One Small Step for Ma'am, One Giant Leap for Ma'amkind
The Prime Minister’s very knackered, very official Humber saloon positively dwarfed the shiny new Isetta bubble-car sitting next to it at the traffic lights. Mind you, size was all that the Humber had going for it. By the time the signal had changed to green the Isetta was already buzzing away somewhere around Trafalgar Square, and looking for all the world like some tiny spacecraft. The Ministerial Driver managed to crunch the Humber into non-synchro first gear sometime alarmingly well into the green phase, and he eased out the worryingly soft clutch on a mild throttle, not wanting to put a strain on anything in particular. In his experience you could never tell what might just be the final motoring straw.
On the back seat of the government “limousine”, Sir Rupert Nelson Wellington-Wilson KG KT GCB GCMG DSO GCVO OM ISO GBE CH BA (Cambs., Failed) VC GC CGC RRC DSC MC DFC AFC and AC-DC (on the quiet) was deep in heated conversation with Fotheringham, the DG of the EBC, in re the NASA of the USA, the RASA of the USSR and the necessary pre-emptive actions of the ESA, to wit, PAEOTRMBAEGT.
‘PAEOTRMBAEGT, Prime Minister?’ asked Puttlefrock minor, the especially stupid Minister for Things, from the discomfort of his fold-out seat, hunched up knees and crumpled “to do list” notebook. Puttlefrock was straying far from his more usual comfort zone, in which his only approved function was to say ‘Yes, Prime Minister, three bags full, Mr Prime Minister.’
‘Putting An Englishman On The Ruddy Moon Before Anyone Else Gets There. Do try to keep awake, Puttlefrock.’ The Prime Minister selected a boiled sweet and passed the little white paper bag around, rather generously considering the rationing that still lingered about England so long after the Second Great World Unpleasantness. Long, long after everyone else had put up a brand new house of cards, England still had no bananas. ‘Gentlemen, England is being squeezed in the space race between Uncle Ruddy Sam on our west and Uncle Ruddy Stalin to our east. Whoever wins this contest will reap immeasurable rewards for their industry. I intend that the winner, just for a change, shall be us. England is going to put a chap on the moon, and we are going to do so before the month is out.’
The Humber coughed as the driver missed a gear, his double de-clutch manoeuvre turning into more of a frantic jab at random pedals than an elegant synchronisation of gearbox cogs. Such things were apt to happen if he allowed his attention to be distracted by the water temperature gauge creeping towards the red or the voltmeter swinging from one extreme to the other whenever he used the indicators. What was under the bonnet owed more to alchemy than to engineering, and the Ministerial fleet wasn’t so much serviced by mechanics as it was revivified on a weekly basis by oily chaps who did stage acts on the side. Those moving parts that needed to remain in close proximity to one another were held there largely by duct tape and fuzzy string, and those parts that needed to ignore each other’s oscillations were kept apart with measured, rationed applications of WD40. Generally, there was more Redex in the tank than there was petrol, which was handy because Redex wasn’t on ration, but it did mean that the exhaust pipe rather gave the impression that it was sucking the life out of a pile of burning tyres hidden somewhere in the boot. There was little to no chance of any government minister being followed about his business - any ne’er-do-well or foreign agent in his wake would have asphyxiated after half a mile.
The driver checked (rather hopefully) for the hundredth time that the handbrake wasn’t still engaged, and he silently wondered if England was fiscally capable of putting a model sailing boat on a park pond, let alone a man on the moon.
The DG of the EBC harboured similar thoughts about jumping cows and spoons, and he looked nonplussed. ‘We shall do anything required of us in the way of outside broadcasts, that sort of thing, of course. The technical and personnel resources of Alexander Palace are at your complete disposal, Prime Minister.’
‘Yes, I know that they are. They had better be. The English Broadcasting Corporation is going to be in charge of the whole mission.’
‘The EBC in charge? I don’t understand. Surely the English Space Agency will have control?’
‘The ESA is at your disposal, Fotheringham, it is you who will put my chap on the moon for us and it is you who will let the entire world know that we have done so.’
‘No buts. No ifs. I want it done. You have stonking great studios and special effects departments do you not? Nosegay from The Treasury will give you the necessary budget.’
‘Budget?’ queried Fotheringham, his lips moving without waiting for the benefit of connection to cogent neurological activity.
Nosegay shifted on his little fold-out seat with his back to the driver. His trousers had risen up in his discomfort, and one of his socks was plainly made of less stern stuff than the other.
