The ever-heartwarming Nine Lessons and Carols For Godless People came to snowy London again today. Happily, I also came to snowy London again today.
I saw many good comedians (Josie Long, Chris Addison, Richard Herring), and several good singer-songwriters whose names I have forgotten, and two elderly men singing a song that shouldn’t be funny but is.
The scientific turns were as staggeringly articulate and engaging as always. In particular, I was very taken with the brill Jim al-Khalili, talking about proofs for the Big Bang (via the question of why it gets dark at night):
“It does not matter where we look in the sky, if the Universe is infinite we should always see a star in our line of sight. So there would not be any gaps in the sky where we do not see a star and the whole sky should be as bright as the surface of the Sun, all the time!”
So why isn’t it?
“The true answer, the one which finally lays Olbers’ paradox to rest, is that the Universe has not been around forever, so light from very distant galaxies has simply not had enough time to reach us. If the Big Bang happened 13.7 years ago, then galaxies that are further away from us than 13.7 billion lightyears (remember a lightyear is the distance covered by light in a year) are invisible to us because their light is still in transit and has yet to reach us…Finally, we can turn Olbers’ paradox on its head and say that the real proof that the Big Bang happened is that it gets dark at night. Now isn’t that a cool argument to use when confronted by someone who is sceptical about evidence for the big bang!”
He also gave us a fascinating explanation of the quantum phenomena that permit the fusion of hydrogen atoms in the heart of the sun. Yeah, I know. Deep. I can’t seem to find the text of this online, but have a go at this for starters (seeing as George Gamow is responsible for much of this, I might as well include the old anecdote about Gamow adding the name of his colleague Hans Bethe to a paper authored by Gamow and Ralph Alpher – resulting in the Alpher-Bethe-Gamow paper, and one of the geekiest pranks known to man).
Here, to finish, is one of my favourite performers from last year’s show (absent – boo! – this year), talking backstage about comedy, nerds and morons.
Oh, incidentally, most people probably know this, but I didn’t: the title of the show refers to this, which is a pleasing festive staple for the godful.