There’s a rockabilly party on Saturday night…

Readers may recall – though probably not – that I recently gave up my TV licence as a protest against the Government/BBC’s plans to remove free TV licenses from the over 75s next year. Annoyingly, the BBC mentioned on their radio news programme this morning that TV viewing figures are falling drastically, especially among the young. I imagined I was rebelliously depriving myself of something for the sake of a principle – now I discover I was conforming to some mindless Younger Generation.

Staring mournfully at the gap where the TV set used to be, I realise I used to use it to switch off, ie to become part of the mindless Older GenerationNow I am finding being at home all day quite hard work – all that thinking about stuff – all that What should I be getting on with now? TV was an excuse to sit still and do nothing. Or knitting.

I’ve been managing quite well with my collection of radios, each tuned to a different station – not being much of a re-tuner of DAB radios. I have one stuck on Radio 4, for the News and Woman’s Hour. I sampled The Archers (‘an everyday story of countryfolk’), in the hope that, being older now, I would suddenly be able to stand to listen to it.

I still hated it, apart from one episode when a character called Hayley was going round frantically demanding money from fellow villagers in order to solve her mortgage shortfall problem – telling them she was entitled to it. She was being so annoying and so manifestly and counter-productively foolish in her approach, and all in a fake rural accent, that I just wanted to slap her. I suppose I was gripped, but not enough to make me tune in to the next episode.

One of my other radios is tuned to something called Mellow Magic. I have always resisted anything with the word mellow in it, along with the words heart-warming and epic – but I tried it and was hooked. Basically they play all the songs you remember quite a few of the words to, that whisk you back to your past.

Another radio is tuned to Scala, which advertises itself a classical music station with a modern twist. I use this as background music for reading. I used to use Spotify for this, but was always worried that by listening online I might be using up a lot of data, whatever that is.

Most of the time it’s fine – film scores, sad tinkly piano music – but occasionally you are jolted back into the living room by something unexpected and truly ghastly such as the Dam-Busters March or Mars, the Bringer of War. It’s even worse when you’re trying to get to the end of a popular physics book which is proving beyond your comprehension. I used to read books that dealt with string theory, multiverses and spooky action at a distance, but I think my brain must have atrophied since then.

So, I just migrate from one radio to another. Now what I need is some kind of hooked pokey-stick, or series of long pieces of string tied to all the radio like reins – to take the place of the TV remote control.

Then there are the TED talks. Someone stands on stage somewhere in the world – Iceland, Toronto, whatever – and records a short talk about whatever they happen to know or feel strongly about. These talks are free to listen to and are useful if suddenly craving the sight of a human being moving about and gesticulating, as opposed to disembodied voices. You have to be selective – no point watching fifteen minutes of someone enlightening you on how to sell a million pink plastic water-jugs in one day.

That’s how I came to be watching a lady psychologist talking about deathbed visions. I think she worked in end-of-life care or similar. She was saying people attending at a death should not be surprised if the dying person was able to ‘see’ other people in the room, or even reached up to them. One person had regular visits from an old dog who had died many years before, and which slept curled up on a chair. The psychologist lady explained that visions would usually be tailored to the person’s cultural background, so people in different countries might see angels, or the Buddha, or the Hindu god of death. And children tended to see visions tailored to them – so one child told his parents that the children’s train had arrived at the station; it was time for him to go.

People also see dead relatives or friends, and have the sense that they have come to greet them from the after-world, and help them across. This set me to thinking – who would I want to come and meet me? At first I thought, nobody.  What dead person would be willing to go to the trouble of struggling into human form again, and go and lurk around at some windswept crossroads waiting for me to turn up? And then I thought, well it would be the ultimate poor sad me thing, wouldn’t it – turning up at the afterlife crossroads and nobody – not even the Devil – who I gather has a tendency to keep assignations at crossroads-es to collect the souls people have sold to him – could be bothered to be there to say ‘Hi’.

