Whimsy: December 2003 Archives

Found this via Lileks: A collection of 365 audio clips, one for every day of 2003. These bits and pieces form no coherent pattern, except that they are all amusing. Here are some examples:

The links above will remain active, but the MP3 files they link to will vanish on January 5, so visit soon. There are ways to get to the MP3s after the 5th, explained on the main page linked above. Because you don't want to miss hearing, one more time after all these years, that '70s public service ad about VD (as we called it the olden days), a tune that will burrow its way into your brain like a T. pallidum bacterium. "Veee Deee... is for ev'reeebuddee!"

A very Lileks Christmas


James Lileks' Bleat returned from a brief hiatus earlier this week with notes on his family's Christmas observances. From Monday, about his three-year-old's dance recital:

There’s a vast difference between remembering Dad coming to your recital and being Dad at the recital. The first is a memory that dead-ends with you; the latter connects you to him and to all the kids and dads to come.

From Tuesday, the Christmas lights bus tour from hell:

We went up Portland, which had no lights, turned to Chicago, which had fewer. Our host told us that we’d do Minnehaha parkway, which was no doubt blazing with lights, then tour lovely Summit Avenue in St. Paul, where the plutocrats’ mansions would no doubt dazzle the eye; then the Lakes in Minneapolis, then home. ...

Summit had some lights, but by then people’s expectations had been raised too high. We wanted to see floodlit spectaculars complete with a dozen elves with perpetually-firing Roman Candles implanted in their buttocks. ...

Nothing so improves a dreary experience like the realization that it will yield a story we can embellish. Give us five years, and the bus will be pulled by donkeys, the temperature in the minus 20s, the liquor nothing more than paint thinner and windshield-wiper fluid.

From Wednesday, a shopping trip to the oddly-quiet Mall of America, and thoughts on '30s, '50s, and '70s nostalgia:

It is every generation’s duty to ridicule the music and fashion of the generations that follow, but I am happy to live in an age when I know my judgments are not colored by creeping codgerism but empirical truth. Today, for example, I saw a kid I went to junior high school with – and by that I mean I saw a note-for-note version of the nightmare styles of 1973. Leather choker. Big mop of curly untamed hair. Burnt-umber T-shirt hanging over baggy jeans. Unkempt and goofy. ...

We’ve had 30 years to study these fashions, and the results are conclusive: they suck. They don’t make anyone look good. They are particularly injurious to someone whose face is dotted with the Vesuvian boils of adolescence. I know it’s a played out meme, but please: we need "80s Eye for the 70s guy. Someone shave these mutts and put ‘em in Ray-bans and Izod just so they realize there are alternatives to looking like a roadie for the Foghat “Fool For the City” tour.

And today's entry, with a nice early '60s view of Southdale, the First Shopping Mall, decked out for Christmas, links to a couple of worthy charities, and outtakes from the Christmas card photo shoot. The final page has the final version of the card -- very cute -- and an intriguing link about which more in the next entry.

Yes, I believe you are...


I was in western New York on business for a couple of days last week, and drove past a sign for this establishment. It's interesting how your brain parses words:


Hats off!


Puzzled by pork-pies? Baffled by berets? Wondering how to measure your head? All is answered at hats-online.com. If you can't remember the difference between a homburg and a derby, or are looking to buy a top hat or a newsboy's cap, this site looks like a good resource. No idea if this is a good place to buy from, but it's an interesting browse anyway.

A bit of Internet serendipity:

The news reached me that longtime BBC weatherman Michael Fish was being put out to pasture for the sin of being almost 60 and not at all telegenic. I remember watching his nightly forecasts during business trips to the UK.

The article was an op-ed piece by Conservative MP Boris Johnson, who referred to Fish's "sex maniac's moustache".

It may have been his permanently bashful air. It may have been his sex maniac's moustache. Perhaps it was something to do with the way he goggled at the camera in the manner of a rattled maths master asked at the last minute to give out the prizes. It may have been the colossal Britishness of Fish, not just evinced by his constant talk of weather, but his faint air of apology for the frost and the drizzle and the general damp. It may have been the unremitting politeness with which he broke the bad news about tomorrow's downpour, like a man in the Tube, reluctantly tugging your sleeve to announce that you are treading on his toe.

The piece goes on to present some interesting stats on weather forecasting -- you would attain a 76% accuracy rating if you always predicted that tomorrow will be just like today. (That may be true in England. I doubt it's true in Oklahoma.)

I only vaguely remembered what Michael Fish looked like, and couldn't imagine what kind of mustache fit that description (Daliesque? Fu Manchu? Toothbrush?), so I googled his name and found a photo here, along with a bio. (That link no longer works, but here is a gallery on Michael Fish's own website, showing the evolution of his facial hair over the decades.) Further googling led me to the lyrics to a song by Rowan Atkinson in praise of Mr. Fish.

[Rowan] Atkinson: Michael Fish, quite simply the most charismatic figure in the history... of entertainment.

[Angus] Deayton and Singers: He tells it straight... to the nation... every night... he's an inspiration... He tells the truth...

Atkinson: He does, he tells it to you, he tells it to you.

