March 11, 2021

Episode 5 - The one with black holes and the Piña Colada Song, the best hat in human history and a medical analysis of the world's most famous truant, Tintin

Our Brainy Lecture peers into black holes and encounters Spaghettification, but no fear, as with any pasta based cosmological encounter we have a bonus sauce for the occasion. In our songs under the microscope we probably read way more into Rupert Holmes's lyrics than is probably sensible, but it does seem that Mozart ripped off the song for his own Cosi Fan Tutti. In A Sauce, A sauce, my kingdom for a sauce we make the simple yet stunning Red Pepper Sabayon and we uncover a medical theory to Explain Tintin's perpetual youth and lack of interest with women.


Episode 5


In this week’s podcast for a post stupid society we look into  black holes and encounter spaghettification. In Songs under the microscope we compare and contrast the 18th century opera Cosi Fan Tutte with the Pina Colada song and ask “Is Rupert Homes the new Mozart (He isn’t). In a sauce a sauce my kingdom for a sauce we make a red pepper sabayon.

Our hat of the week is the finest headwear ever created by man, in fact it is an endeavour so wonderful it is like a head-based Mona Lisa. Brace yourselves for the Panama. In Literally the last section we consider the world’s most famous truant, Tintin and explore medical reasons for his perpetual youth, lack of shaving and why out of the 350 characters in his books were precisely zero girls. And only four females of any age were ever spotted.

Brainy Lecture

Black Holes

When the party runs out of Silicon don’t go onto iron

Stars happily per for millions of years, feasting on their hydrogen, turning it into helium and the energy it releases allows our tomatoes to grow. When the Hydrogen runs out it can do the second best thing and burn its helium to form carbon, this does not give out the same amount of energy but it is enough to defeat the forces of gravity pushing inwards and keeping the olympic torch that is our star twinkle twinkling in the sky. When the helium runs out it is a bit of a downer but by burning the carbon to form oxygen we can keep the lights on and the show on the road. We are not getting anywhere near the amount of energy we would get from the earlier transformations, but hey, what’s a girl to do. But the future is not looking bright, we burn the oxygen to form neon, then the neon to form magnesium and then the magnesium to form silicon. But this is where the star makes the classic mistake, don’t go on to the whisky when the party runs out of beer. Or more accurately in astrophysics, don’t go onto iron when the star runs out of silicon.  So whilst the conversion of Silicon to iron does still give out energy, any further process would actually take in more energy than it would release. So after millions of years being like a diamond in the sky within three days of going onto whisky, er iron it is all over. With no more energy comes no more outward force to counteract gravity. The whole star collapses and then explodes in a supernova, giving off an insane amount of energy. Everything other than the iron plasma at the centre is blasted out into space. This is giving off more energy than the star has done in its entire lifespan and it does this in the space of .2 of a second. This central plasma continues to collapse under a colossal mountain of gravity.

Now the maths behind relativity will say that this core will collapse until it is just a point in space with infinite density called a singularity. All this mass and zero area. Do you remember when we said in an earlier episode to be suspicious when scientists introduce a singularity. It is more likely to be a hole in their maths and will not be a representation of the physical structure. So if you are outraged trying to imagine the something with perhaps the mass of billions of our sun taking up no volume, I am with you and we will be exploring some better models in future episodes.

Now any discussion of black holes would not be complete without a mention of Karl Schwarzschild.In World War he served in the German Imperial Army on the Easter and the Western fronts in the Russian campaign and rose to the rank of lieutenant in the infantry. At the same time as he was bombing the Russians he wrote three extraordinary papers on relativity and quantum theory and provided a solution to the Einstein Field Equations that today gives us the Schwarzschild metric, so we can calculate the size of a non-rotating black hole. Now I don’t want to be too hard on Schwarzschild but he wrote this whilst in the trenches in World War I. Was the war not exciting enough for you? Is the endless shelling, gangrene and death not keeping your attention, Karl? Solving the nature of black holes or German world domination, choose a lane. I do not wish to appear ungrateful, I for one am delighted to be able to calculate the size of black hole that could be created from the earth (9mm), oh, and that we are not speaking german. But, Karl, you do need to learn how to focus.

