Bringing you the news you may have missed… today we report ona statement by the Woodland Trust.
‘The Woodland Trust has been the victim of a sophisticated, high level cyber-incident and it is feared confidential information about many of our trees has been accessed. As soon as we became aware of the situation, we took immediate action to mitigate the impact on the trees and notified the relevant woods. We have been working hard alongside experts, including forensic timber specialists, to determine the nature of the attack and assess if any branches may have been compromised. We are sorry for the concern this incident will cause. It is affecting our ability to support certain services for our trees and our woods. We are working hard to resume normal services as soon as possible.’
When asked about the effect on trees a spokeshuman said
‘When human beings ‘buy’ a tree or trees to dedicate to a loved one, or as an environmentally friendly birthday present, that tree or trees remain anonymous. Supporters may visit the wood where it is planted, but they must sign an agreement not to contact the tree in any manner.’
‘So they cannot carve their initials into the bark?’
‘Certainly not, no contact at all, no photographs may be taken and no hugging.’
‘What will happen now?’
‘This is a terrible situation for which we can only apologise to all trees and their saplings. Their identities could be revealed and lead to great stress, resulting in the postponement or even cancellation of spring.’
Susan switched on her ageing ipad, checked the time, pressed the Facetime link and the familiar face appeared.
‘Hello Mother, how are you, what have you been up to this week?’
His greeting never varied and each week she would rehearse fascinating snippets of news and intelligent comments on world events. But when it came to the moment her mind went blank; there was not a lot to tell and even less that Guy and his family would be interested in.
Three little faces popped in and out of the screen, mostly upside down. Her son adjusted the camera so she could see her three grandsons tackling their new assault course; the latest ploy by their mother to direct some of their cooped up energy. Bouncing off the walls took on a new meaning in their confined home, it was so hard for parents not to be able to take them out.
The assault course was such a success they could not be prised away to come and talk to her; after nearly a year it was only natural that little ones would not be interested, they had their own lives now. It was a marvel that she could see and hear them so easily, across so many miles, but she found herself envying instead of pitying her sister with the daughter from hell. The girl had turned up back home a year ago, with three children from different fathers and no money and had not left until it was too late to leave.
Susan was proud of her son and all he had achieved and admiring of her daughter-in-law who had adapted so well to their strange new life, but the two further years until his posting was up seemed interminable.
Who would have thought when Guy was so young, devouring books about space and science in preference to children’s stories… perhaps it was not such a surprise, but obsession was not enough, he had the brains and ambition to achieve his dreams. Still she could not quite believe that her son was leader of the first Moon colony, IMC, International Moon Colony. Seeing the boys now, totally adapted to zero gravity, screeching with delight as they crawled along the curved ceiling of their living quarters, belied the cold fear she felt that this was a remote risky venture that only grown men should be attempting.
‘Grandma, Grandma, we can see you now.’
The camera panned round to the large porthole, through which she could see the Earth beginning to rise. It was a beautiful sight that she was privileged to see and as her grandsons floated and jostled around the porthole it was some comfort that they knew where they had come from, where they belonged.
How long is the night? Anyone who has done shift work will know the night is very long when you are night duty and very short when you have to get up for early shift. Depending on your circumstances, late shift may provide a blissful interlude. In a previous incarnation, when we lived by Heathrow Airport, I would wake up after a late shift when Concorde took off at 11 am. I did not always get a lie in; in a house of several shift workers a shrill alarm would go off at the other end of the house, waking us up, but not our son. Cyberspouse would say ‘Just leave him, it’s up to him to get up.’ He never did, the alarm would penetrate our brains and one of us would always end up going to rouse him, perhaps a common scene in lots of homes. One morning my friend wondered why she couldn’t wake her son up, until her daughter reported that he had only arrived home ten minutes before.
Whether you have a clock radio that wakes you up for work with Farming Today or you are an insomniac trying to get back to sleep by listening to Farming Today at 5.45am, the radio is there to see many of us through the night. I have never had a television in the bedroom, but as television is renowned for sending people to sleep, I can understand why insomniacs find themselves keeping up with the adventures of an Australian vet in the middle of the night. Or perhaps you prefer Escape to the Chateau or Britain’s Fattest People when you can’t get back to sleep.
