Saturday 7 June 2014

Saturday Live

The problem with writing a blog about BBC bias is that, by the very nature of the subject matter, you end up being negative about things most of the time - or, more accurately, you end up sounding like a right miserable so-and-on. So both Sue and myself occasionally like to post the occasional random piece in praise of something we've heard on the BBC.

Today's random post involves this morning's Saturday Live on Radio 4. 

The show's main guest was the independent-minded and opinionated head of the National Trust, Sir Simon Jenkins. He was there to plug his new book, 'England's 100 Best Views'. 

Wonder if he's got Morecambe Bay in it? That's a photo of Morecambe Bay at the top of this post. I took it an hour or so ago. [ed - No he didn't.]

He's someone who rarely holds back from giving a strong view, even if he knows it will infuriate some people [like me]. I've never quite been able to place him politically though, not since I first read him in The Sunday Times back in the '80s. How I see him, therefore, is how he sees the National Trust: 
It's this curious paradox - of loving fine architecture and muddy boots. It's left and right. It's campaigning and it's sedate. It's got a curious set of puzzles in its own brain but they all come out in one rounded organisation. 
Today one of his strong views seemed to coincide with that of Rev Richard Coles - one of the show's two presenters - though the ex-Communard appeared to do a neat, belated swerve at the end (as the bulb of 'BBC impartiality' evidently switched on in his head!):
Rev Richard: It's one thing to lose a house, isn't it, due to changing economic patterns, and when forms of life are unsustainable, but it's another thing to lose, for example, wilderness to the onward march of wind turbines which seem to be covering parts of Britain which are normally bare and which it would be better, surely, if they were left bare - although at the same time we have to worry about renewables and all that kind of thing?
Sir Simon: Well, you're preaching to the converted there. It's very difficult because, as you say, it's very easy to list and save a great building. It's easy to list and save a great garden. It's very difficult to save a view. If you look out across the Severn Valley at the moment, if you out towards the vale Aylesbury, if you look out across Mid Wales, you see thousands of turbines turning. It is quite an extraordinary sight, which I may say very few of the rulers of Britain ever see because they go abroad for their holiday.

The other presenter, Suzie Klein, then talked to the National Trust's oldest volunteer, 95 year old Ron Price, who has worked at Buckland Abbey [opened to the public in 1951] as a volunteer there for 25 years, having help on and off for years before retiring. He's not stopping yet, even though he's 96 next month. He loves the people there: 
They actually are keeping me alive, keeping my mind alert, my brain working, my memory. And if it wasn't for Buckland Abbey I'd be a cabbage, I think. I just wouldn't be interested in life. It gives me so much pleasure to go down there, to meet with all the volunteers, to talk with them and to talk with the visitors, specially the ones who want to know something about Buckland Abbey. They keep me alive. 
...which is a salutary reminder that talking to the staff when visiting National Trust sites can be as good for them as it is for us.

I like the way Radio 4 broadcasts such stories. 

Then came a curious incident (not involving non-barking dogs).

Suzie asked Simon about the kerfuffle this week over the description of National Trust volunteers as "little old ladies". The curious aspect of it was that Suzie said that they'd been unfairly characterised as such "by one newspaper writer". I wondered who and checked. From what I can see it wasn't said by a newspaper writer at all, but was something merely quoted in several newspapers, having been originally said by Lynne Berry, chairwoman of the Commission on the Voluntary Sector and Ageing. That's by-the-by though (though this is a rather by-the-by post, so what does that matter?)

Anyhow, it gave Simon Jenkins the opportunity to go off on one, splendidly. He took aim and fired - at the BBC!:
No, I'm going to erupt on this subject. I mean (a) I just really can't understand it. It's the fault of the BBC. The theory that anybody old is somehow sort-of semi-human, it's just amazing to me! We have 70,000 volunteers. They are not all old. Not even elderly. Many of them are young. We've got families who are volunteers. We've got couples who are volunteers. We've got mums and daughters who volunteer.
What's wrong with being over 50? The Today programme's going on about, 'Oh, I'm afraid a lot of our listeners are over-fifties', as if they are some kind of plague. I get really angry about this!
I can see Sir Simon signing up to comment at Biased BBC soon!

Next up came photographer Tony Bennett, talking about his award-(and-£10,000-cheque)-winning photograph Mist and Reflections, Crummock Water - a very beautiful thing indeed: 

By a curious coincidence, my family and I [does that make me sound too much like HM the Queen?] will be visiting Crummock Water two weeks from this very day. I will have to take a few shots and post them here. I doubt they will be quite that good though. [I will have to keep my thumb out of the frame for starters]. 

