Through The Ages

In this life as we know it, for millions of years there have been many changes, both here on Earth and in the much wider world. We cannot possibly fathom just how big everything is, or even how small. In my blog post last week I mentioned how I had seen the question “Why does modern science classify humans as animals, even though humans are clearly distinct and different from animals in many ways?” I responded appropriately as we most definitely are defined as human animals. As with all living things, we are born, we grow and we pass away. Many species care for their young. Some young are literally ‘kicked out’ when they reach a certain age and must fend for themselves. Others may stay with their families through several generations. There are those creatures in the world whose sole purpose is to bring the next generation into being and once that is done, they pass away. With some living things such as trees, if a major fire occurs then Nature ensures that the trees begin to grow once more. Some living things cannot survive under water for any length of time, whilst others spend their whole lives deep in the depths, coping with amazing pressures. For birds, the sky is not just an empty airspace, it is a place where they live, feed and mate. We had a few days of extremely hot weather recently, we did as much as we could to cope. I did very little except eat, sleep and take in fluids regularly. Happily it all settled down again and things went back to what is regarded as a more ‘normal’ state of affairs here in the UK. But a few years ago I was unable to use my car and there were some trees in the car park so I parked the car under one of them. A clever idea I thought, to park it there in the shade! Except it was a lime tree, and I soon discovered my mistake, because sap falls from lime trees during the summer months as a by-product of aphids feeding on the trees. As the sap is sticky, it isn’t a good thing to have on a car! But the tree did do well as a sunshade. Where I am living now there are many trees and in the recent heat they made the areas around them cooler than elsewhere. But it then took a while for that heat to dissipate from inside the building. This world continues to rotate and it is changing all the time, just as the living things upon it do as best they can, coping with the changes. I have said how many species no longer exist on Earth now, some through climate change, some through human intervention and some simply through natural evolution. Just from the hills and valleys in this country alone we can see how, very many years ago, ice covered much of the Earth. But in time all things change. For example, geologists have deduced that at one time there existed a natural dam that separated the North Sea from the English Channel, but this dam was catastrophically ruptured hundreds of thousands of years later in a two-stage process, ultimately setting Britain’s insular environment in stone. These scientists base their conclusions on a line of deep plunge pools (basins excavated by intense waterfalls) and a network of channels cut in the sea floor south-west of the ridge line. They believe that they were first formed some 450,000 years ago as a lake of glacial melt water to the north-east in the North Sea basin (the depression where the North Sea sits today, some of which was dry land back then) spilled over into what is today the English Channel. As well as that I have written previously about the Fen country, East Anglia and how all that was drained. I am glad that was done, as without them we wouldn’t have Hunstanton, Skegness, Cromer, all places like that! Mind you, I still have vivid memories of going on a school trip to Blakeney Point – we went there by boat and that was fine, but we had to trudge back through the muddy marshes – and guess who slipped over! I wasn’t the only one, but that is a ‘been there, done that’ for me – not again! It was, without doubt, an experience. I don’t think my dear mother was too happy seeing the state of me and my muddy clothes when I got home…

It can be hard to visualise some changes, yet they occur all the time. I like watching a few tv programmes, not all that many but I definitely do have ‘regular’ ones which pique my interest. ‘Homes under the Hammer’ is one of them and a good number of the properties that are up for auction aren’t in too bad a state of repair. But sadly some are really bad and at best are stripped back to bare brick and rebuilt, whilst a few are razed to the ground, cleared and built from scratch. So it amazes me how some people leave their homes, though I do realise some folk may not get a choice if they sadly pass away. These days it seems folk are going a fair distance to buy a property and this is often due to the relative costs of buying say, a three- bed house in South Wales as compared to a one-bed flat in South London. I appreciate it all depends on the condition, location, what the new owner has planned to do, like update and sell on or simply rent the place. The presenters on the tv programme are very keen to see that a purchaser has always done the ‘right’ thing, like viewing the property beforehand and they often stress the real importance of reading the legal pack on the property first. Sadly quite a few folk do not do their homework and find themselves faced with unexpected sellers fees! But on the other hand, others do quite well, bringing a place up to a good, modern standard. They have often given much thought to what they are doing and the results show that! I also like watching the tv show ‘Pointless’. In each episode four teams of two contestants attempt to find correct but obscure answers to four rounds of general knowledge questions, with the winning team then eligible to compete for the show’s cash jackpot which starts at £1,000. All questions used on the show are factual in nature, and are asked of a panel of a hundred individuals in a pre-conducted public survey. A correct answer scores one point for each survey subject who gave it, and the objective is to achieve as low a score as possible. ‘Pointless’ answers, which are the correct responses not given by anyone surveyed, score zero points and are the most desirable. Every pointless answer given during the main game increases the jackpot by £250, and the team that reaches the final round has three chances to win it by giving one such answer. Episodes are usually shown every weekday around 5:15pm and the game lasts forty-five minutes. In the final round of each episode, should a team fail to win the jackpot it is carried forward to the next one and a further £1,000 added to the jackpot. This means that a jackpot can rise and as of May 2022, the highest recorded jackpot won on the show was £24,750 which was won on 8 March 2013.

