Sunday, 29 November 2009

Green Plastic, the renaissance of Thalimide (?) over 50, the old ones are the best

The magic figure of 50 has featured large in my life this week. My wonderful PA Jennie celebrated her 50th birthday this week and it was great to see all her colleagues help in this celebration. Congratulations Jennie!

This week’s blog is a crowded one. Like yesterdays Times, I am starting with all things green. One third of yesterday’s front page was given over to the story of Chanel’s Jade nail polish. It was described as an interesting shade of medicinal mint. Originally sold for just £16, it was quickly fetching £64 on Ebay. I thought it was a bizarre choice of story given concerns over global warming, Afghanistan and solving world poverty. And as for good old Dr Foster and the reports of his excursions to Gloucester and hospitals all over the UK this week, that story will have to wait for next time.

If I sound irritated, it is because I am. Green has been the source of much of my irritation this week. I blame this state of being partly on the Canadian Harry Wasylyk. He was the guy who thought green plastic was cool, and was something we all needed in our lives. It was Harry who invented the ubiquitous plastic rubbish bag, which was originally only supplied in bright green plastic. Interestingly (for some) the bags were first supplied only to the Winnipeg General Hospital. Whilst rubbish bags now come in a range of colours, other plastic objects have stubbornly retained the luminosity of a frog on steroids. Thanks Harry. To see an example of this contemporary art form please visit floor one in the Mary Seacole Building. That is two floors below the Midwifery art exhibition, (which thankfully is presented in tasteful terracotta) and one floor above the Clasp, rusting gently outside in the piazza.

Thinking about it, perhaps green plastic objet d’art is not so bad after all.

Making a choice between buying nail polish at £64 a bottle, owning art and/or having enough money to buy food is something most of us don’t need to worry about, we buy the food. When the former British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan told the British people that they had never had it so good he was spot on. A comparative study, published this week, exploring our spending habits then and now, shows that although 50 years on we earn more, own more, and travel more, our lives are pretty miserable. These days most of us have big mortgages and endless bills, and a sense of having to work harder just to stand still.

In the 1950s once families had paid the rent, they concentrated on spending their income, mostly it seems on smoking, drinking and having fun. Cigarettes were the second most important item on the shopping list. Eating out was also popular and they liked a drink or two. Families in 1959 were spending 3% of their income on alcohol. Interestingly despite the media reports to the contrary, this was a greater proportion of the 1950s families’ income than we spend on alcohol today. However, the dominance of factory farming, supermarket price wars and cheap food has brought about some changes that some might consider progress. In 1959, when eating a chicken was considered a luxury (always considered barbaric by me), 30% of spending each week went on food compared with only 15% today. Today’s essentials (mobile phones and televisions) didn’t even feature back in 1959. However, all our spending on new technology also means bigger phone bills, mobile phone bills, car insurance and satellite and cable rental.

Sadly the report shows that, because of our increased wealth, we are now much more divided as a society than in the 1950s. For example, and perhaps somewhat critical to our ambitions for Media City, nearly every household in the richest tenth of the UK population has a computer and internet connection compared with just 21% among the poorest. I have the sense this societal imbalance is a never ending problem. I have been disheartened this week to read of the outcome of a clinical trial on the use of thalidomide in the treatment of Small Cell Lung Cancer. At the end of the trial researchers found no evidence of a survival difference between the two groups involved, although those who took the thalidomide drug had a higher risk of thrombotic events. Thalidomide is an anti-angiogenic drug. It targets and suppresses the formation of new blood vessels that tumours need to survive and grow. However, and particularly for those readers under the age of 50, thalidomide was used in over 46 countries following its launch in 1957, but its dreadful side effects led to over 10000 children being born with birth defects and the drug was subsequently banned in 1962. However, the drug is now experiencing what has been called a ‘worldwide renaissance’. Unfortunately, this renaissance is occurring particularly in many parts of Africa and South America where new cases of thalidomide-induced limb defects are increasingly being reported.

We know of these things because from a communications point of view, the world is becoming an ever growing (but smaller) global village. For example, 50 years ago the first transatlantic flight (from London to New York) took 8 hours 53 minutes (actually over 10 hour’s journey time) whereas today, the same journey can be done easily in less than 6 hours.

Indeed, this week it took Jennie just a few minutes to book flights, a hotel room, get the tickets and have everything printed off for my forth coming trip to Budapest. She tells me its all about organisation and planning. And so it seems. I heard the story this week of two older ladies meeting for the first time since leaving high school. One asked the other, You were always so organised in school, did you manage to live a well planned life?”

Oh yes,” said her friend. “My first marriage was to a millionaire, my second marriage was to an actor, my third marriage was to a preacher, and now I'm married to an undertaker

Her friend asked, “What do those marriages have to do with a well planned life?”

“One for the money, two for the show, three to get ready and four to go man go!”

Anyway, Jennie many thanks for all your help I hope the next 50 years are wonderful for you and yours - and in a back handed compliment sort of way, I want to say, as this joke shows, the old ones are always the best ones!