We Are The Same But Different

The human race as it exists today are, in very broad terms, all the same, as biologically we are ‘Homo sapiens’. Yet we are also very slightly different, each and every single one of us, even twins and other multiple births, especially as we grow and develop. Humans are the most abundant and widespread species of primate on Earth, our basic structure comprising a main body containing various organs for supporting life as well as holding the basic skeletal frame. Attached to it are feet and legs, enabling the body to move around and two arms and hands to reach out and grab anything, from food to tools to hand-holds that may be helpful. On top of the body is a head, containing other organs that enable sight and sound, taste, smell as well as the ingestion of food and drink. It incorporates breathing, allowing bodily fluids like blood to receive life-giving oxygen and expel unwanted gases. Also in the head is the brain, which controls the whole system, even whilst the body is at rest. The brain has also enabled the development of advanced tools, culture and language. We are highly social beings and tend to live in complex social structures composed of many cooperating and competing groups, from family and kinship networks to political states. Social interactions between humans have established a wide variety of values, social states and rituals which generally bolster human society but also give rise to war-like conditions at times and at various levels. Curiosity and the human desire to understand and influence the environment and to explain as well as manipulate phenomena have motivated the human development of science, philosophy, religion, mythology and other fields of knowledge. Research suggests that Homo sapiens emerged around 300,000 years ago on Earth, evolving from ‘Homo heidelbergensis’ and migrating out of Africa, gradually replacing local populations of archaic humans. For most of our history all humans have been nomadic hunter-gatherers, but the Neolithic Revolution which began in South-west Asia around 13,000 years ago saw the emergence of agriculture and permanent human settlement. As populations have become larger and denser, various forms of governance have developed within and between communities and a number of civilisations have risen and fallen. Humans have continued to expand, with a global population of over 7.9 billion in July 2021.

Genes and the environment have influenced human biological variation in visible characteristics, physiology, disease susceptibility, mental abilities, body size and life span. Though humans vary in many ways such as genetic and physical features, humans on average are over 99% similar, with the most genetically diverse populations from Africa. In terms of gender, at birth humans usually occur in or represent one of two distinct forms with certain features. At puberty, they then develop secondary sex characteristics where only the male makes the necessary development in order to fertilise the female, whilst only the female is capable of pregnancy and undergo menopause, then becoming infertile around the age of 50 years. The actual nature of male and female gender roles has varied historically, and many challenges to a predominant gender have recurred in different societies over the years. In terms of sustenance, we are omnivorous, capable of consuming a wide variety of both plant and animal material, we have used fire and other forms of heat to prepare and cook our food for a great many years. We can survive for up to eight weeks without food and three or four days without water. Human lives are generally characterised by activity during the day, with a period of sleep or general inactivity at night. Having said that, over a period of years technology has altered that. On average we sleep around seven to nine hours per day. Childbirth is dangerous, with a high risk of complications and death and often both the mother and the father provide care for their children, who are quite helpless at birth. Within our brain we have a large and highly developed prefrontal cortex, the region of the brain associated with higher functions. We are quite intelligent beings, capable of retaining information for either a short time in our short-term memory, also known as primary or active memory and having it readily available for a short period of time. Then there is our long-term memory which is divided between semantic and episodic memory. Our semantic memory refers to the general world knowledge that we have accumulated throughout our lives and this general knowledge, comprising facts, ideas, meaning and concepts is intertwined in experience and dependent on our culture. It is distinct from episodic memory, which is how we store and recall our experiences and specific events that occur during our lives, from which we can recreate at any given point. For instance, semantic memory might contain information about what a cat is, whereas episodic memory might contain a specific memory of petting a particular cat. The latter is also of usual, everyday events such as times, location geography, associated emotions and other contextual information that can be explicitly stated or conjured. It is the collection of past, personal experiences which occurred at particular times and places, for example the party on your tenth birthday. It amazes me how powerful this capability is, but here in the Care Home I am in at present I can also see the direct effects on individuals when some of it is lost. From my research I have learned that the term “episodic memory” was coined by Endel Tulving in 1972, referring to the distinction between remembering and knowing, with remembering a feeling that is located in the past, whilst knowing is of course actual factual recollection.

Memory Lane

But in addition to comprehension of memory, we have a self-awareness of ourselves and the world around us although to imagine just how vast our world, our universe, actually is I think is for the most part beyond us. However the human mind is capable of introspection, of private thought and imagination. We can form views on existence and sadly over the years some have used this capacity for their own ends, having others believe things that are completely untrue despite them being presented with logical facts. Having said that, our brains have enabled some to make great technological advancements and complex tool development possible through reason and the transmission of knowledge to future generations. Language, art and trade are defining characteristics of humans and long-distance trade routes may have led to cultural explosions and resource distribution that have given humans an advantage over other similar species. The down-side to that though may have also helped to create the health problems we have experienced in the past, such as measles, polio, mumps etc and which we are experiencing today with Covid-19. I have no doubt that more changes will occur in the future. Back in Biblical times they may not have known about DNA, but it is clear that they learned that interbreeding was not the thing to do and often problems such as deformities could occur, though I believe Nature did and does still play a part in managing that. If we look back over even the last few hundred or so years, I believe many families bore many more children than we do now because it was expected that some simply would not survive. As a child in the church choir I would listen to to vicar’s sermon on a Sunday, but if I couldn’t follow it I would read the prayer book and on one occasion I found an item called ‘A Table of Kindred and Affinity wherein whosoever are related are forbidden by the Church of England to marry together.’ There it states that no man or woman may marry people they are directly related to by blood and it gives a list of such relationships. So even before we knew about our blood and such things to the level we do now, it was known that certain things should not be done. Scientists will continue to research, learn and develop new knowledge as well as skills but it should surely continue to be for the greater good of all life, of all things on this planet. We owe it to ourselves and future generations not to be selfish and to remember who and what has gone on before us. We cannot know what will occur in the future but we can at the very least be mindful of how much we owe to the past. As I have said before, this is a transitory life and no-one can live on Earth forever but no matter what our colour, creed, belief or our location, we are all human and an integral part of all that which exists on this planet.

This week my writings are a little shorter than usual, I have not been at my best so a doctor put me on a course of antibiotics and I am much better now. But as a result, I have been sleeping a bit more than usual and that happens with me! So this week I will close with what I think is a useful reminder for us all.

Learning to live.
One day, the donkey spoke to the tiger.
The donkey told the tiger, “The grass is blue.”
The tiger replied, “No, the grass is green.”
The discussion became heated, and the two decided to submit the issue to arbitration, so they approached the lion.
As they approached the lion on his throne, the donkey started screaming:
”Your Highness, isn’t it true that the grass is blue?”
The lion replied: “If you believe it is true, the grass is blue.”
The donkey rushed forward and continued: “The tiger disagrees with me, contradicts me and annoys me. Please punish him.”
The king then declared: “The tiger will be punished with 3 days of silence.”
The donkey jumped with joy and went on his way, content and repeating
“The grass is blue, the grass is blue…”
The tiger asked the lion, “Your Majesty, why have you punished me, after all, the grass is green?”
The lion replied, “You have known and seen that the grass is green.”
The tiger asked, “So why do you punish me?”
The lion replied, “That has nothing to do with the question of whether the grass is blue or green. The punishment is because it is degrading for a brave, intelligent creature like you to waste time arguing with an ass, and on top of that, you came and bothered me with that question just to validate something you already knew was true.”

The biggest waste of time is arguing with the fool and fanatic who doesn’t care about truth or reality, but only the victory of their beliefs and illusions. Never waste time on discussions that make no sense. There are people who, for all the evidence presented to them, do not have the ability to understand. Others who are blinded by ego, hatred and resentment, and the only thing that they want is to be right even if they aren’t.
When ignorance screams, intelligence moves on.

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Our Earth

We all have differing interests as we grow up and one of mine has been, in fact still is, my interest in outer space, our world and how we live. I am most definitely a Star Trek fan and in that series, humans were referred to rather appropriately as ‘carbon-based life-forms’. That is because life on Earth is based on carbon, perhaps because (so I have learned) that each carbon atom can form bonds with up to four other atoms simultaneously. That is a bit technical for me, but it seems that because of that, carbon is well-suited to form the long chains of molecules which then serve as the basis for life as we know it, such as proteins and DNA. In fact, research by some earth scientists at Rice University suggests that virtually all of Earth’s life-giving carbon could have come from a collision about 4.4 billion years ago between this Earth and an embryonic planet similar to Mercury. Science fiction has long imagined alien worlds inhabited by other life, but based on other elements. One example are the rock-eating Horta, a silicon-based life form as featured in the original Star Trek series. Also in that series, Mr Spock has green blood because the oxygen-carrying agent in Vulcan blood includes copper, rather than iron, as is the case in humans. For us here, carbon is the backbone of each and every known biological molecule. Happily we have air to breathe, but most of the time we cannot see it. We know it is a mixture of different gases and in terms of volume, the dry air in our Earth’s atmosphere is about 78.09 percent nitrogen, 20.95 percent oxygen, and 0.93 percent argon. A brew of trace gases accounts for the other 0.03 percent, including the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone. Whilst air is mostly gas, it also holds lots of tiny particles. Some, like dust and pollen, are picked up naturally when the wind blows but the air can also carry particles that cause air pollution, such as the soot, smoke, and other pollutants from car exhausts and power plants. When there are too many particles in the air, it can be difficult for plants and animals to breathe. My parents were made aware of that during the Great Smog in London in 1952, which affected my mother so badly we had to move from there the following year. It was also a contributory factor to my development. We all know from school that we all need to breathe, just as plants and animals do, but Nature keeps this good and healthy balance. As we breathe, we give off carbon dioxide, then plants use this gas, along with sunlight, to make food through the process of photosynthesis and in this way plants give off oxygen. That’s the basic science lesson!

When I was at school, I soon found that sport wasn’t something I enjoyed too much. But others did, in fact a few went on to county championships and I believe some got into playing professional football. Others went on to working in local factories, I know of one who became a teacher and then headmaster at a Peterborough school. We had one lad who was something of a bully and it must have been for show, as he became an actor, though I do not think they were big acting parts. Some of my school colleagues did stay local, they met and married locally and found jobs fairly close by. Then there were others who I have learned went far and wide, up to Scotland, in addition some went to Australia and the U.S.A. I have said about my time with British Telecom (BT) and I started with them in Peterborough, working in the offices adjacent to the main telephone exchange. I learned much about the workings of the company and about the behaviours of my colleagues. Most folk were good, but some were not so good. I had always had an enquiring mind, so when Sir Clive Sinclair brought out a very simple ‘home’ computer, I was very interested in it and bought one. Over the next few years both better as well as more advanced versions came out and I took an interest in the various different computer languages associated with computers. Then, when the opportunity came for me to move away on promotion to Leicester, I took it. That changed my life in so many different ways! Within a few short years I had learned a great deal, I was married and then further changes occurred within BT and I was moved to Nottingham. After a little while my marriage ended, fairly amicably but it was around this time that much bigger, better home computers emerged like the ones we see today. I continued learning quietly, putting the new knowledge to good use. Work moves to Sheffield and Birmingham meant I put these skills to more and more good use, in fact I believe they were instrumental in getting me moved yet again from Birmingham up to Sheffield, utilising many of the computer skills I now had. During all of these changes I noticed the human behaviours of certain people and the effects on others as well as myself. I saw how some tried to demand or force change on others, sadly seeming not to care what effect their ways might have. I saw how some, at the height of major changes, might try to almost ’sneak’ their ideas in. I also saw what a real difference it made when some, like good managers, behaved as benevolent dictators, as they had their own ideas but were ready to accept ideas from others if they were better. Sadly I also saw in some cases where good ideas were either ignored or the person having the idea did not feel they ought to speak up. I am reminded of something told to me many years ago, which is this. Consider a calm, still pond. If you drop a boulder in, it is likely to be seen as a bad thing and not be appreciated, because of all the disruption it creates. Conversely, drop a pebble, stone or a boulder into a rough sea and their effects will not be noticed. That may be why potentially ‘bad’ news is mentioned by some during a time of crisis, in the hope that the bad news might go unnoticed. Drop a stone into the calm, still pond and there its effects are far more likely to be noticed, even liked for its effect. But drop a pebble in and the slight ripple may not even be noticed, as in that circumstance nothing changes. I learned that when things aren’t right, making a gigantic fuss is not a good idea. But staying calm, speaking firmly and positively without getting at all upset is far more likely to achieve the desired result. If not, so long as we have played our part, done our best, that is all we can wish for. What I did have to be taught though was that we should try and work to live, not live to work. We each do our bit, some more than others, some not at all appreciative of what others may do for them but they ought to. I saw such a lovely quote the other day about time and it is this. Time is free, but it is priceless. You cannot own it, but you can use it. You cannot keep it, but you can spend it and once you have lost it, you can never get it back.

