The Shipping Forecast to American Ears

Not that The Victory is going anywhere, but it is a ship, and it is cool.  "Victory Portsmouth um 1900" by Unknown - Licensed under Public Domain via Commons
Not that The Victory is going anywhere, but it is a ship, and it is cool. “Victory Portsmouth um 1900” by Unknown – Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

Audio media is still a critical part of British culture, and being an island nation, the BBC provides a valuable service by broadcasting the weather report at sea.  Produced by the Met Office on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the Shipping Forecast has become a staple on the British communication since the telegraph days.

But that does not mean I understood a word of it when I heard it on Radio 4.  Stephen Fry created an accurate representation of what most outsiders hear when encountering this mystical broadcast.

Was this part of the citizenship test?  Was this code left over from the war, and the powers that be just kept it around for tradition’s sake?    Was this an elaborate game of Mornington Crescent that the U.K. was in on just to baffle foreigners?

But I developed a certain affection for the Shipping Forecast even though I had no clue about it.  It was very hypnotic and soothing.  It started with its theme “Sailing By” by The Perry-Gardner Orchestra, and the mood is set.  Then you had the reader say these cryptic words with a rhythm that was almost nautical and definitely soporific.  Insomnia was never an issue after the Shipping Forecast.

I ended up looking it up in a book in the Newmarket library because I was too embarrassed to ask anyone.  I shouldn’t have been.  After all, how is an American supposed to know how to decode the Shipping Forecast?

I am going to try to give a general summary of how it works.  When broken down, it isn’t that bad.  As you can see by the Stephen Fry graphic above, the water regions are divided and named.  There are also inshore waters that are named and coastal weather stations that are numbered, and they are mentioned in the broadcast too.

Then the readers give the wind direction (south, southeast, etc.) and whether it is veering (changing clockwise) or backing (changing counterclockwise).  You will hear a number from zero to 12 in there.  That’s from the Beaufort scale and that measures wind speed with zero being calm to 12 being hurricane force.  The announcers usually give the weather forecast and then the visibility (good, moderate, poor, fog).  Under winter conditions, they will also grade the icing (light, moderate, severe).  Oh, one more thing, they also keep track of pressure areas in millibars, so you will hear things like “Low Humber, 960, deepening rapidly.”

Back in 1993, the BBC aired the Shipping Forecast on TV and radio, and somebody was kind enough to post it on YouTube.  For some, this could be meditative.  For others, this could be pencil-in-the-throat boredom.  If you are awake after this video, you are one very strong soul.

It is probably easier to just go to the Met Office website to get a visual, but where is the challenge and fun in that?

My Attempt at Explaining Trick-or-Treating

Even though trick-or-treating has become more common in the U.K., it is far from the well-established tradition that it is in the United States.  I remember when I was stationed in the Air Force in the early 90s and having a conversation about it with my Ministry of Defense colleague.  She could not see the point of children going door-to-door threatening strangers for sweets.  From that perspective, it does sound quite weird, doesn’t it?

However, I loved trick-or-treating when I was little, and I love it even more as a mom when I take the Sprog out with her friends and seeing her feel the same joy I felt.  Of course, the payoff is in the candy, since I understand sugar on a deeper level than most mortals.  It is just as much about the atmosphere of autumn, the dressing up and playing make-believe, the giggling with your pals, and the thrill of the hunt.  It’s running into a classmate and having her tell you, “Hey, go to number 62 around the corner!  They have full-sized Twix bars!”  Sweet!  In more ways than one!  It’s finding your older brother TPing the gym teacher’s house and his hissing at you, “Don’t tell Mom and Dad!”.  You will figure out how many Milky Ways he has to cough up later to buy your silence.  (Not an autobiographical story.)  It’s the test of endurance.  How far are you willing to walk to fill up a pillowcase of tooth rotting glory?  And woe betide the house who distributed apples!

Much is made about safety concerns regarding trick-or-treating.  First of all, the whole thing about evil sociopaths tampering with candy has been an urban myth perpetuated by inflated stories in the news.  Of course, since it was hard to disprove these tales in the 80’s, my dad, in response, had to inspect the candy before we were allowed to touch it and used his authority to have first dibs.  This was also the man who told us that Santa liked beer.  He is quite a smart guy.

