Jayne Dawson: Forget space travel, let’s make earth a better place

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Sometimes I wonder if I simply lack imagination. After all, space travel has enthused humans forever.

All the greats have dreamed of it, from Leonardo da Vinci to Justin Timberlake.

He - Justin, not Leonardo - is one of the Hollywood stars, along with Tom Hanks, Arnold Schwarzenegger and even the great Bill Clinton who dream of a trip into the actual stars.

And our own Richard Branson is the man trying to make it happen for them. Indeed, not only trying to make it happen for others but for himself. The billionaire businessman has declared that he and his son Sam will be among the first to travel to the very edge of space next year on the very first tourist flight.

It all seemed very jolly. Another swashbuckling adventure for a man who even looks like a handsome space pirate, with his rakish smile and silver goatee.

Of course, it’s all gone a bit iffy now, since his prototype passenger space rocket Virgin Galactic exploded over the Mojave Desert, killing the 39-year-old test pilot. Now there is a storm of accusation, claim and counter-claim with Richard Branson fighting back and declaring that the show must go on.

But here’s the thing: I don’t know why he is trying to cross the final frontier in the first place. And I don’t know why so many people want to take that risky journey with him.

Maybe it is a lack of imagination - but I don’t think so. My mind can work fast, conjuring up all kinds of doomsday fantasy scenarios. My loved ones have died a thousand deaths in my head.

My brain is already stretched to its outer limits coping with the big adventure of life on earth - I don’t need to add space exploration into the mix.

Maybe space is a boy thing. I reckon it is, I haven’t seen many girls playing astronauts.

It’s boys who know the names of the stars and the constellations and, in the early days of romance when they are not quite feeling themselves, will point at and name these shapes in the sky, on the walk home from a night out.

Girls will murmur appreciatively, and try to concentrate, if only to take their mind off the pain in their feet from the high heels they have been wearing for too many hours.

That’s just how it is. Black holes, white holes, wormholes are a blokey interest, despite what Anne Hathaway is saying while promoting her latest film, Interstellar .

But I don’t feel ashamed of my lack of interest in reaching for the stars.

Because I think the real, exciting technologies to crack are the ones that will help the people who live right here, right now.

So Richard Branson’s big dreams don’t inspire me, but the scientist who may have found the answer to helping paralysed people walk again does.

He has taken cells from the nasal lining and put them into someone’s spine, where they are growing to bridge the gap and reconnect nerves. Imagine how much hope that must give to so many people.

Or the person who has developed spectacles at £1 a pair to help millions of people in the developing world, who up to now have had their lives ruined by poor eyesight.

Or the people furiously working to beat Alzheimer’s, that disease that makes us all shiver with fear.

These low key projects are not big and glamorous and sexy, like reaching the final frontier in a £700m tourist spaceship.

But it’s called the final frontier because there is nothing after that.

If Richard Branson would use his millions for more down-to-earth research lots of us would admire him much more - praise him to the skies in fact.

Time to stop TV dramas about missing children

A lot of praise is being heaped on The Missing, a TV drama about a missing five year old boy.

It stars James Nesbitt and has similarities with the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, since the fictional child disappeared in a foreign village eight years ago.

But more than that I don’t know, because I can’t bring myself to watch it.

I watched Broadchurch, the first of this present flood of dramas about missing children, and I watched the next one too, The Guilty

I found both painful, because every parent has had a child go missing at some point, if only for a minute or two, and every parent knows the fear and panic that torrents through your body.

After that I didn’t expect there to be any more missing child dramas and, in any case, I couldn’t take any more.

But never underestimate television’s capacity for finding a winning formula and flogging it to death.

Before missing children, there was a glut of dramas about abused children. Before that, every story involved illegal immigrants.

As well as missing children, we are also in the throes of a spate of graphic dramas involving the deaths of women by increasingly sadistic means, the worst of which is the acclaimed The Fall starring Gillian Anderson, which is about to return to our screens.

It’s unpleasant, formulaic television and ultimately a turn-off.

How about a spate of really good comedy dramas instead? Weird idea, I know, But it could work.

Language of the caveman alive and well in modern Britain

Ever done that thing for a baby’s benefit where you smell something bad - usually, let’s be honest, their nappy - and make that “pu” sound.

You know, where you purse your lips, screw up your nose and sort of blow out?

Go on, give it a go, you know you want to.

Congratulations! You are speaking the language of stone age man, according to a new book.

Written in Stone, by Christopher Stevens, says that the earliest words were spoken about 8,000 years ago, and they looked and sounded like what they are describing.

So “pu” creates a disgusted face when spoken because that is what it is describing - a smell that disgusts us.

Likewise, “mei” is the early form of the word “smile” because that is what your mouth does when you say it.

No one knows who spoke this early language first and it doesn’t have a name but it does involve several hundred sounds.

The funny thing is that it has not died out - all of it can be heard in any city centre late on a weekend night.

Alexandra Shulman. PIC: PA

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