Managing Change

We don’t realise it at the time but when we are very young many, perhaps all of us, consider that we are the centre of the universe and that everything revolves around us. We demand attention, we want everything immediately. So, we shout and scream when that does not occur. I think that in the majority of cases, as we grow we learn that we aren’t the only one around and as a result we cannot have just what we want exactly when we want it. That is very true if we have siblings, especially ones older than ourselves. Gender can also play its part! However, there are some who get spoiled and that becomes even more apparent as time passes when they begin to interact with others. Also the longer it takes for them to realise how life really is, the harder it can become for them to change their ways. Sadly, some never do. What seems to make it worse though is when the selfish person tries to turn things round and make others feel like it is their fault and that they should be the ones to change their ways! But sadly that is the classic behaviour of a narcissist. Some may give in to them and accept that way of life, but it can be damaging and ruin their lives. There are even those who have turned to extreme violence as they could see no other way for their situation to end. Happily there are a number of groups specifically designed to help folk in these circumstances by such things as counselling, in fact simply talking to someone who will listen and empathise, letting the person see that their problems can be overcome makes a real difference. They know they are not alone. I remember a lovely tv advert from years ago which featured a child who said “and when I grow up, my mummy says I’m going to be a proper little madam!”. We must surely have all met or seen people just like that and who become extremely selfish in their ways, with absolutely no thought or consideration for others. So it can be difficult to cope with such people and there are those, who despite knowing it isn’t probably in their best interests, stay with and almost ‘accept’ such folk. It may be that there is a fear of the unknown in some, as we know the old saying ‘better the devil you know than the devil you don’t’, but sometimes it can become just too much. It can be a change in your own capabilities, or perhaps in that of your partner that causes us to recognise the need to change. I know of someone who married a big, strong man and they lived together for many years, had children and grandchildren, all seemed well. Then the man became ill and was no longer big and strong, ultimately forced into giving up work. The two finally separated and divorced as his wife could not accept the change which had occurred in her husband. I have managed many changes in my own life, from coping with a muscular disability since birth, then epilepsy and later a heart problem. So I take a few tablets every day, I am very well cared for and more especially I am alive to tell others that it is eminently possible to manage change. It is easier with a positive attitude, recognising and being thankful for the not so good as well as the good because, as has been said many times, ‘falling down is often easy – it is the getting up again that can be difficult’. It also fascinating to me how attitudes have changed over the years regarding such things as disability. I worked in an office for very many years, I have said before that my work all too often involved filling in forms and quite a few of my work colleagues were absolutely delighted when computers were installed – it meant I was able to type, as being left-handed my writing was and still is nowhere near the best! Also I can only use my left hand to type but I could and I still do so fairly quickly. Not only that, but modern programs tend to include an auto-correct feature, though that can be a hindrance rather than a help at times! So before sending out each weekly blog post, I read through it carefully as if I were a stranger. I think perhaps what helps me there comes from my few years spent in a telephone directory compilation team, where we used to hand-write entries on computer cards and include simple computer code so that the computers could recognise the difference between certain letters and numbers – now that was a challenge. Most especially, we would check the results printed by the computer every week and when it came to the final checks before the directories went to final print once a year, only a very limited number of changes were allowed on the final draft! But years later I was chatting to a former work colleague who admitted they had no knowledge of my physical disabilities. Happily the years have passed and attitudes have changed, so others have learned to accept me for exactly who and what I am today.

I have said before that change is all around us, every second of the day. As I was growing up at home I would see that my mother was worried about this or that and I would politely ask her what she was worried about. Quite often it was about something in the future over which she had no control, so I would ask why she was fretting about such things. To me, such worry is like spending life in an empty room sitting in a rocking chair, going back and forth. There is action to be sure, but no achievement. With each of the generations seeds are planted in all things, then they grow and many bear fruit which feed others. Thunderstorms occur, lightning may strike trees and create a fire which can burn parts of a forest, but when that happens seeds fall and new trees slowly grow. It is a cycle of life which continues. I learned a little while ago of a man who was having difficulty organising people to get to a particular place on time, I believe it was getting equipment for a concert, something like that. He had been taught all about geography and map reading, with coordinates, Northings and Eastings but to this man it was so very complicated. So he talked to a friend and they came up with the idea of dividing the whole world up into individual three-metre squares, so each one had a simple three-word name. As a result, we now have What3words, that is described officially as a ‘proprietary geocode system’ which has been designed to identify any location with a resolution of about 3 metres (9.8ft). It is owned by What3words Limited, based in London. The system encodes geographic coordinates into three permanently fixed dictionary words. For example, the front door of 10 Downing Street, London is identified by the code ///indoor.myself.rather and can be made into a weblink by altering the code slightly to So the three words do not change, just the prefix. This has been proven to be extremely useful finding folk who are perhaps halfway up a mountain, in fact because the English version works with the world’s oceans as well, emergency services can use it to find anyone, anywhere. But even a simple thing like meeting a friend at the entrance to a stadium or maybe a caravan on a large campsite can be, I am sure, really useful. The important point is that What3words differs from most location encoding systems in that it uses words rather than strings of numbers or letters, and the pattern of this mapping is not obvious, also the algorithm mapping locations to words is proprietary and protected by copyright. The company has a website, apps for Apple iOS and Android, and an application programming interface (API) which easily converts between postal addresses, What3words addresses and latitude/longitude coordinates. The system divides the world into a grid of 57 trillion 3-by-3-metre squares, each of which has a three-word address and the addresses are available in around fifty languages. Translations are not direct, as direct translations to some languages could produce more than three words. Rather, territories are localised considering linguistic sensitivities and nuances. Each What3words language uses a list of 25,000 words (40,000 in English, as it covers sea as well as land). The lists are manually checked to remove homophones and offensive words. The company states that densely populated areas have strings of short words due to more frequent usage, whilst less populated areas such as the North Atlantic use more complex words. Sometimes the simplest of things can be the best of ideas. As many of you know, some years ago I was able to go on a superb cruise holiday and as part of that cruise aboard the P&O ship ‘Arcadia’, each day the position, course and speed was given. I have now converted all of the daily latitude and longitude details into What3words and one example is which links directly to a three metre square on board a cruise ship in the bay close to Akaroa, New Zealand. The link opens a web page with various options, including different views and sharing options. Alternatively, if I arrange to meet someone in Birmingham, perhaps by an entrance to the Symphony Hall I would share the link It can also be useful finding a car in a car park, maybe like the three words pull.bids.push, which can be seen on a web page as It would even work in a multi-storey one, I would just need to remember which level I was parked on! I could say the three words to a car Satnav, as a few have this feature now, or over the phone or text the link to a friend. I think that I will try and use this facility. I don’t often advertise, but on this occasion I think this is worth sharing. Having said that, you could already be using What3words. But just in case not…

