A wry view of life for the world-weary

Monthly Archives: June 2016

A New Day Yesterday – Part Seventeen


Apart from escaping the daily grind and maximising the opportunity to grow old disgracefully, you kind of hope that one of the benefits of retiring early would be to extend your life expectancy or at least that part of your life where you are compos mentis. So it was a bit of a bolt out of the blue to come across some research conducted by the National Institute on Ageing in America.

The study analysed data from 2,956 retirees who were divided into healthy or unhealthy retirees depending upon whether sickness had played a decisive part in their decision to retire. Around two thirds of the group fell into the healthy category. Data was analysed for a period of 18 years during which time 12% of the healthy and 25.6% of the unhealthy group had pegged it. Adjusting the data to take account of such factors as better education and finances amongst the healthy retirees, the study concluded that healthy retirees who worked a year longer than normal retirement age had a 11% lower mortality risk. Even the unhealthy retirees who worked a year later reduced their mortality rate by 9%.

So by retiring early have I condemned myself to an early death? Well, fortunately for every survey that “proves” one thing you can find another that shows the reverse. I take comfort in an Israeli survey of 2,374 people which found that those who retired earlier enjoyed the same lifespan as those who retired later and even more so in a German study from 2009 called Time to Retire – Time to Die? which concluded that healthier people who retired early lived longer. And then there is a Swedish survey of Army officers that found that those taking early retirement reduced the risk of dying before the age of 70 by 26%. Who knows what to make of it all other than carpe diem?

I mentioned some time ago that I was piling on the avoirdupois, so much so that I had gone up a trouser size. I threw out my old trousers but TOWT, ever resourceful, rather than giving some ingrate in a developing country the opportunity to wear them, tried to find homes for them amongst friends, relatives and associates. But like a two-legged boomerang the strides kept coming back. And a good job too as in the first five months of my retirement I have lost 16 lbs.

I wish I could say that I have found a wonderful new diet which I could promote through this blog and perhaps even earn a few bob for myself. But I haven’t made any conscious changes to my lifestyle. It is a mystery but, perhaps, is a sad commentary on how unhealthy my work regime was. Perhaps escaping from that will in itself add to my life expectancy.

I have studiously avoided exercise other than walking but a study recently published in Neurolimage and conducted by scientists at Kentucky University gave me pause for thought. It claims that those who exercise have larger brains, better memories and clearer thinking than those of us who are unfit who tend to have smaller brains and reduced cognitive powers. They also claim that exercise can protect the human brain against ageing, staving off the damage that builds up with age and even prompting the replacement of dying cells, perhaps providing protection against Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately, my small, damaged brain was unable to comprehend the import of this report. Anyway, I bet I can find a survey that says the opposite.

Until the next time, if there is one!


On My Doorstep – Part Six


Brompton Hospital Sanatorium, Frimley

Out on the Old Bisley Road is a former NHS site called the Ridgewood Centre which has been sold off (natch) and is being developed into a housing estate. Originally, though, it was the site of the Frimley Sanatorium, an offshoot of what was then prosaically called the Hospital for Consumption and Diseases of the Chest, Brompton or Brompton Hospital, for short.

Tuberculosis was (and still is) a nasty disease affecting predominantly the lungs and spread by bacteria transmitted from one person to another. I remember the TB injection I was subjected to as a child was a horrible one but, so far, it has worked and it was cruelty to be kind. But a hundred years ago there was no effective preventative measure and squalid, crowded and often insanitary living conditions meant that the chances of catching the disease were high. If you were lucky to survive, the recuperation was long and tedious.

The treatment at the Frimley Sanatorium, under the auspices of its first Medical Superintendent, Dr Marcus Patterson, was revolutionary, albeit ill-conceived. On opening, in 1905, the boast was that “this and similar Institutions will still fulfil an essential purpose even should the advance of medical science lead to the discovery of some agent more directly affecting the activity of the organism of the disease”.

The fundamental principle behind the treatment was that it was no use the patients, predominantly from the working class, lying about feeling sorry for themselves. Instead, they should be up and about and through regulated exercise they would build up a resistance to the bacteria the disease had released into their bloodstream, so-called auto-inoculation. And so a regime of graded exercise was developed. As Patterson said, “idleness, the ennui and the economic waste which are too often the reproach of Sanatoria have no place at Frimley”.

