Saturday, 8 December 2018

Space

Fasten your seatbelts, gentle readers. We're blasting off for another wacky Saturday blog, looking to achieve escape velocity and set a redoubtable course for the final (imaginative) frontier... space  is the poetical place.

As an English boy in the 1960s I was quite thrilled by the record-breaking heroics of the early Soviet cosmonauts. I suppose I might have taken a different view if I'd been born an all-American kid.

Yuri Gagarin (aboard Vostok 1) was the first man ever to go into space, a feat he achieved in April 1961 nearly a year ahead of his US counterparts. A hero of the Soviet Union (and a man with a serious drink problem), Gagarin died in a terrestrial test-flying accident later in the decade. Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman ever to go into space (aboard Vostok 6) in June 1963. In fact she remains the only woman to have undertaken a solo space flight. A heroine of the Soviet Union, she is still alive and in 2013 (aged 76) volunteered to go on a one-way mission to Mars should it happen in her lifetime. What a girl. What an ambassador for gender equality.

When I was working in Russia a few years ago I tried to visit Star City (Zvyozdny Gorodok), home of the Yuri Gagarin Training Centre for aspiring cosmonauts (recently demilitarised though still not on many maps); as it turned out, a bit of a bleak adventure into a retro-Soviet hinterland, at odds - not unsurprisingly - both with all the romanticising propaganda that surrounded the space race of the 1960s and also with the emerging post-glasnost/ perestroika Russia.

As we race headlong into another festive season of Christmas and New Year I thought I'd illustrate today's blog with a couple of classic retro Russian seasonal greetings cards. I particularly like this one of Santa with Christmas tree in a spaceship (note his magical qualities mean he doesn't need a helmet). To nativity and beyond...

Soviet-style 1960s Santa
It's a curious but not unpleasing paradox (at least it seems so to me) that as we have voyaged deeper into the atomic age and as our scientists made more and more astounding discoveries about the true nature of the omniverse, we have clung to our basic tendency as human beings to mythologise, to incorporate hard science (jet propulsion, space travel) into our fondest make-believe. When peace on earth and goodwill to all men seem as far out of reach in the 21st century as they have ever done (despite all of the technological progress we have made as a species), it is mildly reassuring at least that the ideal lives on in cultural and political initiatives (and Russian Christmas cards and Disney animations).

"War is over if you want it!" (Lennon/Ono, Christmas 1971).

It was on this day (8th December) in 1980 that we woke to the sad and shocking news that John Lennon had been shot dead in New York City. Crazy, crazy - animals with guns. I watched a documentary about him and the making of his 'Imagine' album on tv the other week and it feels only appropriate to borrow one of his lines as the title to this strange new poem, informed by my weekly musings.

Above Us Only Sky
No good news from earth today:
it's grown nor kinder nor lovelier
in five decades
since we blasted off from Baikonur
in the grey October of our borning.

Wars rage, bombs away,
cold-eyed career politicians plot and lie,
fat cats dynastically toy their prey,
all manner of plunder (gold, oil, gas) is fair play,
a struggling underclass still slaves for fags and beer,
the spark of idealism faded from their eyes
and apparently state-sponsored smuggling
and the gassing of babies is okay.

We float in our sophisticated can
around the unrighteous planet we call home,
growing tired of watching it all go awry,
wondering what's it all for?
I've re-read my much thumbed Thunderpussy
for the umpteenth time -
the hero still saves the world and gets his girl
but the words hold no magic anymore.

All thought of returning down to earth
fills us with mighty dread.
We've discussed it for days and nights
(not that they quite exist up here)
and we've decided to go rogue,
break out of this orbit
and just drift away into space,
come what may.

Merry Christmas Mister Putin.
We're switching off all comms,
there's nothing more to be said.
Let's toast our decision
with one last serious anaesthetising vodka
and smiling wave the earth goodbye.
Fire one, fire two, and we're spinning free,
above us only sky
as the crumbs of fortune's last cookies
drift around our heads.


Happy New Year from the Grandchildren Of The Revolution
If you're in the mood for mince-pies and live poetry, Lancashire Dead Good Poets' collective is holding its December open mic night on Thursday 13th at the Jazz Emporium in St Annes (see the sidebar for details), when we'll also be launching our latest anthology, 'The Big One'.  Be there or be square, qouth the quipster.

Okay, I hope you've enjoyed the trip. Thanks for reading, Earth people. Merry Festives! S ;-)
Reactions:

41 comments:

Boz said...

Brilliant Steve!

Anonymous said...

I'm loving the poem.

Bill Parry said...

I enjoyed your cosmonaut-inspired piece, which reminded me that my sister wrote to Yuri in 1961 - and received a signed photo from the great man. If she still has it, it's probably worth a few bob...

Anonymous said...

Thought-provoking (as ever).

The Existentialist said...

That's another fine space you've got me into :-D

Rochelle said...

TBH not sure what to make of this. It's interesting and beautifully written but a bit negative? Or is it ironic that your cosmonauts just decide to pull the plug? Confused of Terra Firma!

