Previously I detailed how a lot of my younger life revolved around trips up and down the North Circular Road or A406. Now read on... 

The move to Muswell Hill another six years later took us back upstream along the North Circular.  Now it lay separating us from Colney Hatch and the sprawling Victorian asylum where I would do voluntary work in the Library in between school and university. It still felt like a canyon separating the familiarity of Muswell Hill with its record shops and paper round routes from the strange environment of Friern Barnet (I often wondered how this differed from Normal Barnet and whether this implied that their might be other similar districts of London like Friern Walthamstow or Friern Putney).

It was after coming back from university that I renewed my acquaintance with the A406. I moved to Leytonstone which was the furthest east along the North Circular I had yet lived - and also a little far away from it. A couple of years later the move to Walthamstow brought me within walking distance of it although most of the time I caught a bus which would take me past the dog track (the illuminated sign on the front of which had been visible from the childhood home in Muswell Hill) and then past a factory called Shadbolt's which would always have the Veneer of the Week on display, labelled with removable letters in  a retro-looking (even then) font - what looked like a serif version of the Washington font used by the BBC in the 1960s.

Always something to look forward to.

After that the bus route moved back into the more familiar territory of Edmonton although at the time it felt like a very strange nostalgic territory of Deep Childhood - the first time I really began to experience the odd time travel properties of the A406. I felt that if I got off the bus at Silver Street (I never did) I would somehow be transported back and, if I walked far enough, be able to come across the five year old me playing in the alleyways of suburbia.

Of course the temporal gap between Childhood Edmonton and Young Adult Walthamstow was ten years less than the gap between now and (that iteration of) Walthamstow.

I did spend a few years away from the North Circular Road (in Finsbury Park) but it wasn't long before I returned to Walthamstow where I remained right up until my departure for Brighton. I lived in a couple of places in more or less the same area. However, this was the point at which They began ripping up and vandalising my memories. Stretches of the A406 were modernised with flyovers and underpasses and many nostalgia triggers removed altogether.

But that is so often the case - you move back somewhere and it's all just as you remember it, every street corner a mental time machine... and then suddenly without so much as a by your leave they start changing it, despite having left it as it was in the interim.

I had a similar experience when leaving the environs of the A406 altogether and moving to Brighton. It was just as I remembered from my student years - including the university where I'd previously studied and was now working. They even had the same periodic table pinned up in one of the lecture theatres - for a few months. And then the city and the university embarked upon a programme of change so far reaching that they're both now almost unrecognisable.

The only place these locations appear to remain as they were is in dreams.

But dreams are as unreliable as memories and dream memories even more so. You may find yourself returning somewhere that invokes a massive rush of nostalgia only to awaken and realise that the way you dreamed it never existed in the first place.

But fragments of the dream memory can remain in your brain and get mixed in with the real memories. Sooner or later it's almost impossible to tell what happened and what didn't.

The past is probably completely unlike what we remember.

We are told that time and space are merely aspects of the same thing, just narrow ways of looking at space-time, a four-dimensional continuum. And this makes sense and is all very well. The only problem is that you can't move to another moment in time in the same way that you can to another position in space. It's not as if you can hop on a bus to last week.

However sometimes  movement in space can simulate aspects of time travel. As long as you have somewhere to go that you haven't visited in years. Last month I went to Muswell Hill for the first time in around twenty years. This north London suburb was where I spent a large segment of my youth so in many ways stepping off the bus onto the Broadway was like stepping from the TARDIS.

Of course it helped that it was a dark evening and that I couldn't see quite how much things had changed.  There was just as much of the familiar shape of the landscape present to fool me into thinking I was back in the nineties or earlier, provided I ignored the lights of the vast towers of twenty-first century Central London on the horizon. Old London had been much more self restrained, with none of the science fiction aspirations of the modern city.

However, awareness of some of the changes that had taken place in the intervening years was unavoidable. The very act of noticing these changes started tweaking the time travel sensations of my visit so that it began to feel not as if I was in the past but in a dream.

