Me, Boy George and a phial of copper sulphate

I CAN’T imagine I’ve much in common with Boy George, but we are close in age and appear to share a feeling for the past that he describes as “progressively nostalgic”. I take it he doesn’t make the mistake of thinking everything in the garden was rosy, but does appreciate all that was genuinely good, while making the most of the present and anticipating future joy to be had.

I found myself in a progressively nostalgic trip down Memory Lane when I turned the page of a magazine and was transported back to 1975. There lay a photograph of my Merit chemistry set, from the era of the Bay City Rollers. It evoked the distinctive blend of methylated spirit and over-wintering apple that dominated our garage, where I conducted my fiendish experiments.

Except they were neither fiendish nor experimental. We were hardly talking Frankenstein or Pasteur. Whereas Jane took A-levels in all three sciences (not that I knew her at the time, which is perhaps just as well), I was more the Mad Professor. Well, just mad, really. For me, the periodic table was something mum brought out from the cupboard under the stairs whenever we had a crowd round for tea. My knowledge stretched to making stink-bomb smells (though I can’t remember how) and delighting as iron filings turned to sparklers when dropped into a flame. I soon ran out of the compounds to do that, though, and so in my ignorance was left simply to gaze at the spirit burner’s shifting flame and savour the operating-room smell even though I knew it killed brain cells. I was never tempted to drink it like the sad folk who spent all afternoon slumped in the concrete precinct in town. I might have been daft, but I wasn’t that stupid. If I were an unruly Dennis the Menace, the boy on the front of the box was swottish Walter the Softy. He wore a pristine white shirt, ugly brown tie and had hair like Prince Charles, with a side-parting like a furrow. The arrival of punk must have come as a four-megatonne surprise. By that stage he was probably receiving his Young Scientist of the Year award from Magnus Pyke. I looked up rubber tubing and litmus papers on the web the other day, for old times’ sake. For �170 you can get “the ultimate chemistry set”. With its promises of pulling oxygen from hydrogen peroxide, it lends science the air of a potions class at Hogwarts. I’m sending off a cheque now, and clearing space in the garage. I note one of the first lessons in the handbook is making a mini-fire extinguisher. Now, that might come in very handy...

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