It is said that those who prefer to be alone have particularly unique personality traits. There may be more, but here are some. For a start, not everyone can be outgoing. Some of us prefer to be alone, and that’s fine too. Research does show there are so many reasons why being alone (and liking it!) isn’t such a bad thing.

Every individual has a variety of ideas, characteristics, perspectives and preferences unique to them. Some, a bit like me, can have a difficult time finding common ground with certain ‘outgoing’ individuals who come across as the life of the party, natural-born leaders, always wanting the spotlight types. It might be because you can’t relate to them, as not every person enjoys having the attention solely on them or feels the most comfortable in a group setting. There are some who prefer to have more intimate conversations or deeper relationships and aren’t able to find that with many people. If you’re someone who finds yourself avoiding large crowds or group settings and feel most comfortable when you’re alone with your own thoughts, you might be something of an introvert. The problem with being an introvert is we are presently living in a society that promotes opening our lives to others, no matter how it may be through outlets such as social media. Introverts are often thought of as having stereotypical ways and are therefore misunderstood by others, making it hard for them to see their nature as something positive. However research shows that these stereotypes aren’t accurate. People who prefer to be alone may be introverted, but the negative connotations associated with being introverted are far from the truth. People who can appreciate and enjoy being alone actually possess a strength, confidence, and understanding of themselves that extroverts might not possess. Often this ability to enjoy being alone is actually because they have a better sense of self. There are times when we are made to feel like being alone is weird or wrong. Society projects the idea that the ‘average’ or ‘normal’ person should want to socialise, be around people and make as many friends as possible and this is a common perception reinforced by society. For those who do enjoy simply being alone, maybe even more so than being around people, this lack of desire to socialise or build multiple relationships can become confusing for not only them but the people around them. So although socialising can be important, and relationships can be healthy and beneficial, there are a number of benefits and personality traits people who enjoy being alone also gain by taking that extra time for themselves. So here are some reasons why wanting to be alone can actually be good for you.


For a start, it can provide increased emotional strength. People who like to be alone are better able to accept, understand and identify their emotions because they spend more time observing and evaluating their own thoughts and feelings. Because they have taken this extra time to understand their emotions, they have a better sense of how to deal and manage them. Having this ability to better understand, handle and channel their emotions in a positive way is not only empowering, but it is also a sense of strength that many don’t take the time to create and build upon. They are naturally empathetic and studies suggest that people who prefer to be alone are more in touch with the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of others around them, making them more empathetic. This awareness of the emotions of others as well as their own allows them to not only empathise but show more compassion for those around them. Empathetic people are able to identify, acknowledge and experience the feelings of others, which can increase their sensitivity towards other human beings and allow them to care about people on more than just a surface level. One aspect I have noticed is having a strong moral compass, as those who prefer to spend time alone often have a better understanding of what they consider right and wrong. This is because they have taken the time to analyse and determine their perspectives and moral beliefs, so their moral compass is more developed than those affected and shaped by the opinions of others. This definitive moral compass also makes it easier for them to make decisions and be satisfied with the decisions they make. There is also an element of open-mindedness. Even though some people would assume introverts are more likely to be close-minded because they’re not as affected or exposed to the opinions of others, many people who prefer solitude are actually very open to new experiences and different perspectives. People who enjoy spending time alone don’t automatically have a mind closed off to the ways of the world around them, they just choose to gather a better understanding of the world in different ways that suit their personality. Then there isn’t the need for acceptance of our peers to the degree that other characters seem to have. Considering how our modern society is so influenced by the internet and social media, feeling like we have gained the respect of our peers can become an overwhelming need and some will do almost anything to satisfy that need. Popularity and acceptance have become one of the most pressing concepts we associate with success, and this can be a harmful measure of success to live by, particularly for our mental health. However, those who prefer to be alone feel this need less than those who get satisfaction out of attention and socialising because they have taken the time to get to know and understand their own sense of self. Because they have a better understanding of who they are, they are better able to separate their self-worth from the views of others. Associated with that is an admittance of their flaws. People who prefer to be alone are more likely to be comfortable with this and are more in-tune and comfortable with the fact that they are imperfect beings. This goes back to the sense of self they gain from being comfortable with themselves and with being alone. Being able to own up to our flaws and faults is an important step towards positive personal growth. Some do say that they prefer the company of other intellectual people. I’m not too sure on that point, but I will admit that I do not bother with what I consider to be ‘idle gossip’. Whilst working in an office some years ago I heard two people talking animatedly about someone who was apparently very ill, so unusually for me I politely enquired whether the person who was ill also worked at the same firm. I learned that these two were in fact talking about a character in the tv series ‘Coronation Street’ – but they were behaving as if the character was a real person! It takes all sorts to make a world. So being comfortable with being alone allows many introverts to be more selective about who they choose to spend their time with. Because they don’t feel a constant or incessant need to be around many people, they value their time and can be more selective of how they choose to spend it. This is because they know that with or without the company of others, they’d be fine either way. As a result, many people who prefer to be alone are more likely to be uninterested in small talk or meaningless conversation and prefer people who match them intellectually and have more challenging conversations. Such people who prefer to spend time on their own also understand the true value of time, an asset in our lives that many overlook or overshadow when among others. Not only do they value their own time, but they usually have more respect for the value and time of others.

Another aspect I have found to be true is that people who prefer to be alone are more in-tune with their gut feelings and they trust them. Since they spend more time getting to know themselves, they are better able to understand, recognise and tap into their intuition and ultimately trust it. In addition, they are highly loyal, because they are more selective about who they spend their time with. They still understand the value of friendship, they’re just more selective about who those friends are. But fewer friends usually means that it is easier to value and stay loyal to those friends. That said, they are independent souls. They have made a more defined line of when to reach out to others for help and when to depend on themselves. This line distinguishes between connecting with others and their actual dependence. Learning to face the world on their own, people who enjoy their own company don’t need people as much as they choose to have them around. They also, generally at least, have well thought-out opinions on the world. A misconception often associated with those that prefer to be alone is that they are more likely to come off as being indifferent to outside or worldly matters, but that is not the case. Actually, they’ve probably spent more time sitting back and assessing the world and have developed incredibly strong and well-thought-out opinions, but they just don’t always choose to share them. Which means that they can spend a great deal of time with their own thoughts, creating and developing a level of self-awareness incomparable to others. With this self-awareness, by stepping back and looking at the world around them and becoming more empathetic individuals, people that like to be alone are able to see the world from a kinder perspective, one that is more in-tune to the needs of those around them. This allows them to act on their compassion. They respect healthy boundaries and understand the importance of these clear, healthy boundaries to the benefit of both themselves and those around them. Interestingly they are courageous too, because they are comfortable with themselves so are not afraid to stand up alone in the world, a form of courage not many possess. Their confidence can be confusing or off-putting to others, but is ultimately admirable. They’re less likely to feel defeated, give up or back down. Added to this, their awareness and ability to focus allows independent individuals to analyse a situation with a calm, rational, level-headed mindset and efficiently find a solution. Another aspect of such people is that those who prefer to be alone place a higher value on the importance of finding the right person, because they’re not afraid of being single. They don’t waste time dating for the sake of company. If they are dating someone it is because they see the potential. They also have a strong idea of what they’re looking for in a partner and will hold out until they find that person that fits their criteria. Leading on from that, they are aware of their strengths and weaknesses, as people who have a better understanding of themselves are less likely to be ignorant to their weaknesses, and less likely to feel the need to compensate for them by exaggerating their strengths. It has been said by many that being honest with yourself as to what your strengths and weaknesses are is crucial to your personal development. You should also find that they are highly reliable. If they give their word that they are going to do something for you, they will follow it through. They don’t volunteer their time for just anything so if they commit to something they will place value on that commitment. So perhaps being alone isn’t so bad after all…

This week… memories
Many years ago, when I was but a lad, we would go on holiday as a family to North Devon. My mother’s family came from Truro and I knew that we had elderly relatives in Plymouth. We would visit them whilst on holiday and one year my parents and I were invited to a celebration arranged by some friends for my parents’ 25th wedding anniversary. I would have been about thirteen. We first visited our elderly relatives and whilst there I was told to put on a clean shirt and tie for the occasion. So there I was, putting on my tie and one of our relatives, an elderly ‘maiden aunt’ I suppose would be the correct term, saw me doing this and commented “Ooh, I’ve never seen a man get dressed before!” That aunt always seemed the quiet one, but she taught me much about gentle, good-natured humour!

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Living In A Care Home

I have been living in this Care home for a while now and have been writing a blog post almost every week since I arrived. In fact the only times I have missed were when I was in hospital. This week one of the Senior carers came to see me and asked if I would consider moving to a different room, down the other end of the building, because when I first arrived in this Care home I was given a choice of rooms, but to get to one of them was impossible for me at that time because it involved going up two small steps. Back then I was only able to walk with the aid of a walking frame, so that meant the going to the other one that was available. So I moved in to room 16, but with some effort my mobility improved and after a year I was able to put aside the walking frame and use a single stick, which pleased me as well as the Care home staff. I think they were happy to see my progress. However, I had a couple of setbacks, diagnosed as strokes, which meant I was in hospital for a short while each time. But I persevered, mainly by setting myself targets as to how many steps per day I managed. Some days were better than others! I learned more about the people staying in this Care home, which is staffed twenty-four hours a day, I saw some of the improvements made to the home like an updated alarm system so if any person needed assistance they could press a button and a carer would attend. The old system had worked, but this one was better as there was even an ‘emergency’ button for urgent assistance if it were needed. With my sense of humour I referred to those of us resident here as ‘inmates’ – mainly because for a while we were virtual prisoners, due to Covid. Even now, if there is any sign of a health issue like a tummy upset affecting a few inmates, we are requested to stay in our rooms, although that isn’t always easy. I have mentioned before that some inmates have dementia in varying stages and sadly at times must be treated a little like young children – politely but firmly. What has also been sad to see is the gentle ‘turnover’ of people, mainly due to the effects of dementia on them though some perhaps pass away through natural ageing and some through the effects of Covid and the relevant medication. I do not know. But I continue with my research and my writing, which I hope you enjoy, though perhaps not always as I do try to vary it a bit! If you read last week’s blog post you will have gathered that I am no great fan of football, but I still found it an interesting subject to research and write about! So I try to do the same with other things, but not politics – I do draw the line at that as it is a subject which can be long and drawn out with many different views. So I have been moved to room 34.

Care homes.

As to Care homes themselves, the history of these in Britain began in 936AD, when the first-known almshouse was built in York. The story goes that King Aethelstan, at that time King of the English, provided funding for it after seeing clergymen of an older incarnation of York Minster using their own money to care for the elderly. ‘Alms’ means to give to others, through virtue or compassion. Also known as bedehouses, from the Anglo-Saxon word for prayer, these houses were funded by wealthy people hoping that their funding would increase their chances of being accepted into Heaven. Almshouses were religious places and their aim was to nurture the soul as well as the body. Residents, known as Bedesmen and Bedeswomen, would have to live under a strict regime of prayer and worship as part of their care. Those who were Ill, disabled or elderly people could also be given residence in monasteries and later the first hospitals. The first hospital known to care for people long-term was St. John’s Hospital in Canterbury, founded around 1087AD. In these hospitals, long-term residents were cared for alongside short-term patients, with leprosy being a common reason for temporary admission. As leprosy rates waned, many smaller hospitals were converted into almshouses while large hospitals were established to care for temporarily ill people and wounded soldiers. In Elizabethan times, the 1601 Act of Relief for the Poor, now known as the Old Poor Law made that every parish in England and Wales’ responsibility to house people who could not work. The ‘impotent poor’ included people who were too ill, disabled or old to maintain employment. Some were sent to almshouses and some to early workhouses. By Victorian times, care for the elderly still fell under the same category as care for the sick and for the poor. Then the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, also known as the New Poor Law, put stricter methods in place for helping the poor. It got rid of ‘outdoor relief’, i.e. providing food and clothing to poor people and made the workhouse the main source of aid for anyone unable to work. However, workhouses were grim and designed as a deterrent, making conditions so bad people would do anything to avoid them. Older people would be made to work for 11 hours a day to earn their keep, with elderly women often working as nurses to other inmates, despite having no medical training whatsoever. Then the twentieth century saw significant reforms in care for older people. The 1908 Old Age Pensions Act brought in the first pension for anyone over 70 years old. It was means-tested and deliberately low to encourage people to save privately towards their retirement and included a behavioural test in order to redeem it. The 1925 Widows, Orphans and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act introduced the first contributory-pension, where some of the person’s wages went into their pension pot, as opposed to solely the employer contributing. In 1927, parliament passed the Nursing Homes Registration Act, with Scotland following suit in 1938. At this time, as defined by the latter, a ‘nursing home’ meant a home “providing of nursing for persons suffering from any sickness, injury, or infirmity, and includes a maternity home”. These laws made it compulsory to register nursing homes so they could be inspected, and introduced penalties for those who failed to do so. Homes also now had to keep proper records of every patient.

The Second World War brought a need for a new solution for housing for the elderly. Many were still confined to hospitals, but the huge number of casualties, both of soldiers and citizens during air raids, meant hospitals were crowded. At this time, medical care was still privatised and with men away fighting, affording it was extremely difficult. So shortly after the war the Labour Party came into power and started to lay foundations for the Welfare State. Prime Minister Clement Atlee created National Insurance, and his Minister for Health, Aneurin ‘Nye’ Bevan, formed the NHS in 1948. This was followed by the 1948 National Assistance Act that abolished the Old Poor Law, and this legislation made local authorities responsible for assisting ill, disabled and older people with care. Then a twentieth-century hero of social care named Professor Peter Townsend (not to be confused with Group Captain Peter Townsend, one-time love interest of Princess Margaret) appeared. He was a sociologist who visited 174 care homes in England and Wales in the late 1950s and the resulting book that described his findings, ‘The Last Refuge’, showed the inequality of standards of care between those in private homes and those receiving support. He was alarmed by the treatment of those whose care homes were former workhouses, finding that the old workhouse ways still haunted the homes, such as deaths being kept secret from other residents. His findings led to widespread reform in improving the standard of care for older people who were unable to pay for care privately, including central heating and single-occupancy rooms becoming standard. Then in the 1980s, under the new Conservative Government residential care homes became big business. Prior to this, local authority homes had been the majority, but self-funded care homes increased and the number of places in them tripled over the course of the decade. Whilst some were against privatisation, this did free up more places in local-authority funded homes for those that really needed them. The Registered Homes Act 1984 ensured that all private homes were still regulated. The 1990 NHS and Community Care Act Reform, implemented in 1993, brought in the idea of care cantering on individual needs and the care needs assessment was introduced. In 2000, the Care Standards Act, though not enforced until 2002, replaced the Registered Homes Act and for the first time considered nursing homes to be a form of care homes for the elderly. The legislation also established care councils in England and Wales, regulated the training of care workers and introduced a new set of minimum standards that all forms of care home were legally obliged to comply with. The Health and Social Care Act of 2008 aimed to combine the three existing regulatory bodies into one all-powerful inspectorate. This resulted in the Care Quality Commission (CQC), that inspects medical practices and care homes in England, beginning in 2009. In 2011, Scotland introduced the Care Inspectorate, but both lagged behind Wales, who had had the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales (CSSIW) in place since 2002. In 2018, the CCSIW changed its name to Care Inspectorate Wales. But I learn that the landscape for care homes is still changing. According to an IPPR think-tank report, 84% of care home beds occupied by older residents are in for-profit homes, while 13% provided by the voluntary sector with just 3% offered by local councils. In recent years there has been a push from developers for more luxury care homes, with the number of small care homes falling. These large builds offer luxury living with fine dining at every meal, facilities like salons, spas and cinemas and services like chauffeur-driven cars. Some even have built-in high streets to provide a safe community for their residents. There has also been an increase in demand for retirement villages, as people look to find a balance between independence and support. Me, I like what I have here. We shall see. My blog this week is deliberately short, last week’s was quite long and it is Christmas time, so I hope you are having a good time and maybe a bit of a break, as it is meant to be. I wish you all a happy New Year.

