I didn’t think Poland was too bad until I got cream in my juice and anchovies instead of artichoke

As you might guess, I’m in Poland.

Right now I’m not ecstatic to be here.

Upon arrival everything seemed fine. Flight, train and taxi stuff was fine, hotel is nice, I met up with some people. Then I lost my cardigan somewhere and we went to a dinner with host lab members that I was expecting to be tomorrow, but nevermind. I thought it would be fine as I’d breezed through the whole traveling bit without any panic or even strong anxiety, I was a-ok.

At the restarant (feeling a bit chilly from my absentee cardigan) I decided to tell people that I don’t drink alcohol so I wouldn’t get pressured to drink, and picked a ‘fruit cocktail’ which from the name,I understood would be fruit blended together….but what arrived was about 50% cream. I can’t digest lactose, so after a couple of tastes I decided I’d have to get another drink but as I wasn’t paying I felt guilty, so just had water….

Time to order food then, so i picked a pizza and listed off my four chosen toppings: spinach, black olives, pines nuts and artichoke.

Fab.

Then the food arrives but this wasn’t any kind of artichoke ive ever seen…I mean, it looked fishy…so I enquired and yes it was anchovies…..so I politely said that I has asked for artichoke not anchovy (I’d even pointed to the word on the menu) ane the waitress just looked at me and and said ‘is that a problem?’ so I had to say, yes dear, yes it is…I am vegetarian, I don’t eat fish!

So grumpy faced off she went to fetch me a replacement…it turned up quite quickly and I had a quick scan and no, they hadn’t just taken off the fish and added artichoke because this one didn’t have pine nuts…OK close enough. It tasted fine even though it probably had someone’s spit in it. The problem was then that I’d got hungry waiting and was shivering, and making terrible conversation through my pained expressions of embarrassment and anxiety.

The afternoon started off so peacefully and degenerated into something monsterous thats going to give me a belly ache.

Wish me luck. I have to navigate breakfast without any surprise lactose or meat products and then give a presentation to an unknown sized crowd tomorrow (n>10) without meltdown. Maybe forgoing valium was a bad idea.

Sigh. Challenging anxieties isn’t always triumphant is it? :S

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Crimes against lab organisation – a sample mystery

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This post will probably read like a really unsatisfying, shitty, nerdy mystery case. Or, y’know, another of my snoozeworthy diaristic geek fests.

The lab kids seem to be playing a belated April fools.

Someone in the past few days has left lots unlabeled samples in an old freezer box that was previously used for a potent toxin (that I was due to replenish). Someone used one of the mystery tubes, believing that it was said toxin. It was not. The new bottle of powder of said poison remains untouched.
Mystery and Intrigue. Oooh!
So I put on my miss Marple glasses, ready to dish out some justice, and I interrogated each lab member in turn, but they all have the same story- it wasn’t me guv.
I’m not that far gone that I believe pixies made some random aliquots (we all know that laboratory pixies only mess up my bench and switch around my buffers and shit like that), so that means someone isn’t telling the truth, and it’s probably that monster that leaves random white powders all over the balance too (everyone always says it wasn’t them) that sometimes have me reaching for the risk assessment forms. It’s someone with poor pipetting skills too…those damned aliquots are different volumes! Using my excellent analytical and deductional (is that a word? Maybe deductive is more like an english adjective) reasoning has led me to my prime suspect, but I have no evidence. It’s all circumstantial.

No-one seems able to fathom why anyone would commit such a terrible crime against lab organisation and chemical cataloguing. Someone must be protesting too much…

Someone is either having psychotic episodes, or is in fact a lying turd bag. It’s got one of the students questioning their sanity, I mean, you’d remember doing that wouldn’t you? You’d REMEMBER DAMMIT!  right?

Sorry mate, I can’t get to the bottom of this mystery with the means at my disposal. I’m disappointed that I do not have enough gravitas to coax the truth out, but I guess the red and purple hair and new flared jeans won’t be helping me any with that.

Now I know how police officers must feel when they know their prime suspect is guilty but they can’t arrest them or they’ll lose their job! According to the employees handbook no enhanced interrogation techniques are allowed either so I guess we’ll never know for sure. But I’ll be watching….

Mystery samples will not be tolerated!

Taxonomic treats

Ever since I heard of the fungal species Neosartorya fischeri I wanted to work with it. Not because it’s especially weird, or relevant but because I love the idea of a fungus that is the new elegance of Dr fischer!
Only now I discover that it’s actually just an Aspergillus in its telemorphic sexual state. For a fungus that doesn’t mean it’s feeling frisky, it means that in this state, it is making sexual spores. When it’s reproducing asexually it’s called Aspergillus fischerianus. Aspergillus comes from the name of a holy water sprinkling device, but I wonder where the -anus came from!!! I know the aspergillus anamorph has been called invalid before but there’s no need to call it Dr fischeri’s holy-water spinkling bum, surely! Taxonomists have quite the sense of humour it would seem.

