Motivated By Curiosity And A Desire For The Truth – Part Thirty Four

Is there anything in grape or grain, but never the twain?

It has always struck me that there is something of the puritan about a hangover. After all, you pay at leisure for some momentary pleasure. Oscar Wilde, perhaps, got it right; moderation in everything, including moderation.

Seasoned topers have their own tried and tested methods of avoiding hangovers. Mine is to stick to one type of drinks and on no account to mix beer and wine. My hangover cure is to have a hair of the dog, the original phrase was to have a hair of the dog that bit you, as soon as I can stomach it.

But am I being unnecessarily cautious in my choice of drinks? Is it just quantity and not type that leads to a hangover?

My attention was drawn to the February 1st 2019 edition of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, not part of my staple fare of reading material, I must confess, and an article with the unappetising subtitle of “A randomised controlled multi-arm matched triplet cross-over trial of beer and wine”. It outlined the research carried out by four principal researchers at the German university of Witten/Herdecke.

I will not bore you with the minutiae of the study, if you’re interested, follow this link , but they set out to find, in a controlled experiment, whether drinking beer and then wine or wine and then beer or just beer on its own or simply wine had any effect on the intensity of your hangover. It is gratifying to learn that the best brains are plying their grey cells to these problems of our diurnal existence.

They assembled a group of 90 volunteers, I can’t imagine they were hard to come by, who were aged between 19 and 40. Each was given the same meal, the condemned man and all that, and then they were split up into groups.

The first group drank two and half pints of lager, donated by Carlsberg, and then four large glasses of white wine. The second group drank the wine first, followed by the lager. The third group drank either only lager or just wine. Each participant was monitored regularly and when their breath alcohol concentration reached 0.11%, they stopped drinking and were packed off to bed with a glass of water of a size commensurate with their body weight.

The next day, they were quizzed as to how they felt, just what you want after a night on the tiles, and their responses were scored against the Acute Hangover Scale, developed by some scientists in the early 21st century to measure immediate hangover symptoms. I must look into this. Around 10% of the participants reported what the Australians colourfully term an upchucky moment.

A week later, the groups reassembled and drank the reverse of what they had consumed the previous time. Again, they were monitored and the intensity of their hangovers were recorded.

When it came to comparing the results, the scientists found no obvious correlation between the order that you consumed beer and wine or whether you restricted yourself to one or the other on the intensity of your hangover. In a statement of the bleedin’ obvious, for which scientific endeavour has been renowned over the centuries, they were forced to admit that it was quantity that impacted your hangover and that warning signs such as feeling tipsy and/or nauseous were reliable indicators that you might feel under par the following morning. You don’t say!

The veracity of the results has already been challenged. One scientist pointed out that the researchers had studiously avoided dark drinks, like red wine and beer. These alcoholic beverages contain congeners which, whilst adding flavour and character, have unpleasant side-effects which can increase the likelihood and intensity of your hangover.

But if the German study is to be believed, we can rid ourselves of the canards that you should never mix beer with wine or if you do, drink beer first.

I will enjoy testing out their results.

If you enjoyed this, check out Fifty Curious Questions by Martin Fone

Book Corner – February 2019 (4)

Thomas Cromwell – Diarmuid MacCulloch

Apart from the two World Wars is there an era of history that has been racked over so often and so extensively as the Tudor period? I can imagine that in a couple of decades or so there will be myriad books exploring how the hell we got into the Brexit mess but that is another story. The story of Henry VIII and the main characters of his reign are so well known, at least we think they are, that it is a brave writer who sets out to put a fresh spin on hackneyed material.

Not only is Diarmuid MacCulloch brave but on the whole he pulls it off, giving us a fresh and more complete perspective on Henry’s go-to-man of the 1530s. It is a massive and magisterial book and MacCulloch wears his scholarship lightly. But it would be wrong to suggest that it is a light read for the general reader. It is witty and acerbic but there are turgid passages when the historian explores the dynastic and genealogical complexities of the Tudor court and there is more about Tudor sewerage systems and navigation channels than you would care to shake a stick at.

Cromwell is a difficult character to rehabilitate. MacCulloch makes a brave attempt but I’m not entirely convinced by his case. Yes, Cromwell was brutal but, by the standards of the day, no more brutal than anyone else, given the chance. Part of his problem was that his boss, Henry VIII, changed policy and direction as often as he changed codpieces, perhaps more frequently. There is more than a hint of Trump in MacCulloch’s portrait of the monarch. Just to remain in post, Cromwell had to be nimble on his feet and not too fixed in his policies and trenchant in his views.

Cromwell’s chameleon-like political persona owed much to his religious stance. He was what MacCulloch describes as a Nicomedian, a term drawn from Nicodemus, a Pharisee who came to see and learn from Jesus at night. After all, in his early years he defended the Boston guild’s right to sell indulgences. In later years Cromwell was, probably, a revolutionary Protestant, more inclined sympathetically to the teachings of Huldrych Zwingli of Zurich than Luther, but one who was able to hide his true sympathies behind conventional religious practice until the time was right. So turbulent were the times that the wisest counsel was to follow this course.

Irrespective of your view of Cromwell, it is incontrovertible that he played a major part in fixing the Catherine of Aragon problem and in the dissolution of monasteries and the expelling of the most egregious and usurious practices of an outmoded and corrupt Churches. But, MacCulloch argues, Cromwell was not the architect of the policy, more the organising genius who enabled what seemed to be a worthwhile (and immensely profitable) policy to be implemented. It was interesting to read that the origins of the policy dated back to Wolsey’s dissolution, Cromwell did the dirty deed, of a couple of monasteries to fund the building of a couple of colleges to commemorate the Cardinal.

