Black holes: A guide

The original concept of black holes comes from the work of Albert Einstein, who would often conduct thought experiments (gedachtfürze in German), such as wondering why he couldn’t find a pencil, even though he’d been to WHSmith only last week and bought a brand new pack of 10.

Eventually this led him to his theory that space and time were not separate entities, but merged together to form the fabric of the universe, space-time.

This was a bold new idea, but explained perfectly why he might put a pencil down on his desk and then not see it again until August. It also explained the orbits of the planets with a high-degree of precision, by describing how what an orbit was just the planet moving in a straight-line through space-time. The straight line looked like a wonky circle to us because we’re really bad at judging time, which also explained why those, “Want to feel old? 9/11 was closer to the premier of Spitting Image than to the present day!” things work, and why it always takes exactly 45 minutes for your pizza to arrive, even though it feels like much, much longer.

In the 1930s the Indian physicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar used Einstein’s theory to show that if you had something really heavy – like even heavier than all of the clinky bags when you do the big Christmas shop – space-time might get so bent that all of the space was in the middle and all of the time was on the outside, making it invisible, because we can’t see time.

When a star exceeded Chandrasekhar Limit (4 pints of stout and Babysham) it would die with a massive explosion, and then form an invisible-time-on-the-outside-bubble, which was later renamed a ‘black hole’, by physicists working for Saatchi & Saatchi.

Black holes are black because not even light can escape from them, because inside there’s no time and outside there’s only time, with nowhere for it to go, making it a bit like an office in Slough, except that people are interested in what’s happening in there.

For a long time black holes were entirely theoretical. Knowing they’d be black, astrologers spent a long time searching for a white bit of sky, where they’d be able see one clearly. However, we now know that the only white bits of the sky are clouds, and they only come out in daytime, when astrologers – who are naturally nocturnal – aren’t around to see them.

Fortunately, scientists realised that a patch of orange sky would work nearly as well as white and have found a bit of orange space which, by good luck, has a black-hole right in the middle of it. But it was  so hard to find that it’s taken 55 million light years to get a slightly blurry photo of it.

black hole
A black hole 55 million years ago, pictured yesterday

Still, now that a live black-hole has been found scientists hope they can soon find a couple more, and a breeding colony can be established.

Today it may just look like a photograph of a child with a sparkler, taken on a late-90s camera phone, but in the future – when we all live in space – our great-grandchildren may be able to go to a space-petting-zoo and actually touch a black-hole, which really is something to get excited about.


Give me my space




bike parking sign



DAVE: You can’t park there, mate, that’s a ‘Bikes only’ space

TARQUIN: It’s OK. I’m a biker.

DAVE: What?


TARQUIN: See. I’m a biker.

DAVE: You might be a biker, but that [DAVE POINTS AT THE CAR] isn’t a bike.

TARQUIN: Don’t be like that!

DAVE: Like what?

TARQUIN: All angry with me. I thought us bikers were supposed to stick together.

DAVE: How is you taking my parking space “sticking together”?

TARQUIN: Oh, it’s your space now, is it? Nice way to be inclusive, man.

DAVE: It’s a space for bikes!

TARQUIN: And I’m a biker.

DAVE: Carrying a crash-helmet in your car…

TARQUIN [INTERRUPTING]: I sometimes wear it when I’m driving

DAVE: OK, wearing a crash-helmet in your car doesn’t make you a biker.

TARQUIN: And who put you in charge of deciding who is and is not a biker, eh?

DAVE: Bikers ride motorbikes, and that [DAVE POINTS AT THE CAR AGAIN] is not a motorbike.


TARQUIN: Well, if you’re the ultimate arbiter of what is and isn’t a motorbike, how are you defining one, then?

DAVE: For a start, they’ve got two wheels and…

TARQUIN [INTERRUPTING]: What about bikes with sidecars? Or trikes? What about some bloke who lost a leg in a horrific bike accident and now has to ride a trike? Are you going to tell him he’s not a real biker?