This week…a little poem

As we gently look back,
At the days that have passed,
As an old year now finishes,
To the knowledge we’ve gained.

Some doors have closed,
Some doors have opened,
Some lives have ended,
Some lives have begun.

Some chances were taken,
Some mistakes were made,
Some lessons were learned,
Some changes were made.

Now we look to the new year,
Now with peace in our heart,
Now we go with enlightenment,
Now we wake with a smile!

© Andrew D Williams 2018

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A History Of Football

With all that has been happening over the last few weeks on this sport, I thought I might add a little bit of history into it. So this blog might be slightly longer than usual, but there is more to the sport than I certainly realised! In fact the name ‘Football’ actually refers to a family of team sports that involve, to varying degrees, kicking a ball to score a goal. Unqualified, the word football normally means the form of football that is the most popular where the word is used. Sports commonly called ‘football’ include Association football (known mainly as ‘soccer’ in North America and Australia), gridiron football (specifically American or Canadian football), Australian rules football, rugby union, rugby league and Gaelic football. These various forms of football share to varying extent common origins and therefore share basic ‘football codes’. There are a number of references to traditional, ancient, or prehistoric ball games played in many different parts of the world. Contemporary codes of football can be traced back to the codification of these games at English public schools during the 19th century. The expansion and cultural influence of the British Empire allowed these rules of football to spread to areas of British influence outside the directly controlled Empire and by the end of the 19th century, distinct regional codes were already developing. Gaelic football, for example, deliberately incorporated the rules of local traditional football games in order to maintain their heritage. In 1888, The Football League was founded in England, becoming the first of many professional football associations. During the 20th century, several of the various kinds of football grew to become some of the most popular team sports in the world. The various codes of football share certain common elements and can be grouped into two main classes of football: ‘carrying’ codes like American football, Canadian football, Australian football, rugby union and rugby league, where the ball is moved about the field whilst being held in the hands or thrown, and ‘kicking’ codes such as Association football and Gaelic football, where the ball is moved primarily with the feet, and where handling is strictly limited. Common rules among the sports include two ‘teams’ of usually between 11 and 18 players, though there are some variations that have fewer players (five or more per team) which are also popular. There is usually a clearly defined area in which to play the game, scoring either goals or ‘points’ by moving the ball to an opposing team’s end of the field and either into a goal area, or over a line, goals or points resulting from players putting the ball between two goalposts and the goal or line being ‘defended’ by the opposing team. Also players only use their body to move the ball, i.e. no additional equipment such as bats or sticks are used. In all codes, common skills include passing, tackling, the evasion of tackles, catching and kicking. In most codes, there are rules restricting the movement of players including ‘offside’, and players scoring a goal must put the ball either under or over a crossbar between the goalposts. There are conflicting explanations of the origin of the word ‘football’. It is widely assumed that the word or phrase ‘foot ball’ refers to the action of the foot kicking a ball. There is an alternative explanation, which is that football originally referred to a variety of games in medieval Europe which were played ‘on foot’. There is no conclusive evidence for either explanation.

A painting depicting Emperor Taizu of Song playing ‘cuju’, or Chinese football with his prime minister Zhao Pu and other ministers, by the Yuan dynasty artist Qian Xuan (1235–1305)

The Chinese competitive game ‘cuju’ resembles modern association football or soccer and descriptions appear in a military manual dated to the second and third centuries BC. It existed during the Han dynasty and possibly the Qin dynasty, in the second and third centuries BC. The Japanese version of ‘cuju’ is ‘kemari’ and was developed during the Asuka period and this is known to have been played within the Japanese imperial court in Kyoto from about 600AD. In ‘kemari’, several people stand in a circle and kick a ball to each other, trying not to let the ball drop to the ground, much like ‘keepie uppie’!

An ancient Roman tombstone of a boy with a ‘Harpastum’ ball from Tilurium (modern Sinj, Croatia)

The Ancient Greeks and Romans are known to have played many ball games, some of which involved the use of the feet. The Roman game ‘harpastum’ is believed to have been adapted from a Greek team game known as ‘Episkyros’ or ‘Phaininda’. These games appear to have resembled rugby football. Roman ball games already knew the air-filled ball, the follis. ‘Episkyros’ is recognised as an early form of football by FIFA. In fact there are a number of references to traditional, ancient or prehistoric ball games, played by indigenous peoples in many different parts of the world. For example, in 1586, men from a ship commanded by an English explorer named John Davis went ashore to play a form of football with the Inuit in Greenland. There are later accounts of an Inuit game played on ice, called ‘Aqsaqtuk’, where each match began with two teams facing each other in parallel lines, before attempting to kick the ball through each other team’s line and then at a goal. In 1610, William Strachey, a colonist at Jamestown, Virginia recorded a game played by Native Americans called ‘Pahsaheman’. Northeastern American Indians, especially the Iroquois Confederation, played a game which made use of net racquets to throw and catch a small ball. However, although it is a ball-goal foot game, lacrosse (as its modern descendant is called) is likewise not usually classed as a form of football. On the Australian continent, several tribes there played kicking and catching games with stuffed balls which have been generalised by historians as ‘game ball’. The earliest historical account is an anecdote from the 1878 book by Robert Brough-Smyth in ‘The Aborigines of Victoria’, where a man is quoted as saying, in about 1841 in Victoria, Australia that he had witnessed Aboriginal people playing the game, which describes how the foremost player will drop kick a ball made from the skin of a possum and how other players leap into the air in order to catch it.” Some historians have theorised that this was one of the origins of Australian rules football. These games and others may well go far back into antiquity, however the main sources of modern football codes appear to lie in western Europe, especially England.

The Middle Ages saw a huge rise in popularity of annual Shrovetide football matches throughout Europe, particularly in England. An early reference to a ball game played in Britain comes from the 9th-century Historia Brittonum which describes ‘a party of boys playing at ball’.

An illustration of so-called ‘mob football’

The early forms of football played in England, sometimes referred to as ‘mob football’, would be played in towns or between neighbouring villages, involving an unlimited number of players on opposing teams who would clash ‘en masse’, struggling to move an item, such as inflated animal’s bladder to particular geographical points, such as their opponents’ church, with play taking place in the open space between neighbouring parishes. The game was played primarily during significant religious festivals, such as Shrovetide, Christmas, or Easter, with Shrovetide games surviving into the modern era in a number of English towns. The first detailed description of what was almost certainly football in England was given by William FitzStephen in about 1174–1183. He described the activities of London youths during the annual festival of Shrove Tuesday: “After lunch all the youth of the city go out into the fields to take part in a ball game. The students of each school have their own ball; the workers from each city craft are also carrying their balls. Older citizens, fathers, and wealthy citizens come on horseback to watch their juniors competing, and to relive their own youth vicariously: you can see their inner passions aroused as they watch the action and get caught up in the fun being had by the carefree adolescents.” Most of the very early references to the game speak simply of “ball play” or “playing at ball”. This reinforces the idea that the games played at the time did not necessarily involve a ball being kicked. An early reference to a ball game that was probably football comes from 1280 at Ulgham, Northumberland, England: “Henry, while playing at ball, ran against David”. Football was played in Ireland in 1308, with a documented reference to John McCrocan, a spectator at a ‘football game’ at Newcastle, County Down being charged with accidentally stabbing a player named William Bernard. Another reference to a football game comes in 1321 at Shouldham, Norfolk, England: “during the game at ball as he kicked the ball, a lay friend of his ran against him and wounded himself”. In 1314, Nicholas de Farndone, Lord Mayor of the City of London issued a decree banning football in French which was used by the English upper classes at the time. A translation reads: “Forasmuch as there is great noise in the city caused by hustling over large foot balls ‘rageries de grosses pelotes de pee’ in the fields of the public from which many evils might arise which God forbid: we command and forbid on behalf of the king, on pain of imprisonment, such game to be used in the city in the future.” This is the earliest reference to football. In 1363, King Edward III of England issued a proclamation banning “handball, football, or hockey; coursing and cock-fighting, or other such idle games”, showing that ‘football’ – whatever its exact form in this case – was being differentiated from games involving other parts of the body, such as handball. A game known as ‘football’ was played in Scotland as early as the 15th century, though it was prohibited by the Football Act 1424 and although the law fell into disuse it was not repealed until 1906! There is evidence for schoolboys playing a ‘football’ ball game in Aberdeen in 1633 (some references cite 1636) which is notable as an early allusion to what some have considered to be passing the ball. The word ‘pass’ in the most recent translation is derived from ‘huc percute’ (strike it here) and later ‘repercute pilam’ (strike the ball again) in the original Latin. It is not certain that the ball was being struck between members of the same team. The original word translated as ‘goal’ is ‘metum’, literally meaning the ‘pillar at each end of the circus course’ in a Roman chariot race. There is a reference to ‘get hold of the ball before [another player] does’ (Praeripe illi pilam si possis agere) suggesting that handling of the ball was allowed. One sentence states in the original 1930 translation ‘Throw yourself against him’ (Age, objice te illi). King Henry IV of England also presented one of the earliest documented uses of the English word ‘football’, in 1409, when he issued a proclamation forbidding the levying of money for ‘foteball’. There is also an account in Latin from the end of the 15th century of football being played at Caunton, Nottinghamshire. This is the first description of a ‘kicking game’ and the first description of dribbling, where ’the game at which they had met for common recreation is called by some the foot-ball game. It is one in which young men, in country sport, propel a huge ball not by throwing it into the air but by striking it and rolling it along the ground, and that not with their hands but with their feet, kicking in opposite directions.’ The chronicler gives the earliest reference to a football pitch, stating that: ‘the boundaries have been marked and the game had started.’

Oldest known painting of foot-ball in Scotland, by Alexander Carse, c. 1810

There have been many attempts to ban football, from the Middle Ages through to the modern day. The first such law was passed in England in 1314, it was followed by more than 30 in England alone between 1314 and 1667. Women were banned from playing at English and Scottish Football League grounds in 1921, a ban that was only lifted in the 1970s. Female footballers still face similar problems in some parts of the world. Whilst football continued to be played in various forms throughout Britain, its public schools (equivalent to private schools in other countries) are widely credited with four key achievements in the creation of modern football codes. First of all, the evidence suggests that they were important in taking football away from its ‘mob’ form and turning it into an organised team sport. Second, many early descriptions of football and references to it were recorded by people who had studied at these schools. Third, it was teachers, students, and former students from these schools who first codified football games, to enable matches to be played between schools. Finally, it was at English public schools that the division between ‘kicking’ and ‘running’ (or “carrying”) games first became clear. The earliest evidence that games resembling football were being played at English public schools, mainly attended by boys from the upper, upper-middle and professional classes, comes from the ‘Vulgaria’ by William Herman in 1519. Herman had been headmaster at Eton and Winchester colleges and his Latin textbook includes a translation exercise with the phrase “We wyll playe with a ball full of wynde”. Richard Mulcaster, a student at Eton College in the early 16th century and later headmaster at other English schools, has been described as “the greatest sixteenth Century advocate of football”. Among his contributions are the earliest evidence of organised team football and his writings refer to teams (‘sides’ and ‘parties’), positions (‘standings’), a referee (‘judge over the parties’) and a coach (‘trayning maister’). Mulcaster’s ‘footeball’ had evolved from the disordered and violent forms of traditional football into: “some smaller number with such overlooking, sorted into sides and standings, not meeting with their bodies so boisterously to trie their strength: nor shouldring or shuffing one an other so barbarously … may use footeball for as much good to the body, by the chiefe use of the legges.” In 1633, David Wedderburn, a teacher from Aberdeen, mentioned elements of modern football games in a short Latin textbook called ‘Vocabula’. Wedderburn refers to what has been translated into modern English as ‘keeping goal’ and makes an allusion to passing the ball (‘strike it here’). There is a reference to ‘get hold of the ball’, suggesting that some handling was allowed. It is clear that the tackles allowed included the charging and holding of opposing players (‘drive that man back’). English public schools were the first to codify football games. In particular, they devised the first ‘offside’ rules, during the late 18th century. In the earliest manifestations of these rules, players were “off their side” if they simply stood between the ball and the goal which was their objective. Players were not allowed to pass the ball forward, either by foot or by hand. They could only dribble with their feet, or advance the ball in a scrum or similar formation. However, offside laws began to diverge and develop differently at each school, as is shown by the rules of football from Winchester, Rugby, Harrow and Cheltenham, between 1810 and 1850. The first known codes – in the sense of a set of rules – were those of Eton in 1815 and Aldenham in 1825.

