FARMED SALMON

Q1 When you tuck in to your salmon steak, are you aware you’re eating a migratory animal?

Q2 Can you imagine what would have happened if businessmen in London and elsewhere had come up with the bright idea of caging swallows and selling them as food?

Yep. You’d have had every twitcher, every member of the Royal Society for Protection of Birds, every bird-fancier the world over protesting in kagoule-clad FURY at the idea of caging these beautiful migratory creatures that fly huge distances to nest in our eaves every summer and give us such joy as we watch them wheeling about the sky.

And yet, when those business consortia started stuffing salmon into sea cages, where was the effing protest? Did you hear a sodding squeak of dissent? Where was the RSPF when it was needed? Nowhere, because there is no such thing as the Royal Society for the Protection of Fish.

Let me just say now that if you want jokes, don’t read on, because I cannot be funny about this. We complain about the nasty side of farming, the barbaric way that animals are treated. We sign protests to make farmers kinder to chickens and we’ve even seen the middle classes massing at ports to end the shipment of live animals.

But caging an animal that has the urge, the overwhelming drive to migrate, is a very particular form of cruelty that makes me weep with fury.

This is Shuna Island on Loch Linnhe. It’s 2k long, which gives you an idea of how enormous those salmon nets on the right are. Picture from Shutterstock, and yes, I paid.

The salmon is a wonderful, almost miraculous creature, a streamlined swimming machine that starts as a tiny, pink egg, tucked under a bed of gravel in a river by the female. Not just any river, her river.

Once it’s mature enough, (providing it survives at all, that is), it leaves the river and swims out to sea. After anything between one and four years at sea, the salmon will return to the very river it was spawned in, to breed and begin the process again.

Just think about this miracle. They leave their home river as young grilse, and then migrate over 3000k to the great feeding grounds north of the Arctic Circle. When they’re mature enough, their astonishing homing instinct impels them back to precisely the same spot where they were buried in the gravel as an egg. Just imagine the ridiculously impossible odds of doing such a thing – and yet these glorious creatures do it year after year.

This is a miracle I’ve known all my life. My grandparents lived in Ballina, County Mayo, and anyone Irish will tell you that the salmon from the River Moy is the finest in the world. We visited them each summer and every single year, Granny would have salmon for us the night we arrived, the dish of kings to welcome us home. It was the season for them, there was enough for everyone in the area, and yet it was still regarded as the very greatest of treats.

In the following days, I would be taken to see the salmon leppin’, as they said it then. We’d walk down from Grandpa’s house to the River Moy in County Mayo, and watch these wondrous creatures hurl themselves into the air and up the weirs and falls, swimming with herculean strength against the fierce downward rush of the river, great crowds of them flying above the spume. An astonishing sight, and a yearly ritual for the locals to turn out in crowds to watch them.

So this is personal.

The democratisation of luxury

The first caged salmon could not be sold whole, only as steaks. That was because they were so badly damaged as the fish frenetically tried to get out of the cage to follow their genetic programming and migrate, biting chunks out of one another in the effort to escape.

(But they’re only fish! So much more important to make sure that smoked salmon is no longer the preserve of the wealthy!)

Three or four generations later, the urge to migrate is bred out of them. So why do I say these non-salmonid salmon are shityoudon’tneed?

Here goes.

Food

Salmon are “farmed” in vast nets which are tethered offshore, so they have to be fed, as they cannot swim round and feed themselves. They’re carnivorous, so other fish are ‘harvested’ to feed the salmon. Anchovy, herring and sardine shoals from other seas are thus depleted. Oh the bitter, bitter irony, that fish farming should contribute to overfishing!

The food is dropped into the net, and not all of it is snapped up by the salmon on its way through. It then falls through the holes in the bottom of the net, and onto the seabed below where it rots.

A company called Protix is breeding insects to replace fish meal, but this doesn’t replace the fish oils also needed. Research is going on in this area by other companies.

Dye

The food they are given is different from the crustaceans they should normally feed on – and which gave them their marvellous pink flesh. In nets, that flesh just turns a sort of grey. So they are fed with dyes, otherwise people wouldn’t believe they were purchasing salmon. And some of that dye ends up on the seabed too.

Lice

A louse. They can get quite big, from 0.5cm to 2cm. Horrid things. Photo from Shutterstock.

When salmon noodle around in nets instead of powering through wild, cold seas, they acquire sea lice. These feed on the head, skin and blood of the fish. Yes, lice are flesh eaters. Fish with sea lice can a) can die if infested with too many and b) aren’t terribly attractive to the average shopper, so these must be treated with chemicals.

Guess what? Some of those chemicals sink to the sea bed too. Oh, and since great populations of fish crowded into nets are ideal breeding grounds for sea lice and other parasites, the actual population of sea lice has gone through the roof, particularly in Scotland, so the wild fish in the area become infested too.

Oh, and where do the dead lice end up? Rotting on the sea bed. Hmmm, it’s quite a graveyard, that ol’ seabed.

Incidentally, Steinsvik are developing a drug free system to get rid of sea lice called the Thermolicer. The little critters don’t like sudden changes of temperature, so the fish are bathed briefly in lukewarm water and the lice fall off. All well and good. But how stressful is it for the poor goddammed fish…?

This from the website: “The fish are crowded and pumped through the Thermolicer and then back in the same cage or to an empty cage.”

Yikes.

And here are the lice in action. I grabbed this photo from Don Stanniford‘s page. He’s a long time campaigner and scourge of the salmon farming industry. Respect.

Disease

Have I put you off yet? It gets more unpleasant still. Salmon crowded into nets also get diseases, ulcers and tapeworms amongst a list of unpleasant conditions, so antibiotics and other therapeutants are used to combat this. Antifoulants and disinfectants too…

I dragged this pic from The FerretI don’t think they’ll mind as we’re on the same page. And we need to see these pictures.

It doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to realise that this cocktail of…

  • rotting food
  • chemicals
  • dye
  • dead sea lice
  • antibiotics
  • disinfectants
  • faeces (whoops… did I mention that salmon need to poo?)

…is a pretty toxic combination. It smothers the seabed below and all around, and gradually kills everything … all the kelp, starfish, bottom feeders, crabs, flatfish, scallops, anemones etc that make up the incredibly complex and beautiful ecosystem that is a seabed.

