The Telephone Network

It fascinates me how someone can have a brilliant idea and others just cannot imagine it ever being of any use. I think this is a fine example. In 1875, a certain Mr A.G. Bell formed the American Bell Telephone Company. A year later, he patented the first improvement in telegraphy, thus creating the first wired voice transmission where a pair of physical wires were connected between two devices. In 1876, Bell had a meeting with Western Union and according to the minutes of that meeting, Bell offered all rights to the telephone for sale to them for a mere $100,000. Bell’s profession was actually that of a voice teacher, yet he claimed to have discovered an instrument of great practical value in communication which had been overlooked by thousands of workers who had spent years in the field. He believed that a telephone would one day be installed in every residence and place of business, but at that meeting the committee thought Bell’s proposals were too fantastic. They felt that the central exchange alone would represent a huge outlay in land and buildings, to say nothing of the relevant equipment. In conclusion, the committee felt that it had no option but to advise against any investments in Bell’s scheme. They did not doubt that it would find uses in special circumstances, but any development of the kind and of the scale which Bell so fondly imagined was utterly and completely out of the question!

Alexander Graham Bell (March 3, 1847– August 2, 1922) was a Scottish-born inventor, scientist, and engineer who is credited with inventing and patenting the first practical telephone. His father, grandfather, and brother had all been associated with work on elocution and speech, also both his mother and wife were deaf, so profoundly influencing Bell’s life’s work. His research on hearing and speech further led him to experiment with hearing devices which in time culminated in Bell being awarded the first U.S. patent for the telephone on March 7, 1876. Bell considered his invention an intrusion on his real work as a scientist and refused to have a telephone in his study. But in 1878, some two years after he had invented the telephone, Bell is quoted as saying ”It is conceivable that cables of telephone wires could be laid underground, or suspended overhead, communicating by branch wires with private dwellings, country houses, shops, manufactories etc., etc., uniting them through the main cable with a central office where wires could be connected as desired, establishing direct communication between any two places in the city. Such a plan as this, though impracticable at the present moment will, I firmly believe, be the outcome of the introduction of the telephone to the public. Not only so, but I believe, in the future, wires will unite the head offices of the Telephone Company in different cities, and a man in one part of the country may communicate by word of mouth with another in a distant place. I am aware that such ideas may appear to you Utopian. Believing however as I do that such a scheme will be the ultimate result of the telephone to the public, I will impress upon you all the advisability of keeping this end in view, that all present arrangements of the telephone may be eventually realised in this grand system.” Many other inventions marked Bell’s later life, including some groundbreaking work in optical telecommunications, hydrofoils as well as aeronautics. Although Bell was not one of the 33 founders of the National Geographic Society, he had a strong influence on the magazine whilst he served as its second president from January 7, 1898, until 1903.

Alexander Graham Bell, making a call.

The commercialisation of the telephone began in 1876, with instruments operated in pairs for private use between two locations. It became more and more commonplace for users to want a fixed telephone in their home, but to begin with those users who wanted to communicate with persons at multiple locations had as many telephones as necessary for the purpose. To alert another user to the establishing of a telephone call was done by first whistling loudly into the transmitter until the other party heard the alert. Bells were soon added to stations for signalling so that an attendant no longer needed to wait for the whistle. Later on, telephones took advantage of the exchange principle which was already employed in telegraph networks. Each telephone was connected by wire to a telephone exchange established for a town or area. Communications outside this exchange area used a system called trunking and this was installed between exchanges. The Public Switched Telephone Network, or PSTN as it is often referred to, began. Alexander Bell demonstrated the telephone to Queen Victoria on 14 January 1878 at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight with calls to London, Cowes and Southampton and these were the first long-distance calls in the UK. The Telephone Company Ltd (Bell’s Patents) was registered on 14 June 1878 to market Bell’s patent telephones in Great Britain and it concentrated its efforts on the sale of telephone instruments and the fitting of private lines. The National Telephone Company (NTC) was then formed on 10 March 1881 and this brought many smaller local companies together. Meanwhile in the U.S.A. Bell co-founded the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) in 1885, but here in the U.K. the NTC had already formed the basis of our early telephone network which existed until the Telephone Transfer Act 1911. Then, because the National Telephone Company had become a monopoly, the Liberal government decided to take it into public hands so it was taken over by the General Post Office (GPO) in 1912 and up until 1982 the main civil telecommunications system in the UK was a monopoly, even when the Post Office Act 1969 changed the General Post Office from a department of state to a public corporation, known as the Post Office, with the telephony side becoming Post Office Telecommunications. There was still one area in the UK which had its own telecommunications provider and this was Hull, served by KCom, though it was known then as Kingston Communications. Meanwhile broadcasting of radio and television was a duopoly of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) where these two organisations controlled all broadcast services. They also directly owned and operated the broadcast transmitter sites. Mobile phone and Internet services did not exist at all at that time. The civil telecommunications monopoly ended when Mercury Communications arrived in 1983 and the Post Office system then evolved into British Telecom which was privatised in 1984. All the broadcast transmitters which belonged to the BBC and IBA were privatised during the 1990s and then belonged to Babcock International and Arqiva. British Rail Telecommunications was created by British Rail (BR) in 1992 and operated its own national trunked radio network providing dedicated train-to-shore mobile communications, and in the early 1980s BR helped establish the Mercury Communications, now Cable & Wireless Co (C&WC), core infrastructure by laying a resilient ‘figure-of-eight’ fibre optic network alongside Britain’s railway lines, spanning London, Bristol, Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester.

For many years users of telephone lines were commonly referred to as subscribers because they rented access to their local provider’s network via a fixed telephone line, a pair of wires connecting a handset both provided and maintained by the network provider into the public switched telephone network (PSTN) which had a dedicated port in the telephone exchange equipment, thus supplying the subscribers unique telephone number and a meter for the charging of calls. When there was a shortage of cabling in a particular area two subscribers would share a single pair of wires with simple switching system enabling one subscriber or the other to use the network at any one time. These were naturally referred to as shared service lines. In the early days of the service automation was introduced between the telephone and the exchange so that each subscriber could directly dial another subscriber connected to the same exchange, however calls to a subscriber in a different exchange area required manual switching by operators who were housed in switch rooms of large exchanges around the country. Later, more sophisticated address signalling enabled the direct dialling of calls by subscribers of the service and the use of operators was reduced to handling calls to the emergency services, these being to the fire, police, ambulance and coastguard. Networks were gradually designed and extended in a hierarchical manner until they spanned cities, countries, continents and oceans. Also, the shared service system had to be phased out in the UK some years later when other telephone companies were allowed to connect their services to the BT network, thus requiring a common standard of connection for all to use.

The PSTN network now provides infrastructure and services for public telecommunication and is the aggregate of the world’s circuit-switched telephone networks that are operated by national, regional, or local telephony operators. These consist of wires, fibre-optic cables, microwave transmission links, cellular networks, communications satellites and undersea telephone cables, all of which are interconnected by switching centres which allow for most telephones to communicate with each other. Originally a network of fixed-line analogue telephone systems, the PSTN is now almost entirely digital in its core network. It includes mobile and other networks, as well as fixed telephones. In the 1970s, the telecommunications industry began to implement a different service for transmitting data over much of the end-to-end equipment that was already in use in the PSTN. In the 1980s, the industry began planning for digital services assuming they would follow much the same pattern as voice services, and conceived end-to-end circuit-switched services, known as the Broadband Integrated Services Digital Network (B-ISDN) but this was overtaken by the Internet. At the turn of the 21st century, the oldest parts of the telephone network may still use analogue technology for the last mile or less to the end user, but digital technologies such as Digital subscriber line (DSL), Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) and optical fibre connectivity have become more common in this portion of the network. There are also many private networks, usually used by large companies and which are linked to the PSTN through limited ‘gateways’ such as a private branch exchange (PBX). This is like a small telephone exchange or switching system that serves a private organisation and permits sharing of central office trunks between internally installed telephones, and provides intercommunication between those internal telephones within the organisation without the use of their external lines. The central office lines provide connections to the PSTN network and the concentration aspect of a PBX permits the shared use of these lines between all stations in the organisation. The PBX enables two or more extensions to directly connect whilst not using the PSTN network. This method reduces the number of lines needed from the organisation to the public switched telephone network and saves on call charges. Besides telephones, other devices such as a fax machines or computer modems can be connected to the PBX and each may have its own, dedicated extension number that is usually mapped to the numbering scheme of the central office and the telephone number block allocated to the PBX. Also a large organisation may connect directly to its other offices by means of private circuits which are permanently connected, which if used enough allow the transmission of voice and data for a lower cost than normal calls. At one time these were done over analogue lines, then digital ones, but these are largely being overtaken by other services now including mobile phone and Internet services.

Wireless technology…

So far as the regulation of the communication industry is concerned, the Consultative Committee for International Telephony and Telegraphy (CCITT) was created in 1956 but was renamed in 1993 as the International Telecommunication Union – Telecommunication (ITU-T). It is one of the three sectors of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the other two sectors being Radio (ITU-R) and Development (ITU-D). The technical operation of the PSTN adheres to the standards created by the ITU-T which coordinates standards for telecommunications and information communication technology for such things as cybersecurity, machine learning, and video compression between its member states, private sector members, and academia members. These standards allow different networks in different countries to interconnect seamlessly. Technically it is the E.163 and E.164 standards which provide a single global address space for telephone numbers. The combination of the interconnected networks and the single numbering plan thus allow telephones around the world to dial each other. Here in the UK the regulation of communications has changed many times during the same period and most of the bodies have been merged into Ofcom, this being the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK industry. So to my mind, it shows that Alexander Bell’s idea of communications was an excellent starting point, but it has surely now developed way beyond his visions or expectations.

I am reminded…
I used to work for British Telecom and for a few years I worked as part of their Midland Region Mobile Exhibition Team. This involved the staffing of various exhibitions, mainly around the Midlands and on one occasion I was at a public agricultural show where the stand was in an open aircraft hangar. It was a bitterly cold day, but we were in our official uniforms of light grey trousers, thin white shirt, blue jacket with brass buttons and we were all freezing cold. So I found a nearby stall holder selling very thick navy blue jumpers that perfectly matched our uniforms and we bought those for ourselves. Our BT Exhibition Manager turned up and was not too happy, but he knew we needed them so the extra clothing was approved!

Click: Return to top of page or Index page

Social Media

I was eleven years old when my parents bought me a lovely camera as a Christmas present. They knew that with the muscular weakness in my right hand I would find loading and operating a standard film camera a little bit difficult to do on my own, so they purchased a Kodak Instamatic 100. This type I could manage, as instead of the the standard type of film that had to be deftly threaded into the camera in order to make it work, this one used a drop-in cartridge. I could also hold the camera and work the shutter button with the index finger of my left hand rather than my right and still keep the camera steady. Then a few years later I bought a better camera, this was still a Kodak Instamatic but the 333 model which had a light meter built in and that automatically adjusted the shutter speed. I used this for a fair while but then I bought a Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera, an Asahi Pentax SP1000, which did use a standard film but by now I could manage. This one allowed me to change lenses, it used a prism and mirror system to view the image that I was wanting to take directly through the lens itself, I was also able to manually adjust the shutter speed, aperture and focussing. As soon as the film was used up, I would then take it in to a chemists shop in Peterborough where it would be processed. The helpful assistant knew a great deal about photography and would often look at my photos with me. I was able to discuss the results with him and he taught me the basics of lighting, focussing and other camera techniques. After a while I began using a different film which meant I was now obtaining colour slides rather than prints by sending the film off to Kodak in a pre-paid envelope, I then received the slides in the post about a week later from their processing department in Hemel Hempstead. Now this photography was something that I could do and enjoy. I continued with my hobby all through my thirty-eight years working for British Telecom, but perhaps not always as much as I might have liked. So when my time with BT ended I didn’t give it much thought to begin with, but I slowly picked it up again. I was still using a standard film camera, thirty-six exposures at a time and sending the exposed film away for processing. Then I decided to move over to digital, but to begin with I bought a small Olympus camera and experimented with that. It served me very well, especially when I decided to have a holiday in the U.S.A. Once I was happy with that and could afford to, I looked around for a digital SLR. I had previously used an Asahi Pentax but couldn’t find a digital version that I liked, so I bought a Canon digital SLR camera and over the next few years added a couple of lenses with different focal lengths as these enabled me to ‘zoom in’ on what I was photographing. I was able to get some good results with those. I had also been doing some voluntary work with a charity and one day was chatting to a man in a nearby office. I saw that on his desk he had a really lovely old camera which I admired and commented on, the next thing I knew I was involved in photography work with a new venture he was setting up called a Social Media Cafe. This met once a week and it got me out and about. I took photos of local events, but there were a just few occasions when we had to be careful like the times a few of us were photographing EDL marches. But most times were fun, like Sky Ride. I did this for a few years and I will admit to being rather pleased with a few of the photos that I managed to take in that time, I was fortunate enough to get some in a local newspaper and one item was later enlarged and put on the wall of the local library for a little while after the place had re-opened following a major makeover. There was also a rather large advertising project I was involved in with the city council where I took the photographs which were then added to posters and displayed around the city. That was quite something.

