The Admiral Storage Facility stores paper. Lots of it. And of course we have the highest level of fire control systems, as all reputable warehouses do.
But that didn’t stop one of my customers talking about smoke recently. In particular the smoke that comes from burning paper.
“What is it?” he asked, and I must say that rather took me by surprise. But I pride myself on an ability to deal with all customer related situations so I didn’t blink as I replied, “What is what?
“Smoke,” he said.
Now I did GCSE Chemistry – although some time ago I must admit – so I ventured an answer.
“It’s a mix of gas and particles.”
“What sort of gas?” asked my client.
“It depends what you are burning, but normally with paper it is carbon dioxide, and the particles are bits of paper that are not fully burned.”
He looked impressed, and I felt rather pleased with myself until I realised that in managing to dig up virtually the entire extent of my knowledge on combustion I had now set myself up as an expert – and this was going to lead me into deeper questioning.
“So why does smoke rise?”
I think was the moment I made my greatest mistake, for I decided to carry on, although with a desperate feeling that I was digging a deeper hole for me to fall into.
“Smoke comes from a fire,” I said slowly, thinking it through, “so it must be hotter than the air around it. Which means it rises because the hotter the air, the lighter it is.” (I don’t know if that is actually true, but it sounds about right.) “It keeps on rising until it reaches the same density as the rest of the air around it, and then it spreads out.”
“So why does burning paper produce light and heat as well as smoke?” he demanded. I looked at him carefully. I knew that look. It was a “go on, answer that if you are so clever” type of look.
“I remember in science,” I said, “that you can’t create energy – it always comes from somewhere and goes somewhere and you have the same amount of energy at the end of an event as you had at the start.
“So there must be energy in paper.”
“And where is it?” he asked, picking up a piece of paper and inspecting it closely.
“Paper is made from trees, and trees like all plant life have gathered in energy presumably from the sun and maybe from the nutrients taken from the ground although,” I admitted, “I am not really sure about that last bit.
“And there must be photosynthesis involved somewhere – when plant life takes energy from the sun, and combines it with water and carbon.”
“Why carbon?” he asked.
I thought about it. “Wasn’t there a comment once on Star Trek where some alien made of rock calls Kirk and Spock ‘carbon-based life forms’?” I asked. “The rock was a silicon-based life form, and called Kirk a “bag of mostly water.”
“What’s Star Trek?” he asked, and I knew I was getting into trouble.
“Right,” I said, “I think it goes like this.”
“Photosynthesis combines the energy of the sun with the energy taken from the ground to create chains of molecules and produce cellulose – which is what wood is made of. So the tree contains all that energy, and that energy is still there when the tree is cut down and turned into paper.
“So when you burn the paper, the heat breaks down the molecules, the energy that has been there from the start is released back into the atmosphere as heat and light, and energy is conserved.”
I felt a slight grin edging its way around my face; the sort of grin that befits a man who has just wriggled out of a locked cell that no one has ever escaped from before, has no idea how he did it, and is afraid that he is about to be asked.
My customer looked at me for a long moment. And then said,
“But what is it?”
“What is what?” I asked, the grin becoming uncontrollable. Any moment now I was going to start looking like a monkey.
“Smoke,” he answered.
“Tell you what,” I said, “would you like a coffee?”
You can find more information on our facilities on our website at www.archive-document-storage.co.uk. Alternatively you can call us on 0800 810 1125.
Admiral Document Storage
Tel: 0800 810 1125