Recently, for reasons that I won't go into, I've become very interested in tripe. You know, guts and that. Innards. Now, as a Williams I'm an inveterate carnivore but I'll confess that my knowledge of offal is a little bit sketchy, which is really as it should be because—let's be clear about this—tripe is horrible stuff. It smells. It's infested with bacteria. It's covered in the remnants of the animal's last dinner. There is no reason for the average punter to have anything to do with it, unless they're a) a dog or b) Scottish. I was considering buying some for research purposes but I decided against it because of the veggie revolt that would sweep the house. It'd end up with me and the tripe in the coal shed at the bottom of the garden and I can't be doing with that. So my research so far has been purely theoretical.
(By the way—it's true about my family being hardcore with the meat eating. When I first brought Lisa to my Ma and Pa's I had to explain to my Dad what being a vegetarian actually entailed. He just didn't get why anyone would live like that. It was like when I came back from uni with the news that you can have mayonnaise on your chips all over again. Life moves slow in the Black Country.)
Like any denizen of the early 21st century, I turned to the internet for succour. The internet is a typical human innovation; it has the potential to completely revitalise the way we communicate, the way we access information and the way we perceive the world around us but it mainly gets used for porn, shopping and skiving off work.
(Sorry about all these digressions but: Did you know that in China the government, being as it is well Communist, strictly controls the public's access to the internet? And that if a Chinese person logs onto Google and looks for information about, say, democracy then Google shops them to the Chinese government? And that said government then turns up at the person's house in the middle of the night and takes them away to one of their 're-education' camps? How shit is that? I'd boycott Google if it didn't slightly inconvenience me to do so.)
Anyway. First port of call was, as always, Wikipedia. I'm very much a fan of Wikipedia. Completely free, democratic information, contributed to and maintained by anyone and everyone. It's been pointed out recently that it can be hair-raisingly inaccurate but we needn't let that bother us; nine times out of ten it gives you gold, or at least points you in the right direction. And that's not even the best bit. The best bit of Wikipedia is the way it leads you from one article to the next, link following link following link, your own idle curiosity taking you from the Battle of Copenhagen to Granada Television in a few short steps. My appetite for useless trivia is potentially unlimited so for me an hour on Wikipedia is equivalent to giving Michael Barrymore a huge bag of coke and a big orange dildo.
It happened again when I was looking for tripe. Tripe lead to livestock, which lead to methods of stunning animals for the kill, which lead to slaughterhouses, which lead to slaughterhouse technology which lead, finally, to Dr Temple Grandin. Dr Temple Grandin is an American. She was born in 1947 and she has 'high functioning' autism. Basically, this means that she is definitely autistic but can operate to a high a level in everyday society. She is seen as a leading figure in the autistic community and is a fine demonstration of their belief that autism is simply a different way of being a person rather than a disorder that has to be combated. One of her gifts is an intuitive understanding of animal psychology; another is an ability to see shapes and patterns where most of us just see stuff. These unique talents makes her the perfect person to design an abattoir. More than half the slaughterhouses in the United States are run according to her system. They're designed in such a way that they cause the bare minimum of discomfort to the animals. There are big sweeping corrals and low-stress methods of restraint. It's all relative of course; they're still going to be stunned, sliced, strung-up and skinned but the fact remains that this woman has basically turned what has traditionally been considered a massive deficiency into a force for good.
She invented a hug machine, for God's sake. Here's the thing; autistic people—most people, actually—are calmed down when all-over pressure is applied to them. Which is what happens when someone gives you a big 'ol cuddle. So she invented a machine that provides the same whole-body squeeze feeling. It's portable and everything. She carries it around and uses it when she gets agitated, as autistic people are wont to do. Pretty obvious when you think about it, but did you? She did.
This amount of gushing praise can become a little unsavoury so I'm going to rein it in now. But there is a point. Dr Grandin is proof that a perceived weakness can become a great strength. She's proof that a person can use what they've got to find their own little spot in the world, however unlikely its location may be. She's proof that the human race can be, in its own peculiar way, very strange and beautiful.
Don't let anyone tell you that the world's not a wonderful place.