death gets cute

and death didst come to me as in a dream
and I didst sit bolt upright in bed and scream
and my pajamas verily most heavily didst cream

Jiiiiiimmmmmmmyyyyyy he said
floating sulphurously over the bed

am I dead I said
no don’t worry he said
at least not yet

so what the hell is it
some kinda sick social visit

so…I don’t know… it was just getting boring
he said, yawning
then carefully resetting his jaw in the sling
he had to wear
round his skull instead of hair
to keep his jaw there

what d’ya mean – eternity?
I mean – you’ve got my sympathy
mate, but as far as I can see
that’s nothing to do with me
you’re having a laugh
I’ve got to get up in an hour and a half

somebody’s grumpy he said
maybe you should try going to bed
a weensy bit earlier at night
then maybe you wouldn’t be so clippy, alright?

yeah? well I heard death could be agonising
but I’d rather have that than patronising

don’t be mean, he said
sadly descending to the foot of the bed
where he smouldered with a strange intensity
that lacked discernible heat or density
which I have to admit was all pretty new to me

sorry, I said – you caught me off guard
I try to be understanding but it’s hard
especially when you’re so freakin’ charred
does that mean hell is hot
or not
is there a God?
Jesus Christ I hope not

actually no there isn’t
he sighed
carefully putting his scythe aside
crooking one bony knee over the other
idly picking fluff from my cover

you see – Jimmy – God is just a story you tell
about angels, prophets, heaven and hell
a touching way of making sense
of the fundamental questions of existence
to which the answer is oxygen and carbon
and if I’ve rocked your world I beg your pardon

okay – so – I don’t get it
Death comes to visit
and you want me to forget it?

I’m an allegory, dear
a gorgeous but hokey souvenir
a byproduct of consciousness
he said, clapping his phalanges
you mortals really are such a tease
you ask about God – well…take a look around
there are millions of deities to be found
in any place you care to look
from Weston-super-Mare to Çatalhöyük
I could talk you through the creation myths
but there’s nothing duller than shopping lists

he gaped at me
gappily
seemingly quite happily
with what I took to be affection
and I have to admit the conversation
was heading in a wholly unexpected direction

so.. how am I supposed to feel
now that I know that God’s not real?

Who knows? said Death as the clock struck twelve
you’ll just have to figure it out for yourself
and with a hopelessly boney stamp
and an inexplicable but theatrical dimming of the lamp
he flashed me a look that was scary but appealing
then shot straight up through the bedroom ceiling

I sat there wondering what I’d just seen
I mean
for someone supposedly fictional
he was pretty vocal and visual

but just as I lay back on the pillow
there was another booming billow
of fire and smoke
and the very same cloaky bloke
came floating back

Whaaaat? I said
sitting up in bed
Was that all a joke?
Were you toying with me?
Don’t be silly
he said
tip-toeing round the bed
trying to act all cool & blythe
I just came back to fetch my scythe

scrapbook

how he’d cycle off to work on his old Raleigh
clicking through the little gears one two three
the sprung saddle creaking as he worked his knees

how he’d sigh as he slowly sawed through his food
every mouthful methodically chewed
the ketchup bottle tightly screwed

how he took up skipping to lose some weight
and the vibrations made the whole house shake
as he thumped up and down by the bolted gate

how he’d make a strangled, high-pitched cry
and squeeze small tears from the slots of his eyes
in the sitting room on Saturday for Morecambe & Wise

how he’d mutter to himself and say I don’t know
staring at the garden from the kitchen window
sipping warm tea in a Sunday limbo

and now he’s gone but the bike’s still there
the bolted gate, the kitchen chair
the scraps we leave when we disappear

moth orchids

For the life of me, I cannot figure out this gate. It’s held with a strange drop-down mechanism I’ve never seen before, something you have to raise up then angle straight out so the hoop of the gate can pass over it. Something like that.
Brenda watches me from the back door.
‘There!’ I say. ‘Made it!’
‘Well done!’ she says, clapping in that speeded-up way people do with their wrists together. ‘It is fiddly!’
She stares at me so intently, her makeup and hair so perfect, her pink slacks and knitted white cardigan so – I don’t know – central casting, I get the strange feeling I’m in a sitcom. And I’ve forgotten my lines.
‘Come on in!’ says Brenda, improvising to cover. ‘We’re so grateful you stopped by.’
I follow her into the front room. It’s as immaculate as Brenda, of course, with the same, stagey aura of perfection.
‘Shall I fill you in on some background?’ she says, gesturing to a sofa.
‘Sure.’
I put my bags down, and when I sit on the big cream sofa, it’s hard to resist sitting exactly like Brenda, knees together, legs angled off to the left, like a debuttante or something.
‘I’m worried about James,’ she says, massaging the rings on her gnarly fingers.
‘I’m sorry to hear that, Brenda. Why? What’s been going on?’
‘He’s not himself. Six weeks ago we were on the bus together, going off along the coast, having a lovely day out. Having adventures. I mean – he’s never been the chatty sort, but if you ask him a direct question – nose to nose! – he’ll answer you alright!’
When she says ‘nose to nose’ she puts the flat of her hand to the end of her nose, then peeks round it, and smiles.
‘So – six weeks ago, James was his normal self. And now… what’s happened?’
‘Well he’s just become sleepier and sleepier, until this last week he can’t even get out of bed.’
‘Oh?’
‘It’s really not like him. He’s normally so active. I’m so glad you’re here because otherwise I don’t know what I’d do. I’ve got Steven of course, our son, and he’s wonderful. But he’s not a doctor, is he? He’s as worried as me.’
‘Well I’m sorry to hear you’ve had a difficult time of it, Brenda. Shall we go upstairs and say hello to the man himself?’
‘Yes!’ she says, brightening and standing up. ‘We’re both so grateful for the NHS. You’re lifesavers, really you are.’
‘That’s kind of you to say so.’
‘Oh I mean it. I have nothing but admiration for the work you do.’

I follow her up the stairs, past a pot of green and white moth orchids, reaching down towards us from their alcove.

James is lying on his side in bed, his flushed and veiny face quite a contrast with the crisp, white duvet. Brenda walks round to the other side and gives him a tentative shake.
‘Jimmy? Darling? It’s a nurse from the hospital. He wants to see how you are…’
James slowly opens his eyes and stares blankly at me. Then he smiles and mouths the word hello.
He does seem very sleepy, nodding off when I talk to him. And whilst it’s true the room is warm and close, still I’m concerned. I take a set of obs, which surprisingly come back as normal.
‘And six weeks ago you were off together on the bus for a day out?’ I say, feeling his pulse, wondering what on earth is going on with his guy.
‘Yes! He’s always been so fit. I can’t understand it.’
‘Has the doctor actually visited James?’
‘No,’ she says. ‘They rang me up and we had a chat. I don’t know what to make of it at all.’

I phone the lead nurse and we talk through the situation. She agrees that it’s a good idea to take some bloods and see if that sheds some light. Meanwhile, we book in a follow-up nurse visit for later in the day.
‘We’ll be in touch!’ I say, waving to Brenda as I walk back through the front garden, expertly flipping the gate latch. with one hand.
‘Thank you so much!’ she says, then steps back inside, and quietly closes the door.

*

Later that day I talk it over with the nurse who took the follow-up visit.
‘It’s strange,’ she says. ‘He looks really unwell, but I can’t put my finger on it. Brenda says six weeks ago they used to go on the bus along the coast. I couldn’t decide whether his speech was affected or not. Brenda says he’s never been chatty, but if you ask him a direct question nose to nose…’
She makes the same hand gesture that Brenda did when she told me the story, too.
‘Brenda’s known to the memory clinic,’ I say to her.
‘Er-hum,’ says the nurse. ‘But she seems pretty fine for all that.’