The boom in rail transport in Britain during the 1840s meant that people were able to travel further and with less inconvenience than they ever had before. Inter-school sporting competitions became possible. However, it was difficult for schools to play each other at football, as each school played by its own rules. The solution to this problem was usually that the match be divided into two halves, one half played by the rules of the host ‘home’ school, and the other half by the visiting ‘away’ school. The modern rules of many football codes were formulated during the mid or late 19th century. This also applies to other sports such as lawn bowls, lawn tennis, etc. The major impetus for this was the patenting of the world’s first lawnmower in 1830! This allowed for the preparation of modern ovals, playing fields, pitches and grass courts. Public schools’ dominance of sports in the UK began to wane after the Factory Act of 1850, which significantly increased the recreation time available to working class children. Before 1850, many British children had to work six days a week, for more than twelve hours a day. From 1850, they could not work before 6am (7am in winter) or after 6pm on weekdays (7pm in winter) and on Saturdays they had to cease work at 2pm. These changes meant that working class children had more time for games, including various forms of football. During the nineteenth century, several codifications of the rules of football were made at the University of Cambridge, in order to enable students from different public schools to play each other. The Cambridge Rules of 1863 influenced the decision of Football Association to ban Rugby-style carrying of the ball in its own first set of laws. By the late 1850s, many football clubs had been formed throughout the English-speaking world, to play various codes of football. Sheffield Football Club, founded in 1857 was later recognised as the world’s oldest club playing association football. However, the club initially played its own code of football. The code was largely independent of the public school rules, the most significant difference being the lack of an ‘offside’ rule. This code was responsible for many innovations that later spread to association football and included free kicks, corner kicks, handball, throw-ins and the crossbar. By the 1870s they became the dominant code in the north and midlands of England. At this time a series of rule changes by both the London and Sheffield Associations gradually eroded the differences between the two games until the adoption of a common code in 1877. So the need for a single body to oversee association football had become apparent by the beginning of the 20th century, with the increasing popularity of international fixtures. The English Football Association had chaired many discussions on setting up an international body, but was perceived as making no progress. It fell to associations from seven other European countries: France, Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland, to form an international association. The ‘Fédération Internationale de Football Association’ (FIFA) was founded in Paris on 21 May 1904. Its first president was Robert Guérin. The French name and acronym has remained, even outside French-speaking countries. Several of the football codes are the most popular team sports in the world. Globally, association football is played by over 250 million players in over 200 nations and has the highest television audience in sport, making it the most popular in the world. Will we ever know just how many people watched the games over the last few weeks…

This week….
Some of you may have seen this before, but it still makes me smile. When we know the size of the small computer memory available now in Terabytes (Tb), compared to the one pictured below, which is just 5 Megabytes (Mb) in size and then consider there are in fact 1,000,000 Mb in just 1 Tb… The 4Tb external storage drive I have now is just 4 inches long, 3 inches wide and less than one inch thick!

Loading 5MB of memory into a Pan-Am Jet, in 1956.

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Clay Cross

First, a sort of historical introduction, not perhaps what you would expect though. I begin this tale of writing from around 1990, when I was working for British Telecom and, as they are prone to do every few years, we had another reorganisation. My job relocated from Leicester to Nottingham and I, having recently married, was looking for a place to live. My partner, later my wife, saw details of a new development in a place which was just outside Clay Cross and despite the need for us to travel to and from there to Nottingham and back each workday, I was persuaded to buy a house there. My marriage did not last, but circumstances enabled me to stay in the house and it became my home for over a dozen years, what with a downturn in the housing market and further reorganisations within British Telecom. The house was barely a mile from Clay Cross, so well within walking distance of the shops. I was therefore around six miles from Chesterfield and the nearest railway station. Clay Cross is unusual, as it has a railway tunnel going directly beneath the centre of it. The town was developed by the ‘Father of the Railways’ George Stephenson, who discovered coal whilst building the Clay Cross Tunnel and so he founded the Clay Cross Company. The tunnel still survives today and is known locally as the Mile Long. The town is a civil parish in the North East district of Derbyshire, it is a former industrial and mining town, about 5 miles (8km) south of Chesterfield and is directly on the A61. Surrounding settlements include Danesmoor, North Wingfield, Tupton, Pilsley and Ashover. Clay Cross High Street was built over a pre-dating Roman road that may have been called Rykneild Street, where a tollhouse (1786-1876) was situated. The discovery of coal in the area introduced the village to the Industrial Revolution and packhorses at first transported the ‘black gold’ over the Peaks on a turnpike road opened in 1756 between the iron foundries of Derby and Sheffield. Until the early 19th century, Clay Cross was a small village known as Clay Lane, but increasing demand for coal and other minerals trebled the population by 1840 or so, the oldest building being the George and Dragon Inn. Whilst driving the tunnel for the North Midland Railway, George Stephenson discovered both coal and iron which, together with the demand for limestone, caused him to move into Tapton House, near Chesterfield, and set up business as George Stephenson and Co.

Tapton House, Chesterfield.

A map of 1833 showed Thanet Street and Clay Lane, but the railway ‘mania’ of 1840s witnessed expansion northwards facilitated by the Clay Cross tunnel dug in 1837–38 and it was whilst tunnelling over a mile underground they then discovered vast quantities of commercial grade coal. Clay Cross became a boom town. The ‘Liverpool Party’ of Stephenson engineers formed the Clay Cross Company in 1839, which they funded from their considerable resources. As well as sinking a number of shafts with colliery support, there were coke oven works, brickworks, limeworks, irons furnaces and foundry. The ductile pipe was developed into an internationally sold product, making Clay Cross renowned for its iron and coal industry worldwide. Although the company had been formed to mine coal and manufacture coke from the railway, the supplies from Durham were preferred and the works turned to iron working and brick making. When Stephenson died in 1848, his son Robert took over, leaving the company in 1852 when it became formally known by the name of the Clay Cross Company. In 1871 the Jackson family acquired 100% of the stocks and shares. They continued as owners until 1974. For many years, the company was the town’s major employer and in 1985 Biwater took it over. Then in December 2000 Biwater sold the site to French company, Saint-Gobain. Sadly some months later, it was closed down with the loss of around 750 jobs. Demolition of the vast Biwater site began in late 2008, with new houses and shops appearing in the town. Back in 1925 the Ashover Light Railway was opened to transport minerals from the quarries at Ashover Butts to the Clay Cross Company at Egstow. The passenger services on the narrow gauge line were closed in 1936 and the mineral traffic ceased in 1950.

Eldon House.

In 1840 the Stephensons built Eldon House as its office headquarters, which latterly was converted into a private dwelling-house. The Stephensons also built more than 400 miners’ cottages. In addition they set up elementary schools and consecrated new churches. The company provided the town with almost all its energy needs in gas and electricity.

Clay Cross Hall.

The largest house, Clay Cross Hall, was built in 1845 for the company’s General Manager Charles Binns. Stephenson’s workers’ houses were of high quality for their time, having four rooms compared to the normal two and by 1850 there were three chapels, a church and an institute – but no constable. One such construction of 1847 was the Wesleyan Chapel in use until at least 1900 on Holmgate Road. They also provided a company bowling green with a clubhouse. A Mechanics Institute was opened which was handed over to the Clay Lane Urban Districts School Board in 1893. The Board’s Senior School for Boys was opened in 1884, converted to a junior school in the 1930s. Sadly my research suggests that although in use up to 2009, the building has since been declared as ‘unsafe’ and would be demolished to make way for new, ‘greener’ housing. During the late Victorian era middle class villa style houses were also built in a new part of the town. Colliery owner Thomas Houldsworth, also a churchwarden for 25 years, built Alma House which stood in extensive parklands. The house was surrounded by railings and flat roof of indeterminate date. He was responsible developer of Clay Cross pits until 1850, and then the Alma Colliery in North Wingfield, after the Crimean War. Springfield House was built by the Clay Cross Company for engineer William Howe by the company. He was the resident from 1866 until his death in 1872. An even earlier event was Hill House built by 1833 it was purchased by the North Midland Railway Company in 1837 as an office for resident engineer Frederick Swanwick.

Clay Cross Tunnel vent, next to the Job Centre in Market Street.

When the tunnel was completed, it is said that Swanwick left town, but the house was passed to engineers James Campbell and William Howe, and by the 1860s, Dr. Wilson, the local medical practitioner was in residence. The North Midland Railway tunnel sank nine ventilator shafts through which smoke wafted across the Peaks. Clay Cross is situated at the highest point on the line 361 feet above sea level, when it opened in 1840. Interestingly a narrow gauge line transported coal up the incline to the works. Another mile north along the ‘Black Path’ was Clay Cross railway station, between the halts at Tupton and Hepthorne Lane. Sadly Clay Cross station was closed as part of the Beeching cuts in 1967. That would have been really useful to me, had it still been there!

St Bartholomew’s Church, Clay Cross.

The Anglican church of St Bartholomew was built and consecrated in 1851. Six years later a spire was added. The Rev. Joseph Oldham and his wife, Emma were the first conscientious incumbents. Her brother was radical designer and founder of the Arts and Crafts movement, William Morris, who was commissioned to install a saintly stained glass window. Other places of worship in the town are the Methodist Church on High Street, the Baptist Church on Market Street (now closed), Clay Cross Community Church (Assemblies of God) on Market Street, the Roman Catholic Church of St. Patrick and St. Bridget on Thanet Street, the Salvation Army on Thanet Street, the Community of Christ on Thanet Street, St Barnabas Church, and an Anglican congregation meeting place at the St Barnabas Centre on Pilsley Road, Danesmoor. I didn’t know there were so many.

Danesmoor Cemetery Chapel and Parkhouse Memorial.

The Parkhouse Colliery Memorial in Danesmoor Cemetery stands today as testament to a disaster. In November 1882 an underground explosion brought the collapse of the pit shaft causing the death of 45 men and boys. Many of their families lived in company housing at Pleasant Row, Chapel Row, Cellar Row and Gaffers Row. Also known as Egstow Terrace, this last street was built in 1846, was considered of better average quality housing.

Former Co-operative shop on High Street.

The Clay Cross Pioneer Industrial Co-operative Society’s first shop was opened on the corner of the High Street and Market Street. It was an early member of the Co-operative Movement founded in Rochdale by John Bright that spread rapidly across the North of England. The Co-operative Society archives say that the Clay Cross Pioneer Industrial Society merged with the Chesterfield & District Co-operative Society in 1915. The town itself was an urban district until 1974, when it was merged into the North East Derbyshire district under the Local Government Act 1972. In the 1970s the council achieved brief notoriety due to its refusal to implement the Housing Finance Act 1972 in increasing the rents of council housing, as by law the rents should have increased by £1 a week from October 1972. The council was one of several to show defiance against the Act and of three to be ordered to comply by the Department of the Environment in November 1972 (the others being Eccles and Halstead). Clay Cross Urban District Council (UDC) was threatened with an audit in December 1972. The constituency Labour party barred the eleven councillors from its list of approved candidates, the District Auditor ordered the eleven Labour Party councillors to pay a surcharge of £635 each in January 1973, finding them ‘guilty of negligence and misconduct’. Conisbrough UDC faced a similar audit on 19 January 1973. The UDC made an appeal in the case to the High Court. Clydebank and Cumbernauld abandoned similar actions in March 1973, then the surcharge was upheld by the High Court on 30 July 1973, which also added a further £2,000 legal costs to their bill, as well as barring them from public office for five years. The council further defied authority via the Pay Board in August, when they decided to increase council workers’ earnings. This provoked a further dispute with the National Association of Local Government Officials (NALGO). Ultimately, the dispute became moot with the replacement of Clay Cross Urban District Council with the North East Derbyshire District Council from 1 April 1974 and the councillors were made bankrupt in 1975. A book on the dispute between the council and the government, ‘The Story of Clay Cross’, was written by one of the councillors, David Skinner and the journalist Julia Langdon, the book was published by Spokesman Books in 1974. Clay Cross has a large modern business park called Coney Green Business Park and is located between Egstow and Danesmoor. There is a community hospital on the A6175, Market Street. The town’s library is on Holmgate Road. Clay Cross town centre is currently undergoing a £22m redevelopment which has so far included a new supermarket, new bus station and new relief road so I expect it will look quite different now to when I lived there almost twenty years ago! The second phase of this is due to start which will see a new parade of shops plus a new medical centre. Eventually the site of the former junior and infant schools which is located in the town centre will be redeveloped. Junction 29 of the M1 motorway is just five miles away. The nearest railway stations are now Chesterfield and Alfreton, both just under six miles away. In 2017, a bus service run by Stagecoach connecting Clay Cross to Chesterfield railway station was introduced. A passenger railway line runs in an enclosed tunnel under the town. To ease chronic congestion on the A61, which has seen traffic grow by 10% in the past few years, there is talk of a dual carriageway bypassing Clay Cross and Tupton before joining the A617 near Hasland, heading North West to Horns Bridge. Tupton Hall School is in Tupton and located about one mile to the north of Clay Cross. Previously Clay Cross had a secondary school located in Market Street, and a junior school located off High Street. The junior and infant schools were then merged and moved to a new purpose built complex on Pilsley Road in Danesmoor and renamed Sharley Park Community Primary School. The site of the former schools has been cleared and is awaiting development. The secondary school was closed in 1969 and transferred to Tupton Hall as part of the Government’s drive to comprehensive education, it is now one of the largest with around 2,000 pupils, including a sixth form centre. Clay Cross Secondary School was converted to an adult education centre.

Clay Cross cricket ground.

As for leisure, the Sharley Park Leisure Centre, on the A6175, Market Street, has swimming, gym and sports hall facilities. Five football clubs from the town, all now extinct, have competed in the FA Cup over the years and the town’s current team, the third to be called Clay Cross Town, play in the Central Midlands Football League and played in the FA Vase for the first time in 2016. There have been a few notable residents from the town, such as Dennis Skinner who was born and grew up in the town and went to Tupton Hall Grammar School. He first worked at Parkhouse Colliery in 1949, a mile to the east of Clay Cross. The pit closed in 1962. He was a Clay Cross councillor from 1960 to 1970, directly before becoming an MP in 1970. Edmund ‘Eddie’ Shimwell was an FA Cup winner and later licensee of the Royal Volunteer public house in Clay Cross. Arthur Henderson was a Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1934, when he was MP for Clay Cross. Sir George Kenning (1880–1956) was a Derbyshire entrepreneur who grew the family business from a corner hardware shop in Clay Cross to a nationwide car dealership that employed around 2,000 people. Kenning became one of the early pioneers in selling, servicing and financing the use of motor vehicles by industry, commerce and individuals. George Kenning was very active in public life. He served on the now defunct Clay Cross Urban District council as well as being a councillor and alderman on Derbyshire County Council. He was an active member of the Methodist Church in Clay Cross. Kenning also provided a recreation ground for use by the people of Clay Cross. This was named ‘Kenning Park’ and is located on Holmgate Road to the west of the town. As a result of his contribution to public life, the Alderman George Kenning, JP, was appointed Knight Bachelor in the 1943 New Year Honours List ‘for public services in Derbyshire’. He then became known as ‘Sir George Kenning’. It was a strange set of circumstances which brought me to Clay Cross, but it taught me much. I hope you have found it interesting.

This week… paint the town red.

