As you might expect, my weekly blog is a much shorter one than usual. On September 8, 2022 Buckingham Palace announced that the longest-reigning monarch in British history, Queen Elizabeth II, sadly died. After serving as the head of our royal family for 70 years, Queen Elizabeth II passed away peacefully at Balmoral Castle, her estate in the Scottish Highlands, with her family by her side. Upon her death, her eldest son and heir apparent, Prince Charles, immediately ascended as the King of the United Kingdom and took the name King Charles III.
Queen Elizabeth’s body remained in Scotland for a time, when senior royals were able to pay their own moving tribute, standing guard around the coffin for a while – a tradition known as the Vigil of the Princes. The coffin was then returned to England to lie in state for a few days in Westminster Hall. This has allowed for a period of mourning, during which time the public are able to visit, walking slowly by and paying their respects as the coffin lies on a raised platform known as a catafalque.
The Queen’s state funeral will take place at Westminster Abbey on Monday, 19th September, after which the Queen’s coffin will be taken to Windsor for a committal and she will be buried at St. George’s Chapel, next to her husband, Prince Philip, in an annex to the main chapel where her mother and father were buried, along with the ashes of her sister, Princess Margaret.
St. George’s Chapel was chosen in the 19th century as the burial place for the royal family and various members of the family, including Henry VIII, Charles I, George V, and George VI have since been buried throughout the chapel.
Built in the Perpendicular Gothic style, St. George’s Chapel is frequently cited as one of the best examples of the 14th-century aesthetic. True to the era, the stunning structure features four-centred pointed arches, fan vaulting, and ornate, intricate detailing. Construction started under Edward IV in 1475 and was completed in 1528 by Henry VIII. It was built in two stages, starting with the choir and its aisles in 1483, with the nave constructed later in 1496. In accordance with the British monarchy, the chapel’s interiors commemorate key figures and moments throughout both royal history and that of the chapel.
Her Royal Majesty is the only British head of state most of us have ever known and she has been a constant in the lives of her people. May she rest in peace and may her family, along with all who knew or knew of her, be comforted by the memories we each of us have over her long life.
This Earth has existed for a very long time. Compared to its life, humans have been here relatively recently. Some may say we have been slow in our development but to me that isn’t so, if we consider that just in what we now call Great Britain, several species of humans have intermittently occupied the area for almost a million years. The earliest evidence of human occupation around 900,000 years ago is at Happisburgh on the Norfolk coast, with stone tools and footprints found. The oldest human fossils, around 500,000 years old, are of the species Homo heidelbergensis at Boxgrove in Sussex. Until that time, Britain had been permanently connected to the Continent by a chalk ridge between South East England and northern France called the Weald-Artois Anticline, but during the Anglian Glaciation around 425,000 years ago a tremendous flood broke through the ridge and Britain became an island when sea levels rose during the following Hoxnian interglacial period. Fossils of very early Neanderthals dating to around 400,000 years ago have been found at Swanscombe in Kent and of classic Neanderthals about 225,000 years old at Pontnewydd in Wales. Britain was unoccupied by humans between 180,000 and 60,000 years ago, then Neanderthals returned. By 40,000 years ago they had become extinct and modern humans had reached Britain. But even their occupations were brief and intermittent due to a climate which swung between low temperatures with a tundra habitat and severe ice ages which made Britain uninhabitable for long periods. The last of these, known as the Younger Dryas, ended around 11,700 years ago, and since then Britain has been continuously occupied. It had been claimed by academics that a post-glacial land bridge existed between Britain and Ireland, however this conjecture began to be refuted by a consensus within the academic community starting in 1983 and since 2006 the idea of such a land bridge has been conclusively disproven, based upon marine geological evidence. It is now concluded that an ice bridge existed between Britain and Ireland up until 16,000 years ago, but this had melted by around 14,000 years ago. Britain was at this time still joined to the Continent by a land bridge known as ‘Doggerland’, but due to rising sea levels this causeway of dry land would have become a series of estuaries, inlets and islands by 7000BC and by 6200BC it would have become completely submerged. So Doggerland was an area of land now submerged beneath the North Sea that connected the British Isles to continental Europe, but it was flooded by rising sea levels around 6500–6200BC and the flooded land is known as the Dogger Littoral. Geological surveys have suggested that it stretched from what is now the east coast of Great Britain to what are now the Netherlands, the western coast of Germany and the Danish peninsula of Jutland. It was probably a rich habitat with human habitation in the Mesolithic period, although rising sea levels gradually reduced it to low-lying islands before its final submergence, possibly following a tsunami caused by the ‘Storegga Slides’. These three Storegga Slides (Norwegian ‘Storeggaraset’) are amongst the largest known submarine landslides and they occurred at the edge of Norway’s continental shelf in the Norwegian Sea approximately 6225–6170BC. The collapse involved an estimated 290km (180 mile) length of coastal shelf, with a total volume of 3,500km3 (840 cubic miles) of debris, which caused a tsunami in the North Atlantic Ocean. Doggerland was named after the Dogger Bank, which in turn was named after 17th-century Dutch fishing boats called ‘doggers’.
The archaeological potential of the area was first identified in the early 20th century, and interest intensified in 1931 when a fishing trawler operating east of the Wash dragged up a barbed antler point that was subsequently dated to a time when the area was tundra. Vessels have since dragged up remains of mammoths, lions and other animals as well as a few prehistoric tools and weapons. As of 2020, international teams are continuing a two-year investigation into the submerged landscape of Doggerland using new and traditional archaeo-geophysical techniques, computer simulation and molecular biology. Evidence gathered allows study of past environments, ecological change and human transition from hunter-gatherer to farming communities.
Located at the fringes of Europe, Britain received European technological and cultural developments much later than Southern Europe and the Mediterranean region did during prehistory. By around 4000 BC, the island was populated by people with a Neolithic culture. This population had significant ancestry from the earliest farming communities in Anatolia, thus indicating that a major migration accompanied farming. The area is perhaps better known as Asia Minor, it being a large peninsula in Western Asia and the western-most protrusion of the Asian continent which now constitutes the major part of modern-day Turkey. The region is bounded by the Turkish Straits to the northwest, the Black Sea to the north, the Armenian Highlands to the east, the Mediterranean Sea to the south and the Aegean Sea to the west. The Sea of Marmara forms a connection between the Black and Aegean seas through the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits and separating Anatolia from Thrace on the Balkan peninsula of South-east Europe. But the beginning of the Bronze Age was marked by an even greater population turnover, this time displacing more than 90% of Britain’s Neolithic ancestry in the process. This is documented by recent ancient DNA studies which demonstrate that the immigrants had large amounts of Bronze-Age Eurasian Steppe ancestry associated with the spread of Indo-European languages. No written language of the pre-Roman inhabitants of Britain is known, so therefore the history, culture and way of life of pre-Roman Britain are known mainly through archaeological finds. This evidence demonstrates that ancient Britons were involved in extensive maritime trade and cultural links with the rest of Europe from the Neolithic period onwards, especially by exporting tin that was in abundant supply. Although the main evidence for the period is archaeological, available genetic evidence is increasing, and views of British prehistory are evolving accordingly. Julius Caesar’s first invasion of Britain in 55 BC is regarded as the start of recorded ‘protohistory’, a period between prehistory and history during which a culture or civilisation has not yet developed writing, but other cultures have already noted the existence of those pre-literate groups in their own writings.
Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age) Britain is the period of the earliest known occupation of Britain by humans. This huge period saw many changes in the environment, encompassing several glacial and interglacial episodes greatly affecting human settlement in the region. Providing dating for this distant period is difficult and contentious, as the inhabitants of the region at this time were bands of hunter-gatherers who roamed Northern Europe following herds of animals, or who supported themselves by fishing.
There is evidence from bones and flint tools found in coastal deposits near Happisburgh in Norfolk and Pakefield in lSuffolk that a species of ‘Homo’ was present in what is now Britain at least 814,000 years ago. At this time, Southern and Eastern Britain were linked to continental Europe by a wide land bridge known as Doggerland, allowing humans to move freely. The species itself lived before the ancestors of Neanderthals split from the ancestors of ‘Homo sapiens’ 600,000 years ago. The current position of the English Channel was a large river flowing westwards and fed by tributaries that later became the Thames in England and the Seine in France. Reconstructing this ancient environment has provided clues to the route first visitors took to arrive at what was then a peninsula of the Eurasian continent. Archaeologists have found a string of early sites located close to the route of a now lost watercourse named the Bytham River which was one of the great Pleistocene rivers of central and eastern England until it was destroyed by the advancing ice sheets of the Anglian Glaciation around 450,000 years ago. It is named after Castle Bytham in Lincolnshire and its catchment area included Worcestershire, Warwickshire, Oxfordshire and Derbyshire. It flowed eastward across East Anglia to the North Sea. This indicates that it was exploited as the earliest route west into Britain. Sites such as Boxgrove in Sussex illustrate the later arrival in the archaeological record of an archaic species called Homo heidelbergensis around 500,000 years ago and these early peoples made flint tools such as hand axes and hunted the large native mammals of the period. One hypothesis is that they would drive the large creatures like elephant, rhinoceros and hippopotamus over the tops of cliffs or into bogs, in order to kill them more easily. However, the extreme cold of the following Anglian Stage which started about 478,000 years ago and ended about 424,000 years ago is likely to have driven humans out of Britain altogether and the region does not appear to have been occupied again until the ice receded during the Hoxnian Stage. This warmer time period lasted from around 424,000 until 374,000 years ago and saw the flint tool industry develop at sites such as Swanscombe in Kent. Britain was populated only intermittently, and even during periods of occupation may have reproduced below replacement level and needed immigration from elsewhere to maintain numbers. According to some historians, around this time Britain and much of Northern Europe seems to have had a long record of abandonment and colonisation as well as a very short record of residency. This period also saw other flint tools introduced, possibly by humans arriving from Africa. However, finds from Swanscombe and Botany Pit in Purfleet support Levallois technology being a European rather than African introduction. The more advanced flint technology permitted more efficient hunting and therefore made Britain a more worthwhile place to remain until the following period of cooling known as the Wolstonian Stage, 352,000–130,000 years ago. From then to around 60,000 years ago there is no evidence of human occupation in Britain, probably due to inhospitable cold in some periods, Britain being cut off as an island in others, and the neighbouring areas of north-west Europe being unoccupied at times when Britain was both accessible and hospitable. There was then only limited Neanderthal occupation of Britain between about 60,000 and 42,000 years ago. Britain had its own unique variety of late Neanderthal hand-axe, so seasonal migration between Britain and the continent is unlikely, but the main occupation may have been in the now submerged area of Doggerland, with summer migrations to Britain in warmer periods. The earliest evidence for modern humans in North West Europe is a jawbone discovered in England at Kents Cavern in 1927, which was re-dated in 2011 to between 41,000 and 44,000 years old. The most famous example from this period is the burial of the ‘Red Lady of Paviland’ (actually now known to be a man) in modern-day coastal South Wales, which was dated in 2009 to be 33,000 years old. The distribution of finds shows that humans in this period preferred the uplands of Wales and northern and western England to the flatter areas of eastern England. Their stone tools are similar to those of the same age found in Belgium and far north-east France, and very different from those in north-west France. At the time when Britain was not an island, hunter gatherers may have followed migrating herds of reindeer from Belgium and north-east France across the giant Channel River, but the climatic deterioration which culminated in the Last Glacial Maximum, between about 26,500 and 19,000 years ago, drove humans out of Britain and there is no evidence of occupation for many years afterwards. Various finds in sites such as Cathole Cave in Swansea county, Creswell Crags on the border between Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire and Gough’s Cave in Somerset provide evidence suggesting that humans returned to Britain towards the end of this ice age during a warm period from 14,700 to 12,900 years ago although further extremes of cold right before the final thaw may have caused them to leave again and then return repeatedly. The environment during this ice age period would have been largely treeless tundra, eventually replaced by a gradually warmer climate, perhaps reaching 17 degrees Celsius (62.6 Fahrenheit in summer, encouraging the expansion of birch trees as well as shrub and grasses. The first distinct culture of the Upper Palaeolithic in Britain is what archaeologists call the Creswellian industry, with leaf-shaped points probably used as arrowheads. It produced more refined flint tools but also made use of bone, antler, shell, amber, animal teeth, and mammoth ivory. These were fashioned into tools but also jewellery and rods of uncertain purpose. Flint seems to have been brought into areas with limited local resources and the stone tools found in the caves of Devon, such as Kent’s Cavern, seem to have been sourced from Salisbury Plain, 100 miles (161km) east. This is interpreted as meaning that the early inhabitants of Britain were highly mobile, roaming over wide distances and carrying ‘toolkits’ of flint blades with them rather than heavy, unworked flint nodules, or otherwise improvising tools extemporaneously. The possibility that groups also travelled to meet and exchange goods or sent out dedicated expeditions to source flint has also been suggested. Between about 12,890 and 11,650 years ago, Britain returned to glacial conditions and may have been unoccupied for periods of time.
