Well, you live and learn. This morning, listening to the radio, I discovered the etymology of Formica, that ubiquitous wipe-clean, heat-resistant laminate. In as much as I'd given this any thought, I had assumed it was something to do with formic acid - but no. Originally, I learnt, the doughty laminate was used as a substitute for a mineral commonly used as electrical insulation - mica. Yes, it was substitute for mica. Formica. More like a crossword clue than etymology, isn't it?
Any child of the Fifties will have memories - fond or otherwise - of Formica. All our parents fell victim to the Formica fashion, replacing all those old-style wooden surfaces with the smooth and characterless plastic, usually choosing strong bright post-Festival of Britain colours (my Formica memories seem to be mostly yellow). My mother seemed very pleased with the transformation, and my father was happy to go along with it. His moment was to come when the next transformative material turned up - Fablon, the original 'sticky-back plastic', which came in all manner of colours and patterns and could be used to cover just about anything: shelves, work surfaces, wood panelling, cupboard doors, tables. It also had a myriad of craft uses, as witnessed by Blue Peter week after week. Like many others, my father took to the stuff with relish, even using it to cover the broken-down spines of his old set of Arthur Conan Doyle. Not a pleasing effect, but it did the job. Isn't one of Doyle's historical novels called Micah Clarke...?