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A Story

One lovely spring morn I was walking through one of the less salubrious parts of Leeds (as you can imagine there’s some pretty stiff competition on that score) and as I walked past an area of grass which boasted a passed out drunk snoring contentedly and clutching a 3l bottle of White Lightning cider the council man had just arrived and was unloading from his van a ride-on mower to cut the grass.

Later that same day I walked back the same way and the grass had been cut except in just one place. Yes, the council man had mowed around the drunk who was now also gone. Now the interesting thing here is I knew why all the grass had been cut except one small patch but if I hadn’t seen the drunk there I would have had no idea why and considered the whole thing very odd.

The puzzle I set you is: What do you think I then thought made this whole incident relevant to astrophysics?


  1. SaltedSlug says:

    Ooh, all sorts of ways but I can’t think too hard this morning.
    Probably something to do with the observation of gravitational /optical phenomena providing proof of astral bodies/dark matter we otherwise wouldn’t be aware of.

    Or something.

  2. NickM says:

    Not even close. It’s rather more philosophical…

  3. SaltedSlug says:

    I see.
    Is it because astrophysicists are smelly and sleep on the grass?

  4. CountingCats says:

    I remember when I first went to the UK I went to the British Museum one afternoon. I went to the Plough for lunch and they had a big sign up, saying ‘Scrumpy’.

    Now I had heard of this stuff, but had never tried it, so I ordered a pint.


    This was good stuff so I downed the pint and ordered another, drinking it with lunch.

    What the hell, I finished off with another half pint – as I said, yummy.

    So, I wandered the museum in an alcoholic haze for half an hour or so but good thing it wasn’t winter. I ended up in Bloomsbury Square Gardens, lying on the grass and fast asleep.

    Been there, done that, but wasn’t thinking about astrophysics at the time.

  5. Kevin B says:

    S’Genesis innit?

    The guy on the mower is an angel and the council is god and the drunk is Adam’n'Eve and the ‘keep off the grass’ sign is God’s prohibition and the grass is the tree of knowledge.

    And Leeds has been fucked ever since. Ain’t it?

  6. NickM says:

    This is actually quite a serious post folks!

    It’s not about Salty going off on tangents or Cats revealing his inner Australian or Kevin setting the OT in West Yorkshire. This is about philosophy of science.

    PS Kevin best of luck trying to set the NT in West Yorkshire. You’d seriously struggle to find three wise men and a virgin round there.

  7. RAB says:

    Well giss a bloody clue then, or I am going to be back with my ratarsed on scrumpy anecdotes too!

  8. That a critical mass (volume?) of White Lightning can create a form of singularity able to repel a ride-on mower?

    (Sorry Nick, I know you’re being serious, but just at the moment I can’t. I just can’t I tell you! I think it’s some form of pre-election hysteria).

  9. NickM says:

    It doesn’t just apply to astrofizz but a few other sciences or branches thereof.

  10. Stonyground says:

    Is it anything to do with that hissing noise that is left over from the Big Bang?

  11. Angry Exile says:

    Mmmm… something about things seeming inexplicable only because there’s a factor you have no idea even exists? If my brain works later I’ll put some more thought into it, unless you tell me I’m sub zero and getting colder.

  12. Kevin B says:

    Were any swans hurt in the making of this conundrum?

    (P.s. As for W.yorkie virgins, wasn’t that jedi knight who was in the news the other week from Leeds?)

  13. Pa Annoyed says:

    Cosmic coincidences probably happened for a reason – maybe an accidental and meaningless one, maybe a universal inevitability. But because we are observing from long after, and the cause left no evidence apart from the strange results, we are apt to find the apparently causeless coincidence odd. We may never find an explanation, but when you’re looking at an area where most of the past history has been erased, you ought to expect things like that.

    Why do planets go in near perfect circles? Because when a gas cloud collapses under gravity the interactions between particles cause it to form a rotating disk, from which the planets formed before the remainder was blown away by the solar wind. The accretion disk is gone, now, but the circular orbits remain. There are probably many other examples.

    That’s one possible interpretation, but I don’t know if that’s what you’re talking about.

  14. El Draque says:

    Pa – did you ever read “The Accidental Universe”?
    It involved mathematical coincidences and possible patterns therein. Two to the power 60 recurs a lot, it seems.
    Frankly I thought he was merely building a case on flimsy evidence, but you never know.

  15. CountingCats says:

    Without a bit more information Nick I really don’t think you are going to get any sensible replies.

    It’s like going to bed late at night with a woman, we’re groping in the dark here.

  16. NickM says:

    PA is closest.

  17. El Draque says:

    There used to be a “God of the Gaps” approach in primitive theology.
    When there was no clear explanation, well, obviously, that’s where God directly intervened.
    Not popular nowadays in polite circles, though there’s something similar in creationism.
    But that’s not astrophysics.
    I’m off to bed, I’ve been reading up on the Greek debt crisis, and my brain hurts.

