Friday, 2 August 2019
There should be a distinction between growing up and becoming an adult: just as it’s possible for a child to be very ‘grown up’ there are some adults that never do. This is about Moonpie; an adult that never grew up, never lost his sense of magic and awe, and of what happened to him.
I was a child growing up in the ‘80’s; totally oblivious of all that was happening around me. Punk, the miners’ strike, the Cold War –all of that passed me by. To me it was ‘Stig of the Dump’, ‘The Adventure Game’, ‘Doctor Who’, ‘Star Wars’ and the best comics that pocket money could buy. I look back on those days now with fondness; it was the last of the innocent fantasies before the oppression and cynicism of the ‘90’s swept in.
One character loomed brightly during that era and even though I only knew him for a comparatively brief time he will always be intrinsically linked to those times and has greatly coloured how I see life.
Even at 10 years of age I was a loner, which is harder than it seemed in a small village where everyone knew each other. People flocked together, even then they had a need to take solace in group neurosis rather than strike it out on their own. But like my father and grandfather before me I was always looking for that path less travelled.
I was a reluctant Indiana Jones; a squeamish Alan Quartermaine –I had the desire to perform daring-do (and in my dreams I performed these fantastical feats with aplomb) but in reality there was a recalcitrance as I was far too much of a coward, and thought too much of the pain and consequences should things go wrong.
One day however I threw caution to the wind and finally got the nerve up to climb a tree. My first and only attempt, I might add. It could so easily have been a disappointing endeavour (not to mention a dangerously abortive attempt to meet the grim reaper) had it not been for one thing –it was through attempting this feat that I met Moonpie and my life would become so much more magical –for a while at least….
Climbing the tree was actually no problem in itself; it was far easier than I thought it would be and I actually found it quite exhilarating! I climbed almost to the top in no time at all (admittedly it wasn’t a tall tree, just an old oak) and as I surveyed my newly found kingdom and the surrounding wood I made the mistake of looking down; and then everything suddenly became very real. I suddenly realised how high up I really was, how far there was to fall and how much it would hurt… To say that my legs had suddenly become numb and useless was an understatement; how I managed to hold myself up for so long I have no idea. There was no point in shouting to anyone for help, there was no one around… all I could do was shut my eyes and hope for the best.
It was then that I heard my ‘saviour’ somewhere below me; his voice was gruff but, in the circumstances, angelic nonetheless: “Ho there, young fella! What goes?”
“I’m trapped up this tree… I can’t.. I can’t get down!”
“Right.. thought so! I could see you as soon as I walked into the wood.. Let’s see if we can’t get you down.”
I was too scared to do anything but nod my head, my eyes were tightly shut and all I was aware of was the precariousness of my situation, and just how stupid I’d been to climb this stupid tree. I started to cry, which shook me more than anything. I wasn’t prone to histrionics but I think it was the first time I’d been aware of my own mortality –as strange as that sounds.
“Don’t cry lad; it will all be over in a jiff!” The voice came from nowhere; I never heard the sound of his approach up the tree but there it was, as if he was standing right behind me. “Keep your eyes squeezed shut, count to seven and we’ll be on the ground again.”
It was a strange sensation, I felt him standing behind me, his hands holding me under my arms and then it was as if I was travelling through a dark tunnel; extremely fast, like a bullet from a shotgun, even my ears popped.
“5..6..7!” He said, “Go on –open your eyes then!” I was almost afraid to, just in case I was still atop the tree. Adults lied –that was a truth that I’d learnt some weeks before. My Granddad had a wicked sense of humour and once told me that stinging nettles only stung people during the day and that if I grasped the nettles at night then they wouldn’t sting me.
However, upon my eyes that day I was shocked by two things: I was not only standing on the ground but right opposite me was the most bizarre, amazing looking man I had ever seen this side of comic books. He looked like a mad time traveller from another reality (which was exactly the way he described himself, I might add). His coat was a mis-match of styles, cloth samples and colours and everything clashed with everything else, but strangely worked as a whole. His dungarees had so many pockets, all bulging with stringlets and toys and sweets… his white t-shirt was the most normal thing about him.
He had an amazing mop of straggly ginger hair and a black bowler hat with two vibrant peacock feathers sticking out of it. He also wore the most audacious set of goggles I’d ever seen –a mixture of John Lennon granny spec’s and world war two aviation goggles. One eye piece even looked as if it had been taken from a child’s microscope! This was Moonpie.
“Safe and sound, backs on the ground, eh?” His voice was deep and warm, slightly cracked as if it had been broken long ago through overzealousness and enthusiasm and put back together with blu-tac and bubble-gum.
“Yes… thank you, Sir!” I replied.
