Sunday, 15 May 2016

A telling time for love, health and happiness

2016 is a Leap year which means that today is the 136th day of the year (well at least in the Gregorian calendar that its). Which means that there are just 230 days remaining until the end of the year. Not that I am wishing my life away, but I’m think that this year is just flying past. It could just be my age of course. Logically I know that time passes with the same relentless rhythm as, well, a Breguet watch. These are fine watches and perhaps that is why they can be fairly expensive to buy.

In fact that most expensive watch in the world is a Breguet. It is the Breguet Grande Complication Marie-Antoinette – which is valued at US$ 30.000.00! This watch was originally commissioned by a lover of the French Queen, Marie Antoinette. It took 45 years to create! The watch was an amazing example of design and technology, and beautiful to look at too. If you want to take a look you will have to travel to the L A Mayer museum in Israel.

I haven’t ever felt the need to wear a watch. I wake up at the same time every day, and do so without the aid of an alarm clock or alarm call. My phone reminds me 15 minutes in advance that I am due to meet someone or be somewhere. But of course despite my not having a watch, time, from the moment we are born, keeps moving forward.

Today marks the day that Andy Murray, Brian Eno, Ralph Steadman, Mary Montagu, Ulrich Beck, Chris Ham and Zara Phillips among others were born, and their life clock started ticking. For 2 of these people, the clock has stopped. Ulrich Beck, who died in 2015, was one of the worlds most cited sociologists, famous for his work on the questions of uncontrollability, ignorance and uncertainty, and what he called the ‘risk society’.

But it is the other person no longer with us that I remember with fondness. Mary Montagu died in 1762, so clearly my fondness is not anything to do with knowing her, but I do know something about her life. And what an extraordinary life it was. At one time I was very interested in the economics of health care and Mary’s story would feature in some of my introductory lectures on the subject. I have great memories of my telling a version of her life story to many, many students over the last 20 years. 

She was born in 1689. She was an extremely bright child, and had learnt Latin before she was 8 years old. She was said to be beautiful, energetic and full of life. As she grew into a young women she became more self-willed, opinionated and eccentric. In 1712 she eloped to marry her first true lovel. Mary had a son a year later but in 1715 suffered a severe attack of smallpox, which completely ruined her good looks. She moved to Turkey around this time and it was while she was there that she observed the older women practicing variolation on their children.

This was a practice similar to inoculation, where a small amount of the disease causing matter was injected under the skin to prevent the disease itself being contracted. It was a great idea, but had its own health challenges. Mary, on her return to the UK tried to get the Government of the day to invest in the widespread practice of variolation – and despite her connections, energy and tenacity she failed to do so. It was several decades later (in the 1790’s) that one Edward Jenner had greater success.

Jenner is credited with the creation of vaccinations. In the case of Smallpox, vaccinating individuals with cowpox which then ensured they didn’t contract Smallpox. Unlike Mary, Jenner was able to persuade the Government of the day to part with £10,000, and in 1807 he was given another £20,000 for his contribution to proving the efficacy of vaccination programmes. The rest, as they say is history. 

Clearly Jenner’s work has had long lasting health benefits for us all, but I do have a soft spot for Mary and all she represented. For me she embodied many of the characteristics said to be associated with people born on this day each year. Such people tend be creative, full of charm, are reliable, competitive and intelligent. As lovers they are sensual and passionate. They tend to be inspired (and inspirational), talented and full of enthusiasm. However, despite being expressive they can also sometimes be impulsive, insecure and restless. But overall they tend to be dependable, and warm hearted. So here's wishing all of those born on the 15th May a very happy birthday!