A Century of Listening

One hundred years ago today at 6pm, BBC radio officially broadcast for the first time; a news bulletin read twice, the second time slowly in case listeners wished to take notes. The BBC is celebrating its centenary all year and of course including television. But today radio deserves the limelight.

Neither television nor the internet has left radio in the shadows. We got our first television when I was four, so I can safely say only radio has been with me all my life.

‘Lord Reith, first director general of the BBC summarised the BBC’s purpose in three words: inform, educate, entertain; this remains part of the organisation’s mission statement to this day. It has also been adopted by broadcasters throughout the world, notably the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in the United States.’

Whether you turn on the radio for news the moment you return home or don’t even own a radio, BBC radio has almost certainly been part of your life. My son tells me about various interesting podcasts he has listened to, which turn out to be programmes I heard on the radio in the kitchen. My daughter could listen with ear phones on her smart phone to Woman’s Hour in the middle of the night while feeding babies. Surely all of us have been informed, educated or entertained at some time by BBC radio. Even if you have never set foot on these sceptred isles you may have listened all your life to BBC World Service.

It is not an exaggeration to say I probably could not survive without BBC Radio, yes of course we have commercial radio stations and for a while I was a fan of Classic FM, but we were driven apart by advertisements! Radio has been a great companion whilst at home with babies, housework, ironing, cooking, insomnia through to my recent widowhood.

For most of us radio was our first introduction to music, from Faure’s Dolly Suite, signature tune for Listen with Mother to British light music such as Eric Coates’ Sleepy Lagoon, still the signature tune for Desert Island Discs which has been going for one hundred years, or feels like it. It was first broadcast in the 1940’s long before my parents even met, but it was one of the backgrounds to my childhood. If you want something a bit more lively Calling All Workers, also composed by Eric Coates was the signature tune for Workers’ Playtime, broadcast as a morale booster for factory workers in World War 2.  

Now we listen to every kind of music on all the various BBC stations, from your favourite pop song as you drive to work to Radio 3 broadcasting every single concert in the long Proms season.

Radio is above all the spoken word with no need for pictures; our own home theatre, story teller and entertainer. Afternoon plays, half hour comedies and specials such as real time reading all day of the complete Ulysses by James Joyce.

Do you listen to the radio, what music evokes memories? If you do tune in are you listening for news, music, drama or comedy?

The Henchman

Benny ‘Biceps’ Bison, was it really him? Yes it had to be, even bigger than when he was in sixth form, but if there was any doubt in Julian’s mind that he had spotted Benny on his first visit to this new gym, it was dispelled when Benny extricated himself from some weird contraption and came striding over.

‘Hey Julie Ringlets, what brings you here? No need to ask what you are doing these days, you’re never off the news.’

Julian Ringlington, MP, new Minister for Levelling Down, forced a tight smile, perhaps it was not that great seeing Benny again.

‘Long time no see Benjamin, how are you these days?’

‘Never better, but what Are you doing here.’

‘Oh erm, looking round, thinking of changing gyms, is it good here, are you a regular?’

Julian had already decided this was one gym to avoid.

‘You could say that, I own it.’

After a comprehensive tour of the gym with Benny introducing every incomprehensible piece of computer controlled equipment, Julian found himself upstairs in the designer health bar sipping a green smoothie.

‘So Jules, how many ministries have you had this year? Wonder you could get out your front door with all those climate protesters when you were minister for the Environment, now every mob seems to be attacking you. Do you actually enjoy being a politician?

‘I would if I got a chance to make a difference and put all my ideas into action. Between press and protesters I feel I can hardly breathe, let alone speak.’

Julian wondered what was in the green smoothie that had loosened his tongue to confide in Ben, but then Benjamin Bison had been his best friend at school, or the closest thing he had to a friend at school.

Look Jules, I have had an amazing idea, we were always a good team at school, remember that time they were going to flush your head down the lav?’

Julian was hardly likely to forget, one of the many times Benny had rescued him.

‘What you need is a henchman; in my case a sort of cross between a personal trainer and a bodyguard, with a few more tricks up my sleeve than your security chaps are allowed.’

