Friday, February 25, 2005

The Man in The white Suit

This much I can remember : a clever man recently discovered airless water will wash as well as detergent: even removes vaseline, he proudly announced. After saying, "I knew it", I recollected my little experiments - inevitable with a science training - with separate buckets (shirt + detergent) , (shirt + hot water) , finding the 'dirty' water in both looked surprisingly similar. Wondering - I have what an evolutionary biologist might call a 'useful paranoia' - if the detergent we use did a clever chemical reaction which made the water look dirty even if the clothes immersed in them were clean.

Who had asked this question over the 50 odd years we have used detergents, pouring them down drains in unimaginable quantities? I then wondered how this poor, clever man was going to get the washing machines, dishwashers - house-person's minds - arranged in order to create and pump airless water - without a scrap of detergent - through clothes. Arranged, both in the sense of technically sorted, but also as in: persuading the various manufacturers that detergent was a thing of the past. We all know the machines are sold with recommendations for this or that washing powder or liquid. Dastardly symbioses.

The next thing I remembered was Alec Guiness in the film "The Man in the White Suit"{2}: how, despite the brilliance of the new fabric which dirt simply rolled off, keeping it pristine,sparkling white, no matter what was thrown at it, the 'powers that be' decided to put a systemmatic kibosh on the whole project to make sure they kept selling cotton.

Then I remembered a blog litteraire marvelling at the way a quote from his hero Benjamin Franklin, segued imperceptibly in the space of twenty lines, from an astute observation about nature and its workings, to the technicalities of the introduction of narrative and dialogue into writing, starting with Bunyan's, 'Pilgrim's Progress', running through Defoe's 'Robinson Crusoe', John Cleland's 'Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure' better known as 'Fanny Hill', et al, without the reader feeling anything untowards.


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