Spectator: Lost in space

Lucy Baring blasts into space.

ON the way home, I pass a shop window in which there’s a handwritten message on a large board, which is angled for maximum attention: ‘Dear Mrs [name]. Will you please come and collect your pictures.’ The board conveys a loud note of desperation.

My advice would be to put the abandoned pictures in the window with a price tag, which is how I once found a photograph of myself in a wedding dress. The photo was a present, but its glass had been broken, so I’d taken it for repair and then never given it another thought. Two years later, it caught my eye as I passed by and, on entering the shop, I asked how long it had been for sale. Months, they said wearily, before selling it to me. Zam would love the same opportunity if he ever saw his tailcoat, borrowed from his father, and still in a dry cleaner’s somewhere. We think.

I would not, however, forget if I’d bought a house. Or an apartment. Unlike Sarah Brightman, ‘the world’s biggest selling sop-rano’ (according to her website), who told a journalist from The Sunday Times that she’d bought a flat in Manhattan on the internet and only remembered the fact while staying in a New York hotel, when she suddenly thought: ‘What am I doing… I’ve got an apartment here.’ And off she went to collect the keys.

Miss Brightman is in the news because she’s spent a reported £35 million on training to become an astronaut and will spend 10 days in space this September. Once on the International Space Station (where she hopes to perform), she will be responsible for something to do with pressure, but she’s not allowed to discuss this. The training involves arduous 16-hour days at Star City in Russia, where she’s spent much of the past two years.

I tell Alfie that I might become an astronaut because Miss Bright-man is a bit older than me and she’s got a shocking memory, so… well, the similarities end there, but I feel it’s enough to go on. He snorts derisively: ‘You can’t even turn on the television.’ This is entirely true, but not because I’m not an astronaut in the making. ‘But Jade,’ who’s much younger and brighter than me and who sometimes dogsits, ‘can’t turn it on either,’ I protest.

Recommended videos for you

When Olive left for university, she taped a set of instructions to the table under the set. They fill an A4 sheet with a first line that reads ‘How to turn on/off’. When I tell you that this has nothing to do with simply pressing the top-right button on your remote control but has a lot to do with ‘inputs’ and that there are three lines of instructions before you get to ‘How to change channels’, you can see that life has become unbearably complicated.

I read out some of the essential mental requirements for trainee astronauts and suggest these are not out of the question: persistent thought processes (persistent definitely, consistent not so much), ‘you have self-informed trust’ (yes, I trust Alfie to switch channels and have got him out of bed to do so. This is self-informed). ‘You are under 6ft 3in’ (Zam’s not coming then) and have a ‘Can Do!’ attitude. ‘You are curious.’ Yes, I’m curious that Miss Brightman is made of the right stuff even though she forgets when she’s bought a flat.

Mind you, some of this is for the people who are being sent on a one-way mission to Mars.
I don’t want to go to Mars. On reflection, even considering my suitability, I don’t actually want to go into space. I remember I don’t even like going in a lift.

‘Can someone turn that down,’ comes a shout from Zam, who’s on the phone. I pick up the remote and press the minus volume button. ‘No!’ they all chorus from the sofa as the screen goes blank. ‘This isn’t logical,’ I say crossly as I flounce out of the room. ‘You are a problem solver.’ Yes, I am. Later that night, I turn the television off. At the socket in the wall.