The Younger Dryas was followed by the Holocene, which began around 9,700 BC and continues to the present. There was then limited occupation by some hunter gatherers, but this came to an end when there was a final downturn in temperature which lasted from around 9400BC to 9200BC. Mesolithic people occupied Britain by around 9000BC and it has been occupied ever since. By 8000BC temperatures were higher than today, and birch woodlands spread rapidly, but there was a cold spell around 6200BC which lasted about 150 years. The plains of Doggerland were thought to have finally been submerged around 6500BC to 6000BC, but recent evidence suggests that the bridge may have lasted until between 5800BC and 5400BC, and possibly as late as 3800BC. The warmer climate changed the arctic environment to one of pine, birch and alder forest, but this less open landscape was less conducive to the large herds of reindeer and the wild horses that had previously sustained humans. Those animals were replaced in people’s diets by pig and less social animals such as elk, red deer, roe deer, wild boar and aurochs (wild cattle), which would have required different hunting techniques. Tools changed to incorporate barbs which could snag the flesh of an animal, making it harder for it to escape alive. Tiny microliths were developed for hafting onto harpoons and spears. Woodworking tools such as adzes appear in the archaeological record, although some flint blade types remained similar to their Palaeolithic predecessors. The dog was domesticated because of its benefits during hunting, and the wetland environments created by the warmer weather would have been a rich source of fish and game. Wheat of a variety grown in the Middle East was present on the Isle of Wight at the Bouldnor Cliff Mesolithic Village dating from about 6000BC. It is likely that these environmental changes were accompanied by social changes, with humans spreading and reaching the far north of Scotland during this period. Excavations at Howick in Northumberland have uncovered evidence of a large circular building dating to c. 7600BC which is interpreted as a dwelling. A further example has also been identified at Deepcar in Sheffield, and a building dating to c. 8500BC was discovered at a Mesolithic site in North Yorkshire. So the older view of Mesolithic Britons as nomadic is now being replaced with a more complex picture of seasonal occupation or, in some cases, permanent occupation. Travel distances seem to have become shorter, typically with movement between high and low ground. Though the Mesolithic environment was bounteous, the rising population and the ancient Britons’ success in exploiting it eventually led to local exhaustion of many natural resources. The remains of a Mesolithic elk found caught in a bog at Poulton-le-Fylde in Lancashire show that it had been wounded by hunters and escaped on three occasions, indicating hunting during the Mesolithic. A few Neolithic monuments overlie Mesolithic sites but little continuity can be demonstrated. Farming of crops and domestic animals was adopted in Britain around 4500 BC, at least partly because of the need for reliable food sources. The climate had been warming since the later Mesolithic and continued to improve, replacing the earlier pine forests with woodland. We were settling down and planned to stay!
This week…picture the scene. Some years ago I was in a shop in Peterborough, standing at a counter with my arms at my side. As I looked at a few items, I felt a little hand creep into mine. I’ve never had any children of my own, so I slowly looked down. I saw a young child look up at me and realise they’d got hold of the wrong person! The child’s mum and dad were standing nearby, chuckling and the dad called to the child who let go of me and ran over to their dad, who was wearing the same style and colour coat that I was. They’ll tell that tale in years to come, I’m sure!
But I end on a sad note, the passing away yesterday of Queen Elizabeth II. She gave us her whole life, may she now rest in peace with her beloved Philip. R.i.P.
I have said in a previous blog post that although I was born in London, we as a family moved to a town where Dad had managed to get a job as a teacher. Over the years we lived in the town he was also involved with various things there, he was scoutmaster for the local troop and was actively involved at our local church, which was St. Mary’s.
For a while we lived near to the church and apparently I was a little scared of the sound of the church bells, but I was very young at the time. Then I learned that Dad was a bellringer and as soon as I knew my Dad was helping to make the noise of the bells, I was happy. Dad sang in the choir and later he was choirmaster. He was also deputy organist and one of two churchwardens, one being the People’s warden and the other the Church warden, each with their own responsibilities. In addition, for a few years he was treasurer on the local Parochial Church Council (PCC) but as with so many of these volunteer organisations it seems that only a limited number of people ever want to get involved. So it was that after a number of years Dad decided enough was enough and someone else should take on the role of treasurer. I do think the old adage of ‘One volunteer is worth ten pressed men’ held true in this case! But in time, perhaps Dad felt he was being taken advantage of, also he wasn’t getting any younger in terms of job promotion. Apart from that, Mum and I were now working, not in the town but in the city a few miles away. So it was that one year Dad told everyone at the PCC’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) that he would be standing down the following year as treasurer and they now had twelve months to get a replacement who he would be more than happy to train as much as might be required, ready for handing over the books. Sadly however, despite him regularly reminding them and urging them to recruit a replacement in time for the next AGM, nobody did a single thing about it. So, true to his word, at that next AGM Dad brought all the books etc along and left them on the table. Despite protestations from other council members, even a plea from the vicar, my Dad stood firm. He had made it abundantly clear several times during that year what would happen and they were therefore left to resolve the problem of a new treasurer on their own. But it was no small effort for Dad to stand up to the rest of those PCC members. I have an idea that Dad had also set his eyes on getting more experience in a teaching job elsewhere, which later he did. We moved a few miles to the edge of the city and a bit later Dad got a job as deputy head at a school fairly near to where we were now living. He stayed there until he retired and he was due to finish in the December, but was able to stay on an extra term until the end of the school year, so the children didn’t get a different teacher for that one term. In my view it was the proper way of managing the changes the children would have in the following school year.
The above image is of the present Park Inn by Radisson hotel, with its entrance in Wentworth Street, Peterborough but it was originally built as Telephone House, with the the main entrance in Trinity Street. The original building was four and a half storeys high when I started work there in 1969, but it had one and a half floors added to it a few years later. The council then built Bourges Boulevard and part of that new road went straight across Trinity Street, cutting that old road in two. Quite why an underpass couldn’t have been built there I have no idea. At the time I started work, the site was also used by the Post Office as part of their sorting and delivery work but when separation came and Post Office Telephones became British Telecom, the postal side left. But then a little while later a major extension to the telephone exchange was built on the site and the exchange was joined to Telephone House. It must have caused the architects some work, as the two buildings had different levels and it meant quite a few different sets of stairs! But building Bourges Boulevard, putting an extension onto Telephone House and constructing a full extension to the existing telephone exchange were not the only major changes to Peterborough. It had been designated a ‘new town’ in 1967 and the Peterborough Development Corporation decided to construct a new, purpose-built shopping centre in the heart of the city. Planning permission was received in the late summer of 1976 and in November the retailer John Lewis Partnership announced that it had agreed to be the anchor shop in the new development. The opening of the store in Peterborough marked the company’s return to the city after an absence of over twenty-five years. Sadly however, John Lewis announced the permanent closure of the store in April 2021, leaving the centre without its main anchor tenant. Today there are still two other anchor tenants such as M&S and the Boots company which are still open, soon there will be a new anchor for the centre and that will be the much anticipated Empire Cinemas which will open as part of the £60million extension to the mall, this will also include a new food court and several new stores, whose names, so far as I know, are yet to be announced.
In 2011, a £20 million revamp to Queensgate was undertaken, which included the clothing retailer Primark taking over several units and an extension to replace the units taken over. Changes to the large multi-storey car park removed references to local historical figures, these being Edith Cavell, Frank Perkins, Henry Royce and John Clare in favour of a colour-coded system, but I have an idea there were some serious complaints at this because the names were subsequently reinstated and paired with the new colour system. Paten Bridge, which crosses Bourges Boulevard (the A15), links Queensgate to the station quarter, which includes a new full sized Waitrose supermarket with a coffee shop and restaurant, built in 2014 on the site of the former Royal Mail sorting office. In 2018 some areas were re-paved and a number of shop fronts were updated. There has been discussion on covering the entire street with a glass roof, but so far as I know, the plans have not been finalised. In 2015, a detailed planning application for a £30 million enhancement of the centre was submitted to Peterborough City Council as the plan was to create a 77,000 square feet (7,153 square metre) extension in partnership with John Lewis, but which has since permanently closed. The development was to include a restaurant hub and a multi-screen digital cinema. Planning permission was granted and work was scheduled to start in 2019, also tenders for the cinema and the food hall were allocated. In early 2020 McLaren Construction Group landed the contract to build the 77,000 square foot extension, work quickly began on the site compounds which resulted in half of the bus station being closed temporarily and relocated to the Coach Park just behind The Brewery Tap. Before work could fully get underway, due to the Coronavirus pandemic work ground to a halt whilst everyone in the building trade found out where they stood, but after guidelines and measures were put in place work quickly resumed on site with cranes and scaffolding being erected to provide material and personnel access to the roof. In preparation of the extension John Lewis carried out a £21 million refurbishment project on their anchor store in the centre, part of their project involved giving up around 60,000 square feet of retail space to make way for the construction for four new retail units, three of which would have two floors. Next expressed an interest in moving into one of the store which was rumoured to be a 32,000 square foot retail unit directly opposite H&M, however Next closed its Queensgate store in April 2021, and is unlikely to consider a return to the centre. TK Maxx have announced they will be giving up their current store in Bridge Street to move into a vacant unit, on the upper ground floor of the Central Square. It is a forever changing world!
Back in 1969, when I first joined what was originally Post Office Telephones, later British Telecom (BT), I had been asked if I intended to make BT my career, which I did. I learned that experience in the company was useful for promotion as well as, shall we say a ‘degree of flexibility’. That was certainly true at times, especially as I had started at sixteen, straight from school. I learned much about people and whilst most were kind or at the very least friendly, others were not, in fact one or two were not good people at all in my opinion. It meant having to adapt, also sadly if ‘your face didn’t fit’ as the old saying is, things could be quite difficult. Also the changing attitudes by managers was not easy to accept at times. So when a promotion opportunity came that involved me moving to Leicester, my Dad actually urged me to go, not in an unkind way but because he knew it would be good for me. So I went and it was – good for me, that is. Over the years further changes within the company meant I was working in such places as Nottingham, Birmingham, Sheffield and Manchester. But in time, work finally led me back to Leicester. Back when I was sixteen, I was learning about the offices, telephone exchanges and other buildings that BT used. There was the maintenance and cleaning of them, the household stores required, we also had the local telephone exchange with all the amazing equipment needed, but which still had a very old-style lift with a heavy manual doors. Not like the modern automatic ones of today! There was a large canteen on the third floor. So I got to see all that, also the large room where the ‘100’ and ‘999’ telephone operators worked. Pretty girls, most of them but they were all kept under strict supervision. It was all very different from school! A few years later I was moved into the accounts department, where I saw how the telephone bills were collated and produced, then a few years later I went on to the telephone directory compilation team, manually filling in the cards used by a computer which then collated all of the entries ready for printing the directories. It has all changed now of course. But this was where I got my first introduction to computers, in particular I realised how accurate one has to be when inputting data to them. I had said how I’d wanted BT to be my career and after a year or so I was advised that I’d be moving to the Sales department. I must say at this point that in the other offices I’d worked in, it was, generally, fairly quiet. But in this Sales office, it seemed like everyone was working at three times the speed of any other, folk were multitasking, everything was a blur to begin with. But I soon got used to it. I enjoyed the work, also with each move to a different group or department I was getting more and more experience in the company as a whole. In addition, I became more interested in the deeper world of computers and much of the associated programming which I was doing as a hobby at home! So it was that I got the opportunity to actually do some limited amounts of programming, I was also doing checks on new software prior to it being distributed generally, looking to ensure there were no errors. I did find occasional ones, not many though. This helped when it came to training others in the use of the new software which I and a few others did. What amused me was that a further reorganisation in the company had brought me back to Leicester, where I began training and working with some of the people I had worked with many years before. I was also able to make my mother laugh when I told her of that move as I was teaching people about using computers and she recalled the time when I was just sixteen, still at school and looking for a job, because I had applied for one with an engineering company in Peterborough as a computer operator. I’d been turned down because they said that I had no aptitude for working with computers! Yet here I was, years later teaching computer skills. But things change and BT were cutting back, so when they made me an offer I could not refuse I went. I had been with them thirty-eight years! After some additional teacher training I started my own small business, teaching basic computer skills and photography, as the latter was a hobby I was keen on. I had been used to using ‘film’ cameras, yet here I was now able to take photographs, view them instantly and then use computer software to enhance and crop them before using the Internet to share them with others.
We all go through different changes in our lives, I know that I have had to adapt to the changes around me, though I don’t think my personal outlook on life has altered too much overall. But I have definitely learned a great deal. I have learned that there is a need in adjusting to changes that are around us, but I have been told that I seem to see a silver lining in every cloud. Most of the time I do, but be assured that there have been just a few occasions when I haven’t been happy with how my life has been. It is then that I have found a change to be more than just a good idea, but absolutely necessary. It has meant not seeing some people very often, if at all in some cases and it has meant accepting some changes too, but change is often not simply a good idea, but absolutely necessary.
This week… “Said Harriet to Ophelia, I shall draw a sketch of thee! What kind of pencil shall I use, 2B or not 2B!!!” ~ Spike Milligan
It is true that as this Earth turns, every day is new. But certain things occur regularly, often with the seasons. So whilst we have a pretty good idea when some events will happen, a great many others are simply beyond us to forecast them. We do know that rain will fall, but not always when or where we want! We have all the modern forecasting, we also have quite sophisticated equipment that help us to predict earthquakes and the tsunamis which can be created as a result, but that is pretty much all we can do with those, which is to be prepared. Our clocks show us the passage of time, we are born, we live and hopefully we learn, then we pass away. My dear Dad passed away in 1989, shortly before his seventieth birthday. Mum did very well, despite being badly injured during World War II. She passed away in 2016, aged ninety-five! But Dad was a heavy smoker for many years and cancer got him. Dad was a schoolteacher in Whittlesey, he was deputy organist and choirmaster at our local church for many years. So for me, music has always been part of my life and it has been a real inspiration to me for as long as I can remember. I am told that even before I was born, whilst my mother was carrying me she was always singing as she was so happy. I’ve said before about church organ music and there were times, especially when things weren’t going too well for me, I would go into Peterborough cathedral and often find an organist playing, perhaps practicing for a service or concert. I would attend organ concerts, not all were to my taste in music but I enjoyed them. I also sang in a few different choirs, one was the Gildenburgh choir in Peterborough and for a time the choirmaster was Andrew Newberry, who was also the deputy organist at the same cathedral. One particular person I first heard at a concert there was an American named Carlo Curley. He was an organist, not resident at any particular church but would travel around the world, giving concert performances in cathedrals, churches, concert halls, wherever and he had a very ‘outgoing’ personality.