As I have already mentioned, we live in a constantly changing world and it is, generally, our choice as to how we manage that change. But then sometimes that adjustment is forced upon us by a change in outside circumstances. I know of one particular man here in England who got married and they had children, but then their circumstances changed. Years later the man married again and this time he and his new wife had several children in a fairly short space of time. Meanwhile around them the world was still turning and the government of the time decided to ask its residents if they should either be staying in the European Union, or leave it. As a result, a referendum was put to the people of the country. It was called ‘Brexit’, a portmanteau of ‘British exit’ and resulted in the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union at 23:00 GMT on 31 January 2020. It meant that at that time, the UK was the only sovereign country to have left the EU. The UK had been a member state of the union and its predecessor the European Communities (EC) since 1 January 1973. Following Brexit, EU law and the Court of Justice of the European Union no longer had privacy over British laws, except in certain areas relating to Northern Ireland. As many expected, not everyone was happy with the decision to leave the EU, but the decision was reached by a majority vote. However, there are still people who continue to moan and complain that it was the wrong choice. I believe that the man who I mentioned earlier has stated how wrong he thought it was and he continues to moan, but I hope he will be educating all his children that despite all our hopes, dreams and wishes our lives may not always work out quite as we would have wished. I am reminded of the sorry tale about the young man who, having recently passed his driving test, went on a drinking spree to celebrate but then, whilst drunk, drove his father’s car at excessive speed and whilst he survived the subsequent crash he killed his best friend. Despite our best efforts, we make mistakes and must live with the consequences, no matter what they may be. I am presently living in a Care Home as I do my best to recover from medical issues, in my case my heart has a damaged mitral valve which I have had since birth, I have a muscular weakness on my right side and I also have epilepsy. It has meant that I am unable to do certain things, but I have learned to adapt, more especially to accept the changing circumstances as I have grown older. I am in a place where a few folk have dementia and I see how they live from day to day, they are fed, they are cared for and most especially they are treated properly and with respect. I am allowed to do as much as I can for myself, to manage as best I can, but if I need help I have learned to politely ask for it. To ask for and accept help has perhaps been the hardest thing for me to do as over the years I have learned to be independent as far as possible. We see and learn change all the time with lives, even species dying out, but there is definitely an innate willingness in so many of us to survive, to continue, to learn and to better ourselves. Yes, change continues and who knows what will occur on Earth in years to come. So I do my best to learn from the past, live in the present and look to the future with a smile. Which reminds me of a lovely quote, with I have included below.

A quote by Srinivas Arka.

This week…
The other day I happened to watch a clip from the tv series ‘Yes, Prime Minister’, which to me was extremely entertaining. The prime minister had come up with what he thought was “a brilliant idea, a real vote-winner”, as it would allow parents to choose for themselves which school they could send their children to. But Sir Humphrey Appleby was utterly appalled at the idea. In his eyes, choosing a school was a job for civil servants, as it was beyond the capability of parents! The Prime Minister then enquired who chose the school that he, Sir Humphrey, went to and with a knowing smile, Sir Humphrey replied “Oh, my parents, naturally…”.

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Welcome To Earth Day

In previous weeks I have researched and written quite a bit on the history of things many and various. So this week I thought about bringing in a more ‘modern’ touch. I hope you like it. Except of course to set the scene, we should perhaps first consider ourselves and our lovely Earth. Today, we know from radiometric dating that Earth is about 4.5 billion years old. Had naturalists in the 1700s and 1800s known Earth’s true age, any early ideas about evolution might have been taken more seriously. We know that life began at least 3.5 billion years ago, because that is the age of the oldest rocks with fossil evidence of life here on Earth. It is the third planet from the Sun and the only astronomical object known to harbour life, at least as we know it as carbon-based life forms. Whilst large amounts of water can be found throughout the Solar System, only Earth sustains liquid surface water. About 71% of Earth’s surface is made up of the ocean, dwarfing Earth’s polar ice, lakes, and rivers. I could go on about its chronology, including its formation, geological history, origins of life and evolution but not this time! Instead, here is some detail on what is known as Earth Day. So far as I can tell, Earth Day was first celebrated in 1970, when a United States senator from Wisconsin organised a national demonstration to raise awareness about environmental issues. Rallies took place across that country and, by the end of the year, the U.S. government had created its Environmental Protection Agency. Since then, Earth Day has become an annual event around the world on April 22nd to demonstrate support for environmental protection and includes a wide range of events coordinated globally by which was formerly the Earth Day Network. It now includes one billion people in more than a hundred and ninety-three countries and the official theme for 2022 is ‘Invest In Our Planet’, with details on the website In 1969 at a UNESCO conference in San Francisco, peace activist John McConnell proposed a day to honour the Earth and the concept of peace, to first be observed on March 21, 1970, the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. This day in nature was later sanctioned in a proclamation written by McConnell and signed by then Secretary General U Thant at the United Nations. A month later, the United States Senator Gaylord Nelson proposed the idea to hold a nationwide environmental teach-in on April 22, 1970. He hired a young activist to be the National Coordinator and the two of them renamed the event ‘Earth Day’. The event grew beyond the original idea for a teach-in to include the entire United States, with more than 20 million people pouring onto the streets. Key non-environmentally focused partners played major roles and without them, it is likely that the first Earth Day would not have succeeded. Nelson was later awarded a Presidential Medal Of Freedom award in recognition of his work. The first Earth Day was focused on the United States, but in 1990 Denis Hayes, the original national coordinator in 1970, put it on the international stage and organised events in 141 nations. On Earth Day 2016, a landmark Paris Agreement was signed by the United States, the United Kingdom, China, and 120 other countries. This signing satisfied a key requirement for the entry into force of the historic draft Climate Protection Treaty adopted by consensus of the 195 nations present at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. Since then, numerous communities have continued to engage in Earth Day Week actions, an entire week of activities focused on the environmental issues that the world faces. On Earth Day 2020, over 100 million people around the world observed its 50th anniversary in what has been referred to as the largest online mass mobilisation in history.

But perhaps what really energised the birth of Earth Day was when, on January 28, 1969, an oil well drilled by Union Oil Platform A off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, blew out. More than three million gallons of oil spewed, killing more than 10,000 seabirds, dolphins, seals, and sea lions so as a direct reaction to this disaster, activists were mobilised to create good environmental regulation, environmental education, and Earth Day itself. There were a number of proponents of Earth Day who were in the front lines of fighting this disaster, but Denis Hayes, organiser of the first Earth Day said that Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin was inspired to create Earth Day upon seeing Santa Barbara Channel’s 800 square-mile oil slick from an aircraft. On the first anniversary of the oil blowout, January 28, 1970, Environmental Rights Day was created, and the Declaration of Environmental Rights was read. It had been written by Rod Nash during a boat trip across the Santa Barbara Channel whilst carrying a copy of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. The organisers of Environmental Rights Day had been working closely over a period of several months with a Republican Congressman to consult on the creation of their National Environmental Policy Act, the first of many new laws on environmental protection sparked by the national outcry about the blowout and subsequent oil spill and on the Declaration of Environmental Rights.

President Richard Nixon and First Lady Pat Nixon plant a tree on the White House South Lawn to recognise the first Earth Day.

