Thursday 12 June 2008

‘Hungry?…’ teases a sign outside a pub in Didcot. ‘Why yes, I am!’ I reply (in my mind), ‘I only had quite a small bowl of muesli for breakfast!’

‘Home-cooked roast every Sunday’ it taunts. How is that a follow up to an enquiry about hunger? ‘It’s ten to nine on Thursday morning!!!’ I hit back (in my mind), ‘Sunday lunch is nearly four days from now! My body will be desperately digesting its own muscle mass by then!’

Once you’ve survived the psychological warfare waged by Didcot’s signs on the commute in, one of the most shocking things about the Rutherford Appleton Lab, even more astounding than the World-class science which goes on there, is the reception.

The walk from the bus stop to the main site is like coming through a dingy, out-of-town light industrial estate. Then, as if from nowhere (but actually from behind some bushes), a plush reception building looms out, looking like a cross between an airport check-in and an investment bank foyer but far too small and isolated to be either. As you approach the doors, they open, and a whoosh of fan-blown hot air greets you regardless of the ambient temperature.

Once inside, the first thing which might catch your eye is a fifteen-foot water feature. It is a whacking great pane of glass with the STFC logo placed proudly at its centre, which is slightly above head height. Down it trickles a glistening sheet of water—it’s probably very expensive water, a pint from each country which uses the facility, in order to embody the spirit of international collaboration at this World-leading facility—into a posh metal base. My guess is that you can’t pick these up at your local Wyevale. It’s probably a bespoke job, and it will probably set you back a few notes. It’s a good job there isn’t any kind of funding crisis going on around here.

There are several huge plasma screens showing a slow slideshow of ‘science’ images—where ‘science’ means

take scientist

take piece of complicated apparatus

take three flash units, two covered with garishly-coloured gels.

if (there is an appropriately-sized circular aperture in piece of complicated apparatus):

make scientist look through aperture

elseif (piece of complicated apparatus is large):

get scientist to stand proudly in front, leaning on piece of complicated apparatus

elseif (piece of complicated apparatus is small):

focus on piece of complicated apparatus and have slightly out-of-focus scientist looking at it from behind


instruct scientist to construct piece of complicated apparatus which conforms better to photographic clichés


point unfiltered flash at scientist and coloured flash at background and piece of complicated apparatus.

tell scientist to pull serious, “scientific” expression

take photograph

But the thing which always surprises me the most is just after I’ve explained who I am and they hand me the visitor badge. The receptionist looks at me and says ‘Do you have a vehicle with you?’

It still shocks me that anyone could look at me and consider me old or responsible enough to have my own vehicle. Every time.


  1. Funny!

    Ok, I admit it, I always forget to read your blog. But when, as now, I’m waiting for a long and tedious build to finish and run out of other things to read, I do find it very amusing.

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