Trains And Boats And Planes

In the latter part of 1952 there was a heavy smog in London, resulting in pollution issues and this severely affected my mother’s health as well as mine. So, after I was born the following year, we simply had to move from there. My dad was offered a teaching job in Whittlesey that included use of the school house, so it was an ideal choice. We had relatives and friends in London and they visited us from time to time and we would do the same when we could, but during school holidays of course. Travelling to and from London in the car we had back in the late fifties and early sixties was fun for me, but it must have been tiring for my dear dad as the A1 was a dual carriageway at best in those days, not a motorway! Because one of my uncles worked on the engineering side of what is now British Airways, when I was felt to be old enough permission was given for me to have a look around a Boeing 707 that was in for service. It was most definitely a guided tour, but I got to sit in the pilot’s seat! My paternal grandparents were by then coming up to retirement and having visited us a few times in Whittlesey, they liked the place so much that they made their visit permanent, which I think may have surprised my parents. My elder brothers, being a few years older than me, were quite naturally off out with their circle of friends, whilst I preferred to keep myself amused. Both my parents were good, I was taught to read and found it a source of enjoyment. Being left-handed meant my writing wasn’t brilliant, but we all worked on that and I found setting the paper at an angle helped, it suited me. I have seen other left-handers manage in different ways, some by almost writing backwards. I was bought stick-together kits, but I was taught to read the instructions first and then identify all of the parts before starting the assembly process. A logical thing to do in my view. The good thing was that in most cases the parts were numbered. Then it was always a good idea to follow the assembly process in the correct sequence, although some instructions used pictures rather than words, which I personally didn’t think helped. Sometimes it could be a bit frustrating when I wanted to see the item all finished, so that may be one of the reasons why kit-makers put lovely pictures on the boxes! But all this taught me much, because I learned patience. As I write, I am reminded of a time just a few years ago when I and a couple of others were helping a good friend assemble a small occasional table which had glass shelves. One person did not want to bother to read the instructions and insisted he knew what he was doing. We ended up having to stop half way through, take the unit apart and reassemble it in the proper sequence just as detailed in the instructions, so that the shelves would all fit in. Instructions are written for a reason! I went on from aircraft kits to the complicated old ships such as the Cutty Sark, Endeavour and HMS Victory. I would make much of the rigging out of black cotton and my dear mum kept the models I made for a great many years. Doing things in the proper order taught me much. I have watched quite a few programmes on television about the care and maintenance of both steam and diesel-powered trains and it really is very important to do things the way they are meant to be done, I also have good friends who have worked on aircraft and they feel the same way, as lives are at risk if things are not done as they should be. I am thankful for the good teaching I have had, right from an early age. Mind you, with my dear dad as a teacher it was always in my interest to listen! For me, going to school was quite easy at first with us living where we did as I would simply go out from our back door, across the yard, through a side gate and there I was, in the playground. There was never any chance of me being late for school! We had visits from family and friends and as I have mentioned in earlier blog posts I would enjoy being taken down the road to the train station. I have never lost my enjoyment of watching trains, but I do not bother to write down their numbers or anything like that. Steam, diesel or whatever, it was and still is a source of wonderment to see, hear and smell these huge beasts passing by, rattling over the points and commanding right of way as cars and other road vehicles are made to give way to them. I was taught from an early age that the journey to and from is all part of the holiday, though I do wonder sometimes if that wasn’t partly to stop the “are we there yet?” from the back seat. But it did work! So I thoroughly enjoyed going on holiday, especially if it was a day out to Hunstanton and we stopped at the level crossing in Kings Lynn. I vividly recall one delightful time when we stopped at that level crossing in Kings Lynn and I saw my first diesel shunter engine, with bright yellow and black stripes on the front of it! Then a bypass was put in and we went nowhere near that railway crossing. We preferred Hunstanton to Skegness, I am not sure why. Perhaps it was the cliff walks over to Old Hunstanton, with its lovely old lighthouse as it was followed by a walk back to the main town and if I could I’d spend time on the pier in the amusement arcade. I became quite adept at working some of the machines in there, getting to know when pennies would be likely to drop in a machine like the ones used now in the tv series Tipping Point. Just along from the arcade was a cafe and we would call in for a bite to eat. It was a delight to have a cup of coffee as well as a bacon sandwich there! Just across the road from the cafe was the railway station. We never used that service, but I was saddened when that train line was closed down. My research has taught me that Hunstanton railway station was the northern terminus of the Lynn and Hunstanton Railway and the line was brought to public notice by Sir John Betjeman (28 August 1906 – 19 May 1984) in the 1962 British Transport film ‘John Betjeman Goes By Train’. This is a ten-minute documentary film as he travels by train from Kings Lynn railway station, pointing out various sights and stopping off at Wolferton station on the Sandringham Estate, then Snettisham station where he extols the virtues of rural branch-line stations. Wolferton was originally opened as Wolverton in 1862 and re-named Wolferton in 1863. Snettisham was only ever used for carrying passengers, whilst Wolferton and Hunstanton were used for freight until 1964. Hunstanton became unstaffed in 1966 and all three were closed for passenger use on 5 May 1969, when the line itself was closed. We had the occasional holiday on a caravan site in Hunstanton – ‘Golden Sands’, I think it was called. There was even a small boating lake, with some rowing boats. I couldn’t manage those, but there were a few electrically-powered motor boats and they were fun for me!

