The London Borough Of Lambeth

Stretching from the River Thames down to Streatham, the borough of Lambeth is a culturally-rich area of south London. It includes the nightclubs of Vauxhall, the diversity of Brixton down to the leafy suburb of West Norwood. With a wide mixture of things to see and do, here are just a few which might be of interest.

The Tate Modern.

The Tate Modern gallery is renowned for some of its more bizarre pieces and is the home of contemporary and modern art in London. Although it may not be for everyone, having your art displayed in the Tate Modern is a lifelong dream of many artists and creators across the world. You can watch live art in massive underground converted oil tanks, look out over London from the Tate balcony whilst sipping a drink as well as view priceless art such as Picasso, Monet, and Salvador Dali. Art has traditionally been a singularly sensory experience, but here a range of exhibits involve you, the viewer, and bring all your senses to life. Immerse yourself in light displays, film, walk through sculpture or play with colour. It is said that here, the stereotypical art gallery of the past is gone and you will find your visit ‘an electrifying experience for your senses’, because art is more than simply staring at pictures here, it should involve all senses. Entry is free and the permanent collection is impressive, but it is suggested that you check their website before you visit to see details of any featured exhibition. Special exhibitions and events require a separate paid ticket and it is always recommended to book in advance online, especially for popular exhibits, although Tate members can access all exhibits for free using their membership card. I also discovered some odd but interesting facts, which are that the Tate Modern’s building was converted from the Bankside Power Station and opened in 2000. The building is almost the same size as Westminster Abbey with the central chimney standing at 99 metres tall. The original architect of the power station was Giles Gilbert Scott, who is famous for having designed our iconic red telephone boxes so there’s a link to my past that I had no idea about. What I also learned in my research was that the Tate Group of galleries began in 1889 when Henry Tate, a sugar merchant from Liverpool, donated his collection of contemporary paintings. The Bankside Power Station building was built in 1947 on the shore of the Thames, but was closed in 1981 and the Queen opened Tate Modern in the original building. Then in 2016 the new Switch House extension (now known as the Blavatnik Building) was opened, increasing the size of Tate Modern dramatically.

The Imperial War Museum.

One place I was keen to visit some years ago was the Imperial War Museum as it houses one of the best collections of military hardware and artefacts you can see and is a compelling record of modern warfare, as it places the impact of conflict on everyday lives at its centre. It is here that you will see huge, imposing 15-inch naval guns built for the First World War and which guard the front of the building. Inside you can look up into the atrium to see an iconic Battle of Britain Spitfire, suspended as if in flight above your head. There is also the permanent Holocaust exhibition where visitors may reflect on the first-hand testimonies of those who suffered horrific persecution. Walking into the central atrium of the building with its 25-metre high space is an impressive sight as it vividly displays the scale of some of the most iconic hardware of modern warfare, displaying as it does a Battle of Britain Spitfire, a V2 rocket and a Hawker Harrier which are suspended from the ceiling. Then there is the First World War Gallery, depicting World War I, with the black and white grainy images of the trenches which still have the power to both enthral and maybe even terrify visitors after more than one hundred years. Accompanied by touch screen interactive displays, visitors can view over 1300 objects including planes, tanks, uniforms, artefacts, diaries and poignant personal letters detailing the lives of both the soldiers and civilians. There is even a replica section of a trench, where it is possible to see exactly how the soldiers at the front lived back then. There is also the ‘Turning Points’ exhibition, which charts the years between 1934 and 1945 from the point that World War II began to loom through to its conclusion, with many poignant personal artefacts to be seen. Further exhibits include the remains of a Japanese Zero fighter plane located on a Pacific island fifty years after the end of the war. Then in the Lord Ashcroft Collection are stories of the incredible bravery of men, women and children in time of war. There are over 250 personal stories of bravery, accompanied by photographs, film, artefacts and artwork. You are also able to view the world’s largest collection of Victoria Cross medals, Britain’s highest decoration for valour. In addition, there is a large collection of George Cross medals as the exhibition recounts stories of incredible bravery.

The idea for the museum was first proposed in 1917, during World War 1 as it was intended to record the effort and sacrifice of Britain and the Empire for that specific event. It has meant that for over forty years the Imperial War Museum’s collection of films and archival footage have been used by television producers to make documentaries which have furthered our understanding of war and its effects. Landmark programs where the museum’s films were used include ‘The Great War’ and ‘The World at War’. The museum also holds a significant collection of art, consisting of paintings, posters, drawings and prints including much of the artwork commissioned by the government to record both World Wars. It has also commissioned artists to record more recent conflicts, as well as peacekeeping duties and although the Imperial War Museum in London is its most well-known site, the museum as a group contains four other sites. This includes the Imperial War Museum North based in Manchester, the Churchill War Rooms and HMS Belfast in London, plus Europe’s largest air museum at Duxford. The museum has a noted history, as in March 1917 the War Cabinet approved proposal for National War Museum from Sir Alfred Mond MP and in June 1920 it was opened at Crystal Palace by King George VI. In November 1924 came the move to smaller location in the Western Galleries of the Imperial Institute in South Kensington and in July 1936 the Duke of York opened the museum in its new location at Lambeth Road, where it remains today. But from September 1940 to November 1946 it was closed for the war, with many vulnerable collections stored outside of London. In 1966 came the first major expansion to the museum since its relocation to its current home and in 1967 it acquired the iconic naval guns which are sited on the approach to the building. Then the first phase of major renovation started in 1986, taking three years to complete, with the final part of three-phase development of Southwark building completed in 2000. It included Holocaust Exhibition. The museum finally reopened after a £40 million redesign in 2004.

Shakespeare’s Globe.
Photo by Walker/Deposit Photos.

Shakespeare’s Globe is undoubtedly London’s most beautiful theatre. Situated on the South Bank and standing just a few hundred yards from its original site, The Globe takes pride in remembering William Shakespeare and all of his plays. As well as seeing a play, you can book tickets for guided tours and any current exhibitions and you can travel back to the 16th century in a reconstruction of the open-air wood and thatch theatre where the world-famous plays were originally performed. The present timber and thatch open-air circular theatre is an accurate reconstruction of Shakespeare’s original Globe Theatre, enabling visitors to enjoy the performances of Shakespeare’s plays as they were intended to be seen, whatever the weather! The theatre stages performances between April and October and being open air the show goes on, regardless of the weather, then during the winter months concerts and plays are held in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, an atmospheric Jacobean-style theatre illuminated by candlelight. As part of the access programme, the Globe theatre has relaxed performances and the open-door policy there means that members of the audience can come and go exactly as they please, making these performances ideal for families. But it seems that the Elizabethan Globe Theatre is not original, despite being constructed in 1599 as it was built using timber from an earlier theatre. Sadly the place was burnt down in 1613 after a special effect went wrong, a cannonball fired during a performance of Henry Vlll which set fire to the thatched roof. No one was hurt except for a man whose trousers caught fire but who was saved by a bottle of beer poured over him! Also it seems there were no women actors in Shakespeare’s day and female roles were played by young boys. Back then Elizabethan audiences in the ‘pit’ or standing part of the theatre were known as ‘groundlings’, or as ‘stinkards’ during hot weather! The Globe theatre was finally reconstructed close to its original site on the South Bank of the Thames in 1997, after a lengthy fundraising campaign by the director Sam Wanamaker.

Battersea Dogs and Cats Home.

A place which I think has certainly been heard of is the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, which has been rescuing and rehoming animals for over a hundred and fifty years and is one of of the best-loved institutions in London. The place is open to visitors, as you don’t have to want to adopt an animal to visit the centre, though you probably won’t be able to view the animals out of their pens. If you wish to visit more animals after your visit, Battersea Petting Zoo is just around the corner from there.

A London Eye capsule.

One of London’s most popular tourist attractions is the London Eye. It was previously known as the Millennium Wheel due to its launch in 2000 and it takes guests on a sightseeing journey 135 metres over the city, making it Europe’s largest Ferris wheel. But advance booking is advised, as it is currently the most popular paid tourist attraction in the whole of the United Kingdom and has become as iconic to London as Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. It has become an absolute landmark, a must-see attraction offering visitors great views across the city. Visitors board one of the 32 capsules for an approximate 30-minute rotation, giving a 360-degree view across London and its many historic landmarks. It gives a unique perspective across London and down onto its iconic landmarks. With a riverside location opposite the Houses of Parliament, visitors can either stand and gaze out the windows across the city or take advantage of the central benches located in every capsule as the wheel slowly rotates. On a clear day it is said you can see over a distance of 40 kilometres, or around 25 miles. The London Eye caters for groups too, offering a unique day out for friends, families and work colleagues. It is a hugely popular attraction, but sometimes you may feel you want that extra-special London experience by hiring a private capsule by inviting up to 25 friends to enjoy a very personal rotation on the wheel, with a choice of food and drink enhancements available for a VIP feel. In addition, out of normal hours when the visitors have left, folk can enjoy a champagne reception, followed by a three-course meal. You will enjoy three leisurely rotations as you dine, with a 10 minute stop on the final rotation at the top, for the opportunity to take photos and record your experience. The research I made also told me that the wheel was originally meant to be purely temporary, standing for five years having been constructed to mark the new Millennium but was given a permanent licence in 2002. Although there are 32 viewing capsules the numbers on the capsules range from 1 to 33. This is because number 13, deemed unlucky, was omitted. The London Eye is Europe’s tallest wheel of its kind and when it was built in 1999 it had been the world’s tallest, but since then it has been nudged down to fourth, although still the tallest in Europe. What surprised me was learning that London has seen a large wheel like this before, because in July 1895 there was the Great Wheel which was opened to the public, standing at an impressive 94 metres tall and with 40 capsules or cars. That one was built for the Empire of India exhibition, before ending its service in 1906 and being demolished the year after. It was back in 1998 that construction on the current London Eye began and it was erected in October 1999 before it was formally opened by Prime Minister Tony Blair in December 1999 and opened to the public for the first time in March 2000. Happily, in July 2002 it was granted permanent licence to remain. In 2006 a decorative LED lighting system was installed and in 2009 capsules were upgraded ahead of the 2012 London Olympics and used as part of the ceremony. The second capsule on the wheel was named the Coronation Capsule in 2013 to mark the 60th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and that same year it also recorded its 50 millionth visitor. It had its 20 year anniversary in 2020. In addition, just below the wheel the London Eye has access to its own pier. From here there are 40-minute river cruises which will take you past many of London’s historic sites including the Houses of Parliament, St Pauls’ Cathedral and the Tower of London. Knowledgeable on-board guides provide a commentary informing you about all the sites you see.

The Old Vic Theatre.
Photo by khellon/Deposit Photos.

Finally this week I had to include a famous place, the Old Vic Theatre as over two hundred years of history grace this famous old building in the heart of the city. The Old Vic is an independently operated, not for profit theatre whose historic décor has seen shows of all types performed on its stage. Today the theatre continues to offer diverse productions, supporting new and exciting talent. The building was sadly damaged during World War II, but reopened in 1951 and is grade II listed. Just three minutes walk from Waterloo Station, the Old Vic is easy to reach and a must-visit attraction for any theatre fan. The theatre was founded in 1818 and one of the founders named John Serres, who was the marine painter to the King, managed to secure the formal patronage of Princess Charlotte and her husband Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg so named the theatre the Royal Coburg Theatre. It was a ‘minor’ theatre, as opposed to one of the two ‘patent’ theatres, so was technically forbidden to show serious drama but when the theatre passed to a new owner in 1824 they succeeded in bringing the then legendary actor Edmund Kean south of the river to play six Shakespeare plays in six nights. The theatre’s role in bringing high art to the masses was confirmed when Kean addressed the audience during his curtain call saying “I have never acted to such a set of ignorant, unmitigated brutes as I see before me.” However more popular items in the repertoire were deemed to be “sensational and violent melodramas demonstrating the evils of drink, churned out by the house dramatist”, according to a confirmed teetotaller! The owner then left to take over the Surrey Theatre in 1833 and the theatre was bought by two people who tried to capitalise on the abolition of the legal distinction between patent and minor theatres as enacted in Parliament earlier that year. On 1 July 1833 the theatre was renamed the Royal Victoria Theatre, under the ‘protection and patronage’ of Victoria, Duchess of Kent, the mother to Princess Victoria who was the 14-year-old heir presumptive to the British throne. The duchess and the princess visited only once, on 28 November of that year, but enjoyed the performance, of light opera and dance, in what was described as the ‘pretty, clean and comfortable’ theatre, though the single visit scarcely justified the ‘Old Vic’ its later billing as “Queen Victoria’s Own Theayter”. In 1841 a new lessee took over and was succeeded on his death in 1850 by his lover and the theatre’s leading lady until her death in 1856. It seems that under their management, the theatre remained devoted to melodrama but it was not without its own dramas however, as in 1858 sixteen people were crushed to death inside the theatre after mass panic caused when an actor’s clothing caught fire. In 1867, a new lessee took over and in 1871 he transferred the lease to a new person who, it is said, raised funds for the theatre to be rebuilt in the style of the Alhambra Music Hall, where a noted architect had been engaged. In September 1871 the old theatre closed, and the new building opened as the Royal Victoria Palace in December of the same year. In 1880, under the ownership of an Emma Cons, for whose memory there are plaques outside and inside the theatre, it became the Royal Victoria Hall and Coffee Tavern and was run on ‘strict temperance lines’ and by this time it was already known as the ‘Old Vic’. Then on 24 November 1923, the theatre participated in a pioneering radio event, when the first set of the opera ‘La Traviata’ was broadcast live by the BBC, using transmitters in London, Manchester and Glasgow via a specially installed relay transmitter on the roof of the adjacent Royal Victoria Tavern. Technology at its best!

This week…
A longer blog, but hopefully an interesting one. There is still so much to be written about! So, a quick but amusing item. A group of architects were arguing about the design of a new football stadium. One very senior architect was getting frustrated as he knew the best option, so turned to one of his colleagues and said quietly, with a slight smile, “Trust me, this will all end in tiers…

Click: Return to top of page or Index page

Seven Sisters

There are so many, many places to see in London, the list is endless. I will mention just one for now and then share more in the future. This one I came across a while ago and it is actually an area of London called Seven Sisters, a bustling neighbourhood to the south of Tottenham. It is easily reached by the Victoria Line. But the enigmatic name comes from history and is a tale of ancient shrines, fecund families and most of all, trees. If you head a few paces north-east of the tube station today, you’ll find an unremarkable strip of park known as Page Green. This narrowest of open spaces is enjoyed more as a verdant cut-through than a place to linger. Keep your eyes open though and you will spot this circle of hornbeam trees towards the centre.

A ring of trees which was planted in 1996 by a remarkable delegation.

