The Telephone Network

It fascinates me how someone can have a brilliant idea and others just cannot imagine it ever being of any use. I think this is a fine example. In 1875, a certain Mr A.G. Bell formed the American Bell Telephone Company. A year later, he patented the first improvement in telegraphy, thus creating the first wired voice transmission where a pair of physical wires were connected between two devices. In 1876, Bell had a meeting with Western Union and according to the minutes of that meeting, Bell offered all rights to the telephone for sale to them for a mere $100,000. Bell’s profession was actually that of a voice teacher, yet he claimed to have discovered an instrument of great practical value in communication which had been overlooked by thousands of workers who had spent years in the field. He believed that a telephone would one day be installed in every residence and place of business, but at that meeting the committee thought Bell’s proposals were too fantastic. They felt that the central exchange alone would represent a huge outlay in land and buildings, to say nothing of the relevant equipment. In conclusion, the committee felt that it had no option but to advise against any investments in Bell’s scheme. They did not doubt that it would find uses in special circumstances, but any development of the kind and of the scale which Bell so fondly imagined was utterly and completely out of the question!

Alexander Graham Bell (March 3, 1847– August 2, 1922) was a Scottish-born inventor, scientist, and engineer who is credited with inventing and patenting the first practical telephone. His father, grandfather, and brother had all been associated with work on elocution and speech, also both his mother and wife were deaf, so profoundly influencing Bell’s life’s work. His research on hearing and speech further led him to experiment with hearing devices which in time culminated in Bell being awarded the first U.S. patent for the telephone on March 7, 1876. Bell considered his invention an intrusion on his real work as a scientist and refused to have a telephone in his study. But in 1878, some two years after he had invented the telephone, Bell is quoted as saying ”It is conceivable that cables of telephone wires could be laid underground, or suspended overhead, communicating by branch wires with private dwellings, country houses, shops, manufactories etc., etc., uniting them through the main cable with a central office where wires could be connected as desired, establishing direct communication between any two places in the city. Such a plan as this, though impracticable at the present moment will, I firmly believe, be the outcome of the introduction of the telephone to the public. Not only so, but I believe, in the future, wires will unite the head offices of the Telephone Company in different cities, and a man in one part of the country may communicate by word of mouth with another in a distant place. I am aware that such ideas may appear to you Utopian. Believing however as I do that such a scheme will be the ultimate result of the telephone to the public, I will impress upon you all the advisability of keeping this end in view, that all present arrangements of the telephone may be eventually realised in this grand system.” Many other inventions marked Bell’s later life, including some groundbreaking work in optical telecommunications, hydrofoils as well as aeronautics. Although Bell was not one of the 33 founders of the National Geographic Society, he had a strong influence on the magazine whilst he served as its second president from January 7, 1898, until 1903.

Alexander Graham Bell, making a call.

The commercialisation of the telephone began in 1876, with instruments operated in pairs for private use between two locations. It became more and more commonplace for users to want a fixed telephone in their home, but to begin with those users who wanted to communicate with persons at multiple locations had as many telephones as necessary for the purpose. To alert another user to the establishing of a telephone call was done by first whistling loudly into the transmitter until the other party heard the alert. Bells were soon added to stations for signalling so that an attendant no longer needed to wait for the whistle. Later on, telephones took advantage of the exchange principle which was already employed in telegraph networks. Each telephone was connected by wire to a telephone exchange established for a town or area. Communications outside this exchange area used a system called trunking and this was installed between exchanges. The Public Switched Telephone Network, or PSTN as it is often referred to, began. Alexander Bell demonstrated the telephone to Queen Victoria on 14 January 1878 at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight with calls to London, Cowes and Southampton and these were the first long-distance calls in the UK. The Telephone Company Ltd (Bell’s Patents) was registered on 14 June 1878 to market Bell’s patent telephones in Great Britain and it concentrated its efforts on the sale of telephone instruments and the fitting of private lines. The National Telephone Company (NTC) was then formed on 10 March 1881 and this brought many smaller local companies together. Meanwhile in the U.S.A. Bell co-founded the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) in 1885, but here in the U.K. the NTC had already formed the basis of our early telephone network which existed until the Telephone Transfer Act 1911. Then, because the National Telephone Company had become a monopoly, the Liberal government decided to take it into public hands so it was taken over by the General Post Office (GPO) in 1912 and up until 1982 the main civil telecommunications system in the UK was a monopoly, even when the Post Office Act 1969 changed the General Post Office from a department of state to a public corporation, known as the Post Office, with the telephony side becoming Post Office Telecommunications. There was still one area in the UK which had its own telecommunications provider and this was Hull, served by KCom, though it was known then as Kingston Communications. Meanwhile broadcasting of radio and television was a duopoly of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) where these two organisations controlled all broadcast services. They also directly owned and operated the broadcast transmitter sites. Mobile phone and Internet services did not exist at all at that time. The civil telecommunications monopoly ended when Mercury Communications arrived in 1983 and the Post Office system then evolved into British Telecom which was privatised in 1984. All the broadcast transmitters which belonged to the BBC and IBA were privatised during the 1990s and then belonged to Babcock International and Arqiva. British Rail Telecommunications was created by British Rail (BR) in 1992 and operated its own national trunked radio network providing dedicated train-to-shore mobile communications, and in the early 1980s BR helped establish the Mercury Communications, now Cable & Wireless Co (C&WC), core infrastructure by laying a resilient ‘figure-of-eight’ fibre optic network alongside Britain’s railway lines, spanning London, Bristol, Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester.

For many years users of telephone lines were commonly referred to as subscribers because they rented access to their local provider’s network via a fixed telephone line, a pair of wires connecting a handset both provided and maintained by the network provider into the public switched telephone network (PSTN) which had a dedicated port in the telephone exchange equipment, thus supplying the subscribers unique telephone number and a meter for the charging of calls. When there was a shortage of cabling in a particular area two subscribers would share a single pair of wires with simple switching system enabling one subscriber or the other to use the network at any one time. These were naturally referred to as shared service lines. In the early days of the service automation was introduced between the telephone and the exchange so that each subscriber could directly dial another subscriber connected to the same exchange, however calls to a subscriber in a different exchange area required manual switching by operators who were housed in switch rooms of large exchanges around the country. Later, more sophisticated address signalling enabled the direct dialling of calls by subscribers of the service and the use of operators was reduced to handling calls to the emergency services, these being to the fire, police, ambulance and coastguard. Networks were gradually designed and extended in a hierarchical manner until they spanned cities, countries, continents and oceans. Also, the shared service system had to be phased out in the UK some years later when other telephone companies were allowed to connect their services to the BT network, thus requiring a common standard of connection for all to use.

