The sentence

You may be worried by the shape and form of this blog post but it will be explained and if it is all too much for you there are safer structures below but I why not give it a go and see what happens I am blessed or cursed to be interested in many things too many things this means that I know very little about a large number of things this allows me to be part of many conversations but for my contribution to be best if it is questions rather than answers as I have become older I take fewer opportunities to get away with it as my drunken and failed attempt to feign knowledge of orthogonal with David McAlmont demonstrates danger lies in pretending to know but if you give up the pretence you may find yourself being taking around a national gallery learning something
the disadvantage of being interested in too many things is that you will never be an expert on anything, the advantage is you may get asked to do lots of interesting things I get the chance to get involved in events of art science religion music and shamanism tonight was probably art and shamanism I was involved in a four hour no break nine performers reading of a monologue novella without punctuation the Sentence is a science fiction story that also goes deeply into the life and mind of a human who feels forced into crime by circumstance it is written by Alistair Fruish who has a deep knowledge of imaginative fiction and also works with prisoners and in prisonsthis reading at the Cockpit Theatre was put on by Daisy Eris who is also behind Cosmic Trigger the Play based on the life of Robert Anton Wilson the readers sat in a row and there was a spare seat for any audience member that might like to come and read a page or two a reader would start and after a few pages Daisy would make a signal and someone else would put up their arm and take over this risky endeavour meant looking up from your own copy so once you had the nod you may have lost your place there was a small time of overlapped reading to ensure we were all on the same page it is an interesting task to find meaning in something without punctuation to something that had removed some of the clues of sentiment and something that you have not read most of this was an alien text and the author had removed many of the clues. It could become a spell or it could become a drone I kept Beckett’s Not I in my head I was also aware that I was not permitted to turn to any props in terms of off script jokes or nods to the audience If I fucked up I had to find a way of getting out of it that was in the text when an audience member wanted to go to the bar toilet or for a cigarette break a reader would go with each one so they would not miss any words being unable to look up from the script I nearly walked all the way into the toilet cubicle with one woman at one point of maximum loo break there were only two readers left on stage as the evening wore on some readers felt comfortable adding punctuation while others found new ways to keep the flow constant while not becoming meaningless one audience reader added a lot of swearing I wondered what meaning each audience member got from the event as I imagined it would be more disparate than usual did it matter that some of us read smell instead of smell dropped nots and lost the negativity of patches of pages sadly, for purposes of a breakfast interview with an Australian I had to leave early so could not take part in the boozy post show dissection I am glad that the minds that made this exist on this rare occasion I did not then sit on the bus and wonder what I did wrong i happened I was part of it immersed in it whether attempting to read while going up stairs losing and finding places seeking meaning in the word as the word itself came out there was barely any time for my homunculus of criticism to pipe up I hope I have left him there I imagine not the sentence is available from lepus books and Cosmic Trigger the Play is coming to the cockpit book shambles podcast has recent interviews with Alan Moore Noel Fielding and Philip Ridley.

OR

I am blessed or cursed to be interested in many things.
Too many things.
This means that I know very little about a large number of things.
This allows me to be part of many conversations, but for my contribution to be best if it is questions rather than answers.
As I have become older, I take fewer opportunities to “get away with it”. As my drunken and failed attempt to feign knowledge of “orthogonal” with David McAlmont, danger lies in pretending to know, but if you give up the pretence, you may find yourself being taking around a national gallery learning something.
The disadvantage of being interested in too many things is that you will never be an expert on anything, the advantage is, you may get asked to do lots of interesting things. I get the chance to get involved in events of art, science, religion, music and shamanism.
Tonight was probably art and shamanism.
I was involved in a four hour, no break, nine performers, reading of a monologue novella without punctuation. The Sentence is a science fiction story that also goes deeply into the life and mind of a human who feels forced into crime by circumstance. It is written by Alistair Fruish who has a deep knowledge of imaginative fiction and also works with prisoners and in prisons.
This reading at The Cockpit Theatre was put on by Daisy Eris, who is also behind Cosmic Trigger the Play, based on the life of Robert Anton Wilson.

The readers sat in a row and there was a spare seat for any audience member that might like to come and read a page or two. A reader would start and, after a few pages, Daisy would make a signal, and someone else would put up their arm and take over. This risky endeavour meant looking up from your own copy so, once you had the nod, you may have lost your place. There was a small time of overlapped reading to ensure we were all on the same page.

