Saturday, June 07, 2008

Bully for the Boffins

I have always found the word 'boffin' infinitely consoling. It has been in sad decline, perhaps because there are fewer boffins - obsessive, socially incompetent, necessarily British people in white coats with pipes (the men) and mascara where lipstick should be (the women) conducting improbable, unwise experiments of immense national significance. Barnes Wallis was, I suppose, the supreme boffin - at least when played by Michael Redgrave. These thoughts are inspired by this story about a British missile called - only a boffin could have come up with this, not because of feelings sexual inadequacy but because he didn't get the reference - The Penetrator. The video captures the grey-skied, windswept apparent futility of the perfect boffin experiment. 'So, guys, let me get this straight, you have made a missile that can be fired into a wall of sand, right?' 'Right.' 'I must be getting back to the ministry. Taxi!' My chest swelled. The boffins are back.

9 comments:

  1. If the price of oil continues to rocket, the boffin may well enjoy a new golden age. Already this town is filling up with oddly-shaped bicycles - ones you pedal while almost lying down, etc. I'd guess these are boffin designs. Small matters like being so low down that anyone sitting in a car cannot see you do not feature in the calculations.

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  2. Occasionally, an ancient Armstrong Siddley would slowly wend its way past our office windows, along Gunnels Wood Road towards the BAC main entrance, piloted by the lad himself, bouncing Barney, there no doubt to ask why, once again the testing of their wire guided whizz bang had gone awry, aiming itself at the top brass observing the event, rather than the target, and why they were using ancient crop spraying biplanes to test the latest high tech radar gubbins. British boffins are us, wonderfull, wackey, weird, carry on Clive, James and the wally who crashed the rocket, in a (very) far flung field.

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  3. let's hope the beings who live under the moon's surface do not mistake these scientific investigations as earthling aggression and decide to teach us a lesson

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  4. Absolutely, Prof Ransom. I imagine that firing the Penetrator into a wall made of gigantic rounds of cheddar would have been seen as outrageous interplanetary provocation.

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  5. Doesn't the very word conjure up nostalgic visions, originally created by "The Eagle", "The Hotspur"... a great word, though now slightly comical. Love it though.

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  6. No, Frank Whittle is the epitome of boffin.

    The Germans and the Americans had whole tribes of scientists trying to make a jet engine.

    Frank wore a white coat, everyone in England thought he was a wanker (almost the defining attribute of a boffin) and yet he was right. The Gloster jet, powered by Power Jets Ltd (a true Boffin company) was the only allied jet to fly in the war.

    And in the true spirit of Boffinism, we now have the Boeing Jumbo Jet and the EuroDustbin. And no British jet.

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