"..a bardy view!"

Volcano Live and the BBC…..

MayonI was watching "Volcano Live" on the BBC the other day.

Of the two presenters – one – the somewhat vacuous OMG Kate Humble and the other some twit who vigorously masticates every vowel before spitting them out and holding out his hands to catch them (I know he's a twit because he presented a documentary a few months ago about geology etc and he thought that Mount Mayon was Mount Pinatubo), and a question from a viewer asked if it was OK to take lava from Mount Vesuvius.

Mr Twit replied that it was illegal to take stuff from Mount Vesuvius. He obviously hasn't been there recently, because there is a veritable army of stalls flogging stuff off the mountain. If it was illegal, then surely they would be banned? Then again – It's Italy you know!

The problem is getting them out of the country. I picked my own healthy specimens recently, and was stopped at Naples airport. "You've got stones" they said. Well I feigned ignorance, implied that I had a painful back, and pleaded to keep them, telling the official that I risked a heart attack climbing the damn thing to get them. Well, he took pity and let me go – lava and all. A jolly decent chap I say! Why can’t all airport officials be like that?

Of course, there has to be rules, and Mr Twit on Volcano Live isn't going to state on national TV that you should chance your arm. Besides, think of the army of schoolchildren marching up there every day. If they collected specimens they could actually reduce the size of the mountain – not to mention all the hassle at the airport which would ensue. There has to be rules you know! Why do you think the Greeks are so pissed off at losing their Marbles? I mean the Elgin Marbles, not their common sense which they lost more recently.

However, an interesting fact came to light from Mr Twit: there is as much chance as Vesuvius having a Pompeii eruption now as there was in 79AD. Quite how the whole population of  Naples and the surrounding area will evacuate in time is a logistical nightmare – even with two weeks notice – which is the best they’re likely to get.

Well, I've been up on the infamous volcano of late, and been to Naples, and quite frankly I doubt the locals need the BBC to tell them of the dangers (indeed I'm rather peeved that my TV licence money is being used to inform them – particularly as most Neapolitans don't watch the BBC in the first place!)

Nevertheless, it's entertaining stuff. Mr Twit also remarked that Herculaneum (one of the villages swamped in 79AD) is now a bustling town built on 60ft of the buried remains.

Indeed it is, and a sadder, more distressed and run down town you would be hard pressed to see. Part of the Naples conurbation, the small original fishing village is far removed from the sea – such has been the encroachment of the masses.

But Vesuvius is still there, waiting, watching, biding her time.

Of course, the Pompeii Romans didn't know they were sitting under a stratovolcano – they thought it was just a bog-standard mountain. The Greeks a thousand years earlier recorded an eruption, but that knowledge was either lost or ignored.

Cut to 1991 – the people around Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines thought the same. The fertile mountain was verdant, and attracted human occupation. Any previous eruption was beyond human recollection or record. Yet, Pinatubo, just like Vesuvius was a stratovolcano, the most deadliest producer of pyroclastic flows.

When it blew it was the second largest eruption of the 2oth century, after Novarapta in 1912 which released 30 times more the volume of magma as the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. The difference being that it blew in a very remote and unpopulated part of the world.

So why is my licence money being spent to send poor graduate presenters with little knowledge and armed only with just a friendly face with little command of grammar and the English language; as well as a film and sound crew, no doubt travelling in business class, flying thousands of miles away, to tell me something that anyone with half a brain could figure out?

To Hawaii for example where there are several smoking guns. It's visual entertainment, but it's not the active volcanoes we need to worry about. The fact that they are active is good for us – it  increases our awareness. It also means they are venting their pressure. Mr Ponsonby-Smythe in Tunbridge Wells can sleep tight. It's the quiet ones you have to worry about. 

Mount Mayon  (pictured) in the Philippines is a lazy, slumbering, exotic power. It epitomises what a volcano should look like, and has the most perfectly symmetrical cone in the world. You could walk up to her skirt and kiss it. People live around her in Legaspi, just like those in Naples. They respect the power that towers over them, and they watch her wisely. But it doesn’t make them want to move. They, like everyone else who lives in the shadow of an almighty beast of nature, are drawn to her like a magnet, and  live and die with her.

