Yesterday I was on my way out of a train station when I noticed something that I had never noticed before. Without exception, every single one of the turnstiles at the exits was set to turn in a clockwise direction. So I did some research and it turns out that all turnstiles and revolving doors in the northern hemisphere turn that way, while everything south of the equator goes counter-clockwise. Apparently the same is true of the way liquids swirl clockwise or anti-clockwise when you pour them down the sink. For some reason that I can’t quite fathom, the hands on clocks move clockwise no matter what part of the world you are in.
But this got me thinking. What would happen if I started messing with the laws of gravity or magnetism or whatever you call it? Would I get in trouble with the law? I mean, who the hell set up all these scientific laws anyway. That’s a rhetorical question, hence the lack of a question mark. Where I come from, if you want to pass a law you must first put yourself up for election to the national parliament, and then convince a majority of your colleagues to vote for your proposed piece of legislation. But apparently if you’re Isaac Newton or somebody, you can pass a law just by saying stuff that nobody else understands.
As an aside here, I would just like to pay tribute to all of the scientists throughout the ages who have experimented with apples. I myself once ate an apple right through to the core, and on seeing the hard white flesh near the centre, and thinking about it in silence for a few long minutes, came up with an idea for an essay about turnips for my website. So I can easily see how an apple could provide inspiration for such masterpieces as Newton’s Gravity Yoke, or whatever he came up with. Really if we’re being fair, we should give credit to the apples, not the scientist. But this is a topsy-turvy world and for some reason it’s always the human, not the inanimate organic food, that gets thanked.
Anyway, back to the thing about laws of science. Now I, as a private citizen, am not empowered to pass a law, for example, that bans television stations from killing selected viewers who change stations during the commercials. However, apparently I am completely free to legislate that “What goes up, must spin three times, freeze for a second like a tense moment in a cartoon, then come down”, and call it “Neal’s Law of Going up and Spinning”, Because that’s science. So I’ve decided that I’m going to take advantage of this new-found power by passing some new scientific laws.
I hereby order that cats cannot land on their feet unless they are covered in orange marmalade and humming the theme tune from Frasier.
Okay that’s enough for now. I don’t want to abuse my privileges. In fact, in the above short paragraph I’ve achieved pretty much everything I set out to achieve when I decided to go into politics, so I’m going to retire now. I think I can achieve more by quietly campaigning and maybe making a few Euros on the lecture circuit to support myself. You know, when I was a twelve year old I wanted to change the world. I thought I would become Prime Minister of my country and I would outlaw all crime and remove poverty forever. Then I came to realise that all crime is already outlawed, so I decided to concentrate on a cure for poverty. The solution I came up with was to give everybody a large quantity of money and order them not to spend it. Then nobody would ever be poor ever again and we would all live happily ever after. Just like in the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
Although Goldilocks, of course, would never have dreamed of putting orange marmalade on her cat’s paws. And this refusal to conform with the norms or our society would mean she is now guilty of aiding and abetting a criminal under my new “Orange Marmalade Humming Act, 2004”, referred to earlier. (Specifically, seven years earlier, when the original version of this article was first published). But you shouldn’t take from this that I am a staunch conservative who wants to hang all criminals and then put them in jail after they’re dead. No. All I’m saying is that it’s fun to make laws that annoy people, especially those who have cats or who refuse to keep a minimum level of marmalade in stock. You know, these are the same people who you see at polling booths, scratching their heads and trying to make a last minute decision about who to vote for. My country now has colour photos on the ballot sheet, so you can pick which candidate has the best hair, and vote for him or her without having to find out who they are or what they stand for.
So it’s not all bad. And I never said it was. I’m not a glass-half-empty person. It’s not empty until I shove the flat, day-old coke from last night down my parched throat at seven o’clock the next morning because I don’t have time to make coffee. Then it’s empty. And that brings me nicely back to the hemispheres / clockwise / anticlockwise thing. Because there’s going to be nothing left in the glass to throw down the sink and test which way it swirls as it disappears down the drain.
So now we’ll never know.