Nothing but a number

It’s difficult to feel indifferent about arsenic in our rice when arsenic has always had such a bad press.

Back in the mid-19th century it was known as the “perfect murder weapon” especially in the hands of women. They were the ones in charge of the kitchen and the sick bed and so were well placed to prepare a tempting looking dinner in which the white odourless, tasteless poisonous powder we call arsenic had been added to the gravy in revenge for a husband’s faithless ways. It was also known as the “inheritor’s powder” due to stories of impatient heirs using it to knock off rich relatives who were taking too long to leave the world.

A large dose would kill someone in hours, while a steady, small dose would make it appear that the person died from natural causes. The poison used to be extremely difficult to detect after death, until the English chemist James Marsh developed a reliable test in 1832.

Even after that, only the victims of suspicious deaths were tested — so many arsenic killers chalked up multiple victims before being caught.

Although today the sale of arsenic is strictly controlled, it is not easy for people to accept that the kind of arsenic now found in rice, is okay to eat.

To understand this, you need to know that arsenic is an element in the earth’s crust that’s naturally found in the air, water and soil. So the fact that it is in rice isn’t entirely alarming. Arsenic is absorbed by the plant as it grows in the paddy fields.

So far the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not set a limit on the amount of plain rice adults should eat. Instead, it recommends adults “eat a well-balanced diet for good nutrition and to minimise potential adverse consequences from consuming an excess of any one food”.

I think it’s going to take a while for people to feel comfortable about eating and serving rice even when it is cooked in plenty of water. In fact, if I were you I would not ask my mother-in- law round for a curry and rice supper until you’ve heard she’s cooked rice a few times for herself. And survived.

Showers of blessings

What a treat to wake up on Thursday morning to find there had been good rain overnight. All sorts of things were witness to that fact: big puddles in the road, the Keyser River running strongly down the cycle path; the streams in the Lower Tokai Park all with water after months of being bone dry.

There was even water pouring through the grounds of Forest Glade residential area as it usually does whenever we’ve had a decent rainfall in the past.

Ironic that rain arrived on June 22, the day after our shortest day, when our day was just one second longer and therefore one second nearer our summer. Psychologically it is always good to have passed the mid-winter solstice, except that this year we still need to have lots more winter rain to break our drought.

Monolithic matriarch

It was a shock to see how old and bored Prince Charles looked seated next to Queen Elizabeth when she read her speech last week. He was standing in for Prince Philip who was admitted to hospital as a “precautionary measure”.
One has to sympathise with Charles. The Prince of Wales at 68 is the longest serving heir in UK history and would become the oldest ever British monarch to take the throne on accession. At 91 his mother shows no signs of slowing down and has said she will not abdicate. This month marked her 64th year since her coronation, meaning he has been waiting in the wings for 64 of his 68 years.

Furry vision

Mitch now sports a contact lens. It is being used as a bandage to help to heal a slow-healing ulcer on his cornea.
I thought our vet was joking when he spoke about possibly fitting a contact lens after carrying out a procedure to close the eye to give the ulcer a chance to heal. After removing the stitches to reopen the eye and noticing that it was looking much better, he said he would “pop in a contact lens” to help the eye to heal.

Corneal ulcers can be quite painful as the cornea contains numerous nerve endings. So the lens provides comfort, keeps the lids from rubbing over the open area and may help to hold water-soluble antibiotic eye drops over the ulcerated area.
The lens has no impact on his vision.

Irreplacable artefacts

For the past few months the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra has carried a full-page adverts in its concert programmes inviting the public to sponsor one of the 88 keys on its new Steinway Concert Grand Piano at a cost of R18 000 a key. The good news is that only six keys are left. All the names of the people who have bought a key have been listed in each programme with Ben Rabinowitz being the leading sponsor who purchased eight keys.

Nothing but a number

The late Bob Hope took aging in his stride. On turning 70, he said: “I still chase women but only downhill.”
On turning 90: “You know you’re getting on when the candles cost more than the cake.”
On turning 100: “I don’t feel old. In fact, I don’t feel anything until noon. Then it’s time for my nap.”