Ask anyone who was the first man on the moon. Most of them will tell you straight out: Louis Armstrong. They might have to think a little bit harder to tell you who was second, but there will be plenty who say Buzz Lightyear. The thing is that nobody seems to remember the poor bloke who went up there with them but had to stay in the command module in orbit whilst the other two went down to the surface of the moon to take their place in the history books. No one bothers about Phil Collins. It was certainly “No Jacket Required” for him on that mission, because he was staying in while the other two got all the fun and attention. A bit like Cinderella, only there was no fairy godmother and no Prince Charming to bring in a slipper for him to try on. Just a lonely space capsule and a pair of moon boots that would never get used.
We were all glued to the telly watching his two mates bouncing around on the surface. It was really exciting, because the pictures were live, and we seriously thought that the moon aliens might pop up at any minute and capture them. The Lord alone knows what we thought they might do. Maybe hypnotise them and make them kiss one another, or slaughter them in cold blood and feast on their bones, or take over their minds and send them back to earth to weaken our resistance somehow, so that the moon people could invade us kill all who resisted, and use the survivors as slaves. None of that stuff happened though. They just bounced around a bit, stuck up a plastic flag, and came back home. A bit like me and Raymond taking our Michael to Withernsea, and me staying in the car while them two mucked about on the beach.
Our Michael loved the astronauts though. He said he wanted to be a spaceman when he grew up. He might have managed it too, only I think NASA expect you to get out of bed at a reasonable time in the morning and leave the ruddy booze alone, so when he got a bit older, he gave it up as a bad job.
Phil Collins left NASA a broken man. He couldn’t bear living in the shadow of Armstrong and Lightyear. He turned to drink and hard drugs. In the seventies he joined a progressive rock band, but he couldn’t form relationships with the others, and eventually left to record a few obscure songs of his own, and make a film about one of the great train robbers. Few who met him to day would recognise him as the man who once orbited the moon in a space pod while his pals frolicked on the surface.
Auntie Doris’s top pop pick of 1969: “Ruby – Don’t Take Your Love To Town” by Kenny Rogers. It’s a lovely story in that song. Listening to it is just like reading something in the “People’s Friend” in fact I wrote a story based on it once and sent it to them. I changed the war to World War Two, and the woman’s name to Maureen. I also had him with the tip of his thing shot off, because I thought that it was too upsetting to write about people being crippled. Any road, they never printed it.
Talking about music and men on the moon though. I would recommend that you have a listen to “Whitey on the Moon” by Gill Scott Heron. I couldn’t make it my pop pick of 69 because it didn’t come out till 1970 and it’s not really the kind of music I normally enjoy listening too. But the words are very good. I might adapt them and send them to the “People’s Friend” You never know…
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.