It is those in slumber and have dozed for centuries – those that are dormant – those that we have little knowledge (if any) about which are the real dangers. But that makes boring television. It's like making a documentary about  Yellowstone National Park – majestic – awe inspiring – yet throwing in the fact that it's a supervolcano ready to explode. Ready means anytime in the next 50,000 years.

Personally I'm astonished that the BBC can pander to the lowest common denominator. We don't need to spend thousands of pounds on exercises like this which are well documented anyway.

The knowledge is already out there. We don't need to send so called experts in the field at our expense. That's what universities are for, and that's what they did long before a state broadcaster was created.

These days any young student can access the information on the internet. An adult can search for it if he or she is interested. This suspect "live" visual format is unnecessary. Would, for example, a typical British family living in a semi-detached house in a suburb of Manchester be remotely interested in a volcano 7,000 miles away? Would it galvanise them to splash out £5000 to take the whole family volcano-viewing in South America?

The BBC is a public broadcaster, whose mission is to educate and inform without prejudice. But it is not there to be a surrogate teacher to our children. That's the job of parents, schools, universities and research institutions who employ the experts and academics to plant the educational seeds and nurture the sprogs into fine fellows.

In 1969 the first moon landing took place. The BBC did not send a reporter on the Apollo mission. Everything was studio based. Yet, it fuelled the interest for thousands of young minds to involve themselves in Astronomy. Sir Patrick Moore's Sky at Night programme, which has been broadcast for fifty years is home based, with some occasional visits to telescopes around the world, but it has been responsible for influencing the young minds who are astronomers and astrophysicists today.

Isaac Newton was a most odd person. He would get out of bed, put his feet in his slippers, and then sit perched on his bed for hours. He was thinking. He's regarded as the greatest mind that ever popped a thought, yet he never left his hallowed Cambridge halls. Even so, he discovered Gravity and that inspired the future generations of Scientists. 

Today we need sound bites, we need the visual image to explain – our children are impatient to sit and listen to a lecture without a technical device at their fingertips. Television is no longer a medium of instruction, it is just an image gatherer, which doesn’t even sit in the corner anymore but hangs on a wall like a virtual painting.

 Today, we send photogenic presenters around the world to educate us. We sit on our sofa's and view the antiquaries of Rome and Egypt, the Aztecs and Incas, and after a spell in front of the goggle box, we book our holidays to Majorca. Well, it's cheaper to go there and sun worship on the beach, than taking the family off to Easter Island or the Galapagos.

And who wants to see an active volcano in Iceland or Mexico anyway – give us a break! There's no fish and chips and Stella Artois there!

It’s time these pseudo-intellectuals stayed at home and concentrated on the here and now. It’s time the BBC stopped squandering tax payer’s money in the naïve belief that if they dumb down they will attract the youth audience.

It’s time they realised that the young do not pay the licence fee, and if they watch TV they watch soaps and inane programmes epitomised by BBC 3 and MTV.  The people who pay the license fee are mature adults. They may not like it, but they understand that it is a legal requirement.

But if they are just paying for jollies, with substandard and poor quality programmes, presented by intellectually challenged c-list celebrities (take the Jubilee coverage for example) then the time may come when they will say enough is enough. Quality radio is a right – not a privilege. Quality television programming is equally so; but only when we pay for it.

We pay for the BBC and we expect better.


July 14, 2012 - Posted by | Books, Culture, Current Affairs, Education, Europe, Events, General, History, Humour, Italy, London, Mount Mayon Volcano, Science, The Philippines, Travel | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. As always a fascinating and entertaining read. I agree with you wholeheartedly about the BBC, whatever has happened to quality programming? As to photogenic presenters, I also agree with you, I ain’t dumb I’m blonde like. On a more serious note, a stunning and beautiful photo there. Wish there were more of them.
    Enjoy your stones.


    Comment by Spook Moor | July 14, 2012 | Reply

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