It is an interesting task to find meaning in something without punctuation, to something that had removed some of the clues of sentiment, and something that you have not read most of. This was an alien text and the author had removed many of the clues. It could become a spell or it could become a drone. I kept Beckett’s Not I in my head.

I was also aware that I was not permitted to turn to any props in terms of off script jokes or nods to the audience. If I fucked up, I had to find a way of getting out of it that was in the text.

When an audience member wanted to go to the bar, toilet or for a cigarette break, a reader would go with each one, so they would not miss any words. Being unable to look up from the script, I nearly walked all the way into the cubicle with one woman. At one point of maximum loo break, there were only two readers left on stage.

As the evening wore on, some readers felt comfortable adding punctuation, while others found new ways to keep the flow constant, while not becoming meaningless.
One audience reader added a lot of swearing.
I wondered what meaning each audience member got from the event as I imagined it would be more disparate than usual. Did it matter that some of us read “smell” instead of “smell”, dropped “not”s and lost the negativity of patches of pages?

Sadly, for purposes of a breakfast interview with an Australian, I had to leave early, so could not take part in the boozy,post show dissection. I am glad that the minds that made this exist. On this rare occasion, I did not then sit on the bus and wonder what I did wrong. It happened. I was part of it. Immersed in it, whether attempting to read while going up stairs, losing and finding places, seeking meaning in a word as the word itself came out, there was barely any time for my homunculus of criticism to pipe up. I hope I have left him there, I imagine not.

the sentence is available from lepus books

Cosmic Trigger the Play is coming to The Cockpit

Book Shambles podcast has recent interviews with Alan Moore Noel Fielding and Philip Ridley.

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And All That Was Left of Civilisation Was a Floppy Disk Orchestra…

A new series of The Infinite Monkey Cage starts next Monday. The Radio Times asked me to write a column on it, and I didn’t read the instructions, so wrote the wrong thing. The column they wanted is in this week’s Radio Times, the column they didn’t is below.

Yesterday’s future dreams become today’s archaic remnant with frightening speed once you are middle aged in the 21st century. Show a floppy disk to a child now and you might as well be showing them a mangle or a pair of Deeley Boppers. But old Floppy Disk drives still have potential when freed from the bulk of your old computer. It may not be artificial intelligence, but if your life is lacking a man playing the Ghostbusters theme on a kazoo, you may need to build a floppy disk orchestra as demonstrated by Professor Danielle George on the first episode of the new series of The Infinite Monkey Cage.
In the fifteen series we have made of Monkey Cage we have argued furiously about free will, watched Sir Patrick Stewart trump a genuine piece of meteorite by pulling out his communicator badge, seen Brian Blessed terrify a front row Shakespearian bellowing about Jupiter, and for no reason we can work out, created an obsession about when, or if, a strawberry dies.
I also fondly remember when a chemist with the calloused and blistered hands, as all good chemist should have, suggested I dip my finger in liquid nitrogen. Obviously, I said yes. The trick is to pop it in quickly, the warmth of the finger briefly creates a gas layer around the digit, don’t hang around, take it out again. My worry was, what if my evil self decides to play a trick on me, and refuses to take the finger out in time? Fortunately, it didn’t and I still have the correct number of fingers.

Being a radio show, the live demonstrations are limited, as describing chemical reactions on the radio can be lacklustre. “The flame has gone green, well a greeny blue, the flame is getting a higher, oh dear, it seems to have reached the chemist. The chemist is now running around shouting, ‘my lab coat is on fire! my lab coat is on fire!” His eyes are now a more vivid red and a little bit further out of his head”.

Our latest episode is Domestic Science, though it is not examining the theoretical physics of moussaka and flapjacks. This was an investigation into how the objects in your house and their behaviour demonstrate laws and theories of our universe. We hear about entropy and think of it as something cosmologists talk about next to a wipe-board laden with equations, yet tantalising hints of the heat death of our universe are all around us. We were joined by Dr Helen Czerski, a bubble physicist, Danielle George, a professor of Radio Frequency Engineering, and Russell Kane, who has no scientific qualifications as yet, but does have some innovative ideas in creating free running robotic hands that will run wild around your house. His invention will be called Handrew, I am sure he will have patented it by the time the programme goes out.

