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Flann O’Brien Splits the Atom

Flann O’Brien Splits the Atom

2023-05-15 05:30:10

“Did you ever uncover or hear inform of the atomic principle?” the sergeant inquired.

“No,” I answered.

He leaned his mouth confidentially over to my ear. “Wouldn’t it shock you to be advised,” he mentioned darkly, “that the atomic principle is at work on this parish?”

“It could certainly.”

“It’s doing untold destruction,” he continued, “the half of the individuals are affected by it; it’s worse than the smallpox.”

He walked on, wanting nervous and preoccupied, as if what he was analyzing in his head was disagreeable in a really intricate means.

“The atomic principle,” I sallied, “is a factor that isn’t clear to me in any respect.”

“Michael Gilhaney,” mentioned the sergeant, “is an instance of a person that’s almost banjaxed from the precept of the atomic principle.

Wouldn’t it astonish you to listen to that he’s almost half a bicycle?”

“It could shock me unconditionally,” I mentioned.

“Michael Gilhaney,” mentioned the sergeant, “is sort of sixty years of age by plain computation and if he’s itself, he has spent a minimum of thirty-five years using his bicycle over the rocky roadsteads and up and down the hills and into the deep ditches when the highway goes astray within the pressure of the winter. He’s all the time going to a selected vacation spot or different on his bicycle at each hour of the day or getting back from there at each different hour. If it wasn’t that his bicycle was stolen each Monday he would be sure you be greater than midway now.”

“Midway to the place?”

“Midway to being a bicycle himself,” mentioned the sergeant.

“Your speak,” I mentioned, “is unquestionably the handiwork of knowledge as a result of not one phrase of it do I perceive.”

“Did you by no means research atomics if you had been a lad?” requested the sergeant, giving me a glance of nice inquiry and shock.

“No,” I answered.

“That could be a very severe defalcation,” he mentioned, “however all the identical I’ll let you know the dimensions of it. All the pieces consists of small particles of itself, and they’re flying round in concentric circles and arcs and segments and innumerable different geometrical figures too quite a few to say collectively, by no means standing nonetheless or resting however spinning away and darting hither and thither and again once more, on a regular basis on the go. These diminutive gents are known as atoms. Do you comply with me intelligently?”

Comedy, like sodomy, is an unnatural act.

—Marty Feldman,


“They’re full of life as twenty leprechauns doing a jig on high of a tombstone.”

“Now take a sheep,” the sergeant mentioned. “What’s a sheep, solely hundreds of thousands of little bits of sheepness whirling round and doing intricate convolutions contained in the sheep? What else is it however that?”

“That might be sure to make the beast dizzy,” I noticed, “particularly if the whirling was occurring inside the pinnacle as properly.”

The sergeant gave me a glance which I’m certain he himself would describe as considered one of non-possum [I can’t] and noli-me-tangere [don’t touch me].

“That comment is what might be known as buncombe,” he mentioned sharply, “as a result of the nerve strings and the sheep’s head itself are whirling into the identical cut price, and you’ll cancel out one whirl in opposition to the opposite, and there you’re—like simplifying a division sum when you may have fives above and under the bar.”

“To say the reality, I didn’t consider that,” I mentioned.

“Atomics is a really intricate theorem and could be labored out with algebra, however you’ll wish to take it by levels, since you would possibly spend the entire evening proving a little bit of it with rulers and cosines and related different devices after which on the windup not imagine what you had proved in any respect. If that occurred, you would need to return over it until you bought a spot the place you could possibly imagine your individual info and figures after which go on once more from that individual place until you had the entire thing correctly believed and never have bits of it half-believed or a doubt in your head hurting you want if you lose the stud of your shirt in mattress.”

“Very true,” I mentioned.

“Consecutively and consequentially,” he continued, “you’ll be able to safely infer that you’re manufactured from atoms your self and so is your fob pocket and the tail of your shirt and the instrument you utilize for taking the leavings out of the criminal of your hole tooth. Do you occur to know what takes place if you strike a bar of iron with a great coal hammer or with a blunt instrument?”


