So, after years of believing that we have been killing all known germs dead in our kitchens, lavatories and armpits, we find out that a common ingredient in all these anti-bacterial household products we have been using is quite possibly more dangerous to out health than the germs it has been killing.
Triclosan, according to everyone from US president to Sannie van Jaarsveld in Westonaria, now turns out to be thoroughly nasty and could cause more harm to children than if they went outside and played in a compost pit.
I am delighted to hear this for two reasons. The first being that I was brought up by very wise parents to believe that it was important to allow kids to go out and play in the dirt in order to build up resistance to nasty bugs. Secondly because I believe that far too many marketers resort to scare tactics to force consumers to buy stuff they actually don’t really need.
This pursuit of a germ-free environment, became such a big thing here in South Africa that two years ago I found myself writing to the World Health Organisation, otherwise known as W.H.O.
Dear Doctor De Freitas
It is my pleasant duty to inform the World Health Organisation, or more specifically your Committee for Global Hygiene and Killing All Known Germs Dead, that South Africa is now on the verge of being the first completely sterile nation on earth.
Yes I know Aids is out of control, but by heaven our kitchens are spotless.
A bit of advice on this outstanding breakthrough, however. If you’re thinking of conferring some sort of honour on the country’s medical researchers, don’t even think about it. It is South Africa’s marketers and television channels who are responsible for this quite remarkable breakthrough.
It all started about 10 years ago when a diabolically clever aerosol salesman saw the writing on the wall vis-à-vis the ozone layer being seriously depleted by his product, so he decided to diversify into something that local consumers would simply be forced to buy out of sheer terror.
The idea came to him late one night after a huge party to celebrate his fifth consecutive ‘Most Persistent Salesperson of the Year’ award when he had his head halfway down the U-bend of a Stasie Hotel lavatory in an effort to bring up 16 draft beers, a bottle and a half of Chateau Brakpan cabernet and a quart of crème de menthe.
“Lavatories,” he thought. “That’s where my future lies – lavatories.”
So, he developed all sorts of products to toss into lavatory cisterns, hook on to the edge of lavatory pans and that could reach into every possible nook and cranny to obliterate germs with every flush.
At the same time he harnessed the power of television to point out to South Africans the frightening array of deadly bacterial livestock that had taken up residence in their loos and kitchens.
The nation heeded his warning with such gusto that in KwaZulu-Natal, for example, 200 square kilometres of Indian Ocean adjacent the main Durban sewage outfall pipe turned bright blue and thousands of citizens who were previously allergic to shellfish were able to climb into plates of Paella with absolute impunity.
Our salesman, now elevated by his peers to the level of marketing guru, was on a roll.
He moved from lavatory pans to drains and once again harnessed the nation’s television channels to show us all the indescribable dangers lurking in our drains. We responded immediately and killed them dead.
Since then he has been unstoppable. We are now told that those little sponge things with the abrasive green stuff on one side and which we have used for years to clean pots, pans and kitchen surfaces are so deadly they relegate Legionnaire’s disease to the danger level of a blind pimple.
He has given us a bath soap that envelopes us in an invisible shroud of sanitation to ward off all those bacterial baddies that make us sick or cause our armpits to smell.
But, my dear Dr De Freitas, that’s not all. We now have television commercials telling us about household cleaning products that can obliterate viruses.
O ho, I thought that would get your attention! How about that? All the medical brains in the world haven’t been able to find a cure for the common cold but hey presto, a simple South African salesman has not only managed to find a way of nailing all manner of viruses to the wall but can at the same time leave your entire home smelling like roses or anything from pine forests to freshly baked bread.
And if that wasn’t enough, only a teaspoonful of his miracle domestic elixir mixed with a bucket of water can sterilise a kitchen to the point where it makes your run of the mill operating theatre about as hygienic as an Elizabethan cesspit.
PS: Please wash you hands before replying to this letter.