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Losing the flip-flops

When lab safety competes with fashion

Rivka Isaacson 24 June 2007

www.lablit.com/article/272

Flipping heck: mind your lab footgear

In labs in the Eighties, hair-spray was widely spritzed and people were a lot more flammable

Despite the scientific ‘socks ‘n’ sandals’ stereotype, open-toed shoes aren’t technically allowed in labs. We are being audited for safety at the moment so flip-flops have been firmly vetoed. Abusing the editor’s kind indulgence of my paradelle obsession, I present the following London-centric farewell ode to my flip-flops:

Shoefly

I wore them till the multi-coloured, five-ply layers of the sole showed through.
I wore them till the multi-coloured, five-ply layers of the sole showed through.
They only cost four ninety eight (and that was for two).
They only cost four ninety eight (and that was for two).
For I showed them – till the sole cost that coloured ‘ninety five was wore through.
Only they multiply the layers of two, four and eight.

Though I lost my left pink flip-flop this day,
Though I lost my left pink flip-flop this day,
It didn’t mind the gap between the train and the station platform.
It didn’t mind the gap between the train and the station platform.
Flip it! The train left the platform. Though I lost my mind
and station between this pink gap, the day didn’t flop…

for a licence to walk barefoot on the streets of London ensued.
for a licence to walk barefoot on the streets of London ensued.
What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.
What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.
Licence to kill doesn’t make the London streets’ will stronger.
A barefoot walk of what ensued for you, through you?

On the London Train Platform. 2/4/98
What a day! Doesn’t that ‘make’ kill?
For I lost my will to walk and this gap ensued between foot and flip-flop.
It showed the bare sole coloured stronger pink!
I was left; wore them through for you,
till the five multi-layers of streets ply the only station of the mind.
They didn’t cost you the licence though.

In my first official science lesson I learned and illustrated the Ten Rules of the Laboratory, the first of which was, as I recall: Always tie your hair back when using a Bunsen burner. I reminisced about this while imploring my long-haired student to wear a ponytail – at least until the inspectors had been round. She pointed out that I learned the rule in the Eighties when hair-spray was widely spritzed and people were a lot more flammable.

Pertinently, I have, of late, uncharacteristically acquired a high-maintenance hair-do – well, one that requires slightly more effort than none and, you’ve guessed it, a touch of hairspray to hold those ends in a permanently electrocuted up-flick.

I’m from a large family and had nits a lot as a child. I think the lice-exterminating shampoo of my early years was an indiscriminate poison which worked on the basis that a nit is substantially smaller than a child so there is a large enough discrepancy between their respective fatal doses. My gratitude and relief when it evolved into a fragrant lice-specific agent was immeasurable. In deference to my reluctance to resume abusing solvents at age thirty-two I splashed out a posh brand of hairspray.

My chemist sister and I were recently applauding the move toward less volatile solvents in toiletries such as nail polish remover, hair dye etc. I used to work in quite a biological lab within a chemistry department and was once amused to hear it described as a breath of fresh air – E. coli evidently being preferable in the nose of that journalist than the assault of organic solvents. If only he/she had experienced, as I was once privileged to occupy, an S. cerevisiae lab with its tempting aromas of brewing and baking.

All these experiments with yeast,
Leave alcohol tolerance increased.
Getting lachrymose, bellicose,
Jokose or comatose,
Now takes me three beers at least!

I’ve donated some bobbles to the students; we’ve laundered the lab-coats; polished up the safety-specs; sandals are relegated to weekend-wear. And I’m tempted to abandon the hairspray. Let’s face it, I’m a scientist – it’s not like I have a glamorous image to protect. The safety audit might be just the excuse I need to lapse back into low-maintenance living.

Other articles by Rivka Isaacson