I am on my way home by plane & train so this travel gives me an opportunity to blog my reflections on the past couple of days. As if you didn’t know, (& I wouldn’t let it slip your mind) I supported the Uncaged Monkeys (they have already taken on the status of rock’n’roll scientists) to a 1600 packed Colston hall on Thursday night – that’s the biggest audience I‘ve ever done.
The evening started typically whenever Robin and I appear at the same venue. As I entered Colston Hall, a few early fans recognized me and tried to halt my movement to the backstage. “Heh, it’s ..” Before the fan had the chance to finish his remark, I retorted, “No, I am not Robin Ince.” I wish I was making this up but it happens every time. Then one of his mates chirped in, “Oh, its only Bruce Hood, ha ha ha.” Last year in London I even autographed a programme for someone who looked at the scrawled signature first in confusion and then disgust when I explained I was not the comic they admired.
For the rest of the night I would have to get used to this feeling of inferiority. Of course, none of the monkeys or the wonderful sides acts, Helen Arney and Matt Parker, were precious – they were all incredibly generous but I did feel like an interloper. I think they should not bother with guests in the future who really cut into the time that the audience wants to spend with their beloved monkeys.
It was a daunting night in many ways. I have met Ince, Cox, Goldacre and Singh all before individually, but somehow the weight of the monkeys together exceeded their combined mass. I am not saying I was star-struck but I did feel a bit like a gatecrasher.
Initially I had planned to record the whole evening and brought along a tiny compact camera but it just didn’t seem right to be taking pictures even though the Cox was wandering around with a massive big one keeping a photographic account of the tour. I did manage to get this sneaky snap off stage of Brian but even then, I felt uncomfortable. These are just ordinary guys but something very strange happens when they are surrounded by hundreds of adoring fans.
What are they like in person? Really great guys and genuine – they are exactly what they seem to be. Though I’ll just say this. Brian is surprisingly hilarious and a good mimic given that this is not his usual public persona. He told a couple of anecdotes that had me creasing up – but they are my stories and I am not sharing them with you. Anyway, I did my slot, spoke probably too fast for most, got the neuroscience out there and made the audience laugh in the end – mission accomplished.
When the show was over, we hung back to avoid the groupies – yes they were apparently really out there. I got speaking to Brian’s former grad student Tamsin who is now a post-doc at Bristol who was lovely and we all ended up at the hotel drinking wine and discussing the future of science funding. Alas I had to leave early about 1am to catch a flight to Aberdeen in the morning.
When I woke up, I was feeling a little worse for wear but I made it to Aberdeen’s Word Festival the following afternoon. After dropping in to say hello Scotland’s smartest social cognitive neuroscientists Macrae & Turk for an hour, I headed to the festival. Just before I went on, I met Michael Brooks. Michael is a star – smart, erudite, funny, witty – the full monty of charm. He is a science journalist for a number of publications including the New Scientist and has also written a best-seller, “13 Things That Don’t Make Sense.” He had done his slot earlier in the day but we were both scheduled to do a double act for the local Aberdeen Skeptics in the Pub event later that evening.
I was pleasantly surprised to find a marquee tent almost full with about 100 people who had come to see me. My self-esteem was boosted so I was fairly relaxed to the surprise of the AV technician who said I was the most organized and laid back presenter he had dealt with yet. The talk went pretty well and I even sold a bunch of books at the signing where the people were very kind and generous. It felt good.
I then hooked up with Michael and we headed off to the evening event. The Skeptics in the Pub event was sold out but they are a very different type of crowd. Younger, geekier, and often with very strong opinions. I soon discovered that both Michael and I are considered moderates rather than militants on issues like religion, homeopathy so we ended up being more on the backfoot than maybe the crowd had anticipated, but it was all very good natured and both Heather and Alun, the instigators of Aberdeen SitP did a very good job of controlling the crowd. I did not really present any content – In fact I told them that this was the last time that I would be talking about SuperSense and that I was moving on to new pastures. So instead I ranted on about what science is, why beliefs are inevitable and so on. Michael and I gave as good as we got and could have gone on for hours so I think that we succeeded in whipping the crowd into the right critical frame of mind which is what I think SitP is supposed to be.
I was really beginning to think the evening was mine until I rather stupidly asked whether anyone had been to the Uncaged Monkeys gig in Aberdeen the previous Sunday. There was roar of approval and swooning by the females (and males) and then I knew that, even though they were not there, the Uncaged Monkeys had still managed to steal the show again.