When I was a great deal younger we did not spend our time with computer games, they simply did not exist then. Many children played together in the street, also for a few years we lived in a cul-de-sac and in any case not every family had a car, also those that did usually parked theirs either in their garage or on the driveway. These garages were often made of asbestos, quite often with a corrugated iron roof. We always knew when one of our neighbours was off to work on his big 500cc motorbike, because of the loud ‘thump thump’ noise as it was started up! I recall buying sweet cigarettes which had a red tip on, so it looked like they were lit. We would ’smoke’ them and after a few ‘puffs’ we would eat them! They were probably on sale at the same time Superman was beating up Nick O’Teen on television advertisements on ITV! There were little cards in the sweets which we exchanged, there were Green Shield stamps to collect and I was given the honour of sticking these stamps in books, keeping a count of them, these were a British sales promotion scheme that rewarded shoppers with stamps that could be used to buy gifts from a catalogue or from any affiliated retailer. The scheme was introduced in 1958 by a Richard Tompkins, who had noticed the success of the long-established Sperry & Hutchinson Green Stamps in America. For just a few years, the scheme was so widely adopted that it was referenced in rock songs. But it suffered when Tesco ceased to use it as part of a price-cutting policy that became standard nationwide. To retain business, Green Shield allowed customers to buy gifts from the catalogue with a mix of stamps and cash, but soon the catalogue became cash-only, and the operation was re-branded as Argos. Stamps were withdrawn altogether in 1991 and the company entered voluntary liquidation in 2002. Michael Flanders makes reference to them in the opening patter to the Flanders and Swann song ‘Sounding Brass’ where he says, “We now turn to number two on your song sheets. Don’t strain your eyes trying to read them though, because I shall be telling you exactly what comes next. In any case, these rather fanciful titles that we print on the programmes bear no relation to what we’re going to sing. It’s a dead waste of a shilling, is what I say. You don’t even get green stamps. Well worth collecting, those stamps”. He then turns quickly to his colleague, the pianist Donald Swann and says “My goodness, you know that really is a very nice suit!” We would often sit on the kerb by the side of the road and play our games such as ‘Jacks’, a simple game using simple pieces. This game, or a variation of it, has been played for more than two thousand years. In texts left behind by the Greek philosopher, Sophocles, there is mention of the game being played around the time of the Trojan War, roughly 1190 B.C. and children across the world play some variation of the game even today. Modern Jacks evolved from a game that originally used pebbles or sheep knucklebones. The name derives from ‘chackstones’, meaning ‘stones to be tossed’. The knuckle, wrist, or ankle bones (astragals) of goats, sheep, or other animals have also been used in play. Such objects have been found in prehistoric caves in Kiev, Ukraine, and pictures of the game are depicted on jars from ancient Greece. Later, a wooden ball was substituted for one of the rocks or bones and the game became known as Five Stones. Eventually, a rubber ball was used in place of the wooden one. The knucklebones were replaced by small metal ‘jacks’, whose shape is said to resemble the original sheep knucklebones that were used and this gradual evolution has resulted in the modern game that is played today. Nowadays the game has one rubber ball and five 6-pronged metal jacks and is played by scattering the jacks on a flat surface. The ball is bounced using one hand and whilst the ball is in the air, a jack is picked up with the same hand. On the next bounce, two jacks are picked up, and so on. If that player misses, then it is the other player’s turn.


