Florence Nightingale steadfastly refused to believe in bacteria, but she was wrong. The horrid truth is that every one of us carries billions of fellow-travellers, and no amount of bathing can ever change their number. The good news, however, is that most of our resident flora and fauna are harmless, or actually beneficial to our health.
In 1976, Michael Andrews published these tidings in his bestselling The Life that Lives on Man, with all the details of our intimate companions in the micro-deserts of our forearms and the swamps of our underarms. But he failed to convince me that such slithy beasts as parasitic roundworms and liver flukes were equally benign. So I tried some internal experiments of my own.
I like to travel alone.
If you go as a couple, you inhabit a little world that others see as self-sufficient and try to avoid disturbing. If you form part of a group, you become even more intimidating. So I usually choose to travel on my own, paying the price of occasional loneliness for the pleasure of being able to do precisely as I please – and for the kindness and curiosity that so often come the way of those who appear to be alone.
I say ‘appear to be alone’, because this isolation is nothing but an illusion. Each of us, wherever we go, is accompanied by a complex ecology of other creatures whose total number exceeds that of all the people on earth. We are inhabited, subdivided, rented and occupied by an amazing array of flora and fauna. And there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. It has little to do with being clean or dirty. After an hour in a Japanese onsen, or hot spring, the wildlife on the surface of your skin actually increases as the beasts and yeasts emerge from the nooks and crannies where they breed. And there is no reason to be upset by all this frenzied activity. The vast majority of inmates of your personal menagerie are not just harmless but actually beneficial. In some cases, they are essenti
The full version of this article is only available to subscribers to Slightly Foxed: The Real Reader’s Quarterly. To continue reading, please sign in or take out a subscription to the quarterly magazine for yourself or as a gift for a fellow booklover. Both gift givers and gift recipients receive access to the full online archive of articles along with many other benefits, such as preferential prices for all books and goods in our online shop and offers from a number of like-minded organizations. Find out more on our subscriptions page.Subscribe now or Sign in