Friday, 30 September 2011

Miaow said the cat

Miaow, said the cat, lounging on the chair.
Miaow, said the cat with her distant, superior stare.
Miaow, said the cat, lazing quietly in the sun,
Miaow! said the cat, because stretching out is fun.
Miaow? said the cat to her humans in the garden.
Miaow. said the cat, as the humans begged her pardon.
Miaow breathed the cat as the humans stroked her tail,
Miaow. frowned the cat when the humans became frail.
Miaow...? said the cat while the humans were asleep,
Miaow! scratched the cat, nipping at their feet.

Miaow, cried the cat as the humans didn't stir.
Miaow? asked the cat as they were buried in the dirt.

Miaow. wept the cat on that bleak and doleful day.
but then
Miaow! said the cat as she leapt outside to play.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Upon Loss

Overnight, the snow has fallen. Not much, but enough. First time in a while though - the early morning peace will undoubtedly by shattered by business chaos and schoolchild glee. And stuck in the middle, the parents, doomed to enjoy neither. A four inch white quilt covers the land, but it seems so much deeper on the window sill next to me. I love this time. It's early, not yet light, and most of the world is still asleep, or fumbling coffee into a mug through blurry eyes. Street lamps cast their amber glow across the broad white blanket. A few listless specks of snow saunter downwards, unworried that they are apparently late to the party. Plenty of room for them, anyway. From my vantage point the whole vista seems muted, as though someone turned the volume down on the television. Or just wrapped it in a quilt. It could be a Christmas card, all that is missing is the frozen lake and a puppy somewhere.

Even the birds are staying home today. But in the corner of my eye there's a shadow, a darting movement in the ivy on the wall next to the window. A leaf flutters downward, put out by some hurried step. I wonder how much life carries on in the darkness, hidden from view. The shadow stops, and I see a beak. A single beady eye, peering out at me. Who is this strange, huge creature, my new neighbour? it seems to ask.  Bravely, it hops out of the ivy, cocking its head to one side.

A fat little robin, chest puffed out, legs spread and diffident. You can't touch me, her cocked head says. I'm invincible. She hops further forward onto the snow but recoils back. Weren't expecting that, were you? Yes, it's cold, and yes, it's not quite as solid as the window sill used to be.

She tries again, gingerly placing one foot in front of another. Half way across the window, her delicate footprints are laid out like shadows themselves in the snow. She goes further, ignoring me now, confidence returned, red breast leading the charge. Reaching the end of the window sill, she flaps her wings once, as if testing the cold air for resistance. She finds it the same as always, lifts her head to the cold dawning sun, flaps again, and is gone.

The scene is motionless once more. A car feels its way silently down the road, driver unsure quite how to behave in this unfamiliar land. Slow is good, be gentle. Be humble in face of the soft and awesome power of the heavens.  Our street is hemmed with cars, just wide enough for one to slip down the middle, but there's no room for manoeuvre or error. Infinitely slowly, this car fumbles its way down the gauntlet and disappears round the corner. Safe to crash later, I think to myself.

On the window, someone else has been watching. Another robin. A different one, I'm sure, for a start it's a He. This chap doesn't seem quite so sure of himself. He looks at the disappearing car, then at me, then the thin line of gentle footprints in the snow in front of him. He follows them to the end of the window with his eyes, then back to the start. He takes a hop, and looks around. Where do these tracks lead? Why do they end? And why has she gone? Another hop, towards the far end of the sill. Some snow comes loose from somewhere above and patters down on him, giving the little bird a tiny white crown. He looks more foolish than regal. Sensing this he shakes it off, more interested in the prints laid out at his feet.

Making his way slowly to the end of the sill, the second robin stops and flaps his wings. Will he follow his mate, frolic after her and enjoy the snow day like so many children will in a few hours? He flaps again, unsure, and steps back. He can't do it. This world is too new, too different. Today is not his day. And so he steps away from the edge, and looks at me once more. I can't help you here, little guy.

Head bowed and confidence shaken, he walks back into the ivy, becomes a shadow once more, and disappears into the pale greenery. The only sign he is in there is the occasional dusting of snow knocked from a leaf as he moves between branches. I follow this trail away from the window, but soon the movement stops.