I have said previously about singing in the local church choir and at junior school we were introduced to music. Various musical instruments were all shown and demonstrated, in fact as a schoolteacher my Dad taught all the children in class about the recorder. I learned some years later that whilst Dad knew the basics of playing, being a good teacher he very soon found which children had an aptitude for playing so he got them to demonstrate all the finger positions, etc as that kept them occupied! With me having limited mobility in my right hand I could not manage a recorder, however I did learn the basics of a harmonica. It was also at junior school that we would listen to different types of music, I delighted in such lessons. Upon moving to secondary school I continued with music, learning to play a cornet and then getting my own trumpet. It meant that a few of us joined together into a small band, we would play at our school and others in Whittlesey. On leaving school I had proper tuition from a good man who was a retired professional trumpet player formerly employed by the BBC, I also played trumpet in a local brass band for a few years. But by then I was also singing in a couple of mixed-voice choirs and I could sing better than play the trumpet! So music has always been a part of me, whether it be classical, jazz, organ, in fact all sorts. Though country & western doesn’t really give me much enjoyment! Music for me may be loud or soft, fast or slow, it can invoke moods and pique the imagination. For example, one classical piece called ‘Vltava’, by Smetana, this being part of the symphonic poem ‘Má Vlast’ (My Homeland) can do so. In this piece one can imagine a stream, beginning high in the mountains and working its way down, growing in size and strength. It passes over waterfalls, rocks, the stream becoming a river, widening and passing through towns, ultimately widening out and flowing into the sea. I was barely ten years old when I first heard this at school, but I could close my eyes and imagine all this. It was so peaceful and very, very calming. I have found a lovely performance of this work on YouTube which can be seen and heard via the following link: YouTube

Harbour View

Water has such special qualities. Apart from being essential to life, of being made up of hydrogen and oxygen, it is cycled again and again in Nature, falling as rain onto the earth and the sea. Over land, some drops and soaks into the earth, some falls on trees and plants where it is absorbed and used. Some is evaporated whilst some flows together into streams and rivers and ultimately back into the sea. Over the years we have created reservoirs in order to provide water for our use, we have built pumping stations, drained fenlands to provide additional land for growing crops and created barriers to prevent unwanted flooding. Yet Nature still has the capacity to overcome these man-made structures, as in the floods in early 1953 that caused much death and destruction in the Netherlands and the east coast of England. The uses of water continue to be learned through the generations, I know it has helped me a great deal in the past eighteen months and sadly my poor health is partly my own fault for not drinking enough of it! I have corrected that failure and drink water as we all should do. We know that people with injuries have had positive results in regaining muscle strength, it is also used cleverly to teach astronauts to work where there is no air. For me though, as a child I used to be frightened by rain, both seeing and hearing thunderstorms. I was taught what they were and what they did to this wondrous Earth and so I learned to marvel at Nature’s power. I still delight in seeing rainbows, they are so very special to me. From a scientific point of view I know exactly what they are and how they are formed, but they are still a delight to behold. The most amazing changes were visible in, over and under water when I was on my lovely long cruise holiday in 2013. At one point in that journey we were away from port for nine days, though we did see Pitcairn Island and bought gifts from the locals who came out to us in small boats. So the Earth is a watery place. But just how much water exists on, in, and above our planet? About 71 percent of the Earth’s surface is water-covered and the oceans hold about 96.5 percent of all Earth’s water. Water also exists in the air as water vapour in rivers and lakes, in ice-caps and in glaciers. It is also in the ground as soil moisture and in aquifers. Whatever and wherever, it is vital to us all, not just for the properties I have mentioned already but for all of its calming and refreshing effects. I live in England and the British Isles are surrounded by water, so as a nation we are used to going to the seaside for holidays, not just for a break, a change of scenery but to be by the sea. The people of much larger countries though cannot easily go to the seaside, so they go to other places in their countries like large lakes. It is water, just the same. It brings us relaxation, it has such a calming effect, it is refreshing. I know I must also mention a further role that water plays for many of us and that is in the form of a blessing. I was baptised within hours of being born as I was not initially expected to live, but a nurse assured my mother to not worry as I would survive. That nurse was correct – I am still here, writing for as long as I am able. In some faiths baptism is a simple blessing, with the sign of the cross made by a priest who has dipped a finger in holy water in a font. With other faiths there is a total immersion in water, described in the bible as the baptismal blessing by John the Baptist. Other faiths have their own beliefs, some have none, but nevertheless we still have and need water.

During research the other day I found a word that was new to me. It often happens! So I researched it. The word was ’sinecure’.
I learned that it referred to a position requiring little or no work but giving the holder status or financial benefit. For example “political sinecures for the supporters of ministers”.
So I wondered – when does a sinecure become insecure?

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Healing Mind, Body And Spirit

Every one of us goes through difficult times. I have mentioned before how some survive whilst others do not, I have also mentioned ones who simply did not try and that to me is a big mistake. As has been famously said, it is not the falling down, because we all do that. It is the getting up again that is important. It may take a bit of doing, it may require time and support from others, but it can be done. I know. I have been writing weekly blog posts for a while and as I am getting closer and closer to finishing one, I usually get a sort of ‘prompt’ for the next one. In fact some of you may have noticed that there can be something of a thread between each one. But recently I sat and posted a blog as usual, which was fine and in addition the next one was started. No, you eager ones, you must always wait for Friday, you just have to! Except this one time I received little or no ‘inspiration’ for this next blog, as it just didn’t occur to me. So I left writing for a day or so, I got on with other things and came back to it. I was then reminded of how I was, both physically and mentally, last year. That was when I found myself in a hospital bed, I couldn’t even roll over without help. But one nurse then said “which is your ‘good’ side?”, as they knew one side is weaker than the other. So I was gently coaxed, I was also politely encouraged. I was helped in a positive way, but not rushed. Once I had proved to myself and to them that I could do that, they said “well done – now try the other side’. I needed a pillow to support me, but in time I did it. Except the next task was to get me sitting up in bed. Then I was shown an exercise or two so I could strengthen my arm and leg muscles and after a time I was sitting on the edge of the bed, with two physiotherapists just grinning at me and saying “We knew you could do it!”. After a while of this I stood up. I could only stand on my own two feet for a few seconds, but I did it. I used a clever device to rotate round and this did enable me to move and manoeuvre myself into a chair. It took some doing, but it was done. I looked at the two of them and then said “You……” They knew. They grinned even more! So regular, daily but easy practice followed and I began to walk a few steps, holding on tightly to a walking frame. I don’t mind admitting that at times it took quite a bit of encouragement. Next was to get to the en-suite toilet. Again it took some work, but I achieved it. But what delighted me was the attitude of these nurses and physiotherapists, as they said nothing at all about what had happened to me or how I had got myself into this state. I did think about it and I knew I had let myself down. To this day I can get myself upset over that, but not as much as time slowly progresses. What I have learned to do is forgive myself. Others have said I should feel proud of what progress I have made, but only a few know how I was and how I’d not looked after myself. Proud? No. Actually I am humbled and so very thankful to be given another chance at life in this lovely world and which I do hope to enjoy for some time yet. As I write this, I am in a Care Home where they really do care. I have read horror stories of other Care Homes but this is a very good one. I admit that sometimes, even as I write this, Carers will get stern, sharp even, with an inmate but that is because they know that particular person can and should do better. In time I know that I will gain strength physically and mentally as well as emotionally. I shall go out yet again into a world which has also had to change in the last eighteen months. I do think back to 2019 and walking down Gallowtree Gate, the main street in Leicester, wondering why a few Chinese students were walking around and each one wearing a mask over their mouth and nose. Many shops have closed, bus routes are different to how I remember them and I will find other changes. But we survive. So for me it is important to reiterate what I said last year. There are many who do not have the same ideas, the same thoughts as I do and that is how things should be. But having a positive outlook on life is such a good thing, in my humble opinion. I saw a really lovely item of inspiration on Facebook the other day, it is this.

Tip of the Day

When it comes to our body, we are taught from a very young age what not to do, like putting a hand in or near a fire, that hot food and drink can burn or at least scald. Medicines are kept out of the way of children, because the danger is they might be seen as sweets. Minor cuts and bruises are dealt with, most often at home, with guidance from local midwives and nurses. As we get older we learn more at school about how things work, but it can depend on the level of education we attain as to how much we learn. Those who go on to higher education may become nurses, doctors and then go into specialist areas. If I had tried to talk to my grandfather about DNA and the things we know about ourselves now, I think he might have said it was all nonsense and not to be believed. For example bloodletting did begin around 3000 years ago with the Egyptians, then continued with the Greeks and Romans, the Arabs and Asians, then spread through Europe during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It reached its peak in Europe in the 19th century but subsequently declined and today in Western medicine is used only for a few select conditions. But to appreciate the reasons behind it, we should perhaps first go back some 2300 years ago and consider just how disease was thought of at that time. Back then, Hippocrates (~460–370 BC) believed that existence was represented by the four basic elements, these being earth, air, fire, and water, which in humans were related to the four basic ‘humours’; blood, phlegm, black bile, yellow bile. Each humour was centred in a particular organ, considered to be the brain, lung, spleen, and gall bladder and related to a particular personality type, which were sanguine, phlegmatic, melancholic, and choleric. Being ill meant having an imbalance of the four humours. Therefore the treatment consisted of removing an amount of the excessive humour by various means such as bloodletting, purging, catharsis, diuresis, and so on. By the 1st century bloodletting was already a common treatment, but when Galen of Pergamum (129–200 AD) declared blood as the most dominant humour, the practice of venesection (an effective way to reduce the iron levels, red blood cells or the thickness of your blood to a safe level) gained even greater importance. Galen was able to propagate his ideas through the force of personality and the power of the pen and his total written output exceeds over two million words. He had an extraordinary effect on medical practice and his teaching persisted for many centuries. His ideas and writings were disseminated by several physicians in the Middle Ages when bloodletting became accepted as the standard treatment for many conditions. I have found more on the subject of bloodletting and those of you wanting more are free to do your own research! All I will say is that by the late 1800s, enthusiasm for leech therapy had waned, but leeches are still used today in special situations.

