◄ APRIL 2013

JUNE 2013



(a weird story)

Some decades ago I worked as a lab technician. The scientists at the lab, and sometimes the technicians, would be assigned projects that could last anything from a few days to several months. Often two of us would be assigned to work together, depending on skills and what was required. One day I was scheduled to help assemble then evaluate a special kind of chromatograph. There were two of us on the project, the other guy was Deakin. Normally we worked at opposite ends of the lab, so were not that well acquainted. But soon after we got started Deakin began to tell me of an experience that he said had sat prominent in his mind for years.

First, though, he linked the sample-separation column - into which the sample to be analysed is injected - to an entrainer so the separated constituents of the sample could be drawn with hydrogen into a catalyst converter, the output of which fed into the detector. Each of these components was to be separately temperature-controlled, with an oven for the column and band-heaters for the rest.

It was my job to sort the electronics and Deakin's to organise the plumbing. Even so, we worked together as appropriate - each assisting the other. While Deakin wrestled a tangle of tubes into some kind of order, he began to describe the curious event I refer to.

Before continuing I should mention that Deakin was a bit of an enthusiast when it came to science and gadgets. He had a summerhouse in his back garden that he'd turned into a makeshift-lab where he worked on all kinds of weird experiments. He'd even earned himself several patents over the years - not that they'd been of much benefit, apart from a dose of healthy respect from certain official quarters.

It was 15-years earlier, he began, when he built the summerhouse. Within a year he'd set-up a low-power laser there to test striplines and microstrips. He also used it, he said, to investigate 'windows' in the atmosphere: ie, sub-millimetre frequencies that would propagate with negligible loss. The laser itself was contained in a glass tube, he said, about 3-metres long and 10cm wide. And although it was almost invisible in daytime, at night the tube (hence summerhouse) emitted a spooky glow. When he tweaked the mirror at one end to 'tune' the laser, he went on, bands of colour would travel along the tube and oscillate slowly through points of resonance before settling. This also happened as it warmed, he said, and if he returned to the house it was so eerie to look at from the kitchen window that the whole place would resemble something from a science fiction film. He often wondered if it might scare the neighbours, he said, but it was never mentioned so he assumed no-one noticed.

Deakin also explained that the furthest wall of the summerhouse butted onto a neighbour's garden at the back. The people who lived there, he said, had moved-in about eleven months previously and had kept very much to themselves. He rarely ever saw them, though he often conversed with neighbours either side or who lived opposite.

I watched him squeeze - or rather, force - a section of hydrogen tube into its slot, 'That's going to leak.' I observed.

'It might.' he said, 'I'll assemble it first, then check for leaks.'

'Fair enough.' I said, 'So what about this neighbour?'

'Well, they had a kid.' said Deakin, using a biro now to shove the tube home, 'Just the one. I guessed he was about ten or eleven. He was a scrawny specimen, very frail and always ill. He looked worse every time I saw him, just going by the way he moved. He got slower and... well, early that summer, when I was on leave, and when other kids were still at school, I'd notice from the summerhouse window, and through that lousy excuse for a hedge of mine, the kid would be sitting stock still for hours in a chair in the garden. He never played or did anything. Then one day he was in a wheelchair.

'Poor kid.' I said.

Deakin nodded, 'On one exceptionally hot day I was walking down to the summerhouse, and I noticed he'd manoeuvred the wheelchair into the shade of a tree right up close to the boundary. I could see he'd spotted me so I went over, said hello and introduced myself. To my surprise, the kid seemed extremely bright and alert. Said his name was Leo, that he was thirteen and was suffering from leukaemia. I knew it was something pretty serious, but that shocked me. Then he stunned me to the bone by saying the doctors had given him 6-months maximum. It was when he began using the wheelchair, he told me, that he'd insisted on knowing the truth.'

'That's terrible.' I said, 'What did you say?'

'What could I say?' said Deakin, moving to one side so I could fit a band-heater around the entrainer. 'I felt kind of speechless.'

I pushed the wires under the new tube and down towards the control unit underneath. 'You must have said something.' I said.

'I really can't remember.' continued Deakin, 'But the next day I mentioned it to a neighbour who confirmed what the kid had said... How come I'm always last to know these things?'

'You're not interested in gossip, is why.' I replied, 'So people don't bother to tell you. They probably register your lack of interest in what's usually dull domestic trivia.'

'You could be right.' he said, taking over again and threading the other end of the hydrogen supply behind the oven, 'But this was hardly trivia.'

'True enough.' I said.

'So from then on, every time the weather was fine, and I saw the kid in the garden, I'd take a few minutes to go and chat with him.'

