Very Top Five... Megafauna

Monday, 28 September 2009
What are Megafauna? Let’s be frank with each other; they sound rather like a second-rate science fiction species invented by an author with easy access to thesaurus entries for “big” and “animals”, but scant access to creativity or wit. However, to castigate Megafauna on that basis would be to do them an injustice. Don’t get me wrong, they are indeed big, and they are animals, but they possess far more inexplicable menace than this primitive deconstructive definition suggests.

Megafauna aren’t just big; they have to be surprisingly big. A giraffe is not surprisingly big, nor is an elephant; because we expect them to be big. But we expect mice to be small. So imagine the sort of OMGWTF?! moment you would experience if you saw a mouse the size of puma hissing it’s way towards you at eye height. Exactly. That’s what makes it an example of Megafauna; being able to lord it over its closely related cousins with its horrendously unnatural looking majestic giganticness, and extra fangs.

To help represent the sphincter disintegrating terror of these big chaps, my artistically endowed chum Ewan has done some illustrations of suitable in situ examples. After you've read this you should definitely go to his blog, because it rocks. Like a boulder (and boulders are 100% rock).

5. Meganeuroptera aka really big dragonflies

These dudes were a metre long. Grab a tape measure and check how big that is, and continue reading when you’ve wiped the spilled tears of shock and wonder from your monitor.

If a regular dragonfly alighted on your wrist, you might chuckle with delight and marvel for a brief instant at the pretty shimmer of effervescent iridescence before, with a flap of its delicate crystal wings, it was spiralling up into the sun dappled canopy, or some such. Compare with Meganeuroptera; if one of these landed on your arm you wouldn’t be able to see your arm underneath it. Nor could you see anything at all, what with its horrible scaly wings scratching at your face and eyes as it burst open your stomach with its steel teeth [citation needed] and treated itself to a faceful of gizzards.

Fortunately, humanity and Meganeuroptera never coexisted, indeed they relied on an air-oxygen content a hefty 163% of modern level to fuel their malign existence, and they have been mercifully smothered by a more modern clime.

4. Colossal squid

Colossal squid exhibit abyssal gigantism, which is to say, the deeper into the blackest depths you sink, the more likely it is that your puny submarine will be torn contemptuously in two by a massive spiked tentacle, before you are drawn into massed rings of teeth quite like those that monster had in the third star wars film except also with tentacles. And more the fool you. Also, the tentacles have hooks and extra teeth. Unlike most Megafauna, Colossal squid are extant rather than extinct, and very occasionally a dead one floats up on a beach somewhere. But nowhere near as often as humans are lost at sea. Eh? Think about it…

3. Haast’s Eagle

These were a bird of prey with a wingspan of 3 metres. Which sounds big, but isn’t all that big compared to some modern birds. And they were 15kg or so, which is not so heavy, you might think. They had rather heftier claws than anything we’re used to, however, and neck muscles like a squad of angry sailors in a sack, which stood them in good stead for some serious dive bombing. (Or perhaps ‘depth charging’, if you want to keep the maritime metaphor afloat.)

Haast’s Eagle mainly fed on moas, a flightless bird, which weighed about 200 kg. The eagles smashed into the moas at high speed from above, using one leg to disembowel and the other to tear open the neck, in a rather deftly dextrous manner, before retreating back to their eyries for a round of margaritas and high fives [citation needed].

“Hold on a tick!” You might say. “Moas were 200kg? But humans don’t weigh that much!” And since humans and Haast’s eagles lived on the New Zealand islands at the same time, you might reasonably wonder if Haast’s eagles preyed on humans; when a palaeontologist was asked this question he shrugged and said “Yah, Probably. Look at the claws on them.”

I imagine some sort of epic battle ‘twixt man and bird raged.

Who won? Ever seen a Haast’s eagle hovering over a car park?

2. Jaekelopterus aka big sea scorpion

If you subscribe to the notion of a benevolent god creating all of the creatures of the Earth, I would invite you to reconsider this opinion by way of the example of the giant sea scorpion. God must surely have been in an extremely foul mood that day. Possibly it was just after humans turned out to be such a shower of ungrateful bastards, and He wanted something to set on them?

Anyway, this animal is the evolutionary equivalent of a dark alley full of spines, claws and a cloying sense of aquatic foreboding. And although called a sea scorpion, it is speculated to have lived in fresh water rivers and lakes, not in saltwater seas.

Just think; there could totally be a Jaekelopterus skulking in a puddle between you and the shops, or lurking in a children’s paddling pool. There probably isn’t, but that’s just what makes it so terrifying; never knowing when you might hear the brittle clatter of chitin on tarmac. Click clack snap.

1. Megalodon aka giant great white shark

If you were told that megalodons were a really big type of shark you might chuckle genially and say “I think you’ll find that sharks are big enough as it is, old chap,” and then point out that I promised only to discuss animals that were bigger than expected, and that sharks were already as big as one might reasonably expect. “I’ve seen several documentaries on sharks; I know their scale,” you might haughtily impart with a knowledgeable nod and a flicker of condescension dappling your lip.

Yeah, well, megalodons are significantly bigger than that, so nyer.

While in conversation about the awesome majesticallity of yon shark, illustrious Ewan had a biblical revelation. Noting that the Megalodon had jaws which could open up to ten feet wide, Ewan postulated that this may go some way to explain the story of Jonah and the whale. It's possible, he said, that the whale was in fact a Megalodon, meaning Jonah was probably a dolphin. I found this an impeccable line of logic, and concurred. Did I mention that you should definitely be heading over to his blog?

Very Top Five... Ways to get more blog readers

Monday, 21 September 2009
So you’ve got a blog, and you’ve been pouring your little heart into it for some time. Unfortunately, no-one seems to dig (or digg) your own peculiar brand of self-diagnosed genius, and you are still getting only two hits a day. (Both from your mother, who likes to keep up with what her boy is up to these days on the world wide internet with all his electronic friends.)

Anyway… what you need in this situation is some quality dead-cert tips for reeling in the visitors. These hints, generally speaking, will appeal to the coarser, baser elements of human nature and your site will soon be habituated by the kind of feckless moron that makes up most of humanity; but then, that’s rather the point, innit?

5. Pictures of cats with hilarious and endearingly misspelled captions:

These involve finding a cute/angry/contorted/sleeping/hiding/disgruntled/sulking/eating/bored/relaxed/ugly/scowling/rabid cat and writing a stupid caption with terrible spelling (Very specific terrible spelling), which apparently suggests that the cat did the writing itself. (Luik at teh kyoot pikchoor wiht teh capshun! Iz almoest liek teh kitteh roet it izself!)

Do this right and the morons will guffaw like seals, and clap their flippers delightedly.

