The true meaning of Easter

Somewhere along the way, people have forgotten the true meaning of Easter. Despite all the people complaining online, it’s not about chocolate eggs and family get-togethers, lying in the sun or walking along the beach. Nor is it about going to church to sing, take communion and pray. It is literally about sacrifice – sacrifice to save others. And there is no greater message we need at this time.

Whether or not you believe that Jesus was the son of God, the entire basis of the Christian festival is that an innocent man allowed himself to be executed in a pretty nasty way in order to save people he had never met. For all the bad things done in the name of religion, and all the bile flung at it these days by secular society, it’s pretty hard to argue that the message of Jesus is anything other than good.

He said that, when struck, we should turn the other cheek; we should judge not, lest we be judged; we should do unto others as we’d have them do unto us; and we should love our neighbours as ourselves. How is this anything other than an instruction to be a nice, decent, compassionate and caring member of society? Going to the cross was the ultimate expression of that regard, giving up his life and his blood to help others.

While not a Christian myself, I was raised as one and I still try to follow the Golden Rule of treating others how I’d wish to be treated myself. It forms the hard nugget at the centre of my core values, beliefs and attitudes. It’s the reason I believe that, whatever the rights and wrongs of immigration, people in leaky boats ought to be rescued; that any military force that can describe civilians as ‘collateral damage’ has lost the moral high ground; and that if not seeing our families is what it takes to save lives during this coronavirus crisis, it’s what we have to do.

It’s also the reason I gave blood on Good Friday.

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I’m not a normal blood donor, however – I’m a platelet donor. Platelets, or thrombocytes, are little yellow discs carried in your blood that join together to create clots, vital in the healthy functioning of your circulatory system to stop cuts from bleeding externally and blood vessels from leaking internally, and to heighten your immune response. Essentially, people with leukaemia or lymphoma, those with transplanted organs, those undergoing chemotherapy for cancer or suffering kidney dysfunction, those who have suffered burns and those who lose massive amounts of blood from trauma, need transfusions of platelets or else they’ll die.

Unlike whole blood, which lasts about a month in a refrigerator, or red cells, which can be frozen for ten years and defrosted when needed, platelets only last seven days. That’s why you need a continual chain of platelet donors donating every day, or else the supply runs out and people die.

Unfortunately, not everyone can donate platelets because in order to do so you need:

  1. A high platelet count.
  2. A vein capable of delivering and receiving blood under pressure.
  3. A tolerance for the anticoagulant.
  4. Two spare hours every 2-4 weeks.

There are 12,000 of us in the UK, or one for every 100 blood donors, meaning that at times like this, we’re especially in demand. On the plus side, one donation can save three adults or up to twelve children. On the down side, it isn’t the most comfortable of procedures.

The process, called apheresis, starts with around five minutes extracting your blood into a centrifuge which separates out the platelets, then you go into a cycle of thirty seconds draw (where it extracts more platelet-rich blood) and thirty seconds return (where it pumps platelet-free blood back into you). Along the way, if you’re up to it, it also extracts plasma, the liquid component of blood, so you end up with a bunch of bags filled with what looks like melted butter. It takes somewhere between sixty and ninety minutes to complete the procedure, before it spends a final five minutes pumping the blood that’s left in the machine back into your arm.

The discomfort isn’t the size of the needle – though the needle is fairly big, and a month ago they missed my vein and stuck it straight into a nerve, which hurt like hell – but various other factors. The anticoagulant to keep the blood flowing makes your lips and tongue tingle, which can be unpleasant, and after forty-five minutes you can get pretty restless and claustrophobic knowing you’re stuck there for another forty-five watching your blood flow back and forth. Also, the first few returns before the machine has warmed up, the blood coming back into you is cold, which is a weird sensation. And if you’re squeamish, there’s really nowhere to hide – you have three tubes coming out of your arm (one drawing, one returning, and one with the anticoagulant).

