What I did on my holiday – Professor Brian Cox tour version

An audience of 24,000 spread over nine shows in eight cities in fifteen days, and now the Australian and New Zealand tour is done.
We left London twenty days ago and return shortly after a couple of days in Hong Kong.
It appears to have been a success. Using the giant, exuberantly bright screen, Brian has burnt images of Andromeda and Friedman’s equation onto the retinas of Antipodeans. Hopefully, I have increased the likelihood of bassoons being used in amateur earthworm experiments.
As usual, we have been hugely encouraged by the quality of quantum entanglement queries that have come from the under 10s.
Now, we have to come up with a whole new show and set of images for 2019.
I also have to maintain my tenacity when it comes to lifting weights and feeling the tightening of long softened muscles without the help of Steph, tour trainer and fitness wrangler.
We have been spoilt for wine and cheese. We have also been able to spend the day predominantly thoughtlessly as the tour expertise of Caroline and Simon meant that as long as we were in the lobby on time, we would find ourselves in another loading bay in another city without recourse to any of our own ingenuity. (and thanks to Matt, Mark and Fraser, a remarkable tech crew)
With the exception of Melbourne, I have managed to make it to at least one gallery in every city.
I have taken in exhibitions of Robert Mapplethorpe, Gerhard Richter, Dunedin occult art, hyper real fleshy fair visitations and my favourite exhibition of 2017 in either hemisphere, Pipilotti Rist.

I have gone backwards on book rewriting. When I landed in Singapore, I was on page 135 of my rewrite of I’m a Joke…and So Are You, I am now back to page 62. I have cut out 9000 words, but added 11000.
I have signed 460 copies of The Monkey Cage – How to Build a Universe…part one book, and read I Hate the Internet, Fight Like a Girl, The Sick Bag Song, Bomb Culture and two books about Tracey Moffatt.
Both those Tracey Moffatt books were bought on this trip, plus the books to accompany Hyper Real and Occulture exhibitions, as well as books on the history of British magazine design and the work of Grace Cossington Smith.
I have tour small bottles of orange scented body wash, three complimentary toothbrushes and an airline lip balm.
My skin colour is a little darker than it was three weeks ago, but still predominantly pale blue. And Brian and I haven’t had a single argument caused by an equation, which may mean we are due a lot of equation rows during the next series of Monkey Cage.
And that is what I did in my holiday.

Tickets now on sale for 2019 tour with Brian Cox.

My solo tour begins again in Dartmouth, then across the UK and some stop offs in Toronto and Oslo.

We also recorded a few lo fi podcasts dealing with hifalutin questions

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Long Live the Hyper Real Flesh and the old joke – Canberra to Adelaide

I have a fascination with old school comedians that has been interfering with my sleep patterns. Through a series of moves via Mick Miller and Johnny Casson, I find myself watching a 45 minute recording of Duncan Norvelle. Best known in the 1980s for his catchphrase “chase me” and singing Teddy Bears’ Picnic, this was twenty years on from his heyday. What is interesting to me is that once you’ve found your act, there is very little changing it, not dissimilar to the music hall acts that would keep going with the same twelve minutes from town to town until television put paid to the longevity of your gurning, slapstick dance. But it is obvious to see that Duncan Norvelle knows how to play a room and his well-rehearsed cheek and speed has charm. I also wasn’t expecting him to be able to do a very good Richard Burton impression (it’s at 14′ 40″).
At midnight in Adelaide, after watching Professor Cox on Q and A, I made the bold decision to watch an old documentary about Roy Chubby Brown. He is a different sort of oddity to me. He has a more abrasive cheek and charm and some silliness too. Then, he gets onto race jokes, but they don’t seem to be jokes at all. It is just Daily Express nastiness, and rather than get laughs it gets caterwauls of vicious agreement from the stalls. It is a peculiar thing to watch a man dressed in such splendidly ridiculous costume, with such a plump face of mischief, deliver such a hatred on stage. I don’t think Roy Chubby Brown thinks of it as hate, but the expression on some of his audience’s faces is disconcertingly aggressive.
Who will I watch in Perth?
Probably Max Wall, a great of music hall and Beckett and a lovely face for a portrait, too.

(also, watching Colin Crompton is beautiful walk through post war cultural changes. He also tells my favourite hoop and stick joke)

Monday is a travel day. Brian travels to Sydney for Q&A and the rest of us will travel to Adelaide late in the afternoon. After the usual workout of pain mixed the hope of the loss of the process of jellification that comes with middle age, Steph and I go to the National Gallery.
It is a great monument to brutalism and beauty. The design allows you to get confused and lost, but contentedly lost as the walls of your mistaken destination have Monet’s Water lilies or Auerbach’s Primrose Hill or Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly series.
Not much time to get lost on this occasion, so it is straight to the current main exhibition, Hyper Real. Hyper Real is a series of figures, some naked, some mutated, some fairy tale delightful, some disturbingly reflective of the problems of being human. When we arrive, a school party are having Patricia Piccinini’s near life size model of a man holding a Blobish fish in his hands. Her work is for the love of “monsters”. Beautifully imagined love and delight at flesh that is not as we imagine it should be. The little girl smiling with delight at the approaching at the hybrid human baby/sloth toed being (The Welcome Guest) ,the boy affectionately sleeping with a grandmotherly, mammalian mermaid (The Long Awaited).

