Playing with the Van de Graaff generator

“The invention of the teenager was a mistake. Once you identify a period of life in which people get to stay out late but don’t have to pay taxes – naturally, no one wants to live any other way.”
― Judith Martin
I was listening to someone talking about the problems they had with rearing a teenager and it suddenly occurred to me that I never actually was a teenager. By the time I was fourteen, during the weekends and school holidays I was pretty well working full time, by the time I was sixteen I certainly was. During the week, the Grammar School made sure I had enough homework to keep me busy on an evening.
So somehow I missed the whole wearing too much make up (If you think it was only the girls you never saw Aladdin Sane) and coming over all angst ridden whilst listening to bad music.
But we did do all sorts of fun things. We got to play with the Van de Graaff generator, watched sodium dropped onto water. We climbed out of windows and up onto the gym roof to get our ball back.
I was going to write that ‘they’ve’ banned the Van de Graaff generator, but the freelance journalist in me decided to check. The RSC has produced a report on what is banned and isn’t, and actually, they haven’t banned it. They’ve done something much more insidious. Now you have to do a formal risk assessment.
So the teacher has to take the time to write the risk assessment, knowing full well that because it’s in writing, should anything go wrong, it is now entirely the teacher’s fault because it is their risk assessment that will be crawled over by the lawyers. You don’t need to ban something when you can do something like that.
But I look at all the other stuff I’ve done. I’ve marked out the foundations of a building using nothing but string, a tape and a handful of wooden pegs. Thanks to Pythagoras and his 3,4,5 triangle, on a base 100ft by 50ft I was less than half an inch out when they brought in the laser to check. (Which is pretty good going using pegs cut from slate battens which were then driven into sandy soil.) That drove home to me that maths was useful; if I’d known that earlier I might even have worked harder at school.
But by the time I finished with full time education I’d built walls, sharpened a chainsaw, rewired a plug, skinned a rabbit, fixed the broken ballcock in a header tank, calved cows, I’d even welded up a water leak in a galvanised water pipe with the water still flowing through it. (That isn’t something they recommend you do on responsible training courses) Even now I don’t feel comfortable if I don’t have a penknife in my trouser pocket.
The fact that modern kids have nothing more interesting to look forward to than being teenagers isn’t the schools fault. Let’s drop the blame where it really lies, it’s the fault of the parents.
Unfortunately the UK was the first country to have the industrial revolution, so our population is at least two generations further removed from the land than any other. We’re probably one of the first ‘post industrial’ countries so we’re the country where more and more people assume that the only sort of job worth having means you work with a computer.
But all isn’t lost; I’ve got daughters who were delighted to get spanner sets and tool boxes for significant birthdays, so perhaps I’ve done something right.

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4 thoughts on “Playing with the Van de Graaff generator

  1. M T McGuire November 4, 2013 at 5:49 pm Reply

    Anyone capable of looking after themselves who doesn’t is a bit mad in my view. I see no reason to stand around doing nothing if I can fix something myself. I suppose I’m just impatient, or curious maybe. Congratulations on raising two spanner wielding daughters.

    Cheers

    MTM

    • jwebster2 November 4, 2013 at 5:59 pm Reply

      I always feel I should know enough to know when to back quietly away 🙂
      Had a job on where I was taking a roof down between two old buildings because it was causing a damp problem. I looked at the beams running into old beach cobble walls and thought, hmmmm. I didn’t fancy dropping the beam out and then frantically having to build the wall up again all on my own so I stepped back and got a couple of lads in who are competent, and let them do that job 🙂

      • M T McGuire November 4, 2013 at 9:57 pm

        That goes without saying. I’m thinking mainly of things like fixing my car…. You wouldn’t catch me tinkering with the brakes, for example. But a new alternator? Piece of cake.

      • jwebster2 November 5, 2013 at 8:10 am

        That’s one problem with a lot of new cars, even the ‘simple’ jobs are getting a bit specialist.

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