Much has been learned about our physical health and how to maintain it, but from what I have learned, many years ago mental health was ignored. The Madhouse Act of 1774 was the first legislation in the United Kingdom addressing mental health. Privately funded lunatic asylums were widely established during the nineteenth century and the County Asylums Act 1808 permitted (but did not compel) Justices of the Peace to provide establishments for the care of “pauper lunatics” so that they could be removed from workhouses and prisons. The Lunacy Act 1845 established the Board of Commissioners in Lunacy and as a result, Justices were forced to build lunatic asylums financed by local rates. In 1859, there were about 36,000 people classified as lunatics in all forms of care in England and Wales, with about 31,000 classed as paupers and 5,000 as private patients. Over 17,000 of the paupers were in county asylums or on contract in licensed houses, about 7,000 were in workhouses, whilst a similar number were ‘living with friends or elsewhere’. Ten percent of workhouse infirmaries provided separate wards for those considered as insane. The Lunacy Act of 1862 then permitted voluntary admission and any person who had been a patient in any type of mental hospital during the previous five years could enter a licensed house as a voluntary boarder. The Lunacy Commissioners could remove lunatics from workhouses to county asylums and the chronic insane who were considered harmless were moved from the overcrowded asylums to the workhouses. In London, the Metropolitan Asylums Board, established by the Metropolitan Poor Act 1867 built two large asylums for London. These were the Leavesden Mental Hospital and the Caterham Asylum. They were built to similar designs by the same architect and each was intended to accommodate 1560 patients in six three-storey blocks for 860 females and five blocks for 700 males, but within five years each had been extended by around 500 places. In 1870 there were about 46,500 poor law mental health cases: 25,500 in county asylums, 1,500 in registered establishments, 11,500 in workhouses and the remainder boarded out with relatives. In 1876, there were nearly 65,000 people classified as mentally disordered in England and Wales. It is not clear if there was actually an increase in the prevalence of mental illness. From around 1870 there were moves to separate those who were then called ‘idiot’ children from adults. Darenth School for 500 children with learning disabilities was opened by the Metropolitan Asylums Board in 1878 and a separate institution next to the school, with accommodation for 1,000 adults, was opened in 1880. The Lunacy Act 1890 then placed an obligation on local authorities to maintain institutions for the mentally ill and by 1938, 131,000 patients were in local authority mental hospitals in England and Wales, with 13,000 in District Asylums in Scotland where there were also seven Royal Mental Asylums. However, mental hospitals were overcrowded and understaffed and mental health services were not integrated with physical health services when the NHS was established in 1948. Shortages of money, staff and buildings continued. Then in 1956 the Confederation of Health Service Employees organised an overtime ban, the first national industrial action in the NHS. The government increased capital spending from 1954, hoping to increase bed numbers by 2,800 but rising numbers of patients, especially the elderly, caused a shift in policy away from institutions and towards day centres and community care. In 1961 the Minister of Health made a speech where he said “in fifteen years time there may well be needed not more than half as many places in hospitals for mental illness as there are today”. This marked a shift towards Care in the Community and it was given further impetus by a series of scandals over long-stay hospitals from 1968 onwards. On World Mental Health Day in 2018, the Prime Minister finally appointed the UK’s first Suicide Prevention minister. This occurred as the government hosted the first ever global mental health summit. So a great deal has been done over the years, certainly in my lifetime, to recognise and address mental health issues. But I feel that we must continue to learn how our minds work an how we are affected by the world around us, most especially when faced with a global pandemic. More and more people are seeing that even if they do not agree with having recommended treatment, they should surely respect the wishes of others and follow the behavioural guidelines. Here we are not legally required to wear a face covering in every setting, but we should do so in circumstances where the government does recommend. They expect us to continue to wear face coverings such as in crowded and enclosed spaces like public transport. As I said last year, this Covid-19 is creating so much extra work in hospitals, but it is also having a knock-on effect in other places. Lockdown has meant no visits by relatives or friends to Care Homes, so patients and their families have been suffering as a result. We have been limited as to how close we are allowed to get to each other and for many that can be most frustrating. I am of the opinion that healthy living is a combination of a positive mind, a healthy body and a calm, peaceful spirit. Both doctors and nurses help us when we need good maintenance of body and mind, but we can do much to help ourselves.

I think back to the time in 2010 when I was in a hospital bed and a doctor was explaining to me what had happened in terms of the heart attack I’d had. He told me what extra tablets I needed to take in addition to those I was on to control my epilepsy. As I have said to a few folk now, I foolishly asked the doctor how long I would be taking these extra tablets for. I think I was under the impression they would be like an antibiotic, or something to help repair damage, I didn’t know. But of course I was then told “always”. So I soon learned to adapt, I modified my daily routines for the tablet-taking, including when I was going out or away anywhere. I am very much a ‘computer’ person, so I found an ‘app’ for my iPhone, I tried a few in fact but this particular one that is called Medisafe keeps a record of the number of tablets I have for each drug, it prompts me to take the medication at the appropriate time, it also allows me to set a minimum order quantity so I know when to order more of the medication. It works for me. Having said that, senior staff in this Care Home look after all medication and they give me my tablets as required as well as ordering supplies. I still look though when I am given my tablets, as I know exactly what I expect to receive. Keeping calm can be quite difficult at times, but that too is something which we can achieve by not allowing others to affect us negatively. As well as that, our spiritual healing may be done in a few different ways and there are a number of therapies available nowadays. One which has been and continues to be good for me is a particular relaxation therapy called Arka Dhyana. It has been taught to me by Srinivas Arka, a man who is also well-known around the world as an author and philosopher. Some healers use their own hands to heal those they are caring for, but Arka Dhyana uses a combination of ones own touch, sound and breath. The sound is a unique one and the breathing is done in such a way as to make each person more aware of it, as under normal circumstances our bodies have an automated system so that our breathing adjust to our requirements. In the same way that some other healing techniques work, it is known that there are certain energy centres in the body. Using the Arka Dhyana technique, by simply touching these centres and making a particular, unique sound the healing is energised. I will say again at this point that this has nothing to do with any religion, I have not altered in any way my belief or faith in God, nor have I been asked to do so at any time. But what I have found is that this healing technique works for me and for a great many others in many countries all around the world. I have found that I have become a much calmer person, learning to adapt to all of the changes that have occurred in the last few years and most notably those in the last few months! My body is getting healthier, my mind is clearer and I am now much more at peace spiritually.

This week I am reminded of…
The lovely television series ‘Countdown’, which features Susie Dent as the person who confirms which words are acceptable. She also talks about the unusual but interesting words, along with their meanings. So it was that one day she said about a ’mumpsimus’ and this is a person who obstinately adheres to old customs or ideas, in spite of evidence that they are wrong or unreasonable. I am sure we have all met one of those, but we may not have called them a mumpsimus.

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Sense And Sensibility

So last week I wrote mainly about our hearing and pardon the pun, but I also touched on sight. In fact our dominant sense is sight, whilst hearing is our most sensitive due to the range of loudness over which our hearing operates. I am confident that most if not all of you will have watched a few episodes of the tv series ‘QI’, where the panel are told about facts which are Quite Interesting. The presenters often refer to the band of ‘QI elves’, a team of people who find out these interesting facts and figures and a team of them have been on another tv quiz show which I like, that being ‘Only Connect’. On one of the QI episodes the question was asked “How many senses do humans have?” to which one of the team, Alan Davies, replied quite innocently “five’. At this of course the klaxon sounded! It is the number which we are of course first taught at school, these being sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. Except there are many more than we perhaps realise, as we do not necessarily attribute them to being true senses. But even these five main senses are technically more than a single sense. Sight itself combines two senses, given the two distinct types of receptors we have, one for colour (cones) and one for brightness (rods). Another sensor, but which is related to a chemical reaction, is our sense of smell and this combines with taste to produce flavours. You could argue that taste should count for five senses by itself due to the differing types of taste receptors, these being sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami, the latter being Japanese which means “a pleasant savoury taste.” Its receptors detect the amino acid glutamate, which is a taste generally found in meat and some artificial flavouring. Then there is touch, which has been found to be distinct from pressure, temperature, pain, and even itch sensors which have a distinct system from other touch-related senses. Pressure is obvious, so I’ll say no more on that one. But there are more.

Thermoception is the ability to sense heat and cold. This is also thought of as more than one sense — not just because of the two hot/cold receptors, but also because there is a completely different type of receptor in terms of the mechanism for detection in the brain. The thermo-receptors there are used for monitoring internal body temperature. I have mentioned sound, detecting vibrations along some medium, such as air or water that is in contact with your ear drums but linked to this are senses which work to control both body awareness, which is proprioception, which deals with how your brain understands where your body is in space. It includes the sense of movement and position of our limbs and muscles. For example, proprioception enables a person to touch their finger to the tip of their nose, even with their eyes closed. It enables a person to safely go up and down steps without looking at each one. Folk with poor proprioception may be clumsy and uncoordinated, which can happen when we might have consumed alcohol or taken drugs. So it is one of the things police officers test when they stop a vehicle when they suspect that the person driving may be doing so whilst under the influence of drink or drugs. The “close your eyes and touch your nose” request is testing that sense. It is also used all the time in little ways, such as when you scratch an itch on your foot, but never once look at your foot to see where your hand is in relation to your foot. Additionally there is equilibrioception, which is the sense that allows you to keep your balance and sense your own body movement in terms of acceleration and directional changes. This sense also allows for perceiving gravity, though I do not believe we use that sense much nowadays, if at all. Then we have tension sensors which are found in our muscles and these allow the brain the ability to monitor muscle tension. There are more senses yet! One is nociception, which in one word is pain. At one time this was considered the result of overloading other senses, such as touch. But it is now viewed as its own unique sensory system. There are three distinct types of pain receptors, which are the cutaneous (skin), somatic (bones and joints), and visceral (body organs). We also have stretch receptors which are found in the lungs, bladder, stomach and the gastrointestinal tract. These sense the dilation of blood vessels and so are often involved in headaches. Chemoreceptors trigger an area of the medulla in the brain that is involved in detecting blood borne hormones and drugs. It is also involved in the vomiting reflex. Now, we may not consider these next two as ‘senses’, but they are fairly obvious. One is for hunger, allowing your body to detect when you need to eat something and the other is thirst, which more or less allows your body to monitor its hydration level, so your body knows when it should tell you to drink. One that I was not aware of is magnetoreception, or the ability to detect magnetic fields. This sense is principally useful in providing a sense of direction when detecting the Earth’s magnetic field. Unlike most birds, humans do not have a strong magnetoreception but researchers have found some specialised cells in birds’ eyes that may help them see magnetic fields. It is thought that birds can use both the beak magnetite and the eye sensors to travel over long distances in areas that do not have many landmarks, such as the ocean. Experiments have demonstrated that we do tend to have some sense of magnetic fields. The mechanism for this is not completely understood, it is theorised that this has something to do with deposits of ferric iron in our noses. It seems that people who are given magnetic implants have been shown to have a much stronger sense of this magnetoreception than humans without them. Perhaps that is why many folk like wearing magnetic bracelets. The last one on this long list is time, but this one is debated. No singular mechanism has been found that allows people to perceive time. However, experimental data has shown humans have a startling accurate sense of time, particularly when younger. The mechanism we use for this seems to be distributed through specific parts of the brain.

It is thought that birds can sense the Earth’s magnetic field.

Students take their senses for granted and often do not realise how they work together in providing different types of information about their immediate environment. This information allows them to respond to changes in their environment. Since students rarely lose one of their senses, they do not appreciate that they all work together. In situations when students may experience the temporary loss or the masking of one sense, such as losing their sense of taste when they have a cold, losing their sense of sight when walking from a well-lit room into a dark room, or losing their general sense of hearing when using an MP3 player and personal earphones, they may become more aware of having to use other senses to provide information regarding their environment. Students rarely have first hand experience of how people with any type of sensory loss obtain much-needed information about the environment by using other senses. Our five main senses of sight, taste, touch, hearing and smell all collect information about our environment and these are interpreted by the brain. We then comprehend all of this information by the combination of the information from each of our senses and linking this with previous experience. It is then further developed by later learning. We respond almost automatically to most sensory information and this quick response is important for survival in our environment and this has been the case for the continuance of the human race. Whichever sense is dominant varies between different animals. I have said that in humans our dominant sense is sight, whilst hearing is our most sensitive, due to the range of loudness over which it operates. However, advancements in science have enhanced the quality of life for many people with sensory disabilities by providing such things as alternative methods of communication, increased mobility, additional educational tools, and technology designed for sensory enhancement, such as cochlear implants.

These days, when being taught about all this students are encouraged to explore the relationships between the operation and role of the senses in ways that I never was. In some places they use Concept Development Maps to learn about forces and motion, living things, the structure of matter, our Earth as well as the apparent structure and nature of Space. There is one area which focusses on cells and organs and at this level includes learning experiences which encourage all the students to find out more about themselves and other animals. This is really important, so they begin by explicitly identifying the five senses and the organ(s) associated with each sense. Then, with the intention of moving towards an understanding of ‘systems,’ teachers provide opportunities for students to experience the ways that each sense provides information which helps and supports the other senses and the organism as a whole. These learning experiences allow students to consider everyday difficulties that may be experienced by people whose sensory input is disrupted or unreliable. They encourage students to identify items or systems that have been developed to enhance sensory input., such as Braille, bells at railway crossings, audible, vibrating and tactile pedestrian signals, hearing aids, guide dogs, talking clocks, walking canes, etc. Teachers may even provide a variety of experiences which can be built upon to explore each sense in detail by using ‘feely bags’, secret packages, taped sounds and taste tests of bitter, sweet, salty and sour-tasting foods to create learning experiences which rely on one sense collecting information. In this way, students may explore each sense in detail, like whether different tastes have the same effect on different parts of the tongue. What I like is for students to not just explore how senses work together, such as determining the success of our ability to correctly identify samples of food when sensory input is limited. One way is to get food samples, like pieces of orange, carrot, celery, cantaloupe, potato, apple, pear and banana. Samples are then placed in a paper bag and with a class of students organised into three groups, two of the groups are blindfolded. One of these blindfolded groups must then try to identify the wrapped food samples using only their sense of smell. The other blindfolded group may use only touch; their sense of smell is blocked (they should pinch their nose or put cotton wool in their nostrils). The final group is not blindfolded and may make full use of touch, smell and appearance to identify the food samples. Students then record their observations using science journals and present their results using graphs and tables. In this way, students can make generalisations about our ability to gather all the information and make sense of the world around us when any of our sensory inputs are restricted as compared to when all our senses work together. This can then be expanded to encompass the world around us, by comparing and contrasting human senses with those of animals. If the students consider how animals sense the outside world and the anatomical structures that allow them to do so, they will appreciate that bees have taste receptors on their jaws, forelimbs and antennae, the eyes of the chameleon can move independently so that it can see in two different directions at the same time, crickets hear using their legs when sound waves vibrate a thin membrane on the cricket’s front legs, falcons can detect a ten-centimetre object from a distance of one and a half kilometres away whilst dolphins and whales communicate using various high pitched ‘whistles’ and ‘clicks’, with some beyond the range of human hearing. This is valuable to them, as sound travels faster in water than in air. The speed of sound in water is about 3,300 miles per hour (1,480 metres per second) whilst the speed of sound through air at ground level under typical conditions is about 760 miles per hour (340 metres per second). All this though, as well as having watched recent episodes of a Jane Austen series has made me wonder whether sensibility is a sense. Apparently as nouns, the difference between sense and sensibility is that sense is as I have already described above, any of the manners by which living beings perceive the physical world with our main ones being sight, smell, hearing, touch, taste. But sensibility is the ability to sense, feel or perceive, most especially being sensitive to the feelings of another which in stressful times can so easily be overlooked. I have left the best until last, as it really needs no explanation but which we all need – a good sense of humour!

