David Randall: The price of gold? Measure it in the lives of poisoned children

Four corners of the world

On Friday, the price of gold in London was just over £28 per gram. In northern Nigeria, it is immeasurably higher. Illegal gold mining may be the route to riches for some – the gold traders, especially – but it's a killer for children in the areas where it goes on. Scrabbling up gold-bearing rocks in the state of Zamfara allows the high concentrations of lead in the ore to contaminate the air, water and soil. Since November, lead poisoning has killed no fewer than 400 children, and caused paralysis in many more. In some places, mercury levels in the air were nearly 500 times greater than what is deemed acceptable.

No doubt high-street jewellers in Europe and the US would insist that every gold item they sell uses metal from authorised sources, but this illegally mined gold must be going somewhere. It would be nice to think that some part of the legitimate gold supply chain would give a fraction of their profits to try to minimise this pitiful catalogue of dead children.


We all know people who, however rudimentary the music, however slow its pace, just cannot dance in time to it. Divorces have been provoked by less. Well, now it appears there may be a clinical cause of total ineptitude on the dance floor – apart, that is, from a lack of co-ordination. Researchers at the University of Montreal have put their scientific fingers on a new condition known as "beat deafness", where the dancer can't identify a music's beat, or synchronise with it. In the latest issue of Neuropsychologia, for those of you who subscribe, they cite a man called Mathieu who, according to their observations, moves in a way totally unconnected to the beat of any music. They say this is different, and more extreme, than people who are merely bad dancers. Curiously, Mathieu can sing in tune, although at what tempo the researchers don't say.


You don't have to go many yards down a British street to find someone all too willing to inflict on you everything they know about the housing market, thereby revealing the even greater amount they don't know about the subject. The next time you're cornered by such a bore, try putting their complaints into perspective by telling them about the realities of housing in China. Tell them about Zhang Xinyuan, a 30-year-old university teacher who earns £7,540 a year and lives in a room just 15ft square while trying to save for a home of her own. This will be difficult. About 85 per cent of families in urban China can't afford to buy an apartment at current prices, which, unhelpfully, are rising at a rate of about 25 per cent a year.

The present price in the outskirts of Beijing means that Zhang's entire annual salary is equivalent to the cost of just over a single square foot of apartment. Her only hope is one of the subsidised affordable homes. The Chinese government intends to build 36 million of these in the next four years – considerably short of the number required, even if all are actually constructed. Zhang will be very lucky if she is in a home of her own by the age of 40.


Finally, a new trick aimed at women by Islamic fanatics, this time in Chechnya. Females who leave home without their heads swathed in a scarf are liable to hear a car screech to a halt, a window open, hear shots, feel a pain in their chests, reel backwards, and find a large green stain growing on their blouses. Paintball guns, their firing accompanied by the cry: "Cover your hair, harlots!" You can criticise the old Soviet Union for a lot of things, but at least women in the Caucuses could walk the street without being attacked by religious maniacs.