A momentary visit to the normal world. “The world of work”. Not an office though. Heaven forbid. Today and for the next two days I’m going into schools as a visiting workshop leader talking about Engineering, and guiding young people through a reasonably simple and messy experiment with an orange and some copper and some zinc. You can imagine I’m sure. A fruit battery.
It’s ten at night. I’m in bed with incense, a hot toddy and plinky plonky music. They start early in these schools and I’m always in the first blimming session. Today it was close to me, in South East London. Tomorrow I’ve got be right up past the North Circular at bastard o’clock, and I’ve got to be chipper when I get there. “In terms of my working life this sort of thing is … maybe 5% of my time,” I tell the group. It’s not my calling, but it is constantly invigorating and enlivening to connect with these young people. “But I always make time for this when possible because, believe it or not, coming in here and having you lot try and sass me helps me feel connected and alive and happy.”
It’s paid nicely too.
Another of the strings I managed to attach to my bow over the years. Sometimes they break, like the boats. I’ve learnt that if people get me they want to use me lots. But if they don’t… they don’t. I’m not very neutral. I’m noticeable. It’s why I don’t go well in the poison of office culture. People either treat me as a curiosity or a problem in those places. But I can go into some inner city school and mix it up with a load of gobby 16 year olds and trick them into momentarily giving a shit about science, and in that moment I care about science too. Then I go home and I only care about a nice hot bath and my minimum seven hours kip to be high functioning. I need my sleep. The gradual crawl towards middle age hasn’t dulled my ADHD but I need to retract so I can expand.
So yeah. Copper and zinc electrodes. Orange as an electrolyte. Alessandro Volta did it with brine in 1800 and occasionally some of the students work out that it’s about the juice and not the orange. When that happens it gets messsssssy. We could use a potato with the phosphoric acid instead but it’s harder to sell the idea that they might have a potato in their bag. So an orange it is. And sometimes they get surprisingly high readings when they connect the thing to their ammeter. It’s always the disconnected ones that suddenly show up when we are doing practical things. I was that child.
Discipline was good today at least. Rare for an inner city London school. Yeah sure there were gobby ones who tried to derail everything, but the staff had systems in place that they mostly responded to. The ones who were in “shut up I’m trying to learn” mode – hopefully they picked up something. It’s a positive thing to do for a few days, to go shovel some thinking into people who’ve always had the thinking done for them. “You lot are the future,” I sometimes tell them. Because they are, and they are just as wayward and precocious and bored and angry as we were. But they are inheriting this incredible joyful mess we’ve made. I hope they do okay in it.