I had my first science lesson, after, on the way home from school we passed a paddock where some big blue gums had been cut down. We stopped at a safe distance to watch men blow out the stumps. One would drill a hole, put in the blasting powder, light the fuse and scamper away. There would be an almighty bang, at the same moment the stump would jump and be shattered, all very dramatic. Next day, a fair distance away on my grandfather’s verandah, I watched this activity through his binoculars. The log jumped but it took ages (the term is relative) for the sound to arrive. I asked, ‘why?’ ‘Ask your teacher?’ they suggested.
Next Monday I did. Miss Banks gave the answers. Light waves travel through air faster than sound waves. Intriguing! Captivating! Fascinating! Much more interesting than the normal lessons. That information stuck, is a fundamental component of my mental furniture. ‘How does colour travel?’ And, ‘how does sound go round corners?’ ‘It’s time we did our tables’, said Miss Banks.
I’ve always retained an amateur’s interest in science, especially during my 30s in what I call my science fiction phase. I drove around Britain - from Land’s End to John O Groats - reading Asimov’s Foundation series. Bradbury was a particular favourite. Also Farmer who only recently died. But the doyen was Arthur C Clarke.
I was never into magical fantasy. It was science and its ideas that appealed. One short story called The Cold Equations illustrates its attraction. A far-off planet has a medical emergency. A rocket carrying needed medical supplies is despatched. The sole male astronaut piloting it finds the vehicle is carrying too much weight; there is a stowaway aboard, a young, pretty nurse, her brother is on the stricken planet. Gravely he breaks the news to her. Her weight means the rocket can not get through, and she cannot fly it so she must be sacrificed. He works out the projections and the point at which she will have to climb into the airlock and be ejected into space and immediate death. This tale was a sure-fire lesson with kids. They could understand the logic and appreciate the tragic waste of a young life. At issue were concepts of chivalry, gender roles, ethics and survival of the species. Discussion was nearly always vigorous.
I wrote this poem about a year ago.
Seeks to exchange body -
round shoulders (consequence
of childhood illness & wire
wove mattress), original teeth,
(less than started with) lungs,
(struggling), penis (lust no
longer invasive], mind (in
sound shape except for forget-
fulness about thinking in good
shape) one skin, (thin) ten
toes, tongue, (in cheek), great
capacity for whisky, roast pork
bacon, nectarines, omega plums,
& guacamole with tons of garlic
supplementary maintenance required.
lithe, supple, surefooted, unhesitating one
either sex (might be fun to try the other)
a short-term lease could be considered.
Arthur C. Clarke never proposed this possibility.