Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Locomotive Speed: A Hell-Bound Hubris?

My wife Millicent and I are planning to travel to the Metropolis from Brighton. Instead of using the usual cow sleigh, we have- with some misgivings- decided to travel by the newly-launched locomotive. I have some qualms about high speed beyond the natural rhythms of the cow cart, or footwalking. Is it true that passengers suffocate at speeds in excess of 30 miles per hour? Is our hell-bent quest for speed a folly, an obsession to send us tumbling like Icarus?

Yours sincerely

Wilderberforce Throckmorton

The Cobbles, Brighton

My dear Mr. Throckmorton,
My gravest apologies for my delayed reply to your letter. Thadeus is in the local infirmary and I am dictating this from my bed, recovering from various powder burns and a case of the grippe after being hauled from the Thames.

This new-fashioned locomotive, or “Stephenson’s Rocket” as we refer to it in London, may be a blessing for our age, or an ungodly, speed-engorged steam and steel harpy rushing our fair populace into the most searing of Satan’s vilest pits.

Finding no biblical reference to the limits of human speed, we turned to the empiricism of Science. The fastest pace yet known to man, being that of a speeding cannon ball, is by our calculations approximately 80 miles an hour. So, with gunpowder as our muse, and the varied modes of cutting edge travel as our vehicles, we schemed to break the manned velocity of 30 miles an hour.

Attempt #1
With bravado modestly veiled by grumbling, trembling and a bible clasped white-knuckled to his belly, Thadeus lowered himself into the visiting messr PT Barnam’s circus cannon. As the usual Italian rocketeer looked a mere slip of a man, and what with Thadeus weighing in at 16 stone, I judicially increased the powder charge to compensate. Before I could even press the button on my stopwatch, Thadeus had bulleted over the safety net, his fall broken only by the Tombola stall. Tragically, the bible was in flinders, and Thadeus- bandaged head to foot- remains in a state of permanent concussion, and unfortunately incapable of any foreseeable input into your query.

Attempt #2
With our tamed urchin using my stopwatch as a timer, I strove to ramp a Penny Farthing with two aft-facing punt guns strapped to it over the raised booms of Tower Bridge. The recoil hit like a bullock to the buttocks, and I shot off, the cycle beyond my control. My glasses fell off, and to add even more insult sartorial depravity, I was cast into the Thames with an almighty splash. Sadly no measurement of my velocity remains, as the urchin has made off with the stopwatch.

After these two failed attempts, I must confirm that any speed beyond a slowly trotting horse buggy to be grievously perilous. The modern speeds of the locomotive are no place for any passenger attempting to survive the journey without suffocating, or vomiting forth their innards in a steaming spume of offal. Myth Confirmed.

I remain, your humble servant

Jebediah Kneebone Esq.

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