When I was a teenager, one of my closest friends was called Glyn. He got married last year and I was invited and it was one of the strangest and most wonderful experiences of my life. One of the things that he used to talk about a lot was the size of the moon. In fantasy art, the big breasted woman riding the massive lizard is always framed by a huge glowing orb – a vast moon, shining down on all of us. He felt let down by the world, I think. He felt that the real moon seemed so small in comparison. He wondered to me once whether there was anywhere on the planet that the moon really could appear that large. Perhaps in polar regions. Maybe on top of a mountain.
When I visited my family for Christmas, I saw one of the most astonishing sights of my life. Around the moon was a huge corona – a vast circle of light surrounded it – like a massive, pale-blue version of the effect that you get when you squint at a street light. I stayed outside in the code for several minutes. It was amazing.
A couple of weeks ago I had a dream – most of which I don’t remember very clearly. But one thing I do remember is turning around at one point and seeing the moon directly in front of me. As if in a movie I then saw myself – a point-of-view shot slowly backing away from my face. I was clearly amazed by what I’d seen – a vast moon, just above the horizon – so clear it felt like I could reach out and touch it with my fingertips. I remember a huge intake of breath. I felt elated.
This afternoon I’ve been watching The Dish – an Australian film about the people who worked at the Parkes radio telescope. These people were responsible for receiving the television broadcast of the first moonwalk, which would then be sent around the world to many hundreds of millions of people across the world.
Like all people of my generation, I’ve grown up with the idea that man has walked on the moon. It’s become a fact – dry and dusty. Impressive like the steam engine or the first flight – but not awe-inspiring. Watching this film I started for the first time, I think, to get a sense of the scale of this wonder that was accomplished, about the incredible utopian energies that this one act released. And I looked out of my sitting-room window and in the sky above me was a sharp disc of light. The moon has never seemed larger to me.