Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Things are Looking Down!

When Auntie was a very little girl, one of my favourite TV shows was The Friendly Giant.

"Once upon a time, not long ago and not far away"  the show began as the camera moved along the street of a charming little town. The Friendly Giant's soft, soothing voice would tell us about the town's comings and goings as the camera moved slowly along the street, sometimes past the train station, sometimes past a farm, the general store, or the post office, giving us a little tour until we reached a big boot.  That boot was bigger than one of the town's buildings and that big boot belonged to the Friendly Giant!

Up and up the camera moved from the Giant's boot, up along his leg as he told us to "look up, waaaay up!"  For us viewers, "way up" was past his tummy, past his chest, finally stopping at his smiling, familiar face.  

But that wasn't all.  We went higher still when the Friendly Giant invited us to join him for a story in a turret high up in his castle.  That's about as high up you can get when you're 5 years old without being on a plane!
My Dad was an "up looker" as a child
The Friendly Giant taught us that there were always good things to see when we looked up.

Looking up runs in our family too.  I think I first learned to look up from my dad who was also a skilled "up looker" in his own right.

As a child I was content and happy to look up until my 10th birthday when all that changed. On the way to the nearby skating rink I found a scattering of $2 bills lying on the ground in the snow.  What a find!  After that day I was convinced that looking down was a good thing too.

I still enjoy looking up but I must say that looking down came in handy when Auntie moved to France and looking down meant avoiding piles of stinky dog poo.  

Looking down at Jesus

By far the most interesting thing I've ever seen looking down is when Auntie and Uncle Jim saw an image of Jesus on the 16th step of a staircase while we were descending towards the subway in Kowloon.

No doubt about it, while looking up is quite popular, looking down is easier on your neck and you just never know what you'll find.  

So the next time you walk around your neighbourhood, why not "look down, waaay down"  for a change?

There are some strange and wondrous things down there!
Looking down at a Monarch butterfly

Looking down at a mermaid

This guy knows how to look down

Oh no!  Someone from New York melted!

"Can you please put back the Nice Matin Menton (Newspaper) to Christian, thanks"
Looking down in Tokyo

Must buy birdseed, newspaper, new perch ....

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Future of Yesterday

Mechanix Illustrated, March 1961

This morning while Auntie was killing time on the NASA website, as one does, looking for some footage of Monday's Mars landing, I realized something was missing.

After watching simulations of the landing in the riveting, Seven Minutes of Terror followed by  a video of the happy but tired mission control ground crew in NASA Lands Car-sized Rover on Martian Surface, I was puzzled.  Where was the real time video of the Rover as it was landing on Mars?

When I mentioned my puzzlement to Uncle Jim, he smiled, rubbed his chin and in a patient and fatherly way, explained using short words that Auntie could understand that there was no video of the Rover landing because there were no cameras on Mars to transmit it.  Wha?  Oh yeah!  Heh, heh.  How silly is Auntie?   I'm always heartened at how patient Uncle Jim is with me.  

Landing on Mars seems like a complete miracle to me yet at the same time I expected more.  How did this happen?  I remember how something as simple as a game of checkers kept Auntie and her friends amused for hours. It's ironic that something as complex and technologically advanced as landing a Rover on Mars got me thinking about how simple entertainment used to be.

Back in the stone age before television, video games, iPods and flip flops, families spent time in the evenings crowded around the radio listening to dramas and plays. Everyone huddled together and stayed quiet as the words created movies in one's mind.   

Listening to plays, radio dramas and comedies back then required listening skills, imagination and an attention span.

There was no way to time shift the programmes either. If you missed a radio broadcast, the next day you had to ask your neighbour over the back fence what finally happened to Superman in last week's cliff hanger or how Our Miss Brooks got herself out of a pickle!

Auntie is a big fan of radio dramas.  In a practical blend old new, my iPod is filled with programmes like Our Miss Brooks, Father Knows Best, Radio City Playhouse and The Mel Blanc Show.

But my favourite, by far, is a Science Fiction series called, X Minus One. It's outstanding dramatizations of stories from famous science fiction writers like Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov will stick in your mind forever.  Listening to these broadcasts gives my imagination a good workout and keeps my brain occupied while I bake cakes, do the laundry or dig in the garden.

While I was watching videos of the ground crew at NASA cheering, crying with joy and high fiveing each other as the Rover landed, I remembered an episode of  X Minus One, Mars is Heaven, by Ray Bradbury.  

In the drama, astronauts land on Mars and encounter evil, but clever, mind reading Martians and... Well, you should listen to the broadcast yourself and learn about the dangers of travelling to new planets and accepting dinner invitations from relatives who should really be at home on Earth.

Here's how the narrator introduces the programme:

"When the first space rocket lands on Mars, what will we find?  Only the ruins of a dead and deserted planet, or will there be life? Intelligent life in some strange form that only we can imagine? Will we be welcomed with open arms, or will the Martians treat us as invaders?
Only one thing is certain, some day a giant metal ship will take off from earth to travel through the black velocities, the silent gulfs of space, to descend at last into the darkness of the upper Martian atmospheres and on that day, man will finally know the answers, the day we first land on Mars!"

Riveting stuff!  Especially to someone who lived in 1955 and their idea of futuristic innovations was a long-life tube for their radio.

Well, here we all are, as predicted, in 2012, landing on Mars.  Even though NASA didn't send any humans to poke around, just the Rover, it's a technological miracle all the same and one that writer Ray Bradbury wrote about long ago.

If you'd like to hear the rest of the broadcast, and Auntie recommends that you do, click on the picture of the radio...
Listen to Mars is Heaven here
If stories about space are not your cup of Tang, here's a website where you can download all kinds of old time radio shows for free. 

Go ahead, put down that Nintendo, gather 'round your iPod, and fire up your imagination.