But it’s radio that does its best to soothe us to sleep. On BBC Radio 3 you can listen to Night Tracks, usually relaxing, followed by Through the Night, basically back to back concerts till 6.30 am when a new day starts. Let’s tune in to another station. BBC Radio 4 knows exactly how long the night is – four and a half hours. Today in Parliament at 11.30pm should surely send you to sleep. Midnight, more news, perhaps not, but at 12.30 am it’s Book of the Week, a nice bedtime story. In my recent blog ‘On The Radio’, Ellen commented that she would like to know the fascination with the shipping forecast.
At 12.48am the shipping forecast comes on, preceded by the soothing / dreary tune Sailing By, which is not to send those of us tucked up in bed to sleep, but to alert mariners to be tuned in. The shipping forecast is produced by the Met Office and broadcast four times a day on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. The waters around the British Isles are divided into 31 sea areas. Of interest to writers – the forecast has a limit of 350 words, except for the 0048 broadcast, which has a 380 word limit. The unique style attracts many who have no intention of putting even a foot in the sea. It is just fascinating to listen to, even though, or perhaps because we have no idea what most of it means. We like to imagine far flung mysterious islands and wave swept rocky headlands.
For the 2008 Beijing Olympics, BBC’s Zeb Soames was asked to read the shipping forecast to a worldwide audience of over a billion. Soanes says: “To the non-nautical, it is a nightly litany of the sea… It reinforces a sense of being islanders with a proud seafaring past. Whilst the listener is safely tucked-up in their bed, they can imagine small fishing-boats bobbing about at Plymouth or 170ft waves crashing against Rockall.”
There are warnings of gales in Rockall, Malin, Hebrides, Bailey, and Fair Isle … Humber, Thames. Southeast veering southwest 4 or 5, occasionally 6 later. Thundery showers. Moderate or good, occasionally poor.
There are weather reports from automatic weather logging stations, such as “Channel Light Vessel Automatic”; these are the coastal weather stations. More familiar sounding to those on land is the inshore waters forecast that rounds off the broadcast. The inshore coastal areas of the United Kingdom are 15 fixed stretches of coastline used in weather forecasting especially for wind-powered or small coastal craft. Each area is mentioned in the same order, clockwise round the mainland starting and finishing in the north west of Britain. You can follow places you have been on holiday or that lighthouse you visited. North Foreland to Selsey Bill, Selsey Bill to Lyme Regis. When you hear Adnamurchan Point to Cape Wrath including the Outer Hebrides, you know you’re back to the beginning, with a quick trip further north to the Shetland Isles…
If you are still awake the National Anthem is now played and BBC Radio 4 closes down for the night, but you will not be left alone, BBC World Service takes over, with all sorts of interesting programmes until 5.20 am when it’s the shipping forecast again. At 5.30 am Radio 4 is back with News Briefing and Prayer for the Day.
Many radio stations all over the world broadcast through the night; if you tune in what are your favourite stations?
Yes I’m proud to be serving my country, proud of the uniform I wear; keeping everyone safe.
Last week, but already it feels like this is what I was destined to do.
No, we always work in pairs for safety, it can be tough out there and I know I can trust Nat with my life. We also need to show our presence.
The most important aspect of our work is to gather intelligence; does something look not quite right? Is that person a local? What is that chap carrying? Why does that woman keep glancing around nervously.
No I don’t think we’re turning into a police state, most people know why we are doing this.
What do we actually do? Every hour, every day is different, we never know what we’re going to face. But that doesn’t stop us taking risks, talking to strangers…
You have yesterday’s recording from my headcam? No, that’s not allowed. Oh, it’s already gone out on the lunchtime news… No, I have nothing to hide, it will be good for the public to see what we face.
Are you out for exercise… and you ran all that way… well there isn’t going to be an Olympics so you don’t need to run twenty six miles every day.
Is this your car Madame, how far have you driven? Yes we do know where you live – ANPR. Did you drive down the spur road? So your details are already on the PNC. I am using plain language – Automatic Number Plate Recognition, Police National Computer. Well we would all like a walk by the sea, but it’s hardly local. Yes it is actually against the law to go to the seaside.
