IT could have been beautiful, the ultimate declaration of freedom from the BBC's shackles – Jeremy Clarkson launching the The Grand Tour by blasting an effigy of The Stig off into the infinite depths of space.

Such a massive stunt would have inspired poetry as deep as one was willing to go, birthing new realms of allegory and metaphor, perhaps redefining language and recalibrating the human brain to a state of perfection.

Alas, it was Elon Musk who was this week anointed Earth’s chief cheeky chappie, a Hirst-baiting art terrorist responsible for the most spectacular boys-and-their-toys display of all time. Even your granny was talking about that soon-to-be iconic image of a cherry red Tesla car floating in space with Earth glowing ominously in its rear view mirror. And she’s dead.

It was an achievement that made Clarkson, Hammond and the one with the haemorrhaged hairdo look like stickmen in a flick book, relics of an irony-fuelled, nostalgia-binging, deferential era which finally sounded its death rattle this week. The children of the digital age’s full technicolour ambitions have now been nakedly revealed to the world and all we can do is hang on tight. A new dawn has arrived. 

Funnily enough, the likelihood of Clarkson pulling off such a feat was not as unfeasible as you may think. His new paymaster, Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, is the richest man in the world and, like Musk, owns his own space company – Blue Origin. You’re no-one if you don’t have a big rocket these days.

But Bezos will be paying no heed to Musk’s media smokescreen car-in-space gimmick. His full attention is on the real news story, the successful testing of SpaceX’s revolutionary recyclable booster rockets – two of which landed back on terra firma with genuinely spooky precision.

Yes, they’re “greener”, but beyond the eco-friendly PR bluff these devices are the main reason Martian landings are now viable - with astronaunts now having a way of getting back off the surface of the red planet to head home. Such a return mission remains the real dream for Musk and Bezos - and all the other CEOs of myriad space companies set up in their trailblazing wake. 

There was one off-note with Musk’s triumph of the will, however. No, not the yawn-inducing virtue-signalling accusing him of polluting space with junk – that’s like believing in some form of galaxian homeopathy. One car floating in infinity matters not, neither physically nor symbolically. It’s made of materials forged in the stars anyway. 

No, my issue is with Life On Mars playing in the Tesla on an infinite loop. The late, great David Bowie’s rueful denunciation of humanity’s self-destructive streak seems at odds with Musk’s bold display of endeavour and adventure. Perhaps the jaunty Top Gear theme would have been more appropriate. But first, Musk must tell us how he has invented speakers that can be heard in the vacuum of space.


“BREXITEER” – surely the most cringeworthy, faux-valiant moniker ever constructed, one boldly defying the school playground rule of never giving yourself your own nickname. Dreamed up to stir fervour with its unsubtle insinuation of daredevilry, it’s certainly more than a little ironic that its intent is to evoke the heroism of those very French Musketeers.

But self-awareness isn’t usually synonymous with blind patriotism. And even the most rational of us can sometimes find ourselves intoxicated by nationalist pride, a counterfeit euphoria as unearned as the medals on Prince Charles’ fanciest, dandiest blazer. 

But we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves – or those with allegiances alien to our own. Not only are we expected to pledge lifetime devotion to lines drawn on maps by long-dead strangers, but as impressionable children we are forced down ancient illusionary pathways paved by the pious zealots of irrelevant past eras. It can be difficult to dry off from a storm that’s been pounding down long before you were born.

Yet, even in this fractured no man’s land, haunted by the hate of two referendums, at least we can say we had a say in our fate. Trenches we’ve dug, yes, but from within our cosy echo-chamber confines we shouldn’t forget one group of folk who were never even given a spade – the Doggers. A race of people who existed aeons before the first car park.

These doomed ancient ancestors now exist as sprinkles throughout our DNA, but they were once an abundant hunter gatherer population who roamed a sprawling landmass called Doggerland which connected Britain to the entire west coast of Europe. This UK as an “island nation” is a relatively recent occurrence, one fated to last for just the blink of an eye in geological terms.

The landmass now known as Britain was first cut off from the rest of Europe around 300,000 years ago when the English Channel was formed. Our neighbours in doggerland had been subject to mass flooding and tsunamis for thousands of years, yet this indefatigable landmass repeatedly rose from the sea to reunite Britain with our continental cousins several times. It eventually shrank to an small island, however, that was fully submerged in 5000 BC.

This was Europe’s very own Atlantis, hosting a populace who would never be asked to declare whether they were British, European or an independent nation. Perhaps the Brexit vote would have gone a different way if Doggerland had survived. 

As the extinct Doggers would understand, territory and nationality are arbitrary concepts which scratch our species’ itch to belong, but are proven to be collective delusions by the yawning gape of geological calendars. Such timescales, the only true objective reality in town, mock all the best-laid plans of mice and men. And, one day, Brexiteers. It seems that severing the man-made ribbons and chains between the UK and Europe is, ultimately, as abstract an act as deciding what’s up or down in outer space.

In 250 million years’ time, scientists predict that last surviving human Keith Richards will be a lonely king ruling over the only country left on Earth – the single, united continent of Pangaea Proxima. Maybe Keef will take time to reminisce on the folly of his species’ fatal addiction to tribalist triumphalism, flaccidly striking a minor out-of-tune chord in our honour.


FORGET Bannockburn and Stirling Bridge, the most seismic encounter between Scotland and England took place over 400 million years ago.

This was when fate and plate tectonics brought two distinct, differing, distant alien landmasses together – each destined to erode the others' boundaries, crushing and reshaping and until the energy of that first meeting dissipated and they awkwardly settled as one. Just like any long-term marriage, really. 

Over the previous few billion years, the jigsaw of continental crazy paving that makes up Scotland’s distinct geology had enjoyed existence as a scorched desert, swampland, a tropical rainforest and also a frozen tundra made entirely of ice. A full life then, long before Krispy Kreme opened in Edinburgh

The biggest Caledonian landmass, however, once belonged to a continent known as Laurentia, which had spent countless millennia creaking aimlessly around the southern hemisphere before drifting north across the equator. Then attached to future Canada, a big chunk of future Scotland found itself in sight of a wee bit of land that would one day be called England. 

And in an irony deeper than Barry White’s soul, it was very much attached to mainland Europe.

When an ancient sea called Iapetus dried up, Scotland –  formed from the raw materials of around six distinct landmasses – found itself grinding against England, a passionate initial courtship which led to a long, troubled relationship.

Major trauma from this seismic upheaval is still clearly visible along with Highland boundary fault between Arran and Aberdeenshire and also major geological disturbance at sites such as the land surrounding Hadrian’s Wall. Despite the best efforts of politicians and extremists, it seems it will be the Earth itself that decides when it's time to move on, when this ancient scar tissue reopens and these transitory landmasses finally bid their farewells.