Asahi Pentax SP1000

But I was now looking for a much-needed job, I also think the folk in the JobCentre were trying to get me off their books and with my experience as a tutor/trainer with British Telecom it was felt that I could put that to good use. At first so did I, but it seemed that my experience with BT counted for nought out in the big wide world! So I went to Leicester college and got myself a proper teaching qualification. Then was I able to start up my own business, so I did just that by combining my knowledge of computers, my love of photography and my teaching skills into Adwaen Photography and Computer Training. I chose the name ‘Adwaen’ because of my ancestry, as the word means ‘I know’ or ‘I understand’ in Welsh which I felt was quite appropriate because I really wanted others to hopefully learn from me and perhaps then help others as a result. I provided training on basic photography as well as using computers, I linked and combined these into various media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Flipboard as well as running training sessions on Social Media. I can look back now and smile, as this business had actually started out from a quite casual conversation as I admired the camera on that man’s desk. So thank you John, we never know where things can lead. In fact what this initial contact did was to also lead me into not just showing and teaching others about social media, but actively doing more of it myself. I did not want to lose this skill, this knowledge, so when I found myself in a Care Home recovering from heart problems and Covid-19 I decided to write this weekly blog. It has been going a year now and folk seem happy with it, so that pleases me and encourages me. A blog is defined as a regularly updated website or web page, typically one run by an individual or small group, that is written in an informal or conversational style. Each entry is ‘posted’ onto the website and are typically displayed in reverse chronological order so that the most recent post appears first, at the top of the web page. Blogs evolved from online diaries and journals in the mid-1990s and at that time many internet users were already running personal web pages where they published regular updates about their own lives and thoughts, as well as social commentary. The term web log was first used during the late 1990s, which later became ‘weblog’, then ‘we blog’, and finally just ‘blog’. Due to the growing number of such web pages, several programs and websites started to appear which made it easier for users to create online journals and personal blogs. It made the technology accessible to many non-technical users and helped popularise blogging. The only real difference between a blog and other types of website is that typical websites are static in nature where content is organised in pages and they are not updated so frequently, whereas a blog is dynamic, and it is usually updated more frequently. In fact some bloggers (those who write blogs) publish multiple new articles on a daily basis. These blogs can be on a theme, on personal views, events, anything that the writer chooses to write about. I post an updated blog each week on a Friday morning.

Prior to the rise of computers, especially home computers and the Internet, folk would communicate by writing letters and then use the postal system to send them. I believe though that some fathers were unhappy when the postal service was first established all those years ago, as it meant their daughters could send messages without their parents knowing! Urgent items of information used telegrams, there was also telegraphic signalling with morse code, and after that came the telephone system. In latter years mobile phones have come along, but in general these all have a common theme which is either one-to-one or one-to-many communication. Then came the Internet. Websites and blogging brought along social media, which as I have said consists of websites and various applications which enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking. This enabled many-to-many communication, which is generally a great idea and extremely useful when used appropriately. We have a few different ways of doing this form of communication and as a result there have had to be rules and regulations brought in. I have already said about a blog, which is short for web log and is a personal website where individuals may write about opinions, activities and experiences. We also have Twitter, which is a ’micro-blogging’ system that allows you to send and receive short posts called tweets. These tweets can be up to a hundred and forty characters long, they may also include links to relevant websites and resources. Twitter users ‘follow’ other users. If you follow someone you can see their tweets in your Twitter ‘timeline’. You can choose to follow people as well as organisations with similar academic and personal interests to you. Also you can create your own tweets or you can re-tweet information that has been tweeted by others. Retweeting means that information can be shared both quickly and efficiently between a large number of people. Twitter itself only allows for basic text and no pictures, but other programs do work well with Twitter to allow images to be included. There are a few others around, some which use a neat magazine format and one I like is Flipboard, which is an online magazine where the user can easily ‘flip’ or copy items and articles from existing websites into an online magazine. This is especially good for specific subjects like hobbies, but it can also be used for general information. I have included a photo from my collection, I took this one very cold winter’s morning at Southend whilst I was attending a few days training with BT.

Winter Sunrise at Southend

I think one website that most will have heard of and are possibly using now to view this blog post of mine is Facebook. Where this differs so much is that you can share words, pictures, videos of events, hobbies, fun, things you like, in fact almost anything within reason. There are strict guidelines and support for the system, where users can report anything they feel is inappropriate and then if necessary a user will have the item they have posted removed by a moderator. The user may even be barred from Facebook and we have seen that happening quite recently in the U.S.A. when a user was deliberately posting false as well as misleading information. There are also groups that may be set up that refer to specific subjects or areas and users will only be allowed in to that ‘closed’ user group if they answer certain questions correctly. For example I am in such a group relating to the town where I grew up and was educated. A user may have many Facebook friends and some folk choose to be ‘Facebook friends’ with people they do not directly know but who do share a common interest. A user may also prevent another user from having any contact with themselves if they wish. I must say that I find Facebook useful, however there are some folk who put what I do regard as inappropriate or excessive information on Facebook at times. For example, an article in the Leicester Mercury newspaper appeared a little while ago saying about a new Mum who was posting onto Facebook every little thing (including photos) that her new baby was doing, like wearing a new outfit, crawling off the mat, six months old, etc. Naturally her Facebook friends were delighted for her to begin with, but in the end they asked her to stop as too much was too much. That Mum might have been better off keeping a personal diary. I use a program called Day One, where I can keep a daily diary and I have found it most useful to refer back to at times, for important information! The Facebook system allows users to check and change various settings, in particular the Security settings, so you know who can see what you’re posting! I will admit to occasionally getting ‘friend’ requests from people I do not know and so I check on their profile. I hardly ever agree to such requests, as once agreed to friends can see all the comments other people post, even if they are not their own friends! As to whether anyone is right or wrong to join Facebook, it must be down to the individual. So I have a fun example for you to explain the system. Imagine you have taken a photograph of your dog. You then post it just once on Facebook for people to see and comment on. They can then comment on that and share your post with others like their friends, some of whom you may not know, for them to see and share with their Facebook friends if they wish. This is rather like walking down the street and stopping everyone you see to look at the photo and comment on it. You even give them a copy of the photo and they can then do the same to everyone they meet. Alternatively, you can limit it to just your Facebook friends and in that case you would be then going round and visiting each and every one of the friends you have in the whole wide world, showing them the photo and allowing each one of them to comment on it. So it does have its good points, it is easy to share information, keep in contact with people and be up to date with events all around the world as well as locally. Items can be deleted and edited, which is very useful sometimes. For me, the only real down-side to the system are the adverts, as these are almost always unwanted but are done so users aren’t paying for access to the Facebook service. I try to be careful when I am sharing information, but in general I am in favour of Facebook, so long as we are careful and just think before clicking on that ‘send’ or ‘post’ button. I have seen a few heated arguments appear online at times and a moderator has had comments as well as posts reported to them and the relevant items removed. Having folk from all around the world see what you are saying can be great, but it really has highlighted to me a few differences in the meaning of words and that’s just in the English language. I still wonder at how our biscuits are called cookies in American English, whilst their biscuits are what we call scones. I also wonder what technology will bring to us in the future world of Social Media!

This week, we have…
Friends of mine recently found a bird’s nest that was being re-used. It was noted that there were no eggs there on Sunday, but one egg on Monday and two eggs by Tuesday. I told them I knew why – because Sunday is meant to be a day of rest…

Click: Return to top of page or Index page

Holidays

I have been thinking a little more about holidays. I have said in previous posts about my holiday memories, I detailed my lovely round the world cruise but I haven’t said too much about when I was quite young. As a lad I went with my parents on holidays to North Devon and we got quite used to travelling the route from Peterborough. We had a few regular stopping places, although in those days there were no such things as fast-food places like McDonalds or anything. But there was a park in Northampton where we used the public toilets, we would have a few sandwiches and tea from a flask, then carry on to our next regular ‘service areas’. Except for one time at Northampton when Dad and I were quietly drinking tea as we watched a few squirrels leaping up trees, when Mum returned, looking a bit flustered. It seemed that the Ladies toilet was locked – so Dad and I ’stood guard’ in order for Mum to use the Gents. It was quite early in the morning, but we felt it prudent to be prepared! The only real travel problems occurred when the bypasses and motorways were being constructed and on one occasion we had to stop and ask a policeman, as we found we were on the wrong road. He asked us, in his broad local accent, if we really wanted to go to Chippenham! We had missed an earlier turning at a roundabout which had recently been constructed, so we turned around and were soon on our way again. Holidays to North Devon became an annual event, at first our stays were in a caravan on a farmer’s field and it was there that one time I had to be kept isolated in the caravan as I had gone down with mumps! In later years we stayed in a chalet on a caravan site that was in Westward Ho!. We were never a family for sitting on the beach all day, we liked to explore, so we did day trips to various places in the area. At first our wanderings were done locally, to Bucks Cross where there was the post office and shop. Back then we had to walk along the side of the main road or on the grass verge, as there were no pavements leading from the farm. Then we went on a bit further, like to Clovelly, Hartland and Bude as well as an odd shopping trip to Bideford. We had a couple of relatives in Plymouth, so we did day trips to see them too. To me our holidays seemed to involve very little forward planning, although knowing my dad they most probably were, but to me they were lovely that way. Mum and Dad must have arranged visits with the folks in Plymouth so they knew we were calling, but otherwise things were, or they seemed to me at least, spur of the moment. So our days varied, we might have one day in Bude, another with a morning in Clovelly, back to the chalet for lunch and the afternoon I could have to myself, walking along the beach or the Kipling Tors, where I would sit quietly watching the world pass by. On the Westward Ho! sea front there was a fish & chip shop which served fish freshly caught in the bay. Then the year after my grandmother had passed away, my grandfather, or ‘Pop’ as I knew him, came along and he stayed with us in a static caravan on the same site as the chalet we had used before. On the site was an amusement arcade for youngsters to play on slot machines, a penny arcade you might call it, but it was also licensed so Pop and my dad went down there some nights for a drink or two. The caravan was a six-berth, with one double bed, two single beds in the small bedroom and a fold-down double bed-settee which was in the main room. So to begin with I shared the room with Pop, except one night he came back from the bar and fell fast asleep really quickly. Sadly his snoring was so loud I simply couldn’t sleep (sorry Pop!) so I rolled my bedclothes and pillows up and made up the bed in the main room. I was so embarrassed the following morning, but it was all I could do. Sadly Pop decided not to accompany us on holidays again, instead he went off when he wished from his bungalow in Whittlesey, visiting our relatives in London. We continued to take our holidays to the West Country, it was really relaxing and included a few fun times too. One day we had spent most of the day in Westward Ho! but as it was a fine evening we decided to journey the fifteen or so miles to Hartland Quay, to see the sunset. We drove there and parked the car on the cliff-top, but we were accosted by a very fine-looking gentleman who spoke to us in quite a haughty tone, berating us for parking quite where we had. It turned out that this was in fact a gentleman quite well-known in the area, it being Lieutenant-Colonel Pine-Coffin, the owner at that time of the nearby Portledge Manor. Situated in the parish of Alwington, south-west of Bideford, Devon, it and the surrounding area belonged to the Coffins, a noble family of Norman origin, for almost a thousand years. The Coffin family is said to have acquired the manor of Alwington soon after the Conquest, but the written record begins with a grant of free warren to Richard Coffin in 1254. What I have found interesting is that a free warren, often simply a warren, was a type of franchise or privilege conveyed by a sovereign in medieval England to an English subject, promising to hold them harmless for killing game of certain species within a stipulated area, usually a wood or small forest. The family boasted a number of famous soldiers, including this Lieutenant-Colonel John Trenchard Pine-Coffin who was the last member of the family to own its seat at Portledge. Sadly the sale of the estate was forced by taxation in 1998. The place had a distinguished ancestry and this included Sir William Coffin (d. 1538) who was Master of the Horse to Queen Jane, Sir Edward Pine-Coffin (1784-1862), a Commissary General in the Army, along with John Edward and Tristram James Pine-Coffin (both d. 1919) who fought with distinction in the Second Boer War and the Great War respectively. The family also served as sheriffs, justices, clergymen, and aldermen in Devon, though no member became seriously involved in any national politics. They are therefore an unusual example of a substantial family, armigerous (bearing or entitled to use a coat of arms) but not titled, which farmed in the same area and served their county for 900 years, thus leaving extensive records. Their library at Portledge, collected in the 17th century and sold in 1800, was famous throughout North Devon, and records of it tell us much about the reading habits of the Devon gentry.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by ANL/Shutterstock (5694091a) Wedding Of Miss Susan Bennett, daughter Of Colonel A. D. Bennett Of Plymouth to Mr John Trenchard Pine-Coffin Of Bideford at Buckfast Abbey.

