Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Survival of the Fattest

Question:

Two men (or women, but I feel safer saying it's men because I'm not stupid) are lost in the wilderness. There is plenty of water but no food.

Both are six feet tall, same build, but one is 12 stone and the other is 30 stone.

How much longer would the fat man take to starve to death?

That's assuming he doesn't eat the thin man.

I know the thin man could kill the fat man in his sleep by smothering him with branches from a tree and stuffing clumps of earth in his mouth and live for much longer by eating the fat man and then drying out strips of his flesh and hanging them off his belt for later, like Bear Grylls no doubt would. But let's assume they don't eat each other. Would the thin man starve much sooner than the fat man?

Subsidiary question, if they didn't eat each other, walking out of the wilderness, would the thin man get further because he had less weight to carry and could keep going longer, or would the fat man get further because he had all that lard to feed off to keep him going?

I think the fat man would, for sure. And that's why, if I was in that situation as the thin man, I would definitely kill the fat man and eat him. If I could get a fire going. Barbecue mainly.

Or just eat him raw, the fat bastard.

Basically, thin man, fat man, who survives?

Unless they stumbled across a woman with enormous tits, then maybe they would both survive.

There are always variables.

I need a rethink of this question. It's difficult being a scientist like me.

Anyway, I need more drink. Laters...


