Blue Dot Festival

I am not a scientist, I don’t have any academic scientific training beyond an O level in Chemistry and a couple of courses I took in archaeological science as part of my degree. I do have an enquiring mind though, and have ended up working in an environment where I need some understanding of cancer biology (lay person level) and to be able to keep up with the science while taking minutes. I also married an engineer and have an eight year old boy so obsessed with science I  feel I have to do the reading so I can join in conversations  (though I’m sure one day soon he’ll feel pity for his mother’s lack of understanding of quantum physics).

I like doing the reading, it’s always been a joy to learn new things. I love to listen to The Infinite Monkey Cage on Radio4; I like to watch Horizon – especially now it’s got past that ‘were all going to die in this [insert that week’s armageddon scenario]’ phase – and if I were stuck without reading matter on some long journey I’d probably buy a copy of New Scientist in WH Smith rather than Good Housekeeping. I really like the way science has recently become something which isn’t ‘other’ and beyond the understanding of us all, and that WOMAD has a Physics Tent (though we didn’t get organised enough to go to WOMAD as well, sadly).

We’re super-keen on music and on listening to it in fields so the eight year old can come with us, so, when we heard about the brand new Blue Dot Festival we bought tickets straight away – who could resist “an intergalactic festival of music, science, arts, culture and the exploration of space”. Blue Dot took place at Jodrell Bank in Cheshire, a place I’d failed to visit despite living in Manchester for 5 years, which is home to the famous Lovell radio telescope. Having a festival at an observatory seemed such a good idea we just had to go.

We saw some fabulous things that weekend, not least the Lovell telescope itself (which I knew so well from pictures) both with and without Brian Eno’s installation projected onto it:

Lovell Radio Telescope

We saw a hugely entertaining recording of the Infinite Monkey Cage, during which there was audience participation involving Brian Blessed impersonations, and Charlotte Church sang that D:Ream song.

Public Service Broadcasting, Underworld – “MUM! when are they going to do Born Slippy??”-  and Jean Michel Jarre were fantastic headliners (no photos of PSB, me and the boy were right at the front though!).

Infinite Monkey Cage; Underworld;  Jean Michel Jarre

We went to a talks, one about spacesuits – do you know about the huge part Playtex played in the development of the spacesuit? Fascinating stuff even when delivered to the background of a very loud main stage just opposite. We had a nice lie down during a Planetarium film about the telescope. The boy met loads of young scientists who were running the Science Fair bit of the festival, and I think he surprised an astrophysicist by knowing about the ‘potato radius’ ;  he danced with a robot and tried a VR headset, looked down a special telescope at the sun, exercised like an astronaut, operated LEGO ‘Mars rovers’ and was generally in his element. Oh, and the Clangers were there. You could go and knit a Clanger but I managed to stop myself, the appeal of sitting knitting a small pink alien for hours being lost on two thirds of my party (I’ll save it up for a winter project).

Spacesuit talk by Dallas Campbell; Sun telescope;  boy and telescope; VR; LEGO Rovers; Small Clanger

Another place the boy was in his element was the Luminarium KATENA. We all were. There was a massive queue for this, in which we got chatting to a family from Sussex and ate hot dogs. We all agreed this was an amazing event, our kids were having a great time and it felt really safe to let them wander off a bit. Eventually we got inside the gigantic balloon-like structure and the wait proved well worth it. I could have stayed in there for a few hours:

Luminaria KATENA

We only saw a fraction of what was on offer over the weekend. There was a big top near the main stage with music going on pretty much all the time (though this did bleed sound to the main stage which was a shame)  and two more tents with talks and music in the back of the arena.  The arboretum was home to a smaller stage for the more acoustic end of things, and what looked like a beautiful light show about the planets that we never managed to catch. However, we didn’t miss things because you just couldn’t get there, it was mainly due to enjoying sitting on a rug in the sun playing Dobble. We never felt that far away from anything, you could easily walk from one end of the festival to the other (even with a medium size child in tow) and there was lots of space – it only felt crowded on Saturday night, understandably, for Jean Michel Jarre.

As with all new festivals there are probably some things that could be moved around to deal with the some of the sound issues,  and some other teething problems. The food was great, there was a Real Ale Bar (at which there was much rejoicing for we really don’t like Heineken) and a Molecular Cocktail Bar which smelt amazing (saving that for next time). And the loos were fine.

We loved it and we’ll be going back next year. When are the tickets on sale?


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