TARQUIN [POINTING AT DAVE]: That bloke reckons somebody who’s been paralysed for life in a bike accident doesn’t count as real biker!

DAVE: That isn’t wh…

COLIN [INTERRUPTING]: You ought to be ashamed of yourself, you judgemental twat!

DAVE: But this bloke’s taken my parking space!

COLIN: That gives you the right to decide who’s a real biker, does it?

DAVE: I wasn’t doing tha…

COLIN: My mate got his back broken in a bike accident, and he’s still twice the biker you’ll ever be! You should get yourself a bus-pass!


TARQUIN: See. Other bikers are on my side. It’s just you who’s being a bigot.

DAVE: It’s not bigoted to say that bikes only have 2 wheels!


TARQUIN: Oh, we’re back to wheels again, are we? What are you, a wheel fetishist?

DAVE: Well…well, bikes are open to the elements as well

TARQUIN: Like that bike?


TARQUIN: That was just an isolated incident. You can’t judge all of us 4-wheel bikers by that. Totally atypical.

DAVE: Look, I’m going to be late for work, and now the other bike bay is full of Mercedes. Are you going to move your car or what?

TARQUIN: No. I’m a biker. I’m entitled to park here. Making me move is just another way for arseholes like you to exclude me.

DAVE: Exclude you?

TARQUIN: Yes! I always wanted a bike, but my mum wouldn’t let me get one, but I can still be a biker! [HE WAVES HIS CRASH HELMET] But then bastards like you find every possible way to exclude me. [TARQUIN ADOPTS A MOCKING TONE] Oooo, let’s do some wheelies. Let’s have our own parking spaces. Let’s filter through traffic jams and leave the stupid 4-wheeled biker stuck in a queue.

DAVE: You want me to stop filtering through traffic…because it upsets you???

TARQUIN: Of course it upsets me! Why do you have to centre your mobility?

DAVE: Uh, you’re a grown man, you could just buy yourself a bike.

TARQUIN: You’re a grown man as well. Why won’t you just accept me as a biker, without me having to go through the stress of a huge financial operation like that?


TARQUIN [GROWING ANGRY]: You want to demand that I expose myself to the danger, to the angry car drivers, to the weather, to weekends in the garage, lubing and adjusting chains…all that, just so you’ll deign to believe that I’m a biker.

DAVE: Yes! That’s what being a biker is! It’s not driving around in a flash car, wearing a crash-helmet when you feel like it!

TARQUIN: No! Stop spreading lies like that! Being a biker is about how you feel, not how many wheels you happen to have, Mr Wheel-fanatic!


TARQUIN [INTERRUPTING]: Anyway, do you think I’d have got to be a junior vice-president if I’d turned up looking like that every day?

DAVE: Look, screw you! I’m going to have to go and find somewhere else to park. I hope the police tow your CAR away and scrap it!



TARQUIN: Hello? Police? Yes, thank goodness, I’ve just had a motorcyclist behave very aggressively towards me and I’m worried about my safety…Yes, yes, I’ve got his number.

————-END OF PLAY————-


Consider a photo of a penis. How long you want to consider it for is up to you – most people I know don’t find them particularly photogenic.

Now, answer this question…

Does the penis belong to man or a woman?

In the bad old, unenlightened, days the question would have been a no-brainer. The penis was seen as invariably male. More than that, a swinging dong was the very quintessence of masculinity.

Now, of course, we live in a better world, and know that transwomen are women and, thus, that penises may belong to men or women.

Visually, males and females have incredibly similar penises, so there’s no way to tell, from the photograph, the gender of owner of the penis. You would need external information.

katie hopkins

If, for example, we are told that the photograph is of a trans-woman’s penis then we know that the penis is female.

Or do we? It’s not uncommon for men not to transition until middle-age. Would a photo of their penis, taken pre-transition, remain a photo of a male penis, or would it retrospectively become a photograph of a female penis at the moment of transition?

