April 19, 2012

Drought Orders

Filed under: BBC radio addiction,Canal,misc,Oxford — Duchess @ 10:38 pm

It’s raining hard. In fact, it has rained for some part of almost every day since a drought was officially declared last week in most of southern England and Wales. (Scotland is, as usual, drenched.)

The Orders are typically British: complicated, detailed and humane. For example, under Drought Orders you are not allowed to use a hosepipe to fill a garden pond or water feature, unless your water feature features fish.

Do not go out and buy goldfish just to beat the ban! pleaded the water company spokesman, interviewed days before the Orders came into force. The BBC journalist asked more probing questions, and we learned that any living creature you introduce into your pond triggers an exemption, while one that wanders in accidentally — a frog, say — does not.

Everyone knows the Brits are obsessed with weather. Never mind however many words Eskimos have for snow, I reckon Brits could give them a run for their money with rain. An early favourite of mine was “merged showers” but I have more recently been won over by “wetting rain”.

They teach this weather obsession in school, and they start early. When he was two and a bit, I enrolled my first born son in a playgroup run by one of the Oxford colleges. For most of the three hours, five mornings the kids raced around on tricycles. There were a few puzzles and the odd doll, but preschool was mostly about wheels; there was no structure, or even a nod at educational content, except at mid-morning juice and biscuits. Then everyone sat in a circle, and, raising her Dixie cup, the teacher solemnly asked, Now children, what is the weather like?

Later in the curriculum, I guess, the kids learn to be judgmental about weather. The “wrong kind of snow” is a well-rehearsed British Rail excuse for late trains, recently revived to explain water shortages: though apparently any kind of snow is the wrong kind of stuff to prevent a drought. What we want is the right kind of rain.

Rain is divided into “useful” rain and “not useful” rain and the weather forecasters always tell us which we are getting: very heavy rain is not useful (because it runs away too quickly); very light rain (though it might be “wetting”) is also not useful.  Basically, to prevent a drought, it needs to rain three times a fortnight, all year round, not too hard and not too soft.

Otherwise it is every frog for himself.

May 3, 2011

Warning: contains scenes of nudity

Filed under: A long way from home,BBC radio addiction,family,misc — Duchess @ 9:08 pm

I have been away — that is, I have been away from England, from my boaty home, and from my own four foot wide, lumpy, boaty bed.

I left in late March, when the crocuses had already almost gone by, the daffodils were in glorious bloom, and even the odd tulip had risked opening to the young sun. I flew across the Atlantic and a few months backwards into a late winter that still lingered when it was almost May and time to think about heading home again.

In five weeks I slept in seven beds.

In Washington DC I was promoted to the guest bedroom.  My father, 86 and frail, insisted on carrying my suitcase up the stairs to a part of his home I suspect he rarely visits. The room was full of ailing houseplants and a large sealed box labelled “Open Immediately”, an unfulfilled spring bulb best intention of my stepmother (too young to be my biological mother) who breezed in after work a couple of hours later. The next morning when I awoke and scanned myopically the back garden, I thought, I must ask Cynthia about that lovely white ground cover that has bloomed overnight.

A few days later I moved on to New York where I slept in a newly designated guest suite, the former teenage occupant, now college graduate, having been finally, firmly ousted, but not soon enough that his mattress could be left on the street with the rest of his garbage. His mother apologised as we squeezed past the old mattress propped up against the wall outside his room: the city’s bed bug epidemic means that getting rid of any old bedding, however innocent it might be, is almost impossible.

But I wasn’t there to discuss infestations. My friend was celebrating the launch of her third book of poetry, The Kangaroo Girl

After the book party, where I air-kissed a slew of people I had barely seen in thirty years, and then a glorious afternoon at MOMA, I flew out of New York in a snow storm that made me miss my connecting flight to Seattle.  Eating shrimp in an airport bar in Philadelphia, I watched a chilly opening game of the baseball season, and couldn’t help noting, on all my accompanying electronics, the lovely UK weather.

