The folllowing are stories that appeared on an interesting experiment, an internet radio-on-demand station, iRadioMAX, which has sadly folded. Read the scripts and listen to the shows on the links below:
2. The United Kingdom - End Of An Empire
I first heard the BBC’s Radio 4 opening theme as intended … in a cramped yacht’s cabin, an hour before dawn in an anchorage near Plymouth.
The strains of music started, competing with the galley’s gas-jet boiling water for the first cup of tea. While I heard it booming-in in perfect FM stereo, thousands of professional fishermen were using the tune’s five minutes to find the best frequency in AM, long wave and short wave radio, as a musical test-pattern before the all-important nautical weather report.
For 33 years the theme has done its job, it is easier to tune radios to sustained music rather than human voice … and it makes you realise that the UK really is an island kingdom, situated in hostile seas on the eastern side of the Atlantic, kept from snap-freezing only because of the warming Gulf Stream current. Further north than Canada’s frozen Newfoundland coast, the United Kingdom’s fisherman are tough, clawing their existence from the often maniacal seas. Every morning they translate the ten minute meteorological prattling that follows the opening theme and decide if they can risk a mad dash out to the fishing grounds.
The theme is a nifty compilation of the music that made all corners of the Kingdom great. Starting with the first few bars of "Early One Morning" it segues into the main theme of "Rule Britannia". Soon the mood changes with "Londonderry Air", known to drunks the world over as Danny Boy, which melts with the strains of "Annie Laurie".
Morphing into the Royal Navy Band’s "What Shall We Do with the Drunken Sailor?", it becomes an orchestral version of "Greensleeves", then the Welsh "Men of Harlech" which combines with "Scotland the Brave".
The rousing finale is an orchestral version of "Rule Britannia" over which a solo trumpet plays the "Trumpet Voluntary".
It’s part of the heritage that made British Empire great.
In April last year the new Controller of BBC’s Radio 4, Mark Damazer, decided to axe the tune.
Many think it is the last straw.
Is the British Empire dead?
When we were kids a large part of the globe on the teacher’s desk was stained pink, signifying the reach of the Commonwealth in times gone by … by scurveyed men in leaking boats like the incredible Captain of the Sirrius, that tiny ship named after the brightest star immediately overhead in the middle of the night sky.
John Hunter, under Captain, later Governor Phillip; shepherded the first fleet to Sydney Cove then received his command before undertaking a mad dash to save the fledgling colony, which, after ten months, was starving to death.
Before leaving Sydney his Governor ordered him to go the south of Tassie, then turn right and tack into the roaring forties to Capetown to get urgent supplies.
Before reaching the bottom of Tasmania he polled his crew and found that none had eaten fresh meat or vegetables for over 13 months. Knowing that his men weren’t up to the task of a tacking duel with God he instead turned left, upped the spinnaker, ripped across the mountainous Pacific, around Cape Horn and over the Southern Atlantic. At an average Lattitude of 45 degrees south he spent 28 days amid the ice and lost some of his men to scurvy.
In Capetown he repaired his sieve of a ship and coaxed his men back to health, then loaded-up and continued off to Sydney, arriving back to the starving settlers on the 9th May 1789 after 167 sailing days, concluding the world’s fastest circumnavigation to date.
And he was just one of the Skipper’s of the King’s Fleet, the greatest sea going empire of the day.
Britain was strong and not to be messed-with. Eleven years later all Nelson had to do was park his fleet outside the harbour in Malta, blockading the French who had been there for three months, eventually gaining their surrender without firing a shot.
The poms were tough and they left half the globe with well-built roads and working legal systems. Travel the world and see them. Roads in India, the Pacific Islands and Africa that appear to have had nothing spent on them since the British left. Many now-independent countries have a lot to thank them for.
But what is happening at home?
The changes in Britain have been slow and insidious.
Take chewing gum. When Lee Kuan You introduced a law into Singapore in the 1960s that banned chewing-gum, Australians thought he was mad. It was even illegal to take chewing-gum into the country ‘for personal use!’
But then, he had been to England and we hadn’t.
After studying Law in Oxford and later attending the London School Of Economics, he had seen the gum-covered streets of England. Round blotches everywhere, punctuated by a long thin line of fossilised gum, once stuck to the underside of an unsuspecting shoe. It was nearly as bad as Parisian dog-poo. And still is today.
This marvelous Empire, with its staple, the English Pub, is starting to fade. You used to find quaint pubs with the local legend at his regular seat, sizing-up a pint of warm beer. The camaraderie of the Local, especially on cold winter nights, brings warmed memories to all who have made the transition from the icy blast into the front bar. A cosy lounge room for those who couldn’t afford to put another coin in the gas heater at home.
