Missed Connections

Flash fiction for fickle folk.

Out of my left eye I see you waiting at the station. You’re on time, but the train is late, and you’re pacing. The seconds can’t tick by fast enough. There are places you need to be.

Out of my right eye I see him walking down the platform, with posture well rehearsed; an outer calm that belies inner worry. Be yourself but don’t get noticed. Can he get in to work and avoid balancing on the scales? Ma’at is hungry and Yahweh goads her on.

At first you think he’s attractive and your gaze quickens. But if something seems off, it is quickly forgotten as self-interest takes hold. Maybe he’ll notice how good you look if you stand just so. You’re a girl and he’s a boy so it’s only natural, right?

It’s a biting spring morning and you haven’t had enough coffee to deal with the others on the platform. Yahweh nestles into your soul and you wish, you long, to meet an angel. Something pure, devoid of the petty hang-ups and grievances of godless men.

The object of your attraction is looking up at the clouds, and his mind seems a million miles distant from the approaching train whistle. You get angered by a commuter brushing by, chewing loudly from a bag of greasy café food, and you start texting your friend. How rude some people are.

You almost miss the train, but the beautiful cloud-bound boy holds the door open, says, ‘Come on.’ You’re already bristly, and you notice it. His voice, too high in pitch. His clothes fitting slightly off, especially around the chest, his chin smooth and devoid of hair. He is far too old to be pre-puberty.

Words rise like soft, burning pumice. Unnatural. Disgusting. Liar. You were warned about people like him.

Your face starts to shift into brimstone as the crocodile god snaps him up on the scales, makes his heart heavier than a feather from your stony words.

Do you remember what you said to me when we both were young?

Today you met an angel. And you destroyed him.

—–

Many thanks to MJ Kobernus for your editing help!

Holy moly writing fest, Batman!

So it’s holy because, well, Easter, and there’s also been a ton of writing in the past few days. I am still healing from surgery but it’s going great, and am back at work, attending art class, and gaming nights round friends’ houses once again.

I lost the urge to write when I was stuck at home gaming on me tod, but then something interesting happened. I have been trying to write this time-travel short story for ages, and was getting hung up over the dénouement and the plot threads, when I played a videogame that pretty much used one of the story options I had (hint: it’s Fallout 4). And man, did it make me angry! Not because they used it instead of me, but because they managed to make me so caught up in the story that I properly took on the feelings of the main character. And main character was heartbroken, in denial, angry, and so was I. It fired me up to finish my time travel story, and I used one of the other story options instead (the depressing option instead of the anger-inducing option – not that either of them are that much better from each other, but hopefully will make people feel some kind of strong emotion). Nine thousand words later and the story’s submitted to an anthology. I wonder if it will get in.

But even if not, I feel pretty driven again.

This week art classes are back on, as is writing group, and we’re doing something pretty excited for the latter – I’ll be using my graphic design skills to assist the group in doing an on-the-fly cover design. Many of us in the group are interested in self-publishing at some point, so why not use a field of specialisation I already have to help them out? Plus it’ll be mega fun to experiment as a group and see what we come up with. I have no idea what the story we’ll be using as a basis will be, but I do know it’ll be something original from one of the members!

Finally, the Bath Novel Award deadline is coming up. I got my edits of City of Dis back from my old editor, so I’m polishing that to send in, and will probably send in Trees in November too if I feel I can get the writing quality up to scratch.

I may have to go and eat a ton of chocolate eggs now, because I ended up with far too many.

It’s Hypermobility Awareness Week!

Hypermobility - "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

The Hypermobility Syndrome Association is running an awareness week, so I thought I’d contribute.