One of the places that it is always possible to time travel is in dreams. The places we grow up have a tendency to hang around longer in the sleepscape and yet even there they begin to change, not as a result of corporate redevelopment but due to some strange mental renovation, they warp and twist until, whilst still recognisable, they become quite distinctive places in their own right, places which remain consistent from dream to dream.

But dreams are unreliable vehicles. If you really want to time travel the best means of conveyance remains the car (or public transport). It was while riding in the back of someone's car a couple of months ago that I realised there was a road that led back through my young adulthood to adolescence and childhood, different sections of which belonged to different eras.

This was the North Circular Road or - as I would later come to know it - the A406.

Looked at in itself it is an unremarkable and in places downright ugly twenty-five mile stretch of tarmac, but it's the associations that are important. It stretches right back to when my family returned to London (when I was three years old) and continues all the way into my early thirties. Even though in places the improvement works and redevelopments have made it unrecognisable, enough of the original structure remains to make many parts of the journey from Hanger Lane to the Crooked Billet all hauntingly familiar, with old memories, good and bad, bubbling up at unexpected moments.

Part of the familiarity stems from the aforementioned return to London and the visits to my grandparents in the Gloucestershire that used to occur at the time. These interminable (to a child) journeys would always start with a long section of A406 as the car built up speed orbiting London until reaching escape velocity at Hanger Lane and slingshotting out along Western Avenue towards Oxford. That arc of the A406 is the most familiar, the landmarks along the way laid down in my plastic child's brain at the same time as much of language and behaviour.

The initial subsection of that journey that was the most well known of all as we also travelled along it on an almost weekly basis on the way into Central London. A short stretch of The Great North Road took us past an evil building squatting at the centre of a field - at the time I was told it was the Latymer School but looking at it now on Google Earth it's clearly just a sports pavilion.

There was something about the horizontality of the windows and the way the roof overhung the building's face that convinced me it had bad things in mind.

This stretch of the road was always over quickly - even for a child - and then we got to the Great Cambridge Junction. Nowadays it's been superseded by an underpass but back then it was a huge roundabout and what stood out for me was the petrol station on one corner with a vertical sign spelling out its name (and now I can't remember whether it was Esso, Shell or something else) in neon letters set against square white panels like giant Scrabble tiles. This was also the point at which - if you knew where and when to look - you could see the Post Office Tower poking up about the infinite terraced houses which lined the North Circular at this point.

That was one of the weird things. A lot of this major trunk road was residential. I couldn't imagine what it must be like to open your front door onto that vast river of tarmac, juggernaut backwash buffeting your face with exhaust fumes and grit every few seconds.

Eventually (in modern terms after only five years but as a child it felt like forever) we moved westwards to East Finchley. Even though it didn't feel like it, this too was in close proximity to the A406 - at the other end of East End Road it lay like a canyon separating East Finchley from all of the other Finchleys. The safest way to cross was via the Northern Line. The journey to the grandparents remained more or less the same, just starting at a point slightly further along.

East Finchley also boasted the Great North Road or Falloden Way which approached the A406 from the south and then merged with it for five hundred meters in eight lanes of polluted tarmac which when I now look back I always imagine being viewed through a reddish grey haze. This was often where the traffic would grind to a standstill and I'd stare out the window at the central reservation. There, amongst the gravel, fag packets and sun bleached coke cans you would occasionally see other treasures - screws, mysterious fragments of machinery or pieces of shattered numberplate. Part of me wanted to get out and rescue this detritus, another part always wondered whether anyone else had ever looked at them and indeed whether I would ever see them again in my life. I imagined these inaccessible islands of tarmac and kerbstone sitting there timeless and changeless. They probably predated my birth and might very well outlive me...

(to be continued)

As a rule we tend to do a lot less crying as adults compared with when we were children.

It's understandable of course - when you are a child your brain is fresh and everything is far more extreme and world shaking. Even a turn of events such as your parents deciding that you're all going to eat lunch in a café not to your liking is enough to open the floodgates - I still recall how full of despair such events made me. It genuinely felt like the end of the world. Partly due to the aforementioned freshness of the brain but also I suspect due to the feeling of complete powerlessness in the face of your parents' authority.