In the winter of 1969–1970, a group of students met at Columbia University to hear Denis Hayes talk about his plans for Earth Day. The 1970s were a period of substantial environmental legislation in the U.S.A., including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, Superfund, Toxics Substances Control Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. It saw the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the banning of DDT and of lead in petrol. Jimmy Carter was president and the principal Washington, DC event was a festival held in Lafayette Park, across from the White House. It has been said that by mobilising two hundred million people in a hundred and forty-one countries and lifting the status of environmental issues onto the world stage, Earth Day activities in the early 1990’s gave a huge boost to recycling efforts worldwide and helped pave the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Unlike the first Earth Day in 1970, this anniversary was waged with stronger marketing tools, greater access to television and radio, and multimillion-dollar budgets.

The official logo of the Mount Everest Earth Day 20 International Peace Climb.

The Earth Day 20 Foundation highlighted its April 22 activities with a live satellite phone call to members of the historic Earth Day 20 International Peace Climb who called from their base camp on Mount Everest to pledge their support for world peace and attention to environmental issues. The climb was led by Jim Whittaker, the first American to summit Mount Everest many years earlier and marked the first time in history that mountaineers from the United States, the Soviet Union and China had roped together to climb a mountain, let alone Mount Everest. The group also collected more than two tons of rubbish which was transported down the mountain by support groups along the way that was left behind on Mount Everest from previous climbing expeditions. Warner Bros records released an Earth Day-themed single in 1990 entitled ‘Tomorrow’s World’ and the song featured vocals from various artists. It reached number seventy-four on the ‘Hot Country Songs’ chart dated May 5, 1990. As the millennium approached, another campaign was begun, this time focusing on global warming and pushing for cleaner energy. The April 22 Earth Day in 2000 combined the big-picture feistiness of the first Earth Day with the international grassroots activism of Earth Day 1990. For 2000, Earth Day had the internet to help link activists around the world and by the time the day came around, some five thousand environmental groups world-wide were on board, reaching out to hundreds of millions of people in a record one hundred and eighty-four countries. Events varied, with a ‘talking drum’ chain travelling from village to village in Gabon, Africa, whilst hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., USA. Google’s first Earth Day doodle was in 2001 and the theme for Earth Day 2003 was the Water for Life Campaign. That year, Earth Day Network developed a water quality project called “What’s in Your Water?”. Other water-related events were held on every continent, such as water workshops, exhibitions, concerts, and more in many countries. Educational curricula, teacher’s guides, water testing kits, and posters focused on water. Many other organisations also focused on environmental justice, created events concentrating on low-income communities. These events also worked on building support among low-income communities through clean-ups, park revitalisation and town halls focussing on integrating the environmental movement with community and social justice causes. Since then, Earth Day has been celebrated throughout the world in many and various ways. Over the following years such things as registering voters, major tree planting, healthy environments for children were done. Earth Day 2006 focused on science and faith and expanded into Europe, with events and speeches held in most of the EU countries. Key events included the ‘Festival on Climate Change’ in Utrecht, the Netherlands, which was focused on how to break away from the oil dependence and this included Earth Day founder Denis Hayes and members of the Dutch and E.U. parliament, local authorities, and media representatives. In the first of two years of Earth Day events in Ukraine, Denis Hayes also attended and spoke at the ‘Chernobyl 20 Remembrance for the Future’ conference in Ukraine. That year also saw events in China organised between Earth Day Network and Global Village Beijing, educating communities about energy savings along with the first-ever coordinated Earth Day events in Moscow, Russia, a scientific panel and a religious response panel on climate change throughout the U.S., and a ‘Conserve Your Energy’ event in Philadelphia. Thousands of Earth Day projects have been held across the globe that ranged from energy efficiency events, protests, letter writing campaigns, civic and environmental education trainings, urban and rural cleanups and water projects with a particular focus on building a broader and more diverse environmental movement.

On Earth Day 2010, its fortieth anniversary, an estimated one billion people around the world took part. This included action on climate change and other environmental issues through climate rallies and by engaging civil leaders in plans to build a greener economy. Through a Global Day of Conversation, more than 200 elected officials in more than 39 countries took part in active dialogues with their constituents about their efforts to create sustainable green economies and reduce their carbon footprints. Students around the world participated in school events, featuring community clean-ups, solar energy systems, school gardens, and environmental curriculum. Earth Day Network announced a partnership with Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment’s Avatar Home Tree Initiative to plant one million trees in 15 countries by the end of the year. Also, as part of a nationwide commemoration of the fortieth anniversary in Morocco, the government announced a unique National Charter for the Environment and Sustainable Development, the first commitment of its kind in Africa and the Arab world, which will inform new environmental laws for the country. The Kingdom of Morocco also pledged to plant one million trees. Since then, each Earth Day work has continued. The Earth Day Network completed a project to plant over 1.1 million trees, across the globe more than 100 million ‘Billion Acts of Green’ were registered. In September 2011, at the Clinton Global Initiative, U.S. President Clinton recognised this project as an exemplary approach to addressing global challenges. The goal of Earth Day 2014 was to dramatically personalise the massive challenges surrounding global climate change and weave that into both Earth Day 2014 and the five-year countdown to Earth Day 2020, the 50th anniversary. It was an opportunity to unite people worldwide into a common cause and call for action. Earth Day has in fact become very much a global event recognised my many nations, so it was no accident that in the United Nations, world leaders from 175 nations broke a record when they selected Earth Day 2016 to sign the Paris Agreement, the most significant climate accord in the history of the climate movement. Then in 2020, marches and gatherings were cancelled due to the COVID pandemic but still a three-day livestream event was organised, including speakers from all corners of the environmental movement such as Pope Francis, mayors from around the world, Ministers of the Environment from multiple countries and many more. Earth Day 2020 was a major topic across media platforms, including leading magazines and environmental publications. On January 5, 2020, Earth Day’s 50th anniversary year began with a full page in the Sunday New York Times, referencing a similar black and white advertisement that appeared in the Times 50 years earlier on the first Sunday in 1970. Through social media, Earth Day participants joined digital events and shared their support. Through Instagram, HRH The Prince of Wales reminded followers that nature is vital to human health and wellbeing, saying “For fifty years, since the very first Earth Day, I have dedicated a large part of my life to championing more balanced sustainable approaches whether in farming, forestry, fisheries, urban planning or corporate social responsibility. But as we look to shape the next fifty years, I very much need your help. To reflect and inspire the world to action, while aiming for a green recovery, I would ask you to join me by sharing your vision for a more sustainable future (socially, environmentally and economically) using the hashtag ReimagineReset.”

Sure We Can volunteers clean McKibbin Street, New York for Earth Day 2021.