The phrase “paint the town red” most likely owes its origin to one legendary night of drunkenness. In 1837 the Marquis of Waterford, who was a known lush and mischief maker, led a group of friends on a night of drinking through the English town of Melton Mowbray. The bender culminated in vandalism after Waterford and his fellow revellers knocked over flowerpots, pulled knockers off of doors and broke the windows of some of the town’s buildings. To top it all off, the mob literally painted a tollgate, the doors of several homes and a swan statue with red paint. The marquis and his pranksters later compensated Melton Mowbray for the damages, but their drunken escapade is likely the reason that “paint the town red” became shorthand for a wild night out. But still, yet another theory suggests the phrase was actually borne out of the brothels of the American West, and referred to men behaving as though their whole town were a red-light district. Who knows?

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This is a Christian season of preparation for the Nativity of Christ at Christmas. It is the beginning of the liturgical year, also called the church year or Christian, consisting of the cycle of liturgical seasons in Christian churches in Western Christianity that determines when feast days, including celebrations of saints, are to be observed, and which portions of Scripture are to be read either in an annual cycle or in a cycle of several years. The name ‘Advent’ was adopted from Latin ‘adventus’, or ‘coming, arrival’, translating from the Greek ‘parousia’. In the New Testament, this is the term used for the second coming of Christ. Thus, the season of Advent in the Christian calendar anticipates the ‘coming of Christ’ from three different perspectives, these being the physical nativity in Bethlehem, the reception of Christ in the heart of the believer, and the eschatological Second Coming. Practices associated with Advent include Advent calendars, lighting an Advent wreath, praying an Advent or daily devotional, erecting a Christmas tree, lighting a Christingle as well as other ways of preparing for Christmas, such as setting up Christmas decorations, a custom that is sometimes done liturgically through a ‘hanging of the greens’ ceremony. The equivalent of Advent in Eastern Christianity is called the Nativity Fast, but it differs in length and observances, and does not begin the liturgical church year as it does in the West. The Eastern Nativity Fast does not use the equivalent ‘parousia’ in its preparatory services. In the Western Rite of the Orthodox Church and in the Anglican, Lutheran, Moravian, Presbyterian, and Methodist calendars, Advent commences on the fourth Sunday before Christmas (always falling between 27 November and 3 December), and ends on Christmas Eve, on 24 December. In the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, Advent begins with First Vespers (Evening Prayer I) of the Sunday that falls on or closest to November 30 and it ends before First Vespers (Evening Prayer I) of Christmas. In the Ambrosian Rite and the Mozarabic Rite of the Catholic Church, Advent begins on the sixth Sunday before Christmas, the Sunday after St. Martin’s Day,11 November. I may look more into these different ‘Rites’ at a later date. It is not known when the period of preparation for Christmas that is now called Advent began. It was certainly in existence from about 480AD and the novelty introduced by the Council of Tours of 567 was to order monks to fast every day in the month of December until Christmas. It is impossible to claim with confidence a credible explanation of the origin of Advent.

Representation of Saint Perpetuus.

Associated with Advent as a time of penitence was a period of fasting, known also as St Martin’s Lent or the Nativity Fast. According to Saint Gregory of Tours, the celebration of Advent began in the fifth century when the Bishop Perpetuus directed that “starting with the St. Martin’s Day on 11 November until Christmas, one fasts three times per week”. So that is why Advent was sometimes also named ‘Lent of St. Martin’. But this practice remained limited to the diocese of Tours until the sixth century. Then the Council of Macon, held in 581, adopted the practice in Tours and soon all France observed three days of fasting a week from the feast of Saint Martin until Christmas. The most devout worshipers in some countries exceeded the requirements adopted by the council, and fasted every day of Advent. The first clear references in the Western Church to Advent occur in the Gelasian Sacramentary, which provides Advent Collects, Epistles, and Gospels for the five Sundays preceding Christmas and for the corresponding Wednesdays and Fridays. The homilies of Gregory the Great in the late sixth century showed four weeks to the liturgical season of Advent, but without the observance of a fast. However, under Charlemagne in the ninth century, writings claim that the fast was still widely observed.
In the thirteenth century, the fast of Advent was not commonly practiced although, according to Durand of Mende, fasting was still generally observed. As quoted in the bull of canonisation of St. Louis, the zeal with which he observed this fast was no longer a custom observed by Christians of great piety. It was then limited to the period from the feast of Saint Andrew until Christmas Day, since the solemnity of this apostle was more universal than that of St. Martin. When Pope Urban V ascended the papal seat in 1362, he imposed abstinence on the papal court but there was no mention of fasting. It was then customary in Rome to observe five weeks of Advent before Christmas. The Ambrosian Rite has six. The Greeks show no more real consistency, Advent was an optional fast that some begin on 15 November, whilst others begin on 6 December or only a few days before Christmas. The liturgy of Advent remained unchanged until the Second Vatican Council, the 21st ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church. The council met in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome for four periods (or sessions), each lasting between 8 and 12 weeks, in the autumn of each of the four years 1962 to 1965. Preparation for the council took three years, from the summer of 1959 to the autumn of 1962. The council was opened on 11 October 1962 by John XXIII (pope during the preparation and the first session), and was closed on 8 December 1965 by Paul VI (pope during the last three sessions, after the death of John XXIII on 3 June 1963). Pope John XXIII called the council because he felt the Church needed ‘updating’. In order to connect with 20th-century people in an increasingly secularised world, some of the Church’s practices needed to be improved, and its teaching needed to be presented in a way that would appear relevant and understandable to them. Many Council participants were sympathetic to this, whilst others saw little need for change and resisted efforts in that direction. But support for change won out over resistance and as a result the sixteen magisterial documents produced by the council proposed significant developments in doctrine and practice, these being an extensive reform of the liturgy, a renewed theology of the Church, of revelation and of the laity, a new approach to relations between the Church and the world, to ecumenism, to non-Christian religions and to religious freedom. This liturgy also introduced minor changes differentiating the spirit of Lent from that of Advent, emphasising Advent as a season of hope for Christ’s coming now as a promise of his Second Coming. The theme of readings and teachings during Advent is often seen as the preparation for the Second Coming and the Last Judgement. Whilst the Sunday readings relate to the first coming of Jesus Christ as saviour as well as to his Second Coming as judge, traditions vary in the relative importance of penitence and expectation during the weeks in Advent.

Medieval manuscript of Gregorian chant setting of ‘Rorate Coeli’.

Since approximately the 13th century, the usual liturgical colour in Western Christianity for Advent has been violet. Pope Innocent III declared black to be the proper colour for Advent, though Durandus of Saint-Pourçain claims violet has preference over black. The violet or purple colour is often used for antependia, the vestments of the clergy, and often also the tabernacle. On the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, rose may be used instead, referencing the rose used on Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent. A rose coloured candle in Western Christianity is referenced as a sign of joy (Gaudete) lit on the third Sunday of Advent. Whilst the traditional colour for Advent is violet, there is a growing interest in and acceptance, by some Christian denominations of blue as an alternative liturgical colour for Advent, a custom traced to the usage of the Church of Sweden (Lutheran) and the Mozarabic Rite, which dates from the 8th century. The Lutheran Book of Worship lists blue as the preferred colour for Advent whilst the Methodist Book of Worship and the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship identify purple or blue as appropriate for Advent. Proponents of this new liturgical trend argue that purple is traditionally associated with solemnity and sombreness, which is fitting to the repentant character of Lent. There has been an increasing trend in Protestant churches to supplant purple with blue during Advent as it is a hopeful season of preparation that anticipates both Bethlehem and the consummation of history in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. This colour is often called ‘Sarum blue’, referring to its purported use at Salisbury Cathedral. Many of the ornaments and ceremonial practices associated with the Sarum rite were revived in the Anglican Communion in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as part of the Anglo-Catholic Oxford Movement in the Church of England. However the Roman Catholic Church retains the traditional violet. Blue is not generally used in Latin Catholicism and where it does regionally, it has nothing to do with Advent specifically, but with veneration of the Blessed Virgin. However, on some occasions that are heavily associated with Advent, such as the Rorate Mass – but not on Sundays, when white is used. During the Nativity Fast, red is used by Eastern Christianity, although gold is an alternative colour.

Lighting the Advent Candle.

Many churches also hold special musical events, such as Nine Lessons and Carols and singing of Handel’s Messiah oratorio. Also, the Advent Prose, an antiphonal plainsong may be sung. The ‘Late Advent Weekdays’, 17th to 24th December, mark the singing of the Great Advent ‘O antiphons‘. These are the daily antiphons for the Magnificat at Vespers, or Evening Prayer (in the Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches) and Evensong in Anglican churches, marking the forthcoming birth of the Messiah. They form the basis for each verse of the popular Advent hymn, “O come, O come, Emmanuel“. I have also found that Bishop Perpetuus of Tours, who died in 490, ordered fasting three days a week from the day after Saint Martin’s Day (11 November). In the 6th century, local councils enjoined fasting on all days except Saturdays and Sundays from Saint Martin’s Day to Epiphany (the feast of baptism), a period of 56 days, but of 40 days fasting, like the fast of Lent. It was therefore called ‘Quadragesima Sancti Martini’ (Saint Martin’s Lent). This period of fasting was later shortened and simply called ‘Advent’ by the Church. In the Anglican and Lutheran churches this fasting rule was later relaxed. The Roman Catholic Church later abolished the precept of fasting (at an unknown date, at the latest in 1917), but kept Advent as a season of penitence. In addition to fasting, dancing and similar festivities were forbidden in these traditions. On ‘Refreshment’ Sunday, also known as Rose Sunday, relaxation of the fast was permitted. Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches still hold the tradition of fasting for 40 days before Christmas. In England, especially in the northern counties, there was a custom (now extinct) for poor women to carry around the ‘Advent images’, two dolls dressed to represent Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary. A halfpenny coin was expected from every one to whom these were exhibited and bad luck was thought to menace the household not visited by the doll-bearers before Christmas Eve at the latest. The keeping of an Advent wreath is a common practice in homes or churches. The concept of the Advent wreath originated among German Lutherans in the 16th Century, however, it was not until three centuries later that the modern Advent wreath took shape. The modern Advent wreath, with its candles representing the Sundays of Advent, originated from an 1839 initiative by Johann Hinrich Wichern, a Protestant pastor in Germany and a pioneer in urban mission work among the poor. In view of the impatience of the children he taught as they awaited Christmas, he made a ring of wood, with nineteen small red tapers and four large white candles. Every morning a small candle was lit, and every Sunday a large candle. Custom has retained only the large candles. In the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, the readings of Mass on the Sundays of Advent have distinct themes. On the First Sunday (Advent Sunday), they look forward to the Second Coming of Christ. On the Second Sunday, the Gospel reading recalls the preaching of John the Baptist, who came to “prepare the way of the Lord”, with the other readings having associated themes. On the Third Sunday (Gaudete Sunday), the Gospel reading is again about John the Baptist, the other readings about the joy associated with the coming of the Saviour. On the Fourth Sunday, the Gospel reading is about the events involving Mary and Joseph that led directly to the birth of Jesus, whilst the other readings are related to these. However, in another tradition the readings for the first Sunday in Advent relate to the Old Testament patriarchs who were Christ’s ancestors, so some call the first Advent candle that of hope. Here the readings for the second Sunday concern Christ’s birth in a manger and other prophecies, so the candle may be called that of Bethlehem, the way, or of the prophets. Then the third Sunday, Gaudete Sunday, after the first word of the introit (Philippians 4:4), is celebrated with rose-coloured vestments similar to Laetare Sunday at the middle point of Lent. The readings relate to John the Baptist and the rose candle may be called that of joy or of the shepherds. The collect “Stir up” (the first words of the collect) may be read during this week, although before the 1979 revision of the Book of Common Prayer it was sometimes read in the first Sunday of Advent. Even earlier, ‘Stir-up Sunday’ was once jocularly associated with the stirring of the Christmas mincemeat, begun before Advent. The phrase “stir up” occurs at the start of the collect for the last Sunday before Advent in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Then the readings for the fourth Sunday relate to the annunciation of Christ’s birth, so the candle may be known as the Angel’s candle. The Magnificat or Song of Mary may be featured. Where an Advent wreath includes a fifth candle, it is known as the Christ candle and is lit during the Christmas Eve service.

This week… candles

“A candle is symbolic to the Sun in many ways. The light it provides to others by bearing the consistent heat and sacrificing itself delivers a message that a true selfless being lives for the benefit of others.”

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St. Andrew’s Day

This event is celebrated on November 30th. Saint Andrew’s Day, also called the Feast of Saint Andrew or another name I’d not heard before, ‘Andermas’, is the feast day of Andrew the Apostle. It is celebrated each year on 30 November. Saint Andrew is the disciple in the New Testament of the bible who introduced his brother Peter to Jesus, the Messiah. Saint Andrew’s Day marks the beginning of the traditional Advent devotion of the Saint Andrew Christmas ‘Novena’ from the Latin ‘novem’, or nine, this being an ancient tradition of devotional praying in Christianity, consisting of private or public prayers, repeated for nine successive days or weeks. The nine days between the Feast of the Ascension and Pentecost , when the disciples gathered in the upper room and devoted themselves to prayer, is often considered to be the first novena. As you might expect, this date is known by different names in different countries, so here are just a few. It is known in Scotland as Saint Andrew’s Day, but also as ‘Saunt Andra’s Day’ and ‘Là Naomh Anndrais’. It is an official national holiday there and the celebration of Saint Andrew as a national festival among some social strata and locales is thought to originate from the reign of Malcolm III (1058–1093). It was thought that the ritual slaughter of animals associated with Samhain was moved to this date so as to assure enough animals were kept alive for winter, but it is only in more recent times that 30 November has been given national holiday status, although it remains a normal working day. Then in 2006, the Scottish Parliament passed the St. Andrew’s Day Bank Holiday (Scotland) Act 2007 which designated the Day as an official bank holiday. If 30 November falls on a weekend, the next Monday is a bank holiday instead. Although it is a ‘bank holiday’, banks are not required to close (and in practice will remain open as normal) and employers are not required to give their employees the day off as a holiday. Likewise, schools remain open. The University of St Andrews traditionally gives the day for all the students as a free holiday, but this is not a binding rule. Saint Andrew’s Day is an official flag day in Scotland. The Scottish Government’s flag-flying regulations state that the flag of Scotland, the Saltire or Saint Andrew’s Cross shall fly on all its buildings with a flagpole. Prior to 2002, the Scottish Government followed the UK Government’s flag days and would fly the Saltire on Saint Andrew’s Day only. The regulations were updated to state that the Union Flag would be removed and replaced by the Saltire on buildings with only one flagpole. The flying of the Union Flag from Edinburgh Castle on all days, including Saint Andrew’s Day, causes anger among some Scottish politicians and Scottish unionists who have argued that the Saltire should fly on 30 November instead. However, the Union Flag is flown by the British Army at the Castle as it is an official British Army flag flying station. In Scotland and many countries with Scottish connections, Saint Andrew’s Day is marked with a celebration of Scottish culture, and with traditional Scottish food and music. In Scotland the day is also seen as the start of a season of Scottish winter festivals encompassing Saint Andrew’s Day, Hogmanay and Burns Night. There are week-long celebrations in the town of St Andrews and in some other Scottish cities.

