Posts Tagged ‘England’

Summer in England

Ah. Summer in England. What a glorious thing to behold. It took a while getting here but now it is fabulous.

The skies are blue. The grass is green. The flowers are emerging.
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Trees are a shock of loud greens instead of the twigs they have been during the seven month winter.
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Colourful clothing is being worn again. Pale sun-starved flesh is getting an airing with mass shorts and t-shirt wearing.
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Iced coffee is fashionable. The new ice cream shop in town finally has customers!
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Groups of trendy city-workers let their hair down and drink pink champagne from plastic cups on the green.
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My neighbours are feeling happy and generous and I get home to freshly baked biscuits on the doorstep.
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We greet each other cheerily across the street, welcome each other in for cups of tea or homemade lemonade. The children who annoyed us yesterday suddenly seem sweet and funny.
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We even go so far as to say it feels ‘too hot’! Older men play golf again, younger men get out their bikes again. The outdoor pools are open again and rammed with kids splashing about on sponge floats, almost hitting everyone else.
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We drink more tea as, according the age old adage, it actually cools you down….?!
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We eat dinner in the garden. We have barbecues.
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We unearth the lawn from the general leafy debris that has gathered for months while we looked sadly out from the back window, not daring to step out. We get excited.

We love England. It’s the most wonderful place in the world. There’s nowhere else we’d rather be (except when the winter kicks in and we all run away to take holidays elsewhere).

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O is for…

I’m handing over to my regular guest blogger today for O. here goes. Enjoy it…

 

O!

 

The title might seem a bit strange since all the other letters so far have referred at least to a word or phrase.

Some of you might remember a post from 2.1.13 called Toponymy where I told you about the furthest points north, south, east & west in mainland Britain. The info came largely from a really interesting present I was given at Christmas – A Dictionary of British Place Names (A.D. Mills). For this week I’ve decided to return to it and have a look at some of the entries under the letter “O”.

First entry in the “O” section is Oadby (appears as Oldebi in the Domesday Book of 1086). The “-by” ending means village or farmstead and the first part is the English version of the Scandinavian name Authi.

Another one is not exactly a place but it gets an entry because of its geographical and historical significance – Offa’s Dyke. It was a rampart forming the boundary separating England & Wales. As you may know Offa was the ancient king of an area called Mercia during the latter half of the 8th century AD. He was quite an aggressive king conquering large areas of central England and finally Wales. He built the 150 mile long Dyke to stop the Welsh sending raiding parties into English (=’his’) territory. Mercia was a large kingdom occupying the Midlands area of England: its southern border was with the West Saxons (just east of Bristol area) and East Saxons (a much smaller kingdom north of the Thames and south of the area inhabited by the East Anglian peoples). Mercia’s northern boundary appears to have been at least as far as a horizontal line through Liverpool but may have extended much further up before meeting the southern boundary of the kingdom of Northumbria (today the NE of England).

There is a 177 mile footpath you can walk if you fancy it that follows the line of the original dyke. Lonely Planet have nominated the dyke as one of the must see sites for 2013. It has also been listed in the top ten great wall walks “in the world”. (The rest can be seen here: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/themes/best-in-travel-2013/the-worlds-greatest-wall-walks/ )

Those of you who know your history will remember that the area of North Wales is very probably where King Arthur’s ancient kingdom (5th/6th century) of Avalon was located. The locations of many of the stories about Arthur can be traced to places in the North Wales area. One of the books I’m reading at the moment is called The Keys To Avalon (Steve Blake, Scott Lloyd) and it does a fantastic job of debunking many of the claims about King Arthur (father Uthyr Pendragon, mother Eigyr) being related to areas in the south of England around Glastonbury and even as far north as Scotland. They do it simply by returning to the original Welsh source documents used by the early writers and showing how misinterpretations of some words have caused misleading info to bed itself into major historical works. It also shows how political manoeuvring in some cases and straightforward commercialism in others contributed to some areas or places being claimed as the “real” locations of parts of the Arthurian story. It’s a good read but you’ll need perseverance to keep going through some of the necessary but difficult sections of Welsh etymology.

I was surprised to read the entry just a bit further on – that of Ogbourne Maizey. It had an entry in the Domesday Book as Ocheburn (stream of a man called Occa) and later as Ocheburn Meysey. This latter name comes from the family name de Meysey. It is first mentioned in records just after the Norman Conquest of 1066 and has a variety of spellings: Meysey, Meysy, Maisie, Maysey & lastly Maisey. It is first recorded in Gloucestershire having been given Lordships of the manors of Hampton Meysey & Marston Meysey by the Conqueror himself. Tradition says that the de Meysey family came over with William the Conqueror. It appears to have come from Brittainy (or possibly Normandy). The family does have a crest & coat of arms so it seems LLM may have some very important ancestors. However treat this information carefully as it could be seen that your family displaced existing lords of the area of their homes and lands simply because of its connections to the conquering nation which gave grants of land to its own people. I’m wondering at this point, as LLM has just done a volunteer stint at a massive country house estate (Ham House), whether she is actually subconsciously returning to her thousand-year old ancestral roots. Something in her genes might be saying: “I belong here!” Hmmm… I wonder how long before we will have to address her as “Milady”?