This week, an appropriate fun one…

A Chinese doctor cannot find a job in a hospital in America, so he opens a clinic and puts a sign outside that reads:

”GET TREATMENT FOR $20 – IF NOT CURED, GET BACK $100.”

An American lawyer thinks this is a great opportunity to earn $100 and goes to the clinic.

Lawyer: “I have lost my sense of taste.”

Doctor: “Nurse, bring medicine from box 14 and put 3 drops in patient’s mouth.”

Lawyer: “Ugh, this is kerosene.”

Doctor: “Congratulations, your sense of taste restored. Give me $20.”

The annoyed lawyer goes back after a few days to try to recover his money.

Lawyer: “I have lost my memory. I can’t remember anything.”

Doctor: “Nurse, bring medicine from box 14 and put 3 drops in his mouth.”

Lawyer (annoyed): “This is kerosene. You gave this to me last time for restoring my taste.”

Doctor “Congratulations. You got your memory back. Give me $20.”

The fuming lawyer pays him, then comes back a week later determined to get back $100.

Lawyer: “My eyesight has become very weak and I cannot see at all.”

Doctor: “I don’t have any medicine for that, so take this $100.”

Lawyer (staring at the note): “But this is $20, not $100!”

Doctor: “Congratulations, your eyesight is restored. Give me $20”

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The Way We Were

We are surrounded by sights, smells and sounds. As babies, our very first instinct is to touch, especially as our fingertips are the most sensitive items we have. Also, we put things in our mouths because that is another of the most sensitive organs we have. But perhaps we can forget that the largest is our very skin. A great many years ago we were covered in hair to keep us warm and we still are, just not as much. But those hairs are sensitive. We may also not recall that as we hear, our ears are sensing air movement in the form of sound waves. I feel sure we were taught at school about the parts of the ear, but not everyone may remember the detail. I know I had to research it, as it has been a while! So, here is a very quick ‘refresher’ science lesson. The anatomy of our hearing or auditory system really is extremely complex but can be broadly divided into two parts, one being called the ‘peripheral’ and the other ‘central’. The peripheral hearing system consists of three parts which are the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear. The outer ear consists of the pinna (also called the auricle), the ear canal and eardrum. This is the visible portion of the outer ear. It collects sound waves and channels them into the ear canal (external auditory meatus), where the sound is amplified. The middle ear is a small, air-filled space containing three tiny bones called the malleus, incus and stapes (also known as the hammer, anvil and stirrup) but which are collectively called the ossicles. The malleus connects to the eardrum linking it to the outer ear and the stapes (which is the smallest bone in the body) connects to the inner ear. This inner ear has both hearing and balance organs. The hearing part of the inner ear is called the cochlea which comes from the Greek word for ‘snail’ because of its very distinctive coiled shape. It contains many thousands of sensory cells and these are called ‘hair cells’. `The cochlea is connected to the central hearing system by the hearing or auditory nerve and is filled with special fluids that are important to the process of hearing. Finally the central hearing system consists of the auditory nerve and an incredibly complex pathway through the brain stem and onward to the auditory cortex of the brain. Just like its anatomy, the physiology of hearing is very complex indeed and is best understood by looking at the role played by each part of our hearing system described above. Sound waves, which are really vibrations in the air around us, are collected by the pinna on each side of our head and are funnelled into the ear canals. The sound waves make the eardrum vibrate and the eardrum is so sensitive to sound vibrations in the ear canal that it can detect even the faintest sound as well as replicating even the most complex of sound vibration patterns. The eardrum vibrations caused by sound waves move the chain of tiny bones (the ossicles – malleus, incus and stapes) in the middle ear transferring the sound vibrations into the cochlea of the inner ear. This happens because the last of the three bones in this chain, the stapes, sits in a membrane-covered window in the bony wall which separates the middle ear from the cochlea of the inner ear. As the stapes vibrates, it makes the fluids in the cochlea move in a wave-like manner, stimulating the microscopically small hair cells. Remarkably, the hair cells in the cochlea are tuned to respond to different sounds based on the pitch or frequency of sounds. High-pitched sounds will stimulate hair cells in the lower part of the cochlea and low-pitched sounds in the upper part of the cochlea. What happens next is even more remarkable because, when each hair cell detects the pitch or frequency of sound to which it is tuned to respond, it generates nerve impulses which travel instantaneously along the auditory nerve. These nerve impulses then follow a complicated pathway in the brainstem before arriving at the hearing centres of the brain, the auditory cortex. This is where the streams of nerve impulses are converted into meaningful sound. All of this happens within a tiny fraction of a second, almost instantaneously after sound waves first enter our ear canals. So it is very true to say that ultimately, we do hear with our brain.

The Human Ear

So that’s the science lesson over and done with! But in reality, our brain is also amazing, as it can and does filter out sounds, for example with some folk it it is possible for them to ignore the sound of a ticking clock. I know one of my brothers could not stand that sound when he wanted to sleep. He would sometimes visit Mum & Dad and he would sleep on the bed-settee which was in the lounge – but he had to muffle the sound of the clock with cushions! Other folk though feel comforted by sound and do not like to be in complete silence. There are some sounds which we can find comforting, some like water, others like music. Whatever, it should surely be a quiet, soothing sound. I found that music made a real difference to my driving, as loud and aggressive tones could make me also drive faster and a little more aggressively. It was also far more tiring. I have mentioned my enjoyment of church organ music, my playing a trumpet in a brass band and my singing in various choirs. It is simply rhythmic air movement and yet research has shown that listening to good music can reduce anxiety, blood pressure and pain as well as improve sleep quality, mood, mental alertness and memory. It is certainly something that I have found. Many years ago I was going though difficult times and one lunchtime I was quite near to the cathedral in Peterborough so I went in to pray. I found that an organist was practicing for a recital so I sat in the choir stalls, a place I like to go, and listened. It helped me focus on the future, rather than dwell on the past. Also because most of us have two ears, our brain can detect the direction sound is emanating from. This will also act as a movement detector and working in conjunction with our eyes we can calculate what is causing the sound, as well as the speed of movement. It is what our ancestors were able to put to good use whilst hunting, but not so many of us need to do that these days. Throughout our lives, we are surrounded by sound, but as we get older our capability to hear can deteriorate. I mentioned the other week that a friend of mine has lost some of their high frequency hearing because of working in a few different noisy environments and as a result, if he is in a rather crowded place like a public house and a female with a high-pitched voice tries to talk with him, he has to almost lip-read to fill in the blanks over what he is hearing. I also said about me spending a great many years in a noisy Sales office with a telephone pressed against my left ear and how I am only now beginning to notice a slight drop in performance of that ear. It seems that those microscopically small hair cells in the ear can get damaged and the signals don’t get through to the brain. I also remember my eldest brother saying how the hearing in his left ear deteriorated as a result of him driving buses, where the drivers cab was next to the engine but in those days there was little or no sound insulation. But being such sensitive organs, our hearing system can get damaged. In fact, in older adults hearing loss is said to be the third most common physical condition after arthritis and heart disease. There are far too many variables for me to list here relating to hearing problems, so anyone with a hearing problem should consult their doctor. The one which many folk are likely to have at least be aware of is tinnitus, or ringing in the ears. This is not to be confused with whistling or similar sound in the ears after perhaps attending a noisy pop concert, as that effect will go away in time. But if you hear any buzzing, ringing, roaring, whistling, chirping, hissing or other unexplainable sounds or noise in your ears without any obvious acoustic stimulation, it could be that you have tinnitus.

For me, whether it was from the radio, from my mother singing, from choirs, church bells, sound has always been part of my life. But I am also aware that for many, other senses have had profound effects on them. My eyesight has never been perfect, but that was soon recognised at a very young age and after the necessary tests I was provided with the appropriate glasses. I used to sing in the church choir of St Mary’s in Whittlesey and at that time the vicar there was a really clever man by the name of Revd G.E. Quinion. I mentioned in a blog post last month how he had poor eyesight as he had cataracts, but after he had 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. That vicar taught me many things about life, about his approach to it and how to appreciate what we have and with a proper, positive attitude a great many things which at first may appear insurmountable can be overcome with steady perseverance and faith. As I am seeing with a few folk here in this Care Home, it can be very difficult for some to stay positive. I know how easy it could be to almost give up on life, but that should not be how we live. There was someone I knew whose eyesight was so very poor, it meant that their life wasn’t always easy but they seemed to feel that they should not be the one to accept what they had or at least try to overcome their difficulties. They required, they almost demanded the world to change and that everything as well as everyone ought to adapt for them. We know however that the world is not like that and as I said in a blog post last year, had they learned to adjust even a little they might have been able to show others how it is possible to overcome or at least manage difficulties, by keeping a positive outlook on life. Let’s face it, these last eighteen months have not been easy for any of us, just as our parents, our grandparents and all who have gone before us have had their own difficulties to overcome. I have read and seen film of folk who survived wars, who have had physical and mental issues but they continued to live as best they could. It can be harder as we get older, I used to wonder what my grandparents were talking about when they used phrases like “aching bones”, but now I have more of an understanding as my bones ache, especially in damp weather! We can so easily reminisce and there is a lovely song I know sung by Barbra Streisand called ‘The Way We Were’. There it talks about the memories which light the corners of our mind, misty water-coloured memories, scattered pictures of the smiles we left behind, those we gave to one another. But it also does mention that memories may be beautiful and yet what is too painful for us to remember, we simply choose to forget. I have mentioned this previously, how we often cope with bad memories, with pain, which may be mental or physical. As the song says, it is the laughter, the happy times, whenever we remember the way we were. But we are here, in the present, in the now, it is to the future that we should and must be looking towards, each of us doing what we want and can do, planning and achieving. The other day I saw that a Facebook friend had written “Have you done all the things you planned to do on the Bank Holiday? Of course not! Thought so!”, to which I simply had to respond with “Yes. I woke up and was thankful”. It is so easy to spend our time in either a real or proverbial rocking chair, looking back at the way we were, perhaps wondering what might have happened if we had done a few things differently. I know I have. But then reality has, thankfully, stepped in. I am truly thankful for absolutely everything that has happened to me and if they hadn’t then I wouldn’t have the enjoyment of sharing my thoughts, my words and ideas gleaned from the guidance, training and experiences I have had over the years. Long may that continue.

This week, kindly think on this and smile…

Our Brains.
It has been suggested that the brains of older people are slow because they know so much. That people do not decline mentally with age, it just takes them longer to recall facts because they have more information stored in their brains. Some scientists believe this also makes you hard of hearing, because all this knowledge puts pressure on the inner ear. Also, older people often go to another room to get something and when they get there, they stand there wondering what they came for. This is not a memory problem, it is quite simply Nature’s way of making older people do more exercise.

