Look, no Kleenex: Way to blow our noses without blowing our planet

In the Fall of 2004, I was on a Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to Toronto. The flight across the vast Pacific was 13 hours long, and half way into the flight my nose started playing up.

Being in cold placed for many hours sometimes triggers my catarrh, but I was prepared. I always carry one or more handkerchiefs with me, especially on flights. And also some anti-sneeze pills from my homeopathy doctor.

Blowing my nose and popping the small, sugary pills hardly ever draws anyone’s attention, but on this occasion it did. Our friendly flight stewardess was quite amused to see me using a hanky.

“Oh, Sir, you’re such a gentleman!” she exclaimed.

It took me a few seconds to figure out what she meant. Then she added, helpfully: “You still use a handkerchief. That’s so charming. No one uses them anymore…”

There wasn’t the faintest tone of sarcasm in her voice. She was genuinely impressed that I carried a hanky.

Image courtesy Boeing Co

I was reminded of this incident when reading Time magazine’s recent reflective essay on ten years after Princess Diana’s death.

At one point, it quotes Dickie Arbiter, a former press secretary to the Queen, Charles and Diana who was responsible for the media arrangements for Diana’s funeral: “The Queen was always going to pay tribute to Diana….There was a furor because she was at [the Scottish castle] Balmoral and not down with the sniveling mobs in London. [But] William and Harry needed her more than hundreds and thousands of people keeping Kleenex in business.”

Indeed, Kleenex and other tissue paper manufacturers must have done very nicely that week. A few days later, the death of Mother Teresa in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) would have profited the Indian peddlers of the flimsy paper that more and more people seem to find indispensable.

Tissue paper vs. Handkerchiefs is an on-going debate that’s far from resolved. Both items have pros and cons; they also have their defenders and promoters. Some of them air their views on the Bottledguy blog

I have always been a handkerchief user, so I’m naturally biased in their favour. Yes, I have to be careful in using and storing them; yes, I have to wash, dry and keep track of them. And no, I don’t mind these chores at all.

And everything I read tells me it is more environmentally friendly to use hankies.

Here’s an interesting story from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (3 Sep 2007): Can Australian sisters bring back hanky’s heyday?

It’s about two sisters in Australia, one in Sydney and the other in Brisbane (that I passed through only a few days ago) trying to revive the use of handkerchiefs.

They market them as “both useful accessories and as markers of the bonds between people.”

Image courtesy Hanky Schmanky

Their company is named Hanky Schmanky. I don’t know them, but applaud their initiative. They are trying to make hanky use ‘cool’ again.

We need many more people like Jennifer Moran and Angela Galgut – co-founders of this small company – to help us blow our noses without blowing the planet.

Hankymania page from Hanky Schmanky website

Nothing to Sneeze at: Umbrak Fisk gives environmental advice to all nose blowers at Grist.org

Remembering Diana, the world’s first Princess of Television

Today, 31 August 2007, is the tenth anniversary of Princess Diana’s tragic death in a road accident in Paris.

A decade on, I can still remember exactly where and how I first heard the news. This experience is widely shared: to many in my generation — born in the 1960s and raised through 1970s and 1980s (just like Diana was) — this was an unforgettable moment. Perhaps just like the assassination of John F Kennedy was to a previous generation.

The analogy between Di and JFK goes further. Both had charismatic personalities that appealed far beyond their home country. Both epitomised the vibrancy of youth and the potential for change in the institutions they joined (Diana the British Royal family, and JFK the American government). Both lives were snuffed out before they could fulfill that promise, but they left enduring legacies — and thriving cottage industries of conspiracy theories (‘Who killed JFK?’ has now been joined by ‘Who killed Diana?’).

Here’s another similarity: JFK and Diana were both iconic images of the era of television.

If JFK turned up just in time to charm the first generation of American TV viewers, Diana’s arrival on world stage coincided neatly with the worldwide roll out of satellite television, especially the all-news channels. And thanks to the advances in global broadcasting, Diana commanded a far bigger global audience than JFK did (though the comparisons must end there).

I would like to remember Diana as the first Princess of Television of our media-rich age.

Looking back, we can see how satellite television started and evolved almost in parallel to Diana’s own life. Diana had just celebrated her first birthday, when the world’s first trans-Atlantic satellite television signal was relayed from Europe to the Telstar satellite over North America on 23 July 1962. (By coincidence, JFK was to have participated in the event, but could not owing to a technical delay.)

Over the next two decades, as Diana grew up and matured into a young lady who would soon capture the world’s imagination, satellite TV’s technology, outreach and mass following evolved to cover more channels, territories and eyeballs.

A turning point came when the US entrepreneur Ted Turner took a daring step for that time by launching the Cable News Network (CNN), the world’s first 24 hour news channel. CNN went on the air on 1 June 1980 amidst many skeptics asking: who would possibly want to watch news all the time?

Who indeed! Until then, conventional wisdom had confined news to a regular evening slot, anchored by larger-than-life newscasters. The routine was broken only when there was some earth-shattering development.

Turner’s CNN, ridiculed in the early days as the ‘chicken noodle network’, changed all that, and paved the way for dozens of 24/7 news channels.

As it turned out, CNN arrived just in time. The engagement between Diana and Charles, the Prince of Wales, was announced a few months later, in February 1981.

Their Royal Wedding on 29 July 1981 was watched by a combined television audience of over 750 million worldwide. That broke records as the highest audience for a live broadcast, surpassing the Apollo XI Moon landing a dozen years earlier (seen by an estimated 500 million).

The rest is recent history. Television newsgatherers could never have enough of Diana — apparently their audiences kept asking for more. That may be a debatable point, but Diana was quick to learn the art of exploiting the inevitable: when she realised it was a stark fact of life, she started using it to her personal advantage.

Diana used television as much as television used Diana. Her famous BBC Panorama interview with Martin Bashir was one among many instances when she lived her personal life under the glare of public television (photo below).

Image from BBC Image courtesy BBC

But Diana’s clever use of television was not just for advancing her personal agenda. When she became a big time charity supporter in the 1990s, she used the power of moving images to demystify and humanise global issues from caring for people living with HIV/AIDS to banishing the scourge of landmines. These ensured that Diana became the People’s Princess in the last years of her life.

Image courtesy Daily Telegraph

Early on in her marriage to Charles, a leading newsman told Diana: when you married him, we came as part of the package deal. If she was initially stressed by that revelation, she later made the best use of that inevitable trapping of her celebrity.

And when she died young and tragically, on 31 August 1997, her premature departure became the biggest news story of the year.

The BBC (domestic) announces Princess Diana’s death:

BBC World TV announces Diana’s death in Paris:

Diana’s funeral on 6 September 1997 had a larger global satellite TV audience than did her wedding. Of course, by then there were more people and more television sets on this planet.

Elton John sings a special version of ‘Candle in the Wind’ at Princess Diana’s funeral:

So we salute the legacy of the world’s first Princess of Television. One who moved our hearts with moving images of her personal life and those of the worthy causes she championed. One who showed how moving images can move people.

PS: There was a time when the unforgettable television moments were gone after their broadcasts (unless recorded on tape). But now we have YouTube, where the world’s visual memory lives on. All news and current affairs coverage I have linked to in this post were found on YouTube by simply searching for Princess Diana. There is much more where these came from.

Read BBC Online’s timeline of the life of Princess Diana