The PSTN network now provides infrastructure and services for public telecommunication and is the aggregate of the world’s circuit-switched telephone networks that are operated by national, regional, or local telephony operators. These consist of wires, fibre-optic cables, microwave transmission links, cellular networks, communications satellites and undersea telephone cables, all of which are interconnected by switching centres which allow for most telephones to communicate with each other. Originally a network of fixed-line analogue telephone systems, the PSTN is now almost entirely digital in its core network. It includes mobile and other networks, as well as fixed telephones. In the 1970s, the telecommunications industry began to implement a different service for transmitting data over much of the end-to-end equipment that was already in use in the PSTN. In the 1980s, the industry began planning for digital services assuming they would follow much the same pattern as voice services, and conceived end-to-end circuit-switched services, known as the Broadband Integrated Services Digital Network (B-ISDN) but this was overtaken by the Internet. At the turn of the 21st century, the oldest parts of the telephone network may still use analogue technology for the last mile or less to the end user, but digital technologies such as Digital subscriber line (DSL), Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) and optical fibre connectivity have become more common in this portion of the network. There are also many private networks, usually used by large companies and which are linked to the PSTN through limited ‘gateways’ such as a private branch exchange (PBX). This is like a small telephone exchange or switching system that serves a private organisation and permits sharing of central office trunks between internally installed telephones, and provides intercommunication between those internal telephones within the organisation without the use of their external lines. The central office lines provide connections to the PSTN network and the concentration aspect of a PBX permits the shared use of these lines between all stations in the organisation. The PBX enables two or more extensions to directly connect whilst not using the PSTN network. This method reduces the number of lines needed from the organisation to the public switched telephone network and saves on call charges. Besides telephones, other devices such as a fax machines or computer modems can be connected to the PBX and each may have its own, dedicated extension number that is usually mapped to the numbering scheme of the central office and the telephone number block allocated to the PBX. Also a large organisation may connect directly to its other offices by means of private circuits which are permanently connected, which if used enough allow the transmission of voice and data for a lower cost than normal calls. At one time these were done over analogue lines, then digital ones, but these are largely being overtaken by other services now including mobile phone and Internet services.

Wireless technology…

So far as the regulation of the communication industry is concerned, the Consultative Committee for International Telephony and Telegraphy (CCITT) was created in 1956 but was renamed in 1993 as the International Telecommunication Union – Telecommunication (ITU-T). It is one of the three sectors of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the other two sectors being Radio (ITU-R) and Development (ITU-D). The technical operation of the PSTN adheres to the standards created by the ITU-T which coordinates standards for telecommunications and information communication technology for such things as cybersecurity, machine learning, and video compression between its member states, private sector members, and academia members. These standards allow different networks in different countries to interconnect seamlessly. Technically it is the E.163 and E.164 standards which provide a single global address space for telephone numbers. The combination of the interconnected networks and the single numbering plan thus allow telephones around the world to dial each other. Here in the UK the regulation of communications has changed many times during the same period and most of the bodies have been merged into Ofcom, this being the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK industry. So to my mind, it shows that Alexander Bell’s idea of communications was an excellent starting point, but it has surely now developed way beyond his visions or expectations.

I am reminded…
I used to work for British Telecom and for a few years I worked as part of their Midland Region Mobile Exhibition Team. This involved the staffing of various exhibitions, mainly around the Midlands and on one occasion I was at a public agricultural show where the stand was in an open aircraft hangar. It was a bitterly cold day, but we were in our official uniforms of light grey trousers, thin white shirt, blue jacket with brass buttons and we were all freezing cold. So I found a nearby stall holder selling very thick navy blue jumpers that perfectly matched our uniforms and we bought those for ourselves. Our BT Exhibition Manager turned up and was not too happy, but he knew we needed them so the extra clothing was approved!

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Social Media

I was eleven years old when my parents bought me a lovely camera as a Christmas present. They knew that with the muscular weakness in my right hand I would find loading and operating a standard film camera a little bit difficult to do on my own, so they purchased a Kodak Instamatic 100. This type I could manage, as instead of the the standard type of film that had to be deftly threaded into the camera in order to make it work, this one used a drop-in cartridge. I could also hold the camera and work the shutter button with the index finger of my left hand rather than my right and still keep the camera steady. Then a few years later I bought a better camera, this was still a Kodak Instamatic but the 333 model which had a light meter built in and that automatically adjusted the shutter speed. I used this for a fair while but then I bought a Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera, an Asahi Pentax SP1000, which did use a standard film but by now I could manage. This one allowed me to change lenses, it used a prism and mirror system to view the image that I was wanting to take directly through the lens itself, I was also able to manually adjust the shutter speed, aperture and focussing. As soon as the film was used up, I would then take it in to a chemists shop in Peterborough where it would be processed. The helpful assistant knew a great deal about photography and would often look at my photos with me. I was able to discuss the results with him and he taught me the basics of lighting, focussing and other camera techniques. After a while I began using a different film which meant I was now obtaining colour slides rather than prints by sending the film off to Kodak in a pre-paid envelope, I then received the slides in the post about a week later from their processing department in Hemel Hempstead. Now this photography was something that I could do and enjoy. I continued with my hobby all through my thirty-eight years working for British Telecom, but perhaps not always as much as I might have liked. So when my time with BT ended I didn’t give it much thought to begin with, but I slowly picked it up again. I was still using a standard film camera, thirty-six exposures at a time and sending the exposed film away for processing. Then I decided to move over to digital, but to begin with I bought a small Olympus camera and experimented with that. It served me very well, especially when I decided to have a holiday in the U.S.A. Once I was happy with that and could afford to, I looked around for a digital SLR. I had previously used an Asahi Pentax but couldn’t find a digital version that I liked, so I bought a Canon digital SLR camera and over the next few years added a couple of lenses with different focal lengths as these enabled me to ‘zoom in’ on what I was photographing. I was able to get some good results with those. I had also been doing some voluntary work with a charity and one day was chatting to a man in a nearby office. I saw that on his desk he had a really lovely old camera which I admired and commented on, the next thing I knew I was involved in photography work with a new venture he was setting up called a Social Media Cafe. This met once a week and it got me out and about. I took photos of local events, but there were a just few occasions when we had to be careful like the times a few of us were photographing EDL marches. But most times were fun, like Sky Ride. I did this for a few years and I will admit to being rather pleased with a few of the photos that I managed to take in that time, I was fortunate enough to get some in a local newspaper and one item was later enlarged and put on the wall of the local library for a little while after the place had re-opened following a major makeover. There was also a rather large advertising project I was involved in with the city council where I took the photographs which were then added to posters and displayed around the city. That was quite something.

