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They’re running low on potatoes.
A slight frown creases her brow. They’ve never been able to get them to grow properly; the soil is too poor, the weather too hot. They’ve always had to make the two-hour return trip into town to stock up, or rely on the kindness of the Maddingleys down the road, for whom the things seem to mysteriously spring forth in a weed-like abundance. She’s never been able to learn their secret.
It’s lot of trouble to go to, but Jack has always been happy to make the trip. They’re his favourite.
She makes note of how many she’ll need to keep aside, so that she can cook him some the moment he gets home. A giant pile of them, mashed, just the way he likes it; and, after taking a day or two to rest, he’ll be able to go into town and pick up everything they need to re-stock. He’ll be champing at the bit, she’s sure – it’s been so long since he’s seen everyone, and oh, the stories he’ll have to tell! The countries he’s seen!
A knocking sounds at the front door: hesitant at first, but then loud, insistent.
She ignores it, as per usual. Men have been banging at the door for days, now – heavens, it must be over a week that it’s been going on. Most rude. It’s known in the area that, apart from a few exceptions, she does not take male visitors without Jack present – alone and isolated like this, she’s an easy target.
‘Mrs S?’
The voice is tentative. She recognizes it as belonging to Vic Johnson, Mary’s boy. He’d probably be fine to let in.
Still. Better safe than sorry. It wouldn’t do to be inviting young men inside. What would Jack think?
‘Mrs S? I’ll just leave this out here. Mum baked it fresh this morning.’ He clears his throat. ‘She’s worried about you. Everyone is.’
She peers around the edge of the curtain. Vic is standing on the verandah, his freckled face concerned, hand raised in indecision towards the door. A rectangular shape wrapped in a tea-towel sits at his feet: bread, clearly. That was nice of Mary, although she’s not sure what’s prompted it.
Vic hovers uncertainly for a moment longer, then jams his too-tight hat on his head and hops onto his bicycle, juddering off down the road in a haze of red dirt.
She shakes her head. People have been acting so strangely lately.
Everything must be perfect for Jack’s return. She’s checked everything so many times, and yet she keeps finding things that could be better.
His clothes are laid out lovingly across the arm of his chair. The one that’s falling apart, cat-clawed and rat-chewed. The one that he’s never let her replace or even fix, joking that he’ll be buried with it. Maybe only half-joking. She’s never been sure.
Maybe the clothes should be folded? It would be more proper. She frets with the shirt, folding, unfolding, laying it out differently. No, folding is definitely better. He needs to know that she has been taking care of the house in his absence, small and poor though it is. He’s always taken such pride in it, in the effort he spent building it and the work that she does to keep it in perfect order.
She’ll need to re-iron his clothes, then. It would probably be more appropriate to leave them on the bed for him, now that she thinks of it. Oh, she can leave his dressing gown and slippers and pipe on his chair, and then when he gets back he can just relax if he wants to, and then everything will be wonderful.
She cleans fitfully, removing any speck of dust or dirt or hair that has dared settle since she last cleaned this morning. Everything has to be perfect for Jack. He’s been in Europe so long.
Smokey meows and wends his way around her legs, leaving a patina of fine black hairs on her dress. She sighs in fond exasperation, telling him off even as she scratches behind his ear. More cleaning to be done, then, once she’s finished her dusting.
She works her way along the mantelpiece, lifting the telegram and dusting beneath it before carefully putting it back, edges neatly aligned. It’s been there for at least a week, now.
She hasn’t opened it. Won’t open it. Not yet. They always open telegrams together, she and Jack, on the rare occasions they receive one.
What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her.

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Quantum Theories

Q is for ... Quantum biology

A new and growing field that explores whether many biological processes depend on uniquely quantum processes to work. Under particular scrutiny at the moment are photosynthesis, smell and the navigation of migratory birds.

H is for ... Hawking Radiation

In 1975, Stephen Hawking showed that the principles of quantum mechanics would mean that a black hole emits a slow stream of particles and would eventually evaporate.

U is for ... Uncertainty Principle

One of the most famous ideas in science, this declares that it is impossible to know all the physical attributes of a quantum particle or system simultaneously.

Y is for ... Young's Double Slit Experiment

In 1801, Thomas Young proved light was a wave, and overthrew Newton’s idea that light was a “corpuscle”.

M is for ... Multiverse

Our most successful theories of cosmology suggest that our universe is one of many universes that bubble off from one another. It’s not clear whether it will ever be possible to detect these other universes.

J is for ... Josephson Junction

This is a narrow constriction in a ring of superconductor. Current can only move around the ring because of quantum laws; the apparatus provides a neat way to investigate the properties of quantum mechanics.

R is for ... Radioactivity

The atoms of a radioactive substance break apart, emitting particles. It is impossible to predict when the next particle will be emitted as it happens at random. All we can do is give the probability that any particular atom will have decayed by a given time.

H is for ... Hidden Variables

One school of thought says that the strangeness of quantum theory can be put down to a lack of information; if we could find the “hidden variables” the mysteries would all go away.

L is for ... Light

We used to believe light was a wave, then we discovered it had the properties of a particle that we call a photon. Now we know it, like all elementary quantum objects, is both a wave and a particle!

P is for ... Probability

Quantum mechanics is a probabilistic theory: it does not give definite answers, but only the probability that an experiment will come up with a particular answer. This was the source of Einstein’s objection that God “does not play dice” with the universe.

E is for ... Entanglement

When two quantum objects interact, the information they contain becomes shared. This can result in a kind of link between them, where an action performed on one will affect the outcome of an action performed on the other. This “entanglement” applies even if the two particles are half a universe apart.