*

The bloods are all fine. Nothing at all to indicate any acute illness, nothing to explain his sudden six week decline, increased lethargy and inability to get out of bed.

I try ringing Steven, the son, for some more information, but his phone keeps going to voicemail. In the end I decide to book in some further nursing visits, and to email the GP with a breakdown of what we’ve found, and what we think might need to happen next, including CT head to exclude any acute changes there.

Luckily, I try one last time to call Steven before I send the email.

‘You know mum’s got dementia, right?’ he says.
‘Well … I read she was known to the memory clinic.’
‘Right!’ he says. ‘She’s pretty confused. I know she presents well, but honestly, she’s clueless. The thing is, up till now she’s been the one getting dad out of bed in the morning. Ever since his stroke he’s been much less active. If you left him to it he’d just stay there all day. Once he’s up he’s not too bad, but he needs a lot of encouragement. Mum’s been good up till now, but for some reason these last few weeks she’s not so able. She’s got this idea he’s going to fall and it’ll be her fault, or something. I don’t know. Anyway – I do what I can to help out, but I can’t be there every morning. I’ve got a job and my own family to take care of. So that’s why the GP got you lot involved.’
‘So this story about how six weeks ago they were off on the bus together along the coast…?’
‘Six years, maybe.’
‘And you’re not worried that your dad’s more unwell?’
‘Dad? No! He’s the same. I mean, look – he’s never been what you might call chatty…’

neurosurgery for beginners

I don’t know
what it’ll take
to make
me get up & go

maybe some kinda surgery
where a blurry surgeon
emerges
from the pub
struggling to pull his scrubs up
falls backwards through the theatre doors
to the ironic applause
of all the bored nurses
who yawn as he curses
and the instrument tray searches
for the cranial saw
he finally finds by his crocs on the floor
then theatrically sets in a roar
to bloodily buzz and clunk
with a liberal spray and a chippy chunk
till someone taps him on his shoulder
and he turns and gives a sexy smoulder
that really only emphasises how much older
he is than anyone else there
but he’s too drunk to care
and as the anaesthetist gags
he turns back and grabs
my bangs
and flips back my hair
to the horrified screams of everyone there
and pops off the top
of my bony little mop
like the cap
from a bottle of Grolsch

takes a step back

gives his knuckles a crack

has a quick snack
of a baloney sandwich
he snitched
from the bins
on the way in

then with a tuneless hum
pokes my bulging cerebellum
for a bit
with the exploratory tip
of a ripped
glove
then with one last shove
dives elbows in
with a rusty probe one of the nurses throws at him
which he rotates & rattles
in ever growing circles
shouting ‘Is this any good? I don’t know! Fuck it!’
alarming as a farmer with a broom handle and a swill bucket

I think you’ll find that’s neurosurgery, in essence
you’re better off sticking to antidepressants

makeup

I must have been small
but I remember it all

how she made her eyes bigger
plucked her eyebrows
stuck each hair round the compact mirror
patted her cheeks in a peachy cloud

I liked the way she twisted the stick
dragged it slowly over each lip
rolled them evenly shiny and slick
cleaned a tooth with a fingertip

not that mum & dad ever went out
I suppose they could’ve, of course
I wonder what the makeup was about
stayed for the kids, never divorced

the persistence of thumbs

[EXPERIMENT: close your left eye / hold your left arm straight out in front of you, thumb up /
hold your right arm alongside it, also thumb up / staring at your left thumb, slowly move the right thumb to the right / until it disappears / this is your blind spot
]

when the thumb disappears you don’t see a blank
but a continuation of the high street bank
or the gunky green glass of the goldfish tank
or the motorcycle jacket belonging to Frank
or whatever damned thing that happens to be there
when you suddenly stick both thumbs in the air

you see – the spot where the optic nerve plugs in the retina
lacks sufficient photoreceptor
so you’d always have a patch that was blank
if your brain didn’t step in and clone more bank
(or motorcycle jacket, or gunky tank
depending which way you’re facing
and the thumb-sized hole that needs replacing)

I suppose you’d really have to say
for something that sits in the dark all day
the brain does a lot of heavy lifting
the supersensory sorting and sifting
of an infinite mass of incoming data
from Alan Partridge to Alligator
busily roughing out life’s variation
in one long thumbs up hallucination

Rocketship X-M

Rocketship X-M. 1950. Dir. Kurt Neumann. Watched on YouTube, so you don’t have to.

Robert L Lippert presents… it says on the opening card, with the kind of loopy signature you practice on your homework book in case you ever get famous. The cast actually has people I’ve heard of. Lloyd Bridges. Noah Beery. Hmm. It’s also got Osa Massen, which is very satisfying to say quickly. The intro music is the usual ‘orchestra going crazy because they think they’ll get paid more if they play hard and fast’ – which may or may not be true. It makes you long for a harp (but this is the ONLY time that happens).

Kurt Neumann is listed as writer, producer AND director. So I’m guessing he’s either brilliant or a tightwad.

The film opens with a big sign: US Government Property. No Trespassing. It’d be great if the end credits played then and we all went away and did something else. I mean – you don’t want to break the law, do you? You do? Shit. Then let’s do it.

There’s a countdown going on. In a science-type room with machines with dials and knobs and men in suits wandering round with clipboards looking worried. One guy getting his blood pressure checked. (Possibly writer / director / producer Kurt Neumann).

There’s a woman getting her blood pressure, too – so I’m guessing this must be the crew. Smug guys zipping themselves into leather flight jackets. We cut back to the first guy. The doctor is still pumping up the cuff. The doctor looks so old and frail you kinda want to do HIS blood pressure instead. First guy looks impatient.

The doc tells him his blood pressure’s high but understandable under the circumstance. Lloyd Bridges nods to the woman and says ‘The weaker sex! The only one whose blood pressure’s normal.’ All the men laugh. For her sake I hope it’s not a long trip.

The guy puts his jacket on and says: ‘Thank you doctor. And goodnight.’ A strangely touching farewell. Off they go to the launchpad. (I originally typed ‘lunch pad’ – which would be more exciting at this point).

They walk off through a long corridor. No lights. You’d think if they can afford a rocket they can afford lights.

They enter a room filled with smoking journos. As in cigarettes, not talent. The tannoy says ‘X minus 16 minutes.’ If I was due to get blasted off in 16 minutes I’d want to be strapped in the chair already, not taking a seat for a press conference. Maybe that’s why I’ve never made it into space. I’m too punctual.

A serious guy in a suit – probably the Flight Director, although I wouldn’t be surprised if it was writer / director / producer Kurt Neumann) – gives a long and serious talk to the press that goes on for a serious length of time but that does – eventually – reveal that XM stands for ‘expedition to the moon’. Thanks for that. You wouldn’t think they were due to leave in about five minutes. ‘Forever… man has dreamed of visiting our nearest heavenly bodies…’ He puts his hand in his pocket and leans on the desk. I mean – at this point I’d be out the door and sprinting down the dark corridor to the lunch pad.

