Last night's public event at the Royal Society of Edinburgh had the feel of a church service about it. The lecture theatre was packed and anticipation was high, a wizened congregation fiddling with the straps of their bicycle helmets as we all waited for proceedings to begin. Everyone was eager to hear Archbishop Adair Turner, newly arrived from the capital to give the sermon for the day. Also on the rostrum was a lesser eminence, the Right Reverend David Sugden, who just written a very exciting encyclical, we heard, on better forms of worship and how one's soul could enter the Kingdom of Gaia. Events were presided over by the vicar of the parish, whose name, alas, I failed to record, but who moderated in a straightforward and efficient manner.
The Archbishop was an exotic creature: his suit was sharp, his green tie glowed under the lights, for all the world like a laser-powered crucifix. The air of strangeness was heightened by his strange mop of grey hair, which he would push off his brow from time to time, mesmerising the assembled worshippers. Nobody in Edinburgh has hair like that. When he spoke one could feel the audience hanging on his every word.
One felt a little sorry for Bishop Sugden. Although he has reached great heights of the ecclesiastical firmament, he has the air of a sexton rather than a bishop, so although this was supposed to be Sugden's day, a celebration of his report and the culmination of months of work, one sensed little interest from the audience. The poor fellow was left completely in shade by the great visitor from the capital. Rev Sugden thought he had an ace up his sleeve in the shape of a video his team had made...
...but at the end, the polite applause suggested that the audience couldn't wait to move back to the question and answer session so they could get some more pearls of wisdom from the man with the hotline to Gaia.
Although this was not a meeting that was ever going to produce any intellectual spark, the question and answer session was not without its moments of interest - or even of drama. I'll explain a little later.