Jane Austen

Jane Austen

Picture Credit: “Jane Austen sculpture at Winchester Cathedral (2)” by Jayembee69 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Members of the Haywards Heath & District Probus Club and others were treated to a splendid talk via Zoom by historian Rupert Matthews on 11th November 2020 – fittingly Remembrance Day as the talk was titled ‘Jane Austen and the Military’.

About Jane Austen

Jane Austen was an English novelist known primarily for her six major novels, which interpret, critique and comment upon the British landed gentry at the end of the 18th century. Her books, set among the English middle and upper classes, are notable for their wit, social observation and insights into the lives of early 19th century women. Her plots often explore the dependence of women on marriage in the pursuit of favourable social standing and economic security. She uses biting irony, along with her realism, humour, and social commentary, which have long earned her acclaim among critics, scholars, and popular audiences alike.

Jane Austen’s Major Novels

The BBC History website (here) summarises the novels:

“[Jane Austen’s] first novel, ‘Sense and Sensibility’, appeared in 1811. Her next novel ‘Pride and Prejudice’, which she described as her “own darling child” received highly favourable reviews. ‘Mansfield Park’ was published in 1814, then ‘Emma’ in 1816. ‘Emma’ was dedicated to the prince regent, an admirer of her work. All of Jane Austen’s novels were published anonymously. In 1816, Jane began to suffer from ill-health, probably due to Addison’s disease. She travelled to Winchester to receive treatment and died there on 18 July 1817. Two more novels, ‘Persuasion’ and ‘Northanger Abbey’ were published posthumously, and a final novel was left incomplete.”

For me, there were three stand-out topics mentioned in Rupert Matthews’ talk:

  • Colonel Fitzwilliam and the ‘Purchase System’ (from Pride & Prejudice)
  • Frederick Wentworth and ‘Prize Money’ (from Persuasion)
  • The Enigma of Admiral Croft (from Persuasion)

Pride and Prejudice: An overview

This romantic novel set in rural England in the early 19th century, was published anonymously in three volumes in 1813 and has become a classic of English literature. It centres on the turbulent relationship between Elizabeth Bennet, the daughter of a country squire, and Fitzwilliam Darcy, a rich aristocratic landowner. Elizabeth Bennet’s mother attempts to persuade her husband to visit Mr. Bingley, a rich bachelor recently arrived in the neighbourhood. The reluctant Mr. Bennet visited Mr. Bingley’s rented home (Netherfield) and somewhat out of the blue, an invitation to a ball to which the entire neighbourhood were to be invited, arrives. At the ball, we meet Mr. Darcy, Mr Bingley’s dearest friend. At first, Mr. Darcy appears attracted to Elizabeth’s elder sister, Jane.

Mr. Bingley’s sisters, Caroline and Louisa later invite Jane to Netherfield for dinner. Catching a bad cold, Jane Bennet is forced to stay there to recover and is later visited by Elizabeth. Mr. Darcy is attracted to Elizabeth who seems oblivious to Mr Darcy’s interest in her.  Elizabeth is then pursued by a dashing and charming army officer, George Wickham. Wickham was an outsider and lived on credit. Although depicted as a charming person, Jane Austen gives enough clues for the reader to realise that Wickham is not what he appears to be at all.

Elizabeth’s dislike of Mr. Darcy and his love for Elizabeth are growing in equal measure. When Mr. Darcy proposes to Elizabeth, declaring his ardent love for her despite her low social connections, she rejects him angrily, stating she could never love a man who caused her sister unhappiness and further accuses him of treating Wickham unjustly. But some time later, upon learning the truth about Mr. Darcy, when she is again asked for her hand in marriage, she accepts. The novel concludes with an overview of the marriages of the three daughters and the great satisfaction of both parents at the fine, happy matches made by Jane and Elizabeth.

Persuasion: an overview

The main character of the novel, Anne Elliot, is a 27-year-old ‘spinster’ who is intelligent and warm. Her father, Sir Walter Elliot, although a baronet and holder of a hereditary title, finds himself in dire financial straits and in risk of losing their home, Kellynch Hall. The story begins seven years after the broken engagement of Anne Elliot to the then Commander Frederick Wentworth. Anne, then 19 years old, had fallen in love and accepted a proposal of marriage from the dashing young naval officer. Wentworth was considered clever, confident, ambitious, and employed, but his low social status made Anne’s friends and family view the Commander as an unfavourable husband and no match for an ‘Elliot of Kellynch Hall’ (the family estate). Anne is persuaded to break off the engagement.

Several years later, the Elliot family is in financial trouble, so they let Kellynch Hall, and decide to settle in Bath until finances improve. Lady Anne Russell, by then the widow of the late Sir Henry Russell, lives near Kellynch Hall, the family seat of the Elliot family. She was extremely good friends with the late Lady Elliot and admits she was wrong about Wentworth and befriends the new couple and they marry at last, and Anne settles into life as the wife of a Navy captain.

Learning More about Jane Austen and the Military

Rupert Matthews recognises that you may want to find out more about the subject of his talk. Listed below are some books you might care to purchase and some places to visit – one of them might even make for a nice coach trip for readers of Nil Desperandum.

The following books are available on Amazon or from bookshops:

  • Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley ISBN-13: 978-1473632202
  • Jane Austen – A Life by Claire Tomalin ISBN-13: 978-0241963272
  • Jane Austen’s Letters edited by Deirdre Faye ISBN-13: 978-0198704492
  • The Complete Novels of Jane Austen ISBN-13 979-8618964654

You can order books written by Rupert Matthews from his website at: https://rupertmatthews.com/buy-books

Places to Visit

Jane Austen’s House: Winchester Road, Chawton, Hampshire. GU34 1SD. This is the house where Jane Austen lived and wrote. It was here that Jane’s genius flourished and where she wrote, revised and had published all her novels. https://janeaustens.house/

The Jane Austen Centre, 40 Gay Street, Bath, Somerset. BA1 2NT

The Jane Austen Centre showcases life during Regency times and explores how living in this magnificent city affected Jane Austen and her writing. Guides dressed in Regency costume, period decoration throughout and exhibits bring visitors closer to Jane Austen. The centre also organises the Jane Austen Festival.  https://janeausten.co.uk/

About the Speaker

Rupert Matthews is an established public speaker, school visitor, history consultant and author of non-fiction books, magazine articles and newspaper columns. His work has been translated into 28 languages (including Sioux). You can look him up at: https://rupertmatthews.com/
07721 455944

The Uyghurs

The Uyghurs

Picture Credit: “Uyghur man at market” by Photography_1O1 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

You could be forgiven for being unaware of China’s Uyghurs as their plight is not well known. The Economist, 17th-23rd October 2020, pages 13/14, ran an article titled: ‘Torment of the Uyghurs’. It makes interesting reading. The full article is here.

