Moon landing and ladybirds


(Cambridge, 1969)

A man landed on the moon today. We watched it on the television. The moon was grey and dusty. The man wore a white balloon suit with a goldfish bowl on his head. He moved as slowly as a snail.

“It’s the lack of gravity,” said Daddy. “The weightlessness of space.”

“I’m bored,” said Newt. “Can we play outside?”

“No. This is a moment of great historical importance. Look and listen.”

The astronaut spoke in a crackly voice. Then the baby started crying and I couldn’t hear what he said. Something about steps. Me and Newt fidgeted on the settee, while Mummy gave baby Tom his milk.

“Where are all the moon monsters?” said Newt. “They’re green and they’ve got eyes on stalks.”

“Hiding,” I said.

“Nothing lives on the moon,” said Daddy. “It’s too cold for life-forms.”

“That’s what the astronauts are doing there,” said Mummy, rocking the baby. “Until now, nobody knew what was really on the moon. They might get a shock.”

She smiled at Tom’s fat face as it blew bubbles.

We watched for ages, but nothing much happened. Another man came out of the Noodle Nodule and bounced around slowly with the first man. I wanted God to be there, flashing his messages from a crater. But he never showed up.

Newt didn’t believe in God. Whenever I saw him and went to get Newt to show him, God always disappeared. So Newt just thought I was stupid, making it up. We ended up fighting.

I do judo with my brother down the road. I’ve got three yellow tags on my belt. We can do Osotagari, Tiatoshi and Tomanagi. Sometimes we play British Bulldog and practise breaking our falls on the mats. Smack! You do a somersault and whack your hand down as hard as you can.

Once I threw Ken, our instructor, over my shoulder. That’s how strong I am. So I’m not scared of Newt. He might be older than me, but he’s a weed. But I don’t think I could throw Daddy. He’s not tall, but he weighs a ton.

It’s the holidays now. We went to Hunstanton last week and I got lost. It was horrible.

This is what happened.

There were clouds of ladybirds on the sea-front. They got all over you. Up your nose and in your hair and in your eyes. The ground was covered in them like orange and black snow. Everything went blurred, so I closed my eyes and mouth and ran to get away from them. I kept bumping into people. There were crowds of them, bobbing up and down, weaving in and out, waving their arms around at the ladybirds.

I squeezed my nose to stop the insects going up it. I couldn’t breathe but I had to get away from them. I stumbled into someone and they caught my arm, making me stop.

“Here, steady on. Are you okay, sonny?” He was a man in a white hat and his hand was all sweaty on my arm.

I tried to push him away and run off, but his grip was too tight.

“Calm down,” said the man. “Are you lost?”

I looked around for Mummy, Daddy, Newt and Tom, but I couldn’t see clearly. There were only moving shapes, flying ladybirds and dazzling sunlight.

“Mummeee!” I shrieked.

The man let go of my arm. “Is your mum pushing a pram?” he asked quickly in a high voice.

“Yes. Have you seen her?”

“I think she went over there,” said the man, pointing away from the sea-front towards a car-park.

“But we were getting an ice-cream,” I said.

“I’ll buy you one, if you like,” said the man.

“No, thanks. I’ll wait here for a policeman.”

The man fiddled with his hat. “Funny you should say that, because I am a policeman. Plain clothes, of course…”

I looked at his clothes. He was wearing a plastic see-through anorak thing, which crackled whenever he moved. And a brown jumper on underneath. And sandals.

“There’s, um, a pickpocket gang on the loose,” he explained. “So I’ve been given instructions to blend in with the holiday-makers.”

I craned my neck round, looking for my family.

“If you don’t believe me, have a look at these.” The man took something out of his baggy trouser pocket. A silver hoop flashed for a moment. Then he quickly put it back in his pocket. It looked like a proper handcuff, like the police had on “Z Cars.”

I squinted at his face. He had a ladybird crawling on his chin.

“Are you really a police man?” I asked. There were still clouds of insects in the way to stop you seeing up and down the sea-front.

“Shush!” said the man. “We don’t want the criminals to know who I am.” He grabbed my arm again and steered me towards the car-park. “Look! Isn’t that your mum over there?”

He pointed, but I couldn’t see properly. A bit of ladybird had got in my eye and it was watering.

“Don’t cry, sonny. We’ll see if that’s your mum. Then I’ll take you down the station.”

We crossed the road. There was a square grey building nearby, which had something written on the side, but I couldn’t read it.

Suddenly the man’s anorak was crackling and he was dragging me in through the door. “Quick! We’ve got to hide. Otherwise…”

“Ow…” I tried to shout but he had his hand over my mouth. It was the worst in there. A toilet. It stank of wee and biz and chemicals. It got you in the back of the throat as soon as you were inside.

His sweaty hand was sliding over my mouth. I felt sick and I hated him so much, so suddenly, it made me strong. I could hear his breathing behind me, like a dog with its tongue out on a hot day. He was pushing me towards the toilets with the doors.

“Help me,” he said in a funny voice. “It won’t take a minute.”

“Aarrghh!” I roared like a lion and bit his hand. When he took it away, I spun round and tried out Tominagi. It’s like a good footballer doing a bicycle kick, only, instead of the ball you kick the man. But it wasn’t like when Ken does it. I tried to pull him down and boot him over the top of me. All that happened was I pulled one of the sleeves of his crackly plastic anorak off and ended up on my back.

I could see that his flies were undone, so I kicked him there as hard as I could. This time it worked. He crumpled and crackled and slipped on the wet floor. I rolled out of the way just in time. His head knocked on the toilet door.

But there was someone in there.

The door opened. Suddenly the toilet was bright red. God was in there! He looked like he was in a bit of a bait. His ears vibrated and he flashed angrily.

The man groaned. His eyes really nearly popped out on stalks like a Martian when he saw God.

“See,” I wanted to say. “God does exist.” It was a pity Newt wasn’t there to see Him. But all I did was stare at the flashing creature.

“You’re safe now,” He said without speaking. “I’ll finish this. Go home.”

As if I had any choice. But, as was whisked back to my family on warm currents of air, I caught a glimpse of God at work. He was different. He sort of liquidised the man inside his plastic anorak, then twizzled the ends up so he looked like a big red sweet in its see-through wrapper.

As I flew away, I heard the toilit flushing.

When I saw Mummy and Daddy and Newt and Tom, they were talking to a real police man. I ran towards them and realised the ladybirds had gone.