I will admit to smiling when, as a young lad, I first heard his name but it is unusual so I recently decided to find out about this man and share what I have learned. Lieutenant-Colonel John Trenchard Pine-Coffin was born on June 12, 1921 in Kashmir and educated at Wellington. He had both a distinguished as well as an adventurous career in The King’s African Rifles and the Parachute Regiment. After Sandhurst, he was then commissioned into the Devonshire Regiment and served with the King’s African Rifles in East Africa, except his African-born sergeant was not best pleased when Pine-Coffin advised him not to wear medals that had been awarded to him by the Germans, but the sergeant quickly won the respect of his men without them. Pine-Coffin accompanied the King’s African Rifles to Burma. Stealth was often the key to his survival during this campaign and one night, whilst laying low in an attempt to conceal their presence from the Japanese, Pine-Coffin impressed on his African troops the real need for complete silence. They had, however, acquired a taste for tea and one of them, perhaps in his search for a superior brew, had placed their billy-can on a fire piled high with full ammunition boxes! On another occasion, when a strong Japanese patrol was preparing to attack his unit, his soldiers threw down their arms and disappeared into the darkness. Pine-Coffin and his brother officers had therefore resigned themselves to their fate when the men reappeared from the jungle with rather sheepish faces and said: “We like you too much to see you killed.” They collected their weapons, regrouped and helped to beat off the enemy assault. After the Japanese surrender, Pine-Coffin went to Pakistan to look for his father, who had been a prisoner of the Japanese since the fall of Singapore. He scoured the hospitals that were treating soldiers from PoW camps but was unsuccessful, however his father was repatriated to England. Pine-Coffin then joined the Parachute Regiment and was posted to the Middle East where he saw action during the Suez crisis. Following a move to Cyprus, he was involved in counter-insurgency operations in the Troodos mountains and when he came across a number of heavily bearded men hiding in a monastery, Pine-Coffin suspected that they were Eoka terrorists in disguise so asked his sergeant to give their beards a sharp tug. These all stayed firmly in place and he had to make a swift tactical withdrawal. During his twenty-eight years with the Parachute Regiment, Pine-Coffin served with all three battalions and in 1961 took command of 1st Parachute Battalion but his parachuting career was brought to a premature end when he landed in the dark on a tractor, broke several bones in his feet and as a result a series of staff appointments followed. In 1963 he was in Nassau when ordered to investigate a party of Cuban exiles that had infiltrated Andros Island, part of the Bahamas. His seaplane landed in thick mud and Pine-Coffin decided that his only chance of reaching dry land was to strip off. Upon coming ashore, plastered in mud and wearing only a red beret and a pair of flippers, he was confronted by a party of armed Cubans, so mustering as much authority as he could in the circumstances he informed the group that they were trespassing on British sovereign territory and were surrounded. The following morning, when the Royal Marines arrived to rescue him they were astonished to find him and his radio operator in a clearing standing guard over the Cubans and a pile of surrendered weapons. Pine-Coffin attended the Joint Services Staff College and the Imperial Defence College before retiring from the Army in 1969, building up a large farming enterprise in Devon and establishing a 3-star country hotel, the Portledge Hotel. He was involved in many local charitable enterprises, including the British Red Cross and the RNLI. In 1974 he was appointed High Sheriff of Devon. In 1952 he married Susan Therese Bennett, the daughter of Colonel A. D. Bennett of Plymouth and they had a son and two daughters. Lieutenant-Colonel John Trenchard Pine-Coffin, O.B.E. passed away on August 22 2006, aged 85. I think that for me, his name will always be synonymous with my lovely holidays in Devon and Cornwall.

This reminded me…
A friend was doing an online DJ set for a Devon & Cornwall radio station, playing hits from the 60’s and 70’s but they couldn’t decide whether to put The Jam or Cream on first…

Anniversaries, Birthdays And Holy Days

I have mentioned that during the first few years of our lives we believe that we are the centre of the Universe and everything revolves around us. As we get older, most of us realise that there are in fact others around and we ought to interact with at least some of them! As I got older I soon learned about a few delightful occasions such as birthdays, Christmas and a few other regular events like getting Easter eggs and Pancake Day. So of course I enjoyed receiving gifts and I began to look forward to those occasions. As part of me growing up and learning, I was taught how to find out things for myself. My parents knew they wouldn’t always be around, so I was taught to learn. It might seem strange, but I don’t think we all naturally just learn. I have said before how someone I knew was in an adult learning class and they simply needed a little bit of extra coaching and thankfully I was able to assist them. I didn’t tell them, I just guided their thoughts. Just as mine have been in the past and still are today. It really is true to say that we don’t know what we don’t know! My dad had a lovely book called the Pears Cyclopaedia and I would often sit, read and learn from it. Sadly it is no longer in print but there are still old copies available through the Internet. But the Internet is where we often go now, to find out, in fact the phrase ‘let’s Google that’ is now recognised terminology. Though I still like books! For me that encyclopaedia had almost too much information in it and I did not want to fill my mind with information that I might not need, so I tried to know the basic information and more especially where to get the detail if I needed to. Sadly there is also some disinformation available, but this should not be a surprise to us as that has been the way of people for many centuries. It ought not to be, but there are some who will alter the facts to suit their own ends. So it was that I learned much about calendars, annual events and anniversaries as so much has occurred that has shaped all our lives. Nowadays I like to watch the different quiz shows on television, but it does seem that some contestants have filled their minds with a great deal of historical information and I marvel at their instant recall. It takes all sorts! We should not forget our past though. There have been so many things which have occurred during recorded history and I am sure there are countless memorable ones which have sadly been lost in the mists of time. That is why I am glad we do keep a good record of events, so that we have the chance or at the very least the opportunity to learn from what has gone before. Though sadly there are those who never seem to ever learn, or even try to.

So we have regular events like festivals, both religious and non-religious, local and national ones involving various sports which some like more than others. There are birthdays, wedding anniversaries, I also believe that it is good to include obituaries as it is sometimes easy to forget folk when they have sadly passed away. We should surely remember them for the good times, though I know there are some folk who we may recall with perhaps a little less fondness than others! It will depend on the background of each of us, our family’s history and upbringing, ancestry as well as perhaps our religion that may determine what events we remember most from the past. I try to at least appreciate why my paternal grandfather had nothing good to say about Germans, with him having been in a concentration camp in World War I. Likewise those folk with other ancestry may have a few mixed feelings and it is perhaps difficult to separate their personal feelings towards a country whose leaders behaved so abominably all those years ago. But we should perhaps remember that some people from this country did not always treat people in other countries too well. Throughout history, whether it was Hannibal and his elephants, Gunpowder Plot, French Revolution, Spanish Inquisition, India’s independence, transport of slaves, sending prisoners to a new life in Australia to name but a few, the list is endless. That is why I liked that encyclopaedia, because it laid out events in a neat, chronological order. It also gave details of famous people. Sport plays a big part in every country and right now there are quite a few regular sporting events on the calendar here. I will admit that whilst I’m not a big fan of tennis or football, I do follow Formula One motor racing. Also that overlaps quite well with the American Football season, which means I should be happy. So far as anniversaries are concerned there are always some to recall, as American Independence was declared on July 4th 1776, whilst on the same date in 1954 fourteen years of food rationing in Britain ended and in 2020 I was moved to this Care Home. Also in July 1969 I left school to start work at Post Office Telephones in Peterborough, having failed a computer aptitude test with a firm in the same city. What I find ironic is that many years later I was running my own business, teaching folk how to use computers! Things do have a habit of working out if we have faith. As well as the many religious festivals which are commemorated by different countries on various dates throughout the year, there are also other ‘holidays’ for us to observe. The first meaning of the word holiday in the Oxford English Dictionary is “A consecrated day, a religious festival, (usually written holy day)”. The definition takes its origin from the observance of religious festivals and saint’s days. The second meaning is “A day on which ordinary occupations (of an individual or a community) are suspended; a day of exemption or cessation from work; a day of festivity, recreation, or amusement”. The page from the British Almanac of 1833 shows the large number of holidays kept at the Bank of England and the Exchequer, and other public offices. These holidays were to celebrate various Royal events, Christian festivals and Saint’s days, it even included a commemoration of when the Great Fire of London began on September 2nd 1666 in a baker’s shop on Pudding Lane.

The tradition of local holidays became even stronger after the industrial revolution when factories in a town would close down, and the whole workforce was then able to go on holiday. For the owners this made economic sense as they saved on the running costs for the time of the closure, and there was no loss of productivity during the rest of the year as the whole workforce was absent at the same time. In northern England and Scotland, and particularly in the mill towns and villages of Lancashire, these holidays were called Wakes weeks and were originally religious celebrations or feasts, held on the saint’s day of the local church, when the rushes that acted as a carpet in the church were renewed. This evolved into a local holiday and celebration when families were reunited, and travelling fairs came to visit. In Scotland each city had its trades fortnight when the tradespeople took their holidays. In Glasgow this coincided with the Glasgow Fair, an annual event, held since the late 12th century when the Bishop of Glasgow was granted the right to hold an annual fair by King William I. This long established event became Fair Fortnight after the Second World War and is still going strong in the 21st century. An article from the Glasgow Herald of 12 July 1844 says the following: ‘The annual period “when toil remitting lends its turn to play” has again come around, and Glasgow Fair, according to the want of bygone centuries, has been officially proclaimed by the Magistrates, and is now in full course.’ With the decline in manufacturing, the standardisation of school holidays and the increase in paid holidays for employees these local holidays have died out. However, some organisations such as universities close down between Christmas and New Year and magazine publishers often publish double or triple issues so that staff may have a break over the festive period.

