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Future Past

I have spent the best part of the last week rusticated in the Lake District sans net and with only sporadic Freeview (UK digital terrestrial) telly (is Freeview ever anything but sporadic?).

Anyway, I expect you’re expecting to be regaled with tales of the beauty of the English countryside and how it rained all the time. Well, it is beautiful and yes, it did rain quite a lot. But… I’m not going to go on about that now am I? No. You’ve all heard those sort of tales. To those that are interested in such things piccies of our greatest National Park will appear in due course courtesy of flickr or some such (and be flagged here).

Instead I’m going to write about one of Cumbria’s less well known attractions – Michael Moon’s Bookshop in Whitehaven. It doesn’t look much from the outside but it just goes on and on. It’s huge and packed to the rafters with old books, magazines and prints. It’s incredible and utterly perplexing because it is not well ordered which is quite annoying because whilst mooching there I’m sure there were loads of books I’d have loved to have bought but finding anything (or even just browsing) is utterly daunting – it’s biblio-overload. It’s a great shop though and the proprietor, Mr Moon, is the very model of an antiquarian book-dealer. Surrounded by grimoires and ancient paperbacks he looks rather out of place with his wifi Toshiba laptop.

Anyway, I did get a couple of things there. Here is one of them:


Reminders of how the future is an object of the past and the cities on the moon that were never built are poignant for me. It’s the full magazine and I shall frame it (and the other one about the British Army’s 1939 amphibious “wonder tank” – they cost two quid each – dreams are cheaper than spit) to always remind me… Well… I suppose we got Facebook instead.

It wasn’t that long ago that we had a future. I mean, we have one now; the world isn’t going to crash into the Sun or anything like that. What I mean is that we had a future that we could clearly imagine. The future wasn’t tomorrow, next week, next year, or next century. It was a place with a form, a structure, a style. True, we didn’t know exactly what the future would be like, but we knew that it had to be one of a few alternatives; some good, some very bad. The future was a world with a distinct architecture. It had its own way of speaking. It had its own technology. It was for all intents and purposes a different land where people dressed differently, talked differently, ate differently, and even thought differently. It was where scientists were wizards, where machines were magically effective and efficient, where tyrants were at least romantically evil rather than banal, and where the heavens were fairyland where dreams could literally come true.

That’s from this most excellent website.

One day I hope that that heaven shall be accessible and I still (at 35) have an outside chance of seeing attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. Or something. I wanna (at the least) see Phobos and Deimos setting over Valles Marineris at the least from my nano-tech bath chair.

Because beautiful as it may be this planet is beginning to bore me.

Per Ardua Ad Astra!


  1. CountingCats says:

    It’s the red star and the hammer and sickle that fascinate me in that picture.

    Anything inside which explains that?

  2. NickM says:

    Well it was an early Sov fast ferry design. A bit like the ones that became commonplace in the ’90s. It just explains it was a Sov design.

  3. RAB says:

    Didnt the Russians invent something like a hovercraft, but was actually an airplane, that sorta skimmed the surface of the waves, using science that you guys will be able to articulate better than me, to drop off lots of troops and tanks in difficult places?

    Could have been a winner for cross channel ferries etc.

    Lots of good ideas have been left on the cutting room floor, for all the wrong reasons…

  4. Infidel753 says:

    Didnt the Russians invent something like a hovercraft, but was actually an airplane, that sorta skimmed the surface of the waves,

    Seems to me I’ve seen film of that somewhere. I don’t think it looked like the picture, though. Much more airplane-like.

    Hovercraft never seem to have really taken off (metaphorically anyway) — I wonder why? Noise? Too much energy consumption per mile traveled?

  5. Nick M says:

    Don’t get me started on ekranoplans (aka WIGs – “Wing in Ground Effect”) but I prefer Ekranoplan because the only other bugger who spent hundreds of millions on wigs is Sir Elton John.

    Hovercraft are… Well the USMC (amongst others) use them as assault craft but they are very much a niche operator. Yeah, the MPG is bad and they are difficult to use over rough terrain or choppy seas but more to the point the fast Cat ferries (of which that Russian thing above is a forebear) did for them by being more economical, only slightly slower, and less likely to be cancelled due to bad weather.

    Noise is an issue with hovercraft as well though the one thing noise concerns have really nixed (apart from SSTs is tilt-rotors for commercial purposes). I advise on the subject of noise and aviation you wiki-up the Republic XF-84 Thunderscreech. It had a supersonic prop and the project was abandoned largely because of the acute nausea it induced in ground crews. Similar concerns over noise did for the externally bladed fan jet (think of the bastard offspring of a turbofan and a turboprop). I have lived my entire life under “approaches” – Newcastle, EMAP, City, Leeds/Bradford, Manchester so I don’t care. Jet noise is the sound of freedom in more ways than the purely military.

    One of my earliest memories is of a brace of RAF Phantoms streaking over a beach in Northumberland at the speed of heat (which is anything between the speed of sound and the speed of light). They were very low and I clocked one of the RIOs had a ‘tache. I descended into giggles of delight. It was that lovely. You’d think a toddler might have been scared. Nah… But for my astigmatism and RG colour blindness I’d be in a Tiffy right now pulling 8G.

    If I ever have several grand to drop on a whimsy I shall go to RSA and take a ride in an English Electric Lightning Interceptor.

  6. RAB says:

    When I was a nipper, before the first Severn Bridge was built, let alone the second, the only ways you could get into South Wales was the Severn train tunnel, a very limiting car ferry on a wire at Aust, Campbells White Funnel Paddleboats(I kid you not, they were great actually) or drive round the long way and cross the Severn at Gloucester and come down via the Forest of Dean and Chepstow.

    But also there was a hovercraft service that operated from the Beach at Weston Super Mare to the beach at Penarth.

    Hovercrafts main problem was not the noise, but that they made you sick as a dog.
    I went on holiday on one once to WSM. Well I was fine but my mum and half the passengers were very green looking on getting off.

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