Next is Old Wives Lees; this has to be one of the most unusual village names. Originally called Oldwoods Lees no-one seems to know how it became corrupted into its present form. The highest point in the village is called ‘The Mount’ and this area was used in the film Last Orders (2000) starring Michael Caine & Bob Hoskins. The Pilgrims’ Way – a 132 mile footpath from Winchester (Hampshire) to Canterbury (Kent) – passes close by and was used by those going to the Canterbury shrine of Thomas à Beckett (Archbishop of Canterbury 1162-1170 who was murdered by supporters of Henry II).

Oswestry (Shropshire) means ‘Tree of a man named Oswald’ and I suppose you can see how easily, over many years, you get from Oswald’s Tree to Oswestry. There is a possible connection to St Oswald who was king of Northumbria in about the 7th century although it is clearly in Mercian held territory (see Offa’s Dyke para above).

Odd as it may seem there are 3 places in England called simply Over: one in Cambridgeshire, one in Cheshire, one on Gloucestershire.

Next a couple from across the Irish Sea: Owenavorragh (in county Wexford) meaning “river liable to flood” and Owendalulleegh (in Galway) meaning “river of two milch cows”. At first sight you might be tempted to think they have Welsh connections because the start of both is “Owen” but the etymology splits the names after the first two letters. “Ow” meaning river.

Final entry in the “O” section is Ozleworth meaning ‘Enclosure of a man called Osla’ or surprisingly ‘enclosure frequented by blackbirds’.

And there you have it a brief survey of some interesting places beginning with “O”.

I is for…

It’s over to my guest  blogger today for the letter I. Here goes…

 

INTERESTING!

Now I wonder what you expected after you read the title to this, especially with the question mark after it? – Something interesting to read or ponder?

Maybe, but perhaps before we can start we need a definition of “interesting” otherwise how will we know if what follows is interesting or not?

Let’s start with the definition from my trusty Chambers: engaging or apt to engage the attention or regard; also exciting passion or emotion. Did you find the definition interesting?

What would make you describe a person you met as “interesting”? Would it be their physical appearance, their clothes, their accent, their conversation, their reaction to you (friendly, angry, puzzled)? You can see there are many ways you might find another person interesting but I suppose one of the most obvious ways is how different they are to you. Supposing you’ve not travelled much and they have. You could find their stories of places where they have been “interesting”; if they’ve met important or famous people that might also make them interesting; if they’ve lived in different places, again that may spark an interest from our side.

Is something interesting because it’s something you never knew before? Or is it interesting because you are amazed at the information or the achievement of a person or an animal in the story? I heard an interview on the radio last week-end with a guy, Jason Lewis, who with a friend who left the trip in Hawaii, travelled round the world using nothing but human power. It took him 13 years, 2 months, 23 days and 11 hours travelling west around the globe until he arrived back at the point he first started. So human power only even across seas and oceans! (They pedalled a kind of boat – 26ft x 4.5ft – across the Atlantic from Portugal to Miami in 111 days – 5,500 miles!) We were also told of a lady who had moved house using a barge. Do you think that’s interesting? When actress Imogen Stubbs was being interviewed she said that in her life she just wanted to have a go at being more interesting. Are you “trying” to be interesting in your life? The same prog has a weekly feature called Inheritance Tracks in which they ask someone (usually a celebrity type in the arts/music/literature world) to say which track or piece of music they have inherited from someone else and which one would they pass on. This week it was Mick Fleetwood (founder member of Fleetwood Mac and one-time brother-in-law to George Harrison: Mick’s 1st marriage was to Jenny Boyd sister of Patti Boyd who was married to George Harrison at the time). His inherited track may surprise you: Clap Hands Here Comes Charlie by Charlie Kunz. Interestingly the light-hearted drinking song was first performed by the California Ramblers in 1925 and became Kunz’s theme tune in the 1930s. Here’s a version by The Merrymakers with lyrics: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ItjoO1cEG10 Mick’s connection to the song is that it is his mother’s favourite track so he’s inherited it from her. The one he would pass on is Imagine by John Lennon. Interesting?

I am reading a number of books at the moment one of which is The Love & Wars of Lina Prokofiev by Simon Morrison. (She was the wife of Russian composer Serge Prokofiev.) In it there is a sentence which speaks of Vera Danchakoff (a scientist) and Olga (Lina’s mother) not liking the “new music” but thinking it might be “interesting” to go and hear a Bolshevik musician who, it was said, was a mad genius.

I saw Marty Cooper interviewed recently on a news prog. Are you wondering who is he? If I tell you he is considered to be the inventor of the cellular/mobile phone do you find that interesting? Certainly what he had to say about the way technology is now enabling medical smart patches worn next to the skin to send info to a mobile phone to give an early warning of a possible threat to a person’s health was very interesting.

If I tell you that the highest inhabited place in England is a village called Flash (in the county of Staffordshire) do you find that interesting? I can tell you that the Ordnance Survey map people have confirmed it using their very accurate measurement methods. Perhaps if I give you some more info and tell you it’s 463 metres (1518 ft) above sea level you might find that interesting. You might ask whether living in the highest place in England has any particular advantages. Does it mean loads of tourists who all want to take have their picture taken there? Does it bring commerce to local area?

