When the moon landings happened (or did they?!) a phrase was made that should be inscribed on the hearts of everyone alive: "We now live on a world that has put a man on the world."
There are many poeople who insist that we don't, in fact, live on a world that has put a man on the moon. They insist that the whole endeavour was a Hollywood fabrication, done to scupper them dirty ol' Reds in Russia and their filthy Communist dreams of Space Domination, and to demonstrate that the Mighty You Ess of A was that greatest nation in the world. Ever. So there.
A Cold War lie,in other words. I have two close friends - people whose minds and reasoning abilities I otherwise admire and respect - who hold this belief. This astonishes me, and gives me cause to stop and investigate my prejudices once again. My unthinking mind tells me that people who are capableof independent, critical thought would never hold such viewes. Just goes to show. These people, of course, remain respected friends. It's just that I now look at them a little differently.
A year or so ago I was having a quiet yarn with my father, and he told me that he was a part of the radar team who spotted a Japanese reconnaisance aircraft, escorted by several fighter aircraft, on its way to New Zealand's pacific shores during the Second World War. The RNZAF radar team he was a part of directed a squadron of New Zealand interceptors to the Japanese craft, and the enemy planes were destroyed. My relationship with my father changed at that moment. I had never known that he had been wholly or even partially responsible for the deaths of about a dozen fellow human beings. His rationale for doing so was exemplary, of course - but I had always imagined his war years to have been unstained by combat of any description. Now, crushingly, I saw that he still felt the burden of that occasion. That day in 1944 changed him, and the day he told me about it changed me, and my perception of him..
The day Armstrong stepped onto the moon changed everyone on Earth. The vast majority, of course, knew nothing about it. Vast swathes of Africa, India, and Asia still had no radio or television communication: they were lucky if they had sporadic electricity. But to the hundreds of millions who had access to a television set or radio, the future suddenly changed. We now lived on a world that had put a man on the moon.
The conspiracy stories started almost immediately. With a staggering lack of evidence or proof - but with a determined hatred of tall poppies - nay-sayers picked up their bullhorns, and started spouting their bull. Their reasoning was (and remains) that it's a lot easier to have tens of thousands of individuals join together in an enormous lie, and for many hundreds of journalists suddenly and completely lose their incredulity and investigative powers on this one topic only than it is to actually acheive something magnificent.
I have friends who believe in a god of some description, and I would never reject them for that - so I must make allowances for the friends who believe, against the evidence, that the moonlandings where all faked.
My real concern for the past thirty-odd years is that despite the fact that we live on a world that has put a man on the moon... we've forgotten it. Right now we're indulging in a bit of a PR orgy of hey, wow, gee whiz we did it-mania. But what will be top-of-mind in three months time?
I think mankind needs something magnificent to do. Getting mack on the Moon, and using it as a springboard to the planets would be a fine thing indeed. And it's something we can all have a part in... and it's something that will benefit us all.
If we set aside $10 for every man, woman, and child in the developed world twice a year for the next ten years, we'd be able to contribute $60 billion a year to the international space exploration agency. And even though I am currently very poor, I have my first ten dollars in small change available right now. I won't miss it. And I won't miss watching thye tele for the next time we get a man on the moon.
LISTENING TO: Blind Faith. Clapton at the height of his powers. Brilliant.
READING: Neil Gaiman, "American Gods" and JK Rowling "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows".
WORD OF THE DAY: Curiosity. Without curiosity, mankind would still be in the trees.
MORE HARRY! Time to find out about The Painting....
“The painting?” There was a small smile on Henry’s face, and Buster Gibbs later swore that Henry Talbot’s face glowed when he turned to the portrait.
“Yes, Sir. The Painting.”
“Everyone wants to know about the painting.” And Henry’s mind flashed back all those years. He still remembers what he had been doing when the knock came at his door on the second floor of 147 Upland Road, in Wellington’s leafy Kelburn. He had managed, just, to do three hundred press-ups on the trot. He didn’t really know why he needed to do them, but there was something black and nasty at the back of his mind, a heavy despair, and he wanted to sweat it out. The blood was pounding in his ears, his arms and neck and shoulders and back and gut were quivering, and perspiration was running into his eyes and he was thinking that he had another twenty in him, and there came three sharp raps on the door.
He stopped, and his muscles immediately started to freeze and lock in place. He let go, collapsing, and called out “half a mo’, be right there.”
And, yes, in half a mo’, he was. Mind you, it was a mo’ that seemed to last for a few decades. His right arm was cramping up, the bicep turning into a vicious little ball of steel-hard acid, and he turned the doorknob, and pulled the door open towards him.
“The top right hand corner of the frame smacked me right between the eyes. Not this frame: it’s been changed half-a-dozen times since then. Whims and fancies. The frame it had then had sharp corners, and this one opened up a wound. The scar’s still there.”
Gibbs looked. A triangular scar, right where Dirty Harry shot the bad guys.
