Sunday 20 March 2016


In writing about one of the most important take-downs of the way science is conducted in the modern Western world, I mentioned lunchtime seminars. These days, it is fatal to go mad on free food at lunchtime like I was a starving graduate student in my twenties - I just fall into a drooling sleep as soon as the lights go down and the younger people laugh at me.  Lunch has always been low on my list of priorities - I just throw something between two slices of bread and pop that in flour bag or a cheese wrapper. Sometime during the mad-busy daily schedule at The Institute, I'm able to find time to make a cup of tea and eat my scoff; refuelling before the next class or the next stack of lab-books to mark. The other day, I forgot my lunch on the kitchen counter at home and the sky didn't fall, I didn't develop a headache and I didn't come over all weak in the afternoon classes. At least I made/make lunch at home and take it to work and eat it. The Boy wasn't able to get his act together to do this while he was in primary school.

It all reminded me of the lunchtime seminar programme 30+ years ago in my first job at a University in the NE of England. Everyone was explicitly invited to bring their lunch, so that the hour could be multi-tasked to maximum efficiency. Even back then, I brought along a humble looking sandwich in some sort of recycled bag. One of the sideshows was watching the Head of Department opening his lunch box. He was elderly even then and expected his students and the secretary to address him as "Prof": the last person in the country to embrace this affectation with his tweed jacket. Born in the 1930s and buying his suburban home before prices went mad, he had a wife who had no need to work - and was really nice person as well. He couldn't/wouldn't/didn't cook - not even burgers on a barbecue - so his wife did all the food-prep - including Hissonour's packed lunch.

Every day presented him a different, balanced meal in a plastic box.
  1. two slices of white bread containing cheese or ham and occasionally a leaf of lettuce
  2. a piece of fruit - banana or more usually apple, occasionally a satsuma - no kumquats need apply and kiwi fruit hadn't yet been invented
  3. something else
if 'something else' was a tinfoil-wrapped chocolate biscuit then the old chap, quiet unconsciously, let slip a little moan of pleasure.  The vulgar would say something about Mrs Prof bonking the old chap on the night before or after a chocolate-biscuit dessert.  But that thought just beggared belief: who would want to sleep with a chap who wore a tweed jacket?

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