 Julian Ringlington was unsure exactly what the Portfolio for Minister for Levelling Down covered, but with a new found confidence he ploughed his own path and was soon in great demand on high and low brow radio and television.

‘…so that is why we are giving everyone living alone on a tight budget a dog. A dog on the sofa and the foot of your bed keeps you far warmer than an electric blanket or the gas fired central heating.’

‘And where will you get all the dogs from?’

‘Rescue centres are overfull, all the puppies people bought during lockdown and got fed up with. The dogs will be happy and it will also be good for the mental health of their new owners, keep them out of the doctors’ surgeries. It’s all win win.’

‘…so we intend to close down all schools for the winter and return to on line teaching, saving on staff costs and heating bills for school buildings.’

‘But then families will need to keep their heating on longer if the children are at home and they will miss out on school lunches.

‘No problem, the whole family can go to the free warm hubs and enjoy community meals.’

‘Can you guarantee enough of these hubs?’

‘Of course, we will be using all the empty school buildings…’

As more and more press and public gathered wherever Julian went, his new private secretary Benjamin Bison was at his side, parting the crowds like Moses and the Red Sea, ‘accidentally’ treading on toes or knocking large news  camera lens askew. Among press and politicians alike there was covert concern as to who this Benjamin Bison was, but everyone was too scared to enquire.

Monday Monologue – Fabian’s Fantoms

Fabian? It’s your mother. I know it comes up on your screen, but you do have to be careful who you’re talking to in your job. Yes, dead or alive and I am very much alive. Sorry I missed your Sunday night slot, but I was watching something good on television. But the good news is I have got the hang of BBC Sounds on my iPad and I managed to listen just now. Yes of course, I tell all my friends to listen in to Fabian’s Fantoms at midnight. Marcia wants to know if they’re all true, I told her you never fake the stories. Last night was true wasn’t it? I can’t believe they let you in to number ten…. Number Ten Downing Street… But you were, I listened to it.

Waterworks Cottage in Cumbria? My hearing’s not that bad, it was definitely you talking from Downing Street, nobody else could imitate your voice and I am hardly likely to forget you and the new Prime Minister in the Cabinet Room talking to all those dead Prime Ministers, Chancellors and Home Secretaries…. No not Richie Sunak, the one after that… hmm I was surprised we had yet another new PM, transgender too, or was it non-binary, what was their name, they had just changed it.

I am not playing a Halloween joke, the state of the planet is not a joke, no wonder those past great statesmen decided to manifest themselves and knock some sense into our leaders. Okay, if you don’t believe me look up BBC Sounds for yourself. I shall too, now I am beginning to wonder if I am going mad.

Here it is; episode 666 of Fabian’s Fantoms. Fabian joins the new Prime Minister to investigate their claims that 10 Downing Street is haunted by previous incumbents, broadcast live on Sunday night. Fabian, are you there, are you alright, you sound strange. Read further?

..Sunday night 29th October 2023, but that doesn’t make sense, just a mistake… Broadcast again on Tuesday midnight, 31st October 2023 as a tribute to Fabian Falstaff who died suddenly on Monday morning 30th October 2023.

Forty Four Days – Digital Dialogue – 315

Well… what did she say?

Darling, you know that is confidential.

Yes, but you can tell your wife.

You know I can’t tell anyone, how many times have we had this conversation?

But these are strange times and you need someone to talk to, like Me. I bet Mama used to tell Papa a few snippets of her weekly audience.

No of course she did not, you know my Darling Mama took her holy vows and traditions seriously.

But you wouldn’t know would you, if she had told him he would never have let her down by giving the game away. So couldn’t you just tell me what you said to her? Just a little bit…

I said ‘Dear Oh Dear.’

That’s what they overheard you saying the other day.

It’s pretty much what I have said every time I have met the wretched woman. I did say more, but I’m sorry my Darling Cam Cams, you are never going to know. However, you can help me with my speech, I think it’s time I addressed the country again.

Yes, yes, you must… such a pity you can’t …well you would make a better job than the lot of them running the country.

I agree and perhaps… no no, I don’t want to be beheaded.

But that was only the first Charles, the second one they were jolly glad to have back again and so they will support you.