4. Racist/political/religious diatribe:

This isn’t particularly difficult. All you have to do is write according to the formula; “I hate/love the [insert rude word for group of people here]/[insert reprehensible political group here],” and you can relax and let nature take its course:

Lots of people furiously googling for more information on these delicate subjects will find your site and agree/disagree vehemently with you in block capitals. Many of the comments will be along the lines of “YOU SUCK YOU FUCKFACE I HOPE YOU DIE OF RABIES AND AIDS”. But still, a visitor’s a visitor.

However, you can be more subtle (insidious) than merely making a straightforward statement: how about using logic (or pseudo-logic) to build up an argument that appears to be sound (but really isn’t…). Or try stealing scientific data from other sources and then extrapolate it by adding your own crazy opinions to make your argument look more plausible.

click it to see what I mean...

3. Pictures of naked wimen:

Everyone loves pictures of naked wymmen. Men can leer enthusiastically, and other wimmin can say ‘tsk’ (Which I gather they rather enjoy) and then they can critically compare themselves to the pictured wihmen to see how they match up. Now, I really should really use a picture of naked woomans to illustrate this point.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find any womin willing to be convinced to pose without her clothes on, so I’ve done a drawing instead. Fortunately, this is a subject about which I know a great deal. This picture of a woemman has upwards of 70% of its surface area mapped (All from personal experience, I hasten to boast).

2. Hilarious soul warming anecdotes about your family:

Everyone just loves these. What you do is write about a not-very-humorous, mundane escapade from your family life, like oh my god, that time we took both cars on holiday because of all the stuff we needed to bring for the kids, and get this, we totally forgot to bring the diapers! Even though we’d bought two plus-size packs just that morning because they don’t sell the brand we normally use up in the mountains!

No one cares! Or so you’d think, but look at the numbers of comments on these posts; Hundreds! All from people with equally moronic and pedestrian anecdotes that they feel bound to share with you in 160 words or less.

I can’t find any children belonging to me, so I can’t do this. The next best thing is to talk about your siblings. I have a twin sister, which should make for excellent light badinage. So I recorded a phone conversation I had with her. We spoke for about half an hour, but once I’d edited out the belching and swearing it barely added up to 10 minutes. Unfortunately, due to our mutual, deep strangeness, the conversation was littered with questionable titbits like:

Sister: “You know fawns?”
Me: “Yes. Like Mr Tumnus from ‘the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’?”
Sister: “That’s right… Well, I think I saw a dead one on the roof opposite my flat.”
ME: “Wow… Have you tried climbing up there for a closer look?”

Then we practised “laughing like Arabs” for 5 minutes. Apparently I couldn’t do it because I don’t have the “right vocal cadence. Make it more natural. Come on, laugh like an arab. It’s easy. Try throwing your head back.”

So giving your stories a personal twist only really works when you are less twisted personally.

1. Celebrities:

If there is one other thing everyone inexplicably loves, it’s knowing whether Mr Hollywood is having sex with Miss Hollywood (Or even juicier, if he isn’t having sex with her, then why not? What twists-and-turns have there been in their fabulously fabulous relationship?). Not only that, but everyone wants to know YOUR opinion on this state of affairs. Do you love their shiny-sequinned-sparkly lifestyles? Or do you find yourself sickened by the people who think that meretriciousness equals merit?

So write it down, and write it volubly, splenetically and persuasively; soon all will flock to the font of your illustrious/infamous wisdom, and you will yourself become famous. (It’s infectious, you know.)


Try and find a winning combination of the above for your website URL, like “www.MyFamilysFamousFascistCat(Also,CatsAreNaked)”

Very Top Five... Enterprising applications of genetics

Monday, 14 September 2009
Genetics is the science of the future; today! It’s all about sticking the cattle prod of science into the buttock of Nature and laughing delightedly at the hilarious mooing and moaning of all those hippy naysayers. Genetic fiddling is our duty to, and of benefit for, our children and our children’s children.

For example, if we can give our children four arms and tentacles instead of a face, then we should give them four arms and tentacles instead of a face. Shouldn’t we? Imagine how easy it would be to drive and eat a delicious GM jam doughnut at the same time, while swatting flies away with the face-tentacles?

Anyway, what follows is a list of the most happ’ning and jiving scientific tinkery from the front line of genetic jiggery-pokery. And they are totally real, despite their B-Movie-ish-ness.

5. DNA necklaces.

These are capsules of DNA on a chain, and you can buy them right now from consumer DNA services websites.

Imagine having a piece of your loved one next to your heart, always…” whispers the sickeningly italicised pink text on otherwise-quite-sensible genetic assay websites, “With our DNA necklaces (in a range of colours and styles), now you can.”

Yeah, what's wrong with a photo in your wallet? Assuming you can stand the thought of being more than a few inches away from some biological matter scraped from your loved one. If not, how about putting a piece of hair in a locket for free like people have been doing for hundreds of years? No, actually I’d much rather rub a sterile swab on my cheek, send it into a freaky biolab, have the DNA extracted, multiplied and squirted into a gaudy necklace for about a squintillion pounds. Yeah, that’ll do nicely.

Besides all that, there’s something about carrying about a vial of DNA that is just gross. Imagine if it broke; DNA is a manky yellowy liquid and it’s going to be all dripping down your favourite shirt.

On the plus side, if your loved one dies, you can have them cloned. Have hundreds of them cloned, so you never have to go through the heart wrenching loss ever again. Awesome.

4. Super mice.

So there is this gene that counteracts the body’s response to endurance exercise, and some science guys have stuck this gene in some mice. As a result, these mice are able to run for hours without food or water, are much more active, and eat twice as much as a normal mouse but are half the weight.

Oddly enough, it increases their libido too. It also makes them very aggressive, and the scientist responsible said “why this is the case, we are not really sure.” So... it’s an inexplicable anger and rapey-ness. Could it be used in humans? “It’s very possible,” Mr. Science helpfully replies.

Because if there is one thing we learned from every Science Fiction film ever made, it’s that imbuing ordinary creatures with biological superpowers always turns out just fine.

3. Glow in the dark monkeys.

Glow in the dark Jellyfish + regular Monkeys = Glow in the dark Monkeys

It just sounds too good to be true and, indeed, rather pointless at the same time. But it is true; in 2009 some modern-day Japanese Dr Frankensteins chopped the Green Fluorescent Protein gene out of jellyfish, stuck it onto a monkey chromosome, and bred fluorescent monkeys.

So now they have some adorably green and glowy baby marmosets. And d’you know what they’re planning to do with them now? If you guessed "cuddle them delightedly and give them glow in the dark bananas," you were wrong. If you guessed "infect them with AIDS," you were right.

Which might sound cruel and heartless, but apparently if the monkey is fluorescing it makes it easier to study the manner of its horrible death; all part of a very unlikely-to-be-successful quest to find an AIDS cure which also works in humans. Oh wait, that does sound cruel and heartless. Bastards…

2. Transplant swine.

Here’s another one straight from the pages of “Evil Science: the definitive guide”.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we had enough organs for transplants; so that kiddies with failing livers could be repaired and up and about chasing rainbows and skipping down boulevards and whatever else kiddies get up to these days. Well, yes, it would. So how’s this for a solution:

Engineer pigs with human organs. Good idea, isn’t it? As well as bacon and sausages and pork chops, we could also have livers, kidneys, lungs and hearts. What was once merely a handy snack becomes a handy sack o’ transplantable pig organs. Porgans.

