Wednesday 27 September 2023

Strange meeting

No not Wilfred Owen. We did that 3 years ago.I can't find this story in The Blob which is surprising because, to a close approximation, my entire life has been chopped into memorable sentences and chunked into this site. Anyway, at the tail end of the last century, I was able to midwife a handy self-teaching manual called As easy as ABC - Aoife's Bioinformatics Course. It got some traction in the European quango of which I was the Irish Node and I was invited to use the document while teaching in person in several other countries. The second time, I was in Oslo, my Norwegian oppo was on maternity leave and I was left partly in the care of a post-doc from Colombia. At the end of a day on my feet, completely talked out, this chap insisted on dragging me up two floors to meet The Other Person from Ireland

I was too weak to resist and it was churlish to refuse but I didn't think that just because we shared  a homeland we'd have anything in common. Despite my grumpy expectations it turned out to be a lucky [make your own luck] event. She had been through the same course and graduated from the same department as me, about 10 years later. Back in those far back days, she'd been really good friends with another graduate who was then running a parallel bioinformatics support service in the next building to me - we had lunch together almost every day. I mentioned that we'd just moved down the country and were raising two girls in The Blackstairs. She asked if I knew Pat-the-Post, who was her father's bestie and her own godfather. Indeed so: he was our regular (remarkably kind and helpful) postman. A few years and a repatriation later, my new Oslo pal met an artist in our yard and they started a successful Arts-meets-Science collaboration; but that's another story.

Our Oslo meeting is not the wild coincidence it seems at face. I would guess that the number of Irish  post-graduates working abroad (before the Celtic Tiger really started barking) is within one order of magnitude as the number of Universities on the planet [N=~25,000]. So it's not wild to have an Irish person in each one of those: more in the US and EU, fewer in South America and sub-Saharan Africa. And my course was billeted in the biotech building. Irish Biotechnologists is a finite group which are probably 2 degrees of sep apart.

Did I mention that we celebrated Dau.I's 6th birthday watching the sunset from the top of Table Mountain? I did! There were dassies Procavia capensis [L]. We were all there because a) the ABC manual had secured me a week of teaching in Pretoria and Capetown b) The Beloved's brother TBB lived in Capetown and our girls were hanging out with their same-age cousins. So I have [thin] skin in the game. TBB met a binfo pal of mine on a walking trail on table mountain a few years after that birthday party. But that binfopal was then living-and-working in Capetown, so they were almost destined to meet at some stage if they had any kind of off-campus life at all at all.

Fast forward 25 years to last week. I was fossicking about in the lane when I said Hi to another walker: we get a good bit of hill-walking traffic. He stopped to chat; I suggested a route to his destination to include St Fursey's Altar; The Beloved had already had words over the gate of the sheep-paddock, which had established that random walker - call him Antidorcas? - was a South African from Capetown and secured an invitation to take tea on his way down from the hills. It was nearly dark and "tea" was long over when there was a knock at the door. But our new pal was brought to the table and fed own-self-make pizza and own-self-grown cucumber. Dau.II was also tucking in on the other side of the kitchen table and it came out that both young people had been through the Home Education mill.
"After a couple of years home educated, I went to a Waldorf School . . ."
"How old are you? which Waldorf?"

Turns out that, aged 12, he was besties with one of the Capetown cousins! Small world.

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