The Royal Air Force

The Royal Air Force (RAF) is the United Kingdom’s air and space force. It was formed towards the end of the First World War on 1 April 1918, becoming the first independent air force in the world, by regrouping the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS). Following the Allied victory in 1918, the RAF emerged as the largest air force in the world at the time and since its formation, the RAF has taken a significant role in British military history. The RAF’s mission is to support the objectives of the British Ministry of Defence (MOD), which are to “provide the capabilities needed to ensure the security and defence of the United Kingdom and overseas territories, including against terrorism; to support the Government’s foreign policy objectives particularly in promoting international peace and security”. The RAF describes its mission statement as “to provide an agile, adaptable and capable Air Force that, person for person, is second to none, and that makes a decisive air power contribution in support of the UK Defence Mission”. The mission statement is supported by the RAF’s definition of air power, which guides its strategy. Air power is defined as “the ability to project power from the air and space to influence the behaviour of people or the course of events”. Today, the Royal Air Force maintains an operational fleet of various types of aircraft, described by the RAF as being ‘leading-edge’ in terms of technology. This largely consists of fixed-wing aircraft, including those in a range of roles, including fighter and strike, airborne early warning, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Most of the RAF’s aircraft and personnel are based in the UK, with many others serving on global operations, mainly at long-established overseas bases. Although the RAF is the principal British air power arm, the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm and the British Army’s Army Air Corps also operate armed aircraft. Whilst the British were not the first to make use of heavier-than-air military aircraft, the RAF is the world’s oldest independent air force, that is, the first air force to become independent of army or navy control. Its headquarters was located in the former Hotel Cecil in London. This was a grand hotel built 1890–96 between the Thames Embankment and the Strand. It was named after Cecil House, also known as Salisbury House, a mansion belonging to the Cecil family, which occupied the site in the seventeenth century. Designed by architects Perry & Reed, the hotel was the largest in Europe when it opened with more than 800 rooms. The proprietor, Jabez Balfour, later went bankrupt and was sentenced to 14 years in prison. The hotel provided accommodation and the base for Gandhi’s South African delegation campaigning for Indian rights in the Transvaal in 1906. It was requisitioned for the war effort in 1917 by the Air Board, and the very first headquarters of the fledgling RAF took up part of the hotel from 1918 to 1919. The hotel was largely demolished in 1930, and Shell Mex House now stands on its site. After the war, the RAF was drastically cut and its inter-war years were relatively quiet. The RAF was put in charge of British military activity in Iraq, and carried out minor activities in other parts of the British Empire, which included establishing bases to protect Singapore and Malaya. The RAF’s naval aviation branch, the Fleet Air Arm, was founded in 1924 but handed over to Admiralty control on 24 May 1939. The RAF adopted the doctrine of strategic bombing, which led to the construction of long-range bombers and this became its main bombing strategy in the Second World War.

A Spitfire and a Hurricane, which both played major roles in the Battle of Britain.

The Royal Air Force underwent rapid expansion prior to and during the Second World War. Something I did not know until I began my research for this blog post was that under something called the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan
of December 1939, the air forces of British Commonwealth countries trained and formed “Article XV squadrons“ for service with RAF formations. Many individual personnel from these countries, and exiles from occupied Europe also served with RAF squadrons. By the end of the war the Royal Canadian Air Force had contributed more than thirty squadrons to serve in RAF formations and similarly, approximately a quarter of Bomber Command’s personnel were Canadian. Additionally, the Royal Australian Air Force represented around nine percent of all RAF personnel who served in the European and Mediterranean theatres.

The Avro Lancaster heavy bomber was extensively used during the strategic bombing of Germany in World War II.

Following victory in the Second World War, the RAF underwent significant re-organisation, as technological advances in air warfare saw the arrival of jet fighters and bombers. During the early stages of the Cold War, one of the first major operations undertaken by the RAF was the Berlin airlift, codenamed Operation Plainfire. Between 26 June 1948 and the lifting of the Russian blockade of the city on 12 May 1949, the RAF provided 17% of the total supplies delivered. The RAF then saw its first post-war engagements in the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. Before Britain developed its own nuclear weapons, the RAF was provided with American ones, then following the development of its own arsenal, the British Government elected on 16 February 1960 to share the country’s nuclear deterrent between the RAF and submarines of the Royal Navy, first deciding to concentrate solely on the air force’s V bomber fleet. Following the development of the Royal Navy’s Polaris submarines, the strategic nuclear deterrent passed to the navy’s submarines on 30 June 1969 and with the introduction of Polaris, the RAF’s strategic nuclear role was reduced to a tactical one. This role was continued by the V bombers into the 1980s and until 1998 by the Panavia Tornado.

The RAF V-bomber force was used to carry both conventional and nuclear weapons.

For much of the Cold War the primary role of the RAF was the defence of Western Europe against potential attack by the Soviet Union, with many squadrons based in West Germany.

The Tornado played an integral part in RAF operations from 1991 until its retirement in 2019.

With the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the RAF’s focus returned to expeditionary air power, and since 1990 the RAF has been involved in several large-scale operations. The RAF’s 90th anniversary was commemorated on 1 April 2008 by a flypast of the RAF’s Aerobatic Display Team the Red Arrows and four Eurofighter Typhoons along the River Thames in a straight line from just south of London City Airport, Tower Bridge, the London Eye, the RAF Memorial and the Ministry of Defence building. Since the end of the Cold War, four major defence reviews have been conducted and these have resulted in steady reductions in manpower and numbers of aircraft, especially combat aircraft such as fast-jets. As part of the latest 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, the BAE Systems Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft was cancelled due to over spending and missing deadlines. Other reductions saw total manpower reduced by 5,000 personnel to a trained strength of 33,000 and the early retirement of the BAE Harrier GR7 and GR9.

The Sea King was operated by the RAF from 1978 until 2015 when RAF Search and Rescue was disbanded.

In recent years, fighter aircraft have been increasingly required to scramble in response to Russian Air Force aircraft approaching British airspace. Both RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire and RAF Lossiemouth in Moray provide QRA aircraft, and scramble their Typhoons within minutes to meet or intercept aircraft which give cause for concern. Lossiemouth generally covers the northern sector of UK airspace, whilst Coningsby covers the southern sector. At the start of the scaled QRA response, civilian air traffic controllers might see on their screens an aircraft behaving erratically, not responding to their radio calls, or note that it’s transmitting a distress signal through its transponder. Rather than scramble Typhoons at the first hint of something abnormal, a controller has the option to put them on a higher level of alert, ‘a call to cockpit’. In this scenario the pilot races to the hardened aircraft shelter (HAS) and does everything short of starting his engines. On 4 October 2015, a final stand-down saw the end of more than seventy years of RAF Search and Rescue (SAR) provision in the UK. The RAF and Royal Navy’s Westland Sea King fleets, after over 30 years of service, were retired. A civilian contractor, Bristow Helicopters, took over all of the responsibility for UK Search and Rescue and a new contract means that all UK SAR coverage is now provided by Bristow aircraft. The Royal Air Force celebrated its 100th anniversary on 1 April 2018 and it marked the occasion on 10 July 2018 with a flypast over London consisting of 103 aircraft. Between March 2020 and 2022, the RAF assisted with the response efforts to the COVID-19 pandemic in the United Kingdom. This saw the service provide repatriation flights and aeromedical evacuations of COVID-19 patients, drivers and call-handlers to support ambulance services and medics to assist with the staffing of hospitals, testing units and vaccination centres. The RAF has also been involved with COVID-19 relief operations overseas, repatriating stranded nationals and delivering medical supplies and vaccines to British Overseas Territories and military installations. Here in the United Kingdom, front-line flying operations are focussed at eight stations, these being Coningsby, Marham, Lossiemouth, Waddington, Brize Norton, Northolt, Benson and Odiham. It is at Barkston Heath, Cranwell, Shawbury and Valley where flying training takes place, with each forming part of the UK Military Flying Training System which is dedicated to training aircrew for all three UK armed services. Specialist ground crew training is focused at Cosford, St Mawgan and St. Athan. Operations are supported by numerous other flying and non-flying stations, which have a support enabler role. Overseas, the UK operates permanent military airfields in four British Overseas Territories and these contribute to the physical defence and maintenance of sovereignty of the British Overseas Territories and enable the UK to conduct expeditionary military operations. At its height in 1944 during the Second World War, more than 1,100,000 personnel were serving in the RAF. As of 1 January 2015, the RAF numbered some 34,200 regular and 1,940 Royal Auxiliary Air Force, giving a combined strength of 36,140 personnel. In addition to the active elements of the RAF, that is both regular and Royal Auxiliary Air Force, all ex-regular personnel remain liable to be recalled for duty in a time of need, and this is known as the Regular Reserve. In 2007, there were 33,980 RAF Regular Reserves, of which 7,950 served under a fixed-term reserve contract.

World War II: King George VI, Queen Elizabeth, and Princess Elizabeth with RAF personnel.

Officers hold a commission from the Sovereign, which provides the legal authority for them to issue orders to subordinates. The commission of a regular officer is granted after successfully completing the 24-week-long Initial Officer Training course at the RAF College, Cranwell. To emphasise the merger of both military and naval aviation when the RAF was formed, many of the titles of officers were deliberately chosen to be of a naval character, such as flight lieutenant, wing commander, group captain and air commodore. Other ranks attend the Recruit Training Squadron at RAF Halton for basic training. The titles and insignia of other ranks in the RAF were based on that of the Army, with some alterations in terminology. Over the years, this structure has seen significant changes, for example, there was once a separate system for those in technical trades, and the ranks of chief technician and junior technician continue to be held only by personnel in technical trades. RAF other ranks fall into four categories and these are Warrant Officers, Senior Non-Commissioned Officers, Junior Non-Commissioned Officers and Airmen. Having completed basic training, all go on to elementary training and on completion of that, aircrew are then streamed to either fast jet, multi-engine, or rotary training. Multi-engine aircrew, weapon systems officer (WSO) and weapon systems operator (WSOp) students are trained at RAF Cranwell. Multi-engine aircrew then go to their Operational Conversion Unit or to a front-line squadron. Training is also provided for rotary-wing aircraft as RAF helicopters support the British Army by moving troops and equipment to and around the battlefield. Helicopters are also used in a variety of other roles, including in support of RAF ground units and heavy-lift support for the Royal Marines. As for the aircraft, there are far too many to detail here individually, but each have their specific roles to play, right from basic training to advanced fast jet. In terms of the future of the RAF, in July 2014 the House of Commons Defence Select Committee released a report on the future force structure that envisaged a mixture of unmanned and manned platforms, including further F-35, Protector RG1, a service life extension for the Typhoon (which would otherwise end its service in 2030) or a possible new manned aircraft. On 5 October 2015, it was announced that the Scavenger programme had been replaced by “Protector”, a new requirement for at least 20 unmanned aerial vehicles and on 7 October 2015, it was revealed that Protector will be a derivative of the SkyGuardian with enhanced range and endurance. In July 2018, at the Farnborough Airshow, the Defence Secretary announced a £2bn investment for BAE Systems, MBDA and Leonardo to develop a new British 6th Generation Fighter to replace Typhoon in 2035. Also in July 2018, a General Atomics US civil-registered SkyGuardian was flown from North Dakota to RAF Fairford for the Royal International Air Tattoo where it was given RAF markings. It was formally announced by the Chief of Air Staff that No. 31 Squadron would become the first squadron to operate the Protector RG1 as it will be known in RAF service. On 22 March 2019, the Defence Secretary announced the UK had signed a $1.98bn deal to procure five Boeing E-7 Wedgetails to replace the ageing Boeing E-3D Sentry fleet in the Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) role. As of May 2020, the first E-7 was expected to enter RAF service in 2023 with the final aircraft arriving in late 2025 or early 2026. In July 2020, the Ministry of Defence signed a contract for three Protectors with an option on an additional thirteen aircraft. In December 2020, it was announced that the Wedgetail AEW1 will be based at RAF Lossiemouth. The 2021 Defence Command Paper also cut the Wedgetail order down to just three aircraft. The Sentry AEW1s were officially withdrawn on 28 September 2021. The 2021 Defence Command Paper also confirmed the order for sixteen Protectors, despite the fact that the 2015 SDSR originally laid out plans for more than 20.

The badge of the Royal Air Force on the gates of RAF College Cranwell.

Following the tradition of the other British armed services, the RAF has adopted symbols to represent it, using them as rallying devices for members and promote esprit de corps. British aircraft in the early stages of the First World War carried the Union Flag as an identifying feature, but this was easily confused with Germany’s Iron Cross motif. So in October 1914, the French system of three concentric rings was adopted, with the colours reversed to a red disc surrounded by a white ring and an outer blue ring. The relative sizes of the rings have changed over the years and during the Second World War an outer yellow ring was added to the fuselage roundel. Aircraft serving in the Far East during the Second World War had the red disc removed to prevent confusion with Japanese aircraft. Since the 1970s, camouflaged aircraft carry low-visibility roundels, either red and blue on dark camouflage, or washed-out pink and light blue on light colours. Most non-camouflaged training and transport aircraft retain the traditional red-white-blue roundel. The RAF’s motto is Per Ardua ad Astra and is usually translated from Latin as “Through Adversity to the Stars”, but the RAF’s official translation is “Through Struggle to the Stars”. The choice of motto is attributed to a junior officer named J S Yule, in response to a request for suggestions from a commander of the Royal Flying Corps, Colonel Sykes. The badge of the Royal Air Force was first used in August 1918 and in heraldic terms, it is: “In front of a circle inscribed with the motto ‘Per Ardua ad Astra’ and ensigned by the Imperial Crown an eagle volant and affronté head lowered and to the sinister”. Although there have been debates among airmen over the years about whether the bird was originally meant to be an albatross or an eagle, the consensus is that it was always an eagle. I know that for me, it has to be an eagle!

This week…

According to a news report, a certain private school in Washington was once faced with a unique problem. A number of 12-year-old girls were beginning to use lipstick and would put it on in the bathroom. That was fine, but after they put on their lipstick they would press their lips to the mirror leaving dozens of little lip prints. Every night, the maintenance man would remove them and the next day, the girls would put them back. This became too much, so finally the principal decided that something had to be done. She called all the girls to the bathroom and met them there with the maintenance man. She explained that all these lip prints were causing a major problem for the custodian, who had to clean the mirrors every night.

To demonstrate how difficult it had been to clean the mirrors, she asked the maintenance man to show the girls how much effort was required. He took out a long-handled squeegee, dipped it in the toilet, and cleaned a mirror with it. Since then, there have been no lip prints on the mirrors.

There are teachers, and there are educators…

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Learning To Drive

Here in the UK, most people can start learning to drive when they are seventeen years of age. But there are strict rules and regulations which must be adhered to when driving on UK roads. You must do several things before you drive a car or ride a motorcycle. These include getting a driving licence, registering, insuring and taxing your vehicle, and getting an MOT. Before you drive or ride, you must have the correct driving licence, be the minimum driving or riding age and meet the minimum eyesight rules. What I wasn’t aware of were all the differing rules for driving and for riding age, though I knew some. There are different categories, these being for a car (category B), motorbike (categories A1, A2 and A), moped (category P or AM), medium-sized vehicles (category C1), large vehicles and lorries (category C), minibuses (category D1), bus (category D), agricultural tractor (category F), quad bikes (category B1), motor tricycle (categories A and A1) and other specialist vehicles (categories G, H and K). Specific details are on the government website What kind of vehicle do you want to drive? – Vehicles you can drive – GOV.UK, but for example you cannot drive a tractor until you’re 16, but once you’re 16 you can apply for provisional tractor entitlement (category F) then take a tractor test. You will then be able to drive smaller tractors less than 2.45m wide and tow trailers less than 2.45m wide with 2 wheels or 4 close-coupled wheels. Alternatively you can wait until you’re 17 then take a tractor test to drive any size of tractor. If you get a full car licence you can drive a tractor without having to take a special tractor test. As for eyesight, you must wear glasses or contact lenses every time you drive if you need them to meet the ‘standards of vision for driving’. This guide is also available in Welsh (Cymraeg). You must tell DVLA if you’ve got any problem with your eyesight that affects both of your eyes, or the remaining eye if you only have one eye. This does not include being short or long sighted or colour blind. You also do not need to say if you’ve had surgery to correct short sightedness and can meet the eyesight standards. You could be prosecuted if you drive without meeting the standards of vision for driving. You must be able to read (with glasses or contact lenses, if necessary) a car number plate made after 1 September 2001 from 20 metres. You must also meet the minimum eyesight standard for driving by having a visual acuity of at least decimal 0.5 (6/12) measured on the Snellen scale (with glasses or contact lenses, if necessary) using both eyes together or, if you have sight in one eye only, in that eye. You must also have an adequate field of vision, your optician can tell you about this and do a test. Lorry and bus drivers must have a visual acuity at least 0.8 (6/7.5) measured on the Snellen scale in your best eye and at least 0.1 (6/60) on the Snellen scale in the other eye. You can reach this standard using glasses with a corrective power not more than (+) 8 dioptres, or with contact lenses. There is no specific limit for the corrective power of contact lenses. You must have an uninterrupted horizontal visual field of at least 160 degrees with an extension of at least 70 degrees left and right and 30 degrees up and down. No defects should be present within a radius of the central 30 degrees. You may still be able to renew your lorry or bus licence if you cannot meet these standards but held your licence before 1 January 1997. Incidentally, I have learned that the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) still exists, holding more than 50 million driver records and more than 40 million vehicle records. They collect over £7 billion a year in Vehicle Excise Duty (VED). DVLA is an executive agency, sponsored by the Department for Transport. But on 28 November 2013 a new agency with responsibility for maintaining vehicle standards was launched as the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA). So the DVLA is in charge of licensing and collecting taxes, whereas the DVSA is in charge of rules and testing.

