8 Lessons and Carols For Godless People

[Cross-posted on Artificial Habitat, including links (which I haven't embedded here) and a selection of photographs from the Natural History Museum]

Yesterday (Thursday 18th) was my birthday. What better way to celebrate than attending a godless Christmas show in London (along with a visit to the Natural History Museum and over 4 hours of walking around London)!

Comedian Robin Ince was inspired by an encounter with the delightful Stephen Green, who accused him of hating Christmas or somesuch, to organise a special Christmas show for non-religious people to come together in celebration of rationality, science.... and just for a good old laugh. The list of participating comedians, scientists and musicians was impressive. He called the show ‘9 Lessons and Carols For Godless People’ – referring to a traditional Christian service called (have you guessed yet?) ‘Nine Lessons and Carols’.

Given the line-up, it sounded like it was not an event to be missed, but tickets sold out fast..... very fast. I – in spite of my lack of a sufficiently objective basis for my morality – had decided to see if other people wanted tickets so I could book a whole bunch of them. Alas, this resulted in my missing the chance to get tickets for myself.

However, the unprecedented demand prompted them to put on another show, the night before, this time calling it ‘8 Lessons and Carols for Godless People’, and this time I was ready, as was one of my housemates. In the end we needn’t have panicked, as they put on a third show, on this coming Sunday, in a much larger venue, the Hammersmith Apollo. Details continue below the fold, just on the off-chance that you’re going to the Sunday showing and don’t want know too much about what you’ve got in store!

Well, we decided to make a bit of a day of it, and headed up to London in the morning, with a plan to visit the Natural History Museum and maybe look in a few shops. Rather than using the Tube to travel around London, we decided to walk from Waterloo to the Museum, and then to the Bloomsbury Theatre for the show, and finally back to the station (a rough triangle). Our estimates of the distances involved were not, shall we say, accurate, and furthermore our failure to bring some kind of map was not helpful. So we spent quite a lot of time walking around, trying to work out where we were in relation to where we were trying to get to. Still, that was fun too.

Anyway, we made it to the NHM, and had a bit of a look around (we didn’t have that much time, given how long we took to find the place), and we spent quite a bit of time in their Darwin exhibition, which was really interesting, and now I’m going to have to read much more of his writings, because he sounds like a fascinating character – we read tales of him throwing iguanas in the sea, annoying resting iguanas, and riding tortoises! There was loads of material in there! We also had a look around the mammals exhibits (Steve, predictably, wanted to find a badger, but was disappointed), and looked at a few birds and dinosaurs.

Then it was time for the hike to the show. Again, maybe we should have used the Tube, but we made it in plenty time.

The show....was awesome. Absolutely brilliant. Robin Ince as compere was very good (he is a great comedian in his own right) and did a good few bits of science related comedy in between acts.
There was stand-up comedy (not all of it directly, or even indirectly, related to religion, scepticism or science); Stewart Lee was very good, explaining to us his ‘argument from Richard Dawkins’ – he just looks at Richard Dawkins and thinks “nothing as complex and beautiful as Professor Richard Dawkins could evolve by random chance”; Josie Long related to us a 100% true (honest) story about Samuel Johnson referring to David Hume as a ‘fucking prick’; Natalie Haynes explained some of her dislike of children, while railing against anti-vaccination nutters; Ricky Gervais was wrong..... just....wrong; Andrew Collins told us how all 70’s and 80’s disaster films are basically Marxist propaganda, and how The Poseidon Adventure convinced him that god didn’t exist; and several other comedians whose names I can’t remember contributed short bursts of comedy.

There was some more serious stuff too: Ben Goldacre talked, very seriously and passionately, about those peddling vitamins and vegetables as cures for HIV/AIDS in Africa, and why we should never let anyone tell us that bullshit is harmless; Simon Singh talked a little about the Big Bang, and correcting scientific inaccuracies in pop song lyrics; Professor Richard Dawkins read to us about the dangers of ‘Gerin oil’, then gave an inspiring reading from Unweaving the Rainbow; and there were even a few posthumous contributions from Carl Sagan.

And there was music! Some involved audience participation, and some were just plain weird, but it was all good. I can’t remember the names of the singers, but we were treated to a song about Fermat’s last theorem sung to the tune of ‘No Woman, No Cry’, and a rather impassioned song sung from the perspective of a man on his death-bed, which basically involved a lot of swearing. But the best song (well, it was a tone poem rather than a song), and for me the best part of the entire show, was provided by Tim Minchin, a musician and comedian who I had not heard of until recently. He performed a number called ‘Storm’, basically a rant about spiritualism, alternative medicine, etc, etc – and it was, basically, perfect. The guy is brilliant. If you ever get the chance to see him, take it.

So, that was it. All in all – awesome. I think there are slightly different line-ups for each night, but they should all be great. The evening was filmed, so maybe it will be available on the internet, or on DVD, some day. I hope so.

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