To be fair, it is good practice to look over the candy anyway just to throw out the ones that are choking hazards for the little ones and the sweets with open wrappers.

Secondly, you go trick-or-treating where you feel comfortable with the people and safety levels, and chances are, it is your neighborhood.  If you do not live in such a place, there are usually community trick-or-treating events.  For example, in my village during trick-or-treating hours, the businesses pass out candy.  With the fun-size Snickers, your kid may get a coupon for a restaurant you have been meaning to try.  I remember on one particularly chilly Halloween, one restaurant gave away mulled apple cider (non-alcoholic).  And the police are there directing traffic and guiding people across the streets.  So the kids get candy, and the village promotes local businesses.  It’s crowded, but well done.

But can trick-or-treating go overboard?  Well, you tell me.  There are neighborhoods jam packed with families.  Buying huge bags of candy is a necessity.  I took pictures at my local Target to give those outside of our borders an idea of what we can buy to stock up.

IMG_0708IMG_0716 IMG_0715 IMG_0713

I think it is a fair comment that it can be a bit much.

Wilford Brimley is talking about getting diabeetus from Halloween candy. Or he is telling the audience to eat their fucking oatmeal. Could be either one. By Marc Majcher (Flickr: IMG_6768) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Wilford Brimley is talking about getting diabeetus from Halloween candy. Or he is telling the audience to eat their fucking oatmeal. Could be either one.    By Marc Majcher (Flickr: IMG_6768) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

There is also the matter of what you do with the candy after trick-or-treating. The good chocolate can be frozen, but there is always those cheap candies like American Smarties that are basically sugar and food coloring that nobody wants to eat. Into the trash they go. Then there are the pencils, plastic rings, tattoos, and other tat that will end up in a desk drawer or hidden in the back of the kid’s closet. Those will be found next year during a bedroom deep clean. So we know there is only one place the rest of the candy can go.

The office break room.

If the parents are going to go down, they are going to bring everyone else down with them.

And thus begins the weight gaining season that will last until we make half-hearted New Year’s resolutions.

An Inflated Sense of Decor

Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas…the time of year when people decide to arrange bits on their windows, porches, and lawns in the name of decoration.  No, this is not going to be one of those posts where I am going to be shaking my fist at the world because of the consumerism behind all of it.

Angry Naked Krylon Guy, however, is pissed.
Angry Naked Krylon Guy, however, is pissed.

No, I love house decorations, even the overdone tacky ones. It provides great entertainment for the neighborhood and breaks up the monotony. And people can come up with some clever ideas with simple items. For example, with some branches, a plastic cauldron, and orange and white string lights, you can make this.

I would think they have a battery to operate the lights where the “fire” is, or they have a Boffin who would run an extension cord under the lawn.

Clever, I think.

Of course, since I am writing this blog post, you know I am not going to be Little Miss Sunshine about all this decorating lot. I do have my limits, and that limit comes in the form of inflatable decorations. Now, I am not going to rant and say that have to be banned or say they are the scourge of society. Let’s not blow this out of proportion. (HA!)

Inflatable decorations say to me that the homeowner has given up. It says, “I have this bare patch on the lawn that I feel compelled to fill. I don’t have the time/inclination/talent/drive/money to actually make something that could fill that hole, so I will find an inflatable Santa coming out of an outhouse.”

To those outside of the United States and Canada, I am not kidding. That exists.

And we don’t have to wait until Christmas for such things, this gem of a house is not a far walk from mine.



It took a lot of effort to put the webbing up, and then to stick inflatables around as filler?  To me, it seems like going through the effort of making a nice shortbread cookie and then slapping a cheap store bought icing on it.  Of course, it’s their house.  They have every right to decorate it however they want.  But since it is in the public, I can say that it is lacking.

As a side note, I have to relay a this story. At the time of taking these photos, I was across the street from the domicile in question. It was at that moment when one of our village’s men in blue appeared from one of the side streets along side the house.  He spotted me acting like a Creepy Stalker as I was shooting pics with my iPod. Since this street is a particularly busy one, he couldn’t easily cross over to talk to me, so I had to do my best mime work. I just pointed at the house, puffed out my cheeks, and cupped my arms, as if I either binged on Italian beef or turned into a beach ball. Shields and Yarnell would have been proud. Anyway, he looked at the house, nodded his head, smiled at me, and waved. I cheerily waved back, relieved that he didn’t think I was a Creepy Stalker anymore. While I was going on my merry way, I saw him looking at the house again and shaking his head. I guess I am not the only one who had a similar review of the decor.

