Friday, April 30, 2010

Transformers and Human Waste

If ever Transformers come knocking at your door, make sure you've got your life insurance paid up - along with every other kind of insurance. They certainly make a dent in anything they touch. And don't come back to clean up the mess.
My grandson and I watched Transformers tonight; someone had recorded it onto the DVD hard drive a while back and though I'd seen some bits of it, I'd never caught up with the whole thing. Well, the beginning is definitely a lot better than the end. Shia LaBeouf has a lot of fun with his 'teenage' role, and there's plenty of comedy early on, notably from his parents. (He also has a rather kooky pal early in the piece, but he gets one or two scenes and then vanishes. Pity.)
But once all the action stuff starts, the film pretty much falls apart. It probably doesn't help watching it on a TV screen, (and not even in letter-box format), but the action scenes are so badly staged that you hardly have a clue who's doing what to whom. Early on even these aren't so bad, but the last long, long, long battle is rubbish. Megatron, the big baddie, is about as clueless a baddie as you're likely to come across. He likes smashing stuff up, but it never seems to achieve anything. Perhaps all those decades of being frozen have played havoc with his brain wiring.
The CGI is of course fantastic. But, as I think I've said before in this blog, we've become so used to CGI that it no longer makes us gasp at what we're seeing. (Only Avatar in recent days has been eye-popping, and that was because it used imagination as well as CGI.)

I keep meaning to mention a book I read a few weeks back. I was going to do a proper review, but it's now got a bit past that point. It's The Big Necessity, and it has the delightful subtitle: Adventures in the World of Human Waste. It's by journalist, Rose George. (The alternative subtitle is: The unmentionable world of human waste and why it matters.)
Most people I've spoken to about it have switched off fairly quickly. As George points out, in spite of the fact that human waste is a fact of life for every single human being on the planet (and for many, other people's waste is also a fact of their daily lives), we just don't talk about it. We barely even joke about it. In Western society we're so prim and proper that our TV ads hardly point out the fact that it's poo that we're using all those chemicals to clean up: instead they focus on the bacteria. But we're also so attuned to having waste flushed away that we regard it as something quite unmentionable.
This isn't the case with much of the world. There are still plenty of countries where poo is literally thrown around, or left lying in open areas next to villages, or indisposable in slums, or plastered all over the walls of public toilets until they become unusable. Civilisation and poo are still only just getting their act together. For most of the world they've hardly started.

The book is full of wonderful stories, and wonderful people - and facts. For instance, 37,000 miles - yes, I said miles - of waste tunnels between London and Swindon, some of which are big enough to drive a mini around in. New York is a city that's just a couple of days away at any time from being caught up in its own waste. (In another book I discovered that the underground waters in New York have to be continually pumped out of the subway - if they were left alone for a few days, the subways would be swamped.)
In Japan, for years they've been using toilets that actually clean the rear end while you're sitting there. A spray does the job, and apparently in the best of these models, does it very well. Then there's a drier to finish off the job. Many Japanese regard the idea of wiping your bottom with toilet paper as not being clean at all.

There have been some great people working on dealing with human waste, some highly innovative and entrepreneurial people. And in India, the land where technology is rapidly outstripping anywhere else in the world, human waste is still in a Neanderthal state for great swathes of the country. There are still people, the Dalits, the lowest of the lowest castes, whose job it is to cart other people's waste away. It's almost always the women who do this work, (the men somehow escape the task by handing it over to their wives and daughters), and many of them carry the baskets of waste on their heads.
However, there is one man - I can't note his name as the book has gone back to the library - who has gradually rescued Dalits from their abysmal life, and is educating them in schools financed by the public toilets he's built (and which people pay a minimal sum to use). Public toilets are a rarity in many countries still, and nonexistent in others. In Rome, when my wife and I went on our honeymoon some 36 years ago, it was very hard to find a public toilet. I still have a photo of me pointing disconsolately at a disconnected toilet in the middle of a worksite. And even when we went abroad in 2007, it was still hard to find public toilets. At that time I was having some prostate problems, and at least twice we had to board a river cruise boat just so I could use the toilet on board. On another occasion I popped into a port-a-loo that was officially there for the men working on a site.

As I said the book is eye-opening, and the stories abound. I can't say why the topic appealed to me, but I found it fascinating. Maybe I'm just a child at heart, still wanting to know what happens to the brown stuff...!
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