Our shows are never intended to be a complete module on a scientific subject, we hope that the discussion will inspire the listeners to find out more on their own, to spend more time looking at the stars or with a net by a river finding strange creatures that swarm and multiply in a few drops of water. At the end of each show, i find myself with a new book list and a new set of good intentions to understand a little more about the universe before the year is out.
I am fortunate to be employed as an interested idiot, something I have spent most of my life being, whether on air or not. The problem with humans is our belief that it is a weakness to reveal your ignorance, but if you aren’t prepared to wear your ignorance on your sleeve, then you miss out on the chances to learn more. Even Professor Brian Cox’s brain does not contain all information. It is one of my great delights to see him say, “hmmm, I don’t know” and then setting about trying to work out an answer. We spent a great deal of time working out why the base of a slinky spring being dropped to the floor does not seem to “obey gravity” until the stretched spring above has gathered together. It is fun to not know if when you discover another new ignorance, you then say, “let’s see if we can work it out, then”.

And critical thinking can involve lemonade and raisins, too. Helen Czerski made an edible lava lamp for us by dropping the dried fruit into the fizzy drink. I have never found raisins as mesmeric. Tonic Water is even more fun to use for your new lounge centre piece if you have a UV lamp too. Behind this simple hypnotic feature lies the science of why the Titanic sank, but you’ll know this if you reader your Radio Times weekending 18th November, when Helen explained it fully.

Rarely, though our producer may upgrade that to “never”, do we sail from point A to point B in an episode without being distracted by some shiny piece of science flotsam. On this occasion, Brian refused to believe me that smelling of garlic can be a sign of imminent death. After some internet dabbling and the useful intervention of an audience member, Brian was introduced to the deadly element, thallium. If you want to guard yourself from its menacing peril, you’ll have to listen to the show. I’m going off to see if my Floppy Disk Orchestra knows any Michael Jackson, I hear it does a mean Beat It!.

Latest Book Shambles guest is Professor Alice Roberts, and before that it was Alice Lowe. Plenty more to be found, including Chris Hadfield and Alan Moore. They are here.

I do a very stupid podcast about music with Michael Legge, the latest one is here. 

And if you are in Australia or New Zealand, I am coming out with Josie Long, Helen Czerski, Matt Parker and Lucie Green, plus special guests. 

 

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Two Eggs and the walking dead – day two of writing a book

By the end of day one book writing, I had written about 1500 words that at least survived until today without bitter or frustrated deletion.
I have a habit of thinking, “just before I move on to the next section, I’ll read back what I’ve done.”
Then, I bowdlerise and slaughter those words for the rest of the day, so I remain perpetually where I was. To avoid this, each time I finish something that reaches the status of “that will do”, it will be moved into a separate draft. I will be banned from returning to it until a first proper draft is finished.
Then, it will return to the abattoir of my judgemental mind.

Procrastination number 5 was going to the dentist. He prodded my gums until my mouth felt like Countess Bathory. For the first time in memory, I went to the Notting Hill Book Exchange and bought nothing. This is highly unusual. Since Kirk, Luke and Matt are no longer there, the lack of lengthy conversations on 1970s horror TV series, Robert Aickman and WG Sebald means I have lost the extra time when I changed my mind on books like Condensed Chaos: An Introduction to Chaos Magic, The Oxford Book of Animal Behaviour or The Postmodern Scene: Excremental Culture and Hyper-Aesthetics. (These are often the impulse buys that find their way into the Book Shambles Box of Books prize for Patreon & Paypal supporters – here is one winner describing their box of books).
I miss those days of ruefully wishing that one day we would all be able to see the deleted Late Night Horror adaptation of Ringing The Changes, retitled Bells of Hell. That is the sort of counter chat you want to have in a bookshop. If the Bells of Hell is ever found, it will be hard to live up to Alan Moore’s memory of it, which he elegantly regaled with me over a two egg Fiorentina pizza.

With the blood rust taste in my mouth subsiding, I wrote another 350 words on the train, but they didn’t survive beyond dusk.

Procrastination number 6 was sorting the piles of books who have reached a high tide point that means they are almost at the edge of my bed. Sweating and swearing for six hours, I have now put the stacks in a different order which should be helpful, but might just be a different method of spine confusion.