When I finally got to Seattle I crashed on a blow up bed in my grandbaby’s room (my timing was bad and the baby had gone to Las Vegas). Every 20 minutes or so, there was a loud electronic beep. I prowled around all night long, disconnecting every possible device, but the beep was relentless. When I asked my son in the morning he said he thought it had something to do with their former cable TV and internet providers, but since they were former, they had no interest in fixing it. He shrugged as he added that it didn’t seem to bother the baby.

It’s my opinion that they have doomed my grandson to a lifetime of unemployment, since he has been conditioned to sleep through electronic alarms. I, on the other hand, woke every time the wretched thing went off.

The next times I slept in Seattle I had the sofa in the living room I shared with their dog. His noises weren’t electronic, but nonetheless effective. Apparently a West Highland Terrier can murder sleep as effectively as any of his countrymen.

Otherwise, to see my grandson, I travelled back and forth by car and ferry from Whidbey Island, where I slept in the barely converted garage of the Lawyer Sis. I like the soft bed and the cold room. I like the door opening on to spongy grass and brambles, the brackish lake, the beach houses and the Sound beyond.  The night I arrived the septic tank backed up and, since all flushes were in vain, just after dawn I squatted naked by the door and hoped I was startling only the local rabbits.

Almost a hundred miles, and another ferry, north is the island house my mother shares with her husband Jerry. There I can choose between a bed in a sleeping loft or a bed in the rental apartment. I usually choose the rental, though the walls are thin and my bed is painfully close to the shower in the main house and I wake every morning to ardent squeegeeing.

My seventh bed was unexpected.  Mother and Jerry bought a condo on the mainland, and the Lawyer Sis and I drove from Whidbey to celebrate the closing. After dinner, the Oldies went home to the island, and the Lawyer Sis and I stayed over at the condo. The packaging of the brand new queen size memory foam mattress, purchased earlier that evening, promised the “ultimate sleep experience”.  As ever I was grateful for the subtlety of English grammar, and hoped that it would not be quite the same as experiencing the ultimate sleep.

Whatever (as the children and the optimists say), the Lawyer Sis, seven years my junior, risked the mattress.  She’s got a chronic bad back and needed the foam.  I occupied the less comfortable, but potentially safer, single bed in the condo’s guestroom and office.   We both survived the night.

A couple of days later I was on a plane again, and my eighth bed was an economy seat home. 

Other than being away for the whole of the warmest UK April on record, and present for the coldest Seattle one, I think I timed my trip rather well.  I got a cheap ticket because I flew back in the middle of a Bank Holiday weekend, and missed the Royal Wedding (though British Airways at Seatac flew, as it were, the patriotic flag).  

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge

In Seattle they have the new nude-y scanners (the ones where the security guy gets to see under your clothes).  Just to make it extra fun (and presumably so your breasts look extra pert) you have to put your elbows in the air and your thumbs on top of your head.

I mentioned that I recently had had a flare up of a shoulder problem, and would they mind diagnosing it while they were checking me out for weapons of mass destruction, because an MRI is jolly hard to get on the National Health Service?  But they only looked puzzled and said I could have a PAT DOWN if I preferred.

I was tucked up safely, my first night back in my boaty bed when, jetlagged and sleepless, in the early hours I turned on the BBC World Service to hear that the USA’s most wanted man had been “killed and captured” (though I was awake enough to wonder if there was any irony in the BBC’s inversion of the more conventional phrase “captured and killed”).

Then, though it was not my first thought, sometime as the day dawned, I admit I was glad that I had flown in hours earlier.  You think a middle-aged lady might find it inconvenient to pose for a naked scan with her thumbs on her head?

I’m betting you ain’t seen nothing yet.

March 21, 2011


Filed under: BBC radio addiction,family,misc,This is not a mommy blog — Duchess @ 9:52 pm

My third child, who invariably begins all our phone conversations with the words, Mother!  It’s your favourite son! called a couple of weeks ago to congratulate me on my new mooring (of which more later) and to prepare me for his appearance as the Chevalier Danceny in the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

My son is finishing his final year in drama school, a time when all young aspiring actors hope to find an agent.  To that end the school puts on a series of public performances to give its actors exposure.