The first evidence for a circle of trees comes from 1619, as an unnamed arboreal ring can be seen on a land map to the western end of Page Green. About a decade later, local vicar and historian William Bedwell mentions an ancient walnut tree surrounded by a tuft of elms. These uncertain origins have led to any number of myths about the leafy landmark. One story posits a pre-Roman druidic connection, as the Celts often held groves as sacred sites and this one is just next to the ancient Ermine Street. In his book London Lore, folklorist Steve Roud points out the flaw in this tale as walnut trees were introduced by the Romans after the Celtic period. Page Green sounds a bit like Pagan Green, which may also have helped the myth along. Other legends connect the seven elms with seven sisters, sometimes daughters, of Robert the Bruce, who owned land in the area in the early 14th century. Again, sadly evidence is lacking. Others think the trees are an arboreal memorial to a protestant martyr, or a farewell planting by seven sisters about to scatter to the four winds. Myth became documented history from the 18th century as the walnut vanished at some point, leaving the circle of elms and these were first recorded as the Seven Sisters in 1732.

Pictured in 1830, when they are described as standing against the five-mile stone from Shoreditch Church.

They must have formed a well-known landmark at the time, for the new thoroughfare connecting Tottenham to Camden Town in 1840 was named Seven Sisters Road. Their fame was cemented in 1872 when Seven Sisters train station was opened nearby, followed by a tube stop in 1968. In fact the mighty plants have changed several times over the centuries. In 1852, the originals were in a really sad and sorry state so new trees were planted by the seven daughters of a Mr J McRae. These elms lasted just 20 years, when a newspaper described ‘six venerable and withered trunks’, so it is possible that the stumps of the originals were still hanging around. A new circle was planted on 2 March 1886 when local siblings called Rosa, Alice, Amy, Edith, Julia, Georgina and Matilda Hibbert, who were at that time the only family in Tottenham to contain seven sisters and no brothers, did the honours and over the years, the sisters returned to view their handiwork. Matilda’s was the only one that wouldn’t take. According to a later interview, the sister pointed to her withered tree and said, “I’m the doomed one”. Alas, her premonition came true. Mathilda passed away in 1900. Her six siblings lived on, regrouping at the elms each year. Five trees had died by 1928 when three of the surviving Hibberts were recommissioned to ‘make good the deficiency’. The six sisters continued their reunion until at least 1937, bringing along their original commemorative brooches and spades used in 1886. One of these spades can still be seen at the Bruce Castle Museum in Tottenham. Further plantings took place in 1955, courtesy of sisters named Basten. Perhaps because elms had proven too fragile for the ground, this iteration opted for Italian poplar, and the trees were planted in two clumps rather than a ring. The most recent ceremony drew on the digging skills of five local families, all blessed with seven sisters. This time hornbeams were chosen and the still-standing ring was installed at the centre of Page Green in 1996. These can still be viewed today, although there is no obvious plaque or information board recalling the centuries-old tradition. The only acknowledgment can be found on the nearby tube platforms, where the trees are commemorated in the tiling pattern in the form of a design by Hans Unger, installed when the tube station was built in 1969. Incidentally, these trees weren’t the only Seven Sisters to grace the town as from the 18th century another famous circle could be found in Kew Gardens, but sadly these trees began to die from fungal infection in the late 19th century and the final member was lopped away in 1916.

Seven Sisters is actually a sub-district of Tottenham, North London. It was formerly within the municipal borough of Tottenham but which on 1 April 1965 was subsumed into the new London borough of Haringey. It is located at the eastern end of Seven Sisters Road, which itself runs from Tottenham High Road to join the main A1 in Holloway. It is within the South Tottenham postal district.

‘The Seven Sisters of Tottenham’ by John Greenwood (1790).

The Dorset map of 1619 shows the area known today as Seven Sisters named as Page Greene. However, by 1805 the first series Ordnance Survey map was showing the area as Seven Sisters. The name is derived from seven elm trees which were planted in a circle, with a walnut tree at their centre on an area of common land known as Page Green. The clump was known as the Seven Sisters by 1732. In his early-seventeenth-century work, ‘The Briefe Description of the Towne of Tottenham Highcrosse’, local vicar and historian William Bedwell singled out the walnut tree for particular mention. He wrote of it as “a local arboreal wonder” which ‘flourished without growing bigger’. He described it as popularly associated with the burning of an unknown Protestant. There is also speculation that the tree was ancient, possibly going back as far as Roman times, perhaps standing in a sacred grove or pagan place of worship. The location of the seven trees can be tracked through a series of maps from 1619 onwards. From 1619 they are shown in a position which today corresponds with the western tip of Page Green at the junction of Broad Lane and the High Road. With urbanisation radically changing the area, the ‘Seven Sisters’ had been replanted by 1876, still on Page Green, but further to the east. Contemporary maps show them remaining in this new location until 1955.

Map of Tottenham, 1619.

So the current ring of hornbeam trees on Page Green Common was planted in 1997 in a ceremony led by five families of seven sister, in fact the Seven Sisters is on the route of Ermine Street, the Roman road connecting London to York. In my research I have found references to the ‘Domesday Book’ the Middle English spelling of ‘Doomsday Book’, a manuscript record of the ‘Great Survey’ of much of England and parts of Wales completed in 1086 by order of William I, popularly known as William the Conqueror. The Domesday has long been associated with the Latin phrase ‘Domus Dei’, meaning “House of God”. The manuscript is also known by the Latin name ‘Liber de Wintonia’, meaning ‘Book of Winchester’. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states that in 1085 the king sent his agents to survey every shire in England, to list his holdings and calculate the dues owed to him. At the time of the Domesday Book, the area was within the Manor of Tottenham held by Waltheof II, Earl of Northumbria, the last of the great Anglo-Saxon Earls. In the medieval period a settlement grew up at Page Green and the woodland was increasingly cleared for agriculture. In the early decades of the nineteenth century, the Seven Sisters Road was constructed and the area saw the construction of a number of large houses, including Suffield Lodge, Seven Sisters House and Grove Place. But these fine buildings soon fell victim to the spread of Victorian London and by the third quarter of the century the area had been almost completely built over.

Seven Sisters Market.

Today, Seven Sisters is a multi-cultural area strongly influenced by its location on key road and underground rail routes. Immediately above the tube station is an early-Edwardian department store building, formerly occupied by Wards Furnishing Stores, which traded until 1972. Part of the building, known locally as Wards Corner became an indoor market with a strong Latin American flavour, known as ‘Latin Village’ or ‘Pueblito Paisa’. The site had been under threat of demolition since 2004 and there were plans to redevelop it in 2018, but this action was resisted, and cancelled in August 2021. Part of Seven Sisters is known as The Clyde Circus Conservation Area and this stretches between the busy local shops of West Green Road and Philip Lane. Most of the residential streets between are in the Conservation Area, but not the more modern Lawrence Road and Elizabeth Place. Residents of the conservation area were brought together by the Clyde Area Residents Association (CARA), which holds an annual street party. Its sister group, the Fountain Area Residents Association (FARA), covers residents to the south of West Green Road, namely those in Kirkton Road, Roslyn Road, Seaford Road, Elmar Road, Turner Avenue, Brunel Walk, Avenue Road and Braemar Road. Recent successful projects organised by FARA members include the creation of a community garden at the site of a dated pedestrian ramp. Another community project is the Avenue Orchard and the local community utilised wasteland behind a concrete wall on Avenue Road for planting apple trees, they also held a workshop with local artists to source ideas for how to improve the look and feel of the wall and area around the Avenue Orchard. In 2004 the old Wards Corner building above the tube station was earmarked for development when Haringey Council published a development brief. In August 2007 Haringey Council entered into a Development Agreement with developer Grainger and their plan was to demolish the existing buildings on the site and replace them with a new, mixed-use development of retail and residential units. Except this was met with local opposition and the Wards Corner Coalition (WCC) campaigned for the existing buildings and Latin American market to be retained and improved. The WCC mounted a legal challenge against the plans and, in June 2010, the Court of Appeal quashed the planning permission. In 2012, Grainger submitted revised plans for the site. Haringey Council granted planning permission for the revised plans on 12 July 2012, but after protests the plan was definitively cancelled in August 2021. In addition to the Wards Corner plans, further projects for regeneration in Seven Sisters are planned. Haringey Council’s ‘Plan for Tottenham’ sets out the council’s long-term vision for the area. Plans to regenerate Lawrence Road were put out for consultation and are now partly implemented. Also Transport for London has completed a major project to improve a busy one-way system, the Tottenham Hale Gyratory, that used to pass Seven Sisters station, converting it to a slower, pedestrian-friendly, two-way road. But as I have previously said, the ring of seven sisters is still standing at the centre of Page Green, despite there being no plaque or information board recalling the centuries-old tradition at that site.

This week…
Our world is full of old sayings and I am keeping a note of some for a future blog post. This one caught my eye, it is one said by the grandmother of a a good friend and it is “Shrouds have no pockets”, a proverbial saying found in The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. It is probably from around the mid 19th century and means that worldly wealth cannot be kept and used after death.

Click: Return to top of page or Index page

Life Is But A Dream

It has been said by many that life is not perfect. Equally, I was told that whilst you can please some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, you cannot please all of the people all of the time! So, what is life. Perhaps it is our perception of it. I have been told in the past that most times I tend to see something positive in almost all of life’s situations, with each ‘cloud’ having a silver lining to it. We can easily look back at something which has just happened and feel bad or sad as a result, but if we try, we can usually see a positive effect from it and that is the silver lining. There will, without doubt, be times when a relative or friend may have passed away and this is so very sad, but they are most likely to have either given life to or helped another, they may have taught and shared a skill which others can later benefit from, they may have been or given comfort to another person, often without realising it. Sadly though there are those in this world who give and then expect, even demand, something back in return. But I was taught at a very early age a prayer which I have tried my best to follow. Many reading this blog will have seen this before but I will share it here.

Prayer of St. Ignatius Loyola.

Helping one another does not need to be much, it may have simply needed another person’s presence that is required for someone to realise that they are not alone and this can be particularly true as we get older and see others passing away. I have realised this myself as I live in this Care Home. It may be though illness, it may simply be through old age, but at a time that we usually do not determine, our earthly existence comes to an end. There are times when we do have at least some control over such things though and it is that which we can sometimes forget. I know of a few folk who, had they taken better care of themselves, their human lives would, in all probability, have been longer. There are also times when we are offered some guidance on what life path to take, but not all of us listen! It is up to us, usually, what to do. As many of you know I am disabled, there are some things which I simply cannot physically do and have never been able to do. That has become more apparent as the years pass and I am thankful that I have been offered the skills to read, write and share many things, to help others in the work I have done in the past and I hope that I am able to continue doing this for many years to come! But when it is my time to return home, I will go with thanks, knowing that I have, I hope, done my best openly and honestly, the best that I can. I believe that we all have our part to play in this world, it is surely for us to learn and benefit as well as at least give others the opportunity to do the same. But we must remember that whilst our helping hand may be offered, it should not and must not be taken advantage of. Sadly we seem to see more and more who wish to work for their own personal gain with no thought or consideration for others and who simply do not help to provide the proper balance in life. As humans, we perceive life passing us by at a steady rate, yet there are times when we all say something like “Where did the time go?” I know that I, a great many years ago now, made the mistake of telling my parents that I was bored. They found something for me to do, a job which was simple but had little real value. I never fell for that one again, although sadly at times my willingness to do things hasn’t been ideal. I was taught, but in a good, friendly but firm way as to how things ought to be done. At school I, like so many before me, were shown the ‘right’ way of doing things, it did not matter if it was in behaviour, attitude or language. Most of us did as we were told, some did not and were punished appropriately. Then we went out into the ‘big wide world’, where we found new sets of rules. These were again in behaviour, attitude and language which differed from school as we were beginning to ‘grow up’. Not all did what was right and I think what came to me to be most obvious at this time was I can only describe as ‘consequences’. What good we do is recognised and honoured, likewise what bad things we do is also equally recognised and remembered. Not everyone will agree with me, but I do believe that there is a balance in Nature. It should surely be that whatever we do, it will be of value to ourselves as well as to others. I am not talking in purely financial terms but in ways that benefit another person’s character, behaviour and yes at times their appearance. I am reminded that we may see people with a limb which is in plaster, wearing a bandage or using a stick. That alerts us that they are dealing with perhaps an injury or disability. But if we see none of these things, we cannot tell what other difficulties they may be facing.

When I learned teaching skills, I found that as well as sharing my knowledge and skills with others, I too was learning as we all learn different things in different ways. So no matter if it is in work or in play, we are born, we grow, we are taught many things and we have the capability to learn and to adjust, to adapt and to change according to this lovely world around us. I have said this a few times now. Some folk I’ve known worked in factories and industrial places, whilst others worked as I have done in offices. Some have worked where they designed new things, perhaps even making lots of money in the process. All of us though, as human beings live, sleep, breathe, eat and drink. All of us have supremely clever systems within us that control our bodies but to a large extent we have overall control of ‘us’, in how we act, how we react, how we behave. Good or bad, right or wrong, most of us know the ‘correct’ paths to follow. They will not be exactly the same for everyone, but it is, to my mind at least, sensible to ‘do the right thing’. Even though there have been times when I’ve not always done so. But that is so often how we learn! I think this world is amazing, but as I heard someone say, “Life is what you make of it, if it doesn’t fit you make alterations”. Naturally there are many things which we cannot change, but many that we can adapt to. Something in this life which may never change but that I personally find really disappointing is how some people are so untruthful in their ways, their words and I suppose also in their thoughts. I was taught at a very early age to always be truthful and doing so has served me well. I have said in the past that it is sometimes hard enough to remember what has actually happened, never mind telling what is not true! I read that a good way to deal with someone who is lying to you is to get them to expand and embellish the tale they are telling as eventually they will slip up and make mistakes. In that way it becomes obvious. However, there are those who do consistently tell lies, they make up stories to achieve their aims. At one time a great many years ago, before writing, knowledge was of course shared verbally. When I was at school a teacher demonstrated to us one day just how the spoken word can be misunderstood and this was done by the teacher whispering a sentence to a pupil. That pupil was then told to turn to the pupil next to them and whisper the same sentence. Then that pupil did the same, quietly whispering the same sentence. This was done and after going round about twenty or more pupils, the first and last pupils then told the class what each had heard. The first pupil had been told by the teacher “Send reinforcements, we’re going to advance”, whilst the last pupil said they had been told “Send three and fourpence, we’re going to a dance”. This was, incidentally, in the days of pounds, shillings and pence as the decimalisation of our UK currency hadn’t occurred back then! But it just goes to show how even when we are trying to get things right, mistakes can occur. It is all part of learning. We do have access to more than just written books as the Internet is used so much nowadays, but checking up through tried and trusted sources is a good thing to do. I am also an advocate of the old saying, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” and if something or someone is genuine, in the majority of cases it does no harm to check. The old ‘gut instinct’ I believe is still within us all, even if we don’t always just follow it!