As an adult however, crying sneaks up on you and squeezes out through half closed eyelids in the hope that no-one else will notice. It's an unwanted pressure behind the optic nerve and not something you want to do or indeed admit to doing.

It is also inspired by very different things, often things which have been specifically designed to provoke just such a response, the emotional manipulation of film and TV makers who build their fictional edifices for precisely this purpose in a similar way to the architects who - in the absence of actual gods - designed temples and churches so as to inspire awe and religious fervour in the attendees.

Crying as an adult is one thing but crying as a child was a very different process altogether. Crying as a child was always a journey through a storm, a hurricane of dark emotional turmoil. Sometimes you thought you'd never come out the other side. Your very being, your sense of self was being racked by mental tremors twisting you into new shapes. There was a very real danger that you would drown.

Then there was an interval.

You couldn't quite put your finger on it and the precise moment when you did come out the other side - the instant it started easing - was always inaccessible to you. All you knew was that suddenly there you were, adrift in a boat on a sea flat as a millpond. The sky was clear and infinite, and even though whatever had been bothering you was still there, you didn't feel quite as bad about it now.

You'd been through an exorcism, a fever. The back of your throat was sore and everything was suffused with a reddish brown atmosphere. Your breath would be interrupted by occasional involuntary sobbing-breaths tugging at your chest, aftershocks. At the time you couldn't clearly articulate it, but what had happened had undoubtedly done you good. The feeling was akin to the almost infinite calm you experienced in the back of your parents' car after an interminable motorway journey when they finally turned off and started driving more slowly along the A and B roads of the countryside. The nightmare of the everlasting grey tarmac 70mph roar was over for now.

Or maybe that was just me. Nevertheless the memory of the calm after the storm has stayed with me. The sound of the End of Motorway. Sometimes I hear it in songs or in the tone of someone's voice. It is the sensation that despite how bad everything might look right now, it will pass.

When things are at their worst I try and remember the experience of Having Been Crying. Of being driven up the slip road to the roundabout of calm. The roundabout is always there even though finding the right exit is sometimes tricky.

Recurring dreams don't have to be recurring nightmares.

Most of the time they are though. You know the ones, where the creatures are coming to get you. They never quite succeed but as you wake in the dead of night the fear that they might do next time is very real.

But I used to have a recurring dream that wasn't a nightmare. In fact it was quite the opposite.

If you've been reading this blog for a while you may recall that one of my favourite bands of all time are Lush. An account of following their Split tour around in 1994 appeared on this very blog back in 2011 (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4). Due to the tragic death of their drummer Chris there were no more Lush gigs after 1996. I don't think anyone expected there to be.

Except, for some reason, my subconscious. From the first few years of the twenty-first century onwards I started having dreams that I was going to a Lush gig. It was always a gig by the reformed band (as opposed to a dream set in the past) and after a while always started to contain the thought I've dreamed about Lush reforming before but now it's actually happened in real life and here I am at the gig, usually occurring shortly before waking up.  Another element of the dream which was only occasionally incorporated - a kind of semi-recurring sub-plot - was that I was somehow expected to play bass, despite not having rehearsed (probably stemming from real pre-gig anxiety about my bass playing ability in bands out in real life).

I always awoke to a combination of disappointment and slight embarrassment at my credulity - of course Lush were never going to reform. How could I, even in the thrall of a dream, imagined otherwise?

I still remember the last time I had this dream earlier this year.  I was in the audience waiting for the show to begin and tweeted "I am finally at a Lush gig again - you won't believe how happy it makes me to write those words!" This time it was really happening.

Except of course I then woke to the same emotional combo as ever. And that was another odd thing about the dreams. The music never actually started. It was all about the anticipation.

In the waking world there were still many gigs to go to of course. Earlier this year I blogged about going to see Bleach - another band from the same era as Lush - who had reformed for one night only. The intensity of the emotion experienced when watching them play took me by surprise and the thought did go through my head It's just as well Lush are never going to reform as I'm not sure I could even cope with the level of emotion watching them again would engender!

And then Lush announced that they were going to reform for some gigs in 2016.

Sod whether I can cope or not, I am going to go to as many of those gigs as humanly possible. It goes without saying.

