The Cathedral City Of Peterborough

As a cathedral city in Cambridgeshire with a population of 202,110 in 2017, Peterborough was originally part of Northamptonshire but became part of Cambridgeshire 1974. The city is 76 miles (122 kilometres) north of London, on the River Nene which flows into the North Sea some 30 miles (48 kilometres) to the north-east. I was taught that ‘Nene’ was pronounced ’Neen’, but I have heard some other folk say ’Nenn’ or even ’Nenny’! I prefer ’Neen’. The railway station is an important stop on the East Coast Main Line between London and Edimburgh and with it being right on the edge of the Fens the local area is flat, with some places the land lying below sea level, for example in parts to the east of Peterborough. Human settlement in the area began before the Bronze Age and this can be seen at the Flag Fen archaeological site to the east of the current city centre, also with evidence of Roman occupation. The Anglo-Saxon period saw the establishment of a monastery, Medehamstede, which later became Peterborough Cathedral. The population grew rapidly after the railways arrived in the 19th century, and Peterborough became an industrial centre, particularly known for its brick manufacture. After the Second World War, growth was limited until designation as a New Town in the 1960s. Housing and population are at present still expanding and a £1 billion regeneration of the city centre and immediately surrounding area is under way. Industrial employment has fallen since then, a significant proportion of new jobs being in financial services and distribution. As I have said, the original name of the town was Medehamstede and the town’s name changed to Burgh from the late tenth century, possibly after Abbot Kenulf had built a defensive wall around the abbey, and it eventually developed into the form Peterborough, though the town does not appear to have been a borough until the 12th century. The contrasting form ‘Gildenburgh’ is also found in the 12th century history of the abbey, the Peterborough version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and in a history of the abbey by the monk Hugh Candidus. The name has been used a few times for various things including the Gildenburgh choir which still exists and which I was a member of for a number of years. The present-day Peterborough is the latest in a series of settlements which have at one time or other benefited from its site where the river Nene leaves large areas of permanently drained land for the fens. Remains of Iron Age settlement and what is thought to be religious activity can be seen at the Flag Fen archaeological site to the east of the city centre, the Romans established a fortified garrison town at Durobrivae on Ermine Street some five miles (eight kilometres) to the west in Water Newton, around the middle of the 1st century AD. Durobrivae’s earliest appearance among surviving records is in the Antonine Itinerary of the late 2nd century. There was also a large 1st century roman fort at Longthorpe, designed to house half a legion, or about 3,000 soldiers. It may have been established as early as around AD44 to 48. Peterborough was an important area of ceramic production in the Roman period, providing Nene Valley Ware that was traded as far away as Cornwall and the Antonine Wall, Caledonia. The place is shown by its original name to have possibly been an Anglian settlement before AD 655, when Sexwulf founded a monastery on land granted to him for that purpose by Peada of Mercia, who converted to Christianity and was briefly ruler of the smaller Middle Angles sub-group. His brother Wulfhere though murdered his own sons, similarly converted and then finished the monastery by way of atonement. Hereward the Wake rampaged through the town in 1069 or 1070 and outraged, Abbot Turold erected a fort or castle, which, from his name, was called Mont Turold. This mound, or hill, is on the outside of the deanery garden, now called Tout Hill. The abbey church was rebuilt and greatly enlarged in the 12th century and the Peterborough Chronicle, a version of the Anglo-Saxon one, contains unique information about the history of England after the Norman conquest. It was written here by monks in the 12th century. This is the only known prose history in English between the conquest and the later 14th century. The burgesses received their first charter from “Abbot Robert” – probably Robert of Sutton (1262–1273). The place suffered materially in the war between King John and the confederate barons, many of whom took refuge in the monastery here and in Crowland Abbey, from which sanctuaries they were forced by the king’s soldiers, who plundered the religious houses and carried off great treasures. The abbey church became one of Henry VIII ’s retained, more secular, cathedrals in 1541, having been apparently assessed at the Dissolution in the King’s Books as having revenue of £1,972.7s.0¾d per annum.

Early English Gothic West Front of Peterborough Cathedral.

When civil war broke out, Peterborough was divided between supporters of King Charles I and the Long Parliament. The city lay on the border of the Eastern Association of counties which sided with Parliament, and the war reached Peterborough in 1643 when soldiers arrived in the city to attack Royalist strongholds at Stamford and Crowland. The Royalist forces were defeated within a few weeks and retreated to Burghley House, where they were captured and sent to Cambridge. While the Parliamentary soldiers were in Peterborough however, they ransacked the cathedral, destroying the Lady Chapel, chapter house, cloister, high altar and choir stalls, as well as mediaeval decoration and records. Housing and sanitary improvements were effected under the provisions of an Act of Parliament passed in 1790 and an Act was passed in 1839 to build a gaol to replace the two that previously stood. After the dissolution the dean and chapter, who succeeded the abbot as lords of the manor, appointed a high bailiff. Also constables were elected, though it is unclear as to whether they were elected by the dean and chapter or by the ‘court leet’, as other borough officers were but this ended when the municipal borough was incorporated in 1874 under the government of a mayor, six aldermen and eighteen councillors. Among the privileges claimed by the abbot as early as the 13th century was that of having a prison for felons taken in the Soke of Peterborough. In 1576 Bishop `Edmund Scambler sold the lordship of the hundred of ‘Nassaburgh’, which was coextensive with the Soke, to Queen Elizabeth I, who gave it to Lord Burghley and from that time until the 19th century he and his descendants, the Earls and Marquesses of Exeter, had a separate gaol for prisoners arrested in the Soke. The abbot formerly held four fairs, of which two, St. Peter’s Fair, granted in 1189 and later held on the second Tuesday and Wednesday in July, and the Brigge Fair, granted in 1439 and later held on the first Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in October, were purchased by the corporation from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1876. The Bridge Fair, as it is now known, granted to the abbey by King Henry VI, survives. Prayers for the opening of the fair were once said at the morning service in the cathedral, followed by a civic proclamation and a sausage lunch at the town hall which it seems still takes place. The mayor traditionally leads a procession from the town hall to the fair where the proclamation is read, asking all persons to “behave soberly and civilly, and to pay their just dues and demands according to the laws of the realm and the rights of the City of Peterborough”. That I have never seen or heard. Railway lines began operating locally during the 1840s, but it was the 1850 opening of the Great Northern Railway’s line from London to York that transformed Peterborough from a market town to an industrial centre. Lord Exeter had opposed the railway passing through Stamford, so that Peterborough, situated between two main terminals at London and Doncaster, increasingly found itself developed as a regional hub.

