The man with all the answers

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I am very glad to welcome back the well-known modern historian Professor Norman Hunter-Gatherer, who has agreed to answer all your questions about the modern condition. All yours, Prof!

People often criticise British Rail for using the expression "station stop". They think it is a nonsense to announce "Swindon will be the next station stop" instead of "Swindon will be the next station". But surely it is a quite sensible term, if Swindon is the next stop, but not the next station? After all, the train may not stop at the next station, it may sail straight through it, and not stop till it gets to Swindon, is that not so? In which case "station stop" probably provides a sensible distinction.

Professor Hunter-Gatherer writes: Good point.

I am puzzled by the way that so many TV programmes are accompanied by people at the side of the screen repeating what is being said, but in sign language. Is this to help people who are watching the programmes on television sets in the windows of TV rental shops and who can see the picture perfectly well from the street, but cannot hear what is being said from the pavement?

Professor Hunter-Gatherer says: You may well be right.

One of the curious developments in recent years is the way people stick little parking tickets on the inside of their car windows when they leave their cars in large urban car parks, and then leave them there when they drive off. This means that the next time they roll down their window, they generally roll down the ticket with it, and the ticket comes off inside the car door somewhere. There is therefore a gradual accumulation or agglutination of these parking stickers inside the car door at the bottom of the window, and there must come a time when the build-up gets critical. Have the car designers taken this into account when they build their cars?

Professor Norman Hunter-Gatherer writes: I very much hope so.

They often say that weather forecasting is getting better and better. I doubt this. I think that weather forecasting was always good. What has changed is the ability to disseminate weather forecasts. Two hundred years ago you might have known, in London, that it was going to rain in Scotland, but you couldn't have told the people in Scotland because there was no radio, TV, telephone, etc. Weather forecasting was restricted to your own locality not by the limitations of meteorology but by the limitations of the news media.

Professor Hunter-Gatherer writes: I think you may well be right.

Another thing. Limitations of news dissemination meant that news always got there several days later. If Waterloo was won on Monday, nobody would know this in Scotland till Thursday. Time really was relative. Literally so, because in 1800 the time of day in Cornwall was different from the time of day in London - they had different noons, and so on - and it was only when the railways arrived, with the need for a timetable, that things were standardised. Finally, by about 1900, time had been standardised worldwide. It was only then that Einstein discovered the relativity of time. Is it possible that one led to the other? In other words that nobody, not Newton or Einstein, could envisage time being relative until it had stopped being so?

Professor Hunter-Gatherer says: Yes, my goodness, I had never thought of that.

I wonder if anyone has considered the effect that global warming might have on the relativity of time? We have read a lot recently about how the unwontedly warm weather has affected nature. Camellias and rhododendrons are blooming again now, which they were not meant to do until next spring. Many trees which should have shed their leaves by now have not even started to go brown. The trees are still green because the weather makes them think it is still last summer. The flowers, however, are blooming because they think it is already next spring. If nature, with all its built-in bio-clocks, cannot make up its mind what time it is, or even what year it is, what chance is there for the rest of us? Might not have all this given Einstein food for thought?

Professor Hunter-Gatherer writes: It's a staggering thought.

Hold on! What kind of an advice column is this, anyway? All the information comes from the questioners - the expert does nothing to help at all! Is this what they call Post-Modernist, or what?

Professor Hunter-Gatherer writes: I am sure you're right.

The Prof will be back soon. Keep those questions rolling in!