Just a Parental Advisory Warning about the performance, said my son, On account of nudity.

My nudity, he added, just so I was clear.

I hesitated a moment and then asked, Are you (pause) decent?

I have a cushion, he replied, his voice rising cheerfully to confirm the helpfulness of soft furnishings.

His father and I debated as we booked our seats.  The website wanted to put us in the front row. Eventually, however, we managed to get tickets for a discreet half dozen or so rows back.

My son did not have the leading role – most of the characters are women – but his was the second most important male part, with a critical plot element, since he kills the leading man in a sword fight.   I thought, well, any agents around will remember him – he’s the bare bottomed one, handy with his épée.

Before the sword fight, he makes love to the leading man’s lover.

In the end, for reasons of artistic integrity (and public decency, no doubt) the director abandoned the cushion idea in favour of breeches, and since his parents were going to be in the audience, my son had permission to hitch his breeches higher than usual as he rose from his lady love.

Nevertheless, even from row i we had a pretty good view of his bare bottom.

His father and younger sister disliked the play, but I found it interesting and disturbing, despite clumsy anachronisms.  Even a weak 20th century adaptation didn’t obscure the point of the original text:  sex was all about tactics and power.  Love mostly interfered with sex, and no one lived happily ever after.

On the drive home we watched the moon rise above the horizon, wonderfully large and glowing red.  I remarked to my daughter in the back seat that I had heard this was the closest to the earth the moon had visited in 19 years – exactly her whole life.  I guess I was too distracted with my new baby in March 1992 to notice the last perigee.

The Crow reminded me of that grown up word (and I instantly mentally replied with apogee).  Brits are astonishingly ignorant about the most basic science, and though BBC radio did tell me the moon would be nearest, the p word never crossed their lips.

March 3, 2010

Of no fixed address

Filed under: Back story,BBC radio addiction,Canal,misc — Duchess @ 4:11 pm

My electrics have, to use slang my New Zealand grandmother favoured, been giving me gyp lately.  I replaced an alternator, disconnected the adverc, and ripped out the split diode thingy (and I barely know what any of this stuff is).  Nevertheless the batteries complain.  They reward my careful evening attention with nothing more grateful than red warning lights each morning.

The Grumpy Mechanic has had it up to here with my batteries.  He says his back has never been the same since he hauled mine out to test them last year and he isn’t doing it again.  I’m not complaining, he says, though he is.  Replace the lot, Girl, is his advice.

Since I usually do what I am told, I have.  That is, I ordered new ones, to be delivered to the pub today, because that’s our boaty poste restante.   Just after eleven o’clock opening time I trundled up the towpath with my computer and my dongle, ordered a latte, and set up camp.

On Twitter I read that Michael Foot, Labour Party leader 1980 – 1983 died this morning, aged 96.  I tweeted that I bet every obituary mentioned his donkey jacket and the longest suicide note in history.

In January 1979 I had just won a scholarship to Oxford, starting the following fall.  The US news was full of the Iranian revolution and what British journalists (an educated lot, on the whole) had dubbed their Winter of Discontent.  The UK Labour government was at war with the unions who had been their backers.  Despite beer and sandwiches at Downing Street, everything was going badly wrong.  

My friends said, You know that country you are going to?  It’s falling apart.

It sure looked like it from the television news.  Rubbish collectors, gravediggers, ambulance drivers and other public sector workers all were out on strike.  I watched films of mounds of garbage on the streets and heard dark reports of dead bodies piled up in morgues.   Inflation was only just down from a peak of 26.9%.

For the first time I took an interest in a UK election, called that spring.  Margaret Thatcher, Conservative, was elected, the first and only woman Prime Minister. 

The following year, 1980, the Labour Party lurched to the left and Michael Foot, a kindly maverick (really a maverick – he lost the party whip for two years because he was an inveterate peacenik) was their candidate for Prime Minister.  I am reluctant to say he was already elderly when he became party leader at 67, but it certainly seemed so to my much younger self.  An intellectual and wholly unworldly Socialist, he reminded me of my grandfather.  Of course, he was also wholly unfit to lead a political party.