Carlo James Curley (August 24, 1952 – August 11, 2012) was an American classical concert organist who was born into a musical family in Monroe, North Carolina, USA and attended the North Carolina School of the Arts. By the age of 15 he was organist at a large Baptist church in Atlanta, Georgia, subsequently studying with some brilliant organists. His long-time friend and confidant Robert Noehren was another noted influence. At 18, Carlo was Director of Music at Girard College in Philadelphia and he developed his performance style in the manner of Virgil Fox, wanting to make classical organ music popular to a wider audience. He did this by including his arrangements and transcriptions of pieces from other classical genres. He was the resident organist at the Alexandra Palace, London in the 1970s and was the first classical organist to perform a solo organ recital at the White House, Washington for the U.S. President Jimmy Carter. He played before several European heads of state and toured extensively throughout the world, earning the marketing nickname ‘the Pavarotti of the Organ’, he was also one of only a few concert organists worldwide who supported themselves exclusively by giving recitals, concerts and master classes without any supplement from teaching or church position. Carlo toured extensively throughout the world, and had a large and loyal following. The Carlo Curley Concert Circle, based in the UK, was formed and numerous trips were organised with him throughout England and abroad. I was privileged to have been part of that following and went on several special trips for members of this Concert Circle. These were usually weekends away, we would stay in hotels and have private concerts and guided tours around different cathedrals or churches like Peterborough, Southwell Minster, York, Birmingham, Lincoln and Westminster Abbey to name but a few. Carlo also did a concert at the church in Attleborough in Norfolk, which was right next to where my late mother lived. This meant she was actually able to meet him personally and that delighted her, as I had spoken with her about him a few times. Carlo Curley also used a substantial Allen touring organ, especially where the venue lacked an instrument of sufficient scope to support his repertoire. He recorded commercially for various record labels, he participated in several concerts with other organists and his final such concert was in June 2012 at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral with his friend Ian Tracey using a Copeman Hart instrument. He served as patron for numerous music societies as well as for the newly formed British Academy of Music, he was involved in organ design as well as their construction and he served as advisor to numerous clients, including Melbourne City Council in Australia and The Cube, Shiroishi in Japan. His autobiography ‘In The Pipeline’ was published by HarperCollins in 1998. One of his Allen organs is now used in the Cathedral of St Michael and St George in Aldershot in the UK. A life-long bachelor, Carlo Curley died on 11 August 2012 aged 59 in Melton Mowbray, where he lived for a number of years. His ashes are interred in the grounds of Pershore Abbey in Worcestershire. Carlo was actually born in North America, he travelled the world but chose to live in the relative peace and quiet of Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, England. I myself have many memories of that town and I still have friends there. It is a lovely town, good people and a beautiful church with a delightful organ and I have been to quite a few concerts there too. In addition, not far away is a place where they refurbish and rebuild church organs with great skill. It was fascinating to watch, but then I have always been amazed at the skill some people have, whether it be building or repairing items.
Here in the UK we have recently had the Commonwealth Games and as with almost all sports there is the need, the urge to win, whether as part of a team or as individuals. I think these Games showed this up very well. Whether it is in sports or in life generally, some simply want to be the best and if done in a positive way that is no bad thing as it can motivate others to try harder. But sadly, some do so in a very negative way, selfishly putting others down, perhaps to prove something to themselves. In some cases they can also mar or even destroy the lives of others in their attempt to do this. I have noticed how many spend their lives following the same routines, doing the same thing day-in day-out, even going to the same places for refreshment or relaxation, never wanting to ever try something new. Such people also often find it difficult to cope with a change that is outside their control, but in this ever-changing world it is better if we can adapt to change. Some years ago I learned that the man who had been the headmaster at my old school had passed away. He had been quite active in the town all his life, but when he reached sixty-five he had to retire and sadly less than two years later his life ended. So it is perhaps a gentle reminder that, at the end of the day, we all go the same way. Also, as life passes by we cannot remain as we once were, but happily many then find other outlets for their skills, perhaps by teaching others so that their skills are passed on. I was told a delightful saying recently which was “Shrouds have no Pockets”, meaning that worldly wealth cannot be kept and used after death. It comes, according to the Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, from the mid-19th century.
I have said before about parents and grandparents saying how “It wasn’t like that in our day” and nor is it. What amuses me is that as I reach that same age, I begin to echo those same words! But that is perhaps how it ought to be, as we strive to better ourselves. I have written about different technologies, like cameras, computers, all things that the younger generation nowadays take for granted but when I was younger I was just the same. Many good things can and do come from these changes in technology, in our knowledge, in fact through so many things, but we can all too easily forget the basics. Sometimes the simplest of things are in fact the best! I am reminded of the time some years ago when I was walking past a colleague’s desk at work and they said, in an exasperated tone of voice, “Stupid computer, I can’t find anything I need!” So I stopped and politely enquired what the problem was. I learned that they were looking for a particular telephone number, so I said “That’s no problem”, at which point they said in the same exasperated tone, “If you’re so clever, you find it!”. So I ignored the computer and reached out for an old-style, printed telephone directory on my colleague’s desk. I quickly found the telephone number required and was grudgingly thanked, but to me it was no problem. I had been taught a similar lesson some years before, in that sometimes the ‘old’ ways are the simplest, as they can be the best. Once upon a time we humans all lived in caves, men hunted for food whilst their women bore children, they fed and cared for all the family. The idea of husband and wife, children, all living and working together became an integral part of human life for so many. I know that there have been wedding ceremonies for years, although it seems they are not universal to marriage and not necessary in most legal jurisdictions. They are not even universal within the Christian marriage, as Eastern Christians do not have marriage vows in their traditional wedding ceremonies. I am most used to hearing the marriage vows which are promises each partner in a couple make in turn to the other during a wedding ceremony which is based upon Western Christian traditions. That is because I have sung in a few different church choirs and so have heard the following words a great many times. But over time, these words have been altered a little. When I was a lad, the words that the bride and groom said either to other were:
“I, (forenames), take thee, (forenames), to be my lawfully wedded wife/husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish and to obey, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I plight/give thee my troth”.
Here the groom makes a promise (plight thee my troth) to his bride and in reply the bride accepts the promise and returns it (give thee my troth). But in time it was amended, a few words modernised and in later versions the word ‘obey’ was dropped, whilst ‘holy ordinance’ was replaced by ‘holy law’. As I have said on a few occasions now, things change and will continue to do so. A long time ago we used to kill with rocks, then swords, then guns and other weapons were invented. We saw birds flying and wanted to do the same, so now we have aircraft and much more. At one time it was more usual for human males to go hunting for food whilst the females cared for the children. But not all species live that way and as we know, things change. Men and women have worked to design, build and maintain a great many things together, although this has not always been recognised immediately. But even now, there are still those people who continue to ask “Why should I be the one to change?”. They want to carry on in their own ways, they expect those around them to adapt to them, but that isn’t always the best way to survive. There have been a few people I’ve known who refused to change, to adapt, perhaps because of how they were treated. Sadly a number of them are no longer alive now. But I am reminded of some good, thoughtful words spoken by Srinivas Arka, an Indian Guru I know, which are, “Our future depends mainly on the way we think at present. To change our lives, we must change the way we think”. I have seen this to be true, I have learned of this adaptation in other creatures on Earth too, for example polar bears who, finding their world was being taken over by us humans, adapted. They found food from wherever they could and they continue to survive. We too must adapt and adjust so that we may survive. The ones who cannot or perhaps will not change? Some refer to them as dinosaurs, but that isn’t fair on those creatures who lived so long ago, as evidence suggests an asteroid impact was the main culprit of their downfall. Volcanic eruptions that caused large-scale climate change may also have been involved, together with more gradual changes to Earth’s climate that happened over millions of years. Some folk are just stubborn and will not change their ways!
It is around this particular time of year that I especially recall memories of people not now with us, also places I have been to and know well. I do not dwell on these memories, but remember them, mainly with happiness. We all have our own, special, individual thoughts and memories. I wrote last week about the lovely, unexpected trip to the seaside and I can still recall the sea air, the soft sand, fresh fish & chips and that lovely ice cream! Yes, my legs ached afterwards but it was worth it. People come and go, places may not be as easily reached but memories, for most, linger on. I look to the future and wonder – where to next?
This week… A word of warning. Never get stuck behind Satan in the queue at a Post Office. For the devil takes many forms…
I had set an alarm for 6:00am and that did in fact work, but a Carer also made sure I was awake. I began my day as usual and was ready in good time. I sent greetings to a few folk as always, but it had to be a short message this time before I went down for my breakfast and tablets. We were all ready at the planned time and we made our way onto the little bus we would be going on for our trip out. I was interested to see what route we might take, but it was soon clear we would go east and over to Peterborough, then north to Boston and east once again to our destination, Skegness. Having worked for British Telecom in their Peterborough Telephone Area, I knew the general locations of telephone exchanges and main buildings in that area. I couldn’t tell you now where all of them were, but I still recall many! So we made our way along the A47 and were soon on the outskirts of Peterborough. Then it was up the A16 past Crowland and Spalding to Boston, where we turned right onto the A52 to Skegness. Our bus driver, with his customary sense of humour, joked about us having “a quick drive along the sea front and then heading home!”. He made sure we knew he was joking. We parked up and all began a slow, easy walk towards the beach. One inmate was in a wheelchair and the Carers, including the bus driver, took turns in pushing that. We were all kept together, there were several Carers and it was neatly done. It was a glorious, sunny day to be at the seaside, beside the sea! When it became clear we all needed a rest, a nearby cafe was visited and that suited me. Soft drinks were organised, I got my usual black tea with one sugar and it was just right. I noticed that we were near to the lifeboat station, so I took a photo of that.
This lifeboat station is now located on Skegness seafront. This area of the British coastline is characterised by many shoals as well as constantly changing sandbanks, many of which lie between the town and the East Dudgeon Lightship. The building dates from 1990 and was the first in the British Isles constructed especially for a Mersey-class lifeboat. The boathouse also accommodates an inshore lifeboat and a souvenir shop. But the first lifeboat service in Skegness was organised by the Lincolnshire Coast Shipwreck Association who placed a lifeboat at the Gibraltar Point coastguard station. In 1859 the lifeboat and boathouse was moved from Gibraltar Point to a position in Skegness, among sand dunes to a location now called Lifeboat Avenue. The station was taken under the control of the RNLI in 1864 who had a new boathouse constructed. The location of this first RNLI station was close to the original station but is now a privately owned dwelling. The RNLI built another boathouse in 1892, located on South Parade in Skegness to the south of the clock tower. This boathouse had access doors for the lifeboat at either end of the building and there was also a watch room constructed on the first floor. This station was in use until 1990 when it was sold to a private buyer. The RNLI placed an inshore lifeboat (ILB) at Skegness in May 1964. The ILB was kept in a small house close to the main beach until it was moved in 1990 to the new lifeboat station on the Tower Esplanade. Then in 1990 it was decided that offshore health and safety cover for this area of the Lincolnshire coast would be greatly improved with the placing of a Mersey-class all-weather lifeboat at Skegness. To accommodate the new lifeboat a new, purpose-made station was constructed for the Mersey-class lifeboat on the Tower Esplanade. The ILB was placed within the same building as well as improved crew and equipment facilities. The place also included a souvenir shop to help with branch fund raising. Then on 20 May 2016, the Skegness ‘D’-class lifeboat, RNLB ‘Peterborough Beer Festival IV’ was taking part in a search for a missing person when a fire started on board. The fire spread rapidly, and after issuing a mayday call, the crew abandoned the vessel, swimming 200-yards (180 metres) to shore whilst the lifeboat sank. The RNLI started recovery operations, but the damage was severe. In May 2017, the Shannon-class ‘Joel and April Grunnill’ officially replaced the Mersey-class ‘Lincolnshire Poacher’. The new lifeboat cost £2.2 million, she was launched at Poole on 9 September 2016, then delivered to Skegness on 28 January 2017 and officially named on 27 May 2017. Funding came from the legacy of Joel Grunnill and a donation from his cousin April Grunnill, both of whom had been volunteers with the station. In 2019, D-class lifeboat ‘The Holland Family’ was donated by Robert Holland, in honour of his parents and wider family, who have been long-term volunteers at the station.
Now, back to our visit. After a break we all walked on a bit more and onto the beach. I had never walked on soft sand whilst using a walking stick, it took some getting used to! A few inmates wanted to go down to the water’s edge, so naturally some Carers went with them whilst the rest of us, inmates and Carers, sat watching. After a while they returned and we went to a nearby fish & chip place, food was organised and a further drink. My scalp was getting a bit sunburned but I got a hat. The cost of everything was all sorted by the Care Home. As you might expect at this popular seaside town, there were donkey rides and a few inmates wanted photos of themselves next to the donkeys, though nobody was allowed to have a ride. I must say that the people managing the donkeys were very accommodating and there were no difficulties. The donkeys travelled in a specially designed lorry and our bus driver jokingly said about going home in the back of that! Nobody wanted to though… So we slowly headed back towards the shops, but by now my legs were giving out, this was the furthest I had walked in a good few years, so I sat on a low wall and chatted to the bus driver. Meanwhile the other inmates, again accompanied by Carers, had a look in a few shops. At no time were any of us left unattended, but with one person in a wheelchair and another using a walking frame, also some were looking at different things along the way, it took a while to keep us all together. So at times, to the Carers it must have felt like they were herding cats! But it all went well. A further walk resulted in an ice cream each and I sat chatting to some other people who were also there for the day. Then it was a visit to facilities and a return to the bus. It was now 3:30pm or so, which I thought was good. We had a fairly easy journey back, a friend of mine had sent me a text earlier saying they wished it would rain and sure enough it did, as we were between Skegness and Boston. We had just missed it! Our route back to Leicester was exactly the the reverse of the way we had come, via Boston and Spalding, so once we got as far as Peterborough to me that meant we were almost back! The driver had estimated to be at the Care Home for 6:15pm and that is exactly when we arrived. I returned to my room and was warmly greeted by a Carer who asked how the day had been. I told him it had been great, I’d enjoyed it but my legs were aching now as I’d not walked that far or for so long in a few years, having been first in hospital and then in Care Homes for over two years. I’d also had to learn to walk again over those two years and now I was doing so, aided by a single stick instead of a walking frame. I had been out in the big wide world again, mixing with people, something I hadn’t done for quite a while. I think we can sometimes forget that aspect of life. So for me it was a bit emotional, but I had done it. I’d had a good day out.
