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No News is Bad News

“Any news yet?” my wife enquired,
having noticed me twiddling with my mobile phone, as she urged our rented car
through the interminable forests and occasional farmlands of central Sweden.

“Yes,” I said, “and excellent
news it is.  The Australians are in real
trouble.”

“Not the bloody cricket, for
pity’s sake.  What’s happening with the
royal baby?”

“I’ve no idea.  And frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn,
especially when the Aussies are eight down. 
It should be all over by close of play.”

There followed the kind of
conversation in which married couples indulge on such occasions, when divergent
interest in the news of the hour come into stark conflict.  Her American incredulity lay in how I could possibly
be interested in a contest of such ineffable eccentricity that opposing sides
can take up to five days to produce a result – and even then may have to settle
for a draw.  My matching English
astonishment was that something as routine as the birth of a child – even one that
will one day succeed to the British throne – could be so compelling as to last
for a similar passage of time in which nothing – absolutely nothing – of
interest could occur except what was going on in the privacy of the delivery
room. 

“At least something is actually going
on at the Test Match,” I said, stoutly defending my compulsive need for
updates. “The match is progressing, and we’re winning.”  Outside St. Mary’ Hospital, by way of
contrast, what had been happening, for about the same number of days consumed
by the cricket, was, precisely and relentlessly, nothing.  The commentators, perspiring freely in a rare
London heat
wave, their boredom evident for all the efforts to conceal it, were reduced to repeating
inanities to fill the airtime.  “And now,
over to Kay,” someone would say.  “She’s over
at the hospital, where an expectant crowd has gathered, waiting excitedly for
news.”   

And so it went on.  Each time M or I switched the hotel
television set to the BBC or Sky, we got some poor presenter, haggard from lack
of sleep, prattling endlessly about the hospital doors through which –
eventually, and “perhaps any moment now” – the bearer of the glad tidings would
emerge.  “Every pair of eyes in this
crowd is fixed on those doors,” we were informed.  After a while, we viewers in distant lands found
ourselves equally numbed into ogling the blessed doors for a sign – any sign –
of movement.  None came.

Occasionally, exhausted by the
effort of reporting that nothing was happening, and having repeated the fact
over and over again, the presenter would break the monotony by interviewing a Peruvian
tourist, who would dutifully impress upon us that back home they all love the
Royal Family and wish they had one of their own.  And from time to time the coverage would switch
to some other equally word-bereft presenter standing in front of Buckingham Palace where, in the forecourt, a notice
board had been set up on an easel to accommodate the official notice of birth. 

The television cameras continued
to focus unremittingly on the doors and on the notice board, which continued to
yield nothing but their inanimate irrelevance. 

Do the royal correspondents of
the press corps feel embarrassed about having to spend endless hours intoning
for the viewing masses that there is nothing to report, all the while assuring
us that as soon as there is we can be sure that that they will be there to report
it?  You bet they do, but these days a
job is a job.

I don’t get it, this manufactured
hysteria, but evidently millions of British patriots do – and for all I know countless
millions more, from Peru to Poland. 

The Sky News presenter, Kay
Burley, at one point during the long waiting hours, suddenly found that she too
had become the subject of ardent speculation. 
Wasn’t that orange blouse she was wearing the same one she’d worn the
previous day?  Couldn’t she, poor girl,
have found the time to nip home for a shower and a change of clothes?  Yes she had, she assured us later, but in her
haste to return to her long vigil on our behalf, she had selected a blouse of a
similar colour.       

We all breathed a sigh of relief.

And then, suddenly, the news was
out!  It’s a baby boy!  Not a boy, mind you, but a ‘baby boy’ – as if
there had been a distinct possibility that Kate might deliver a full-grown adult. 

Duly, though apparently without
due care and attention, I reported the news to M.  “What’s the weight?” was her first question
from the shower.  “And the name – what’s
the name?  You weren’t paying attention.”

“I’ve no idea,” I replied, pleading
guilty as charged. (I hadn’t been entirely derelict; the name, George, was not announced
until later, presumably to give the bookmakers a shot at making some money.) “But
you might like to know we’ve beaten the Australians.”

All in all, then, a good performance:
an emphatic Ashes victory, plus a new heir to the throne – a day to remember,
for both of us.        

 

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