He introduces the crew. First, (what sounds like) Dr Karl Excrement (but I think he means Eckstrom). Karl looks like a car salesman but is actually a brilliant physicist, apparently. Lisa Van Horn, doctor of chemistry. Colonel Floyd Graham (which is handy, because that’s Lloyd Bridges, so Floyd / Lloyd – really helpful, thanx); Harry Chamberlain, astronomer; Major William Corrigan, engineer (which is Noah Beery – engineery – thx again). The Flight Director asks Dr Eckstrom to outline the flight plan. I mean honestly – hasn’t anyone got a WATCH??

The tannoy says ‘X minus fourteen minutes’ as Karl stands at the blackboard. I’m guessing the tannoy is more directed at the audience, who – like me – must be getting anxious. We’ve paid to see rockets and aliens. This is like school (although we weren’t allowed to smoke in school, unless we were in detention, in which case we injected).

Jesus Christ. Karl draws a circle. The Earth? The moon? No – it’s the Earth. He draws another circle further away. Then tells us HOW much further away that is. Look – I don’t need to know, professor. I’m guessing you can’t just walk there. Please. I’m begging you. Get your spacesuit on. If you’re in too much of a hurry the zipper might jam.

I have a horrible feeling he’s not drawing the earth and the moon with points of takeoff and whatnot, but a rude picture. This is not the kind of behaviour you expect from an astronaut – and especially not when you’ve got about FIVE MINUTES TILL LIFT OFF.

He slides a panel of the board back to reveal a pre-drawn picture of the rocket, dangerously phallic, of course. This Karl…. he acts all stiff and formal but he’s actually filthy.

The talk goes on. The press corps are all asleep or on fire after falling on their cigarettes.

‘A few more details which might interest you,’ says Karl, pointing to the cabin, which apparently has enough oxygen, although I’m not sure about the press room. ‘Any questions?’ says Karl. Everyone leaves.

A few of the press stay behind, though. One asks the astronomer Harry if he has any family (what do they know about this trip?). ‘No – I’ve been living on mountain tops’ says Harry. Okay. Yep. At T-Minus GET THE FUCK OUTTA THERE.

‘Have you ever done any flying?’ says the reporter, holding his notepad ready. ‘Only as a passenger,’ says Harry. I’m guessing he really is only along for the astronomy, then. I’m slightly worried at the direction the reporter is taking. ‘But – you’re the navigator!’ he says. Harry starts to explain why an astronomer is better navigating in space than a REAL navigator, but the camera cuts away to Bill Corrigan, also answering questions. (I used to love Noah Beery in The Rockford Files. I refuse to say anything mean about Noah Beery). He gives a warm and delightful little monologue about his wife and how proud she was when he said to her ‘Honey? I’m going to the moon! She says what for? They ain’t got nothing there we ain’t got plenty of in Texas!’ Bashful. Warm. Filled with charismatic humanity. Classic Beery.

And I won’t say anything snippy about Floyd / Lloyd Bridges, either. The reporters interview him – he gives great, smouldering answers, ‘I’ve flown a hundred missions’ etc. Amazing. I don’t care the rocket’s about to take off without ‘em. I could do this press conference all day. (Which is just as well, the way things are going).

Although… he gestures towards Lisa Van Horn and says ‘this is the hottest crew I’ve ever worked with – especially in the brains department.’ Oof. Although to be fair, he didn’t write the script, and an actor’s gotta eat.

‘Unless you look like a test tube or a chemical formula, you haven’t got a chance,’ says Floyd. Mind you, if he took off his clothes and held his hands straight down by his sides… (maybe he’ll do just that, later. It is Lloyd Bridges, after all).

The Flight Director strides onto the stage again. ‘Ladies and Gentlemen – we are pressed for time…’ No shit.

The crew go back down the dark corridor. The WHOLE corridor – sauntering, not striding. I mean – the rocket and all that…? The film is an hour and forty five. So far we’ve had fifteen minutes of blood pressure monitoring, blackboard illustrations and sauntering. I mean – jeez.

They saunter outside and meet with a bunch of guys in white lab coats. There’s a rocket in the background, a bit like an airstream mobile home but upended and the end sharpened. ‘X minus seven minutes,’ says the tannoy. No one seems at all bothered. SEVEN MINUTES!

The lab guys reassure the crew that ‘everything’s in order’ – they’ve checked the oil, made sure there were magazines in the rack &c. ‘I can’t think of anything we’ve overlooked,’ says Karl. I can. YOU HAVEN’T GOTTEN ON BOARD YET.

The rocket is right there but for some reason they take a taxi. They’ve got six minutes. I hope they don’t take the freeway. This time a’ night, mac. Sheesh.

Back in the control room. I love the instruments they had back then. Very high spec. One of them looks like a spinning wheel. The reporters are all in there, smoking. The Flight Director runs in to watch through the window. His boots sound enormous, like they’re made of lead. Nobody takes any notice. He’s probably famous for it.

They’ve got less than five minutes before the rocket takes off, and still they find time to admire the view from the gantry.

FINALLY – they climb through the hatch into the rocket control room. It looks pretty fancy. A bit steampunk, like someone was fixing to shoot a chemical works into space. There’s a row of clipboards hanging above one of the consoles. I find them reassuring. Probably tick lists. BURNER check. MAGAZINES check SEXISM check &c

When Floyd comes on deck he takes his jacket off and throws it in a corner. Has anyone told him about weightlessness? That jacket’s comin’ back.

Van Horn gives the guys a quick lesson in fuel technology. It’s like she’s hypnotised. Three minutes to go and no-one’s strapped in. I’m the twitchiest one out of all of them, and this happened seventy years ago.

They all get into bunks and buckle up. For some reason Karl has to help Van Horn do her buckle up. He doesn’t help the guys. I hope Van Horn is more competent with fuel technology than she is with buckles.

A series of tense cuts between the faces of the astronauts lying in their bunks, to the people waiting in the control room, to the dial counting down the seconds – which everyone is FINALLY paying attention to. At zero, you get a close up of a gas burner, like someone’s going to put on some water for pasta.

I can’t believe it! The rocket takes off!

Van Horn gets a headache. Karl licks his moustache. Bill the engineer puts his hands over his ears (Classic Beery).

Everyone in the control room watches it go up. One guy even has a telescope (he must’ve brought it with him). Suddenly the Flight Director says: ‘Now if you’d follow me we’ll try to make radio contact with the ship’. They all do. All journalists are like this, btw. Basically clueless.

Now they’re in space, the crew get out of their bunks. They’re all a little shaken up. ‘I feel like I just tossed off a spooky bronc’ says Bill. They all look at him uneasily. Classic Beery.

They get busy with the clipboards, turning dials &c. The ship makes a sound like the radiators need bleeding, but they don’t seem worried. Van Horn stares out the window, at the Earth disappearing. She calls Harry over. She knows he likes looking at things at distance. It’s his creepy super power. They share a moment, together at the window. ‘Stand by to turn’ says Karl, ominously.

They turn. I REALLY don’t think anyone’s told them about weightlessness. They all lean.

Time passes. They orbit the earth picking up speed to slingshot to the moon. The Flight Director clumps around the increasingly smoky control room in his special boots, more anxious than he was before lift off. They could use those boots in space (although it doesn’t look as if there’s any weightlessness, so…)

Bill turns some dials and gets nostalgic about Texas. I don’t actually think he’s from Texas. I think he’s from Poughkeepsie. He jettisons the tail section by pulling a great big lever. Very satisfying. You don’t get the same kick from buttons.

Seconds later they almost get whacked by the tail section coming back. I’m still worried about Floyd’s jacket, btw.

Back in the control centre, the Flight Director hands out press releases to the journalists. I’m guessing not with any details of the ship almost getting whacked five seconds after jettisoning the tail section.

