Aug 242015


On this date in 2006 the International Astronomical Union (IAU) redefined the term “planet” such that Pluto is now considered a dwarf planet and not a planet. The definition of “planet” set in 2006 states that, in the Solar System, a planet is a celestial body which:

is in orbit around the Sun,

has sufficient mass to assume hydrostatic equilibrium (a nearly round shape), and

has “cleared the neighborhood” around its orbit (i.e. there is nothing else in its orbit).

A non-satellite body fulfilling only the first two of these criteria is classified as a “dwarf planet.” According to the IAU, “planets and dwarf planets are two distinct classes of objects”. A non-satellite body fulfilling only the first criterion is termed a “small Solar System body” (SSSB). Initial drafts included dwarf planets as a subcategory of planets, but because this language could potentially have led to the inclusion of several dozen objects classified as planets it was eventually dropped. The definition was a controversial one and has drawn both support and criticism from different astronomers, but has remained in use.

Here’s an Euler diagram of all the Solar bodies (click to enlarge):


According to current definition, there are eight planets in the Solar System. The definition distinguishes planets from smaller bodies and is not useful outside the Solar System, where smaller bodies cannot be found yet. Extrasolar planets, or exoplanets, are covered separately under a complementary 2003 draft guideline for the definition of planets, which distinguishes them from dwarf stars, which are larger.

Before the discoveries of the early 21st century, astronomers had no real need for a formal definition for planets. With the discovery of Pluto in 1930, astronomers considered the Solar System to have nine planets, along with thousands of smaller bodies such as asteroids and comets. Pluto was thought to be larger than Mercury.


In 1978, the discovery of Pluto’s moon Charon radically changed this picture. By measuring Charon’s orbital period, astronomers could accurately calculate Pluto’s mass for the first time, which they found to be much smaller than expected. Pluto’s mass was calculated to be roughly one twenty-fifth of Mercury’s, making it by far the smallest planet, smaller even than the Earth’s Moon, although still over ten times as massive as the largest asteroid, Ceres.

In the 1990s, astronomers began finding other objects at least as far away as Pluto, now known as Kuiper Belt objects, or KBOs. Many of these shared some of Pluto’s key orbital characteristics and are now called plutinos. Pluto came to be seen as the largest member of a new class of objects, and some astronomers stopped referring to Pluto as a planet. Pluto’s eccentric and inclined orbit, while very unusual for a planet in the Solar System, fits in well with the other KBOs. New York City’s newly renovated Hayden Planetarium did not include Pluto in its exhibit of the planets when it reopened as the Rose Center for Earth and Space in 2000.


Starting in 2000, with the discovery of at least three bodies (Quaoar, Sedna, and Eris) all comparable to Pluto in terms of size and orbit, it became clear that either they all had to be called planets or Pluto would have to be reclassified. Astronomers also knew that more objects as large as Pluto would be discovered, and the number of “planets” would start growing quickly if something were not done. They were also concerned about the classification of planets in other planetary systems. In 2006, the matter came to a head with the first measurement of the size of 2003 UB313. That measurement had shown Eris (as it was believed to be until the ‘New Horizons’ mission to Pluto) to appear to be slightly larger than Pluto, and so was thought to be equally deserving of the status of planet at the time.


The process of new discoveries spurring a contentious refinement of Pluto’s classification echoed a debate in the 19th century that began with the discovery of Ceres on January 1, 1801. Astronomers immediately declared the tiny object to be the “missing planet” between Mars and Jupiter. Within four years, however, the discovery of two more objects with comparable sizes and orbits had cast doubt on this new thinking. By 1851, the number of “planets” had grown to 23, and it was clear that hundreds more would eventually be discovered. Astronomers began cataloging them separately and began calling them “asteroids” instead of “planets”.

Because new planets are discovered infrequently, the IAU did not have any machinery for their definition and naming. After the discovery of Sedna, it set up a 19-member committee in 2005, with the British astronomer Iwan Williams in the chair, to consider the definition of a planet. It proposed three definitions that could be adopted:


a planet is a planet if enough people say it is;


a planet is an astral body large enough to form a sphere;


an object is a planet if it is large enough to cause all other objects to leave its orbit.

The decision had some cultural and social implications, affecting a variety of spheres such as textbook publishing, toy manufacture, and the like. Most educational books printed after 2006 use the new definition. The decision was important enough to prompt the editors of the 2007 edition of the World Book Encyclopedia to hold off printing until a final result had been reached. The new designation also has repercussions in the astrological world and finds mixed receptions, with differences of opinion as to whether to make any changes to astrological practice as a result of the redefinition. Most astrologers are a little vague about the outer planets anyway, since they were not part of old systems of astrology created before the invention of the telescope, and move so slowly through the constellations that nothing much changes because of them for a long time.

