If Daniel's schooling experience was somewhat marred by the despicable cruelty of Dorsal Grellman the official school bully, then the explosion of his chemistry teacher certainly did not enhance it.
Chemistry lessons in Daniel's year were defined by superlatives. The unboundaried abhorrence which his Chemistry teacher Mrs Fynes felt for Daniel's only friend Ferris, was surpassed only by Ferris' love of Mrs Fynes and all things Fynes related.
On the first day of the school year, a sparkling new set of eight year olds had trooped into their first ever chemistry lesson. Brimming with early term bonne vivante Mrs Fynes set the children what she perceived would be a simple and exciting project which they would file away in their memories in the cabinet marked ‘inspirational teacher.’They were to collect samples of every day substances which they found in their home in a petri dish and these would be viewed under a microscope. The class would then write essays about what they had learnt.
Ms Fynes sighed with self approbation after she had given out the project sheets and carefully wrapped petri dishes. She could almost hear the whir of seething young minds. Oh she was good at this.
A hand rose abruptly at the back of the class and begun rotating like an agitated windmill. The hand was attached to a diminutive child who appeared to be wearing two pairs of glasses and three watches and was beaming at her in a way she found disconcerting. The boy was sitting next to Daniel M who appeared to be shrinking down under his desk..
"Yes..” she checked the register.. “Ferris"
The bespectacled child was demonstrably excited to be spoken to with a tone of voice that was not contemptuous.
"We can take a sample of anything?" Asked Ferris.
"Obviously ask your parents for their consent" replied Mrs Fynes. She thought she had seen Ferris shudder when she said the word 'parents'. But yes, any every day substance you like. “
"Anything?" Repeated Ferris incredulously.
A frisson of discomfort burrowed down into the verdant soil which covered the forest of Ms Fyne's sanity and began to take root. There was something about this child that was discordant but what could an 8 year old find at home given one evening which could be remotely problematic? She chuckled to herself, smoothed down the pleats of her best grey skirt and smiled.
"Anything at all Ferris."
The following morning 4c trooped into the classroom and as she had expected, their eyes were ablaze with barely restrained excitement. They carefully placed their petri dishes on the desks in front of them - Mrs Fynes had already set the microscope up so that the samples taken would be enlarged and projected on to a screen.
"Johnstone Fenner" she shouted. A distended ginger face snapped to attention, regarded her earnestly and stood up with his sample which he described as 'dog bits'.
Each one of the slides was more mundane than the next but what should have been a joyous experience for Mrs Fynes was diminished by the feeling that Ferris' eyes were burrowing ever deeper into her spine. She walked over to his desk but his petri dish appeared to be pristine and empty.
"Why haven't you brought a sample Ferris - everyone else has?” She felt an inexplicable light snowfall of relief dust the cappuccino of her day.
Ferris looked wounded but quickly recovered. “I have brought you a sample.”
Mrs Fynes snatched the dish and held it up to the light - quite empty.
“If this is a game Ferris then it is not amusing” snapped Mrs Fynes. She tried to take the lid of the petri dish but it seemed stubbornly closed.
“Its not a game Mrs Fynes,” replied Ferris, “you said we should bring a sample from home and I have. It’s bubonic plague. I probably wouldn’t be opening it if I were you.”
“Of course it isn’t bubonic plague you stupid child” she had tried to fit the edge of a biro into the side of the lid and it began to give a little. She looked at Ferris for a moment and was about to send him to the headmaster but there was a hue of honesty which emanated from his glowing rat like features that gave her cause to feel slightly less sure of herself.
“How could you possibly have put bubonic plague into this petri dish?” Now the biro lid was wedged behind the lid and she pulled at it angrily.
“My dad - my dead dad, was a microbiologist for the Ministry of Defence and he used our garden shed as a laboratory. The big black lead lined case said that this was bubonic plague but I suppose you might be.....”
The lid popped open and a hundred billion tiny kisses exited the petri dish in search of a party.
The school had never had cause to call in a HazMat team before and it would be fair to say that the half mile cordon and enforced disinfection and hospitalization of every child and teacher did reduce the popularity of their ordinarily well attended ‘bring and buy’ sale to an all time low.
