Beauty Spot Head Cavity – Day 10 (or 11 or 12 or 9) of The Brian Cox Tour

It doesn’t take long when a sea is between you and your family and you change hotel four to five times a week to feel that this has been your only life. Tour sleep peculiarities, airport check-ins, unpack, repack, “where’s my shampoo? have I remembered to steal as many hotel pens as I can?” becomes quite normal.
“Oh look, another beautiful view across a bay.”
The time expands, not at an hourly rate, the hours move at the usual speed, but the distance from passport control to sixth landing is a divide of generations.
One day soon, my body wash and cotton buds will not be complimentary.

We start the day watching a man in the hotel opposite eating a tube of Pringles. Our hotel is one of those ones where each window is almost directly opposite the windows of another hotel. At night, when the net curtains are translucent, we wait to see hints of murder and live out a Hitchcockian fantasy.

It is show day in Auckland, so we warm up by going on a ferry to a dormant volcano with a vineyard restaurant. We remain teetotal, cosmology suffers under the effects of inebriation.
Despite his sinewy frame, Brian has an ability to consume that is somewhere between a Borgia and Mr Creosote. We arrive at the venue three hours after our vineyard lunch and he tucks into pre-show tea of meats and broccoli. We have had some very good broccoli on this tour. We will publish our league of broccoli just as soon as all the data is in.

After the show, we have a meet and greet and ask questions about quantum field theory in the bar.
Auckland has the most in depth questions on contemporary physics of any of these events so far.
There is also a six year old fan there who is in Professor Cox cosplay.

We fly to Wellington the next morning. This is a rapid turnaround trip. We have enough to land, lunch, and either go and do boxing training on a beach or go and see an exhibition of occult art at the City Gallery, I choose the latter and Brian and Steph choose the former.

I almost don’t need to go to a gallery as our fashionable hotel has contemporary New Zealand art on all walls. Brian eats his steak under Liz Maw’s Pandora Rides the Noon Day Demon.

My favourite title is of a painting is Simon Mee’s The Attack of the 60ft Vermeer Inspired Woman and Despondent Chicken. I was also keen on Andrew Moon’s Fast Supper.

“One should not paint nature at all, one should paint the will.”

The Occulture exhibition is a brew of Aleister Crowley paintings, a Curtis Harrington’s film about Marjorie Cameron, The Wormwood Star, a hint of Kenneth Anger and some more contemporary reactions to witchcraft, the occult and the eerie. Marjorie Cameron was the wife of Jack Parsons, the rocket scientist and occult practitioner who blew himself to smithereens while mixing explosives. There was also work of Rosaleen Norton of Dunedin whose occupations were listed as artist and witch. She would enter the astral plane using “a plasmic body” that was an astral counterpart to her physical body.

Upstairs, I am pleased to find two further exhibitions including one of my favourites, Tracey Moffatt. This time it is her plantation sequence in display as part of an exhibition about slavery and sugar. It also contains Jasmine Togo-Brisby’s Bitter Sweet, a pile of skulls whose morbidity is in contrast to their ingredient which is cane sugar, these are representations of the bitter death required for our sweet desires.

My broad ignorance allows me to continually discover things I am sure I should know about and today it was the work of John Stezaker. I love his collages, particularly the faces with picture postcards of bridges and arches placed over them which makes them look like tourist beauty spot bullet holes.

Then, we did a gig. We drank some booze and we prepared for the 4 hours sleep before the 6am flight to Sydney. No time for a second visit to Te Papa’s magnificent, provocative, empathetic and educational Gallipoli exhibition or to ogle the long squid.

The Monkey Cage book is out now.  And still some tickets for shows in Canberra and Adelaide (though not Perth or Sydney)

I am back on solo tour in UK soon, restarting in Dartmouth, Bordon, Totton and Folkestone, then off to Belfast, Newcastle, Exeter and on and on.

