Miles Kington Remembered: A nifty shuffle through life's least important questions

21 January 1992
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The Independent Online

There are money advice columns and agony columns, but there is no advice column for people with trivial problems. Problems such as, what is the best way to shuffle a pack of cards? Or, where do tennis balls go in wintertime? So I have asked the eminent problem solver and escapologist Sir Frank Trango to drop in from time to time and tackle those odd little inquires of yours that nobody else can be bothered with. All yours, Sir Frank!

Well, what is the best way to shuffle a pack of cards?

Sir Frank writes: The best way to shuffle a pack of cards is to drop them from a great height on to the floor so that they are all separated, then pick them up one by one at random.

Is that really the quickest way to do it?

Sir Frank writes: Certainly not. It is probably the slowest. But you asked me for the best way. The quickest way is to take off the top card and put it on the bottom.

Isn't that just about the worst method you could choose for shuffling a pack of cards?

Sir Frank writes: Certainly. But you asked for the quickest way. There is no really fast, good method of shuffling, at least not one that doesn't ruin the corners of the cards. This paradox tells us more about the nature of life than many a school of philosophy.

Never mind about that – where do tennis balls go in the wintertime?

Sir Frank writes: Under the fridge. Behind the chest of drawers in the hall. In the umbrella stand. Under the holly bush. In those old Wellington boots. In the greenhouse. Behind the piano. In the dog's basket, if you've got one. In the back of the car, under the coats.

What coats?

Sir Frank writes: It is one of the less well-known laws of science that more coats are put into the backs of cars than are ever taken out of them The same goes for boots, maps, interesting things found on walks and carrier bags. They gradually accumulate over the years until the car is cleared prior to selling.

Why have we started throwing things away in black plastic bags? What is the point of wrapping rubbish before we get rid of it?

Sir Frank writes: It may be rubbish to you, mate, but to future generations it is priceless historical evidence. As any intelligent archaeologist will tell you, there is nothing that yields more information than yesterday's rubbish. Unfortunately, rubbish is almost always thrown away without any care for its survival or welfare – until today, that is, when at last we are beginning to wrap it carefully so that future archaeologists will just be able to unpack it and get to work.

Can you suggest a use for old leaking hot-water bottles that would otherwise have to be thrown away?

Sir Frank writes: It is one of the lesser known laws of science that most hot-water bottles which seem to be leaking are not, in fact, faulty. What happens is that, as you fill it, a small amount of water accumulates in the top round the cap, and this dribbles out during the night to create the illusion of leaking. Always check to make sure you are not throwing away a perfectly innocent bottle.

But if it is leaking, what use can you suggest?

Sir Frank writes: You can use a leaking old hot-water bottle to hang up in a place where the atmosphere needs to be kept moist. Simply fill it with water and it will leak slowly into the air all day.

But what sort of place would be likely to need that sort of atmospheric moistness?

Sir Frank writes: Blimey O'Riley, do I have to do all the bleeding work round here? Greenhouses, for instance, children's bedrooms with electric heaters, sitting rooms with grand pianos and central heating conservatories designed to re-create the effect of sitting in a rain forest.

Are you seriously suggesting we should hang up leaking hot-water bottles in the hot part of the world where hot-water bottles are commonly seen dangling in the undergrowth?

Sir Frank writes: Look ma te, if you don't like my advice, go to some other column. Meanwhile, the rest of you can go whistle up a gum tree.

(Sorry about that, readers. As soon as he has calmed down, Sir Frank will be back soon to tell you what to do with those redundant LP inner sleeves, and how to reconstruct an entire dinosaur from the single bone found in your garden. Keep those inquiries rolling in!)