Unfortunately, the use of oinkers' organs also brings with it an inherent risk of trans-species PERVs. LOL, you may say, but in this instance PERVS means Porcine Endogenous RetroViruses. Pig AIDS, in short. Besides which you’d have pig organs inside you. Children will mock you. Ew, those have been in a field. Icky.

1. Surprise paternity tests.

These take the ethical biscuit (then crumble it up, put it in an envelope and send it off to be tested for traces of genetic material from dried saliva. Puzzled? I’ll explain):

Many companies are now offering DNA testing, on almost any biological sample, of amazing power and sensitivity. (Oh, by the way, that’s instrumental sensitivity; not ethical or moral sensitivity. Just to be clear.)

The websites provide long lists of stuff that can be sent in to be sampled, from loose hair from a plughole, to unwashed coffee mugs or underwear, fingernail clippings, licked stamps, floss, chewing gum, cigarette butts, and even urine or... stools. Or biscuit crumbs. But why would you have to stoop to such sneaky measures, surely not because the man-under-the-spotlight doesn’t know he is being tested? Well… probably that is indeed the case, since a positive DNA ID on the father would mean he would be legally obliged to financially contribute to his child, and if he knows that this is a possible outcome he may not be amazingly keen to volunteer for the testing in the first place.

There is always a little footnote on these sites saying “Alternative sample media provided for your convenience. You need to get the permission of the person being tested.” Yeah, it totally makes sense that they offer this service for convenience and not subterfuge; after all, rubbing a swab across the inside of my cheek for five seconds is unbelievably taxing, inconvenient and invasive. I’d rather send in a sample of shit retrieved from behind the U-bend in the dead of night.

So go ahead and do it on the sly, without telling possible-daddy about his surprise paternity test; what better birthday gift for him than an extremely official-looking statement of fact on headed corporate paper along with a friendly handwritten card saying “OMG you’re not my biological Father LOL! The Scientists tell me that it’s likely my real dad is that friendly man who runs the corner shop.”

Very Top Five... Horrifyingly mauled (but awesome) British soldiers

Monday, 7 September 2009
The British Empire was the largest Empire the world has ever seen, plateau-ing in the 1800s to the awesomeness of Georgian and Victorian splendour, and eventually declining in the 20th century.

As the following list will show, this prolonged success was due to a small but significant number of total dudes who were able to get shot in the face and just laugh it off, before single-handedly conquering a few nations before lunch – which would be seventeen delicious courses, served with silver cutlery on fine china plates – before continuing with a pleasant afternoon's continued nation conquering.

The following small sample of Mighty Heroes of Britishness are all of this rare ilk, conquering countries with only the twinkle in their eyes and suppressing rebellions (often heroically outnumbered and armed only with a bit of twig) while still maintaining a stiff upper lip and fantastically elaborate starched moustaches.

That they could do this even with their arms half torn-off and bits of their aide-de-camps spattered up their best dress shirt is additional testament to their splendidness.

5. General Sir David Baird.

Shot in the leg in 1779 while in India, and taken prisoner by Hyder Ali. He spent 4 years being tortured in an Indian prison, and when liberated by the British the bullet from four years ago was still lodged in his still broken leg. He recovered, and in 1799 he commanded a British siege army - personally leading the charge on the battlements of the city where he had been held (Seringapatam) - with a claymore broadsword, no less. And that's mighty heroic, if you ask me.

They didn’t let him be governor afterwards, as he was apparently a bit racist and the British rulers of India decided that he would aggravate the locals too much. This was in 1803, when racism was pretty much totally fine all round… makes you wonder what he did that was considered so ultra-racist in the Georgian value system. (Answer: He repeatedly had Indians shot for “being Indian.”)

They made some other chap called Arthur Wellesley governor instead. More on him later…

4. Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson.

He was shot in the head (causing him to be permanently blinded in one eye) in battle in 1794, but no record of the wound was made at the time because Nelson insisted that it was "not much." It didn’t stop him from leading the attack successfully. His right arm was later amputated after it was smashed by a musket ball. While it was hanging off, he hoisted the flag on the ship despite a nerve being stuck in the stitches of his arm.

Nelson was pacing calmly and gallantly on his ship’s open deck when he was finally fatally shot at Trafalgar in 1805 (A mighty victory for the British, by the way).

3. Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, 1st Lord Wellington.

…Shouldn’t really be on this list, because Wellington was somewhat famous for not getting shot. He commanded the British in dozens of battles, often from the front (For a better view, he said) and although at the battle of Waterloo all 15 of his aides were killed by snipers, Wellington was not hit once. A nearby tree (The only one on the open ridge on which he was calmly standing (What a man, eh?)) was torn from it's roots and smashed to pieces by some of the many cannon balls aimed at Wellington)He later became Prime Minister, was known as the Iron Duke, and held in great regard by the people of Britain - what a mighty hero. Oh, and that smashed tree? He had it made into two handsome chairs; one for himself, the other for Queen Victoria. Very dashing.

2. Lieutenant Colonel Jack Churchill:

A World War II commando officer, Jack Churchill’s first claim to fame is that he is the only person to have confirmed kills with a longbow during the entire second world war. In fact he went into battle armed with only a longbow and a claymore broadsword. He volunteered for as many battles as he could, and was wounded in every single one of them due to his tendency to immediately charge the enemy, sword aloft.

But Churchill survived every time, what with being tough as nails and all, and was given several medals for his ridiculous courage. In 1944 he commanded a massively outnumbered night-time commando assault; but pressed on to take a German fort. Most of his men were shot, but he whipped out his bagpipes (this is true) to rally the few remaining men in the darkness. The Germans closed in, and he was eventually “knocked unconscious” by a sustained grenade and mortar attack.

There followed a vaguely comical series of imprisonments, fabulously daring escapes and re-captures. Once he was chained to the floor, but had escaped within 24 hours, leaving a note with his phone number and an invitation to the German commander to join him and his wife for dinner when the war ended. What panache.

When the war with Germany was won he immediately transferred to the Pacific theatre; He said he wanted to die in battle and be buried wrapped in Union Jack, but the war ended before he could realise his dream. He later said;

"If it wasn't for those damn Yanks, we could have kept the war going another 10 years."

He quit the army during peacetime (twice) and rejoined during wars, and after WWII he was bored shitless. He took up parachute jumping, motorbike speed trails and powerboat racing to fill the void of skewering people with a longbow, which he sincerely enjoyed. He died in 1996, aged 89.

