Life seemed bleak and I was feeling sorry for myself - there didn't really seem to be much point in anything I was involved in and I could see no hope for the future.

Then scrolling past in the Twitter stream came the news that Neil Armstrong had died.


The sad news instantly took me back to childhood where my heroes were all scientists and explorers rather than sporty types or warriors. Neil Armstrong was the first and the only one with whom I felt a real time connection. Along with most of the rest of the species who were alive at the time and had access to television receiver, I clearly remember watching Armstrong step onto the surface of the Moon. It was the middle of the night but my parents had the foresight to wake me up and plonk me in front of the set. Despite my young age I knew exactly what was going on. Back then the Space Race was everywhere and I knew in my bones that it was only a matter of time before we were all living out there. It is a shame that collectively as a species we forgot this dream.

There are people who believe that the miracle never happened, but this is simply due to a failure of imagination. The concept of a fake is far easier to get your head round than the fantastic technological achievement of the Apollo programme and the terrifying scale of the journey. If you're ever in any doubt yourself, just remember what a terrific right hook Buzz Aldrin has.

It's true that the outward urge was born out of the dangerous rivalry of the Cold War, but having invented weapons too dreadful to use the superpowers were putting their competitive energies into something far more interesting. Without realising it, the human race had discovered a war-substitute. War itself grew from the natural instincts of human beings to protect their tribe against others. Like many instincts it was very difficult to curtail even once we realised that in fact we were all one tribe. But even if they can't be suppressed, instincts can be redirected...
"After ten thousand years, man had found something as exciting as war. Unfortunately, not all nations had yet realized that fact" - Arthur C Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey
I don't know what happened in the interim and why the great plan was forgotten. Abandoning warfare would have left enough energy and resources for both space exploration and feeding the world, bringing everyone up to the same level of opportunity. I suspect that the problem lay in the fact that those in positions of power - and by that I mean the anonymous super rich rather than those who are elected - had a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Their primitive instincts were strong and having grown up in a world where they could have whatever they wanted, they weren't going to let that go without a fight. A fight between other people, of course. A sustained programme of space exploration might have led to a more enlightened perspective. This was the last thing they wanted.
"Power is not a means; it is an end" - George Orwell, 1984
In the long run I hope this will change again, that it is always darkest before the dawn. In the meantime I console myself with the knowledge that I was alive to see Neil Armstrong's first footprint, one of the most important events in the history of life on Earth. I am not exaggerating. The time span between the moment when the first nucleic acids clung together in those pools of goo billions of years ago and 20 July 1969 CE was the first era of terrestrial life, the time when it was confined to one planet. We are now living in the second era, even though we have yet to build upon this achievement.

I am certain that the name of Neil Armstrong will be remembered by Homo sapiens and their descendants long after the memory of the USA and USSR have passed into obscurity. So may Neil Armstrong rest in peace even though he is the first human being who will never really die, the first immortal.

Despite the sadness of the news itself life no longer felt bleak and I no longer felt sorry for myself. I was filled with hope and the sense that anything was possible.

Anything is possible.


It is of course typical that when I write an entry making a big song and dance about how I am going to temporarily return the blog to its original purpose by writing about my short trip to the Edinburgh Fringe it mainly covers my journey up and then before I get the chance to write part two I get so distracted by space knockers that I have to write a blog in defence of the Mars Curiosity Rover.

And then do nothing for several days.

Of course it's not strictly true to say that I haven't been doing anything. I have been very busy. For a start, I have been writing, just not blog entries. And when not writing I have been commuting back and forth between Dolphinton and Edinburgh on the local buses. This means that I haven't been able to stay in town as late as I would have liked as the last bus is at 9.35pm.

Nevertheless I have managed to see a few good shows - some of the best being Bad Musical, Michael Legge: What a Shame and My Stepson Stole My Sonic Screwdriver all of which I would thoroughly recommend you go and see. However, I didn't see as much as I would have liked to or as much as I should have done.  That was the problem. Despite my earlier resolve, the temptation to just sit there soaking up the atmosphere and soaking up the beer was still very strong.

One thing you can't fail to notice during perambulations around the festivalised city are the posters. They're everywhere and when visiting Edinburgh outside August their absence makes the city look nude. Perhaps it's my imagination, but they seem to be getting bigger since I was last here and a lot of them have started using the same three expressions on the faces of the well-groomed and professionally photographed subjects.

There's the Personable Smile. The one says that its owner is a very reasonable and pleasant person who you could very probably introduce to your grandparents without worrying about whether they'd get on. Personable Smiler is bound to impress everyone.

Then there's the Mad Smile. A self-consciously wacky grin, often coupled with crossed eyes and an amusing prop. Mad Smiler comes across as someone your grandparents might be a bit wary of although there is always the suspicion that in real life the Mad Smiler is probably as straightforward as the rest of us.

And finally there is Exaggerated Worry Or Fear. An alarmed gurn, its wearer is usually looking off to one side of the picture at some imagined threat. Often they clutch an incongruous prop or are dressed in some kind of uniform.

For someone like me who has trouble recognising people sometimes (and therefore can unintentionally come across as being rude through no fault of my own) the prevalence of these similar poster expressions means that if I went to too many shows there would be a danger of them starting to blur into one.

And this is my excuse for not having been to as many shows as I should, although if I count the Gonzo Dog-Do Bar Band show last night I have actually been to at least one thing every day which isn't too shabby.

However as I am going back home in less than forty-eight hours I will very probably end up promising myself to go and see half the shows when they come to Brighton in October.