The Uyghurs, alternately spelled Uighurs, Uygurs or Uigurs, are a Turkic-speaking minority ethnic group originating from and culturally affiliated with the general region of Central and East Asia. The Uyghurs are recognized as native to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in Northwest China. They are considered to be one of China’s 55 officially recognised ethnic minorities. The Uyghurs are recognized by the Chinese government only as a regional minority within a multicultural nation. The Chinese government rejects the notion of the Uyghurs being an indigenous group.

Here’s what the Economist had to say at the beginning of their article:

The persecution of the Uyghurs is a crime against humanity. It is also the gravest example of a worldwide attack on human rights. The first stories from Xinjiang were hard to believe. Surely the Chinese government was not running a gulag for Muslims? Surely Uyghurs were not being branded “extremists” and locked up simply for praying in public or growing long beards? Yet, the evidence of a campaign against the Uyghurs at home and abroad becomes more shocking with each scouring of the satellite evidence, each leak of official documents and each survivor’s pitiful account.

In 2018 the government pivoted from denying the camps’ existence to calling them “vocational education and training centres”—a kindly effort to help backward people gain marketable skills. The world should instead heed Uyghur victims of China’s coercive indoctrination. Month after month, inmates say, they are drilled to renounce extremism and put their faith in “Xi Jinping Thought” rather than the Koran. One told us that guards ask prisoners if there is a God and beat those who say there is. And the camps are only part of a vast system of social control.

The Virus and our Vocabularies

The coronavirus pandemic has affected the lives of most of us on planet Earth, including (according to Dictionary.com) the expansion of vocabularies. 

It feels like years (not months) ago that we learned our first COVID-19 terms, like social distancing and flatten the curve. We had to process so much, in so little time; we had to become experts about important differences: epidemic vs. pandemic,

quarantine vs. isolation and respirator vs. ventilators. The conversation continues with contagious vs. infectious and what antibodies do. The new words and concepts keep coming.

Here are some of the new slang terms born of this unique, unprecedented time in modern life—a time of upheaval that some more jokingly call: the coronapocalypse (corona apocalypse) or coronageddon (corona armageddon).

  • Rona (often in the phrase the rona) — is an informal shortening of coronavirus. Coronavirus is popularly shortened to corona, which was apparently further clipped to rona.
  • Cornteen is an intentional misspelling of quarantine, often used in ironic commentary on what it’s like to be at home during the coronavirus pandemic. It may have originated as an actual misspelling of quarantine.
  • Doom-scrolling: Life under the rona has meant that it’s even harder to peel our eyes away from our phones and computers, constantly refreshing our feeds for the latest news about the pandemic.  At least there’s a word for that: doom-scrolling, also doomscrolling. The term has been notably used—and popularized in part by her exhortations to a take a break from doing it—by Quartz reporter Karen K. Ho.
  • Covidiot: A blend of COVID-19 and idiotcovidiot is a slang insult for someone who disregards healthy and safety guidelines about the novel coronavirus. Some signs of covidiocy are: not washing your hands regularly, hanging out in groups of people, standing within six feet of a stranger at the grocery, hoarding items like toilet paper and hand sanitizer all to yourself.
  • Quaranteam: The (very limited) group of people you see during self-isolation; one of the many slang terms that plays on quarantine. Whether you call it a germ pod, a COVID bubble, or your quaranteam, this is the group of people you voluntarily choose to socialise with or even live with during the quarantine. Basically, your pod chooses to isolate together, promising not to have close contact (within six feet) with anyone outside the pod. This form of contact clustering (yet another term used by epidemiologists to describe the situation – see here) allows you to socialise while also staying safe. 
  • Quaranteam is a blend of quarantine and team, and sounds like quarantine—it’s a punning blend.
  • Moronavirus:  Another term for a covidiot. The wordplay, here, centres on the word moron. Calling someone a covidiot or moronavirus is a form of quarantine shaming.
  • Quarantini is a slang term for a cocktail (a blend of quarantine and martini) that people drink at home while under quarantine during—and because of—the coronavirus.

There’s much more at Dictionary.com – click here.

If at first you don’t succeed, try again and again…

If at first you don’t succeed, try again and again…

Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption is a novella by Stephen King from his 1982 collection Different Seasons, subtitled Hope Springs Eternal. It has been thought to be loosely based on Leo Tolstoy’s 1872 short story “God Sees the Truth, But Waits”.

The film, simply called The Shawshank Redemption, tells the story of an innocent banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), sentenced to life in Shawshank State Penitentiary for the murder of his wife and her lover. Over the next 20 years, he befriends a fellow prisoner, Ellis “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman), and becomes instrumental in a money-laundering operation led by the prison warden Samuel Norton (Bob Gunton).

Peter Ramirez wrote an interesting piece on Quora.com in connection with The Shawshank Redemption, here, and asks: ‘why did Red get rejected in the first two times when he acted compliantly in front of the interrogation group [at his parole hearing] and incredibly got approved when he acted sarcastically in the same condition?’ Ramirez says that the reason was because the [parole] board could tell he really was sorry the last time he said so.

Red’s words demonstrated the resounding heartbreak of having wasted forty years of his life for making a tragic, stupid decision – namely, interfering with the brakes on his wife’s car and causing the death of three people.

The words used were quite different to those presented to the parole board 10 and 20 years before.

It’s why we relate so closely to Red, Ramirez suggests, because most of us know the regret of a long-term decision for which we can never go back and change, yet the results of it ‘mean we have to live with it for the rest of our lives, for better or worse.’

At previous parole hearings Red simply said what he thought the Board wanted to hear:

The dialogue used in Red Redding’s final application for parole, is compelling and believable (see screen shot below and video here):

Comments by Martin Pollins

I loved the film. It’s one of my all-time favourites. A great storyline. Great acting. And a great ending. Everyone gets what they deserved.

If you haven’t seen the film before, I suggest you go out tomorrow morning and buy the video or order it from Amazon here.

Picture Credit: “The Shawshank Redemption” by wnyyqjje26 is licensed under CC0 1.0
Eric Melrose “Winkle” Brown

Eric Melrose “Winkle” Brown

Photo Attribution: By Unknown author –
http://media.iwm.org.uk/iwm/mediaLib//270/media-270516/large.jpg This is photograph A 31015 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums., Public Domain https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25266535

Who? Many people might say they have never heard of him. You could simply say he was a pilot but if you did, it would be a very large understatement.

World War II Captain Eric Melrose “Winkle” Brown, CBE, DSC, AFC, Hon FRAeS, RN, died a month after his 97th birthday in February 2016. He was a British Royal Navy officer and test pilot who flew 487 types of aircraft, more than anyone else in history. He was also the most-decorated pilot in the history of the Royal Navy. Brown holds the world record for the most aircraft carrier deck take-offs and landings performed (2,407 and 2,271 respectively) and achieved several “firsts” in naval aviation, including the first landings on an aircraft carrier of a twin-engined aircraft, an aircraft with a tricycle undercarriage, a jet aircraft, and a rotary-wing aircraft. He flew almost every category of Royal Navy and RAF aircraft: glider, fighter, bomber, airliner, amphibian, flying boat and helicopter.