Coupled with vast local clay deposits, the railway then enabled large-scale brick-making and distribution to take place and the area was the UK’s leading producer of bricks for much of the twentieth century. Brick-making had been a small seasonal craft since the early nineteenth century, but during the 1890s successful experiments at Fletton using the harder clays from a lower level had resulted in a much more efficient process. The market dominance during this period of the London Brick Company, founded by the prolific Scottish builder and architect John Hill, gave rise to some of the country’s most well-known landmarks, all built using Fletton Brick. Perkins Engines was established in Peterborough in 1932 by Frank Perkins, creator of the Perkins diesel engine. Thirty years later it was employing more than a tenth of the population of Peterborough, mainly at its Eastfield site. In 1903 Baker Perkins had relocated from London to the area known as Westwood, now the site of the HM prison, followed by Peter Brotherhood to Walton in 1906. Both manufacturers of industrial machinery, they too became major employers in the city. British Sugar remains headquartered in Woodston, although the beet sugar factory, which opened there in 1926, was closed in 1991. We could always tell when sugar beet was being processed because of the distinct ‘aroma’! The Norwich and Peterborough Building Society (N&P) was formed by the merger of the two separate building societies in 1986. It was the ninth largest building society at the time of its merger into the Yorkshire Group in 2011. N&P continued to operate under its own brand administered at Lynch Wood until 2018. Much was happening in these years and prior to merger with the Midlands Co-op in 2013, Anglia Regional, the UK’s fifth largest co-operative society, was also based in Peterborough, where it was established in 1876. The combined society began trading as Central England Cooperative in 2014. Designated as a New Town in 1967, the Peterborough Development Corporation was then formed in partnership with the city and county councils to house London’s overspill population in new townships sited around the existing urban area. There were to be four townships, one each at Bretton, (originally to be called Milton, a hamlet in the Middle Ages), Orton, Paston, Werrington and Castor. The last of these was never built, but a fourth, called Hampton, is now taking shape south of the city. It was decided that the city should have a major indoor shopping centre at its heart and so planning permission was received in late summer 1976 and Queensgate, containing over 90 stores and including parking for 2,300 cars, was opened by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands in 1982. 34 miles (55 kilometres) of urban roads were planned and a network of high-speed landscaped thoroughfares, which are known as parkways, was constructed. Peterborough’s population grew by 45.4% between 1971 and 1991, new service-sector companies like Thomas Cook and Pearl Assurance were attracted to the city, ending the dominance of the manufacturing industry as employers. An urban regeneration named Opportunity Peterborough, under the chairmanship of Lord Mawhinney, was set up by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in 2005 to oversee Peterborough’s future development. Between 2006 and 2012 a £1 billion redevelopment of the city centre and surrounding areas was planned. The master plan provided guidelines on the physical shaping of the city centre over the next 15–20 years. Proposals are still progressing for the north of Westgate, the south bank and the station quarter, where Network Rail is preparing a major mixed use development. Whilst recognising that the reconfiguration of the relationship between the city and station was critical, English Heritage found the current plans for Westgate unconvincing and felt more thought should be given to the vitality of the historic core and with the city expanding, in July 2005 the council adopted a new statutory development plan. Its aim is to accommodate an additional 22,000 homes, 18,000 jobs and over 40,000 people living in Peterborough by 2020. The newly developing Hampton township will be completed, there will be a 1,500-home development at Stanground and a further 1,200-home development at Paston. In recent years Peterborough has undergone significant changes with numerous developments underway, most notably are Fletton Quays, a project to construct 350 apartments, various office spaces as well as a new home for Peterborough City Council with other projects within the development to include a Hilton Garden Inn hotel with a sky bar, a new passport office and various leisure, restaurant and retail opportunities. Other projects within the city include the extension to Queensgate Shopping Centre, The Great Northern Hotel and more recently plans to extend the railway station and long stay car park to facilitate more office space in the city centre and further parking. In 2020 planning permission was granted for a new university, ARU Peterborough, which will be based on Bishops Road, a five-minute walk from the City Centre. It will be an employment focused university run by the Anglia Ruskin University with four faculties: Business, Innovation and Entrepreneurship; Creative and Digital Arts and Sciences; Agriculture, Environment and Sustainability; Health and Education. The new university is expected to take its first cohort of approximately 2,000 students by 2022, rising to 12,500 by 2028. The ARU Peterborough is not expected to receive its degree awarding powers before 2030 when a review will take place to determine its future as part of Anglia Ruskin University or whether it should become its own entity. A great deal has changed in the years since I left that fine city and I am sure more will occur, but it will always be special to me.

I am glad to be back writing again. Here we have some fun…

There was a painter who was very interested in making a penny where he could, so he often thinned down his paint to make it go a bit further. He got away with this for some time, but eventually the local church decided to do a big restoration job on the outside of one of their biggest buildings.

