I settled into the swing of things in the shopfitting department. I particularly enjoyed the combination of practical work four days a week and the more academic and experimental work at the college.
I was still the junior. The junior got the undesirable assignments. One that I found particularly distasteful and boring was setting up a series of displays using ten boxes of plastic flowers that someone had ordered by mistake. I detest plastic flowers! Can’t stand them! I don’t like the idea of them, the smell or the feel of them! I hate them! Have I made my point that I am not ambivalent when it comes to plastic, artificial flowers. My apologies to any of my gentle readers who feel differently. I wish you well as you hang them upside down and rinse off the dust.
Ten large boxes of assorted, extravagantly coloured, plastic flowers had been purchased and couldn’t be wasted. A number of planters had been acquired and I was assigned to set up the planters in the several reception areas of the firm and arrange the flowers into so many attractive display.
This was an ugly job. Everyone in my department felt the same way about the plastic flowers as I. Not only did I have to desecrate the lobbies with these monstrosities, I had to do it in office hours – out in public. It was worse than stealthily collecting crashed paper aircraft.
I received many humorous comments and jocular encouragement from my fellow workers as they passed by me tastefully ‘arranging’ the flowers.
They all had very long stems, the flowers not the co-workers, so the least I could do was to cut them to different lengths and make the displays interesting. I took a box back to our drafting room and started cutting off lengths of green plastic stems.
I honestly don’t remember how or why the first stem was set on fire. What I do remember is the way the plastic melted and drops of flaming plastic dripped off the stem. Being curious I held the stem higher and lit it again – holding it over a wastebasket. The plastic as it melted and fell made a sort of whizzing noise. It was a bit like the sound some fireworks make with parts spinning off a cluster bomb. It was fascinating.
The higher I held the stem the longer and louder was the whizzing noise. It became intoxicating. I can still hear the sound, and if encouraged reproduce it through vibrating lips. I had been alone in the lab. A couple of my younger associates came in and wondered about the smell of burning plastic. I showed them. They also became enthusiastic about the whistling flowers experiment.
With this extra help i could stand on the drawing desk and hold a number of stems at ceiling height and light them at the same time. We placed a waste paper basket under the drop zone.
Wheeeeeee, whiiiiiizzzzzzzzz, vazoooooom went the molten flaming drops of plastic. It was mesmerizing. We laughed ourselves silly. You may, quite rightly suggest we were already silly. Someone, probably young Frank, noticed that the plastic drops hadn’t fully extinguished during their musical descent. In fact they were still flaming when they hit the paper we had used to line the basket. The result was a rather disturbing fire in the waste basket which produced a significant cloud of paper and plastic smoke. Luckily someone had been using water colours, so a pot of water was at hand. The fire was doused with the water and went out, but continued to give off a pungent odour for some time. The waste basket was now a smoky, plastic covered watery mess.
We decided not to light any more stems. Then someone, I think it was young Frank, looked up at the ceiling where we had been igniting the stems and creating our version of Handel’s Firework Music. The ceiling tiles were covered in a black smoky residue.
We got rid of the evidence from the wastebasket, we put everything across the corridor into Jack’s office. He was a smoker.
We opened all the windows, but the smell lingered. Probably it was in our clothes and hair. About the ceiling there was nothing to be done. But, we reasoned “Nobody looks up much anyway”.
I took the box out and continued to set up the displays.
No one ever asked about the strange burning smell in the office, why the windows were wide open, and apparently no one ever looked up at the ceiling. What Jack thought about his waste paper basket we will never know.
Even today when I see plastic flowers I have this little urge to get a match…
Next time: I’ll give you a break from these reflections and post Mummy Deerest, and Another Serving of Mushrooms.