Writing: Style and Purpose

Writing: Style and Purpose

Picture Credit: “The Elements of Style” by Patrick Johanneson is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

‘Elements of Style’
In modern times, the original book on writing style, Elements of Style, was written in 1918 by Professor William Strunk, Jr., for use by his students at Cornell University, USA. His strategy was to edit down the complexities of English grammar into just those few basic elements which would help people to improve their writing skills. His central rule was to keep everything as simple as possible (he said ‘omit needless words’). For instance, he kicks off immediately with the apostrophe, the comma, and other points of punctuation which create the most common problems. Only when he has cleared these out of the way does he get down to what he calls the ‘Elementary Principles of Composition’.

Although Strunk’s book is a masterpiece, it should be remembered that it was written in America more than ten decades ago. Thus, there are some differences in spelling and style from that generally used in the UK. The book text is considered to be in the public domain, meaning that it is not subject to copyright.

Please email me at mpollins@bizezia.com if you would like a free copy of the PDF of this groundbreaking book.

‘The Origin and Progress of Writing, as well Hieroglyphic as Elementary’
Palaeography is the study of ancient and historical handwriting (that is to say, of the forms and processes of writing; not the textual content of documents).

Included in the discipline is the practice of deciphering, reading, and dating historical manuscripts, and the cultural context of writing, including the methods with which writing and books were produced, and the history of scriptoria.  The first major English work of palaeography is considered to be The Origin and Progress of Writing, as well hieroglyphic as elementary by Thomas Astle. It was published in London in 1784, printed for the author and sold by T. Payne and Son [etc.]. The author was, by all accounts, Keeper of the Records in the Tower of London.

The original book was illustrated by Engravings taken from Marbles, Manuscripts and Charters – Ancient and Modern. It also provided some account of the Origin and Progress of Printing. There have been several reprints since 1784 but the closest most people will get to the book is a page-turning digital archive copy which is available online at: https://archive.org/details/originprogressof00astl_0/page/110/mode/2up

Picture Credit: Screenprint of Digital Book

‘A History of Punctuation’
Florence Hazrat is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the School of English at the University of Sheffield, working on parentheses in Renaissance romance. Her first book ‘Refrains in Early Modern Literature’ is forthcoming, and she is currently writing a book called ‘Standing on Points: The History and Culture of Punctuation’. She is well qualified in being able to write about punctuation and an essay she wrote on Aeon caught my eye. Please read it at: https://aeon.co/essays/beside-the-point-punctuation-is-dead-long-live-punctuation. The title of the essay is ‘A History of Punctuation: How we came to represent (through inky marks) the vagaries of the mind, inflections of the voice, and intensity of feeling’.

Ms Hazrat, who describes herself as “an academic and writer, swordswoman, folk fiddler, and radical ecologist with a side-interest in the history of hyenas” writes (an extract from her essay):
“One of the primary purposes of writing in Ancient Greece and Rome was giving lectures and political speeches, not publishing texts. Before going on stage, an orator would work on his text, making subjective, individually determined signs for long and short syllables, pauses for rhetorical effect and breathing, and joining up of words when reading aloud. There was no such thing as reading at first sight.

Writing without punctuation lasted for many hundreds of years, in spite of individual efforts such as those of Aristophanes, the librarian at Alexandria. Around 200 BCE, Aristophanes of Alexandria wished to ease pronunciation of Greek for foreigners by suggesting small circles at different levels of the line for pauses of different lengths, emphasising the rhythm of the sentence though not yet its grammatical shape. That would remain a task for the 7th-century churchman and encyclopaedist Isidore of Seville.

 Isidore invented the period, comma and colon. He rethought Aristophanes’ punctuation, based on pauses when reading aloud, in terms of grammatical parts of the sentence: an utterance whose sense and grammar were complete would receive a dot at the top of the line, which would eventually migrate down to the bottom and become the full stop or period we know today. An utterance whose sense and grammar were complete but accommodated expansion would get a dot in the centre: the future colon. Lastly, an utterance that was neither complete in sense nor in grammar would be marked off with a dot at the bottom, evolving into the comma. Where previously only the full sentence received a boundary sign, it was now also possible to distinguish the constituents within. Isidore’s ideas circulated widely and, by the end of the same century, Irish monks had added spaces between words to his system of dots. These changes attest to a shift in the perception of writing from record of speech to record of information. Meaning no longer needed to pass from eye to mind via voice and ear, but was directly – silently – apprehended.


Mystery of the SS Ourang Medan

Mystery of the SS Ourang Medan

Picture Credit: “The-Dark-Pictures-Man-Of-Medan-220519-008” by instacodez is marked with CC PDM 1.0 [A video game inspired by the mystery of the SS Ourang Medan was developed by Supermassive Games.]

Did a mysterious tragedy occur on the SS Ourang Medan or is it all just a legend? Is it fact or fiction?

