Every time the Paris Air Show comes around, I think back to 1997. That applies in spades whenever the Show coincides with a Lions Tour, as it does right now.
In June 1997, a month after Tony Blair’s landslide win, I was still kicking my heels a bit in the House of Commons, not having been picked to be a Government Minister.
I think a few people felt a bit sorry for me. A Government Whip asked me if I would “lead” the House of Commons delegation to the Paris Air Show. Hardly thinking about it, I said yes.
Half an hour later, the secretary of the Parliamentary rugby team came up to me, sat at the Welsh Table nursing a cup of tea.
He asked if I’d like to go to South Africa, all expenses paid, play a match against the South African Parliament’s XV, another one against the Robben Island ex-prisoners’ XV, go to see the Lions first Test against the Springboks in Capetown and then back to London a week later.
Like to go? Blimey! This was the ultimate Welsh MP dream trip.
The fact that I was 57 and hadn’t played rugby in decades didn’t matter at all, he said. They just needed the bodies to make up the team.
Why on earth hadn’t he approached me an hour before?
After agonising a bit, I went to Paris not Capetown, because I’d already given my word to the Whips.
I still don’t know if that was the right thing to do.
This year’s Paris Air Show has seen the A350 XWB do a flypast, after doing its maiden test flight last week.
This is Airbus’ big challenge to the Boeing Dreamliner.
Both aircraft involve a big switch from aluminium alloy to composites. That saves weight and therefore fuel. Boeing got there first by a couple of years.
As often happens, being first with a new technology brings a shedload of problems.
Airbus, with the wings made in Broughton in North Wales and designed just over the Bridge in Filton, is going to get there second but may finish up making more aircraft sales and profits.
A huge number of jobs in Wales depend on it.
HOUSTON TEXAS IS NOT JUST ABOUT OIL
It’s almost 30 years since my only previous visit to Houston, the energy capital of the world.
This time, it was to see what rich Texans have done with their oil wealth to help create the world’s largest concentration of medical expertise.
I know everything in Texas has to be the biggest and the best – otherwise it just wouldn’t be Texas.
A staggering 77,000 people work in the dozen or so hospitals and research institutes in the Texas Medical Complex, just on the edge of the Houston Downtown. That’s the same number of jobs as in the whole of Heathrow Airport!
Just like Cathays Park, the civic centre of Cardiff, the land has been designated for “not for profit” activities only. A bio-sciences business park has inevitably grown up just over the road where no such restrictions apply.
Swansea University has now got a hook-up into the complex. I met some Welsh PhD students and staff members making a brilliant contribution there.
We’ve started small but it’s definitely a two-way relationship.
BIG RUGBY WEEKEND AHEAD
After the disappointment of Wales losing to Japan and the Lions losing their unbeaten record to the Brumbies in Canberra on Tuesday, what a mouth-watering weekend we now face.
The First Lions v Wallabies Test in Brisbane today, followed by Wales v England in the World Under 21s Final in France tomorrow.
That’s the first time Wales have made a world final of anything since we reached and won the inaugural Rugby Sevens World Title in Dubai four years ago.
Nobody expected us to win that but we did. Let’s hope Sam leads the Lions to Test victory thereby inspiring Ellis Jenkins and the Welsh youngsters to do the same the day after.