Professor Cox didn’t believe me about garlic scented death. He gave me that cosmologist’s withering look that tells the audience he is quite amazed to be in such close proximity to an idiot when he has Stephen Hawking’s direct line.
I am not sure how we got there, but it was via potassium and Russell Kane’s pondering on throwing caesium into a lake. Fortunately, a member of the audience with a photographic memory of the periodic table recalled that I was talking about thallium. Still unsure of the veracity of my statement that “there’s an element which kills you via contact but make you reek of garlic first”, he resorted to the scientific method and looked it up on Wikipedia.(thank you to Dr Jamie Gallagher who first made me aware of thallium).
We were recording at Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry, our first venue of choice when we want out audience sitting under a silver plane.
Our subject was domestic science, though we were shirking soufflé hints and looking at the physics you can observe around the home instead, including the entropy that goes with the cream in your coffee. This is a subject Helen Czerski has studied closely during her career as a bubble physicist and has now written a book on it, Storm in a Teacup. A pot of jam is never just a pot of jam on her house, it will contain a history of witchcraft, colour and ph detection.
At the other end of the panel was Danielle George, a former Royal Society Christmas Lecturer, accompanied by a floppy disk orchestra.
Finally, a purpose for something so modern, yet made so hastily archaic and obsolete.
The recording started in an accidentally, most peculiar fashion.
Brian and I walked on the stage and I started gabbling. This led to the two of us arguing. It was not a really a real argument, but delivered with gusto. There was an odd silence from the audience who didn’t know what to make of it. Here was their local and famous Adonis of constellation explanation, and a grubby, frayed man from the south was shouting at him. This was not how they had been told Radio 4 recordings began. You wouldn’t see this sort of thing from Nicholas Parsons.
For whatever reason, the audience were victorious in their silence. Brian and I have been working intensely together on numerous projects in the last 5 months, so we may well make conversational shortcuts or be quite contented in our abuse of each other. This is something this audience were not to know. Even reverting to our Blue Dot warm up of making the audience become twin Brian Blesseds in Schrodinger’s Flash Gordon – “you on the right shout, ‘Gordon’s Alive!’ and you on the right shout, ‘and dead!’. Then all together, ‘Until observed, he’s in a SUPER position!’” only partly cured them of their suspicion.
They were even a little suspicious of our pre-show conversation about valves. In the green room, Brian had taken his phone out to show Danielle some of the favourite valves he has in his home. Now, we were in a museum filled with these monuments of glass and ingenuity. In fact, if you curate at The Museum of Science and Industry, I’d quickly go around the floors and check you still have the correct number of valves, I am sure I heard a crystalline tinkling coming from the anorak pockets of Brian when we got in the cab.
You can always trust Nicholas Parsons with your valves.
After a slowish start, momentum increased, and it turned into a very lengthy recording of frequent deviations and absurdist callbacks. You can find out who Handrew is, an invention of Mr Kane’s, when the show goes out in January.
Meanwhile, now certain I had not fabricated thallium in a hypnogogic insomniac state, Brian fiddled with his phone and discovered that the French had used it to assassinate a Cameroonian politician. (note to curators – please also check your Thallium stock).
And if you wish your lava lamp was edible, then Helen has the answer for you via a bottle of lemonade and some raisins. It’s both visually hypnotic and useful if you hit a blood sugar low.
I will buy a hat so I can tip it at our producer, Sash, who will now have to take this potential avant garde experiment on experiments and turn it into a Radio 4 show.
The Infinite Monkey Cage is back on Radio 4 at 9am on 27th December with a Christmas Ghost special with Deborah Hyde, Mark Gatiss, the Bishop of Leeds and Neil DeGrasse Tyson.
And I’ll be touring Australia and New Zealand with Helen Czerski, Josie Long, Matt Parker, Lucie Green and special guests next year.