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Dear Secret Santa


Later this month, I will be attending a Fake Xmas Day with a few friends, in which we will be participating in the years-old tradition of giving gifts to other people in a clandestine and covert fashion according to the official rules for International Secret Santa-ball.

Since one participant has already remarked upon how I deserve little but coal this Christmas, I write here a heartfelt letter to my Clandestine Claus to discuss and develop the consequences of getting me nothing but some lumps of black Carbon this Wintermas festival. If you’re up for the journey, I’d love for you to join me.



Dear Secret Santa, 

According to housefuel.co.uk and their standard coal sale price of £0.24/kg (based on a rate of £240 for 1 tonne), for my Secret Santa present of up to £10 value, I can be looking forward to (at best) 41.67 kg of coal from you this Christmas. This is, of course, assuming that you spend the whole £10 allocation, and that you also purchase this in the context of another £230 worth of coal – let’s say that you don’t like me quite that much or I’ve been annoying to you recently, so let’s round that down to 40 kg of coal for my £10 gift.

According to euronuclear.org, 1 kg of coal burns to give 8.13 kWh so with my 40 kg, I can look forward to getting 325.20 kWh of electricity for my money (or, more accurately, my Secret Santa’s money). Of course, I don’t have an coal-burning generator, but there’s teething troubles with any plan.

Given that my living room has two primary lightbulbs, each using 42 W (energy-saving equivalent of 60 W), then I can use my 40 kg sack of coal to fully illuminate my living room for 3,871 hours; or 161 full days. However, since I don’t generally need to have the lights on for at least 8 hours a day, I could afford to fully illuminate my living room for 16 hours a day for 241 days. Assuming that I don’t need to heat my flat (it’s okay, I’ve got lots of jumpers), eat anything (I guess if I get hungry, I could start eating the coal) or provide any additional entertainment or amusement (I have books and board games that don’t need any power), then my £10 sack of coal would likely keep me basking in photons until at least June, depending on solar conditions. I guess I could burn the empty sack as well when the coal runs out, to give me an extra hour or two of brightness.

Of course, the coal-burning generator will probably take up a significant amount of my living room and make it very difficult to invite guests over (the noise and heat and smoke will also not be good for dinner parties), but since I will want to be saving all the available photons for myself, it is likely that I wouldn’t be inviting friends around anyway. Given that using some of the coal to heat water would also be an extravagant waste, I likely wouldn’t be able to take any baths or showers anyway, so guests may not want to be in my company in any case. The diet of cold beans and Ryvita crackers that I would have to embark upon would also probably not help to endear myself to those around me.

How will £10-worth of of coal compare with my standard electricity tariff though, I hear you ask? Well, according to average electricity tariffs from ukpower.co.uk, 1 kWh would cost me approximately 10 pence, therefore the equivalent coal price would equate to an extra 14 pence per kWh; or £1.14 more than simply using the standard National Grid input for 8.13 kWh. I suppose that this is an added expense for my Secret Santa that accurately embodies the festive spirit and goodwill to all men.

But what about wrapping? Either my gift-giver wraps the entire sack of coal (which contains the 40 kg of coal itself), or wraps each lump of coal individually. Let’s take a look at the relative expense of doing each option:

1. Wrap the Entire Sack

– For this, I am going to assume that the coal is going to be held in a 50 kg jute/hessian sack, along the lines of (http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Jute-Hessian-Sacks-25kg-50kg-Potato-Storage-Sacks-Easy-Carry-Veg-Storage-Bags-/231381893840?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_3&var=&hash=item35df6f82d0). This sack is 43×23.5″, or 109x59cm. Theoretically, this would then require a minimum of 0.64 square metres of wrapping paper to wrap the sack; perhaps more if the sack bulges/stretches due to the weight of coal. For the sake of argument, let’s say that you need 0.7 square metres.

According to amazon.co.uk, one 2×0.7 m roll of wrapping paper (1.4 square metres) costs approx. £1; therefore to wrap the sack itself, you would need to use half a roll, at a cost of around 50 pence. In this calculation, I have not included the cost of sellotape and/or bows/ribbons, which I assume that everyone keeps in bulk at home and close-at-hand for any wrapping emergency.

The gift is now complete.

2. Wrap Each Lump Individually

– To investigate this, I went to my parent’s shed and looked at their stocks of coal. Taking a single lump at random, I found that it was approx. 4.5 cm in diameter (assuming roughly spherical, which is a big assumption) and weighed approx. 52 g. Extrapolating, this would mean that there are approximately 770 lumps of coal in the sack, each with a surface area of (6.36 x 10^-3) square metres, giving a total surface area of 4.9 square metres.

Using the same maths as for Option 1, this would require around 3.5 rolls of wrapping paper, costing £3.50. Naturally, I have not taken into account the wrapping time taken to embark upon this endeavour, which would of course be considerable, unless my you are able to delegate this task to your resident House-Elf. I would, of course, rate how much my you like me as a friend based upon whether you decide to wrap the sack or wrap each lump individually, and base all future gift-giving to them on this observation. The quality of wrapping will, of course, also be ruthlessly judged and scrutinised and a total score returned to you at some point in the New Year.


So, what’re the conclusions?

