Friday, December 31, 2004

An Act of Optimism

Tina and Mel
Originally uploaded by wjwmorrow.
I eventually escaped from a cold rainy UK and flew from Heathrow to sunny San Diego, California instead of travelling back directly to Seattle. The purpose of this diversion was to attend the wedding of my old friend Mel Muzio.

I met Mel in 1992 when I was looking for someone to restore my E type Jag (THAT will be the topic of another post). After auditioning quite a few workshops I came across Mel in San Marcos. We immediately hit it off and I recognized him as a kindred spirit and fellow petrol head. Most of all it was apprent that he was totally honest and clearly knew his stuff.

Over the next few years we became firm friends. In the late 1990s the spectre of marital difficulties appeared and Mel underwent a painful and acrimonious divorce: a process that lasted more than three years. But every cloud has a silver lining. Sometime into his separation Mel met Tina, a delightful lady who, like himself originally hailed from England. I watched the romance blossom and wasn't in the least bit surprised when Mel announced, after his divorce was eventually finalized, that he and Tina were going to get remarried.

So on a lovely December Saturday afternnon that he and Tina tied the knot. The service was held at the poolside of their mountain top retreat by a female minister who reminded me of "The Vicar of Dibley" (I don't know why as she bore no physical resemblance to Dawn French -maybe it was her mannerisms?!). Mel and Tina were both very emotional and I have to say appear very well suited. Both said to me privately "this is it!" (meaning for life) and I have no doubts they will succeed. In any case I wish them the best of luck for the future. Mel's son Chris, who was best man, summed things up succinctly (if not exactly diplomatically) in his speech when he announced "She's a lot better than the last one...!" I formally second this motion.

After the wedding I dragged my suitcase full of dirty clothes back to Seattle where it was raining. I was charged $25 for excess baggage (the Tesco Chrismas Pudding I acquired in England tipped the balance) and I'd devloped a cold. Back to reality with a vengeance!


Wednesday, December 29, 2004


Tsunami Map
Originally uploaded by wjwmorrow.
The magnitude and horror of the SE Asia earthquake and tsunami defies belief. With a projected 100,000 fatalaties this is three times more than the infamous Krakatoa eruption of 1883. This is definitely the greatest natural disaster of my lifetime. I feel quite numb about it and wish I could do something about it other than send some money to a relief agency. When I retire I shall consider joining Medecins Sans Frontieres or similar organization.

I have "borrowed' the map from Reuters: the original source is UNOSAT. It illustrates those countries most affected by the Tsunami. It also illustrates approximate land coverage under 30 meters elevation as a zone of potential Tsunami damage. A full size version is available here.


Enough is Enough!

John and Jack 1977
Originally uploaded by wjwmorrow.
I think I've written quite enough about my DSc so this will be my final major posting on the topic. Actually all I want to do is thank everyone who helped me throughout the course of my career. So I've simply lifted the "Acknowledgements" section from the front of the thesis and posted it below. Oh and I've added a photo of Jack Harris and myself taken at a conference in Aberdeen, circa September, 1977. Jack looks young and I look younger -not to mention that "deer caught in the headlights" look. Incidentally, I think those wide ties are back in fashion again...!

This volume of published material represents work carried out over a period spanning nearly three decades. Its compilation has been something of a reflective process and I feel I should pay tribute to some of the individuals who greatly influenced my scientific development and played key roles in my career. Thus I thank and acknowledge the following:

Professor David Lloyd, University of Wales, Cardiff, for helping me take my first steps in research and suggesting that I should embark on PhD studies.

Dr Jack Harris, University of Plymouth, for mentoring me through my postgraduate studies, instilling me with self-belief in my work and providing me with an early insight into the machinations of the scientific establishment.

Professor Ivan Roitt, University College London School of Medicine, for demonstrating sheer passion for science as well as teaching me the value of tenacity.

Professor David Isenberg, University College London School of Medicine, for educating me in many medical matters as well as helping to show me the value of teamwork in research; also for providing unfailing moral and career support over the years.