The Lynn And Hunstanton Railway

I have recounted in earlier blog posts about the family holidays we had in Devon and Cornwall. This was partly because we liked the area and partly because we had relatives that way. We had also made friends with people who owned a garage in the area so when Mum and Dad celebrated their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary down there these friends laid on a special meal for them. In time both my parents retired and they began travelling a little more, going first to Guernsey, then another year over to Jersey and they returned each time with such glowing reports that one year I did the same. I drove down to London, stayed over at my aunt and uncle’s then went to Heathrow airport. I was checked in and all went well, except for the weather, which was awful. The flight was delayed and so we waited, but eventually we were put on a coach and driven down to Southampton. We took off from there in a turbo-prop aircraft, a few passengers weren’t too happy as it was a bit bumpy to begin with, but we were soon clear of that. I enjoyed the flight as well as the holiday, it was just one week but it was the break I needed. I went on a trip to Sark, too. So a couple of years later I went to Jersey and did the real ’tourist’ thing, I went on tours around the island, I also sampled the local brew and found out that even though it was served in a small bottle, it really was very strong stuff! Quite relaxing, but I ended up with a rather thick head the following morning! Then work became a priority and for a while I was tending towards living to work, rather than working to live. So I began having an occasional holiday away on my own, one being a leisurely break away up to the Lake District. I started out from home, drove over to Wolverhampton to see friends there, then it was straight up the motorway to Kendal. I did each place a day at a time, I would drive to my next planned stop, find a hotel or inn to stay at for the night and then explore, never booking in advance. I did this for a few days, visiting Windermere, Grasmere, Buttermere and Penrith before returning to Wolverhampton. Then it was over to Coventry the next day for a look around the cathedral and finally back to Peterborough. For me it was a true holiday, taking my time all the way. I did similar holidays on my own in Wales, but then marriage meant I was doing many miles to South Wales as at the time my ex still had a house near Bridgend. I had been able to get a better car by then but I wore it out, putting over 100,000 miles on the clock in almost no time at all! We even honeymooned in Portugal and that was quite a change. Whilst there I was enticed into hiring a car so that we could travel around a little, but this meant driving on the opposite side of the road as well as operating the gear lever with my right hand! But I did it. One thing I wasn’t prepared for though related to the quality of the roads there. The main driving surface was all right, but the edges were really rough so it was a good idea to stay on the tarmac and not go near the edge. On one occasion we went over to Seville in Spain, going on an organised coach trip. Seville had some great sights, for me the best was the guided tour around the cathedral there.

Then work meant a good deal of travelling and money was short for a while but circumstances do change and it came about that I could finally afford a holiday abroad – really abroad, not just over to Belgium, the Channel Islands or to Portugal. Many of my work colleagues were taking holidays here, there and everywhere and then the opportunity came for me. I had flown a few times by now, but this time it was a real flight. My aunt and uncle were not in a position to put me up the night before and it would not have been fair for me to even ask them so I really did the absolute full ’tourist’ bit. I booked my holiday well in advance, I drove down to London Heathrow and left my car in the secure car park of the hotel. Early the following morning I was whisked off by taxi to Heathrow airport and was checked in. Security was gone through and I flew off to Philadelphia. I had chosen that place in preference to New York because the latter seemed too commercial and crowded from what I had read and heard, but it was mainly because I had a friend in Philadelphia and we could meet up. I went by taxi to my hotel, checked in and found that the bar & restaurant area had a ‘London, England’ theme! Even to the bright red telephone kiosk. I just laughed, I could not get away from BT! I saw a few good sights, including the famous Liberty Bell, I met my friend and as so often happens the time went by far too quickly. As I mentioned in a blog a few weeks ago, I then had yet another holiday in the U.S.A. some two years later, seeing the sights of both Washington D.C. and Orlando. What was interesting was that despite flying from Heathrow to Washington then on to Orlando, it seemed that my point of exit from the United States was to be the same as my point of entry. So I was flown back to Washington and only then on to Heathrow. I made sure that I handed in all of the appropriate documentation in the correct place, so the relevant authorities would know I had in fact left the country in a proper and legal manner. I was told that this was a very important thing to do if I wanted to be allowed in again at any time in the future! Over previous weeks I have detailed my lovely long cruise and so I really have travelled the world (well, not all, but a fair bit) by car, train, boat and plane. Right now, travelling isn’t exactly easy for any of us for a variety of reasons but things change. I have been watching a webcam of the hovercraft service from the Isle of Wight to the mainland – but that tale is for another day…

Fire Trucks On Parade, Philadelphia.