It is quite literally a dream come true.

Lush will be playing Manchester, London and New York in 2016, with no doubt more dates to be announced over the next couple of months. Check lushofficial.com for details.

There are plenty of things from the world of arts and entertainment that have contributed to the deep programming of my brain, forming an integral part of the mental DNA of what makes me me and without which I would probably be a different person. I've already written blogs about some of them - Toyah for instance, or Doctor Who. But there are many more. The works of Douglas Adams for instance. And - as I recently realised - a lot of the comedy of Robert Newman from the 1990s. It's all getting a bit tricky now...

And then browsing through Netflix I realised there was another TV show that had subtly and quietly wormed its way into my subconscious. It was comedy naturally. But it was also science fiction. Of course I am talking about Red Dwarf.

People who don't watch it probably have an idea of it as a bit laddish or puerile - toilet humour in space. There may be a grain of truth in that but it is mainly so much more...

I clearly remember when it started. Seeing trailers for a sitcom on BBC2 which looked as if it might be interesting - that poet guy from Saturday Live and the comedian who did voices for Spitting Image on some kind of spaceship in the future. That had to be worth a punt, so I tuned in expecting a Star Trek spoof.

And even though there were elements of that I was pleasantly surprised to find some nuggets of pure Science Fiction - and fairly original ones at that - in the script. The dead crew member George being revived as a hologram. The idea of the stasis booths.

There was a lot of well observed comedy in it as well - as someone who had recently left education Rimmer's exam anxiety stood out as something that was very familiar to me.

But it was twenty minutes in - with only a third of the episode left to run - that I realised I was watching something special, something that wasn't afraid to tell stories on an astronomical scale that might have given Olaf Stapleton pause for though.  And this was done with just two lines of dialogue.

"Everybody's dead Dave."

That alone was bold. The show had already killed off everyone we'd met aside from Lister and Holly. But that was just the appetiser.

"Three million years."

That was insane. That was fantastic. The resurrection of Rimmer as a hologram was  surprise too, although not as big a one thanks to the scene with George earlier on. All in all this was a very promising set up for a sitcom, a first rate first episode.

But wait, they hadn't finished yet.

What the...

A stylish dude in a salmon pink suit just popped out of a ventilation duct. I had absolutely NO idea what was going on now. Was this a dream, a hallucination? A malfunction of the ship's hologrammatic projection system? No, the Cat turned out to be something far more interesting and yet another mind stretchingly brilliant idea.

Everybody's dead.

Three million years.

A creature who evolved from the ship's cat.

When I'd sat down to watch half an hour previously I had no idea of the direction I'd be taken, but needless to say there was no question of me not tuning in again the following week.

And in general the series lived up to its promise. Given that these four characters were the only sentient beings in the universe some of the story-lines had to be quite inventive and also encouraged a lot of comedy where - despite the out of this world surroundings - the humour arose from people's relationships with each other and the anecdotes they'd tell. Their foibles, fear and failures and the rare occasions they overcame them.

This combination was a winning one and went on to spawn four novels (the first of which retold the beginning of the story in far more depth, explaining some of the odd things that there hadn't been time to cover in the TV series and allowing us into the thought processes of Lister and Rimmer) and so far ten TV seasons with more on the horizon.

But for me the show was at its most enjoyable around seasons five and six. Perhaps this is partly due to my own taste - at this point the stories contained the perfect balance of science fiction and comedy for me. We knew the characters well enough by now not to require any more two-handers or bottle shows (such as Marooned) and so the humour and the enjoyment could come purely from the plot and the characters' reactions to it. New character Kryten had added something to the dynamic as well, especially when he occasionally took on a Spock or Data role. Furthermore the emphasis seemed to have changed - no longer was the  funny scenario invented first and then a loose science fiction explanation added afterwards (see Backwards or Timeslides) - now a science fiction idea came first and foremost and the humour flowed naturally from that.

And what science fiction ideas. Being constrained by the rules of the universe they had created - the last human being alive, mechanoids, simulants, gelfs but no aliens or god-like beings - didn't put a dampener on the writers' imaginations whatsoever. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in my favourite Red Dwarf episode of all time - Back to Reality.

