Idle Notes from an iPad

A strange place to put a gate? Rather like the internet, many of us don’t know which gate to go through, if we should go through it or what to do when we get to the other side. At present I am still using igate -I mean iPad orMePad…. and I don’t trust it with too many words….

So let’s go underwater for a change. I know there are bloggers who actually go underwater, but I just listened to BBC Radio 4. Book of the Week in five parts and I only needed to listen to the first part to learn something about an amazing creature…

Picture may not be accurate representation of the ocean floor.

Philosopher Peter Godfrey-Smith explores what is known about octopus intelligence in ‘Other Minds: the Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life’. The first part concluded with the words ‘Your best chance of meeting Alien Intelligence is to meet an octopus.’

To protect its identity octopus is played by an actor.

The gist of what I have heard so far is this. Octopus seem to be very intelligent, even when assessed by our limited land based human perspective. Our common ancestor was a very basic tape worm living at the bottom of the sea many trillions of years ago. Since then humans and octopus have evolved along totally different lines. So intelligent life has evolved in more that one totally different species; all life on earth has not been totally about aiming towards a human pinnacle of excellence. If any of you have met an octopus or perhaps just eaten one please add your enlightened comments. If any reader is actually an octopus it will be very interesting to read your comments.

How Long is the Night?

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.

Whitby

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?

What’s On?

What’s on the telly tonight? Good news, you can avoid Covid Crisis and indulge in Covid Comfort. Whether you need relaxation or intellectual stimulation, television can help.

University Challenge is back and I managed to answer quite a few questions, perhaps they are going easy on us in the first round, usually I can’t understand half the questions let alone answer more than three. It is obviously pre-recorded; nobody in a post Covid world is going to sit cosily in teams of four putting their heads together to decide on the answer.

There are many programmes we must enjoy before the pre-recorded stock runs out. Great British Sewing Bee is fabric fantasy, whether you like making clothes or wearing them. The winner, Clare Bradley, turned out to not only be brilliant at sewing, but is also a hospital respiratory consultant and since her win has been helping to save Covid patients. Could there be a post Covid sewing bee? No one allowed to touch the material or each other’s sewing machines, no hugging and congratulating. But perhaps they could do a glamourous slant on making facemasks and scrubs, as long as they only have one contestant at a time…https://metro.co.uk/2020/06/24/great-british-sewing-bee-2020-declares-winner-intense-finale-

All the cookery programmes will have the same problem in future, no one allowed to taste the food, no one will know what the food smells like with their masks on, no presenters hanging over the cook’s shoulders asking how they are getting on. I have never followed cookery shows as it’s too painful to see all that lovely food that we can’t eat. But in lockdown Cyberspouse has been watching them all. There are two main types of shows. Master chefs compete against each other to create beautiful banquets or delicious deserts that are works of art; pudding porn, perfect creations that are then mercilessly stabbed and rent asunder by the judges, who alone enjoy heavenly melting moments. Then there are the celebrities we have never heard of who can’t cook and are sent on an emotional roller coaster, baking perfect pastry or told they have to cook twenty octopuses ( or is it octopi ) for the guests at a posh hotel.

But some programmes are with us in real time. Nature and gardens brought into our living rooms by presenters on their home patch, alone, no irritating chatting with fellow presenters, giving the viewers their undivided attention. Gardener’s World brings calm and peace on Friday evenings. I know every day is the same as a carer in a pandemic, but I like to pretend it’s the end of the week. Monty Don wanders around his own large garden, with trailing dogs, digging and potting. But my favourite parts are viewers’ home videos, enthusiastically showing us an endless variety of inventive gardens of all shapes and sizes, bringing us all sorts of useful tips – and I thought I was obsessive about saving water… some don’t even have a balcony, let alone a garden; apartments filled with plants so you feel you are in a jungle. One young chap even had endlessly circulating water running down the wall into a fishpond.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006mw1h/clips

Drama has not been forgotten. Alan Bennet’s Talking Heads have been given a new production with a few new tales; monologues are perfect for social distancing and his characters move us as they gradually reveal their often surprising stories. There has also been a good selection of new short plays with actors having equipment delivered to their own homes, presumably with a few instructions. Filming themselves and conveniently often married to other actors, thus providing a cast of two.

Radio has always been a lifeline since our mothers’ and grandmothers’ day for housewives, mothers and anyone at home all day and I’m sure it was for many confined during Covid. Cyberspouse has listened to Woman’s Hour every day and BBC Radio 4 has three serialised books before lunch. But there is one drama that has let me down. I have been listening to the Archers ( the world’s longest running soap? )  on and off since I was in the womb and I thought Ambridge was a real place in a real county, Borsetshire. Imagine my confusion when farming life carried on as usual, The Bull still open for drinkers, while the rest of England was in total lockdown, everyone isolated. No one in Ambridge even mentioned there was a world wide  pandemic. Opinion was divided on Archers Facebook fan pages and among listeners emailing ‘Feedback’, some were glad of the escape from Covid while others like me thought it ridiculous. Eventually they ran out of recorded episodes and there was the first ever break in transmission, followed by a relaunch of a different type of soap. Endless monologues by any actors who knew how to work the recording equipment at home. For the first time, all those characters we love, or love to hate were expressing their own feelings, creepy or what. Soap operas by their nature are written in the third person, we have to wait till a character opens their heart to another character for insights and we like it that way.

http://www.thearchers.co.uk/

For fiction in real time drop in to my Friday Flash Fiction – tiny tales of ordinary folk in a pandemic.

Have your viewing and listening habits changed since the pandemic? What have your Covid comforts been?

