Old folk at lunch

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A lunch with Yersinia pestis



Anne shouted me a lunch today of some very good North African tagine.  The lunch was so I could meet an old friend of hers.  And I mean old.  Lola is 90 but still has all her marbles.

I started out the meeting with a conversational gambit you won't find in any etiquette book.  I guess it's my pesky sense of humour again but I started by offering some comments about Yersinia pestis.  But both Anne and Lola are intelligent persons so that was treated as interesting.

I pointed out that we are all survivors of people who did NOT die during the Black Death, even though the epidemic took off about a third of the inhabitants of England.  So if there were a new such epidemic, the chances of survival for most of us would probably be quite good even without antibiotics.  And Yersinia pestis hasn't gone away.  There were some cases of it in Madagascar recently, of all places.

I then went on to say that it was probably the people in poorest health that died in the 1300s anyway.  I supported that by an anecdote from my childhood.  We oldies tend to talk a lot about our childhoods.  

The story is that TB was making something of a nuisance of itself in the Australia of the 1950s so the government decided to immunize all schoolkids against it with the remarkable BCG vaccine, a French product.  But to avoid waste they did not vaccinate everybody.  

They first did a Mantoux skin test on all us kids to see if we were already immune to TB. And all but one of the kids in my class returned a positive response.  We had already had TB without knowing it and were hence immune and in no need of any vaccine. For us well-fed and healthy kids in the benign tropics, TB was experienced just as a mild bout of 'flu and we had fully recovered from it.  So even nasty infections and viruses can be batted away if you are in generally good health.

The conversation strayed into other channels after that, with Rhodesia getting a mention.  Lola is of British East African origin and, at university, I once headed an "Australia/Rhodesia society", which was a very successful bait to the campus Left.

But Anne's food was good.  To complement the tagine, Anne had bought a big loaf of unsliced bread from her local Chinese bakery -- and that baker sure knows how to bake good bread.  So with plenty of butter out of Anne's antique butter dish, I enjoyed it muchly.  

Anne wanted to offer us some wine with our lunch but neither Lola nor I drink during the day so Anne stayed "dry" too, not entirely to her satisfaction.  I did entertain Lola with stories about Anne's dedication to "Barossa Pearl", a dedication which I share, not being a wine snob.  So we finished with a nice cup of tea -- "Bushells", the tea of flavour -- and an Anzac biscuit.

On rare occasions when I enter snooty coffee joints and ask for tea they complacently ask me which tea I want -- English Breakfast, Earl Gray etc.  I always reply: "Bushells", the tea of flavour".  They look at me as if I am mad. Australia's most popular tea is terminally uncool to them. I enjoy that reaction.  I am a born tease, particularly of pomposity.

UPDATE:  In case anybody is interested, a new drug to treat plague has just been approved in the USA. Excerpt below:


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