To be hypermobile, at the core definition of the word, is to have a range of motion that exceeds ‘normal’ range. In clinical usage it describes having a wide range of joint movement. And more than that, it can refer to having a range of inherited connective tissue disorders which include Joint Hypermobility Syndrome, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, and others such as Marfan’s Syndrome. In these latter cases it is never as simple as just ‘being that one kid in the class who can bend their thumb backwards’ – it comes combined with a range of symptoms that can interfere with daily life on a wide scale – from small troubles with minor dislocations and minor pain, to larger troubles with major dislocations and pain that impedes walking or driving ability, to gastric disorders or even spontaneous rupture of blood vessels, or spinal issues like scoliosis and Chiari Malformation. It’s a huge umbrella of various conditions that can be interconnected, and all of which affect each person with them differently.

I have EDS Hypermobility Type, which means I synthesise collagen badly and it primarily affects my joints and gastric system. My neck and back are bent out of shape, although you would never tell from the outside, and sometimes my head sinks into my neck enough to give me terrible headaches, particularly when lying down or using pillows / resting my neck on things. My blood vessels are extremely elastic (giving blood is difficult) and so is my stomach – it’s easy for me to get ulcers. The ligaments holding my eyes in place are too loose and it gives me double vision. But the main problem that affects daily functioning is the joint laxity and the daily dislocations. Every joint in my body does it, but particularly the feet, hips, shoulders and ribs. I used to use various walking aids – stick, wheelchair, crutches – but as my condition changes and adapts so do I – these days I mostly use shoe orthotics and stick to a specific exercise regimen to keep the muscles supporting the joints strong.

To get an idea of how different the disorder can be for different people, I have had friends with the disorder – one of whom was able to drive while I could not, but who struggled picking things up from the floor while I was fine with that, and another who got excruciating hip pain but was still able to wear high heels, which I cannot. And another still, whose main issue was preventing her blood vessels from rupturing from the smallest and most insignificant of tasks. Some of us can give birth easily, some cannot. It really depends on your personal makeup.

So that’s a general overview. I want to spend a bit of time looking at complications someone with hypermobility might encounter when having another medical issue or situation. In the past I’ve shattered bones easily, but luckily have not had to deal with plaster casts. It’s a relief, because the thought of dislocating while in a cast and being unable to set it back in myself while also having a broken bone scares me a little.

Therefore it’s topical that recently I elected to undergo surgery to remove breast tissue, which (among other reasons) I expect to lessen the number of rib and shoulder dislocations I currently experience per day. A quick note: this is not suitable for the majority of folk with EDS, because surgery is not a cure for the collagen problem, and it comes with many complications. However it was suitable for my particular case. For a non-EDS patient, undergoing this surgery forms about a few weeks of pain, the first three or so days being the most intense, and then mostly, things go fine with little complications other than potential infection.

For an EDS patient, the complications are somewhat different. My body fought off infection pretty well following the surgery, but having to not move much in the weeks following, combined with compression bandaging around the chest, meant that a lot of my joints fell out and I was unable to manoeuvre them back in properly. The shoulders and back have been the worst, but I’m actually quite happy to say that, barring the first three days of recovery, that’s where the most pain is actually coming from. It’s important to remember that hypermobile patients need to pay the most care and consideration to re-mobilisation techniques post-surgery. We cannot allow our ligaments or tendons (the connective tissue around the joints) to become too foreshortened, or we run the risk of joint issues complicating and lengthening the recovery period, and of muscle cramps and frozen nerves. But we also cannot move too much to relocate a dislocated joint if it runs the risk of reopening the surgery stitches, et cetera.

Because the surgery was largely to solve an EDS-related issue, I prepared well enough that I’m handling it okay, but it’s definitely one of those things, along with giving birth, or getting a plaster cast, that needs to be approached with extra attention for those with hypermobile conditions.

I would dearly love to write more on this, but I do need to take a break and heal up more – I have already spent too much time typing. Well, I hope I have educated you at least a small amount!

For more info do head on over to the Hypermobility Syndrome Association’s pages: http://hypermobility.org/hmsaware-week-is-here/

Hypermobility is only the tip of the iceberg

Gaming challenges: Mass Effect All-Engineer Playthrough

One fun thing I love doing is inventing my own video game challenges. In some games, they don’t provide enough endgame progression challenges, at least not for a completionist like me. I first saw this kind of behaviour in online forums for Final Fantasy X fans who, dissatisfied even with the epic endgame content, put together their own challenges of getting through the entire game using and levelling up only one character. Later I saw people do it with Fallout: trying to get through the entire game with zero kills. It’s the kind of idiosyncratic behaviour game testers try to replicate, and I love it. So I do it myself as much as possible.

