Category Archives: Day job

Please support Cancer Research UK’s The Answer Is Plain campaign

I work for Cancer Research UK, but even if I didn’t I’d be asking you to sign up to their new campaign pushing for plain tobacco packaging – The Answer Is Plain.

A quarter of all cancer deaths in the UK are caused by smoking. Tobacco is a uniquely damaging and addictive product, which kills half of all its long-term users.

Every year, 157,000 children aged 11-15 start smoking. Although there are many reasons why children smoke, one is that they are drawn to the increasingly attractive packaging used by manufacturers – effectively the last place they can advertise.  As they say themselves, “When you don’t have anything else, the packaging is our marketing”

Cancer Research UK is running a campaign called “The answer is plain”, pushing for plain packaging for all cigarettes. Read more about the campaign.

It’s important to stress that this *isn’t* about existing smokers, although there is evidence to show to plain packs help people to smoke less. It’s about preventing the tobacco companies from enticing kids to take up smoking with attractive packaging.

Don’t believe packaging makes a difference to kids? Watch this:

The tobacco industry is fighting back hard, because they know it will hurt their profits – for example: Plain packs awaken a sleeping industryTobacco industry reaction – fact and fiction

But why shouldn’t we stand up to the tobacco industry? Tobacco has killed millions of people worldwide – these are slow painful deaths from lung disease, heart disease and cancer, including members of my own family. I want Big Tobacco’s profits to suffer, because the money they make is at the expense of people’s lives. I don’t want another generation of kids growing up as smokers, becoming lifetime addicts and losing years off their lives.

Plain packaging won’t stop all kids from taking up smoking, but it will give them one less reason to start. I believe it  helps to make smoking look crap. Not cool, not underground, not naughty – just crap.

Plain packaging isn’t about appealing to existing smokers. It’s about taking the last bastion of advertising away from the manufacturers – a tool that they knowingly use to market cigarettes to children.

Please sign Cancer Research UK’s The Answer Is Plain Campaign.

On wardrobe malfunctions, in which I unwittingly flash an unsuspecting Cheltenham Science Festival

Marilyn Monroe

Me at the Cheltenham Science Festival, apparently

There are two aspects of my life that I struggle with (that I am prepared to admit in public, anyway) – one is dressing myself, and the other is being ladylike. Not once but twice in the past fortnight have these collided with hilarious humiliating consequences.

Earlier this week, I was happily minding my own business in a meeting of our entire directorate at work – a couple of hundred people I’d reckon. About half an hour before the end, I notice that the back of my dress is sporting a gaping tear, which is probably the result of cycling to work that morning.

Luckily the dress had two layers, protecting my modesty to a certain extent, though begging the question why nobody thought to mention it to me over the entire day. Clearly, my colleagues are gits. Or hate me. Or both.

Cue a swift trip to Dorothy Perkins to buy a replacement before heading off to the protest-fest that was the Richard Dawkins/PZ Myers discussion/arm-wrestle at the IoE.

But worse happened at the Cheltenham Science Festival a few days earlier, where I was giving a talk as part of the session on cancer stem cells. I was attempting to look glamorous (you never know when those TV producers may be scouting for the female Brian Cox!) and wore one of my favourite dresses – a highly flattering below-the-knee rose print number* along with some green suede boots with purple killer heels.

The session went really well: I got a smattering of laughs for my nerdy jokes and we got some great questions. Afterwards I was taking off my headset mic (resisting the temptation to bust a few Madonna-style moves) when a woman beckoned me over to the edge of the raised stage.

“I really enjoyed your talk…” she said, “But your skirt’s too short to cross your legs like that on stage.”

*Sigh* It will be sad if people remember that session more for the fact that I inadevertently flashed my pants to the assembled crowd than for the content of my presentation.

*Pearl Lowe’s awesome rose print tea dress for Peacocks

The week in Green rooms

I’ve had a pretty crazy week, both in and out of work. Outside, I’ve been working on a super-secret but Very Exciting project. I can’t talk about it yet (if I’ve told you, please don’t spill the beans, as I’m terrified it’s all going to fall through) but here’s a hint:

Cuddly toys

And I’ve also been pretty busy in my capacity as a spokesperson for Cancer Research UK. We had a big story out on Wednesday with the launch of our SunSmart campaign, showing that rates of skin cancer have g0ne up dramatically in young people.

I ended up doing a fair bit of media work around it, including Daybreak and the Radio 4 Today programme. As a massive R4 junkie, it was such a thrill to be on the show, even though I had to get up at 5am. Here’s a rather blurry shot of the Today green room breakfast trolley:

R4 Today

You can Listen Again to me burbling to Evan Davies about skin cancer, sun and sunbeds on the Today website.

