I do believe there are times when we simply forget the scale of this, our amazing planet and how much it has changed in just the last twenty, the last two hundred, the last two thousand years and beyond. At times it may seem to be such a big place and yet at others so small and it does make me wonder when I learn of those who show signs of narcissism, which is a personality disorder characterised by a sense of grandiosity, the need for attention and admiration, superficial interpersonal relationships and a lack of empathy. I try to keep an open mind on how people behave, but even I have seen how some folk always focus on themselves, some who never seem to accept reality and seem to almost live in an ‘artificial’ world of their own. Where I am right now, living and recovering in a Care Home after my heart problems and Covid-19, I see others who have dementia in varying stages but they are not encouraging others to behave as they are doing, believing in things which cannot be. Sadly however there are some who are trying to do just that, trying to persuade folk that what they are saying is the truth. But perhaps they forget how the technology of today enables us to record and recall scenes that at one time would have been simply spoken about. It is a truism that no two people can stand side by side, see exactly the same event and then describe that event to others in precisely the same manner as the other. One may embellish the scene, another may focus more on one aspect than the other. I remember the tale of two men, Fred and George, who were standing near to a church, just after a wedding. The church bells were ringing and the following conversation ensued:
Fred: “The bells sound nice, don’t they.”
Fred (shouting): “I said, THE BELLS SOUND NICE!”
George (shouting: “I CAN’T HEAR YOU, IT’S THESE BLASTED BELLS!”
I am sure they both enjoyed the wedding…
In earlier posts I have written about communication of information. As we humans explored this lovely Earth and began to share its treasures, many of the races we encountered were fearful of the ‘strangers’ that they met. To illustrate this I found one very good episode of Star Trek TNG which had the captain, Jean-Luc Picard, seen by the inhabitants of a world which they encountered as some sort of god. They expected him to bring people who had died back to life and it wasn’t until Picard himself was injured that these inhabitants realised just how mortal they really all were. Picard also got one inhabitant to consider their life and how they lived. He got them to realise how their lives had changed over a period of time and how they might be treated if they were to meet their ancestors of long ago. Right now in the 21st century on Earth we have changed so much from our ancestors. Were we capable of going back in time a couple of thousand years, we could use just basic skills to heal, to create, to manufacture items, all of which might be seen as ‘magic’, certainly beyond belief to the people of that time. But in time we explored, we learned of new materials, developed and enhanced crops, improved growing techniques, created dams, irrigation along with many things medical. Sadly much came about as a result of wars, improving weapons and many lives were lost. As I did some research into my family’s history I learned that not all that long ago it was quite usual to have many children born to a family, this was because of what one might call ’natural’ wastage, because it was expected that some offspring would die from tuberculosis, cholera, polio etc. But when knowledge was passed on from one generation to another and once reading and writing was taught and shared, more and more was known. At one time it could take some time to share messages and information, but gradually postal services emerged, telegraph then telephone and here we are now with the Internet, which so many of us now access for information. What distresses me though is how so many people will simply accept what they are told, even when with just a little bit of research, information may be either proved or disproved. It is a fact that some countries are ruled by dictators, whilst others are governed in a more democratic fashion but even now there are those who will not accept what simply ‘is’. We know that humans live and die. My ‘family tree’ is quite interesting and with help I have researched much of it. There are now many other people who have researched their families and yes, the Internet is extremely useful in that regard.
As an example, one person whose details I wish to share is of my maternal grandfather, George. I never met him personally, as sadly he passed away a good few years before I was born but I have learned much about him, thanks to the Internet! George was born in Truro in 1884 and he was christened there early the following year. Then in 1889 a brother named Samuel was born. Truro was quite a prosperous mining area, but at the time of the Census in 1891, the family had moved over to Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, most likely for the chalk mining. At some point things changed though, as in June 1900 George was registered as a ship’s boy aged 15 on board the R.M.S. Ortona (image above) in Tilbury Docks, London. I found his contract ended less than four months later. Over the next twelve months or so he was crewed on other ships, these being the Orizaba and the Wakanui, doing trips between England and Australia/New Zealand. Then in July 1902 he joined the London and South Western Railway, I don’t know in what job though. But a year later he left them without giving any notice and three days later George signed on with the Royal Navy. He was now aged 18 and a Stoker on HMS Nelson and at that time his character was marked as ‘very good’. Around eighteen months later he transferred to HMS Mars at the same rank and character, however some six months later there must have been something occur as he spent ten days in the cells! But his character was still marked as ‘good’. A few days after his release and return to HMS Mars, he was transferred as a Stoker to HMS Victory II. Two months later he was transferred to HMS Fox, but nine months later George was promoted to Stoker 1st class, a grade which he retained over the next four years. But from what I can find out, his weight increased and as a result his term of duty ended but his character was still marked as very good. 1910 then found him in Cardiff, where he married Gertrude and they settled there. A census the following year showed him, his wife and a son, Charles. George was still a stoker, but at an iron works and in the next few years they had two more children, John and Harry, who were both born in Pontypridd. When World War One came, George was back in the royal navy as a stoker 1st class, first on the HMS Victory II and then HMS Tipperary. However, on 31 May 1916 George was one of the very few survivors of the HMS Tipperary which was torpedoed and sunk at the Battle of Jutland. Rescued, he joined the HMS Victory II as a stoker 1st class with his character marked as ‘VG Super’. Three months later he transferred as stoker 1st class to HMS Renown with his character down as ‘VG Sat’, but ten months later showed him as an acting leading stoker on HMS Renown, character ‘VG Super’. In January 1918 he was a leading stoker on HMS Renown, character still ‘VG Super’ and he remained in that position and character until his term of duty was ended in April 1919, again due to obesity. George, Gertrude and family settled in London where, two years later, my mother (also named Gertrude) was born. A further son, Ronald, was born seven years later. If we consider that George would have been away from home for months on end, with little contact from the family, to me there must have been a great deal to catch up on when he returned and he would have had to cope with life after the war once his time in the Royal Navy ended. So far I have not been able to determine what work he did, but my dear mother, who herself sadly passed away a few years ago aged ninety-five, often said how her father would stand at the kitchen sink, staring wistfully into the distance. She knew that he missed the sea. George passed away in 1938, aged 54. I myself was fortunate enough to do a ‘round the world’ cruise a few years ago which I thoroughly enjoyed and that has given me at least some idea why George was so happy at sea, as I certainly was.
