Steve Connor: Science Notebook

The night I fixed drinks for Sir John

Related Topics

Sir John Maddox, the former editor of the scientific journal
Nature and towering figure of science journalism, died last week at the age of 83. It is said that he was one of the last great polymaths and that there was barely a dusty corner of science he had not inspected at some time or other.

Everyone has a story about John. His chain-smoking, his brinkmanship with print deadlines, his erudite knowledge and his mischievous conversation. Mine is the time when he uttered his very first words to me: "A glass of red wine, please."

It was the mid-1980s and we were both attending a science writers' awards ceremony at some posh Park Lane hotel, which had laid on a complimentary bar. The hotel's barman had stepped away for a while and told me to help myself, which I duly did.

I can only guess that when John arrived a minute or so later he took the young man behind the bar dressed in an ill-fitting dark jacket, black tie and white shirt as a hotel employee, hence the request for a glass of red wine. I knew who he was of course, but I was too timid to do anything other than offer him what he requested.

I never did get round to asking him in later years whether he recalled our first meeting. Or what he had thought later that evening of a hotel barman walking away with one of the science writer's awards.

Smile, it's a recession

The recession appears to be good for dentists, at least those who are experts in the science of restorative dentistry. Many people, it seems, feel that it is more important than ever to put on a brilliantine smile when every economic indicator is pointing to an exceedingly glum outlook.

Keith Cohen, a Harley Street dentist who specialises in fixing wonky smiles, tells me that many people come to him to whiten or straighten their teeth because they feel it gives them confidence before an important job interview. Teeth-whitening has become a bit of a fashion must-have in some circles – as soon as a critical mass of people go for bleached teeth, he says everyone's got to have it done.

Another trend is to straighten teeth using a series of clear-plastic braces that are gradually altered by computer over the course of 12 months to pull teeth into the required alignment while you sleep. The idea comes from America, where it is sold as a treatment for "English mouth".

Doomed to more gloom

Another newspaper is predicting that solar Armageddon will arrive one evening in late September 2012. A solar superstorm caused by "50,000 mile-wide eddies of boiling hydrogen plasma" will eject "a billion-tone, malevolent blob of crackling-charged gas" our way, causing a meltdown of the power grid and the biggest economic catastrophe in history. So not much to smile about there.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
It’s all in the detail; Ed Miliband with ‘Britain Can Be Better’ (AFP/Getty)  

General Election 2015: Parties must remember the 50-plus vote

Stefano Hatfield

From Sam Smith to Taylor Swift, candyfloss pop perfectly reflects the selfie generation

Rosie Millard
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own