Earth Day continues around the world, perhaps in ways unnoticed by many. For example there is a service in Brooklyn, New York called ‘Sure We Can’ which provides container-deposit redemption services to that area. Any person can come to Sure We Can during business hours and redeem New York State accepted bottles and cans. Additionally, the organisation serves as a community hub for the canner community that redeems there and for local environmental causes that promote the organisations’ dedication to sustainability. The facility is designed with canners (the people who collect cans and bottles from the streets) in mind. They aim to provide a welcoming facility so people can redeem their cans and bottles. In 2019, the centre annually processed 10 million cans and bottles for redemption and served a community of over 400 canners and Sure We Can estimate that they distribute $700,000 per year to canners. The average canner who visits Sure We Can earns $1,000 per year. Long may such initiatives continue, as large or not so large, they all make a vital difference. The Earth Day 2022 theme is ‘Invest in Our Planet’ and features five primary programmes, these being The Great Global Cleanup, Sustainable Fashion, Climate and Environmental Literacy, Canopy Project, Food and Environment, and the Global Earth Challenge. Earth Day is now observed in 192 countries and it is surely up to us all to do our part in sustaining this Earth.

This week…
Our British Saint’s Days are St David’s Day (March 1st), St Patrick’s Day (March 17th), St George’s Day (April 23rd) and St Andrew’s Day (November 30th). I was born on St. Patrick’s Day but my parents decided to give me the forenames Andrew David. Apparently a friend suggested they ought to include Patrick, but it was realised I’d then need George to complete the set and that was too much!

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Easter is a Christian festival as well as a cultural holiday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, as described in the New Testament of the Bible and having occurred on the third day of his burial following his crucifixion by the Romans at Calvary c. 30 AD. It is the culmination of the Passion of Jesus, preceded by Lent, a forty-day period of fasting, prayer and penance. Christians refer to the week before Easter as ‘Holy Week’, which in Western Christianity contains the days of the Easter Triduum, or the period of three days that begins with the liturgy on the evening of Maundy Thursday, reaches its high point in the Easter Vigil and closes with evening prayer on Easter Sunday. It is a moveable observance recalling the Passion, crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus as portrayed in the canonical gospels. In Eastern Christianity, the same days and events are commemorated with the names of days all starting with “Holy” or “Holy and Great”; and Easter itself might be called “Great and Holy Pascha”, “Easter Sunday”, “Pascha” or “Sunday of Pascha”. In Western Christianity Eastertide, or the Easter Season, begins on Easter Sunday and lasts seven weeks, ending with the coming of the 50th day, Pentecost Sunday. In Eastern Christianity the Paschal season ends with Pentecost as well, but the leave-taking of the Great Feast of Pascha is on the 39th day, the day before the Feast of the Ascension. Easter and its related holidays are movable feasts, not falling on a fixed date but computed based on a lunar calendar, the solar year plus the Moon phase, similar to the Hebrew calendar. The first council of Nicaea, a council of Christian bishops, was convened in the Bithynian city of Nicaea (now Iznik, Turkey) by the Roman Emperor Constantine in 325AD and was the first effort to attain consensus in the church through an assembly representing all of Christendom. Its main accomplishments were settlement of the Christological issue of the divine nature of God the Son and his relationship to God the Father, the construction of the first part of the Nicene Creed, mandating uniform observance of the date of Easter and promulgation of early canon law. No details for the computation were specified, these were worked out in practice, a process that took centuries and generated a number of controversies. It has come to be the first Sunday after the ecclesiastical full moon that occurs on or soonest after March 21st. Even if calculated on the basis of the more accurate Gregorian calendar, the date of that full moon sometimes differs from that of the astronomical first full moon after the March equinox. Easter is linked to the Jewish Passover by its name, as pesach and pascha are the basis of the term by its origin (according to the synoptic gospels) where both the crucifixion and the resurrection took place during the Passover and by much of its symbolism, as well as by its position in the calendar. In most European languages the feast is called by the words for passover in those languages and in the older English versions of the Bible the term Easter was the term used to translate passover. Easter customs vary across the Christian world and include sunrise services, midnight vigils, exclamations and exchanges of Paschal greetings and one I had never heard of before, called ‘clipping the church’. I have learned that this is an ancient custom traditionally held only in England on Easter Monday, Shrove Tuesday or a date relevant to the saint associated with the church. The word “clipping” is Anglo-Saxon in origin and is derived from the word ‘clyppan’, meaning ‘embrace’ or ‘clasp’. So ‘clipping the church’ involves either the church congregation or local children holding hands in an inward-facing ring around the church, and can then be reversed to an outward-facing ring if a prayer for the wider world beyond the parish is said. Once the circle is completed, onlookers will often cheer and sometimes hymns are sung. Often there is dancing and after the ceremony a sermon is delivered in the church, then there are sometimes refreshments. Christians adopted this tradition to show their love for their church and the surrounding people, but currently there are only a few churches left in England that hold this ceremony, and all of these appear to honour it on a different day. Other customs include the decoration and the communal breaking of Easter eggs, a symbol of the empty tomb. The Easter lily, a symbol of the resurrection in Western Christianity, traditionally decorates the chancel area of churches Easter Day and for the rest of Eastertide. Additional customs that have become associated with Easter and are observed by both Christians and some non-Christians include Easter parades, communal dancing (in Eastern Europe), the Easter Bunny and egg hunting. There are also traditional Easter foods that vary by region and culture.

The modern English term ‘Easter’, with modern Dutch ‘ooster’ and German ‘Ostern’, developed from an Old English word that usually appears in the form ‘Ēastrun’, but also as ‘Ēostre’. Bede provides the only documentary source for the etymology of the word, in his eighth-century ‘The reckoning of Time’. He wrote that ‘Ēosturmōnaþ’ (Old English ‘Month of Ēostre’, translated in Bede’s time as ‘Paschal month’) was an English month, corresponding to April, which he says “was once called after a goddess of theirs named Ēostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month”. In Latin and Greek, the Christian celebration was, and still is, called ‘Pascha’, a word derived from Aramaic to Hebrew. The word originally denoted the Jewish festival known in English as Passover, commemorating the Jewish exodus from slavery in Egypt. The supernatural resurrection of Jesus from the dead, which Easter celebrates, is one of the chief tenets of the Christian faith. The resurrection established Jesus as the Son of God and is cited as proof that God will righteously judge the world, for those who trust in Jesus’s death and resurrection, “death is swallowed up in victory.” Any person who chooses to follow Jesus receives “a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”. Through faith in the working of God, those who follow Jesus are spiritually resurrected with Him so that they may walk in a new way of life and receive eternal salvation, being resurrected to dwell in the Kingdom of Heaven. Easter is linked to the Passover and the exodus from Egypt as recorded in the Old Testament of the bible, through the Last Supper, the sufferings and subsequent crucifixion that preceded the resurrection. According to the three Synoptic gospels, Jesus gave the Passover meal a new meaning, as in the upper room during the Last Supper he prepared himself and his disciples for his death. He identified the bread and cup of wine as his body, soon to be sacrificed, and his blood, soon to be shed. Paul the apostle states, “Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast, as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed”. This refers to the Passover requirement to have no yeast in the house and to the allegory of Jesus as the Paschal lamb.