Anyway, back to the rules. At the start of your practical driving test you have to correctly read a number plate on a parked vehicle. If you cannot, you’ll fail your driving test and the test will not continue. DVLA will be told and your licence will be revoked. When you reapply for your driving licence, DVLA will ask you to have an eyesight test with DVSA. This will be at a driving test centre. If you are successful, you will still have to pass the DVSA standard eyesight test at your next practical driving test. It is essential to have read through the Highway Code, in fact it is essential reading for all road users, including pedestrians, mobility scooter users, cyclists, horse riders, drivers and motorcyclists. The code applies to England, Scotland and Wales and guidance for Northern Ireland is available. Nowadays you can order a copy of The Highway Code book online, or buy a copy from most high street bookshops. It is essential though to stay up to date, so it is now possible to sign up to get email alerts when the rules change or alternatively to follow The Highway Code on Facebook. The Code covers many aspects, like who The Highway Code is for, how it is worded, the consequences of not following the rules, self-driving vehicles, and the hierarchy of road users. There are rules for pedestrians, including general guidance, crossing the road, crossings, and situations needing extra care, rules for powered wheelchairs and mobility scooters, including on pavements and on the road, rules about animals, including horse-drawn vehicles, horse riders and other animals, rules for cyclists, including an overview, road junctions, roundabouts and crossing the road. There are rules for motorcyclists, including helmets, carrying passengers, daylight riding and riding in the dark, rules for drivers and motorcyclists, including vehicle condition, fitness to drive, alcohol and drugs, what to do before setting off, vehicle towing and loading, and seat belts and child restraints, general rules, techniques and advice for all drivers and riders regarding signals, stopping procedures, lighting, control of the vehicle, speed limits, stopping distances, lines and lane markings and multi-lane carriageways, smoking, mobile phones and sat nav. Also rules for using the road, including general rules, overtaking, road junctions, roundabouts, pedestrian crossings and reversing. I have also learned that there have been recent changes to rules relating to pedestrians and their priority at road junctions! There are of course rules for driving in adverse weather conditions, including wet weather, icy and snowy weather, windy weather, fog and hot weather, for waiting and parking, including rules on parking at night and decriminalised parking enforcement. Further changes are now in place with rules for motorways, including rules for signals, joining the motorway, driving on the motorway, lane discipline, overtaking, stopping and leaving the motorway. A number of the rules for motorways also apply to other high-speed roads. In addition, rules apply to breakdowns and incidents, road works, level crossings and tramways, light signals controlling traffic, signals to other road users as well as those used by authorised persons, including police officers, people controlling traffic, Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency officers, traffic officers and school crossing patrols.

A selection of just a few of the many roadsigns!

Drivers should all know the meaning of the various traffic signs, including signs giving orders, warning signs, direction signs, information signs and road works signs as well as the various road markings. There are even specific vehicle markings that are used, including large goods vehicle rear markings, hazard warning plates, projection markers and other markings. Even bicycle and motorcycle rules must be known and adhered to. Something I learned whilst researching this was that there are special rules which apply to drivers and motorcyclists for a period of two years from the date of passing their first driving test. Where a person subject to the special rules accumulates 6 or more penalty points before the end of the 2-year period (including any points acquired before passing the test) their licence will be revoked automatically. To regain the licence they must reapply for a provisional licence and may drive only as a learner until they pass a further full driving test. The code also gives information and rules about vehicle maintenance, safety and security as well as about first aid on the road, including dealing with danger, getting help, helping those involved, and providing emergency care. But it still has a code of practice for horse-drawn vehicles! There are also rules whilst learning to drive. For example you must have a provisional driving licence for Great Britain or Northern Ireland and you must be supervised when you’re learning to drive a car. This can be by a driving instructor or someone else who meets the rules, for example family or friends, but even they have rules they must follow, for example anyone you practise your driving with (without paying them) must be over 21, be qualified to drive the type of vehicle you want to learn in, for example they must have a manual car licence if they’re supervising you in a manual car and they must have had their full driving licence for three years. You can be fined up to £1,000 and get up to six penalty points on your provisional licence if you drive without the right supervision. It is illegal for your friend or family member to use a mobile phone whilst supervising you, or for you to drive on the motorway when practising with family or friends. In addition, you need your own insurance as a learner driver if you are practising in a car you own. Your family member or friend will usually be covered on this. If you are practising in someone else’s car, you need to either make sure you are covered by the car owner’s insurance policy as a learner driver, or take out your own insurance policy that covers you driving in the car as a learner driver.

Whew! There is more yet. The car you learn in must display proper ‘L’ plates. You can drive at any time, day and night. But you can only drive on motorways if you are driving in England, Scotland or Wales, you are with an approved driving instructor and the car is fitted with dual controls. You must also complete a theory test, and there are some important things to know, for example you must take your UK photocard driving licence to your test. If you have a licence from Northern Ireland, bring the photocard and paper counterpart licence. Your test will be cancelled and you will not get your money back if you do not take the right things with you. However you can choose whether or not to wear a face covering at your test. If you have a paper licence, you must bring a valid passport as well as your paper licence. If you do not have a passport, you need to get a photocard licence. In addition, you will not have access to your personal items in the test room, things like bags, earphones, mobile phones and watches. You will usually have to store any personal items in a locker, but if your test centre does not have lockers, then you must turn off your phone before you enter the test centre and put your belongings in a clear plastic box that will be given to you – this must be stored under your desk during the test. The test centre staff will check if you have anything with you that could be used to cheat. Your test will not go ahead if you do not let them check. It is illegal to cheat at the theory test. You can be sent to prison and banned from driving. When you take the actual test, you must take your UK driving licence, your theory test pass certificate, if you have it and (of course) a car. Most people use their driving instructor’s, but you can use your own car if it meets the rules. These are different to when I took my test, but that was many years ago! Now, your car must have no warning lights showing, for example, the airbag warning light, have no tyre damage and meet the legal tread depth on each tyre. You must not have a space-saver spare tyre. The car must be roadworthy, be fitted with an extra interior rear-view mirror for the examiner and be fitted with a passenger seatbelt and a passenger head restraint for the examiner (slip-on types are not allowed). The car must be able to reach at least 62mph and have an mph speedometer, be fitted with L-plates (‘L’ or ‘D’ plates in Wales) on the front and rear and have 4 wheels and meet the maximum authorised mass (MAM) of no more than 3,500 kg. It must be taxed, have a current MOT (if it is over 3 years old) and be insured for a driving test. It is wise to check with your insurance company. Some cars cannot be used in the test because they do not give the examiner all-round vision. This is also because not every model has been used in a test before, and some may not give the examiner all-round vision. You can check if your car can be used by contacting the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA). Having said all that, you can start driving as soon as you pass your driving test. But you must have an insurance policy that allows you to drive without supervision.

All this is to give you an idea about the rules and regulations. It should not be used as a definitive guide. More detailed information is available from the website Learn to drive a car: step by step – GOV.UK. I feel I must also mention that passing this test means you can legally drive. But with more accidents being caused by drivers in their first few years of driving, there really is no substitute for experience. Please, drive carefully!

This week…as seen on Twitter the other day:
“When stopped by the police for an offence, if you are telling a friend in a foreign language what you’ve just done, it is a good idea to check first that the officer isn’t fluent in that language. Driver reported for using mobile phone whilst driving. No excuses.”

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The Book Of Common Prayer

The Book of Common Prayer is the name given to a number of related prayer books used in the Anglican Communion and by other Christian churches historically related to Anglicanism. The first prayer book, which was published in 1549 in the reign of King Edward VI of England, was a product of the English Reformation following the break with Rome. The work of 1549 was the first prayer book to include the complete forms of service for daily and Sunday worship in English. The 1549 book was soon succeeded by a 1552 revision which was more ‘Reformed’ but from the same editorial hand, that of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury. It was used only for a few months, as after Edward VI’s death in 1553 his half-sister Queen Mary I restored Roman Catholic worship. Mary died in 1558 and, in 1559, Queen Elizabeth I reintroduced the 1552 book with modifications to make it acceptable to more traditionally minded worshippers and clergy. In 1604, King James I ordered some further changes, the most significant being the addition to the Catechism of a section on the Sacraments and this resulted in the 1604 Book of Common Prayer. Following the English Civil War, when the Prayer Book was again abolished, another revision was published as the 1662 prayer book. That edition remains the official prayer book of the Church of England, although throughout the later twentieth century alternative forms (which were technically supplements) have largely displaced the Book of Common Prayer for the main Sunday worship of most English parish churches. Various permutations of the Book of Common Prayer with local variations are used in churches within and outside the Anglican Communion in over 50 countries and over 150 different languages. In many of these churches, the 1662 prayer book remains authoritative even if other books or patterns have replaced it in regular worship. Traditional English-language Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian prayer books have borrowed from the Book of Common Prayer and the marriage and burial rites have found their way into those of other denominations as well as into the English language. Like the King James Version of the Bible and the works of Shakespeare, many words and phrases from the Book of Common Prayer have entered common parlance.

Thomas Cranmer (1489–1556), editor and co-author of the first and second Books of Common Prayer.

Only after the death of King Henry VIII and the accession of King Edward VI in 1547 could revision of prayer books proceed faster. Despite conservative opposition, Parliament passed the Act of Uniformity on 21 January 1549, and the newly authorised Book of Common Prayer was required to be in use by Whitsunday (Pentecost), 9 June. Cranmer is credited with the overall job of editorship and the overarching structure of the book, though he borrowed and adapted material from other sources. The prayer book had provisions for the daily offices of Morning and Evening Prayer, scripture readings for Sundays and holy days, and services for Communion, public baptism, confirmation, matrimony, visitation of the sick, burial, purification of women upon the birth of a child, and Ash Wednesday. An ordinal for ordination services of bishops, priests and deacons was added in 1550. There was also a calendar and lectionary, which meant a Bible and a Psalter were the only other books required by a priest. This represented a major theological shift in England towards Protestantism. Cranmer’s doctrinal concerns can be seen in the systematic amendment of source material to remove any idea that human merit contributed to an individual’s salvation.

Thomas Cranmer’s prayer book of 1552.

The services for baptism, confirmation, communion and burial were rewritten, and ceremonies hated by Protestants were removed. The 1552 prayer book removed many traditional sacramentals and observances that reflected belief in the blessing and exorcism of people and objects. In the baptism service, infants no longer received minor exorcism. Anointing was no longer included in the services for baptism, ordination and visitation of the sick. These ceremonies were altered to emphasise the importance of faith, rather than trusting in rituals or objects and many of the traditional elements of the communion service were removed in the 1552 version. The name of the service was changed to “The Order for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion”, thus removing the word ‘Mass’. Stone altars were replaced with communion tables positioned in the chancel or nave, with the priest standing on the north side. The priest was also to wear the surplice instead of traditional Mass vestments. The service therefore promoted a spiritually presented view of the Eucharist, meaning that Christ is spiritually but not corporally present. The burial service was removed from the church. It was to now take place at the graveside. In 1549, there had been provision for a Requiem, prayers of commendation and committal, the first addressed to the deceased. All that remained was a single reference to the deceased, giving thanks for their delivery from ‘the myseryes of this sinneful world.’ This new Order for the Burial of the Dead was a drastically stripped-down memorial service designed to undermine definitively the whole complex of traditional Catholic beliefs about purgatory and intercessory prayers for the dead. The 1552 book, however, was used only for a short period, as King Edward VI had died in the summer of 1553 and, as soon as she could do so, Queen Mary I restored union with Rome. The Latin Mass was re-established, altars, roods and statues of saints were reinstated in an attempt to restore the English Church to its Roman affiliation. Thomas Cranmer was punished for his work in the English Reformation by being burned at the stake on 21 March 1556.

Nevertheless, the 1552 book was to survive, as after Mary’s death in 1558, it became the primary source for the Elizabethan Book of Common Prayer, with subtle, if significant, changes only. When the accession of Queen Elizabeth I re-asserted the dominance of the Reformed Church of England, there remained a significant body of more Protestant believers who were nevertheless hostile to the Book of Common Prayer. Under Queen Elizabeth I, a more permanent enforcement of the reformed Church of England was then undertaken and the 1552 book was republished, scarcely altered, in 1559. The doctrines in the Prayer Book and the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion as set forth in 1559 would set the tone of Anglicanism. The conservative nature of these changes underlined the fact that Reformed principles were by no means universally popular, a fact that the Queen recognised. Her revived Act of Supremacy, giving her the ambiguous title of supreme governor, passed without difficulty but the 1559 Act of Uniformity, giving statutory force to the Prayer Book, passed through the House of Lords by only three votes. It made constitutional history in being imposed by the laity alone, as all the bishops, except those imprisoned by the Queen and unable to attend, voted against it. After these innovations and reversals, the new forms of Anglican worship took several decades to gain acceptance, but by the end of her reign in 1603, 70–75% of the English population were on board. However, beginning in the seventeenth century, some prominent Anglican theologians tried to cast a more traditional Catholic interpretation onto the text as a Commemorative Sacrifice and Heavenly Offering, even though the words of the Rite did not support such interpretations. Thomas Cranmer, a good liturgist, was aware that the Eucharist from the mid-second century on had been regarded as the Church’s offering to God, but he removed the sacrificial language anyway, whether under pressure or conviction. It was not until the Anglican Oxford Movement of the mid-nineteenth century and later twentieth-century revisions that the Church of England would attempt to deal with the eucharistic doctrines of Cranmer by bringing the Church back to “pre-Reformation doctrine.” Another move, the “Ornaments Rubric“, related to what clergy were to wear whilst conducting services. Instead of the banning of all vestments except the rochet for bishops and the surplice for parish clergy, it permitted “such ornaments as were in use in the second year of King Edward VI.” This allowed substantial leeway for more traditionalist clergy to retain the vestments which they felt were appropriate to liturgical celebration. The rubric also stated that the Communion service should be conducted in the ‘accustomed place,’ namely facing a Table against the wall with the priest facing it. The instruction to the congregation to kneel when receiving communion was retained. Amongst Cranmer’s innovations, retained in the new Prayer Book, was the requirement of weekly Holy Communion services. In practice, as before the English Reformation, many received communion rarely, as little as once a year in some cases. Very high attendance at festivals was the order of the day in many parishes and in some, regular communion was very popular; in other places families stayed away or sent “a servant to be the liturgical representative of their household.” Few parish clergy were initially licensed by the bishops to preach and in the absence of a licensed preacher, Sunday services were required to be accompanied by reading one of the homilies written by Cranmer. Many were not alone in their enthusiasm for preaching, which was regarded as one of the prime functions of a parish priest. Music was much simplified, and a radical distinction developed between, on the one hand, parish worship, where only metrical psalms might be sung, and, on the other hand, worship in churches with organs and surviving choral foundations, where music was developed into a rich choral tradition. The whole act of parish worship might take well over two hours, and accordingly, churches were equipped with pews in which households could sit together (whereas in the medieval church, men and women had worshipped separately). Many ordinary churchgoers would own a copy of the Prayer Book, at least, those who could afford one, as it was expensive. There is a story of parishioners at Flixton in Suffolk who brought their own Prayer Books to church in order to shame their vicar into conforming with it! They eventually ousted him. Between 1549 and 1642, roughly 290 editions of the Prayer Book were produced but before the end of the English Civil War (1642–1651) and the introduction of the 1662 prayer book, something like a half a million prayer books are estimated to have been in circulation. The 1559 Book of Common Prayer was also translated into other languages within the English sphere of influence. A retranslation into Latin was made in the form of ‘Liber Precum Publicarum’ of 1560 and was destined for use in the English universities. The Welsh edition of the Book of Common Prayer for use in the Church in Wales was published in 1567. Then, after his accession, King James I called the Hampton Court Conference in 1604. It was the same meeting of bishops and Puritan divines that had initiated the King James Bible. This was in effect a series of two conferences, the first between James and the bishops and the second between James and the Puritans on the following day. The Puritans raised four areas of concern, these being purity of doctrine, the means of maintaining it, church government and the Book of Common Prayer. Confirmation, the cross in baptism, private baptism, the use of the surplice, kneeling for communion, reading the Apocrypha and subscription to both the Book of Common Prayer and Articles were all touched on. On the third day, after the king had received a report back from the bishops and made final modifications, he announced his decisions to the Puritans and bishops. The business of making the changes was then entrusted to a small committee of bishops and the Privy Council and, apart from tidying up details, this committee introduced into Morning and Evening Prayer a prayer for the Royal Family, they added several thanksgivings to the Occasional Prayers at the end of the Litany, altered the rubrics of Private Baptism limiting it to the minister of the parish, or some other lawful minister whilst still allowing it in private houses (the Puritans had wanted it only in the church) and added to the Catechism the section on the sacraments. The changes were put into effect by means of an explanation issued by the king in the exercise of his prerogative under the terms of the 1559 Act of Uniformity and Act of Supremacy. But the accession of King Charles I (1625–1649) brought about a complete change in the religious scene, in that the new king used his supremacy over the established church “to promote his own idiosyncratic style of sacramental Kingship” which was seen as a very weird aberration from the first hundred years of the early reformed Church of England. He questioned the populist and parliamentary basis of the Reformation Church and unsettled to a great extent the perceived consent of Anglicanism. These changes, along with a new edition of the Book of Common Prayer, led to the Bishops’ Wars and later to the English Civil War. With the defeat of King Charles I in the Civil War, the Puritan pressure, exercised through a much-changed Parliament, had increased. Puritan-inspired petitions for the removal of the prayer book and episcopacy, the latter being the role or office of bishop. This resulted in local disquiet in many places and, eventually, the production of locally organised counter petitions. The parliamentary government had its way, but it became clear that the division was not between Catholics and Protestants, but between Puritans and those who valued the Elizabethan settlement. The 1604 book was finally outlawed by Parliament in 1645, to be replaced by the Directory of Public Worship, which was more a set of instructions than a prayer book. How widely the Directory was used is not certain and there is some evidence in churchwardens’ accounts of its having been purchased, but not widely. The Prayer Book was certainly used clandestinely in some places, not least because the Directory made no provision at all for burial services. Following the execution of King Charles I in 1649 and the establishment of the Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector, the Prayer Book was not reinstated until shortly after the restoration of the monarchy to England.

