I returned from my spiritual healing session feeling very mellow, to find the floor was back; and Daves experimenting with Erik’s blow torch.
“It’s ok, Mum,” said Dave 2 briskly. “We know what we’re doing.” He pointed the torch up at a bit of metal piping sticking out of the wall.
“Where’s Erik? He wouldn’t like you messing about with his tools.”
“Erik showed us how to use it,” said Dave 2. “He needs our help, now he’s moving to Phase 2.” A flame shot out of the torch, and the metal sparked and crackled.
“My turn,” said Dave 1.
“MY turn!” said Dave 1, trying to wrest it from him. It all looked quite dangerous, but I was determined to stay mellow. I heard my own mother’s voice in my head… Intervention gets you nowhere. It’s much better to let them work it out themselves.
“Phase 2?” I asked again.
Dave 1 secured the blow torch.
“Yep.” Dave 2 shoved Dave 1. “We’re going to build you a new bedroom. Then Dave 1 can have your room, and I can have ours to myself.” He shoved Dave 1 again.
“Where are you going to build my bedroom?” Dave 1 was swearing, and wielding the torch.
“We’re going to take down the conservatory. Stevanovich said it’s rubbish, anyway.” Dave 2 dodged the flame. “You shouldn’t have wasted your money, Mum. Anglian Windows are total cowboys.”
I told Stevanovich I wasn’t very happy with the plan, but he showed me the drawings Erik had done. “He will re-use the glass, but there will be timber, instead of white plastic. He is a trained architect. You think he’s just a labourer. The man is a genius! A cheap genius. You are so lucky.”
The drawings looked very professional, and the price did seem very good; and I didn’t want to give rein to my prejudices. Just because he smoked like a chimney, and took four sugars in his coffee, didn’t mean he couldn’t design an extension.
So Erik still arrives every morning, and I make him coffee with four sugars, and he smokes a few cigarettes, while the Daves play with his blowtorch. Then the Daves go to school, and Erik attacks the rubbish conservatory. Stevanovich has gone away somewhere, which is inconvenient, because there are lots of things I want to ask Erik, but can’t because of the language barrier. I’m trying to read up about time travel, which will feature in Novel 2, but it’s tough on my brain, especially with the demolition noise. I prefer to go out to read; and the best place is the laundrette.
The laundrette is a couple of minutes’ walk away, next to the bus stop we get the bus to the BMX track from. I’ve always loved the smell of it, and the big sign saying This Shop Is Not A Bus Stop, but I’d never been inside, not until Stevanovich removed the washing machine to take the floor up. The first day I went was grey and rainy, and the warm, scented, humming air was like a mother’s embrace. A few machines were turning desultorily, but the place was empty, apart from shadowy attendant, sitting in a cupboard at the back. As I set down my big blue IKEA bag, and opened the door of a machine, all the other laundrettes came back to me, from down the years. The one in Brighton, which I would stagger to, a bag in each hand, aged 10; load the machine and settle down to an hour’s undisturbed reading. The one on the university campus, where I started an ill-fated relationship with a boy called Piers. The one in Surrey Hills, Sydney, where I had a massive bust-up with Morag, my dour travelling companion, about whether to fold our washed clothes or just stuff them into the bag. The one in the Levis ad, which dominated the whole of the 80s. What was the song? Damn. What was it?
I sat and read about worm holes, and event horizons, and cosmic strings. The simplest design for an actual, working time machine, as far as I could gather, was the rotating cylinder. Fran Tipler, a young physics graduate at the University of Maryland, published construction details for one of these back in 1974. The cylinder needs to be infinitely long, 80 times denser than nuclear matter, and to rotate with a surface speed of at least half the speed of light. These stipulations were going to be problematic for my protagonist. Also, he wouldn’t be able to travel further into the past than the date of the construction of the machine.
Maybe it would be a virtual machine, based more on philosophy than quantum physics. Or experiential; yes, an exercise in faith. “What a cop-out!” said an imaginary, crumple-clothed Morag. I remembered the fight we had in Bali, after far too much arak. It got physical, and lots of Balinese boys came running through the night to stop us from murdering each other. Trying to remember what the fight was about, I transferred the clothes into one of the enormous driers. Sat back down and watched them rising and falling in the rotating cylinder. A bus pulled away from the bus stop. The shadowy attendant shifted and sighed. Time stilled. Everything was perfect.