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Some lighter reading from Bill Bryson

A Short History of Nearly Everything is, as far as Iíve read, an entertaining and accessible attempt to survey the entire history of science.

So far, my main argument with Bryson is his quoting the same illustration of how the bending of spacetime explains gravity with which I took issue in another section of the Diary. This was used by Brian Cox in his BBC2 Horizon programme on the quest for controlled nuclear fusion - the rubber sheet with the heavy ball in the middle, on which - unsurprisingly, a smaller ball rolled across the sheet falls towards the larger one. Since this relies on the gravity of the Earth, it struck - and still strikes - me as a pretty silly demonstration.

More when Iíve finished the book...

A blast from the past

About a third of the way through the Bryson book, I came upon the following: It finally fell to two men from Cambridge University , a geophysicist named Drummond Matthews and a graduate student of his named Fred Vine to draw all the strands [of plate tectonics] together.

Vineís name rang a faint bell for me, and I thought he might have taught me maths at Latymer Upper School in what would now be called a gap year after leaving the sixth form. A few seconds of googling produced a page including Vine was educated at Latymer Upper School, London, and St. Johnís College, Cambridge University. The long-term memory of those of us in late middle age (well, Iím only 68Ĺ!) is a remarkable thing. Fred had a distinguished career in the USA and the UK, winning a number of important medals and awards with Matthews, and ending up as a Professorial Fellow of the University of East Anglia (and now Emeritus Professor).

I emailed him at the University and received the following by return:

Thank you for your email. It was fun to hear from you. You are only the second Latymerian to contact me in this way in all these years. You may be surprised (and sorry) to hear that I still have the ímark booksí and other memorabilia from 1958/1959. It transpires that you had the misfortune to be taught by me for the second and third terms in both years, i.e. in LVB2 and UVB2. I always quote LVB2 as the form that gave me the most trouble, in all respects. Judging by the report I have noted against your name in the mark book you may well have been on of the main troublemakers. It reads: "Very poor; no apparent intention of working. 28th equal." I am amazed by the frank and often politically incorrect statements, in todayís terms, that I made on reports in 1958/9. I am sure one would not be able to say such things today - moreís the pity.

In 1959 I was form master for 3B1 and the one other person to contact me was in this form. Last year I went to one of their reunions and met five members of the form, including the correspondent, for the first time in 51 years; quite a mind-blowing experience.

I note from your website that, despite your disinterest, and poor tuition, in maths, you have had a very interesting and varied career. Great stuff.

íVery poor; no apparent intention of working. 28th equal.í That sounds about right. Someone must have done something right, though, because I scraped a bare pass in my Maths O-level, with exactly the pass mark of 45%!

Personal site for Paul Marsden: frustrated writer; experimental cook and all-round foodie; amateur wine-importer; former copywriter and press-officer; former teacher, teacher-trainer, educational software developer and documenter; still a professional web-developer but mostly retired.

This site was transferred in June 2005 to the Sites4Doctors Site Management System, and has been developed and maintained there ever since.