Iain Murray: Worried about life’s risks? Try growing a nice beard

Ken Clarke defends his promotion of tobacco by pointing to life’s many hazards. What with feminising chemicals and airborne thromboses he has a point, says Iain Murray

Kenneth Clarke, bluff, congenial, overweight, beer-drinking, tobacco-smoking hero of the blokeish classes, garnered a ragged cheer from the gnarled regulars at Britain’s last all-male drinking den, The Martyred Feminist, when he announced, with typical insouciance, that “life is full of hazards”.

Though he was speaking in response to a specific media criticism of his promoting tobacco, he none the less echoed the cry of every ruby-nosed bon vivant persisting in self-indulgence under the disapproving eyes of the mal vivants, who would have us strapped to exercise machines and living on macrobiotic rice.

“Life is full of hazards” – how many times are those words uttered, gurgled or croaked as a prelude to the speaker passing out? Just how full life is of hazards is obvious to anyone who cares to read the newspapers. No matter how superficially innocent or everyday an object, it will contain, either in its molecules or as part of its man-made construction, the potential to poison, injure or maim. You can choke on a peanut or put your back out pushing a supermarket trolley, and woe betide anyone who tries opening a can of beans or putting on a pair of trousers. The casualty wards of Britain daily play host to scores of groaning, pain-wracked victims of the trouser.

But if you are feeling really brave, visit your doctor’s surgery. The normally chaotic garrulity of the saloon bar fell momentarily and eerily silent on hearing the recent news of the man who walked in to see his doctor as the victim of a non-malignant tumour and walked out a sex maniac. The drugs he was prescribed turned him from a shy, quietly industrious businessman into a roaring three-in-a-bed Lothario with a taste for casinos, hostess clubs and champagne by the bathful.

When at last a grizzled veteran gave utterance, he spoke for all the awestruck habitués. “Life,” he said, his voice cracking with emotion, “is full of hazards.” And a mighty cheer rang to the rafters.

It is difficult to know which one is worse: the scaremongering, or the helpful advice which so often accompanies it.

Take deep vein thrombosis, or DVT. This is a potentially lethal condition which afflicts people on long-haul flights. Though DVT was only recently discovered, we are already in the grip of an epidemic. The precaution most commonly recommended is that travellers should wear special socks. No harm in that: to travel seated next to someone wearing socks is quite normal. Pity, however, the poor traveller unfortunate enough to fly next to a hypochondriac equipped with the Daily Mail’s cut-out-and-keep anti-DVT in-flight workout.

Imagine sitting beside someone who raises and lowers his heels 16 times; tips his head four times “like a budgie”; crosses his legs just above the ankles and lifts them as high as space permits; performs the Charleston in a seated position; stretches his arms above his head and wiggles his hips; and then does the whole damn thing all over again.

There are worse things than deep-vein thrombosis, such as being the victim of a savage air rage attack.

Sometimes health and safety advice is offered ÃÂ propos of nothing at all, such as the Daily Telegraph’s recently published guide to shaving. A shortage of space prevents full disclosure of the article’s contents but suffice to say that the key points are to wet the face, apply the soap, and draw the razor over the skin.

That omits some of the more technical points such as “apply to the growth area only”, and the mathematical formula: “Use 14 to 16 downward strokes. Move from sideburn to cheekbone (three strokes) then do the other side. Do the moustache area (three strokes); look up, pull the skin up, work from chin to nape.”

The key to dry shaving is mechanical. “Make sure the shaver battery is reasonably new, or the shaver will be slower and irritate the skin.”

With luck, we can look forward to further guides in this series such as how to find out where your nape is, how to tie your shoe laces, how to comb your hair, how to keep a squeaky clean navel, and how to open a bathroom cabinet the safe way.

The shaving advice probably comes too late for some men: they may already have turned into fish. According to Dr Richard Dixon, a physicist and head of research for Friends of the Earth Scotland, gender-altering chemicals called Alkyl Phenol Ethoxylates (APEs) are present in a range of toiletries, including shampoo and shaving foam. They may be absorbed through the skin and cause lower sperm counts. Worse still, research by Professor John Sumpter of Brunel University has led to the discovery that fish exposed to APEs are changing gender.

It is not, says Sumpter, “a quantum leap” from knowing that APEs can feminise fish to believing that they can feminise men. The signs are smaller sexual organs and increased breast size in men.

In the saloon bar this was the cause of some uneasy ribaldry, the flighty barmaid observing that the present company had always struck her as odd and now she knew why. Amid the general merriment, however, there was to be seen in the corner, quietly sipping a pint, the most contented man in the room. He wore on his face a smug smile and a full beard.

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