Wednesday

Wednesday 28/08/02I have a call from a friend in Torquay, who's worried about the behaviour of one of their neighbours. The house in question has started to sprout hand-written notices saying things like "I'm too rich to shop.

Wednesday 28/08/02
I have a call from a friend in Torquay, who's worried about the behaviour of one of their neighbours. The house in question has started to sprout hand-written notices saying things like "I'm too rich to shop. Do it for me", pictures of psychotic clowns and other evidence of industrial-grade eccentricity. Which isn't unknown in Devon, m'dears: in fact, it's one reason I intend to retire down there when I've finished the best-selling novel and no longer have to rein in my more alarming tendencies. "It's sad", says my friend, "but they've even covered up the blue plaque to some famous bloke who used to live there. I think he was a radio inventor, you've probably heard of him. Heaviwood? Something like that." "Oliver Heaviside?" I ask. "That's him. I knew you'd know him. You anorak." And indeed, it's a name familiar to any seriously over-enthusiastic radio type. I knew him because he famously predicted the existence of the ionosphere -- once known as the Heaviside layer -- twenty years before it was discovered. I looked him up, and he did a lot more than that. He produced the workable forms of Maxwell's equations, the basic building blocks of electromagnetic theory, and the German discoverer of radio waves, Hertz, said that he owed it all to Heaviside. Just think, we could be talking megaheavis and kiloheavis instead of megahertz and kilohertz. Ollie did lots more beside in many fields and almost always got overlooked or stymied by his many enemies: yet an assessment of the time said he was one of the most important mathematicians of the late 19th century. I doubt one person in a thousand knows his name today. And all this despite being nearly deaf since early childhood and leaving school at sixteen. Unsurprisingly, he ended up not so much bitter and twisted but completely off his dipole. After he'd moved into his Torquay house, a report says he replaced all his furniture with "granite blocks which stood about in the bare rooms like the furnishings of some Neolithic giant. Through those fantastic rooms he wandered, growing dirtier and dirtier, and more and more unkempt -- with one exception. His nails were always exquisitely manicured, and painted a glistening cherry pink." I relayed this to my friend, who is suitably gratified that they are indeed living near some leyline of latter-day lunacy.

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