It is Easter and therefore the shops are closed for two days. Along with everyone else in the country, I developed a fear of starvation and so I went to the supermarket in order to stock up.
It was, of course, seething with people. I drove round the car park three times before a shopper with a boot full of goodies finally finished packing their car and drove away. I pulled into the space before anyone else noticed it and then ran the gauntlet of cruising cars, all desperately looking for a parking slot before arriving safely at the supermarket doors. I grabbed a trolley and went inside. The shelves were getting quite bare. Stocks, particularly fresh food stocks, were not being replenished as the supermarket itself wound down for the holiday.
I wandered round, buying the things I normally buy. Fresh vegetables, bread, avocado oil. I found that I was completely unable to buy caviare, stuffed vine leaves, Dijon mustard, sesame oil and venison brains. Fortunately I had no immediate need for any of them, but I did wonder what on Earth the people who had stripped the shelves bare of these items were going to be doing with themselves over Easter.
As a special Easter treat I also bought some rather nice pork which I intend to turn into a huge pot of curry over the weekend. And, just in case I ran out, I made sure to buy lots and lots of onions. I have a theory about cooking: first fry your onions and then decide what you are going to cook. Everything starts with onions. Probably that's why I don't make desserts -- people get quite horrified when I serve them Black Forest Gateau on a base of fried onions.
Whenever I go shopping for groceries, I enjoy observing the contents of other people's trolleys. Why is that lady buying 15 two-litre bottles of coke? Will she buy another 15 next week? I wonder if she (and, presumably, her children) have any teeth left? That man over there probably lives alone and doesn't know how to look after himself. He has nothing but tins and packages of pre-prepared frozen dinners in his trolley. I feel quite sorry for him. That lady is owned by at least 10 very hungry cats. Look at the huge pile of gourmet cat food cans in her trolley! Tucked in one corner, hiding behind all the cans, is a small packet of mince, a leek and a carrot. She won't be eating very much today, but her cats will be happy.
Easter trolleys are twice as entertaining as ordinary weekend trolleys. That man is having a barbecue and everyone in the country is invited. I didn't know there were that many sausages in the world! How did he manage to squeeze them all in to his trolley? I wonder if he has heard the weather forecast. Does he know it is going to rain all over Easter? That man has the right idea -- he has 5 dozen bottles of beer and a packet of peanuts in his trolley. I suspect that he bought the peanuts because that was all that he could fit into the trolley after he put 5 dozen bottles of beer into it. In my opinion, he doesn't have nearly enough peanuts to go with the beer, but after the first dozen, I doubt if he will care. Why has that extraordinarily slim young lady crammed her trolley full of pork chops that appear to be all fat and almost no pork? How does she stay so slim? Perhaps they aren't for her own consumption; she obviously hates her husband and is trying to kill him with a heart attack. That young couple's trolley has a bottle of champagne, some smoked salmon, a cream cake and a packet of K-Y Brand His and Hers lubricant. Happy Easter!
I have 877 ebooks on my iPad. I haven't paid for any of them because they are all, quite legitimately, available as free downloads. Soon I will have 878 ebooks on my iPad because I have actually bought and paid for my first ever commercially produced ebook. I had to pre-order it; it won't be published for another couple of weeks or so. But I'll download it as soon as it becomes available.
Will I ever read all 878 books? Probably not. It's more a case of just wanting to own them all, simply because I can. And of course there's also the very science fictional thrill that I get from carrying a whole library around with me.
In 1989, Ben Bova wrote a satirical (and very prescient) novel called Cyberbooks in which he accurately predicted pretty much everything that has actually come to pass in the ebook world, together with quite a lot that hasn't happened (yet). The novel is about an MIT software engineer called Carl Lewis, the inventor of the first electronic book. He is absolutely certain that his invention will revolutionize the publishing industry and bring enormous benefits to everybody. The coming of ebooks will make books inexpensive and therefore available to everybody everywhere. Unfortunately the publishers do not agree with this viewpoint. Much mayhem ensues. Ironically, Cyberbooks is now itself available as an ebook.
Fifty years ago Yuri Gagarin became the first human being in space. He wasn't the first living thing to leave the Earth That honour belongs to Laika, a Russian dog, who was blasted into orbit in Sputnik 2 on November 3rd 1957. She died in orbit -- she was always intended to die in orbit, Sputnik was not designed to re-enter the atmosphere and return to Earth. Nobody had figured out how to do that yet. There is a statue of Laika and a plaque commemorating her at Star City, the Russian cosmonaut training facility.
I grew up knowing that space travel was real. The newspapers were full of space stories. After some initial setbacks, America was soon orbiting animals of its own -- chimpanzees, all of whom returned safely to Earth. Then, in a blaze of publicity, seven astronauts were chosen for manned missions. Presumably the Russians were also busy doing the same thing, but they weren't telling anyone what they were up to. So it came as quite a surprise, to me at least, when Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth.
I was amazed at the wonder and excitement of it all. I wanted to be an astronaut. I knew I could never be a cosmonaut because I didn't speak Russian. But surely I could be an astronaut?
Alan Shepard was the first American in space. He was my hero. He had the same first name as me! Almost a month after Gagarin orbited the Earth, Shepard flew his spacecraft (Freedom 7) on a suborbital, ballistic trajectory. Because of delays in the countdown, Shepard had to lie there in his capsule for hour after hour after unending hour as technical problems were discovered and overcome. By the time his rocket eventually blasted off, Shepard was very relieved in every sense of the word. He made his flight lying in a puddle of cold urine.
Space flight suddenly didn't seem quite as romantic as once it had. Perhaps I should be a computer programmer instead? The only problem with that ambition was that there was no such thing as a computer programmer yet. Never mind -- I could wait, and I did.