Friday, September 02, 2011

On the stage!

Hello all

Oh my. Who would have thought it? Am I about to be rehabilitated?

My hands tremble slightly as I write this message. For so long has my dream to bring parasitology to the public been thwarted. For so long have I been consigned to living anonymously, keeping hidden all my ambitions, squandering my talents, looking forlornly out over the public engagement landscape and wondering - will my time ever come?

Well, yes, dear reader, pondering has ceased, as my time has, indeed, come. For I am to leave the barn that I now call home and take to the stage. In just a few short weeks I will be heading, in person, to the North East of England, to reach out, personally, to young minds with mind-blowing ideas that they shall literally carry with them for the rest of their lives.

I have my former marketing manager, Dr Mark Booth, to thank. He has secured some funding from the Beacon programme for Public Engagement that will allow me catch the train northwards and pay my expenses for up to 4 appearances. Not only that, but he'll pay for Dolores (wife) and Ravel (assistant) to travel with me. Now all I have to do is think of what to present. I have some, indeed many, ideas.

Sadly I cannot reveal exactly where I will be performing as there is a long-standing bounty on my head (see very early postings in this blog). The performances will be invitation only, unfortunately. However, unlike my acclaimed appearance in Cardiff a while back, I will, this time at least, not be wearing a Darth Vader mask to disguise my appearance. Those who see me on the stage will be confident that it is actually Dr Joseph Mcrumble in front of them. I can't wait!

best wishes


Monday, November 01, 2010

Freethinking festival

Hello all

It appears that the only time I remember to make a blog-post these days is whenever my (former) marketing manager is about to make a public appearance, and he demands that I help him publicise that fact. This time, he contacted me excitedly about his upcoming appearance at the Radio3 Freethinking Festival, to be held at the Sage in Gateshead from 5th-7th September.

'So what are you doing there Mark?', I asked, feigning interest.

'Hey, you'll never guess Joseph. I'm appearing in their 'speed-dating with a thinker' event on the Sunday at 2:45pm. Tickets are free you know.'

'Are you claiming to be a thinker, Mark?'

'Er, well, not me directly. It's a sort of, er, label I get to use for the duration.'

'You sound unsure. Well, I hope it goes OK. Think of me if you still have enough thinking-power after being speed-dated - Christmas is on its way and I am still more than a bit needy myself. If you could think up a solution to my predicament that would be great, actually.'

'Sure, Joseph. I'll put my, er, thinking cap on and see what the old grey cells come up with, yeah? Oh sorry, gotta go. Trick or treaters at the door. See ya later.'

I didn't hear any doorbell, or any knocking, but with that excuse he was gone. Another less than satisfactory conversation out of the way. I went back to reading about how cuts are going to affect local services. As I am effectively squatting in this barn, I am of officially no-fixed-abode and therefore receive very few services. Not even the local council newsletter that talks about re-developing the site on which my barn sits with the 'region's largest' soft-play installation for the local children. Planning permission has been submitted apparently. My bag is packed.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Autumn Symposium

Dr Mark Booth has asked me to publicise his forthcoming symposium entitled 'Progress in Paediatric Parasitology' where 15 internationally respected parasitologists will be speaking on this very topic. I did wonder if he was going to ask me to make another personal appearance, after my triumphal video interview in Cardiff earlier this year. He promptly replied that this wouldn't be neccesary. He suggested I visit the symposium incognito if I am worried about being recognised. That's not such a bad idea, providing I can hitch my way that far North in time. If I set off tomorrow I should make Peterborough by the weekend, Wetherby by the 20th and Stockton by the 23rd, when it all begins. Wish me luck!

British Society for Parasitology Autumn Symposium
23rd-24th September
Durham University Queen's Campus
Stockton on Tees
For more information, including a full programme and speaker's abstracts, visit

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Going Public

Hello all

Another call from my marketing manager - Dr Mark Booth - the other day. He sounded upbeat."Hey Joseph, you'll never guess!" he said cheerfully.

