Sugar free in deep space

2nd April 2004 at 01:00
I have become adept at giving up bad habits recently. I've been sugar-in-tea free for more than a year now. This I achieved by gradually reducing from a level teaspoonful to a half teaspoonful down to increasingly homeopathic doses until I cut it out altogether.

Not only that, I've given up reading on the loo. This was all or nothing, as opposed to reducing the amount read in one sitting from a novel to a paragraph. I'm trying to give up negative language in the classroom. You know the scenario. Eighteen kids have their science jotters out but instead of praising them, I shoot from the hip at the ones who haven't.

Despite having read on the loo and taken tea with sugar (though not at the same time) for longer than I have been teaching, it is the language one that is proving the hardest to crack.

Something I have no intention of giving up, though some may see it as a vice, is watching the current series of Star Trek: Enterprise. I realise that in saying this I am undoing hundreds of column inches in which I have tried to foster the image of the Scottish literature-loving non-sad git physicist. So be it. I grew up in the 1960s, but the Cuban missile crisis went straight over my head. I was into moonshots.

Along came Star Trek and the Apollo programme looked like the beginning of something great, not another aspect of Cold War one-upmanship. Aged nine and lying in bed, I could project myself right into a space adventure of my own imagining: Kirk, Spock, Scottie (a Scottish person in space!) and me.

When I was at university, the Star Trek films started to appear. I might have affected ironic detachment outside the cinema but inside I was hooked to the silver screen. The video recorder was subsequently invented so that the duties of fatherhood did not prevent me from enjoying The Next Generation.

I never warmed to Deep Space Nine or Voyager, but I'm back in there with the new series. This opens with a theme song over a backdrop of scenes of exploration and scientific progress, from the Kon-Tiki through to the International Space Station and onwards to fictional interstellar travel.

To some people, all that space programmes have given us is the digital frying pan and the non-stick watch. To me, exploration and scientific progress, along with art, music and literature, are some of the things that make us human (or Vulcan) rather than being fairly intelligent Ted Hughes thrushes, with arms not wings.

"Star Trek or Star Wars?" asked an Intermediate 2 pupil at the close of the period one Friday. I could hardly begin to tell him the difference. Live long and prosper.

Gregor Steele cannae change the laws o physics.

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