[Will there be] Life on Mars?

What exciting news that proper, wet water has been discovered on Mars! In my fuddled, amoebic, non-science brain even I have determined from the articles and interviews that this stunning news means human life can be supported on the red planet.

I wonder what David Bowie makes of the revelation. His question, written in song and released in 1971 is about to be answered, although to the disappointment of science fiction buffs we are not about to be treated to the sight of small green creatures sporting deely-bobbers but the ‘life’ is likely to be human; that is if plans to populate Mars come to execution.

Robots are to go ahead first and construct the accommodation, which is to be connected pods like those paper lampshades you used to be able get in Habitat. [As yet there are no plans for a ‘Mars Bar’]. I have no problem with the idea of robots building a house. They already construct cars and many other items. Of course you’d have to be certain they weren’t plotting something sinister like the evil Hal in Space Odyssey-but still…

Then-what? Who is to go? Once the circus of astronauts and scientists are done with Mars, what is the long term plan? This is an entire planet. What or who will it be used for? Should, perhaps, the entire population of Earth move there and leave all the hideous mess we’ve made on this world behind? Mars will be pristine and unsullied-also COLD, which means there will be far longer before global warming takes hold. It will take aeons of greenhouse gases wafting around before the atmosphere is irrevocably ruined, by which time another life-support-planet will have been identified. Hooray!

Or should Mars be used to deposit all our detritus so that our own, cosy, familiar Earth becomes viable again. Perhaps all the poisonous waste from nuclear power, all those plastic bottles that are supposed to be recycled but float around the world on enormous ships instead, cigarette ends and doggy poop could go up there?

Or should we offer Mars to Islamic State so that they can go off and commit their vile atrocities to their hearts content and leave us to live our impure lives as we please? Oh no wait, if we are not there they have no one to bomb, behead or torture; also they are pledged to expand their territory, meaning they’d have to capture nearby planets-the nearest being-yes, Earth.

There is no rush to decide the fate of Mars. NASA is dithering about probing further into the water issue owing to worries about introducing a bug into the pristine atmosphere there. Heaven [apologies] forbid that we humans should give the Martians a dose of the measles, flu or the common cold. Isn’t it a shame mankind could not have had such scruples when our own Earth was pristine and innocent…?

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Where the Wild Things Are.

                I can imagine, within a couple of generations, how society will be. In my mind’s eye society is a kind of dystopian techno nightmare like Paul Theroux’s ‘Ozone’, or Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’, where everyone stays inside except for helicopter visits outside to see anything green, natural or wild. Or perhaps going ‘outside’ will involve some sort of virtual travel using screens, 3D and surround sound.

                An enduring memory from my children’s early childhood is of settling my daughter, aged about three, outside the back door of the house with some paint, water, brushes and paper, only to return to check on her and find she had ignored the paper and employed the paint and brushes in a project to enhance the appearance of the diminutive woodlice as they went about their business around her feet. This embellishment seemed to have no effect at all on the insects, although it may have transformed them into easily tracked, tasty titbits for predators.

                As a tot she loved the garden creatures, making baths for earthworms from flowerpot drip-trays, cradling long suffering frogs and making pets of snails. One such snail was a favourite, nurtured, fed tasty leaves and given regular baths. One day, in a fit of sibling rivalry her brother threw the beloved snail over the fence into the unkempt jungle of next door’s garden, prompting his sister to howl in inconsolable misery at the loss.

                “Don’t worry!” I reassured her. “I can get it back for you.” I ventured into the tangled maze next door, waist high in grass and weeds. The property of an elderly brother and sister, it had languished untended for many years, visited only by the many stray cats they’d acquired. I did not have to wade too far to find a snail, since the entire plot was a gastropod’s paradise. I returned, triumphant with the replacement. Her face was still contorted with rage and wails continued to issue from it.

                I proffered the captured snail, which had wisely shrunk back into its shell as if it had some premonition of the specialised treatment in store. There was a small moment of silence as she scrutinised the creature on the palm of my hand, before she yelled an ear-splitting shriek.

                “Waaah! That’s not the one!”

                Apparently, children today play outside half as much as their parents did, which strikes me as a depressing fact. Even now I far prefer the outside to the inside. As children we were outside all the time unless it was pouring with rain or we had to do homework [or Dr Who was on, in which case we’d have had our ‘tea’ anyway]. We were never supervised, but were always occupied. Quite a lot of the time, I seem to remember was spent on ‘digging for treasure’.

                The more our outside green space shrinks, the more we should be in it-protecting and appreciating it; and no one more so than our children, otherwise those works of fiction could become scarily real.