Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Dark and Wonderful

When I was at school, the science teacher was one of the only known women over 40 to still wear her hair in pig tails. Needless to say, she looked silly, which was distracting. She was also rumoured to be a member of the Plymouth Brethren, on account of the fact that she never shaved her legs. As a consequence, beneath her flesh coloured stockings, (flesh coloured if you came from a distinctly orange-tinged line of human beings), swirls of lush black hair were visible, like some kind of creepy psychedelic dream. When she was carted off with a nervous breakdown, (yes, I think it probably was our fault), she was replaced by Mr Harris who, no matter the season,  (and take it from me, it can get pretty warm in Mittagong), always wore a tweed jacket, (the only time I ever saw him remove it was on my first ever trip to Sydney, which was an excursion to the blood bank to watch him donate a couple of pints). His main aim in life seemed to be describing the extraordinarily gory details of the first night of his honeymoon as often as possible (this was, presumably,  his primitive attempt at therapy). I dropped science soon after he arrived.

And now I feel cheated. Because I've just been reading an article in the New York Times about something called 'dark matter' and, while I don't have the faintest idea what dark matter is, I have discovered that science is actually beautiful and very strange. Those teachers of mine never mentioned that as they handed round the bunsen burners. The science they presented to us was a place of certainty, which was what made it so dull, I thought.

The phrases in the article that appeal to me particularly, hinting at mysteries we never heard about in Science Lab 4A, are these:

'Although nothing can move through space faster than the speed of light, there’s no limit on how fast space itself can expand' 

'The past will have drifted beyond the cliffs of space.'

'Sometimes the true nature of reality beckons from just beyond the horizon.'

The full article can be found here.


  1. There were quite a few Plymouth Brethren in NZ when I was growing up. The women always wore head scarves.

  2. She went no further than pigtails. But perhaps that means it wasn't us that caused her nervous breakdown - perhaps the powers that be at the school drew the line at a headscarf and that was what brought her down.

  3. I never thought about it before, but maybe that is exactly why I, although the artsy type, always loved science and loathed math. There is poetry in science, but math is just . . . math. It is is a shame they are joined so closely or I might have pursued science more deeply.

  4. But people who know about these things have claimed that pure math is actually some kind of poetry (I wouldn't know whether they're bluffing, as I went on everlasting anti-maths strike about the time they gave us all logarithm tables). I think I heard an Australian poet called Kevin Hart expounding that theory - about maths and poetry being the same thing. Mind you he was also talking enthusiastically about Derrida at the time, so possibly should be taken with a grain of salt

  5. Now, you all have me confused. I thought it was 'maths' and that other country over there had 'math'. I am afraid that my interest peaked with adding up and taking away.

  6. True -- I guess there are those who will wax poetic about whatever they love. I suppose a Ferrari's engine is a mechanical sonnet for those with the eye for it. (I say this only with a pinch of sarcasm because I can't see it; but I do fully accept that other people might be moved by fine engineering, no pun intended.)In the end, I'll take my poetry out of a book, in a hammock, thanks.

  7. Julie - can you remember who said 'Do the math' and why? I can't
    Chris - the engineering of the Anzac bridge looks pretty good to me, but you're right, it isn't poetry