Always Learning

From the moment we are born, we are learning. Every breath we take, every move we make, we are learning. Happily some things we are born with, like the sucking reflex enabling us to feed. Most but not all of us are born with our senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch all working, most but not all have fully functioning limbs too. To begin with our senses are far from precise, so over time these develop through repetition and training, just as our brain and muscles do. Even as we sleep, our minds are quietly assembling the events of our wakeful day and storing them. We may not remember all these dreams, but everyone is believed to dream between three and six times per night. It is thought that each dream lasts between five and twenty minutes, but around ninety-five percent of dreams are then forgotten by the time a person gets out of bed. Our dreaming can help us learn, as well as develop our long-term memories. The learning process is also a two-way street, as our parents or guardians, in fact our whole family, even our pets, are learning at the same time about us, noticing our habits. Some of these habits are perhaps better altered, whilst others may be encouraged. I am told that when I was very young, I developed whooping cough which can be serious. So for a while, my dear mum would rush up to my room at the first sound of me crying and I learned that if I cried then someone would come. But then one time the local district nurse was visiting and helped to calm mum down, during which time I apparently stopped crying and was soon fast asleep! I got out of the habit, so it was quite a learning experience for both of us. My two elder brothers were born during World War II, whilst I arrived a good few years later and as a result my upbringing was rather different to that of my brothers, partly because my parents now had much valuable experience with them to call upon. Food was becoming more varied and post-war rationing had now all but ended, as fourteen years of food rationing in Britain ended at midnight on 4 July 1954 when restrictions on the sale and purchase of meat and bacon were lifted. But I am told that my mother had a fright soon after we moved to Whittlesey as she heard what to her was an air-raid siren. It was, but this siren was now being used to call the local volunteer fire brigade to the fire station, which was not far from where we lived at the time. Our home was also near to a lovely church which has a very tall spire and as a result the church bells were quite loud and the noise upset me. But once I was able to understand exactly what the sound was, how it was made and also that my dad was a bellringer, I was happy. It was the same with storms, thunder and lightning. The logical explanations of what they were and what they did made sense to me! Years later I then wondered how many times per day does lightning strike the Earth. I learned that about 100 lightning bolts strike the Earth’s surface every second That’s about 8 million per day and 3 billion each year! Always the enquiring mind. As I was growing up, thankfully my questions were, in the main, either answered or at least explained. I learned not just the basics of reading, writing, arithmetic, history and the like, I also began to learn about other living things. I think it was there that I began to realise that some folk are just naturally gifted in certain areas whilst others are not, but that we are all unique in our own way and that what suits one in doing a task might not suit another. One beaver might create a dam and build its lodge differently to another, but the final result will be what is important. At school I wanted to learn, I had been told that was what school was for, to learn, except just filling my head with facts didn’t always work for me, I wanted to know the why as well as what. Sometimes a simple explanation was all I needed, but over the years I have seen that some teachers are better than others and as I said the other week, there are teachers and there are educators. I fully accept that there are times when some immediate action is required and explanations can be given later, as at a young age we know nothing about the potential dangers of standing by an open fire or being too close to the edge of a cliff! It was also when being an individual became apparent to me, as I said the other week I was encouraged by my school colleagues to try smoking a cigarette but I wouldn’t do so simply because everyone else was.


When I started work for Post Office Telephones, I was a civil servant and I had to pass their entrance exam. I began work in what was then known as the Accommodation department. Within the Peterborough Telephone Area there were over a hundred exchanges as well as quite a number of local engineering centres, all providing and maintaining the telephone service for an area of over two thousand square miles, from Skegness to St. Neots! It was here I began to learn multi-tasking, being able to work on filling in forms but at the same time becoming more aware of what was going on around me. Some of my colleagues had been working there for quite a few years and at the time I could not imagine working for the same company for so long, but in fact I don’t really think I did, despite being with the firm for thirty-eight years. That’s because the company evolved, it too learned. Not everyone was happy with all the changes that took place, even simple things like addressing managers by their first names took a bit of getting used to on both sides, but it happened. A few senior managers who have long since passed away would regularly go drinking at lunchtime and it was expected that some of us would accompany them. I preferred a proper bite to eat and a walk around town though, in fact it was during a lunchtime wander that I saw the first Sinclair ZX81 computer on sale! That really was a major step for me, learning much about computers, their programming and uses. By now Post Office Telephones was British Telecommunications Plc, with its structural and various departmental name changes. Also the levels of management were becoming less and less, computers really were becoming more and more commonplace although I do wonder if they generated more paperwork! Over the years we had a series of studies, some by staff in the company and some brought in from outside but they were usually the same or at least very similar. It was all Time Management in various guises, hoping to improve Efficiency. A few weeks ago now I told the story of the Ant whose management thought it might work better if supervised and so generally improve its efficiency. The management had lots of new ideas, they made changes but the joke was that they ended up sacking the Ant because it ended up showing a lack of motivation and a negative attitude as a result of those changes. There were new ideas, but sometimes change seemed to be made simply for the sake of change, to say that things were better. Not so long ago there was a funny television series by the late Victoria Wood called ‘dinnerladies’ and in that there were some great characters whose parts had been cleverly written. Right at the beginning of the first series we were introduced to the main characters, a group of mostly female and middle-aged canteen workers at a factory set in the Manchester area. The central character was the kind and very dependable Brenda ‘Bren’ Furlong, played by Victoria Wood, whose relationship with sarcastic and exhausted canteen manager Tony Martin developed through the series. Then there was the prim and prudish Dolly Bellfield and her friend Jean, along with the younger pair of characters, Twinkle (who was often came to work dressed in her work clothes) and the relatively slow-witted, mild-mannered Anita who was the complete opposite to her posh-voiced mother, an estate agent. There was Stan Meadowcroft, the opinionated, easily provoked but well-meaning maintenance man who was responsible for cleaning the factory and fixing equipment. Then there was the cheery but rather disorganised Philippa Moorcroft, the Personnel manager who was from the south of England and who at first did not fit in well with the rest of the staff. She moved to Manchester because of her relationship with a senior member of staff, Mr Michael. Julie Walters also appeared in several episodes as Bren’s somewhat disadvantaged, rather delusional and manipulative mother who lived in a caravan behind a petrol station. She had abandoned Bren at an orphanage but often turned up to ask for favours. Each episode had a definite story but also a continuing theme and we saw how changes occurred along with numerous misunderstandings. The series developed very well as each character learned about the others. The series ended when the excellent canteen was closed to make room for more offices. A familiar scenario, sadly. I will admit to smiling when Personnel was renamed Human Resources, with no change of work just a fancy name change, also how Philippa attempted to introduce various things like Scottish Country Dancing to a factory environment. It reminded me of a time when one of my senior managers attempted to get us office-based sales staff to persuade callers to have a more modern telephone by simply offering the staff incentives such as a bottle of wine or similar to the person who ’sold’ the most each month. The orders for more modern telephones went up for a short while, but the manager could not seem to understand why the orders dropped when the incentive scheme was stopped. I have spoken to others working in other industries and found that to a large extent they found the same where they worked. There are exceptions of course, for example like the military, but in that environment there is no nine to five working like in an office, if work needs finishing then every person involved keeps working until it is job done and signed off.

