Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Physics from a ditch

We’re on an oil rig, symbol of the old paradigm, now helping in the new. Over the North Sea there is mist, long muscles of waves pass by 20 metres below us, visible through the grille. Sea spray is on the wind and the machine stands ready, a hulking immovable mass. A few other scientists and engineers are present, a few reporters, families, my wife and son. I say a few words, others too, and then somewhere far up beyond the sky a horizon opens up without fuss and the 2-tonne machine drifts lazily up towards it, as if it was a helium balloon. They cheer.. The smell of, is it ozone? Seaweed? No. Soil? Mud?..

I come to. I’m in a ditch, in the park, in the mud. Soaking wet and shivering. I’m not sure how I came to be here except I feel that the Earth is spinning and not just from the movement of the stars.

I say to myself, ‘If only Galileo could have had a beer, or ten, with the inquisition they might have believed that the Earth moves..’

I look up at the few stars visible through the clouds and wonder drunkenly if mankind will ever overcome its own self-destructiveness and get there. Someone is standing over me

‘Dad? Are you alright?’

‘Oh, fine…!’ I say, peering through a muddy covering. My son is standing there under an umbrella

‘Alright, no. I’ve lost my job and now Mum's thrown me out!’

‘She says to come back now, but why are you in a ditch, Dad?’

‘The best things grow from the mud..’ I say cryptically.

He helps me out and we sit on a park bench under the umbrella. I’m shivering but unwilling to go back to the house to face ‘practicality over big picture’ Mum.

‘Dad. Why did you get fired?’

I tell him the truth, as I always try to do

‘I published a paper proposing something that most people think is impossible. Lots of people told me off, and demanded that I resign.’

‘Is it your inertia machine again?’


‘It seems cool to me.’

Yeah, I don’t see why I have to end up in a ditch over it.’

‘Dad: why don’t we just go home and make one?’.

If we were as optimistic as children we’d be settling the Tau Ceti system by now. Mum is standing a little distance away, with mixed frustration and genuine concern. We all walk home again. The sky clears and the stars sit there, waiting, little lights of possibility in the darkness.

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