LET me take you to an idyllic, hopeful, motivated place where social distancing would be difficult; where all sorts of folk get on because they have to; and where all are engaged in a mission to improve life wherever they find it.

I am talking about … the Starship Enterprise. Oh, what’s wrong with you now? You were expecting something real? Come on, get real. Nothing like that could possibly exist in real life.

It’s an idealised place, and I want to explore it a little further, along with Serenity, the spaceship in the series Firefly, and also the “bus”, a big jumbo jet, in the excellent Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

If I might disappoint you further, I shall not be referring to the coronavirus. It’s the big issue of our time and, generally speaking, I’m far too busy for that sort of thing and prefer leaving it to more capable minds with dedicated, focused intellects. Now, what was I saying?

Oh yes: the Starship Enterprise and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. If you’re unfamiliar with the latter, it’s a Marvel series about a secret organisation that protects the world from evil, ken?

Thor’s hammer also comes into it, but that need not detain us here. The personnel includes folk with rewired brains, martial artists, and nerdy scientists (one of them Scottish). The key factor to focus your giant minds on is that they’re thrust together in a finite, communal space in which each has their own room or cabin.

These people are misfits, waifs and strays, folk with baggage and backstories. On the ship (in reality, a plane with – work with me on this – an invisibility cloak), there are strains, tensions, jealousies, suspicions, huffs and dislikes, but these get resolved.

That said, many of the plots or, more usually, sub-plots involve family background and lingering issues. The key is always to put these in the past. Evil sexy siren Raina tells captured Agent Coulson that S.H.I.E.L.D. is “your family, your only family”. In another episode, Coulson says of fellow crew member Skye that Shield was “the one [i.e. the family] she’s always had”.

Some balloon mentioned “misfits” earlier, but it’s important to remember that the crew are all highly qualified and brilliant at what they do. It’s the same on Star Trek’s Starship Enterprise, about which some of you might have heard.

Here again, we have disparate people from different backgrounds. Each brings a different perspective to problems they encounter, and will often have variously to compromise, back down or stick to their guns if sure they’re right.

The leading triumvirate – Captain Kirk, Mr Spock and Dr McCoy – represent different facets of the human character, these being in my estimation equivalent to Freud’s ego (Kirk), superego (Spock) and id (McCoy).

This is a recurring formula in successful stories and shows, from The Wind in the Willows to Last of the Summer Wine. You read it here first.

On Serenity, in Firefly, the equivalent triumvirate is Captain Reynolds, former monk Book, and dodgy hell-raiser Jayne.

The latter causes real tensions with the nice members of the crew and passengers but, again, there’s a real ensemble here, including a superb female engineer, a wacky but wonderful pilot and, of course, folk who know how to fight (not sure Star Trek had that; Kirk just went for pub-brawl haymakers; Spock had his Vulcan death grip, right enough).

My point (readers gasp: “He has a point: it’s a first!”) is that all the best, most heart-warming series are the same: no families (apart from one disappointingly married couple in Firefly), no kids, no mortgage, indeed no house, just adults living as grown-up children having adventures together.

There must surely be a moral in this story, a guide to successful living. If you think of it, don’t bother me, as I’m far too busy for that sort of thing. Just address your thoughts to The Editor, The Herald Magazine, and mark your envelope “Important”.


NOW, about this coronavirus. It’s an important issue, and something about which I feel I should say a few uplifting words.

However, as I can’t think of any, I thought I’d focus once more on etiquette. Yon BBC highlighted an important issue this week: “Should you put an item back on the shelves after you’ve touched it?”

I’ve had this dilemma myself. You pick up a food item and look at the ingredients before shouting out in the store: “I’m not eating that. It’s got baked toenails in it!”

But, having drawn attention to yourself (or even if not), you feel obliged to put the item in your basket rather than put it back after handling it.

Every cloud allegedly has a silver lining, though, and one here is that the baked toenails were excellent. In future, I’ll try to ensure they appear in more meals.

In yonder Germany, meanwhile, Lower Saxony regional authority has been ridiculed after issuing instructions about how to eat ice cream in public. To wit: a maximum of one lick in the shop, to stop it dripping on your clothes, before retreating to a safe space 50 metres distant in which to enjoy the essential repast.

I say “enjoy” but, doubtless, the correct formula is: “consume in an efficient manner.”

Rab McNeil: common decency, carnal knowledge and clarty history. Nice!

Upon my sole

IF I added up all the things I don’t understand about women it would come to … everything. Prime among the mysteries, though, is their love affair with shoes.

One woman featured in the popular prints this week – well, there’s nothing else happening – has 500 pairs. She says it’s her equivalent of other people having 500 books, which at first I thought was a fair point until I remembered: “Wait a minute, you can’t read shoes.”

The only thing you can do with shoes is wear them or I suppose, if you are peculiar or otherwise female, collect them.

It also occurs to me – on a roll here this morning, readers – that shoes are considerably more expensive than books. A man on my shoestring budget has to buy nearly all his books second-hand, which isn’t really advised with footwear, unless you want to risk catching syphilis.

One pair of ankle boots and one pair of wellies should be enough for any citizen, male or female, and it is to be hoped that the new authoritarian regime that emerges in the post-virus era will make this a regulation that all must obey.

About time

I’VE another theory. I see there’s a stampede for the exits. Well, please remain seated, folks. I ensured the doors were locked before embarking upon this interesting and/or informative lecture.

As essential background to my hypothesis or hunch, I remind you that, with the coronavirus making contemporary reality even worse than usual, many citizens, in their reading and film-watching, have been harking back to happier times.

Last week, I reported exclusively that I’d watched Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, and Carry On At Your Convenience. The former, admittedly, wasn’t a barrel of laughs, but at least it was life before the smelly virus.

My point is this: you can only understand, or appreciate, any period you live through many years afterwards (admittedly, I was only three at the time of Saturday Night but it resonated in my era). At the time, you don’t take it all in.

You have to look back later at the period vaguely experienced back then and, effectively, live it again. And it’s always better second time round because you’re not actually there.

That’s it. All right, security goons, you can let them out now.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.