1986 was the year of the smudge

A trip to the country is always nice, but this was ridiculous.

It was 1986, and Halley’s Comet had arrived.

I had read about this astronomical sensation for years and was keen to finally see what all the fuss was about.

Drawings from medieval times that I had seen as a kid showed a frightening apparition screaming across the sky as the peasants ran for their lives.

I couldn’t wait.

As the year of Halley’s return arrived, I was working at the local newspaper in Moose Jaw, Sask.

The whole thing got off to a bumpy start when a comet that had rhymed with “baileys” all my life for some inexplicable reason changed at the last minute to something that rhymed with “Sally’s.”

But the worst was yet to come as scientists began warning that for one reason or another, this was going to be the least impressive Halley’s sighting in 2,000 years.

But never you mind, we were all still pretty psyched, and one Saturday night, when the clouds were somewhere else and the temperature was 450 degrees below zero Celsius, a bunch of us set out to have a look.

Because the comet was supposed to be so unspectacular, we decided to increase our chances of seeing something good by leaving the city lights behind and heading for the dark skies of the countryside.

Once we figured we were far enough out of the city, we pulled off the road, piled out into the snow and looked up. Did I mention it was 450 degrees below zero Celsius?

Not only was it cold but it was also more of a letdown than I could possibly have imagined because what we saw up there in the black heavens was — a smudge, nothing but a light smudge.

I can’t remember how long we stayed out there, but it wasn’t very long, I can tell you that.

We eventually called it a night, stuffed ourselves back in the car and returned to Moose Jaw in a less-than-exuberant mood.

But the worst insult was yet to come. As our extremities gradually returned to the land of the thawed, someone looked out the kitchen window of our apartment and exclaimed, “well, would you look at that,” or something to that effect.

Because up there in the sky, no less clear in the city than it had been in the country, was the Smudge.

And thus began 1986.

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