The British Library is a good place to do lots of things. One if them is meeting crazy people.
Encounter (1) I go up to the coffee machine. An elderly woman seeks my assistance in operating the machine. Or rather, she commands my assistance, and from her demeanour and accent I assume she was, once upon a time, the product of the public school system. After I get her a cup of coffee, she asks where I’m from. I say Israel. She shows her concern: is it safe now? Depends for whom, I say, realising the last thing I want now is a Palestine/Israel discussion.
People do not realize how dangerous this tunnelling business is, she says. I once lived in a house in Devon and they found a very long tunnel under the house. 50 feet, we had to leave the house. It is very dangerous indeed. People don’t understand. Tear gas, that’s the solution, she says.
You used tear gas, I ask?
No, I recommend tear gas. You should just throw tear gas inside. Saves the need for bombs.
I excuse myself and leave, feeling growing nausea. Maybe it's my family history, but I don't react well to ideas including gas and closed places.
Encounter (2) Three hours later, again next to the coffee machine. A camp man in his fifties asks me in a Scandinavian accent: “what are you reading?”
This is a library, what are you reading?
I say I am not reading, but rather trying to write. He feigns admiration and amazement. And yourself, I say, before he has a question to ask more.
I invent, he says. I invented a new source of energy.
This sounds interesting enough so I accept his invitation for a seat, and ask for more details. He says it is all built on volcanoes. The machine will have no moving parts inside, and is to sit on top of volcanoes, because all this energy is going to waste. We could also burn trees, but then, he said, it will be very dull, no elks, not even mosquitoes.
He shows me business cards of people from the Royal Society, and claims he has a letter of support from Gordon Brown.
But what is difference between your invention and geothermal energy, I ask. He answers that the science establishment is entirely hostile, because his idea is so radically different. Then he lowers his voice, and admits he intends to give his machine to the Royal Navy, because it will be very very dangerous.
Please, take my email, he says.