In early Christianity, the first Christians were certainly aware of the Hebrew calendar. Jewish Christians, the first to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, timed the observance in relation to Passover. Direct evidence for a more fully formed Christian festival of Pascha (Easter) begins to appear in the mid-2nd century but perhaps the earliest surviving primary source referring to Easter is a mid-2nd-century Paschal homily attributed to Melito of Sardis (the bishop of Sardis, near Smyrna in western Anatolia and a great authority in early Christianity) which characterises the celebration as a well-established one. Evidence for another kind of annually recurring Christian festival, those commemorating the martyrs, began to appear at about the same time. While martyrs’ days (usually the individual dates of martyrdom) were celebrated on fixed dates in the local solar calendar, the date of Easter was fixed by means of the local Jewish lunisolar calendar. This is consistent with the celebration of Easter having entered Christianity during its earliest, Jewish period, but does not leave the question free of doubt.

A stained-glass window depicting the Passover Lamb.

Easter and the holidays that are related to it are moveable feasts in that they do not fall on a fixed date in either the Gregorian or Julian calendars (both of which follow the cycle of the sun and the seasons). Instead, the date for Easter is determined on what is known as a lunisolar calendar similar to the Hebrew calendar. In 325AD the First Council of Nicaea established two rules, the independence of the Jewish calendar and worldwide uniformity, which were the only rules for Easter explicitly laid down by the council. No details for the computation were specified, these were worked out in practice, a process that took centuries and generated a number of controversies. In particular, the Council did not decree that Easter must fall on Sunday, but this was already the practice almost everywhere. In Western Christianity, using the Gregorian calendar, Easter always falls on a Sunday between 22 March and 25 April, within about seven days after the astronomical full moon. The following day, Easter Monday, is a legal holiday in many countries with predominantly Christian traditions. Eastern Orthodox Christians base Paschal date calculations on the Julian calendar. Because of the thirteen-day difference between the calendars between 1900 and 2099, 21 March corresponds, during the 21st century, to 3 April in the Gregorian calendar. Since the Julian calendar is no longer used as the civil calendar of the countries where Eastern Christian traditions predominate, Easter varies between 4 April and 8 May in the Gregorian calendar. Also, because the Julian ‘full moon’ is always several days after the astronomical full moon, the eastern Easter is often later, relative to the visible Moon’s phases, than western Easter. Amongst the Oriental Orthodox, some churches have changed from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar and the date for Easter, as for other fixed and moveable feasts, is the same as in the Western church. The Gregorian calculation of Easter was actually based on a method devised by a doctor from the Calabria region in Italy using the phases of the Moon and has been adopted by almost all Western Christians and by Western countries which celebrate national holidays at Easter. For the British Empire and colonies, a determination of the date of Easter Sunday using Golden Numbers and Sunday Letters was defined by the 1750 Calendar (New Style) Act with its annexe. This was designed to match exactly the Gregorian calculation.

Receiving the Holy Light at Easter.
St. George Greek Orthodox Church, Adelaide, Australia.

The above image shows the congregation lighting their candles from the new flame, just as the priest has retrieved it from the altar – note that the picture is illuminated by flash, as all electric lighting is off and only the oil lamps in front of the Iconostasis remain lit. In the 20th century, some individuals and institutions put forward changing the method of calculating the date for Easter, the most prominent proposal being the Sunday after the second Saturday in April. Despite having some support, proposals to reform the date have not been implemented. An Orthodox congress of Eastern Orthodox bishops, which included representatives mostly from the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Serbian Patriarch, met in Constantinople in 1923 where the bishops agreed to the revised Julian calendar. The original form of this calendar would have determined Easter using precise astronomical calculations based on the meridian of Jerusalem, however all the Eastern Orthodox countries that subsequently adopted the Revised Julian calendar adopted only that part of it that applied to festivals falling on fixed dates in the Julian calendar. The revised Easter computation that had been part of the original 1923 agreement was never permanently implemented in any Orthodox diocese. Here in the United Kingdom, the Easter Act of 1928 set out legislation to change the date of Easter to be the first Sunday after the second Saturday in April (or, in other words, the Sunday in the period from 9 to 15 April). However, the legislation has not been implemented, although it remains on the Statute book and could be implemented subject to approval by the various Christian churches. At a summit in Aleppo, Syria in 1997 the World Council of Churches (WCC) proposed a reform in the calculation of Easter which would have replaced the present divergent practices of calculating Easter with modern scientific knowledge taking into account actual astronomical instances of the spring equinox and full moon based on the meridian of Jerusalem, while also following the tradition of Easter being on the Sunday following the full moon. The recommended World Council of Churches changes would have sidestepped the calendar issues and eliminated the difference in date between the Eastern and Western churches. The reform was proposed for implementation starting in 2001, and despite repeated calls for reform, it was not ultimately adopted by any member body. In January 2016, Christian churches again considered agreeing on a common, universal date for Easter, whilst also simplifying the calculation of that date, with either the second or third Sunday in April being popular choices. So far, no date has yet been agreed.

Easter is seen by many as the state of new life, of rebirth and as one might expect, the egg is one such symbol. In Christianity it became associated with Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection and the custom of the Easter egg originated in the early Christian community of Mesopotamia, who stained eggs red in memory of the blood of Christ, shed at his crucifixion. As such, for Christians, the Easter egg is a symbol of the empty tomb. The oldest tradition is to use dyed chicken eggs. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Easter eggs are blessed by a priest both in families’ baskets together with other foods forbidden during Great Lent and alone for distribution or in church or elsewhere.

Traditional red Easter eggs for blessing by a priest.

Easter eggs are a widely popular symbol of new life among the Eastern Orthodox and the folk traditions of many Slavic countries. I have learned of a decorating process known as ‘pisanka’, a common name for an egg (usually that of a chicken, although goose or duck eggs are also used) richly ornamented using various techniques. The word ‘pisanka’ is derived from the verb ‘pisać’ which in contemporary Polish means exclusively ‘to write’ yet in old Polish meant also ‘to paint’. Originating as a pagan tradition, pisanki was absorbed by Christianity to become the traditional Easter egg and Pisanki are now considered to symbolise the revival of nature and the hope that Christians gain from faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The celebrated House of Fabergé workshops created exquisitely jewelled Easter eggs for the Russian Imperial family from 1885 to 1916. A modern custom in the Western world is to substitute decorated chocolate filled with sweets. As many people give up these as their Lenten sacrifice, individuals enjoy these at Easter after having abstained from them during the preceding forty days of Lent.

Easter eggs, a symbol of the empty tomb.

Manufacturing their first Easter egg in 1875, the British chocolate company Cadbury sponsors the annual Easter egg hunt which takes place in over two hundred and fifty National Trust locations here in the United Kingdom. On Easter Monday, the President of the United States holds an annual Easter egg roll on the White House lawn for young children. In some traditions children put out empty baskets for the Easter bunny to fill whilst they sleep, they wake to find their baskets filled with chocolate eggs and other treats. Many children around the world follow the tradition of colouring hard-boiled eggs and giving baskets of sweets. One fascinating fact to me though is that since the rabbit is considered a pest in Australia, the Easter Bilby is used as an alternative. Bilbies are native Australian marsupials who are an endangered species, so to raise money and increase awareness of conservation efforts Bilby-shaped chocolates and related merchandise are sold within many stores throughout Australia as an alternative to Easter bunnies. But this time should surely be remembered as a new beginning, as it has been for centuries throughout the world. Happy Easter!

