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Pure Air - a personal quest

"A man with outward courage dares to die. A man with inward courage dares to live" -- Lao Tzu

I smoked my first cigarette at age 14...

Why did I do it? Because I wanted to look cool, fearless and impress my friends.

As the saying goes, "The real fools are those too scared to look foolish". And I, like many teenagers, was afraid of social rejection.

Despite the fact that my beloved uncle, a heavy smoker, had already died of lung cancer, I even managed to convince myself that I was somehow "different" to other people and that smoking couldn't harm me because my special spiritual powers made me immune....

I caught bronchitis at age 18. It was not fun. So much for my spiritual powers.

And then I worked for several months in a chemical factory. As they say, "I was young and I needed the money". We were working with Volatile Organic Compounds - in a facility that made solvent based adhesives. I was part of the lab testing department - and although I believe my exposure to fumes was nowhere near that of some of the other workers, I definitely breathed in a good ole' cocktail of weird solvents. As for the guys who actually worked in the solvent room.... they all seemed quite mad and I'm fairly convinced they were permanently high from the solvent fumes. God knows what fate has befallen them now, I hope they are all happily and healthily retired but in truth I am nervous to imagine.

Amongst other things, we worked with a particularly evil type of chemical called isocyanates. Isocyanates were known to cause lung sensitization. Although proper safety precautions were in place (such as fume cupboards) to ensure that we didn't breathe the stuff, the factory had a medical check for workers once a month to ensure our lungs were still doing their job properly.... I guess that says something about the hazards involved.

After attempting to give up smoking and then relapsing several times, I finally smoked my last cigarette at age 28. I was so appalled and disgusted with myself, with my mental weakness and bad habits, that I made an absolute vow of iron that I would never smoke again - and I have not, and never will. I am now 36.

I hitch-hiked all over England in my 20's - and from all the hours spent walking along major roads or stood by motorway intersections, I feel that I have breathed way more than my lifetime's quota of traffic fumes. I had some fabulous adventures as a Neptunian drifter - carrying only a small backpack, a song, and my "magic thumb" - but there was a price to pay and the price was some poor quality air.

My lungs are sensitized. I cannot possibly say for sure exactly what caused it, but I have to be careful. My overall health is pretty good but exposure to even small amounts of smoke can set me coughing, hacking and wheezing - even years after giving up smoking. My health has greatly improved since those days - I get a cold less often and it's never as bad as it used to be when I smoked.

Like many others, I have more of a sense of my mortality these days than I did in my 20's. I care greatly about my health now, and am greatly concerned about the quality of the air that I breathe, the water I drink and the food I eat. It is my opinion that without health, we are nothing - and to paraphrase a friend of mine - health is the greatest form of wealth we can have.

Who really knows what the effects are from the "low-level toxic soup" that we are constantly barraged by in the modern world? Opinions vary widely but some say there are thousands of chemicals in our bodies. I played with lead as a child, and I remember asbestos paint. Occasionally I feel resentful - I did not order chemical soup, yet it was served, and I supped it, unknowingly. My father tells me that as a child they were allowed to play with mercury... and just as we take mercury toxicity much more seriously these days and would not dream of letting children play with it, I don't doubt that there are many substances in our everyday world which will be banned in fifty years time. I'm an eternal optimist - but I hope our grandchildren won't look back and call us "the carcinogen generation"....

Nowadays, I'm a fresh-air-a-holic - and proud! I live in the countryside. I have to accept that my career might be better if I lived in the city - but I choose to live in the countryside:Partly because fresh air is so important to me; and partly because the trees are so pretty and the bird song is so nourishing to the soul! An in-car air purifier is one of the next things on my shopping list - and soon maybe you'll see me sitting in rush-hour traffic with a big grin on my face, and you'll wonder why I'm so cheerful.

I'm passionate about my health and I really hope you are too. For me, nothing quite beats walking down a country lane and sucking in sweet lungfuls of delicious fresh air. Make the most of it, fresh air is truly one of life's pleasures. I really can't understand why I smoked as a youth. It was insanity. Health is so very precious.

The inventors of the HEPA filter - whoever you were, thank you, you are among my personal heroes. Along with various musicians such as Beethoven, Liszt, the inventor of the duvet ,and the creators of the internet...

"A" -- researcher, Neptunian dreamer, and creator of

"It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men's hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit." -- Robert Louis Stevenson

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