Anonymous said...

An interesting blog. I love the retro space art and thought your poem was intriguing.

Anonymous said...

Steve your blogs are always a treat to read. This was no exception. I loved the illustrations and I thought the poem was clever and neatly done.Merry festives to you too.

Anonymous said...

That's a fine poem. Have you seen the movie Dark Star? Great black humor.

Anonymous said...

Informative and entertaining, cool illustrations and a thought-provoking poem - especially like the ring of "We float in our sophisticated can/ around the unrighteous planet we call home". Well done :-)

Jools said...

This was fun.

Anonymous said...

Love the blog Steve. Merry Christmas to you.

Ian (the Hew) Hewitt said...

Yay. Very good. I'm sure John would have approved.

Deke Hughes said...

I remember we had a trendy student-teacher for one term back in the mid sixties and we were allowed to do project-based learning, a real breath of fresh air. I was in a group researching the Space Race, reading about it, writing about it, making model space ships out of loo rolls, tin foil and the like, painting pictures, writing poems and such. Your blog has brought it all back to me. Nice one Steve.

Anonymous said...

There was more mystique and romanticism attached to those Soviet space exploits and it looked like they led the way for a while - probably a lot of stage-dressing as it turned out. I enjoyed the concept and composition of your poem - very good. Merry Christmas to you.

Tom Shaw said...

Really like the new poem. Its strangeness is its charm.

Anonymous said...

And I always thought Santa Claus was the first man in space! Enjoyed this, very well written.

Anonymous said...

Great blog. Merry Festives reciprocated.

Steve Rowland said...

I'm pleased this post and poem is being quite well-received. To answer a few of the points/questions raised above:
- the 'going rogue' concept is just an imagined response taken to the extreme; wouldn't those cosmonauts sometimes be tempted to think 'f*ck it, let's just leave Earth to it'?
- Santa Claus was never the first man in space, definitely only sub-orbital. He only ever flies at a few hundred feet. He and the reindeer (which are colour-blind incidentally) need their oxygen.
- coindidentally Peterborough, where I went to primary/junior school in the 1960s was unusually cosmopolitan - as I've blogged elsewhere - and there were both Americans and Russians living in my neighbourhood (the former families linked to the US airbase at Alconbury, the latter asylum-seekers from post-war USSR). In fact my dancing partner at junior school was Tamara Shevchenko and that's the first time I've thought about her in fifty years.

Anonymous said...

There they were - gone! Terrific poem. Peace and Love at Christmas.

CI66Y said...

Most entertaining.

Anonymous said...

"...much thumbed Thunderpussy"? What's that? :-@

Anonymous said...

Top seasonal blog. Merry Festives back to you.

Anonymous said...

What a great blog - love it. Thank you and Merry Christmas.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyable and entertaining as ever Steve. I really likes the poem. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and keep writing.

Steve Rowland said...

Anon: 'Thunderpussy' is an imagined Spy novel - a shameless amalgam of Ian Fleming's 'Thunderball' and 'Octopussy' ;-)

K.Worth said...

God I love these Saturday blogs - great writing. Coincidentally we've all just sat through Apollo 13 on TV - what a gripping movie about NASA's "most successful failure". It just brings it home to you how brave the astronauts and cosmonauts are to risk all in their endeavours. Merry Christmas to you and let's wish for Peace on Earth, however elusive it appears.

Anonymous said...

This blog is very timely because at Christmas exactly 50 years ago Apollo 8 became the first manned mission to leave earth orbit and to fly around the moon and back (December 21st to 27th). It was the first launch of Saturn V and astronauts Anders, Borman and Lovell helped put the US ahead of the Soviets for the first time in the space race.

Anonymous said...

That was a cool read. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Great blog and poem. Loved the graphics as well. Cool.

BB Walker said...

That's a fascinating blog and one hell of a good poem. Terrific, thank you.

Anonymous said...

Christmas/New Year seems to be a popular time to go visiting. I hear the Chinese have just landed an unmanned explorer on the 'dark' side of the moon.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating, informative and wonderfully inventive. (Gold star!)

Anonymous said...

Top blog. Lucky you having had the chance to work in 'mother Russia'; must have been interesting. I thought your poem was very powerful and such a great conceit - imagine just cutting loose. A nice tribute to the great John Winston Lennon as well. Thank you.

PDQuiller said...

Grandchildren of the Revolution had me laughing out loud :-)

"Well you can terraplane in the fallin' rain
But you won't fool the (Grand)children of the Revolution" - ain't no disPutin' Mr Bolan.

Anonymous said...

A most intriguing blog: affection and disaffection in equal measure.

Anonymous said...

Inspired.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the first commentator - brilliant. Such a pleasure to read.

Anonymous said...

Great blog, entertainingly written, beautifully illustrated and I loved the quirky poem. A nice touch to remember John Lennon's anniversary. Well done.

Billy Banter said...

Deliciously retro! Super poem.

Anonymous said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this. I envy you your imagination and way with words.