Free spirits

2009-09-26 00:00

WELL, yes, say I, teachers are a busy lot. I should know, I come from a family of the buggers, from pre-primary to university, and they’ve all of them always had the same kvetch: If only I had all this time to myself instead of … Naturally they didn’t want to say out loud “instead of casting pearls before swine” for fear of being given an eight-hour office job somewhere with no such schweinerei to clutter things up. But their buddies in the education industry would nod sagely and inwardly murmur … Some pearls! some swine! I myself would thus kvetch, and dream of endless pearly days ’neath a cool garden sunshade with tall glasses of cane and mango juice plus piles of advanced reading and a nearby fast-food takeaway for the material side of things. Alas! No sooner would such pearly days arrive in June than vast ten-kay shoals of sardines would appear off the Natal coast. Then the great gaping warm empty deep-freeze piteously would gasp from the kitchen: Shad, barracuda, for Goddes sake, fish! And when such pearly days arrived in December, round about Dingaan’s Day, Peter would phone for sure from his river cottage in the Berg and announce a one-kay shoal in the Bushman’s. Then the g.g.w.e. deep-freeze would piteously gasp from the kitchen: Trout, trout, in Chrystes name trout!

But indeed every dog has his day. I had mine in Durbs Central, back of the old Railway Station, quite nice and warm in midwinter June. The ’boes, aka Road Inspectors, known to each other as Roaming Romeos, they would hoof it down from Joburg and the bitter Highveld cold and do some public indecency like pee on a tree in the Medwood Gardens back of the Post Office in Durbs and get gripped by the City Police and stuck in Central where for six weeks they’d have a blanket and a felt mat and hot porridge and tepid soup and cabbage and the flesh of some beast unknown to zoology, with skin. This their winter holiday. But never do theft and the like, hey; for real crime you push real time, in years, whereas for tree-peeing, if the weather was still bad after six weeks, why, you could go and pee on another tree, see? Anyway, here I am amongst the outies, free of swine so I can contemplate some pearls of my own. I lie supine on my mat on a warm Sunday afternoon. Next to me lies a certain R. Romeo name of Kloppers. His right arm is over his head and he strokes his nose from the left. Why do you stroke your nose thus? I ask. No it’s nice, says Kloppers, it feels like somebody else is doing it. Also it is a nice long nose and it makes me think of Albert Einstein. Bloody hell, say I.

Nemmine, says Kloppers. Einstein said you can’t travel at the speed of light, see. Of course maybe at that speed relative to him in he’s office you have slowly moved into another universe, but even hisself couldn’t think about something which doesn’t exist in this universe, which makes things nice and simple for us simple folks, dunnit? The faster you travel from he’s office the more slowly your time passes relative to hisself back there, the shorter your length gets and the greater your mass, until when you hit 300,000 kays per second you have infinite mass, zero length and zero time, which means you don’t exist at all. Well not according to ol’ Albert in his office. According to NASA’s Chuck Somebody inside your flying saucer it’s the office that doesn’t exist any more. But if juuust before300,000 kays a second he sends a radio message back home it will arrive in zero time because radio travels at the speed of light, so NASA would know exactly where Chuck is right now. See?

Well, no, say I. Nemmine, says Kloppers. The photons of light that left a galaxy 13,7 billion light-years away took you zero time to arrive here if you’re one of the photons, but they tell Einstein in he’s office how things were 13,7 billion years ago in that galaxy. Okay, and the photons that left our next star Alpha Centauri 4,3 light years away tell me how it was on A. Centauri 4,3 years ago, and in the case of the moon how it was there 1,2 seconds ago, and in the case of the end of my nose here a helse tiny little fraction of a second ago, but NOT NOW! There is no such thing as the present, as soon as something happens it’s in the past. But I want my nose to be with me in the present in Durbs Central, hey, so then I must agree with the photons, they say there’s no such thing as the past. The past is in the human brain. It is a work of art. No science. Says Kloppers.

Every astrophysicist should do time with the ’boes in Durbs. For pearls. To stabilise the mind.

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