unexpectedly wobbled a lot. It was thrilling, until I thought about those "When Things Go Wrong" kind of TV shows and wondered if I was about to end up in the Thames. So when I read yesterday that a new city office block under construction, nicknamed the Walkie Talkie thanks to its shape, was inadvertently creating a concentrated beam of sunlight strong enough to melt the plastic on the body of someone's Jaguar (and, it was soon discovered, hot enough to fry an egg), I had to check it out. If only to answer the terribly important question facing us all - can it melt LEGO?
The southern face of the building that's now popularly rechristened the Walkie Scorchie is curved, with the top floor being larger than the bottom. Since the windows were installed a giant concave mirror has been created which, it was discovered on Monday afternoon, focusses a lot of sun at this time of year on a row of shops on Eastcheap, a street close by. It may help you to imagine a child training a magnifying glass on an ant, or an alien death ray decimating humanity. This unexpected effect may seem obvious with the benefit of hindsight, but to be fair, the architects could hardly have anticipated that there would be sun in London.
I timed my arrival for the beginning of the lunch hour, and the road was heaving with office workers trying out this new free tanning solution for themselves and being shepherded off the road by a laconic policeman. Before beginning my experiment I stepped into the beam and found I did not wish to remain there beyond about a minute! I chatted to various people taking readings and two had recorded temperatures of 70°C (158°F), so you can appreciate all this hoo-hah isn't just a case of the English not knowing what heat feels like, although the chap on the left here seems a tad distressed.
Whilst baking your LEGO is not a good thing to do, kids, it does play a part in the testing processes that The LEGO Group undertake. At the AFOLCON event in Manchester in 2012 Bjarke V. Schønwandt, a Senior Manager of Consumer Perceived Quality, explained that they have an oven which they bake sets in, after which they test for weak points in the construction. Whilst melting is not a great fear, loss of model stability during play is - and this includes that day when Little Timmy chooses to play with the model that he'd left sitting by a window for six months. Hence the bake test. The LEGO Group did face a problem in 2008 when they tested their largest set ever, 10189 Taj Mahal - it didn't fit in the oven! So they took it to the Billund sauna. What they really needed was a giant south-facing convex-faced glass building.
As for me, I wasn't prepared to carry an entire model and leave it on a disgusting London pavement whilst half-blinded stargazers staggered about. Instead, my sacrificial offering was just a handful of bricks and figures, but they were at least chosen with a smidgen of forethought.
Mostly I wanted to include a range of plastics. These white bricks are new and are made of ABS, the plastic which most LEGO is made from.
The clear bricks are made from polycarbonate which LEGO use for all transparent elements as well as ones requiring additional strength, as it is a tougher plastic.
LEGO use more plastics than those two though, and no doubt have a variety of recipes of ABS to suit different needs. I don't know details of this - it is likely a trade secret in any event - so I took a couple of figs, the various parts of which which I imagine might consist of different plastics. A Friends minidoll (don't expect me to name her) with accessory seemed like an especially good candidate with her thin limbs and soft hair.
The new LEGO® Minifigures Series 11 features a Constable, which seemed appropriate for the occasion and he consequently dressed in a most unbecoming fashion to attract journalists. But on the quasi-scientific front, he was selected for his heat-absorbing black elements.
These two stacks of white bricks date from earlier than 1985 - probably a lot earlier, maybe 1960s even. I brought these along to see if they would suffer some yellowing, as is the plague of many a vintage LEGO piece. Both stacks were already yellowed, one lightly and the other quite badly, so I applied the stickers to stop UV light reaching the whole surface.
Why does old LEGO get yellowed? ABS can be flammable, and so throughout the plastics industry flame retardants are always added to the recipe. Up until the 1990s, when harmful effects on the ozone layer were proven, the flame retardant used was a compound of bromide. Those of you with decent memories of chemistry will recall that bromide is brown, and clever boffins may even recall that at an atomic level, bromide particles literally vibrate in UV light. This causes bromide to detach and roam around the ABS, and at the plastic's surface it re-attaches to oxygen molecules. Over time the accumulation of surface bromide gives the plastic a yellow and then even brown appearance. The effect is more pronounced on the casings of 1980s computers than LEGO, perhaps due to a different recipe of ABS. (The process is actually reversible with hydrogen peroxide solution under strong UV light, but I decided carrying a hazardous chemical into a city that has suffered terrorist attacks and now harbours a heat ray might not be the wisest idea ever.)
To finish, it seems vaguely appropriate to show you this LEGO rendition of an event that happened just a couple of streets away from here on 2 September 1666 - 347 years to the day before some chap's Jag got fried. This beautifully rendered and photographed model of the start of the Great Fire of London was built by the talented James Pegrum as part of his History of Britain series. Takes a lot of skill to make LEGO look this wobbly... makes me wonder if he'll ever recreate my fateful day on the Millennium Bridge?