Silly Saturday – Jolly Journaling

Coronavirus: British Library to archive Radio 4’s Covid Chronicles for posterity…

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-52487414

Have you been keeping a diary or journal of these strange times? Perhaps you have already had your four hundred words read out on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme – no nor have I. No I haven’t actually written my Covid Chronicle yet, but I shall so that I can get in the British Library archives.

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Or are you keeping a handwritten journal in a beautiful leather bound diary so your descendants or historians can read about this unique period of history? Of course it won’t be unique if it just continues with no end in sight, but the good news is your diary will be a record of someone who was there at the beginning of a new era for Gaia and the human race.
Like blogging, those who have something interesting to write have no time to write and those with time to write have nothing interesting to write about. There are many people being very busy; medical folk saving lives, those in government holding endless meetings with busy clever scientists and holding press briefings. Parents are working from home and teaching their children. Drivers are out delivering. The rest of us are at home doing NOTHING for our country, or rather doing nothing FOR our country. Our places of work are closed or we have been told to stay home for 12 weeks because we are vulnerable or shielding someone who is. But our diaries are still valuable.

Saturday
I only knew it was Saturday because there was a different programme on the radio. Put the washing machine on and did two loads. Counted how many slices of bread left. Amazon parcel arrived, one ball of red wool to knit a rainbow.

Sunday
Watched YouTube video on how to knit. Didn’t do the ironing because what’s the point. Amazon parcel arrived, one ball of orange wool. Put bins out and waved to Barbara across the road.

Monday
Amazon parcel arrived, one ball of yellow wool for rainbow. Started tidying up the loft, found old teddy bear and came downstairs for coffee. Brought bins in and waved to Bill next door. Put teddy in window and downloaded pattern of teddy Union Jack jumper for VE day anniversary celebrations, which we’re not having.

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Tuesday
Drew up list of jobs that need doing in the house. Two Amazon parcels, 24 tins of rice pudding for OH ( Other Half ) and one ball of green wool. Raining, so cast on stitches in red wool for my rainbow.

Wednesday
Watched You Tube video on how to knit first row. One Amazon parcel, ball of blue wool. Raining. Three letters in the post. Tickets for the concert, letter to tell us concert cancelled, letter from hospital cancelling the appointment for my toe.

Thursday
Cleaned the whole house so can get on with list of DIY jobs. Two Amazon parcels; cover for phone, one ball of indigo wool. Mowed lawn and waved to Julie next door the other side. Made a list of things to order from Amazon for my DIY.

Friday
Went on Amazon to order list of things for DIY. One Amazon parcel, ball of violet wool. Have knitted two rows of red for the rainbow, decided to stick to garter stitch as can’t get the hang of purl. Made a wall chart of how next week will be organised.

Into Infinity

Writing about infinity presents endless possibilities. Most of my scientific understanding comes from listening to BBC Radio Four while doing the housework or cooking. The Infinite Monkey Cage is a programme combining comedy and science which I can understand, then there was the serialisation of Professor Stephen Hawking’s last book Brief Answers to Big Questions; if I didn’t take that all in I blame it on domestic interruptions or a noisy washing machine.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00snr0w

Here is my handy guide to the universe. I think Stephen Hawking said the universe is growing, therefore at one time it must have been smaller and long ago so small it was nothing; one minute it was nothing and the next minute there was a big bang. I prefer my theory that if the universe is infinite it will go on forever, so it must have always been here forever.

But how big is infinity? The edge of the observable universe is 46.5 billion light years away, but we can’t see if there is an edge to it or work out how much more of it there is. Apparently even clever scientists, who can cope with the thought of billions of light years, still find infinity a bit creepy. They are no different to young children ( or was that just me? ) who ask ‘Who made the universe?’

‘God’ the parent replies and then they ask

‘But who made God’ or ‘What’s outside the universe?’

Another theory is that the universe could curve round on itself, making it both finite and infinite. Could that mean time goes in a circle and if we crossed the circle with a diameter or a chord we would be in a different time, thus making time travel possible? But is time merely an illusion? If so, time travel is still on the cards…

Talking of space, there is a lot of space between atoms and inside atoms; if you took all the empty space in the atoms that make up a human being, a person would be a lot smaller than a grain of salt. If you removed all the empty space from the atoms that make up all the humans on the planet, we could all fit inside an apple. If we removed the spaces between and inside all the atoms in the solar system it could fit it inside a thimble, so perhaps the universe is not so big after all.

Whatever the truth, authors who enjoy writing about time travel are never going to concede that time travel is impossible. Science fiction writers in general vary from those who are scientists to those who make it all up and who can prove them wrong if they set it in the future; unless a book reviewer travels to the future to check…

If you want to stretch your mind and go somewhere different why not dip into Someone Somewhere.

 

TIMES AND TIDES

Do you like short stories, do you read them or write them? Do you listen to them at writing groups, story slams in the pub or on BBC Radio 4? Short stories are of a more useful size than novels to pop in or drop in, but perhaps you prefer the journey and involvement of a novel.

I have to confess that in between school and starting at a writing group, my short story activity was confined to listening on Radio 4 while feeding babies or doing the housework. But we have so much fun at writers’ group listening  to stories as good as any on the radio and as I have just published my third collection of short stories you will guess I love writing them.

But what should a short story do; answer a question, satisfy us with a neat ending or leave us completely in the lurch? A short story can produce an interesting or dramatic dilemma without having to worry what happens in the long run. In my latest collection of 25 stories you will find cosy endings, dire results or the fate of characters may be left to your imagination. Buy for £1.99 on Amazon Kindle and decide if you dare read them.