My latest gaming challenge, while I lay in bed recovering from surgery and an just about able to grab a controller, is to replay the old Mass Effect series using a pure Engineer team. Mass Effect’s gameplay is designed to work best with cross skills from three main areas: solders, engineers and biotics. Most missions will be significantly harder of you’re lacking in skills from any sector, so whatever class I’m playing I usually bulk up my team with the classes in deficient in.

But there’s nothing to stop you using a mono-class team, as long as you distribute skills evenly within that team and plan well. So I’m doing an all – engineer team – my Shepard is an Infiltrator (so I can have medium armour and use all engineer skills) and I’m traveling with Garrus and Tali. They use sniper rifles and shotguns respectively, I only use pistols.

So far my strategies are working well. I’ve been mostly buffing my shields and weapon damage and managed to take down a Geth armature using only a pistol today, so it is working.

If it’s a success I’ll have to try it again, up the difficulty.

Midweek Music Picks: Pure Reason Revolution

Pure Reason Revolution are a band that caught my attention first as prog, but I soon realised they were inhabiting the prog genre at the most progressive, eclectic fringes of it – as you can tell upon listening to the song below, Blitzkrieg.

The music hovers between the electroclash rock of Justice, the fast-paced drum’n’bass rock fusion of Pendulum, and the chaotic soundscapes of electronica artist Hans Appelkvist: synthy guitar riffs and strong drumbeats are peppered with Eighties style Orchestra Hits, the odd house clap, before descending into broken rhythms and chopped-up blurts and bleeps, then building up again with polyphonic chorus into an insane fusion of sound, using noise as sculpture, painting crescendo onto seconds.

The slightly dystopian futuristic undertones of their themes (the intro samples of Blitzkrieg, for example, are from 1962 post-apocalyptic French film La Jetéesuggest something akin to Rush’s 2112, which makes sense considering the band’s first producer also produced Rush’s music.

Furthermore this band is from the town next to where I used to live in the UK (Reading – a wee bit north from the birthplace of Genesis). Nobody seems to know where to place them – they have been labelled prog, electronica, alt rock, new prog, and bizarrely ‘Astral Folk’, even garnering a good review from keyboard wizard Rick Wakeman. It’s a shame they’ve split up now, but one can always hope, because this music rocks.

 

The Watch plays Nursery Cryme

Italian prog rockers The Watch are the Genesis continuation we always wanted. Officially endorsed by ex-Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett, they do amazing covers of classic era Genesis songs. Their original albums, while having their own distinct flavour, are tantamount to the Genesis albums that never existed but that totally should have. Imagine, if you will, that Gabriel and Hackett never left and that classic era of music had been allowed to progress in that vein. This would doubtless be the result. I have so much love for this band, so you can imagine my excitement when I heard they were coming to Oslo.

The band kicking off the concert

The concert, held last Saturday the 30th January, was billed as ‘The Watch plays Nursery Cryme’, but what we got was so much more. Not only did we get plenty of The Watch’s own music, including a few wonderful songs inspired by the Italian Alps, but we also got a sly couple of songs from The Lamb Lies Down too. And, let me tell you, as soon as those gentle guitar strums and first Mellotron sweeps hit the air, the room was electric.

“There’s something solid forming in the air,

And the wall of death is lowered in Times Square…”

We could all feel it, and in that moment I knew we were enraptured, part of the show, the adventure. We were all Rael then.

