Chops away! Space, the final food frontier


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The Independent Online

Now that space exploration really is open to everyone, you might find yourself asking what to send up into orbit. It is a conversation that one writer and his graphic designer friend were having in a pub earlier this year and to them the answer was obvious: a lamb chop.

"We were thinking of dumb publicity stunts we could do for my book, which is called Meatspace," Nikesh Shukla tells me. "In fact, 'meatspace' is the word that people who spend most of their time in the digital realm call the offline part of their lives, but we decided to take the title literally and went to our favourite Indian restaurant, Tayyabs, to ask them for a lamb chop that we could launch into space."

The chop was launched on 14 June and returned to Earth about a month later. From that point on, things got a little weird. "We got a call from a farmer who had found the pod, with our phone number on it, in his thresher. We wanted to get the camera back, as it had all the footage of the lamb chop in space, but the guy kept making promises to meet us and then didn't turn up. This went on for months and then he stopped answering my calls. At that point we had to get the police involved and eventually we got our camera back.

"Strangely, now that he's seen the footage [which was widely shared last week], he's started calling me again," says Shukla. "But this time, it's me that's ignoring his calls."

Brought to book

You might remember the story last summer about the Downton Abbey publicity photograph that was ruined by a stray bottle of mineral water on the mantelpiece. Well, according to an interview with the actor Dan Stevens in the new literary magazine The Happy Reader, things could have been worse. In 2012, Stevens was a judge for the Booker Prize and found himself having to read 140-odd books in an eight-month period. "Among many honours," Stevens tells the magazine, "we were given a Kindle, though we were still sent the [physical] books as a concrete reminder. We were shooting Downton. Maggie Smith got very excited when I brought in Hilary Mantel's Bring up the Bodies before it was published. I'd shove it under a sofa [on set] so I'm sure there are one or two takes where you can see it." The Dowager Countess of Grantham would not approve. Except that in this case, it appears to be the dowager who was instrumental in the anachronistic transgression.

Slumber crunching

It is one of the ironies of being a parent to very young children that while there are any number of books to help you along the way, no one has the time, or energy, to read them. So it's no surprise that an email with the title "Sleep-deprived parents – Don't Suffer" caught my eye last week.

The Happy Sleeper, by Julie Wright and Heather Turgeon, is published next year and promises to offer alternatives to letting kids "cry it out" or "attachment parenting". These techniques have names such as "Reverse Ladder", "Sleep Wave" and "Reverse Sleep Wave" and I only wish I could tell you precisely what they are and how they work.

Interestingly, the Happy Sleeper email arrived in the same week that Dream Lites published the results of its nationwide survey on children's sleeping habits. This research seems to support my own theory that most parents have little energy for fancy ideas.

The report, which questioned 1,500 people with children aged between three and six, found that one in five parents allows a child to stay up and watch television until they fall asleep, with some even admitting that they let their young ones take iPads or game consoles to bed and play with them until they conk out. See. This modern parenting thing is a breezzzzzzzzzzzzz.

What did Darwin know?

Should you need cheering up this weekend, might I direct you towards an American lady called Megan Fox (not the actress, this one's a Christian fundamentalist), who has taken it upon herself to "expose" liberals and scientists as frauds. Gulp.

Fox's latest adventure, posted on YouTube last week, finds her "auditing" the Evolving Earth exhibition at Chicago's science museum and getting angrier and angrier with what she sees as she goes along.

Even Darwin, were he alive, would be hard pushed to believe his own theory, according to Fox. Further, she demands to know how science can be so sure what exactly happened? "Did they have cameras?" she asks at one point.

I realise that this is shooting fish in a barrel. But until they crawl out of the barrel what choice do we have?

No rhyme or reason

Another in a regular series of limericks based on recent events:

The elite can all mock as they please,

Say Black Friday's a marketing wheeze,

But if money's tight,

We must all surely fight,

For our right to own flatscreen TVs.