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If a man digs half a hole in half an hour….

It took me about three hours to compose this two hundred word fragment of my not quite finished yet work in progress. If it is to be of even a moderate length, I shall need to make plans for living far longer than average.

Duncan could remember with intricate detail the textures and smells of King’s Heath Elementary School, from Madeleine cakes with tea at morning break to the smell of the dusty volumes of forgotten French literature that were stacked in a cupboard known as The Library, and yet he had trouble recalling anything beyond the names of some of the teaching staff. Except for the thighs that carried her through a single Olympic heat – and that was twenty years earlier – the body of Miss Magee presented nothing extraordinary. A moment came to his mind: The class diligently drew their maps of Britain, some more diligently than others.

“Right-o, pencils down now. You should all have finished by now,” she glanced blandly about the room. “Bibi, why are you still drawing?”
“Please miss, I still have to go around all the twiddly bits in Scotland.”

Miss Magee raised her nondescript eyebrows above her colorless eyes, “Then why has everybody else finished? The length of the coastline of Britain doesn’t change however you draw it.”

“Please miss, it only took Barry a minute to draw his because he made it look like a potato. Britain isn’t a potato, miss; there are all these crinkulations and wobtrusions. My coastline is much longer than the one Barry drew, so it takes me longer to draw.” Bibi’s defiance was distinctive and for a moment made Miss. Magee memorable, if unremarkable.

Notes:

The flavor of Madeleline cake dipped in tea is the trigger for the cascade of recollections in Marcel Proust’s multi-volume Remembrance of Things Past.

The first sentence of a Passage to India by E.M.Foster reads, “Except for the Marabar Caves – and they are twenty miles off – the city of Chandrapore presents nothing extraordinary.” Whilst the sentences are of almost identical structure, the earlier one has been transformed to have a very different meaning and aesthetic effect. Transformation is the theme of this work in progress.

The more accurately you measure a coastline, the longer it is. The coastline paradox is the counterintuitive observation that the coastline of a landmass does not have a well-defined length. This results from the fractal-like properties of coastlines first observed by Lewis Fry Richardson.

crinkulations = crinkles plus crenulations

wobtrusions = wobbles plus protrusions

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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