As time passes I hear others talk about how ‘life in the old days’ was. I guess I see this more as I am where I am now. But life is constantly moving forward, so for each generation the ‘old days’ are not the same for every one of us. A little while ago I saw the question raised as to what exactly are the ‘old days’ and it got me thinking, because of course time itself is passing by at a steady rate for us here on Earth, and is what I would describe as inexorable in that it keeps on keeping on. I’m happy that it is! Except each generation has its own time frame, so we cannot put a fixed definition on when the ‘old days’ were. Because for me, they were the sixties and seventies, but to others they are not. I really enjoy watching some of the quiz shows that are on television and many contestants are now saying “Well, that was before I was born…” and I seriously wonder what they were learning at school! Having said that, nowadays I make extensive use of the Internet whereas many years ago I would have consulted various books. How ever did we manage before the days of personal computers and mobile phones! I am at present residing in a Care Home, it is the best place for me after my heart problem and Covid-19. Our lives carry on, new generations are created, with new ideas too. But the more we can work together, then life as a whole can and will improve, for more and more of us and for this Earth. One thing I do remember though is that care should be taken when dealing with others. I may see or hear things that disturb or upset me but if I say nothing, few people know. Thoughts cannot generally be read or shared, although there are those who know me well and they realise when I am not pleased with something or someone! I watched the tv celebrations the other day of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and understandably the Queen did not attend one of them. But very many of her family did and many tv cameras watched as they were presented to the various members of the cathedral. At one point I saw one person give what seemed to me to be a very disparaging glance to one of the royals, it was only for an instant but to me it was there and it proves how facial expressions can be so telling, even if we don’t mean to show our feelings! But life goes on, it is real and I think we should enjoy it as best we can. An essential point to this is something I learned from Srinivas Arka, which is whilst words may be misinterpreted or misunderstood, whether by accident or design, a smile is universal greeting from a warm heart. Also, we should always be learning from the past, living in the present and looking to the future with a smile.

This week… a memory.
For me train journeys can be fun, but also a little frustrating when problems occur and I have tried to do my best at remaining calm about events over which I have absolutely no control because that is a waste of time, effort and energy. Perhaps one of the most difficult ones for me was travelling to work one particular day from Chesterfield station via Derby to Birmingham New Street, which I did regularly for several years. The train had just pulled out of Tamworth station, only to stop and we were told that the goods train just ahead of us had broken down. For some reason we could not reverse back to Tamworth and take a different route, but had to simply wait until the track ahead was cleared enough for our train to proceed safely. We sat and waited for what seemed like ages until the goods service was moved and the track cleared, except even then we were rerouted around the north of Birmingham and entered New Street station on a different line! It meant that I was very late getting to work, it was also before the days of mobile phones so I couldn’t phone my boss to let him know! However, others had had similar delays so it wasn’t just me. My boss realised I hadn’t simply overslept, though some of my colleagues did tease me a little!

Click: Return to top of page or Index page

Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee

Queen Elizabeth II was born Elizabeth Alexandra Mary on 21 April 1926 and is the present Queen of the United Kingdom and fourteen other Commonwealth realms. She was born in Mayfair, London as the first child of the Duke and Duchess of York. A while later the duke then became King George VI, whilst the duchess became Queen of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth from 11 December 1936 to 6 February 1952. After her husband died, she was known as ‘Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother’, and this was to avoid confusion with her daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, whose father had acceded to the throne in 1936 upon the abdication of his brother, King Edward VIII, making Elizabeth the heir presumptive. Elizabeth was educated privately at home and began to undertake public duties during the Second World War, serving in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). In November 1947 she married Philip Mountbatten, a former prince of Greece and Denmark, and their marriage lasted 73 years until Philip’s death in Windsor Castle at the age of 99 on the morning of 9 April 2021, just two months before his 100th birthday. They had four children; Charles, Prince of Wales, Anne, Princess Royal, Prince Andrew, Duke of York and Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex. When her father died in February 1952 Elizabeth, then 25 years old, became Queen regnant of seven independent Commonwealth countries as well as Head of the Commonwealth. Significant events include her coronation in 1953 and the celebrations of her Silver, Golden and Diamond jubilees. To celebrate her Platinum jubilee this year there will be an extra bank holiday and the usual Spring bank holiday is moved from the end of May to the start of June to create a four-day Jubilee bank holiday weekend from Thursday 2 June to Sunday 5 June.

Her Majesty the Queen during her visit in 2015 to HMS Ocean in Devonport at a ceremony to rededicate the ship.

Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was born on 21 April 1926, during the reign of her paternal grandfather, King George V. Her father, the Duke of York (later King George VI) was the second son of the King. Her mother, the Duchess of York was the youngest daughter of Scottish aristocrat Claude Bowes-Lyon, 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne. Elizabeth was named Elizabeth after her mother, Alexandra after her paternal great-grandmother who had died six months earlier and Mary after her paternal grandmother. Called ‘Lilibet’ by her close family, based on what she called herself at first, she was cherished by her grandfather, George V, whom she affectionately called ‘Grandpa England’ and during his serious illness in 1929 her regular visits were credited in the popular press and by later biographers in raising his spirits and aiding his recovery. Elizabeth’s only sibling, Princess Margaret, was born in 1930. The two princesses were educated at home under the supervision of their mother and their governess, with lessons concentrating on history, language, literature, and music. During her grandfather’s reign, Elizabeth was third in the line of succession to the British throne behind her uncle Edward and her father, so although her birth generated public interest she was not expected to become queen, as Edward was still young and likely to marry and have children of his own, who would precede Elizabeth in the line of succession. When her grandfather died in 1936 and her uncle succeeded as Edward VIII, she became second in line to the throne, after her father. Later that year, Edward abdicated following his proposed marriage to the divorced socialite Wallis Simpson which provoked a constitutional crisis. As a result, Elizabeth’s father became king, taking the regnal name of George VI and since Elizabeth had no brothers, she became heir presumptive. Elizabeth’s parents toured Australia and New Zealand in 1927, then in 1939 they toured Canada and the United States but Elizabeth remained in Britain since her father thought her too young to undertake public tours. She ‘looked tearful’ as her parents departed. They corresponded regularly and she and her parents made the first royal transatlantic telephone call on 18 May.

HRH Princess Elizabeth in ATS uniform, April 1945.

In September 1939, Britain entered the Second World War. Lord Hailsham suggested that Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret should be evacuated to Canada to avoid the frequent aerial bombings of London by the Luftwaffe but this was rejected by their mother, who declared, “The children won’t go without me. I won’t leave without the King. And the King will never leave. In 1940, the 14-year-old Elizabeth made her first radio broadcast during the BBC’s Children’s Hour, addressing other children who had been evacuated from the cities. She stated: “We are trying to do all we can to help our gallant sailors, soldiers and airmen, and we are trying, too, to bear our own share of the danger and sadness of war. We know, every one of us, that in the end all will be well”. In 1943, Elizabeth undertook her first solo public appearance on a visit to the Grenadier Guards, of which she had been appointed colonel the previous year. As she approached her 18th birthday, parliament changed the law so she could act as one of five Counsellors of State. These are senior members of the British royal family to whom the monarch can delegate and revoke royal functions through letters patent under the Great Seal, to prevent delay or difficulty in the dispatch of public business in the case of their illness (except total incapacity) or of their intended or actual absence from the United Kingdom. This was done in the event of her father’s incapacity or absence abroad, such as his visit to Italy in July 1944. In February 1945, she was appointed as an honorary second subaltern in the ATS, she trained as a driver and mechanic and five months later was given the rank of honorary junior commander. Then on Victory in Europe (VE) Day, Elizabeth and Margaret mingled incognito with the celebrating crowds in the streets of London. Elizabeth said later in a rare interview, “We asked my parents if we could go out and see for ourselves. I remember we were terrified of being recognised… I remember lines of unknown people linking arms and walking down Whitehall, all of us just swept along on a tide of happiness and relief”. She went on her first overseas tour in 1947, accompanying her parents through southern Africa. In a broadcast to the British Commonwealth on her 21st birthday, she made the following pledge: “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”

Posing for photographs at Buckingham Palace with new husband Philip after their wedding, in 1947.

Elizabeth met her future husband, Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, in 1934 and 1937. After another meeting at the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth in July 1939, Elizabeth, though only thirteen years old, said she fell in love with Philip and they began to exchange letters. She was 21 when their engagement was officially announced on 9 July 1947. The engagement was not without controversy however, as Philip had no financial standing, was foreign-born (though a British subject who had served in the Royal Navy throughout the Second World War) and had sisters who had married German noblemen with Nazi links. Some biographies reported that Elizabeth’s mother had reservations about the union initially, and teased Philip but in later life the Queen Mother told a biographer that Philip was “an English gentleman”. Before the marriage, Philip renounced his Greek and Danish titles, officially converted from Greek Orthodox to Anglican and adopted the name of Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, taking the surname of his mother’s British family. Just before the wedding, he was created Duke of Edinburgh and granted the style ‘His Royal Highness’. Elizabeth and Philip were married on 20 November 1947 at Westminster Abbey and they received 2,500 wedding gifts from around the world. Elizabeth gave birth to her first child, Prince Charles, on 14 November 1948. One month earlier, the King had issued letters patent to allow her children to use the style and title of a royal prince or princess, to which they otherwise would not have been entitled as their father was no longer a royal prince. Their second child, Princess Anne, was born in 1950. Following their wedding, the couple leased Windlesham Moor near Windsor Castle until July 1949, when they took up residence at Clarence House in London. At various times between 1949 and 1951, the Duke of Edinburgh was stationed in the British Crown Colony of Malta as a serving Royal Navy officer. He and Elizabeth lived intermittently in Malta for several months at a time in the rented home of Philip’s uncle, Lord Mountbatten. Their children remained in Britain.

Coronation portrait of Elizabeth II with husband Philip in 1953.

King George VI’s health declined during 1951, and Elizabeth frequently stood in for him at public events. In October 1951, when she toured Canada and visited President Harry S Truman in Washington, D.C. her private secretary carried a draft accession declaration in case the King died whilst she was there. In early 1952, Elizabeth and Philip set out for a tour of Australia and New Zealand by way of Kenya and on 6 February 1952, they had just returned to their Kenyan home after a night spent at the Treetops hotel when word arrived of the death of the King and consequently Elizabeth’s immediate accession to the throne. Philip broke the news to the new queen. She chose to retain Elizabeth as her regnal name, she was therefore called Elizabeth II, which offended many Scots, as she was the first Elizabeth to rule in Scotland. She was proclaimed queen throughout her realms and the royal party hastily returned to the United Kingdom. She and the Duke of Edinburgh moved into Buckingham Palace. As a result of her accession, it seemed probable the royal house would bear the Duke of Edinburgh’s name, in line with the custom of a wife taking her husband’s surname on marriage. The Duke’s uncle, Lord Mountbatten, advocated the name ‘House of Mountbatten’ and Philip suggested ‘House of Edinburgh’, after his ducal title. However the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, and Elizabeth’s grandmother, Queen Mary, favoured the retention of the House of Windsor and so on 9 April 1952 Elizabeth issued a declaration that ‘Windsor’ would continue to be the name of the royal house. The Duke complained, “I am the only man in the country not allowed to give his name to his own children”. In 1960, after the death of Queen Mary in 1953 and the resignation of Churchill in 1955, the surname Mountbatten-Windsor was adopted for Philip and Elizabeth’s male-line descendants who do not carry royal titles. Despite the death of Queen Mary on 24 March 1953, the planned coronation on 2 June that year went ahead, as Mary had asked before she died. The ceremony in Westminster Abbey, with the exception of the anointing and communion, was televised for the first time. At her instructions, Elizabeth’s coronation gown was embroidered with the floral emblems of Commonwealth countries. Elizabeth gave birth to her third child, Prince Andrew, in 1960, which was the first birth to a reigning British monarch since 1857. Her fourth child, Prince Edward, was born in 1964.

In 1977, Elizabeth marked the Silver Jubilee of her accession. Parties and events took place throughout the Commonwealth, many coinciding with her associated national and commonwealth tours and these celebrations re-affirmed the Queen’s popularity. But it was in a speech on 24 November 1992, to mark her Ruby Jubilee on the throne that Elizabeth called 1992 her ‘annus horribilis’, or horrible year. Republican feeling in Britain had risen because of press estimates of the Queen’s private wealth, which were contradicted by the Palace, and reports of affairs and strained marriages amongst her extended family. In March, her second son, Prince Andrew, and his wife Sarah separated and in April, her daughter Princess Anne divorced Captain Mark Philips. Then in November, a large fire broke out at Windsor Castle, one of her official residences. The monarchy came under increased criticism and public scrutiny. In an unusually personal speech, the Queen said that any institution must expect criticism, but suggested it be done with “a touch of humour, gentleness and understanding”. On the eve of the new millennium, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh boarded a vessel from Southwark, bound for the Millennium Dome. Before passing under Tower Bridge, the Queen lit the National Millennium Beacon in the Pool of London using a laser torch and shortly before midnight she officially opened the Dome. During the singing of Auld LangSyne, the Queen held hands with the Duke and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. It was in 2002 the Queen marked her Golden Jubilee, the 50th anniversary of her accession. Her sister and mother had died in February and March respectively and the media speculated on whether the Jubilee would be a success or a failure. She again undertook an extensive tour of her realms, beginning in Jamaica in February, where she called the farewell banquet “memorable” after a power cut plunged the King’s House, the official residence of the governor-general, into darkness. In the same way as 1977, there were a great many street parties and commemorative events, also monuments were named to honour the occasion. One million people attended each day of the three-day main Jubilee celebration in London and the enthusiasm shown for the Queen by the public was greater than many journalists had anticipated.

Visiting Birmingham in July 2012 as part of the Diamond Jubilee tour.

The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012 marked her sixty years on the throne and celebrations were held throughout her realms, the wider Commonwealth and beyond. She and her husband undertook an extensive tour of the United Kingdom, whilst her children and grandchildren embarked on royal tours of other Commonwealth states on her behalf. On 4 June, Jubilee beacons were lit around the world. During a tour of Manchester as part of her Jubilee celebrations, the Queen made a surprise appearance at a wedding party at Manchester Town Hall, which then made international headlines. In November, the Queen and her husband celebrated their Sapphire wedding anniversary, their 65th and it was on 18 December she became the first British sovereign to attend a peacetime cabinet meeting since George III in 1781. The Queen, who had opened the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, also opened the 2012 Summer Olympics and Paralympics in London, making her the first head of state to open two Olympic Games in two countries. For the London Olympics, she played herself in a short film as part of the opening ceremony, alongside actor Daniel Craig as James Bond. On 4 April 2013 she received an honorary BAFTA for her patronage of the film industry and was called “the most memorable Bond girl yet” at the award ceremony.