He was ridiculed for his scruffy clothes, and particularly for the coat he wore on Remembrance Sunday (Veterans’ Day).  The press called it a “donkey jacket” and were outraged by what they claimed was disrespect to our Glorious Dead.  It was quite in vain that Foot repeatedly pleaded that the Queen Mother herself had admired his jacket as they both waited to lay their wreaths at the Cenotaph.

1983 was my first general election in the UK and I was a little puzzled at first to find that here politicians published election “manifestos”.  My high school history lessons had led me to believe that manifestos were strictly for commies.  I bought the full versions for all three main parties and read them closely.

Michael Foot’s party manifesto went into extraordinary detail.  I laughed out loud when I came to the bit that said “The Labour Party supports the wishes of women in childbirth.”  I was then expecting my second baby.  I adore my children once they exit the birth canal, but my wishes in childbirth generally involved mass murder.

That year the Labour Party suffered the worst general election defeat in 50 years, and the manifesto came to be known as “the longest suicide note in history.”

Meanwhile, back at the pub, I was the only customer, still nursing my latte two hours on.  Stematos, the Greek landlord, and I both had our laptops open on opposite sides of the bar.  I thought of telling Stematos that Michael Foot had died, but I wasn’t sure he would know who I was talking about.  Stematos was googling plant stands. 

There was no sign of the battery delivery, and after a while the punters began to arrive for lunch: the chatter was about pension fund bailouts, bowel cancer, birthdays, and how the Grumpy Mechanic might be getting on in his new flat.  No one mentioned Michael Foot.  I made Stematos happy by ordering feta cheese, olives, bread and a small glass of wine.  He thought I was going to sit there all day on the latte. 

Just as I was about to give up, five spanking new batteries were delivered to the pub porch.  I hauled them in two loads to the boat, a little less than half a mile from the pub, three batteries on the first journey (when I was fresh) and two on the next, when I was tired.  I needed to rest a lot on both trips.  Lifting them inside was pretty hard, and I was afraid I might drop one into the canal, since I was already exhausted from getting them there.

They cost £100 each, and I really did not want to lose any in the water.

3 batteries - the 1st load

Three batteries - the first load

When I got them onboard I put them on my scale, just out of curiosity.  Each battery weighed 62.8 pounds, meaning the load of two was almost exactly as heavy as I am (on a good day), and the load of three was a whole lot heavier.  I felt like one tough Duchess.

Batteries waiting to be installed.

All five batteries safely in the engine room, waiting to be installed.

By the time I had pushed the empty cart back up the tow path it was 5 pm and I thought I deserved a big glass of wine.

I turned on the radio.  It was all about Michael Foot.  I wasn’t wrong.  Every report mentioned the donkey jacket and the suicide note.  You can read the BBC obituary here.

I haven’t quite forgotten that once I get the new batteries installed, I’ll have five old ones to haul up the tow path, but sufficient unto the day is the trouble thereof. Or so I am told.

February 6, 2009

Cannabis delivered with the milk

Filed under: A long way from home,BBC radio addiction,misc,Village life — Duchess @ 1:00 pm

An elderly British milkman who responded to notes like “5 pints semi skimmed and a half an ounce this week, please” has been given a suspended sentence.

The prosecutor told the court that “word had got out that he could supply cannabis to those of a certain age with aches and pains”. His oldest client was 92.

In choosing not to bestow a custodial sentence the judge decided that the grandfather of 28 had mitigating circumstances, because his wife has Alzheimers Disease and has recently moved to a care home. The 72 year old milkman, married for 53 years, was tearful at the thought of not being able to visit his wife if he were in prison.

In today’s sentencing the Judge recognised that the milkman “misguidedly believed that he was providing a public service”.

You can read the BBC report here.  Newcomers to this site might like to consider other doorstep deliveries.