During World War II, he flew many types of captured German, Italian, and Japanese aircraft, including new jet and rocket aircraft. He was a pioneer of jet technology into the post-war era.

In 1936, Brown’s father took him to see the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Hermann Göring had recently announced the existence of the Luftwaffe.

There, the Browns met Ernst Udet, a former World War I fighter ace, who was happy to make the acquaintance of Brown senior, a former RFC pilot. Udet offered to take Eric up in a two-seat Bücker Jungmann. Eric Brown recalled the incident nearly 80 years later on the BBC radio programme Desert Island Discs.

You can read about Brown’s career here and here. After World War II‚ Brown commanded the Enemy Aircraft Flight, an elite group of pilots who testflew captured German and Italian aircraft. That experience rendered Brown one of the few men to have been qualified to compare both Allied and Axis aeroplanes as they flew during the war. He flight-tested 53 German aircraft, including the Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet rocket fighter (now on display at the National Museum of Flight east of Edinburgh in Scotland). His flight test of this rocket plane, the only one by an Allied pilot using the rocket motor, was accomplished unofficially: it was deemed to be more or less suicidal due to the notoriously dangerous C-Stoff fuel and T-Stoff oxidizer combination.

In case you wondered about his nickname, this is the explanation: Brown received the affectionate nickname “Winkle” from his Royal Navy colleagues.  Short for “Periwinkle”, a small mollusc, the name was given to Brown because of his short stature of 5ft 7in. Brown partly attributed his survival of dangerous incidents to his ability to “curl himself up in the cockpit”.

To mark the centenary of the birth of Scotland’s greatest aviator, TV and film producer Nicholas Jones re-issued the DVD of his documentary entitled Eric Brown – A Pilot’s Story (available on Amazon here).  The core of Mr Jones’s comprehensive film is a long interview with Captain Brown where he opens up about his life and times – including the years he commanded the Navy’s fighter jet 804 squadron at Lossiemouth (see article by  Rachel Lee, on 2nd January 2020, in The Press and Journal, here).

Eric Brown was in Germany when World War 2 broke out. He was locked up for three days by the SS then kicked out into Switzerland complete with his MG sports car. He had been selected to take part as an exchange student at the Schule Schloss Salem, located on the banks of Lake Constance, and it was while there in Germany that Brown was woken up with a loud knocking on his door one morning in September 1939. Upon opening the door, he was met by a woman with the announcement that “our countries are at war”. Soon after, Brown was arrested by the SS. However, after three days’ incarceration, they merely escorted Brown in his MG Magnette sports car to the Swiss border, saying they were allowing him to keep the car because they “had no spares for it”.

From Eric Brown (pilot)#Early_Life

Who are the top 5 intelligent people in human history?

Gianni Pudic posted this question on 21st July 2020 on Quora.com. His answer ranked (his words) the raw ability of the person and not necessarily to the contributions they made.

#1 William James Sidis (1898–1944)

This child was able to read the New York Times at only 18 months old. At age 8, the boy was fluent in eight languages (Latin, Greek, French, Russian, German, Hebrew, Turkish, and Armenian). At the age of 11, he was finally enrolled in Harvard and gave lectures in higher mathematics. His giftedness was evidently off charts, so much so that MIT physics professor Daniel. F. Comstock claimed that this individual’s talent was matched only by one historical figure, namely by that of German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss.

#2 Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777–1855)

Carl Friedrich Gauss said he was calculating before he learned to speak properly. He is most famous for solving the assignment of his math-teacher, which was to add all numbers from 1 to 100 (1+2+3… +98+99+100). According to French mathematician Laplace, Gauss was the best mathematician to ever exist and that by a large margin.

#3 John von Neumann (1903–1957)

If you were to rank them by word of mouth however, this man would easily take the number one spot on this list. He was an allrounder, knowledgeable in physics, engineering, maths, and computer science. He was said to be able to recall any sentence (word for word) of all the books he read – plain simple perfect recall.

#4 Sir Isaac Newton (1643–1727)

According to the wishes of his parents, Newton should have become a farmer but didn’t meet their wishes. Instead, Newton dedicated his life to algebra, mechanics, and optics. He also single-handedly invented calculus. This alone provides you with have a rough estimate of what this genius was capable of. Many regard Newton as the most influential scientist of all time.

#5 Nikola Tesla (1856–1943)

Nikola Tesla, the man who was ahead of his time, was born in Serbia. He became a physicist and electrical engineer is most famous for being the inventor of the alternating-current (AC) system, which today is the prevalent electrical system across the world. In 1926, Tesla even predicted wireless data exchange. Bizarrely, because of this and many other visions, he was declared as a mad man and not too seldom, also a dreamer. As for his cognitive abilities, Tesla was able to perform integral calculus in his head to the extent that teachers at the time believed he was cheating.

Walking Sticks and Canes

Walking Sticks and Canes

Picture Credit: “Walking stick handle” by Henry Rado, American, 1859–1921 is licensed under CC0 1.0

Sources: Various, including Encylopedia.com, Classy Walking Canes, Just Walkers, and Fashionable Canes.

Whilst first used as a weapon, the walking stick or walking cane has long been a symbol of strength and power, authority and social prestige, and used mainly by men. Rulers of many cultures carried some form of walking stick or staff. Egyptian rulers were believed to have carried staffs varying from three to six feet in length. These were often topped by an ornamental knob in the shape of a lotus, a symbol of long life. Ancient Greek gods were often depicted with a staff in hand. But even gorillas have been known to use sticks or branches as a walking aid.

Walking sticks date back to ancient times. The Bible refers to the walking staff as a symbol of office and dignity.

During the eighteenth century the walking stick gained wider acceptance. Modest canes were used among ordinary people, while those who could afford it opted for walking sticks of great elegance and style. Etiquette rules were greatly relaxed and owners could now safely lean on their canes in casual poses.

The end of the nineteenth century marked a decline in cane styles.

The actual phrase “walking cane” was not in existence until the sixteenth century. During the period when they became a fashionable item, walking sticks began to be constructed out of the jointed stems of tropical grasses such as bamboo, cane and rattan – hence, the word “cane!”  They are now used interchangeably among some people, but the walking stick is associated more with active pursuits as hiking, whereas the cane is usually for the elderly or for anyone with a leg injury. While they often seem to be interchangeable words, walking sticks and walking canes are actually two very different types of product with different uses. Many people get them mixed up, but if you read on, you will be one of the elite few who know the difference between walking sticks and canes.

The main difference, of course, is function. Walking canes are designed to take weight on a regular basis. If you need support while walking, and you want to be able to lean your full weight on a walking aid, it is important that you use a walking cane. Canes are most often made of wood, aluminium, or steel. They are meant to take constant weight and are designed to be comfortable and practical for daily use.

Saucy, but Nice!

Saucy, but Nice!

Worcestershire Sauce has its roots in India but its unique flavour was actually created by accident in Worcester, England in 1835.