Official opening of the Borders Railway in 2015.

The Queen, pictured in 2015 on the day she became the longest-reigning British monarch to date and in her speech, she said she had never aspired to achieve that milestone. She had surpassed her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria on 21 December 2007 to become the longest-lived British monarch and the longest-reigning British monarch, also the longest-reigning queen regnant and the longest-reigning female head of state in the world. She became the oldest current monarch after King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia died on 23 January 2015 and she later became the longest-reigning current monarch and the longest-serving current head of state following the death of King Bhumibol of Thailand on 13 October 2016, also the oldest current head of state on the resignation of Robert Mugabe on 21 November 2017. On 6 February 2017, she became the first British monarch to commemorate a Sapphire Jubilee and on 20 November she was the first British monarch to celebrate a Platinum wedding anniversary. Philip had retired from his official duties as the Queen’s consort in August 2017.

A virtual meeting in 2021 with Dame Cindy Kiro following the Covid-19 pandemic.

On 19 March 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic hit the United Kingdom, the Queen moved to Windsor Castle and sequestered there as a precaution. All public engagements were cancelled and Windsor Castle followed a strict sanitary protocol. On 5 April, in a televised broadcast watched by an estimated 24 million viewers in the UK, she asked people to “take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return; we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.” And on 8 May, the 75th anniversary of VE Day, in a TV broadcast at 9:00pm (the exact time at which her father George VI had broadcast to the nation on the same day in 1945) she asked people to “never give up, never despair”. In October, she visited the UK’s Defence, Science and Technology Laboratory in Wiltshire, her first public engagement since the start of the pandemic. On 4 November, she appeared masked for the first time in public, during a private pilgrimage to the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey, to mark the centenary of his burial. Prince Philip died on 9 April 2021 after 73 years of marriage, making Elizabeth the first British monarch to reign as a widow or widower since Victoria. She was reportedly at her husband’s bedside when he died, and remarked in private that his death had “left a huge void”. Due to the restrictions in place in England at the time, the Queen sat alone at Philip’s funeral service, which evoked sympathy from people around the world. In her Christmas broadcast that year, she paid a personal tribute to her “beloved Philip”, saying, “That mischievous, inquiring twinkle was as bright at the end as when I first set eyes on him”. The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee began on 6 February 2022, marking 70 years since she acceded to the throne on her father’s death. She held a reception for pensioners, local Women’s Institute members and charity volunteers on the eve of the date at Sandringham House. In her Accession Day message, Elizabeth renewed her commitment to a lifetime of public service, which she originally made in 1947. The Queen does not intend to abdicate, although Prince Charles has begun to take on more of her duties as she grows older and begins carrying out fewer public engagements. The popularity of the monarchy remains high during the Jubilee, as a poll conducted in March 2022 has revealed.

Personal flag of Elizabeth II.

With all that is going on at this time to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, I wanted to find some particular words to write, perhaps about all that has happened to us all in the last seventy years and I have found the following. It written by a good friend and I copy it with grateful thanks.
“The wisdom that I learn as getting old is to be simple: accept mistakes if I do something wrong, although it gives me severe pain at the moment, spend time reflecting on it, and ask for forgiveness, instead of giving hundreds of psychological excuses to myself and others which sometimes numbs our moral sense. I rather found this gives me much freedom not lingering around the memories from the past but letting me fully live in the present moment. The advancement of psychology seems to help our understanding of human behaviours better, but the basics do not age.”

I end this week with a favourite of mine.
“We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through. Our
purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love… and then we return home.” ~ Australian Aboriginal Proverb

Click: Return to top of page or Index page

This Human Life

I find it fascinating (yes, a favourite word of mine) to consider ourselves and how we as humans have grown in knowledge and understanding since we have existed. But in relative terms, that isn’t very long at all. I remember being told that attempting to imagine the Universe as a whole is just a total and absolute impossibility for us to do. I tend to agree, as I saw an item on the Internet the other day where someone was asking how big the largest thing in the Universe is, as well as how small. The answer given was that the biggest thing in the universe which scientists have discovered so far is a supercluster of galaxies called the ‘Hercules-Corona Borealis Great Wall’ and the smallest thing in the universe is a particle called a ‘Quark’. In fact the Hercules-Corona Borealis Great Wall is considered to be so wide that light itself would take 10 billion years to move around the structure and the amazing thing is that our universe itself is just 13.8 billion years old. Whilst a quark is a type of elementary particle and a fundamental constituent of matter, as they are amongst the smallest particles in the universe and carry only fractional electric charges. Scientists have a good idea of how quarks make up things that are called hadrons, which in particle physics are composite, subatomic particles (such as protons or neutrons) made of two or more quarks held together by their strong interaction. They are rather like molecules which are held together by electric force. Except the properties of individual quarks have been difficult to ‘tease out’ because they cannot be observed outside of their respective hadrons! Whew – too much for me, I guess that’s one for someone doing a science degree. When I was at school, I wasn’t by any means brilliant but as I have said before I had what was called ‘an enquiring mind’. I still do. In the past couple of years I have had the great opportunity of chatting to medical students at the Leicester University Medical School and one day when I attended a session with them, outside one building I saw a sign which really made me chuckle. It is this one.

It’s not rocket science…

It just goes to show that there are many things which we never could imagine ourselves doing, yet years later we find that we have achieved. It is also, to me at least, of great importance that as we grow, we share. There are, sadly, many people in the world today who want to be great but at the expense as well as the detriment of others. Such people think nothing of taking things from others, whether it be money, knowledge or skills, but they will give absolutely nothing back of themselves. Or, if they see someone else doing well, then they attempt to take credit for the other person’s achievements. That, in my humble opinion, is very wrong. My father was an excellent teacher, he went on to be the deputy headmaster of an infant/junior school. My mother worked in a few different places, when she left school she was insistent on not working in a local factory in London as many of her schoolmates did, she wanted and did work in the offices of W.H. Smith, where she met my dad. When circumstances moved the family from London to Peterborough, mum looked after us children and later worked at a local solicitors, then the local town hall. They weren’t highly skilled jobs that she had but they were vital ones, nevertheless. Then, when retirement came along mum and dad had several years together travelling, they particularly liked Jersey and Guernsey. Having been there myself, I can understand why. Sadly my dad got cancer, as he smoked a fair bit just as so many people did in those days. It is all part of life and I think we should do our best to learn from each and every experience, the good and the not so good. To me it isn’t ‘bad’, it is just what it is. I have mentioned how me being left-handed meant that my writing is not good. But I found that by angling the paper or whatever that I was writing on to around forty-five degrees, I could see the words I was writing without smudging what I had written. At work I found others who also wrote left-handed, one man even wrote in such a way that it looked like he was writing backwards. But it most definitely worked for him. I have said previously about computers, how they were of benefit to me in all sorts of ways and still are. I was learning, learning all the time about new things, seeing others with new ideas and at times seeing how they could be adapted in new or simply different ways. It was and is to me all part of life, how things should be. But then I saw another question that had been posted onto the Internet, which was “What is the purpose of learning how the Universe works?”. This really caught my attention, it piqued my interest as I have always wanted and been encouraged to learn, to develop and understand new things. The following is a what my research has found.

This is part of what is called ‘disinterested inquiry.’ And the synonym for this is of course ‘science’. Learning is a virtue, and virtue is its own reward. That is its purpose. At one time, Astronomy was concerned purely with ‘where’ the stars were, and not ‘what’ they were. In the early 1900s, George Ellery Hale, Director of Mount Wilson Observatory in California, U.S.A., insisted on installing a physics laboratory in the facility and the publication from the observatory was titled ‘Astro-Physics’, but it was soon changed to ‘Astrophysics’. Albert Einstein formulated and published his General Theory of Relativity in 1916 and in 1929 Edmund Hubble discovered whilst he was at Mount Wilson that the Milky Way galaxy was not the whole universe, and that it was expanding, as Einstein’s General Relativity Theory predicted. As a matter of interest, the Mount Wilson Observatory really is an important astronomical facility in Southern California with historic 60-inch (1,524mm) and 100-inch (2,540mm) telescopes, and 60-foot (18.3m) and 150-foot (45.7m) solar towers. Located there is also the newer, Centre for High Angular Resolution Astronomy (CHARA) array, an ‘optical interferometer’ and it is there that the technique of Interferometry is used, as this uses the interference of superimposed waves to extract information and typically uses electromagnetic waves. It is an important investigative technique in the fields of astronomy, fibre optics, engineering, metrology, oceanography, seismology and many other sciences too numerous to mention. It is even used in the making of holograms. The array consists of six, 1-metre (40-inch) telescopes operating as an astronomical interferometer. Construction was completed in 2003 and is owned and run by Georgia State University (GSU). It does important interferometric stellar research. The summit of Mount Wilson is at 5,710 feet (1,740m) and whilst not the tallest peak in its vicinity, it is high enough in elevation that snow can sometimes interrupt astronomical activities on the mountain. All of the mountains south of the summit are far shorter, leading to unobstructed views across the Los Angeles Basin, Orange County, San Diego and the Pacific Ocean. At such an elevation the horizon over the ocean extends 92 miles (148km). Mount Wilson is also heavily used for relay broadcasting of both radio and television for the Greater Los Angeles Area. But back to the history lesson. Some years ago now a plethora of physicists were figuring out atoms and quantum mechanics, considering what were the smallest things in the universe. Discoveries were made and when more is known, things happen. The Apollo Moon Project was pure applied astronomy, going to the Moon to obtain samples of rock. As a result of the need for navigation, the small compact computer, which could operate continuously in real time, was invented. You are reading this with that computer’s core development, but consider for a moment if you will the Apollo 11 mission in 1969, which was the first to land men on the Moon. On board that spacecraft was a computer called the Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) which had a Random Access Memory (RAM) of just four kilobytes (4KB) with a 32KB hard disk. This meant that it had just 2,048 ‘words’ of memory which could be used to store temporary results, data that is lost when there is no power. Since then, the most obvious advances have been in computing and electronics, especially in reducing size. My very first computer was a Sinclair ZX81 which I purchased in 1981, it had just 1K of RAM and no hard disk. To use it, I had to tune one of the channels on my portable television and programs were either manually typed in each time or saved onto a cassette tape and then reloaded from that. I spent hours and hours copying programs from computer magazines, being careful to put in all the letters, numbers and other symbols just exactly as they were printed, only to find that the program wouldn’t run because of a typing error in the magazine which I (and many others!) only found out about in the following week’s edition of the magazine! But it passed the time and I learned a great deal about computer programming. Then Sir Clive Sinclair sold his business to Amstrad and bigger, better computers were made with larger memory, built-in storage and finally disk drives. But manufacturers realised the gap in the market and made ‘home’ computers, although they were poor compared to the ones we have nowadays. For a number of years I soldiered on with my Amstrad/Sinclair computer, but eventually I bought a more modern computer. Sadly none of the programs I had would work on that new one, although many years later some very clever folk found a way of making those old programs work by making ’simulators’ that made these old programs run properly!

By now mobile telephones were getting popular, they were getting smaller too. I bought what was an ‘electronic diary’, a separate, hand-held computer that worked very well. I was still working in a Sales office of British Telecom and the engineers were going around fitting, installing as well as repairing telephone equipment. Then a few years later I learned that these engineers had been issued with the very same electronic diaries as part of their work! I wish I had known… However, technology continued to move on and after a while I learned about a combined unit which had a diary, a calendar, email and a camera all built into one! Over the past few years I have upgraded that unit, I then moved over to using one made by Apple and am happy with it. But it is a very far cry from that first computer the astronauts used on Apollo 11. We have had bigger and better spacecraft, the space shuttle as well as craft launched out into deep space that take many years to even get as far as Jupiter or Saturn. But research is continuous and at the other end of the ‘size’ spectrum, research with giant synchrotrons at CERN in Europe goes on and they continually learn more about the basic building blocks of the universe. At one point CERN developed so much data that it was difficult to manage, so in 1988 an enterprising physicist there, Timothy Berners-Lee, asked his supervisor for $1,200 to develop what he called ‘a distributing information system’ which was up and running in 1989. Today we call that the Internet. The point of continuous research is that economists discovered in 1990 that the source of 80% of the wealth of nations comes from the support of science research, any science. Knowing how the universe works gives us an idea about what to actually expect from life, our existence and reality. Also, knowing what to expect lets you know how to plan and how to prepare, it lets you focus on what matters, and ignore or dismiss that which does not matter. Knowing helps us to grow as the more you know, the stronger you are when faced with claims and efforts to compel using false thoughts and ideas. To my mind, knowledge is not the opposite of ignorance as no-one can know it all, in fact we simply don’t know what we don’t know. But knowledge is certainly the path to getting there, as well as recognising when you have arrived. So the purpose of learning how the universe works is the joy of inquiry and the benefits are the wealth of nations. That is surely a good thing. The only other thing we should also remember though, in my view, is in our faith, no matter what our race, colour or creed may be.

This week… a personal tale.
I expect my dad told my mum this and it must have amused both of them, as you will see when you read on!

I was quite young when I began singing in our local church choir and on Sundays I would sit in the stalls with other choir members. I would listen to the vicar preach the sermon, but being young I didn’t always understand exactly what was being said. I did my best. At school I and others were taught basic reading, writing and arithmetic and at home we listened to the radio. One of my elder brothers had a small, battery-powered transistor radio and this fascinated me so I tried to learn all about these little radios along with the transistors that were in them. So it was a surprise to me one Sunday when our elderly vicar said what sounded to me like “The changes and chances of this transistory life”. Because I knew transistors had only recently been invented, there was something not quite right so I asked (as was my way) my dear dad, who quietly and kindly pointed out that what the vicar had actually said was “ The changes and chances of this transitory life” and it was nothing to do with transistors! Dad also got me to look up the word ‘transitory’ in the dictionary, learning as I did that it meant “not permanent; tending to pass away”. I learned…

Click: Return to top of page or Index page

Superstitions

So a week ago, Friday the 13th came and went around the world. To many it would have been an ordinary day, whilst others may have almost feared it. I have heard about some folk not wanting to even get out of bed, for fear of something ‘bad’ happening to them. Many of us have our own ways, our own peculiarities, perhaps eccentricities, even foibles. Incidentally, the latter word can also mean the part of a sword blade from the middle to the point.