1. Field Marshal Lord Kitchener.

“Shot in the throat while gallantly leading an attack on a rebel group in 1890”… Would normally be a sentence that suggests the protagonist has nobly died; it is perhaps a suitable sentence to grace the obituary of a fine officer. Those officers are not Lord Kitchener, who eats throat-bullets for breakfast.

Kitchener contemptuously dispatched the man foolish enough to shoot him, and successfully concluded an assault on some filthy rebels.

Afterwards, Kitchener continued work as normal, although he could not eat because he had a bullet stuck in his throat. After two days of prodding it (he did this absent-mindedly while doing paperwork) he had worked it loose enough to swallow, and after a subsequent light bandaging was perfectly able to lead the next day’s atacks.

By the way, Kitchener is the dude from the original “Your country needs you” campaign while he was minister for War in World War one.

Kitchener died at sea in 1916 when his Battleship was struck by a mine. 7 of the 650 men onboard survived, and one survivor recalled that Kitchener was standing "calm and still" on the main deck as an example to the men as the ship foundered and sank- Mightily heroic.
All from a man whose name was Herbert. Not bad.

There are many more mighty jolly examples of steel-moustached Britishness, but I think those are enough to be getting on with for now.

Very Top Five… Things to know before starting a Science degree.

Sunday, 6 September 2009
First things first; you don’t need to know any actual Science yet. They’ll teach you that while you’re there. That’s the point of the course, innit?

The things you need to know now are the most important things; the things the University won't tell you. Things like how to sleep surreptitiously in lectures should you feel momentarily overcome by fatigue brought on by the recommended student diet of one-part studying to twenty-seven parts partying, for example.

5. The pictures in the prospectus are all lies.

You know those laboratories in the adverts? The white walled, white desked, neat and tidy Mansions-o’-Science, a-glitter with X-Ray Synchrotrons and Atomic Force Microscopes? What do you think the chances are that these sleek Temples of Knowledge would stay quite so white and shiny with a bunch of manky students fiddling about with them with their horrid fingers (which are all sticky from rolling joints and fumbling with each other’s privates at late-night parties?

Nil. But these labs do exist; only they are locked tantalisingly away in the serious research sections of the University, away from the slime-caked undergrads.

The actual teaching laboratories are a different matter altogether. You won’t find pictures of them in any prospectus, or on the Universities website. Why is this? Because it’s difficult to take good photographs of scorched, graffiti’d desks, melted circuitry, piles of broken 1970’s LASERs and a technician having a violent mental breakdown in the corner.

4. Which adjectives to avoid in course selection.

For example, obviously the word “Advanced” is a dead giveaway that a course is going to be brain meltingly awful and require hours of toil to grasp. And you didn’t go to University to toil like some sweaty navvy.

Some courses just sound difficult, and should clearly be avoided (How else will you fit in all the partying?) All subjects have courses like these; I shall use Physics as an example, because Physics has many adjectives you must avoid; for example;
Statistical, Mathematical, Quantum, Nuclear, Particle, Computational. Unfortunately, most Physics courses include at least one of the above. It’s a tough subject.

However, there is one counter intuitive adjective which you must avoid at all costs; “General.” It sounds innocuous enough, doesn’t it, and that’s how they trick you into studying General Relativity - which is as bad as regular Physics, but with all the dials turned up to “Whoah!”

Try and picture a 4-dimensional space being warped by planets. Can’t? General Relativity’s not for you.

3. How to interpret data.

Wouldn’t it be terrible if you were to do an experiment and collected some data, and then it turned out that you’re data was terrible. What would you do?

Well, you’d have to collect it all over again. What a bore.

Or… you could do this (Which is bad and wrong), and (here it gets technical) adjust all of the data points by, say, 5%, so that they fit the line or curve of best fit more accurately, and delete the poorest data points which are skewing your results. Don’t edit the data to be too accurate, because then your cheating will be obvious. In fact, don’t do it anyway; it’s bad and wrong. Wink.
But if you do decide to cheat, you can always console yourself in knowing that these are the results you should have seen, if it wasn’t for the terrible equipment, which was beyond your control... Wink.

2. You’ll fit right in, just as you are.

Everyone will totally respect your personal beliefs. You’ll notice everyone making a huge effort to make you feel like one of them. University's are a melting pot of cultures.

Now you might wonder whether that last paragraph implies that A.) They will accept your beliefs as they are; or B.) You will be offered the chance to conform to a belief system held by the majority. It could mean either, couldn’t it?

Don’t worry, if you think option A.) is correct, your peers will be particularly understanding, and won’t subtly distance themselves from you at all.

So the following hastily drawn sketch bears no relevance to the truth whatsoever. Promise.

Because, yeah, diversity is super. So long as you don’t mind getting steamrollered in the face by the status quo of secularism and science, a system made invincible by an unshakeable sense of rightness and security. Not like in the dark ages of years gone by, where diversity wasn’t super, and you’d get steamrollered in the face by conservative values and religion, a system made invincible by an unshakeable sense of righteousness and security. Not like that at all.

You certainly won’t find a community propelled by a viciously narrow-minded arrogance borne from the knowledge that hundreds of years of scientific advancement stands behind it. So that’s good.

1. It’s a great opportunity for a life-enhancing experience.

And so it is, just check out this statistic:

“98% of students think that University life is worthwhile.” – University College London website, University Life section.

And right they are. Just feast your peepers on these key benefits, and then tell me whether Univeristy isn't the most awesomest invention ever.

Some places do ten vodka shots for a fiver. (It’s not going to be a well-known brand of vodka, and certainly won’t taste nice. But then again, vodka isn’t supposed to, is it? It’s purely intended to be a substantial alcoholic hit, so you can hardly complain. Besides, you wouldn’t buy 10 shots of anything for the taste, would you? After the first few you can’t taste anything anyway, so it doesn’t matter.)

You can delay getting a dead end supermarket job by 3 or 4 years, and get a dead end office job instead.

You can lord it over people who didn’t go to University, giving them a massive, crushing feeling of worthlessness to fuel your own superiority complex. Like as if it’s a secret club that only the cool kids got to go to.

You can get a Latin scroll at the end of it, as if you were in Harry Potter or whatever. You can even get it on vellum if you like. Which is like paper, but made out of a baby cow’s skin. But don’t worry, the cow is alright afterwards. Wait… what…? Doesn’t it grow back? Oh, actually the cow does have to die. But it was probably going to die anyway, and feel how silky the scroll is. It’s worth it, isn’t it?

Jobs are 40 hours a week. University is, like, six lectures, a lab session and a tutorial. And nobody even minds if you don’t turn up. Ergo, you get to chill at home and watch daytime television.

Very Top Five... Ways to snare a good man (For women)

Saturday, 5 September 2009
This is written for women, by the way. (If you are a man and wish to snare men, you’ll have to check that they are of the same persuasion first. Apparently there are ways to tell. Either that or be immensely good at persuasion.)

Man are bastards, multiple sources reliably inform me. If you require further proof of how conniving/blasé/wanky men are, please read “Very Top Five… Ways to impress on a first date”. You’ll see what I mean. Bastards, the lot of them. They’re only in it for the sandwiches.

