The irresistible lure of the shopfront extraterrestrial

How many times do you nod, smile and say “hello” to someone if you must keep walking by them? Going back and forth between my dressing room and the stage, I see the stage door man. I have had a chat with him and we have talked of theatres and tea dances. The next time I walk in, I say “hello” again and show him freshly purchased copy of Space, Gravity and The Flying Saucer by Leonard G Cramp. I am showing it to everyone, whether they look like they are interested in a 1954 rumination on the technology required for extraterrestrial space travel or not. It was £20 so I feel the necessity of showing my rewards from the hunt as it has cost me dear.
Having found that the Genius Bar at the Brighton Apple store was heavily subscribed until next week, a knock on effect of Peter Higgs sharing the Nobel Prize for Physics I presume, I am left with just a little too much spare time. The sort of time that allows me to pretend I am just going for a walk that, quite by chance, oh forgetful me, takes me near a few bookshops. I had already seen Spacecraft 2000 to 2100AD:Terran Trade Authority Handbook at the Oxfam bookshop. It was not an immediate purchase, I needed time to think. The product of the twin excitement of the space race and the science fiction technology boom inspired by lengthy product advert Star Wars, it is a catalogue of colourful spacecraft imagined for the next century. They are all  catalogued, the AC3 Stage Beetle. This craft was manufactured by alpha Centaurians facing a mineral shortage after The Proxima War that ended in 2063AD. The Interstellar Queen, CAM130 Cyclops, Sentinel Major, all imagined for you and unhampered by any notion of likelihood. 

With that book playing on my mind, I turned the corner and saw a window display of Flying Saucer titles, some fictional, some err non-fiction, at least in the author’s mind. Fresh in the window that morning, there was Space, Gravity and Flying Saucers. I asked to see it. 

“How much?”


“hmmm, I don’t think I’ll spend that much”

And I went further into the shop to continue browsing, but I think they knew they had me, even if I didn’t know I was caught yet. 

The cover, in various shades of grey, but with the “The Flying Saucer” in what would once have been a bold red and almost 3-D font, showed a flying saucer with a cutaway to reveal its inner workings. I couldn’t quite read the name inked into the first page of the book, but their address was clearly Penzance, a good place for UFO spotters. Cornwall was the first place I met a racist ufologist. Desperate to be visited by beings from other planets, by the third pint he was telling me with that mix of melancholy and hate that is adopted at such times, that he thought we must stop all immigration. I questioned this clash of ideologies, but he insisted that the aliens would bring something to the planet while the Jamaicans never had. It seems there are different levels of the menacing “you’re not from round here”. If the not from here of yours can be measured in miles, “get off my land”, if it can be measured in light years, “come on down, but stop making those bloody patterns in my corn”. There are designs of possible crafts within as well as the required scientific wording that means this is a serious work on saucers, conjecture of the highest order. I am currently looking at the drawings of the etheric conception of gravity and how that might be best used for traveling by Barnard’s star. 

My browsing brought me to Joseph Campbell’s The Inner Reaches of Outer Space and Magic and The Millennium (I blame reading John Higgs’ KLF book for all this, you should read it too). Now I had to return to the counter, I might as well have confessed my resolve was weak. I had persuaded myself that I may well get 5 to 10 minutes of material out of the book and, if I looked at that as investment in a future show, I would be profiting from the purchase in no time. This was not a book I wanted for frivolous pleasure, this flying saucer book was work just as all those Lee Iacocca books on how to do business or a nurse’s manual on defibrillator use is a vital manual. 

As misfortune would have it, I happened to walk by the Oxfam Bookshop on the way back to the theatre. Well, I am really buying the Spacecraft book for my son aren’t I, and it seems silly to just buy one, after all, it is such a good charity. So I bought a book on the sociology of TV and something by Desmond Morris on the human sexes. Desmond Morris once wrote that the finding and purchasing of a rare book is the modern equivalent of an ancient human hunting and killing a gazelle. I imagine my wife will be so proud when I return home with such a smorgasbord of fresh kill for us to feast upon. 

I have to go downstairs to the dressing room again, I’ll say hello, but I don’t think I’ll show my book of spacecraft.


I am on tour, you’ll see me in the charity shops where you live, savaging old paperbacks.

I am playing Birmingham, Sheffield, Manchester, Havant, Newtown (Powys), Stratford (London) and a whole heap more, some on my own, and some with Josie Long and Grace Petrie. All details HERE   

New Cosmic Genome additions incl Jim Al-Khalili and Josie Long (plus Brian Cox, Goldacre, all the Helens – Czerski, Arney, Keen etc etc) Find out more HERE 

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2 Responses to The irresistible lure of the shopfront extraterrestrial

  1. Scurra says:

    And what’s wrong with owning the Terran Trade Authority handbook? I know more people who own a copy of that than don’t own a copy. (OK, so I don’t know that many people – at least not well enough to find that sort of information out, anyway. It tends not to come up in casual conversation.)

    I hope you won’t say “hell” to the stage door man.

  2. Chris Harris says:

    Now I know why the Fortean content in all the second hand bookshops I visit has dried up: by being perpetually on tour, Robin’s beaten me to it. Crump’s book looks a gem – definitely cashing in on the Adamski books, by the looks of things. I do have a copy of the Terran Trade Authority handbook, though.

    (ob Forteana: I was sorry to hear this week of the passing of Bruce Cathie; if you’ve ever browsed through the “paranormal” shelves, his book Harmonic 33 and its sequels used to be a regular sight.)

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