In June 1947, several ships travelling trade routes in the Strait of Malacca, off the coast of Malaysia, received a terrifying SOS message that read: “All officers including captain are dead lying in chartroom and bridge. Possibly whole crew dead.” After a short period of time, one final message was received, which read simply … “I die.”

Nearby ships identified the source of the signal as coming from a Dutch freighter, the SS Ourang Medan. The nearest merchant ship, The Silver Star, travelled as fast as they could to the source of the distress signal. Onboarding the Ourang Medan, they were horrified to find every member of the crew dead, their corpses scattered over the decks. The eyes of the men were still open, and expressions of sheer terror were frozen on their faces. Even the ship’s dog was dead, its once intimidating snarl frozen into a ghastly and ghostly grimace. The Silver Star’s party found the deceased radio operator as well, his hand still on the Morse keys, and his eyes wide open, even in death.

But strangely, there were no signs of wounds or injuries on any of the bodies. The Silver Star’s crew decided to tow the ship back to port, but before they could get underway, smoke began emanating from the decks below.

The boarding party quickly returned to their ship and barely had time to escape before the SS Ourang Medan exploded and swiftly sank. Some theorised that clouds of noxious natural gases bubbled up from fissures in the seabed and engulfed the ship, and others have even blamed the occurrence on the supernatural, but to this day, the exact fate of the ship’s crew remains a mystery.

Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ourang_Medan) casts some doubt on some of the foregoing.  It says the SS Ourang Medan became a shipwreck in Dutch East Indies (modern Indonesia) waters, or elsewhere, after its entire crew had died under suspicious circumstances, either in 1940, 1947 or 1948, depending on the newspaper source. The story of the Ourang Medan has, to some degree, become a legend.

A survivor, before perishing himself, told a missionary that the ship was carrying a badly stowed cargo of sulphuric acid and that most of the crew perished because of the poisonous fumes escaping from broken containers.

According to his story, the SS Ourang Medan was sailing from an unnamed small Chinese port to Costa Rica and deliberately avoided the authorities.  The survivor, an unnamed German, died after telling his story to the missionary, who told the story to the author, Silvio Scherli of Trieste, Italy.

There are many theories as to what actually happened. It was suggested the ship might have been involved in smuggling operations of chemical substances such as a combination of potassium cyanide and nitro-glycerine or even wartime stocks of nerve agents. According to these theories, seawater would have entered the ship’s hold, reacting with the cargo to release toxic gases, which then caused the crew to succumb to asphyxia and/or poisoning. Later, the seawater would have reacted with the nitro-glycerine, causing the reported fire and explosion.

Another theory is that the ship was transporting nerve gas which the Japanese military had been storing in China during World War II and which was handed over to the US military at the end of the war. No US ship could transport it as it would leave a paper trail. It was therefore loaded onto a non-registered ship for transport to the US or an island in the Pacific.

In Conclusion
At the end of an article at https://www.historicmysteries.com/ourang-medan/, Les Hewitt asks:
Was the tragedy on the SS Ourang Medan a genuine event or just a mariner’s seafaring tale designed to scare, frighten, or dissuade?

 Author James Donahue at https://www.perdurabo10.net/ourang-medan.html# wrote that Naval historian Roy Bainton conducted exhaustive research on this “death ship” story.  After turning to Lloyd’s Shipping registers, the Dutch Shipping records and even places like the Maritime Authority in Singapore, he was about to conclude that the Ourang Medan story was nothing more than an old sailor’s yarn. Then Bainton found a German booklet titled “Death Ship in the South Sea” by Otto Mielke, which gave details about the SS Ourang Medan, its route, cargo, tonnage and even the name of the captain.  Bainton wrote that Mielke’s booklet suggested that the Number 4 hold of the fated ship was filled with “a mixed, lethal cargo on the Dutchman ‘Zyankali’ (potassium cyanide) and nitro-glycerine.

Your guess as to what really happened is probably as good as mine. Perhaps better. What do you think? Was there a conspiracy at play? Something to do with the end of the war? It’s odd that there doesn’t seem to be any official records that the ship ever existed in the first place, yet the Silver Star found it…

This Little Piggy went to Market…

This Little Piggy went to Market…

Picture Credit: “Piggly Wiggly” by ilovememphis is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

On 6th September 1916, Piggly Wiggly opened in Memphis, Tennessee USA.  As you weren’t there at the time, let me fill in some gaps for you.

It was the first true self-service grocery store the world had known. It spawned various familiar supermarket concepts such as checkout stands, individual item price marking and shopping carts. It was the brainchild of Clarence Saunders who took out a patent in 1917 on the concept of the “self-serving store”. Saunders issued franchises to hundreds of grocery retailers for the operation of Piggly Wiggly® stores. These franchised stores were constructed to Saunders’ rigid specifications, operated on a strictly cash basis, and maintained a high standard of quality and cleanliness.

From www.thepig.net:

Piggly Wiggly’s introduction of self-service grocery shopping revolutionised the grocery industry; many of the conveniences and services that American shoppers now enjoy were brought to them first by Piggly Wiggly®.

