Iain Maciver: When it comes to food that’s out of this world, beef and rocket is hard to beat

© Getty(Original Caption) Earth Orbit - Commander John W. Young of the Space Shuttle mission STS-9 is at the commander's station ready for the re-entry of the Space Shuttle Columbia.
(Original Caption) Earth Orbit - Commander John W. Young of the Space Shuttle mission STS-9 is at the commander's station ready for the re-entry of the Space Shuttle Columbia.

Should the people of North Uist remember a daring and hungry young spaceman who broke the rules and smuggled a sandwich aboard his rocket in 1965?

I ask because astronaut John Young got into trouble when two hours into a five-hour flight, he took out a package. Co-astronaut Gus Grissom wondered what it was and space controllers in Cape Canaveral heard Young say: “A corned beef sandwich. I brought it with me. Smells, doesn’t it?” The pair scoffed it but crumbs floated around the capsule and there was a danger the doughy debris could jeopardise the $30 million mission.

Iain Maciver

Young was given a right dressing down but went on to carry out several space walks. In 1981 he was also chosen to captain the first space shuttle flight and, in a sign that NASA forgave him, he was allowed to have corned beef and bread cube snacks on board. To this day, loaves or slices of bread are banned on spaceflights although corned beef and tortillas, or wraps, are allowed on the more-roomy International Space Station.

Now I see Western Isles Council is investing £1 million to buy a farm for a spaceport down in Uist. After rubbing my eyes and checking that I had not taken the wrong tablets instead of my vitamin supplements that morning, I realised we should not be surprised at all. After all, rockets have been fired from Gerinish on South Uist out into the Atlantic for decades by the Royal Artillery. They have been mainly Rapier surface-to-air missiles. It’s the same idea but on a bigger scale.

A whiskery North Uist fellow told me the other day that canny locals had already come up with a new name for the Scolpaig Farm launch site of their own version of Cape Canaveral. They now call it Cape Aranhama. Ooh, fancy. Actually, it is just a play on the words “ceaparan hama”, which is the Gaelic for ham sandwiches. Trust the Uibhisteachs. Maybe it is also a tribute to that sandwich-chomping astronaut of yore, John Young, who sadly died last year aged 87, or to the first meaty sandwich in space.

It makes me quite proud that the islands may be the launchpad for big, whooshing sky rockets even if they are likely just to be research probes going up there and then parachuting back to earth when they run out of fuel. It may develop into something bigger and it just boosts our interest in the universe and in things scientific. I have even taken to reading that excellent, if sometimes rather dry, website called Science Daily.

This week they have a fantastic feature on how dogs communicate better with humans by the evolution of their better eye muscles. Look for the article The Evolution of Puppy Dog Eyes. You will not look at your dog the same way again – nor he you. I did mention there was the occasional somewhat technical article. There is also a link in Science Daily to another learned piece entitled Multiferroic Consequence of Porous (BiFeO3) x –(BiCrO3)1−x Composite Thin Films by Novel Sol–Gel Method. Rivetting, and it may even be about rivets for all I know.

Mrs X is more scientifically-minded than me. As a photographer, she has studied light and the science associated with clicking, and stuff. When we watch quiz shows, she is better than me. Take Countdown, for example. I am fine with the letters and those anagrams. I just make up big nonsensical words and Mrs X isn’t any the wiser when I do. But I am completely rubbish at the numbers section. When all that adding and subtracting comes on, I make an excuse and say I am off for a number one.

My inclination is to turn everything, including the numbers, into words. For instance, did you know that “eleven plus two” is an anagram of “twelve plus one”? There must be an anagram generator and anagram decoder lurking deep in my brain. It does not always work but, when it does, sometimes I cannot turn it off. Years ago, a Free Presbyterian minister told me that it was obvious they were the most devotional Christians because the word presbyterian can be rearranged to read “best in prayers”. Oh yes, I said to him, but it can also be rearranged to form the words Britney Spears. He wandered off, mumbling.

Me and my mouth. All that talk earlier about sandwiches made me a bit peckish and I raided the fridge. There was a bit of beef left over from Sunday dinner so I tucked in. There must have been wee shards of bone in it and I cut my tongue, my gums and my lip. Aaargh. My tongue went numb and my words were not coming out properly. Worried, I went to the doctor. I told him: “Doc, I cut the inside of my mouth with a piece of bone. Now I can’t pronounce letters like F and T.” The doc looked at me, shook his head and said: “Well, you can’t say fairer than that then.”