DARK MATTER

I have to declare my position up front. I am not for the Body Scientific.

I recently had a discussion with my eldest grand-daughter, Alexandra. I forget what was the exact ‘fact’ she quoted (from the New Scientist) but it was something like that we use only 10 % of our brain power and the rest is not utilised. I said that was not a ‘fact’ for it could neither be measured nor proved. She said it was in the New Scientist so it must be true. I laughed and said, hadn’t she heard of Galileo? I explained how Galileo’s opinion that the earth was round (which we know to be true; we’ve seen the pictures) ran contrary to orthodox opinion at that time and he was persecuted for contesting this dogma. Therefore she had to apply sceptical examination to every assertion in the New Scientist. In due course, some would be proved to have been false; some to have been true; and some would remain unknown for all time.

On a mundane level, I find it irritating when some body or other, having spent several years and a few millions investigating the question, announces (as a fact) that, say, if you eat a diet plentiful in fruit and vegetables you will have better health than if you consume one consisting largely of meat, bread and sugar; or that children who live with their own parents do, in general, attain better educational qualifications than those who do not. What a surprise, I think. That’s perfectly obvious, I could have told them that without taking years and millions to do so. (Obviously I would never make a scientist.)

I was greatly amused to hear on TV (Coast) that there are man made underground caves, extending 16 miles under the sea originally to do with the mining of potash, where a body of scientists some 200 strong has been investigating for 20 years the existence of dark matter. (Something that some body has dreamed up which, if it were true, would answer various puzzling questions.) However, ‘dark matter’ is obviously well named, for it lurks (if it exists) obstinately outside our capacity to identify it and the best efforts of the scientists have failed to identify even a whiff of dark matter for 20 long years.

I shared this joke with my friend Carole, who as well as being a former science teacher is a clever lady and skilled in argument. She agreed that it was funny, but did not share my view that it ought to be disbanded. She explained the difference between a hypothesis (an educated guess which could provide an explanation for something, and which can be disproved by experimentation) and a theory (a hypothesis which has been repeatedly experimented upon, and never been proven to be untrue.) I note that the main difference appears to be in expectation. Scientists appear to assume that a hypothesis will be proved wrong, but that a theory will (eventually) be proved right. You could argue that a theory was just a hypothesis that’s proved difficult to crack. One can say however that neither a hypothesis nor a theory has been proved to be true. It might be. Or it might not. Twenty years is a long time.

Carole argues that we ought to investigate things we don’t understand, and of course I have to agree with her. Scientific advances in technology, transport, medicine etc etc have made life much pleasanter. We should value our scientific progress but perhaps scientists should be more modest and less arrogant, and in their turn acknowledge amd value ancient knowledge.

This made me recall the legendary Mauri hero, Kupe. He is their equivalent to our Arthur – a mythical figure of magic and god-like achievements, but probably an exaggerated version of a real man’s life story. According to the legend, Kupe explored their whole world, way back in the distant mists of time, and he was the greatest navigator who ever sailed the oceans. He discovered Aotearoa (known to us as New Zealand) (empty of people) but returned the great distance to the island he came from, and before he went on his final voyage to the heavenly stars which had guided his earthly journeys, he left a star map to guide his people to the Land of the Long White Cloud. Almost a thousand years later, a party of his descendants set off on a great voyage, guided by his instructions, and in due course they came to these islands and settled them.

So if I might offer a hypothesis? Galileo was not the first man to realise the earth was round. Kupe had known that also.

THE PRINCE AND THE PEE

PARENTS AND PEEING. Mummy and Daddy explained to me that now I am soon going to be three, I should pee in the toilet. I thought it was quite fun at first, being a big boy and all that. But the parents seem to be a bit odd about it all. They both got very excited that I could pee in the toilet. I didn’t think it was that hard – they hadn’t asked me to do it before. I did it a few times and then I thought we’d played that game long enough – and only then did I realise they want me to play it forever. Parents are very odd- but never mind, if it makes them happy… Then we went down to visit Grandpa and Granma. Scones were ready when I got there so I ate some and then I agreed with Mummy to go to the toilet. Mummy doesn’t seem able to look at me without thinking of the toilet – it’s quite sad really. I expected the grandparents to see how peculiar this all was, but no, they were very impressed as well and clapped and said how clever I was. Anyway, I was doing a jigsaw puzzle of Thomas the Tank in the livingroom on my own, when I felt the need to go. However the puzzle was almost finished and I thought I could hold on until it was done. I did finish it and only then did I realise I had left things too late. What’s a chap to do? So I was standing, peeing in the livingroom, when Daddy came in and started shouting at me. He went on about Granma’s carpet – she would never have noticed. He yanked me off to the toilet – I’m getting quite sick of the sight of it – and went on and on about how I had always to tell him when I needed to go, and damaging the carpet, and how we only had one pair of dry shorts left. I thought, I do usually tell him but I just didn’t have time; Granma’s carpet would dry and I couldn’t remember that she has ever been that interested in it; and it was a warm day so I could just go without shorts. But Daddy looked very grumphy so I just kept my thoughts to myself. Anyway, I managed OK for the rest of the day – apart from a tiny accident but it was round by the compost heap so nobody noticed and then I did some watering with my watering can so they would think I had spilled it on my shorts. Then we had dinner and since I distinctly remember Daddy saying that I should tell him every time I needed to go, I thought he would be pleased that I managed to go 4 times during the meal. Instead he just looked very fed up and at the last time he said, ‘Oh, not again.’ Really, there’s no pleasing some people. Granma laughed and Daddy said it wasn’t funny. The grandparents are nearly as odd as the parents. I see I’d better get the hang of this peeing business before they all get too odd altogether. It’s hard looking after the adults.