Well, the primary one is that – for the purpose of making use of my gift of 40 kg coal – I will be required to invest in a coal-burning electricity generator. In conducting this research, I had considerable difficulty in finding any available power plants for sale. Apparently Battersea Power Station was last sold for £400Million according to Wikipedia, but since Battersea is out of commission and would require significant refurbishment in order to make it coal-running again, I would estimate that a cost in excess of £500Million would be necessary in order for me to translate my 40 kg of coal into available electricity. Since Battersea could apparently consume over 1 Million tonnes of coal per year, this gives a hourly coal consumption rate of 114 tonnes. This would mean that it would take approximately 1.26 seconds to burn 40 kg. Therefore, your very kind gift of £10-worth of coal would take the same amount of time to be consumed by heat as it takes for light to travel from the Moon’s surface to the Earth.

Of course, you could just buy me Trent Reznor’s and Atticus Ross’ glorious soundtrack for Gone Girl instead, which would provide me with many more hours or entertainment and amusement, but I guess it’s really up to you.

Yours tediously,


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Turkish Delight

The following post is not my work, but the recent adventures of one my friends, who posted this story on Facebook yesterday within a bunch of status updates and photo uploads. It’s pretty much the funniest thing I’ve heard all year, and so thought that it deserved to be archived and documented for future generations to enjoy.

I don’t claim any authorship of the work (props instead should go to Trim McKenna), but I’ve just edited a few minor grammatical/punctuation stuff here and there and broken things up into paragraphs in an attempt to carry the suspense.

Just… enjoy.

How I Spent My Day Today by Tristan McKenna, age 32 1/2

Yesterday I broke the handle of my tap. I phoned the landlord and he said he would send a plumber first thing this morning. Mr Plumber turns up at 10am with a cheeky smile and a firm grasp of the Turkish language but sadly no English. Takes a hammer to the tap and promptly destroys it. Realises he hasn’t turned the water off which explains the new 6ft fountain I have where my tap used to be…

Mr Plumber calmly explains “tap broken” and leaves whistling a merry Turkish tune. My bathroom is now flooding. I wrap the broken tap with a towel to stop the impending catastrophic flood and await his return.
30 minutes later he returns armed with a hammer, a chisel, a sorry looking expression and a new tap. Again I hear hammering and what I assume are Turkish swear words.

He comes out drenched and says “must turn water off.” I agree wholeheartedly.

Plumber heads outside to main water main armed with his trusty hammer and chisel… (Can you guess where this is going?)

Mr Plumber manages to turn the water off but with a rather terrifying cracking sound. He returns to my flooded bathroom again whistling his merry Turkish tune and affixes the new tap. “Finished!” He exclaims!

“When are you turning my water back on?” I ask. He looks at me puzzled…

Mr Plumber goes back outside. His cheeky smile replaced with a look of terror, his bronzed complexion turns ashen. He looks up at me like a naughty puppy and says one soul destroying word…


I am now very sad. I ask Mr Plumber: “What the fuck?!” He jumps up and says, “I fix! I fix!”

I say “you’re fucking right pal!”

Mr Plumber phones a friend in animated Turkish and sure enough, 30 minutes later his friend armed with a shovel arrives…

I watch in horror. After an hour of intensive digging and lots of Turkish ‘to me, to you…’ antics, they finally give up, have a quick look round and fuck off. I am left with a broken water main, a large hole and a rather fetching shovel. FML, I exclaim.

I phone the landlord and explain the nearly 3 hours of comedy plumbing to which I have bore witness. He is apologetic and explains they are family friends. I explain in explicit detail just what I am going to do to them and indeed him with that shovel when I get my hands on them…

I then, dejectedly phone Thames Water – the legal owners of that lovely water main. They are thankfully amused by my tale and offer to send some guys over to fix my pipe and restore running water to me and the 4 or 5 neighbours who have begun to come outside and ask me just why they can no longer drink tea or bathe their festering children. It dawns on me that, because we have no water, I still have no idea if the new tap actually, y’know, works.

8 hours later, Thames Water arrive. They don’t seem happy to be working so late. My neighbours are not happy that they have gone the best part of a day without water. I am obviously not the most popular person right now.

Thames Water then turn on some rather loud machines and are cutting into the main. Judging by the comments they are shouting to each other the mains is “fucked” and whomever touched it earlier is “a fucking twat”. I couldn’t agree with them more.

Following the intervention of Thames Water, the mains is fixed and water returns to my home! A mere 12 hours after Mr Plumber came round to fix a broken tap handle.

The job is not finished yet though. Poor weather and lighting means that we now have a 6 foot hole right outside our gate that can’t be filled until tomorrow… [the end]

Obviously, this story raised a lot of tittering and discussion of similar ‘Turkish Plumber’ stories, of which another friend said this (and also had me in stitches):
I think this one-ups my inept plumber story. In the space of two weeks fitting a bathroom in my student house, Gregor the Plumber:
– painted a window closed
– blocked our sink with paint
– blocked our toilet with brick dust
– filled our wheelie bin with the tiles he’d taken off the walls, rendering it too heavy to move or lift
– brought his six-year-old son to work and let him have free rein of our house
– didn’t turn up for for four days, then arrived late one afternoon, explained that he’d not been working because he’d been busy drinking and having sex with English women, and gave us a six-pack of beer not to tell the landlord he’d been slacking

Stereotypes, eh? grin🙂
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