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There was at least one Englishman with something to celebrate on Sunday night.

It will go down in the life story of Sir Richard Branson as the day he was officially handed the title of astronaut after his successful trip to the edge of space and back.

And if the live feed of the England game 5,000 miles away put a dampener on the day for some, Sir Richard’s emotions were sky high at the achievement of him and his crew.

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‘I was once a child with a dream’

The 22nd Virgin Galactic test flight was the first to carry a full payload of passengers, all of them senior employees, and was a key moment in selling the idea of space tourism to the widest possible audience.

It was also meant to reassure the hundreds who have already stumped up a quarter of a million each to secure a seat in the future that it could be done. Many have been waiting a long time for the ride.

The likelihood is now that early in the new year Virgin will begin taking paying passengers up to the edge of space and give them the chance to experience what Sir Richard did.

“Indescribably good” was the only way the billionaire astronaut could relate the views and the sensation of weightlessness 50 miles above the earth’s surface.

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The excitement at a safe and successful mission was certainly infectious and this was undoubtedly a landmark moment in the private space race.

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‘Everybody would love to go to space’

SpaceX boss Elon Musk was there to witness history – Sir Richard said he stumbled upon his rival in his kitchen at 3am – and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos sent his congratulations.

They, and a number of other companies, will take encouragement, Sir Richard told me, from the success of this mission. They all believe there are enough paying passengers to go around.

But, even with the raffle Sir Richard announced for ordinary people to possibly win a seat on a future flight, for most people on the planet the prospect is financially well out of reach.

After landing, Sir Richard talked about future astronauts not being limited by their gender, race or background but truthfully that day seems a long way off.

Perhaps some of the students who were there to witness the event will see it happen in their lifetime but it will take a huge upscaling of capabilities. Sir Richard had teased the children with the story of almost bringing an alien home.

For such a consummate showman, a man who has dressed as a bride for a PR stunt and, by his own estimate, survived 76 near-death experiences in his lifetime, there can have been little in his 70 years as satisfying as Sunday’s silky smooth performance.

If his granddaughter’s proud announcement that “papa went to the moon” was a little off-beam, you can forgive the family’s euphoria.

And at least one member of the family definitely won’t be following him into space. “My wife Joan is about the only person in the world who doesn’t want to go,” he told me.

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World Cup: England cruise past Senegal to set up quarter-final clash with holders France




World Cup: England cruise past Senegal to set up quarter-final clash with holders France

England cruised past Senegal 3-0 in their first World Cup knockout match, with a mouth-watering clash against holders France awaiting them in the last eight.

Two quick-fire goals – the first from Jordan Henderson, the second from Harry Kane – put Gareth Southgate’s side in control going into the half-time break, after what had been a nervy start at the Al Bayt Stadium in Qatar.

Senegal, the African Cup of Nations champions, had chances to open the scoring and forced a fine save from goalkeeper Jordan Pickford before his namesake Henderson struck in the 38th minute.

But the second half was far more comfortable for the Three Lions, and Arsenal’s young star Bukayo Saka scored his third goal of the tournament in the 57th minute to rubber-stamp the victory.

Kane’s goal in first-half added time means he has now scored 11 goals at major tournaments, seven in the World Cup and four in the Euros, overtaking Gary Lineker as England’s all-time top scorer in major tournaments.

England face the toughest test they could ask for in the next round, after record-setting goals from French strikers Olivier Giroud and Kylian Mbappe helped the 2018 winners see off Poland in the earlier Sunday game.

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RMT rejects offer from train operators aimed at preventing further strikes




RMT rejects offer from train operators aimed at preventing further strikes

The RMT has rejected an offer from train operators aimed at preventing strikes over the Christmas period, the union has announced.

The Rail Delivery Group (RDG) said its proposed framework would have supported pay increases of up to 8%, covering 2022 and 2023 pay awards, while delivering much-needed reforms.

But the RMT, led by secretary general Mick Lynch, has turned it down.

The union said: “The RDG is offering 4% in 2022 and 2023 which is conditional on RMT members accepting vast changes to working practices, huge job losses, Driver Only Operated (DOO) trains on all companies and the closure of all ticket offices.”

Mr Lynch added: “We have rejected this offer as it does not meet any of our criteria for securing a settlement on long term job security, a decent pay rise and protecting working conditions.

“The RDG and Department for Transport (DfT), who sets their mandate, both knew this offer would not be acceptable to RMT members.

“If this plan was implemented, it would not only mean the loss of thousands of jobs but the use of unsafe practices such as DOO and would leave our railways chronically understaffed.”

