Burning Up

As a child, I was quite worried about spontaneous human combustion. I know that worrying about suddenly bursting into flames is not the average childhood preoccupationtoys, games, and what’s for dinner would have been more normalbut I was fascinated and genuinely worried by it. Any time that I felt hotter than normal, I wondered if it was a precursor to something terrible about to happen.

It’s all down to a documentary we watched in class in primary school. I’m not sure why we were shown that in primary school because I’m pretty sure it wasn’t related to the curriculum in any way, but it’s marginally better than the practical music class I had a couple of years later  where we had to learn the words to the Mash theme song and play along on xylophones, triangles, and tambourines. Nice tune, but terrible lyrics for a child. Imagine, an 11-year-old searching for an E on that xylophone while singing ‘Cause suicide is painless.’ Just wouldn’t happen these days. Or so I hope.

I didn’t tell anyone about this combustion-related concern, so clearly I knew it was unusual, but nonetheless it was very real. In retrospect, it’s probably a good thing I didn’t tell anyone at the time. If people didn’t already think I was a strange child, this would have persuaded them.

As a result, I find it fascinating when I come across articles such as the following about the death of a 65-year-old man in Tulsa on Monday:  Spontaneous Combustion considered in Sequoyah County death. The articles are always inconclusive, as is this one, but the fact that the police would even consider it as a possibility fascinates me. When I read Dickens’ Bleak House, the one part that struck  me was the death of Mr. Krook through spontaneous combustion. An-illustration-from-Dickens-Bleak-House-shows-the-discovery-of-alcoholic-rag-and-bone-man-Krook-a-victim-of-spontaneous-combustionDickens believed spontaneous combustion was real, but his belief went against the current of the times and he received a lot of criticism for including it in the story line. However, there are plenty of other literary references to it. In Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte describes a character as “in a frame of mind and body threatening spontaneous combustion.” Maybe that’s how I was feeling as child! I don’t know that I really believe in it, but it’s an interesting idea, and a convenient explanation for some very strange occurrences.

Related articles
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2281158/Man-65-believed-died-spontaneous-combustion-pile-charred-remains-trace-source-damage.html  (Warning: some gruesome images)


On the Bus

I take the bus. I don’t drive. This makes me rather an oddity in a nation where cars rule. But I don’t mind taking the bus. My husband never takes the bus. He thinks its full of drug addicts, crazies, and homeless people. Well, there are no doubt a few. But there are plenty of just ordinary people.

The other day a man got on and only had dollar bills. The bus doesn’t give change. People scrambled to find change for his bills. I think that’s nice to see. People on the bus call out to the driver when they see someone running to catch the bus – they look out for other people.

There are frequent cries of ‘Back door.’ For some reason the drivers are all reluctant to open the back door. The other week, an elderly man almost missed his stop as he couldn’t move quickly enough to get to the door, but a young man shouted for the driver to stop. The poor flustered man dropped his glasses and couldn’t pick them up. The young man helped him, put them in the man’s pocket, then took his time helping the old man off the bus and onto the pavement. “You gotta do that for old folk. Someone gonna do that when you old,” he said as he got back on.

I listened to two old ladies talking about their grocery shopping plans. 99 cents for something or other. Then they started talking about how taking the bus was good exercise and so much better than just jumping in a car. As the bus passed the very old and rather dilapidated theater on route, one lady reminisced about going there on Saturday afternoons as a teenager, and the other smiled and replied ‘Good times.’

There is a man I see on there at least once a week. One week he was calling  his imaginary friend to arrange an evening of pizza and beer. No need for a phone with a monthly plan. All he needed was an old-fashioned type of phone that he hooked back up on the wall after speaking (or in this case the back of the driver’s seat). Or he would have if the phone actually existed. His imaginary friend was quite persistent, checking the time in one call, where to meet in another, what kind of pizza in yet another (pepperoni) and finally had to be told ‘Stop calling me, man.’