Asahi Pentax SP1000

But I was now looking for a much-needed job, I also think the folk in the JobCentre were trying to get me off their books and with my experience as a tutor/trainer with British Telecom it was felt that I could put that to good use. At first so did I, but it seemed that my experience with BT counted for nought out in the big wide world! So I went to Leicester college and got myself a proper teaching qualification. Then was I able to start up my own business, so I did just that by combining my knowledge of computers, my love of photography and my teaching skills into Adwaen Photography and Computer Training. I chose the name ‘Adwaen’ because of my ancestry, as the word means ‘I know’ or ‘I understand’ in Welsh which I felt was quite appropriate because I really wanted others to hopefully learn from me and perhaps then help others as a result. I provided training on basic photography as well as using computers, I linked and combined these into various media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Flipboard as well as running training sessions on Social Media. I can look back now and smile, as this business had actually started out from a quite casual conversation as I admired the camera on that man’s desk. So thank you John, we never know where things can lead. In fact what this initial contact did was to also lead me into not just showing and teaching others about social media, but actively doing more of it myself. I did not want to lose this skill, this knowledge, so when I found myself in a Care Home recovering from heart problems and Covid-19 I decided to write this weekly blog. It has been going a year now and folk seem happy with it, so that pleases me and encourages me. A blog is defined as a regularly updated website or web page, typically one run by an individual or small group, that is written in an informal or conversational style. Each entry is ‘posted’ onto the website and are typically displayed in reverse chronological order so that the most recent post appears first, at the top of the web page. Blogs evolved from online diaries and journals in the mid-1990s and at that time many internet users were already running personal web pages where they published regular updates about their own lives and thoughts, as well as social commentary. The term web log was first used during the late 1990s, which later became ‘weblog’, then ‘we blog’, and finally just ‘blog’. Due to the growing number of such web pages, several programs and websites started to appear which made it easier for users to create online journals and personal blogs. It made the technology accessible to many non-technical users and helped popularise blogging. The only real difference between a blog and other types of website is that typical websites are static in nature where content is organised in pages and they are not updated so frequently, whereas a blog is dynamic, and it is usually updated more frequently. In fact some bloggers (those who write blogs) publish multiple new articles on a daily basis. These blogs can be on a theme, on personal views, events, anything that the writer chooses to write about. I post an updated blog each week on a Friday morning.

Prior to the rise of computers, especially home computers and the Internet, folk would communicate by writing letters and then use the postal system to send them. I believe though that some fathers were unhappy when the postal service was first established all those years ago, as it meant their daughters could send messages without their parents knowing! Urgent items of information used telegrams, there was also telegraphic signalling with morse code, and after that came the telephone system. In latter years mobile phones have come along, but in general these all have a common theme which is either one-to-one or one-to-many communication. Then came the Internet. Websites and blogging brought along social media, which as I have said consists of websites and various applications which enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking. This enabled many-to-many communication, which is generally a great idea and extremely useful when used appropriately. We have a few different ways of doing this form of communication and as a result there have had to be rules and regulations brought in. I have already said about a blog, which is short for web log and is a personal website where individuals may write about opinions, activities and experiences. We also have Twitter, which is a ’micro-blogging’ system that allows you to send and receive short posts called tweets. These tweets can be up to a hundred and forty characters long, they may also include links to relevant websites and resources. Twitter users ‘follow’ other users. If you follow someone you can see their tweets in your Twitter ‘timeline’. You can choose to follow people as well as organisations with similar academic and personal interests to you. Also you can create your own tweets or you can re-tweet information that has been tweeted by others. Retweeting means that information can be shared both quickly and efficiently between a large number of people. Twitter itself only allows for basic text and no pictures, but other programs do work well with Twitter to allow images to be included. There are a few others around, some which use a neat magazine format and one I like is Flipboard, which is an online magazine where the user can easily ‘flip’ or copy items and articles from existing websites into an online magazine. This is especially good for specific subjects like hobbies, but it can also be used for general information. I have included a photo from my collection, I took this one very cold winter’s morning at Southend whilst I was attending a few days training with BT.