This week…
Notice seen inside the back of an ambulance:
“If you have a preferred route, please inform your driver at the start of the journey.”

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Knowledge And Education

A favourite saying I have from my former teaching days is that we don’t know what we don’t know. A question was asked of me a little while ago regarding my blog posts and how is it that I know so much. Be assured, I do not know all that much, but as I have mentioned before, I was taught where to look and find out. I am an inquisitive soul, though sometimes not always to my advantage! It really amazes me how contestants on quiz shows can instantly recall what seems to me to be vast amounts of information. London taxi drivers must learn ‘The Knowledge’ of city streets – I bet they and taxi drivers elsewhere aren’t happy when a council pedestrianise whole areas, create new roads and one-way systems! Thank goodness for these satellite navigation systems, though I do consider that a decent sense of direction to be a good thing. So far as almost any sort of information is concerned, for me it is more about knowing just where to look, knowing that the answer must be out there. Except I have friends with bookshelves that are stacked from floor to ceiling as well as two or perhaps three books deep, all packed full of historical data relating to a vast range of aircraft and other things military. They truly do have their own library. But in my humble opinion it is a shame that so often all this information is collated by folk, but not then shared with others in some way. The danger is that we will then get those who come along with half-baked ideas, putting two and two together to make forty-two! I know of a time a few years ago when a good friend of mine was in casual conversation with a group of people and another person in that group was spouting on about an aircraft-related item as if they knew exactly what they were talking about. I am sure we have all met them. I have, in relation to computers. Now I don’t know the fine detail, but my friend stopped this chap and said “I am sorry, but what you’re saying is incorrect”. My friend was then spoken to in a rather derogatory tone and asked how he could possibly know! My friend told him, politely but firmly, “The reason I know is because I am ex-RAF, I worked for years on those aircraft and what you are saying is rubbish”. He then explained to the group how that part really worked. He wasn’t giving any secrets away, it was something that anyone with a proper knowledge of hydraulics would know. The chap who had been spouting on went very quiet. There are times when we are mistaken and it is of course polite to acknowledge the fact, but if we still think we are in the right, then we can just quietly research, check our facts and if appropriate then point out what we have found (and where) to the person we disagreed with. Honour is then satisfied. I am aware of occasions when that has occurred, but thankfully we don’t call anyone out to a duel these days! I read a great deal because I am always wanting to learn more. I have been proved wrong sometimes and that has never been a problem to me as things do and will change. But I like to see knowledge kept up to date, to be put to good and proper use as well as shared, so that it is never forgotten. If not, mistakes can and do occur. I watched a programme about an error made in the repair of a Space Shuttle, when a part had been re-fitted incorrectly. The good news is that it didn’t result in a major problem, but it happened. All because information was not kept accurate as well as up-to-date and people had not been kept informed. In the latter instance they had simply presumed, without checking.

