Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Wednesday, 4 December 2013
I saw this strange little object at a flea-market, and bought it for not much money because the only thing I knew about it was that it was made from uranium glass.
It reminded me of a cat's-eye reflector, and - as it turned out - I was not far wrong.
In case you don't know, some glass manufacturers used to put a small amount of uranium oxide into ordinary glass, just to get that distinctive yellow-green colouring, and made many different types of objects from it, including drinking glasses. The other thing I knew about uranium glass is that it shines brilliantly under U.V. light.
Once locked into the glass, the uranium was pretty safe, but it's manufacture was banned for health reasons - the actual casting, blowing and handling of uranium oxide was not good for the factory workers.
I put it onto eBay, with a question about what it could be, suggesting that I thought it may have had a WW2 purpose. I was not far wrong about that either.
Pretty soon, an expert got back to me with the information, plus a bit of a warning.
Thousands of these things were made in Britain during the 1940s, and they were arranged in tight rows either side of runway strips. Incoming aircraft would be fitted with high-intensity Ultra-Violet lamps on the noses, and these would be switched on during the final approach, picking out the runway in brilliant, spooky green lights at the last minute before touch-down, which would only fluoresce with each aircraft as it passed overhead.
At the end of the war, they were all dug out and safely destroyed - because they contained about 10 times as much uranium oxide as would normally be used, for maximum efficiency. Well, all except this one, it seems.
The sender of this message said that if he were to own it, he would store it in a lead box and only take it out for demonstration purposes, handling it as little as possible and keeping it as far away from anything alive as possible as well.
I moved it away from the computer desk after I read the message.
I have since sold it and included the same warnings to the purchaser by letter, so now it is out of the house.
I did shine a U.V. light on it just the once, and those rows of lights on the runways must have been very pretty indeed.