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Drained of Pudding in the Oxygen Tent – the tour goes on

Monday – Auckland

Quick foray to Auckland Art Gallery.
Look at Frederick Goodall’s The Finding of Moses.

“Many Victorian secretly relished displays of , so long as they were legitimised within biblical and historical subjects.”

“Eileen Agar refused to adhere to just one modernist school of thought.” Now I knew that, I would have to look at her Tree of Knowledge.

And there were also morbid paintings of the seeming inevitability of youthful death in Victorian times with Frank Bramley’s For Such is the Kingdom of Heaven.

“Her unhealthy pallor suggests death may be waiting to swoop.”

One of my favourite pieces in the gallery is Campbell Patterson’s video art series “Lifting My Mother for as Long as I Can”. It is just that. Campbell, year after year, sometimes stood in front of energetically patterned curtains, sometimes not, seeing how long he can hold his mother in his arms for. They look like they are having a great time doing it.
I buy ten postcards, two stamps and a magazine about the latest in New Zealand art.

The others are off to eat ice cream on picturesque beaches, but I decide I really need to do some work on my book, “I’m a Joke…and So Are You” (subtitle to be confirmed). I edit the first chapter yet again. I may not be satisfied, but I am not distraught. I move on to chapter two. Two paragraphs in, I decide an attempt at an afternoon snooze may be more productive.

It’s time for another fine meal in the evening, watching Brian work out the complexity of the wine (if you are at a wine tasting, the best way to bluff it is to say, “I’m getting a hint of burnt toffee, and is anyone else getting buttery mash?”). We talk about the parlous state of politics. Brian’s problem is that he thinks people want to be reasonable.
If only everyone hankered after an existence defined by equations like he does.
Unable to decide on desserts, Brian decides we must eat all of them. The ginger creme brulee wins.
We walk to the hotel where Brian will be placed in his oxygen tent and have the tap attached to his navel that drains him of anything that may potentially turn to fat in his tummy over night.

We still have gigs in Sydney, Canberra, Adelaide and Perth.

Back in UK, I’ll be returning to my solo tour on love, death, art and physics. Dates HERE.

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the skin becoming conscious with the shock of sportswear enveloping it. Day 7 – Brisbane – Auckland

Today is the first day a stranger has ever said to me, “have a good workout”.
Things must be changing. Hotel gyms were once mythic places, but the new regime of cosmology and weightlifting is in place now.
Unfortunately, I have to stop after a few weights as I can’t find the control to change the gym TV from the Fox News channel. Some people have told me Fox News is useful in such situations as the anger works as a motivating force, but it just incites self disgust at being human that leads to binge eating marshmallow heavy cereal.
I had forgotten just how toxic it was. Another reminder that the move from a passion play or dancing bear once a year in the village square to a TV in every home may not have been so good for the longevity of civilisation after all.

Today started at 5am in order to make the 815 flight from Brisbane to Auckland.
There was no loungecast recording in Brisbane airport due to general grogginess. Grogginess is not conducive to effective explanation of Hawking radiation.
We will get to the unanswered question from Alex (7), “what evidence for the big rip“ and Lauren’s “Are you concerned about the amount of people that think the earth is flat?”, as well as other unanswered questions from the Brisbane audience, in a day or two.

After some yoghurt, I settle in to a reading mode.

Today, it is Nick Cave’s The Sick Bag Song.

“I saw a sick man pick up his instrument and be well” , he writes of watching an aged Johnny Cash.

His food criticism work should be further encouraged, too.

“As he serves up a pretzel as big as a human head.”

Then, it is Susan Blackmore’s updated Consciousness: A Very Short Introduction.

“How can some cells give rise to subjective experience and some not?”

Dave Eggers’ interview with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

“‘it is a cannibalistic ethos,’ she says about America’s left. ‘It swiftly, gleefully, brutally eats its own. There is such a quick assumption of ill will and increasing sanctimony and humourlessness that can often seem inhumane. It’s almost as if humanity gets lost and what matters is that you abide to every single rule of the handbook of American liberal orthodoxy.”

