Written by Frederica

 

Somewhere on or about my eleventh birthday I was given a book by my maternal aunt.  It was ‘Chemistry Experiments for Boys and Girls’. The preface contained exhortations on the encouragement of chemistry as a hobby, for those children who were interested. The purpose being, the hope that such encouragement might lead to further and more in-depth studies being taken up in years to come.  

Even then (mid 1950’s) it expressed the opinion that this ‘harmless and educational hobby’ would lure the young from the attractions of….. ‘cinema, wireless and more doubtful forms of entertainment’!  Television was not mentioned – and the internet was not even remotely on the horizon of the masses.

The table of contents and lists of illustrations and diagrams was followed by an extract from the ‘Sale of chemicals to Juniors’ rules and regulations: “A recent Annual Report of His Majesty’s Inspectors of Explosives announces a large increase in the number of accidents caused by the illegal manufacture of fireworks”. It went on to say that “Pharmacists are further requested to ensure that certain substances should not be sold to children under sixteen years of age”. Pharmacists were further asked to ensure that chemicals were required for the proper purpose and would not be used by the purchaser for making explosives!

There was a section on general hints and precautions for the young aspiring chemist.  Obvious ones like: start with simple experiments; wear old clothes etc., etc. and … the best till last: ”Do not annoy your Mother by spilling chemicals, leaving apparatus lying about or wanting to work in the kitchen when she is making dinner.  It is important to keep your Mother on your side!”

Armed with a list of requirements culled from a perusal of the experiments that caught my imagination,  my birthday pocket money in my pocket, I ventured off to the local pharmacy to order my equipment.  Bunsen burner; retort stand; test tubes; tripod; glass beakers and Petrie dishes and a selection of the chemicals I felt would get me started.  I encountered no opposition to my request although, looking back, I do wonder at my being permitted to purchase Sulphuric Acid and Mercury! I suspect I had to return later to collect the majority of my requirements but soon I was in full possession and with boundless enthusiasm to begin.  I was fortunate to be given access to one shelf of my Mother’s sideboard for my storage.  In those days our house had an open gas tap by the fire (presumably for a gas poker) so my Bunsen burner was soon in operation.  I confess to sometimes going ‘off piste’ and combining chemicals ‘just to see the result’.  But … nothing much happened and the house was still standing long after I finally left home.

Recounting this tale recently, I was met with exclamations of horror at my being allowed to do such a thing!  “Think of the possible damage you might have done, both to yourself and to others”!  I am pretty much certain that pharmacists would not be selling these chemicals today and most definitely not to someone as young as I was then.  Sadly, I lost my taste for experimentation and did not take up chemistry in my latter years of education.  I came across my old Bunsen burner not so very many years ago as I was clearing out my parents’ house after their deaths.  It certainly brought back memories!

Which makes me ponder about how far we have come down the road to the ‘Nanny State’.  How much influence over our lives is now exerted under the ‘safety-first’ and ‘just-in-case’ principle.  I agree that in the more hazardous working environments, ‘Health and Safety at Work’ has done much to ensure that unnecessary accidents and deaths have been very much reduced.  However, it does seem to me that the Authoritarian State has fed off this ‘Elf ‘n Safetee’ principle in order to reduce us to the status of meek ‘order-takers’ rather than have us using autonomous, common sense awareness of our own safety and well-being!

Is this why we are in the position in which we now find ourselves, where the ‘Big State’ has not only assumed responsibility for our every move but has devised legislation in order to ensure our absolute compliance?  Do we really need to be told in such detail that certain activities might be hazardous to our health and wellbeing?

Are we now so uneducated and ignorant that we cannot recognise a situation where we might be exposed to harm?  Crossing the road is a hazard.  Driving a car is a hazard.  Leaving our homes for any purpose is a potential hazard!  During the past 14 months, where we have been virtual prisoners of the State, we have been lectured and exhorted by ‘Big State’ in the form of ‘government’ to be careful; vigilant and mindful of our ‘safety’. The ‘fear factor’ has been indoctrinated into us with such ferocity and intensity that it is no wonder that so many are fearful of even drawing a breath. The ‘Black Death’ could have hardly produced a more fearful and compliant population than the daily insistence that ‘non-compliance’ could kill us all.

What a far cry from the days of my childhood when we roamed the fields and woods and river banks with scarcely a thought uppermost in our minds other than enjoying ourselves and our lives! Sure, we were aware of the hazards of being around water courses and climbing trees etc., but we were not paranoid, just ‘mindful’.

A far more unpleasant hazard facing us today is the importation of people from other lands whose culture and beliefs do not chime with our own and whose attitude to the Country that has given them housing; clothing; food and a life here, appears to be one of aggression and hatred.

Coupled with the seeming inimical stance of our own ‘government’ against the people it was elected to serve, there seems to be every reason why we should be more vigilant of our own ‘Health and Safety’ than ever before. Why has ‘government’ driven its countrymen into such a state of unrest and unease?  I know which era I would prefer to be in at this present time … and it is not this one!

 

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