Saturday 27 February 2010

The swan and monopoly

The swan is all calm on the surface and paddling like mad underneath. In my blogosphere it has appeared calm I’ll admit – not much to report because this time of year for me is much behind the scenes planning rather than upfront action. I am sure that there is a better way to do business planning that doesn’t involve sweat and tears if not blood. Planning in the last couple of years has involved art as well as science as we try and divine what is going to happen in the economy around us. Each year we refine the process and each year we can think of things we should have done better. Grit teeth and work through it!

Numbers One and Two Grandsons spend Friday nights with us. This gives us the opportunity to spoil them and their parents a night off (more of a morning not being woken up at 6 a.m.) They are now into Monopoly. Our game started on Friday evening and had to be halted when the players were falling asleep. Number One Grandson and I continued this morning. I was losing money hand over fist and he was winning. He is very competitive – hates losing and likes winning. He had a dilemma: I was losing enough to be in danger of going out altogether – too many visits to gaol and I kept landing on his multi-housed properties - but he very much wanted to continue playing. So he decided to forgo his rentals in order to keep me in the game longer. Therefore the fun of the game outweighed the satisfaction of winning. We called time as we had to go but I am sure that there is a very significant lesson here which could probably form the basis of a three volume management tome but for the life of me I can’t think what it is. All offers of co-authorship gratefully received.

Saturday 13 February 2010

Rugby, rugby and more rugby

A weekend of rugby – and it isn’t over yet. You couldn’t grow up (as a white) in South Africa without having at least a passing interest in rugby. At my all-girls school we tracked the fortunes of South African rugby and cricket very closely – otherwise what would we speak to the boys about? I spent occasional afternoons on the touchline watching male friends being pounded into the ground. (One friend who went to live in America damaged his shoulder so badly playing school rugby that he was subsequently pronounced 4F by the draft board in the US so couldn’t be sent to Vietnam. The things you end up being grateful for.)

If rugby is on you can be sure that the television is on in the Goldberg household. Saturday afternoon saw Wales play Scotland – Scotland being the favourites. I came into the living room about three quarters of the way through when Scotland seemed unassailable and yet the men in red triumphed and Wales won spectacularly. Regrettably the Irish were mauled by the French (note rugby pun!). Tomorrow England v Italy – fingers crossed and yes, I do shout for England as I have lived most of my life here.

From there we went to see the movie Invictus. I was hesitant about going - I have rarely heard convincing South African accents from American actors; further I was somewhat suspicious that it would be “heartwarming” a damning criticism in this household. But of course Number One husband wanted to go and off we went. I started crying about half way through and sobbed till the end. Of course it is idealized, it is sentimental and even heartwarming – and I know how the story ended but it is a superb film and the rugby scenes are incredible – and made by an American! I don’t think anyone who did not live through apartheid can ever understand the symbolism of rugby for the Afrikaner and the hatred of it by the black population. This film captures that.

I remember the final between South Africa and the All Blacks well. We were at the (now defunct) Hanover Square Wine Bar surrounded by New Zealanders, Australians and Brits watching the game. There was a magnum of champagne to the person who guessed the final score. Of course the All Blacks were going to win - they were invincible, with the monumental Jonah Lomu destroying England (and everyone else) almost single-handed, so, to be contrary, I put the Springboks to win – and so they did. I cried when Mandela came onto the field in a Springbok Jersey then and I cried again tonight.

Thursday 11 February 2010

A notch above most research

Monday saw me in Manchester visiting one of our research fellows – in fact the first award we made - who is over half way through his five-year fellowship. My blogs seem to be dominated by transport but I nearly didn’t get there thanks to problems on the Northern Line and then had to come home via Sheffield because of train problems. Rather a lot of travelling for a couple of hours meeting but it was really worth it.

Research has shown that breast cancer can originate from a type of cell called cancer-initiating stem cells (CSCs). Current treatments kill the breast cancer tumour cells but not the CSCs, which then continue to divide and form a new tumour. This spread of breast cancer is the real challenge we face. Rob Clarke has been working on these CSCs for some time and has identified a receptor on the cells which, if destroyed, allow the cell to be destroyed as well. I am not going to go into details here – have a look at the press release on the recent publication but watch out for Notch4!

One of my favourite blogs is Simon Denegri’s. Simon is Chief Executive of the Association of Medical Research Charities. Breast Cancer Campaign has been a member for quite some years and in the early days of the charity AMRC was our guiding light. All our very rigorous research review processes started with their advice and they play a very critical role helping ensure high standards are maintained throughout the medical research sector. I would go so far as to say that I personally would not donate money to a medical research charity that was not a member.

Simon’s blog isn’t about any of that – it is about what makes the medical research sector so successful in the UK – as Mark Walport of the Wellcome Trust said – independent, innovative and creative – but to which Simon adds – trust, passion and quality.