January 21, 2009

Say amen

Filed under: BBC radio addiction,misc,Politics and history — Duchess @ 3:27 pm

The BBC helpfully reported that the timing of the swearing in was written into the Constitution.  It was due at 12 noon (GMT minus 5).  BBC coverage would start at 4.30 (GMT).

I was at my desk in the Oxford college where I am currently temporarily employed (and used to be permanently employed, before I had a midlife crisis, failed to sell my house, bought a boat anyway, quit my job, and made an aborted bid to jump ship to the US, small poodle included — but these are other stories). 

The Principal (my boss) had gone home early, without a word about the inauguration, but we all knew what she was up to: her partner is the politics don at the college.  Other people began to peel away — those with longer commutes saying they would listen on the radio, those with shorter hoping to get home before the moment when W would no longer be President and Obama would take his place.  The whole world was watching.

I clicked on the BBC home page and gathered into my office the staff still lingering on my corridor — only the archivist and the development team were left.  We saw the fashion parade of VIPs taking their places and responded appropriately: we agreed that Michelle’s dress wasn’t flattering, but possibly sensibly warm.

Next we listened to one of the longest prayers any of us had ever heard (and watched most of the crowd peeking, but not the soon-to-be-President and Leader-of-the-Free-World, who kept eyes piously shut).  I remarked that though we are a nation founded on the principles of separation of church and state, Americans are more than usually apt to trouble the Almighty with detail.

After the marathon prayer the BBC commentator said Aretha Franklin was going to sing the national anthem, which she didn’t, but I guess he can be forgiven; in the first place the tune of what she did sing (My Country ‘Tis of Thee) is his national anthem (God Save the Queen), and, in the second place, who could concentrate anyway listening to that voice and looking at that hat?

We laughed at the stumble during the swearing in, and then we all spontaneously applauded and cheered as the new President was congratulated.  The whole world was watching. 

I don’t think I was the only one in the room moved by the speech that followed.  I might have been the only one who needed kleenex.

When the poet was announced, the Brits dispersed lickity split back to their own offices, and soon even the stragglers headed home.  Most of them missed altogether the Yella / Mella and the Brown / Stickaround benediction.  Say amen.

Later my younger son and I watched the parade together.  (He was with the rest of us on the the Dress Issue: it made Michelle look chunky, though she isn’t — but he mentioned that Hillary’s, which no one cared about anymore, was even worse.  Poor Hillary.) 

Today the newspapers are filled with hope and praise.  It is interesting watching American politics from this distance.  For eight years there has been little respect for the US abroad, though I think the wish for the most powerful country in the world to do well never went away.  Yesterday Obama’s clearest message for me was that he knows we do not have to choose between our ideals and our safety.  We can still be the city on the hill.

I admit that our new President was not my first choice.  But if I hadn’t been wholly won over to him before, yesterday completed my conversion.  The television (= internet; yay internet!) kept showing the crowds — never before such crowds — gathered with their tiny flags in the January chill to watch and to celebrate.

I do not believe any other candidate could have been such a force for unity in our country and in the world.  I do not think any of the others would have been met with the simple joy at a new chapter in American history that greeted Obama’s first minutes as President. 

At least, no one else would have been applauded, as he was, by a small group of Brits, and one American, crowded around a computer screen far away, hoping for change.


November 11, 2008

The 11th of the 11th

poppy appealAs in America, Britains have been remembering those who served in the conflicts of the 20th and 21st century. Here the focus is very much on “The Fallen”, “The Glorious Dead”, and the main ceremonies are broadly religious, performed on the Sunday closest to the 11th, Remembrance Sunday.

In the fortnight or so before Remembrance Sunday, at nearly every work place, in every pub and many restaurants, in almost every public place there are paper poppies for sale.  In villages like mine someone goes around door to door.  The Royal British Legion sells the poppies and all money goes to look after disabled and elderly servicemen (veterans).  

There is almost none of the kind of political awkwardness that I have sensed from reading about Veterans’ Day in the US. There is no left or right on this issue. The young (until recently mainly men) went to war when their government asked them to. Those who died left families. Those who survived wounded have needs. Those who have lived into old age command respect.