Title page of the 1662 Prayer Book.

The 1662 Prayer Book was printed two years after the restoration of the monarchy. Attempts by the Presbyterians to gain approval for an alternative service book failed. Their major objections were firstly that it was improper for lay people to take any vocal part in prayer (as in the Litany or Lord’s Prayer), other than to say “amen” and secondly that no set prayer should exclude the option of an extempore alternative from the minister. Thirdly, that the minister should have the option to omit part of the set liturgy at his discretion and fourthly that short collects should be replaced by longer prayers and exhortations. Finally, that all surviving ‘Catholic’ ceremonial should be removed. The intent behind these suggested changes was to achieve a greater correspondence between liturgy and scripture. The bishops gave a frosty reply. They declared that liturgy could not be circumscribed by scripture, but rightfully included those matters which were generally received in the Catholic church. They rejected extempore prayer as apt to be filled with ‘idle, impertinent, ridiculous, sometimes seditious, impious and blasphemous expressions.’ The notion that the Prayer Book was defective because it dealt in generalisations brought the crisp response that such expressions were “the perfection of the liturgy”.

A Collect for 5 November in the Book of Common Prayer published in London in 1689, referring to the Gunpowder Plot and the arrival of King William III.

All the way between 1662 and the nineteenth century, further attempts to revise the Book in England stalled. On the death of Charles II, his brother James, a Roman Catholic, became King James II. The latter wished to achieve toleration for those of his own Roman Catholic faith, whose practices were still banned. This, however, drew the Presbyterians closer to the Church of England in their common desire to resist ‘popery’, so the talk of reconciliation and liturgical compromise was thus in the air. But with the flight of James in 1688 and the arrival of the Calvinist William of Orange, the position of the parties changed. The Presbyterians could achieve toleration of their practices without such a right being given to Roman Catholics and without, therefore, their having to submit to the Church of England, even with a liturgy more acceptable to them. They were now in a much stronger position to demand changes that were ever more radical. By the nineteenth century, pressures to revise the 1662 book were increasing and following a Royal Commission report in 1906, work began on a new prayer book. It took twenty years to complete, prolonged partly due to the demands of the First World War and partly in the light of the 1920 constitution of the Church Assembly, which it seems some wished to do the work all over again for itself. In 1927, the work on a new version of the prayer book reached its final form. In order to reduce conflict with traditionalists, it was decided that the form of service to be used would be determined by each congregation. With these open guidelines, the book was granted approval by the Church of England Convocations and Church Assembly in July 1927. But it was defeated by the House of Commons in 1928 and the effect of this failure resulted in no further attempts being made to revise the Book of Common Prayer. Instead, a different process, that of producing an alternative book, led to the publication of Series 1, 2 and 3 in the 1960s, the 1980 Alternative Service Book and subsequently to the 2000 Common Worship series of books. Both differ substantially from the Book of Common Prayer, though the latter includes in the Order Two form of the Holy Communion a very slight revision of the prayer book service, largely along the lines proposed for the 1928 Prayer Book. Order One follows the pattern of the modern Liturgical Movement. As for me, having not attended regular church services for a few years I was unaware of these Common Worship changes. But we still pray to the same God.

This week…turn a blind eye.
This is often used to refer to a wilful refusal to acknowledge a particular reality and dates back to a legendary chapter in the career of the British naval hero Horatio Nelson. During 1801’s Battle of Copenhagen, Nelson’s ships were pitted against a large Danish-Norwegian fleet. When his more conservative superior officer flagged for him to withdraw, the one-eyed Nelson supposedly brought his telescope to his bad eye and blithely proclaimed, “I really do not see the signal.” He went on to score a decisive victory. Some historians have since dismissed Nelson’s famous quip as merely a battlefield myth, but the phrase “turn a blind eye” persists to this day.

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Lundy Island

Lundy is an English island in the Bristol Channel which forms part of the district of Torridge in the county of Devon. It is about three miles (five km) long and five-eighths of a mile (one km) wide, it has had a long and turbulent history, with a frequently changing of hands between the British crown and various usurpers. In the 1920s one self-proclaimed ‘king’, Martin Harman, tried to issue his own coinage and was fined by the House of Lords. In 1941, two German Heinkel He 111 bombers crash landed on the island, and their crews were captured. But then in 1969 Lundy was purchased by British millionaire Jack Hayward who donated it to the National Trust. The island is now managed by the Landmark Trust, a conservation charity that derives its income from day trips and holiday lettings, with most visitors arriving by boat from Bideford or Ilfracombe. A local tourist curiosity is the special ‘Puffin’ postage stamp, a category known by philatelists as ‘local carriage labels’, a collectors’ item. As a steep, rocky island often shrouded by fog, Lundy has been the scene of many shipwrecks, and the remains of its old lighthouse installations are of both historic and scientific interest. Its present-day lighthouses are fully automated, one of which is solar-powered. Lundy has a rich bird life, as it lies on major migration routes, and attracts many vagrant as well as indigenous species. It also boasts a variety of marine habitats, with rare seaweeds, sponges and corals. In 2010, the island became Britain’s first Marine Conservation Zone.

Lundy’s jetty and harbour.

Lundy is the largest island in the Bristol Channel and it lies ten nautical miles (19km) off the coast of Devon, about a third of the distance across the channel from Devon to Pembrokeshire in Wales. Lundy gives its name to a British sea area and is included in the district of Torridge with a resident population of 28 people in 2007. These include a warden, a ranger, an island manager, a farmer, bar and house-keeping staff, and volunteers. Most live in and around the village at the south of the island and almost all of the visitors are day-trippers, although it does boast twenty-three holiday properties and a camp site for over-night visitors, most at the south of the island. In a 2005 opinion poll of Radio Times readers, Lundy was named as Britain’s tenth greatest natural wonder. The island has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest and it was England’s first statutory Marine Nature reserve. It was also the first Marine Conservation Zone, because of its unique flora and fauna.

Map of Lundy by Henry Mangles Denham (1832).

The place-name ‘Lundy’ is first attested in 1189 in the ‘Records of the Templars in England’, where it appears as (Insula de) ‘Lundeia’. It appears in the Charter Rolls (administrative records) as ‘Lundeia’ again in 1199, and as ‘Lunday’ in 1281. The name means ‘puffin island’, from the Old Norse ‘lundi’, meaning ‘puffin’. The name is Scandinavian, and it appears in the 12th-century Orkneyinga saga as ‘Lundey’. The name is known in Welsh as ‘Ynys Wair’, or Gwair’s Island, in reference to an alternative name for the wizard Gwydion. Lundy has evidence of visitation or occupation right from the Mesolithic period onward, with Neolithic flintwork, Bronze Age burial mounds, four inscribed gravestones from the early medieval period and an early medieval monastery possibly dedicated to St Elen or St Helen.

Four Celtic inscribed stones in Beacon Hill Cemetery.

Lundy was granted to the Knights Templar by King Henry II in 1160. The Templars were a major international maritime force at this time, with interests in North Devon, and almost certainly an important port at Bideford or on the River Taw in Barnstaple. This was probably because of the increasing threat posed by the Norse sea raiders, however it is unclear as to whether they ever took possession of the island. Ownership was disputed by the Marisco family who may have already been on the island during King Stephen’s reign. The Mariscos were fined, and the island was cut off from necessary supplies. Evidence of the Templars’ weak hold on the island came when King John, on his accession in 1199, confirmed the earlier grant.

Marisco Castle, Lundy.

In 1235 William de Marisco was implicated in the murder of Henry Clement, a messenger of King Henry III. Three years later, an attempt was made to kill the King by a man who later confessed to being an agent of the Marisco family. William de Marisco fled to Lundy where he lived as a virtual king. He built a stronghold in the area now known as Bulls’ Paradise with 9-foot (3-metre) thick walls. In 1242, King Henry III sent troops to the island. They scaled the island’s cliff and captured William de Marisco and sixteen of his ‘subjects’. Marisco Castle was built by King Henry III in about 1250 high up on the south-east point of Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel and this was in an attempt to establish the rule of law on the island with its surrounding waters. In 1275 the island is recorded as being in the Lordship of King Edward I, but by 1322 it was in the possession of Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster and was among the large number of lands seized by King Edward II following Lancaster’s execution for rebelling against the King. At some point in the thirteenth century the monks of the Cistercian order at Cleeve Abbey held the rectory of the island. By 1787 cottages had been built round the small courtyard inside the Keep. (In recent times these have been rebuilt by the Landmark Trust for holiday rental.) Over the next few centuries, the island was hard to govern. Trouble followed as both English and foreign pirates as well as privateers, including other members of the Marisco family, took control of the island for short periods. Ships were also forced to navigate close to Lundy island because of the dangerous shingle banks in the fast flowing River Severn and Bristol Channel, with its tidal range of 27 feet (8.2 metres), one of the greatest in the world. This made the island a profitable location from which to prey on passing Bristol-bound merchant ships bringing back valuable goods from overseas. In 1627 a group known as the ‘Salé Rovers’, from the Republic of Salé (now Salé) in Morocco occupied Lundy for five years. These Barbary Pirates, under the command of a Dutch renegade named Jan Janszoon, flew an Ottoman flag over the island. Slaving raids were made, embarking from Lundy by these Barbary Pirates, and captured Europeans were held on Lundy before being sent to Algiers to be sold as slaves. From 1628 to 1634, in addition to the Barbary Pirates, the island was plagued by privateers of French, Basque, English and Spanish origin targeting the lucrative shipping routes passing through the Bristol Channel. These incursions were eventually ended by Sir John Penington, an English admiral who served under King Charles I, although in the 1660s and as late as the 1700s the island still fell prey to French privateers. In the English Civil War (1642 to 1651), Thomas Bushell held Lundy for King Charles I, rebuilding Marisco Castle and garrisoning the island at his own expense. He was a friend of Francis Bacon, a strong supporter of the Royalist cause and an expert on mining and coining. It was the last Royalist territory held between the first and second civil wars. After receiving permission from King Charles I, Bushell surrendered the island on 24 February 1647 to Richard Fiennes, representing General Fairfax. Then in 1656, the island was acquired by Lord Saye and Sele.

Exterior of St. Helen’s Church, taken prior to the 2018 renovations.

The late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were years of lawlessness on Lundy, particularly during the ownership of Thomas Benson, a Member of Parliament for Barnstaple in 1747 and also Sheriff of Devon, who notoriously used the island for housing convicts whom he was supposed to be deporting. Benson leased Lundy from its owner, John Leveson-Gower, 1st Earl Gower (1694–1754), who was an heir of the Grenville family of Bideford and of Stowe, Kilkhampton, at a rent of £60 per annum and contracted with the Government to transport a shipload of convicts to Virginia, but diverted the ship to Lundy to use the convicts as his personal slaves. Later Benson was involved in an insurance swindle. He purchased and insured the ship ‘Nightingale’ and loaded it with a valuable cargo of pewter and linen. Having cleared the port on the mainland, the ship put into Lundy, where the cargo was removed and stored in a cave built by the convicts, before setting sail again. Some days afterwards, when a homeward-bound vessel was sighted, the ‘Nightingale’ was set on fire and scuttled. The crew were taken off the stricken ship by the other ship, which landed them safely at Clovelly. Sir Vere Hunt, 1st Baronet of Curragh, a rather eccentric Irish politician and landowner, and unsuccessful man of business, purchased the island from John Cleveland in 1802 for £5,270 (£500,600 today). Sir Vere Hunt planted in the island a small, self-contained Irish colony with its own constitution and divorce laws, coinage and stamps. The tenants came from Sir Vere Hunt’s Irish estate and they experienced agricultural difficulties whilst on the island. This led Sir Vere Hunt to seek someone who would take the island off his hands, failing in his attempt to sell the island to the British Government as a base for troops. After the 1st Baronet’s death his son, Sir Aubrey (Hunt de Vere, 2nd Baronet, also had great difficulty in securing any profit from the property. In the 1820s John Benison agreed to purchase the island for £4,500 but then refused to complete the sale as he felt that the 2nd Baronet could not make out a good title in respect of the sale terms, namely that the island was free from tithes and taxes. William Hudson Heaven purchased Lundy in 1834, as a summer retreat and for hunting, at a cost of 9,400 guineas (£9,870, or £1,009,200 today). He claimed it to be a “free island”, and successfully resisted the jurisdiction of the mainland magistrates. Lundy was in consequence sometimes referred to as ‘the kingdom of Heaven’. It belongs in fact to the county of Devon, and has always been part of the hundred. Many of the buildings on the island today, including St. Helen’s Church, designed by the architect John Norton, and Millcombe House (originally known simply as the Villa), date from the ‘Heaven’ period. The Georgian-style villa was built in 1836, however, the expense of building the road from the beach, with no financial assistance being provided by Trinity House, despite their regular use of the road following the construction of the lighthouses, the villa and the general cost of running the island had a ruinous effect on the family’s finances, which had been damaged by reduced profits from their sugar plantations in Jamaica. In fact, in 1957 a message in a bottle from one of the seamen of HMS Caledonia was washed ashore on a Devon beach. The letter, dated 15 August 1843 read: “Dear Brother, Please e God I be with y against Michaelmas. Prepare y search Lundy for y Jenny ivories. Adiue William, Odessa”. The bottle and letter are on display at the Portledge Hotel at Fairy Cross, in Devon, England. ‘Jenny’, reputed to be carrying ivory and gold dust that was wrecked on Lundy on 20 February 1797 at a place thereafter called Jenny’s Cove. Some ivory was apparently recovered some years later but the leather bags supposed to contain gold dust were never found. William Heaven was succeeded by his son the Reverend Hudson Grosset Heaven who, thanks to a legacy from Sarah Langworthy (née Heaven), was able to fulfil his life’s ambition of building a stone church on the island. St Helen’s was completed in 1896, and stands today as a lasting memorial to the Heaven period. It has been designated by English Heritage as a Grade II listed building. Revd Heaven is said to have been able to afford either a church or a new harbour but his choice of the church was not however in the best financial interests of the island. The unavailability of the money for re-establishing the family’s financial soundness, coupled with disastrous investment and speculation in the early twentieth century, caused severe financial hardship.

A Puffin coin of 1929, bearing the portrait of Martin Coles Harman.

Hudson Heaven died in 1916, and was succeeded by his nephew, Walter Charles Hudson Heaven. With the outbreak of the First World War, matters deteriorated seriously and in 1918 the family sold Lundy to Augustus Langham Christie. In 1924, the Christie family sold the island along with the mail contract and a merchant vessel named ‘Lerina’ to Martin Coles Harman, who proclaimed himself a king. Harman issued two coins of Half Puffin and One Puffin denominations in 1929, nominally equivalent to the British halfpenny and penny, resulting in his prosecution under the United Kingdom’s Coinage Act of 1870. The House of Lords found him guilty in 1931, and he was fined £5 with fifteen guineas (£5 + £15.75) expenses. The coins were withdrawn and became collectors’ items. In 1965 a ‘fantasy’ re-strike four-coin set, a few in gold, was issued to commemorate forty years since Harman purchased the island. Martin Coles Harman died in 1954 and his son, John Pennington Harman was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross during the Battle of Kohima, India in 1944. There is a memorial to him at the VC Quarry on Lundy. Residents did not pay taxes to the United Kingdom and had to pass through customs when they travelled to and from Lundy Island. Although the island was ruled as a virtual fiefdom, its owner never claimed to be independent of the United Kingdom, in contrast to later territorial “micronations“. Following the death of Harman’s son Albion in 1968, Lundy was put up for sale in 1969. Jack Hayward, a British millionaire, purchased the island for £150,000 (£2,627,000 today) and gave it to the National Trust, who leased it to the Landmark Trust. The Landmark Trust has managed the island since then, deriving its income from arranging day trips, letting out holiday cottages and from donations. In May 2015 a sculpture by Antony Gormley was erected on Lundy. It is one of five life-sized sculptures, ‘Land’, placed near the centre and at four compass points of the UK in a commission by the Landmark Trust, to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary. (The others are at Lowsonford in Warwickshire, Saddell Bay in Scotland, the Martello Tower at Aldeburgh, Suffolk and Clavell Tower, Kimmeridge Bay, Dorset.)

As you might expect, over the years there have been a few wrecked ships and some aircraft. For example, near the end of a voyage from Africa to Bristol the British merchant ship ‘Jenny’ was wrecked on the coast of Lundy in January 1797. Only her first mate survived. On 27 January 1797, Lloyd’s List confirmed that Jenny had been lost on Lundy Island as she was returning to Bristol from Africa and the only survivor was the first mate. The underwriters attempted to salvage what they could and the place where Jenny was lost is now known as Jenny’s Cove at 51°10.87′N 4°40.48′W. Whilst steaming in heavy fog, the Royal Navy battleship HMS Montagu ran hard aground near Shutter Rock on Lundy’s southwest corner at about 2:00a.m. on 30 May 1906. Thinking they were aground at Hartland Point on the English mainland, a landing party went ashore for help, only finding out where they were after encountering the lighthouse keeper at the island’s north light.

HMS Montagu during the failed salvage attempts of the summer of 1906.

