christopher james

Poems and prattle

Tag: space

The First Canal Boat in Space

Like a lolly stick balanced on the Ariane,

we clung to the sink, clutching the Davy lamp,

waiting to be flipped to the heavens.

During powered ascent, we stowed the pot plants

and lashed our bicycles to the taff-rail.

On a slow boat to Pluto, we dreamt of cowslip,

heather and The Black Lion at Froghall.

Safely in orbit we stayed below decks,

sipping tea and singing space shanties.

We survived on air trapped in the bilge.


A coil of wet rope on the prow,

we bumped through the cosmos, drifting

through wormholes, navigating each

like a series of locks. The stars were like

phosphorescence in the water.

Rudderless, we woke to find our tiller

floating above the deck. We retrieved a chart

from the monkey box and found a safe berth

on Phobos, the small moon of Mars,

our boat-hook finding purchase in a crater.


Losing power at Neptune, we traced

the problem to a blockage in the remote greaser,

flicking open the quick release weed hatch.

Now leaking oil we prepared for re-entry,

securing the saucepans and Toby Jugs.

Parachute deployed, we splashed down in the marina

at Great Haywood, sending shockwaves

down the Trent and Mersey. On the rescue boat,

there was loose talk of ticker tape parades,

and the front cover of Canal Boat Monthly.

The Day Johnny Cash Went Into Space

Johnny Cash

A few years back I heard a great story about one of the Apollo missions to the moon. Apparently they were allowed to take one album each. When they were well on their way, they got their tapes out to compare notes. All three of them had the same Johnny Cash album. Here’s the song and my tribute to the Man in Black… 

Kettering Goes into Outer Space

At first it was simple things:
a policeman’s helmet levitating above his head,
a post-box that floated like a Dalek down the street,
the frog that leapt and never came back.
This was the town that came loose
at the seams, that lost its centre of gravity.
Only when the clock tower shot like a firework
through the clouds did they ask people
to keep pets indoors and travel
only with stones in their pockets.

The spire of St Peter’s and Paul’s
went the same way: fired like a missile
into the heavens; the vicar followed it up,
ascending like a rocket man in a dog collar.
The townspeople, steady folk, kept their feet
on the ground and wore crampons to the shops.
Kettering FC would only play with all eleven
roped together and tethered to the goal post.
At the offices of the Northants Telegraph
they placed a large order for paperweights.

In the Old Market Inn there was talk
of military experiments: science gone wrong;
reversed polarities. They chained the mayor
to the Town Hall lest he rose above his station.
They played only heavy metal on Radio
Northamptonshire. When it finally happened,
one night at the end of June, there was a groaning
like the day the Poppies were relegated.
A moment’s resistance, then the town sprang
into the air, like a plug, popped from a drain.

Showering bones and sewage pipes,
it picked up speed, a town banished from the earth.
Far below the A14 swerved around the gap.
They navigated from the Corn Exchange,
issuing handouts, travel sweets and copies
of The Usborne Guide to the Solar System,
And you’ll still see it now, on summer nights,
crawling like a comet across the sky, up there
without a sound, the old shoe factory, the theme park,
the lights still winking on the rugby ground.


Two moons and the planet Theia

Thoughts on science and cosmology have been scarce on this blog, and I suspect things will not change, but did you know the Earth once had two moons? It seems somewhat far fetched, but perhaps no less so than our own existence.

Most scientists now believe the moon was formed as a result of a spectacular collision between Earth and smaller planet, called Theia. The theory even has a true Hollywood sounding name: Giant Impact Theory. Theia, it is supposed, was roughly the size of Mars and lingering in an unstable orbit between Mars and the Earth. Gradually, it was pulled towards us resulting in a terrific crash. I used to have a teacher whose peculiar threat to enforce discipline was ‘I’ll bang your two heads together.’ The idea was similar.

Parts of the Earth and parts of Theia shot into space, and the matter was then captured in Earth orbit. Within a week or so, the bulk of this matter had coalesced into what we now call the moon. However there was still significant debris hurtling around the Earth, rather like the rocks that circle around Saturn. Eventually this debris joined together like the left over dough when you’re making scones, and ever so gently, caught up with the half formed moon, attaching itself to create the whole moon. Study of moon rocks has proved that the far side of the moon is indeed different in composition to the near side.

But can you imagine what all of this intergalactic turmoil looked like standing in a field in Suffolk four and a half billion years ago? Rather disconcerting, I’d say. However until this week, I had not given any thought to how the moon was formed and I suspect you hadn’t either, which is why I thought it was worth sharing.

The moon has never ceased to full us with wonder and aspiration. And what better cue for Ted Hughes’ marvelous poem: Full Moon and Little Frieda. The night and it’s silence is evoked in the most skilful way, and it has things to say about creation, how language forms and the simple miracle of existence.