But he was only thirty, much younger even than Wills; I’m getting too old for all this business and I certainly didn’t think I would have to break in another Prime Minister so soon… unless I don’t have to because I abolish the office, just temporarily… oh damn it, why not go the whole hog and dismiss Parliament. Come on, let’s get that speech written; have you got your mobile handy? Call the BBC.

Just Going For A Walk

I had been planning to blog about our earliest form of transport for a while, then walking took on yet another aspect last week with the royal funeral, the various processions leading up to it and of course The Queue. But first back to basics.

Have you heard people comment, or perhaps you have said it yourself…

I don’t do hills. I don’t do walking. I don’t like walking.

I was once watching a comedy in which the teenager daughter greets her mother’s return home. ‘I didn’t know where you were, I thought you’d gone for a walk.‘ Mother replies ‘Walk! I’ve never been for a walk in my life.’

Someone describing how the heat was not a problem in Singapore with the air conditioned malls… I asked ‘What if you want to go for a walk?’ He replied looking puzzled ‘Why would you want to go for a walk?’

Why would you not want to walk, the most natural activity for humans, exercise that costs nothing and a handy way to get where you want to go. During Covid lockdown it was one of the few activities allowed and non dog owners discovered new delights. I love walking, but I have no desire to trek to either pole or up to Everest base camp; solo or with companions, who I would be intensely irritated with by the third day… But ordinary walking, enjoying the fresh air, scenery, perhaps photography and probably ending up at a nice cafe or pub is fun for everyone… What do non walkers do when they go for a day out or on holiday? You may think National Trust Houses have large grounds because the original owners owned all the local land; no, it’s so we can have a nice walk before having lunch in the restaurant and looking round the house. No holiday is complete without a walk along a cliff path or a steep ascent up a hill to enjoy the view.

Modern technology, from super electronic wheelchairs to state of the art artificial limbs allow many who are disabled to get out and about with their friends and family who are fit and able to walk. Walking is freedom and not to be taken for granted; those under repressive regimes or living in dangerous areas cannot just go out for a walk. If you are used to walking everywhere it’s a reminder of the privilege when you ‘do something’ to your back or knee and suddenly can’t walk. The leaflets we were given when having chemotherapy suggest that ‘going for a short walk will help combat fatigue’ – this turned out to be a joke as most of each three week cycle it was a struggle to get to the front gate or up the stairs. It was an insight into the chronic fatigue that people with Long Covid and other debilitating medical conditions have to cope with.

So back to the funeral of Queen Elizabeth 11. Whatever your views on royalty or television ( blanket ) coverage of the events, there was a fascination with both the formal traditions and the spontaneous acts of those who came to queue to watch a procession or for The Queen’s lying in. There is something dignified and humbling about the men of the family and others close to the royals walking slowly behind the coffin. Princess Anne joined them, as she did for her father’s funeral, a token man for the day? Presumably it is tradition that only the men walk. If any of the chaps didn’t like walking they were in for a tiring time. I like a brisk walk, walking slowly at a measured pace is much harder, I have tried it round the house. Nor did I go up to London to join The Queue, almost a pilgrimage. They had a long distance to cover at a very slow pace, I wondered if there were escape points for those who changed their minds and just wanted to go home.

There are environmental benefits if everyone walked on short journeys and for writers it is one of the best ways to see real life, but those are topics for another blog.

Are you a walker or non walker? If you enjoy walking what is your favourite sort of walk?

Friday Flash Fiction – digital dialogue 440 – What Now?

‘Shall I put the news on?

‘No point…’

‘I thought you liked to catch up with events?’

‘Nothing to catch up with now the funeral’s over.’

‘Only what’s been going on in the rest of the world.’

‘No thanks, it was lovely having a break, I really miss The Queue and the marching oh and the vigils. There’s nothing to talk about at work now. Back to hearing about Thelma’s operation and Kitty’s boyfriend.’

Do you mind if I put it on, I want to see what the Chancellor of the Exchequer revealed in the Fiscal Event.’

‘The Fiscal what?’

‘Budget, mini budget, bound to be bad news, whatever it’s called.’

‘I can’t remember what the new chancellor’s called.’