This week… A short, ‘fun’ version of the above: Escape Attempt No. 300. The other day I and a few others finally managed to get out. We even made it to Skegness. I thought we had fooled a few Carers into coming with us, but they were too clever. They stayed with us, made sure we were fed and watered in the sunshine then brought us back. My scalp got a bit sunburned but I got a hat. At times it was difficult for the Carers, I think they must have thought they were herding cats! I was tired, my legs ached afterwards but I’m glad I made the effort. It was a good day out.
We should all be used to sending and receiving items ‘by post’ but, as with so many things in this world, there is change and our postal service is no exception. It is known today as Royal Mail Group Ltd and is a British multinational postal service as well as a courier company.
In England, a monarch’s letters to their subjects are known to have been carried by relays of couriers as long ago as the 15th century. The earliest mention of ‘Master of the Posts’ is in the ‘King’s Book of Payments’ where a payment of £100 was authorised for a Master of the Posts in February 1512 and it was then established in 1516 as a government department, so belatedly in 1517 the office of ‘Governor of the King’s Posts’ was officially appointed as the role actually was when King Henry VIII officially established it. Then in 1603 King James VI moved his court to London and upon his accession to the throne of England at the Union of the Crowns, one of his first acts was to establish the royal postal service between London and Edinburgh in an attempt to retain control over the Scottish Privy Council. In 1609 it was decreed that letters could only be carried and delivered by persons authorised by the Master of the Posts. The Royal Mail service was first made available to the public by King Charles I on 31 July 1635, interestingly with postage being paid by the recipient. The monopoly was farmed out to Thomas Witherings, an English merchant and postal administrator who then established the Royal Mail public letter service. He was a politician who sat in the House of Commons in 1640 but for some reason, in the 1640s Parliament removed the monopoly from Witherings. So during the time that England and Wales (later along with Ireland and Scotland) were governed as a republic until the execution of King Charles I, the parliamentary postal service was run by Edmund Prideaux, a prominent parliamentarian and lawyer who rose to be attorney-general at great profit for himself. To keep his monopoly in those troubled times, Prideaux improved efficiency and used both legal impediments and illegal methods. In 1653, Parliament set aside all previous grants for postal services, with contracts then given for the inland and foreign mails to John Manley, which gave him a monopoly on the postal service and was effectively enforced by Protector Oliver Cromwell’s government, but thanks to the improvements necessitated by the war Manley ran a much improved Post Office service. In July 1655, the Post Office was put under the direct government control of John Thurloe, a Secretary of State best known to history as Cromwell’s spymaster general and he became ‘Master of the Posts’. Previous English governments had tried to prevent conspirators communicating with each other, but Thurloe preferred to deliver their post having surreptitiously read it. As the Protectorate claimed to govern all of Great Britain and Ireland under one unified government, on 9 June 1657 the Second Protectorate Parliament (which included Scottish and Irish MPs) passed the ‘Act for Settling the Postage in England, Scotland and Ireland’, which created one monopoly Post Office for the whole territory of the Commonwealth and Thurloe’s spies were therefore able to intercept mail, and he exposed Edward Sexby’s 1657 plot to assassinate Cromwell, capturing would-be assassin Miles Sindercombe and his group. Ironically, Thurloe’s own department was also infiltrated as his secretary Samuel Morland became a Royalist agent and in 1659 alleged that Thurloe, Richard Cromwell and Sir Richard Willis – a Sealed Knot member turned Cromwell agent – were plotting to kill the future King Charles II. About forty years after his death, a false ceiling was found in his rooms at Lincoln’s Inn, the space was full of letters seized during his occupation of the office of Master of the Posts. These letters are now at the Bodleian Library. As a quick aside to this, I have learned that Lincoln’s Inn has quite a history to it and The Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn is one of the four Inns of Court in London to which barristers of England and Wales belong and where they are ‘Called to the Bar’. The other three are Middle Temple, Inner Temple and Gray’s Inn. Lincoln’s Inn, along with the three other Inns of Court, is recognised as being one of the world’s most prestigious professional bodies of judges and lawyers. Incidentally, the term ‘call to the bar’ has nothing to do with alcohol, it is a legal term in most common law jurisdictions where persons must be qualified to be allowed to argue in court on behalf of another party. The ‘bar’ is used as a collective noun for barristers, but literally referred to the wooden barrier in old courtrooms, which separated the often crowded public area at the rear from the space near the judges reserved for those having business with the court. Barristers would sit or stand immediately behind it, facing the judge, and could use it as a table for their work. In 1657 an Act entitled ‘Postage of England, Scotland and Ireland Settled’ set up a system for the British Isles and enacted the position of Postmaster General. The Act also reasserted the postal monopoly for letter delivery and for post horses. Thurloe retained his position as Master of the Posts until he was accused of treason and arrested in May 1660. At the restoration of the monarchy in that year, all the ordinances and acts passed by parliaments during the Civil War and the Interregnum passed into oblivion, and so the General Letter Office, which would later become the General Post Office (GPO), was officially established by King Charles II. The first Postmaster General was appointed in 1661, and at first a seal was fixed to the mail.
Between 1719 and 1763, a postmaster at Bath signed a series of contracts with the post office to develop and expand Britain’s postal network. He organised Royal Mail coaches which were similar to ordinary family coaches, but with Post Office livery. The first one ran in 1784, operating between Bristol and London. Delivery staff received uniforms for the first time in 1793, and the Post Office Investigation Branch was established. The first mail train ran in 1830 on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway then the Post Office’s money order system was introduced in 1838.
In December 1839, the first substantial reform started when postage rates were revised. Rowland Hill, an English teacher, inventor and social reformer, became disillusioned with the postal service and wrote a paper proposing reforms that resulted in an approach that would go on to change not only the Royal Mail, but also be copied by postal services around world. His proposal was refused at the first attempt, but he overcame the political obstacles, and was appointed to implement and develop his ideas. He realised that many small purchases would fund the organisation and implemented this by changing it from a receiver-pays to a sender-pays system. This was used as the model for other postal services around the world, but has also spilled over to the modern-day crowd-funding approach. It meant that greater changes took place when the Uniform Penny Post was introduced on 10 January 1840, whereby a single rate for delivery anywhere in Great Britain and Ireland was pre-paid by the sender. A few months later, to certify that postage had been paid on a letter, the sender could affix the first adhesive postage stamp, the Penny Black, which was available for use from 6 May that same year. Other innovations were the introduction of pre-paid postal stationery, letter sheets and envelopes. As Britain was the first country to issue prepaid postage stamps, British stamps are the only stamps that do not bear the name of the country of issue on them. By the late 19th century, there were between six and twelve mail deliveries per day in London, permitting correspondents to exchange multiple letters within a single day. The first test of the London Pneumatic Despatch Company was made in 1863, sending mail by underground rail between postal depots. The Post Office began its telegraph service in 1870.
The first Post Office pillar box was erected back in 1852 in Jersey, they were then introduced into mainland Britain the following year. British pillar boxes traditionally carry the Latin initials of the reigning monarch at the time of their installation, for example: ‘VR for Victoria Regina or ‘GR’ for Georgius Rex. Such branding is not used in Scotland, due to a dispute over the current monarch’s title, because some Scottish nationalists argue that Queen Elizabeth II should have simply been Queen Elizabeth, as there had been no previous Queen Elizabeth of Scotland or of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Elizabeth I was only Queen of the pre-1707 Kingdom of England. The dispute involved vandalism and attacks on pillar and post boxes introduced in Scotland which displayed EIIR. To avoid the issue, pillar boxes in Scotland are therefore either marked ‘Post Office’ or use the Scots Crown. A national telephone service was opened by the Post Office in 1912 and in 1919, the first international airmail service was developed by Royal Engineers (Postal Section) and the Royal Air Force. The London Post Office Railway was opened in 1927 and in 1941 an ‘airgraph’ service was introduced between UK and Egypt. Over the next four years this service was extended to Canada, East Africa, Burma, India, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Ceylon and Italy. Then under the Post Office Act 1969, the General Post Office was changed from a government department to a statutory corporation, known simply as the Post Office. The office of Postmaster General was abolished and replaced with the positions of chairman and chief executive in the new company. A two-class postal system was introduced in 1968, using first-class and second-class services. The Post Office also opened the National Giro Bank that same year. Postcodes were extended across Great Britain and Northern Ireland between 1959 and 1974. Royal Mail established Romec (Royal Mail Engineering & Construction) in 1989 to deliver facilities maintenance services to its business. British Telecom was separated from the Post Office in 1980 and emerged as an independent business in 1981. Girobank was sold to the Alliance & Leicester in 1990, and Royal Mail Parcels was rebranded as Parcelforce. The remaining business continued under public ownership, as privatisation of this was deemed to be too unpopular. However, in the 1990s, the then President of the Board of Trade began investigating a possible sale, and eventually a Green Paper on Postal Reform was published in May 1994, outlining various options for privatisation. The ideas, however, proved controversial, and were dropped from the 1994 Queen’s Speech after a number of Conservative MPs warned that they would not vote for the legislation.
Then, after a change of government in 1997, the Labour government decided to keep the Post Office state-owned, but with more commercial freedom and this led to the Postal Services Act 2000. The company was then renamed Consignia Plc in 2001 and the new name was intended to show that the company did more than deliver mail, however the change was very unpopular with both the general public and employees. The Communication Workers Union (CWU) boycotted the name, and the following year it was announced that the company would be renamed Royal Mail Group plc. In 1999, Royal Mail launched a short-lived e-commerce venture, ViaCode Limited, aimed at providing encrypted online communications services but it failed to make a profit and closed in 2002. As part of the 2000 Act, the government had set up a postal regulator, the Postal Services Commission, known as Postcomm, which offered licences to private companies to deliver mail. In 2001 Postwatch was created for consumers to express any concerns they may have with the postal service in Britain. In 2004 the second daily delivery was scrapped in an effort to reduce costs and improve efficiency, meaning a later, single delivery would be made. That same year, the travelling post office mail trains were also axed. Then in 2005, Royal Mail signed a contract with GB Railfreight to operate an overnight rail service between London and Scotland which carried bulk mail but without any on-train sorting and this was later followed by a London-Newcastle service.
On 1 January 2006, the Royal Mail lost its 350-year monopoly, and the British postal market became fully open to competition. Competitors were allowed to collect and sort mail, and pass it to Royal Mail for delivery, a service known as ‘downstream access’. Royal Mail introduced Pricing in Proportion for first and second class inland mail, whereby prices are affected by the size as well as weight of items. It also introduced an online postage service, allowing customers to pay for postage online. In 2007, the Royal Mail Group plc became Royal Mail Group Ltd, in a slight change of legal status. Royal Mail ended Sunday collections from pillar boxes that year. On 1 October 2008, Postwatch was merged into the new consumer watchdog Consumer Focus. Also in 2008, due to a continuing fall in mail volumes, the government commissioned an independent review of the postal services sector by the former deputy chairman of Ofcom. The recommendations in the review led to the Business Secretary to seek to part-privatise the company by selling a minority stake to a commercial partner. However, despite legislation for the sale passing the House of Lords, it was abandoned in the House of Commons after strong opposition from backbench Labour MPs. The government later cited the difficult economic conditions for the reason behind the retreat. On 6 December 2010, a number of paid-for services including Admail, post office boxes and private post boxes were removed from the Inland Letter Post Scheme (ILPS) and became available under contract. Several free services, including petitions to parliament and the sovereign, and ‘poste restante’, were removed from the scheme. Following the 2010 general election, the new Business Secretary in the coalition government asked for an expansion on a previous report to account for EU Directive which called for the postal sector to be fully open to competition by 31 December 2012. Based on this review update, the government passed the Postal Services Act 2011 which allowed for up to 90% of Royal Mail to be privatised, with at least 10% of shares to be held by Royal Mail employees. As part of the 2011 Act, Postcomm was merged into the communications regulator Ofcom on 1 October 2011, with Ofcom introducing a new simplified set of regulations for postal services on 27 March 2012. On 31 March 2012, the Government took over the historic assets and liabilities of the Royal Mail pension scheme, relieving Royal Mail of its huge pensions deficit. On 1 April 2012, Post Office Ltd became independent of Royal Mail Group, and was reorganised to become a subsidiary of Royal Mail Holdings, with a separate management and board of directors and a ten-year inter-business agreement was signed between the two companies to allow Post Offices to continue issuing stamps and handling letters and parcels for Royal Mail. The Act also contained the option for Post Office Ltd to become a mutual organisation in the future. In July 2013 it was announced that Royal Mail was to be floated on the London Stock Exchange and that postal staff would be entitled to free shares. On 12 September 2013, a six-week plan for the sale of at least half of the business was released to the public, though the Communication Workers Union (CWU), representing over 100,000 Royal Mail employees, said that 96% of Royal Mail staff opposed the sell-off. A postal staff ballot in relation to a nationwide strike action was expected to take place in late September 2013. Applications for members of the public to buy shares opened on 27 September 2013, ahead of the company’s listing on the London Stock Exchange on 15 October 2013. The government was expected to retain between a 37.8% and 49.9% holding in the company. A report on 10 October 2013 revealed that around 700,000 applications for shares had been received by HM Government, more than seven times the amount that were available to the public. At the time of the report, Royal Mail staff continued to ballot regarding potential strike action. The initial public offering (IPO) price was set at 330p, and conditional trading in shares began on 11 October 2013, ahead of the full listing on 15 October 2013. Following the IPO, 52.2% of Royal Mail had been sold to investors, with 10% given to employees for free. Due to the high demand for shares, an additional 7.8% was sold via an over-allotment arrangement on 8 November 2013. This left the government with a 30% stake in Royal Mail and £1.98bn raised from the sale of shares. The CWU confirmed on 13 October 2013 that strike action would occur in response to the privatisation of Royal Mail but this was called off whilst negotiations took place and on 6 February 2014 the CWU confirmed that Royal Mail staff had voted to accept the settlement. Share prices rose by 38% on the first day of conditional trading, leading to accusations that the company had been undervalued. Six months later, the market price was 58% more than the sale price, and peaked as high as 87%. The Business Secretary defended the low sale price that was finalised, saying that the threat of strike action around the time of the sale meant it was a fair price in the circumstances following questioning from the House of Commons Business Committee in late April 2014. On 4 June 2015, the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated that the government would sell its remaining 30% stake. A 15% stake was subsequently sold to investors on 11 June 2015, raising £750m, with a further 1% passed to the company’s employees. The government completed the disposal of its shareholding on 12 October 2015, when a 13% stake was sold for £591m and another 1% was given to employees. In total the government raised £3.3bn from the full privatisation of Royal Mail. During its Annual General Meeting in 2022, the company announced that the holding company responsible for both Royal Mail and GLS would change its name to International Distribution Services. It was also suggested that the board of directors might look to separate GLS in order to distance the profitable company from Royal Mail, as they are currently in negotiations with the CWU over both pay and future changes to ways of working. It seems that some things never change, or perhaps some things always will. Either way, it is a good bit different to when it first started!
