Monday morning musings


Marie Curie would have been 144 had she lived so long. As it was she died from the results of exposure to radiation. Marie Skłodowska Curie (7 November 1867 – 4 July 1934).  67 was only a little young to die back then, for anyone who actually survived the first world war, educated and city-protected people tended to look to their 3 score and ten (plus a little bit).

I remember being told about her at school and not understanding just how special she was, not only for the era, but as a scientist knowledgeable and competent in many ways.

She was for her day, extremely fortunate. Women tended to either have a career or get married. Juggling both was quite a trick really.

What reading about her today reminded me of was something – but I can’t quite place the source of in my memory.

My somewhat fuzzy memory goes along these lines:

In one of the James Bond movies, there is some reference to his watch with radioactive hands that could be seen in the dark. I remember some male in the family having one of those as well. My parents’ bedroom alarm clock also had hands that glowed in the dark. Back then the dangers of radiation were only starting to be told to people.  As a young child I remember being taken to the shoe shop for a proper fitting. One of the things they made us do was put a foot (or was it both feet) into a boxy-machine-thingy so they could look inside at our bones.  These days we would be horrified at exposing anyone unnecessarily to an x-ray – back then even the shoe shops had the equipment!

Anyway let’s re-collect the tiny mind that has somehow wandered off from the story into personal reminiscences.

Well, the type of watch was being assembled in Japan, as that was a source of cheap labour in the post-WW2 era. That was the start of getting low-wage countries to manufacture for those who could then afford to pay for MORE!  Oops – there’s that detour again.

Some years later when it was realised that the paint used on the hands that made them glow-in-the-dark was radioactive and dangerous. So they eventually stopped making them. Too late for the women who had worked in the factories painting the watch and clock hands, delicate work with fine brushes. Many of them accustomed to brushwork for calligraphy and traditional painting. Unfortunately they had developed the habit of licking a brush to make it ‘streamlined’. The consequence of all that was years later the majority of them developed cancer of the tongue, mouth or throat. Of course the companies didn’t take responsibility for what they had caused, and this was only discovered as a cause by some intrepid medical researcher who put the clues together, and realised what had happened.

How horrid, to see or hear about people you worked with die and knowing it was likely to happen to you too.

Some years ago in a stained glass class, I met a woman who worked for hospice. It turned out she was helping someone I had worked with some years before. He grew up on an asbestos mine where his father was an engineer.  In turn each of his siblings had died from a specific cancer associated with the inhalation of asbestos. Then it was his turn. How very sad, to watch the others die and then to find you too have it, and will also die.

Yesterday evening I was thinking it may be good to die soon, get away from it all. This morning thinking about these things, I decided maybe I want to live after all. The threat of death is enough to make the fighter in a human come to the fore and say “oh no, not to me!”

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19 thoughts on “Monday morning musings

    1. It is when sopmething could be prevented and it isn’t. We humans love to leap into what’s new without checking all aspects first. And of course cheap labour is never protected labour.

  1. Excellent thoughts, Sidey. I think this sort of unnecessary dying comes about because as a species, humans tend to plow headlong into doing things, just because they can. There seems to be no time spent in considering the consequences.

    We can make “glow-in-the-dark” clock hands? Do it! The folks who have the idea aren’t dead yet, so why not? (Even though they won’t be the ones doing the work.)

    We can make great hats with just a little bit of mercury? Do it! There will be lots of poor people beggin for jobs! So they die insane and miserable! At least they will have had a job!

    We can insulate stuff from heat and cold by just using asbestos? Do it! If those fibers tickle the throat or lungs, just wear a mask! You’ll be fine! And it’s just the worker making the stuff that will be affected, right? I mean, it won’t be affecting the whole family will it?

    We can generate unlimited energy cheaply and efficiently with nuclear fission reactors? Why not? Do it! We will deal with any consequences that come along later. Besides, it’s not like an earthquake or tsuname will come along or anything! The world exists for us to use up, right?

    Those sound like famous last words. . .

    1. It does indeed. Step by step we do very dangerous things without knowing or understanding the consequences. Maybe that’s why we;ve mutated in the past and will possibly do so more frequently in the future or die out?

  2. Dear Sidey,
    firstly I too am glad – very glad – that your thoughts of death have moved away from “it may be good to die soon, get away from it all”

    I remember the foot box things at the shop in town where we went for our school shoes.

    Paint poisoning and asbestos related disease (mesothelioma) are both really horrid and it is so sad that these people were inadvertently subjected to this contamination. I am sure there will be things that we are in daily contact with that will turn out to be harmful as well. And we will look back in horror.

  3. I am sure that every invention, every step forward by science, carries a penalty, sometimes horrific. Marie Curie died as a result of her work, early scientists who worked on the concept of medical Xrays died of the effects of radiation. But once we learned to use these tools in moderate ways, the benefit to millions was huge.
    It is the stumbling way we start these processes which causes deaths, and the deaths cause us to examine ways to control properly
    (or to reject) the processes we invent.
    Interesting post, Sidey.
    John

  4. Life is quite cruel, Sidey, isn’t it? It was never a fair business. Yet we cling to it because it’s as beautiful as an intricate chinese firework. Lovely post: you never fail to make me think.

  5. Building dams and bridges and tunnels and skyscrapers usually comes with “accepted” loss of life as well. I forget how many died building the Hoover Dam . . . but it was more than a few.

    1. oh yes, we have such a history of deaths in the mining industries here. so sad that forced to work, people with insufficient education disregard safety controls and die

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