My cousin Richard Stevenson looks like a nice, well-mannered normal young boy in pictures (see the kid at far right in this photo). Do not let that fool you. Richard had a trick he played when we were kids. He either thought it up himself or one of our uncles showed it to him, and it was brilliant. I used it myself to great advantage, don’t think I didn’t.
In order to understand this trick, you have to know what Mercurachrome was. Mercurachrome was a liquid antiseptic that our mothers applied to our cuts, scrapes and splinters. I don’t know what was in it – mercury I would certainly imagine – but the thing about Mercurachrome was that it was BRIGHT red. BRIGHT red. If you saw a kid with bright red dabs you knew they’d somehow been injured. I think we wore it as a badge of honor. (At least I did.)
Now, you know those small white cardboard boxes that jewelry comes in? Pins and earrings and rings and things? With a square of cotton inside? Well, here’s what Richard would do. Richard would cut a hole in the bottom of the box, splash Mercurachrome all over the cotton and push his thumb up through. Then he would run around yelling “I cut my thumb off! I cut my thumb off!” Indeed it looked for all the world as though he’d cut off his thumb and was carrying the bloody thing around in a box.
We loved this trick. There was no end to the amount of times we sprang it on some unsuspecting friend, and watched their eyes grow round with horror, then curiosity, then (I suspected in some of the more, well, warped, but look, who am I to say?) actual envy. It was an especially effective spectacle if, say, we were at somebody’s parents’ backyard barbeque or some kid’s birthday party.
I don’t think you could lay your hands on a bottle of Mercurachrome now for love nor money. That’s probably for the best. Not just because of this trick, but for the environment as a whole. Richard, have you told your kids and grandkids what a jokester you were? Because I'm pretty sure they've never heard of Mercurachrome.