Except in the countryside it’s no longer easy to find. Instead replaced in the cities by loud binge-drinkers whose sole purpose seems to be to get blind drunk in as short a time as possible.
The scene was repeated when visiting pubs in Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Crawley and throughout London.
And whilst the United Nations reports that Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, parts of Spain, USA and Malta are countries facing similar binge drinking problems, it seems to be worst in Britain.
Drinking body-temperature beer by the pint, it’s common to see someone quaff an entire gallon in the course of evening. That’s a lot of liquid.
The UKs Association of Chief Police Officers President Chris Fox said: "We cannot deal with binge drinking - it is beyond police capability.”
"We have to attack the behaviour.”
"Unless we can stop young people drinking to excess in crowded clubs, the symptoms - what they do when they come out - will get worse.”
"Society is changing. We are seeing this increase in heavy drinking to excess in large numbers. “
"And we are seeing an increase in the propensity to use weapons.”
And what behaviour it is!
In the university city of Bristol they have such a problem with young men urinating in shop doorways that they have enlisted the help of Elliot Loohire who have developed stand-alone, 4 person public urinals which materialize like Dr.Who’s Tardis on Friday mornings enroute from the accommodation areas to the nightspots.
On Friday and Saturday nights, their users are often so drunk that to place them in the nearby park, four steps from the footpath, would render them invisible, so they are plonked, empty, steam-cleaned and ready for action, in the middle of the gum splattered footpaths.
Elliots have them in Westminster, Hammersmith, Bristol, Wrexham and are increasing their reach each month.
It’s not only the blokes who are getting into the act. English lasses are matching the guys, glass for glass. One was spotted, swaggering in the freezing night air with a bare midriff and stilettos holding the spare hand of her boyfriend and chatting while he used the Elliot urinal.
You just shake your head.
Knicknamed Chavs, a name which goes back centuries, the common definition is Cheltenham Average, or more recently: Council Housed & Violent. It describes a class of youth with little future. The females are called ‘chavettes’.
Wikipedia’s website quotes French football player, David Ginola, as saying: "I was amazed when I came to this country at the way the women here behave,”
“From London to Newcastle to Leeds to Manchester I saw women vomiting in the streets. It is disgusting the way they behave. In France the women will only drink a little bit. In this country the women try and keep up with the men, drink for drink. The women behave like men in sex as well as drink. In France they are much more sophisticated and modest. That is why I will not bring my children up here. I don't want my daughter to be an Englishwoman."
Wikipedia also cites Californian actress, Gwyneth Paltrow, who says she is disgusted by the binge drinking culture among young British women. Paltrow is on the record as saying that she doesn’t like drunk women and thinks it is a bad look and very inappropriate.
Twenty years ago the distinction was that a hotel was a hotel and that a nightclub was a night club. Now, inside the bars the music is so loud it’s impossible to talk and be heard. Shouting is the only method of communication. So people just stand and look at each other as they pour drinks down their throats and smoke like they are on fire.
Or they did. The UK has taken the lead from The Republic Of Ireland and banned smoking in enclosed public places in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It extended into England on July 1st.
It is hoped that 600,000 will stop smoking as the effect of the ban takes hold. Whether it will have an effect on binge drinking is yet to be seen.
The pub culture is not only restricted to generation X and Y. Recently in Crawley, south of London, while the kids overran two close-by bars, their baby-boomer Mums and Dads were packing another to the rafters, with 70s & 80s music cranked-up and what appeared to be spray-on mini skirts an interesting addition, considering the percentage of larger sizes. The men had matching bald heads, and again, any chances of witty conversation were remote.
They stand there, drinking and smoking, gawking at each other with intent … as if waiting for the music to stop before grabbing each another and starting an x-rated version of musical chairs.
But the music never stops like it did when we used to hang out listening to loud pub bands. With CD players Publicans have won the double; no need to play live musicians who wear-out and need a break to go to the toilet or do drugs, and no need to pay music royalties.
Maybe the art of conversation will return when the smokers have to file out into the quiet streets every ten minutes.
The empire is crumbling. You wonder if you’re the only one who sees it. Is Australia just as bad?
When speaking to British expats overseas they talk about how bad life is ‘back home’. When you challenge them about returning home to live, they mostly say that they would only ever go back to visit but would never want to retire there, citing the heavy taxes and depressing weather.