In fact a superstition is defined as any belief or practice considered to be irrational or supernatural, attributed to fate or magic, perceived supernatural influence or fear of that which is unknown. It is commonly applied to beliefs and practices surrounding luck, amulets, astrology, fortune-telling, spirits and certain paranormal entities, more particularly the belief that future events can be foretold by specific and apparently unrelated prior events. Equally the word ‘superstition’ is often used to refer to a religion not practiced by the majority of a given society, regardless of whether the prevailing religion contains alleged superstitions or not. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines superstition as ‘a religious belief or practice considered to be irrational, unfounded, or based on fear or ignorance; excessively credulous belief in and reverence for the supernatural’, as well as ‘a widely held but irrational belief in supernatural influences, especially as leading to good or bad luck, or a practice based on such a belief’. Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines superstition as ‘the belief that particular events happen in a way that cannot be explained by reason or science; the belief that particular events bring good or bad luck’. According to Merriam Webster’s dictionary, it is ‘a false conception about causation or belief or practice emanating from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance amounts to superstition’. Meanwhile, the Cambridge Dictionary denotes superstition as ‘a belief that is connected with old ideas about magic etc., without grounding in human reason or scientific knowledge’. The dictionary cites Cambridge English Corpus contextually in that the term ‘superstition’ might define controversial beliefs, the practice of confessional opponents or the beliefs of the ignorant masses as superstitious. Different authors have attempted to categorise different superstitions and one even gave time a category, noting the observances of various ones such as dog days, Egyptian days (which, in Europe during the Middle Ages, were certain days of the year held to be unlucky), year prognoses and lunar timings, also where signs might constitute significances like particular animal behaviours, such as the call of birds, neighing of horses or sighting of comets, as well as dreams. But identifying something as a ‘superstition’ is considered by many as somewhat pejorative or seen with contempt and these items are commonly referred to as folklore. Webster’s ‘The Encyclopaedia of Superstitions’ points out that whilst many superstitions are related with religion, people have been carrying individual subjective perceptions against one another and people of one belief are likely to call people of another belief superstitious. Constantine regarded paganism as a superstition, whilst on the other hand Tacitus regarded Christianity as pernicious superstition. Both Paul the Apostle and Martin Luther (10 November 1483 – 18 February 1546) perceived any thing that was not centred on Christ to be superstitious. Whilst the formation of the Latin word ‘superstition’ is clear, from the verb ‘super-stare’, i.e. to stand over, stand upon, to survive, its original intended sense is less clear. It can be interpreted as ‘standing over a thing in amazement or awe’, but other possibilities have been suggested, for example the sense of excess, such as over-scrupulousness or over-ceremoniousness in the performing of religious rites, or else the survival of old, irrational religious habits. The earliest known use of the word as a noun is found in written works by Plautus, Ennius and later by Pliny, with the meaning of ‘art of divination’. From its use in the Classical Latin of Livy and Ovid it is used in the pejorative sense that it holds today in relation to an excessive fear of the gods or unreasonable religious belief, as opposed to the proper and reasonable awe of the gods. However Cicero derived the term from ‘superstitiosi’, literally ‘those who are left over’, meaning survivors or descendants, connecting it to excessive anxiety of parents in hoping that their children would survive them to perform their necessary funerary rites.

Greek and Roman polytheists (those with the belief in multiple deities who are usually assembled into a pantheon of gods and goddesses along with their own religious sects and rituals) modelled their relations with the gods on political and social terms and scorned the man who constantly trembled with fear at the thought of the gods, as a slave feared a cruel and capricious master. Such fear of the gods was what the Romans considered to be the meaning of superstition. The current Catechism of the Catholic Church considers superstition sinful in the sense that it denotes ‘a perverse excess of religion’ as a demonstrated lack of trust in divine providence and in violation of the first of the Ten Commandments. The Catechism is therefore a defence against the accusation that Catholic doctrine is superstitious. In 1948 a behavioural psychologist published an article in which he described his pigeons exhibiting what appeared to be superstitious behaviour. One pigeon was making turns in its cage, another would swing its head in a pendulum motion, whilst others also displayed a variety of different behaviours. He believed these behaviours were all done ritualistically in an attempt to receive food from a dispenser, even though the dispenser had already been programmed to release food at set time intervals regardless of the pigeons’ actions, so the psychologist believed that the pigeons were trying to influence their feeding schedule by performing these actions. He then extended this as a proposition regarding the nature of superstitious behaviour in humans. That was his considered opinion. But some people seem to believe that superstitions influence events by changing the likelihood of currently possible outcomes rather than by creating new possible outcomes. In sporting events, for example, a lucky ritual or object is thought to increase the chance that an athlete will perform at the peak of their ability, rather than increasing their overall ability at that sport. There are some people who tend to attribute events to supernatural causes most often under two circumstances. In the first instance they are more likely to attribute an event to a superstitious cause if it is unlikely than if it is likely. In other words, the more surprising the event, the more likely it is to evoke a supernatural explanation. This is believed to stem from an ‘affected’ motivation – a basic desire to exert control over one’s environment. When no natural cause can explain a situation, attributing an event to a superstitious cause may give people some sense of control and ability to predict what will happen in their environment. In the second, people are more likely to attribute an event to a superstitious cause if it is negative than positive. This is called ‘negative agency bias’, for example in American baseball, the Boston Red Sox fans attributed the failure of their team to win the world series for 86 years to the ‘curse of the bambino’, an alleged curse placed on the team for trading a professional baseball player named Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees so that the team owner could fund a Broadway musical. When the Red Sox finally won the world series in 2004 however, the team’s success was attributed to the team’s skill and the rebuilding effort of the new owner and general manager. As you might expect, people are more likely to perceive their computer to act according to its own intentions when it malfunctions than when it functions properly. However, according to various analysts who study consumer behaviour superstitions are employed as a heuristic tool and as a result these can influence a variety of consumer behaviours. These analysts say that, after taking into account a set of antecedents, trait superstitions are predictive of a wide variety of consumer beliefs, like beliefs in astrology or in common negative superstitions, for example the fear of black cats. Additionally, a general proneness to be superstitious may lead to an enduring temperament to gamble, to participate in promotional games, invest in stocks, to forward superstitious e‐mails, keep good‐luck charms and exhibit sports fan regalia. But superstition can also be found in politics, as the Ancient Greek historian Polybius wrote in his work “The Histories” where he used the word ‘superstition’, explaining that in Ancient Rome such beliefs maintained the cohesion of the Roman Empire, operating as it did as a means of controlling the masses, in particular to achieve both political and mundane ends.

Boston Red Sox.

In the Classical era, the existence of gods was actively debated amongst both philosophers and theologians and consequently opposition to superstition arose. The poem ‘De Rerum Natura’, written by the Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius further developed the opposition to superstition. Cicero’s work ‘De Natura Deorum’ also had a great influence on the development of the modern concept of superstition as well as the word itself. Whereas Cicero distinguished ‘superstitio’ and ‘religio’, Lucretius used only the word ‘religio’. That is because for Cicero, ’superstitio’ meant excessive fear of the gods as he believed that only superstition, and not religion, should be abolished. In fact the Roman Empire also made laws condemning those who excited excessive religious fear in others. During the Middle Ages, the idea of God’s influence on the world’s events went mostly undisputed. Trials by ordeal were quite frequent, even though King Frederick II (1194 – 1250 AD) was the first king who explicitly outlawed trials by ordeal as they were considered to be irrational. The rediscovery of lost classical works and scientific advancement led to a steadily increasing disbelief in superstition and a new, more rationalistic view was beginning to be seen. In addition, opposition to superstition was central to the Age of Enlightenment. In fact, most superstitions arose over the course of many centuries and were rooted in regional and historical circumstances, such as religious beliefs or the natural environment. For instance geckos were at one time believed to be of medicinal value in many Asian countries, whilst in China (and in other countries now) the belief of Feng Shui is said to have a negative effect on different places, for example that a room in the northwest corner of a house may have very bad energy. Similarly, the number 8 is thought to be a lucky number in China, so that it is more common than any other number in the Chinese housing market. Equally there are certain phrases, in particular plays, which are considered to bring bad luck, for example it is said that a coven of witches objected to William Shakespeare using real incantations, so they put a curse on that well-known Scottish play. Legend has it the play’s first performance (around 1606) was riddled with disaster. The actor playing Lady Macbeth died suddenly, so Shakespeare himself had to take on the part. Prior to a performance, some actors will say “break a leg” in the hope that this will ward off any unlucky events. But there are some equally and quite reasonable actions which at first seem without much foundation. At one time, many children were forced to use their right hands for writing, mainly as a prejudice against the awkwardness of left-handed writing and the prevalence of ‘right-handed’ utensils. Happily, left-handedness is more accepted nowadays, which is all to the good for me personally! But many years ago when greeting someone, the task of shaking hands was done with the right hand because back then a great many swordsmen had their sword on the left side of their waist because they were right-handed, so it was easy for them to draw their sword. But by shaking hands with the right hand it showed openness and trust towards the person they were greeting, not hostility. It is fascinating how these actions have their historical connections, rather than simply thought of as superstition.

This week… an interesting tale.
The following is an actual question given on a University of Washington chemistry mid-term paper. The answer given by one student was considered so ‘profound’ that the professor shared it with colleagues via the Internet, which is of course why we now have the pleasure of enjoying it as well.

Bonus Question:
Is Hell exothermic (gives off heat) or endothermic (absorbs heat)?
Most of the students wrote proofs of their beliefs using Boyle’s Law (gas cools down when it expands and heats up when it is compressed) or some variant. One student, however, wrote the following:

“First, we need to know how the mass of Hell is changing in time. So we need to know the rate that souls are moving into Hell and the rate they are leaving. I think that we can safely assume that once a soul gets to Hell, it will not leave. Therefore, no souls are leaving.

As for how many souls are entering Hell, let’s look at the different religions that exist in the world today. Most of these religions state that if you are not a member of their religion, you will go to Hell. Since there is more than one of these religions and since people do not belong to more than one religion, we can project that all souls go to Hell.

With birth and death rates as they are, we can expect the number of souls in Hell to increase exponentially. Now, we look at the rate of change of the volume in Hell because Boyle’s Law states that in order for the temperature and pressure in Hell to stay the same, the volume of Hell has to expand proportionately as souls are added.

This gives two possibilities:
1) If Hell is expanding at a slower rate than the rate at which souls enter Hell, then the temperature and pressure in Hell will increase until all Hell breaks loose.
2) If Hell is expanding at a rate faster than the increase of souls in Hell, then the temperature and pressure will drop until Hell freezes over. So which is it?

If we accept the postulate given to me by Teresa during my Freshman year, “…that it will be a cold day in Hell before I sleep with you”, and take into account the fact that I still have not succeeded in having an affair with her, then #2 above cannot be true, and thus I am sure that Hell is exothermic and will not freeze over.”

This student received the only “A”.

Click: Return to top of page or Index page

The Gold Standard

As part of my research on gold for last week’s blog post, I saw an item on the Internet about how gold had only stopped being used as a Gold Standard in recent years, so I decided to do just a bit of research. This was because what the writer of the article had said simply didn’t seem right to me. I learned that at the time of London’s first Olympics in 1908, the amount of money in circulation in the UK was tied to the amount of gold in the economy. The gold standard had prevailed for most of the previous two centuries and was to continue until World War I began in 1914. But the UK was not the only country whose monetary system was based on gold. From 1880 to 1914, almost all of the world’s leading economies had followed suit, with each country fixing the price of gold in their local currency. In the UK, the price of one troy ounce of gold was £4 5s 0d (£4.25). In the US it was fixed at $20.67. This implied a fixed exchange rate between pound sterling and the dollar ($4.87 per £1) with all the other countries on the gold standard. To enhance the credibility of the arrangements, authorities guaranteed that paper money was fully convertible into gold and anyone could request to convert their pounds into the equivalent value of gold. This was because it limited the ability of governments to print money and the gold standard stopped countries from deliberately devaluing their own currency in order to improve the competitiveness of their exports or pay off their debts. As a result, membership of the gold standard was seen as a commitment to sound government finance. By constraining the growth in money supply, the gold standard was also believed to contribute to stable prices. Over long periods this was generally the case, as price levels in the UK were much the same in 1914 as they were in 1880. However, the gold standard’s inflexibility had major disadvantages. Changes in the world’s money supply were dependent not on economic conditions, but on the amount of new gold that was mined. This meant that on the one hand, monetary policy could not be used to respond to recessions and booms but on the other, significant rises in gold production would lead to faster money supply growth and ultimately inflation, regardless of a country’s underlying economic conditions. World War I saw the end of the gold standard as governments suspended the convertibility of their currencies into gold in order to freely finance rapidly escalating military expenditure. It was briefly reintroduced in some countries after the War, including the UK from 1925 to 1931, but fell apart again during the Great Depression. After World War II, a form of gold standard under the Bretton Woods system which involved the dollar being fixed to gold and then other currencies being fixed to the dollar was in operation until 1971. So technically, a ‘gold standard’ is a monetary system in which the standard economic unit of account is based on a fixed quantity of gold. This was the basis for the international monetary system from the 1870s to the early 1920s, and from the late 1920s to 1932, as well as from 1944 until 1971 when the United States unilaterally terminated converting the US dollar to gold foreign central banks, effectively ending the Bretton Woods system, though many states still hold substantial gold reserves. In fact it seems that historically, the silver standard and bimetallism have been more common than the gold standard and the shift to an international monetary system based on a gold standard reflected accident, network externalities and ‘path dependence’ (a concept in economics and the social sciences, referring to processes where past events or decisions constrain later events or decisions) occurred. Great Britain accidentally adopted a ‘de facto’ gold standard in 1717 when Sir Isaac Newton, who was then master of the Royal Mint, set the exchange rate of silver to gold far too low, thus causing silver coins to go out of circulation. As Great Britain became the world’s leading financial and commercial power in the 19th century, other states increasingly adopted Britain’s monetary system. The gold standard was largely abandoned during the Great Depression before being reinstated in a limited form as part of the post-World War II Bretton Woods system. The gold standard was abandoned due to its propensity for volatility, as well as the constraints it imposed on governments, as by retaining a fixed exchange rate, governments were hamstrung in engaging in expansionary policies to, for example, reduce unemployment during economic recessions. There is a consensus among economists that a return to the gold standard would not be beneficial and most economic historians reject the idea that the gold standard ‘was effective in stabilising prices and moderating business-cycle fluctuations during the nineteenth century.’ So it was that we slipped into a ‘gold specie standard’ in 1717 by over-valuing gold at 15.2 times its weight in silver, ‘specie’ meaning money in the form of coins rather than notes. It was unique among nations to use gold in conjunction with clipped, underweight silver shillings, addressed only before the end of the 18th century by the acceptance of gold proxies like token silver coins and banknotes. From the more widespread acceptance of paper money in the 19th century emerged the gold bullion standard, a system where gold coins do not circulate, but authorities like central banks agree to exchange circulating currency for gold bullion at a fixed price. First emerging in the late 18th century to regulate exchange between London and Edinburgh, it was noted how such a standard became the predominant means of implementing the gold standard internationally in the 1870s. Restricting the free circulation of gold under the Classical Gold Standard period from the 1870s to 1914 was also needed in countries which decided implement the gold standard while guaranteeing the exchangeability of huge amounts of legacy silver coins into gold at the fixed rate (rather than valuing publicly-held silver at its depreciated value).