If his photo is poetic,  then so was his description of how it came about:
It's the atmospheric effects. It's the impact it has on the photographer. This was a magical moment. In fact it was a series of magical moments covering something like an hour and a half as the sun slowly rose through the hills and touched the tops of the trees and lit up the hillside, and eventually burned off the mist over the water. And the image itself shows tumbling mist as it is being burned away, and there's a perfectly still water surface giving reflections.
I was also taken by the story of Ang Zangbhu, a former sherpa in the foothills of Everest who now flies jets out of Gatwick. He went to sherpa school:
The nearest school built by Sir Edmund Hilary after the Himalayan Trust's foundation was in 1961, and the nearest school to me from my village was up 12,400 ft elevation. I'm down at 8,500 ft. So I get up early in the mornings and start walking, 6, and school, 9, climbing up, and when I finish school I walk back to my village. Going downhill was a bit easier. So it takes two hours. So it's five hours. Until I was about 13 I was barefoot.
[Yeah, big deal. I had to go by school bus every day!]

Now, here's something I will admit I didn't know about sherpas - and is proof of the saying that 'You learn something new every day' [well, it proves it for this particular day anyhow]:
'Sherpa' doesn't mean 'porter' or 'guide' at all in our country. A 'sherpa' means one of the many ethnic groups. There are, I think, roughly 36 different ethnic groups in Nepal and they all carry their last name based on their ethnic group. Traditionally climbing mountains is not our profession - we are more farmers and animal/cattle grazing - but the first expeditions hired the sherpas because of their adaptation to high altitude because they live up in high elevation. 

Italian architect and TV presenter Francesco Da Mosto was up later (obviously setting Suzie's heart throbbing a bit - though, in fairness, she's not met me yet!), bemoaning the effects of mass tourism on the spirit and dignity of Venice:
There is another thing that is touching me a lot. Is about the big ships that enter in the town [the huge cruise ships that sail into Venice]. That is, I think, a shame because the to let the big cruise enter is always more excavated and so the lagoon is becoming like a sea and all the building has problem with their foundation. There is the movement. There is the pollution. So I think that really we have to think about.
Can you is very strange...when I look from the window is like if you are on the Thames and you see a ship that is double size of Westminster and these people pass that just to take a picture, not more. And I think we need to think that there is a dignity in selling ourself to all the port and all the lobbies. I think that we have to have a respect for history, for what for 1,000 years they have done and they still resisting to everything.
Morecambe is a little like that too. We have gargantuan cruise liners sailing around the Furness Peninsula, pausing in front of the Eric Morecambe statue for all the Italian tourists to take snaps of the great man's image, and then sailing off again round the corner to Sellafield, leaving the foundations of our amusement arcades crumbling away behind them. [I was only shaking my fist at one of them this very morning - though I wasn't shaking it too hard lest it send an amusement arcade crashing down].

I love writing Italian, so here's another lovely, rather romantic thing that Francesco said. [Ladies, please prepare to swoon again]:
And I have something that happens everyday in Venice. Well, not every day but when I have to cross the Grand Canal and I don't want to have to make the long route with the bridges. I just go in a gondola to pass the Grand Canal, and in that moment, is a few minutes, but I feel that the time has stopped. You are taken by these two rowers, and they are rowing, and the water is the nature, and the palaces is human, so there is this connection between our world and the world of nature. 
And from the gondola I see the Rialto Bridge, in stone, so big, but nevertheless, when... is interesting in the culture, because on the base, in the side's base in the bridge, there are saints and Madonnas, because when you build a bridge is a challenge with nature. So you have to put your hands in divinity. But is quite...
...and every time I took the go in the gondola, just passing that thing, I think that time stops and something in the deep of me takes me, saying "I like it".
I think I'd like to go to Venice. Just saying.

The 'Inheritance Tracks' belonged to Dame Kiri te Kanawa who chose two of the loveliest things ever written - O Mio Babbino Caro by Puccini and the Marschallin's Monologue from Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss. Very nice!

She never learned Maori. It wasn't encouraged at the time. I'm afraid to say I've never learned it either.

Like Simon Jenkins, I blame the BBC. When I was young we had 'Get By In Italian' and 'Get By In Arabic' - which I tried to learn - but never 'Get By in Maori'.

OK, that's enough. I enjoyed that [a feeling you may not have shared].

It's Saturday, and the sun has set over Morecambe Bay. I watched the sunset through my window as I was typing this and now I can see the night - and a blackbird is still feeling randy and refusing to go to bed, singing away instead. Ah, he's given up. And so will I. Good night.

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