Haven't the foggiest? Read on

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The Independent Online
HO HUM. Stuck for a subject. All right, then, let's talk about the weather. There's more to meteorology than meets the eye, you know, and for this we must thank Weather Action Holdings, the company that claims to have revolutionised forecasting through a mix of conventional and solar analysis.

Weather Action is the brainchild of Piers Corbyn, an astrophysicist who believes that traditional meteorology is flawed because it restricts itself to analysing what happens within the earth's atmosphere. His technique, by contrast, takes in external factors. "The sun is changing all the time," says Julian Jones, business development director of Weather Action. "Shock waves and solar winds bathe the earth with a variety of influences."

Competitors have said this kind of logic demonstrates only that Mr Corbyn and his colleagues, far from just analysing the sun, have spent far too long in it. They have cited Mr Corbyn's forecast for raging weather in September 1997, which turned out to be a damp squib.

Nevertheless, it seems to be turning out nice for Weather Action. Listed on the Alternative Investment Market 13 months ago, it recently signed a deal with Reuters to supply screen-based forecasts to clients of the business information group.

Now it has linked up with Cap Gemini, the IT consultancy, to market its risk-management tools to "weather- sensitive industries". And it seems there's a lot of weather-sensitive industries about - insurers, utilities, rail companies and retailers to name but a few. None of these can do anything about the weather, of course, but with accurate forecasts they could cope a lot better than they do at present. For instance, the company says, if high-street shops had known the extent of this year's wet summer, they could have cushioned the impact on sales by improving their stock control: more umbrellas, less suntan lotion.

Or take the railways, where overhead lines were brought down by storms in April. Railtrack might not have been able to stop the damage if it had known what was coming, says Mr Jones, but it could have had maintenance crews on stand-by, ready to carry out repairs.

Mr Jones says Weather Action's techniques "could be as revolutionary as the motor car". It sounds a bit dramatic but the company can produce some impressive statistics. Independent research conducted by insurers, it says, shows that for a particular day, anywhere in the world, up to nine months in advance, Weather Action's forecasts have achieved an accuracy rate of 55 per cent. That rises to 80 per cent for 24 hours either side. Imagine what farmers, futures traders and Lloyd's underwriters could do with that kind of information. Imagine what you could do with that kind of information. Forget about a high-season holiday to Majorca because it is going to be wet. Or decide against buying advance tickets for the Lord's Test because you know it will rain.

Alternatively, look at it the other way: influenced by Weather Action's forecasts, the cricket season starts in January; Wimbledon is moved back to November and spectators fork out pounds 5 for a tub of sprouts; hosepipe bans are imposed in the middle of winter; insurers hike up premiums before buildings are damaged; trains are cancelled six months in advance; bears decide to hibernate in the summer. Revolutionary.

Unfortunately, much of this information is not widely available. Weather Action's commercial clients pay more than pounds 20,000 for 11-month forecasts, so they wouldn't be too happy if the same details were freely available. At present, mere mortals can pay pounds 50 plus VAT to receive 14-day forecasts by fax, or the same amount for a "bespoke" service to see what the weather will be like on days such as weddings.

However, you can no more control a market than you can the weather. Should the service consistently come up trumps, you suspect that the company will not be able to pick and choose who views what. As we love to remind ourselves, we're already a nation of weather obsessives ... but we ain't seen nothing yet. As Shakespeare's Richard III might have said: "Then is the winter of our discontent."

"MY BABY takes the morning train/he works from nine to five and then ...", crooned the 1980s pop star Sheena Easton before asserting that she would be waiting for him when he got home. That was then. Nowadays, instead of taking her to "a movie or a restaurant", her "baby" would likely as not brush straight past her, open his briefcase and carry on working. According to a survey of 1,000 workers by the Institute of Personnel and Development, almost a third of British employees take their jobs home on a regular basis. Some 9 per cent work at home every day. More than half the sample do more hours than they are contracted to, and more than 50 per cent receive no overtime pay; workloads, rather than job insecurity, are cited as the main factor.

A number of questions arise from this research. Where does it leave the maximum 48-hour working week? Why aren't there enough staff to get the job done in the office?

Why do politicians bang on about the family when there isn't enough time to see them? And why, as I write this, do fridges hum?

Celtic play Mind games

AS JIM KERR waits to see whether he will join the ranks of rock stars turned businessmen, perhaps the Simple Minds singer ought to reflect that in announcing his intention to take over Glasgow Celtic, the football club with a stock market listing, he is in bad company.

By which I mean Bad Company, the heavy metal band whose former vocalist, Brian Howe, was a member of a consortium that launched a bid for Portsmouth football club last year. Among the modest ditties Howe will have crooned was "Can't Get Enough". "Can't Get Anything" would have been better; the takeover offer fell through.

Neither will Kerr take much comfort from events at Manchester City. Among the rock stars put in the frame - either by themselves or the media - as potential white knights for the struggling club have been Noel Gallagher, of Oasis, and Rick Wakeman, of Yes. Gallagher wrote a song called "Be Here Now", but wherever "here" was, it wasn't City's boardroom. Wakeman, meanwhile, sang "Going for the One" - and needless to say the "One" wasn't City.

So with these grim precedents, what comfort can Kerr offer Celtic fans and shareholders? The answer is in one of Simple Minds' songs: "Promised You a Miracle."

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