An old friend, Adrian Steed, emailed to say, “Congratulations to all who were born between the 1930s and early 1970s:

“We survived despite there being no childproof lids on medicine bottles; riding our bikes without helmets; spending babyhood in cots painted with lead-based paints…”

Stop right there.

Don’t joke about our lead-contaminated world. We might have survived in that we are still breathing in and out but what did all those heavy metals do to us mentally?

Of all brain-damaging pollutants lead is the worst.

It might well explain why today we do mad things like shrieking in lunatic ecstasy at pop stars cross-eyed with drugs and who earn more than state presidents; like buying and selling soccer players for more money than it cost to build ships. We who lived in the lead-polluted world of last century must be full of it and as sure as nuts (if you’ll forgive the expression) our head filler is severely damaged.

Even the aluminium pots of yesterday are now believed to have contaminated food to the extent that it caused the sudden prevalence of that disease that destroys one’s memory. Eizenhammers? Alpiners? I’ve forgotten.

And mercury. In my boyhood we would play for hours with beads of mercury, breaking them up and watching them coalesce again. Today mercury is known to scramble the brain just as surely as opening up the skull and inserting an electric eggbeater.

Look how toxic smoke poured out of factory chimneys like toothpaste. In my childhood in the English Midlands the air was filled with sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, phenols, chlorofluorocarbons and heavy metals like cadmium and German bombs. All brain damaging.

And there was lead. Ah yes, lead. Lead from vehicle exhausts; lead from water pipes and, as you say, lead from our cots which health authorities infer we must have eaten though I don’t recall doing so.

Water passing along lead pipes becomes contaminated - hence the expression “heavy water”.

As kids we played with lead soldiers and then ate sandwiches with lead-blackened fingers so it went into our stomachs from where - although I’ve never understood how - it leaked upwards into our brains. Maybe little bits dropped down each time we bent to tie our shoe laces. Maybe those who went around barefoot are today less brain damaged than we are.

We even looked for scrap lead to melt on the kitchen stove and pour into sand moulds so that our homes became filled with lead fumes. Whole families ended up sitting cross-eyed in corners, giggling and nudging each other until the authorities arrived to take them away.

I recall melting down some broken lead soldiers over the kitchen stove, pouring the molten metal into a mould and fashioning a model boat hull and trying to sail it in the bath. Any parent seeing their child engrossed in trying to float a lead boat should immediately start asking it questions like, “How many fingers am I holding up, son?” and, “Can you tell me your name?”

As a kid I might have been small, but I was heavy. Not surprisingly I was a poor swimmer.

When I and my lead-befuddled friends leapt shrieking with joy into our local municipal swimming bath our lead-filled heads acted like breeze blocks anchoring us to the bottom. Lifesavers were constantly on the lookout for feet sticking up above the surface so they could pull us out.

Today’s cheap plastic playthings may be, after all, the best bet.

Certainly plastic armbands are better than lead ones. So are plastic beach balls.

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James Clarke