OK I take it back, Now I know what the aspergillus name means I want to work with it EVEN more.

Gurgle. Slosh.

The sun came out but the temperature dropped and an audi driving wanker tried to kill me today. The seahorse pleaded innocence and the ringing is still chasing me around. Don’t worry though, it’s probably just another ludicrous string of slippery things and neoplastic ideas circulating because while science is in the making, imagination refuses to be pinned down for long enough to produce what I’d consider a tentacle.

Beautiful things are not expelled by tense creatures. All the gurgling noises of half digested ideas and I can’t get a plunger into my head to free them up.

Stuff that has happened:

I played the electric fence hokey cokey a few times with buster. You put your horse in, the fencing is snagged, you reach to unhook it and your horse scoots out. Repeat a few times then unclip the beast and give reassuring hugs, telling him that it’s ok, his friend will be back soon. He could see her from where he stood but wasn’t convinced.

I played pony-killing-plastic-bag fun too. It took me about 10 mins but I finally convinced the pair of them that it was ok to touch the plastic bag that had unfortunately blown across them and send them into a frenzied charge.

What I didn’t do was ride. It was windy as hell and I felt a bit nervous incase we had a bolting incident due to say, I don’t know… a homicidal bin liner flying past or something. I’m a wimp, but that’s OK because I figured I’d rather miss out on riding than spend the whole time in dreaded anticipation, wondering which bone will be the next one to break. It’s not that I don’t trust buster, it’s that hes easily led astray…

I’ve removed one of my posts from three years ago about a paper being rejected. It has been responsible for the majority of the traffic to this blog and that is annoying me. So it’s gone. And now we can return to 0.5 readers per post.

If Google says a nude cake-eating contest can cure cancer then it must be true

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If I told you that I can cure cancer by any of the following:

Dietary changes
Oxygen therapy
Coffee enemas
Vitamin C
Fasting
Prayer
Some random exotic fruit

and said that doctors, scientists and big pharma are in some giant conspiracy and they don’t actually WANT to cure you. What would you say?
I hope you’d just laugh, and tell me not to be so ridiculous, and if I persisted I hope some sedatives and a nice white coat would be on hand, but a story I was told the other day has highlighted once again, how ignorant, selfish and dangerous an unfounded belief in so-called alternative therapies can be.

The story went something like this: a young man in his twenties was diagnosed with lung cancer, he had a round of chemotherapy but the cancer returned and he was advised to have surgery and further chemo. This young man then refused surgery because he didn’t want to live with only 1 and a half lungs and refused chemo because it was just poison and instead embarked on a highly publicised campaign for dietary alternative therapy that he believed would cleanse him of his cancer. He was featured on tv and had many followers on his  blog telling him how brave he was and how they wanted to do the same, give up on tested western medicine and try eating more celery instead (maybe not celery but you get the gist). Of course, shortly afterwards his cancer aggressively metastasised and he died, but I’ll bet people are still reading his blog and looking up to him.

The same theme has been bouncing around the Internet for years and the newspapers for at least a century. There are more and more sites popping up claiming to have some secret cure that doctors don’t want you to know about and it is causing a lot of unnecessary and dangerous attention to be turned to practices that are untested and unregulated and away from those that are. They appeal to our primal desire to find a natural answer, an offer of something familiar and proclaimed as safe in stark contrast to the frightening array of strange and powerful drugs with terrible side-effects. I understand how desperate people can get, I really do, but it breaks my heart to think of desperate souls reading this mumbo-jumbo and thinking that’s the way forward for them too, an easier option, and it is for those people precisely that I start to worry about these days of selfpublishing, of irresponsible use of freedom of speech. For a much better, more accurate version of this diatribe see here, it’s a fascinating read. At least the Guardian have got their head screwed on considering this subject. Hopefully the media coverage of the demise of Steve Jobs and the revelation that he regretted choosing alternative therapies such that proper treatment came too late to save him, will encourage at least a few to reconsider their position.

For anyone who clicked a link expecting me to be touting a new miracle craze, I’d like to explain what cancer actually is as what it isn’t, as far as I understand it (I’m a biochemist but not oncologist).

Cancer is not an impurity, a curse, a possession, invasion or a myth.

