One small step for Nan.
As Tim Peake hurtles around the Earth faster than a toddler on blue Smarties (other sweets are available), the nation is swept by the biggest outbreak of space fever since NASA’s Skylab fell back to the earth. At the same time as Tim was packing his bags and preparing enough sandwiches to last him the six months of the mission, two Devon Kidmonauts were preparing to blast off from Plymouth on a historic first of their own. The iconic speech sets the scene.
“…these grandparents should commit themselves to achieving the goal, before this month is out, of taking two granddaughters to the shops and returning them safely to the house.”
And so, the mission began. As Tim Peake discovered, there is much to learn before lift off. An astronaut doesn’t just turn up at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and wait for someone to press the blast-off button. The difference in our mission, however, was the intensity of the training program. He was fortunate enough to have his training spread over a six-year period. Ours took about six minutes.
Commander Nanny was in charge of feeds and poos, and her instructions revolved around scoops of milk powder and timings for the various stages of bottles and burps. Mine, was a more technical role. Following a mishap with a highchair some years ago, a new regulation was introduced. It goes along the lines of –
Rule 1: Subsection 1: Star-date 1: “Don’t let Nanny touch anything because she will break it.”
So, because Nanny is no longer allowed to touch any of the equipment, it fell upon me to become safety officer and flight controller.
My intensive training was all to do with straps and harnesses and seat-belts and prams. The transcript of the procedure goes thus:
“Put that there, push that, pull that, press that, tighten that, loosen that, and that’s that. Now, you do it.” I repeated the routine for the car seats, then we moved onto the pram. “Push that, put your foot on that, push that, put your foot on that, push that, put your foot on that, and that’s that.”
Although Tim Peake’s training was in Russian, I am not sure mine was much easier to follow.
We have liftoff.
With the training complete and everyone strapped into the command module, the countdown to the first Nanned mission to one of the smaller moons of Plymouth (Plymstock Broadway) was under way. The engine started, the guidance system said ‘at the end of the road, turn right’ and with a rousing rendition of When Santa got stuck up the chimney, we were on our way.
After a brief orbit of the town we touched down in the carpark of not much tranquility, and with a sense of apprehension we left the command module to take our first tentative steps on the loony surface. Fortunately, Little Kid was contained in the pram, but Big Kid was keen to explore. It turns out that giant steps really are what you take when you are two years old, and she went bounding off like Neil Armstrong.
It didn’t take long to realise that shopping with kids in tow is like herding cats while trying to get an octopus into a string bag. Regardless of how often we said, “Wait a minute,” “Wait there,” or “Wait for me,” Big Kid always had something important to explore, be it the pattern of the paving or the shop opposite the one we intended to head for. I am led to believe that this is a common problem, but fortunately, the powers-that-be, thought to put a small play area comprising a wooden climbing frame, a train and a car in the centre of the Broadway for keeping the kids out of the shops. With the gravitational pull of a small planet, it soon had Big Kid accelerating towards it, closely followed by Nanny. As Nanny and Big Kid played at being engine drivers, Little Kid drifted in and out of sleep and Granddad thought it would be nice to join in (sleeping, not being an engine driver).
Down to earth.
There is only so long that one can spend on the loony surface, and oxygen levels were soon running low. With Little Kid’s bottle time looming, we said that we would head back for lunch.
“I think I would like a pasty for lunch,” said Big Kid, and before we could answer, she was into the butcher’s shop and asking for a cocktail pasty with an eloquence far exceeding many adults who would have just pointed and said, “One o’ them little ones”.
With a waft of warm pasties, and a reprise of When Santa got stuck up the chimney, we headed back to the house for lunch. After the morning’s excursion I was tired and looking forward to my pasty, but I wasn’t the only one ready for a nap. It seemed that Little Kid was also worn out. We know this because, from the back seats came the little voice of Big Kid,
“That’s a big yawn for a little girl,” she said. Apparently it’s very tiring discovering new worlds.
I just hope Tim Peake’s training has prepared him.