The painter put in a bid, and because his price was so low he got the job. So he set about erecting the scaffolding, setting up the planks, and buying the paint. But even though it was a church building, he thinned the paint down with turpentine. A while later he was up on the scaffolding, painting away and the job was nearly completed when suddenly there was a horrendous clap of thunder, the sky opened and the rain poured down washing off all the thinned paint from the church and knocking him off the scaffolding to land on the lawn amongst the gravestones, surrounded by puddles of thinned and useless paint. This guy was no fool, he knew this was a judgment from the Almighty, so he got down on his knees and cried:

“Oh God, Oh God, forgive me; what should I do?”
And from the thunder, a mighty voice spoke.

“Repaint! Repaint! And thin no more!”

Click: Return to top of page or Index page

Picture The Scene

First, a quick update. There was no weekly blog post last Friday because I was unwell, but after a few days in hospital and an increase in the dosage of one of the tablets I take regularly, I am back in the Care Home. I’ve been very well looked after and I express my grateful thanks to everyone who has helped me. My blog post for last week was almost done, so thankfully I had only a little to do to prepare it for this week! So, here we are. Back in time…

The year is 1921. Here on planet Earth in London, England, a child is born who would become my mother. The child who would become my father was by then around eighteen months old and also living in London. My mother’s parents were originally from Truro, Cornwall whilst my father’s family had Welsh connections, not unexpected with a name like Williams! My maternal grandfather George was born in Truro, Cornwall and so fas as I can tell the family worked in the tin mines, though both that and copper as well as a few other metals such as arsenic, silver and zinc were the most common there. During the 18th century, Cornwall was the mining centre of the world, famous for its base metal and tin production and at that time, the Cornish were considered the best hard rock miners in the world. In Truro, tin was an important local industry where the metal was mined and then smelted in local foundries. The city’s newly built elegant Georgian buildings were paid for by the prosperity from the tin and copper industry and as the town was near to a river it provided good transport. One works even had a horse powered wheel. Then, so far as I can determine, a part of the family moved from there to Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk for a while, I think it was most probably for the chalk mining. After that it was over to South Wales for additional mining work and this was where two of my mothers brothers were born. But after a few years they made their way to London, where my mother and younger brother were born. Already both sides of the family had been through much, with grandfather George, who had survived several hours in the sea when his ship was torpedoed at the Battle of Jutland, had also been in the Merchant navy. Meanwhile my paternal grandfather, Alf, who was born in London, had been in the infantry and had been captured by the Germans in World War I, during which time he lost one and a half fingers of one hand. He then got a job working for the Gas Company. So both families were now living in London. My mother decided there was no way she would want to work in a local factory and she got a job at W.H.Smith’s. Meanwhile my father started work in W.H.Smith’s and there he met my mother. I am told they did not exactly agree on a few things but as so often happens, but love blossomed and despite my mother being badly injured in the blitz in London during the war, they got married. But health issues meant moving to Whittlesey, near Peterborough, when I was but eight months old. Dad had become a teacher and so we grew up there. When I left school I got a job with Post Office Telephones.

‘The Bower’, Whittlesey, near Peterborough.

