Eiron’s Archives 08

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Using the same philosophical yardstick, we may also say that Picasso’s Garçon à la pipe is just a blend of oilpaint, and that Beethoven’s piano sonata number 14 in C sharp minor is just a blend of audible airborne vibrations. Continuing the logic though, I must point out that your e-mailed question is just a blend of letters on my monitor screen and therefore I shall reluctantly have to ignore them.

Dear Dizzee_wasp

At last a questioner with whom I can at least partially empathise ! Yes, the ‘lemon grass’ which is commonly used in far-eastern cookery and the ‘citronella’ of mosquito repellent are one and the same – as you correctly surmised. In answer to your query though, I would not consider it wise to use your ‘Mosie Guard ’ as a flavouring in your culinary experiments – even though you are ‘stranded in the outback’ near Darwin Australia – where, as you rightly point out – you are somewhat unlikely to come across a supply of fresh lemongrass in your local ‘tucker-shop’.

Indonesia is only a short air-hop away, have you considered emigration to a country which hosts a wealth of centuries-old exotic, expansive and wonderful cuisine – or would you prefer to stay where you are and become a connoisseur of egg-on-fried-bread and lager ?

Dear Plaquescratcher

Sorry to say that I have no interest whatever in your plans to write a book about used-teabag recycling. Though admirable in its intent, and highly topical too, I must point out that used teabags are only one of a myriad of different articles which could perhaps benefit from recycling regimes. Take for example old biros, used clingfilm, spent matches, the stubble collected by electric razors – the list is endless.

The problem is, when it boils down to it, do we have the time, the energy, the inclination, or even the duty to recycle every seemingly useless ███████ article which we get through during our everyday existence ? Like books on teabags.

Dear Frodo25kitty

No, do not under any circumstances use creosote. I will not be guilty of exaggeration if I say that will not in any way be efficacious – if not downright dangerous.

I suggest you contact one of the specialist shops which can be found in almost every seaport across the world.

Dear Napth0101d

May I first of all say that I have, I believe, heard all possible convolutions of ‘joke’ about the rings around ‘the 7th planet from the Sun’. Yours was not in any way remarkable, except in its exceptional degree of conformity with the norm. You should not, however, entirely abandon your attempts at humour – have you thought about a career in local government ?

Notwithstanding the foregoing, I think I may be of assistance with regard to your insightful question “Why are all the planets spheres ?” ( I hope you won’t mind that I have substituted the word ‘spheres’ for the one which you used ).

The answer is – they’re not. Even our Earth is not spherical. Apart from the fact that there are very evident non-trivial irregularities ( there is almost a 20Km difference between the loftiness of the towering Himalayas and the profundities of the abysmal Mariana trench ) we may also observe that the planet is quite severely compressed at the poles. Or perhaps, more accurately, rather expanded in the midriff – not surprisingly given its age ! ( Ha ! d’you see ? That is how to construct a proper joke ! ).

All the Sun’s planets are similarly deformed to a greater or lesser extent. And, as for the asteroids – Well ! I need hardly point out that many are so misshapen as to make an average King Edward’s potato look like one of Kapoor’s attempts at ‘sculpture’ !

Dear Plank7_lee

Allow me a brief panegyrisation.

It was Galileo who famously remarked “ Wine is sunlight held together by water ”. Goodness knows, a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then ! – but his amaranthine pronouncement still holds good today. Of course it’s not strictly precise in the scientific sense – but, countenanced in a poetic modality, I think you will agree that it tells us all we need to know.

With regard to the exact detail of your question however : I regard plastic ( ethylene vinyl acetate ) corks with the same degree of enthusiasm and respect as I afford to the recently re-elected ‘Administration’.

Dear Protonechasmic

One of the joys of working for this venerable organ is that one just never knows what will turn up next – query-wise.

So when I received your question about “chapati head-dresses” I was, to say the least, temporarily discombobulated.

As far as I know – which is not far, given the subject – the ‘chapati’ is a large Indian flat bread made from durum wheat, salt, and water. If prepared correctly, it’s not a ‘hard’ bread – quite the reverse in fact. So, I suppose – given an ample stretch of imagination – it could conceivably be fashioned into some sort of headwear.

Technically though ( hah ! get out of that one Ed ! ) I am only permitted to answer questions of a scientific nature in this column – and, try as I might, I have been unable to ‘peg’ as we journalists say, your query. Thus, I fear my answer cannot proceed further than to wish you good luck on your quest.

I would, however, like to point out a scientific conundrum on a ( vaguely ) similar subject. Richard Feynman , the Nobel Prize winning physicist, famously spent a good deal of time trying to find out why a stick of spaghetti tends to break into three pieces rather than two when stressed between the two hands. I have also discovered an anomaly which, I believe, deserves a similar high-powered investigation :

Try this. Procure a freshly baked poppadom from your local Indian restaurant. Place it on a flat plate and then jab your forefinger into the centre so as to break the crispy savoury delight into several pieces. You will observe, I think I can say virtually without exception, that one piece at least will have an almost perfect outline of a map of India.

Why ?

I know it sounds farfetched. Just try it for me will you ?

Dear Raj1996

Raj, who is eight years old, writes to enquire “Why can’t humans fly ?”

Before any of our more senior readers dismiss the question as facile, I should like to point out that it has deep implications.

Firstly Raj, I can answer you simply thus: gravity is too strong, and we are too big.

If gravity was very much weaker, then we wouldn’t exist here on Earth – for reasons which are considerably too complicated to go into here. If, however, we happened to be about the same size as the only mammal which can be considered to be truly capable of flight – the bat – then it would be possible ( though very arduous ) for us to take wing.

I’d like to expand your excellent question a little, if I may be permitted, to ask ‘ What would be the consequences if we could fly ?’ Here are a few of my considerations – some positive – some negative.

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