The atmosphere electric continued on as they played through Nursery Cryme with stylised restraint. I loved this aspect of the band – it is clear that they are virtuosos, but they let out only as much as is needed for the song, giving the stark impression that they are holding back a powerful hurricane. The lead singer, in particular, Simone Rossetti, embodied the essence of Gabriel’s countenance in ‘Watcher of the Skies’ – a solitary, austere figure, voice tight as a tightrope walker, letting out just enough of the music to make the maximum impact. Less is more, in this case, and it was magical. It belonged to another universe.

Nursery Cryme was indeed played in its entirety, but not in order. This was a surprise for many in the audience, and by the time the album’s stellar track came out, The Musical Box, we were ecstatic, and more so from the unexpectedness. I was deeply happy with the guitarist, Giorgio Gabriel, and his ability to sound every inch as ethereal and heavenly as Steve Hackett. The sound of his guitar playing like waves lapping at the shore. Songs like Harlequin in particular, so dreamlike.

The keyboardist, Valerio De Vittorio, had amazing technique, using Moog and Mellotron to maximum Seventies effect. This really came into its own on the band’s original songs, where the keyboards seemed more striking than the soft waves of Genesis. And the bassist, Mattia Rossetti, impressed many by handling a multi-neck bass and 12-string guitar. Sometimes it amazes me all over again to witness how every single sound from these songs can be made with a group of just five people. Listening to the records, it is so layered that it always feels like it should be so much more.

Once the final song was over and the dust had settled, the encore came. I couldn’t believe my ears when the band announced they would be playing Supper’s Ready from the album Foxtrot. What a treat! This was so much more than I ever could have expected!

So the twenty-three minute epic journey of apocalypse, as envisioned by Peter Gabriel forty four years earlier. The dulcet tones of the intro began, and everything sounded perfect. The mood in this small blues bar, filled to the brim with fans, was like nothing ever experienced before. All of us, I would hazard to say, knew this song in particular, Genesis’s masterpiece, and united by a common love we all fell under the song’s sway. It would not be an exaggeration to say it was a religious experience.

I have to give particular kudos to the drummer, Marco Fabbri, who tackled the section ‘Apocalypse in 9/8’ with aplomb. I have to admit I’ve never heard someone drumming in this time signature before, and it was so well handled. I also really liked the Gretsch kit, a callback to the kits Phil Collins used in this era, and what was interesting and probably due to how small the venue was (and possibly the fact I was right at the front too), was the hard, punchy tones that resulted – it was quite different to the recordings, but made for a nice offset against the taut vocals and dreamy keyboards and guitars.

I also feel that Simone Rossetti flourished in this song. It felt like the entire concert was leading up to this point – the release of those slightly-off-kilter but perfectly placed vocals. I think Gabriel ought to be so proud.

The clock ticked well over midnight as Supper’s Ready, and the entire gig along with it, drew to a finish. I have heard that The Watch return to Oslo every year, so I am looking forward to next year’s show already. Every time I see such a large crowd coming to attend prog-related shows in Oslo I become ecstatic, almost with disbelief at the fact that there are so many others who share this obsession with the somewhat odd and niche music I listened to in my childhood. It’s a good thing, and this particular experience is one I will remember.

Here’s a link to their album ‘Tracks from the Alps’:

Chrysalis

I’m writing one-armed for fear of awakening the devil in my shoulder blade. Seriously, this devil wields my shoulder like a knife.

If I could harness this power, I’m sure I could have been a fantastic performer for Cirque du Soleil. But real life has other plans, it seems. Ehlers Danlos is not an appealing illness, unless you like pain. And not the fun kind.

It’s been a trying week. I’m sure that the cortisol produced by extra stress has a part to play in how cruddy my joints feel, and this week there has been a lot of that in the mix. I’ve counted a couple major dislocations and around twenty five minor, on the right shoulder, since Tuesday. Bra straps are killer.

This week the theme for the Oslo Writer’s League Anthology 2016 was announced. It’s an incredibly fitting theme for me right now: the journey of metamorphosis.

Our minds, our identities are always in a state of metamorphosis, as we find out who we really are inside. Our bodies we tend to assume only have two real states of metamorphosis: the pubescent transition from child to adult, and the process of ‘becoming old’. That whole life span in between is seen almost as a static state of ‘adult’, when, for the body, it is anything but.

