As I approach the door and reach for the knob, I find that my heart rate has accelerated. Behind me, one of our research nurses cowers a few paces back: she needs to get inside, but – quite understandably – doesn’t want to go in first. This, then, is one of the many aspects of being in charge of a lab that isn’t listed in the job description.
I know exactly what to expect, but somehow, that doesn’t make the atmosphere any less tense.
The Terror Within
As I pull open the door and slip inside, all at first seems well: the thrumming of the four massive freezers, ancient but still serviceable, produces its usual white noise, and a faint cool breeze from the open windows ripples my white coat, dispelling the breathy heat of the machinery. I’m just about to turn to my colleague and proclaim the all-clear when suddenly, an explosion of sound like an out-of-control helicopter blasts through the room. My colleague and I emit involuntary shrieks, duck and cover our faces as two grey, blurry objects rocket out from behind the freezers and make a bid for freedom through the open windows. In the shocked silence that ensues, a dozen feathers spiral lazily to the floor, already coated in the weekend’s layer of downy fluff and guano.
Only then do we laugh, and then go about our business retrieving samples.
Forget the spherical cow; dear reader, we have a massive pigeon problem here in the lab. It’s all down to the lack of air conditioning. Having four immense freezers attempting to keep a core inner temperature of minus eighty degrees Centigrade in a room barely larger than a closet, the ambient temperature quickly exceeds the machines’ capacity to do their jobs if there is not sufficient ventilation.
There were a few weeks over the long, bitter winter when we could actually shut the windows, but those days are long gone. As the warm spring sunshine pours through the Victorian panes of glass, the freezer room quickly overheats unless all five windows are wide open. And with spring also come the roosting pigeons, which seem to particularly like hanging out with a bunch of hot freezers. The fair weather also, of course, happens to correspond with the end of term, when there are no longer any undergraduates around to bribe into being gun dogs to flush out the pests.
Try as I might, I can’t come up with a solution that doesn’t involve a ridiculous amount of effort, such as buying lengths of chicken wire at a home improvement shop and nailing them up as barricades. We could learn to live with the shock factor, but we’re worried about hygiene: the freezer room abuts our main microbiology lab, where we are culturing uropathogens with fastidious care. And for some reason, the pigeons that hang around the Archway Gyratory seem particularly scruffy and insalubrious.
All ideas, serious and otherwise, gratefully received.