A 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 wanted to.
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 him.
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 Fencing.
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 circus make.
They leave early the next morning, my wife from the landing window heading for Pole 1 at the end of our road.
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 man's beard.
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 annhiliate. Wham!
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.