Picture Credit: “Frazer Nash’s A to Zed Of Englandish For The Benefit Of Johnny Foreigner (Especially Seppos): W” by Steve Sparshott is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The Lea & Perrins company says that a Lord Sandys had returned home to England to retire after successfully governing Bengal, India for many years. Missing his favourite Indian sauce, he commissioned local chemist John Lea and William Perrins to come up with a reasonable copy. There’s another version of the story which had the two chemists concocting a new condiment which, after 18 months, they found had matured into a delicious sauce. So delicious in fact that they decided to put it on sale.

The 1835 date is in some dispute as elsewhere it is suggested that the sauce was first launched in 1837 (that may be true as it was left to ferment in a cellar). The identity of Lord Sandys, said to be a nobleman of the Worcester area, is disputed by some.  The nobleman in question was Arthur Moyses William Sandys, 2nd Baron Sandys (1792-1860) of Ombersley Court, Worcestershire, Lieutenant-General and politician, a member of the House of Commons.

What is not disputed is that Worcestershire Sauce has been successful, however it arrived to our shores. Sauces were particularly popular during the 19th century as they gave flavour to otherwise plain food and also helped tenderise tough cuts of meat. The guarded recipe for Worcester Sauce basically remains the same today as its original. However, the advertising no longer purports to “make your hair grow beautiful.” Since 1876, the term Worcestershire Sauce can be used as a generic term for similar sauces. Today, the Lea & Perrins company is owned by Heinz.

Word Botching

Word Botching

Do you remember this chap?

Frank Herbert Muir was an English comedy writer, radio and television personality, and raconteur. His writing and performing partnership with Denis Norden endured for most of their careers. Together they wrote BBC radio’s Take It From Here for over 10 years, and then appeared on BBC radio quizzes My Word! and My Music for another 35 years. Frank became Assistant Head of Light Entertainment at the BBC in the 1960s, and was then London Weekend Television’s founding Head of Entertainment.

On one occasion, Frank was seated alongside another guest on an evening chat show. It was a long time ago and nobody can remember whose show it was or who the other guests were, except they were chatting about birds, and the other guest said “I’m not actually an orthinologist”. That’s when Frank Muir interjected in a split second quip with “I would say you’re more of a word-botcher.”

I think this is one of his funniest quotes: “It has been said that a bride’s attitude towards her betrothed can be summed up in three words: Aisle. Alter. Hymn.”

Then a long time ago, there was a TV show called: “What’s my Line” and another called “Twenty Questions”, featuring a man with a deep voice, Gilbert Harding, whose many careers included schoolmaster, journalist, policeman, disc-jockey, actor, interviewer and television presenter.  See a video about him here.

Gilbert had a wicked sense of humour. For example, he said:

“A judge said that all his experience, both as counsel and judge, had been spent sorting out the difficulties of people who, upon the recommendation of people they did not know, signed documents which they did not read, to buy goods they did not need, with money they had not got.”

Old Bill

Old Bill

Let’s make one thing clear from the outset. Old Bill has nothing to do with an invoice you haven’t paid yet.

History By the Yard (here) notes that the slang phrase “Watch Out!  Old Bill’s about!” was in use in Covent Garden in 1968, and “Old Bill” was used in Maidstone in 1966. 

Per Wikipedia: The custodian helmet used by the Metropolitan Police Service in London.

However, it is probably much older than this.  It is now commonly used as a slang phrase referring to the police, certainly made more familiar to the general public by the TV series “The Bill” about the police. It does not appear in the comprehensive Slang Terms and Criminal Jargon in The Book for Police published by Caxton in 1958 whereas Partridge’s Dictionary of Slang dates it from the 1950s or ‘perhaps earlier’. The Official Encyclopedia of Scotland Yard (by Martin Fido and Keith Skinner) offers several possibilities for the origin of the phrase (the origin probably being distinctly different from when it came into common use): 

  1. Old Bill referred to King William IV who came to the throne in 1830, a year after the founding of the Metropolitan Police.
  2. The Custom of the Century a play of 1619 by John Fletcher has constables of the watch refer to themselves as “us peacemakers and all our bill of authority”.
  3. Old constables of the watch were sometimes nicknamed for the bills or billhooks they carried as weapons.
  4. Kaiser Wilhelm I of Prussia (Kaiser Bill) visited England about the time that police adopted the current shaped helmet in place of a top hat in 1864 and this association may be relevant.
  5. The ‘old bill’ was in Victorian times a bill presumed to be presented by the police for a bribe to persuade them to turn a blind eye to some nefarious activity.
  6. New laws for the police start their life as bills in Parliament.
  7. ‘Old Bill’ might refer to the music hall song “Won’t you come home, Bill Bailey” also referring to the Old Bailey court.
  8. In the 1860s a popular Sergeant Bill Smith at Limehouse was asked for as ‘Old Bill’.
  9. Many police officers did wear authoritarian looking ‘Old Bill’ moustaches like Bruce Bairnsfather’s famous WW1 cartoon character, the wily old soldier in the trenches. 
  10. In 1917, the government adopted Bairnsfather’s cartoon character in posters and advertisements putting over wartime messages under the heading ‘Old Bill says..’ and for at least some of these, the figure was dressed in Special Constable’s uniform.
  11. The original vehicles used by the Flying Squad had registration plates with the letters BYL.
  12. The London County Council at one time registered all police, fire and ambulance vehicles with plates including letters BYL.
  13. According to the late author and politician Robin Finlayson Cook, ‘old bill’ is a racing term for an outsider or unknown quantity; hence a dodgy prospect for an illegal gambler’s point of view.
The forgotten army and war

The forgotten army and war

Economically and strategically, the Suez Canal was a vital route for both Middle Eastern oil and trade with the Far East. Britain had maintained a military presence in Egypt to protect the canal under the terms of a treaty signed in 1936. But dissident locals, Egyptian nationalists, resented the British presence in their country.  British forces concentrated in the area immediately adjacent to the canal, known as ‘the Canal Zone’, and withdrew from the cities.  

Opened in the 1880s the British-French-owned Suez Canal, which connected the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, provided Britain with a shorter shipping route to its empire but also to the crucially important oilfields of the Persian Gulf.  A treaty signed in 1936 with the Egyptian government allowed the British to stay in the country but concentrated in the Suez Canal Zone, an area running along the length of the waterway.   But Egyptian nationalists, led by Gamal Abdel Nasser, fought back and demanded a revision of the treaty and the immediate withdrawal of all British troops. The British and French-owned canal was nationalised by Nasser, prompting military action by Israel, Britain and France to restore Western control.

Previous agreements were torn up and in October 1951, the Egyptian government repealed the 1936 treaty. In October 1954, Britain and Egypt agreed on the evacuation of Britain’s Canal Zone garrison, and the treaty provided that the Suez Canal Company would transfer to Egyptian government control in 1968.