The verb “to pluto” (preterite and past participle: plutoed) was coined in the aftermath of the 2006 IAU decision. In January 2007, the American Dialect Society chose “plutoed” as its 2006 Word of the Year, defining “to pluto” as “to demote or devalue someone or something.” This is really a bit silly. Pluto was not “demoted.” It was reclassified for perfectly legitimate scientific reasons. Thinking of the reclassification as a demotion is strictly an emotional reaction based on a simplistic conception of the Solar System as taught in elementary school. There’s all kinds of junk whizzing around the sun (comets being my favorite). Giving a few bits of that junk a different name is nowhere near as important as marveling in the majesty of it all.


Pluto does not conjure up a swarm of ideas for a recipe du jour. However, in certain parts of Australia a variety of corn dog is known as a “pluto pup” so there we have it. Pluto pups are sometimes called “dagwood dogs” or “dippy dogs” but no one seems to know the origin of any of these names. I did a fairly diligent search for clues but came up empty. Since do one else seems to care, I won’t either.

Pluto pups can vary somewhat, but the basic idea is to mount a hot dog on a stick, coat it in batter, and deep fry it. Obviously you can create variants by altering the batter you choose, or using a different kind of sausage instead of a hot dog. Have at it. My choice would be for an egg batter and a chipolata (thin beef sausage). My basic batter recipe is here.

If using any sort of raw sausage in place of a hot dog, it’s best to cook it before battering and deep frying. Take your pick of methods to cook the sausage: shallow fry, grill, broil, or whatever. Fat German sausages can be used although they are a tad unwieldy. I boil them in beer and then grill them until browned all over.

I wouldn’t consider making these at home, except possibly for a children’s party.  For me this is strictly street food or carnie food. You can get something similar in China where hot dogs are a popular snack.  Dipping sauces vary from ketchup to oyster sauce and the like.  Your choice.


May 282015


On this date in 1951 The Goon Show aired for the first time on the BBC Home Service, and continued as a colossal hit from 1951 to 1960, with occasional repeats on the BBC Light Programme. The first series broadcast from 28 May to 20 September 1951, was titled Crazy People; subsequent series had the title The Goon Show, a title inspired, according to Spike Milligan, by a Popeye character.

The show’s chief creator and main writer was Spike Milligan. The scripts mixed ludicrous plots with surreal humor, puns, catchphrases and an array of bizarre sound effects. Some of the later episodes feature electronic effects devised by the fledgling BBC Radiophonic Workshop, many of which were reused by other shows for decades. Many elements of the show satirized contemporary life in Britain, parodying aspects of show business, commerce, industry, art, politics, diplomacy, the police, the military, education, class structure, literature and film.

The show was released internationally through the BBC Transcription Services (TS). It was heard regularly from the 1950s in Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, India and Canada, although these TS versions were frequently edited to avoid controversial subjects. NBC began broadcasting the program on its radio network from the mid-1950s. The program exercised a considerable influence on the development of British and U.S. comedy and popular culture.

Milligan and Harry Secombe became friends while serving in the Royal Artillery during the Second World War. Famously, Milligan first encountered Secombe after Gunner Milligan’s artillery unit accidentally allowed a large howitzer to roll off a cliff, under which Secombe was sitting in a small radio truck: “Suddenly there was a terrible noise as some monstrous object fell from the sky quite close to us. There was considerable confusion, and in the middle of it all the flap of the truck was pushed open and a young, helmeted idiot asked ‘Anybody see a gun?’ It was Milligan.” Secombe’s answer to that question was “What colour was it?” Milligan met Peter Sellers after the war at the Hackney Empire, where Secombe was performing, and the three became close friends.


The group first formed at Jimmy Grafton’s London pub called “Grafton’s” in the late 1940s. Sellers had already débuted with the BBC, Secombe was often heard on Variety Bandbox, Milligan was writing for and acting in the high profile BBC show Hip-Hip-Hoo-Roy with Derek Roy, and Michael Bentine, who appeared in the first series, had just begun appearing in Charlie Chester’s peak time radio show Stand Easy.

The four clicked immediately. “It was always a relief to get away from the theatre and join in the revels at Grafton’s on a Sunday night,” said Secombe years later. They took to calling themselves ‘The Goons’ and started recording their pub goings-on with a tape recorder. The BBC producer, Pat Dixon heard a tape and took interest in the group. He pressed the BBC for a long term contract for the gang, knowing that it would secure Sellers for more than just seasonal work, something for which the BBC had been aiming. The BBC acquiesced and ordered an initial series, though without much enthusiasm.