That, and the fact that “There aren’t any Englishmen there anymore”, a reference to the multi racial, multi-coloured society that Britain has become.
The Expat Dilemma is that when they leave the nest Expats take a snapshot in their minds as a time capsule of life back home. They transport with them the language of the day and dream of how life is. So they will always be disappointed when they return, because their time capsule doesn’t allow for the inevitable change.
It’s mind expanding to leave the nest and see the world but you can never really return. You trade your old life and become a citizen of the world. Life back home never seems the same again.
Talking to some young guys from the British Tank Regiment who were having their annual reunion in Birmingham the other week it was good to see that the military future of the Empire was in safe hands. All the guys were good products, reverential to their elders and tradition, polite and articulate.
They had stories about when their guys ‘attacked’ Jeremy Clarkson’s Range Rover in a Top Gear TV episode, and how they won, of course.
And what they thought about Prince Harry, who is in their regiment, going to Iraq. This was before the official decision and they were in two minds.
They agreed that he was a good soldier and a great bloke but that to put him in the front line would be to place added stress on their unit as they’d become a target for trophy-hunting terrorists. However, they thought he should go to Iraq and work in a support role.
A few days later the official decision came down to prevent him from going as he would become a target. As if his uncle, Prince Andrew, in the Falklands wasn’t? What’s changed?
When you take a stroll amongst thousands of tourists in London in summer, past the huge number of Arabs swarming up Oxford Street, who now own the expensive houses and apartments in Mayfair; you end up at Buckingham Palace; you’ll see a road to the left.
On that road is an Army truck. There are two guys sitting in the front. Walk past the back and see that there is a squad of guys sitting in there, armed to the teeth. Waiting. If only they could recognize their enemy.
See the Bobbies near Number Ten. For decades proud of their non-armed status, now they are armed with sub-machine guns. The city bristles with CCTV cameras.
This is a country at war. Not a popular war. But at war, none the less. To the visitor, it seems that only the guys fighting and the Pollies know this.
On the street there’s none of that Churchillian spirit that you’d expect.
The citizens obligatory mobile phone has become a weapon of terror. In London that hot summer day of the second underground bombing, that botched attempt by four bumbling followers of Militant Islam, it was interesting to see the instant result of rolling TV news bulletins and text messaging.
Within an hour all the offices emptied and people tried to get to their homes, angry that the Underground had been closed. And scared.
Rather than attempt to walk on the overflowing footpaths I was walking down the middle of the street with another expat Aussie, telling all who would listen to lighten-up and relax. Terrorism only works if you allow yourself to be terrorized. Ask your ancestors who lived through the Blitz.
Speaking with people who lived under the six years of regular IRA bombings on the English soil, they said that the difference with modern day reaction to terrorism was astounding.
One said, “When the IRA bombed us on a weekly basis, no-one knew about it until you went home after work and saw the nightly news.”
“You might hear a womp of a muffled blast two blocks away, and hear the sirens; but you wouldn’t have a clue what had happened and kept on working.”
These days Britains can be terrorized by a text message. Maybe that’s what has changed them.
Maybe their malaise for seeking careers, their lack of respect for their elders and drive for instant gratification is because they truly believe that there’s no long-term future.
But they’d be wrong. They are much safer today than life was for their parents under the threat of the cold war and IRA terrorism.
In a world where footballers and tv soap stars rule; you get the impression that this country has as much chance of being a Ruling Empire again as the United States has of really returning Man to the Moon.
As you fly over the tiny English Channel, which takes about four minutes in a British co-designed Airbus whose wings were built in Bristol, you’re amazed that there was a time in the Second World War when the Battle Of Britain was fought and won in this airspace by a group of guys, most who were under twenty-five.
Nowadays the winner seems to be Political Correctness, a country not wanting to offend their European partners, or anyone else for that matter, as it delivers mediocre service and a cup tea that takes like dishwater.
One older man said “Thousands of ‘us old fashioned buggers’ protested the removal of the Radio Four Theme, but the new generation have probably never heard it. Never knew it existed.”
Maybe it’s a sign of your correspondent’s aging, maybe it means nothing important.
But to me the removal of that stirring start to the day is another sign that another chink has been made in the foundation of the former empire.
You be the judge. Put yourself in the cold, wind-whipped wheelhouse of a fishing boat in the hour before dawn, with the gas burner hissing and the creaking of the kettle.
The radio comes on with more depressing news headlines about a world where terrorists make bombs and adults steal innocent little kids then followed immediately by the Shipping News.
Sadly, Britannia no longer rules the waves.
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Story 4. BA 777 Crash Initial Reaction
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