Last winter my fiancée and I went to Thailand for seven weeks purportedly to kick start my next novel and scout locations. Between these tasks we enjoyed the sun, wasted days lounging by the sea or the private pool outside the room of our condominium, and ate sumptuously on Thai fish and curries.

For a couple of months, it was our own little corner of heaven. Now I am back in London and sadly my fiancée is back in Kiev, but those two months were a blissful time, but I had to risk it all by taking someone else along with us.

Last Christmas I was given the Amazon Alexa voice recognition assistant and now when I am tucked under the duvet I call out “Alexa, turn off the lights” and the room goes dark or “Alexa, play BBC radio 4” and the radio comes on, and most nights “Alexa, sleep one hour” and she tells me that she will stop playing in one hour’s time. It wasn’t quite so easy in Thailand as I had taken Alexa along with us.

Why? Well unless you have been reading previously you will know that my fiancée’s name is Alexandra and usually abbreviated to Alexa. I was away with both of them.

I may not have been quite so interested in my digital assistant turning on the radio (although the romantic and soft music was a plus) but turning off the lights was a help but, there was confusion at every instruction. When I asked one Alexa if she wanted to go out for dinner, the other was bemused and when I shouted at Alexa to play romantic music the other complained and asked why I was shouting

It was as we went to sleep that I had the most of many similar, annoying moments.

Imagine this. It is late at night and the lights are off. It is time to sleep and your lover’s body, covered only by a simple white sheet is silhouetted by the moon shining through the bedroom window. It is time to sleep and you turn to the love of your life, lay a hand on her hip and say the words you know she wants to hear. “Alexa, I love you. Alexa, I will wait for Sun to see you as I wake.”  It is then you realise that she was already asleep, but never mind the other Alexa was listening to me and my radio answered, “I love you, too. Goodnight.”

That is why I am no longer engaged to Alexandra.  Someone had to change their name and we couldn’t work out how to change the name of my digital assistant. I am now engaged to Sasha.

Of course, it is these colder days that make me think of the warmth of Thailand. It is so cold there is great comfort pulling myself under a deep, warm duvet.

I finish work late at night and bed is normally around half past midnight. Well that is the normal time but if you were to take a monthly average you would discover that recently I have been up much later watching the morning session of the Ashes cricket from Australia, but that is just a recent aberration which no one from anywhere other than the protagonist’s countries can fully understand. It’s nearly too complicated to explain in detail. Either you know about it or you don’t and, if you don’t, I am sure there is a great piece somewhere on Wiki.

Let me just say that the Ashes are a trophy for the winner and they are a tiny urn, no larger than salt cellar, filled with the ashes of the bails from the first match played between England and Australia a long, long time ago. As a trophy it is as quirky and the idea of 22 men playing 5 games in a series lasting 30 days. It is not only a little bit silly, but it is history of quaint, nostalgic better times. The ashes are both reassuring and comforting.

Putting the Ashes to one side I am nearly at the point I always wanted to reach. I get to bed late and most nights I can listen to the Shipping Forecast which is a weather forecast for sailors and ships around the British coast and broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 12:48 every evening. It is never 12:45 or 12:49. It is always broadcast at exactly 12:48.

In the darkness of my bedroom it is wonderfully comforting to have the routine. It is my comforter. Always preceded by the tune ‘Sailing By,’ an orchestral piece by Ronald Binge I only learnt recently that there is a strictly prescribed format. It can be no longer than 380 words but that is for the 12:48 edition. The other three editions during the day are limited to 350 words.

There are warnings of gales in Viking, Forties, Cromarty, Forth, Tyne, Dogger, Humber, Thames, Dover, Plymouth, Biscay, Lundy, Irish Sea, Fair Isle, and Southeast Iceland. North 6 to gale 8, backing west or northwest 4 or 5 later. Rough or very rough, becoming moderate later. Wintry showers, rain later. Good, occasionally poor, and so around the British Isles the Shipping Forecast wanders

When it finishes, the reader and continuity announcer will often wish me a good night and sound sleep before playing the National Anthem and the closedown of Radio 4, to be followed by the news on the BBC World Service.

The BBC say that the audience of the Shipping Forecast far exceeds the number of sailors or boats and so there must be many more like me who find comfort in these words of storms and gales.

In these days of Brexit could it be that the Shipping Forecast is reminding us of our island heritage?

Whatever, Alexa turns herself off sometime after 1:30 when I am long asleep and already dreaming of Thai beaches and my own Sasha.

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