But saving lives was never so easy. An hour and a half watching Netflix on your tablet, with nurses bringing you coffee and chocolate biscuits? It’s hardly stretcher bearers in No Man’s Land at the Somme, is it? Yet in four years, with a bit of time off because of hospital stuff, I’ve saved 75 adults or 300 children – enough to populate an entire primary school.

That is the true spirit of Easter – sacrificing your time, your comfort, even your blood, to save people you have never met nor likely ever will. It’s sending out positivity into the world, knowing it will do good. And it’s something we can all achieve simply by staying at home.

That’s why I cannot condone or understand people going off to visit their families today of all days.

The memory of betrayal

I feel good in the night, when it’s dark and the house is quiet around me. I feel the gentle movements of the bedsheets as my wife breathes beside me, lost to sleep. It’s peaceful; restful. I exist in the moment.

In the night, somewhere between waking and sleep, we snuggle together as we always have. Arms and legs wrapped around each other, each seeking the physical comfort, the intimate security, of love.

When I wake in the morning, my head is empty. I lie in the warmth with my eyes closed, revelling in the stillness. I wish it could last forever.

Footsteps across the landing, little fingers scrabbling at the door, and then our children jump up and down on the bed. We smile; we laugh; enjoying the simple pleasures of each other. It’s the closest we get to heaven.

And then I become fully awake. And the memory of her betrayal floods in like ice.

Heaven withers.

I go downstairs to make breakfast, stare out at the sunshine, the clear skies of a glorious April day, and my insides twist. If there is beauty in this morning, if there is solace in this vista, my heart won’t let me feel it.

The memory is poisoning me. But I can’t stop poking the wound.

The breakfast tastes as bitter as my coffee.

So I fake a smile. Fake small talk. Fake love, fake joy, fake coping, fake life itself. And as the hours pass, I feel my face contort from the effort of holding back the grimace. Stomach knotted; gut sickened; chest tight and heart bursting.

I keep it hidden. I wait for night, when we can lie beside one another without the pressure to keep up this charade; when my thoughts return to silence, and there is no yesterday, and no tomorrow – only love and the gentle movements of the bedsheets.

The grossest of the gross

Something happened last night that almost made me vomit. Something utterly disgusting. Something that means I will never look at my dog the same way again.

The kids had finished playing in the garden, so I sent them inside, telling them to get their mother to shower the dirt off their legs and feet before bedtime. I then gathered up all the toys they’d left scattered about the lawn and went in.

The smell hit me immediately. My two-year-old is doing wonderfully well at her potty training, but she holds onto her poop for days, so when it comes it’s like an elephant has been passing through.

From five feet away, I could see the mound of yuck marinating in a yellow soup. She’d clearly done it before heading up to the shower.

Hurrying upstairs, I congratulated my daughter for using the potty, but told her she must tell us when she’s pooped so we can wipe her bottom. I then left my wife to shower them off as I headed back down to empty the potty.

Astute readers will already have guessed the next part. I stared down into a potty that now contained only urine, and immediately shouted, ‘Ozzy!’

The dog darted under the dining table and stared out at me with a guilty expression on his canine face – but he still had the audacity to lick his lips.

Eurgh! Eurgh!

‘Get outside! Get outside!’

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to cuddle him again!

Spare a thought for the broken hearted

Spare a thought for the broken hearted, those whose marriages have fallen apart; those for whom there is nowhere to go, and nothing to say, until this lockdown’s over.

Spare a thought for those pretending that everything’s okay when everything’s not; those who smile to hide the hurt inside. Waiting.

Spare a thought for those sitting at a table that’s no longer theirs, in a chair where they used to belong; a guest where once they were host. Toiling in a garden that’s now someone else’s; walking a dog of whom they’re not master any more; mocked by the happy family photos on the walls.

