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A cautionary tale of explosives!

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It’s been a while since I offered one of my little tales to this forum, well, several years in fact, but I thought perhaps some of you might like to have a little chuckle at my expense and so below is an account of events that took place one summer’s day a few years ago.

A cautionary tale of explosives!

One summer Caz, my daughter had her Cousin Christopher staying with us for a week. She was then 11 and Christopher was 12, and they were the very best of friends.

On one day of the holidays they were in the bottom field digging in the remains of an old Victorian rubbish tip. The farm we live in was built around 1840 and they just dumped everything in a corner of the field rather than cart it away. No dustbin men in those days!

I went down to see what they were doing and they showed me the stone jars and bottles they'd found, along with some pieces of Quartz dug up with the soil. I told them that Quartz was very clever stuff and if the crystals inside were pressed together they could generate a small amount of electricity.

They found this hard to believe of course, and couldn't see how a rock could act in the same way as a battery. If it could they reasoned Dad wouldn't have a shelf of batteries in the workshop he'd have a shelf of rocks! They would be cheaper!

Later that evening I was slaving over a repair on the bench, and as I was using a cigarette lighter to soften some heat-shrink tubing onto a wire; I couldn't be bothered to go and get the right tool for the job from the drawer, I thought about the Quartz problem.

I was using one of those lighters with what’s called electronic ignition. You know the type, they are about 20p each from the market and don't have flints. Here was my Quartz explanation in action. The cigarette lighter I thought was a bit mundane as an example for an 11 year old girl and especially for a 12 year old boy, so I had to think of something else more exciting.

I stripped the lighter down and pulled out the igniter. The push button is at one end and a short wire is attached near the other; that end resting on a small plate. I was surprised to find I could produce a hefty spark nearly half an inch long! Excellent I thought; now, what to do with it. It was obvious of course after I had thought about it for a short while. I had to explode something!

A gas was needed and some means of containing it. The gas shouldn't be a problem. It's surprising how many explosive gases are kept in the average home; but what to put it in.

After working into the early hours of the morning I had several wrecked containers of various description; the drill, saw and scissors had been working overtime but I had finally decided on a small container we had from the Vet with tablets in for the dogs. It was the kind with a tight fitting, snap-on lid. I drilled two tiny holes in the lid, just large enough to get two wires through. The total length of the wires was about 10 inches and about 3/4 of an inch of each was pushed through the lid. These ends were bared for about 1/8 of an inch and spaced about 1/4 inch apart to form a gap for the spark to jump across. I then pinned the lid to a board about 9 inches square. Nothing critical here, it was just a piece that was to hand. The lid was facing up so the container could be pushed on top. I soldered the other end of one wire to the short wire from the igniter and the second wire I soldered to a small piece of tin-plate about 1 inch square. The igniter was rested on the tin-plate and a push on top produced a nice spark across the gap at the other end.

Now for the gas; but I had to wait until the next day for this. My better half would not be a happy badger if I blew up part of the house during the night.

Next day dawned and the search for the ultimate explosive gas was on.

After breakfast the kids spent the rest of the morning searching. Caz, the girl, had decided on her old dolls hair spray and Christopher, the boy, had opted for his spray on deodorant.

Dire warnings from better half were issued about what would happen to me if I blew the kids up as we went outside to look for further examples of explosive gasses.

Dad's idea was to use Propane. The kids thought this was not the best idea in the world because it took much too long to get it out of the big red bottle and into the container. And anyway, Dad was just showing off his propane torch skills because he had just successfully completed all the plumbing in Caz's bathroom without any leaks. Needless to say, getting the right amount of propane into the container was impossible, so dad's idea was abandoned. Caz remembered mum telling her not to put her dolls next to the fire after she had one day emptied a whole can of hair spray onto them, because their heads might burst into flames. Christopher wished he'd been there to see that. So hair spray was put forward as a possible explosive. Christopher thought this smacked of girlyness but he desperately wanted to see something, anything, explode so he went along with it.

Dad held the container and Caz injected several bursts of hair spray into it. The container was pushed firmly onto the lid by Christopher and then everyone moved well back. Everyone that is except Dad, who was now cursing the fact he'd made the wires only 10 inches long. I covered my head with one arm and pushed the button. Nothing happened. I pushed several times more but still nothing. The kids looked at me. I looked at the kids. Christopher thought his potty uncle really has lost it this time. Caz thought how can he show me up like this in front of Christopher. I thought I wish the ground would open up and swallow me.

Just a technical hitch; I know what the problem is I said. We've just got the spark gap a bit wet with the hair spray. I quickly removed the container, dried the wires with my hankie (better half reckons if my hankies don't go in the washing machine cleaner than they come out in future I'm going to have to wash them myself. Woman just don't have a clue how useful hankies are for lots of other things beside blowing your nose on) and shook the excess spray out. I returned the container to its rightful position on top of the lid. It will work this time I said. I could tell they didn't believe me by the way they sat uncaringly on the wall. I put my finger on the button and pressed. There was an almighty bang. Rainbow coloured flames shot out of the container and it rose 20 feet in the air. Caz fell off the wall into some nettles. Christopher fell off the wall and sat squarely in the dogs water bowl and I caught the container on its return to earth down the back of my neck. The plastic container was still molten and I grabbed the dog’s water bowl from under Christopher to put out the fire on my head. Better half came running out of the house to see what had happened to her 'babies' followed by the dogs. Caz was still sat there opened mouthed and I'm sure I heard Christopher say 's**t uncle' under his breath. Caz's little rat of a dog leapt onto her to make sure she was OK then immediately attacked me. Super Sal the cocker spaniel attacked what was left of the container and George the blind Lurcher walked into the wall. Better half looked at me. “Well?” she said. “Cup of tea time!” I replied. “Your heads still on fire!” she said.

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