Is this outing for the purpose of essential shopping. No I don’t think you are carrying four heavy bags just for fun. May I look inside the bags. No you don’t know your rights and you’re wrong. Do you consider chocolate and three bottles of wine to be essential? Home schooling does not make them essential.
I would believe you were out for daily exercise if you were walking a little faster. If you have knee trouble why don’t you stay home?
Sitting on a bench does not constitute exercise Sir. CPD? Why does being obsessive mean you have to sit down? Ah, yes of course that’s OCD, so what made up condition is CPD? We didn’t do that on our one day first aid course. Oh, my colleague here says yes we did, but I was asleep. Anyway, please don’t drop dead on my watch ha ha, we’re not allowed to administer mouth to mouth resuscitation because of Covid.
Isn’t it time for our lunch break Nat, let’s just clobber one more. Good morning Madame, is this your vehicle. Yes I can see you have a disabled badge, but you don’t look very disabled… so is that your ninety nine year old mother in the passenger seat? Shouldn’t she be at home? A last look at the sea before she dies, we’ve heard that excuse before….
What do I love about my job? Working with people, I’m good with people and I love being a Covid Warden.
Vivienne put the phone down with relief, she really needed that cup of tea she was about to make when her daughter phoned. She never liked to phone them, they were always so busy she never knew when was a good time. As chief administrator at a large hospital her son-in-law Jack was now ridiculously busy. If he worked from home Julia found it impossible to keep everything calm and his OCD under control and if he was at the hospital she complained ( usually to Vivienne ) about being left alone to deal with the home schooling. Vivienne couldn’t understand why her daughter had decided to set up her own business from home. Being made redundant from Billings Department Store, early on in the pandemic was surely convenient for looking after the twins, but Julia had been over optimistic in the autumn when children at last went back to school and still optimistic when they started the new term on January 4th… until Boris closed all schools the next day.
Vivienne had been at home with Julia and James when they were young, so there would not have been the same panic all these modern parents had. Not that she would have been much use at home schooling, she couldn’t get James to do his homework let alone a whole curriculum.
Julia was now apparently wishing she had been a teacher or nurse, a key worker so she could have sent Jason and Jacintha to school. Vivienne smiled to herself; Julia had never shown any inclination to be either when she was doing her A levels. Neither profession ran in the family and Vivienne herself had never had any desire to be a nurse or anything medical, or any job that involved other people’s bodies. She had the utmost admiration for nurses, except for that bitch on the ward when she had James and that other one when she had her operation; there was one on every shift probably, but most of them were as wonderful as portrayed on the news and those hospital documentaries.
Julia’s mother-in-law was a nurse and had volunteered to come out of retirement to do vaccinations. Of course she was much younger than Vivienne, having had Jack at some ridiculously young age. Being busy vaccinating didn’t stop her helping the twins with their home schooling via Facetime and writing them stories. She lived nearby so was missing being a hands on granny. Julia said that was the only good thing to come out of lockdown, they had a break from her, though she never said that to Jack. Jack’s mother, in her forty eight hour day, had also set up a zoom group and Facebook page for lonely grandparents, which had featured on the local news.
Vivienne sighed as she took her empty cup to the kitchen and looked out at the damp, dreary January garden; she felt so useless. Julia and James said she didn’t need to do anything except stay home and not catch Covid, or climb on stools and fall off and break bones. But that bloke volunteering at the food bank on the news looked older than her, how did these people do it? Her thoughts were interrupted by the phone ringing, her surgery were doing vaccinations, could she come in tomorrow? She wasn’t doing anything else, that was for sure, but she was rather miffed, she wasn’t old or vulnerable, why were they calling her? They should be doing the police and shop workers next…
If you want a glimpse into Julia’s life back in May, link in here.
Yes busy all day and a long day at that, we stretch ourselves to breaking point, but we know people won’t survive without us.
Why do I do this job? No day’s the same, never time to get bored, sometimes the load is very heavy, other times light.
We used to chat, but now we have to keep our distance. The good side of that is we can work quicker, we need to work quicker.
No I haven’t, I pride myself in never making mistakes, make sure I have read the instructions properly. We can’t afford to make mistakes, this is people’s lives we are dealing with.
