September 14, 2015

Horse 1981 - Neon: The New One, The Cool One, The Good One

I would really like to find out what happened to my high school chemisrty book. Pasted into the back cover was an A4 periodic table of the elements which included such wonders as Davidtron (The Chihuahua Shaped Particle - see Horse 1810) and Electroluxium which was element 0 (element 0 being no electrons and therefore a vacuum).
To the far right on the periodic table is the Noble Elements and of course I'd ruled across to Ununoctium (which I think should be called Juggernon - see Horse 1684) which is element 118 and which I suspect is big enough to be the first noble metal; even though I have no idea how metallic bonding is supposed to work when you have something in a perfectly self contained monatomic state.
The "coolest" of the noble elements though, is in my ill-thought out opinion, Neon. Not the "strange one" of Krypton, not the "lazy" one of Argon but the "new" one of Neon.

Neon was first isolated and pinned down when two chemists, Sir William Ramsay and Morris Travers, chilled air, distilled it and revealed it by its distinctive crimson-orange hue in a discharge tube.
Frenchman Georges Claude's company, Air Liquide, started making and bending discharge tubes and then selling them as advertising signs and it is this purpose which makes neon famous... or did.

I fear that as printing onto plastic has become more viable and LCD and Plasma screens have started to become ubiquitous, that the need for neon signs has started to wane. When I think of what used to be the most famous uses of neon signs as advertising, in places like Picadilly Circus, Times Square and even the giant Citroën sign on the Eiffel Tower, I feel a little sad knowing that all of these are now gone. In June this year, the Coca-Cola sign which had stood over the intersection of above William Street and Darlinghurst Road in Kings Cross for more than 40 years promoting its invitation to Diabetes City, was dismantled. The Coca-Cola have said that its getting a "modern makeover" and it will be replaced with LED lighting but really that's like replacing the sugar in Coca-Cola with Bonox. It just won't be the same.

Yes, once the glass tubing of a neon sign has been damaged, then the whole sign doesn't work. It does mean that there's a degree of fragility and preciousness about them but I think that that's part of the appeal. To make a neon sign, needs someone who is skilled at bending the glass and if a mistake is made, then it's not easily corrected. The upside is that once a neon sign has been made, it can last up to 80 years; which is often longer than the life of the business who made it.

This is why I love neon so much. As a small kid who was carted about the place in the back seat of the car, I would stare up in wonder at the coloured lights as they went by. The most common lights were the sodium street lamps; every one of which sent out its light at 580nm wavelengths in flavicomous jaundice, staining the world in sickly off yellow. Neon lights though, they were things of beauty.
The signs of pharmacists, restaurants, mechanics, kebab houses and perhaps most famous of all in Sydney, the Sharpies Golf sign which stood near the aptly named Central Electric station, have all passed into obscurity and antiquity. The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.
Even the AWA Building has had its neon signs removed by its new owners, the Jupiter's Casino Group. That's just awful.

I did find this little piece of joy in Marayong though:

Officially this place is called Marayong Court Chinese Restaurant but to everyone in the known and unknown universe, this place is Candy's.
If you want excellent Chinese cooking in the heart of New South Wales, you better come to Marayong Court Chinese Restaurant. 
- Marayong Court Chinese Restaurant (Candy's)

Hear that - you better come!
Seriously, their Hot & Sour Soup is second to one (in Central in Hong Kong) and their Fillet Steak Canton Style is excellent. A song of how good a place is is how crowded it is and at the weekend its often difficult to get in the door. Once you find a good thing, do not let go.
I digress.

This is a piece of new neon sign work out in the suburbs. Neon may have been replaced by cheaper and more versatile technology but their replacements aren't icons and the changeability means that when the screen changes to something else and it is gone, and its place remembers it not.
Cheaper and more versatile does not equal better and it does not live long in the memory.

Neon, element number ten, is not the "strange one" or the "lazy one" but the "new one" and neon signs even in the past, look like a future that is still yet to be. Neon is the coolest of the noble gases, the most hard working and it's far more than just noble, it's downright imperial. The Neon Kingdom though is  drawing to a close and that's sad.

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