Yep, salmon farming is not only unusually cruel, but it pollutes like billy-oh.

I snuck this picture from Common Sense Canadian. That’s a yardstick showing the depth of the crap under a salmon farm. 32″… that’s more than 81cm. Nothing can live beneath that.

Pain

Do the fish suffer? Do they feel pain? It certainly suits us to think they don’t.

The scientific jury is out on the subject, but fish certainly respond to stress in a way that suggests they feel pain. Dr. Lynne Sneddon’s work at the University of Liverpool has ensured that scientific opinion is beginning to drift towards the conclusion that they do feel pain.

Crossbreeding

Most of the stocks of “Atlantic” salmon have actually been crossbred – Scottish salmon with Norway salmon. Jeez, we can’t help messing around with genetics, can we?

Just a thought… can they actually be described as “Scottish”? Hmmm…

Escape

As if this wasn’t enough, sometimes the nets don’t hold. A violent storm, human error, some faulty equipment perhaps… the nets break open and suddenly the area is flooded with thousands and thousands of fish that compete for food with the wild fish, so food stocks are depleted leading to underwater famine.

More crossbreeding!

Worse still, these escaped farmed salmon can cross breed with the true wild salmon, which has the effect of diluting the genetic information. So what happens is this: the year old salmon (known as a grilse) bred from this hideous mismatch leaves its river knowing that it MUST go somewhere, but where? It gets lost. One more nail in the coffin for true wild salmon.

Edit – dated 17.05.19Reader Eoghan Brady let me know the following “Just to clarify a grilse is an adult salmon who returns after a year and will be small,a smolt is a young salmon that’s going to sea ,usually 2-3yrs old ,a parr is a young fish before they become smolts.” Thanks, Eoghan.

Seal death

Oh, and seals get caught up in the nets sometimes. So they get shot. More than 40 licences to shoot seals are issued in Scotland every single year to salmon farmers.

The bigger ecosystem

Before salmon farming, there was a lovely little industry in the Highlands and the West of Ireland. A load of little B&Bs hosted fisher folk with expensive rods, thigh-high wellies and dreams catching the biggest fish of the season. Gillies – folk with deep and intimate local knowledge of the local area and the habits of salmon – took them to the best spots for landing their prizes.

Gillies are proud of their art – and it is an art. If you’re a veggie or a vegetarian, you might not agree, but the gillies and fisher folk I have met all loved and respected the salmon, and would never wish to do it harm. They just wanted to take a few from nature for the one of the great gastronomic treats the human being could enjoy.

The B&Bs too – they welcomed the fisher folk with their wet weather gear and their wet kit and their day’s delights and disappointments. Hot baths, hot whiskies, hot meals… and a cracking breakfast before the next day’s rigours. The angling industry has supported thousands and thousands of jobs.

That’s all going and it is also a part of the ecosystem. Salmon farming doesn’t bring local employment. A skeleton staff can operate a salmon farm owned and run for the profit of companies in London and Oslo etc. Actually, campaigners claim that 99% of Scottish Salmon farms are marketed and branded as “Scottish” but are actually owned abroad. What do these foreign consortia care if they destroy a species?

Extinction

It is no longer a matter of question as to whether salmon farming is causing the extinction of wild salmon. The collapse in numbers of salmon returning home to spawn is terrifying – both in Ireland and Scotland. And farmed salmon themselves are not safe – just a day ago, hundreds of thousands died from an outbreak of algae on Loch Fyne. All those corpses to dispose of safely… hmmm…

Salmon farming in open nets really is the devil’s own work. I’m not keen on battery chickens, but at least a farmer with a battery chicken business can spread the chicken poop straight onto his fields, thus cutting out the need to purchase expensive fertilisers.

The democratisation of luxury should be regarded with a very wary eye. Salmon was never made cheap and available so that the poor were able to join in the fun. It was farmed solely to make some rich people even richer. Certain foods should always be luxury foods. Caviare, saffron, crab, Bar-le-Duc jelly, for instance. Salmon should be on that list.

But I buy organic…!

Ah… did you think you were in the clear, buying organic farmed salmon…? Yeah. So did I. What an eejit I am. Look, the subject of salmon farming is enormous and hugely complex. I am in grave danger of boring you to death, and my sister Anne has complained about the length of my pieces. So let’s just say this – I will come back to you on the subject of organic farmed salmon. Rest assured, however, it’s not great.

Meanwhile, I hope you will consider buying less, or better still, NO salmon in future – smoked or otherwise.

Finally… (yes, really!)

Here is a picture of my dog. I need cheering up. And so do you, I shouldn’t wonder.

Piper feeling very sad at the plight of her fellow creatures. That is one thinking dog.

Please forward this and tell your friends about my blog, particularly this piece. If I’ve published your photo and haven’t paid, please get in touch and I am happy to discuss terms or remove them if the price is too high. And thanks to Caroline Attwood on Unsplash for the photo at the top.

BATTERIES (IN THE GARBAGE)

In which Dillie The Lazy Cow (DK1) has a tricky conversation with Dillie The Annoying Goody-Goody (DK2)

DK1 FFS. Who’s idea was it to put this in?

DK2 Yours!

DK1 Mine? You mean yours?

DK2 Okay, mine. Whaddevah… Anyway, as I was saying, about batteries…

DK1Wot! Not content with taking away my luxury toilet paper and banning me from using shower gel, you’re telling me I can’t use batteries now?

DK2 Just listen for a minute, would you!

DK1 But I neeeeeed batteries! I use lots of them! They are essential to my life!

DK2 I know. The TV remote, your mouse, the smoke alarm, toys, the car, the golf buggy, your vibrator, etc. etc.

DK1 Yeah yeah yeah. So?

DK2 Do you recycle them?

DK1 Um, sometimes… Why?

DK2 Because batteries contain many toxic chemicals and heavy metals. These can include lead, antimony, calcium, cobalt, tin, selenium, nickel, cadmium… etc. Cobalt is particularly pernicious as although it’s associated with the transition to cleaner energy, it also has a history of child exploitation and human rights abuses in the Congo.