Winter Sunrise at Southend

I think one website that most will have heard of and are possibly using now to view this blog post of mine is Facebook. Where this differs so much is that you can share words, pictures, videos of events, hobbies, fun, things you like, in fact almost anything within reason. There are strict guidelines and support for the system, where users can report anything they feel is inappropriate and then if necessary a user will have the item they have posted removed by a moderator. The user may even be barred from Facebook and we have seen that happening quite recently in the U.S.A. when a user was deliberately posting false as well as misleading information. There are also groups that may be set up that refer to specific subjects or areas and users will only be allowed in to that ‘closed’ user group if they answer certain questions correctly. For example I am in such a group relating to the town where I grew up and was educated. A user may have many Facebook friends and some folk choose to be ‘Facebook friends’ with people they do not directly know but who do share a common interest. A user may also prevent another user from having any contact with themselves if they wish. I must say that I find Facebook useful, however there are some folk who put what I do regard as inappropriate or excessive information on Facebook at times. For example, an article in the Leicester Mercury newspaper appeared a little while ago saying about a new Mum who was posting onto Facebook every little thing (including photos) that her new baby was doing, like wearing a new outfit, crawling off the mat, six months old, etc. Naturally her Facebook friends were delighted for her to begin with, but in the end they asked her to stop as too much was too much. That Mum might have been better off keeping a personal diary. I use a program called Day One, where I can keep a daily diary and I have found it most useful to refer back to at times, for important information! The Facebook system allows users to check and change various settings, in particular the Security settings, so you know who can see what you’re posting! I will admit to occasionally getting ‘friend’ requests from people I do not know and so I check on their profile. I hardly ever agree to such requests, as once agreed to friends can see all the comments other people post, even if they are not their own friends! As to whether anyone is right or wrong to join Facebook, it must be down to the individual. So I have a fun example for you to explain the system. Imagine you have taken a photograph of your dog. You then post it just once on Facebook for people to see and comment on. They can then comment on that and share your post with others like their friends, some of whom you may not know, for them to see and share with their Facebook friends if they wish. This is rather like walking down the street and stopping everyone you see to look at the photo and comment on it. You even give them a copy of the photo and they can then do the same to everyone they meet. Alternatively, you can limit it to just your Facebook friends and in that case you would be then going round and visiting each and every one of the friends you have in the whole wide world, showing them the photo and allowing each one of them to comment on it. So it does have its good points, it is easy to share information, keep in contact with people and be up to date with events all around the world as well as locally. Items can be deleted and edited, which is very useful sometimes. For me, the only real down-side to the system are the adverts, as these are almost always unwanted but are done so users aren’t paying for access to the Facebook service. I try to be careful when I am sharing information, but in general I am in favour of Facebook, so long as we are careful and just think before clicking on that ‘send’ or ‘post’ button. I have seen a few heated arguments appear online at times and a moderator has had comments as well as posts reported to them and the relevant items removed. Having folk from all around the world see what you are saying can be great, but it really has highlighted to me a few differences in the meaning of words and that’s just in the English language. I still wonder at how our biscuits are called cookies in American English, whilst their biscuits are what we call scones. I also wonder what technology will bring to us in the future world of Social Media!

This week, we have…
Friends of mine recently found a bird’s nest that was being re-used. It was noted that there were no eggs there on Sunday, but one egg on Monday and two eggs by Tuesday. I told them I knew why – because Sunday is meant to be a day of rest…

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I have been thinking a little more about holidays. I have said in previous posts about my holiday memories, I detailed my lovely round the world cruise but I haven’t said too much about when I was quite young. As a lad I went with my parents on holidays to North Devon and we got quite used to travelling the route from Peterborough. We had a few regular stopping places, although in those days there were no such things as fast-food places like McDonalds or anything. But there was a park in Northampton where we used the public toilets, we would have a few sandwiches and tea from a flask, then carry on to our next regular ‘service areas’. Except for one time at Northampton when Dad and I were quietly drinking tea as we watched a few squirrels leaping up trees, when Mum returned, looking a bit flustered. It seemed that the Ladies toilet was locked – so Dad and I ’stood guard’ in order for Mum to use the Gents. It was quite early in the morning, but we felt it prudent to be prepared! The only real travel problems occurred when the bypasses and motorways were being constructed and on one occasion we had to stop and ask a policeman, as we found we were on the wrong road. He asked us, in his broad local accent, if we really wanted to go to Chippenham! We had missed an earlier turning at a roundabout which had recently been constructed, so we turned around and were soon on our way again. Holidays to North Devon became an annual event, at first our stays were in a caravan on a farmer’s field and it was there that one time I had to be kept isolated in the caravan as I had gone down with mumps! In later years we stayed in a chalet on a caravan site that was in Westward Ho!. We were never a family for sitting on the beach all day, we liked to explore, so we did day trips to various places in the area. At first our wanderings were done locally, to Bucks Cross where there was the post office and shop. Back then we had to walk along the side of the main road or on the grass verge, as there were no pavements leading from the farm. Then we went on a bit further, like to Clovelly, Hartland and Bude as well as an odd shopping trip to Bideford. We had a couple of relatives in Plymouth, so we did day trips to see them too. To me our holidays seemed to involve very little forward planning, although knowing my dad they most probably were, but to me they were lovely that way. Mum and Dad must have arranged visits with the folks in Plymouth so they knew we were calling, but otherwise things were, or they seemed to me at least, spur of the moment. So our days varied, we might have one day in Bude, another with a morning in Clovelly, back to the chalet for lunch and the afternoon I could have to myself, walking along the beach or the Kipling Tors, where I would sit quietly watching the world pass by. On the Westward Ho! sea front there was a fish & chip shop which served fish freshly caught in the bay. Then the year after my grandmother had passed away, my grandfather, or ‘Pop’ as I knew him, came along and he stayed with us in a static caravan on the same site as the chalet we had used before. On the site was an amusement arcade for youngsters to play on slot machines, a penny arcade you might call it, but it was also licensed so Pop and my dad went down there some nights for a drink or two. The caravan was a six-berth, with one double bed, two single beds in the small bedroom and a fold-down double bed-settee which was in the main room. So to begin with I shared the room with Pop, except one night he came back from the bar and fell fast asleep really quickly. Sadly his snoring was so loud I simply couldn’t sleep (sorry Pop!) so I rolled my bedclothes and pillows up and made up the bed in the main room. I was so embarrassed the following morning, but it was all I could do. Sadly Pop decided not to accompany us on holidays again, instead he went off when he wished from his bungalow in Whittlesey, visiting our relatives in London. We continued to take our holidays to the West Country, it was really relaxing and included a few fun times too. One day we had spent most of the day in Westward Ho! but as it was a fine evening we decided to journey the fifteen or so miles to Hartland Quay, to see the sunset. We drove there and parked the car on the cliff-top, but we were accosted by a very fine-looking gentleman who spoke to us in quite a haughty tone, berating us for parking quite where we had. It turned out that this was in fact a gentleman quite well-known in the area, it being Lieutenant-Colonel Pine-Coffin, the owner at that time of the nearby Portledge Manor. Situated in the parish of Alwington, south-west of Bideford, Devon, it and the surrounding area belonged to the Coffins, a noble family of Norman origin, for almost a thousand years. The Coffin family is said to have acquired the manor of Alwington soon after the Conquest, but the written record begins with a grant of free warren to Richard Coffin in 1254. What I have found interesting is that a free warren, often simply a warren, was a type of franchise or privilege conveyed by a sovereign in medieval England to an English subject, promising to hold them harmless for killing game of certain species within a stipulated area, usually a wood or small forest. The family boasted a number of famous soldiers, including this Lieutenant-Colonel John Trenchard Pine-Coffin who was the last member of the family to own its seat at Portledge. Sadly the sale of the estate was forced by taxation in 1998. The place had a distinguished ancestry and this included Sir William Coffin (d. 1538) who was Master of the Horse to Queen Jane, Sir Edward Pine-Coffin (1784-1862), a Commissary General in the Army, along with John Edward and Tristram James Pine-Coffin (both d. 1919) who fought with distinction in the Second Boer War and the Great War respectively. The family also served as sheriffs, justices, clergymen, and aldermen in Devon, though no member became seriously involved in any national politics. They are therefore an unusual example of a substantial family, armigerous (bearing or entitled to use a coat of arms) but not titled, which farmed in the same area and served their county for 900 years, thus leaving extensive records. Their library at Portledge, collected in the 17th century and sold in 1800, was famous throughout North Devon, and records of it tell us much about the reading habits of the Devon gentry.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by ANL/Shutterstock (5694091a) Wedding Of Miss Susan Bennett, daughter Of Colonel A. D. Bennett Of Plymouth to Mr John Trenchard Pine-Coffin Of Bideford at Buckfast Abbey.

