Tuesday, August 05, 2008

A Tale of Two Barometers

The barometer —or rather wireless weather station—on the left hangs in my brother’s hall in his house in Burwell. It is hooked up to a gizmo on his garage (my brother is the technical one in the family) and among other things, it records the number of inches of rain that have fallen and predicts when a tsunami is likely to attack Cambridge, in which case I suppose the little man at the bottom right puts on suitable clothes. He certainly grabs an umbrella, and maybe his wellies too, when it is going to rain. It is very complicated and Brian explained it all to us. I got most of it, but I am a Fahrenheit gal and this thing works in Celsius. I don’t like having to attack the conversion as a math problem, multiplying by 5/9 and adding 32, but the first couple of columns of this help.

The barometer on the right hung in the hall of our house for as long as I can remember. Every time my dad passed it, he gave it a strong tap. I was never entirely sure what that accomplished, but it seemed to tell him if it was going to rain. This, of course, was England and it was always going to rain. But I always associated the barometer with my dad, and when he died it was the only thing I wanted. All was well until I got to the airport, where I was told that I couldn’t take a barometer on board. Even in those pre-9/11 days, mercury was a no-no. When the agent at Heathrow told me that, I did what any mature, middle-aged mother of five would do. I cried. But he was adamant and the best he could do was keep it in storage for my brother to pick up, pack up and send by sea. That was a lot to ask my brother, but I let the agent take it and boarded the plane.

When I got back to Detroit I told the whole story to my dear friend Bill Murphy, who was Pan Am’s marketing manager and who had got me a ticket when I told him that I needed to get to England right away. Bill expressed his sorrow about the barometer, but made no promises.

A few days later there was a knock on my door and a very special delivery. My dad’s barometer. It has hung on our wall ever since. I don’t tap it often, but whenever I look at it I am taken back to a long ago place and time.

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