And finally a short piece on Rainer Werner Fassbinder from QAGOMA’s artlines magazine.

“I’d like to be what Shakespeare was for theatre, Marx for politics and Freud for psychology: someone after whom nothing is as it used to be.”

Reading eyes become bleary, but screen eyes are still functioning, so I turn to a screen and watch the first sixty minutes of A Ghost Story. It is a wonderfully silent and meditative film. Long slow, wordless scenes of pie eating induced by the incomprehensibility of loss, slow and gripping.

Once in Auckland, our very pleasant driver tells us of the demise of the one tree on One Tree Hill, population statistics and where the best Snapper is to be found.
They go to box on a hill, I go to the small hotel gym, hoping no one else is there. Tracksuit trousers still make my legs itch with confusion, the skin becoming conscious with the shock of sportswear enveloping it.

Then, we go to another fine restaurant. Brian scrutinises the wine list with the tenacity of an LHC scientist examining a particle collision, thought the reward will be more immediate. Unable to narrow down the desserts he desires, he decides we must order all of them and share them with long spoons.
The adventure is like Coogan and Brydon’s The Trip, but with Dolph Lundgren and Stan Laurel.

The Infinite Monkey Cage book is out now in Australia, NZ and UK.

Once back in UK, I will continue my solo tour on art, death, love and phsyics – first dates are Bordon, Totton, Dartmouth and then in to 40 or more.

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Brisbane day two – tour day six – the pumpkins swell

Resorting to my penultimate Temazepam, I find a solid four hours sleep. It succeeds a broken two hours of Melatonin sleep that conjured up a foul dream of being parted from my son.
Thank you, Mr Sandman.
After our exercise regime, Brian goes for a steak and I go to the Queensland Gallery.
I see a woman whose memory of art will never be more than two centimetres tall. She photographs everything repeatedly, never looking up or around the corner of her phone. After a minute of take upon take, she is content that she has shrunken the ambition of Rahel Ungwanaka’s Frill-Necked Lizard pot successfully.

It would be hard to compact all the ambition of Gordon Bennett’s Triptych: Requiem, of Grandeur, Empire into a phone. It mixes religious iconography with the story of Aboriginal women like Bennett’s mother, trained for domesticity by the church in its awkward relationship with indigenous culture. Here is the aim to compact and miniaturise the possibilities of people by attempting to elevate drudgery to an ambition, it seems.

I am always excited to see any screen with the work of Tracey Moffatt on. In this gallery, it is Other, a work created with the editor Gary Hillberg. Among Moffatt’s many artistic achievement, she creates brilliant cinema montages exposing the clichés, patterns and approaches of film to ideas and issues. The first i saw was about desire. It was series of first passionate glances, from Joan Crawford to Elizabeth Taylor, the first Noir shared cigarette, the kiss, the slap, the bullet.
Other was looking at that moment where the buttoned up European meets Non-European passion and the eruption it causes in Hollywood scenes, in films such as Mutiny on the Bounty and King and I. The eyes of the governess light up, what possibilities lie within, what untamed desire.
Bowie kisses Sakamoto. The Camp commandant’s eyes betray the shame of his wanting.

There are many pieces worthy of mention, Vincent Namitjira’s Albert’s story, telling the story of artist Albert Namijira in 13 paintings.

Arthur Boyd’s Sleeping Bride, inspired by Boyd seeing a group of Aboriginal brides dressed immaculately in white, yet their wedding limo was a cattle truck.
Russell Drysdale’s Man Feeding His Dogs, one of my first favourite Australian paintings, which expresses “the isolation, hostility and harshness of life in rural Australia”.

Kathy Temin’s White Problem #2, a “critique on the sterile dehumanising of minimalism” and also influenced by her grandfather’s survival in a concentration camp by mending SS officer’s uniforms, making her believe that “no strategy is entirely pure and uncompromised as abstract art may strive to be”

My luggage is already buckling, but I couldn’t resist a book of Georgia O Keeffe, Grace Cossington Smith and Margaret Preston in the gift shop or a broad bean and kale salad in the café.

