When I get older…

…losing my hair
(many years from now)

I hope that I can avoid writing letters in to the local press about my perceptions of the state of things today, and how they are affecting my dreams.

I’ll try to not write stuff like:

a young friend of mine who was studying at university, once said to me, you are the most cynical person I know. I replied I’m not a cynic, I’m a realist, to which he responded that’s what all the cynics say. Which just goes to show you the utter futility of engaging a 20-year- old ‘know-it-all’ student in debate.

Or if I do, I’ll add speech marks so that it makes some sort of sense.

Although, that’s what all the bloggers say, isn’t it?

I may rage against the dying of the light and lament upon just how much glue toilet paper manufacturers put at the beginning of each roll of their product:

one of my pet hates currently is the toilet paper makers habit of putting excessive amounts of glue at the start of a roll of toilet paper which results in shredded strips of paper instead of the anticipated sheets, it drives me mad.

but I certainly won’t share that anger publicly.

I won’t be happy about the fashions of the day, but I’ll keep it to myself:

despite the fact they do like to display their grubby pants to all and sundry by wearing their jeans at half mast.

And it won’t just be the clothing: hairstyles will bewilder me as well:

it’s the older people who, for some unfathomable reason adorn heads with pony tails, they gather together every available wisp of hair from their sparsely thatched craniums and fashion the most rudimentary pony tail, which they then secure with a fragment of ribbon, possibly from a box of chocolates. Perhaps they like to imagine they are 17th century seafaring men.

‘A fragment of ribbon, possibly from a box of chocolates.’

Yes, possibly. But I’ll keep shtum. And about their shorts.
I’ll say nothing.

Their penchant for wearing the clothing of 11-year-old Boy Scouts of some 40 or 50-odd years ago, especially the baggy khaki shorts so hated by the Scouts at the time


And then there is facial hair, disgusting and unhygienic. How on earth can anyone consume anything through a layer of wiry hair.

However, if I should end up sending a postcard, dropping a line
Stating point of view, then I hope despite all my cantankerous thoughts and complaints, I hope I have the decency and pride not to try to legitimise all my ideas by attempting to tie them all into one horrendous final shared paragraph:

I’ve been having nightmares lately. I’m sitting on the embankment when a hideous old man appears from nowhere, spindly pony tail dangling from his head, his bewhiskered chin dripping globules of cold porridge down his front and shredded toilet paper dangling from the leg of his oversized shorts.

I’ll never do that. Never.

But I bet that’s what John McHale of Carey Road, Dartmouth thought when he was my age, too.

Satan’s Arithmetic

From Frederick Schoeman of Cape Town on Friday’s Cape Times letters page:

Satan’s Arithmetic

I believe that a couple of centuries ago, two mathematicians were demonstrating their numerical skills to the French monarchy when one of them stunned his opponent and the audience by reciting an algebraic formula and claiming it to be proof that “God lives”.
Could I borrow a leaf out of that man’s book and claim that, since the graph of world population growth over the past 1700 years looks like a serpent trying to slither up a wall, Satan is alive and thriving on human lust?

I’ve been doing some extensive research into Fred’s story, but the best that I could come up with was the the story of Leonhard Euler, who was a mathematician, but was Swiss, not French, and his presentation of an algebraic formula, claiming to be the proof that God lives. This presentation was made to another individual, Denis Diderot who was French, but was better known for his philosophical musing, rather than his mathematical prowess. In addition, this presentation was made in St Petersburg in 1774, in front of the Russian Empress Catherine II, rather than any French monarch.
Wikipedia tells us:

There is a famous anecdote inspired by Euler’s arguments with secular philosophers over religion, which is set during Euler’s second stint at the St. Petersburg academy.
The French philosopher Denis Diderot was visiting Russia on Catherine the Great’s invitation. However, the Empress was alarmed that the philosopher’s arguments for atheism were influencing members of her court, and so Euler was asked to confront the Frenchman.
Diderot was later informed that a learned mathematician had produced a proof of the existence of God: he agreed to view the proof as it was presented in court. Euler appeared, advanced toward Diderot, and in a tone of perfect conviction announced, “Monsieur! (a+b)^n/n = x, donc Dieu existe, répondez!”.

This roughly translates as:

Listen mate, a plus b to the power n, over n, equals x. That means God exists.
What do you say to that then, huh? HUH?!?

Allegedly, Denis failed to provide an immediate answer. Or indeed any answer:

Diderot, to whom (says the story) all mathematics was gibberish, stood dumbstruck as peals of laughter erupted from the court. Embarrassed, he asked to leave Russia, a request that was graciously granted by the Empress.