But back to 1921. Many things happened during the year and there simply isn’t enough room here to catalogue every single world event, so here are just a few of them. More things happened in some months than others, so I have done my best to make it easy to follow the events as they occurred!
January
The first recorded public performance of an illusion “the sawing of a woman in half” was given by an English stage magician by the name of P. T. Selbit at the Finsbury Park Empire Variety Theatre in London.
February
Peter Sallis, the English television actor known for the situation comedy ‘Last of the Summer Wine and for his voicing of Wallace on Wallace and Gromit in Twickenham, was born. He died in 2017. George Formby, the English stage comedian and singer died, aged 45.
March
The Australia national cricket team led by a Warwick Armstrong became the first to complete a whitewash of the touring England team in the Ashes and this was something which would not be repeated for 86 years. On March 31 the British government formally returned the coal mines from wartime control to their private owners, who demanded wage cuts; in response, the Miners Federation of Great Britain called on its partner trade unions in the ‘Triple Alliance of 1914’, this being an alliance of British trade unions, to join it in strike action, leading in turn to the government declaring a state of emergency for the first time under the Emergency Powers Act 1920.
April
On April 1, a lockout of striking coal miners began and on April 3, rationing of coal was introduced. Then on April 15 came “Black Friday” in Britain, where transport union members of that Triple Alliance refused to support national strike action by coal miners. The actor Peter Ustinov was born this month, he died in 2004. In the U.S.A., plans for national airline of airships designed to transport passengers between New York, Chicago and San Francisco before the end of 1922 were announced by U.S. engineer Fred S. Hardesty, who told reporters that fifty million dollars worth of stock would be sold to finance the construction of dirigibles 757 feet (231 metres) long. Hardesty also said that the new dirigibles would be able carry 52 passengers at speeds of up to 100 mph (160 kph), with services between New York and Chicago to start by the spring of 1922.
May
During this month British cotton weavers and spinners had their wages reduced by 30% by their employers. The province of Northern Ireland was created within the United Kingdom and two days after that event, Chanel No. 5 perfume was launched by Coco Chanel. On that same day, only thirteen paying spectators attended the football match between Leicester City and Stockport County F. C., the lowest attendance in the Football League’s history. On May 24 the first Northern Ireland General Election for its new parliament was held. The Ulster Unionists won forty of the fifty-two seats and the dominant party system then lasted for fifty years. The following day the Irish Republican Army (IRA) occupied and burned the Customs House in Dublin, it being the centre of local government in Ireland. Five IRA men were killed and over eighty were captured. The U.S. boxer Sugar Ray Robinson was born , in Ailey, Georgia. He died 1989. The jazz musician & broadcaster Humphrey Lyttelton was born, he died in 2008.
June
Nelson Riddle, the U.S. musician and bandleader, was born in Oradell, New Jersey. He died in 1985. The Northern Ireland Parliament began operations in Belfast, with 40 of the 52 seats filled by the swearing in of Unionists. The remaining 12 seats remained empty as the Sinn Fein and Irish nationalists who had won office refused to take the oath of loyalty to the crown. Babe Ruth of the New York Yankees, the highest-paid major league baseball player in the world, was placed in jail by a New York traffic court magistrate after being convicted of speeding and fined $100 after having driven 26 miles per hour (42kph) on a city highway. Placed in a cell at 11:30 in the morning, “The Home Run King” served five and a half hours and was then released at 4:00 in the afternoon, forty minutes before he was scheduled to bat for the Yankees at the Polo Grounds. Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, consort of Queen Elizabeth II was born on the island of Corfu in Greece. He died in 2021. Marie Curie completed her visit to the U.S.A. and departed for France, having been presented with a $100,000 sample of radium by U.S. President Harding. The United Kingdom Air Navigation and Transport Act, which had been passed into law on December 2, 1920 to provide for the regulation of all air travel within the British Commonwealth, went into effect. It gave the British Empire authority over all air navigation in the British Commonwealth of Nations. The coal strike in the United Kingdom ended as the Miners Federation of Great Britain dropped objections to accepting a cut in wages. The new agreement was designed to expire on September 30, 1922 if either labour or the government gave three months notice of intent to terminate. Formal approval was made by union members on July 1. General Electric (GE), Radio Corporation of America (RCA) and American Telephone & Telegraph (AT&T) entered into an agreement with Westinghouse Electric Company to combine their research in radio broadcasting into a common technology rather than creating rival systems.
July
On July 1, Britain’s striking miners voted to approve a settlement proposed by the British government. The House of Commons then voted a subsidy of ten million pounds to the mining industry to cover the pay increase. John Glenn, the U.S. astronaut and later U.S. Senator for Ohio, was born in Cambridge, Ohio. He was the third American in space, and the first American to orbit the Earth, circling it three times in 1962. He died in 2016. The Church of Scotland Act 1921 received royal assent from King George V, giving the Presbyterian Church of Scotland complete independence in spiritual questions and appointments.
August
Enrico Caruso, the Italian operatic tenor, died aged 48. For the first time, what is now called a “fax“ was sent across the Atlantic Ocean when “a written document was transmitted fac simile by wireless telegraphy” by the Belinograph machine, which had been used in Europe but hadn’t been employed in North America. A handwritten message by New York Times editor C. V. Van Anda was transmitted from Annapolis, Maryland, U.S.A. to Malmaison, France. Esther Williams , the U.S. champion swimmer and actress, was born in Inglewood, California. She died in 2013. The British government relinquished control of the United Kingdom’s railways, seven years after having taken over jurisdiction of them during World War One. Gene Rodenberry, U.S. screenwriter and producer and creator of ‘Star Trek’ was born in El Paso, Texas. He died in 1991. Great Britain announced that its population for 1921 was 42,767,530 of whom almost 17.5% (7,476,168) lived in the London metropolitan area. In addition, because of losses during the Great War, women outnumbered men in Britain by a margin of 22 million to 20 million.
September
