media

No News Today!

Many of you who regularly read this blog may know that for most of my working life I've been involved in the media business.

And for most of my adult life, news has been something I've been involved in - listened to, watched, written, read out for listeners and viewers, reported on in studios and on locations, investigated news stories and chatted to people making the news for whatever reason. I'm one of those people who when I awake in the morning I automatically reach for the radio and switch on, to catch the latest headlines and commentary.

The news recently, of course, has been dominated by the coronavirus - news of numbers, deaths, hospitalisations, vaccines - it's been relentless. And I have to say, even though I am by my own admission a bit of a 'news junkie', it has all become a bit overwhelming.

Prior to this pandemic, of course, here in the UK our news programmes and headlines were dominated for many many many months by ... yes ... BREXIT!  THAT also felt like a never-ending story! 

With our current rolling TV news channels, it does sometimes feel like it's just a constant barrage of relentless facts, figures, analysis, comment. Often things appear to happen really really slowly, so hour on hour it's the same thing over and over and over again, with obvious clutching at proverbial straws to try to 'freshen up' the newslines being delivered.

I know that for a lot of people this past year, especially, has been quite depressing. A lot have simply stopped watching and listening to the news and have just 'switched off'. I've read comments from so many people who've said that they are just 'fed up' of hearing the same news lines and the same people talking about the same things. And I sort of get it. 

The challenge to current news providers is always to try to keep people engaged, but there is something in the argument that some of the methods of modern news delivery are rather jaded.

You know what I'm talking about. 'Experts' and so-called 'correspondents' unpicking issues endlessly and telling us what they think about it all is one of my personal bug bears, I have to say. Having worked in the news for so long, I'm aware that to be an 'expert' in any particular area is something that often comes with much time and great effort. And I'm not sure these days that everyone who stands outside an important building spouting what they've probably just actually been told to say by their colleagues back in the newsroom are real 'experts'. It sort of diminishes the trust in 'specialists'.

One big challenge is how also to keep people engaged with the news without just delivering scary statistics and frighteners? That doesn't always work either. One way of making news come to 'life' is to turn to 'examples' of people who are living through it. But even that can get a bit jaded because often the stories are framed in the same way - sad looking person filmed doing something that doesn't really relate to what the story is about (making a cup of tea/pottering in the garden, walking in a field), a rather sad little interview with a serious looking reporter, followed by the sad person doing something also unrelated to the story (leafing through a book/looking pensively out of a window).

Part of the problem is that the person's story is always framed through the news story and by the 'line' that the reporter is aiming for, and in the time allotted to them ... usually a TV news story is all done and dusted and shoe-horned into under two minutes. Radio can allow more TIME to really explore a subject, but the truth is much of the news delivery these days feels rather rushed. SO many stories, all covered rather superficially and only really for the purpose of illustrating the top 'news line'.

The other thing that people have often asked me is why the 'news' is so often 'bad.' I've tried to explain in the past that actually it's because 'bad' stuff happens really quite infrequently, so that's why it's unusual and makes the news. But these days I'm not so convinced by my argument. Years ago there was a bit of a debate as to why 'good' news couldn't be more prominent in a bulletin. Especially on a 'slow' news day, why can't our news be full of 'good' news? People doing great things, people making a difference in their communities. And not just covered as your typical 'And Finally ...' story.

On BBC local radio at the moment there IS a move towards more 'good' community news stories. Some bulletins are featuring 'Make a Difference' stories which celebrates the brilliant people in our communities. It was part of what I did towards the end of my time at BBC Radio Jersey and it's a great development.

But sadly, I think I may have actually to create my own 'good news channel' if I want to hear more positive news stories. The mainstream news media DOES have challenges ahead, although how one fixes a broken model is another issue and one that will take more than my ramblings to sort out.

But why am I talking about this today?

Well it's because on this day - April 18th - in 1930, the BBC did have a very slow news day and something rather unusual happened.

It was before television, so this was radio news. 

BBC microphoneIt was 8.45pm and all over Great Britain people tuned it for the radio news but instead heard the announcer simply say these words...

“Good evening. Today is Good Friday. There is no news.” 

That was it. Then the rest of the 15-minute news segment was filled with some piano music.

Of course this was before the days of world media. And the BBC wasn't endowed with all the reporters and 'correspondents' we have today. In fact the BBC didn't create it's own news operation until 1934. It's really interesting to read about the early days of the BBC,  when their news gathering was rather constrained by the demands of the newspaper publishers who feared that broadcast bulletins would damage sales.

