One barrier to achieving a comprehensive understanding of the universe is the problem of just how unbearably dull it is.
Granted, there are bits of space that are deliciously rocky, bits that are worryingly greasy and dirty great chunks that are excitingly wobbly, but most of it is pretty much nothing at all.
Or at least, that's what everyone thought until an amateur astronomer from Penzance came up with the notion of 'dark batter'.
It smells of vanilla
This strange, insubstantial, almost mystical combination of flour, milk and space eggs is invisible to the naked eye, undetectable by telescopes, unheard of by serious physicists and unconscionable to the great majority of serious minded individuals. Nevertheless, Wendy Miller, the theory's original, most vocal and only proponent, continues to tirelessly promote its existence.
She is also 75% confident that it smells of vanilla.
Not everyone shares her enthusiasm. "Wendy Miller!" snarls Dr Hannibal Cheeseblender whenever her name is mentioned. "Wendy Miller!" he wails in a cracked voice, pitiable enough to make hardened villains weep. "Wendy Bleeding Miller!"
Dr Cheeseblender, of the National Institute for Astrophysics on Tuesdays, has good reason to react with such unbridled despair. Never a month goes by without Ms Miller turning up on the polished marble doorstep of the Institute's plush headquarters, armed with some goofball theory that the planets are made of chocolate, stars are mostly sherbet and that space-time itself is nothing more than a complex type of four-dimensional nougat.
"Just last Tuesday she was here," howls Dr Cheeseblender. "She had deduced from careful measurements of the Earth's 'wobbliness' - her word - that the core of the planet consists of superheated ice cream, kept under constant pressure by a latticework of wafers in the upper mantle." Dr Cheeseblender puts his head in his hands and sighs. "Raspberry ripple, apparently... the ice cream."
"You know what the problem is?" he continues, with a sudden burst of energy. "The real problem? She keeps getting in here, that's what the bleeding problem is. It's that cow on reception who's to blame. Every Tuesday I say to her, 'June,' I say. That's her name, June. 'Remember June, if that bloody woman shows up, tell her I'm not in. Tell her I'm on holiday. Tell her I'm dead, whatever, just don't let her get over the threshold.'
"And so what does my receptionist do? She shows her straight through to my office every time, the bitch. It's only because I wouldn't give her a raise."
Yet to be detected
Ms Miller believes she is right to be persistent, claiming that her theory is the only reasonable explanation for why so much of the predicted mass of the universe has yet to be detected.
Dark Batter is all around us, threading its way through the fabric of space-time. It is rarely detected, although Miller claims to have found concentrations of it in chocolate, pastries, cakes and various other assorted confections.
For proof she points to the fact that in the last six years she has gained 60 pounds, developed hideously greasy skin and is now unable to leave the house without the more mobile sections of her anatomy getting caught in the door on the way out.
Dr Cheeseblender does not dispute this evidence, but is at odds with her interpretation. "She is an extraordinarily irritating 35-year-old loner, a stultifyingly dull conversationalist with the most unenlightened attitude to personal hygiene I have ever come across," he tells us when asked to venture an opinion.
"She surrounds herself with cats, anaesthetises her mind with television and tacky romance novels, and eats to excess because cakes are the only friends she has. Whilst I am quite prepared to believe that she personally may be harbouring the greater percentage of the universe's missing mass, as far as her theory is concerned it is sheer bunk."
Dr Cheeseblender has responded to her seemingly unstoppable enthusiasm by having the doors narrowed, which has effectively eliminated any possibility of her entering the building. It hasn't prevented her, however, from investing in a megaphone and she has now taken to standing beneath Dr Cheeseblender's office window, from which position she regularly updates him, and many of his neighbours, with her latest experiments in thinking.
A lifelong love of pies
Ms Miller may have failed to impress Dr Cheeseblender, but Christopher Bodice of Swindon is evidently more easily pleased. Like Miller, Bodice is a keen amateur who lacks formal qualifications, social skills and an awareness of basic hygiene. He has combined an interest in physics with a lifelong love of pies to come up with a theory as to why his carpets are always covered in crumbs.
Bodice believes that at a quantum level individual atoms of pastry have a natural antipathy to one another - a kind of hypersensitivity that results in a repulsive force that can overcome the molecular bonds. He calls this force 'Dark Allergy' because he thinks he's being clever.
Dark Allergy, so he says, solves the eternal riddle of why vol-au-vents don't collapse inwards and why pork pies have been observed to blow their lids under extreme pressure. Bodice tested his theory by placing two sausage rolls in his fridge overnight, expecting them to repel each other. The results were even more dramatic than expected, for when he checked on the experiment the following morning he found that one of the sausage rolls had disappeared completely, leaving nothing but a trail of crumbs leading up to his bedroom.
Failed to excite interest
And like Ms Miller, Bodice has also failed to excite the interest of Dr Cheeseblender. This, he believes, is a great pity as he thinks the potential for his theory is quite extraordinary if the energy can be harnessed properly.
Already Bodice has used the repulsive force of pastry to accelerate a Cornish pasty to over 200 miles per hour, and has turned a ham slice into a devastatingly dangerous projectile capable of punching through a six-inch-thick sheet of hardened steel.
However, he has in mind more peaceful applications of his discovery and given adequate funding he is confident that the principal can be developed for space exploration. Pastry, he believes, will revolutionise modern rocketry, providing more powerful propulsion, better control and lunch.
Won't Cheeseblender reconsider? Apparently not.
"I used to be a serious scientist," said Dr Cheeseblender on Tuesday. "I gave lectures at the Royal Institute, corresponded with Nobel Prize winners and now... now... Now, I deal with crackpots, lunatics, fruitcakes, screwballs, delusionists, nut-monkeys, twenty-four hour loon-mongers, lamebrains, window lickers, cross-eyed drool bandits, high-speed mentalisimos, wind-assisted super-unleaded...
"WILL SOMEONE PLEASE GO AND TAKE THAT MEGAPHONE AWAY FROM THAT MAD OLD TROUT OUTSIDE! ...Thank you... Now... What was I saying?"