Separate, within his glass-enclosed elevation, the riverboat pilot glances wearily at the undramatic shoreline, and spins the wheel to bring us closer to the west bank. His rapid spiel picks out, for the benefit of tourists ploughing resignedly from Totnes to Dartmouth, the celebrities who have made their homes, or pitched their weekend cottages, within sight of the Dart. His list climbs, in order of precedence, through the ranks of the famous and infamous, the recently notorious and the hopefully forgotten: an inflation of Dimblebys, a lobotomy of Heavy Metal percussionists, Daphne du Maurier, Dame Agatha Christie - then, finally, his voice rasping with emotion, a raven's croak of intensely local pride ... the birthplace of Bill Giles, television weatherman, cold front pundit, guru of the wind-chill factor. A meaningful silence advects along the deck as we contemplate the blessings heaped upon this hamlet, this shrine. We find ourselves glancing involuntarily at the skies, as if the very act of naming the Devonian shaman should bring down thunder from the troposphere, cataracts and hurricanoes, empurpled messengers of apocalypse. It is a bald truth: our peculiar island tribe still worships, above all false idols and over-familiar commentators, these hierophants of climate - initiates capable, after years of severe druidic study, of foretelling the shifts in the cloud masses, the future weather, what we will wear and how we will behave three days from now.
LRB 6 December 1990 | PDF Download