Over the Pond
By Frank Hatton
This is one of a large number of Scottish related articles by Guest Writers which have been added to Rampant Scotland. The pages were previously part of the "Scottish Radiance" Web site and there are many more articles in this series being added over a period of months.
Extreme Climatic Conditions
Some while back, in 1988 to be precise, I went to Arizona for a holiday, and, while I was no stranger to extremes of temperature, having travelled around the Far East, and Africa, I confess that the time spent in Phoenix (graphic of the Phoenix skyline via Wikimedia), was by far the hottest I had ever been. The maximum was well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
The good folk of that city were pretty well geared up to deal with these conditions by way of air-conditioning in almost every enclosed space, and provided one did not have to wander around too much in the open air, life was quite comfortable. However, while I thoroughly enjoyed the vacation, it was plain to me, that I would not want to live in that sort of climate for very long.
Now, just recently, we in the U.K. have been getting a taste of what this business of global warming could mean to us, in that the month of August was close to the hottest on record for many years, and although a few of our larger stores have the benefit of air-con., the rest of our environment is not equipped for temperatures of 80 and 90 degrees plus, for weeks at a time.
Over in this country, we tend to use the weather as one of our main topics of conversation, due mainly to the fluctuation and extremes to which we are subjected during the year. We go from these baking hot days in the summer to torrential rain, and freezing conditions in the winter. My point being, that where one has a very cold climate for most of the year, then the country can be provided with the wherewithal to cater for road conditions, house heating, and all the other bits necessary for comfort, and countries like Finland and Norway take these cold spells in their stride. Just as in places like Phoenix, the place is geared to deal with the high temperatures it has each and every year.
We poor souls, because we tend to vary from one extreme of climate to another, cannot for reasons of economy, afford to gear up for each and every type of weather, and are therefore forced to suffer the climatic conditions as they come. Hence, our obsession with the subject. Talking of climatic conditions, parts of our country used to be quite famous for what were called 'Pea Souper' fogs. (Graphic of foggy London via Wikimedia) These were caused in the main by the usage of coal fires, and the resulting heavy deposits of sulphur into the atmosphere. They truly were frightening conditions to be out in, there were times when you literally could not see your hand when your arm was outstretched before you. Another example, and I kid you not, I can recall when living in London in the late 1940's and early 1950's, we had some of these 'pea souper's' when the stuff was so thick, that the London double decker buses had the conductor walking in front of the bus with a special 'torch'. This consisted of a wooden stake, some three feet long, with a slow burning material, giving a flame at the top end. The conductor walked about five or six feet ahead of the bus, which crawled along behind him. The fog was so thick, it was really impossible for the driver to see ahead.
Fortunately, since the advent of our 'clean air act' we have not had that type of fog for many years. However, you might be interested in a story about a guy who was caught one night, some distance from his house, in one of the really bad fogs in Edinburgh. Luckily, he had a walking stick with him, and he tapped his way along for a while, but, suddenly realised that he was hopelessly lost. To make matters worse, he found that he had lost contact with any solid objects around him. His walking stick was just meeting empty space everywhere. He was terrified, and imagined himself standing on the edge of a river, or a cliff top. So he stood absolutely still all night, afraid to move an inch. The next morning when the fog lifted with the daylight, he found himself on a traffic island - in the middle of the Princes Street near the misty Edinburgh Castle,---- with the end broken off his walking stick.
Just to ensure the mood does not get too merry, I'll tell you a true story of a graveyard in Tombstone, Arizona (see graphic on the left from Wikimedia). Whilst wandering among the graves, and reading the inscriptions on the stones, I came across one that stated.
"Here lies the body of Joe (Bloggs.?) Hung by mistake"
Which must of course make Mr Bloggs rest much easier, knowing that he wasn't really supposed to die.
This month's smile.
A famous lyricist went into a public toilet, and heard a guy whistling a tune. "I wrote that song", said the lyricist. " No you didn't", said the whistler, and named the composer of the tune. "Yes, but, I wrote the words "said the lyricist. "Maybe" said the guy, "but I wasn't whistling the words."