This week… Some folk just like to be awkward and seem to enjoy an argument. They may even try to be what they think is ‘clever’, so if someone says to them “May I ask you a question?”, they reply “You just did!”. Therefore I always start such conversations with the statement “I have a question for you”.
There is so much to see and write about in the United Kingdom! So I will now mention a bit more about North Devon, where some of our family, comprising parents, an elder brother and I had what I would call our first real holiday together. Dad had been involved with the scouts for many years, so the plan was to have a camping holiday. Dad found that there was a campsite at Steart Farm in North Devon, so in our 1937 Ford Eight we drove down there. I was probably about six years old. It took many hours to get from Peterborough to Steart Farm and on our first visit we found that you turned off the main A39 road and went down a fairly steep hill to the farmhouse and yard. Parts of the yard were a bit muddy in places but we saw it was quite easy to get through and up the other side to the where the caravans and tents were. The site consisted of two large fields, an upper and a lower, with all of the camping in the lower field and the caravans in the upper one. Except there had been heavy rain for a few days prior to our visit and the lower field was flooded, so camping was impossible. But the farmer had a few caravans in the upper field for folk to use and previous visitors had given up and gone home, so we used a caravan! We went back there a few times for holidays, including the time I happened to catch mumps and had to be kept isolated, much like the recent Covid-19. Then we found a place called Westward Ho! in our journeys round the area and saw a holiday camp with both caravans as well as small chalets with corrugated iron roofs that meant you could hear the birds walking across them in the early hours of the morning. During my recent research for this blog I came across the South West Coast Path Association and have included some information of a national trail walk which begins and ends at Steart Farm, near Bucks Mills and is around 3.9 miles (6.2 km) in length. It features woodland paths, wildflower meadows and glimpses of stunning sea views through a screen of ancient hanging oaks. The route visits the thatched thirteenth-century Hoops Inn, but you can take the short-cut to the Coast Path for a quicker stroll. To get to the start, buses do run regularly if required between Barnstaple and Kilkhampton, passing Steart Farm.
I never did this walk, but as a child I would regularly walk (with my parents of course!) along the main road from the farm to Bucks Cross and the shop, which also had a post office and a telephone box. As you can see from the map, it seems interesting as to begin with, you walk down through the campsite to pick up the signed footpath, going down the steps into the lower terrace of the Middle Burrows camping field. In the woods you then turn left at the waymarker, bearing right shortly afterwards when another path joins from the left. You follow the red waymarkers above the stream, to come out in Bucks Mills Woodland car park. Steart, Walland and Loggins Woods were purchased by the Woodland Trust in 1996, with help from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The woods are mostly broadleaved trees, including oak and beech, with some conifers which were planted more recently, mainly larch and sitka spruce. Over time the Trust aims to reduce the number of conifers and return the woodland to broadleaved species, both naturally and through a programme of planting. There are a number of tracks and paths through the woods, created to carry out forestry operations and the public are welcome to walk along them. Most of the houses in Bucks Mills were built at the beginning of the nineteenth century to accommodate workers on the Walland Cary estate, the manor to the west side of the village. The stream carries on down through the village and once powered the corn mill which gave the village its name. Going out onto the road you turn right, crossing the footbridge, to pick up the narrow footpath to the left of the house ahead. Behind the house the path turns to the right, climbing steadily through the wood and emerging in a meadow. You then follow the right-hand hedge and cross the stile at the far end, beside the barn, carrying on between the buildings at Lower Worthygate Farm to the farm drive. An area of woodland to the left of the path was given over to the Bodgers and Badgers woodland project in October 2000. The project is funded by the National Lottery through its Millennium Commission and the objective is to manage the woodland in line with the conservation strategies used in the neighbouring areas. Traditional skills and techniques are employed, such as coppicing, charcoal-burning and hurdle-making. Volunteers help restore neglected areas through tasks like cutting back hazel stools and erecting deer fencing. The aim is to develop the area as a woodland amenity as well as to encourage wildlife. Guided walks are provided, also flora and fauna surveys are carried out. It was first documented in 1600 that the area was wooded and since that time its oak trees have been used for producing tannin from the bark, charcoal for smelting and making gunpowder, timber for pit-props and shipbuilding (which is done at nearby Appledore) and more recently, for building and firewood. The practice of coppicing – cutting back new growth for commercial use while leaving the main stem to continue growing – means that a tree may live for several centuries. Some of the wildflowers here are only seen in ancient woodland, so look out for the delicate white flowers of wood sorrel, and the clusters of dainty yellow-green leaves of the opposite-leaved golden saxifrage. Watch out, too, for shy roe deer between the trees. For the short route, you turn left up the drive, turning left on the road beyond to join the main route at the footpath at 6 on the above map. To visit the Hoops Inn, on the longer route turn right on the drive to pick up the waymarked footpath leading from the bottom corner of the farm’s garden. The path follows the left-hand boundary of two fields to the road beyond. Turn right and drop down to the main road, turning left here to walk with care along the main road to the Hoops Inn. The A39 along the North Devon coast to Cornwall was named the Atlantic Highway in the 1990s as the name reflects the coastline’s strong ties with the Southern Railway’s ‘Atlantic Coast Express’, which ran daily from London Waterloo between 1926 and 1964. The road itself, travelling between Bideford and Bude, was built long before the arrival of motor vehicles and was the main coaching route into Cornwall from North Devon. The Hoops Inn was one of three coaching inns en route where horses were changed, the other two being the West Country Inn on Bursdon Moor, near Hartland, and in Kilkhampton. It would take all day to travel from Bideford into Bude, and the horses would be returned to the inns on the journey back. The Hoops Inn is a Grade II listed building for its many seventeenth century features, but the original building dates back to the thirteenth century. In Tudor times it was a popular meeting place for seafarers such as Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Richard Grenville. It was also known as a notorious smugglers’ haunt. Incidentally, a short distance further on from Hoops Inn is Horns Cross, with a small public house called the Coach and Horses, along with just a few houses. Opposite the pub is what used to be a garage but which is now just a repair centre for certain types of vehicle. In my young days it was a proper garage and petrol station and my dad had his car urgently repaired there, we also became friends with the owners of the place. But back to Hoops Inn. You can head through the archway to the car park, continue straight ahead uphill to go through the gateway at the top into the small field beyond. Then bear left in the field to cross the stile in the far left-hand corner, turning left on the footpath beyond to follow the left-hand hedge of the big field uphill to the road. Turning left on the road, walk past a little place called Sloo and then down to the sharp left-hand bend about half a mile beyond. You take the footpath on the outside of the bend and follow the green lane towards the coast, where it meets the South West Coast Path. Turn left and follow the Coast Path down into Bucks Mills village, coming out on the road a little way up from the beach. The oak woods along this part of the Coast Path are also very old. The remoteness of the location and the steep hillsides mean that they have survived the extensive felling which destroyed the greater part of the ancient forests that once covered the whole of Britain and like the rest of the area’s woodland, it supports a wide diversity of species with a large range of habitats being provided by the scrub, grassland and marsh elsewhere in the valley. As a result, the area is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and is particularly known for its rare lichens. The abundance of wildflowers, such as early purple orchid and marsh orchid, in turn attract butterflies. Here you can look out for the speckled orange-brown, pearl-bordered fritillary, and the well-camouflaged brown dingy skipper. Then turn left on the road and walk back to the woodland car park. Going into the car park, you can take the footpath in the far left-hand corner ahead of you, and follow it back up through the woods to Steart Farm. In my young days I never walked this path, but we often visited nearby Clovelly in order to get there one could either use the ‘main’ road or travel along, as I managed to persuade Dad to do once, the ‘Hobby Drive’. This was built between 1811 and 1829 by Sir James Hamlyn Williams, providing employment for Clovelly men after the Napoleonic wars. It was part of the Romantic movement, which celebrated the beauty of the natural world in response to the increasing emphasis placed on science and logic following the Industrial Revolution. In 1901 Frederick and Christine Hamlyn extended the drive by a further half a mile, making a three-mile carriage drive with breathtaking vistas high above the Atlantic. Over the years the estate has planted new trees in several areas along the drive as part of its woodland management plan, which aims to replace native deciduous trees as they die off, and in the last ten years some 2,500 saplings have been planted each year. In summer pheasant chicks are much in evidence on the lower slopes of the woodland, and pheasant shoots take place between November and January. Nearing the end of the drive you can either turn right to visit Clovelly village, or continue ahead to go straight to the visitor centre, where there is a cafe and a souvenir shop.
For four hundred years, from the fourteenth century to the eighteenth, the village of Clovelly belonged to the Carey family. Then in 1738 it was sold to Zachary Hamlyn, whose descendants have managed it ever since. Built into a cleft in a 400-foot cliff, the whitewashed cottages line a cobbled street which plunges straight down the hillside to the ancient working port below. Using traditional materials and craftsmanship, the family keeps the village in the style of the mid-nineteenth century, and donkeys are used to carry goods uphill, whilst sledges bring things down. From Elizabethan times Clovelly’s main livelihood was from fishing, mostly mackerel and herring, and this provided a prosperous living until the 1840s, when the shoals began to move away. Clovelly herrings were famous throughout the land and donkeys brought the catch uphill to be taken by train to London and the Home Counties. A good day’s catch sometimes amounted to as many as 9,000 herrings, and on one particularly good day 400 donkey-loads were brought in! Even now, fishing is still part of village life, and it is celebrated every autumn in the Herring Festival. The quay was first built in the thirteenth century and extended in Tudor times, then in 1826 the quay was lengthened. The four cannon barrels in use today as bollards are said to have come from the Spanish Armada. Clovelly is the only safe harbour between Appledore and Boscastle, and ships will sometimes wait in Clovelly Roads for storms to pass. Also, because of the number of ships that have been wrecked here, this part of the coast is known as the Iron Coast. This is as a result of the westerly winds rolling in over 3,000 miles of Atlantic Ocean, and the deadly fingers of rock lurking beneath the waves. As a result, Clovelly has had its own lifeboat since 1870. Beyond the lifeboat station is a coastal waterfall, one of several along this coastline. Unable to erode the hard rock over which they pass, the rivers here meet the sea high above the shore in ‘hanging valleys’, and the water tumbles over the cliffs to the beach below, so after heavy rainfall the torrent is quite dramatic. According to legend, the cave behind the waterfall was the birthplace of King Arthur’s magician, Merlin. One of the cottages on the street between ‘Upalong’ and ‘Downalong’ belonged to ‘Crazy Kate’ Lyall, who watched helplessly from her window as her fisherman husband drowned in the bay. It is said that, overwhelmed by her grief, one day in 1736 she put on her wedding dress and walked out into the sea to join him in his watery grave. Nearby is Kingsley Cottage and writer Charles Kingsley spent much time in Clovelly, his father having been rector here. Kingsley wrote his novel ‘Westward Ho!’ in the village, it was also his inspiration for the book ‘The Water Babies’.
Because of its rugged coastline, a short distance along from Clovelly is Hartland. There you will find a small village, also a quay and as you might expect, on the edge of the headland is Hartland Point, with its lighthouse. Many years ago I was on holiday with my parents and an older brother who happened to be driving us all back from a day out in Bude to where we were staying, when we saw what might be a lovely sunset. We drove to Hartland quay and sure enough, the sun was setting beautifully. I got my camera and began adjusting the settings, my brother began doing the same and dear dad simply took his camera out of its case, pointed it and took a photo. My brother and I were still fiddling with settings, focussing, whilst dad just looked at us. Can you guess who got the best photograph? You’re right, it was dad. Back then we were still using film, not the modern cameras of today so it wasn’t until after we returned home and the films were developed that we found out. We all had a laugh at the memory of that evening and the holidays we had. On one occasion we went to an air show at RAF Chivenor, an airbase near Barnstaple and I got the great opportunity for a flight in a helicopter there. I think it was a good excuse to keep me occupied as I had to queue for an hour or so just for a three-minute flight, whilst parents went off for a cuppa tea in a refreshment tent. Except my flight lasted a few minutes longer because the Red Arrows were doing part of their display, so I got to see more than I expected! RAF Chivenor was where some of the air-sea rescue helicopters flew from and I would often see them flying around and along the coast. But what really was entertaining was some years later when I moved to a house in Peterborough and was chatting to a new neighbour who I soon learned was in the Royal Air Force. It turned out that one of his good friends knew RAF Chivenor well and had worked on maintaining helicopters, though not at the time I visited. But it is surprising how people and events all link up over time. I have many good memories of Devon and Cornwall, it will always be a special area in this world for me.