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RMT has demanded an urgent meeting with RDG on Monday morning in the hope of trying to resolve the dispute, the union posted on Twitter.

In a statement posted on the RMT website, Mr Lynch said the talks would aim to secure “a negotiated settlement on job security, working conditions and pay.”

It means rail strikes planned during December and early January are still scheduled to go ahead, with commuters facing severe disruption on 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17 December, and 3, 4, 6 and 7 January.

Mr Lynch previously insisted “I’m not the Grinch” as he defended the industrial action.

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All the lines affected by train strikes over Christmas and January

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How will strikes affect businesses?

The RDG said it was proposing a “fair and affordable offer in challenging times, providing a significant uplift in salary for staff” which would deliver “vital and long overdue” changes to working arrangements.

The draft framework agreement gives RMT the chance to call off its planned action and put the offer to its membership, a statement said.

“If approved by the RMT, implementation could be fast-tracked to ensure staff go into Christmas secure in the knowledge they will receive this enhanced pay award early in the New Year, alongside a guarantee of job security until April 2024,” an RDG spokesperson said.

“With revenue stuck at 20% below pre-pandemic levels and many working practices unchanged in decades, taxpayers who have contributed £1,800 per household to keep the railway running in recent years will balk at continuing to pump billions of pounds a year into an industry that desperately needs to move forward with long-overdue reforms and that alienates potential customers with sustained industrial action.”

The company called on the union to “move forward with us” so we can “give our people a pay rise and deliver an improved railway with a sustainable, long-term future for those who work on it.”

A bleak winter of strikes

Motorists have also been warned to brace for Christmas chaos after road workers revealed they will down tools for 12 days to coincide with rail walkouts.

National Highways workers, who operate and maintain roads in England, will take part in a series of staggered strikes from 16 December to 7 January, the PCS union said.

A growing list of unions are threatening to grind the country to a halt, putting pressure on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

He is attempting a more constructive, less combative approach with the unions as the government treads a careful line between “being tough but also being human – and treating people with respect”, a government source told Sky News.

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Military could ‘drive ambulances’ during strikes

Some 10,000 paramedics voted to strike in England and Wales, the GMB union announced this week.

They join up to 100,000 nurses set to walk out in the biggest-ever strike by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland on 15 and 20 December.

On Sunday morning, Conservative Party Chairman Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News’ Sophie Ridge on Sunday the army could be deployed to help ease possible strike disruption over Christmas.

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Kate Winslet says hearing mother’s £17k energy bill struggles ‘absolutely destroyed’ her – and she had to help




Kate Winslet says hearing mother's £17k energy bill struggles 'absolutely destroyed' her - and she had to help

Kate Winslet has said it “absolutely destroyed” her to hear about a woman who was facing a £17,000 energy bill just to keep her daughter alive, and felt she had no other option but to help.

Carolynne Hunter’s 12-year-old daughter Freya has severe complex health problems and disabilities, is non-verbal and blind and requires full-time oxygen and at-home nursing care.

Ms Hunter, 49, from Tillicoultry, Scotland, launched an appeal on GoFundMe last month to help pay for the rising costs of the equipment that keeps Freya alive, such as a machine monitoring her oxygen and heart rate.

Days into the campaign, which had a £20,000 goal, a donation of £17,000 marked “Kate Winslet and family” was paid to the fundraiser, which has been confirmed to have come from the actress.

The Titanic star, 47, has now said she felt she had to do something when she heard Ms Hunter was “going to have to put her child into care because she could not afford her electricity bills” and it “absolutely destroyed her”.

“I thought, on what planet is anyone going to let that happen? This is completely, completely wrong,” she told the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg.

“It was just wrong to me that this woman was going to suffer and that she should have been in any way as a mother forced to make such a heartbreaking decision because she simply didn’t have the support and couldn’t pay the bills.

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“I just couldn’t let that happen.”

Freya has severe complex health problems and disabilities, is non-verbal and blind and requires full-time oxygen and at-home nursing care. Pic: GoFundMe
Freya has severe complex health problems and disabilities, is non-verbal and blind and requires full-time oxygen and at-home nursing care. Pic: GoFundMe

On her GoFundMe page, Ms Hunter disclosed she had “no way of reducing” the energy in her home due to her daughter’s needs, and faced a predicted annual fuel bill of £17,000 in January 2023 – up from just over £9,000 in October this year.

In August, Ms Hunter said she was in fear of the winter months.

“Our families are going to suffer, there’s going to be a mass crisis for the NHS and social care and children will die if their families are not able to pay for it,” she told PA news agency.

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