As I recall it, Armstrong stepped out on to the Moon at about 3 a.m., GMT, and my father and I sat up to watch it – a most uncharacteristic thing for him to have done. I suppose, like me, he wanted to say he’d seen it happen (in many ways the fact that we could actually see it seemed at the time almost more extraordinary than the fact that they’d actually managed to land on the surface, even if the world then had to suppress its collective loathing as Nixon, then President, got to talk to the astronauts not long after).
Poor old Armstrong, and his badly rehearsed platitude. You fly hundreds of thousands of miles, and you mess up your welcome speech with a tautology, simply by omitting an indefinite article. Poor old Aldrin, too, going all that way, only to be second. (Poor old Collins, actually, to be flying the craft all that way, but never to step on the surface.)
For some reason, I had to get up early the next day, and go into Sunderland. Why, I cannot imagine. My mother shook me awake and I talked a stream of gibberish about lunar modules, as well I might, coming out of a strange dream. It was the end of an era – the end of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and, lest we forget, TinTin, who had also, courtesy of Herge, been to the moon and explored it.
I was at the bus-stop as quickly as I could, and stood there waiting for the No. 14 into the town centre. It wasn’t long before I was joined by a woman of advanced years i.e. my age now, carrying a capacious hold-all. A bus-stop is not, in the North East, a place for Trappists. I began to talk to her about the moon, the mission, the meaning, the landing, and so on. She stopped me mid-flow and gestured towards the sky.
‘They divent want to gan up there,’ she said. ‘They’ll put the light out.’