Sunday, August 29, 2010

In Two Places at Once

Got a pair of headphones on my head. Listening to BBC Radio London online, the same FM station, 94.9, that I listened to on a little London-bought radio in bed at our hotel in St. John’s Wood and at Brenda and Vic’s house in Tufnel Park. They’re talking about the Notting Hill Carnival. I was hoping they would be. I wouldn’t have cared much about that a few weeks ago. Now I have this deep need to know. We missed the carnival by a day, sorry to say. The whole of London either goes or decides not to go—that is, the ones who haven’t left London altogether for the Bank Holiday weekend…

It’s not easy to concentrate on this while listening to that. The fact is, I’m back home again in greater Boston, but I keep going back to even greater London. In between the return to the necessities. Taking Matt to get a haircut. Going shopping to replenish the fridge. Taking another whack at the cryptic crossword in the Guardian I brought back. (I finished one whole one in The Times, I’m proud to say, but the Guardian is another story.)

Fine, I turned the BBC off. But I suspect I’ll tune in on Big George tonight—George Webley, the amiable host who holds court between 10 pm and 6am (London time, luckily).

I also suspect this trying to be in two places at once will pass. I have an obligation to August in Arlington, Massachusetts. Attention must be paid. We have returned to another heat wave, which was apparently waiting for us to get back. The purple loosestrife must be rampant in the meadows and the jewelweed pods ripe for detonating. Home details competing with British ones. [Reminds me of a nifty cryptic clue in the Guardian: “Clashing belt and tie? Don’t change a thing! (3, 2, 2)” The answer: LET IT BE. (literally, from the “clash” of BELT and TIE). Nice Beatles connection, too.] See what I’m up against?

I may be forced to add a squib of London and Britain to the next several posts, just till I’ve got it out of my system and until September’s new-year pull takes over, which it will start to do in just a few days.

So here’s a brief account of my radio fix, which I started in my little journal in some tea shop in Belsize Park or Camden Town:

I needed a radio. Not a big one, but I needed to move the tuner through a panoply of London radio stations late at night. Needed to hear chat shows, quizzes, plays, gossip, weather for Wales and Scotland, adverts, and London traffic reports. So I looked hungrily for a likely store in every neighborhood we passed, knowing that Carol and Matt were merely tolerating my obsession (the radio at night, the shortwave pulling in the world). Finally, at Argos, a clearinghouse and waiting room where customers are united with items out of a catalog, I found my radio, a little Sony, perfect.

I have heard deep conversations about shallow topics, like whether or not Tiger Woods’s ex-wife deserves a hundred million pounds; and widening ripples from intensely British topics, like the woman who stirred a national outrage by dropping a live pussycat into a wheely garbage bin (captured on one of the closed circuit cameras that populate London neighbourhoods). Note: the cat was rescued, unharmed, after 14 hours. And a delightfully rambling essay on the topic of contradiction, expressed through famous straight man/ funnyman comedy acts; and by the British penchant for adding a negative to a positive statement: “innit?” And another radio commentator decrying the disappearance of “Thank you” in favor of “Ta,” “Cheers,” and other shorthand substitutes. The nightly revelations percolated on.

I’ll bring my little radio home knowing that underneath the Boston radio stations lies a substrate of British ones.

Romantic but unnecessary. Who needs a substrate when you’ve got the Internet? In two hours, I’ll give Big George a try.


  1. Hal,

    Your crossword combat and the wonderful wordplay in the Guardian puzzle reminded me that for too brief a time while I was at the SF Examiner, I was Merl Reagle's puzzle editor at the Sunday magazine. He lived elsewhere (Florida?) and had not risen to his current level of fame, but his puzzles were among the most inventive I've ever seen. And we shared a love for the old Max Fleischer Superman cartoons from the '40s.

  2. You edited Merl Reagle?? I fan you with giant palm leaf, sahib! I love that guy. He's fearless. You must have seen his derring-do in the movie "Wordplay," right? But working with the dude. How cool must that have been.

    Meanwhile...a pox on Phillies. Giants are my new horse.