Now if I told you that in the highest place in the UK stakes, Flash also claims for itself the no.1 spot are you interested? Its rival, Wanlockhead in Scotland, has claimed to be 13ft higher at 1531ft. Some time ago a BBC TV programme apparently used the very latest satellite technology and measured the height of the highest house in each village – 1558ft in Flash but 1456ft in Wanlockhead. That’s settled then. Apparently not, as after the show aired some years ago, the Scots then disputed the way the measurements were taken and still say their village is the highest. Oh well…. Does that make the situation interesting? It certainly excites the passions & emotions of the inhabitants on both sides of the debate but for the rest of us……

I’ve just listened to a radio programme about Jeff Bezos. You may be thinking, WHO? Or you may know he is the founder of Amazon, a multi-billion dollar company selling everything you could possibly ever want from its 30 different departments in the drop down menu. I found the programme interesting, hearing about some of his family history and how he began the whole Amazon thing.

When I did one of my regular weekly washes in my machine I noticed within the rubber seal a lot of fluff and bits collecting in the fold. It’s quite a deep fold really so needs all the stuff scooping out. In it I found bits of fluff, couple of pieces of plastic and wait for this £4.20 ($6.43) in coins! Now is that interesting? It certainly was for me as I was £4.20 ($6.43) richer.

So are we any closer to finding out what makes something interesting? Can an article about being interesting actually itself be interesting? Or are we faced with the conclusion that interesting though the discussion may be it is all very subjective? That interesting means just that – that I think something is interesting. And what I find interesting you may not and vice versa. Oh well……..I wonder do any readers have any interesting comments to make on the subject?

London trip (part 2)

Good morning all. It’s time for the second part of last week’s brilliant post ny my guest blogger about walking in London. Enjoy!

Just to recap – last week I did the first part of my walk around some London sights (and sites). I covered the oddly named St. Andrew By-The-Wardrobe Church, The College of Arms, St Magnus the Martyr Church with the London Bridge (1176-1831) sign, John Donne’s bust near St Paul’s Cathedral, the YMCA sign showing its origins and the very unusual Postman’s Park which became the Memorial To Heroic Self Sacrifice celebrating those who gave their lives in saving others.

 

For this second part it’s important to understand something of the history behind the next few pics so I hope you will bear with me. This week we’re starting with a visit to the Smithfield area and the front of St Bartholomew’s Hospital.

The first thing to notice is this sign:

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As well as the info about public executions which we’ll come to in a moment notice the bottom 5 lines of the sign. Society must have sunk to a very low level at this point!

 

There’s a memorial to 3 men (3 Johns) who gave their lives, not to save others like the ones in Postman’s Park, but because they refused to change their beliefs. I wonder how many of us would be prepared to die for something we believe in or would we just change our minds to stay alive. What if the government asked us to sign a piece of paper saying we definitely believe in the existence of aliens. Would it bother you? Would you sign? Maybe not? However what if they then said unless they had this piece of paper with your signature on you would not be eligible to apply for any jobs or any benefits if you are out of work. That’s a lot harder now isn’t it? Are you going to sign? What if the next step is that all who sign have to undertake not to speak to any who haven’t signed? Then ultimately what if they say if you don’t sign you no longer have the right to live? Do you sign now? Probably you do because you say it doesn’t really make much difference to your life and that’s probably right. What if though it’s not aliens but a particular belief system be it religious or secular (cult of the leader like in North Korea for instance)? There are a number of countries around the world where Christians are persecuted just because they believe Jesus died on the cross to save people from their sins. For them it’s not just a matter of changing their belief to suit the current government requirements it’s about a daily life lived a different way. This plaque is really about men for whom it was more important to stand for what they believed in rather than simply change to stay alive. Apologies for the picture being slight obscured by the railings in front of it but when I held the camera inside the railings I couldn’t get the whole thing in.

Here’s the picture:

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The three men are John Rogers, John Bradford, John Philpott. Let’s take a brief look at each.

 

John Rogers (1500-4.2.1555) was born in Birmingham and became a minister and Bible translator producing the second complete Bible translation from the original languages in 1537. He was the first Protestant Martyr (English) to be executed under Mary I. The last reported conversation JR had went something like this when Mr Woodroofe, one of the sheriffs, came to lead him out of Newgate Prison to be executed. He asked if JR was willing to revoke “his abominable doctrine”:

 

John Rogers: “That which I have preached I will seal with my blood.

Woodroofe: “Thou art an heretic.”

John Rogers: “That shall be known at the Day of Judgment.

Woodroofe: “I will never pray for thee.

John Rogers: “But I will pray for you.”

 

Remember Woodroofe had come to lead the man to the stake to be burned alive; I guess I know which man’s character speaks of goodness & compassion and which one doesn’t.

 

John Bradford (1510-1.7.1555)

He was born in Manchester and became a law student at the Inner Temple (a professional association for barristers and judges) in London. When he became a Christian he felt called to the ministry and was later ordained by Bishop Nicholas Ridley; he would later share a cell with this man in the Tower of London. He is famous for the saying (when he saw others being led out to their execution): “There, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford.” Many of you will be familiar with the saying in its modern form when people reflect on their situation which could easily have been a lot worse if something which could have happened didn’t. They look at someone for whom it did go badly and they say: “There, but for the grace of God, go I”, or just “There, but for the grace of God..” Perhaps you’ve even used the phrase yourself. Well now you know it comes from John Bradford. Before the fire was lit he turned to the man alongside him and said: “Be of good comfort brother; for we shall have a merry supper with the Lord this night!” A very strong faith indeed!

