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Our Stolen Future

Wartime Spitfire pilot, rally driver, commentating on everything from Winston Churchill’s funeral to episodes of Mornington Crescent and presenting Tomorrow’s World in an age where tomorrow’s world was going to be a huge advance in man’s capabilities rather than a massive disaster brought on by man’s hubris.

Commentator Kevin B on Raymond Baxter.

Being able to buy “organic” sprouts at ASDA is no recompense for the lack of a jetpack.

And where the fuck are the my C-beams glittering over Tannhauser Gate? You utter cunts. You fucked it all up didn’t you? For what? I want to know but I demand to know. You took my life (I was born between Apollo 11 and Viking) and puked it out of the conservatory window. For what? What did we get in exchange for it? I want to know. Where did your imagination fail? Where? C’mon tell me right now. Tell me right now why the overseas aid budget is ring-fenced at 0.7% of GDP (practically none of which shall get to the poor) but you can’t afford to fund Skylon.

I’ve only been waiting 37 fucking years. A few years back Labour announced GBP 90 million for “Roof” Kelly to spend on Muslim communities to get them to play nice and promise to not blow shit up (much). Skylon needed GBP 180 million. I despair. The first was raised in the twinkle of an eye. The second…

My regret is different to his. Roy Batty has seen it and regrets the loss. I haven’t had that privilege.

This is the twenty-first century and we’ve got the iPad.

Well, yeah, great.

I guess there’s an app for that.

I don’t want an app. I want a space elevator.


  1. I just had a look at the Wikipedia entry for Raymond Baxter and noticed that he presented Tomorrow’s World until 1977. I clearly remember watching the show when I was a kid and would have been 10 in 1977, and I remember my school years having an under current of hope for the future, having an interest in science and exploration and, more importantly, none of this constant ‘Gaia guilt’ that seems to be rammed down the throats of kids these days, and adults.

    It seems like the ‘white heat’ of science has been extinguished by the ‘green fire-blanket’ of guilt.

  2. Bill Sticker says:

    What’s the quotation? “Put not thy trust in Princes.” (Or Politicians promises) Especially those with a vision no grander than their own tawdry and crabbed gratification.

    We should be looking to the stars, but instead we’re dumping resources into a black funding hole with no hope of a return.

  3. RAB says:

    We should be going to the stars Bill, but we cant afford it.

    We can strangely enough though, ring fence our Foreign Aid to the tune of billions so now the Indians can spend our hard earned on their own Space programme, because you can be bloody sure that Bombay slumdwellers arn’t going to see a penny of it.

    Baxter was a can do guy who actually did. A man who believed that Science was the future and would set us all free. His calm enthusiasm for all things “progressive” in the real sense of the word that he instilled into Tomorrow’s World, made the programme unmissable for us kids back then.

    Now what have we got? The Gadget Show.

    He was fired from Tomorrow’s World by a recently promoted producer from Children’s Telly, for being “A Dinosaur”.

    I was privileged to be alive when such Dinosaurs ruled the airwaves.

  4. Pavlov's Cat says:

    Where are the flying cars? I was promised flying cars

    I also grew up watching Tomorrows World with R.B., and PanAm offering bookings on the first space flights.

    I thought there would be space stations (not ‘a’ station of sorts) by now. That Mars was within reach.

    But they pissed it all away, now even the space shuttle has been ‘retired’

  5. Kinuachdrach says:

    RAB — excellent point that the incremental funds Brits give to India will be used to promote space travel and to develop thorium-fueled nuclear reactors. Which is good! The West may decline, but the human race will continue to move forward.

    I blame Nixon for selling out. He gave liberals what they wanted with the Environmental Protection Agency. After 40 years of the EPA and its ilk pumping out regulations to make the world a safer place “for the children”, those children are growing up to be the long-term unemployed. It is so much safer if people don’t have to work in icky mines or noisy factories. And someone else can always pay the taxes.

