After a fab science week the RI lecture “As if by magic” just seemed too good and too opportune to miss, especially once we knew that the Porticos, Monsterteenies and Manorborns were going to be there. Alison offered to keep A busy for me, which was a bonus – I know she can sit through such things without being loud or distracting to others, but it is still distracting to me and selfishly I wanted to enjoy the lecture too.
Gina works on a Monday so I knew they wouldn’t be able to make it, but offered to take J and Em with us; they’re so nearly a part of the family anyway that it’s hardly any more trouble to have them than not Em had things on, but J was at a loose end so we decided a sleepover on Sunday was the best plan (and a treat for J’s birthday) and then we could catch the 9:00 train (earliest one we’re allowed with railcard) and fit something in before meeting the others for lunch. Bob took us to the station to save having to worry about parking and we arrived with what should have been plenty of time, only to find a huge queue at the ticket office because half of the automatic booths were out of order. The queue at the booth outside was much faster than that for the clerk, mostly thanks to a lady buying huge numbers of tickets for a group, so I got there first, Bob abandoned his place in the other queue and came out to join us and that was when we discovered that the machine didn’t offer tickets with Railcard discount. Frustrating, given that by now we really didn’t have much time left and I’ve bought tickets from there before with no problems. Back to the other queue, with just a few minutes to go… At last someone came and stood next to the queue with a handheld machine, so things went much faster from then on and the annoyed mutterings from those in the queue who now knew they were going to miss their train subsided somewhat. Sadly he was just not fast enough and the machine was still spitting out our tickets as the train pulled out of the station Bob mentioned the trouble we’d had with the automatic booth to the station master and his theory was that the machines won’t print tickets before the earliest they can be used. We tried the machine again, as it was now 9:03 and lo and behold our ticket option came up this time – not much use though, to only be able to buy a ticket at the same time as your train leaves!
Bob dashed off to work and we sat and played I spy for the half an hour until the next train, which was of course late On the train we started on lunch (of course; it must have been nearly 2 hours since breakfast!) and did some Maths Ad Libs, which turned out to be so engrossing that we very nearly missed our change and had to grab things together and scramble off the train while a helpful fellow passenger held the door for us While we were collecting ourselves again K managed to drop his ticket, which was instantly whipped away by the wind and carried across the platform, elusively just out of reach, and then whisked onto the tracks. L decided she could cope with being 4 again and nobly gave K her ticket
Finally made it to Finsbury Park, bought an Oyster card, negotiated the Tube and got to Green Park, where the children decided they would rather spend an hour or so playing in the park than go to the RI museum before the lecture. While they were running around we heard a band playing and saw crowds of people heading to the other end of the park so we followed suit, hoping to find out what was going on. It turned out that we were just in time to see both the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace and the procession of the Queen’s Life Guard (mounted). According to the official website that means we saw the Blues and Royals, the 23 Engineer Regiment and the band of the Irish Guards – and very good they were too By chance we ended up scrunched up against the railings right by the main entrance, which meant we couldn’t see much of the parade but had a fantastic view of everything once they were inside the grounds. The band were fab and really made the children’s day when they played the Thunderbirds theme tune Then just as we were about to head back to the park the horse guards appeared, in stunning red and gold, so we watched them too
Got back to the park just in time to meet up with Nic and co, established ourselves on a bench and got as much food into children as we could before they could contain themselves no longer and just had to charge round the park waving sticks and daffodils Other J was inclined to sit with his nose buried in a book, so I chivvied him off to play too Meeting up with Porticos was accomplished smoothly, then Manorborns joined us too, with another family I didn’t know, and we had a nice congenial lunch (L said today that she really missed her new friend, the big girl with the boots who was Buttercup’s big sister and had given her a hug when she went to have her lunch ) and then made our way to the RI for the lecture. A fell asleep in the MT en route and I managed to transfer her to Alison still asleep, although I’m not sure how tied on she was – hopefully comfortable enough, as apparently she stayed asleep for a fair while longer and I wouldn’t want to have caused Alison any shoulder or back ache by my poor sling tying
We got stuck behind a large school party on the way in, but as we reached the doors to the lecture theatre they were being sent up to the gallery, while we were given seats in the main hall. The lecturer was very enthusiastic, very French and great fun. He bounced in and launched immediately into his first experiment, telling it as part of a story of how he got interested in chemistry in the first place. Apparently he used to watch a quack who sold remedies and would turn people off traditional medicines because they are all based on acids and could cause a fire inside your tummy. This claim was backed up by a metal lid with a powder on it to which said quack would add an aspirin tablet and some cough medicine, finally sprinkling it all with water. Whilst describing this the lecturer was also doing it, and lo and behold the damp mixture began to smoke and then burst into flames! Intrigued, our hero took himself off to the library to find out what could possibly have caused such a reaction and how he could make it himself. He found a book called “The Magic of Chemistry” (this one?) and the rest, as they say, is history…
The magic of chemistry was further demonstrated by setting fire to some “volcanic powder” and then by pouring clear liquids from one flask to another, turning them first pink, then clear, then pink, then clear.
A second set of beakers with clear liquids gave a variety of bright and deep colours when mixed, including one which did not change at all when the contents of a large beaker were poured into a small one, only to change instantly from clear to coloured when poured back into the same beaker! He showed us changes which happened just with mixing, only with the addition of water and only when heated. The most incredible one, though, must have been the change which only happened when two clear liquids were mixed and then exposed to the key of D major (or minor – I wasn’t taking notes!) by having the violin played at the beaker. Clear liquid instantly turned dark!