When I mention the Schwartzchilde metric that is not actually the size of the core of the black hole, but actually the size of the event horizon.  So what is the event horizon. The staggeringly high mass in the centre of the black hole bends space time right back into itself. This distortion grows as you approach the centre. Imagine the case of a photon trying to swim out of a black hole, it is swimming in a space time that is so curved that every direction it can travel is is down. There is no direction that is geometrically out. There are no Geodesics that lead up, in fact all geodesics end inside the black hole. So the event horizon is the point where from my perspective as an external observer time ends.  A photon just above the event horizon will be frozen in time and be tinted a very marked red as it is red shifted by the huge gravity. A photon just below the event horizon would be traveling at the speed of light through space but that spacetime is curved just enough not to contain any worldlines that reach outside the event horizon.  And these are photons, their whole thing is being the fastest thing in the universe. What chance do the rest of us stand. Well, the same actually. This is not about escape velocity, it is about curved spacetime. Remember how a satellite circling the earth is actually in freewill, just following a geodesic that is radially curved. Well this is the same, you can travel in any direction just that none of them happen to lead outside the black hole. There is no causal link from the inside of the event horizon to the rest of the universe. 

The black hole appears black because on the event horizon time for us has stopped. So if Matthew McConaughey in Christopher Nolan’s 2014 film Interstellar was to sail into a black hole from his point of view he would happily sail through the event horizon and notice nothing odd. For the rest of us watching from a distant location he would slow down and freeze. Sure he would become red and fade but in fact from our perspective he would never ever ever fall into the black hole. Even if we waited until the end of time. So here are two views of the same event that could not be more different, in one perspective Matthew sails into the black hole, and in another he never does. And both are completely correct and consistent at the same time. From our perspective the event does not occur. So the black hole is full of events that are happening at a time and a space within the black hole that we say are not happening at all. So the missing piece of history is what we see as a black hole. It is an area of spacetime that is forever sealed off from us. Its events never happen from our vantage point. There is a fault in the matrix. The last event that I see as Matthew McConaughey disappears is the last photon that forms part of my history occurs at the event horizon. It represents the last event to which you can even assign a when. It is the points where the world lines break.

Let us consider the thrill that is Matthew McConaughey’s dive into a black hole. General Relativity will help us most of the way. Matthew, whilst diving into the inky depths you will discern no odd time effects, his watch will just continue as normal.  As the Golden Globe awarded bast actor falls beneath the event horizon he will be subject to increasingly higher amounts of gravity. Eventually the gradient of gravity on his feet and head will be so different you will be stretched out to a huge length in a process called spaghettification. Luckily, all is not lost with our special bonus sauce for astronaut linguini, a fresh pesto. Simply blitz 175g fresh basil, 150g extra virgin olive oil, 30g pine nuts, 3 tablespoons parmesan and some salt and pepper.

Talk about silver linings.

Now that we have dispelled the myth of a singularity at the centre of a black hole, what about the fact that they vacuum up every thing that is around them. Well, that is not really true either. They behave no differently from any other object of their mass, sure you do not want to get too close to one due to the whole pasta based demise, but if the sun was replaced by a black hole all the planets would continue to orbit just as before. Of course without the sun your tomato crop will be rubbish. We will come back to black holes when we discuss possible theories for quantum gravity, one uniting theory to bring relativity and quantum mechanics together.

But for this week, that is the end of the brainy lecture.

Songs under the microscope 

The Piña Colada song 

I have always been put off by films that give away their ending in the title, you know like ‘The Revenant’ when revenant is someone who makes it home, actually, let’s make this a sub section:

Films with titles that give away the ending 

  • 10. Three came Home
  • 9. the Shawshank redemption (Hang in there Andy Dufresne)
  • 8. Free Willy (Don’t worry kids, Willy is going to make it)
  • 7.  Kill Bill (kids, don’t get too emotionally close to Bill)
  • 6. The Empire strikes Back (it’s ok kids, I have it on good authority that the Empire will strike back)
  • 5. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Sorry, I have not watched this so I assume Jesse James makes it?)
  • 4. Saving Private Ryan
  • 3. The Virgin Suicides (Kid’s don’t get attached to any of the virgins (but in the case of Kirsten Dunst’s character the adjective ‘virgin’ was clearly ironic)
  • 2. Death of a Salesman (spoiler alert, the Salesman dies in the end)
  • And number 1 for the 82nd year running is And then there were none (Children form no attachments to anyone)