This week… “Family isn’t always blood, it’s the people in your life who want you in theirs. The ones who accept you for who you are, the ones who would do anything to see you smile and who love you no matter what.” ~ Maya Angelou.
In this life as we know it, for millions of years there have been many changes, both here on Earth and in the much wider world. We cannot possibly fathom just how big everything is, or even how small. In my blog post last week I mentioned how I had seen the question “Why does modern science classify humans as animals, even though humans are clearly distinct and different from animals in many ways?” I responded appropriately as we most definitely are defined as human animals. As with all living things, we are born, we grow and we pass away. Many species care for their young. Some young are literally ‘kicked out’ when they reach a certain age and must fend for themselves. Others may stay with their families through several generations. There are those creatures in the world whose sole purpose is to bring the next generation into being and once that is done, they pass away. With some living things such as trees, if a major fire occurs then Nature ensures that the trees begin to grow once more. Some living things cannot survive under water for any length of time, whilst others spend their whole lives deep in the depths, coping with amazing pressures. For birds, the sky is not just an empty airspace, it is a place where they live, feed and mate. We had a few days of extremely hot weather recently, we did as much as we could to cope. I did very little except eat, sleep and take in fluids regularly. Happily it all settled down again and things went back to what is regarded as a more ‘normal’ state of affairs here in the UK. But a few years ago I was unable to use my car and there were some trees in the car park so I parked the car under one of them. A clever idea I thought, to park it there in the shade! Except it was a lime tree, and I soon discovered my mistake, because sap falls from lime trees during the summer months as a by-product of aphids feeding on the trees. As the sap is sticky, it isn’t a good thing to have on a car! But the tree did do well as a sunshade. Where I am living now there are many trees and in the recent heat they made the areas around them cooler than elsewhere. But it then took a while for that heat to dissipate from inside the building. This world continues to rotate and it is changing all the time, just as the living things upon it do as best they can, coping with the changes. I have said how many species no longer exist on Earth now, some through climate change, some through human intervention and some simply through natural evolution. Just from the hills and valleys in this country alone we can see how, very many years ago, ice covered much of the Earth. But in time all things change. For example, geologists have deduced that at one time there existed a natural dam that separated the North Sea from the English Channel, but this dam was catastrophically ruptured hundreds of thousands of years later in a two-stage process, ultimately setting Britain’s insular environment in stone. These scientists base their conclusions on a line of deep plunge pools (basins excavated by intense waterfalls) and a network of channels cut in the sea floor south-west of the ridge line. They believe that they were first formed some 450,000 years ago as a lake of glacial melt water to the north-east in the North Sea basin (the depression where the North Sea sits today, some of which was dry land back then) spilled over into what is today the English Channel. As well as that I have written previously about the Fen country, East Anglia and how all that was drained. I am glad that was done, as without them we wouldn’t have Hunstanton, Skegness, Cromer, all places like that! Mind you, I still have vivid memories of going on a school trip to Blakeney Point – we went there by boat and that was fine, but we had to trudge back through the muddy marshes – and guess who slipped over! I wasn’t the only one, but that is a ‘been there, done that’ for me – not again! It was, without doubt, an experience. I don’t think my dear mother was too happy seeing the state of me and my muddy clothes when I got home…
It can be hard to visualise some changes, yet they occur all the time. I like watching a few tv programmes, not all that many but I definitely do have ‘regular’ ones which pique my interest. ‘Homes under the Hammer’ is one of them and a good number of the properties that are up for auction aren’t in too bad a state of repair. But sadly some are really bad and at best are stripped back to bare brick and rebuilt, whilst a few are razed to the ground, cleared and built from scratch. So it amazes me how some people leave their homes, though I do realise some folk may not get a choice if they sadly pass away. These days it seems folk are going a fair distance to buy a property and this is often due to the relative costs of buying say, a three- bed house in South Wales as compared to a one-bed flat in South London. I appreciate it all depends on the condition, location, what the new owner has planned to do, like update and sell on or simply rent the place. The presenters on the tv programme are very keen to see that a purchaser has always done the ‘right’ thing, like viewing the property beforehand and they often stress the real importance of reading the legal pack on the property first. Sadly quite a few folk do not do their homework and find themselves faced with unexpected sellers fees! But on the other hand, others do quite well, bringing a place up to a good, modern standard. They have often given much thought to what they are doing and the results show that! I also like watching the tv show ‘Pointless’. In each episode four teams of two contestants attempt to find correct but obscure answers to four rounds of general knowledge questions, with the winning team then eligible to compete for the show’s cash jackpot which starts at £1,000. All questions used on the show are factual in nature, and are asked of a panel of a hundred individuals in a pre-conducted public survey. A correct answer scores one point for each survey subject who gave it, and the objective is to achieve as low a score as possible. ‘Pointless’ answers, which are the correct responses not given by anyone surveyed, score zero points and are the most desirable. Every pointless answer given during the main game increases the jackpot by £250, and the team that reaches the final round has three chances to win it by giving one such answer. Episodes are usually shown every weekday around 5:15pm and the game lasts forty-five minutes. In the final round of each episode, should a team fail to win the jackpot it is carried forward to the next one and a further £1,000 added to the jackpot. This means that a jackpot can rise and as of May 2022, the highest recorded jackpot won on the show was £24,750 which was won on 8 March 2013.
When I was a great deal younger we did not spend our time with computer games, they simply did not exist then. Many children played together in the street, also for a few years we lived in a cul-de-sac and in any case not every family had a car, also those that did usually parked theirs either in their garage or on the driveway. These garages were often made of asbestos, quite often with a corrugated iron roof. We always knew when one of our neighbours was off to work on his big 500cc motorbike, because of the loud ‘thump thump’ noise as it was started up! I recall buying sweet cigarettes which had a red tip on, so it looked like they were lit. We would ’smoke’ them and after a few ‘puffs’ we would eat them! They were probably on sale at the same time Superman was beating up Nick O’Teen on television advertisements on ITV! There were little cards in the sweets which we exchanged, there were Green Shield stamps to collect and I was given the honour of sticking these stamps in books, keeping a count of them, these were a British sales promotion scheme that rewarded shoppers with stamps that could be used to buy gifts from a catalogue or from any affiliated retailer. The scheme was introduced in 1958 by a Richard Tompkins, who had noticed the success of the long-established Sperry & Hutchinson Green Stamps in America. For just a few years, the scheme was so widely adopted that it was referenced in rock songs. But it suffered when Tesco ceased to use it as part of a price-cutting policy that became standard nationwide. To retain business, Green Shield allowed customers to buy gifts from the catalogue with a mix of stamps and cash, but soon the catalogue became cash-only, and the operation was re-branded as Argos. Stamps were withdrawn altogether in 1991 and the company entered voluntary liquidation in 2002. Michael Flanders makes reference to them in the opening patter to the Flanders and Swann song ‘Sounding Brass’ where he says, “We now turn to number two on your song sheets. Don’t strain your eyes trying to read them though, because I shall be telling you exactly what comes next. In any case, these rather fanciful titles that we print on the programmes bear no relation to what we’re going to sing. It’s a dead waste of a shilling, is what I say. You don’t even get green stamps. Well worth collecting, those stamps”. He then turns quickly to his colleague, the pianist Donald Swann and says “My goodness, you know that really is a very nice suit!” We would often sit on the kerb by the side of the road and play our games such as ‘Jacks’, a simple game using simple pieces. This game, or a variation of it, has been played for more than two thousand years. In texts left behind by the Greek philosopher, Sophocles, there is mention of the game being played around the time of the Trojan War, roughly 1190 B.C. and children across the world play some variation of the game even today. Modern Jacks evolved from a game that originally used pebbles or sheep knucklebones. The name derives from ‘chackstones’, meaning ‘stones to be tossed’. The knuckle, wrist, or ankle bones (astragals) of goats, sheep, or other animals have also been used in play. Such objects have been found in prehistoric caves in Kiev, Ukraine, and pictures of the game are depicted on jars from ancient Greece. Later, a wooden ball was substituted for one of the rocks or bones and the game became known as Five Stones. Eventually, a rubber ball was used in place of the wooden one. The knucklebones were replaced by small metal ‘jacks’, whose shape is said to resemble the original sheep knucklebones that were used and this gradual evolution has resulted in the modern game that is played today. Nowadays the game has one rubber ball and five 6-pronged metal jacks and is played by scattering the jacks on a flat surface. The ball is bounced using one hand and whilst the ball is in the air, a jack is picked up with the same hand. On the next bounce, two jacks are picked up, and so on. If that player misses, then it is the other player’s turn.
We also played the usual games like Cowboys and Indians, Hide and Seek and Tag, some of the girls played Hopscotch and Skipping, though after a while things could get noisy and we would be told, either by our parents or a neighbour, to quieten down as we were too noisy and this was often because a neighbour was sleeping as they were on a night shift. We also had other hobbies like stamp-collecting and quieter occupations like reading. I became interested in putting together Airfix kits, first with small aircraft and later larger models of sailing ships, using black cotton for the rigging. I even had one of the Saturn V rocket. The basic kits of aircraft like the World War I Sopwith Camel and the World War II Spitfire were all in 1/72 scale, but I was bought a Saturn V rocket which was 1/144 scale but was still large, and a few sailing ships like Endeavour and HMS Victory which were around 1/180 scale I think. These ships took ages to complete but had pride of place at home. As I grew older I moved away from such things but a couple of friends carried on with them, mainly of aircraft as they were now working in the RAF. But they took the skill to a much higher level as scale aircraft modellers, still putting the kits together but reading up on the aircraft they were putting together, making them as authentic as possible. I have seen how they created dioramas of battle scenes, with a great deal of intricate work. When I was at school there was a small brass band and I joined. I learned to play the cornet and later bought my own trumpet. There were around five of us in the brass band, we played for various school events, mainly at our school but we were invited to other local schools to play for them. On leaving school I joined a small orchestra which was good experience, I was also singing in a couple of choirs by then too. I even joined a local brass band, quite a large one, but I found that was too much so left playing the trumpet and carried on singing in choirs, which meant I went to quite a few famous places!
At work we had begun using computers, then a while later Sir Clive Sinclair began producing the small ‘home’ computer which I have mentioned in a previous blog post. So my first home computer was a Sinclair ZX81, which had just 1k of RAM memory and no hard drive storage. No screen, either – you connected it to a television and tuned a channel to it. I have said in an earlier writing about storing and retrieving data, it was fun though and I learned much. As the years passed, computers improved and I eventually bought what was a ‘proper’ computer, although nothing like what we have available nowadays. I did play different computer games, some which were quite easy and others, like role-playing ones, were relatively difficult and one could spend hours and hours on them! My job changed and I became a Trainer, then later ran my own small business where I was kept busy with teaching others the basics of computers and photography as well as then sharing photos with others. Now I am retired and smile when I wake up of a morning with just an occasional ache in my muscles, perhaps because the day before I had sat in a draught by an open window because of the hot weather. Why do I smile? Because as a youngster I would see my parents and grandparents take their time to move some mornings and I’d wonder why. I am now at the age they were and realise. So much has changed in these relatively short years! Things change all the time and often we don’t notice, but they do. But if we take care of ourselves and have a positive attitude, we can often live longer. Yes, in time we return to our base, “From dust we were formed and to dust we return”. It is a simple fact of life. But much of it is up to us. The other day I saw some lovely words:
Do not regret growing old, it’s a privilege denied to many. Growing old with beauty is growing old with heart, No remorse, no regret, no checking the time, Go forward, stop being afraid. Because with every age, happiness is attached. Ageing beautifully is growing old with your body, Keeping it healthy inside and beautiful outside. Never surrender to any effort. Age has nothing to do with death. Ageing gracefully is a boost To those who feel lost in the bush, Who no longer believes that life can be sweet And that there is always someone to the rescue. Ageing gracefully is all about ageing positively. Do not weep over memories of old times. Be proud to have white hair, Because, to be happy, we still have time. Ageing gracefully is ageing gracefully, Know how to give without expecting anything in return; For wherever we are, at the dawn of the day, Someone to tell hello. Growing old beautifully is growing old with hope; Being pleased with yourself by going to bed at night. And when the time for not receiving comes, Deep down it is just a goodbye. ~ Felix Leclerc (1914 – 1988)
This week… Here in this excellent Care Home, the Senior Carer approached an inmate and said to them in a fairly loud voice “We’ve got you a new hearing aid” and the inmate replied, with absolutely impeccable timing, “What???”. Forgive me, I had to suppress a smile.