Monday, 21 December 2015

Father Christmas

About a dozen years ago, an old mate of mine approached me while I sat at the bar in my local and asked me if I could do him a favour. This guy, Des, was always involved in local community projects, like driving a school bus taking kiddies on outings, or organising bingo nights for elderly folk in a nearby hall. I’d previously helped him out lugging tables into the street for some royal celebration or other and had also stood in for him as bingo caller – luckily knowing my two fat ladies from my key of the door and all the other bingo banter having grown up with it on seaside holidays – and I expected this favour to be something similar.
“It’s the kids' Christmas party on Saturday,” he said. “I can’t be there this year because…” here he gave me some reason which, with the mists of time, I now can’t remember. “So could you stand in for me as Father Christmas?”
Well, my gut reaction was no bloody way am I dressing up as Father Christmas, as I instantly felt embarrassed just thinking about it. I can get up in a pub full of strangers and sing them a song and I have done so many a time when it wasn’t even karaoke night and have performed on open mic nights to crowds almost entirely comprised of singers and musicians. I have also been known to hold the attention of groups of people, regaling them with a flow of jokes and stories and having them rolling in the aisles, but being the man in red was a performance of an entirely different kind.
Singing and tale telling aside, which I love and feel in complete control of, I can be extremely self-conscious when put on the spot. I started to shake my head and pull that “I’d like to help, but” face, only Des wasn’t going to be put off so easily. Before a decent excuse had even come to mind, he hit me with a guilt trip.
“I don’t know anyone else I can ask to do it,” he said, a hang-dog expression appearing on his kindly face. “If you don’t step in, I think we’ll be forced to cancel the party.” I was about to say I was sorry but I couldn’t help when he nailed me with, “The kids are going to be really disappointed.”
I was trapped. Butterflies already in my stomach, even though Saturday was still several days away, and with serious misgivings, I caved in and agreed to do it. He beamed at my positive response, bought me a thank you pint and then quickly disappeared before I could change my mind. I sat there staring at my free pint, groaning inside and knowing full well I had just been manipulated and thought to myself what a nice chap Des was and also what a crafty bastard.
Saturday arrived with indecent haste in my opinion and as I awaited my 2 pm appointment at the kid’s Christmas beano, my stomach was turning loops. I paced about my flat all morning, going from room to room for no other reason than the nervous ants in my pants and at one point, I became so anxious, I found myself hanging over the bathroom sink retching. Luckily I’d been in too much of a state all morning to eat anything, so all I lost was a cup of tea and an indigestion tablet.
With thirty minutes to go, I washed my face and brushed my teeth for the third time and headed off to the hall. A couple of ladies were waiting for me at the door and before any of the kids could spot me, they ushered me to a downstairs loo, handed me my costume and left me to change and prepare for my “jolly” entrance.
My Father Christmas outfit must have been the cheapest one in the fancy dress shop and the red nylon crackled with electricity as I tried to pull it on. I got my right leg into the flimsy trousers, but as I hopped on one foot and attempted to insert the left, disaster struck and the crotch split wide open. Already a bundle of nerves, this wardrobe malfunction was all I needed.
There was only one option, so I reversed the pants and put them on back to front. The suit jacket was just long enough to cover the rip and I figured, if I didn’t bend over too far, the children wouldn’t get a tell-tale glimpse of my blue jeans. Finally, fitting the equally cheap, itchy beard into place with its attendant elastic, I perched the red hat on my head and I was ready to go.
For a few moments, I stood and took long slow breaths to calm myself down and looked myself over in the mirror. The Father Christmas who stared back at me looked more like a down and out than the man of myth, but he was going to have to do and with one last deep breath, I opened the door and prepared to meet my audience.
“Yo ho ho, hello children,” I bellowed as I strode into the hall waving cheerfully. The smaller kids turned from their games and their crisps and squash and their little faces lit up with excitement. The older children had expressions that were a good deal more suspicious, but when the organising ladies handed me a sack full of gifts, they swallowed any awkward questions and decided to play along.
The gifts were all wrapped and marked with pink and blue stickers to mark out the girls’ presents from the boys’. As I plonked myself down on a chair in the centre of the hall, I was suddenly surrounded by a sea of expectant faces and as I reached into the sack to begin the gift giving, assailed by a good few squeals of delight. There then followed half an hour of the usual have you been good this year banter and paper tearing and kids not wanting what they’d been given, but something someone else had got.
The boys got plasticine or one of those small polystyrene plane kits, the girls, either plastic necklace and brooch sets or a packet of coloured felt tips. By the time the sack was empty, many of the boys were wearing shiny necklaces, while the girls were throwing planes around the room, but each to his own.
The have you been good question reminded me of something my ex wife’s nephew had said one year when his mum had told him Santa wouldn’t come if he was naughty. He thought hard for a moment and then replied, “But I was naughty last year and he still came.” Impeccable logic which made me smile at his cheek.
While this was going on, I’d noticed two teenage girls loitering on the edge of the crowd. They were fourteen or under and I swear they were looking at me with the sort of interest of a pair of Lolita’s, hands on hips, with little secret smiles turning up the corner of their mouths. Eventually one of them caught my attention and asked if they were going to get a gift as well.
“Have you been good girls this year?” I asked, at which they looked at each other, smirking and giggling, before replying that they had indeed been good. At that, for a moment, I forgot to put on my jolly Santa voice and as I handed them their presents, I said, a bit too loudly and ironically, “Yeah, I just bet you have.” That brought more smirking, giggling and knowing looks and I suddenly came over hot and bothered and felt my face flushing as red as my floppy hat.
Finally, it was over. All the gifts were gone and I stood and said my yo ho hos and goodbyes, patting a few tousled heads and reminding them one final time to be good boys and girls. I was almost at the door when one boy, a suspicious look reappearing on his face, suddenly blurted, “That beard isn’t real. I can see the elastic.”
The eagle-eyed kiddie detective had rumbled me at the last second, but the little bugger wasn’t going to outsmart me that easily. “It’s very windy when I’m riding through the sky on my sleigh. This elastic, young man,” I said, giving it a twang, “is what keeps my hat on. It would blow away otherwise.”
He looked doubtful at this explanation, but before any more difficult questions could occur to him and I was forced to tell him that, no, he couldn’t see my sleigh because it was invisible to children, I made good my escape and was back in the downstairs toilet, lighting up the room with blue flashes of static as I stripped off my Father Christmas suit.
I was actually rather proud of myself for overcoming my Santa stage fright and if ever asked to do it again, especially now I have my own genuine white beard, my answer would be: “not a fucking snowball’s chance in hell!”
As for the torn trousers, no one ever mentioned them to me, so I’m guessing the following year they must have thrown caution to the wind and lashed out another £3.99 for a new set.