I do ring the bell, I know some aren’t bothering now we don’t have to get a signature. It’s heart breaking knowing people want to talk, desperate to see another human being, they call out, trying to thank us, pitiful, but I’m already on my way to the next person.
No I don’t feel exploited and I certainly don’t want do-gooders boycotting the company. I need to earn money and I like being out on the road, by myself, out of the house.
Yes I have, four, the wife deals with all the home schooling, another reason I enjoy my work.
Vital? Of course, where would you all be without your Amazon deliveries?
I logged in on my dashboard computer – Friday 15th January 2040. I was getting a new work experience person today. It didn’t matter what day of the week they started, we worked seven days a week and every day was the same, though today was going to be rather different. Their name was Hope, sixteen years old, no idea if they would be a boy, girl or other, I would have to wait and see how or if they self identified. Dressed in biohaz suits it was difficult to tell, so it didn’t much matter. What sort of name was Hope; parents must have been optimistic, must have been optimistic in the first place to have a baby in 2024.
‘Good morning Hope, welcome to the team, what the hell made you want to try this job?’
‘To get away from home, get outside.’
‘They all say that, outside’s not all it’s cracked up to be, every day’s much the same, but I have to tell you we have an NR7 to deal with first today, did they tell you about that in your on line induction?’
‘Nope, don’t think so, wasn’t really listening…’
‘I thought not, well you can back out now, it might not be very nice.’
‘No way, I’d have to go to the back of the jobs queue.’
‘NR7 means No Response for seven days, weekly food parcel still on front path and housebot has set off the alarm – no signs of life detected. We have to go in, it’s almost certain resident is dead, probably of old age.’
‘Whaat…’ came the gruff exclamation through their mask voice box.
‘I’ve seen a few cases. Rich relatives paid or bribed for them to be exempt from the euthanasia programme, unkindest thing they could have done, but I guess years ago they thought this would all be over and Granny would come round for tea again.’
‘Why would you want your Granny to come round, when you could see her on Omegazoom?’
‘So she could play with her grandchildren… oh never mind, let’s get on with this. According to our records all her family predeceased her, otherwise they would have notified us that she was not responding.’
Hope gazed out of the window of my solar powered vehicle as we turned into the ‘Granny’s’ street.
‘I’ve never been down a street before, we live in a tower block, those gardens look so pretty, how do they get them all the same?’
‘Gardenbots, programmed to create the sort of garden the average person wants to look out on. Ah, here we are, Click and Collect food box still out on the front path, regulation two metres from the front door. Only time residents are allowed out; to click on the box, collect it and take it indoors, but obviously you know all that.’
‘Yes, I always volunteer to go out in the corridor and collect ours.’
‘NR7 is the only time we are allowed to enter a private home, I had to sign out the entry device, let’s hope it works.’
I pointed and pressed the button and it showed entry code overridden. I pushed at the front door, but it didn’t give easily; we soon saw why and I thought my other half had a lot of pot plants. It was like a jungle, not that I have ever seen a jungle. Through the leaves emerged a four foot angular housebot. It was no use asking it what had happened, one of the outdated models that didn’t speak, programmed only for house maintenance, not companionship. It didn’t need to speak, I knew at this very moment it would be signalling back to base, alien human life detected. I quickly tapped my wrist phone to register with base my arrival here.
‘Okay Hope, I’ll go first into each room, starting with the front room.’
Obviously the housebot was programmed to stay out of the little old fashioned sitting room; in the corner was the skeleton of a tree, beneath it a carpet of dead pine needles and under that thick dusty layer could just be discerned some grey shapes that had once been Christmas parcels.
Hope pointed in horror as if this might be the body we were looking for.
‘What is thaat?’
‘It was once a Christmas Tree.’
‘Before your time, a relic from the last Christmas of 2020.’
I felt a lump in my throat. I remembered that last Christmas. We never did go round to Granny’s to have a ‘proper Christmas when things are better’ – it seems I was not the only child who didn’t get Granny’s presents that year.
We moved through the kitchen, all neat and tidy; the housebot would have cleared away any clues as to when the resident had last eaten. Out in a little conservatory was another housebot free area, the plants had run riot and on a table covered in cobwebs, a closer inspection revealed a half built Lego set, like I used to play with. But the smiling faces of the Lego people could not be seen under the thick coat of dust.
