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Friday, 4 October 2013

Relatives and relativity

"See that makes me feel stupid," I say, as I sip an iced gin and tonic, with two slices of lime, out on the patio in Susan's garden, and lose the thread of yet another story about someone's sister's husband's brother-in-law, who's been caught cheating on his wife with his young secretary, the bastard.

"It would take me three hours with a pencil and paper to work out how all those relatives are connected," I tell her. "My brain hurts just listening to it."

"It's not complicated," Susan says. "You know Gillian, the psychiatric nurse who's married to David and has a house in Livingston?"

"Yes," I say.

"Well her sister Paula has a husband Tony, who has a half-sister called Bernadette, who is married to Phil, who is shagging his secretary in the local Travelodge every Friday evening after work."

"I don't know any of those people," I say, feeling the familiar panic rise in my throat, as I desperately try to follow the long chain of convoluted connections and wonder why I have to.

"Everyone I know can figure out who's related to whom in that kind of story better than I can," I say. "My brain can't do relatives. It's defective."

"No more than most guys'," Susan says, patting me patronisingly. "Male brains get confused by relatives. Doesn't make you inferior. You, for instance, are great at changing tyres, opening jam-jars and tightening things with your forty-piece socket set."

"I am," I say, slightly reassured and trying to sip slowly. But my tall glass is almost empty already. "This is a lovely G and T," I say.

"Hendrick's gin and Fever-Tree tonic," she says. 

"Slips down easier than a greased weasel in a rabbit-hole. What makes you feel stupid then?"

She hesitates, squirming slightly. "I'd have to say science. I know it's you're specialist subject and you love it. But it doesn't interest me and I don't understand it. So it makes me feel kinda stupid."

"I could teach you to like it," I say.

"I doubt it," she says. "Could I teach you to know who your mother's sister's nephew is? Or watch a film with more than four characters, without pausing it every five minutes and going, "Who the hell is she?"

"Probably not," I say.

"Well then," she says.

"But I would like to talk to you about science," I say.

"Go on then," she says. "But make it interesting. Tell me about the people."

I take a tiny sip and wonder where to start. There's Richard Feynman, of course, who chased women, played the bongos and invented quantum electrodynamics.

Then there's Rosalind Franklin, who died young and was cheated out of the greatest scientific discovery of modern times by two young punks called Crick and Watson.
But it's no contest really. "Listen to this," I say. "All powers of mind, all force of will may lie in dust when we are dead, but love is ours, and shall be still, when earth and seas are fled."

"That's lovely," she says. "What's it got to do with science?"

"The man who wrote the poem to his wife that ends with that verse was James Clerk Maxwell," I tell her. "Scotland's greatest scientist. He also died young. But not before creating the science that Einstein used to figure out the Theory of Relativity."

"Relativity?" she says. "How long did it take them?"

"From Maxwell to Einstein, forty years," I tell her.

"They should have asked their wives," she says. "They'd have figured it out in four seconds."

1 comment:

  1. At least England's best scientist, Newton, invented the catflap!