Robin Ince seems like a nice chap. I say that because the aloofness of some modern comedians does leave you thinking that they don't want to engage with real people unless they are going to provide new material.
Ince is hanging around at the front of the auditorium as we get seated and stays around during the interval. He invites people to the bar for a chat afterwards. He is not unkind to a young MC who introduces him as 'the guy from Wordaholics on Radio 4' even though he has only guested on that show once and his audience is probably more familiar with him from The Infinite Monkey Cage or The Now Show. Kindness doesn't cost anything. I tweet my thanks for a good gig and get a quick acknowledgement. Impressive. Also, he is, as I described him the other day, 'famously down on faith communities.' But he is quick to point out that he enjoys Greenbelt and shares the frustration of faith communities that the media promote fruit loops (my word not his) to be spokespeople. He is gentle at a guy whose phone rings, using it to illustrate a point he is making about time.
The show is called The Importance of Being Interested and in a manic sweep of the scientific world we are entertained with insights and wit about evolution, parenting, particle physics, astrology and several pictures of the world's most bonkers-looking creatures. The image of a crab that puts a sponge on its head as a defence mechanism will stay with me. Maybe I won't laugh at elderly men in hats quite so much in future.
Ince's point about the great scientists is that they were interested in observing. A story about playing different types of musical instruments to earthworms to see if they had any range of hearing at all is hilarious in the picture it conjures but also, actually, good science. Darwin is famous for deducing the Origin of Species from finch observations but he also did a lot of worm-watching and barnacle scrubbing. His daughter once asked a friend where her father kept his barnacles.
(I lived, as a child, with my mother, father, sister and an aunt - I once asked a friend where his aunt slept and discovering not all people had an aunt live with them was a little bit of growing up.)
Ince describes this show as a four hour one which he has to get into 90 minutes tonight. It does feel a little rushed but, observing the man on stage describing the range of his reading and extent of his contact book, I wouldn't be surprised if the four hour one feels rushed too. Not a criticism. He rushes because his child-like fascination with everything and everyone fills him and inspires him.
He has to fit the show into an hour in Cheltenham today. Good luck with that.
But Ince is just the sort of person I need to hear at a festival of ideas. He reminds me to be fascinated. Frankly I don't need much reminding although my enthusiasm is for how people's emotional and spiritual lives work.
Every time I go to one of these events I tell myself to go to more. I will look out, I remind myself again, for things to attend that are slightly outside my current range of interest. In that will be learning and development.