I do think that we can sometimes lose sight of how potentially important our interaction with others can be. We learn to communicate and we may only say a few kind or thoughtful words to someone, but at that moment it may be exactly what that person needs. Equally, harsh words may have an adverse effect. Most of us at some time or another have had moments when we question our own decisions, but a few supportive words can make a world of a difference. A couple I know ended up leaving their partners and marrying each other as they learned to trust their feelings for each other. They now have a child of their own, a life that would not have existed otherwise and who can say what a difference that child or perhaps their offspring might make to the world in the future. Even that person’s interaction with others, which I think is called the ‘ripple’ effect. As the years have passed and I have moved around the Midlands I have met many different people of different races, cultures and creeds. On one occasion I was invited to an event where the guest was Srinivas Arka and I was more involved with one of his charities than I perhaps am now. But this was an event attended predominantly by those of an Asian background, in fact I think I was the only non-Asian attendee. Some folk looked at me, wondering who I was, but I was warmly greeted by several people who knew me. It was a learning experience for me, seeing how different races can be treated and a reminder that we are all human. Sadly there are those who even now still try to have us believe that some humans are, how can I put it, ‘lesser beings’ than others. To my mind, whether you believe in God or not, whether your thoughts on how the Universe began differ from others, whether you find eating certain things upsetting, it is surely down to our individual choice. But we should still all be treated the same. I have said that we are always learning, but I guess that ought to be adjusted in that for most of us we have the capacity to learn. However some do not. Where I am living at the moment I see inmates in this Care Home who have dementia and sadly it is difficult for them to learn. Last year when I was in hospital I could not even turn over in bed without assistance, but I have learned to move again. I had to. There are still some things I cannot do unaided, but thankfully I am learning to walk again and if I can I hope to show others here that we can overcome difficulties, we can learn to adapt to changes as time passes. A friend of mine has need of a hearing aid now, we think it may be as a result of having to spend so much time on the telephone at work! I know it can be hard and we all have proverbial dark days, but I try to have faith that with a positive attitude we will survive for a good while longer and that is fine with me. This beautiful world continues to change, not always in an ideal way but it seems to me that Nature has a habit of restoring a balance, despite those who seem to want to upset it for whatever reason. The Earth does not stop turning, the Sun continues to shine down upon us although at times I read ridiculous questions from folk, like asking whether our moon is hollow, how long it would take us to reach the nearest star and I expect as each new generation appears then similar questions will be asked. Last week I said about how technology was continuing to change and over the years some folk have felt it has not always been for the better! Thankfully we do learn, though sometimes the cost can be quite high. One example is asbestos, it was at first thought to be an excellent material, but it turned out to be a killer if not handled safely. We are coping with the effects of a pandemic, but as I have said there are differences of opinion on how it started and its treatment. But we are doing what we do, we are learning, using different technologies to keep in touch with others, which I believe is important. Quite a number of people now use or are at least aware of Zoom, a video conferencing service we can use to meet virtually with others, whether by video, audio only or both, all whilst conducting live chats. The system also allows these sessions to be recorded for viewing later. I have been looking at quite a few things on YouTube, though much of it I ignore, especially the adverts. Their systems seem to think they’re being helpful! Sometimes they are, for example that is how I learned about Radio Garden, which enables folk to listen to radio stations for free from all around the world. Very clever. I have also found quite a number of ‘live’ web cams, again from around the world and the way the Internet is now there must be much more that I haven’t yet discovered. But it keeps me occupied, reading, writing and above all, learning.

This week, the benefits of a good vocabulary.
I recently called an old engineering friend of mine and asked what he was working on these days. He replied that he was presently working on an aqua-thermal treatment of ceramics, steel and aluminium in a somewhat constrained environment. I was impressed, until I discovered that he was actually in the kitchen doing the washing up under his wife’s supervision…

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