Read on the street 15 February 2020
This week, Storm Ciara played havoc with many travel plans, including mine. By forcing me into the car at times I wouldn’t normally be driving, Ciara did afford me the luxury of hearing parts of the daytime schedule on BBC Radio 4 that I typically miss.
I could pay my licence fee for Radio 4 alone and still be left with the same wicked feeling of delight that comes from walking out of a high street store with an outrageous bargain because someone put the wrong price tag on an item.
The fact that that licence fee also gives me unfettered access to a multitude of other stations and channels, the BBC Sounds archive, and iPlayer’s vast treasure trove of television riches, makes it the best value product or service I purchase in any given year. There are two great examples of its breadth and depth in my highlights of the week, below.
The broadcasting behemoth has been guilty of mission creep in recent years, not least in its sprawling online news site, where it deploys its prodigious resource to local news and international trivia, often to the detriment and disadvantage of privately owned newspaper groups and other publishers trying to make independent journalism pay.
The Beeb needs to change, certainly, but it is under threat today from the government it seeks to hold to account. Criticise it, challenge it, certainly, but in an era of fake news and manipulated messages, I fear we need the BBC more than ever. I would hate to see it materially diminished.
Have a great weekend.
Aberfan disaster photo-essay
In last week’s instalment of Read On The Street, Malcolm Robertson shared a New Yorker piece on artificial mountains which reminded me about this devastating photo-essay on the subject of the Aberfan disaster of 1966, a tragedy referred to in the New Yorker article but only in passing. Whether you’re familiar with the events or not – and I was surprised to learn from colleagues that there is an entire episode of The Crown devoted to it – the story of the man-made catastrophe that visited this south Wales mining village is powerfully and painstakingly told here through the words and pictures of those who were there.
Read in the BBC
Under African Skin
Joseph Shabalala, the South African singer, songwriter, and choirmaster died this week, aged 78. Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the group he founded, brought Zulu music to listeners worldwide, helped by the success of Paul Simon’s Grammy award-winning Graceland album, which featured Shabalala and his male choral group. LBM, along with Ipi Tombi and the Bhundu Boys, were a constant presence on the soundtrack of my youth thanks to many family road trips featuring well-worn tape cassettes bought by my dad. This 1987 feature from Rolling Stone magazine weighs the controversy of Simon’s visits to apartheid-era South Africa during a UN cultural boycott, against the opportunity it provided for Shabalala and others to share their music and their struggle with a global audience.
Read at Rolling Stone
A poetic pilgrimage to the Cairngorms
Having celebrated the work of an artist who died this week, let me now celebrate one who was born this week, albeit 127 years ago. You may not be familiar with Nan Shepherd, or her work, but there’s a reasonable chance you have a picture of her in your pocket or purse. The celebrated nature writer was recently chosen by The Royal Bank of Scotland, in one of its more astute decisions, to feature on the bank’s new £5 notes. Born and raised in Deeside, Shepherd was a lover of the outdoors and a lecturer in English who wrote three critically acclaimed novels. Her last book, a lyrical love letter to the Cairngorms, was written during the second world war but only published after her death in 1971 and all but forgotten until a resurgence in nature writing breathed new life into the text and Shepherd’s legacy. Here, one of the finest contemporary nature writers, Robert Macfarlane, journeys with Shepherd into her beloved Cairngorms.
Listen on the BBC.
The future of advertising
I wouldn’t want to give the impression that I routinely plonk my kids in front of the TV, but on the rare (honestly) occasions that I succumb to that convenient rectangular babysitter in the corner, the relative peace it enables elsewhere in the house is occasionally punctured by an impatient shout of “AAAAADDVVEEERRRTTTSS”. So accustomed are my children to being able to fast-forward their way past ads on recorded films or programmes, they have little time for unwelcome commercial interruptions. They might need to work on their tolerance levels, if this intriguing glimpse into the future of advertising turns out to be accurate. “JARVIS, find me some noise-cancelling earphones, please…”
Read at Diamandis.
The future of urban life
While we’re indulging in a spot of future-gazing, the United Nations Development Programme shared this vision of what the perfect modern city might look like in 2050, with urban dwellers accounting for the vast majority of the world’s 6.5 billion population. There is plenty to like in an urban environment that sees vertical farms cohabiting with electric sky trains, mobile health clinics, and rainwater harvesting systems. As a commuting cyclist who runs the daily gauntlet of cratered carriageways and city centre congestion, there is also undeniable appeal in the concept of underground roads freeing up space for bike lanes and footpaths far above. Spoiler alert: if you’re expecting jet packs, you will be disappointed.
Read on UNDP's website.
Post-Brexit time zones
Something I had either missed completely or forgotten about in the intervening year, is that the European Parliament approved a proposal in March 2019 to abolish daylight savings time adjustments within the EU from next year, potentially leaving the UK further out of step with its continental neighbours. If we continue springing forward and falling back, the UK will be two hours behind France during winter and the island of Ireland will have two time zones. Not only would this be bizarre, but the implications for transport, tourism and trade are significant.
Read in Wired.
Running up that hill
Today sees the 50th edition of the Carnethy 5 hill race take place in the Pentlands Regional Park on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Described by writer Jonny Muir as “suffering like I have rarely experienced in the Scottish hills...unrelentingly hard” just the thought of it makes me wince. And yet I wouldn’t be anywhere else in the world this afternoon. Why? Here, Muir attempts to explain what compels us to run in the hills...
Read at Heights of Madness.
Written by David Gaffney, Partner