Saturday 15 September 2012

Taking the Open Mic

A blog post by Patrick Redmond (@paddyrex)

I really didn’t know what to expect to be honest. Yes, I’d communicated with all the speakers to get a rough idea of their talks but I had no real idea how it was going to go and so was just a little nervous. To add to this one of the speakers, Francis, had been sent away by work at the last minute putting us one turn down and the Vic had a brand new super spanking sound system installed, but the cable for the projector had disappeared.

The room was however full, the crowd expectant and the clock ticking. The excellent Jools of the Vic arranged to get a cable  taxied across town to us and I rounded up the speakers who could go on without a PowerPoint to start us off whilst we waited. And then the  night began, and what a great night it was.

First up we had Mil Millington who treated us to a story. A story that whilst being amusing contained within it a dark humour and a moral dilemma for the audience. It is a story with a purpose that demands a response and Mil is posing it to groups all over and gathering in their answers. Enigmatically we still don’t know what the intention of this project is but when we do we’ll post it up on this blog. We gathered up and sent on all the scraps of answers that people left behind but if you find that you took yours home and would like to send it in then email it over to us and we'll pass it on.

Next was Jade Quarrell talking about the harm that CAM and quackery can do. Jade shared her family’s experience, talking about cancer, illness, death and still making us laugh. It was personal, poignant and illuminating. The text of her talk can be found here and good as it is written down it was better live because it was Jade telling it.

To round off the first half Coventry SitP co-organiser Blake Hutchings took to the stage with his guitar and the Skeptic Song. Blake is filling that gap in the non-Australian skeptical songster market and is very very good. His song took an amusing sideways look at what it is to be a skeptic, how we fit into the world and how we might look to other people.

The second half kicked off with SitP relative newby Grant Carpenter. Despite only having been to two meetings before this one Grant offered to do a piece called Expanding our Skepticism, looking at pagan religions and asking how should Skepticism respond to them.  I’ve had several chats with Grant and he’s one of those people that researches topics thoroughly and this was no exception. Pushing his fifteen minutes to the limit (and beyond to be honest) he  gave us a brief but thorough introduction to the topic  and then invited the audience to respond, and respond they did. I had to cut the audience short in the end but I think Grant would have been happy to hold the stage all night given the chance.

Long-time attendee Simon Stanford took the stage with a look at hoax computer viruses. Sounds like it would be dry doesn’t it? Well you’re wrong, it wasn’t, at least not the way Simon did it. It was funny and fast and aimed most accurately at his target audience from beginning to end. As one of our organisers, Laura, tweeted at the time “Everyone, @simonstanford's talk for @brum_skeptics is hilarious nerdy and XKCD. You're missing out if you're not here.”

Convention demands that such a show should end on a song and far be it for us to fly in the face of this lyrical edict. Blake took to the stage once more and this time he  took on God and belief and believers with Yahweh's Last Stand, not short of ambition is Blake. He’s got a full talk in the pipeline and you can be pretty sure we’re going to get him back some time next year.

Those were the talks and I can’t possibly do them justice here and my typed words are also inadequate to convey the mood of the room. The crowd were amused, interested and entertained in good turn. A tweet at the time from another of the organisers, Neil, captures it better and more succinctly:

“So, tonight... faintly absurd, certainly unexpected, but overall pretty fantastic. @Brum_Skeptics is something special.”

Many many  thanks to those brave and generous  people who put  themselves forward and made the night what it was and to all those that came and created the atmosphere. If you want to see some of what it was like for yourself  then  check back on our DVD page here or on Facebook soon for it when it comes out. In the meantime enjoy the great photos by our very own Simon Brettell.

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