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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Airliner and Eyeliner – day 3 of tour

Some days on tour, nothing much happens.
It is as a series of incidents of comfortably waiting.
You comfortably wait for Brian Cox to finish his promo interviews.
You comfortably wait for a car to the airport.
You comfortably wait for the plane.
You comfortably wait to land.
You comfortably wait for your luggage.
Nothing great achieved, just a period of transition, mainly geographical.
Then, I slept for six hours, followed by being awake.
“What is his condition, doctor?”
“He’s comfortable.”
And in the early 21st century, to be in a state that is not in any way a plight is surely very good fortune.
During our comfortable wait in the airport, we recorded another little podcast, this time out Brian’s youthful planespotting and his goth disco years at Manchester’s Cloud Nine. It was all airliner and eyeliner in those days, not much changes.

Now, I’ll spend the day in venue number one, looking at images of galaxies and reconstructions of black hole activity as Brian debates which constellations should be edited.
We’ll sign some books, maybe eat some soup.
Then, I’ll put my cardigan on.
Never put the cardigan on before the soup, there’s a chowder disaster waiting just around the corner with that sort of behaviour.

Monkey Cage book is available in the foyer.
Some tickets still available for NZ and Australia dates.
I am back to UK to continue solo tour in 3 weeks – Totton, Bordon and on to Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

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Bullwhips and belligerent sleeplessness – Brian Cox Southern Hemisphere Tour Day Two

Day two – Sydney

I am sure if Professor Cox hadn’t suggested Melatonin was a placebo then none of this would have happened.
Okay, I’m not sure.
If there is one thing you learn from working with a physicist it’s that certainty is highly unlikely, it’s one of the few certainties.
Unsurprisingly, on a jaunt like this, my sleep over the last 72 hours has been haphazard at best and non-existent for the last 24 hours. I had almost forgotten the peculiar sensation of forgetting how to sleep.
Comfy bed – check
sense of exhaustion – check
ability to join Nemo in Slumberland – … uh oh, there is some kind of operational fault.

And so you remain relaxed for the first four hours, every now and again changing the alarm time thinking seven hours sleep really might be possible, then on the cusp of dawn you go a little bit crazy and a sense of melancholy, loneliness and self-destruction take over.
Then, it’s daylight and you resign yourself to a reasonably wasted day staggering with glimmers of hope when microseconds of energy allow you to quicken the pace..

We arrived in Sydney at 7am.
I got a couple of hours sleep and then went for banana bread and monochromatic eroticism at the Gallery of New South Wales.
As usual, my Sydney gallery companion was Carolyn, who I wrote the dance musical movie, Razzle Dazzle with some years ago. It had a cameo from Leo Sayer in it.
Last time we were there, the exhibition featured the calligraphy of Andy Warhol’s mum, this time it was a retrospective of the work of Robert Mapplethorpe. There were many charismatic images of Patti Smith, some eroticised orchids (though orchids do most of the work themselves), as well as images of bodybuilder Lisa Lyon, the famous self portrait with bullwhip up arse, and that ghostly portrait of Mapplethorpe, ill and with skull cane, facing his too soon death from AIDS related illness. .

I think Mapplethorpe was the first exhibition Carolyn and I went to in late 80s London at the National Portrait Gallery. At that time, AIDS was a killer. Looking on these walls, you wonder who lived to old age and who was cut down with their story barely half told. There’s Cookie Mueller, a use also to Nan Goldin and John Waters, dead at 40.
Amongst the carefully choreographed images, one that startles is an image of a bruised woman.
Mapplethorpe spent a night with Dennis Hopper and his partner (apologies for failing to note down the name, my art book scribbles were scant in jet lag state). Returning the next morning to photograph Hopper, instead he found his partner, bruised from Hopper’s brutality. It is a strak shot among so much composure.
It is also worth a visit for the Passion and Procession exhibition of Philippines art, a captivating collection of religious iconography, twisted branches of life and expertly cluttered collages of objects with purpose.

