Uncle Joseph, the deceased benefactor in the RTE Sunday evening play, was an enthusiast for flying saucers, UFOs. It seemed odd, the mention of flying saucers in a drama set in 2014. Would members of younger generations even be familiar with the term? Flying saucers must seem as quaint and old fashioned to a 21st Century generation as ideas of fairy folk would have seemed to the UFO enthusiasts.
In England of the Sixties and early-Seventies, UFOs were in vogue. “Sightings” were frequent and were the topic of everyday conversation. Warminster was said to be the UFO capital of Britain, something troubling in childhood years. Warminster was in our neighbouring county of Wiltshire, which meant that unless UFOs descended vertically, their flight path probably took them over Somerset. Each report was a cause for fear.
Of course, the fear was irrational, as are most childhood fears. It is hard to imagine children now being troubled by tales of UFOs, but the black and white television science fiction programmes had the capacity to instil terror in an innocent whose knowledge of the world extended hardly beyond the boundaries of the parish. Logic should have said that either Flying Saucers did not exist, and could not therefore be a cause for anxiety, or, if they did exist, the technological expertise of those flying them was so infinitely greater than that of those of us living below that if they had been inclined to attack us, they would already have done so, to devastating effect.
What seems odd, in retrospect, is that a phenomenon that rested on no more empirical evidence than the Loch Ness monster should have so captured our imagination. Perhaps there was a feeling of insecurity at the scientific revolution, perhaps there was an even deeper sense of security at the social and intellectual revolutions that had arrived in the 1960s. Perhaps the UFOs were a projection of fears of being overwhelmed by forces that were beyond our understanding, though that would hardly have been the case for a child not ten years old, he was just afraid of the alien beings that might appear from the Flying Saucers and shoot everyone with their ray guns.
UFOs seemed to disappear almost quickly as they appeared. By the time the film “Close Encounters” appeared in the late 70s, they were the stuff of popular entertainment rather than something reported in the pages of tabloid newspapers: Warminster was no longer a dangerous town to be near.
With the fragmentation of culture brought by multi-channel television, the Internet and social media, there are no longer such collective fascinations, though it would be hard to imagine what now might compare with a Flying Saucer.