Strenuous efforts by the Royal Navy to salvage the badly damaged battleship during the summer of 1906 failed, and in 1907 it was decided to give up and sell her for scrap. Montagu was scrapped at the scene over the next fifteen years. Diving clubs still visit the site, where armour plate and live 12-inch (305-millimetre) shells remain on the seabed. Years later, during the Second World War two German Heinkel He 111 bombers crash landed on the island in 1941. The first was on 3 March, when all the crew survived and were taken prisoner. The second was on 1 April when the pilot was killed and the other crew members were taken prisoner. This aircraft had bombed a British ship and one engine was damaged by anti-aircraft fire, forcing it to crash land. Most of the metal was salvaged, although a few remains can be found at the crash site to date. Reportedly, to avoid reprisals, the crew concocted the story that they were on a reconnaissance mission. There is more that can be written about this island, for example the vegetation on the plateau is mainly dry heath, with an area of lichens towards the northern end of the island. There is one endemic plant species, the Lundy cabbage, a species of primitive brassica. By the 1980s the eastern side of the island had become overgrown by rhododendrons which had spread from a few specimens planted in the garden of Millcombe House in Victorian times, but in recent years significant efforts have been made to eradicate this non-native plant. Also two invertebrates are endemic to Lundy, with both feeding on the endemic Lundy cabbage. These are the Lundy cabbage flea beetle and the Lundy cabbage weevil Another resident invertebrate of note is the only British species of purseweb spider. Meanwhile the population of puffins on the island declined in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries as a consequence of depredations by both brown and black rats and possibly also as a result of commercial fishing for sand eels, the puffins’ principal prey. Since the elimination of rats in 2006, seabird numbers have increased and by 2019 the number of puffins had risen to 375 and the number of Manx shearwaters to 5,504 pairs. As an isolated island on major migration routes, Lundy has a rich bird life and is a popular site for birdwatching. Large numbers of black-legged kittiwake nest on the cliffs, as do razorbill, common guillemot, herring gull, lesser black-backed gull, fulmar, shag, oystercatcher, skylark, meadow pipit, blackbird, robin and linnet. There are also smaller populations of peregrine falcon and raven. Lundy has also attracted many vagrant birds, in particular species from North America. As of 2007, the island’s bird list totals 317 species. Lundy is home to an unusual range of introduced mammals, including a distinct breed of wild pony, the Lundy pony, as well as Soay sheep, sika deer and feral goats. Other mammals which have made the island their home include the grey seal and the pygmy shrew. In 1971 a proposal was made by the Lundy Field Society to establish a marine reserve, and the survey was led by Dr Keith Hiscock, supported by a team of students from Bangor University. Provision for the establishment of statutory Marine Nature Reserves was included in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and on 21 November 1986 the Secretary of State for the Environment announced the designation of a statutory reserve at Lundy. There is an outstanding variety of marine habitats and wildlife, and according to my research there are a large number of rare and unusual species in the waters around Lundy, including some species of seaweed, branching sponges, sea fans and cup corals. In 2003 the first statutory ‘No Take Zone’ (NTZ) for marine nature conservation in the UK was set up in the waters to the east of Lundy island. In 2008 this was declared as having been successful in several ways, including the increasing size and number of lobsters within the reserve, and potential benefits for other marine wildlife. However, this NTZ has received a mixed reaction from local fishermen. On 12 January 2010 the island became Britain’s first Marine Conservation Zone designated under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, designed to help to preserve important habitats and species.

The Harbour porpoise is probably the most common cetacean in the waters around Lundy.

Three species of cetacean are regularly seen from the island; these being the bottlenose dolphin, the common dolphin, and the harbour porpoise. There are a few others, but these are seen rarely around Lundy, most especially off the more sheltered eastern coast and only during the warmer months.

The Lundy ferry ‘Oldenburg’ sailing into Ilfracombe harbour, past inflatable ThunderCat powerboats waiting to begin an offshore race.

In terms of transport, there are two ways to get to Lundy, depending on the time of year. In the summer months (April to October) visitors are carried on the Landmark Trust’s own vessel, MS Oldenburg, which sails from both Bideford and Ilfracombe. Sailings are usually three days a week, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, with additional sailings on Wednesdays during July and August. The voyage takes on average two hours, depending on ports, tides and weather. The Oldenburg was first registered in Bremen, Germany, in 1958 and has been sailing to Lundy since being bought by the Lundy Company Ltd in 1985. But in the early 1960’s I happen to know that a paddle steamer named the ‘Bristol Queen’ used to have trips from (as I recall) Bideford to Lundy and back. Sadly she hit Penarth pier on 20 August 1966, damaging the pier head. Then she damaged her paddle wheel on 26 August 1967 and was scrapped the following year. In the winter months (November to March) Lundy island is served by a scheduled helicopter service from Hartland Point. The helicopter operates on Mondays and Fridays, with flights between 12noon and 2pm. The heliport is a field at the top of Hartland Point, not far from the Beacon. A grass runway of 435 by 30 yards (398 by 27 m) is available, allowing access to small STOL (Short Take-off and Landing) aircraft. Alternatively, properly equipped and experienced canoeists can kayak to the island from Hartland Point or Lee Bay. This takes four to six hours, depending on wind and tides. Entrance to Lundy is free for anyone arriving by scheduled transport, but visitors arriving by non-scheduled transport are charged an entrance fee, as at May 2016 this was £6.00, and there is an additional charge payable by those using light aircraft. Anyone arriving on Lundy by non-scheduled transport is also charged an additional fee for transporting luggage to the top of the island. In 2007, Derek Green, Lundy’s general manager, launched an appeal to raise £250,000 to save the 1-mile-long (1.5-kilometre) Beach Road, which had been damaged by heavy rain and high seas. The road was built in the first half of the nineteenth century to provide people and goods with safe access to the top of the island, some 394 feet (120m) above the only jetty. The fund-raising was completed on 10 March 2009. As for staying on the island, Lundy has 23 holiday properties, sleeping between one and 14 people. These include a lighthouse, a castle and a Victorian mansion. Many of the buildings are constructed from the island’s granite. The island also has a campsite, at the south of the island in the field next to the shop. It has hot and cold running water, with showers and toilets, in an adjacent building. The island is popular with rock climbers, having the UK’s longest continuous slab climb, “The Devil’s Slide”. Lundy has been designated by Natural England as a ‘national character area’, one of England’s [natural regions. I have also learned that owing to a decline in population and lack of interest in the mail contract, the GPO (General Post Office) ended its presence on Lundy at the end of 1927. For the next two years Harman handled the mail to and from the island without charge.On 1 November 1929, he decided to offset the expense by issuing two postage stamps (1⁄2 puffin in pink and 1 puffin in blue). One puffin is equivalent to one English penny. The printing of Puffin stamps continues to this day and they are available at face value from the Lundy Post Office. One used to have to stick Lundy stamps on the back of the envelope; but Royal Mail now allows their use on the front of the envelope, but placed on the left side, with the right side reserved for the Royal Mail postage stamp or stamps. Lundy stamps are cancelled by a circular Lundy hand stamp. The face value of the Lundy Island stamps covers the cost of postage of letters and postcards from the island to the Bideford Post Office on the mainland for onward delivery to their final destination anywhere in the world. The Lundy Post Office gets a bulk rate discount for mailing letters and postcards from Bideford.

A final link to Lundy that I have always liked. One of the BBC Radio 4 shipping forecast weather areas is mentioned between ‘Sole’ and ‘Fastnet’ in the forecast is named after Lundy.

This week…
A great deal has been joked about marriage. One is “Marriage is like a deck of cards. At the beginning, all you need are two hearts and a diamond. But there may be later times when you wish you had a club and a spade”…

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Rhyming Slang

Rhyming slang is a form of word construction in the English language. It is especially prevalent amongst Cockneys, a term used to describe a person from the East End of London, especially if they are born within earshot of Bow Bells. Over in the United States, I understand especially with the criminal underworld of the West Coast between 1880 and 1920, rhyming slang has sometimes been known as ‘Australian slang’. The construction of rhyming slang involves replacing a common word with a phrase of two or more words, the last of which rhymes with the original word which is then often omitted from the end of the phrase. The rhyming word is thereafter implied, making the origin and meaning of the phrase elusive to listeners not in the know. An example of rhyming slang based on sound is the Cockney ‘tea leaf’, meaning thief. An alternative is phono-semantic rhyming slang, for example the Cockney ‘sorrowful tale’, for (three months in) jail), in which case the person coining the slang term sees a semantic link, sometimes jocular, between the Cockney expression and its referent. The use of rhyming slang has spread beyond Cockney and some examples are to be found in mainstream British English, though many users may be unaware of the origin of those words. For example the expression ‘blowing a raspberry’ comes from ‘raspberry tart’ for ‘fart’. Another example is ‘berk’, a mild pejorative used widely across the UK and not usually considered particularly offensive, although the origin lies in a contraction of ‘Berkeley Hunt’, as the rhyme for the significantly more offensive word. Another example is to “have a butcher’s” for to have a look, from “butcher’s hook”. Most of the words changed by this process are nouns, but a few are adjectival, e.g., “bales” of cotton (rotten), or the adjectival phrase “on one’s tod” for “on one’s own”, apparently after Tod Sloan, a famous jockey. Historically, as mentioned rhyming slang is believed to have originated in the mid-nineteenth century in the East End of London, with several sources suggesting some time in the 1840s. It remains a matter of speculation exactly how rhyming slang originated, for example, as a linguistic game among friends or as a ‘secret’ language developed intentionally to confuse non-locals. If deliberate, it may also have been used to maintain a sense of community, or to allow traders to talk amongst themselves in marketplaces to facilitate collusion, without customers knowing what they were saying, or by criminals to confuse police. One academic has even suggested that rhyming slang was invented by Irish immigrants to London, so the English wouldn’t understand what they were talking about! Many examples of rhyming slang are based on locations in London, such as Peckham Rye, for ‘tie’ which dates from the late nineteenth century;. Then there is Hampstead Heath, for ‘teeth’, which was first recorded in 1887, and Barnet Fair (usually shortened to Barnet), for ‘hair’ which dates from the 1850s. In the twentieth century, rhyming slang began to be based on the names of celebrities, for example Gregory Peck (cheque), Alan Whicker, as “Alan Whickers (knickers), Max Miller ( [pillow, but pronounced by Cockneys as ‘pilla’), Britney Spears (beers), Scooby-Doo (clue). There are more, and many examples have passed into common usage. Some substitutions have become relatively widespread in England in their contracted form. “To have a butcher’s”, meaning to have a look, originates from “butcher’s hook”, an S-shaped hook used by butchers to hang up meat, and dates from the late nineteenth century but has existed independently in general use from around the 1930s simply as “butchers”. Similarly, “use your loaf”, meaning “use your head”, derives from “loaf of bread” and also dates from the late nineteenth century but came into independent use in the 1930s. Conversely some uses have lapsed, or been usurped (“Hounslow Heath” for teeth, was replaced by “Hampsteads” from the heath of the same name, starting c.1887). In some cases, false etymologies exist. For example, the term “barney” has been used to mean an altercation or fight since the late nineteenth century, although without a clear derivation. Rhyming slang is used mainly in London in England but can to some degree be understood across the country. There are some constructions, however, which rely on particular regional accents for the rhymes to work. For instance, the term “Charing Cross“ (in London), used to mean “horse” since the mid-nineteenth century, does not work for a speaker without the accent common in London at that time but not so much nowadays. A similar example is “Joanna” meaning “piano”, which is based on the pronunciation of “piano” as “pianna”. Unique formations also exist in other parts of the United Kingdom, such as in the East Midlands, where the local accent has formed “Derby Road”, which rhymes with “cold”.

Outside of the UK, rhyming slang is used in many English-speaking countries, with local variations. For example, in Australian slang, the term for an English person is “pommy“, which has been proposed as a rhyme on “pomegranate”, pronounced “Pummy Grant”, which rhymed with “immigrant”. Rhyming slang is continually evolving, and new phrases are introduced all the time; new personalities replace old ones—pop culture introduces new words, as in “I haven’t a Scooby” (from Scooby Doo, the eponymous cartoon dog of the cartoon series) meaning “I haven’t a clue”. Rhyming slang is often used as a substitute for words regarded as taboo, often to the extent that the association with the taboo word becomes unknown over time. For example “Bristol Cities” (contracted to ‘Bristols’) is well-known. “Taking the Mick” or “taking the Mickey” is thought to be a rhyming slang form of “taking the p*ss“, where “Mick” came from “Mickey Bliss”. Rhyming slang has also been widely used in popular culture including film, television, music, literature, sport and degree classification.

“Geoff Hurst” (First class honours)
“Attila the Hun“ (Upper second class degree)
“Desmond Tutu” (Lower second class degree)
“Thora Hird” (Third class degree)

In the British undergraduate degree classification system a first class honours degree is known as a “Geoff Hurst“. An upper second class degree (a.k.a. a “2:1”) is called an “Attila the Hun“, and a lower second class (“2:2”) as a “Desmond Tutu“, whilst a third class degree is known as a “Thora Hird”.
There is also rhyming slang used in film and television. Slang had a resurgence of popular interest in Britain beginning in the 1970s, resulting from its use in a number of London-based television programmes. It was also featured in an episode of ‘The Good Life’, where Tom and Barbara purchase a wood-burning range from a junk trader called Sam, who litters his language with phoney slang in hopes of getting higher payment. He comes up with a fake story as to the origin of Cockney rhyming slang and is caught out rather quickly, whilst in a different tv series, a person explains Cockney rhyming slang in that “whistle and flute” means “suit”, “apples and pears” means “stairs” and “plates of meat” means “feet”. In music too it has been used, for example the 1967 Kinks song ‘Harry Rag’ was based on the usage of the name Harry Wragg as rhyming slang for “fag”, i.e. a cigarette. Another contributor was Lonnie Donegan, who had a song called “My Old Man’s a Dustman”. In it he says his father has trouble putting on his boots “He’s got such a job to pull them up that he calls them daisy roots”. In modern literature, Cockney rhyming slang is used frequently in the novels and short stories of Kim Newman, for instance in the short story collections “The Man from the Diogenes Club” (2006) and “Secret Files of the Diogenes Club” (2007), where it is explained at the end of each book. Even in sport it can be found, for example in Scottish football, a number of clubs have nicknames taken from rhyming slang. Partick Thistle are known as the “Harry Rags”, which is taken from the rhyming slang of their ‘official’ nickname “the Jags”, whilst Rangers are known as the “Teddy Bears”, which comes from the rhyming slang for “the Gers”, a shortened version of Ran-gers. Hibernian are also referred to as “The Cabbage” which comes from Cabbage and Ribs being the rhyming slang for Hibs. It is also found in rugby league, where “meat pie” is used for try. There are many more, though as has been said some have fallen out of use – but they are still widely heard in Cockney London!

This week… another film quote I like.
“I know engineers; they love to change things…”
~ Dr Leonard McCoy, Star Trek.

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The Western Wall

The Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall and in Islam as the Buraq Wall is a portion of ancient limestone wall in the Old City of Jerusalem that forms part of the larger retaining wall of the hill known to both Jews and Christians as the Temple Mount. Just over half the wall’s total height, including its seventeen courses (continuous horizontal layers of similarly sized building material) located below street level, dates from the end of the Second Temple period, and is believed to have been begun by Herod the Great. The very large stone blocks of the lower courses are Herodian, the courses of medium-sized stones above them were added during the Umayyad period (661–750), whilst the small stones of the uppermost courses are of more recent date, especially from the Ottoman period. The Western Wall plays an important role in Judaism due to its proximity to the Temple Mount. Because of the Temple Mount entry restrictions, the Wall is the holiest place where Jews are permitted to pray outside the previous Temple Mount platform, as the presumed site of the Holy of Holies, the most sacred site in the Jewish faith, lies just behind it. The original, natural, and irregular-shaped Temple Mount was gradually extended to allow for an ever-larger Temple compound to be built at its top. The earliest source mentioning this specific site as a place of Jewish worship is from the seventeenth century. The term Western Wall and its variations are mostly used in a narrow sense for the section of the wall used for Jewish prayer and called the “Wailing Wall”, referring to the practice of Jews weeping at the site. During the period of Christian Roman rule over Jerusalem (c. 324–638), Jews were completely barred from Jerusalem except on Tisha B’Av, the day of national mourning for the Temples. The term “Wailing Wall” has historically been used mainly by Christians, with religious Jews generally considering it derogatory. In a broader sense, “Western Wall” can refer to the entire 488-metre-long (1,601ft) retaining wall on the western side of the Temple Mount. The classic portion now faces a large plaza in the Jewish Quarter, near the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount, whilst the rest of the wall is concealed behind structures in the Muslim Quarter with the small exception of an 8-metre (26ft) section, the so-called Little Western Wall or ‘Small Wailing Wall’. This segment of the western retaining wall derives particular importance from never been fully obscured by medieval buildings, and displaying much of the original Herodian stonework. In religious terms, the ‘Little Western Wall’ is presumed to be even closer to the Holy of Holies and thus to the ‘Presence of God’, and the underground Warren’s Gate, which was out of reach for Jews from the twelfth century until its partial excavation in the twentieth century. Whilst the wall was considered an integral part of the property of the Moroccan Quarter under Muslim rule, a right of Jewish prayer and pilgrimage has long existed as part of a ‘status quo’ between the two states. This position was confirmed in a 1930 international commission during the British Mandate period. With the rise of the Zionist movement in the early twentieth century, the wall became a source of friction between the Jewish and Muslim communities, the latter being worried that the wall could be used to further Jewish claims to the Temple Mount and thus Jerusalem. During this period outbreaks of violence at the foot of the wall became commonplace, with a particularly deadly riot in 1929 in which 133 Jews and 116 Arabs were killed, with many more people injured. After the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, the eastern portion of Jerusalem was occupied by Jordan and under Jordanian control Jews were completely expelled from the Old City including the Jewish Quarter. Jews were also barred from entering the Old City for nineteen years, effectively banning Jewish prayer at the site of the Western Wall. This period ended on June 10, 1967, when Israel gained control of the site following the Six-Day War. Three days after establishing control over the Western Wall site, the Moroccan Quarter was bulldozed by Israeli authorities to create space for what is now the Western Wall plaza.