One of the first things that strikes me rewatching this episode is that there's no comedy in it whatsoever for the first two minutes. This could just as easily be an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation albeit one that's skipped the Captain's Log and leapt straight into the action. And yet we don't notice. We're caught up in the story straight away.

And it moves fast. Within seven minutes the entire cast are killed and we're presented with another change in perspective as profound as the aforementioned "three million years".

Could it really be true that the entire series had been a total immersion video game?

The shift in perspective is radical and far reaching for the characters, but that doesn't stop it from being incredibly funny at the same time. Their initial reactions to their new personas is telling and hilarious. Craig Charles's character is lost and hopeless when he thinks he's not Lister but rather the kind of sad act who want to spend four years playing a computer game - and this is even before he finds out the truth about Sebastian Doyle. Chris Barrie's character is so relieved to not be Rimmer that he actually starts to relax until he discovers who Billy Doyle is. The underlying pomposity of Robert Llewellyn's Kryten comes to the surface when he starts to believe he's really Jake Bullet.

But one of the best comedy moments in the episode is achieved with no dialogue whatsoever - just a closeup on Danny John-Jules as he comes to the awful realisation that he is Duane Dibbley.

This is obviously such a traumatic experience for him that the alter ego returns to haunt him in the following season's Emohawk - because of course, no matter how much this episode felt like an ending the status quo would be restored by the close.

Watching for the first time though I wasn't so sure. I was caught up in the story and shared Lister's despair when he looks through the viewer at the Red Dwarf game in progress. This tiny scene perfectly reflected the disappointment felt upon waking from a wonderful dream, a disappointment that gets stronger and stronger the more the dream slips away.

And a little later the wonderfully edited cut at 21'15" when we suddenly see our heroes back on Starbug gives us the inverse of that feeling, the relief upon waking from a nightmare, the release of the knowledge that it was all only a bad dream. Of course the Starbug crew have yet to realise this and this reveal serves not only to pull the rug out from under the audience yet again but also as a cheeky wink to the fourth wall - far cheaper to have the four of them run around playing make believe on the Starbug set than film a car chase with helicopters, motorcycles, rocket launchers and a leap over a drawbridge...

And no matter how surprising the final reveal is, it all makes perfect sense. The scenes back at the beginning of the episode on the SS Esperanto - why would a haddock kill itself? - were a blatant clue to the resolution. We even saw the crew getting affected by the despair squid venom. But so well constructed was the group hallucination that they - and the audience - bought into it. For a while we all believed that it could be the end.

In season six there was an episode nearly as good as Back to Reality. Out of Time contained similar misdirection and again felt like it could well have been an ending. Finishing on a cliff-hanger was a genius move - it was just a shame that we had to wait so long for its resolution and (for me personally) that by the time we got there the show had started to change again from the season five and six shape that I'd found so appealing.

I still watch and enjoy of course. These characters are part of me but the show could no more go back to seasons five and six than I could go back to the age I was when I watched them. Or change what I had for breakfast this morning.

Of course I believe in coincidences. They happen all the time. What I am doubtful about is that they mean anything. For a start if they meant something then they wouldn't be coincidences by definition. Furthermore as discussed in a recent blog the human mind is trained to see patterns in things above everything else so any such interpretation should be taken with a pinch of salt.

But sometimes you wonder.

At the beginning of 2014 I finished the first draft of my latest novel. Like the previous one it was partly set in and around the music industry, this time in the early nineties. The central character  - who'd been a supporting character in the previous one - was the singer in an indie band, a band described in the book as shoegaze but with more aggressive vocals than was usual. I must admit that when I was first writing I didn't know exactly what the band (Beam - a very nineties name, I could almost see the logo on the t-shirts) sounded like although I knew that I would have loved them and probably made an effort to go and see them play outside London.

