P&J Column for 21.4.14

Could there be intelligent life on Kepler -186F? Well, it would make a fine change from what we’ve got on Earth.

Professor Hector Schlenk, Senior Research Fellow at the Bogton Institute for Public Engagement with Science

As a scientist, I’m always being asked questions such as ‘How do MRI scanners work?’ ‘Can carbon dating prove the age of the Turin Shroud?’ and ‘Would you like fries with that?’  But recently, people have been asking me all about extra-terrestrials.   “Well”, I advise, “Sky are doing quite a good deal at the moment.”  And then nobody laughs.  Because, empirically speaking, it’s not a very good joke.

Of course, extra-terrestrial life could exist, but as with house prices, location is everything. Astronomers have detected almost 1800 planets orbiting stars other than our own, but until recently it has been difficult to determine whether or not they were capable of supporting life.

You see, each star has something known as a “Goldilocks zone” where conditions are not too hot, not too cold, but just right for the porridge of cellular organisms to thrive.  Most of the exoplanets discovered so far have been either Daddy Bear or Mummy Bear and that prized Baby Bear discovery has eluded us.

Until, that is, the discovery of Kepler-186F.  Similar in size to the Earth and slap bang in the middle of the Goldilocks zone, it has been described as ‘Earth’s Cousin’ by people who feel need to convey important scientific discoveries in as banal a way as possible. While this is a far cry from proving the existence of extraterrestrial life, it does at least demonstrate that there are worlds out there capable of giving rise to the little green men most of us got into science to meet.

Of course, if there is a race of intelligent beings on Kepler-186F, they are observing us at a distance of 493 light years.  That means if they were watching us right now they’d be seeing the events of 1521, such as the election of a new, reforming Pope; the suppression of a revolt in Syria; and Moscow’s aggressive take-over of nearby territories.  If only they could see how things have changed!

Doddie Esslemont, Radical Independence Campaigner and Chairman, Secretary and Chief Cook and Bottle Washer of the People’s Democratic Republic of 39G Seaton Drive Party

It is hard for me to say this, as the senior and, indeed, only figure within a rival party that supports independence, but what a successful conference the SNP had the other week.  They raised the profile of the independence campaign to new heights; hosting it in Aberdeen provided ample opportunity to make the city council look churlish; and a woman who must have very long arms even managed to reach right round Alex Salmond and give him a congratulatory bosie.

How right Alex was when he said that the independence referendum is not all about the SNP.  Yes, independence is the SNP’s reason for being and the referendum is the only legal means of achieving this aim; and yes, the referendum has arisen solely as a result of their manifesto promise in the 2011 Election.  But this referendum is for all the major political voices that support Scottish Independence: the SNP, naturally; but also my own People’s Democratic Republic of 39G Seaton Drive Party, and the Keep Flat 5/1, 16 Gryffe Street, Cathcart for people from Flat 5/1, 16 Gryffe Street, Cathcart Party – or Stevie Tawse, as he is also known.  To be honest, though, we in the movement don’t much like to talk about Stevie.  Fine enough guy and all that but in believing he can claim sovereign independence for a bed-sit in Glasgow he takes a very isolationist stance.  If I’m honest, I think he tends to make the rest of us look a little bit foolish.

Entertainment news with Shelley Shingles – Miss Feteresso 1983

I got a tip off this week from one of my secret showbiz sources (It was my cousin Stephanie. She’s a cleaner at the Airport, but she sometimes runs the Karaoke at the Malt Mill). She telt that “The Boss” himself was in the North East last week!  Initially I was well jel, because I’ve always loved Bruce Springsteen, but it turned out that she was meaning philanthropist and environmentalist Donald Trump, who was here for a swift 18 holes at his wee plot of land out by Balmedie.

Of course, me and the Donald go way back.  He never mentions what a massive influence I was on his career but I know that our first encounter was totally life changing for him.  I was modeling in New York at the time. It was during ‘Tartan Week’ 1987 and I was there as the face of McCowan’s Highland Toffee. I was dressed in a giant sweetie wrapper, and I was under strict instructions not to speak, but I wasn’t getting as much attention as the lassie from the Tunnock’s stand who was done up as a Caramel Log. So when Donny comes past my stall I just marched up and says “Coo Candy?  I’ll never forget what he said to me:

“No honey, it’s Donald. And I’m not a cook.”

Wise words, from a great man.

All of a sudden, my manager comes over, raging, and he says, “You’re fired” and I seen a wee glint in Trump’s eye.  Then, just seventeen years later “The Apprentice” is on the telly.  Just saying.