I will admit to smiling when, as a young lad, I first heard his name but it is unusual so I recently decided to find out about this man and share what I have learned. Lieutenant-Colonel John Trenchard Pine-Coffin was born on June 12, 1921 in Kashmir and educated at Wellington. He had both a distinguished as well as an adventurous career in The King’s African Rifles and the Parachute Regiment. After Sandhurst, he was then commissioned into the Devonshire Regiment and served with the King’s African Rifles in East Africa, except his African-born sergeant was not best pleased when Pine-Coffin advised him not to wear medals that had been awarded to him by the Germans, but the sergeant quickly won the respect of his men without them. Pine-Coffin accompanied the King’s African Rifles to Burma. Stealth was often the key to his survival during this campaign and one night, whilst laying low in an attempt to conceal their presence from the Japanese, Pine-Coffin impressed on his African troops the real need for complete silence. They had, however, acquired a taste for tea and one of them, perhaps in his search for a superior brew, had placed their billy-can on a fire piled high with full ammunition boxes! On another occasion, when a strong Japanese patrol was preparing to attack his unit, his soldiers threw down their arms and disappeared into the darkness. Pine-Coffin and his brother officers had therefore resigned themselves to their fate when the men reappeared from the jungle with rather sheepish faces and said: “We like you too much to see you killed.” They collected their weapons, regrouped and helped to beat off the enemy assault. After the Japanese surrender, Pine-Coffin went to Pakistan to look for his father, who had been a prisoner of the Japanese since the fall of Singapore. He scoured the hospitals that were treating soldiers from PoW camps but was unsuccessful, however his father was repatriated to England. Pine-Coffin then joined the Parachute Regiment and was posted to the Middle East where he saw action during the Suez crisis. Following a move to Cyprus, he was involved in counter-insurgency operations in the Troodos mountains and when he came across a number of heavily bearded men hiding in a monastery, Pine-Coffin suspected that they were Eoka terrorists in disguise so asked his sergeant to give their beards a sharp tug. These all stayed firmly in place and he had to make a swift tactical withdrawal. During his twenty-eight years with the Parachute Regiment, Pine-Coffin served with all three battalions and in 1961 took command of 1st Parachute Battalion but his parachuting career was brought to a premature end when he landed in the dark on a tractor, broke several bones in his feet and as a result a series of staff appointments followed. In 1963 he was in Nassau when ordered to investigate a party of Cuban exiles that had infiltrated Andros Island, part of the Bahamas. His seaplane landed in thick mud and Pine-Coffin decided that his only chance of reaching dry land was to strip off. Upon coming ashore, plastered in mud and wearing only a red beret and a pair of flippers, he was confronted by a party of armed Cubans, so mustering as much authority as he could in the circumstances he informed the group that they were trespassing on British sovereign territory and were surrounded. The following morning, when the Royal Marines arrived to rescue him they were astonished to find him and his radio operator in a clearing standing guard over the Cubans and a pile of surrendered weapons. Pine-Coffin attended the Joint Services Staff College and the Imperial Defence College before retiring from the Army in 1969, building up a large farming enterprise in Devon and establishing a 3-star country hotel, the Portledge Hotel. He was involved in many local charitable enterprises, including the British Red Cross and the RNLI. In 1974 he was appointed High Sheriff of Devon. In 1952 he married Susan Therese Bennett, the daughter of Colonel A. D. Bennett of Plymouth and they had a son and two daughters. Lieutenant-Colonel John Trenchard Pine-Coffin, O.B.E. passed away on August 22 2006, aged 85. I think that for me, his name will always be synonymous with my lovely holidays in Devon and Cornwall.

