Life, Living, Becoming...
Gerry Coughlan


When I was at school I loved Science, mostly because we got to do experiments. You got to use pipettes, burettes, test tubes, tripods and my personal favourite, bunsen burners.

Most of the time we were mixing purple stuff, I mean compound with water and then adding other stuff, I mean a solution - to make it clear again.
Just like turning wine into water...
You'll have to confess that to the priest, Coughlan.

The Periodic Table of the Elements used to stare down on us, from above the board, daring us to decipher it.
Now boys, this figure here is how many free electrons each atom has.
Of course, Sir. Thanks. Now it's as clear... as mud.

The column that was the most interesting was the one that contained most of the dangerous stuff that reacted violently with water. The most dangerous one was called Francium. It would explode if it came into contact with the water vapour present in the air.
We all immediately wanted to add it to our Christmas List. All young boys are, by nature, pyromaniacs. Give a boy a box of matches or a chemistry set and you'll have a friend for life - or at least till the matches run out.
We were all bitterly disappointed to find out that no scientist had actually ever seen Francium but by a series of tests and experiments it had been proved to exist.
Yes Sir. No Sir. Three bags full Sir.

So back to the real world. Potassium was another of the violent reactors and the school did have some of that. It was a regular experiment. A real show-stopper.
The teacher would go off into the back room and return with a big bottle. A hush fell over the classroom, I mean Laboratory as he gingerly extracted, with some special tweezers, a microgram of Potassium. We all leaned forward to get a closer look. A large glass basin stood ready and as it was placed carefully on the water it whizzed and buzzed all over the place giving off a thin stream of smoke.
It's not just smoke, boys. It's a gas called Hydrogen. The same gas that brought down the Hindenburg.

Biology promised to be even more exciting when, at the start of the one year, we all discovered that Chapter 8 in our brand new textbooks was called, "The Reproductive System". We studied root systems, leaf systems, stem systems, stomata, osmosis, photosynthesis and watched a bunch of celery growing two different colours before it rotted and died from too much ink.

By the end of the year, we had gotten to the back of the book and somehow left out Chapter 8. Of course we all read it, in our own time but God knows, it was couched in such medical jargon and terminology it gave us no fekkin' clues. The few drawings included with the text, were useless.
"Sexual Intercourse" appeared to be a key phrase but it wasn't even in the dictionary. I know. I checked. "Sexual" only got you the usual nonsense: "pertaining to sex or the sexes" and "Intercourse" said "communication or converse between individuals or nations"

Gee, thanks.

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Especially if you know where the cryptic title comes from??
© gerry coughlan 1998 - 2012 gerry coughlan