However when starting the revisions at the beginning of 2014 I gave this some more thought and it suddenly struck me that of course Beam would have sounded a lot like Bleach, a four piece from the early nineties whom I did rather like (even though I only got to see them a couple of times). I wondered if perhaps my subconscious had been telling me that all along given the similarity in the bands' names and lineups. After this realisation Bleach's entire canon became my playlist when performing the edits. I had forgotten just how good they were - and criminally underrated.  I tweeted about them occasionally, trying to see if anyone else shared my retrospective passion for this music. But no.

Then just after I finished the first set of revisions (a process which had taken me the best part of a year) I read Caitlin Moran's novel "How To Build A Girl" and was pleased to see that Bleach and singer Salli were namechecked. So it turned out I wasn't the only one to remember them.

And then on Twitter, journalist Simon Price tweeted that Bleach had reformed for a one-off gig and would be playing their hometown of Ipswich for one night only in June. I didn't even have to think once - I booked a ticket. I would worry about getting to Ipswich and where to stay when I got there later.

The first half of 2015 was quite turbulent for me what with one thing and another but June rolled around soon enough, by which time I'd bought advance train tickets and booked a room in a bed and breakfast (although in keeping with what I'd discovered when travelling around the country over the past year playing bass with Das Fluff  breakfast was not included).

I was actually quite nervous on the evening. I had absolutely no idea why. I was quite used to going to gigs on my own - it had been my modus operandi for the past twenty years from hitching round the country to see Lush and Die Cheerleader in the nineties to walking to the Brighton Dome to see The Jesus and Mary Chain perform Psychocandy in full only a few months ago.

I caught the bus from the B&B into Ipswich town centre and then used the map app my phone to guide my walk to the venue. The surroundings were completely unfamiliar - I was sure I must have been to Ipswich before but couldn't have said when.

Part of my anxiety was to do with the uncertainty of finding the venue. Surely this was the wrong place - it looked like a church not a venue. I nearly pulled up the Facebook app to check the event address. And then inside a glass case - which would have been more suited to displaying the latest parish newsletters or information about evensong - was a gig poster on which was a very familiar logo. A logo which probably influenced some of my own early graphic design decisions, a logo which looked as if it had been created by blowing up some text on a photocopier, shrinking it again and then blowing it up, repeat to distress. The disintegrating look of the logo actually added to its strength due to the flaws being repeated on every iteration of the thing, from record and CD sleeves, t-shirts and now a poster in front of me here stranded in the middle of 2015.  Bleach.

Inside was even odder. Despite the stage at one end upon which the equipment had been set up (in front of a backdrop containing another iteration of that familiar logo) the rest of the interior was still very much a church . You almost expected the vicar to appear from behind one of the pillars "Now I hope it's not going to be too loud..."

I was there too early due to my perennial fear of missing something important. I punctuated the next couple of hours by watching the supports, popping outside for a cigarette and buying a couple of beers from the makeshift bar in the narthex. But eventually the wait was over and I drifted towards the front. I had come all this way and I suspected that the claim that this was going to be a one-off was genuine. I didn't want to miss a moment.

The set list was visible on the stage in front of me but I avoided focussing on it I didn't want to know what was coming. All of the songs would be drawn from the Bleach canon and I knew them all.

The gig started and the wall of sound was exactly as I had been expecting, this familiar noise which I had only experienced live a couple of times half a lifetime ago but which for the bulk of the time between now and then had been listened to in solitude, on my walkman, iPod or phone, transcribed from vinyl, laser etched plastic or binary bit into this aural assault.

As the songs washed over me I began to feel emotional, tears springing to just behind my eyes. But why? Was this something to do with how long it had been since I had last heard these songs live or perhaps something to do with how often I had listened to them by myself?

But overanalysing it would have been the same as fiddling with my phone throughout the gig - I was here to enjoy this unrepeatable experience and after a few moments I put away both my phone and my analysis and simply immersed myself in the event, letting it wash over me.

After it was over I slipped away fairly quickly. Now I had the luxury of thinking about what I had just seen. Was the emotion I'd felt a lament for my lost youth or for the lost music industry? Was it a paean to the fact that such sounds could still exist? Part of me thought that it might be because this was the closest I was going to come to experiencing the fictional gigs I'd written about in my novel, that this experience was serving as a porthole into my own imagination...

