The British Postal Service

We should all be used to sending and receiving items ‘by post’ but, as with so many things in this world, there is change and our postal service is no exception. It is known today as Royal Mail Group Ltd and is a British multinational postal service as well as a courier company.

In England, a monarch’s letters to their subjects are known to have been carried by relays of couriers as long ago as the 15th century. The earliest mention of ‘Master of the Posts’ is in the ‘King’s Book of Payments’ where a payment of £100 was authorised for a Master of the Posts in February 1512 and it was then established in 1516 as a government department, so belatedly in 1517 the office of ‘Governor of the King’s Posts’ was officially appointed as the role actually was when King Henry VIII officially established it. Then in 1603 King James VI moved his court to London and upon his accession to the throne of England at the Union of the Crowns, one of his first acts was to establish the royal postal service between London and Edinburgh in an attempt to retain control over the Scottish Privy Council. In 1609 it was decreed that letters could only be carried and delivered by persons authorised by the Master of the Posts. The Royal Mail service was first made available to the public by King Charles I on 31 July 1635, interestingly with postage being paid by the recipient. The monopoly was farmed out to Thomas Witherings, an English merchant and postal administrator who then established the Royal Mail public letter service. He was a politician who sat in the House of Commons in 1640 but for some reason, in the 1640s Parliament removed the monopoly from Witherings. So during the time that England and Wales (later along with Ireland and Scotland) were governed as a republic until the execution of King Charles I, the parliamentary postal service was run by Edmund Prideaux, a prominent parliamentarian and lawyer who rose to be attorney-general at great profit for himself. To keep his monopoly in those troubled times, Prideaux improved efficiency and used both legal impediments and illegal methods. In 1653, Parliament set aside all previous grants for postal services, with contracts then given for the inland and foreign mails to John Manley, which gave him a monopoly on the postal service and was effectively enforced by Protector Oliver Cromwell’s government, but thanks to the improvements necessitated by the war Manley ran a much improved Post Office service. In July 1655, the Post Office was put under the direct government control of John Thurloe, a Secretary of State best known to history as Cromwell’s spymaster general and he became ‘Master of the Posts’. Previous English governments had tried to prevent conspirators communicating with each other, but Thurloe preferred to deliver their post having surreptitiously read it. As the Protectorate claimed to govern all of Great Britain and Ireland under one unified government, on 9 June 1657 the Second Protectorate Parliament (which included Scottish and Irish MPs) passed the ‘Act for Settling the Postage in England, Scotland and Ireland’, which created one monopoly Post Office for the whole territory of the Commonwealth and Thurloe’s spies were therefore able to intercept mail, and he exposed Edward Sexby’s 1657 plot to assassinate Cromwell, capturing would-be assassin Miles Sindercombe and his group. Ironically, Thurloe’s own department was also infiltrated as his secretary Samuel Morland became a Royalist agent and in 1659 alleged that Thurloe, Richard Cromwell and Sir Richard Willis – a Sealed Knot member turned Cromwell agent – were plotting to kill the future King Charles II. About forty years after his death, a false ceiling was found in his rooms at Lincoln’s Inn, the space was full of letters seized during his occupation of the office of Master of the Posts. These letters are now at the Bodleian Library. As a quick aside to this, I have learned that Lincoln’s Inn has quite a history to it and The Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn is one of the four Inns of Court in London to which barristers of England and Wales belong and where they are ‘Called to the Bar’. The other three are Middle Temple, Inner Temple and Gray’s Inn. Lincoln’s Inn, along with the three other Inns of Court, is recognised as being one of the world’s most prestigious professional bodies of judges and lawyers. Incidentally, the term ‘call to the bar’ has nothing to do with alcohol, it is a legal term in most common law jurisdictions where persons must be qualified to be allowed to argue in court on behalf of another party. The ‘bar’ is used as a collective noun for barristers, but literally referred to the wooden barrier in old courtrooms, which separated the often crowded public area at the rear from the space near the judges reserved for those having business with the court. Barristers would sit or stand immediately behind it, facing the judge, and could use it as a table for their work. In 1657 an Act entitled ‘Postage of England, Scotland and Ireland Settled’ set up a system for the British Isles and enacted the position of Postmaster General. The Act also reasserted the postal monopoly for letter delivery and for post horses. Thurloe retained his position as Master of the Posts until he was accused of treason and arrested in May 1660. At the restoration of the monarchy in that year, all the ordinances and acts passed by parliaments during the Civil War and the Interregnum passed into oblivion, and so the General Letter Office, which would later become the General Post Office (GPO), was officially established by King Charles II. The first Postmaster General was appointed in 1661, and at first a seal was fixed to the mail.

Plaque marking the former site of the General Letter Office in London.

Between 1719 and 1763, a postmaster at Bath signed a series of contracts with the post office to develop and expand Britain’s postal network. He organised Royal Mail coaches which were similar to ordinary family coaches, but with Post Office livery. The first one ran in 1784, operating between Bristol and London. Delivery staff received uniforms for the first time in 1793, and the Post Office Investigation Branch was established. The first mail train ran in 1830 on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway then the Post Office’s money order system was introduced in 1838.

Post Office Regulations Handbill, giving details of the Uniform Penny Post.

In December 1839, the first substantial reform started when postage rates were revised. Rowland Hill, an English teacher, inventor and social reformer, became disillusioned with the postal service and wrote a paper proposing reforms that resulted in an approach that would go on to change not only the Royal Mail, but also be copied by postal services around world. His proposal was refused at the first attempt, but he overcame the political obstacles, and was appointed to implement and develop his ideas. He realised that many small purchases would fund the organisation and implemented this by changing it from a receiver-pays to a sender-pays system. This was used as the model for other postal services around the world, but has also spilled over to the modern-day crowd-funding approach. It meant that greater changes took place when the Uniform Penny Post was introduced on 10 January 1840, whereby a single rate for delivery anywhere in Great Britain and Ireland was pre-paid by the sender. A few months later, to certify that postage had been paid on a letter, the sender could affix the first adhesive postage stamp, the Penny Black, which was available for use from 6 May that same year. Other innovations were the introduction of pre-paid postal stationery, letter sheets and envelopes. As Britain was the first country to issue prepaid postage stamps, British stamps are the only stamps that do not bear the name of the country of issue on them. By the late 19th century, there were between six and twelve mail deliveries per day in London, permitting correspondents to exchange multiple letters within a single day. The first test of the London Pneumatic Despatch Company was made in 1863, sending mail by underground rail between postal depots. The Post Office began its telegraph service in 1870.

An ornate Pillar Box dating from the reign of Queen Victoria.

The first Post Office pillar box was erected back in 1852 in Jersey, they were then introduced into mainland Britain the following year. British pillar boxes traditionally carry the Latin initials of the reigning monarch at the time of their installation, for example: ‘VR for Victoria Regina or ‘GR’ for Georgius Rex. Such branding is not used in Scotland, due to a dispute over the current monarch’s title, because some Scottish nationalists argue that Queen Elizabeth II should have simply been Queen Elizabeth, as there had been no previous Queen Elizabeth of Scotland or of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Elizabeth I was only Queen of the pre-1707 Kingdom of England. The dispute involved vandalism and attacks on pillar and post boxes introduced in Scotland which displayed EIIR. To avoid the issue, pillar boxes in Scotland are therefore either marked ‘Post Office’ or use the Scots Crown. A national telephone service was opened by the Post Office in 1912 and in 1919, the first international airmail service was developed by Royal Engineers (Postal Section) and the Royal Air Force. The London Post Office Railway was opened in 1927 and in 1941 an ‘airgraph’ service was introduced between UK and Egypt. Over the next four years this service was extended to Canada, East Africa, Burma, India, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Ceylon and Italy. Then under the Post Office Act 1969, the General Post Office was changed from a government department to a statutory corporation, known simply as the Post Office. The office of Postmaster General was abolished and replaced with the positions of chairman and chief executive in the new company. A two-class postal system was introduced in 1968, using first-class and second-class services. The Post Office also opened the National Giro Bank that same year. Postcodes were extended across Great Britain and Northern Ireland between 1959 and 1974. Royal Mail established Romec (Royal Mail Engineering & Construction) in 1989 to deliver facilities maintenance services to its business. British Telecom was separated from the Post Office in 1980 and emerged as an independent business in 1981. Girobank was sold to the Alliance & Leicester in 1990, and Royal Mail Parcels was rebranded as Parcelforce. The remaining business continued under public ownership, as privatisation of this was deemed to be too unpopular. However, in the 1990s, the then President of the Board of Trade began investigating a possible sale, and eventually a Green Paper on Postal Reform was published in May 1994, outlining various options for privatisation. The ideas, however, proved controversial, and were dropped from the 1994 Queen’s Speech after a number of Conservative MPs warned that they would not vote for the legislation.

Then, after a change of government in 1997, the Labour government decided to keep the Post Office state-owned, but with more commercial freedom and this led to the Postal Services Act 2000. The company was then renamed Consignia Plc in 2001 and the new name was intended to show that the company did more than deliver mail, however the change was very unpopular with both the general public and employees. The Communication Workers Union (CWU) boycotted the name, and the following year it was announced that the company would be renamed Royal Mail Group plc. In 1999, Royal Mail launched a short-lived e-commerce venture, ViaCode Limited, aimed at providing encrypted online communications services but it failed to make a profit and closed in 2002. As part of the 2000 Act, the government had set up a postal regulator, the Postal Services Commission, known as Postcomm, which offered licences to private companies to deliver mail. In 2001 Postwatch was created for consumers to express any concerns they may have with the postal service in Britain. In 2004 the second daily delivery was scrapped in an effort to reduce costs and improve efficiency, meaning a later, single delivery would be made. That same year, the travelling post office mail trains were also axed. Then in 2005, Royal Mail signed a contract with GB Railfreight to operate an overnight rail service between London and Scotland which carried bulk mail but without any on-train sorting and this was later followed by a London-Newcastle service.

Mount Pleasant Postal Sorting Office, London.

On 1 January 2006, the Royal Mail lost its 350-year monopoly, and the British postal market became fully open to competition. Competitors were allowed to collect and sort mail, and pass it to Royal Mail for delivery, a service known as ‘downstream access’. Royal Mail introduced Pricing in Proportion for first and second class inland mail, whereby prices are affected by the size as well as weight of items. It also introduced an online postage service, allowing customers to pay for postage online. In 2007, the Royal Mail Group plc became Royal Mail Group Ltd, in a slight change of legal status. Royal Mail ended Sunday collections from pillar boxes that year. On 1 October 2008, Postwatch was merged into the new consumer watchdog Consumer Focus. Also in 2008, due to a continuing fall in mail volumes, the government commissioned an independent review of the postal services sector by the former deputy chairman of Ofcom. The recommendations in the review led to the Business Secretary to seek to part-privatise the company by selling a minority stake to a commercial partner. However, despite legislation for the sale passing the House of Lords, it was abandoned in the House of Commons after strong opposition from backbench Labour MPs. The government later cited the difficult economic conditions for the reason behind the retreat. On 6 December 2010, a number of paid-for services including Admail, post office boxes and private post boxes were removed from the Inland Letter Post Scheme (ILPS) and became available under contract. Several free services, including petitions to parliament and the sovereign, and ‘poste restante’, were removed from the scheme. Following the 2010 general election, the new Business Secretary in the coalition government asked for an expansion on a previous report to account for EU Directive which called for the postal sector to be fully open to competition by 31 December 2012. Based on this review update, the government passed the Postal Services Act 2011 which allowed for up to 90% of Royal Mail to be privatised, with at least 10% of shares to be held by Royal Mail employees. As part of the 2011 Act, Postcomm was merged into the communications regulator Ofcom on 1 October 2011, with Ofcom introducing a new simplified set of regulations for postal services on 27 March 2012. On 31 March 2012, the Government took over the historic assets and liabilities of the Royal Mail pension scheme, relieving Royal Mail of its huge pensions deficit. On 1 April 2012, Post Office Ltd became independent of Royal Mail Group, and was reorganised to become a subsidiary of Royal Mail Holdings, with a separate management and board of directors and a ten-year inter-business agreement was signed between the two companies to allow Post Offices to continue issuing stamps and handling letters and parcels for Royal Mail. The Act also contained the option for Post Office Ltd to become a mutual organisation in the future. In July 2013 it was announced that Royal Mail was to be floated on the London Stock Exchange and that postal staff would be entitled to free shares. On 12 September 2013, a six-week plan for the sale of at least half of the business was released to the public, though the Communication Workers Union (CWU), representing over 100,000 Royal Mail employees, said that 96% of Royal Mail staff opposed the sell-off. A postal staff ballot in relation to a nationwide strike action was expected to take place in late September 2013. Applications for members of the public to buy shares opened on 27 September 2013, ahead of the company’s listing on the London Stock Exchange on 15 October 2013. The government was expected to retain between a 37.8% and 49.9% holding in the company. A report on 10 October 2013 revealed that around 700,000 applications for shares had been received by HM Government, more than seven times the amount that were available to the public. At the time of the report, Royal Mail staff continued to ballot regarding potential strike action. The initial public offering (IPO) price was set at 330p, and conditional trading in shares began on 11 October 2013, ahead of the full listing on 15 October 2013. Following the IPO, 52.2% of Royal Mail had been sold to investors, with 10% given to employees for free. Due to the high demand for shares, an additional 7.8% was sold via an over-allotment arrangement on 8 November 2013. This left the government with a 30% stake in Royal Mail and £1.98bn raised from the sale of shares. The CWU confirmed on 13 October 2013 that strike action would occur in response to the privatisation of Royal Mail but this was called off whilst negotiations took place and on 6 February 2014 the CWU confirmed that Royal Mail staff had voted to accept the settlement. Share prices rose by 38% on the first day of conditional trading, leading to accusations that the company had been undervalued. Six months later, the market price was 58% more than the sale price, and peaked as high as 87%. The Business Secretary defended the low sale price that was finalised, saying that the threat of strike action around the time of the sale meant it was a fair price in the circumstances following questioning from the House of Commons Business Committee in late April 2014. On 4 June 2015, the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated that the government would sell its remaining 30% stake. A 15% stake was subsequently sold to investors on 11 June 2015, raising £750m, with a further 1% passed to the company’s employees. The government completed the disposal of its shareholding on 12 October 2015, when a 13% stake was sold for £591m and another 1% was given to employees. In total the government raised £3.3bn from the full privatisation of Royal Mail. During its Annual General Meeting in 2022, the company announced that the holding company responsible for both Royal Mail and GLS would change its name to International Distribution Services. It was also suggested that the board of directors might look to separate GLS in order to distance the profitable company from Royal Mail, as they are currently in negotiations with the CWU over both pay and future changes to ways of working. It seems that some things never change, or perhaps some things always will. Either way, it is a good bit different to when it first started!

