“And I would gladly pay my tax to send Boris Johnson into space…” says Prof Brian Cox.
In The Dream of Boris, the PM does exactly that:
Spaceport Boris: Monday 15th Dickens 2026
THE TERMINAL BUILDING was now completely deserted, but Boris was pleased to find the spaceport humming with activity. He had no time to explain his unkempt appearance. His mind was set on one expedient that must be achieved in the shortest time possible. He indicated the leather flying helmet still draped over his head.
‘As you can see, I’m ready to give the old girl a spin’
‘You won’t get very far in that,’ objected Audrey; ‘besides, the first test flight isn’t scheduled until Austen. That’s over a month away.’
‘Grr, just not good enough. I need her today!’
‘The Altitude Control System isn’t properly installed, neither is the safety equipment. The allerons need adjusting; the hermetic seals on the hatches haven’t been properly tested nor has the Command and Data Subsystem.’
She continued to reel off a host of things that needed doing, in language far too technical for Boris to understand.
Why am I at the beck and call of such small minds? he thought. Do I really need to be pestered by such scabophobic drivel?
‘I want this rocket ready for lift-off today. It’s my rocket and I can do what I want with it. What’s more, I want her pointed at the nearest habitable planet.’
‘There are no habitable planets within reach of our present technologies.’
What an annoying woman! thought Boris. He adopted the mild tone he employed when felling such sprats with his vast erudition.
‘That is not what Lucretius tells us in De Rerum Natura.’
‘Things have moved on a lot since him.’
Astronomy and physics had never been Boris’s strong points.
‘Then where can the damned thing go?’
‘There’s the moon.’
Boris contemplated the barren lunar wastes. While there was something austere and noble about them, he could not really see himself fitting in. Perhaps it would be better to stay on Earth and face the music after all. The wife and kids flitted through his mind, stampeded just as quickly out by the slavering chops of the European Army.
‘Isn’t there anywhere else?’
‘Well, there’s the U.S. colony on Mars.’
‘Why didn’t you say so?’ Boris hopped from one foot to another in agitation and relief. He reached into the inside pocket of his bedraggled tailcoat and withdrew a blue booklet which he waved in front of Audrey. ‘Do you know what this is? It’s an honorary American passport. Trump gave it to me, and I carry it everywhere. You never know what’s going to turn up. I had one before as I was born in New York but had to renounce if when the IRS tried to clobber me for tax on the sale of my London house.’
‘Everyone on Mars is there to get away from Trump!’
‘Well, so will I be. In a manner of speaking of course.’
‘It will take thirty months to get there.’
‘Life’s been very hectic of late. I can make a start on my memoirs.’
‘The significant effects of long-term weightlessness include muscle atrophy and deterioration of the skeleton. There’s radiation, which will be ten times what we receive on Earth. It could damage your central nervous system, promote cancer, vomiting, fatigue and anorexia, though I have a feeling you might escape the last.’
These seemed trifles compared to the fiendish ingenuities of the European Army.
‘There are problems on Mars itself. Physical danger, a hostile climate, isolation; the disruption of normal recreational and professional activities.’
‘Tiptop! Spiffing!’ said Boris, who had only listened to the last part. ‘My recreational and professional activities have never been normal; I can assure you.’
He lavished a look on her that brandished his claim. She really was a most beguiling creature. If she would only remove those unflattering spectacles and release the bun that imprisoned her auburn tresses, she’d merit eight point five or even a nine on the Bullingdon totty tally.
‘Errhh, why don’t you come along for the ride? You could be my P.A., answer my mail and so forth.’
‘I need to be here in case … there’s any . . . news.’
‘News? What do you want news for? All you hear about these days are those brutes in the European Army and the vengeful Battenbergs.’
‘There was someone close to me who’s . . . l..ost.’ An unlooked-for sob broke up the final word.
‘That’s very careless of him . . . or her. Well, never mind. Fill her up and have her ready by teatime!’
‘I really think you should reconsider. The dangers…’
Oh, here she went again with her ceaseless meddling and prevarications! Men like him, stars who adorned the firmament of history only once in the bluest of moons, could not be gainsaid. If he couldn’t be world king, Emperor of Mars wouldn’t be so bad. It had a certain ring to it.
