Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Gardens, Spaceships, Antimatter and Pschotherapy.

A packed day in Hay. We started by discovering some Welsh gardens with Stephen Anderton and Charles Hawes. Sarah and I both enjoy visiting gardens, especially since someone else has to do the mowing. This talk, accompanied by photographs, was good source material for some new days out at gardens we are ashamed to admit we'd never even heard of – some of them so mainstream I'm no-way going to admit to them by name in this blog.

Piers Bizony is a space historian. He delivered a talk to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11, accompanied by sumptuous archive photos that have rarely, if ever, been seen before. I'm a sucker for all things Apollo. I was 13 when the small step/giant leap was taken and, okay, I didn't really learn anything new, but so what? I love Apollo stuff and I can't get enough of it. Apollo was one of mankind's greatest adventures, and the spirit and excitement of the time was captured so well in this talk. Tempted to buy the book… very tempted, but I don't have bottomless pockets and I'm down to the bits of fluff and sweet-wrappers already.

Then we had Frank Close talking about antimatter. A bit of a slow start, this. A lot of the intro and subsequent talk was focused on a rebuttal of Dan Brown. Yes, I know the antimatter stuff in Angels and Demons is rubbish. I know the facts are wrong. Yes it is annoying and yes it must be massively infuriating to physicists at CERN who work on the stuff. But we weren't there to hear about what was wrong with Angels and Demons, we were there to learn about the current knowledge base of particle physics and of antimatter in particular, and maybe, also, to find out a bit about Frank Close's new book. We got there in the end, but it was only when the questions from the floor began that we started to get to the meat of it. A pity. When he got into his stride Frank Close was extremely good at putting a mind-bogglingly difficult subject across to an intelligent but mixed audience of differing backgrounds. (For the record, I quite liked Angels and Demons, the book, and I do plan to see the film. Yes, Dan Brown does make it quite hard for the reader to suspend his disbelief, especially when he tries to sell some of the nonsense as fact, but you know, he can also spin a pretty good yarn.)

We wrapped up the day with an interview with Derek Draper, the Labour spin-doctor turned Psychotherapist. A bit of a filler, this. Neither of us were sure what to expect. Well, it was riveting. There were all sorts of tensions going on. Uncomfortable questions. Honest answers. Insights into psychoanalysis. Insights into politics. In fact we were moved to search beneath the fluff and sweet-wrappers and we bought the book. We'll be fighting each other for who reads it first.

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