I'm not in the habit of commenting on the news but every once in awhile there is a news item so extraordinary that it simply cannot be ignored. And in the news this week is the story of Jamie Edwards's school science project. Not for Jamie the usual schoolboy trivia. No seed trays full of germinating broad beans. No circuit boards with lightbulbs and buzzers.
Jamie has chosen to try and build a nuclear reactor.
This is the kind of ambition that school teachers in my day used to reward with a gold star or a clip around the ears depending on their perception of the schoolboy's intent. Honest ambition, however misplaced, was laudable. A desire to belittle the syllabus with facetious and time wasting plundering of the equipment stores was treated equally decisively. Evidently Jamie's teachers concluded the former. I'm sure they even had their words ready to praise the valiant attempt. All well and good except for one tiny detail.
Jamie Edwards has has built a nuclear reactor.
That's right -- nuclear reactor as in Sellafield. Something that creates new isotopes and releases energy. Evidently Jamie Edwards is not the kind of lad who wastes time fiddling around with magnets and iron filings in double science, or sending smutty texts to Katrina Biggs in 5C. No, he is clearly made of different stuff. And I don't want to prejudge matters but I'm going to stick my neck out here and say that I'm pretty certain he is on for an A* in his GCSEs. It's going to be pretty brave examiner who picks him up on spelling.
And I wouldn't want to be Frankie Barton who once held his head down the toilet before games. After all, it's not every day that you wake up to find your victim is now a global nuclear superpower. By any standards of bullying, that is an epic fail.
Mum: How was school today?
Jamie: Good. we made a nuclear reactor.
Mum: That's nice dear. Did you remember to hand in your geography?
Jamie: We made a nuclear reactor, Mum
Mum: And did you have to do detention again?
Jamie: We made a nuclear reactor. Lots of journalists came.
Mum: Well I hope you remembered your pleases and thankyous. It's pizza for tea.
Jamie: Do you know what a nuclear reactor is, Mum?
Mum: Is it one of those things Mrs Treadwell had for getting rid of moles in the garden?
Jamie: No Mum, it's a way of producing energy. A lot of energy.
Mum: Well if it helps you get you out of bed in the morning, that's good. Oh and somebody called Cameron phoned for you thisorning. Didn't say what he wanted. I expect he is one of those Social Security snoopers.
The nuclear reactor itself is, you will be interested to hear, the size of a lunchbox. In fact it's exactly the size of a lunchbox. To all intents and purposes, it is a lunchbox. And I don't know whether to find out comforting or alarming. Comforting in the sense that it is less likely to cause the next Harrisburg, Chernobyl or Fukuhima. Or alarming that so much power can be found in something so small.
You can imagine Mr Curry, the science master, conducting his risk assessment before they started the project. Safety spectacles -- check, lab coat -- check, notebook -- check, pencils and Biro -- check, fire extinguisher -- check, 3 m thickness lead enclosure -- oops, environmental radiation monitoring -- oops again. Oh never mind, tell the prefects to lock the lab door. And don't let 3C eat their sandwiches in there.
It's all very well putting Preston on the map. But I can't help thinking that, in the wrong hands, it could very well have taken Preston off the map.
I don't want to be a wet blanket but I can't help feeling that there are few Health and Safety issues here. The school's manual has plenty to say about bullying, nits, and drugs but is decidedly light on advice for safe management of nuclear power stations. It doesn't come up that often. And probably not issues that are covered by the standard manual.
As for Jamie, he's already thinking toward A-levels. His next project is a hadron collider. He's begun collecting empty baked bean tins.
And you wouldn't bet against him. After all, it's not every 13-year-old boy who has President Obama on Snap Chat.