Tuesday, December 20, 2011

1976: Crash! Whizz! Bang! Boom!*

Christmas had come and it was that in-between bit where you're usually forced to accompany your parents to their friends' drinks parties and then co-erced into pretending to be friends with their ghastly children with whom you have nothing in common, not even school.

So it was with relief by the time I was nearly 12 that I didn't have to go with them if I didn't want to. There'd be less whining that way and besides, I could stay home and play with my new chemistry set as that isn't likely to pose any threat of danger whatsoever, is it?

I had been given a fantastic chemistry set for Christmas. Not that I was mad on chemistry but now that we were doing it at school I found it quite interesting, especially the experiments, that involved naked flames and minor explosions. I have a feeling that most boys in the class asked for a chemistry set that year. But did any of them nearly burn down their dad's shed?

Our shed was not a normal shed. It was tacked onto the garage which was in turned tacked onto the house so was kind of an indoor shed if there was such a thing. It was a large, square, flat-roofed affair and provided ample space for Airfix, Shakermaker, painting-by-nubmers and anything else that was banned from the house for being too messy. It also housed all dad's tools and lots of liquids and chemicals that would go up in a moment, like white spirit, meths and oil. So all in all the perfect place to set up a chemistry set unsupervised. Someone call social services.

Though this tinderbox didn't catch fire, it came pretty close. I was as reckless as I could be with the mixing and heating of chemicals, but it didn't stop there. I'd melt stuff over the burner and drip into a test tube containing God knows what just to see hwat happened. If it bubbled and boiled over, all the better. And I still have the scar on my thumb to prove it.

My love affair with my favourite toy of that year lasted until all the chemicals ran out and there nothing left to play with, so about three weeks then. And then music happened, which was just starting to really grab me. I remember hearing this song on the radio a lot while fiddling about in the shed but I didn't know what it was. Just a jolly tune to nearly die to. I've not been near a chemistry set since. Can you still get them?

*Being an instrumental, I have nothing to call this thread from the song, but you'll find Mike making all these noises and more in this brilliant vid


  1. Love the skippety folk-dancing ladies! I reckon I could probably still play that tune on the recorder, if I still had one.

  2. A chemistry set for the kiddies - it's unthinkable now. That one with with the Purdy bob looked exactly like one of the check out girls at our local Safeway supermarket, and at the time was convinced she was busying herself between shifts making pop videos(she wasn't)

  3. Mike didn't seem very impressed by any of those poppets. They look exactly like Young Wives Association from a parish near Tunbridge Wells, circa 1978. The sort of place that was a hotbed of wife-swapping and adultery behind the scenes.

    I'm out of my mind with jealousy that you got a chemistry set. My parents refused to buy me one in case they got raided by the Anti Terrorist Squad as a result. They were a bit paranoid about being Irish in England during the 1970s, you see.

  4. You can still get Chemistry Sets, some for children, less dangerous stuff, some for 'older children', with more fun stuff like the essential magnesium ribbon...


    I think I'll get you one for Christmas JP. And also one for you, ISBW.

    But not for you, Mondo, unless you and Piley promise to follow the instructions and not endanger those around you by mixing up your own compounds.