The Irish Times reports this week that ‘an Asteroid “half the size of a giraffe” struck the ocean near Iceland’. The same odd description was used by the Daily Mail and by Science Times…
The sound began as a low whistle.
On the small fishing boat Fjola, Steinn and Gunnar looked around, first in puzzlement, then in a concern that grew as the sound grew, rising in pitch and volume to a banshee scream as something tore through the sky. It hit the icy water beside them in a great spume of steam, and would have careered on to the sea-bed had not its progress been abruptly halted by their fishing net. The Fjola rocked as the net bulged like a football-cliché under the strain, but both boat and net were hardened by years of snaring large shoals of fish, the occasional incautious dolphin, and once a passing speedboat. The net held, the Fjola settled upon the swell, and Steinn pressed the winch button. The brothers peered over the side.
In the net, coal-black and ageless, was a rock, about ten feet wide.
Their first thought was that it had been hurled skyward by a volcano, but a look back to the Icelandic shore, hazy upon the skyline, revealed no sign of smoke or flame from the long-lived, long-named volcanoes that dotted their homeland like lava zits.
There was only one other explanation.
“It’s blue ice,” said Steinn. “Poo dropped from a plane.”
Ok then, two other explanations.
His brother frowned. “I don’t think so,” he said. “In the first place there are no contrails anywhere in the sky. Secondly, look at the size of it. There would have had to have been something very wrong with the in-flight meal.”
“I suppose you’re right,” said Steinn grudgingly. “Then what is it?”
“I think,” said Gunnar, in growing excitement, “that it’s an asteroid.”
To his surprise, Steinn did not seem as thrilled as he did about this. “Great,” said Steinn. “What are we supposed to do with an asteroid?”
“It will look great in our garden. We can tell people in the pub about it.”
Steinn snorted. “And I’m sure we’ll be the talk of said pub,” he said drily, “when people hear that we have a rock in our garden.”
Gunnar thought about this. All Icelandic gardens have rocks in them. They have, in truth, very little else.
“Then what will we do with it?” asked Gunnar.
“Sell it,” said Steinn.
Steinn thought. “Nah,” he said eventually. “What would happen if someone in LA or Melbourne bought it? The cost of postage would be huge. Besides, NASA would probably see the advert and just turn up and take it.”
“The Reykjavik Grapevine it is then. What will we say?”
Steinn shrugged. “For Sale: One Asteroid,” he said. “Simple.”
“Not that simple,” said Gunnar. “People will want to know how big it is.”
Steinn sighed. “Ok,” he said. “We’ll say it’s as big as…” his voice faded.
Icelanders are not good at simile. Their habitat and weather have a uniformity that doesn’t lend itself easily to it. Their only known simile starts in ‘as cold as’ and ends in ‘usual’.
But it would not do to get it wrong. The brothers had had problems before, when they had advertised an old sofa as being ‘in perfect condition’ and had received a return visit two days later from their customer, a huge, bearded man whose spring-pierced bum had made him as angry as, well, could be.
“Let’s pick something no-one round here knows anything about,” said Steinn. “As big as, say, a giraffe. No-one can prove we’re wrong.”
Gunnar looked doubtful. “People know that giraffes eat leaves from really tall trees,” he said.
Steinn looked at the rock for a moment. “You’re right,” he said eventually. “We’ll call it half the size of a giraffe.”