Modern Physics Vol 1: Space

In which The Author contemplates the mysteries of length and breadth

In 1905 Albert Einstein published a remarkable paper (one of four in that amazingly productive year) exploring the theoretical implications of Riemann’s mathematical work. In so doing, he redefined our model of Universe. No longer could we think in terms of Space and Time as independent entities. Four-dimensional Space-time was the way forward.
But that has absolutely nothing to do with this blog. This is an extended diatribe based on a previous Annoyance, not aimed at anyone in particular.
Since the local authority embarked on the Aberdare town centre ‘regeneration’ there are numerous bottlenecks and obstructions which must be invisible to most people. The worst of these is undoubtedly in Victoria Square, where underground work is in progress on one side of the road. As a result, the pavement here is now much narrower than usual. Two people of average build can just about pass each other without being forced into the plastic fencing the contractors use. Stepping into the road just isn’t an option at the moment. And this gives rise to one example of how people disregard the issue of Space.
Every day you can watch young mothers with pushchairs, walking two abreast, pushing their way through this gap. Everyone else is forced to wait in shop doorways, or at either end. With parents like these as an example, it’s no wonder that groups of youngsters move through this restricted area mob-handed, shoving everyone else to one side.
At the other end of the age scale, elderly people (who, granted, don’t move around as quickly as everyone else) also seem to have this strange need to walk alongside their friends, blocking the way for anyone else. It really doesn’t help that the queue for Greggs usually stretches out of the door and into this already crammed area. I’ve even started cutting through the lane and using the back door of the Prince of Wales, so that I don’t have to battle my way through the logjam in front.
Talking of pubs, I can never figure out why some people choose to have a ‘conversation’ by sitting at opposite sides of the room and shouting across at each other. There’s usually plenty of scope for them to sit together, but no – they’d much rather bawl at their mates from fifteen feet away. If you’re in the middle, trying to talk to someone on the same table, all you can hear is their voices above the usual background noise.
On the other hand, standing crowds always find the most awkward spot (usually on the way through to the toilets or smoking area) so that it’s impossible for people to get past. The pub owners don’t usually help by putting the jukebox or slot machine right in this corridor, encouraging their punters to assemble there.
Directly opposite the pub there’s another congestion hotspot – Subway. This place seems to be rammed with teenagers morning, noon and night, especially at weekends (and no doubt it is at the time of writing, as it’s half-term). The pavement here is lined with railings, so pedestrians don’t even have the option of stepping into the road. Simply passing the entrance to Subway entails fighting your way past a scrapyard’s worth of bicycles, scooters and skateboards. Meanwhile the kids seem to regard you as some sort of intruder into ‘their’ space. There’s no point in asking them to move, you’ll get a mouthful of abuse for your trouble.
Next to Subway is Barclays Bank and, of course, the cashpoint. I can’t understand why people can’t queue in a straight line to use these machines. It’s obviously much more fun to stand with your friends or family gathered around you, blocking the whole pavement while waiting for your money. In fact, the whole concept of pavements seems to escape people these days.
My grandmother grew up in Hirwaun at a time when there were far fewer cars on the road, but even late in her life she’d walk in the middle of the road, seemingly oblivious to the oncoming traffic. Now, we’ve moved into a situation where pavements act as assembly points for people, and anyone wishing to move from A to B has to use the road instead. The ‘two-pushchairs-abreast rule’ applies to pavements in spades. Sometimes, if you’re really unlucky, you can get stuck behind an entire convoy of mothers and toddlers, with absolutely no hope of overtaking them on foot.
The same thing happens in Aberdare Market, where there isn’t a lot of room between the stalls to begin with. There a very popular butcher’s stall just inside the main entrance, and the queue sometimes takes up the whole width of the aisle. Slightly further inside is a greengrocer’s stall and the same thing happens there. At weekends, when the place is full of pushchairs, wheeled shopping baskets and walking sticks, you might as well add a good five minutes onto your journey time from one end to the other.
Back in the open air and back on the pavement, here comes your next dose of Spatial Annoyance. Two friends have stopped for a chat. It doesn’t occur to them to stand to one side so that they can face each other without being in anybody’s way. Instead, they’d much rather stand at right angles to the flow of foot traffic, so that anyone trying to pass has to walk between them and therefore appear ‘rude’. These are probably the same people who insist on parking their trolleys diagonally across the aisles in supermarkets, as I mentioned in an earlier blog entry. They’re almost certainly the same people who stand in groups in bus shelters, making it almost impossible to get through.
On a similar note, I’ve never been able to figure out why people getting off the train in Aberdare just mill around on the platform for ages. There are only two exits, one at either side of the ticket booth, so it’s hardly a difficult decision. Why can’t they simply make up their minds which exit they plan to use and then use it. Of course, most people use the path alongside the river, and here again the majority of mothers observe the ‘two-pushchairs-abreast rule.’
Now I come to think about it, though, I’m not sure whether the pushchairs are entirely to blame. I think it’s all down the deep insecurity many women feel about their bodies. The TV, the style magazines and the clothes shops all tell them that skinny is desirable, and that curves are something to fear. Could this be why most women seem to think their backsides require about eighteen inches more clearance than is actually necessary? Sometimes, when I’m stuck behind slow-moving females, it’s very tempting to shout, ‘No, your arse isn’t really that fucking big – now move the fuck out of the way!’ No doubt it’ll happen one day. I’ll keep you posted.
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