Things that I think and do
If a foreigner tuned in to most British radio stations for a dip in the pond of British culture, he’d probably come away with the impression that listeners only want to hear about five songs on repeat and that presenters get the job based on how aggressively enthusiastic they can be or how loud they can shout down the microphone. Still, though, foreign chappies with a good level of English would find such radio understandable and quite accessible.
Tune in to BBC Radio 5 Live between July and August, however, and he’d be faced with a barrage of unintelligible phrases and commentary that barely any foreigners and only a small portion of the British public could understand.
This is because that station during those months is occupied largely by test cricket interspersed with ‘serious’ and highbrow news reports and, most charmingly, the Shipping Forecast.
I turned on said radio to listen to the final Ashes test this summer and there was a segment of approximately ten minutes that I am sure would be complete gibberish to anyone unfamiliar with cricket or tidal changes– which, frankly, includes most people. I barely understood some of it.
Dogger, south or southeast 4 or 5, becoming variable 3 or 4 later, slight or moderate, rain later. Good, occasionally poor. Fisher, variable becoming southeast, 3 or 4. Slight or moderate, fog patches. Moderate or good, occasionally poor. German Bight, variable becoming…
Obviously all the individual words there, with the exception of four or five, are totally clear. What is absolutely not clear is what the hell it all means.
After a few minutes of this bizarre code-speak, the radio returned to the Ashes commentary.
‘…moderate or rough, showers, very good. And now back to Lords for the Ashes commentary with Blowers and Boycs.’
Welcome back to Lords, and Clarke has rearranged his fielding with a silly mid off, fine leg and two at backward square point for deep cover. The bowler lines up for an over of off-spin with, I imagine, the occasional googly from the Nursery End. He starts his run up as the third man moves towards really silly point…’
How much of that did you understand? I can guarantee that I made none of that up – there’s surely no need to exaggerate in absurdium when that is a genuine example of what was broadcast on national radio.
I can’t decide if this kind of thing makes BBC Radio 5 Live cliquey and exclusive or not. In many ways they’re not because it’s free to listen to and anyone can tune in and hear it. Whether they want to or not is a different question.
On the other hand, during the hour or so I listened to the cricket commentary there was not one word of explanation from the commentators as to the vocabulary or even the rules.
It is just assumed that listeners will know what is going on and are familiar with terms such as ‘googly’, ‘deep cover’, ‘gully’ and – I kid you not – ‘dibbly dobbly’*. And obviously no-one has understood the Shipping Forecast for years.
I also wonder if there’s an equally bamboozling equivalent for us to hear on foreign radio stations. If only we could tune in to French radio and hear hushed commentary of a game of pétanque followed by a report on the conditions for light aircraft to fly around Languedoc-Roussillon.
* For the curious among you, a dibbly-dobbly is a term for a bowler of questionable skill and accuracy. Obviously.