SUPERCOLLIDER FOR THE FAMILY
When he walked, this man, he walked with a heavy
shamble, as if his trousers held all the world's
spare change and his shoes were springs, soled with
warm toffee. But his heart was light and when he
smiled, Summer always seemed to begin.
Not any Summer, mind.
No, that specific Summer when you were six and all
your worries were stinging nettles, red ants and
finding the best tree to climb.
He could charm clouds away from the sun and persuade
flowers to open even in the darkness of night.
His face held joys like a never-empty pocket, but
like the pocket, you had to reach to find the joys,
for he was not a smiler by choice. His main
expression was one of concentration, of thinking
about the world. He held the world in wonder and
esteem; the mysteries he understood he knew he'd
been allowed to understand, the ones he didn't, he
He had seen many things in his life but his grey
eyes were always looking for new things, or new
angles at which to look at the old ones. They were
always on the move and the irises wobbled like the
rotating rainbows on the surface of soap bubbles.
His black hair curled in loose leaps that fell back
softly after visiting the air so briefly. His nose
was rounded and busy, always twitching, always
responding to whatever smells the wind was bringing
AFTER BEING GIVEN A MISSION TO BUILD A SUPERCOLLIDER
FOR THE FAMILY, THE NARRATOR RETURNS HOME. . .
I return home and am welcomed by my daughter.
She says she is having difficulty tying her
shoelaces. Now, usually I would tell her to call the
Doctor Martens technical support line, but this time
I help her out myself. The next morning she'll be
going off with my wife on her tightrope walk round
the world and I won't see her for some time. We
spend the evening together and we crash out in front
of the TV.
Our house is actually run as a Postman Patriarchy
where government is by my daughter's TV viewing
habits. We watch an episode of the X-Files Babies,
where Li'l Mulder and L'il Scully and their Robot
pal EXXY skip school and solve mysteries. This week
it's a double bill of "How much is that 2-headed
doggy in the window?" and "Wait til your father gets
home from the UFO testing range." She loves it.
Then the Sports news comes on and that's a whole
different can of laughter. Last year's Tour de
France had been run as a slow bicycle race and was
still not over. Top of the League were the
surrealist football team, Dali County. The Olympics
had been a real disappointment as all the nice guys
had finished last and all the winners were grotty
horrid people. Then it's a few rounds of Ballroom
I sit up and wait for my wife and she gets home just
after one. She's had a difficult and fruitless day -
she has been filling in for a friend who works as a
wild goose chaser and she hadn't caught one. To
cheer her up we talk about the plan for her
tightrope walk and I tell her how excited I am for
her. She says it's something that she just has to
do. That a rope over all the nations of the world
will unite the people of the planet in a craning
upwards look and point; One world one people, one
gesture. She says this will be her last great circus
adventure, but then again, she said that as well
after she swallowed the sword of state. I had told
her at the time that one sword swallow does not a
They leave early the next morning, my wife from the
landing window heading for Pole 1 at the end of our
I wave them off with a tear.
HE GOES TO GENEVA TO RESEARCH HOW SUPERCOLLIDERS
OPERATE . . .
We are going to see a real accelerator in operation
and while Bob floats on ahead Chun Li and I follow
in a golf cart.
Floating Bob presses a button and the machinery
powers up with a hum heard through every bone of
every body in the room. Switches are clicked with
satisfying "shicks", knobs turned, studied and then
turned just a tiny bit further. Numerical displays
sprint towards the right figures and then are still,
arrows indicating pressures tip back and forth on
dials like giraffes in a Centre Court crowd. The hum
is building - those with fillings in their teeth are
beginning to feel a sharp tickle.
And then suddenly, they're off:
The beam of protons is generated and fired from the
linear accelerator into the inner ring, the 600
metre round low energy booster, spun around there
and then they're pointed into the medium booster.
This 4000 metre ring is accelerating the proton
stream faster yet and defining the beam into a
narrower and narrower funnel. And then they're shot
into the High energy booster - 10.8 kilometres long
with magnets strong enough to pull whiskers from a
Floating Bob looks at his screen and he's satisfied
- they're excited up to the right levels and doing
well, so he reaches down and presses the space bar
on his keyboard and the beam is split
And then, like a race of greyhounds, they are let
loose in the main ring, the superconducting
supercollider. 87 kilometres in circumference, and
containing forces last let loose on the universe a
billionth of a second after the Big Bang. They
nearly reach the speed of light and are stretching
the theory of relativity to breaking point.
And then the beams crash into each other and
But there's not much light produced, nothing
actually goes boom, but when the collision happens
there is a feeling of real excitement. A computer
prints out a pattern of the event and it looks like
an exploded flower. Floating Bob looks down at his
screen, smiles, nods to everyone in the control room
and then takes me into his office.