Are we all getting a little loose in the brain thanks to this lockdown business? One minute we can’t visit the local boozer, the next everybody is off to Heathrow, enduring misery and contagion in order to drink sweet alcoholic goo at a beach bar in Magaluf.
But, tell me, what is this thing with Mars now? I daily count myself lucky that I am not the distracted owner of billions and billions of dollars.
Take Elon Musk. When he has finished his cage-fight with Mickey Rourke he plans to get on with his declared mission to provide holiday breaks on another planet. It used to be sufficient for the hyper-rich to buy a slab of New Zealand and run away to bleat with the sheep, but Kiwi wonder woman Jacinda Ardern put a stop to all that, so Mars appears to have become the next favoured destination of the super-rich. It is also proposed as a modish eco-solution (though I would have thought the flaming rockets required for blast-off would struggle to be carbon neutral).
Even filthy-rich Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan has been reaching for his moon-boots on behalf of the United Arab Emirates.
I haven’t been to the Red Planet myself, (obviously, doh) but a cursory examination of the holiday brochure seems to indicate that the surface of Mars already resembles what our own planet is supposed to look like after a few more decades of global warming. Not really very nice. Lots of beach. Plenty of strong factor-90 sunshine. Not much in the way of restaurants or shops. A bit like Fuerteventura in the Canaries, but further away. So, er… why?
Meanwhile, on another side of this doomed planet, that other rich ninny, Richard Branson, labours on, trying to persuade us to take weekend breaks in outer space, at a bargain half million or so a pop. Don’t these busy billionaire guys have time to listen to music?
To get into a cramped metal cask, simply to blast off and go once around the atmosphere is insane. Only somebody with their own personal airline could think we yearn to do something as debilitating as sit in a dangerous space bus for a bit, peer at the emptiness of space and then come straight back. Even the Southend ghost train of my boyhood offered bits of sticky string banging into your face and a badly painted Frankenstein monster at the get-go.
It was Robert Louis Stevenson (proving a grammatical point, no doubt) who said “it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive” and, let’s face it, he was on a donkey. He knew whereof he spoke.
To arrive on Mars expecting awesomeness is being “hopeful” to the point of lunacy. Unless, of course, grit is your thing. It is not mine. I got suspicious of climbs, long walks or very slow rail journeys to witness natural phenomena long ago. You know, the ones that everybody else in the villa really, really wants to do. Nature, even when clothed in ice, or tumbling in great founts from precipitous heights, has an awesome capability to bore you rigid. Last year, I got off the Kuranda railway just north of Cairns to gaze on the wondrous Barron Falls. I lasted five minutes before checking my emails. The rest of the carriage barely managed three. Huge gushes of falling water – 10 minutes max. Art gallery – six hours minimum.
Thousands of people now get into boats to gawp at Antarctica. I think Mrs Jones quite wants to go. I won’t have it. Stick at home. According to Greta Thunberg, if we wait long enough, the ice-cap will eventually come to us.
But even the prospect of the sublimely vacant, endlessly sandy red plains of lifeform-free Mars pales beside the pointless boredom of getting there. I sail. It’s a publicly known fact. Many years ago now, I was approached by a round the world yacht race. Would I care to join their 60ft tin vessel on the 30-day Cape Town to Rio leg? I was horrified. This was a leg too far. The rest of the crew were bank employees. I knew after 25 days I would be up on the foredeck, one hand on the jib stay, peering wistfully into the waves ahead. Was that Rio? Those birds wheeling on the horizon? Could they possibly indicate the presence of land? Have we really got another five days of incident free ocean-tossed, brain-crushing boredom before we get to the Sugar Loaf mountain? Reader, I turned them down.
Give me incident. Give me life. Give me fun. Make the journey worthwhile. I am off to Wales. And the five hours to get there is quite enough travel for me. And at least when you finally, numbly, achingly, climb out of the Audi, it is blissfully free of billionaires.