Back on the ship, they finally get to have some lunch. Some of the most commonly asked questions of astronauts (and I should know; I am one), are: what do you eat? how do you poo? how do you hang up your jackets so they don’t fly around the place and cause a problem? Well – now we know the answer to the first question. They eat ham sandwiches. Bill eats one whilst wandering around the flight deck, one hand in his pocket, reminiscing about Texas.

OMG! Floyd’s jacket starts rising up! They’re becoming weightless! (I KNEW IT) Only it turns out it’s not Floyd’s jacket but Harry’s. Still – close enough.

Floyds starts flirting with Van Horn. I like Lloyd Bridges, but this scene makes you want to slam the laptop shut and throw yourself out the window (even if you are only on the ground floor). They’re ten minutes into a mission to the moon and already he’s saying she should be back in the kitchen bearing children or something. Whilst nibbling his sandwich suggestively. Oof.

The scene is mercifully interrupted by a noise from the engines like a pigeon just flew in a duct. Although – that far in space? Maybe an intergalactic space swan.

Floyd and Bill crawl down into the engine compartment to see what’s wrong. I get the feeling they know about as much about rocket engines as I know about car engines, because they do exactly the same thing, which is aimlessly jiggle things, and look around, and wonder whether it might help emptying the ashtray.

There’s a tense scene where Van Horn is sitting at a desk next to Karl, both of them filling out a customer questionnaire form, or something. Bill takes out a harmonica. It floats around him just exactly as if it was on strings. He plays catch and release with it a while. Then starts to play. ‘If you don’t mind…’ says Karl, tetchily. I’m not convinced Bill was such a good choice for this trip, Beery or no Beery.

Van Horn and Karl argue over some bullshit maths. They get different answers. Van Horn gets upset – but then apologises. ‘For what?’ says Karl. ‘For being a woman?’ Yeech.

Cut to a gigantic knob. Actually it’s a telescope back on earth, turning up to look at the rocket or something. Patriotic brass section on the score. A full half of this movie seems to be stock footage. So writer / director / producer Kurt Neumann didn’t just save money on the cast list, then.

Turns out, the telescope is Mount Palomar Observatory. A professorial type guy in round specs like someone put paint on the view finders calls the Flight Director to say that very little has changed. Thanks, for that. Thanks a lot.

Back on the rocket, Floyd is staring out the window quoting Kipling, which makes complete sense.

Karl has fallen asleep on the very clipboard Van Horn needs. Floyd sneaks the clipboard out from under his arm and gives it to her (after first telling her a long and unnecessary anecdote about one christmas when he knocked over the tree).

They give up on the calculations and both go to the window to look some more at the earth. ‘You know it’s funny,’ says Van Horn. ‘One never thinks of the earth that way, as a dying planet with nothing to give out but reflected light’. Which seems harsh, and maybe why her specialty’s chemistry. But Floyd points to the moon. Apparently he’s done some of his best work by moonlight…’ Yeech.

Van Horn talks about a romantic stroll she once took around Lake Lucerne, comparing most of it to cold coffee with ice cream chips. Floyd smoulders. Says daydreaming’s good for you once in a while. I swear his chest hair is growing out of his shirt. Probably the effect of the moon.

The romantic scene is interrupted by meteorites. They fly by like chocolate breakfast cereal being tipped into a bowl (I’m sounding like Van Horn). After they’ve gone, Harry says he wished one of them had wiped them out. At least it would’ve been quick. I’m with Harry on this one.

Karl and Van Horn figure out the fuel problem and show us what they propose doing on a chart. I don’t care. I just want someone to fly the thing to the moon, or Poughkeepsie, or any damned where.

God help us, but Floyd and Bill go back down to the engine room to rearrange the engines.

Back on the bridge, they pull some levers. Everyone falls about – including Karl onto Floyd, who releases the lever and bad stuff happens. They’re all unconscious now. The orchestra sounds like that bit at the end of A Day in the Life on Sergeant Pepper. The dials go crazy…

Cut to: the Flight Director on the phone to the comedy professor from Mount Palomar – who gives him the bad news. ‘Are you sure?’ says the FD – then slowly puts the phone down and says in his best Boris Karloff voice that the rocket is heading at incredible velocity into limitless space – which doesn’t sound promising (although actually … I don’t know… ).

Back on the rocket, they’re still unconscious. Van Horn is the first to wake up. She reaches down from her bunk to give Floyd a good slap – something she should’ve done a while ago. His nose is bleeding (wow! that WAS a slap). He gets up and turns the oxygen up a bit, which is smart (for him). Van Horn goes over to Karl and gives HIM a slap, too (Go, girl!)

They check all the instruments to figure out where they are in the script. Karl has the bright idea of looking out the window. Mars! That’s why he’s leader!

‘Mars! Well whaddya know!’ says Bill. (Classic Beery)

Floyd still has a bloody nose. Someone should tell him.

They get ready to land on Mars, which means tapping dials with pencils, drawing diagrams and shouting out random numbers.

Another countdown – and no-one’s getting buckled up. I mean, am I just being overly safety conscious?

Floyd is back on the levers, reducing power and everything. After last time…?

They scuff the landing, of course. Despite the gravitas with which Karl delivers his instructions, a lot of thrust and tonnes and whatnot, I’m not convinced he’s got the slightest idea what he’s doing. But still – probably a little more than Bill.

Flashes of lightning outside. A Martian storm! Bill’s excited – not by the storm, but by the prospect of putting on a helmet. (Classic Beery).

However, Karl says they won’t need suits because Mars has atmosphere. (Really, Karl?) ‘We can accomplish so much more, unencumbered’ says Karl. (writer / director / producer Kurt Neumann must have snickered when he wrote that line – and then nodded to his accountant – although, come to think of it, no doubt he did the books, too).

Well. We get a spooky distance shot of the rocket parked on Mars and tiny figures walking out. Theremins play, natch. The crew are dressed in army fatigues and wearing little oxygen masks. Karl is wearing binoculars round his neck and carrying a walking stick. Oh Karl.

Apart from the red sky, it looks uncannily like the desert we’ve seen in the last few films. There’s a VERY long shot of the crew walking through it. They do a lot of walking, for astronauts

They stop for a while so Karl can admire the incredible mineral deposits through his binoculars. Then they carry on walking.

If this was a cult hit, the audience would walk around the auditorium for about an hour at this point. Stop. Point at nothing at all. Carry on walking.

‘Sand and rock. Rock and sand,’ says Bill. ‘I wonder when we’re going to run across some of these Martians? From what I’ve read, they’ve got pale faces and pinheads and fishy eyes…’ (Definitely Poughkeepsie).

Actually – aside from the movie for a minute – this scene encapsulates what I often think about the prospect of a trip to Mars. You spend two years getting there, hop out, walk around a whole lot of nothing, then get back in and it’s another two years back. It reminds me of the time when I took my girlfriend’s grandma to Stonehenge. It was a three hour car trip, she got out, stood and looked at the stones, said ‘I’ve seen enough’ and got back in the car.

At last! They come across a ruined building. Van Horn takes a picture. ‘I’ve seen enough’ she says. Gets back in the rocket. (I’m kidding).

They find the head of a statue in the sand. Looks kinda grumpy. A bit like how I imagine Kurt Neumann to look when he sees the rushes.

The geiger counter’s going nuts. ‘Radioactivity is at a danger level’ says Karl. He thinks it was war that wiped out life on Mars. Harry thinks they should head back to the rocket – maybe things are getting too close-up for his liking. Karl thinks they should carry on exploring. They’ve got plenty of supplies, he says – although the ham sandwiches will be a bit curly by now.

