It’s hard to remember what motivated us to ask our parents for certain things when we were eight years old. I’ve no idea why I implored them for a chemistry set; I’d had no prior interest in chemistry and have had almost none since, so I can only conclude that the marketing campaign must have been astonishingly effective.
There’s often a disparity between the anticipation of getting your hands on the product and the dull reality of using it, and chemistry sets provided children of the 1970s with a particularly irksome example of this. Any chemicals that may have been capable of causing explosions or general mayhem had, thanks to several rounds of health and safety legislation, been weeded out of the sets in preceding decades. This left us with second division chemicals such as cobalt chloride and potassium permanganate. We lurched off-piste, excitedly mixing them in conical flasks with the exhilaration of potential discovery, then throwing away the resultant sludge with a wistful sigh of disappointment.
It did, however, enable me to grow large copper sulphate crystals in jam jars. These were beautiful. Friends were amazed. So it was worth the money my parents spent. But only just.