At Chelsea the designer Jason Hodges posed for me in front of his garden clutching a pint of Fosters at 11 in the morning- there’s nothing like living up to the national stereotype. When he asked me if I’d been to Australia I had to admit to him rather bashfully that I hadn’t and he didn’t waste the chance of telling me why I should.
Of course, I want to go there, but there’s a massive disincentive in that it takes much longer to get there than anywhere else you might want to visit. But there’s a glimmer of hope that before long this may no longer be a problem. The hope is provided by Burt Rutan, an aircraft designer, whose achievements include designing the first plane to fly around the globe without refuelling (and also, according to Science, the world’s most energy-efficient house). In 2004 he designed SpaceShipOne which completed the first private manned space flights and his company is developing SpaceShipTwo for Virgin Galactic. His latest venture is Stratolaunch which aims, within the next decade, to carry 100,000 people into space- “Every one of those people will have paid for their seat and they won’t be told what to do by an employer or the government”. It’s this freedom from government control which is at the heart of his venture. The funding for his projects is entirely private, from people such as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Paypal’s Elon Musk and Microsoft’s Paul Allen. They intend that this will lead to suborbital intercontinental travel, which will take me from London to Sydney in just a couple of hours. Only one thing will prevent Burt Rutan from realising his dream- the dead hand of government. As it happens, at the same time as he is making his plans our benighted government is planning a new high speed railway from London to Birmingham. I’ll be willing to place a bet that I’ll be able to buy a supersonic ticket from London to Sydney before I’ll be able to buy a bullet train ticket from London to Birmingham.