During Procrastination 6, I found time to fit in procrastination of procrastination by having a hasty argument on Twitter with a person of the hard right who hides behind the term libertarian as it sounds less ugly and reprehensible.

After midnight, it is beyond procrastination time. I watched Barbet Schroeder’s More on the BFI player. I had no knowledge of it except that it was usually sold it in one of those BFI cases that made you think, “I must have that, it is probably cultish and very important”. It was a bleak tale of heroin addiction and death, but with a lot of sunshine and seascapes, as if Judith Chalmer’s had helmed Drugstore Cowboy.

With seven waking hours of Saturday left, I have not given up all hope of writing any of the book, but I suddenly remembered that I had to deliver a short story based on a thought experiment for a short story collection I know little about. It is about shoes and death.

End result –

Words written for a book – 1923
Words written for the book – 0
Coffees – a low 2
Twitter arguments – 0 (so far)

I will be hosting a screening of The Great Dictator at the Slapstick festival on 21st January (day after President Trump’s inauguration) with Neil Innes, David Robinson and Grace Petrie and also doing events about Keaton, Rik Mayall and lots more.

Josie and Robin’s Book Shambles is available here – guests include Geoff Dyer, Stewart Lee, Natalie Haynes, Alice Lowe…

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Typing at Strangers for Money -day one of writing a book – a history of procrastination

Now is the time for procrastination.
I want to write a book.
I have to write a book.
There is a deadline.
This morning, I dreamt that Amy Schumer was doing a show at a theatre in coastal Kent. It was not well-attended. I explained to her promoter that it was odd for her to only be doing one show in the UK and for him to have chosen a coastal Kent town. My dream mind made up an ornate Victorian town that does not exist beyond my head. The rest is the sound of my alarm and my son. Folkestone is trending on Twitter this morning, this is not enough synchronicity to present a paper to the Jungian delegation.

Procrastination part 1 – tweet about the Book Shambles podcast. Check how many people are listening. Check whether you need to have an argument on social media.

The book was inspired by a Radio 4 documentary I made with Alex Mansfield. After the death of Robin Williams, I read some of the articles that footled with the idea of “the miserable clown, who makes everyone else laugh while they shed tears for the pointlessness of existence”. As alluring as this myth is for comedians, it ennobles us, I wanted to challenge it. I interviewed Jo Brand, Simon Amstell, Barry Cryer, Josie Long and scrutinised the BBC archives for enlightening interviews with Frankie Howerd and Tony Hancock. Jo Brand, who had a career in mental health before taking to the stage, summed up my thoughts most succinctly. She didn’t see most comedians as mentally ill, but felt that most she knew were damaged people. Finding the subject impossible to condense into an hour, I decided to write a book. I was taking a break from stand up as my head had gone grey on the inside as well as the outside, so what better way was there to take a break from doing stand up than to spend the time off writing about stand up.

Procrastination part 2 – Hmmm, what music should I write to. It can’t have vocals. Should it be Ennio Morricone soundtracks? Free Jazz is too disconcerting. Most jazz I have will jar my sentence construction. That’s all my weird dance cello albums out too. Philip Ridley talked about Shostakovich on a recent Book Shambles. Yes, it will be Shostakovick, it may civilise my writing.

After writing 25000 words about comedians and the possibility of melancholy, I went off the idea. Or rather, I found a better idea. Reading Sarah Bakewell’s superb At The Existential Café on the way to hear her speak under a Marylebone skylight, I realised the book needed to be bigger.
Comedians are exaggerated human beings. They can be noisy summaries and pointers to what it is to be human. They are not some special other species, they are a magnification.
Rather than write a book about comedians, I’d write a shorter book on the whole of humanity, that should be a challenge and a good alibi for spending days reading peculiar and esoteric books about the human condition.

Procrastination part 3 – what colour Post It notes go best with the wall I am going to use to keep track of it all, and should I use string to connect all the ideas up with?

I had a title I liked, Shouting at Strangers for Money, but now the book has changed, that has been vetoed. The working title is now You’re a Joke…and So Am I or should it be I’m a Joke…and So Are You?