By now we'd got most of the components connected, and Deakin turned the gasses on so he could start testing for leaks. I got down underneath to sort the electronics for controlling the heaters, and the temperature programmer for the oven.

'I guess it was about two weeks after we'd first met,' said Deakin, 'when Leo asked what I had in the summerhouse that made such weird patterns of light. He knew I was a scientist... amazing how these things get about....'

'Well,' I said, 'Maybe it was obvious, but grapevines can be extremely efficient. So what did you tell him?'

'I guessed it would be a bit pointless trying to describe about striplines, so I decided to invent something a bit more exciting. First I said whatever happens, on no account was he to say a word to anyone. Then I told him I was working on the most sensational experiment in the history of the planet.'

This made us both laugh.

'We laugh now,' he said, suddenly serious, 'But Leo adopted the most solemn expression I'd ever seen on a kid. At that moment he truly believed I was onto something... something profound... significant. He seemed to believe in me, as though I was some kind of guru. For a few seconds I felt strangely powerful and important. So I leaned closer and deadly serious said, quietly, "I don't expect you to believe this, but it's a micro time-machine.", then I moved back. His eyes went wide. He was clearly impressed. That only encouraged me, so I continued, making it up as I went. I said, "It's possible to move only small things, not people or even a mouse, maybe an insect, though so far it's still very experimental. But it definitely works." '

'And he accepted it?' I said.

'Seemed to,' said Deakin, nodding glumly, 'But then my reasoning failed. I got totally carried away. It was as if, absurd though it sounds, even I began to believe what I was saying. I had an empty phial in my pocket, which I removed and held out to him, "Give me a hair from your head," I said, "and I'll send it into the future where they can analyse your DNA and produce a drug that's perfectly designed to cure just you." '

'That's definitely OTT, if you ask me.' I said.

'I know, I know. I must have been out of my brain. Anyhow, like I said, I could hardly explain all that stuff about striplines, so I thought, well if the poor little sod has only a few months, why not give him a diversion, something to believe in? What harm can it do, I thought?'

'But you falsely increased his hopes.' I said.

'I regretted it the instant I'd said it.' Deakin admitted, shaking his head, 'But once said, a thing can't be unsaid... not to a kid, not in such desperate circumstances. His face lit up instantly, you see, so I had to continue with the deception. He'd looked so listless, so lethargic, before, but now his whole body seemed to come alive and he smiled too. It was the first time I'd seen that. He was half bald from treatment, but without a moment's hesitation he pulled a hair from his scalp and handed it across. I took the hair very carefully and put it in the phial. I said, "Give me two days. But remember, don't whatever happens say a thing, not even to your closest friend. This is top secret, OK?" "OK." he replied, with a conspiratorial nod. Then I left him and went to the summerhouse.'

'I suppose at least it was something to take his mind off his condition.' I said, as I connected the last wires from the oven to the temperature-programmer.

'I thought so.' said Deakin, 'My brother's wife's a pharmacist, and she got me some little purple placebos that looked anything but innocuous. She said they weren't likely to resemble anything he might have seen before. She only gave me two.'

'Doesn't sound very convincing.' I said.

'No. I thought the same. Anyhow, they had a red dot on, and I told him the dot was the active ingredient; the tablet itself being just chalk. I had them in a phial and I tipped one into his hand and said to chew or swallow it, and that I'd give him the other in exactly a month. And that would be all he'd need.'

'Crazy.' I said, 'So what happened?'

'He got worse.' said Deakin.

'Well, I'm not surprised.' I said.

'But not as much worse as expected.' Deakin added, 'Then after I gave him the second tablet, he actually began to improve.'

'A false signal, I guess?' I said, 'Or maybe the therapy from the hospital was beginning to work.'

'Who knows?' said Deakin, as he tucked the final tube behind the detector. 'But he kept improving. A month after the second tablet, he was walking around again, no wheelchair.'

'An unlikely coincidence.' I said, fixing the final band-heater lead. 'I guess the hospital had come-up with some new approach.'

'It's possible, probable even, but if so they didn't tell Leo.'

'Doctors enjoy being secretive.' I said, 'It's habitual for them.'

'I suppose it protects them from accusations of being wrong... But I reckon we're all done now,' said Deakin brightly, standing back from the chromatograph, 'I think we're about ready to turn it on.'

He adjusted the nitrogen carrier that had been purging the column, then using a small brush painted soap solution around the hydrogen joints. 'Don't want any escapes there.' he said, going now to increase the hydrogen pressure.

