Journey Into Space

Most of us oldies know exactly where we were on July 21 1969 at 03:56. It was a momentous moment in human history and should have been so for a 14 year old Cotswold boy too. But it wasn’t.

I grew up without a TV, my parents thought it a waste of time. As an only child my one small voice wasn’t heard in this debate. Perhaps if I had had siblings it might have been different but who can tell. Don’t get me wrong the lack of a box meant I listened to a lot of radio which opened my mind in a way that perhaps TV wouldn’t have done. A diet of The Goons, I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again (who remembers Angus Prune?), The Men From The Ministry, Round The Horn and The Navy Lark was a joyful feast indeed.

Letter From America, From Our Own Correspondent, Any Answers and of course Today fed my enquiring mind. I could lose myself in BBC dramas too, that Dick Barton was a one! And it should be noted that although Journey Into Space finished when I was 3 it furnished me with a nickname, my secret is revealed here at lostinchina.me.uk.

But only children, can often lack the social experience of peers and not having a TV meant that a lot of the currency for peer talk was beyond me. That was true too of music as I never thought to explore the musical radio channels. I’m definitely not counting Friday Night Is Music Night and Sing Something Simple either!

I was a voracious reader. At school we kept logs of the books we read, I was embarrassed by how long my weekly list was compared to others. I have never regretted all those words I read but there’s no doubt it marked me out as different.

Blimey we’ve strayed from lunar landings haven’t we? For me and so many other young people the foray into space was momentous. Books about space for Christmas, books from the library about space and radio documentaries fed my fascination. I can still remember my father showing me Telstar, seeing pictures of Laika and the triumphal photographs of Yuri Gagarin. And then of course the Apollo missions! For a young teenage boy the tension and horror behind this race into the velvet starry black was hidden. It was to me, unbelievably exciting!

So I had been avidly listening to all the radio coverage during the months leading up to that “First Step”. My excitement was also being fed by Look And Learn which had replaced the Beano some years before. I had swapped the comic humour of Dennis the Menace, The Bash Street Kids and The Numskulls for more serious factual stuff, with a smattering of Dan Dare and the Mekon of course. I was beside myself with excitement, could reel off interminable facts and figures in the way that only young boys can. Even my parents could see that watching the landing on TV was a must.

So on that Sunday my father’s space rocket (an Austin Maxi that had seat belts and adjustable seats for zero G conditions) was launched with a flight plan to land at Greenbrier, Priory Lane, Bishop’s Cleave. Like Apollo 11 the navigation was impeccable and the 14 year old was able to make one small step for small boys and one giant leap for ME!

I should tell you about the alien that inhabited this place, my grandfather. He had a TV, he was a widower and I often stayed with him. He was at times curmudgeonly, difficult and I really didn’t like his Yorkshire Terrier. But I did love him, his youth on the railway in Crew, his night classed education, allowing him to become an electrical engineer, gave us lots to talk about and lots in common.

He was also a master apple peeler. I still have his pen knife. He would pick up a Cox’s Orange Pippin and start to peel the narrowest of strips. Without fail he would get to the end without it breaking. That impressed me.

So this young astronaut went planet side to watch human kind put its first boot on the doormat of space. I was beside myself with excitement. And that evening, we settled to watch the extravaganza the BBC had put on. After a while my grandfather got bored and wandered off but I was glued. Approaching midnight back he came to sit beside me, perhaps he was beginning to feel the excitement too? This happened to conspire with a moment where the pre landing content was becoming a little “adult”. I later discovered that moon goddesses are always trouble; my grandfather silently stood back up, went over to the TV and switched off. “Time for bed Charles” he said and so it was. So you tell me, at 03:56 did they get there? I don’t know!

I continued to love my grandfather but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forgive him or the BBC!

Sidmouth 05/08/19

Written for the MoonMania project. URL to come.

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