On a more serious tack, this truly is a funny old world we live in. We have hardly got over the trauma of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, with all the adverse publicity about the media, and the 'hounding' which was alleged to have taken place, and now we read of the publication of a book by Kitty Kelley on our Royal Family. I believe that this lady has already written unauthorised biographies of several other famous personalities in the USA, and has now decided to make a few more bucks with this alleged expose of the secrets of the British Royalty. From the information in the newspapers, the people from whom Miss Kelley claims to have gathered her facts, all emphatically deny ever having met, or spoken to the lady. Hence, one must assume that she has manufactured a large proportion of the so called 'facts'. My understanding is, that it would be impossible to publish this book in the United Kingdom, because our laws of libel would wipe the floor with the dear lady. Unfortunately, the legal system of the US enables people like her to make money at the expense of folk who are unable to defend themselves in a court of law. But, putting the legal aspect to one side, I recall reading in many newspapers, that folk were saying, they would not buy any publication which showed the photographs of Diana dying inside the automobile. Presumably because they felt that this would be in bad taste. Yet, here we now have the mercenary Kitty Kelley, expecting to make yet another fortune out of these fictitious allegations. Can I suggest that for my "Funny old World" we read "Sad old World".
O.K., like the man said, "Onwards and Upwards", let's get on with the rest of our news. Some of you may recall, that when I started this 'newsletter', or whatever one wishes to call it. I stated that it was inspired by a guy called Bill Bryson (picture of Bill via Wikipedia), an American who lived over here in the U.K. for several years, has an English wife, and has recently returned to the States, mainly to bring up his children in the land of his birth. He regularly writes for one of our national Sunday newspapers, and gives us an weekly insight into the everyday life of folk on your side of the pond. Last week, he wrote about how his eldest son has left home, to start life in a university, and how much he missed the boy's presence, even though he had spent so little time with him. He went on to say how much it had made him appreciate his younger son, and how he now spent as much time as possible with him. Bill Bryson has struck at the fundamentals of the mistake so many of us make. Although I retired from business some ten years back, one of my biggest regrets was the fact that in the early years, when I was concerned mainly with earning enough money to give my family the best possible standard of living, I spent so much time away from home, that I missed a lot of the growing up of my only son, and daughter. Those of you who are caught in the same situation, will know exactly what I am driving at, and will know, that it is a very easy error to make. When I read this article by Mr Bryson, I envied him the fact that he had another son on whom he could ensure the same mistake was not made. Sure, we need to make money to give our families the best standards, but, it is also very important to balance this with the time and love that they need from us. Somebody once said that life is not a rehearsal. We only get one crack at it. Hence, we do need to look at our priorities from time to time, and make truly sure that we have them in the right order. Since this monthly column has been running, I have had quite a few letters from folk, commenting on the various 'bits and pieces', and, the interesting thing is, that the readers seem to be in all sorts of age groups. Now, the older people will know exactly what I meant, on this business of spending 'quality time' with a young family, but, you younger ones,.... do try to remember that your children, when, and if you have them, are very important. Don't let work, and earning money cause you to deprive them of your attention.
Talking of families,... my wife has just come into my room / office, where I do my writing, and, after pointedly tidying up, and replacing some books into the bookcase, she sniffed and said, "Look at that dust on top of your computer, I could write my name in it." I have just reminded her, that this is because she received a fairly good education, and some folk are not blessed with her intellectual capabilities. She has now retreated in a huff.
However, I assure you that this will not last for very long. Mainly because, we have our three year old grandson down for the weekend, along with my daughter and son-in-law. I find it truly amazing that this little three year old can cause such a change in our lifestyle, he always seems to be laughing at something, or someone, and it is impossible to be anything but happy when he is around. He has this knack of never putting off until tomorrow, anything which will keep him from going to bed that night. It is said that young children are a comfort in ones old age,.... and they help you to reach it faster as well. If only I could invent a pill, or a medicine which would give a person the sort of energy level this little chap has, it would make a fortune. Hence, now that I have hopefully enlisted your pity on the trials and tribulations of playing with this little bundle of activity tomorrow, I can sign off with a clear conscience.
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