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Friday, 31 May 2013

Maxwell's waves

Leaves on the water. James Clerk Maxwell.

So I'm stood on a sandbank by the side of the Kelvin, throwing stones in the water and making waves for my son to photograph, when he tells me I'm doing it wrong. "Too many splashes," he says. "Pretend you're a girl. Throw underarm."

Well I give it a go and I'm not very good. Whether it's lack of practice being a girl, or discomfort that macho walkers with big dogs can see me, I just can't land the stones in the right place for the composition he's aiming at. 

"What was that?" he demands, dropping the camera from his eyes and looking across unadmiringly. "There!" he says, familiar impatience with me rising to the surface, as he indicates a spot no more than ten feet away. "Can you see where I'm pointing?"

"I can see it," I tell him. "I just can't hit it."

"You couldn't hit a cow's arse with a banjo," he says. "Gimme the stones and I'll throw with one hand and take the photos with the other. You go stand under a tree and try to stay out of the shot."

So I stand under a tree and ponder the reversal of roles that age brings to parenting. There once was a time, not that long ago, when my word was law. 

Nah, that's not true. Little bugger always did more or less what he wanted. I remember him sat at the table at the age of three, for half an hour once, flatly refusing to say the one word that would release him, to get on with his life. Thrawn doesn't even begin to describe him, from the day he was born.

But at least there was once some recognition that, as the elder partner, I had some expertise that he hadn't. I taught him to cross the road when he was four, ride a bike when he was six and drive a car when he was seventeen. I had a role once. 

Now it seems my role is to get out of the way when he's being creative and to constantly remind him of things he's forgotten. Well not actually forgotten. It's just less effort for him to retrieve stuff from my brain than from his.

"So what's this all about again?" he calls, seemingly satisfied with his one-handed photography.

"I told you five minutes ago," I say, pulling myself off the tree and wandering across the sand. "We're looking for images to illustrate a lovely poem about James Clerk Maxwell."

"Who?"  he says.

"Exactly!" I say. "Only one of the greatest physicists who ever lived. And he belonged to Scotland. But nobody here knows anything about him. It's a disgrace."

"Calm down," he says. "You're getting the dogs excited. What did this guy do?"

"Unified electricity and magnetism. Proved light was electromagnetic radiation. Gave us field theory, which underpins all modern physics. Made the theoretical breakthroughs that led directly to relativity."

"Sounds quite a guy," he says. 

"He was," I say. "Einstein had a photo of him on his study wall. So our plan is to run a bunch of events and activities that will raise the profile of James Clerk Maxwell, until he's as well-loved as Robert Burns."

He studies me sceptically, while packing his camera in its hold-all and slinging it over his shoulder. "Lemme get this right," he says.

"On the one hand there's this handsome country boy who wrote wonderful love songs and broke women's hearts. On the other you've a bearded Victorian gent who invented electromagnetic field theory?"

"That's it," I say.

"And you want ordinary punters to be as crazy about both?"

"Yeah," I say. "What do you think?"

"I think you've as much chance of winning the women's shot put at the next Olympics," he says, striding off along the sandbank.

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