Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

'Space? Thanks, but no thanks, Richard!'

With the 'news' that 'Phase One of the world's first commercial spaceport is 90% complete' - a pointless Public Relations announcement if ever there was one - those interested in joining Branson's happy band should probably start booking soon.

The first Virgin Galactic flights are predicted to take place early in 2013, according to a spokeswoman who appears to be rather indecently excited about the whole affair:
'Christine Anderson, the newly appointed executive director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority, told SPACE.com she was 'jazzed' about the progress made so far.'
That is, I suspect, a new and obscure piece of American business jargon, of which Ms Anderson appears to be a fluent speaker:
'So hats off to all the contractors and architects and everybody else that spent a lot of time and sweat equity in its development.'
I can't help feeling, however, that all this futuristic development has been going on longer that you'd think. After all, Richard Branson was the man behind Virgin's Cross-Country trains.

Clan Macheath being widely scattered about the United Kingdom, long-distance train journeys have been a constant fixture for as long as I can remember. It used to be a not unappealing way to spend a day - a good book, occasional snacks and ever-changing views of our beautiful countryside.

Then Branson came along and changed all that. The first thing to go were the tables for all but a lucky few; everyone else got a view of someone else's seat-back and a flimsy drop-down tray.

This, of course, meant that the conveniently suitcase-sized gaps between each pair of back-to-back seats were replaced by two shelves at the extreme end of the carriage, out of sight of their worried owners and conveniently close to the exit for any opportunistic thief*.

The long-distance traveller, then, had the choice of an unattended shelf holding, at most, six cases or a Damoclean overhead ledge too narrow for a briefcase and too shallow for anything else; inspired design for a train making the 12-hour journey from Penzance to Aberdeen.

And then there were the toilets. Oh God, the toilets! Conforming to disability access rules, these vast hangars took up a huge proportion of the carriage and, the trains having drastically shrunk from their once majestic length, there were three of them. For the whole train. From Penzance to Aberdeen. Enough said.

Now I think I see where it was all going. A vast distance to travel, no luggage to speak of and no need for a working toilet; those inexplicably comfortless Virgin trains were obviously the prototypes for Branson's Spaceships One and Two.

And that (plus, of course, the $200,000 fare) is why I, for one, will be declining Branson's invitation.

*Not idle speculation; a few weeks after this new arrangement came in, a couple in my carriage discovered that their suitcases had vanished without trace somewhere between Birmingham and Newcastle. The reaction of the authorities suggested this was by no means an isolated incident.


  1. Because of re-entry problems this spacecraft will terminate on the moon.