P&J Column 1.9.16


Sleep in a Lego chalet? No way – it’s bad enough when you stand on a bit.

Ron Cluny, Official Aberdeen City Council Spokesman

Far be it from me to mock the misfortunes of a rival local authority, but I must admit there was a wry smile or two about the Town House when the news broke that the co-leader of Aberdeenshire Council, Martin Kitts-Hayes, has had to resign following what has come to be known as “Lego-gate”.

Now, we in the City of course enjoy good and cordial relations with the ‘Shire. We are not not at all envious of their record of nominations and wins at the annual Cosla awards, nor do we begrudge them their reputation for sound financial management and high-quality administration.

But the news that one of their most senior elected officers has had to walk the plank after throwing a hissy fit about the standard of his accommodation and returning home early from a trip to LEGOLAND certainly did brighten up a dull Tuesday morning in the Castlegate. Ironic, really, that it was on a jolly to that particular location that he should have chosen to throw his toys out of the pram.

But let us leave to one side childish joshing about what he was doing there in the first place, and the question of whether Aberdeenshire Council’s next team-building exercise is going to be at Hoodle’s Playbarn or the Build-a-Bear Workshop, and focus on more important matters. Apparently, Mr Kitts-Hayes threw a strop and flew straight home, claiming that the accommodation he had been provided with was “like a glorified shed” and “reminiscent of Butlins in the 1970’s” wasting £3,500 of local authority funds in the process.

I have to say, we in the City are made of sterner stuff. I well recall the time I took part in a week-long cultural exchange trip to Thailand and was accidentally booked into premises in the heart of that vibrant city’s pulsating red light district.   I am proud to say that despite the obvious unsuitability of the accommodations I screwed up my courage, girded my loins and stuck it out, uncomplainingly, for the full duration of the trip. I didn’t land my Council with an expenses bill for three and a half grand, either. Though I did my best.


Professor Hector J Schlenk, Senior Research Fellow at the Bogton Institute for Public Engagement with Science

As a scientist, people are forever asking me questions like “How old is the Universe?” “How recent is our understanding of gravitational waves?” and “what kinds of pants are you wearing?” To which I answer, respectively, “Old. New. Borrowed and blue”. But recently people have been asking me about earth-like planets. They’re referring, of course, to the recent discovery of a world comparable to our own orbiting the nearby star Proxima Centauri. The planet itself, which lies within the habitable ‘Goldilocks” zone (which means that if you were to make porridge there, it would be just right), is called Proxima Centauri B. Not the best name for a planet, admittedly, but it knocks spots off Uranus.

It’s always exciting to hear about a planet that we humans could one day colonise and make our own. Especially when considers what a collop we’ve made of this one. I spoke about Proxima Centauri B with my grandson recently, and as I described the potential for human extra-planetary exploration this new Eden, offered to mankind, he sat agog, then his little face lit up and he posed a searching question. “Grandad, will the new planet have any Pokémon?” he asked. I guess Mrs Schlenk and I can start planning to spend the college fund we’d set aside for him.

Thoughts turn, naturally, to exploring the new planet. Now, for those unschooled in Latin, “proxima” means “nearby”. However, as Einstein never tired of saying, everything is relative. Proxima Centauri B is 4.25 light years way. This means that as we observe it today, we’re actually looking at it as it was in May 2011 – Imagine that, a planet where they are still on Season one of Game of Thrones.

Even travelling at the greatest velocity ever achieved by any man-made spacecraft, a journey to Proxima Centauri would take 80,000 years, so selecting a crew for such a mission would be tricky. Whoever is sent would require to have extraordinary resilience to adverse circumstances and an almost maniacal self-belief. Further, neither they nor their descendants would ever return to Earth. All in all, it sounds a like a job for Donald Trump.