This week…
Some folk just like to be awkward and seem to enjoy an argument. They may even try to be what they think is ‘clever’, so if someone says to them “May I ask you a question?”, they reply “You just did!”. Therefore I always start such conversations with the statement “I have a question for you”.

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North Devon

There is so much to see and write about in the United Kingdom! So I will now mention a bit more about North Devon, where some of our family, comprising parents, an elder brother and I had what I would call our first real holiday together. Dad had been involved with the scouts for many years, so the plan was to have a camping holiday. Dad found that there was a campsite at Steart Farm in North Devon, so in our 1937 Ford Eight we drove down there. I was probably about six years old. It took many hours to get from Peterborough to Steart Farm and on our first visit we found that you turned off the main A39 road and went down a fairly steep hill to the farmhouse and yard. Parts of the yard were a bit muddy in places but we saw it was quite easy to get through and up the other side to the where the caravans and tents were. The site consisted of two large fields, an upper and a lower, with all of the camping in the lower field and the caravans in the upper one. Except there had been heavy rain for a few days prior to our visit and the lower field was flooded, so camping was impossible. But the farmer had a few caravans in the upper field for folk to use and previous visitors had given up and gone home, so we used a caravan! We went back there a few times for holidays, including the time I happened to catch mumps and had to be kept isolated, much like the recent Covid-19. Then we found a place called Westward Ho! in our journeys round the area and saw a holiday camp with both caravans as well as small chalets with corrugated iron roofs that meant you could hear the birds walking across them in the early hours of the morning. During my recent research for this blog I came across the South West Coast Path Association and have included some information of a national trail walk which begins and ends at Steart Farm, near Bucks Mills and is around 3.9 miles (6.2 km) in length. It features woodland paths, wildflower meadows and glimpses of stunning sea views through a screen of ancient hanging oaks. The route visits the thatched thirteenth-century Hoops Inn, but you can take the short-cut to the Coast Path for a quicker stroll. To get to the start, buses do run regularly if required between Barnstaple and Kilkhampton, passing Steart Farm.

Steart Farm Walk.

I never did this walk, but as a child I would regularly walk (with my parents of course!) along the main road from the farm to Bucks Cross and the shop, which also had a post office and a telephone box. As you can see from the map, it seems interesting as to begin with, you walk down through the campsite to pick up the signed footpath, going down the steps into the lower terrace of the Middle Burrows camping field. In the woods you then turn left at the waymarker, bearing right shortly afterwards when another path joins from the left. You follow the red waymarkers above the stream, to come out in Bucks Mills Woodland car park. Steart, Walland and Loggins Woods were purchased by the Woodland Trust in 1996, with help from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The woods are mostly broadleaved trees, including oak and beech, with some conifers which were planted more recently, mainly larch and sitka spruce. Over time the Trust aims to reduce the number of conifers and return the woodland to broadleaved species, both naturally and through a programme of planting. There are a number of tracks and paths through the woods, created to carry out forestry operations and the public are welcome to walk along them. Most of the houses in Bucks Mills were built at the beginning of the nineteenth century to accommodate workers on the Walland Cary estate, the manor to the west side of the village. The stream carries on down through the village and once powered the corn mill which gave the village its name. Going out onto the road you turn right, crossing the footbridge, to pick up the narrow footpath to the left of the house ahead. Behind the house the path turns to the right, climbing steadily through the wood and emerging in a meadow. You then follow the right-hand hedge and cross the stile at the far end, beside the barn, carrying on between the buildings at Lower Worthygate Farm to the farm drive. An area of woodland to the left of the path was given over to the Bodgers and Badgers woodland project in October 2000. The project is funded by the National Lottery through its Millennium Commission and the objective is to manage the woodland in line with the conservation strategies used in the neighbouring areas. Traditional skills and techniques are employed, such as coppicing, charcoal-burning and hurdle-making. Volunteers help restore neglected areas through tasks like cutting back hazel stools and erecting deer fencing. The aim is to develop the area as a woodland amenity as well as to encourage wildlife. Guided walks are provided, also flora and fauna surveys are carried out. It was first documented in 1600 that the area was wooded and since that time its oak trees have been used for producing tannin from the bark, charcoal for smelting and making gunpowder, timber for pit-props and shipbuilding (which is done at nearby Appledore) and more recently, for building and firewood. The practice of coppicing – cutting back new growth for commercial use while leaving the main stem to continue growing – means that a tree may live for several centuries. Some of the wildflowers here are only seen in ancient woodland, so look out for the delicate white flowers of wood sorrel, and the clusters of dainty yellow-green leaves of the opposite-leaved golden saxifrage. Watch out, too, for shy roe deer between the trees. For the short route, you turn left up the drive, turning left on the road beyond to join the main route at the footpath at 6 on the above map. To visit the Hoops Inn, on the longer route turn right on the drive to pick up the waymarked footpath leading from the bottom corner of the farm’s garden. The path follows the left-hand boundary of two fields to the road beyond. Turn right and drop down to the main road, turning left here to walk with care along the main road to the Hoops Inn. The A39 along the North Devon coast to Cornwall was named the Atlantic Highway in the 1990s as the name reflects the coastline’s strong ties with the Southern Railway’s ‘Atlantic Coast Express’, which ran daily from London Waterloo between 1926 and 1964. The road itself, travelling between Bideford and Bude, was built long before the arrival of motor vehicles and was the main coaching route into Cornwall from North Devon. The Hoops Inn was one of three coaching inns en route where horses were changed, the other two being the West Country Inn on Bursdon Moor, near Hartland, and in Kilkhampton. It would take all day to travel from Bideford into Bude, and the horses would be returned to the inns on the journey back. The Hoops Inn is a Grade II listed building for its many seventeenth century features, but the original building dates back to the thirteenth century. In Tudor times it was a popular meeting place for seafarers such as Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Richard Grenville. It was also known as a notorious smugglers’ haunt. Incidentally, a short distance further on from Hoops Inn is Horns Cross, with a small public house called the Coach and Horses, along with just a few houses. Opposite the pub is what used to be a garage but which is now just a repair centre for certain types of vehicle. In my young days it was a proper garage and petrol station and my dad had his car urgently repaired there, we also became friends with the owners of the place. But back to Hoops Inn. You can head through the archway to the car park, continue straight ahead uphill to go through the gateway at the top into the small field beyond. Then bear left in the field to cross the stile in the far left-hand corner, turning left on the footpath beyond to follow the left-hand hedge of the big field uphill to the road. Turning left on the road, walk past a little place called Sloo and then down to the sharp left-hand bend about half a mile beyond. You take the footpath on the outside of the bend and follow the green lane towards the coast, where it meets the South West Coast Path. Turn left and follow the Coast Path down into Bucks Mills village, coming out on the road a little way up from the beach. The oak woods along this part of the Coast Path are also very old. The remoteness of the location and the steep hillsides mean that they have survived the extensive felling which destroyed the greater part of the ancient forests that once covered the whole of Britain and like the rest of the area’s woodland, it supports a wide diversity of species with a large range of habitats being provided by the scrub, grassland and marsh elsewhere in the valley. As a result, the area is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and is particularly known for its rare lichens. The abundance of wildflowers, such as early purple orchid and marsh orchid, in turn attract butterflies. Here you can look out for the speckled orange-brown, pearl-bordered fritillary, and the well-camouflaged brown dingy skipper. Then turn left on the road and walk back to the woodland car park. Going into the car park, you can take the footpath in the far left-hand corner ahead of you, and follow it back up through the woods to Steart Farm. In my young days I never walked this path, but we often visited nearby Clovelly in order to get there one could either use the ‘main’ road or travel along, as I managed to persuade Dad to do once, the ‘Hobby Drive’. This was built between 1811 and 1829 by Sir James Hamlyn Williams, providing employment for Clovelly men after the Napoleonic wars. It was part of the Romantic movement, which celebrated the beauty of the natural world in response to the increasing emphasis placed on science and logic following the Industrial Revolution. In 1901 Frederick and Christine Hamlyn extended the drive by a further half a mile, making a three-mile carriage drive with breathtaking vistas high above the Atlantic. Over the years the estate has planted new trees in several areas along the drive as part of its woodland management plan, which aims to replace native deciduous trees as they die off, and in the last ten years some 2,500 saplings have been planted each year. In summer pheasant chicks are much in evidence on the lower slopes of the woodland, and pheasant shoots take place between November and January. Nearing the end of the drive you can either turn right to visit Clovelly village, or continue ahead to go straight to the visitor centre, where there is a cafe and a souvenir shop.

For four hundred years, from the fourteenth century to the eighteenth, the village of Clovelly belonged to the Carey family. Then in 1738 it was sold to Zachary Hamlyn, whose descendants have managed it ever since. Built into a cleft in a 400-foot cliff, the whitewashed cottages line a cobbled street which plunges straight down the hillside to the ancient working port below. Using traditional materials and craftsmanship, the family keeps the village in the style of the mid-nineteenth century, and donkeys are used to carry goods uphill, whilst sledges bring things down. From Elizabethan times Clovelly’s main livelihood was from fishing, mostly mackerel and herring, and this provided a prosperous living until the 1840s, when the shoals began to move away. Clovelly herrings were famous throughout the land and donkeys brought the catch uphill to be taken by train to London and the Home Counties. A good day’s catch sometimes amounted to as many as 9,000 herrings, and on one particularly good day 400 donkey-loads were brought in! Even now, fishing is still part of village life, and it is celebrated every autumn in the Herring Festival. The quay was first built in the thirteenth century and extended in Tudor times, then in 1826 the quay was lengthened. The four cannon barrels in use today as bollards are said to have come from the Spanish Armada. Clovelly is the only safe harbour between Appledore and Boscastle, and ships will sometimes wait in Clovelly Roads for storms to pass. Also, because of the number of ships that have been wrecked here, this part of the coast is known as the Iron Coast. This is as a result of the westerly winds rolling in over 3,000 miles of Atlantic Ocean, and the deadly fingers of rock lurking beneath the waves. As a result, Clovelly has had its own lifeboat since 1870. Beyond the lifeboat station is a coastal waterfall, one of several along this coastline. Unable to erode the hard rock over which they pass, the rivers here meet the sea high above the shore in ‘hanging valleys’, and the water tumbles over the cliffs to the beach below, so after heavy rainfall the torrent is quite dramatic. According to legend, the cave behind the waterfall was the birthplace of King Arthur’s magician, Merlin. One of the cottages on the street between ‘Upalong’ and ‘Downalong’ belonged to ‘Crazy Kate’ Lyall, who watched helplessly from her window as her fisherman husband drowned in the bay. It is said that, overwhelmed by her grief, one day in 1736 she put on her wedding dress and walked out into the sea to join him in his watery grave. Nearby is Kingsley Cottage and writer Charles Kingsley spent much time in Clovelly, his father having been rector here. Kingsley wrote his novel ‘Westward Ho!’ in the village, it was also his inspiration for the book ‘The Water Babies’.

Hartland Point lighthouse during a storm.

Because of its rugged coastline, a short distance along from Clovelly is Hartland. There you will find a small village, also a quay and as you might expect, on the edge of the headland is Hartland Point, with its lighthouse. Many years ago I was on holiday with my parents and an older brother who happened to be driving us all back from a day out in Bude to where we were staying, when we saw what might be a lovely sunset. We drove to Hartland quay and sure enough, the sun was setting beautifully. I got my camera and began adjusting the settings, my brother began doing the same and dear dad simply took his camera out of its case, pointed it and took a photo. My brother and I were still fiddling with settings, focussing, whilst dad just looked at us. Can you guess who got the best photograph? You’re right, it was dad. Back then we were still using film, not the modern cameras of today so it wasn’t until after we returned home and the films were developed that we found out. We all had a laugh at the memory of that evening and the holidays we had. On one occasion we went to an air show at RAF Chivenor, an airbase near Barnstaple and I got the great opportunity for a flight in a helicopter there. I think it was a good excuse to keep me occupied as I had to queue for an hour or so just for a three-minute flight, whilst parents went off for a cuppa tea in a refreshment tent. Except my flight lasted a few minutes longer because the Red Arrows were doing part of their display, so I got to see more than I expected! RAF Chivenor was where some of the air-sea rescue helicopters flew from and I would often see them flying around and along the coast. But what really was entertaining was some years later when I moved to a house in Peterborough and was chatting to a new neighbour who I soon learned was in the Royal Air Force. It turned out that one of his good friends knew RAF Chivenor well and had worked on maintaining helicopters, though not at the time I visited. But it is surprising how people and events all link up over time. I have many good memories of Devon and Cornwall, it will always be a special area in this world for me.

This week…
“Family isn’t always blood, it’s the people in your life who want you in theirs. The ones who accept you for who you are, the ones who would do anything to see you smile and who love you no matter what.”
~ Maya Angelou.

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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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Life In A Care Home

I have been residing in this particular Care Home for over two years now. When I arrived it was from another Care Home and before that I’d been in hospitals for a few months, as I recovered from a heart issue as well as getting Covid-19, which I contracted whilst in hospital. It was clear from my health and mobility issues that I simply could not manage living on my own any more, as I had previously been in an attic flat where the building had no lift, just stairs and a handrail on only one side. I soon noticed that many of the inmates in this Care Home had dementia, there were some worse than others and I saw how it affected them in so many ways. Before this I’d had very little experience in such matters, as my only previous knowledge had come from a lovely lady I had known in Whittlesey and whose character was at one time very bubbly and outgoing, but she changed so very much and near the end of her life she didn’t recognise me at one visit but would then scold me for not visiting her the next. But I was only a teenager then. My time here has brought back those memories and I wondered if in fact dementia is classed as a mental illness that can be cured? The answer I found was that Dementia is the name given for problems with mental abilities caused by gradual changes and damage in the brain. It is rare in people under 65 years of age and whilst it does affect mental health, in itself it is not classified as a mental illness because it is a disorder of the brain which causes memory loss and trouble with communicating. Our brain is a control centre and it controls everything we do, say and think. When the brain is unwell or damaged, we have problems with all our actions which then includes remembering, speaking, understanding and learning new skills. As a result, it seems that at present there is no certain way to prevent all types of dementia, but researchers are still investigating how the condition develops. However, there is good evidence that living a healthy lifestyle can help reduce the risk of developing dementia as we grow older, as well as helping to prevent cardiovascular diseases such as strokes and heart attacks, which are themselves risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, the latter being a common type of dementia caused by reduced blood flow to the brain. It is estimated to affect around 150,000 people in the UK. During my time here I have been allowed, in fact encouraged, to do as much for myself as possible but also know that help will always be provided when asked for or clearly needed. We are all different, we may be ‘classified’ as humans but each and every one of us is different. We are clearly individuals. I saw a question online recently, asking “Why does modern science classify humans as animals, even though humans are clearly distinct and different from animals in many ways?” But we are, because humans can move on their own so they are classified as being in the animal kingdom. Further, humans belong to the animal phylum known as chordates because we have a backbone. The human animal has hair and milk glands, so we are placed in the class of mammals. Within the mammal class, humans are placed in the primate order. Unlike plants and algae, which produce their own nutrients, animals are heterotrophic, feeding on organic material and digesting it internally. That’s enough biology, I think! I found a further reply to this ‘animal’ question, which included a picture of two skeletons that at first glance one could easily imagine were of a fat man and a skinny one as, except for their proportions, the similarity was clear. However the skeleton of the ‘fat’ man is actually that of a gorilla. It was also pointed out that gorilla and human DNA are 98% identical.