Spare a thought for those who wrap their children in the comforts of their home, knowing that this innocence will soon be wrenched away from them; who talk of a future now out of reach; who tell them the forecast’s fine when a storm’s edging over the horizon.

When will it come? Who knows? Weeks, months, it’s all the same.

Spare a thought for the lied-to lovers, those who see the truth but cannot speak it; those who know that their love just wasn’t enough.

Spare a thought for the broken hearted.

The upsetting truth about superpowers

Like most people, I’ve always thought it would be cool to have superpowers. For the socially awkward, the autistic, or both, the ability to turn invisible would be a massive boon, and I can think of plenty of situations where shrinking to the size of an ant or growing to the size of a redwood tree would come in handy. Super speed, super strength, X-ray vision – who wouldn’t want those capabilities?

But unlike most people, I’ve put a little too much thought into the subject – enough to realise the little facts that make most superpowers totally impossible. Want to ruin your enjoyment of comic books and Marvel movies? Read on.

Invisibility – Susan Storm, Little Miss Incredible

Unless it’s a special suit, or the ability to bend light around you, most versions of invisibility in fiction involve the subject allowing light to pass through them. This makes perfect sense – our vision, after all, is based on light photons bouncing off objects and into our eyes, so if light doesn’t bounce off an object, you can’t see it (though you might be able to detect refraction, a la the Predator).

Unfortunately, the way our vision works has a terrible implication for the would-be invisible person. We see by detecting light photons hitting our retina at the back of our eye, so if we were invisible, and light passed through us, we’d be completely blind. So much for sneaking into the girls’ locker room!

Another downside is digestion. While we were invisible, the food we eat would not be. Nor would our urine. Or our poop. We’d be a walking diagram of our digestive system. Yuck.

And since our clothes wouldn’t be invisible either, we’d have to go everywhere naked. That might be okay for midsummer, but in the winter? When it’s raining? On gravel? Have you seen how dirty the soles of your feet get from just a few minutes walking around your garden?

So. Blind, naked, cold and gross. Not so desirable anymore, is it?

Super small and supersize – Ant-Man, the Wasp

The principles of growing really, really big or shrinking really, really small are exactly the same – you stretch or compress the empty space within and/or between our atoms. And there’s a lot of empty space to play with – if you imagine an atom is the size of the Earth, the nucleus is about the size of a football stadium. That means you could go incredibly small or incredibly big.

Trouble is, whether an ant or a skyscraper, you’ll still have the same mass, because nothing is being added and nothing is taken away. And as every good schoolboy knows, pressure equals force over area. It’s the reason a 90lb model in stiletto heels damages gym floors, but the 400lb wrestler in sneakers doesn’t.

So, if it takes around 100psi for a nail gun to drive a piece of metal into wood, imagine what would happen to a 200lb man shrunk to the size of an ant – you’d embed yourself into the floor. If you jumped in a swimming pool, even accounting for buoyancy, you’d plummet to the bottom, smash through the tiles and dig into the ground underneath. And then drown.

What about the other extreme? If you’ve ever walked in a strong wind, and felt the way it blows you about, imagine being fifty or a hundred times taller, with an exponentially larger surface area, but weighing the same. Your body would be your own sail, which might make it impossible to walk in anything other than a dead calm.

Your voice and hearing would change too. Given that vocalizations are related to the length of your larynx and your perception of sound to the size of your eadrum, if you shrank to the size of an ant, your voice would be higher than a choir boy with tight underwear, and everything you heard would be really deep and booming; whereas if you became Trump Tower, your voice would be a rumble of thunder and everything you heard would be a high-pitched mosquito whine.

When you really stop to think about it, anything other than the size you are now is a non-starter.

Super Speed – the Flash, Quicksilver

Who hasn’t wanted to whizz to the shops, grab all your groceries, and rush back home in the time it takes the kettle to boil? To dodge the rain, read a book cover-to-cover the minute before the book report is due, and catch that fly that’s been bugging you for days? Super speed could be the answer to all your problems.

