Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The Marmite Wars

The above is a little bobble of Uranium glass that I found - inexplicably - buried deep in a recess of an 18th century 'River God', carved stone figure that I restored a few years ago. I guess it must have been placed there by children, sometime in the 19th or 20th century.

I have had quite a few items made from uranium glass over the years, and they sell quite well to collectors if they are the right thing. Good, old uranium glass is characterised by the yellow-green hue in daylight, and the fact that if you shine ultra-violet on it in the dark, it glows with the most outlandish 'day-glo' green, like something from outer space.

As the name suggests, it is made simply by adding uranium to molten glass just to get that particular sort of green colour. Of course, they don't make it these days for safety reasons, though it was illicitly produced in Eastern Europe up until quite recently.

Once the uranium is locked away inside a lump of glass it is quite safe (ish), but whoever dealt with the casting or blowing of it would receive high doses of radiation which - along with the lead poisoning that always has to be monitored in glass-workers - made the whole activity a high-risk occupation. This little lump of it would still register on a geiger-counter though, but compared to the background radiation that you are exposed to when visiting a granite area such as Cornwall, it is nothing - unless you walk around with it in your mouth all day, and who would want to do that? The basements of Bath are saturated with radon gas (a friend of mine died recently from cancer as a result of it), which may explain why many people instinctively don't like living in basements.

The 'Timex' alarm clock I had as a child was highly radioactive because of the hands on it which were painted with the stuff which permanently (or at least for a few hundred thousand years) glows in the dark. The Scottish women who painted it on in the factory all died of mouth-cancer from licking the brushes.

In the days before the deadly effects of radiation were known about, the Victorians actually produced soft drinks saturated with uranium - 'Radox' foot baths were actually made with it, like Coca-Cola had real cocaine. I wonder if people's feet fell off?

It's all down to concentration. The amount of radiation given off by a small supernova in outer space puts our 40 megaton bombs to shame, but it is quite a long way away and the planet has it's own defence systems.

Talking of concentration, you either like Marmite, or you don't. The Danish government has collectively decided that they definitely do not, and have actually banned the sale of the dark-brown, yeast by-product of the brewery industry from the shelves of all their supermarkets. Why? Because it's too concentrated, and they believe that all those vitamins can't do you any good.

All the ex-pat Brits living in Denmark are outraged, and are planning a program of civil disobedience by importing the stuff themselves in order to spread on their toast every morning. How would Australians react if their government banned 'Vegemite'? There would be riots and the government would be overthrown in a bloody coup, for sure. If the British government tried to ban Marmite, their ruling political party/parties would never be elected again for generations - it would split the country in two in a way that has not been seen here since the Civil War. It is the little details like this which often go overlooked in the rarified atmosphere of the corridors of power, and cause great dynasties to collapse overnight.

I think I could probably live without Marmite, but it's the principal of the thing. I might follow the example set by the International Brigade volunteers of the Spanish Civil War and go over to Denmark to help my comrades in distress. See you when I get back.


  1. marmite...radioactivity......ancient glass.........Denmark.............licking brushes.......

    in psychiatry we used to call it "flight of ideas"

  2. Keeps you on your toes - and in a job - though, doesn't it John?

  3. "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark."

    How big is this green "thang" and what do you think it was used for?

  4. Absolutely fascinating! Most things are safe in small doses. And danger lurks everywhere. I was just hoovering (Dysoning) cobwebs this morning and a large piece of masonry from a stone lintel fell on my head. I think I need a 'stone man'!

  5. It's about an inch round, Iris, and was probably snapped off something decorative - short answer: I don't know.

    Careful Sue! Were you Dysoning in the garden? (I think it will be a while before the word 'Dyson' becomes generic). Send me a picture if you need advice.

  6. I'm incensed. I shall be contacting my MEP at once. (p.s. I am NOT related to Sir Radon Marmite)

  7. I have never heard of Uranium glass - it is a beautiful colour. I LOVE marmite - life would be very dull (and less salty) without it.

  8. that's really cool, i really liked this post

  9. That's sweet of you Tom, but I've been forbidden by Him Indoors to send you a photo. It's an ancient stone opening between two rooms and when a previous owner replaced the beams the old stone lintel (about 5 ft wide)split in two. It only stays in place due to some cantilever magic. You'd probably fall off your perch laughing if you saw it.

  10. I don't mind that the Danish government ban the sale of Marmite, but I would mind if they banned Danish bacon or Danish pastries!

  11. I really like that acid green colour of the uranium glass. As for marmite, that story has been picked up by the NZ news and has created much interest - marmite has a huge following in this ex-British colony.

  12. What does Judith mean by EX-British colony. They've still got our bloody flag tucked into theirs.

  13. I'm staying out of this one - Sue's husband has said he would 'bash my head in' if I try to give her advice about stonework.

    Thanks anyway, to the rest of you.

    Oh and by the way - handy hint: If you put half a teaspoon of Marmite on a plate and bash it over and over again with the flat of a knife, it turns white! This is NOT cruel joke, I have done it myself and it is really true. It takes fucking ages, but it works eventually. It also doesn't change the taste at all.