So I settled for Nan, who would probably be wearing her cardigan and her flowery overall; Sophie, a long-lost and much loved black and white ‘tuxedo’ cat, and Godmother. Godmother isn’t actually dead yet, but she’s ninety, so presumably she would be by that time. Unless, of course, what probate solicitors often refer to as The Under The Bus Scenario were to happen fairly shortly. I even considered Ex but then I thought no, he’d be tapping his watch saying You’re three-and-a-half-minutes late! Don’t you know that you are Low On My List of Priorities?

Who or what would you want to crowd around your deathbed, or be waiting for you at the crossroads?


There’s a rockabilly party on Saturday night
Are you gonna be there?
(Well I got my invite)
Gonna bring your records?
(Oh, will do) …

Mott the Hoople, Roll Away The Stone, 1974

The internet of other things

Synchronicities keep happening, but such vague and tenuous links nowadays that you could put them down as coincidences. Luckily, the older I get the harder I find it to believe in coincidences.

Recently I’ve got into TED videos. Everyone probably knew about TED talks a long time ago; it takes me a while to catch up/catch on. They are short talks, around ten to twenty minutes, from all manner of people on all manner of subjects, and they’re free. They are filmed at TED conferences which take place all over the world, but mostly in America and Canada. It astounds me that a person could get up on a stage at all, with all those people staring at them, let alone pace up and down, tell stories, put forward their wacky or not so wacky ideas, dance, expound, bewilder or make people laugh.

Recently I have enjoyed ‘TEDs’ on finding beauty in imperfection; a visual history of social dance; why you should talk to strangers; the art of human anatomy; not worrying about being fat (not that I am that fat – hasten to add – but it was an entertaining talk); how the making of masks can heal Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; blind soccer teams in Argentina; cosplay; and men ballroom dancing beautifully with men – a system for fluid changes of lead so that neither partner is permanently ‘him’ or ‘her’. Honestly, if you haven’t watched you ought to. You can learn so much.

Anyway, the latest talk was called ‘How trees talk to each other’ by a forest ecologist called Suzanne Simard who has spent the last thirty years studying communication between trees in Canadian forests. She explained how trees talk to each other underground, passing carbon, water, hormones and chemical warnings and information from one to another. Not all trees – some species communicated all the time whereas others seemed to be isolated. How could I have lived this long and not known this?

If one tree has stopped growing for the season it may begin to pass more nutrients/ messages to its neighbours. And the flow can be reversed – other trees in the network may feed it when it starts growing again. A dying tree will pass on chemical “advice” to others. A tree may broadcast a “warning” to other trees. A mother tree will preferentially supply chemical help to her own saplings that have taken root nearby. A tree can distinguish her own children from those of other trees! They share their surplus, and one way they do this is via a web of fungus roots. Fungi grow in the spaces between the trees and their roots tangle with the roots of trees. They live off the trees but the trees use them to connect with one another, chemically. So a forest is not just a collection of trees, it’s one whole, vast, communicating organism. Some trees are greater contributors to the network than others – a bit like servers as opposed to desktop computers, I suppose. You can cut down one and the system will recover, but if you cut down too many of the wrong ones a whole patch of forest can just – wither.

Something about this reminded me of the film Avatar. Wasn’t there something called the Hometree in that? This led me to wonder – vaguely, as is my wont – whether the writers of Avatar might actually have had this Canadian lady’s research in mind when they wrote the film.


And then I picked up my current read – Neil Gaiman’s 1996 dark-ish young adult fantasy novel Neverwhere. And lo and behold, another internet – this time a connection of sewers and secret doors, and messages passed from pigeons to rats to humans. Or are they human, these strange semi-Victorian characters going about their fantasy business underneath modern-day London – London Above, as they call it? If you like fantasy and  you’ve never read this one, go for it.


And get the TED app. So much entertainment for, in one case, nothing, and in the other the price of a second-hand paperback.

Featured Image: Within The Roots, by Janet Hoffman