This sudden stage fright could have been due to Euler’s sheer mathematical brilliance.
Or, conversely, it may have been caused by Diderot’s incredulity that some Swiss bloke had successfully baffled him with bullshit by spouting some maths at him and pretending that it meant something that it actually didn’t.
Why not try something similar at your local supermarket this weekend? At the Deli counter, ask for some ham. When the lady asks how much you’d like, exclaim loudly (remembering to use a tone of perfect conviction):
“Madam! a x squared, multiplied by b x, plus c, equals zero, therefore I’m off to the jams and spreads aisle. What say you to that?”.
See if she can find an immediate answer.

When she can’t, she must ask her boss’s permission to leave the country and go back to France.

Either way, there’s a whole lot more detail, including eye witness accounts, right here.

Of course, the formula didn’t prove that God exists at all, although it later proved invaluable in predicting how long one would have to wait for the next bus to the St Petersburg city centre.
Nice work, Leonhard.

So, the first of Fred’s paragraphs proven wholly misguided, yet almost slightly true, we move on to his second.
The bit about the snake.

But before that, at this point that I’d like us all to stop and consider some stuff for just a second. Firstly, put yourself in Fred’s shoes. At some moment in time, Fred actually felt that there was a connection between his 18th century algebraic French monarchy court presentation story and a graph of world population growth over the last 1700 years. Personally, I can’t see it. It’s like me taking an excerpt from a book on the dinosaurs and somehow linking it to the recent downturn in Malaysian rubber production.
But I digress. The important point here is that Fred saw this relationship.
Secondly (and still in Fred’s shoes), Fred sat down and wrote to the Cape Times about it. That is, not only did he feel that the connection was a valid one, he felt it was worth sharing – not just with his friends (although I have no idea if he put it on his Facebook wall) – but with the general population of Cape Town and surrounds.  While he was typing (or writing – who knows?) away, he still thought it was a good idea to sent it through to the letters page. When he addressed the envelope or entered the email address (ctletters@inl.co.za), he remained under the impression that the not only did his observation make complete sense, but that it was so important that 268,000 readers should be informed of it.
And then, once his thoughts arrived at the Cape Times office, at a time when sharks, rugby, racial issues, politics and cellphone masts (What? – Ed.) are at the forefront of all of our minds, Fred’s letter was one of the seven best that was received by the local rag that day.

Yes. Really.

But onto the serpent thing. I had a good luck around on the internet and the best graph I could come up with to illustrate  Fred’s serpent against a wall thing was this one:

Obviously, you can ignore the bit before 311 AD, as Fred didn’t consider that when making his serpentine comparison.
Personally, I felt that it was a bit of a stretch, but then I’m no expert on what exactly a serpent trying to slither up a wall looks like. That’s why I searched for “a serpent trying to slither up a wall” on google images.

This was the best that I could find:

Which seems to suggest that human population exploded upwards, remained almost static while traveling back and then forward again in time, before increasing almost exponentially, peaking and then dropping off to the current number. That aside, we shouldn’t overlook that fact that

…it’s gripping onto that brickwork because Satan is thriving on human lust.

A few points, if I may be so bold:

Firstly, algebra cannot prove the existence of God. Theologians might have their own reasons for why this may be, but mine is probably more simple: that he doesn’t exist and that it’s awfully difficult to prove the existence of something that doesn’t exist – algebraically or otherwise.
Secondly, unless I’m missing some big chunk of causality here, an alleged incident in a “Parisian” court chamber 200+ years ago doesn’t have any bearing on the fact that “Satan is alive and thriving on human lust”.
Thirdly, I do still quite like the idea of an algebraic duel:

Sir, you have insulted me and I demand satisfaction. Meet me at 6 o’clock tomorrow morning and bring a blackboard.
No calculators.

Fourthly, what does Fred want us to do? Not breed? Adam and Eve bred. Mary and Joseph bred (sort of). Hey, Mr and Mrs Schoeman (Snr) bred. Are these also examples of human lust upon which Satan is thriving?
Fifthly, any line graph looks a bit like a snake on a wall.
Any block graph resembles the Manhattan Skyline.
Any pie chart has the appearance of… well… a pie. Deal with it.
Sixthly, get your historical facts right if you wish to make a good impression on those reading, but remember that…
Seventhly, just because you think something, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to write it down and send it to the Cape Times.
Lastly, just because you think something, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to write 1300 words on it on your blog.

