Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Time Traveller and the Wiseman

There is an old adage that goes something like 'to feel good surround yourself with good people' and it's very true. The past couple of days has seen me chewing the fat with some of the most interesting, smart and funny people you could hope to meet.

On Wednesday, I went over to Oxford to meet Chris Wild, better known as The Retronaut. If you haven't seen his extraordinary website yet, have a look here. It's wonderful. And it's hugely popular with millions of hits. There is something fascinating in history being presented in such a visual way. He has some extraordinary new developments and products coming soon. You won't be disappointed.

We met at The Bear, which claims to be Oxford's oldest pub. The present building was built in the early 17th century as the residence of the inn's ostler. The inn itself, now long gone, dated back to 1242 and when it closed in 1801, there were over thirty bedrooms, with stabling for a similar number of horses. It was especially fashionable in the 17th century when judges and royal commissioners were among the patrons. But what makes The Bear unique is its collection of over 4,500 snippets of decorative ties, started in the 1950s, and given by customers (some famous) in exchange for a pint of beer. These are displayed in glass-fronted cases on the walls and even the (low) ceiling.

It was a splendidly sunny day - a fact that was wholly at odds with the raging log fires in the pub - so I had a wander around and reeled off a few snaps of the various university buildings.

Thursday saw me firstly having lunch in Soho with Huw Williams, my creative director best mate, during which we absolutely put the world to rights. Then it was on to the Groucho Club for a meeting with QI supremo and all-round lovely feller John Lloyd to talk about some projects I have on the go. He's very possibly the best sounding board I know and has the natural ability to spot the jewels among the gruel. I guess that's why almost everything he's been involved in has been hugely successful - The News Quiz, QI, Not the Nine O' Clock News, Spitting Image, Blackadder ... and not forgetting his award-winning Barclaycard adverts featuring Rowan Atkinson and Ben Miller and the Boddington's commercials that launched the career of Mel Sykes. Thanks to him I now have a much clearer idea of where to take some ideas.

Then yesterday evening I went to The Adam Street Club near The Strand for a fascinating and very funny talk by Professor Richard Wiseman on the psychology of lying. Richard is the author of several best-selling books - most recently Quirkology and 59 and is the most quoted psychologist in popular media. Much of his appeal comes from the fact that his field of research is our everyday behaviour. He is fascinated in us and the things we do in our day-to-day lives. He's studied such things as our attitudes to luck, how we see the world, whether we are inherently good or selfish and, most recently, why we choose to believe in things for which there is little or no evidence. His latest book Paranormality comes out next month and deals exclusively with this subject. Richard started his professional life as a stage magician and then became fascinated enough with the psychology involved to study the subject and, ultimately, to become a professor. His talk was peppered with great stories, illusions, magic tricks and science and I learned a tremendous amount. The fact that it was such an intimate affair - the audience numbered no more than 30 - made it even better.

So, a great week so far. Looking forward to Saturday now and the Alt Wycombe Festival where I'm exhibiting some artwork and will be chatting to people about art classes.

It's all go.

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