Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Shooting stars

Last night, Michelle, Nathan and I went on a little adventure. At about 11pm we jumped in the car and shot up the M1, stopping at the near-deserted Gateway Services for sugary treats. I love service stations in the dead of night. There's something lonely and romantic about them. People tend to sit on their own, half-heatedly drinking coffee. Their faces tell intriguing stories about lands further up the motorway.

As we returned to the car, we could see instantly that there were no clouds in the sky, and that the moon, a mere sliver, was not going to get in the way of any meteorite sightings. That, after all, was the purpose of our journey. 

Turning off the M1, the roads instantly became pitch black. Here and there an all-night garage, a trucker stop, an enormous reflective sign, a repair van glowing like a gaudy Christmas tree in the darkness. 

We pulled up at the car park at Dunstable Downs, expecting it to be shut, but it was filled with other people who'd had the same idea. Whole families were taking blankets and pillows out onto the dark hillside to wait patiently for nature's finest fireworks display. Within seconds I'd seen a belter in the  Eastern sky. It looked like a search flare. A giant luminous dart shooting upwards through the sky. Sadly, neither of the other two saw it. 

We chose our patch, well away from the others, and spread a duvet out on the ground and climbed underneath a blanket. A steady supply of chocolates and peanuts made its way along the line and then back again. As it got colder and later, we snuggled up to each other, all the time staring up at the sky.

For a long time, the shooting stars appeared, sometimes three in as many seconds, although all seemed rather distant. Nevertheless, every time we saw one, we shrieked with joy like excited children. Periodically another group elsewhere would see the same star and a big cheer would go up across the hillside. Sometimes, we'd be looking in the wrong direction, and a great woop would go off in the darkness and the three of us would curse. 

I was sad, however, that none of the streaks across the sky seemed to match the glory of the first one I'd seen, and I was desperate for Nathan and Michelle to see something as good, if not just to prove that I'd seen something special myself, rather than imagining something in my rush to be on that hillside for a reason! It's astonishing how quickly you start to doubt your memory. 

There was a fairly impressive display on the south-eastern horizon at one point, followed by a lengthy discussion about whether one of the stars was actually Mars glowing red over the top of a dark forest in the south. "Mars", as it happened, turned out to be an aeroplane coming into land at Luton airport!

I wanted to remember the moment, and stood up to take a photograph. As I faffed about with my camera, the other two squeaked with absolute joy. I immediately looked to the sky and realised I'd missed a big one. The trail was still faintly visible like a ancient scar in the velvety Milky Way. 

I became frustrated that we'd not all shared the same experience. The wind began to howl and we clung even tighter to one another, our faces like little blocks of ice. It certainly didn't feel like August...

But just as I'd given up all hope, there it was, streaking across the middle of Sirius' cross bow, the brightest most glorious blue-coloured firework, seemingly lighting the entire sky. 

Nathan informed us that this was the 25 shooting star of the evening and we decided to wait until he'd seen 30. It felt like a round number, and secretly, I think we were all hoping to see something even brighter and bolder and more exciting. Nothing more impressive came, but Nathan had his important 30th sighting, and as we packed up our things and walked back to the car, he saw another two. 

It was undoubtedly a magical occasion and I am so thrilled to have people around me who will massage these curious whims of mine. Life is good, right?

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