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Collision Course

So earlier this afternoon I was standing by the bus stop waiting for the number 10 when a young lady emerged from a side street pushing a baby buggy in a bit of a hurry, nearly running into the old lady who stood in front of me.

“Hey! Look where you’re going.” Said the woman. “There could have been a collision.”

The young mother mumbled an apology without pausing in her mobile phone conversation and hurried off.

It struck me at the time that the baby in the buggy seemed rather large. I mused that perhaps the near-miss had been caused by the fact that it must have been quite a mission for the petite mum to control this heavy buggy with one hand as she came down the very steep hill. I dreaded to imagine what nature of a collision would have happened had the lady tripped on a paving stone, say, and let go of the buggy for a second……Our bus stop is at the junction of a very busy road.

It has often been said that you hear a new word one day and then you find that for the next few hours and days you are coming across the same word so many times. The same thing happens when you buy a car, dress or jacket. Suddenly you find that the whole world is full of cars, dresses and jackets just like yours but you had never noticed. Today’s word of the day was Collision. When I switched on the telly at Rubina’s flat later in the evening there was this wonderfully boring science programme about mechanics, velocity, motion and all things collision.

Don’t get me wrong when I say boring. I enjoyed the show. I really loved physics way, way back in my school days. The principal reason was one bright scholarly girl: Condoleezza Ajiambo. She was the light of the class, no… the light of our school. She demolished the old (silly and somewhat chauvinist) ideas of a less enlightened age and inscribed in every school boys heart at the time that smart girls were nerds and Beauty X Brains = K. Condoleezza was consistently top of the class. She was clever, witty and very pretty and had what is sometimes referred to as a heart of gold; she was a gracious soul. Everyone liked to be near her and every night I said a prayer for the physics master because he had instructed me, the slowest kid in the group, to sit next to Miss Ajiambo in the physics lab.

The master himself was something of a phenomenon. Back then the older kids joked that he had taught Einstein most of what he knew. I believed them. The guy suited the part of the nutty professor perfectly. In his lab he was King. If you asked him a question he would swing round on his heels, and armed only with a piece of chalk he did battle on the black board producing obscure (to us) characters. He would tweak them here, cross-out there and adjust there and in a few minutes he would derive another masterpiece of an equation.

One morning, after another satisfactory equation exhibition, Master asked if there were any questions. Ms Ajiambo, or Condi, as we called her stood up and asked “So Master, how do you think this world will end?”

The physics master smiled, pulled out another piece of chalk and said, “There are many ways in which the world can end but my favourite ones are as follows”

He swung on his heels turning to face the board and wrote:

1 The sun burns itself out, suddenly like the flash in a camera so that the earth has no source of energy and life, as we know it ceases to exist.

2 A most powerful volcanic eruption that would crack the earth’s core killing most life on the planet.

3 My worst case scenario is the very probable prospect of an unstoppable body moving fast and colliding (that word again) with an immoveable body, (our planet)

heavenly bodies

The master went on to explain that outer space was full of debris from the break up of larger heavenly bodies, asteroids and such like. This debris travelled across space at “astronomical speeds” and If even one such body say about a quarter of the size of our moon was to crash into the earth…….He painted a scene of devastation of cataclysmic proportions and concluded by saying that even now as we spoke there were many objects hurtling through the universe, faster and faster on a collision(Ha!) course with our planet. Impact was most certainly assured. It was simply a question of when, not if, this would happen.

Astronomical

Much time has passed in between and over the years we lost touch with one another. Sometimes, I do wonder what I would ask the master today. What about Condi? If I met her today I think I should like to ask her whether she might agree with me that there is a new unstoppable object sweeping rapidly across the planet, almost as fast as the moon’s shadow racing across earth during an eclipse.

This object is on a deadly collision course with the rest of humanity. I describe the rest of humanity as the immoveable object today because it is totally oblivious to the nature of the threat that it faces. The rest of humanity has no response and watches in awe and confusion as killing and maiming, raping and beheading, burning and looting rages in almost every continent.

Last week’s attacks in France, Tunisia and Kuwait drew swift condemnation and anger coming as they did in the Holy month of Ramadan but like numerous attacks in Kenya, Somalia, Nigeria, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and other countries, tough talk about tightening security, punishing the perpetrators and the all important War on Terror do nothing to hide the most inconvenient truth of today: We don’t know where or how the next attack will be carried out. Like the physics master’s dire warning it is just a question of when.

5 Comments

  1. Very true. Very true. Let us live each day in gratitude for we don’t know what tomorrow will bring.
    Nice to read you again Woolie!

    • Hey Penny – It feels almost unreal. The attack in Ottawa last year caught everybody by surprise but what about the Boston Marathon? It seems that terror is now completely without borders and it can strike anywhere.

      Always nice to hear from you. 🙂

      • Yes indeed. No where is really safe. Things can happen anywhere. But we can still enjoy life and work on the positives. I have a loved one who recently passed through London and enjoyed it a lot. Fortunately there were no problems. I am hoping to travel to Kenya myself soon as I can. Trip has been delayed so often already. How are you doing?

  2. Woolie, you have painted a very gloomy picture there, amidst a very interesting story woven in with some Physics.

    I wish I had an inspiring Physics teachers, I did get an A in high school but it seemed so abstract then but I find it more tangible now. So allow me to correct your Master’s third statement about the end of the world: “My worst case scenario is the very probable prospect of an unstoppable body moving fast and colliding (that word again) with an immoveable body, (our planet)”

    Earth is not an immoveable body, in fact it is rotating on its axis every 24 hours at a speed of 1670 km/hr and at the same time hurtling around the Sun at a speed of 108,000 km/h. Secondly, the faster moving objects that were on a collision course must have already collided at the formation of the universe, such that the objects we see today are those that are only moving in one direction and thus unlikely to collide into each other. And thirdly, the universe appears to be “expanding” rather than headed into a collision course.

    The first two options given by the Master could happen, the possibility is there, but it might take millions of years.

    My theory of what will likely cause the end of life on Earth? Why, us of course. Man will destroy the earth long before the forces of nature cause an “accident” that ends the Earth. Global warming, an all out nuclear war.. these are very real.

    • Hey Savvy, It’s not surprising that you are a physics fan. There is no greater, more beautiful subject in the whole universe. Your post on ‘a brief history of time’ is just saying the same thing.

      I am grateful for the correction about the planet not being immovable. The idea of some large body crashing into our planet at a high speed is what nightmares and thriller movies are made of. Remember the Meteor that crashed in Russia in 2013. It was said at the time that the rock weighed about 10 tonne, Luckily most of that burned up before it fell to earth!

      There are those who argue that advancements in science and technology have given us more comfortable lives. Modern life is comfortable for many today as science conquered disease and other challenges to life. It is also said that regrettably mankind has made little progress from when we left the forests and walked on two legs. We are the same selfish warlike animal, glorifying violence and wanton destruction for its own sake.

      Like you say Savvy, we are still the biggest single threat to our planet.

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