I have been residing in this particular Care Home for over two years now. When I arrived it was from another Care Home and before that I’d been in hospitals for a few months, as I recovered from a heart issue as well as getting Covid-19, which I contracted whilst in hospital. It was clear from my health and mobility issues that I simply could not manage living on my own any more, as I had previously been in an attic flat where the building had no lift, just stairs and a handrail on only one side. I soon noticed that many of the inmates in this Care Home had dementia, there were some worse than others and I saw how it affected them in so many ways. Before this I’d had very little experience in such matters, as my only previous knowledge had come from a lovely lady I had known in Whittlesey and whose character was at one time very bubbly and outgoing, but she changed so very much and near the end of her life she didn’t recognise me at one visit but would then scold me for not visiting her the next. But I was only a teenager then. My time here has brought back those memories and I wondered if in fact dementia is classed as a mental illness that can be cured? The answer I found was that Dementia is the name given for problems with mental abilities caused by gradual changes and damage in the brain. It is rare in people under 65 years of age and whilst it does affect mental health, in itself it is not classified as a mental illness because it is a disorder of the brain which causes memory loss and trouble with communicating. Our brain is a control centre and it controls everything we do, say and think. When the brain is unwell or damaged, we have problems with all our actions which then includes remembering, speaking, understanding and learning new skills. As a result, it seems that at present there is no certain way to prevent all types of dementia, but researchers are still investigating how the condition develops. However, there is good evidence that living a healthy lifestyle can help reduce the risk of developing dementia as we grow older, as well as helping to prevent cardiovascular diseases such as strokes and heart attacks, which are themselves risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, the latter being a common type of dementia caused by reduced blood flow to the brain. It is estimated to affect around 150,000 people in the UK. During my time here I have been allowed, in fact encouraged, to do as much for myself as possible but also know that help will always be provided when asked for or clearly needed. We are all different, we may be ‘classified’ as humans but each and every one of us is different. We are clearly individuals. I saw a question online recently, asking “Why does modern science classify humans as animals, even though humans are clearly distinct and different from animals in many ways?” But we are, because humans can move on their own so they are classified as being in the animal kingdom. Further, humans belong to the animal phylum known as chordates because we have a backbone. The human animal has hair and milk glands, so we are placed in the class of mammals. Within the mammal class, humans are placed in the primate order. Unlike plants and algae, which produce their own nutrients, animals are heterotrophic, feeding on organic material and digesting it internally. That’s enough biology, I think! I found a further reply to this ‘animal’ question, which included a picture of two skeletons that at first glance one could easily imagine were of a fat man and a skinny one as, except for their proportions, the similarity was clear. However the skeleton of the ‘fat’ man is actually that of a gorilla. It was also pointed out that gorilla and human DNA are 98% identical.
But back to the world of Care Homes. Here we have around thirty ‘inmates’ as I like to call us and naturally, each and every one of us is different. We all go through the day in our very different ways, creating new memories and I think back to 2020 when I was in hospital after my last heart problem. I have vivid memories of that time, at first not knowing quite where I was or even who I was. For all I knew I might have died! Then I saw a television on the wall and was pretty certain that I was still ‘me’, I was still human and still on Earth. I am also reminded of the time back in January 2016 when I had my teeth out and was given Temazepam, it took me a few hours to recover from taking that and starting to recognise the world around me once more. To this day I have no real memory of the few hours which passed as I was having my teeth removed! But I suddenly found myself back in my flat and I heard a friend of mine who had been with me and got me safely home chuckle and say “Oh, you’re back with us again now are you?”. He is a good friend. I have heard about folk getting ‘high’ on drugs, also of people drinking so much alcohol that they lose the memory of where they are or what they are doing so I don’t know how folk who take drugs on a regular basis can possibly manage. I guess it is why some folk turn to theft in order to fund the habit. I have needed regular medication for very many years now to control my epilepsy and later my heart, but even those are carefully monitored. We are born, we grow, we develop individual characteristics. I have seen how identical twins each have their own personalities, despite being brought up together. That individuality remains but our personalities can alter as this does depend on our interaction with others. For example someone with a strong personality might become a narcissist and attempt to ’take over’ the behaviour, actions, thinking and ideas of another person, getting them to do what they might not otherwise do. Alternatively there may be someone who decides to live by themselves and to have minimal contact with others. A great many will have a personality whereby they want to be the centre of attention, or perhaps know everything about everyone, even simply having to be ‘right’, or never willing to accept change. Equally there will be some, perhaps a bit like me, who prefer a quiet life, to read, to learn, share and hope to teach others of things they might not otherwise have known. I see many different people here and am learning how they are needing, some more than others, help in their daily lives, even in just the simplest of things. I have more of an idea now of the levels of dementia and I have detailed just a little of the basics below. So the staff here in this Care Home have to be quite alert to the ways and habits of each and every one of us. They really have to be. A little while ago I heard a ‘new’ inmate say “Does anybody know why we can’t go out?”, whilst another time an inmate felt they had no money and thought they had to pay for the food being served. They were told it was already paid for and not to worry. Then later I saw another inmate being led back from an adjacent care home on the same site. We share the same lovely garden. So whether that inmate was just exploring, was lost or looking for a way out, I have no idea. I will detail more on here later with regard to the effects of dementia.
When I was moved to this care home in July 2020, it was in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic and all the staff were very careful to ensure that us inmates were all kept isolated as far as possible. In any case I had transferred from another care home, so mine was a mandatory fourteen-day isolation even though I had been given the ‘all-clear’. That suited me, it gave me time to adjust to my new surroundings, for which I was grateful. I was then able to mix with the other folk here, but because we were kept isolated as much as possible and not allowed to leave the building on our own, it felt like we were in prison, albeit for our own good as much as anything else. Hence the reason for me humorously naming this blog as I have! But I have seen how dementia affects the people here and so was determined not to ‘lose’ myself. I began writing, something a good friend had suggested when I was busy with my photography work. This weekly blog has been going for over two years now and I am enjoying the work as it keeps my mind active, I am learning all the time and my blog posts seem to be recalling past memories for some. So I began to refer to the others residing in this care home as inmates, not in a detrimental way but as a bit of gentle fun. But I did have to change the title of my blog from “Diary Of An Inmate” to “Diary Of A Care Home Inmate”, as some readers thought I really was in a prison, which I most definitely am not! But the inmates here have to be kept a close eye on and carers notice if one isn’t where they are expected to be. I tend to stay in my room here, going to the tv room and walking up and down, sometimes going to the dining room for lunch then sitting in the gardens if the weather is fine. But with temperatures becoming so high recently I have had to adapt and find cooler areas to sit. This heat has been almost too much for me, but happily there are electric fans strategically placed and things have begun to cool down.
As I have said, dementia is a brain condition, our brain is a control centre and it determines absolutely everything we do, say and think. When the brain is not well we have problems with all our actions, doing basic things like eating, drinking, remembering things, speaking, understanding and learning new skills. That has become very clear to me here as I see the people around me who have dementia. However, it seems that there are specific stages of dementia which are commonly assigned, based on symptoms. My research has also shown that it can be quite helpful for Carers to know how symptoms change over these stages. I have learned that health professionals often discuss dementia in terms of the stages which refer to how far a person’s dementia or Alzheimer’s disease has progressed and defining these stages helps physicians determine best treatments as it aids communication between doctors and caregivers. Dementia is generally considered in three stages, these being mild (or ‘early’), moderate (or ‘middle’) and severe (or ‘late’). But a more specific stage of dementia is commonly assigned based on symptoms. It can also be helpful to know how symptoms change over the stages, as Alzheimer’s and similar diseases can cause dramatic swings in mood and behaviour, because the activities a person is physically able to do will change as their level of dementia progresses. This causes stress for friends and relatives, but knowing what is coming can help prepare for social, medical, and personal needs. So rather than simply using ‘early stage’, ‘middle-stage’ and ‘late-stage’ dementia as descriptors, there are scales that provide a more comprehensive description and these scales help better understand the different stages of Alzheimer’s disease based on how well a person thinks (cognitive decline) and functions (physical abilities). I found a few different websites on all this, one which said that these scales are known as the Global Deterioration Scale for Assessment of Primary Degenerative Dementia (GDS), the Functional Assessment Staging Test (FAST), and the Clinical Dementia Rating (CDR). I believe these are American terms, but I think the ideas are all basically the same. Of the ones I have mentioned, the most commonly used scale is often referred to simply as GDS. It is divided into seven stages based on the amount of cognitive decline and this test is most relevant for people who have Alzheimer’s disease because some other types of dementia do not always include memory loss. Those in Stages 1 to 3 do not typically exhibit enough symptoms for a dementia diagnosis, so by the time a diagnosis has been made a dementia patient is typically in stage 4 or beyond. Stage 4 is considered ‘Early Dementia’, stages 5 and 6 are considered ‘Middle Dementia’ and stage 7 is considered ‘Late Dementia’. So Stage 1 displays no cognitive decline, the brain has normal function and no memory loss so there is, quite naturally, no expected duration. Stage 2 displays very mild cognitive decline where names are forgotten and familiar objects are misplaced, but symptoms are not easily evident to loved ones or doctors. There is no known expected duration at this level. Those in Stage 3 display mild cognitive decline with increased forgetfulness, slight difficulty concentrating, decreased work performance, a difficulty finding right words, they get lost more frequently and it is at this stage that loved ones begin to notice. The average duration of this stage is between two and seven years. In Stage 4, early-stage dementia, they display a moderate cognitive decline with difficulty in concentrating, forgetting recent events, an inability to manage finances and an inability to travel alone to new places. They have difficulty completing tasks, they are in denial about symptoms, they have socialisation problems and withdraw from friends or family. It is at this point a physician can detect cognitive problems. The average duration of this stage is two years. At Stage 5, moderately severe cognitive decline, they display major memory deficiencies, they need assistance with basics like dressing, bathing, etc., they forget details like their address or phone number, they do not know the time or date, or even where they are and the average duration of this stage is one and a half years. In Stage 6, which is severe cognitive decline (Middle Dementia) they cannot carry out basics without help, they forget the names of family members, of recent events and of major events in past. They have difficulty counting down from 10, they suffer from incontinence (loss of bladder control) and they have difficulty speaking. There can be personality and emotional changes, delusions, compulsions and anxiety. An average duration of this stage is two and a half years. Then in Stage 7, this being very severe cognitive decline (Late Dementia), they cannot speak or communicate, they require help with most activities, there is a loss of motor skills and they cannot walk. The average duration of this stage is one and a half to two and a half years.
There is also the Functional Assessment Staging Test (FAST) which is another scale that describes the stages of dementia and like the GDS Scale, FAST is a seven-stage system but based more on one’s level of functioning and ability to perform Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) than on cognitive decline. It should perhaps be noted that a person may be at a different stage cognitively (GDS stage) than functionally (FAST stage). FAST also has seven stages, where Stage 1 (normal adult) has no functional decline, Stage 2 (normal older adult) has personal awareness of some functional decline, Stage 3 (Early Alzheimer’s) displays noticeable deficits in demanding job situations, Stage 4 (Mild Alzheimer’s) requires assistance in complicated tasks such as handling finances, travelling, planning parties, etc., Stage 5 (Moderate Alzheimer’s) requires assistance in choosing proper clothing, Stage 6 (Moderately Severe Alzheimer’s) requires assistance with dressing, bathing, and toileting and experiences urinary and fecal incontinence whilst in Stage 7 (Severe Alzheimer’s) their speech ability declines to about a half-dozen intelligible words. There is also a progressive loss of ability to walk, to sit up, to smile, and to hold head up. I have also found that there is the Clinical Dementia Rating (CDR) scale, which uses a five-point system based on cognitive (thinking) abilities and how well a person functions. This scale is widely used in dementia research, not as a tool for communication between medical professionals, patients, and their families.
I have found all of the information detailed regarding GDS, FAST and CDR directly from the Internet via the Dementia Care Central website. As you might expect, there are other websites but it seems that the descriptors are pretty much the same. Whilst I hope you find all this useful, it is not my intention or my place to offer advice on such matters, merely to share what I have found in my research. I believe that any further information should be directed to a healthcare professional, as there is advice available from them on caring for someone and which is based on a person’s stage of dementia, including technology, that can help each individual and their carers, also which types of assisted living homes, if required, are most appropriate. I know I have learned much during my time here.
This week… An American, a French man, a Spaniard and a German were all attending an ‘online’ Zoom meeting. The supervisor asked them, “Can you all see me ok?” To which they answered, “Yes” “Oui” “Si” “Ja”
There really is so much in just this borough of London, and as I was born here I had to mention these places to you! I was very young when we moved up to Whittlesey, near Peterborough and that was primarily for the health of my dear mother, not to mention me as I was less than a year old at the time. We still had family in London, so we visited as often as possible or they came up to see us. They would talk about various places and I did get to see some of the following locations, but not all. Some areas have changed quite a bit since I left there in 1953, but others have not. So I hope you find the following just as interesting as I have in learning about them.
Brixton Market comprises a street market in the centre of Brixton and the adjacent covered market areas in nearby Reliance Arcade, Market Row and Granville Arcade which was recently rebranded as ‘Brixton Village’. The market sells a wide range of foods and goods but is best known for its African and Caribbean produce, which reflect the diverse community of Brixton and surrounding areas of Lambeth. The Street Market is managed by the London Borough of Lambeth, the covered arcades have always been in private ownership although substantial public funding was provided for their refurbishment under the Brixton Challenge grant scheme. The Market began on Atlantic Road in the 1870s and subsequently spread to Brixton Road which had a very wide footway. Brixton then was a rapidly expanding London railway suburb with newly opening shops, including the first London branch of David Greig at 54-58 Atlantic Road in 1870, and London’s first purpose-built department store, Bon Marché, on Brixton Road in 1877. The market was a popular attraction, with shoppers being entertained by street musicians. Electric Avenue, which is now part of the street market, was built in the 1880s and was one of the first streets to have electric light. Glazed iron canopies covered the footpath, but these were significantly damaged by World War II bombs, and finally removed in the 1980s. The song ‘Electric Avenue’ was written by Eddy Grant in 1983 and referring to this area of the market. In 2016, Electric Avenue was refurbished with funding from the Mayor of London’s High Street Fund, Lambeth Council, Transport for London and the Heritage Lottery fund to include an illuminated sign celebrating the area’s history. The Station Road street market is open on weekdays for street food and general stalls, and there are colourful themed markets on Saturdays, such as a flea market and makers’ market.
