The moon and the city noodle shop
Unless you have been in hibernation you will be aware that yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. Every newspaper and television network has been bombarding us with tales featuring small steps, giant leaps, eagles landing, lift-offs and splashdowns.
It's one of those rare events, like the Kennedy assassination, where you remember exactly where you were at the time Neil Armstrong made those historic steps, followed by Buzz Aldrin. On the downside, if you can remember what you were doing on July 20, 1969, it means that you are, like me, a certified wrinkly.
I watched the landing in an old wooden noodle shop in the Makkasan area. Probably because we were regulars, the noodle shop owner kindly invited my colleague Clarence Shettlesworth and I upstairs and we sat on the wooden floor to watch the great event on his television. There was some flickering, but that was the norm for local TV stations anyway. I recall consuming my regular three baht plate of fried rice, kow pad being one of the few dishes I knew how to order.
Watching Armstrong taking those tentative first steps on the moon's surface was an unforgettable experience and I have been forever grateful to the shop owner for letting us witness such a remarkable event.
On a more upmarket culinary note, the Bangkok restaurant, Neil's Tavern, on Soi Ruam Rudee was named in honour of Armstrong and is also celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
The third man
Ironically, one of the few people not to watch the landing live on television was Mike Collins, now 88, the sometimes forgotten third member of the crew. He was whizzing around the moon's orbit while Armstrong and Aldrin were in the spotlight. One wonders if he ever gets asked what he was doing the day man landed on the moon. "Working" is probably his answer. It was said about Collins that "not since Adam has any human known such solitude" as he orbited the moon alone.
Unidentified flying object
Thailand has not exactly been at the forefront of space exploration. However, there was a brief scare some years ago when it was suggested that the out-of-control Skylab space station might crash into Bangkok. It missed by about 7,000 kilometres. For several years after that, anyone in Thailand deemed to be a few satang short of a full baht was nicknamed "Sa-ky-lap".
Of course, we still get occasional sightings of UFOs in Thailand but most of them turn out to be tuk-tuks. There was also a UFO of a slightly different nature when an enraged wife cut off her husband's "thingy" tying it to a balloon and sending it skywards into space forever. It's probably still up there somewhere.
Ground Control to Major Tom
The moon must have earned a mention in a million songs, not in relationship to space exploration but because it sounds romantic and more importantly is a good rhyming word -- June, tune, swoon, spoon, croon, dune, prune -- well, that's enough of that.
I don't think the moon is actually mentioned in my favourite space song, Space Oddity, by David Bowie. However, the song was released to coincide with the 1969 landing and no doubt it is being resurrected for the anniversary celebrations.
But Bowie's lyrics had a dark side about the spaceman, "for here I am, sitting in a tin can, far above the world". Of course, things take a nasty turn when he hears "ground control to Major Tom, your circuit's dead, there's something wrong".
Now that's something you definitely don't want to hear while sitting in a spaceship.
Time for a walk
In 1973 came Elton John's classic Rocket Man, which is actually about a mission to Mars. However Bernie Taupin's lyrics carried a similar message about a spaceman's solitude: "I miss the Earth so much, I miss my wife, it's lonely out in space in such a timeless flight."
The result of all this space talk is that I can't get out of my head that old Police song from 1979, Walking on the Moon. So why should I suffer alone? Altogether now: "Giant steps are what you take, walking on the moon, I hope my legs don't break, walking on the moon."
Admittedly they are dodgy lyrics, and Sting did later confess he wrote it when he was drunk.
Back to the future
My first space heroes were Jet Morgan and his crew who starred in the BBC sci-fi radio series Journey Into Space in the mid 1950s. My cousin Robert and I listened to it together, crouched over an ancient wooden wireless. We would wait with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation as a stern voice would inform us at the start of each show it was "a tale of the future". In fact it was not that much in the future, being set in 1965, but as eight-year-olds that seemed like a lifetime away.
It was very basic and relied a lot on creepy music and sound effects, but it captured the imagination and we travelled every inch of that journey to the moon and later Mars. More importantly, Jet Morgan reached the moon four years before Armstrong and company.
However, unlike the American astronauts, Jet and his crew suffered the embarrassment of getting stranded on the moon, but were later rescued by friendly UFOs. Splendid stuff.
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Bangkok Post columnist
A long time popular Bangkok Post columnist. In 1994 he won the Ayumongkol Literary Award. For many years he was Sports Editor at the Bangkok Post.
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