Last week a man sat next to me, holding a pamphlet. He kept looking towards me, then finally plucked up the courage to ask me how to pronounce a word on his page: cytosis.  Why he thought I would know the pronunciation, I’m not sure. When I got home I discovered it meant ‘A condition in which there is more than the usual number of cells,’ so taking the bus can even be educational.

There can be unpleasant times. Someone annoys someone else and they get aggressive for a while, but usually calm down. Others on the bus don’t hesitate in telling them to shut up and sit down, or to leave alone whoever is upsetting them. Some riders are a little louder than necessary, but you can learn a lot about this and that in an eavesdropped conversation.

And sometimes the drivers are chatty and talk away to whoever is sitting near the front. The best story recently: the driver said he’d once had a woman get on and put a $100 bill in the money-box. When she realized what she’d done, she was distraught. The driver said he’d called it in, taken her name and details, and had arranged for her to go to the office and get her change. Only she never went to collect her change. It turned out to be a forged note!

What’s for dinner? Umm, no idea really…


There has been a lot in the British media about the horsemeat discovered in dishes labelled as beef. Now it turns out that some of that horsemeat may in fact be donkey (see an article from the Independent here). For me, there is no difference between any of them – horse, cow, donkey. They are all meat and I avoid eating that. BUT I do find it shocking that most of us have no idea what we are eating. Unfortunately, short of growing everything and making all our own food, it’s hard to escape this uncertainty.

I often think about what I am eating. And I have to say that often I am not entirely confident that I know what it really is.  Honey doesn’t have to be honey from bees. In other words, just as “beef” might be from a horse, honey might be sugar syrup. I buy local honey, and I trust that the man handing over a jar of brownish liquid is telling the truth when he says it comes from a hive in his back yard. I have to trust him – that or demand to see where he lives. Then I’d probably be arrested.  I buy natural peanut butter with only two ingredients. It’s a pain to stir in the oil when I get a new jar, but at least I know what peanuts and salt are. Yet if you read the FDA Food Defects Level handbook (and yes, that’s my idea of fun) , you will learn that “Title 21, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 110.110 allows the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to establish maximum levels of natural or unavoidable defects in foods for human use that present no health hazard.” This means my tasty peanut butter may contain:

Insect filth
(AOAC 968.35)
Average of 30 or more insect fragments per 100 grams
Rodent filth
(AOAC 968.35)
Average of 1 or more rodent hairs per 100 grams

That’s a nutritious breakfast of PB, rodent hair, and insect fragment on toast. But it’s OK because the FDA determines the significance of these defects to be merely ‘aesthetic’. Well, that’s a relief. There are similar entries for anything else you might care to eat (or might not care to eat after reading too much). But I trust that the PB I’m eating falls on the low side of the count (or if I’m really optimistic, that this batch was clean).

Every food purchase we make is based on trust – the producer, the supplier, the final vendor – we trust that what they are selling is what they say it is. How can we know? Does it worry you that perhaps you don’t really know what’s for dinner?

(Eeyore image from: source: http://www.free-extras.com/search/1/eeyore.htm)

It’s for your own good

According to a BBC article, there will be no more road safety public service announcements on  British TV. Perhaps they think children are driven everywhere these days and don’t need to worry about which way to look before crossing the street. The reason given by the Department for Transport is that it has decided to ‘re-prioritize’ its budget.

It’s a shame. I am sure my parents told me countless times to be careful crossing the streets, or to stop at the kerb and look both ways, but I don’t remember that at all. What I do remember is the Green Cross Code Man, a superhero-like figure telling kid to “Stop, look, and listen” and to use the green cross code.