This reminded me…
A friend was doing an online DJ set for a Devon & Cornwall radio station, playing hits from the 60’s and 70’s but they couldn’t decide whether to put The Jam or Cream on first…

Anniversaries, Birthdays And Holy Days

I have mentioned that during the first few years of our lives we believe that we are the centre of the Universe and everything revolves around us. As we get older, most of us realise that there are in fact others around and we ought to interact with at least some of them! As I got older I soon learned about a few delightful occasions such as birthdays, Christmas and a few other regular events like getting Easter eggs and Pancake Day. So of course I enjoyed receiving gifts and I began to look forward to those occasions. As part of me growing up and learning, I was taught how to find out things for myself. My parents knew they wouldn’t always be around, so I was taught to learn. It might seem strange, but I don’t think we all naturally just learn. I have said before how someone I knew was in an adult learning class and they simply needed a little bit of extra coaching and thankfully I was able to assist them. I didn’t tell them, I just guided their thoughts. Just as mine have been in the past and still are today. It really is true to say that we don’t know what we don’t know! My dad had a lovely book called the Pears Cyclopaedia and I would often sit, read and learn from it. Sadly it is no longer in print but there are still old copies available through the Internet. But the Internet is where we often go now, to find out, in fact the phrase ‘let’s Google that’ is now recognised terminology. Though I still like books! For me that encyclopaedia had almost too much information in it and I did not want to fill my mind with information that I might not need, so I tried to know the basic information and more especially where to get the detail if I needed to. Sadly there is also some disinformation available, but this should not be a surprise to us as that has been the way of people for many centuries. It ought not to be, but there are some who will alter the facts to suit their own ends. So it was that I learned much about calendars, annual events and anniversaries as so much has occurred that has shaped all our lives. Nowadays I like to watch the different quiz shows on television, but it does seem that some contestants have filled their minds with a great deal of historical information and I marvel at their instant recall. It takes all sorts! We should not forget our past though. There have been so many things which have occurred during recorded history and I am sure there are countless memorable ones which have sadly been lost in the mists of time. That is why I am glad we do keep a good record of events, so that we have the chance or at the very least the opportunity to learn from what has gone before. Though sadly there are those who never seem to ever learn, or even try to.

So we have regular events like festivals, both religious and non-religious, local and national ones involving various sports which some like more than others. There are birthdays, wedding anniversaries, I also believe that it is good to include obituaries as it is sometimes easy to forget folk when they have sadly passed away. We should surely remember them for the good times, though I know there are some folk who we may recall with perhaps a little less fondness than others! It will depend on the background of each of us, our family’s history and upbringing, ancestry as well as perhaps our religion that may determine what events we remember most from the past. I try to at least appreciate why my paternal grandfather had nothing good to say about Germans, with him having been in a concentration camp in World War I. Likewise those folk with other ancestry may have a few mixed feelings and it is perhaps difficult to separate their personal feelings towards a country whose leaders behaved so abominably all those years ago. But we should perhaps remember that some people from this country did not always treat people in other countries too well. Throughout history, whether it was Hannibal and his elephants, Gunpowder Plot, French Revolution, Spanish Inquisition, India’s independence, transport of slaves, sending prisoners to a new life in Australia to name but a few, the list is endless. That is why I liked that encyclopaedia, because it laid out events in a neat, chronological order. It also gave details of famous people. Sport plays a big part in every country and right now there are quite a few regular sporting events on the calendar here. I will admit that whilst I’m not a big fan of tennis or football, I do follow Formula One motor racing. Also that overlaps quite well with the American Football season, which means I should be happy. So far as anniversaries are concerned there are always some to recall, as American Independence was declared on July 4th 1776, whilst on the same date in 1954 fourteen years of food rationing in Britain ended and in 2020 I was moved to this Care Home. Also in July 1969 I left school to start work at Post Office Telephones in Peterborough, having failed a computer aptitude test with a firm in the same city. What I find ironic is that many years later I was running my own business, teaching folk how to use computers! Things do have a habit of working out if we have faith. As well as the many religious festivals which are commemorated by different countries on various dates throughout the year, there are also other ‘holidays’ for us to observe. The first meaning of the word holiday in the Oxford English Dictionary is “A consecrated day, a religious festival, (usually written holy day)”. The definition takes its origin from the observance of religious festivals and saint’s days. The second meaning is “A day on which ordinary occupations (of an individual or a community) are suspended; a day of exemption or cessation from work; a day of festivity, recreation, or amusement”. The page from the British Almanac of 1833 shows the large number of holidays kept at the Bank of England and the Exchequer, and other public offices. These holidays were to celebrate various Royal events, Christian festivals and Saint’s days, it even included a commemoration of when the Great Fire of London began on September 2nd 1666 in a baker’s shop on Pudding Lane.

The tradition of local holidays became even stronger after the industrial revolution when factories in a town would close down, and the whole workforce was then able to go on holiday. For the owners this made economic sense as they saved on the running costs for the time of the closure, and there was no loss of productivity during the rest of the year as the whole workforce was absent at the same time. In northern England and Scotland, and particularly in the mill towns and villages of Lancashire, these holidays were called Wakes weeks and were originally religious celebrations or feasts, held on the saint’s day of the local church, when the rushes that acted as a carpet in the church were renewed. This evolved into a local holiday and celebration when families were reunited, and travelling fairs came to visit. In Scotland each city had its trades fortnight when the tradespeople took their holidays. In Glasgow this coincided with the Glasgow Fair, an annual event, held since the late 12th century when the Bishop of Glasgow was granted the right to hold an annual fair by King William I. This long established event became Fair Fortnight after the Second World War and is still going strong in the 21st century. An article from the Glasgow Herald of 12 July 1844 says the following: ‘The annual period “when toil remitting lends its turn to play” has again come around, and Glasgow Fair, according to the want of bygone centuries, has been officially proclaimed by the Magistrates, and is now in full course.’ With the decline in manufacturing, the standardisation of school holidays and the increase in paid holidays for employees these local holidays have died out. However, some organisations such as universities close down between Christmas and New Year and magazine publishers often publish double or triple issues so that staff may have a break over the festive period.

A New Year Resolution

Here in the UK we owe our statutory bank holidays to Sir John Lubbock, first Baron of Avebury, a scientific writer, banker and politician who studied ants. He also tried to teach his poodle to read. In 1871, he drafted the Bank Holiday Bill. So statutory bank holidays were introduced by the 1871 Bank Holiday Act and were days when the Bank of England and banks could close. The Act made provision for no financial dealing to occur on that day and bills or promissory notes that were due on that day were not payable until the following day and did not incur any penalties. Before this time banks were unable to close on weekdays as to do so would have put them at the risk of bankruptcy. But once the act was on the statute books, bank staff were able to have fixed holidays. Other employees had more informal arrangements with their employers and took their holidays to fit around the business and trade. The first bank holidays were Easter Monday, Whit Monday, the first Monday in August and Boxing Day, in England, Wales and Ireland. In Scotland they were New Year’s Day, Good Friday, the first Monday in May, the first Monday in August, and Christmas Day. Confusingly there were also public holidays, which are common law holidays that came about through habit and custom, these were Christmas Day and Good Friday in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Today, the terms public and bank holiday have become interchangeable.

