The Orrery
Written by Jo Hewlett.
Narrated by Rachel Belringer
From an story by David Taylor

    Once upon a time there were two great friends, and their names were Dr. Samuel Plum and Professor Angus MacFarlane; and, although they really were great friends, they were forever quarrelling. They really enjoyed a good argument with each other more than anything.
    They would quarrel over their game of chess; they would go out together and play golf and quarrel about that; but those arguments were very tame compared to their disagreements over politics! Dr. Plum was a Conservative and Professor MacFarlane was a Socialist and their wrangles about their differing beliefs became very heated.
Sometimes their wives got very tired of the constant bickering. Mrs. Plum would sigh and say to her husband:
    “If you can’t get on with Angus, why don’t you go and play golf with someone else?”
    “Good Gracious!” Dr. Plum would reply, “I shouldn’t enjoy it half so much without Angus to argue with!”
    More than anything else the two friends would disagree about religion. Dr. Plum was a Christian and Professor MacFarlane was an atheist, and they would quarrel interminably.
    Professor MacFarlane was a tall, thin man, with a rather long, lugubrious face and very large feet. Dr. Plum was short and round, with a pink face and a shiny, bald, head.
    “I simply do not know how you can believe such absolute rubbish!” said Professor MacFarlane one morning as they approached the eighth green.
    “What rubbish is that, then?” asked Dr. Plum, hurrying along behind him. He had rather short legs and always had some difficulty keeping up with his tall friend.
    “God making the world in seven days, and Adam and Eve getting thrown out of the Garden of Eden – complete balderdash!” replied the Professor scornfully.
    “Early people made up the lovely old legends in accordance with their knowledge of the universe as they knew it,” said Dr. Plum, patiently.
    “They were probably written in the late Iron Age,” he went on. “How can we understand minds from such a distant time? Perhaps the stories were meant to be read for the deep, ancient truths they contain, and were not intended to be taken literally, any more than the parables of Jesus. We know there was no individual ‘good Samaritan’, for example, but the story is true for all generations. What it does show is that all peoples everywhere, from the earliest times, have believed in a great, beneficent power, which they called God. Everybody’s story is different – some primitive South American tribes say that the first man and woman were hatched from a great silver egg in the jungle!”
    “Well, I am not primitive,” announced Professor MacFarlane, “and I do not need such mind-softening rubbish. I certainly can’t believe in this so-called ‘God’ of yours, going round with his magic wand, making birds and bees and butterflies! How can an intelligent man like you swallow such piffle?” the Professor demanded, waving a golf club to emphasize his point.
    “Well,” countered Dr. Plum, “ what I can’t understand is how all the marvellous things in the universe could simply have arrived out of nothing … someone or something must have started it all off.”
    “I’ll tell you what started it all off,” said Professor MacFarlane, slicing his golf ball, and becoming quite agitated. “There was a colossal, tremendous explosion at the dawn of history. Something exploded – it may have been a single atom, or maybe an enormous super-nova, throwing fragments in all directions, forming the planets and stars and all the objects in the universe. Then, millions of years later, as the planets cooled, certain atoms drifted together in the seas on our own planet of Earth; these vital elements of life met and formed early basic cells, and from them we have all gradually evolved, along with all other living creatures.”
    At the end of this lengthy discourse, Professor MacFarlane holed a rather long putt, and, holding his putter aloft, added, triumphantly:
    “So there!”
    “Alright, alright!” said Dr. Plum. “That’s a perfectly reasonable theory – I have nothing against the idea – but here’s my dilemma. I want to know WHO caused the atom or the super-nova to blow up? Where did it come from? Who pushed the button? Eh? Who stirred the primeval soup and got the whole thing going? Now, THAT’S what I want to know!” And, not to be defeated, Dr. Plum also sank a good putt, and added: “All square, I think, Angus?”
    “Nobody pushed the button, you silly chump! Nobody stirred the soup!” retorted Professor MacFarlane scornfully. “I can just imagine your God, with a beard and a long, brown dressing-gown, stirring up the primeval sea with a great big soup ladle! Ha! Ha! A likely story, I must say!”
    “Well, then,” said Dr. Plum, “how did it start? You tell me that!”
    “Pure chance!” replied Professor MacFarlane. “A complete accident!”