A New Year Resolution

Here in the UK we owe our statutory bank holidays to Sir John Lubbock, first Baron of Avebury, a scientific writer, banker and politician who studied ants. He also tried to teach his poodle to read. In 1871, he drafted the Bank Holiday Bill. So statutory bank holidays were introduced by the 1871 Bank Holiday Act and were days when the Bank of England and banks could close. The Act made provision for no financial dealing to occur on that day and bills or promissory notes that were due on that day were not payable until the following day and did not incur any penalties. Before this time banks were unable to close on weekdays as to do so would have put them at the risk of bankruptcy. But once the act was on the statute books, bank staff were able to have fixed holidays. Other employees had more informal arrangements with their employers and took their holidays to fit around the business and trade. The first bank holidays were Easter Monday, Whit Monday, the first Monday in August and Boxing Day, in England, Wales and Ireland. In Scotland they were New Year’s Day, Good Friday, the first Monday in May, the first Monday in August, and Christmas Day. Confusingly there were also public holidays, which are common law holidays that came about through habit and custom, these were Christmas Day and Good Friday in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Today, the terms public and bank holiday have become interchangeable.

In addition to these, there are also the Movable Feasts. These are holidays which fall according to astronomical events rather than being at a fixed point in the year. Easter is the first weekend after the full moon which occurs on or after the 21 March (often this is the Vernal equinox). Whit Monday was created as a bank holiday in the 1871 Act and follows Whitsun Sunday, the seventh Sunday after Easter. Whitsuntide was always a popular holiday as it marked the beginning of the summer. Philip Larkin’s poem the Whitsun Weddings celebrates this as he describes a train journey to London and the weddings and holiday activities he saw. Then Whit Monday was replaced by the Spring Bank Holiday in the 1971 Act and is now always the last Monday in May. Initially, the Bank Holiday Act of 1871 allowed for the closure of banks and other financial institutions, but as time has gone on businesses, local & central government, schools, colleges and universities have also chosen to close. Shops too, but not as much nowadays except for Christmas Day. There is no statutory obligation for them to do so, just as there is no statutory right to have time off on a bank holiday; it is all dependent on what is in an employee’s contract of employment. In 1971, a hundred years after Lubbock’s Bank Holiday Act was passed, the original Act was repealed and incorporated into the Banking and Financial Dealings Act of 1971 which also created some new bank holidays. Under the 1971 Act and subject to a Royal Proclamation, special days can be appointed as bank holidays (either additional to or in place of bank holidays which fall on a Saturday or Sunday). Additional bank holidays have included the Millennium bank holiday on 31 December 1999. There have also been previous Jubilee celebrations, but the only Diamond Jubilee celebration for any of Elizabeth’s predecessors was in 1897, for the 60th anniversary of the 1837 accession of Queen Victoria. Monday 3 June 2002 marked the Golden Jubilee bank holiday, then 2012 marked the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II and the next one is the Platinum Jubilee which is expected to be marked in 2022 in both the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, it being the 70th anniversary of the accession of Queen Elizabeth II on 6 February 1952.

This week… NE1 for tennis?
With it being Wimbledon Fortnight and there being so much tennis coverage, a friend has jokingly suggested on Facebook that the postal code for Wimbledon ought to be NE1, rather than SW19. In fact NE was first created as part of the London postal district in 1858 and covered North East London, but the Post Office closed the NE district in 1867 and the E district absorbed its residents. However, fearing a backlash, the Post Office didn’t actually tell the residents that their new postcode was E and people still addressed letters to NE. The only change was that NE letters were sorted along with E letters on arriving at the Post Office. Then in 1869, NE-ers were finally told about the change, and they weren’t happy, in fact many simply rejected it. In 1897 a doctor led a group of Hackney businessmen in petitioning to bring back the NE district, simply because they objected to being identified as ‘eastern’. They claimed that being associated with East London was harming their businesses. So it’s not just today that certain postcodes have social, cultural, even financial implications. The street signs in the area displaying NE were kept up and the NE initials were used for addressing letters and for street signs until 1917. Then between 1967 and 1970 there was a major rollout of new postal codes by the Post Office to major centres, with Newcastle upon Tyne taking NE, other areas being Aberdeen, Belfast, Brighton, Bristol, Bromley, Cardiff, Coventry, Manchester, Newport, Reading, Sheffield, Southampton and the Western district of London.

A Sense Of Contentment

Contentment in this world isn’t easy. When we are young, we have little or no sense of time, things just happen as if by magic, although I hasten to add that is not the case for everyone, as appearances can be deceptive and what seems to be a happy, contented person may be concealing hidden truths. Many feel they ought to to ‘fit in’ with others; not always, but often. As they get older some may hide their true selves, for fear of being bullied or perhaps taken advantage of. As I have said previously, we can be drawn in to unfortunate circumstances, wrong behaviours, doing things that are not just wrong but illegal. The old phrase ‘be sure your sins will find you out’ is so very true, as I learned at quite an early age with something I did that was wrong. It was relatively minor but it taught me a lesson, as it was meant to do. I was punished appropriately. I also saw it with others, notably when a work colleague who had not been with the firm for very long was summarily escorted out of the building as they had seriously contravened a company law. I don’t know, but they may also have been prosecuted. In any event, they lost their job. It brought home to me the absolute importance of always telling the truth and of obeying the rules. If the rules are wrong then do your best to challenge them, but still abiding within the rules. Violence is rarely the solution, diplomacy is better and usually leads to a far longer lasting end to a conflict or disagreement. But not telling the truth, trying to distort the facts, is wrong. Plain and simple. As I feel sure my military friends will tell you, that was drummed into them from day one. I am told that during his time in the army, one of my brothers developed a bad skin problem, dermatitis, which affected his scalp. It meant that for a while he had to carry a note with him at all times to prove that for medical reasons he was excused wearing a hat or cap. Without it he would have been on a charge for being improperly dressed. My early years at work were a bit stressful, for me it was nothing at all like school! In my case I did not lie, but on one occasion I did not tell my manager when I was completely overwhelmed with work but I hid the paperwork, in the hope that I would find the time to catch up. The work was discovered, but the worst part for me was when my manager told me quietly how disappointed they were with me. That struck deep into me, so I learned and never made that mistake ever again. I was encouraged by some good people and I gained in self-confidence, as I mentioned in a blog post a few weeks back I even stood up for myself when someone at work began bullying me. I was also moved around a fair bit and that was really good for me, as I had hoped to make BT my career if I could, which I did. I do still wonder quite what some of my work colleagues thought about that though, as I moved every two or three years or so to a different job, office or department, at times even to a different city, learning about the business as a whole. But each time, at some point afterwards there would be a change made, in some cases with the office closing! As a result, a few folk became rather apprehensive whenever I arrived! For my Nottingham colleagues I was there for five years and for Birmingham we moved to a brand new office, though in one Sheffield office I was there just six months and in the other just three years until their work was relocated and they took on new work. I assure you, none of it was of my doing! Wherever I went, it was usually to try and better myself, although one move was most definitely to improve my health. Even that expanded my knowledge and I was content in my faith and belief that difficulties could and would be overcome in time. But finding contentment is not always easy. Whilst it can take almost no time at all for some people to know what they want in life, for others it can seem to almost take forever. One of my school colleagues knew at the age of fifteen who it was that she wanted to marry and indeed she did. I believe they are still together. But some dither, one guy I worked with kept asking us “Do you think she’ll have me?”. Eventually we all persuaded him to ask and happily she said yes! I too was married for a while and she then decided I wasn’t what she wanted and we went our separate ways. After that it took a while for me to trust again, that wasn’t too easy but life goes on and I expect that a few of you reading this may have heard of the same or similar situations. It is sad, but there are some extremely selfish people out there who will sacrifice almost anything, even their own families, in order to save themselves or get what they want. As we grow up, we may treasure certain things, they may perhaps be clothes, presents, items that may hold little monetary value but which remind us of a person, a memory or an event which is why we get so upset when we lose something, or worse still if it is stolen from us. Some folk never seem to be content with what they have, they are forever wanting more, the latest gadgets or the latest telephone. As I write I am reminded of one fun experience! A number of years ago whilst working for British Telecom I was at a Sales stand, demonstrating their latest range of telephones. They were modern ones, nothing like the old ones we were used to seeing and they weren’t cheap items, either. One was a Mickey Mouse telephone and on the first day of the event a lady approached me, she saw this telephone and promptly ordered one. The following day another lady approached me, asked about the same phone and ordered one. The next day yet another lady walked up to me and said that her neighbours had each ordered a Mickey Mouse telephone so she had to have one as well! The order was placed. Some folk want the newest, the latest, they treasure possessions whilst others consider money itself to be important. There are those who say that money is the root of all evil, but they are misquoting from the Bible, as the correct version is “For the love of money is the root of all of evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows”. ~ 1 Timothy 6:10. So it is not the love of money, it is what is done with it that matters. We read so often how people seek both peace and contentment and it is often those who lead a simple life without many possessions who are, as they have enough food and clothing for themselves and they do what they can to help others. They give thanks every day for all things in their lives, the good and the not so good. Such folk are content.

Contentment

There are so many sayings and quotes on the subject of contentment, as we are all different. Even in what we see, because others may be looking at the same view, yet what they perceive may be different. I can look out of my room window at a sunset and enjoy all the beautiful colours, but what of a person next to me who is colour blind? I do not know what they see and they cannot describe it to me. Someone who may have been deaf from birth might now, through modern technology, be able to ‘hear’, but they cannot describe the sound. Some years ago now I had grown a moustache, as at the time I played a trumpet in a brass band and my tutor, a former trumpet player with the BBC, had said that not shaving that area helped strengthen the muscles on my upper lip. Then one week I was working at a BT exhibition and demonstrating telephone equipment for people with disabilities when a gentleman walked up to me and we chatted. Then after a few minutes he stopped and said “You have no idea, have you!”. It turned out that he was in fact deaf and was lip-reading me. He asked me to trim my moustache so that my upper lip could be seen and ‘read’, which I did, that evening. The following day the same man returned, took one look at me and exclaimed “That’s better, thank you!” and purchased the item that he had seen the previous day. I hadn’t realised he was deaf and it made me appreciate that first impressions can indeed be deceptive. I have watched items on YouTube where a person is in tears simply because their sense of sight or sound has been enabled. There are no words to describe their feelings. I grew up in Whittlesey where the vicar of the local St. Mary’s church, Revd Quinion, had poor eyesight as he had cataracts. After he’d had a successful eye operation he then saw my father, but did not know who he was until my dad spoke to him as the vicar only knew him previously by his voice. What can be very difficult though is when a sense, a capability is lost or at least reduced. It is then that we are most in need of our memories, when we can remember. But we should surely also maintain a positive outlook on things, knowing that we can say ‘I did that’ or ‘I was there’. In my teens I played a trumpet, first at school, then in a local brass band. I sang in the church choir and later in various choirs both large and small. I was invited to join the Peterborough Chamber Choir and I accepted. I was very glad I did, as I gained much pleasure in being part of that, in fact to me it was an honour. It was hard work as we were a small group, but well worth the effort. I can look back now and realise how very much I enjoyed all the various things I did. In that I am truly thankful, as I hear of many who are or have been unhappy with their lot, but to me the idea has always been to try and make the best of whatever circumstances I am in. The time may come when things change and I am unable to do even the things I can now do, so in that I am truly thankful. Where I am now in this Care Home I am noticing how inmates live, as they are for the most part a little bit older than me. There is a definite daily routine for both Carers and Inmates and given that many have dementia in various stages, that makes good sense. They have a fairly settled routine. Some may at times make demands that cannot be met, usually down to their dementia, but everything is done as much as possible for them. Happily some are getting visitors now and I am certain that is helping them, but there are times when an inmate will get upset and needs calming down. I continue to do as much as I can, it is certainly why I continue with my daily diary, my morning online greetings to a few folk and my weekly blog posts such as this. I keep up to date with basic news, both here and abroad, I scan Facebook, ignoring the adverts though, or most of them anyway. I still recall my time over a year ago now when I woke up in hospital, not knowing quite where I was or what had happened to me. The room had no windows, so I had no concept of day or night and I will admit to wondering for a very short time if I was even still alive! But that soon passed, especially when a television was placed where I could see it. As things are, I am content but I continue to look to the future. I learned years ago to avoid saying “I never will…” as the strangest things can happen to us all. To me, the important thing is to remain as positive as I can in thought, word and deed and to be thankful. To maintain that inner feeling of contentment.