Human and Gorilla skeletons.

But back to the world of Care Homes. Here we have around thirty ‘inmates’ as I like to call us and naturally, each and every one of us is different. We all go through the day in our very different ways, creating new memories and I think back to 2020 when I was in hospital after my last heart problem. I have vivid memories of that time, at first not knowing quite where I was or even who I was. For all I knew I might have died! Then I saw a television on the wall and was pretty certain that I was still ‘me’, I was still human and still on Earth. I am also reminded of the time back in January 2016 when I had my teeth out and was given Temazepam, it took me a few hours to recover from taking that and starting to recognise the world around me once more. To this day I have no real memory of the few hours which passed as I was having my teeth removed! But I suddenly found myself back in my flat and I heard a friend of mine who had been with me and got me safely home chuckle and say “Oh, you’re back with us again now are you?”. He is a good friend. I have heard about folk getting ‘high’ on drugs, also of people drinking so much alcohol that they lose the memory of where they are or what they are doing so I don’t know how folk who take drugs on a regular basis can possibly manage. I guess it is why some folk turn to theft in order to fund the habit. I have needed regular medication for very many years now to control my epilepsy and later my heart, but even those are carefully monitored. We are born, we grow, we develop individual characteristics. I have seen how identical twins each have their own personalities, despite being brought up together. That individuality remains but our personalities can alter as this does depend on our interaction with others. For example someone with a strong personality might become a narcissist and attempt to ’take over’ the behaviour, actions, thinking and ideas of another person, getting them to do what they might not otherwise do. Alternatively there may be someone who decides to live by themselves and to have minimal contact with others. A great many will have a personality whereby they want to be the centre of attention, or perhaps know everything about everyone, even simply having to be ‘right’, or never willing to accept change. Equally there will be some, perhaps a bit like me, who prefer a quiet life, to read, to learn, share and hope to teach others of things they might not otherwise have known. I see many different people here and am learning how they are needing, some more than others, help in their daily lives, even in just the simplest of things. I have more of an idea now of the levels of dementia and I have detailed just a little of the basics below. So the staff here in this Care Home have to be quite alert to the ways and habits of each and every one of us. They really have to be. A little while ago I heard a ‘new’ inmate say “Does anybody know why we can’t go out?”, whilst another time an inmate felt they had no money and thought they had to pay for the food being served. They were told it was already paid for and not to worry. Then later I saw another inmate being led back from an adjacent care home on the same site. We share the same lovely garden. So whether that inmate was just exploring, was lost or looking for a way out, I have no idea. I will detail more on here later with regard to the effects of dementia.

When I was moved to this care home in July 2020, it was in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic and all the staff were very careful to ensure that us inmates were all kept isolated as far as possible. In any case I had transferred from another care home, so mine was a mandatory fourteen-day isolation even though I had been given the ‘all-clear’. That suited me, it gave me time to adjust to my new surroundings, for which I was grateful. I was then able to mix with the other folk here, but because we were kept isolated as much as possible and not allowed to leave the building on our own, it felt like we were in prison, albeit for our own good as much as anything else. Hence the reason for me humorously naming this blog as I have! But I have seen how dementia affects the people here and so was determined not to ‘lose’ myself. I began writing, something a good friend had suggested when I was busy with my photography work. This weekly blog has been going for over two years now and I am enjoying the work as it keeps my mind active, I am learning all the time and my blog posts seem to be recalling past memories for some. So I began to refer to the others residing in this care home as inmates, not in a detrimental way but as a bit of gentle fun. But I did have to change the title of my blog from “Diary Of An Inmate” to “Diary Of A Care Home Inmate”, as some readers thought I really was in a prison, which I most definitely am not! But the inmates here have to be kept a close eye on and carers notice if one isn’t where they are expected to be. I tend to stay in my room here, going to the tv room and walking up and down, sometimes going to the dining room for lunch then sitting in the gardens if the weather is fine. But with temperatures becoming so high recently I have had to adapt and find cooler areas to sit. This heat has been almost too much for me, but happily there are electric fans strategically placed and things have begun to cool down.

As I have said, dementia is a brain condition, our brain is a control centre and it determines absolutely everything we do, say and think. When the brain is not well we have problems with all our actions, doing basic things like eating, drinking, remembering things, speaking, understanding and learning new skills. That has become very clear to me here as I see the people around me who have dementia. However, it seems that there are specific stages of dementia which are commonly assigned, based on symptoms. My research has also shown that it can be quite helpful for Carers to know how symptoms change over these stages. I have learned that health professionals often discuss dementia in terms of the stages which refer to how far a person’s dementia or Alzheimer’s disease has progressed and defining these stages helps physicians determine best treatments as it aids communication between doctors and caregivers. Dementia is generally considered in three stages, these being mild (or ‘early’), moderate (or ‘middle’) and severe (or ‘late’). But a more specific stage of dementia is commonly assigned based on symptoms. It can also be helpful to know how symptoms change over the stages, as Alzheimer’s and similar diseases can cause dramatic swings in mood and behaviour, because the activities a person is physically able to do will change as their level of dementia progresses. This causes stress for friends and relatives, but knowing what is coming can help prepare for social, medical, and personal needs. So rather than simply using ‘early stage’, ‘middle-stage’ and ‘late-stage’ dementia as descriptors, there are scales that provide a more comprehensive description and these scales help better understand the different stages of Alzheimer’s disease based on how well a person thinks (cognitive decline) and functions (physical abilities). I found a few different websites on all this, one which said that these scales are known as the Global Deterioration Scale for Assessment of Primary Degenerative Dementia (GDS), the Functional Assessment Staging Test (FAST), and the Clinical Dementia Rating (CDR). I believe these are American terms, but I think the ideas are all basically the same. Of the ones I have mentioned, the most commonly used scale is often referred to simply as GDS. It is divided into seven stages based on the amount of cognitive decline and this test is most relevant for people who have Alzheimer’s disease because some other types of dementia do not always include memory loss. Those in Stages 1 to 3 do not typically exhibit enough symptoms for a dementia diagnosis, so by the time a diagnosis has been made a dementia patient is typically in stage 4 or beyond. Stage 4 is considered ‘Early Dementia’, stages 5 and 6 are considered ‘Middle Dementia’ and stage 7 is considered ‘Late Dementia’. So Stage 1 displays no cognitive decline, the brain has normal function and no memory loss so there is, quite naturally, no expected duration. Stage 2 displays very mild cognitive decline where names are forgotten and familiar objects are misplaced, but symptoms are not easily evident to loved ones or doctors. There is no known expected duration at this level. Those in Stage 3 display mild cognitive decline with increased forgetfulness, slight difficulty concentrating, decreased work performance, a difficulty finding right words, they get lost more frequently and it is at this stage that loved ones begin to notice. The average duration of this stage is between two and seven years. In Stage 4, early-stage dementia, they display a moderate cognitive decline with difficulty in concentrating, forgetting recent events, an inability to manage finances and an inability to travel alone to new places. They have difficulty completing tasks, they are in denial about symptoms, they have socialisation problems and withdraw from friends or family. It is at this point a physician can detect cognitive problems. The average duration of this stage is two years. At Stage 5, moderately severe cognitive decline, they display major memory deficiencies, they need assistance with basics like dressing, bathing, etc., they forget details like their address or phone number, they do not know the time or date, or even where they are and the average duration of this stage is one and a half years. In Stage 6, which is severe cognitive decline (Middle Dementia) they cannot carry out basics without help, they forget the names of family members, of recent events and of major events in past. They have difficulty counting down from 10, they suffer from incontinence (loss of bladder control) and they have difficulty speaking. There can be personality and emotional changes, delusions, compulsions and anxiety. An average duration of this stage is two and a half years. Then in Stage 7, this being very severe cognitive decline (Late Dementia), they cannot speak or communicate, they require help with most activities, there is a loss of motor skills and they cannot walk. The average duration of this stage is one and a half to two and a half years.

There is also the Functional Assessment Staging Test (FAST) which is another scale that describes the stages of dementia and like the GDS Scale, FAST is a seven-stage system but based more on one’s level of functioning and ability to perform Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) than on cognitive decline. It should perhaps be noted that a person may be at a different stage cognitively (GDS stage) than functionally (FAST stage). FAST also has seven stages, where Stage 1 (normal adult) has no functional decline, Stage 2 (normal older adult) has personal awareness of some functional decline, Stage 3 (Early Alzheimer’s) displays noticeable deficits in demanding job situations, Stage 4 (Mild Alzheimer’s) requires assistance in complicated tasks such as handling finances, travelling, planning parties, etc., Stage 5 (Moderate Alzheimer’s) requires assistance in choosing proper clothing, Stage 6 (Moderately Severe Alzheimer’s) requires assistance with dressing, bathing, and toileting and experiences urinary and fecal incontinence whilst in Stage 7 (Severe Alzheimer’s) their speech ability declines to about a half-dozen intelligible words. There is also a progressive loss of ability to walk, to sit up, to smile, and to hold head up. I have also found that there is the Clinical Dementia Rating (CDR) scale, which uses a five-point system based on cognitive (thinking) abilities and how well a person functions. This scale is widely used in dementia research, not as a tool for communication between medical professionals, patients, and their families.

I have found all of the information detailed regarding GDS, FAST and CDR directly from the Internet via the Dementia Care Central website. As you might expect, there are other websites but it seems that the descriptors are pretty much the same. Whilst I hope you find all this useful, it is not my intention or my place to offer advice on such matters, merely to share what I have found in my research. I believe that any further information should be directed to a healthcare professional, as there is advice available from them on caring for someone and which is based on a person’s stage of dementia, including technology, that can help each individual and their carers, also which types of assisted living homes, if required, are most appropriate. I know I have learned much during my time here.

This week…
An American, a French man, a Spaniard and a German were all attending an ‘online’ Zoom meeting. The supervisor asked them, “Can you all see me ok?” To which they answered,
“Yes” “Oui” “Si” “Ja”

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A Little More Lambeth…

There really is so much in just this borough of London, and as I was born here I had to mention these places to you! I was very young when we moved up to Whittlesey, near Peterborough and that was primarily for the health of my dear mother, not to mention me as I was less than a year old at the time. We still had family in London, so we visited as often as possible or they came up to see us. They would talk about various places and I did get to see some of the following locations, but not all. Some areas have changed quite a bit since I left there in 1953, but others have not. So I hope you find the following just as interesting as I have in learning about them.

Brixton market.

Brixton Market comprises a street market in the centre of Brixton and the adjacent covered market areas in nearby Reliance Arcade, Market Row and Granville Arcade which was recently rebranded as ‘Brixton Village’. The market sells a wide range of foods and goods but is best known for its African and Caribbean produce, which reflect the diverse community of Brixton and surrounding areas of Lambeth. The Street Market is managed by the London Borough of Lambeth, the covered arcades have always been in private ownership although substantial public funding was provided for their refurbishment under the Brixton Challenge grant scheme. The Market began on Atlantic Road in the 1870s and subsequently spread to Brixton Road which had a very wide footway. Brixton then was a rapidly expanding London railway suburb with newly opening shops, including the first London branch of David Greig at 54-58 Atlantic Road in 1870, and London’s first purpose-built department store, Bon Marché, on Brixton Road in 1877. The market was a popular attraction, with shoppers being entertained by street musicians. Electric Avenue, which is now part of the street market, was built in the 1880s and was one of the first streets to have electric light. Glazed iron canopies covered the footpath, but these were significantly damaged by World War II bombs, and finally removed in the 1980s. The song ‘Electric Avenue’ was written by Eddy Grant in 1983 and referring to this area of the market. In 2016, Electric Avenue was refurbished with funding from the Mayor of London’s High Street Fund, Lambeth Council, Transport for London and the Heritage Lottery fund to include an illuminated sign celebrating the area’s history. The Station Road street market is open on weekdays for street food and general stalls, and there are colourful themed markets on Saturdays, such as a flea market and makers’ market.

Brixton Windmill.

Who would expect to find an over 200-year old, 15 metre high windmill in Brixton? The windmill was built in 1816 when the area was open fields and it was leased to the Ashby family the following year. They were millers producing stoneground wholemeal flour and the mill became known as Ashby’s Mill for the whole of its working life. During the 1850s, as the sprawling metropolis of London reached Brixton, the cornfields surrounding the mill were replaced by houses. As a result, much of the wind necessary for turning the sails was prevented from reaching the mill. In 1862 the Ashby family decided to move their business to a watermill on the River Wandle. The sails were removed from the windmill and it was used for storage. The family’s lease on the watermill ran out in 1902, so at this point Joshua Ashby decided to return the milling business to Brixton. He installed another set of millstones in the windmill, first powered by steam and later by gas, so that he could grind flour without wind power but he closed the business in 1934, as industrially produced bread had become the norm. He died a year later, and the mill became derelict. Then in 1957 London County Council (LCC) bought the land, the windmill and the associated buildings. They decided to turn the 2.5 acres of land into a public open space named Windmill Gardens and by the early 1960s the bakery, outbuildings, Mill House and Mill Cottage had all been demolished to make space for the public gardens. Then in 1964, over four months the windmill was restored. New sails were made from imported pine timber and much of the wind-driven equipment installed inside the mill was brought from a derelict windmill in Lincolnshire. The windmill opened to the public at Easter 1968 and for several years it was open each weekend during the summer. Lambeth Council took ownership in 1971, but over the next thirty years the windmill fell into a cycle of restoration and refurbishment followed sadly by vandalism and neglect. Then in 2002 the windmill was placed on English Heritage’s Buildings at Risk register. The following year, several local residents formed the Friends of Windmill Gardens and started campaigning for the windmill to be restored. It was in 2010 that the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded a grant to Lambeth Council and the Friends of Windmill Gardens to restore the windmill. Work began in October and took several months to complete. The sails, cap and tower were all restored, and the 1902 millstones were converted to run on electrical power and the windmill finally reopened to the public with a celebratory parade and festival, attended by up to 2,000 people, in May 2011. Volunteers from Friends of Windmill Gardens opened the mill for guided tours at least once a month during the summer, and initiated an education programme for local schoolchildren. The Friends of Windmill Gardens won the Museums and Heritage Award for restoring an industrial building and they started grinding flour in 2014, training volunteer millers. The flour is now sold on open days and also through local retailers. They celebrated its bicentenary in 2016 with a series of special events, including the first Brixton Beer & Bread Festival, an open-air film night, and the first annual Windmill Lecture. Back in 2015 the Friends had run a high-profile campaign to build an education centre in Windmill Gardens.  A year later, Lambeth Council approved plans for the construction of an education centre and planning permission was granted in March 2017. In summer 2018 the Friends ran a successful crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to kit out the building and after several delays, construction work started in December 2018. The Brixton Windmill Centre was finally completed in July 2020 and the Friends signed the lease and moved in.

