Susan Morrison: Mating, murder and, er, the Kardashians

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Surely the Edinburgh International Science Festival raises the overall IQ of the city?

Suddenly we are awash with people who can lean over and casually explain why dark matter in the universe is a good thing and not the same as dark matter down the toilet bowl, which is a bad thing, why sharks are actually quite nice and that the large Hadron Collider is actually a scientific thing and not a Bond villain’s lair, something I long suspected.

All last week during the festival I was a comedian on an adventure with scientists.

In the course of a few short days my ageing brain had to get up to speed on subjects as varied as mating, murder and my own rapidly thinning grey matter.

On Tuesday, we asked are we monogamous?

It’s a good question. For one thing, it doesn’t seem possible to stay married to a Kardashian for longer than four episodes of a ‘reality’ television show.

Panic not, good people, that’s not an item in the UKIP manifesto.

If you are reaching for your pen to write a stinging letter in defence of the good people of Kardashia and their marriage customs, first of all, well done, you haven’t a clue what a Kardashian is. Secondly, I do apologise because you, clearly a clever cookie, will ask about and discover what a Kardashian actually is, and it was I who let that into your world. Sorry.

This year, the Yorkshireman and I will hit 26 on the clock of matrimony.

We remain married because a) I won him in a bet (true) and b) I told him divorce that was illegal in Scotland. I suspect he stays married through sheer bloody-mindedness.

On Wednesday, we explored the murky world of Victorian murder.

It’s a weirdly interesting point to note that Scottish women dominate the worlds of both crime fiction and forensic science.

Val McDermid, Denise Mina and Lynn Anderson all write pages of 
murderous prose whilst our scientists, such as Dr Sue Black and Caroline Wilkinson, bang killers up in real life.

In the course of our murderous evening, Dr Katherine Harkup, a smart gal who knows her poisons, took us through the drill for a classic Victorian arsenic bump-off, as practiced by Madeleine Smith, a Glasgow teen you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of. Or was she?

It remains one of the greatest ‘Not Proven’ verdicts in Scottish legal history, after all, but that young lady sure bought a whole heck of a lot of arsenic. Katherine was worried by the amount used. She said it would have killed ten men. I was worried by the amount of women in the audience who were writing down dosages.

And finally we discovered how to stop your brain ageing and remember stuff. I can’t recall what happened there, but they seemed to suggest that red wine was A Good Thing. I think we can all agree on that.

Villains big on health and safety

Actually, I had abandoned that theory about the collider/villain lair thing myself. One clue gave it away.

Say what you like about Dr No and Goldfinger, and I am sure that their many plans to take over the world were nefarious, but they had high health and safety standards for their employees, who were always kitted out in the very best of gear.

Whenever we had a glimpse into the world of a Bond supervillain, usually during a shoot-out in an underground rocket launching bunker or nuclear submarine hideaway, the range of clearly identifiable hi-vis overalls, safety glasses and colour-coordinated helmets never failed to impress, whilst we sent one of our top spies clad in a dinner suit.

By contrast, the scientists who are pottering about the collider are utterly lovely people, but very few are clad in anything remotely matching, not even socks.


It’s just as well we don’t have the Science Festival, The Book Festival, The International Festival and the Fringe all at the same time. Why, with all that brain power, we’d just take over the world. I mean take a good look at Edinburgh Castle. You’re not telling me that’s not custom made to be a Bond villain’s lair.

Betcha there’s no app for that

The world was vaguely sciency when I was growing up. We had moon landings, we had The Sky At Night, we had Tomorrow’s World and Bond just wasn’t Bond without his hidden team of white-coated lab geeks, developing exploding attaché cases, teeny tiny cameras and watches that had little handy cheese wires for Bond to pull out and strangle people.

Take that, Apple Watch, betcha don’t have an app for that!

The opening sequence for Tomorrow’s World featured, in glorious slow motion detail, a jet airliner crunching face first into the deck. It’s a real tribute to the stern stuff of Scots that despite a slo-mo air crash being such a fixture our telly schedules, cheap airborne package holiday sales still climbed during this era.