 

John Philpott (1511-18.12.1555)

He was born in Hampshire and the son of a knight. He studied civil law and the Hebrew language. He became archdeacon at Winchester. When Mary came to the throne he was called to account for his beliefs. Amazingly he was interviewed/examined 14 times before the final one which condemned him to death. On the appointed day the sheriffs took him to Smithfield. As they approached the stake the ground was very muddy and they offered to carry him. His reply: “Would you make me a pope? I am content to finish my journey on foot.” When he got to the stake, he said, “Shall I disdain to suffer at the stake, when my Redeemer did not refuse to suffer the most vile death upon the cross for me?” He then recited the Psalm 107 & 108. When he had finished his prayers, he was tied to the post, and the fire lit.

 

All three died in 1555. The other years mentioned on the stone plaque must refer to the many anonymous ones who died in the following two years.

Now in the hustle and bustle of the day, with people scurrying about their daily business around me in the street, I stood for a few moments thinking about how seriously these guys took the way they lived their lives and the God they believed in to such a degree that they would simply not change to save their own lives.

 

Just along from this plaque was another one – this time to Sir William Wallace.image

He was born nearly 300 years before the men above were burned at the stake. In 1296 Edward I of England had forced the King of Scotland, John de Balliol, to give up his throne. He then put him in jail and declared himself King of Scotland. In May 1297 Wallace and others began their resistance and a few months later the English army and the Scots met at the Forth River near Stirling. Because of the narrow bridge which the English had to cross, the outnumbered Scots actually massacred the English forces. Wallace and his men then crossed the border and, in Oct 1297, began attacking the counties of Northumberland & Cumberland. Wallace returned to Scotland in Dec 1297 and was proclaimed guardian of the realm ruling in the deposed king’s name. 8 months later in July 1298 Edward I went back to Scotland and defeated the Scots. However it was not until 1304 that the Scots actually accepted (recognised) Edward I as their king. However Wallace refused to go along with this and continued to rebel. He was captured in 1305 and taken to London where, after being condemned as a traitor, he was hanged then disembowelled, beheaded, and quartered.

 

The 2-line Latin inscription at the bottom Dico Tibi Verum, Libertas Optima Rerum: Nunquam Servili Sub Nexu Vivito, Fili translates to: “My Son, Freedom is best, I tell thee true, of all things to be won. Then never live within the Bond of Slavery.” He is reported to have said this at his trial (23 August 1305). Underneath it, the phrase Bas Agus Buaidh means “Death & Victory”.

 

So if England, or the country you live in, was invaded would you be willing to do the same? It’s a tough call isn’t it?

 

(Interesting to note that it was a similar story in Wales where in 1400 Owain Glyndŵr started resistance to the English king Henry IV. However even after being defeated in 1408-9 he was never captured and never betrayed. His fate is unknown but Shakespeare wrote him into Henry IV Part 1.)

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Literally, on the corner of the front wall of St Bart’s Hospital.

 

And just a few steps away from it is the entrance way access to the church behind:

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The building was founded by a guy called Prior Rahere in 1123 as the sign said. It is claimed he built it after recovering (allegedly miraculously) from an illness. Once this became known the church used to fill up with sick people every August 24th (St Bartholomew’s Day). Sadly I cannot show you any pics inside the church itself as they were charging for the privilege and after paying an entrance fee I thought it a bit much then to ask for more money to photograph the building! However I can tell you that outside & inside there were piles of film equipment (booms, lighting, mics, cabling etc) and the guy told us they are going to be using the building to film scenes from the next Muppet movie. A man was standing guard over the piles outside to prevent theft. So just remember when you see the next Muppet film you’ll know the church interior shots were taken at St Bartholomew’s (dating back to 1123) in Smithfield, London.

 

Just a few minutes away and we were in the rather oddly named street – Cloth Fair. Obviously it harks back to the days when there was a cloth fair in the area and they just kept the name for the street. We stopped for a quick drink in the pub – The Hand & Shears (dating back to 1532!). In nearby Smith Field back in history tailors and drapers came from all over the country to buy & sell. Because of the risk of people not getting the correct length of cloth the Merchant Tailors would carry a yardstick and anyone found to be selling short measures of cloth were brought to this pub and taken upstairs to a courtroom where they would be tried. If found guilty it was either the stocks or a whipping! (The yardstick was known as early as the tenth century during the reign of King Edgar the Peaceful – a great-grandson of King Alfred – who reigned from 959 to 975.)

As he lived nearby it also became poet John Betjamin’s local.

Note the entrance doors are curved to fit with the rounded corner step stone and cornice above. Also check out the greenery at first floor level. I wonder who gets the job of watering that lot?

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Here’s an interesting sign in the wall of a building:

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If you enlarge the pic you may be able to see the inscription round the central coat of arms. It says The Worshipful Company of Founders. Their origins go back to 1365 and it is one of earliest guilds formed to protect the interests of its members and to promote high standards of quality & workmanship in brass & bronze. You might be able to enlarge the centre bit but I was struggling to see the words. I checked their website to get the motto which is very tiny underneath the shield in the coat of arms. It is: “God The Only Founder”.
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How narrow is this? It’s called Benjamin Street and is just one step and half wide. Shortly after taking this pic a small van drove through and its tyres appeared to be touching the kerbs on both sides.

 

Next stop was this sign outside a building which you would hardly even notice.

