Friday, 18 April 2008

Post #5 An interlude: "Mate! It came in right over my house!"

Skylab, 1979. It was supposed to land in the Indian Ocean. Some people around the planet became excessively concerned and all sorts of silly panics were started. It was the first predicted crash of a large piece of space materiel and the international media went wild for it. I was going to stay awake that night and see if there was anything to see. A new radio station had recently appeared on the dial: 96FM, the first FM station in Western Australia. They were giving regular updates of Skylab's progress as it approached its predicted touchdown point out to sea. I lay on my bed waiting for the news of any hitch in this plan and listening to the music. 96FM had an edge over their AM competition in signal quality and the fact that they played large slabs of music uninterrupted by advertising. I listened for several hours. Then I realised that it was approaching dawn and I'd been asleep for hours. Just conked out, as you do: mugged by Morpheus. I turned off the radio and went back to sleep, not overly annoyed, just disappointed; "I'll find out later what happened"' I thought. I certainly did.

The next day I discovered that the space station had disregarded NASA's views and decided to visit Western Australia, "The State of Excitement". It had blazed a trail over my hometown, Perth, and spread its mortal remains in the desert hinterland. An eerie recapitulation of the opening scenes of the movie, "It Came From Outer Space" and a precursor of the end of the shuttle Columbia.

There was a photograph of the burning station's progress through our skies on the front page of The West Australian with the caption "Skylab Roars In!" The rest of the day was the essence of exasperation. Every bastard I met: "Mate! Maate! Did y' see it? It came in right over my house!" Of course, it was a long way up and it appeared to come in over everybody's house. And they all told me.

When I was a lot younger I was called/hauled out of bed into a backyard where the lawn was covered with frost and directed to look upwards by my family members. Above was a rare sight of the ages: a perfect brilliant silver comet. In a perfect, clear, pre-light-pollution sky. I shall remember that comet until I die. It was just like the Star of Bethlehem shown on Christmas cards. I only watched it for a few minutes but its image is one of the few beautiful snapshots in my memory which has mostly preserved dark and brutal things.

I knew that the Skylab landing might have been one of those things: no-one died and it was a great stir. I could have been outside, even with a camera and/or an audio tape-recorder. I could have been on the roof. I could have....but I went to sleep. You snooze, you lose. I lost a memory that might have been. And it came in right over my house.

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