This week:
In France…
They say a Miss is as good as a Mlle.
When making an omelette they only use one egg, as one egg is an oeuf…
I asked a French person whether they played video games, they said Wii…
I was taught to always say thank you, even for little things. You know the old saying, be grateful for small merci’s…

Click: Return to top of page or Index page

Always Learning

From the moment we are born, we are learning. Every breath we take, every move we make, we are learning. Happily some things we are born with, like the sucking reflex enabling us to feed. Most but not all of us are born with our senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch all working, most but not all have fully functioning limbs too. To begin with our senses are far from precise, so over time these develop through repetition and training, just as our brain and muscles do. Even as we sleep, our minds are quietly assembling the events of our wakeful day and storing them. We may not remember all these dreams, but everyone is believed to dream between three and six times per night. It is thought that each dream lasts between five and twenty minutes, but around ninety-five percent of dreams are then forgotten by the time a person gets out of bed. Our dreaming can help us learn, as well as develop our long-term memories. The learning process is also a two-way street, as our parents or guardians, in fact our whole family, even our pets, are learning at the same time about us, noticing our habits. Some of these habits are perhaps better altered, whilst others may be encouraged. I am told that when I was very young, I developed whooping cough which can be serious. So for a while, my dear mum would rush up to my room at the first sound of me crying and I learned that if I cried then someone would come. But then one time the local district nurse was visiting and helped to calm mum down, during which time I apparently stopped crying and was soon fast asleep! I got out of the habit, so it was quite a learning experience for both of us. My two elder brothers were born during World War II, whilst I arrived a good few years later and as a result my upbringing was rather different to that of my brothers, partly because my parents now had much valuable experience with them to call upon. Food was becoming more varied and post-war rationing had now all but ended, as fourteen years of food rationing in Britain ended at midnight on 4 July 1954 when restrictions on the sale and purchase of meat and bacon were lifted. But I am told that my mother had a fright soon after we moved to Whittlesey as she heard what to her was an air-raid siren. It was, but this siren was now being used to call the local volunteer fire brigade to the fire station, which was not far from where we lived at the time. Our home was also near to a lovely church which has a very tall spire and as a result the church bells were quite loud and the noise upset me. But once I was able to understand exactly what the sound was, how it was made and also that my dad was a bellringer, I was happy. It was the same with storms, thunder and lightning. The logical explanations of what they were and what they did made sense to me! Years later I then wondered how many times per day does lightning strike the Earth. I learned that about 100 lightning bolts strike the Earth’s surface every second That’s about 8 million per day and 3 billion each year! Always the enquiring mind. As I was growing up, thankfully my questions were, in the main, either answered or at least explained. I learned not just the basics of reading, writing, arithmetic, history and the like, I also began to learn about other living things. I think it was there that I began to realise that some folk are just naturally gifted in certain areas whilst others are not, but that we are all unique in our own way and that what suits one in doing a task might not suit another. One beaver might create a dam and build its lodge differently to another, but the final result will be what is important. At school I wanted to learn, I had been told that was what school was for, to learn, except just filling my head with facts didn’t always work for me, I wanted to know the why as well as what. Sometimes a simple explanation was all I needed, but over the years I have seen that some teachers are better than others and as I said the other week, there are teachers and there are educators. I fully accept that there are times when some immediate action is required and explanations can be given later, as at a young age we know nothing about the potential dangers of standing by an open fire or being too close to the edge of a cliff! It was also when being an individual became apparent to me, as I said the other week I was encouraged by my school colleagues to try smoking a cigarette but I wouldn’t do so simply because everyone else was.

Learning…

When I started work for Post Office Telephones, I was a civil servant and I had to pass their entrance exam. I began work in what was then known as the Accommodation department. Within the Peterborough Telephone Area there were over a hundred exchanges as well as quite a number of local engineering centres, all providing and maintaining the telephone service for an area of over two thousand square miles, from Skegness to St. Neots! It was here I began to learn multi-tasking, being able to work on filling in forms but at the same time becoming more aware of what was going on around me. Some of my colleagues had been working there for quite a few years and at the time I could not imagine working for the same company for so long, but in fact I don’t really think I did, despite being with the firm for thirty-eight years. That’s because the company evolved, it too learned. Not everyone was happy with all the changes that took place, even simple things like addressing managers by their first names took a bit of getting used to on both sides, but it happened. A few senior managers who have long since passed away would regularly go drinking at lunchtime and it was expected that some of us would accompany them. I preferred a proper bite to eat and a walk around town though, in fact it was during a lunchtime wander that I saw the first Sinclair ZX81 computer on sale! That really was a major step for me, learning much about computers, their programming and uses. By now Post Office Telephones was British Telecommunications Plc, with its structural and various departmental name changes. Also the levels of management were becoming less and less, computers really were becoming more and more commonplace although I do wonder if they generated more paperwork! Over the years we had a series of studies, some by staff in the company and some brought in from outside but they were usually the same or at least very similar. It was all Time Management in various guises, hoping to improve Efficiency. A few weeks ago now I told the story of the Ant whose management thought it might work better if supervised and so generally improve its efficiency. The management had lots of new ideas, they made changes but the joke was that they ended up sacking the Ant because it ended up showing a lack of motivation and a negative attitude as a result of those changes. There were new ideas, but sometimes change seemed to be made simply for the sake of change, to say that things were better. Not so long ago there was a funny television series by the late Victoria Wood called ‘dinnerladies’ and in that there were some great characters whose parts had been cleverly written. Right at the beginning of the first series we were introduced to the main characters, a group of mostly female and middle-aged canteen workers at a factory set in the Manchester area. The central character was the kind and very dependable Brenda ‘Bren’ Furlong, played by Victoria Wood, whose relationship with sarcastic and exhausted canteen manager Tony Martin developed through the series. Then there was the prim and prudish Dolly Bellfield and her friend Jean, along with the younger pair of characters, Twinkle (who was often came to work dressed in her work clothes) and the relatively slow-witted, mild-mannered Anita who was the complete opposite to her posh-voiced mother, an estate agent. There was Stan Meadowcroft, the opinionated, easily provoked but well-meaning maintenance man who was responsible for cleaning the factory and fixing equipment. Then there was the cheery but rather disorganised Philippa Moorcroft, the Personnel manager who was from the south of England and who at first did not fit in well with the rest of the staff. She moved to Manchester because of her relationship with a senior member of staff, Mr Michael. Julie Walters also appeared in several episodes as Bren’s somewhat disadvantaged, rather delusional and manipulative mother who lived in a caravan behind a petrol station. She had abandoned Bren at an orphanage but often turned up to ask for favours. Each episode had a definite story but also a continuing theme and we saw how changes occurred along with numerous misunderstandings. The series developed very well as each character learned about the others. The series ended when the excellent canteen was closed to make room for more offices. A familiar scenario, sadly. I will admit to smiling when Personnel was renamed Human Resources, with no change of work just a fancy name change, also how Philippa attempted to introduce various things like Scottish Country Dancing to a factory environment. It reminded me of a time when one of my senior managers attempted to get us office-based sales staff to persuade callers to have a more modern telephone by simply offering the staff incentives such as a bottle of wine or similar to the person who ’sold’ the most each month. The orders for more modern telephones went up for a short while, but the manager could not seem to understand why the orders dropped when the incentive scheme was stopped. I have spoken to others working in other industries and found that to a large extent they found the same where they worked. There are exceptions of course, for example like the military, but in that environment there is no nine to five working like in an office, if work needs finishing then every person involved keeps working until it is job done and signed off.

I do think that we can sometimes lose sight of how potentially important our interaction with others can be. We learn to communicate and we may only say a few kind or thoughtful words to someone, but at that moment it may be exactly what that person needs. Equally, harsh words may have an adverse effect. Most of us at some time or another have had moments when we question our own decisions, but a few supportive words can make a world of a difference. A couple I know ended up leaving their partners and marrying each other as they learned to trust their feelings for each other. They now have a child of their own, a life that would not have existed otherwise and who can say what a difference that child or perhaps their offspring might make to the world in the future. Even that person’s interaction with others, which I think is called the ‘ripple’ effect. As the years have passed and I have moved around the Midlands I have met many different people of different races, cultures and creeds. On one occasion I was invited to an event where the guest was Srinivas Arka and I was more involved with one of his charities than I perhaps am now. But this was an event attended predominantly by those of an Asian background, in fact I think I was the only non-Asian attendee. Some folk looked at me, wondering who I was, but I was warmly greeted by several people who knew me. It was a learning experience for me, seeing how different races can be treated and a reminder that we are all human. Sadly there are those who even now still try to have us believe that some humans are, how can I put it, ‘lesser beings’ than others. To my mind, whether you believe in God or not, whether your thoughts on how the Universe began differ from others, whether you find eating certain things upsetting, it is surely down to our individual choice. But we should still all be treated the same. I have said that we are always learning, but I guess that ought to be adjusted in that for most of us we have the capacity to learn. However some do not. Where I am living at the moment I see inmates in this Care Home who have dementia and sadly it is difficult for them to learn. Last year when I was in hospital I could not even turn over in bed without assistance, but I have learned to move again. I had to. There are still some things I cannot do unaided, but thankfully I am learning to walk again and if I can I hope to show others here that we can overcome difficulties, we can learn to adapt to changes as time passes. A friend of mine has need of a hearing aid now, we think it may be as a result of having to spend so much time on the telephone at work! I know it can be hard and we all have proverbial dark days, but I try to have faith that with a positive attitude we will survive for a good while longer and that is fine with me. This beautiful world continues to change, not always in an ideal way but it seems to me that Nature has a habit of restoring a balance, despite those who seem to want to upset it for whatever reason. The Earth does not stop turning, the Sun continues to shine down upon us although at times I read ridiculous questions from folk, like asking whether our moon is hollow, how long it would take us to reach the nearest star and I expect as each new generation appears then similar questions will be asked. Last week I said about how technology was continuing to change and over the years some folk have felt it has not always been for the better! Thankfully we do learn, though sometimes the cost can be quite high. One example is asbestos, it was at first thought to be an excellent material, but it turned out to be a killer if not handled safely. We are coping with the effects of a pandemic, but as I have said there are differences of opinion on how it started and its treatment. But we are doing what we do, we are learning, using different technologies to keep in touch with others, which I believe is important. Quite a number of people now use or are at least aware of Zoom, a video conferencing service we can use to meet virtually with others, whether by video, audio only or both, all whilst conducting live chats. The system also allows these sessions to be recorded for viewing later. I have been looking at quite a few things on YouTube, though much of it I ignore, especially the adverts. Their systems seem to think they’re being helpful! Sometimes they are, for example that is how I learned about Radio Garden, which enables folk to listen to radio stations for free from all around the world. Very clever. I have also found quite a number of ‘live’ web cams, again from around the world and the way the Internet is now there must be much more that I haven’t yet discovered. But it keeps me occupied, reading, writing and above all, learning.