In those early days of the BBC - after the first news bulletin in November 1922 - they weren't allow to broadcast news before 7pm and the British government didn't allow the BBC to have its own reporters. They relied on stories and copy from the wire services like Reuters, the Press Association, the Central News, and the Exchange Telegraph Company, whose ‘tape’ machines spewed out their stories into the BBC News Room. The BBC news teams then chose what stories to run and by all accounts, they were determined only to choose the best stories. 

Obviously on April 18th 1930 there weren't enough good stories to make a bulletin!

I didn't grow up on this story ... it's something I learned about down the line. And I'm not sure that everyone who works for the BBC knows about it.  Some are aware and think it's just rather quirky. Click here to listen to a more modern take on what happened that day.

Even on a 'slow' news day, this would never happen today. Imagine if we switched on the BBC news channels to hear 'Good morning, everyone, today there is no real news for us to talk about, at least not sensibly. So we're just going to enjoy a film or some cartoons, or listen to some great music'.

Now ... THAT would be an interesting News Day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Be Gentle

I am a very fortunate person. 

I have many friends, all over the world. People from lots of different parts of my life - my childhood, my school years, my church and faith life, my working life down the years.

And since social media became 'a thing' I've been able to reconnect with so many people with whom I'd lost contact. These days, no matter where we are in the world or whether we are living through a pandemic which so restricts our lifestyles, we can talk to each other, support each other, encourage each other, all via the magic of the internet.

I know lots of people find social media toxic, and sometimes it can be. But I have to say on Facebook I'm generally surrounded by good friends. By and large, positivity reigns.

Recently I've shared some news on Facebook - I'm about to leave my job at the BBC and have a new work adventure. Long story short ... my contract with the corporation was up for renewal and unfortunately the offer that was made to me would have added more responsibilities to an already busy workload, so I decided not to sign the new deal.

Which means that of today (Friday March 26th) I will no longer work for 'Auntie'. 

So, last Sunday I put a post on my Facebook page, just to tell everyone. Although it was only a couple of days since it had all been agreed, the news had already begun to filter into the atmosphere, so I thought ...'I'll tell everyone'.

I don't have a job to go to ... I'm planning to return to the freelance lifestyle that I once enjoyed ... and I'm not made of money,  so a lot of people might find a decision to just walk away from a job hard to understand. But I was inundated with lovely messages. Messages of support and affirmation and encouragement.

Maybe that says something about how people perceive me. Those who have known me for a while may be aware that I'm not adverse to a bit of risk-taking and daring to go on new adventures, but they also know that I don't take these steps on a whim.

Being a person of faith, I'm a bit of a Pray-er ... so I have prayed a lot about this. I've thought much about it, to the detriment of my sleep. I've made my usual 'pros and cons' lists, which involves making two lists - one of the positives of staying in the job and the negatives of leaving it, another of the negatives of staying the in job and the positives of leaving. If you get what I mean.

And I've chatted to a few people, not to help with the decision, but to weigh all my options in the balance.

SO - decision made - I posted on Facebook. And, as I said, got loads of support and, I have to say, a little advice from a few friends. And that counsel was the same over and over.

Give yourself some time. Try not to rush into the future without resting a little. After leaving such a busy job which has made so many demands on my time and my energy, breathe a little before launching into new commitments.

But I think the most useful and thought provoking message I received was this  

Be gentle

I love this.

Being 'gentle'  means so much.

I'm encouraged to be kind to myself and not beat myself up about what's past and the decision I've made, especially in those moments - and they are bound to come - when I'm wondering what the (......!) I've done by giving up a well-paid job!

Being 'gentle' on myself encourages me to forgive myself if I begin to doubt my decision, but also to remain humble and not to think arrogantly and unrealistically about the future, but instead to take things a little cautiously.

I'm encouraged through this piece of advice to find peace within myself, and to  seek stillness in my spirit. 

I could go on ... but I'm sure you get my drift.

So as I enter this new phase of life, thanks to all my friends for their great encouragement and support of me in my new adventure and for their great words of wisdom.

But thanks especially to my friend Alison Fox for this particular thought which she shared with me. Alison is, among other things, a counsellor and psychotherapist - so she knows what she's talking about! 

And, as I move into this new chapter of my professional life, I will keep her advice and encouragement in mind.

And if, today, this thought helps you, please feel free to join me!