In some ways this is not unlike the miracle of transubstantiation, an article of faith for Catholics, where the communion wafer becomes the body of Christ (although, of course, during transubstantiation the wafer becomes chewed, soggy and unappetising…completely unlike a middle-aged man’s penis)

Of course, the issue isn’t just limited to your collection of penis photographs. Even if you were holding the real thing in your hand, you still would not be able to tell if it was male or female, without speaking to the owner (which, to be fair, you probably should have done before you started holding his/her penis). Unless you commune with the host, there is no way to know whether the penis has undergone transubstantiation or not.


This could be problematic. Matters relating to who has, and who has not, had Holy Communion are principally of interest to God, who presumably has his own methods for finding out. Knowing who has a female penis has more practical applications; knowing which women are at risk of testicular cancer, for example, or knowing which women are stunning and brave for doing exactly what they want, or even just knowing which women are most eligible for accolades and women’s roles.

We could ask, “Do you have a penis?”, but that seems awfully blunt while, at the same time, managing to carry a certain degree of ambiguity about just what your intentions are.

There are different problems with the term ‘cis-woman’ – at the moment it’s seen as acceptable way to refer to the people who don’t have a penis, but it’s clearly exclusionary. How can it possibly be fair that transwomen can be women, but they can’t be cis-women? This is just another barrier that bitter women have thrown up to protect their privilege. The next battle will clearly be for female penis-owners to claim ‘cis’ for their own, so its long-term use is problematic.

These are all weighty problems, that need long-term consideration.

With transubstantiation the matter was decided by a lot of old men in dresses threatening eternal punishment if it wasn’t accepted as truth, and people getting down on their knees, professing their belief and having it fingered into their mouths.


There, of course, the analogy breaks down, because the mysteries of the female penis are nothing like that.

The unaskable question?

For the past 12 hours I’ve been involved in a Twitter debate, stemming from this tweet.


The guidance it refers to is this, from Allsorts, which is being given to schools, to educate them on how to accommodate transgender students.

Scenario 1

Much as I love Twitter, it’s often difficult to use it to debate subtle points, which is possibly why my question has seen me being accused of being “transphobic” and “hysterical” and having “medieval ideologies”.

I spend a lot of time designing policies and procedures, and what I tell people is this:- Imagine a worst-case scenario occurs. There is an official investigation, where you’re asked “What did you do to prevent this happening?”. Now imagine what answer you’d like to be able to give to that question in that scenario – that’s the starting point for writing your policies.

In that vein, here’s a scenario.

You are the head-teacher of a secondary school, with pupils aged 11-18. A police officer arrives at the school and asks to speak to you. They have found a video on a porn site which shows the changing-rooms at your school, including a number of girls, who appear to be aged 13-15, in various states of undress. It has clearly been filmed with a concealed camera-phone.

The video has been taken down, but not before it had tens of thousands of views. The account that posted it has been traced to a student at the school who identifies themselves as trans and was, in accordance with the guidance, allowed to use the female changing rooms.

The police need a female member of staff to view the video with them, to identify the 20 or 30 teenage girls who appear in it, so that they and their parents can be informed that they have been victims of voyeurism.

What did you do to prevent this happening?

The answers that Twitter has thrown up so far don’t seem to be very good answers to that questions. Assertions that it could never happen, that nobody could or would fake being trans just to get access to female spaces, and a strong suggestion that simply asking the question is bigoted, or even “dangerous”.

There are around 2.2 million males aged 13-18 in the UK, no matter how much experience you have with children, with trans people, with trans-children, you cannot absolutely assert that none of them will abuse, or attempt to abuse, the guidance given in a manner that infringes of the rights of other students.

This isn’t about demonising all trans people, or suggesting that any given one of them would act in such a manner. This is about the risk presented by the guidance itself, whether that risk can be mitigated in a manner which is proportional to the potential seriousness of the outcome and whether the risk is, in part or in whole, outweighed by the risks of not implementing the guidance.

To draw an analogy, every school will have a policy about visitors to the school which might say, for example, that no visitor to the school will be given unsupervised access to children unless they have an enhanced DBS check.

