SIMON WEBSTER

Volcanoes are set to become all the rage, lifestyle experts say, thanks to their ability to ground planes, ground people and improve the ground in backyard vegie patches. They also provide wonderful sunsets. Or sunrises. It’s hard to tell what time of day it is after a while.

In Britain – where the only people not living under a flight path are believed to be a family of animal-spirit worshippers inhabiting a disused badgers’ burrow on a remote island in the Outer Hebrides – the citizenry was initially ill at ease after the volcanic eruption in Iceland.

At first people thought they felt strange because the name of the volcano – Eyjafjallajokull – sounds uncannily like what old drunks shout at barmen as they are being ejected from pubs. Either newsreaders were appearing on television in a state of angry intoxication, and cursing Mother Nature incoherently mid-bulletin, or the old drunks were prophets and seers. A confronting state of affairs either way.

Then, people realised that something else was amiss. The teacups weren’t rattling, lawns were not darkening with shadows of giant winged monsters and there was no roar of jet engines, interspersed with the sound of the weird kid in the anorak next door, ticking off lists in his notebook, mumbling, “Air Canada, KLM, Qantas, Emirates . . . ”

Instead, a new, alien sound was audible. “Birdsong, that’s what you can hear,” wrote BBC medical correspondent Fergus Walsh in The Observer. “Blackbirds, robins, wood pigeons, even song thrushes.”

So exhilarating was the unexpected peace that a Guardian editorial, exalting the heavens restored to their heavenly condition, called for a plane-free day every week. Presumably on a Sunday to turn it into some kind of sabbath, making trips to the hardware superstore all the more pleasant.

Then came the news that the volcanic ash was going to do wonders for Britain’s gardens. Full of minerals and nutrients, the ash would fertilise and aerate soil, and make it more able to hold water, Britain’s The Daily Telegraph reported.

This would come in particularly handy for Britons aiming to grow tropical fruits, which were in terribly short supply due to the lack of planes. Honestly, when you can’t get a lychee in England in April, what’s the world coming to?

There was of course much sympathy for the people stranded in the Britain when they should have been somewhere much nicer on their holidays – and there was much envy of those Britons stranded abroad when they should have been back in Britain. But, on the whole, the volcanic eruption appears to have been quite a success.

Here in Australia, residents of Lilyfield and Tempe wishing they too could hear the sound of birds need not despair. Planes might not be around for long. At least not in the same numbers as they are today.

The US military has warned that demand will exceed world oil supply by 2012 and there could be extreme shortages by 2015, The Guardian reported recently.

Cynics have suggested that the US Joint Forces – believed to be the largest single user of petrol in the world – would like everyone to believe peak oil is around the corner because it would dearly love an excuse to invade Iran, Venezuela, East Timor or, for that matter, the BP servo on Victoria Road: anywhere that still has oil.

Preferably, it would like to do so sooner rather than later, so that it can use its existing machinery rather than riding BMX bikes and attacking the enemy with slingshots.

The US military isn’t the only voice raising concern that the world is facing an oil crisis very soon. In February a British industry task force warned that the oil crunch was five years away. In March Britain’s former chief scientist Sir David King and researchers from Oxford University said oil reserves had been exaggerated by one-third and the crisis was as little as four years away.

Interesting times ahead but it needn’t be disaster. We could adapt, change our ways, use this as an opportunity to live more fulfilling, more sustainable lives. All we need is our governments to provide foresight, moral leadership and fearless action. In other words, we’re absolutely Eyjafjallajokulled.

In other news . . .

Men with beards are considered more trustworthy than clean-shaven men, research has found.

A study published in the Journal of Marketing Communication asked participants to look at ads featuring bearded and unbearded men endorsing various products, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. The men with beards (all of which were neatly trimmed) were judged to have greater expertise and be more trustworthy.

Researchers said the findings would be of interest to politicians, who might consider growing beards to increase their appeal among electorates. This could be good news for Tony Abbott, who looks like he would trounce Kevin Rudd – and Julia Gillard, for that matter – if the federal election turned into a beard-growing competition.

But Abbott should read the study carefully. The exceptions to the rule were underwear models, whom participants preferred to be clean shaven.

Clearly, people like a beardie, but not a beardie weirdie smuggling a budgie wudgie. Something for the image consultants to think about.

swebster@fastmail.com.au

FYUPYU7H9ZP5