If ever there was a technology we Brits were at ease with, it was plumbing. And what was steam, after all, but plumbing with added danger?

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The news that the Russians are planning a steam-powered space rocket has been well-received at Weasel Villas, where we are great fans of the kind of high technology that you can adjust with a wrench, as opposed to calling in a man with a white coat and a degree in "I-tech" from Middlesex University.

Apparently, steam issues forth from a giant boiler on the ground and is stored under high pressure inside the spacecraft. Then, on a count of tre, dva, ochin, (nothing if not educational, this column) some leather- clad Lara turns a brass valve. Out comes a jet of water vapour powerful enough to hurl the mighty projectile into orbit.

A stroke of genius indeed, to build a new national crusade on a technology so thoroughly tried and tested across Russia, notably in the bathrooms of the old Rossiya hotel off Red Square, where anyone rash enough to take a shower was in constant danger of emerging minus skin.

We do this kind of thing so much better, of course. If ever there was a technology we Brits were at ease with, it was plumbing, from the time of Thomas Crapper onwards. And what was steam, after all, but plumbing with added danger? Steam engines were precisely the kind of thing we knew how to build, and build to last, as the unfortunately disaster-prone railways of the Indian sub-continent continue to demonstrate.

Given a length of copper piping, some proper British coal and an inexhaustible supply of rainwater (we're talking about the old days here) and we could have been orbiting Mars in a matter of months.

Sadly, technology has moved on. The British Space Programme now seems to be in the hands of Steve Bennett, a 31-year-old Mancunian lab technician who plans to puncture the ionosphere by the middle of next year. His rocket is not powered by steam, however. It is powered by sugar.

Naturally, being a modern go-ahead type of project, the rocket has been built with private-sector funding. Tate & Lyle are giving him his fuel, which seems to consist of a lump of cane sugar with a hole down the middle. Presumably now people no longer put it in their tea they have to find another use for it, like launching it into space. Beam me down.

The Weasel's continued struggles with the heartlessness of the modern world received a rebuff recently. For obscure reasons, I was trying to find a copy of a book called Seeds of Hate, by the pseudonymous "Harry Carmichael".

Suppressing a technophobic shudder, I tapped the words into the catalogue terminal of my local library. I didn't expect to find it. After all, it is a work of fiction, although the fact that it was published in 1960 gave me some grounds for hope. The disapproval of works of the imagination by librarians is a comparatively recent development.

But what happened next rather amused me. A column of helpful seed-related titles welled up from the machine's innards. But only one was blessed with the blinking arrow-head that is supposed to indicate that the book has been found. Seeds of Love, it said. Wrong, but I suppose you could say its heart is in the right place.

How odd that London still seems to be full of tourists. Normally they have gone long before the first Christmas decorations appear, around the end of August.

Not so this year. The other day I had a strange encounter in Greenwich, that slightly tarnished piece of national silverware that now cowers beneath the long shadow of Canary Wharf. An anxious-looking middle-aged couple approached me, he an open-faced countryman in a khaki cloth anorak cut on vaguely Afrika Korps lines, she a sturdy agriculturalist in headscarf and faded floral.

They began to speak, but not a syllable could I grasp. What on earth did they want? A mounting helplessness came over all three of us as they extended their conversational repertoire from guttural language to hand signals. Madame proved a dab hand at this, miming with some fluency what appeared to be a small house with a pitched roof and a series of parallel lines scored into the flat earth in front of it.

Naturally, I assumed that what they wanted was the railway station, this being the invariable destination of overseas visitors finding themselves marooned in Greenwich, one of our comeliest traffic islands.

The presence of a venerable Praktica camera around the man's neck finally convinced me that these people were from Eastern Europe. Slowly, painfully, I scoured my memory in the hope of summoning up some schoolboy German. Resisting the temptation to ask, like the helpful man in the magistrate's court in the ancient story, "Vot do you Vant?" I struggled on.

"Where is it?" asked the foreign gentleman.

"What?" I replied, at which he shrugged his shoulders and made one of those gestures that means "everything". Or indeed, "anything".

Where indeed? In the end, I sent them off past the Ibis Hotel and the "Mexican" restaurant and the "French" wine bar and the Burger King in the direction of the park and the Observatory. There's also the Naval College, until its sold, and if you're brave enough to cross the road.

Considering, however, that Greenwich is supposed to be one of our Great National Treasures, it is hard not to share the bemusement of the Hungarians (which is what they proved to be). Like so many places in modern Britain, when you get there you find, as Gertrude Stein said, there's no "there" there.

The near-total collapse of British football teams in Europe has provoked an orgy of soul-searching. Typical of the continentals to employ an underhand trick such as playing better.

Clearly it is too late, now, for us to catch up. If they will persist on giving the ball to their team-mates, rather than sportingly hoofing it up in the air, we can hardly be expected to join in. It is contrary to our entire cultural tradition.

But surely we invented the game? Indeed we did, but not this game. Association Football, as devised and played at the height of the British Empire, was something quite different. It was a kind of trench warfare with oranges at half-time.

The time is surely right for authentic football, to be staged along the same lines as those orchestras who perform "authentic music" using fretted viols and untunable brass instruments. In authentic football, or Real Football, as we shall call it for marketing purposes, the ball will be a bladder encased in heavy shoe-leather and fastened with a lace. The shirts will be long-sleeved, with a proper collar, and made of a particularly itchy type of wool. Shorts likewise. Boots will incorporate a fearsome toecap and no more than six studs, each an inch in length.

There shall be a goalkeeper, two full backs, three half-backs, two wingers, two inside forwards and a centre forward. Should the goalkeeper be rash enough to catch the ball, he may be barged into his net. And any unnecessary heading will result in immediate brain damage.

Unlike the kickabouts with a beach ball that constitute the modern game, Real Football will demand manly virtues, such as stamina, physical strength, courage, guile and a liking for mud. As a spectacle, it might lack a certain finesse. But at least we'd be the best in the world. For a while

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