 

 

 


A Day to Say Thanks

March 23 2020 - a significant day in the history of the UK.

Any idea why?

Well it was exactly a year ago that the British people found themselves in lockdown ... for the first time!

With COVID-19 figures rising, it was on this day last year that the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed the nation and announced a 'stay at home' order. For weeks people had been 'asked' to try to keep safe, sanitise, social distance, stay indoors where possible, but now it was an order! 

Mr Johnson described the pandemic as 'the biggest threat this country has faced for decades' and of course it wasn't just the UK that was affected. This new coronavirus was then, and still is, a global threat. This time last year we could not have predicted the devastation it would bring to all our lives, our economies, our culture.

To try to cut the spread of the virus, from March 23 2020 people were only allowed to go out for shopping for necessities - most shops were closed. People could leave home to seek medical care and limited daily exercise, but that was pretty much it. Where possible we were asked to work from home. No mixing of households, no meeting friends or family members who we didn't live with. No gatherings, no social events - so no church, weddings, baptisms and very limited numbers for funerals.

Over the past year the British people have now experienced quite a number of lockdowns or versions of them, depending on where you live.

Here in Jersey, our first lockdown began about a week after the 'mainland' UK's, but the experience was just as harsh. Businesses closed, hospitality closed, lives closed down, people getting sick, some dying, health services stretched to the limit of endurance.

And today, some of us are still working from home, and only now that the COVID-19 vaccines are being rolled out are we beginning to see considerable decline in positive coronavirus numbers.

However, it's not all doom and gloom because when the nation, and our island, entered that first lockdown and so much stopped, what BEGAN was an outpouring of friendship, support, love and community.

People offered to do their neighbour's shopping when they went for their own. Walked dogs for those who could not get out because they were isolating. Sewed masks and scrubs, creating them out of spare material and even sheets and tablecloths, at a time when there was a world shortage of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) even for those heroes on the medical frontline, those men and women who nursed desperately ill and dying people around the clock under sometimes unbearable and stressful conditions.

Remember the 'Clap for Carers'? That weekly moment at 8pm on a Thursday? Many of us applauded, banged pots and played musical instruments on the street (socially distanced, of course) just to say 'THANK YOU' to the nurses, doctors, care workers. And then, a bit later, we clapped also to show our appreciation to all those who kept our communities working while most of us isolated at home - street cleaners, shop workers, emergency service personnel, charity workers, all those who, actually, were putting their lives on the line so that WE could stay safe.

Down the months the kindnesses rolled on. Here in Jersey, a brilliant Facebook page called 'Jersey Acts of Kindness' was created to share the love. Rainbows started appearing in windows and on the sides of roads. Thousands of rainbows, many of them drawn by children, with the word 'thank you' often embedded in the image. Here in Jersey, pebbles decorated with rainbows and flowers and 'thank you' often popped up unexpectedly.

Foodbanks provided essentials for those who couldn't cope, those who has lost their jobs or were 'furloughed' and were not earning as much as usual and so were struggling to put food on the family table. In Jersey, our foodbank was hosted by The Salvation Army. Hundreds of individuals and families donated food and other essential supplies, out of work people gave their time to sort and distribute parcels, many donated and raised funds. It was phenomenal response.

Talking of fundraisers ... we all remember Capt (later Sir) Tom Moore, who raised nearly £33million pounds for the English National Health Service, walking up and down in his garden as he approached his 100th birthday. In Jersey people also walked around their yards, did challenges at home, climbed up and down ladders, created online choirs to raise money for charity.  And so it went on. And on. And on.

Throughout the year on BBC local stations we've been tracking all the 'Make a Difference' stories, and it's been wonderful. Charting first the stories of those who helped in the midst of lockdown and now, also, featuring those individuals and groups who are consistently creating opportunities for others, making life better for our world, sharing love and kindnesses every day.

Most of us have someone we could thank today, for their support during that first lockdown and, indeed, across last year.

So today, across the BBC network, there's a day-long reflection on lockdown. At 12noon today we are remembering in silence on all stations all those who have lost their lives to the coronavirus (69 people in Jersey so far) . We will broadcast features about all the wonderful people who made life better for others in the last year. It's called 'BBC Make a Difference Thank You Day'.

I've spent the last week or so listening back to interviews and features transmitted over the past 12 months, and have re-edited and re-mixed to create new audio features for broadcast on BBC Radio Jersey today. And I have been humbled and inspired by those who are, in my opinion, heroes in our midst. 

