Friday, July 09, 2004

Science Club - The Truth at last

Science Club

"Good heavens Miss Sakamoto - you're beautiful!" -- Dr Magnus Pyke

I have alluded to the existence of Piggott School Science Club on several occasions in these journals, often as the starting point for some ill-advised adventure into fire and pain, usually ending with intervention from the Police, Her Majesty's Armed Forces or Men In Black. Shrouded in mystery, like Fight Club, we never spoke of it.

Fellow lunatic Balders and I have traded reminiscences of this frightening period of our lives, and it is only now, with most of the protagonists behind bars in Guantanamo that the truth can be told.

Science Club - referred to as WMD Programme 4176/GB1C/PG by the UN Inspectorate - was run by our Aryan overlord Dr "Tucker" Jenkins after school in a secret compound cunningly disguised as a school science block. Virtually indestructable (and God, we tried) this was to become a nest of teen idiots determined to try to poison, frazzle or just plain old annihilate as much school equipment as we possibly could. Youthful curiousity, our teachers called it; or, as it was known to us "Let's burn stuff!"

Tucker possessed piercing blue eyes, pale, slightly watery of the kind usually posessed by homicidal nutters in Hollywood thrillers. Mrs Jenkins was pretty fit, and was obviously provided by the security services as a reward for recruiting not-so-innocent schoolkids in a plot that eventually inspired the "Demon Headmaster" books.

Balders: I always wonder if PJ was trying to recruit us for some subversive organisation. He was always encouraging the most outlandish of experiments involving pyrotechnics, massive voltages, huge currents, etc. I mean, Christ, with a bit more direction we would have been knocking out suitcase nukes within a year or two. Fair hair, watery blue eyes, hmmm. Got it! Bet PJ worked for either SMERSH or SPECTRE.

Me: Whatever the truth, the powers that be put their foot down on the bomb factory and closed it down the year I left. Either that, or our mission had been accomplished. Bear in mind that this was the year of the Falklands Conflict... The most likely reason for the abrupt assertion of grown-up authority was probably something lethal cooked up by Cookie, or Metal, our two lunatics-in-residence, who always seemed to have some outlandish scheme up their sleeves.

My first experience of Science Club was Metal trying to make his own TV transmitter out of an old vacuum cleaner motor and a load of cardboard. It didn't have a plug on it, so he used a screwdriver to stick the bare wires down the plug terminals. Safety first, eh?

"It worked for John Logie Baird" he claimed.

"And he's dead as well," was the answer.

In the end, this led to Metal getting busted by The Man for running a pirate radio station from his bedroom, broadcasting his favourite records and homework hints to whoever was listening. Unfortunately, he gave his home phone number for the dial-in show and was rumbled in minutes.

And then there was the time we went round the school with a note from Jenkins saying we were doing a study into the effects of cigarette smoke, and could we have some of your fags please sir/miss? We got about fifty, used two in the experiment, and then smoked the rest ourselves. I think he got a 20% cut, which he flogged on to support his meagre wage.

Balders: The railgun (otherwise known as a Linear electro-magnetic accelerator - don't try this at home, kids!) was a 5ft long masterpiece inspired by Robert Heinlein, and an inspiration to Cookie for further acts of destruction. Construction materials for future related projects were restricted as a result of the railgun's effectivness.

It would accelerate any smooth object - and we used loads, ball bearings, drifts, rods, darts, small change - to terrifying speeds. We also welded quite a few to the rails. We never managed to measure terminal velocity at the 5' mark but it was fucking fast. Thing was, this beast looked gorgeous. two shiny copper "rails", a bank of 10 monstrous 1Kv capacitors to crank the current, compressed air blower to force a current of air down the pvc "barrel" into the gun itself, switched electromagnets above and below the track. Colonel Qadaffi's got one.

Firing it was the best bit. Massive arcing, sparks, loud bangs and this beast trying to tear itself apart every time. We blew two of the caps to pieces first time out, half the wiring had to be replaced each time, and we tripped the power to the entire science block until we learned to disconnect from the mains once everything was charged. Monster. Life expectancy of the rails was about 10 shots. By then they were complete fucked, eroded, bent, partially melted. Power output was somewhere about 10-12KJ. We're pretty sure it inspired Ronald Reagan's SDI.

After building the beast, we wanted to have a go at a Tesla coil. Tucker drew the line at that, something to do with not having enough coins for the electricity meter, and "wanting to have children at some stage in his life". He wanted to breed. Ugh. Do a google on Tesla coils and you'll see why The Man put his foot down.

Me: I went round to Cookie's house once while he was taking a couple of months off school to have his appendix out. Apart from showing me his huge, festering wound on his abdomen that made me puke, we had a go on the railgun he had built in his his bedroom/workshop. We damn near put a ball bearing through the wall to next door. His mum complained that their electricity bill "was going through the roof".

Balders: Do you remember Sodium and Lithium races? Use a pipette to make two or three long lines of water down the desk. Then choose your lump of sodium. On the count of three the contestants would drop their lumps into the lines of water. Winner was the person whose piece of Sodium reached the end of the line first, or went the furthest.

Alternatively, snaffle all the sodium out of the Apps Room when the lab technicians had gone home and lob great lumps into toilets. We took possession of great strips of magnesium too, which was always good for startling the cleaners.

Me: Our adventures reached a bit of a pinnacle when Jenkins was persuaded to show us how to make nitro-glycerin. Ever the chemist, he jumped at the chance to demonstrate his prowess, and a good couple of hours were spent one evening knocking out a sizeable batch of the stuff. It was all a bit hairy because of the precautions you've got to take, and the correct proportions and temperatures needed to make a fairly stable batch; but with some surrupticious note-taking it was a skill we soon mastered in the comfort of our own homes. And we hardly blew any close relatives up, at all.

Balders: Thermite grenades? Jenkins showed us one evening just how effective the thermite process of oxidation and reduction could be. Highly exothermic was his description. Myself and Bogroll (ah, schoolyard nicknames are such poetry, aren't they?) thought "Fucking hell, we're gonna die" was more appropriate. In class we used about 5gms of Aluminium and 5gms of Iron Oxide. In science club we used about 250gms of each with a magnesium starter, wrapping the whole edifice in clay. We were lucky to survive.

Me: I tell you, Tucker was either a sleeper for Al Qaeda or the IRA. Or Certifiable. With the correct combination of teachers - Mr Lewis teaching political ideology, Wilkie passing on classified nuclear secrets and Barmy 'Army supplying the engineering know-how and delivery systems, Miss Shagwell the masturbatory fantasies, we could have taken over the world.

"You will bow down before me, Jor-El." -- Tucker Jenkins

Eye of the Tiger

The charidee run is over, and I loped home in a speed marginally faster than continental drift. But I can pride myself in the fact that I didn't finish last, and even after the free lunch the Beeb threw in, I still haven't died ye.... +++ CARRIER LOST +++

Archive me up, Scary-o!

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