Next time you’re turned down for something at work, I have a story for you to tell your boss (or at least to quietly tell yourself).
I’ll come back to Norwich, of course, but for a moment our scene is Bern, 1905: A young Technical Examiner Third Class at the patent office has applied for promotion to Technical Examiner Second Class. Though his academic qualifications are modest, he thinks he has a case for promotion and is disappointed when his application is rejected.
Meanwhile, in his spare time he’s done a bit of thinking and writing, and in that same year (not that his colleagues would know or care much) he has five papers published in an obscure journal of physics.
Three of the five are now considered among the most brilliant and important scientific papers ever written. One explained the nature of light and was to win him a Nobel Prize. Another ended an argument by proving that atoms really exist. The third was a Theory of Relativity which revolutionized, and continues to revolutionize, our understanding of everything.
His name was Albert Einstein, of course. I’ll come back to a problem he failed to crack, but he was a pretty smart cookie. Stephen Hawking, for one, is impressed:
“The theory of relativity forces us to change fundamentally our ideas. We must accept that time is not completely separate from and independent of space, but is combined with it to form an object called space-time”
Essential reading, surely, for Robbie Brady if he needs to play at left-back again.
You may be aware that physics faces a puzzle that neither Einstein, nor anyone since, has been able to solve. Normal size things, and everything upwards, behave beautifully to laws that we’ve discovered and refined. But very small things don’t play along; they operate to a completely different and mind-boggling set of rules.
As Norwich fans we’re well aware of this phenomenon, of course, having watched Wes for the past eight years. Defenders think they know where he is, then he suddenly pops up behind them. Uncertainty Principle indeed (though it doesn’t always work with penalties).
In the noble tradition of scientists, Einstein and Hawking each had their ‘Eureka’ moments. Sitting at his desk in the patent office, Einstein’s mind tended to wander – perhaps part of the reason for his failure to get promotion, but a boon for science. At one such moment he had an idea which led to relativity: “the happiest thought of my life”.
I wonder if City had that kind of Eureka moment on Saturday, or indeed during last night’s surprise win at Everton. The win at Forest was different from anything else so far this season: a combination of quality and character to wrestle three points out of a difficult game that was going against us. It reminded me of Blackburn (a) in our last promotion season, this time with Graham Dorrans taking the Bradley Johnson role.
The now famous (infamous?) dressing-room picture after the game suggested that the players knew they’d done something special, and perhaps taken an important step on the path to success. Early days still, of course, but they proved to us – and to themselves – that they could rise to a real challenge.
Perhaps you’ll allow me a small indulgence here. Some of the Eureka moments for the student Stephen Hawking and his group happened in a coffee shop in Cambridge. Though I didn’t know the science link at the time – let alone that I’d be writing a football piece about it – it was the place where I proposed to my wife. A very happy thought.
As a salutary lesson, Einstein followed up his theory (actually, theories) of relativity with a major blunder. I know City fans are focusing on the visits to Newcastle and Wolves, but it would be a serious mistake to assume that Burton Albion at Carrow Road on Saturday will be a doddle. Burton are well-managed, resilient and – despite a couple of setbacks this year – more than capable.
We’ll need similar levels of concentration to those we showed at Forest.
Apologies if you’ve been bored by this excursion into science. When WS Gilbert (of Gilbert & Sullivan) was rebuked that he earned more than the Prime Minister, he retorted “But I give more pleasure than he does”. The payment for this column isn’t quite on that scale – in fact, something of a clean sheet – but my fellow writers and I try to provide our bit of entertainment.
Everything’s relative, of course.