Friday, 20 January 2012

Alps talking back

As well as the ideas in the planned talk on Boxing Day, there were several digressions and questions. Beyond my rambling notes, it seems a very good idea to address what actually happened, and especially the feedback from the audience, who I hope will have been changed in some little way by the effort that went into the house, and into my talk about it. 

At some point I told them the joke about the luckiest man in the world and the unluckiest man in the world. First, one man says, "I'm the luckiest man in the world: I've got an English house, an American salary, a Chinese cook and a Japanese wife." Next, the other guy says: "I'm the unluckiest man in the world: I've got a Japanese house, a Chinese salary, an English cook, and an American wife."

I'm not at all sure whether English houses are the best in the world, although there's no smoke without fire. Increasingly, of course, there are no fires without smokeless fuel, and a lot of fireplaces that used to sit at the heart of the English house have been boarded up and electrified, or turned to gas, as in the Dursley's house in Privet Drive. The English house was constructed around the burning of fossil fuels, and as such is part of an old paradigm. There is something very solid and reassuring about an English house though, which you don't get with a typical Japanese house. 

However, trying to get back to the talk, a lot of Japanese people seem to think that Japanese houses are the best in the world. The billions of yen put into advertising in the building trade is obviously paying off!

One member of the audience asked me about the cost of imported windows, which I replied was a lot more than domestic windows, if you just look at the initial price. If you consider the cost of all the heat that is going to leak out them over their lifetime, compared to the net inflow of heat from high performance windows, then the imported windows probably end up a lot cheaper.

The question that got me most, that I have heard several times before and has always got me, and probably always will, was "but Japan has four seasons". This seems to have been implanted deep into the Japanese psyche, so that the first reaction is not one of rationality, science or even morality, but whether it is foreign or not. 

I tried to explain that while Japan does have high humidity in summer and low humidity in winter, humidity itself always stays between 0% and 100%. When it tries to go over 100% it's called rain. And while there may be a lot of rain in Japan, Tokyo having twice the precipitation of London, the rain is still made up of molecules of di-hydrogen oxide, which obey the same laws of physics whatever language is being spoken around them, or whatever flag is being waved above them, as atoms have no nationality. And while the temperature may change a lot between summer and winter, and even between night and day, in the grand scheme of things these temperatures are not wildly different, compared for example to those a space craft may experience, or even those in Antarctica. 

Billy Connolly once said there's no such thing as bad weather--just the wrong clothes. With apologies to Billy, I think that there is no such thing as a tough climate--just the wrong buildings.