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Just A Few Million Years

I really am enjoying this blog writing. I have said so before, but it is good therapy to write, not just from memory though that is beneficial in keeping us thinking. An aspect which I especially like is the research. The more I do, the more I am learning and the more I can share. I did mention this the other week and it is fascinating to me, just as I hope others find it to be. I have seen that there are a few new television programmes appearing now and I have noticed one series presented by Brian Cox which is all about planets, highlighting many things that may not have previously been known. They are certainly unknown to me! I do appreciate that a series like that will take quite a time to prepare, I am learning that aspect from how long it takes for me to sort and set out this weekly blog. I have had one person suggest that I might consider writing more often, but I’m sorry, I cannot – it takes me quite a while to research, compile and proof-read the work I am already doing! As many of you know, I worked in quite a few different departments as well as locations in my time with British Telecom and this included a few years in a Directory Compilation group. That has helped me a great deal, especially with all the proof-reading. Only the other week I saw and learned a new word, along with the proper spelling and meaning of it and whilst putting together this particular blog post I saw another, in this case it was ‘cartulary’. I researched it, just as I was taught to do from a very young age and I discovered that a cartulary or chartulary, also called pancarta or codex diplomaticus, is “a medieval manuscript volume or roll containing transcriptions of original documents relating to the foundation, privileges, and legal rights of ecclesiastical establishments, municipal corporations, industrial associations, institutions of learning, or families. The term is sometimes also applied to collections of original documents bound in one volume or attached to one another so as to form a roll, as well as to custodians of such collections.” Not a word in common use today, I guess. But some may know of it.

A great deal has changed in this beautiful world and we can sometimes not stop and look at the beauty which surrounds us. We have reached a new month and temperatures may be dropping, despite what forecasters said could happen! But it was a Bank Holiday. That which has been causing lockdowns may be easing slowly, more and more folk are getting out and about too. For now I spend my time as an inmate in this Care Home, doing my best to get better and stronger with the help of the Carers here, who by the way have a difficult job and they do it very well. My aim too is to get out and about, though it may be just a little while yet. I did make the mistake of trying too hard too soon and found myself back in hospital, something I do not wish to repeat. So for now, as well as my regular, gentle exercise I research, I read and I write. I am well fed, I do my morning and evening meditation, which is the relaxation therapy I have previously mentioned. It keeps me calm in these troubled times and my writing helps me stay quite focussed on each day as it passes, sometimes quite quickly. But it can be difficult at times when just as I am expecting a degree of peace and quiet as most of us inmates are resting after lunch, one who has dementia starts calling out ridiculous statements yet again. I cannot be angry with the inmate, as they cannot help it, the dementia is the cause. So I quietly call for a Carer and they settle them down. It also lets the people working here see how this inmate is, as I understand that what they have is a degenerating disease. All I can do when this occurs is sit, meditate, then return to my work. As I read, I learn and I also see a number of questions posed that at first I am amazed at, but then I am reminded that whilst I was taught by excellent parents and at good schools, there are very many people living in this beautiful world who have never been to any school, nor been told anything of this Earth. Some have not been properly taught even their native language, they may have only heard it. So if they then have to write, it is no small wonder that they make what many consider to be the simplest of spelling errors. As for the wider world outside, I feel sure that many have simply no concept of the absolute and utter vastness of space. But work is being done now to address this. Right now we have around us this global pandemic which is causing us to change quite a bit on how we communicate, how we learn. Thankfully, technology is with us that enables not just sound but vision too, in many cases live broadcasts that others may interact with. Some do still raise questions on a few issues that many would consider surprising, for example “What if the Earth were a little bit closer to the Sun?”. That question was answered politely online by someone with far greater knowledge of such matters than I. They explained that the Earth’s orbit around the Sun is not a perfect circle, it is elliptical, meaning there is one point in the orbit where Earth is closest to the Sun and another where Earth is farthest from it. Every object orbiting a single mass, for example our Sun, makes an ellipse, containing a point of closest approach that’s unique to that particular orbit. But the question prompted me to do research of my own. Some of this I knew, though not the detail which I found interesting. It seems that for the past 4.5 billion years our Earth has orbited the Sun in an ellipse, just as all the other planets orbiting their stars in all other mature solar systems throughout the galaxy and the Universe do. But the Earth’s orbital path doesn’t remain the same over time, it spirals outwards. In 2019 our perihelion, the point at which the Earth is closest to the sun, was 1.5 centimetres farther away than it was last year, likewise it was more distant than the year before. It’s not just Earth, either, as every planet drifts away from its parent star. Every object that is orbiting a single mass, for example our Sun, makes an ellipse, containing a point of closest approach that is unique to that particular orbit. For the past 4.5 billion years, our Earth has orbited the Sun in that manner, just like all the other planets orbiting their stars in all the other mature solar systems throughout the galaxy and Universe. That is a scientific fact.

Stars

I do not for a moment think that we will achieve some of the things we see in science fiction, at least not for quite a while anyway. However, when I was in my early teens the Star Trek series was first broadcast and that was back in the 1960s. Over the years further Star Trek series have been developed, but they are clearly based on the original. Some of the technology in use today has been thought about and developed from the devices they used and one example is the flip-phone style of mobile phone which we use and which is similar to the communicator in the original Star Trek. But I do not believe we will achieve space travel or be able to construct the transporters we see in the Next Generation series, not for a long time yet, but perhaps one day! There must be a great many others besides me who are familiar with the work of another science fiction writer, the late Douglas Adams, who created the comedy science fiction franchise called The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This was at first a radio comedy series broadcast on BBC Radio 4 back in 1978, it was later adapted into other formats including stage shows, novels, comic books, a 1981 TV series, a 1984 video game, and 2005 feature film. It had a clever series of tales and really believable characters that again may contain an element of future truth. Who knows. As I said a couple of weeks ago now, in the time of dramatic climate change some 300,000 years ago the humans we know as Homo sapiens evolved in Africa. Like other early humans that were living at that time, they gathered and hunted food, and evolved behaviours that helped them respond to the sometimes dramatic challenges of survival in unstable environments. The levels of humanity have risen, we have grown, learned, I do know though that some have questioned why we are here. Some have been known to suggest that whilst some learn, others are here just to fill in the gaps! I believe that we are all here to learn, to grow and develop, then to pass on what we know to others. But we are all different. Whilst some do have a real interest in sports, others in entertainment, some like certain tv programmes, others get enjoyment from reality shows and yet more take a deep interest in sciences like history and geography. We all make mistakes but if we can benefit from these, we can help others. Surely the worst thing to do is not learn, but keep on making the same errors. That is like reading the same book or watching the same film again and again and expecting a different ending. Most of us need routine in order to live, we need others around us. Just like some animals, such as elephants, we grow and we learn together and from each other. We cannot know what will occur in the future but we can make plans. We follow the rules of where and how we live and adapt as things happen, how the world changes. I am reminded of when a few of my immediate family reached old age it seemed to me how they had almost given up on life, but with them it was physical change. With some others it is mental change that causes them to reach the end of their human existence, whilst in others it is a combination of the two. What to me is very important is that we do not give up, we remember what as a youngster I was taught, that we pray we are granted the serenity of mind to accept what cannot be changed, the courage to change that which can be changed as well as the wisdom to know the difference.

Our Earth also has a limited lifespan, although it has been through many changes, including a major increase in the human population. We have been through wars, famines, pandemics and revolutions. I have no doubt that there will be more. Many years ago there was the Industrial Revolution, the transition to new manufacturing processes which included changes from hand production methods to machines, new chemical manufacturing and metal production processes, the increased use of both steam and water power as well as the development of machine tools and the rise of the mechanised factory system. In the last hundred or so years we have seen the emergence of powered flight, computers and space flight. Right now the world is in the grip of a global pandemic, which I am sure we will survive overall. We are also seeing global warming, which I think we would do well to manage just a bit better than perhaps we are doing. The belief is that human life will survive for a few million years more yet, which pleases me! In all probability it will take around four billion years from now before increases in the Earth’s surface temperature causes a runaway greenhouse effect, heating the surface enough to melt it. In any event, by that point all life on the Earth will be extinct. The most probable fate of the planet itself will be absorption by the Sun in about seven and a half billion years, after the star has entered its ‘Red Giant’ phase and so has expanded beyond this planet’s current orbit. So there’s still time for a few more mugs of tea – with custard cream biscuits of course…

This week, a thought.
As a child, I used to watch the cartoon series ‘Popeye’, featuring the character ‘Olive Oyl’. But until a question came up on the television quiz show ‘Tipping Point’, I never knew that Olive had an older brother named ‘Castor Oyl’….

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The Importance Of Reading And Writing

In a few previous blog posts I have commented on differences between the British and American languages, as whilst many words and phrases are the same, many others are very different. Spelling also varies. I have found that the terminologies for individual hobbies are quite specialised just as they are in different businesses, in a similar way to abbreviations and I have detailed some of my findings in earlier blog posts. The biggest problem seems to be in our failure to remember that not everyone follows the same learning paths as ourselves, even when we have the same teachers and we hear the same words. Our upbringing can mean that we remember different things in different ways. In our English language we have many words that are rarely used, whilst some have taken on quite different meanings over time and more are relatively new, due to the advances in modern technology. At one time the phrase being ‘bright and gay’ meant someone was happy in their demeanour, but ‘gay’ has now taken on a very different meaning. I am unable to comment on quite how this might have occurred in other languages though. Knowledge of words can also depend on how much we read, our reading material as well as where we live and the language, colourful or otherwise, that we are exposed to by those around us, as adults or children. There are some folk who use colourful language quite naturally, often within the work that they do where it seems to be acceptable. However in other environments it is most definitely frowned upon. A couple of offices I have worked in kept a ‘swear box’ and anyone uttering what was considered as foul language then had to make a donation, with all monies going towards a night out or perhaps a Christmas meal for the team. It used to amuse me when I heard some folk, especially ladies who spoke in ‘posh’ tones, using utterly foul and abusive language. I wondered why they did it, perhaps to shock, or maybe to elicit a response. I ignored their efforts, refusing to rise to the bait. As for me, I grew up with two elder brothers, one nine years older than myself and the other eleven years older. The eldest one worked in engineering where swearing was commonplace, whilst the other had regular dealings with the public so it was not considered proper to use a bit of bad language. But neither of them brought that behaviour home with them. I always worked in an office environment, I had direct contact with the public so my behaviour was kept an eye on, as were those around me. Our parents very rarely swore, my father had a tremendously good command of English and was a teacher in a local infant & primary school. He could almost make you wish for a good hiding rather than the verbal tongue-lashing he gave if you did something wrong, yet bad language was never used! I was born in London, as were my parents and grandparents, so I heard many of the sayings and phrases from that area. That included a wide range of accents, as despite what many people seem to think, not all Londoners talk with what some consider to be the ‘Cockney’ accent. During my formative years in both Whittlesey and Peterborough I heard a quite a variety of local accents because as well as that which I consider to be a ‘Fen’ accent, there were also both Italian and a few Polish communities there. My work then moved me around the North as well as the Midlands, so I heard quite a few different accents, also some of the expressions uttered there were unusual but naturally were very well-known to folk in those areas. It was around that time that I was caught out whilst on a date with a young lady, as I found that I was not listening to what words she was saying, but how she was saying them! That really was not the best idea I ever had as she was not in the least impressed and we soon went our separate ways… For a while I was able to differentiate between the accents used in and around Birmingham, as what may be heard in the City is really quite different to perhaps a Halesowen or Wolverhampton one. I got really stumped though when conversing with a person who spoke with a quite unusual tone of voice. I discovered that they were from Scotland but had moved around with their work, first in Newcastle but in latter years they had settled in Dudley, which has a really strong local accent. As a result, their accent was just impossible for me to place! We had a good laugh about it. In my young days I was read to, I was shown various picture books, I was taught the alphabet and as I have said before, guided into making good use of a dictionary. Back then there were only physical books, there was nothing like the electronic books of today like Kindle, there was no Internet then either. All this came into good use whilst at British Telecom when I joined a team where we had to manually complete computer cards in order to add or amend entries in the local telephone directory. It was fascinating, as the completed cards were then scanned by a computer but which had difficulty in determining between certain characters and numbers. As a result, when completing these cards we had to place a horizontal line above certain letters so that the computer would know which were to be letters rather than numbers. I can still recall them to this day, they were ‘O’ (not zero), ’S’ (not five), ‘Y’ (not seven) and ‘Z’ (not two). As a team we were then required to check the entries, proof-reading the changes before the new directory was compiled and finally published. We were kept busy as the updates were printed weekly for use by the local Directory Enquiry staff. It has meant that both spelling and grammatical errors on the items I read nowadays simply ’stand out’, almost as if a bright highlighter pen had been used on them. Sadly we can so often miss simple mistakes and it is not always the fault of the reader as our brains can correct errors. It can take real concentration to recognise the errors, as we see what we expect to see. It can be similar with hearing too, as a friend of mine has lost some of their high frequency hearing because of working in a few different noisy environments. As a result, if he is in a rather crowded place like a public house and a female with a high-pitched voice tries to talk with him, he has to almost lip-read to fill in the blanks over what he is hearing. I spent a great many years in a noisy Sales office with a telephone pressed against my left ear and I am beginning to notice a slight drop in performance of that ear now.