And in a way it was. I could experience what I had been telling myself about my own life afresh, like youth but with the important added knowledge that this was all finite, never to be repeated and therefore precious.

And of course this applies to everything. When we are young we think we are immortal and can keep doing everything forever. But we can't.

Make the most of every moment.

For a far more relevant and eloquent account of Bleach's brief comeback I strongly recommend you read singer Salli's blog at justwordsandmusic.wordpress.com.

Not that long ago by the timescale of the universe there was no-one on Earth to observe anything.


The solar system had been in existence for billions of years and the various bodies within it had long settled into their orbits with clockwork precision. Close in to the parent star smaller rocky bodies circled in the light, ring fenced by a zone in which gravitational perturbation had prevented any single body coalescing from the thousands that still swarmed within. Beyond that larger bodies formed chiefly of gas orbited in stately majesty, themselves circled by vast extended families of smaller bodies.

And out on the fringes of the system lay further belts of small rocky and icy worlds some of which circled the star in a wildly eccentric manner. Occasionally one of these most distant of the star's children would fall inwards, jets of gas and vapour blown from their surfaces by the solar wind in tails millions of miles long.

None of the bodies in the solar system or beyond had names or types. They just were.  Even time was abstract, there being nothing to measure it, to compare this time with that time. Orbits and other movements were simply equations made solid, scrawled across the blackboard of eternity.

And then something began to happen on the third world, the largest body in the inner system. Complex chemical reactions took place which led to self replicating molecules which spread and evolved - a process that given big enough numbers and long enough spans of time was inevitable due to the laws of mathematics. As the numbers increased and the spans of time available inflated, these complex molecules gave rise to a specialised subset of chemistry (in itself a subset of physics which ultimately was just another part of mathematics) called biology.

At this point of course - just like the celestial bodies turning over and over in the blackness above - these disciplines had no names either and were all just part of the single Way That Things Were.

Quite recently the biological structures developed an awareness of themselves and of the universe around them.  Quite how this arose is unclear - possibly to do with the complexity of the systems and the feedback loops they had developed in order to have survived this long. It could also have been that they started to exist in time, counting off the periods when the star appeared to travel overhead and comparing what had happened with what might happen. Perhaps this process meant that self awareness was bound to follow.

They defined themselves as people and began looking around at the universe that had spawned them and tried to make sense of it in terms they could understand.

The people started to change the environment around them using tools. Once this had become part and parcel of who they were they wondered if that was how the universe around them had come to be, that someone else - a bigger and earlier variety of people - had used tools to create what they saw around them. They looked the lights in the sky and gave them names - perhaps these lights were the older and bigger beings that had shaped the world they saw around them?

However as belief systems became more complex and the ways of looking at the universe more accurate it became obvious that the lights in the sky were in fact other worlds and other stars. And due to the way the minds of people worked - the conditions that had shaped their minds in the first place - they began classifying what they saw up in the heavens, assigning categories to things that neither needed nor understood them.

That was a planet, that was an asteroid, that was a gas giant. That was a moon. That was a comet. This was hydrogen. This was nuclear fusion. That was the big bang.

These were the categories that gave the people the impression that they understood the universe when all they had done was create a one dimensional sketch of it using language and understood that instead.

The people discovered yet more worlds and begun reaching out to them with marvellously
complex tools getting closer and closer views of the extraordinary diversity of the universe. Unfortunately the more information there was the more elaborate and baroque the taxonomies invented to control it had to be.

Eventually people had to start hacking and patching the rules they'd invented in the first place simply to make them fit the observable facts. That body they'd named Pluto? Apparently it no longer fitted into the artificial category "planet" so another artificial category had to be invented to accommodate it and a handful of other bodies. It was now a "dwarf planet".

And even though these categories were purely arbitrary some people became furious about this change in nomenclature and began campaigning for the restoration of Pluto's imagined status.

Pluto existed for billions of years before humanity without a name or category - and will no doubt exist for billions more after we have gone. Getting het up about what we call it is futile and misses the entire point. Our name for Pluto is part of us, not part of it.

We will be able to see the reality of Pluto close up for the very first time on 14 July.

Now that is something worth getting excited about.