And today I was pressed into service again for a story about the links between alcohol and cancer. This meant yet another 5am wakeup call to turn up on the BBC Breakfast sofa. The Green room is suprisingly small. And also blurry (new cameraphone, sorry):

BBC Breakfast

You can laugh at my appearance here on the BBC website, where I explain how you “drink alcohol down your face” and talk about “large pints of beer”. In my defence, it *was* early…

Then I was off to the Sky studios at Millbank:


Swiftly followed by BBC News channel:

BBC Millbank

And then a cab ride from hell across the city in the boiling sunshine to film with Channel 5 outside a pub in Richmond. No photos from that, although I think I got some duck poo on my bag.

Sock for the day

Sock for the day

Sock for the day

Twitter is a funny thing.  A week or so ago I found myself in the Green Room at Radio 4, in my day-job capacity as a spokesperson for Cancer Research UK.

As is my habit, if I have any downtime (in this case, waiting for BBC Radio Berkshire to get their act together…) I’m usually found with some knitting in my hands. On this occasion, it was a rather fetching dark/pale green striped sock.

Unbeknowst to me, this led to the following tweet from Radio 4’s Nick Sutton (editor of World At one, among other things): “Just popped in to the @r4today green room to find a bishop and a lady knitting a sock.”

Having established that I was the knitter, rather than being the bishop, the Radio 4-following Twitterati then demanded pictures of the sock, updates on the sock’s progress, hand-knitted socks of their own, and even the replacement of Thought For The Day with Sock For The Day.

Sadly even at my prolific speed, I can’t knit a new sock every day. However, the stripey socks are finished, along with a lovely mint-humbug-coloured pair for Ricky (which ended up being knitted twice – long story, can’t be bothered to explain but it involves blind optimism and bad maths).

Socks socks socks

More socks - not quite one per day though

At the top of the pic, you can see the embryonic form of the next pair. These are going to be Bimbling Socks – although checking against the pattern, I see I’ve already made them too wide. Damn.

Me! Onna telly!

ITV Tonight

Click the pic to watch the prog

On Thursday night, ITV screened a half hour documentary entitled “Can We Beat Cancer?”, featuring me! (and a bunch of much more important scientists, doctors and cancer survivors…)

It was a really fun interview to do, if a bit gruelling – every time I gave a great answer, it would be ruined by somebody stamping across the floor in the office above or shouting into a phone in the corridor. *sigh*  Anyway, I’m glad I got a haircut the week before 🙂

It’s available to watch for the next month on ITV’s website.

Read more about the programme.

Radio silence – and a podcast

Apologies for the radio silence on the blog. I’ve been bedridden all week with an evil virus, surviving solely on a diet of dry toast and my own mucus.

Normal service will be resumed shortly. In the meantime, if you’re really missing me, you can listen to the lastest Cancer Research UK podcast, which I made over Christmas. All the latest news, read in a charming antipodean accent by our press officer Paul Thorne, and me doing a special report on quitting smoking with Professor Robert West:

Listen and download here

I’m on the telly!

Me - onna telly!

Me - onna telly!

I was interviewed by Clare Balding for the One Show a few weeks ago, and they finally aired it last night. You can watch the whole show here:

Link to the One Show – 3rd September 2009

The segment on Cancer Research UK’s new campaign starts at 1min26, I’m on at about 3min45 talking to Clare, who has recently been treated for thyroid cancer.

No, there won’t be a “cure for cancer in 2 years”

I’ve got a new post up on the Cancer Research UK Science Update blog in response to stories in the press claiming a “cure for breast cancer in two years”.

While the science behind the story is really interesting (microRNAs – something I’ve blogged about before) in the words of Ben Goldacre, I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that.

What do you think when you see headlines like that? And what do you think when you read the word “breakthrough”?

Lights, camera, action, BRAF…

I’ve got a new post up over on the Cancer Research UK Science Update blog, all about a very important gene called BRAF, which is faulty in many cancers, including around 7 out of ten melanomas. Not only that, but I directed and edited this little video all about the discovery, and how it’s leading to future cancer drugs. My favoutie bit is where Richard Marais talks about coming into the lab on Christmas day, only to find his boss and his boss’ mother in there too!:


I was going to do some cancer research – but then I got high…

A scientist researching cannabinoids, earlier.

A scientist researching cannabinoids, earlier.

I’ve done quite a few interviews this week about a new paper in the British Journal of Cancer about research into cannabinoids, showing they can slow the growth of prostate cancer cells in the lab.

Anyway, to clear up any confusion I’ve knocked up a post about the research over on the Cancer Research UK Science Update blog. Enjoy.