Today we all have an opportunity to write and ring in to our local BBC radio station to say a personal THANK YOU to those who cared for us, who showed kindness, helped us, looked after our wellbeing even at the risk of their own.

So ... here are my personal 'Thank Yous' on this day.

Thank you March 23Thanks to the staff at my local supermarket who opened the doors early so that those of us isolating at home could go out to do their weekly 'shop' without feeling too much stress.

Thanks to the health professionals who cared for some of my friends, many of them in intensive care, and some of them right through to the end of life!

Thanks to my work colleagues for enabling me to work from home so I could stay safe, especially as I care for an elderly parent. And thanks to my brother Tim for sharing that responsibility and just being brilliant.

Thanks to those who also 'stayed safe' to try to prevent the virus from spreading. OK, so in the autumn here in Jersey lots of people forgot the need for caution and, in fact, behaved irresponsibly which meant we went into another lockdown over Christmas and well into this year, but I want to stay positive and be grateful for those who DID stick to the rules. 

Thanks to the local Contact Tracing team who worked tirelessly, especially during our Christmas/New Year lockdown when, thanks to those who partied in the autumn, our COVID-19 positive numbers rose to over 1,000 - and that's in an island population of just over 100,000! I've recently had experience of the local Contact and Trace team's efficiency and I could not be more grateful for their diligence.

And thanks to the Government of Jersey and all those who are rolling out the local COVID-19 vaccine programme which means that our numbers are now very low (just three at the time of writing this) and we can see light at the end of this very long coronavirus tunnel.

Although we know we will live with this dreadful virus for many years to come, I am confident that we will emerge eventually and although we may be battered and bruised in many respects, we will all hopefully be changed, and for the better. 

Because if those kindnesses and the love and compassion and care we have felt and witnessed over this past 12 months are the legacy of lockdown ... that has to be a good thing ... right?

 

 

 


A Poem to Inspire

Today is World Poetry Day.

Says it all really. It's a day to celebrate poetry, read poetry, write poetry and basically ... just think poetry!

I love poetry and I do even write a bit, from time time. But today I'm not going to impose one of my rather poor creations on you. Instead I'm going to share a poem with you that I had to learn many many years ago. So it's one of those that I can (sort of) still recite. If I think about it a lot.

I learnt the poem for an Eisteddfod, a creative arts festival. I stood on a stage and performed this. 

I didn't win the contest, but for someone who wasn't keen on performing in front of others, at the time it was a great, if terrifying, experience because I was forced out of my comfort zone. I was much more comfortable being part of a team, so this was different and unsettling, but character building.

Some of you reading this might be surprised to hear I wasn't that keen on putting myself forward in public when I was a child and a teenager, because for years I worked as a TV and radio presenter. And I've done a whole load of presenting not just in the media but also on stage in some really really big auditoriums - including  Wembley Arena and the Royal Albert Hall in London.

I can't say I haven't had nerves and anxiety over those appearances and the media presenting - sometimes that anxiety has been debilitating -  but at least I've done it. And it was experiences like the Eisteddfod poetry moment that helped me at the start of the long journey towards a future career which required me to put myself forward and not hide behind others.

And what was the poem I recited?

If by Rudyard Kipling poemWell, it's this.

IF, by Rudyard Kipling.

I think I mentioned a couple of days ago that he's one of my favourite authors and poets, and this is where it all began.

It was a strangely prophetic performance because although the poem was written as a general advice for life, for me it has become personal. 

In the media, it's easy to get above yourself and think you are better than others, but also you can be intimidated by others, people who hold high office, those who believe themselves superior to you, people (even your own colleagues) who act like they are the only individuals in the universe. This poem speaks into that.

It also tells us a little about how to deal with the sort of negativity that can come one's way. These days, especially, people in the media (and anyone actually if you give yourself a bit of a profile) can come in for all kinds of abuse on social media, and sometimes when things are going badly, you just need to keep believing in yourself. And then, when you need to change course, to follow the dreams you once had, these words can inspire.

This poem has so many nuances. It's one I've gone back to time and time again over the years. And it doesn't matter that it says 'Son' and 'man' at the end ... it works for us girls as well. I find it empowering!

And on this World Poetry Day I will simply say ... enjoy and be inspired!

IF

by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
 
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
 
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
 
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
 

 


A Favourite Song

Do you know what a 'crossover' song is?

No?

Well - it's a song from one genre which makes it into the popular charts.