The Western Wall and Dome of the Rock.

The term Western Wall commonly refers to a 187-foot (57m) exposed section of a much longer retaining wall, built by Herod on the western flank of the Temple Mount. Only when used in this sense is it synonymous with the term Wailing Wall. This section faces a large plaza and is set aside for prayer. In its entirety, the western retaining wall of the Herodian Temple Mount complex stretches for 1,600 feet (488m), most of which is hidden behind medieval residential structures built along its length. There are only two other revealed sections: the southern part of the Wall which measures approximately 262 feet (80m) and is separated from the prayer area by just a narrow stretch of archaeological remains and another, much shorter section, the Little Western Wall, which is located close to the Iron Gate. The entire western wall functions as a retaining wall, supporting and enclosing the ample substructures built by Herod the Great around nineteen BC. Herod’s project was to create an artificial extension to the small quasi-natural plateau on which the First Temple stood, finally transforming it into the almost rectangular, wide expanse of the Temple Mount platform visible today.

Engraving in 1850 by Rabbi Joseph Schwarz.

According to the Hebrew Bible, Solomon’s Temple was built atop what is known as the Temple Mount in the tenth century BC and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC and the Second Temple completed and dedicated in 516 BC. Then around 19 BC Herod the Great began a massive expansion project on the Temple Mount. In addition to fully rebuilding and enlarging the Temple, he artificially expanded the platform on which it stood, doubling it in size. Today’s Western Wall formed part of the retaining perimeter wall of this platform. In 2011, Israeli archaeologists announced the surprising discovery of Roman coins minted well after Herod’s death, found under the foundation stones of the wall. The excavators came upon the coins inside a ritual bath that predates Herod’s building project, which was filled in to create an even base for the wall and was located under its southern section. This seems to indicate that Herod did not finish building the entire wall by the time of his death in 4 BC. The find also confirms the description by a historian which states that construction was finished only during the reign of King Agrippa II, Herod’s great-grandson. Given this information, the surprise mainly regarded the fact that an unfinished retaining wall in this area could also mean that at least parts of the splendid Royal Stoa and the monumental staircase leading up to it could not have been completed during Herod’s lifetime. Also surprising was the fact that the usually very thorough Herodian builders had cut corners by filling in the ritual bath, rather than placing the foundation course directly onto the much firmer bedrock. Some scholars are doubtful of the interpretation and have offered alternative explanations, such as, for example, later repair work. Herod’s Temple was destroyed by the Romans, along with the rest of Jerusalem, in 70 AD during the First Jewish–Roman War. During much of the second to fifth centuries, after the Roman defeat of the Bar Kokhba revolt in 135 AD, Jews were banned from Jerusalem. There is some evidence that Roman emperors in the second and third centuries did permit them to visit the city to worship on the Mount of Olives and sometimes on the Temple Mount itself. When the empire started becoming Christian under Constantine I they were given permission to enter the city once a year, on the ‘Tisha B’Av’, to lament the loss of the Temple at the wall. In the fourth century, Christian sources reveal that the Jews encountered great difficulty in buying the right to pray near the Western Wall, at least on the ninth of Av. In 425 AD, the Jews of the Galilee wrote to the Byzantine empress seeking permission to pray by the ruins of the Temple. Permission was granted and they were officially permitted to resettle in Jerusalem.

Wailing Wall, Jerusalem by Gustav Bauernfeind (Nineteenth century).

In 1517, the Turkish Ottomans conquered Jerusalem from the Mamluks who had held it since 1250. Selim’s son, Suleiman the Magnificent, ordered the construction of an imposing wall to be built around the entire city, which still stands today. Some folklore relates to Suleiman’s quest to locate the Temple site and his order to have the area “swept and sprinkled, and the Western Wall washed with rosewater” upon its discovery. At the time, Jews received official permission to worship at the site and an Ottoman architect built an oratory for them there. Over the centuries, land close to the Wall became built up. Public access to the Wall was through the Moroccan Quarter, a labyrinth of narrow alleyways. In May 1840 a ‘firman’ or royal decree forbade the Jews to pave the passageway in front of the Wall. It also cautioned them against “raising their voices and displaying their books there.” They were, however, allowed “to pay visits to it as of old”. Over time the increased numbers of people gathering at the site resulted in tensions between the Jewish visitors who wanted easier access and more space, and the residents, who complained of the noise. This gave rise to Jewish attempts at gaining ownership of the land adjacent to the Wall. In 1895 there was a failed effort to purchase the Western Wall and the attempts of the Palestine Land Development Company to purchase the environs of the Western Wall for the Jews just before the outbreak of World War I also never came to fruition. In the first two months following the Ottoman Empire’s entry into the First World War, the Turkish governor of Jerusalem offered to sell the Moroccan Quarter, which consisted of about twenty-five houses, to the Jews in order to enlarge the area available to them for prayer. He requested a sum of £20,000 which would be used to both rehouse the Muslim families and to create a public garden in front of the Wall. However, the Jews of the city lacked the necessary funds. A few months later, under Muslim Arab pressure on the Turkish authorities in Jerusalem, Jews became forbidden by official decree to place benches and light candles at the Wall. This sour turn in relations was taken up by the Chief Rabbi at the time who managed to get the ban overturned. In 1915 it was reported that the wall was closed off ‘as a sanitary measure’.

The wall in 1920. From the collection of the National Library of Israel.

In December 1917, Allied forces captured Jerusalem from the Turks. It was pledged “that every sacred building, monument, holy spot, shrine, traditional site, endowment, pious bequest, or customary place of prayer of whatsoever form of the three religions will be maintained and protected according to the existing customs and beliefs of those to whose faith they are sacred”. In 1919 the Zionist leader approached the British Military Governor of Jerusalem and offered between £75,000 and £100,000 (approx. £5m in modern terms) to purchase the area at the foot of the Wall and rehouse the occupants. The Governor was enthusiastic about the idea because he hoped some of the money would be used to improve Muslim education. Although they appeared promising at first, negotiations broke down after strong Muslim opposition. In early 1920, the first Jewish-Arab dispute over the Wall occurred when the Muslim authorities were carrying out minor repair works to the Wall’s upper courses. The Jews, whilst agreeing that the works were necessary, appealed to the British that they be made under supervision of the newly formed Department of Antiquities, because the Wall was an ancient relic. In 1926 an effort was made to lease the Maghrebi, which included the wall, with the plan of eventually buying it. Negotiations were begun in secret by a Jewish judge, with financial backing from an American millionaire. The chairman of the Palestine Zionist Executive explained that the aim was “quietly to evacuate the Moroccan occupants of those houses which it would later be necessary to demolish” to create an open space with seats for aged worshippers to sit on. However, the price became excessive and the plan came to nothing. The Va’ad Leumi, against the advice of the Palestine Zionist Executive, demanded that the British expropriate the wall and give it to the Jews, but the British refused. In 1922, an agreement issued by the mandatory authority forbade the placing of benches or chairs near the Wall. The last occurrence of such a ban was in 1915, but the Ottoman decree was soon retracted. In 1928 the District Commissioner of Jerusalem acceded to an Arab request to implement the ban. This led to a British officer being stationed at the Wall making sure that Jews were prevented from sitting. Nor were Jews permitted to separate the sexes with a screen. In practice, a flexible modus vivendi had emerged and such screens had been put up from time to time when large numbers of people gathered to pray. From October 1928 onward, a Mufti organised a series of measures to demonstrate the Arabs’ exclusive claims to the Temple Mount and its environs. He ordered new construction next to and above the Western Wall. The British granted the Arabs permission to convert a building adjoining the Wall into a mosque and to add a minaret. A muezzin (the person who proclaims the call to the daily prayer) was appointed to perform the Islamic call to prayer and Sufi rites directly next to the Wall. These were seen as a provocation by the Jews who prayed at the Wall. The Jews protested and tensions increased.

British police at the Wailing Wall, 1934.

In the summer of 1929, the Mufti ordered an opening be made at the southern end of the alleyway which straddled the Wall. The former cul-de-sac became a thoroughfare which led from the Temple Mount into the prayer area at the Wall. Mules were herded through the narrow alley, often dropping excrement. This, together with other construction projects in the vicinity, and restricted access to the Wall, resulted in Jewish protests to the British, who remained indifferent.
On August 14, 1929, after attacks on individual Jews praying at the Wall, 6,000 Jews demonstrated in Tel Aviv, shouting “The Wall is ours.” The next day, the Jewish fast of Tisha B’Av, three hundred youths raised the Zionist flag and sang ‘Hatikva’, the national anthem of the state of Israel, at the Wall. The day after, on August 16, an organised mob of two thousand Muslim Arabs descended on the Western Wall, injuring the beadle and burning prayer books, liturgical fixtures and notes of supplication. The rioting spread to the Jewish commercial area of town, and was followed a few days later by the Hebron massacre. One hundred and thirty-three Jews were killed with many more injured in the Arab riots. This was by far the deadliest attack on Jews during the period of British Rule over Palestine. In 1930, in response to the 1929 riots, the British Government appointed a commission “to determine the rights and claims of Muslims and Jews in connection with the Western or Wailing Wall”, and to determine the causes of the violence and prevent it in the future. The League of Nations approved the commission on condition that the members were not British.

Members of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry at the Western Wall in 1946.

The Commission concluded that the wall, and the adjacent pavement and Moroccan Quarter, were solely owned by the Muslim ‘waqf’, a Jordanian-appointed organisation responsible for controlling and managing the Islamic edifices on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, though Jews had the right to “free access to the Western Wall for the purpose of devotions at all times”, subject to some stipulations that limited which objects could be brought to the Wall and forbade the blowing of the shofar, an ancient musical horn (typically made of a ram’s horn), which was made illegal. Muslims were also forbidden to disrupt Jewish devotions by driving animals or other means. During the 1948 Arab–Israeli War the Old City together with the Wall was controlled by Jordan. Neither Israeli Arabs nor Israeli Jews could visit their holy places in the Jordanian territories, though an exception was made for Christians to participate in Christmas ceremonies in Bethlehem. Some sources claim Jews could only visit the wall if they travelled through Jordan (which was not an option for Israelis) and did not have an Israeli visa stamped in their passports. Only Jordanian soldiers and tourists were to be found there. A vantage point on Mount Zion, from which the Wall could be viewed, became the place where Jews gathered to pray. For thousands of pilgrims, the Mount, being the closest location to the Wall under Israeli control, became a substitute site for the traditional priestly blessing ceremony which takes place on the Three Pilgrimage Festivals. During the Jordanian rule of the Old City, a ceramic street sign in Arabic and English was affixed to the stones of the ancient wall. It was made up of eight separate ceramic tiles and said ‘Al Buraq Road’ in Arabic at the top with the English “Al-Buraq (Wailing Wall) Rd” below. When Israeli soldiers arrived at the wall in June 1967, one attempted to scrawl Hebrew lettering on it. The Jerusalem Post reported that on June 8, Ben-Gurion went to the wall and “looked with distaste” at the road sign, saying “this is not right, it should come down” and he proceeded to dismantle it. This act signalled the climax of the capture of the Old City and the ability of Jews to once again access their holiest sites. Emotional recollections of this event were related by David Ben-Gurion and Shimon Peres.

Israeli soldiers shortly after the capture of the Wall during the Six-Day War.

Following Israel’s victory during the 1967 Six-Day War, the Western Wall came under Israeli control. Forty-eight hours after capturing the wall, the military, without explicit government order, hastily proceeded to demolish the entire Moroccan Quarter. The narrow pavement, which could accommodate a maximum of 12,000 people per day, was transformed into an enormous plaza that could hold in excess of 400,000. Several months later, the pavement close to the wall was excavated to a depth of two and half metres, exposing an additional two courses of large stones. The section of the wall dedicated to prayers was thus extended southwards to double its original length. The narrow, pre-1948 alley along the wall, used for Jewish prayer, was enlarged with the entire Western Wall Plaza covering 20,000 square metres (4.9 acres), stretching from the wall to the Jewish Quarter.

Torah Ark inside the men’s section of Wilson’s Arch.

In 2005, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation initiated a major renovation effort under the then Rabbi-of-the-Wall. Its goal was to renovate and restructure the area within Wilson’s Arch, the covered area to the left of worshipers facing the Wall in the open prayer plaza, in order to increase access for visitors and for prayer. On July 25, 2010, a ‘ner tamid’, an oil-burning ‘eternal light’ was installed within the prayer hall within Wilson’s Arch, the first eternal light installed in the area of the Western Wall. According to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, requests had been made for many years that an olive oil lamp be placed in the prayer hall of the Western Wall Plaza, as is the custom in Jewish synagogues, to represent the menorah of the Temple in Jerusalem as well as the continuously burning fire on the altar of burnt offerings in front of the Temple, especially in the closest place to those ancient flames.

Assistant U.S. Sixth Fleet Chaplain leads an interfaith service.

A number of special worship events have been held since the renovation. They have taken advantage of the cover, temperature control, and enhanced security. However, in addition to the more recent programmes, one event occurred in September 1983, even before the modern renovation. At that time U.S. Sixth Fleet Chaplain, Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff was allowed to hold the first interfaith service ever conducted at the Wall during the time it was under Israeli control, and that included men and women sitting together. The ten-minute service included the Priestly Blessing recited by Resnicoff, who is a Kohen (priest). A Ministry of Religions representative was present, responding to press queries that the service was authorised as part of a special welcome for the U.S. Sixth Fleet. Many contemporary Orthodox scholars rule that the area in front of the Wall has the status of a synagogue and must be treated with due respect, and this is the view upheld by the authority in charge of the wall. As such, men and married women are expected to cover their heads upon approaching the Wall, and to dress appropriately. When departing, the custom is to walk backwards away from the Wall to show its sanctity. On Saturdays, it is forbidden to enter the area with electronic devices, including cameras, which infringe on the sanctity of the Sabbath. Some Orthodox Jewish codifiers warn against inserting fingers into the cracks of the Wall as they believe that the breadth of the Wall constitutes part of the Temple Mount itself and retains holiness, whilst others who permit doing so claim that the Wall is located outside the Temple area. In the past, some visitors would write their names on the Wall, or based upon various scriptural verses, would drive nails into the crevices. These practices stopped after rabbis determined that such actions compromised the sanctity of the Wall. Another practice also existed whereby pilgrims or those intending to travel abroad would hack off a chip from the Wall or take some of the sand from between its cracks as a good luck charm or memento. In the late nineteenth century the question was raised as to whether this was permitted and a long ‘responsa’, the term used to describe decisions and rulings made by scholars in historic religious law, appeared in the Jerusalem newspaper Havatzelet in 1898. It concluded that even if according to Jewish Law it was permitted, the practices should be stopped as it constituted a desecration. More recently a ruling was given that it is forbidden to remove small chips of stone or dust from the Wall, although it is permissible to take twigs from the vegetation which grows in the Wall for an amulet, as they contain no holiness. Cleaning the stones is also problematic, as sadly blasphemous graffiti once sprayed by a tourist was left visible for months until it began to peel away.

The faithful remove their shoes upon approaching the Wall, c.1880.

There was once an old custom of removing one’s shoes upon approaching the Wall. A seventeenth-century collection of special prayers to be said at holy places mentions that “upon coming to the Western Wall one should remove his shoes, bow and recite…”. Over the years the custom of standing barefoot at the Wall has ceased, as there is no need to remove one’s shoes when standing by the Wall, because the plaza area is outside the sanctified precinct of the Temple Mount. According to Jewish Law, one is obliged to grieve and rend one’s garment upon visiting the Western Wall and seeing the desolate site of the Temple.

The separate areas for men (top) and women, as seen from the walkway to the Dome of the Rock.

Although during the late nineteenth century no formal segregation of men and women was to be found at the Wall, conflict erupted in July 1968 when members of the World Union for Progressive Judaism were denied the right to host a mixed-gender service at the site after the Ministry of Religious Affairs insisted on maintaining the gender segregation customary at Orthodox places of worship. The progressives responded by claiming that “the Wall is a shrine of all Jews, not one particular branch of Judaism.” In 1988, the small but vocal group called Women of the Wall launched a campaign for recognition of non-Orthodox prayer at the Wall. Their form and manner of prayer elicited a violent response from some Orthodox worshippers and they were subsequently banned from holding services at the site. But in 1989 the Women of the Wall petitioned to secure the right of women to pray at the wall without restrictions. Quite a story, but I hope you’ve found it interesting.

This week… a quote I am reminded of.
“Change is the essential process of all existence.”
~ Spock, Star Trek.

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Flat Earth

‘Flat Earth’ is an archaic and scientifically disproven conception of the Earth’s shape as a plane or disc. Many ancient cultures subscribed to a flat-Earth cosmography.

A Flat Earth map drawn by Orlando Ferguson in 1893.

The above map has several references to biblical passages as well as various jabs at the “Globe Theory”. However, the idea of a spherical Earth appeared in ancient Greek philosophy with Pythagoras as far back as the sixth century BC. Except many folk of the sixth and fifth century BC retained the flat-Earth model. In the early fourth century BC, Plato wrote about a spherical Earth and by about 330BC, his former student Aristotle had provided strong empirical evidence for a spherical Earth. Knowledge of the Earth’s global shape gradually began to spread beyond the Hellenistic world and by the early period of the Christian Church, the spherical view was widely held, with some notable exceptions. It is a historical myth that medieval Europeans generally thought the Earth was flat and it is said that this myth was created in the seventeenth century by Protestants to argue against Catholic teachings. Despite the scientific fact and obvious effects of Earth’s ‘sphericity’, pseudoscientific flat-Earth conspiracy theories are espoused by modern flat Earth societies and, increasingly, by unaffiliated individuals using social media.