Sunday, 31 August 2014

How Much Does a Soul Weigh?




There are those who claim that, in reality, we are all energy beings. May seem hard to believe when you look at the meat and bone and gristle and tooth enamel that goes into making a person. Those who think we are less like the solid form that we perceive and more like an electrical charge, a creature of spirit, often say that if we could free our minds, we could see this reality as it really is.

Perhaps the latter explains why so many people - poets, shamen, mystics and rock and rollers, in the main - have used opiates, magic mushrooms, peyote cactus and the like, attempting to lift the veil from their eyes, to travel to astral realms or contact the world of spirit. Many would claim they have done just that and - though no drugs were involved - I myself once had an out of body experience* that I am one hundred percent convinced was genuine. Somehow, my essence, my consciousness, my soul if you will, began operating completely independently of my sleeping body and standing looking at my own form lying on the bed was quite a hair-raising experience, I can tell you.

A couple of things got me to thinking about all of this. I’ve been reading a book on quantum mechanics and one of the things that struck me was the following. Those things that we call atoms, tiny as they appear, are actually made up of 99.99 recurring percent of empty space and the author states that if we could remove all of that space, the entire human race would fit into the volume of a sugar cube!

That blows my mind because, if all seven billion of us humans could fit into a sugar cube, the hundred and sixty pound guy I see in the mirror would compress down to the size of a single atom, or perhaps less. It seems to me, therefore, that the claim that we are actually energy beings doesn’t seem that far fetched. You, me, all of us, are made up of atoms. Atoms are 99.9999% empty space, which means we are as well.

If we somehow turned off the electrical charge that holds us together, we would dissipate into almost nothing, like a puff of smoke in a gale. I guess the fact that we are glued together by electrical attraction means we are indeed made of energy, whichever way you look at it.

The other thing that got me wondering was something I heard several years ago. The thing I heard stuck with me, but now I can’t remember where I heard it, though I suspect it was one of those end of bulletin throwaway news items that are never followed up on. It concerned a scientist who was carrying out an experiment on people near to death. No idea how he was doing it, nuclear powered scales maybe, but he was weighing dying people shortly before death and then weighing them again as soon as life had flown the coop. What he claimed to have found was that people invariably weighed a tiny fraction less after death than while life remained. I don’t remember the figure now, but it was something like 0.000003 of a gram. Can’t help but wonder if that’s the missing weight of the human soul once it’s departed.

Well, I have drawn no particular conclusions about any of this. Not even sure if I’ve linked it very well, or even explained myself properly, but I offer it up simply as food for thought. I find these things fascinating. They make my head hurt, I admit, but fascinate me nonetheless.

I sincerely hope we survive after death, if for no better reason than I want some of these mysteries cleared up once and for all. Like, if the universe really is infinite, what’s it in? And if it isn’t infinite, where does it stop? Is there a wall? If there’s a wall, what’s on the other side? Like they tell us that it is scientifically impossible to go faster than the speed of light (because at that speed mass would become infinite requiring infinite energy to shift it faster than light) and yet now they say the big bang shot all of the matter out of it’s centre at faster than light speed. Seems they can’t make their minds up. I may not understand any of it, but when it comes to all these science boffins, I’ve come to the conclusion that any guess we make is as good as theirs. Maybe better. For example, I wrote a fantasy novel about twenty five or more years ago and in it I had my hero travelling through what I called the "multiverse". Now, in recent years, physicists have started suggesting that there may indeed be a multiverse. Sorry guys, but I thought of it first and I will be taking you to court any day now for infringing my copywrite. So there.



(*Out of Body Experience elsewhere on this blog). 

