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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Wednesday 11th January 2012

If you’ve read much of this website or, better still, if you are the proud owner of the wonderful ‘Is That Cat Dead? – and other questions about poison plants’ you will have realised that I don’t have a lot of time for superstition and unproven beliefs.

Or, rather, I have a lot of time for them in terms of being interested in trying to understand what makes people believe some of the very silly things they do and trying to see the rationale behind those beliefs. Sometimes, for example with Atropa belladonna, deadly nightshade, you can understand the story about the devil owning the plant in terms of its deterrent effect on children who might be tempted to try the toxic berries. But then there are the ones, like the notion that standing on the crushed root of a Helleborus plant will make one invisible that seem to have no sensible source.

Atropa belladonna, deadly nightshade

Atropa belladonna, deadly nightshade

But, in general, I’m not one to accept old wives’ tales, pseudo-science or non-science in all areas not just those directly related to plants.

Today, however, I’m going to break that and confidently make a prediction based purely on superstitious belief.

It will snow heavily on 25th January or be definitely forecast for 26th January.

The reason I am willing to set aside so many of my principles and make a nonsense prediction is because I have just booked to travel to Kent on the 25th and return on the 26th.

As I wrote on the 8th December, I had booked a trip to Glasgow for a showing of the Canadian documentary ‘Raw Opium’ but could not make the journey because the forecast winds suggested there would be severe travel disruption and there was.

Now, I’ve decided to make the trip to the University of Kent to hear David Nutt speak about ‘Science and non-science in drug policy’ and will spend the next couple of weeks avidly reading all the different weather forecasts I can and looking for indications that might predict what the weather will be like on those two days.

If it has to be bad, I really hope it is bad on the 25th rather than forecast to be bad on the 26th. I can’t take the chance of not being able to get home that day so, if the forecast looks bad, I shall have to abandon my trip and hope that the forecast isn’t wrong. Worst case would be staying home because the weather looks as though it will inhibit the return journey only to find that the actual weather on the Thursday isn’t a problem.

Professor David Nutt is a very interesting and accomplished speaker. If you haven’t seen him speak it is well worth having a look at this video of the 2011 Monica Fooks Memorial Lecture. On that occasion, he was focussing on the way the media reports on drugs. I don’t know if he’ll be giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry but he should.

In January, the advance information suggests, he’ll be talking about alcohol and the illicit substances together. The idea that we should consider all psychoactive substances the same way regardless of the arbitrary differentiation between legal and illegal is one that particularly interests me.

So, although I do know that it really won’t have any bearing on anything, it’s finger crossed and touch wood that the mild winter doesn’t end just as I’m packing my overnight bag.