Book review: “Cold Comfort Farm” by Stella Gibbons

For those who like their English Classic Literature obscure and humorous. If P. G. Wodehouse was a woman and switched from describing city gents and their true masters to rural settings, he might have approached the blend of apt descriptions and sarcasm of “Cold Comfort Farm”.
You will never hear the word ”woodshed” as an innocent description of a place to store logs.

If you can get it, I recommend the Penguin Classics edition as British writer Lynne Truss’ preface contains perfect information about the writer and as to why the book was forgotten for almost a hundred years after an initial wild success.

Gibbons (no relation) committed several sins that doomed her in the manner of books by D. H. Lawrence she parodies. Firstly, she was a woman, which disqualified her from being funny. Secondly, she was a journalist. Then she mocked both Arts and Crafts and Bloomsbury set. Finally, she sold too many copies of her debut novel and collected several awards irritating my beloved Virginia Woolf and Co.

I don’t think the novel is perfect. The urbane heroine, Flora an orphan with meager £100 annual income decides aginst earning her keep or going to a jolly set because she would have to share a room. She goes instead to live on the title farm. Here ignoring reigning inbreeding, doom, and portents she effortlessly rearranges life of farm inhabitants including a quartet of cows named Graceless, Aimless etc. I kept expecting her plans to find at least a minor obstacle to overcome, but everything went swimmingly.

In three weeks, Flora remodels her cousin Elfine from a wild child fleeting in disheveled hair and clothes on the moors similar to Perdita from Mary Shelley’s ”The Last Man of Earth” to an elegant and dull debutante worthy of becoming the young squire’s fiance. Flora categorically decrees her cousin to stop writing poetry and Elfine complies.

The most irritating is the finale (spoiler alert). After arranging all escape routes for her farm relatives, she is rescued by a knight in a canvas plane – a lot of plot development relies on planes taking off from rural fields – that invited her to live with him at the beginning of the book. Domestic bliss beckons.

It’s all well to join in mocking erotic symbolism and the Bloomsbury set after they won and became the next Establishment, but Woolf had had a right to be irritated by clever and funny trolling while the culture battle was ongoing.

6+ animals that defy laws of nature


1. Walking fish


Shuttles hopfish and its son (Image by Alpsdake/Wikimedia Commons)

Remember that  Guinness ad where the evolution goes back: men devolve into cavemen, birds into dinosaurs? It ends with two little fish walking to water and expressing disgust at its taste. These fish do exist. The fish from the advert is close to mudskipper – an Australian fish.

2. Living on land fish

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10 Top Everyday Things Useful in the (Bio)Lab

A lab is full of specially designed and produced for the technical use

Overhead projector 3M 03

expensive equipment. But there are cheap and simple things from everyday life, which help in your experiments.

1)  Perforated metal ladle – to fish out samples from liquid nitrogen after a snap-freeze.

2) Transparencies for an overhead projector (remember them?). Instead of wrapping your  Western membrane in clingfilm and trying to get rid of the wrinkles, cut a transparency in half, attach one half to the cassette, put the membrane, cover with the second half and fix it with a sticky tape.

3) Pizza cutter – to trim acrylamide gels.

4) Powdered dry milk, fat-free – simply add to a phosphate buffer, stir and here is your blocking solutions for Western blots. Using branded product like Marvel is still a half-measure; any cheap no-name dry milk is fine.

5) Nail varnish – to seal microscope slides, which prevents drying out.

മലയാളം: പല്ലുകുത്തി

China becoming a more sophisticated goods producer is not always a good thing: cheaper flat on one end toothpicks are becoming extinct and being replaced by perfectly carved, but sharp on both ends toothpicks, which are much less convenient. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

6) Wooden toothpicks – to streak bacterial or yeast colonies on the agar, available in Chinese supermarkets.

7) Salad spinnerbuild a centrifuge with it.

8) Watch, which counts seconds – timer replacement. Amazing, how many scientists don’t have watches, relying on clocks (rarely precise) and mobile phones (run out of charge).

9) Mop – my inner green person weeps when I see people moping lots of water from defrosting freezers with paper towels.

These are nine useful things – please suggest the tenth.

The Tale of Two Lab Management Strategies

Seagull at the boat stop

Seagull  – the king of the pile (Photo credit: waltern)

According to the philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn, experimental science relies more on  scientists’ emulation of each other as opposed to theoretical knowledge; e.g. it’s more like craft, tranferred from person to person through teaching and observing, rather than anything else. Chosen by a group leader, a lab-management strategy is self-sustaining, so I hope after reading this article and starting your own lab you’ll chose the best one. When it comes to solution preparation and lab organisation, there are two main strategies on the opposite ends of the spectrum.

Seagull strategy of lab management

Seagulls live in colonies but they don’t cooperate in finding food; on the contrary they often steal it from each other. Applying the seagull strategy (SGS) to the lab, each person develops their own SGS so that, at least in theory, everyone’s work speed depends on their personal organisation skills – if you don’t think in advance, the experiments go very slowly. On the other hand,  SGS policy  leads to a lot of money and time waste. For example, people buy the same enzymes and reagents repeatedly, use one microliter of reagent while the rest degrades in the freezer for a year or more and it is less active when next needed. If you make too little reagent it runs out quickly, too much – and the buffer made a year ago can precipitate, etc. Therefore the SGS of lab management creates an environment where everybody spends time making the same reagents. And the strategy does not prevent the lab bastard from sneakily using your stuff, unless you change the label (or use other know how).

Commons strategy of lab management

This is the opposite of the seagull – there are communal stocks and reagents. Stock solutions can be prepared in large volumes, saving time for individuals; the reagents are used quickly (if not, there is no point in making a lot of stock!). Plus everybody uses the same stuff, increasing reproducibility of the experiments. I don’t know whether to count incorrect stock made from time to time as an advantage or a disadvantage of this strategy: in the Commons strategy of lab management a lot of experiments can go wrong at the same time, but the cause found very quickly, while you may use your incorrect solution for some time under the seagull strategy wondering what change in the stars is causing this misfortune.

The disadvantages of the Commons strategy stem from no less than imperfect human nature. The Commons strategy sometimes results in the tragedy of the commons, when lab colleagues drain the resource and do nothing to replace it, relying on somebody else to do it. However, this is prevented by establishing a rota and applying peer pressure on colleagues who don’t pull their weight.

Even if you are unlucky to find yourself among the seagulls, you can try to set up a sharing and caring Commons strategy – sometimes just making a communal stock and telling your lab mates what it is will prompt them to join you and support it, especially when newer members join the lab having not being immersed in tradition. If your attempt to live like a human, not a bird, fails, you can always return to the SGS.

Which strategy do you prefer and why?

This is 1.0, 1.1 was published @BiteSizeBio