EST. May 2000 (AD)


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The 'Science' Behind the Mailbag- What You Need To Know

The other day, in the marble lobby of HW Towers, I found myself standing next to our illustrious editor, Sharon Grehan, and her bodyguards. Quickly, I covered my face and assumed the safety position, while stating clearly: "I did not try to make eye contact with Ms Grehan." But this day was different. There was no tickle of the taser in my ribs; no "You don't speak to the editor, she speaks to you"; no waking up in a pile of garbage three hours later. Instead, she turned her impeccably coiffed head to me and simply asked, "Who are you, again?" And after the lightest of beatings, I managed to identify myself as the science editor, which is when Sharon let me know that she had set up my very own HW inbox.

As you can imagine, since that time, I have had - literally - emails.

Some have offered ridiculously lucrative financial arrangements that had me literally shaking my head. These people are so naive! In all conscience I couldn't accept so much money just for use of my bank account, so I wrote back and explained how to set one up for free. Although I did include my details, just in case they were stuck. Not everyone is scientifically-minded, after all.

Other emails have been from fans (editorial clarification: fan) and colleagues. So, I thought I'd give HW readers a chance to pull up a comfy armchair, peer over my shoulder, breathe in the carcinogenic pipe smoke of pure scientific thought and enjoy the academic correspondence of a real scientist.

Re: Exciting world of science

You're the best! I read your column every month and have learned a lot about the exciting world of science.

Thanks for everything!

Suzy Trent, Ohio

Well, thank you, Suzy! Remember that science is your best friend. And if any other kids tell you they're you're best friend, it's not true. All they want to do is tie you up with a skipping rope and try and sell you to the pet store.

Re: Convention fiasco

I am writing on behalf of my client, who unlike you, is a respected scientist. She is concerned that you have deliberately created confusion over your similarities in name in order to advance your own academic career. She accepts that the invitation to speak at the Washington Convention of Astrophysicists could have been accidentally forwarded to you; nonetheless she maintains that you should not have accepted it. Furthermore, my client is flabbergasted that you went on to deliver a clearly unsuitable paper, "Growing an avocado in an egg cup: the science of cultivation and me" before having some kind of breakdown when an organiser tried to remove you from the stage. According to witnesses, you then clung onto the lectern, singing what several people later identified as a chunk of the musical Les Miserables, in front of 300 startled astrophysicists.

The next step is a restraining order. I cannot put this more clearly: leave my client alone.

Yours sincerely

Kelly Twyce

Billem, Twyce and Moore, Attorneys at Law

Hey Kelly!

It's great to hear from you. Well, it was no problem and I was delighted to help. If the good doctor has any other speaking engagements she can't make, perhaps you'd send them my way. It would certainly be easier than forcing the window all the time and getting to the mail before that vicious dog of hers. Can I just say that your client is totally paranoid! Who does she think is going to be climbing in through her bathroom window while she's out? If I sustain another bite from that mutt, or have to go back for bolt cutters one more time, I will certainly look less kindly on filling in the next time I'm needed.

PS I have not yet received my fee for the astrophysicists' talk. If you happen to speak to someone over there, please apologise for the damaged lectern but make it clear I deny any responsibility for the seizure incident. That poor man is doing very well, I am glad to say, and said he wouldn't sue as long as I stayed away from him.

Re: Quad your enthusiasm

I am writing in regard to your sitcom treatment: Quad Your Enthusiasm. It was read with interest but has been deemed unsuitable for production.

Thank you for your interest in the Comedy Central.

Actually, I have to ask: what kind of person sends in fourteen treatments in just over six months? Fourteen substantially similar treatments? Fourteen treatments which, to be honest, are little more than a flimsy set-up for one central character to make errors while transcribing quadratic equations onto a blackboard?

Do you really think that's funny? Do you know that for twelve hours a day I sit in a barely-lit room reading every script sent to our department? Do you think I haven't suffered enough with 'Quaddy Days'? 'Will and Quad'? 'The Wonder Quads'? 'The Quad van Quad show?' 'Q*U*A*D'? 'The Fresh Prince of Quadratic Equations'?

I am not supposed to say this but please just stop sending these to us. I am teetering on the brink of despair.

Ben Haynes

Comedy Central

Hey Ben

Thanks for your mail. I can't believe you remembered so many of my previous projects. I must be getting pretty close, huh? But I get what you're trying to say: a full-length feature is probably the way to go for an idea this big, right? But don't think you've heard the last of me! There are already three pilot scripts winging their way to you right now. I won't give too much away but here are the titles: 'Laverne and Quad', 'I Dream of Quadratic Equations' and 'Quaddie and Butthead'. Enjoy!

Re: meltdown??

I am mailing once again from this favoured corner of Ukraine where you and I have made such great scientific advancements. But, without your help, I fear that time is running out for us here at the plant. The building specifications must in some way have been flawed and we urgently need Part 4 of our correspondence course, the vital paper on core reactor safety.

I thank you for your book on Astrophysics. You are great doctor of scientific thought.


Hello Mikhail

Well, it certainly has been a busy week for me. I would love to give you that paper but it's in my desk at home and I am just up to my eyeballs in work here. But rest assured, it's on my 'to do' list!

Re: You're an idiot

I just got my test back, and you suck. Everything you wrote was wrong and I got the lowest grade in class. I showed Mr Williams, my teacher, your column and he said it wasn't even really science. He said it was a mixture of terrible advice and weird, erroneous facts. He also said to ask you: where did you graduate from? The Imaginary University?

Suzy (again)

Hello Suzy

Well, I'm very sorry to hear about your test. But don't let that get you down. Remember, the young Einstein used to count on his fingers until he left school. And what about Stephen Hawking? He could barely read until he was in his mid-twenties.

Actually, those things might not be true. But why despair, Suzy? Especially when we have a friend like Mr Williams. A wise, brave, truthful man like him. Sadly, I don't remember him from my university days - so much love and laughter, so much science, so many tight white coats - but I wish I did. I think your teacher sounds like a very smart man, Suzy. The kind of man who knows right from wrong, north from south, and very probably, depleted uranium from uranium-235. Think hard, Suzy. Has he ever mentioned nuclear reactors? Or core safety? Do you think he could call me or - ideally - send me a short document outlining everything he knows?

I very much look forward to hearing back from you and Mr Williams.

Really. This is very important.

Re: Dark matter

Just a quick email: I have just finished reading your marvellous book on dark matter and as I will be heading a conference on this very subject in Paris next month, wondered whether you might be prevailed upon to do a q&a on your research leading up to it. I'm sure everyone would enjoy your insights.

Prof JJ Beaker

Dear Professor

I'm in! I could do with getting away from here, to be honest.

Just one thought. And this is just an idea, I'm just trying to see what's possible here. But imagine this: how about instead of the dark matter Q&A, I do some stuff on home cultivation? Well, specifically, a piece on growing avocado plants in eggcups. Yes, it is possible! Okay - let me know your thoughts.

Also, by then I may be travelling under an assumed name, I don't suppose you can arrange a fake passport for me? Don't worry if not.

See you soon!

© 2007 Emma Rowley

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Emma Rowley is a Londoner. Maybe that's why she loves London Town.