September 5 2005

The nuts and bolts of physics have always been beyond me, but at school I was fascinated by the human element of all those laws.
Why didn’t Archimedes have the presence of mind to grab a towel? (I’m terrible with names, so it might have been Pythagorus, but you know the one).
How did Quantum’s wife react when he first started leaping?
Boyle, though, was the only one who got through in any meaningful way. His Third Law of Motion made perfect sense.
It’s the one that states that for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction.
First-year physics buffs will tell you that it was actually Newton who had the big idea, but I gave Boyle the credit in my mock O-level and it sort of stuck with me.
The textbook explained it in terms of birds flying: wings push air downwards; air reacts by pushing the bird upwards.
My approach was interpretive. What Boyle was saying was: do as you would be done by, or you’ll get yours.
In other words, nature bites back.
It’s a lesson learned at some cost over the years.
The flying thing was the toughest to get the hang of. Before my taste buds grew, I was a Rupert fan and when in one adventure he got himself a pair of gravity-defying wellingtons, I assumed that mine had the same capability.
It took a leap from a tree to convince me otherwise and by then I was nursing a broken arm, the result of a non-resilient object hitting a non-resilient surface at 32 feet per second squared.
In those days, of course, I’d never heard of Boyle so my scientific examination of the incident was retrospective
Some years elapsed before the Business of the Ruined Best Suit left me in no doubt that Boyle knew what he was talking about.
A couple of days before my daughters’ christenings (we had them done in batches of two) I set fire to a heap of garden rubbish and almost roasted a hedgehog alive. The startled creature hot-footed it to safety before any real harm was done, but it was understandably upset.
Just before leaving for church on the morning of the baptisms, I was showing a guest a blackbird’s nest in our privet hedge. The female, obviously a friend of the hedgehog, shot off her clutch of eggs and sprayed my new pinstripe three-piece with a generous helping of guano. The stain never came out.
I gave nature a wide berth after that and would have continued to do so had it not been for an accidental and fatal encounter with a kamikaze deer a few winters ago. Without warning, the animal leapt over a wall into the path of my car. By the time I’d pulled up and walked back to the scene, some bloke in a 4×4 behind me had removed the evidence.
Boyle struck again a week or so later when I took my wife out to dinner on our wedding anniversary. Thoughtlessly, I ordered venison casserole and broke a filling on a piece of lead shot.
We got a complimentary bottle of red when I made a fuss, but they were less than complimentary when the machine rejected my credit card.
That wasn’t physics, though. It was Sod’s Law.

 

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