British Studies Web Pages
The Secret Diary of Mrs A.
The text contains a number of vocabulary items connected with the theme ‘science’. If you’re not sure about the meaning, place the mouse on the purple dot following the phrase or item.
28th March, Monday evening
Spouse has taken the children to an exhibition on Science at the service of humanity. I’m lying in bed sick with flu. At my bedside is the latest X-ray of my lungs – proof that it’s not pneumonia after all. Roentgen’s discovery at the service of one miserable human being. At least I can be sure that no antibiotics are necessary – thank you science and thank you Mr Fleming, there’s no need to use your services this time. Some hot lemon tea should help.
What a good idea Spouse had to take the kids out of home. Some peace and quiet, eventually! Maybe I’ll even manage to collect my thoughts and think up a vocabulary test for class IIIc. So my kids have gone to a science exhibition. Hmm ... When I was their age I had to learn science the hard way. My big brother tried to teach me.
Once he demonstrated the law of gravity and the rules of movement on the inclined plane using a dismantled kitchen cupboard and six glasses (the whole set). Result: three stitches on my left knee and no pocket money for a month.
On another occasion we wanted to work out the pendulum secret. The problem was that it was much easier to take apart the grandfather clock than assemble it in one piece again. Result: no dessert for two weeks and cotton pyjamas for my birthday instead of a pair of figure skates.
Then we tried to establish the true meaning of the phrase precious metals. Granny’s set of silver teaspoons, Uncle Robert’s family signet ring and Dad’s gold cuff links didn’t fetch much at the scrap yard – just enough to get three comic books. Result: home internment for a month.
On the rare occasion of a visit to our great uncle (my bro was ten and I was eight) we checked the validity of the law of connected vessels by drawing off some home made elderberry wine, which we’d found in the cellar. Result: painful familiarity with the terms ‘hangover’ and ‘getting a good hiding’.
But what really infuriated the parents was my big bro’s attempt at explaining why mercury is also called quicksilver. We took two thermometers (Mum’s and Granny’s) and having deftly separated the broken glass, played with the little silver drops that were running one after another in the salad bowl. Result: two days in hospital undergoing tests.
My big bro and I – we certainly were a pair! By the time I was 14, I had compiled my inventory of the 10 golden rules of science:
1. An electric circuit must be closed before a current can flow. (You just take a 4,5 Volt battery and connect the positive and negative poles with your tongue - guaranteed to give you a mild but not unpleasant electric shock.)
2. A floating body displaces a volume of liquid whose weight is equal to its own. Eureka! Eureka! Or Archimedes Principle. (Always leave three to five centimetres below the brim of the bathtub, otherwise parents will raise hell.)
3. A ray of light consists of different colours. (Easily proved if your Dad happens to keep a prism in his desk. If not, you have to wait for the refraction of sunlight in raindrops and see all the colours in a rainbow. Unfortunately, if you try to release the colours from the prism by smashing it with a hammer, all you’re left with is a mass of colourless rubble.)
4. Light travels approximately in straight lines. (If somebody directs the beam of a torch onto your pressed palms with both thumbs sticking up, you may see a profile of a dog on the wall. If you’re creative, the shadows you make with your hands may conjure up a little menagerie – a snake, a lion or a turtle and what not. Don’t try to use a lighter instead of a torch and remember that blankets are made of inflammable materials.)
5. Metals may rust. (So never leave your bicycle on the balcony for three days in the pouring rain. You’ll never get a new one!)
6. The basic law of electricity and magnetic field is: Like poles repel, unlike poles attract. That explains why my bro and I were always to be found in the company of the worst hooligans in the neighbourhood. Mum obviously knew nothing of Faraday’s theory hoping against all hope that one day we’d stop mingling with the wrong crowd. But ‘the wrong crowd’ were just our ‘unlike Poles’.
7. The atmosphere is in an electric state, which is scientifically proven by the phenomenon of lightning. The atmosphere at our home was always highly charged on the day of mid-term school results. But if lightning is a discharge of energy, why on earth did the discharge of Father’s anger (accumulated energy), not result in his emitting some form of light, just thundering?
8. Optical illusions are the result of a deliberate or unintentional use of false perspective. The opinion that I was chubby as a child is an example of an optical illusion created by the utterly false perspective of my numerous aunts, uncles and cousins, whose only intention was to undermine my self-confidence.
9. To every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. In fact Newton’s law of motion must be slightly modified. Although our parents’ reactions were definitely ‘opposite’, they were far from being equal. Greatly exaggerated, which my bro and I discovered to our cost!
10. Women’s brains are perfectly equipped to deal with the most complex problems of science. Since Marie Curie became the first woman professor at the University of Paris, there’s nothing to stop me from becoming whoever and whatever I dream of becoming. Time will show where my true interests lie.
Time indeed did show. When it came to choosing between the world of diffraction and interference, electromagnetic waves and quantum theory, nuclear reactors and nuclear power stations, satellites and lasers and the language of Shakespeare and Winnie-the-Pooh, it was the Bear with a little brain that proved to have more magnetism.
I’m lying sick in bed reminiscing about my childhood. My big bro remained faithful to his early fascination with physics but I proved an unworthy disciple. When did I rebel? And when was it that we built salt crystals together, flew kites, experimented with grandfather’s medals immersed in Coca-Cola and assessed the value of different lubricants on our neighbours’ skis? When did we stick potatoes in exhaust pipes, try to hide away countless blown fuses, avert our faces not to show singed eyelashes and a succession of skin conditions? So long ago or so recently? Time is not absolute. E=mc². Thank you, Mr Einstein for your theory of relativity. There’s no need to feel old.
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