In a previous post I provided a fair bit of detail relating to my father’s cars and then mine, but I also said about when I was having driving lessons. In that particular year we had some really strong winds over East Anglia, causing the land to dry out, thus creating dust storms over the fens. It was then that I took my driving test! My father would not teach me to drive, instead he kindly paid for me to have professional driving lessons, just as he had done for my two elder brothers as a present for their respective seventeenth birthdays. Interestingly, one brother passed his test at his first attempt but the other kept on failing – then after he passed, he went into the army and by the end of his time with them he could drive just about anything! He later held an HGV1 licence, he drove buses as well as ambulances, was a driving instructor and eventually ran his own business as an engineer, adapting cars so they could be driven by disabled drivers. But for me, when I reached the grand age of seventeen there was an excellent driving instructor living just down the road from us, so that was all set up. After a number of lessons I was put in for my test but I failed on that first occasion, I don’t think that I displayed enough self-confidence. So I continued with my lessons and just as we were nearing the end of one lesson the instructor asked if I was going back to work. At that time we lived some five miles from the city and on learning that I was planning on going home straight away on a bus, I was told to carry on driving. I therefore took my instructor home, as he lived near to us! It meant that I was in charge of the car, I knew where I was going and that helped my driving confidence immensely. The day of my second attempt arrived and I began the test, but soon afterwards it began to rain. I then made a silly mistake, I knew I had and I just thought “Oh well, that’s it then” and relaxed. It was the best thing I could have done! At the end of the test the examiner said “Well, you made one mistake but I think you realised that and so I’m going to pass you”. I was delighted, as was my instructor. So I arrived home, cheerfully waving my pink slip of paper to prove I had passed. A little while later my Dad suggested that I perhaps take my older brother’s Vauxhall Victor for a drive, with brother sitting next to me of course! This was a much bigger car with a steering system very different to the Ford Escort I had passed my test on. (For the technically minded it had a steering box as opposed to a rack and pinion system). In addition, it was a windy day so keeping this bigger car straight wasn’t exactly easy. But I did it. Then I was allowed to drive my dad’s Austin 1100 and that to me was so very easy. Insurance had already been set up and it meant that I could take my mother out shopping, or for her to attend local meetings, things like that. Then one day, a few years later, I was taking mum over to a meeting. I had stopped on a main road near to our house, I was waiting to turn right, I was in the correct position on the road, I was signalling, my brakes were on but another driver thought he could sneak past on the inside. Except he couldn’t. Instead he hit the left corner of dad’s car, spinning it round across the other carriageway. Happily there were now no cars coming the other way as they had just passed by, so I was able to pull across the road and park. Having checked that mum was fine and uninjured, I went to get out of the car to talk to the other car’s driver as he had stopped. But my mum was in a state of shock and wanted to get back across the main road to our house and to dad. I spoke to mum in a firm tone, as it was important she stay in the car. But no, dear mum wasn’t listening to me. So I turned to her and said “Mum, stay in the b*&&@y car!”. She obediently sat down and closed the car door. A few minutes later we all crossed the road safely, the driver of the other car freely admitted responsibility in front of me as well as dad. The car was repaired, but forever afterwards when talking about the incident, my mum would always say how shocked she was that I had spoken to her in such a manner and used such language!

I discovered my instructor was good, as he got me through the driving test, but that was the first step to hopefully becoming a good and competent driver. A few years passed, I managed to get a better car every few years, not new under any circumstances, but better. Then circumstances dictated that I either sell my car or my house as I could not afford both, so the car went and it was suggested that I might buy a small motor bike. My mother was utterly shocked at the idea, but as I mentioned in a blog last year, the local vicar assured her I would be fine. So that kept me in my own transport for a couple of years until I could afford a car again, which I did. Then one day my eldest brother asked me to drive him to over to a particular event that was associated with his business, it also gave him a chance to see how my vehicle was behaving since he had worked on it shortly before. It is also my belief that he wanted to assess my driving! He then kindly pointed out a few things as it was clear I wasn’t looking far enough ahead along the road, or anticipating the possible hazards, especially on motorways. One trick he showed me related to HGV driving, where these drivers must be in the correct gear well in advance of reaching the bottom of a hill, or the correct lane before approaching a junction. If we are more aware as car drivers that lorry drivers need more time, that might at least reduce accidents. It might also reduce wear & tear, as well as the fuel used, not to mention the stress it puts on everyone. As many of you know, I enjoy watching Formula One motor racing and I recently watched a programme about a the workload of a Formula One driver during just a single lap around the Monaco Grand Prix circuit. I knew they had a busy time ‘in the office’, but not that fast – and sometimes at 180mph! That was scary. They do not have a second of ‘free’ time. It is no wonder that this race is described by some as ‘challenging’! As for me, I gained experience over a number of years driving various vehicles, including an Austin Mini 850, a Ford Capri 1600 and a Land Rover Series 3 and Discovery. All very different. During my time with British Telecom I even drove one of their vehicles that had been converted into a small mobile exhibition centre. It was a type that I could drive, so long as I had a full, clean standard driving licence. The vehicle itself was compact and probably saved the firm some money, as for anything larger they had to get an engineer to drive it and set it up! I had a training session at what some of you would call our O.C.U., or conversion unit to familiarise myself with its rather different handling characteristics, for example what seemed to me like I had to be revving the engine far too much before changing up a gear. But I soon learned that was necessary, otherwise the thing wouldn’t pull away in the next gear. I gained knowledge in this and it certainly was an education, as I visited various towns around the area. But then Phone Shops came along, so the mobile exhibitions largely ended.