Except that it creates more than it solves. When the plane accelerates down the runway and presses you back in your seat? That’s G-force. Too high a G-force, and your body starts to break. Star Trek has magical ‘inertial dampers’ to prevent the crew of the Enterprise being a red spot on the back wall every time they manoeuvre, but a person with super speed doesn’t have that. Going from a standing start to a thousand miles a second would squish your brain against the back of your skull – if, that is, your skull hadn’t already snapped off your neck.

Another problem is heat. Travelling at super speed causes super friction with the air. Worse would be the heat generated by the compression wave you create in front of you, like a spacecraft entering the atmosphere. Super speed? You’d burn to a crisp.

Also, just because you’re super fast doesn’t mean you’re super strong or super fit. Who the hell wants to run all the way to the shop and carry their own shopping home? In any case, get used to that trip, because you’ll have to eat non-stop to make up all the calories you burn.

But worst of all is the speed of perception. You couldn’t have super speed without the ability to perceive things at such speeds, and our awareness of time is directly related to our perceptions. Imagine how bored you’d get if every second felt like an hour, every hour like a day, every day a month. Imagine how hard it would be to watch a movie, listen to a song, have a conversation. After a couple of years, you’d be in a straitjacket.

Super Strength – Mr Incredible, the Hulk

Super strength is an awesome idea. Pick up a car. Swing a tank around by its gun. Unscrew every jar in the fridge. Seems like it’d be a real asset to have.

But, as Newton showed us with his Third Law of Motion, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Punch someone hard enough to put them through a wall, you’ll probably throw yourself through the wall behind you – that is, if you don’t punch a hole clean through their chest, because if you apply that much force to a human body, I don’t fancy your chances of keeping red goo off your hands. So supposing you’re fighting a supervillain who can take such punishment and you punch them up into the sky? You’re likely to drive yourself down into the ground.

To balance these forces, you’d also need to be super heavy, or you’d be throwing yourself all over the place. So forget ever climbing the stairs again, or sitting in a comfortable chair, or lying in a bed that isn’t triple reinforced.

Then you have the same problem as being super small – exerting a massive force over a small area. If you tried to pick up a car or a tank – supposing it doesn’t bend, break and crush – several tons of pressure would be concentrated in an area the size of your hands; they’d puncture right through. And even if you could carry it, with your normal-sized feet it’d push you down into the ground again. To be useful, super strength would also require super size, which is a different kettle of fish altogether.

But the worst part of having super strength is that you’d break everything – everything designed for humans, at least. Even with my very modest human strength, dozens of times I’ve exerted more force than the capabilities of the material to withstand. Imagine being ten or even a hundred times stronger than the strongest human – you’d break practically everything you touched.

X-Ray Vision – Superman

This one’s pretty easy to dispel. X-rays are ionizing radiation, meaning they can penetrate cell walls and damage DNA. Every time you open your eyes, you’re giving people cancer, including yourself. Not the most heroic of superpowers, is it?

Flight – Superman

Which leaves flight. If you forget about gravity, thrust, drag and lift, flight is the most plausible superpower. If you forget about gravity, thrust, drag and lift.

I’d be great at parties, wouldn’t I?

Trying to keep your true feelings hidden

Keeping your true feelings hidden is all well and good when you’re conscious. When you’re asleep, it’s another matter altogether.

I had a dream last night in which I was arguing with [redacted]. And midway through the argument, backed into a corner and unfairly maligned, I straightened my shoulders, drew a deep breath, and at the top of my lungs bellowed, ‘[REDACTED] ARE WANKERS!’

Not particularly articulate, I admit, but hey, it was my unconscious talking.

Trouble is, I didn’t only shout in my dream – I shouted in the real world, too. At 3.30 in the morning. In my loudest possible voice.

”[REDACTED] ARE WANKERS!’

