The smartboard shows the image of a white interior cluttered with webbing, wires and a confusion of white and off-white work surfaces. It’s not entirely clear which way is up and there is a curvature to the edges of the space, implying that the room (if that’s what it is) is merely the cross-section of a grand arc, stretching up and off to either side of the image as if seen through a fish-eye lense.
“Peaky and I were friends at school, for a time,” says Michael, adjusting the focus on the overhead projector. “We’d be round each other’s houses, playing computer games: Galaga, Elite, Thrust, you name it.”
Michael Benzine, Edu Tech Czar to the British Government and two-time winner of the Crash Magazine Golden Joystick, is waiting with his Year 5/6 class to interview the British astronaut, Sir Tim Peake via Skype on the interactive smartboard.
“We got into a spat on Twitter a couple of weeks ago, about whether the game Head Over Heels was better than Great Escape – he was always a one for the military games: he even enjoyed Army Moves.” beams Michael, attaching a small helmet to a Lego man. “Brought back a lot of memories, did that spat – good and bad.”
“Why bad?” I ask.
“Later on, as kids, we fell out ‘cos he accidentally ejected my cassette copy of Jet Pac, mid-loading. Buggered the magnetic tape and put the kibosh on my attempt at a third Golden Joystick.” Michael sniffs and twists the arm of the Lego spaceman. “Oh well. It’s all in the past, and it’ll be nice to talk to him again.”
“It’s short notice, but the kids’ve managed to pull together loads of questions for Tim.” says Glynnis. “It’ll take the Year 6’s minds off their prep for the SATs.” Glynnis is settling the class back into their seats and directs Gary, a taller year 6, to start handing out the copybooks.
Michael adjusts the chinstrap on his 360 degree headcam and puts the finishing touches to a Lego space shuttle. Callum wanders over and makes to touch the wing of the shuttle. “Don’t touch that!” snaps Michael. Glynnis frowns and leads a glassy-eyed Callum back to his seat.
“He’s here!” says Glynnis, as a broad-shouldered man in a many-pocketed, but tight-fitting space suit, settles into view.
“Hi, Glynno! Wonderful to see you.” says Sir Tim Peake. Glynnis’s cheeks flare up and she looks sidelong at Michael’s Lego spaceman.
“Peaky.” says Michael.
“Michael.” says Sir Tim Peake. They briefly, almost imperceptibly nod to one another.
There is a pause.
“Hi, children!” says Sir Tim Peake, looking across the classroom. “It’s great to be at Bracewell. Mr Benzig tells me you’re brimming with questions for me. Fire away, and don’t forget to tell me your name first.”
Gingerly, Harriet, a young Year 5, puts up her hand: “Harriet, Lord Peake. What’s it like to be the second person to eat a Marathon in space?”
Sir Tim Peake purses his lips. “I was the first man to run a marathon in space – they are called Snickers now.”
“Did he say he ran it in his knickers?” Callum mutters to his shoulder partner, Darren.
Darren shrugs. “He’d hardly do it in the nude, would he?”
Callum chuckles, “In space, they can’t hear your teabags slapping.” They fall about laughing. Glynnis shushes them with a glance.
Jason puts up his hand: “I’m Jason, Miss Peake. Can you tell me how to spell ‘igh’?”
Sir Tim Peake knits his brow. “Eye?” he says, “E-Y-E, of course.” He smiles quizzically, and there is a pattering of tuts from the children.
“I-G-H.” says Callum.
Pauline puts up her hand: “Pauline. Is it true you’re the seventh UK-born person on the moon?”
Sir Tim Peake laughs: “No, Pauline, I’m the first British man in space. And what makes you think I’m on the moon.” All the children look at Michael, who quickly shows a lot of interest in the Lego space shuttle.
“What about Derek Jarman?” says Callum. “Didn’t he go to the moon before you?”
“I think you mean Helen Sharman, and again no, she didn’t go to the moon.” Everyone looks again at Michael.
Kevin puts down a Pokémon card and puts up his hand: “Kevin, Mr Peake. Why does Michael Morpurgo always write about animals and war?”
Sir Tim Peake is visibly perplexed by this question: “Sorry, Kevin. Could you repeat that? Michael what-what?”
“Why does Michael Morpurgo always write about animals and war? You know, War Horse, The Butterfly Lion, Adolphus Tips: all about war and animals.”
“Er, I guess he likes them?” offers Sir Tim Peake.
“He thinks Morpurgo likes war?” asks Callum to his shoulder partner, Darren.
“Black Ops: Ghost has got a dog in it.” replies Darren, chewing on a pencil grip.
Ursula puts her hand up: “Mr Sir Peake, Ursula, Miss (I mean Sir). Why does Michael Morpurgo always wear red? But, like, all over.”
“Even his kecks?!” says a small boy, Graham, suddenly animated.
“Probably a laundry mistake?” says Glynnis, stealing a smile at Sir Tim Peake.
“Er, I wouldn’t know.” replies Sir Tim Peake. “Look, time’s passing. Does anyone have one last question before I go?”
Most of the class raise one hand high and a couple of the children start whining “Me! Me!”
Michael points to Bronwyn, a mousy-haired girl in the far corner.
“What’s the main theme of Kensuke’s Kingdom?” she asks, narrowing her eyes.
“I don’t know, I haven’t read it.”
There’s another smattering of tuts and one boy mutters “Don’t you have a Kindle up there on the moon?”
“I’m NOT on the bloody moon!” Sir Tim Peake raises his voice. “Michael, shall we call this a day?” Michael is stepping forward, but another hand goes up.
“Leon, here, Mr Pea. Is ‘suddenly’ an adverb or a fronted adverbial when it’s at the front of a sentence?” Leon asks, folding his arms and sitting back with a broad grin.
Sir Tim Peake huffs and places his hands on to a control panel in front of him: “I didn’t really… Well, I’ve always thought of it as an adverb.”
There’s another chorus of light tutting and someone says “It’s not as if it’s rocket science.”
“I didn’t go through years of training to have to put up with this.” says Sir Tim Peake. “I think we’ve had enough questions, don’t you?”
“Captain Peake, this is Pauline again. Just one more.” Pauline says. “What’s ‘foreshadowing’ mean?” Pauline cranes her neck to better see Sir Tim Peake’s response.
Sir Tim Peake rolls his eyes and reaches forward to press a button on his control panel. There is a brittle whoosh of static and the camera shakes violently. When the camera stops shaking, where there was once of a wall of webbing and white panels, there is now only an inky black space filled with diminishing debris and a rapidly shrinking, flailing man.
“Tim?” says Michael. He looks at Glynnis.
“Tim?” says Michael. He sets down his Lego spaceman.
“Tim?!” says Michael. He walks towards the smartboard.
“Miss, he said ‘bloody’.” says Ursula, pushing out her lips.
Glynnis is frozen, smiling at me.
“TIM?!” shouts Michael.
He makes a cutting gesture across his throat, with a flattened hand, and calls: “Glynnis! Cut to Keith in his living room!”
The image of a stellar-speckled blackness is replaced by Keith, the trainee, in his dressing gown, eating a bag of Skittles.
“Dressing gown, Keith!” shouts Michael, shielding the screen with his outstretched arms.
Projected onto Michael’s white shirt, we see Keith crossing his legs.
And Glynnis remains frozen, still smiling at me.