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.
'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