I met a man who hasn’t showered in 12 years

Excessive cleanliness may reduce people’s ability to fight off allergies (Camila Massu)

Excessive cleanliness may reduce people’s ability to fight off allergies (Camila Massu)

A feature for News Review

David Whitlock, a donnish, Einstein-haired chemical engineer, hasn’t showered for 12 years. “I may be crazy,” he tells me, “but I’m not stupid.” Instead, Whitlock spritzes himself daily in millions of bacteria, called AOB (ammonia-oxidising bacteria), that normally live in the soil, rivers, lakes and the sea. As a result, he claims, his skin is smoother and probably healthier. (An occasional wipe with a sponge serves to “wash away grime”.)

Whitlock, and his colleagues at AOBiome, a startup based near the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, are optimistic that AOB might represent the next “blockbuster” breakthrough in medical treatment that they hope to pioneer.

Twelve years ago, Whitlock says, he was staying on a farm,“dating this woman, trying to impress her, and she asked me why her horse rolled in the dirt in March. I said it might be to get rid of insects, but she told me it was too early in the year for that.”

He had a hunch that horses would not have developed the behaviour without sound evolutionary reasons.

“Eventually, I figured out that it was to get the right kind of bacteria on their skin so their sweat wouldn’t putrefy over the summer.”

David Whitlock

David Whitlock

If it worked on one mammal, why not on us? Human sweat breaks down into ammonia. AOB can “feed on” or oxidise this ammonia, but detergents in shampoo and other cleaning products will kill them far faster than they can replicate. Whitlock tested himself for AOB and found none on his body.

“A lifestyle of bathing every morning and doing the various things normal people do had wiped them out,” he says.

“I tried not bathing for a while, but still none showed up.” So he visited an organic farm and took soil samples from the pigsty, cowshed and chicken coop. He cultured the AOB from the samples, made sure there were no dangerous or pathogenic bacteria among them, then “took a final shower, rinsed myself thoroughly and started applying the bacteria”.

What did his friends and family make of this? “I was living alone at the time.”

Julia Scott, a New York Times writer, recently visited Whitlock and his colleagues — some of whom have severely reduced the number of times they wash and use shampoo and deodorant — at AOBiome. “I got close enough to shake their hands, engage in casual conversation and note that they in no way conveyed a sense of being ‘unclean’ in either the visual or olfactory sense,” she wrote.

Whitlock continues to wash his hands with simple soap for food preparation and after using the lavatory.

In a recent pilot study, people who spritzed themselves in AOB for several weeks reported positive results. Scott used the product for a month and said her skin “became softer and smoother . . . and my complexion, prone to hormone- related breakouts, was clear”.

James Heywood, director of AOBiome, believes the bacteria “increase health resilience” in humans. The company now plans to study conditions that AOB may help, including eczema and skin allergies. Heywood claims the bacteria have healed wounds in diabetic mice quicker than usual.

We live in an era that places an extraordinary and historically untypical emphasis on physical cleanliness. The so-called hygiene hypothesis states that a lack of childhood exposure to infectious agents, parasites and “good” micro-organisms — including those that live in the gut and on the skin — has helped to cause a spike in allergies and auto-immune diseases today.

One study found that the rate of eczema among Swedish children in cities is about 12%, but 7.6% among those on farms (who probably come into contact with soil, and AOB, more often). Among American Amish children, who use no chemicals or technology, eczema rates are as low as 1%.

“We live in abnormal environments,” says Heywood.

“We’ve disconnected ourselves from physical work and the biodiversity we evolved in as hunter-gatherers. In some ways, it’s a wonder we’re not sicker. The next class of blockbuster drugs will fundamentally restore resilience and balance to human health.”

Years of antibiotics did nothing for my teenage acne; only a lengthy course of the aggressive drug Roaccutane had some effect.

How strange it would be if the cure, all the while, was lying right under my feet.

Our son’s dead. I won’t trust a GP again

Mandy and Andrew Payne say doctors did not examine baby James properly (Francesco Guidicini)

Mandy and Andrew Payne say doctors did not examine baby James properly (Francesco Guidicini)

A couple who battled in vain to save their baby when he turned blue tell Oliver Thring how three doctors failed to diagnose him

Andrew Payne came home from work one afternoon in November 2012 expecting nothing more than his usual cup of coffee. He opened the front door to find his wife Mandy attempting to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to their six-week-old baby, James. The infant’s lips and fingers had turned blue and blood was pouring from his nose.

“It was like something from The Vampire Diaries because Mandy’s face was covered in his blood,” says Andrew, 39. “It was just the worst possible moment you could have in your life.”

