Friday, 1 October 2010

Between a rock and a hard place

Next time you have a bad day at the office, remind yourself that things could be a whole lot worse. When the low-point of your day is a tedious conference call or a particularly bitter cappuccino, remember that at least you're not stuck half-a-mile underground, watching 32 of your colleagues shit in a bucket.

Unfortunately, that's the grim reality currently facing the Chilean miners who have been trapped in a collapsed copper mine for almost eight weeks. As the rescue effort enters its third long month, the men are holding up remarkably well.

You could scoff that it's a lot easier to cope with the inherent scariness of being trapped in a confined space when that's your daily reality anyway. Nonetheless, even the most stable mind would find itself tested when stuck in the same place for months on end. I work in a pretty nice office, but if we were all locked in, I'm sure we'd have regressed into a 'Lord of the Flies'-style social order before the first weekend rolled around.

It's not all doom and plenty of gloom for the miners though - the relief workers were quick to drill a 700 metre bore hole to supply the men with a few home comforts. Having said that, looking at the infographic on the BBC news site, some of the items seem a little incongruous, given the situation the men find themselves in.

Syringes and vaccines make a lot of sense, as do the aluminium poles for camp beds and vacuum-packed meals. I just hope none of the miners are too picky about the choice of sandwiches - it's not like they can pop back into Subway and ask for extra red onion on their BMT.

The miners have also been sent toothbrushes and paste, illustrated by the BBC with a pack of Colgate Total Whitening. Although that seems like an unnecessary indulgence - in the dim light of a collapsed mine even the Queen Mother would have had a dazzling smile.

Even weirder is the fact that the men have been sent a batch of signed Barcelona shirts. What if some of them don't support the team? The last thing they need is a fight breaking out between rival supporters.

How about a digital camera? Once they've taken a few pictures to show that they're all OK, what else are they going to photograph? Someone's going to end up with a photo album filled with hundreds of shots of inky blackness, punctuated with a few radiant grins.

However, it's testament to the men's resilience that they're still managing to work eight-hour shifts, despite their dire circumstances. With another Tube strike looming on the horizon, as London Underground workers protest job cuts and working conditions, the Chileans' work ethic throws our pampered lives into harsh perspective. I hope Bob Crow is taking note.

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