DK1 Nasty. But what has that to do with recycling?

DK2 If you blithely chuck out dead batteries with the rubbish, those poisons go to the tip or landfill. The casing of the battery corrodes and the contents, sulphuric acid and lithium and lead for example, leach out into the groundwater and into the food chain. If those tasty morsels got into your body, you might glow in the dark.

DK1 I’m an actress, I can think of nothing more FAAAABULOUS than being my own spotlight! Give me a real reason to worry.

DK2 How about fish and chips and potassium carbonate for your dinner?

DK1 Ok, not so nice. I can see I’ll have to go vegetarian.

DK2 Are you sure? The impurities in the water are absorbed by plants and fruit and then you eat the plants. In other words, mercury soup and aluminium apple sauce. Either way, they get into your body. Not great for the digestion. Or the kidney, the liver, the skin, or your asthma. Or your children. Not even fruitarians escape.

DK1 Golly. Would my water taste different too?

DK2 Many of those toxins don’t actually have a lot of taste – so they can sneak into your whiskey and water and not be noticed.

DK1 Nobody could accuse you of optimism, could they?

DK2 You may mock, but there’s more. Primary lithium batteries ignite very easily. Imagine the number of lithium batteries being crushed by heavy machinery in landfill sites. One exposed battery catches light and whoosh! You’ve got a fire that “can burn for years underground.” Here in the UK, fire and rescue services have to deal with approximately 300 significant fires in waste dumps every year, and a significant number of those are started by lithium batteries. Think of that toxic air… incredibly toxic. Nice.

Photo ‘borrowed’ from the Gila Valley Central, provided originally by Safford Fire Department. I’ve since discovered that the Gila Valley is in Arizona.

DK2 Scientists reckon if “an irreversible thermal event” occurs in Lithium-ion batteries, it may release perhaps 100 different gases if they do combust. “An irreversible thermal event” – it’s a chilling phrase, isn’t it?

DK1 Blimey.

DK2 Blimey is right. So are you going to recycle ALL your batteries now?

DK1 Yes, all right, all right. Don’t go on.

DK2 And will you switch things off when you’re not using them to conserve battery life?

DK1 Yes, yes, yes, okaaaaay!

DK2 And what about that natty little cook’s timer that doesn’t have an off switch?

DK1 I take the battery out when I’m not using it to make it last longer.

DK2 Good girl.

DK1 Don’t patronise me, bi-atch…

DK2 Wouldn’t dream of it. By the way, did you know that serious injuries and deaths caused by swallowing batteries is on the increase in a big way?

DK1 Tsk. Who swallows a battery?

DK2 Little kids with little fingers taking little button batteries out of toys. Granny’s arthritic fingers drop the tiny hearing aid batteries…

The hand of a common law step-grandmother (me), holding a hearing aid battery.

DK2 Toddlers and crawlers love little shiny things! It’s even been reported in the Daily Mail!

DK1 Gosh, it must be true then!!! But surely Science is moving on?

DK2 Not fast enough to sort the mounting battery problem.

DK1 So what’s the solution?

DK2 Buy better batteries. Cheap batteries run down quickly – spend more on them and they last longer. Rechargeable whenever possible. And always always ALWAYS recycle.

DK1 Where?

DK2 Doh… At the supermarket in the UK! Or the toxic waste station in the USA. Doesn’t matter where you are – just type “BATTERY RECYCLING” into Google with your postcode or address, and your search engine will tell you where your nearest recycling point is.

DK1 So this piece should really be called ‘Batteries in the garbage’?

DK2 Have it your way.

WHAT YOU WILL SAVE

The planet.

It’s shameful enough that kids live on pickings from dumps without being poisoned by the residue from corroded batteries. Picture by Abhishek from Shutterstock.

And finally, by public demand…

Her Imperial Winsomeness, Princess Maris Piper Desirée Boulangère Keane O’Neill sitting on my dressinggown in our bidet. She is a joyous dynamo who needs no batteries.

Before you go…

If you’re enjoying these pieces, please share the links with your friends and family. And do sign up to follow… just scroll back up to the top, press the blue button and you’ll get an email when there’s a new piece – and ONLY when there’s a new piece to read.

HELIUM BALLOONS

We all love helium balloons, don’t we? Pretty floaty things that cheaply cheer up a dreary event room for hire… Personalise them and someone will feel a little warmer around the heart – Happy 80th Birthday Grandad! Dennis and Dave’s Wedding! Poppa’s Little Princess! Give your loved one a heart shaped balloon for Valentine’s Day… awww….

Awww, he must love me if he bought me a love shaped balloon…
Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

And then, when we’ve had a few glasses of wine, there’s the added fun of undoing the balloon and breathing in the helium, and speaking in a weird high voice for a few sentences. We’ve all done it, it’s ridiculous and very very funny.

Except I now feel a little bit guilty about that innocent bit of fun, because now I know that helium is an incredibly rare and marvellous gas and maybe I shouldn’t be using it so flippantly.

Helium… hmmm… this is one of those subjects that makes me wish I’d paid more attention to my science lessons in school.  But I was a giddy musical geek who gave science up as soon as I possibly could. So bear with me.

Eek, it’s getting a bit sciency!!!

Helium is one of six noble gases. The noble gases are all called noble because they are incredibly stable, and helium wins first prize as being the most chemically inert element yet discovered. It won’t blow up or become corrupted with other gases. If helium were a person, it would be the Dalai Llama:  stable, adaptable, brilliant, admirable, noble, but unrepeatable when it’s gone. (That’s entirely my flight of fancy – please don’t tell any scientists you’ve met. And if you’re a scientist, pretend you haven’t read it.)

It’s also the second lightest of the gases. Hydrogen is lighter, but you wouldn’t want hydrogen balloons at your party. Students of 20th Century history will know of the terrible tragedy of the Hindenburg, the German passenger airship that blew up in 1937, killing 36. The jury’s still out on what actually started the fire, but certainly the hydrogen used to lift the dirigible was highly flammable.

Strangely, in spite of being the second most abundant gas in the universe, here on planet earth, helium is one of the world’s rarest elements, making up about 0.0005% of the earth’s atmosphere. It’s harvested from underground, from fields of other gases as a by-product of those gases.

