Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Railway viaduct
Railway viaduct, Co. Durham.

Once in awhile I get pangs of nostalgia for scenery like this. Quintessential England. Sigh...

Monday, August 27, 2007

Summer of Love 1


There seems to be a musical leitmotif going on around here at the moment. Probably something to do with all the stuff I keep hearing about the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love. Was it really all that remarkable or is my retroscopic vision bathed in a rosy glow of nostalgia? Well here's what was in the UK Top Ten charts in August 1967:

1. The Beatles: All You Need Is Love
2. Scott McKenzie: San Francisco (Flowers In Your Hair)
3. Dave Davies: Death Of A Clown
4. Vikki Carr: It Must Be Him*
5. The Monkees: Alternate Title (aka Randy Scouse Git)
6. Tom Jones: I'll Never Fall In Love Again
7. The Turtles: She'd Rather Be With Me*
8. Stevie Wonder: I Was Made To Love Her
9. Pink Floyd: See Emily Play
10. Procol Harum: A Whiter Shade Of Pale

Remarkable? It was bloody amazing...!

* My apologies to Vikki Carr and The Turtles but I couldn't find suitable video clips.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Happy Anniversary!


Happy blogiversary to me.

Three years and 346 posts.

Who'd a thunk it...?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Twinkle Twinkle Super Star

Brian May
Brian May on the Roof of Buckingham Palace Plays for the Queen.

Well congratulations to Brian May of Queen who sucessfully defended his PhD dissertation in astronomy yesterday, 36 years after abandoning it for a career in music. As I always told my graduate students, the key to success in science is tenacity. Now a word of advice. Bri, it's been 29 years since you, Freddie and the boys had me standing on my seat at Wembley Stadium and I've been a fan since the early 70s, but don't you think that permed hairdo is a little bit passe and unseemly for a 60 year old man?

PS I wonder if you're going to do a postdoc now...?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Many Happy Returns

Olivias birthday

Inexplicably my 8-year-old daughter turned 23 today.

Happy Birthday, Olivia!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Friday Music Blogging: Barbara Thompson's Paraphernalia

What with one thing and another there has been a preponderence of musical themes in my posts recently. Even so, I'm unapolgetic for today's offering of one of my favourite contemporary jazz groups, Barabara Thompson's Paraphernalia. I've been attending their concerts since the late 1970's and we seem to have grown up together. This clip is BT's signature song, Little Annie-oo, which I was delighted to find on YouTube a few days ago. The late, great, Ronnie Scott is the compere who makes the introductions in his own inimitable way.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

So What Were You Doing When...?

Elvis Aaron Presley, January 8, 1935 – August 16, 1977.

Bloody hell, has it been 30 years? Where did they go? I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when John Peel announced that “…the BBC has received an unconfirmed report that Elvis Presley has died…”. I was living in Wembley, North London and sharing a flat with an old pal from undergraduate days (Colin Watters, where are you now?). In the daytime I was exactly six weeks into my first professional job; the rest of the time I fully engaged in the tedious task of writing up my PhD. And thus it was in the evening of Tuesday 16th August 1977 when I was labouring away on the introduction of “The immune response of the dogfish, Scyliorhinus canicula L” that the news was delivered.

So where were YOU and what were you doing?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Out of Town


Today I'm off to the smogbound hellhole that is Orange County in Southern California to discuss a collaboration. Blogging is thus on hold until after I'm back from Mickey Mouse land on Friday...

Monday, August 13, 2007

Friday, August 10, 2007

Friday Music Blogging: Curved Air

Darryl Way of Curved Air absolutely shreds his violin, Hendrix style, in this rendition of Vivaldi. And how we love analog synthesizers. One of my all time favourite 70's prog rock bands.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

You Say Goodbye and I Say Hello

In the interests of keeping this site fresh and clutter free I've been reviewing the links. So...

Sane Scientist
Sorry old chap but one post in four months is not blogging and in anycase that piece you wrote on cats was a bit off. I'll reinstate you if you start writing again.

Chestnut Tree
Site taken down.

Kung Fu Monkey
Great title but content a little dull for my tastes. Nothing about Kung Fu, needless to say.

