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Wick (Cumming Bros): Week 9 – 27 January

Wait—you mean it’s still only January? Boy, this year’s off to a slow start, huh?

TS Eliot famously summed up the burden of human consciousness and the yearning for a simpler kind of existence in two of the most perfect lines in English poetry: “I should have been a pair of ragged claws/ Scuttling across the floors of silent seas”. And never have I felt more like a quick scuttle than this week, upon reading two science stories in the news—each of which have gone a fair way to boggling what sometimes passes in a dim light for my mind.

Leaf of Grass – double exposure of a hillside

The first of them concerns our old friend, low-level nuclear waste. Apparently scientists are experimenting with extracting carbon-14, a radioactive isotope, from the waste being cleaned from Britain’s nuclear power stations. If you combine this isotope with a special type of diamond that generates an electrical field in the presence of radioactive material, you create a “nuclear powered battery” offering “near infinite power”. And if you encase radioactive material in a diamond there’s no risk of it escaping. It’s early days, so who knows: but wouldn’t it be great if we could turn a problem like nuclear waste into a solution?

To be frank, I don’t really understand this, any more than I understand how a biro works or why ocean liners float—some things man is just not meant to know—so as we now turn to particle physics you should probably have some big pinches of salt ready. Anyway, there’s this big question in physics, namely: why does the universe seem to be expanding faster over time instead of slowing down? The concept of “dark energy” has been suggested to explain this, a mysterious force we haven’t discovered yet. But there is another theory, which is that gravity itself might be driving the expansion of the universe. (No, me neither.) But the bit that stopped me cold was this throwaway comment: The physicist developing the theory “is interested in the speed of gravity, which has never been directly measured and which the theory predicts could in some circumstances be faster than light…” At which point all I can do is take a deep breath, get up, go outside and look at the stars, assuming it’s night, and not cloudy, which is actually pretty rare up here, and wonder how I dare have any opinions at all given how vanishingly small my experience and comprehension of the universe really is.

First snowdrop of Spring

Well, let us avert our gaze from the heavens to something closer to home: a gansey, to keep us warm when stargazing. I’m pushing to get it done now and am making good progress down the first sleeve, helped by my cold finally beginning to shift properly. (No longer do my handkerchiefs resemble what I like to think of as primordial soup and my cough is no more that of an asthmatic sheep being goosed on a frosty morning.) This next week should see the second sleeve begun, and then we really are on the home straight.

Finally this week, just because we can, here are some more British gritter names to cheer us all up. Ready? Gritty Gritty Bang Bang, Gritsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Anti-Slip Machiney, Sir Salter Scott, Spready Mercury andwait for it – David Plowie. Makes me prouder than a blue passport, honestly…

8 comments to Wick (Cumming Bros): Week 9 – 27 January

  • Felcity

    Gordon, where can I get that diamond, please? In California a lot of us are trying to get off the grid. Besides, I need a diamond ring.

    • Gordon

      Hi Felicity, I’ll let them know we’re willing to test the prototypes! (The idea of a pacemaker battery you can wear on your finger and look fantastic looks more appealing by the minute…)

  • =Tamar

    The diamond sounds interesting but I can imagine some fool stealing it.
    Gritsy Bitsy, without the rest, sounds the best. Most of the others will run into trademark issues.

    I hope my cold lets up soon. I haven’t had one this bad for a long time.

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, they’re going to be tiny, I think the kind of thing that would power a cell phone, or drive a satellite out across the universe, maybe even enough to power my burning sense of injustice at the vagaries of Fate…

  • I bet your physicist’s talents don’t include Gansey wisdom

    • Gordon

      Hi Meg, funny you should say that: I was recorded today for Wick Voices, talking about ganseys, about which more anon. I offered to discuss particle physics instead, but Doreen was curiously reluctant!

  • Dave

    Sorry to say but the duracell bunny will still die.

    • Gordon

      Hi Dave, didn’t you know? The Duracell Bunny has been played by several hundred bunny actors down the years, like James Bond or Doctor Who. The only difference is, when Sean Connery retired, he didn’t end up as Sunday dinner…

      James Bond: Do you expect me to talk?
      Goldfinger: No Mr Bond, I expect you in a pie…

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