On admission, the patients would have a period of absolute bed rest and once they showed some signs of improvement, they would be “encouraged” to walk the grounds until considered fit to be deployed for work. They would be detailed to maintain the grounds, mow the lawns, grow and harvest vegetables. There was even a pig farm. One of the first tasks accomplished by the patients was the construction of a reservoir.

Possibly a more helpful aspect to the treatment was exposure to fresh air. The specially constructed building with four wings in an X shape had large windows and balconies which were always open. One of the maxims that ruled sanatorium life was “You will never beat T.B if you can’t stand a draught”.  And there were rules and rules. Although the sanatorium accepted male and female patients, males were preferred and the sexes were segregated, only meeting at carefully stage-managed mixes. Disobedient patients were threatened with discharge. Visiting was carefully regulated and timetables governing all activities were implemented.

Even on discharge you couldn’t escape big brother. The erstwhile patient was handed a leaflet recommending appropriate occupations (outside) and living conditions (uncrowded and south facing) and home décor (no heavy curtains or ornaments).

Despite the proud boast, more effective preventative measures and treatment regimes, particularly antibiotics, meant that there was little call for the Sanatorium’s tuberculosis-related services by the 1960s and so it converted into a convalescent until its closure in the 1980s. It then became a centre for dealing with mental illness until the developers came calling.

Quacks Pretend To Cure Other Men’s Disorders But Rarely Find A Cure For Their Own – Part Thirty Nine


Arthur Pointing (1868 – 1910) and Antidipso

Regular readers of this blog will know I like a drink or three but, despite the dire warnings proffered by our nanny state, I do not consider I have a drink problem. But it is undeniable that the demon drink has ruined many a life, not only of the toper but of their family and loved ones. What would people give for a miracle cure that would transform even the most degenerate drunkard into a tea-totalling paragon of virtue?

At the start of the twentieth century our latest quack, Arthur Pointing, claimed to have just such a miracle cure, Antidipso, made from some previously unexploited herb from South America. His advertising, and the remedy was heavily promoted, was heavily focused on the fairer sex, the implicit assumption being that the drunkard was always likely to be a man. “Drunkenness cured”, the adverts screamed, “it is now within the reach of every woman to save the drunkard”.

If you were worried about how to administer it, Arthur had figured that out. Poisoning seemed to be the most popular way for a woman to murder her victim in the 19th century. Slipping a phial of poison into a drink or dinner was the work of seconds and didn’t require any brawn. This was clearly the way that a woman could trick her hubby into taking the miracle cure. As the adverts stated, “Can be given in tea, coffee or food, thus absolutely and secretly curing the patient in a short time without his knowledge”.   Better than keeling over in the throes of arsenic poisoning, I suppose.

To get your hands on this wonder cure, all you had to do was to apply to Ward Chemical Co of Regent Street who on return would send a free package of the remedy, securely sealed in a plain wrapper together with full directions on how to use it and testimonials galore. Packets retailed for 10 shillings, worth it, perhaps, to get your hands on something which, according to the advertising copy, “has shed a radiance into thousands of hitherto desolate firesides” and which “does its work silently and surely that while the devoted wife, sister or daughter looks on, the drunkard is reclaimed even against his will and without his knowledge or co-operation”.

So what was in it and did it work? By January 1904 the Lancet, the medical journal, had Antidipso in its sights and published its analysis of its ingredients. They found that 78.22% was constituted of milk sugar and the balance, potassium bromide. There wasn’t a hint of an exotic South American herb to be seen. And although bromide could make you feel sick and, possibly, put you off the hooch, if only temporarily, the journal concluded that the quantities in a daily dose of Antidipso were so small as to be barely noticeable. What’s more, the cost of the ingredients amounted to around one and half pennies. The retail price of 10 shillings, even allowing for advertising expenses, showed a phenomenal mark up. No wonder within ten years of its launch Pointing was worth almost £38,000.