Helium’s lightness is its downfall – or perhaps I should say, it’s upfall – because the minute it hits the surface of the earth it vamooses into outer space.  Gravity has no effect on it.  Whoosh, and it’s gone.  That’s why it’s so brilliant for party balloons. 

It’s put to better use in MRI scanners, where it acts as a coolant for the superconducting magnets that produce those astonishing images of your insides, and which have become such vital diagnostic tools.

The magic machine. Photo by Ken Treloar on Unsplash

It’s a key component of the tanks that deep-sea divers wear – mixing it with oxygen helps prevent them getting “the bends”.  Without it, the Large Hadron Collider wouldn’t exist. Not only that, I’ve had to end my dreams of making my fortune smuggling radioactive materials because I’ve discovered that Helium-3 can aid in detecting neutrons from a long distance. It really is the most miraculous stuff.  

Since helium is so scarce and non-renewable, scientists and manufacturers are very keen that we don’t waste it.  Only 14 plants around the world produce helium for sale, in the following countries (and in order of quantity produced) – USA, Qatar, Algeria, Russia, Poland and Australia  Some of those plants only produce tiny amounts.

The USA did have huge quantities which had been stockpiled in the Federal Helium Reserve, but the stocks outstripped the demand for so long that in 1996, the US Government decided to get rid of its surplus, and cheaply.

However, as more and more uses have been found for this wonder gas, it’s become more expensive.  From 2007 to 2017, the price went up by 250%.

Crisis

In July 2017, the blockade of Qatar by a large group of other Arab countries meant the second largest supplier of helium was suddenly unable to sell or shift it out of the country. The blockade continues.

If that can happen, one can assume that those few other sources might not be much more reliable.  Algeria is hardly a model state. We live in an age of political instability. In August 2017, the EU was so concerned about stocks of this vital element that it added helium’s name to the list of Critical Raw Materials.  And who’d have thought that the President of the United States might threaten trade wars all over the place?  

I am indebted to Samantha Sophia on Unsplash for this excellent photo
of the 45th President of the United States of America.

This is all in spite of the fact that a huge reserve of helium was discovered in the Rift Valley, Tanzania in 2016.  You’d think people in the know would have been rejoicing and dancing in the street, but they’re still worried.  Supplies have not yet come on stream, and the price of helium rose 10% in the month after the find.  

Sadly, Tanzania is bedeviled by corruption and political instability.  The democracy established in 1994 that made the country so attractive to international investors for thirty years has proved tragically fragile, and the current president, John Magufuli, has rapidly transformed the country into a dictatorship of the usual depressing brutality.  You know the kind of thing – corruption, people disappearing, mutilated bodies turning up on beaches.

Okay, the quantity of helium found in the Rift Valley is very considerable, and it gives the world a great big breathing space (in a funny high voice).   But more and more uses are being found for the gas.  Yes, there will be more helium deposits found.  Higher prices of the gas will encourage more gas fields to harvest it from ever tinier deposits instead of letting it escape into the atmosphere as happens now.  Labs are finding ways to recycle it, and there is always the prospect of mining for it on the moon. 

But wouldn’t it be a bitter irony if we couldn’t have a vital MRI scan in 20 years time because we’d squandered so much of this marvellous stuff on party balloons?

What you will save

It depends if you’re planning Macy’s parade or having a party for three-year olds.  Hobbycraft online offer a Helium Balloon bundle for £28.  For that you get a helium canister, 10 white latex, 10 neon and 10 assorted balloons,  a packet of Unique Party Iridescent Curling Ribbon, and 6 Black Foil Balloon Weights.  No information is given about what to do with the empty canister, the iridescent curling ribbon and the foil weights… hmmm…

P.S.

Helium balloons come in three types.  Foil (known in the US as Mylar), latex and Macy’s parade.  The foil balloons are nasty little bastards, and have caused an enormous number of serious power cuts (or in the current rather ugly language, power outages).  It’s cos they float away, innit, and when they come into contact with power lines, they can cause a power surge or a short circuit.   Result – fires, melted electrical wires, power cuts, possible injuries, damage to properties, and enormous inconvenience all round.

So pretty, so annoying…
Photo by Samantha Gades on Unsplash

If and when they bypass the power lines, they just float on up and up and up, expanding as they go. At about 7,000 feet, they often explode, or float into the countryside. Death Valley is apparently littered with thousands of spent party balloons. Lovely. Especially as they’re not biodegradable. So many reasons not to buy the little buggers. 

P.P.S.

I can’t leave without mentioning Lawn Chair Larry, the Californian daredevil who strapped a load of helium-filled weather balloons to an aluminium garden chair and shot up to 16,000 feet, drifted into LAX airport airspace, and finally came to earth on Long Beach having done a ton of damage to some power lines en route? Here he is, lifting off…

I’ve searched extensively to find who owns this picture but no joy. I feel strongly about correct credits so if you contact me, I am happy to pay the usual royalty.

Just in case you’re tempted to do the same thing, the notoriety destroyed him. He seems to have only had sporadic employment, and finally shot himself through the heart in Angeles National Forest. 

A sad ending.

Ooh, the things I have found out since starting this blog…! I dragged that photo (sorry, but at least I’m fessing up) from a website called findagrave.com. It was uploaded by Scott Michaels, I’m presuming he was the photographer and I’ve written him a nice email to tell him I’ve used his snap and I’ll pay him if necessary. What interesting hobbies some people do have!


ANTIBACTERIAL LAUNDRY CLEANSER

Are you planning to eat your underpants? Suck your jeans? Bandage a nasty cut with your freshly washed sweater? 

No? Then you do not need Dettol® Antibacterial Laundry Cleanser. 

This is the ultimate three-card trick of the laundry world, the cleverest, most pernicious con-job I’ve seen in a long time. Talk about inventing something completely unnecessary…

I am racking my brains to think why you might need hygienic clothing. 

Are you working in a research lab under the strictest of conditions? In which case, the lab will have its own routines, procedures and special clothing that keep the lab sterile. Same with a hospital. 