Worst of all Mrs Fyne’s was compelled to amend her hitherto pristine CV with the words 'an uninterrupted teaching career of 20 years during which I have achieved three national distinctions and almost no children have been infected with the black death.’
Ferris’ subsequent essay titled “How small minded bureaucrat obsession with health and safety is shackling our schools” was shredded in front of the entire assembly and Dorsal Grellman was permitted to dangle him from the picture window of the science block by his nose.
After what became known as ‘the least successful chemistry project in the history of schooling’ Mrs Fynes and the headmaster agreed that giving Ferris an ‘open brief’ on such occasions had been decidedly ill-conceived. The school year progressed and Dorsal was allowed to perpetrate almost unendurable malfeasance upon staff and children alike on a daily basis. Ferris had begun following Ms Fynes home and posting love letters through her front door but after her husband set their two attack dobermans on him all was peaceful and as it should be. It was the kind of peace experienced, for example, just before a plasma storm engulfs and destroys mankind’s biometrical system causing the decimation of the human race.
Over the months, Mrs Fynes had seen the rag tag group of random children in her chemistry class grow to become a slightly older rag tag group of random children. It was therefore with lowered defences that she set them a project for the Spring holiday titled “create a science experiment to demonstrate to the class” (to which was hurriedly added) “not involving weapons grade biological components ”.
Mrs Fynes was pleased to see the children return after the break, laden with a treasure trove of uninspiring and tedious experiments such as “does an orange sink or float” ,“seed germination”, “stabbing a potato with a matchstick” and “making a snowflake.”
Daniel and Ferris arrived slightly after Jeremy Flansaw had demonstrated “how to bend a straw” and they were carrying something large and rectangular cloaked by an old curtain. Mrs Fynes observed them with a degree of trepidation normally reserved for Apollo pilots who have noticed that a piece of critically important spacecraft has just dropped off just after leaving the orbit of the earth.
“What is this? demanded Mrs Fynes.
“An old fish tank” replied Ferris pulling pack the curtain to reveal an old fish tank.
“And why did you involve Daniel in this project Ferris?”
“He had an old fish tank Mrs Fynes” replied Ferris.
“And that was his sole contribution to this project? asked Mrs Fynes.
There was a moment of silence - something passed between Daniel and Ferris - a sense of recognition of a creative role that was beyond words - akin perhaps to that played by Covington for Darwin or Eddington for Einstein.
“I helped him carry the fish tank” said Daniel.
“I see” said Mrs Fynes who did not see. “And what exactly do you call this project Ferris, because to me it looks like a sort of.....”
She looked more closely at the contents of the fish tank, at the device that was now flashing with green and blue lights, it reminded her of photographs she had once seen of a laboratory in, where had it been...........
........Chernobyl recalled Mrs Fynes.
“Cold fusion” said Ferris. I call it cold fusion.”
“Cold fusion” said Mrs Fynes. A bead of sweat appeared from no-where and dripped off the end of her chin. She peered through at the interior of the grubby fish tank once again. This had become more difficult because stress was causing her left eye to open and close randomly.
“A theoretical nuclear reaction that occurs at relatively low temperatures under certain specific laboratory conditions” explained Ferris.
“Except of course it isn't theoretical any more because, well because Ferris has made it happen” added Daniel.
Mrs Fynes called upon all of the child handling techniques learned in 20 long years at the coalface of lower league schooling. She knew exactly how to address this situation professionally and in a child centered manner which would meet the needs of the young person involved from both a teaching and an interpersonal perspective.
“Like fuck you have” she said shoving Ferris in the face , ripping the lid from the tank and grabbing hold of what seemed to be a dirty fish tank pump with some fairy lights strapped to it but was in fact the first atomic deuterium reactor ever created by the human race.
Ferris pulled Daniel back behind him as soon as he saw what was about to happen which, given that he was only the size of an ample otter, afforded little protection.
To say Mrs Fynes was vaporized would be an over simplification of what was a complex series of sub atomic chemical reactions all of which occurred within mili seconds. Safe to say that nothing remotely Mrs-Fynes-like remained other than her left ear lobe, which proved to be stubbornly indestructible and was therefore the subject of much excitement in the scientific community for many years to come.
Being coated with your chemistry teacher was not a moment which edified Daniel’s scholastic experience but it did provide him with a sense that life was and would continue to be a shit storm for which he had no umbrella.