This week…
Not everyone has a home computer these days, but more and more folk find them useful as part of doing research on a range of subjects. Happily most public libraries allow folk free access to the ones they have, but time is strictly limited and use must be allocated. Sadly I can never get in to my local library, as every time I phone up they tell me they are fully ‘booked’…

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Time Team

Many years ago I was looking through tv channels and chanced upon a show called ’Time Team’. The name was intriguing, so I sat down and watched. It fascinated me. I continued watching and I am glad I did. But sadly, after quite a few years, the tv series ended so I was delighted to see a mention of it again recently. As is my way, I did some research online and found that a fair bit had been written, especially recently and the following is what I found. I discovered some excellent images and some information on digs that were done last year as well as work expected in what I hope will be quite soon this year now. In fact ‘Time Team’ is a well-rehearsed story, but what I didn’t know was that it started as ‘Timesigns’, a four-part series which first aired in 1991. Roadford Lake, also known as the Roadford Reservoir is actually a man-made reservoir fed by the River Wolf, located to the north-east of Broadwoodwidger in West Devon, eight miles (13 km) east of Launceston. I do like the delightful village names we have in this country! This place is quite small and according to the 2001 census it had a population of just 548. Also, the reservoir is the largest area of fresh water in the southwest of England. Exploring the archaeology of this area came about after Tim Taylor approached Mick Aston to present the series and as a result, along with Phil Harding, three members of the future Time Team core were now in place. Yet despite bringing the past to life using the ingredients of excavation, landscape survey and reconstructions, including Phil felling a tree with a flint axe, Timesigns was a very different beast. In fact the four-part series is still available to watch online at and watching it now provides a lesson in just how revolutionary the Time Team format actually was. That is because Timesigns was slower paced and it had Mick talking directly to the camera in a style more akin to a history documentary or Open University broadcast, also there was a focus on interesting, previously discovered artefacts. It included Phil Harding in woodland, seeking out raw materials for a reconstructed axe and this allowed the audience to witness the hands-on practical process. It meant that viewers were placed at the heart of the action and this would later become a hallmark of Time Team. Whilst filming Timesigns, Tim and Mick often discussed other ways to bring archaeology to a television audience and what later proved to be something of a providential conversation took place in a Little Chef on the Okehampton bypass, where Mick mentioned that he had recently missed a train and, having a couple of hours to kill, decided to explore. During that time he deduced the town’s medieval layout and, struck by how much could be learned in a few hours, Tim wondered what could then be achieved in a few days. When he took this idea to various studios though, no-one wanted to know. Still, it was not the first time that a chance conversation with Mick had started someone thinking about television archaeology as a few years earlier Tony Robinson had joined a trip which Mick was leading to Santorini, a Greek island in the southern Aegean Sea about 200 km (120 miles) southeast from the mainland as this was part of some education work for Bristol University. Mick’s aptitude for breathing life into the past convinced Tony that archaeology had untapped television potential, but when he returned to Britain Tony found the studios unwilling to take the idea further. The breakthrough came when Timesigns proved an unexpected hit. Suddenly Channel 4 was receptive to the idea of a major archaeology programme, Tim Taylor devised the name ‘Time Team’ and in 1992 a pilot episode was filmed in Dorchester-on-Thames. Never screened and reputedly lost in the Channel 4 vaults, this pilot captured a show that was radically different to Timesigns and was initially seen as a quiz show in a similar vein to ‘Challenge Anneka’, where the team would be called on to solve archaeological mysteries whilst racing against the clock. Envelopes hidden at strategic points would set challenges along the lines of ‘find the Medieval high street in two hours’. Judged a misfire by Channel 4, it could have been the end. Thankfully, instead the Time Team’s format was radically overhauled although shades of the quiz-show concept did survive in early episodes. The onscreen introduction of all the team members and their specialist skills was a hangover from a time when participants would have varied from week to week, rather than coalescing into a core group but in the meantime, Tony’s role transformed from a quiz master to translator of all things archaeological for a general audience and the final piece of the jigsaw fell into place during the fledgling Time Team‘s first episode. Filmed at Athelney, site of Alfred the Great’s apocryphal burnt cakes, the site was scheduled, precluding excavation. John Gater, who was the programme’s ‘geophysics’ wizard, surveyed the field. Despite the Ancient Monuments Laboratory having drawn a blank the year before, John’s state-of-the-art kit revealed the monastic complex in startling clarity. Best of all, the cameras were rolling to capture the archaeologists’ euphoria as the geophysical plot emerged from a bulky printer in the back of the survey vehicle.

Mick Aston at work.

As well as an arresting demonstration of the power of teamwork, Athelney showed how geophysics could be the heart of the programme. As Mick Aston observed “the geophys and Time Team have always gone hand in hand. It is the programme really. Geophysics gives you that instant picture you can then evaluate”. John has kept on top of technical advances, and the results of his survey of Brancaster Roman fort provide one of the really outstanding moments in later series, with the breathtaking 3D model it produced of the buried structures persuading English Heritage to commission a complete survey on the spot. The original team brought an impressive breadth of skills to the programme. Victor Ambrus’ peerless ability to bring the past to life on the fly was well displayed after his artwork caught Tim Taylor’s eye in an edition of Readers’ Digest and the late Robin Bush brought a degree of historical expertise that would be missed almost as much as the man himself following his departure in 2003. Despite their varied talents and backgrounds it quickly became apparent that the team had a natural chemistry. Time Team became well-known for their individual ways and styles, including Mick’s famous striped jumper. Requested by a commissioning editor to wear more colourful clothing, Mick turned up in the most garish garment he could find as a joke, only to be told it was perfect. Far from a media concoction, the unique individuals on Time Team were filmed going about their work with an honesty and integrity that has seen the series heralded as Britain’s first reality television show. There can be little doubt that part of the show’s early success stems from the audience warming to the group’s genuine passion for teasing out the past. Rather than targeting the palaces and castles of the rich and famous, each of the episodes sought to solve simple, local questions. This was really highlighted by having a member of the public read out a letter of invitation at the beginning, posing the question they wanted answered. The message was simple, this is local archaeology, it is ‘your’ archaeology. It worked well, especially whenever the director of the first few seasons followed the digs as they evolved and his technique meant that viewers were often placed on the edge of a trench when discoveries happened and making them privy to key discussions. However some archaeologists were initially, quite fairly, a bit sceptical. One aspect that some treated with suspicion was the three-day deadline. Research digs usually ran for weeks if not months, and it was questioned whether anything approaching responsible archaeology could be achieved in such a short space of time. It was certainly not ideally suited to showcase all of the techniques available to modern archaeologists. Much money would be spent on scientific dating, with the results only coming back in time for a line of dialogue to be dubbed on months after filming had concluded. Coincidentally, digging within a tight timeframe was how changes were occurring within the profession. Obliged to cut evaluation trenches to meet the deadlines of multi-million pound construction projects, the 1990s saw a surge in short-term excavation projects. It led to an appreciation of just how much information could be quickly gleaned from comparatively modest trenching. The thrill of time running out also engaged viewers, and Time Team’s popularity was rewarded with increasingly longer series. Season one, aired in 1994, had four episodes, while season two followed with five, and season three then boasted six.