‘Wouldn’t she have been a bit old to be playing with Lego?’
‘I imagine that was the last time her grandchildren came round, she left the Lego out ready for them to play with next time, but next time never came.’
But Hope wasn’t listening, they had wrenched open the filthy patio door to gaze in wonder at the back garden and it was a wonderful display of colour to cheer us up. The rich relatives must have paid out an endowment long ago for a personal gardenbot.
Reluctantly I lead the way upstairs, the worst part of our job was still to come. I pushed open the bedroom door and there she was, lying tucked up in bed, the blank Omegazoom screen at an easy to see angle beside her. I wondered when was the last time she had spoken to anyone on the screen.
‘Well Hope, you should get your parents to check in to the home bidding, there will be a house and garden available in a week or so.’
‘Do you think we stand a chance, a real garden I could go out into?’
‘Tell them to get in quick before everyone else hears about it.’
What can any blogger write that doesn’t involve mentioning Covid, Brexit, The White House or the fact that a new year has started? Let us retreat to where most of us are at the moment, home. Home comforts, or what I now call Covid Comforts are keeping us going. If you are reading this it is unlikely you are in a refugee camp, an intensive care unit or a war zone; for that we should be grateful. If you look around your home I wonder how many modern wonders provide your life support system? The internet obviously, books, television, central heating, on line shopping, computer games. Before any of those was The Word, okay so radio came quite a while after the beginning of the Old Testament, but the first modern invention in my life was the radio, long before I could read, even before I could walk or talk music was seeping into my bones thanks to the BBC. Before I was born my parents were listening to programmes that are still being broadcast; The Archers, Desert Island Discs and Woman’s Hour.
Woman’s Hour has just had its seventy fifth birthday and received a letter from The Queen. When Dame Jenni Murray ( a national institution ) announced she was leaving after thirty three years, followed soon after by a similar announcement by Jane Garvey, who has been with the programme for thirteen years, my immediate thoughts were You can’t do this, not in the middle of a pandemic and my mother and husband have just died… As I have been listening at least since our first baby was born forty one years ago, there have been other favourite presenters, the programme will survive. The modern mother can listen on her iPhone while breastfeeding in the dark watches of the night. Many men also listen and people of all ages can hear the programme in the car or when out jogging. Very different from the early days when it was broadcast at 2pm and mothers were presumed to be sitting down for a rest after lunch while their babies were having their nap. There is fun, but there are dark topics. I imagine there is no controversial issue that has not been covered on the programme, Woman’s Hour is where we first heard about FMG. The final quarter of the hour is a serial, there is always something for everyone.
In that 2020 strange sunny spring and summer of isolation, Cyberspouse listened to Woman’s Hour every morning over our leisurely breakfasts in the sun lounge. BBC Radio Four in the mornings is packed with interesting programmes and three different serials. Thanks to Amazon I bought two more digital radios to add to our collection.
There is much more to say about radio; such as why are we fascinated by the shipping forecast… but that’s for another blog. For now here is something cheery, one of my early memories that I just heard on the radio. Light music is what we all need at the moment and there have been memorable tunes composed on both sides of the Atlantic. This is one for writers by Leroy Anderson, though I don’t think he could have written a piece about computers…
I may not be a medical person, but I can help those who are, make life easier for them. We’re only taking the children of key workers now, but we’ve extended our hours. They work long hours, so do we. My staff are super committed, they love their job.
Yes we are seeing a lot of anxiety among those we care for, they are sensitive to the tensions at home. They know life is not normal at present, we give them plenty of one-to-one attention. We give them individual balanced diets and plenty of fresh air and exercise. Our aim is to socialise them within their bubble groups and we have a full programme of activities and rest periods. They love the outdoor adventure playground and the indoor fun gym.
Yes we are fortunate to have this beautiful setting at Sunshine Valley. No not at all, the price reflects the cost of running an establishment like this, the high staff ratio and the excellent staff qualifications; but there is a discount for NHS. Well, all my employees are professional dog walkers and I have a degree in dog psychology. You can tell your listeners their Fur Babies will be totally safe with us at Sunny Valley Doggy Day Care.