I had written 35,000 words, though increasingly I realised that it was a 35,000 word introduction, or perhaps 7 introductions of 5000 words each, a bit like my stand up shows. I was writing it on tour with Brian Cox, and being reasonably thorough. Then, one morning in Bristol, I woke up and Donald Trump was President Elect and I slumped into an expansive period of “what’s the bloody point of creating anything”. Despite its intricate equations and expansive images of the Cosmos, physics doesn’t always lift you out of an existential slump. The indifference of the universe to our ultimate annihilation can be deafening.
Now I realise that inaction through existential gloom is just what the hard right are relying on to embolden their agenda of spite and venality, so it is time to type again. I aim for 80,000 words by 4th February.

Procrastination number 4 – write a blog post on writing a book.

Typed words so far – 0

Coffees – 2

Social media and email checks – 4

Tweeting links to Stevie Smith poems – 3

Sarah Bakewell is one of many recent guests on Josie and Robin’s Book Shambles. Alice Roberts is our latest guest, and Philip Ridley will be available in the next few weeks.

I will be hosting a series of events at the Slapstick Festival in Bristol, including a celebration of Rik Mayall, a screening of Beckett’s Film with Buster Keaton, and Alexei Sayle’s top comedy moments.

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Exhibitions from Sydney to Wakefield 2016

After a solitary first half of 2016, mainly writing in the attic and creating occasional one off shows for festivals, the second half has mainly been attached to Professor Cox. From Glastonbury Monkey Cage via an Australian tour, a musical with Eric Idle, and finally a 48 date UK tour, I have been there to interrupt him noisily or be used for body parts if his spleen or pancreas fail (he’s already had most of my hair).

While traveling, I have tried to find time to visit art galleries in each of our destination. The near silence and elaborate daubs or struck stone have given me rewarding doses of humanity while civilisation seemed to increase its speed of disintegration. We were together the night before BREXIT, as he looked at the incoming polls, he said, “we’re alright. we’re alright.”

We were not alright. The next day we traveled to Glastonbury in a sullen gloom. The horror of the EU exit decision was not so much down to adoration for this far from perfect neo-liberal organisation, but because it seemed to be the breaking of a seal that would now release new levels of abuse, justified with the words, “I’m just saying what everyone is thinking”. The miserable, self-aggrandising words of those who cannot imagine that anyone else’s mind is not a festering cess pool. The night before the Trump election saw a similar chain of events.

I do not want to give up. I wish I didn’t care, but I do. Art intervals have given me air in this claustrophobic political stink pit.

Of all the galleries I have visited, mainly municipal, not one has been without something beguiling, beautiful or disturbing. In no particular order, here are the eleven that have made the greatest impression on me.

  1. I often visit the Turner wing of the Tate Britain, but it wasn’t until this year that I had the Damascene moment of truly seeing the light of Turner’s light. Firstly, it was a lone picture in LIverpool’s Walker Gallery that froze me to the spot.

https://robinince.wordpress.com/2016/10/13/and-it-was-in-liverpool-where-i-saw-the-light/

2. Then, there was the Turner exhibition in Margate where I just sat and stared. This was a magnificent experience. https://robinince.wordpress.com/2016/11/06/3572/

3. I took a detour to visit The Hepworth. I had last been near Wakefield on a Monday, a deathly day for art visits as most galleries are closed. Fortunately, I had just enough time in between York and Leeds to see the Stanley Spencer exhibition a few days before it closed. As I had hoped, the humanity glowed.

https://robinince.wordpress.com/2016/09/30/on-a-sudden-bout-of-synesthesia-in-front-of-stanley-spencer/

4. As impressive as this exhibition was, it was when Spencer didn’t dominate the room that I was mournfully dazzled by him at The Herbert in Coventry.

https://robinince.wordpress.com/2016/11/02/if-jesus-was-alive-hed-tell-you-not-to-drive-cars-on-coventry/

5. Due to scatty attention to emails, I turned up to the dance studio for a rehearsal of Eric Idle’s Entire Universe when I was unwanted. Rather than ruing the day, I went straight to Tate Modern to look at the Georgia O Keeffe exhibition. What flowers! What colours! What pelvis bones!
As chance would have it, Eric’s wife, Tania was also at the exhibition. As further chance would have it, we do not see each other there.

https://robinince.wordpress.com/2016/09/08/i-wish-i-could-get-the-colours-in-my-head-out/

