Alien was one of the first science fiction films to point out that spaceships might get rusty and careworn, however futuristic their technology. I suppose the same thing must be true of all spacecraft, which are just as susceptible to the iron laws of entropy as any other man-made object. But, by and large, the resolution of pictures from space has been so poor that it's always been easy to overlook this fact - the Shuttle interior usually looks box-fresh, an impressive display of cutting edge prosperity. Mir was quite different - even on the grainy images of hand-held video you could see that it was as if a Sao Paulo shanty had been propelled into space; Foale vividly confirmed the sense of dank decay by recalling that it smelt strongly of mould. Then again it was a wonder he could smell anything at all - apparently nasal congestion is a problem in outer-space because there is nothing to help the draining process (the thought of an unharnessed sneeze in zero-gravity conditions hardly bears thinking about - I don't think you'd feel inclined to say "Bless You" if you had to spend the next two days dodging floating blobs of mucus).
Given all this you would have thought the astronauts would have taken the first excuse to jump a quick ride home - but they didn't, cutting the tangle of cables that ran through their escape hatch and using precious fuel from their Soyuz lifeboat to nudge the station back into the sun. Not only that but they survived another catastrophe when one of the team pulled the wrong plug out during a reconfiguration (I wonder what the Russian for "oops" is?). Most astounding of all they didn't end up in a welter of blame and recrimination - when the two Russian cosmonauts came to the end of their tour of duty and had to wave goodbye at the hatch their were teary eyes all round. For Michael Foale this is the point of space exploration - to get far enough away from earth so that its national rivalries can exert no gravitational tug. But though the price of this little capsule of selfless human solidarity is very high - it will cost some 20 billion pounds to construct the International Space Station which is the next big joint venture - it was hard, watching this gripping film, to say it wasn't worth it. The earth looks very beautiful from space, and it's a vantage point we need.
Nigel Slater is one of the least pretentious food writers around - a quality captured by the studiously unprissy recipes in Nigel Slater's Real Christmas Dinner (C4); when he used the adjective "chefy" to describe a sprinkle of icing sugar on a dessert it was clear that it was a derogatory term. I'm not sure that the nation will rush as a body to follow his suggestions, though, which included a turkey burger full of "Christmas flavours" (mango chutney, Worcester sauce, spring onions and bacon?) and a dish of pan- fried prawns. "Eat the head whole - that's where all the flavour is," explained Peter Gordon, decapitating a prawn as he spoke. Very nice I'm sure but it looked a bit too much like the sort of thing you do for a bet at the office party to inspire immediate imitation.