“Sir…? Call me Moonpie, young Master –never Sir or Mr… or even Ma’am!” With this he mock-curtseyed. “It’s Moonpie… or Moon for short.” I liked him immediately, how could I not? To me he was a real life hero, a cross between the wackiness of Dr Who and Robin of Sherwood.
“Ok; thanks for getting me down again, Moon. But how did you know where I was?”
“I could see you, Danny boy; even from the far side of the wood… with these! The Great Moon sees all and knows all!”
“So how did you know my name?”
“The great Moon sees all…”
“..And knows all?” I replied, whatever he was on was contagious; I could feel my own ebullience rising again and all thoughts of being trapped atop of the tree were long gone. We walked back out of the wood.
“You going to be alright now, kiddo?” He asked.
“I guess so..”
“And you’re not going to go clambering on any more trees any more?”
“Nope –for sure.”
“Your feet were meant to stay on the ground, Danno.” This struck me as funny as I happened to look down and saw that Moon was walking barefoot.
“What about your own feet? Why aren’t you wearing any shoes? What if you tread on something?”
“Your feet might touch the ground but mine don’t.”
“Get outta here!”
“How do you think I managed to get you down from the tree so easily?” I must admit, he had me there and I started to ponder. “I could fly to the moon and back and you’d be none the wiser, but I’m not gonna! I could turn myself invisible and you’d never know any different .. but I’m not gonna do that either! Where would be the fun in that? The fun is in knowing you can do it NOT in the actual doing, Let everyone else believe what they like –what’s it to me?”
This guy was rapidly becoming my no. 1 hero!
We got to the edge of the village and we were about to go our separate ways when he stopped me.
“It’s probably best if you don’t say too much about meeting me, especially to your parents, Danny boy. I’m not seen in too much of a good light around these parts, chum. People think I’m a little strange, would you believe?”
“Really?” I wasn’t being facetious or sarcastic. I mean, sure, I could see it on a superficial level that people might think him odd but you only had to speak to him; spend any amount of time with him to see how cool he really was.
“No accounting for taste, eh? Thing is, people tend to fear the strange…. And I don’t want that any more, kid.” I just nodded and we parted our ways right there and then. Upon getting home I said not a word about my encounter with Moon, but I did tell them about my adventure climbing the tree. When they asked me how I managed to get back down I just replied: “Very care-fully…”
I didn’t see Moon for weeks afterwards, though I thought about him often. Part of me actually wondered whether I’d imagined the whole thing; maybe I’d actually fallen out of the tree and this was all just a fever dream!
I was fishing at the local pond and it was there that I saw him: he was bent double, searching for something and I swear I could almost hear him make strange snuffling noises. At no time did he look up from this strange behaviour so it wasn’t long before he was sniffle-snuffling right up to my knapsack, where I kept my sandwiches and snacks. Only then did he look up at me with a vague expression as if I was the one who didn’t belong there. Then he winked at me and said one word, as if it made all the difference in the world: “Truffles.”
He straightened up and made elaborate motions as he dusted himself off. Surprisingly I could now see that he wore exactly the same outfit as the last time. He noticed me staring at him.
“If it worked for Einstein then why not me?” I just raised my eyebrow. “Einstein…. Pint-zized genius; patent clerk come inventor of ze big bank? Anyways; he bought seven sets of the same clothes so it would be easier for him to choose what to wear each morning. The way he saw it: the few choices he had to make, the more brain power he had left for his great theories. I mean, you got to hand it to him… “ He pondered this for a bit and scratched his bristled chin. “’course…. His clothes were plain… plane, plaiine, plaaaaane!! I could never stoop so low! You know how hard it was crafting seven sets of the clothes as original as these? How much thought went into picking the exact colour combination you see before you?? I mean…”
“I can’t imagine…” I replied, checking out my float for signs of activity; just as before.. nothing. Moon noticed this and smiled.
“Want a hand?”
“As long as you don’t start clapping..”
“I knew there was a reason why I liked you… it certainly wasn’t your comic timing.” Patting his multitude of pockets he eventually found exactly what he was looking for: a very long, thin plastic tube with two s-bends on the ends. I was reminded of watching sword swallowers as he produced this… gizmo. One end was shaped more like a whistle and this piece he placed in his mouth whilst the other he plonked in the water.
“Behold!” He suddenly remarked, “the fish-whisperer!” He looked at me and winked. “The trick is not to suck…” he then blew down this tube and… nothing happened. “And now we wait…”
As luck would have it we didn’t have to wait long; barely five minutes from the time Moon blew his extraordinary whistle till I was getting the first enthusiastic bite…. Which, of course, I lost; probably through my relative inexperience… And I lost the next one as well.. and the next after that. Moon looked at me and shrugged: “One can only do so much.” He gave me the ‘Fish whisperer’ and I’ve still got it, but it’s never worked the same way since.
