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.