That world cruise proved to me that this planet, with its diverse people and places, has been through many changes and has a fascinating history in it. I once made the real mistake in school of asking the history teacher why we needed to know about the Tudors. I was simply told to be quiet, which was a shame as I was genuinely wanting to know. But as I mentioned in an earlier blog of this year, I asked a similar question to my maths teacher and was told then ‘one day you will need this’ and he was correct, as I did! I am also finding how history is far more interesting now than it was back then. So it proves to me that the more we learn, the more we find that there is to learn! Obviously I have not been to school for many years and I do know what my dear dad meant shortly before he retired from teaching. His was at an infant/junior school and he was deputy head, but he was beginning to find that the Education Authority were putting constraints on what he had to teach. I think that at my old school in Whittlesey they were teaching to quite a strict curriculum in order for the students to achieve excellent grades. One of the television programmes I presently watch is the Richard Osman’s House of Games on BBC2 each weekday evening. I find it fascinating as they have a mixture of games, one game is where each of the four contestants have to write down an answer on a tablet computer and the person with the numerical value closest to the actual answer then gets a point. If they get the value very close or exactly right, they get two points! They might be having to estimate a particular year, for example when Julius Caesar died, or how far it is from our Earth to the Sun. Quite a few do know, but others do not. Another game is ‘Put Your Finger On It’, where all of the contestants are asked to mark on a map where a place is located. So often the results are wildly inaccurate, but a few are really quite good. So I think we can and do forget how relatively large our Earth is and where we might find places or recall when certain events occurred. Some we know quite easily, like the Battle of Hastings (1066), the Great Plague (1665) and the Great Fire of London (1666) as these are often ‘standard’ questions in school exams. But others, like ‘what year did India gain its independence from Britain’ (1947). It shows that no matter what age we may be, we are never too old to learn. I am also reminded of how I was taught to pass a driving test, which I did at the second attempt and only then did I actually begin to learn to drive motor vehicles. I have said before that as a young child I made the mistake of telling my parents that I was bored and so they soon found work for me to do in the form of washing a drainpipe. That taught me a valuable lesson. But back then I had no concept of time, of my existence and the existence as well as interaction with other things, with other people. I remember reading the tale of the child who went to his first day at school and was exhausted at the end of it. The following morning his father woke him to get him up and ready for school and the child told his father “but I did that yesterday!”. It took some convincing for the child to understand that he would be doing this for many more years yet as he had much to learn! The truth is that we, like so many living things here, have at least the capacity to learn so much in our lives. Some invent completely new things, learn existing things whilst others learn and then develop anew from what others have made, thus developing in ways never previously considered. A prime example of this may be seen in the ‘Back To The Future’ film series, where the two main characters find themselves a hundred years in the past after using a time machine. They attempt to return to their ‘present’ time, but the time machine uses a fuel which has yet to be invented. So they have to adapt to an existing one of the earlier time period. But things change. It really is the one constant in our glorious universe. Let’s face it, once upon a time our ancestors thought the Earth was flat. Imagine going back in time some 2,000 years and strapping a blood pressure cuff to the upper arm of a human of that time. Consider how computer games have developed over the last forty years. My very first was ping-pong, where the machine was first plugged in to a black & white television and tuned to the appropriate channel. We can think back how, over many centuries, explorers went out and discovered other countries, some places were conquered whilst in others the natives, fearful of people with a different colour skin, would kill them. Some even used them as food. In fact when one group learned that what we called ‘civilisation’ included war, where we simply killed thousands of others for no apparent reason, this group considered that we were in fact the barbarians! But we can also take a far, far broader view of our existence. I watched a short clip of film recently where a scientist tries to answer the question ‘how many galaxies of stars are there?’. She does this very well in my view, far better than I could, so I ask you to watch this short YouTube video. It is safe.
It gives us at least an idea just how massive our whole Universe is. I also then consider how relatively short a time it is that we humans have existed and I wonder what will occur for us in the next few thousand years. Time enough I am sure to hopefully learn more as we sit back and drink tea!
This Sunday, 21st November is known informally by many as Stir-Up Sunday and has become associated with the custom of making Christmas puddings on that day. It gets its name from the beginning of the collect for the day in Anglican churches for the last Sunday before the season of Advent in their Book of Common Prayer, which begins with the words, “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded…”. Once the cake mix was made, each member of the family would stir the mixture in turn and say a prayer as they did so. The Christmas pudding is one of the essential British Christmas traditions and is said to have been introduced to Britain by Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria (though apparently the meat-less version was introduced from Germany by George I in 1714). Most recipes for Christmas pudding require it to be cooked well in advance of Christmas and then reheated on Christmas Day, so the collect of the day served as a useful reminder.