It would be churlish of me to deny that Sir Richard Branson showed some guts to set off to the verge of outer space last Sunday in his plane-cum-rocket.
It surely ranks alongside his past daredevil challenges such as crossing the Atlantic in a speedboat, crossing the Pacific in a balloon, and crossing the border in a Virgin CrossCountry Aberdeen to Penzance rail service.
That really did take courage, determination, pre-planning and total commitment to survive the jammed journey when hordes were heading south in search of sunshine or heading north in search of, well, probably not sunshine.
To face the uncertainties of onboard catering, dodgy toilets and mixed-up seat reservations took some nerve. No such problems on his Virgin Galactic, though. His televised check-in as “Astronaut 01” was certainly more painless than for a Virgin Atlantic flight at Heathrow, despite a 90-minute take-off delay.
I have endless admiration for the craft’s skilled and courageous pilot, David Mackay, a Helmsdale chap who again proves that Scots are some of the brightest in the business. He’s experienced triumph and tragedy on the tortuous journey to Sunday’s success but somehow his boss, that gratingly garrulous guy with the goatee, has a similar effect on me as a wrinkled sock in my wellies.
It doesn’t do much harm, is arguably better than no sock and could probably be ignored, but somehow it, and he, has an uncanny ability to be intensely irritating to the point of agonised annoyance.
Mr Branson is setting his sights on creating the first hotel on the moon. Excellent idea and may I suggest that he becomes its first permanent resident?
Perhaps it’s his fixed grin or his ageless aim to be trendy despite having billions in the bank. Perhaps I’m just piqued because I once boosted his eye-watering profits by buying a copy of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, on vinyl, which was the record release that launched Virgin Records on its way to stellar success.
In the early days of his London record shop, Branson apparently offered bean bags to sit on and free vegetarian food for folk listening to the records. All very cool and chic but I can’t see it happening here. It could be atmospherically embarrassing to squat on a bean bag after downing a tub of garlic hummus with vegan tortilla chips.
Maybe that’s where John Lewis went wrong in Aberdeen, though. If only they could have offered a free onion bhaji or a comfy bean bag to customers, the store might have continued to be a fixture in the city.
I reckon those calling for the firm to “gift” the former shop premises to the city are howling at the moon. Private companies closing businesses due to financial challenges tend not to give away potentially lucrative saleable assets. They’re never knowingly undersold, one might say.
It’s interesting times for the space industry, though, following the uncertainties of the Space Shuttle era. It’s possible that David Mackay’s home county of Sutherland could be lobbing satellites into orbit from near Tongue in the not too distant future, or perhaps that might instead happen at Unst on Shetland.
I just hope they don’t let “Beardy Branson”, as Jeremy Clarkson called him, or his PR gurus anywhere near either of them.
My idea of manned space flight is of something heroic, of mind-blowing technical expertise and academic achievement, of amazing skill and years of dedicated astronaut training, not the sub-orbital showbiz spectacle we saw last week.
I miss the steadying voice of the late Jack King, NASA’s public affairs officer, who became the “Voice of Apollo” during those heady days of moon-bound rocketry in the 1960s and 70s, rather than the shrill sound bite commentary of the live internet feed I watched last weekend.
With the greatest of respect, space is no more “Virgin territory” than streets around Aberdeen docks on a Saturday night.
I now read this week that Mr B is setting his sights on creating the first hotel on the moon. Excellent idea and may I suggest that he becomes its first permanent resident?
Sadly, there’s as much chance of that in my lifetime as Brora Rangers winning the European Champions League. It’s technically possible, but somewhat unlikely.
I’ve had enough of Branson’s bothersome bonhomie for now. That said, he actually celebrates his 71st birthday on July 18, so I wish him well. Anything less would be churlish.