A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


The Ramans Do Everything In Threes - Revisited
Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke 1917-2008

The theme of my blog on Friday, May 18, 2007 was precipitated by the near death of my Aunt Fermina in Houston (she subsequently died). It made me think of Arthur C. Clarke and my favourite novel of his Rendezvous With Rama. For most people he will always be remembered for his 1951 short story The Sentinel which subsequently led to a four-year collaboration with Stanley Kubrick and the novel and film 2001: A Space Odyssey. I read everything of Clarke that I could find in the 50s and 60s. I was thrilled at the idea of space and its conquest. But it was the 1973 Rendezvous With Rama which I read shortly before my mother's death that affected me perhaps more than any other book I have ever read. Below is that May 18, 2008 blog all over again. Reading of Clarke's death today in the newspaper brought to mind a passage in that other favourite novel of his, the 1954 Childhood's End:

...The ship was leaving the frontiers of the Solar System: the energies that powered the Stardrive were ebbing fast, but they had done their work.

Karellen raised his hand, and the picture changed once more. A single brilliant star glowed in the centre of the screen: no-one could have told, from this distance, that the Sun had ever possessed planets or that one of them had now been lost. For a long time Karellen stared back across that swiftly widening gulf, while many memories raced through his vast and labyrinthine mind. In silent farewell, he saluted the men he had known, whether they had hindered or helped him in his purpose.

No-one dared disturb him or interrupt his thoughts: and presently he turned his back upon the dwindling Sun.

Arthur C. Clarke, Childhood's End

The Ramans Do Everything In Threes

My Tía Fermina 95, lies very sick in a Houston hospital. She has a degenerated mitral valve in her heart that has precipitated a double pneumonia. She is too old for an operation and the medication to control the failed valve is not working. Her family called in the priest who gave her Communion and Extreme Unction. He jokingly told her that if she waited for another five years the statute of limitations on the sacrament (not true!) would enable him to return and give her the holy oils again. This seemed to perk her up and while she had had a doughnut for breakfast yesterday morning by lunch time she was demanding food from her favourite Vietnamese restaurant. Food with my aunt has always been the indicator of her health. It was on Wednesday that one of her daughters, Chayo had written to me, "Unfortunately since Thursday of last week she started sleeping a lot and not eating, not even chocolates!!!!"

I was able to talk to her yesterday. She was deaf so our conversation was one-sided. She floored me when she told me that we were in her prayers specially now.

It made me think of my mother who was nickanamed Sarah Bernhardt because she over-acted her health troubles. We thought she was hypochondriac. But in the late 50s she was diagnosed with Meniere's (I believe it is still incurable) which attacks the inner ears. It begins with loud buzzing sounds that destroy the body's balance mechanism so that one is constantly dizzy with with an ever present nausea. And you become deaf in spite, and because, of the loud ringing in the ears. By the late 60s my mother was in despair and she confessed to me that she was losing her faith in a God that interceded in human affairs. He was aloof and thus prayer had no value. I was hard-pressed to convince her that she was wrong.

The reason is that my loss of faith had been precipitated by Arthur C. Clarke's science fiction novel, A Rendezvous With Rama. A huge craft is detected approaching the solar system.

It parks outside and then approaches the Sun. Earthlings investigate the craft but find nothing of the would be pilots. They find out that the craft, on its way to somewhere else, has "gassed up" with hydrogen from our sun. We humans are no more important than a gnat. The novel left me with a feeling that may have been the same one felt by Europeans when Copernicus revealed to his world that the earth was not the centre of the universe and that the sun did not orbit the earth but the other way around. My mother showed no surprise when I told her of the book.

In the early 70s I had Rendezvous With Rama bound together with that other favourite Clarke novel Childhood's End. The French book binder Millioud had a shop in Mexico City and his work was legendary. He never scoffed at the idea of binding my cheap pocket books. When he returned this book he told me it was his interpretaion of Clarke's novel. It did not register on me at all and I just mentioned how lovely the cover was. It was only this morning that I caught on. Millioud must have at least read the last few sentences of Rendezvous:

And on far-off Earth, Dr. Carlisle Perera had as yet told no one of how he had wakened from a restless sleep with the message from his subconscious echoing in his brain:

The Ramans do everything in threes.

Tía Fermina is better today and her daughter Carmencita is now worrying of the problem of finding an extended care facility for her. I warrant that the priest will not be called for another five years.

Here is Tia Fermina with Rebecca. I took this photograph last year when we visited her in Houston on our way back from Morelia. I think we need her to keep praying for us.


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