Deayton and Singers: Monday to Friday...

Atkinson: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and sometimes Saturday and Sunday.

Deayton and Singers: His moustache... is always tidy...

The site with the lyrics looked interesting -- a tribute to something called "Chart of the Flops", which appears to have been a radio program similar to Dr. Demento. Here is the list of songs that made the chart in its 10 year history, with lyrics for many of them. Included are Dr. Demento standards and classic American novelty tunes like "Fish Heads", "Monster Mash", "Hello Mudduh", "Der Fuehrer's Face", several selections each from Weird Al, They Might Be Giants, and Tom Lehrer, along with their counterparts from across the pond -- Monty Python, Peter Sellers, the Goons, the Goodies.

One of the songs on the list was "The Highway Code" by the Master Singers, which is apparently the British rules of the road set to music. I have not hear that, but years ago I heard another one of their songs on Dr. Demento -- "Weather Report", which was a weather forecast set in Anglican chant and sung to perfection. (It may not sound much to you, but it had me laughing.) I googled the Master Singers and found this <"https://web.archive.org/web/20040426083634/http://textstyle.ca/blog/archives/000452.html">blog entry, which contained a link to an MP3 file of "Weather Report".

Both "Highway Code" and "Weather Report" hit the British charts in 1966. The songs were produced by George Martin, who also was producer for the Beatles. One website (which has a good description of Anglican chant) says that the Master Singers later became the King's Singers (who have a new Christmas album), but I see nothing on the King's Singers website mentioning that, although the group unofficially began at Cambridge a year before the two singles reached the charts. But this page says the group consisted of four teachers from Abingdon School, and that they backed Peter Sellers on a cover of the Beatles' "Help!"

I had googled this before, but had always come up empty in the past. Which brings us back to the weather and Michael Fish, which is what started me down this path.

Go and have a listen to the weather report.

UPDATE: You can hear the current shipping forecast -- one is included in the Master Singers' version -- at the BBC weather website, which has a map explaining what Forties Cromarty Dogger Fisher German Bight means. Link courtesy Two Chaps Talking, who say: "Listening to the Shipping News on a short wave radio, or indeed via their website, is a rare delight and should be enjoyed regularly for its calming effect."

UPDATE again: Fixed a link above, which was to a blog category rather than the permanent link to the blog entry. Also, someone reported to me he clicked on the link for the MP3 file and was greeted with a very rude ad about body part enlargement. I double-checked and nothing like that happened to me -- I suspect the computer he's using has some spyware on it, or else the previous site he visited "respawned" and popped up a window as he left it. Anyway, please know that I will not deliberately link you to something rude, so if something like this happens to you, please e-mail me at blog at batesline dot com and let me know.

Yet another UPDATE: A thoughtful reader from the UK has sent a link to an MP3 of "The Highway Code" by the Master Singers. Be aware that these files may disappear at any time, and be considerate of the bandwidth of those who are hosting them. Another reader, with an e-mail address from the Royal College of Music, writes:

Actually, two of the Master Singers (including Geoffrey Keating) were teachers at Cheadle Hulme School, Cheshire. They were there by 1965. Geoffrey Keating moved on to Millfield in 1970. They may all have been at Abingdon before 1965, I suppose. Members of the Master Singers and the King Singers were friends (a Cambridge connection probably), and the Kings Singers came to sing at Cheadle Hulme, but I don't think that there was any overlap in membership. The Master Singers were a few years older than the first Kings Singers, as I recall.

One more UPDATE (1 October 2004): A reader points out, correctly, that this isn't plainsong at all, it's Anglican chant, which is harmonized, while plainsong is unison.

Another UPDATE (26 September 2006): On the anglican-music mailing list earlier this year, John Botari believes he has identified the three chants used for "Weather Forecast":

I once took the trouble to figure out which chants were used for The Weather Forecast; there are three of them (sung A-B-C-B-A).

Here's what I came up with:

A - George Mursell Garrett (1834-97)
The only place that I could find this one was
at #268 in the ECUSA Anglican Chant Psalter,
in Ab. (Certainly *not* where the Mastersingers
found it!)

B - W. Taylor
Found (in Db) at #232 in The Parish Psalter
with Chants
(ed. Sydney Hugo Nicholson), or
(in D) at #129 and #335 in the Oxford Chant
Book No. 1

c - Stephen Elvey (1805-60)
Found (in G) at #116 in The Parish Psalter,
or (in F) at #9 and #342 in the ECUSA Anglican
Chant Psalter

Yet another UPDATE (7 May 2007): Helen Keating, wife of Geoff Keating, one of the Mastersingers (using her spelling), has written me with the definitive account of the Mastersingers, the Highway Code, and the Weather Report.

MORE, MORE (30 October 2008): Brien K. Meehan has produced a printable transcription of the Mastersingers' Weather Forecast with words and four-part music.

UPDATED broken Michael Fish-related links on 17 August 2015, thanks to the Internet Archive (to which you should donate).

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Whimsy category from December 2003.

Whimsy: November 2003 is the previous archive.

Whimsy: March 2004 is the next archive.

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