Friday, 27 January 2012

The Fall of the Roman Empire

I've been dipping into Gibbon's Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire and a jolly good read it is, but it's too long and detailed for me. He gives good account of why Rome fell but he leaves uninvestigated other possible causes. We did them at school, the ones I remember. For instance the role played by lead. Plumbum they called it, and so Pb and the plumb line, a length of string with lead at the end to stop it wriggling about.

The Romans made water pipes by flattening a length of lead, rolling it into a tube and closing the joint with.. molten lead. Lead is poisonous and is considered a health risk. Not by the Romans, they even added it to their wine to make it more red. The ruling elite were big wine drinkers, they drank so much they went daft which led to the collapse of The Roman Empire. That’s one theory.

They had a mania for building aqueducts across hundreds of miles of countryside to bring water to towns and cities all over the Empire. It filled their baths, fountains and wash tubs for everyone to use. I was told the Romans built all these aqueducts because they didn’t know water flowed uphill if the supply head was high enough. They teach a load of rubbish at school. Anyway the constructions were so vast in size and number it exhausted their reserves of manpower, money and material. And that is why The Roman Empire collapsed. That's another theory. 

But plumbing isn’t just about delivering water it’s about removing it too. The Romans built sewers under their cities. In Rome the main sewer was called the Cloaca Maxima which had its own goddess, Cloacina she was called, Our Lady of the Sewers. It emptied into the Tiber carrying with it the remains of yesterday's fine dining, dead dogs and human beings. Close by the Tiber runs into a tideless sea. In time the stench and disease so overwhelmed the inhabitants it led to the collapse of The Roman Empire. Another theory.

The Romans made their drains from short two piece clay sections that tapered along their length. These are the tiles you see on roofs all over the Mediterranean. In later centuries freak storms became so frequent the roofs blew away whereupon the plebs dug up the drains to put tiles over their heads. Again the plague overwhelmed everyone and that's what led to the collapse of The Roman Empire. Another theory left unconsidered.

Gibbon's history runs from LXXXXVIII AD to MDLXXXX AD. By my calculation the Romans were around for MDCCCLXXXVII years, which is a long time. By then the numbers got so out of hand they simply threw the towel in. That's my theory.
'Slave, wash that!'
'Sorry sir, they've pinched all the lead.'

Friday, 20 January 2012


Is our everyday conscious life so satisfying it needs no holiday, our self awareness want no escape? Be realistic. Whether you’re blue, pissed off or your heart has been broken a drink helps. This is the remedy known as self medication. What you're supposed to do is Pull yourself together, Get a grip, Weather it. Or see a doctor and get some pills, one drug being better than another.

Perhaps you're in a unhappy marriage and you don't know it, another long evening with your partner and the clock slow to go round. Niggle niggle, you can't settle. It's the condition of man you tell yourself, existential angst, unaware you are over analysing. Drink darling? No thank you. I’ll have one on my own then. If you must. Where's my coat?

Or you live by yourself and drink takes the edge off your loneliness. Why who knows, tomorrow you may find that all consuming hobby, make a new friend or meet the love of your life. But not tonight. Worse you are old and exhausted, time is the enemy and you are filling the days before you die. You are not unknown at the bottle bank.

It's said those who see the furthest drink the most - list the writers - but don't flip the logic, it doesn't work, as lesser talents have learned to their cost.  Moderation in all things is what the philosopher advises. Too much drink can damage your health, that amount being more than your doctor drinks. My own habit is described as moderately excessive. I love it, do those words belong in the same sentence?

If there was no down side to good cheer I'll wager the New Puritans would still try to deny us, believing as they do that the pleasures of the flesh are a block on the path to spiritual perfection. Life is not to be lived without suffering is their credo for we shall drink nectar in the next. Lovely, will we get a smoke too?

I used to joke I drank because it made other people more interesting, now I've learned pub people really are more interesting. See above. Like the regular who was finishing up last night when I entered, he's downed three and he's going home to a nightcap, two cans of John Smiths and a rum and pep. He's cheerful, he's a hero and he's coming up to eighty. You'll kill yourself you will, I say. Yes, that can happen, he replies, one doesn't want to die young.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Dancing Days

When I'm not out in my sandwich board railing against the urban destruction wrought by the infernal combustion engine I can be found in The Widows Arms with The Blackheath Stick Men. It makes a change, I can work off my anger and get some exercise while I'm about it. Now you may think Morris Dancers are a bunch of self abusers and want their bells tuned but you're wrong, where else can a man dance with a man and a handkerchief and not be laughed at? Yeah, I know, Greece, but I don't want to go there. They dress funny.

The Blackheathens are the bad boys of stick dancing, we dance hard, we drink hard and we molest virgins. Sometimes we have to go far afield. We black up too, like the Moors, except for Delroy who's excused. We give no quarter, no man is safe, neither his knuckles nor his beer, and no side will meet us in fair contest. OK so we're a little bit belligerent and a lot of bit inebriated, but to be old is to live in pain and we tire earlier than we used to. And when our knees are knackered and the dancing's done we're glad to up sticks and hobble to the bus stop. Except Delroy who's blind and has to be carried.

There's a man that's keen to join us, he's sixty five and fit and feisty, but though we're in need of young blood we won't have him. He's jewish you see. I suspect he suspects we're anti-semitic and I suppose we are a little. But it isn't that, not really, the fact is we're tied by lore and ancient custom. We haven't the heart to tell him, you have to be a complete prick to be a Morris dancer.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Pass The Curry Sauce.

Jim al-Khalili has vowed to sit down and eat his shorts if neutrinos are shown to travel faster than light, and I'll gladly join him if the Big Bang origin of the universe is ever substantiated. I don't like it. It makes me uncomfortable. Listen to it: once upon a time there was nothing and then there was a bloody big bang! It's the creation myth in long trousers. It's obvious, it's infantile, and it was proposed by a priest. So what’s my theory? I haven’t got one. I can't lay an egg but I know a stinker when I smell one.

When astronomers look up they see the galaxies flying away from each other, likened to patches on the surface of an ever expanding balloon. Using their heads they run things backwards and arrive at a dot some 14 billion years ago. No-one has the foggiest idea where the dot came from or why it should go bang, nor what happened at the bang point. Now wise heads are saying the universe has to collapse back on itself. The Big Suck. A suck and a bang, over and over, like breathing in and breathing out, among other things.

The observable universe makes up no more than 4% of the mass that's believed to be out there, the rest is dark matter and dark energy. The word 'dark' is used in preference to 'invisible' or 'imaginary' which rather gives the game away. The truth is the missing 96% is a mathematical fix to balance the cosmological equations. One day it's hoped to find out what the two represent. Good luck, meanwhile there's too much conjecture and too little evidence. The Big Bang is baloney. I am not a big banger.