  18. CountingCats says:


    There is actually something similar in climate hysteria. Read recent comments from Prof Jones, they boil down to “Well, we don’t know what else is causing it, so it must be human action”. Call it the Devil of the Gaps, with that evil human race thingy cast as Satan.

  19. NickM says:

    ED, Beware of Greeks bearing debts!

    My basic point was that astrofizz along with say evolutionary biology and geology are historical sciences. There said it.

  20. Pa Annoyed says:


    Ooh! Controversial! So, are you going to be claiming to have a degree in history from now on? Or are you worried the history department will be nabbing all the physics research grants?

    I can just see the smirks on the faces of those historians, should they ever find out. Shh! Better keep it quiet!

  21. RAB says:

    Ok, got you now.
    Sheesh Nick you get too deep sometimes. Take more water with it!

    See most of us would have seen the cut and uncut grass and gone…

    Huh! bleedin typical of sloppy Council workmen! Cant be arsed to do a proper job, probably time for their tea break etc.

    Now to the ratarsed on cider anecdote. A thing of the past no doubt, seeing as dearest Darling has put a 10% tax above of the rate of inflation on it, and if White Lightning has ever seen an apple in its life, I am a monkey’s uncle :-)

    So I was sweet 16, or there abouts, only ever had a few glasses of Woodpecker in my life, the family only drank at xmas.
    Well back then there wasn’t much entertainment going on in Cardiff. If you wanted to see a decent band or two you had to catch a train to Bristol of an evening.

    So we grabbed any entertainment we could get. This usually was poetry and folk clubs, held in rooms above pubs.
    We used to go to the Locomotive pub to the folk nights and have a couple of pints of Brains, while listening to endless versions of Streets of Bloody London on the one hand, from the budding singer songwriters, and the blokes with their finger in one ear on the other, with their “as I was walking out one summers morning” hey nonny fuckin noe!
    If I ever hear Steets of London again, I will not be held responsible!

    Anyway come the break, someone says lets go to the pub just down the road. They do Scrumpy.
    So off we go.It was a den of iniquity my friends. Frequented by persons of the Irish persuasion and prostitutes. Very dodgy Hogarthian scene altogether! Raddled folk of the first water, but intriguing to innocent romantic youngsters like me. Well they were all drinking this stuff called scrumpy, which I had never heard of.

    So we get a round in, and though I am assured this is an apple based drink, it sure didn’t taste like Woodpecker.
    The spectral petrol type sheen on the surface should have alerted me, but the stuff slipped down easy, no gas, it being still. So I had a couple of pints.
    But when I came to leave to go back to the folk club I was bumping into the tables and trying to exit without actually opening the door.
    I was God’s own drunk for an hour or two. Life and soul etc absolutely on top form.
    But then the retribution set in with the projectile vomiting ( I threw up on a bloke in front of me on the bus on the way home, when I stupidly thought to ask him why he was reading a book on a bus at 11pm at night).
    I lost my vertical hold entirely. Anything I tried to focus on slipped below the frame and kept rolling down.
    Yep one of my most embarrassing experiences. But it does learn ya! oh yes! I have never been that bad again.
    I still like scrumpy by the way, I live in the West Country after all, but you learn how to handle it in moderation doncha!

  22. El Draque says:

    When I had traditional cider it was one shilling and sevenpence a pint – when Watneys was two and twopence.
    Yes, 40 years ago, now I think of it.

  23. CountingCats says:

    Ah RAB, but you miss the point.
    You didn’t go to sleep on the grass so this anecdote is severely off topic.

  24. RAB says:

    Oy Vey, look I have been to sleep on and because of the grass many a time. I just wanted to tell a story (remember the headline?!) it’s what I do best.
    Anytime you get bored, just shout ;-)

    I was going to try and be scientific, saying that the smelly tramp had obviously added nutrients to the soil and the springback effect from his body weight, like the end of the ice ages that is still having an effect on Scotland rising and the south of England falling etc etc had had the effect of making the grass grow in that particular spot quicker, but it just isn’t my forte.

  25. Bod says:

    Rab’s living proof that all the lead acetate that ends up in ‘real’ scrumpy isn’t as bad for you as Some Doctors say.

  26. NickM says:

    PA, but it is a historical science. In order to figure most stuff out the astrofizz fella has to know the history as well as the principles. It’s way different from, say particles. I am typing this tripe out using pentadactyl appendages. Why five? There is a fossil record for this but no point in the here and now principle. Why not four or six?

  27. DeNihilist says:

    Well Nick, if you had only four, you’d be on an American cartoon going “Doh!”

  28. NickM says:

    The Simpsons is so massively succesful because modern life does feel very Homeric. Western Civilization starts with Homer and it ends with Homer. How apt.

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