Saturday, 13 October 2012

Alice Roberts revisited - I can wish!

I made a bit of a mess of this first time around so here goes again. On October 12 2012 I saw someone I greatly admire and frankly rather fancy turn from the years of pixels to persona. My fears that I might be disappointed were unfounded – the truth is that the charm, polish, and, IMO, beauty on TV are not an act; with Alice May Roberts it seems the joy of what you see is what you get. Phew!
Having got that out of the way (or my system) how did she do with her exposition of the effect of Ice Ages on the lives of the megafauna, early man and us – homo sapiens? Very well indeed and for a very important reason.
When Birmingham University created the chair of “engaging the public with science” and awarded it to then Dr Alice Roberts, anatomist, anthropologist of Bristol Uni and the BBC they got a bit of stick. And a few (misogynists?) even challenged her right to the post. Codswallop. Never has there been a time when engaging the public with science was more crucial. One only has to see, hear, even feel the activities of the fundamental Christian and Islamists et al to see how critical it is to improve public understanding of our world, our place and our origins. Dawkins can rant but something more subtle is essential. And here she is; Credible, communicative and charming. Who else then would Birmingham choose? I'd say she was a coup.
There is a fine line between a worthy but dull lecture and an enjoyable evening out. This was part of a Royal Geographical Society series and Alice delivered a solidly enjoyable, entertaining and informative discourse on the role of the ice ages in the development of man. That fine line was trodden with consummate skill and charm by Alice Roberts at Kings Lynn (how lucky they are to get her too.)
This was not only marked out by the accessibility of her content and delivery but her enthusiastic commitment to being correct and having evidence. Time and again she showed us what had been found, told us what was believed and then toured the doubts that nagged at her and would lead to further investigation. Along the way we entertainingly learned that gaining the knowledge and the insights is not a comfortable business. The BBC does not provide central heating on the Russian steppe or 5-star hotels on the ice shelf. An honestly nervy Alice explained how she learned to handle a rifle where there were Polar Bears (although I cannot imagine her using it even in anger) but picked a cliff edge pitch for her tent to put her colleagues between her and the bear access point. We heard too how she shared a frankly disgusting tepee affair with 11 snoring geezers! Our sense of envy died a little on the word eleven!
But we learned too how climate works, how we are even now within an ice age, or possibly just leaving one, or even in the midst of a much shorter Heinrich event. Whichever, the point was that not responding to our own worsening of the climate change situation was not really an option. And talk of “refugia” – last safe places for creatures overwhelmed by climate change - was given a scary climax with the fate of the Neanderthals. These probable cousins but certain companions as the ice descended from the north appear to have ended up clinging to Europe on the Rock of Gibraltar; I've been ther so know how they felt. Whether they just died out or modern man took a hand is not certain. Either way they are no more.
No more too are the mammoths – for which Alice has a fondness that should worry her own naughty terrier. But many miles north of Gibraltar the last few were similarly struggling on an Arctic island. Indeed the very last hung on until about 7,000 years before the modern era. Just missed them then.
And we got a preview of the CGI for her new programmes on BBC – arriving next year and then it was questions. And if anyone had any doubt of her commitment to veracity it came soon enough as the questions took her outside her own comfort zone: “I am very sorry but I haven't a clue” she said. To the truly sharing mind the acceptance of Homeric frailty is a proof of competence. Loved it Alice, but then I'm biased.

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