How Dominic West has just killed the e-scooter, the future and my dreams – Aidan Smith

In the PR departments of e-scooter manufacturers, I wonder what they’re thinking right now. It might be: “Thanks, Dominic West, we couldn’t have bought that kind of publicity.” Then again it could be: “You bloody idiot!”
The e-scooter is the closest thing to the hoverboard seen in the Back to the Future films (Picture: Phil Walter/Getty Images)The e-scooter is the closest thing to the hoverboard seen in the Back to the Future films (Picture: Phil Walter/Getty Images)
The e-scooter is the closest thing to the hoverboard seen in the Back to the Future films (Picture: Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Last week the actor was photographed just about everywhere. Best-known for The Affair, in which he plays a married father of four children who falls for a younger, dark-haired woman with a sultry, downturned mouth, married dad-to-four West was with the younger, dark-haired Lily James and her sultry, downturned mouth.

In Rome, they were snapped canoodling in a restaurant followed by a church. Then came the money shot, or not as the case may be: the pair on an e-scooter, whizzing round some of the great sights of the Eternal City.

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So is West, then, the irresistible embodiment of sex and technology, a title inherited from James Bond who regrettably has gone PC? Or, given the ridicule for his dirty-old-man act, the ridicule for the clunky display of togetherness back home with his wife, a smirk from him that even Leslie Phillips at his most bounderish would have rejected as too cringesome, to say nothing of the sympathy felt for poor Mrs West, has he just killed the cool quotient of this mode of transport stone dead?

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It’s the latter, I’m afraid, and what a disastrous year it’s been for futuristic A-to-B devices. In March the first death of a pedestrian hit by an e-bike on a British road reached the courts. Sakine Cihan suffered a “catastrophic” head injury when she was struck by the machine in London. Bricklayer Thomas Hanlon, although travelling 10mph over the 20mph speed limit, was cleared of causing her death by careless driving.

In June the Segway came to a crunching halt for good. The chunky upright two-wheeled transporters had launched at the turn of the century promising to revolutionise how we got around, but despite being popular with tourists and police they never managed to shake off their intrinsic comedy value, something exploited in a number of movies.

There were high-profile crashes. George W. Bush tumbled off his Segway and a cameraman riding one at an athletics meeting ran over Usain Bolt. In 2009, British self-made millionaire Jimi Heselden, who’d recently bought the company which manufactured Segways, died when he toppled over a 30ft cliff.

Dominic West's recent outing on an e-scooter has killed off any idea in Aidan Smith's minds that this is a 'cool' way to travel (Picture: Matt Crossick/PA Wire)Dominic West's recent outing on an e-scooter has killed off any idea in Aidan Smith's minds that this is a 'cool' way to travel (Picture: Matt Crossick/PA Wire)
Dominic West's recent outing on an e-scooter has killed off any idea in Aidan Smith's minds that this is a 'cool' way to travel (Picture: Matt Crossick/PA Wire)

Then in August Simon Cowell, who’d splashed out on seven e-bikes when that fad began, broke his back testing his newest £30,000 model. Still recovering, and having come just millimetres away from being paralysed, the light entertainment svengali has tweeted: “Some good advice: if you buy an electric bike, read the manual before riding it.”

If you’re a Child of the Space Race like me, all of this is rather disillusioning. I put in long hours in front of fuzzy black-and-white television trying to make out the astronauts as they clodhopped on the Moon. I put in even longer ones waiting for their capsules to splash down in the briny ocean. I watched every edition of Tomorrow’s World, loving all its gadgets and logging all its predictions. I even got excited by K-Tel’s ads for the Record Selector and the Mood Shirt (“It changes colour to match how you feel!”). In return for all that I was expecting my jetpack to arrive at any moment and for the future to properly take off.

A jetpack, or Steve Zodiac’s Jetmobile. This was the personal hovercraft that Fireball XL5’s puppet space-hero used to explore obscure, faraway planets such as Platonia (where everyone ate 23-course meals), Conva (just for criminals) and Zofeit (only two inhabitants).

I never wanted to fly to the Moon, just tootling around on a vehicle capable of floating across the heavily-cratered surfaces of our roads would have been sufficient. But the Jetmobile remains parked up in master-marionettist Gerry Anderson’s imagination, just as its nearest equivalent, the hoverboard, has never properly got off the drawing-board of Back to the Future II mad genius Robert Zemeckis.

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Of all the gizmos in that 1989 film, this was the most fun, the most seductive and – notwithstanding the fact we’re still waiting for X-ray vision, the rejuvenation clinic which extends life by 40 years and the ready-in-three-seconds pizza – the most tantalisingly out of reach.

As Daniel H. Wilson says in his book Where’s My Jetpack?: A Guide to the Amazing Science Fiction Future That Never Happened: “While this highly desirable piece of movie technology seems very plausible, it crushingly remains fiction. I think I speak for all of us when I say, ‘Thank you for breaking my heart, Michael J. Fox.’”

The nearest equivalent to the hoverboard seemed to be the e-scooter and Space Race Kids were excited. While it’s true that adults riding scooters was a good visual gag in movie and TV comedy and invariably signified absolute berkishness – think Chris Morris’ Nathan Barley and Owen Wilson in Zoolander – these were the standard models propelled entirely by foot. The e-scooter was going to be a transport of delight, a funky, green, zippy thing which, to get even closer to the dream in Back to the Future II, could be ridden with self-tying trainers because these have arrived.

But just recently the e-scooter, currently illegal on UK roads, has been hit by bad press. Trials in some cities had to be abandoned when little old ladies were put in a state of fear and alarm. Then it emerged that the e-scooter had become the favourite way to travel for drug-dealers. Finally, Dominic West. As he creepily pressed his dad-bod against Lily James en route to the Spanish Steps, this was motorised transport in dire need of a red-flag escort like in those early scary days of the automobile. Honestly, he should be banished to Zofeit, pop. two (and both male).

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