Tuesday, 29 January 2019

A chance find takes me back 61 years...

Recently, while browsing in a charity shop, I came across the magazine illustrated below: instantly I was transported back to my childhood in East London and a strange observation that was to change my entire life! What's written below is my account of this event that has appeared in print a few times and a simulation I produced to illustrate a talk I gave a few years ago.

1957: what a year! Two great comets visited the inner solar system and awoke many a young mind to an interest in the music of the spheres! And I was one of them! Ever since those long-distant days I have spent more time looking up to the stars than down into the gutter!

I was, at the time, in my second year at North Street Primary School. In those lost, halcyon times it was safe for a child (even one living in the East End of London!) to walk unaccompanied to school with a reasonable chance of a safe arrival!
My mother had developed the charming tradition of walking much of the way with me, pausing at a parade of shops to buy me a cake and a comic or magazine to keep me amused during my one-hour sojourn in the school playground.

On this particular morning, I found myself (as usual) alone, eagerly anticipating the arrival of my playmates. I gazed upwards into the post-dawn skies: immediately I found my gaze drawn towards a most extraordinary object. Directly above, travelling slowly West to East across the duck-egg blue firmament, was an intensely bright silver disc. Behind it trailed what I can only describe as a plume of fire-flecked grey smoke. I watched fascinated as the amazing object scintillated in the cold, early morning sunlight, for as well as its linear motion from horizon to horizon, the strange object also rocked like a slowly-falling leaf!
Eventually the silent visitor disappeared into the distance, leaving me perplexed and a little disturbed. My solitary reverie was broken by the arrival of Miss Church, the spinster Headmistress of the  School. Naturally, I could not wait to tell her my tale. Somewhat disconcertingly, she smiled!
"Come to my office, child, and tell me more!" she said.
 I dutifully followed. Even more bizarrely, she then invited me to sit upon her bony lap while I told my tale! Following my denouement, she unfolded a paper to reveal the cover photograph of what I now know to have been the comet Arend Roland. She spoke again:

" Astronomy has long been a passion of mine, child! How wonderful to find a kindred spirit in one so young!"
I did not have the heart to disabuse the old woman, for even as young as I was, I knew I had not been looking at a comet! Still, she was right: the events of that long-gone, innocent day have stayed with me my whole life. I too count Astronomy as a passion, and an element of my subsequent University studies! And, of course, I have made a life-long study of the UFO phenomenon!

A day or two later I somehow managed to persuade my mother to buy me a 'grown up' magazine instead of my regular 'Eagle': you've guessed it: it was the one I recently found in the charity shop.

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