Tag Archives: the aether

Never quite a passive observer


Back when I was between O levels and A levels (probably around ’71 or ’72) we were encouraged to borrow books out of the libraries of the various science labs at the Grammar school to read over the holiday. I borrowed two from the physics lab.

One was slim and seriously cutting edge. What had attracted my attention was the scanning electron microscope photos of various metal crystals. They were seriously fascinating and bizarre. The other was a more general textbook. I’m not sure why I picked it up but I did. When I dutifully sat down to read it there was a whole heap of boring stuff about mechanics and simple machines and suchlike. I confess to skipping them, except for the illustrations which were of a quality we’ll never see the like of again. The book must have been nearly a century old.

Then I came to the section on ‘The Aether’. For those of you who missed out on this stage of your education “In the late 19th century, physicists postulated that aether permeated all throughout space, providing a medium through which light could travel in a vacuum.”

To be fair, it’s not a bad guess, and it was only with the Michelson–Morley experiment in 1887 that they decided that as theories went, this one wasn’t going to cut it. So scientists went off and invented special relativity instead.

But given that even passive observation of quantum phenomena can actually change the measured result, perhaps if we reran Michelson–Morley with a different observer we’d get the aether back? At least the maths would be simpler.

OK so why exactly am I waffling on about this?
Well it just so happens that last week I was hit by one of those 24 hour bugs than laid me low for four days. My guess is that this time it was something like norovirus. I might even find out if the lab tests ever come back. The side effect of working with livestock is that I’ve had them all. I remember my late father had an attack of diahorrea and sickness and the doctor actually took a sample and sent it off to the lab. A couple of days later we got a phone call from the local Environmental health department.

Official voice, “Hello I’m phoning about a salmonella outbreak.”

“Oh, you’ll want me Dad.”

Official voice, filled with concern, “Is it possible to bring him to the phone?”

“Oh yes, but I’ll have to find him first, he’s out with the dog checking round young stock.” Of course he was, the attack was history, he just wanted to be out an about.

Official voice…………….

Official voice, rallying gallantly, “But about the salmonella….”

“Yes, we have livestock kept under natural conditions. They eat the grass that the seagulls defecate on. “

At about that point the official voice rang off and we heard no more about it.

Mind you, whilst I say I was laid low for the last four days, I was still going out, feeding, mucking out and bedding round the few cattle that we have at the moment. It’s easy than when we were milking. I can remember a number of times having a rotten night with one of these 24hr bugs, getting up at the usual time, going out to milk because it had to be done and there was nobody else to do it. It’s a bad sign when you have to lie down on the floor of the milking parlour between putting the clusters on and taking the clusters off because frankly you’re just too knackered to remain standing up.

As an aside, the knowledge that you’ll be the one milking next morning can induce extreme moderation when somebody suggests you have a couple more drinks. My Dad used to tell of cowmen who’d had too good a Saturday night, being found during Sunday morning milking, sitting on their three legged stool, pressed against the flank of the cow, fast asleep. As somebody who did the morning milking on thirty consecutive New Year’s Days, I think I’ve only ever bothered seeing in the New Year twice and once was by accident.

But anyway this morning I was looking sheep as the hail started. I did what I always do, pulled my cap on more firmly and kept going because there wasn’t really any other option. I was on my way back home anyway.
Sal on the other hand was less than impressed. Have you seen those people who pull their coat collar up over their head and run for shelter? Sal somehow managed to give the impression of a Border Collie doing that. It was only my laugher echoing down the lane behind her that embarrassed her into staying with me.


But anyway it suddenly occurred to me I could do you a favour. You know the Christmas presents you forget to buy or haven’t got round to sending. Well it just so happens I’ve got  books available in paperback