'So what happened in the end?' I asked, all curious, 'Did he make a full recovery?'

'He did.' said Deakin, with a nod. '...You can switch the mains on now and let the system heat-up.... In fact, he got well enough before the end of that summer to ride his bike again. He was so delighted, it was reported, that he rode to the end of the lane and....'

It was precisely at this point when I switched the mains on.

It could only have been the broken contact I'd missed that caused a short-circuit in the oven, we reasoned afterwards - because running adjacent to this was a split section in the hydrogen line, the section Deakin had prodded with his biro... these together, we decided, must have triggered the explosion.

A bloody big flame it was too. Bits flew out everywhere. We stood there dazed and startled. Deakin looked round at me and grinned, 'Blimey!' he muttered, in a hoarse voice. His eyebrows had gone and all his hair at the front was heavily singed. Lucky for him he was wearing glasses. And lucky for me I'd been facing sideways.

I could hardly hear him above the ringing in my ears, but then he said, '... the little prick sailed out of the lane onto the main road and straight under a sodding great lorry!'

'That's terrible.' I said.

He shook his head, then looked sternly at me and added, 'I didn't go to the funeral.'

'Really terrible!'

A moment later we began to laugh, and then we laughed more, and so on for several minutes at least...

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Behind the Story

Every so often I get nudged for a new story. Sometimes several suggestions are dished-up at the same time. Occasionally, a suggestion might consist of a story already part-written. Usually though, none of it works. It takes something more to inspire the creative process in me. But a nudge like this can in rare instances trigger some memory, or an idea, and I can instantly see how it might go somewhere if I give it a try. This happened most successfully with 'King Horn'. It also happened with 'The Mouse'.... and now it's happened with 'Lab Work' above, just written... my first story since 'The Kiss' a couple of months ago.

Many stories on this site contain snippets from my past, or a distorted, maybe imagined past. Mostly these snippets combine different periods and events, as in 'Lab Work'. Back in the late 60s, early 70s I worked in Cambridge at Pye Unicam 'Scientific Instruments'. My last four years there, 1969 to '73, was spent in R & D. Although my subject was electronics, instead of the electronics lab I landed fortuitously - thanks to my good friend Alan - in a lab of physicists and chemists developing and researching techniques in chromatography.

A couple of years ago I was as surprised as I was intrigued to read in Robert de Ropp's outstanding autobiography 'Warrior's Way' that he too was deeply into the science of chromatography - which made his book all the more gripping for me.

The other angle on 'Lab Work' is from my final-year project of a degree course in electronics. The lab I worked in contained a huge laser as described that provided the submillimetre - 890GHz - for evaluating waveguide surface properties. I think we had gold as one surface material.... it's all so long ago now, the details escape me. And I imagine now the technology has been optimally developed. That laser was quite a monster, though, and everyone came along at some time or another to see the weird bands of pink light travelling through the tube.

The final touch is from - who else - but the very nudger himself of stories into fruition. Without his input the rest would not have jelled. That was the catalyst, you might say, and was the source of the dying kid idea, the appearance of a time-machine, and the fact that the kid doesn't survive - otherwise, I suppose, it would have been just a bit too tacky!

So these three elements fell together in my head and formed a vague notion of a completed yarn. It's by far NOT the best on this site, I know, and the first few paragraphs are slow and may well deter readers who like fast-action stuff. But it's a story, after all, and if it makes you laugh too (at the end, at any rate) then so much the better.


Phil - 8.5.13














The past is dead. It's NOW and what's ahead that counts.... Now is whatever remains from the past. But what's happened is gone, is here no more. What's important is what exists, and moreso what lies ahead. From the next second to the next millennium is vastly more significant than even a second ago, which has already entered oblivion. And the further back you look, the less relevant everything becomes.... that is, to the world as it is now, and to the future. Whether or not the past is your particular passion, it exists only in memory; only memory. Back in Oct 2010 I wrote:

'These days I hesitate to comment on contemporary issues - unless they seem likely to remain relevant for a while. This is because usually when I look back at stuff I’ve written on what seemed significant at the time, the issue has become stale, commonplace or irrelevant… or else has been dwarfed by vastly more noteworthy events. Most history is like this, so it seems to me, ie: boring... the future, surely, is infinitely more gripping: it's mysterious, uncertain, and is where we're all headed; if you're on a journey, then isn't ahead where you direct your attention rather than back? Only when you stop might you reflect. A broad understanding of history is all anyone needs, just enough to provide a footing of where you're from and the kind of timeless stupidities to avoid.'

'Hi Tosh.'

'Hello Bean.'

