One Giant Leap

19 July 2019 Vin Maskell

One Giant Leap

A small boy witnesses a very big moment. Vin Maskell tells us all about it.

Lunchtime. 21 July 1969. St Patrick’s Primary School, Mentone, Victoria, Australia, the Earth, the Solar System, the Milky Way, the Universe.

There was a TV. Blocky and bulky. Its images fuzzy. Black and white. Its sounds distorted. Beeps and clicks. Maybe some words. Eventually. The TV sat atop a trolley or a table, an extension cord dribbling across the floor. It stared out at us from the otherwise empty stage of the school hall.

The children of St Patrick’s Primary looked up from their places on the floor. The air was restless. There was always someone fidgeting. The teachers, standing at the end of the row of their classes, looked up to the TV, in between attending to their flock. “Sit still!” whispered sweet Sister Felicity. “Be quiet!” hissed sour Sister Aiden. The nuns wore black-and-white habits. Sister Felicity was an angel. Sister Aiden was a grouch.

I was 10 years old, wearing my navy-blue uniform, with its dark green and yellow stripe in the V-neck jumper. I sat in the line there alongside Bill Soulsby and Michael Potter and Jacinta Johnson. We were part of Grade 5O, the O for curly-haired Mrs O’Callaghan. Neither angel nor grouch. A nice aunty.

I looked up at the faraway TV, with its blurry images of a faraway land. So far away that there was no sea between it and our homes here in Mentone, on planet Earth. Just stars and skies. The dark-blue vastness of the known and unknown universe. Light years of space and time, seemingly. I looked up through my glasses, which had a patch on one lens, to make my “lazy” eye work harder.

There was the Moon, on the TV: not up in the sky beyond my backyard in Cremona Street. The Moon, white and grey. And a spaceship. The pictures seemed to flicker and roll every now and then. No-one adjusted the TV. No-one looked for the vertical or horizontal controls. 

From the spaceship a man climbed down a ladder. An astronaut in white. No face. All helmet and gloves and boots. Suited up for the Moon. Neil. Armstrong. He stood on the – on the what? Dust? Soil? Dirt? Cheese? His footsteps puffed up lunar particles.

And then another man. Buzz. No, not Lightyear. Aldrin. Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin. Down the ladder. Onto the surface. The Sea of Tranquillity. Not that there was any water.
The two men seemed to bounce ever so slightly. I did not know about gravity. Or the lack of it. Maybe cardigan-wearing Mrs O’Callaghan would teach us about it.
Everything in slow motion.

From the little speakers of the TV, words. How could a voice be heard from such a distance? Two hundred and forty thousand miles. Three hundred and eighty thousand kilometres. I had trouble enough hearing quiet Mrs O’Callaghan some days.

And then it was all over. The fidgeting children relieved to be up and about. The talkers no longer reprimanded by Sister Aiden. Maybe we had an extended lunchtime that day. More time for footy with Bill Soulsby and Michael Potter.

After school, Bill and I stood on our respective corners in the main street of Mentone and sold The Herald, an afternoon newspaper. The front pages, and several more within, were all about the Moon landing. Unlike the flickering images on the TV in the school hall, the black-and-white photographs stood still. And the words of the men, and about the men, were fixed to the page, not floating out of a tinny TV speaker.
Did I sell more newspapers that day? Did I get bigger tips? Enough to buy an extra Wagon Wheel for the walk home? I can’t claim to remember. The Moon landing would have been front page news for another day or two before politics and football reclaimed their spaces.

THESE days televisions are not blocky and bulky. Nor black and white. Images and sounds are crisp beyond reality. The Herald is long gone. If I went back to St Patrick’s, I think everything would seem smaller.

The Moon, though, sometimes looms large when I’m up for a sunrise dip. To swim under its full but setting gaze, if only for a few cold minutes, is to be reminded that I’m just a dot floating on the water, on my own little sea of tranquillity, upon the Earth, within the Solar System, in the Milky Way. An infinitesimal speck in the Universe.

» Vin Maskell is a regular contributor to The Big Issue and the editor of music memoir site and sport site

» First appeared in Ed#591