The death this week of physicist Stephen Hawking sparked an avalanche of tributes, not all of which were riddled with spelling and grammatical errors. It’s Stephen with a Ph. No, not Phteven. And Hawking. No s. He was a cosmologist, not a cosmonaut. Also, he didn’t write a book about herbs called A Brief History of Thyme.
I suppose it’s reassuring in some small way that even the hard-of-thinking can appreciate the loss of someone whose IQ was higher than Ziggy Marley on a Friday night.
When I heard Hawking had died, I went straight to the fridge and got a beer. When the world loses someone who has contributed to the advancement of humanity, it’s important to celebrate their lives with a drink. It was 7.30am but we don’t get to choose when other people die. I wish I did. The streets would be littered with corpses.
I went outside, looked up into the cloudless sky, raised my bottle, mumbled a few words, and drank deeply to his memory. Then I had to apologise and do it all over again with a fresh beer because looking up into the sky seemed to suggest that he was up there somewhere in a mythical place called heaven.
Like a lot of very intelligent people, Hawking was an atheist. He once said, “I believe the simplest explanation is, there is no God. No one created the universe and no one directs our fate. This leads me to a profound realisation that there probably is no heaven and no afterlife either.”
If you are deeply religious, you’re probably washing your eyes out with holy water right now while shouting, “What did he know? He was in a wheelchair for most of his life!” I know what you mean. It’s hard not to look at a handicapped person and think they’re probably not that bright. Hell, it’s hard enough to look at a person in a wheelchair at the best of times. It’s not too bad when you’re sitting down and they’re at eye level, but it gets a bit tricky when you’re standing next to them like some kind of lord of the universe capable of jogging and even jumping over things.
I’m six-foot-four. I look down on everyone. My God complex is out of control.
So Twitter was awash in RIP tweets. One man pointed out that Hawking was born on the 300th anniversary of Galileo’s death and died on the anniversary of Einstein’s birth. “Time is circular – no beginning, no end,” he said. A bright lad, no doubt. Possibly stoned.
The very next tweet was from another bloke. “There’s a man walking through Woolies casually clipping his nails. Also, they don’t have cheese puffs. Can this experience get any worse??!!” Definitely stoned. Has only ever heard of Hawking in terms of selling stuff on the pavement.
After several beers in the British scientist’s honour, it seemed cruel not to share my spontaneous wake with a fellow intellectual so I called up Ted and he arrived ten minutes later with five crates of beer and a Malawian to help offload them.
“So who’s this Hawkins oke, then?” he said, despatching the Malawian with a promise not to report him to home affairs. I pointed out that he appeared to be suffering a malfunction in the hippocampus area. He started telling me about the time he registered at the University of Zululand but dropped out when he woke up one morning to find an actual hippo on the campus but got distracted by my lighting candles for the wake. Except I had no candles so I was setting random household items alight. It’s amazing how much stuff you don’t need.
“Excuse me,” said Ted, “I’m sitting here.” I apologised and made as if I was about to wee on his chair to put it out. He seemed to think this was inappropriate behaviour for a wake. Not if you’re Irish, I said. Ted correctly pointed out that the only Irish thing about us was our ability to hold our drink. The moment was ruined when he dropped his beer.
I had to concede that I was using the Irish as an excuse to ramp up the festivities and that Stephen Hawking’s mother was in fact Scottish.
“And his father?” I gave Ted the Gallic shrug, implying that nobody really knows anything about their fathers and it’s best not to ask. Ted is one of those men who believes the only way to get the measure of a man is to know about his father. He’s a bit like a Zulu in that way.
I suggested it might be appropriate to read some of the pearls of wisdom Stephen Hawking has dropped during his journey from birth in Oxford to death in Cambridge.
Ted raised his hand, accidentally dropping another beer. “Not much of a journey, really,” he said, his feet foaming like two giant salt-coated slugs. “It’s only two and a half hours on the M40.” I couldn’t resist pointing out that it’s quicker on the A421, even though it reinforced his stupid point. Anyway. The man had been in a wheelchair since 1968, for heaven’s sake. Not that there is a heaven. He did his travelling in his brain.
I told Ted about the weird Galileo/Einstein synchronicity, tossing in the little known fact that it was also Pi Day. He perked up considerably, wanting to know if I had any of them damn fine mutton curry numbers from the garage. I smacked him across the head and tried to explain how the 14th day of the 3rd month relates to the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter but something got lost in translation and it wasn’t long before I had to punch him repeatedly in the mouth to stop him going on about Bitcoin.
I asked him if he agreed that the human brain was a computer that would stop working if its components failed. His so-called head wobbled in what I took to be agreement so I rewarded him with another beer and a Hawking quote. “There is no heaven or afterlife for broken-down computers. That is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.” Ted scrunched up his face and started crying. Something about Windows 10. I couldn’t help him. I work on a Mac.
To cheer him up, I hit him with another quote. “Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist.” Ted stopped snivelling and looked down at his feet. He wiggled his toes. The more he wiggled the more he giggled. It set me off. I imagine cardiologists would recommend avoiding hilarity of such magnitude. You won’t laugh like that looking up at the stars, I can tell you.
“Hold on,” said Ted. “Stephen Hawking. Wasn’t he on The Simpsons?” I need new friends.
Questions are being raised about whether recently departed scientist Stephen Hawking might have discovered that God is, in fact, a catfish as described in The Holy Barbel.