Baffled by science? Let Professor Wenstone enlighten you

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The Independent Online
THIS YEAR is Science Year in Britain. Or if it isn't, it should be.

And if it is, then it should be Science Year every year, because we British have got to get it into our thick skulls that if we don't become scientifically aware, then we are going to end up destroying our planet in a careless and thoughtless way. If we do become scientifically aware, of course, this will enable us to ruin our planet in a systematic and scientific way, which will obviously be a lot better for everyone, except possibly those who will have to try to pick up the pieces.

I'm sorry. I get carried away by knowledge sometimes. It's just so exciting. I have recently been switched on to science by the writings of Professor Alf Wenstone, who makes a speciality of showing how science works in the most everyday surroundings. There are many people who think that Professor Wenstone should have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Domestic Science in 1988, and only the fact that there turned out not to be a Prize for Domestic Science has helped to still the criticism.

Meanwhile, I am pleased to present some of his thoughts from his trailblazing book, Home Truths, which will not only make you see science where before you saw domesticity, but perhaps change some of your behaviour patterns for ever.

We are often told that eggshells are porous, and that eggs should therefore not be placed next to fish or cheese in the fridge for fear of them acquiring a fishy or cheesy flavour. But there is a corollary: those intending to make fish or cheese omelettes should break this rule as flagrantly as possible.

The best way to make a house smell nice is to put a bunch of flowers in a vase and leave them. The best way to make a house smell foul is also to put a bunch of flowers in a vase and leave them. The water left in a vase by a bunch of flowers is as evil-smelling as the blooms at the other end were fine-smelling. Thus we see the operation of the yin and the yang at an elemental level.

All corkscrews, no matter how good, have an action that tends to push the cork into the bottle.

After a bath or a shower, never dry yourself in the same bathroom or shower room as the one you have just showered or bathed in. Your ablutions have just saturated the air in your bathroom and made it the dampest in the house. Therefore, as you attempt to rub yourself dry, you will merely be turning the towel wet and, after a while, maintaining your body at the same level of wetness. Go to another room to dry yourself.

Your midriff is always the most protected part of your body, especially if you are a man. This is because any lower and upper garments you are wearing tend to overlap at the midriff and provide a double thickness. It is possible, for instance, that your navel is covered all day long by overlapping vest, underpants, shirt, trouser and jersey. This means one narrow strip of your body is overheating while the rest is not. Tip: untuck everything from time to time and ventilate your body.

Whenever we discard a broken shoelace or watch-strap, we are throwing away something that is perfectly good except for the one place that rotted or frayed. That is because there is always one place where the greatest strain is exerted - where the shoelace comes out of the top hole and rubs against it, for instance, or where the buckle rubs against the watch-strap - and this is where the break always occurs. This is in accordance with Kirschner's Law, which states that we wouldn't get holes in sleeves if we didn't have elbows. Solution: relace your shoes often, and change the hole you use in your watch-strap from time to time.

When you sprinkle talcum powder on a damp portion of your body, it does not make your skin dry. It makes the talcum powder wet. We never make anything dry - we merely shift the wetness elsewhere.

Always place mirrors between windows, if possible. It doesn't matter if a mirror is in darkness; what matters is that the person studying his reflection should have light cast on him.

Showers are superior to baths in every respect, it is sometimes said. But this is said only by people who have never tried to wash their feet in a shower.

If we could move fast enough, then the best way to get tomato ketchup out of a bottle would not be to bang it on the bottom but - quite the reverse - to invert the bottle and move it swiftly away from the plate.

More domestic wisdom from Alf Wenstone some other time, I hope.

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