Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Sleepers Sleep

The UK is an island (if you haven't noticed). Wherever you are, you're never more than about 70 miles from the sea. Most people are considerably closer. For all that, the sea plays a pretty insignificant part in the lives of most of our primarily urban population. This hasn't stopped a small number of people becoming secretly addicted to a rather unusual radio broadcast called The Shipping Forecast.

Transmitted four times daily on a national radio station it is a very technical bulletin which lists all the main shipping areas around the UK and the weather conditions that can be expected for the next twenty four hours in those areas. These areas have wonderfuly arcane but rather poetic names such as Fisher, Dogger, German Bight, Lundy, Fastnet, Rockall, Viking. It's not like a TV weather forecast which these days seems mostly  to contain advice about what type of clothes the presenter thinks you should wear tomorrow.  It's a technical forecast aimed exclusively for those at sea or those about to go to sea. It has no value to landlubbers, most of whom do not even understand it.

People however have become addicted to the poetry of the  Shipping Forecast. The way in which it is read by the radio presenter and the images it conjures up in the imagination somehow draws people in - a typical bulletin will go something like this...

"Low South West Iceland nine nine eight moving steadily away north east losing its identity. New low expected west south east Iceland nine eight five by one eight double oh Tuesday. Low one hundred and fifty miles west of Sole nine nine eight expected south west Iberia one thousand and four by same time....Viking, North Utsire, South Utsire, south or south west four increasing six or seven...Forties, Cromarty, Forth, southerly veering south westerly four or five increasing five to seven, fair, moderate or good. Tyne, Dogger, southerly four or five...."

And so it goes on for several minutes. Many people find it reassuring to listen to, others say the midnight broadcast helps them go to sleep at night. Books have been written about it. People have tried putting music to it. My favourite shipping area which sadly no longer exists is the rather prosaically titled Channel Light Vessel Automatic.

Here's a typical example of The Shipping Forecast - jump to two minutes to hear the broadcast....

I was listening to the Shipping Forecast in the car this evening and shortly afterwards I switched stations and a London traffic bulletin came on. It occurred to me these also have their own peculiar qualities. London traffic reports are full of equally unusual names. Names familiar to tourists rarely feature. You listen closely for an area you might know and the traffic you might be about to meet but most of the areas are actually unknown to you. Here are a few London traffic blackspots that everyone hears about almost every day yet few Londoners (except possibly taxi drivers) actually know where most of them are...
  • Canning Town flyover
  • Rochester Way Relief Road
  • Stirling Corner
  • Beckton Alps
  • Blackwall Tunnel
  • Polish War Memorial
  • Charlie Brown's 
  • The Limehouse Link
  • The Sun in the Sands
This got me thinking about a song I've known since I was a child. It's called The Slow Train and it's about the many minor railway stations that no longer exist. As the song suggests, they were only ever visited by The Slow Train. Again, evocative sounding names of places most of us have never heard of but with a poetry and music all of their own.

Friday, February 17, 2012


This writer knows how to grab a reader - put a life or death situation in the first three paragraphs. Read about the incredible and frankly, terrifying sport of freediving. It's long but it's worth my opinion.

Read the article here...


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

British Ingenuity

Just think, the same fuddle-minded country that produced this would have a Concorde in the air only eight years later.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Making Your Point

A significant part of my day is spent online advising customers how to fix problems on their systems. I always try to be as courteous and as tactful as possible as I am often correcting their misunderstandings or mistakes. I would not wish to be blunt, that would be impolite - and certainly not to a customer who's paying a fat fee for my services.

Many of the people I deal with are not native English speakers so I try to keep my sentences as short, clear and unambiguous as possible. I avoid things like complex grammar constructs, unusual vocabulary or slang. Having said that I do employ phrases such as "I would suggest..." which, to me, means "Do  it" and "I have a few comments...." which means "You've pretty much missed the point..."  Similarly, I would never say to someone "You're wrong". Instead I will employ a phrase such as "You may need to reconsider your strategy". I've always thought I was being tactful and they would understand the message I was really seeking to convey.

I've often been somewhat surprised (that means "totally dumbfounded" by the way) by their reaction to my well intended suggestions.  Depressingly, I suspect it's me that's been wrong all along. 

The following link is terribly accurate regarding what British people say and what they actually mean. I really need to learn how to be politely blunt.

What the British say and what they mean. Marvelous  on Twitpic

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Snow in London

So, London had its first significant snowfall of the winter - some years we get no snow at all. In the last few years we've been lucky and had plenty of snow. It was very kind of it to fall on Saturday night. It's wonderful to wake up on a Sunday morning, see everything blanketed in white and know you don't have to be anywhere in particular and you can just go out at your leisure when it pleases you and enjoy the scenery - which is exactly what I did and here are the photos.

Running parallel to the road I live on is an area called The Parkland Walk. It is actually a disused railway line. There were plans to develop it but the Second World War put a stop to that and they never get around to it.

In a previous post I mentioned Stephen King's connection to the area. In one of the pictures you'll see an unusual sculpture built into one of the bridge arches and it is said that this sculpture inspired him to write his short story Crouch End, giving the area a thoroughly devilish and demonic past.

Friday, February 03, 2012


One of my favourite films of all time - and I mean ALL time - is called Brazil. It's by Terry Gilliam. It's a simple story of one man's descent into madness in a dystopian future world. It also has Robert de Niro playing the part of a guerilla heating engineer flying through the night skies secretly fixing people's heating and ventilation systems. He meets a papery end. If that doesn't grab you then what will?

Without going in to too much detail, there's a lot more to this film than that and you must see it. It has a particularly catchy melody which is strung throughout the film - whenever I hear the tune it always catches my attention. It's been covered by many different people in many different styles - the tune is actually called Aquarela do Brasil (Watercolour of Brazil) and was written by Ary Barroso in 1939.

I was reading with the TV on in the background this evening and the tune came on. I looked up and it was a commercial for Cadbury's chocolate. The music was what caught my attention. What surprised me is that they've have shamefully and utterly plagiarised the film.

In the film the main character travels around in what we in the UK call a bubble car - one of those strange little single-seater cars that only go at about 30 mph and are powered by a very noisy and inefficient motorcycle engine. These feature throughout the commercial.

The commercial also features people acting furtively, popping up unexpectedly out of walls and pavements - also something of a theme throughout the film.

Finally, people flying. In the film, dream sequences involving flying are where the main character goes to escape the hell in his real life (or is it?) You decide.

Whatever....I hope Cadbury's are rewarding Terry Gilliam generously for taking his ideas and using them to sell chocolate bars. He famously needs all the help he can get. He has had more production disasters in his films than anyone I know. If Cadbury's are not crediting him then shame on you - and I expect the litigation to start soon.

4/2/2012 - I should've included a link to the ad so you could decide for yourselves - yer tis...