I am sans vagin, which may lead you to question my authority when it comes to dispensing womanly advice like some sort of demented agony aunt. But that’s just the point; I’m the man on the other side, as it were. I’m a defected agony aunt, like during the Cold War but without the threat of mutually assured destruction (Or maybe that’s not so far off the truth, fellow relationship cynics? No? Zing!). Ahem, anyway, I know plenty of awesome bona fide ways to snare a bonnie find.

The format of this article is different from usual, as I have decided to helpfully tailor my advice depending on your Attractiveness Score (Or AS, if you prefer zippy acronyms) derived from a test wot I personally devised personally. It’s just like the ones they have in those women’s magazines. Not that I would know.

Award yourself +1 point for each of the following:

A light, tinkly laugh like a crystal glass being flicked by an Angel with diamond fingers.

A way of moving that makes your coat swoosh around you like in the matrix.

A gaze that has been described as “smouldering” by at least two trusted sources.

A sense of humour (A proper one, not just playing ‘laugh-catch-up’ when everyone else gets a joke, or when you think you’re supposed to laugh. We can tell.)

Long, flowing hair like a billowing silken sheet.

Jolly nice breasts

Not fat. Does this sound subjective? Come on, you know if you’re fat or not, porky.

You’ve been whistled at by anyone other than some ugly builders (They’ll whistle at anything moving, including site equipment, passing cats, and each other.)

An easy-going personality (See “sense of humour,” above Men can tell when you’re really a psycho with a veneer of fake loveliness. Most of the time, anyway.)
All your own teeth (or a really convincing set of fake ‘uns.)

Lots of good looking friends (2 point if you have exclusively good looking friends, as good looking friends give you a great indication that you, yourself, are good looking. You may have one ugly friend, whom you keep around to increase the contrast of your own beauty.)

And now apply -1 points for each of the following:

Nasal hair that exceeds one centimetre in length or that protrudes from your nostrils.

A facial scar caused by anything other than duelling (Because duelling is obviously very sexually attractive).

Missing teeth, or indeed no teeth.

A hilariously old fashioned wooden limb that clonks on hard surfaces.

A child that comes with you on the date. (minus two points if it's holding something sticky. Minus 5 points if it's wailing AND holding something sticky AND is using its sticky thing to daub your date’s car.)

A missing eye (Although if you have a tasteful glass eye then only deduct half a point. If you have a super-hyper-awesome glass eye of a smiley face or something, deduct five points. Weirdo.)

A propensity for being likened to a horse (If people often mention your horsiness then deduct five points)

For each of the following places that you have body hair then deduct a point: upper lip, in between your eyebrows, knuckles, elbows, the back of your knees, on your jaw, anywhere in your mouth and in your ears.

Additional points:

For facial piercings and obvious tattoos: Either add or subtract five points. You will become inexplicably more attractive to fellow tattooed and pierced people, who are perhaps seeing in you what led them to get their skin irreversibly stained and their faces stapled in the first place… And you will appear less attractive to the rest of us; you’ve got stained skin and metal in your actual face.

Now, add up your Attractiveness Score:

Do you have +3 or more? Then well done! You're good looking. You are in section 1 below.

Did you score between +2 and -1? Then you are not-bad-looking-in-the-right-light. Go to section 2.

Did you score between -2 and -7? Oh dear. You're going to need a bit of help getting chaps to see you as an attractive prospect. Go to section 3.

Did you score between -8 and -11? Don't you even think about going out on any dates in your condition. Or indeed out at all. Stay indoors. But don't yet despair, see section 4.

Less than -12? Go to section 5 for your advice immediately.

1. So you are good looking?

You’ve got it made, sis. Do the following:

Laugh charmingly.

Look pretty.

Keep doing whatever you’re doing.

That's it. Wait for the suitors to begin queuing. Everyone will do whatever you want, all of the time. (If people don't do whatever you want all of the time then you may have added up your points incorrectly, you naughty cheat.)

2. So you are not-so-bad looking?

First, find a man. You can almost take your pick, but be reasonable. Right, got one? Now you are going to need to use all of your natural assets to pull this one off, but you can do it. You go girl...

Make him feel important. Ask him questions about his life, job, family, studies, work - whatever. Men like to feel like they're the centre of the universe, so exploit this to the maximum possible extent that you possibly can. Build a small shrine for him… in his head. Know what I mean?

Is that not working for you? How about joining in with his enjoyment of 'manly' activities; Sports, for instance. Discuss football or some crap like that. Laugh at his stupid jokes.

And remember, most women fall into category 2. That's why the good looking women can get away with just sitting there, blinking, and watch as men flock to them like flies round a delicious, oozing cake. But you can get one of their rejects if you try really hard.

3. So you look like a bit plain, even in good light?

I’ll illustrate what you should do using a digressive tale involving firearms: Old fashioned muskets were notoriously inaccurate, and useless at ranges of over 50 yards or so. However, aiming at waist height would increase the chances of a hit, and when a whole battalion of soldiers fired in a concerted effort, some of the shots were bound to strike.

Same advice goes for you: Get together with your friends, go out in large groups, aim low, specifically aim for the groin, and take them by surprise.

Also, I suppose you could get some tattoos, which will give you several plus points of attractiveness to other tattooed folk. Having personally seen many tattooed people, if ‘people’ they indeed can be called, this appears to be the most common reason for getting tattoos.

4. So you look like a horse?

Good luck, horse-face.

What were you expecting? Advice? OK: Wear a bag over your head, horse-face.

5. So you look like you should live in a pond?

Then go and live in one.


Good luck, girls… (I tried to warn you that men are bastards.)

Very Top Five... Awesome ways to impress on a first date

Friday, 4 September 2009

(This section is for dudes, by the way. See tomorrow’s article for the lady’s equivalent.)

Right, so you need a bit of assistance on a first date. Or even with meeting someone who will actually go on a date with you in the first place.

It's a complex business. What you wear, what you say, how you act: All of these things are very important. And doing well on a first date is of paramount importance to your final aim: Having a handy lady (or gent, if you are one of those new-fangled hommosexials about whom we hear so much) around to prepare club sandwiches for you, do dishes, mop your brow when you feel the clammy touch of fever, and generally pander to you and fetch comfy pillows to lounge on while you watch Sunday afternoon cowboy movies. That's my aim, anyway.

Anyway, to help you with your massive charm bombardment I have constructed a list of guaranteed gentlemanly things that are sure to have her leaving a moist patch on the restaurant's chair. (Oh, that’s a handy test to tell if this article is right for you, by the way; did you understand that last sentence before the brackets? If not, you might stop reading now. No, don’t look it up in Urban Dictionary or plough on regardless. That would only besmirch your innocence, and I hardly want to be held guilty of that.)

