Jelly theories lack backbone

 

Itcould be said that Steve McQueen's worst film was that in which he played his first starring role. It was a horror movie called The Blob, released in 1958, and it portrayed McQueen's manly struggles against a huge gelatinous alien beast, which grew larger and larger as it attacked and ate its human victims.

Now it seems The Blob was based on a real-life incident. Occasionally, after a small meteorite has hit the earth, eye witnesses have claimed to have found a foul-smelling jelly-like substance near the site of the fall. It is known as pwdre ser, a Welsh expression meaning "star rot", and the material has also been known variously as "star jelly", "rot of the stars' ', or "gelatinous meteors". The French, evocatively, call it "moonspit", crachet de lune. Apart from its revolting appearance, its smell and general rottenness, pwdre ser has another interesting feature: it seems to evaporate rapidly, removing all evidence of its brief existence.

Thus it was that on September 26th, 1950, Patrolmen John Collins and Joseph Keenan claimed to have observed the arrival of a quantity of pwdre ser as they stood at the corner of 26th Street and Vare Boulevard in Philadelphia. The allegedly light-emitting blob was also seen by Sgt Joseph Cook and Patrolman James Cooper, who also claimed that it oozed its way up a telegraph pole. The experience of the four received considerable publicity, and was ultimately celebrated by The Blob.

Scientists, of course, are keen to find a terrestrial explanation for this alleged phenomenon. An immediate objection to any connection with meteorites is that anything as soft as a jelly would be burnt up as it passed at astronomical speed through the earth's atmosphere. They incline to more mundane solutions; perhaps credulous observers have found a half-igested meal regurgitated by some animal and concluded that it came down in the meteor just seen blaze to earth? But it is questionable if such pat answers are adequate to explain the widespread and persistent belief in the phenomenon.

Whatever the truth may be, the relationship between meteors and jelly is deeply embedded in legend, literature, folklore and The Blob. Like the ignis fatuus and ball-lightning, the descent of pwdre ser is one of those strange and rare events which have been reported sufficiently often over the centuries to give them plausibility, which lie in the grey zone of uncertainty between fact and folklore, between the apocryphal and the wild fantastic, but whose essence has never quite been captured. But luckily, only in The Blob has the pwdre ser been known to exhibit homicidal tendencies.