Clapham Picturehouse.

In 1910 the Electric Picture Palace opened on the site of former stables in Venn Street, Clapham. This was followed in 1919 with plans for a much grander venue, The Coliseum, with an entrance directly onto Clapham High Street. Unfortunately the company ran into financial difficulties and the cinema never opened. However, the façade of the 1919 rebuild survived and can still be seen on the corner of Clapham High Street and Venn Street.  The site was turned into a snooker hall and remained so until 1992, when the three-screen Clapham Picturehouse opened – the first new-build venue in the group. The opening coincided with a resurgence of cinema, and the Picturehouse quickly became a cultural and social landmark in the area. In 2003 a fourth screen was added and the bar was extended. Today Venn Street and the Picturehouse are at the heart of a bright, bustling and vibrant Clapham community.

Streatham Space Project.

Now for a more modern item. Streatham Space Project is not perhaps what its name suggests, but is a Theatre, Music & Comedy venue, aiming to bring the best live performance to South London. Set up by a team of Streatham-based arts professionals in June 2018, they say that their aim is to use live events to reach the different corners of their neighbourhood and bring people together. They have hosted events with artists like David Harewood, Kae Tempest, David Baddiel & Dane Baptiste, hosted events based in Ghanaian, Polish & Yoruba culture, offered support for artists at the beginning of their career and hosted charitable organisations like Age UK, Institute of Imagination and The Prince’s Trust. To date they’ve had over 30,000 visitors through their doors to rehearse, to film, to celebrate, or to experience live theatre, music, comedy or art. However in March 2020 they closed temporarily for public events and from May to June they operated as a depot for packages to be delivered to vulnerable people in their area, whilst streaming hip-hop, spoken word and storytelling content for their audiences. Autumn 2020 saw some socially distanced Theatre and Music and following another period working on filming, rehearsing and R&D with some incredible creatives in our space (ITV, BBC, theatre and education companies) they invited live audiences back from the summer of 2021. The main theatre space has room for an audience of 120 and there’s a second room that’s used for smaller performances, workshops, etc. The bar and café is a nice area with local artists’ work on the walls and live music some days too.

Sea Life London Aquarium Shark Walk.
Photo by pawopa3336/ Deposit Photos.

The Sea Life London Aquarium is located on the ground floor of County Hall on the South Bank near the London Eye. It opened in March 1997 as the London Aquarium and hosts about one million visitors each year. In 2005, the aquarium displayed three robotic Fish created by the computer science department at the University of Essex. The fish were designed to be autonomous, swimming around and avoiding obstacles like real fish. Their creator claimed that he was trying to combine “the speed of tuna, the acceleration of a pike and the navigating skills of an eel.” In April 2008 the aquarium was purchased by Merlin Entertainments for an undisclosed sum. The facility was closed for a £5 million refurbishment, which was completed in April 2009. The additions included a new underwater tunnel, Shark Walk, a revamped Pacific Ocean tank and a complete rerouting of the exhibit. The attraction officially became a Sea Life Centre when it reopened in April 2009. Then in May 2011, the aquarium opened a new penguin exhibit with ten gentoo penguins transferred from the Edinburgh Zoo. In 2015, the aquarium was moved to a different location in County Hall due to the opening of Shrek’s Adventure! London. The aquarium includes two classrooms themed around the conservation campaigns which the zoo supports, which host up to 40,000 schoolchildren each year and are open to the public when not in use by the education program. It is involved in several breeding programs including the Cuban crocodile, seahorses, jellyfish and one I had never heard of before, the butterfly splitfin, a bony fish which was formerly found throughout the Ameca River in Mexico. The species was only ever found in an area about 10 miles (15km) in diameter. Rated as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a remnant population of the species has been found to persist in El Rincón waterpark near the town of Ameca. It may also exist in a feral state in the United States as individuals apparently derived from escaped or introduced captive stock were met with in southeastern Nevada. It was a popular fish for some time among aquarists, but hobbyist stocks have declined recently, thus placing its survival in jeopardy. Work continues at the aquarium with many conservation organisations including the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, Save Our Seas and the Shark Trust.

The London Dungeon.
Photo by claudiocaridi.libero.it2/Deposit Photos.

London is known worldwide for its centuries of history and a fair bit of that history is also quite dark and gruesome. The London Dungeon recreates various gory and macabre historical events in a gallows humour style with the use of live actors and special effects. Due to its dark side The London Dungeons are suitable for older children and adults, all of whom are guided through 19 live shows and 2 thrilling rides, where they learn about everything from The Plague to Jack The Ripper. Here you will meet frightening historical figures, getting face to face with some of the grisliest criminals of London’s past such as Sweeney Todd, Guy Fawkes and, of course, Jack the Ripper. Visitors can go on the ‘Tyrant’s’ boat ride enabling you to follow in the footsteps of one of Henry VIII’s many victims, by going on a boat ride to the Tower of London to meet your fate – just as political prisoners did during his reign of terror. You can also learn about London’s Great Plague, stepping back in time to perhaps the most frightening and deadly era in which to live in London – the time of the Black Death. You can also feel the horror of Jack the Ripper, walking the same dark alleys where he once preyed on his hapless victims. One item not for the faint-hearted is taking a spine-chilling stroll past the grisly torture chamber and there is also the nerve-wracking ‘Drop Dead’ Drop Ride, where you can get your photo taken during the ‘Sudden Drop’ as this ride plummets you eight metres into the pits of darkness. After that, you can make merry in a Victorian pub, because once you’ve finished exploring the Dungeons, there is an atmospheric Tavern which awaits you at the end of your adventure. Have a few drinks at this 19th-century Victorian pub and meet some East-end Victorian characters, such as the loud landlady and landlord. Gather round the ‘old Joanna’ for an authentic pub singalong. Play some card games – but watch out for card sharps and listen to spooky stories as you sit at the tables.

A little about the history of the site. The London Dungeon first opened in 1974 under the railway arches of Tooley Street, near London Bridge. It was originally a waxwork exhibition of gory history with models of Boadicea and Thomas a Becket. Then in the 1990s the exhibition was owned by the Kunick Leisure Group. It evolved to feature walkthrough theatrical shows, such as Jack the Ripper and the Great Fire of London. In 1992 the London Dungeon attraction was acquired by Vardon Attractions (later Merlin Entertainments) headed by Nick Varney. The Dungeon was rebranded as an interactive horror attraction. In 2011, workers at the museum were surprised to discover that one of the skeletons on display at the original London Dungeon was a genuine human skeleton, not a model as they assumed. The human remains had been on display since the attraction first opened. Then in 2013, the London Dungeon moved to the County Hall South Bank. When it departed its first home, many props (model rats, axes, instruments of torture) were sold at a car boot sale in nearby Pimlico. The new building was designed by architect Ralph Knott and was influenced by Baroque-style art and is located directly opposite the Houses of Parliament – the same buildings Guy Fawkes tried to blow up with gunpowder in 1605. The move brought the opportunity to reinvigorate the Dungeon and lots of new and exciting things to do, but rebuilding the house of horrors took an entire year and a budget of £20 million! The London Dungeon uses professionally trained and highly skilled make-up artists to design the wounds, bruises, and blisters to look authentically gruesome whenever a new personality is brought into the famous attraction, but it doesn’t contain any spiritual characters as many believe. Elements of the tour are regularly updated and refreshed, but you won’t see a ghost. You might sit in on a spooky séance, but the London Dungeon is all about the truth. The place caters those with disabilities, there is limited access for wheelchair users with one person using a wheelchair permitted to enter per hour. It is therefore advisable to book in advance. The place is a 90 to 110-minute walking experience, and guests will need to stand for most of it, also priority seating cannot be guaranteed. For people with autism and other neuro-diverse conditions, the London Dungeon is not a scare attraction or a horror maze. It is specifically designed to be a highly sensory experience with dark spaces, loud noises, flashing/strobe lights, pungent smells and jump scares. Staff can identify the Hidden Disabilities sunflower lanyards and ear defenders are available. Please seek help from a member of the team at any point during the tour if you feel the need.

The Young Vic Theatre.
Photo by BasPhoto/Deposit Photos.

In the period after World War II, a Young Vic Company was formed in 1946 by director George Devine as an offshoot of the Old Vic Theatre School for the purpose of performing classic plays for audiences aged nine to fifteen.
This was discontinued in 1948 when Devine and the entire faculty resigned from the Old Vic, but in 1969 Frank Dunlop became founder-director of The Young Vic theatre with ‘Scapino’, his free adaptation of Molière’s The Cheats of Scapin, presented at the new venue as a National Theatre production, opening on 11 September 1970 and starring Jim Dale in the title role with designs by Carl Toms (decor) and Maria Björnson (costumes). Initially part of the National Theatre, the Young Vic Theatre became an independent body in 1974. In the words of Laurence Olivier, then director of the National Theatre, “Here we think to develop plays for young audiences, an experimental workshop for authors, actors and producers.” The aim was to create an accessible theatre which offered high quality at low cost in an informal environment. The aim was to appeal to young audiences, but this time not specifically to children. So the Young Vic continues to be an important theatre for aspiring young performers and directors.

The Royal National Theatre.

The Royal National Theatre in London, commonly known as the National Theatre, is one of the United Kingdom’s three most prominent publicly funded performing arts venues, alongside the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal Opera House. Internationally, it is known as the National Theatre of Great Britain. Since it was founded in 1963 by Laurence Olivier, many well-known actors have performed here. Until 1976, the company was based at The Old Vic theatre in Waterloo. The current building is located next to the Thames in the South Bank area of central London. In addition to performances at their building, the National Theatre tour their productions at theatres across the United Kingdom. The theatre has also transferred numerous productions to Broadway and toured some as far as China, Australia and New Zealand. However, touring productions to European cities was suspended in February 2021 over concerns about uncertainty over work permits, additional costs and delays because of Brexit. Permission to add the “Royal” prefix to the name of the theatre was given in 1988, but the full title is rarely used. The theatre presents a varied programme, including Shakespeare, other international classic drama, and new plays by contemporary playwrights. Each auditorium in the theatre can run up to three shows in repertoire, thus further widening the number of plays which can be put on during any one season. In June 2009, the theatre began ‘National Theatre Live’, a programme of simulcasts of live productions to cinemas, first in the United Kingdom and then internationally. The programme began with a production of Phèdre, which was screened live in seventy cinemas across the UK. Their productions have since been broadcast to over 2,500 venues in 60 countries around the world. In November 2020, ‘National Theatre at Home’ was announced. It is a video on demand streaming service, specifically created for National Theatre Live recordings. Videos of plays are added every month, and can be “rented” for temporary viewing, or unlimited recordings can be watched through a monthly or yearly subscription programme. The National Theatre is now world-renowned and stages a diverse range of performances within its three auditoriums. Since its opening night in 1963, it has put on world-class plays with world-class actors. It continues to support and encourage emerging talent from all backgrounds. From the gallery level, the Sherling Backstage Walkway provides visitors with behind the scene views down on to the production workshops. Theatre tours also show you around areas previously graced by the likes of Sir Laurence Olivier, letting you in on the secrets behind staging a show. All these things, just in the borough of Lambeth. I hope to detail more about different areas of London in the future.

This week:
I am in a lovely Care Home, so for a change and as a bit of fun here is a Yorkshire guide to just a few medical terms…

Bacteria – Back door to cafeteria.
Benign – What you be after you be eight.
Cat scan – Searching for kitty.
Cauterise – Made eye contact with her.
Fester – Quicker than someone else.
Fibula – A small lie.
Impotent – Well known.
Labour pain – Getting hurt at work.
Medical staff – A Doctor’s cane.
Nitrates – Higher rates of pay for night working.
Node – I knew it.
Outpatient – A person who has fainted.
Post-operative – A letter carrier.
Recovery room – Place to do upholstery.
Secretion – Hide something.
Tablet – A small table.

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It Really Is Cricket!

Not everyone finds the game of cricket a quiet, peaceful, relaxing game to watch. But, as with so many things, the more you delve into it, the more you find that its history is quite interesting. So I shall try to share just a little of it here without boring you! The game is played between two teams of eleven players each, on a field at the centre of which is a 22-yard, or 20-metre, pitch. (This length is the equivalent to a chain, an Imperial measurement which comes from the ‘Surveyors’ Chain’ invented by the mathematician Edmund Gunter (1581-1626), hence it is also known as ‘Gunter’s Chain’.) There is a wicket at each end of the pitch, each wicket comprising of two horizontal bails balanced on three vertical stumps. The game proceeds when a player on the fielding team, the bowler, bowls the ball from one end of the pitch towards the wicket at the other end in an over-the shoulder throw, with an ‘over’ being completed once they have legally done this six times. The batting side has one player at each end of the pitch, with the player at the opposite end of the pitch from the bowler aiming to strike the bowled ball with a bat. The batting side scores runs when the two batters physically run and swap ends of the pitch one or more times, each swap of ends counting as a run. But if the ball reaches the boundary of the field, that scores four runs and if the ball is hit by the batter so the ball goes over the boundary without touching the ground, that scores six runs. If the bowler bowls the ball to the batter unfairly, this results in one run. The fielding side’s aim is to prevent run-scoring and dismiss each batter so they are ‘out’, and are said to have ‘lost their wicket’. Means of dismissal include being bowled, when the bowled ball hits the stumps and dislodges the bails, and by the fielding side either catching a hit ball before it touches the ground, or hitting a wicket with the ball before a batter can cross the crease line in front of the wicket to complete a run. When ten batters have been dismissed, the innings ends and the teams swap roles. The result in the game may be a win for one of the two teams playing, or a tie. In the case of a limited overs game, it can also end with no result if the game cannot be finished on time (usually due to weather or bad light), and in other forms of cricket, a draw may be possible. Whichever of these results applies, and how the result is expressed, is governed by Law 16 of the laws of cricket. The game is adjudicated by two umpires, aided by a third umpire, as well as a match referee in international matches.