Mandy, who today is herself seriously ill in hospital, had taken James to three doctors near the family home in Hadleigh, Essex, over the previous nine days, but one by one they told her there was nothing seriously wrong with her baby. The second visit followed an out-of-hours phone call. As revealed in today’s Sunday Times, recent figures on NHS weekend care show 20% higher death rates on Saturdays and Sundays. “We’ve since found out that some doctors and out-of-hours GPs use different computer systems. To me, that’s just poor,” says Andrew.

Several days before Andrew came home to that appalling scene, James had developed what Mandy, 33, calls a “barking cough that you wouldn’t wish on an adult … He was wheezing, throwing up his milk and sleeping a lot. And he got really fat in his face but nowhere else. I could feel from his back that he was congested.”

On November 12, she took James to see the family GP, Dr Maciej Bobnis, who said James had a mild cough and a runny nose. “He said it was just a noro [norovirus] infection and was at the age for it,” says Andrew. “And we thought fine, trust the doctors.”

Six days later, James’s symptoms had not improved. Mandy rang NHS Direct and said James had a barking cough, then took the baby to a second doctor, Hewa Dharmarathna, after an out-of-hours phone call. He has claimed Mandy did not tell him that James had a wheezing cough. She denies this.

On the morning of the 21st, more than a week after Mandy had first taken James to see a doctor, she drove her son to her local Kent Elms surgery in Eastwood. Dr Balavinayak Mohankumar examined James and later said he could not remember whether he had removed the infant’s clothes or exposed the chest for examination.

“Something in the back of my mind told me he hadn’t done a proper check,” says Mandy. “But I trusted him because he was a doctor. To me, it was like they were all frightened to touch James. There are so many stupid cases of sexual assault, people saying, ‘You touched my baby and shouldn’t have done.’”

Andrew agrees: “Doctors worry that if they examine a naked child they’ll get done.”

Continue reading at The Sunday Times (£)

It’s not the end just yet, old girl

Tom Hardy with a mother and calf in Botswana; the actor tracked the poaching trade across southern Africa for a two-part ITV show (ITV)

Tom Hardy with a mother and calf in Botswana; the actor tracked the poaching trade across southern Africa for a two-part ITV show (ITV)

The heart-throb actor Tom Hardy is on a mission to save elephants and rhinos from poaching. They have never been in such danger

Tom Hardy makes a good living out of playing villains and hardmen in Hollywood movies. But, he says, “the thought of being eaten by a lion for dinner in the middle of the night while taking a piss has a certain anxiety”. Hardy recently toured four southern African countries and filmed a two-part documentary, to be shown this week, about the poaching crisis stalking the continent.

The trip had its dangers. “The week before I went out,” he says, “what was left of one lad [after a lion attack] was put in a cooler box and sent home to his mum.” In South African townships, if you are accompanied by a camera crew with expensive equipment, “the atmosphere changes when the sun goes down. The odd machete-wielding glue-sniffer tends to raise the blood level.”

But Hardy is serious about the problem. After successful efforts to limit poaching in the 1990s, a slaughter that began in 2008 has become an epidemic, feeding a surging Asian demand, especially from Vietnam and China. Many people in those countries believe powdered rhino horn can treat almost any ailment, including cancer and impotence. In reality it is simply keratin, with “the medicinal value of a bag of toenails”, as Hardy puts it. A kilogram of powdered horn was worth $4,700 in 1993. Today it costs $65,000.

“I don’t criticise those beliefs or point the finger,” says Hardy. “In some of these Asian countries people dig 20ft just to find some root crop to survive. But we need to demystify these products and negate demand to ensure the survival of these species.” Five million elephants roamed Africa in 1930, with what George Orwell called their “preoccupied grandmotherly air”. The ivory trade was banned in 1989 but the black market is now thriving; fewer than 500,000 elephants remain in the continent today. Every 15 minutes poachers shoot another one dead: 36,000 African elephants, nearly 8% of the population, were illegally slaughtered last year. Senegal is thought to have only one elephant left. The animals have existed for 50m years but, on some projections, they will be extinct in the wild by the time Prince George finishes primary school. The rhino’s situation is even more desperate. One species went extinct in 2011; three of the remaining five are critically endangered. In 2004, 10 rhino were poached in South Africa. Last year 668 were killed, and 553 had been slaughtered by August 7 this year. The numbers will top 1,000 by Christmas. So Hardy’s documentary could not be more timely. A hunky, laddish blend of David Attenborough and Ross Kemp, the actor is speaking to me from a film set in Prague. “The more I found out about poaching, the more I realised how little I knew,” he says. “It was like pulling the wool from a sweater. Poaching is not just a case of opportunistic hungry citizens trying to feed their families. It’s an insidious symptom of organised crime syndicates connected at the highest levels.” Continue reading at The Sunday Times (£)