If you want people to think you are a decent member of society in the week before the 11th you had better be wearing your poppy to show you have made a contribution.  If a politician were to appear on the news without one, there would be uproar. Every television presenter and newsreader sports one. The exhortation is to “wear your poppy with pride” and that is how I wore mine.

Although the form of Remembrance is broadly Christian, because we don’t have separation of church and state here, I don’t sense any religious division either. The poppy is a symbol of death and rebirth, not of Christianity.  In the devastated fields of Europe, poisoned by gunpowder and gas, only poppies were robust enough to grow in the spring of 1918.

The radio schedule for one of the four BBC national stations changes on the Sunday morning so that the Act of Remembrance at the Cenotaph in London can be broadcast. Military bands play a traditional set of songs finishing with Nimrod from Elgar’s Enigma Variations. The Last Post is sounded by a team of buglers. The Queen lays a wreath of poppies, followed by senior royals, then the Prime Minister, then the Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition lay their wreaths in turn.

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember.

We will remember.

There is no left or right.  The only time I can think of when this was even remotely an issue was when Michael Foot, the most left wing leader of the Labour Party since the second World War, laid his wreath dressed in what has since been always referred to as a Donkey Jacket, a sartorial category previously unfamiliar to me, though I admit he looked a bit scruffy. The outrage was something dreadful, and it was mentioned for the next ten years or so.  Every Labour politician since has worn a dress coat.

The national ritual of remembrance is repeated all over the country. It is impossible to go to any long established school without hearing read the list of names of the dead from the First World War, or seeing them inscribed on a wall. An astonishing number of villages, like the one I live in, have a memorial at their centre. Not the smallest hamlet was spared the carnage of that war.

My second son was born on the 11th of November, and, as it happens, plays the trumpet.  That put him in great demand right around his birthday, as soon as he mastered the difficult bugle that is the Last Post.  For years I stood proudly with him outside in bitter November weather, watching him nervously warm his trumpet with his breath, waiting for the church clock to chime 11 when his notes would signal the beginning of the two minutes’ silence, while we remembered.

Sometimes he was called on to play again later in the day when his school gathered for Evensong.  Though I had children at that school for 17 years I never failed to be moved each time I heard the names of the dead read out as they did (and do) every Remembrance Sunday.  Such a small school in the first quarter of the century, so many dead, so sad to hear a surname repeated and know a family had lost two sons.

These solemn events take place, as I have said, on the nearest Sunday, but when the 11th falls on another day of the week, as it did this year (the 90th anniversary of the Armistice) the date is also marked, though less formally.  Today, just before 11, half a dozen or so of us gathered in an office I share and like many others all around the country we kept the silence together for two minutes.

The focus of the 11th of November is the First World War as long as there are still those who fought in the trenches and remember the 11th hour of the 11th day when guns fell silent. Three veterans, the youngest of whom is 108 years old, dined at Downing Street today. But we also remember, of course, the great sacrifice of the Second World War and other conflicts of the 20th century.  

And no one forgets that we have soldiers fighting today,

I’ve never asked my son whether he minded being born (at 11:21 am) on the 11th of the 11th. He was a gentle child and has grown to be a gentle man.  Like all American men his age he is registered for the draft. Like any mother I hope his country will not call on him. 

I know there are times when we must fight.  And part of celebrating Remembrance Sunday, or Armistice Day, or Veterans’ Day is celebrating those who were brave enough to fight so we might live as we do.  No properly indoctrinated American (as I was) can forget Patrick Henry’s ringing words

Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased with the price of chains and slavery?  Forbid it Almighty God!  I know not what course others may take, but give me liberty, or give me death!

Nevertheless, my sweet son, born in the hour of the anniversary of peace, yearly sounding his trumpet for the Glorious Dead reminds me (as if I needed it) that we need to be sure when we send our sons, and now daughters, to fight.  History has judged the First World War harshly: our soldiers were “lions led by donkeys”.  

When the slaughter had barely begun (1914) AE Housman wrote:

Here dead lie we because we did not choose 
To live and shame the land from which we sprung. 

