You probably guessed who he was….and some of you of more mature years (for want of an acceptable term) may well have known from way back during school days. Samuel Morse, bless his cotton socks, came up with a method of sending messages on a single wire telegraph during the early 1830s. He wasn’t the only geek around at the time with ideas about this emerging form of communication, but he seems to have got most of the credit for inventing it. What he then came up with was a system of sending short spurts of electrical current which were translated at the other end of the wire into a series of dots and dashes represented letters and numerals, so that messages could be sent many miles over single wires strung across America. This took place in the days when there were very few pikeys out on the prairies and the hundreds of miles of copper wire strung between “telegraph” poles stood a reasonable chance of survival.
Anyway, enough of the history lesson. The reason for the title of this entry is a bit obtuse – as you will have now come to expect on this blog – but is a sort of homily to someone who helped to keep me sane, rather than overwhelmed with ideas of slipping quietly away to Antarctica, or to find a quiet corner of some uninhabited island far from any madding crowd. You see, to quote one of my much favoured (and respected) old Welsh sayings,”Mae hi’n amser impiad a chwympiad y dail”. (It is one of the times of the year when leaves open , or fall). September is also one of those times of the year when the behaviour of what are now referred to as “emerging adults” -rather like some damned chrysalis sprouting a crinkle-wrapped dragonfly (totally helpless and definitely incapable, and in no realistic way resembling what it is almost about to become) seems to go beyond the bounds of compatibility with the rest of us. In earlier times, such beings would be referred to as teenagers. I vaguely remember being one myself several lifetimes ago, and as I remember, it was a peculiar time, when none of my clothes fitted, my skin didn’t fit either, and my mind was mainly driven by lustful feelings towards a certain girl who lived close to my “home” and was inclined to go for slow walks past my house and down to the nearby beach. I swear I could smell her perfume half a mile away, and I would watch her pass my window, with the setting sun glinting on her glorious dark brown tresses, and my innards would screw into tight knots as I longed to be let out of the house and walk with her to whatever Promised Land we would discover down on the beach. At such times I must have been something of a challenge to my parents, let alone to myself. They didn’t understand me even as slightly as they seemed to do before this stage of life hit me. I certainly didn’t understand me, either! Somehow, life adapted to those challenges…. and I even managed to go to school on most days without bunking off and going fishing. I relate this, by the way, because I have had to remind myself LOTS of times during the past month, that I, too, was once an “emerging adult”. I don’t know why, but perhaps the event of being promoted from Year X to Year Y injects teenagers with an overdose of Stroppy Hormone which then slowly works its way out of their system over the months between about September and the following March – just in time for a top-up at the beginning of the examinations season and the onset of spring with its more recognized flush of sex hormones! As they say in Welsh, “Pwy faga blant a tedi bers mor rhad!” (Who would want to raise children, when teddy bears are so cheap!)
You must surely be wondering by now how dear old Sam Morse fits into this particular rumination – and you could be forgiven for struggling a bit! Just bear with me a little longer and all shall be revealed….. but not before I have a little rant about GOMS, aka Grumpy Old Man Syndrome. One of the problems with struggling through a lifetime of hard graft and precious little spare time, is that one often consoles oneself along the way with the thought of an idyllic retirement in a little cottage somewhere, away from noisy traffic, noisy teenagers (sorry, emerging adults), noisy advertisements on TV, and noisy late-night revelers on their way home in the wee small hours – who wake you up and then, once awake, you are unable to get back to sleep…. When you finally do drift off into sweet somnambulence, the wretched prostate decides that it needs to wake you up for a pre-dawn pee…… It is therefore little wonder, really, that we men of a certain age do give the impression of having a slightly biased view of life. We have grown out of the irrepressible optimism of the years when raising children and building careers. The battle scars of the average GOM are many, varied, and often disfiguring but without the kudos of having been earned in conventional battle. You may perhaps begin to understand, therefore, how we GOMS seek solace from the ravages of everyday life in some pretty strange places, and doing what, to the rest of the world around us, might seem to be some rather strange things. For example, this past month my next door neighbour came out into his back garden to find out why I was perched ten metres up one of the Great Green Weeds (Cupressus) in the garden, and wielding a chainsaw. The answer was simple: rather than sawing the damn thing down completely (which I wanted to do) it had been agreed that I would reduce the height by about half, so that it still acted as a screen, but let in huge amounts of extra light. He was delighted with the result, and disappeared indoors with a spring in his step. Now, one of my many passions in life has always been Amateur (or Ham) Radio, and ever since I came to live in this place, I was unable to enjoy the hobby because I didn’t have anywhere to hang the aerial for my radio equipment. This caused me some sadness and not inconsiderable hiraeth ( “Longing”) for dear SM who prompted this posting. That had been the case until last month, I suddenly realised , as I was taking the top off the dreaded Great Green Weed in the garden, that the exposed stump would make a wonderful support for one end of my radio aerial. Blessed are the lateral thinkers – for theirs is the prize of unlikely solutions! Within a few hours, I had rigged up a simple aerial from the house to the “tree”top, and connected a lead from it to my radio indoors.
