Monday, April 18, 2016

Dum de Dum de Dum - The Archers and the joys of internet radio

You know you are becoming a crusty old bore, akin to the type of colonial relics that inhabit a Somerset Maugham short story, when you start talking about ‘When I first went overseas …………. “

In the heady days of the early 90s there was no internet or email so you wrote and received letters in the form of blue areogrammes that you folded up and sent off – it was a red letter day when a blue letter arrived and I used to skip up the steps to the various rented flats clutching one when they came.

Phone calls to overseas countries were accompanied with a timer and hissing of in-drawn breath – my parents-in-law only rang us a couple of times during our years overseas as it was regarded as prohibitively expensive. 

And if you wanted to listen to the BBC Radio 4 long running serial, The Archers you had to get your parents to make a recording and send it out to you.

I wasn’t actually such an Archers fan that these desperate measures were required but when we lived in Hong Kong in the early 90’s, I had a great friend, Laura, whose mother used to tape the omnibus edition every Sunday and then send said tape to Laura.  When I tell this story to anyone under the age of 30, I can see their eyes roll in complete incomprehension, whilst they mentally pause and wonder whether to ask for a translation.

I love having the internet, and email, but I also love my box of tattered areogrammes, mainly from my mother who wrote the most superb letters, but slightly irritating never dated them beyond the month.  I now realise I should have written the year on them when I received them as it is now a deduction process from the contents, and the address on the front, in terms of working out when it was actually written.

One of the things I love most about life now is that I can conjure up BBC Radio 4 and Radio 3 at the touch of a button on my computer, either live or as a podcast.  As I write now I have Essential Classics from Radio 3 playing in the background as I am someone who always needs noise around to work.  Most early evenings I will cook to the wake up call of the BBC Radio 4 flagship ‘Today’ programme which sets the tone for news and views each morning in the UK, and when ironing I will find a podcast from Woman’s Hour or The Life Scientific – both of which are the most fantastic programmes and I very rarely come away without having heard something that really interested me.   Desert Island Discs is a weekly treat and when I find one I love, I am on a one-woman mission to spread the word and all my friends find the link posted to their inboxes. 

‘The Archers’ is typically British institution, a radio soap opera that has been going since 1951, originally, and perhaps still, billed as the ‘everyday story of country folk’, I can remember listening to the after lunch slot in my primary school uniform and the theme tune is instantly recognisable to any Brit of my age. 

There is still a distinct rural flavour to it, and we are definitely talking village life, complete with established families, wealthy farmers, poor but honest (most of the time) tenant farmers and labourers, village shop, now run by worthy volunteers and a village green.  But no one could accuse The Archers of not being of their time – over the past couple of years the storylines have included a gay civil marriage, infidelity, donor insemination and the vicar marrying a Hindu and my personal favourite, one character, Emma, managing to marry not one, but two brothers in quick succession.  I have to come clean and admit I am now totally addicted and will listen to the 12 minutes slot whilst I cook most evenings.

In recent weeks the tension in The Archers community has ratcheted up as a domestic abuse storyline took over.  The build up was very dramatic and I was reduced to getting up and listening to the next episode whilst I ate my breakfast, furiously hushing any of my family who dared to interrupt the storyline.  When things came to a head – or to knifepoint – it was I think the story that stopped the nation.  The Today Programme had to utter a spoiler alert before they discussed the episode as one of their leading news stories of the day.

For anyone feeling nostalgic, here’s the theme tune, you only need the first few bars to be transported.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Dress Code - Pac-a mac or pearls

Absolutely fabulous, hot autumnal afternoon in Sydney with golden light slanting through the trees round the outdoor café I am sitting in, but as with all good dramas this is now the point for a line of dramatic dots……………… the weather forecast for the next few days is not good.