5. At the Gallery of New South Wales, I queued for tickets and talked about death with my friend Carolyn. I was disappointed by the Frida Kahlo exhibition, but that was unimportant, as I was then taken by surprise and captivated by Julian Rosfeldt’s Manifesto, a collaboration with Cate Blanchett. https://robinince.wordpress.com/2016/08/15/nosferatu-manifesto-doves-and-elephants/

5. I was offered a wine tasting excursion in Canberra, but despite the grapes sounding luscious, nothing could deter me from a Diane Arbus exhibition. Why be wooed by a Semillon when you can be enraptured by whey faced 60s war fetishists and eager boys with toy grenades.

https://robinince.wordpress.com/2016/08/09/dead-birds-diane-arbus-and-jolly-jogging-pram-pushers/

6. The Whitworth gallery contained the exhibition with my favourite title of the year, In a Dream You Saw A Way to Survive And You Were Full of Joy, and Elizabeth Price populated it with the works of imaginations that inspired her. https://robinince.wordpress.com/2016/09/29/fish-in-bras-chicken-in-underpants-but-is-it-art/

7. A room with a cast of William Blake’s head, a tattooed torso, and one of thos Frank Auerbach paintings that scares my sister, what’s not to like in York. https://robinince.wordpress.com/2016/10/20/long-live-the-new-flesh-and-the-old-flesh-and-the-tattooed-flesh-york-art-gallery/

8. My fondness for the House of Illustration has not stopped me from missing far too many of their exhibition, but with a father to nag me, and one failed trip by the two of us in deadly Monday, we finally made it to the Edward Ardizzone exhibition, and we were glad. https://robinince.wordpress.com/2016/10/11/i-love-your-light-and-therefore-your-dark-ardizzone-a-retrospective/

9. Despite spent years in Cheltenham, I had never been to the Wilson Gallery. Inside, I found the funniest, absurdist, satire menu of humanity and a terrific exhibition of the Cheltenham Illustration award.

https://robinince.wordpress.com/2016/11/08/hegelian-biscuits-in-a-rich-port-solitude-a-visit-to-the-wilson-gallery/

I enjoyed many other things, in particular the loud lady of Sheffield commenting on the bums of statues in the gallery https://robinince.wordpress.com/2016/10/07/3268/ and Maggi Hambling’s sketches at The British Museum. And there was the Tate Modern exhibition of Elton John’s photography collection. https://robinince.wordpress.com/2016/11/15/elton-johns-museum-of-captured-souls-tate-moderns-the-radical-eye/

And if I have to name the most delightful and inspiring exhibition of 2016, it must be the Robert Rauschenberg.

https://robinince.wordpress.com/2016/12/08/glorious-mud-and-garish-goats/

We have recorded plenty of Josie and Robin’s Book Shambles this year, including Nick Offerman, Alan Moore, Sarah Bakewell and Noel Fielding. Coming soon, Alice Lowe, Steve Backshall, Alice Roberts and Philip Ridley. All shows are HERE.

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The Doctors took my offal – abstract expressionism and intrigue

Two skeletons fighting over a pickled herring is just what I needed to regain peace of mind.
I had spent too long without shape and form.
There had been shapes and forms, but they could not be ordered into a reflected reality in my head.

The Royal Academy’s Abstract Expressionism exhibition has been broadly lauded. With under two weeks to go, I was haphazard with my morning paperwork so that I could get to the Pollocks and de Koonings. By room three, I was overwhelmed.
My savannah brain was seeking recognisable pattern in all this colour, but without a gazelle in the grassland to be seen, it was dumbfounded. With my limitations, I think two rooms a day would have been more manageable. The conversations around me were the most academically analytical I heard in a gallery this year.
My favourite views were not close up, not that you need to get too close to this grandiose, yet often sparse, paintings. It was looking through the arches from one end of the gallery o the other, to Lee Krasner’s The Eyes in the First Circle.
It looked like a repeatedly overwritten cave wall, a sandstone palimpsest.
In room one, I decided to try an experiment. I would look at the paintings both with my glasses on and off. My inner optician would ask, “and does this look better with…or without. With…or without”. Most looked better with, but I was interested to note that the central focal point of the paintings sometimes changed when blurry. With my glasses off, Ashile Gorky’s Diary of a Seducer could have almost been a Renoir, with them on, it was nothing of the sort.