Pointing tried to fight back, visiting the journal’s offices and showed sheaths of glowing testimonials as to the efficacy of his cure. But to no avail. The Lancet savaged Pointing for perpetrating a “cruel and wicked fraud” on those who were trapped in a difficult situation by, in effect, selling them false hopes. But that, my friends, is what quackery is.

In 1906 Pointing had a mental breakdown and was a resident of Peckham House Asylum until his death four years later. He left part of his ill-gotten fortune to his employees and charities. Perhaps he had found his conscience.

I Predict A Riot – Part Ten


The nylon riots – 1945 to 1946

One of the enduring images of wartime England was how GIs armed with plentiful supplies of chocolate, cigarettes and nylon stockings were able to win the hearts and favours of the local women to the disgust and frustration of the local men. Nylon stockings were a relatively new innovation – indeed, it was only in 1935 that a chemist of the DuPont Corporation, Walter Carothers, developed what was to become nylon. When introduced in the States nylon stockings became an overnight sensation with four million pairs sold within two days of the product’s launch.

The availability of nylon stockings, the must-have accessory for the fashionable woman, came to an abrupt halt when the States entered the Second World War and DuPont switched production of nylon from stockings to parachutes and other times of military gear. Most women grinned and bore the shortage, showing resourcefulness by painting lines on the backs of their legs to give the impression that they were wearing nylons. A black market sprang up with pairs of nylon stockings changing hands for upwards of $20 and, inevitably, such a valuable commodity became a target for crime. One Louisiana family were robbed of 18 pairs.

George Marion Jnr and Fats Waller’s song, When the Nylons Bloom Again, captured the longing of the women folk for peace to return and nylons to be in plentiful supply. “I’ll be happy when the nylons bloom again/ Cotton is monotonous to men/ only way to keep affection fresh/ get some mesh for your flesh”. Eight days after Japan’s surrender in August 1945, DuPont announced that it would recommence the production of stockings. Unfortunately, its P.R department went into overdrive – not the production department – claiming that it would be able to knock out 360 million pairs in a year. The actual amount produced fell well short of this aggressive target and this is where the problem started.

When supplies of the stockings reached the stores, there was an unprecedented demand for them. A queue stretching 2 kilometres of some 40,000 women formed outside a Pittsburgh store which had just 13,000 pairs to sell. In New York queues of some 30,000 women were reported. When supplies ran out, the disappointed women reacted furiously. A paper in Atlanta, Georgia ran the headline “Women Risk Life and Limb in Bitter Battle for Nylons” and there were countless reports up and down the States of instances of women battling with each other and pulling hair to get their hands on a pair of nylons. Shelves and displays went flying in the mayhem.

It was not until March 1946 that DuPont was able to ramp up production to a level, some 30 million pairs a month, that would satisfy demand and the riots were quelled. But the nylon riots sounded the death knell for DuPont’s cosy monopoly over nylon. Many thought that DuPont had delayed production to stoke up demand and maximise profits, a charge that the firm vigorously denied (natch). In response, DuPont rather patronisingly claimed that the problem was women with too much time on their hands and with nothing better to do than queue and hoard. In 1951 it was threatened with an anti-trust suit and seeing the writing on the wall, DuPont agreed to share the Nylon licence with the Chemstrand Corporation and then, eventually, with others.

Catch Of The Week


Proof positive that BMW drivers are wan*ers.

Thames Valley Police launched a crack-down on what they termed “distracted drivers” on the M40 a couple of weeks ago, I hear.

They hauled in their usual crop of drivers using mobile phones at the wheel and one man was even caught reading a novel whilst driving. But the cream of the crop was one man in his fifties from Southampton, who was caught pleasuring himself, as they say, whilst driving his BMW near High Wycombe.

A new take on the ultimate driving experience, perhaps, although the story didn’t have a happy ending – he was fined.

Signs Of The Week


For many of us there is a new menace about – the smombie, people walking, glued to their mobile phones and oblivious to their surroundings. A recent survey of 14,000 pedestrians in cities like Amsterdam, Rome, Berlin, Brussels, Paris and Stockholm revealed that 17%, mainly aged between 25 and 35, were using their smartphones while walking.