‘No, nor can I, but apparently he’s very clever, won a scholarship to Eton and won University Challenge single handed.’

Friday Flash Fiction 434 – End of the Queue

You had to laugh, some of them looked worn out and they’d only been ‘out on the street’ for one night.

Nic was having the time of his life, all night company, places to eat and toilets open twenty four hours. Buildings open to all, light and life and most of all, everyone being nice to each other. Nobody cared who you were or where you came from, which was very different from nobody caring.

He had been given a wrist band, but had no intention of going to see the Queen. He wouldn’t have minded meeting her when she was still alive, some of her family were nearly as dysfunctional as his so she wouldn’t judge.

Nic had a fair idea what was going on at Westminster from chatting to others. Airport security, well he wasn’t carrying anything suspicious that would beep, but they would be on the lookout for suspicious looking people. Anyway, he was content to stay this side of the river. Others had come on their own, some people happy to share with new friends food they had brought or nipped from the queue to buy.

At regular intervals Nic would slip away for a ‘comfort break’ and discarding his wrist band, wend his way by a circuitous route to the back of the queue again and new friends. What a night, he saw the lights on the River Thames with new eyes, taking on the enthusiasm of those new to the city.

At Operation London Bridge Control Room human eyes looked at banks of screens while their colleagues, the digital detectives, scanned images with state of the art face recognition and other skills.

‘Screen six, near the end of the queue, got a loiterer… suspect coming back again, what’s his game… contact officers in that sector.’

Nic thought he was pretty anonymous, an observer, so he was startled to confront the smiling face of a man in a suit with a microphone.

‘We’re live on BBC television, can I ask what made you decide to come tonight?’

‘Oh um yes, I’m a local, so no trouble…’

‘It’s chilly tonight, but you were still happy to leave home comforts?’

Nic was just about to relate another made up life when he spotted them behind the reporter, two police officers and as he turned slightly, two more behind him. Now what on earth should he do…

‘No home comforts mate, I’m homeless, like lots of others and nobody has given us a mention… and if I get arrested nobody is going to care, except perhaps millions of viewers…’

A Strange Week.

This is where many of us feel we have been this past week.

For many the summer holidays are over and a new school year has started. After having all the family visiting, not quite at the same time and being away helping with tiny Tidalscribes last week, I am keen to start my autumn term in the blogging world.

Apple Harvest

Strange goings on at Chez Tidalscribe

Beach you can eat.
Children should be neither seen nor heard.

But as Prince Louis and my youngest grandson both started school and my eldest grandson became a teenager, there were far greater landmarks about to happen.

The death of Queen Elizabeth 11 on Thursday September 8th seemed to come suddenly. It was only on Tuesday that our new prime minister, Liz Truss, had been pictured meeting The Queen, who as tradition demands, asked her to form a new government. She looked frail and the meeting took place at Balmoral to spare Her Majesty the journey to Buckingham Palace, but it was only when we heard news later of her family rushing to Balmoral that her health was obviously worse than the public knew.

A drama and a moment in history that no script writer could have made up. The only monarch most of us have ever known had lived to see her platinum jubilee and just long enough to ‘see off’ Boris Johnson, as he put it.

King Charles 111 spoke movingly and seems so far to have people’s support. Whatever your own religious beliefs, the Queen took her oath sincerely to serve God and her country and Charles spoke of God Almighty and his faith. It is surely welcome that royals, unlike politicians, acknowledge a higher power. I always envy those people who brave the crowds, bring their flowers, chat to the press and make memories that will last. Many more of us have been following on television. It is a sad occasion, but also full of drama; from the many people of all sorts on the streets, to the interesting traditions, mostly involving colourful uniforms, coming into play as we lead up to the funeral.

I see no reason why Charles should not be a good king and perhaps at his weekly audiences with our new prime minister he can steer her down the green and humanitarian route we so badly need. My grandchildren will hopefully live to see three kings in their life time.

To round off a strange week this single rose had appeared in my garden when I got home on Friday.