At least the owners of this house keep the inflatables blown up.  What bothers me even more are the ones who, to save money, deflate their decorations during the day.


What it looks like is the Jolly Green Giant had a couple of quickies in their yard and left the novelty condoms behind. I am assuming that in the Valley where the Giant lives, that’s how they reproduce. Unless, since he is part plant, there is some hybridization going on. If there is, Monsanto is probably involved.

If people are going to keep their decorations flaccid (Flaccid is a word only used with the word “penis”.  Decorations on the ground look like used condoms.  It all fits.) except for the 1 or 2 hours they are going to be home when it is daylight, what is the point of even having them in the first place?  Still, we have rights in this country, and the right to limp witches on the lawn is one of them.

But inflatable decorations did give me a blog post, so for that, I thank them.

It only makes me look forward to Christmas.

Amteasia Defined

I updated the definition of amteasia to add the third part after some comments reminded me of another part of the affliction.  It should have been painfully obvious.

amteasia – n. – 1) the act of brewing a pot or cup of tea and forgetting about it until it is at room temperature and strong enough to strip paint.  2) drinking your cup of tea, forgetting you’ve done so, then looking at the bottom of your cup forlorningly.  3)  Forgetting where you placed your cup of tea.

It was just here! Photo courtesy of terremonto.
It was just here!             Photo courtesy of terremonto.

Of course, amteasia is a by-product of preoccupation, a mind adrift. You are working on a last minute report at work. You have a million and one projects at home to get done before the children return from school. You made that valiant attempt to carve out a small chunk of time to get a little pick-me-up with a digestive on the side, and it all went pear-shaped. For some of us, it was a lost opportunity in a cup or a pot. For others, the beverage was drunk, but the moment passed us by.  You are momentarily gutted.

Tea is a drink that is meant to be sipped and savored.  It can be enjoyed in solitude or with conversation depending on your mood or inclination.  Japan has devoted a whole ceremony to tea, and the U.K. does the same as far as proper tea preparation.  Drinking tea really becomes more than just ingesting a beverage.  That pang when amteasia hits is that knowledge is that you missed the whole experience in whatever form it means to you.

So this is a PSA to remind the tea drinkers to slow down and savor your tea today.  You are worth every precious drop.

Lessons Learned from Depression

The World Health Organization has designated today as World Mental Health Day.  Many bloggers have posted their thoughts, and I know I am just a blip in Bloggyworld.  However, that doesn’t mean I can’t throw a few things I have learned along the line in my decades long Jell-O wrestling match with depression and a perfection streak the size of Montana.  (We don’t wear bikinis.  Get that thought out of your head now!)

Feelings aren’t going to last forever, good or bad.  That only means savoring the highs and hanging on until the worst of the worst is over.

Medication works for me.  I can only speak for myself here.  After going on and off of anti-depressants while tanking a marriage, going through four major depressive episodes, dealing with a bout of post-partum depression, and putting in the hours to plan my suicide, it has only been when I have found the right dose of the right medicine when all of that stopped.  You could make the argument that the medication has a placebo effect.  You could, in theory, make the same argument about heart medication too, but how many people give someone flak for taking necessary heart medicine?  (“I bet you only believe the nitro is helping.”)  In other words, it is down to what works for the individual, and this is part of my treatment.  I have a medication condition, not a character flaw.

Therapy and lifestyle change is just as important.  A pill can’t cure depression.  A former psychiatrist of mine described depression as “diabetes of the brain”.  And how do you manage diabetes?  Diet, exercise, managing the rest of your health, regulating your stress levels, and all the other stuff doctors love to tell you, including not eating greasy foods and limiting your alcohol intake.  (Don’t you love how those two always get emphasized?  You could come in with a railroad tie lodged in your skull.  After removal, the discharge instructions would say, “Don’t eat greasy foods and limit your alcohol intake.”  Way to take the fun out of life.)