In addition to these, there are also the Movable Feasts. These are holidays which fall according to astronomical events rather than being at a fixed point in the year. Easter is the first weekend after the full moon which occurs on or after the 21 March (often this is the Vernal equinox). Whit Monday was created as a bank holiday in the 1871 Act and follows Whitsun Sunday, the seventh Sunday after Easter. Whitsuntide was always a popular holiday as it marked the beginning of the summer. Philip Larkin’s poem the Whitsun Weddings celebrates this as he describes a train journey to London and the weddings and holiday activities he saw. Then Whit Monday was replaced by the Spring Bank Holiday in the 1971 Act and is now always the last Monday in May. Initially, the Bank Holiday Act of 1871 allowed for the closure of banks and other financial institutions, but as time has gone on businesses, local & central government, schools, colleges and universities have also chosen to close. Shops too, but not as much nowadays except for Christmas Day. There is no statutory obligation for them to do so, just as there is no statutory right to have time off on a bank holiday; it is all dependent on what is in an employee’s contract of employment. In 1971, a hundred years after Lubbock’s Bank Holiday Act was passed, the original Act was repealed and incorporated into the Banking and Financial Dealings Act of 1971 which also created some new bank holidays. Under the 1971 Act and subject to a Royal Proclamation, special days can be appointed as bank holidays (either additional to or in place of bank holidays which fall on a Saturday or Sunday). Additional bank holidays have included the Millennium bank holiday on 31 December 1999. There have also been previous Jubilee celebrations, but the only Diamond Jubilee celebration for any of Elizabeth’s predecessors was in 1897, for the 60th anniversary of the 1837 accession of Queen Victoria. Monday 3 June 2002 marked the Golden Jubilee bank holiday, then 2012 marked the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II and the next one is the Platinum Jubilee which is expected to be marked in 2022 in both the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, it being the 70th anniversary of the accession of Queen Elizabeth II on 6 February 1952.

This week… NE1 for tennis?
With it being Wimbledon Fortnight and there being so much tennis coverage, a friend has jokingly suggested on Facebook that the postal code for Wimbledon ought to be NE1, rather than SW19. In fact NE was first created as part of the London postal district in 1858 and covered North East London, but the Post Office closed the NE district in 1867 and the E district absorbed its residents. However, fearing a backlash, the Post Office didn’t actually tell the residents that their new postcode was E and people still addressed letters to NE. The only change was that NE letters were sorted along with E letters on arriving at the Post Office. Then in 1869, NE-ers were finally told about the change, and they weren’t happy, in fact many simply rejected it. In 1897 a doctor led a group of Hackney businessmen in petitioning to bring back the NE district, simply because they objected to being identified as ‘eastern’. They claimed that being associated with East London was harming their businesses. So it’s not just today that certain postcodes have social, cultural, even financial implications. The street signs in the area displaying NE were kept up and the NE initials were used for addressing letters and for street signs until 1917. Then between 1967 and 1970 there was a major rollout of new postal codes by the Post Office to major centres, with Newcastle upon Tyne taking NE, other areas being Aberdeen, Belfast, Brighton, Bristol, Bromley, Cardiff, Coventry, Manchester, Newport, Reading, Sheffield, Southampton and the Western district of London.

A Sense Of Contentment

Contentment in this world isn’t easy. When we are young, we have little or no sense of time, things just happen as if by magic, although I hasten to add that is not the case for everyone, as appearances can be deceptive and what seems to be a happy, contented person may be concealing hidden truths. Many feel they ought to to ‘fit in’ with others; not always, but often. As they get older some may hide their true selves, for fear of being bullied or perhaps taken advantage of. As I have said previously, we can be drawn in to unfortunate circumstances, wrong behaviours, doing things that are not just wrong but illegal. The old phrase ‘be sure your sins will find you out’ is so very true, as I learned at quite an early age with something I did that was wrong. It was relatively minor but it taught me a lesson, as it was meant to do. I was punished appropriately. I also saw it with others, notably when a work colleague who had not been with the firm for very long was summarily escorted out of the building as they had seriously contravened a company law. I don’t know, but they may also have been prosecuted. In any event, they lost their job. It brought home to me the absolute importance of always telling the truth and of obeying the rules. If the rules are wrong then do your best to challenge them, but still abiding within the rules. Violence is rarely the solution, diplomacy is better and usually leads to a far longer lasting end to a conflict or disagreement. But not telling the truth, trying to distort the facts, is wrong. Plain and simple. As I feel sure my military friends will tell you, that was drummed into them from day one. I am told that during his time in the army, one of my brothers developed a bad skin problem, dermatitis, which affected his scalp. It meant that for a while he had to carry a note with him at all times to prove that for medical reasons he was excused wearing a hat or cap. Without it he would have been on a charge for being improperly dressed. My early years at work were a bit stressful, for me it was nothing at all like school! In my case I did not lie, but on one occasion I did not tell my manager when I was completely overwhelmed with work but I hid the paperwork, in the hope that I would find the time to catch up. The work was discovered, but the worst part for me was when my manager told me quietly how disappointed they were with me. That struck deep into me, so I learned and never made that mistake ever again. I was encouraged by some good people and I gained in self-confidence, as I mentioned in a blog post a few weeks back I even stood up for myself when someone at work began bullying me. I was also moved around a fair bit and that was really good for me, as I had hoped to make BT my career if I could, which I did. I do still wonder quite what some of my work colleagues thought about that though, as I moved every two or three years or so to a different job, office or department, at times even to a different city, learning about the business as a whole. But each time, at some point afterwards there would be a change made, in some cases with the office closing! As a result, a few folk became rather apprehensive whenever I arrived! For my Nottingham colleagues I was there for five years and for Birmingham we moved to a brand new office, though in one Sheffield office I was there just six months and in the other just three years until their work was relocated and they took on new work. I assure you, none of it was of my doing! Wherever I went, it was usually to try and better myself, although one move was most definitely to improve my health. Even that expanded my knowledge and I was content in my faith and belief that difficulties could and would be overcome in time. But finding contentment is not always easy. Whilst it can take almost no time at all for some people to know what they want in life, for others it can seem to almost take forever. One of my school colleagues knew at the age of fifteen who it was that she wanted to marry and indeed she did. I believe they are still together. But some dither, one guy I worked with kept asking us “Do you think she’ll have me?”. Eventually we all persuaded him to ask and happily she said yes! I too was married for a while and she then decided I wasn’t what she wanted and we went our separate ways. After that it took a while for me to trust again, that wasn’t too easy but life goes on and I expect that a few of you reading this may have heard of the same or similar situations. It is sad, but there are some extremely selfish people out there who will sacrifice almost anything, even their own families, in order to save themselves or get what they want. As we grow up, we may treasure certain things, they may perhaps be clothes, presents, items that may hold little monetary value but which remind us of a person, a memory or an event which is why we get so upset when we lose something, or worse still if it is stolen from us. Some folk never seem to be content with what they have, they are forever wanting more, the latest gadgets or the latest telephone. As I write I am reminded of one fun experience! A number of years ago whilst working for British Telecom I was at a Sales stand, demonstrating their latest range of telephones. They were modern ones, nothing like the old ones we were used to seeing and they weren’t cheap items, either. One was a Mickey Mouse telephone and on the first day of the event a lady approached me, she saw this telephone and promptly ordered one. The following day another lady approached me, asked about the same phone and ordered one. The next day yet another lady walked up to me and said that her neighbours had each ordered a Mickey Mouse telephone so she had to have one as well! The order was placed. Some folk want the newest, the latest, they treasure possessions whilst others consider money itself to be important. There are those who say that money is the root of all evil, but they are misquoting from the Bible, as the correct version is “For the love of money is the root of all of evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows”. ~ 1 Timothy 6:10. So it is not the love of money, it is what is done with it that matters. We read so often how people seek both peace and contentment and it is often those who lead a simple life without many possessions who are, as they have enough food and clothing for themselves and they do what they can to help others. They give thanks every day for all things in their lives, the good and the not so good. Such folk are content.


