4676A and NGC 4676B to give them their proper name, collectively known as NGC 4676. They are two spiral galaxies, located in the constellation Coma Berenices (you’ll find it between Leo and Bootes in the northern sky, somewhere in the fourth galactic quadrant if memory serves me right), and they were first photographed by Hubble in 2002 (that’s them in the photo up top), and came into my life courtesy of a National Geographic article about Hubble around about the same time, back in the days when I subscribed to said publication, and for a reason only known to me, stuck in my head. Waiting for this prompt to drag them back out again!

Life was mostly shite for me back in those days due to poor decision making (giving up a promising career to run a pub, which was an utter, utter disaster and the beginnings of my first breakdown). To make life bearable, I used to escape into astronomy and astrophysics in a bid to find out exactly what my place and purpose on our rotating rock was, and as a consequence, discovered a whole lot more to boot!

I would really like to go on, but my 10 minutes is up! Mainly from fucking about with my calculator!

Maybe I’ll write a longer blog post on why this particular part of the night sky did stick in my mind at the time for such a long time and is so fascinating to me, as indeed all the night sky and our galaxy and the universe and everything is, but this bit in particular.

If I can find the time and the inclination to do so.

Anyway, as Eric Idle once said, “Whenever life gets you down, Mrs Brown…”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buqtdpuZxvk

written between 12:20 and 12:30 (add another couple of minutes or so faffing about with the images) and prompted by this page

It was a ludicrous request but one that drew his attention

o-showaddywaddy-570

“You want us to do what?” he said.

He had quite happily been sitting there, minding his own business, lost in his own little world of procrastination, typing random words into Wikipedia, instead of getting on with the mundane work that he should have been doing, when he heard the request. Well, he didn’t hear it as such, as he never listened and due to deafness in one ear, rarely heard anything unless he concentrated on listening and tilted his head and pointed his good ear in the right direction.

It was a ludicrous request but one that drew his attention, and it penetrated his deafness and general aloofness due to the absolute absurdness of it, which is why he piped up and asked for it to be repeated. Well, he had heard correctly, despite his dodgy right ear and general lack of concentration, and it was indeed a very daft thing to ask anybody to do, let alone a whole department, especially as each one of them was as lazy and lackadaisical as the other.

Everybody stopped what they were doing and looked at each other in disbelief, heads turning this way and that, as they searched each other’s blank expressions hoping to make some sense of the preposterous request by scanning the faces of those nearest to them, each waiting for someone else to make the first move, either too scared or too selfish to take the lead.

Well, someone had to go first, and as he was the only one to open his mouth and say something, all eyes eventually turned to him. He could feel his ears turning red under the scrutiny of twenty co-workers, one goldfish, and a poster of Shawaddywaddy that had been glued to the wall by an unknown prankster the Christmas before last (nobody really cared who had done it), staring at him.

Slowly, he rose from his chair and stepped away from his desk, looked nervously around him, then with growing confidence headed towards the open space in the middle of the office, one by one, the rest of them stood up and started to follow him.

Just then the fire alarm went off and they all calmly made their way outside to stand in the pouring rain and watch the building burn instead.

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