This week on the Rob Brydon show I heard Dr Brian Cox explaining the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which I think is otherwise known as entropy. I was not paying full attention as I was, at the time, trying to repair a school rucksack, not yet two weeks old, with a tapestry needle and some flimsy cotton. I realised that in fact what I was trying to do was reverse the inevitable process of entropy. Had I had access to an industrial sewing machine I might have made a better job of it.
I am not a physicist and so forgive this donkey explanation, but entropy is basically the process of things cooling down, breaking up, losing form, spreading out. It is an ice-cube melting in a glass of gin, autumn leaves being scattered by a breeze, it is a pile of dirty laundry and a sink full of washing up.
Of the five items usually housed in my son’s PE bag, only two came home at the end of last year; a pair of trainers and a pair of shorts. He searched at school for the missing items, possibly, but despite being named they did not turn up, that was until I had posted a cheque for £49.50, at which time the sweatshirt reappeared. I don’t know which part of entropy was demonstrated by the random reappearance of the sweatshirt, but it was too late to get my money back.
My son is a human entropy attractor and should be studied by science. I am the main counter-entropic force in his life and I can tell you swimming against the second law of thermodynamics is frustrating and expensive. The pencil-case is another example. Every August I put together the most elegant and complete set of writing-related tools into a clean and tasteful pencil-case. As a lover of stationary, I marvel at my triumph. ‘Look what I have gathered from the outer reaches of WHSmiths and Rymans’ I say to myself. I then pass this gift to my son and have high hopes for the preservation of the pencil-case and its contents. But every evening I reach into the school bag and look inside the pencil-case and a piece of my heart withers and dies. Pencils are not only worn and in need of sharpening, but lacking in lead despite being sharpened at both ends, rubbers have been pulled off, marmalised and rolled into grey bogey balls, some pencils have been SNAPPED IN HALF. I cannot bring myself to report on the health of the geometry set: it is too painful. A red pen has carelessly bled over everything.
‘Your child will need a ring binder for science this year’ said the note from school. Not only did I have a ring binder, but I filled it with clear plastic wallets, for extra-entropy protection and put inside the homework which we had just finished shouting at each other over. I put the folder inside the ripped school bag and allowed myself a small flutter of satisfaction. The folder, despite counter-entropically displaying his name, has not been seen since and the homework, now overdue, has to be done again. It is a matter of time before a drinks container leaks or a forgotten banana weeps inside the bag and over its entire contents.
I remain resolute in my counter-entropic efforts but I know that at some point in the academic year, probably just after christmas, I will accept defeat. I will find a dog-eared piece of paper, a chewed biro and write ‘Sorry Miss, the second law of thermodynamics ate the homework, the school tie, the trainers,has eaten everything’.