Sunday, December 31, 2017

i remember Tom Schofield

2017 is coming to an end. it's been a good year. i've made some great new friends - you know who you are, though many of you 'civilians' probably won't be bothering to read this junk here. it's all good. it's been a productive year too. mostly becoz i work with some seriously amazing people in the lab. i'd like to think i myself have done a fair bit too, but there's one piece of writing i've been putting off till this very last day....

in year 2005, i went to London to do my postdoc. after years of being that awkward, lonely foreigner grad student in Oxford, by then i sort of knew how to socialize. but i was still all kinds of messed up - self-conscious, self-obsessed, competitive, junenvile. a lot of growing up was done in London. for this reason i sometimes call the city my spiritual home. and if a spiritual home came with a spiritual guide, that would be Tom. though he probably never would have approved of that title.

Tom was one of my best of best friends. we hung out all the time. we drank, we fought, we laughed, and had a lot of good times together.

when he left us in 2010, i just clammed up. i couldn't make it to the funeral. the emotions were too raw. they still are. but it's about time i have to write this. coz it's already 7 years overdue.

sorry mate, i would buy you a pint if i saw you in Hell; i’m sure they wouldn’t do half-pints there.

***

months after Tom died, people wrote about what a great budding scientist &  serious researcher he was. to be totally honest i'm not really sure how he would feel about it. he would probably brush it aside and shrug and whatever. i guess secretly he would be flattered too.  but really, the image of a dedicated square of a scholar wasn't quite exactly the Tom i knew. of coz he was intellectually brilliant. but he was more interesting than that. and wiser too.

Tom was the know-it-all about the city, though he really specialized in one kind of most useful knowledge: where to find interesting places to drink. i don't wanna glorify alcoholism, but it was back in England where the standards were a bit... different. pubs closed at 11pm so there's always this sense of urgency there. eating would be wasting precious drinking time, so mostly we drank on empty stomachs, which also has the advantage of maximizing the effective potency of the drinks. official starting time should be 5pm, but now and then we had a little pre-game. once my boss saw us leaving the building early at around 3pm and we causally said we were going to the 'library' (i hope he's not reading this now).

there was one time we wrestled on the streets near Centre Point. i hesistate to tell you all how it started. it has something to do with my making fun of him after he dropped his jacket into a puddle of piss. he was a head taller than me and then some, but somehow i survived. thankfully nobody wins wrestling matches in that kind of state we were in. 

we got ourselves into all kinds of troubles all the times. we got denied entry to clubs, almost getting kicked out from places. let's say, we were downright stupid given we were neurosicentists who should know better what binge drinking could do to our brains. 

but binging wasn't the point. having fun and something outside of work to do was. there was a period of time i wasn't drinking and Tom would ask: "would you like to go to that posh hotel and drink an overpriced pot of tea?" so off we sneaked out from work early in the afternoon again.

another time i did a downright lousy presentation at work. Tom realized something was off and asked if i wanted to go play pool. so off we went. 

soon it became obvious that he was saving me from going mental over work stuff. he was a few years older, and had worked in the 'real world' before he returned to academia. he had a more mature outlook to life. he had his frustration at work too - all the usual about being paid minimum wage as a grad student, etc. but mostly we talked about life, relationships, music (we both loved Suede), interesting places to go to - stuff that are no less important & good for a change.

it was on that one rare occasion that we talked about work stuff at all, that i told him i wanted to write a book. strangely, instead of telling me to have another drink, he was all supportive. it was at that point that i realized he was no less into science than i was. it's just that he saw through the meaninglessness of the cutthroat culture, the rat race of chasing after big journals, accolades, glory and all that stupid stuff. we do science becoz we care. we compete if we have to, but we should aim to do it on our own terms. not taking ourselves too seriously at work doesn't mean we don't take work seriously. 

thank you, older brother. we all miss you.

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