Here on earth

Fear and Loathing

[Oooh... spooky alien head] When I was young, I was very afraid of aliens. Not merely afraid, not a normal fear, but that kind of extra special irrational fear that you can only experience when young, the kind of fear which freezes its way through your nervous system and leaves no room for common sense and everyday thoughts. As I climbed the stairs every night, I could sense an alien behind me, reaching out with its horrible long pale fingers, reaching to grab my bare foot. It would have got me too, had I ever been stupid enough to look back. (I never did, not until I was much older. It was more sensible surely just to run.)

I don't know quite what the word for a fear of aliens is -- I suppose it would be xenophobia if that weren't in use already -- but I had it badly. I could imagine quite clearly what the alien looked like. His eyes were huge, pale and staring. His face was a repulsive shade of pink, like skin that's not healed properly after a burn (or was it a loathesome pale grey like something long-dead?). His mouth was formed into an O of surprise, I never knew whether that was because he was shocked to see me or because he wanted to suck my blood out through my skin. He dressed in tight-fitting metallic cover-alls (it was the seventies and we'd been told that was how future civilisations would dress) which left only his hands, feet and face bare. His hands, well they were the worst part of all I think. They were spindly and grotesquely damp with grasping fingers that could reach out in an instant and hold you with a terrible strength that would be the last thing you ever knew. I never found out what his feet looked like -- I guess that most people don't know what aliens' feet look like. When I saw the film ET I was not at all surprised that ET's feet were comical and unconvincing, it just proved that even Steven Spielberg didn't know what aliens' feet looked like.

Classic water cooler lid UFO I never found out what the alien wanted, hiding there at the bottom of the staircase every night. I suppose that's what made him truly alien, the inscrutability of his motives. Maybe he wanted to eat me, maybe he wanted to capture me for alien reasons, maybe I'd just surprised him running chemical tests on my dad's collection of homemade wines down by the heater (I knew well the fascination of the homemade wines with their bubbling airlocks and could sympathise with his interest). Neither can I recall quite how long the alien was there for, certainly it was a number of years, which is a long time for anyone to lurk under a staircase. Then one day he was gone, just like that. I can't say I wasn't relieved.

Curiouser and curiouser

[Atmospheric ufo piccy] It was years before my next encounter with aliens and by the time I next got involved I was motivated more by curiousity than fear. I'm not quite sure how The Gang (it had various names but none of them really captured the whole gist of the enterprise) first formed but, years before Mulder and Scully were a twinkle in a TV producers wallet, before even Ghostbusters hit the cinema, we were wandering around haunted houses with bits of cotton and thermometers. (In case you're not wise to these things, thermometers register sudden unexplained drops in temperature often associated with psychic goings-on and a simple piece of cotton strung across a doorway will tell a true ghost from a false ghost - if the cotton breaks then it's most likely the janitor with a white sheet over their head).

The Gang had many and diverse interests in the area of The Unexplained (as paranormal phenomenon were called in the late seventies). In addition to checking haunted houses we investigated many other of the suspicious phenomenon that plagued the north-west coast of Lancashire in those troubled times. Our fearless investigation of the mysterious "Exmoor Beast" would surely have been national news had we not been several hundred miles from Exmoor and scattered in panic when we caught sight of what we could later only describe as "a black cat-like animal" (a description which tallied startlingly with available descriptions of the Beast). Of course our activities were somewhat ahead of the time which explains the lack of press coverage of our rigourous experimental investigation of a Loch Ness Monster living in the extremely deep well in a field in the badlands of Hambleton. (When we threw stones down they continued to make splashing noises for a suspicious amount of time and would the farmer really have chased us off if he didn't have something to hide?).

Exciting UFO picture Of course our real interest was UFOs and aliens. In fact an entry requirement for The Gang was to have sighted a UFO (by preference an actual alien but a UFO would do). Actually, I was excused this entry requirement due to my scientific training (since I possessed a book on "Mysteries of the Unexplained" and another about Dinosaurs the title of which escapes me). Although, in many areas the sighting requirement may have served to reduce membership, curiously, I can't remember anyone invited to join who had not actually seen a UFO. To my eternal regret, shame at being unable to actually see a UFO myself compelled me to compromise my scientific principles and falsely claim to have seen one (well, in fact several staffed by a wide variety of hideous aliens which I clearly saw and was willing to graphically describe). As luck would have it, however, I did not remain a UFO virgin for long. The skies of Lancashire in those days were perpetually lit up by a spectacular stream of Unidentified Flying Objects that would put many professionally organised light shows to shame.

Like all good investigators our goals were to classify and explain these phenomena. The most convincing explanation was that the unusually large numbers of alien craft in the area were attracted by ley lines (a number of which probably crossed somewhere nearby -- alas our local library did not run to books on such things) and Lancashire's colourful history of enthusiastic witch-burning and exorcism. Classification was more problematic but, in simple terms we identified four basic types. Firstly, (and least spectacularly) the stationary "too bright" star. Typically, these would hover motionless (or moving very slightly "if you look really carefully") until you grew bored with watching them or had to go home for tea. Secondly, the similarly uninspiring "yellow light low on the horizon". Unfortunately, these have become almost impossible to spot with the wide-spread introduction of street lighting which they closely resemble (coincidence, or evidence of alien influences on Lancashire County Council?). Thirdly, the mysterious moving blinking green and red lights in the sky "moving too slowly and quietly to be a plane". Finally, the most spectacular type which were many and diverse variants on "huge revolving disc with fire coming out of the bottom which landed in that field over there and literally was as close to me as I am to you now." Alas, I was never fortunate enough to see one of the latter type (which were also the only type we ever heard of aliens getting out of). In fact they were notoriously selective and only ever appeared to single individuals never to groups, however, they often left evidence of their visits in the form of mysterious burned patches, flattened bits of grass, melted plastic items and strange bits of twisted metal.

