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A Man of Few Words - by Swan Morrison

The Pulse

George Johnson viewed himself at the cutting edge of innovative DIY. Not for him standard approaches and materials - groundbreaking experimentation was his driving principle.

Who, before George, would have envisaged the potential of recycled cardboard for structural beams? Who could have recognised the unsurpassed thermal properties of firelighters as cavity wall insulation?

A lesser man might have lost heart after the tragic death of his wife in the white heat of the conflagration that followed the collapse of the new extension. George, however, submerged his grief, striving for originality in his newfound field of household electrics.

Soon, unusual conducting materials, non-standard routing of current and control systems undreamt of by the Institute of Electrical Engineers led to the master control room which had once been his kitchen. He pulled a master switch - fashioned from an old clothes drying rack and baked bean tins - and waited.

Aside from a slight crackling in the air and his hair standing upright under electrostatic charge nothing appeared to happen. Had he been standing across the street, however, he would have noted the blue, pulsing, incandescent glow which enveloped his home and brought an undulating humming and unearthly illumination to the neighbourhood on that silent, moonless night.

This aura grew in size and intensity until, with a blinding flash and a crack like the sound of thunder, it rippled away in all directions into the darkness.

Before that night, George had believed, incorrectly, that he could illuminate his home and power the TV. Scientists had believed, also incorrectly, that an electromagnetic pulse of this intensity would require the detonation of a modest hydrogen bomb.

Fortunately the intense pulse of energy was harmless to people. All computer microchips within a fifteen mile radius were, however, rendered inoperable.

Living next door to George, I first noticed a problem when cleaning my teeth on the following morning. It seemed that my electric toothbrush required a microchip to manage its forty-nine programmable oral hygiene routines. Further difficulties occurred at breakfast. No household appliance operated. In retrospect, I might have guessed that the eighteen water boiling modes on the kettle were controlled by a microchip. It was disappointing, however, that my ‘electromulticut’ tin opener was also useless. It was with some relief that I discovered that cornflake packets and milk cartons could be opened and closed without the requirement of sophisticated software.

By the time I left for work, George’s house was already surrounded by anti-terrorist officers who had cycled or jogged to the scene as soon as the source of the pulse had been isolated - their vehicles having been immobilised. Bows and arrows were trained on the property as a senior officer rolled a newspaper into the shape of a megaphone and demanded that George emerge with his hands above his head.

The magistrate banned George from further electrical experimentation and sentenced him to one hundred hours community service on a major water engineering project. George was stoical. At least this provided an opportunity to test his new ideas on flood alleviation...