Throughout its history, each episode of The Goon Show, which usually ran just under 30 minutes, was essentially structured as a comedy-variety program, consisting of scripted comedy segments alternating with musical interludes. There were 10 series in all, many of which survive (and can be found on YouTube). Series 1 to 3 no longer exist and some episodes of 4 to 6 were erased by the BBC (following their archiving policy).


From Series 3 onwards, the principal character roles were:

Neddie Seagoon (Secombe)

Eccles (Milligan)

Bluebottle (Sellers)

Henry Crun (Sellers)

Minnie Bannister (Milligan)

Hercules Grytpype-Thynne (Sellers)

Count Jim Moriarty (Milligan)

Major Denis Bloodnok (Sellers)

The traditional plots involved Grytpype-Thynne and Moriarty getting Neddie Seagoon involved in some far-fetched plan, and meeting the other cast members along the way.

Many characters had regular catchphrases which quickly moved into the vernacular; among the best known are:

“He’s fallen in the water!” (Little Jim)

“You dirty, rotten swine, you! You have deaded me!” (Bluebottle)

“You can’t get the wood, you know.” (Henry, Minnie)

“You silly, twisted boy, you.” (Grytpype-Thynne)

“You can’t park ‘ere, mate” (Willium) — Milligan’s dig at officious BBC commissionaires.

“Ying Tong Iddle I Po” (various) — which became the basis for a novelty hit as “The Ying Tong Song”

The Goon Show has been variously described as “avant-garde,” “surrealist,” “abstract,” and “four dimensional.” Broadly the Goon Show engaged in ‘sound cartooning’. That is creating cartoons by means of sounds – voices, sound effects (FX), gramophone recordings of noises (Grams), orchestral effects etc. – all performed live in front of a studio audience. In the scripts themselves, Milligan explored the use of ‘subject transference’. In particular he used three methods – transference of time, transference of place, and transference of utility.

For example, if time causes calendars, calendars can cause time. If you drop a bundle of 1918 calendars on German troops in 1916, then they will all go home, thus shortening the war. If one lives in a house, and one can say that someone lives in their clothes, then the two are interchangeable. Therefore a recurring theme in the shows is of someone living in the basement of someone else’s clothes, or of someone taking the lift up and down inside someone’s suit. (e.g.: “What are you doing in my trousers?? – ‘Slumming!'”) The best example of this is in “The Policy”, Doors give you entrance into a different place, so a door can transport you anywhere. A door in the Himalayas can take you back to London etc. In “Six Charlies in Search of an Author” Bloodnok is wearing a room in which  he and other characters are attempting to escape from a stick of dynamite, but find themselves still in the room (“Of course! I’m still wearing it!”) until he takes the room off.

Milligan swapped functions between objects haphazardly and to comic effect. Pianos become vehicles of transportation, theater organs become divining machines, two bananas become binoculars, Eccles becomes an omnibus , gorillas become cigarettes (“These gorillas are strong! Here, have one of my monkeys – they’re milder”), photographs of money become legal tender, etc.


The settings for the shows were a revolution in themselves. Rather than the tepid everyday world of Britain in the ’50s, Milligan set most of the shows in foreign locations, especially India, North Africa, South America, the Wild West, places where he had lived or had been posted during WWII, or had been fascinated with when a boy. It gives the shows a “boys’-own-story” atmosphere to the plots, and also an extraordinary sense of realism. The episodes set during wartime and those located in India, highlighted the absurdist humor played out against the realistic backdrops.

Orchestral introductions, links and accompaniment were provided by a hand-picked big band made up of London based session musicians. The arrangements and musical direction were done by Wally Stott from the third to the 10th series. Stott produced many arrangements and link passages, further improved by the first-class sound quality the BBC engineers managed to achieve. Members of the band featured prominently in the comedy proceedings, particularly jazz trombonist George Chisholm who frequently played Scots characters. The show’s concluding music was usually either “Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead” or a truncated and ironic rendition of the Alte Kameraden (Old Comrades’) march, followed by Max Geldray and the Ray Ellington Quartet playing “Crazy Rhythm” as play-out music.





In keeping with the variety requirements of the BBC’s “light entertainment” format, The Goon Show scripts were structured in three acts, separated by two musical interludes. These were provided by the Ray Ellington Quartet—who performed a mixture of jazz, rhythm & blues and calypso songs—and by harmonica virtuoso Max Geldray who performed mostly middle of the road numbers and jazz standards of the 30s and 40s accompanied by the big band. Both Ellington and Geldray also made occasional cameo appearances; Ellington was often drafted in to play stereotypical ‘black’ roles such as a tribal chieftain, native bearer or Major Bloodnok’s nemesis (and counterpoint to Bloodnok’s affliction) ‘The Red Bladder’. Geldray’s roles were short and infrequent, and by no coincidence he was referred to in the show as the world’s worst actor. Both musicians endured constant references to their physical appearance without apparent rancor, mostly Ellington’s skin color and Geldray’s nose – but then again so did Secombe, whose height, girth and/or alleged lack of neck were mentioned in almost every show.