More than any other form of painting, I want to know the state of the artist’s mind as they paint.
Does it come from anger or joy? What do they imagine an audience will make of that work? Do they imagine it all?
As I can’t see a story in the image on the wall, my reaction becomes baser. It is just down to colour and shape. I like at one de Kooning and think, “what a spectacle!”, right next to it, I see another and think, “there is nothing for me here, it looks too much like yoghurt.” We are sent further adrift when we lose the lifebelt of at least being able to say, “oh I see, he was trying to draw a horse”.

There was a time that if I read on the wall, “In Barnett Newman’s galaxy austere verticals suggest an embryonic galaxy, while William de Kooning’s biomorphism lends a strange sentience to erstwhile abstract motifs”, I would have reeled disconsolately. “Why can I not see it?” I would have yelped before being led from the gallery by a strong hand. I used to see less and less because I was looking so hard to see “the right meaning”. Now I am not so insecure, or I am stupid enough to gain satisfaction from my own reaction, however simplistic or wrong-headed it might be.
I particularly enjoyed seeing Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock’s earlier work, before they found the style that is renowned.

I enjoyed listening to people agonising over which canvases were really figurative. I liked the de Koonings which were just anchored enough in a reality that had almost lost all its shape.
And the Pollock canvases become harder to leave once you see his statement, “no chaos, damn it.” The room is busy, so your staring is interrupted, but the more you look, the more you see a plan, and the more you see the intensity of a man stood above a canvas working out the path of thick streams of paint.

“That’s just a black dot”, said the boy, as he walked past Adolphe Gottlieb’s Penumbra (one of my favourites in the later rooms, with Robert Motherwell’s In Plato’s Cave no.1).
Without judgement, scorn or scalding, she replied, “it’s art isn’t it”.

The café was hectic and the cake was £5, so I decided not to return to the lemon drizzle until I was ravenous.

The James Ensor exhibition, curated by Luc Tuymans, is a sadistic, deathly, funny delight. It is Edward Gorey, Walter Sickert and David Lynch. Tuymans describes James Ensor as “a scenographer, depicting a strange world that was neither tangible nor imaginary, populated by inscrutable beings.” This is a turn of the century Royston Vasey. As well as numerous skulls and skeletons fighting over pilchards and the bodies of hanged men, there are bad doctors pulling out the tubular offal of an outraged man, with the grim reaper stage right, walking in to collect his soul. These are video nasty Punch cartoons. The style changes from cartoonish to painterly, from front room to biblical epic. I bought a biography immediately. Chapter One – Outsider and Loner , this is no surprise. If you are attending Abstract Expressionism, I would make sure there is time to enjoy the macabre sorbet of James Ensor’s Intrigue.

Dead Funny Encore, new horror stories by Stewart Lee, Alan Moore, Isy Suttie, Alice Lowe and many more is out NOW.

My final DVD (with 4 shows) is available here (and download version too) 

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The End of Planet Earth…now Rio

Why did I think I knew what orthogonal meant? To be fair, I had been drinking.
David McAlmont asks me if I know what orthogonal means. I say yes. He then says, “what does it mean?” The Oliver Hardy lobe of my brain looks at me with disdain and shakes its head. My Laurel brain comes up with something about being one of those paintings with a hidden image that can only be viewed from the side. Yet another after show party ends in artistic definition shame.

Friday morning began as all mornings this week began, with a message from someone else pulling out of the Compendium of Reason at Hammersmith Apollo. By 9am, a replacement was secured (thank you, Milton Jones).
The Brian and Robin Compendium of Reason has become a regular Christmas event. We weren’t going to do one in 2016, but as I left last year’s event and saw the professor drinking champagne with New Order, I expected a drunk text at 4am saying, “maybe just the one in 2016?”
So it goes.
Having had New Order, Alison Moyet, Charlotte Church and The Cure in the last couple of years, each year gets harder than the last to curate.
This year, we were lucky to have Jack Liebeck’s quartet playing our audience in, then Brian and I went on to dick about, goad each other and introduce Public Service Broadcasting. They were spectacular. I went out front and the security guard and I agreed they should come back and do a full night at Hammersmith.
Helen Czerski kindly put her slides aside so our incredible technical team could perform the nearest things to miracles that are allowed in a show grounded in science.
Our first computational biologist of the evening, and last on this occasion, Andrew Steele presented a very funny statistical analysis. Now here is the problem, because I am running around backstage, I miss most of the content of the speakers. So here is a hasty rundown –

Festival of the Spoken Nerd went on to do their “last ever show…of 2016”, I believe the slides were back to front.