The Stand-Off

In the years after World War Two the British government was struggling to maintain its colonial empire in Egypt and beyond; national servicemen were seen as having a crucial role in keeping control.

By the 1950s males between 17 and 21 had to spend two years in the armed forces, with nearly two million going through national service between 1939 and 1960.  They were deployed all over the world to protect British economic and strategic interests – and nowhere was more important to these than the Suez Canal Zone.

In October 1951, a tense stand-off between the British and Egyptian governments broke down over the number of UK troops stationed in the country. In response, the British government mobilised 60,000 troops in 10 days, in what was described as the biggest airlift of troops since World War Two.

The Conscription

In the years after World War Two the British government was struggling to maintain its colonial empire in Egypt and beyond; national servicemen were seen as having a crucial role in keeping control.  By the 1950s, males between 17 and 21 had to spend two years in the armed forces, with nearly two million going through national service between 1939 and 1960.  They were deployed all over the world to protect British economic and strategic interests – and nowhere was more important to these than the Suez Canal Zone.

The National Army Museum records that, between 1945 and 1956, British soldiers manned bases on the Suez Canal in Egypt. It was not a popular posting for the soldiers: as well as being subjected to regular attacks by local nationalists, they also had to endure disease and a harsh climate.

The Suez Crisis (see more detail, here)

The Suez Crisis, or the Second Arab–Israeli war, was an invasion of Egypt in late 1956 by Israel, followed by the United Kingdom and France. The aims were to regain Western control of the Suez Canal and to remove Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, who had just nationalised the canal.  After the fighting had started, political pressure from the United States, the Soviet Union and the United Nations led to a withdrawal by the three invading Nations. The episode humiliated the UK and France and strengthened the position of the Egyptian president Col. Nasser.

On 29th October 1956, Israel invaded the Egyptian Sinai. Britain and France issued a joint ultimatum to cease fire, which was ignored. On 5th November 1956, Britain and France landed paratroopers along the Suez Canal.

British Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden, said on 8th August 1956:

‘Our quarrel is not with Egypt, still less with the Arab world. It is with Colonel Nasser. He has shown that he is not a man who can be trusted to keep an agreement. Now he has torn up all his country’s promises to the Suez Canal Company and has even gone back on his own statements.  We cannot agree that an act of plunder which threatens the livelihood of many nations should be allowed to succeed. And we must make sure that the life of the great trading nations of the world cannot in the future be strangled at any moment by some interruption to the free passage of the canal.’

While the Egyptian forces were defeated, they had blocked the canal to all shipping, and the canal was useless. Historians conclude the crisis “signified the end of Great Britain’s role as one of the world’s major powers”.  

The Debacle

Pamela Parkes, wrote about the Suez Emergency on BBC News on 24th October 2016, here.

The operation was hampered from the very start by a severe lack of resources. There were insufficient ships and landing craft. And, when it was decided to add armour to the force, a shortage of transporters meant that the tanks had to be moved to their embarkation points by a commercial removals firm.

Thousands of British conscripts were sent to Egypt to defend the Suez Canal in the wake of rising Egyptian nationalism.  The troops were poorly trained and under-equipped, they faced a brutal and bloody situation, protecting British interests in a conflict they wanted no part of.

It was the beginning of the end of Western control of the Suez Canal and the start of the three-year Suez Emergency, which has been described as a “forgotten war fought by a forgotten army”. British prime minister Anthony Eden resigned over the debacle.

Footnote: My conscription was deferred until completion of my articles as a trainee accountant otherwise I’d have been off to the Suez Canal in 1956.

Was Kilroy really here?

Was Kilroy really here?

“Kilroy was here” was an American symbol that became popular during World War II, typically seen in graffiti. Kilroy’s origin is hotly debated, but the phrase and the distinctive accompanying doodle became associated with GIs in the 1940s: a bald-headed man (sometimes depicted as having a few hairs) with a prominent nose peeking over a wall with his fingers clutching the wall. Like this:

“Kilroy” was the American equivalent of the Australian Foo was here which originated during World War I. In the UK, the version that became popular was Mr Chad or just Chad. The character of Chad may have been derived from a British cartoonist in 1938, possibly pre-dating Kilroy was here.  Other names for the character include Smoe, Clem, Flywheel, Private Snoops, Overby, The Jeep, and Sapo.

Jon Bourgetti on Quora.com says that Kilroy was real and worked as an inspector at a shipyard. Back during World War II, ship hulls were often riveted. Kilroy was a rivet inspector.  Riveters were paid by the number of rivets they installed. Rivet inspectors counted them and circled each counted rivet with a piece of chalk then chalked their name on the hull so that other rivet inspectors did not duplicate the count.

A problem arose when the riveters would scrub away the chalk marks so that they could be paid double. Kilroy would have none of it. Kilroy started using a wax crayon that could not be so easily eradicated, including the words Kilroy was here. The crayon writing remained as the marked ship hull was passed down the assembly line, much to the amusement of shipyard workers. They created the iconic funny Kilroy sketch and started scrawling it on cargo headed for Europe. Apparently, the Camden Shipyard & Maritime Museum know all about it – they have a Kilroy display and a photo of Kilroy, although I haven’t been able to find it yet.

But aKilroy was here drawing can be found in two locations at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.   And, according to Mental Floss (here), although the Oxford English Dictionary writes Kilroy off as a mythical person, dozens of real people claimed to be the doodle’s namesake in 1946, when the American Transit Association (ATA) held a radio contest to establish the origin of the phrase. One of them was James J. Kilroy, who worked at the Bethlehem Steel shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts during the war inspecting the work done by others on the tanks and hulls of warships.

What do you think? Is Kilroy a figment of someone’s imagination or was he as real as the watery monster found from time to time on a Loch in Scotland?

Libel vs. Slander: What’s the difference?

Libel vs. Slander: What’s the difference?

Picture Credit: “The Defamation Act 2013: Complete and Unabridged” by robertsharp is licensed under CC BY 2.0

What do these two words mean, and are they interchangeable? Since both are types of defamation (that is “the act of making negative statements that hurt another person’s reputation,” and also illegal), you’ll want to make sure you know the difference.

First of all, what is a defamatory statement?

A defamatory statement is something factually incorrect being presented as the truth. A statement becomes defamatory when it is distributed to another party, whether through mass publishing or one-on-one interaction.

Defamation is the oral or written communication of a false statement about another that unjustly harms their reputation and usually constitutes a tort or crime.

Defamation of character happens when something untrue and damaging is presented as a fact to someone else. But making the statement only to the person the statement is about (“Martin, you’re a thief”) is not defamation because it does not damage that person’s character in anyone else’s eyes.

Defamatory is first recorded in English around 1275–1325 and is ultimately derived from the Latin word diffāmāre (“to spread the news of”). 

What is libel?

Libel is written, published, or broadcast defamation. 

Defamatory statements made in newspapers, magazines, and blogs are considered libel. So are defamatory things said on TV or radio shows. Libel laws apply to both small- and large-scale publications. 

