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This report is taken from PN Review 142, Volume 28 Number 2, November - December 2001.

Sodium, The Black Sausage, and Witless Nature Lawrence Sail

The discussion of recent months about specialist schools is nothing new. Like some others of my generation, I followed the régime of a one-year sprint to O levels, followed by four years of concentration on A, then S, level subjects. This had timetabling consequences from the outset: since I had opted for German, it meant that science would occupy just one or two lessons a week till O Level, with no question of sitting the exam in science subjects, and thereafter would entropy altogether. Such minimal attention to such a huge field made systematic husbandry virtually impossible, as the physics teacher discovered to his cost when he tried to capture our interest and understanding with endless note-giving. A more memorable approach was adopted by the other science masters we had during the year. One (who had known Dr Spooner at New College, and who alleged that the prodigal son had had the strength to return home because he had gone further than the bible's report and had actually eaten the husks fed to the swine, thus ingesting a good helping of energising Vitamin B) entertained us by lobbing lumps of sodium into the school swimming pool, where they crackled and exploded gratifyingly as he had said they would: another promised, and eventually performed, the Black Sausage Experiment. This, probably involving sugar and concentrated sulphuric acid, produced an unlikely black pillar which shot upwards and outwards, as if to compensate for every indoor firework that had ever failed. No doubt ...


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