Laboratory – A Painting


by Michael Richmond

When I was a lad, my dad used to wake me up, to let me watch ‘flying saucer’ films on late night TV. These used to scare the hell out of me, yet for some mysterious reason I was compelled to watch them.

Years later, an advert appeared in my local paper, for a Technician at Fulmer Research. This was my chance to work with egg heads, like those in the film, ‘This Island Earth’ so I applied.

At the interview, my soon to be boss, John Hutchings, was cautiously chewing over my CV. He asked if I had any electronics experience. I placed a transistor radio on the desk and told him that I had made it from a kit (true). John switched it on and music blasted out, John grinned and I got my dream job!

‘Laboratory’ the painting…

I created this painting from memories and photos of Fulmer.

In order to capture the essence of the Fulmer laboratories, I painted a combination of four rooms in one. On the left; a fume cupboard from Willy Warr’s Chem lab, with beakers containing soil, being stirred and boiled in Hydrogen Peroxide solution. On the right; the Balance room, with a burette, flasks of chemicals, a microscope and a mortar and pestle.

In the center; the Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometer (AA), into which I could squirt a solution of metal into its hot Nitrous Oxide flame. Should a friendly ‘flying saucer’ fall on Slough, I could cut a piece off, dissolve it in hot acid under pressure and squirt it in. A quick printout would list the elements, from which it was made.

In reality, for safety reasons, there was a thick blank wall behind the spectrometer but I have painted a window view, which was from the fourth room. This view was from Nick and Pete’s Mass Spectrometer room which looked out upon the House. The House contained yet more laboratories, including a computer room, dark room, library, offices and reception room.

A few memories…

One morning, a big box containing an Apple computer appeared next to the AA. Nick said with a smile, that I could connect it up to the AA, in order to save paper. Later that day whilst passing by the doorway, he said, ‘Ah good, you’ve got it working’. Little did he know I had only just figured out how to boot it up!

Another computer, with a program written in BASIC, was delivered by George Wilson, praying. Amazingly, he would edit the program as continuous text (no neat listing) on a scrap of paper, using just a pencil and rubber, in the bar, straight after his canteen lunch! The program was not user friendly though, even an AI would tear their hair out using it. Eventually I bought myself a Psion LZ64 and wrote a friendly version, which would print the results too.

A crew of four, from the BBC Money Program, turned up to film in our fatigue lab. All I had to do, was what I did every day, that is  press a button and take the reading from the digital display. Two huge scorching lights lit up, the clapper board clapped and the director yelled, ‘Action!’ I turned and pressed the button but nothing happened, no display. Red faced, I turned back to the director and murmured, ‘Its not working’. None of the crew moved for five excruciating seconds then ‘Cut!’. I felt like the biggest looser on the planet, my budding movie career was over!

Back to the day of the painting...

That day was special to me. The whole sky was a vivid pink, with a beautiful Christmas snow scene below it. A robin red breast, had just landed on the window sill then someone who looked remarkably like ‘Albert Einstein’, puffing his pipe, staggered by, crunching the icy snow beneath his feet. A precious memory I will always cherish.

August 2023

FRHG ref: V907