Your body is made up of millions of cells that all check themselves regularly to make sure they are functioning normally. If they fail quality control, the cells go through one of the many pathways to death, and generally speaking, another cell comes along to take its space. More or less a one-in-one-out situation because your body is a pretty full concerthall. Anyway, sometimes a cell has a problem with its DNA so that it no longer realises that it should die, and it keeps on living even though it’s not working properly. This immortality means that the cell is alive much longer than they normally are, and other DNA problems, like those that tell it to divide when it shouldn’t (arguably this unregulated division might be the first step of cancer formation) So now you have cells that are dividing fast and don’t realise they are doing anything wrong, and your immune system hasn’t noticed a problem because the cells are your cells – they aren’t foreign. See here for a nice description about what cancer is in someone else’s (better) words. So how are you going to go about removing those cells that are starting to sap the nutrients out of your blood and are growing out of control and obstructing your organs without killing off your healthy cells? Well that is what billions of pounds of research goes into every year in the relentless search for cures for cancers because your cancer will be different from Fred’s cancer and Juliette’s…but rest assured that progress is always being made, and that abandoning cutting edge science for massage therapy is going to take you and your loved ones in only one prematurely sad and painful direction. Acupuncture and aromatherapy cannot reverse the DNA damage that has already occurred.

I’m writing this now because on a slightly different topic, I discovered the other day that the NHS are spending 4 million quid a year on homeopathy and I was dumbfounded. Doctors are educated people who are trained to treat according to rigorous, evidence-based studies…and to my knowledge, every attempt to verify the effectiveness of homeopathy has failed (as logic dictates) but patients are still demanding their sugar pills because they read somewhere that it’s better than antiretrovirals for HIV (or whatever condition they have). As well as being a staunch supporter of western medicine, I’m also a believer in the strength and usefulness of the placebo effect. I know someone who thinks that nibbling the corner of a paracetamol will trigger them to make their own painkillers and so thus they ‘cure’ their headaches by essentially taking no drugs. I’m not going to discuss the sanity of this individual right now, but the placebo effect is so strong that it can chase off a migraine. There are, clearly, times and places for placebos, but cancer treatment ain’t one of them.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for alternative positive things like meditation, healthy diet, vitamins, prayer and even acupuncture and art therapy if it makes you feel better, but when we are talking about serious health conditions never, and I mean NEVER instead of proper medical care.

Now for those that say that chemotherapy is unnecessary poison, I’d like you to think about it long and hard because honestly, the real poison is the false hope and abandonment of medical care that your words strive for.

I know I’m not saying anything new but it’s something I feel very strongly about, so I’m saying it anyway in an uncharacteristically serious and factual manner. The lifetime risk of cancer is fast-approaching 50%, and it’s something that will affect your life one way or another if it hasn’t already. Please be prepared, and take some time to understand new medical advances. Normal non-ranting blog service will resume shortly.

“I don’t want to be hostile.
I don’t want to be dismal.
But I don’t want to rot in an apathetic existance either.” ~Tool, intolerance

Seagull poo and floor bacon are bad omens

Today started with every woman’s favourite medical procedure: the cervix scraping test for cancer. Yum!

Nonetheless I was determined to make it a good day, as I had planned a complicated, involved and lengthy experiment, and my technical pride was on the line.

I should have known when I arrived at work adorned with seagull poo that maybe this wasn’t going to be the experimental masterpiece that we all expected.

I should have read more portent into the peice of crispy bacon on the floor in the corridor, and taken heed, but I was, as of yet, unperturbed.

My good mood faltered, spat and petered out as an unprecedented train of misfortune and (my) incompetancy led me through a very powerful storm of emotions that have left me utterly exhausted. Seriously, I can barely even type this.

I ran the gamut from total fury (at machine failure and the fact that I’d been told  a few days prior by the engineer there was nothing wrong and I just needed to reboot the pc….NOT TRUE!!! No-one would make eye contact with me until I lost the wild eyed frenzied look), through frustration (with equipment limitations), along horrific disappoint in myself and into a deep well of bottomless sadness from which I only surfaced because it was all taking too much effort. In resignation I remain.

Despite all the trauma, the pain, the self-deprecation (apparently I shouldn’t call myself a fucking idiot out loud….but I totally deserved it right then), what got shat out of the end of my 11 hour coldroom-heavy nightmare was actually, more or less what I set out to make. My pride remains, relatively-speaking, intact.

So….Yeah…that’s a good thing right? I’m so adrenally exhausted that I just don’t care.

Pass the chamomile tea love, it’s time for some well earned zzzs

“It’s spiraling down 
Biting words like a wolf howling” ~Daughter, still