This morning I find myself sitting in the Kia Dealership in Thetford while I await our Sorento to have it’s first MOT. It’s hard to believe we’ve had it three years already. And in those three years all sorts of things have happened. I’ve gone from a crappy contract position to a year at home as a stay at home dad to being in regularly full time employment for the first time in years, and almost having, but managing to avoid, another self inflicted, stress induced breakdown last year. The kids have grown older, T has gone from pre-school to reception to year one at school and seems to be doing OK, despite his focus issues and general lack of attention to anything! E has gone from crawling to walking to talking and generally being a very bossy nearly four year old. Both of them are absolutely amazing and so very different to each other but on the whole get along excellently. L has had to have several teeth removed, but seems a much happier Labrador. She must have been in so much pain for so long, poor pooch. So with time on my hands while I await the fate of the MOT I’ve managed to add this quick blog post, and I’ve got a cupful of liquid that is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea. I do miss Douglas Adams.
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. Recoupling 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 vison. 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.
Prompted by this page
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 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 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 the door. 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.
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).
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, 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…”
written between 12:20 and 12:30 (add another couple of minutes or so faffing about with the images) and prompted by this page
“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 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.
Prompted by this page
No one knew where they came from, they just appeared. They looked and felt like regular pebbles. All different colours, shapes and sizes, but all with the rounded edges and irregular shapes that pebbles have. No one even seemed to notice them arriving, presumably because of the remoteness of their initial appearance. For, you see, they simply appeared in deserts, windswept deserts, with scattered cacti here and there, and along mountain ranges where the hardiest of plants grew. Some even washed up on the shore, picked up by giggling children and thrown back in the sea, just like regular pebbles. These, however, were not regular pebbles. In fact, these were not pebbles at all.
By the time anybody realised, it was too late. The great pebble invasion had begun.
It started in Mexico, the first cactus to be devoured was a classic western cactus with the appearance of a drunk person waving and saying “Yoo Hoo!” The innocuous looking pebble, nestled in the sand at the base of the green spiky plant, just ate it, very quickly, with razor sharp teeth in powerful jaws.
Then, halfway up a particularly pretty hillside in the Dolomites it happened again. This time a grey pebble with white spots chopped down on a clump of sempervivums and sedums.
And it happened again, and again, and again. The world over, anywhere and everywhere that these hardiest of plants grew. The pebbles devoured the succulents, one tasty morsel at a time. And when the succulents where gone, they ate everything else, all the plants, exotic and common, sweet perfumed and smelly, they did not appear in the least bit fussy, across all the continents, throughout all the seas.
Everything that lived and grew was chopped and chewed and swallowed.
Except for sprouts, for some reason, they left all the sprouts.
Prompted by this page