This week, the benefits of a good vocabulary.
I recently called an old engineering friend of mine and asked what he was working on these days. He replied that he was presently working on an aqua-thermal treatment of ceramics, steel and aluminium in a somewhat constrained environment. I was impressed, until I discovered that he was actually in the kitchen doing the washing up under his wife’s supervision…

Click: Return to top of page or Index page

Where On Earth…

In a recent blog post I said how it was that here in the northern hemisphere on Earth we are approaching the longest day of the year and that our days would slowly be getting shorter again. I received a lovely comment on that, but the writer also said how they perhaps didn’t wish to be reminded of this quite yet, as winter seemed to have lasted a little longer this year! I assured them that it just happens and it will be becoming cooler again, just not yet. But as each day follows night and we are refreshed, so also must the Earth itself be refreshed through all the changing seasons. Some lives end, new lives begin and it is a cycle that I hope and pray will continue for a very long time yet. Global time was not managed or organised in the way it is today though, in fact time itself wasn’t known quite as it is now. That is because our measurement of time began with the invention of sundials in ancient Egypt at some point prior to 1500 B.C. However, the time the Egyptians measured was not the same as the time today’s clocks measure. For the Egyptians, and indeed for a great many years after, the basic unit of time was the period of daylight. We all know that time is is of a fixed duration, though as I have said in the past it can seem to drag on sometimes! Now seventy countries change their clocks for Daylight Saving Time, including most of North America, Europe and parts of South America and New Zealand whilst China, Japan, India and most countries near the equator do not. I still like using the terms ’Spring forward’ and ‘Fall back’, so that we remember which way to turn the clocks, although ‘fall’ is of course the American term for Autumn. In the past (and I am going back quite a while now of course) many of the inhabitants here on Earth believed that it was flat and we were the centre of the Universe. Perhaps a little bit like young children think they are, until they start to interact with others. But then so long ago we also began to explore and interact with other races, though not always successfully! In ancient times, people found their way around using various landmarks and rudimentary maps and this worked well locally, but different methods were needed for travelling further afield across featureless terrain such as deserts or seas. Travellers therefore needed a frame of reference to fix their position. Both the Phoenicians (600 B.C.) and the Polynesians (400 A.D.) used the heavens to calculate latitude. It still took a while, but over the centuries increasingly sophisticated devices were designed to measure the height of the sun and stars above the horizon and thereby measure latitude. The first instruments used at sea to measure latitude were the quadrant and the astrolabe, both of which had been used for years by astronomers to measure the inclination of stars. But knowing latitude wasn’t enough, as to determine an exact location you also needed to measure a line of longitude.

Great minds had tried for centuries to develop a method of determining longitude. Hipparchus, a Greek astronomer (190–120 B.C.), was the first to specify location using latitude and longitude as co-ordinates. He proposed a zero meridian passing through Rhodes. He further suggested that absolute time be determined by observing lunar eclipses, measuring the time when a lunar eclipse started and finished, and finding the difference between this absolute time and local time. But his method required an accurate clock, something which had yet to be invented. Then in 1530 Gemma Frisius proposed a new method of calculating longitude using a clock. This clock would be set on departure and kept at absolute time, which could then be compared with the local time on arrival. Unfortunately, sufficiently accurate clocks weren’t going to be available for another two hundred and thirty years or so, but when they were the method Frisius used was shown to work. Calculating exact longitude was not only important for the safety of navigators, but vital for developing sea-borne trade. So in 1567, Philip II of Spain offered a prize to any person who could provide a solution to the problem. This was followed in 1598 by a similar challenge from Philip III, to whom Galileo wrote, telling him that eclipses of Jupiter’s moons would reveal the secret. The King remained unconvinced. In 1667, the Italian astronomer Cassini was persuaded to visit the Academie Royale des Sciences observatory in Paris and as Galileo had suggested, he used Jupiter’s moons to map the world and the eclipses of Jupiter’s moons were timed in Paris using a pendulum clock. In 1681, Cassini travelled to the island of Goree in the West Indies to repeat his measurements. Absolute time was found on the island by observing the eclipses, and this was compared to local time (obtained using the sun), so enabling the island’s longitude to be calculated. So now, the problem of determining longitude on land had been solved, but the method was useless at sea because a ship’s movements made it impossible to time the eclipses of Jupiter’s moons accurately. As a result, in 1714 the English Parliament offered a prize of £20,000 to anyone who could determine longitude at sea to an accuracy of within half a degree, which is two minutes as the Earth rotates three hundred and sixty degrees every twenty-four hours, therefore every one degree of longitude corresponds to four minutes.

Many eminent scientists set to work, but it was an unknown amateur clockmaker from Yorkshire, John Harrison, who rose to the challenge. He saw time as the key and realised that if you could determine local time (from the position of the sun) and the time at some reference point (like Greenwich), you could calculate the time difference between the two. From this, you could work out how far apart the two places were in terms of longitude. The problem was that back then, no timepiece existed which could be set at home and relied on to keep time accurately whilst at sea, because pendulums were notoriously unreliable due to the ship’s movement. It meant that even if local time could be determined from the noonday sun, there was no time to compare it against and this was the problem that Harrison set out to solve. After decades of diligence and many design changes, Harrison eventually produced his marine chronometer, a spring-driven clock that could measure longitude to within the half-degree required for the £20,000 prize. Despite this, he was initially given just half the promised amount. On a voyage from England to Jamaica in 1761–62, his chronometer lost just five seconds in over two months at sea. It was now possible for a navigator to determine local time by measuring high noon, and compare this to the absolute time, which had been set on an accurate chronometer at the start of the voyage. With this information, he could then determine the number of degrees of longitude that he had traversed during his journey. As a result, both latitude and longitude could now be determined accurately in terms of degrees, minutes and seconds and for the first time it was possible to determine exactly where on Earth you were. As time continued to pass, industrial changes were occurring, the railways came and it was realised that a system of regular timekeeping was needed for timetables. By the mid-1850s, almost all public clocks in Britain were set to Greenwich Mean Time and it finally became Britain’s legal standard time in 1880. Then at noon on November 18, 1883, North American railway systems adopted a standardised system of keeping time that used hour-wide time zones. It took many years, but eventually people around the world began using the same timekeeping system.

Math Clock

Technology was and still is continually moving us forward, so many years later the Global Positioning System, or GPS was invented. The first satellite in the system, Navstar 1, was launched on 22 February 1978 and today it is all done electronically through this world-wide radio navigation system made up of a constellation of 24 satellites and their ground stations. These ‘artificial stars’ are used as reference points to calculate a terrestrial position to within an accuracy of a few metres. Then some years later a man working as a concert organiser was struggling to get equipment and bands to musical event locations on time due to inadequate address information. So it was that in 2013, he and three others founded What3Words and the company was incorporated in March 2013 with a patent application for the core technology filed in April 2013. The What3Words system uses a grid of 3 metre by 3 metre squares covering the whole world, with every square given a unique address composed of three words. As of May 2020, the addresses are available in 43 languages according to the What3Words online map, though the addresses are not translations of the same words. Each language uses a word-list of 25,000 words (40,000 in English, as it covers the sea as well as land). The lists have been manually filtered to take account of word length, distinctiveness, frequency, ease of spelling and pronunciation to reduce the potential for confusion and remove offensive words. The system relies on a fixed algorithm in combination with a limited database and the core technology is contained within a file of about 10MB,rather than a large database of every location on earth. The database also assigns more memorable words to locations in urban areas. According to the company this system also distributes similar-sounding three-word combinations around the world to enable both human and automated error-checking, although these claims have been disputed. The result is that if a three-word combination is entered slightly incorrectly and the result is still a valid What3Words reference, then the location will usually be so far away from the user’s intended area that the error will be immediately obvious to both a user and an intelligent error-checking system. In January 2018, Mercedes-Benz bought approximately ten per cent of the company and announced its support in future versions of the Mercedes-Benz User Experience and navigation system. Their A-Class, launched in May 2018, became the first vehicle in the world with What3Words on board. As a result, through scientific advances over very many years, we now have a way of accurate navigation around the whole world.

SatNav

Actually What3Words has proved to be useful for emergency services in finding people, especially in remote areas. Some also use it when meeting family and friends. It is even possible to convert National Grid References to What3Words addresses. I have personally found the system to be quite useful and more detail on how to use and download the it can be found on their website at: https://what3words.com/how-to-use-the-what3words-app whilst the main website is: what3words.com
You might want to click on the following few examples:
Westward Ho!, North Devon, U.K.: w3w.co/slang.precautions.powder
Taj Mahal, India: w3w.co/forgives.shed.mixes
Opera House, Sydney, Australia: w3w.co/family.handy.crisis
Cathedral Square, Peterborough: w3w.co/actual.called.grain
McDonalds, Leicester: w3w.co/plans.images.gates

To close this week…
Life can be all about consequences. As a youngster I was taught to fish and I would go float fishing in our local river, though I rarely caught anything as I found it difficult to spot when the float moved after a fish had taken the bait. But it passed the time, I was out in the fresh air, it was quiet and relaxing for me. On one occasion though I forgot to empty the plastic box of unused maggots before going home, so a couple of days later I opened the box and a few flies flew! I swiftly dealt with them and after that I always fed the fish with the unused maggots before I headed home. Buying more maggots was far better than upsetting mum…

Passing Through Difficult Times

I have been thinking. Yes, I’m afraid so. But it can happen! Here we all are in this beautiful world and (I hope!) slowly emerging from the pandemic. But it isn’t the first one that has occurred, as there have been quite a few others. There are some who still question whether this one was real, but there are many who do not believe things unless they see it for themselves. I have no doubt that all will be revealed in due time, scholars will look back giving us all logical answers to these ideas. Some focus their minds on such global issues, whilst others prefer to concentrate on other things like a favourite sport. No matter what it is, whether it be nature, world politics, formula one motor racing, golf, soccer or whatever I am sure that changes will occur. It may only be to do with transfers between all the various clubs and teams in various sports, but things do get sorted out with rule changes, with new ideas, new technology and new designs. As I have said quite a few times to folk now, the one constant in this Universe is change. I now spend a bit of time looking at the messages people send in online to various websites and I do wonder if a few have either skipped school or did not think through their questions before posting them. What I do like to see are the replies, as for the most part these are done in quite a positive way and not patronising. Sharing knowledge and truth is important and I am trying to do what I can with that. It isn’t an easy time for anyone, but whatever the circumstances I have tried to maintain a positive outlook on my life by remembering the past, not dwelling on it but trying to learn from it. As I wrote on Facebook the other day, some things in our world remain the same whilst other things are constantly changing. Coping with this adds to the pages in our individual book of life. We should not be repeatedly turning back these pages and re-reading them, but remembering they are there and using them for reference when necessary. That is how we learn and develop. Staying focussed in the present enables us to look forward into the future, but sadly there are some who, for a variety of reasons, are either unwilling or unable to let go of the past or learn from their past experiences. There have even been those who expect the world to change for them, rather than adapting, learning to compromise even just a tiny amount and in recent years I have known a few folk exactly like that. I am saddened by such selfish attitudes, no matter how they have developed. I wrote last year about learning to cope and the same is still all true. We adapt, we change, even if it is for a short while until present circumstances alter. But we do not forget who we are. Where I am now is the perfect place for me right now but things change and we survive by adapting. I am alive, I am being very well looked after and I appreciate that very much. But I am still me, I am not losing my individuality, I still retain whatever it is that makes me who I am. Perhaps one of the hardest things to adapt to though are the changes in routines, the ones we are comfortable with. Some folk like the comfort of their surroundings, they like being with the same people, animals as well as collectibles and they can find it difficult to adapt to the smallest of changes, even for just a short time.

