Two quite bizarre things happened to me last weekend, both involving HBC, an old friend of mine and Mr N’s who lives in Bristol, and who we hadn’t seen for about four years until three weeks ago, when he and Mrs BC kindly helped us to drown our sorrows after we’d dropped F at university nearby (my, how we drowned them). And while there, HBC mentioned that in a couple of weeks’ time, he was coming to Belper, which is where I live, for a boys’ weekend away.
Now, unless you live in a happening city or olde worlde chocolate box village or heritage hotspot, or by the sea or lakeside or halfway up a mountain, then you don’t really expect folks to holiday in your home town, do you? Take Houston, for example. Love the place, really truly, and I could give you 100 recommendations for stuff to see and do if you’re thinking of visiting, but the likelihood is that, unless you know someone who lives there, or you or someone close to you works in the oil and gas industry, you’re not. Which is how it should be, really, because there are, perhaps, several hundred places that are more obviously tempting on most people’s ‘where I’d like to go in America’ wishlist. So, who’d have thought it but in a peculiar, small town, East-Midlands-of-England-ish sort of way, Belper’s a bit like Houston – way down on (if indeed on at all) the average person’s list of ‘must visit’ places. But here was HBC, last weekend, staying down the road, 11 pals in tow.
They’d booked themselves into a holiday cottage that, if we were in France, I’d be calling a gîte – large, old and grand in a faded way, a whiff of sloshed aristocracy about the place, its life history nudging through. It was once a Methodist chapel and still has the pulpit in situ, now overlooking the lower living room and home to the hoover. Even more surprising (to me – I would hazard a guess that I’ve driven/cycled/run past this place at least 3,000 times), it sleeps 23 in eight bedrooms, has two living rooms and – get this – a sauna!
That, then, was the first bizarre thing: not only do I discover that lil’ ol’ Belps is a destination, but all these years there have been huge hordes of happy holidayers sweating out their hangovers in the sauna right under our noses.
You can imagine how keen I was to check the chapel out for myself. [Who doesn’t love a nosey round someone else’s house? Never been to view a house for sale just because you can? No? Well, you’re missing a treat – really doesn’t matter if you like the decor or not, a bit of aspirational envy or superior-taste-confirming condescension can really cheer you up on a wet weekend, believe me. Anyway…] With Mr N away, oldest two out of the nest, and R filling the house with his friends, an evening down the pub next door to the chapel with the Bristol boys was just the ticket. And here it was, down the pub, that bizarre thing number two occurred.
We met – or, rather, experienced – the fantastical Rob Lowe of the Ship in Space enterprise (“Rob-dot-Lowe-with-an-e-at-ship-in-space-dot-com” as he thoughtfully introduced himself to us should we need to follow up the encounter with an email). Briefly, Ship in Space is a rival to Richard Branson’s passenger rocket, only more affordable at the snippy price of £36,000 a ticket. It will be launching within the next seven years “or your money back” from Snowdonia and will, apparently, offer a better space experience, weightlessness-wise and views-of-Earth-wise too, as Rob-dot-Lowe-with-an-e demonstrated, in close-up, to me and the Bristol boys by the trajectory of a lit cigarette (we were outside with the smokers). He also gave us a lot of technical safety design information, to put our minds at rest over any possible fears about comets and meteors and take-off or re-entry explosions that he thought we might be having while we considered whether to get our cheque books out and invest, there and then. What nearly sold it was the BSGOF offer. BSGOF? That would be ‘Buy Seven, Get One Free’. Bargain!
And in case we were in need of further convincing, we were invited to “International SpaceWeek in Duffield” – a week of Ship in Space presentations, noon till night, every day this week, at the King’s Head. [Duffield is a small village two miles down the road.]
Rob-dot-Lowe-with-an-e simply appeared, looming up and launching his rocket pitch, right there, outside the Holly Bush, in semi-rural Derbyshire, in the dusk of a Saturday night in October, selling in all seriousness his £36,000 boarding passes amidst the pints of real ale. Throughout his presentation, for that is what it was, I thought he was one of the Bristol boys and the Bristol boys thought he was with me, so seamlessly had he penetrated our group. Quite where he came from none of us knows. He left as suddenly as he’d arrived, with a confident flourish, his email and website signature hanging in the air, as he walked off down the lane in the dark to the next pub of potential investors, fully expecting to be hearing from one of us soon. Anyway, I shan’t do any more of his sales work for him, you can all look yourselves at the brilliance that is the Ship in Space website (spoiler: “The whole design has been built with complete and utter safety as the primary objective by building everything as safely as possible”). But, based on the sales pitch, the website and the sign that has been outside the King’s Head all week, who wouldn’t empty their bank account, cash in their pension and spend their life’s savings on the chance to be a two-minute spaceman with this lot?
Clearly, Belper’s the place to be, just ask HBC and his Bristol boys!