    What we need to do is devise some way of passing the lessons we are so expensively learning on to a future generation, possibly in a distant land. Because the future of the human race is secure — we will go to the stars. Well, not us; but those future human beings will go. And leave Political Correctness behind.

  6. Pogo says:

    I remember hearing Raymond Baxter talking about one of his “hairy moments” whilst flying Spitfires… Flying over an area where there had been some V2 launches, one of them actually took off in front of them and “was promptly attacked by my wingman – who fortunately missed as Lord alone knows what would have happened had he hit it!”.

    He later remarked that it was the only incidence of which he was aware of “someone engaging a ballistic missile in combat in a piston-engined aeroplane”. :-)

  7. Sam Duncan says:

    Yep. Baxter got the boot, they switched it to Sunday afternoons and it all went tits-up.

    Anyone remember a show called Connections, presented by that bloke Burke? John, was it? (I know it wasn’t Edmund, ‘cos he was dead even then.) I can only have been about 10 or so when that was on, yet I found it absolutely enthralling.

    I feel like TV has regressed as I’ve got older. Back then, I could watch intelligent programmes presented by erudite people who knew what they were talking about and could impart their knowledge without fuss or embellishment. Now… well, did anyone see that BBC4 thing the other week about explosions? It was like an only-marginally-less-hyperactive episode of Braniac. On BBC4. The channel that’s supposed to be what BBC2 used to be.

    All that’s left of the old order is the Antiques Roadshow and the Sky at Night. And Sir Patrick’s getting on a bit. (I like to think that every month he hangs on, the more it frustrates the Beeb’s dumbers-down. There are probably production types who were preparing for his replacement 20 years ago* who’ve retired themselves by now…)

    *“Hey, how about we don’t replace him at all? We can have scrolling messages across the bottom third! Yeah! And we’ll do all the interviews in black and white, with wonky camera angles like on MTV!** It’ll be wicked!”

    **They actually did this once. Once.

  8. Kevin B says:

    Thanks for promoting a bit of my grumpy old man routine to the front page Nick, and thanks Sam for reminding me of James Burke and Connections.

    I popped over to the Wiki page for the series and there’s some interesting stuff in there.

    The media don’t half make it easy for old codgers like me to spout on about how ‘they don’t do stuff like that any more’ and ‘it’s all mindless pap these days’ and ‘kids today are a bunch of brainwashed wimps’, but from my seat, they seem to keep putting out the same old rubbish and then congratulating each other on how ‘challenging’ they’ve been.

    What they don’t, (daren’t?), challenge are the pieties of the green leftist religion, (or the intelligence of their viewers).

    The Beeb in my day was always ninty percent crap, nine percent average stuff and the occasional nugget of really interesting viewing that sometimes slipped past the minders and got on the screen. Nowadays, whenever I think ‘that might be worth watching’, I’ll try it out but give up the minute they start preaching at me. Usually minute two.

    I think the last thing apart from sport that I watched on TV was the first episode of the remake of V, just to see if it was as bad as the first go round. Sadly, it was, but so far without the rat swallowing.

    Thank God for the web, and the Connections therein.

  9. Bod says:

    All three Connections series are available from various sources both legit and non-legit, and I’m in the fortunate position of having a daughter just getting to the point where we can sit in front of the episodes and she can appreciate most of what’s going on.

