The British Library rocks my socks. They host so many interesting events. We have seen illustrators Anthony Browne, Peter Sis and Emily Gravett as well has author Neil Gaiman. We’ve been to Sci-Fi panel discussions on what really is possible--this event is where I was introduced to my biggest girly crush Helen Arney. She is the most amazing geek songstress and player of the ukulele. The day after the panel discussion, I went out and bought my first ukulele. Once for my birthday we went to the British Library for a dramatic reading of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol that featured a Victorian conjurer. Their events are always varied and never boring and always cost less than a tenner. Plus the British Library is just a hop, skip and a jump from King’s Cross Station. What could be easier?
Last night was no exception. We went to the last part of the Festival of the Spoken Nerd tour which stars Helen Arney the ukulele player of my dreams (and physicist by day), Steve Mould science presenter and comedian and BBC1 presenter of Britain’s Brightest and lastly, Matt Parker the only stand up mathematician in the UK.
It was a night full of comedy and maths and science thrills. They told us about how the British library uses robots to retrieve their books, how the books are kept in a place with reduced oxygen to prevent fires starting (this was demonstrated by attempting burn a copy of the Daily Mail in a Perspex box that had been filled with dry ice. The CO2 makes the lighter go out and keeps the paper from burning.) We heard about the collection of weird patents the library keeps--condom advent calendar, anyone? Plus interviews with real scientist working with the Heritage Smells project who are using centrifugal devices to smell out decay in books and other items.
At the interval we could do some sniff tests to see if we could name certain household items by the smell (I got coffee, orange and lemon but could not get cucumber or mango) or scan items in a high tech machine that would tell you what you product was *really* made of (2 people who thought they had leather wallets were disappointed as well as a man with a tie that turned out to be rayon not silk.) You could hear various animals from the BL’s sound archive and guess what they were-- there was a walrus who sounded like a beat box and a haddock who purred and a bird who could imitate a fax modem form the 1980s. There were handmade alcoholic cocktails made by a company called Alchemy Dreams. We tried the one called Musty Books which contained elderberry, vanilla, bergamot and pine needles mixed with a double measure of 19%abv handmade liqueur and was meant to recreate the sweet old paper smell of a well- loved book. And it did--it tasted like an old book smells.
The show was so much fun, but the highlight for me was speaking to Helen Arney afterwards and thanking her for the recent songbook she’s put out with the ukulele chords to all of her cool science based songs from Voice of an Angle (which I urge you to download from here . http://helenarney.com/) She very kindly personalised it to me and my 2 ukes Ruth and Tallulah at Thomas‘ request. But when I mentioned Ruth and Tallulah she remembered me! That thrilled me to no end and I was on cloud 9 all the way home.
Thanks again to British Library for bringing culture and fun and books (and bespoke alcohol) into our lives once more!