December 17, 2013

Curmudgeonly Christmas

Karen tweeted

“… probably christmas grumpiness on Tuesday from @Gammidgy”

It’s true, I am a miserable and cynical sod, and Christmas provides me with so many delicious reasons to rant and rave. So many tacky, expensive and ridulous Christmas traditions, enjoyed seemingly for no reason other than that they are traditions, leave me bemused and somewhat scornful of my idiotic fellow humans.

But acting the grouch isn’t really in the Christmas spirit, so I will instead talk about happier things. Besides the presents and the caloric overload, what gets me childishly excited at this time of year is science. This year’s Royal Institution Christmas Lectures are being recorded right now and will be broadcast from the 28th. Do you non-UK uborkites get them? Do we export that with the same fanfare as Doctor Who and Downton? We bloody should.

I’ve always been a science geek. It’s a thing that my family have long indulged and my old friends politely tolerated. As is the way with the internet, in the last few years I’ve been able to find enough people like me that I no longer feel that kneejerk adolescent urge to appear cool by playing down my nerdity.

I remember watching the Christmas Lectures when I was too young to think of taping it. Now I get to watch it with my three kids and it’s a beautiful thing. Even after quite a few years of studying the stuff, I’m pretty sure I’m feeling exactly the same glee and wonder at the experiments as they are. I don’t think that particular awe at the universe’s workings is very far from a religious experience. Certainly the closest I’ll get.

I never really believed in God. Growing up in our village, the church was so much a part of everyday life that nobody appeared to take it all that seriously. My parents are religious in that peculiarly luke-warm yet dutiful C of E way; busily devoting their retirement to the upkeep of the material body of the church – brass polishing, grave trimming, bell ringing and summer fĂȘting – while God Himself is never mentioned at home except loudly when a glass breaks or a dog farts.

I’m not sure why, around Christmas four years ago, that I decided I needed to seek out other atheists and skeptics around and about. The specifics are hard to recall and harder to write, but I was generally having a pretty miserable time. Maybe I was looking for people to grouch with, to moan about predatory preachers and their deluded ovine followers, to laugh at the idiocy of pseudoscience, to sneer and do whatever it is that people who don’t understand skeptics think skeptics do. I can’t remember. Instead I found myself in a huge pub in Holborn packed with 200 happy laughing strangers, celebrating human generosity and the pursuit of knowlege and, incidentally, the complete redundancy of God.

It was around this time three years ago that, through Skeptics In The Pub, I met the utterly wonderful Ms Gammidgy. Together we’re trying to help three small people walk that happy line between conscious rationality and magic. This week she is making stockings, and kindly smiling when I grumble “cut up old tights and a potato sack were good enough for us”. Next Tuesday I’ll be helping the youngest boy sprinkle oats on the lawn for the reindeer, because even old skeptics need a day off.

There won’t be carols, but we may sing along to TMBG or Jonny Berliner. Karen has already written about last week’s In The Geek Midwinter show that Ms Gammidgy organised. It really was as good as she said, but better because Jonny played the song I asked for, the one he wrote for the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, his 80’s power ballad tribute to their founder and the inventor of electricity, Michael Faraday.

Happy Christmas


7 thoughts on “Curmudgeonly Christmas

  1. Oh we totally should. I’m going to be visiting family in the Cotswolds when the first one airs, but I’ll make them all watch it and I’ll tweet along.

  2. I don’t think I’ve ever watched the Christmas lectures, although I always mean to.

  3. You’ve reminded me, I must got First Born and Heir into the lectures. Mind you, he already enjoys OU documentaries with Jim al-Khalili, so I don’t think it will too much of a challenge.

  4. I’m still chuckling about how Jonny Berliner got references to Jim al-Khalili and interracial creampies into one verse. I’m such a child.

  5. No, we do not get the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, and I feel deprived*.

    BBC Canada runs fucking Top Gear seven days a week- twice a day. I think the least they can do to make up for it is give us the Lectures.
    *opens new tab to send email to BBC Canada*

  6. email sent
    “Dear BBC Canada

    We’ve been subscribers to your channel since its launch. We looked forward to the latest from the BBC. Then we looked forward to the recent.
    Finally we cheered when a new dramatic series was slotted in once or twice a year. Now it’s not much beyond a constant run of Top Gear and Graham Norton with a hefty filling of Canadian reruns of Mike Holmes.
    Please. It’s torturous.
    As a small token of recompense would you please run BBC4’s Royal Institution Christmas Lectures?

    Merry Christmas”

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