Rob Alderson: Let the weather do its worst: I’ve moved my farm indoors

Rob Alderson: ‘I’ve never known conditions like these at lambing time’

Rob Alderson: ‘I’ve never known conditions like these at lambing time’

After losing lambs to the snow, the farmer decided to take extreme measures

Silence of the lambs

I’ve been farming here in Shropshire since I left school in 1976 and shepherding for 29 years. But I’ve never known conditions like the ones we had on Friday night the week before last. All of a sudden it was bitterly cold, the east winds started cutting across the fields and the snow, rain and sleet were hammering down.

It went on until Monday night: it was simply the worst weather you could have at lambing time. We lamb in March because the days are a bit longer and we want to catch the better weather. You can expect a bit of wintry weather, but it’s very unusual for the conditions to last as long as they have.

It was horrible. In extreme conditions, livestock farmers who farm their sheep out are at the mercy of the elements. When it’s dark and snowing hard, there’s nothing you can do. You have a sleepless night and it’s only the next day that you can look for your animals. On Saturday we found we’d lost three lambs to the cold and on Sunday we found that another two, from a different group, had died. These were strong, healthy lambs that had been born a week earlier. They wanted to survive. They shouldn’t have died.

Digging for life

Sheep will find hollows in the fields or take shelter by a wall or tree, but if they lie down to protect themselves from the weather, the snow will cover them and they’ll suffocate. I remember my father telling me he had dug his sheep out of the snow in 1947 — another bad year — the way I’ve seen other farmers do this year.

You have to “rod down”, taking out a pole the morning after a bad snowfall, looking around for a small hole where — if you’re lucky — the breath of the sheep has melted the snow and digging down to find the sheep. You hope it will still be alive.

Lambs don’t have any oil or lanolin at the base of their wool, so they’re susceptible to the cold, especially when it’s wet. They can get hypothermia in the cold weather, or even hypoglycaemia. This is when a lamb misses a feed, burns all its energy and goes into a spiral that quickly ends in death.

So my partner and I decided to move almost all our lambs and ewes inside. I’m lucky that I have the space to house them all, but it was a real struggle: we had to split up pens to make room and use areas we normally wouldn’t use for lambing, such as cattle sheds, stables and poultry sheds — anything we could find. Since the ewes were still lambing we were full to bursting point and overcrowding can lead to other problems, such as the lambs picking up infections from the close air.

But they were so happy to be there. Within an hour of one group coming in you could see how relieved they were to be out of those horrible cold conditions. Some of them were lying on top of their mothers, where it’s a little bit warmer and softer for them.

Continue reading at The Sunday Times (£)

Guest post: The Importance Of Christmas Foods

This is a guest post, supported by M&S

The Christmas holiday is just around the corner, and that means it’s time to start preparing for the festivities. This includes a number of different things, from buying gifts, to setting up decorations, and implementing any other holiday traditions you and your family may have. Among these preparations, another aspect of the holiday season that you need to be thinking about is perhaps one of the most enjoyable: food and drink. Over the holidays, people tend to relax a bit with regard to diet, and take the opportunity to enjoy some special foods, drinks and treats. And in order to make this aspect of the holiday season truly special for you and the people around you, it is worth taking some time to consider holiday foods in advance. Here are a few suggestions to help get you thinking.

Christmas Hampers

If you have never looked into purchasing M&S Christmas Hampers before, this year might be a great time to start. Not only can these hampers make tremendous gifts, they can also be fantastic simply to have around your home during the holidays. Different hampers come with different contents, ranging from various foods and drinks, to treats, and even recipes and ingredients. A food or treat option like this is very convenient and unique for your home during the Christmas season, and allows everyone to enjoy some fun foods that aren’t always around.

Fine Wines

It can also be nice to have at least a small selection of nice drinks around for late evenings spent with family and friends, or holiday dinners. Some people prefer unique Christmas cocktails, and there are certainly plenty of these to go around. But, particularly for large holiday meals, it can also be very nice to have a selection of nice wines around. If you are used to buying relatively inexpensive wine to have around the house, even a few slightly more expensive wines might provide you with new, festive tastes and quality. This is a great, affordable luxury for the holidays.