Getting the transfer from Peterborough to Leicester created a few changes for me. I had expected some of course, but not as much as took place over the next few years. I found some of it hard work, much of it was good as I was working with people who wanted the same as me, to do a good job and enjoy it. A while later I was moved over to a different department where the work required additional training and one day we were being shown how charges were calculated for a particular product. A good number of years before, whilst I was still at school, we were being taught a particular aspect of mathematics and at the time I asked the teacher why we needed to know this. I was told “One day, you will need this”. I didn’t believe him. So there I was all these years later and the tutor was describing how the charges for this product were calculated. At which point I said “I don’t believe it!” I then recounted the story from my schooldays as it was of course the use of Pythagoras’ Theorem! My teacher was correct, we can never know when what we learn now may be of use in years to come. My job moved me around the Midlands and I found that the knowledge I had gained with my Sinclair Spectrum computer along with its programming language, then moving on to Microsoft Windows and what it used through Word and Excel meant I was writing and running small programs that helped the team I was working with in Birmingham to automate and speed up data manipulation. This helped me when I moved up to Sheffield, still working
for BT but into quite a different job as I was able to use these skills and learn even more. As I have said, the knowledge and education we get can be invaluable. If it had not been for that Sinclair Spectrum and my inquisitiveness. It is fascinating how things work out and sometimes we must accept opportunities with thanks, whilst at other times have faith. As I have been reminded, the light at the end of the tunnel is never switched off – but it is sometimes just out of immediate sight, around the corner. That knowledge in itself has been an education.

The Goal Of Education…

This week…
I am in a Care Home at the moment and me being short-sighted, some Carers here do think it rather interesting that I wear my glasses whilst toddling to and from the dining room, then I take them off whilst I am eating but put them back on again before I get up and leave the room. Some have asked me why I do this, so I smile at them and say it is because I am short-sighted, so taking my glasses off makes the plate and the food on it look bigger and it looks like I’m eating more! Not all of them know my sense of humour – yet…

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Memories Are Made Of This

Our memory is a strange thing, but we all need one. Except it isn’t just one area of the brain but a few areas, all linked together. So, whilst I do not know a tremendous amount about it, I do know that there are different parts which work together, utilising electrical signals that enable us to somehow ’store’ information. I have no idea how, but I do know that we have a ’short-term’ memory as well as a ‘long-term’ one, and these can be adversely affected by injury or illness, such as dementia or head injuries. Such effects can be intermittent, short or long term. I am presently being well looked after in a Care Home and one elderly inmate here behaves almost like a child, remembering things from long ago and yet they do not know the current date or what time of day it is. I know what happened to my dear mother after her stroke as it affected her decision-making. Asking her to choose between two things was no great problem, but if she had to choose over more than two items, she would often politely decline. Parts of our brain never ‘switch off’ as they keep vital systems functioning, including our memory. I was made aware of this one night some years ago when I was living ‘up North’. I was fast asleep and there was an earthquake not all that far away. I slept through it and had no recollection of it! But another night I had left a small light on and the bulb blew. It was a most unusual, unexpected sound and I was instantly awake. Strangely, I could even remember what sound had woken me up! I checked, saw the remains of the bulb, cleared it up and made sure all was well before going back to bed. So it seems that some senses are never dormant, it is just that we are not fully aware of them whilst we are sleeping. As humans one might expect that we are all the same, but of course we are not. We all have a brain, so some might expect that we all think and reason the same. In practice that is not so, I guess just as we don’t all look the same. During my research for this blog post I found an article asking the question as to whether the brains of females are ‘wired’ differently to males. I believe the term for someone thinking that way is ‘neurosexism’. Now I may be starting to tread on rather dangerous ground here, quicksand even, but in truth I do not think they are any different. We do know that in many species males have a tendency to fight their enemies, whilst females tend more towards caring for their offspring, but that isn’t so in all cases. Some have suggested that women’s brains are said to be wired for empathy and intuition, whilst male brains are supposed to be optimised for reason and action. But research suggests that the brain is no more gendered than the liver or kidneys or heart. Also, if we consider a few different creatures in our wondrous world, just one example of paternal care is in seahorses, where the males brood the eggs in a pouch until they are ready to hatch. Males from the sunfish family exhibit paternal parental care of both their eggs and fry through a variety of behaviours such as nest guarding and nest fanning (aerating eggs). In the case of lions, both males and females hunt, just in different ways, whilst male marmosets take care of their offspring as newborns — even licking and grooming them at birth. In addition, after his babies are born, a marmoset daddy doesn’t look twice at an ovulating female, despite stereotypes that male animals are always out to spread their genes!

