Jack's Blog

Back to school for Jack, where he finds real life closing in on him. Will being the son of engineers help?

It's Uni application time, and suddenly all these people I know have got, like, serious careers to go to.

There's Shannon 'never caught smoking' Edwards, who wants to be a doctor. Mum says doctors are so stressed that finding a quiet place to have a fag would be a useful skill.

And there's Ben, who used to be in a secret chess club with me, who's applying to MIT on a Microsoft scholarship, which means that years of hiding the fact that we liked maths is trashed.

But the real downer is Alexa Johnson, who got picked up by a modelling agency over summer and only came back to pick up the Mensa Challenge Trophy she lent the school. She was always skinny and scary looking but, you know, that goes with knowing Pi to the 1,000th place. Now she's lost a stone, has platinum hair, and is so weak she could barely carry the trophy to the bus stop. We thought of pinning her to the ground and force-feeding her Snickers from the vending machine but someone remembered her peanut allergy just in time. Also, no one had change. And so she tottered off in weird high heels to the rest of her life.

So what's happening to mine? I've been angling for a gap year but the parents think I'd just sleep in until noon and eat everything in the fridge. And as there are no casual jobs out there for my entire generation, who's to say they are wrong, especially when they sat me down to show me just how mortgages work.

"Imagine," they said, "that the mortgage is a ravening beast which, contrary to all natural laws, does not just wither away and die whenever its keepers neglect to feed it, but grows like the national debt. And further imagine that we, the keepers, have two very small packets of peanuts to feed it every month, packets which seem to have shrunk recently thanks to food price hikes, a volatile oil supply and the tragic demise of our fixed price deal. We have so few peanuts, indeed, that you aren't getting any of them, son, and we may be dipping into your trust fund in the very near future just to avoid the embarrassment of a forced sale."

To which I said: "Trust fund?" and they said: "Well, a shares-based ISA, so that's down the pan." I agreed to apply to university before Christmas.

"So, son," says Dad, when I bring all the UCAS stuff home from school, "where would you like to study?"

"Well, I dunno, it's like the hollow Earth theory, getting a uni place, isn't it?"

"Because they don't exist?"

"No, it's all theoretical, the offers you get. They don't really do unconditional offers. You've got to get your results, and only then do you know if you're going to uni at all. Hollow Earth theory, see; no one knows it's there until they find it. Ta da, under my feet all the time, never saw it."

(I've been reading up on it because the holidays were dragging a bit, and it turns out loads of people think that the middle of the Earth is empty and there's a couple of suns in there and strange beings, plus humongous holes at either end where the Northern Lights seep out. Massive. No wonder the government wants it hushed up.)

"Yeah," says Dad, "except the hollow Earth isn't a theory."

"Yes, it is."

"No, it isn't."

"But it's never been disproved."

"You don't need to disprove it! It's a fantasy, dreamed up by cult leaders and Nazis! No self-respecting scientist would even consider it!"

"But you can't disprove it," I say.

"Yes I can. If the Earth was hollow all the readings we've had from earthquakes for decades would be meaningless, and as it is they are not meaningless, they show very clearly that bits of the Earth are pretty solid and bits are a bit liquid and, besides, none of the satellites currently orbiting the Earth would be orbiting for very long because hollow Earth wouldn't exert much of a gravitational pull, would it? And as there are always people trekking to the poles, how come they've never fallen into the great big holes up there?"

"Ah, but what if we were on the inside? What if we are part of hollow Earth?"

Dad looks at me as if my face has fallen off.

"Inside the Earth? Do you think the London School of Economics wants to hear this at an interview?"

"No, think of it, Dad. When you invert a sphere, every point on the outside maps to the same point inside. So we are inside hollow Earth, and on the other side of the world is Australia, just where it should be, and we are looking up at the stars and the Moon, but they are in the centre of the sphere.

"And because light slows down and stuff, and everything gets smaller the further you travel, it looks like a long way. And everything that makes the world go, you know, all the forces, they all work exactly the same inside the sphere. You can't prove otherwise. All makes sense to me."

By now Dad is holding on to pieces of furniture.

"Please say you're just doing this to torment me."

"No, but it would be sweet, if we were inside, wouldn't it? Like a Jules Verne novel."

"Yes, but life isn't a Jules Verne novel," says Dad. "I wish it were. I used to long to journey 20,000 leagues under the sea."

There is a pause.

"I'm afraid life is more like one long application form than a Jules Verne novel," he says, but not unkindly. "Look, let's go through the brochures and we'll find a really cracking Uni together."

"Glasgow's cool," I say. "It looks just like Hogwarts."

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