I have been called a sad bastard many times in the past few years (with worryingly increasing frequency, it has to be said). However, at the risk of invoking that dubious accolade one more time, allow me to explain the almost child-like anticipation I felt as I sat at my radio, switched it on and tuned across the ham radio frequencies. The world would be at my fingertips again – just like in the days on Anglesey, with my 30 metre high mast on the peatbog on my little farm, from where I had conversations across the airwaves with people in over 250 countries on all continents – and even, on one occasion, in a spaceship. orbitting by. From conversations with the late King Hussein, and the chap in Government House in Port Stanley as the Falklands War broke out, to a meteorologist on Svalbaard (or was it Jan Meyen Island?) trapped in his weather station, whilst a polar bear licked its lips outside his window – and countless other casual chats across the world – many of which spawned genuine and lasting friendships, this had always been a hobby with a real sense of the unexpected. The day last month, when I switched on the radio to try my new aerial, was no exception…………..
All I could hear was a horrendous white noise that sounded like all the audiences in all the opera houses and concert halls in all the world were all clapping at the same time – but magnified a thousandfold. I could have cried tears of real disappointment because never before had I experienced such a high noise level on the short waves. The reason was simple. Unlike all my former listening over the years, which was done in either my isolated farmhouse, or in small villages, the radio interference caused by electrical appliances, etc was virtually non-existent. Here, in affluent Newbury, West Berkshire, there are so many plasma-screen television sets, so many wireless home computer routers, so many energy-saving bulbs, thermostats, power supplies and countless other sources of electrical interference, that reception is almost wiped out. Which is where we finally meet up again with dear old Samuel Morse – I told you that we would do…..eventually! You see, even though I could not hear any human voices through the noise on my radio receiver, I could make out the dots and dashes of faint Morse Code signals through the noise. But hold on, how do you explain the rant about emerging adults in this posting, I hear you ask. Well, the answer is simple. For me, chatting to other radio hams by means of Morse code has always been one of my ways of de-stressing myself – particularly if the Morse code conversations are (as they sometimes are) held in French (because then I have to translate to or from French and Morse code at the same time, and the concentration involved in doing that completely wipes out the possibility of thinking of anything else). There’s also another advantage to Morse – I have an 80% hearing loss, so that as well as being a sad bastard, around here I am also referred to as a deaf bastard too! Since it is easier to pick out sounds of a constant frequency (like Morse code) as compared to the human voice with all its cadence and fluctuation volume and tone, I find listening to Morse code a lot less of a strain than listening to human speech (especially some!!!)
So, for the past three weeks, whenever I felt that I was being over-exposed to the ravages of emerging adults, depressing television programmes and a German Pointer dog which is hypermobile, hyperactive and occasionally hypereverything else, I have taken to sneaking away to my radio, tuning across the bands, and “chatting” in Morse to Marcel in Toulouse, Hans in Bremen, or whoever else happens to be around on a frequency of about 7.015Mhz.
Whoever would have thought that the combined electrical interference a modern town can produce would be the means by which a man could resort to listening to an endless stream of dots and dashes, and thereby forget all his troubles?
I raise my glass to you, Samuel Morse……… and by the way, folks – this is a particularly good Australian Shiraz