Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Look, Up in the Sky...

Sunny? Yesterday My Life Was Filled With Rain...
The British media doesn't seem to obsess about weather to the degree that we do in the States, at least like we do in the Washington area, where it seems that every TV station has its own doppler radar and cloud-seeding airplane and where, come winter, meteorologists Bob Ryan and Sue Palka compete to see who can go the longest without sleep.

(For those of you reading this blog in England, imagine a local TV newscast where fully a third of the program is devoted to the intricacies of the weather: that day's actual highs and lows; that day's perceived highs and lows [they're different somehow]; the amount of precipitation at various spots around town; computer graphics in an endless loop showing the eastward march of clouds and wind and minute fluctuations in isobars; that day's deviation from normal temperatures; the deviation from record temperatures; a quick round-up of statistics compiled by amateur weather buffs tending back yard anemometers; a five-day forecast; a seven-day forecast; a 10-day "extended" forecast. And if there's any possibility the weather may be slightly extreme--a slight chance of snow for example--the TV weather machine goes into overdrive, with reporters dispatched to snowplow marshalling yards, tricky intersections and the milk aisles of supermarkets. We take our weather seriously in Washington.)

Perhaps because the weather is so changeable in England--sunny one minute, rainy the next--TV weatherfolk don't get too invested in making ironclad, and apocalyptic, forecasts. Or maybe it's that the weather is pretty much the same all the time, so there's no reason to get all freaked out over minor blips in the status quo. The weather report at the end of the evening news is just the briefest of snippets, delivered almost apologetically.

I still care about the weather, though, and I can't shake the habit of asking out loud "What's the weather going to be like today?" before pulling on an outfit. For the last few days--and, it looks like, for the rest of the week--I think there's just one answer to that question: "English."

The weather will be English today.

That translates as "moist and raw." There hasn't been anything so vulgar as a driving rain, though. Instead, England seems to specialize in a nebulous mist. The sky spits out a fine precipitation as if from a celestial soaker hose. You never actually get anything as common as "wet." After venturing into it you return to your house sort of dampened, like a tennis ball that's been carried in the mouth of a Labrador.

Indoor Fireworks
Over on the island of Jersey a man named Terry McDonald was eager to recapture his world-record crown for the most pyrotechnic devices set off simultaneously. He was planning on launching 110,000 fireworks in August, breaking the Guinness record of 56,405. But environmental concerns forced him to scrub the endeavor. Officials didn't want the detritus from all those rockets littering the beach.

You can sort of understand that. Here's the rest of the story: According to a brief item in the Daily Express Saturday ("The world's greatest newspaper," according to the motto printed on the front page, though its Web site leaves something to be desired), McDonald has had to sleep in the same room with all the fireworks for the last two months, guarding them, presumably against accidental detonation. "It's a living nightmare," he was quoted as saying.

This is probably not a guy you want to sneak up behind with an inflated balloon and a sharpened knitting needle.

How Green Was My Alley?

I haven't yet decided how I feel about the British preoccupation with the environment. I'm pro-environment, of course, but there's a hectoring, sanctimonious tone to much of the conversation here. People drag their carbon footprints around like a family ghost. They wear their green-ness on their sleeves. (Greensleeves?)

That does leave room for comedy, though, and a columnist named Terence Blacker has a funny, satirical piece in the Independent today about the upper class's embrace of All Things Green. It's not often you see the expression "tickety-boo."

Reuters Foundation
At the end of this week a half-dozen journalists from around the world will arrive in Oxford, the latest crop of fellows to study at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, where I'm hanging out for the next year. The institute, and the fellows, are sponsored by the Reuters Foundation. Yesterday's Guardian had a story about the foundation and the work it does.

One of its most important functions is training journalists in foreign countries. Instructors don't, foundation folks insisted, tell people what to write, just how to gather information. "You have to be cautious about trying to impose some kind of neo-colonial pattern on it," Oliver Wates, a former Reuters reporter running a seminar on reporting on climate change, said of the training.

They may rank somewhere below used-car salespeople in the public's perception, but most journalists really do try to do the right thing.


suburbancorrespondent said...

Everyone talks about the weather, but no one does a darn thing about it.

Sorry - but someone had to say it.

The Terence Blacker piece was great; full of delicious British-isms, too. Do you get to hear that sort of thing all the time?

Tickety-boo to you!

Anonymous said...

Several years ago, I walked around London for three days, sweltering in a raincoat I had worn because it was supposed to be cool and rainy. As we were leaving to spend Sunday in Oxford, I said I wasn't going to roast all day, and I left the raincoat in the hotel.

You guessed it--it was cool and rainy. Because it was Sunday, almost no stores were open in Oxford except one selling Oxford University souvenirs to tourists like myself. The shop was jam-packed with tourists; each of us grabbed a sweatshirt roughly the right size handed over a fistful of money without counting it, pocketed the change without counting it, and blocked the door while we tore open the packages and put on the sweatshirts! I never did bother to figure how much I paid in US money.

(When I got home, a friend told me, "At least it says 'Oxford University.' I now own a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt because I didn't believe it could get chilly at Disney World!")

John Kelly said...

The weather changes minute to minute. Not long after posting this entry--about the "English" weather--the sun came out and it was a glorious Indian summer afternoon. I think it was just to spite me.