5. Make an effort, doofus.

Wear smart/ironed/washed clothes, delete as befits your social class. If you are a smelly plebeian for the best part of the day, then here's an idea: Have a shower. Was that so hard? And a shave. And wear a T-shirt devoid of humorously ironic badinage or stains. Stand up straight, check your breath with your hand, don’t get pissed before you meet up with her, and offer her your hand when entering and leaving vehicles for that extra touch of class (and also to jolt her with your masculine sexual voltage, obviously.)

Feeling like a different, more confident and sexy man already? Then...

4. Act like you think you’re James Bond.

Unless you have a stupid surname, in which case repeating it in a Bond-esque style is likely to have your date sniggering you every time you do it. In fact, on second thoughts, don’t do that even if you’ve got a normal second name. Unless your name is actually James Bond. Which would be awesome.

Do the slurry thing that Sean Connery does. This gets easier with alcohol slurring, and therefore can help you disguise a moderate alcohol dependency problem, should you choose to keep THAT card close to your chest.

3. Buy her some drinks

She’ll be dead impressed by your largesse. But what does your drink say about you? Well, if you are sipping ghastly little cocktails with pink umbrellas then there’s every chance you’ll look a fool, and if you're necking pints of whisky you're probably quite manly, but there are many subtle shades in between.

F'rinstance, if you down a few vodka shots she may think 'Giggle giggle. How impressive!' (Since by now she'll probably have ingested a few units of alcohol herself.) However, if you down a few dozen vodka shots she'll think ' Gosh, what an alcoholic bastard.'

But don’t feel compelled to drink; if your tongue dances with conversational charm then you won’t require alcohol as a glossal lubricant. For you normal morals, stick to a modest amount, at least, because vomit is as sexy as it looks.

2. Tell her she looks good, even if she looks like a horse.

Not that you would go out on a date with anyone who looks like a horse (Unless you too look like a horse), but just in case she chooses to wear make-up/jewellery/clothes that mildly increase her 'horsiness' quotient that evening then really do not mention this and tell her that she looks lovely anyway.

However, if she is very horse-like then tell her that you don't want to be seen with horse-faces and offer to escort her off the premises immediately. Harsh, perhaps, but fair. It's better that she knows in the long run. Honestly.

If she doesn’t look like a horse, feel free to mention this. It’s a compliment. Then buy her another drink. Remember, just a few drinks for her now could mean a lifetime of free sandwich labour for you.

1. If you take her back to her home then… Don't just follow her expectantly inside.

Wait to be invited. It just looks better. If she doesn't invite you in, then say goodnight and leave. I don't know what you'll do next, since I am always invited in, but here's something that you definitely should not do: Masturbate in your car.

At least drive home first. I know that you were all fired up, and have to do something with that pent up energy, but wait until you get home. What if she comes outside again because she left her scarf in you car? What then, you “filthy bastard”? Which is, by the way, what she'll call you when she sees you, seriously reducing your chances of a second date and shattering your 'James Bond' façade, which you worked so hard on all evening. James Bond wouldn't be caught wanking in a car, would he?

Very Top Five... Eye-catching National Mottoes.

Thursday, 3 September 2009
National mottoes: A source of eternal pride for the people of a country, yes? For example, Iraq is so chuffed with its motto (Allah is Great) that it’s even on their flag. Fab.

A motto should be concise, wise and inspiring, shouldn’t it? It should have gravitas. Many countries go for Latin mottoes for that granite embossed, official air; others use native languages to inject a smidge of extra national pride. And that’s all fine.

Many mottoes mention the world, and the country’s place in it, from Panama’s generous and altrusitic ‘Pro Mundi Beneficio’, (For the benefit of the World) to Austria’s egregious, ambitious (former) motto “Austriae est imperare orbi universo” (It is Austria’s destiny to rule the World.)

However, most countries know that a motto goes right at the top of your international calling card, and they also know that something which sounds awesome at the motto-decision-committee meetings may sound a bit flat on the world stage (such as Norway’s rather greedy royal motto “Everything for Norway”).

So anyway, clever countries play it safe and pick three pride-nouns which vaguely represent the supposed strengths of the country. France went for “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”, Germany chose “Unity and Justice and Freedom”, Pakistan decided on “Unity, Faith, Discipline”, and so it goes. Laos couldn’t whittle it down to three pride-nouns and so went for a rather long winded five (“Peace, independence, democracy, unity and prosperity”) but its still in the same ball park. All of these mottoes are brilliant because they sound very impressive, but no-one gets offended because they don’t really say anything. Some of those that made the top five eye-catching mottoes failed to consider this point.

For example, the Soviet Union’s motto was “Proletarians of all countries, Unite!” Which to the ears of anti-communists sounds damned irresponsible. They’re just encouraging the proles to make a nuisance of themselves, aren’t they? And the exclamation mark gives it that additional frisson of danger, doesn’t it just?

The top five eye-catching mottoes are:

5. Luxembourg: “We wish to remain what we are.”

Let’s analyse this: Something about the sentence strikes me as a bit plaintive. Definitely conservative, but also suggesting that they don’t want others to try to change them. By saying “We wish […]” rather than something like “We will […]” suggests that they think that they couldn’t stop an attempt to change them from what they are, so they have to plead instead. That’s one way to read into it, anyway.

The border signs might as well say, “you are now entering Luxembourg: Please, just leave us alone…

4. Bermuda: "Quo fata ferunt" (Latin) wither the fates carry us

What a perfect motto. “Wither” is a great translation. It suggest languidity, doesn’t it; a certain blithe, laissez-faire attitude to the future of Bermuda? The soft vowel sounds of the word simply force you to picture a pleasantly warm beach. You can imagine someone saying this motto while relaxin’ on a deckchair. And how about the next bit; “carry us”? They’re not even planning to expend any effort while being whisked off on fate’s whim.

Bermuda: “Let’s not try to affect the course of the future; let’s just chillax and enjoy it.”

3. Uruguay: “Liberty or Death”

Uruguay’s only gone and offered a choice in their motto, which is unusual in itself. Although it does mention liberty, which takes us back onto firm pride-noun territory. But Death? Bit of a downer.

On the face of it, the motto seems to be an admirable thing to say, if slightly confusing; Liberty = good; threateners of liberty = dead.

Now, we all hate those who threaten liberty, don’t we. Whose liberty, you ask? Um…

…Because what is particularly fun is that different people may have different understandings of the word liberty. No worries, Uruguay will keep you right. The motto seems to say: Not living your life with enough liberty? We can sort that for you…

2. Saudi Arabia: “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His Prophet”

Woah! That sounds a bit confrontational, putting a blunt statement like that as your national motto. What about all the Christians and Jews and Hindus and things? And what about the time-honoured tradition of picking some meaningless pride-nouns for a motto, so as not to offend any other nations? You’ve only gone and done the opposite, you silly sausages!

But, the thing is… we’ve got all these roads with cars and buses and stuff on them, and they need petrol to run, and you’ve got lots of that. So we don’t want you to think that you’re motto isn’t really very good, which it definitely is. Very regal sounding. So thumbs up on that score. And I’ll just mention again that we’re all jolly grateful for the oil.