“Formulas for living offers hell.
It imposes on the soul.
Is change coming? Are we to be fooled again?
Another set of rights, wrongs
Is it real to judge? Is is”

Yayoi Kusama is a rainbow onslaught of lavish pumpkins, sunflower fetishism, polka dots and mutant organic wonders, as well as sixties’ “anatomic explosion happenings”.

“The struggle is endless
I want to create more innovative works
I am sleepless thinking about that
Thoughts on creating are yearnings for the unknown…”

After my crisp artichoke, I attempt an afternoon nap. I know that I may reach sleep when I hit that moment of hypnogogic fantasy at the same time as Homeric drool hits the pillow.

The Brisbane show is fun and probably the tightest public entertainment cosmology lecture Brian has done yet. My mouth, still waking from its nap, finds saying Andromeda is a two take task.

It’s a 5am start for our Auckland trip, which means I have considerably less time to lie furiously in bed as I fail to sleep.

Still some tickets left for Wellington, Adelaide and Canberra on Prof Cox Tour.

My UK solo tour restarts at the end of this month in Bordon, Totton and Dartmouth, then 40 other dates across the UK.



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Day 5 – Brisbane, Richter and Multi-storey car parks

Boiled egg and vegemite, airport lounge, muscle rediscovering workout, meal by a river, and failure to sleep, the tour has hit a rhythm now.

We reach Brisbane city centre at 2.15.
Brian goes to lift weights in a botanical garden and I go to stare at some art.
QAGOMA is a superb modern art gallery, those seeking easy clichés about Queensland won’t find them here. There is sometimes a little more of a soundtrack of flip flops (thongs) echoing on the floors as people scamper through the art, but there is no lack of reverence or intrigue at the contemporary shapes, shadows and twisted forms.
On my first visit, in 2015, there was a David Lynch exhibition of grotesque canvases, tiny ink matchbook tableaus and industrial noises. In 2016, it was a Cindy Sherman exhibition of her more recent character studies of possibilities of herself. Today, it is Gerhard Richter. Not unusually for a renowned modern artists, my knowledge of him is sparse. This retrospective, a first for Australia, displays his eclecticism whilst demonstrating a coherent view of the world.

“Do you know what was great? Finding that a stupid, ridiculous thing like copying a postcard could lead to a picture.”

Brought up in East Germany, when he confronted commercialism and the “glamour” of advertising, he started to voraciously collect and copy it. His copy of an advert for a folding clothes dryer rack was not a thing of wonder, but a sad reminder to him of the limitations of low cost housing, where there were no gardens to offer hope of dry socks.

I am staring so hard at some of the canvases that an attendant asks if I am an artist or, due to my note taking, an academic. I disappoint on both fronts. We talk about the David Lynch exhibition. She hasn’t caught up with the new Twin Peaks and some friends have warned her it’s not much cop. I tell her that if you are after narrative and neatness, it may not be what you’re after, but if you are after astounding, inventive images, enigma and an uncertainty of emotions, you’ll like it just fine. She reckons she’ll like it just fine.
She points me back to a painting I didn’t stare at for long enough called Aunt Marianne. It is Richter’s painting of a photograph of his baby self with his young aunt. Both children then, Aunt Marianne became mentally ill and was incarcerated by the Nazis who experimented on her, as they did on many mentally ill people, and she died of starvation.

Atlas is the title of his large collection of frames containing anything from 12 to 24 small photos or cuttings, sometime of woodland scenes, sometimes of pornography. His frames of images from the holocaust require you to lean in, to focus, to engage with the reality that it was people like us who committed the atrocities and people like us who died. One series of holocaust images hang closely to images of his wife breastfeeding. Another group of images of despair are just a frame away from a photo of a standing woman having a cucumber placed in her vagina. There are no easy answers here. This is walking into the chaos of a mind trying to create order.