Are you looking after someone ill? You still don’t need antibacterial laundry cleanser because believe me, if the patient is THAT sick that they need totally sterile conditions, they won’t be at home under your care, they’ll be in an Intensive Care Unit.

Do you work with livestock? Have you just chucked up all over a favourite blouse? In which case, soaking the soiled articles in a bucket overnight, rinsing and then washing in a modern machine with modern detergent should do the trick. Repeat the process if there’s still a whiff or a stain. 

Look, clean clothing is nice. We all enjoy putting on a crisp, freshly laundered shirt. But it’s a shirt. It’s not dinner. It’s not a bandage. It doesn’t need to be hygienic. 

And here it is, in serried ranks, waiting to be bought…
© Chloë Goodridge, special researcher to Ms. Keane

The power of three

Dettol® are really onto a winner here, because this product is being sold as a third component of your wash. Yes, they advise you to use it IN ADDITION to detergent AND fabric conditioner. (I assure you, there’ll be a piece here on fabric conditioner later, fret not.) 

Here are the ingredients. I don’t pretend to understand them individually, all I know is that they are yet more ENTIRELY unnecessary chemicals being put into the poor overloaded sewage system.

Per 100 g Liquid, contains 1.44 g Quaternary Ammonium Compounds, Di-C8- 10- Alkyldimethyl, Chlorides and 0.96 g Quaternary Ammonium Compounds, Benzyl-C12-18-Alkyldimethyl, Chlorides, Contains 5% Non-Ionic Surfactants, Disinfectant, Perfume, Butyl Phenyl Methyl Propional, Hexyl Cinnamal and Citronellol.

That’s a lot of chemicals to get out of the system to make our tap water drinkable. Even if you insist on drinking bottled water (and I most sincerely hope you don’t), it’s nice to know you have potable water to make your tea and boil your vegetables in.

Still life with biscuit tin. How many laundries has the water in my tea been through, I wonder?

New products make waves

As far as I am aware, this is a new product on the market. I haven’t yet discovered any other anti-bloody-bacterial bloody laundry bloody cleansers for sale. (Let me know if I’m wrong – I can always edit!) But I have a ghastly feeling that now this has come on sale, the suits in the other detergent/cleanser companies will be cacking themselves in fright because Dettol® have stolen a march on them.

“Say, Chuck! Have you seen this new product, Dettol® Antibacterial Laundry Cleanser?”

“OMG, Sir, I just saw the cutesie-cutesie ad on TV last night for the first time and I shat my pants, it was such a great idea!”

“Yes siree, bob, and it’s for moments like that that we NEED to be selling an Antibacterial Laundry Cleanser of our own!”

“Don’t worry, Sir, I’ve authorised the Research and Development Team to get working on our own product!”

“Good man. We’ll strike the fear of laundry-related disease into the public.”

OMG, my cupboard is full of unhygienic clothing!

Fear sells

This product is a perfect example of Steve Jobs’ theory that we, the public, don’t know what we want until we see it in all its glory.

There are various marketing strategies that companies use, but the cleverest inspire either Lust or Fear. The iPhone was such a glorious piece of technology it made us weak with lust. On the other hand, this new laundry product reminds us that we are scared rigid about bacteria and socially terrified of being smelly. 

Here’s some of the blurb from the Sainsbury’s website. 

Dettol Laundry Cleanser is an additive that kills 99.9% of bacteria giving odour-free freshness : 1. Kills 99.9% of bacteria, even below 20ºC so that you can be confident that your laundry is hygienically clean every time, whatever temperature you wash at (proven to work in rinse cycle temperatures as low as 15ºC) 2. Gives odour-free freshness for up to 12 hours. It doesn’t just cover up malodour but eliminates odour causing bacteria at source….”

“Ideal for towels, children’s clothes, underwear, socks, bedding …and more…”

To kill viruses**
Soaking: add 1 cap to 2.5L of water and leave to soak for 15 mins
**Laboratory tested on influenza H1 N1; RSV; Coronavirus; Herpes Simplex Type

Note the various fear-triggering words in there…

  • bacteria
  • odour
  • malodour
  • children
  • viruses
  • influenza
  • herpes

…all designed to make you worried about something you NEVER thought of before – the fact that your laundry might emerge from the wash like creatures from the deep… contaminated and riddled with viruses!

Clean Seasalt socks. Whoever thought they might give me flu AND herpes!!!

Listen. You get your clothes out of the washing machine and dry them – tumble drier, washing line, heated towel rail – it doesn’t matter which. During the drying process they will come into contact with the air which is full of all sorts of microscopic bugs that we can do NOTHING about and which mainly do us NO harm. 

Maybe a fly lands on your t-shirt while it’s drying. Are you going to wash it again? Don’t be daft. 

You pop your knickers on and, whoopsie doo! A wee fart escapes. Are you going to wash them again? I no nink no. 

You do your trousers up and the dog jumps up to say hello. Are you going to put them back in the machine immediately? Don’t be ridiculous.

And if you’re not completely convinced, here’s this from the product description. 

Causes serious eye damage.

Ah. That’s not so good. Here’s another.

Harmful to aquatic life with long lasting effects.

We are washing this stuff into the sewage system???

Oh, and there’s yet another empty plastic bottle at the end of it which is going to go… er… where?  Landfill, of course!!!!

Landfill. Not one of humankind’s greatest achievements.
Photo by Ayotunde Oguntoyinbo on Unsplash

Time was when Dettol® was a comforting product. Mum always had a bottle under the sink so that if a kid got sick on the bathroom floor, or the cat pooped in the kitchen, she’d clear it up, mop the floor and then go over it with a bit of Dettol®. She dabbed cuts and grazes with it too. The smell was clean and hospitally and safe. That’s not so surprising, as it started its life in hospitals where it was used in surgical procedures to clean cuts, wounds etc.

Now, it’s owned by Reckitt Benckiser, a British multinational consumer goods company, and it’s just another brand trying to make a buck in an increasingly crowded and competitive marketplace. Long term responsibility towards the planet doesn’t figure in the world of retail sales, I guess. Shame on them.

YOU DO NOT NEED HYGIENIC CLOTHING. I REPEAT, AND I MAKE NO APOLOGY FOR SHOUTING, YOU DO NOT NEED HYGIENIC CLOTHING. YOU DO NOT NEED THIS PRODUCT!!!

