The Meaning Of Life – Part Five of Forty Two

Does the humble carrot make you see better in the dark?

Eat up your carrots” I was told as a child, “they will make you see better in the dark”. It was something I swallowed at the time but now I am older, if not any wiser, I wonder whether it is an old wives’ tale or whether there really is anything to it.

Our pursuit for the truth starts with the dark days of World War II when Britain was under attack from German bombers and when the British government instituted blackouts to make the prospective targets for the night-time raiders more difficult to identify. By 1939 the Royal Air Force were prototyping a radar system known as on-board Air Interception Radar (AI) which enabled them to spot enemy aircraft as they crossed the Channel. In 1940 John Cunningham who was nick-named “Cat’s Eyes” and shot down 19 of his 20 kills at night, shot the first enemy plane down using the AI system.

Radar was to have a transforming effect on the fortunes of war and, naturally, the Brits wanted to keep it under wraps but at the same time wanted to raise home morale. So some genius thought that Cunningham’s success could be ascribed to his consumption of carrots. An advertising campaign was launched, proclaiming in the rather stilted style of the time, “Carrots keep you healthy and help you see in the blackout”. Catchy or what?

This campaign coincided with a glut of carrots at the time and the government were struggling to find ways to encourage the reluctant public to consume indigenous root crops. Colourful characters such as Doctor Carrot and Potato Pete were introduced in 1941 to aid the campaign. Even Walt Disney got into the act, one of their leading cartoonists, Hank Porter, creating a whole family based on the Doctor Carrot idea, consisting of the likes of Carroty George, Pop Carrot and Clara Carrot.

And it worked – the Ministry of Food in February 1941 was able to report, “the consumption of carrots has increased following the Ministry’s publicity campaign”. Whether the Germans were as gullible is another story.

There is, though, a modicum of truth in the story. Carrots have been long known to be beneficial to the overall health of the eye because of its high vitamin A content. Specifically, Vitamin A protects the eyes from night blindness and not having enough o the orange root vegetable can lead to problems such as dry eye and cataracts. So there is at least a case to make that the carrot helps to keep the eyes healthy even if they don’t imbue you with the power to see at night.

And before we go, one additional carrot factoid. Their original colour was purple. It was only in the 17th century that the orange carrot that we are so familiar with started to appear, thanks to the work of Dutch horticulturists, probably in an attempt to get the colouration of the vegetable to match the national flag of the time.

So now we know!


Jesus and Mary Chain

Interesting to read that on Tuesday a Harvard professor unveiled a fragment of papyrus written in Coptic script, found in Egypt, which contains the first reference to Jesus’ wife. Assuming its provenance can be established it is tempting, albeit as at the risk of being accused of indulging in a flight of fancy, to imagine it as being a scrap of a gospel which Athanasius, following his triumph over Arianism and other deviations from the doctrine newly accepted after the First Council of Nicea – known as heiresis from which our heresy was derived –  had pulped by his adherents.

If it is genuine – do I run the risk of being the subject of a Christian version of a fatwa here?– death by coffee mornings? – it does pose some deep and potentially troubling theosophical questions. We do know that history is written by the victors who are not necessarily the custodians of the Platonic truth and that Athanasius did establish the canon of twenty seven gospels which became consolidated into the New Testament. The Apocrypha are an uncomfortable appendage from that process. Perhaps, we now have an indication that there was a much wider body of competing literature from which Athanasius made his pick.


Ten Items Or Fewer

TOWT and I, after 14 years of marriage, have the perfect formula for a happy relationship. I earn, she spends. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I have had to do some physical shopping. Other than regular trips to the local petrol station to make my contribution to the melting of the polar ice caps and the newsagent to fix my recreational drug habit, I do most of my shopping on-line.

For reasons too boring to relate, I had to visit my local Waitrose the other evening. What a salutary experience. Trying to balance maintaining revenue streams whilst carrying out major refurbishments, it was like stepping into a war-zone. (My contribution to the ill-fated Waitrose Tweet campaign would have been “I like shopping at Waitrose because I can empathise with the residents of Aleppo”. I particularly liked this contribution  – what were their PR consultants thinking? – at three times the price the food must taste good). I looked in vain for a cash-strapped ITN news crew simulating a report from war-torn Syria. It has to be said you get a better standard of employee at Waitrose. There are fewer greengrocer’s apostrophes sprinkled around and at least the signs for the basket only check-outs (see the tag line) are grammatically correct.

However, you still get the same level of stupidity amongst the shopper. The reason for queuing patiently behind a till personned by a girl filing her nails is not only to have your items scanned and for you to demonstrate your total lack of prehensile dexterity by being unable to open the, fiendish electrostatically charged, wafer-thin plastic bags but to pay for the damned things. I lose count of the times I have queued behind someone to whom it has come as a complete surprise that having successfully packed everything away they are then required to pay for it. Cue fumbling in pockets, extracting wallet or purse, insertion of credit card, scratching of head whilst they try to decide whether their pin number is their birthday, their waist size or any other random combination, and then – hey presto – we are away.

Checkouts should have a time limit – more than two minutes at the till and you are timed out and to the back of the queue. For the occasional shopper like me, the world would be a happier place.