Saturday 24 December 2022


Download audio file read by Glyn Moody.

As we came out of the theatre after a performance of Schnitzler's Dalliance we wondered out loud whether we would ever see again the strange lights we had noticed some months previously.  As we walked back across Waterloo bridge, we looked up into the area of the sky where they had appeared before.  To our mingled horror and delight, there was the same quivering brightness.

We slowed our steps, our hearts in our mouths and our stomachs in our boots.  We were half-pleased that what we had seen had really been there, that it was reproducible.  But we were also slightly disappointed that, being reproducible, the phenomenon might have a mundane explanation, that we had not been privileged spectators of the dawn of a new age.  It seemed unlikely that UFOs should choose to hover over exactly the same spot of the Thames during a period of some months - and never be noticed.

We walked along the bridge, our straining eyes riveted upon the same indistinct watery light we had seen before.  Again there was no sound of helicopters, just the wind blowing on this slightly cloudy night.  As we stood by the parapet, we noticed a woman who was talking to a man next to her.  Occasionally she glanced in the same general direction as we were looking.  We went up to them.  I made some non-committal remark about the sight and she replied unperturbedly, then went on talking with her companion.  We looked at this man; he too was gazing up at the sky.  And he seemed to have something in his hands.

It was clearly a reel, though the cord was too fine to be seen in the dark.  Simulating a greater sang-froid than I felt, I asked him if he were responsible.  He said yes.  I restrained myself from hurling him into the river there and then, and asked for more details.

He was American, and an inventor.  His brainchild was a kind of kite with a rotor which he claimed could stay aloft with even the merest hint of wind.  It was effectively self-supporting.  It glistened and glimmered as it spun in a light which shone skyward from Somerset House - the reason he had chosen this spot.  I quizzed him on the double occurrence we had seen, and the rapid movement.  He said he sometimes flew two, and that slight movements on the ground could bring about deceptively large ones in the sky.  He was doing this as a publicity stunt prior to the publication of his book on the subject.  So now we knew.

I left very chastened.  I had learnt that however improbable or even impossible it may seem at the time, there is always an explanation.  Those two shocking and cancelling experiences produced by their mixing a kind of vaccine that has inoculated me against all further heretical anti-scientific thoughts.  As a re-confirmed rationalist I am prepared to chant with the rest of the adepts the creed of logical positivism.  But one day something will be discovered that does genuinely lie outside the present boundaries of science.  The latter will then be expanded just far enough to include the new phenomenon.  This leaves us seekers after certitude with a rather elastic kind of dogma, one still with a frightening leeway for perfectly reasonable flirtation with the perfectly unreasonable.


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