I have always been aware of my mental state changing, but the real shock to the body system came in 2009 when my Ehlers Danlos syndrome ‘advanced’, and left me feeling like Sophie from Howl’s Moving Castle, an old ninety-year-old woman in a twenty-two year old’s body. I imagine that others who have had health issues thrust upon them early in life have felt similarly, have felt the change of body like the change of seasons.

And now the time for transition is upon me again.

I will be having surgery soon, to reduce breast tissue and decrease the pressure put on my shoulders and ribs. I’m getting tired of being unable to even run up a flight of stairs without my bra pulling my shoulder joint out, or my rib pinging apart. I have scars around my torso even from the most expensive and well-fitted, soft bras. It’s almost like God knew I was going to be born with EDS and decided to double the difficulty level.

The difficulty setting is more so unwelcome considering my identity lies somewhat between genders. I’ve never felt a strong association with having a body that’s easily gender-definable. It feels like never owning any pairs of shoes that fit, so you’re always uncomfortable and getting blisters.

So the imminent changes are exciting. I’m not naïve about what these changes entail: I’m aware that the entire process of metamorphosis is itself a journey, not an endpoint. Changing one thing doesn’t mean you’re ‘finished’ as a person. I don’t really think people have a Final Form (contrary to the meme). All we have are things that change and concepts that we align ourselves closer to, like satellites around planets, when those concepts make sense for our current situation.

My current situation is going to change. I am going to find relief, when my ribs don’t pop out with every step, and I am going to feel more comfortable in my skin. It’s not going to cure everything, but it will be an important lesson.

Spontaneous Combustion

Sometimes I hear a song and imagine a strong story behind it, concepts that chill to the bone on a close inspection.

My favourite currently is Spontaneous Combustion by Dark Captain Light Captain:

they said they’d be waiting for us

now they’re smiling but they’re against us

they’re shouting in our ears

they’re shouting because they hate us

they hate us because we’re athletes

we’re athletes because we

can see

the rising sun

turn this rising sun into a mountain

turn this rising sun into a mountain

turn this rising sun into a mountain

to hide your x-ray eyes

turn your x-ray eyes into a visor

turn your x-ray eyes into a visor

turn your x-ray eyes into a visor

and turn this whole thing round

 

I hear a world where a group of people are vilified, like mutants (hence the x-ray eyes line) but more in line with what already exists in the world. People with different bodies, who the rest of society call disabled. We’re athletes because we can see the rising sun – the new dawn coming, the terrifying and bold new future. A society where they are hated and people turn upon them because of their differences, because of their different needs, but where their so-called ‘mutant’ powers could become strong and terrifying enough in turn to strike back against the people treating them as less than human. It’s not a good thing to hurt people the way they hurt you, but if you’re treated as subhuman for long enough, the desire to strike back is hard to ignore. All the anger and desperation has to go somewhere. This song feels like a revolution, and more so than I think any other song I’ve heard. It fills me with terrifying passion.

Nobody wants to imagine stories like the X-Men might be real. If the people you tread on actually did turn out to have immense powers, you’d be held accountable, confronted with your own inhumanity.

On Sadness Fuelling Creativity

It’s not been a great week. I’ve been seeking distractions for much of it, and some of those distractions have ended up becoming good things in themselves, but still the sadness remains when they peter out and it’s time to go home.

So I am sitting here at midday, drinking whisky far too early, because I’m caught between needing to not think, and needing to get it all out through my writing. Long story short, there are people I love who are in pain and not getting the help they need, and I don’t want to lose them.

I just keep thinking if I could write and make others feel something, maybe my loved ones would end up getting the help they need, maybe the propaganda would shift enough to cause change.

I feel hollow.

