Words to live by

Family_Day

The other night, between dashing from this thing to the next, I stopped to listen to the wireless. Well, it was Radio 4, and being so means it was definitely the wireless, and not the radio, despite the confusion of nomenclature. The programme was “Just a Minute”, hosted by the eternal Nicholas Parsons, wherein panellists speak for 60 seconds on a given topic without repetition, hesitation or deviation. Hilarity, as they say, generally ensues, and occasionally awe. I grew up listening to the likes of Clement Freud, Kenneth Williams and Willie Rushton being witty and erudite; today we have the joys of Paul Merton, Josie Lawrence and Sheila Hancock.

Well my dears, I would be terrible at the game in question. I repeat and fade on an endless loop, like a 60’s pop idol, or an indecisive pilot circling forever above my linguistic destination and never quite arriving. I go into some kind of verbal holding pattern above my target topic and fail to land on the runway until the airwave traffic controllers have died from frustration or boredom, and occasionally both.

This week one of the topics was “Your family’s motto” and it was most certainly amusing. It also sparked a question in my little grey cells as to what the motto above EBL Towers, when it is finally emplaced, should be. For many years we have lived by “All you need is gloves” and, in extremis, “Never give up, never surrender!” Yet for all their many merits, these do not quite encapsulate the spirit and verve that is EBL en famille.

What are the crucial signs of one of the Bagladian clan, also known as Gentes Bagladii? Well you might ask, dear friends, but until now I would honestly have struggled to respond. It’s hard to think of a single uniting force beyond customs – most of us who are members of said clan of clans like history and science fiction and games and films and rock music and technology and art and stand-up comedy and good coffee, curry and chocolate (not necessarily all at once).  But these are ephemera. They are trivial in terms of what makes a family. They are simply things we can enjoy together.

“What this family needs,” I decided, “is a motto, to be our mission statement to the world.”

It will, of course, let the rest of you, the non-Bagladians, know what you are missing by being non-Bagladian in the first place, and serve you right. It will help you understand how to get the best from us and how to avoid the worst.

Yet the more I thunk and the harder I thunk the further away I found myself from an answer. After all, if you prick us do we not bleed? The answer to that is yes, fyi. Just don’t try it, because we have big, strong teeth, and you know what they are all the better for. But if so, in what way are we different, unique, special; because we all want to feel special, don’t we, and isn’t a motto a way of making that happen?

I briefly considered “By the grace of God and a toothbrush” which stood me in good stead for some years as a younger EBL learning her way about yon mortal coil. But not all of us believe in the big G so that wouldn’t do.

My grandmother had many favourite quips and sayings, some of which will haunt me to my dying day, such as “You’ve got to eat a peck of dirt before you die,” “Cheer up for Chatham – Dover’s in sight” and “Don’t-Care was made to care and locked in a box until he did.” I think her intention was to boost morale, but her confidence may have been misplaced. In any case they are hardly mottoes.

A motto is intended to express a higher principle or ideal to which one cleaves., and generally they seem to revolve around the virtues: chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility. You can see why I am struggling here. EBL is pretty short in the virtuous arena. Pretty damn short.

To the world of whimsy! I am currently torn between “When the going gets tough, the tough keep calm and eat chocolate” and “Let’s always take whatever comes, and never try to hide, face everything and anyone, together side by side.”

Until I decide we will stick with our old favourite, “All you need is gloves” because, indeed, gloves are all you need.

What would be your motto?

Namaste.

Stardust

I quite enjoy a good pop-science documentary. I love science because I love how the world all fits together and does its stuff in such an amazing, clever, jaw-dropping way. I love David Attenborough whispering next to wild Mountain Gorillas or explaining how duck-billed platypuses (platypi? platypodes? whatever!) sense electric currents. I love the literally gasp-aloud wildlife photography produced by the BBC in support of his documentaries. I love serious and not-so-serious attempts to explain quantum to me, or relativity, or the Big Bang. I love Stephen Jay Gould writing about evolution, or Dara O’Briain enthusing over mathematics and astronomy.

I admit it. My name is EBL and I love Stargazing Live.

Stargazing Live is one of the craziest notions for a TV show I have ever come across. It involves getting people to be excited about maths and physics, live on air, using technology that goes wrong all the time, to demonstrate brain-boggling facts, figures and concepts, while trying to look at stars in Britain, still live on air, regardless of the weather. It is invariably cloudy. And then doing it all over again for two more nights, usually prefacing the start of the next programme with “well, it finally cleared up beautifully in North Lanarkshire at 3 am so you could catch the tail end of the Pleiades shower”. Actually I love Stargazing Live and I love the BBC for producing it.