His landscape paintings are beautiful. His abstract paintings become increasingly disturbing as you read their inspiration.

“The landscapes are a type of yearning, a yearning for a whole and simple life. The abstract works are my presence, my reality, my problems, my difficulties and contradictions.”

On my way out, I think I see some work by Ugo Rondinone, a Swiss/American artist responsible for the first exhibition in Australia that I ever fell in love with, Our Magic Hour at Sydney’s MCA.
The visual is simple, a black and white film of a man being tracked by a camera as he walks along a wall while an hour long version of Tindersticks’ Sleepy Song plays. Apparently, this was created to induce melancholy, but I’m too tired for melancholy and have often found that art invented to bring me down makes me surprisingly upbeat.

This puts me in the correct frame of mind to be trained again and lift weights with muscles that aim to be elusive.

We eat well by the river, then walk back to the hotel, initially scenically, past trees laden with lights, then less scenically via a series of multi-storey car parks.

I sleep intermittently.

We have 7 more Australian/NZ shows, then I am back to UK for my solo art/science/love and death tour. Chipping  Norton,  Bordon, Totton, Folkestone, Exeter, Newcastle and many more.

The Monkey Cage book is out now.


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The Jukebox of Gemini Spacecraft and on to Mars – Australian/NZ playlist and explanation

Some people have been asking about the playlist while the audience are taking their seats on the current Australian/New Zealand tour, so here you are.
It was hastily gathered together from the songs I had on my laptop. I would love to have put on some of the more obscure space numbers bought from the estimable Trunk records, such as some of the Michael Garrick Trio’s Moonscape, Blast Off from Jimmy Haskell’s Count-Down or even the EP of Yuri Gagarin’s Conquest of Space, but this is a big Brian Cox gig, not one of my niche little oddity events. I didn’t go too mainstream though, with the exception of Duran Duran’s Planet Earth, out there due to Brian’s love of fine Midlands pop tailoring and the memory of Chris Hadfield enigmatically introducing Duran Duran at one of our Christmas events.

You will be taken into the interval into the interval by… oh, I’ll let Brian tell you on the night.

For the audience walk in part one, I went with –

Cosmic Concerto by Bill Fay, a beautiful and delicate song of love, but an arrist that seemed to vanish for 40 years and returned triumphant.

Modern Kosmology by Jane Weaver, a polymath who, via synchronicity, also appears on the artwork of Badly Drawn Boy’s Have You Fed the Fish…? which I happened to listen to for the first time in some years that morning.

The Space Race is Over by Billy Bragg, quite simply a favourite by a favourite artist.

I Took a Trip on a Gemini Spaceship by David Bowie. How could we have nothing by the troubadour of the extraterrestrial?

Stargazing by She Makes War. Laura was a special guest at my Bristol tour show and is one of my favourite songwriters of late.

(Not sure what picture credit should be for above image, please tell me if you know and I don’t just me the smotheringly magnificent influence of David Bowie)

Higgs Boson Blues by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. No explanation needed, it’s the Higgs Boson and bloody Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

I’m The Urban Spaceman by Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. Neil Innes is a fine human and there just isn’t enough Dadaism in thoughts of a gravity-lite future.

Gagarin by Public Service Broadcasting. Up with Nick Cave, this was one of the best live gigs I saw of the year, passionate songs to educate and entertain by shy young men.

My Star by Ian Brown. Brian has a genetically similar face to Madchester men and this post Stone Roses debut solo album by Ian Brown was both enigmatic and poppy.

And then the interval…

Where is my Mind? by Pixies, because I thought after 50 minutes of cosmology it may be a question the audience were asking.

Rings of Saturn by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. So, so, so beautful.

Sputnik by Public Service Broadcasting. I refer you to my previous answer.

Life on Mars by David Bowie. Always twenty years away, will we ever live in a time when our first manned landing on Mars is not twenty years away.