‘Imago Mundi’, a Babylonian map, sixth century BC.

The Babylonian Map of the World (or ‘Imago Mundi’) is a Babylonian clay tablet written in the Akkadian language. Dated to no earlier than the ninth century BC (with a late eighth or seventh date being more likely), it includes a brief and partially lost textual description. The tablet describes the oldest known depiction of the known world. Ever since its discovery there have been a variety of divergent views on what it represents in general and about specific features in particular. The map is centred on the Euphrates river, flowing from the north (top) to the south (bottom). The city of Babylon is shown on the Euphrates, in the northern half of the map. The mouth of the Euphrates is labelled “swamp” and “outflow”. Susa, the capital of Elam, is shown to the south, Urartu to the northeast, and Habban, the capital of the Kassites is shown (incorrectly) to the northwest. Mesopotamia is surrounded by a circular ‘bitter river’ or Ocean, and seven or eight regions, depicted as triangular sections, are shown as lying beyond the Ocean. It has been suggested that the depiction of these regions as triangles might indicate that they were imagined as mountains. In early Egyptian and Mesopotamian thought, the world was portrayed as a disk floating in the ocean. A similar model is found in the Homeric account from the eighth century BC in which it was thought that “Okeanos, the personified body of water surrounding the circular surface of the Earth, is the begetter of all life and possibly of all gods”. The Pyramid Texts and Coffin Texts of ancient Egypt show a similar cosmography, where ‘Nun’ (the Ocean) encircled ‘Nbwt’ (“dry lands” or “Islands”). The Israelites also imagined the Earth to be a disc floating on water with an arched firmament above it that separated the Earth from the heavens. The sky was a solid dome with the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars embedded in it. Both Homer and Hesiod, another Greek poet generally thought to have been active between 750 and 650BC described a disc cosmography on the Shield of Achilles.

Possible rendering of Anaximander’s world map.

Several pre-Socratic philosophers believed that the world was flat. One thought that the Earth floated in water like a log, but it has been argued that he actually believed in a round Earth. There were others, with perhaps fanciful ideas. Belief in a flat Earth continued into the fifth century BC and another even believed that the flat Earth was depressed in the middle like a saucer, to allow for the fact that the Sun does not rise and set at the same time for everyone. The ancient Norse and Germanic peoples believed in a flat-Earth cosmography with the Earth surrounded by an ocean, with the ‘axis mundi’, a world tree or pillar in the centre and in the world-encircling ocean sat a snake. There is a a Norwegian didactic text in Old Norse from around 1250 that deals with politics and morality. It was originally intended for the education of King Magnus Lagabøte, the son of King Håkon Håkonsson, and it has the form of a dialogue between father and son. The son asks, and is advised by his father about practical and moral matters, concerning trade, chivalric behaviour, strategy and tactics. Parts of this work deal with the relationship between church and state and explains the Earth’s shape as a sphere in this way: “If you take a lighted candle and set it in a room, you may expect it to light up the entire interior, unless something should hinder, though the room be quite large. But if you take an apple and hang it close to the flame, so near that it is heated, the apple will darken nearly half the room or even more. However, if you hang the apple near the wall, it will not get hot; the candle will light up the whole house; and the shadow on the wall where the apple hangs will be scarcely half as large as the apple itself. From this you may infer that the Earth-circle is round like a ball and not equally near the sun at every point. But where the curved surface lies nearest the sun’s path, there will the greatest heat be; and some of the lands that lie continuously under the unbroken rays cannot be inhabited”. Meanwhile in ancient China, the prevailing belief was that the Earth was flat and square, whilst the heavens were round, an assumption virtually unquestioned until the introduction of European astronomy in the seventeenth century. An English sinologist (a person who studies China) emphasised the point that there was no concept of a round Earth in ancient Chinese astronomy and it seems that Chinese thoughts on the form of the Earth remained almost unchanged from early times until the first contacts with modern science through the medium of Jesuit missionaries in the seventeenth century. Whilst the heavens were variously described as being like an umbrella covering the Earth (the Kai Tian theory), or like a sphere surrounding it (the Hun Tian theory), or as being without substance while the heavenly bodies float freely (the Hsüan Yeh theory), the Earth was at all times flat, although perhaps bulging up slightly.

An illustration based on that of a twelfth-century Asian cosmographer.

The model of an egg was often used by Chinese astronomers to describe the heavens as spherical, such that ”The heavens are like a hen’s egg and as round as a crossbow bullet, the Earth is like the yolk of the egg and lies in the centre”. The analogy with a curved egg led some modern historians to conjecture that Chinese astronomers were, after all, aware of the Earth’s sphericity. The egg reference, however, was rather meant to clarify the relative position of the flat Earth to the heavens, as in a passage of Zhang Heng’s cosmogony he himself says: “Heaven takes its body from the Yang, so it is round and in motion. Earth takes its body from the Yin, so it is flat and quiescent”. The point of the egg analogy is simply to stress that the Earth is completely enclosed by Heaven, rather than merely covered from above as the Kai Tian describes. Chinese astronomers, many of them brilliant men by any standards, continued to think in flat-Earth terms until the seventeenth century; this surprising fact might be the starting-point for a re-examination of the apparent facility with which the idea of a spherical Earth found acceptance in fifth-century BC Greece. When Chinese geographers of the seventeenth century, influenced by European cartography and astronomy, showed the Earth as a sphere that could be circumnavigated by sailing around the globe, they did so with formulaic terminology previously used by Zhang Heng to describe the spherical shape of the Sun and Moon, i.e. that they were as round as a crossbow bullet.

Semi-circular shadow of Earth on the Moon during a partial lunar eclipse.

Pythagoras in the sixth century BC and Parmenides in the fifth century BC stated that the Earth is spherical and this view spread rapidly in the Greek world. Around 330BC, Aristotle maintained on the basis of physical theory and observational evidence that the Earth was spherical, and reported an estimate of its circumference. This circumference was first determined around 240BC by Eratosthenes and by the second century AD, Ptolemy had derived his maps from a globe and developed the system of latitude, longitude and climes. His Almagest, a second-century work only written in the Greek language was a mathematical and astronomical treatise on the apparent motions of the stars and planetary paths, and only translated into Latin in the eleventh century from Arabic translations. In the first century BC, Lucretius opposed the concept of a spherical Earth because he considered that an infinite universe had no centre towards which heavy bodies would tend. Thus, he thought the idea of animals walking around topsy-turvy under the Earth was absurd. By the first century AD, Pliny the Elder was in a position to say that everyone agreed on the spherical shape of Earth, though disputes continued regarding the nature of the antipodes and how it is possible to keep the ocean in a curved shape.

The Thorntonbank Wind Farm near the Belgian coast with the lower parts of the more distant towers increasingly hidden by the horizon, demonstrating the curvature of the Earth.

The Vedic texts depict the cosmos in many ways, and one of the earliest Indian cosmological texts picture the Earth as one of a stack of flat disks. In these texts, ‘Dyaus’ (heaven) and ‘Prithvi’ (Earth) are compared to wheels on an axle, yielding a flat model. They are also described as bowls or leather bags, yielding a concave model. By about the fifth century AD, the astronomy texts of South Asia, particularly of Aryabhata, assume a spherical Earth as they develop mathematical methods for quantitative astronomy for calendar and time keeping. The medieval Indian texts called the Puranas describe the Earth as a flat-bottomed, circular disk with concentric oceans and continents. This general scheme is present not only in the Hindu cosmologies, but also in Buddhist and Jain cosmologies of South Asia. However, some Puranas include other models. The fifth canto of the Bhagavata Purana, for example, includes sections that describe the Earth both as flat and spherical. During the early period of the Christian Church, the spherical view continued to be widely held, with some notable exceptions. Athenagoras, an eastern Christian writing of around the year 175AD, said that the Earth was spherical. The influential theologian and philosopher Saint Augustine, one of the four Great Church Fathers of the Western Church, similarly objected to the ‘fable’ of antipodes, saying that “But as to the fable that there are Antipodes, that is to say, men on the opposite side of the Earth, where the sun rises when it sets to us, men who walk with their feet opposite ours that is on no ground credible. And, indeed, it is not affirmed that this has been learned by historical knowledge, but by scientific conjecture, on the ground that the Earth is suspended within the concavity of the sky, and that it has as much room on the one side of it as on the other; hence they say that the part that is beneath must also be inhabited. But they do not remark that, although it be supposed or scientifically demonstrated that the world is of a round and spherical form, yet it does not follow that the other side of the Earth is bare of water; nor even, though it be bare, does it immediately follow that it is peopled. For Scripture, which proves the truth of its historical statements by the accomplishment of its prophecies, gives no false information; and it is too absurd to say, that some men might have taken ship and traversed the whole wide ocean, and crossed from this side of the world to the other, and that thus even the inhabitants of that distant region are descended from that one first man”. Some historians do not view Augustine’s scriptural commentaries as endorsing any particular cosmological model, endorsing instead the view that Augustine shared the common view of his contemporaries that the Earth is spherical, in line with his endorsement of science in ‘De Genesi ad litteram’.

Ninth-century Macrobian cosmic diagram showing the ‘sphere of the Earth’ at the centre (‘globus terrae’).

Medieval Christian writers in the early Middle Ages felt little urge to assume flatness of the Earth, though they had fuzzy impressions of the writings of Ptolemy and Aristotle, relying more on Pliny. But with the end of the Western Roman Empire, Western Europe entered the Middle Ages with the great difficulties that affected the continent’s intellectual production. Most scientific treatises of Greek classical antiquity were unavailable, leaving only simplified summaries and compilations. In contrast, the Eastern Roman Empire did not fall, and it preserved the learning. Still, many textbooks of the Early Middle Ages supported the sphericity of the Earth in the western part of Europe, though a few of the scholars at that time still thought of the Earth as in the shape of a wheel.

Isidore’s portrayal of the five zones of the Earth.

A possible non-literary but graphic indication that people in the Middle Ages believed that the Earth (or perhaps the world) was a sphere is the use of the ‘orb’ in the regalia of many kingdoms and of the Holy Roman Empire. It is attested from the time of the Christian late-Roman emperor Theodosius II (423) throughout the Middle Ages. However, the word ‘orbis’ means circle and there is no record of a globe as a representation of the Earth since ancient times in the west until 1492, when Martin Behaim, a German textile merchant and cartographer who served King John II of Portugal, was an adviser in matters of navigation and participated in a voyage to West Africa. A recent study of medieval concepts of the sphericity of the Earth noted that “since the eighth century, no cosmographer worthy of note has called into question the sphericity of the Earth”. However, the work of these intellectuals may not have had significant influence on public opinion, and it is difficult to tell what the wider population may have thought of the shape of the Earth, if they considered the question at all.

Picture from a 1550 edition of On The Sphere Of The World, the most influential astronomy textbook of thirteenth century Europe.

Portuguese navigation down and around the coast of Africa in the latter half of the 1400s gave wide-scale observational evidence for Earth’s sphericity. In these explorations, the Sun position moved more northward the further south the explorers travelled. Its position directly overhead at noon gave evidence for crossing the equator. These apparent solar motions in detail were more consistent with north–south curvature and a distant Sun, than with any flat-Earth explanation. The ultimate demonstration came when Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition completed the first global circumnavigation in 1521 and one of the survivors of the voyage recorded the loss of a day in the course of the voyage, giving evidence for east–west curvature. In the seventeenth century, the idea of a spherical Earth spread in China due to the influence of the Jesuits, who held high positions as astronomers at the imperial court. The astronomical and geographical treatise ‘Gezhicao’ written in 1648 by Xiong Mingyu explained that the Earth was spherical, not flat or square, and could be circumnavigated.

Logo of the Flat Earth Society.

In the ninteenth century, a historical myth arose which held that the predominant cosmological doctrine during the Middle Ages was that the Earth was flat. However, subsequent studies of medieval science have shown that most scholars in the Middle Ages, including those read by Christopher Columbus, maintained that the Earth was spherical. In 1956, Samuel Shenton set up the International Flat Earth Research Society, better known as the “Flat Earth Society” from Dover, England, as a direct descendant of the Universal Zetetic Society. The availability of communications technology and social media like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have made it easy for individuals, famous or not, to spread disinformation and attract others to erroneous ideas, including that of the flat Earth. So, to maintain a belief in the face of such overwhelming contrary, publicly available empirical evidence accumulated in the Space Age, modern believers must generally embrace some form of conspiracy theory out of the necessity of explaining why major institutions such as governments, media outlets, schools, scientists, and airlines all assert that the world is a sphere. They tend to not trust observations they have not made for themselves, and often distrust or disagree with each other. For young children who have not yet received information from their social environment, this can mean that their own perception of their surroundings may often lead to a false concept about the shape of the Earth. They can think that the Earth ends at the horizon and that one can fall off the edge. The proper education they receive then helps them to gradually change their false concepts into one of a truly spherical Earth as well as space and other planets.

This week… A quote I like.
“The road to success is always under construction”
~ Unknown.

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A History Of Tobacco

Tobacco and tobacco-related products have a long history that stretches back to 6,000 BC. The plant today known as tobacco, or Nicotiana tabacum, is a member of the nicotiana genus, a close relative to the poisonous nightshade and could previously only be found in the Americas. It may surprise many to learn just how long tobacco has been known of here on Earth. Research shows that Native Americans first start cultivating the tobacco plant as far back as 6,000 BC. By around 1 BC, indigenous American tribes started smoking tobacco in religious ceremonies and for medicinal purposes. After that, little was known or at least recorded about tobacco, but archeological finds now indicate that humans in the Americas began using tobacco as far back as 12,300 years ago, thousands of years earlier than had previously been documented. It has been found that tobacco was first discovered by the native people of Mesoamerica and South America and later introduced to Europe and the rest of the world.

Christopher Columbus with native Americans. Artist unknown.

So in 1492, Columbus was warmly greeted by the Native American tribes he encountered when he first set foot on the new continent. They brought gifts of fruit, food, spears, and more and among those gifts were dried up leaves of the tobacco plant. As they were not edible and had a distinct smell to them, those leaves, which the Native Americans have been smoking for over two millennia for medicinal and religious purposes, were thrown overboard. However, Columbus soon realised that dried tobacco leaves were a prized possession among the natives, as they bartered with them and often bestowed them as a gift. That same year, the tobacco plant and smoking was introduced to Europeans but it was not until 1531 that Europeans started the cultivation of the tobacco plant in Central America. Then in 1558 the first attempt at tobacco cultivation in Europe began but failed. Rodrigo de Jerez and Luis de Torres are the first Europeans to observe smoking. This was on Cuba and Jerez becomes a staunch smoker, bringing the habit back with him to Spain. However, Jerez’s neighbours were so petrified of the smoke coming out of his mouth and nose that he was soon arrested by the Holy Inquisition and held in captivity for nearly 7 years. However, thanks to a lot of seafarers at the time, smoking became an entrenched habit in both Spain and Portugal before long. Soon Portuguese sailors were planting tobacco around nearly all of their trading outposts, enough for personal use and gifts. They started growing tobacco commercially in Brazil, where it was soon a sought-after commodity and traded across the ports in Europe and the Americas. By the end of the sixteenth century, tobacco plant and use of tobacco were both introduced to virtually every single country in Europe. Tobacco was snuffed or smoked, depending on the preference and doctors claimed that it had medicinal properties. Some, such as Nicolas Monardes in 1571, went as far as to write a book to outline 36 specific ailments that tobacco could supposedly cure, from toothache to lockjaw and cancer. So tobacco had already long been used in the Americas by the time European settlers arrived and took the practice to Europe, where it became popular. Eastern North American tribes have historically carried tobacco in pouches as a readily accepted trade item, as well as smoking it in pipe ceremonies, whether for sacred ceremonies or those to seal a treaty or agreement. In addition to its use in spiritual and religious ceremonies, tobacco has been used for medical treatment of physical conditions. As a pain killer it has been used for earache and toothache and occasionally as a poultice. Some indigenous peoples in California have used tobacco as one ingredient in smoking mixtures for treating colds, where it is usually mixed with the leaves of the small desert sage, or the root of Indian balsam, or cough root (the addition of which was thought to be particularly good for asthma and tuberculosis). In addition to its traditional medicinal uses, tobacco was also used as a form of currency between Native Americans and Colonists from the 1620s as it was considered a monetary standard that lasted twice as long as the gold standard. Tobacco also has ceremonial use and religious use of tobacco is still common among many indigenous peoples in America. For example amongst the Cree and Ojibwe of Canada and the north-central United States, it is offered to the Creator with prayers, and is used in pipe ceremonies as well as being presented as a gift. This is especially traditional when asking an Ojibwe elder a question of a spiritual nature.

The earliest image of a man smoking a pipe, from ‘Tabaco’ by Anthony Chute (1595).