What to do? Well, in Augsburg and Cologne the local authorities have installed red LED lights, the size of a beer mat, on the pavement by busy crossings, to try to warn smombies of the dangers of crossing a busy junction without paying due care and attention. They are known as bompeln or ground-level traffic lights.

Washington DC and Chongquing have experimented with special phone lanes for smombies whilst authorities in Rexburg in Idaho have taken a more draconian stance, imposing a $50 fine on anyone found texting while walking.

In Seoul there were 1,000 smart phone related collisions in 2014 (up from 437 in 2009) and officials, I read this week, have decided to install 300 road signs urging their denizens to practise safe text. Some will be at head height – surely they will be ineffective – whilst others will be at ground level. I will be interested to see how successful they are.

Still, I hope they do not suffer the fate of road signs in Iceland. Some of the natural hazards that the motorist faces are so unusual in that country – blind rises, gravel tracks and ford and glacier crossings – that the road signs warning of the hazards have become collectors’ items. The thefts have been so numerous that the Icelandic authorities have moved to make them too heavy to carry off and fit them with bolts that cannot be dismantled with an ordinary car tool-kit.

Sign of the times indeed.


Tales From The Nursery – Part Thirty Nine


Who killed Cock Robin?

This familiar rhyme was first published in Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book in 1744, although the version there was (mercifully) just four verses long. The longer version, running to fourteen verses, first appeared some thirty years later. The format of the rhyme is simple, a question possibly asked by a single interlocutor followed by an answer supplied by a different character each time.

The shortened version goes as follows, “who killed Cock Robin?/ I, said the Sparrow/ with my bow and arrow/ I killed Cock Robin/ Who saw him die?/ I, said the Fly/ with my little eye,/  I saw him die./ Who caught his blood?/ I, said the Fish/ with my little dish/ I caught his blood./ Who’ll make the shroud?/ I, said the Beetle/ with my thread and needle/ I’ll make the shroud”. The rest of the longer version deals with the funeral arrangements for the poor robin and all the birds of the air fall a-sighing and a-sobbing when they hear the bell toll.

Robins are popular British garden birds with their distinctive red breasts and representations of them adorn many a Christmas card. They are, though, very territorial and aggressive and you can easily imagine that a sparrow, fed up with being chased out of the robin’s air space, resorting to a bow and arrow to deal with the pesky menace. The stuff of cartoons, perhaps.

What, if anything, does the rhyme mean other than a depiction of murder most fowl? There is one internal clue to suggest a much older origin – the rhyming (in the longer version) of owl with shovel might be suggestive of middle English pronunciation rather than the dead hand of a rhymester aping William McGonagall. External evidence of an earlier origin includes a stained glass window at Buckland Rectory in Gloucestershire which dates back to the 15th century and features a robin slain by an arrow. John Skelton’s Phyllyp Sparowe of 1508 tells a similar story to that of the rhyme.

Inevitably there some more fanciful theories. One asks us to believe that it refers to the Celtic sun god, Lugh, whose feast day, Lammas, was marked on the pictographic calendar with the symbol of a bow and arrow. The sparrow, who slays him with his own weaponry, is supposed to represent Bran, the god of winter. Lugh’s association with the red sun might have earned him the sobriquet of Coch Ri Ben which in an anglicised form might have been rendered as Cock Robin. Not convinced by that one, I’m afraid.

And then we have William Rufus, son of William the Conqueror, who was killed by an arrow whilst hunting in the New Forest in 1100. Rufus, of course, means red and that connection is supposed to enable us to believe that the rhyme is a parody of his demise. Equally as unconvincing is the theory that Robin, a diminutive of Robert, is none other than Robert Walpole, the politician generally regarded to have been the first British prime minister, whose government fell in 1742, just before the first publication of the rhyme. I think the stained glass window deals with that one.

There are versions of the story in other countries, particularly Germany, and I think what we have here is an old story which dates back to mediaeval folklore which, perhaps, has been hijacked to fit the particular political circumstances of Georgian England.

EU Referendum Latest

The perils of drinking.

I was hoping for


but all I got was GOUT.