Steve Backshall did not goad a snake or paso doblé.

Adam Rutherford explained things about Charlemagne which have ramifications for us.

Chris Lintott told us about gravitational waves, one of the most exciting science stories of recents years, there are black holes AND lasers in that tale. (I recommend Janna Levin’s Black Hole Blues if you want to know more).

Alice Roberts was an angel god explaining to a Neanderthal the ways of evolution (Caveman was Ben Garrod).

James Acaster performed his award winning stand up in an award winning way.

Nitin Sawnhey closed the first half, which was only overrunning by 30 minutes, with two songs including a beautiful cover of Life on Mars with Eva Stone.

INTERVAL and that slight panic, exacerbated by the noisy drinking of those who had done their time on stage.

Round Two began with The Hackney Colliery Band. Sophie Ellis Bextor was introduced, after a very short reading of Kurt Vonnegut, and performed the Prince cover of the night, Nothing Compares 2 U. Then, Clifford Slapper accompanied David McAlmont’s cover of Bowie’s Sweet Thing. This was almost the final Bowie song of the night.

Then a brief panel with Professor Cox, Chris Lintott and Paul Abel answering audience questions on dark energy and black holes.

Lucy Cooke talked about the bum glands of beavers and then showed some that had been extracted from a dead beaver. I hope it was a dead beaver.

Blue Peter’s Greg Foot pulled out a gun and shot Matt Parker. Ben Goldacre broke his record for speed talking. Milton Jones presented the main pun section of the evening.
Then, Brian and I introduced someone to introduce the band, we thought it best to have an astronaut, so we asked Chris Hadfield. Chris Hadfield explained the physical effects of journeying into space and back with no hesitation, deviation and only vert slight repetition of an occasional noun.
Then, Duran Duran performed a greatest hits set. They opened with Planet Earth, cued by Chris Hadfield explaining the vision of planet earth can barely be summarised in spoken word, so here it is in song. Curtain up, and an audience looking and thinking, “bloody hell, that really is Duran Duran”. Planet Earth slid beautifully into Space Oddity, this really was the final Bowie appearance of the night. End on Rio, vast confetti cannons fire.
Then, we all had a drink and I tried to bluff my way in orthogonal understanding to no great effect.

As usual, about halfway through I became stressed and antsy, having smiled to the point of lunacy just one hour before as Public Service Broadcasting played Spitfire. This was due to the overrunning as usual, and a collision with a couple of tweets.  I was only on Twitter to see the audience questions for Brian, but saw someone complaining. Some complained they wanted to see more of the Professor, others were disappointed that things weren’t exactly as they had imagined they would be. The fact that these splinters of negativity were surrounded by cock-a-hoop tweets of delight made no difference. I am a dick when it comes to this sort of thing.
There was less of both Brian and I this year, we felt that we had done lots of public events this year and it might be nice for everyone to see lots of other stuff. That was always the point of these shows, we are just hosts who have curated a night of things we delight in. Later, someone moaned at the brevity of Chris Hadfield’s appearance, about 7 minutes, but that was because he was an extra special guest. So some people, rather than count this being an extra treat, can turn it into a disappointment. It makes you wonder if it is worth adding treats if they are going to ruin someone’s night.

I want everyone to be happy, which is problematic due such a thing being impossible and if it were possible, we’d be a far duller species. In the end, I think it was wildly successful for most and has hopefully made about £20,000 to be shared amongst charities including Medecins Sans Frontieres and Sophie Lancaster Foundation. Whether you like it or not, we’re back next year with another top secret bill. Do you trust us?

Tickets on sale HERE.

This week’s Book Shambles will be a “Books of 2016” special with all our Hammersmith guests talking about their favourite book. You can also hear full show with Chris Hadfield. You can find new Cosmic Shambles site and trailer with Prof Cox here.

Josie Long and I are bringing a slightly lower key version of this sort of comedy/science/music chaos to New Zealand and Australia in March. tickets HERE.

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