I regularly surprise myself with how little I know. Not knowing much about anything important is just an unfortunate fact of life that I need to face up to. What`s far more frightening though is that nobody else seems to knows much either, even about some pretty important stuff.
I started a new tour last Sunday. A group of 13 tourists, from America, New Zealand and England have been placed under my leadership for two weeks. On Sunday evening, sat on fold-up chairs in a Tokyo hotel lobby, they listened patiently as I laboured through my regular patter.
“I`ll give you weather forecasts, the next few days are looking pretty good” (The next day it poured.)
“Our Hiroshima hotel, at the halfway point, is a convenient place to do laundry, I usually do mine there, although groups sometimes request I do it earlier” (Slapping my thigh, I crack up laughing at this brilliant joke. The silent group stares menacingly back.)
I quickly move on to some recently added spiel.
“Exposure to radiation is a long-term problem for people living near the nuclear plant, we are on a short trip hundreds of miles away. It`s not something worth worrying about.” I said this with rare coherence and conviction.
The mumbling and bumbling resumed shortly after.
The next morning, a cloudy and cool one, I took the group to Tsukiji market. In the outer market, we ambled along amongst mounds of pink wafer-thin fish flakes, glass displays of oblong omelette and vacuum-packed hunks of whale bacon.
We came across some juicy-looking samples of peeled and chopped fruit. A smiling lady told us the fruit was nashi, a Japanese pear. Skewered with cocktail sticks, the nashi samples were delicious, I encouraged everybody to try some.
“Where is the nashi from?”, I asked the lady.
My enthusiastic translation of her description stopped instantly. I realised everybody had already eaten the nashi. I was momentarily lost for words, even a mumble or bumble was beyond me.
But, so what? A bite of fruit the size of a sugar cube will surely harm no-one. Then I thought about everything I have understood about radiation exposure, which is 23% of nothing.
What is safe? I don`t know; nobody knows. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese living near the plant need to know, but neither the government or nuclear scientists can give them an answer.
When experts admit they don`t know, what chance have rank amateurs? In future briefings, I think I`ll just stick to lame jokes and crap weather forecasts.