Nicholas Lezard: Cloudy, with the risk of confusion

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The Independent Online

How exciting! A new-style weather forecast for the PM programme on Radio 4. A nation is gripped. Here's what's different: fewer quips, a back-to-basics approach modelled on the shipping forecast, and even a map on the PM website so that people who are unsure of where north-east England is can finally put their finger on it. (I was reminded, by this last detail, of the grid printed each week in Radio Times in the 1920s and 1930s whereby listeners could work out which part of the pitch the ball was in when listening to football matches. It's where we get the phrase "back to square one". But it still got dropped, because it was so irritating.)

Well, anything that reduces the amount of whimsy on PM is to be embraced, but to tell the truth few people place too much faith in the BBC's weather forecast anymore. There are few things more conducive to scepticism than looking at the weather icon on their website and being told that the day will offer "light rain", while outside the clouds weep their burden to the ground with tropical force.

But let's say, for the sake of argument, and the sheer giddy hell of it, that they get it right most of the time. There is still the matter that hard though they are trying to get the relevant bits into our brains by being as vanilla-plain about the details as possible, we still drift off.

They used to skip about all over the country, apparently, which made it very hard for us to know when our bit was coming up, and so one would latch on to the fact that it was going to be drizzly in Orkney, and, while processing this, and having a pleasant reverie about Orkney, its incredible Neolithic legacy, say, one would completely miss out on what was going to be happening in London and the South-east. But is the shipping forecast, which is a powerful trance-inducer, the best model for change?

Anyway, for days now Eddie Mair has been bigging up the new forecast. (Can you call it "new-look" when it's on the radio?) What was all that about a map? The radio looked the same. Ah, I suppose he means on the PM website.

I have always resisted the idea of looking at a radio programme's website while it is broadcasting, for this would seem to defeat the entire purpose of radio, which is to liberate us from the screen so that we can do the washing up without missing any greasy spots. (Do I really want to "discover what Eddie's wearing today"? Not particularly.) Anyway, here came the forecast. And... I drifted off. It's not their fault, they tried their best.

For the record, I tried twice to listen to it on the iPlayer next day. In one ear and out the other. I thought of more pressing problems that Radio 4 should address, like Robert Peston's intonation. It's horrible. Fix that instead.

n.lezard@independent.co.uk

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