Typical play in ‘limited overs’ game.

In cricket the highest governing body is the International Cricket Council, or ICC. It is a no-contact sport, although being hit with a cricket ball can be painful if it lands in a ‘sensitive’ place, so appropriate padding is almost always worn! There are eleven players per side, with substitutes permitted in some circumstances. The sport is not a mixed-sex, there are separate competitions. There is a huge glossary of cricket terms which would be far too much to include here, I recommend that following the link Glossary of cricket terms would be ideal if wanted. The game itself is known worldwide, but is most popular in the Commonwealth, British territories and in South Asia. Forms of cricket range from Twenty20, with each team batting for a single innings of twenty overs and the game generally lasting three hours, to Test matches which are played over five days. Traditionally cricketers play in all-white kit, but in Twenty20 cricket they wear club or team colours. The ball is a hard, solid spheroid made of compressed leather with a slightly raised sewn seam enclosing a cork core layered with tightly wound string. The governing body of the game has over 100 members, twelve of whom are full members who play Test matches. The game’s rules, the Laws of Cricket, are maintained by Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) in London. Women’s cricket, which is organised and played separately, has also achieved international standard. Overall, the most successful side playing International cricket to date is Australia who have won seven One Day International trophies, including five World Cups, more than any other country and has been the top-rated Test side more than any other country.

Cricket has quite a long history dating back to 1598. There is a deposition in the records of a legal case at Guildford, Surrey regarding usage of a parcel of land where a coroner testified that he had played cricket on the land when he was a boy in about 1550. His testimony is confirmation that the sport was being played by the middle of the 16th century, but its true origin is unknown. All that can be said with a fair degree of certainty is that its beginning was earlier than 1550, probably somewhere in south-east England within the counties of Kent, Sussex and Surrey. Cricket can only be played on relatively short grass, especially as the ball was delivered along the ground until the 1760s, so forest clearings and land where sheep had grazed would have been suitable places to play. The sparse information available about the early years suggests that it may have been a children’s game in the 16th century, but by 1611 it had become an adult pastime. The earliest known organised match was played in that year, when other significant references to the sport are dated. From 1611 to 1725, fewer than thirty matches are known to have been organised between recognised teams. Similarly, only a limited number of players, teams and venues of the period have been recorded. The earliest matches played by English parish teams are examples of village cricket and although village matches are now considered minor in status, the early matches are significant in cricket’s history simply because they are known. There were no newspaper reports of matches until the end of the seventeenth century and so the primary sources are court records and private diaries, hence games were rarely recorded. During the reign of Charles I, the gentry took an increased interest as patrons and occasionally as players. A big attraction for them was the opportunity that the game offered for gambling and this escalated in the years following the Restoration when cricket in London and the south-eastern counties of England evolved into a popular social activity. English colonists introduced cricket to the West Indies, also North America but in the United States it is a sport played at the amateur, club, intercollegiate and international competition levels with little popularity, with 200,000 players (less than 1% of the population) across the country. Meanwhile the sailors and traders of the East India Company had taken it to the Indian subcontinent and in the early 18th century more information about cricket became available as the growing newspaper industry took an interest. The sport began to spread throughout England as the century went on and by 1725, significant patrons were forming teams of county strength in Kent and Sussex. Cricket was attracting large crowds and the matches were social occasions at which gambling and alcoholic drinks were additional attractions. The first definite mention of cricket in Kent is deduced from a 1640 court case which recorded a ‘cricketing’ of the Weald and the Upland versus the Chalk Hill at Chevening “about thirty years since”, around 1610. This is the earliest known village cricket match and the earliest known organised match in Kent, in England and in the world. In 1624, a fatality occurred following a match on Saturday, 28 August, at Horsted Keynes in Sussex when a fielder was struck on the head by the batsman who was trying to hit the ball a second time to avoid being caught. The fielder, who died thirteen days later at home is thus the earliest recorded cricketing fatality. The matter was recorded in a coroner’s court which returned a verdict of death by misadventure. When the first Laws of Cricket were encoded in 1744, it was illegal to hit the ball twice and a batsman breaking the rule was to be given out. Interestingly the first definite mention of cricket in Sussex was in 1611 and relates to some ecclesiastical court records stating that two parishioners of Sidlesham had failed to attend church on Easter Sunday because they were playing cricket. They were fined twelve old pennies, a shilling, each (which was quite a bit of money in those days!) and made to do penance and it also meant confessing their guilt to the whole church congregation the following Sunday. This case is the first of several 17th century cricket references until the Restoration in 1660, arising from Puritan disapproval of recreational activity, especially on Sundays. Puritan interference had become enough of a problem by 1617 for King James I to issue the Declaration of Sports which listed the sports and recreations that were permitted on Sundays. Cricket is not mentioned. Initially the declaration was effective in Lancashire only, partly as a reaction to the Puritan suppression there of certain activities which were pursued by the Roman Catholic gentry. In 1618, the declaration was issued nationally and then reissued by King Charles I in 1633. The declaration had limited success until the Civil War began in 1642. The Puritans were by then in control of Parliament which closed the theatres and issued sanctions against other recreational activities but there was no mention of cricket except when individual players were accused of ‘breaking the Sabbath’. The ‘Declaration of Sports’ manuscript was publicly burned by order of the Puritan Parliament in 1643. In 1622, several parishioners of Boxgrove, near Chichester, were prosecuted for playing cricket in a churchyard one Sunday. There were three reasons for the prosecution. One was that it contravened a local bye-law, another reflected concern about church windows which may or may not have been broken and the third was that “a little childe had like to have her braines beaten out with a cricket batt”! The latter reason was because the rules at the time allowed the batsman to hit the ball twice and so fielding near the batsman was very hazardous, as the incidents involving two people would drastically confirm. Years later, in 1628, an ecclesiastical case related to a game near Chichester being played on a Sunday. One of the defendants argued that he had not played during evening prayer time but only before and after. It did him no good as he was fined the statutory shilling and ordered to do penance. There are further references before the Civil War as in a 1636 court case concerning a tithe dispute, a witness testified that he played cricket “in the Parke” at West Horsley in Surrey. Another ecclesiastical case recorded parishioners of Midhurst, Sussex, playing cricket during evening prayer on a Sunday and in 1640, Puritan clerics at both Maidstone and Harbledown, near Canterbury, denounced cricket as “profane”, especially if played on Sunday. Despite stating that players must not “break the Sabbath”, references to the game of cricket at that time suggest that it was approved and that Cromwell himself had been a player as a young man. As the Puritans were now firmly in power, Cromwell’s Protectorate having been established the previous year, the penalty was doubled to two shillings. The defendants were charged with “breaking the Sabbath”, not with playing cricket. Similarly, when Cromwell’s commissioners banned sport in Ireland two years later on the grounds of “unlawful assembly”, there is no evidence that the ban included cricket, which had probably not reached Ireland by that time. Puritan prejudice did not survive the Restoration. In 1671, a man was charged with playing cricket on the Sabbath and was exonerated. This was clear evidence that attitudes had changed.

Around this time there were the beginnings of cricket’s social division between amateurs and professionals, from which the annual Gentlemen v Players contest ultimately evolved and this can be traced to the reign of King Charles I. In 1629, a curate in Kent was prosecuted by an archdeacon’s court for playing cricket on Sunday evening after prayers. He claimed that several of his fellow players were ‘persons of repute and fashion’. This statement is the first evidence of cricket achieving popularity among the gentry, who introduced large-scale gambling into cricket and some of these gamblers subsequently became patrons by forming select teams that would improve their chances of winning. The game had long been recognised as a sport that bridged the class divide but, in time, the cricketing gentlemen came to be called ‘amateurs’, to emphasise the distinction between themselves and the professionals who belonged to the lower social classes, mostly to the working class. So ‘amateur’ status had a special meaning in English cricket and the amateur in this context was not merely someone who played cricket in his spare time but a particular type of first-class cricketer who existed officially until 1962, when the distinction between amateurs and professionals was abolished and all first-class players became nominally professional. In terms of remuneration, amateurs claimed expenses for playing, whilst professionals were paid a salary or fee. Amateur cricket was an extension of the game played in schools, universities and other centres of education, both as a curricular and extracurricular activity. The schools and universities formed the ‘production line’ that created nearly all the top-class amateur players. The earliest reference to cricket at Oxford University is dated 1673 where the author of a pamphlet concerning music tuition had a criticism of a rival who had boasted of being a graduate of Trinity College, Oxford, saying “He shews but a slender sign of his University education, where he seems to have spent his time rather in the more laudable Exercises of Trap and Cricket, than in any sound Reading”. But research seems to show that cricket was a normal activity at Oxford for some time before that author had written his pamphlet. The earliest reference to cricket being played at Cambridge University is dated 1710. It has been a little difficult to determine more of this period due to the Licensing of the Press Act 1662 which imposed stringent controls on the newspaper industry meaning that sports, including cricket, were not reported. The few surviving references have been found in official records, such as court cases, or in private letters and diaries. The Restoration of the monarchy in England in 1660 was immediately followed by the reopening of the theatres and sanctions imposed by the Puritans on sports were also lifted and it is likely that the Restoration was the crucial factor in leading to the social acceptance of the game. Although there are only scattered references to the game in the time of King Charles II, it is clear that its popularity was increasing and that the game was expanding. The Restoration was effectively completed during the spring of 1660 and, in the general euphoria which both accompanied and followed these historic events, gambling on cricket and other sports was freely pursued. The nobility adopted cricket as one of their main sports along with horse racing and prize-fighting. Under their patronage, the first teams representing several parishes and even whole counties were formed and the period saw the first ‘great matches’ as cricket evolved into a major sport. A significant aspect of this evolution was the introduction of professionalism, as the nobility returned to London after the Restoration. They were keen to develop cricket and brought with them some of the local experts from village cricket whom they now employed as professional players. However, the Gaming Act 1664 was passed by the Cavalier Parliament to try to curb some of the post-Restoration excesses, including gambling on cricket, and it limited stakes to £100. That was equivalent to about £16,000 in present-day terms. It is known that cricket could attract stakes of fifty guineas by 1697 and it was funded by gambling throughout the following century. There was a significant development at Maidstone in 1668 when the quarter sessions made a ruling that Customs and Excise could not claim excise duty on alcoholic drinks sold at a ‘kricketing’. It was further ruled that a match promoter had the right to sell ale to spectators, presumably after obtaining the necessary licence. This dealt a massive blow to Puritan morality and it could have been the beginnings of the long-term relationship between sport and alcohol.

Censorship had already been relaxed following the Bill of Rights 1689 and in 1695, Parliament decided against a renewal of the 1662 Licensing Act and so cleared the way for a free press on the Act’s expiry in 1696. It was from this time that cricket matters could be reported in the newspapers, but it would be a very long time before the newspaper industry adapted sufficiently to provide frequent, let alone comprehensive, reports. After the decision of the English government in 1695 to allow freedom of the press by deciding not to renew the Licensing of the Press Act which had inhibited the scope of publications, it was possible for sporting events to be reported. But these were sparse in the early newspapers, although trivia tended to make good copy and large wagers between rival patrons were given coverage. Cricket was becoming well and truly established, with certain dedicated grounds becoming synonymous with the game, the main ones for men’s international cricket being ‘Old Trafford’ in Stretford, near Manchester, ‘Trent Bridge’ in West Bridgford, near Nottingham, ‘Headingley’ in Leeds, ‘Edgbaston’ in Birmingham, ‘The Oval’ in Kennington, London and ‘Lord’s’ in St John’s Wood, London.

The Artillery Ground.

One site I would also like to mention is The Artillery Ground in Finsbury, as it is an open space originally set aside for archery and later known also as a cricket venue. Today it is used for military exercises, rugby and football matches. It belongs to the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC), whose headquarters overlook the grounds in Armoury House. The London Cricket Club was to become chiefly associated with the Artillery Ground and the sport was first mentioned at this venue was first mentioned in 1725, when the minutes of the HAC referred to a note concerning “the abuse done to the herbage of the ground by the cricket players”. The Artillery Ground became the feature venue for cricket in the mid-18th century.

There is much that can be written about the rules and equipment of cricket, from its earliest times to the present day but I shall not share them here. In fact I could also go on about the laws and gameplay, our culture and influence of the game on everyday life, especially the English language, with various phrases such as “that’s not cricket” (that’s unfair), “had a good innings“ (lived a long life) and “sticky wicket” a metaphor used to describe a difficult circumstance. That one originated as a term for difficult batting conditions in cricket, caused by a damp and soft pitch. Also in England, a number of association football clubs owe their origins to cricketers who sought to play football as a means of keeping fit during the winter months. The history of the game and its links to modern life are intriguing.

This week…
Earlier this week I saw a ‘sponsored’ item on Facebook about a person having a conversation “in broken/pigeon English”… I am utterly speechless. I guess in some places, proof-reading simply isn’t done any more.

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More About The London Borough of Lambeth

There really is so much to see and learn about in London and this is just one borough of it, so I should be kept busy for quite a while. I’ll not be attempting to share all of it in one go though as that is impossible and potentially boring to some, so here are just a few more to be going on with.

Part of Lambeth Palace and the Tudor gatehouse (from inside), with the river on the right.