TOUR OF SCOTLAND

We’ve been on our annual pilgrimage to Scotland, and returned. I wonder how many thousands of miles we’ve travelled over the years, just there and back?

The weather wasn’t great, but we enjoy being there. We stay with Joanna, whose guest accommodation is so comfortable that we feel guilty about how often we withdraw to our quarters, skulking like teenagers.

We go through to the East Coast, for John and Lawrence to attend golf at Gullane, and John and Eugene to go to St Andrews. We arrive at my brother’s for one day, and linger for three, enjoying their glorious garden. (Yes, I do know this is expressly forbidden in the Ladies Guide to Etiquette and Good Behaviour).Susan and I go to Falklands Palace, where somebody once rode a horse up the stairs, and where I on a previous visit, dressed all in black sitting in a quiet spot on the stairs. waiting for John and the children to emerge from the kitchen, was mistaken for a ghost by a startled passer-by. Did he think I was the ghost of Mary Queen of Scots, I wondered, or some Witch of Doom?

Another day, with Eugene and Susan, we go to an exhibition in Dunfermline of the Embroidery of the History of Scotland. The hall is full of people from all walks of life, examining the work with great interest. It is beautiful, interesting, amusing in places and skilful. We buy a book, and I hope to see it again.

On another day, Joanna and I, escaping the children left in care of the men, travel to Linlithgow and have coffee with my oldest (ie she’s known me the longest ) friend and her husband, and talking to her flows as smoothly and easily as it did when I was 19. The Company Secretary of the Brewery we both worked for brought her to me when she arrived and said, Please look after Miss B – and we’ve been looking after each other ever since.

Later that day we had lunch with a friend of my mother’s, whom I had not met for maybe 40 years (she is younger than I am) and we were lucky hat she had been one of the team of ladies who had laboured to produce the Scottish embroidery, so we were able to question her about the methods they used and the difficulties they had to overcome. She is also an authoress and a book has been published from her father’s war time diaries of the Arctic Run. (Ice and Fire by Leona Thomas).

John and I go back to Linlithgow later where I visit Norman Cummings fabric shop. I have just finished an enormous spool of white thread which I bought there 30 years ago, so I buy another and two pieces of train fabric, which Ewan has inspected and requested a cushion cover and pyjama bottoms which should be possible.   I also bought in Glasgow xome pink cherry blossom Japanese type cherry blossom cotto (gils’ dreses; bluse and trousers for me), plus some green gingham to back a quilt in progress for the swing, and a blue linen with seagulls on it.   I quite fancy a dress of it, but my friend Barbara, whose advice I value, thought it might look like a sofa…   You know if you made up the dress you’d see ‘sofa’ whenever you looked in the mirror.  I think she’s right as well.)   We collect our friends Nan and Steve and cross the river (the third bridge has its pillars solid in the water stretching their arms out to meet their neighbour) to an attractive little eatery in North Queensferry which used to be a post office and is now a rather elegant restaurant though not easy to manoeuvre. The food is delicious and we reminisce about our holiday in France last year and plan future outings.

Back in Glasgow, we take the children to Largs for the day to give their parents a day to themselves.

John and I go to Hill House in Helensburgh, a Charles Renee Macintosh house overlooking the Clyde. There is a party of Americans visiting, whose tour seems to rejoice in the appellation ‘Rhodes Scholars.’ Whatever the ‘Rhodes Scholars’ may (or perhaps not) have studied, good manners is clearly not on the list, for I hear several peremptory commands barked out to hapless waitresses, “Tea! I feel like intervening and saying to the ill mannered customer, ‘Your rudeness is not acceptable here. ‘Please’ is mandatory in polite English.’ But needless to say, I pass quietly on to other pleasures. Joanna and I go looking at shops, having coffee etc. I buy a black and white Linea dress in a sale.   We have lunch with Joanna and the girls in the House for an Art Lover.   I buy a handbag ( as I do nearly every time I come here) in the Burrell.

We have lunch with Lawrence’s parents. John and Lawrence and his father play golf. We go to the Transport Museum; and on an outing to Luss, we take a boat out on Loch Lomond.

Then it is time for us to return. Joanna comes driving in tandem with us, and we stop on the M6 tollway motel for the night. You always think as you pull in that it’s too early, you could make it home; but once you stop driving you find you’re really tired, and next morning that it’s a long way still to get home.

When we came down to England first, we used to cheer when we crossd over the Border into Scotland. We still do that, but now we cheer when we come across the Border into England as well. It is, I’m happy to report, still an open border.   Do visit Scotland.   It’s a lovely place and the natives are, for the most part, friendly!