‘Two hundred and fifty quid’ squeaked Nosegay, tugging up the errant sock and trying to look even smaller and more obsequious than he already was in so many ways.
‘Two hundred and fifty quid?’ muttered the DG of the BBC, wondering absently quite where and how the word “thousand” might have been lost as it crossed the worn floor-carpet of the Humber. The car was big, but surely not big enough to swallow three very important zeros. The DG focused in on Nosegay, as one might peer over one’s spectacles at a housefly that had fallen on its back and was waving its legs in the air like some dreadful interlude act at the Baton Rouge.
Nosegay seemed serious as far as the DG could guess, and indeed he consulted several sheets of pink Treasury-watermarked paper. ‘That’s what is left in the English coffers at the moment after setting aside this year’s lend-lease repayment, Mr Fotheringham.’
The DG of the EBC turned porter-wine red, and he tugged at his collar. ‘We can’t even put out an episode of the Flowerpot Men for two hundred and fifty quid!’
The PM, of course, pretended to have not heard his expostulation, and Nosegay and Puttlefrock put on some semi-amateur double-act, like a couple of caged budgerigars hopping up and down and twittering about spirit of the Blitz and make do and mend and for Queen and Country. Puttlefrock, needing to have the last word at least once a month, ended with needs must when the Devil drives. However good their performances, both of them were left with the feeling that they had just sullied the fresh newspaper beneath them. ...
British science fiction in the classic style – with lashings of comedy and humour thrown in.
These tales range far and wide, from ghostly alien invasions to sarcastic, know-it-all robotic dogs that speak both Latin and Klingon, from alien interference in the Industrial Revolution to some insane Cold War time travel, from a spot of medieval monastic mind-control to elderly ladies reverting very elegantly to the Stone Age. An Edwardian hunting party becomes trapped in a pure hell of a bewildering variety of alien wildlife on a distant planet, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II loses her dignity when ejected from an alien railway station - HM thought she was making "first contact", the aliens thought HM was busking without a licence. The British Broadcasting Corporation (the BBC) even makes an appearance, and a slightly disastrous goof, when broadcasting England's first Moon landing.
There’s a little something here for everyone. This book is not entirely comedy, not entirely hard science fiction, not entirely serious, but a mixture of all three things at once. History is thoroughly rewritten without the least bit of respect, and the science involved, while colourful, is thoroughly implausible. Think Ealing comedy written by academics, some of whom were on psychotropic substances, some of whom were quite sober, and you won't go far wrong.
- The Cat Wore Electric Goggles
- One Saturday, Almost 2,000 Years A.D.
- VTC = 1:1 +/- H times ATP
- The Improvement Engine
- One Small Step for Ma’am, One Giant Leap for Ma’amkind
- The Unfortunate Fatal Incident at 7 AU
- Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright
- Shall I be Mother?
- The Especial Relevance of Cowpats
- You fools! You fools! You insensible fools!
- The Truth, The Whole Truth And Nothing But The Truth
- The Almost Omnipresent Omniscient Monks
About the Author:
Born during tiffin in the sea-side town of Cleethorpes, England, at half-past nineteen-sixty. Whole family immediately moved to Hong Kong where Father worked for the Ministry of Defence, spying on Cold-War Red China by listening in to their radio transmissions. Hutson Minor spoke only Cantonese and some pidgin English and was a complete brat.
At the end of the sixties was to be found on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Still a brat. There finally learned to read and write under the strict disciplinarian regime of the Nicolson Institute and one Miss Crichton. Then spent a year living in Banham Zoo in Norfolk, swapping childhood imaginary friends for howler monkeys, penguins.
Followed, for want of something better to do and for want of a brain, in Daddy's footsteps and found himself working for the British Civil Service in areas much too foul to be named. Was eventually asked to leave by the Home Secretary. A few years of corporate life earned some more kind invitations to leave. Ran a few businesses, several limited companies, then went down the plug-hole with the global economy and found himself in court, bankrupt with home, car and valuables auctioned off by H.M. Official Receivers. Now lives by candlelight in a hedgerow in rural Lincolnshire as a peacenik vegan hippie drop-out, darning old socks and living on fresh air and a sense of the ridiculous.
Dog person not a cat person. Favourite colours include faded tangerine and cobalt blue. Fatally allergic to Penicillin and very nearly so to Jerusalem Artichokes. Loves coffee and loves curry. Has tried his hardest all of his life to ride bicycles but simply looks like a deranged, overweight orang-utan on wheels. Favourite film Blade Runner. Uses the word "splendid" far too much.