A Separate Reality: further conversations with Don Juan by Carlos Castanormal

“I do not care for technology. Like I keep saying to the doctor, I would rather wet myself than carry it around all day on my person in a bag. You can understand that, can’t you?”

If only his eyesight was as poor as his taste in conversation, then I could have looked utterly shocked. Even so, I could not hide these feelings of despair from my voice, which questioned, “What has that got to do with what I asked you? Hang on; you’re not even ill. Why are you having conversations like that with your doctor for?”

“Who cares whether I am ill or not, you are missing my point. Once again you succeed at hearing and fail at listening.”

Whenever my grandfather begins talking about ‘hearing’ and ‘listening’, it is a sure-fire sign that he wants to lay down some heavy-duty wisdom. Knowing this, I sighed heavily, stood, took off my coat, hung it on the back of the chair and sat back down again. Resigning myself to ‘hearing’ and ‘listening’ to more of his old hippie mumbo jumbo. He really is the King of psychobabble.

“The advance of technology,” he began, “will one day mean you no longer have to think for yourself, things will be done for you, and life will suddenly seem boring and empty of challenge. How do we avert this happening? Simple. We invent challenges; we create projects and we set about solving puzzles these present. Space exploration is just one such project, it stops the boredom, it pushes the human condition further that it has ever been before. Am I right?”

Although he hadn’t answered my question, which was: ‘do you think they’ll land a person on Mars in your lifetime?’ He was, at least, skirting round the subject in a roundabout way.

“Am I right?” He roared.

“I suppose…”

“No supposing about it. We explore space because we are bored. Besides, it’s easier to land on Mars, or whatever planet you choose, than it is to… I don’t know, say, ensure that every child and mother on this planet is clothed, warm and fed.”

“Really?” I wasn’t convinced of this, but never mind.

“Now, do you remember my other idea?” He asked leaning forward and tapping me on the knee.

“Which one?” He always had so many ideas.

“The one involving Marmite.”

“Which one?” One weary afternoon, a few weeks’ back, Marmite was all the old fool would talk of. He even pulled a jar from the shelf and began whipping it until it turned white; telling me the process was called oxidisation.

“Dear oh dear,” he said, not hiding his disappointment in me. “I keep telling you, ideas will be the new currency in this century. If you don’t have ideas you will be bankrupt and have nothing. I worry that you’ll never be able to perform the task of writing the number eight in the air with a finger on your right hand, whilst at the same time circling your right foot clockwise.”

He paused, took a sip of tea and, after watching me fail a few times with the foot and finger thing, he started again.

“What I’m trying to tell you is that if we combine Marmite with space travel, we could cover the moon in it and create ourselves a space age savoury snack. Then if Godzilla, King Kong, aliens, God, or whoever turns up, they can have a tasty bite to eat, kind of like a galactic picnic, Moon Cheese and Marmite. Yum.”

I stopped ‘hearing’ and ‘listening’ to his gibberish. That was until I was leaving and we were saying goodbye, when he said, “I’m only pulling your cord. What do I care if we land on Mars, or if Peter Andre lands on Jordan for that matter? It has nothing to do with me. All of that is a separate reality. You’d do well to concentrate more on yourself and those around you. Am I right?”

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