Libel, which is attested by 1250–1300, is derived from the Latin word libellus, which is the diminutive of liber (“book”).

What is slander?

Slander describes spoken defamatory statements. The term applies to in-person interactions, like standing inside a restaurant and shouting false accusations about its sanitary conditions. Slander is harder to prove. 

Slander is:

  • accusing someone of a crime they did not commit, spreading a rumour about an untrue affair, and claiming someone has false credentials.

Slander dates back to and stems from the Middle English word sclaundren (“to cause to lapse morally, bring to disgrace, discredit, defame”).

Excerpted from https://www.dictionary.com/e/libel-vs-slander/

Intelligence Corps

Intelligence Corps

Sources: Wikipedia, British Army (here)

This is for those who are interested in the military and warfare.

The Intelligence Corps (‘Int Corps’) is a corps of the British Army. The Director of the Intelligence Corps is a brigadier. Its Colonel-in Chief was HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, until his death in April 2021 .

The Intelligence Corps is responsible for gathering, analysing and disseminating military intelligence and also for counter-intelligence and security. Modern military operations are dependent on the provision of highly accurate and timely intelligence. To provide this, analysts are embedded in all parts of the Military to ensure that the Army’s operations are successful. Although it is one of the smallest parts of the Army, the analysts have a monumental impact on decision making straight out of training.

The UK government maintains intelligence agencies within several different government departments. The agencies are responsible for collecting and producing foreign and domestic intelligence, providing military intelligence, performing espionage and counter-espionage. Their intelligence assessments contribute to the conduct of the foreign relations of the UK, maintaining our national security, military planning and law enforcement. The main organisations are the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS or MI6), the Security Service (MI5), the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and Defence Intelligence (DI).

Intelligence Corps personnel wear a distinctive cypress green beret with a cap badge consisting of a union rose (a red rose with a white centre) between two laurel branches and surmounted by a crown. (According to the late Gavin Lyall, the I-Corps badge is referred to jokingly as “a rampant pansy resting on its laurels”.


In the 19th century, British intelligence work was undertaken by the Intelligence Department of the War Office. An important figure was Sir Charles Wilson, a Royal Engineer who successfully pushed for reform of the War Office’s treatment of topographical work. In the early 1900s intelligence gathering was becoming better understood, to the point where a counter-intelligence organisation (MI5) was formed by the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DoMI) under Captain (later Major-General) Vernon Kell; overseas intelligence gathering began in 1912 by MI6 under Commander (later Captain) Mansfield Smith-Cumming.

Although the first proposals to create an intelligence corps came in 1905, the first Intelligence Corps was formed in August 1914 and originally included only officers and their servants. It left for France on 12 August 1914. The Royal Flying Corps was formed to monitor the ground, and provided aerial photographs for the Corps to analyse.  

The decryption of the Zimmermann Telegram in 1917 was described as the most significant intelligence triumph for Britain during World War I and one of the earliest occasions on which a piece of signals intelligence influenced world events.

On 19 July 1940, a new Intelligence Corps was created by Army Order 112 and has existed since that time. The Army had been unprepared for collecting intelligence for deployment to France, and the only intelligence had been collected by Major Sir Gerald Templer. The Corps trained operatives to parachute at RAF Ringway; some of these were then dropped over France as part of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Intelligence Corps officers were involved in forming the highly-effective Long Range Desert Group, and Corps officer Lt Col Peter Clayton was one of the four founders of the Special Air Service (SAS). Around 40 per cent of British Army personnel at Bletchley Park were in the Intelligence Corps.


Their headquarters, formerly at Maresfield, East Sussex, then Templer Barracks at Ashford, Kent, moved in 1997 to the former Royal Air Force station at Chicksands in Bedfordshire along with the Defence Intelligence and Security Centre and the Intelligence Corps Museum, in Campton and Chicksands.

As you would expect, Amazon have an array of books on the subject of British Army Military Intelligence. Nick Van Der Bijl has authored several books on the subject. One such book is British Military Intelligence: Objects from the Military Intelligence Museum which, through a mix of objects, medals, photographs and documents held in the Military Intelligence Museum, tells the story of British military intelligence across the years, moving from its earliest object of the Waterloo medal awarded to the Duke of Wellington’s senior intelligence officer to items recovered from operations in Afghanistan.

How to Tell a Story

How to Tell a Story

Picture Credit: “Mark Twain 1835 – 1910” by oneredsf1 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

In case you’ve never heard of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, let me say that he is better known by his pen name Mark Twain. He was an American author and humourist most noted for his novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and its sequel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885).

After failing at gold mining, he next turned to journalism. While a reporter, he wrote a humorous story, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, which became very popular and brought nationwide attention.

He achieved great success as a writer and public speaker. His wit and satire earned praise from critics and peers, and he was a friend to presidents, artists, industrialists, and European royalty. He was lauded as the “greatest American humourist of his age,” and William Faulkner called Twain “the father of American literature.”

Twain had some insightful things to say on the matter in How to Tell a Story, which he wrote in October 1895:

“I do not claim that I can tell a story as it ought to be told. I only claim to know how a story ought to be told, for I have been almost daily in the company of the most expert storytellers for many years.

There are several kinds of stories, but only one difficult kind – the humorous. I will talk mainly about that one. The humorous story is American, the comic story is English, the witty story is French. The humorous story depends for its effect upon the manner of the telling; the comic story and the witty story upon the matter.

The humorous story may be spun out to great length, and may wander around as much as it pleases, and arrive nowhere in particular; but the comic and witty stories must be brief and end with a point. The humorous story bubbles gently along, the others burst.

The humorous story is strictly a work of art – high and delicate art – and only an artist can tell it; but no art is necessary in telling the comic and the witty story; anybody can do it. The art of telling a humorous story – understand, I mean by word of mouth, not print – was created in America, and has remained at home.

The humorous story is told gravely; the teller does his best to conceal the fact that he even dimly suspects that there is anything funny about it; but the teller of the comic story tells you beforehand that it is one of the funniest things he has ever heard, then tells it with eager delight, and is the first person to laugh when he gets through. And sometimes, if he has had good success, he is so glad and happy that he will repeat the “nub” of it and glance around from face to face, collecting applause, and then repeat it again. It is a pathetic thing to see.

Very often, of course, the rambling and disjointed humorous story finishes with a nub, point, snapper, or whatever you like to call it. Then the listener must be alert, for in many cases the teller will divert attention from that nub by dropping it in a carefully casual and indifferent way, with the pretence that he does not know it is a nub.”

You can read the full text of what Twain wrote here.

You can listen to what Twain had to say at: https://www.youtube.com/watch

Is this the best speech ever?

Is this the best speech ever?

Picture Credit: “Abraham Lincoln” by casually cruel is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

On 1st June 1865, US Senator Charles Sumner referred to the most famous speech ever given by President Abraham Lincoln. In his eulogy on the slain president, he called the Gettysburg Address a “monumental act.” He said Lincoln was mistaken that “the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here.” Rather, the Bostonian remarked, “The world noted at once what he said, and will never cease to remember it. The battle itself was less important than the speech.”