And for your exit music? Let that be a surprise, too.

I am back from Australia and on my niche tour in the UK in 3 weeks – Totton, Bordon, Belfast, Newcastle, Exeter and on and on.

Monkey Cage book is out now and signed copies at all Australian and NZ venues.

We are also recording a series of podcast from airport lounges. Latest one answers some science questions there wasn’t time for on stage in Melbourne.



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Comedy More Complex Than Physics – Day 4 of Brian Cox Tour

I wake up at 5.10am, relieved that I have managed to fall asleep.
The night before, Brian eats a large piece of ravioli with a runny egg yolk inside, he is intrigued.
It is pasta with a hint of Eraserhead.

I lie in darkness for a while, then read Bomb Culture by Jeff Nuttall.

“Jazz is exactly the appropriate remedy because it destroys the double standard and artificial anxiety through being, as it is, the eloquent articulation of the inadmissible.”

I remind myself that I must learn to love jazz. I get a similar feeling when I read Geoff Dyer’s superb But Beautiful. I read a Vanity Fair interview of Kate Mckinnon, but it is one of those interviews about the interviewer not the interviewee. It is almost entirely about the interviewer’s reaction to sitting with McKinnon.

“And it’s immediately apparent to me that I am going to have to approach her slowly, carefully, no false moves, and that even the slowest, most careful, and false move free approach might not work. She could still get spooked, run off.”

I suppose Vanity Fair doesn’t really care about the words as long as they have that all-important Annie Liebowitz photoshoot.
I think she was hoping to become friends. I tried that once with Wayne Coyne. It didn’t work. He had little interest in my small talk about the 1964 movie, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.

“You’re not very good at it, are you? Life, I mean,” says Brian Cox. He’s probably right. I am a clumsy, tense, hyperkinetic thing.

Steph takes us to our workout. I do not wear my cardigan for the weightlifting, which may come as a surprise to some. I do not even own a sports cardigan. I may well start a range, elbow patches with go faster stripes. I enjoy working out, which comes as a surprise to me.

Once at the venue, Brian is in charge of ensuring the nebulae look magnificent and fit the screen, and I am in charge of creating the audience walk in and walk out playlist. It must have some semblance of being scientific which allows me to sneak in Nick Cave’s Higgs Boson Blues and Rings of Saturn, as well some Public Service Broadcasting, Stargazing by She Makes War, Jane Weaver’s Modern Kosmology and Bill Fay’s Cosmic Concerto (full playlist will be posted shortly for the benefit of those who asked).

In a moment of quiet, I read from a collection of Nick Cave interviews which ends with his magnificent quote of gothic hair care, “I’ll dye til I die”.
Some time is spent editing a Noel Fielding interview for my upcoming book.

“I went on stage with Kasabian dressed as Vlad the Impaler. I walked on at Glastonbury at the start of their encore, for one of their favourite songs, and I had to leave straight away afterwards to film ‘the next morning, and I didn’t have my phone and I had 4 hours in a cab and the driver didn’t speak English , I was so full of adrenaline , ready to burst, I was literally jumping up and down…”.

Brian eats more ravioli before the gig, he is disappointed that this ravioli fails to be Lynchian.

I think the gig goes well. Some people leave excited by the size and fragility of the universe, others leave with the taint of existential anxiety that can occur with cosmology and talk of the inevitability of a lifeless universe.
Later, we meet someone who has a tattoo of a spaceship that Neil De Grasse Tyson drew on her wrist. A young man of eleven explains that he understood Brian’s physics, but not my jokes. I explain that this means my gags are more complex than Hawking radiation equations. I don’t think the 11 year old buys it.

We are recording a series of podcasts in tour, including ones with some of the questions we didn’t have time to answer on stage. They are HERE.

Monkey Cage book is available now.

I am back on UK solo tour next month – Folkestone, Bordon, Totton and on to Belfast, Glasgow, Exeter and many more places. Details HERE.

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