So far as we humans are concerned, I am of the humble opinion that some of it may be to do with how we are treated as we grow up. Some still cling on to the idea that the males should go out to work whilst the females stay home in order to cook, clean and bring up offspring. There are those who are content to do that, but over the years that has changed dramatically, despite some quite serious opposition from their families on occasions! Either way, whether they be male or female, I am amazed how some folk can instantly recall some facts and figures when they are on quiz shows and the like. I prefer to take time and then share knowledge with others this way, on blog posts. I use my memory more to know where and how to retrieve information, knowing that it exists, rather than filling my mind up with the information itself. Although one person I knew who has sadly passed away now once referred to me as a walking encyclopaedia! Comments have been made that my writings have reminded others of past events and it does seem that much of what we store in our memory may never be truly ‘lost’ to us. The most unexpected things can restore a memory to us, or should it be ‘reawaken’. It may be a sight, a smell or a sound, but it seems to be integrated into at least one of our senses. I recently saw a clip of film on YouTube showing a few folk singing in Welsh whilst they were on a London Underground escalator and the sound of their singing echoing up and down reminded me of a time back in 1986 when I was returning home after watching a game of American Football at Wembley Stadium. A whole crowd of us fans were walking along a long corridor leading to the nearby London Underground station and one person began singing “You never close your eyes any more when I kiss your lips..”, the opening line of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” from the Top Gun film which had recently been released. When it came to the chorus, just about everyone joined in! That sound echoed all along the corridor beautifully, it was a thrilling sound and it really did bring back good, happy memories, just as the thought of it does now. But what of pain? When someone passes away for whatever reason, we often hear the phrase ‘remember the good times’, and we do just that. During the past twelve months, quite a bit has been said as well as written about isolation and coping with depression. It is a fact, I know. We have physical pain when we are injured, but there is also the pain of isolation. Except there are ways to overcome the dark times. I have found that being in this Care Home has helped me, as there are other inmates in the building and I do chat to them at times, but I also set great store by chatting with the Carers and staff here. Some of you reading this know that I send morning greetings to you, as we all need to retain such connections with the world outside. I have found a few ‘live’ web cams that I can watch, so I know what is occurring out there. I am not at all in ’solitary’, despite being an inmate! Contact is important. We can and will get sad at times though and when we are sad, playing certain music can also lighten our mood.

I mentioned last week about language and words, but even they are not sufficient to express some feelings. Our brain though is very clever. It is true that the memories I recalled last week were painful and brought tears to me. If we perhaps fall over or injure ourselves somehow, we often cry in pain. It is of course why we are given a painkiller of some sort for headaches, or perhaps an anaesthetic for when we might need an operation. This pain is a different sort as it is the ‘alarm’ system in our body, alerting us that we do have a problem. It also triggers the release of certain chemicals and other events within our body to help in the process of bringing things back to normal. When things are repaired, much of the time that pain goes away or is at least dramatically reduced. But if we think of the ‘good’ events in our lives, the things that make us happy, they are also times when we cry and it is an emotional outpouring that enables us to cope, to manage the pain we are feeling. So we remember those events, we literally do remember the good times in our lives. They are the happy memories and we will block out the painful memories. One thought that comes to mind relates to childbirth, where some women say they will never go through that again. Yet the joy they have of bringing new life into the world means that they do repeat, generation after generation. But there are times when some pain is deliberately forgotten. In an earlier blog post I mentioned my immediate grandfathers. I never personally met my maternal grandfather as he passed away in 1938, but I did know my paternal grandfather, who I called ‘Pop’. So I tried to talk to Pop about his time in World War I, I learned he was at the Somme and was captured, that he was injured and lost a finger of one hand. But he simply would not talk to me about his memories of that time. He would tell a few anecdotal jokes, like the fact that he was captured and how they diverted the attention of prison guards in order to break into a food store and steal extra food, but that was all. My own father was the same, he would share anecdotes like how he was taught to drive and the fun he had with that, but the war itself was never spoken about.

Our memory is vital as we grow, like learning to not touch things, though it is something that babies do. We want to learn. In an earlier blog post I mentioned that there are teachers and there are educators. I was always encouraged to learn, I was (and still am!) an inquisitive soul, so I would read quite a lot. Any time that I wanted to learn the meaning of a ‘new’ word that I had read, rather than just tell me its meaning my dear dad would get me to look up the word in a dictionary and then go tell him what the word meant. I would then have to compose a new sentence of my own using that new word and also show this to my dad. In that way I was reading, writing, thinking, speaking and combining these skills all together. It also kept me quiet, for a while at least! One thing I do not know too much about is our skill at learning. I know that it is essentially the same for everyone but we each ‘remember’ different things. I think that we have different ways of learning, we have different skills that enable us to do different things. Not everyone is a fighter pilot or a teacher or a farmer. Most of us have the same body structure of arms, legs etc but not all and these can change over time. We can put our skills to different uses to control our body. At school we are taught basics, some have a greater aptitude towards perhaps sport, whilst others not so much. We can be taught to higher levels and go on to areas we might not have originally been thought capable of. In my late teens I was told I had no aptitude for working with computers, but fifteen years later I purchased my very first computer, a Sinclair ZX81 with just 1k of memory where the programs were loaded each time using a cassette tape recorder and a black-and-white tv was used, rather than a monitor like we use today. Very different, especially considering that the laptop computer I am using to write this has its own integrated screen and keyboard with 64Gb of memory. I also recall that far from having no aptitude, years later I ended up teaching others how to use the computers at work as well as writing programs. But it is amazing to realise how much has changed in forty years! I wonder what the children of today will think of our technology in years to come. I would hope that they put their memories, skills and learning with ours to the good of everyone and everything on Earth.

