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Meet the Rough Scientists

Capraia Diary: Mike Leahy



The following diary contains the personal views of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of the producers.

Mike Leahy's Private and Confidential Diary About the 'Rough Science' Trip to Capraia

The Cast
team photo Let's be honest here. All of us were selected because we were a bit unusual, or had qualities which were thought to be useful to the Rough Science project. We were not typical scientists, which was a good thing, because had we been normal scientists the project would have been scuppered from the very start. It was hoped that we would all come across OK on camera, and that we would be able to communicate science to the public (definitely a difficult task for your average scientist).

To allow us to do this a varied selection of characters were needed. I was selected because I was a born diplomat, thoughtful, charismatic and tactful. What other reason could there be, because on the face of it, a virologist is of little practical use on a deserted island. Unless, that is, someone at the Beeb wanted me bad. To be honest, I think that the others were all a little 'touched' though.

The Chemist
Mike B. Mike B. had been involved in Open University programmes for some years, and was an enthusiastic thespian. At fifty years old, he was the most senior and experienced of the team, but his energy and agility belied his age. As soon as the camera was rolling he was away. Anecdotes, one liners and witty answers just flowed from his lips. An intelligent, generous and helpful chap, he was always caring, understanding and tolerant, even when coping with tired, self indulgent and moody team members (me for example). Maybe because of his tolerance, he was often assigned to work with the women, or perhaps it was because of his amazing sense of humour.

The Ethno-Botanist/Herbalist

Anna was the worrier of the team. If anything could conceivably be worried about, she would do so. My impatience, enthusiasm, intolerance and forthright nature, together with my love of wind-ups and use of slang (something totally unintelligible to Anna) made working together difficult.

Anna This was a shame because she was well read, thoughtful, generous, caring and demonstrative, all qualities I very much appreciate. Among scientists she was a refreshing change, as it was obvious that she was an idealist who had not been ground down, or forced to compromise her beliefs.

Anna's scientific role was as a botanist. Equipped with an encyclopedic knowledge and hod-loads of enthusiasm, it was something that she was extremely good at, especially as her formal training in languages and anthropology had been on the periphery of Botany. She was ideal for our team because ethno-botany is the study of how humans use plants, which is exactly what we needed on the island because we were humans who wanted to use plants. The last thing we needed was some stuffy taxonomist.

The Marine Ecologist
me and Vanessa I suppose of all the team Vanessa was most like me (gender excepted of course). She was quite loud, self confident and enjoyed being the centre of attention. Conversations with her were always lively, her voice gradually increasing in volume as enthusiasm overpowered self restraint.

For sure it was not unusual to be shouted down by her, but to be fair this was probably a result of her day-time job accompanying noisy kids on field trips to the coast. Being a diplomat I could easily diffuse any potential altercations, although Vanessa did get dogged off when I called her a bossy old cow. She brought a lot of energy to the team, and because we were surrounded by the sea, her knowledge as a marine ecologist was invaluable. After we had been given a while to knock off each others rough edges we got on like a house on fire, and Vanessa worked very well with Jonathan and myself when we were building the generators.

The Physicist
Jonathan Jonathan and myself worked together quite a lot, and I think that it was a partnership that worked very well, even though we were very different characters. Whilst I didn't give a toss what something looked like as long as it worked, Jonathan was a perfectionist. Immensely enthusiastic about science, practical physics in particular, he always wanted to work out the best way to achieve something, or optimise conditions. If something worked, he wanted it to work better.

If something worked fine one way, he wanted to see if other methods could be used. Sometimes this made me impatient, especially during long debates between Jonathan and David, our director, or when I had just finished constructing something just as Jonathan changed his mind, requiring me to start all over again. That said, Jonathan's inventions always looked impressive, and tended to work extremely well. A prime example was the crystal radio set, which he slaved over for hours. Had it been left to me, the results would have been far less impressive; that is, if there had been any results at all. Jonathan was most impressive because of his kind nature. He was sincere, and saw good in everything, and everybody. His sense of wonder as he looked around him was contagious and I couldn't help thinking that if more people took a leaf out of his book the world would be a far better place.