It is not visitorphobic for that policy to exist. No school has ever been accused of being biased against visitors for implementing it.

This policy doesn’t suggest that all visitors would be a risk to the children, or that any particular visitor themselves presents a risk, it simply recognises that the entire sample-space of ‘visitors’ may contain some people who may be a risk.

Where the analogy breaks a little is that, when assessing the level of risk represented by moving from traditional sex-segregation of spaces to gender-segregation, it’s important to realise that our sample-space isn’t ‘trans-children’ but ‘teenage males’. In the month a 16-year-old boy was found guilty of abducting, raping and killing a girl it would be reckless to suggest that this group is entirely risk-free for others.

If there’s an acceptance that the suggested guidelines aren’t risk free then the questions that follow have to be, “How much risk?”, “How can that risk be mitigated?”, “Do the benefits justify the risk?”

Those are big questions, and I have no intention of tackling them here, but they need to be asked. To suggest that they are unaskable is, dare I say, a little hysterical…and certainly dangerous.


The wrong side of Hxstory

I’m on the wrong side of history. It’s a dark and lonely place.

wrong side of history

Not right now, obviously  – the sun is shining and my son is trying to get me to play Dungeons & Dragons with him – but metaphorically it’s a dark and lonely place.

I’m on the wrong side of history because I don’t believe that trans-women are women, and history, in as much as it remembers me at all, will remember that I thought that. Apparently.

In the future the mantra “Trans-women are women” will be accepted as absolutely true. Not because of any of the usual arguments, which are generally bunk, but for three unassailable reasons:

  1. It causes fewer waves for institutions to accept it as true than to even slightly suggest that it’s not.
  2. Trans-women are using point 1 to gain positions in those organisations that should be held by natal women, who would take a good old long second look at anything a man tells them is sacrosanct and absolute.
  3. If it’s not true then an awful lot of woke men, many with beards, are going to have to admit they’ve been screaming abuse at women for no good reason and were, in fact, wrong…actually.

Number 3’s the clincher, because any movement which would need thousands of beardy men to admit error to be overthrown is, basically, indestructible. Just look at Corbynism…or folk-music.

Which is a shame, because I suspect that most of the woke men believe that trans-women are women in much the same way as, say, I believe in world peace: it’s a nice thing to aspire to, but not something I need to have any personal involvement in. If other people could just, you know, take care of it without me having to shoulder up my rifle and go and get dug-in in Syria then that would be smashing.

I even think that, slogans aside, the woke men, the trans-women and I want pretty much the same thing. Trans-women should be free from abuse and not have to live in fear, they should be free to pick their name and have others show the decency to respect their pronouns. What surgery or drugs they choose for themselves, or choose not to have, should be entirely their private business. They should be entitled to as free and happy a life as anyone else.

I’d even say that there should be no laws banning them from women’s bathrooms or changing-rooms, because laws are harsh, black & white instruments, that are rarely the right way to arbitrate complex issues. I imagine that, for decades, men who present as women have been using women’s facilities with few confrontations, and that such a state would continue to exist, so long as nobody makes the damn-fool mistake of trying to make it a law that they can do so.

Trans-women who want to live their lives quietly, without fuss, seem to have had the terrible misfortune to find the most militant speaking for them. Pushing the debate far beyond the achievable, and then barely pausing for breath before pushing further.

Still, I’m on the wrong side of history, because I don’t believe that trans-women are women. I don’t believe they belong in women’s sports, I don’t believe they belong on women-only short-lists and I don’t believe that anybody who says that biology is irrelevant has the slightest interest in making life better for women.

Let history judge me.

In some future, where it’s unimaginable that anybody ever said that trans-women were not women, feel free to hold up the words above as those of a bigot. Let my great-great-grandchild be repulsed that her ancestor thought this way. I can only call things as they are.

And history is long, and rarely follows a straight path. Who alive in this country in 1945 would have thought the Labour party would turn its back on the Jewish people, and debate whether Churchill did more harm than good?