‘Are there any survivors?’ asks Van Horn. Karl makes a speech about mutations & deformities, so hopefully…

They go to sleep in a cave, with Harry keeping watch (ever the watcher). And thank God for that – because he sees some Martians creeping up. They disappear when he yells at them. The crew wake up. They all go chasing after the Martians.

Bill and Karl go on ahead to see if they can find the Martians. The others stay behind.

One of the Martians trips and falls down the slope. Bill and Karl hurry over. Turns out it’s a starlet on contract, dressed in a primitive skin bathing suit. We get a close up of her face. Her eyebrows are beautifully manicured – but unfortunately she’s blind (we know this becuase she puts her hands out in front of her when she moves, like it only just happened). She screams! Bill and Karl hurry away again. Two lunkish guys in primitive skin swimming trunks come and take her away – for legal advice or acting lessons or something, I’m not sure.

‘Atomic age … to stone age,’ says Karl. I don’t know. I think the tailoring on that bathing suit was pretty impressive.

The Martians hurl boulders at them. They don’t like the implication of his speech.

Bill is killed – presumably. Karl doesn’t hang around long enough to properly check.

Karl fires randomly at the Martians, who wave their sticks in reply. We get a close-up of one Martian’s back, which is horribly made-up. He goes to throw something spiky at Karl.

Karl staggers back to the others. ‘Where’s Bill?’ shouts Floyd. Karl looks confused, then falls forward, the spiky thing in his back (well – just to the side of his backpack, so respect to the accuracy of the Martian, there).

‘They’re crazed, despairing wretches. Pity them,’ says Karl. ‘Get back to Earth. Tell them what we found. Maybe this will…’ then he dies.

The three remaining crew run back to the ship pursued by the Martians. I have to say – for people who have grown up on Mars, the Martians don’t run very confidently about the place. They hobble like me walking barefoot on a pebbly beach.

Floyd trips, then gets squashed by a big ass boulder thrown by a Martian. But the others help him up and they all stagger on to the rocket. It’d take more than a boulder. Although he probably has a nosebleed.

Next thing you know, the rocket is taking off again. We’re back on the flight deck. Actually – turns out it was Harry who got squashed by the rock. It’s hard to tell with those oxygen masks. Anyway – without Harry it’s difficult to navigate, apparently. At least Van Horn has changed into a black polo neck shirt, which sets off her eyes nicely – oh my God – I’m turning into Floyd.

‘I see a woman sweet, gentle and beautiful,’ says Floyd. Turn the ship around, Van Horn! Take your chances with the Martians!

For some reason they’re almost back at Earth. It’s obviously quicker on the way back, probably a tail wind or something. ‘Speeds increasing! Shut off the fuel…’ says Floyd. But Van Horn can see they have no fuel left. They’ll simply crash on reentry. Mournful violins play (although crashing cymbals might be more illustrative).

Floyd calls the control centre to let them know how things stood on Mars before they smash into the Earth at uncontrollable speed and that sort of thing. The Flight Director marches down the corridor in his enormous boots. He has a go on the radio, too. Goes through a range of expressions that make him well worth the fifty dollars he got for the part. And no repeat fees.

Extreme close up on the Flight Director’s face when he learns that Karl didn’t make it. The sweat on his forehead is superb. Honestly, this is Oscar winning stuff (if there was no-one else that year to give it to). The orchestra goes into full scale romantic meltdown. It makes me re-evaluate the relationship between Karl and the Flight Director. It seems to make more sense now. Why they built the rocket in the first place. Why they delayed taking off. He clumps off to a corner of the office. We see only his shadow on the wall. A shadow of his former self. Congrats all round. Honestly – the best.

Back on the rocket, Van Horn looks out the window again. Floyd joins her. ‘Floyd! Hold me! Hold me tight!’ she says. He does. He says some comforting stuff, such as ‘there’s not much difference between the future and the past…’ neglecting to mention the present, which is very much about ploughing into the earth at a thousand miles a second. Van Horn says she’s not afraid. There’s a great wave bearing them up, or something. Then the screen goes white and they crash. Gulp!

Cut to: The Flight Director looking out of HIS window. Someone tells him the news syndicate are waiting. They all come in. One of them says they’ve received reports of a strange craft plummeting into Nova Scotia. Another – presumably a nephew of Kurt Neumann, because he struggles to deliver his single line with anything LIKE normality – says that he’s been hearing the same thing, too.

The Flight Director confirms it. Flight RXM was lost. When the newsmen describe it as a failure, the Flight Director disagrees. ‘It has supplied us with information that may well mean the salvation of our own world.’ He tells them they are to begin construction of RXM 2… and we watch as he walks sadly out to the empty lunch pad. Slowly.

And that’s it!
So what’ve I learned?

  1. It’s not actually that far to Mars. And you can pretty much walk to the moon.
  2. Throwing boulders is surprisingly effective. And more eco.
  3. Noah Beery is lovely, even in this stinker. Lloyd – not so much. (Although his smoulder is enhanced by a dark polo neck).
  4. It helps to have a little fuel left for the brakes on re-entry.
  5. Don’t get too hung up on countdowns. Three minutes is plenty – so long as there isn’t too much of a queue at the taxi rank.

seed potatoes

Dad came to me again last night
drifting through the door
without touching the floor
to hover at the foot of the bed
‘Alright, Jimmy boy?’ he said
I said ‘Yeah, Dad. Yeah. Alright?’

I sat up and rubbed my eyes
he was hovering there in his old string vest
and his big baggy trousers were a big muddy mess
like he’d just come in from hoeing the rows
to lay in trays of seed potatoes
his yearly gardening exercise

he rootled in his pockets
fetched out a tube of wine gums
asked me if I wanted one
tossed me a couple but soon discovered
they vanished when they were halfway over
– his wormy eyes rolled in their sockets

HE could chew, though
which he did, noiselessly
‘So…. got any questions for me?’
he said, sighing, looking round the room
‘Only be quick, ‘cos the cock crows soon
and that’s my signal I really gotta go’

the odd thing is I’d been thinking about that
how if my Dad was still alive
would I really be brave
and ask him about when he was a kid
the kinds of things he and HIS dad did
or how it all started in the Pimlico flat

or why they had such an enormous family
when they were essentially broke
whether he was a faithful bloke
or whether he really did have a fling
with that woman from work, and that kinda thing
but I just kept quiet, unfortunately

I wanted to ask what happened to him
why he got so stuck, why things went bad
considering the breaks he’d had
why in the end he couldn’t be free
and carried on living so painfully
having more kids, calling them Jim

but I couldn’t; this wasn’t the time
ghost or otherwise it was none of my business
other than to bear some kinda witness
to a careworn father who inspired his son
to lay down yet another ghostly poem
words like potatoes, sprouting in a line

squirrel cam

I can only think Ann was a philosopher or a physicist – or possibly a witch – because as a memorial, Ann’s Court is something of a gigantic, infernal puzzle. The other possibility is that Ann’s Court is built on some kind of ley-line snarl-up, a geo-locational snag that sends people sensitive to those things immediately insane. There has to be some reason I always get lost here, other than simply being tired and a bit dense. Being built into the side of a hill definitely doesn’t help, so that coming in the front door effectively means you’re starting off in the basement.

