"PAH! CALL THAT SMOG"

April 2014 – Last week Britain experienced killer pollution from a mixture of Sahara sand, blown high into the atmosphere by desert winds, that descended on the UK and mixed with our already near lethal diesel exhaust fumes from traffic, to make a fresh deadly mixture of poisonous air. “Do not go outside. Do not exercise. Do not breathe.” HM Government advised its hapless citizens. 


In the same week, mentally retarded, aristocratic Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron announced a ban on green energy. Despite the island of Britain having limitless free natural power available from the seas and winds, the Tories are bowing to a small rump of equally low IQ NIMBYs (not in my back yard) and BANANAs (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone) who are mummified on the Tory back-benches in the House of Commons and The House of Lords, who don’t like the look of Wind Turbines on land or sea and so thoughtlessly spurn all green energy. They prefer that the hoi-polloi, the plebians, the great unwashed Subjects of The Crown, accommodate massive and filthy coal and gas burners, in their postage stamp sized back yards. Or face the perils of immense, ugly nuclear power plants that slowly kill their smelly untutored unemployable children with hidden slow burn cancers. Or all subsist without electricity.

But – perhaps the modern citizen doth protest too much. I and others are old enough to remember real smog; the Victorian smogs that cloaked the crimes of Jack The Ripper and annually killed off tens of thousands of weaklings right up the Clean Air Act in 1956. That was an anthropogenically caused (man-made)  “natural phenomenon” that, when we tired of digging graves and funerals, we quickly fixed by banning the burning of coal. As we similarly could do to limit Global Warming. Any road up – here is some real smog, that emanated from the dark satanic mills and back-to-back hovels that once made Manchester, England, the wealthiest city on Earth. 

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Manchester UK, 1950 – Extract from The Haunting of a Favourite Son.


CHAPTER TEN – Smog and Vertigo

The impenetrable winter smog that fell in the dark early evenings was very exciting.

We had all managed to get home safely through the streets without being able to see our hands held up in front of our faces. Long woolly, double knitted scarves, in red and white bands, were inverted to make head hugging balaclavas at one end, with the other end wrapped several times and tightly round mouths and noses for warmth and air filters, the end being tucked into the neck of a tightly buttoned gabardine. Sound was deadened before it could travel even a few feet. Lampposts served as reliable landmarks in an otherwise featureless dark sea of cloud and chemicals. We could taste the bitter soot, from countless coal burning chimneys, in the wet cold soup as it clung to our clothes, making everything filthy and clammy to touch. The mile or so walk from school in that impenetrable darkness was hugely exciting – hand over hand along suddenly unfamiliar garden walls – navigating across streets that mysteriously seemed ten times wider than in daylight, with no landmarks nor even sounds to guide us to the safety of a pavement.

The school had disgorged a hundred and fifty or so, five to eleven year old children alone into that dark oily smog to make their way home as best they could. They were wrapped mostly in dark navy gabardines, swathed in those popular double wool scarves, most with blue hands and fingers but some boasting woollen or even fabulous fur backed gloves, with one or two deeply envied boys sporting leather gauntlets. Most wore black lace-up shoes, some crept stealthily like Red-Indians in white or black summer cotton pumps or swaggered along in swashbuckling wellies with the white cotton interiors folded down to the ankles. At the school gates they dispersed into the gloom to go their separate ways, disappearing in seconds from each other and from the world. Little groups trailed together along silent and cloaked suburban roads, guessing at the direction. At each junction the groups divided and smaller parties groped along walls and pavements towards, they hoped, their homes, reassured briefly by a sudden lamppost looming by a recognisable wall before blindly creeping another fifty yards to where they hoped the next light would be found. The lampposts always surprised the fumbling travellers, leaping into view just six inches from their frozen noses, casting a feeble yellow or blue glow on the slowly stirring smog, but failing to illuminate the ground. Our breathing made the improvised woollen masks wet, but it was more comfortable to keep the warm poultice of the scarf hugging the mouth and nose than to pull it aside and suck in the cold, cloying blanket of filthy fog. No cars or buses threatened the slow crossing of streets. No anxious parents appeared out of the blackness, waving torches and proffering comfort and guidance. No one came and no one was expected. The children managed the journey alone and hugely enjoyed their small adventure.

I made it back to Birch House and crept around the garden in that pitch darkness for a time, enjoying the privacy and silence, before hunger and cold drove me into that brooding construction.

At that time of year it was dark by four-thirty and in that weather all honest people were in their homes by six. Even Father had made it back from Manchester, full of brief bluff comments, thrown out to his personal, private watchers in the high dark corners of the kitchen, which left no doubt as to his manly skills and courage, a foretaste of his amazing rallying and racing skills yet to come, in cleaving his way instinctively through the smog while lesser mortals abandoned their cars and fumbled their way along the miles of impossibly dark, muffled pavements.

The smog even seeped into the kitchen, making the light dimmer and casting an imperceptible shadow over the table. The coal fire warmed the room, adding its slow exhaust of smoke, carbon, tar and sulphur to the overburdened atmosphere, burning slowly and dully in the grate as the smog pressed down the chimney and choked the draught that the fire needed. By now Julie had been born, though she was too young to be up at the table for tea. The rest of us sat at the kitchen table, including Father, still happy with memories of our adventures outside, and we waited in unaccustomed quiet while Mother heaved and juggled with pans full of potatoes and piles of plates in the cold condensation of the scullery. The meal was sausages, fried eggs and mashed potatoes; a firm favourite, which ensured that not a scrap would be left.

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