It’s a grey afternoon outside the study window. This morning a thick fog erased the usual twinkling lights of Tilbury Docks along the estuary, with seagoing vessels blowing their horns in long, sonorous warnings. A fitting soundtrack, as tomorrow spells the demise of a fortnight’s holiday, during which disbelief was well and truly suspended (along with every other sort of cogent thought or mental exertion).
The return to reality also means that I can no longer put off fretting about an impending event: the Friday Evening Discourse I will be delivering on 30 January at the Royal Institution. Despite its long and illustrious history – having been initiated in 1826 by Michael Faraday (the brooding chap on the twenty-pound banknote) – I wasn’t really nervous until I made the mistake of reading Stephen Curry’s account of his own experience back in 2013. An eminent professor and confident public speaker, Stephen was obviously terrified. And just like that, so too was I.
Although I’ve spoken publicly before to a variety of different audiences about my chosen topic, antibiotic resistance, I want to give my Discourse a fresh spin: many hours of research and thought will be required to get it right, including a host of difficult decisions about what to include and what to leave out. Faced with such a daunting task, I prioritized perhaps the most grueling: finding the right dress for the occasion. Traditionally the event is black-tie, and though this custom is now optional, I figured there was no pointing in doing things by halves.
And so it was that I ventured into one of the circles of Hell – the Bluewater shopping mall during the post-Christmas sales. As always, Richard had my back – and a keen eye for tasteful fabrics. I couldn’t possibly give any substantive spoilers, but I will reveal that it is floor-length. And possibly slightly sparkly. (If I’m going to stand on the same podium as Alexander Fleming and talk about antibiotics, a little bit of sparkle is surely de rigueur.)
I’ve spent this grey day, this transition back into the real world of term time and tutorials and renewed research endeavor, thinking about the antibiotic crisis, and how best to tell the tale. In truth, it’s a topic with enough history, tricky science, in-built drama, human interest and future uncertainty to carry the night – with or without sparkles. Or a cold sweat.
Tickets are selling fast, but there are still some available (you don’t have to be a Member to attend).