Some members of the Time Team.

Seasons nine to twelve have often been seen as Time Team‘s ‘golden’ age. Screening thirteen episodes a year, as well as live digs and specials the programme seemed to be ever-present. Its stars were household names and at its zenith, Time Team had regular audiences of over three million viewers. Now that the format was safely established, the programme was increasingly able to capitalise on its fame and access big name sites, even Buckingham Palace. Whilst the allure of such sites created a powerful television spectacle, it also marked a move away from the programme’s humble local archaeology origins. Even after its star began to wane, Time Team remained popular and an audience study in 2006 indicated that twenty million people watched at least one show that year. However it was season nineteen that changed everything as in 2011 the production centre for the programme moved from London to Cardiff. Very much of a political gesture aimed at building up regional television, the series was picked because it seemed a safe pair of hands. Sadly it cost the show almost all of its behind the scenes staff, expertise honed over fifteen years was lost at a stroke, to be replaced by crew and production staff who knew neither each other nor archaeology. Despite some great new people who learnt fast, expecting them to produce the same calibre of product immediately was just too big a demand. Time Team‘s cost also made it vulnerable. Towards the end of its run an average episode would cost around £200,000, a budget more on the scale of a small drama show in the eyes of television insiders but over twenty years Channel 4 had in fact pumped £4 million directly into British archaeology. It is to the Channel’s credit that it did this despite much of that outlay being channelled into post-excavation work that never appeared on-screen. The money was well spent and today only five Time Team sites remain unpublished, a record that shames many UK units and academics.

The Time Team in 2012.

Back then, Time Team’s legacy left much to celebrate. It brought the money and expertise to investigate sites that would otherwise never have been touched. The Isle of Mull episode in season seventeen is a great example of what could be discovered. With only some strange earthworks exciting the curiosity of local amateur archaeologists to go on, the programme was flexible enough to be able to take a gamble and the result was a previously unknown 5th-century monastic enclosure linked to St Columba. It enabled a local group to secure Historic Lottery Fund money to dig the site. Time Team excavations at Binchester’s Roman fort also helped kickstart a major research project. I was saddened when the series ended, but in 2021 there was excellent news when, thanks to the overwhelming support of their supporters, the Time Team returned for two brand new digs in September that year, with the episodes due to be released this year on the YouTube channel ‘Time Team Official’. This will give viewers the chance to engage as the shows are researched and developed, see live blogs during filming, watch virtual reality landscape data at home and join in Q&A’s with the team. Carenza Lewis, Stewart Ainsworth, Helen Geake and geophys genius John Gater will all be returning. They are joined by new faces representing the breadth of experts practising archaeology today. Sir Tony Robinson, who is an honorary patron, says: “I was delighted to hear about the plans for the next chapter in Time Team’s story. It’s an opportunity to find new voices and should help launch a new generation of archaeologists. While I won’t be involved in the new sites, I was delighted to accept the role of honorary patron of the Time Team project. It makes me chief super-fan and supporter. All armoury in our shared desire to inspire and stimulate interest in archaeology at all levels.” Like Tony, I too am a great fan of Time Team and feel sure that this will bode well, as there is now a Time Team website at

This week…

A Turkish proverb.

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All Fools’ Day

More commonly known as April Fools’ Day, this is celebrated on April 1st each year and has been celebrated for several centuries by many different cultures, though its exact origins remain a mystery. Traditions include playing hoaxes or practical jokes on others, often ending the event by calling out “April Fool!” to the recipient so they realise they’ve been caught out by the prank. Whilst its exact history is shrouded in mystery, the embrace of April Fools’ Day jokes by the media and major brands has ensured the unofficial holiday’s long life. Mass media can be involved in these pranks, which may then be revealed as such on the day following. The day itself is not a public holiday in any country except Odessa in the Ukraine, where the first of April is an official city holiday. The custom of setting aside a day for playing harmless pranks upon one’s neighbour has become a relatively common one in the world and a disputed association between 1 April and foolishness is in Geoffrey Chaucer’s ‘The Canterbury Tales (1392) as in the ’Nun’s Priest’s Tale’, where a vain person is tricked by a fox with the words ‘Since March began thirty days and two’, i.e. 32 days since March began, which is April 1st. In 1508, French poet Eloy d’Amerval referred to a ‘poisson d’avril’, possibly the first reference to the celebration in France. Prompted by the Protestant Reformation, the Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church issued condemnations of what it defined to be heresies committed by proponents of Protestantism and also issued key statements and clarifications of the Church’s doctrine and teachings, including scriptures, the Biblical canon, sacred tradition, original sin, the sacraments, Mass and the veneration of saints. The Council met for twenty-five sessions between 13 December 1545 and 4 December 1563 and Pope Paul III, who convoked, or called together the Council, oversaw the first eight sessions during 1545 and 1547, whilst the twelfth to sixteenth sessions, held between 1551 and 1552, were overseen by Pope Julius III and the final seventeenth to twenty-fifth sessions by Pope Pius IV between 1562 and 1563. As a result, the use of January 1st as New Year’s Day was not adopted officially until 1564 by the Edict of Roussillon, when France switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. In the Julian Calendar, like the Hindu calendar, the new year began with the spring equinox around April 1st. So people who were slow to get the news of this change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar or simply failed to realise the change but continued to celebrate the start of the new year during the last week of March and into April became the butt of jokes and hoaxes and were therefore called “April fools.” These pranks included having paper fish placed on their backs and being referred to as “poisson d’avril” (April fish), said to symbolise a young, easily caught fish or a gullible person. In 1686, a writer named John Aubrey referred to the celebration as ‘Fooles holy day’, the first British reference. On 1 April 1698, several people were tricked into going to the Tower of London to “see the Lions washed”.

An 1857 ticket to “Washing the Lions” at the Tower of London. No such event was ever held.

A study in the 1950s by two folklorists found that in the UK and in countries whose traditions derived from here, the joking ceased at midday and this continues to be the practice, with the custom ceasing at noon, after which time it is no longer acceptable to play pranks. Thus a person playing a prank after midday is considered to be the ‘April fool’ themselves. Meanwhile in Scotland, April Fools’ Day was originally called ‘Huntigowk Day’. The name is actually a corruption of ‘hunt the gowk’, this being Scottish for a cuckoo or a foolish person. Alternative terms in Gaelic would be ‘Là na Gocaireachd’, ‘gowking day’, or ‘Là Ruith na Cuthaige’, ‘the day of running the cuckoo’. The traditional prank is to ask someone to deliver a sealed message that supposedly requests help of some sort. In fact, the message reads “Dinna laugh, dinna smile. Hunt the gowk another mile.” The recipient, upon reading it, will explain they can only help if they first contact another person, and they send the victim to this next person with an identical message, with the same result. In England a ‘fool’ is known by a few different names around the country, including ‘noodle’, ‘gob’, ‘gobby’ or ‘noddy’.

