Notes from Lapta, Cyprus – Was that… You? by Ken Dunn

I am about to embark into a subject that contains the ‘f’ word or rather the ‘f’ situation, circumstance, syndrome or even, as some might say, social calamity. We have all experienced it, in one way or another, but many, many folk would never admit to being culpable, able to perform or ever, heaven forbid, found guilty of committing the ‘crime’. Bear with me and I’ll try to explain, without giving offence or using the ‘f’ word.

My first recollection of this human condition was at a very early age being fascinated by the ‘bubbles’ that would rise up through the water of the bath. That was many, many years ago and it was just something that happened, not every time, and didn’t seem to be very important, although quite interesting. As my childhood progressed and I entered school these events were still of the low-key variety and continued to be until I moved on.

At this point let me give you a clue of what I’m talking about, if you haven’t guessed already. The extraordinary ‘olfactory’ sense we all have has given us all the ability to detect, appreciate or, quite often, escape from some of the more malodorous atmospheres that surround us. When I was lucky enough to enter university my first encounter with this happened during a concentrated conversation with one of the lecturers. Several of us had gathered together with him to expand on the lecture he’d just given.

As the conversation continued we all became aware of the ‘change’ in the air around us. Nobody said anything, no comments or accusations were made and the discussion moved on but the pungency remained for minutes and minutes. I never did find out who had perpetrated that ‘act’. I can only remember trying desperately not to laugh, as I suspect the others were doing, including the lecturer.

Now, if you have read this far you might as well continue. I suspect we have all been there, if we’re honest with ourselves, but as you get older it becomes even funnier. I should know. Not that I’m a great ‘performer’ but the simple act of watching the reaction of others, when it does happen, especially when there is the addition of an ‘audio’ accompaniment, can be knee-tremblingly funny.

But back to my University days and a major counter offensive against a particular individual who revelled in the ‘creative act’. He lived some distance away and would catch a bus every morning to the campus. Anyone travelling with him was at dire risk. He would sit up at the back of the bus, ‘provide’ an offering and the poor souls on board had to crowd to the front to escape the invasive effect. But that had little success even though all the windows were frantically opened wide. We deduced, eventually, that his daily cheese and onion sandwiches were the primary source of his digestive ‘productions’.

We formed a plan and every day, for a week, would steal his lunch box and bury the offending, greasy contents under a convenient line of shrubs. That worked, but only for that week, despite his protestations. After that it was normal service being resumed. Fortunately for all of us he moved on to another university the following term so the air became relatively fresh again, at last.

As the years have rolled by I could recount many other memorable situations but I will contain myself, as they say, and only give you a few more examples.

Some years ago we were sitting on the balcony of a house in the TRNC newly built by friends who had moved over from the UK and are now permanent citizens. The conversation rolled along and, inevitably, entered the ‘how are you doing’ stakes. All of us, thank goodness, did not want to swap stories of the kind of ailments which befall all approaching the big ‘Seven Ohh’.

Instead we found ourselves remarking on how keeping the old weight down was important and the dangers of indulging too often in rich food and all that that ‘ensued’. The wife of our friends then categorically stated that she didn’t ‘do’ that and never had. We countered that by stating that if she didn’t ‘do’ that she might explode! She has since admitted, quietly, that she does ‘do’ that, from time to time. Well, I felt like saying join the club!

Now, before you dismiss or accuse me for ‘lowering the tone’ let me give you a genuine account of research into this human condition which was reported in the Times Newspaper in 1998. The date was July 15th to be precise and the reporter, Ian Murray, gave the following short missive. This is absolutely true, a verbatim statement, and not a piece of fiction from me! The title of the piece was ‘Science Beats the Curse of the Bean!’ Read on.

‘A cushion coated with charcoal and worn inside the underpants can eliminate most of the malodorous consequences of eating beans, researchers have discovered.

Prototypes are unwieldy but a slimmer version of the invention could make such problems a thing of the past.