Frog on an iPad

Despite our modern communication techniques, our telephones as well as their associated technology with computers and electronic storage, it is interesting to see how much work still involves paper. I am very well aware as to how important it is to keep records of what has been achieved, what changes have either been made or need to be done as well as the ability to share all that has been both done and learned in the past. Some years ago it was thought that a single language would be a good idea and in 1887 a Polish ophthalmologist by the name of L.L. Zamenhof created Esperanto. It was intended to be a second language of the whole world, the only one for people to learn other than their own and would be ideal for international communication. According to research it is very easy to learn, as all words and sentences are built from 16 basic rules that can fit within a sheet or two of paper. But I guess that it might not be ideal to translate precisely into, as not all languages have a similar structure. I believe that many languages are an amalgam of others that have built up over the years, like English. As for learning languages, I think it often depends on how much trouble a reader is prepared to go to in order to increase their word power as well as quite how much use will be made of this newly acquired skill. It is up to the individual, as it depends on a great many things, like their particular circumstances. I have mentioned hearing, but as we grow older we can also find our sight diminishes. Perhaps the hardest thing to accept is what is happening to our vision and other faculties. Even with this pandemic there is no shortage of reading material, in fact it is most likely the opposite as folk like me are writing more and more. However, I am aware that there is also an unwillingness to take the time, to make the extra effort, especially when we cannot pursue our interests in ways that we used to. Our health can play a huge part in all that we do, but as has been said before these problems should not be seen as obstacles to overcome but as stepping stones to reach our goals. The tendency nowadays is towards the use of modern technology but that may not always be either possible or even preferred. I am well aware of the reticence or inability with some folk to use computers, it was one of the reasons why I ran my small business the way I did, to help others of my age and ability to use such things. But many if not all computers now have a facility to read text and speak words, there are numerous audio books now too. It does not take much, as even just a small monthly publication from somewhere like Readers Digest can prove to be invaluable and a magnifying glass is not too difficult. There is even a section in each edition of that publication called ‘It Pays To Increase Your Word Power’, with a glossary included. In fact each edition comprises a few different stories, jokes as well as a few anecdotes for which the author gets paid! The options are out there. I have also said about how as a young child I was read to and I have had a thought that the same might be done for the elderly, although this may not initially be appreciated by them. When we visit, we may not have much to talk about, so maybe one idea might be to read a book out loud to them. It’s just an idea. In this busy world, I have found it useful to try and set aside time for reading and writing, it was something I did when I was much younger and it is proving useful to me now, to have a routine. I have said to a few of the Carers here how quickly my time passes each day! But as well as writing a daily diary, I also use a reminder app on my iPhone called ToDoist, which reminds me each day of things I must do, like sending greetings to folk, doing some homework, watching certain items via my iPhone that are on tv each weekday. That is a really good thing, as it helps me keep track of the days and when it is the weekend. I have medication which I must take regularly, although here the Care Home staff manage that side of things! Because I use a MacBook which synchronises automatically between the iPhone and the computer, any of the additions, updates or changes on one are copied immediately to the other. All clever and useful. It also means I can begin writing items such as this blog on the MacBook and continue writing from where I left off on the iPhone. Even for those more acquainted with using a Microsoft Windows computer and their Word, Excel and PowerPoint these are now available on the Apple Mac and MacBook, which I use. Some people have commented on how quickly I can often retrieve information that I have in the past been given and apart from organising my computer files, I use a computer program (the correct term is an ‘app’, I believe!) which is called Bear. I use it for note-taking and storing a whole range of information, including images. All this helps me to continue reading and writing!

This week, some fun. We have all experienced this, I am sure.

In the Beginning, there was the Plan,
And thereby came the Assumptions,
But the Assumptions were without Form,
And the Plan was without Substance,
So Darkness was upon the face of the Workers.

And the Workers spake amongst themselves, saying
“It is a crock of sh1t and it stinks”.
And the Workers came unto their Supervisors and saith
“It is a pile of dung, and we cannot live with the smell”.

And the Supervisors went unto their Managers, saying
“It is a container of excrement, and it is very strong,
Such that none may abide by it”.
And the Managers went unto their Directors saying,
“It is a vessel of fertiliser, and none may abide by its strength”.

And the Directors spake amongst themselves, saying one to another
“It contains that which aids growth, and it is very strong”.
And the Directors went unto the Vice Presidents, saying unto them
“It promotes growth, and is very powerful”.

And the Vice Presidents went unto the President, saying unto him,
“This Plan will actively promote the growth and vigour of the Company
With very powerful effects”.
And the President looked upon the Plan
And saw that it was Good.

And the Plan became Policy.

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First Down!

I was having a gentle toddle along one of the corridors in this lovely Care Home when an inmate who was in their room began calling out. It was so loud that it reminded me of a tale by Agatha Christie, because the sound was so anguished and it made me wonder if a person was in fear of their life! I hasten to assure you that this was not the case at all, they were in fact being treated to a gentle manicure by a couple of Carers. Apparently the inmate has dementia and I am told that it can be difficult to get such sufferers to understand what is truly going on around them. But it made me think of the sounds, the words, the phrases, the terminology we use in our English (British) language. I have made a point of adding the country here, because I am a member as well as a sometimes contributor of a Facebook group called G.A.S.P. (Grammar And Spelling Police) which was set up by some people in America. I have mentioned them in the past because their wording, spelling and even phraseology can be entertaining, in some cases very different from that which we use. But I know that some folk there have expressed amusement at the things we say here. For the most part it is all taken very much in good humour, but there have been odd occasions when things have become ever so slightly ‘heated’! There is one famous quote by the playwright George Bernard Shaw, which is that Britain and the USA are “Two nations separated by a common language” and that is how it is in G.A.S.P., as we share amusing misquotes, signs, spelling errors, all that sort of thing. It is not to make fun of the author, whoever they are, but more to see how our language can create amusement, sometimes by a simple error in translation from one language to another. In this Facebook group, one person asked how they might be able to improve their English and without exception, all of us that replied said they should read more, they should have a dictionary nearby and look up ’new’ words, they should also write these new words down and use them whenever they could. It was how I was taught and it is refreshing to learn that others were taught just the same way. I am quite a fan of Agatha Christie’s work, she wrote many good books that have been turned into films. So as I was writing this, I recalled one work where our heroine, Miss Marple, is in a lawyers office and the lawyer spoke a legal word I did not know. I thought it was ’tonteen’, as that is how I heard it, but when I came to write it here this clever computer soon corrected me. It is actually ’tontine’. But I still checked on the word, finding it to mean “an annuity shared by subscribers to a loan or common fund, the shares increasing as subscribers die until the last survivor enjoys the whole income”. There are so many words, some rarely used, which are particular to a profession or sport. I have mentioned in previous writings about my very keen interest in photography and how I combined it with my teaching to start up my own business, helping folk how to take clearer, better photographs and then to use a computer to share their photos with others. A few years before that I joined a civilian pistol and rifle club as I was introduced by a good friend of mine who was stationed at RAF Wittering. There were times when he would represent his RAF station at the shooting events at Bisley and I believe this was quite an honour for him. So I learned to shoot using various handguns, it also meant that I was taught the proper stance for holding and firing them, something I found tremendously useful when taking photographs, as the stance when shooting with a camera is very similar, providing as it does a firm and stable platform. What was equally fascinating was the terminology used, it highlighted that many words and phrases which are used in the English language do in so many cases cross over from one hobby or profession to another. A while later I was invited over to RAF Wittering, where my friend introduced me to others there. So I suppose it was natural for me to be asked which RAF station I was from, but on learning that I was a civilian the group turned away and virtually ignored me. Except my friend included me in their conversation as I was able to talk reasonably knowledgeably about shooting with handguns as well as my experience with them and how aspects of taking photos and generally handling a camera came in useful when handling a handgun. It fascinated me to see how the group then opened up and began including me in their talk. I have written before about how technical phrases in one environment can often mean something entirely different in another, whilst other terms may be well known to some but completely unknown to others. We can so easily forget this and assume that others know what we know, however I am reminded that when using the word ‘assume’ that we do not inadvertently make an ‘ass’ of ‘u’ and ‘me’! With the coming of the Internet, the use of online dictionaries and more people using computers, I think it is going to happen that we learn more things, more words and phrases that at one time would have been totally unknown to us! This is very true in the world of sport.