To be fair, even the people who live here seem to be confused. The sequence of buttons in the lift starts from lower ground. The designer has circled this button with green plastic, which I suppose in some ways suggests GO or WAY OUT. But it’s clearly not enough, because someone has taped a piece of cardboard with EXIT next to it, written in such a shaky hand I’m guessing it took them some while to find it, too. Each floor has about twenty flats, the corridors exactly the same, every front door identical, the numbers running in such a hectic, jumbled up, any-how order delivery people must come here in teams, calling out to each other at intervals, spooling out meters of fluorescent rope behind them, like cave divers.

So it’s something of a miracle that I find Dorothy’s flat.

She’s sitting in a straight-backed chair, hands on either handrest, an occasional table to her side with a plate of biscuits covered with a draped square of kitchen towel. The room is remarkably empty, with just a television, a small table and two chairs, and Dorothy. There’s a white and black plastic globe on the mantelpiece just exactly like a giant cartoon eye, which I’m guessing is a security cam.
‘Hello!’ I say. ‘I’m Jim, from the rapid response team, come to see how you are this evening.’
‘Hello,’ she says, severely. ‘Have you come to give me my pills?’
‘Yes. And anything else you need.’
‘The pills are on the top of the kitchen cabinets above the cooker,’ she says.
‘Okay!’
Dorothy watches me closely as I put my bag down and go into the little galley kitchen. It’s as bleak and empty as the rest of the flat. Above the work surfaces and the cooker are a line of cupboards. The door over the cooker looks like the cover to an extractor fan, so I ignore that and open the cupboards left and right: stacks of plates, a few cups, but no pills.
‘Not there!’ she shouts. ‘Above the cooker!’
There are some packets of pills on the very top of the extractor fan cover, although why someone would put them there I’ve no idea. It’s too high for me to reach, so I come out of the kitchen to fetch a chair.
‘What are you doing?’ she says.
‘I’m not tall enough.’
‘What do you mean, not tall enough?’
‘I need a chair.’
‘No one else needs a chair.’
‘Well – they’re probably taller than me.’
It’s odd, though. Even the tallest in our team would still struggle to reach those pills.
I go back into the kitchen and go up on my tippy toes to illustrate how far out of my reach the top of the cupboard is.
‘But they’re not up there!’ she shouts. ‘They’re in the cupboard!’
‘What – this?’ I say, pulling on the extractor fan cover.
‘Dear God – yes!’
It opens. It’s not an extractor fan cover. It’s a cupboard, with a yellow folder and a blister pack of medication.
‘Oh!’ I say, taking them out.
‘Oh,’ says Dorothy, imitating me. ‘Oh.’
Both Dorothy and the security cam scrutinise me as I check the MAR chart against the pills in the blister pack, tick the relevant boxes and dish them out.
‘I swallow this one and crunch that one,’ she says. ‘With these…’ exposing a set of yellowing teeth and clacking them rapidly.
‘Shall I get you some fresh tea?’
‘No,’ she says. ‘I like it cold.’
She takes her pills.
‘All gone!’ she says, poking out a chalky tongue.

When the visit’s all done and I’ve helped her to bed – the bedroom and the bathroom both with the same, giant eyeball cams – I turn out the lights and leave the flat. The floor lights snap on automatically, a vista of identical doors, identical landscape prints on the walls.

I decide not to use the lift, because it’s only three floors up, I need the exercise, and anyway, because of the pandemic, you shouldn’t use the lift unless it’s really necessary.

I open a door that seems to lead to the stairs but instead leads to a laundry room. The door next to it is even worse, opening onto a tiny space that doesn’t seem to have any purpose at all, except maybe as a priest hole. Back out onto the corridor, I decide to follow the exit signs. A white figure striding purposefully through a white door, on a green sign that says EXIT. It couldn’t be clearer. And yes – thankfully – it does lead to a staircase. A staircase that goes straight down, two flights per level, to a deadend landing where the EXIT door is locked with a shatterglass handle FOR EMERGENCIES ONLY. I figure there must be a staircase either end of each landing, the one at the other end leading to the foyer and the real way out. So I go back up to the landing above, and follow the corridor round, past endlessly anonymous front doors, to the EXIT sign at the far end. I reason that because I started up from the Lower Ground, I’ve just walked up to the ground floor, so to get to the Lower Ground exit I need to walk back down. So I’m completely confused to find more flats where the foyer should be. It’s only later I realise that because the block is built into the side of a hill, the EMERGENCY EXIT is actually on the ground floor. And what also doesn’t help is that although there are two flights of stairs per floor, there’s an extra, shorter flight down to the EMERGENCY EXIT. In my disoriented state I hadn’t realised that, because of the hill, I only needed to go up one flight of stairs to get to Ground level, then walk along that corridor to the other end and descend two flights of stairs to get back to the entrance on the LOWER GROUND. It’s simple, really, when you draw a diagram. And slow your breathing.

At the time, though, the only way I could escape from the block was to find the lift and press the button for LG with the shakily written EXIT sign taped next to it. I felt like writing something there myself. Thank you.

Back outside, the crisp Spring air never felt so wonderful. I stand a moment filling my lungs, wanting to throw my arms out to the side like Tim Robbins in The Shawshank Redemption. When I look back down I notice a squirrel, perched on the railings of the adjoining park. It has been staring at me as it chews a nut, but when it sees that I’ve seen it, instantly stops. Its tiny, Squirrel Cam eyes zoom in. Then in one clean motion, it grips the nut between its little yellow teeth, flashes its tail, flips on the spot, and vanishes.

Missile to the Moon

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Missile to the Moon, 1958, dir. Richard Cunha. Watched on YouTube, so you don’t have to.

Before we press play: I happen to know this one features a giant spider, web fans, so pucker up. I’m a big fan of big spiders. I loved the spider in The Incredible Shrinking Man. Devastated when it died – spoiler alert – which isn’t actually a spoiler alert, come to think of it – you can’t give a plot twist away and then say ‘spoiler alert’. Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Arachnophobia. I love a spider in a movie as much as I love a complicated equation on a blackboard that someone rubs out and writes the answer. But that’s another story.