Here in the United Kingdom the English pound sterling, introduced around the year 800 CE, was initially a silver standard unit worth 20 shillings or 240 silver pennies. The latter initially contained 1.35 g fine silver, reducing by 1601 to 0.464 g, hence giving way to the shilling (12 pennies) of 5.57 g fine silver. The problem of clipped, underweight silver pennies and shillings was a persistent, unresolved issue from the late 17th century to the early 19th century. In 1717 the value of the gold guinea (of 7.6885 g fine gold) was fixed at 21 shillings, resulting in a gold-silver ratio of 15.2 higher than prevailing ratios in Continental Europe. Great Britain was therefore ‘de jure’ under a bimetallic standard with gold serving as the cheaper and more reliable currency compared to clipped silver and full-weight silver coins did not circulate but went to Europe where 21 shillings fetched over a guinea in gold. Several factors helped extend the British gold standard into the 19th century, namely the Brazilian Gold Rush of the 18th century supplying significant quantities of gold to Portugal and Britain, with Portuguese gold coins also legal tender in Britain. Also ongoing trade deficits with China (which sold to Europe but had little use for European goods) drained silver from the economies of most of Europe. Combined with greater confidence in banknotes issued by the Bank of England, it opened the way for gold as well as banknotes becoming acceptable currency in lieu of silver. In addition was the acceptability of token or subsidiary silver coins as substitutes for gold before the end of the 18th century. Initially issued by the Bank of England and other private companies, permanent issuance of subsidiary coinage from the Royal Mint commenced after the Great Recoinage of 1816.

The British gold sovereign or £1 coin was the pre-eminent circulating gold coin during the classical gold standard period.

Following the Napoleonic Wars, Britain legally moved from the bimetallic to the gold standard in the 19th century in several steps, when the 21-shilling guinea was discontinued in favour of the 20-shilling gold sovereign or £1 coin. From the second half of the 19th century Britain then introduced its gold standard to Australia, New Zealand, and the British West Indies in the form of circulating gold sovereigns as well as banknotes that were convertible at par into sovereigns or Bank of England banknotes. The classical gold standard of the late 19th century was not merely a superficial switch from circulating silver to circulating gold. The bulk of silver currency was actually replaced by banknotes and token currency whose gold value was guaranteed by gold bullion and other reserve assets held inside central banks. In turn, the gold exchange standard was just one step away from modern flat currency, with banknotes issued by central banks and whose value is secured by the bank’s reserve assets, but whose exchange value is determined by the monetary policy of the central bank and its objectives on purchasing power in lieu of a fixed equivalence to gold. The final chapter of the classical gold standard ending in 1914 saw the gold exchange standard extended to many Asian countries by fixing the value of local currencies to gold or to the gold standard currency of a Western colonial power. The Netherlands East Indies guilder was the first Asian currency pegged to gold in 1875 via a gold exchange standard which maintained its parity with the gold Dutch guilder. International monetary conferences were called up before 1890, with various countries actually pledging to maintain the ‘limping’ standard of freely circulating legacy silver coins in order to prevent the further deterioration of the gold–silver ratio which reached 20 in the 1880s. However, after 1890 the decline in the price of silver could not be prevented further and the gold–silver ratio rose sharply above 30. In 1893 the Indian rupee of 10.69 g fine silver was fixed at 16 British pence (or £1 = 15 rupees; gold-silver ratio 21.9), with legacy silver rupees remaining legal tender. Nearly similar gold standards were implemented in Japan in 1897, in the Philippines in 1903 and in Mexico in 1905 when the previous yen or peso of 24.26 g silver was redefined to approximately 0.75 g gold or half a United States dollar (ratio 32.3). Japan gained the needed gold reserves after the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895. For Japan, moving to gold was considered vital for gaining access to Western capital markets. Governments with insufficient tax revenue suspended convertibility repeatedly in the 19th century., however the real test came with the onset of World War I. The gold specie standard came to an end in the United Kingdom and the rest of the British Empire with the outbreak of that war. A run on sterling caused Britain to impose exchange controls that fatally weakened the standard, convertibility was not legally suspended but gold prices no longer played the role that they did before. In financing the war as well as abandoning gold, many of the contributors suffered drastic inflations. Price levels doubled in the United States and Britain, tripled in France and quadrupled in Italy. Exchange rates changed less, even though European inflation rates were more severe than America and this meant that the cost of American goods decreased relative to those in Europe. Between August 1914 and spring of 1915, the dollar value of U.S. exports tripled and its trade surplus exceeded $1 billion for the first time. Ultimately, the system could not deal quickly enough with the large deficits and surpluses. This was previously attributed to downward wage rigidity brought about by the advent of unionised labour, but is now considered as an inherent fault of the system that arose under the pressures of war and rapid technological change. In any event, prices had not reached equilibrium by the time of the Great Depression which served to kill off the system completely.

The gold specie standard ended in the United Kingdom and the rest of the British Empire at the outbreak of World War I, when Treasury notes replaced the circulation of gold sovereigns and gold half sovereigns. Except legally, the gold specie standard was not abolished. The end of the gold standard was successfully effected by the Bank of England through appeals to patriotism urging citizens not to redeem paper money for gold specie. It was only in 1925, when Britain returned to the gold standard in conjunction with Australia and South Africa, that the gold specie standard was officially ended. The British Gold Standard Act 1925 both introduced the gold bullion standard and simultaneously repealed the gold specie standard and the new standard ended the circulation of gold specie coins. Instead, the law compelled the authorities to sell gold bullion on demand at a fixed price, but ‘only in the form of bars containing approximately four hundred troy ounces (12kg) of fine gold’. The pound left the gold standard in 1931 and a number of currencies of countries that historically had performed a large amount of their trade in sterling were pegged to sterling instead of to gold. The Bank of England took the decision to leave the gold standard abruptly and unilaterally. Many other countries followed Britain in returning to the gold standard, leading to a period of relative stability but also deflation. This state of affairs lasted until the Great Depression from 1929 to 1939 and forced countries off the gold standard. In the summer of 1931, a Central European banking crisis led Germany and Austria to suspend gold convertibility and impose exchange controls as a run on Austria’s largest commercial bank had caused it to fail. The run spread to Germany, where the central bank also collapsed. International financial assistance was too late and in July 1931 Germany adopted exchange controls, followed by Austria in October. The Austrian and German experiences, as well as British budgetary and political difficulties, were among the factors that destroyed confidence in sterling, which occurred in mid-July 1931. Runs ensued and the Bank of England lost much of its reserves. On September 19, 1931, speculative attacks on the pound led the Bank of England to abandon the gold standard, ‘ostensibly temporarily’. However, the ostensibly temporary departure from the gold standard had unexpectedly positive effects on the economy, leading to greater acceptance of departing from the gold standard. Loans from American and French central banks of £50 million were insufficient and exhausted in a matter of weeks, due to large gold outflows across the Atlantic. The British benefited from this departure. They could now use monetary policy to stimulate the economy. Australia and New Zealand had already left the standard and Canada quickly followed suit. The interwar partially-backed gold standard was inherently unstable because of the conflict between the expansion of liabilities to foreign central banks and the resulting deterioration in the Bank of England’s reserve ratio. France was then attempting to make Paris a world class financial centre, and it received large gold flows as well. Upon taking office in March 1933, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt departed from the gold standard and by the end of 1932, it had been abandoned as a global monetary system. Finally Czechoslovakia, Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Switzerland abandoned the gold standard in the mid-1930s. So it was ended many years ago. Much has been written subsequently about the gold standard, but one economist seems to have summed it up by saying “We don’t have the gold standard. It’s not because we don’t know about the gold standard, it’s because we do.”

This week…

Togetherness.
Let there be spaces in your togetherness, and
Let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another but make not a bond of love;
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous,
But let each one of you be alone, even as the strings of a lute are alone
Though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together, yet not too near together.
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.

~ Khalil Gibran (06 January 1883 – 10 April 1931)

Click: Return to top of page or Index page

Gold

This substance is a chemical element with the symbol “Au”, from the Latin ‘aurum’. It is a bright, slightly orange-yellow, dense, soft, malleable and ductile metal in a pure form. It is also one of the least reactive chemical elements and is solid under standard conditions. Gold often occurs in its elemental or native form as nuggets or grains in rocks, veins and alluvial deposits. It occurs in a solid solution series with the native element silver (as electrum), naturally alloyed with other metals like copper and palladium and mineral inclusions such as within pyrite. It occurs less commonly in minerals as gold compounds, often with tellurium (gold tellurides). Gold is resistant to most acids, though it does dissolve in aqua regia, a mixture of nitric acid and hydrochloric acid, forming a soluble, but it is insoluble in nitric acid, which dissolves silver and base metals, a property long used to refine gold and confirm the presence of gold in metallic substances, giving rise to the term ‘acid test’. Gold dissolves in alkaline solutions of cyanide, which are used in mining and electroplating. It dissolves in mercury forming amalgam alloys, and as the gold acts simply as a solute, this is not a chemical reaction. A relatively rare element, gold is classed as a precious metal that has been used for coinage, jewellery and other arts throughout recorded history. In the past, a gold standard was often implemented as a monetary policy but gold coins ceased to be minted as a circulating currency in the 1930s, and the world gold standard was abandoned for a flat currency system after 1971. In 2017 the world’s largest gold producer by far was China, with 440 tonnes per year and as of 2020, a total of around 201,296 tonnes of gold exists above ground. This is equal to a cube with each side measuring roughly 21.7 metres (71ft). The world consumption of new gold produced is about 50% in jewellery, 40% in investments and 10% in industry. The high malleability, ductility, resistance to corrosion and most other chemical reactions and conductivity of electricity of gold has led to its continued use in corrosion-resistant electrical connectors in all types of computerised devices, its chief industrial use. It is also used in infra-red shielding, coloured glass production, gold-leafing and tooth restoration. Certain gold salts are still used as anti-inflammatories in medicine. A gold nugget of 5mm (0.20in) in size can be hammered into a gold foil of about 0.5 square metres, 5.4 square feet in area. Gold can be drawn into a wire of single-atom width, and then stretched considerably before it breaks. Such nanowires distort via formation, reorientation and migration of dislocations and crystal twins without noticeable hardening. Gold leaf can be beaten thin enough to become semi-transparent and the transmitted light appears greenish blue, because gold strongly reflects yellow and red. Such semi-transparent sheets also strongly reflect infra-red light, making them useful as infrared (radiant heat) shields in visors of heat-resistant suits, and in sun-visors. Whilst most metals are grey or silvery white, gold is slightly reddish-yellow, the colour determined by the frequency of plasma oscillations among the metal’s valence electrons, in the ultraviolet range for most metals but in the visible range for gold due to relativistic effects affecting the orbitals around gold atoms. Similar effects impart a golden hue to metallic caesium. Common coloured gold alloys include the distinctive eighteen-carat rose gold, which is created by the addition of copper. Also alloys containing palladium or nickel are important in commercial jewellery as these produce white gold alloys. Fourteen-carat gold-copper alloy is nearly identical in colour to certain bronze alloys, and both may be used to produce police and other badges. Fourteen and eighteen-carat gold alloys with silver alone appear greenish-yellow and are referred to as green gold, whilst blue gold can be made by alloying it with iron and purple gold can be made by alloying with aluminium. Although less common, the addition of manganese, indium and other elements can produce more unusual gold colours for various applications. The possible production of gold from a more common element such as lead has long been a subject of human enquiry, and the ancient and medieval discipline of alchemy often focussed on it. However, the transmutation of the chemical elements did not become possible until the understanding of nuclear physics in the 20th century. It can be manufactured in a nuclear reactor, but doing so is highly impractical and would cost far more than the value of the gold that is produced. Medicinal applications of gold and its complexes have a long history dating back thousands of years and several gold complexes have been applied to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Also some of its compounds have been investigated as possible anti-cancer drugs.

Gold is thought to have been produced in supernova nucleosynthesis and from the collision of neutron stars, therefore being present in the dust from which the Solar System was formed. Because the Earth was molten when it was formed, almost all of the gold present in the early Earth probably sank into the planetary core. Therefore, most of the gold that is in the Earth’s crust and mantle has, according to one theory, thought to have been delivered to Earth later by asteroid impacts about 4 billion years ago. The gold which is reachable by humans has therefore been associated with a particular asteroid impact and the asteroid that formed the Vredefort crater around two billion years ago is often credited with seeding the Witwatersrand basin in South Africa with the richest gold deposits on earth. However, this scenario is now questioned, as these gold-bearing rocks were laid down between 700 and 950 million years before the Vredefort impact. These gold-bearing rocks had also been covered by a thick layer of Ventersdorp lavas and the Transvaal Supergroup of rocks before the meteor struck, and thus the gold did not actually arrive in the asteroid/meteorite. What the Vredefort impact achieved, however, was to distort the Witwatersrand basin in such a way that the gold-bearing rocks were brought to the present erosion surface in Johannesburg, just inside the rim of the original 300km (190 mile) diameter crater caused by the meteor strike. It was the discovery of the deposit in 1886 that launched the Witwatersrand Gold Rush. Some 22% of all the gold that is ascertained to exist today on Earth has been extracted from these rocks. However, besides that much of the rest of the gold on Earth is thought to have been incorporated into the planet since its very beginning, as planetesimals formed the planet’s mantle early in Earth’s creation. In 2017 an international group of scientists established that gold ‘came to the Earth’s surface from the deepest regions of our planet’, the mantle, and this is said to have been evidenced by their findings at the Deseado Massif in the Argentinian region of Patagonia. Perhaps surprisingly, the world’s oceans also contain gold and measured concentrations estimate that they would hold 15,000 tonnes. A number of people have claimed to be able to economically recover gold from sea water, but they were either mistaken or acted in an intentional deception. There was one man who ran a gold-from-seawater swindle in the United States in the 1890s, as did an English fraudster in the early 1900s. Another man did research on the extraction of gold from sea water in an effort to help pay Germany’s reparations following World War I and based on the published values of gold in seawater a commercially successful extraction seemed possible. But after analysis of 4,000 water samples, it became clear that extraction would not be possible and he ended the project.

Grave offerings on exposition in the Varna museum, Bulgaria, thought to be the oldest golden artefacts in the world (4600 BC – 4200 BC).