But there’s nothing I can do but keep on trying. So this week I’ve been forcing endorphins into my system by going to the gym, putting myself in a mental state where I’m able to keep going and keep creating things, and hopefully change things. It’s painful: with my own illness (EDS) I have a few extra obstacles to get over (this week’s stellar one was dislocating my middle finger, which makes writing hard, and which really reminds me I need to invest in a frogpad). The good thing about being where I am now is that I can actually afford these modifications. Others can’t. Anyway.

On Thursday evening I attended my first proper meetup with the Oslo Writer’s League (the OWLs). It was a fantastic evening, and aside from also being another thing to increase my endorphin levels, it was productive and I ended up making new friends. There were so many lovely people there, and so much good, in-depth discussion on various things. Also, turns out I already met one of the members (kind of) at a backstage event when prog guitarist Steve Hackett came to Oslo last year!

The other nice thing that happened this week is I finally received my proof copy of the story I wrote for my little sister Cara. This was meant to be her Christmas present but ended up a little delayed, and due to shipping problems, her final copy arrived in England before my proof one arrived in Norway. But the important thing is, it came out the printing process looking great, and I’ll probably write a separate thing on that.

Other nice things: it’s been cold and snowing a lot, and I love extreme weather. To top that off, the book I got in the writer’s club jackpot was about the first Western man to climb Mount Everest, so totally up my street. And another friend of mine is writing again with enthusiasm, so I’m watching her progress on her awesome fantasy story with great interest!

Behind all of this I’m trying to ignore the scratching dark tones, and get on with my writing. Considering the bad news of this week, which I’m not going into in any detail, I have not been able to handle writing City of Dis. So Nimbus edits is what we’re on. I’m 28k words in to editing, which is not bad, but god, do I just have to keep going.

I will make a fucking difference. For her sake, for all their sakes.

How to tell if it will snow or not!

Satellite-image-of-Britai-005

Satellite image from the University of Dundee, January 2010

Usually I end up writing my ‘In Defence of Meteorologists’ posts after negative incidents – namely, when people complain about them failing to have performed their duty as magical future-telling wizards with 100% accuracy…

But this time I’m writing it following a happy incident. It’s snowed in the UK, yes, snowed, in November, and a lot of people are pretty pleased about this, because who doesn’t love snow? However, the inevitable response is actually pretty dismissive of the entire field of meteorology as a result, and it goes something like this: ‘I can’t believe they *actually* got something right for once!’

It seems that even when a good thing happens, meteorologists are still sidelined. What would it take for people to treat the utterly impressive work they do with any kind of respect? I see others rise to defend other areas of public service, such as the NHS, when somebody has had a bad experience and insists on tarring the whole service with that brush, but I don’t see as much of this in meteorology, and it’s probably because people don’t have as much of a personal connection with the field, nor enough knowledge. So, my intent is to change that.

Weather forecasting systems are the supercomputers of our time – they deal with more variables than anything else, with greater levels of uncertainty even than the most tricky field of insurance, and they are awe-inspiring bits of tech. I mean, check out the Cray High-Performance Supercomputer plans that are taking up a huge portion of the Met Office’s investments at the moment.

Cray_Supercomputer_Newecmwf

Here’s an existing Cray supercomputer in the ECMWF offices

The fact that in this day and age we have any kind of way to predict the future at all is stunning. And let me make a distinction – it’s not actually ‘prediction’ – it is ‘forecasting based on probabilities’, because actually knowing what’s going to happen in the future is impossible.

Why is it impossible? You might think that, provided we had all the correct equations ready and all the possible variables of the earth-atmosphere system input into a machine, that we would be able to solve for all future configurations of that data?

Well, no. It’s not that simple. See, especially when it comes to fluid dynamics, there are some non-linear equations, such as the Navier-Stokes equation, with are unsolved in certain areas and this is a pure mathematics problem. Despite the issues with turbulence and flow interactions, however, the weather forecasting services still manage to make truly impressive efforts. And in the future, who knows? In fifty years I imagine we will have advanced even further, and I look forward to returning to this article when that happens, to compare how much better things have gotten. Endless possibilities!