In less fantastical form, Sam Jinks’ creates a touching figure of an old woman in a night dress hugging a new baby, its excess wrinkles of flesh there to give space to grow into, while her wrinkles of a skin that will be departed. Embrace by Marc Sijan has a similar effect, whilst his figure of an old woman, battered feet and a face that has seen too much of a wrong life seems to move. The eyes allowing you to stare into hopelessness. I am always fascinated at how the act of staring at such realistic skin leads to the mind creating an illusion of movement because that is what the mind is expecting. How can something so real be so still? Ron Mueck’s old woman in a bed disconcertingly captures that grey skin and slack mouth that means the end is very close.

Then, we ate celery at another airport and arrived in another city. A few beers, talk of Judas Priest, Q&A, Chubby Brown, sleep.

I am back to UK soon to continue my solo tour on art, death, love and physics – all across UK and beyond. Details HERE.

The Monkey Cage book – How to Build a Universe… part one – is available now.


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Let us Celebrate Leo McKern – a day in Canberra

I bumped my head on the beam of my own absurdity as I walked around Canberra’s great big lake. I risked a walk without hat or factor 50 unaware of the high, hot sun. You think I’d have been aware of the Sun after two weeks touring with a cosmologist. I sensed I must be purpling by midday and scurried, bad temperedly, for shade. Fearing sunstroke, I skipped the gym workout and hid under a sheet for a while, then went off to the galleries.

Australian cinema was exotic and arcane when I was young.
The seventies had seen Australian filmmakers making their mark internationally and so by the 1980s, BBC2 would run series of Australian movies. They were arthouse by the very virtue of not being in the usual language of Hollywood or Ealing. Generally, the BBC would skip Alvin Purple Rides Again, Barry McKenzie Holds His Own and Mad Dog Morgan, in favour of Heatwave, Picnic at Hanging Rock and My Brilliant Career.
The National Gallery in Canberra currently has an exhibition of on set images, movie fan scrapbooks and the occasional spangly dress, from Australian movie history.
It was a reminder both of youthful favourites and also of how parochial film distribution is. Many photos on the wall were from films that have never made it to a UK cinema screen with the exception of specialist festivals at the Barbican or NFT.

I have only recently seen Wake in Fright, a revered and loathed thriller involving a teacher who finds himself trapped in an outback town where seamy criminality is the norm. It’s images of festering immorality outraged some Australians in the same way Les Patterson did.
At an early screening, one infuriated audience member stood up and declared, “that’s not us.”
Australian screen icon Jack Thompson yelled back, “sit down, mate, it’s us.”
As The Cars that Are Paris and Wolf Creek have shown, the long tracks of arid loneliness in Australia are good for creating threat to outsiders unused to a fragmentation of urban civilisation.
Meanwhile, Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock demonstrated, one of the works more heavily illustrated in the exhibition top, this is a landscape where the uncanny may never be that far away.

Many great Australian films are represented – The Getting of Wisdom, Shine, Don’s Party and I was glad to see the inclusion of Howling 3: The Marsupials. Directed by Philippe Mora, he was also responsible for Christopher Lee’s finest filmed singing performance.
The Year my Voice Broke is one of my favourite Australian films of the 1980s and the reason I own four Lawrence Durrell books, none of which I have read.

I still consider Mad Max 2 one of the greatest limited dialogue, maximum action movies and the image of the beaten, bruised, leather clad, knee callipered Max Rockatansky staring belligerently at the camera is an iconic memory. Oh when would the video rental shop believe I was 18.
This exhibition also reminded me that I needed to watch The Last Wave, Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith and The Getting of Wisdom. The one failure of the exhibition was the lack of any reference to Razzle Dazzle: A Journey Into Dance (screenplay by Carolyn Wilson and Robin Ince)

It is always good to see an exhibition with some framed images of Leo McKern, who I was fortunate to see on stage in Jean Anouilh’s Number One at the Windsor Royal (adapted by Michael Frayn).

Now, I have to continue my search for those elusive Ozploitation boxed sets I’ve been seeking for three years.

I was reminded that I still haven’t seen The Cars that Ate Paris, stuck in my mind since I was nine due to the image of a multi-spiked VW beetle that appeared in one my Lorrimer books of horror, perhaps it was in Speed, Savage Cinema or maybe even David Annan’s Robot: The Mechanical Monster. The Peter Weir boxed set was immediately ordered, to be enjoyed in the cold, long dark nights I am returning to.

