Ouzelum Bird

A few months ago someone here appended a notice on the cupboard door above the sink in the tea/coffee-making area of the common room, requesting (ordering) to the effect that we wait in line until whoever is brewing their particular beverage has finished before we edge forward and start on our own. As one who prefers the polite social chaos of water/fridge/sink-accessing people politely weaving around each other, like swans on a lake, I’m glad that most disregard this now boiler steam-wrinkled piece of parchment. However, a couple of weeks back, when proceeding to prepare my early evening caffeine fix, and finding yet again a deficiency in the cutlery quota, I was driven to append ‘Sod that? Return the spoons!’

This, of course, has been as ineffectual as the original version. But the other day, someone smilingly asked me whether it was I who’d applied the graffiti. “Err, what makes you say that?” “Dunno, it just seemed the sort of thing you would do.” (It seems I do have some kind of reputation in this particular scientific community.) Then yesterday, in a light-heartened e-mail exchange, a colleague who seems to share much of my sense of humour and has me almost totally sussed, and who I wish had joined our department years ago, also queried whether I was responsible for the scribble, and attached a curious PDF file, extolled as a favourite paper. Now, I would guess that this has in all likelihood been flagged up somewhere on NN before and, like much else, totally passed me by. But if you aren’t aware, and are at all interested on account of similar incidences of your common room spoons up and vanishing like farts in the wind, it turns out that this is a recognised phenomenon, having formed a basis for published research.

And why not? And after the shredding I received at Wednesday’s lab meeting, which I left trembling with a degree of inner rage (partly at myself for the poor job, but at my overt impatience with repeated, occasionally rude, recycled interruptions) – and the impending likely change in my professional life – I sense an opportunity here. Meanwhile, I sought to reciprocate with an ‘unconventional’ paper that I found particularly interesting, and which had formed the focus of a blog piece a while back. So, having forgotten the title/author, I conducted a search of my own archive to find the relevant post… and then wasted some time re-reading it… and a few others that I’m, err, not so ashamed of (Don’t you ever do this? Go on, admit it.), buried among a substantial proportion that I wish would self-destruct. (Snide remark: “So why don’t you just delete them then, Lee?” Ignore.) Where was I? Oh, the lab meeting. The previous day, someone very sweetly said “Good luck with your presentation.” What presentation? Oh that! I don’t like the word ‘presentation’ with respect to lab meetings. And I wished I’d have treated it less so. But, as it’s all gotten overly formal, I decided to give it a title: ‘Ever decreasing circles…’, which was almost totally lost on my audience. And the finale? Well, I found and pasted this in as my last slide. Prophetic, eh? I thought the reason for its inclusion would be obvious. But the lack of reaction meant I felt the need to explain – at which point any ‘joke’ is gone the way of disappearing spoons; or blog posts; or most science ‘careers’.

Sigh. I’m going for a coffee. Just reach down into the drawer and get the spoon I keep as insurance – can’t recall where I got it from.

6 responses to “Ouzelum Bird

  1. I like that joke about the bird, Lee. How true. Sadly, though, humour does not work online a lot of the time, as I have just discovered on another bit of the network.
    Blogging and commenting online does lend itself to a continuous wheel of reinvinentions and reinterpretations (especially when the delete button is so tempting as you allude!).
    I just hope that nobody proposes “morphic resonance” as an explanation of the “no spoons” phenomenon.
    Sorry about the frustrations at the lab meeting – hope they resolve themselves constructively. Someone, somewhere, must be tuned in to your wavelength (on spoon or fork) ;-)

  2. I prefer the polite social chaos as well, Lee, especially since I seem to be one of the few people at work who uses the old-fashioned toaster, which is banished to the tightest corner of the department kitchen/coffee room. A friend of mine donated an entire set of cutlery, on a little rotating rack, to the department kitchen, and every piece of it (apart from the rack) had disappeared in less that a few months. I keep my own cutlery, plus a couple of plates and mugs, in a little rolling file cabinet outside my lab, on which I usually eat my lunch as well. It’s considered somewhat weird, apparently, to eat a lunch brought from home, while sitting outside one’s lab/office and reading Scandinavian crime fiction. The trick, according to a friend, is not to look any curious passersby in the eyes.
    @ Maxine: Being misinterpreted is the bane of my online existence. Also, I think it’s easy for some people to be snippy online, when they’d never have the gonads to be so IRL. Same applies to bossy notes left in breakrooms; there is/was a blog devoted to passive-aggressive notes.

  3. I love the teaspoon study! It reminds me of the hypothesis (I can’t remember the source) that socks (which always disappear) are the larval form of wire coat hangers (you never buy any, but always seem to have enough).

  4. Kristi, I’m adopting your lunch strategy! (Though probably I would not be allowed the toaster at work because of the H and S police to whom Lee has alluded in previous posts (not at Nature, at his place!)- I’ll adopt the rest, though, particularly the reading.)

  5. Maxine, I’d be interested to hear how your colleagues respond to the “eating a packed lunch/reading crime fiction” strategy. Because EH&S rules forbid eating in the lab (and I wouldn’t want to eat around my cell culture set-up and other experiments in any case), I sit just outside the door. For some reason(s), I’m therefore fair game for all sorts of scrutiny, questions, and comments about what I’m eating. Almost never about what I’m reading, though. Reminds me of grad school, and I didn’t particularly like it then, either. Somehow it’s a different dynamic, if you’re eating lunch with other colleagues who bring lunches from home, and there’s a mutual discussion about what each person is eating – then it’s like community, not scrutiny. When I was a postdoc in London, I ate lunch in the departmental tea room, or in the medical school pub, and don’t remember being subjected to the same scrutiny. I’m wondering if it’s just something weird about the US.

  6. Maxine: ‘… humour does not work online a lot of the time, as I have just discovered on another bit of the network.’
    Where? What happened?
    Kristi, I’m forming an image, which, as one who prefers not to eat lunch during common room busy times, I like. Suggest appending a wipe-board on the wall adjacent to your lunch station, on which to write your daily menu. Should shut a few up.


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