The life of a statesman involves a lot of dressing up. Boris had donned a fisherman’s windcheater and life jacket in Grimsby; worn a safety helmet and high-visibility vest on innumerable tours of new build estates; put on white cotton coats and a hairnet for biscuit factories. But the spacesuit that now encased him outdid them all. Alas, there could be no photo opportunities or live broadcasts; otherwise, people might entertain the ridiculous notion that he was running away. Men of vision like him were so easily misunderstood. It would be the lot of future generations to applaud his chutzpah.
The pre-countdown checks took more than three hours. Boris had to click so many switches and check so much interminable data on the three monitors in front of him that his fingers and eyes started aching. At last, the final countdown hit zero and there was blast off. The whirling pillars of smoke in the portholes were quickly replaced by cloud as the rocket lifted, and then by a sky of peerless blue. The force of 5Gs thrust Boris back against the chair and he started moaning.
‘Are you all right?’ said Audrey over the intercom.
‘It’s the elephant in the cockpit,’ he gasped.
‘Don’t worry! It’ll be over soon.’
‘Or I will.’
The G force was at its most unbearable precisely at the instant it lifted. A light seemed to switch off in the viewing panel. It was replaced by the impenetrable blackness of deep space, pin-cushioned by an uplifting plethora of stars and galaxies. ‘My word,’ gasped Boris. He unstrapped the safety harness and found himself floating through the cabin, learning as he went how to refine his movements by a push against the panelling or a gentle kick against the console’s side. Along with weightlessness came a feeling that every burden had been lifted: he had outwitted all his enemies. ‘Poop, poop!’ he cried happily.
The intercom crackled into life.
‘Perhaps it’s better Al talks you through that if it’s not too urgent. He’ll be taking over presently.’
‘Errhm sorry, no need, just talking to myself, Audrey.’
‘Expect you’ll be doing a lot of that. Now I’m going to run through some routines.’
For the next hour, Boris found himself pressing buttons, moving levers, and reeling off reams of figures that appeared on the screens. He watched in the monitors as the boosters fell away in timed stages until all that remained of the rocket was his capsule. All of this left him dizzy and nursing a headache. Finally, Audrey told him to press a yellow button on one of the compartments under the console. A panel slid out with a dispenser containing two pills and a sachet. The sachet was filled by tomato soup which he mixed in a bowl with water. The yellow pill was fish fingers, mushy peas and chips; the red one, jam roly-poly in custard.
‘The pills are packed with vitamins, calcium and minerals. They will help offset some of the downsides of weightlessness.’
‘You mean stuff like this is all I’m going to get?’
‘The menus have been carefully chosen to provide all the nutrients you could possibly need.’
‘An impudent Château Margaux? A frisky Pouilly-Fumé?’
‘If you press the green button, you’ll find a choice of water, sparkling or still, and orange or grapefruit-flavoured juice.’
Boris stared desolately at the blackness in front of him, now scarcely alleviated by its sprinkling of stars.
On the second day, the moon came into view through the left-hand porthole, its craters slowly magnifying, as undernourished as himself.
By the third day, he was wondering if he would last the course. Starved of human voices, he began craving the four-hourly run-throughs with Audrey, spicing the tedium by attempts to winkle out as many details he could about her private life. She was not very forthcoming. There had been someone, but something dark and terrible and tragic had occurred whose beans she would not even tentatively begin to spill. Even less satisfying were the sessions with Al, a bright and breezy Botch, who manned the other shift. Boris spent most of his time staring into space, which, despite the mysterious craters of the moon and rainbow pyrotechnics of cosmic rays, began to seem wearyingly humdrum.
It was just after he’d completed the final checks of day three and was morosely contemplating a dinner of spinach soup and a chicken pill, that he glimpsed the figure in the porthole. He had just passed the North Korean space station that orbited the moon and had been the target of a U.S. missile attack six months before. Shards of metal orbited its torn and fractured rim making it resemble the asteroid belt in miniature.
‘An astronaut is floating around about 300 yards away,’ he immediately told Al.
‘Boris, that’s impossible. Did you smuggle a little taste of something in?’