As to other countries, in Barbados Saint Andrew’s Day is celebrated as the national day of Independence there. As its patron saint, Saint Andrew is celebrated in a number of Barbadian symbols including the cross formation of the Barbadian Coat of Arms, and the former Order of Barbados which styled recipients as Knight or Dame of St Andrew. In Romania, there are a few pre-Christian traditions connected to Saint Andrew’s Day, some of them having their origin in the Roman celebrations of the god Saturn, most famously the Saturnalia. The Dacian New Year took place from 14 November until 7 December; this was considered the interval when time began its course. One of the elements that came from the Roman and Thracian celebrations concerned wolves. During this night, wolves were allowed to eat all the animals they wanted. It is said that they could speak, too, but anyone who heard them would soon die. Early on Saint Andrew’s day, the mothers go into the garden and gather tree branches, especially from apple, pear and cherry trees, and also rosebush branches. They make a bunch of branches for each family member. The one whose bunch blooms by New Year’s Day will be lucky and healthy the next year. The best known tradition connected to this night concerns matrimony and premonitory dreams. Single girls must put under their pillow a sprig or branch of sweet basil. If someone takes the plants in their dreams, that means the girl will marry soon. They can also plant wheat in a dish and water it until New Year’s Day. The nicer the wheat looks that day, the better the year to come. He is a patron saint of Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Russia, Ukraine, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, San Andres Island,Colombia and Tenerife. But there is more, as in parts of Ukraine, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Poland, Russia and Romania, a superstitious belief exists that the night before Saint Andrew’s Day is especially suitable for magic that reveals a young woman’s future husband or that binds a future husband to her. The day was believed to be the start of the most popular time for vampire activity, which would last until Saint George’s Eve, 22 April. In Poland, the holiday ‘Andrzejki’ is celebrated on the night of the 29th through 30 November. Traditionally, the holiday was only observed by young single girls, though today both young men and women join the party to see their futures. The main ceremony involved pouring hot wax from a candle through the hole in a key into cold water.

Saint Andrew’s Chapel and rocks in Cape Santo André in Póvoa de Varzim, Portugal. In local mythology, Saint Andrew fished the souls of those drowned at sea and helped in fisheries and marriages.

In Romania, it is customary for young women to put 41 grains of wheat beneath their pillow before they go to sleep, and if they dream that someone is coming to steal their grains that means that they are going to get married next year. Also in some other parts of the country the young women light a candle from Easter and bring it, at midnight, to a fountain. They ask Saint Andrew to let them glimpse their future husband. Saint Andrew is invoked to ward off wolves, who are thought to be able to eat any animal they want on this night, and to speak to humans. But a human hearing a wolf speak to him will die. In Póvoa de Varzim, an ancient fishing town in northern Portugal, Cape Santo André (Portuguese for Saint Andrew) is a place that shows evidence of Romanisation and of probable earlier importance, with hints of Stone Age paintings. Near the cape there are small depressions in a rock, a mystery stone, that the people believe are the footprints of Saint Andrew. Saint Andrew’s Chapel is of probable mediaeval origin, referenced in 1546 and in earlier documents. It is the burial site of drowned fishermen found at the cape. Fishermen also requested intervention from the saint for better catches. Single girls wanting to get married threw a little stone to the roof of the chapel, hoping it would lodge. Because of pagan syncretism, it is also associated with white magic up to the present day. It was common to see groups of fishermen, holding lights in their hands, making a pilgrimage to the cape’s chapel along the beach on Saint Andrew’s Eve. They believed Saint Andrew fished, from the depths, the souls of the drowned. Those who did not visit Santo André in life would have to make the pilgrimage as a corpse.

Andrew the Apostle, detail of the mosaic in the Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna, 6th century.

I thought I would also include a bit about Andrew the Apostle, also called
Saint Andrew. He is the brother of Simon Peter and a son of Jonah. He is referred to in the Orthodox tradition as the ‘First-Called’. The name ‘Andrew’, meaning ‘manly, or brave’, from the Greek ‘andreía’, which means ‘manhood, valour’, like other Greek names appears to have been common among the Jews and other Hellenized people of Judea. No Hebrew or Aramaic name is recorded for him. Andrew was born between 5 and 10 AD in Bethsaida, in Galilee. The New Testament of the Bible states that he was the brother of Simon Peter and a son of Jonah. The first striking characteristic of Andrew is his name. It is not Hebrew, as might have been expected, but Greek, indicative of a certain cultural openness in his family that cannot be ignored. We are in Galilee, where the Greek language and culture are quite present. Both he and his brother Peter were fishermen by trade, hence the tradition that Jesus called them to be his disciples by saying that he would make them “fishers of men”. At the beginning of Jesus’ public life, they were said to have occupied the same house at Capernaum. In the Gospel of Matthew and in the Gospel of Mark, Simon Peter and Andrew were both called together to become disciples of Jesus. These narratives record that Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, observed Simon and Andrew fishing, and called them to discipleship. In the parallel incident in the Gospel of Luke, Andrew is not named, nor is reference made to Simon having a brother. In this narrative, Jesus initially used a boat, solely described as being Simon’s, as a platform for preaching to the multitudes on the shore and then as a means to achieving a huge trawl of fish on a night which had hitherto proved fruitless. The narrative indicates that Simon was not the only fisherman in the boat (they signalled to their partners in the other boat) but it is not until the next chapter that Andrew is named as Simon’s brother. However, it is generally understood that Andrew was fishing with Simon on the night in question. In contrast, the Gospel of John states that Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist, whose testimony first led him and another unnamed disciple of John the Baptist to follow Jesus. Andrew at once recognised Jesus as the Messiah and hastened to introduce him to his brother. The Byzantine Church honours him with the name ‘Protokletos’, which means ‘the first called’. Thenceforth, the two brothers were disciples of Christ. On a subsequent occasion they were called to a closer companionship, and then they left all things to follow Jesus.Subsequently, in the gospels, Andrew is referred to as being present on some important occasions as one of the disciples more closely attached to Jesus. This is because Andrew told Jesus about the boy with the loaves and fishes, and when Philip wanted to tell Jesus about certain Greeks seeking Him, he told Andrew first. Andrew was present at the Last Supper, he was also one of the four disciples who came to Jesus on the Mount of Olives to ask about the signs of Jesus’ return. Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 260/265– 30 May 339), also known as Eusebius Pamphilus, and a Greek historian of Christianity, in his “Church History” quoted Origen of Alexandria (c. 185 – c. 253) as saying that Andrew preached in Scythia. The Chronicle of Nestor adds that he preached along the Black Sea and the Dnieper river as far as Kiev, and from there he travelled to Novgorod. Hence, he became a patron saint of Ukraine, Romania and Russia. According to Hippolytus of Rome, Andrew preached in Thrace and his presence in Byzantium is mentioned in the apocryphal Acts of Andrew. According to tradition, he founded the see of Byzantium (later Constantinople) in AD 38, installing Stachys as bishop. This diocese became the seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople under Anatolius, in 451. Andrew, along with Stachys, is recognised as the patron saint of the Patriarchate.Basil of Seleucia also knew of Apostle Andrew’s missions in Thrace, Scythia and Achaea. Andrew is said to have been martyred by crucifixion at the city of Patras (Patræ) in Achaea in AD 60. Early texts, such as the Acts of Andrew known to Gregory of Tours, describe Andrew as bound, not nailed, to a Latin cross of the kind on which Jesus is said to have been crucified, yet a tradition developed that Andrew had been crucified on a cross of the form called ‘crux decussata’ (X-shaped cross, or ‘saltire’), now commonly known as a ‘Saint Andrew’s Cross‘. This was supposedly at his own request, as he deemed himself unworthy to be crucified on the same type of cross as Jesus had been. The iconography of the martyrdom of Andrew, showing him bound to an X-shaped cross, does not appear to have been standardised until the later Middle Ages.

The Saltire, or ‘Saint Andrew’s Cross’ is the national flag of Scotland.

I must of course end this article by mentioning Scotland itself. Several legends state that the relics of Andrew were brought by divine guidance from Constantinople to the place where the modern Scottish town of St Andrews (Gaelic, ‘Cill Rìmhinn’), stands today. The oldest surviving manuscripts are two, one being among the manuscripts collected by Jean-Baptiste Colbert and willed to Louis XIV of France, now in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris and the other in the British Library, London. They state that the relics of Andrew were brought by one Regulus to the Pictish king Óengus Mac Fergusa (729–761). The only historical Regulus (Riagail or Rule) whose name is preserved in the tower of St Rule was an Irish monk expelled from Ireland with Columba, but his dates, however, are c. 573 – 600. There are good reasons for supposing that the relics were originally in the collection of Acca, bishop of Hexham, who took them into Pictish country when he was driven from Hexham (c. 732), and founded a see, not, according to tradition, in Galloway, but on the site of St Andrews. According to legendary accounts given in 16th-century historiography, in AD 832 Óengus II led an army of Picts and Scots into battle against the Angles, led by Æthelstan, near modern-day Athelstaneford, East Lothian. The legend states that he was heavily outnumbered and hence whilst engaged in prayer on the eve of battle, Óengus vowed that if granted victory he would appoint Andrew as the patron saint of Scotland. On the morning of battle white clouds forming an X shape in the sky were said to have appeared. Óengus and his combined force, emboldened by this apparent divine intervention, took to the field and despite being inferior in numbers were victorious. Having interpreted the cloud phenomenon as representing the ‘crux decussata’ upon which Andrew was crucified, Óengus honoured his pre-battle pledge and duly appointed Andrew as the patron saint of Scotland. The white saltire set against a celestial blue background is said to have been adopted as the design of the flag of Scotland on the basis of this legend. However, there is evidence that Andrew was venerated in Scotland before this.

Traditional stone fireplace in Ryedale Folk Museum, Hutton-le-Hole, North Yorkshire. The carved Saint Andrew’s cross in the left-hand wooden post was to prevent witches from flying down the chimney.

Andrew’s connection with Scotland may have been reinforced following the Synod of Whitby, when the Celtic Church felt that Columba had been ‘outranked’ by Peter and that Peter’s brother would make a higher-ranking patron. The 1320 Declaration of Arbroath cites Scotland’s conversion to Christianity by Andrew, “the first to be an Apostle”. Numerous parish churches in the Church of Scotland and congregations of other Christian churches in Scotland are named after Andrew. The national church of the Scottish people in Rome, Sant’Andrea degli Scozzesi, is dedicated to Saint Andrew.

This time, on the same theme…
A local superstition uses the cross of Saint Andrew as a hex sign on the fireplaces in northern England and in Scotland to prevent witches from flying down the chimney and entering the house to do mischief. By placing the Saint Andrew’s cross on one of the fireplace posts or lintels, witches are prevented from entering through this opening. In this case, it is similar to the use of a witch ball, although the cross will actively prevent witches from entering, whereas the witch ball will passively delay or entice the witch, and perhaps entrap it…

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An abbreviation, from the Latin ‘brevis’, meaning ‘short’, is a shortened form of a word or phrase by any method. It may consist of a group of letters or words taken from the full version of the word or phrase. For example, the word abbreviation can itself be represented by the abbreviation ‘abbr.’, ‘abbrv.’, or ‘abbrev.’. One I hadn’t heard of before until I began my research was ‘NPO’, for Nil (nothing) Per (by) Os (mouth), an abbreviated medical instruction. Abbreviations may also consist of initials only, a mixture of initials and words, or words or letters representing words in another language, for example e.g., i.e. or RSVP. Some types of abbreviations are acronyms, of which some are pronounceable and some ‘initialisms’ or grammatical contractions. Abbreviations have a long history. It has been said that they were created to avoid spelling out whole words, and this might have been done to save time and space, given that many inscriptions were carved in stone, and also to provide secrecy. In both Greece and Rome the reduction of words to single letters was common.

There are quite a few different abbreviations. Acronyms, initialisms, contractions and a new one to me, ‘crasis’, share some semantic and phonetic functions, and all four are connected by the term ‘abbreviation’ in loose parlance. We know an acronym is a word or name formed from the initial components of a longer name or phrase. They are usually formed from the initial letters of words, as in NATO, but they sometimes also use syllables, as in Benelux. They can also be a mixture, as in radar. I am also well-used to an initialism, an abbreviation pronounced by spelling out each letter, for example FBI, USA or BBC whilst a contraction is a reduction in the length of a word or phrase made by omitting certain of its letters or syllables. Often, but not always, the contraction includes the first and last letters or elements. Examples of contractions are “li’l” (for “little”), “I’m” (for “I am”), and “he’d’ve” (for “he would have”). But crasis is more difficult to explain as its usage varies in different languages. Basically it combines two words to form a single word. Except it varies according to language! But in Spanish for example, crasis occurs between prepositions ending in a vowel and the masculine definite article ‘el’. So ‘a el’ becomes ‘al’ and ;de el’ becomes ‘del’. As I have said though, abbreviations have a long history as they were created to avoid spelling out whole words. This might be have been done to save time and space (given that many inscriptions were carved in stone) and also to provide secrecy. In both Greece and Rome, the reduction of words to single letters was common. In Roman inscriptions, words were commonly abbreviated by using the initial letter or letters of words, and most inscriptions have at least one abbreviation. However, some could have more than one meaning, depending on their context. For example, ⟨A⟩ could be an abbreviation for many words, such as ‘ager’, ‘amicus’, ‘annus’, ‘as’, ‘Aulus’, ‘Aurelius’, ‘aurum’ and ‘avus’. Many frequent abbreviations consisted of more than one letter, for example COS for ‘consul’ and COSS for its nominative etc. plural ‘consules’. Abbreviations were frequently used in English from its earliest days. Manuscripts of copies of the Old English poem Beowulf used many abbreviations and the standardisation of English in the 15th through to the 17th centuries included a growth in the use of such abbreviations. At first, abbreviations were sometimes represented with various suspension signs, not only full stops. In the Early Modern English period between the 15th and 17th centuries, the ‘thorn’ Þ was used for ‘th’, as in Þe (‘the’). In modern times, ⟨Þ⟩ was often used in the form ‘y’ for promotional reasons, as in Ye Olde Tea Shoppe. Over the years however, the lack of convention in some style guides has made it difficult to determine which two-word abbreviations should be abbreviated with full-stops and which should not. Widespread use of electronic communication through mobile phones and the Internet during the 1990s led to a marked rise in colloquial abbreviation and this was due largely to the increasing popularity of textual communication services such as instant and text messaging. The original Short Messaging Service (SMS) supported message lengths of 160 characters at most. More recently Twitter, a popular social networking service, began driving abbreviation use with 140 character message limits.