American Football vs Rugby

Some years ago one terrestrial tv channel in the UK began to broadcast the pre-season games of American Football. I watched it, became interested in the game and learned more about it. I found that it has many similarities to our rugby and, as with many other games, once you are aware of the basics the rest can come in time. Certainly the shape as well as the size of the ball are almost identical to rugby. I soon learned that an American football field is 300 feet long (not counting the end zones), 160 feet wide and is marked out in lines 10 yards apart across the width of the field. The two end zones are the width of the field and 10 yards deep, along with the rugby-style goal posts at the far back. In addition, centred on the length of the field on either side are the coaching boxes and team areas. But there are major differences in terms of players between our soccer, our rugby and American Football. In soccer, a match is played by two teams with eleven players in each, one being a goalkeeper. A match may not start or continue if either team has fewer than seven players. Likewise a game of rugby is played between two teams with 15 players per team; eight players in the tight scrum and seven players called backs who are scattered all over the field. Wearing jerseys, the numbers on the player’s backs will then determine where they are located on the field. American Football is played between two teams, each one comprising an Offensive Unit, a Defensive Unit and a Special Teams Unit. Within each Unit are a defined number of players and every player has a named, designated number on their back as well as a position on the field of play and task for which they are specifically trained. In addition, they train for other positions in case of any injuries. There are only eleven players allowed from each side on the field at any one time, so one side will play from their Defensive Unit whilst the other side play from their Offensive Unit. Once it has been determined, by the toss of a coin, which side will start and play first then the other team use the Kicker from their Special Teams Unit to kick the ball from their 25-yard line as far down the field as possible. The Offensive Unit of eleven players then come onto the field and attempt to advance the ball from where it has finished, or from the 25-yard line if the ball ended up in the end zone, whilst the players in the Defensive Unit try to prevent this. There are two main ways for the Offense to advance the ball, either by running or passing. The Offense have a series of four plays, known as ‘downs’, starting with the ‘first and ten’ as it is the first down and ten yards to achieve. If the Offense advances ten or more yards within the four downs, they are then awarded a new set of four downs. However, if they can perhaps only achieve, say, five yards on that first attempt then they play again and with just five yards to go on their second attempt this is called ‘second and five’. They might then achieve a further three yards, meaning the next play is ‘third and two’, it being the third ‘down’ with just two yards to go to achieve the full ten yards. If the quarterback throws the ball downfield and it is caught by a Receiver from the Offensive Unit, the ball is then played from however far down the field the ball is caught and the Offensive player stopped by a Defensive player. It might be ten, twenty, fifty or sixty yards downfield! If the player manages to run with the ball into the end zone this is a touchdown. In a similar manner to rugby, the ultimate aim is to get the ball over the goal line into the end zone to score a touchdown, thus scoring six points. If they achieve this, the Kicker from their Special Teams Unit then attempts a Conversion, aiming to kick the ball from a fixed point 25 yards from the goal line to between the goal posts, which is similar to rugby. If this is successful, the team get an extra point. If they fail to advance ten yards within the four ‘downs’, then possession of the football is turned over to the other team from wherever the ball has finished. In most situations, if the Offense reaches their fourth down without moving the ball the required ten yards, they will ‘punt’ or kick the ball as far down the field as possible, which forces the other team to begin their drive from where the ball ends up. If however the Offense are in Field Goal range, usually 35 yards or less from the goal, then they might attempt to score a Field Goal instead of a touchdown. The Field Goal is similar to the Conversion but is attempted from the middle of the field from however far down the field the ball happens to be. If successful, a Field Goal scores three points. At all times during the game a group of officials known as the chain crew keep track of both the downs and the distance measurements. On television, a yellow line is electronically superimposed on the field to show the first down line to the viewing audience. In a typical play, the Center passes the ball backwards between their legs to the Quarterback in a process known as the Snap. Then the quarterback either hands the ball off to another player, throws the ball, or runs with it. The play ends when the player with the ball is tackled or goes out-of-bounds or a pass hits the ground without a player having caught it. A forward pass can be legally attempted only if the passer is behind the line of scrimmage (the line where each play starts) and only one forward pass can be attempted per down. As in rugby, players can also pass the ball backwards at any point during a play. A ‘down’ also ends immediately if the runner’s helmet comes off. The game is divided into four quarters of fifteen minutes each, but the difference with this game is that it is very much a series of stop and go events, with different players coming on and off the field on both sides between ‘downs’. Which actual players are on the field is determined by the Offense and Defense team coaches or the Head Coach of each side. They try to guess what game strategy, that ‘plays’ the other side will use. Another big difference with this game compared to rugby or soccer are the number of officials on the field at any one time. A big difference with this game compared to rugby or football are the number of officials on the field at any one time. So apart from the Referee, there is an Umpire, a Down Judge, a Line Judge, a Field Judge, a Side Judge and a Back Judge! These officials are all dedicated to looking out for infractions to particular rules and each official carries a weighted, bright yellow flag which they throw to the ground to signal that a foul has been called. The officials then consult with the referee who determines what penalty is to be applied. It may mean moving the ball back to where the last ‘play’ started, but a more serious penalty can be applied if appropriate, for example one player grabbing the face mask of another. In addition, a limited number of ’time-outs’ may be called by either side, like if a quarterback feels the need to discuss a change of strategy for a particular ‘play’. In the United States, most games are televised so there can also be a delay in the game whilst tv adverts are on. All this can extend a simple game of four quarter hour sessions to a good deal longer! There is much more to this game in terms of strategy, planning, watching how other teams play over the season which lasts just sixteen weeks, with thirty-two teams taking part across the U.S.A. I have found it a fascinating game and as with most things, the more I learn, the more I find there is to learn. But what is really entertaining is the enthusiasm that the commentators have on this game. I have heard and watched a few games, on television as well as attending Wembley and the spectators are kept very well informed as to how the game is progressing, there are huge screens showing the gameplay and for example, when an Offensive player moves the ball successfully on or beyond the ten yards, it is the signal for the referee to call that the play has been a success. At that point, the commentator shouts this over the loudspeakers, resulting in a “FIRST DOWN!”. Interestingly, most fans on both sides appreciate a good strategy and will applaud when one is made. I have had the privilege of going to Wembley Stadium and watching American Football games that were played between different teams, but despite the fans themselves being supporters of one team or another, more often than not they are really supporters of the game, as the games they are attending may not always be between the teams they particularly support. Most wish to see a good, healthy honest game, and almost all of the time we get exactly that. Any bad behaviour by fans mean that they are immediately expelled, whilst bad or illegal behaviour by players or even coaches on the sidelines will mean the person(s) being fined, at times expelled, but most especially the team itself being fined, often for bringing the game into disrepute. Whatever our interests, especially sports, over the years we learn all of the rules, regulations, peculiarities and terminology as well as the individuals, teams and habits associated with our chosen interests. It keeps us active and happy. As we grow older, sometimes we have to adjust, but with all of the technology available nowadays, we still have options, like watching on television!

This week, some poetry from Pam Ayres.

I have a little Sat-Nav, it sits there in my car.
A Sat-Nav is a driver’s friend, it tells you where you are.
I have a little Sat-Nav, I’ve had it all my life.
It’s better than the normal ones, my Sat-Nav is my wife.

It gives me full instructions, especially how to drive,
”It’s sixty miles an hour”, it says, “You’re doing sixty five”.
It tells me when to stop and start, and when to use the brake
And tells me that it’s never ever, safe to overtake.

It tells me when a light is red, and when it goes to green
It seems to know instinctively, just when to intervene.
It lists the vehicles just in front, and all those to the rear.
And taking this into account, it specifies my gear.

I’m sure no other driver has so helpful a device,
For when we leave and lock the car it still gives its advice.
It fills me up with counselling, each journey’s pretty fraught.
So why don’t I exchange it, and get a quieter sort?

Ah well, you see, it cleans the house, makes sure I’m properly fed.
It washes all my shirts and things, and keeps me warm in bed!
Despite all these advantages and my tendency to scoff,
I only wish that now and then, I could turn the b€££&r off!
~ Pam Ayres

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Times Change

As I began writing this, I wondered. Yes, times do change, but just how well do we change with them? Nature never ceases to amaze me and the more I learn of it, the more I marvel at it. We can take nature for granted so easily, yet we abuse it so much. Happily it either survives or adapts to the changes. I said in a blog post a little while ago that I was watching a lovely film about Arctic wildlife and how it showed a polar bear go into a village to look for food. I have also since learned about Arctic foxes, who are opportunistic feeders, eating practically any animal it can, alive or dead. They rely entirely on populations of rodents, especially lemmings, voles, and other small mammals. They will also eat birds, insects, eggs, berries, reptiles, and amphibians. These animals have adapted to the changes around them for sources of food. With a global pandemic presently upon us, we are still having to adjust, to adapt to changing circumstances and we are finding ways to cope, although some are perhaps managing to do so better than others. I am very much aware of the changes I have had in my life during the past eighteen months and overall they have benefited me, which I am grateful for. Statistics are being bandied about relating to our health and lifestyles, some people might be attempting to scare us, whilst others help us see sense. Many years ago I was told an entertaining statistic which was that in one area in a particular year over half a million people died in their beds, whilst in that same year just two people died near the North Pole. So it was suggested that statistically, we would be safer sleeping near to the North Pole than it would be in your bed. This was a ridiculous statement, obviously, but it proves that statistics can so easily be manipulated. Even over the last hundred years or so our technologies have advanced, there have been amazing changes that have benefited our lives and yet some have proven to be detrimental to life itself. I have mentioned asbestos which turned out to be a killer, also more and more vehicles are on our roads these days and for a time diesel-powered cars were deemed to be the best fuel. But now we are starting or at least beginning to look towards electrically powered vehicles. There was a time when owning a car was a luxury, now a family may have two or three at home and they must be kept somewhere. As a result, areas at the front of our properties which were at one time used as gardens are being covered over with tarmac for these vehicles to park on. Except climate change is creating heavier rainfall now, so that the heavy rains do come but instead of all that rainwater soaking steadily into the earth and helping to feed the plants and other living things in our gardens, this water runs quickly over the tarmac and down onto the road, thus flooding roads and properties. This also means that excessive amounts of water flood quickly into our drains and into our rivers, but they cannot cope with that amount of outflow in such a short space of time and areas of our towns and cities flood. This causes disruption to traffic and travel, prevents folk getting to and from work, causes delays to deliveries of goods and services as well as exacerbating the degradation of road surfaces. We might look back and see how we could have changed things, but we didn’t. I am reminded that change is around us all the time, and to quote the former American President John F Kennedy, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future”. Good words, but how much have we learned, I wonder. There is no doubt that as humans we have most certainly changed, we have learned a great many new things, we have invented, developed and used new skills, including the ability to store knowledge and share so much with future generations. Though different groups view change differently. Whilst some embrace it, others reject it out of hand. Many folk look to utilise advances in technology and skills for the benefit of both themselves and others, whilst some take on a more selfish attitude, usually to enhance their wealth. Some such folk even consider that they are above others, even above the laws of where they live. Yet they too will pass away, leaving all their worldly goods behind. It does not make any difference as to whether they are buried in a marble mausoleum or in a wooden casket, surely what should be more important is how they have lived, what they brought to the world and all that they did during their lifetime to improve the world they leave behind. For example one man planted a tree in an area that was nearly a desert, but despite that he continued planting trees and in time those trees became a forest with plants, animals and insects there. So it can be with us as humans, planting not just trees and other such things, but seeds of goodness and positive living, thus showing care for all things. We are not perfect by any means, we all make mistakes, often making incorrect decisions but surely the important thing is to learn, to change and to grow. We can look back on our mistakes, but it is not so easy to change our ways, our behaviours, especially as all too often we can put a financial cost on such changes, not considering the cost to our environment. Others have written extensively on the various ways in which humans adapt to change and it has been said that the human body can and does readily respond to all of the changing environmental stresses in a variety of biological and cultural ways. For example we can acclimatise ourselves to a wide range of both humidity and temperature and and this ability to rapidly adapt to varying environmental conditions has made it possible for us to survive in most regions of the world. We have created clothing and machines which enable us to leave this Earth, to survive in space, to travel to the Moon and back, but we still have famine, drought and poverty. Some humans still wish to control the thoughts and ways of others, not for the benefit of all but purely for their own ends. Ranging from Eskimos to Africans, Asians to Australians, all races, no matter where we live, our skin colour, what language we speak, it makes no difference – or at least it shouldn’t. Whatever our clothing, personality or behaviour, we are all human and should surely be treated as equals. We have a body, a mind and a spirit that are equally unique. Different cultures lead us to different religions, some folk have very differing political views and there are times when we seem to forget that this is a transitory life. We are surrounded by such a wide range of plants, animals and other things, some of which have life and others that do not, like the rocks, stones and mountains, even the air we breathe but which all go together to make this planet, the amazing and beautiful world on which we live.

Earth, viewed from the Moon

According to radiometric dating estimation and other evidence, this Earth formed over 4.5 billion years ago. Within the first billion years of Earth’s history, life appeared in the oceans and began to affect Earth’s atmosphere and surface, leading to the proliferation of various different organisms. In fact, some geological evidence indicates that life may have arisen as early as 4.1 billion years ago. Since then, the combination of Earth’s distance from the Sun, physical properties, and geological history have allowed life to evolve and thrive. In the history of life on Earth, biodiversity has gone through long periods of expansion, occasionally punctuated by mass extinctions. Over 99% of all species that ever lived on Earth are extinct. The Ice Ages on Earth began 2.4 million years ago and lasted until 11,500 years ago. During this time, the earth’s climate repeatedly changed between very cold periods, during which glaciers covered large parts of the world and very warm periods during which many of the glaciers melted. In the time of dramatic climate change some 300,000 years ago, the humans we know as Homo sapiens evolved in Africa. Like other early humans that were living at this time, they gathered and hunted food, and evolved behaviours that helped them respond to the sometimes dramatic challenges of survival in unstable environments. Over long periods of time, streams and rivers wore away the rocks, many living things died out but equally many adapted and survived in the changing environment on Earth. Change has been with us and around us all this time, we can look back at the Egyptian pyramids dating back to over four thousand years ago and we can marvel at their technology. They found ways to achieve their goals. Closer to home but of a similar age, the Avebury complex is one of the principal ceremonial sites of Neolithic Britain that we can visit today. It was built and altered over many centuries from about 2850 BC until about 2200 BC and is one of the largest, and undoubtedly the most complex, of Britain’s surviving Neolithic henge monuments. How they mined the stones and transported them is amazing, but they achieved their aims. In a similar way, over the years our changes in weaponry were developed, diseases were fought and in time overcome. Now almost 8 billion humans live on Earth and we all depend on its biosphere and natural resources for our survival. Humans increasingly impact Earth’s surface, hydrology, atmospheric processes and other life. I personally feel it has much to do with our innate ways of wanting, wishing and willingness to survive. In my short lifetime to date I know of successes and failures, some in my family and some not. My maternal grandfather was in a ship that was torpedoed at the Battle of Jutland where only a few survived and he was one of them. However, having spent so much of his life at sea he could not easily adapt to living on land. My paternal grandfather fought at the Somme during World War I, he was captured and during his imprisonment lost one and a half fingers from one hand. But he survived, he adapted to his injuries. My father sustained a bad shoulder injury during a training exercise during World War II, so was not sent abroad with the rest of the unit he was in. He survived and met my mother, who was herself severely injured in London during the war and she was at first told she would never walk again. But she did, she bore three children and passed away at the grand age of 95. Yet a good friend of mine who was a brilliant musician did not heed the warnings of his doctor and sadly passed away aged 59. Over a few years I managed to get my parents and grandparents to tell me a few stories about the conflicts they were in, but they would never talk about the conflicts themselves, what they faced or how they coped, all I got were fun anecdotes. I guess it would have been too much and it is also how we cope with pain and suffering. I was born prematurely and have epilepsy, from birth I have had a weak right side similar to a stroke and I also have asthma. So I have learned to adapt, to survive. Right now I am in a Care Home, still recovering from heart problems along with Covid-19. I have had to adjust, to adapt to changing circumstances, but my faith and the excellent care I am receiving will get me through for a good while yet, that is what I hope and pray. As we all grow older, we encounter new challenges and we survive them, though we may find it tough going at times. But the good Earth turns, times change, and we must change or at least adapt with them. I wonder what the future may hold for us all!