Anyway, Mozart’s opera Cosi Fan Tutte concerns two army officers who believe that their fiancées will stay faithful to them so they end up in a bet that the girls are as capricious as any other and that they faithlessness can be proven in just a day. They devise a scheme where the men pretend to have been called off to war then each man will don a disguise and try and seduce the other’s fiancée. Now Cosi Fan Tutte is roughly  translated as “women are all the same”. Guess what happens. Within one day both girls agree to get married to their new boyfriends. Within a day. As they were about to get married to their new partners at the alter the men reveal their ruse, they all laugh and marry the original partners. I hope that they have a good pre-nup, or prematrimoniale as Mozart would have it. 

This is insane, why would they go through with the marriage, Mozart you are a PSYCHO.

Now I can already hear you frantically hammering at your keyboards saying that Mozart only wrote the music and not the libretto. Well if you think that I am going to Google the answer to tell you it was Lorenzo Da Ponte you have another thing coming, we are not even onto the song under the microscope and we are far enough off track.

Anyway, it occurred to me that the Pina Collada song, actually it is called ‘Escape’, seems to be based on the same theme and that the relationship is similarly doomed. Rupert Holmes is tired of his wife and he reads a small add in the newspaper where a woman is looking for someone likes a number of things, but the most important seems to be an affinity for the White Rum, Coconut and Pineapple based cocktail, oh, and have half a brain. The lyrics go something like 

If you like piña coladas

And gettin' caught in the rain

If you're not into yoga

If you have half a brain

If you like makin' love at midnight

In the dunes on the cape

Then I'm the love that you've looked for

Write to me and escape

The procedure to have half your brain removed is a hemispherectomy. Now that is in interesting request. Even though neural networks dedicated to a single regulatory function often extend across both hemispheres of the brain, patients who had had a full hemispherectomy do not display  weaker neural activity. There is also no difference in patients who have had the right or left hemispheres removed, the brain shifts the missing activities to the remaining hemisphere.  In patients who had both hemispheres of the brain removed they were still highly suitable for a job in a post office.

Sorry I am getting distracted this week, Rupert Holmes has found a small add from a hemispherectophilliac and he cannot believe his luck so he writes back to say he’s all in. (also the hemispherectophilliac must also hate yoga, likes getting caught in the rain and making love at midnight, although presumably those two could be combined, so out of that list it is really the hemispherectomy that is narrowing the field. 

I should point out that Rupert Holmes used the politically incorrect term of ‘half a brain’ as opposed to hemispherically challenged or the condition or being attracted to the hemispherically challenged as hemispherectophillia as he could not get the song to rhyme. This would cause no problem for the much more capable songsmith Paul Simon. His couplets would run


You’re breaking my heart

You’re shaking my confidence daily

Hemispherectophillia, I’m down on my knees

I’m begging you please to come home

Just as a side note, Rupert Holmes (or real name David Goldstein from  Northwich in Cheshire where the closest to a pina colada is a Pale Ale from the Tatton Brewery in Knutsford,) did not have the most important quality, he had not had a hemispherectomy. What a fraud. But when he turned up at the bar it was his wife who had put in the small add. 

They laugh about it and go home. Presumably,  she thought half a brain would be an upgrade.

Just before we go to a commercial break can we just go back to 35 time nominated and 16 time Grammy award winner Paul Simon’s follow up song to hemispherectophillia called Cecilia. 

What on earth is going on in this song. Look

Making love in the afternoon with Cecilia

Up in my bedroom

I got up to wash my face

When I come back to bed

Someone's taken my place

He was gone 60 seconds and she has managed to find someone else. He must have been hiding in the bedroom. And it was HIS bedroom. Is this some kind of tag sporting event? Well Cecilia you have managed to make Mr and Mrs Holmes and Dorabella from Cosi Fan Tutte seem like mother Theresa. 


After last week’s advert for Kellog’s Special KKK we are getting a reputation for moral flexibility when it comes to our mid-roll advertising spots. We hate all forms of advertising, then each week we see how much money they are offering and we are all in.

Worried about the effect of ageing on your face, are there more lines around your eyes than a map of the London Underground? Then try the Greggs Buns and Pies diet. Fill in those wrinkles with 100% organic, completely natural fat. Crow’s feet around your eyes, a Greggs Bacon and Cheese Wrap will have them gone in no time.