And we’d quite like some more, please. At similar prices, even lower, if you’d be so good? No? Ah… that’s actually quite a lot of money… Well, as long as those are the best prices you can offer...

1. Botswana: “Rain.”

Let’s set this in context: Botswana is a landlocked African country. Its neighbours (and their national mottoes) are; South Africa (Unity in Diversity), Namibia (Unity, Liberty, Justice), Zambia (One Zambia, One Nation) and Zimbabwe (Unity, Freedom, Work).

Very noble sentiments; all national mottoes in the well respected pride-noun style. But Botswana didn’t go down the same route.

Because, you see, Botswana is dominated by the Kalahari Desert, which covers 70% of the land surface, so rain is certainly high on the agenda of things they’d like. Apparently higher than justice, unity, liberty, freedom and various other incidentals. Botswana would like to be a precipitation nation.

Rather than describe the country, as national mottoes usually try to do, Botswana decided to make its motto a request; a plea, even. A plea directed at no-one or nothing in particular, perhaps. But if a motto should put into words the genuine, heartfelt feelings of the native population, you can’t get much closer than “Rain.”

Very Top Five… Ways to do well at interviews

Wednesday, 2 September 2009
Interviews are the crusts on the toast of society. Nobody likes them, but you have to bite through them before you reach the moist goal of buttery employment.

Do you have any idea what the difference between a 'skill' and a 'quality' is? No? That's because both of those words are buzzwords with almost no relevance to the job that you are applying for, and are used as a way of trying to form poor, approximate structures of similarity between two or more subjectively different applicants in order to vaguely compare them to each other. Harumph.

Anyway, here’s how to learn what they’re looking for and maximise your chance of success, or, in other words; cheat:

5. Use good body language

This doesn't have to be very hard. Sit straight, make eye contact and don't look shifty. Apparently this is easier said than done for some people, who automatically generate an 'I'm-going-to-steal-the-office-stationery-if-you-leave-me-unsupervised' sort of aura. Remember to smile and gently laugh at any small joke the interviewer makes about the weather/ the interview process/ your choice of clothes/ your face/ etc.

During the interview you should nod along with the interviewer's questions like an idiot concentrating on memorising a shopping list; use emphatic hand actions in your answers, as if you were applying to be flamboyant art director of a hippy theatre company; and look really serious about your amazingly fake, airbrushed sentences coming out of your mouth. (More on the (lack of) content of those sentences imminently.)

4. Empower yourself! Throw those buzzwords right back at them… strategically

Let’s kick things off with an example:
Question: What skills do you think you possess?
Answer : Well, I think I am a good communicator, and from this stems my drive to cooperate with others around me and contribute to the team ethic in a pro-active way. I also believe that I am proficient at analysing and assessing issues that bear relevance to the working environment and implementing my solutions in an efficient way.

Oh yeah, that's one sexy answer. You'll have noticed that almost every noun, verb, adjective and adverb in there was a buzzword. In fact, looking at the answer without buzzwords we get:

Answer: Well, I think I am a good BLANK, and from this BLANKS my BLANK to BLANK with others around me and BLANK to the BLANK BLANK in a BLANK-BLANK way. I also believe that I am BLANK at BLANKING and BLANKING BLANKS that BLANK BLANK to the BLANK BLANK and BLANKING my BLANKS in a BLANK way.

Here’s a good rule of thumb. For every buzzword the interviewer uses in a question, use at least five in your answer. They are sure to be impressed with your contribution to the joint-knowledge-share. It shows initiative.

3. If you don’t know how to answer a question just re-use an answer you’ve already given.

It's laziness on the part of the employer to bureaucratically assign someone with a people-management qualification to interview you for a job that, as a manager, he knows nothing about. Any, the interviewer just wants to hear words coming out of your mouth, so that he can tick off “can communicate effectively” on his tick sheet.

However, if the interview asks a particularly stupid question and your mind suddenly succumbs to the bleak chill of tedium and new words simply freeze lifelessly in your larynx, then simply reheat some old ones; thusly:

"I believe that my answer to this question links back to what I was saying about my Skills/ Qualities/ Experience. As I said..." then simply repeat a segment of a previous answer about team-work, independent initiative or your skill base.

Trust me, the interviewer won't even notice. He's looking out for buzzwords, not actual intelligent content in your answer. If he does notice (slim chance) he’ll think you are demonstrating some top notch situational cross referencing.

2. Keep your strategic goals firmly in sight

…See how I tricked you into thinking there was going to be actual content for this section by using buzzwords. I bet you felt all fuzzy and warm, thinking that I was going to tell you how to keep your goals firmly in sight, whatever that means.

Tickle the interviewer’s vague feeling of well-being by skilful manipulation of your mendacious metaphorical feather of persuasion.

Let’s have a closer look at how that works:

You say: "I believe that I can achieve an operational workload while not losing sight of my strategic goals."

Translation: "I can do little things without forgetting about the big things." - kind of obvious for any one with more than one brain cell, but interviewers love for their salaries to feel justified by watching innocent sentences being tortured beyond reason.

And remember, everything is a goal or a target and should be in sight. If you haven't mentioned goals at least half a dozen times in the interview then you aren't pro-active enough.

What about saying: "I have a wide skill base, which encompasses aspects of both team interaction and individual goal pursuit."

Always stress that you are a team player with initiative. Don't say "I'm a mindless drone who does what he's told. Nothing more or less." and, equivalently, don't say "Team work? I’d rather rape myself with a pen." What the interviewer wants to hear is that you can work in a team and on your own simultaneously- he wants to know that you have personal synergy. And speaking of synergy…

1. Use compound and chain words pro-synergistically

So what if you mess up? If it becomes clear that you’ve no idea what you're saying and you know that they know that you’re only saying what you think they want to hear (know what I mean?).

If you are not a gifted nonsensorator then it could be the case that this will happen and the interviewer will notice that you are simply memorising mesmerising stupid phrases. If so, tough for you. You should have spoken with more conviction.

However, if they say this to you, you can try something as a last ditch attempt to rescue yourself…

You: "I am sorry that you feel that way, but this is my normal mode of speech and register for interviews. I am trying to convey to you an impression of the skills I possess in this way because I believe it to be an appropriate interview manner." (And try to sound slightly offended, that’ll help.)

If the interviewer disagrees with you this time then you are really screwed. He may say "I see," and write something on his management issue clipboard. What he has written is "Arrogant cock" and you won't get the job. However, he may say "Ah, right..." and nod, and in that case you may get the job. But tone down the buzzwords from then on. Don't mention your personal synergy again, for instance, or your evaluative qualities, as the interviewer will definitely realise that you're talking crap. However, If the interviewer says "Admirable, admirable," then you should insert more buzzwords, as those are what he wants to hear.