Big Ben going digital…

On April Fools’ Day 1980, the BBC announced the Big Ben’s clock face was going digital and whoever got in touch first could win the clock hands. Over in Ireland, it was traditional to entrust a victim with an “important letter” to be given to a named person. That person would read the letter, then ask the victim to take it to someone else, and so on. The letter when opened contained the words “send the fool further”. A day of pranks is also a centuries-long tradition in Poland, signified by ‘prima aprilis’, this being ‘First April’ in Latin. It is a day when many pranks are played and hoaxes, sometimes very sophisticated, are prepared by people as well as the media (which often cooperate to make the ‘information’ more credible) and even public institutions. Serious activities are usually avoided, and generally every word said on April 1st could be untrue. The conviction for this is so strong that the Polish anti-Turkish alliance with Leopold I which was signed on 1 April 1683, was backdated to 31 March. But for some in Poland ‘prima aprilis’ also ends at noon of 1 April and such jokes after that hour are considered inappropriate and not classy. Over in Nordic countries Danes, Finns, Icelanders, Norwegians and Swedes celebrate April Fools’ Day. It is ‘aprilsnar’ in Danish, ‘aprillipäivä’ in Finnish and ‘aprilskämt’ in Swedish. In these countries, most news media outlets will publish exactly one false story on 1 April and for newspapers this will typically be a first-page article but not the top headline. In Italy, France, Belgium and the French-speaking areas of Switzerland and Canada, the April 1st tradition is similarly known as April fish, being ‘poisson d’avril’ in French, ‘April vis’ in Dutch and ‘pesce d’aprile’ in Italian. Possible pranks include attempting to attach a paper fish to the victim’s back without being noticed. This fish feature is prominently present on many late 19th- to early 20th-century French April Fools’ Day postcards. Many newspapers also spread a false story on April Fish Day, and a subtle reference to a fish is sometimes given as a clue to the fact that it is an April Fools’ prank. In Germany, as in the UK an April Fool prank is sometimes later revealed by shouting “April fool!” at the recipient, who becomes the April fool but over in the Ukraine, April Fools’ Day is widely celebrated in Odessa and has the special local name ‘Humorina’. It seems that this holiday arose in 1973 and an April Fool prank is revealed by saying “Pervoye Aprelya, nikomu ne veryu”, which means “April the First, I trust nobody”, to the recipient. The festival includes a large parade in the city centre, free concerts, street fairs and performances. Festival participants dress up in a variety of costumes and walk around the city fooling around and pranking passersby. One of the traditions on April Fools’ Day is to dress up the main city monument in funny clothes. Humorina even has its own logo, a cheerful sailor in a lifebelt and whose author was the artist Arkady Tsykun. During the festival, special souvenirs bearing the logo are printed and sold everywhere. Quite why or how this began I cannot determine but since 2010, April Fools’ Day celebrations include an International Clown Festival and both are celebrated as one. In 2019, the festival was dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the Odessa Film Studio and all events were held with an emphasis on cinema.

An April Fools’ Day prank in the Public Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.
The sign reads “No Photography Of The Ducklings Permitted”

As well as people playing pranks on one another on April Fools’ Day, elaborate pranks have appeared on radio and television stations, newspapers, and websites as well as those performed by large corporations. In one famous prank in 1957, the BBC broadcast a film in their ‘Panorama’ current affairs series purporting to show Swiss farmers picking freshly-grown spaghetti, in what they called the Swiss spaghetti harvest. The BBC was soon flooded with requests to purchase a spaghetti plant, forcing them to declare the film a hoax on the news the next day. With the advent of the Internet and readily available global news services, April Fools’ pranks can catch and embarrass a wider audience than ever before. But the practice of April Fool pranks and hoaxes is somewhat controversial. The mixed opinions of critics are epitomised in the reception to the 1957 BBC ’spaghetti tree hoax’ and newspapers were later split over whether it was a great joke or a terrible hoax on the public. The positive view is that April Fools’ can be good for one’s health because it encourages ‘jokes, hoaxes, pranks, and belly laughs’ and brings all the benefits of laughter including stress relief and reducing strain on the heart. There are many ‘best of’ April Fools’ Day lists that are compiled in order to showcase the best examples of how the day is celebrated and various April Fools’ campaigns have been praised for their innovation, creativity, writing, and general effort. However, the negative view describes April Fools’ hoaxes as ‘creepy and manipulative, rude and a little bit nasty’, as well as based on ‘Schadenfreude’, the experience of pleasure, joy, or self-satisfaction that comes from learning of or witnessing the troubles, failures, or humiliation of another, as well as deceit. When genuine news or a genuine important order or warning is issued on April Fools’ Day, there is risk that it will be misinterpreted as a joke and ignored, for example when Google (known to play elaborate April Fools’ Day hoaxes) announced, in 2004, their launch of Gmail with one gigabyte inboxes, an era when competing webmail services offered four megabytes or less, many dismissed it as an outright joke. On the other hand, sometimes stories intended as jokes are taken seriously. So either way, there can be adverse effects such as confusion, misinformation, wasted resources (especially when the hoax concerns people in danger) and even legal or commercial consequences. In Thailand, the police even warned ahead of the April Fools’ in 2021 that posting or sharing fake news online could lead to maximum of five years imprisonment. Other examples of genuine news on April 1st mistaken as a hoax included warnings about the Aleutian Island earthquake’s tsunami in Hawaii and Alaska in 1946 that killed 165 people, news on April 1st that a comedian by the name of Mitch Hedberg had died on 29 March 2005, an announcement that a long running USA soap opera called ‘Guiding Light’ was being cancelled in 2009 or that a USA basketball player named Isaiah Thomas had been declared for the NBA draft in 2011, probably because of his age. As well as April 1st being recognised as April Fools’ Day, there are a few other, recognisable days, notably on the first of each month when, in English-speaking countries (mainly Britain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa) it is a custom to say “a pinch and a punch for the first of the month” or a similar alternative, but this is typically said by children. In some places the victim might respond with “a flick and a kick for being so quick”, but that I haven’t heard said for many a long year. I do still say (or share in text messages etc) “White rabbits” as this is meant to bring good luck and to prevent the recipient saying ‘pinch, punch, first of the month’ to you! I do wonder sometimes how one of my older brothers managed at school on this particular day though, as April 1st is his birthday – perhaps he managed to keep it quiet somehow…

This week…
There are so many words in English that seem to have fallen out of use and I am starting to find a few. We know that when a word is used to emphasise or lay emphasis on a noun, it is called an emphatic adjective. Examples are found in “The very idea of living on the moon is impractical” and “They are the only people who helped me, where ‘very’ and only’ emphasise. But there are also ‘phatic’ expressions and these are ones denoting or relating to language used for general purposes of social interaction, rather than to convey information or ask questions. Utterances such as “hello, how are you?” and “nice morning, isn’t it?” are examples of phatic expressions.

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