Libby Purves March podcast: If you want to gauge your shipmates’ mood and morale, try to decipher the sounds coming from their earphones

“With my MP3 player I can pursue my taste for playing air-guitar on night watch”

I have always fancied getting a radio station to make a programme of Car Singalong Confessions. I would approach well known dignitaries – ministers, archbishops, captains of industry – and ask them to confess what they sing along to when alone in their cars. Then they would agree to have a small recorder placed in the car, and out on the open road, when the mood struck them, we would
hear the glorious sound of human disinhibition.

I am not distinguished enough, but would be willing to blaze a trail by exposing my duets with Dolly Parton (‘I-yeeee will alwayeeees love yoooooo’), the Fron Male Voice Choir and the rockin’ duo that occurs when Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell is accompanied by a middle-aged lady driving a Skoda at 29mph along a country lane. I have not yet found a radio producer willing to take this on. But I hope.


Anyway, now is a good time to sort out the boat’s music collection, while we’re bracing our- selves for the chill squalors of the fitting-out season. My husband Paul has pointed out that the advent of MP3 may change the effect of music on boats. There was a time when, tramping along on a broad reach or cosied round the oil-lamp at anchor, we were forced to share music. Wagner, the Chieftains or Woody Guthrie to annoy the teenagers; The Laughing Policeman on endless repeat to drive young parents mad, and gangsta- rap to enrage them as their hair went grey.


But now everyone can have their MP3 player and headphones, and lead separate emotional and musical lives. I can pursue my taste for playing air-guitar alone on night watch. When the skipper hears an occasional thump or scrape and peers out anxiously from his bunk, he is alarmed to see his lady wife jerking around, lips in a silent rock-god snarl, as she does another run through ‘Baby baby baby you’re out of time’. Then he can lie back in his bunk to wallow in Chopin, grateful to be spared the next track on my iPod. Which he knows, with a sinking heart, involves the syncopated cockpit-tap routine for participation in The Proclaimers’ I-would-walk-five-hundred-miles.


It would be useful, though, to keep a sneaky check on what your crewmates are piping into their ears. Just as a quick check on their psychological welfare. Prolonged country-and-western
numbers may indicate an unspoken longing to get ashore onto some comfort- ingly immmobile grass; dark, threatening jazz num- bers indicate that they are losing interest in your enthusiastic pointing at seabirds and long for Ronnie Scott’s and a Bourbon.


When the wind rises and the sea piles up, the forced grin and willing winch-work of your newest guest may deceive you into thinking he or she is enjoying it as much as you are. Until you notice a prodding of the MP3 player screen for a third time round of O God our help in ages past.


Conversely, the skipper may have been half promising everyone that you would slide into Weymouth for a quiet night despite a fair (but fast-rising) wind. But the faint tinny notes of Land of Hope and Glory blasting from his ear buds might alert you to his secret intention to grit his teeth, go for broke in the Portland Race and carry on westward all night. During which night, of course, he will regret it in the fog and rain and plaintively mouth along to Lead, Kindly Light.


So let us all keep an ear on one another’s listening. When my own glorious leader surreptitiously dials up his playlist of Churchill speeches (‘Let ush now brashe ourshelves to our duty!’) I know that the GRIB file he wouldn’t let me see forecast a Force 9. Time to make a thermos of cocoa.


Libby Purves