“When the wallop falls, the atoms are bashed away all the way down to the underside of the bar and compressed and crowded there like eggs underneath a great clucker. After some time in the midst of time they swim round and get again ultimately to the place they had been. However for those who maintain hitting the bar lengthy sufficient and laborious sufficient they don’t get an opportunity to do that, and what occurs then?”

“That could be a laborious query.”

“Ask a blacksmith for the true reply and he’ll let you know that the bar will dissipate itself away by levels for those who persevere with the laborious wallops. A few of the atoms of the bar will go into the hammer, and the opposite half into the desk or the stone or the actual article that’s beneath the underside of the bar.” “That’s well-known,” I agreed.

“The gross and web results of it’s that individuals who spend most of their pure lives using iron bicycles over the rocky roadsteads of this parish get their personalities combined up with the personalities of their bicycle because of the interchanging of the atoms of every of them, and you’ll be shocked on the variety of folks in these elements who almost are half folks and half bicycles.

I let go a pant of astonishment that made a sound within the air like a foul puncture.

“And you’ll be flabbergasted on the variety of bicycles which might be half human, virtually half man, half partaking of humanity.’

A Caricature Group, by John Hamilton Mortimer

A Caricature Group, by John Hamilton Mortimer, c. 1766. Yale Heart for British Artwork.

“Are you sure in regards to the humanity of the bicycle?” I inquired of him. “Is the atomic principle as harmful as you say?”

“It’s between twice and 3 times as harmful because it could be,” he replied gloomily. “Early within the morning I typically assume it’s 4 occasions, and what’s extra, for those who lived right here for just a few days and gave full play to your commentary and inspection, you’ll understand how sure the sureness of certainty is.”

“Gilhaney didn’t appear like a bicycle,” I mentioned. “He had no again wheel on him, and I didn’t assume he had a entrance wheel both, though I didn’t give a lot consideration to his entrance.”

The sergeant checked out me with some commiseration. “You can’t anticipate him to develop handlebars out of his neck, however I’ve seen him do extra indescribable issues than that. Did you ever discover the queer conduct of bicycles in these elements?”

“I’m not lengthy on this district.”

“Then watch the bicycles for those who assume it’s nice to be shocked repeatedly,” he mentioned. “When a person lets issues go thus far that he’s half or greater than half a bicycle, you’ll not see a lot as a result of he spends lots of his time leaning with one elbow on partitions or standing propped by one foot at curbstones. After all there are different issues linked with women and women’ bicycles that I’ll point out to you individually a while. However the man-charged bicycle is a phenomenon of nice allure and depth and a really harmful article.”

At this level a person with lengthy coattails unfold behind him approached shortly on a bicycle, coasting benignly down the highway previous us from the hill forward. I watched him with the attention of six eagles, looking for out which was carrying the opposite and whether or not it was actually a person with a bicycle on his shoulders. I didn’t appear to see something, nevertheless, that was memorable or outstanding.

The sergeant was wanting into his black pocket book.

“That was O’Feersa,” he mentioned ultimately. “His determine is simply twenty-three %.”

“He’s twenty-three % bicycle?”


“Does that imply that his bicycle can be twenty-three % O’Feersa?”

“It does.”

“How a lot is Gilhaney?”


“Then O’Feersa is way decrease.”

“That’s because of the fortunate undeniable fact that there are three related brothers in the home and that they’re too poor to have a separate bicycle apiece. Some folks by no means understand how lucky they’re when they’re poorer than one another. Six years in the past one of many three O’Feersas gained a prize of ten kilos in John Bull. Once I bought the wind of this tiding, I knew I must take steps except there was to be two new bicycles within the household. Fortunately I knew the postman very properly. The postman! Nice holy struggling indiarubber bowls of brown stirabout!” The recollection of the postman appeared to present the sergeant a pretext for limitless amusement and trigger for intricate gesturing together with his crimson arms.

“The postman?” I mentioned.

“Seventy-one %,” he mentioned quietly.

“Nice Scot!”

“A spherical of thirty-eight miles on the bicycle each single day for forty years, hail, rain or snowballs. There’s little or no hope of ever getting his quantity down under fifty once more.”

“You bribed him?”