There are worse things to be on the wrong side of than history. I’ll take my chances.


Farewell to ma’ams

Many things in life are confusing. For example, you might only have seen the occasional tweet or article from one side or another of the trans-rights debate and not taken much interest, and then you log into Twitter one morning and people who style themselves as woke and inclusive are calling lesbian icon, Martina Navratilova, a bigot, and you think, “That’s really quite confusing”.

Very confused meme
I’ve helpfully overlaid 3 memes about confusion, to illustrate just how massively confusing this all is

Let me try to explain.

For most of human history women, as a class, have had a pretty shitty deal. They have been oppressed, they’ve been 2nd-class citizens, they’ve been property and, occasionally, they’ve been burned at the stake, even if they didn’t want to be.

This year, in the UK, we’re celebrating the 100th anniversary of women being given the vote, which means that we figured out how to make heavier-than-air machines stay up, how mass distorts space and speed distorts time, and how to explain the fundamental building blocks of all matter before we figured out that maybe we should let half of the population have a say in how the world is governed.

The axis of oppression against women has never been that they have an irresistible urge to play with dolls, or that, left to their own devices, they will gravitate towards putting on a dress and bit of lippy, or that they love plucking their eyebrows and shaving their legs. It has always been that, physically, they are different to men, and without 4 inches of incorrigible wrinkle-skin dangling between your legs, why, you’re fit for nothing more than a little light sewing and popping out babies, nothing strenuous.

Since the whole graciously-granting-them-the-vote thing, things have been getting better, slowly, for women. Then, in the last half decade, a decision appears to have been made that they’re no longer allowed to organise themselves along the lines that have formed the reason for their oppression. The group ‘women’ has been extended to include two subgroups; trans-women and cis-women, and the rules have been rewritten to say that cis-women can have nothing, do nothing, say nothing and believe nothing that does not also include trans-women. Some things belong only to trans-women, but everything cis-women used to have, before they knew they were cis, now belongs to the group ‘Women’.

Last week, for example, someone got told off on Twitter because they compiled a list of 100 women murdered by men, and neglected to include any trans-women. That’s how little cis-women mean, they’re not even allowed to have their own violent deaths.

It’s not just violent death, of course, women’s organisations, women-only awards and short-lists, women’s sports teams, women-only spaces and women-only women must all open up to trans-women. They must acknowledge trans-women as not only belonging, but also as being a more oppressed group than women themselves. If you’re confused about how shutting up women for saying they’re oppressed proves that they’re not oppressed then why don’t you scroll back up and have another look at that meme picture?

Women, as a political class, are being erased, while being told that not allowing this to happen is bigotry. Women who point out that in sports, in politics, in debate, women are being represented by men are ‘TERFs’, who deserve to be no-platformed, hounded out of their jobs and, of course, abused.

This abuse is justified on the basis that these TERFs (which is much quicker to type than ‘uppity bitches who won’t believe what they’re told to’, so big time-saving there) want to erase trans-woman from existence and positively delight in them being so miserable that they kill themselves. So far none of the TERFs have actually said that, but you can just tell it’s what they’re thinking.

What the TERFs are saying are things like, “Is it a good idea to throw open all legal boundaries between all men and all women-only spaces?” and “Can we perhaps not make it illegal for women to centre themselves and have their own politics, collectives and biology?” and “Should we pause before giving long-term medication, with unknown side effects, to people who we don’t legally consider old enough to decide if they’d enjoy half a lager and a tattoo?”

Now to you and me those might sound like reasonable things to ask, and we might want to debate those issues, but we can’t, because trans-women’s existence is not up for debate…even though none of those debates are about trans-women’s existence.

Right, let’s just have another little look at that picture again.