In the USA there are so many different music genres, all popular in their own right - I'm thinking blues, and country and western, jazz, bluegrass, R+B, soul, funk, techno ... etc etc ... you get my drift I'm sure! 

And then there's the Gospel and the Contemporary Christian Music scenes - all incredibly popular with very successful artists, many of whom may never make it into the 'Pop' download lists but who have brilliant careers, millions of followers and fans, downloads and sales. Radio stations galore playing all types of music.

In the UK it's a bit different, with a much more limited 'pop' scene and fewer opportunities for radio play on our most popular stations, but there's a growing number of online stations playing different kinds of music.

But back to my first thought. Every now and then there's an artist who successfully manages to 'cross over' ... someone from one genre who 'makes it' in the pop world.

One of those brilliant singers is Carrie Underwood, born on this day in 1983.

I remember seeing her on TV, winning the fourth series of 'American Idol' in 2005. Apparently during the programme run, 500 million votes were cast in her favour and for the final - 37million votes were recorded. That gives you an indication of the numbers of people who enjoy music ... just in the USA ... and why it's possible to be a star there whatever your style of music.

Carrie was just 21 when she appeared on American Idol and she was described as a 'farm girl' from Oklahoma. Musically she came from a 'country' background and although not everyone who wins these TV talent shows goes on to great success, in the case of Carrie Underwood, she's gone on to become a seven-time Grammy-winning country megastar. 

Carrie apparently takes her musical inspiration from many different types of music, but she's also released songs and albums with Christian themes.

So today I'm just going to share with you one of the Carrie Underwood's songs that I love - 'Jesus, Take the Wheel'. When I used to present on BBC Radio Jersey it sometimes popped up in my playlist especially on a Sunday morning, but also at other times of the day.

Now if you've been reading this blog for a bit, you'll know that I'm a Christian, and I love especially the first few lines of the chorus of this song ...

"Jesus, take the wheel
Take it from my hands
'Cause I can't do this on my own
I'm letting go..."

For me, that's a bit of a prayer.

Enjoy!

 

 

 


Keep Looking Up

Wisdom comes in all shapes and sizes, but not always from holy scriptures or experts who have studied to PHD level or who have all the experience in the world.

So how about this for a thought for today?

 

Snoopy keep looking upProfound eh?

And that's from a dog!

The dog is Snoopy, and if you're not already aware of it, he's the companion of a certain Charlie Brown,  a little boy who is 'loveable loser'  - he's meek, not that self-confident and is of a nervous disposition. He's pessimistic quite a lot, but also sometimes optimistic. He worries about the day and all the things around him, and other times hopes for the best and tries desperately to make good things happen.

Charlie Brown is puzzled by Snoopy and some of the slightly weird things he gets up to, but he looks after him, and does his best to provide his dog with a happy life. And in response, Snoopy is always there for Charlie when he gets let down or needs support.

I've always felt a bit of an affinity with Charlie Brown, even though he isn't a real person, but a cartoon.

He's the central character of the Peanuts comic strip created by Charles M Schulz, who died on this day - February 12th - in the year 2000.

'Peanuts' had first appeared in print in USA newspapers on October 2, 1950. It shows the world of a group of young children. Adults are barely heard, but woven into the comic strips are some very adult themes like philosophy, psychology and sociology. There's some deep stuff in Peanuts and it's characters, even things that could be interpreted as 'spiritual' if not 'religious'.

Take this Snoopy quote for example - 'Keep Looking Up... that's the Secret of Life'.

Now, as a person of faith, what I get from those words is that I need to keep looking up to the Creator, for inspiration and motivation.

In the Old Testament in the Bible, in Psalm 121, we are encouraged to look up to God for all our needs. I particularly love the translation of this psalm from The Message translation:

I look up to the mountains;
    does my strength come from mountains?
No, my strength comes from God, who made heaven, and earth, and mountains

He won’t let you stumble, your Guardian God won’t fall asleep.
Not on your life! Israel’s Guardian will never doze or sleep

God’s your Guardian, right at your side to protect you—
Shielding you from sunstroke, sheltering you from moonstroke

God guards you from every evil, he guards your very life.
He guards you when you leave and when you return, he guards you now, he guards you always

Don't you love that? We're not on our own. We just need to look up, not to physical mountains, but even higher, to put our trust in God.

But the Snoopy quote an also be interpreted in a different way. If we are constantly looking DOWN, physically, we will never see the potential of what isn't yet here, what might be open to us. We will always be just concentrating on where we are, now, and not looking forward.

