Wednesday 8 October 2014


A long number of years ago The Boy was in his final year at school. The Shagsper play for the English exam on the Leaving Certificate was King Lear . . . or Hamlet . . . or MacBeth.  Dang! I can't remember [don't give-a-damn either] which -- those three plays were wheeled out on a three year rotation for three generations. The rest of Shakpear might be utterly unknown (let alone single sentence from Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Dekker or Beaumont & Fletcher) but b'god 40,000 18-year-olds knew one of those plays backwards for a few months in the Summer of their final year in School.  That Spring, a Saxpere buff came to give a public talk and Q&A about that year's play in TCD's largest lecture theatre and I went in with The Boy to see if I could learn something about The Bard.  At the end of the talk, a young woman on the far side of the auditorium asked a question that had never been asked before!  All the other contributions had been predictably tired and predictable: there not much new to be said after 400 years of picking over the dead bones of The Canon.  It took me a second to realise that it was The Boy's second cousin and near contemporary Simone.  Everyone in the room should have had an inkling that this woman was destined for great things.

I saw her again last night, indeed I helped finish her dinner because she had to hurry off to the local premiere of her film. I say Her Film advisedly despite the fact that the film in question is called Unbreakable: the Mark Pollock Story. It is a film; 90 minutes of scenes and clips from the last six years edited together with some archive material. Edited to make a coherent story, to bend us to believe in the directors version/vision of a lifetime harvested from a handful of recent years and distilled into an hour and a half.  It is amazing that film-makers can do this - sending the audience out into a drizzly night-time Waterford feeling that they know what had happened and who the players are. The director (and cameraman, boom-operator, key-grip, best-boy, sound-mixer, post-production, marketing and HR) Ross Whitaker has flair and a distinctive style - he uses bridges a lot for the scene transitions for example. But Mark Pollock and Simone George are The Stars. It's clear that the film is telling a love story and that these two people are a great team.

The second half of the narrative, when Mark starts, again, climbing Mount Impossible is when tech-geek boys can put the soppy stuff to one side and see some truly amazing neuro-electrico-mechanical wizardry.  Blimey, even the wheel-chair ("boo hiss, it's beneath you") looks like something from a high-end SF movie.  In the Q&A afterwards, Mark alluded to the wheel-chair's transition, in spinal injury narrative, from inevitable to unacceptable.  People like him, who are prepared to get up on his two robotic legs and fall and get up again and fall and get ... up ... again ... are going to make wheel-chairs so yesterday. that we're going to wonder why it took 100 years to leave wicker bath-chairs and their steel descendants behind.  I don't need to tell you that there are very few people like Mark Pollock. One of the co-stars in this section is an extraordinary chap from UCLA called Reggie Edgerton who is exceptional in science at taking a very wide view (biochemical, genetic, mechanical, electrical) of the field he works in.  Mark has signed himself up to protect a few dozen rats from induced damage by being the guinea-pig for a cross-disciplinary project in neuro-muscular spinal regeneration. Mark won't get a share of the Nobel Prize, it doesn't happen like, that but he'll certainly be invited to the top table at the party after the announcement.

Q. How does an athlete and "adventurer" (that's what Mark likes on his lapel badge: it's shorter than my "evolutionary biologist") make it to a meeting of scientists in UCLA?
A. Simone has done the research.

While Mark was being operated on, and getting systemic infections and medicated out of that, and weeping with rage and frustration and might-have-been, and fighting his way back to health, Simone was on the interweb at his bedside. She gave up work for a year to be with her man in England, she got a place to stay nearby, she cooked all his meals, she cleaned him up and braced him up and she got down to work - but not lawyering.  She'd given that up for the moment - she became a scientific researcher.  She read the literature, she read the references, she read the reviews of the field, she got a sense of what were the major themes in the field, she got to know the difference between SOCS3 and STAT3 and she got to know who was shaking the tree.  Edgerton was one of those.  That's what trained researchers can do, even if their training is in case and statute law and their experience is litigation: they find things out, they make connexions, they hunt the white hart. Simone George is not getting a share of anybody's Nobel Prize either but she's just been inducted into The Blob's Hall of Women in Science.

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