As has been chronicled several times in the past I was a child obsessed with the space programme. And no wonder; those were exciting times what with the moon landings, Skylab and the Apollo Soyuz Test Project. What with the Space Shuttle on the horizon I was sure that my future lay off world. It was only a matter of time. One of the most exciting things I'd read about in the Brooke Bond Race Into Space picture card set and Reginald Turnill's The Language of Space was the Manned Flight To Mars. This was likely to happen in the mid eighties. I imagined that by the time I was in my forties that it wasn't beyond the bounds of possibility that I'd have been to Mars once, the Moon two or three times and the various space stations more often than I could remember. Spaceflight would be commonplace in the 2010s.

Civilization's failure of nerve and imagination since the 1970s has never failed to disappoint me.


We are living in an age when even the prospect of returning to the Moon is a bit much for some governments and the idea of a Mars mission seems beyond the capabilities of a civilisation where one of the major spacefaring nations has used the same design of human piloted vehicle since 1967 and the other no longer even has a current human piloted vehicle. The Space Shuttle has been and gone and the Russian equivalent never seemed to get off the ground. What went wrong?

It is not surprising that people are beginning to get impatient and it is pleasing to see that they're channeling this energy into taking things into their own hands. Since the beginning of the year not one but two human flights to Mars have been proposed, both by private companies. Furthermore it is planned that they both take place within the next ten years.

That's more like it.

The first of these was announced by the Inspiration Mars Foundation who put forward an audacious plan to send a married couple on a round trip flyby of the red planet in 2018. Whilst tempting, as a mere flyby it doesn't really appeal to me. I want to land.

Plus I'm not married and don't currently have a girlfriend so would be disqualified anyway.

The second of these missions sounds more like my cup of tea. A company called Mars One has put out a call for volunteers to travel to Mars on a one way ticket and establish a permanent human settlement in 2023. The whole thing would be televised as the ultimate reality show. Perhaps it would kill off all the other reality shows? After all who'd be interested in "Day 23 in the Big Brother House" when they could watch "Day 451 in the Mars Colony"?

Yes, it would mean leaving the Earth forever. I would still sign up in a heartbeat. After all, what is there for me now? The prospect of toiling away in a day job for the next twenty plus years before retiring and watching on TV as the rest of the world goes to hell in a handbasket? The prospect of being stranded on another planet and having to scrape a living on the very frontier of human experience sounds like a far more exciting way to spend the rest of my life.

Of course there will be downsides to this. Suppose one of the other astronauts turns out to be an axe-wielding homicidal maniac? There'd be no fear of arrest or other punishment - it would be a back to basics kill or be killed situation. That aside, suppose you just don't get on with the other people?  Suppose one of them is simply an assclown who eats noisily with his mouth open and farts all the time?

If nothing else it will give me something to blog about I guess.

I wonder if there will be internet.

Joking aside this really does appeal. My childhood obsession with spaceflight has continued as a series of recurring dreams in which I am indeed on a spacecraft heading for Mars or even stepping out onto the red planet's surface. The dreams are always good ones, exciting and take place with a sense of purpose and happiness in my soul that I rarely experience in waking consciousness. This is what I want.

A night bird called among the ruins as they walked. Dad said, "Your mother and I will try to teach you. Perhaps we'll fail. I hope not. We've had a good lot to see and learn from. We planned this trip years ago, before you were born. Even if there hadn't been a war we would have come to Mars, I think, to live and form our own standard of living. It would have been another century before Mars would have been really poisoned by the Earth civilization. Now, of course -" 
They reached the canal. It was long and straight and cool and wet and reflective in the night. 
"I've always wanted to see a Martian," said Michael. "Where are they, Dad? You promised."
"There they are," said Dad, and he shifted Michael on his shoulder and pointed straight down. 
The Martians were there. Timothy began to shiver. 
The Martians were there - in the canal - reflected in the water. Timothy and Michael and Robert and Mom and Dad. 
The Martians stared back up at them for a long, long silent time from the rippling water... 
Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles

I've noticed that a lot of people don't like sitting backwards on public transport. Occasionally I've heard people discussing this - claiming, amongst other things, that it makes them feel sick. Personally I've never experienced this reverse nausea and actually prefer sitting backwards. Why? I have no idea. Sitting facing forward certainly doesn't make me feel ill or anything, it's just that there's something appealing about not facing the direction of travel. Whether this says anything about me psychologically I have no idea (too much time dwelling on the past rather than looking to the future?) but one benefit is that it means I'm more likely to get a  seat.

Until recently I was only able to indulge my preference on trains, the sole mode of transport that offered backwards facing seats. However a few years ago they began to introduce the bendy-bus to Brighton. These were London Transport's cast-offs and apparently hadn't been popular. I have no idea why because I think they're great. It's like being on some kind of exciting futuristic road-train, plus they give the journey a distinctly continental feel - they're the kind of vehicles, you feel sure, that are in common use in Amsterdam or Vienna.

And best of all they have backwards facing seats.

They're always the ones that remain empty the longest and I've noticed that more often than not should a forward facing seat become available a reluctant backwards passenger will jump at the chance to switch (and switching seats mid journey is a whole nother can of transport etiquette worms). But the practical upshot of this is that not only am I more likely to get a seat but I'm more likely not to have someone sitting next to me (and this can only be a good thing as more often than not they tend to be of the selfish space invading legs-splayed-wide-open giant lumpenbloke variety).

Of course during crowded times of day - usually around 5pm - people will overcome their disinclination to sit backwards.  However uncomfortable it may be it's still better than standing.  But on some of these bendy buses there's a very special seat. It faces backwards and next to it there isn't another seat, just a shelf. This is my seat of preference. I love this seat and get very proprietorial about it. If there's someone else sitting there I begin to internally seethe.

How very dare they? That's my seat. Surely no-one else like sitting backwards?

But of course if it's my preference then I am sure there are other people who feel just as strongly about it. We're none of us as different as we like to think.  To other people we're all just members of the general public.

But thankfully I do usually manage to get to sit in my favourite seat. It has one further advantage that isn't immediately apparent.

From behind - i.e. from further towards the front of the bus - it can give the impression of being two seats, especially when the bus is crowded with bodies. And so sometimes a self righteous passenger will start asking me if I can move up or if they can squeeze past into what they think is a seat I'm preventing them from using out of pure selfishness.

I usually feign blank incomprehension - the penny soon drops and they back off, embarrassed - but just once I'd love to stand to let them past and issue a Fawltyesque:

"Let's see you then."