More haste, less speed, those old wives tell us.
Well, I have news for them. It’s less haste, less speed as well.
Today I spent my time watching old steam engines make their painfully slow way around the estates of a large Cornish stately home.
For a princely sum, we were permitted to amble around and peruse various gargantuan iron horses whose top speed averaged about ten miles an hour.
What these machines need, above all, from the 21st century traveller, is patience.
Because watching steam traction engines is like watching an ancient gentleman or lady with a zimmer frame making their way across the road; slow and deliberate. Hurry is another country somewhere far away.
I would not want you to conclude from this description that the engines are calm, or, indeed, quiet.
In fact, there was a fearful din at this meeting place for those engineer enthusiasts who love these old dinosaurs, a stage of steam which had its moment but has long been superseded.
“How much does that thing weigh, please?” hollered Phil as a steam roller crept tortuously past. “fourteen and a half tonnes” bawled back the delighted reply.
They are so grateful when you ask, these engineers whom steam has claimed for its own.They like polishing the brass on their engines until they can see their blackened faces in it.
There is none of the romance of a steam train, which can still fly along a track with debonair efficiency. Being pulled along by a steam engine is a ponderous business. They lumber along the road, all pistons and pummelling.
And because there is no speed, the thick black coal smoke hangs about to coat our nasal cavities and thicken the hot summer air.
Every now and then, it would make a loud backfiring bang and everyone, including the dogs who had arrived for the 2 o’clock doggy talent show, would jump violently.
I wondered, as the day wore on and became hot and wearing:what process was making that noise?
We all know what detonation is. It’s a big boom. An explosion which sends shock waves throbbing through the air. It happens with bombs and TNT and it is not something you want to be close to.
But there’s a subsonic relative of the detonation. Any time something is heated until it burns away rapidly, transferring heat to cold areas with lightning speed-slower than the speed of sound-that’s deflagration.
We see far more deflagration in our lives than detonation. And we never give it the credit that perhaps it deserves.
I could have stopped one of the solemn drivers of these iron monsters and asked them: is there deflagration on going on in the dark chambers of your trusty steed?
But I fear the answer, like the engines, would have taken all day.
Writen in response to Side View’s Machiavellian weekend theme: deflagrate