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Opinion

Robin Ince: How to cure hiccups in Salt Lake City

In Utah, the broadcaster and author is confronted with crayon conundrums, juice cleanses and religious tomes, but his favourite thing is a collection of stones scattered around a backyard

On our last night before a 10-day tour break, Professor Brian Cox is stumped by a question. The audience in Salt Lake City are relieved. The replicant physicist becomes a real human; it turns out that he doesn’t know everything. It has happened before. In our culture of hasty certainty, moments of “I don’t know” are strangely empowering. If the wise scientist doesn’t know, and is prepared to admit it publicly, maybe we all can every now and again. The question that stumped the professor tonight was from a seven-year-old. He wanted to know how crayons were made. 

After the show, we spend a while contemplating the construction of crayons. Next time, he will be ready for the seven-year-olds. 

I was also pleased to see that the musical The Book of Mormon had visited the theatre here twice. I wondered how mixed the reaction was in the world’s most Mormon city to the South Park creators’ clever and filthy minds. Then again, all publicity…

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Walking back through the main street of the city, I see a man in a vest top with the face of Edgar Allan Poe on it. I don’t think Poe’s face was made for a vest top, but had sales of them helped pay his bar bills he probably wouldn’t have complained.

Before all this, the professor faced a Cucumber Glow quandary in a Utah health store. He was stalled at the juice cabinet. Did he need something with celery or cider vinegar, pomegranate or kale? Should he risk a cleansing juice so close to showtime? What if his internal organs start cleaning halfway through his explanation of black holes and the Schwarzschild radius. We resorted to water that has been vaguely flavoured by being bottled near a peach.  

We were parched from walking to the Gilgal Sculpture Garden in the midday sun. I usually go to see art on my own, but I read out the description of this outsider art extravaganza and its quirks win over my travelling companions. 

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Judi Short, president of the Friends of Gilgal Garden, has said of it: “There’s nothing like it in the entire country. It’s very different and unique, a piece of outsider art.”  

It is pretty much a backyard, sandwiched between houses, an enigmatic space which may well also be a place of worship for some. Thomas Battersby Child Jr wanted to a create a sanctuary that would “shut out fear and keep one’s mind young”. Gilgal is a place of importance in the Book of Joshua and the Book of Mormon. The boulders in the park are chiselled with quotes from The Bible. 

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Brian is struck by a quote from the Book of Job. It is not a pretty story, and there is at least one Dean that I know that considers the Old Testament God’s testing of allegiance by slaughtering of loved ones, destitution and the inflection of an agonising skin disease beyond the pale. That God is not much of a role model, perpetually disappointed with his creation and short on the ability to question his own failings, I fear he remains a role model for too many of us. The Gilgal Garden is a lovely thing to exist, eccentric and with a good heart. 

Tomorrow, we fly back to the UK. Sadly, we have not had time to visit Mark of the Beastro, a vegan diner with satanic overtones that sits next to a bustling tattoo parlour. Drinking in the hotel bar, the barman shows his tattoo of the pulsar map from the Voyager mission. Our producer, Arnold, refuses to believe me when I tell him Kellogg’s Corn Flakes were created as part of an anti-masturbatory campaign by Mr Kellogg, and Brian tells him about the Ig Nobel Prize for research into how a surprise finger up your bottom cures hiccups. 

We all drink a little slower. There is now a greater urgency in avoiding hiccups. 

Robin Ince is an author and broadcaster

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