There are five known copies of the speech in Lincoln’s handwriting, each with a slightly different text, and named for the people who first received them: Nicolay, Hay, Everett, Bancroft and Bliss. Two copies apparently were written before delivering the speech, one of which, probably, was the reading copy. The remaining ones were produced months later for soldier-benefit events. Despite widely circulated stories to the contrary, the president did not dash off a copy aboard a train to Gettysburg. Lincoln carefully prepared his major speeches in advance; his steady, even script in every manuscript is consistent with a firm writing surface, not the notoriously bumpy Civil War-era trains. Additional versions of the speech appeared in newspapers of the era, feeding modern-day confusion about the authoritative text.

Ever since Lincoln wrote it in 1864, this version has been the most often reproduced, notably on the walls of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. It is named after Colonel Alexander Bliss, stepson of historian George Bancroft. Bancroft asked President Lincoln for a copy to use as a fundraiser for soldiers (see “Bancroft Copy” below). However, because Lincoln wrote on both sides of the paper, the speech could not be reprinted, so Lincoln made another copy at Bliss’s request. It is the last known copy written by Lincoln and the only one signed and dated by him. Today it is on display at the Lincoln Room of the White House.

Bancroft copy of the Gettysburg Address

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate — we cannot consecrate — we cannot hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

Source: http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/gettysburg.htm

Mennonite Trickster and Dramatic Hero

Mennonite Trickster and Dramatic Hero

As a boy, so many years ago, I worked in various shops in Hassocks: delivering newspapers, meat and even a milk round. The milk round had some moments, I can tell you, but not yet – except for the fact that the owner of the dairy was a man called Voigt. He owned a rather splendid estate car which of course was motorised, but sadly my milk trolley enjoyed no such luxury and I had to push it around the village with my own hands. Anyway, I digress.

This story is about a Mr Voigt but not the chap in Hassocks.

Friedrich Wilhelm Voigt (1849 – 1922) was a German impostor. In 1906, masquerading as a Prussian military officer, he rounded up a number of soldiers and placed them under his “command”, and proceeded to “confiscate” more than 4,000 marks from a municipal treasury. He became known as The Captain of Köpenick.  Although he served two years in prison, he became a folk hero and was pardoned by Kaiser Wilhelm II.

Voigt’s story as an imposter is as follows:

In 1863, aged only 14, he was sentenced to 14 days in prison for theft, which led to his expulsion from school. He learned shoe-making from his father.  Between 1864 and 1891, Voigt was sentenced to prison for a total of 25 years for thefts, forgery and burglary. The longest sentence was a 15-year conviction for an unsuccessful burglary of a court cashier’s office. He was released on 12 February 1906.

Eight months later, on 16 October 1906, Voigt was ready for his next caper and return to crime. He had purchased parts of used captain’s uniforms from different shops and tested their effect on soldiers. He had resigned from the shoe factory ten days previously. He took the uniform out of baggage storage, put it on and went to the local army barracks, stopped four grenadiers and a sergeant on their way back to barracks and told them to come with him. Indoctrinated to obey officers without question, they followed. He dismissed the commanding sergeant to report to his superiors and later commandeered six more soldiers from a shooting range. Then he took a train to Köpenick, east of Berlin, occupied the local city hall with his soldiers and told them to cover all exits. He told the local police to “care for law and order” and to “prevent calls to Berlin for one hour” at the local post office.

Voigt ordered the arrest of the Treasurer von Wiltberg and Mayor Georg Langerhans, supposedly for suspicions of crooked bookkeeping and confiscated 4002 marks and 37 pfennigs – with a receipt, of course (he signed it with his former jail director’s name). Then he commandeered two carriages and told the grenadiers to take the arrested men to the Neue Wache in Berlin for interrogation. He told the remaining guards to stand in their places for half an hour and then left for the train station. He later changed into civilian clothes and disappeared.

Voigt was arrested just 10 days after his escapade (a former cellmate who knew about Voigt’s plans had tipped the police in anticipation of the high reward). Voigt was sentenced to four years in prison for forgery, impersonating an officer and wrongful imprisonment. However, much of public opinion was on his side and the Kaiser pardoned him, purportedly saying ‘Mr. Voigt was quite the amiable scoundrel’.

After his death, Voigt become a legendary figure in popular German lore and literature, including many films and dramas, especially the tragi-comedy in 1931 Der Hauptmann von Kopenick (The Captain from Kopenick). Variations of the event appeared in vaudeville sketches, films, dramas and literature. Popular film versions were made in 1906, 1931 and 1956. TV versions appeared more recently in 1960, 1997 and 2001.

Sources: Wikipedia (here), article by Ervin Beck (here) and article by Kyle Alexander on Quora.com (here).

Picture Credit/Acknowledgement:  https://qph.fs.quoracdn.net/main-qimg-8e731f5090a6114a4f89d47c757159f4
The Voigt story may have a parallel with Francis Percy Toplis (1896 – 1920). Toplis was a British criminal and imposter active during and after the First World War. Before that war he was imprisoned for attempted rape. During the war he served as a private in the Royal Army Medical Corps, but regularly posed as an officer while on leave, wearing a monocle. After the war he became notorious following the murder of a taxi driver and the wounding of a police officer who attempted to apprehend him. The manhunt was major news at the time. He was tracked down and killed in a gunfight with police. There’s some interesting information on the rogue here.   But back to Voigt: It’s even possible that Voigt’s role as a trickster using a false uniforms influenced Adolf Hitler’s way of starting World War II.  In case you didn’t know, it started like this: A 43-year old unmarried ethnic Polish Catholic farmer – Franciszek (Franz) Honiok – died on the last day of August 1939, one day before Germany invaded Poland. Poor Honiok was guilty of no crime, yet he was to die because a charade was about to be played out designed to be used an excuse for the invasion of Poland.  Adolf Hitler had told his Generals on 22nd August 1939 that he would make up a fairy story to justify his plan­ned invasion of Poland. The carefully contrived plan was for Nazi Party Schutz­staffel (SS) opera­tives to dress in Polish uni­forms, attack a German radio trans­mitter sta­tion in Glei­witz, Upper Silesia (now called Gli­wice, Poland) and give the impression to the world that the Poles had dared to try to usurp Germany. The attack at Gliwice is widely regarded as a false flag operation, staged with some two-dozen similar German incidents on the eve of the invasion of Poland leading up to World War II in Europe.      
What is a vomitirium?

What is a vomitirium?

There is a common misconception that ancient Romans designated spaces called vomitoria for the purpose of vomiting during or after feasts so as to make room for more food, as part of a binge and purge cycle. In fact, that’s far removed from what it is.

A vomitorium is a passage situated below or behind a tier of seats in an amphitheatre or a stadium, through which big crowds can exit rapidly at the end of a performance. They can also be pathways for actors to enter and leave stage.