It’s The Way I Tell ‘Em (26)


As I think we could all do with cheering up, here are some more one-liners for your edification.

  • I think my neighbour is stalking me as she has been googling my name on her computer. I saw it through my telescope last night.
  • When wearing a bikini women reveal 90% of their are so polite they only look at the covered parts.
  • Apparently I snore so loudly that it scares everyone in the car I’m driving.
  • Top 3 situations that need witnesses. 1) Crimes 2) Accidents 3) Marriages. Need I say more?
  • A conclusion is the part where you got tired of thinking.
  • I can really keep secrets. It’s the people I tell them to who can’t.
  • Whatever you do, give 100%. Unless you are donating blood.
  • I hate people who use big words just to make themselves look perspicacious.
  • When I told my doctor about my memory loss, he made me pay in advance.
  • Yesterday I fell from a 30 foot ladder. Thank God I was on the third rung.
  • I’m having an introvert party you all are not invited.
  • I have just as much authority as the Pope, I just have fewer people who believe it.
  • I always tell my staff, don’t think of me as your boss, think of me as your friend who can fire you.
  • My doctor told me jogging could add years to my life. She’s right. I feel ten years older.
  • I love what you have done with your hair. How do you get it to come out of your nostrils like that?
  • If you don’t drink, smoke or do drugs, you may live long enough to be a real burden to loved ones. Pass the wine.
  • Cancer is the cure for smoking.
  • Those of you who think you know it all are damn annoying to those of us who do.
  • Being a hypochondriac is going to save my life one of these days.
  • And finally, remember a sense of humour does not mean that you tell him jokes, it means you laugh at his.

Book Corner – June 2016 (2)


The Grand Banks Café – Georges Simenon

I am working my way through the Penguin reissues of the 75 Maigret stories – whether I will get to the end only time will tell. Simenon was the master of pithy narrative, words chosen with care, no unnecessary embellishment, straight to the point. It is said that he limited himself to a vocabulary of around 2,000 words because he wanted his readers to read and enjoy his work, not to have to consult a dictionary. And as he worked at a prodigious pace, knocking out a story in a few days, you don’t feel so bad polishing one off from start to finish in an evening.

I’ve chosen this book, not because I think it is a great book but because it has some interesting features, none more so than the more central role played by Mme Maigret. In other books she is the long-suffering wife, whose role is to cook the detective’s meals, pack his bags for his investigative trips and to stay at home. In this book she accompanies, perforce as this is supposed to be their holiday, and adds intuitive insights which help the case along and provides a well-padded shoulder for Marie Leonnec to cry on.

And then there is the ending. For a man who earns his living as a policeman Maigret plays fast and loose with the letter of the law. For him natural justice is more important than seeing the malefactor getting banged up. Rather like Sherlock Holmes he quite often allows the offender to walk free to live with their conscience whilst getting on with their lives. Unlike Holmes, who is a gentleman detective, Maigret is a professional and you would have thought he would be paid by results. While in Conan Doyle’s stories the reprieved malefactor usually gets their comeuppance this is rarely the case with Simenon.

The case involves the death of Captain Fallut immediately upon the return of his vessel’s return from a disastrously unsuccessful fishing trip to the Newfoundland Banks. Maigret, about to go on holiday to Alsace, diverts his plans and goes to Fremat at the request of an old friend, Jorissen, to help clear the name of the radio operator, La Clinche, who is suspected of the crime. Maigret eventually solves the crime – it all hinges on events on the third day at sea – but resolution is achieved by way of observation and intuition rather than the collection of hard evidence.

The plot is actually quite preposterous. We are asked to believe that an attractive woman would agree to be locked in the captain’s cabin for the three months of the trip to be his plaything. The captain’s bed is raised to allow her to hide under it – a fact spotted by Leonnec rather than the great tec himself. That apart, the story is atmospheric, is imbued with the salty air of the sea and gives a fascinating insight into the hard lives of fishing communities in 1930s France.

At a higher level you could argue that Simenon is pondering the question who is responsible for a murder – the person who committed it or the person who drove the murderer to commit the crime?

At whatever level you choose to consider the book, it is an entertaining page turner and what more do you want in a book?