I was really excited to be asked along to a behind-the-scenes tour of the Royal Institution, including the making of this year’s Christmas Lectures. The Christmas Lectures have been taking place since 1825 and have been televised since the 1960s, making them much more of a long-running Christmas tradition than Christmas cards and even Christmas trees (yes, really! Cards have only been exchanged since the 1840s, after the penny post started up, and we borrowed the idea of decorated trees from Queen Victoria’s German husband, Albert, at about the same time).
I don’t pretend to be at all a sciency sort of person – frankly, even the ‘science part’ in shampoo commercials is waaaaay above my head – but I love the whole idea of the Christmas Lectures, which are aimed at getting children interested in how things work and which , as a consequence, work very well on me as well.
This year’s lecture is on a subject which I definitely have pondered – Size Matters. Before you even start to snigger, the lecture concerns the vexed question of why a flea can jump many times its own height, while an elephant can’t. Well, I would have thought the reason was obvious – we don’t want great big elephant-sized holes all over the world, do we? But materials scientist Dr Mark Miodownik is going to explain it all to us properly, on the 28, 29 and 30th December on BBC4 at 8pm.
As we arrived, a major crisis had just been averted. The performing fleas had upped and died overnight, potentially throwing one of Dr Miodownik’s demonstrations into chaos. But, luckily, a good crop of fleas had been found on a hedgehog at Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital and were being put into miniscule collars for their moment in the spotlight. Everyone was jumping for joy – though possibly not as high as the fleas – as the blighters are not easy to come by these days, apparently you cannot get hold of human fleas in the UK any more. Everyone seemed very upset about this, but I must say I think it is very good news.
Next we bumped into an elephant’s leg in the corridor, which came from our own Horniman Museum in Dulwich and had a walk-on part in the lecture.
Round the corner was Britain”s strongest man, and the remains of a dog made out of jelly, which had been dropped from a great height. I was beginning to feel a bit like Alice in Wonderland, when we stepped into a laboratory absolutely full of the most amazing jumble of stuff I have ever seen. I seriously expected Professor Branestawm to wander in at any moment. Just look at the picture:
I don’t know whether you can see, but there really is a bottle of meths right next to someone’s half-drunk cup of tea. I hope these scientists have good eyesight.
Anyway, the lectures promise to be a riot, and the lovely Dr Miodownik looks set fair to be the next famous telly scientist. Do watch the lectures over Christmas if you can.
Oh, and don’t forget to click over to the Next Christmas giveaway, the prize is worth £330 this time. For some unaccountable reason, I didn’t win last time, so this time it’s got to be me. Or you! Give it a go. Here’s the picture: