Bucket List #3

Metal Bucket

This is a galvanized bucket.  Light and portable and fairly sturdy.  The real benefit of this bucket it its ability not to melt if you put some hot ashes into it by accident.

You can carry coal into the sitting room for your fire in this bucket, so it doubles as a coal scuttle.  In the morning you can clean out the ashes in your grate.  Sometimes when you think the ashes are cold there are a couple of hot coals hiding in there just waiting for their chance to heat up again.  The disturbance  of cleaning out the fireplace gives them air, and they heat up again.  Anyone who has used a plastic bucket to clean out fires has come across this problem.  With this metal bucket you have no such worries.

I grew up in a house without a fire.  I suppose my parents were being ultra modern, rejecting the primitive technologies of the past.  When they built our house in Pinewood in 1966 they installed a piped gas fueled hot air ventilation heating system.  This is called a ducted warm air heating system.  Underfloor ducting carries the heated air around the house and blows it out through floor ventilators.  Instead of standing in front of a fire to warm up in winter we would sit on the ventilator.

Before going to bed as kids we would hold our pajamas over the vents and the air would blow them up and warm them.

Growing up in a house with no fireplaces has advantages.  We had the use of all four walls in every room.  We did not have to set and clean fires.  We did not have the need to clean chimneys and the problem of dealing with ash.

On the down side a fire is a very powerfully comforting feature.  There is a love of the fire programmed into our human DNA.  Mastery of the fire appears to be the skill that set man apart from all other animals.

Heat:  The fire gives you warmth.  Having a fire to keep them warm enabled humans to inhabit alpine and tundra environments.  The ability to exploit a wider range of environments helped the spread of humans and protected the species from local famines and disasters.

Safety:  Most animals fear fire.  The ability to command fire gave humans an advantage over large and dangerous predators.  On a smaller scale the smoke from fires helps drive away biting insects, offering some protection from diseases such as malaria.  On a psychological level it provides a comforting illusion of safety, and sometimes that in itself is enough for people to get by.

Food:  Once you have a fire you also have the ability to cook.  Cooking food allows you to extract more energy from a given amount of raw ingredients.  In certain circumstances cooking converts something that is poisonous into an edible and nutritious food.  Boiling can make water safe to drink and has a sterilizing effect on foods.  This ability to convert food more safely and more efficiently gave man an important advantage over other animals.

Light:  As early cave art demonstrates, primitive man used the ability to command fire to explore dark caves that were inaccessible without some form of artificial light.  A torch or a camp fire extends the day and provides more time for activities that make life easier, such as sewing clothing, flint knapping, basket making etc.

Quality of life:  A fire is also a dynamic piece of furniture.  Fire is mutable, the flames dance and change.  Long before we had television families would sit and gaze into the fire, and talk and sing and recite.  Home is the hearth as the saying goes.

Now I live in an old house, built in the 1840’s.  Originally there would have been a fireplace in every room, including the bedrooms.  It was the only way to heat a home in those days.  Over the years the fires have been replaced by central heating, and there are radiators in every room.  The only fireplace that remains is in the sitting room.

The kitchen is the beating heart of our house.  It is a place of fun and energy, noise and bustle, where all the action happens.  At a certain stage in the evening you want to begin the process of winding down, cooling down mental energy, preparing for sleep.  This transition involves the family focus moving from the kitchen to the sitting room.  Like primitive hominids we retreat to our cave and light the fire.

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When Health & Safety goes mad!

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My eldest son was describing his school science class to me.  He told me how frustrated his science teacher is, because Health & Safety guidelines have resulted in the removal of many substances from the school.  Teachers cannot demonstrate many of the bread and butter experiments any more because they are too dangerous.  Bunsen Burners are being removed and replaced with hot plates.  Sodium and Potassium have been taken off the experiments list – way too dangerous.  And forget phosphorous.

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For many years in Ireland the study of science was in decline.  The government of Ireland made science education a priority.  We want kids to study science.  We want them to experiment and to have fun and to get excited about the subject. At the same time the Health & Safety gremlins want to make sure that our kids are not boiled in acid, blinded by explosions, scorched by naked gas flames, gassed by toxic fumes or knocked out with chloroform. The problem here is that the H&S gremlins always win the argument.  There is no reasoned debate.  If you ask “how many kids were actually harmed in school experiments in the last 12 months” they will not answer.  They work on the basis of risk assessment, not risk fact, or risk history, or reported incidents. This is a problem for the teaching of science in schools,and in universities.

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Science involves pushing the boundaries of what is now possible.  Science is about doing risky things.  If we let H&S take over the world then we can say bye bye to any new breakthrough discoveries. The minute I start to talk like this the H&S gremlins roll out their big guns.

Insurance.  If you don’t listen to the gremlins, they warn that the Insurance costs will skyrocket.  Even worse, they warn, we will be open to claims of liability.

The very fact that H&S have raised a risk means that we automatically become liable to that risk in a way we never were before. Just imagine, little Johnny is in class carrying out a titration experiment.  The teacher warns the class not to boil the alcohol.  Johnny thinks this is funny and turns up the heat.  The alcohol boils and ignites.  There is a relatively harmless flash which removes Johnnies eyebrows, much to the amusement of the class.

Mommy is not laughing.  He was scheduled for a set of head-shots for a modelling job. She sues the school.  Her bottom feeding pond sucking scum lawyer knows exactly what to look for.  He unearths the minutes of a school meeting where the Health and Safety officer expressed concern that bunsen burners in the hands of children were a danger.  The school did not remove them.  QED, the school is at fault.  Case closed.  Now, if H&S had never reported the risk, the liability of the school would have been lessened.

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My own take on all this is simple.  I want my kids to learn science properly.  I want them to engage in experimentation.  I am prepared to sign a liability waiver as a condition of my child taking part in potentially dangerous experiments.  If little Johnnies Mommy is not prepared to sign the waiver I am quite happy to see little Johnny study something less dangerous instead.

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Art?  No, chisels are too dangerous. Technical drawing?  No, compasses are pointy. Music?  No, drumsticks, violin bows, breaking strings, risk of deafness from Cymbal crashing. Home economics?  Sewing needles, knives, scissors, hot cooking plates, no way. Religion.  That should be OK.  Nobody dies because of religion.  Do they? Problem is, how is Mommy going to protect little Johnny from himself, and from getting his heart broken by a girl, and from his personal failures, and his nasty boss, and from the random vagaries of the world?

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Chemistry Experiment; by Bart Edelman

We listened intently to the professor,

Followed each one of her instructions,

Read through the textbook twice,

Wore lab coats and safety goggles,

Mixed the perfect chemical combinations

In the proper amount and order.

We thought we were a complete success.

And then the flash of light,

The loud, perplexing explosion,

The black rope of smoke,

Rising freely above our singed hair.

Someone in another lab down the hallway

Phoned the local fire department

Which arrived lickety-split

With the hazardous waste crew,

And they assessed the accident,

Deciding we were out of danger.

It was the talk of the campus,

For many weeks afterwords.

We, However, became so disillusioned

That we immediately dropped the course

And slowly retreated from each other.

The very idea we could have done

More damage than we actually did–

Blown ourselves up and the building

From the base of its foundation–

Shook us, like nothing had before.

And even now, years later,

When anyone still asks about you,

I get this sick feeling in my stomach

And wonder what really happened

To all the elementary matter.