In modern English, there are several conventions for abbreviations, and the choice may be confusing. The only rule universally accepted is that one should be consistent, and to make this easier, publishers express their preferences in a style guide. For example, if the original word was capitalised then the first letter of its abbreviation should retain the capital, for example Lev. for ‘Leviticus’, but when a word is abbreviated to more than a single letter and was originally spelled with lower case letters then there is no need for capitalisation. However, when abbreviating a phrase where only the first letter of each word is taken, then all letters should be capitalized, as in YTD for ‘year-to-date’, PCB for ‘printed circuit board’ and FYI for ‘for your information’.

Sign in New York City subway, reading ‘Penna.’ for Penn(sylvani)a, showing the American style of including the full-stop (or ‘period’, as the Americans like to say), even for contractions.

A full stop is often used to signify an abbreviation, but opinion is divided as to when and if this should happen. Various authors have written about this, but it is generally accepted that in English the full-stop is usually included regardless of whether or not it is a contraction, e.g. ‘Dr.’ or ‘Mrs.’. In some cases, full-stops are optional, as in either ‘US’ or ‘U.S.’ for ‘United States’, ‘EU’ or ‘E.U.’ for ‘European Union’, and ‘UN’ or ‘U.N.’ for ‘United Nations’. There are some house styles however, American ones included, that remove the full-stops from almost all abbreviations. Acronyms that were originally capitalised (with or without full-stops) but have since entered the vocabulary as generic words are no longer written with capital letters nor with any full-stops. Examples are sonar, radar, lidar, laser and scuba. Today, spaces are generally not used between single-letter abbreviations of words in the same phrase, so one almost never encounters ‘U. S.’. There is a question about how to pluralise abbreviations, particularly acronyms. Some writers tend to pluralise abbreviations by adding an ’s’ , as in ‘two PC’s have broken screens’, although this notation typically indicates a possessive case. However, this style is not preferred by many style guides. Here in the United Kingdom, many British publications follow some of these guidelines in abbreviation. For the sake of convenience, many British publications, including the BBC and The Guardian newspaper, have completely done away with the use of full stops in all abbreviations. Acronyms are often referred to with only the first letter of the abbreviation capitalised. For instance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation can be abbreviated as ‘Nato’ or ‘NATO’, and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome as ‘Sars’ or ‘SARS’, compared with laser which has made the full transition to an English word and is rarely capitalised at all. But initialisms are always written in capitals, for example ‘British Broadcasting Corporation’ is abbreviated to ‘BBC’, never ‘Bbc’. An initialism is also an acronym but is not pronounced as a word. When abbreviating scientific units, no space is added between the number and unit (100mph, 100m, 10cm, 10°C). A doubled letter appears in abbreviations of some Welsh names, as in Welsh the double “l” is a separate sound, ‘Ll. George’ for British prime minister David Lloyd George. Some titles, such as ‘Reverend’ and ‘Honourable’, are spelt out when preceded by ‘the’, rather than as ‘Rev.’ or ‘Hon.’ respectively. A repeatedly used abbreviation should be spelt out for identification on its first occurrence in a written or spoken passage and abbreviations likely to be unfamiliar to many readers should be avoided. Writers often use shorthand to denote units of measure. Such shorthand can be an abbreviation, such as ‘in’ for inch or can be a symbol such as ‘km’ for kilometre. In the International System of Units (SI) manual the word ‘symbol’ is used consistently to define the shorthand used to represent the various SI units of measure. The manual also defines the way in which units should be written, the principal rules being that the conventions for upper and lower case letters must be observed, for example 1 MW (megawatts) is equal to 1,000,000 watts and 1,000,000,000 mW (milliwatts). One I’ve not seen (perhaps American?), which is no full-stops should be inserted between letters, for example ‘m.s’, which correctly uses the middle dot is the symbol for ‘metres multiplied by seconds’, but I knew that ‘ms’ is the symbol for milliseconds. No full-stops should follow the symbol unless the syntax of the sentence demands otherwise (for example a full stop at the end of a sentence). I do know of syllabic abbreviations though, which is usually formed from the initial syllables of several words, such as ‘Interpol’, stemming from ‘Inter’national and ‘pol’ice. It is a variant of the acronym. Syllabic abbreviations are usually written using lower case, sometimes starting with a capital letter and are always pronounced as words rather than letter by letter. Syllabic abbreviations should be distinguished from portmanteaus, which combine two words without necessarily taking whole syllables from each.

There are also interesting changes made in different languages, however syllabic abbreviations are not widely used in English. Some UK government agencies such as Ofcom, for Office of Communications and the former Oftel for Office of Telecommunications use this style. In America, New York City has various neighbourhoods named by syllabic abbreviation, such as Tribeca (Triangle below Canal Street) and SoHo (South of Houston Street). I wonder where they obtained that name. This usage has spread into other American cities, giving SoMa, San Francisco (South of Market) and LoDo, Denver (Lower Downtown), amongst others. The Chicago-based electric service provider ComEd is a syllabic abbreviation of Commonwealth and (Thomas) Edison. Partially syllabic abbreviations are preferred by the US Navy, as they increase readability amidst the large number of initialisms that would otherwise have to fit into the same acronyms. Hence ‘6 DESRON’ is used (in the full capital form) to mean “Destroyer Squadron 6”, whilst COMNAVAIRLANT would be ‘Commander, Naval Air Force (in the) Atlantic’. Apparently syllabic abbreviations are a prominent feature of Newspeak, the fictional language of George Orwell’s dystopian novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’. The political contractions of Newspeak’s ‘Ingsoc’ (English Socialism) and ‘Minitrue’ (Ministry of Truth), are described by Orwell as similar to real examples of German and Russian contractions in the 20th century. Like the Nazi ‘Nationalsozialismus’ and Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei) and the politburo (Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union), the contractions in Newspeak are supposed to have a political function by virtue of their abbreviated structure itself. Nice sounding and easily pronounceable, their purpose was to mask all ideological content from the speaker. A more recent syllabic abbreviation has emerged with the disease COVID-19 (Corona virus Disease 2019), caused by the Severe Acute Respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 virus, itself frequently abbreviated to SARS-CoV-2, partly an initialism. It seems though that in German, syllabic abbreviations were and are common. Much like acronyms in English, they have a distinctly modern connotation, although contrary to popular belief many date back to before 1933, if not the end of the Great War. Kriminalpolizei, literally ‘criminal police’ but idiomatically the Criminal Investigation Department of any German police force, begat ‘KriPo’ (variously capitalised), and likewise Schutzpolizei, the ‘protection police’ or ‘uniform department’, begat ‘SchuPo’. Along the same lines, the Swiss Federal Railways’ Transit Police, the Transportpolizei, are abbreviated as the ‘TraPo’. Syllabic abbreviations are not only used in politics, however. Many business names, trademarks, and service marks from across Germany are created on the same pattern. For a few examples, there is Aldi, from ‘Theo Albrecht’, the name of its founder, followed by ‘discount’, Haribo, from ‘Hans Riegel’, the name of its founder, followed by ‘Bonn’, the town of its head office and Adidas, from ‘Adolf “Adi” Dassler’, the nickname of its founder followed by his surname. Meanwhile syllabic abbreviations are common in Spanish. Examples abound in organisation names such as Pemex for ‘Petróleos Mexicanos’ (“Mexican Petroleums”) or Fonafifo for ‘Fondo Nacional de Financimiento Forestal’ (National Forestry Financing Fund). There are others in different languages, but I did note that the English phrase ‘Gung ho’ originated as a Chinese abbreviation.

But do we now use abbreviations as it is easier when talking to like-minded folk, or is it to deliberately exclude others from our conversation. I can understand that there are times when we might want to impart certain information, for example a doctor might wish a group of medical staff to comprehend the needs of a patient they are treating without letting the patient be worried, but there will be other times when a patient should know what is happening with them. I remember some years ago now having a senior doctor visit me whilst I was in hospital and he had a group of student doctors with him. The senior doctor began by telling the other doctors who I was, why I was there and what treatment I was being given. But the doctor did not speak directly to me. So, at the end of his discussion with the other doctors the senior then asked if there were any questions. At which point I raised my hand and said “Yes. All that you have said sounds very interesting, but what exactly does it mean to me, please?”. At which point the senior doctor looked down at me, smiled and turned to the other doctors, saying “Many patients will simply hear what is said about them and say nothing. But some, like Andrew here, will ask questions. You must be prepared to explain to them, in layman’s terms, just exactly why they are there and what treatment they are receiving.” He then proceeded to do just that for me. I was told I would now, following my heart attack (this was back in 2013) be taking a few more tablets. I foolishly asked him how long I’d be taking this extra medication and he, with a slight smile, said “always”. But it was good to know. I also know that when it comes to talking with others we can so easily use shortcuts, not always considering that others may not know or have the same interests as us and one example I can share relates to my former employment with British Telecom. My engineering colleagues there would often use three-letter abbreviations (TLA’s) in their work and one that I soon learned was ‘NDT’, short for No Dial Tone. Then I became friends with a Royal Air Force engineer, where I learned that to him, ‘NDT’ was short for Non-Destructive Testing! Abbreviations are fascinating…

This week…
The Third Degree.
There are several tales about the origin of ‘the third degree’, a saying commonly used for long or arduous interrogations. One theory argues the phrase relates to the various degrees of murder in the criminal code, yet another credits it to Thomas F. Byrnes, a 19th-century New York City policeman who used the pun ‘Third Degree Byrnes’ when describing his hard-nosed questioning style. In truth, the saying is most likely derived from the Freemasons, a centuries-old fraternal organisation whose members undergo rigorous questioning and examinations before becoming ‘third degree’ members or ‘master masons’.

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Teaching And Learning

Both of these items have changed over the years, but they are a vital part of life and necessary for us all. Sadly that does not seem to be recognised by everyone and some seem to work on the principle that the knowledge they have gives them a degree of power. There are many ways to teach, some people are better at it than others but we can perhaps forget that we all have differing ways to learn. In addition, with teaching comes learning, but those who teach also have to learn the skill of teaching, for you may be sure that it is indeed a skill. As with all skills, teaching itself is never static, it is continually changing. I was told very many years ago that the worst teachers are those who have either no lesson plan or at best a laminated one! In general there is a recognised format for teaching, where the teacher creates a basic lesson plan, but after delivering it they review it and consider what went well, what did not, identifying areas that can then be changed. The lesson is then revised and delivered. That is once again reviewed afterwards and the circle continues. In addition, as part of the teaching process we continually check for understanding, recognising the abilities of some and nurturing others, encouraging positively. I have said before how some folk I have taught are almost ‘instant’ learners, whilst with others a little more time is required to help get a particular message across. It is at this point that the instant learners can become bored and at times even disruptive, so a good teacher will often get the instant learners to do their part in assisting those who need help. Care must be taken to ensure that the teaching is done properly – I think that is perhaps where the phrase ‘eyes in the back of the head’ may come in! Certainly teachers must be alert to all that is going on around them and not be distracted. So as I have said, teaching is an art and just with all skills, it is not just the students who are being taught as teachers themselves are constantly learning. But how we learn and how we teach changes, or perhaps ‘adapts’ all the time is a better term. On tv at present we have a group of people who are so very clever in practical terms at what they do but as well as working individually, at times they combine the skills one with another. They too are constantly learning. I saw in one episode of the programme, called ‘The Repair Shop’, where one particular item was brought in and it was a musical box in a delightful wooden case. The mechanical item which played the music was carefully removed and one expert cleaned and restored that, whilst another expert took on the task of cleaning and restoring the wooden box. How they do it I do not know, it really is a skill that all of them have! Sometimes one of them will say they’ve never seen one of these items before but they would do their best – and they do! Yes, at times things don’t go as smoothly as they might like, but they achieve. Equally, as I saw on one occasion, a part was considered simply impossible to restore so a ‘donor’ item was found to replace the one which could not be fixed. But the old one was still kept, as it was all part of the whole piece being repaired.


But an essential part of teaching and learning is a common ‘language’. If I try to teach you something, even a simple game, there has to be what I would call “commonality” between us. My native language is English, it is true that I know a little Spanish but not much. Even when written, some languages are quite different. I can look at work written in Spanish and with a bit of luck I might be able to work out the meaning, but what if it were written in Hindu or Chinese, in Arabic or Hebrew? We also have differences in word placement, even in simple things like for example ‘the left hand’ in Spanish is ‘la mano izquierda’, which translates directly as ‘the hand left’. Add to that the different tenses, it is not hard to see how language can be difficult. During my research, I saw a question asking which language has the most words for snow? According to researchers at the University of Glasgow, the winner is the Scots! They claim they have 421 words for snow. Does it really? Here again, it’s all in how you count. The researchers came up with the list whilst working on a thesaurus for the Scots language. Their list includes quite a few compound words, and the folks at Language Log are quite skeptical of this claim, but it is still impressive. One Scottish language lecturer says that the number of words are all sorts of things to do with snow, the way that snow moves, the types of snow, types of snowflake, types of thaw, clothing you might wear in snow, the way that snow affects animals. There is even a category for snow and the supernatural! So a few examples are:

Feefle: Snow swirling around a corner.
Flindrikin: A light snow shower.
Skelf: A large snowflake.
Sneesl: To begin to rain or snow.
Snaw-ghast: A ghost seen in the snow.
Blin-drift: Drifting snow.
Snow-smoor: Suffocation by snow.
Snaw-broo: Melted snow.
Glush: Melting snow.
Ground-gru: Half-liquid snow or ice formed in early spring floating along the surface of a river.

A question was asked as to why there are so many words for snow? One answer given was that because weather has been a vital part of people’s lives in Scotland for centuries. The number and variety of words in the language show how important it was for their ancestors to communicate about the weather, which could so easily affect their livelihoods. It is an interesting thought. So we communicate in different ways with different languages, but human language is distinct and unique from all other known animal forms of communication. It is unlikely that any other species, including our close genetic cousins the Neanderthals, ever had language, and so-called sign ‘language’ in Great Apes is nothing like human language. Language evolution shares many features with biological evolution, and this has made it useful for tracing recent human history and for studying how culture evolves among groups of people with related languages. A case can be made that language has played a more important role in our species’ recent (about the last 200,000 years) evolution than have our genes. Human language is distinct from all other known animal forms of communication in being ‘compositional’, as it allows speakers to express thoughts in sentences comprising subjects, verbs and objects, such as ‘I kicked the ball’ and recognising past, present and future tenses. This gives human language an endless capacity for generating new sentences, as speakers combine and recombine sets of words into their subject, verb and object roles. For instance, with just 25 different words for each role, it is already possible to generate over 15,000 distinct sentences. Human language is also ‘referential’, meaning speakers use it to exchange specific information with each other about people or objects and their locations or actions.