Then there is the actual passage of time. Though of course time itself is an interesting concept. It is a constant, and yet it can seem to be a variable. When we were young, it often flew by. As I have said before, when it seemed to drag we either found or were found things to keep us busy. Except that could allow us to be led astray and into doing things that got us into trouble. Where I grew up it was a small town and my dad was a local schoolteacher, so everyone knew our family. It meant that for myself and my two elder brothers it was in our best interests for us to behave! I have said on a few occasions how I was taught to keep myself occupied and it still works for me. I have said about my enjoyment in putting together a whole range of plastic stick-together kits, usually of aircraft but I did then progress to the large sailing ships. Some manufacturers put two aircraft together, calling them ‘dogfight doubles’ and in this way I learned about the aircraft types in both World Wars. It was a clever way to learn about the past, but remembering also that time is always moving forward. My writings have recalled past memories of things perhaps long forgotten, both for me and others. I realise there are those who prefer to forget times long since past but those memories too are part of what makes us who we are. I was once married but am long since divorced. I can still recall those years, but do not dwell on the memories, merely acknowledge them as being part of me, of my life’s history. Just so long as we are able to keep our minds clearly focussed on reality and not be drawn into fantasy, we can enjoy our lives along with our family and friends around us. To take a quote from the Bible, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” (~ 1 Corinthians 13:11) So I can think back to the toys I had as a child, I remember the games I played and the funny cartoons which entertained me. I learned new words through reading, I learned of humour through jokes, along with their spellings and meanings, all these things helped me in the art of conversation and good communication with others. As many of you know I am quite a Star Trek fan and I have been for a great many years, so it is fascinating to see how we as children marvelled at things like their flip-up communicators which became reality in almost no time at all. Did the idea for them come from Star Trek? Perhaps. I also see the old ‘Thunderbirds’ series and then look at the Space Shuttle. There are in this world a great many inventors, but there are also a many developers who see the original idea and adapt it. I have said about retaining our own individuality and character, but in the Star Trek science fiction series we are introduced to the Borg, whose well-known phrase when approaching another starship was “We are the Borg. Lower your shields and surrender your ships. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us.” I have read recently of something called a ’new world order’ but there may be some who always wish to control, to have things done their way and no other. This is not a new idea, as over the years that us humans have been on Earth, many have tried to conquer others, it just seems to be an ongoing thing. Interestingly Gene Rodenberry, the creator of Star Trek, considered that one day there would be a United Federation of Planets, with Earth as a member. He considered that on Earth there would be no wars, we would all live together in peace, helping each other. Perhaps one day we will achieve that and I hope we will, but I’ll not hold my breath on that one right now.

So how do we manage through these times? I know the difference that it has made to me being able to remain in contact with friends over the past eighteen months. Also having people around me has been and still is a blessing. Some might say not an ideal scenario, a Care Home with some inmates who have dementia, but they each have their individuality and character, even if they do present difficulties for the Carers sometimes. Dementia it seems affects folk in different ways, some more than others. I know some inmates crave attention like two-year old children, with them as the centre of the Universe and wanting everything revolving around themselves, but they are treated calmly, politely, gently but firmly and rarely do we hear any temper tantrums! For those of you on the ‘outside’ who have been unable to go to work, ways have been found around that issue and I believe many are enjoying the freedom that provides. But keeping in touch with folk is vital, as I keep saying. There are groups that meet online via ‘Zoom’ or similar, they might be sewing or knitting circles, computer clubs, I know one group who recently held their annual general meeting online as it was the only way. I have been on a few calls with the student groups that I am connected with at Leicester Medical School but we are all done now for their summer break. I am a member of a local u3a group and whilst I haven’t been doing too much with them due to my health, I am doing what I can. A friend of mine is learning a language, just as I am doing, for me it is slow going but still fun. I mentioned this in January and I am still keeping on with it! That actually pleases me as I wondered if I might lose interest, but it really does seem that the more we learn, the more we find there is to learn. It can be seen as a huge jigsaw puzzle, with seemingly unrelated pieces dropping into place and all of a sudden you see part of a picture emerging! That is how it seems to me, anyway.

On a more personal note it has been relatively hot here recently and I have not been at my best, in fact a doctor was called. I have been on a course of antibiotics, I am having soothing creams applied to the parts I cannot easily reach (well, I am in a Care Home!) and a dear friend did ask me one time if it was the soothing cream or the soothing touch as it was being applied that I enjoyed! I have not replied to her on that one!!! So I have been taking things a bit easy. It means that this week’s writing may be slightly shorter than usual, but I already have ideas for next week.

For now…
I don’t dream that often, but just remember – when you dream in colour, it’s a pigment of your imagination.

Click: Return to top of page or Index page

Health, Safety And Security

In 1969 I left school and began working for Post Office Telephones. Right from the day that I started I had to learn about such things as health, safety and security. I was taught where to find out the details of these things and this was in addition to being trained how to do my job. We held a copy of the relevant instructions in our office and for a few years one part of my job included keeping our paper copies kept up to date, filing the updates and destroying the old items securely. It meant that I could learn of the changes as they occurred. I knew the details of the various buildings, I learned the basic structure, layout and hierarchy of people and places. In those days we didn’t have computers in the office, no Internet, our work was all on paper. As a result there were many different forms, some of them dating back to World War II, when a department within the UK Government called the Ministry of Works was formed in order to organise the requisitioning of property for wartime use. After the war, the ministry kept responsibility for government building projects. In 1962 it was renamed the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works, and acquired the extra responsibility of monitoring the government building industry as well as taking over the works departments from the War Office, Air Ministry and the Admiralty. Then in 1970 the ministry was absorbed into the Department of the Environment (DoE), although from 1972 most former works functions were transferred to the largely autonomous Property Services Agency (PSA). As I write, I can still imagine Sir Humphrey Appleby from the ‘Yes Minister’ and ‘Yes Prime Minister’ tv series delighting in all these changes! Sadly I can still remember many of the forms I used from those days, so clearly my training was well done. It meant that I was a Civil Servant, for a few months at least and when the Post Office became a Corporation on October 1, 1969 it seemed the majority of the rules and regulations we all had to follow didn’t change. I was bound by the Official Secrets Act and I still am, even though I stopped being in the employ of British Telecom after July 31, 2007. Time passed, technology progressed and a few years later much of my work entailed filling in many pre-printed cards which were then sent to a computer centre for processing. After a couple of years I was moved to a different department, still filling in forms by hand, just different ones. But a while later forms were discarded and computers took their place, which pleased a few folk as me being left-handed, my writing wasn’t the best! With all these computer terminals, for security reasons a ‘grade’ structure was still in place and each person was given their own key which plugged in to the terminal. This was to determine the level of access the user was allowed. Some keys allowed data entry, whilst others enabled backup and some other system features. It was all very well done. In time systems changed and this old key system was discarded. Also in my early days, first-line managers and those above were addressed formally, especially my own manager who was an ex-army major. In his eyes, rules were meant to be followed and orders obeyed without question but then perhaps politely enquired about afterwards, as a training exercise. He was someone who expected you to be alert to his commands at all times and that taught me a great deal. It was also where I learned that if something was wrong, to always speak up. If I saw it and didn’t say anything, let’s just say that it wasn’t in my best interest! For quite a while even office furniture was provided in the old Civil Service manner, so it amused me that where I worked, the basic grade (Clerical Assistant) was allowed a chair without arms, whilst the grade above (Clerical Officer) was allowed a chair with arms. Senior managers had larger desks, too. When I first started work, the site where my office was consisted of the telephone exchange, the adjacent office building and a yard that had a postal sorting office. But then Post Office Telephones became separated from the postal side and the old postal yard had a new building erected on it when the telephone exchange needed to be expanded. Peterborough itself was growing and new settlements meant more telephones as well as equipment to handle the extra call traffic. Within the complex we had a good Safety Officer, though some folk weren’t always too happy to see him as he ensured that rules were strictly followed. It is where I learned about such things as the foolishness of propping open fire doors with fire extinguishers! But we still see that occurring. Whilst I was working for the firm there were fire drills and on occasions the alarms would sound but our exit to one staircase would be deliberately blocked. So our fire warden would lead us to the alternative fire exit. These drills were and still are very important, as one day they could be for real and lives saved.

Most if not all of us have travelled at various times by land, sea or air, when we take driving lessons we are made aware of the many signs and signals. Those of us who have travelled by air are aware of the safety drills that are shown to us as the aircraft is making its way out to the runway, like wearing safety belts, no smoking and emergency exits. On all trains there are many, even numerous safety signs, but I am unsure whether too many people pay them all that much attention. I have noticed the changes in routines on trains, as over a period of time technology has required alterations to train staff procedures when both approaching and leaving stations. Carriage doors are now kept secure and locked until the train is at a standstill and locked a good few seconds before the train can then leave for its next stop. It isn’t so long ago that the doors could still be opened manually even after a train had begun to move, thus enabling passengers to scramble on at the very last minute, but I am not aware of that being allowed nowadays! I have already written in previous blog posts about my lovely cruise, but one of the things which impressed me with that cruise was the care and efficiency that everything was done. It seemed that everyone had a dual role, in some cases a triple role for getting passengers and their luggage along with the various provisions on board, then getting passengers to their cabins and looking after them, as well as what to do when assisting passengers ashore. Staff would also know what to do in emergencies. It seems that cruises may be starting up again, but I think we still need to be careful as travelling to and from some countries is not easy at the moment. During our present difficulties, getting bored can be a bit of a problem and there is an old saying that “The devil makes work for idle hands” so I try to keep occupied. We all know that the more we learn, the more we find there is to learn and I have mentioned before how it was that my parents taught me to keep busy and to learn, thus doing the things that I enjoyed. It is still the same now and I am enjoying all this writing! But I am researching too, still learning, sometimes reminding myself as well as others of times past. We can so easily allow things from our past to be forgotten. We say that when a loved one passes away, they are never truly gone whilst at least one person remembers them and the good they did, whether they were our parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers, friends or neighbours. I saw the other day on Facebook how one person was asking what to me was a simple thing that I thought everyone would know, but they really did not. Then I recalled a time when students I had been talking to about early computers began to question my recollection of the memory capacity on my very first home computer. It genuinely was 1k, or 1,024 bytes! But as with all these things, old knowledge and skills can so easily be lost. In terms of knowledge, much is written down but skills, tips, tricks that we might never think of should surely be shared with others. For example there is a really clever trick to maintaining the accuracy of the striking clock in St. Stephen’s Tower, which is situated at the north end of the Palace of Westminster in London. A great many people still refer to it as Big Ben, even though that is actually the nickname for the Great Bell within the tower. The original name of this tower was simply the Clock Tower but it was renamed the Elizabeth Tower in 2012 to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. The trick relates to placing old coins on the clock mechanism as balance weights to keep the time accurate. These are coins used prior to the decimalisation of UK currency which took place on February 15, 1971 and it seems the weight of these old coins works perfectly! To me, this sort of knowledge and skill needs to be remembered. Memory is important and we do find individual ways of remembering things. I know that I am going a bit ‘off subject’ here, but I feel it is very well worth me mentioning at this point that on Facebook I see what at first seem to be innocuous questions being asked and it is good that we remember these things. But revealing the name of your first pet or similar items of information is not something I approve of as these are often used as ‘security’ questions when changing website passwords! Especially your mother’s maiden name. Something to perhaps be mindful of please.

Security Questions

As part of my research I have found more and more ‘live’ online web cams, cameras showing places all around this beautiful world. Some of these are dedicated to specific interests like train spotting, others are for security but many are just there for folk to simply watch and even chat with each other. One I have found shows the hovercraft service from Ryde on the Isle of Wight to the mainland and even there a very strict, safe and secure process is followed. On arrival from the mainland, the passenger exit gate remains closed until the twin fan blades on the engines of the hovercraft come to a complete stop. When all is secure, the hovercraft’s hatches are opened and the passengers are allowed to disembark. Then about five minutes before the craft is due to depart back to the mainland, the next set of passengers are allowed to leave the departure lounge and get on board. At the correct time, the hatches are closed and inspected. When all is secure, a siren is sounded from the craft. A member of staff walks to a point where they are a safe distance from the rear of the hovercraft and they can see there is nothing behind it. A signal is given, the engines are started, the twin fans rotate, and then the craft raises itself into the hover and slides over the beach and onto the sea, where it departs across the water to the mainland. Sadly it is easy to forget a simple routine and that can be when accidents occur. It is often something just as simple as a cloth to clean up water from a wet floor as soon as it is seen. I am sure we all know 999 as the telephone number of the emergency services here in the UK as well as 111, the NHS Helpline number. We are glad of them when they are needed, which is usually when we least expect it.

