The Chain

Listen to the wind blow, watch the sun rise

At this time of night, if the lights on the Addenbrookes roundabout are kind to me—and they usually are, because the sensors pick me up as I approach—three minutes and two seconds after putting the car into first gear I’m turning off the Babraham Road.

It was the last full week before Christmas. I’d come back to the lab after dinner—cycling home in the dark, and then coming back in the car. We’d had the referee reports back, and I had to do some more NMR titrations, this time on the 800 MHz machine. This meant getting a sample to Ji-Chun in the morning, which meant desalting it overnight, which in turn meant picking the right tubes from off the S-100 column and getting them all into the Centriprep before I went to bed.

Listen to the wind blow, down comes the night

I change down from fourth to second, easing the clutch back in and letting the engine brake into the turn, half an empty mile of straight country lane rising gently in front of me.

Blinking back the itch behind my eyeballs I emptied the last 8 ml aliquot into the Centriprep. I’d been concentrating the protein, ten millilitres at a time, for the last couple of hours. One more fifteen minute spin, and I could fill it to the brim with deionized water; in the morning I’d have a protein that was so concentrated it was almost solid. I’d then be able to dilute it in phosphate buffer at pH 6, and add heavy water for field frequency lock.

Damn the dark, damn the light

It’s best doing this at night, as I can see headlights a mile off, well beyond the rapidly approaching horizon. Even cyclists and pedestrians show up as I flip on the main beam. I plant my right foot to the floor as the bass line kicks in.

I closed the lid of the refrigerated centrifuge, set the speed to 500 rpm and pressed start. I washed my hands in the tiny sink, dried them and turned the lights off as I closed the door to the lab behind me. Downstairs in the harshly lit loading bay car park, I turned the ignition, looked over my shoulder and—


Swinging out, my front nearside bumper had scraped the wing of the sporty yellow Toyota parked next to me. There were still some lights on upstairs, but I had no idea whose car it was. I parked the car and went back into the building to find a pen and paper. This is what insurance is for, after all.

Run into the shadows

On a clear night like this I’m doing a good 80 as I approach the bend at the top of Granham’s Road, Lindsey Buckingham’s guitar screaming to the redline. I slip into neutral and crest the ridge, the wheel going slack in my hands as the tyres lose their grip. Then I coast down to the level crossing, only touching the brakes as I approach the 30 limit, safe on the other side of the hill.

About rpg

Scientist, poet, gadfly
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4 Responses to The Chain

  1. Stephen says:

    Artfully done.

  2. rpg says:

    Thank you sir.

  3. ricardipus says:

    Grand Prix has just been released on Blu-Ray, I’m told… along with the classic Steve McQueen film, Le Mans.

    Nicely parallel, this piece of writing. Are we to read anything further into it… say by mentally adding in the chorus lyrics?

  4. rpg says:

    I’ve learned that the consumer of art can often read into a piece—a novel, short story, painting music—more than the artist ever intended or knew. So you can read into it what you like 🙂

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