On the 16th of December 2016, Brian Cox and Robin Ince put on their charity event ‘The Christmas Compendium of Reason’ which included music, comedy and of course, science. This is the third time the pair have put on a Christmas compendium for charity that I attended and like every year, the guests were kept secret until the moment they came onto the stage.
The first act was the band was Public Service Broadcasting, who introduced the evening with a few songs, including some of their most popular songs ‘Go!’ and ‘Gagarin’. A lot of people seemed to be thrilled at this as it had been hinted at that they would be performing. After this was physicist and oceanography Helen Czerski, who talked about ocean waves and why Hawaii has such good surfing waves. Then followed Andrew Steele, a computational biologist – fun sounding I know – but as always, he found a funny way of telling us about Brexit and science funding (a not so fun fact, an average person only gives £2.80 to cancer research a year, but spends £600 on alcohol, students probably more!). By this point it was already 19:50 and the pair were already 15 minutes behind schedule, which by now has become something of a tradition!
After this, compendium regulars the Festival of the Spoken Nerd came on stage to sing about graphs and comparing the differences between slides on a PowerPoint and slides on a projector – sounds thrilling I know, but it really was very funny since one of the men couldn’t seem to properly work the projector so everything turned out backwards. At the end of their graph song, they showed off a piece of tech which produced sound waves out of fire, which was cool to watch. Adam Rutherford, a Radio 4 presenter, came on next to talk about Danny Dyer being related to Edward III. It wasn’t too impressive as, thanks to maths, it turns out that everyone alive in Europe right now is in fact related to Charlemagne thanks to inbreeding. I don’t really get it either, so I’ll move on.
The next act got me very excited when I heard him announced, since I’d grown up around programs like Deadly 60 on TV, so when the real Steve Backshall stepped out and starting talking about how much bad press sharks get, I was over the moon! He taught us that the pores on a shark are filled with jelly which means they can sense heartbeats from miles away, but they can also be used to send sharks into a deep sleep, which was very interesting. Chris Lintott from The Sky at Night followed with an explanation of a ringing sound observatories catch that has only been figured out recently. Turns out its caused by two black holes joining together in space which causes the sound. Next was Alice Roberts and Ben Garrod playing characters of god and a caveman respectively. They explain how Neanderthals and modern humans mated over 50,000 years ago and no one knew until recently. James Acaster followed with some comedy about nerds and his Christianity as a child.
Just before the break came a beautiful rendition of ‘Life on Mars’, originally by David Bowie, performed by Nitin Sawnhey and sung by Eva Stone, which everyone on twitter went mad for during the break, including me! By this point the show was only over-running by half an hour, so probably a record!
After the break, Sophie Ellis Bexter sang an effortlessly wonderful version of Prince’s ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ to the overwhelming support of the crowd. After that another David Bowie cover, this time it was ‘Sweet Thing’ performed by David McAlmont with Clifford Slapper on piano. Paul Abel, Brian Cox, Robin Ince and Chris Lintott did a quick Q&A after this, where they talked about gravity, dark matter and black holes and like every year, someone asked them to explain the expansion of the universe because they still didn’t get it. Lucy Cooke then came out to talk about how the sweat glands on a beaver’s bum are used to flavour vanilla, which is apparently totally legal here… she definitely changed some opinions on cheap vanilla ice cream with that. Greg Foot, the science man on Blue Peter, came on stage, presenting a question posed by an 8-year-old from Manchester – how fat would you need to be to stop a bullet? He then pulled out a glock and pretended to shoot Matt Parker (from the Spoken Nerds) with the help of cleverly placed pyrotechnics. He then told us the answer… You would need 48cm of fat to stop a bullet, so basically, you can’t stop a bullet with your fat. Ben Goldacre, the fast-talking researcher, told us about his new website project which exposes the around 50% of scientific research that is never made public. He also encouraged us all to join him in naming and shaming people who don’t hand out their findings to the public. Milton Jones came out and was just hilarious as usual. Everyone in the room was laughing as he began a joke about his dad being an astronomer and a Scottish woman behind me heckled him just shouting ‘oh really’. He responded well and after another heckling of the same phrase, he began his own heckling and walked off the stage mumbling it to himself – it may not sound as hilarious as I think it was, but everyone in that room agreed with me!
A previous guest fresh from a book signing in either Brighton or Bristol – neither being a small journey just to introduce the final band – Chris Hadfield is an American astronaut who went to space 3 times and went on 2 space walks, one where he actually walked through the southern lights, which sounds like an amazing experience to me.
The band Hadfield was there to introduce had to follow in the footsteps of bands the had closed the show before which included The Cure and New Order, but they really did go all out this time, as when Hadfield said, “the vision of planet earth can barely be summarised in spoken word, so here it is in song”. Duran Duran appeared on stage behind the raising curtain playing ‘Planet Earth’. They played ‘Pressure Off’ with Janelle Monae from their newest album and a cover of David Bowie song, as well as ‘Wild Boys’, ‘I Won’t Cry for Yesterday’ and to a dancing crowd and confetti cannons, they ended on ‘Rio’, to mine and my mum’s excited screams.
Overall, the evening was an amazing one, which is why all but the balcony seats for next year were already sold out the next morning – their crowd is a dedicated one! I urge anyone, even those not too into the science aspect to go, as the comedy and music is always amazing and the science is usually pretty funny and interesting too! Not to mention it’s all for charity, so why not try something new?