Today I welcome another guest blog by my sister in Australia. When our family first emigrated to Perth in 1964, going up in the hills to see Mundaring Weir overflowing was a regular outing…
Pipe Dreams by Kate Doswell
As a child, I was both fascinated and saddened by the story of Charles Yelverton O’Connor – always referred to as C. Y. O’Connor. As Western Australia’s Chief engineer at the turn of the last century, he was responsible, amongst other things, for the design and construction of Fremantle Harbour, WA’s main shipping port and – more famously – for the Kalgoorlie pipeline.
Kalgoorlie was the scene of WA’s massive gold rush and by the early 1900s was a busy town; the engine for much of the wealth and development of the fledgling state. The drawback was that it was in an arid area 560 isolating and harsh kilometres from the capital city of Perth. Supplies of water were a major stumbling block to further development and an answer needed to be found.
C. Y. O’Connor had the audacious idea to build a pipeline to take water from Perth to Kalgoorlie, a feat never attempted before over such a large distance. It would involve construction of a large dam at Mundaring, in the hills above the swan coastal plain. The project would require pumping stations at Mundaring and along the route, and steel pipes big enough to carry sufficient water.
It is ultimately a story of triumph – a brilliant idea, carefully planned and skilfully executed, a triumph made even more incredible considering its achievement by a small, isolated European settlement transplanted into an ancient country only 70 years before. But it is also a sad story. C. Y. O’Connor never lived to see its success; he committed suicide. The story I heard as a child was that the tap was turned on at Mundaring, but due to a miscalculation the water took longer than expected to reach Kalgoorlie. C.Y. O’Connor thought he had failed. He rode his favourite horse out into the surf at a Perth beach and drowned himself. The timing wasn’t quite that poignant, but the fact remains that he was driven to a state of despair by the critical and unrelenting attack mounted against him by the foremost (and possibly only) newspaper of the day, The West Australian (still the only state based newspaper in WA). His other major critic and tormentor was the Premier of the state, John Forrest, though he was happy to share in the credit once it was a success.
I recently visited the weir for the first time in many years, and it was an occasion for reflection on its place in our history. Completed in 1903, it was the longest freshwater pipeline in the world at the time, the first to use steel pipes and fed by the highest dam in the Southern hemisphere. In 2009 it was recognised as an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers, only the 3rd in Australia and 47th in the world to be awarded, alongside the Panama Canal and the Golden Gate Bridge.
On a more personal level, I remember as a child we visited the weir often, as a family and as part of a youth group with a campsite nearby. I always found it interesting and it has a beautiful setting, surrounded by hills and jarrah forest. As a teenager, my family moved to a wheatbelt town, and the water we drank came from the pipe. The pipe ran under our front garden, though I hasten to add we didn’t have a tap connected directly, since the size of the pipe means it stands as tall as a person when it runs above the ground.
Not only had the pipe delivered water to the miners, it had also allowed the opening up of agricultural towns along the route. It is a constant feature running beside the roads, dipping underground to go through towns, then re-emerging on the other side. It is a guide; I can remember doing a walk-a-thon to raise money, and the route was simple. Just follow the pipeline, you can’t get lost! You can even walk on it if you feel adventurous and have good balance.
My recent visit also gave me pause for thought about our current environmental crises. Perth has traditionally relied to a large part on water from our various dams, but with climate change our rainfall has fallen considerably in the past 20 years. The last time the weir overflowed was in 1996, and visiting some years later it was sad and worrying to see the sloping gravel sides of the dam exposed by the falling water levels, a raw wound running around the circumference of the dam. It was a relief to see a much higher level last week, the water lapping the edge of the forest, but I was disillusioned to discover the pipe that pumped water into the dam from our desalination plant. I reasoned that it was necessary, as the weir still supplies Kalgoorlie and the towns on the way, but to me it was a tangible reminder that we in Australia were failing to take seriously the dangers of climate change. On the driest continent on earth, predicted to suffer most from a warming and drying climate, our politicians and right winged newspapers are happy to sabotage any efforts to address this urgent issue, preferring instead to criticise and lampoon scientists and concerned citizens, and to wilfully ignore the changes we see around us.
As I walked away from the weir lookout it occurred to me; things had not changed much since C.Y. O’Connor’s day.
My novel was inspired by our experiences when our parents emigrated with three children in 1964.