It’s practically the definition of a ‘rude awakening’. But not only did I wake myself up, I unfortunately woke my wife too. It would’ve been impossible not to – I’m surprised the kids slept through it.

‘What did you just say about [redacted]?’

‘Er…’

‘Seriously, what did you just say about [redacted]?’

‘I was having a dream, that’s all. Go back to sleep.’

She rubbed her face and then, waking fully, froze as it came to her. ‘Did you just say [redacted] are wankers?’

I shrugged. ‘They were being mean.’

‘In your dream.’

‘Sure. In my dream. No matter.’

‘Do you think [redacted] are wankers?’

‘Apparently I do.’

‘Well, I don’t like that.’

‘Go back to sleep, you’ll have forgotten this by the morning.’

But the way she’s been looking at me all morning, I don’t think she has forgotten it. Under coronavirus lockdown, when we’re trying to get on and be pleasant, it’s not really the time to have a conversation about my feelings for [redacted].

So I’m going to have a stern word with myself before I go to bed tonight, and hope I don’t come out with anything worse!

The weirdest coronavirus conspiracy: it’s 5G

As regular readers of this blog will know, I have no patience with conspiracy theories. I don’t believe 9/11 was an inside job, that the flu jab is harmful, that amber necklaces have health benefits, or MMR causes Autism. I understand why people believe conspiracy theories, but I think that at times like this, coronavirus conspiracies are especially dangerous.

Even when they’re batshit crazy.

The latest coronavirus conspiracy is so ridiculous, I can’t imagine why anyone would take it seriously, but they are, particularly when celebrities like Amanda Holden and Woody Harrelson are actively promoting it. For more than a year, conspiracists have been theorizing that 5G – the fifth generation of wireless data technology, promising download speeds at least ten times that of 4G – will release fatal amounts of radiofrequency radiation that will destroy DNA, cause cancer and premature ageing, and effectively cull most of the planet’s human population, in the same way that the 1918 Spanish flu was apparently caused by the invention of radio (!).

Yes, 5G is a doomsday weapon wielded by the New World Order so they can take over. So far, so normal.

Unfortunately, the roll out of 5G and the outbreak of coronavirus have somewhat coincided. Conspiracists claim that the first city in the world to be blanketed in 5G was – yes, you’ve guessed it – Wuhan. Proof positive that China, and Huawei, are deliberately killing people. And the multiple denials by practically every media outlet and reputable scientist in the world simply confirm it – methinks thou doth protest too much.

They’re currently torn on whether 5G is causing it by lowering our immune systems, or is somehow directly transmitting the virus into us (because that’s how biology works!), but they’re in no doubt that 5G and Covid-19 are one and the same.

The weirdest version of the conspiracy I’ve come across is that vaccines contain metal; microwaves make metal things blow up; thus 5G is going to make all the vaccinated people go BOOM!

Yikes.

This fringe belief wouldn’t be a problem on its own, if not for the fact that in the UK in recent days, people have set on fire three 5G masts and abused and assaulted phone company workers. This is when those ‘harmless’ conspiracy theories have stark real world consequences. It won’t be long before someone does something stupid, thinking they’re being heroic and saving us from our evil overlords.

So what’s the truth? Yes, 5G does emit radiation. However, like FM radios, power lines and Wi-Fi, it’s low-frequency, non-ionizing radiation, which means it doesn’t have the power to break chemical bonds, penetrate cell walls or even have any known effect on biological matter. Higher frequency radiation – that above ultraviolet – is called ionizing radiation, and like X-rays and gamma rays, it can damage DNA and cause cancer. Ultimately, the power and frequency of 5G is less than light – you’re getting more radiation standing outside in the sun. Or sitting under a lightbulb. Or lighting your birthday candles.

To paraphrase GK Chesterton, it’s okay to keep an open mind, just don’t open it so far that your brain falls out.

So wash your hands, keep your distsnce, and stop getting your news from Facebook!