'I'm sure I won't, so just come straight out with it, Mark", I replied flatly. His enthusiasm before the facts sometimes gets to me.

"OK, well basically it goes like this - the British Society for Parasitology is having their annual conference at the end of March at Cardiff University and I'm giving the Public Understanding of Science Lecture on the evening of the 29th. Cool, huh?"


"Thanks - but here's the kicker - I'm going to showcase your excellent work on public understanding of parasitology. You know - the blog, the book - like, everything!"

"I'm flattered"

"Aw come on Joseph. I know things aren't so great right now but this could be your chance to get back on your feet. Especially if....."

He stopped speaking. I assumed I was supposed to prompt him to go further, so dutifully obliged."If what?", I intoned.

"OK - now think before answering - but what do you say to making a personal appearance?"

I almost dropped the phone in surprise. No one had asked me to make a personal experience for quite some time. And I still had the problem of the death threat that has hung over me since I accidentally poisoned a town full of pet rabbits (it's in the book). "I, er, well, er, in principle. But I'd have to come in disguise or something. If this got public, you know...."

"I'm sure you'll come up with something," said Mark breezily. "you're a resourceful chap. Anyway, must fly. I've got a hundred slides on the value of public engagement for the early stage researcher to write."

"Huh, surely..."

"Just pulling your chain Joseph. I'm not that nerdy!"

He shouted farewell as he put down the phone. Rather irrevelently I looked in my diary for availability on the 29th March. All I had written down was that No.3 is due for a vaccination. Nothing else for days on end, before or after.

Right then. If I am to make an appearance, I'd better think about what to wear!


Saturday, February 06, 2010

publishing disaster

I received a call from my marketing manager the other day. He sounded apologetic. I asked him what was wrong. He told me that the company who published my book 'The Wonderful World of Joseph McCrumble' appears to be no longer trading, or at least they have been taken over by another company under dubious circumstances. I asked him whether this was the reason why I never received a royalty cheque. He said 'To be honest Joseph, you might have lost out on a few quid, but I'm pretty sure you just didn't sell any books'. I asked him, after reminding him the HE was supposed to be MY marketing manager, what HE should do - as I am in no position (still in the barn, still poor) to take this any futher. 'Not all is lost!', he said breezily as if struck by a good idea. 'Stand Up for Africa have it in stock at their website. We just have to tell people not to but the book through Amazon, Blackwells or any other retailer. That way the royalties go straight to the charity. OK?'

'Sure, Mark', I replied. 'So how are you doing these days - it's been a long time since you were in touch. I thought you maybe forgot about us.'

'No way Joseph. I've just been a bit busy. New job, new house, new prospects. It's all pretty good here. You thinking of moving out of that barn any time soon? We'd love to visit but we can't spare the time to travel down. You know how it is. But, hey, if you're passing this way any time don't be a stranger, yeah?'

'Sure, Mark', I said quietly, resisting the urge to put two vocal fingers up. 'Actually, it's still pretty hard down here. No money, no job. Several people are, in fact, depending on Ravel's job as a part time gardener. I've taken on a few things here and there but it's all been seasonal or temporary. I'm overqualified. Who wants to employ a PhD scientist to pick cherries?'

'Yeah Joseph, I guess it must be a bit tough. But hey - why don't you lie on your CV and say something like you've done nothing but pick cherries your whole life.'

'Lie?', I squawked. 'I can't lie, it would ruin everything I stand for. No lies, never!

'So you're standing for poverty and zero-rated aspiration are you Joseph? It's not like I'm suggesting you make up a qualification...'

'Never!', I interjected. 'Sorry mark, I just can't. Well, anyways, it was great talking to you. If you are ever passing this way, we are the third barn after the green cottage next to the woodland burial site. Bye.'