Published in GUT – the British Medical Association’s specialist journal about what goes on in the inner man or woman – extensive research into the normally unmentionable also showed that women were the worst offenders in terms of odour, although men made up for that in sheer volume.

Sixteen intestinally sound volunteers – six men and ten women – were fed a diet heavily supplemented by pinto bens and milk sugar. Each resulting ‘passage’ of wind was collected in an impermeable bag and the volume was calculated by drawing the contents into a calibrated syringe, which was then given to two expert odour judges.’

I say again. This is not a joke, it actually took place!

‘The tests showed that hydrogen sulphide was the main cause of the unpleasant smell. The gas is a by-product of sulphate-reducing bacteria that live in the gut. Sulphate is found in broccoli, cabbage, nuts, bread and beer. Sulphurous amino acids are present in protein. Women produced a significantly greater concentration but men tended to produce greater volume.

The researchers from the Minneapolis Center, USA, then got eight volunteers to wear sealed pantaloons, which they tested as gas-tight by submersion in water. Some were fitted with the charcoal cushions, marketed as ‘Toot Trappers’, which were found to reduce the sulphur concentration eleven fold.

‘Although effective the charcoal cushion is unwieldy,’ the researchers say. ‘Less cumbersome absorptive devices could be developed.’

What can you say to that? Well, one comment might be ‘Where do these characters get their funding from?’ There’s poor old NASA desperate to get to Mars and the USA is recommending ‘Toot Trappers’. It’s a funny old world.

There have also been many ‘gaseous theories’ regarding important historical events which may well have altered the course of human history. Did Napoleon ‘do’ something when standing in front of his troops and thereby lose the battle of Waterloo? Did Hitler ‘do’ lots of something during that war council on July 20th (there’s a date to remember) in 1944 before the building exploded? Stories revolving around this human condition are legion and there are many, many web sites devoted to the subject including a myriad of ‘descriptive’ terms. Jokes abound for the condition and there is one I like particularly. It is as follows.

A young man visited his elderly mother who was rather unwell in hospital. He sat next to the bed, patting her hand but then noticed a lady in the bed next to them was slowly ‘listing’ to one side. A nurse rushed up to stop her, plumped her pillow and, smiling, departed. The lady began to list again but the nurse returned quickly and ‘reset’ her again. The lady told her ‘to go and do something’. The ‘something’ wasn’t very nice.

This happened again and again with the lady becoming more and more offensive. The young man was taken aback but asked her, gently, ‘Why are you being so horrible to that nurse. She’s only trying to help?’

The lady fixed him with a steely eye and said, ‘Oh, that’s OK for you to say, but she won’t let me fart!’

Well, there now, I’ve said ‘it’ now. I thought I’d get to the end of this without having to. Hey, ho. Might as well try to come out of this with some grace, perhaps?

My favourite true story of this nature occurred in the 16th century during the rule of ‘Good Queen Bess’. A courtier, Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, a rather haughty individual, offered his goodbyes to her and bowing very low accidentally emitted a very loud explosion of ‘air’. He was distraught and so ashamed he rapidly withdrew, imposing self-exile on himself for seven long years. On his eventual return The Queen welcomed him smiling and said, ‘My Lord, We had forgot the Fart!’

Well, that was quite gracious, wasn’t it? The problem is that as you get older ‘it’ tends to happen more frequently. So a measure of control is often required but some folk are quite happy to talk about freely. We were out to dinner some years ago at a shore side restaurant in Karaoğlanoğlu with two very good friends of ours. I’ll call them Harry and Carla, not their real names. They are probably ten years older than us but still ‘feisty’. Both had suffered from health problems and Harry had just returned from the UK and a major, but successful, operation. He a widower and she a widow enjoyed each other’s company and nattered on happily. No ‘maladies’ came into the conversation until Harry then asked her, ‘So, can you still fart?’ Her answer was wonderful. She gave him, and us, a huge smile and said, ‘Ohh. Yes!!’

Now that’s what I call a healthy attitude!

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