Monday, 6 February 2012

Latterly, physics.

A Boy. Mull.

When an object moves sideways, horizontal or parallel to the source of gravity, at a constant velocity, the effect of gravity on the object is independent of the object's lateral movement.

So, whilst engaged in a pre decided battle of maths with my nemesis in the main body of the school, cold winter afternoons were spent in far more enjoyable and understandable ways.

Physics was taught in post war Prefab buildings known as the 'Huts'. Concrete and steel bunkers set in wasted playground space, just low enough to be scaled in rubber soled shoes. Just narrow enough to prevent the concealment of a prone schoolboy hiding on the asbestos roof, from the police.

In retrospect, it is tempting to think that the Art, Physics and Music that were taught in the huts were more liberal and humorous sessions due to their physical distance from the great toad squat bulk of the main school. Less likely than internal classrooms to receive visits from the rector or prefects bearing bad news and/or summonses. More close knit and comfortable due to our sense of isolated camaraderie.

On initial inspection these were cold and forbidding places, The Huts. For years, I assumed that the enthusiasm of the teachers who inhabited them was due to their adventurous spirit. I now realise, it was due to the meanness of spirit demonstrated by senior staff that demanded young, newly qualified and enthusiastic teachers start their careers in isolation. Away from central heating and out of earshot as their classes fell into chaos. They seldom did. 
I like to think that the imposition of discomfort backfired on the seniors. As many of them languished in tedium in over heated, musty oak panelled classrooms, we and our near contemporaries in teaching robes were kept sharp and playing together outside. Altogether healthier learning environments.

My weekly boarding home. Kilbowie Hostel.

Keen eyed readers may have already discerned the foundation of my physics lessons was couched in the fascination afforded by Lily Cowan's bust, its movement and the lack of it. It was the sideways movement that fascinated me.

In primary school, my voracious reading had revealed basic facts about the physical universe. Lily's provision of Victorian and Edwardian reading books gave a fabulously diverse view of the world and our influence on our small lunar system. Distances were expressed in Rods Chains and Perches. Weights in Pecks, Bushels and Grains. Friction was demonstrated by the burning wooden axles of Greek slave driven carts tumbling downhill from battles purposely lost and Gravity by Newton sitting waiting under an apple tree. The significance of mass and attraction interested me. I had read of the Galileo falling weight experiment and was not impressed by Newton really. Galileo had gone to the trouble of climbing the Tower of Pisa and dropping weighted spheres. Newton merely sat and waited for the truth to appear from nature. Or so I was told by the editors of these Readers.

Dropping the balls. Pisa.

A Buoy. Mull
For me, Gravity was already something wonderful and mysterious. (enhanced by the bending of a rubber sheet by cricket balls as shown on Open University programmes by doctor this or that, looking for all the world like a member of ZZ Top). I had a sense of it's purveying all our space and spaces. Bending time and light. I understood the nature of Red Shift and the Doppler effect, absorbing these from stories by Clarke and and Asimov, watching the sky and sea become one peach glow as the sun set over our loch, emptying the world of its horizon and unifying all my simple theories.

The day our teacher showed that gravity exerted more effect on dropped mass than lateral travel I realised the germ of my lifelong affection for the little things that make a difference. In Lily's sweep across the classroom floor, no movement north to south could be discerned but expansive sways to left and right bore simple witness to these forces and their effect on momentum. The appearance and disappearance of her pearl and heather brooch beneath her cardigan, a measure of the speed and moment of her carriage.Lily was a walking accellerometer. A Pilotless coastal freighter. Plying the same course, day in day out and teaching all the time. Whether she knew it or not.

2 comments:

Julie Logue said...

A brilliant investment of your time and dedication to the growth of your blog. I hope it inspires others to write.....

StLouisMan2 said...

Have you ever submitted your poetry or prose to a periodical for publication?