Andy Martin: Man About World

There was a cluster of lights. We had visitors
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The Independent Travel

I had had only one glass of orange juice to drink. So it wasn't an alcoholic hallucination. I was returning from a concert. It had finished with a rousing rendition of Eric Coates's "Dambusters March", which might just have made me more likely to survey the skies. And, admittedly, there was a full moon that night (a Friday night, to be precise). But rather than induce a moment of insanity it only made what I saw all the more clearly visible.

I had had only one glass of orange juice to drink. So it wasn't an alcoholic hallucination. I was returning from a concert. It had finished with a rousing rendition of Eric Coates's "Dambusters March", which might just have made me more likely to survey the skies. And, admittedly, there was a full moon that night (a Friday night, to be precise). But rather than induce a moment of insanity it only made what I saw all the more clearly visible.

As I cycled up Newton Road (in Cambridge), my first thought was: what idiot has just put up a mobile telephone mast several hundred feet high and stuck a bunch of fairy lights on top? Whatever happened to planning permission? For a couple of hundred yards, I had a clear view of a trio of radiant white lights in the sky, garnered with a few blinking blue and red lights underneath them. What I couldn't work out was what they were doing there. I was pedalling while they remained perfectly still. They weren't going anywhere. They were as stationary as an Indian fakir on top of his pole. Obviously, they were nothing to do with an aeroplane.

As I approached the end of Newton Road (where I live), I got off my bike and I was looking - slack-jawed - almost straight up. Had the guiding star turned up early? In fact, it was more of a starship, the bright lights just hanging there in the sky, I would estimate at a height of around four or five hundred feet. There was no noise, not a whisper. As I looked more closely, I could see the dark outline of a craft that was nothing like a plane. There was no central tube and a couple of wings poking out at the sides; it was more rounded or at least bulkier. But it was big, definitely Jumbo-sized. And it wasn't going up and it wasn't coming down. It was going neither right nor left. I am only describing what I saw.

And then the thought occurred to me: I haven't seen anything as uncanny as this since France beat Brazil in the 1998 World Cup Final. And strangely enough there was a faint resemblance between the thing floating in the ether somewhere over my head and the Stade de France. But this was a football stadium several hundred feet up, elegantly poised in mid-air.

A couple of minutes passed by in which nothing - except for this great miraculous nothing in the sky - happened. Then, smoothly, gently, quietly, the UFO - for it was certainly unidentified and it was a flying object - tired of immobility and pulled away from its parking spot, picking up speed as it went over my head and over the house in the rough direction of Girton. There was a faint rumble - a kind of deep purring noise - as it went by. The way it moved had a silky, dancing quality, like a Brazilian winger. I raced round into the back garden, but it had already vanished. I felt like shouting "Come back!" In fact, I think I did shout "Come back!" (But, for the record, I did not say, "Beam me up".)

I should add, by way of confirmation, that my wife and 14-year-old son (who had been playing in the concert) were with me at the time. I said to them, "Was that a UFO?"

"Yes," said my son. "Is there any chocolate going?"

"Yes," said my wife. "It's past your bedtime now."

They wisely got on with their lives. But for at least 24 hours I was mentally paralysed by the conviction that there is, indeed, extra-terrestrial life, and some of it had been visiting the city of Cambridge. There was nothing the least bit terrestrial about that flying vehicle. I hadn't been abducted and taken off to a better place or subjected to overly intrusive physiological experimentation. But, without doubt, this was a full-on encounter, if not quite of the third kind. It may not have been a saucer, but it was definitely flying or, what was far stranger and even more emphatically alien, not flying but just sitting comfortably in the heavens like an old man in an armchair with pipe and slippers.

My previous experience of alien life forms is fairly limited. My twin brother once invented a flying saucer telephone (enabling you to communicate instantaneously across many light years), a brilliant contraption involving a laser, mirrors, and the back wheel of a Lambretta motor scooter. He dialled a few different numbers but nobody returned his call. Then, some years ago, I happened to attend the annual conference of the British UFO Society, taking place at the University of Sheffield. The star turn was a secret documentary film of a post-mortem being carried out on a couple of dead creatures from outer space after their vehicle had crash-landed at Roswell in New Mexico in 1947. Alas, even hardened ufologists had to agree that the deceased bore a strange resemblance to inflatable rubber dolls - you could almost see the air coming out as the scalpel sank in. Post-conference, however, at the pub across the street, the more people had to drink the more extra-terrestrial contacts they turned out to have had, until by the end of the night I was about the only man in the bar who had not personally had sex with an alien. Despite this, I remained sceptical.

But that Friday night celestial revelation changed everything. I was finally a believer. Saturday night found me in a café telling an old friend about my ET experience. A blonde woman at a neighbouring table leaned over and apologised for butting into our conversation but she couldn't help overhearing (I may have been banging on a bit). She told us that there is an experimental aircraft facility at Bassingbourn, only a few miles away as the UFO flies, probably run by the Americans. She had heard that they were experimenting precisely with noise- reduction and they tended to fly at night, to keep things hush-hush. But even she, she had to admit, was uncertain about the ability of an extremely large object to anchor itself in the sky for long periods.

My cast-iron certainty was shaken. The blonde woman was probably right and the UFO was terrestrial rather than extra-terrestrial in origin. But I don't know for sure. So I leave it to you: aliens or a bunch of American airmen looking down and laughing their heads off at me looking up at them in awe?

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