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Apart from the name Bounce which you might query the blue plaque above is easy to miss as you walk along the street. The light shining on it does obscure it a bit but it says: “On this very site PING PONG was created and patented by John Jaques III 1901”. Do any of you play table tennis? By 1903 apparently the two branches (ping pong & table tennis) had joined together but there is still a large amount of verbiage on what the differences are doing the rounds today! I won’t bore you with the detail because….well… it’s boring.

 

Next stop was a bar for a drink; but not just any old bar – one where you have to email ahead a booking asking for permission to enter. Yes that’s right an email is required, you can’t just turn up at the door and walk in!! On arrival your details are checked and you are directed to the lifts. Up you go to floor 32. As the door opens someone is ready to take your coat if needed and another person takes you to the bar where you order your drink. Once you’ve got it you can go upstairs to floor 33 which is a viewing floor looking out over the London skyline. Here’s a pic looking down on a street below. The white tops in the long street are bus roofs: they’re white to reflect heat in the summer. Although you can’t see it in this pic the roofs also have large letters and numbers which identify the individual vehicle and the operator of that vehicle. These are used by police and emergency service airborne units

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Next one is looking down on a couple of those huge building cranesimage

Look at the small park in the centre amongst all those buildings in the next one.

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Couldn’t resist a sunset pic so here it is:image

And on the way back to the station I was curious about an old odd looking building on the street corner ahead. I wondered what the Dickens it could be? As we came round the front this is what we saw:image

Ha ha ha. I did read that they named the shop couple of years after the book came out and not the other way round. It was built using wood from old ships. It survived the Great Fire (1666) & the WW2 bombers in the Blitz.

 

Although the whole walk had been less than 6 miles we’d seen so much. (My legs were convinced it had been about 12 miles!) The weather had been kind to us and we’d had a great day.    

Special pigeons

We’re mixing it up this week and having the guest blogger’s contribution on Monday, instead of Wednesday. Enjoy!

I recently visited a place in England which was very top secret during WW2. It was where the government set up a special department for breaking codes used by its enemies: Bletchley Park. Wartime communications, especially military, were normally sent in some coded fashion. This has been the way for many hundreds of years; a way of trying to prevent your enemies knowing what you are planning either defensively or against them directly.

We’re all familiar with the idea of a code: something which changes the letters of normal words into something which hopefully is hard to decipher if the message falls into enemy hands. A simple code would be like this: nwpf usppqt up uif csjehf. It means “move troops to the bridge”. You can probably see it’s just a transposing of the normal letter by one to the next letter in the alphabet. Nothing else has been done so the same number of letters appear in each word once it is coded. A slightly harder version might be npw fus ppq tup uif csj ehf where the letters are grouped into threes and it is much harder to see how the words are made up. Of course there are much more complex versions of coding and ones based on some mathematical formula. During WW2 the Germans had invented a machine which produced one of the most complicated forms of coding. It needed three wheels to be placed into the coding machine each set to a certain letter of the alphabet. Once in place when the operator pressed say the letter “a” out would come “t” and then after “b” was pressed out would come “m” say and so on. The receiver of the message then put the same three wheels in at the same positions and typed the coded letter and out would come the real one. The only way you could fathom it out would be if you know which wheel settings had been used and in which of the three slots. Anyway the job of the folks at Bletchley Park was to try and figure out how the wheels altered the normal letter into the coded one. There’s too much detail to go into here but here is a picture of the front of the machine they built to try and duplicate what the German coding machine was doing.

 

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Alan Turing was the man in charge of the project and the machine was called a “bombe”. (The word bombe came from anglicising the name of an earlier simpler machine used by Polish code breakers. They had called theirs bomba kryptologiczna). Although it looks like something sat on a table it is big – it actually reaches to the floor and is taller than a person.

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It’s amazing seeing all the wires making the connections to wonder how Turing’s team could have possibly been able to work out how to make it.

 

Bletchley Park is a very big site and if you wanted to read all the info boards you’d need a whole day. I couldn’t spend the whole day but I was there about 5 hours. A number of the huts that were used during the war have been made into exhibition areas on different subjects. One in particular was very interesting because it was on a subject which many people know little or nothing about – how pigeons were used in the war. If you read my post from 18.7.12 about bird droppings you will remember I was not very complimentary about pigeons because of the mess they make on our cars, houses and washing. However, one of the films I saw showed how during the war there were times when homing pigeons were essential: when radio silence had to be maintained. Agents on the Continent would use them to send messages back to England with information about troop movements and requirements for the resistance organisations. The use of them was taken so seriously that the occupying forces used snipers to try and shoot down pigeons flying over the area. Anyone keeping pigeons would of course be under suspicion. Paratroopers sometimes carried them in their uniform to release when they had landed. I was surprised to learn that flying relatively short distances over The Channel back to England they could fly at speeds of 60mph.

Pigeons have been used for carrying messages for hundreds of years (different ones of course as they don’t live for hundreds of years individually!). One ancient ruler actually set up a regular messenger service using carrier pigeons between Baghdad & Syria. They’ve been used at various times throughout history for carrying valuable information; and scientists still don’t really know how they find their directions. A number of theories have been postulated: inbuilt compass, using invisible magnetic lines & using physical geographical features like roads or rivers. Some appear to follow roads or rivers when trying to get their bearings. Anyway however they do it, it seems to work.

The usefulness of carrier pigeons led to a number of measures being taken by both sides in WW2. Look at this poster headed “Defence of the Realm”.