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Humour

Juxtaposition between the known and the unknown, the safe and the threatening, is almost always the culprit for causing that thing which we call ‘laughter‘. We giggle at sometimes inappropriate moments because of fear, or nervousness, or the simple fact that the injury, loss of face, death, etc, has befallen someone other than ourselves.
 
For example, despite the fact that I adored him, I got an uncontrollable fit of the giggles at my own father’s funeral. I pinched my thigh until my eyes watered and bit the inside of my cheek bloody, but no amount of pain would stop it and seeing my sister’s sweaty face all scarlet and howling only made matters worse. I tried to disguise my laughter, of course, burying my face in my hands and making crying noises, but with my shoulders shaking from mirth, I don’t suppose the other mourners were fooled for a second. No one said anything, but if looks could kill, me and dad would have been cremated together that day.
 
‘Schadenfreude’ is the name our German cousins give the act of finding humour in the misfortunes of others. That may sound callous, even spiteful, but I would suggest one’s laughter is more an expression of relief that the bullet of fate missed us, rather than any genuine pleasure at the other person’s pain.
 
Scientists aren’t sure why laughter is important, but believe it has some deep significance in terms of survival, in just the same way as the fight or flight reflex. What’s more, laughter isn’t confined solely to humans, but is shared with other species. For instance, if a monkey spots what it believes to be a poisonous snake, it will cry an alarm to its compatriots. When, however, it discovers the snake is nothing more threatening than a length of dead creeper, it spontaneously bursts out laughing in relief, as does the rest of the troop. Therefore, when some prankster springs out on us and shouts ‘Boo!’, we don’t laugh because they scared two year’s growth out of us, but because of the realisation a moment later that we are actually safe and unharmed.
 
Another example was filmed in a wildlife documentary on chimpanzees. The head of the troop, something of a bully, had fallen from a tree and hurt his wrist. As he limped along, the chimps behind him were mimicking the limp, but each time he stopped and turned, they would all instantly walk normally again and appear to be looking anywhere but at their chief. Put simply, they were taking the mickey out of him and thoroughly enjoying it – bit like the labour cabinet did with Gordon Brown – but didn‘t dare do it to his face for fear of retribution and having chairs kicked about the room.
 
It would appear that laughter provides the antidote to the rush of adrenaline pumped into our system by fear, signalling to the nerves, muscles and pulsating sphincter that, threat now passed, they may stand down from red alert. After all, it has long been known that laughter releases mood-enhancing endorphins within our brains, which not only promote a sense of general well being, but also gave rise to the old adage, laughter is the best medicine. Unless, of course, you have a brain tumour the size of an ostrich egg, in which case you might consider chemo. Or suicide.
 
Of all the beasts, the snake has the least developed sense of humour, apparently, because you can’t pull its leg (hat tip to the Beano circa 1965 for that one). Laughing hyenas have no real humour either, they just laugh at anything. Ugly, irritating bleeders.
 
Schadenfreude – or the malicious enjoyment of another’s misfortunes – is a great word, but trust those stone-hearted krauts to invent a word for sniggering as some bruised and bloodied old lady cartwheels down the up escalator, in a surreal race with her ancient wicker shopping basket, while flashing her piddle-stained bloomers at the world.
 
Mind you, I laughed until I nearly suffocated when I saw a bloke trip and fall while trying to jump onto the old route master bus he’d been chasing, so I can talk about stony hearts. It dragged him, twisting and turning, around a corner and for another hundred yards along Streatham High road. Why he didn’t just let go of the handrail, I will never know, but he made my day. I wonder if the conductor charged him for the journey? That would have cracked me up as well.
 
We have, of course, appropriated ‘schadenfreude’ into the English language and that’s what makes English the greatest language in the world. We steal all the good words from other languages and after all, a wigwam is a wigwam, a poppadam is a poppadam, why mess about making up new words when things already have perfectly usable names we can pinch and call our own? We did it with everyone else’s countries, so why not their words. Us English were never stupid and pretty damned good thieves. We should be proud. I know I am.