Saturday, February 11, 2006

Tom cats and the speed of light

This Morning

Ann said something this morning which included the phrase, ‘not last night but the night before’. Into my head popped a poem from a south London school playground of 1954 which I have not thought of since.
Not last night but the night before,
two tom cats came knocking at my door.
I went downstairs to let them in,
they hit me on the head with a rolling pin .
The rolling pin was made of brass,
And I fell down on my fat arse.

I think the ‘arse’ word was replaced at the time by a discrete cough.


About 6 years ago and still smoking I was obliged to indulge my filthy habit in the garage. To pass the time while puffing I learned Keats poem Ode to a Nightingale by heart and when I could recite it perfectly, word perfectly that is, I put a little slip of paper in the book with the date on. I thought I would go back to the poem in 6 months or whenever I felt like it and see how much I remembered. This way I could observe how memory, my memory, decayed over time. I hoped it would not because I could remember perfectly well ‘Shall I compare they to a summer’s day etc’ which I had learned when I was 14.
After a couple of years the results were pretty good – but now I cannot remember the opening line.

Similarly I learned as a child that the speed of light was 186,000 miles per second and have never forgotten it. But when I actually had to use the speed of light in calculations regularly for a whole year while doing relativity in the OU ‘Space & Time’ course this figure was in meters per second rather than miles per hour. Despite the fact that I used the metric equivalent for a whole year and have never in my entire life had use for the 186,000 mph figure it is only the latter I can remember.

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