50 years to the day after orbiting the earth for 89 minutes in a tiny capsule jettisoned from the mighty Vostok 2 rocket, Hero of the Soviet Union Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin was awarded another gong. A plastic table lamp constructed in his honour has been inducted into ThusMagazine’s Quality Hall of Fame. The event, widely leaked on the Brick Lane Robot Shop’s secretive Facebook page, has thus far attracted no comment from Russian officials, nor has it featured on BBC Radio, seemingly obsessed with Gagarin chitter chatter on this momentous day. The award judges, long time Gagarin admirers, as opposed to Yuri-come-lately bandwagoners, have stated that both the timing and the bestowing of this honour are entirely coincidental.
Yuri Gagarin table lamp – another quality object from the House of Thus. Note the Vostok 1 scale model at its apex.
The Yuri Gagarin plastic table lamp has been chosen for its unique aesthetics, its ingenious use of a 240 volt AC/DC currency transformer to power a tiny flashlight bulb and the incomprehensible but mystical symbols surrounding its base. The lamp, imported by the Brick Lane Robot Shop from a source in the Ukraine, possibly survived Chernobyl and certainly survived Parcelforce, the brutal UK shipping company which subjected it to six weeks in orbit around various depots. The lamp, which glows in an unusual combination of red and green, often buzzes when left on for more than a few minutes, suggesting preparation for lift off. In short, the Gagarin lamp fulfills most if not all of the Thus Quality Hall of Fame criteria: it is what it is because it is Thus.
I first became interested in Yuri Gagarin as a young man when a Leeds traffic cop pulled me up for allegedly speeding on my motorbike, with the words: ‘Who the fxxx do you think you are? Yuri Gagarin?’ Wearing a helmet and sharing the same physical appearance as Yuri – short, stocky, clearly highly intelligent but wearing the tragic demeanour of somehow missing out on life after displaying early promise – I could see how the policeman might have been mistaken.
I have always empathised with the first man to see the earth from space but was never given another chance to check out the details he no doubt missed on the first, all-too-brief recce. Some say it was because he put on too much weight on his constant round of victory tour banquets and couldn’t fit in the capsule a second time round. Others say the risk of his dying in space on a second trip was simply too great for a Soviet Deputy of immense public stature and PR value. I tend to believe the latter.
Yuri visited Manchester three months after his triumphant flight – and, like me, survived the experience. He came from a poor background in Siberia, was a modest family man to the end who liked his pint and was a great fan of tinny space hardware. Apart from Siberia, we are also alike in these respects. The enduring popularity of Yuri Gagarin, apart from his brilliant name, is that he was a man of the people: everyman and superman. His achievement lit the blue touch paper under the space race, which gave us non stick pans, pens which wrote upside down and Bowie’s Space Oddity, amongst other priceless cultural adjuncts. (Incidentally, while NASA spent millions developing upside down space biros, the Soviets simply used pencils).
Yuri Gagarin hologram keyring, another life-enhancing gem you missed because you were too lazy to visit the Brick Lane Robot Shop
In celebrating Yuri’s life and achievements, we should not forget that the youth of today take space and its oddities for granted. I recently gave away a priceless holographic Yuri Gagarin keyring to my robot shop neighbour, brilliant wedding photographer Nick White, in exchange for a hideous 1960s side table used for the Robot Shop Day of the Dead skeleton Christmas Tree pageant. ‘It’s great, mate, but who the xxxx is Yuri Gagarin?”He’s the inspiration behind the Yuri Gagarin Chernobyl table lamp. That’s who. Without him, there’d be no satellite TV,’ I replied, with a heavy heart. Nastrovye, you crazy diamond.