Category Archives: Things Are Different Here

Better Red than Dead

photo of man and woman looking at the sky

For crying out loud, put your helmets back on

Sorry, it’s been a while. But the good news is that I’m not dead yet and after all, what’s a couple of years amongst friends? Well, it’s about the same amount of time that it takes Mars to orbit the sun and depending on your chosen propulsion method, pretty much the same time it would take to get to the red planet. And back again. But why on earth – or Mars – would anyone contemplate returning?

Against all odds, Mars has so far returned an ideal zero number of Coronavirus cases and it looks set to stay that way, so let’s just move there. OK, there are a few downsides; instead of oxygen, you’ll be breathing mostly carbon dioxide. But vomiting, convulsions and death aside, symptoms of breathing elevated levels of Co2 include fatigue, emotional upset and clumsiness; so at least that will be like any other day on Earth.

And at around 30 million miles (or a-just-above-average mileage for a 1980’s Volvo) further away from the sun than Earth, it’s colder too. We’re lucky here to have a ‘thermal blanket’ comprised of water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide to keep us toasty. Without this, life couldn’t have existed and we wouldn’t have evolved into the wonderful species we are, created unbelievably beautiful art, developed phenomenal understanding of science and technology and grown our caring knowledge of the world… before going on to spectacularly fuck it all up.

With a temperature somewhere between -50 and -125 degrees, this isn’t going to be a summer holiday, so be sure to pack an extra cardigan or two and leave your fingerless gloves at home. And at just 1%, the atmospheric pressure on Mars is much thinner than Earth’s, leading to other fashion challenges; if you want to avoid the inconvenience of instant death, you’re going to have to wear a pressurised suit, otherwise much like a can of coke, the gasses in your blood will dissolve into bubbles and boil you rapidly to a fizzy end. Just like Coca Cola, it’s the real thing.

The toxic dust storms could get tiresome too. Blowing a gritty wind of micro-particles that travel at speeds of up to 60mph, they can last for weeks and cover the entire planet. So drying your freshly-laundered pressure suit on a line in the garden is definitely out.

The good news is that there is water, although frustratingly either frozen beneath the surface or vaporising above it; various multi-billion dollar NASA missions have confirmed this and in the process also confirmed that huge amounts of money are much better spent on exploring other planets than addressing healthcare, welfare and environmental issues nearer to home.

So all things considered, life on Mars is going to be a challenge. But then so are the next few weeks, months or maybe years on earth, so why not get packing? Well, ‘super-villain’ Elon Musk, the man who dumped a car into orbit might just be your neighbour. Musk has a lot of interest in the planet. He’s suggested ‘nuking’ Mars to make it habitable and he’s building a fleet of space craft to ultimately transport at least one million people to the planet by 2050. This is a mistake. I’ve seen enough films to know that it won’t go to plan and be it unknown pathogens, grumpy alien mothers or psychotic murderous colleagues, it’s not going to end well.

So I’ve decided to take my chances and stay on Earth after all. And I’ve told Covid-19 to join the back of the line of all the other things trying to kill me.






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Thank God. Christmas is over. And the festive highlights of indigestion, Norovirus and new socks are just precious memories. But spare a thought for justifiably miserable in-patients, who due to staff training cuts, continue to exist in a nightmarish festive New Year; with nobody sufficiently qualified to pack away baubles, Christmas just limps depressingly onwards in hospital… a lot like the man in the dressing gown, who’s always in front of me at the cafeteria servery. Seriously, just how long does it take to choose between the scrambled eggs or omelette? They’re both grey, chewy and terrifyingly un-egg-like, just close your eyes and point randomly in their direction. It’s fun.



Christmas in hospital is an extra special time, when the general level of despair is as elevated as the giant plastic bells pinned inexplicably to the ceiling tiles. So what makes Christmas in hospital so terrible? Really, you’re asking that? For fuck’s sake, everything makes it terrible; the decorations, the food, the lighting, the attempt at festivities, the elevated chances of death, the being surrounded by sick people and the tinsel. It was for all the same reasons of course that Jesus’ parents chose a stable over Bethlehem General, a world-renowned Birthing Center. The hospital had even made provisions for the livestock and relaxed their ‘No Myrrh’ policy, after one wise man made a scene in the waiting room and gesticulated inappropriately at nurses. But as Joseph later stated ‘it’s the bloody tinsel, I hate it, all blue and spiky, and always dropping bits. And it sounds like ‘tonsil’. I had to have mine out as a kid and it bloody hurt I can tell you’.

Like Joseph, I also find the tinsel upsetting, particularly its attraction towards any available ledge, lip or light-fitting, seemingly just dropping there from some height.


I’m not suggesting of course that the NHS spend frivolously on new decorations but if they must have tinsel, perhaps they could stretch to a few new lengths with a full complement of bouncy bits. And to justify the cost, it could be shared with the blood room and used as a spiky, uncomfortable tourniquet. Blood tests would be like Christmas Day every day, just like Elvis dreamily imagined in between frequent bites of cheeseburger. Singing ‘Why can’t every day be like Christmas?’, little did he know that if he’d been lucky enough to live long enough to develop kidney failure, he could have discovered that The Day Room really is a place where it’s Christmas every day; thanks to the little plastic tree with twinkly lights – three of which still work – the festivities never end. There it remains on the corner table, propped up (one of the legs has snapped off) against the wall year ‘round.


There’s also the soft perpetual hum of the vending machine, which sounds remarkably like a never-ending first bar of Silent Night and sometimes a fat bloke slumped in a wheelchair who looks a bit like Father Christmas, if Father Christmas was a diabetic amputee.

There’ll be at least one forgotten card too, stuck jauntily to the glass with increasingly yellowing tape –  ‘Merry Christmas and thank you Nurse, you brought dignity to the task of changing my giant man-nappy’ – and in the corner, a stacked pile of empty chocolate tubs. Patients are under the impression that Cadbury’s Heroes are still a thoughtful gift, predictably making reference to the name being ‘like what you have been to me, you know, a hero’ in the accompanying card. It’s all very moving, even if all nurses really want are Lambert & Butler, 2 liter bottles of cider and 20 minutes off to hide in the drug cupboard and consume both.

Merry Christmas. You choose which one.



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