Professor Jay Levy, University of California School of Medicine, San Francisco, for training me to think about the "big biological picture" and educating me about retrovirology.

Dr Nabil Hanna, IDEC Pharmaceuticals, San Diego, for demonstrating very clearly, that the simple approach to product discovery is the best.

Professor Pierre Youinou, Centre Hospitalier RĂ©gional et Universitaire, Brest, Dr Syamal Raychaudhuri, InBios International, Seattle and Professor George Attard, University of Southampton, for excellent, productive and highly enjoyable collaborations over the years.

All under- and post-graduate students who trusted me to supervise them. Not only did they contribute to my career through their diligence and productivity but they provided me with a constant source of scientific and technical education. Particular mention must be made of Dan Mayes, Chris Swanson, Jacques Homsy, Marcia Wharton, Isabelle Gaston, Tony Ng, Elizabeth Ross, Nadeem Sheikh, Palsingam "Nathan" Rajananthanan, Uzma Hasan and Caterina Hatzifoti. My apologies go to any I may have forgotten.

Finally, I cannot complete this section without mentioning my father, the late A. W. Morrow. He was a virologist by training and worked extensively on Foot and Mouth disease vaccines. Not only did he teach me patience and thoroughness but throughout my formative years provided me with a constant stream of information about microbiological topics. Despite making a great effort in my teenage years to resist following the same paternal pathway, the combination of nature and nurture proved too difficult to oppose. Indeed it was more than a little eerie to discover quite recently that at the end of his career my father was working in the exact same field as I am now (i.e. saponin-like antigen delivery systems). Overall he provided a wonderful example of how inspiration can be achieved through quiet and compassionate leadership: a model I can only hope to emulate.

I am indebted to Sally Warrington and Barbara Droker for helping to compile this volume.



Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Pomp and Circumstance

Hard to believe that it's been almost two weeks since my big day -doesn't time go quickly when you are having fun (or at least busy).

December 15th was a cold foggy morning in Plymouth. The commute from Jack's house was difficult and the traffic in Plymouth was appalling. After a bit of hooligan driving and storming through a University traffic barrier (than goodness for the VIP parking permit we had for the day) we arrived just in time to get the bus to the Plymouth Pavilions where the award was being held. Plymouth has changed a lot, and mostly for the better, in the 30 years since my student days. But the Pavilions, which were probably a welcome addition to the town in the late 70s, can best be described as "naff". A leisure centre complete with ice rink and an auditorium for rock concerts: not really the best place for a dignified ceremony. Oh well...

Having collected my academic finery (and it really was nice: I now completely understand why Ede & Ravenscroft charge £800 for a DSc gown, hood and cap) I dressed up and was descended upon by numerous smiling individuals who had been delegated to ensure my well being, take my photograph or wanted an interview for the local press. I was also asked to process with the senior staff of UoP and receive my award from the stage. After much clapping (well done Plymouth, you turn out A LOT of great graduates these days) it was my turn. Being the most senior awardee I was presented to the Vice Chancellor dead last. I stood while an embarrassing list of "achievements" was read out. The certificate was presented by the VC, Roland Levinsky and also Jack which was a nice touch.

After the ceremony we decamped to the University where a pretty good lunch was laid on for the VC and other dignitaries. One of the honorary degrees was to Derek O'Neill of surf boards and apparel fame. A nice unassuming bloke considering he must be worth a Zillion dollars. Plymouth runs a well-subscribed degree in "Surf Science" and hence the connection [pseudo-political comment: I totally fail to understand how such degrees remain viable when we are closing down chemistry and physics departments right, left and centre].

All in all it was a fantastic day and I felt honoured, appreciated and respected. Definitely my 15 minutes of fame! I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Jack Harris and all my other mentors for helping me get this far -in fact I think I'll write a full posting to them on another occasion.