A Sinclair ZX81 computer.

This week, a thought…
If electricity comes from electrons, does that mean that morality comes from morons?

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Abbreviations And Words Over Time

In September last year I posted a blog on the subject of abbreviations and words. Since then I have seen more on this, so I decided to do additional writings. There isn’t too much in this world that disappoints me, but one thing that does is when folk use odd abbreviations but presume that everyone will know their meaning. I do appreciate that many abbreviations will be so well-known that everyone ought to know them, but if someone asks for an explanation, it is surely both polite and kind to explain. Everybody has a bad day sometimes, most especially with what we are all having to cope with right now! When writing about a specialist subject, I was taught the importance of providing either a simple explanation to something like a TLA (Three Letter Abbreviation) and after that just the abbreviation may be used. Where quite a few technical terms are written it is expected that a full-blown glossary will be added as an appendix, with relevant links to where appropriate explanations may be found. In all the course work for my teacher training, that was mandatory! Whether it be in books or online, I appreciate that there are places where folk reading an item are almost certain to understand a particular TLA, for example in a Facebook group dedicated to a particular town, then spelling out the name of a local school is hardly necessary when just about all the members of that group will either know that school, having attended the establishment themselves or have had relatives educated there. In fact, that knowledge or something similar may be part of the series of questions which must be answered correctly before entry to the group is permitted. I have friends who were in the Royal Air Force, so technical terms relating to aircraft shouldn’t require explanation and if by any chance it is, then a very quick explanation keeps the focus on what we are reading. I do appreciate how difficult it can be in this modern world of ours, where so much online communication may be achieved globally within mere seconds through Facebook or similar and we have many and varied cultures. But words, even a smile, can bring us together. I am reminded of a quote by Srinivas Arka on this, which is:

Different Cultures In The World

Mentioning Facebook, I know that not everyone likes using this particular social networking site but it does make it easy for folk to connect and share with family and friends online around the world and there are safeguards. Today it is the world’s largest social network, with more than a billion users worldwide. One aspect that I like are the ‘closed user’ groups meant for those with specific interests or who have links to certain areas. As well as answering correctly a series of questions prior to joining, there are also Administrators and Moderators. Break the rules and you are barred or at least warned. I am in a Facebook group called G.A.S.P. (Grammar And Spelling Police) but this was set up by some people in America. So it can be entertaining at times, as there are quite a few British in the group besides me, as well as folk from other English-speaking countries. It is also used by some to improve their knowledge of English when it isn’t their first language. To my mind the idea of the group is to see how a simple spelling error can be so funny. It is not to make fun of anyone, but simply to see how easily errors can occur and create humour by doing so. Except of course we then come to that old saying, “Britain and America – two nations divided by a common language”. As well as spellings, there are many words which are the same but which have different meanings and this can be confusing. For example a British biscuit is an American cookie and an American cookie is a British cookie, but an American biscuit is a British scone and an American scone is, so far as I know, a dense wedge or triangle, compared to our British scone which is taller and usually round. An American scone uses much more butter than the British scone and has quite a bit more sugar. I am also a member of The Bollardorium group on Facebook, but as the description on there states, it is a public group so anyone can see who is in the group and what they post, it is visible, so anyone on Facebook can find this group. As the Administrator writes, “It’s all rather bollard and all rather simple. The Bollardorium is here to celebrate, collate, enthuse and reflect on all things bollardic.” So anyone finding bollards of any shape size, colour, even in an unusual location, may share the image. We do find fun examples to share and the comments can also be brilliant!

Poor Traffic Cone!