Rain is normally not a problem in my life, however in a crazed social organiser moment, crossed with the desire to embrace my inner cultural being, I have revved up several of my friends about what fun it would be to go to Turandot the Sydney Opera production staged outdoors on a floating stage on Sydney Harbour.  I fear I have perhaps waxed too lyrical about the operatic and dramatic delights in store, to the extent Husband is convinced he is going to see a fire breathing dragon – and whilst it is true there is definitely a giant pagoda and a mechanical dragon, I am not completely convinced it is going to spit fire – but as a result of my enthusiastic sales pitch, I now find myself in the fairly unaccustomed role of heading up a party who qualify for a group discount – am considering whether to get one of those little flags to wave so I can marshal them?  Meanwhile I am haunted by a craven fear that it will pour,  and my loyal concert party of opera tragics will be glaring at me from beneath plastic hoods as the rain drums around us.

However there are few things as spectacular as an evening spent sitting on the purpose built seating in the Botanic Gardens, complete with the bars and restaurants that appear for a couple of months whilst the Outdoor Cinema and the Opera on the Harbour are on.    The scenery is out of this world with the Opera House and Bridge as a backdrop as the lights go down and then the lights around the Harbour providing a sparkling frame as darkness falls.  The Flying Foxes (large and incontinent bats) used to make sitting in the back row of seats, underneath the overhanging trees, a bit of a sartorial challenge – what to wear that you don’t mind getting covered in bat shit was always a puzzle, but now the bats have been persuaded to move on, it is possible to sit in the back rows without more that an occasional glance upwards.

I am not a great opera buff – hence have had to consult Sydney Opera’s helpful ‘cheat sheet’ to discover that the final “t” in Turandot is not pronounced – bit like the Drama Queens’ pronunciation of ‘water’ which also generally lacks any mention of the ‘T’ sound, but I do love the drama of the outdoor opera – and boy do they go to the max on set and effects.  Fireworks are completely obligatory and are apparently going to light up the sky during ‘Nessum Dorma’.  During Carmen, a couple of years ago, a vintage car appeared to great effect whilst one of the highlights of Aida last year was getting up close with the camels that made a star appearance.

However the biggest nightmare is of course, what happens if it rains?  And the closely related question, what on earth am I going to wear, pac- a- mac or pashmina?  Normally I am never particularly stressed by dress code questions, taking the fairly characteristic, eg lazy, view that unless one looks spectacular or dreadful, people rarely notice and I would prefer they remember me for my sparkling repartee rather than outfit.  Note this attitude is mirrored by my thoughts on hosting dinner parties, where I feel that unless the food is beyond delicious, or I poison people, then that’s fine.  (Anyone who has been subjected to my dinner party food – please feel free to rebut this statement).

However I do at times get the dress code so spectacularly wrong that I am out of sight on the fashion front – and not in a Kardashian type way.   The worst I think was the Derby Day – part of the racing festival centred around the Melbourne Cup, in November– it was unfortunate that in the excitement of being invited down to Derby Day in Melbourne I had failed to ask anyone about the Dress Code – it turns out it is traditional to wear black and white to Derby Day.  It was perhaps a tad unfortunate I had gone for a celebratory fire station red outfit topped off by a red hat – if the expression ‘sore thumb’ comes to mind then you have the correct and bizarrely quite accurate picture in your mind of me, clad as the scarlet imposter, in the midst of a sea of black and white – it was like an inverted “Where’s Wally?” picture.

The good news is that being Sydney, anything will go at Turandot, so I can get it wrong in good company, and if the rain lashes down, I’ve got some great raingear that I wore daily in my northern hemisphere life that now hangs in the laundry unused most of the year.  And as for the under layer, as it were, I’m going to take Dan Porta, the set designer’s words to heart – “We have to temper the aesthetics to the weather …… but still make everything look dangerous and exciting” so I’m mentally channelling the black jumpsuit rather than jeans and sweater.

And just as a footnote, I have just heard on the radio that today was the hottest April day recorded in Sydney - no wonder it all seemed glorious - keep those opera loving fingers crossed it lasts.