The Greggs Bun and Pies diet, when it comes to looking younger, the pie’s the limit. 

Tighten up your loose skin with a daily dose of delicious Doughnuts. No running with cream bunning. 

Banish wrinkles on your bums and thighs with Greggs diet of Buns and Pies.

A Sauce A Sauce my kingdom for a Sauce

red pepper sabayon

This is a rich and subtle sauce is delicious with grilled fish, especially salmon, and

vegetables such as cauliflower and broccoli. This week I made it with lemon sole poached on a bed of lettuce served with broccoli 

You will need:

200g red pepper

200ml vegetable, fish or chicken stock 

1 small thyme sprig

4 egg yolks

60g butter, chilled and diced

salt and freshly ground pepper

For the Uncontacted Arrow People in the Brazilian Amazon, some of our most enthusiastic listeners, this week you will not have to resort to Tesco, you can use your very own Pimenta Cambuci. You probably know it by the Latin name so use Capsicum Baccatum.

Halve, core and deseed the red pepper, removing the pith. Chop the pepper coarsely

and put into a small pan with the vegetable stock and thyme. Simmer for 15 minutes.

Tip the contents of the pan into a blender and whiz for 1 minute. Pass through a

fine-meshed sieve into a bowl that you can place over a pan and leave until almost cold,

then whisk in the egg yolks. You want to use the bowl as a bain marie (or double boiler). Heat the bain-marie or your pan over a heat diffuser over a very low heat and whisk the sabayon to a ribbon consistency. You do not want to cause the sauce to clump up but remember you do want to cook the egg.

Whisk in the butter, a little at a time, season the sabayon with salt and pepper to

taste and serve at once.

Hat of the Week

Without doubt the finest hat in the history of the world. The Panama

Black holes had the common decency of at least being black and, you know, hole like. Panama hats are not made in Panama but in Equador. Equador has no real export mechanism whereas Panama has the whole canal thing going on. So what started as a cottage industry in the 17th century in Equador has developed into a worldwide sensation. The most highly cosseted of this are the hats woven in  Montecristi. Panama hats are largely priced according to their weaves per inch, so a fino 20 is 400 WPI.  They literally count the weaves in a one inch square. A Panama hat with  almost 4000 weaves per inch holds the world records as the finest weave ever. The straws are finer than dental floss. So typical top grades of a super fine 34 is 34 by 34 weaves = 1156. Charlie Sheen had one made at 45 by 47 for a 2115 wpi. At these qualities they straw looks like a fine cloth. Napoleon and Jimmy Buffett wore  Montecristis, but never together. 

For listeners of this podcast we try and be reasonable; so the standard you should aim for is any genuine mil fino montecristi, that is a hat with a weave of greater than 1000 weaves per inch. so look for a grade 32 and above. The highest quality Panama hats are said to be able to hold water, yet when rolled up can pass through a wedding ring. It is true that a superfino Montecristi is a work of art, it is as light as a cloud with the radiant beauty of spring sunrise. The finest Montecristis could take over 8 months to make and can cost over £40 000. Yes, you can buy a straw hat as cheaply as two cases of 1982 Mouton Rothschild. And when I say these are made by hand, they are genuinely made by hand, no tools for the most part, just fingers weaving thousands of strands of hair like straw. At close up you will see beautiful geometric patterns subtly incorporated into the weave. 

One of the world’s finest weavers is Simón Espinal. He is the world record holder with the 4000 weave per inch hat mentioned earlier. After he finished he said that he is never going to do it again. Today he is selling his 2500 hats for $25 000 and his 3600 for $50 000. Even though Simón only receives a smallish proportion of this but he has moved out of a hut with an earth floor to one of the largest house in Montecristi.

Montecristi and Cuenca (kwayn-ka) are the two primary centres of Panama hat production and export in Ecuador. Montecristi is on the coast. Cuenca is in the Andes Mountains. Better hats come from Montecristi. More hats come from Cuenca.