He then attempted to sit down next to me. What I mean by that is that, out from those myriad pockets he managed to cobble together a rather rickety stool. We sat there for some time. I can’t remember what we talked about, but I know that it must have been meaningful in the way that most conversations are when you’re young and impressionable. (So full of meaning but easily forgotten when then next incredible conversation comes along)
The mist was starting to rise on the pond and the bats were now skimming the waters edge. I hadn’t realised how late it was or how dark it had become, looking about I could see there was a mist all around us now.
“Cripes; I’ve got to get back home. Mum & dad will be worried sick by now.”
“Don’t worry, kiddo; walk into the fog and you’ll be there in no time.”
“Are you crazy?”
“When have I ever led you astray?” he looked a little hurt by that comment, but I just raised an eyebrow at him. “Let’s put it this way - you don’t have an awful lot of choice now.” He was right. I hated mist and fog; it was the stuff of nightmares and cold-sweats, but Moon was right, damnit, I didn’t have any choice now. “You worry too much. Just walk into the fog and picture where you want to be. You’ll be there afore you know it!”
He punched me lightly on the forearm and I did what I was told: walked into the fog, with my eyes closed, I might add. I walked into the fog with my mind set on my home; the inviting lights of my own front door and the angry love of my parents acting like a beacon.
“Open them now, kiddo.” Came a whisper in my ear. So startled was I that I actually bumped into my own front door. In less than five seconds mum and dad were there, door open with their “what time do you call this” and “we were worried sick”.
I was so relieved that it had actually worked that I almost told them about Moon. Instead I spun stories of the amount of fish that I almost caught; of the behemoths that got away. (is it any wonder I became a writer? All those tall tales I spun from such a six pence…)
I went to bed soon after and stripped all my clothes for wash day. What I hadn’t done was empty my pockets and, of course, dad found the ‘Fish whisperer’, but I never found out until later.
Things change –time has a way of affecting people; children more so. Some people call it maturation of the spirit, others growing up; a time of putting aside childish things and leaving awe and wonder behind, joining the rank and file of the spiritually undead.
When I next saw Moon I was with a group of ‘friends’. About three months had elapsed and I had moved into a new class at school and somehow gravitated towards people my own age. Somehow our relative insecurities affected us less when we hung around together. We could pretend that they didn’t exist, especially when we took them out on some other poor soul. It would be fair to say that, despite my original naivety, I had grown into quite a bully. I take no pride in saying this; I look back on that part of my life with shame, but it didn’t last long, thankfully. And, in a very sad way, I have Moon to thank for that as well.
There were about six of us, of varying ages, that hung around together. The eldest was called Alex and because he had just read “Clockwork Orange” saw himself the leader of his very own gang of Droogs. Thankfully, he wasn’t violent and saw himself more as a mischief maker than a psychopath. Consequently he only harassed people by shouting at them rather than beating them up.
Yes, it all sounds very infantile and inexcusable and there’s nothing much I can say to make it better or explain it away. All I know is that my home was no longer the sanctuary I remembered.
In those few months my parents were no longer speaking to each other in the same way and my father seemed embarrassed to talk to me –almost as if there was something he wanted to ask me, but couldn’t bring himself to.
On this particular day we had it on good information that a tramp had been seen in the local playground. (I say playground, but this is not a representative description. It was a dilapidated collection of broken swings, peeling and rusted slides and a very questionable sandpit.) We had to investigate. A tramp? In our village? It was almost obscene to think of such a thing.
I didn’t recognise the man… I mean, how could I? The last time I saw him his clothes were so bright and bold, like him. This man’s clothes were in tatters; dirty and worn, no colour left in them at all. He was lying, huddled up in the corner of the playground, his head turned away from us, almost as if he was trying to lose himself in the hedge.
Alex started nudging the man with his foot so he’d turn around –far better to insult someone when they’re facing you. Eventually the man turned round and garbled obscenities and even then I didn’t recognise him. His voice was broken; his beard was matted and streaked in mud, and caked blood there were livid contusions on his cheeks and forehead and it looked as if his nose had been broken recently. But it wasn’t until I saw his goggles –the cracked and warped goggles- splayed on his forehead that I realised with horror who it was.
I snapped; terror and incomprehension blinding me; I lashed out at Alex and the rest of the gang, driving them off; screaming at them to leave him alone. They walked off, jeering; calling me a tramp lover. I didn’t care; I was left alone again… cradling the dying fragments of my childhood.