The madness of physics

Some years earlier, a boy named Fox had succumbed to over extension in the course of his practice sitting of the Ordinary exams during Christmas term. After some period of hardening to the strain, his mind had deformed under the stress of exam-cram and he had yielded to the load applied. Apparently, his ultimate strength exceeded, he had suffered terrible Poisson contractions and necking, which of course led to yet more true stress. He ruptured; He flung away his sensible shoes, wandered outside, through an extraordinary snow storm, and rushed about the local shopping centre shouting, “Woe to bloody Litchfield, woe to you! The Blues are gonna win five to two!” This was considered absurd behavior. Birmingham having rarely, if ever, beaten Litchfield, and, to the best of anyone’s recollection, it had never been by a such a prime margin.

“The young go into insanity, as the old go into the earth,” Megan said.

Springing to his feet mechanically, Amram continued, “Was he a sly dodger of his mocks, or was he quaking out of his boots at this theatrical rehearsal for O-Level exams?”

Duncan suggested that “some people are just too tightly wound. All he needed was some good old-fashioned smoking, singing, and blood-letting. So, what did the top master do about that little pickle?”

“Apparently Fox told the TM that mock O-Levels were a waste of time designed merely to improve test scores without better preparing the student body for life as it is lived, and besides, you would need to be a wizard to pass the chemistry exam that Doctor Vonnegut had set. The TM told Fox he better take the exams or he would be expelled, and probably get six of the best at the front of great school into the bargain.”

“Sounds like a classic example of speaking power to truth,” Megan and Duncan nodded harmonically.

(1) Top Master = Head master

(2) Great school = School auditorium


About Ian Whatley

Ian Whatley -- British born, bred, educated, and then deported. His fiction has been published in The Legendary, Lost and Found Times, 3S and so on and so on and...

Posted on April 30, 2010, in Ian W and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I feel too stupid to comment on this physics test, however, currently being brunette, I am tempted to see what effects dye has on brain cells. I think a strain of deep-seated meaning nests in this thing – result: an undertone I don’t understand, but reread in hopes to find. Similar to the flex I feel in Joyce. I see the connection in ‘springing…mechanically’ and ‘some people are just too tightly wound.’ And of course goog’d Poisson – I’ll leave those numerous connections for others to search out and enjoy, and admire the wordplay.

    Again, pleasure of a genius to read. Puzzle to the masses, a gourmet plate to be admired and cautiously dissected. I am naturally, a blonde.

  2. That should be “I am, naturally, a blonde.” And might I add, enjoy the subject crossover with English in the Physics.

  3. Fox was a founder of the Society of Friends (quakers) and was prone to spells of irrational action, such as throwing his shoes away in a snow storm and wandering around Litchfield market shouting rude comments about the town.
    A quotation attributed to Fox is:

    “The young go into vanity, as the old go into the earth.”

    When Fox refused to take up arms against the King during the English civil war, Cromwell confronted him and was so impressed with Fox’s deeply held belief against war, that he released him. Fox’s steadfast refusal to back down to the rebel leader became known as “speaking truth to power.”

    Six of the best = six whacks with a cane on the behind.

    As the theory of human adaptation to psychological and physiological challenges developed, it was modeled as analogous with stretching a steel spring – you can deal with some stress and come back undamaged. The word ‘stress’ is still used to talk about the mental challenges in everyday life. The description of the school boy’s breakdown at exam time takes the original spring idea and takes it to the extreme, using the changes seen in a steel wire stress/strain graph.

    O-levels are lampooned in the Harry Potter books as OWLS. Only a wizard would be able to pass such a chemistry test, and a literary wizard who started his career as a chemical engineer was Kurt Vonnegut.

    In Britain thirty years ago, schools carried out mock or practice exams of a higher degree of difficulty than the actual exams. This was effective in improving grades but may also have been cruel and inhumane. What does an exam score tell you about a person’s ability if their grade is achieved partially through rehearsal of the exam format? A common argument was that test scores were a measure of the ability to take exams.

    The Blues (Birmingham City football club) have rarely beaten Litchfield because they have rarely, if ever, played them. 5 to 2 would be a prime margin of 3, as are the two numbers that make up the score.

    Simple harmonic motion is the oscillation of a pendulum or spring that is undamped.

    Yours naturally,
    Amouse Brown

    • Enjoyed this all three times I read it and will enjoy it the next xx times as well! I love the image of his rupturing; I could see and feel the madness those exams induced.

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