it's teatime on Sunday afternoon, it's getting dark, and actual genuine snow is falling outside. It's been falling for most of the day. It made this morning's drive back from Orpington a bit of a challenge, particularly as the M4 was reduced to two lanes between Membury Services and the Swindon West junction because lane three was under several inches of snow. Traffic was stop-start for miles.
As I sat in the car I was thinking about a similar journey - but in the opposite direction - that I made back in 2010 when I ended up stuck at my brother's house for several days after London was hit by heavy snow and, as this only happens every ten years or so, massively failed to cope. It sounds like they massively failed to cope again today, as the travel news on the radio gave the impression that most overground rail services in the capital had stopped running, and so had flights into and out of Heathrow, Luton and Stanstead. The snow seems to have stayed north of the M4, but the temparature outside is dropping and I really don't fancy my chances of trying to get in to work at 6 tomorrow morning. There were enough nutters on the road this afternoon. At least this time I'm at home. I switched the heating on as soon as I got in, and the house is lovely and warm.
Yesterday I'd gone into town to meet up with friends for the afternoon and we spent several hours chatting and drinking coffee in a bakery that was so goo, I'm not going to tell you where it is, because I intend going back there whenever I go to London and I want to make sure that I can get in.
In the evening I went to the Dome in Tufnell Park for an evening of top-grade metal. First on stage were My Propane, from the Netherlands. They were really good - and when they left the stage, it wasn't the last we'd see of guitarist Jord Otto (on the left) as he also plays guitar for Vuur...
Next up were one of my favourite bands, the extraordinary Scar Symmetry from Sweden.
They roared through a blistering hour-long set and when they'd finished, the two gents standing next to me were obviously mightily impressed. "Why are these guys not massively famous?" one was asking the other. "They're one of the best metal bands I've ever seen!" He wasn't wrong. I caught up with Per afterwards, who reminded me that one reason that they haven't been particularly active recently is that he's been filling in as guitar player for another notable metal band you may have heard of, called Meshuggah. If you haven't checked out Scar Symmetry, you really need to do so, and do it now!
The main act were Vuur from the Netherlands. Lead singer Anneke van Giersbergen has an amazing voice and aside from her band The Gathering she's also released a number of solo projects like The Gentle Storm, as well as contributing vocals for many of Devin Townsend's recent projects, but Vuur is the first time that she's put together her own metal band. The debut album only came out about three weeks ago but London was in a singy mood and she was rather taken aback to discover that the crowd were familiar with the material: "You already know all the words? Holy shit!"
Four hours went by in the blink of an eye. It was a cracking gig for the start of the festive season and the whole day was a real shot in the arm for me, as I'd been flagging after an intense week at work. I didn't sleep particularly well that night, as I was buzzing from all the coffee I'd drunk together with the adrenaline boost you get from a good day. My phone tells me I walked over six miles during Saturday, and nearly five the day before, so it's no wonder I feel tired this evening.
I paid a nostalgic visit to this building on Friday. No matter how many times it changes its name, it will always be the Hammersmith Odeon to me. I've been going to gigs here for nearly forty years; the first concert I ever saw here was Devo, back in 1978. Back then, my ticket cost me the princely sum of £4.50. Friday's ticket was a little more expensive than that, but it was all in a good cause as the event I was attending raises money for the Sophie Lancaster Foundation and Medecins Sans Frontieres.
The evening had got off to a great start even before I got inside, when I heard that Ruth had successfully defended her thesis in viva at Bangor University and was now Doctor Ruth Dickson! Hooray!
It was the third time in a row that I've gone to Robin and Brian's Christmas Compendium of Reason; it's become a bit of a Christmas tradition for me. As you can see from that link, once again I was treated to a heady mix of science, comedy and pop music. This year it was a delight to see Bristolian Laura Kidd take to the stage to sing her song "Stargazing" backed by the Hackney Colliery Band:
The rest of the evening flew past and left me with a bemused but happy grin on my face. Hannah Fry had written a program that generated a convincing (if rather dark) Queen's speech. Andrew Steele's presentation on medical sort codes left me giggling in disbelief (there is a code for injuries caused by space-based laser weapons, as well as one for injuries cause by being crushed between two ships in which no damage is caused to either vessel). Ben Goldacre once again gave an hour-long presentation in something approaching six minutes. Adam Rutherford's examination of just what the Habsburg Chin signified in terms of the Spanish Royal Family's family tree left me boggling, as did Charlotte Church's medley of popular dance numbers that included Prince's "Get Off" but also strutted over to metal territory, mugged Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" and then gave Rage Against The Machine's "Killing In The Name" a thorough seeing to. Utterly bonkers.
Chris Lintott was on hand to discuss Oumuamua, the recent visitor to the solar system that I blogged about last month...
Chris Hadfield was on hand to explain that while you can't see the Great Wall of China from space, you can see the M25. Stewart Lee revealed that he too had spent several years in space after developing his own space programme. Grace Petrie sang for us to the accompaniment of an exhuberant tap-dancer. Astronaut Terry Virts talked about his experiences in space. Brian broke the projector, but still regaled the audience with tales of gravitational waves. And the Festival of the Spoken Nerd folks cracked scientific one-liners galore, explained what a hyperbolic function was, and set fire to things. And finally, Sophie Ellis-Bextor sang "Murder on the Dancefloor" while Jim Al-Khalili, Doctor Karl, Brian Cox, Chris Hadfield and Dara O'Briain did crap dad-dancing at the back of the stage.
As a way of kicking off December, Robin and Brian's shows are hard to beat. They're doing a sequence of Nine Lessons shows over the rest of this month, and you really ought to go along. They'll be huge fun.
The only trouble with going to shows in London is that it results in a rather late night. It was 4am before I got to bed. And I was back on the road a few hours later to drive up to Penwortham to help celebrate my Aunty joan's 90th birthday.
We went out for cream tea. There was cake. And prosecco. I got to see my siblings and hang out for a while - we don't do that often enough.
By the time I got home on Sunday afternoon, I'd driven more than 700 miles since setting out for work on Friday morning.
I was really glad of the memory stick full of podcasts that I keep in the car - when you're crawling through the roadworks on the M5 towards Birmingham, it's good to have something upbeat and optimistic to listen to, because the traffic was brutal.