Emergency Services UK Distribution

Whichever office I worked in, I tried to make sure I kept up to date with the changes in the processes and procedures, knowing where the emergency exits were and who to contact. In fact there were times when audits were done when I would be called upon to talk one-to-one with an auditor. I would be asked what I would do in this or that circumstance, who I would advise if necessary and where would I go to find out the correct procedure. I was able to do that. There was one occasion when I saw a person walking along an office corridor who I did not know and who was not displaying any identification, not even a ‘visitor’ badge. Although visitors were not supposed to wander unaccompanied around that building anyway! So I politely stopped him and asked who he was. His reply was a rather rude “Don’t you know who I am?”. I assured him that I did not and he said he wanted to talk to my manager about me. I assured him that suited me and off we went. I politely escorted him to my manager’s desk, explained why I had brought this person to my manager’s attention and he thanked me. For all I knew, the person I had stopped might have been doing a security check of the building! Time passes, I still see some silly instances where folk haven’t done what I know they should have, most times without incident but occasionally with tragic consequences. With me now being in a Care Home and recovering from heart problems as well as this Covid-19 business I have kept myself occupied. Sadly it seems that some folk here simply let our beautiful world turn, they let time pass, some not able to distinguish when it is time for either breakfast, lunch or dinner. So it is a stressful time for the Carers, making sure that everyone is attended to in as polite and dignified way as possible. Our needs are different, mine are not perhaps as demanding as some of the other inmates, but I am having to come to terms with the fact that I do need help at times. All of the staff here manage very well, making sure that our individual needs are attended to. Most of all though our health, safety and security are maintained. Though it was frustrating for me when the Internet service here stopped working for a little while! So I went for ‘Plan B’. I read a book and listened to some music! Services were restored after a while.

It is now June, so it will not be too long before the longest day reaches this part of our world and the days begin to grow shorter once more. To me our lives are a continuing journey and as I sit looking out of the window to the gardens below, I am reminded of the following:
“A flower does not know the lives it brightens, but it shares its life with all who wish to enjoy its splendour.” ~ Unknown.

Click: Return to top of page or Index page

Trains And Boats And Planes

In the latter part of 1952 there was a heavy smog in London, resulting in pollution issues and this severely affected my mother’s health as well as mine. So, after I was born the following year, we simply had to move from there. My dad was offered a teaching job in Whittlesey that included use of the school house, so it was an ideal choice. We had relatives and friends in London and they visited us from time to time and we would do the same when we could, but during school holidays of course. Travelling to and from London in the car we had back in the late fifties and early sixties was fun for me, but it must have been tiring for my dear dad as the A1 was a dual carriageway at best in those days, not a motorway! Because one of my uncles worked on the engineering side of what is now British Airways, when I was felt to be old enough permission was given for me to have a look around a Boeing 707 that was in for service. It was most definitely a guided tour, but I got to sit in the pilot’s seat! My paternal grandparents were by then coming up to retirement and having visited us a few times in Whittlesey, they liked the place so much that they made their visit permanent, which I think may have surprised my parents. My elder brothers, being a few years older than me, were quite naturally off out with their circle of friends, whilst I preferred to keep myself amused. Both my parents were good, I was taught to read and found it a source of enjoyment. Being left-handed meant my writing wasn’t brilliant, but we all worked on that and I found setting the paper at an angle helped, it suited me. I have seen other left-handers manage in different ways, some by almost writing backwards. I was bought stick-together kits, but I was taught to read the instructions first and then identify all of the parts before starting the assembly process. A logical thing to do in my view. The good thing was that in most cases the parts were numbered. Then it was always a good idea to follow the assembly process in the correct sequence, although some instructions used pictures rather than words, which I personally didn’t think helped. Sometimes it could be a bit frustrating when I wanted to see the item all finished, so that may be one of the reasons why kit-makers put lovely pictures on the boxes! But all this taught me much, because I learned patience. As I write, I am reminded of a time just a few years ago when I and a couple of others were helping a good friend assemble a small occasional table which had glass shelves. One person did not want to bother to read the instructions and insisted he knew what he was doing. We ended up having to stop half way through, take the unit apart and reassemble it in the proper sequence just as detailed in the instructions, so that the shelves would all fit in. Instructions are written for a reason! I went on from aircraft kits to the complicated old ships such as the Cutty Sark, Endeavour and HMS Victory. I would make much of the rigging out of black cotton and my dear mum kept the models I made for a great many years. Doing things in the proper order taught me much. I have watched quite a few programmes on television about the care and maintenance of both steam and diesel-powered trains and it really is very important to do things the way they are meant to be done, I also have good friends who have worked on aircraft and they feel the same way, as lives are at risk if things are not done as they should be. I am thankful for the good teaching I have had, right from an early age. Mind you, with my dear dad as a teacher it was always in my interest to listen! For me, going to school was quite easy at first with us living where we did as I would simply go out from our back door, across the yard, through a side gate and there I was, in the playground. There was never any chance of me being late for school! We had visits from family and friends and as I have mentioned in earlier blog posts I would enjoy being taken down the road to the train station. I have never lost my enjoyment of watching trains, but I do not bother to write down their numbers or anything like that. Steam, diesel or whatever, it was and still is a source of wonderment to see, hear and smell these huge beasts passing by, rattling over the points and commanding right of way as cars and other road vehicles are made to give way to them. I was taught from an early age that the journey to and from is all part of the holiday, though I do wonder sometimes if that wasn’t partly to stop the “are we there yet?” from the back seat. But it did work! So I thoroughly enjoyed going on holiday, especially if it was a day out to Hunstanton and we stopped at the level crossing in Kings Lynn. I vividly recall one delightful time when we stopped at that level crossing in Kings Lynn and I saw my first diesel shunter engine, with bright yellow and black stripes on the front of it! Then a bypass was put in and we went nowhere near that railway crossing. We preferred Hunstanton to Skegness, I am not sure why. Perhaps it was the cliff walks over to Old Hunstanton, with its lovely old lighthouse as it was followed by a walk back to the main town and if I could I’d spend time on the pier in the amusement arcade. I became quite adept at working some of the machines in there, getting to know when pennies would be likely to drop in a machine like the ones used now in the tv series Tipping Point. Just along from the arcade was a cafe and we would call in for a bite to eat. It was a delight to have a cup of coffee as well as a bacon sandwich there! Just across the road from the cafe was the railway station. We never used that service, but I was saddened when that train line was closed down. My research has taught me that Hunstanton railway station was the northern terminus of the Lynn and Hunstanton Railway and the line was brought to public notice by Sir John Betjeman (28 August 1906 – 19 May 1984) in the 1962 British Transport film ‘John Betjeman Goes By Train’. This is a ten-minute documentary film as he travels by train from Kings Lynn railway station, pointing out various sights and stopping off at Wolferton station on the Sandringham Estate, then Snettisham station where he extols the virtues of rural branch-line stations. Wolferton was originally opened as Wolverton in 1862 and re-named Wolferton in 1863. Snettisham was only ever used for carrying passengers, whilst Wolferton and Hunstanton were used for freight until 1964. Hunstanton became unstaffed in 1966 and all three were closed for passenger use on 5 May 1969, when the line itself was closed. We had the occasional holiday on a caravan site in Hunstanton – ‘Golden Sands’, I think it was called. There was even a small boating lake, with some rowing boats. I couldn’t manage those, but there were a few electrically-powered motor boats and they were fun for me!

The Lynn And Hunstanton Railway

I have recounted in earlier blog posts about the family holidays we had in Devon and Cornwall. This was partly because we liked the area and partly because we had relatives that way. We had also made friends with people who owned a garage in the area so when Mum and Dad celebrated their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary down there these friends laid on a special meal for them. In time both my parents retired and they began travelling a little more, going first to Guernsey, then another year over to Jersey and they returned each time with such glowing reports that one year I did the same. I drove down to London, stayed over at my aunt and uncle’s then went to Heathrow airport. I was checked in and all went well, except for the weather, which was awful. The flight was delayed and so we waited, but eventually we were put on a coach and driven down to Southampton. We took off from there in a turbo-prop aircraft, a few passengers weren’t too happy as it was a bit bumpy to begin with, but we were soon clear of that. I enjoyed the flight as well as the holiday, it was just one week but it was the break I needed. I went on a trip to Sark, too. So a couple of years later I went to Jersey and did the real ’tourist’ thing, I went on tours around the island, I also sampled the local brew and found out that even though it was served in a small bottle, it really was very strong stuff! Quite relaxing, but I ended up with a rather thick head the following morning! Then work became a priority and for a while I was tending towards living to work, rather than working to live. So I began having an occasional holiday away on my own, one being a leisurely break away up to the Lake District. I started out from home, drove over to Wolverhampton to see friends there, then it was straight up the motorway to Kendal. I did each place a day at a time, I would drive to my next planned stop, find a hotel or inn to stay at for the night and then explore, never booking in advance. I did this for a few days, visiting Windermere, Grasmere, Buttermere and Penrith before returning to Wolverhampton. Then it was over to Coventry the next day for a look around the cathedral and finally back to Peterborough. For me it was a true holiday, taking my time all the way. I did similar holidays on my own in Wales, but then marriage meant I was doing many miles to South Wales as at the time my ex still had a house near Bridgend. I had been able to get a better car by then but I wore it out, putting over 100,000 miles on the clock in almost no time at all! We even honeymooned in Portugal and that was quite a change. Whilst there I was enticed into hiring a car so that we could travel around a little, but this meant driving on the opposite side of the road as well as operating the gear lever with my right hand! But I did it. One thing I wasn’t prepared for though related to the quality of the roads there. The main driving surface was all right, but the edges were really rough so it was a good idea to stay on the tarmac and not go near the edge. On one occasion we went over to Seville in Spain, going on an organised coach trip. Seville had some great sights, for me the best was the guided tour around the cathedral there.

Then work meant a good deal of travelling and money was short for a while but circumstances do change and it came about that I could finally afford a holiday abroad – really abroad, not just over to Belgium, the Channel Islands or to Portugal. Many of my work colleagues were taking holidays here, there and everywhere and then the opportunity came for me. I had flown a few times by now, but this time it was a real flight. My aunt and uncle were not in a position to put me up the night before and it would not have been fair for me to even ask them so I really did the absolute full ’tourist’ bit. I booked my holiday well in advance, I drove down to London Heathrow and left my car in the secure car park of the hotel. Early the following morning I was whisked off by taxi to Heathrow airport and was checked in. Security was gone through and I flew off to Philadelphia. I had chosen that place in preference to New York because the latter seemed too commercial and crowded from what I had read and heard, but it was mainly because I had a friend in Philadelphia and we could meet up. I went by taxi to my hotel, checked in and found that the bar & restaurant area had a ‘London, England’ theme! Even to the bright red telephone kiosk. I just laughed, I could not get away from BT! I saw a few good sights, including the famous Liberty Bell, I met my friend and as so often happens the time went by far too quickly. As I mentioned in a blog a few weeks ago, I then had yet another holiday in the U.S.A. some two years later, seeing the sights of both Washington D.C. and Orlando. What was interesting was that despite flying from Heathrow to Washington then on to Orlando, it seemed that my point of exit from the United States was to be the same as my point of entry. So I was flown back to Washington and only then on to Heathrow. I made sure that I handed in all of the appropriate documentation in the correct place, so the relevant authorities would know I had in fact left the country in a proper and legal manner. I was told that this was a very important thing to do if I wanted to be allowed in again at any time in the future! Over previous weeks I have detailed my lovely long cruise and so I really have travelled the world (well, not all, but a fair bit) by car, train, boat and plane. Right now, travelling isn’t exactly easy for any of us for a variety of reasons but things change. I have been watching a webcam of the hovercraft service from the Isle of Wight to the mainland – but that tale is for another day…

Fire Trucks On Parade, Philadelphia.

This week…
Notice seen inside the back of an ambulance:
“If you have a preferred route, please inform your driver at the start of the journey.”

Click: Return to top of page or Index page