Saturday, 25 October 2014

BBC Radio 4

The advantages of having elderly parents were - 1) they never shouted or lost their temper with me 2) they never went out or had people around the house so I never had a baby-sitter or had to make polite conversation 3) afternoon naps and 4) BBC Radio 4.

My parents married in 1952 and I was born in 1968. My Dad said he wanted to pay the mortgage off before having children. So I was born when my Mum was 42 and my Dad was 55. I was and remain an only-child, although now a bit more alone as all my relatives have died.  I don’t know whether my Dad wanted a son. It was never spoken of but looking back I don’t feel I had a typically female biased gender stereotypical childhood. More of this in future posts I imagine.

Whilst younger parents might have been listening to Terry Wogan on BBC Radio 2, Radio 4 was the near constant soundtrack to my childhood. Each day had a natural rhythm laid down by the BBC.

Each day began with the sound of the Goblin teas-made gurgling and the smell of freshly brewed tea. I was woken up by this as I slept in the same room as my parents. All the other rooms were let out as my Mum ran a B&B. Each day began with the voice of Peter Jefferson at 0520 GMT reading the shipping forecast. I've since read that it moved to Radio 4 in 1978 so I cannot say whether that was when I first heard it, or whether my Dad tuned in elsewhere before that, being a sailing man.

The shipping forecast had as much meaning for me as the comforting words of the Catholic mass, learnt by rote via weekly attendance at St. Thomas’ Church and latterly St Mary & St Peter’s church, until the age of 15 when I departed for boarding school. Both the Credo and the shipping forecast elicit the same response of comforting, calm familiarity.

To this day I cannot explain the anticipation and the thrill on hearing the words "South Utsire, Cromarty, Forth or German Bight" and for reasons I cannot explain "Channel Light Vessel, Automatic" had a particular appeal. Where were these places? What were these things? And then there was the final thrill when Jersey got a mention. All was well, we still existed.

Zeb Soanes explains it best, "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-bots bobbing about at Plymouth or 170ft waves crashing against Rockall."

The pips and the bongs have been a part of every day of my life as has the Today Programme. I remember feeling a shocking sense of loss when Brian Redhead was no longer part of my morning ritual. The comforting presence of his instantly recognisable voice was there from 1975 when I was 7 years old until 1993. 

I have very clear memories of Woman’s hour and the Archers. As a pre-schooler I would have to be silent whilst my parents took an after lunch snooze. My Dad came home for lunch everyday. I would play silently with my toys whilst the Archers and then Woman’s Hour was on. I couldn’t wait for them to end and for my parents to wake up. I never disturbed them.

My Mum found Gardeners' Question Time this utterly fascinating. People would visit to ask her questions as she was very knowledgeable on the art of growing from cuttings in jam jars on the window sill. She grew everything from cuttings and shared them around. We had pear trees in the garden in St Mark’s Lane and mum sold them by the bagful to Mrs Derrien in the Greengrocer’s in Stopford Road. Now you'd call it localism and sustainability but at the time it was just "getting rid of the pears before the birds eat them". You can still see her fuschias in the front garden at 43 David Place. Now, despite a) not having a garden and b) finding it a bit boring,  I listen as a bizarre link to my long-dead Mum. In the picture above you can see some fuschias. That's me in the photo, first day at FCJ September 1972, not quite 4 years old.

When I think of the hundreds of questions my children ask of me and how I casually type the question into Google, I wonder, did I ask those questions or did I not bother because I knew there was no answer available?

One of the most exciting books I had was “Pears Cyclopedia”. I loved this book and would randomly open it to retrieve an interesting snippet.

It was Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy  series, first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 1978, when I was 10 years old that would have a lasting effect. I was taken from the mundane rhythm of the school day to contemplating the universe. I was forced to consider complicated questions like “Is it better to eat an animal that wants to be eaten?” or could a “babel fish” translator ever exist and "What is the meaning of life, the universe and everything?".

I wonder whether this was the start of my layperson's interest in particle physics and trying to understand how the universe works - which is quite tricky without A level maths.

I could never have imagined that I would go to CERN to see the Large Hadron Collider projects and that as a result of that visit my son would win a prize for writing an essay about his visit.


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