The first thing I learn is that on September 1 the “Poplar Rates Rebellion broke out in London after several members of Poplar Borough Council were arrested, including the council leader, for refusing to hand over payments to London County Council. The first Italian Grand Prix was staged on a 10.7 mile (17.2km) series of roads near the village of Montichiari in the province of Brescia. However, the race is more closely associated with the course at Monza, a racing facility just outside the northern city of Milan, which was built in 1922 in time for that year’s race, and this has been the location for most of the races over the years. Harry Secombe, CBE, was born. He was a Welsh comedian, actor, singer and television presenter. He was also a member of the British radio comedy programme ‘The Goon Show’ which ran from 1951 to 1960, playing many characters, but most notably as Neddie Seagoon. An accomplished tenor, he also appeared various in musicals and films, perhaps most notably as Mr Bumble in ‘Oliver!’ (1968). In his later years he was a presenter of television shows incorporating hymns and other devotional songs. He died in 2001. The first ascent of the steep north face of the Eiger, the 13,015 feet (3,967 metre) mountain in the Alps of Switzerland, was made by a team of four climbers, these being Maki Yūkō of Japan with Fritz Steuri, Fritz Amatter and Samuel Brawand of Switzerland. Dock workers in parts of Ireland were forced to accept a reduction of one shilling per day in their wages because of a downturn in the industry. The State Alien Poll Tax law in California was declared as being unconstitutional in an unanimous decision of the Supreme Court of California. The first White Castle hamburger restaurant opened in Wichita, Kansas, marking the foundation of the world’s first ‘fast food’ chain of restaurants. At the city of Madurai, India, the Mahatma Gandhi, leader of the passive resistance movement against British rule, decided to abandon the Western attire that he had worn as a lawyer, in favour of the traditional robe and loin cloth worn by the poorest of the Indian people. He would continue to dress in the style of the common man for the rest of his life. For the first time in more than six years, residents of the United Kingdom were allowed to have alcoholic beverages served to them at pubs, restaurants and hotels in the evening, as restrictions issued in 1915 under the Defence of the Realm Act 1914 (known by the acronym “D.O.R.A.”) were lifted. Alcohol could be served up until midnight, and patrons were allowed until 12:30 in the morning to consume their drinks.
October
New York City’s dockworkers and longshoremen walked out on strike after disagreeing with their union leaders over the extent of a wage cut. On the same day, an earthquake struck near Elsimore, Utah, prompting fears of the end of the world. The quakes also rocked the towns of both Richfield and Monroe. Rioting broke out in London following a peaceful march by 10,000 unemployed people to Hyde Park, escorted by 500 policemen who also controlled side traffic. At Hyde Park, parade leaders announced that the group should march through Trafalgar Square to the London County Council building and an estimated 3,000 people proceeded on this unauthorised march. When speakers attempted to climb on the monument to Admiral Nelson, the police rushed in and charged the crowd and rioting began. The U.S. Army tested a new type of flashless explosive power to make night artillery invisible, and made the first public demonstration of “the world’s greatest gun”, the new 16-inch (410mm) diameter cannon that could fire an artillery shell 20 miles (32km). The Blue Boy, the most famous of the paintings of British artist Thomas Gainsborough, was sold at auction to an American art dealer, Joseph Duveen by the Duke of Westminster. The Daily Telegraph commented that “We have seen too much in these stressful times of that rigorous code of national taxation which has shaken the foundations of private ownership in inherited lands and treasures. Some relief may be derived from the fact that it is the generous wont of American millionaires to leave their spoils of European art treasures to public galleries.” Duveen bid £170,000 (roughly $809,000 at the then exchange rate of $4.76 to a British Pound, and equivalent to $12,030,000 in 2021). He also bought the Joshua Reynolds painting Sarah Siddons as the Tragic Muse for an additional £30,000 after the Duke of Westminster had declined to sell The Blue Boy by itself for £150,000. Shortly after the start of the peace conference between Ireland and the United Kingdom in London, the German police, tipped off by a British liaison officer, discovered a ship laden with weapons in the port of Hamburg, bound for Ireland. In a ceremony in the French city of Châlons-en-Champagne, the unidentified soldier to be interred in the United States Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery was selected from four possible persons. U.S. Army Sergeant Edward F. Younger, who had been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for valour during World War One, was tasked with picking from four identical caskets, and he placed flowers on the third one from the left. The U.S. Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon announced new regulations concerning physician prescription of alcohol. Doctors could prescribe up to 2½ gallons of beer or two quarts of wine for medicinal purposes for as often as necessary, but whisky and other alcohol were limited to one pint, no more often than every ten days. The action came at the same time that the U.S. Senate was considering a bill, passed by the House of Representatives in August, to prohibit beer from being prescribed as a medicine. U.S. president Warren G. Harding spoke at the 50th anniversary of the founding of Birmingham, Alabama to an audience of black and white residents, declaring that there must be equality between the races in “political and economic life” but that the black and white needed to remain segregated. The U.S. Senator Pat Harrison of Mississippi said later, “The President’s speech was unfortunate. Of course, every rational being desires to see the negro protected in his life, liberty and property. I believe in giving him every right under the law to which he is entitled, but to encourage the negro to strive through every political avenue to be placed upon equality with the whites is a blow to the whole white civilisation of this country that will take years to combat.” Harrison added, “If the President’s theory that the black person, either man or woman, should have full economic and political rights with the white man or white woman, then that means that the black man can strive to become President of the United States, it means white women should work under black men in public places, as well as in all trades and professions. Place the negro upon political and economic equality with the white man or woman and the friction between the races will be aggravated.”
November
Charles Bronson, the American film actor who starred in The Great Escape was born in Ehrenfeld, Pennsylvania. He died in 2003. On the 11th, the UK’s first official “Poppy Day” took place on Remembrance Day. Poppies were sold by the Royal British Legion at the instigation of Madame Guérin. Initially, her Poppy Days benefited the widows and orphans of the war devastated regions of France. She was christened ‘The Poppy Lady from France’ after being invited to address the American Legion at its 1920 convention in Cleveland, Ohio about her original ‘Inter-Allied Poppy Day’ idea which was for all World War I Allied countries to use artificial poppies, made by French widows and orphans, as an emblem for remembering those who gave their lives during the World War I and, at the same time, creating a method of raising funds to support the families of the fallen and those who had survived, thereafter. Nowadays the Remembrance Poppy encompasses all conflicts that have occurred ever since. The first radio broadcast in New Zealand was made by Professor Robert Jack, a physicist, from the Physics Department building of the University of Otago.
December
Deanna Durbin (Edna Mae Durban), a Canadian-born actress and singer, was born in Winnipeg. She had an amazing vocal range. She later settled in France and died in 2013. The Anglo-Irish Treaty, establishing the Irish Free State as an independent nation incorporating 26 of Ireland’s 32 counties, was signed in London. Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 was performed for the first time by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The Russian composer, pianist and conductor himself performed the piano solo during the premiere concert. Camille Saint-Saens, the French composer of Romantic classical music which included the popular musical suite Carnival of the Animals, died. He had refused to allow performance of this work during his lifetime.

