Who’d be a Grandpa? – A bit of chemistry

I thought my chemistry days were over. But I’d reckoned without Slime. Or its unsuccessful version, Glue Soup.

Our London family descended on us during the summer hols either side of an exhilarating trip to the Lake District. Afterwards, they left 5-year-old Sam with us for three days on his own. To help keep us entertained, Auntie Helen prepared some science experiments.

We’d had a dress rehearsal the previous week. Helen had organised a bottle of Elmer’s school glue and had bought various substances that purportedly enabled you to make Slime without buying the traditional ingredient, borax. Borax reacts chemically with the glue to form a cross-linked polymer. We’d watched some highly polished American Youtube videos on which the alternatives worked perfectly. Contact lens soaking solution or laundry liquid, amongst other examples…

After various failed attempts in which we created Elmer’s Soup, Helen and I concluded that the advertised ingredients had not been borax free. The materials used on the videos had worked because they contained the acidic form of borax. Unfortunately, in the U.K this simple chemical has been removed from household ingredients because ‘it can cause harm to unborn children’ (even though these are unlikely to be making Slime). So we couldn’t use them. But you can still buy borax as a powder, and a packet arrived just in time for our Science with Sam session.


And so, with great trepidation, Auntie Helen added her borax solution to the glue, along with drops of blue colouring. Hey presto! Sam’s nimble fingers got straight to work, kneading the gooey mixture like dough. We didn’t get around to doing a whole lot with it that evening, but we all agreed it was fascinating stuff…

…until you had to clear it up. Unlike dough, Slime comes completely off most surfaces. Except for the little bits that remain on saucers, attach themselves to fabric, or that get on the floor and are trodden into repeating splodges. And these don’t come off with soapy water! It turned out you had to use an acidic solution such as vinegar or citric acid to break the polymer chains so you could clean the stuff up. That was Grandpa’s job, and it wasn’t quick.


We witnessed another sort of chemistry, too. At 6:30 most evenings, Mummy or Daddy made a Whatsapp video call from London and Sam could talk to little Grace, aged 15 months. They were so excited to see each other! Grace squealed with delight when she saw Sam and heard his voice, and reached out to touch the screen, expecting to feel his skin…It was heart-warming to witness.


I’d a few items to replace on the church noticeboard, so we called to do this on our way to town.

“Grandpa, are you the boss of the church?” asked Sam. 

“No, Sam, you see that lady in the picture. She’s Reverend Michelle, and she’s the boss of the church, not me.”

My adult voice protested, “Hey, that’s bad theology! Isn’t Jesus the Lord of the Church?” But no way was I explaining that to Sam, who then asked,

“So, Grandpa, are you the boss of the noticeboard?”

“Well, I s’pose I am, yes. But then I put up things that other people ask me to.”

“Are you the boss of everybody else then?” he asked. Pause.

“No Sam, there are lots of people who are bosses of different things. Someone’s the boss of the music, of cooking our lunches, looking after the building, showing films…” Brief pause to think of Jesus’s chemistry as he washed his disciples’ feet…

“But how it works, we let each other be the bosses of us because we’re here to help each other.” I thought that was biblically sound…


We enjoyed our time with Sam. It was tiring but very rewarding. Jane bought him a special mug to commemorate his climbing Scafell Pike with his daddy!

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