It takes its name from the Latin word vomitorium, (plural vomitoria), and is derived from the verb vomō, vomere – which means “to spew forth”. In ancient Roman architecture, vomitoria were designed to provide rapid egress for large crowds at amphitheatres and stadia, as they do in modern sports stadia and large theatres.

Picture Credit: “Vomitorium (accés a les grades), amfiteatre, Lepcis Magna” by Sebastià Giralt is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Step up your walking game

Step up your walking game

Picture Credit: “strolling” by E>mar is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A new study, the findings for which were published in the March 24–31, 2020, issue of JAMA, offers strong support for the life-extending effects of a daily walk.

Want to lower your odds of dying of heart disease? If you don’t exercise regularly, taking an extra 4,000 steps per day may help, even if you walk at a leisurely pace, the new study finds.

Most people typically get around 3,000 to 4,000 steps per day doing any things such as doing household chores, checking their mailbox, or going grocery shopping. But if you regularly walk another 4,000 steps a day to reach a total of about 8,000 steps per day, there’s a dramatic difference in whether you live or die over the next decade.

“This study supports what we know about the marked benefit of achieving about 8,000 steps per day,” says Dr. Edward Phillips, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School. Most people typically get around 3,000 to 4,000 steps per day without doing any intentional exercise, he notes. That includes things such as doing household chores, checking your mailbox, or going grocery shopping, for example. “But if you regularly walk another 4,000 steps a day to reach a total of about 8,000 steps per day, there’s a dramatic difference in whether you live or die over the next decade,” says Dr. Phillips.

Caution: No content on here, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician/medical practitioner.

Read the full article on Harvard Health Publishing here.

The man who made Meccano

The man who made Meccano

Picture Credit: “Meccano” by thenoodleator is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Meccano is a model construction system created around 1900 by Frank Hornby, who was a clerk in Liverpool. He also invented Hornby Trains and Dinky Toys.  In 1902, Hornby started calling his model construction toys Mechanics Made Easy and he sold them in sets with parts supplied by external businesses in Liverpool. A few year later, he established his first factory and changed the name of the toys to Meccano, which he thought would be better, and established his first factory. 

In September 1907, Hornby registered the Meccano trademark, and the next year he formed Meccano Ltd. To keep pace with demand, a new Meccano factory was built in Binns Road, Liverpool in 1914, which became their headquarters for the next 60 years. Hornby also established factories in France, Spain and Argentina. An office was opened in Berlin where Märklin began to manufacture Meccano under licence.

The first sets under the new Meccano name were numbered 1 to 6. In 1922 the No. 7 Meccano Outfit was introduced, which was the largest set of its day, and the most sought after because of its model building capabilities and prestige.

In 1926, to mark the 25th anniversary of his patent, Hornby introduced “Meccano in Colours” with the familiar red and green-coloured Meccano pieces.

What was it?
The Meccano model construction kit consisted of re-usable perforated metal strips, plates and girders, with wheels, pulleys, gears, shaft collars and axles for mechanisms and motion, and nuts and bolts and set screws to connect the pieces together. It was more than just a toy: it was educational, teaching basic mechanical principles like levers and gearing. It provided curious kids all over England with construction sets that enabled them to explore the principles of mechanical engineering, using metal nuts and bolts, young thinkers could build with limitless possibilities. The only tools required were a screwdriver and spanners.

By the early 1960s Meccano Ltd began experiencing financial problems, in spite of exports worth over £1m, and was bought out by Lines Bros Ltd (Tri-ang), Meccano’s biggest competitor, in February 1964. This purchase included both the British and French Meccano factories. Sweeping changes were implemented, including the removal from office of the last members of the Hornby family and applying the Hornby name to the Tri-ang plastic trains. In 1970 Lines Brothers changed the company name to Meccano-Tri-ang.

In 1971, the Lines Brothers Tri-ang group went into voluntary liquidation and Meccano-Tri-ang was eventually sold to Airfix industries in 1972, the company name reverting to Meccano Ltd. At the same time, General Mills, a United States toy manufacturer, purchased the majority of shares of Meccano France S.A., renaming the French company Miro-Meccano.

The new Meccano
With competition from other manufacturers from around the world and the increasing popularity of television, Meccano Ltd’s dominance of the toy market diminished sharply. To cut their losses, Airfix closed Meccano Ltd’s flagship Binns Road factory in Liverpool in November 1979, bringing to an end three-quarters of a century of British toy making. The manufacture of Meccano, however, still continued in France. Airfix was eventually liquidated two years later and in 1981 General Mills purchased Meccano Ltd UK, giving it complete control of the Meccano franchise. It shifted all Meccano and Airfix operations to France and completely revamped the Miro-Meccano construction sets.

In August 1985 French accountant Marc Rebibo bought Miro-Meccano from General Mills, reverted the French company name to Meccano S.A. and reintroduced some of the discontinued Meccano sets. In 1989 Rebibo was bought out by Finamec (Financière de Serbie), who continued the manufacture of Meccano in France. In 1990 Meccano France purchased the “Erector” trademark in the U.S.A. and started selling Meccano sets marked “Erector Meccano” in the U.S.A.

By 2000, Meccano France was faltering and was bought out in May 2000 by the Japanese toy company Nikko, who continue to manufacture Meccano sets in France and China, although very different from the Meccano originally manufactured by the Binns Road factory.  In 2013, the Meccano brand was acquired by the Canadian toy company Spin Master.  In 1913, a very similar construction set had been introduced in the United States under the brand name Erector. In 2000, the new owners of Meccano bought the Erector brand and unified its presence worldwide.

Hornby wrote a number of pieces of literature marketing his creation and continuing to spark interest, including the Meccano Magazine and two full-length books. The book Frank Hornby, the Boy Who Made $1,000,000 With a Toy was written and published by Hornby in 1915. Hornby started the Meccano Magazine in 1916, publishing the first issue in black and white. The magazine told the story of Meccano’s beginnings, written by Frank Hornby himself. In 1919 the Meccano Guild was founded to serve as an umbrella organisation for all the local Meccano clubs, with the Meccano Magazine serving as the club magazine.

Brighton Toy and Model Museum 
Brighton Toy and Model Museum is an independent toy museum. Its collection focuses on toys and models produced in the UK and Europe up until the mid-20th Century and occupies four thousand square feet of floor space within four of the early Victorian arches supporting the forecourt of Brighton railway station. Founded in 1991, the museum holds over ten thousand toys and models, including model train collections, puppets, Corgi, Dinky, Budgie Toys, construction toys and radio-controlled aircraft.

The display area includes large operational model railway layouts (in 0- and 00-gauge) and displays of period pieces from manufacturers and brands including Bing, Bassett-Lowke, Georges Carette, Dinky, Hornby Trains, Märklin, Meccano, Pelham Puppets and Steiff. It also includes individually engineered working models including a quarter-scale traction engine, a steamroller and a Spitfire fighter plane in the lobby.