Finally, a word from Miss P.

Piper knows instinctively that a comforting cuddle is far more important than hygienic laundry.

PATIO HEATERS

Remember when you were a kid and you went to a bonfire night party and you stood by the huge fire?   Remember how your front was always roasting and your back was freeeeeeeeezing? 

Patio heaters are even less efficient than that.  

My googling tells me they cost anything from about £100 to £570.  They heat the open air.  The open air is a very big space.  It boldly goes all the way to Alpha Centauri and beyond.  And when you’ve heated a bit of that air, you have to buy another gas bottle to heat more air.  

And yes, I know that there’s an atmosphere between us and the great emptiness of outer space, I’m just trying to highlight the sheer futility of heating the outdoors. Especially as spring is finally here and the urge to sit outside gets stronger and stronger, and you suddenly become aware of all kinds of garden gubbins filling the shops: gazebos, swing seats and all that kind of mullarkey.

Of course patio heaters come in all shapes and types.  There are wall mounted, ceiling mounted and freestanding heaters.  There are tabletop heaters, and halogen bulb electric heaters.  There are fire pits, chimineas and every kind of stylish wood burning brazier which even I will admit I find attractive.  It’s a deeply primaeval need that impels us to huddle around a fire with a bunch of mates clutching a beer and a burnt sausage. 


Some years ago, I gave the Beloved a Chimenea for his birthday in desperation because I couldn’t think of anything else.  We put it together and lit it for the friends who’d gathered for a few bevvies, and have never used it since.  Piper didn’t want to pose and I now realise the decking needs a good scrub.  

However, it should be emphasised that whilst it is not a great idea to heat the outdoors at all in an overheating world, the ones that do the real damage are the ones with the gas bottles because they have special horrid qualities all their own. 

Time to give a big shout out to…

Surprising eco heroes? I don’t have permission to post this logo, but I don’t think they’ll mind me praising them.

In 2008, Curry’s actually stopped selling patio heaters because of ecological concerns.  (If you’re reading this anywhere else in the world, Curry’s is a huge electrical retailer in the UK with 295 superstores and 73 high street shops.)  This was a highly significant move on their part.  If only all those pubs and restaurants with outside heaters would follow suit.  

Curry’s decision came after a report the previous year by the EST (Energy Saving Trust) who found that the average patio heater emits around 50kg (110lb) of carbon dioxide per year.  So it doesn’t just heat the air, it emits that horrible CO2 that does so much damage to our lovely world.

Just in case you want to dismiss the EST as a bunch of spoilsport eco extremists, it’s actually an independent, impartial not-for-profit organization funded by the UK government and the private sector.   Its purpose is to advise on ways to save energy.   When the Chief Executive announced the findings of their research, he said, ‘Why don’t people just wear a jumper?’  Bless him.  A man after my own heart.

Even better – find someone else in a jumper and cuddle up.  Photo by Tom The Photographer on Unsplash

Clothing and fabrics have come a long way.  If you can afford a patio heater, you can afford a decent fleece or a duvet coat.  There are intelligent fabrics around these days that ensure that we don’t need to be cold ever again. Well, not in the normal way of things;  I’m assuming you aren’t living in Trondheim or half-way up a Himalaya.   Textile manufacturers have studied the business of keeping warm and there have been astonishing innovations in materials that will make sure you don’t freeze.  (And no, I’m not going to get into the subject of polyester, etc., right now.)  Fabrics can breathe, they can let sweat out and keep warmth in.  You can even get clever gloves that allow you to play with your iPhone without taking the gloves off.  Like your mum said, wrap up warm and you’ll be ok. 

Why would you want to heat the air?  Why in the name of sanity would you want to sit outside when it’s too cold to sit outside without a patio heater? Why, in an overheated, still overheating world, would you want to heat the air? 

What you’ll save

Let’s just go for the top of the range, shall we?  The Stainless Steel Goliath gas flame heater is £570.  You can get cheaper, but surely you want the best? For £570, you get just one of these babies – the stainless steel one which, for no fathomable reason, is more expensive than the black or white version.  Oh, and just remember, the gas will need replacing.  I don’t know about you, but replacing gas bottles becomes an awful faff after a bit. 

But, hey, it is a stylish piece of design and will heat your front, your sides AND your back, so long as you keep rotating.   

Here is the Goliath in all its glory.  Please do click on the link if you wish to purchase.  I won’t receive any payment.  Even I can see it’s a nice piece of kit, especially if you’ve decided that being out of doors on a cold evening is better than going inside and getting warm. 

Another idea…

Let’s just imagine what you could buy with £570 instead – and never have to struggle with changing the gas…

How about this marvel for starters?

I love the design of this The North Face – Summit L3 Down Hoodie – Down jacket but the name’s a bit of a mouthful

Normally this retails for £296.95 but at the time of publishing, this is going cheap for a mere £193.02 including VAT from Alpine Trek. Buy now to avoid disappointment!

Just in case you’re like me and always cold, why not add a fleece underlayer? This vibrant Arc’teryx garment is known as a Covert Cardigan. Yes, like a secret cardigan for rugged types, because as we all know, cardies can be a bit ageing. Not this splendid article though! This will set you back £140 at the Arc’teryx shop (ooh, doncha love that super-kool apostrophe!) in London where it is currently available in Kingfisher blue. Just click on the link to order it.

Arc’teryx get fabulous reviews on websites like switchbacktravel.com

You will have plenty left over to purchase these amazing electric gloves. So whether you’re guzzling frankfurters in a chilly back garden, hunting moose in Alaska, or simply suffering from arthritis, your hands never need be cold again! Worth every penny at £119.99 from Amazon.

Rechargeable batteries too!

Total spend so far – £453.01. And all of these items so much more portable than a patio heater!

You still have financial room to purchase a full set of thermals from Blacks, the excellent camping and leisure shops.  You’ll want two sets – one in the wash and one on the body – so that’ll set you back £30 (£15 each).

I’ve got a set of these – fan-bloody-tastic

To be honest, I’m finding it difficult to spend the full £570 – so far, the total spend is £483.01 so you’ve still got £86.99 left… How about 84 bars of delicious Kendal Mint Cake, a very popular choice amongst climbers for restoring energy in adverse weather?