The earliest recorded metal employed by humans appears to be gold. Small amounts of natural gold have been found in Spanish caves used during the late Palaeolithic period, c. 40,000 BC. The oldest gold artefacts in the world are from Bulgaria and date back to around 4,600 BC to 4,200 BC, such as those found in the Varna Necropolis near Lake Varna and the Black Sea coast, thought to be the earliest ‘well-dated’ finding of gold artefacts in history. Such items probably made their first appearance in Ancient Egypt at the very beginning of the pre-dynastic period, at the end of the fifth millennium BC and the start of the fourth, and smelting was developed during the course of the 4th millennium. The oldest known map of a gold mine was drawn in the 19th Dynasty of Ancient Egypt (1320–1200 BC), and the first written reference to gold was recorded in the 12th Dynasty around 1900 BC. Egyptian hieroglyphs from as early as 2600 BC describe gold and one of the earliest known maps, known as the Turin Papyrus Map, shows the plan of a gold mine in Nubia together with indications of the local geology. Large mines were also present across the Red Sea in what is now Saudi Arabia. Gold is mentioned frequently in the Old Testament of the Bible, starting with Genesis. In the New Testament it is included with the gifts of the Magi in the first chapters of Matthew. The book of Revelation describes the city of New Jerusalem as having streets ‘made of pure gold, clear as crystal’. Exploitation of gold in the south-east corner of the Black Sea is said to date from the time of King Midas and this gold was important in the establishment of what is probably the world’s earliest coinage in Lydia, around 610 BC. The legend of the Golden Fleece, dating from eighth century BCE may refer to the use of fleeces to trap gold dust from deposits in the ancient world. In Roman metallurgy, new methods for extracting gold on a large scale were developed from 25 BC onwards. The European exploration of the Americas was fuelled in no small part by reports of the gold ornaments displayed in great profusion by Native American peoples. The Aztecs regarded gold as the product of the gods, calling it literally ‘god excrement’ but after Moctezuma II was killed, much of this gold was shipped to Spain. However, for the indigenous peoples of North America gold was considered useless and they saw much greater value in other minerals which were directly related to their use, such as obsidian, flint and slate. Gold has played a role in western culture as a cause for desire and of corruption, for example in children’s fables where Rumpelstiltskin turns hay into gold for the peasant’s daughter in return for her child when she becomes a princess, and the stealing of the hen that lays golden eggs in Jack and the Beanstalk. The top prize at the Olympic Games and many other sports competitions is the gold medal. The main goal of alchemists has been to produce gold from other substances such as lead, perhaps by the interaction with a mythical substance called the philosopher’s stone. Trying to produce gold led the alchemists to systematically find out what can be done with substances and this laid the foundation for today’s chemistry.

Minoan jewellery from 2300–2100 BC in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.

Apart from chemistry, gold is mentioned in a variety of expressions, most often associated with intrinsic worth. As already mentioned, great achievements are frequently rewarded with gold in the form of medals as well as trophies and other decorations. Winners of athletic events and other graded competitions are usually awarded a gold medal. Many awards such as the Nobel Prize are made from gold. Other award statues and prizes are depicted in gold or are gold-plated, such as the Academy Awards, the Golden Globe Awards, the Emmy awards and the British Academy of Film and Television Awards (BAFTA) .Gold is associated with the wisdom of ageing and fruition, hence the fiftieth wedding anniversary is golden. A person’s most valued or most successful latter years are sometimes considered their ‘golden years’ and the height of a civilisation is referred to as a golden age. In some religions gold has been associated both with holiness and evil, for example in the Bible’s Book of Exodus the Golden Calf is a symbol of idolatry, whilst in the Book of Genesis Abraham was said to be rich in gold and silver, also Moses was instructed to cover the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant with pure gold. In Islam gold, along with silk, is often cited as being forbidden for men to wear. Wedding rings are typically made of gold as it is long lasting and unaffected by the passage of time and may aid in the ring symbolism of eternal vows before God and the perfection the marriage signifies. In August 2020, Israeli archaeologists discovered a trove of early Islamic gold coins near the central city of Yavneh, Israel and analysis of the extremely rare collection of 425 gold coins indicated that they were from the late 9th century.

Golden coins from the Scandinavian Monetary Union. To the left is Swedish and the right is Danish.

Gold has been widely used throughout the world as money, for efficient indirect exchange as opposed to bartering and to store wealth in hoards. For exchange purposes, mints produce standardised gold bullion coins, bars and other units of fixed weight and purity. The first known coins containing gold were struck in Lydia, Asia Minor, around 600 BC. The talent coin of gold in use during the periods of Grecian history both before and during the time of the life of Homer weighed between 8.42 and 8.75 grams. From an earlier preference in using silver, European economies re-established the minting of gold as coinage during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. In preparation for World War I the warring nations moved to fractional gold standards, inflating their currencies to finance the war effort. Post-war, the victorious countries, most notably Britain, gradually restored gold-convertibility, but international flows of gold via bills of exchange remained embargoed and international shipments were made exclusively for bilateral trades or to pay war reparations. After World War II, gold was replaced by a system of nominally convertible currencies related by fixed exchange rates following the Bretton Woods system of monetary management, which established the rules for commercial and financial relations among the countries of the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan and Western European countries after the 1944 Bretton Woods Agreement. This system was the first example of a fully negotiated monetary order intended to govern monetary relations among independent states. It required countries to guarantee convertibility of their currencies into U.S. dollars to within 1% of fixed parity rates, with the dollar convertible to gold bullion for foreign governments and central banks at 35 US dollars per troy ounce of fine gold, or 0.88867 gram fine gold per dollar. It also envisioned greater cooperation among countries in order to prevent future competitive devaluations and thus established the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to monitor exchange rates and lend reserve currencies to nations with balance of payments deficits. I must admit to smiling when I first came across the name ‘Bretton Woods system’, as I was brought up in Peterborough and a township of that fine city is named Bretton, where you will find the Bretton Woods Community School! But I am certain they played no part in establishing this monetary system. But back to the story. Gold standards and direct convertibility of currencies to gold have been abandoned by world governments, led in 1971 by the United States’ refusal to redeem its dollars in gold. Flat currency now fills most monetary roles. Switzerland was the last country to tie its currency to gold, it backed 40% of its value until the Swiss joined the IMF in 1999. Central banks continue to keep a portion of their liquid reserves as gold in some form, and metals exchanges such as the London Bullion Market Association still clear transactions denominated in gold, including future delivery contracts. Today, gold mining output is declining, so with the sharp growth of economies in the 20th century along with increasing foreign exchange, the world’s gold reserves and their trading market have become a small fraction of all markets, and fixed exchange rates of currencies to gold have been replaced by floating prices for gold. Though the gold stock grows by only 1 or 2% per year, very little metal is irretrievably consumed. Inventory above ground would satisfy many decades of industrial and even artisan uses at current prices. The gold proportion or fineness of alloys is measured by carat, with pure gold (commercially termed ‘fine’ gold) designated as 24 carat. English gold coins intended for circulation from 1526 into the 1930s was typically a standard 22-carat alloy called crown gold for hardness, whilst American gold coins for circulation after 1837 contain an alloy of 0.900 fine gold, or 21.6 carat. Only 10% of the world consumption of new gold produced goes to industry, but by far the most important industrial use for new gold is in fabrication of corrosion-free electrical connectors in computers and other electrical devices. Gold is a valuable commodity.

A mirror for the James Webb Space Telescope, coated in gold to reflect infrared light.

This week…
You might already know that the collective noun for crows is a murder and for lapwings it is a deceit. You might even be aware that for hawks it is an aerie. But an ambush is the collective term for both tigers and widows!

Click: Return to top of page or Index page

Managing Change

We don’t realise it at the time but when we are very young many, perhaps all of us, consider that we are the centre of the universe and that everything revolves around us. We demand attention, we want everything immediately. So, we shout and scream when that does not occur. I think that in the majority of cases, as we grow we learn that we aren’t the only one around and as a result we cannot have just what we want exactly when we want it. That is very true if we have siblings, especially ones older than ourselves. Gender can also play its part! However, there are some who get spoiled and that becomes even more apparent as time passes when they begin to interact with others. Also the longer it takes for them to realise how life really is, the harder it can become for them to change their ways. Sadly, some never do. What seems to make it worse though is when the selfish person tries to turn things round and make others feel like it is their fault and that they should be the ones to change their ways! But sadly that is the classic behaviour of a narcissist. Some may give in to them and accept that way of life, but it can be damaging and ruin their lives. There are even those who have turned to extreme violence as they could see no other way for their situation to end. Happily there are a number of groups specifically designed to help folk in these circumstances by such things as counselling, in fact simply talking to someone who will listen and empathise, letting the person see that their problems can be overcome makes a real difference. They know they are not alone. I remember a lovely tv advert from years ago which featured a child who said “and when I grow up, my mummy says I’m going to be a proper little madam!”. We must surely have all met or seen people just like that and who become extremely selfish in their ways, with absolutely no thought or consideration for others. So it can be difficult to cope with such people and there are those, who despite knowing it isn’t probably in their best interests, stay with and almost ‘accept’ such folk. It may be that there is a fear of the unknown in some, as we know the old saying ‘better the devil you know than the devil you don’t’, but sometimes it can become just too much. It can be a change in your own capabilities, or perhaps in that of your partner that causes us to recognise the need to change. I know of someone who married a big, strong man and they lived together for many years, had children and grandchildren, all seemed well. Then the man became ill and was no longer big and strong, ultimately forced into giving up work. The two finally separated and divorced as his wife could not accept the change which had occurred in her husband. I have managed many changes in my own life, from coping with a muscular disability since birth, then epilepsy and later a heart problem. So I take a few tablets every day, I am very well cared for and more especially I am alive to tell others that it is eminently possible to manage change. It is easier with a positive attitude, recognising and being thankful for the not so good as well as the good because, as has been said many times, ‘falling down is often easy – it is the getting up again that can be difficult’. It also fascinating to me how attitudes have changed over the years regarding such things as disability. I worked in an office for very many years, I have said before that my work all too often involved filling in forms and quite a few of my work colleagues were absolutely delighted when computers were installed – it meant I was able to type, as being left-handed my writing was and still is nowhere near the best! Also I can only use my left hand to type but I could and I still do so fairly quickly. Not only that, but modern programs tend to include an auto-correct feature, though that can be a hindrance rather than a help at times! So before sending out each weekly blog post, I read through it carefully as if I were a stranger. I think perhaps what helps me there comes from my few years spent in a telephone directory compilation team, where we used to hand-write entries on computer cards and include simple computer code so that the computers could recognise the difference between certain letters and numbers – now that was a challenge. Most especially, we would check the results printed by the computer every week and when it came to the final checks before the directories went to final print once a year, only a very limited number of changes were allowed on the final draft! But years later I was chatting to a former work colleague who admitted they had no knowledge of my physical disabilities. Happily the years have passed and attitudes have changed, so others have learned to accept me for exactly who and what I am today.

I have said before that change is all around us, every second of the day. As I was growing up at home I would see that my mother was worried about this or that and I would politely ask her what she was worried about. Quite often it was about something in the future over which she had no control, so I would ask why she was fretting about such things. To me, such worry is like spending life in an empty room sitting in a rocking chair, going back and forth. There is action to be sure, but no achievement. With each of the generations seeds are planted in all things, then they grow and many bear fruit which feed others. Thunderstorms occur, lightning may strike trees and create a fire which can burn parts of a forest, but when that happens seeds fall and new trees slowly grow. It is a cycle of life which continues. I learned a little while ago of a man who was having difficulty organising people to get to a particular place on time, I believe it was getting equipment for a concert, something like that. He had been taught all about geography and map reading, with coordinates, Northings and Eastings but to this man it was so very complicated. So he talked to a friend and they came up with the idea of dividing the whole world up into individual three-metre squares, so each one had a simple three-word name. As a result, we now have What3words, that is described officially as a ‘proprietary geocode system’ which has been designed to identify any location with a resolution of about 3 metres (9.8ft). It is owned by What3words Limited, based in London. The system encodes geographic coordinates into three permanently fixed dictionary words. For example, the front door of 10 Downing Street, London is identified by the code ///indoor.myself.rather and can be made into a weblink by altering the code slightly to w3w.co/indoor.myself.rather. So the three words do not change, just the prefix. This has been proven to be extremely useful finding folk who are perhaps halfway up a mountain, in fact because the English version works with the world’s oceans as well, emergency services can use it to find anyone, anywhere. But even a simple thing like meeting a friend at the entrance to a stadium or maybe a caravan on a large campsite can be, I am sure, really useful. The important point is that What3words differs from most location encoding systems in that it uses words rather than strings of numbers or letters, and the pattern of this mapping is not obvious, also the algorithm mapping locations to words is proprietary and protected by copyright. The company has a website, apps for Apple iOS and Android, and an application programming interface (API) which easily converts between postal addresses, What3words addresses and latitude/longitude coordinates. The system divides the world into a grid of 57 trillion 3-by-3-metre squares, each of which has a three-word address and the addresses are available in around fifty languages. Translations are not direct, as direct translations to some languages could produce more than three words. Rather, territories are localised considering linguistic sensitivities and nuances. Each What3words language uses a list of 25,000 words (40,000 in English, as it covers sea as well as land). The lists are manually checked to remove homophones and offensive words. The company states that densely populated areas have strings of short words due to more frequent usage, whilst less populated areas such as the North Atlantic use more complex words. Sometimes the simplest of things can be the best of ideas. As many of you know, some years ago I was able to go on a superb cruise holiday and as part of that cruise aboard the P&O ship ‘Arcadia’, each day the position, course and speed was given. I have now converted all of the daily latitude and longitude details into What3words and one example is w3w.co/encodes.mumbled.spaniel which links directly to a three metre square on board a cruise ship in the bay close to Akaroa, New Zealand. The link opens a web page with various options, including different views and sharing options. Alternatively, if I arrange to meet someone in Birmingham, perhaps by an entrance to the Symphony Hall I would share the link w3w.co/orange.over.rises. It can also be useful finding a car in a car park, maybe like the three words pull.bids.push, which can be seen on a web page as w3w.co/pull.bids.push. It would even work in a multi-storey one, I would just need to remember which level I was parked on! I could say the three words to a car Satnav, as a few have this feature now, or over the phone or text the link to a friend. I think that I will try and use this facility. I don’t often advertise, but on this occasion I think this is worth sharing. Having said that, you could already be using What3words. But just in case not…

As I have already mentioned, we live in a constantly changing world and it is, generally, our choice as to how we manage that change. But then sometimes that adjustment is forced upon us by a change in outside circumstances. I know of one particular man here in England who got married and they had children, but then their circumstances changed. Years later the man married again and this time he and his new wife had several children in a fairly short space of time. Meanwhile around them the world was still turning and the government of the time decided to ask its residents if they should either be staying in the European Union, or leave it. As a result, a referendum was put to the people of the country. It was called ‘Brexit’, a portmanteau of ‘British exit’ and resulted in the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union at 23:00 GMT on 31 January 2020. It meant that at that time, the UK was the only sovereign country to have left the EU. The UK had been a member state of the union and its predecessor the European Communities (EC) since 1 January 1973. Following Brexit, EU law and the Court of Justice of the European Union no longer had privacy over British laws, except in certain areas relating to Northern Ireland. As many expected, not everyone was happy with the decision to leave the EU, but the decision was reached by a majority vote. However, there are still people who continue to moan and complain that it was the wrong choice. I believe that the man who I mentioned earlier has stated how wrong he thought it was and he continues to moan, but I hope he will be educating all his children that despite all our hopes, dreams and wishes our lives may not always work out quite as we would have wished. I am reminded of the sorry tale about the young man who, having recently passed his driving test, went on a drinking spree to celebrate but then, whilst drunk, drove his father’s car at excessive speed and whilst he survived the subsequent crash he killed his best friend. Despite our best efforts, we make mistakes and must live with the consequences, no matter what they may be. I am presently living in a Care Home as I do my best to recover from medical issues, in my case my heart has a damaged mitral valve which I have had since birth, I have a muscular weakness on my right side and I also have epilepsy. It has meant that I am unable to do certain things, but I have learned to adapt, more especially to accept the changing circumstances as I have grown older. I am in a place where a few folk have dementia and I see how they live from day to day, they are fed, they are cared for and most especially they are treated properly and with respect. I am allowed to do as much as I can for myself, to manage as best I can, but if I need help I have learned to politely ask for it. To ask for and accept help has perhaps been the hardest thing for me to do as over the years I have learned to be independent as far as possible. We see and learn change all the time with lives, even species dying out, but there is definitely an innate willingness in so many of us to survive, to continue, to learn and to better ourselves. Yes, change continues and who knows what will occur on Earth in years to come. So I do my best to learn from the past, live in the present and look to the future with a smile. Which reminds me of a lovely quote, with I have included below.