This is by no means the full detail of all that happened a hundred years ago but I hope you have found it interesting, nonetheless. Much has happened, many changes have occurred and will continue to do so.

For this week, as it has been a challenging one.
“It is difficult for humans to fully comprehend how Nature is constantly working in our bodies, how universal forces are constantly inspiring us, providing us with knowledge and experience of how we are deeply connected to them and guided by them. The next step is to understand the seemingly contradictory statement that we cannot hold anything for too long in our hands although in truth, everything, including the whole Universe, belongs to us.” ~ Srinivas Arka, 19 July 2018

Click: Return to top of page or Index page

We Are The Same But Different

The human race as it exists today are, in very broad terms, all the same, as biologically we are ‘Homo sapiens’. Yet we are also very slightly different, each and every single one of us, even twins and other multiple births, especially as we grow and develop. Humans are the most abundant and widespread species of primate on Earth, our basic structure comprising a main body containing various organs for supporting life as well as holding the basic skeletal frame. Attached to it are feet and legs, enabling the body to move around and two arms and hands to reach out and grab anything, from food to tools to hand-holds that may be helpful. On top of the body is a head, containing other organs that enable sight and sound, taste, smell as well as the ingestion of food and drink. It incorporates breathing, allowing bodily fluids like blood to receive life-giving oxygen and expel unwanted gases. Also in the head is the brain, which controls the whole system, even whilst the body is at rest. The brain has also enabled the development of advanced tools, culture and language. We are highly social beings and tend to live in complex social structures composed of many cooperating and competing groups, from family and kinship networks to political states. Social interactions between humans have established a wide variety of values, social states and rituals which generally bolster human society but also give rise to war-like conditions at times and at various levels. Curiosity and the human desire to understand and influence the environment and to explain as well as manipulate phenomena have motivated the human development of science, philosophy, religion, mythology and other fields of knowledge. Research suggests that Homo sapiens emerged around 300,000 years ago on Earth, evolving from ‘Homo heidelbergensis’ and migrating out of Africa, gradually replacing local populations of archaic humans. For most of our history all humans have been nomadic hunter-gatherers, but the Neolithic Revolution which began in South-west Asia around 13,000 years ago saw the emergence of agriculture and permanent human settlement. As populations have become larger and denser, various forms of governance have developed within and between communities and a number of civilisations have risen and fallen. Humans have continued to expand, with a global population of over 7.9 billion in July 2021.

Genes and the environment have influenced human biological variation in visible characteristics, physiology, disease susceptibility, mental abilities, body size and life span. Though humans vary in many ways such as genetic and physical features, humans on average are over 99% similar, with the most genetically diverse populations from Africa. In terms of gender, at birth humans usually occur in or represent one of two distinct forms with certain features. At puberty, they then develop secondary sex characteristics where only the male makes the necessary development in order to fertilise the female, whilst only the female is capable of pregnancy and undergo menopause, then becoming infertile around the age of 50 years. The actual nature of male and female gender roles has varied historically, and many challenges to a predominant gender have recurred in different societies over the years. In terms of sustenance, we are omnivorous, capable of consuming a wide variety of both plant and animal material, we have used fire and other forms of heat to prepare and cook our food for a great many years. We can survive for up to eight weeks without food and three or four days without water. Human lives are generally characterised by activity during the day, with a period of sleep or general inactivity at night. Having said that, over a period of years technology has altered that. On average we sleep around seven to nine hours per day. Childbirth is dangerous, with a high risk of complications and death and often both the mother and the father provide care for their children, who are quite helpless at birth. Within our brain we have a large and highly developed prefrontal cortex, the region of the brain associated with higher functions. We are quite intelligent beings, capable of retaining information for either a short time in our short-term memory, also known as primary or active memory and having it readily available for a short period of time. Then there is our long-term memory which is divided between semantic and episodic memory. Our semantic memory refers to the general world knowledge that we have accumulated throughout our lives and this general knowledge, comprising facts, ideas, meaning and concepts is intertwined in experience and dependent on our culture. It is distinct from episodic memory, which is how we store and recall our experiences and specific events that occur during our lives, from which we can recreate at any given point. For instance, semantic memory might contain information about what a cat is, whereas episodic memory might contain a specific memory of petting a particular cat. The latter is also of usual, everyday events such as times, location geography, associated emotions and other contextual information that can be explicitly stated or conjured. It is the collection of past, personal experiences which occurred at particular times and places, for example the party on your tenth birthday. It amazes me how powerful this capability is, but here in the Care Home I am in at present I can also see the direct effects on individuals when some of it is lost. From my research I have learned that the term “episodic memory” was coined by Endel Tulving in 1972, referring to the distinction between remembering and knowing, with remembering a feeling that is located in the past, whilst knowing is of course actual factual recollection.

Memory Lane

But in addition to comprehension of memory, we have a self-awareness of ourselves and the world around us although to imagine just how vast our world, our universe, actually is I think is for the most part beyond us. However the human mind is capable of introspection, of private thought and imagination. We can form views on existence and sadly over the years some have used this capacity for their own ends, having others believe things that are completely untrue despite them being presented with logical facts. Having said that, our brains have enabled some to make great technological advancements and complex tool development possible through reason and the transmission of knowledge to future generations. Language, art and trade are defining characteristics of humans and long-distance trade routes may have led to cultural explosions and resource distribution that have given humans an advantage over other similar species. The down-side to that though may have also helped to create the health problems we have experienced in the past, such as measles, polio, mumps etc and which we are experiencing today with Covid-19. I have no doubt that more changes will occur in the future. Back in Biblical times they may not have known about DNA, but it is clear that they learned that interbreeding was not the thing to do and often problems such as deformities could occur, though I believe Nature did and does still play a part in managing that. If we look back over even the last few hundred or so years, I believe many families bore many more children than we do now because it was expected that some simply would not survive. As a child in the church choir I would listen to to vicar’s sermon on a Sunday, but if I couldn’t follow it I would read the prayer book and on one occasion I found an item called ‘A Table of Kindred and Affinity wherein whosoever are related are forbidden by the Church of England to marry together.’ There it states that no man or woman may marry people they are directly related to by blood and it gives a list of such relationships. So even before we knew about our blood and such things to the level we do now, it was known that certain things should not be done. Scientists will continue to research, learn and develop new knowledge as well as skills but it should surely continue to be for the greater good of all life, of all things on this planet. We owe it to ourselves and future generations not to be selfish and to remember who and what has gone on before us. We cannot know what will occur in the future but we can at the very least be mindful of how much we owe to the past. As I have said before, this is a transitory life and no-one can live on Earth forever but no matter what our colour, creed, belief or our location, we are all human and an integral part of all that which exists on this planet.

This week my writings are a little shorter than usual, I have not been at my best so a doctor put me on a course of antibiotics and I am much better now. But as a result, I have been sleeping a bit more than usual and that happens with me! So this week I will close with what I think is a useful reminder for us all.

