Of course the depravation back then was McCourtesque, except the weather was better. We had nothing to read, bar what we’d write ourselves on the walls of the one room from which the furniture had been sold, in order to further our education by clearing the space. That presumes you HAD a wall, of course, which, owing to the topological limitations of three-dimensional space in which we are compelled to spend our few years on Earth, most of us had’nt.
Using a stout 2H pencil strapped with sellotape to the handle of the sweeping twig, I could do joined writing on the ceiling, while balanced upon a wicker chair. The younger ones fought over rights to the floor skirting, graduating up the wall with the passing years.
Well we watched that thing in awe, mornin’, noon and night. We watched it from every point of the compass. Needless to say, Granny had pride of place, and her chair was positioned dead centre in front of the thing. After we’d watch it for a few hours, she’d pull on her pipe, withdraw it, and say “ Turn it on”.
But this was no ordinary ash plant now, no, no. It was a lump of a blackthorn, with a roundy silver thing on the top. If Batt balanced the other end of it on his Wellington boot, now, you’d need to look out, because the silver globe at the top with be in yer gob in no time, so it would.
You could be out herdin’ heifers with that thing now, and before you could say “ Get up there, Maggie” you’d have her shot, all for want of a little care with the wee button near the top.
Nothing would do him only to have us at the cattle trough with cans, callipers, ballasting lead melted down from the tops of whiskey bottles, and a balancing scales. In all the happy splashing in those November days, we learned to prove that lead was’nt gold using only the specific gravity, the balance scales, a pipette and graduated cylinder, and auld Archimedes.
After Archimedes, he took a shine to Newton, and we had to look no further than the same cattle trough to immerse ourselves in the delightful riddles of the differential calculus.
But it is the way of the world to move on from the carefree days of healthy home schooling, and following an interview with Prof. Hochleitner, just past my eighteenth birthday, I found myself persuaded towards the study of the stars at Vienna University.
He took to disappearing into his laboratory, for several days at a time, from which noises of hammering emerged, and from where the tell-tale blue-arc light of welding shone intermittently under the door. His visage in his brief periods of rest was ashen, and his demeanour was silent and sullen.
There was nothing for it, but to seek counsel from my elderly uncle. He got in help to milk the Friesians and braved the January blizzards, arriving in Vienna with a determined cut to his jaw. He lit a match to light his pipe; I explained the dilemma, and he puffed blue clouds of sage tobacco as he considered it.
I excused myself to allow the savants free discourse, and sat with Frau Bessel in the anteroom. Soon I heard loud shouting, and , fearing the worst, I remained nervously seated. The subject of their discussions was indistinct through the heavy oak door, but the uncle flung Feynman and Gell-Mann along with the best of what was thrown at him. After some minutes of apparent calm, I timidly knocked and entered, to find the Single Malt decanter and the Havanas were out. Th’uncle agreed to co-author the Paper on Quantum Tunnelling in Type 2 Supernovae, but only with lessor priority.
My studies in stellar science progressed to the hunt for exoplanets, and the University of Vienna reserved time on the Hubble telescope for me. Small wonder to you reader at this point, that the uncle demanded access, on the grounds that he knew Hubble himself.
The uncle only barely managed to persuade Hubble to publish, as he himself could see the depredations of the Great Depression would demand his presence on the dairy farm at Lyreacrumpaun. The Expansion of the Universe was unlikely to lead to market instability as he had feared, and he consequently lay down his cosmological yearning, in a selfless gesture toward animal husbandry and the agricultural research later published in the Journal de Recherches de Lycée Agricole de Lyreacrumpaun.Little did we know of the glorious discoveries that lay before him, which would mark him as, inter alia, a poultry savant.
It is a little know fact that, even without attempted flight, the plumage of hens in association with Stokes Law will result in a 10% reduction of the apparent acceleration due to gravity as experienced by hens dropped from a great height.
When free to flap ineffectually, the improvement in aerodynamic resistence depends upon the breed of poultry. Among bantams, Silver Seabright and Gold Pekin achieve the nearest to free flight, whereas the New Isa Warren drops like the proverbial stone.
All of the foregoing was tested, rigourously, with hen releases from the hanging gardens in Grandfather Jeremiahs’ old homestead.
Funding for research at the Lycée was always a difficulty, as brings knowing nods to the heads of our colleagues at CERN and NASA. The uncle was the financial powerhouse in those difficult years in the mid 1980s, before the patents began to pay.
Tiring of the endless rigour of a life of scientific research, Grandfather in 2001 began to face his own mortality. He did so with his customary attention to detail, in specifying an environmentally friendly Viking funeral as his preferred dénouement.
Strings in the earth and air
Make music sweet;
Strings by the river where
The willows meet.
There's music along the river
For Love wanders there,
Pale flowers on his mantle,
Dark leaves on his hair.
All softly playing,
With head to the music bent,
And fingers straying
Upon an instrument.
The twilight turns from amethyst
To deep and deeper blue,
The lamp fills with a pale green glow
The trees of the avenue.
The old piano plays an air,
Sedate and slow and gay;
She bends upon the yellow keys,
Her head inclines this way.
Shy thought and grave wide eyes and hands
That wander as they list—
The twilight turns to darker blue
With lights of amethyst.