I put the phone down, momentarily proud of my stance. But then I saw Ravel walking towards the barn, his head low, his hands and clothes soiled. Dolores opened the door and let him in. He smiled at me and pulled out his week's wages, handing them all over to me before taking his seat at the dinner table. I counted the takings. It was less than the previous week's by at least 20%. There wasn't enough to feed us all, let alone pay for the new sweater I promised Dolores for our wedding anniversary. The words of my marketing manager rang in my ears as I drank my parsnip soup. Maybe it was time I put my pride to one side. After all, it's not like anyone would actually notice, would they?

Thursday, March 05, 2009

teenage angst

Oh dear. I was trying to read a newspaper that someone had left in the village hut yesterday, and was concentrating on doing the sudoku puzzle in my head (I'm rationing my pen usage to increase their longevity), when I caught sight and sound of Twin X shuffling around in circles at the far end of the barn. His voice was melancholy enough, but it was the words he was using that alarmed me. 'One step closer to death', he moaned with each shuffle.

'What are you on about?', I asked in alarm that my son had become suddenly so mobid.

'I'm just stating the obvious, you can't deny it's true. Go on, try...', he challenged.

Hard as I might, I could offer no reposte. 'Are you thinking upon your own mortality?' I asked instead, trying to understand where the idea of acting this way had emerged.

'No, dur. I was pretending to be you. For one, you are much closer to death than me, so if anyone should be worried it's you, yeah? And for two, haven't you noticed you've been shuffling around talking to yourself lately? You thinking about your own mortality? Mum says you're heading for a midlife crisis already.'

The boy was right of course - at least about the shuffling. But that is entirely explained by my need to move in a rhythmic manner when contemplating a scientific idea. More of that later. In the meantime, I'm beginning to suspect my twin boys might be brighter than myself. This is not the first time I've been caught out, and things are only likely to get worse as they discover the true meaning of precocious. Puberty is upon the pair of them, and I predict tough times ahead. If they don't suffer any angst, I will, for sure.

J Mcc

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Wan Ton Soup

Hello all

Very fortunately, a library not ten miles from our accommodation is providing free internet use to people on low income. All I had to do was look pitiful and say I was of no fixed abode (technically true as the barn has no postcode and is not a designated dwelling due it being 'uninhabitable' according to the local council). Having no access to transport means I have to walk a couple of hours each way (my legs are getting stronger each day), but it means I can continue to bring my story to the attention of the public. Why? Because I believe that someone out there might recognise my distress as genuine, recognise the latent talent that lives and breathes below my jaded skin, and perhaps even act as patron for the re-establishment of the Cumbernauld Instiute of Parasitology. Failing that, maybe they'll just let me tutor their kids in A level biology. It would be a start.

On this trip to the library I am allowed only 10 minutes as there is a group of benefit claimants awaiting a lesson on using job websites to find gainful employment. I have chosen not to claim benefits on the grounds that I vowed early in life never to become dependent on the State. Dolores thinks my principled stand is about as useful and fiscally sound as an Icelandic banker's draft. I remind her that she too cannot bring herself to make contact with the DSS, and so we live as nature intended - self sustaining, slightly malnourished and generally uncomfortable.

The minutiae of our new life are of no interest to others, unless they are to serve as a simple record of this frugal period in our lives. I will therefore attempt to draw on events, thoughts and processes that at least stand a small chance of raising some tiny dribble of interest in the mind(s) of my reader(s). To begin, I must go back some months and finally tell the end of Ravel's tale in China. For those of you at all interested in how this started, please read all posts from 2008 -2009 (there aren't many).

Ravel was detained at the station without speaking to anyone for the rest of the night. In the morning, an interpreter was brought to the station to read the charges against him in English. Ravel listened to a long list of completely false allegations around the themes of avoiding tax, extortion, breaking copyright, false imprisonment and, perhaps most dangerously 'incitement to subvert the political power of the state and overthrow the socialist system by spreading rumors, slander or other means'. Ravel had no idea what any of the charges meant, and tried to insist that they had arrested the wrong man. He asked to see one of his lawyer friends, but no-one at the police station knew any of the names, and he was therefore required to wait in his cell for an undetermined period of time. Ravel asked if he could make a phone call, and partly to his surprise that was allowed. Guess who he phoned? That's right, me...