One place which you may have heard of before is Lambeth Palace. This is a medieval riverside palace and is the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury. It isn’t open every day, but you can book a guided tour to see the Crypt, Chapel and Great Hall or go to one of the monthly garden open days in the summer. It is situated in north Lambeth, on the south bank of the River Thames, some 400 yards (370 metres) south-east of the Palace of Westminster which houses Parliament on the opposite bank. Although the original residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury was in his ‘episcopal see’ of Canterbury in Kent, a site originally called the Manor of Lambeth or Lambeth House was acquired by the Diocese around 1200AD and this has served as the Archbishop’s London residence ever since. An ‘episcopal see’ is, in a practical use of the phrase, the area of a bishop’s ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Phrases concerning actions occurring within or outside an ‘episcopal see’ are indicative of the geographical significance of the term, making it synonymous with diocese. The site is bounded by Lambeth Palace Road to the west and Lambeth Road to the south, but unlike all other surrounding land it is excluded from the parish of North Lambeth. The garden park is listed and resembles Archbishop’s Park, a neighbouring public park, but it was a larger area with a notable orchard until the early 19th century. The south bank of the Thames along this reach, not part of historic London, developed slowly because the land was low and sodden, so was called Lambeth Marsh as far downriver as the present Blackfriars Road. What I didn’t previously know was that the name Lambeth embodies ’hithe’ as a landing on the river, also a landing place or small port for ships or boats. So it stands to reason that Archbishops came and went by water. This place has a history though, as in the Peasants Revolt of 1381, the Palace was attacked, also the oldest remaining part of Lambeth Palace is the chapel, which was built in the Early English Gothic architectural style. Lollards Tower, which retains evidence of its use as a prison in the 17th century, dates from 1435 to 1440. The front is an early Tudor brick gatehouse built by Cardinal John Morton and completed in 1495. Also, Cardinal Pole lay in state in the palace for 40 days after he died there in 1558. It is said that the fig tree in the palace courtyard is possibly grown from a slip taken from one of the ‘White Marseille’ fig trees here for centuries and reputedly planted by Cardinal Pole. In 1786, there were three ancient figs, two of them ‘nailed against the wall’ and still noted in 1826 as being ‘ traditionally reported to have been planted by Cardinal Pole, and fixed against that part of the palace believed to have been founded by him’. On the south side of the building, in a small private garden, is another tree of the same kind and age and by 1882 their place had been taken by several massive offshoots. The orchard of the medieval period has rather given way to an adjoining public park and built-up roads of housing and offices, but the palace gardens were listed grade II in October 1987. Sadly the Great Hall was completely ransacked, including the building material, by Cromwellian troops during the English Civil War and after the Restoration it was completely rebuilt by archbishop William Juxon in 1663 with a late Gothic ‘hammerbeam’ roof. This choice of roof was evocative, as it reflected the High-Church Anglican continuity with the Old Faith, which was fitting as the brother of King Charles II was an avowed Catholic and so served as a visual statement that the Interregnum (literally meaning ‘between reign’ in Latin and which was the period between the execution of Charles I on 30 January 1649 and the arrival of his son Charles II in London on 29 May 1660 which marked the start of the Restoration) was over. During the Interregnum, England was under various forms of republican government and as with some Gothic details on University buildings of the same date, it is debated among architectural historians whether this is ‘Gothic survival’ or an early work of the ‘Gothic Revival’! The diarist Samuel Pepys recognised it as ‘a new old-fashioned hall’. The building is listed in the highest category, Grade I, for its architecture as its front gatehouse with its tall, crenellated gatehouse resembles the one at Hampton Court Palace, which is also of the Tudor period. However Morton’s Gatehouse was at its very start in the 1490s, rather than in the same generation as Cardinal Wolsey’s wider, similarly partially stone-dressed deep red brick façade. Whilst this is the most public-facing part, it is not the oldest because at the north-west corner, the Water Tower or Lollards’ Tower mentioned above is made of Kentish Ragstone with ‘ashlar quoins’ and a brick turret which is much older. What this has taught me is that Ashlar is finely dressed (cut or worked) stone, either as an individual stone that has been worked until squared, or a structure built from such stones, also quoins are corners. New construction was added to the building in 1834 by Edward Blore (1787–1879), (who later rebuilt much of Buckingham Palace in neo-Gothic style) and it fronts a spacious quadrangle. The buildings form the home of the Archbishop, who is an ex officio member of the House of Lords and is regarded as the ‘first among equals’ in the Anglican Communion.

A view in Brockwell Park, with Herne Hill’s two residential tower blocks visible and the London Shard further in the background.

As a lad I would often hear of my parents and other members of the family talk about Brockwell Park. This large south London park has excellent views of the central London skyline from Brockwell Hall. I can imagine them just taking a stroll among the ornamental ponds and formal flower beds. The park is a 50.8 hectare (125.53 acre) park located south of Brixton, commands views of the city of London skyline and hosts almost 4 million annual visits. Whilst competing against multiple demands from a broad range of other interests, the entirety of Brockwell Park is a ’Site of Importance for Nature Conservation’ of Grade I Borough Importance, with mature trees including ancient oaks, substantial lawn areas set to meadow, and a series of lakes. As well as adding to the landscape value, these support a variety of birds, and bats including Pipistrelles, with frequent visits from rarer species like Daubentons, Noctule, Leisler’s and Serotine bat. The Park is listed for its heritage value on The National Heritage List for England. Noted for its nineteenth-century layout as a gracious public park, the clock-tower, water garden, designed walled garden and other monuments, the park provides a pleasant exploration with links to its eighteenth-century agricultural past in the hedge lines and mature oak trees. The model village houses which are outside the walled garden were originally donated to London County Council (LCC) by Edgar Wilson in 1943. Also the Rockwell Lido, a Grade II listed Art Deco building near the top of the park, is an open-air swimming pool popular with swimmers and bathers. Its attached café/restaurant is also popular. Other amenities in Brockwell Park include tennis courts, a bowling green, a BMX track and a miniature railway. In 1901, the LCC acquired a further 43 acres of land north of the original park and in the 1920s, there were 13 cricket pitches in the park, which attracted crowds of up to 1,500. During World War I it is recorded that Brockwell Park grazed a large flock of sheep, then during World War II three sites in the Park were set aside for wartime food production in the form of ‘Pig Clubs’, built of timber and bricks salvaged from bombed houses. Pig swill for this purpose was collected from local homes. Also, each July the free Lambeth Country Show is held here.

The Royal Festival Hall.

Built in 1951 as part of the festival of Britain, the Royal Festival Hall is a 2,700-seat concert, dance and talks venue within the Southbank Centre. It has been a Grade I listed building since 1981 and was the first post-war building to become so protected. The London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philharmonia Orchestra and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment are resident in the hall. The place was built as part of the Festival of Britain for London County Council, later the Greater London Council (GLC) and was officially opened on 3 May 1951. When the GLC was abolished in 1986, the Festival Hall was taken over by the Arts Council and managed together with the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and the Hayward Gallery, eventually becoming an independent arts organisation in 1998 as the Southbank Centre. The complex includes several reception rooms, bars and restaurants and the Clore Ballroom, accommodating up to 440 for a seated dinner. A large head and shoulders bust of Nelson Mandela, created in 1985 by Ian Walters, stands on the walkway between the hall and Hungerford Bridge approach viaduct. Originally made in glass-fibre, the bust was repeatedly vandalised until re-cast in bronze. A 1948 sketch of the building depicts the design of the concert hall as an egg in a box but the strength of the design was the arrangement of interior space, the central staircase seems to have an almost ceremonial feel and moves elegantly through the different levels of light and air. There was concern that whilst the scale of the project demanded a monumental building, it should not ape the triumphal classicism of many earlier public buildings as the wide open foyers, with bars and restaurants, were intended to be meeting places for all and there were to be no separate bars for different classes of patron. Because these public spaces were built around the auditorium, they also had the effect of insulating the Hall from the noise of the adjacent railway bridge. Something I have to mention here is the 7,866 pipe organ which was built between 1950 and 1954 by Harrison & Harrison in Durham, to the specification of the London County Council ’s consultant, Ralph Downes, who also supervised the tonal finishing. It was designed as a well-balanced classical instrument embracing a number of rich and varied ensembles which alone or in combination could equal the dynamic scale of any orchestra or choral grouping, in addition to coping with the entire solo repertoire. The design principles enshrined in its construction gave rise to a whole new school of organ building, known as the English Organ Reform Movement, influencing in the UK alone the cathedral organs of Coventry and Blackburn, also the concert hall organs of the Fairfield Halls in Croydon and the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester. There are also innumerable organs in other countries which have been influenced by it. However, the design of the organ in its housing made maintenance difficult, and by 2000 it had become unusable. It was consequently completely removed before restoration of the Hall itself began in 2005, and after restoration and updating by Harrison & Harrison, a third of the organ was reinstalled. The remainder was reinstalled between 2012 and 2013, and voicing completed in 2014.

The Oval cricket ground.
Photo by ESPA/Deposit Photos.

I had to include this. The Oval has been the home ground of Surrey County Cricket Club since it opened in 1845 and every year the final Test match of the English season is traditionally played here as it is a 23,000-seater stadium. It is the the birthplace of The Ashes and at present is known, for sponsorship reasons, as the ‘Kia Oval’. It is a recognised International cricket ground and has been the home ground of Surrey County Cricket Club since it was opened in 1845. It was the first ground in England to host international Test cricket in September 1880. In addition to cricket, The Oval has hosted a number of other historically significant sporting events as in1870, it staged England’s first international football match, versus Scotland. Two years later it hosted the first FA Cup final, as well as those between 1874 and 1892. In 1876, it held both the England v. Wales and England v. Scotland rugby international matches and, in 1877, rugby’s first varsity match. It also hosted the final of the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy.

The clock by the Members’ entrance to the pavilion.

The Oval is built on part of the former Kennington Common. Cricket matches were played on the common throughout the early 18th century and the earliest recorded match was the London v Dartford match in June 1724. However, as the common was also used regularly for public executions of those convicted at the Surrey Assizes, by the 1740s cricket matches had moved away to the Artillery Ground. Kennington Common was eventually enclosed in the mid-19th century under a scheme sponsored by the royal family but by 1844 the site of the Kennington Oval was a cabbage patch and market garden owned by the Duchy of Cornwall who were willing to lease the land for the purpose of a cricket ground and on 10 March 1845 the first lease, which the club later assumed, was issued to Mr. William Houghton (the then president of the progenitor, Montpelier Cricket Club) by the Otter Trustees who held the land from the Duchy ‘to convert it into a subscription cricket ground’, for 31 years at a rent of £120 per annum plus taxes amounting to £20. The original contract for turfing The Oval cost £300, the 10,000 grass turfs came from Tooting Common and were laid in the spring of 1845, allowing for the first cricket match to be played in May 1845. Hence, Surrey County Cricket Club (SCCC) was established. The popularity of the ground was immediate and the strength of the SCCC grew. In 1868, 20,000 spectators gathered at The Oval for the first game of the 1868 Aboriginal cricket tour of England, the first tour of England by any foreign side. On 3 May 1875 the club acquired the remainder of the leasehold for a further term of 31 years from the Otter Trustees for the sum of £2,800. Thanks to C.W. Alcock, the Secretary of Surrey from 1872 to 1907, the first Test match in England was played at The Oval in 1880 between England and Australia. Consequently The Oval became the second ground to stage a Test, after Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). Then in 1882, Australia won the Test by seven runs within two days and The Sporting Times printed a mocking obituary notice for English cricket, which led to the creation of the Ashes trophy which is still contested whenever England plays Australia. Surrey’s ground is also noted as having the first artificial lighting at a sports arena in the form of gas-lamps, dating to 1889. The famous gas-holders just outside the ground were built around 1853. With the gas-holders long disused, there was much speculation as to whether they should be demolished, however many believed they were an integral part of The Oval’s urban landscape and so were retained and in 2016 the main gas-holder was given official protected status as a historically important industrial structure. The ground has also retained traditional names, for example the north-western end of The Oval is traditionally known as the ‘Vauxhall End’, as it is nearer to the district of Vauxhall and its railway station, whilst the opposite end (south-east) is known as the ‘Pavilion End’ because it is the location of the Members’ Pavilion. There has been a large amount of redevelopment over the years, including the redevelopment of the Vauxhall End by demolishing the outdated north stands and creating in their place a single four-tier grandstand. In January 2007 Surrey CCC announced major plans to increase capacity of the ground, but these plans were delayed by objections raised by the Health & Safety Executive as the ground is close to a gasometer. Planning permission was eventually granted, but financial difficulties meant that this development did not proceed. In 2009, four masts of semi-permanent telescopic floodlights were installed for use in evening matches and these were especially designed to comply with strict residential planning regulations to lessen their visual impact and any light overspill to residents, as well as to improve the game experience within the ground by reducing excess glare affecting all concerned. Further development has meant adding extra seating as well as a new stand and a major project will mean that a planned £50m long-term redevelopment of the ground by Surrey County Cricket Club will see The Oval transformed into the largest cricket stadium in the western hemisphere, with a capacity of 40,000.

These are just a few of the sights and sounds to be found in London and I plan to share more of these in the future.

This week… on a lighter note!
The basics of the game of cricket, as explained to a foreigner…
I’ll share more detail another time!

The Rules Of Cricket.

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The London Borough Of Lambeth

Stretching from the River Thames down to Streatham, the borough of Lambeth is a culturally-rich area of south London. It includes the nightclubs of Vauxhall, the diversity of Brixton down to the leafy suburb of West Norwood. With a wide mixture of things to see and do, here are just a few which might be of interest.

The Tate Modern.

The Tate Modern gallery is renowned for some of its more bizarre pieces and is the home of contemporary and modern art in London. Although it may not be for everyone, having your art displayed in the Tate Modern is a lifelong dream of many artists and creators across the world. You can watch live art in massive underground converted oil tanks, look out over London from the Tate balcony whilst sipping a drink as well as view priceless art such as Picasso, Monet, and Salvador Dali. Art has traditionally been a singularly sensory experience, but here a range of exhibits involve you, the viewer, and bring all your senses to life. Immerse yourself in light displays, film, walk through sculpture or play with colour. It is said that here, the stereotypical art gallery of the past is gone and you will find your visit ‘an electrifying experience for your senses’, because art is more than simply staring at pictures here, it should involve all senses. Entry is free and the permanent collection is impressive, but it is suggested that you check their website before you visit to see details of any featured exhibition. Special exhibitions and events require a separate paid ticket and it is always recommended to book in advance online, especially for popular exhibits, although Tate members can access all exhibits for free using their membership card. I also discovered some odd but interesting facts, which are that the Tate Modern’s building was converted from the Bankside Power Station and opened in 2000. The building is almost the same size as Westminster Abbey with the central chimney standing at 99 metres tall. The original architect of the power station was Giles Gilbert Scott, who is famous for having designed our iconic red telephone boxes so there’s a link to my past that I had no idea about. What I also learned in my research was that the Tate Group of galleries began in 1889 when Henry Tate, a sugar merchant from Liverpool, donated his collection of contemporary paintings. The Bankside Power Station building was built in 1947 on the shore of the Thames, but was closed in 1981 and the Queen opened Tate Modern in the original building. Then in 2016 the new Switch House extension (now known as the Blavatnik Building) was opened, increasing the size of Tate Modern dramatically.

The Imperial War Museum.