Who would expect to find an over 200-year old, 15 metre high windmill in Brixton? The windmill was built in 1816 when the area was open fields and it was leased to the Ashby family the following year. They were millers producing stoneground wholemeal flour and the mill became known as Ashby’s Mill for the whole of its working life. During the 1850s, as the sprawling metropolis of London reached Brixton, the cornfields surrounding the mill were replaced by houses. As a result, much of the wind necessary for turning the sails was prevented from reaching the mill. In 1862 the Ashby family decided to move their business to a watermill on the River Wandle. The sails were removed from the windmill and it was used for storage. The family’s lease on the watermill ran out in 1902, so at this point Joshua Ashby decided to return the milling business to Brixton. He installed another set of millstones in the windmill, first powered by steam and later by gas, so that he could grind flour without wind power but he closed the business in 1934, as industrially produced bread had become the norm. He died a year later, and the mill became derelict. Then in 1957 London County Council (LCC) bought the land, the windmill and the associated buildings. They decided to turn the 2.5 acres of land into a public open space named Windmill Gardens and by the early 1960s the bakery, outbuildings, Mill House and Mill Cottage had all been demolished to make space for the public gardens. Then in 1964, over four months the windmill was restored. New sails were made from imported pine timber and much of the wind-driven equipment installed inside the mill was brought from a derelict windmill in Lincolnshire. The windmill opened to the public at Easter 1968 and for several years it was open each weekend during the summer. Lambeth Council took ownership in 1971, but over the next thirty years the windmill fell into a cycle of restoration and refurbishment followed sadly by vandalism and neglect. Then in 2002 the windmill was placed on English Heritage’s Buildings at Risk register. The following year, several local residents formed the Friends of Windmill Gardens and started campaigning for the windmill to be restored. It was in 2010 that the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded a grant to Lambeth Council and the Friends of Windmill Gardens to restore the windmill. Work began in October and took several months to complete. The sails, cap and tower were all restored, and the 1902 millstones were converted to run on electrical power and the windmill finally reopened to the public with a celebratory parade and festival, attended by up to 2,000 people, in May 2011. Volunteers from Friends of Windmill Gardens opened the mill for guided tours at least once a month during the summer, and initiated an education programme for local schoolchildren. The Friends of Windmill Gardens won the Museums and Heritage Award for restoring an industrial building and they started grinding flour in 2014, training volunteer millers. The flour is now sold on open days and also through local retailers. They celebrated its bicentenary in 2016 with a series of special events, including the first Brixton Beer & Bread Festival, an open-air film night, and the first annual Windmill Lecture. Back in 2015 the Friends had run a high-profile campaign to build an education centre in Windmill Gardens. A year later, Lambeth Council approved plans for the construction of an education centre and planning permission was granted in March 2017. In summer 2018 the Friends ran a successful crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to kit out the building and after several delays, construction work started in December 2018. The Brixton Windmill Centre was finally completed in July 2020 and the Friends signed the lease and moved in.
In 1910 the Electric Picture Palace opened on the site of former stables in Venn Street, Clapham. This was followed in 1919 with plans for a much grander venue, The Coliseum, with an entrance directly onto Clapham High Street. Unfortunately the company ran into financial difficulties and the cinema never opened. However, the façade of the 1919 rebuild survived and can still be seen on the corner of Clapham High Street and Venn Street. The site was turned into a snooker hall and remained so until 1992, when the three-screen Clapham Picturehouse opened – the first new-build venue in the group. The opening coincided with a resurgence of cinema, and the Picturehouse quickly became a cultural and social landmark in the area. In 2003 a fourth screen was added and the bar was extended. Today Venn Street and the Picturehouse are at the heart of a bright, bustling and vibrant Clapham community.
Now for a more modern item. Streatham Space Project is not perhaps what its name suggests, but is a Theatre, Music & Comedy venue, aiming to bring the best live performance to South London. Set up by a team of Streatham-based arts professionals in June 2018, they say that their aim is to use live events to reach the different corners of their neighbourhood and bring people together. They have hosted events with artists like David Harewood, Kae Tempest, David Baddiel & Dane Baptiste, hosted events based in Ghanaian, Polish & Yoruba culture, offered support for artists at the beginning of their career and hosted charitable organisations like Age UK, Institute of Imagination and The Prince’s Trust. To date they’ve had over 30,000 visitors through their doors to rehearse, to film, to celebrate, or to experience live theatre, music, comedy or art. However in March 2020 they closed temporarily for public events and from May to June they operated as a depot for packages to be delivered to vulnerable people in their area, whilst streaming hip-hop, spoken word and storytelling content for their audiences. Autumn 2020 saw some socially distanced Theatre and Music and following another period working on filming, rehearsing and R&D with some incredible creatives in our space (ITV, BBC, theatre and education companies) they invited live audiences back from the summer of 2021. The main theatre space has room for an audience of 120 and there’s a second room that’s used for smaller performances, workshops, etc. The bar and café is a nice area with local artists’ work on the walls and live music some days too.
The Sea Life London Aquarium is located on the ground floor of County Hall on the South Bank near the London Eye. It opened in March 1997 as the London Aquarium and hosts about one million visitors each year. In 2005, the aquarium displayed three robotic Fish created by the computer science department at the University of Essex. The fish were designed to be autonomous, swimming around and avoiding obstacles like real fish. Their creator claimed that he was trying to combine “the speed of tuna, the acceleration of a pike and the navigating skills of an eel.” In April 2008 the aquarium was purchased by Merlin Entertainments for an undisclosed sum. The facility was closed for a £5 million refurbishment, which was completed in April 2009. The additions included a new underwater tunnel, Shark Walk, a revamped Pacific Ocean tank and a complete rerouting of the exhibit. The attraction officially became a Sea Life Centre when it reopened in April 2009. Then in May 2011, the aquarium opened a new penguin exhibit with ten gentoo penguins transferred from the Edinburgh Zoo. In 2015, the aquarium was moved to a different location in County Hall due to the opening of Shrek’s Adventure! London. The aquarium includes two classrooms themed around the conservation campaigns which the zoo supports, which host up to 40,000 schoolchildren each year and are open to the public when not in use by the education program. It is involved in several breeding programs including the Cuban crocodile, seahorses, jellyfish and one I had never heard of before, the butterfly splitfin, a bony fish which was formerly found throughout the Ameca River in Mexico. The species was only ever found in an area about 10 miles (15km) in diameter. Rated as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a remnant population of the species has been found to persist in El Rincón waterpark near the town of Ameca. It may also exist in a feral state in the United States as individuals apparently derived from escaped or introduced captive stock were met with in southeastern Nevada. It was a popular fish for some time among aquarists, but hobbyist stocks have declined recently, thus placing its survival in jeopardy. Work continues at the aquarium with many conservation organisations including the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, Save Our Seas and the Shark Trust.
London is known worldwide for its centuries of history and a fair bit of that history is also quite dark and gruesome. The London Dungeon recreates various gory and macabre historical events in a gallows humour style with the use of live actors and special effects. Due to its dark side The London Dungeons are suitable for older children and adults, all of whom are guided through 19 live shows and 2 thrilling rides, where they learn about everything from The Plague to Jack The Ripper. Here you will meet frightening historical figures, getting face to face with some of the grisliest criminals of London’s past such as Sweeney Todd, Guy Fawkes and, of course, Jack the Ripper. Visitors can go on the ‘Tyrant’s’ boat ride enabling you to follow in the footsteps of one of Henry VIII’s many victims, by going on a boat ride to the Tower of London to meet your fate – just as political prisoners did during his reign of terror. You can also learn about London’s Great Plague, stepping back in time to perhaps the most frightening and deadly era in which to live in London – the time of the Black Death. You can also feel the horror of Jack the Ripper, walking the same dark alleys where he once preyed on his hapless victims. One item not for the faint-hearted is taking a spine-chilling stroll past the grisly torture chamber and there is also the nerve-wracking ‘Drop Dead’ Drop Ride, where you can get your photo taken during the ‘Sudden Drop’ as this ride plummets you eight metres into the pits of darkness. After that, you can make merry in a Victorian pub, because once you’ve finished exploring the Dungeons, there is an atmospheric Tavern which awaits you at the end of your adventure. Have a few drinks at this 19th-century Victorian pub and meet some East-end Victorian characters, such as the loud landlady and landlord. Gather round the ‘old Joanna’ for an authentic pub singalong. Play some card games – but watch out for card sharps and listen to spooky stories as you sit at the tables.
A little about the history of the site. The London Dungeon first opened in 1974 under the railway arches of Tooley Street, near London Bridge. It was originally a waxwork exhibition of gory history with models of Boadicea and Thomas a Becket. Then in the 1990s the exhibition was owned by the Kunick Leisure Group. It evolved to feature walkthrough theatrical shows, such as Jack the Ripper and the Great Fire of London. In 1992 the London Dungeon attraction was acquired by Vardon Attractions (later Merlin Entertainments) headed by Nick Varney. The Dungeon was rebranded as an interactive horror attraction. In 2011, workers at the museum were surprised to discover that one of the skeletons on display at the original London Dungeon was a genuine human skeleton, not a model as they assumed. The human remains had been on display since the attraction first opened. Then in 2013, the London Dungeon moved to the County Hall South Bank. When it departed its first home, many props (model rats, axes, instruments of torture) were sold at a car boot sale in nearby Pimlico. The new building was designed by architect Ralph Knott and was influenced by Baroque-style art and is located directly opposite the Houses of Parliament – the same buildings Guy Fawkes tried to blow up with gunpowder in 1605. The move brought the opportunity to reinvigorate the Dungeon and lots of new and exciting things to do, but rebuilding the house of horrors took an entire year and a budget of £20 million! The London Dungeon uses professionally trained and highly skilled make-up artists to design the wounds, bruises, and blisters to look authentically gruesome whenever a new personality is brought into the famous attraction, but it doesn’t contain any spiritual characters as many believe. Elements of the tour are regularly updated and refreshed, but you won’t see a ghost. You might sit in on a spooky séance, but the London Dungeon is all about the truth. The place caters those with disabilities, there is limited access for wheelchair users with one person using a wheelchair permitted to enter per hour. It is therefore advisable to book in advance. The place is a 90 to 110-minute walking experience, and guests will need to stand for most of it, also priority seating cannot be guaranteed. For people with autism and other neuro-diverse conditions, the London Dungeon is not a scare attraction or a horror maze. It is specifically designed to be a highly sensory experience with dark spaces, loud noises, flashing/strobe lights, pungent smells and jump scares. Staff can identify the Hidden Disabilities sunflower lanyards and ear defenders are available. Please seek help from a member of the team at any point during the tour if you feel the need.
In the period after World War II, a Young Vic Company was formed in 1946 by director George Devine as an offshoot of the Old Vic Theatre School for the purpose of performing classic plays for audiences aged nine to fifteen. This was discontinued in 1948 when Devine and the entire faculty resigned from the Old Vic, but in 1969 Frank Dunlop became founder-director of The Young Vic theatre with ‘Scapino’, his free adaptation of Molière’s The Cheats of Scapin, presented at the new venue as a National Theatre production, opening on 11 September 1970 and starring Jim Dale in the title role with designs by Carl Toms (decor) and Maria Björnson (costumes). Initially part of the National Theatre, the Young Vic Theatre became an independent body in 1974. In the words of Laurence Olivier, then director of the National Theatre, “Here we think to develop plays for young audiences, an experimental workshop for authors, actors and producers.” The aim was to create an accessible theatre which offered high quality at low cost in an informal environment. The aim was to appeal to young audiences, but this time not specifically to children. So the Young Vic continues to be an important theatre for aspiring young performers and directors.
The Royal National Theatre in London, commonly known as the National Theatre, is one of the United Kingdom’s three most prominent publicly funded performing arts venues, alongside the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal Opera House. Internationally, it is known as the National Theatre of Great Britain. Since it was founded in 1963 by Laurence Olivier, many well-known actors have performed here. Until 1976, the company was based at The Old Vic theatre in Waterloo. The current building is located next to the Thames in the South Bank area of central London. In addition to performances at their building, the National Theatre tour their productions at theatres across the United Kingdom. The theatre has also transferred numerous productions to Broadway and toured some as far as China, Australia and New Zealand. However, touring productions to European cities was suspended in February 2021 over concerns about uncertainty over work permits, additional costs and delays because of Brexit. Permission to add the “Royal” prefix to the name of the theatre was given in 1988, but the full title is rarely used. The theatre presents a varied programme, including Shakespeare, other international classic drama, and new plays by contemporary playwrights. Each auditorium in the theatre can run up to three shows in repertoire, thus further widening the number of plays which can be put on during any one season. In June 2009, the theatre began ‘National Theatre Live’, a programme of simulcasts of live productions to cinemas, first in the United Kingdom and then internationally. The programme began with a production of Phèdre, which was screened live in seventy cinemas across the UK. Their productions have since been broadcast to over 2,500 venues in 60 countries around the world. In November 2020, ‘National Theatre at Home’ was announced. It is a video on demand streaming service, specifically created for National Theatre Live recordings. Videos of plays are added every month, and can be “rented” for temporary viewing, or unlimited recordings can be watched through a monthly or yearly subscription programme. The National Theatre is now world-renowned and stages a diverse range of performances within its three auditoriums. Since its opening night in 1963, it has put on world-class plays with world-class actors. It continues to support and encourage emerging talent from all backgrounds. From the gallery level, the Sherling Backstage Walkway provides visitors with behind the scene views down on to the production workshops. Theatre tours also show you around areas previously graced by the likes of Sir Laurence Olivier, letting you in on the secrets behind staging a show. All these things, just in the borough of Lambeth. I hope to detail more about different areas of London in the future.
This week: I am in a lovely Care Home, so for a change and as a bit of fun here is a Yorkshire guide to just a few medical terms…
Bacteria – Back door to cafeteria. Benign – What you be after you be eight. Cat scan – Searching for kitty. Cauterise – Made eye contact with her. Fester – Quicker than someone else. Fibula – A small lie. Impotent – Well known. Labour pain – Getting hurt at work. Medical staff – A Doctor’s cane. Nitrates – Higher rates of pay for night working. Node – I knew it. Outpatient – A person who has fainted. Post-operative – A letter carrier. Recovery room – Place to do upholstery. Secretion – Hide something. Tablet – A small table.