  10. NickM says:

    I think we have touched on something here. By “we” I mean “you” but… Look I’m not saying it was good before but in the last year or so TV seems to have fallen totally off the cliff and is now in the sea of excrement. I enjoy… “Masterchef” on BBC2 because it is the antithesis to stuff like “Deal or No Deal” (Sartre was almost right – Hell is other people if they are Noel Edmonds) because (the horrors) it expects people to master difficult technical tasks and not just opening shoe boxes. I like “Dr Who” and the rest is… Well I tend to watch Dave. There is more wit and wisdom in a single episode of Porridge than decades of ‘stenders. Apparently Corrie now has a lesbian couple. A lesbian couple in Manchester! It’s on the front pages and all. Didn’t Brookside do that in Liverpool? More to the point seeing as I went to see the Manchester Pride parade this city of 3.5 million boasts a number of lesbian couples. I guess that is “challenging” except it isn’t. I mean my Mum has both a bus pass and gay friends. And that’s in Gateshead. I also, for my sins, watch X-Factor mainly to see if Cheryl Cole can get any more mental (Louis is not playing with a full deck either), “Come Dine with Me” (this involves me indulging in AK-47 fantasies – “So you didn’t like the starter…”) and that is it. Then it’s stuff like “Air Crash Investigations” and “Dogfights” and re-runs of “Top Gear” where Jezza, James and Hamster do wacky stuff. I have no idea what runs through the tiny minds of TV execs but I will tell ya one thing after this. I do watch “Sky at Night” and given my background in astrofizz this makes sense but I also watch it defiantly. Because it is – the horrors – presented by a man who cares passionately about his subject and also knows about it. That’s “blue sky” and “out of the box” thinking from the BBC. Yes, the after! My wife also watches it. For the same reason. She has no particular interest in astronomy but she appreciates someone who presents a factual show and knows what they are talking about.

    I mean for fuck’s sake. Let’s take the cameras down to Sussex and talk to a bloke who knows about astronomy about… astronomy and have actual academic astronomers interviewed about their work and this will appeal to the ‘scopers out there. It really isn’t rocket science. I mean I know it isn’t as edgy or challenging as Mancunian lesbianism because it’s only about the whole fucking Universe of which Mancunian ladies in comfortable shoes are a very small part. It’s the patronising “we’re so much more liberal than you!” bollocks that gets me. Do I care that certain ladies in Manchester bowl from the pavilion end? No, not really though I might be slightly curious. And quite frankly seeing as lesbianism goes back to Ms Ugg and Ms Ogg sharing mammoth ribs in a cave of their own (I like to think of them in fur bikinis – a5t least for now) it just isn’t challenging. It’s like the terrible statue of Alan Turing in Sackville Park in Manchester. To me (call me an applied mathematician and computer wallah and all – hurl that abuse upon me!) the least interesting fact about Dr Turing is that he batted for the other side. The fact he invented computers, his work in pure and applied math, his work on the Lorenz cypher, his less well known work on biomathematics (leaf patterns) is all more interesting to me than him liking men. But no. Our culture seems these days to regard Turing as a gay martyr who just happened to be a bit handy at sums. It’s more accessible you see. Most of us know people who are gay. Few of us are lucky enough to know a genius. It’s like doing a biopic on Richard Feynman on concentrating on his three marriages and just tacking on he drew these diagrams you know and they are interesting – to physicists. Of course they are because RPF was a physicist and a genius. You don’t get many of them to the 500g these days and certainly not in TV land. I guess the Feynman biopic might also concentrate on him testifying to keep topless bars in LA open. That would be challenging you see. A Professor no less likes tits. Well, yes… But is that really what is challenging about Feynman? He did like looking at breasts whilst having a coffee but that was because he was a bloke which is hardly a grand distinction. What is really challenging is his work. Did you know his PhD thesis (supervised by John Wheeler) proved that tachyons are mathematically the same as antimatter going backwards in time? That is challenging. Too challenging for TV land.

    I also watch the “Antiques Roadshow”. When I moved into this gaff (built C1600) me and a mate went into the attic and I thought I’d find Johnnie Depp’s gold from “Pirates of the Carribean” or something worth bothering the “‘tiques”. Instead I found an oversized magazine rack and a 1980s NHS commode. “Fuck” was all I could say.

  11. Sam Duncan says:

    “It’s like doing a biopic on Richard Feynman on concentrating on his three marriages and just tacking on he drew these diagrams…”

    The depressing thing is, I can see them doing that. “The Secret Life of Richard Feynmann”… like it was a secret.