'Hello?' I said on answering my pay-as-you-go mobile (we have had no landline since we moved here, and I cannot afford a contract).

'Boss, I am happy you are there. I am in big trouble', came the faint voice of Ravel.

'Where are you ?', was my immediate response. Establishing geographic location, in my experience, conveys a mountain of information rarely captured so economically by other means.

'Jail!', came his plaintive cry. I could tell he might be a little distressed even over the poor connection. However, I still did not know in which jail he was located - something I needed to understand before acting further.

'Where is the jail?'

'I don't know boss. They bring me here in darkness. I sit in my cell and they tell me nothing!'

'OK, stay calm, Ravel. Let's start at the beginning. In which country are you currently located?'

'China Boss. Can you help me get out of here?'

At this point, I was forced to sigh. My knowledge of Chinese jails and the justice system was (and still is) somewhat lacking. I could no more help Ravel get out of jail than help my own mother-in-law find the heart to payback the victim of her latest misdemenour (she apparently stole and ate a box of black-magic chocolates bequeathed to a former friend whose husband had died on valentines day - having initially denied the charge she then admitted under questioning that she had stolen the chocolates out of jealousy because such a beautiful gesture had never come her way). Instead I suggested he contacted one of his lawyer friends. Ravel told me he didn't have their number, and asked could I make the relevant enquiries. Being somewhat short on resources myself, I could only shrug my shoulders. 'I'm afraid you are on your own at the moment, my friend', I said, before wishing him well and hanging up (my battery was about to expire and was rationed to one re-charge a week).

Dear reader(s), I understand you may think this harsh of me, but under the circumstances I truly could do no more. I knew from our brief conversation that Ravel was at least safe(ish) from harm. I also knew that his lawyer friends were extremely resourceful and would be on the case imminently. And I was right of course. The next day, I received another phone call, this time from a rather happier sounding Ravel. He was now out of jail and sitting by a hotel pool. It turned out he had been arrested after an anoymous tip-off by someone in his enemy's organisation, suggesting that Ravel had been sending subversive messages about the Chines state through a blog under the pseudonym of Joseph McCrumble. Yes, that's right. My own name had been implicated in this farce. Well, the authorities checked the blog and found nothing subversive at all. A preposterous idea in the first place, if you ask me. I asked Ravel if he was still intent on persuing his aim of avenging the loss of his replica world cup trophy business. Fortunately for all of us, he decided he had been beaten by a force greater than his own will to succeed. 'I'm coming home boss', he told me, 'I give up.'

Ravel returned a few days later, somewhat thinner than when I had last seen him, head bowed and bleary eyed. He had managed to recover the copy of the replica trophy that had descended from the roof of the warehouse during the poker-game stunt, but otherwise was devoid of baggage. He was sullen for many days later, refusing to eat the Chinese takeaways we were living on at the time (this may seem crass, but we had struck a deal with a local chinese restaurant whereby I would walk around the village with a sandwich board three evenings a week in return for half-price meals. Sadly the restaurant has now become a victim of the recession and is closed.). But time heals all wounds, and within a few weeks he was back to his old self, playing an essential role in the maintenance of the barn. His lawyer friends promised to fight on, but we have heard nothing in weeks and can only assume that the enterprise has now had a line drawn underneath it. Sometimes, life jsut doesn't give you what you want, and you have to move on, I told Ravel one evening about a month ago. Since then, the subject has not been raised.

There ends the story of Ravel's adventures in China. Nothing else exciting has happened, so this blog will now revert to commenting on the occasional event of interest as I try to beat the credit crunch and keep my family's soul together. Here's hoping we aren't all doomed!