It never ceases to amaze who you can end up sitting opposite at a lunch table these days. Yesterday, in our cafe, I was innocently discussing the pros and cons of a toasted bagel with a shaggy haired and friendly young guy, and, guess what? He turns out to be a well known and published English quantum physicist.
Dominic lives in Denmark Hill. In between slices of smoked salmon and cream cheese he explained the theory of relativity. And as I’m a complete dummy he didn’t find that particularly easy, but he was a very patient man. As was I, because my minestrone soup ended up stone cold.
“The whole piece of time is a landscape,” he said, “and, although you might not always realise it, we’re all shifting through it constantly.”
I nodded enthusiastically. Who needs food when you’ve got gravitational time dilation?
“It must be really tedious dreaming up entertaining ways to explain the rules of elementary particles,” I said, “without sounding pedantic.”
I stirred some Parmesan cheese into my minestrone and watched it quickly melt. There was definitely a scientific analogy in that bowl, but unfortunately I wasn’t quick enough or smart enough to explain it to Dominic.
“Most of us experience relative motion every day,” he said chewing his bagel. Against my better judgment it was untoasted.
“Oh absolutely,” I said, “in fact I was saying that just last week to my husband as I nudged him back over to his side of the bed in the middle of the night.”
I could tell Dominic was impressed by my grasp of force fields.
“So, imagine you’re sitting on a bus and I’m walking along a street,” he said. “Technically you’re perfectly still on that bus, but of course, moving. That’s because the bus is moving.”
I blinked. I suddenly felt hungry.
“Let’s say the traffic slows to a crawl and, although I’m still walking, I’m able to catch up with that bus.”
I sucked my spoon thoughtfully.
“This sounds just like the number 42 route to Liverpool Street,” I said, “it’s a bitch in the rush hour. If it’s relative speed you’re after, then please avoid it like the plague.”
I really didn’t think Dominic took the bus, he looked like he regularly skateboarded.
“And as I walk along next to the bus, you look out of the window, and I wave.” Dominic waved across the table at this point. And I’m sorry to have to tell you, I waved back.
“Whilst we’re are both separately in motion – because you’re on that bus and I’m walking next to it – to the naked eye it appears that we’re at a standstill because we are both moving, at exactly the same speed, at exactly the same time.”
After a while I could see Dominic’s lips moving but the only audible words I could hear were blah blah blah, interspersed with – Newton’s apple, Albert Einstein’s moustache, and microwave background radiation. It was at that point I decided to abandon my ambitions of becoming a physicist and just stay with wallpapering.
Later, as I was getting ready for bed, I told Guido that time becomes slower the closer you get to travelling at the speed of light. But I’m not sure he was that interested.
He said he had something far more pressing on his mind.