See what I mean? There are so many different ways of looking at life through the eyes of Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest of the gang. Maybe you may interpret this Snoopy Saying in a way that rings true with you and your life?

The final Peanuts comic strip was published on the day after Charles M Schulz died. On February 13th 2000 the 17,897th-and-last instalment appeared in newspapers around the world.

But that wasn't the end of Charlie Brown and his world. The comic strips live on, there are TV cartoons and movies, and images of him and his quotes and those of Snoopy and the other Peanuts kids all over the internet. They are icons of our time!

Hope charlie brown

We all need friends and we all need hope if we are to live life well. 

Charlie Brown had Snoopy ... who do you have?

And are you, like Charlie, always seeking the hopeful path? 

Are you looking UP or always looking down?

Maybe worth thinking about?


 


Don't Like Mondays?

If you're as old as I am,  you might remember the 1979 Boomtown Rats hit 'I Don't Like Mondays'.

If not - maybe look it up?

It was the band's second hit and it was Number One in the UK charts for four weeks during that summer.

For me it was an iconic sound of my youth. But it was a song born of tragedy, because it was written by  Bob Geldof and Johnnie Fingers following a dreadful event on January 29th of  that year - the Cleveland Elementary School shooting in San Diego, USA. 

Geldof is quoted as saying he wrote the ballad after he heard that the shooter who fired at children in a playground, killing two adults and injuring eight children and a police officer, explained herself by saying "I don't like Mondays...."

Appalling!

Now, I have to say, many of us might admit that Monday is not our favourite day of the week ... back to work/school after the weekend and all that. 

But I read something recently that helped me put a new spin on Mondays. It's a quote attributed to David Dweck, entrepreneur, investor and speaker ... and I love it.

Just by thinking of Mondays in a different way, putting a more positive spin on the day ... well this says it all really.

SO - Happy Monday!

2016-02-15 16.07.20 - Copy

Oh, and by the way, if you're wondering ... the photograph is one of mine.  It's St Ouen's Bay in Jersey in the Channel Islands.


Time to think about Time

For many years my working life was dominated by The Pips!

Any idea what I'm talking about?

Well it's that series of 'pips' ... five short and one long tone ... that are broadcast by many BBC Radio stations at the top of each hour. 

Why am I talking about this today? Well, it was on February 5th 1924 that the BBC Pips ... the Greenwich Time Signal .. was first broadcast.

Bbc-history-task-pips

As a radio presenter, for many years I had to ensure I met the 'Pips' cleanly at the top of the hour. No talking over them, no crashing into them. They were sacrosanct.  It could be a quite a pressure but you got used to it.

Only a few BBC radio stations continue to run the Greenwich Time Signal now to give us the precise start to the hour.

Some might think that's a shame, because those pips were a way we could check that our watches and clocks were spot on. These days digital time pieces are so accurate we perhaps don't need the Greenwich Time Signal to keep us on track of time.

Back in 1924, the idea for the Pips came from the Astronomer Royal of the time, Sir Frank Watson Dyson, and the head of the BBC, John Reith.

I'm not going to to go into the technical details of this because I don't know them and it might be rather boring. If you're so inclined, there are plenty of websites which can give you that information.

But what I've gleaned is that the Pips were originally controlled by two mechanical clocks in the Royal Greenwich Observatory which had electrical contacts attached to their pendula. These sent a signal each second to the BBC, which converted them to generate the distinctive beeps of the pips. By the way, just in case one clock failed, two clocks were always used and years later an electronic clock was deployed.

Until 1972 the pips were of equal length. Confusion reigned. Which was the final pip? How did we know it was actually the top of the hour? That was when the last pip was extended. Five short pips, followed by one long.

In 1990 the BBC started to generate the pips themselves via what I read is an atomic clock. Wow.

The Pips were at one point featured on BBC TV but that was discontinued in the 1960s, yet the Greenwich Time Signal seems to remain synonymous with the nation that is Great Britain. It was the first sound heard in the handover to the London 2012 Olympics during the Beijing 2008 Olympics closing ceremony. To celebrate the 90th birthday of the pips on 5 February 2014, the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 broadcast a sequence that included a re-working of the Happy Birthday melody using the GTS as its base sound.

These days, if you want the reassuring sound of the Greenwich Time Signal, then the best place to go is BBC Radio 4, which uses them at the top of each hour. Sometimes when I can't sleep and I'm listening to the BBC World Service radio I also hear them as well. There are similar time signals used by radio stations in lots of other countries, but I guess the BBC Pips are the most famous.