Life to be sure, is nothing much to loose; 
But young men think it is, and we were young. 

That great imperial pugilist poet Rudyard Kipling bitterly regretted his part in securing an officer’s commission for his severely nearsighted only son, thrusting him to the front, where he lost his life within days of arriving in the trenches.

If any question why we died
Tell them, because our fathers lied.

Let us have no such thing to tell to our sons and daughters a generation hence.

October 29, 2008

The shipping forecast

Filed under: A long way from home,BBC radio addiction,misc — Duchess @ 2:40 pm

I guess my last post doesn’t make a lot of sense if you have never heard the shipping forecast, that lovely litany that sends me to sleep and then wakes me up again long before I am ready. 

So here’s the latest.  These are the exact words read out on BBC radio at times when only insomniacs and the young have ears to hear:

And now the Shipping Forecast issued by the Met Office, on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, at 1725 on Wednesday 29 October 2008.

There are warnings of gales in Plymouth Biscay Fitzroy Sole Lundy Fastnet Irish Sea Shannon Rockall and Malin.

The general synopsis at midday:
Low Malin 992 expected northwest france 987 by 1200 tomorrow. Low Forties 992 moving slowly east and losing its identity by same time. new high expected just west of Iceland 1031 by that time.

The area forecasts for the next 24 hours:

Viking North Utsire:
North or northeast 4 or 5 increasing 5 to 7, perhaps gale 8 later. moderate or rough. Wintry showers. Good.

South Utsire Forties:
Cyclonic 5 to 7 becoming north 4 or 5, occasionally 6 later. Rough or very rough becoming moderate or rough. Wintry showers. Good.

Cromarty Forth Tyne:
Variable 3 or 4 becoming north or northeast 5 or 6. Moderate or rough. showers. Good.

Dogger Fisher German Bight:
Southwest veering north, becoming cyclonic for a time in Fisher, 5 or 6, occasionally 7 at first. Rough or very rough becoming moderate or rough. Showers. Good.

Southwest 3 or 4 backing northeast 5 or 6. Moderate occasionally rough. Showers. Good.

Thames Dover Wight:
Variable 3 becoming south 4 or 5, backing northeast 5 to 7 later. slight or moderate, occasionally rough later in Wight. Showers. mainly good.

South or southwest, becoming cyclonic then northeast, 4 or 5 increasing 5 to 7, perhaps gale 8 later. Slight or moderate increasing rough. Rain. Moderate or good.

Plymouth Biscay:
South or southwest, becoming cyclonic then northeast, 5 to 7, occasionally gale 8, decreasing 4 for a time. Moderate increasing rough or very rough. Rain then showers. Moderate or good.

Fitzroy Sole:
Northwest veering north 6 to gale 8, perhaps severe gale 9 later. rough or very rough, occasionally high later. Rain or squally showers. moderate or good, occasionally poor at first.

Lundy Fastnet Irish Sea:
Cyclonic 6 to gale 8, perhaps severe gale 9 later in Fastnet. Slight to rough, occasionally very rough in Fastnet. Rain then showers. moderate or good, occasionally poor at first.

Shannon Rockall:
Northwest veering north or northeast 6 to gale 8, occasionally severe gale 9 at first, decreasing 5 at times later. Very rough or high, decreasing rough at times later. Squally showers. Good.

Malin Hebrides:
Cyclonic 5 to 7, occasionally gale 8 in Malin at first, becoming north or northeast 5 or 6 later. Rough to high decreasing moderate or rough later. Rain then showers. Moderate or good, occasionally poor at first in Malin.

Bailey Fair Isle Faeroes Southeast Iceland:
North or northeast 5 or 6, occasionally 7 later. Rough occasionally very rough at first. Squally showers. Good.

There is nothing, it’s true, about rising or falling more slowly (think barometers), but I promise there often is.

But honestly, if you were snuggled under several quilts wouldn’t you love to hear the words “Bailey Fair Isle Faeroes Southeast Iceland: North or northeast 5 or 6, occasionally 7 later. Rough occasionally very rough at first. Squally showers. Good.”