Return to the Pink Zone

I was back in the Pink Zone for my Radiotherapy planning. Despite the long instructions in the letter for finding radiotherapy I was flummoxed when I found myself back in the familiar Oncology Outpatients. As it is on floor minus 2 and has a low ceiling I assumed this area was a dead end; unfortunate choice of words perhaps…

Luckily a lady in grey ( one of the health care assistants who pop up helpfully everywhere ) asked if I was lost and took me through a door that hadn’t been there before. Then she asked if I wanted Chesil, Furzey or Varian. I had no idea what she was talking about so produced my appointment letter ( always take your hospital letter with you ) and she took me to reception. I was soon given a gown and taken to get changed in a cubicle with the fatal words ‘Just come back to reception when you are ready’ assuming you are going to remember the way back…

I did find my way back and was soon in a room having a CT scan and lots of measurements taken. They give you four tiny tattoos as guide lines, apologising that they will be permanent. I am hardly likely to worry about that when I have a long scar and no breast, but at least they are acknowledging you still own your body. I asked for a butterfly tattoo, but they said they don’t have the artistic skills.

When I arrived for the start of my fifteen daily treatments ( weekends not included ) a couple of weeks later, I smugly assumed I knew where I was going, but at reception she asked if I was Chesil, Furzey or Varian.  No idea, but she soon returned with the answer. I had to find Varian 2 and was directed to turn and follow and turn down several corridors. Every time you go through a double door a whole new hospital seems to unfold before your eyes…

Chesil and Furzey are local place names, but who, what or where was Varian? Lord Varian, the famous Dorset benefactor or Planet Varian from Star Trek… ‘Captain, the Varians are attacking.’

Varian is the manufacturer of the machines under which we patients lie in treatment rooms Varian 1 and 2. We arrive at the pleasant Varian waiting room from where we are called to the sub waiting room on the intercom. There we change into the gowns with three armholes which we are allowed to keep for all our sessions. From here you can see the lighted red warning signs when the radioactivity is active and staff must leave. The radiologist soon comes to fetch you and take you round the curving corridor. The actual zapping with rays is brief, most of the time is spent adjusting you to exactly the right position with the two radiologists talking numbers and degrees. They take a three year degree to learn all this. The weird grey machine makes various beeps and noises, but all we have to do is keep our arms raised holding on to the bars and stay completely still. When out of the room the staff are watching you on closed circuit TV and you can wave to them if there is a problem… All the staff are very friendly and reassuring.

 After a few sessions I thought I was getting the hang of the routine; three buzzes and staff must leave the room. I have three zaps from three different directions and in between, the Great Varian grinds and moves. A long buzzy beep is the actual dose of rays. One time it had just started when the room lights suddenly came on. Over the intercom a voice said ‘Don’t worry, we have an interlock, we just have to wait five minutes before we can restart.’

This was definitely out of Star Trek… ‘Captain we have an interlock with the Varian ship.’  I was about to go through a time shift or into another dimension. After what seemed like twenty minutes the voice said ‘Only two more minutes to go.’ The staff returned and so did normality.

All my appointments have been quite early and very specific times. 9.06am, 9.18am 9.03. I have usually been called in on time or early, but one morning I was sitting by myself, no one on the reception desk and the screen said Varian Two On Time.  Time passed, other patients came in and we compared appointment times. I was first, what was going on? After the interlock incident of the day before I wondered if the machine had broken down, but why had no one come to tell us? Had Varian Two taken all the staff through a time shift or zapped them all with a mega dose of radiation… more time passed and at last I was called. The explanation was more prosaic than my imaginings. They were busy, short staffed and had no time to update the screen in the waiting room.

Strangely, my trips down the corridors have got shorter with familiarity.  The route is lined with paintings and the area is bright and pleasant. The shiny wooden floor squeaks when anyone walks, it is not just my new shoes.  A look at the health ap on my phone shows I have walked less than a kilometre from the hospital main entrance and back again, not the miles it seemed.

Some of the questions I have been tempted to ask as a writer, but haven’t yet…

Do you get many patients who panic?’

‘Has anyone accidentally been given a mega dose or forgotten about?’

‘Have you ever had a rogue/insane radiologist who tampered with the machine?’

As a patient I don’t think I will ask as they are all very professional and sane and nice…