The Loop: Far, far away

Businessman standing in the sea

Welcome to The Loop, the Magazine's letters column, including the best of your thoughts from Twitter and Facebook.

It's at this time of the year that, beset either with too much of a good thing (family, food) or with having to go back to work, many minds start turning to faraway golden beaches. But this far?

Thomas Martienssen's tale of life in the tiny Pacific island of Palmerston put a few things into perspective. It's visited by a supply ship just twice a year, in a journey he described memorably: "Nine days of constant movement. Nine days in a boat, unable to stand. Nine days with the fear of being hit by a tropical storm, thousands of miles from rescue. The Pacific Ocean is big. Far bigger than one would imagine. This is the journey to the island at the end of the earth."

"One to put on the bucket list," tweeted Lawrence Pearce. "Bonkers and amazing in equal measure," added Miss Bea. "l love the island and its people," said Ali Ajuran Ajuran, adding: "By the way do they have a government?"

Besoa Nirina Razafintsalama took issue with Thomas's description that most of the island's 62 inhabitants were descended from just one man. "AND what was the name of their mother or the mother of those 62 inhabitants at this tiny island?" he asked.

Tales of extreme commuting, which also featured on the Magazine over the Christmas break, pale by comparison.

Graham emails from Sydney, apparently happy with commuting for four hours each day: "My journey lasts about 2 hours in each direction. Travel by train in NSW is significantly subsidised so economically it makes sense. We moved to the central coast, north of Sydney, to build our dream home, with a pool and water views and to reduce our mortgage. The commute allows me time to catch up on e-mail and projects but it does mean a 5.30am start and usually I'm not home before 7.30pm. It really works for us as a family and for me the worst type of commute is sitting in traffic and wasting time. In my previous roles I'd often spend 2 hours per day in the car and feel totally drained. I now have energy and time... rare commodities it seems these day."

Image caption Or even this far?

And Anant Patel, from Coventry, says he's been commuting to Euston for more than 10 years and points out that there is an upside. "Some of us have become good friends and regularly go out socially, and whenever the trains are delayed will meet up in the Crown. Commuters come and go, but at Xmas over 30 of us went out for a meal, with another 20 odd that couldn't attend."

If only train disruption could be predicted like the weather. This week a question was raised by one of the Today programme's guest editors: Does anyone still actually use the shipping forecast?

The forecast, which is broadcast four times a day and is as familiar as breathing to many British ears, has surely been overtaken by technology? Apparently not, as the Monitor reported. Dog walkers, cliff walkers, bait diggers, kite surfers, sea canoers and kayakers, anglers and dinghy sailors as well as commercial fisherman are all still stuck on Long Wave.

Reader Michael Mayer from Chobham is one of them. "I find the shipping forecast a vital planning advice before I go to sea and whilst off shore. Someone is naive to suggest it's not justified and just soothing." Terry Bailey of Holywell adds: "The Shipping Forecast is important to those who go to sea," he says. "It can be heard on long wave at far greater distances than any other media, when mobile phones are long out of signal range. What is the alternative? 5 more minutes of pop music?" (How much Radio 4 is Terry really listening to?)

But Janet Turner of Frome, Somerset, trumps all with her wistfulness. "I listen to the shipping forecast last thing at night and find it somewhat comforting. What I do miss is the announcer winding up with "Good night gentlemen, and good sailing".

Our colleague Richard Warry's tales of being diagnosed with gout seemed unfairly to raise a titter on Twitter. "BBC challenging the perception that gout is for miserable middle aged men. Written by a miserable middle aged man," writes Freeze Dry Fun.

Tiernan Douiebadds: "This person doesn't find it funny. They are clearly wrong. It's hilarious."

Adam Luck has some solidarity: "@richardwarry I feel your pain, literally! All parts from the agony to the "humour" of others."

But author Brooke Magnanti, formerly known as the blogger Belle Du Jour, says: "Sigh. As someone who also has gout, this guy comparing to childbirth and cancer is ridiculous."

She adds: "I've found gout is very painful, but it's also straightforward to treat and control. Bit of perspective, people."

To be fair to Richard, he only said people had anecdotally compared the pain to childbirth, and pointed out that most people did not make light of cancer they way they will of gout, which is not quite the same thing.

Finally, there was much welcome for our traditional end-of-year 100 Things We Didn't Know Last Year extravaganza, which we dutifully tweeted nugget by nugget over the break.

"These are great. I am a teacher and do research each day with my students. Super little pieces of info," wrote Disa Potgieter-Oubella of Bermuda.

Journalist John Rentoul of the Independent on Sunday seems to concur. "If it hadn't been for Twitter I would not have discovered that 8068 is the least common PIN. Or, at least, it was. Now that the BBC has included this fact in a list of 100 things we learnt this year - which I came across through what one American news agency used to call until quite recently the 'micro-blogging website' - lots of people will be using it as their PIN because they'll know how to remember it."

Megan from Cheshire is not boasting though when she says: "I knew about half of your 100 things you didn't know last year already - perhaps it is what my friends call my mind of useless and footnote facts." She also says it's not just Americans who refer to "gifs" as "jifs". "Nearly everyone I know calls them 'jifs'," she says before incriminating herself by adding: "Maybe it's a computer scientist thing..."

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