This week…
It seems someone has had a valuable item stolen.
The owner has a message for the thief, which is:
To whoever has stolen my Microsoft Office.
I will find you.
It is something I Excel at.
Your Outlook is bleak.
You have my Word…

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Whittlesey And The Fens

In a blog post earlier this year I wrote about Whittlesey. Whilst this is not my ‘home’ town as such because I was born in London, we moved there when I was just eight months old because of my mother’s health and as my father had acquired a teaching job in the town, along with the use of the adjacent school house. This town was definitely where I began my education in this life, a journey which continues as there is always something new to learn, no matter what age we are! I got to know the area fairly well, although this was nothing like the families who had lived there all their lives. They knew their history, how things had changed so much as well as how it had grown and developed over so very many years. My research showed the town’s name appearing in the Domesday Book of 1086 as “Witesie”, meaning “Wit(t)el’s island”, deriving from either Witil, “the name of a moneyer”, or a diminutive of Witta, a personal name plus “eg”, meaning “’island’, also used as a piece of firm land in a fen. At some point the spelling of the town’s name was Whittlesea, but sadly my research has so far failed to determine exactly when. The name was then modernised at some point to Whittlesey, however, the old name spelling of Whittlesea is still used at the local railway station and on all British Rail timetables. In the centre of Whittlesey is the Market Square that has on it a structure known as the Buttercross and this dates back to 1680. It was originally a place for people to sell goods, but the structure was considered useless in the 1800s and only saved from demolition when a local businessman donated some slate tiles for the roof. Latterly it served as a bus shelter, until the local bus services were relocated from the Market Place to a purpose-built terminal in nearby Grosvenor Road. Adjacent to the Market Square is the church of St Mary’s, which does contain 15th-century work but most of the building is later. It is well-known for having one of the tallest buttressed spires in Cambridgeshire for the smallest tower base. The spire is 171 feet (52 metres) high. The church also contains a chapel that was restored in 1862 as a memorial to Sir Harry Wakelyn Smith, who I wrote about in a blog post earlier this year. The other church in the town is St Andrew’s, which blends the Perpendicular and Decorated styles of Gothic and its records date from 1635. A market is held on the Market Square every Friday and the right to hold a weekly market was first granted in 1715, although there have been several periods since in which the market did not function, for example from the late 1700s until about 1850. At one time the town had a large number of public houses, fifty-two in all and in 1797 a local farmer noted in his diary, “They like drinking better than fighting in Whittlesea.” In 1784, during the reign of King George III a brick tax was introduced, a property tax to help pay for the wars in the American Colonies. As a result, the local clay soil was used to make boundary walls made of cob, a natural building material made from subsoil, water, fibrous organic material, typically straw, and sometimes lime. The contents of subsoil naturally vary, and if it does not contain the right mixture it can be modified with sand or clay. Cob is fireproof, resistant to seismic activity and uses low-cost materials, although it is very labour intensive. Some examples of these cob walls still stand today and are claimed to be unique in Fenland. At one time there were several pits near to the town which were quarried for their clay, but only one is still in existence with the rest now flooded. Clay walls predate the introduction of the brick tax in other parts of the country and some were thatched. As a result, Whittlesey was significant for its brickyards, around which the former hamlet of King’s Dyke was based for much of the 20th century, although only one now remains following the closure of the Saxon brickworks in 2011. The detailed excavations of an area known as Flag Fen indicate thriving local settlements as far back as 1000 BCE, also at the nearby Must Farm quarry a Bronze Age settlement is described as “Britain’s Pompeii”, due to its relatively good condition and in 2016 this was being excavated by the University of Cambridge’s Archaeological Unit. At Must Farm at least five homes of 3,000 years in age have been found, along with Britain’s most complete prehistoric wooden wheel, dating back to the late Bronze Age. Whittlesey was linked to Peterborough in the west and March in the east by the Roman Fen Causeway, probably built in the 1st century CE. Roman artefacts have been recovered at nearby Eldernell, and a Roman skeleton was discovered in the nearby village of Eastrea during construction of its village hall in 2010. The town is still accessible by water, being connected to the River Nene by King’s Dyke, which forms part of the Nene/Ouse Navigation. Moorings can be found at Ashline Lock, alongside the Manor Leisure Centre’s cricket and football pitches.

Whittlesey Market Place in the 1940’s

The town is regarded as being on the edge of an area known as The Fens, also known as the Fenlands, and is a coastal plain of eastern England. This naturally marshy region supports a rich ecology and numerous species, and helps absorb storms. Most of the fens were drained centuries ago, resulting in a flat, dry, low-lying agricultural region supported by a system of drainage channels and man-made rivers, dykes and drains along with automated pumping stations. There have been unintended consequences to this reclamation, as the land level has continued to sink and the dykes have been built higher to protect it from flooding. The word ‘fen’ is a local term for an individual area of marshland or former marshland. In addition, it also designates the type of marsh typical of the area, which has neutral or alkaline water chemistry and relatively large quantities of various dissolved minerals, but few other nutrients. This fen land lies around the coast of the Wash, an area of nearly 1,500 square miles (3,900 square kilometres) in the counties of Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk. Most of this Fenland lies within a few metres of sea level and as with similar areas in the Netherlands, much of the area originally consisted of fresh or salt-water wetlands. These have been artificially drained and continue to be protected from floods by drainage banks and pumps and with the support of this drainage system, the Fens have become a major arable agricultural region in Britain for grains and vegetables. The Fens are particularly fertile, as they contain around half of the grade one agricultural land in England. The Fens have also been referred to as the “Holy Land of the English” because of the former monasteries, which are now churches and cathedrals, of Crowland, Ely, Peterborough, Ramsey and Thorney. Other significant settlements in the area include Boston, Cambridge, Spalding and Wisbech. The Fens are very low-lying compared with the chalk and limestone uplands that surround them, in most places no more than 33 feet (10 metres) above sea level. As a result of drainage and the subsequent shrinkage of the peat soil, many parts of the Fens now lie below mean sea level. This is despite one writer in the 17th century describing the Fenland as entirely above sea level (in contrast to the Netherlands) and the area now includes the lowest land in the United Kingdom. Holme Fen, in Cambridgeshire, is around 9 feet (2.75 metres) below sea level. Within the Fens are a few hills which have historically been called “islands” as they remained dry when the low-lying fens around them were flooded. The largest of the fen-islands was the 23-square-mile (60 square kilometre) Kimmeridge Clay island, on which the cathedral city of Ely was built, its highest point is 128 feet (39 metres) above mean sea level. Without artificial drainage and flood protection, the Fens would be liable to periodic flooding, particularly in winter due to the heavy load of water flowing down from the uplands and overflowing the rivers. Some areas of the Fens were once permanently flooded, creating lakes or Meres, whilst others were flooded only during periods of high water. In the pre-modern period arable farming was limited to the higher areas of the surrounding uplands, the fen islands, and the so-called “Townlands”, an arch of silt ground around the Wash, where the towns had their arable fields. Though these lands were lower than the peat fens before the peat shrinkage began, the more stable silt soils were reclaimed by medieval farmers and embanked against any floods coming down from the peat areas or from the sea. The rest of the Fenland was dedicated to pastoral farming, fishing, fowling and the harvesting of reeds or sedge for thatch. In this way, the medieval and early modern Fens stood in contrast to the rest of southern England, which was primarily an arable agricultural region.

Not far from Whittlesey is an area referred to as Whittlesey Mere. It is reputed to have formed from about 500 BC when silt was deposited by the rivers Nene and Welland and water backed up which in turn was unable to flow away towards the Wash and the North Sea. As a result, a series of large ponds formed and water plants as well as reeds, sedges and mosses grew. Wet and dry periods ensued and over time the plants decomposed and turned into peat. The Mere formed as a shallow lake with a peat bog on the south side and a river-bank on the north side. This Mere occupied land southeast of Yaxley Fen, south of Farcet Fen, and north of Holme Fen, with the town of Whittlesey lying to the northeast. Whittlesea Mere stretched 6 miles wide, being both the largest as well as the shallowest lake in lowland England and was always at or below sea level, which made it very difficult to drain. Great gales were mainly a feature of autumn and spring, summer weather was often muggy and close, drying the peat out. In 1626, King Charles I of England engaged the services of an experienced embankment engineer named Sir Cornelius Vermuyden, a Dutch-born British engineer to introduce Dutch land-reclamation methods into England. His first task was to drain Hatfield Chase on the Isle of Axholme in Yorkshire. Jointly financed by Dutch and English capitalists, this project was quite a controversial undertaking, not only for the engineering techniques used but also because it employed Dutch instead of English workmen. The fen-men, local inhabitants who hunted and fished in the fens, attacked the Dutch workers and in order to complete the project, the engineer had to employ English workers and compensate the fen-men for their loss of hunting and fishing rights. Vermuyden was then contracted to drain the Great Fens, or Bedford Level, Cambridgeshire. This project was completed in 1637, although it drew objections from other engineers who claimed his drainage system was inadequate. However in 1642, during the English Civil Wars, Parliament ordered that the dykes be broken and the land flooded to stop a Royalist army advance. In 1649 Vermuyden was then commissioned to reclaim the Bedford Level and by 1652 some 40,000 acres were drained. According to the traveller Celia Fiennes, who saw Whittlesey Mere in 1697, it was “3-mile broad and six-mile long. In the midst is a little island where a great store of Wildfowle breed…. The ground is all wett and marshy but there are severall little Channells runs into it which by boats people go up to this place; when you enter the mouth of the Mer it looks formidable and its often very dangerous by reason of sudden winds that will rise like Hurricanes….” But despite the initial success of his land-reclamation efforts, Vermuyden’s techniques were undermined by the unique peatland ecology of the Fens. Draining the marshes caused the peat to shrink dramatically, lowering the land surface by as much as 12 feet (3.7 metres) below the height of the drainage canals and making the area extremely susceptible to flooding. Much of the reclaimed land was regularly flooded by the end of the 17th century, and the issue remained largely unsolved until steam-powered pumps were employed in the early 19th century. In the very hot summer of 1826 the Mere completely dried out. The bed of the Mere contained only 100 acres of water where over 1,000 was the norm and this laid bare large areas of mud. Then high wind blew what little water remained into deep fissures, leaving tons of eel, carp, pike and perch all flapping on the surface. Although the Mere filled up again in the winter of 1827, no fish were caught in it for another 5 years. In December 1851 it was drained artificially when a 25hp Appold centrifugal pump, capable of lifting 16,000 gallons of water per minute, was used. The Mere’s owner, a Mr Wells of Holme Fen, also instructed labourers to cut a bank in the Mere allowing the water to escape into one of the outflowing rivers. Thousands came to watch this feat of engineering; some brought big baskets or horses and carts to carry the fish away. Some people strapped boards on to their feet so they would not sink into the soft mud and thereby waded carefully towards the fish which were left dying on the surface. Various treasures were found, including a valuable chandelier, various swords and a pure gold censer (incense burner). In November 1852 heavy rains swelled the outer rivers and the new banks could not stand the extra weight of water, so Whittlesea Mere returned to its former glory but was then emptied again by artificial means, leaving an area of some 3,000 acres of peat-covered swamp to be turned into agricultural land. Since the advent of modern drainage in the 19th and 20th centuries, the Fens have been radically transformed. Today arable farming has almost entirely replaced pastoral. The economy of the Fens is heavily invested in the production of crops such as grains, vegetables, and some cash crops such as rapeseed and canola. As such, the Fens are very flat and offer clear views right across Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, a beautiful area of the countryside.

Whittlesey Mere, 1851

For this week, a couple of fun ones…
I’ve just finished writing an essay on the life of Julius Caesar, starting with where he was baptised. The font was Times New Roman.

During a routine inspection by his Colour Sergeant, a dead fly was found inside a soldier’s locker. The soldier was given two punishment details; one for keeping a pet, and the other for not feeding it.

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