One place I was keen to visit some years ago was the Imperial War Museum as it houses one of the best collections of military hardware and artefacts you can see and is a compelling record of modern warfare, as it places the impact of conflict on everyday lives at its centre. It is here that you will see huge, imposing 15-inch naval guns built for the First World War and which guard the front of the building. Inside you can look up into the atrium to see an iconic Battle of Britain Spitfire, suspended as if in flight above your head. There is also the permanent Holocaust exhibition where visitors may reflect on the first-hand testimonies of those who suffered horrific persecution. Walking into the central atrium of the building with its 25-metre high space is an impressive sight as it vividly displays the scale of some of the most iconic hardware of modern warfare, displaying as it does a Battle of Britain Spitfire, a V2 rocket and a Hawker Harrier which are suspended from the ceiling. Then there is the First World War Gallery, depicting World War I, with the black and white grainy images of the trenches which still have the power to both enthral and maybe even terrify visitors after more than one hundred years. Accompanied by touch screen interactive displays, visitors can view over 1300 objects including planes, tanks, uniforms, artefacts, diaries and poignant personal letters detailing the lives of both the soldiers and civilians. There is even a replica section of a trench, where it is possible to see exactly how the soldiers at the front lived back then. There is also the ‘Turning Points’ exhibition, which charts the years between 1934 and 1945 from the point that World War II began to loom through to its conclusion, with many poignant personal artefacts to be seen. Further exhibits include the remains of a Japanese Zero fighter plane located on a Pacific island fifty years after the end of the war. Then in the Lord Ashcroft Collection are stories of the incredible bravery of men, women and children in time of war. There are over 250 personal stories of bravery, accompanied by photographs, film, artefacts and artwork. You are also able to view the world’s largest collection of Victoria Cross medals, Britain’s highest decoration for valour. In addition, there is a large collection of George Cross medals as the exhibition recounts stories of incredible bravery.

The idea for the museum was first proposed in 1917, during World War 1 as it was intended to record the effort and sacrifice of Britain and the Empire for that specific event. It has meant that for over forty years the Imperial War Museum’s collection of films and archival footage have been used by television producers to make documentaries which have furthered our understanding of war and its effects. Landmark programs where the museum’s films were used include ‘The Great War’ and ‘The World at War’. The museum also holds a significant collection of art, consisting of paintings, posters, drawings and prints including much of the artwork commissioned by the government to record both World Wars. It has also commissioned artists to record more recent conflicts, as well as peacekeeping duties and although the Imperial War Museum in London is its most well-known site, the museum as a group contains four other sites. This includes the Imperial War Museum North based in Manchester, the Churchill War Rooms and HMS Belfast in London, plus Europe’s largest air museum at Duxford. The museum has a noted history, as in March 1917 the War Cabinet approved proposal for National War Museum from Sir Alfred Mond MP and in June 1920 it was opened at Crystal Palace by King George VI. In November 1924 came the move to smaller location in the Western Galleries of the Imperial Institute in South Kensington and in July 1936 the Duke of York opened the museum in its new location at Lambeth Road, where it remains today. But from September 1940 to November 1946 it was closed for the war, with many vulnerable collections stored outside of London. In 1966 came the first major expansion to the museum since its relocation to its current home and in 1967 it acquired the iconic naval guns which are sited on the approach to the building. Then the first phase of major renovation started in 1986, taking three years to complete, with the final part of three-phase development of Southwark building completed in 2000. It included Holocaust Exhibition. The museum finally reopened after a £40 million redesign in 2004.

Shakespeare’s Globe.
Photo by Walker/Deposit Photos.

Shakespeare’s Globe is undoubtedly London’s most beautiful theatre. Situated on the South Bank and standing just a few hundred yards from its original site, The Globe takes pride in remembering William Shakespeare and all of his plays. As well as seeing a play, you can book tickets for guided tours and any current exhibitions and you can travel back to the 16th century in a reconstruction of the open-air wood and thatch theatre where the world-famous plays were originally performed. The present timber and thatch open-air circular theatre is an accurate reconstruction of Shakespeare’s original Globe Theatre, enabling visitors to enjoy the performances of Shakespeare’s plays as they were intended to be seen, whatever the weather! The theatre stages performances between April and October and being open air the show goes on, regardless of the weather, then during the winter months concerts and plays are held in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, an atmospheric Jacobean-style theatre illuminated by candlelight. As part of the access programme, the Globe theatre has relaxed performances and the open-door policy there means that members of the audience can come and go exactly as they please, making these performances ideal for families. But it seems that the Elizabethan Globe Theatre is not original, despite being constructed in 1599 as it was built using timber from an earlier theatre. Sadly the place was burnt down in 1613 after a special effect went wrong, a cannonball fired during a performance of Henry Vlll which set fire to the thatched roof. No one was hurt except for a man whose trousers caught fire but who was saved by a bottle of beer poured over him! Also it seems there were no women actors in Shakespeare’s day and female roles were played by young boys. Back then Elizabethan audiences in the ‘pit’ or standing part of the theatre were known as ‘groundlings’, or as ‘stinkards’ during hot weather! The Globe theatre was finally reconstructed close to its original site on the South Bank of the Thames in 1997, after a lengthy fundraising campaign by the director Sam Wanamaker.

Battersea Dogs and Cats Home.

A place which I think has certainly been heard of is the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, which has been rescuing and rehoming animals for over a hundred and fifty years and is one of of the best-loved institutions in London. The place is open to visitors, as you don’t have to want to adopt an animal to visit the centre, though you probably won’t be able to view the animals out of their pens. If you wish to visit more animals after your visit, Battersea Petting Zoo is just around the corner from there.

A London Eye capsule.

One of London’s most popular tourist attractions is the London Eye. It was previously known as the Millennium Wheel due to its launch in 2000 and it takes guests on a sightseeing journey 135 metres over the city, making it Europe’s largest Ferris wheel. But advance booking is advised, as it is currently the most popular paid tourist attraction in the whole of the United Kingdom and has become as iconic to London as Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. It has become an absolute landmark, a must-see attraction offering visitors great views across the city. Visitors board one of the 32 capsules for an approximate 30-minute rotation, giving a 360-degree view across London and its many historic landmarks. It gives a unique perspective across London and down onto its iconic landmarks. With a riverside location opposite the Houses of Parliament, visitors can either stand and gaze out the windows across the city or take advantage of the central benches located in every capsule as the wheel slowly rotates. On a clear day it is said you can see over a distance of 40 kilometres, or around 25 miles. The London Eye caters for groups too, offering a unique day out for friends, families and work colleagues. It is a hugely popular attraction, but sometimes you may feel you want that extra-special London experience by hiring a private capsule by inviting up to 25 friends to enjoy a very personal rotation on the wheel, with a choice of food and drink enhancements available for a VIP feel. In addition, out of normal hours when the visitors have left, folk can enjoy a champagne reception, followed by a three-course meal. You will enjoy three leisurely rotations as you dine, with a 10 minute stop on the final rotation at the top, for the opportunity to take photos and record your experience. The research I made also told me that the wheel was originally meant to be purely temporary, standing for five years having been constructed to mark the new Millennium but was given a permanent licence in 2002. Although there are 32 viewing capsules the numbers on the capsules range from 1 to 33. This is because number 13, deemed unlucky, was omitted. The London Eye is Europe’s tallest wheel of its kind and when it was built in 1999 it had been the world’s tallest, but since then it has been nudged down to fourth, although still the tallest in Europe. What surprised me was learning that London has seen a large wheel like this before, because in July 1895 there was the Great Wheel which was opened to the public, standing at an impressive 94 metres tall and with 40 capsules or cars. That one was built for the Empire of India exhibition, before ending its service in 1906 and being demolished the year after. It was back in 1998 that construction on the current London Eye began and it was erected in October 1999 before it was formally opened by Prime Minister Tony Blair in December 1999 and opened to the public for the first time in March 2000. Happily, in July 2002 it was granted permanent licence to remain. In 2006 a decorative LED lighting system was installed and in 2009 capsules were upgraded ahead of the 2012 London Olympics and used as part of the ceremony. The second capsule on the wheel was named the Coronation Capsule in 2013 to mark the 60th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and that same year it also recorded its 50 millionth visitor. It had its 20 year anniversary in 2020. In addition, just below the wheel the London Eye has access to its own pier. From here there are 40-minute river cruises which will take you past many of London’s historic sites including the Houses of Parliament, St Pauls’ Cathedral and the Tower of London. Knowledgeable on-board guides provide a commentary informing you about all the sites you see.

The Old Vic Theatre.
Photo by khellon/Deposit Photos.

Finally this week I had to include a famous place, the Old Vic Theatre as over two hundred years of history grace this famous old building in the heart of the city. The Old Vic is an independently operated, not for profit theatre whose historic décor has seen shows of all types performed on its stage. Today the theatre continues to offer diverse productions, supporting new and exciting talent. The building was sadly damaged during World War II, but reopened in 1951 and is grade II listed. Just three minutes walk from Waterloo Station, the Old Vic is easy to reach and a must-visit attraction for any theatre fan. The theatre was founded in 1818 and one of the founders named John Serres, who was the marine painter to the King, managed to secure the formal patronage of Princess Charlotte and her husband Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg so named the theatre the Royal Coburg Theatre. It was a ‘minor’ theatre, as opposed to one of the two ‘patent’ theatres, so was technically forbidden to show serious drama but when the theatre passed to a new owner in 1824 they succeeded in bringing the then legendary actor Edmund Kean south of the river to play six Shakespeare plays in six nights. The theatre’s role in bringing high art to the masses was confirmed when Kean addressed the audience during his curtain call saying “I have never acted to such a set of ignorant, unmitigated brutes as I see before me.” However more popular items in the repertoire were deemed to be “sensational and violent melodramas demonstrating the evils of drink, churned out by the house dramatist”, according to a confirmed teetotaller! The owner then left to take over the Surrey Theatre in 1833 and the theatre was bought by two people who tried to capitalise on the abolition of the legal distinction between patent and minor theatres as enacted in Parliament earlier that year. On 1 July 1833 the theatre was renamed the Royal Victoria Theatre, under the ‘protection and patronage’ of Victoria, Duchess of Kent, the mother to Princess Victoria who was the 14-year-old heir presumptive to the British throne. The duchess and the princess visited only once, on 28 November of that year, but enjoyed the performance, of light opera and dance, in what was described as the ‘pretty, clean and comfortable’ theatre, though the single visit scarcely justified the ‘Old Vic’ its later billing as “Queen Victoria’s Own Theayter”. In 1841 a new lessee took over and was succeeded on his death in 1850 by his lover and the theatre’s leading lady until her death in 1856. It seems that under their management, the theatre remained devoted to melodrama but it was not without its own dramas however, as in 1858 sixteen people were crushed to death inside the theatre after mass panic caused when an actor’s clothing caught fire. In 1867, a new lessee took over and in 1871 he transferred the lease to a new person who, it is said, raised funds for the theatre to be rebuilt in the style of the Alhambra Music Hall, where a noted architect had been engaged. In September 1871 the old theatre closed, and the new building opened as the Royal Victoria Palace in December of the same year. In 1880, under the ownership of an Emma Cons, for whose memory there are plaques outside and inside the theatre, it became the Royal Victoria Hall and Coffee Tavern and was run on ‘strict temperance lines’ and by this time it was already known as the ‘Old Vic’. Then on 24 November 1923, the theatre participated in a pioneering radio event, when the first set of the opera ‘La Traviata’ was broadcast live by the BBC, using transmitters in London, Manchester and Glasgow via a specially installed relay transmitter on the roof of the adjacent Royal Victoria Tavern. Technology at its best!

This week…
A longer blog, but hopefully an interesting one. There is still so much to be written about! So, a quick but amusing item. A group of architects were arguing about the design of a new football stadium. One very senior architect was getting frustrated as he knew the best option, so turned to one of his colleagues and said quietly, with a slight smile, “Trust me, this will all end in tiers…

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Seven Sisters

There are so many, many places to see in London, the list is endless. I will mention just one for now and then share more in the future. This one I came across a while ago and it is actually an area of London called Seven Sisters, a bustling neighbourhood to the south of Tottenham. It is easily reached by the Victoria Line. But the enigmatic name comes from history and is a tale of ancient shrines, fecund families and most of all, trees. If you head a few paces north-east of the tube station today, you’ll find an unremarkable strip of park known as Page Green. This narrowest of open spaces is enjoyed more as a verdant cut-through than a place to linger. Keep your eyes open though and you will spot this circle of hornbeam trees towards the centre.

A ring of trees which was planted in 1996 by a remarkable delegation.

The first evidence for a circle of trees comes from 1619, as an unnamed arboreal ring can be seen on a land map to the western end of Page Green. About a decade later, local vicar and historian William Bedwell mentions an ancient walnut tree surrounded by a tuft of elms. These uncertain origins have led to any number of myths about the leafy landmark. One story posits a pre-Roman druidic connection, as the Celts often held groves as sacred sites and this one is just next to the ancient Ermine Street. In his book London Lore, folklorist Steve Roud points out the flaw in this tale as walnut trees were introduced by the Romans after the Celtic period. Page Green sounds a bit like Pagan Green, which may also have helped the myth along. Other legends connect the seven elms with seven sisters, sometimes daughters, of Robert the Bruce, who owned land in the area in the early 14th century. Again, sadly evidence is lacking. Others think the trees are an arboreal memorial to a protestant martyr, or a farewell planting by seven sisters about to scatter to the four winds. Myth became documented history from the 18th century as the walnut vanished at some point, leaving the circle of elms and these were first recorded as the Seven Sisters in 1732.

Pictured in 1830, when they are described as standing against the five-mile stone from Shoreditch Church.

They must have formed a well-known landmark at the time, for the new thoroughfare connecting Tottenham to Camden Town in 1840 was named Seven Sisters Road. Their fame was cemented in 1872 when Seven Sisters train station was opened nearby, followed by a tube stop in 1968. In fact the mighty plants have changed several times over the centuries. In 1852, the originals were in a really sad and sorry state so new trees were planted by the seven daughters of a Mr J McRae. These elms lasted just 20 years, when a newspaper described ‘six venerable and withered trunks’, so it is possible that the stumps of the originals were still hanging around. A new circle was planted on 2 March 1886 when local siblings called Rosa, Alice, Amy, Edith, Julia, Georgina and Matilda Hibbert, who were at that time the only family in Tottenham to contain seven sisters and no brothers, did the honours and over the years, the sisters returned to view their handiwork. Matilda’s was the only one that wouldn’t take. According to a later interview, the sister pointed to her withered tree and said, “I’m the doomed one”. Alas, her premonition came true. Mathilda passed away in 1900. Her six siblings lived on, regrouping at the elms each year. Five trees had died by 1928 when three of the surviving Hibberts were recommissioned to ‘make good the deficiency’. The six sisters continued their reunion until at least 1937, bringing along their original commemorative brooches and spades used in 1886. One of these spades can still be seen at the Bruce Castle Museum in Tottenham. Further plantings took place in 1955, courtesy of sisters named Basten. Perhaps because elms had proven too fragile for the ground, this iteration opted for Italian poplar, and the trees were planted in two clumps rather than a ring. The most recent ceremony drew on the digging skills of five local families, all blessed with seven sisters. This time hornbeams were chosen and the still-standing ring was installed at the centre of Page Green in 1996. These can still be viewed today, although there is no obvious plaque or information board recalling the centuries-old tradition. The only acknowledgment can be found on the nearby tube platforms, where the trees are commemorated in the tiling pattern in the form of a design by Hans Unger, installed when the tube station was built in 1969. Incidentally, these trees weren’t the only Seven Sisters to grace the town as from the 18th century another famous circle could be found in Kew Gardens, but sadly these trees began to die from fungal infection in the late 19th century and the final member was lopped away in 1916.