Then, I returned to the hotel and we all ate cheeses, had 5 puddings and finished the day watching my favourite short film of the year, Brian and Charles. Now, I need to watch Muriel’s Wedding and Turkey Shoot. (And maybe Patrick, too. Where were the spooky pics of the haunting ballet dancer, Red Shoes star and child catcher Robert Helpmann? My favourite Helpmann story is when a friend rang him after taking his children to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. “Robert, you are coming to dinner on Sunday, but you have just scared my kids witless as the child catcher. Could you just have a quick word with them on the phone and explain you are an actor?” “Of course,” he replied, and once the children reached the phone he cackled, ‘I’m coming to get you, kiddies!” Oh the cruelty of ballet dancers.)

The exhibition was also a sad reminder of the shortness of John Hargreaves’ life, a wonderful presence in many movies including Long Weekend, one of the most regularly shown Australian films on the BBC in the 1980s. Oh how the animals had their day.

Monkey Cage book is out now.

I am back on tour in UK soon – Bordon, Totton, Dartmouth and across the UK.

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Crowd Surfing the Gravitational Waves is Forbidden… and a transformative exhibition

345am alarm.
Relieved again that by being woken by an alarm that must necessarily mean I have been asleep.
Brian has a lovely long lie in until 430am. Should his beauty sleep be too truncated, that can have ramifications for ticket sales and TV work.
The rest of us go to the airport with 14 bags to check in.

I read a copy of Bookforum that has been haunting my hessian bag for some time. I read about a biography of Ernest Hemingway. I think, “Hmmm, I really must read more about Ernest Hemingway” and just before I order some staggering volume, I remember that my house is filled with unread books I was inspired to buy due to well-written reviews when really I only wanted an extra thousand words.

I read about the diaries of Susan Sontag – “the psychic enmeshment deepens after reading syntactically peculiar passages like these”

And of Diane Arbus’s sexual adventures – “But Arbus was exceedingly strange and exceedingly free, intent on pursuing her attraction to seediness (you can smell the dank motel rooms in her photographs) and determined to face down her disgust.”

I read the Fortean Times obituary of David Jones AKA Daedalus – “he posited rambunctious ghosts could be thermodynamically exorcised by exposing them to an open microwave oven.”

I draw close to finishing Nick Cave’s The Sick Bag Song and Jarett Kobek’s i hate the internet, both of which I would effusively recommend, the kind of books where there is no room for subjectivity, if you don’t like them, then you are wrong.

Once my brain sags, I turn to the plane screen and watch the end of A Ghost Story and the start of Wonder Woman.

Today is a three breakfast day, possibly my first.
We eat breakfast in the lounge.
We breakfast on the plane.
We eat breakfast when we arrive at the Sydney hotel.
Breakfasts spread over six hours is a good idea.
The rumours are true, breakfast really is the most important meal of the day, especially if you have it three times.
Brian will almost trump this in 48 hours time when he has a three pie lunch in Goulburn.
He is sinewy and sharp. I am soft and edgeless. It must be the burning of calories that comes with thinking about Hawking radiation. I think about quantum indeterminacy for a while, but I am as round after as I was before. Maybe I’ll try to understand a Roger Penrose book while I am on a treadmill.

A snooze, then a walk to Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary art for an exhibition I know nothing about. I enter ignorant of Pipilotti Rist and leave in love. I feel as excited as I did when I saw the Robert Rauschenberg nearly a year ago. Everything about it makes me delighted.
The undersea projection accompanied by a strained and then furious version of Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game.
The too big sofa to sit on and too big remote control to change the channels of her early work that makes you feel like Stan and Ollie playing kids on oversize furniture in Brats.
The joy of being taken back to early days of video art and the excitement of the 1980s accessibility of cameras and rudimentary editing equipment that ignited a new possibilities of fucking about.

And then the rooms, the rooms that were illuminated and enlarged by projections of delight and colour, and make sure you look at the hole in the carpet.
One room looks like the final room in 2001: A Space Odyssey if it had been used for a photo shoot for a Littlewoods home furnishings catalogue that was projected on by Derek Jarman, but that doesn’t tell half the story which is both Wizard of Oz-ish and Twin Peaks-ish and also bursting with originality, too.
I wanted to return to it, but time ran out. I am trying to replay it repeatedly in my mind so I don’t lose it.

Then, I spent the rest of the day telling everyone I could see that they must go to the MCA to see this thing of ethereal beauty and fecund imagination.

The Horden Pavilion gig was fun though it was a pity they took down the signs forbidding crowdsurfing before we began. I liked the idea of it driving rebellious theoretical physicists to surf the gravitational waves.

I am returning to UK to do my show on art, death, love and physics soon – Folkestone, Bath, Exeter, Glasgow and most places that will have me.


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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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