You can order just 42 bars for £18 but I’ve taken advantage of the offer of free postage for orders over £20.

Now add this beautiful paisley scarf from John Henric of Sweden, a snip at £45 (currently reduced from £89 – don’t say I don’t find you bargains!)

Pity about the tie – it would be equally fab on a woman.

Trigger warning

Pictures of meat coming up. Both cooked and uncooked. I thought it best to mention.

So you are finally left with the princely sum of £5.99 which is just enough for two packs of Black Farmer Sausages which are my absolute favourites and which have the added bonus of being gluten free!

If you haven’t tried them, you haven’t lived. (With apologies to vegetarians and vegans who obvs have lived and do continue to live happily and healthily.)

Other things you can do

Does your local pub/café/restaurant have patio heaters?   Perhaps you might instigate a gentle and polite chat with the publican/owner/restaurateur and encourage them to either turn them off completely or at least use them a great deal less.  If it turns out that they have them on to keep smokers warm, perhaps you could point out that smokers might smoke a bit less if they think they’re going to freeze to death before lung disease carts them off to Paradise.  Thus, you will be contributing positively to the health of local smokers.  There you are, you see – two good deeds in one! 

What should I do with my old patio heater?

The gas cylinder can be taken back by the company you got it from.  The rest of the heater needs to be taken apart, and probably by someone who knows how to do it.  The stainless steel/cast iron/aluminium parts can be recycled as scrap, other components can’t be recycled and its ultimate destination is landfill, I’m sorry to say.  Yep, it’s yet another bloody potential pollutant.  So if you’ve got one, just leave it on the patio till someone invents a way of disposing of the whole thing. 

A final question…

Should we give up barbecuing?

Blimey, what a thought. 

Imagine the cultural impact on Australia and South Africa if barbies and braais were banned!!!  Whole nations would be in crisis!  I don’t want to be responsible for national trauma, thank you. 

Seriously, “I don’t know” is my straight answer, but my feeling is that barbies are probably less damaging given that we use our barbecues for a far shorter time than we use the patio heater.  Once the chicken legs or veggie brochettes are on the plate, the fire dies down or the gas is turned off… but then we stay out all evening under that bloody patio heater, emitting CO2 like lunatics…  it’s not really in the same league, is it?

And besides, the Beloved likes nothing better than transforming a humble chop into pure anthracite and wrapping his gob round it moments later.  There’s no way I’d be able to make him relinquish his role as The Great Blackener of Meat.  One has to accept one can only do so much.

Meals of pure charcoal are an inevitable part of my summer.  Particularly when it’s beginning to rain.  Photo by Paul Hermann on Unsplash

A word from Miss Pips

Here is a picture of Piper in the snow, wearing nothing but her Christmas Kerchief.  She doesn’t know why we don’t grow lovely thick coats like she’s got.

SHOWER GEL

This subject sparked a surprisingly difficult conversation.  A group of us were sitting in my friend Margaret’s lovely California garden, talking through various ideas for this blog.  As we were throwing around suggestions, I piped up with the words “shower gel”!!!!

There was an uncomfortable shifting of bottoms, and several throats were cleared.  I do believe I remember someone whistling tunelessly. 

After a long silence, someone spoke in a voice so studiedly neutral that I should have known I was on dangerous ground.  

“So!   Er… what do you wash with instead?”

“Soap,’” said I, still unaware of the thinness of the ice beneath my feet.

A polite but tense conversation followed.  Then someone uttered the following words:

“I can’t bear the idea of washing myself with something that’s been up someone’s bum!”

Dear oh dear oh dear.

Let it be said here and now that I would never do such a thing.  Here is my shower routine in egregious detail.  

  • I takes off me clothes.
  • I turns on me shower.
  • When it’s running nice and hot, I enters and stands under the spray.  Ooh, wet!
  • I takes the bar of soap in my hands
  • I works up a nice lather
  • I puts the soap back on the rack
  • I then washes me bits.

Far too much information, I know, but sadly essential information in the crazy world we inhabit.

Shower gel is a con trick.  Big companies have subliminally persuaded us that watered down soap with added chemicals in a plastic bottle (which will take thousands of  years to decompose) is somehow better than soap in a bar which came in a paper wrapping.  Why?  My bet’s on the simple fact that soap lasts far too damn long for their liking. 

And how often have you squeezed a goodly blob onto your hand, only to have it plop onto the shower floor?  So then you have to squish yet more into your hand.  Intentional waste on the part of the company? Surely not… 

Folk love shower gel because they don’t like gooey soap and the advertising is frothily persuasive.  Actually, you can avoid the soap going gooey, but we’ll come to that later. 

Time for a photo

Yes, an entirely unnecessary picture of the towel cupboard under our sink, but I did a masterclass in blogging and I was told that regular pictures were vital for keeping the reader interested.  And there’s a strong link between showers and towels.

The dogs’ towels are the ones bottom left.

What’s in shower gels?

They’re all different.  There are “ethical” ones, but here’s a list of things the less savoury – but hugely popular – gels might contain. (Sorry to be snarky to ethical companies, but anything packaged in plastic can no longer be entirely ethical, no matter how good the intentions.)

            1         Parabens.  A chemical that stabilises the liquid and has been linked to various skin conditions including rosacea, a nasty condition that leaves the skin red and irritated.  My own personal evidence is entirely anecdotal – so if you know better, please contact me.  However, my eczema is now virtually gone since I returned to soap.  Not only that, a very close friend who shall be nameless had really horrid rosacea which included pimples all o’er his pate (he won’t thank me for sharing this) and since he has shifted to paraben-free shower gels, his pate is a lovely shining thing, entirely free of pustular infestation.  (He won’t thank me for that either.) (But he is nameless.)