But what you may not know is that the GTS is available not just on the hour but also on the quarter past, the half past and the quarter to the hour. When you're presenting in a radio studio there's a GTS stream you can fade up on your desk to give you the Pips, and if after the top of the hour you forget to fade that stream down, it'll automatically pop up at those times as well. I have to say, that only happened to me just the once!

The thing about the Greenwich Time Signal, and those Pips, is that they remind us that time is fleeting. Time is passing. Time is short.

Perhaps we don't like being reminded about that. I know I don't. 

But if there's something we need to get done ... maybe we need to be just get on and do it, before we run out of time. And although there may be lots of things that we need to do just because we need to do them, it's also important to use our time wisely.

And on that point ... there are masses of quotes about time on the internet but there's one which I'll leave with you today ...

“Always make time for things that make you feel happy to be alive.”

(Anonymous)

 


Groundhog Day

Do you have a favourite film? 

Or maybe you have a few movies that would be in your Top Ten? If you were making a list.

Are you an action movie fan, or a sci fi fanatic, or perhaps like me you prefer RomComs, a little light  romance and comedy? 

I have to admit, there are some movies that I can watch over and over and over and over and over... and not get bored. And one of those is linked to today.

February 2nd in North America - the USA and Canada - is Groundhog Day and I love the Bill Murray movie of the same name. More of that in a moment.

GroundhogBut first ... what IS a 'groundhog'

Well, it's a kind of rodent, and apparently belongs to the marmot or ground squirrel family. It's found in the USA, Canada and into Alaska. Among other characteristics, they have big teeth and they live in burrows. When fully grown a groundhog can be as long as 27inches (about 69cm) and can weigh as much as 14pounds (over 6kg). I've been doing my research and all I can say is, that groundhog is not a small squirrel!

One of the important things to know about the groundhog is that are hibernators. They often dig a separate 'winter burrow', which they build below the frost line, which means even when it's frozen up top, the animals can safely sleep away the winter months without fear of freezing to death. Usually, groundhogs hibernate from October to March or April, or thereabouts. 

And that's relevant to the tradition of Groundhog Day (the actual day) which apparently is an old superstition from the Pennsylvania Dutch community in America, which says that if a groundhog emerges early from it's burrow - on February 2 - then it can tell us if Spring is on its way.

So the legend goes, if the groundhog sees its shadow due to clear weather, it will quickly nip back into its burrow, and winter will go on for six more weeks. If, however, the animal does NOT see its shadow because it's too cloudy, Spring will arrive early!

All this predicting the weather is part of ancient 'weather lore' which is found in lots of cultures, including German speaking areas (and the Pennsylvania Dutch people come from Germanic-speaking areas of Europe) where the animal predicting the weather is usually a badger, but sometimes a bear or a fox.

And these weather lore predictions are also linked to the Christian festival of Candlemas, which we also celebrate today. Tradition has it that if the weather is clear on Candlemas, we're in for a long winter!

Now of course there's no scientific evidence for such weather predictions, but it's fun isn't it? 

In North America, February 2nd has taken on a special significance. Groundhog Day ceremonies happen on this day across the USA and Canada, but it's in a place called Punxsutawney in western Pennsylvania, that the most popular ceremony occurs, where the focus is a groundhog called 'Punxsutawney Phil'.

And that's the link to the 1993 movie that I mentioned at the start.

'Groundhog Day' starring Bill Murray and Andy MacDowell is largely located in Punxsutawney around the iconic ceremony and the film has not only helped to immortalise the seasonal celebration, but the concept of it has also added a new phrase to our dictionary.

If you haven't ever seen the movie then sorry for the spoiler. Bill Murray plays a cynical (and rather obnoxious) TV weatherman called Phil who is sent to cover the Groundhog Day ceremony, and then finds himself in a time loop through which he is forced to re-live February 2nd ... Groundhog Day ... over and over and over, until he becomes a better person. He learns to live each moment at a time, rather than always chasing ambition and celebrity.

As a result of the movie which was conceived, co-written and directed by Harold Ramis,  we now use the phrase 'Groundhog Day' for any situation which is monotonous, repetitive and even unpleasant and boring.

Since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic, lots of us feel like we've been living Groundhog Day - don't we?