Pining for nuts

Let it never be said that life here in South Africa is easy. Sure, the weather is ridiculously good, despite this being midwinter, and the views, the expats and the beer are utterly spectacular, but there are always difficulties as well. I’m talking about allegations of corruption in Government, violent strikes in the engineering sector, petrol shortages and the price of pine nuts.

Yes, C Emily Dibb of Muizenburg has written in to everyone’s favourite letters page in the Cape Times and is very upset about how much pine nuts cost here in Mzansi. I feel her views deserve airing  – and indeed comment – here on 6000 miles…

Pining for nuts

On a recent visit to Turkey, I was captivated to find how many of their traditional dishes contain pine nuts; they are an integral part of many of their meat-ball recipes.

From this opening line, we can make several deductions. Firstly, that C Emily Dibb has recently visited Turkey, secondly that she is captivated by the weirdest things and thirdly that many traditional Turkish dishes are meat-ball based. (This last one is a bit of an assumption, but I’m sticking with it.)

I’ve never been to Turkey, but a quick search online reveals that there are many more captivating things in that country than the percentage of local ground beef recipes which contain pine nuts. I found articles on historically varying architecture, bewitchingly fascinating geothermal spas and hugely concerning foreign policy.
I found nothing about meat-balls. Nothing particularly captivating, anyway.

Emily continues:

Hoping to try some of these myself on my return home, I looked for pine nuts in the supermarket, and was staggered to find that they cost nearly R50 for 100g – a shattering R500/kg.

Before we go any further, I must congratulate C Emily Dibb on not using any exclamation marks in that last sentence. This is the mark of a true writer; one who was brought up in the old school when ZOMG! wasn’t an acceptable way of conveying acute surprise and the surcharge on punctuation put it beyond many people’s means.
Because C Emily Dibb is acutely surprised. In fact, as you may have read above, she is staggered, which is two rungs further up the astonishment ladder from acute surprise (just beyond plainly shocked).
Emily C Dibb also demonstrates that she is from the old school of mathematics as well, with that effortless extrapolative calculation to the standard economic unit of pricing, the Rand per Kilo value. I bet she did that in her head. You? You needed a calculator.

But point taken, Emily C Dibb. Pine nuts are expensive.

In Turkey, the pine nuts are produced in Anatolia on estates that grow nothing but the Mediterranean umbrella pine.
Are we missing a good trick here?

These final two lines score highly on the my scale of what an ideal letters page letter should contain, that is, a meaningless fact and an utterly obscure question. These elements have featured widely before, including the sublime:

My house reeks of your cat, and it is very embarrassing.

What is C Emily Dibb proposing here, exactly? That the local agricultural industry move over from its staples of mielies, sugar, grain and grapes and concentrates solely on a niche product from Eurasia in order to bring her recent holiday’s culinary memories closer to being within her financial grasp? Has she really thought this through? Because where would that leave our economy, with particular reference to duties on wines and spirits and export of produce to our neighbouring countries? Is she honestly suggesting that ever last hectare of South Africa’s 146,5224.44km² of arable farmland be devoted to the growing of the Mediterranean umbrella pine?

Sure, that’s enough pine nuts for a great many Turkish meatballs (I was going to do some rudimentary calculations, but the yield of the Mediterranean umbrella pine is hugely variable, as I’m sure you’re aware), but with supply and demand weighted heavily on the supply side of things, the international pine nut market will surely crash and we will be left destitute and economically ruined – even before Julius Malema has had his way. There are no by-products in the Mediterranean umbrella pine, save for, presumably, umbrellas [are you sure? Please check this before we publish – Ed] and we don’t need umbrellas here.

You’ll get your meat-balls. Oh yeah. You’ll get your memories of your holidays with the wrestlers, the architecture and the increasing Syrian refugee problem. You’ll get all of that, C Emily Dibb, and I’m sure you’ll find a myriad of pine nut containing dishes to be captivated by while the country is starving albeit well sheltered from precipitation.

No, C Emily Dibb. I reckon that if you can afford a holiday to Turkey, you can afford fifty bucks for 100g of your beloved and captivating pine nuts. And you can fiddle and fine tune your recipe to use less of this pricey and scarce imported ingredient and get to nibble on as many meaty balls as your heart desires, while not destroying the livelihood of the good farmers of this country with your megalomaniacal, Nazi plan to force them into growing one single, useless (save for addition to traditional Anatolian foodstuffs) crop.