Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Cumbernauld Institute of Parasitology

This entry is designed to introduce you to the place I work, the Cumbernauld Institute of Parasitology. It is a very small institute by modern standards. There are only a few permanent staff, the rest of the people you will see here are visitors that are taking part in our trials and experiments. If you ever visit (by invitation only I am afraid due to the sensitive nature of some of our work), you will see that everyone is very friendly and fully dedicated to improving our understanding of the intimate relationship between parasites and their hosts, both animals and humans. The original buildings no longer exist due to a catastrophic fire in 1933 (arson was suspected but never proven, although one local farmer whose herd of cattle had been wiped out by an experimental drug did confess on his death bed in 1949).

Denise the receptionist, caught on camera during an official cigarette break last summer

There wasn't much money left to build a new institute, so the boffins put their heads together and came up with the idea of the 'mobile laboratory' This had the advantage that no ground rent was payable, and the whole unit could be moved around to places where fieldwork was taking place. At first they started off with a second hand, double-decked, Cowieson bodied, 52-seater AEC Regent coach which they stripped of its seats and installed some rudimentary lab benches and a bar serving a mixture of alcoholic and non alcoholic beverages. Two years later they had raised enough funds from some modest endowments to extend their laboratory to another coach which was converted to office use (their was even a guest bedroom on the upper deck).

You can imagine that times were hard. There were no mobile phones, no on-board toilets, and most communication was conducted by letter. But parasitologists are a hardy lot, and some of the Institutes most celebrated discoveries were made during the time of the coach-labs (more of that in a later blog).

Fast forward to 1975, and the delivery of our first porta-cabin. Things were going well for the Institute, and they officially opened their new HQ in a field on the outskirts of Galashiels. The golden porta-cabin years lasted until 1984, when another fire threatened the Institute's very existence. This time it was treachery within the ranks. A disaffected young scientist by the name of Angus McCavity was being constantly admonished for tardy workmanship. Nowadays he would have been counselled and offered an alternative, more suitable position, but in those days employers were less forgiving. He was given increasingly harsh jobs, mainly involving TB testing in cattle, and even had his pay cut in half after he was found in the pub one thursday afternoon when he should have been sorting through some manure for tapeworms. That was the final straw. On bonfire night 1984 he poured petrol over all three porta-cabins and set them alight. All that escaped the ensuing infernal was a bronze bust of our founder, Prof Ebeneezer McCumbernauld.

The young scientist responsible for this atrocity was discovered drunk and boasting about his exploits a couple of weeks later. Such was the extent of the devastation that the remaining staff had no option but to close the institute down. For the next fifteen years, the Cumbernauld Institute remained as just a memory, but just as hopes were fading for its revival, a young up-and-coming parasitologist by the name of Dr Joseph McCrumble stepped forward. He contacted many of the institutes former staff with an offer to re-form the institute complete with a new set of statutes, a brand new suite of modern, refurbished, portable laboratories, and a mission statement to carry on the pioneering research of Prof McCumbernauld. Unfortunately, three of the four staff had since died, but this didn't deter Dr McCrumble and his research assistant Herman McCavity (the son of the former traitor, Angus) - indeed it made them all the more determined to succeed. Today the Institute has 5 full time staff, a fleet of seven mobile laboratories, complete with all the comforts of home and state-of-the art equipment. There is even a toilet!


SafeTinspector said...

Statutes are a good place to start when revivifying a dying endeavor.

Melissa A. Macdonald said...

I also working in a parasitology case.

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