This is the time to whip out the big guns; compound and chain buzzwords, such as Personal-Evaluation-synergy and Predictive-Forward-Thinking-Initiative-Quality, if you think you can get away with it. Use acronyms; PFTIQ, for example, which has the ring of almost-scientific veracity that ALL acronyms possess.


Good luck. The job’s yours, you go-getter, you.

Very Top Five... Freaky Funguses

Tuesday, 1 September 2009
Fungi are fun, hence the name. Anyway, it's time for a run through of the five most freaky funguses.

Some are edible, some are deadly; some are tiny microscopic blips, while the biggest is the largest living organism on the Earth, at 6 million kilograms. Freaky, no?

Among their accolades, funguses have been historically associated with witchcraft, and people have even been burned at the stake for having the wrong sort of mushrooms in their garden. For example...

5. Phallus Impudicus, Stinkhorn:

Back in medieval Europe, this fungus was called Satan’s egg.

It starts life as a small egg-like orb and has a slight smell, but is fairy harmless by fungal standards. It is even edible. So calling it Satan’s egg seems a bit harsh.

But wait ‘til you see what it does next! In the middle of the night, the ‘egg’ will split, and a fungal protuberance grows out of it at about 10cm per hour. This is so fast that you can actually watch it grow, and it makes a slight popping sound. Like Rice Krispies when you add the milk.

So by the morning, the forest has a brand new mushroom. A humorously cock shaped one, as it turns out. It is very slimy, and really stinks like dead flesh. Flies arrive in droves to eat all the slime, and the fungus looks rather as if it deserves the name “Satan’s Egg.” Or Stinkhorn, as it is called these days.

Obviously, if you had any stinkhorns growing near your cottage then you were a witch, and burned accordingly.

By the way, when I said it really stinks of dead flesh I wasn’t exaggerating. Ten years ago, the residents of a small village in Sussex reported a strong smell of rotting meat. It got worse and worse, and eventually police trawled the nearby forest to search for a body. Turns out it was hundreds of Stinkhorns. Satan strikes again. (I assume all of the villagers were all burned, just to be on the safe side.)

4. Coprinopsis atramentaria, Common Inkcap:

This little fungus is edible, and quite nice tasting by all accounts, and agrees with your digestive system perfectly. However, it contains a chemical called coprine. Coprine is not a fan of the enzyme acetaldehyde dehydrogenase, and so blocks it, and in the right circumstances the results can be quite entertaining.

In North America, this fungus goes by the name of Tippler’s Bane. Because when you drink alcohol with blocked acetaldehyde dehydrogenase, you will soon find out what it is like to be unable to process ethanol. (Hint: It is quite vomity) Even if you drink a teensy bit of alcohol three days after ingestion of the mushrooms, you will still find yourself being extravagantly sick.

So teetotalers can enjoy mouthfuls of inkcap risk-free, whereas drinkers should beware. Also, besides the sickness, you might get testicular lesions. LOL.

3. Claviceps purpurea, Ergot:

Back in the day, there was an irritating fungus that grew on rye. It was called ergot, and made the rye all stunted and rubbish. The flour made from this rye was brown and gritty and foul-smelling, and nobody wanted to buy it.

But clearly, the peasants were hardly spoiled for choice; ergot-infested flour got made into bread, and the hardy townsfolk ate it, as they were wont to do.

And consequently got a disease called St. Anthony’s fire, or ergotism.

There are two types: gangrenous ergotism, where you lose blood flow to your extremities (with hilarious results), and convulsive ergotism, where you feel like ants are under your skin, you see hallucinogenic visions, and shake “as if in the grippe of ane epilyptic fevyr.”

Quite often this would be identified as a sign of witchcraft, and consequently followed up with the eminently sensible precaution of burning.

But the story of ergot continued into the 20th century. In 1943, Chemist Albert Hoffman was fiddling about in the lab with some ergot and some acids, and got some of the chemicals on his fingers. In accordance with the stringent safety precautions of the time, he licked it off.

On his bike ride home, everything started to get very real for Dr Hoffman. Having to swerve to avoid all of the pink elephants was particularly frustrating. It turned out that he had discovered lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD, synthesised from the lysergic acids present in ergot. (When he got home he believed himself to be possessed by demons and that his next door neighbour was a witch, by the way. Fortunately, no inquisitors got wind of this, so there was no burning that day.)

Hoffman then went on to discover the effects of magic mushrooms, in case you don’t find LSD fun enough. He died last year on April the 29th aged 102. Not bad.

2. Amanita phalloides, Death Cap

To be honest, Death cap isn’t as funny as it is deadly.

The first unfair thing about Death cap mushrooms is that they look just like straw mushrooms, which are edible. And, because the main differences are hidden at the root, and the mushrooms are cut off at the base on collection, you often don’t know what you’ve picked ‘til you eat it.

Then you bite into it, notice the taste, and think “gosh, these straw mushrooms are unusually delicious!” since Death caps are indeed pleasant tasting. Afterwards, appetite sated, everything seems totally fine for a day or so. Then boom! turns out your stomach has been getting death-raped all that time.

Cue sudden diarrhoea, vomiting, horrific stomach pains and a fervent wish that you hadn’t ordered straw mushrooms.

If you don’t get to hospital you will die of dehydration. Of course, most people do make it to hospital these days, where it takes days to stabilise them (There is no antidote, but dehydration is countered with activated charcoal in the stomach and a glucose drip).

But most people survive and are discharged from hospital. Several days pass, and hurrah! you will make a gradual but full recovery. Seemingly.

Except you don’t because, as it turns out, Deathcap gets the last laugh (The clue is in the name). About a week after you ate the fungus, you will suddenly suffer massive kidney and liver failure and die in agony in about half an hour. Around 90% of people who eat Deathcap will die. (In fairness to modern medicine, if you get a liver transplant then you’ll probably live.)

Death cap belongs to the Amanita family. This also includes Panther cap and Destroying angel which, like Death Cap, are just as mercilessly deadly as they sound and together account for 95% of mushroom related deaths.

1. Cordyceps unilateralis

The first thing you notice about an ant with cordyceps unilateralis growing on it is that it has totally rad orange antennae mods. These are blobs of the fungus Cordyceps unilateralis. This has no common name, but if it did it would have to be something like Brain Fungus.

The Ant is probably thinking “Sweet! These bad boys make me look haut! Check me, I is the shiz,” and who can blame him.

But eventually the fungus will grow into the ant’s brain, and chemically tell it to do things. Things like, “you should totally climb onto a branch.” So the ant does, and the fungus goes “And get a firm grip with those big mandibles,” so the ant does, then the fungus eats the Ant’s brain. And is all like; “Unlucky, you’ve been brain fungused,” and continues to eat the ant then spread onto the branch. Harsh but true.

Of course this fungus infects ants, not people, but if anyone was observing the unusual behaviour of the ant they might reasonably conclude that the malign influence was due to witchcraft. This situation could be successfully mediated by burning the ant.