MacCulloch argues, convincingly, that Cromwell and Ann Boleyn were always daggers drawn, Cromwell’s animus due to the part that Boleyn and her supporters played in the downfall of his master, Wolsey. The second half of the 1530s saw Cromwell almost fall from power following the Pilgrimage of Grace, effectively a civil war in the northern parts of England fuelled by opposition to his religious reforms, and hanging precariously on to power, defying the machinations of his foremost enemy, the Duke of Norfolk.

What did for Cromwell was his advocacy for Anne of Cleves as Henry’s fourth wife, prompted mainly by his reluctance, once his son had married into the Seymours, to see another English family usurp his position by marrying their daughter to the King. Those who live by the sword die by the sword and Cromwell’s downfall was swift and brutal.

But Cromwell’s legacy remains with us. He did much to fashion the Protestant church in England, even as it exists today.

I’m glad I read the book but would not recommend it to the general reader.

You’re Having A Laugh – Part Twenty One

Christoph Muller and his golden tooth, 1593

When you smile, you reveal your teeth. Before the adoption of regular dental hygiene and the development of the first mass-produced toothbrush in 1780 by William Addis, people were loathe to smile because of the parlous state of their teeth. This is why the subjects of many portraits until the 19th century rarely had anything other than a fixed expression with mouth firmly shut.   

In 1593 in the remote village of Weigelsdorf in Silesia, in what is now south-western Poland, a seven-year-old boy by the name of Christoph Muller astonished onlookers with his smile. When he opened his mouth, there for all to see was a golden tooth. News of this phenomenon quickly spread far and wide, soon reaching the ears of Dr Jakob Horst, a professor of medicine at Julius University in Helmstadt. Jumping on his horse, the intrepid Dr Horst rushed to Silesia to investigate the phenomenon for himself.

On getting Christoph to open his mouth, Dr Horst prodded around, using a touchstone, a piece of jasper commonly used at the time to test the alloy of gold, and satisfied himself that the tooth was indeed made of gold, albeit not of the highest quality. Satisfied that he had a major scoop on his hands, the doctor put quill to paper and produced a treatise, running to 145 pages, on the subject, entitled De aureo dente maxillari pueri Silesii, or for non-Latinists, Of the golden tooth of the boy from Silesia.

Even allowing for the grandiloquence of the day 145 pages is a lot to fill when you are writing about a tooth, even one made of gold. Not unsurprisingly then, Dr Horst began to engage in speculation as to how the tooth arrived in Christoph’s mouth and what it all meant. Noting that the boy had been born on 22nd December 1585, a day when there had been an unusual alignment of the planets, he speculated that this might have caused a sufficient rise in the sun’s temperature to cause the bone in Christoph’s jaw to turn to gold. The good doctor did not seem to pause to consider why other children born on the same day weren’t wandering around with a mouthful of gold.

As to what it all meant Horst argued that the tooth was a portent of a new golden age for the Holy Roman Empire. However, as the tooth was in the left-hand side of the boy’s mouth, the left being considered to represent misfortune and evil, there would be a series of calamities before the dawning of a new age.

But not everyone was as convinced as Horst that Christoph’s golden tooth was a miraculous event. In particular, a Scotsman, a pragmatic and down-to-earth race, if there ever was one, Duncan Liddell, a physician based in Helmstadt, argued in another treatise, Tractatus de dente aureo pueri Silesiani, that the only explanation was that the tooth was man-made.

Who was right?

The passage of time demonstrated that Horst had been duped. The boy’s use of his tooth coupled with regular experiments with touchstones to examine the constituency of the molar, resulted in the gold wearing away. In fact, the tooth, far from being solid gold, was coated with a thin layer of the metal. Christoph became reluctant to allow further examinations of his tooth to take place, a decision which sufficiently enraged a drunken nobleman to stab him in the cheek. The doctor, called upon to stitch Christoph up, soon found that the tooth was a clever hoax.

The man who had performed the operation reportedly fled the village, leaving his name to be lost in the mists of time. Poor Christoph, however, was flung in jail for his part in perpetrating the fraud. On the bright side, however, this hoax is thought to have been the first documented case of fitting what we would call a gold crown to a tooth.

If you are unfortunate enough to have to have a crown fitted, pause and give a thought to Christoph Muller.

Museum Of The Week

If you are looking for a reason to visit the Japanese city of Yokohama, it is a port, after all, then the opening of the Unko Museum on 15th March may just be it.

Unko, you see, is Japanese for poo and the museum is dedicated to all things fecal but in a nice way. You won’t find the real deal on display there, just tasteful emoji of turds in rather fetching pastel shades.

It even boasts its own mascot, Unberuto, a walking pile of turds carrying, somewhat bizarrely, its own toilet. Quite what the subliminal message is there is beyond my ken.

For ardent selfie takers, you have the opportunity to take as many shots as you want standing amongst the exhibits. Click bait, guaranteed.

But you had better hurry because the museum is only going to be open for four months. You can’t have too much of a good thing.

Bizarrely, it is not the first such museum. The Museo della Merda, in Lombardy, opened its doors in 2015 and is still going strong. As an added bonus, all the artefacts for sale there are made out of cow dung.

The Japanese have some catching up to do.