Hugh Laurie's Blues Changes: The devil in the detail

Laurie took to the lectern and described in detail the genesis of the song. The detail, the sheer pedantry, was simultaneously thrilling and unbearable.

“Gary Clark Jr there, with ‘When My Train Pulls In’. And as luck would have it, it’s a train that will pick us up the same time next week. I’m Hugh Laurie and this is BBC Radio 2.”
 
The first in a series about the blues (Mondays, 10pm) ended as it began, with an immaculate neatness from a presenter who had, among other things, been debating-society keen to over-enunciate dates and names (“That was ROBERT JOHNSON playing in NINETEEN THIRTY-SEVEN”).
 
The programme opened with Laurie and his band covering Alan Price’s “Changes”, a song Price had recorded for the soundtrack to Lindsay Anderson’s forgotten satire O Lucky Man! – a film 40 years old this year and every bit as mad and satirical as when the thirtysomething Price appeared as a member of the cast, banging out all the music on-screen and looking like the nicest and most unflappable person ever to have tuned a piano in the back of a van, while Malcolm McDowell worked his hands up a 28-yearold Helen Mirren’s jumper. (Ooh, isn’t she sexy? Will it never end? Now, I’ll tell you who is sexy. Alan bloody Price in 1973. Nice flat cap. Nice mustard suede shirt. Extremely nice fingers tinkling the ivories.)
 
After this, Laurie took to the lectern and described in detail the genesis of the song, from a Presbyterian hymn (played in full) to a First World War trench anthem (played in full) and beyond (played in full). The detail, the sheer pedantry, was simultaneously thrilling and unbearable.
 
Was the whole programme going to unfurl like this? Just a long, come-into-my-brownstudy dissection of one song, with Hugh booming, “Let’s tease out some further connections” and (you feel certain) doing his Bertie Wooster face to give oomph to his cadences; the face that implies he’s just had his bonnet knocked off by ragamuffins?
 
Laurie did end up changing the record (kind of a shame, although he did make room for a fantastically unpretentious interview with Muddy Waters) but I’ve got to hand it to him: most of the time, his listen-with-mother diction and whopping confidence had me all bright and responsive on my night trudge to buy yoghurt – and I never listen to Radio 2! Ever! Radio to forget the station to. This is probably a first.
 
Hugh Laurie: detail and sheer pedantry. Image: Getty

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 30 September 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory Game of Thrones

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Meet Scotland's 300-year-old snow patch, the Sphinx

Snow patch watchers expect it to melt away by the weekend. 

This weekend, Scotland's most resilient snow patch, dubbed Sphinx, is expected to melt away. The news has been met with a surprising outpouring of emotion and nationwide coverage. Even The Financial Times covered the story with the headline "The end is nigh for Britain's last snow". The story has also gone international, featuring in radio reports as far away as New Zealand.

So what is it about Sphinx that has captured the public’s imagination?  Some have suggested it could be symbolic. The Sphinx represents how we all feel, helpless and doomed to a fate determined by leaders like Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. 

Regular contributors to the Facebook page “Snow Patches in Scotland”  have their own, more prosaic theories. One tells me that the British are “generally a bit obsessed with weather and climate”, while another says snow-patches are "more interesting than anything Trump/May/Boris or Vladimir have to say”.

Those more interested in patches of snow than the existential consequences of international relations could be dismissed as having seriously skewed priorities, but there's more to the story of Sphinx than lies on the surface. 

For a start it's thought to be 300 years old, covering a small square of the Cairngorms for centuries with just six brief interruptions. Last time the Sphinx disappeared was 11 years ago. Though it may melt away this weekend, it is expected to be back by winter. 

Iain Cameron, the man who set up the Facebook page "Snow Patches in Scotland" and someone who has recorded and measured snow patches since he was a young boy, says that Sphinx has shrunk to the size of a large dinner table and he expects it will have melted entirely by this Saturday.

It came close to disappearing in 2011 as well, he adds. In October of that year, Sphinx at around its current size and only a heavy snowstorm revived it.

"They tend to keep the same shape and form every year," Cameron tells me. "It might sound weird to say, but it’s like seeing an elderly relative or an old friend. You’re slightly disappointed if it’s not in as good a condition."

But why has Sphinx survived for so long? The patch of land that Sphinx lies above faces towards the North East, meaning it is sheltered from the elements by large natural formations called Corries and avoids the bulk of what sunlight northern Scotland has to offer. 

It also sits on a bid of soil rather than boulder-fields, unlike the snow patches on Britain's highest mountain Ben Nevis. Boulder-fields allow air through them, but the soil does not, meaning the Sphinx melts only from the top.

Cameron is hesistant to attribute the increased rate of Sphinx's melting to climate change. He says meterologists can decide the causes based on the data which he and his fellow anoraks (as he calls them) collect. 

That data shows that over the past 11 years since Sphinx last melted it has changed size each year, not following any discernable pattern. “There is no rhyme or reason because of the vagaries of the Scottish climate," says Cameron.

One thing that has changed is Sphinx's title is no longer quite so secure. There is another snow patch in near Ben Nevis vying for the position of the last in Scotland. Cameron says that it is 50:50 as to which one will go first.