We also played the usual games like Cowboys and Indians, Hide and Seek and Tag, some of the girls played Hopscotch and Skipping, though after a while things could get noisy and we would be told, either by our parents or a neighbour, to quieten down as we were too noisy and this was often because a neighbour was sleeping as they were on a night shift. We also had other hobbies like stamp-collecting and quieter occupations like reading. I became interested in putting together Airfix kits, first with small aircraft and later larger models of sailing ships, using black cotton for the rigging. I even had one of the Saturn V rocket. The basic kits of aircraft like the World War I Sopwith Camel and the World War II Spitfire were all in 1/72 scale, but I was bought a Saturn V rocket which was 1/144 scale but was still large, and a few sailing ships like Endeavour and HMS Victory which were around 1/180 scale I think. These ships took ages to complete but had pride of place at home. As I grew older I moved away from such things but a couple of friends carried on with them, mainly of aircraft as they were now working in the RAF. But they took the skill to a much higher level as scale aircraft modellers, still putting the kits together but reading up on the aircraft they were putting together, making them as authentic as possible. I have seen how they created dioramas of battle scenes, with a great deal of intricate work. When I was at school there was a small brass band and I joined. I learned to play the cornet and later bought my own trumpet. There were around five of us in the brass band, we played for various school events, mainly at our school but we were invited to other local schools to play for them. On leaving school I joined a small orchestra which was good experience, I was also singing in a couple of choirs by then too. I even joined a local brass band, quite a large one, but I found that was too much so left playing the trumpet and carried on singing in choirs, which meant I went to quite a few famous places!

Peterborough Orchestra.
(I am right at the back, in a shirt and tie!)

At work we had begun using computers, then a while later Sir Clive Sinclair began producing the small ‘home’ computer which I have mentioned in a previous blog post. So my first home computer was a Sinclair ZX81, which had just 1k of RAM memory and no hard drive storage. No screen, either – you connected it to a television and tuned a channel to it. I have said in an earlier writing about storing and retrieving data, it was fun though and I learned much. As the years passed, computers improved and I eventually bought what was a ‘proper’ computer, although nothing like what we have available nowadays. I did play different computer games, some which were quite easy and others, like role-playing ones, were relatively difficult and one could spend hours and hours on them! My job changed and I became a Trainer, then later ran my own small business where I was kept busy with teaching others the basics of computers and photography as well as then sharing photos with others. Now I am retired and smile when I wake up of a morning with just an occasional ache in my muscles, perhaps because the day before I had sat in a draught by an open window because of the hot weather. Why do I smile? Because as a youngster I would see my parents and grandparents take their time to move some mornings and I’d wonder why. I am now at the age they were and realise. So much has changed in these relatively short years! Things change all the time and often we don’t notice, but they do. But if we take care of ourselves and have a positive attitude, we can often live longer. Yes, in time we return to our base, “From dust we were formed and to dust we return”. It is a simple fact of life. But much of it is up to us. The other day I saw some lovely words:

Do not regret growing old, it’s a privilege denied to many.
Growing old with beauty is growing old with heart,
No remorse, no regret, no checking the time,
Go forward, stop being afraid.
Because with every age, happiness is attached.
Ageing beautifully is growing old with your body,
Keeping it healthy inside and beautiful outside.
Never surrender to any effort.
Age has nothing to do with death.
Ageing gracefully is a boost
To those who feel lost in the bush,
Who no longer believes that life can be sweet
And that there is always someone to the rescue.
Ageing gracefully is all about ageing positively.
Do not weep over memories of old times.
Be proud to have white hair,
Because, to be happy, we still have time.
Ageing gracefully is ageing gracefully,
Know how to give without expecting anything in return;
For wherever we are, at the dawn of the day,
Someone to tell hello.
Growing old beautifully is growing old with hope;
Being pleased with yourself by going to bed at night.
And when the time for not receiving comes,
Deep down it is just a goodbye.
~ Felix Leclerc (1914 – 1988)

This week…
Here in this excellent Care Home, the Senior Carer approached an inmate and said to them in a fairly loud voice “We’ve got you a new hearing aid” and the inmate replied, with absolutely impeccable timing, “What???”.
Forgive me, I had to suppress a smile.

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