A ‘Michael Fish’ moment

Recently, a headline on the BBC News website caught my eye. It referred to the failure of economists and the banking industry to accurately forecast financial crises, so that they were unable to take the appropriate action to protect the money in our pockets. The clever twist of the headline was the connecting of this fubar (technical monetary term) to the meteorological equivalent, way back in 1987, when BBC weather presenter Michael Fish reassured everyone that there wasn’t a hurricane on the way. This was a sub-optimal prediction.

Sadly, since the 2008 financial crisis, most of us have had to endure somewhat straitened times. We all know someone who has lost a job, we may not have had a pay rise for years or a government’s austerity programme may be causing hardship that seems just a bit too unnecessary.

Finance being what it is, not everyone will be suffering, mind. Somewhere, there’ll be a smug so-and-so, cosily reaping the benefits of the profits made from our misfortune, gilt for free and guilt-free. Which proves the old saying “It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good.”

And that neatly brings us back to matters meteorological.

Thinking about all those little warnings in the small print of the terms and conditions for loans, mortgages, pensions, overdrafts and credit, I wondered whether there was a weather-dependent equivalent?

You know the sort of thing…

  • Past climate is not an indicator of future weather performance.
  • Atmospheric pressure can go down as well as up.
  • Your home may be at risk if you fail to keep up the flood insurance payments on it.

Once I started pondering the mechanisms governing both finance and climate, I realised that there were useful clues hidden away in plenty of clichés, truisms and stereotypical generalisations.

For instance, Scottish folk are reputed to be… er… incredibly thrifty. And, if you’ve ever had the opportunity to visit Scotland, with its wonderful, expensively-expansive vistas, did you happen to experience ‘four seasons in one day’? Not a coincidence, I’d say.

And then there’s the old chestnut of ‘saving for a rainy day’,  the lovechild of Ker-ching and Ker-sploosh, and supposedly a good lucre. Unfortunately, I seem to be having a bit of trouble reconciling my storm clouds with my Pounds sterling.

Well, the Stock Exchange hasn’t yet merged with the Met Office, and the pot of gold at the rainbow’s end is as real as the expectation of a 100% accurate forecast of anything, so I’ll stop counting the hail stones hitting my office window and return to checking my bank statement for little rays of sunshine.

Division of labour

It is important to have skills, as well as the knowledge of whether, or not, to use them. I would like to think that I play to my strengths in this regard, though folk who know me would probably say that ‘play’ rates higher than ‘strengths’. It would be a fair comment.

Neither my wife nor I are particularly fond of housework, reckoning that Life is too short for compulsive cleaning, and that time sans duster may even be prolonged with a little healthy immunity garnered from exposure to the odd germ. Probably the 1% not blitzed by a well-known cleaning product.

Chores do seem to happen, often by the ‘Oh-my-God-there’s-folk-turning-up-for-a-week-in four-hours-so-we’d-best-get-tidying’ technique. The more mundane tasks of daily living occur by the democratic process of who is most available. Certainly, our evening meal tends to be cooked by whichever one of us is first through the door.

It may well be that my only actual skill is waking up early. For this reason, most mornings it is I who stumbles through the house, between bedroom and kitchen, to fire up the kettle and brew a pot of tea for us both. I suspect that the vacuum cleaner is registered in my name, too, especially as I was given special dispensation to purchase a second machine for the garage and our cars.

Thinking back to the cooking, I have also been elected as rice-steamer-in-chief. Everyone deserves their fifteen minutes of fame, eh?

All these domestic situations came to mind this morning, shortly after the contents of the airing cupboard had suspiciously materialised on our bed. I set to, grouping clothes and underwear by type and owner’s gender. And it is here that I remember the shortfall in my skill set. I am allowed to put away my beloved’s knickers and bras, but on no account must I try to file her socks. Pairing is tolerated, presumably as the essential mahjong-ness of the task is good therapy to avert early onset dementia but, on pain of death, I must not try to guess which of the three sock drawers would be the most suitable repository for individual pairs. Nuh-uh.