That's usually what happens.


I am pleased to see that the Curiosity rover landed safely on Mars after such a long journey. And having seen simulations of the landing itself I'm impressed with the technology involved - the rover was winched down to the surface from a hovering descent section. That's a far more exciting and suitable example of unsupervised robotic drone technology than some I could mention.


I hope we can look forward to at least five years of planetary trundling and would like to think that in my lifetime I'll see TV pictures of Curiosity being retrieved by the men and women of the first human mission.

Of course every time something exciting happens in the space programme there is a backlash from people who think the money would be better spent curing disease and feeding the hungry. Whilst I  applaud and share the core sentiment - who doesn't wish the sick cured and the starving fed? - as soon as I start unpacking this assertion I find it's riddled with flaws.

For a start there is the whole issue of important scientific spin off from space research, and I'm not just talking about non-stick frying pans. I won't go into this in great detail as it is often the space fan's first comeback to such accusations, but it is worth mentioning that it's unlikely we'd have MRI scanners without NASA's exciting adventures in the 1960s.

Another problem with this approach is the idea that science has to have a timetable. We can't decide the order in which things are discovered or put some advances on hold until we've finished others. Science is an organic and evolutionary process, with avenues of exploration leading to all sorts of unexpected areas. Some of which will benefit humanity enormously and may well ensure our survival in the long term.

But for me the big issue is why space exploration has to take the rap for wasting money which could be spent more profitably elsewhere. This smacks of scapegoating.

In 2007 the NASA budget was $17bn. This is an amount not to be sniffed at - until you realise that in the same year the US government spent over $615bn on defence. That's over thirty six times more spent on new ways to kill people and invade their countries. Just think what that could do for the poor and sick.

To focus even further in on this aspect - which I think is fundamental - consider the fact that each individual B2 Stealth Bomber costs $2.2 billion. Per fucking plane. The entire Mars Curiosity mission cost around that.

This perspective brings to mind the way the UK Government are blaming the economic woes of the country on so-called "welfare cheats" when the real causes are issues such as tax avoidance by rich companies and the like.

Blaming the space programme for a lack of medical advancement is a distraction from the real problem, which is this.

We are currently spending far more on new ways to kill each other than on new ways to cure each other.
"Here's what you can do to change the world, right now, to a better ride. Take all that money that we spend on weapons and defence each year, and instead spend it feeding, clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would many times over, not one human being excluded, and we could explore space, together, both inner and outer, for ever, in peace." - Bill Hicks


Far back in the mists of time when I first started this blog its main purpose was to make sure I didn't forget things.

That was six years ago. But then it evolved and I started waffling on about any number of old things, often to do with philosophy or science. Then I started becoming busy with other forms of writing and blog frequency was one of the victims of my lack of time.


In an attempt to remedy this I am now going to temporarily return the blog to its original purpose. I'm off to Edinburgh again to, amongst other things, see some shows on the Fringe and it would be nice to have a record of what I end up managing to see. I hope it's more than I used to - previously I seemed to simply end up sitting in bars drinking with the idea of going to see a show hanging over me like an unpleasant obligation. Ridiculous. After all, I can sit in a bar and drink any time.

Of course I have to get there first. The trip did start suspiciously well when a Brighton bus driver let me off the fare simply because I was carrying a lot of luggage. Almost unheard of! A true hero.

I boarded the Brighton to London train and sat in an empty carriage. However, this is where it all started going wrong. I was singled out by the train's resident practitioner of  Extreme Eccentricity who told me his name was Crunchy and then spent the entire journey telling me all about the swimming pool in Portsmouth with a wave machine, asking me pointless circular questions and clapping his hands under the table when the answers pleased him.

Thinking back on it though at least he had good journey. If I had been able to cheer him up then the boredom and slight sense of unease I felt during the conversation was probably worth it in the grand scheme of things. And it was in some small way a relief to be conducting a conversation with someone who didn't have a hidden agenda. With Crunchy, what I saw was what I got.
"Chris? How would you get to Portsmouth?"
"I'd probably get the train from Hove."
"Chris? Why would you get the train from Hove?"
"To get to Portsmouth."
Having parted company with Crunchy, catching the tube across London went surprisingly well considering I wasn't making the slightest attempt to Get Ahead Of The Games. Furthermore the Boris announcements had already been discontinued so my ears remained unmolested as well. The weird thing was that I found it oddly disappointing. I wanted to hear and get annoyed by them. I felt deprived of something to complain about.

My arrival at King's Cross saw to that. The new design was still unfamiliar enough to stoke the flames of my irritation, especially the way they seemed to have turned the tube station into a sprawling warren of confusingly unlabelled tunnels. Even once I'd found my way out the ordeal was far from over. The new layout of the main line station itself particularly displeased me.  It's a train station. It doesn't need an Arrivals Hall. I preferred it when there was a WHSmith where they forced you to buy chocolate and and you had to queue up along those annoying lines on the floor.

The Edinburgh train left on time, and it is from there that I'm writing this.

Thinking about it, I can see why I started steering my blog in the direction of philosophical and scientific musings. This blow by blow account of my movement over several hundred miles and minutes is not the most thrilling piece of prose ever to pour forth from my brain. Still perhaps things will pick up once I reach Edinburgh itself.

A child has just asked his mother how he got into her tummy in the first place.

Very good question. If he keeps thinking about big questions like that perhaps in years to come he'll be able to write some cracking blog entries.