“Definitely. With two of the little straps you set across the hubs of bicycles to maintain them spick.”

“And what means do these folks’s bicycles behave?”

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“These folks’s bicycles?”

“I imply these bicycles’ folks or no matter is the correct identify for them—those which have two wheels underneath them and a handlebars.”

“The conduct of a bicycle that has a excessive content material of humanity,” he mentioned, “could be very crafty and fully outstanding. You by no means see them transferring by themselves, however you meet them within the least accountable locations unexpectedly. Did you by no means see a bicycle leaning in opposition to the dresser of a heat kitchen when it’s pouring outdoors?”

Wall Street Bubbles—Always the Same, by Joseph Keppler Jr., 1901.

Wall Road Bubbles—All the time the Similar, by Joseph Keppler Jr., 1901. Caricature of J. P. Morgan as a bull blowing bubbles representing inflated values. Library of Congress,

“I did.”

“Not very far-off from the fireplace?”


“Close to sufficient to the household to listen to the dialog?”


“Not a thousand miles from the place they maintain the eatables?”

“I didn’t discover that. You don’t imply to say that these bicycles eat meals?”

“They had been by no means seen doing it—no one ever caught them with a mouthful of steak. All I do know is that the meals disappears.”


“It’s not the primary time I’ve seen crumbs on the entrance wheels of a few of these gents.”

“All this can be a nice blow to me,” I mentioned.

“No person takes any discover,” replied the sergeant. “Mick thinks that Pat introduced it in, and Pat thinks that Mick was instrumental. Only a few of the folks guess what’s going on on this parish. There are different issues I’d moderately not say an excessive amount of about. A brand new woman instructor was right here one time with a brand new bicycle. She was not very lengthy right here until Gilhaney went away into the lonely nation on her feminine bicycle. Are you able to respect the immorality of that?”

“I can.”

“However worse occurred. No matter means Gilhaney’s bicycle managed it, it left itself leaning at a spot the place the younger instructor would rush out to go away someplace on her bicycle in a rush. Her bicycle was gone, however right here was Gilhaney’s, leaning there conveniently and making an attempt to look very small and comfy and engaging.

Want I inform you what the consequence was or what occurred?”

“You needn’t,” I mentioned.

“Effectively, there you’re. Gilhaney has a time out with the woman’s bicycle and vice versa contrarily, and it’s fairly clear that the woman within the case had a excessive quantity—thirty-five or forty, I’d say, despite the novelty of the bicycle. Many a grey hair it has put into my head, making an attempt to control the folks of this parish. When you let it go too far, it might be the tip of all the things. You’ll have bicycles wanting votes, and they might get seats on the county council and make the roads far worse than they’re for their very own ulterior motivation. However in opposition to that and alternatively, a great bicycle is a good companion, there’s a nice allure about it.”

“How would you understand a person has lots of bicycle in his veins?”

“If his quantity is over fifty, you’ll be able to inform it unmistakable from his stroll. He’ll stroll neatly all the time and by no means sit down, and he’ll lean in opposition to the wall together with his elbow out and keep like that each one evening in his kitchen as a substitute of going to mattress. If he walks too slowly or stops in the midst of the highway, he’ll fall down in a heap and must be lifted and set in movement once more by some extraneous social gathering. That is the unlucky state that the postman has cycled himself into, and I don’t assume he’ll ever cycle himself out of it.”

“I don’t assume I’ll ever trip a bicycle,” I mentioned.

© Flann O’Brien, 1967. Used with permission of A.M. Heath and Co., Ltd. and the Property of Flann O’Brien

Flann O'Brien in an overcoat standing next to a Dublin Diversion sign

From The Third Policeman. Born Brian Ó Nualláin in Eire in 1911, the writer revealed his novels—amongst them At Swim-Two-Birds and The Laborious Life—utilizing the pseudonym Flann O’Brien and his newspaper column for the Irish Instances, which ran for twenty-six years, utilizing the pseudonym Myles nag Copaleen. He additionally served within the Irish civil service from 1935 to 1953. O’Brien died of a coronary heart assault in 1966. The Third Policeman, the novel he had accomplished in 1940 however couldn’t get revealed, appeared posthumously.

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