When I began to explore the world of cryonics a few years ago I admit that I got caught up in the excitement of it.
I was dazzled by images of vast silver canisters streaming with liquid nitrogen, awed by American storage facilities that looked like space-age hospitals and intrigued by tales of the technological and scientific advances that might make it possible to reanimate humans from the dead.
However, those dreams of cryonics were shattered in a garage in Sheffield.
If you are a member of Cryonics UK, Tim Gibson runs your fourth emergency service from his Yorkshire home where his team prepare and transport bodies for storage overseas.
Gibson is a combination of Boy Scout and Addams family member. With his scruffy blond hair hidden inside a hoodie, he admitted during our interview in 2013 that he had no medical or scientific training.
Yet this was not the most worrying thing. Forget the space age; Cryonics UK was working with kit that could have been props if Dad’s Army were playing undertakers. Gibson’s “operating theatre” was the converted NHS ambulance sitting in the drive. The wood-effect fittings and red leather chairs gave it the appearance of a 1970s caravan.
His medical equipment was stored in a suitcase. Much of his surgical apparatus appeared to come from Homebase. There was, he explained, a drill for boring into patients’ skulls and monitoring “how their brain is doing” and a saw for taking their heads off. Gibson was not a man to blind you with science. He described the process of cryogenically preserving a body as “fairly basic . . . it’s just plumbing”.
On the wall of the ambulance were instructions for the procedure. Gibson stepped in when I tried to read them. “The guy who wrote them is dyslexic so they’re a little nonsensical in places,” he said.
At one end of the ambulance was a large blue plastic bath for the bodies. Before setting off for a “suspension” — as the process of preparing the body for freezing is called — Gibson fills it with ice. There was an ice machine in his garage, but he said it operated so slowly that “the simplest thing is to stop off at Tesco’s on the way”.
He accepted that with the importance of beginning the procedure as quickly as possible, the location of the ambulance in Sheffield was an issue for members in the south of England, a five-hour or more drive away.