There are so many sayings and quotes on the subject of contentment, as we are all different. Even in what we see, because others may be looking at the same view, yet what they perceive may be different. I can look out of my room window at a sunset and enjoy all the beautiful colours, but what of a person next to me who is colour blind? I do not know what they see and they cannot describe it to me. Someone who may have been deaf from birth might now, through modern technology, be able to ‘hear’, but they cannot describe the sound. Some years ago now I had grown a moustache, as at the time I played a trumpet in a brass band and my tutor, a former trumpet player with the BBC, had said that not shaving that area helped strengthen the muscles on my upper lip. Then one week I was working at a BT exhibition and demonstrating telephone equipment for people with disabilities when a gentleman walked up to me and we chatted. Then after a few minutes he stopped and said “You have no idea, have you!”. It turned out that he was in fact deaf and was lip-reading me. He asked me to trim my moustache so that my upper lip could be seen and ‘read’, which I did, that evening. The following day the same man returned, took one look at me and exclaimed “That’s better, thank you!” and purchased the item that he had seen the previous day. I hadn’t realised he was deaf and it made me appreciate that first impressions can indeed be deceptive. I have watched items on YouTube where a person is in tears simply because their sense of sight or sound has been enabled. There are no words to describe their feelings. I grew up in Whittlesey where the vicar of the local St. Mary’s church, Revd Quinion, had poor eyesight as he had cataracts. After he’d had a successful eye operation he then saw my father, but did not know who he was until my dad spoke to him as the vicar only knew him previously by his voice. What can be very difficult though is when a sense, a capability is lost or at least reduced. It is then that we are most in need of our memories, when we can remember. But we should surely also maintain a positive outlook on things, knowing that we can say ‘I did that’ or ‘I was there’. In my teens I played a trumpet, first at school, then in a local brass band. I sang in the church choir and later in various choirs both large and small. I was invited to join the Peterborough Chamber Choir and I accepted. I was very glad I did, as I gained much pleasure in being part of that, in fact to me it was an honour. It was hard work as we were a small group, but well worth the effort. I can look back now and realise how very much I enjoyed all the various things I did. In that I am truly thankful, as I hear of many who are or have been unhappy with their lot, but to me the idea has always been to try and make the best of whatever circumstances I am in. The time may come when things change and I am unable to do even the things I can now do, so in that I am truly thankful. Where I am now in this Care Home I am noticing how inmates live, as they are for the most part a little bit older than me. There is a definite daily routine for both Carers and Inmates and given that many have dementia in various stages, that makes good sense. They have a fairly settled routine. Some may at times make demands that cannot be met, usually down to their dementia, but everything is done as much as possible for them. Happily some are getting visitors now and I am certain that is helping them, but there are times when an inmate will get upset and needs calming down. I continue to do as much as I can, it is certainly why I continue with my daily diary, my morning online greetings to a few folk and my weekly blog posts such as this. I keep up to date with basic news, both here and abroad, I scan Facebook, ignoring the adverts though, or most of them anyway. I still recall my time over a year ago now when I woke up in hospital, not knowing quite where I was or what had happened to me. The room had no windows, so I had no concept of day or night and I will admit to wondering for a very short time if I was even still alive! But that soon passed, especially when a television was placed where I could see it. As things are, I am content but I continue to look to the future. I learned years ago to avoid saying “I never will…” as the strangest things can happen to us all. To me, the important thing is to remain as positive as I can in thought, word and deed and to be thankful. To maintain that inner feeling of contentment.

This week:
In France…
They say a Miss is as good as a Mlle.
When making an omelette they only use one egg, as one egg is an oeuf…
I asked a French person whether they played video games, they said Wii…
I was taught to always say thank you, even for little things. You know the old saying, be grateful for small merci’s…

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