I'm not sure how long we pursued these investigations but eventually, wearied by public skepticism, torn by internal bickerings and moving to different schools in any case, we decided to call it a day. I suppose I knew all I really wanted to about aliens, and the demands of computer programming, ferry trips to exotic Fleetwood, far too much tedious history homework and visits to the local amusement arcade were more immediate.

Loving the alien

[Scary Alien] Again there was a pause of many years before the aliens again became a part of my life, I was an older and wiser person and knew many things I hadn't before. I knew why faster-than-light travel was paradoxical within the confines of special relativity (although curiously not within general relativity). I knew a reasonable amount about computer programming and far more than I wanted about electronics. I knew that sex was pretty good but probably not worth the undue amount of time I had spent thinking about it. I also knew that the chances of alien abduction in North Yorkshire (by this time I'd made the great trek across the Pennines) were next to nothing but this didn't stop me thinking about it every time I crossed a misty field in the hours of darkness. It was then it hit me that being kidnapped by aliens might be no bad thing.

Now, I don't want to give the false impression that "post-degree unemployment" in Britain is so grindingly awful that being kidnapped for medical experimentation would be preferable. Far from it. I was unhappy about a lot of things, as is normal for someone in their early twenties I think, but basically, I had enough to eat a reasonable place to live, colour TV and a good collection of friends to visit. However, it was far from the golden future promised by the inspiring TV shows that I watched when I was young. In fact I'd come to the horrifying conclusion that the childhood TV that I trusted so much had lied to me. Not everyone gets a glamourous job that they love. There's a strong possibility that you will never meet your ideal romantic partner -- and even if you do, there will not be a theme tune to let you know. Perseverence does not bring rewards within the allocated forty five minutes (plus adverts). I strongly suspect that international criminals never tie captured secret-agents to bizarre Heath-Robinson contraptions and small yappy dogs do not have a major role in crime-fighting but I have no figures to back this up. To cut a long story shory, I was disillusioned.

Another UFO This disillusionment, coupled with watching too much sci-fi led me to the inescapable conclusion that life could not be so bad for the aliens -- after all, they probably have replicators, transporters, holodecks, the works. While, on earth, we were burdened with the banal monotony of laundry, dish- washing, personal hygene, shaving and all those other human things, aliens were whizzing round the galaxy exploring, finding cosmic harmony and meeting strange new life forms. Yes, aliens had never had it so good. I mean sure, they weren't pretty and I wouldn't want my sister to marry one, but prejudice on grounds of appearance is surely no more acceptable than any other form of prejudice. Living with the aliens should be something to be embraced.

And so, for a few years, late at night, I would walk alone across any misty fields -- of course only when they were nearly on the path I would be travelling anyway. I don't want you to get the impression that I was some kind of madman who went hunting for aliens on the moors. I like to think that I am generally pretty rational and was certainly aware of the improbability of alien abduction in North Yorkshire but, as the national lottery says, "It might be you" and I certainly wasn't going to miss out on my chance by never walking late at night across misty fields (I don't feel the same compulsion to enter the lottery, they only offer money, the aliens had so much more).

If you've never tried to be abducted by aliens then I fully recommend it. It certainly gives you a sense of the dramatic and unearthly. Wear black because it doesn't clash with anything and you can imagine yourself silhouetted in the dying light at dusk or striding dramatically through the mist more readily than if you're wearing paisley. If you have clothing that flaps in the wind then this is ideal, a long coat or a loose shirt perhaps. Hair that will stream out away from your face is only going to help. Envisage how you will look suddenly staring into the bright-lights of the mothership descending from the fog as you stand upright against the terrific roar of the wind from the engines of the decending craft. So many people seem to get abducted wearing faded blue jeans and a lumberjack shirt but you have to remember that these are the ones the aliens put back again. If you want to go and live with the aliens my tip is that you should dress like it -- don't look like an accidental abductee. If you can do it and still take yourself seriosuly you should consider raising your hands to the sky. If you really want to go the whole hog then throw up your arms against the cruel universe (which looks the same as raising your hands in the air but feels different). And then wait.... and wait....

There's no place like home

Of course, unless you're completely out of your tree, you can only spend so long wandering around North Yorkshire hoping to be kidnapped by aliens as an alternative to doing anything positive to improve your life. Before too long (although it seemed too long at the time), I got a job, got over it and got on with my life. In fact, it was a total surprise to me when I was abducted.

It happened as I was wandering and wondering across a lonely, misty part of Walmgate Stray, which is probably the best part of York to go to be abducted by aliens - conveniently located, not too far out of town, near a military base (aliens are attracted to these like bees to jam) yet just about large enough to be mysterious and misty. It was a classically misty night and I was shambling across misty fields thinking about job things, life things, and thing things when, from the sky above, I heard wooshing sounds and saw lights.

Reminder to self - insert vital linking passage here.

These then were the four stages of my life with the aliens, like any human encountering something new I went through fear, curiousity, hope and acceptance. In the words of Wentworth D'Arcy Thompson, "Everything is what it is because it got that way." Perhaps some day the aliens will come to me again and mean something different.