Monday, December 27, 2004

Jack the Lad

With Jack Harris (L)
I really should say a little about my PhD mentor, Jack Harris. Jack (on left in photo) is really the reason why I'm back in Plymouth. If it hadn't been for his encouragement and direction 30 years ago I may not have climbed to my current dizzy heights of academic achievement! Herr..humm! Seriously though, Jack was a wonderful supervisor. He always steered me in the right direction without ever resorting to micromanagement. He also gave me confidence in my own abilities. I've attempted to emulate his management/teaching style in my own supervision of graduate students although this hasn't always been successful. Many students have wanted a more direct relationship which in my view only leads to PhD graduates who are just technicians and completely lack the ability to think independently.

Anyway my point is that Jack is a superb scientist, immunologist and teacher and has nurtured several generations of postgraduate students of which I was the first PhD. He is also a complete intellectual in that he is extremely knowledgable regarding literature, music, politics, history and social science. Thus I hold in in the highest regard and am very grateful to him for his formative influence.

Now Jack will, hopefully, forgive me for saying this but he used to be a bit of a wild man in his youth. Now in middle age a certain mellowness has set in. Before I left his house for my journey back to Heathrow, he gave me a bag of sandwiches he had made himself as well as a packet of crisps (potato chips) and an apple. An unbelievably sweet gesture; -I was so touched. A truly great man.


Sunday, December 26, 2004

Merry Christmas!

Christmas with Crotchet
Originally uploaded by wjwmorrow.
Christmas Day has come and gone for another year. It was spent at home in the pleasant company of good friends. I spent the day cooking and eating as well as opening a few presents. The weather was typical Seattle -unrelenting rain. I lit a fire in the grate and a lot of candles. The rather hastily erected Christmas tree looked nice and the cats seemed excited. They were given a can of tuna and some catnip as Christmas treats. Dinner was leak and potato soup, lamb (that turkey really gets on my nerves) with roasted parsnips, artichokes with crabmeat followed by proper English Christmas Pudding (yea, Tesco). The table was set off with crackers from Pier 1. In the process of consuming all of this a great deal of sherry, wine and brandy was imbibed albeit at a very measured and civilized pace: I felt extremely mellow all day.

Today, Boxing Day, I spent lazing around, tidying up and doing a bit of admin. Tomorrow is work again. Ughh! There really is too much to do. Plus I've got to start mapping the rally. I must work on my efficiency (I've been saying this my entire working life). Oh well, I'll just have to get my finger out. On my next post I'll continue with the rest on my saga in the UK's West Country.

So for now I'll sign off by wishing all my readers, family and friends a very Merry Christmas.


Saturday, December 25, 2004


Originally uploaded by wjwmorrow.
It's Christmas Eve (actually the early hours of Christmas Day). I'm sure Santa is somwhere around. I'm baking, making soup, wrapping presents and otherwise getting ready for tomorrow (today). But my brain is in many ways still in the UK thinking of the evnts of last week...

So having arrived in Gunnislake, I was afforded very gracious hospitality by my PhD mentor, Jack Harris and his wife, Dawn. After several cups of tea and chatting about old times we headed on out for a pub, "The Volunteer Rifleman" where I was reunited with several old friends. Ann Pulsford and her partner for-as-long-as-I-can-remember, Pete Glynn, were there. Ann is now the editor of the Journal of the Marine Biological Association, having packed up her electron microscopy work some time ago. She was on excellent form and spent most of the evening baiting Jack. Pete is another recent retiree from the University of Plymouth. He looked very well. He is/was and excellent cell biologist and in my graduate student days gave me a lot of advice on techniques and procedures, particularly electrophoresis and gel filtration. Pete has a sense of humour that is dry as a stick and he had me chuckling all evening, particularly with his Greek Chorus style ripostes to Ann and Jack. Also present was Annette Wrathmell (another UoP retiree) and her husband, Tony.

The evening was wonderful and I enjoyed great food food, scintillating conversation, a lot of excellent Rioja and most of all the company of good old friends. Times like this are precious and must be savoured and remembered.