Seven Sisters is actually a sub-district of Tottenham, North London. It was formerly within the municipal borough of Tottenham but which on 1 April 1965 was subsumed into the new London borough of Haringey. It is located at the eastern end of Seven Sisters Road, which itself runs from Tottenham High Road to join the main A1 in Holloway. It is within the South Tottenham postal district.

‘The Seven Sisters of Tottenham’ by John Greenwood (1790).

The Dorset map of 1619 shows the area known today as Seven Sisters named as Page Greene. However, by 1805 the first series Ordnance Survey map was showing the area as Seven Sisters. The name is derived from seven elm trees which were planted in a circle, with a walnut tree at their centre on an area of common land known as Page Green. The clump was known as the Seven Sisters by 1732. In his early-seventeenth-century work, ‘The Briefe Description of the Towne of Tottenham Highcrosse’, local vicar and historian William Bedwell singled out the walnut tree for particular mention. He wrote of it as “a local arboreal wonder” which ‘flourished without growing bigger’. He described it as popularly associated with the burning of an unknown Protestant. There is also speculation that the tree was ancient, possibly going back as far as Roman times, perhaps standing in a sacred grove or pagan place of worship. The location of the seven trees can be tracked through a series of maps from 1619 onwards. From 1619 they are shown in a position which today corresponds with the western tip of Page Green at the junction of Broad Lane and the High Road. With urbanisation radically changing the area, the ‘Seven Sisters’ had been replanted by 1876, still on Page Green, but further to the east. Contemporary maps show them remaining in this new location until 1955.

Map of Tottenham, 1619.

So the current ring of hornbeam trees on Page Green Common was planted in 1997 in a ceremony led by five families of seven sister, in fact the Seven Sisters is on the route of Ermine Street, the Roman road connecting London to York. In my research I have found references to the ‘Domesday Book’ the Middle English spelling of ‘Doomsday Book’, a manuscript record of the ‘Great Survey’ of much of England and parts of Wales completed in 1086 by order of William I, popularly known as William the Conqueror. The Domesday has long been associated with the Latin phrase ‘Domus Dei’, meaning “House of God”. The manuscript is also known by the Latin name ‘Liber de Wintonia’, meaning ‘Book of Winchester’. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states that in 1085 the king sent his agents to survey every shire in England, to list his holdings and calculate the dues owed to him. At the time of the Domesday Book, the area was within the Manor of Tottenham held by Waltheof II, Earl of Northumbria, the last of the great Anglo-Saxon Earls. In the medieval period a settlement grew up at Page Green and the woodland was increasingly cleared for agriculture. In the early decades of the nineteenth century, the Seven Sisters Road was constructed and the area saw the construction of a number of large houses, including Suffield Lodge, Seven Sisters House and Grove Place. But these fine buildings soon fell victim to the spread of Victorian London and by the third quarter of the century the area had been almost completely built over.

Seven Sisters Market.

Today, Seven Sisters is a multi-cultural area strongly influenced by its location on key road and underground rail routes. Immediately above the tube station is an early-Edwardian department store building, formerly occupied by Wards Furnishing Stores, which traded until 1972. Part of the building, known locally as Wards Corner became an indoor market with a strong Latin American flavour, known as ‘Latin Village’ or ‘Pueblito Paisa’. The site had been under threat of demolition since 2004 and there were plans to redevelop it in 2018, but this action was resisted, and cancelled in August 2021. Part of Seven Sisters is known as The Clyde Circus Conservation Area and this stretches between the busy local shops of West Green Road and Philip Lane. Most of the residential streets between are in the Conservation Area, but not the more modern Lawrence Road and Elizabeth Place. Residents of the conservation area were brought together by the Clyde Area Residents Association (CARA), which holds an annual street party. Its sister group, the Fountain Area Residents Association (FARA), covers residents to the south of West Green Road, namely those in Kirkton Road, Roslyn Road, Seaford Road, Elmar Road, Turner Avenue, Brunel Walk, Avenue Road and Braemar Road. Recent successful projects organised by FARA members include the creation of a community garden at the site of a dated pedestrian ramp. Another community project is the Avenue Orchard and the local community utilised wasteland behind a concrete wall on Avenue Road for planting apple trees, they also held a workshop with local artists to source ideas for how to improve the look and feel of the wall and area around the Avenue Orchard. In 2004 the old Wards Corner building above the tube station was earmarked for development when Haringey Council published a development brief. In August 2007 Haringey Council entered into a Development Agreement with developer Grainger and their plan was to demolish the existing buildings on the site and replace them with a new, mixed-use development of retail and residential units. Except this was met with local opposition and the Wards Corner Coalition (WCC) campaigned for the existing buildings and Latin American market to be retained and improved. The WCC mounted a legal challenge against the plans and, in June 2010, the Court of Appeal quashed the planning permission. In 2012, Grainger submitted revised plans for the site. Haringey Council granted planning permission for the revised plans on 12 July 2012, but after protests the plan was definitively cancelled in August 2021. In addition to the Wards Corner plans, further projects for regeneration in Seven Sisters are planned. Haringey Council’s ‘Plan for Tottenham’ sets out the council’s long-term vision for the area. Plans to regenerate Lawrence Road were put out for consultation and are now partly implemented. Also Transport for London has completed a major project to improve a busy one-way system, the Tottenham Hale Gyratory, that used to pass Seven Sisters station, converting it to a slower, pedestrian-friendly, two-way road. But as I have previously said, the ring of seven sisters is still standing at the centre of Page Green, despite there being no plaque or information board recalling the centuries-old tradition at that site.

This week…
Our world is full of old sayings and I am keeping a note of some for a future blog post. This one caught my eye, it is one said by the grandmother of a a good friend and it is “Shrouds have no pockets”, a proverbial saying found in The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. It is probably from around the mid 19th century and means that worldly wealth cannot be kept and used after death.

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Life Is But A Dream

It has been said by many that life is not perfect. Equally, I was told that whilst you can please some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, you cannot please all of the people all of the time! So, what is life. Perhaps it is our perception of it. I have been told in the past that most times I tend to see something positive in almost all of life’s situations, with each ‘cloud’ having a silver lining to it. We can easily look back at something which has just happened and feel bad or sad as a result, but if we try, we can usually see a positive effect from it and that is the silver lining. There will, without doubt, be times when a relative or friend may have passed away and this is so very sad, but they are most likely to have either given life to or helped another, they may have taught and shared a skill which others can later benefit from, they may have been or given comfort to another person, often without realising it. Sadly though there are those in this world who give and then expect, even demand, something back in return. But I was taught at a very early age a prayer which I have tried my best to follow. Many reading this blog will have seen this before but I will share it here.

Prayer of St. Ignatius Loyola.

Helping one another does not need to be much, it may have simply needed another person’s presence that is required for someone to realise that they are not alone and this can be particularly true as we get older and see others passing away. I have realised this myself as I live in this Care Home. It may be though illness, it may simply be through old age, but at a time that we usually do not determine, our earthly existence comes to an end. There are times when we do have at least some control over such things though and it is that which we can sometimes forget. I know of a few folk who, had they taken better care of themselves, their human lives would, in all probability, have been longer. There are also times when we are offered some guidance on what life path to take, but not all of us listen! It is up to us, usually, what to do. As many of you know I am disabled, there are some things which I simply cannot physically do and have never been able to do. That has become more apparent as the years pass and I am thankful that I have been offered the skills to read, write and share many things, to help others in the work I have done in the past and I hope that I am able to continue doing this for many years to come! But when it is my time to return home, I will go with thanks, knowing that I have, I hope, done my best openly and honestly, the best that I can. I believe that we all have our part to play in this world, it is surely for us to learn and benefit as well as at least give others the opportunity to do the same. But we must remember that whilst our helping hand may be offered, it should not and must not be taken advantage of. Sadly we seem to see more and more who wish to work for their own personal gain with no thought or consideration for others and who simply do not help to provide the proper balance in life. As humans, we perceive life passing us by at a steady rate, yet there are times when we all say something like “Where did the time go?” I know that I, a great many years ago now, made the mistake of telling my parents that I was bored. They found something for me to do, a job which was simple but had little real value. I never fell for that one again, although sadly at times my willingness to do things hasn’t been ideal. I was taught, but in a good, friendly but firm way as to how things ought to be done. At school I, like so many before me, were shown the ‘right’ way of doing things, it did not matter if it was in behaviour, attitude or language. Most of us did as we were told, some did not and were punished appropriately. Then we went out into the ‘big wide world’, where we found new sets of rules. These were again in behaviour, attitude and language which differed from school as we were beginning to ‘grow up’. Not all did what was right and I think what came to me to be most obvious at this time was I can only describe as ‘consequences’. What good we do is recognised and honoured, likewise what bad things we do is also equally recognised and remembered. Not everyone will agree with me, but I do believe that there is a balance in Nature. It should surely be that whatever we do, it will be of value to ourselves as well as to others. I am not talking in purely financial terms but in ways that benefit another person’s character, behaviour and yes at times their appearance. I am reminded that we may see people with a limb which is in plaster, wearing a bandage or using a stick. That alerts us that they are dealing with perhaps an injury or disability. But if we see none of these things, we cannot tell what other difficulties they may be facing.

When I learned teaching skills, I found that as well as sharing my knowledge and skills with others, I too was learning as we all learn different things in different ways. So no matter if it is in work or in play, we are born, we grow, we are taught many things and we have the capability to learn and to adjust, to adapt and to change according to this lovely world around us. I have said this a few times now. Some folk I’ve known worked in factories and industrial places, whilst others worked as I have done in offices. Some have worked where they designed new things, perhaps even making lots of money in the process. All of us though, as human beings live, sleep, breathe, eat and drink. All of us have supremely clever systems within us that control our bodies but to a large extent we have overall control of ‘us’, in how we act, how we react, how we behave. Good or bad, right or wrong, most of us know the ‘correct’ paths to follow. They will not be exactly the same for everyone, but it is, to my mind at least, sensible to ‘do the right thing’. Even though there have been times when I’ve not always done so. But that is so often how we learn! I think this world is amazing, but as I heard someone say, “Life is what you make of it, if it doesn’t fit you make alterations”. Naturally there are many things which we cannot change, but many that we can adapt to. Something in this life which may never change but that I personally find really disappointing is how some people are so untruthful in their ways, their words and I suppose also in their thoughts. I was taught at a very early age to always be truthful and doing so has served me well. I have said in the past that it is sometimes hard enough to remember what has actually happened, never mind telling what is not true! I read that a good way to deal with someone who is lying to you is to get them to expand and embellish the tale they are telling as eventually they will slip up and make mistakes. In that way it becomes obvious. However, there are those who do consistently tell lies, they make up stories to achieve their aims. At one time a great many years ago, before writing, knowledge was of course shared verbally. When I was at school a teacher demonstrated to us one day just how the spoken word can be misunderstood and this was done by the teacher whispering a sentence to a pupil. That pupil was then told to turn to the pupil next to them and whisper the same sentence. Then that pupil did the same, quietly whispering the same sentence. This was done and after going round about twenty or more pupils, the first and last pupils then told the class what each had heard. The first pupil had been told by the teacher “Send reinforcements, we’re going to advance”, whilst the last pupil said they had been told “Send three and fourpence, we’re going to a dance”. This was, incidentally, in the days of pounds, shillings and pence as the decimalisation of our UK currency hadn’t occurred back then! But it just goes to show how even when we are trying to get things right, mistakes can occur. It is all part of learning. We do have access to more than just written books as the Internet is used so much nowadays, but checking up through tried and trusted sources is a good thing to do. I am also an advocate of the old saying, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” and if something or someone is genuine, in the majority of cases it does no harm to check. The old ‘gut instinct’ I believe is still within us all, even if we don’t always just follow it!

As time passes I hear others talk about how ‘life in the old days’ was. I guess I see this more as I am where I am now. But life is constantly moving forward, so for each generation the ‘old days’ are not the same for every one of us. A little while ago I saw the question raised as to what exactly are the ‘old days’ and it got me thinking, because of course time itself is passing by at a steady rate for us here on Earth, and is what I would describe as inexorable in that it keeps on keeping on. I’m happy that it is! Except each generation has its own time frame, so we cannot put a fixed definition on when the ‘old days’ were. Because for me, they were the sixties and seventies, but to others they are not. I really enjoy watching some of the quiz shows that are on television and many contestants are now saying “Well, that was before I was born…” and I seriously wonder what they were learning at school! Having said that, nowadays I make extensive use of the Internet whereas many years ago I would have consulted various books. How ever did we manage before the days of personal computers and mobile phones! I am at present residing in a Care Home, it is the best place for me after my heart problem and Covid-19. Our lives carry on, new generations are created, with new ideas too. But the more we can work together, then life as a whole can and will improve, for more and more of us and for this Earth. One thing I do remember though is that care should be taken when dealing with others. I may see or hear things that disturb or upset me but if I say nothing, few people know. Thoughts cannot generally be read or shared, although there are those who know me well and they realise when I am not pleased with something or someone! I watched the tv celebrations the other day of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and understandably the Queen did not attend one of them. But very many of her family did and many tv cameras watched as they were presented to the various members of the cathedral. At one point I saw one person give what seemed to me to be a very disparaging glance to one of the royals, it was only for an instant but to me it was there and it proves how facial expressions can be so telling, even if we don’t mean to show our feelings! But life goes on, it is real and I think we should enjoy it as best we can. An essential point to this is something I learned from Srinivas Arka, which is whilst words may be misinterpreted or misunderstood, whether by accident or design, a smile is universal greeting from a warm heart. Also, we should always be learning from the past, living in the present and looking to the future with a smile.

This week… a memory.
For me train journeys can be fun, but also a little frustrating when problems occur and I have tried to do my best at remaining calm about events over which I have absolutely no control because that is a waste of time, effort and energy. Perhaps one of the most difficult ones for me was travelling to work one particular day from Chesterfield station via Derby to Birmingham New Street, which I did regularly for several years. The train had just pulled out of Tamworth station, only to stop and we were told that the goods train just ahead of us had broken down. For some reason we could not reverse back to Tamworth and take a different route, but had to simply wait until the track ahead was cleared enough for our train to proceed safely. We sat and waited for what seemed like ages until the goods service was moved and the track cleared, except even then we were rerouted around the north of Birmingham and entered New Street station on a different line! It meant that I was very late getting to work, it was also before the days of mobile phones so I couldn’t phone my boss to let him know! However, others had had similar delays so it wasn’t just me. My boss realised I hadn’t simply overslept, though some of my colleagues did tease me a little!

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