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A Shout From The Attic: The Failed Alchemist

...I deftly struck a match and lit the magnesium strip.

Once it had taken hold it burned with a fierce white light that, when it reached my cocktail, set it alight with a brilliant flash accompanied with the most smoke I had ever seen all at once in a single place...

Ronnie Bray discovered at an early age that he was no alchemist.

To read earlier chapters of Ronnie's engaging autobiography please click on
http://www.openwriting.com/archives/a_shout_from_the_attic/

I had a brief flirtation with chemistry. Science at school introduced me to some rudimentary elements of chemical magic. Every chemist shop was just that - a shop where chemicals could be bought. They also sold glass rods, test tubes, retorts and all the other ancillary equipment that makes chemistry seem so grandiose when it is really only struggling to reach banality. Some other elements of the chemist’s dark art were spoken of in boys’ gatherings where the more experienced shared their wisdom.

One Saturday I took my spending money and went to the chemist on the corner of King Street and Cross Church Street. I bought flowers of sulphur, potassium nitrate, and magnesium ribbon. Try buying those ingredients today from your local drug store. My home did not boast a chemistry laboratory other than the kitchen. The kitchen was not safe.

Grownups were likely to wander through to the kitchen and question young lads about dubious activities. Consequently, I retired to my attic where out of sight was out of mind, and a boy on the edge of startling discoveries could find leave-alone peace.

An old-fashioned commode cupboard served as Granddad’s bedside locker. The back of this was made of inch thick pine. Laying the cupboard down on its door I made a heap of the commingled sulphur and saltpetre and placed a strip of magnesium ribbon running to its centre. I deftly struck a match and lit the magnesium strip.

Once it had taken hold it burned with a fierce white light that, when it reached my cocktail, set it alight with a brilliant flash accompanied with the most smoke I had ever seen all at once in a single place.

The light in the room was darkened as at midnight and the unmistakable stench of death-dealing sulphur fumes filled the room. In that smog, life, as we know, it was unsupportable.

Holding my breath, I groped my way to the window. My eyes were closed, streaming in protest at the Venusian atmosphere. The small window opened and I almost leapt out into the clean air. I hung out of the window until the room had cleared. This took some time. For once, I was glad that I was seldom disturbed in my kingdom near the stars.

When the smoke and smell finally cleared, I viewed my test bench. The lethal concoction - a bomb in reality - had burned its way almost through the stout timber.

Future chemical exploration was restricted to growing copper sulphate crystals on a piece of wire in a test tube and using the same mixture to make invisible ink.

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