Windows are my preserve, too. Both as in cleaning the glass inside and out, as well as computer maintenance.

Some tasks can be achieved together, but in all honesty, both of us would acknowledge that this isn’t our strong suit. Changing the bedding is a case in point, with strong opinions regarding the insertion of the duvet into its cover, not to mention the final orientation (it’s nearly, but not quite, square). Still, if we come to blows, the pillows are handily nearby.

If our far-travelling guests for the festive season are reading this, I hope that it has lessened your concerns about the prospective baggage handlers’ strike at some UK airports, on the basis that you’re now more worried to learn that we won’t begin the week’s chores until 1pm on Friday.


So here we are in Autumn.

For some reason that I’ve never queried or thought to explain, I feel duty bound to capitalise the first letters of the seasons. Perhaps this is because they are a more tangible thing than merely a human construct of time, like hours, minutes and seconds. Seasons preceded our existence as a species by a goodly margin, so I reckon they deserve a bit of our respect.

Autumn, it is probably the poor relation of the season family. It has stiff competition from the verdant vitality of Spring, the fecund lushness of Summer and the crisp beauty of Winter, so it opts instead for a gentle decrepitude tinged with fruitfulness. Which is never going to look great as the tag line on a billboard-sized poster.

I bet you’re thinking “Leaves! Why don’t you mention the leaves?” It’s a valid point, all that colour produced when chlorophyll clocks off for the year, leaving the xanthophylls, carotenoids and anthocyanins to temporarily rule the roost. But here in Orkney, although there are some trees, the average equinoctial gale ensures that, in terms of leaves, Autumn last about 24 hours.

However, I do like Autumn and the changes it brings to our wildlife. As the migratory species of birds which have spent the Spring and Summer with us head south, a steady stream of arrivals and departures check in and out through Orkney as more northerly breeding birds stop over to rest and feed. Then our Winter visitors arrive, Scandinavian thrushes, geese from Greenland, ducks, waders and, if we’re really lucky, some Waxwings.

A few years ago, a fellow blogger introduced me to a word, ‘zugunruhe‘, which describes the anxious behaviour in migrating animals during the migration period. Apparently, even resident species exhibit some low-level form of zugunruhe. This got me thinking. I’ve heard plenty of folk say that they don’t like Autumn, so perhaps they are responding to some subtle uneasiness buried deep within our DNA. After all, humans have only been ‘settled’ for a few thousand years.

So, please try to love Autumn a little more. It’s ok to feel uneasy as you pack away the beachwear for another year. Saying goodbye to a Barn Swallow means that you can say hello to a Fieldfare. And, if you eat seasonally, this is the time for bramble and apple pie or crumble. Pass the custard!



An unknown unknown

To be honest, there is not a shared political ideology between Donald Rumsfeld and myself. Nor with D.H. Lawrence, come to that. But I do have some sympathy with the former’s ‘unknown unknowns’ speech. Though he was much derided and satirised at the time, it all made perfect sense to me, in a pedantic sort of way.

It is probably best to think of this common ground as an infinitesimal intersection of our respective circles. More figure-of-eight than Venn diagram.

So, what didn’t I know that I didn’t know, prompting the above title? It’s a long list, but I’m probably the last person to be asking, eh?

However, earlier today, I found myself in a corridor at a customer’s establishment, passing the time by looking at the pictures on the walls, whilst waiting for an invoice to be processed.

My gentle progress along the corridor, from beautiful image to beautiful image, was halted abruptly when I arrived at a copy of the Blaeu map of Orkney and Shetland from 1654. ‘Halted abruptly’? Let’s just say that I appreciate maps a bit more than art. Scanning the 17th Century place names, my eyes settled upon two words near the bottom of the Orkney page and… the world stopped turning.

Invoices were forgotten, senses began shutting down one by one, until all that was left was sight and those two words.

So the thing which I didn’t know that I didn’t know was…

I needed a new blog site.

I awoke from this reverie when the customer, from just behind me, said “Do you like maps then?” and I realised that, on autopilot, I had taken out my phone and was photographing part of the map.


And so ‘Contrarie tydes’ was born.