Monday 8 February 2010

A rant and a rave

Saturday morning started peacefully enough with my usual visit to the Barbican Library – regular readers will remember I am a great fan of libraries and this one in particular.

Things started to deteriorate from there: with books on board I thought I would pop into M&S in the City and buy some flowers – they have beautiful proteas (national flower of South Africa). This entailed parking for a short time. Although M&S is in Moorgate, which is in the City, the roads at the back are in Islington. There were two pay and display meters and neither was working. Simple enough to telephone – except the last time I parked in Islington was before my credit card was used fraudulently and the number has changed. You are required to enter the last four digits of the card or a pin number – neither is still valid and if you can’t do that – tough – you can’t park and there is no way you can actually speak to anyone to register a new card, the person-less voice just says “good-bye” and cuts you off.

I decided to take a chance leaving an angry note to this effect on the dashboard. The traffic warden left me alone – perhaps s/he could hear the “irate of Moorgate” letter to Islington Council I was mentally drafting if there had been a ticket. Looks like I can’t park in Islington again.

Now for the rave: we love opera but the cost of even the cheapest seats in Covent Garden is eye-watering and I have to take 12x binoculars and sit with my elbows pinned to my sides as the seats have no arms. (Yes I know it is about the same as a ticket for a premier league football match but I don’t go to those either). Over the past year or two there have been regular broadcasts to cinemas across the UK (and the US and Europe) “Live from the Metropolitan Opera”. This is world class opera, broadcast as it happens. They are all good but sometimes they are transcendental and Simon Boccanegra on Saturday was the latter. Placido Domingo (one of the three tenors for the non-opera, football fan) sang baritone for the first time – a very rare ability. I don’t know the opera but the power of the acting kept us transfixed and Verdi doesn’t write bad music. I did shed a few tears.

Even if you are not an opera fan it is worth going to one of these performances – there are English sub-titles and the cameras are live all the time – which means you see all the sets being changed and moved and what goes on backstage as well as interviews with the principals – and pleas for donations which always seem to raise a bit of a laugh. When you see the quality of the production and the sheer number of people involved – I am not surprised that the ticket sales only cover half of the costs.

Off to Manchester on Monday to see the work of our Research Fellow there.

Wednesday 3 February 2010

Please read on even if politics isn't really your thing

If you are like me you are probably already weary of politicians making their pre-pre-election speeches. It is a bit like those cycle races where they all crawl along because no one wants to be the first one to break into a rush to the finish. But the only thing that is certain is that there will be an election in the next six months!

Breast Cancer Campaign has left the starting blocks with our election campaign. In our sector there will be much lobbying about health, treatments, waiting times – the list will be long and the number of organisations will be many. We will support any collaborative efforts but we are focusing on something which many will not know about but which could have a devastating impact on research in the UK.

We are asking our supporters to write to their local parliamentary candidates (we make it very easy – just a few clicks away) about something called the Charity Research Support Fund. Why should you care? Well this is a government fund which helps pay the infrastructure costs of charity funded research in universities like heating, building repairs, cleaning etc (around 20-30 per cent of the total cost of medical research projects). This means we can focus our funds on the direct costs – the scientists and the laboratory supplies necessary for breast cancer research. As a result our donations go further in improving treatments and finding a cure for breast cancer.

Charities spend over £900 million each year on medical research – if this fund goes it will effectively slash the amount of research provided by charities. We will have to reduce the number of grants we make each year by about a quarter. To give you a real number example – instead of 40 new research projects there will be only 30 – that’s a big difference.

You can be sure that this will not be front page headlines in the papers so we are relying on our supporters to help. It only takes a minute for you to make a difference. Let the people who want to be your next MP know that breast cancer research is an issue you care about.

Click now on:

The link will take you to a form that will automatically email your local candidates asking them to back breast cancer research.

The first of my candidates has replied and has agreed to meet to hear more and we have over 200 who have signed up.

Tuesday 2 February 2010

It’s all gone a bit quiet...

I am still here but for a couple of weeks I was in the most beautiful city in the world. I thought if I blogged from holiday everyone would hate me so much. We left London just as the snow was coming to an end and woke up next morning to summer.

I have been to Cape Town many times – this was for my mother-in-law’s 100th birthday and we had to book last July as this is peak holiday season in the Cape but did so in the knowledge that her increasing frailty meant that there was a chance she wouldn’t be there and she died in September.

So it was the first time we have ever been to Cape Town without any family responsibilities and it felt really strange. We still have some family and friends but there was no centre to our days which had always revolved around her.

I have always thought Cape Town beautiful but the more I travel elsewhere the better it gets. Enough about that – a few photos (above) including the new world cup stadium from the air. It is situated in the most daft place with inadequate transport etc etc but is a stunning looking building – and it seems to be almost ready. The other is my “happy place” at Saunders Rocks when life gets too stressful this is where my mind goes – yes that is me. Finally – sunset at Mouille Point.

Back to business in tomorrow’s blog!