There is much misconception about weather forecasting because of the sheer number of illegitimate reporting being done. The Daily Express is well noted for this, for instance, and other news outlets have been known to issue scaremongering reports rather than reasoned and interesting reports on the actual science being done, which is a shame, because it means that when the Met Office releases something with scientific legitimacy, it is often overload for the non-scientific layperson, who ends up classing it ALL as bogus.

Here’s some starter info from the Met Office on how snow forecasting works. But in addition, I would urge everyone to learn to read synoptic charts (the lovely surface pressure charts with all the cool lines and stuff going on over them). If you do this, it would be well worth your while and allow you to have a clearer idea of what weather forecasters are talking about. Synoptic charts are beautiful, and once you understand thickness lines, you yourself can more accurately understand whether reports of snow are likely to result in actual snow or not.

Met Office synoptic chart for Sunday 22nd November

Look for the dotted lines. They will be either blue or red (note – these are not the lines with the blue spikes or the red semicircles – these are much smaller, thinner dotted lines that may not be apparent on first glance). These lines don’t show up on every graph. If and when you find them. then look for the tiny number reading around this. These numbers tell you what the air pressure is at the top of the air column. In general if it’s above 528millibars, it means you’re probably on a warm patch of air (because warm air rises). If it’s below, you’re likely to get snow (and remember, likely does not equal inevitable). So, based on the above chart:

riskofsnow

This means it’s likely that the part of the world that I live in is likely to experience the snow that those in the UK are experiencing today (since the air mass is moving from west to east). And remember too that thickness lines are one thing, but to get snow you also have to have the right temperature range and the right amount of moist polar sea air coming in.

Thickness lines are a complicated subject. But you can gain a lot just from looking at the areas of highs and lows. In general, areas of Low pressure bring cyclonic weather, where air converges and rises. This is responsible for the tropical thunderstorms around the Equator, and also for the cold and wet batterings the UK gets from the North Atlantic. Areas of High pressure bring cloudless summer weather to the UK, but they also can bring ‘Siberian’ weather in the winter. Cold, dry and icy. Almost the whole inner area of Antarctica, for example, is a constant area of high pressure, and it is the driest place on earth (yes, even drier than the Sahara – it is officially classed as a desert).

So just knowing a.) what season it is and b.) what kind of pressure zone you have overhead can go a long way in aiding you with knowing what sort of weather to expect. Then there’s knowing where the prevailing weather fronts and air masses are currently sweeping in from. Knowing this gives you a real sense of connecting with the complicated and chaotic earth-atmosphere system once you get into it!

On a related note, the UK has a very interesting convergent trough approaching this noon (check out the flecked black line over Cornwall and South Wales – this is cool because usually the circular centres of lows are convergent, so having a convergent line is extra awesome):

convergent-trough

I hope more people get interested in the cool charts available (for free!) from reputable weather agencies. NOAA – the American Oceans and Atmosphere Administration – is also excellent for this, as is the ECMWF – the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting, based in Reading.

And if you’re not already using the free Met Office app, you really should have it on your smartphone at all times. It’s great – not only does it give you UK weather forecasts and world forecasts, it also provides synoptic charts (aka surface pressure charts) and satellite data of cloud coverage, temperature readings and rain cover.

Another thing that complicates our weather research is government policy. The Met Office currently gets £117 million to run its service every year. It’s peanuts compared to many other services, such as the NHS (£115 billion), and even the Church of England (£170 million). That’s right. The government spends more money each year on the upkeep of old Church of England buildings than it does on the Public Weather Service… And to make matters worse, because of budget cuts, the BBC has dropped the Met Office’s contract starting next year. The mere fact that they’re opting for an even cheaper service signals the importance of ‘money savings’ over rigorous science, and that is a real shame.

Imagine if, instead of wasting energy dissing meteorologists, people with platforms spent that energy exploring the actual state of the tech, the actual state of the field of weather forecasting? We would surely all become more knowledgeable, more aware, and maybe even lead to more improvements in the field! That sounds like a much better use of time to me.