Scratch the surface and cause a scare

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The Independent Online
Somewhere up above us there is a Chinese satellite that has gone out of control and is due to crash somewhere on Britain in the near future. We know this for certain. Yet it leaves us totally unmoved.

Why? Because it's not big dangers like that which frighten us most. It's the small, familiar things that frighten us, especially if there was a time when we trusted them for a while.

For instance, we now distrust cigarettes, but we used to trust them. Oh yes, we did. They were a bit smelly and a bit dirty, but not bad for us. Good for us, even. Oh yes, they were. In the 1920s they were still advertising cigarettes as being "kind to your throat".

Not any more. Now, smoking kills you. So does salt. So does fat. So do potatoes. So do all the little things we used to trust.

Like the crumbly grey stuff which you scratch with your fingernails on scratchcards.

Know the stuff I mean?

Funny stuff like friable pumice stone on scratchcards which you rub away with nail or end of pen to see if you have won a free trip to Disneyland or a large sum of money.

(And you never have....)

Have you ever wondered what this grey, asbestos-like material actually is?

Have you ever wondered what it's called, or what it's made from?

And did it ever occur to you that it might be carcinogenic?

A reader: Here - what are you getting at? Are you saying that that stuff on scratchcards is poisonous or something?

Me: Hold on a moment - don't rush me. I'm coming to that....

There is now a very real fear, according to scientists, that the scratchy stuff on scratchcards may contain substances that are not only injurious to the skin when scratched, but which, when released into the air by the act of scratching, enter our lungs and then cause pulmonary complications and respiratory problems.

By injurious, they mean "causing cancer".

By respiratory problems they mean "causing cancer".

But that is not all.

Professor Vernon Latouche points out that the lower sperm count that has been noticed among human males in the past few years corresponds exactly with the rise in the spread of scratchcards...

A reader: Just a moment - just a moment! Are you saying that this stuff on the scratchcards is a killer and makes us infertile?

Me: No. I'm just saying that scientists are beginning to suspect that ...

Reader: What scientists?

Me: No idea. I'm just trying to start a scare.

Reader: How do you mean? Start a scare?

Me: Well, it's like this. Every journalist sooner or later starts a rumour of some kind. It's almost as good as having a scoop. It might be the rumour of an impending marriage. It might be of a scandal. It might be of a war or a new disease. I've never done that. I wanted to do it before it was too late. So then I thought about this stuff on scratchcards and thought, well, that would scare people....

Reader: So Professor Vernon Latouche...

Me: The famous expert on breathing little bits of scratch stuff?

Reader: Yes...

Me: I made him up.

Reader: I get you. Nice idea. Carry on.

Experts at Camelot have suspected for a long time that the substance used on scratchcards might have cumulative effects on the brain if sniffed in sufficient quantities, and they have recently suppressed a report that confirms this. Apparently, after a punter has spent hundreds of pounds on scratchcards and won nothing, he thinks he is more likely to win if he goes on. Scientists could find no explanation for this irrational behaviour, until they began to suspect that the gambler's mental processes were disturbed by inhalation of the grey scratch stuff...

Reader: Hey!

Me: Yes?

Reader: If you say things like that, won't Camelot's tame lawyers be round in a flash to slap an injunction on you?

Me: That's a risk that an investigative journalist has to take.

Reader: Are you an investigative journalist?

Me: No. I made that up as well.

Reader: Oh. Well, let me know if the lawyers do come round.

Me: I will.

To be continued....

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