Thursday, December 23, 2004

...and Tavistock too

Originally uploaded by wjwmorrow.
From Totnes my next stop was Plymouth although I was due to stay with my PhD mentor, Jack Harris, in the little village of Gunnislake, East Cornwall, near the delightful market town of Tavistock.

I left Totnes about noon on a gorgeous mid-December morning. I'd decided to cross over Dartmoor rather than the more obvious direct route through Plymouth. This was definitely the correct decision as the views over the moors were breathtaking and I stopped several times to take photographs. Devon and Cornwall have always held a special romance for me, probably through reading "The Hound of the Baskervilles" and various Daphne Du Maurier books when I was young. But there is also something about beautiful fishing villages. rolling countryside and also (don't ask me to explain this) feats of Victorian engineering such as bridges built by the legendary Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Needless to say I savoured the views of Dartmoor and delighted as the landscape changed from gently rounded hills and dales to the bleak, flat expanse that surrounds the infamous prison.

Tavistock sits on the western edge of the moor. By the time I reached it I was feeling quite peckish and stopped at the Bedford Hotel where I lunched on cod and chips (not to mention the mushy peas -a quintiessentially English side dish which is exactly as it sounds) and a pint of "Jail Ale". Delicious! I really don't understand the bad reputation at the UK food has in the US. Granted Brit Grub is comfort victuals but there's nothing wrong with that on a chilly winter's day.

Having scoffed my lunch I made the short journey to Gunnislake where I was met by Jack who piloted me through the village. My thoughts on the reunion with my former supervisor will be the subject of another post. Until the next episode...


Wednesday, December 22, 2004

...and to Totnes

My travels in the UK's west country continue.

After leaving the pleasant warmth of my brother's abode I loaded up all my luggage (seemingly getting heavier with every stop) into the rental Ford Fusion estate car and set off for Totnes, Devon.

This time I was going to stay with my room mate from undergraduate days, John Roberts. John and I met in a chemistry class at Cardiff University in October of 1970 and have remained firm friends ever since. John is a biology teacher at the King Edward VII grammar school in Totnes. He has been there for 20+ years and has taught two generations of students. Around town he is something of a celebrity and is also know for his acting, golfing and fishing activities. Three years ago John created a biology prize for the final year students. He wanted to name it after an eminent scientist but the only biologist he knew was me! Hence every year the "Morrow Prize" for biology is awarded to the student with the best grades in the subject. I make a modest cash donation.

Anyway I arrived safely and the following day gave a lecture to the A level students on developements and career opportunities in biomedicine. This seemed to be received fairly well and I spotted only I student sound asleep on his backpack. Unfortunately the Morrow Prize recipient, an apparently very bright young man, has sloped off to Sri Lanka so he'll have to receive his cheque from the postman!

Totnes is the UK's centre for alternative culture and comments about it are even made in the Houses of Parliament. After my lecture I wandered around the town. If you want to know about crystals, after-life healing, levitation, making youghurt from Yaks' milk or knitting goat-hair sweaters, this is the place! I'm actually a sucker for this kind of thing and find it very entertaining. That evening John and I went out to a trendy bistro and dined on nice English comfort food (fish pie, yum!) drank a couple of bottles of wine and reminisced about mild misbehaviour. We could have easily been back in 1972 in the Student Union. Happy Days.


Onward to Tewkesbury

George and Janet
Originally uploaded by wjwmorrow.
I visited Janine and family for precisely two hours. Enough time to consume 1 1/2 bottles of beer ('tis the season for sobriety checks so I was being careful) and a handful of those dried banana crunchy things. The I set of for Tewkesbury to descend on my brother's family.

Twenty years ago George and his wife Janet embarked on an ambitious breeding programme that yielded five very impressive offspring (see blog "Morrow Triumphs": 28th August 2004). I hadn't seen the tribe since my departure for Seattle in October 2001 and was looking forward to observing their development. The eldest son Richard had just returned from his first quarter at the London School of Economics. His grades are in the top 6% of his class and he is on the football (soccer) team. He is obviously having fun and has developed a very dry, drole wit. Apparently his take on life and humour is very similar to my own. I'm pleased to see that he has become politically quite aware in a left-leaning way. Hannah, now 16, is very striking at 5' 10" (whatever happened to the slightly dumpy shy girl I knew three years ago?). She is also excelling academically and has a clear plan to go to medical school in 2006. The other three boys, James, Matt and Chris are all over achieving, especially in sport. I have a feeling that James may make it as a professional football player although he seems to be equally interested in management. Matt and Chris are junior county tennis champions. I'm watching all of them develop with great interest and delight.