I was also rather fond of Tufty the Squirrel, a young squirrel with friends who frequently got hit by cars. But Tufty himself always avoids danger, thanks to the wise words of his mother, Mrs. Fluffy Tail. My sister even had a Tufty Road Safety board game. tufty game (image from http://www.kidsera.com/)

However, the most memorable public safety announcements from my childhood were not just about road safety. There was an extremely creepy boy with a cat named Charley. The clips would either have Charley saving the little boy from danger, or suffering himself in order to teach everyone a lesson. Whenever I heard “Charley says…” I knew I should pay attention!

The downside of all these warnings was that as a child, I was gripped with an absolute fear of anything even slightly dangerous. Must have been a lot of fun for my parents. Hold a sparkler on Guy Fawkes Night? Not likely. That’s third degree burns for sure. Stand in the front row at the fireworks display? Surely about a mile away is the closest we should get. Strike a match to light a birthday cake candle as a special treat? Do you want me to burst into flames? Swim in anything other than a swimming pool? Giant weeds will surely drag me to my death. Plug in or unplug the vacuum cleaner because I’m the closest to it? Are you trying to electrocute me? Once, I showed my husband some “Charley says” videos. He looked at me and said “That explains a lot.”

I swear

Taking the bus this morning, I couldn’t help but listen to a mother talking to her young child. “Hell” came into the conversation a fair amount. However, her speech was much milder than a lot of the parents I hear on the bus. A lot of Fs and Motherfs creep into (or form the basis) of a lot of their conversations. It makes me feel very sad. Swearing has its place. Sometimes it’s the only kind of word adequate for a situation. Still I can’t help but feel that these children surrounded by curse words when they are so young are going to grow up unable to understand the true power of a really good cuss.

I suppose there are different kinds of swearing. My husband loves to swear. Thumb hit with hammer? F*!#!F*!#! Dropped a pen? Another bunch. Spilt some mustard? Another load. It’s angry swearing. Or frustration swearing. He does it ALL the time.  He also has a little song to the tune of ‘John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt‘ which consists of nothing but swear words.  Of course this swearing to music is neither out of anger or frustration. It’s just for fun.

I don’t swear much (unless my computer is misbehaving). Anyone who knows me in person would probably say that I don’t swear much at all. When I sliced into my thumb with a newly sharpened knife a few weeks ago, my husband hurried into the kitchen because he heard a very loud F.U.C.K.  Just the one. Since it’s not something I say a lot, it meant something wasn’t right.

My parents had their own attitudes to swearing. I didn’t hear a ‘real’ person say fuck until I went to secondary school in the next town, and then I was fascinated by how often and how nonchalantly these tough town kids used it. I’d never heard it among the kids in my little village and certainly never at home. My mum used  ‘bloody’ and ‘bugger’ a lot. A LOT. But it was only at home and usually because she was in a hurry and couldn’t find something. It was never directed at anyone. My father just doesn’t really swear at all.

There was one memorable occasion when I was a teenager and my father got angry enough to swear. He was the only man in a house full of females (my mum, my sister, and me), having grown up as the only man in a house full of females (his mum, and his two older sisters). One Sunday, he was growing increasingly frustrated at no one letting him get a word in edgeways. Finally enough was enough. He threw down whatever it was that he was holding, and shouted out “BOTHERATION!” My mother, my sister, and I all did our best not to burst into laughter. My first thought was “Oh, wow. Dad is really angry.” But my second was “That is that he says when he swears?!” It was shocking because he never loses his temper like that, but overall it was simply hilarious. Really – who says botheration? I can’t help thinking my father would have got a little more satisfaction if he’d opted for stronger language: he would have enjoyed the power of a real good cuss!

cursingpicture from: http://theclassyitgirl.wordpress.com

This is not the Abbey Road you are looking for…

Apparently more than a few tourists get a little lost looking for Abbey Road of the Beatles’ fame. (This one.)

The confusion occurs because the ‘right’ Abbey Road  does NOT have a tube station named for it while the ‘wrong’ Abbey Road does. Luckily for any lost  fans of the Fab Four, Transport for London has a sense of humor that almost makes it worth getting lost in the first place!

Abbey Road