My biggest problem with the Cuenca dealers is that they routinely sell Cuenca hats as “Montecristi” hats. The largest, K. Dorfzaun, agrees that the practice is wrong. But they all have to yield to European and US customer demands that they label the hats as “Montecristi” hats. If they do not do as asked, they will lose the order to a neighbouring competitor who will. Even an exporter who wants to end the practice cannot. All of them are struggling to stay profitable. There are more Cuenca hats sold every year that are falsely called Montecristi hats than there are real Montecristi hats sold. This is a primary reason why hat weaving is dying in Montecristi.

Most cheaper Panama hats are shaped (a process known as blocking) using hydraulic presses and even use a glue to keep them in their shape. A fine montecristi should be blocked by hand where the straw is gently steamed and coaxed over the wooden forms in a process that can take over a week. 

Unlike the girls in Cosi Fan Tutte, a Montecristi is for life.

Literally the Last Section

I grew up on Tintin but even at the age of ten I was confused by his lifestyle. He was a 15 year old boy who had no contact with his parents or his school. He had a job as an investigative reporter and whilst he certainly uncovered some eye-wateringly big stories he never bothered reporting anything, he never even went into his office. He just travelled the world getting into scrapes with his male (much more on that later) friends. He also lived alone, but eventually moved in with a much older alcoholic sailor (these stereotypes just write themselves). Tintin never ages over his fifty productive years. His little dog has a girl’s name,  Milou, but is always referred to as male.  His dog is probably transitioning. 

All Tintin’s friends are single, although Professor Calculus was somewhat attracted to women, but were more usually baffled by them. He never married. His other close friends are an inseparable  couple of detectives in bowler hats and the only recurring female character is their close friend an opera diva called Bianca Castafiore with a dreadful voice who is always butchering the Jewel Song by Faust. I was never fully sure that she was not a man in drag. There are no young women in 350 characters and Tintin only set eyes upon five women seen in 50 years.

As a way of context his adventures involved detailed descriptions of 50 aircraft.

My son could not leave the school on a school trip to the theatre without a permission slip, and yet with his blond quaffed hair and funny trousers Tintin  could go to the moon. And Scotland.

He also flew planes, drank alcohol, had a detailed knowledge on the design of fighting ships. 

From a medical standpoint Captain  Haddock is a concern. The worst of his alcoholism shows up in The Secret of the Unicorn  where he is in constant need of a drink, is emotionally erratic, confused, and lacks any insight into his condition. These features are all compatible with Korsakoff encephalopathy. This syndrome is due to a chronic deficiency of thiamine (vitamin B1) and results in altered memory, vision changes, and hallucinations, all of which Captain Haddock certainly displays in the The Secret of the Unicorn.

The Thompson twins have severe echolalia (the automatic repetition of another's words) and echopraxia (the automatic repetition of another’s movements). Echolalia has been documented in autistic twins, but Thompson and Thomson do not appear to be autistic. Patients with Alzheimer disease may also demonstrate echolalia, and because the detectives are quite forgetful, one wonders if they have some form of familial dementia.

So Tintin was a 15 year old gun wielding, nazi curious, non-productive journalist who friends were all gay, his dog was certainly gay and the only woman he spoke to in 50 years was a pantomime dame of an opera diva.

But I don’t believe that Tintin was gay.

Across 23 books he lost consciousness 50 times, usually as a result of being hit over the head with a club although once was with the femur of a camel. These were all Grade 2 or Grade 3 concussions. Due to these repeated traumas he probable suffered from growth hormone deficiency and hypogonatropic hypogonadism.  This diagnosis would explain his lack of growth, eternal youth, lack of facial hair, and a lack of libido.

Trauma does not have to be severe, and this condition is known to also occur after only mild injuries. Overall, growth hormone deficiency is the most common pituitary defect after traumatic brain injury.

So please, if you are cycling, skiing or supporting the nazis, wear a helmet.

And that is the end of Literally the Last Section, it is also the end of this week’s podcast.

In next week’s episode we reveal the definitive, absolute and final answer to the question “do ghosts exist”, our Brainy Lecture sheds some light on dark matter, a sauce a sauce my kingdom for a sauce is a sweet and sour red pepper sauce, in the  song under the microscope is we finally find out why Bob Dylan’s hens will not  Lay Lady Lay and Literally the Last section looks at a Shakespearean play that has not aged well.

The transcript for all these podcasts really now are available on

Please share this podcast, don’t get too close to a black hole. At least not before you have given me a review of Apple Podcasts.