Whilst first at school and then later at work, we are taught various ways of remembering different things. So learning to type, in order to use and learn the location of keys on an English keyboard, the phrase ‘the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog’ is taught because it uses all of the twenty-six letters of the alphabet and enables the typist to memorise their position on the keyboard. To remember the order of colours in the visible spectrum (Red, Orange,Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet) then ‘Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain’ is taught. Similarly, a way to recall the names of the eight planets, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune giving the order of the planets in our Solar System is ‘My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nachos’. But many of the terms we use may be uttered without thinking, such as a PIN, or Personal Identification Number. With the coming of Twitter, where only a limited number of characters may be used, acronyms are commonplace. But problems can and do occur when certain words are only found in a particular country. We should all know ones like ASAP, As Soon As Possible, but LASER, short for Light Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation may not be as well known! One that I didn’t know until fairly recently was SCUBA, short for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. Even in photography, a well-known image format, GIF, is short for Graphics Interchange Format. But one I did know, through delivering training courses, was making sure that things were SMART, meaning that they were Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely. The list of these is almost endless and too long to detail here, but I do recall SNAFU…

With the onset of wars and changes in industry along with weapons, many things have changed and new words have been brought in to our everyday lives. Even in the last fifty or so years the use and meaning of words has changed, as can be seen when looking back to when I was a child. There are some phrases we do not or perhaps even dare not use now. For example, back then a certain figure could be found on particular brand of marmalade, but after a time that was deemed unacceptable and was removed. Learning of different languages is becoming more expected, although English and Spanish are predominant. It is known that in some countries a particular term relating to a person’s skin is sometimes frowned upon but that too is changing. I am in the very slow process of learning Spanish and anyone learning or knowing that language will know that, as with other languages, there is often both a ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ form to a word, depending on its use. That is the case in Spanish, such that the colour black in its feminine form is ‘negra’, whilst its masculine form for the same colour is ‘negro’. In my previous blog post I mentioned ’Tonto’ as being the Native American (either Comanche or Potawatomi) sidekick of Roy Rogers in the children’s cowboy adventures created by George W. Trendle and Fran Striker. There, the name means ‘wild one’ but in Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish, “tonto” translates as “dumb person”, “moron”, or “fool”. As a result the name has been amended, especially in their dubbed translations. When I was a child, the term ‘bright and gay’ meant we were happy. The latter term now has a different connotation. Equally some phrases have more literal meaning, such as ’tip of the iceberg’, because a large percentage of an iceberg is hidden under the sea, with only a small part actually visible. So if something is said to be ‘the tip of the iceberg’, it means that something is only a small part of a much bigger situation. There are so many phrases nowadays, far too many to mention here, but one I caught recently whilst watching a game of snooker on television was ’nip and tuck’, where the two players were matching scores frame by frame, but a historical explanation for this expression is that it comes from sword-fighting, where a nip is a light touch and a tuck a heavier blow. Another use is in horse racing, where it means the same as neck and neck from start to finish.

Languages change over time, as anyone who has studied the history of the English language will know. Old English, or Anglo-Saxon, is the earliest recorded form of our present language, spoken in England as well as southern and eastern Scotland in the early Middle Ages. It was brought to Great Britain by Anglo-Saxon settlers in the mid-5th century, and the first Old English literary works date from the mid-7th century. After the Norman Conquest of 1066, English was replaced for a time as the language of the upper classes by Anglo-Norman, a relative of French. This is regarded as marking the end of the Old English era, developing as it did into a phase now known as Middle English. This was spoken until the late 15th century. Changes continued and the Oxford English Dictionary specifies the period when Middle English was spoken as being from 1150 to 1500 when it saw significant changes to its vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, as well as orthography. Writing conventions varied widely and examples of writing from this period that have survived show extensive regional variation. The more standardised Old English language became fragmented, localised and was, for the most part, improvised. By the end of the period (about 1470) and aided by the intervention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in 1439 the Chancery Standard, based on the London dialects, had become established. This largely formed the basis for Modern English spelling, although pronunciation has changed considerably since that time. Middle English was succeeded in England by Early Modern English, which lasted until about 1650. Scots developed concurrently from a variant of the Northumbrian dialect (prevalent in northern England and spoken in south-east Scotland). Little survives of early Middle English literature though, due in part to Norman domination and the prestige that came with writing in French rather than English. During the 14th century, a new style of literature emerged with the works of writers including John Wycliffe and Geoffrey Chaucer, whose Canterbury Tales remains the most studied and read work of the period. I am also fascinated how some European languages have their ‘word order’ seemingly back-to-front, as in in Spanish. One example is our ‘green table’, where in Spanish it is ‘mesa verde’ (table green). Some years ago I saw a ’spoof’ list of car parts translated into German, where one part, the carburettor, became ‘Der gasundairmixensuckerbit’. I shall find that list again, one day!

Finally this week… personal memories.
My dear mother passed away just a few years ago, but were she still with us here on Earth then this May 9th would have been her 100th birthday. Instead she is with her soulmate, my father, the two of them resting together in peace.

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