  1. The film opens with a rocket taking off, then blaring trumpets and twirling violins, the gloopy title Missile to the Moon. So I’m guessing this isn’t a documentary.
  2. The cast list is so anonymous they may as well have printed the ingredients from a packet of cereal – but then the next list is of ‘international beauty contest winners’, so… erm…
  3. After the glaring opening the soundtrack settles down into the usual, vibraphone / theremin spacey-spooky shit that’s the aural equivalent of taking a glass elevator to the stars. At least it gives me a chance to finish my sandwich.
  4. A police car pulls up in the desert and a look-a-like Bob Hope Sheriff gets out and grumpily scans the horizon with his binoculars. He calls Control, with an expression on his face like he’d rather be anything than a Sheriff (which I totally sympathise with). ‘No sign of them’, he says. Shifts uncomfortably, which is either the script or IBS. Gets back in the car. We’re off!
  5. Cut to: An army guy with his left hand in his pocket, some other guy with his right hand in his pocket, both of them interrogating Dirk, a scientist who’s angry about something (rockets, not pockets).
  6. The Sheriff comes in (they take their hands out of their pockets). He’s carrying a torch, for some reason. He says ‘This isn’t exactly a social call’ (which explains the torch). He’s looking for some escaped criminals. He says he ‘didn’t expect them to get prast the prison fence’ – which they maybe didn’t reshoot because it showed how human the Sheriff was, scuffing his lines like that. He’s just a man with a torch, standing in front of other men with their hands back in their pockets).
  7. The guy in the suit, Steve – another scientist it turns out – pulls back the curtains and we see either a huge rocket far off or an MDF rocket close up. The general thinks it’s fantastic. Honestly? It looks like a lava lamp.
  8. Steve says he met Dirk when Dirk wrote to him inviting him to help out on his moon rocket, so I suppose it’s kinda of a fifties science version of Gaydar. The Colonel is scornful but sharpens up when Steve pokes him in the nipple.
  9. Steve’ fiance June Saxton hears her cue, knocks and comes in. The need for introductions allows Steve and The Colonel to describe to the audience who does what in the missile world. June says she saw the Sheriff’s car outside. Steve says he’s looking for two escaped convicts. June seems pretty neutral about it – but I suppose apart from the Colonel now and again they don’t get many visitors to the rocket pad.
  10. Cut to: Dirk and the Sheriff at the electric fence. ‘Don’t touch it till I turn off the current,’ says Dirk. I’m guessing he knows what the Sheriff’s like.
  11. Cut to: the two convicts in the rocket pad locker room. One’s Gary who’s small and punchy looking with the arms of his denim shirt rolled up to display his guns; the other is Lon – tall and thoughtful looking, the arms of his shirt rolled down (because he doesn’t have any guns, presumably).
  12. Turns out, the locker room is ACTUALLY ON THE ROCKET! Who knew rockets had locker rooms? Still – this is the fifties. There was more space back then. The convicts can’t jump out because the Sheriff and Dirk are sneaking about – although, if they knew the Sheriff, they wouldn’t be that worried.
  13. Dirk goes into the ship, sees the convicts, tells the Sheriff there’s no one there. Why? I don’t know. He’s got some plan or other. The convicts look uneasy – especially when they find out he’s locked them in. They don’t want to go to the moon. They were brought up in New Jersey. They know what it’s like.
  14. Dirk goes back to the office. Steve and June are having cocktails. They offer Dirk one but he declines and takes a pistol instead. June says she’s sorry if she said the wrong thing.
  15. Dirk goes to the convicts on the rocket and wins them over with some 7up, fruit, cold chicken and cake. Gary really likes the apple. Dirk says he wants them to come to the moon with him. They’re not sure at first, but when he says they’ll definitely make it back, they say he’s got a deal.
  16. The first thing Dirk wants them to do is ‘change into some clothes from the locker over there’. Gary looks wary. Hey – what kind of moon rocket IS this?
  17. Steve is about to drive June home when the rocket console lights up like a washing machine on spin cycle. Steve wants to investigate the rocket. He gets a gun out of the desk (how many guns do they HAVE?) June goes with him.
  18. Back on the rocket, Gary and Lon have changed into the new clothes which turn out not to be latex but everyday guy clothes and not significantly different to their convict clothes. Dirk may be a rocket scientist, but he seems unconcerned that the two people operating the flight deck are two criminals who get excited by apples and 7up.
  19. Steve and June go up the ladder into the rocket moments before it takes off. They have to put on oxygen masks in the locker room because it doesn’t have its own supply. ‘Will we be killed?’ she says. She’s nothing if direct.
  20. Lon flips the levers in order as Dirk tells him to. They blast off, making orgasm faces, especially Dirk, who seems to enjoy it more than anyone.
  21. When they leave the Earth’s orbit they unbuckle their seatbelts and slump in the chairs post-coital. Gary complains he’s got an achy back. Lon says he’s afraid to move. Where were they incarcerated – play school?
  22. Steve takes a while to recover, but June’s okay. She’s already got a clipboard to help Dirk go through all the rocket checks. Gary watches her whilst she settles down in front of a screen to watch for meteorites. The screen just has a black dot in the centre, which is either the moon or a fault. Dirk and Lon leave to check the deck below. Gary assaults June, then Dirk comes back. Dirk and Gary fight. Meanwhile, the screen flashes and beeps: meteorites! Everyone gets shaken up. A loose battery lands on Dirk’s head. Before he dies he gives Steve a medallion and says ‘you’ll need this’ then says ‘Lido! Forgive me, my Lido!’ Then dies. ‘He’s dead’ says Steve. All in all, a shocking scene. Especially the battery.
  23. June hasn’t told anyone about Gary assaulting her, which is odd and quite depressing. It’s like she expected it, being around the Colonel and the Sheriff and whatnot. In outer space as on planet earth, we seemed doomed to suffer this shit. I hope the spider gets him.
  24. The moon comes up on the scanner. ‘Break out the spacesuits’ says Steve.
  25. Lon operates the brakes with some more levers. He seems good with levers. No further comment at this point.
  26. They land. ‘This is the end of the line,’ says Steve. ‘Everybody out.’ Which must have inspired Neil Armstrong, to some extent.
  27. They stand around the ladder of the rocket on the moon, bitching about their spacesuits and making sure you know who’s in what (although a name tag wouldn’t have hurt). ‘These gravity boots work like a charm’ says Gary, marching up and down like the director said.
  28. They go off to explore. Some weird pointy shrubbery, but otherwise a bit like Utah. With theremins.
  29. In fact, I’m sure I recognise that boulder from the last film, Track of the Moon Beast. They must have a permanent editing suite, probably a canteen.
  30. Unbeknownst to them (unbeknownst? is that a word? sounds more like a recipe for cabbage) – unbeknownst to them, a boulder detaches itself from the other boulders, sprouts arms and takes a few steps, looking about as menacing as me in a dressing gown staggering around in the middle of the night. I think you could probably outrun it, gravity boots or no gravity boots. But we’ll see.
  31. Another one comes alive. And another. June screams (of course). The rock creatures waggle their arms, like me when I hear someone say does anyone want a cup of tea. June screams and falls over (like me, when I hear someone in the kitchen say does anyone want a cup of tea).
  32. They try shooting the rock creature, which doesn’t sound like a good idea, and turns out not to be. ‘There’s a cave. Let’s head for it’ says Steve. The rock creatures are too scared to follow them in. ‘Maybe they should try being a little more bolder’ I wish Steve said.
  33. Uh oh. Spider web. But better news, in that there’s a flaming torch. ‘No flame without oxygen’ says Steve, ever the scientist. They take off their mask and suits. Gary can feel eyes watching them. He wants to go back to the ship, but Steve says they’ve got guns, so not to worry (although as Gary points out, they didn’t work so good against the rock monsters). I really hope the spider gets him.
  34. Well – something gets him. He runs on ahead and you hear him say ‘No – keep away from me – what are you doing…. etc, and then screams. I hope it’s the spider. Although you wouldn’t talk to a spider like that unless you were a professional arachnologist, and feeling a bit snippy.
  35. A caped figure in the foreground appears, gasses them all unconscious. I don’t know – rock creatures, caped figures – the moon doesn’t seem all that friendly.