The painting had only been started then, but Henry wasn’t to know that. All he knew was that his arm hurt, he had a five-foot high thing that was trying to kill him, and blood was pouring into his eyes.
He heard a whistle from the front of the house, and raced to his window. Looking down on the steep walkway which led up to his bed-sit, he saw her: flame red hair, pale oval of a face, flashing green eyes, and a cheesy grin. She waved, and trotted down the step to the roadside, where she hopped into the passenger side of a red Mini with a Union Jack painted on the roof, and raced off. The painting thumped to the floor, and he turned back to it, wondering who was driving the Mini. Then he thought of Hazel, and he blushed, knowing what the black thing was that had made him hammer his body. Not Hazel’s fault, of course. He could have said no. Yeah, right.
The painting was, happily, face up. There were five brush-strokes on the prepared canvas, and a few dots. The background had been prepared and painted a reasonably uniform grey, a little paler where there was a flash of curling red. A dot of green with an even tinier golden dot, a sensuous brown slash down one side, and, looking at it, Henry immediately knew what Mary would look like, naked. He blushed. Two more lines showed where the hands would be, and there was a vague hint, a mere wisp of shadow of a fog of, my god, it’s her, her, and he grabbed the painting and pulled it into his room, and made a space for it on the wall, and hung it. It wasn’t until the next week that he noticed her signature: Mary Talbot.
“She came by again, a month later, and added a couple of lines, a shadow, and now, after nearly, what, 25-odd years, give or take, with an addition here, an erasure there, that’s it. So far. It’s a work in progress, and probably will be until the day I, well, the day I die. Or the day she dies, probably.”
“It’s stunning, Sir.”
“Right,” said Buster Gibbs.
“Look there: that’s Adam, our son. See him? He’s in Greece now, with Gussy, his grandmother, my Mum. And there, in that curve: our first holiday away, overseas. We went to Rarotonga.”
It has, in fact, taken Mary a little over 26 years to get to this stage of the painting. Buster Gibbs doesn’t know it, but he is the first person to have heard Henry Talbot be vague about numbers. If Mary had been listening to the conversations, she would have fallen from her chair with shock.
The two men talked about the painting for another twenty minutes (well, 17 minutes 37 seconds, if you must be Henry-ish about it), and by the time Barry Thorndike came to collect him, Buster Gibbs was another Henry Talbot convert. Not that it did Henry any good: Buster couldn’t bring himself to call the older man Hank, and never would.
Buster’s hero-worship of Henry that day wasn’t to last too long, however, because immediately following his Senior Sergeant into the Talbot’s living room was Mrs Talbot herself.
“Ah, sweetheart: you’ve not met Barry’s youngest and latest addition,” boomed Henry. “Brian Gibbs, a.k.a. Buster; Mary Talbot, the painter.”
“Gosh,” said Buster Gibbs. A woman of forty-something shouldn’t look this good. I thought Charlie was a looker. Oh, hell: she’s almost old enough to be my Mum, and I’m thinking dirty thoughts. “Pleased to meet you, Mrs Talbot.” All he’d done was look into her eyes. The whites were clear, the green irises were as deep as a forest pool. Funny: is that a gold fleck there?
Many people think Mary Talbot’s eyes to be her best feature, which is saying something. Their perfect oval shape makes them appear larger than they really are. They are set quite deeply, and when she smiles her cheeks rise over those perfect bones, and the eyes become half-moons, cheeky and laughing.
“Please, Buster. Call me Mary.”
“Yes, ma’am.” And Buster blushed. Barry Thorndike snorted, and grabbed the Constable’s arm, and pulled him away.
“Come on Gibbs. We’re on a hiding to nothing here.”
Charlie came in, and raised her hand. “Sir?”
“Would you mind terrifically if I took the day off? My desk’s pretty clear, and I think that Henry and Mary might need me for the next few hours.”
Not the way I’ve needed you, thought Gibbs, and blushed again. What was it about older women?
“Righto,” said Barry Thorndike, the boss with a heart of stone. “We owe you a couple of month’s-worth in lieu anyway.”
That night, Henry slept, and dreamed of broken glass clogging his throat, staining his lips red.
Q: So the whole thing was a waste of time, then?
A: No, not really.
Q: You sure?
Q: You said that Mary was your strength through that first month.
A: She always has been, hasn’t she. Yeah, I was all at sixes and sevens. The only way I knew which way was up was by checking which way my bum pointed when I was on my feet.
Q: Very droll.
A: Oh, up yours. Look, here I was at the ragged end of life, shocked, and for the first time ever in my life I didn’t know what to do.
Q: So – what did you do?
A: I asked Mary. Of course.
A: And she asked me if I wanted to die. I said no. It’s a pretty unusual sort of person who has a burning desire to go shuffling off the coil, mortal or otherwise.
Q: Yes. And?
A: She told me not to.
Q: Not to?
A: Yes. Not to die. It was the most perfect thing she could have said.