The space race was on. The Russians were winning it an’all. They had sent Sputnik 1 up earlier in the year, and the Americans hadn’t even got one into orbit yet. Sputnik 2 was going to go one better. They were going to send a dog up in it to prove that a living creature could survive the rigours of take off. The cruel beggars weren’t too bothered about what would happen to it afterwards though. They were only testing to see what happened during take off. They had decided that once it was in orbit and they had got all the information that could from the probes that they had stuck into its poor little hide, they would put it out of its misery by feeding it poison space jelly dog food .
Laika was a stray bitch that they picked up on the streets of Moscow. They trained her by getting her used to spending days on end in increasingly poky little cages, and feeding her space jelly dog food (without the poison.) They whizzed her around in machines like doggy sized fairground rides. Then they strapped her into Sputnik 2 and blasted her off. The poor thing lasted until she got into orbit, and then the thermostat went in the pod, and she roasted to ruddy well death. And what did the scientists learn from the experiment? Just that in space, no one can smell it when you mess yourself.
The Americans called her Mutt-nik. They couldn’t kick up too much of a fuss though, what with them having blasted all those monkeys into the upper atmosphere earlier on. The dog lovers of Britain marked her passing by having a minutes silence just after blast off.
Apparently, Laika was a lovely, good natured dog, who was chosen because she was placid and not easily aggravated. One of the scientists responsible for training her took her home to play with his kiddies a few days before blast off, because he thought she deserved a bit of fuss. It must have been a horrible way to go. If anyone had ever suggested sticking my Tuppence in a space pod and blasting her off into space I would have given them very short shrift indeed. The thought of my Tuppence getting all hot and sticky in zero gravity makes my blood boil.
I know that the Russians put up a statue of Laika at their space school to commemorate her memory, but it would make no difference to me if they put a statue of my Tuppence up in Red Square and had military march pasts and hundred gun salutes for her every Good Friday and Easter Monday, I would still think that they were cruel beggars. I would want to have my tuppence on my lap, to stroke and play with, not fried to a crisp and made a ruddy statue of. But that’s just the way I am.
By the close of the 1950s The Russians and Americans had filled the sky with ruddy satellites, so it was hard to know which ones were stars, and which ones were lumps of tin. It was possible to book a place on an aeroplane and fly to America in about six hours. Barclays Bank had installed a computer. (These days there are plenty of filthy so and sos having a Barclays Bank in front of their computers at home – but that’s another story) Ernest G. Rice had invented the “Combination Stockings and Panty” otherwise known as tights, creating legions of filthy so and so men looking for any excuse to try a pair on. We had also elected our third ruddy Tory Government on the trot, because people genuinely believed it when Harold Macmillan (and wife) said that we had “Never had it so good”
Yes, we could see that there was progress being made, but that was mainly because we weren’t fighting any ruddy wars. If you had asked the shipyard workers up North whether they had ever had it so good, you might have got a different story, they were being put out of work left right and ruddy centre, and there was precious little being done to help them hang on to their communities. They would be followed by steelworkers, trawlermen, coal miners and plenty others in the years to come. Rail workers too. The M1was being laid at the end of the fifties, the days of the Golden Age of British Rail,were numbered.
Me and Raymond were doing ok. We still had his mother and his little brother Cyril living with us. He was twenty ruddy eight, and to be honest, we were starting to wonder if he was ever going to get himself a girlfriend at all. He just didn’t hardly seem interested. He seemed to spend all his time fiddling with valves and transistors, and erecting aerials in the attic. Old Hilversum had retired and closed his shop so Cyril had moved to work for Sandy Heath in his Radio and Television showroom nearer to the town centre. He was on much better money there, they sold all the latest televisions and radios, and spare parts, and aerials, and all sorts. Cyril did repairs and went out to customers’ houses to set up new equipment, and had responsibility for ordering parts and deciding which models they would put in the window. He was good. But he was obsessed. He never seemed to have any time for wine, women and song. Raymond was worried that he might have been “the other way on” but I knew he wasn’t. I had seen them magazines stuffed behind the chest of drawers in his bedroom. He just felt more comfortable with bits of electronics than he did with other people, that’s all.
Raymond was doing alright on the buses an’all. He was doing longer distances, taking people up to Scarborough for their holidays and stuff like that. I used to go with him sometimes, but I never saw what all the fuss was about. Why bother going to Scarborough, or flying all the way to America, when I could go off to our caravan in Withernsea whenever I liked and sit outside of an evening and watch the stars and satellites with a cup of Horlicks in my hand.
Auntie Doris’s pop hit of 1959: “Side Saddle” by Russ Conway. Crikey, that lad could play the piano. And The Lord alone knows how he did it because he had lost half of his fingers whilst messing about with a bacon slicer during the war an’all. Any road. I used to like listening to this record whilst making bacon sandwiches for the family. I used to get Arthur Knaggs to slice my bacon though. Not that I needed my fingers for playing the piano. But I did have other uses for them.