Thursday 2 April 2020

A terrible day

Before I stopped driving my little red Yaris to and from work, I had to find aural edutainment for about 90 commuting minutes a day. For most of those 7 Yaris years, I was constrained by my lack of imagination to the wireless and would flip restlessly between RTE1, Newstalk-FM and Radio-Off. Because sometimes nothing is better than politicians side-stepping the question, footballers side-stepping the ball and/or advertisements. Then Dau.I the Librarian started to shower me with Talking Books on CD. The source (Tramore and Bagnelstown libraries) dried up at about the same time as the demand, as Covid-lockdown closed more and more public facilities and I started to lower my carbon footprintby 'working from home'.

One of the last books I heard in full (except for Disc 2 which someone had used in the angle-grinder) was The Undercover Scientist Investigating the Mishaps of Everyday Life by Peter J Bentley. This is a very wide ranging romp through 'science' - pretty much whatever has floated Dr. Bentley's curiosity boat over the last 20 years since he landed his PhD [Thesis: Generic Evolutionary Design of Solid Objects using a Genetic Algorithm]. In Groundhog Day Bill Murray describes a <sea otter alert> pretty good day. In contrast Bentley describes a day of serial mishaps that cause pain and aggravation to the unfortunate protagonist.

The day starts okay: getting out of bed and having a shower before going to work, what could possibly go wrong? The soap could flip out his lathered hands, necessitating a step out of shower to retrieve The Hammer of Covid. He slips on the slick floor and wakes looking up at the underside of the hand-basin having head-whacked the porcelain on the way down. For sensitive me, the feeling was visceral as my sympathetic nervous system flooded me with adrenalin. I've been there before [metaphorically because  I'm of the demographic that bathroom slips are all ahead of me]. That anecdote developed into a lecture about how soap worked its amphipathic [one end water soluble the other hydtophobic] magic. That is singularly topical given that Corona Virus can get turned inside-out and killed by simple soap. His next task is to tidy up his face with a [dull] razor which . . . causes another accident and an explanation of how blood clots and what we can do to promote this natural process - a corner of toilet-paper in the wound is not helpful.

The chapters or accidents succeed each other and serve as, often unlikely, launch pads for exploring the wider reaches of the natural world: the Big Bang, ABS brakes, metal in microwaves, diesel in petrol tanks, broken glass, broken bones, chili in the eye, computer viruses, burned toast and stains all over the carpets. In all there are nearly 40 short chapters so you are unlikely to get bored; then again you may not be bothered to go back finish the bits you skipped. It's what libraries are for rather than bookshops. A terrible day but a not terrible book.

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