Describing himself as something of a pyromaniac, our lecturer then took us on a headlong rush through a number of experiments to do with fire, showing for example how the discovery that oxygen helps things to burn better led to the development of nitrocellulose, which burns so much faster and more completely than cotton wool – yes he burned both just to show us – and how you can then use nitrocellulose strips to power a paper rocket… and then he got a bit carried away
Another very simple experiment showed the difference between petrol burned as a liquid and as vapour; a very simple version of the combustion engine using a tin with a lid and a hole in the bottom – drizzle the petrol around the inside of the tin, put the lid on tightly, warm the tin by holding it for a few seconds, then light the petrol vapour thus created by putting a splint to the hole and whooomph! As the audience began to clap they were rapidly halted, with the exclamation “No! No! Your car does this thousands of times a second – do you clap every time?!” Oh, and we were told we must remember Boyle
Then we got onto a series of experiments using liquid nitrogen He poured liquid nitrogen over water in a beaker to show the change of state of the water (and was rather disappointed, I think, when the ice and the beaker creaked and crackled, but nothing broke; he poured on a bit more but to no avail!) and put a bendy rubber tube into liquid nitrogen to show that it became hard and brittle – with the fantastic bonus effect of creating a chimney which vented boiling nitrogen, warmed by the air in the tube and released as a great cloud of steam puffing out through the tube
Attention turned then to the amazing properties of air, in being able to be compressed. Liquid nitrogen was poured over a large balloon, filled just with air, and we watched as it shrivelled away almost to nothing. and then marvelled as the lecturer picked it up and bounced it gently around between his hands and into the air, warming the air molecules up again until he was once again holding a fully inflated balloon! A quick bit of drama, enacting the part of a very cold, very slow air molecule and we were off again, onto the next thing, which proved to be a balloon helicopter (that compressible air again!) and then a swift solo on the bugle (other J beside me was muttering “French horns are better!” ) Another name to remember: Lavoisier
By now, he was starting to look a little tired and to cough theatrically from time to time. As he began the next experiment, which involved burning something else – my mind blanks as to what – he asked plaintively for a cup of tea (“one milk, one sugar” – I knew it was fishy then, as no Frenchman I know drinks tea that way!) and a teapot and cup appeared in short order, but without milk. Feigning great distress he poured himself a cup, raised it to his lips and protested that it was far too hot. Brainwave! Liquid nitrogen would cool it down
Back to the experiment in hand – wish I could remember what he was burning, but whatever it was, it burned better with oxygen added
Then it was a quick romp through clear gases – oxygen, nitrogen or air? Use a lighted splint to find out – a reminder (using large glass jars with molecule-beads in them) that air is a mixture rather than a pure substance and a look at the apparatus used to extract carbon dioxide, which was then used to extinguish a row of candles
I’m sure you’ve noticed the balloon floating up from the bench… Oh yes! That one was hydrogen and it gave a moderate pop, some heat and a fairly bright light. Then he produced a rather larger one with hydrogen and oxygen, just to make sure we remembered the effect oxygen has on things…
After we had rescued Alison from A, or possibly the other way round, we did the usual toilet trips etc, filled in our lecture evaluation thingies – since they had gone to the trouble of doing special HE ones, we thought it was the least we could do – and looked at the weather, which was really not promising for the proposed trip to The Monument. Instead we opted to make our way to South Kensington, walk towards the museums and see which one we fancied when we got there. Natural History won, mostly by virtue of being slightly nearer than the other close contender, the Science Museum. We arrived at the hands-on part in the basement after all the school parties had left but with an hour or so before it closed, so had time for the children to wander and find plenty of things to do, from food web puzzles on the computer to measuring skulls and from weighing starfish to stroking a snakeskin. There’s still loads we didn’t even see, so plenty of scope for a return trip or ten When we were thrown out of there the rest of the museum was still open so we travelled through fossils to volcanoes and then back to bugs – all very bright and appealing, with lots to see and do; I think each child (and adult!) picked up on different things.
Leaving there at about 6, we all walked to the tube station together, then said goodbye to Nic and co and got on a train with Manorborns. It was very busy so lots of head counting going on and no seats. When one did become free Michelle did a lovely job of loudly telling me I had to sit down, since I was carrying my baby, but the man behind her shoved past and took it anyway. Two nice young ladies stood up instead and offered us their seats, then a couple more were vacated at the next stop, until eventually we were all sitting We said goodbye to Michelle and C at Holborn and then counted stations to Finsbury Park, where we found a chip shop whose large portions really were (we got three between the six of us and had to throw some away!) and made it to the platform with a few minutes to spare for the 18:58. Sadly no seats to be found, so we parked ourselves in the corridor, spread out a newspaper as a tablecloth and had a feast of chips, red pepper slices and smoothie – is that balanced? At the next stop enough people got off for us to bag 4 seats round a table, but I made what later proved to be the mistake of putting my coat up into the luggage rack out of the way, a thing I never normally do because I am paranoid I will forget it. It turns out I was right to be paranoid
J and J DSed (My French Coach) while K, L and A (kinda) coloured and I read an abandoned paper (1p a month mortgage anyone?) until we got to our station, where I safely got children and bags off the train but forgot my coat until just a split second too late. We were home and children on the way to bed just a few minutes later; we said they could read for 5 minutes, but I don’t think many of them lasted that long