Sunday, 10 March 2013

Bright women, clever hens, confounding facts and a good old fashioned chat over a pint or two


Last night I came back from a week’s holiday in Scotland. One of the great things about being away on holiday without internet or TV access is that one has to revert to that old fashioned form of media communication, the humble newspaper. After many years now of reading my newspaper largely on line, it was interesting to see that the ink still rubbed off onto my fingers. 

Also interesting was one of the stories read last week. Women, it appears have a hippocampus, the part of the brain that plays a central role in memory, intelligence and emotion, that consumes less energy and uses fewer brain cells than in men. Women’s brains are 8% smaller than men, yet show no difference in intelligence. The study carried out by neuroscientists at the University of California showed that women out performed men in inductive reasoning were much better at keeping track of a changing situation and at some numerical skills.

And in all my years 40 years experience of keeping chickens I would have to say that the same is true for chickens. It is the hens, not the cockerel, that find the food, are the first to notice danger, take care of the young and do so with a great deal more ferocity than the cockerel, and of course, unlike the cockerel, lay wonderful life giving eggs.

Good to see that Tesco are now using their considerable might to ensure that all their chickens come from farms in the UK and from farms that rear chickens using humane and non factory methods. However, if we want to be self sufficient in home produced meat we are a way off –we only produce 40% of the beef eaten, 60% of the pork, 50% of the chickens. Lamb however; we are almost there, 85% of what gets eaten in produced in UK. Thankfully, being a vegetarian, this is a somewhat academic discussion.

And vegetarians were in the mid week news. Vegetarians apparently drink less alcohol, are more active, and more unlikely to smoke. These are so called 'confounding facts' that need to be taken into account when comparing the life threatening consequences of eating meat or not. Yes it’s that annual 'cut back on the number of sausages, meat pies and bacon butties you eat if you want to live longer' story. Apparently if meat eating people were to reduce their consumption of processed meat to a single chipolata a day, it could prevent 3000 early deaths a year in Britain.

The Scottish version of the Daily Telegraph chose to situate this story alongside one reporting the  Food Standards Agency setting up citizens forums to gauge what level of contamination in meat is 'achievable, detectable and acceptable'. In other words how much horse meat are you happy to eat.

And up there in Scotland, the talk was all about whether the NHS will still be available to Scots if the Yes vote is successful. Sally Russell was the catalyst. She has suffered from cystic fibrosis since birth and had opted to undergo a rare double lung transplant in Freemen Hospital - Newcastle. The 7 hour procedure is not available anywhere in Scotland. Interestingly, none of the people I have met this past week, plumbers, electricians, barmaids, aerial fitters, tar macadam technicians, BT engineers, and a farmer who wanted me to pay half the repair cost of a fence between his land and mine, had a good word to say about Alex Salmond and his plans for a independent Scotland.

And in a form of community communication even older than newspapers, that is having a good old fashioned chat over a cup of coffee, they all had plenty to say about the changing world they found themselves in. Mind you others seem oblivious to the desire of Scotland and its people to maintain their identity. Richard Branson's latest wheeze in air travel is something called ‘Little Red’ a new short haul service running between London and Edinburgh. Branson’s party invites, to the Little Red launch party promised there would be plenty of 'whiskey' for party goers to imbibe. And as we all know, to many 'e' additives are bad for your health.

What is good for promoting the health of many though is the new bar (called Shebeen) in Melbourne, Australia. See http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/global-observer/in-melbourne-changing-the-world-with-beer/9433?tag=nl.e660&s_cid=e660&ttag=e660 Shebeen is operated by Melbourne entrepreneur Simon Griffiths. It sells beer from around the world, and depending on what beer you drink, a charity in that country benefits by receiving the profit. Last year, Griffiths made headlines for sitting on a toilet for two days straight to raise AUD$50,000 (£24,000) for 'who gives a crap' (sorry Mum) a socially conscious start up which directs 50% of the money made on each roll of toilet paper toward sanitation for the development world. Hmmm, so looking forward to being able to watch the Andrew Marr show later on this morning!