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You could get 6 months in prison or £100 fine for shooting one according to this poster issued in Leeds. Also the government offered a reward of £5 for info leading to a person being convicted of shooting a homing pigeon.

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This poster I assume was done for publicity purposes to frighten the local community. This man as you can see was shot the day before the notice was put up. He was shot because they believed he had released a pigeon with a message for England. Pigeons’ abilities were taken very seriously by both sides. However the film mentioned that there were horrendous numbers of casualties & birds which didn’t make it home. Some may have been shot; some may have been killed by natural predators; some may just have not found their way back. Despite this they clearly supplied enough good intelligence to keep the idea going and homing birds have continued to be used even in conflicts of recent times.

Rain 2

It’s Wednesday again and time for my guest blogger to take over. Enjoy.

 

Last week’s subject got me thinking. As well as the weather aspect of rain it crops up in a lot of songs. I thought I’d look at just a few.

Remember the Travis song, Why Does It Always Rain On Me? (1999). Apparently, at the exact moment when they played the song, at Glastonbury in 1999, the weather duly obliged. There’s that other classic by B.J. Thomas, Raindrops keep falling on my head (1970). Rain is a mood-altering phenomenon: it can give us a down when we’re being soaked but give us a lift when we see those dark clouds disappearing and best of all when we see it stopping. Remember the Lighthouse Family and the lines from their song Lifted: “I wouldn’t say I’m mad about the rain, But we’ll get through it anyway.” One thing’s for sure as BJT sang, we’ll never stop the rain by complaining; so don’t – move on, it will stop (eventually)!

Garbage (the group) had a song called I’m only happy when it rains, in 1995, which seems to be a similar sentiment to Gene Kelly, (remember last week’s post).
Remember the opening bars of The Doors’ song, Riders on the Storm? Must be one of the most atmospheric sounds of rain & thunder on record. Only managed to reach No.22 in Britain even with two re-issues. (However, here’s a good one – If you watch this vid of the song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lS-af9Q-zvQ on Youtube, at about 2m 46s, you will see Jim Morrison lighting a cigarette not far from the petrol pump in a garage where he’s stopped to get fuel. Those were the days, eh? Risk of explosion – who me? Where?)

I don’t know much about the weather in the USA apart from the stuff that makes the news over here. In 1972, when Rapid City (South Dakota) lost 238 inhabitants due to flooding lasting 2 days, Albert Hammond was singing about people saying, It never rains in Southern California but then says “Girl don’t they warn ya – it pours, man it pours”. Any readers from California tell me which is right?

As an aside, did you know that hurricanes don’t actually get named. Yes, I know, you can think of plenty but did you realise how they originate. A tropical storm is named when it reaches a sustained speed of 39mph; if that storm then reaches a sustained speed of 74mph it becomes a hurricane and keeps the name it was given as a storm. Also did you know that the names for Tropical Storms follow a prescribed pattern: the first storm of any year gets a name beginning with “A”, the second a name beginning with “B” and so on. (So in 2012 they went like this: Alberto, then Beryl, Chris, Debby etc). Q, U, X, Y and Z are not used.

Furthermore, if the year is an even number, men’s names are used for the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th etc storms; if the year is odd women’s names are used for the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th etc storms. The names are pre-determined so I can tell you that, if there are 21 storms in 2012 that reach hurricane force, no.21 will be called Hurricane William. I can also tell you that the second storm (poss hurricane) in 2016 will be called Bonnie and the 11th will be Karl. (The full table, which goes to 2017, can be found at http://geology.com/hurricanes/hurricane-names.shtml).

Ok, so back to the rain. Are you a bit like the Carpenters – you know, Rainy days and Mondays always get you down? If you’ve never listened to The Cascades’ song Rhythm of the Rain, watch (listen actually, as it’s it’s only a still pic) this one http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&NR=1&v=l1PJ9mF2H2Q. (A brief count of the different uploads of just this one Cascades song by various sources comes to about 3.5 million views).

Of course you’re probably wondering about the wettest place on Earth: where & how much, obviously?

Here’s the wettest place in Britain: Dalness in Scotland
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Looks beautiful doesn’t it? It gets 130 ins (3.3 metres) of rain per year. That means an average of nearly 11 ins per month.

In second place is Seathwaite in the Lake District which is the wettest place in England and here it is.
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Seathwaite (in Borrowdale) gets 124 ins of rain per year.

Both of these pale into insignificance when we look at the wettest places in the world. The top two are in India and get 467 ins (11871mm) & 463 ins (11777mm) – that’s more than 1 in (25.4mm) per day! For the UK 124 ins & 130 ins are enough to be going on with. Definitely worth keeping an umbrella with you I’d say.

What a good job this lady took her umbrella with her!! Just think what might have happened if she’d forgotten it.
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And this chap too. I’d like to see him do a Gene Kelly (see last week’s post):

So please, if you think it might rain don’t forget that umbrella!

A novel written in 1830 by Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873) called Paul Clifford begins with these very famous lines:

“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”

The novelist’s name has been immortalised in the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. The English Dept of San Jose University (California, you remember where Albert Hammond sang that it never rained) sponsor it and entrants have to compose the opening sentence to “the worst of all possible novels”.

This list has done the rounds a bit so you may have come across some of them before but here are the 10 entries starting at no.10 and working up to the winner (of 2010 possibly):

10. “As a scientist, Throckmorton knew that if he were ever to break wind in the echo chamber, he would never hear the end of it.”