Working from home, staying in and not being able to go out and mingle with others, not being able to see family members - much of our time during 2020 and into 2021 has felt so repetitive and monotonous. I think 'Groundhog Day' is a great way of describing my pandemic experience.

But just as Weatherman Phil in the movie came out of his Groundhog Day a better person, so I believe we can emerge from the COVID19 experience improved and finer examples of humanity.

Early on in the pandemic, especially, we saw so many acts of kindness and caring. The Thursday 8pm 'Clap for Carers' which some are still doing as they Clap for their Heroes. People checking on their neighbours, delivering food and medicines, thinking of others. 

And although Covid fatigue might have stolen a little of that from us as the months have progressed, I believe this time has shown us what a kinder and more compassionate world can look like. 

I'd like to believe that a memory of that kindness might be part of the legacy of our Pandemic Groundhog Day, along with the realisation that life is short and that, no matter how much status and money and position and ambition we chase, perhaps we just need to take more time to breathe, to enjoy our environment and the beauty of the world around us, to appreciate our loved ones more, and maybe even take pleasure in the simple things - like a walk on a Spring morning - no matter when that might be.

 

 


Memories of a Great Man

What childhood memories do you have?

Perhaps visits to the seaside? Maybe your first day at school? The loss of a pet?

Some of us have memories which are tied to big national events.

In recent decades some children may remember visiting London after Diana, Princess of Wales passed away. They will remember the aroma of the millions of flowers around the palaces.  Some children may remember the death of a grandparent, or sadly, a parent. Others may remember television programmes which made an impact on their lives – cartoons and shows for kids.

I have a memory from my past which was not personal to me but did involve television. In those days the message was delivered from a small black and white screen in the corner of the sitting room. I remember seeing a coffin being loaded onto what I think was a train. It was all very solemn and I do recall feeling sad, although not really knowing why.

On this day in 1965 St Paul’s Cathedral witnessed the state funeral of Sir Winston Churchill, the former Prime Minister who had taken Britain through the Second World War.

State funerals are usually only bestowed on members of the Royal Family but years before Churchill died on the 24th of January planning had been in place for his funeral with full state honours. In addition, by decree of the reigning monarch,  Queen Elizabeth II, Churchill's body lay in state in Parliament, in the ancient  Westminster Hall for three days from 26 January, until the funeral in St Paul's.

It was an historic moment, the end of an era, especially for the generation, like my parents, who had fought in and lived through the Second World War.

The esteem in which Churchill was held was reflected in the fact that his funeral was attended by leaders from across the globe. Representatives from 112 countries and many organisations attended, including 5 kings and 2 queens, other members of royalty,  15 presidents, 14 prime ministers and 10 former leaders. 

In researching today's 'One Day @ a Time' thought, I also discovered that the funeral took place on the anniversary of Franklin D. Roosevelt's birth - that great American president who had seen his country through not just the Second World War but also many turbulent years prior to that conflict. He and Churchill worked closely as allies but also as friends in the cause against global tyranny, and I read that people in the United States marked the day by paying tribute to Churchill's friendship with Roosevelt.

The events of January 30th 1965 were covered extensively by the world's media, including British television  - the BBC and other broadcasters who followed the funeral step by step, including after the service, the procession of his coffin on a Royal Navy vessel on the River Thames before the ceremonies moved to Waterloo Station on the south bank of the river.

It is those images, of his coffin being slowly marched to the train which would take him to his final resting place in Oxfordshire and a private burial, which are my memories of the day.

For me, it’s just a vague memory - I wasn't sure really what I watching, but I knew it was a serious time -  along with others delivered from the television.

What other childhood memories do I have?  I remember holidays, days on the beach and my dad teaching me to swim. Squabbles with my brothers, getting stung by a bee, and playing out in the snow – rolling a chunk  of the white stuff down an incline to make a snowball big enough for a snowman’s head. I have other TV memories - at the other end of the telly serious scale, thinking about my favourite TV characters like ‘Andy Pandy’ and ‘The Wooden Tops’ still makes me smile.

Most of all I know I am one of the fortunate ones, to have memories of loving parents, and a caring close family. Not everyone has that privilege. And although I have had sadness, including bereavement, the good for me is balanced by the not-so-fine.

So today, let’s remember those who are not as fortunate as we may be. Those who struggle with their memories and are still living with the consequences of damaged lives.  Those who are bereaved and sad and struggling to adapt to new circumstances.

Let’s pray that, if the opportunity arises, we help to build happy memories for those whose lives we touch today.