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Who needs science or maths?

September 26, 2019

It’s funny when two of your worlds collide, isn’t it? That happened yesterday. Well, it wasn’t a collision as such, more a case of waving at one another in passing, but it was still odd.

I was down at the community hall with the stage manager (new to the island, the job and the hall), the assistant stage manager and the props manager.

Robin Hood 2

It’s somehow always a bit of a shock to be reminded of just how small the actual stage (the area behind the curtains) actually is. We build risers is front of it so there is enough room to perform the show.

At one point I said we would need the 90o bracket for the set panels, rather than the 45o bracket. As I was saying this I was holding out my arms to demonstrate: like two sides of a square for 45o and wider for 90. No, no, they said, you mean the other way around. No, I don’t. Yes, you do. All very appropriate for pantomime prep. When they finally convinced me I was wrong, I confessed that geometry, algebra – “What do you mean a over b equals c minus d? Are you mad? Those are letters. You make words with letters”. – and everything else past adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing had done my head in at school.

I can’t remember which side of the brain is supposed to lean towards science and which towards arts, by my brain is definitely arts leaning.

I’d also, I told them, struggled with chemistry and biology, wondering whilst I was at school why I was being forced to take these subjects that could never ever possibly have any bearing on my life after I left school. How ironic, I said, that 25 years later I’d end up working as a toxics campaigner for Greenpeace. Turns out chemistry and biology had some use after all.

When we went for a coffee afterwards, the stage manager asked me about this and so I told him a bit about my years working on toxics, with an emphasis on endocrine disrupting chemicals and the harm they were believed to be causing all vertebrates. I hadn’t thought about that particular chapter of my life for a while.

Last night when I was reading in bed a memory suddenly popped into my head.

I was at the University of Exeter, where the Greenpeace Research Lab is housed, waiting for my mate Paul (principal scientist) in the office he shared with another scientist named David. While I was waiting I started reading a report they’d recently produced, in which I came across these three words: polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons. I blinked and then asked David what polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons were when they were at home. “I thought,” I said, “that polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons were the problem?” He told me they were the same thing. “Jesus, David,” I said, “I’ve got a tenuous enough grasp on this stuff as it is without you changing the names on me.” Much to my surprise David told me my grasp was far from tenuous. He also told me that, as toxics campaigners went, I was one of the lab’s favourites because, unlike many, I always let the science speak for itself and never tried to make false claims. I was also very good at translating the science. Praise indeed.

And now I have to get back to figuring out how to fit the set panels and the set furniture on a tiny stage. Perhaps geometry would help. Or maybe physics?

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