Animal Language.

Animal ‘language’ is nothing like human language. Among primates, vervet monkeys produce three distinct alarm calls in response to the presence of snakes, leopards and eagles. A number of parrot species can mimic human sounds, and some Great Apes have been taught to make sign language gestures with their hands. Some dolphin species seem to have a variety of repetitive sound motifs (clicks) associated with hunting or social grouping. These forms of animal communication are symbolic in the sense of using a sound to stand in for an object or action, but there is no evidence for compositional skills, or that they are truly generative and creative forms of communication in which speakers and listeners exchange information. Instead, non-human animal communication appears to be principally limited to repetitive instrumental acts directed towards a specific end, lacking any formal grammatical structure, and often explainable in terms of hard-wired evolved behaviours or simple associative learning. Most ape sign language, for example, is concerned with requests for food. The trained chimpanzee Nim Chimpsky’s longest recorded ‘utterance’, when translated from sign language, was ‘give orange me give eat orange me eat orange give me eat orange give me you’. Alarm calls such as observed in the vervet monkeys often evolve by kin-selection to protect one’s relatives, or even selfishly to distract predators away from the caller. Hunting and social group communications can be explained as learned coordinating signals without ‘speakers’ knowing why they are acting as they are. No one knows for sure when human language evolved, but fossil and genetic data suggest that humanity can probably trace its ancestry back to populations of anatomically modern ‘Homo sapiens’ who lived around 150,000 to 200,000 years ago in eastern or perhaps southern Africa. Because all human groups have language, language itself, or at least the capacity for it, is probably at least 150,000 to 200,000 years old. This conclusion is backed up by evidence of abstract and symbolic behaviour in these early modern humans, taking the form of engravings on red-ochre. These archaeological records reveal that about 40,000 years ago there was a flowering of art and other cultural artefacts at modern human sites, leading some archaeologists to suggest that a late genetic change in our lineage gave rise to language at this later time. But this evidence derives mainly from European sites and so struggles to explain how the newly evolved language capacity found its way into the rest of humanity who had dispersed from Africa to other parts of the globe by around 70,000 years ago. This therefore begs the question ‘Could language be older than our species?’. Ancient DNA reveals us to be over 99% identical in the sequences of our protein coding genes to our sister species the Neanderthals (‘Homo neanderthalensis’). The Neanderthals had large brains and were able to inhabit much of Eurasia from around 350,000 years ago. If the Neanderthals had language, that would place its origin at least as far back as the time of our common ancestor with them, currently thought to be around 550,000 to 750,000 years ago. However, even as recently as 40,000 years ago in Europe, the Neanderthals show almost no evidence of the symbolic thinking – no art or sculpture for example – that we often associate with language, and little evidence of the cultural attainments of ‘Homo sapiens’ of the same era. By 40,000 years ago, we had plentiful art, musical instruments and specialised tools such as sewing needles. Neanderthals probably didn’t even have sewn clothing, instead they would have merely draped themselves with skins. And, despite evidence that around 1–5% of the human genome might be derived from Human–Neanderthal matings, the Neanderthals went extinct as a species whilst we flourished. Questions have been asked as to whether the changes to language can be used to trace human history. I do think this is possible. There are currently about 7,000 languages spoken around the world, meaning that, oddly, most of us cannot communicate with most other members of our species! Even this number is probably down from the peak of human linguistic diversity that was likely to have occurred around 10,000 years ago, just prior to the invention of agriculture. Before that time, all human groups had been hunter-gatherers, living in small mobile tribal societies. Farming societies were demographically more prosperous and group sizes were larger than among hunter-gatherers, so the expansion of agriculturalists likely replaced many smaller linguistic groups. Today, there are few hunter-gatherer societies left so our linguistic diversity reflects our relatively recent agricultural past. The ‘ancestry’ of languages can be used in combination with geographical information or information on cultural practices to investigate questions of human history, such as the spread of agriculture. The historical ‘families’ of language have been used to study the timing, causes and geographic spread of groups of farmers/fishing populations, including the Indo-Europeans, the pace of occupation of the Pacific by the Austronesian people and the migration routes of the Bantu-speaking people through Africa. This same historical ancestry are also being used to investigate questions of human cultural evolution, including the evolution and spread of dairying, relationships between religious and political practices, changing political structures and the age of fairy tales. They have even supplied a date for Homer’s Iliad. But language has played a prominent and possibly pre-eminent role in our species’ history. Consider that where all other species tend to be found in the environments their genes adapt them to, humans can adapt at the cultural level, acquiring the knowledge and producing the tools, shelters, clothing and other artefacts necessary for survival in diverse habitats. Thus, chimpanzees are found in the dense forests of Africa but not out on the savannah or in deserts or cold regions, camels are found in dry regions but not in forests or mountaintops, and so on for other species. Humans, on the other hand, despite being a species that probably evolved on the African savannahs, have been able to occupy nearly every habitat on Earth. Our behaviour is like that of a collection of biological species. As to why there is this striking difference, it is probably down to language. Possessing language, humans have had a high-fidelity code for transmitting detailed information down the generations. Many, if not most, of the things we make use of in our everyday lives rely on specialised knowledge or skills to produce. The information behind these was historically coded in verbal instructions, and with the advent of writing it could be stored and become increasingly complex. Possessing language, then, is behind humans’ ability to produce sophisticated cultural adaptations that have accumulated one on top of the other throughout our history as a species. Today as a result of this capability we live in a world full of technologies that few of us even understand. Because culture, riding on the back of language, can evolve more rapidly than genes, the relative genetic homogeneity of humanity in contrast to our cultural diversity shows that our ‘aural DNA’ has probably been more important in our short history than genes. Nevertheless, the necessity for learning new things and being properly taught must surely be at the forefront of our living, especially as technology continues to change at what some might consider to be almost too fast!

This week… By and Large.
As far back as the 16th century, the word ‘large’ was used to mean that a ship was sailing with the wind at its back. Meanwhile, the much less desirable ‘by’ or ‘full and by’ meant the vessel was travelling into the wind. Thus, for mariners, ‘by and large’ referred to trawling the seas in any and all directions relative to the wind. Today, sailors and landlubbers alike now use the phrase as a synonym for ‘all things considered’ or ‘for the most part’.

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Appreciating Ourselves

Over the last year or so I have been able to look more and more at the questions people ask online. I see astonishing ones and I wonder whether it is down to the teachers not teaching or the children not listening and I have come to the conclusion that it is probably a combination of the two. I know that when I was teaching, I would say to my students, no matter what age they were, that if one of you doesn’t understand what I am saying then probably others don’t either! That is not their fault, it is (in my humble opinion) the fault of the teacher for not checking for understanding. Having said that, if the teacher says “do you understand?” and everyone says yes they do, then the teacher will usually accept that and move on to the next item. Except if some students didn’t understand, then the next part of the lesson probably won’t make sense to them either and they’re lost. I have said before about a time when, as part of my teacher training, I was doing support teaching and I could see how one student was struggling. It seemed simple enough, but this student needed a bit of assistance so, after a quick chat with the tutor (because it is polite to do that) I asked this particular student a few questions. Because teaching is an art, there are many who can do things but not all have the capability to then effectively share that knowledge. The problem that this student had was linking their knowledge to actual practice. Many simply ‘see’ this naturally, others have to be taught it. So show a student a pencil and teach them to write, that is great. But they have to learn that the pencil, when used, will wear out. But they must also beware of the folk who try to be ‘clever’, for example I knew one teacher (who I didn’t exactly get on with!) was teaching a group of us. I was busy writing and my pen stopped working so I put my hand up and when asked by the teacher what my problem was, I said “Please miss, my pen has run out” – meaning of course it had no ink left. But the teacher replied “Well, you had better go and chase after it then, hadn’t you…” Utterly embarrassed, I put my hand down but after a few minutes I raised my hand and was again asked what I wanted, to which I replied, “Please miss, my pen is now devoid of ink. May I be provided with a replacement pen, so that I may continue with my written work please?”. The teacher, now herself unhappy, replied sharply “Come up here and get a new one”. I did so and politely thanked her. Life in that class was never good for me and my grades suffered that particular year. Thankfully the following year I moved up to a different class and my grades improved quite a bit. My education was in a secondary modern school, unlike some others who went first to grammar school then on to university. So I left school at sixteen and went directly into working in the offices of British Telecom. It really was an education to me as when I first started there it was still part of the Post Office (GPO) and a civil service environment, to the point where folk at higher grades had the luxury of sitting on a chair with arms, but at my basic grade I had a simple wooden chair without arms. Seniority was strict, especially in one office where holiday time (annual leave) was chosen in strict order, so if you were low on the list there was little choice of when you could have your holidays! However, things did change and in time the ‘civil service’ regime became less and less, managers were not addressed as ’sir’ or ‘mr’, with first names becoming more used. Not by all, though! The company I worked for also did change, it had to. I moved around the Midlands every few years and in fact I learned later that some of my work colleagues became concerned when they found out that I was moving to work with them, as it seemed that everywhere I went, after a few years changes of staff occurred and some offices were even closed completely! I have said before about this and I assure you it was nothing to do with me!

Peterborough Telephone Exchange – much has changed since I was there.

But what I did notice was a trend, a push towards more and more ‘higher education’, with students almost pushed into wanting to go to universities. It then seemed that they would get their degrees in one subject but then go and find jobs unrelated to what they had learned. It seems to me that not all want to gain a higher education, many are far better at learning practical skills in a more ‘hands-on’ environment. My father was a schoolteacher at a few different infant/junior schools and at one parent/teacher meeting Dad told a parent that their child was quick at learning practical skills, but was not quite as quick on the academic side of things. The parent apparently told my Dad that he was proud of his son, because the lad could drive a tractor a whole lot better than some of his older brothers and that between them they were able to manage all aspects of farm work. We all have differing roles to play in this life, not everyone can be the leader of the orchestra, as without the rest they would be nothing. Having said that, I do wonder at some of the apparent lack of knowledge displayed by some people, especially those who I would expect to know more than they seem to. I enjoy watching a few different television quiz shows and as part of one excellent programme, four tv personalities were given a map of the United Kingdom and asked to point out where certain places were. I was amazed when they seemed to know almost nothing from a geographical point of view, for example they did not know where Hadrian’s Wall was, or where certain cheeses came from such as Stilton or Cheddar. I could appreciate them perhaps not knowing where some places in the U.S.A. were, but here in the U.K.? That was a surprise. As many will know, I am a fan of the science-fiction series ’Star Trek’. There have been a few different series, with different life-forms appearing and one group are the Borg, aliens that appear as recurring antagonists in the Star Trek fictional universe. The Borg are cybernetic organisms (cyborgs) linked in a hive mind called “the Collective”. They co-opt the technology and knowledge of other alien species to the Collective through the process of ‘assimilation’, forcibly transforming individual beings into drones by injecting nano-probes into their bodies and surgically augmenting them with cybernetic components. The Borg’s ultimate goal is ‘achieving perfection’, by becoming almost one single ‘being’, with no individual thought for themselves. We are not all the same, far from it, but what I do notice in our world today is how very large companies seem to be taking over the smaller ones and using that money to maintain their industrial strength. To my mind this is having an adverse effect on life as a whole, by some people controlling what is done in the world, therefore selfishly enabling greater profits for themselves with no thought for the greater good of the world as a whole, along with all that is in it. In this day and age the Borg are portrayed as science fiction, but I do wonder if the writers of Star Trek are trying to get a point across to us. I really do wonder if some are trying to make us all behave and act the same! I am sure they are not, but we must surely make sure that we remember the skills that made us who we are today. I hear in the news of the potential for power cuts, I hope we do not get to that stage but I consider how so much of our lives is governed by electricity. At present I live in a Care Home, so how would us inmates (as I like to call us) manage if the power were to be turned off for just a few hours? I remember those days, back in the 1970’s.

Slide Rule.

So as I have said, it seems to me that more and more folk are being led towards educational qualifications and that is all very good, yet I still see questions on the internet on such things as how the Universe was formed. I realise many of us learn in a somewhat different way now to when I was at school, as in my day we had libraries with books and not computers, we used slide rules, we did not have pocket calculators. I’ve said before when I was learning mathematics and innocently questioned the need for me to know Pythagoras’s Theorem. The teacher told me “one day, you will”. The teacher was correct, although it took twenty years! I was working for British Telecom at the time and was learning how we calculated the radial distances between different telephone exchanges (an aspect we needed to know at the time) and I realised that it was indeed Pythagoras’s Theorem we used to do that. My mathematics teacher would have had a sly grin on his face had he known! But we still need to learn these skills, whether they be practical or not. I really like a particular television programme which is being shown at the moment on BBC1 called The Repair Workshop”, where people bring in different items, some large, some small, but they all require practical skills and happily these people at the workshop know them. But I also know that by their own admissions, they too are still learning, seeing how others have built and designed things, combining each others skills and knowledge. One lovely surprise for me was to see a recent episode where a man I actually knew brought in a small item to be repaired. I did not recognise him immediately, but I knew his voice. When I was a child, I was talking to our local vicar about how I was learning how big this world is. I was considering how many years us humans had been on Earth, that we all die after a time and so I said to the vicar, “With so many people dying, Heaven must be a very big place!” The vicar said to me, in his own, kindly way, “Andrew, you are considering spiritual things in Earthly terms”. At the time, I remember saying to him “Vicar, I don’t understand.”, to which he replied “In time my son, one day you will.” It took a few years to realise the difference between Earthly things and the spirit. The Internet has brought us access to information, yet still folk ask basic questions such as how the universe was formed. There was a recent one, asking about how it is that our universe is expanding. The answer given was that the universe is not itself expanding, but it is the elements within the universe which are going further and further from each other, unless they are close enough for gravity to affect them. But even then, the global elements such as our own galaxy is moving away from other galaxies. But that will take an extremely long time! I also saw an item about the ‘observable’ universe, meaning that there are stars that we will never see, no matter how long we or our descendants might live. It is impossible to imagine, but it is fascinating! So even if there are other life-forms out there that have learned to travel into space, the chances of us or our descendants meeting them is pretty small! Remember too that we are carbon-based life-forms, but why should life on other planets be like us, or have developed as we have? Not only that, our Sun is four and a half billion years old. Astronomers estimate that the sun has about 7 billion to 8 billion years left before it sputters out and dies. Before that, it will have expanded and life on Earth will be no more. Will we have learned to travel to other places by then? Perhaps. Either way, there’s time for another cuppa tea…

This week…
For me it is a time of remembrance. Not just for Remembrance Day, but also remembering my parents and grandparents, as well as all the help and support I have had following my heart attack in 2010. For all those we have loved and lost, both friends and family, we will remember them.