Anyway it was fitting to be in Tewkesbury at Christmas. The town was featured in Dickens' Pickwick Papers and has a historic and festive feel. And as it happened Janet's brother and sister-in-law (+ two small children) were also there. In total 13 mouths to feed. Janet is unflappable and never breaks a sweat. Quite amazing. We ate, drank and were merry. A lovely evening.

The next day after a hearty, high cholesterol breakfast (good job, George) the children disappeared to play football, tennis, work, etc. and George went foraging for a Christmas tree. I plotted my route to Totnes, my next port of call, said my goodbyes and left about mid-afternoon contemplating the rosy glow of familial bonding.

The story continues...


Tuesday, December 21, 2004

A Hero

Originally uploaded by wjwmorrow.
Having paid my respects to my parents I set off on my trip to Plymouth to receive my academic accolade. However a four day odessy lay ahead. I had people to visit and places to go beforehand.

My first port of call was Wanborough, near Swindon in Wiltshire. I was dropping in on a friend from my undergraduate days, Janine. Now I hadn't seen Janine since 1973 and I was a bit nervous. We have been corresponding for about 2 years, thanks to the Friends Reunited website. After some initially cautious exchanges Janine and I have maintained a lively dialogue. She did however let slip a a few health related clues and finally disclosed that she was a cancer survivor. But the manner of her suvival is worth noting. After a primary tumour was detected and dealt with over a decade ago she was more or less ok until systemic secondaries were spotted in numerous organs and skeletal sites in the last couple of years. Rather than put her affairs in order and accept her fate, Janine elected to take her medicine (literally) and embarked on a degree in fine art at Oxford Brookes university. This summer she graduated with upper second class honours (magna cum laude to US readers). I remember that it took every bit of my energy to graduate with a 2.1 when I was 22 and healthy. But Janine did it while on chemo, enduring a broken femur and pelvis (ouch! -side effects of the chemo), running a household and maintaining her sense of humour! Impressive or what? Move over Lance Armstrong! Oh and I nearly forgot to mention that her most recent scans have revealed her to be virtually tumour free. As far as I'm concerned this is heroism of the highest order and Janine is a role model for dignity and a fantastic example of positive attitude. I can almost forgive her for not only abandoning me as her date in favour of John (current husband) at a Curved Air concert in 1973 but also relating the story to her daughters in my presence!


Friday, December 17, 2004

Paying Respects

Pirbright Churchyard
Originally uploaded by wjwmorrow.
Technically I'm now back in the USA. However given my hectic schedule while in Europe as well as the dearth of free wireless hotspots I'm a little behind on my postings. There are a couple of topics related to the UK I want to add to the site so bear with me while I catch up.

The first thing I must mention is a trip to "visit" my now sadly long gone parents in Pirbright churchyard. Pirbright is a delightful village in Surrey. It's close to where I grew up and I always love visiting the place. It has two pubs, a corner shop, a post office and an elementary school or more or less aligned around a large green which is home to a duck pond and a cricket pitch. I always love visiting the place. The churchyard is especially evocative. Not only are my parents buried there but the graveyard is also the resting place of Henry Morton Stanley, the explorer who uttered the immortal and extraordinarily understated words "Dr Livingstone, I presume..." on discovering the latter in darkest Africa after many months of searching. Dr Stanley's grave is marked by a very impressive piece of rock which I understand was hewn from a site in Matebeland (I think). In any case I always enjoy my pilgrimages to Pirbright -the ambience of the church and its grounds is poignant and quite lovely. Hard to believe that Mum has been there for nearly 13 years and Dad for 27. I always feel I'm communing with them when I visit and I find the experience uplifting. Not at all depressing as some of my friends seem to think.