O is for ... Objective reality

Niels Bohr, one of the founding fathers of quantum physics, said there is no such thing as objective reality. All we can talk about, he said, is the results of measurements we make.

X is for ... X-ray

In 1923 Arthur Compton shone X-rays onto a block of graphite and found that they bounced off with their energy reduced exactly as would be expected if they were composed of particles colliding with electrons in the graphite. This was the first indication of radiation’s particle-like nature.

S is for ... Schrödinger Equation

This is the central equation of quantum theory, and describes how any quantum system will behave, and how its observable qualities are likely to manifest in an experiment.

S is for ... Superposition

Quantum objects can exist in two or more states at once: an electron in superposition, for example, can simultaneously move clockwise and anticlockwise around a ring-shaped conductor.

A is for ... Alice and Bob

In quantum experiments, these are the names traditionally given to the people transmitting and receiving information. In quantum cryptography, an eavesdropper called Eve tries to intercept the information.

U is for ... Universe

To many researchers, the universe behaves like a gigantic quantum computer that is busy processing all the information it contains.

M is for ... Many Worlds Theory

Some researchers think the best way to explain the strange characteristics of the quantum world is to allow that each quantum event creates a new universe.

W is for ... Wave-particle duality

It is possible to describe an atom, an electron, or a photon as either a wave or a particle. In reality, they are both: a wave and a particle.

T is for ... Tunnelling

This happens when quantum objects “borrow” energy in order to bypass an obstacle such as a gap in an electrical circuit. It is possible thanks to the uncertainty principle, and enables quantum particles to do things other particles can’t.

B is for ... Bell's Theorem

In 1964, John Bell came up with a way of testing whether quantum theory was a true reflection of reality. In 1982, the results came in – and the world has never been the same since!

Q is for ... Qubit

One quantum bit of information is known as a qubit (pronounced Q-bit). The ability of quantum particles to exist in many different states at once means a single quantum object can represent multiple qubits at once, opening up the possibility of extremely fast information processing.

C is for ... Computing

The rules of the quantum world mean that we can process information much faster than is possible using the computers we use now.

W is for ... Wavefunction

The mathematics of quantum theory associates each quantum object with a wavefunction that appears in the Schrödinger equation and gives the probability of finding it in any given state.

V is for ... Virtual particles

Quantum theory’s uncertainty principle says that since not even empty space can have zero energy, the universe is fizzing with particle-antiparticle pairs that pop in and out of existence. These “virtual” particles are the source of Hawking radiation.

R is for ... Reality

Since the predictions of quantum theory have been right in every experiment ever done, many researchers think it is the best guide we have to the nature of reality. Unfortunately, that still leaves room for plenty of ideas about what reality really is!

B is for ... Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC)

At extremely low temperatures, quantum rules mean that atoms can come together and behave as if they are one giant super-atom.

G is for ... Gluon

These elementary particles hold together the quarks that lie at the heart of matter.

P is for ... Planck's Constant

This is one of the universal constants of nature, and relates the energy of a single quantum of radiation to its frequency. It is central to quantum theory and appears in many important formulae, including the Schrödinger Equation.

D is for ... Decoherence

Unless it is carefully isolated, a quantum system will “leak” information into its surroundings. This can destroy delicate states such as superposition and entanglement.

R is for ... Randomness

Unpredictability lies at the heart of quantum mechanics. It bothered Einstein, but it also bothers the Dalai Lama.

L is for ... Large Hadron Collider (LHC)

At CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, this machine is smashing apart particles in order to discover their constituent parts and the quantum laws that govern their behaviour.

D is for ... Dice

Albert Einstein decided quantum theory couldn’t be right because its reliance on probability means everything is a result of chance. “God doesn’t play dice with the world,” he said.

K is for ... Kaon

These are particles that carry a quantum property called strangeness. Some fundamental particles have the property known as charm!

T is for ... Teleportation

Quantum tricks allow a particle to be transported from one location to another without passing through the intervening space – or that’s how it appears. The reality is that the process is more like faxing, where the information held by one particle is written onto a distant particle.

F is for ... Free Will

Ideas at the heart of quantum theory, to do with randomness and the character of the molecules that make up the physical matter of our brains, lead some researchers to suggest humans can’t have free will.

G is for ... Gravity

Our best theory of gravity no longer belongs to Isaac Newton. It’s Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. There’s just one problem: it is incompatible with quantum theory. The effort to tie the two together provides the greatest challenge to physics in the 21st century.

I is for ... Interferometer

Some of the strangest characteristics of quantum theory can be demonstrated by firing a photon into an interferometer: the device’s output is a pattern that can only be explained by the photon passing simultaneously through two widely-separated slits.

N is for ... Nonlocality

When two quantum particles are entangled, it can also be said they are “nonlocal”: their physical proximity does not affect the way their quantum states are linked.

S is for ... Schrödinger’s Cat

A hypothetical experiment in which a cat kept in a closed box can be alive and dead at the same time – as long as nobody lifts the lid to take a look.

Z is for ... Zero-point energy

Even at absolute zero, the lowest temperature possible, nothing has zero energy. In these conditions, particles and fields are in their lowest energy state, with an energy proportional to Planck’s constant.

C is for ... Cryptography

People have been hiding information in messages for millennia, but the quantum world provides a whole new way to do it.

I is for ... Information

Many researchers working in quantum theory believe that information is the most fundamental building block of reality.

A is for ... Atom

This is the basic building block of matter that creates the world of chemical elements – although it is made up of more fundamental particles.

A is for ... Act of observation

Some people believe this changes everything in the quantum world, even bringing things into existence.