Saturday, October 19, 2013

Brian the Biochemist

To Mutianyu by the Great Wall where my cousin David has rented a villa for the weekend. (Not sure what the difference is between a house and a villa but this was definitely the latter). Amidst beautiful autumnal weather, we were joined by his sister/my cousin Sarah and their dad/my uncle Brian. He's 88 but made it up the Wall OK.
It's funny how little I know about my uncle. Oxford biochemist. That's about it. So I took the opportunity to have a good old chat about his working life. At 18 he was about to be drafted into the tail-end of the war but there was a need for bright young scientists so instead he found himself studying chemistry in Aberystwyth, then moved to Cambridge where he got his MSc and PhD, and then on to Oxford where he taught & researched, specialising in such things as photosynthesis and enzymology. He's been at University College in one form or another for 50 years.
He told me an interesting story back in his Cambridge days though. The assessor for his PhD viva was Dr Dorothy Moyle, the wife of Dr Joseph Needham, who was the British Council's unofficial first  representative in China during the war (see post). After the viva, Brian joined the couple for lunch during which a courier arrived with a package for Needham. It contained the proofs of the first volume of his monumental Science and Civilisation of China. On looking at them Brian spotted a few grammatical mistakes. "They're entirely occidental", quipped Needham.

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