9. “Just beyond the Narrows, the river widens.”

 

8. “With a curvaceous figure that Venus would have envied, a tanned, unblemished oval face framed with lustrous thick brown hair, deep azure-blue eyes fringed with long black lashes, perfect teeth that vied for competition, and a small straight nose, Marilee had a beauty that defied description.”

 

7. “Andre, a simple peasant, had only one thing on his mind as he crept along the East wall: ‘Andre creep.  Andre creep.  Andre creep.'”

 

6. “Stanislaus Smedley, a man always on the cutting edge of narcissism, was about to give his body and soul to a back alley sex-change surgeon to become the woman he loved.”

 

5. “Although Sarah had an abnormal fear of mice, it did not keep her from eeking out a living at a local pet store.”

 

4. “Stanley looked quite bored and somewhat detached, but then penguins often do.”

 

3. “Like an overripe beefsteak tomato rimmed with cottage cheese, the corpulent remains of Santa Claus lay dead on the hotel floor.”

 

2. “Mike Hardware was the kind of private eye who didn’t know the meaning of the word ‘fear’; a man who could laugh in the face of danger and spit in the eye of death– in short, a moron with suicidal tendencies.”

 

And the winner is. . .

 

1. “The sun oozed over the horizon, shoved aside darkness, crept along the greensward, and, with sickly fingers, pushed through the castle window, revealing the pillaged princess, hand at throat, crown asunder, gaping in frenzied horror at the sated, sodden amphibian lying beside her, disbelieving the magnitude of the frog’s deception, screaming madly, ‘You lied!'”

I like no.9 for its simplicity (and of course no.1) but see what you think.
I couldn’t finish without quoting Walter Sichel (1855-1933):

“The rain, it raineth on the just
And also on the unjust fella:
But chiefly on the just, because
The unjust steals the just’s umbrella.”

(He is of course putting his own comedic spin on the last part of the verse from the Gospel of Matthew Ch 5 verse 45 which has the words: “For He (God) makes His (God’s) sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (I’ve added words in brackets for explanation purposes).

And that’s it for our second look at rain.

Hope I’ve whet your appetite (see what I did there?) for some further research.

Rain

It’s my regular guest blogger with something very topical right now in England… Rain! Enjoy.

 

Let me start with the answer to last week’s (27.9.12) puzzle question. No-one was brave enough to give it a go so here it is. You remember the tank for the boats to go in weighed 252 tons and I asked what it would weigh if two boats weighing 24 tons each were put into it. So that means what does 252 + 24 + 24 equal. Well the answer is 252. Why?

Simply because when you put the 48 tons of the two boats in, an amount of water overflows the tank and that amount of water if you caught it and weighed it would be 48 tons. (So 252+24+24 really does =252!).

Ok now on to this week’s subject: RAIN

I suppose after the bad summer the UK has had and just last week the almost 3 continuous days of rain it was inevitable my thoughts would turn in its direction. Why did it happen? Was there something special going on in the weather sphere?

I think we can all probably remember a time when there seemed to be (and possibly was) rain for days on end. The world has had incredible blips in the rain making cycle which are totally off the scale of normal weather. You may remember, in 2004, the village of Boscastle in Cornwall being badly damaged by flooding caused by just 8 hours of rain.

Rain affects all sorts of things, some for good some for bad. It gets our food crops growing and waters the natural landscape & woodlands. It can stop sporting events, cause rivers to overflow and make you and me wet in varying degrees. Sometimes it seems that every time we go out it is raining. In the paper last week big reductions of UK-produced honey were reported. The reason: wet weather from April to August meant honey bees had far less time to get out and about to do their job of pollinating. (Scotland’s ‘crop’ of honey was down by two-thirds because of the rain; a Derbyshire farmer said he was down 90%!).
Let’s start, as they say, at the beginning. How does rain start? What happens to make it?

Well, first off, it’s back to schooldays geography: heat acts on water on the Earth’s surface, as water droplets increase in heat they become less dense and therefore rise up into the atmosphere where they form clouds. All clouds are simply water droplets hanging up in the sky. They won’t fall down until other things take place. I’m sure you’ve quite happily looked up at those pretty, fluffy, rounded white ones and thought you were ok as they wouldn’t rain on you. I’m also sure you’ve looked up at increasingly darker ones and thought, “It looks like rain”. We do that don’t we? The fluffy rounded white ones are called cumulus and they pass through 3 stages before they get to the state when rain is likely: they start with cumulus humilis which grow into cumulus mediocris and then to the rain-bearing cumulus congestus. One stage further and congestus will grow into Cumulonimbus and this is the baddie as far as the weather goes. It’s the fatal motorway pile up of the weather world. It brings the extremes: hail, snow, lightning, hurricanes and, sadly, sometimes death. I wonder if you imagine what clouds would look like if you were up there alongside them. We tend to look up and think a bit two-dimensionally: we can see their length and we can see their width or so we think. How many of us think of their height (depth)? Think of when you’re on a plane flight: you look out of the window and when coming in to land you see the plane go into the cloud layer and then come out underneath. It’s hard to imagine that depth from the ground looking up because we can’t really see it. Well, the Cumulonimbus is big, massive in fact in physical size, starting at a height above ground of about 6,000 ft (1828 metres) and going up to about 45,000 (13,716 m). That means it can easily be taller than Mount Everest (29,029 ft, 8840 m).
Now let’s stop there for a mo’. How and more importantly where will the ‘heating’ process begin that results in these cloud formations? Think about it. Obvious really isn’t it? It has to be in the areas where the Earth’s temperature is at its greatest. That means the equatorial & tropical regions around the middle of the Earth. Gavin Pretor-Pinney gives an easy to understand example in his book The Cloudspotter’s Guide:

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He uses the lava lamp. You’ve probably all seen one and some will have owned one; my family had one when I was growing up and it was amazing how long you could look at it just waiting to see what the next shape it formed would look like. The ‘lava’ is in the bottom of the glass container when the lamp is switched on. It then heats up causing parts of the lava to become less dense and therefore to rise up in the liquid. Finally when it gets far enough away from the heat at the bottom it becomes more dense, increases in weight and falls back down to begin the whole process again.

That’s why rain doesn’t start in the polar regions; it starts in the middle degrees of latitude around 00 (+/- 23.5 degrees of the tropics) and then works its way either north or south when the cooling process begins. This is the crucial point in the life cycle of rain – its birth as it were. At some point the water droplets then become too heavy to remain up in the air as clouds and will begin to fall as rain. All the preceding states could be considered as foetal or ‘ante-natal’; it is growing from random rising water droplets into clouds and waiting for the ‘something’ to happen which will release the droplets from the cloud to fall on us down here.

In the Boscastle example earlier the ‘something’ was warm air picking up moisture from the Atlantic. It travelled to the Cornish Coast where steep cliffs forced the air upwards. As we said above, the droplets would then cool sticking together forming clouds and further cooling resulted in them falling back to Earth as rain, but because of the massive volume of moisture they were carrying it was very heavy rain. Many records were broken in the Boscastle disaster just because of the amount of rain that fell in such a short time. One fact that intrigues me is that in that one afternoon 7 inches (almost 178mm) of rain fell and yet 10 rain gauges all fairly close by recorded under 3mm! How bizarre is that? It’s like Boscastle had its very own village rain cloud with all the taps turned on – if ever you wanted a definition of a local phenomenon that has to be it. It is believed that it was an occurrence of what is known as The Brown Willy Effect. Now before you go thinking X-rated thoughts let me explain: it is a meteorological term meaning heavy showers developing over high ground but then moving quite a way from their place of origin. Brown Willy comes directly from the Cornish Bronn Wennili which means “hill of the swallows”. It is the highest point on Bodmin Moor (420 m). So now you know.
And here it is.

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(Thanks to Stephen Dawson for photo – re-used under Creative Commons licence)

The disastrous flood that occurred in 1953 along the East Coast of England affected Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Kent & parts of the Thames Estuary, killed 307 people, damaged 24,000 homes and caused 30,000 people to be evacuated. It was not caused by primarily by rain but by a storm surge of water and a high Spring Tide. (We’d probably call it a tsunami today.) What is interesting is that one of the villages affected by it was called Salthouse. Given recent posts about salt I couldn’t resist checking the place out on line to see what its origins might be. Sure enough there’s a history there of salt making going back to Saxon times and beyond from remains discovered in the area. Maybe that’s one to investigate next time I’m down that way. It’s on the ‘things to do next year’ list.
People write music about the rain, sing about the rain, paint pictures or take photos with rain in, write about the rain and even eulogise in poetry about it. We’ll look at some of those next week but for now I want to direct you to one of the most famous and most shown film clips.

Who can forget the words of that classic song about the pleasure of rain, “I’m singing in the rain”? Gene Kelly was “laughing at clouds, so dark up above” but I doubt we do; he also “walked down the lane with a happy refrain”. Do you? Now I’ve watched this video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WttNlbaECDY) and I’ve made a few notes. This guy is such a bad example to kids. Here are a few things which troubled me:

1. He puts his brolly down after just 43 secs. Therefore he gets very wet. Why would you do that?
2. At 1m 21s he actually takes his hat off for a full 7 secs so his head gets soaking wet. It’s off again briefly at 1m 52s. Would you want your child copying this sort of behaviour?
3. At 2m 27s he does the “kick-the-point-of-the-brolly-with-your-foot” trick so it spins-round in the air and he catches it by the handle. He then does it spinning from his own hand and catching it again a bit later. All this time it is not covering him and so he continues to get even wetter.
4. At 3m 1s he stands under the gutter downspout and drops his brolly down so he can get his head soaked again.
5. From about 3m 10s he jumps in the puddles splashing all over the place and seems to think this is just jolly good fun.
6. Only at 3m 40s when a policeman arrives does he seem to think his behaviour is incredibly childish and he acts sort of embarrassed and towards the end bumps into a passer-by and actually gives his umbrella away!

Now come on, hands up any of you who are parents out there – would you want your child to behave this way? No, I’m sorry Mr Kelly this is just not good enough!

I couldn’t finish without telling you about a super video on the subject of rain. Here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LPodpYu_Ruo&feature=related. How long is it? I kid you not – the timer shows 8 hrs 1 min 13 secs!!! There are a few picture changes and a few thunderclaps but it really is just the sound of rain falling. Check it out (for a minute or so) if you don’t believe me. I’m sorry but I’ve only managed to listen to the first 7 hrs 59 mins then I had to go out so I can’t tell you how it finishes!