I walk into Waterspoons. I don’t want to, it is too stressful but everyone has to suffer from stress these days. It is like being a conscientious objector during the first world war. Every man has to be in uniform or face getting a white feather for ‘cowardice’. I don’t want to get a white feather because I am too afraid to go into a book shop. I go in.
I think it is my brain. I don’t think there is anything wrong with it, it just doesn’t have an off switch or a ‘frankly I don’t give a damn my dear’ mode. Is your brain like this? Is anyone’s brain like this? Let me explain a little. I go into Waterspoons and see an interesting book. I see another interesting book. I need to read them all, I want to put ‘reed’, the word that pops into my head but it is too obvious so I reject it. I have rejected reed but it takes me to Norfolk, the best water reed in the world, then Walter Reed, the military hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, famous for returning vets from Vietnam. Thatcher went there once with Reagan. To repair the roof with Norfolk reed? Vets look after dogs and cats, but why in Vietnam? I hate cats, silly stories and musicals about them, Macafity, Huh!. Very flat in Norfolk says Noel, not many cowards in Vietnam, lots of reeds in Norfolk ‘cos it is very Broad. Good thing I rejected reed. Then I see another so I change departments to avoid the interesting ones. I go to ‘Body, mind and spirit’, that should sort it out but there are many self help books, all with the answer to life’s questions. Why are there different answers, why not just one? There’s one, I wonder, how does that, why do they say that? There is no escape so I go to ‘religion’, that should be fool proof. I start an argument in my head. Why are some priests celibate, don’t they like women, men, children, human bodies? Do they reject sex or just not interested? Is celibacy better than sex? If catholic priests don’t breed they will die out – as they are now – Darwin in action, survival of the survivors. So they don’t / are not fit, for what? Are they just selfish or misogynistic? All of the above? Stop, does it matter, all religio’s are nutters anyway. Use logic, they cannot all be right so ergo they are all wrong or only one is right. Which one? You choose, I cannot.
I silently scream, ‘how can I read all these books? I go to WH. This is easier, a lot is rubbish so no need to reed ( You said you would reject that word, Ed. ) them all. But still there are a lot that are interesting and thousands seemingly, of magazines. Self improvement or Nuts, what is going on? I am sure there is circular logic here, the publishers publish because people buy them, people buy them because they are there. ‘So it goes,’ said Yossarian. Why do I have this compulsion, why can’t I just pick one and read it and then the next? It has always been the same. My childhood, library, no one believed that I read 20 books a week. ‘You can’t read them properly’ they say.
‘You need to get out in the fresh air boy, always with your head stuck in a book tsch!’ Says Granddad, tattoos on arms, back from the war, never talks about it, five years as a POW, in Poland, all thought he was dead for that time, back from the dead. One postcard to his wife and five children after five years to say he was alive and coming home. Lovely man, infinite patience. I remember him rolling round the floor with my children, playing the fool, they loved it, he was nearly 90. Never leaves the village again, loves all things American, they saved his life, liberated him. One pint each Sunday down The Rising Sun, tin of baccy, 2 oz of St Julian, roll ups, happy to be alive. Always had Nestle’s milk in his very strong tea, he went five years with no sugar, making up for it now. Has his knife and fork he carried across Poland, worn out, bent, but he still uses them everyday. He kept a diary on scraps of paper, has a star on a page when he found something to eat, a frozen swede or carrot missed by the harvest. As a child I used to stay with them for a weekend, he always had a kipper for his dinner on a Friday so rolled up his sleeves and put his glasses on to find the bones then put them in a sheet of newspaper. I would ask him, ‘what are all those drawings on your arms?’ He would tell me he hadn’t washed yet, I was baffled for years. If I am ever fed up and hear myself moaning, I think of him in the war and I stop moaning. He lied about his age as he was too old so didn’t have to go but he wanted to do his duty.
So I go out in the fresh air. My mates kick a ball around. I wonder why the grass is green, I look it up, photosynthesis, conversion of sunlight to sugars, magic, chlorophyll molecule, electron path, proteins folding, electrons repulsion, hydrophobia, cause of all life – wonderful. I start to understand, I decide to become a biochemist but don’t know the name. Yesterday was engine driver, I know that name. I understand steam engines, I know and can talk to every part. Boiler tubes, riveted jackets, hydraulic pressure tests, triple expansion, superheater, Boyle’s law but I don’t know the name or the maths, it is a beautiful simplicity. Thomas Trevithick let down by the technology ‘ I can get a shilling between the piston and cylinder’. Tomorrow I am six, plenty of time to learn everything, I have to know, to understand. Why didn’t Thomas use piston rings when he built his tank engine? Perhaps the fat controller stopped him.
Another day, Saturday, A special treat. My Dad takes me to a football match for the first time, Brighton and Hove Albion, Goldstone Ground, go by train. I carry a small stool to stand on, men help me up so I am looking at the same height as their eyes.I am terrified, all those thousands of men, how can I know all their names, where they live, each of their connections, their jobs, wives, children, fathers, one vast spider’s web. All wearing caps, how many of each size? Normal distribution, bell curve? I cannot cope, I refuse to go again. Everyone says I am strange, I don’t like football. I don’t not like football, I am indifferent, They win this week, they lose next week, who cares? I don’t, seems silly.
What is time? Three types of time, past, present and future. Question. How long does the present last until it becomes the past? The present is the gap between past and future, must be very short because the past starts…now. So the present is infinitesimally short and probably doesn’t exist so we only have past and present that touch each other so there is no present so therefore we don’t exist. That’s that one solved then, next!
What is now? Send a person to stand on the sun, ok, be kind, give them asbestos boots, with instructions to shout ‘Now’ at the same time as you. Stand in your garden on a cloudless day and look at the sun through smoked glass. Can you see him? Are you ready? Shout ‘Now’ and wait. 18 minutes later you see him shout back ‘Now’. The question is, ‘why did he wait so long? Look at it from his point of view. He shouted as soon as he saw you shout so his now is 9 minutes after yours but, from your point of view, your now is when you shouted and his now is 18 minutes later. We now (!) have three ‘nows’. Which one is the real ‘now’. Depends on your point of view.
Today’s controversy. Neutrinos have been discovered travelling faster than the speed of light. Was Einstein wrong? No. C = the speed of light in a vacuum. There never is a vacuum even in deep space – how deep is space, stupid expression, space stretches to infinity, or back on itself in every direction. Quantum theory suggests that positron / electron pairs are popping into existence and then cancelling each other out all the time so there is always something in a vacuum, quantum froth. This something will slow particles to less than ‘the speed of light ‘ depending on their mass. Light has a wave / particle duality. If you have an observer then they will be ‘seen’ as the quantum particle equivalent of the wave which is packets of light called photons. Photons must have mass because they have energy so they will be slowed by particles in a vacuum. Neutrinos will be the same in that they will be slowed by any particles in their way. So, if neutrinos are observed to be travelling faster than ‘ the speed of light’, it just means that their mass is less than that of photons. Einstein has not been mocked. He was probably playing dice with god at the time.
Come back Yossarian, all is forgiven. Catch these twenty two questions for me.
© Richard Kefford Eorðdraca
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