The main host is Brian Cox, with Dara supporting him because Brian needs someone who can (a) think on his feet in front of a camera, (b) knows how to present live and without a safety net, and (c) has the “common touch”. Brian Cox sets pulses racing with his combination of good looks, northern accent and boyish charm, allegedly. This all works very well when scripted and set to dramatic orchestration but he is less agile in a live environment and only really comfortable talking to other scientists – when his good qualities do really shine out across the universe. Dara, on the other hand, can put everyone at ease, be funny but also incredibly knowledgeable, and is keen as mustard in a less academic way. Both of them just fizz with enthusiasm. It is wonderful.

Brian’s rather annoying habit, from my point of view, is to refer to anything that is not hard science as “woo-woo”. He flutters his hands and speaks in a silly voice, as if this makes it acceptable. While I am all for having rational debate about the proven scientific theory supporting new discoveries, and while I am not a fan of a number of notions masquerading as science, such as homeopathy and creationism, I take some displeasure in a blanket dismissal of a spiritual interpretation of certain phenomena as if they cannot exist alongside hard science. It’s like saying you can only read the Encyclopedia Britannica and not John Donne, because the latter is speculative and speaks about men as if they were geography which is obviously untrue. Ironically both sources agree that no man is an island…

I admit I would use the EncBrit for some things and Donne for others. The key is knowing which is which. I would be happier of Brian widened his repertoire a little and didn’t take quite such a binary approach.

None of the above will ultimately stop me from watching the world’s most peculiar concept show whenever it is broadcast, taking me to the final frontier. It’s quirky, informative and sufficiently annoying to get me completely hooked.

Namaste.

Requiem

I realised recently that I very rarely listen to music nowadays.

When I was little the radio was permanently on. After tea when Dad was home it was switched to Radio 4 and the half hour quiz or comedy that came between the News and The Archers: the delights of The Goons, Round the Horne, The Navy Lark, Brain of Britain, Just a Minute, I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue (Mornington Crescent, anyone?). With luck I would hear the Shipping Forecast too; the way the presenter rolled the names of the different stations across the airwaves to my childish ears was unforgettable. They sounded exotic and mysterious and places of adventure and derring-do. I don’t think I was far wrong.

So far, so speech-oriented. During the day, however, things were a bit more musically inclined and my mother tuned into pop music. I grew up listening to the charts even before I knew who the singers were. I could sing along to all kinds of hits without a clue – if they didn’t appear on Crackerjack, then I wouldn’t know anything about them. That included The Beatles too; the first I heard of them they were splitting up and everyone seemed sad about it, even my grandma.

I listened to music all the time as a teenager, because that is all down to DNA. I listened to it through university and later when I was pregnant. Status Quo was marvellous for soothing babies, with a good, strong and regular thumping beat.  I bought a Walkman and a CD-Walkman and a MP3 player for the commutes over the years.

Then the music died.

Something inside me just turned it off. I had a fresh major depressive episode and could no longer tolerate noise. Since then I have barely listened to music at all. We have bought a handful of new CDs or downloaded albums. It’s all on my laptop, begging to be played as I sit and type. It used to be I couldn’t put finger to keyboard without Beethoven or Bon Jovi to chivvy me along. Now, I just don’t want the hassle. It’s like a part of my brain broke and hasn’t been fixed.

In theory that makes me sad. In practice, it doesn’t bother me at all.

If you ask me my favourite song, or what will be the playlist at my funeral, or any of those random questions that do the rounds of yon t’Interweb from time to time, then I can furnish you with an answer. I certainly have favourite songs; I just never play them.

I can plan hypothetically for my funeral because I won’t have to listen. Ha, I could inflict Kraftwerk on the mourners and they would have to put up with it! Maybe I’ll have a separate invite list for the people who have annoyed me, and choose the most annoying songs I can think of: the Birdie Song, William Shatner, and Keith and Orville spring immediately to mind. If I die and you get an invite, check the playlist to see if you annoyed me or not. If it has Mary Hopkin, then I love you.

I’m not sure this matters. It may be a phase. Meanwhile I really appreciate the quiet.

I just find the change a bit weird. Have you ever turned round completely like this? Just curious…

Namaste.

 

Glass half full

Earlier this week I was amused by a couple of weather forecasts on Auntie Beeb: the national forecast (meaning the London forecast) told us gloomily that the weather had taken a turn for the worse, and temperatures were down to a cold  and unpleasant 10C.

Soon after that we had the local news and weather. In this part of the world the weather was cooler than in previous days, but thankfully still a mild 10C. On mentioning this discrepancy at work, a colleague remarked it just showed what "glass half full" people we were in the North.

So take that M Python! Apologies – there appear to be Dutch sub-titles…zo es het.