We really started this service with a BANG! As people arrived, we gave them each a small red balloon and a poster pin. After a couple of tongue-tied try-outs of The Big Bang Theory theme song (a whistle-stop tour of the history of the universe, from the creation of galaxies, to evolution of plant life, to building the pyramids), on our third and final attempt, people with noise sensitivity were advised to leave the room – and we marked the final “BANG!” of the song with a synchronised burst of balloon-popping!
We were asked to partner up to learn a Danish clapping game. It starts easy – both partners slap their thighs, just once. Then you each have a split second to decide whether to raise your hands above your head, or whether to point to the left or right. If you both choose the same direction, then you clap hands with your partner; if not, then you slap your thighs and try again next time. It might sound simple, but there was certainly a lot of brain activity involved in maintaining the rhythm, and watching and responding to your partner. It was a great activity to warm up our brains (and hands and thighs) on a Sunday morning, and a great ice breaker – lots of partners were laughing and chatting together by the time we returned to our seats.
Our second song also had a brainy theme: Dizzy by Vic Reeves and The Wonder Stuff. The manic chorus left a few heads spinning.
Next, we were treated to talk by Sam Nightingale (a neurology registrar) who wowed us with some amazing facts: Did you know that a piece of brain the size of a grape contains more neurons than there are stars in the Milky Way? He also showed us some mind-boggling optical illusions as a reminder that our brains, as amazing as they are, are still fallible. Sam also spoke movingly about the inspiring courage and bravery of his patients, illustrated by a video – My Beautiful Broken Brain – about Lotje, a woman who experienced a cerebral haemorrhage aged 34. Her story was sobering but also inspiring. Sam announced that his NeuroAccess initiative to disseminate neurological knowledge to the third world is due to launch over the coming days.
After listening to Sam’s talk, it was time for some more audience participation – two of our number volunteered to read a script. We had no idea what the script was about – it began, mysteriously, with the declaration: “they’re made out of meat”. It soon became clear that the script was a dialogue between two aliens, pondering, marvelling, and being a bit disgusted by our meaty brains. It was both funny and humbling to imagine ourselves from the aliens’ perspective.
As our regular attendees probably know, and others might have guessed, some of our organisers are really passionate about brains! Their passion was infectious – they certainly encouraged people to “wonder more” about the brain. But let’s not stop at brains – we’d love to know what you’re passionate about so we can share in that, too. It might be a hobby, an idea, a sport or a charity.
During the collection we talked about the need for passionate engagement with the community, and how the Sunday Assembly can meet that need with enthusiasm and benevolence. We appealed for new recruits to help with the various duties, including booking the venue/speaker, advertising, planning activities and talks etc.
The notices included details of the Sunday Assembly’s training day “The Next Level”, the (sold-out) “Yule Rock!” and Oxford’s own Winter Solstice party. We rounded off with a rendition of “Bare Necessities” from Disney’s The Jungle Book. There was no need to practice this song – most people seemed to remember the lyrics – that’s brain power!
We skipped the tea and cake this time as we had to clear the hall early, but most of the congregation joined us at the local pub afterwards. It was good to see so many new faces, offering their eager support.