Good? Bloody brilliant. Zzzzzzz.

October 28, 2008

The shipping news

Filed under: BBC radio addiction,misc,This is not a mommy blog — Duchess @ 3:58 pm

I don’t sleep all that well, and since I know that it is mostly because I don’t live all that well, I live with it, in my stoicly Puritan way.  

My way is I wake up between 4 and 5 and begin to sneeze.  I have, in my life, slept with men, children, and pets (sometimes all three).  Now I sleep with a box of Kleenex.  

After awhile, when I have tossed and turned and blown my nose (repeatedly) and tossed and turned some more and stuffed a wad of kleenex up my nose (it’s the preemptive strike theory of sniffling), I turn on the World Service.  That’s on a bad night.  

BBC radio runs until about a quarter to one and then kicks back in at around quarter past five.  In between the World Service takes over.

The BBC starts and finishes each day with the deeply reassuring Shipping Forecast.  There are usually warnings of gales, but the litany of names makes all good Brits feel island safe:  “Faeroes, Fair Isle, Viking, North Utsire, South Utsire, Cromarty, Forth, Forties, Tyne, Dogger, German Bite, Humber…” and on round the coast to the more familiar “Thames, Dover, Wight, Portland”, then back through the Irish Sea and north to Scotland again.  I don’t know how to explain it except to say that it is like a spell.  If we chant those maritime syllables three times a day we’ll keep safe from all harm.  It’s a hymn not just for those in peril on the sea. 

When they stopped broadcasting the Shipping Forecast at 5.50 pm each evening on the main radio station there was a (minor) outcry: programme planners said most of their audience had never been aboard a ship and had no idea what the words might mean; protestors said we were being denied our heritage if we didn’t hear those words recited: Forties, Tyne, Dogger. 

I think what they really thought was some Euro bogey man might come and build a Channel Tunnel, connecting us with The Continent and making us a Different Sort of People.

Once the Shipping Forecast has moved on from all the Rising and Falling more slowly, and the deeply inscrutable gales varying from 8 to 10, and the Unnamed that I have always taken to be visibility, moderate or poor, occasionally very poor, there’s the News Briefing followed by Prayer for Today.  No separation of church and state here, but now that we are all good friends together we have all sorts of prayers.  This morning it was Hindu, because October means Diwali.  

After Prayer for Today there’s Farming Today and that’s usually when I go back to sleep because there is not a lot in this world more soporific than GM modification, porcine husbandry, crop circles, mad cow disease, foot and mouth disease, or even (today’s story) the anti oxidant benefits of new fangled purple tomatoes.  

On a really bad night, however, I wake after we have invoked Almighty blessings on the Queen (last thing before BBC shutdown) and before that nice bucolic dawn comfort comes on, and then I have to listen to the hard stuff — World Service the sun never goes down on the empire instead of BBC we know you are sleepy. On the whole, I don’t like the World Service. Where the BBC is cosy and sedate, the World Service is shouty and insistent.  They have jingles.  They have accents  They have news from unfamiliar places.

This morning they had news form southeastern Congo and I stopped blowing my nose and listened.  The fighting has intensified there, and though it has not been reported on the main news anywhere I know, refugees are on the move.

I woke up because my daughter works in southwestern Uganda right over the border from the DRC and Rwanda.  She works with children maimed and blinded in the Rwanda genocide and with children orphaned by HIV/Aids, the scourge of the area. For awhile Uganda had the highest rate of Aids infection in the world. Some of the orphans probably have the disease too, and one of the things my daughter has been working towards is to get these kids tested so they can get the drugs they need.

When the fighting gets bad sometimes armed rebels cross the border, but mainly the only change is refugees fleeing the violence spilling over into her corner of Uganda.

She wrote to ask whether we had received news of the increased conflict. 

Doesn’t really affect us.  Just prices go up, can’t get milk, there are a lot of people selling stolen UN tents in the market, and every now and then we see big military tanks drive past the office.

Ah, just the every day inconveniences of living in a war zone.  I’ll be so glad when she is safely back on an island.

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