    “You’re telling me the whole thing was a complete accident?” asked Dr. Plum.
    “Certainly!” asserted the Professor. “A complete accident!”
    “Oh, I see,” said Dr. Plum thoughtfully, with a rather odd expression on his face. “Just an accident, was it?”
    The old friends felt that this subject had been exhausted, at least for the time being, and, feeling thoroughly refreshed by their mental battle, fell to arguing about whether they should attend an erudite conference at the University, where Dr. Plum lectured in Anatomy and Professor MacFarlane in Astronomy.
    Dr. Plum knew that it was his old friend’s birthday in early September, and, as it was his sixtieth birthday, he decided to make a special occasion of it. They were in the habit of giving each other a bottle of wine or some similar present on their birthdays and at Christmas, but this year Dr. Plum had thought of a most unusual gift for his friend.
He had among his acquaintances a retired clock maker. The latter had given up work rather earlier than he had expected, driven out by the demise of clockwork and the advent of silicon chips in clocks and watches. To eke out his rather small pension, he would do delicate repairs on old clocks, and made marvellous mechanical toys to amuse the local children. Dr. Plum went to see him, and described what he wanted for Professor MacFarlane’s birthday.
    “I want a model of the night sky, Jack!” he said. “You know, under a large glass dome, the planets all moving round each other as in reality. Do you think you can make it?”
Jack scratched his head.
    “Crumbs! That’s a tall order, but it might be rather fun to try! I’ll see if I can design something. Come back in a week.”
    Seven days later, Dr. Plum returned to find Jack’s office strewn with plans and diagrams. He had his glasses on top of his head, which was a sure sign he was working hard. He showed Dr. Plum the outline of his plan. The heavenly bodies were all to be suspended by fine, invisible wires. The clockwork mechanism would be secreted in an elegant wooden box beneath a large glass dome.
    “Of course, it’s only our own Solar System,” said Jack, “but that is quite complicated enough. I can illuminate the Sun, and the Earth will be just big enough to see the continents outlined. I can make the rings around Saturn and Jupiter’s red spot. The trouble is ...” he concluded anxiously, “… I am never going to get this done in time for his birthday. If I really pull out all the stops I might get it ready for Christmas. Would you be happy with that?”
    “That’s fine,” said Dr. Plum. “I can see it really is a big job, but it should be quite beautiful. He is a Professor of Astronomy, you know!”
    “I haven’t told you what it’s going to cost yet!” said Jack, looking rather worried.
“Never mind!” said Dr. Plum. “I am determined to get it for him. I will worry about the cost later.”
    Every few days, Dr. Plum dropped in at Jack’s workshop to admire the project. Professor MacFarlane guessed he was up to something, but couldn’t imagine what it might be. He thought it might be something to do with his sixtieth birthday but that day came and went; they went out for a meal with their wives as usual, and Dr. Plum presented his friend with a bottle of brandy.
    At last the beautiful model was ready. Jack pressed a small switch and the sun lit up, and all the heavenly bodies started to rotate slowly and gracefully round, under the glass dome.
    “Oh, Jack!” said Dr. Plum. “It really is beautiful. You are a bit of a genius on the quiet, aren’t you?”
    Jack grinned. “I must admit, I am pretty pleased with it myself, but just wait till you see the bill!”
    Dr. Plum and his wife took the model round to Professor MacFarlane’s house a couple of days before Christmas, when they knew that the Professor was out at a meeting. The model was carefully concealed beneath large amounts of wrapping paper and placed under the Christmas tree. 
    On Christmas morning Dr. Plum and his wife dropped in to see Professor MacFarlane unwrapping his gift.
    For a moment or two the Professor could hardly make out what it was, but when he realised, and flicked the switch to start the mechanism, he was overcome with surprise and delight.
    “Oh, Sam!” he said. “Whatever made you think of such a marvellous thing? It really is a wonder!”
    He gazed at it in amazement as the planets silently circled round the Sun.
    The old Professor was really quite touched by his friend’s kindness.
    “It’s lovely, Sam!” he said. “Who did you get to make it?”
“Oh, nobody made it!” said Samuel Plum, with a grin. “It happened completely by accident!”

    Here below is the spoken story,  it should play automatically after about 10 seconds
    Click the small triangle to pause. The slider on the right controls the volume.
Narrated by Rachel Belringer.