Who knows?

Travel Talk

As old duffers head towards their dotage (or, in my case, “anecdotage”),

they tend to reminisce and ramble. I’m doing a little of the former this month, but hope to avoid the latter. However, if you’ve browsed through my previous essays on this site, you’ll know I can’t give any guarantee.

As often happens, my train of thought originates from a couple of recent articles in the newspaper I regularly read. One concerned a “Super jelly” which scientists in (I think) Oxford are perfecting. It’s intended to replace worn cartilage in our ancient joints, and has considerable promise. Trials are afoot.

When the Bone Boffin replaced my right knee with an artificial one, some five years ago, we talked about that very idea. I argued that inserting some sort of artificial gunk – a lubricant to stop bones rubbing together – made more sense than replacing the entire joint. I would be simpler, too.

He agreed, mentioning research being carried out in Canada, or somewhere else far away. But, he added, at least another couple of decades would pass before significant progress was likely.

He now has designs on my left knee. Maybe my left hip, too. With NHS waiting lists as they are, I could well be “gunked” instead of sawn. Who knows?

(The thought that “Who Knows?” is an appropriate title for this month’s musings has just struck me. So “Who Knows?” it is.)

Who knows what scientific or technical breakthroughs lie ahead to tackle problems to which we cannot see an easy solution? Who knows what lies in store to make life easier or more convenient?

When I began my travel writing career 60 years ago, I had to carry wads of foreign currency and traveller’s cheques. In my wildest dreams I never imagined that a piece of plastic smaller than a playing card would take their place. A piece of plastic would settle my hotel bill, buy a meal, hire a car, or even pay for an aircraft ticket.      

I used to spend hours sitting in foreign hotel rooms, waiting for the switchboard to “open a line” so I could telephone home. Those wildest dreams of mine never envisaged a device also smaller than a playing card that would enable me, one scorching afternoon, to stand in a Greek olive grove, press a few buttons and speak to my wife back in London.

Nowadays, my daughter regularly uses her mobile phone to call me, when she is coming to the end of her morning walk with the dog. The fact that daughter and dog are in Brisbane, Australia, and that a flick of a button enables us to see each other, too, if we wish, shows how far we have progressed.   

So many things we now take for granted were, back then, beyond those “wildest dreams”. As a rational optimist I believe most if not all of our current problems – be they about Covid or Climate Change, or anything else – will be solved by the application of science and technology. And, when they are, we’ll look back and say: “Well, who would have known?”

Which brings me to the second newspaper article I mentioned. It concerned the development of electric-powered aircraft.

I’ve written about this before, but return to the subject in case you hadn’t heard that progress is being made in the development of hydrogen electric engines, which are far more efficient than the type of battery currently powering vehicles from Tesla and, moreover, do not require lithium.

A California company is developing a 19-seat prototype aircraft, powered by a hydrogen electric engine, with a range of 500 miles and a speed of 200 mph. The next step will be larger (70 seat) craft with a top speed of 350. 

To this end, the company, ZeroAvia, has contracted to put its engines into Alaska Airlines’ fleet of De Havilland DHC-8-400s.

Now that’s not going to happen next year, or the year after, but it is a lot closer to realisation than many people, including self-styled experts would have you believe. I spotted one on TV a couple of weeks ago, declaring that “at the moment, no electric aircraft are flying”.

He was wrong, of course. Flying schools in the USA are already using small, electric powered, planes. Larger prototypes are getting airborne.

As I said, it isn’t going to happen overnight, but it will happen. When it does, the experts will no doubt claim they knew all along it would.

The rest of us, being honest, will simply say: “Who would have known?”

P.S. As we zoom (no pun intended) towards Christmas, I’d like to say that I hope that yours is a happy one, and that 2022 will be good year in every way.

Covid is still a threat, but nothing like the threat we were living under in December 2020. And, though the travel trade has been battered and bruised, it will recover. We’ll be able to travel freely, and enjoy our travelling experiences all the more because of the dark times through which we have passed, and are still passing.

A line delivered by one of the characters in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is: “It will all be right in the end, and if it is not yet right, then it is not yet the end.”

I think that positive ending is closer than many people would have you believe.

P.P.S. A few minutes after I pressed the “Send” key, a couple of items came to my notice, which merit mention. The first is that the U.K. Aerospace Technology Institute is developing a liquid hydrogen powered     

aircraft which would carry 270 plus passengers non-stop from London to San Francisco. The project is at a very early stage, but has Government financing, which indicates it is being taken seriously by a notoriously stingy Treasury. As they say, “watch this space”.

The second item has nothing to do with flying, but a lot to do with Christmas – specifically the problem of finding a reasonably inexpensive gift. I’ve just heard from Bradt Guides, that copies of “Gullible’s Travels” are available at a 10% discount, if you buy them via their website.   

Go to www.bradtguides.com, press the panel that takes you to the online shop, then type “Gullible’s Travels” in the space which invites you to search for specific titles. I think it would make a great gift. But, then, I am a little biased.


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John Carter

Long-time presenter of TV’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ and BBC holiday programmes

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