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Bonfire Night

As this day approaches, we get ready to celebrate what could have been a disastrous event in our history. The night of November 5th is known by many names such as ‘Guy Fawkes Night’, ‘Guy Fawkes Day’, ‘Bonfire Night’ and ‘Fireworks Night and is an annual commemoration observed on November 5th each year, primarily in Great Britain, involving bonfires and firework displays. Its history begins with the events of November 5th, 1605 when Guy (a.k.a. Guido) Fawkes, a member of the Gunpowder Plot, was arrested whilst guarding explosives the plotters had placed beneath the House of Lords. The Catholic plotters had intended to assassinate the Protestant King James I and his parliament. Celebrating that the king had survived, people lit bonfires around London and months later the Observance of 5th November Act enforced an annual public day of thanksgiving for the plot’s failure. Within a few decades the ‘Gunpowder Treason Day’, as it was then known, became the predominant English state commemoration, but as it carried strong Protestant religious overtones it also became a focus for anti-Catholic sentiment. Puritans delivered sermons regarding the perceived dangers of ‘popery’, whilst during increasingly raucous celebrations common folk burnt effigies of popular hate-figures of the time, including the Pope. Towards the end of the 18th century reports appear of children begging for money with effigies of Guy Fawkes and 5 November gradually became known as Guy Fawkes Day. Towns such as Lewes and Guildford were scenes of increasingly violent class-based confrontations in the 19th century, fostering traditions those towns celebrate still, albeit peaceably. In the 1850s changing attitudes resulted in the toning down of much of the day’s anti-Catholic rhetoric, and the Observance of 5th November Act was repealed in 1859. Eventually the violence was dealt with, and by the 20th century Guy Fawkes Day had become an enjoyable social commemoration, although lacking much of its original focus. The present-day Guy Fawkes Night is usually celebrated at large organised events. Settlers exported Guy Fawkes Night to overseas colonies, including some in North America, where it was known as Pope Day, but those festivities died out with the onset of the American Revolution. Claims that Guy Fawkes Night was a Protestant replacement for older customs such as Samhain, a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and beginning of winter or ‘darker half’ of the year are disputed as England had no contemporary history of bonfires.

An effigy of Fawkes, burnt on 5 November 2010 at Billericay.

Guy Fawkes Night originates from the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, a failed conspiracy by a group of provincial English Catholics to assassinate the Protestant King James I of England and VI of Scotland and replace him with a Catholic head of state. In the immediate aftermath of the 5 November arrest of Guy Fawkes, caught guarding a cache of explosives placed beneath the House of Lords, King James’s Council allowed the public to celebrate the king’s survival with bonfires, so long as they were “without any danger or disorder”. This made 1605 the first year the plot’s failure was celebrated. The following January, days before the surviving conspirators were executed, Parliament, at the initiation of James I, passed the Observance of 5th November Act, commonly known as the ‘Thanksgiving Act’. It was proposed by a Puritan Member of Parliament, Edward Montagu, who suggested that the king’s apparent deliverance by divine intervention deserved some measure of official recognition, and kept 5 November free as a day of thanksgiving whilst in theory making attendance at Church mandatory. A new form of service was also added to the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer, for use on that date. By the 1620s the Fifth was honoured in market towns and villages across the country, though it was some years before it was commemorated throughout England. Gunpowder Treason Day, as it was then known, became the predominant English state commemoration. Some parishes made the day a festive occasion, with public drinking and solemn processions. Concerned though about James’s pro-Spanish foreign policy, the decline of international Protestantism, and Catholicism in general, Protestant clergymen who recognised the day’s significance called for more dignified and profound thanksgivings each 5 November. What unity English Protestants had shared in the plot’s immediate aftermath began to fade when, in 1625, James’s son, the future Charles I, married the Catholic Henrietta Maria of France. Puritans reacted to the marriage by issuing a new prayer to warn against rebellion and Catholicism, and on 5 November that year, effigies of the pope and the devil were burnt, the earliest such report of this practice and the beginning of centuries of tradition. During Charles’s reign Gunpowder Treason Day became increasingly partisan. Between 1629 and 1640 he ruled without Parliament, and he seemed to support ‘Arminianism’, a controversial theological position within the Church of England particularly evident in the second quarter of the 17th century (the reign of Charles I of England) which was regarded by some Puritans as a step toward Catholicism. By 1636, under the leadership of the Arminian Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud, the English church was trying to use 5 November to denounce all seditious practices, and not just popery. Puritans went on the defensive, some pressing for further reformation of the Church. Bonfire Night, as it was occasionally known, assumed a new fervour during the events leading up to the English Interregnum. Although Royalists disputed their interpretations, Parliamentarians began to uncover or fear new Catholic plots. Following the execution of Charles I in 1649, the country’s new republican regime remained undecided on how to treat 5 November. Unlike the old system of religious feasts and State anniversaries it survived, but as a celebration of parliamentary government and Protestantism, not of monarchy. Commonly the day was still marked by bonfires and miniature explosives, but more formal celebrations resumed only with the Restoration, when Charles II became king. Courtiers, High Anglicans and Tories followed the official line that the event marked God’s preservation of the English throne, but generally the celebrations became more diverse. By 1670 London apprentices had turned 5 November into a fire festival, attacking not only popery but also “sobriety and good order”, demanding money from coach occupants for alcohol and bonfires. The burning of effigies, largely unknown to the Jacobeans, continued in 1673 when Charles’s brother, the Duke of York, converted to Catholicism. In response, accompanied by a procession of about 1,000 people, the apprentices fired an effigy of the Whore of Babylon, bedecked with a range of papal symbols and similar scenes occurred over the following few years. On 17 November 1677, anti-Catholic fervour saw the Accession Day marked by the burning of a large effigy of the pope and two effigies of devils ‘whispering in his ear’. Two years later an observer noted that “the 5th at night, being gunpowder treason, there were many bonfires and burning of popes as has ever been seen”. Violent scenes in 1682 forced London’s militia into action, and to prevent any repetition the following year a proclamation was issued, banning bonfires and fireworks. Fireworks were also banned under James II (previously the Duke of York), who became king in 1685. Attempts by the government to tone down Gunpowder Treason Day celebrations were, however, largely unsuccessful, and some reacted to a ban on bonfires in London (born from a fear of more burnings of the pope’s effigy) by placing candles in their windows, ‘as a witness against Catholicism’. When James was deposed in 1688 by William of Orange (who, importantly, landed in England on 5 November) the day’s events turned also to the celebration of freedom and religion, with elements of anti-Jacobean ways. Whilst the earlier ban on bonfires was politically motivated, a ban on fireworks was maintained for safety reasons, ‘much mischief having been done by squibs’.

From an issue of ‘Punch’, printed in November 1850.

The restoration of the Catholic hierarchy in 1850 provoked a strong reaction. King William III’s birthday fell on 4 November and for orthodox Whigs the two days therefore became an important double anniversary. William ordered that the thanksgiving service for 5 November be amended to include thanks for his ‘happy arrival and the Deliverance of our Church and Nation’. In the 1690s he re-established Protestant rule in Ireland, and the Fifth, occasionally marked by the ringing of church bells and civic dinners, was consequently eclipsed by his birthday commemorations. From the 19th century, 5 November celebrations there became sectarian in nature. Its celebration in Northern Ireland remains controversial, unlike in Scotland where bonfires continue to be lit in various cities. In England though, as one of 49 official holidays, for the ruling class 5 November became overshadowed by events such as the birthdays of Admiral Edward Vernon, or of John Wilkes, and under George II and George III , with the exception of the Jacobite Rising of 1745, it was largely ‘a polite entertainment rather than an occasion for vitriolic thanksgiving’. For the lower classes, however, the anniversary was a chance to pit disorder against order, a pretext for violence and uncontrolled revelry. In 1790, The Times reported instances of children ‘begging for money for Guy Faux’, and a report of 4 November 1802 described how ‘a set of idle fellows with some horrid figure dressed up as a Guy Faux’ were convicted of begging and receiving money, and committed to prison as ‘idle and disorderly persons’. The Fifth became ‘a polysemous occasion, replete with polyvalent cross-referencing, meaning all things to all men’. When I first read the two words ‘polysemous’ and ‘polyvalent’, I had to look them up as they were new to me. I have learned that the former simply means ‘having more than one meaning’, whilst the latter means ‘having or using a lot of different forms or features’. So, back to the story. Lower class rioting continued, with reports in Lewes of annual rioting, intimidation of ‘respectable householders’ and the rolling through the streets of lit tar barrels. In Guildford, gangs of revellers who called themselves ‘guys’ terrorised the local population, proceedings were concerned more with the settling of old arguments and general mayhem than any historical reminiscences. Similar problems arose in Exeter, originally the scene of more traditional celebrations and in 1831 an effigy was burnt of the new Bishop of Exeter, a High Church Anglican and High Tory who opposed Parliamentary reform and who was also suspected of being involved in ‘creeping popery’. A local ban on fireworks in 1843 was largely ignored, and attempts by the authorities to suppress the celebrations resulted in violent protests and several injured constables.

A group of children in Caernarfon in November 1962, standing with their Guy Fawkes effigy. The sign reads ‘Penny for the Guy’ in Welsh.

On several occasions during the 19th century ‘The Times’ reported that the tradition was in decline, being “of late years almost forgotten”, but in fact the civil unrest brought about by the union of the kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland in 1800 resulted in Parliament passing the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829, which afforded Catholics greater civil rights, continuing the process of Catholic emancipation in the two kingdoms. The traditional denunciations of Catholicism had been in decline since the early 18th century and were thought by many to be outdated, but the pope’s restoration in 1850 of the English Catholic hierarchy gave renewed significance to 5 November, as demonstrated by the burnings of effigies of the new Catholic Archbishop of Westminster as well as the pope. With little resistance in Parliament, the thanksgiving prayer of 5 November contained in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer was abolished, and in March 1859 the Anniversary Days Observance Act repealed the Observance of 5th November Act. As the authorities dealt with the worst excesses, public decorum was gradually restored. The sale of fireworks was restricted and the Guildford ‘Guys’ were neutralised in 1865, although this was too late for one constable, who sadly died of his wounds. Violence continued in Exeter for some years, peaking in 1867 when, incensed by rising food prices and banned from firing their customary bonfire, a mob was twice in one night driven from Cathedral Close by armed infantry. Further riots occurred in 1879, but there were no more bonfires in Cathedral Close after 1894. Elsewhere, sporadic instances of public disorder persisted late into the 20th century, accompanied by large numbers of firework-related accidents, but a national Firework Code and improved public safety has in most cases brought an end to such things. But one notable aspect of the Victorians’ commemoration of Guy Fawkes Night was its move away from the centres of communities, to their margins. Gathering wood for the bonfire increasingly became the province of working-class children, who solicited combustible materials, money, food and drink from wealthier neighbours, often with the aid of songs. Most opened with the familiar “Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November, Gunpowder Treason and Plot”.

Spectators gather around a bonfire at Himley Hall, Dudley on 6 November 2010.

Organised entertainments also became popular in the late 19th century, and 20th-century pyrotechnic manufacturers renamed Guy Fawkes Day as Firework Night. Sales of fireworks dwindled somewhat during the First World War, but resumed in the following peace. At the start of the Second World War celebrations were again suspended, resuming in November 1945. For many families, Guy Fawkes Night became a domestic celebration, and children often congregated on street corners, accompanied by their own effigy of Guy Fawkes, but this was sometimes ornately dressed and sometimes a barely recognisable bundle of rags stuffed with whatever filling was suitable! A survey found that in 1981 about 23% of Sheffield schoolchildren made Guys, sometimes weeks before the event. Collecting money was a popular reason for their creation, the children taking their effigy from door to door, or displaying it on street corners. But mainly, they were built to go on the bonfire, itself sometimes comprising wood stolen from other pyres and seen as ‘an acceptable convention’ that helped bolster another November tradition, Mischief Night. Rival gangs competed to see who could build the largest, sometimes even burning the wood collected by their opponents and in 1954 the Yorkshire Post reported on fires late in September, a situation that forced the authorities to remove latent piles of wood for safety reasons. Lately however, the custom of begging for a ‘penny for the Guy’ has almost completely disappeared. Generally, modern 5 November celebrations are run by local charities and other organisations, with paid admission and controlled access. In 1998 an editorial in the Catholic Herald called for the end of ‘Bonfire Night’, labelling it ‘an offensive act’. In my research I have found similarities with other customs, also that nowadays family bonfire gatherings are much less popular and many once-large civic celebrations have been given up because of increasingly intrusive health and safety regulations. I had no idea that in Northern Ireland, bonfires are lit on the Eleventh Night’ (11 July) by Ulster Protestants. There is of course another celebration involving fireworks, the five-day Hindu festival of Diwali (normally observed between mid-October and November) which I detailed last week. Gunpowder Treason Day was exported by settlers to colonies around the world, including members of the Commonwealth of Nations such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and various Caribbean nations. In Australia, Sydney (founded as a British penal colony in 1788) saw at least one instance of the parading and burning of a Guy Fawkes effigy in 1805, whilst in 1833, four years after its founding, Perth listed Gunpowder Treason Day as a public holiday. By the 1970s, Guy Fawkes Night had become less common in Australia, with the event simply an occasion to set off fireworks with little connection to Guy Fawkes. Mostly they were set off annually on a night called ‘cracker night’, which would include the lighting of bonfires. Some states had their ‘cracker night’ at different times of the year, with some being let off on 5 November, but most often, they were let off on the Queen’s birthday. After a range of injuries to children involving fireworks, Fireworks nights and the sale of fireworks was banned in all states except the Australian Capital Territory containing the national capital of Canberra and some surrounding townships until 1980, which saw the end of cracker night. Some measure of celebration remains in New Zealand, Canada, and South Africa, though on the Cape Flats in Cape Town, South Africa, Guy Fawkes Day has become associated with youth hooliganism. In Canada in the 21st century, celebrations of Bonfire Night on 5 November are largely confined to the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. The day is still marked in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines as well as in Saint Kitts and Nevis, but a fireworks ban by Antigua and Barbuda during the 1990s reduced its popularity in that country.

This week…
I decided to include the fact that there are many food items which are associated with Bonfire Night. Toffee apples, treacle toffee, black peas and Parkin or gingerbread cake, even jacket potatoes are traditionally eaten around Bonfire Night in parts of England. Also, some families eat soups to warm up on a cold night and toast marshmallows over the fire…

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