Monday, October 01, 2007

Why I will never be a chemist...

It was all my mums fault.

Well thats not strictly true, it was all the fault of lots of mums, all the mums who gathered on the street corners of Burley and gossiped, thats who's fault it was.

And the kid who blew a hole in his stomach, its his fault too.

I always wanted a chemistry set, my favourite TV programme when I was very small was Gerry Andersons Supercar, "He flies through the air with the greatest of ease", the car that is, and it went underwater too, i would have thought that by now Ford would have a Supercar in the showrooms, when I was five years old I seriously believed that we'd all be living on the moon by now, driving Supercars everywhere especialy when Neil Armstrong had walked on the moon by the time I was eleven, and all we got out of all that technology was cheap digital watches and teflon pans - pfft !

Anyway, chemistry, the hero of Supercar was of course the lantern jawed Mike Mercury, but he was not my hero, oh no, my hero was Dr Beaker the bald absent minded egghead who invented Supercar and aided our hero in his quest to quash "Masterspy" with all sorts of marvellous inventions, made with the aid of a small chemistry set of the type that could be purchased from most toy shops at or around christmas every year.

I wanted to be Dr Beaker, I wanted to be an inventor and a chemist who, when someone asked "how can we see through this fog for we cannot fly Supercar in this thick fog" would disappear to his laboratory for a few minutes and come back with Supervision, a TV set inside Supercar that enabled our hero to see through cloud and fog, how cool would it be to be the inventor of Supervision using just a small chemistry set that you got for christmas.

So I nagged for a chemistry set, I nagged and nagged my mother for a chemistry set and to be fair she was at first quite impressed with my hunger for knowledge of a sort that would lead to a "good job", she had obviously also been watching Supercar and obviously regarded me as the next Dr Beaker.

But then it all changed.
I still recall the day now...

We were on the daily shopping round, myself and my younger brother Ned being dragged by our arms up and down the hill at the end of our street, calling at all the corner shops to garner in that evenings food, for housewifes shopped daily in those long lost halcyon days when women didn't do jobs-in-offices, we'd be dragged up and down the hill each and every day, a task which should have taken less than half an hour to complete but in fact took all morning due to the fact that all the other women in the neighbourhood were doing the same thing at the same time and as women do when they shop, they chatted on street corners.

Sometimes there would be huge groups of women chatting on street corners, shopping bags dumped unceremoniously on the floor, headscarves tightened to hide the curlers beneath (for no woman dared admit that she used curlers to curl her hair, even though you could see them through the headscarf), and kids left to play with the tar inbetween the paving slabs at their feet, or sneak into whoever's front yard we were stood outside and get into mischief.

And it was while standing on a street corner listening to the inane gabble of a dozen women gossiping that I heard the words that struck a fatal blow to my Dr Beaker ambitions...

"He wants a chemistry set for christmas..."
"Ooooh, don't buy him one of those Joyce"
"Ooooh, no love don't buy him one of those Joyce"
"Ooooh, don't buy him a chemistry set, ooooh no, ooooh..."
"Why ever not ?"
"Ooooh, you must have heard..."
"Ooooh, you must have"
"Ooooh, that poor boy"
"What poor boy ?"
"Ooooh, last year, last christmas"
"Ooooh, yes it was, last christmas, that poor boy"
"Ooooh, blew a hole in his stomach he did"
"He did what ?"
"Ooooh yes, blew a big hole in his stomach with his chemistry set"
"Ooooh, it was a big hole"
"Ooooh yes, you could put your fist in it"
"Oh dear"

And she looked down at me and I knew there and then that I wouldn't be getting a chemistry set for christmas, thwarted by the gossiping women and the mysterious boy who blew a hole in his stomach with the chemistry set that he got for christmas last year.

After that I got the same excuse every time I asked for a chemistry set, "Ooooh no, you can't have one, that boy who blew a hole in his stomach..." and even though I asked her which boy it was and where he lived so that we could go and speak to his mother to see if he really did blow a hole in his stomach big enough to put your fist in, (which I secretly wanted to see) she never told me, each time I asked the question I was told "he lives down there..." with a wave of her hand somewhere down Burley Hill.

Truth is there probably was no such boy with a hole in his stomach big enough to put your fist in, it was just another "old wives tale", truth is that chemistry sets in those days contained nothing stronger than citric acid in a weaker solution than that normally found in your average household lemon, I know because we once visited another boys house and while the women gossiped in the parlour he took me out to his dads shed where his dad had secreted the chemistry set that his dad had bought against the wishes of his mother who also didn't want her son to have a hole in his stomach big enough to put your fist in.

In this boys shed we eagerly took out the forbidden chemistry set and built up an experiment following the instructions carefully, for neither of us wanted to blow a hole big enough to put your fist in, in our stomachs, a small explosion would have been just fine though, we built up the experiment, then under instruction from the manual carefully poured some "acid" into a test tube and ever-so-carefully took a sliver of paper from the box and dipped it in the "acid", the paper turned a different colour, it was amazing, I asked what that meant and the boy replied that it meant that there was acid in the test tube, I was then less than amazed as we knew that already for the phial that we had poured the "acid" from had "acid" written on it.

We turned the page of the manual but that was it, that was our experiment, we had proved the presence of acid in a phial of acid.

That my friends is the main reason that this country has not invented anything clever since the 1960's, crap chemistry sets for boys and gossiping women on street corners.

That christmas I got a Lego set instead and yes, you've guessed it, all those years later I went into the construction business.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

Great story! The only thing I remember about my chemistry set is that sulfur smells like farts.

I laughed at your comment about the moms wearing their scarves over their curlers, because my mom and her friends did the exact same thing. The funny thing was, I never saw them without their curlers in their hair - so I always wondered when they ever planned to "unveil" their beautiful hairstyle masterpieces.

Heh, thanks for the laughs.