Christmas Treats

Finally, there’s the most important aspect of holiday food to consider: Christmas treats. Often depending on family tradition, different people cherish different treats during the holidays. But, whether it’s homemade gingerbread cookies, a special eggnog recipe, or a selection of candies or pastries, Christmas treats do a lot to bring together the atmosphere of the holiday season. Be sure to have your recipes prepared, and your store bought treats ordered in advance, so that you can be sure you aren’t without these crucial elements come Christmas!

Sponsored advertorial: Sacla UK

This is a sponsored advertorial provided by Sacla UK

Post-Party Food

As any party animal knows, the breakfast after a big night is essential to ensure the next
day isn’t a complete write-off. If your big night out has drained your cash reserves, having
an easy and inventive breakfast recipe to hand will help you avoid the hangover without
forking out and, as an added bonus, without having to leave the house. With the great range of products waiting to be found at Sacla.co.uk, you’ll be all set to create your own cheap and cheerful alternative to a café fry-up, with a touch of Italian class to set you up in style for the day ahead.

Inspiration for an Effortless Morning Meal

Shakshuka, the delicious Middle Eastern dish of eggs, tomato and spices, is the perfect
antidote to morning after blues and the inevitable sore head. It’s simple to prepare, uses
ingredients that you’re likely to have lying around in your cupboard and fridge, and can easily be adapted or expanded to cater to your equally party-worn friends.

To begin, sauté onions and peppers in oil, before adding a heady medley of coriander,
thyme, parsley and bay leaves. When the smell has got your mouth watering, throw in the
chopped tomatoes and season with salt and pepper.

If you’re feeling up to an extra spicy kick, you might want to sprinkle in some cayenne
pepper at this point in the process. Simmer for around 15 minutes, adding water at regular
intervals to maintain the consistency of pasta sauce. Then make two wells in the mixture
by separating it with a spoon, and break two eggs into the spaces. Cook gently for 10 more minutes, if you can wait that long!

Finally, to give your breakfast a twist of rich flavour unique to Italian recipes, top the whole
thing off with a scrumptious squirt of basil pesto from the new Sacla’ squeezy bottle. Serve
immediately with a generous wedge of thick, crusty white bread. Try it for yourself and let
cultures collide and the taste sensation begin.

Beyond Breakfast

Sacla’ products form a delicious accompaniment to meals at any time of day or night. You
can serve the shakshuka on top of Sacla’ Fresh Trofie pasta for a big warming dinner perfect for fending off the winter chill. Add a dash of Organic Basil Pesto to a steaming jacket potato stuffed with creamy mozzarella for a quick yet satisfying lunch.

For a mid-afternoon snack with bite, just tip a jar of Fiery Chilli pesto into a dipping bowl and enjoy with tortilla chips. To keep up-to-date with ingenious recipe suggestions, follow Sacla’ on Twitter where you’ll also find the latest on competitions and supermarket deals to perk up your next grocery shop.

This is a sponsored advertorial provided by Sacla UK.

Aperol and Campari

Negroni cocktails: Campari, sweet vermouth and gin. Photograph: Brian Leatart/Getty Images

Aperol seems everywhere all of a sudden, and its cousin Campari is also enjoying a new popularity. Frank’s Campari Bar opened in 2009: a seasonal, cash-only cafe on the roof of a car park in Peckham, south London. Its food isn’t great, and it caters mainly for hipsters with dubious facial hair, but it sold / sells cheap Campari cocktails with a nice view.

The first Polpo restaurant now has a Campari bar downstairs, and the Aperol bar at its Covent Garden outpost launched a couple of weeks ago. I went home to Edinburgh last weekend, and discovered George Street (one of the main shopping drags) to be currently given over to a vast tent heftily promoting Aperol spritzes at around four quid a pop. These red Italian drinks are enjoying a new moment of fame.

None of this remotely matters, of course, but I’m still intrigued as to why they should suddenly have become so popular. It may be simply that they’ve been rediscovered by another generation – they went out of fashion, and like many things they came back – although I expect the marketing departments of Gruppo Campari, which owns both the drinks, may have something to do with it.

Whatever: they’re both delicious. Two brothers named Barberi launched Aperol in 1919. The bitter concoction, which is flavoured with rhubarb, sour orange, gentian and something called cinchona, was originally targeted at “active men”, although since the 1930s it’s been seen as something of a girly drink. Aperol is only 11% ABV to Campari’s 25%: many Italians, particularly in the north, rather rigidly segregate the drinks between sexes. The Aperol spritz emerged in the 1950s: a slug of Aperol, a slosh of prosecco and a top-up of soda water. The “cocktail” is only 8%, and a perfect way to begin an evening if you don’t want to get plastered.

