Friday, 25 January 2013

Joking, then to Essex (via Woking)

Last night I took part in Guildford Bright Club.  It's a kind of academic outreach activity in the form of stand-up comedy.  The idea is that university researchers, be they professors who find it hard to keep their eyes open during talks or new PhD students, with eyes blinking in wonder, the Bright Club format provides a place for them to engage with the sort of audience who thinks that going to a comedy night is perhaps more fun than going to a more formal public evening lecture.

I had misgivings about the name Bright Club, as being a bit superior (we're the bright ones), until I realised that it was a play on Fight Club, and my misgivings abated a bit.  It's a fun idea, and the events have a paid-for comedian to compere and some musical accompaniment.

Last night there were six researchers in a set of two halves, with comedy music to round off each half.  I was billed right at the end, and carefully sipped a single beer the whole evening so as not to have an inappropriate kind of Dutch courage that the stupid joke I suddenly though of might be funny.

I think it went okay.  I got some laughs.  I sort of lapsed into a stupid pastiche nerdy physicist voice at the end, which I hand't really meant or wanted to, but all-in-all it went well, I think.  I was allowed a free drink for performing, though was quite disappointed that it didn't extend to a free cocktail.  A shame, since we were in a cocktail bar.  Still, I guess I know my worth now; more than a glass of water but less than a martini.

On the other hand, today, I, without even the reward of an alcopop, went to Theydon Bois, near the far northeastern end of the Central Line to talk to a University of the Third Age (i.e. retired people interested in general intellectual things) group about nuclear physics.  I gave a version of the talk about nuclear applications that i give to general audiences, so was slightly abashed to discover that the core of the group is formed from retired (or semi-retired) scientists from Queen Mary University.  It turned out too that I was in a double bill with a member of the UA1 experiment that discovered the W and Z bosons, who is, as well as an ex-UA1 member, also a U3A member.  When he presented pictures of Feynman diagrams, I wondered if I hadn't pitched my talk a little low.

I was hoping that someone at the U3A meeting would be able to teach me something in exchange for the undoubted words of wisdom that I was giving them.  So I appealed at the end of my talk that if anyone could teach me how to tie a bow tie I would be most grateful, as I was going to a black tie event that evening.  One kind chap came up and showed me him tying it on himself.  He did it quite well, but with a little difficulty, and admitted that he was no expert and would have trouble doing it on me.  I should have stood there and tried, following his instructions over and over, but the call back to answer questions helped me wimp out of this display.

So after the talk, I headed off to the Royal Institution to the Friday Evening Discourse in which Jim Al-Khalili was talking.  Jim was kind enough to invite me along as his guest not only to the talk, but to a drinks reception beforehand.  I tried my usual trick of asking the people at the door if they could help me tie my tie, but they couldn't and I turned up the black tie reception with my black bow tie crossed over in a sort of rakish cravat affair.  It was deemed pretty cool.  The net effect is in the picture for you to see.  I enjoyed Jim's talk, and particularly that he acknowledged me at the end as "Professor" Paul Stevenson, despite the fact that lack that lofty status. I was sitting next to our faculty dean, whom Jim had also invited, and I'm sure he'll slowly get to think of me as a professor, and will be shocked into promotive action when he discovers I'm not.

Anyway, I'm on the train home, as you can see from the picture, and about to arrive at GLD, so I will bid you goodnight