On Domestic Explosions

“Kitchens should not be covered in brown, sticky liquid.” This perhaps obvious thought crossed my mind recently when I found the aforementioned substance drenching the sink, window and work surfaces in a three-metre radius from the plug. Turns out it wasn’t a tap-based fault, but another resident’s coke can was responsible. He’d put it in the freezer, hoping for a cool beverage, but had forgotten the laws of science relating to carbonated fluids, and the ensuing explosion splattered half the kitchen. This event got me thinking about the cool, refreshing taste of Pepsi. I mean explosions. Fair enough, this was a student house, where good ideas frequently culminate in a bang, swearing and a vague admission of guilt to Maintenance.

Though soap in a microwave’s a good one.

You’d think my family home would be the opposite, a haven of calm and order, but now I think about it, it’s been the scene for more than its fair share of KABOOM!-related incidents. Luckily never anything dangerously destructive, though.

The first noteworthy explosion chez moi occurred well before I was born, when my mam was knee-high to a grass-skirt. One Friday, early on during an episode of 60s spy series The Avengers, my Grandmother went to light the oven for tea, but for some reason the gas was already on. The ensuing “pop!” took the liberty of removing her eyebrows and delayed my mam in phoning one of her school friends.

I suppose that sort of thing was a bit of an occupational hazard in the days when one had to light one’s own hobs, though. The majority of my household’s blasts were caused by the same two people: my intrepid uncle and his equally experimental best friend.

I think the 1960s were a very a very different time from today. There were only three TV channels, for a start, so my uncle and his friend had to make their own fun. Hence, one day they decided to make a pipe bomb. I don’t know where they got the instructions from – I like to think it was one of those Science kits for Bright Boys or a Boy’s Own magazine, just because it fits well into the period of derring-do.

So they assembled the correct solution in an old pipe, hammered down both ends, stuffed it in a wasps’ nest, lit the fuse, and hid behind a bush. The wasps were understandably unhappy about the fiery inferno which consumed their home, but sadly, few survived long enough to launch a counter-attack.

Standing to survey their handiwork, the boys noticed that half the pipe was missing from the nest. During the explosion it had flown back over the bush, inches above their heads, and buried itself behind them. Ah, the carefree times before health and safety.

This friend of my uncle’s also once nearly set the back porch on fire. He was playing with a static steam engine model that actually ran on hot water and steam power, and wondered what would happen if he overfilled the boiler. For a while the engine tootled around at double speed, until the boiler burst into flames and melted peg bag and back doormat. (First her eyebrows, now her pegbag – my grandmother was not served well by these events.)

In an interesting twist of judgement, my mam later decided that these two pyromaniacs would make excellent godfathers for her sweet, angelic daughter (me. Obvs). And I can’t fault her, they’ve been brilliant – I’ve got the hereditary pipe bomb recipe hiding in a notebook at home.

Fast forward, ooh, 40 years, and I’m mucking about in the massive garden shed (it’s an ex-barn – our house was a farm many moons ago). I’m searching through the random crap behind the tools and toys when I find a board of official-looking switches and wires. I idly flick a few, and catch sight of the khaki bag next to the board. Ah, Granddad’s World War Two field telephone; I must have found his army stuff…hang on, that board says “bomb detonators”!

I grab the board, desperately wondering which red wire to cut. It’s always red, isn’t it? Darn my uncle, he can teach me how to build a bomb, but not how to defuse one! But the board comes away easily: it’s not attached to anything. I haven’t come close to blowing me and the barn up! Later, I asked the parents, and turns out that Granddad adapted the army surplus switches to work the tracks on his model railway. Although I don’t know, it was the Cold War and my granddad was a resourceful guy. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d got stocks in, just in case next door became a Russian satrap.

The most recent almost-explosion (sorry, Dad and I aren’t as good as the previous incendiarists) was a few weeks ago when Dad and I were building a small fire to melt lead. When I observed that the fire whooshed up rapidly after a gust of wind, Dad gave me a short lesson in fire safety, which went like this:

Him: That’s the thing about fires, they grow quickly and can get out of control in a flash. That’s why we’ve got lots of water nearby.

Me: No, Dad, that’s paraffin…

Him: (hurriedly shifts it)

I’m glad to know that the generation that grew up without central heating was securely taught fire safety too.

It seems to be a good trend that the number of successful explosions is fewer nowadays than when my mam and uncle were growing up. Maybe in the next forty years the house will be a completely safe zone, although until then, I do wonder if we should have kept the old air raid shelter in the back garden. I could yet follow in my uncle’s illustrious footsteps – a friend gave me an excellent method to make the Christmas pud more…fiery.

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