Thursday, November 16, 2006


Now being a proud owner of a Mercury Grand Marquis (which, as an aside, is a better trimmed Ford Crown Victoria, favored by Messrs. Plod in these here parts, but a lesser trimmed Lincoln Town Car favored by old codgers and pimps in Florida), I was worried to read that the oft-hated European Commission/Parliament has decided to ban Mercury. Picture the headline, dear readers, “Europe to Ban Mercury”. Shock, horror, because sometimes, on a very rare occasion, what happens over the Pond eventually happens here in the good ol’ US of A. I know that Joy would also be equally horrified.

However, upon reading the article, all was clarified. My Mercury is safe, as obviously is the planet of the same name. It seems that the European Parliament has given its backing to a directive banning old-fashioned mercury thermometers, of the sort that were lodged so uncomfortably under the tongue since time began, or at least since I was a child. I don't know whether they are still made or used in Europe. Over here when I had my last medical a few weeks back, something was pushed into my ear. Nurse assured me it wouldn’t hurt. She lied. That’s what nurses and dentists do. When my children had a temperature I would push one of those under their tongues for two minutes, with a promise that if they tried to remove it, it would be placed ‘where the sun don’t shine’. It usually worked.

I understand that mercury is dangerous - isn't that why the Mad Hatter was mad? But I also remember in the Chemistry Laboratory at school, breaking the top of a thermometer, and then holding it over a Bunsen Burner to get the mercury out. When cooled, I would roll some of the stuff round on my hand pushing it around with my finger and impressing girls. I remember both the girls and I being entranced by this magical liquid metal. To my knowledge, this has not affected my later years, but with Arthur creeping into my hands, I do have to wonder.

Now, dear readers, back to the Mad Hatter for a moment. I once read that Hatters really did go mad. The chemicals used in hat-making included mercurous nitrate, used in curing the felt used in the making of the hat. Apparently, prolonged exposure to the mercury vapors caused mercury poisoning (vapors? It has vapors? I never smelled anything). Victims working at poorly ventilated hat factories developed severe and uncontrollable muscular tremors and twitching limbs, called "hatter's shakes", hence the expression,”He was mad as a hatter”. Other symptoms included distorted vision and confused speech. I can sympathize and indeed display such symptoms until I’ve had my three mugs of caffeine each morning.

Here endeth today’s lesson – don’t mess with Mercury.