  36. They all wake up on a very cheap set that looks like it was borrowed from a local high school production of Cleopatra. A woman with a chandelier on her head appears, looking like Gloria Swanson fresh out of benzos. ‘I welcome you to Orlanda’ she says. ‘I am Lido’ she says. She says they must rest, and partake of their hospitality (which I’m afraid may well relate to the International Beauty Contest Winners listed in the credits). She pulls an embroidered bell cord. Who’d have thought the moon would’ve been so fancy?
  37. The IBCWs come in with platters of drumsticks. Steve goes straight to the drumsticks.
  38. One of the IBCWs approaches Steve with a pitcher. ‘At last – something to drink,’ he says. The IBCW backs away and goes to consult with Lido. ‘Maybe she didn’t like my face’ says Steve. (Or maybe she realised you’ve got a drink problem and she’s only going to make it worse).
  39. Actually, it’s because she saw the medallion. When it’s given to Lido she’s rapturous. ‘It IS Dirk!’ she says. ‘He has returned.’
  40. ‘Dirk! My Dirk!’ says another one of the IBCWs. She must really like Dirk. It’s suddenly apparent why Dirk took so much trouble building a rocket.
  41. Lido tells Steve why things have gone to shit since he left. They’re running out of food, oxygen, scatter cushions …. ‘Soon this satellite will be barren’ she says. ‘And you haven’t even commented on my blindness.’ Steve grimaces. ‘I was very sorry to see it,’ he says, ironically or otherwise, it’s hard to say. Lido thinks Steve is Dirk. She touches his face. She thinks he’s changed – for the better.
  42. Lido says she’s glad he’s back because he’s due to be married to her daughter Alpha tomorrow. Steve doesn’t look particularly concerned.
  43. Back in the main hall, Gary is sprawled in a fancy chair enjoying all the platters. ‘June – if there weren’t better material around I’d pinch you,’ he says. Jeez – I really hope that spider gets him.
  44. Gary goes off with one of the IBCWs, which is worrying. Mercifully he gets distracted by the diamonds she’s wearing. She says she’ll take him to a cave where you can pick them up.
  45. June thinks the IBCWs are a bit judgy. It’s true – when they’re not striding around with platters they’re sprawled around looking archer than the set.
  46. Steve comes back. He says the planet is doomed. It all started twenty years ago… but we’re spared the details.
  47. Cut to: Lon on an ottoman (which isn’t easy to say) with Zema, a sympathetic IBCW. Lon and Zema have an awkward romantic scene where they talk about oxygen and rock creatures and then kiss.
  48. Lido’s daughter Alpha arrives. She’s even more theatrical than her mum. ‘Come, Dirk!’ she says. He does. June looks cross.
  49. Alpha kisses Steve, who stands inertly (which he’s pretty good at), until June breaks them up. June and Alpha fight. Alpha storms off. ‘She will die’ she says. ‘I guess that did it,’ says Steve, inertly.
  50. Alpha confronts her mother. They have a battle of wills over who should rule Orlanda. Lido wins. Alpha storms off again. All in all you’d have to say she was pretty stormy. A couple of IBCWs stand in the background looking like they regretted ever signing the contract – catering wagon or no catering wagon.
  51. Gary is in the cave with the IBCW who’s bemused about his attraction to a load of old diamonds. Where the hell is the spider? We’re 55 minutes in. Never has a giant spider been more necessary.
  52. Alpha says she’s going to release the dark creatures. ‘Silence! There’s no time to waste!’ she says, and pulls another cord, this one more gothic, with something like a plasterer’s trowel on the end. A webby gate across a disreputable looking cave slides up. Spider time.
  53. Okay – so it’s a puppet spider with an expression of stupefying horror, a bit like Boris Johnson at the dispatch box – but a spider, goddamit, and I love it.
  54. Particularly the way it walks, those cute, hairy legs going up and down like pistons. Curiously – it only has two human eyes, which don’t blink, so I’m worried they might become irritated by the moon dust and whatnot. But having said that, it’s obviously taken many thousands of years of moon evolution – or moonvolution, if you will – to reach this state, so who am I to judge.
  55. The spider hurries off through the caves to find the earthlings. Before I go any further, I bet you fifty pounds June screams, and another fifty she trips and falls.
  56. Well – okay – it’s the IBCW who screams. And gets mauled by the spider. Which is actually less horrifying than getting mauled by Gary.
  57. Alpha gets up close with Steve and uses her mind skills to get him to do her bidding, which is basically to go with her to another planet and start a family. (By the way, her lipstick is interesting. It looks like she did it in the jeep on the way to the set).
  58. Alpha stabs her mum in the back with a letter opener and assumes the throne. She tells the others to make ready for a wedding after they use the extermination chamber, which sounds nice.
  59. The crew get taken to the ceremony. Steve is dressed in a ceremonial kaftan made from milk bottle tops. ‘Steve! I love you! Tell me you love me!’ shouts June. ‘Take the woman to the extermination chamber’ he says, which isn’t like him at all. He’s normally more inert. Once she’s gone, the ceremonies begin, which is a cue for some dancing so dreadful I’d rather take my chances with June.
  60. Cut to: June wrestling with some IBCWs down in the dungeons. There are some skeletons in the background, which isn’t a great look for a dungeon, but I suppose kinda expected. They chain her to a post, which looks spider ready. ‘Don’t’ she says, but they carry on anyway. The IBCWs pull a cord – this one with a spider on the end, which is worrying. Another gate lifts up.
  61. Back at the ceremony, the two convicts sneak out while everyone’s distracted by the terrible dancing. Zema gives Lon the key to the room where they’ve stashed all their spacesuits, and some light bulbs to throw at the rock creatures.
  62. June screams when she sees the spider approaching (fifty quid in the bank). The convicts run over and shoot it dead. Bloody hell! I hope there are more spiders. It didn’t get much of a run. The convicts untie June, who’s fainted but still standing upright. Maybe it’s a gravity thing. Gary runs off to get some more diamonds.
  63. Back at the ceremony the dance is still going on. I can’t believe it and neither can the audience. It’s obviously not just a lack of oxygen that’s killing this particular satellite. The other IBCWs run off to search for the convicts; meanwhile Zema goes mind-to-mind against Lido – and wins! Steve is free to shrug off his appalling kaftan and join the others.
  64. Zema weakens (I sympathise at this point). Lido’s daughter tells Zema to release the gas in the caves. There’s a fancy lever in the wall, with tin foil at the business end. Lon would love it. Zema puts her hand on it. The theremins go wild. But suddenly Zema throws one of her lightbulbs which turns out to be a grenade. The set gets blown to polystyrene.
  65. All the oxygen escapes from the caves. Steve, June & Lon have got their suits on, but Gary is away stocking up on diamonds.
  66. Cut to: Gary loaded up with two shopping bags of diamonds. In his spacesuit at least, so the lack of oxygen won’t bother him (as much as the lack of a spider is bothering me, anyway).
  67. The rock creatures come alive again to stop the crew making it back to the rocket. Steve blows one to bits with a grenade light bulb. A lot more effective than shooting them. Lido’s daughter tries to mind control him at distance, but accidentally falls on her knife, so that works out.
  68. Gary tries to catch up with the others carrying his bags of diamonds. He can’t outrun the rock creatures, though, and ends up blundering into the sunlight, where he combusts down to his skelington. Can’t say I’m upset by that. Although I’d have preferred him to get eaten by the spider. I don’t know why. They were made for each other, I suppose.
  69. They make their way back to the rocket. Before they take off, there’s just one thing June wants to know. ‘Am I prettier than Alpha?’ ‘Honey, there’s only one thing I want to see more and that’s good ol’ mother earth!’ says Steve, then winks over her head at Lon, who winks back and caresses his levers. Then the rocket hurtles upwards in a shower of vomit.

That’s it!
So what’ve I learned?

  1. The moon landings were obviously faked, because I didn’t see one rock creature or one former international beauty contest winner. And flags don’t flutter on the moon.
  2. Boris Johnson is a species of spider.
  3. You can be the most advanced civilization in the world, but if your style is kitsch you’re doomed.
  4. Skeletons can be scary in a dungeon setting, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the end.
  5. Turn off the electricity before you touch an electrified fence.