Monday, June 16, 2008

Things that can blow up in your face

When I was a child aged ten or eleven, one of the craziest things I ever did was to play around with the production of gunpowder. I still remember my formula: a mixture of ground-up charcoal, sulfur and saltpeter (potassium nitrate). The best way of making a big bang was to pack the gunpowder into a metal can. The most difficult part of the operation was the creation of a burning fuse, generally made out of a piece of thick string impregnated in saltpeter (if I remember correctly). Often, when the fuse had burned right up to the metal can, the primitive homemade bomb didn't explode, for one reason or another. This was the kind of situation in which the bomb-maker was capable of moving towards his precious work of art, to see what has prevented it from exploding, only to have the whole thing blow up in his silly face.

Today, I cannot of course be considered as an aging extrapolation of the kid who built bombs back in South Grafton. The intervening years have made me a totally new individual, and I'm quite incapable of suggesting what might have been going on in the head of that kid who once played around with gunpowder. In any case, I survived without injuries: that's to say, without any inadvertent explosions. But I vaguely recall the case of a Grafton youth who wasn't as lucky as me. If I remember correctly, he emerged from this kind of fun with a few missing fingers.

A fortnight ago, an explosion occurred around midnight in a flat in the suburbs of Paris, and a thirty-year-old fellow was severely injured. While being carted away by ambulance people, the victim made a spontaneous confession. He said he was a member of an organization whose goal consisted of blowing up roadside speed cameras.

He was injured while manipulating a bomb that was intended for the forthcoming destruction of yet another speed camera. My article of 2 March 2007 entitled The hosed hoser [display] evokes a famous cinematographic case of something backfiring harmlessly. You might conclude that our speed-camera bomber had it coming to him. Poetic justice, as they say.

On the other hand, he wasn't attacking humans with his bombs, merely machines. The idea of a fellow declaring war upon inanimate contraptions and then getting hurt by his own weapons reminds me of Don Quixote rushing in to attack windmills, only to discover that the windmills seem to be able to launch a counter-attack.

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