Aurora Borealis – Curtains?

Living some way further south than the southernmost point at which you can usually see the Northern Lights in the UK, I’ve never actually seen them.  I suppose if I were that keen I would arrange a trip to Scandinavia, and perhaps I will some time in the future.

I first came across the Aurora Borealis as a child when looking through an ancient book which must have belonged to one of my parents – The Wonder Book of Would you Believe it, I think it was called!  There was a ghostly painted illustration of the curtains effect produced by the Aurora and that, coupled with the musty smell of the old book, is what I always see in my mind when the Aurora’s mentioned.  At around the same time I was given a doll, a bit like a Barbie doll but with dark hair and a massive bouffant.  She had a lime green dress with a huge white and lime green polka dot collar and had pointy feet but no shoes.  I promptly christened her Aurora.  I’m not sure where she ended up and I only have one doll now from that era, and that’s probably because it wears clothes hand-knitted by my mother so she didn’t bin it!

Incidentally, apparently my grandfather nearly woke my mother up when she was little and there was a good showing of the Aurora from where they were living at the time, and she always wished he had done.  Maybe my fearsome grandmother stopped him!

Anyway, I heard on the radio the other day about a very near miss that occurred in 1995 when Norwegian and American scientists launched a rocket from off the Norwegian coast which was carrying research equipment to study the Aurora.  Naturally this was detected by Russian radar operators.  For one reason or another, the Russian authorities got as far as activating their nuclear ‘suitcases’ and were preparing a nuclear attack, the first and only time that this has ever happened apparently.

Eventually Russian observers realised that the rocket was heading away from them and then had fallen to earth harmlessly, so everything was stood down.  The Russians notified their people a week later.  There hadn’t even been time to do that and if it had been a real nuclear attack, Bam –  Imagine, Boris Yeltsin with his finger on the nuclear button?!  In 1995, it was generally felt that that was as near as the world would ever get to nuclear conflict because East/West relations were opening up.

At the end of the radio programme, the presenter pointed out that many more countries now possess nuclear capability and some of these countries are unstable to say the least, and somewhat concentrated in a part of the world where the possibility of violence and war is always present or is even actually happening.  So what now?

Hmm.

Wish I was back on my bunk bed playing with my Aurora doll, I think!

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Arnold’s Lion – or I know what I saw

Riding along in the train on the way to Reading one morning, I most definitely saw a lion.  It was happily strolling around in a green area where there always seemed to be fairground equipment stored.  Nobody else was looking – they were all either asleep, reading their papers or listening to their Sony Discmans (Discmen?) with their eyes shut.  I told my husband when I got home that evening and he clearly thought I was a bit mad, although he was very nice about it.

People don’t always believe you when you tell them what you’ve seen, so much so that you can eventually end up doubting it yourself.  Or it can work the other way round.  People can convince you that you’re seeing something when you’re really not.  A classic place for this to happen is at school, when the whole class gets to witness it.  I was once convinced by a group of friends that they could see a particular girl (admittedly rather an eccentric one) up a tree.  Eventually, I fell right into the trap and said “Oh, yes!”.  Collapse into meanie mirth by everyone.  Actually there was kind of an excuse, because that was the summer it was discovered that I had probably been quite badly short-sighted for about 5 years and I was pretty used to not really being able to see stuff which I knew was there.

This can all have its serious side as well, though.  Think about witnesses to serious crime or crimes against humanity.  There have been occasions when people have to ride out years of people doubting or even rubbishing them when they say that such and such happened.  Or the same with whistle-blowers – you have to be brave, but you know when something has to be reported, even though it’ll cost and you know you may not be believed.

Some years after the lion sighting, we were having dinner with some friends.  We were talking about the trains (you could talk for hours about what was wrong with BR back then!) when the guy half of the couple, Arnold, suddenly said: “You know, I saw a lion from the train near Reading once”.  Cue rolling of eyes and wry grin from his wife.  My husband’s mouth dropped open (the lion sighting had become a regular joke in our household) and I guess mine must’ve done too because Arnold sighed: “You don’t believe me, do you?”.  “Oh blimey, yes!”, I said.  “I saw that and nobody has EVER believed me!  I totally believe you!”.  It was a bit of a relief to both of us because we’d eventually thought that perhaps we must’ve imagined it because it was so improbable.  So there you go.  Fact often stranger than fiction, good examples of which are Brexit and the election this week of the creature from the orange lagoon.