'You don't half write a lot of crap.'

'So what if I do?'

'Nothing, Tosh. Nothing.'

'I can tell when it's duff.'

'Could've fooled me.'

'So why else did I swap History for Hi-Story?'

'You could do a few more swaps like that, Tosh.'

'That fruit party was alright.'

'Ah, the fruit party!'

'Except there wasn't enough time.'

'We'd have scoffed the lot.'

'People have no idea.'

'True, Tosh, true. But where's this heading now?'

'Fruit, Bean. They have no idea about fruit.'

'How do you mean?'

'They have no idea about food...'

'So let them poison themselves, get diabetes, cancer...'

'It's not as if they don't know.'

'Used to be like that with smoking.'

'Smoking was great.'

'And booze?'

'That still is.'

'So long as the liver holds out.'

'Got to die of something, Bean.'

'Preferably something painless.'

'There's always morphine.'

'And carbon monoxide.'

'And Beachy-Head.'

'It's almost too easy.'

'Some make a song of it, though.'

'So what if they do?'

'So nothing.'

'OK, catch yer later then.'

'You going already?'



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An Exchange for real

I recieve a friendly email from my well-meaning friend with a couple of links. He says:

"Get a job or you'll go downhill!."

That's just one link. It seems there's several. Here's another.


This is my reply:

I could write a BIG article on that corporate propaganda. OF COURSE the bastards will want to squeeze the max out of every slave whenever possible. I wrote about this yonks ago here and have touched on it in several other articles on the website. 

The fact is, people spend their whole lives stuck in the programme they were launched onto as little kids. I've heard 'top' psychiatrists on radio say how often it is that people who suffer depression are their own worst enemy because they psych themselves into it. Which reminds me of Tolstoy who reputedly said (paraphrasing): "The abyss is there alright, but you don't have to stare into it, why not instead stare up into the light?"

I've seen these articles before. Every two or three years they wheel them out onto the airwaves almost by routine. Corporate-Slavedriver propaganda is all it is: to claw back a few of those retirees or escapees who still have an inkling of energy which on no account must be used for pleasure on the beaches of Alicante.... 

Aren't the City making enough? Apple and Google and the banks seem to be doing fine, going by the snippets of what the media decide to feed us... it's the taxman who's suffering, they tell us now. And yet, they're going to sell the profit-making Post-Office? How 'UPSIDE-DOWN' is that? They make a law that stops poor people from protection of legal aid, then allow monumental handouts, effectively, to BIG CORP: Starebucks, etc. Some EU finance guru suggested the figure to be around €1Tn.... which would cover Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy.... and whoever else has been massively ripped-off in recent years.

BUT NO,  BIG CORP still rules. For the UK Michael Gove is hard at work ensuring the next generation is funnelled into the snare..... what a farce: 100s of 'free' schools! Sounds wonderful - but 'free' means exactly the opposite. It means: in the stranglehold of BIG CORP, instead of open to public scrutiny... not that that had much going for it, but was tons freer than under BIG CORP.

Another thing: those articles note that people's health, mental & physical, deteriorate as they age. Is that a new phenomenon? I'd be a bit surprised if that didn't happen. My health feels the same as when I 'retired' nearly 25-years ago.... though it must have deteriorated a bit. Mentally, I've definitely deteriorated - if you don't count depression (that's something I've yet to experience). 

Anyhow, there's no way I intend to leap or even crawl back onto any kind of treadmill. NO WAY - I'm certain, not a shadow of doubt, that to do so would lead to a rapid decline in both mental and physical health. It might also - almost certainly would - introduce me to the phenomenon of depression. Even if I was on the breadline, to get a job would be a very stupid and negative act for me. I know. Other people - so it looks to me - are mostly bonkers and would take a different view, I'm sure. But who am I to judge?


Incidentally, the other day I perchance stumbled on two more sites like that Wattpad.com crap I discovered recently. They all had millions of entries, maybe billions. Everyone on the planet, so it seems, is doing what I'm doing - except instead of on their own little site, they shove their bilge onto these colossal literary garbage-sites like Wattpad. And I've stupidly tried to read one or two items - they're so bad, they  make Dan Brown look 1000 X better than a genius. 

This writing mania has become a disease. I can't say I haven't enjoyed it a bit, making stuff up, spouting my own slanted opinions and otherwise relating various experiences and thoughts. But now EVERYONE'S doing it. What's going on? Once it was called 'Blogging'; now it's evolved into stupendous tracts of illegible pap!

Whewwww.... must think about getting out. But first to surf the hostel sites and see if there's any cheap ferry tickets....

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