Half a million should be enough to buy a little time

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The Independent Online
THE WRITER Susan Howatch has donated millions of pounds towards a professorship at Cambridge that will examine the relationship between science and religion. She has attracted a lot of controversy for so doing. This is unfair. If people want to criticise her, they should do so by putting up the ante and endowing their own professorship. That's just what I'm going to do.

So far I have been able to scrape together only half a million or so, which I am afraid won't buy a very reputable sort of professor. In any case, I am not interested in probing the connections between religion and science. I am after bigger game. I hope to fund research into the way time works, as I believe that in some way which we do not yet quite understand, time tends to travel at varying speeds - that it slows down and speeds up. I also believe it often goes too fast, especially on roads it has travelled before. I furthermore believe that time does not signal, or look in its mirror, when pulling out, and sometimes overtakes on the inside.

This is not a new idea. Nietzsche, for one, believed that things tended to repeat themselves. Nietzsche, for one, believed that things tended to repeat themselves. Buddha put ten bob each way on reincarnation as the most likely next-world scenario, and Einstein, if I have read him right - to be honest, I haven't read him at all, so perhaps we'll leave Einstein out of this.

But my funny feelings about time have received some backing recently. For instance, there was an illuminating item in the International Herald Tribune the other day, which suggested that science might be going backwards. It reported research going on at the University of Wisconsin, where microbiologists were looking for ways to decontaminate wooden chopping boards and make them as safe as plastic.

We all know the theory. Plastic is non-porous and does not ingest bacteria. Wood is full of tiny holes and the bacteria love to jump in and play hide-and-seek. Right? Right. This, however, is not what the researchers found. When they deliberately contaminated both plastic and wooden boards with nasty things such as salmonella and listeria, they found that none of the bacteria on the plastic died whereas 99.9 per cent of the bacteria on the wooden boards died within three minutes. Furthermore, if they left both kinds of board dirty overnight, 'bacteria multiplied on plastic, but died off on wood'. No matter which kind of wood or plastic they tried, wood always came out better. Now they are looking for the agent in wood that kills bacteria.

If I were Ms Howatch's professor, this evidence would suggest to me that there is a connection between science and religion, the connection being that God likes a joke as much as the next person. But I see it differently. I see this as evidence that time sometimes reverses on to the hard shoulder. All this stuff about wood being safer than plastic - science should have known about this years ago] Why didn't it? Because - and this is the only reasonable explanation - time is somehow running backwards temporarily.

Another example. I recently saw a television commercial for chocolate on which a voice sang: 'When Mr Cadbury's parrot says 'Hello' . . . ' I was shocked rigid. This was the same tune as an old Bonzo Dog Band song. It was very nearly the same words as well, because the song (written 20 years ago) went: 'When Mr Slater's parrot says 'Hello' . . . ' In some uncanny way, the song had resurfaced again after 20 years and was being reincarnated on ITV.

No sooner had I recovered from this shock than I heard an advertisement for P&O Ferries, which used a tune called 'Stompin' At The Savoy', written by Edgar Sampson in the Thirties and a minor hit at the time for, as far as I remember (I wasn't born then), Benny Goodman. There could be no rational explanation for a ferry firm using a song that publicised the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. Unless time really is going round in circles.