That has been and remains my motto in life. I am reminded of it by the latest in a series of efforts through my life to try and understand the theory of relativity. If the procedure follows the usual pattern then it will end just short of the 'eureka' moment. What usually happens is that I shut myself in my 'study', draw the curtains, take the 'phone off the hook and open the latest book in which an author promises that all will be revealed even to 'O'-level maths & physics failures like me. I then concentrate really hard and suddenly, somewhere in the quagmire of my mind, there is a faint glimmer of understanding which begins to grow stronger and the revelation is almost at hand - when one of several things will occur. Either the cat who has sneaked in undetected kicks off with a racket because it wants out, or, the 'Memsahib' shouts up the stairs demanding to know whether I want my eggs fried or scrambled, or, I suddenly spot a book on a shelf which I had thought long-lost - whatever, my paltry concentration is blown and once again I am reduced to harrumphing that the notion that the watch (and therefore the heart) on a fellow whizzing past me on the Exeter Express whilst I stand on Sherborne station is running slower than mine is palpable nonsense!
Well, you must give me 'E' for Effort because I am having another try. Whilst waiting on Waterloo station last Saturday my sworn oaths to my local chapter of Bookaholics Anonymous went out the window and I sidled into W. H. Smiths with the surreptitiousness of a vicar entering a porn shop - just to have a look round, you understand, I really, really did not intend to buy anything, and came out 20 minutes later with three books which subsequently I had to smuggle past the 'Memsahib'. One of them was a modest little volume entitled Why Does E = mc2? written by a couple of terrific 'swots' called Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw. From their photos they appear to be approximately 14 and 15 years old respectively! Anyway, they promise, 'honest injun', that they will definitely explain all this relativity stuff and, given my past record, I look upon myself as the litmus paper in their teaching experiment. If they succeed with me then their book is established as a universal means of education.
I must say I am fairly impressed so far. They provide one easily understood example of the 'flexibility' of time and space by reporting on the brief lives of muons - don't ask, they're very titchy things which whizz about and only 'live' for 2.2 microseconds. Apparently some swots in America have a 14-metre doughnut-shaped ring in which they can accelerate these poor little muons up to 99.94 % of the speed of light. (My first question was why do those wretched Euro-swots need a ring several miles long at a cost of several zillion euros a mile?) Anyway, the muons, if left to their own devices, would manage 15 laps before expiring in their allotted life-span of 2.2 microseconds. However, when the swots press the accelerator the muons gallop round 400 times and their lifetime is extended by a factor of 29 to just over 60 microseconds!
But all that is how things look to the swots on the outside, looking in.
To the poor old muon, he still only lives 2.2 microseconds and succeeds in galloping round 400 times only because, to him, the doughnut ring has shrunk!
It was at this point, only 55 pages in, that my first headache came on and I have set my book aside in order to regain my strength before attempting a second effort. No wonder that Einstein looked a sandwich short of a picnic, the whole thing is Monty Python via the Goon Show!