I have come to the conclusion over the years that if given a choice, young people, teenagers especially, will always do the most monumentally stupid thing they can rather than what is right and proper. I have of course my own history as a young fool, confirmed in numerous police reports and newspaper cuttings at home to back this up. Still, I would like to think that I have mostly put these errant behaviours, mostly, behind me.
In fact I have been so long as a ‘mature responsible citizen’ (pffffftttt!) that I had almost forgotten the wild ride that is young life. That is at least my excuse for what had happened. It was a slow day in the shop, there hadn’t been too many punters in as of late and we had already cleaned the place to within an inch of its life, so we sat around chatting, reading, whatever while we waited for another wind-borne customer to come in.
Dave had been with us for most of the summer. Not even drinking age he had gotten a place in some college in the city to study fancy gardening and was working for a bit of cash and ‘to get some experience at the coal-face of the industry’ whatever that meant. He was reading a magazine on cars or some such, hanging around in case any of us old fogeys needed some heavy lifting. He had the endearing habit of reading off whatever it was he was reading to us if interested him, until we got annoyed and threw stuff at him, oh what fun we had.
“It says here” Dave announced after we had all gotten thoroughly bored “That you can increase the power of a petrol engine at least six fold by adding these new additives to the fuel tank” That generated a mild interest in the rest of us and we responded with a “that’s nice”
Dave thought our mumble meant intense interest so he continued “These nitrogenous additives were shown to increase the rate of combustion giving greater impulse per engine cycle. Hear that, it says that it makes things more fuel-efficient.”
Again we didn’t really care but Bill, the hardware supervisor said “With petrol the price it is we could use something that makes it go further.” Then I just had to get in on the action “Yeah Dave! You could really make some money out of something like that, a lot more than you would ever make in this game.” If only I had known I would have kept my mouth shut.
Dave stayed quiet for a second and announced that he needed to go out for an errand and that he would be back in a minute. When he returned he rushed through the shop carrying something in a bag and muttering that he had to check something out in the yard. We were only glad that he wasn’t talking to us anymore.
About half an hour later Dave ran in again and asked us to come out and see what he had been doing. There had still been no increase in footfall so we were glad to do something. In the yard Dave had a small petrol canister, a number of plastic containers and a funnel. He was holding an old leaf blower that had been left there years ago and never collected. He explained what he had been doing.
“I think I might have found an additive that would work” He announced excitedly, “It says in the article that the additives most important part was nitrogen. Well I’ve found an old bag labelled nitrogen in the shed and I was able to mix it with this petrol.” That gave me a pause for thought, but I couldn’t remember why so I let him continue “I have timed that a full tank will make this leaf blower run for approximately ten minutes. I have now filled the tank with petrol with additive. Could one of you time how long it lasts, if it is more than ten minutes then we would be on to something.”
One of the lads duly got out his watch and started fiddling with it before giving Dave the thumbs up at which time he started the engine. I only later realised why I had the pause for thought as Dave explained himself. The old bags of ‘nitrogen fertiliser’ that we had stored in the back couldn’t be sold because they contained mostly ammonium nitrate, a chemical that had gotten a bad rap lately due to certain subversive elements using it for illicit ends. Ammonium nitrate added with anything that burns, petrol included, makes an explosive. But I didn’t remember in time and wasn’t able to stop him.
Right after Dave starting the leaf blower the next thing I remember is lying flat on my back in a pile of smoke, with the smell of burning hair in my nostrils. I could barely make out a pillar of smoke going up into the sky. It turned out that that leaf blower was made of stern stuff and when the contents of the tank went, the force went straight through the nozzle, blowing us over and sending the leaf blower and Dave into the air.
The young lad had enough sense to let go and landed roughly in a vegetable patch three gardens over. Pretty fine except for some minor burns and a broken wrist. The leaf blower sailed nearly a quarter-mile into the sky and landed in the canal on the other side of town. The cops were called as well as the bomb squad to dispose of the rest of the ‘additive’. We all got some serious questions and a stern telling off.
Dave himself was staid for the rest of the summer, but I’m told that as soon as the cast was off he was back to his old tricks and whenever I had to work with young people again I made a point to remember the foolhardiness of youth and what ever you do, whenever a young person is involved, to stand way back.