This is Norwich ’98 – Lee Marshall, Star man

27/07/16

Astronomy changed my life. I like to think of it as fishing in the sky. Your telescope is the rod, the stars and planets, they’re the fish, and your eyes… well, they’re still your eyes but you use them to see the stars and planets. You don’t catch anything, but that’s like fishing as well, […]

Astronomy changed my life.

I like to think of it as fishing in the sky. Your telescope is the rod, the stars and planets, they're the fish, and your eyes... well, they're still your eyes but you use them to see the stars and planets.

You don't catch anything, but that's like fishing as well, in my experience.

The only time I've been fishing was with Bellars and all we caught in 6 hours was an old boot, a Tamagotchi and a packet of dip-dab. Bellars reckoned that as the Tamagotchi was still alive, it counted as a successful trip, but we did the decent thing and chucked everything back in the canal anyway.

I've got a bit of a bad-boy reputation amongst my team-mates, mainly because I once stayed for a half of lager after a show at the Maddermarket when preseason training started the following week.

However, the truth is I'd prefer to be out on Mousehold Heath, peering up through Pamela (my pet name for my telescope) at a Penumbral Lunar Eclipse than doing shots of tequila through my eyeballs with Delia and Michael.

When I'm alone, looking up at the stars, my mind races with the possibilities of what might be out there.

Andy Marshall reckons there's no other forms of intelligent life, says that this planet is all there is and when we blow it up with our diesel cars and burning of fossil fuels, that'll be that and we'll all rot in hell for eternity. I probably shouldn't have asked his opinion during a game; I forgot he'd let the third goal in through his legs. But when we got back to the changing room at full-time, he carried on, saying that it's much more likely that every single planet in the Universe is just an endless stretch of barren wasteland, housing nothing more than piles of grey rubble and mindless bacterium.

"Just like Ipswich," shouted Peter Grant, jumping to his feet and laughing aggressively in everyone's faces until they were intimidated enough to join in. At least he still had his y-fronts on for a change.

I could never tell the other lads about my hobby.

I saw how they ridiculed Sutchy when he tried explaining his idea for a new daytime quiz show. The tears welled up in his eyes like dust clouds around the moons of Jupiter. Poor fella, I thought it was a good idea, even if elephants are an endangered species.

And it's not like the rest of them don't have other interests outside of work; Darel Russell's got his miniature train set, Craig Fleming's got his reggae DJ-ing, Malky's got his... 'views', Viktor Segura's got... actually, nobody knows what that guy's into, although big Iwan reckons he's in the Spanish Mafia (The Spafia, he calls it).

Anyway, I was fed up having no-one to share the excitement of witnessing Saturn at opposition or the Delta Aquarids meteor shower with, so I decided to place an ad in the local paper:

"SWM (I don't know what that stands for but all the other ads started that way) seeks LMI (Like Minded Individuals) to enjoy view of the stars. Mshld Hth (Mousehold Heath), Tues (Tuesday) 9pm".

Unsure whether anyone would even read it, I settled myself down in my usual spot at the highest point of the heath and began setting up my telescope on its stand. However, no sooner had I finished tightening the final screw into Pamela's R.A. lock knob than I heard a rustling sound behind me.

I turned and watched as a shadowy figure slowly emerged from a bush. It shuffled its way up the slope towards me, the moonlight illuminating it as it got closer.

It was a small man, grubby and unshaven, his hair a thinning mop of dirty-blonde, spaghetti strands, his eye-balls rolling upwards, revealing red tridents of broken blood vessels. Oh yeah, and he had no trousers on. Or pants. Friendly bloke though.

"Hello," I said, holding out a hand, higher than was necessary. "Are you here for the stargazing?"

He grunted and kept approaching, but refused to shake (my hand - he was shaking his though). "I saw your advert," he drawled lustily, clearly overexcited by a fervent love of astronomy.

"Good," I said, feeling slightly uneasy about his exposed... 'dwarf planet'. "I tell you what, why don't you put your trousers on and come and help me look at Jupiter."

He shook his head. "Why don't you take your trousers off and let me have a look at Uranus," he said, putting the emphasis on the U and the R.

With that I realised he must have been a novice. "It's nearly impossible to see Uranus," I told him.

He stopped, craned his neck around and began trying to look down the length of his own back. "You're right," he said. "We're gonna need a mirror."

"Anyway, we can both have trousers on and look at Jupiter, maybe even Mars if we're lucky," I said firmly and then felt a pang of guilt for chastising him. He was my guest after all. "Would you like a go on my telescope?"

That did the trick: he lurched towards me, a smile lighting up his face. I flinched and turned away, his pointy asteroid was heading straight for me, but, as with a solar eclipse, I refused to look directly at it.

"Henry, get back here right now," shouted a woman's voice from down the slope. "You haven't finished with me yet"

The man gasped and halted in his tracks. With a groan of disappointment, he released me from his grip, swung around and slouched back towards the rustling bush from which he had emerged a minute earlier.
"I thought we agreed the rules," said the shuddering bush in a reprimand as he disappeared back inside.

I breathed a sigh of relief, but my respite was to be short-lived.

The peace and quiet of the night began shattering around me, the chirp of crickets replaced by the low mutterings of my fellow astronomers. I looked around at the horizon of trembling shrubbery before me; the vegetation seemingly communicating with each other in male and female Norfolk accents.

Nude men and women, apparent strangers, began pairing up, then disappearing back into the sanctuary of the scrubland, presumably to get a better look at Orion's belt.

I was glad my advert had touched people, but now people were touching people. And there wasn't a telescope in sight.

I'd heard that astronomy enthusiasts were a bit 'out there', but this was off the chart. I vowed to go back to stargazing alone from then on and began to pack away my things.

Tiptoeing quietly down the pathway, I found my options of where to tread limited by the thicket of amorous couples enjoying the view of the stars (although I was sure some of them wouldn't have even been able to see the stars from the positions they were in). I closed my eyes when possible but their hedonistic groans echoed painfully around my ears. Some people must have really been enjoying the full moon.

"Lee," called a familiar voice, just as I had reached the foot of the hill.

Reluctantly I turned back. At the bough of an old maple tree, an upside-down man was beaming with joy, from beneath the raised skirt of a large, topless woman. It was Viktor Segura.

"Hi Viktor," I said, forcing a smile and focusing intently on his eyes. "I didn't know you were into astronomy, too."

"Oh yeah," he grinned, his face coming towards then away from me, in accordance with the thrusts of his pelvis. "If you calla thees astronomy, then I'ma into eet!"

So much for the 'Spafia', Iwan, I thought, deciding at once to give fishing another chance.

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