Wasting Words
A very charismatic and interesting site.I'm not sure what it's all about, though but I'm intrigued.

Nobody's Friend
Arty, cryptic and curiously engaging.

This latest sort-out leaves me with a net loss of one in my links. I'd like to keep numbers up if possible but so many of these weblogs fizzle. Or become dull or sometimes nasty. There are quite a few on my watch list but none are particularly compelling (I've just spent 30 minutes going through them). If anyone would like to nominate candidates for linkage please let me know.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Foot and Mouth

aw morrow
Historic landmark article by Mad Dog Senior.

This is a strange tale of the influences of nature and nurture on a career. It's a bit longer than my usual offering but bear with me.

When I was a lad I tried very hard to suppress any interest in biology. I didn’t study it in secondary school pretending it was too “girly” and immersed myself in physics and chemistry instead. My interest lay in aeronautical engineering and as a teenager I did indeed show some talent in this area. To this day I’m immensely proud of the plaque in my study that proclaims I was Woking & District Model Aero Club Junior Champion, 1965. I really thought I was destined for a career in this field and who knows, I may have been the best airframe designer that Boeing or Airbus never had. But somewhere along the way things changed. The reason for my denial of interest in matters biological was that my Father was a professional microbiologist. My earliest recollections were of stories he would relate of plagues and pestes and vaccines. Thus I picked up some very advanced knowledge of these topics by osmosis. Yet like most adolescents, I didn’t value these facts and denied any interest in this area simply because it was “what Dad did” and I didn’t want to seem terminally unimaginative and follow the same path.

Well somewhere along the way things changed. I became quite obsessively interested in biology while attending Guildford Tech and later went off to university where I decided to study microbiology –for reasons I can’t really explain the aeronautical stuff had become too abstract and mathematical and fell by the wayside. Subsequently (and rather to my surprise) I found that a PhD followed in which I immersed myself in immunology. One thing led to another in my postdoctoral career and I came to grips with various nasty pathogens as well as many facets of the immune system and it was quite a logical step for me to study vaccines. One particular aspect of this field is the use of adjuvants: substances that stimulate the immune system to make bigger and better responses. And as you may have guessed I ended up working on adjuvants for a one and a half decades and published quite a lot on the topic.

Fast forward to 1997. The London medical school at which I was then employed had finally got “The Internet” (several years after everyone else in the academic sphere had access to the virtual world –but that’s another story). Even in those pre-Google days I was marveling at the power of search engines. PubMed, the oracle of the medical publishing fraternity was a notable fascination. After I’d done the obligatory ego-surfing looking up my own name I cast around for other key words to search. So I plugged in my Father’s name and initials. At this stage I should point out that by this time Dear Dad was long departed. Sadly he passed away just as I was finishing my PhD two decades earlier thus depriving me of the possibility of having professional level conversations with him as a scientific equal. I had a vague idea of his work in a government animal health lab but I didn’t know what he actually did, thus looking up his publications on Medline would be very enlightening. We’ll I didn’t realise how enlightening this would be. As his publications popped onto the screen I almost fell off my chair. A paper from 1969 (see above) indicated that not only had I followed him into biology, microbiology, vaccines and adjuvants but he was using a class of the latter compounds (saponins) that I had made the focus of my own research. At the time of this occurrence I was of the view that the use of saponins as adjuvants was an invention of the 1980s* and I had never heard Dad speak of such things. In sum, believe this is a wonderfully example the power of genetic predisposition or aptitude and environmental conditioning working syngerstically to chart one’s career pathway through life, despite strong adolescent protestations.

Oh and the bigger picture of this story? Well the combined use of two different classes of adjuvant, namely alum and saponin, was a very advanced concept in 1969, even though Dad and Dr Hyslop didn’t know all the effects it would have on the immune system. However this alum-saponin mix is still the formulation used in some of the presently available Foot & Mouth Disease vaccines. So with the current outbreak in the UK, let’s not have the ridiculous governmental dithering we witnessed in 2001 and get going with “firebreak vaccination” and control this damn disease as soon as possible…!!

*As I later discovered there's nothing new under the sun: the use of saponins as vaccine adjuvants was first described in the 1920s.