The life scientific – They say it’s grim up north …


It’s conference time again, and this time I was off to Glasgow for an intensive 2 days of Rheumatology.

It was a 4 1/2 hour train ride from London through some truly spectacular countryside, but I couldn’t help noticing how much darker and forbidding the cities look as you head up country, changing from the limestone of the south to the granite of the north.  That always depresses me slightly, so I wasn’t feeling great when the typical Scottish weather set in.  For some reason I’d got it into my head that Glasgow was going to be some sort of concrete monstrosity filled with drunkards that sound like Billy Connolly.  I have never been so glad to be wrong in my life.  The city is full of beautiful old buildings that look stunning even in the drizzle, and the university itself felt like something out of Harry Potter, all cloisters and turrets.

Glasgow OB 2013 (15)

This particular conference is always good fun, and this year was no exception.  The students got to show off what they’ve been up to, which the funding bodies and supervisors always seem to love seeing.  For us it was just nice to be surrounded by other people that understand how frustrating the sort of experiments we do can be.  You can moan about really geeky things like the difficulty of setting up disease models and a lack of decent tissue samples without leaving people with the impression that you’re going to try and steal bits of them to keep in jars!

We learned all about how to send mice into space and what happens to their bones once they get there; and why your body mounts a more severe immune reaction to infection at night.  Apparently, circadian rhythms are where it’s at …

It wasn’t all hard work though.  The Glaswegians treated us to some typically Scottish entertainment; a tour around a micro brewery and a ceilidh!  Not really being a beer drinker (I have no idea why anyone would drink something quite so disgusting), I was just really going to the brewery for the food afterwards.  You can imagine my surprise when I discovered a beer that was actually drinkable, although I think I’d take the malted barley over the final product any day.  That stuff was really good.

west-beer-mobile-bar-hire  Glasgow OB 2013 (3)

The following night was the ceilidh at Sloans, which I’ve been told is one of the oldest ceilidh joints in the city.  We picked it up fairly quickly, which is proof that scientists can dance when forced to, and ended up in a pretty sweaty and disgusting state.  But the night wasn’t over yet.  OK, so I didn’t venture into the deepest recesses of Glasgow’s numerous pubs like some of the others, but I did take an unexpected detour around the West End at midnight, including a crepe pit-stop.  I live on the wild side …

Glasgow OB 2013 (7)  Glasgow OB 2013 (12)

The West End of Glasgow was a real revelation for me.  I loved the Oxbridge charm of the university buildings, and I’ve always been a sucker for a bit of Rennie Mackintosh, so I got quite excited going to see the Mackintosh house.  I love that whole school of design, so it was really cool to see it cropping up all over the place.  I want to be a literary squirrel too.

Glasgow OB 2013 (9)  Glasgow OB 2013 (10)

All in all it was worth the entire day of train travel there and back.  It reminded me of what conferences could be like, after my somewhat disappointing time in the States.  You could say it restored my faith in science, or maybe I should say in scientists.  I’d definitely go back to Glasgow again.  I’d consider moving there for the gingerbread made by Kember & Jones alone.  Best I’ve ever tasted, and their sandwiches were divine too.  In fact, I might just go check whether they do mail order …


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