Whenever my best mate and I have stood in line at Tayyab's in East London, our nostrils tingling with burnt mustard seeds, we've ogled the wall of fame – from Daniel Craig to Talvin Singh – and wondered, how in the name of all things sacred do we get on here? I mean, a novelist and an artist, we may not be in the same league as James Bond or the guy who won the Mercury Music Prize in the 90s when being Asian was last cool – we knew whatever we did had to be a cut above.
So it was lucky that I had a book called Meatspace coming out.
Meatspace is what people who live their lives online call real life. Meatspace. There's something so strange, odious and fleshy about the word. It shows that we're just a collection of wobbly brains living in meat pods. Nick (Hearne – he's an artist) and I thought it would be funny to take the word literally. And send some meat into space.
We were sat waiting for roast dinners at Hackney City Farm, enjoying the faint, malt-y mist of pig shit and chicken feed seeping through the windows when we had the idea. What could be more ridiculous than sending some actual meat into actual space? And how easy would it be?
Pretty easy, it turns out – all we needed was a weather balloon, some helium and permission from the Civil Aviation Authority and we were good to go. We bought a GoPro camera, made a makeshift pod out of its packaging and forked the sizzling lambchop.
We took the lamb chop 88.8 miles from Tayyab's in East London and out to the Cotswolds, filled the air balloon with helium and let go. The original idea – sending some meat into space – was just the tip of the iceberg, though. What followed was a lesson in endurance.
The plan was: the chop would rise at 325 metres a minute, for 95 minutes, before the balloon was predicted to burst 50 miles away over Hungerford, West Berkshire. The payload would then parachute back to earth with a predicted landing near Andover, Hampshire, 68 miles from the launch site. We would ping the GPS, go and collect and film a little retrieval skit with a "stunt" chop we had in a coolbox.
We drank coffees in a supermarket car park and waited for the GPS to start pinging when the chop reentered the atmosphere. But it never pinged. We waited and we waited. We had a little sausage sandwich barbecue in a park (in a designated barbecue area), ran into Lucy and Russell, whose farm was going to be the original launch site until predicted journey simulations put the pod in the sea. And nothing.
We returned home broken.
The lamb chop was lost.
We launched a local campaign to try and see if anyone had found it. Amazingly, someone did. Nick got a call from a farmer who had found the pod in his threshing machine. The farmer said he was near Yeovil, which was further south than predicted, and sounded like a straight up dude.
Except, he never returned the pod. He wasn't a straight up dude.
The farmer made arrangements to meet at locations in Dorchester, a service station in Bridgend, and Weston-super-mare, but failed to show every time. He dodged between different phone numbers and locations, every time giving excuses why he couldn't return the camera. By this time the launch team began to believe that this was life imitating art. The main theme of Meatspace is the lies that we tell ourselves and others in the modern social media-obsessed universe. Was this a case of elaborate catfishing? Or purely somebody attention seeking? I mean, we weren't dealing with a case of rare diamonds here. It was a bedraggled lamb chop.
The weird part was, in the book, a stray fact from a character opens up a Google search hole of all their social links, and private information. And with this farmer, an accidental text he sent to me – meant for his girlfriend – lead me to his rugby team, Facebook, Linked:In and more. It was bizarre. It was life imitating art.
After five months of book promo and having babies, Nick and I called the rozzers. And, amazingly, the camera reappeared. A few weeks ago. We were mentally exhausted by this point. So much so that the irony of the handover, in a KFC, escaped us till afterwards. When we saw the footage, it was unbelievable. Utterly unbelievable. We'd sent a Tayyab's lamb chop into space.
And the thing we gained, apart from the footage, apart from the promotion for my novel, was an absolutely ridiculous adventure that genuinely bonded Nick and I for life. Sounds cheesy, but besides the bizarre achievement of sending a bit of meat hurtling towards the moon, chasing the tail of a farmer who refuses to give the camera that filmed it back to you does great things to a friendship.
Oh, and we made it on to Tayyab's wall of fame.
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