A perplexing start this morning: a text from the lovely Sarah Main, director of CaSE, congratulating me on a mention in London’s Metro newspaper and wishing me “luck on Monday”.
Cue breaking out into a cold sweat as, seeing nothing unusual on my diary, I am suddenly terrified that I’ve forgotten something very important. Which would be very like me, as I tend to be disheveled on the appointment front. Vacillating between a paper diary and an electronic one, there are times when I lapse and fail to update either. And my filing system more often than not reverts to frantically searching an inbox with about 6000 emails in it at any given time. Which is tricky when you can’t remember the name of the person who contacted you or the name of the event you may or may not have agreed to participate in!
Not to worry, however. It was just a mention of Fiction Lab, the monthly science book group I’ve been hosting at the Royal Institution for about seven years now. I have no idea why this particular event was picked up, but it’s great to see LabLit.com in the news again – and in the entirely apposite ‘Geek Diary’ section, no less.
It is a bit of a shame that this particular novel was the one, out of so many over the years, that happened to surface. The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham (1925) was recommended by a regular Fiction Lab attendee on the basis of the back cover, which informs us that one of the main characters in a bacteriologist, sent into a Chinese village to help out with a cholera epidemic. Alas, there isn’t a whiff of science in the book, just some vague mentions of obsessive late nights in the lab – so far, so sterotypical. It does contain a wonderful line which unfortunately still resonates today – in fact, I’d like to frame it on my office wall:
“From a social standpoint the man of science does not exist.”
p.s. Feel free to join us on Monday for the discussion, even if you’ve only seen the film based on the novel. It’s free – and fun – followed by the usual pints and cheesy chips down at The King’s Head .