‘There’s definitely someone out there and hold on’ – he glanced through the porthole – ‘he’s coming closer. Flames are spurting from his wrists and ankles.’
‘That means he’s got propulsion vectors. My God, you’re right. EVA on camera six.’
‘You mean it’s a woman?’
‘Extra-vehicular activity, Boris. The astronaut’s using jet thrusters. That means ETA is about three minutes away. Switch to the rear side cameras. That’s where he’ll have to come in.’
With Al monitoring, Boris clicked a bevvy of switches on the camera control panel. Space predictably filled the screens: deep, black, infinite, majestic – Boris had exhausted the Thesaurus – and stars that were radiant, twinkling, vibrant, speckling the ineffable magnitude of the timeless. A little while later, camera seven focused on the astronaut hanging on to the fins of the hull as though his life depended on it. Which of course it did.
‘Someone must have survived the attack,’ said Al.
‘You mean there’s a sallow-faced North Korean out there, surgically brainwashed to loathe Westerners and hell-bent on revenge for what was done to his space station!’
‘Could be, but the Geneva Convention means you’ll have to let him in.’
‘The only Geneva convention I’m aware of is a stiff G and T before tiffin.’
‘After you open the first airlock, he’ll have to go through two more. You can keep him in the pressurisation chamber outside the cockpit until you know who he is.’
‘I’ve read CIA briefing papers about the North Korean forces. They’re half-android and bristle with more computer chips than a hedgehog has spines. They’re fuelled by a dazzling array of homicide-inducing drugs as well. They make the European Army seem like wimps. He can probably eat through metal.’
‘There were women aboard the space station as well.’
‘Mmm. Well, if you’re wrong, I’ll be hounding you through court for much more than the parsimonious provender and appalling conditions you’ve inflicted on me to date.’
He moved a lever and the outer airlock opened. The astronaut entered. Admitted by Boris at the controls, he floated through two more airlocks. Finally, the intruder was hovering in the chamber adjacent to the cockpit. Boris pressed a button. The chamber slowly filled with oxygen. He peered at the screen, but the astronaut’s visor reflected the lights on the ceiling. Nothing could be seen of his features.
‘Whoever you are I want you to see your face,’ he announced over the intercom. “The oxygen levels should be right.’
The newcomer undid the fasteners and removed his helmet. He had a crewcut, crooked teeth, and the fresh face of a man in his mid-twenties. But his features were ones Boris would recognise anywhere.
‘Who is David?’ the astronaut demanded. ‘I’m Major Tom.’
WHEN I FIRST HUNG OUT with Colin Casbolt on Ibiza forty or more years ago, I was struck by the contrast between his flamboyant hippie style and the knowledgeable way he spoke about Criminology, a subject he studied at university and later lectured on while living in Denmark. Here is a man who has looked at life from both sides now thought I.
Our Stories is a boisterous account of the years spent with his Danish wife Anny in Morocco, Goa, and Ibiza, during which they succeeded in raising four daughters. It revels in a vanished time when it was possible to travel overland from England to Kabul and on to Tehran in a trusty van reeking of red Leb or Nepalese temple balls and rent a house in Kathmandu or San Carlos for a pittance.
As I followed their adventures, I kept being reminded of another family with the same irrepressible spirit, resilience, and cavalier approach to authority: the Larkins, heroes of H.E. Bates’ novel, The Darling Buds of May, which became a hugely popular T.V. series and is shortly to appear again on British screens in a fresh incarnation Just as with Pop Larkin, nothing dampens Colin spirit, be it clambering up a ladder dangling from a tanker in stormy seas in the Canary Islands, detention at the King of Denmark’s pleasure, or facing up to the physical afflictions that have unfortunately dogged him in later life.
‘Perfick’ is Pop Larkins’ mantra, Colin’s is ‘fabulous’ or ‘wonderful’ even when relating experiences the rest of us might be hard-pressed to describe as such. He makes the best of everything, whether it’s being lost in the desert, busted or going broke; even the struggles the family underwent while battling their daughter Dani’s brain tumour, which he writes movingly about.
As an intrepid criminologist Colin knows if you live outside the law you have to be honest. Every cop’s a criminal and all the sinners saints. Thank God he’s still a hippie (who as everybody knows were right).