The term ‘TERF’ itself is disputed. Those on the trans side of the argument say that its purely a descriptive term, being an acronym for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist, while those on the gender-critical side say that it’s a term of abuse, on the flimsy evidence that it’s been used literally thousands of times in abusive messages, often with threats of violence directed towards stupid cis-women who think they’re just women. Although, to be fair, they do keep provocatively referring to themselves as women, refusing to adopt more inclusive monikers, such as ‘bleeder’, ‘non-man’, ‘menstruator’, ‘fanny-packer’ or ‘labian’, so maybe they’re bringing it on themselves.

Whether TERF is descriptive or abusive it is, at least, apt…because a turf-war is being fought. A ferocious battle over what a woman is, and who has the right to call themselves one. It is a battle that has aligned people into strange camps; the ‘progessives’ arm-in-arm with, and sharing the language of, the women-hating ranks of Men’s Rights Activists, Feminists finding support from the Religious Right.

All, ultimately, fighting over what it means to have, or lack, a penis.

To misquote Churchill, never have so many fought so furiously over so little.

This closes the introduction to WTF, and I hope it has been helpful. If you have any questions then why not ask them on Twitter, where you’ll quickly find the answer is that you’re a hateful bigot and deserve to die. If, like me, you’re not a woman (trans or otherwise) or a feminist (radical or mundane) then you may wish to watch from the sidelines. It’s easy not to get involved, to say nothing, to make no enemies, but maybe when you look at Twitter and see a cyclist, whose only claim to fame is winning a race for women, demanding that a tennis legend apologises to them you’ll think it’s time to say something.

I did.


In defence of some guy

The most talked about story over the past week has been that of Emile Ratelband, a Dutch man who wishes to legally change his age from 69 to 49.

some guy
Some guy, pictured yesterday

For expressing this simple wish he has been denounced and pilloried, with support coming from no quarter – surely making his minority the most oppressed one.

Harshest of all have been the attacks from middle-aged guys, who you’d expect would instinctively support one of their own, out of basic kinship. These men, these Chronovariable Unbelieving Men (CUMs), seem to wallow in their bigoted ignorance of basic facts.

The truth is that since time immemorial humans have experienced chronovariablism.

One only has to look at the wealth of phrases that we have for it; “age is just a number”, “you’re only as old as you feel”, “wise beyond [his/her/its] years”, “an old head on young shoulders”, “she’s big for her age”…the list is endless.

This instinctive realisation that age isn’t linked to elapsed time isn’t just confined to lay-people either. If I had £1 for every time my doctor – a qualified medical professional – has told me that I have body of an 80-year-old then I could afford a bottle of wine, 20 cigarettes and a dozen doughnuts.

Even Einstein said that time was not a universal constant and depended on how often one took clocks onto trains or lay on giant rubber sheets.

Indeed, medical science now recognises that age is not a binary condition – one is not simply ‘young’ or ‘old’. Age is a spectrum and, indeed, if acclaimed thinkers, such as Zeno, are correct then there may be an infinite number of ages. Everyone knows best which age they are and to question one’s self-age is nothing short of an act of violence.

Adding to this body of scientific evidence we can observe that some bacteria don’t age in any meaningful sense, while some tortoises can live a very long time and a cat is “old” at 17, whereas a mayfly that made it to that age would be a miracle. Or something.

This isn’t just theoretical either. For years we’ve lived with the young-at-heart, those who are sky-diving, scree-running and skinny-dipping well past retirement “age”, and the guy in his mid-30s who’s trying to juggle a high-pressure job, a new baby and a functional dependence on G&T, and who feels like he’s fucking 90.

skydiving granny
Your nan, who will later be shit-posting, pieing you and suing Club 18-30 for every penny they’ve got, pictured yesterday

How dare someone like jumped-up junior doctor judgemental dismiss these lived-experiences as being invalid? These are real people being driven to life-ending thoughts, because nobody who’s 49 doesn’t think, “Oh god, I want to die” on a daily basis.

More than all of that, though, let’s remember that this de-ageing is what some guy wants. We’re not talking about a duplicitous women, trying to falsely advertise herself on her Tinder page. This is a man, and men get what they want. End. Of. Fucking. Debate.