I’ve stared at the back of both of their heads.

In what turned out to be a bit of a science-heavy week, HC, PB & I sauntered along to the Royal Albert Hall (coincidentally – my co-burrito-addict Mital came along the same night, but he was positioned up in the nosebleed section) to listen to a public lecture by Professor Stephen Hawking, relating to the release of his new book – The Grand Design.

We figured that there wasn’t going to be much to the staging/visual effects side of this particular event, so we plumped for the, ahem, more modestly priced tickets – in the choir balcony.  To wit, our view for the bulk of the night was as follows:

The talk itself was fascinating – both in terms of the content, and me spending most of my time wondering about the difference in perception that we were getting from the rest of the audience.  It turned out there was a large projection screen, so the 3 of us (along with our fellow cheapskates) had no idea what was being shown there.  In tradeoff though, we could see the screen of Hawking’s speech synthesiser, which gave quite an interesting flavour of how it is that he’s able to communicate (given that Motor Neurone Disease has left him unable to move other than small muscular cheek movements).  The lecture was entirely pre-prepared, and he manually paged through it, section by section.  We could see the selection mechanisms on his screen flickering back and forth, and occasional switches between screens which I’d taken as him mis-selecting the “next” option… growing more terrified that he’d accidentally lose his place and have to start again.  I was intrigued as to whether the audience “in front” would interpret his pauses as typing up new sections to talk about.  Never did find anyone to ask, though.

The actual lecture proceeded along 3 themes – a description of Hawking’s growing up in Highgate, then St Albyn’s & his journey into higher education from there, some narrative about his early research and the direction it took based on the options of who was available to study with, and then there was the stuff involving more specifics about singularities and black holes, and other actual cosmological bits & bobs that I found it a bit hard to grasp the specifics of but am convinced I’d have more idea of if only I could’ve seen the bloody projector screen.

Having fairly recently read Simon Singh’s book “Big Bang” I was quite fascinated that Hawking’s formative directions in cosmology were based on not wanting to work with Steady State theorist Fred Hoyle, and winding up following the only other option.  I also enjoyed his mentions of discussions and disagreements he’d had with Richard Feynman: a figure of science who has definitely made his way on to my dream dinner party list.

I found it pretty difficult concentrating on what Professor Hawking was saying, largely because of the accent/tempo of his speech synthesiser – again, an interesting discussion: there are now far more advanced technologies available for performing that task, however he’s grown to like the sound of his voice (understandably), and therefore isn’t upgrading the technology just for the sake of it.

The final nugget of information from the night is that we managed to find a decent pub to go to after the event that ISN’T the Hoop & Toy (the pub that we pretty much always end up at on the way back to the tube station after a Royal Albert Hall gig).  However I’m not going to tell you where it was.  So nyeaaah.