    The wiki stuff on James Burke (thanks, Kevin) is interesting. Not least because it turns out he’s actually considered the instigator of “wacky” factual programming. Well, okay. But the difference was that he actually knew stuff, and in his enthusiasm to tell everyone else that just happened to be the way it came out. Now it has to be “challenging” (but not actually, you know, challenging, ‘cos that’d affect the ratings) and “edgy”, or it doesn’t get made.

    “Your brain has already made up its mind about which way up I am. Because it doesn’t possess the information I have, it’s wrong.” Class.

  12. NickM says:

    James Burke actually knew stuff…

    Like stuff type stuff. Like shit what he actually knew about. Jesus!

    That’s pretty challenging.

    I am fucked to the n-th. I am sick to the back buggering teeth with seeing stuff about fighter planes and thinking, “that’s just wrong”. I saw a load of shite recently about the Lockheed P-80. They had the guns in the wrong place for starters. They had the SR-71 stalling for the wrong reason (asymmetric unstart you fuckers!) and the least I say about why the U-2 was called the “Dragonlady” the soonest mended.

    Fuck ’em. I have my many volumes of Bill. I do though watch TV made people who wouldn’t know an aileron from a tampon. Twats the lot of them.

  13. RAB says:

    You’ve got to give it to the nazi’s, they were streets ahead in many areas of technology.

    I saw a documentary about this the other night on the yesterday channel I think…–Hitlers-stealth-bomber-turned-tide-Britain.html

    But you cant help noticing the disconnect between Politicians and scientists can you?

    Hitler was hell bent on starting a war. If he had waited till he had all his beans in a row, and properly developed at the start, what with the V1’s and V2’s and planes like the above, we would have been well and truly fucked, and all speaking German now.

  14. Paul Marks says:

    Yes I remember Raymond Baxter – a good man.

    As for the future – these days even when a film is made of the “Jetsons” it turns out to be ecopropaganda.

    Do you remember how as children we (I did and I am sure most people here did) used to wonder why Classical Civilization did not develop.

    “But the had the steam engine and ….. and yet they did bugger all with it….”

    Under the explinations (“well it was all the fault of slavery and ….”) was the smug belief that we were very different, that we would develop and advance.

    Well (in most things) we are not – not any more.

    Where is the nuclear fusion?

    Where is the flights to Australia that take an hour or two?

    Where is the REAL space station – the one where the resausble space planes go up to it and people change ships to atomic powered craft that go to the Moon and Mars?

    Where is the magnetic train network?

    Where is all the rest of it?

    Yes we have worked out plans – but that was true in the 1950,s.

    We are not actually doing it.

    We just have toys – like the ancient Greek steam engines.

    We are not interested in making things any more – not in large quanities that will transform life.

  15. Ian F4 says:

    The sad fact is that rather than have expensive aircraft carriers (with no aircraft on them), a hypersonic aircraft only needs a local airfield because it can reach anywhere on the planet in less than 2 hours and drop bombs on it, and from a great height that would elude most anti-aircraft systems.

    No only does it remove the need for carriers, but all that sucking up we have to do to maintain airbases abroad.

  16. Ian F4 says:

    “Hitler was hell bent on starting a war. If he had waited till he had all his beans in a row, and properly developed at the start, what with the V1’s and V2’s and planes like the above, we would have been well and truly fucked, and all speaking German now.”

    Hitler’s mistake was interfering with military science policy from day one.

    Dedicated fighter/interceptor aircraft were considered “defence” and not worthy of the Reich, every aircraft had to have a bomber role, the only reason the Spitfires got equal footing with 109s was the latter was crippled by ground attack design limitations.

    Germany was way ahead on technology build and design, had H let the Luftwaffe have its super-fighters, we would have been truly stuffed in 1940. If not then, then later if the 262s weren’t limited by the same policy.

    When the politicians start dictating what toys are allowed, you end up with a shadow of an army to fight with.

