Link to: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven | Part Eight | Part Nine

Space School UK: under the telescope


Link to: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven | Part Eight | Part Nine (The Critical Conclusion)

This account was written for the 1999 Space School course, and I'm sure that things will have changed since then (for one thing, it's run by a different organisation now) so my experiences aren't necessarily representative of what Space School is like today - but I'm sure it's still a lot of fun!

Okay. As you may or may not know, I went to the Space School UK Summer course, appropriately enough, this summer, from the 26th to the 30th of July. Before I start, I’d like to stress that my account of events is not necessarily accurate and is subjective in the strongest sense of the word. But it’s all true. Honest.

Occasionally, I will hold pseudo-conversations with people, off-screen as it were. These conversations are made up of what I imagine, no, know, what the people in question would say if I talked to them in real life.

And if I offend anyone (believe me, it is unintentional), too bad. <muffled whispering>. What? I can’t say that? <more whispering>. Oh. Okay. What I meant to say was that if I offend anyone, I'm terribly sorry. Really.

In the Beginning

How did I find out about Space School UK? Well, it all began when a new science teacher joined my school (Birkenhead School). This new teacher, Mr. Hayward, was very pro-active science and organised science evenings, and so on, but I digress. Since I’d given a talk about Mars at school earlier, and consequently acquired the name ‘that Mars person’, I was asked whether I would be interested in this Space School thing my science teacher had found in his pigeonhole.

This is the first I’d heard of it, although I have the sneaky suspicion that we had in fact received letters about it before, but no-one had ever told me (or anyone else).

To be honest, I thought this Space School wouldn’t be up to much; after all, £199 is a bit much for four nights, and the ‘14 to 18’ age limit sounded ominous, as if we’d be given condescending talks such as ‘How do toilets in space work?’ Still, I decided to check it out on the Internet. It seemed promising, and anyway, there appeared to be a sufficient quota of girls there to make it worth my while going.

Strange, that. You would have thought that there would be far more boys going to Space School because they’re brighter. No, I don’t really mean that. But you generally don’t associate girls with space – I don’t, probably because I’d never, ever, met any girl who was genuinely interested in space before that point. Not even when I went to the Mars Society convention (OK, I met one. But that doesn’t count. I mean, she wasn’t even from the UK). If the trend continues, it’ll be interesting to see the industry in 20 to 30 years time. At Matra Marconi (Stevenage) I noticed that there were no women whatsoever there. I was told that someone had seen one. Out of several hundred.

So anyway, I paid up. Now, I thought that Brunel University would be at Brunel, or something. Silly me. It was in Uxbridge – somewhere I assigned the tag ‘down south’ (or in scouse, ‘dan sauf’). Everyone south of Liverpool, in my opinion, is ‘down south’. Unfortunately for me, Uxbridge was in London (what’s that? Did someone say ‘it’s not in London, it’s near London?’ What gives? I had to get a train to London, so it’s in London. End of discussion).

(Addendum 2/8/99: It turns out that even places which are north of Liverpool are called 'down south.' Up until yesterday, I thought Yorkshire was somewhere in East Anglia, or near Cornwall. You learn something every day, don't you?)

Getting there

Let’s see. After having spent a while packing, I promptly left at 8:00 AM to go to Liverpool Lime Street. At 8:05 AM, I realised that I’d forgotten my sunglasses, and my camera (two terrible mistakes, as Space School attendees who did the same will know). Never mind, eh?

Going down to London was… interesting. I turned up at the Virgin trains platform on time, only to find that every single seat on the train was reserved. Even worse, not that many people actually had reservations, so most people were walking up and down carriages looking worried, then they’d look around and sit down on a seat, pretending that they’d been meaning to sit there in the first place. I cornered one of the attendants, asking ‘What’re we supposed to do if we don’t have reservations, huh?’ The ‘huh’ at the end was confrontational.

The attendant looked worried, knowing deep in his heart that he’d been truly defeated by a superior intellect. But with astonishing gall, he countered back with the incredibly cogent argument ‘Sorry, there’s nothing I can do about it.’

Gee, thanks. So I spent £30 on a ticket to London, and I get told that they can’t do anything about the fact that they don’t have a seat for me.

What did I do? Did I go on a rampage, savaging everyone in sight? Did I wait until the next train? Did I (as someone suggested later) hide in the toilets? Of course not. There was only one honourable and dignified solution. Shikata ga nai – there was no other choice.

Two minutes later, I was happily sitting in some reserved seats, pretending that I was supposed to be there. Lucky for me, no-one tried to chuck me out, either. There was a hairy moment when the ticket bloke walked up the carriage right up to my seat, and stopped. I glared at him. Obviously he’d heard about me from the attendant, and decided not to mess with the Adrian, and quickly carried on. I’m not lying, you know. That actually, really, did happen.

I could bore you with details of the rest of the journey, but I won’t. A few other thoughts I had:

  1. The London Underground is remarkably tidy. Could someone in London tell me how this is possible? And even better, the seats on the trains are comfortable, and get this, NOT RIPPED APART!

  2. Why do people always ask me for directions, when it’s patently obvious that I don’t know where I’m going? Some woman asked me for the way to Euston Station, even though I look Chinese and was carrying a load of luggage. I knew the way, but that’s not the point. That’s not the only time it’s happened. I was in Cambridge for the Clare College Open Day, and again, I was asked the way to King’s College by a load of Chinese tourists. OK, I knew the way to King’s College, but that’s still not the point.

    The point is, why do they ask me? Would you trust some teenager for directions? No! Is it something about me? Answers on a postcard, please.

  3. I hate numbered lists. I especially hate kids (and adults) who write emails or letters consisting of a set of number questions. Can you not write paragraphs? I mean, what’re you like?
(30/7/99)

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