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I like this photo because I think it’s kinda funny. There’s actually a perfectly legitimate reason for the gas mask… Here’s what’s going on…


My fiancĂ©e and I live on a suburban rental property which we reckon was built in the ’70s or ’60s. It’s a two-bedroom weatherboard house that was built in the typical style for the time. Its age means there’s occasionally a leaking window (and let’s not forget the misaligned stumps that cause ping pong balls to accumulate in corners) but apart from those minor quirks we reckon it’s more than cosy enough for us to think of it as our home.
There’s only one real bugbear. Not long after we’d moved in it was brought to our attention that the walls in the toilet (this being an extension) most likely contained asbestos. Though it’s hard to believe nowadays, asbestos was once a very common building material, and it was especially popular in Australia in the form of fibro sheeting and other products.
Thankfully, I’m told a large proportion of the asbestos used in construction that’s most commonly encountered (which I believe comes from so-called white asbestos) isn’t bad for you provided it remains undisturbed. That is, it’s dangerous only if it disperses its miniscule toxic particles, such as if you were to drill or cut into the stuff. Hence, its reputation as the bane of home renovators.
So there I was, doing a very good impression of appearing to be a knowledgeable gardener on my new veggie patch (all five pot plants worth) when I came across something strange. I was digging a hole for some food scraps when suddenly I hit something vaguely solid, buried around 10cm under the grass in our backyard.
At first I thought what any normal person in my position would think, namely, that I’d unearthed a forgotten back yard treasure. However, panic set in when I poked the stuff with my trowel and noticed a crumbly-looking, pale-ish, fibrous kind of material.
Once again, I thought what any sane person in my situation would think. Namely, “Oh my God, what if I’ve just inhaled asbestos fibres!?”’
My first step was to look it up on the web, hence my extensive knowledge of asbestos disposal treatment from all of five minutes’ worth of checking the web. That’s how I unearthed (see what I did there?) the information presented to you previously.
I quickly calmed down when I realised that my chances of contracting a long-term asbestos-related disease were greatly reduced. I ‘breathed a sigh of relief’ (did it again). But what to do?
First, I had to dispose of that toxic waste. And did I have the solution!
I am the proud owner of the genuine Warsaw Pact-era gas mask that you see in the photo — if anyone can identify the make or model I’d be very grateful. It’s proudly displayed on top of our DVD shelf, ready for use at a moment’s notice for when the Huns pre-empt their major summer offensive with a chlorine gas artillery bombardment.
I know it works because I previously used the gas mask in a potentially lethal field trial. A flatmate had adopted a stray kitten and while the cat was dearly loved, its cat box rarely received adequate human attention. Instead, the flatmate simply kept piling more kitty litter on top the old stuff. Sure enough, the cat litter box reached the critical overflow point, and yours truly somehow got suckered into changing the whole thing.
I vaguely recall the decision to volunteer me was made after the contents of the cat box were disturbed in an attempted clean out, whereupon the intensely choking smell of cat urine drove everyone from the room. I kid you not, my flatmate was dry reaching (either that or it was part of a convincing act to get me to do the dirty work). Then I struck upon the idea of using my gas mask and, would you believe, I was then leisurely able to go about my business.
Another time, I went to this party which I was told was full fancy dress. I dressed up in every piece of military attire I could find and just before knocking on the door I put on my gas mask. The door was opened by a very surprised looking host who, after recovering from the astonishment that comes from opening the door and being greeted by a strange man in a camouflage uniform and gas mask, conceded that actually no, it wasn’t really a fancy dress party.
So yes, I was totally that guy at a non-fancy dress party. In a gas mask.
As I was saying, I had to dispose of the asbestos buried in the back yard. Apparently you’re supposed to keep the stuff wet to prevent it from getting powdery. So I got out the hose and sprinkled the area with water. However, I was still ultra-paranoid — asbestos can do nasty things to your skin — so for added protection I put on this immensely thick pair of industrial-style gloves. Then I carefully shovelled the stuff (I reckon there was less than half a kilo) into a rubbish bag and tied it securely.
But, I thought, somewhat irrationally… what if I’d still inadvertently inhaled some fibres?
That’s when I had an equally irrational thought. Welsh men’s choirs are renowned for their energy and power (this will make sense in a moment) and, while I have no idea if the following is true, I was once told that the tradition began amongst miners who would intentionally sing their hearts out on their way home from a shift in an effort to expel coal dust from their lungs. Go figure…
So I thought, “I know!” I’ll go for a run and that’ll have the same effect. Even better, given how unfit I am there would be no shortage of heaving, spluttering, huffing and puffing.
So that explains what's going on in this photo
That, and the only true way to do your gardening is in your Iron Maiden shirt.

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