I peer into the ivy anyway, trying to catch any small sign of this little bird pottering about his daily business, but he is now alone in there, invisible to the watching world.

And then, unbelievably, I can hear the dustmen.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011


It is a curious thing, walking on the Moon. Space is silent and vast, as you would imagine space to be, unless your whole experience of space is defined by cheap afternoon sci-fi filler. A word to the wise - not only do laser blasts not make a sound in space, but no-one actually fires lasers in space. There's no-one to fire them at, no evil alien despots, no roving interstellar pirates, no time worms. We are very much alone out here.

People say "journey to the edge of space", but the edge is right where we are. For all practical purposes we can't get very far, and as such we are sat on the edge of a vast swimming pool, utterly unable to dive in. "One day," we think, and then we dream and strive and invent and spend to make that day a reality.

But if you tip yourself ever so slightly closer to the edge and dare to dip your toes in the murky yet infinitely clear waters of the galaxy, you might find yourself on the Moon. I dared, I dipped, and here I am.

And it is breathtaking. Not least in the literal sense, as you are surely aware, even if you're one of the ones listening out for percussion torpedo explosions and ion cannon windup. Imagine yourself as far away from home as you can possibly be, then double it, then double it, and keep doubling it. And then imagine that you're that far away, further than any distance a human can reasonably comprehend, and imagine that home still feels so close you could stretch out your arm and touch it.

I am alone out here. A single step out of the lander and I am further from human civilisation that almost anyone has ever been. If I walked a hundred steps I might very well be the furthest.

I say walk, but we all very well know that it is more like a peculiar, loping bounce. An enormous, slow motion hurdle. That's a bit romantic and lush though - it's basically a waddle. A space waddle, the most expensive waddle in history.

And so here I am, waddling about. There's a mission, some reason for being here, but right now I can't completely recall it. Vast, breathtaking, alone, and so very, very far away. All these sensations cloud my thoughts, and I can't remember what it is I'm supposed to be doing. Something about Moon rocks. Of course! The scientists want Moon rocks for a thing.

I drop, again in slow motion, to my knees. I gently and gracefully lower myself to the ground with a silent thud. A pool of dust whirls out from under me and I know that the shape of my bottom will be forever etched in the surface of the Moon. That's something to tell the grandkids about.

But I don't have any grandkids, not yet. Better get on that. Not right now though. That would be inappropriate given the serious nature of the mission, and I don't think they make two person space suits. At least not yet. It would be inappropriate, but nice. A good zero gravity screw is what I need right now, help me focus. The mechanics, ha ha, would be tricky, too. Little science joke for you there, did you get it?

Better get moving on those rocks. Can't let down the human race by not picking up rocks. There's a good one, over there. Probably the best rock I've ever seen. Got it. There's another one! That one's even better. Of course, the previous 5 sentences passed in about 10 minutes, such is the nature of life on the Moon, but I don't want to bore you with the finer details. Tell you what, here's a taster. Lift left foot up, move left foot forward, place left foot down. Concentrate really hard on not falling and not floating away.

But I know I won't float away, that's silly! You're silly. Why do you think I'll float away? Because I won't - I don't want to and my mind is better than yours so I'll win this battle of concentration. That's why I am an astronaut and you're not. Unless you are. That would explain what you're doing up here with me.

Are we even up? I mean, I look up and I can see the Earth.

That would explain what you're doing down here with me.

But that doesn't sound right either. Sounds like we're in Hell. Imagine if everyone in hell wore a space suit! They would be hot. Although a space suit is supposed to regulate body temperatures and protect you from the harsh environment of space. So perhaps we should start a campaign to get space suits to those poor souls trapped in Hell.

Think I've got enough rocks now, best start heading back. I can't really carry all of these. But wait till I get them back to the lander, the other guys will be so proud of me! Where is the lander? I can't see it. How long have I been here? I do have a lot of rocks, at least ten. Must have been a while.

Maybe there isn't a lander. Why would they send a space rocket all the way up here with a bunch of guys for me to prance about and collect rocks? That's stupid. Maybe this is what I do. I can't really remember anyway. I'm tired. Wish I could lie down. I can lie down! I'm master of my own destiny out here, no-one controls me. These rocks aren't going anywhere. Maybe then I'll take a nap.

And so I lie down, and make dust angels in the silence.