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Millions of Americans believe that aliens have landed from outer space. Thousands of Americans claim to have been abducted by aliens, and to have seen into their flying saucers. The descriptions they give of their abductors usually tally closely with the "creatures from outer space " which have appeared in science-fiction dramas on American television. (Interestingly, America also has the most religious believers in the Western world.) These aliens must have come vast distances before they land in Wyoming or wherever. The nearest star to Earth (apart from our own sun) is Alpha Centauri, more than four light-years away. If the aliens came from any planet around Alpha Centauri, they would have to have a space-ship travelling at the unimaginable speed of one hundred million miles per hour – and even so it would take them twenty-five years to get here. (If they dawdled along at only a million miles per hour, the journey would take two thousand five hundred years.) So it is strange that having come so far they don't hang around a bit and let us all see them. A flying saucer landing in Trafalgar Square during the rush-hour would settle the question once and for all. So why do they apparently scurry back home so quickly? Here is a document that may throw some light on the matter. But whether this is a genuine account, or merely a bit of fiction, readers must decide for themselves. If it is genuine, it may indicate why any aliens would not want to delay their return trip.

I was in the middle of the Cairngorm Mountains in the Scottish Highlands, miles from any human habitation, when I saw a group of men approaching me. I knew they were from outer space, because they all had pointy ears like Mr. Spock in Star Trek. When they got near enough, one of them said "Greetings, Earthling!" another clue: not many ordinary humans talk like that. "We bring salutations from outer space!" I understood every word, and that was a stroke of luck, because out of all the six thousand languages spoken on Earth, they had happened to learn the only language I knew.

"We have been reading the news on your internet,” the alien spokesman continued, "and we wish to condole with you on your recession. Hundreds of your schools were going to be rebuilt or refurbished, and now very few of them are. A sad business!" He shook his head. "So there are no people available to do all this rebuilding."

"Oh yes"” I assured him. "There are two and a half million unemployed in this country, including lots of builders, plasterers, plumbers, electricians, and so on – and lots more of the jobless could quickly learn these skills. The country is full of people who could teach all these useful trades."

"I see!" said the alien. "So it's bricks, and cement, and pipework, and paint, electric wiring and so on you are short of."

"Not a bit of it! Since the recession, builders' merchants' yards up and down the country are full of all this stuff."

"But perhaps the authorities are keeping all these materials in reserve for other important building jobs, in case you run short of raw materials?"

"No, no, nothing like that. All the raw materials – clay for bricks, metal for pipes and wires, colour for paints – there's more than enough, up and down the country."

The alien – and his friends – appeared puzzled. Then he brightened up.

"Ah, I see what it must be. Transport! You've got all these things, but you can't get them to where they are so desperately wanted."

"Not a bit of it,” I insisted. I didn't want him to think we were that backward. "We have fleets of great trucks, under-used because of the recession. The country is crossed with excellent roads, well surfaced with tarmac. All these materials could be delivered anywhere in Britain within hours."

The aliens went into a huddle, and jabbered away in their own language. Then the spokesman piped up again.

"Let's get this straight. You people here in Britain all want these schools to be built or repaired. You have plenty of people standing around idle who would love to do all the work, if only because their children are being educated in inadequate and ill-equipped schools. You have all the materials, and all the transport you need to get them where they are wanted. So – excuse me if I seem a bit obtuse – why don't you just do it?"

"We haven't got the money, of course!"

A longer pause this time.

"Er – what is this 'money?"

I smiled. How could anyone not know that?

"You know – money, dibs, spondulicks, the ready! Coins – little round bits of metal, though most of it is paper, nowadays. High grade paper, of course, with nice designs on it – in colour, too."

"This paper,” said the alien, with a baffled expression. "What does it do? Can you use it instead of bricks? Or instead of slates on the roof?"

"No, of course not!" Privately I thought that surely space voyagers who have been able to journey billions of miles could get hold of such a simple idea. I tried to explain. "People hand it to each other. Well-off people have to hand some of these bits of paper to the government, then someone hands some of it to the people who make bricks or carry them along the motorway. The actual builders and pipe-layers and so on get some bits of paper each Friday."

More bewildered conversation among the aliens.

"This paper – high-grade paper as you say, with coloured designs – can't keep the rain out, or hold the roof up, or carry water or electricity round the new buildings?"

"No, of course not", I said, laughing. "It would just collapse if you put any strain on it, and any water in a paper pipe would just run away. And if you tried to make electric cables out of paper they would probably catch fire!"

"But if you don't have these pieces of coloured paper, even though they are only feeble, useless stuff,” said the alien, "you can't have these schools rebuilt and so on?"

"Exactly," I said. "Now you've got it. Without these pieces of paper, no food is grown or eaten, no clothes are made, no buildings go up – nothing happens. We all have to pass these pieces of paper around to each other, or everything comes to a halt. In fact most of us here on Earth spend a large part of our time handing these pieces of paper on to other people. Every organisation has many people who spend their lives writing down figures about all these pieces of paper: doing sums, all day. In fact some great concerns don't do anything else – banks, credit card companies, insurance companies, people concerned with revenue and taxation – all of them spend their lives fiddling with these bits of paper."

The aliens all looked at each other. I saw several of them pointing a finger to their own foreheads, and making a kind of circular motion with the finger, while pulling a face. I wonder what that means in alien language?

After some more unintelligible conversation, the spokesman said that they had decided to get back in their flying saucer and get away as soon as possible. I thought I heard him say something like, "I thought we were told there was intelligent life on this planet!" but perhaps I mis-heard.