A lot of people spend their youth experimenting. As my mother often tells people who really don’t want to know, I spent my youth experimenting: with chemicals, electricity, and the flora and fauna of Birmingham’s green belt. Just like my peers who took part in drug parties, random sexual coupling, and street violence—I suppose I also participated in the last of these activities, but involuntarily—I look back on some of the stuff I did and wonder how I managed to live this long. My mum will never let me forget, for example, The Sulphur Explosion. When I read E. O. Wilson‘s account of how he lost his eye, I thought: “There but for the grace of God…”

At the risk of drawing a bunch of anti-health-and-safety nutters into the comments, I am amazed at the ease with which a small boy could, if he really wanted to (or even if he hadn’t planned to), cause serious damage to himself, others, and the family dining table back in the 70s and 80s. The range of potentially fatal ingredients that it was possible to buy cheaply in the high street and the absence of any protective equipment inside a typical chemistry set, for example, shock me today. A lot of people forget that chemist‘s shops used to sell chemicals. They probably still do, but I suspect I would become the subject of a large-scale surveillance operation if, in these days of terror, I walked into my local pharmacist and tried to buy some of the things I have in mind.

Anyway, this comes with goggles and I might get one “for my niece” for Christmas.