Thursday, November 6, 2008

Two sadly deceased, and a politically-incorrect anecdote

Courtesy of the Daily Mail:
Two French wine-makers suffocated by carbon dioxide fumes from grapes they were treading

Two amateur French wine makers have died after they were suffocated by the fumes from the grapes they were treading with their bare feet.

The victims had volunteered to help a friend make wine at his vineyard in the northern Ardeche region and had climbed into the six-foot wide vat to begin the traditional process of extracting the juice from the grapes.

But police believe Daniel Moulin, 48, and 50-year-old Gerard Dachis were overcome by carbon dioxide fumes that are given off during fermentation and collapsed.

A legal nicety

On Sunday, Malcolm listened to an eminent QC addressing those dining at Lincoln's Inn on the subject of expert witnesses. He told a story of the Southampton stevedore who was charged with drunken driving. The defendant's excuse was that he worked cleaning the vats of Martini unloaded at the docks. He must, without realising it, have absorbed sufficient alcohol by breathing and through skin-contact to put him over the limit: in point of fact, three times over the limit.

The QC related how he approached an expert witness, a leading medical man, to confirm the story. He was told, forcibly by the doctor that such a thing was totally impossible. It was inconceivable that such a build-up of alcohol in the bloodstream could occur by inhalation or by absorption through the skin.

When the case came before the magistrates, the QC did not put up expert evidence. The defendant told his story, and gave his excuse to the Bench.

The Bench withdrew to consider the case.

When they returned they found the defendant not guilty, on the grounds that he had inhaled and been in contact with alcohol ...

This, in its turn, prompted Malcolm's recollection.

Malcolm's Dad spent some of the War years on MTBs. The vessel in this story was one of the lend-lease Elco PT boats, built at Bayonne, New Jersey. They had three 1200hp engines, driving two propellers, and (in theory) running on high-octane petrol.

Accessing that fuel was not easy in the eastern Mediterranean and Aegean. One source was a Turkish bowser, so the Brits on their MTBs and the Huns on their E-boats would queue for supplies, trying not to acknowledge each others' presence before the transaction was complete, they were outside Turkish waters, and the War could continue.

The Turkish petrol could well have originated in the Roumanian fields, then under Nazi control. Another irony.

However, self-evidently, the fuel was of poor quality, unregulated, and quite polluted. This meant the tanks on the MTBs needed regular cleaning.

So, to that non-PC moment.

Malcolm's Dad described the approved method of tank-cleaning in war-time Alexandria. Attach a rope to an Egyptian. Insert the Egyptian into the tank, instructing him to keep singing. When the singing stopped, haul out comatose Egyptian.

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