Continue reading at the Guardian

Sponsored video – The Cube by Electrolux

The video above has some more details on The Cube, the brilliant popup I visited in Milan and which is now coming to London. It’s to be perched on top of the Royal Festival Hall and will feature guest appearances from some of the best chefs in the UK.

The Cube seats 18 people round one table; everything is terribly swish and modern. The table zooms down from the ceiling, and the head chef cooks in front of you, introduces some of the dishes, and generally makes – or should make – you feel welcome. Sat Bains, Daniel Clifford, Claude Bosi, Tom Kitchin and others are going to be cooking at the London version.

When I went to the Milanese Cube, Andrea Sarri’s food was not only straightforwardly dazzling, but the steely modernity of the venue, the view of the Duomo, the neat avian style of the place – made it one of the best meals I’d had so far this year.

Electrolux are paying for the Cube, of course, and the central idea behind the project is to flog white goods. (Although, in Milan, the kitchen tended towards the metallic and inductiony, and there was hardly any white plastic to speak of.) But I don’t think that that should necessarily detract from the experience – these chefs know what they’re doing, earth won’t have anything to show more fair than the view across to Westminster, and anyone prepared to pay for the experience should have a damn good evening.

I tend to avoid sponsored posts, or taking money for plugging stuff on this website. But in this case I didn’t hesitate. I’m confident that when the Cube comes to London, it’ll be one of the most sought-after tables in town. If you can possibly get a space, you really should go.

Article sponsored by Electrolux

Guest post: Best London food markets

Columbia Road flower market

This is a guest post, for which I accepted a fee

“London is a cultural hub, home to art galleries, festivals, theatres and amazing food markets. From spicy curries in Brick Lane to bakeries in Greenwich, London offers a whole variety of cuisine. In addition, buying products from a market means that you are supporting your local community and having the chance to enjoy authentic, fresh cuisine.

If you are like me and you love travelling, exploring and trying new foods, then you might be interested in finding out about some great food stalls around London. On the weekends, I much prefer to explore the city with my friends – where I often stumble across new places, pop into cafés and try the local food – compared to just staying indoors and playing partypoker with a takeaway pizza by myself. The great thing about food markets is that the produce is fresh and you can see your meal being made right before your eyes. It’s wonderful to walk around a market, look at all the huge pots of food cooking and smelling the different aromas of various cuisines.

Brick Lane is known for its curries and its bustling, vibrant market. In the summer, the cobbled streets become busy with tourists who are eager to try out some of the authentic Indian cuisine, while others admire the colourful scarves and jewellery on sale. Not only is Brick Lane a great place to pick up a fresh curry, but there are plenty of vintage clothes shops and music stores to explore. Brick Lane is also known for its bagels. Two very popular cafés sell huge bagels very cheaply and stuff them with salt beef and mustard.

Another great place to pick up food is Greenwich market which is home to a whole variety of food stalls. Greenwich market is a much more up-market place than Brick Lane; the prices are higher but the quality of the food is exquisite. You can choose from many worldwide cuisines, from sushi and German sausages, to jerk chicken curries and Italian olives and breads.”


Kebab Kitchen: a new London street food project

Time to tell you about something that’s been gestating for a while. I’m setting up a street food venture with James Ramsden called Kebab Kitchen. We’re going to be selling beautiful unminced doners using free-range meat (Suffolk chicken, West Country lamb), hot lavash bread, smoked garlic buffalo yoghurt sauce, red cabbage lightly pickled in pomegranate molasses, onions with sumac and lemon zest, fat roasted chillies, searing hot sauce, crunchy cucumber and tomato sprinkled with nigella (not Nigella) … that kind of thing.

James and I spent a couple of cold, rainy, raki-soaked weeks travelling round Turkey plundering ideas and methods for the ‘babs. In Gaziantep by the Syrian border we found a recipe for the most stunning, bright-red marinade; in Istanbul we pulled sizzling wood-roasted lamb off skewers with our teeth; near Izmir we found the perfect roasted chilli. Without making any bold claims of authenticity – we’re only ‘Eastern-ish’ – it’s all gone into this project.

We’re a mobile outfit – stalls and markets and so on; we’re on the lookout for the right permanent pitch but are itinerant for the time being. We’re launching this Friday at The StockMKT in Bermondsey Square – 10 minutes from London Bridge. Other events are planned over the summer, and we have some private parties booked.

It’s been tremendous fun setting this up – even the headachey bits like hygiene certificates, HMRC forms, health and safety courses, meetings with accountants, business plans and spreadsheets. We’re still working out how it’s all going to run. But we hope you’ll come down and join us for a proper British kebab.