Skip to main content

Science as you've never heard it before in Birmingham

As I write, the British Science Festival (run by the organization formerly known as the BA) is still trundling along in Birmingham, ironically due to finish on 19 September, the day the Pope arrives in the city.

Last night I took part in one of the most unusual science/writing events I've ever attended. I was a judge, along with fellow writers Sue Guiney and Tania Hershman (the mastermind behind the event) of an open mic session for fiction and poetry inspired by science. It took place in this rather imposing building, The Old Joint Stock, a cavernous pub in the baroque railway station restaurant style. The venue houses a theatre, but we were in a rather cosier function room, tucked away on the first floor.

The judges were, to say the least, a little nervous. There had been no choice about the location, away from most of the Festival events, nor about operating without tickets (which gives no clue as to how many will turn up). In the end, a small but very interesting group joined us - enough to run the competition, with further particpants and audience straggling in over the next two hours. (Students, eh?)

Each of the judges read a little bit of their work (I was the joker in the pack, as the only non-fiction writer), then it was over to the competitors. I really had no idea what to expect. As it happened, the results were diverse and fascinating - genuinely good fun. Diversity was lacking in form - it was all poetry - but we had everything from a love poem cleverly based on the nature of quarks (the particles that make up protons and neutrons, whose attractive force gets stronger as they are separated) to a short epic (if that isn't an oxymoron) on the celebrated pioneer forensic pathologist Sir Bernard Spilsbury, from a sophisticated poem describing the impact of an atomic bomb as 'flash photography' to a delightful piece for children about the moon, which would work very well as the text for a children's book.

Prizes were duly awarded (from the table shown), a few of our books sold and a good time was had by all. General agreement was it a real success and ought to be done again. Only next time, you'll be there, I hope.


  1. Glad to have been there, and to have walked away with your book, Infinity, as one of my chosen prizes. I'm looking forward very much to reading it.

  2. It was great. I so enjoyed the whole thing, and especially finally getting to meet you, Brian. Onward to next year!


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Why I hate opera

If I'm honest, the title of this post is an exaggeration to make a point. I don't really hate opera. There are a couple of operas - notably Monteverdi's Incoranazione di Poppea and Purcell's Dido & Aeneas - that I quite like. But what I do find truly sickening is the reverence with which opera is treated, as if it were some particularly great art form. Nowhere was this more obvious than in ITV's recent gut-wrenchingly awful series Pop Star to Opera Star , where the likes of Alan Tichmarsh treated the real opera singers as if they were fragile pieces on Antiques Roadshow, and the music as if it were a gift of the gods. In my opinion - and I know not everyone agrees - opera is: Mediocre music Melodramatic plots Amateurishly hammy acting A forced and unpleasant singing style Ridiculously over-supported by public funds I won't even bother to go into any detail on the plots and the acting - this is just self-evident. But the other aspects need some ex

Is 5x3 the same as 3x5?

The Internet has gone mildly bonkers over a child in America who was marked down in a test because when asked to work out 5x3 by repeated addition he/she used 5+5+5 instead of 3+3+3+3+3. Those who support the teacher say that 5x3 means 'five lots of 3' where the complainants say that 'times' is commutative (reversible) so the distinction is meaningless as 5x3 and 3x5 are indistinguishable. It's certainly true that not all mathematical operations are commutative. I think we are all comfortable that 5-3 is not the same as 3-5.  However. This not true of multiplication (of numbers). And so if there is to be any distinction, it has to be in the use of English to interpret the 'x' sign. Unfortunately, even here there is no logical way of coming up with a definitive answer. I suspect most primary school teachers would expands 'times' as 'lots of' as mentioned above. So we get 5 x 3 as '5 lots of 3'. Unfortunately that only wor

Which idiot came up with percentage-based gradient signs

Rant warning: the contents of this post could sound like something produced by UKIP. I wish to make it clear that I do not in any way support or endorse that political party. In fact it gives me the creeps. Once upon a time, the signs for a steep hill on British roads displayed the gradient in a simple, easy-to-understand form. If the hill went up, say, one yard for every three yards forward it said '1 in 3'. Then some bureaucrat came along and decided that it would be a good idea to state the slope as a percentage. So now the sign for (say) a 1 in 10 slope says 10% (I think). That 'I think' is because the percentage-based slope is so unnatural. There are two ways we conventionally measure slopes. Either on X/Y coordiates (as in 1 in 4) or using degrees - say at a 15° angle. We don't measure them in percentages. It's easy to visualize a 1 in 3 slope, or a 30 degree angle. Much less obvious what a 33.333 recurring percent slope is. And what's a 100% slope