Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Space for Lionel

The children at SW's school have been thinking and learning about space. A shout went out for space stories of no more than 1000 words. Pupils, parents and other family members were invited to get writing. So when my daughter asked me to contribute, I thought it might be fun. And it was.


Lionel was feeling grumpy. Mum and Dad were going to a wedding, and children were not invited. So, it was off to the countryside, to stay with Grandad.

This was bad news. Not only did Lionel hate the countryside, but sleeping over this Saturday night meant that he was going to miss Dr Who, because Grandad didn’t have a TV.

Lionel prayed that the sky would be cloudy for his sleepover. Better still, he hoped it would rain, a lot. He didn't like wet weather, but he knew that if the sky was clear, Grandad wouldn't be able to resist taking a look at the stars before bedtime. To look at the stars, you had to go outside, and to get outside, you had to open the door, and if you opened the door, there was nothing between you and the darkness. Not to mention those things that seemed to move about in the inky black night.

As the car drew up in the narrow lane outside Grandad's cottage, Lionel was feeling extra grumpy because his prayers hadn't been answered. The sky was clear and a frost was forming on the hedgerows. Not only were the stars twinkling in all their glory, but a full moon gave enough light for Lionel to see his way to the cottage without using a torch. ‘Great,’ he sighed, as Grandad held the door open while they waved goodbye to Dad.

'Want some cocoa, Lion?' Grandad asked, as Lionel was looking for a place to put his overnight bag. Oh that was another thing, Grandad always called him Lion. It wasn't really a problem, although Lionel heard his mum and dad moaning once, about how they didn't like shortened names.

'No thanks, Grandad,' Lionel said, edging towards the fireplace.

'Just me, then,' said Grandad, raising a steaming mug in Lionel's direction.

Lionel nodded.

'I was thinking,' said Grandad, between slurps of cocoa, 'it's a clear night, tonight. What d' you say, we nip out and look at the stars?'

'But I've just taken my coat off.' Lionel pulled a face, and shifted awkwardly.

'So?' Grandad replied, with a grin, 'you can put it back on again, can't you? Or perhaps you're not in the mood?' Lionel didn't answer, but his Grandad wasn't one for giving up. 'When I was your age, I was fascinated by the stars. Used to mess about with me mates, playing at being Dan Dare, and all that sort of thing.'

Lionel half turned from the fire. 'Who's Dan Dare?'

'Who's Dan Dare?' blurted Grandad, spraying cocoa down his shirt, 'only the world’s number one space hero, Lion, that’s all!'

'What, like Dr Who?'

'Well yes, er…and no. Don't think Dan Dare ever travelled about in a telephone box with a blue light on it. No, he had most of his space adventures in a ship called, uhh, oh yes…Anastasia!’

'Not a time traveller, then?' Lionel was finding it hard to summon any enthusiasm.

Grandad sighed. ‘No, not a time traveller, Lion. Although, there was an experimental craft. Oh what was it called? Tempus something…’

'Space would be boring without Dr Who,' Lionel interrupted, his eyes still fixed on the fire. There was no answer from Grandad, but Lionel could feel a cold draught on the back of his legs. He looked towards the kitchen and noticed the old man framed in the open doorway, his head tilted back as he gazed up at the night sky. Reluctantly, Lionel shuffled out to join him.

They stood in silence for a few minutes before Grandad raised his hand and pointed at the moon. 'I remember when a man first set foot on that,' he whispered, 'we all sat, glued to the television, and watched it happen, live, right before our eyes.'

‘You actually saw it?’ Lionel asked.

Grandad didn’t take his eyes off the moon. ‘Oh yes,’ he said, ‘I actually saw it, in July, 1969. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin setting foot on the lunar surface. Magic.’

All at once, Lionel had a thousand questions he wanted to ask, but Grandad continued talking, about the Apollo spacecraft and how it was made in three parts, how the astronauts travelled for three days until they entered lunar orbit, and how they eventually landed in the Sea of Tranquility, which isn’t really a sea, but looks like one from a distance. Some of this information was sinking into Lionel’s brain, but something else was happening. The longer he looked up at the moon, the closer it appeared. The same with the stars. The more Lionel concentrated on the tiniest pinpricks of light, the more he felt he could reach out and touch them. Then, just as his thoughts were drifting far out to space, Grandad said, ‘Brrr, it’s getting a bit chilly, Lion. Better go indoors now.’

