What not to touch

The Lab Hag engages with her inner child

Frankie P. 19 April 2005

You don't know where it's been

In what seemed to me a hysterically funny mimic of what a ‘mad’ scientist might do, I jabbed at a Petri dish…

You remember what it was like to be a four-year-old child. You’re about to stick your fingers into a socket or you’re reaching for the handle of that pot of boiling water on the stove. All you’re thinking is "I wonder what’s in here?" or "what’s that thing?" but from over your shoulder you hear the sound of a nuclear alert siren. When you look, coming at you in slow motion is your mother with the expression of a rabbit in headlights the moment before death, mouth twisted open, yelling the beginning of the word D… O… N…’T…

I relived those moments when I went to visit my friend Mark in his lab last week. Idly dangling my legs from the high stool, amazed at the bedazzling, jewel-like contraptions laid neatly before me on the bench, I picked up a metal rod with a fine wire sticking out of the end about an inch long. In what seemed to me a hysterically funny mimic of what a ‘mad’ scientist might do, I jabbed at a Petri dish with the rod’s fine wire. And there it was, that desperately terrorised expression of horror on Mark’s face, suddenly serious. Hand reaching out to stop me, he howled D… O… N…’T…

Apparently every scientist has one of these proddy things and the thin wiry inch-long end is bent and twisted just so over time becoming a bespoke instrument of precision engineering (I had an ink pen like that, no one else could fathom the nib on it). Twist it out of kilter and said scientist will not only know it’s been tampered with (you know someone’s been using your car when the seat is one notch out of place) but will need time to readapt to the precision use of the proddy thing.

I sat for a while, duly chastised and newly terrified at the little lab of horrors surrounding me, when a bright yellow container caught my eye. Emblazoned on the side, the catchy ditty: ‘Danger, destroy by incineration’. It was completely empty and utterly clean smelling but after I’d pretend-drunk a gulp of imaginary toxic radioactivity it was snatched from my hands with the admonishment that millions of virulent microbes might be swarming its surfaces. "You don’t know what could be contaminating it!" scolded Mark.

And then it was time to go home.

Other articles by Frankie P.