            2         Palm Oil.  You know those photographs of great swathes of beautiful jungle being ripped up and young orang-utans orphaned in the process?  Much of this is to plant oil palm trees to produce palm oil.   Palm oil is made from the fleshy fruits;  it has a high yield and is very stable once processed, which makes commercial developers simply dribble with pleasure at their future profits.   Oil palms have long been used as a cooking oil in the East.  This was all well and good when used in moderation.  But en masse, in great uniform monocultural blocs,  palm oil plantations are utterly lousy for the environment, lousy for the wildlife that lived in the jungle. lousy for the long term health of the planet, lousy for the air your children and grandchildren will breath, lousy lousy lousy.  And no, I dunno why they use it, there are enough shower gels that don’t… 

Miles and miles of uniform planting. Ugly, damaging, and all for Big Corporation Profit. And yes, I paid £7 for this photo from iStock

           3         Microbeads.  Teensy weensy, incey wincey bits of plastic so small you can feel them, but hardly see them.  Marvellous for exfoliating the skin, dahling – but shit for everything else. Happily, these are now being banned by more and more countries.  But not everywhere yet.  And they’re really worrying scientists now, because they think these tiny beads might get into our bodies through the food chain.   Fish and microplastic chips, anyone?   Scary. And dangerous.

           4         Long lists of chemicals you and I don’t understand, like sodium lauryl sulphate which makes it sudsy.  Oh, I’m sure they’re all ok.   No, really, I am.

And all the above chemicals wash into the system and need to be washed out by yet more chemicals so that we can have drinkable tap water. 

Believe me, soap is a much simpler beast, and there are some wonderful hand-made soaps out there.  Unfortunately, it seems that men are harder to persuade.

Men and their gels!

The Beloved won’t have it.   It’s gel all the way with him.   Minty-zesty-hunky gel with manly, inky-blue packaging.  Butch, pine-infused gel intended to waft the impression that he has just felled a stretch of virgin forest with his teeth. If he saw a gel called “Polish Steelworkers Body Wash – only a Real Man can squeeze me!!!” I swear he’d buy it.  He pops his bottle in the shower and within a month he’s replaced it with another preposterously marketed bottle which panders to his masculine ego while I’m still waiting for the silvery label on my Cussons Imperial Leather to fall off.

His ‘n’ hers view of our shower. This month, the Beloved prefers to imagine he’s cresting a wave. Note my deeply industrial looking soap. The tiles are hideous, I can’t think why I chose them. Oh yes, they were cheap.

Mind you, it’s not just about marketing;  it’s the Ease of the Squeeze.  Soap involves work!  And it’s so exhausting!   He has to reach his poor tired arms up to the soap dish, lift the offending bar – oh my, how heavy can soap be? – and then rub like the blazes to create some frothy suds!  Not only that, he would have to do it several times every shower!   Exhausting!   With eezi-peesi-squeezi gel, especially the kind that comes in a bottle you can hang up thus saving the effort of actually lifting up the bottle, he just reaches out, squishes with thumb and forefinger and suddenly, he is Tarzan.

Actually, there is a Tarzan soap on the market!

I don’t have permission to use this rather fab photo, so here is the link in case you fancy ordering some. https://edgarriceburroughs.com/store/product/tarzan-soap-rectangle/

Yes, I know there are gels aimed at girls.  Probably designed with pink pearly packaging and a honeyed voice that says, “Go on, pamper yourself!” every time you twist the top.  (If it hasn’t been invented yet, it will be.) 

So how is soap so superior, then?

A bar of soap comes wrapped in a bit of paper and lasts months if you take it out of its packet immediately you get home.  That makes it harden so when you come to use it, it lasts longer. 

Oh, and just in case you enjoyed that completely unnecessary sexual innuendo, turn the soap over when you put it down so that soft side is facing upwards.  This way, the soap doesn’t go gooey in the soap dish.

So come on folks, come back to soap.  It’s cheaper, it’s greener, it almost always has a lower carbon footprint as it doesn’t travel nearly as far, it lasts much longer and it does the job just as well.

Some soaps are almost too cute to use. We live in a converted piggery so I love these cute piggy-wig soaps!

A quick warning

Although soap is a much simpler product than gel, some soaps are made with tallow (animal fat) which persons of a veggie leaning would prefer to avoid, and others are made with Palm Oil which is the Great Satan of the tree world.  So check contents. 

Confession

I fall by the wayside too sometimes.  I was once given a present of some Jo Malone grapefruit gel and it was so divine I’ve occasionally bought it as a gift if I’m going to stay with a chum.  (I probably won’t from now on, though – I’d feel a bit hypocritical.)  I’m not advocating a hair shirt lifestyle.  Just trying to inject a little thought into our automatic shopping….

And no, I am not being sponsored by Jo Malone.

What you will save

It’s impossible to be specific because it depends on what brand you buy, but let’s say a family of four uses a bottle of shower gel every month.  I mean each of them.  That’s 48 bottles destined for landfill every year.  Imagine what a street of 100 dwellings with, say, 2 adult occupants produces every year.  That’s 2400 empty shower gel bottles.  Imagine a city.  A state.  A country.   Millions and millions of empty bottles, bobbing their way to the sea.

Now do you think soap is a good idea?

What you can do

  • Attend craft fairs.  There are usually stalls of gorgeous handmade soaps.  Just check they aren’t made with palm oil which in my book is a great deal worse than tallow.
  • Make your own soap.  Personally, I’d prefer to make chutney, but if you fancy it, there are lots and lots of recipes out there in internet-land.  I have to say, however, that I was disappointed to see how many vegan soap recipes contained Palm Oil…
  • Invent a soap that smells strongly of a mix of petrol and pine and market it for BLOKES.   Include some pine needles to give him some scrub-a-dub-dub exfoliating goodness.  Let me know and I will certainly order some for the Beloved  Actually, given his equestrian leanings, eucalypt and horse manure might do just as well.  (I promise I will still love you, darling… ) 
My dog, Piper, enjoying the spring by the spring a couple of days ago. (That’s a spring, not a pond.) She loathes gels and soaps of any kind, and prefers to bathe in 100% fox poo.

LUXURY TOILET PAPER

On 27th September 2017, I read this in an email from Greenpeace.

“We’ve just found out that Velvet, the luxury loo roll, is using wood pulp from the Great Northern Forest to make its toilet paper. The forest stores huge amounts of carbon and plays a critical role in holding back the impact of climate change – but it’s at risk of being wiped away forever. And all for posh paper.”

Blimey. (more…)