Greek and Roman accounts exist of smoking hemp seeds, and a Spanish poem c.1276 mentions the energetic effects of lavender smoke, but tobacco was completely unfamiliar to Europeans before the discovery of the New World. Bartolomé de las Casas described how the first scouts sent by Christopher Columbus into the interior of Cuba found “men with half-burned wood in their hands and certain herbs to take their smokes, which are some dry herbs put in a certain leaf, also dry, like those the boys make on the day of the Passover of the Holy Ghost; and having lighted one part of it, by the other they suck, absorb, or receive that smoke inside with the breath, by which they become benumbed and almost drunk, and so it is said they do not feel fatigue. These, muskets as we will call them, they call ‘tabacos’. I knew Spaniards on this island of Española who were accustomed to take it, and being reprimanded for it, by telling them it was a vice, they replied they were unable to cease using it. I do not know what relish or benefit they found in it.” Following the arrival of Europeans, tobacco became one of the primary products fuelling colonisation, and also became a driving factor in the introduction of African slave labour. The Spanish introduced tobacco to Europeans in about 1528, and by 1533, Diego Columbus mentioned a tobacco merchant of Lisbon in his will, showing how quickly the traffic had sprung up. The French, Spanish, and Portuguese initially referred to the plant as the “sacred herb” because of its valuable medicinal properties. Meanwhile the Japanese were introduced to tobacco by Portuguese sailors from 1542, and tobacco first arrived in the Ottoman Empire a few years later, where it attracted the attention of doctors and became a commonly prescribed medicine for many ailments. Although tobacco was initially prescribed as medicine, further study led to claims that smoking caused dizziness, fatigue, dulling of the senses and a foul taste/odour in the mouth. Then a French ambassador in Lisbon named Jean Nicot sent samples to Paris in 1559. Nicot sent leaves and seeds to Francis II and the King’s mother, Catherine of Medici, with instructions to use tobacco as snuff. The king’s recurring headaches (perhaps sinus trouble) were reportedly “marvellously cured” by snuff. However, Francis II nevertheless died at seventeen years of age on 5 December 1560, after a reign of less than two years. French cultivation of ‘herbe de la Reine’ (the queen’s herb) began in 1560. By 1570 botanists referred to tobacco as Nicotiana. In 1563, the Swiss doctor Conrad Gesner reported that chewing or smoking a tobacco leaf “has a wonderful power of producing a kind of peaceful drunkenness”. In 1571, Spanish doctor Nicolas Monardes wrote a book about the history of medicinal plants of the new world. In this he claimed that tobacco could cure thirty-six health problems and reported that the plant was first brought to Spain for its flowers, but “Now we use it to a greater extent for the sake of its virtues than for its beauty”.

“Raleigh’s First Pipe in England”, included in Frederick William Fairholt’s ‘Tobacco, its History and Associations’.

Sir Walter Raleigh introduced Virginia tobacco into England, and a naval commander by the name of John Hawkins was the first to bring tobacco seeds to England. William Harrison ’s ‘English Chronology’ mentions tobacco smoking in the country as of 1573, before Sir Walter Raleigh brought the first “Virginia” tobacco to Europe from the Roanoke Colony, referring to it as ‘tobah’ as early as 1578. In 1595 Anthony Chute published ‘Tabaco’, which repeated earlier arguments about the benefits of the plant and emphasised the health-giving properties of pipe-smoking. A popular song of the early 1600s by Tobias Hume proclaimed that “Tobacco is Like Love”. But the importation of tobacco into England was not without resistance and controversy. King James I wrote a famous polemic entitled ‘A Counterblaste to Tobacco’ in 1604, in which the king denounced tobacco use as “a custome lothsome to the eye, hatefull to the Nose, harmefull to the braine, dangerous to the Lungs, and in the blacke stinking fume thereof, neerest resembling the horrible smoke of theStigian pit that is bottomelesse.” That year, an English statute was enacted that placed a heavy protective tariff on tobacco imports. The duty rose from 2p per pound to 6s 10p, a 40-fold increase, but English demand remained strong despite the high price and Barnabee Rych reported that 7,000 stores in London sold tobacco and calculated that at least 319,375 pounds sterling were spent on tobacco annually. Because the Virginia and Bermuda colonies’ economies were affected by the high duty, in 1624 King James I instead created a royal monopoly. No tobacco could be imported except from Virginia, and a royal license that cost 15 pounds per year was required to sell it. To help the colonies, King Charles II banned tobacco cultivation in England, but allowed herb gardens for medicinal purposes. Meanwhile, it seems that tobacco was introduced elsewhere in continental Europe more easily. Iberia exported “ropes” of dry leaves in baskets to the Netherlands and southern Germany; for a while tobacco was in Spanish called ‘canaster’ after the word for basket (‘canastro), and influenced the German ‘Knaster. In Italy, Prospero Santacroce in 1561 and Nicolo Torbabuoni in 1570 introduced it to gardens after seeing the plant whilst on diplomatic missions. Cardinal Crescenzio introduced smoking to the country in about 1610, after learning about it in England. The Roman Catholic Church did not condemn tobacco as James I did, but Pope Urban VIII threatened excommunication for smoking in a church. In Russia, tobacco use was banned in 1634 except for foreigners in Moscow. Peter the Great, who in England had learned of smoking and the royal monopoly, became the monarch in 1689 and revoking all bans, he licensed the Muscovy Company to import 1.5 million pounds of tobacco per year, with the Russian Crown receiving 28,000 pounds sterling annually. It was in 1633 when Sultan Murad IV banned smoking in the Ottoman Empire. When the ban was lifted by his successor, Ibrahim the Mad, it was instead taxed. In 1682, Damascene jurist Abd al-Ghani al-Nabulsi declared: “Tobacco has now become extremely famous in all the countries of Islam … People of all kinds have used it and devoted themselves to it … I have even seen young children of about five years applying themselves to it.” There are many events too numerous to detail here on tobacco, so here are just a notable few, with occasional explanations. 1624 saw the Popes ban use of tobacco in holy places, considering sneezing (snuff) too close to sexual pleasures. In 1633, Turkey introduced a death penalty for smoking but it didn’t stay in effect for long and was lifted in 1647. In 1650, tobacco arrived in Africa as the European settlers grew it and used it as a currency. Then in 1700 the African slaves were first forced to work on tobacco plantations, years before they became a workforce in the cotton fields. 1730 saw the first American tobacco companies open their doors in Virginia and in 1750, a Damascene townsmen observed “a number of women greater than the men, sitting along the bank of the Barada River. They were eating and drinking, and drinking coffee and smoking tobacco just as the men were doing”. In 1753 a Tobacco genus was named by a Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus, ‘nicotiana rustica’ and ‘nicotiana tabacum’ named for the first time. Then in 1791, British doctors found that snuff leads to an increased risk of nose cancer. There was the first American tobacco tax in 1794 and in 1826 the alkaloid Nicotine was isolated for the first time. A few years later, in 1847, Philip Morris opened their first shop in Great Britain, selling hand-rolled Turkish cigarettes. Around 1861 the first American cigarette factory produced 20 million cigarettes and in 1880 the first cigarette-rolling machine was developed. Then in 1890, the American Tobacco Company opened its doors. In 1912 there is the first reported connection between smoking and lung cancer, but by 1918 an entire generation of young men returned from war, addicted to cigarettes. This meant that in 1924 over 70 billion cigarettes were sold in the United States. But by 1950 it seems that 50% of a cigarettes included a filter tip. Things were changing, as in 1967 there was a definitive link between smoking to lung cancer and evidence was presented that it was causing heart problems. In 1970 the tobacco manufacturers became legally obliged to print a warning on the labels that smoking is a health hazard and between 1970 and 1990 the same companies were faced with a series of lawsuits. Courts then limited their advertising and marketing, which had an effect on certain sports, like motor racing where advertising was no longer allowed. Then in 1992 the Nicotine patch was introduced and in the following years more cessation products were starting to be developed. In 1996, researchers found conclusive evidence that tobacco damages a cancer-suppressor gene. Then in 1997, tobacco companies were hit with major lawsuits, ordering them to spend large amounts of money on anti-smoking campaigns over the next 25 years which was predominantly focused on educating the young on dangers of smoking. Also from 1990, bans on public smoking came into effect in most states in America, as well as in other countries in the world.

A tobacco plantation in Queensland, Australia in 1933.

Meanwhile, cigarettes were gaining in popularity. In fact, they came to the height of their popularity during the First and Second World Wars. Tobacco companies sent millions of packs of cigarettes to soldiers on the front lines, creating hundreds of thousands of faithful and addicted consumers in the process. Cigarettes were even included into soldiers’ C-rations – which contained mostly food and supplements, along with cigarettes. The 1920s were also the period when tobacco companies started marketing heavily to women, creating brands such as ‘Mild as May’ to try to feminize the habit and make it more appealing to women. The number of female smokers in the United States tripled by 1935. Then in the mid-twentieth century, medical research demonstrated the severe negative health effects of tobacco smoking, including lung and throat cancer, which has led to a sharp decline in tobacco use. In addition, tobacco and tobacco products are more regulated today. Companies have lost countless lawsuits and are now forced to clearly label their products as having a detrimental effect on the health of a person. Also, tobacco advertising is severely limited and regulated. Still, tobacco companies make a great deal of money every year, destroying the health of others and it is estimated that there are around one billion tobacco users in the world today. The damage caused by this addiction amounts to massive health expenses and environmental damages and more effort has still to be made to educate people, especially teenagers and young adults, about the dangers of smoking. There is help and alternatives to smoking, for example various Nicotine replacement therapies such as skin patches. When I was in my twenties I tried smoking a pipe just once but was ill, so never did that again. I was also a keen singer as well as playing a trumpet in a local brass band, so wouldn’t smoke just to be the same as a couple of my friends! Still, I developed asthma which may not have been helped as my father smoked. In fact we are sure it was that which brought about his death just a few months before his seventieth birthday. My mother, who did smoke on rare occasions when she was younger, survived until she was ninety-five. I think that says it all.

This week…
There was an engineer who regularly made house calls to help fix computer problems for people. Afterwards, he had to write a report on what the problem had been and sometimes he would simply put ‘PICNIC’. One day he was asked what was meant by this, and he explained: “Problem In Chair, Not In Computer”…

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Good Friday

Good Friday is the Friday before Easter, which is calculated differently in Eastern Christianity and Western Christianity. Easter falls on the first Sunday following the Paschal Full Moon, the full moon on or after 21 March, taken to be the date of the vernal equinox. The Western calculation uses the Gregorian calendar, whilst the Eastern calculation uses the Julian calendar, whose 21 March now corresponds to the Gregorian calendar’s 3 April. The calculations for identifying the date of the full moon also differ. In Eastern Christianity, Easter can fall between 22 March and 25 April on Julian Calendar (thus between 4 April and 8 May in terms of the Gregorian calendar, during the period 1900 and 2099), so Good Friday can fall between 20 March and 23 April, inclusive, or between 2 April and 6 May in terms of the Gregorian calendar. Good Friday itself is a Christian holiday commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus and his death at Calvary and it is observed during Holy Week as part of the Paschal Triduum. Members of many Christian denominations observe Good Friday with both fasting and church services. In many Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican and Methodist churches the ‘Service of the Great Three Hours’ Agony’ is held from noon until 3:00pm, the time duration that the Bible records as darkness covering the land to Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, whilst the Communicants of the Moravian Church have a Good Friday tradition of cleaning gravestones in Moravian cemeteries. The date of Good Friday varies from one year to the next in both the Gregorian and Julian calendars. However, Eastern and Western Christianity disagree over the computation of the date of Easter and therefore of Good Friday, which is regarded as a widely instituted legal holiday around the world, including in most Western countries and twelve U.S. states. Some predominantly Christian countries, such as Germany, have laws prohibiting certain acts such as dancing and horse racing, in remembrance of the sombre nature of Good Friday. The name ‘Good Friday’ comes from the sense ‘pious, holy’ of the word “good”. Less common examples of expressions based on this obsolete sense of “good” include “the good book” for the Bible, “good tide” for “Christmas”. A common folk etymology incorrectly analyses “Good Friday” as a corruption of “God Friday” similar to the linguistically correct description of “goodbye“ as a contraction of “God be with you”. In Old English, the day was called “Long Friday”, and equivalents of this term are still used in Scandinavian languages and Finnish. I have learned that in Latin, the name used by the Catholic Church until 1955 was “Friday of Preparation [for the Sabbath]”), then in the 1955 reform of Holy Week, it was renamed “Friday of the Passion and Death of the Lord”, then in the new rite introduced in 1970, shortened to “Friday of the Passion of the Lord”. In Dutch, Good Friday is known as ‘Goede Vrijdag’, in Frisian as ‘Goedfreed’. In German-speaking countries, it is generally referred to as ‘Karfreitag’’, or “Mourning Friday”, with ‘Kar’ from Old High German ‘kara’‚ “bewail”, “grieve”‚ “mourn”, which is related to the English word “care” in the sense of cares and woes), but it is sometimes also called ‘Stiller Freitag’ (“Silent Friday”) and ‘Hoher Freitag’ (“High Friday, Holy Friday”). In the Scandinavian languages and Finnish it is called the equivalent of “Long Friday” as it was in Old English (“Langa frigedæg”). In Irish it is known as ‘Aoine an Chéasta’, “Friday of Crucifixion”, from ‘céas’, “suffer;” similarly, it is ‘DihAoine na Ceusta’ in Scottish Gaelic. In Welsh it is called ‘Dydd Gwener y Groglith’, “Friday of the Cross-Reading”, referring to ‘Y Groglith’, a medieval Welsh text on the Crucifixion of Jesus that was traditionally read on Good Friday. In Greek, Polish, Hungarian, Romanian, Breton and Armenian it is generally referred to as the equivalent of “Great Friday” whilst In Serbian, it is referred either as “Great Friday” or, more commonly, “Loved Friday”. In Bulgarian, it is also called “Great Friday”, or, more commonly, “Crucified Friday”. In French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese it is referred to as “Holy Friday”, and in Arabic, it is also known as “Great Friday”.

‘The Judas Kiss’ by Gustave Doré, 1866.

According to the accounts in the Gospels, the royal soldiers, guided by Jesus’ disciple Judas Iscariot, arrested Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas received 30 pieces of silver for betraying Jesus and told the guards that whomever he kisses is the one they are to arrest. Following his arrest, Jesus was taken to the house of Annas, the father-in-law of the high priest, Caiaphas. There he was interrogated with little result, bound and sent to Caiaphas where the Sanhedrin, an assembly of elders known as rabbi’s who were appointed to sit as a tribunal in every city in the ancient [Land of Israel, had assembled. Conflicting testimony against Jesus was brought forth by many witnesses, to which Jesus answered nothing. Finally the high priest adjured Jesus to respond under solemn oath, saying “I adjure you, by the Living God, to tell us, are you the Anointed One, the Son of God?” Jesus testified ambiguously, “You have said it, and in time you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Almighty, coming on the clouds of Heaven.” The high priest condemned Jesus for blasphemy and the Sanhedrin concurred with a sentence of death. One of the disciples of Jesus, Peter, who was waiting in the courtyard, also denied Jesus three times to bystanders while the interrogations were proceeding just as Jesus had foretold. In the morning, the whole assembly brought Jesus to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate under charges of subverting the nation, opposing taxes to Caesar, and making himself a king. Pilate authorised the Jewish leaders to judge Jesus according to their own law and execute sentencing, but the Jewish leaders replied that they were not allowed by the Romans to carry out a sentence of death. Pilate questioned Jesus and told the assembly that there was no basis for sentencing. Upon learning that Jesus was from Galilee, Pilate referred the case to the ruler of Galilee, King Herod, who was in Jerusalem for the Passover Feast. Herod questioned Jesus but received no answer so sent Jesus back to Pilate, who told the assembly that neither he nor Herod found Jesus to be guilty. Pilate resolved to have Jesus whipped and released, but under the guidance of the chief priests, the crowd asked for Barabbas, who had been imprisoned for committing murder during an insurrection. Pilate asked what they would have him do with Jesus, and they demanded, “Crucify him”. Pilate’s wife had seen Jesus in a dream earlier that day, and she forewarned Pilate to “have nothing to do with this righteous man”. Pilate had Jesus flogged and then brought him out to the crowd to release him. The chief priests informed Pilate of a new charge, demanding Jesus be sentenced to death “because he claimed to be God’s son.” This possibility filled Pilate with fear, and he brought Jesus back inside the palace and demanded to know from where he came.

Antonio Ciseri’s nineteenth century depiction of Jesus with Pontius Pilate.

Coming before the crowd one last time, Pilate declared Jesus innocent and washed his own hands in water to show he had no part in this condemnation. Nevertheless, Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified in order to forestall a riot. The sentence written was “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” Jesus carried his cross to the site of execution (assisted by Simon of Cyrene), called the “place of the Skull”, or “Golgotha“ in Hebrew and in Latin “Calvary”. There he was crucified along with two criminals. Jesus agonised on the cross for six hours and, during his last three hours on the cross, from noon to 3pm, darkness fell over the whole land. Jesus spoke from the cross, quoting the messianic Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Then, with a loud cry, Jesus gave up his spirit. There was an earthquake, tombs broke open, and the curtain in the Temple was torn from top to bottom. The centurion on guard at the site of crucifixion declared, “Truly this was God’s Son!”. Then Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin and a secret follower of Jesus, who had not consented to His condemnation, went to Pilate to request the body of Jesus. Another secret follower of Jesus and member of the Sanhedrin named Nicodemus brought about a hundred-pound weight mixture of spices and helped wrap the body of Jesus. Pilate asked confirmation from the centurion of whether Jesus was dead. A soldier pierced the side of Jesus with a lance causing blood and water to flow out and the centurion informed Pilate that Jesus was dead. Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus’ body, wrapped it in a clean linen shroud, and placed it in his own new tomb that had been carved in the rock in a garden near the site of the crucifixion. Nicodemus also brought 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes, and placed them in the linen with the body, in keeping with Jewish burial customs. They rolled a large rock over the entrance of the tomb, then they returned home and rested, because Shabbat had begun at sunset. Matt. 28:1 “After the Shabbat, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb”. i.e. “After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week,…”. “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said….”. (Matt. 28:6)

A Crucifix, prepared for veneration.

