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Author: Ian Johnston

Bang on the Road: Nottingham

Updated Wednesday, 5th May 2010
Forget the tabloid tales condemning Nottingham - the Bang crew find a city keen to know more about science

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Day 1: Saturday

It's a couple of hundred miles the M1 to Nottingham, and as I reach my destination I'm feeling a little nervous. Am I approaching what the tabloids have dubbed "the crime capital of Britain", a city where automatic gunfire rattles across the rooftops of an evening?

No, as it happens. I'm approaching a really smart tram system which whizzes me from the park and ride car park right to the Old Market Square in the middle of town, and spang in the middle of the Old Market Square is the familiar shape of the roadshow tent.

I find the OU stand and introduce myself to Claire Rothwell and her colleagues there - briefly, as they are inundated with customers keen to be devolved.

It's a fantastic setting, this time - even better than Edinburgh. The Square is clearly a popular place for hanging around, meeting friends and playing in the fountains and so it's a great site for luring people in.

Yan and Dallas are working the street science stand for all they're worth while Liz gets ready for her stage show.

Visitors to the Nottingham Roadshow
Visitors to the Bang Roadshow

Disaster strikes, though. My smart OU polo shirts haven't arrived, and my colleagues look me up, down and around before letting me know, very tactfully, that what's there wouldn't fit me. Luckily, I get a staff pass on a string, so I don't look completely random, but in order not to confuse visitors I decide that the most useful thing I can do before the Q&A spot is to fetch teas and coffees from the Starbucks opposite.


The OU team agree. And they're understandable thirsty, as by the end of the day they have devolved over a hundred and seventy people. I'm particularly impressed at how well they deal with a few creationists who aren't terribly impressed with a demonstration of evolution.

Soon Q&A time comes and I'm on stage with Yan, Dallas and Liz - Jem joins us tomorrow. It's a smaller audience than we had in Edinburgh, and the questions are definitely tougher. The first, from a very keen boy, who will clearly go far, is about the probably lives of stars in Orion and that sets the tone for the session.

Day 2: Sunday

The big excitement today is Jem's arrival and a demonstration of the coffee powered car which took him to the Manchester Roadshow, and which appears in the final episode of the current series. One passer by says it looks like a DeLorean, but it looks to me more like a scruffy old VW being wrestled to the ground by a steel anaconda.

Either way, it's spectacular and when it eventually gets started it's very impressive.

And very smelly.

I'm more official today - the BBC team take pity on my polo shirt-lessness and give me a smart "Bang!" T-shirt.

I therefore decide to earn my keep properly and throw myself into the devolution.

The local experts are very tolerant, and I soon start enjoying it and developing my patter - though I have to be careful to keep it brief as a lot of people want the experience.

Jem does his thing
The crowds try some science [Image: Ian Johnston]

The camera we're using only holds about 50 pictures and we have to empty it at least twice, so despite a slower start - well, it is Sunday morning - another 150+ people take the 3.7 million year trip back.

It's a very small audience for Q&A - just 50 or so - but that gives a nice chatty feel and we have a bit longer to discuss the questions.

G-forces and the aesthetics of science are today's hot topics and we throw these around until our poor compère is positively twitching to move on.

And that's it for me. The Roadshow has another day here, but I'm off home. I'd love to stay, but it's my son's fourth birthday the next day and some dates just can't be overwritten in the diary. On the car journey home I listen to an obituary of Alan Sillitoe, whose most famous novel, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning was about the life of a young bicycle factory worker in ... Nottingham. From what I saw, riotous Saturday nights in Nottingham haven't changed much in fifty years.

My dominant memory, though, is of the tall young Gothic man who loomed up to me on Sunday afternoon. "Are you the OU bloke from yesterday?" he asked. "Yes" I replied, slightly nervously.

"Good" he said. "What exactly is a Bose-Einstein Condensate?"

Only at a Bang Roadshow. I love it. Roll on Southend.

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