posted 04-07-2019 01:22 PM
I have to confess that this weekend's Space Lectures' Gennady Padalka event from the outset was a little nerve racking.
Gennady's journey from the airport to the hotel took twice as long as usual after a crash on the M62 closed the motorway, forcing his chauffeur (OWL) to take to the boon docks. Accompanying Gennady was Larry McGlynn who had finally taken up a long standing invitation to pay Space Lectures a visit. It turns out Larry is not an accomplished passenger. Uphill and down dale, the twisty route took its toll on Larry's lunch and Gennady was treated to a technicolour yawn, not once but three times: thankfully twice in a hedgerow but on one occasion some poor chaps driveway.
Not ideal I know. One might even say unsavoury but the only alternative was Gennady's lap!!
The IT at Newland School for Girls in Hull on the Friday morning proved temperamental but that did not prevent Gennady from capturing the imagination of his young audience. The warm welcome and hospitality afforded made a lasting impression on Gennady and pupils alike and it is safe to say that Space Lectures' outreach program, designed to inspire youngsters, continues to go from strength to strength.
Sadly several stalwart regulars were unable to attend the weekend on health grounds, our resident compere and Clooney lookalike David Jones (David, you can pay me that £10 when next we meet) was poorly and could not officiate for the first time in Space Lectures' history. And when we walked in to the school theatre on Saturday to set up, we discovered zero catering and the IT was once more an issue.
But not for the first time the team leapt in to action with all the usual clichés ringing in their ears... and Eddie's (moorouge) ear trumpet: Failure is not an option, etc., etc. With help from legends Nick and Bryar Deakin (aka Spaceboosters), the team manged to forage some basic refreshments for the gathering audience.
I can only apologise on behalf of Ken and the team for the lack of provisions on the day. We were caught unaware. We explained the technical difficulties to the audience who were very understanding and the feedback both in the signing queue and at the signing table was very positive and supportive.
"Stardome" astronomer and Space Lectures' volunteer Andy Green was our stand in Master of Ceremonies for Saturdays lecture. He may have been the second best photographer in the room but he is as one might expect a very accomplished public speaker and did a terrific job.
The technical difficulties meant that Gennady had to conduct his presentation from the back of the theatre, so the planned front of stage Q&A was extended. Ironically, the technical difficulties forced upon us contributed to a better audience experience in my opinion. All too often we have to compromise on the theatre lighting: not so light that the audience cannot see the projected presentation and guest speaker and not so dark that people have to continually take flash photographs. But with all the lights off and Gennady speaking almost godlike through the PA "from above" the presentation was all the more impressive. With all the lights up for the Q&A the photographers amongst us were happy too.
As for Gennady himself, he at first appeared a little aloof or distant. Softly spoken and perhaps because English is not his native tongue, he was a little reticent. That is not to say his English is not very good – quite the contrary. But I have to confess that on occasion Gennady's distinctive stereotypical Russian accent did remind me of somewhat of James Bond-esk adversary.
Very quickly Gennady's personality and wicked sense of humour shone through. Amenable and affable in equal measure nothing we asked of Gennady was too much trouble. A private man he was understandably hesitant to share stories of his life outside the space program. As a child the exploits of Gagarin, Leonov and Armstrong captured his imagination and steered him ultimately in to the space program. When asked what mementos he kept from his missions he explained "very little. I am not a collector." But he recognised and understood "the collector" in the rest of us and was more than happy to share anecdotes, discuss experiences or procedures.
When I asked Gennady what he now did for a living he explained the he was very much retired. Lectures, corporate or signing events punctuate an otherwise quiet retirement spent with his wife and grown up children. One thing he did share was his passion for "Yarg"! "What on earth is Yarg?" we all exclaimed. Gennady explained that sanctions had deprived Russia of this particularly smelly cheese indigenous to Cornwall, England. So upon returning from Newland School and prior to the Friday evening activities Gennady went off to hunt for Yorkshire's equivalent of "Yarg"!
Thirty minutes later I could smell something coming down the hotel corridor. Naturally, I turned to crash and said, "Is that you?!" Only then did I spot Gannady returning to his room with something like 5 kg of "Stinking Bishop" or some such under his arm. One thing is for sure, the check-in clerks at Manchester airport will be waving Gennady's luggage through to the hold PDQ.
As we wound up proceedings on Saturday evening Gennady turned to the team and said "Space Lectures is the best society in the UK. You will be forever in my heart." Gennady's English vocabulary might have come across as a little twee but there was no doubting the sincerity of the sentiment. He had thoroughly enjoyed his first visit to the UK and both the people and the place had clearly left an indelible impression on him. As if to underline the point Gennady mailed me as follows:
Thank you very much for the event. Ken and the team organized everything in the best way. All three days were eventful and unforgettable for me. Thanks for a great support. Say hello to everyone. Many hugs. I mentioned earlier a certain Larry McGlynn! Those who have watched the opening titles from the Netflix show "Space Dealers" will know that with Larry in town we needed to take some precautions. So all of Pontefract's Grandmas were safely tucked up in bed and everybody to the best of my knowledge left with their shirts still on their backs and their gold fillings intact. With our resident compere unavailable Larry stepped up to the plate to conduct the post dinner auction and he did so with all the aplomb of your mother's favourite gameshow host: Larry even donated some superb pieces of his own to the auction!
As an ambassador for the bow tie fraternity I thought it only fitting that we recognize Larry's contribution to the male fashion industry and organised a gag photo with Gennady and the team. A rumour moments before the photo shoot suggested Larry on occasion has been known to wear a pretty natty line beach wear almost as loud as his sweaters but I took a good look at the team and thought to myself "better stick with the bow ties!" In any case, OWL had left his budgie smugglers at home.
Joking aside, I've known Larry for more than 20 years. He arrived in Pontefract as a personal friend but he headed back to Boston leaving behind many, many more. Ken, the rest of the Space Lectures team and I would like to thank you Larry for coming and for all your help during the course of the weekend. You are welcome back any time buddy, but be sure to bring your own plunger!
And that goes for Newland School for Girls, everybody that attended the lecture and dinner events (except for the plunger). Without your continued support these events would not be possible and nor would it be possible to bring our next speaker Jack Lousma to Pontefract later in 2019. On behalf of Ken Willoughby and the rest of the team thank you and we hope to see you all again in October. Wishing the next six months away already!