Learning to live.
One day, the donkey spoke to the tiger.
The donkey told the tiger, “The grass is blue.”
The tiger replied, “No, the grass is green.”
The discussion became heated, and the two decided to submit the issue to arbitration, so they approached the lion.
As they approached the lion on his throne, the donkey started screaming:
”Your Highness, isn’t it true that the grass is blue?”
The lion replied: “If you believe it is true, the grass is blue.”
The donkey rushed forward and continued: “The tiger disagrees with me, contradicts me and annoys me. Please punish him.”
The king then declared: “The tiger will be punished with 3 days of silence.”
The donkey jumped with joy and went on his way, content and repeating
“The grass is blue, the grass is blue…”
The tiger asked the lion, “Your Majesty, why have you punished me, after all, the grass is green?”
The lion replied, “You have known and seen that the grass is green.”
The tiger asked, “So why do you punish me?”
The lion replied, “That has nothing to do with the question of whether the grass is blue or green. The punishment is because it is degrading for a brave, intelligent creature like you to waste time arguing with an ass, and on top of that, you came and bothered me with that question just to validate something you already knew was true.”

The biggest waste of time is arguing with the fool and fanatic who doesn’t care about truth or reality, but only the victory of their beliefs and illusions. Never waste time on discussions that make no sense. There are people who, for all the evidence presented to them, do not have the ability to understand. Others who are blinded by ego, hatred and resentment, and the only thing that they want is to be right even if they aren’t.
When ignorance screams, intelligence moves on.

Click: Return to top of page or Index page

Our Earth

We all have differing interests as we grow up and one of mine has been, in fact still is, my interest in outer space, our world and how we live. I am most definitely a Star Trek fan and in that series, humans were referred to rather appropriately as ‘carbon-based life-forms’. That is because life on Earth is based on carbon, perhaps because (so I have learned) that each carbon atom can form bonds with up to four other atoms simultaneously. That is a bit technical for me, but it seems that because of that, carbon is well-suited to form the long chains of molecules which then serve as the basis for life as we know it, such as proteins and DNA. In fact, research by some earth scientists at Rice University suggests that virtually all of Earth’s life-giving carbon could have come from a collision about 4.4 billion years ago between this Earth and an embryonic planet similar to Mercury. Science fiction has long imagined alien worlds inhabited by other life, but based on other elements. One example are the rock-eating Horta, a silicon-based life form as featured in the original Star Trek series. Also in that series, Mr Spock has green blood because the oxygen-carrying agent in Vulcan blood includes copper, rather than iron, as is the case in humans. For us here, carbon is the backbone of each and every known biological molecule. Happily we have air to breathe, but most of the time we cannot see it. We know it is a mixture of different gases and in terms of volume, the dry air in our Earth’s atmosphere is about 78.09 percent nitrogen, 20.95 percent oxygen, and 0.93 percent argon. A brew of trace gases accounts for the other 0.03 percent, including the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone. Whilst air is mostly gas, it also holds lots of tiny particles. Some, like dust and pollen, are picked up naturally when the wind blows but the air can also carry particles that cause air pollution, such as the soot, smoke, and other pollutants from car exhausts and power plants. When there are too many particles in the air, it can be difficult for plants and animals to breathe. My parents were made aware of that during the Great Smog in London in 1952, which affected my mother so badly we had to move from there the following year. It was also a contributory factor to my development. We all know from school that we all need to breathe, just as plants and animals do, but Nature keeps this good and healthy balance. As we breathe, we give off carbon dioxide, then plants use this gas, along with sunlight, to make food through the process of photosynthesis and in this way plants give off oxygen. That’s the basic science lesson!

When I was at school, I soon found that sport wasn’t something I enjoyed too much. But others did, in fact a few went on to county championships and I believe some got into playing professional football. Others went on to working in local factories, I know of one who became a teacher and then headmaster at a Peterborough school. We had one lad who was something of a bully and it must have been for show, as he became an actor, though I do not think they were big acting parts. Some of my school colleagues did stay local, they met and married locally and found jobs fairly close by. Then there were others who I have learned went far and wide, up to Scotland, in addition some went to Australia and the U.S.A. I have said about my time with British Telecom (BT) and I started with them in Peterborough, working in the offices adjacent to the main telephone exchange. I learned much about the workings of the company and about the behaviours of my colleagues. Most folk were good, but some were not so good. I had always had an enquiring mind, so when Sir Clive Sinclair brought out a very simple ‘home’ computer, I was very interested in it and bought one. Over the next few years both better as well as more advanced versions came out and I took an interest in the various different computer languages associated with computers. Then, when the opportunity came for me to move away on promotion to Leicester, I took it. That changed my life in so many different ways! Within a few short years I had learned a great deal, I was married and then further changes occurred within BT and I was moved to Nottingham. After a little while my marriage ended, fairly amicably but it was around this time that much bigger, better home computers emerged like the ones we see today. I continued learning quietly, putting the new knowledge to good use. Work moves to Sheffield and Birmingham meant I put these skills to more and more good use, in fact I believe they were instrumental in getting me moved yet again from Birmingham up to Sheffield, utilising many of the computer skills I now had. During all of these changes I noticed the human behaviours of certain people and the effects on others as well as myself. I saw how some tried to demand or force change on others, sadly seeming not to care what effect their ways might have. I saw how some, at the height of major changes, might try to almost ’sneak’ their ideas in. I also saw what a real difference it made when some, like good managers, behaved as benevolent dictators, as they had their own ideas but were ready to accept ideas from others if they were better. Sadly I also saw in some cases where good ideas were either ignored or the person having the idea did not feel they ought to speak up. I am reminded of something told to me many years ago, which is this. Consider a calm, still pond. If you drop a boulder in, it is likely to be seen as a bad thing and not be appreciated, because of all the disruption it creates. Conversely, drop a pebble, stone or a boulder into a rough sea and their effects will not be noticed. That may be why potentially ‘bad’ news is mentioned by some during a time of crisis, in the hope that the bad news might go unnoticed. Drop a stone into the calm, still pond and there its effects are far more likely to be noticed, even liked for its effect. But drop a pebble in and the slight ripple may not even be noticed, as in that circumstance nothing changes. I learned that when things aren’t right, making a gigantic fuss is not a good idea. But staying calm, speaking firmly and positively without getting at all upset is far more likely to achieve the desired result. If not, so long as we have played our part, done our best, that is all we can wish for. What I did have to be taught though was that we should try and work to live, not live to work. We each do our bit, some more than others, some not at all appreciative of what others may do for them but they ought to. I saw such a lovely quote the other day about time and it is this. Time is free, but it is priceless. You cannot own it, but you can use it. You cannot keep it, but you can spend it and once you have lost it, you can never get it back.

