School science

Did you enjoy science lessons at school? Were you good at theory or did you like getting your hands dirty? I preferred the latter, but more on that story later, as they say on Dead Ringers.

My first science lessons were at Linden Lodge School. I suppose I was 9 or 10 when Biology entered my life. We had a great teacher. She had a plastic doll with no front and no insides. There were plastic organs which we learnt to fit into the doll…hopefully in the right places! If you could get the ridged piece of plastic representing the intestines clipped into the abdomen, you were on target.

One day an amazing thing happened. Our teacher brought in a pig’s head and a lamb’s oesophagus, lungs and liver. You never forget your first experience of sticking your finger into a pig’s brain! For the first time in my life, I got some real understanding of how the body worked.

When I moved on to Chorleywood College at the age of 11, I was introduced to Physics. This mostly went over my head, mainly because of the maths. My practicals weren’t a great success, either. I shall never forget the day I dropped my density bottle on the floor. It was made of glass and full of water, and made quite a mess. The cold, terrifying voice of our teacher rang out.

“Who has dropped their density bottle?”

She said it in the tones of one who was about to banish me to hell for committing such a cardinal sin and it is the only memory of that year which has stayed with me.

Oh, apart from a comment on my report: “Judith expects to achieve maximum results with the minimum amount of effort.”

Well, don’t we all?

Chemistry was less opaque but still not very interesting. We spent a whole year shaking different substances in test tubes to see if they changed colour which, given we were at special school for those with visual impairments, was something very few of us could appreciate. We also heated iron filings over Bunsen burners for some reason which escapes me now. Those of us with long hair were  supposed to tie it back but I tended to flout this rule and, as I leaned forward to check if my burner was alight, the smell of singed hair would regularly fill my corner of the lab.

The highlight of the year – and I use the term advisedly – was when our teacher demonstrated the amazing effect of setting light to magnesium ribbon. It was so dazzlingly bright that even those of us with minimal residual vision could enjoy the spectacle.

I still enjoyed Biology at my senior school but, as with other science subjects, struggled with the theory. The practicals were more demanding, too. Our first dissection was a bull’s eye. We discovered that the poor creature had had a cataract. We empathised with it on that point, though not, alas, on the fact that its eyeball was in pieces on the table in front of us. The rat was the most interesting victim, though. We managed to spread its intestines several times round the table, which was a good way of learning just how much tubing we have wrapped up inside us.

I hope you weren’t eating your dinner while reading this. (If you were and are now feeling a little queasy, I apologise!)

I do think, though, that my experience of learning science is a good illustration of how much information the sense of touch can convey and how important it is, when you are visually impaired, to get “hands-on” with the subject you are studying.