It’s hard to review an event when you had to leave at the half time intermission, and probably bad form, but I thought I’d say a few words about this one. It’s Science Festival Week in Cheltenham, and while Dave and I will go have a look at the free stuff (the educational Lego we have to see!) on Friday, I went tonight to a fringe event hosted by Cheltenham Skeptics in the Pub. And I’m really glad I did!
The turn out was pretty good, but I had expected more — I turned up at 7pm to be sure of a seat, and ended up playing chess on my phone till it started. Was lovely to see all the SitP regulars again, and some of them recognise me now which is nice (I’m the resident “woo”!) D Fly is a lovely venue, but a little pricey if like me you have no money, and I could only afford one drink – I would have had a second and stayed maybe but Sally managed to mug me for a donation on the way to the bar so I gave her all my remaining cash and slipped out, hence home early.
So what is the Festival of the Spoken Nerd? Science meets comedy, Dean Burnett style, only not Welsh. Originally performed in London on Valentine’s Day, it had an X versus Y theme of sex, gender and romance, and was rather fun. Presented by Helen Arney, Steve Mould and Matt Parker the event raised a lot of laughs and made me smile, and certainly taught me some unusual science, involving John Maynard Smith’s “sneaky f*cker” model of reproductive advantage – yes really, I have looked it up, blog post gives you the idea here – hamsters on Viagra (or a cheaper generic one assumes), why men aren’t from Mars and women aren’t from Venus and a couple of wonderful songs by Helen on ukulele.
They seemed a little nervous at first, but soon warmed up and the three laptop show used multimedia to good effect and was genuinely funny, with a lot of xkcd style humour that made me laugh out loud. There were some fantastic jokes about irrational numbers, quantum physics and biology and cosmology, subjects which are not normally funny, and it’s a shame I had to leave before the Valentine’s Day cards were delivered, as I’m sure I would have got loads. OK, I would have got none, as always! (Not quite true actually: I received one in 1989, and one in 2005. Not that I’m counting!)
Yes Valentine’s Day cards, which the audience were asked to make! If the lads science heavy love poems were anything to go by (I wont spoil them but if you know the hexadecimal for red and blue like anyone who designed webpages in the pre-Dreamweaver era you will be able to guess one!) this could have been hilarious, shame I had to leave when I did!
There was also an excellent guest speaker, Dr Lucie Green from the Mullard Space Science lab, who spoke very well on Mars and Venus, and was genuinely educational and informative even to someone as lacking in knowledge of astronomy as me. I wanted to ask her about sun spot cycles but didn’t, and instead asked a quick question on why the planets are arranged in a plane around the sun (mathematically this is what it all collapses to apparently). She really is an very clear and patient communicator, and comes over as highly intelligent and very charismatic, the kind of person I’d like to see more of on the screen (and maybe a little less of other celebrity cosmologists, naming no names, but thinking ex-pop stars!). But we are all effected by image – I thought her blue trousers were really stylish, and tried to imagine Bernard Carr or even a Max Tegmark given a style makeover for TV, though actually they are pretty stylish, so let’s settle for Patrick Moore. I’d really like to hear her talk about space weather and the sun, and I did want to ask if Mars weak magnetic field meant it would eventually lose its atmosphere, but I didn’t. Dr Green deserves a decent slot to herself at a future Science Festival event, not to appear only as a guest in the Fringe, and the Festival of the Spoken Nerd was superior to some of the events I have paid full price for in the past, indeed most of them. Getting it performed here was a triumph for Cheltenham SitP, and I really wish I could have seen Professor Ray Talis last night.
I’m sorry I had to leave when I did, but there are some more great events coming up this week, though sadly I will have to miss Jim Al-Khalili doing Quantum: A Guide for the Perplexed tomorrow night. If you can go, then get there early, the venue only holds eighty and it will be packed, so try to get there by half seven. This one interested me more than most of the main festival events, and I’m annoyed I can’t go — but I’m missing seeing Alan Moore at the main festival as well (No money!) I might make A Guide to the Science of Dating on Friday, and will definitely see Dean Burnett on Pattern Recognition on Saturday, and if Dave is up Helen Keen on It is Rocket Science! on Saturday as well.
So, in short, providing you are mature and not easily offended, then I really recommend the intelligent and genuinely funny Festival of the Spoken Nerd, which was great fun, indeed hilarious, even if the trio are all too well dressed and good looking to ever be proper nerds like me, and hope to see more on TV of Dr Green. The week has been an organisational triumph for Cheltenham Skeptics in the Pub, and more science than scepticism, in keeping with the themes of the Festival. An amazing achievement for a small, dedicated but still very new group, well done chaps (and Sally!). Please do support the remaining events, and hopefully I’ll catch you at one?
I’ll leave you with Helen Arney…