It was in its use of pre-recorded and live sound effects that The Goon Show broke the most new ground. Part of the problem was that “not even Milligan knew how to capture electronically the peculiar sounds that came alive in his head – he just knew when it had not yet happened”. An example of this comes from an often cited story of Milligan filling his two socks with custard in the Camden Theatre canteen, in an attempt to achieve a squelching effect. Milligan asked the BBC canteen ladies to make some custard; they thought he must have some stomach trouble so lovingly made him a fresh custard – which he accepted with thanks and immediately poured into his sock, much to their horror. Secombe recalled “Back in the studio, Spike had already placed a sheet of three-ply near a microphone.” One after the other, he swung them around his head against the wood, but failed to produce the sound effect he was seeking (“So, a sock full of custard and no sound effect!”). Secombe noted that “Spike used to drive the studio managers mad with his insistence on getting the sound effects he wanted. In the beginning, when the program was recorded on disc, it was extremely difficult to achieve the right sound effect. There were, I think, four turntables on the go simultaneously, with different sounds being played on each – chickens clucking, Big Ben striking, donkeys braying, massive explosions, ships’ sirens – all happening at once. It was only when tape came into use that Spike felt really happy with the effects.” An FX instruction in one script read “Sound effect of two lions walking away, bumping against each other. If you can’t get two lions, two hippos will do”. Over time, the sound engineers became increasingly adept at translating the script into desired sounds, assisted from the late 1950s onwards by specialists in the BBC’s newly formed Radiophonic Workshop.

In creation of the Goon shows, long and acrimonious shouting matches occurred between Milligan and BBC managers as he tried to get his own way. Was he a diva? “I was in the Goon Show days”, he told Dick Lester.[46] “I was trying to shake the BBC out of its apathy. Sound effects were ‘a knock on the door and tramps on gravel’ – that was it, and I tried to transform it.” Using techniques already developed by the drama department, he went on to give the show an indelible sense of reality, going out of his way to achieve maximum believability by the use of FX  and Grams, making the show the first comedic production of its kind to try actively to persuade the listeners that the events were real, and especially to create alternate realities or surreal audio imagery that would be impossible to realize visually.

Many of the sound effects created for later programs featured innovative production techniques borrowed from the realm of musique concrète, and using the then new technology of magnetic tape. Many of these sequences involved the use of complex multiple edits, echo and reverberation and the deliberate slowing down, speeding up or reversing of tapes. One of the most famous was the legendary “Bloodnok’s Stomach” sound effect, created by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop to represent the sound of Major Bloodnok’s digestive system in action, which included a variety of inexplicable gurgling and explosive noises. Lewis (1995, p. 218) states Bloodnok’s stomach “was achieved by overlaying burps, whoops from oscillators, water splashes, cork-like pops, and light artillery blasts”. This effect kept turning up on later comedy shows, and can even be heard on a track by The Orb.

As a small boy I did not really get most of the humor at the time (I did later). My favorite character was Eccles (modeled on the voice of Disney’s Goofy). But I do recall how much The Goon Show seeped into our daily lives. We all used the tag lines and could do fair imitations of the voices of Bluebottle and Eccles. Here’s the “The Dreaded Batter Pudding Hurler (Of Bexhill-on-Sea)” as a lead-in to the recipe of the day.

Batter pudding is really a generic term. It means pretty much anything made with egg batter which could include Yorkshire Pudding, Toad in the Hole, or Fruit Batter Pudding. They can all be a bit stodgy if not made right (as befits 1950s Brit cooking), but if you work at it they will be reasonably puffy. My Yorkshire puddings are really light – soak up beef gravy a treat. Here’s my video on making the basic batter:


Here’s a fav of mine:

Apple Batter Pudding

To start you’ll need one batch of egg batter.

Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F.

Put 2 tablespoons of cooking fat (lard), or cooking oil for the health conscious, in a shallow baking dish and heat in the oven for 5 minutes.

Peel, core, and thickly slice 4 cooking apples. Remove the baking dish from the oven (carefully !!) and spread the apples evenly in the hot fat. (You can sprinkle on a little powdered cloves, cinnamon, or allspice if you want). Pour over the batter, making sure it is even.

Bake for 30-40 minutes until browned and well risen (yes, it does rise if you are a good batter maker.

Serve very hot with golden syrup and whipped cream or ice cream.