Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Article excerpt

'How many people have you slept with in your life, roughly?' she asked. We were lying in bed in the morning. 'You go first,' I said, needing time to think of the right answer. She looked at the ceiling and thought long and hard. 'About 50,' she said finally. I asked her about the worst experience. 'Your turn, Low life,' she said. 'I can't wait to hear this.' 'Well,' I said, 'it would take a Professor Brian Cox working with the latest European Space Agency number-crunching software to come up with anything like an approximate figure.'

By a weird coincidence, the next evening I was invited by a friend of a friend to have dinner with Professor Cox at his home. I had neither met him before nor seen him on telly.

Over dinner we talked about Einstein's theory of relativity being the last word, still, on how we understand the universe. We talked about how the latest theories about the origin of the universe are tending towards the astonishing idea that there was in fact no beginning, and that the universe is eternally going backwards in time as well as forwards. (Astonishing, anyhow, for the couple of hundred world-class physicists and astronomers, but common or garden knowledge for about 80 million Anglicans, 300 million Evangelicals, 600 million Pentecostals and Charismatics and well over a billion Catholics.) We also talked about this pair of once enormous suns, now shrunk to about the size of a couple of tennis balls, and locked together in a sort of shimmying dance. Brian did say how much each of these condensed suns weighed in tons, but I've forgotten the incredible number. All I can remember thinking at the time was that the number corresponded roughly to the weight of my ignorance. Their dance moves have been measured to the nearest millimetre, he said.

I say 'we' talked about these things. In actuality Professor Cox talked with great articulacy and enthusiasm while I pulled faces at him across the table. These faces ranged from the humorous scepticism of a Jeremy Paxman to -- as I trailed further and further in his intellectual wake -- a grinning George Formby, a loving, faithful golden retriever, and finally a stupefied gonk.

Then he rocked back in his chair, slapped his forehead and said, 'I nearly forgot! Tonight is the climax of the Perseid meteor shower! What time is it?'

It was almost 11 o'clock, the time given in the newspaper for the show to start. …

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