19/06/16

Sex in the sewers: Paris in summer

musee-des-egouts-de--4ba73ffb6550e

Most people spend long summer evenings in Paris strolling arm in arm around the boulevards, sitting in cafes or lolling in parks. I spent this weekend in the sewers. Am I odd in finding drains a sexy subject? Perhaps. But they’re my number one candidate for a Song of Contagion.

I’m lobbying for a diarrhoea story that starts in 1830 and tells the story of poo-related deaths in London and Calcutta. The British and the Indian music will start off at the same volume because back then, diarrhoea was killing roughly the same proportion of the population in those cities. Then in the 1850s the British music gets deafening — that was the Big Stink and the cholera epidemic that followed. This rattles the Victorians into action, and they start to build drains — represented by the introduction of a didgeridoo as a bass-line to the British music (I’m hoping for a dij because it both looks and sounds like a drain…) As a result, diarrhoea deaths in London plummet. While the dij bass-line carries on, the rest of the British music gets quieter and falls silent. The Indian music, on the other hand, never gets a bass-line. Neither the colonial government nor the many subsequent Indian governments have invested sufficiently in basic sanitation, and tens of thousands of children continue to die of diarrhoea in Indian cities to this day.

Whether this story gets selected or not is up to Tony Haynes and his song-writers and musicians in the Grand Union Orchestra. But it is also up to you, and whether you have better ideas about which diseases would best illustrate the different social, political and physical forces that shape our perception of the importance of a specific illness. In our current thinking, the list of parameters which affect our perception of disease fall into four categories. They look like this:
Parameters affecting the percevied importance of diseases

Other candidate diseases to be turned into a great musical stage show include HIV, shellshock-to-post-traumatic-stress, Zika-vs-dengue and rhuematism-vs-erectile-dysfunction. If you’ve got ideas for diseases that would make a good, data-driven song, e-mail us at info@songofcontagion.com. Or if you are in Oxford on June 20th, come to the Wig and Pen between 17.30 and 19.30 to share a pint and your ideas. If you’re in London on Monday July 11th 2016, Elizabeth is offering beer, pizza and a chance to get your disease on stage to anyone who wants to come along for an evening of brain-storm-draining. E-mail info@songofcontagion.com for time and place.

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This post was published on 19/06/16 in Science, Song of Contagion.

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