The Catholic Church regards Good Friday and Holy Saturday as the Paschal fast. In the Latin Church, a ‘fast day’ is understood as having only one full meal and two ‘collations’ (a smaller repast, the two of which together do not equal the one full meal) – although this may be observed less stringently on Holy Saturday than on Good Friday. Interestingly the Roman Rite has no celebration of Mass between the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday evening and the Easter Vigil, unless a special exemption is granted for rare solemn or grave occasions by the Vatican or the local bishop. The only sacraments celebrated during this time are Baptism, for those in danger of death, Penance and Anointing of the Sick. Whilst there is no celebration of the Eucharist, it is distributed to the faithful only in the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion, but can also be taken at any hour to the sick who are unable to attend this celebration. The Celebration of the Passion of the Lord takes place in the afternoon, ideally at three o’clock, however for pastoral reasons (especially in countries where Good Friday is not a public holiday) it is permissible to celebrate the liturgy earlier, even shortly after midday, or at a later hour. The celebration consists of three parts, these being the liturgy of the word, the adoration of the cross, and the Holy communion. The altar is laid bare, without cross, candlesticks and altar cloths. It is also customary to empty the holy water fonts, in preparation of the blessing of the water at the Easter Vigil. Traditionally, no bells are rung on Good Friday or Holy Saturday until the Easter Vigil. The liturgical colour of the vestments used is red. Before 1970 vestments were black, except for the Communion part of the rite when violet was used and if a bishop or abbot celebrates, he wears a plain mitre. Before the reforms of the Holy Week liturgies in 1955, black was used throughout. The Vespers of Good Friday are only prayed by those who could not attend the Celebration of the Passion of the Lord. Also the Three Hours’ Devotion that is based on the Seven Last Words from the Cross begins at noon and ends at 3pm, the time that the Christian tradition teaches that Jesus died on the cross.

The Great Intercessions, sung at Heiligenkreuz Abbey, Austria.

There is also the Liturgy, which is a customary public ritual of worship that is performed by a religious group. The Good Friday liturgy consists of three parts, these being the Liturgy of the Word, the Veneration of the Cross, and the Holy Communion. The Liturgy of the Word consists of the clergy and assisting ministers entering in complete silence, without any singing. They then silently make a full prostration which signifies the abasement or fall of humans on Earth. It also symbolises the grief and sorrow of the Church. Then follows the Collect prayer, and the reading or chanting of Isaiah 52:13–53:12, Hebrews 4:14–16, Hebrews 5:7–9, and the Passion account from the Gospel of John, traditionally divided between three deacons, yet usually read by the celebrant and two other readers. In the older form of the Mass known as the Tridentine Mass, the readings for Good Friday are taken from Exodus 12:1-11 and the Gospel according to St. John (John 18:1-40); (John 19:1-42). The Great Intercessions, also known as ‘orationes sollemnes’, immediately follow the Liturgy of the Word and consists of a series of prayers for the Church, the Pope, the clergy and laity of the Church, those preparing for baptism, the unity of Christians, the Jews, those who do not believe in Christ, those who do not believe in God, those in public office, and those in special need. After each prayer intention, the deacon calls the faithful to kneel for a short period of private prayer, the celebrant then sums up the prayer intention with a Collect-style prayer. As part of the pre-1955 Holy Week Liturgy, the kneeling was omitted only for the prayer for the Jews. The Adoration of the Cross has a crucifix, not necessarily the one that is normally on or near the altar at other times of the year, solemnly unveiled and displayed to the congregation, and then venerated by them, individually if possible and usually by kissing the wood of the cross, whilst the ‘Improperia’ or Reproaches with the appropriate hymns are chanted. Holy Communion is bestowed according to a rite based on that of the final part of Mass, beginning with the Lord’s Prayer, but omitting the ceremony of “Breaking of the Bread“ and its related acclamation, the Agnus Dei. The Eucharist, consecrated at the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, is distributed at this service. Before the Holy Week reforms of Pope Pius XII in 1955, only the priest received Communion in the framework of what was called the ‘Mass of the Presanctified’, which included the usual Offertory prayers, with the placing of wine in the chalice, but which omitted the Canon of the Mass. The priest and people then departed in silence, and the altar cloth removed, leaving the altar bare except for the crucifix and two or four candlesticks.

In the Protestant church, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer did not specify a particular rite to be observed on Good Friday but local custom came to mandate an assortment of services, including the Seven Last Words from the Cross and a three-hour service consisting of Matins, Ante-communion (using the Reserved Sacrament in high church parishes) and Evensong. In more recent times, revised editions of the Prayer Book and Common Worship have re-introduced pre-Reformation forms of observance of Good Friday corresponding to those in today’s Roman Catholic Church.

The chancel of a Lutheran church.

The chancel of this Lutheran church is adorned with black paraments, or hangings on and around the altar, such as altar cloths, as well as the cloths hanging from the pulpit and lectern, this being the liturgical colour associated with Good Friday in the Lutheran Churches. Also, in Lutheran tradition from the sixteenth to the twentieth century, Good Friday was the most important religious holiday, and abstention from all worldly works was expected. During that time, Lutheranism had no restrictions on the celebration of the Eucharist on Good Friday. On the contrary, it was a prime day on which to receive the Eucharist, and services were often accentuated by special music such as the St Matthew Passion by Johann Sebastian Bach.
More recently, Lutheran liturgical practice has recaptured Good Friday as part of the larger sweep of the great Three Days: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Vigil of Easter. Along with observing a general Lenten fast, many Lutherans emphasise the importance of Good Friday as a day of fasting within the calendar. ‘A Handbook for the Discipline of Lent’ recommends the Lutheran guideline to “Fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday with only one simple meal during the day, usually without meat”.

The altar of a Methodist church on Maundy Thursday.

On Maundy Thursday, the altar of this Methodist church was stripped and the crucifix veiled in black for Good Friday, as black is the liturgical colour for Good Friday in the United Methodist Church. A wooden cross sits in front of the bare chancel for the veneration of the cross ceremony, which occurs during the United Methodist Good Friday liturgy. Many Methodist denominations commemorate Good Friday with fasting, as well as a [service of worship based on the Seven Last Words from the Cross. This liturgy is known as the Three Hours Devotion as it starts at noon and concludes at 3pm, the latter being the time that Jesus died on the cross. Other churches have practices only performed at this particular time, for example in the Moravian Church, communicants practice the Good Friday tradition of cleaning gravestones in Moravian cemeteries. It is also not uncommon for some communities to hold interdenominational services on Good Friday. As well as the United Kingdom, Good Friday is observed as a public or federal holiday in many other countries and territories with a strong Christian tradition such as Australia, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, the countries of the Caribbean, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Malta, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, the Philippines, Portugal, the Scandinavian countries, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland and Venezuela. In the United States, just twelve states observe Good Friday as state holiday, these being Connecticut, Texas, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Tennessee, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina and North Dakota.

A Good Friday service in Ireland.

In the Republic of Ireland, Good Friday is not an official public holiday, but most non-retail businesses close for the day. Up until 2018 it was illegal to sell alcoholic beverages on Good Friday, with some exceptions, so pubs and off-licences generally closed. Critics of the ban included the catering and tourism sector, but surveys showed that the general public were divided on the issue. In Northern Ireland, a similar ban operates until 5pm on Good Friday. Other countries also make Good Friday a public holiday or at least have ‘restricted trading’. In the United States, Good Friday is not a government holiday at the federal level but individual states, counties and municipalities may observe the holiday. Some Baptist congregations and some non-denominational churches oppose the observance of Good Friday, regarding it as a so-called “papist“ tradition, and instead observe the Crucifixion of Jesus on Wednesday to coincide with the Jewish sacrifice of the Passover Lamb, to which a number of Christians believe is an Old Testament pointer to Jesus Christ). A Wednesday Crucifixion of Jesus allows for Him to be in the tomb for three days and three nights as he told the Pharisees he would be (Matthew 12:40), rather than two nights and a day by inclusive counting, as was the norm at that time if he had died on a Friday. Further support for a Wednesday crucifixion based on Matthew 12:40 includes the Jewish belief that death was not considered official until the beginning of the fourth day, which is disallowed with the traditional Friday afternoon to Sunday morning period of time.

Hot cross buns are traditionally toasted and eaten on Good Friday in Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Here in the United Kingdom, Good Friday was historically a common law holiday and is recognised as an official public holiday, also known as a Bank Holiday. All state schools are closed and most businesses treat it as a holiday for staff, although many retail stores now remain open. Government services in Northern Ireland operate as normal on Good Friday, substituting Easter Tuesday for the holiday. Traditionally there has been no horse racing on Good Friday in the UK, but in 2008, betting shops and stores opened for the first time on this day and in 2014 Lingfield Park and Musselburgh staged the UK’s first Good Friday race meetings. The BBC has for many years introduced its 7am News broadcast on Radio 4 on Good Friday with a verse from Isaac Watts‘ hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross“. That is something I only found out as part of my research for this blog, but it really is a lovely hymn with very well-suited words.

This week…Walls Have Ears
Or, be careful what you say as people may be eavesdropping. It is said that the Louvre Palace in France was believed to have a network of listening tubes so that it would be possible to hear everything that was said in different rooms. People say that this is how the Queen Catherine de Medici discovered political secrets and plots.

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Squirrels are members of the biological family ‘Sciuridae’, which includes small or medium-size rodents. The squirrel family includes tree squirrels, ground squirrels, chipmunks, prairie dogs (which are rodents, but named for their habitat and warning call, which sounds similar to a dog’s bark) and flying squirrels. Squirrels are indigenous to the Americas, Eurasia, and Africa, and were introduced by us humans to Australia. The earliest known fossilised squirrels date from the Eocene epoch, a geological period that lasted from about 56 to 33.9 million years ago, and amongst other living rodent families the squirrels are most closely related to the mountain beaver and the dormouse. The word ‘squirrel’, first attested in 1327, comes from the Anglo-Norman ‘esquirel’ which is from the Old French ‘escurel’, the reflex of a Latin word ‘sciurus’, which was taken from the Ancient Greek word ‘skiouros’, from ‘shadow-tailed’, referring to the long bushy tail which many of its members have. A group of squirrels is called a ‘dray’ or a ‘scurry’.

Reaching out for food on a garden bird feeder, this squirrel can rotate its hind feet, allowing it to descend a tree head-first.

Squirrels are generally small animals, ranging in size from the African pygmy squirrel and least pygmy squirrel at 10 to 14 cm (3.9 to 5.5 in) in total length and just 12 to 26 g (0.42 to 0.92 oz) in weight, to the Bhutan giant flying squirrel at up to 1.27 m (4 ft 2 in) in total length, and several marmot species, which can weigh 8 kg (18 lb) or more. Squirrels typically have slender bodies with very long bushy tails and large eyes. In general, their fur is soft and silky, though much thicker in some species than others. The coat colour of squirrels is highly variable between, often even within, species. In most of the species the hind limbs are longer than the fore limbs, whilst all species have either four or five toes on each foot. The feet, which include an often poorly developed thumb, have soft pads on the undersides and versatile, sturdy claws for grasping and climbing. Tree squirrels, unlike most mammals, can descend a tree head-first. They do so by rotating their ankles 180 degrees, enabling the hind feet to point backward and thus grip the tree bark from the opposite direction. Squirrels live in almost every habitat, from tropical rainforest to semi-arid desert, avoiding only the high polar regions and the driest of deserts. They are predominantly herbivorous, subsisting on seeds and nuts, but many will eat insects and even small vertebrates. As their large eyes indicate, squirrels have an excellent sense of vision, which is especially important for the tree-dwelling species. Many also have a good sense of touch, with ‘vibrissae’
(whiskers, to you and me) on their limbs as well as their heads. These hairs are finely specialised for this purpose, whereas other types of hair are coarser as tactile sensors. Their teeth follow the typical rodent pattern, with large incisors (for gnawing) that grow throughout life, and cheek teeth (for grinding) that are set back behind a wide gap. Many juvenile squirrels die in the first year of life. Adult squirrels can have a lifespan of 5 to 10 years in the wild. Some can survive 10 to 20 years in captivity. Premature death may occur when a nest falls from the tree, in which case the mother may abandon her young if their body temperature is not correct. Many such baby squirrels are rescued and fostered by a professional wildlife carer until they can be safely returned to the wild, although the density of squirrel populations in many places and the constant care required by premature squirrels means that few people are willing to spend their time doing this, so sadly such animals are routinely euthanised instead. A squirrel has a multifunctional use of its tail, including to keep rain, wind, or cold off itself, to cool off when hot, by pumping more blood through its tail, as a counterbalance when jumping about in trees, as a parachute when jumping and to signal with. When a squirrel sits upright, its tail folded up its back may stop predators looking from behind from seeing the characteristic shape of a small mammal.

A squirrel in sunlight.

Squirrels mate either once or twice a year and, following a gestation period of three to six weeks, give birth to a number of offspring that varies by species. The young are ‘altricial’, being born naked, toothless, and blind. In most species of squirrel, the female alone looks after the young, which are weaned at six to ten weeks and become sexually mature by the end of their first year. In general, the ground-dwelling squirrel species are social, often living in well-developed colonies, while the tree-dwelling species are more solitary. In zoology, a crepuscular animal is one that is active primarily during the twilight period. This is distinguished from diurnal and nocturnal behaviour, where an animal is active during the hours of daylight and of darkness respectively. Some crepuscular animals may also be active by moonlight or during an overcast day. Matutinal animals are active only before sunrise and vespertine only after sunset. Hence our ‘mattins’ and ‘vespers’ in the Christian church. Ground squirrels and tree squirrels are usually either diurnal or crepuscular, whilst the flying squirrels tend to be nocturnal—except for lactating flying squirrels and their young, which have a period of diurnality during the summer.

A squirrel eating a fruit in Manyara National Park, Tanzania.

Because squirrels cannot digest cellulose, they must rely on foods rich in protein, carbohydrates and fats. In temperate regions, early spring is the hardest time of year for squirrels because the nuts they buried are beginning to sprout (and thus are no longer available to eat), whilst many of the usual food sources are not yet available. During these times, squirrels rely heavily on tree buds. Squirrels, being primarily herbivores, eat a wide variety of plants, as well as nuts, seeds, conifer cones, fruits, fungi and green vegetation. Some squirrels though do consume meat, especially when faced with hunger. They have been known to eat small birds, young snakes and smaller rodents, as well as birds eggs and insects. Some tropical squirrel species have even shifted almost entirely to a diet of insects. Squirrels, like pigeons and other fauna, are synanthropes in that they benefit and thrive from their interaction in human environments. This gradual process of successful interaction is called ‘synurbanisation’, where squirrels lose their inherent fear of humans in an urban environment. When squirrels were almost completely eradicated during the Industrial Revolution in New York, they were later re-introduced to ‘entertain and remind’ us humans of nature. The squirrel blended into the urban environment so efficiently that when synanthropic behaviour stopped (i.e. people did not leave their rubbish outside during particularly cold winters), the squirrels could become aggressive in their search for food. Aggression and predatory behaviour has been observed in various species of ground squirrels, in particular the thirteen-lined ground squirrel.

A three-coloured Prevost’s Squirrel in Zagreb Zoo, Croatia.

Living squirrels are divided into five subfamilies, with about fifty-eight genera and some two hundred and eighty-five species. The oldest squirrel fossil, ‘Hesperopetes’, dates back to the ‘Chadronian’ (late Eocene) about forty to thirty-five million years ago and is similar to the modern flying squirrel. A variety of fossil squirrels, from the latest Eocene to the Miocene, have not been assigned with certainty to any living lineage. Though at least some of these were probably variants of the oldest basal ‘protosquirrels’, in the sense that they lacked the full range of traits of present living squirrels. The distribution and diversity of such ancient and ancestral forms suggest the squirrels as a group may have originated in North America. Apart from these sometimes little-known fossil forms, the evolutionary biology of the living squirrels is fairly straightforward. The three main lineages are the Ratufinae (Oriental giant squirrels), Sciurillinae and all other subfamilies. The Ratufinae contain a mere handful of living species in tropical Asia. The neotropical pygmy squirrel of tropical South America is the sole living member of the Sciurillinae. The third lineage, by far the largest, has a near-cosmopolitan distribution and this further supports the hypothesis that the common ancestor of all squirrels, living and fossil, lived in North America, as these three most ancient lineages seem to have radiated from there. If squirrels had originated in Eurasia for example, one would expect quite ancient lineages in Africa, but African squirrels seem to be of more recent origin. So the main group of squirrels can be split into five subfamilies. The Callosciurinae, sixty species mostly found in South East Asia, the Ratufinae, four cat-sized species found in South and South-East Asia, the Sciurinae, containing the flying squirrels and the tree squirrels, Sciurillinae, a single South American species and Xerinae, including three tribes of mostly terrestrial squirrels, including marmots, chipmunks and [prairie dogs. There are also other Holarctic ground squirrels, African and some Eurasian ground squirrels, and African tree squirrels. It is thought that squirrels are a cause for concern because they often cause electrical disruptions and it has been hypothesised by some that the threat to the internet infrastructure and services posed by squirrels may exceed that posed by cyber-attacks. It makes me wonder who thinks of these ideas. Squirrels have been reported to be ‘successfully trained’ in Chongqing, China to sniff out illicit drugs and in 2023 a team of six Eurasian red squirrels became part of a sub-unit within the Chongqing city police dog brigade. According to Chongqing police department, their small size and agility are beneficial as they are able to help the police detect drugs through tiny spaces in warehouses and storage units that dogs are unable to reach. Yin Jin, a police dog handler, who had been assigned to train these squirrels told ‘The Paper’ that “these squirrels have an acute sense of smell. But in the past, our training problems for small rodents was not developed enough to attempt a program like this” and that her team of squirrels have so far done an “excellent job” in drug detection exercises, but are not yet ready to be deployed. One day, perhaps?

This week…
One of the many things my father said to me and I have tried to always remember, is to never promise anything that you are not prepared to carry out. Otherwise folk can and will take advantage. It is a lesson well-learned.

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