A quote by Srinivas Arka.

This week…
The other day I happened to watch a clip from the tv series ‘Yes, Prime Minister’, which to me was extremely entertaining. The prime minister had come up with what he thought was “a brilliant idea, a real vote-winner”, as it would allow parents to choose for themselves which school they could send their children to. But Sir Humphrey Appleby was utterly appalled at the idea. In his eyes, choosing a school was a job for civil servants, as it was beyond the capability of parents! The Prime Minister then enquired who chose the school that he, Sir Humphrey, went to and with a knowing smile, Sir Humphrey replied “Oh, my parents, naturally…”.

Click: Return to top of page or Index page

Welcome To Earth Day

In previous weeks I have researched and written quite a bit on the history of things many and various. So this week I thought about bringing in a more ‘modern’ touch. I hope you like it. Except of course to set the scene, we should perhaps first consider ourselves and our lovely Earth. Today, we know from radiometric dating that Earth is about 4.5 billion years old. Had naturalists in the 1700s and 1800s known Earth’s true age, any early ideas about evolution might have been taken more seriously. We know that life began at least 3.5 billion years ago, because that is the age of the oldest rocks with fossil evidence of life here on Earth. It is the third planet from the Sun and the only astronomical object known to harbour life, at least as we know it as carbon-based life forms. Whilst large amounts of water can be found throughout the Solar System, only Earth sustains liquid surface water. About 71% of Earth’s surface is made up of the ocean, dwarfing Earth’s polar ice, lakes, and rivers. I could go on about its chronology, including its formation, geological history, origins of life and evolution but not this time! Instead, here is some detail on what is known as Earth Day. So far as I can tell, Earth Day was first celebrated in 1970, when a United States senator from Wisconsin organised a national demonstration to raise awareness about environmental issues. Rallies took place across that country and, by the end of the year, the U.S. government had created its Environmental Protection Agency. Since then, Earth Day has become an annual event around the world on April 22nd to demonstrate support for environmental protection and includes a wide range of events coordinated globally by earthday.org which was formerly the Earth Day Network. It now includes one billion people in more than a hundred and ninety-three countries and the official theme for 2022 is ‘Invest In Our Planet’, with details on the website http://www.earthday.org. In 1969 at a UNESCO conference in San Francisco, peace activist John McConnell proposed a day to honour the Earth and the concept of peace, to first be observed on March 21, 1970, the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. This day in nature was later sanctioned in a proclamation written by McConnell and signed by then Secretary General U Thant at the United Nations. A month later, the United States Senator Gaylord Nelson proposed the idea to hold a nationwide environmental teach-in on April 22, 1970. He hired a young activist to be the National Coordinator and the two of them renamed the event ‘Earth Day’. The event grew beyond the original idea for a teach-in to include the entire United States, with more than 20 million people pouring onto the streets. Key non-environmentally focused partners played major roles and without them, it is likely that the first Earth Day would not have succeeded. Nelson was later awarded a Presidential Medal Of Freedom award in recognition of his work. The first Earth Day was focused on the United States, but in 1990 Denis Hayes, the original national coordinator in 1970, put it on the international stage and organised events in 141 nations. On Earth Day 2016, a landmark Paris Agreement was signed by the United States, the United Kingdom, China, and 120 other countries. This signing satisfied a key requirement for the entry into force of the historic draft Climate Protection Treaty adopted by consensus of the 195 nations present at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. Since then, numerous communities have continued to engage in Earth Day Week actions, an entire week of activities focused on the environmental issues that the world faces. On Earth Day 2020, over 100 million people around the world observed its 50th anniversary in what has been referred to as the largest online mass mobilisation in history.

But perhaps what really energised the birth of Earth Day was when, on January 28, 1969, an oil well drilled by Union Oil Platform A off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, blew out. More than three million gallons of oil spewed, killing more than 10,000 seabirds, dolphins, seals, and sea lions so as a direct reaction to this disaster, activists were mobilised to create good environmental regulation, environmental education, and Earth Day itself. There were a number of proponents of Earth Day who were in the front lines of fighting this disaster, but Denis Hayes, organiser of the first Earth Day said that Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin was inspired to create Earth Day upon seeing Santa Barbara Channel’s 800 square-mile oil slick from an aircraft. On the first anniversary of the oil blowout, January 28, 1970, Environmental Rights Day was created, and the Declaration of Environmental Rights was read. It had been written by Rod Nash during a boat trip across the Santa Barbara Channel whilst carrying a copy of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. The organisers of Environmental Rights Day had been working closely over a period of several months with a Republican Congressman to consult on the creation of their National Environmental Policy Act, the first of many new laws on environmental protection sparked by the national outcry about the blowout and subsequent oil spill and on the Declaration of Environmental Rights.

President Richard Nixon and First Lady Pat Nixon plant a tree on the White House South Lawn to recognise the first Earth Day.

In the winter of 1969–1970, a group of students met at Columbia University to hear Denis Hayes talk about his plans for Earth Day. The 1970s were a period of substantial environmental legislation in the U.S.A., including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, Superfund, Toxics Substances Control Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. It saw the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the banning of DDT and of lead in petrol. Jimmy Carter was president and the principal Washington, DC event was a festival held in Lafayette Park, across from the White House. It has been said that by mobilising two hundred million people in a hundred and forty-one countries and lifting the status of environmental issues onto the world stage, Earth Day activities in the early 1990’s gave a huge boost to recycling efforts worldwide and helped pave the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Unlike the first Earth Day in 1970, this anniversary was waged with stronger marketing tools, greater access to television and radio, and multimillion-dollar budgets.

The official logo of the Mount Everest Earth Day 20 International Peace Climb.

The Earth Day 20 Foundation highlighted its April 22 activities with a live satellite phone call to members of the historic Earth Day 20 International Peace Climb who called from their base camp on Mount Everest to pledge their support for world peace and attention to environmental issues. The climb was led by Jim Whittaker, the first American to summit Mount Everest many years earlier and marked the first time in history that mountaineers from the United States, the Soviet Union and China had roped together to climb a mountain, let alone Mount Everest. The group also collected more than two tons of rubbish which was transported down the mountain by support groups along the way that was left behind on Mount Everest from previous climbing expeditions. Warner Bros records released an Earth Day-themed single in 1990 entitled ‘Tomorrow’s World’ and the song featured vocals from various artists. It reached number seventy-four on the ‘Hot Country Songs’ chart dated May 5, 1990. As the millennium approached, another campaign was begun, this time focusing on global warming and pushing for cleaner energy. The April 22 Earth Day in 2000 combined the big-picture feistiness of the first Earth Day with the international grassroots activism of Earth Day 1990. For 2000, Earth Day had the internet to help link activists around the world and by the time the day came around, some five thousand environmental groups world-wide were on board, reaching out to hundreds of millions of people in a record one hundred and eighty-four countries. Events varied, with a ‘talking drum’ chain travelling from village to village in Gabon, Africa, whilst hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., USA. Google’s first Earth Day doodle was in 2001 and the theme for Earth Day 2003 was the Water for Life Campaign. That year, Earth Day Network developed a water quality project called “What’s in Your Water?”. Other water-related events were held on every continent, such as water workshops, exhibitions, concerts, and more in many countries. Educational curricula, teacher’s guides, water testing kits, and posters focused on water. Many other organisations also focused on environmental justice, created events concentrating on low-income communities. These events also worked on building support among low-income communities through clean-ups, park revitalisation and town halls focussing on integrating the environmental movement with community and social justice causes. Since then, Earth Day has been celebrated throughout the world in many and various ways. Over the following years such things as registering voters, major tree planting, healthy environments for children were done. Earth Day 2006 focused on science and faith and expanded into Europe, with events and speeches held in most of the EU countries. Key events included the ‘Festival on Climate Change’ in Utrecht, the Netherlands, which was focused on how to break away from the oil dependence and this included Earth Day founder Denis Hayes and members of the Dutch and E.U. parliament, local authorities, and media representatives. In the first of two years of Earth Day events in Ukraine, Denis Hayes also attended and spoke at the ‘Chernobyl 20 Remembrance for the Future’ conference in Ukraine. That year also saw events in China organised between Earth Day Network and Global Village Beijing, educating communities about energy savings along with the first-ever coordinated Earth Day events in Moscow, Russia, a scientific panel and a religious response panel on climate change throughout the U.S., and a ‘Conserve Your Energy’ event in Philadelphia. Thousands of Earth Day projects have been held across the globe that ranged from energy efficiency events, protests, letter writing campaigns, civic and environmental education trainings, urban and rural cleanups and water projects with a particular focus on building a broader and more diverse environmental movement.

On Earth Day 2010, its fortieth anniversary, an estimated one billion people around the world took part. This included action on climate change and other environmental issues through climate rallies and by engaging civil leaders in plans to build a greener economy. Through a Global Day of Conversation, more than 200 elected officials in more than 39 countries took part in active dialogues with their constituents about their efforts to create sustainable green economies and reduce their carbon footprints. Students around the world participated in school events, featuring community clean-ups, solar energy systems, school gardens, and environmental curriculum. Earth Day Network announced a partnership with Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment’s Avatar Home Tree Initiative to plant one million trees in 15 countries by the end of the year. Also, as part of a nationwide commemoration of the fortieth anniversary in Morocco, the government announced a unique National Charter for the Environment and Sustainable Development, the first commitment of its kind in Africa and the Arab world, which will inform new environmental laws for the country. The Kingdom of Morocco also pledged to plant one million trees. Since then, each Earth Day work has continued. The Earth Day Network completed a project to plant over 1.1 million trees, across the globe more than 100 million ‘Billion Acts of Green’ were registered. In September 2011, at the Clinton Global Initiative, U.S. President Clinton recognised this project as an exemplary approach to addressing global challenges. The goal of Earth Day 2014 was to dramatically personalise the massive challenges surrounding global climate change and weave that into both Earth Day 2014 and the five-year countdown to Earth Day 2020, the 50th anniversary. It was an opportunity to unite people worldwide into a common cause and call for action. Earth Day has in fact become very much a global event recognised my many nations, so it was no accident that in the United Nations, world leaders from 175 nations broke a record when they selected Earth Day 2016 to sign the Paris Agreement, the most significant climate accord in the history of the climate movement. Then in 2020, marches and gatherings were cancelled due to the COVID pandemic but still a three-day livestream event was organised, including speakers from all corners of the environmental movement such as Pope Francis, mayors from around the world, Ministers of the Environment from multiple countries and many more. Earth Day 2020 was a major topic across media platforms, including leading magazines and environmental publications. On January 5, 2020, Earth Day’s 50th anniversary year began with a full page in the Sunday New York Times, referencing a similar black and white advertisement that appeared in the Times 50 years earlier on the first Sunday in 1970. Through social media, Earth Day participants joined digital events and shared their support. Through Instagram, HRH The Prince of Wales reminded followers that nature is vital to human health and wellbeing, saying “For fifty years, since the very first Earth Day, I have dedicated a large part of my life to championing more balanced sustainable approaches whether in farming, forestry, fisheries, urban planning or corporate social responsibility. But as we look to shape the next fifty years, I very much need your help. To reflect and inspire the world to action, while aiming for a green recovery, I would ask you to join me by sharing your vision for a more sustainable future (socially, environmentally and economically) using the hashtag ReimagineReset.”

Sure We Can volunteers clean McKibbin Street, New York for Earth Day 2021.

Earth Day continues around the world, perhaps in ways unnoticed by many. For example there is a service in Brooklyn, New York called ‘Sure We Can’ which provides container-deposit redemption services to that area. Any person can come to Sure We Can during business hours and redeem New York State accepted bottles and cans. Additionally, the organisation serves as a community hub for the canner community that redeems there and for local environmental causes that promote the organisations’ dedication to sustainability. The facility is designed with canners (the people who collect cans and bottles from the streets) in mind. They aim to provide a welcoming facility so people can redeem their cans and bottles. In 2019, the centre annually processed 10 million cans and bottles for redemption and served a community of over 400 canners and Sure We Can estimate that they distribute $700,000 per year to canners. The average canner who visits Sure We Can earns $1,000 per year. Long may such initiatives continue, as large or not so large, they all make a vital difference. The Earth Day 2022 theme is ‘Invest in Our Planet’ and features five primary programmes, these being The Great Global Cleanup, Sustainable Fashion, Climate and Environmental Literacy, Canopy Project, Food and Environment, and the Global Earth Challenge. Earth Day is now observed in 192 countries and it is surely up to us all to do our part in sustaining this Earth.

This week…
Our British Saint’s Days are St David’s Day (March 1st), St Patrick’s Day (March 17th), St George’s Day (April 23rd) and St Andrew’s Day (November 30th). I was born on St. Patrick’s Day but my parents decided to give me the forenames Andrew David. Apparently a friend suggested they ought to include Patrick, but it was realised I’d then need George to complete the set and that was too much!

Click: Return to top of page or Index page