When I was seven, my father took my brother and I out onto the street outside our house to see a Soviet spacecraft whose orbit of earth took it directly over Edinburgh. I think I was seven, at least, but I could be wrong about that, and I think it was the autumn, and although I could check the details, that’s not the point, because this is about the memory. It still seems, at this distance, an other-worldly experience, a moment of wonder. It was still the age of Red Plenty, at a time when the Soviet Union was leading in the space race, before American arms expenditure bled the economy dry. But in truth, it wouldn’t have mattered much whose spacecraft it was; the wonder was because it was up there flashing across the sky and we were able to watch it from the street right outside of our house.
This memory is prompted by finding while tidying a poem I photocopied years ago which captures, more eloquently, the same sense of wonder. From memory, although the name is not on the photocopy, it’s by the Scottish poet Alan Bold, who died suddenly in 1998. Bold was interested in both radical politics and technology (and if I have this wrong, please let me know.) Judging from the internet, it also seems to be out of print, so I trust that the publishers will forgive me from reprinting it here.
On Seeing Voskhod Over Edinburgh
On a cold October night
Edinburgh’s sky was punctuated,
Not by a divine presence,
But by the stabbing cigarette-end-like apparition
Of three men in a spaceship.
I looked out from my house
In a hundred-year-old tenement
And felt that Komarov, Yegerov and Feoktistov
Were fellow travellers of mine.
For it’s a long way from Zazakhstan to Scotland
And it’s a long way my house is from Voskhod.
Yet I saw
The stabbing cigarette-end-like shape,
I watched as the red light flashed
Across the sky.
For four minutes we Scots saw
The scientific age in action.
And as we retreated back into our tenements
And thought once more of slums,
We also saw that an alternative existed.
The image at the top of the post is from the website Spacefacts, and is used with thanks.