Back to the hotel and a few minutes to correct one of the multitude of paragraphs that need correcting in my next book.

Then, Brian, Steph and I were taken to a very, very good restaurant by our bon viveur producer, Simon. By the end, the effect of the vineyard had Brian contemplating the possible morbidity of his new death of the Universe show, but with one final swig, we decided that the end may seem inevitable for the molecules of the living and pretty much everything else, the message was positive. Some of you will find out in Australia and New Zealand over the next few weeks and in the UK in 2019. I won’t spoil the ending, suffice to say there is one.

Then, the good day ended with a bad night. GK Chesterton wrote that lying in bed would be perfect if you had a coloured pencil long enough to reach the ceiling, but it would be even more perfect if you could sleep in the bloody thing.

Monkey Cage book is out now – there will be copies available at gigs (not in Australian bookshops yet) and they should be in bookshops across the UK.

We are recording a series of podcasts in airport lounges we sit in, the first one is here.

Once back in the UK, should I live, I’ll be continuing my solo tour in Folkestone, Bordon, Totton, Glasgow, Belfast and many more towns. Details HERE

Salt has been freshly rubbed, as I finished typing, my alarm went off to tell me it was time to wake had I learnt how to go to sleep.

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Knees Crack in THX – Brian Cox Australia Tour Diary 1 – Singapore stopover

It’s Brian Cox Tour accomplice time again. Look, here’s his face.

My functions change for the next three weeks.
Firstly, I am barely a father.
Touring the Southern hemisphere, I become a Skype dad.
I am a selection of tardy postcards, most arriving on the mat after I have already trodden on it on my return.
I would not travel away and alone for fun anymore.
My son grows and I cannot squander those days before his independent mind strikes out.
From those first points of observable basic word forming and coloured block building personality, it feels like each further stage of development would be the step too far. At each new personality you think, is this how they should be preserved forever?
But as the next stage implements itself, as the hand is held less regularly on the hill up to the school and eventually not held at all as they strike out alone, unaccompanied and confident, as the narrator duties are no longer required at book at bedtime, we get used to it…for now.

My performance function changes, too.
On a break from solo tours and in someone else’s spotlight, my wings are clipped a little and rightly so. I am not free to take off on any tangent that takes my fancy. I have duties.
I am the magician’s assistant to a very logical magician.He makes things appear and disappear by equation rather than sleight of hand.
I am the rickety, knitwear bridge between him and the audience.
I am the brief breaks before your mind loses its breath with all that cosmology and gets a stitch.

A day stopover in Singapore, and I lie awake at 5am reading depressing pieces in the online Guardian about skullduggery involving malevolent money that may be behind television celebrated and television elevated figures of far right. Poor Mosley just got his timing wrong.
I remember the insomnia years and how they chipped away at my sanity, but tonight’s sleeplessness is for a reason.

I wake up at 945am, this is good as waking up means I have slept.
An odd omelette, but good coffee, and then to Professor Cox’s room to ruminate in final slides, fade ins and fade outs of ethereal music, and some brief contemplations on the heat death of the universe as usual.
You don’t stay as age evasive as the Professor without an exercise regime. It’s too late for me to evade wizen-facedness, but I join in with some weights and squats and startle the room with the surroundsound of my knee cracks.

I type and retype a passage involving a faintly hostile Jungian for my next book which, despite having hundreds of words cut a day, never gets shorter.

It’s time for another plane. I don’t sleep, but watch Twin Peaks instead, hoping to fool myself into thinking I am asleep and dreaming.

As we will be in a lot of airport lounges, we have decided to record a series of Loungecasts. Number one is Singapore, with more talk of Twin Peaks and the heat death of the Universe.

Some Australia shows still have tickets available. In NZ, Auckland is sold out, but some available for Wellington.

Once back in UK, I return to my solo tour – Dartmouth, Bordon, Totton and about 40 more incl Belfast, Glasgow and Exeter.

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