And then there is the therapy part of the whole thing.  You have to unlearn the behaviors that get you into these messes in the first place.  You also have to reconcile the hurts from the past in order to free yourself to move forward.  And you have to fix what is going on the present.  I found therapy to be such a useful tool to do just that, but I also know it is critical to find the therapist who:

1) fits within your goals and your level of trust

2) is affordable (especially in the U.S. where mental health coverage, heck medical insurance, is a luxury)

3) fits in your schedule

4) has that right combination of firmness to push you but gentleness to understand the issues you are facing

Sometimes it is easier finding a leprechaun riding a unicorn.

You are going to screw up little things…a lot.  Being mentally ill means you are going to do things that will annoy the crap out of people, so get used to apologizing and learning how to make amends.  You are going to forget things.  Your foot will insert nicely into your mouth.   However, the hard part about it is not beating yourself for years on end over minor mistakes.  Forgive yourself for being human because no matter what abuse you have suffered over the years, the abuse you keep inflicting on yourself is the most damaging.

Surround yourself with people who understand.  Your mental and emotional energy is even more finite than someone who is neurotypical.  You don’t have it in you to chase down people to beg for their friendship, if they can’t meet you halfway.  Let go of the people who hold you back.  You need people in your life who are strong enough to be honest with you and to give you the benefit of the doubt, and you can do the same in return.  Loving someone with mental illness is not easy, but most of us are totally worth it just for our random ideas alone.

For example, I was discussing my blog post with The Boffin this morning, and the subject got around to the notion of what would happen if I didn’t have medication.  We would be forced to live in an environment where there is low stimulation, or as they say where I come from, in the Boonies.  Of course, obviously, under that scenario, I said I would turn into Ted Kaczynski, only not, because I have no desire to send letter bombs.  The Boffin just conjectured about my sending people cake.  Now this would completely fit my M.O. because that is exactly how the women in my family killed their husbands, by stuffing them silly with fatty and sugary foods.  I would be the Unicaker.  No poison or anything untoward would go into the cakes.  People would just die of too much deliciousness.  The Boffin, as my henchman now named Mr. Anus (pronounced ah-NOOSE) , would be in charge of packing and shipping.

"Chiffon cake 02" by The original uploader was Snp at Japanese Wikipedia - Transferred from ja.wikipedia to Commons.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons
No, Mr. Bond, prepare for ass spread!     “Chiffon cake 02” by The original uploader was Snp at Japanese Wikipedia – Transferred from ja.wikipedia to Commons.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

I amuse The Boffin as much as I make his brain hurt, and he wants to stick around in spite of me.  That accounts for a lot.

So those are my small observations that I have yet to master putting into practice, although I am an expert at screwing up.

Don’t be too alarmed if you get a strange cake in the mail.

Through the Burger King Wormhole

I have discovered how fast food marketing and art has evolved.  And what has it evolved to say?

Our milkshakes bring all the urbanites to Burger King?
In Burger King’s Alternate Reality, I would get together with one of each of my ethnically diverse friends at the same time in my teeny, trendy dining room, and we would all crowd together on one side of the table because we love each other so much. We are even overlooking the fact that someone ordered onion rings.  That’s how tight we are.  Halitosis, be damned.

Not only that, we are so cool and classy that we not only unwrap Burger King food and put it on plates and in serving vessels, but we actually style it to make it look as fabulous as we do.  Soggy lettuce in the salads turns crispy.  The Whopper is stacked high with separate and distinct fresh vegetable layers.  Not a spot of extra grease can be found.  Someone actually took the time to empty sauce packets into bowls.

And here we sit, smug and self-satisfied with what we are eating, instead of the usual, “Well, at least we know what we are getting.”  Because that is the appeal of fast food.  It’s predictable, edible, and affordable.  That is why the Sprog and I ended up in Burger King yesterday.  We were short on time; we knew what we were going to get; and it will probably be another 6 months before we would consider setting foot in there again.

We were eating with a bunch of other people just snorking down meals in between trying to get from one place to another while eating off of wrappers and trays.  We were dipping our fries into paper cups full of ketchup, and our drinking vessels were festooned with Burger King propaganda.  Fluorescent lighting assaulted our eyes, and hard benches and seats made comfort difficult to “savor the moment”.  So the photo triptych on the wall was telling us to buy their food and get out.

It looks like maintaining the dining area is getting expensive.