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Essay

Inner sanctum

From the desk of a scientist

Bill Hanage 27 February 2010

www.lablit.com/article/581

Before anyone starts, I know it's untidy. In fact it looks better than it is because you can’t see all the assorted shoes and sports equipment under it.

Because I hardly ever do lab work, I will typically spend most of the day here, barring visits to fill my coffee mug (right in the middle of the work area which is shamefully restricted by untidiness). A tin of the good ground stuff is kept atop a pile of complimentary journals over to the left. The journals themselves rest on three volumes of the Oxford Textbook of Medicine, which I bought secondhand some years ago. The bookseller claimed that it used to belong to Sir Richard Doll. I’m not sure I believe him, but being an epidemiologist myself, this certainly counted as a selling point.

Close to these is a framed picture of Albert Camus, who is my favourite writer in any language. I have been a fan ever since my overly pretentious student days, when I could be found with a copy of The Rebel in one pocket and a small bottle of whisky in the other. Does The Plague count as Lablit? If it does, it is fantastically ambitious, using as it does the quarantine of a small town in the face of a lethal disease as a metaphor for the Nazi occupation of France. One line in particular from the hero Dr Rieux should resonate with public health workers everywhere: “We refuse to despair of mankind. Without having the unreasonable ambition to save men, we still want to serve them".

Hanging in front of the window is evidence of my Arsenal fandom. Beneath it is the pile of books and papers I use to rest my laptop when I think I need three screens. If you do a lot of work on a computer, more than one screen is immensely valuable, especially when flicking back and forth between spreadsheets or figures and text.

Finally, the drum-like object to the far right is a cuica from Brazil, which is used in samba music. In the hands of an expert, it can make an extraordinary variety of sounds, which is why it is also known as the laughing gourd. In my hands, however, it just makes an appalling screech useful for when I wish to drive people away. You can learn how to make your own and then find someone you dislike, and give it to their children.