I have said previously about singing in the local church choir and at junior school we were introduced to music. Various musical instruments were all shown and demonstrated, in fact as a schoolteacher my Dad taught all the children in class about the recorder. I learned some years later that whilst Dad knew the basics of playing, being a good teacher he very soon found which children had an aptitude for playing so he got them to demonstrate all the finger positions, etc as that kept them occupied! With me having limited mobility in my right hand I could not manage a recorder, however I did learn the basics of a harmonica. It was also at junior school that we would listen to different types of music, I delighted in such lessons. Upon moving to secondary school I continued with music, learning to play a cornet and then getting my own trumpet. It meant that a few of us joined together into a small band, we would play at our school and others in Whittlesey. On leaving school I had proper tuition from a good man who was a retired professional trumpet player formerly employed by the BBC, I also played trumpet in a local brass band for a few years. But by then I was also singing in a couple of mixed-voice choirs and I could sing better than play the trumpet! So music has always been a part of me, whether it be classical, jazz, organ, in fact all sorts. Though country & western doesn’t really give me much enjoyment! Music for me may be loud or soft, fast or slow, it can invoke moods and pique the imagination. For example, one classical piece called ‘Vltava’, by Smetana, this being part of the symphonic poem ‘Má Vlast’ (My Homeland) can do so. In this piece one can imagine a stream, beginning high in the mountains and working its way down, growing in size and strength. It passes over waterfalls, rocks, the stream becoming a river, widening and passing through towns, ultimately widening out and flowing into the sea. I was barely ten years old when I first heard this at school, but I could close my eyes and imagine all this. It was so peaceful and very, very calming. I have found a lovely performance of this work on YouTube which can be seen and heard via the following link: YouTube

Harbour View

Water has such special qualities. Apart from being essential to life, of being made up of hydrogen and oxygen, it is cycled again and again in Nature, falling as rain onto the earth and the sea. Over land, some drops and soaks into the earth, some falls on trees and plants where it is absorbed and used. Some is evaporated whilst some flows together into streams and rivers and ultimately back into the sea. Over the years we have created reservoirs in order to provide water for our use, we have built pumping stations, drained fenlands to provide additional land for growing crops and created barriers to prevent unwanted flooding. Yet Nature still has the capacity to overcome these man-made structures, as in the floods in early 1953 that caused much death and destruction in the Netherlands and the east coast of England. The uses of water continue to be learned through the generations, I know it has helped me a great deal in the past eighteen months and sadly my poor health is partly my own fault for not drinking enough of it! I have corrected that failure and drink water as we all should do. We know that people with injuries have had positive results in regaining muscle strength, it is also used cleverly to teach astronauts to work where there is no air. For me though, as a child I used to be frightened by rain, both seeing and hearing thunderstorms. I was taught what they were and what they did to this wondrous Earth and so I learned to marvel at Nature’s power. I still delight in seeing rainbows, they are so very special to me. From a scientific point of view I know exactly what they are and how they are formed, but they are still a delight to behold. The most amazing changes were visible in, over and under water when I was on my lovely long cruise holiday in 2013. At one point in that journey we were away from port for nine days, though we did see Pitcairn Island and bought gifts from the locals who came out to us in small boats. So the Earth is a watery place. But just how much water exists on, in, and above our planet? About 71 percent of the Earth’s surface is water-covered and the oceans hold about 96.5 percent of all Earth’s water. Water also exists in the air as water vapour in rivers and lakes, in ice-caps and in glaciers. It is also in the ground as soil moisture and in aquifers. Whatever and wherever, it is vital to us all, not just for the properties I have mentioned already but for all of its calming and refreshing effects. I live in England and the British Isles are surrounded by water, so as a nation we are used to going to the seaside for holidays, not just for a break, a change of scenery but to be by the sea. The people of much larger countries though cannot easily go to the seaside, so they go to other places in their countries like large lakes. It is water, just the same. It brings us relaxation, it has such a calming effect, it is refreshing. I know I must also mention a further role that water plays for many of us and that is in the form of a blessing. I was baptised within hours of being born as I was not initially expected to live, but a nurse assured my mother to not worry as I would survive. That nurse was correct – I am still here, writing for as long as I am able. In some faiths baptism is a simple blessing, with the sign of the cross made by a priest who has dipped a finger in holy water in a font. With other faiths there is a total immersion in water, described in the bible as the baptismal blessing by John the Baptist. Other faiths have their own beliefs, some have none, but nevertheless we still have and need water.

During research the other day I found a word that was new to me. It often happens! So I researched it. The word was ’sinecure’.
I learned that it referred to a position requiring little or no work but giving the holder status or financial benefit. For example “political sinecures for the supporters of ministers”.
So I wondered – when does a sinecure become insecure?

Click: Return to top of page or Index page