After my trip to Pirbright I continued my journey to the West Country and Plymouth: keep checking this site to follow the story.


Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Mapping the Monte

Maping of Night Loop
Originally uploaded by wjwmorrow.
If you haven't guessed by now, today's posting is going to again talk about my planning for the 2005 Monte Carlo Historique rally. This event is now looming large and preparations are in full swing so I've spent the last two days in Monaco with Bill Richards mapping the the infamout Col d' Turini night loop. On Tuesday evening I marked up the Michelin map and yesterday we drove the route. Twice! As I suspected one of the most difficult tasks is getting out of Monte Carlo at high speed. Getting lost in town is very easy to do and quite humiliating. Anyway I think we got the hang of it and we'll do another run through tomorrow (at least the exit from the town.) Bill now understands what so called "regularity" driving is all about namely keeping to an exact average speed. Now he sees how difficult it is, especially through the mountains, and precisely what his job will entail, I suspect he's going to oversee the rest of PRX 720B's preparation with a much more critical eye.

Anyway the route is quite interesting. The first regularity stage to Sospel is relatively short (15Km) and straighforward on fairly nice roads, mostly flat or downhill. The second is longer, around 25Km, and goes over the Turini. This is a mess of hairpins, dangerous curves and rock walls and quite a lot of detritius from small landslides (in our second run we hit a small rock and punctured a tyre -I hope Europcar don't charge us for this). Fortunately, from a navigation point of view it's quite straightforward. The third stage is much longer (40Km) and goes over some truly horrid small roads. This last section will be our greatest challenge on the event as we will be exhausted by this time and it seems to go on for ever. I'm please we had the opportunity to do this practice as to tackle it at night for the first time is daunting to say the least, especially if the weather is bad and the boy racer element of the rally participants swarming around.

Interestingly there were quite a few people out practicing the route. A Porsche 911 went past our Ford Fiesta at improbable speed as did a Renault Alpine. The latter was smoking a bit and we later found him pulled over at the side of the road with the hood/bonnet up. Something was broken and Bill and I suspected he'd blown a piston ring. I'm hoping that our attention to detail on engine preparations will help avoid this kind of catastrophe.

Later today we head back to England. Tomorrow I'll have another full day working on the car and then I'll need to switich gears (apologies for the automotive metaphor) and start thinking about academic stuff again as I head towards University of Plymouth at the weekend.


Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Back in Blighty

Union Jack
Originally uploaded by wjwmorrow.
I've now been back in the UK for five days to do rally preparations and receive my DSc from the University of Plymouth. I've had rather mixed emotions since I've been here.

My first day I spent seeing professional colleagues regarding collaborations. This was really productive and before long I'm going to be writing more about my work rather than rallys and other fun hobbies.

At the weekend I was hosted by the delightful Nicky West and Rob Stacey. These are rally pals. We had a great time together: we each obtained a full set of maps for the MCH rally and then managed to squeeze in a visit to one of my favourite old haunts "La Lanterna" in Mill St.

On Sunday I traipsed off to Bill Richards' place in deepest Kent. The journey was somewhat tortuous but eventually I arrived intact.

My view of Britain is oddly detached. I don't feel a great sentimentality for the place. This is the longest time (2 1/2 years) I've been away and I was curious to see how I'd react. Well it all seems dirty, crowded and aggressive. Not to mention outrageously expensive (this not being helped by the scandalously weak dollar). Larger Loutism is all too alive and well and I witnessed unrestrained littering, public drunkeness and swearing in the three days I was in and around London. In addition everone bloody smokes with absolutely no regard to whether they are exhaling in your face. I thought Tony Blair was going to do something about this revolting practice. There is simply no excuse for allowing public smoking to continue. Shame on the British Government for their inaction. I certainly don't feel I ever want to live in London again. "Been there, done that" is the phrase that springs to mind as the best way to sum things up.