Ice Ice Baby

[16 Nov 03] The precarious state of the Gulf Stream was in the UK news again this week, with scientists warning that fresh water from melting polar ice is about to shut down the giant jacuzzi and leave Britain lying in a cold bath. While the rest of the world sits on the hot jets, we'll be stuck in a January that never ends. Since January is only six weeks away—and already I'd like it to be over—I'm not looking forward to this one bit.

One way or another Britain is due another cold spell: if it wasn't for global warming (and who started that ball rolling, eh?), the world would be facing another ice age round about now. The last one left an impressive number of smooth curving valleys all over this green and pleasant land, which just happen to be the exact same size and shape as a bloody great glacier. Sooner or later the ice will be back, and everything built while it was away, from Skara Brae to the local Safeway, will end up as gravel.

Nobody's sure when it will happen: maybe in fifty years; maybe next year. My only hope is that the Caribbean goodness keeps flowing our way for a few more years, and that the snow doesn't start compacting into an unstoppable wall of ice before we sell our flat. Nothing like the prospect of your home being ground into a powdery residue to knock a few percent off its market value.

Still, it's a while since we had a good environmental scare around here, and at least it'll give the hard-core survivalists a chance to use up all those beans left over from Y2K. And there's a perverse appeal in the idea of millions of Britons seeking asylum in sunny Queensland, only to be told by the Howard government that there's nothing in the Refugee Convention about glaciers, so they're all going to a holding camp in Nauru. Irony, eh. So good, they named an age after it.


The Mating Habits of Snails

[ 3 Feb 03] This reader suggestion may seem a tad obvious, given the ol' domain name, but hold on to your shells—the mating habits of snails are far more disturbing than you think.

Since I can't claim to be any sort of expert on our molluscous friends, I had to turn to the secret weapon of the highly trained yet inherently lazy researcher to find out more about this lurid subject. Sure enough, it turns out that 1,840 people find snail sex so fascinating that they've mentioned it on one of their web pages. Measured against the global population, this translates into a rate of 1 in 2000,* making it highly likely that your town or suburb harbours one or more perverted gastropoidophiles. You can help stamp out this twisted practice by watching for silver trails around the lips and chins of neighbours, and reporting keen 'gardeners' to your nearest screaming mob.

So what of the slithering capsules of lust themselves? The first page on Google's list plays down their kinkiness, making them sound almost modest:

Snails court for hours before mating, often twisting themselves around each other, and covering each other with a slimy material. Once the mating process has finished, each individual snail goes in search of a place to lay its eggs. Snails lay an average of 75 eggs, a few inches into top soil. Within 2-4 weeks, the eggs hatch. Snails are rapid reproducers, breeding as often as once a month.

Twisting around... slimy material... breeding once a month... so far, so middle-class suburban. But the next link reveals their sordid secrets for all the world to see and, in 0.05% of cases, be unhealthily aroused by:

Hermaphrodites can take male or female roles in mating and reproduction, as circumstances dictate. The garden snail fulfills both sexual roles simultaneously.

Cross-dressing intergender sexual-role-playing gastropods! Quick, fetch a garden hose and douse these brazen hussies before they harm the children.

These snails punctuate their mating ritual by puncturing their partners with a calcified "love dart." ... Garden snails court from 15 minutes to six hours by circling each other, touching with tentacles, and biting on the lip and genitals. Just before mating, hydraulic pressure builds up in the blood sinus surrounding the organ housing the dart, and when the second animal touches the darter's genitals, it fires that dart. After snail number two responds by firing its own dart, the snails simultaneously mate.

Ohmygodthatsthefunkyshit. Genital piercing snails! S&M snails! Hard-core biting and stabbing snails! All under our very noses and/or lettuces!

I'll never be able to look at Speedy the same way again.

Still, it gives me some great ideas for my forthcoming line of site merchandise. As well as a Hotwheels Speedy with friction-propelled action and shell that ejects on impact, we can do a self-sliming Inflatable Speedy with pop-up dart. 1,840 of those at fifty bucks a pop should do nicely.

*Or, if you are more skilled with a calculator, 1 in 3,260,000. See comments.


Radio Ga-Ga

[26 Jan 03] From the should-you-laugh-or-cry department: a Birmingham radio station has just been dragged through the courts for a truly jaw-dropping stunt perpetrated in August 2001: a competition to see who could sit on blocks of dry ice the longest. For the chance to win tickets to a music festival, three of the four competitors ended up in hospital and were left with permanent damage to their buttocks and thighs. In other words: they froze their buns off.

An eye-watering fate. Yet, like any accident involving the nether regions, strangely compelling.

It's hard to imagine why anyone would want to enter such an insane competition in the first place—until you remember that not everyone has taken Mad Scientist photos of their cackling girlfriend holding a beaker of steaming dry ice in her oven-mitted hand. Even though the UK gets pretty cold and gloomy in winter, it doesn't get -78 degrees Celcius cold; those sorts of temperatures are beyond most people's experience. And I guess they trusted that the radio station knew what it was doing.

That was their big mistake. Placing your bum in the hands of a DJ might be a reasonable thing to do in a crowded nightclub, but not when they want to park it on frozen carbon dioxide. (Speaking of which, hadn't these people seen The Empire Strikes Back?) It's a safe bet that the scientific knowledge of your average hits 'n' memories expert is close to absolute zero.

The original reports noted the station's protestations that they covered the dry ice with plastic sheeting. What next? Contestants protected from vats of lava by sheets of foil? Deep-sea diving in lunch-wrap wetsuits?

Even more staggering—besides the fact that they actually had medical advice before the competition (hadn't these doctors heard of the Hippocratic Oath? "First, do no placing of buttocks on -78°C solids")—is the news that the whole idea was copied from another radio station in New Zealand.

I guess the land that brought you such pastimes as tying a rubber band to your ankles and hurling yourself off a bridge would think nothing of a spot of arse-freezing. But New Zealand has courts too, and Kiwi bums are as susceptible to frostbite as Brummie ones. Surely they didn't get away with it?

No. The Kiwi competition also left its contestants in serious medical difficulties: but because it used normal ice, all (all!) they suffered was hypothermia. And that was after sitting on the blocks for four hours:

Organisers tried turning up the heat on the tenacious numb-bums by making them strip to their trousers then blasting them with a cold fan, all to the tune of Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue.

So what does the Birmingham station decide? Not "this is totally mad, let's ditch the idea", but "let's use dry ice instead!"—presumably so the contestants don't sit on it as long, and overrun into drive-time. Well, they got that part right: they suffered permanent tissue damage in one quarter the time!

Most people would be glad that the UK isn't as litigious as the US, but in this case a £15,000 fine doesn't seem enough. A spell in Siberia would be more like it. Tickets to Steps included, natch.


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