‘What? Oh, okay,’ Lionel said, still trying to imagine how it might have felt to be walking on the moon. He took long, slow motion footsteps as he followed Grandad into the house.

Indoors, Lionel sat at the kitchen table, from where he still had a good view of the moon. Grandad had gone upstairs, to fetch something that might be of interest. When he returned, he was carrying a battered cardboard box.

‘What’s this?’ asked Lionel, angling his head and squinting at the contents.

‘Well,’ said Grandad, ‘I can’t offer you Dr Who. But I can give you Dan Dare.’

Lionel lifted an old comic from the top of the pile, and examined it closely.

‘Reckon we’ve done a bit of time travel ourselves tonight, Lion. Back to the moon landing and all that. And we haven’t even got a…you know, a police box.’

‘Tardis’, said Lionel.

‘Exactly,’ said Grandad, ‘hey, are you sure I can’t tempt you with a cup of cocoa?’

But Lionel didn’t hear. He was already living in Grandad’s past, with Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future.

© Martin Hodges

16 comments:

  1. Well-crafted story, Martin. I wanted it to go on a bit further. I enjoyed the trip back to '69. I remember when that happened. I still have a book that was published in September of that year entitled, "We Came In Peace". It details the entire mission.

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    1. Thanks, Kat. I would like to have taken it further, but there was a limit of 1000 words. I don't know the book, but it sounds interesting.

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  2. I agree with Kat -- it's a good prelude and now I want something to happen.

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    1. I'm working on it, Vicki. Glad you liked what you saw.

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  3. Actually, contrary to what most of your respondents have said, here and on FB, I like it as a whole story, seeing a change in the boy from fearful to trusting and from 'Grandad is old-fashioned' to 'Grandad's cool'. That was enough for me. I really liked it.

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    1. Thanks, Fran. Sticking to the required word limit concentrated my mind and made the whole exercise fun. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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  4. I'm with Fran, it was a good read and I liked the boy's relationship with his grandad, half bored, half interested. Do you have to aim at an age-group with kid's stories? Seems quite grown-up language but then I'm only at a two-year-old's books level.

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    1. Thank, jennyfreckles. I was vaguely pitching this at 7+ (SW's age). The main thing for me, was to actually produce an entertaining story within a given limit. I have done quite a bit of research into books for certain age groups, and I'll be bearing that in mind when Lionel and his Grandad take their next step.

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  5. Love it :) What kid doesn't love space stuff - even if it's not on tv or an ipad.

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    1. Yes, Gabrielle, we'll be all the poorer if we ever stop looking upwards and outwards.

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  6. How perfect Martin! Lionel sounded just like many preteens of today. Marvelous work with just 1000 words from set up to climax, and of course I had to Google Dan Dare, it was a comic new to me! Bravo for his grand-dad pulling Lionel out of his slump, and giving him new adventures to explore.

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    1. Thank you, Karen. There will be more to come.

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  7. I agree that the story is complete in itself, but I foresee more tales of Lionel and Grandad. A nicely crafted short story that children can relate to. Only one point to make; I wonder how old ‘the old man’ is. This is my brother’s era; he has a grandson about Lionel’s age, but I wouldn’t call him ‘old’; I save that for the great-grandad generation :)

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    1. Thanks, Nell. I appreciate your comments. I wouldn't call Lionel's Grandad 'old' either, but a young boy's perspective is going to be very different. I remember, at Lionel's age, thinking that all grown ups were ancient.

      There will certainly be more tales of Lionel and his Grandad. This pairing is definitely a work in progress, with the accent on the progress, which makes a nice change.

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  8. I'm new to this blog. I loved the story and can see many more from Lionel and his Grandad. I'll keep coming back.

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    1. Hi, Maggie May! Thank you, and welcome to Square Sunshine.

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