Saturday, 23 October 2010

A report from day 1 The Amazing Meeting (TAM) London 2010, by James Ellor

Well, as some of you might know, I went to TAM London this weekend, and I kindly volunteered to write a blog post of my experiences. There’s only one problem: I don’t know where to start.

The weekend was so jam-packed full of talks and comedy and music and random photography, and yet flew by so quickly, that I would need my own blog (which I do have, but that’s beside the point) and much more time than I have now, to even begin to do it justice. But I’ll give it a go. I may miss some important details but I do hope I’ll be able to portray the sheer awesomeness that was TAM London 2010.

Firstly, I didn’t go alone. My good friend Darryl Hewitt, who introduced me to Dawkins, atheism, scepticism and all that malarky some time in 2006 offered to come with me ever since I rang him up a few months ago, hysterically shrieking that we must go to this thing in October! We stayed at a dingy but cosy hostel near Piccadilly Circus for a couple of nights, and got the tube to TAM each morning, excessively bleary-eyed on the Saturday due to a lack of breakfast, caffeine and sleep.

The first ‘celebrity’ I saw was the YouTuber AndromedasWake (aka Tommy K) who was first in line outside the Monarch Suite of the Hilton Metropole. For those of you who don’t know, AndromedasWake makes some simply superb videos focused on debunking the astronomical claims of creationism (that’s astronomical as in pertaining to astronomy, not as in large or immense, though either definition is apt). He also has a sister channel, SiriusStargazing, which is very useful for amateur or novice astronomers in identifying some of the features of the night sky. He is also one of the co-founders of the League of Reason, a collective of skeptic YouTubers who host BlogTV discussions every other Sunday.

 Anyway! The next was Richard Dawkins who hurried past (he did a lot of hurrying past, but we got him in the end) into the main room, where we soon entered after failing to find coffee. After a quick performance by the Amateur Transplants, Richard Wiseman introduced James Randi, who rightly received a standing ovation before even saying anything. The first speaker was ex-parapsychologist Susan Blackmore, who gave a talk on her fruitless attempts to prove ESP and psychics, which eventually led her to become a professional skeptic.

She was followed by Richard Dawkins, who gave an interesting talk on evolution being “The New Classics”. Classics being the study of ancient Mediterranean philosophy, literature and art, seen in the past as essential study needed to fully understand the rest of academia. Evolution, he argued, is a modern equivalent; one can only fully understand biology if there is a full understanding of evolution.

American journalist Cory Doctorow followed with a chilling talk on the possibilities of heavier copyright laws being pressed by the US government and record companies. Adam Rutherford, editor of Nature and columnist for The Guardian was next, who told us about his experiences when he joined the Alpha Course (a 10 week course on Christianity hosted at churches throughout the country ) and met its founder, Nicky Gumbel. Apparently it’s very very homophobic. I might join one myself to have a look.

Then there was lunch, and the tea/coffee tables there had actual chests of Twining’s tea which I made full advantage of.

On our return were talks by Andy Nyman (good friend of Derren Browns and a co-writer of many of his shows), Paula Kirby (journalist and writer, who gave a talk on the hilarious horrors of Britain’s right-wing religious parties) and Karen James (spokesperson for the HMS Beagle Project, aiming to rebuild and re-sail the HMS Beagle in commemoration of Darwin’s 19th Century voyage).

Robin Ince then had a delightful interview with James Randi which honestly could have gone on for a hundred times longer and been just as fascinating. He told stories of how he debunked many fraudulent ‘psychics’ over the years, including Uri Geller and the faith healer Peter Popoff. The lamentable fact is, of course, is that these are still at it, garnering followers decades after they were exposed for the money-grabbing frauds they are.
After an interlude of two hours (during which Darryl and I searched the Edgware Road for half an hour before finding a restaurant that wasn’t a McDonalds’ or KFC) we hurried back to the hotel for an evening with Tim Minchin. He gave us a rousing knees-up rendition of the infamous Pope Song, plus a new song called ‘Cont’ (short for ‘Context’… and that’s a clue) before we were treated to the premiere of an animated version of his beat-poem Storm  (not released until January 2011).

We finally arrived back at the hostel at around 1am, fully aware we’d be up again at 7am for another day of intellectual fascination…. Which I’ll cover in the next blog post   :)

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