By Greg Doolan
Growing up as a kid there were those ideas I just got.
Gravity was simple. It took me one… ok, two flying leaps from the roof of the chook pen to grasp the finer points. Despite busting up my knees and elbows on the first attempt, my much older brother egged me on to a second go; arguing I’d failed first time around because I hadn’t put enough effort into the run up and take-off jump. Mustering all the strength of my scrawny four-year old frame, I hurled myself headlong from the pen a second time and, for the briefest of moments, I thought I was flying. Then gravity kicked in.
Instead of the freedom of birds, I experienced the shock of belly flopping back to earth. I remember the initial terrible feeling of being badly winded and thinking I’d never be able to breathe properly again. Then when I did eventually find my breath, I remember the taste of damp soil and grass mixed in with blood from where I’d busted my teeth against my lower lip following my face-plant.
Oh yeah, I also remember the sound of my brother laughing.
There were also ideas that puzzled me. For example, where did the Earth stop and space begin? While I knew there must be a reason, I couldn’t work out why the air didn’t just rush out. It wasn’t like there was a giant bubble or one of those cool Star Trek-type force fields around Earth keeping the space out and the air in. I knew there was something called ‘atmosphere’ but I didn’t know how it worked. When astronauts flew skywards in their rockets, there must be a moment when the blue fades away and the black of space and twinkle of stars take over – but at what point?
I was also shocked to learn one day that there was a hole in something called the Earth’s ‘ozone layer’, and that the hole over us in the southern hemisphere was much larger than the one in the north. Two holes? Maybe Earth did have a bubble wrapped around it after all, only now there were holes in it. Maybe those rockets blasting off all the time from America and Russia had been punching lots of small holes in the atmosphere until they formed two big ones. Oh crap!
The same impulse that made my older brother encourage me to do stuff like leap headfirst off tall structures and touch my tongue to battery terminals also made him taunt me mercilessly about the failing ozone layer. He’d pretend to gulp in huge breaths of air, keeping it up until I would run crying to my nearest parent saying that he was stealing all the air and I didn’t want to die.
My brother eventually grew up and made the most of his talent for terrorising impressionable people, becoming something called a radio ‘shock jock’. I figured he just switched from stealing one type of the Earth’s air to another.