There is a small scrap of grassy land near the back entrance of the Town Hall. I never really noticed it before because it is sunken and hidden by bushes but, when the ‘Occupy’ protesters set up camp there, I discovered that it has an official name - the Peace Garden.
“So why exactly are you here?” I asked one of the more approachable campers. “It’s a public space so we have every right to be here” he answered. “Yes but you’ve now made it into a private space. You’ve appropriated it for yourselves” I said. I considered this to be a valid point but he sidestepped this argument by inviting me to come and join them. A lively discussion ensued, during which he revealed that he had no home of his own and had been consigned to a hostel full of thieving smackheads and so he preferred to live in a tent in the Peace Garden. He then started to question me about my circumstances: did I have a home, an income etc? After a while we parted - on friendly terms, but not as friends: our worlds, regardless of their geographical proximity, were too far apart for us to mingle with social ease.
A few streets further on and now feeling in the mood for random inter-planetary dialogue, I bumped into a lone canvasser who urged me to take one of his leaflets. “Thanks” I said, sensing proselytising, “but if it’s about religion I have no interest”. “No” he said, “it’s not about religion, it’s about Jesus and salvation”. I took the leaflet anyway but decided, on this occasion, not to pursue an argument. Instead I steered a course well out of his orbit.
During that brief time, within those few streets, my little world had collided with two other little worlds - each with its own set of values, priorities and boundaries. How many more little worlds must there be out there?
I travelled somewhat farther to encounter the next one, driving through the rush hour one dark, rainy evening to get to the Lake District. The haloed lights of the traffic advancing and receding in the blackness lent the feel of a Star Trek galactic mission to my journey and, when I turned off the main road onto the last few, unlit, lonely miles of winding, single-track up the valley to Wasdale Head, there was a sensation of being drawn into a black hole. But gradually the rain ceased and the cloud parted to reveal a full moon which, in turn, illuminated snow-dusted mountains looming all around - as if they had been lying in wait - their presence betrayed at last by the silver light. I stepped out of my spaceship at the head of the valley where, but for the lazy drift of the dispersing clouds, the motionless mountains bathed in eerie light looked like an artfully painted theatrical backdrop. Had I really landed on another planet this time?
In the morning the mountains were still beautiful but the illusion of other-worldliness had vanished with the moonlight. I was back on more familiar territory and set out to locate a farm where cheese is made and sold. I found it tucked away at the end of a gated track. My approach was undetected until I knocked at a door which was opened by a sixty-something man in corduroy trousers and a nice cardigan. He seemed surprised that I wanted to buy cheese but recovered his composure as he led me to the outhouse where his wife was busy cutting it into portions and sealing it in wax. This pair of mild-mannered, softly-spoken southerners might have been retired teachers who had decided on a change of lifestyle. The cheese was weighed, packaged and paid for while we tried some awkward conversation but I felt they were relieved when I said goodbye and left them to their solitude. Another collision of tiny worlds, another awkward moment: it’s not so easy communicating with beings from another planet.