  17. NickM says:

    Ian F4,
    I have been meaning to post on Nazi “wonderjets” for some time. Mainly because what they tell you on the Discovery Channel is dingo kidneys. The simple truth is that a supercharged reciprocating engine needs high octane gasoline and a jet will run on pretty much anything more sophisticated than wood chips. The V-1 ran on coal dust.

    You are also about 100% wrong about the Bf-109. It’s primary design criterion was to fit the biggest engine they had in about ’35 into the smallest airframe possible. Worked up to the E an F models. By the G you had a handling nightmare. Torque indeed of the devil. By ’45 1/3 of all losses of 109G/K were on take off or landing – it also had narrow track gear.

    The 262 was not a wonderplane. It could have gone into series production in the SU because the Red Army secured the plans, the geezers and the jigs. The likes of Mikoyan and Yakovlev said bad idea. You do know that due to the German lack of chromium it had steel fans and an engine lasted ten hours? You do know it couldn’t climb for toffee, you do know that even though flown by Galland’s absolute elite it wasn’t getting a kill rate much above unity against Hawker Tempests and P-51s? You do know the Mk-108 cannon had horrendous ballistic drop-off due to low muzzle velocity? WWII produced a very useful jet – the Gloster Meteor and a bloody brilliant one – the F-80 Shooting Star and those were our side. The 262 was not a good ‘plane. Indeed Hitler was right. It was better as a fighter-bomber because it simply didn’t have the altitude performance. It worked down on the deck but that was your lot. And yes, that is about the only time you will hear from me “Hitler was right”. But he was there.

    The F-80 (initially P-80) was a WWII design and some did serve in combat conditions in Italy but never fired a shot in anger. They did in Korea. They are a beautiful fighter. They handle like Aphrodite pole-dancing. They are wonderful. And an F-80 holds the distinction of having the first jet on jet kill. One took down a MiG-15 (climbs like a bastard but also handles like one) in Korea.

    The sad truth is the real wonder jet of the war was what Kelly Johnson (for the F-80 was he) really wanted to build – the L-133. Axial flow turbine and a burner at the back. It was planned to be supersonic. The USAAF was moderately taken aback by it’s genius and weren’t interested.

    That is kinda hot. But then it’s Kelly Johnson. The greatest designer who ever put ink on a drawing board.

  18. Roue le Jour says:

    I enjoyed Raymond Baxter’s shows but I doubt he would have been entirely happy presenting the latest organic potato peeler from those boffins in China anyway.

    Is there a “Cat’s Law”? The number of comments before the discussion turns to aircraft? 😉

  19. NickM says:

    If I’m around… Yes. It’s about 4.

  20. […] was the same in the UK. Nick M and his readers discuss it on Counting Cats in Zanzibar (language alert). The television show Tomorrow’s World was hosted by Raymond Baxter, who was […]

  21. Sunfish says:

    So, four posts until aircraft, two until Nick compares a bad person to a vagina, eight until someone brings up Terry Pratchett, and the over/under on “Attack ships on fire by Orion” is twelve?

    Back when usenet had a purpose besides alt.binaries.multimedia.erotica.*, there was a group that worked out a local version of Godwin: any thread populated by the English would eventually work around to being all Monty Python, all the time. Any thread with Americans in it would eventually be about guns.

    Any thread with both will eventually be a recitation of “Upper-Class Twit of the Year,” I guess.

  22. NickM says:

    There is a better one.

    The most vicious Usenet discussion I ever did see was an Anglo-American one about WWII aircraft. Basically someone posed the question “Lockheed Lightning v de Havilland Mosquito”. It was hard to reconcile the invective I read there with the fact that both aircraft were on the same side during the war.

    Oh, and need I say because they were quite different aircraft the comparison is ridiculous anyway. Oh, and both were excellent ‘planes.

    Oh, and nobody on the thread of course had flown either.

    I suspect “Four Yorkshiremen” comes-up most often mind.

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