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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Tuesday 20th March 2012

It’s unusual for a talk to take place in the morning. The majority of my talks are evening affairs though a few are in the afternoon. Thinking about it, today’s was only my third morning talk and they’ve all been to male only audiences.

Four years ago, I gave a talk to the Willow Club in Whitley Bay. That is a one-off club for retired men of all backgrounds and had, in those days, over 100 members. At the time, I was told that the average age of members was in the late seventies and there were real fears that a club that started in 1937 might be facing an uncertain future if more younger men couldn’t be found to join.

The second and third morning talks have been to Probus Clubs; the first in Duns and today’s, in Dunbar, resulting from that talk. ‘Probus’ comes from Professional and Business and the clubs are, generally, set up by the local Rotary Club though they have no direct link and, unlike Rotary, no formal national structure.

There were forty men in the audience, today, and the way it goes is that they meet at 1000 have coffee and a chat before the meeting, proper, starts at 1030. I like to make my talks theatrical to a degree so I tend to be reticent during any pre-talk socialising because I don’t want to give any hints of what is to be expected.

That seemed to work, today, because the introduction went over well and got them all laughing. That’s a big help because once the audience has realised that there are laughs to be had, they look out for them during the main part of the talk.

There were a number of questions after I’d finished and, as I was packing up and everybody was leaving, a number of people came up to chat or ask questions they hadn’t thought of before. One chap was especially interested in what I’d said about daffodil poisoning. As well as the stories about people mistaking bulbs for onions, I’d added the recent story about poisonings in Bristol as a result of people eating the leaves and stems. This had reminded him of his long ago rugby playing days when one of his team would make a point of biting off and eating the daffodil flowers in the pub on a Saturday evening after the game.

He wondered how come his fellow player hadn’t been poisoned and I explained that the amount of toxin varies in different parts of a plant so eating a few daffodil flowers was unlikely to have produced any noticeable symptoms. I believe that there are some chefs who use daffodil petals as a decoration on desserts without killing off their clientele.

And then I pointed out that, though it was very unlikely that any symptoms of poisoning would arise from eating a few flowers it was extremely unlikely that his teammate would ascribe any illness on a Sunday morning after a Saturday evening spent in the pub to the eating of daffodil flowers.

The conversation started me thinking about a more general point on the drive home. We are becoming increasingly concerned about small threats that are, probably, never going to cause any serious harm but we don’t think twice about ‘overdoing it a bit’ with alcohol even though a hangover is really just the symptoms of poisoning.