Saunders’ reason for choosing the intriguing name Piggly Wiggly® remains a mystery; he was curiously reluctant to explain its origin. One story is that he saw from a train window several little pigs struggling to get under a fence, and the rhyming name occurred to him then. Another theory is that it is derived from the nursery rhyme, “This little piggy went to market…

When asked why he had chosen such an unusual name for his organisation, Saunders’ reply was, “So people will ask that very question.” He wanted, and found, a name that would be talked about and remembered.

Britain’s Supermarkets
A little slow on the uptake, it took 32 years for Britain to follow Clarence Saunder’s lead. The self-service supermarket came to Britain on 12th January 1948, when the London Co-operative Society opened a store in Manor Park, following a trial 6 years before. Co-op Food opened Britain’s first fully self-service store in March 1948 in Albert Road, Southsea, near Portsmouth.

With the arrival of self-service came the ‘stack ’em high, sell ’em cheap’* approach to retail, and prices fell.
* credited to Jack Cohen before he founded Tesco

Many of the shops that clung on to the old ways soon found themselves out of business. Premier Supermarkets lost no time in opening a self-service store in Streatham and sales rocketed. Marks & Spencer followed that same year in Wood Green.

What’s next?
Mmuze uses artificial intelligence (AI) to recreate the in-store shopping experience online, through a virtual personal shopping assistant.  This enables customers to interact with a brand – via voice or text conversation – and tell them exactly what they are looking for.  Whether they are searching for a specific dress or want advice on what to wear to a certain event, Mmuze “associates” answer every question that shoppers have, from price to style to material specifications. This prevents them from scrolling through hundreds of items online, making their experience more convenient and personal. They also offer customers personalised suggestions based on their purchase history and the latest trends.

GlobalData predicts that voice purchases will hit €45bn in the UK and US in 2022, and Adobe claims 90% of decision-makers are investing in voice tech, according to Drapers: https://www.drapersonline.com/news/four-tech-innovations-pushing-retail-boundaries

Other innovations identified by Drapers are:

  • Customer engagement platform Preciate uses facial recognition technology to help shop floor staff identify customers as they enter the store. It aims to help brands and retailers offer customers a unique, individualised experience through its tech-driven “loyalty programme”. As an opt-in service, Preciate requires shoppers to enrol with a selfie, which can be taken via a mobile, laptop or in-store. The facial recognition algorithm then notifies staff as soon as shoppers enter the store and recognises them in real-time.
  • Visual AI technology from computer software company Syte allows customers to search and shop for products by uploading an image to show what they are looking for, rather than textually describing it. By uploading an image to a retailer’s website or app – be it from a brand campaign, random person on the street or magazine cutting – customers can browse and buy visually similar items that are currently in stock.
  • Measurement technologies enable MySizeID to advise customers on their best size for every single item that they are looking at. Arguing that “customers shouldn’t rely on varying size carts”, MySize uses an algorithm to measure customers’ precise body fit using their smartphone sensors, without the need for a camera (instructions on how to take images of each body part are included). You can see a video on this at: https://youtu.be/od64G7CJr1o.

(Famous) Last Words
Covid-19 has hastened the innovation in online retailing. I can’t wait to see all the above happening. Then we can move on to the next big thing.

Piers of Sussex

Piers of Sussex

Picture Credit: [Cropped] “Brighton Palace Pier” by jameswragg is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Piers of Sussex does not mean Piers Morgan, but you can look him up if you want at: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piers_Morgan – admittedly, his name is Piers and he lives in East Sussex, (Newick) but Piers Morgan is an English broadcaster, journalist, writer, and television personality whereas this article is about the elegant structures that allow people to walk over water, well almost. Piers provide glamour and fun at the great British seaside and add a unique charm and nostalgia to our promenades and sea-fronts. The East Sussex coastline is fortunate enough to have three fine Victorian piers together with what remains of the wrecked West Pier in Brighton. In total there are 6 Sussex Piers which, in alphabetical order, are:

  • Brighton Palace Pier
  • Brighton West Pier (now wrecked)
  • Eastbourne Pier
  • Hastings Pier
  • Littlehampton Pier
  • Worthing Pier

The pier at Bognor is not listed above. Barely a tenth of its original length remains and it has suffered badly over the years. Nevertheless, it has a Grade II listing.

Although Sussex is probably the birthplace of the seaside pleasure pier, Ryde Pier on the Isle of Wight has the earliest origins as a pier. The dear departed and famous Chain Pier at Brighton was the first to be used as a fashionable promenade. Its full name was The Royal Suspension Chain Pier and it was the first major pier built in Brighton (1823), but was destroyed during a storm on 4th December 1896. From the 1860s until about 1910, a succession of piers were built along the Sussex coast from Littlehampton to Hastings.  In their heyday, they were the place to be seen. Magnus Volk, an inventor and pioneering electrical engineer, and a resident of Brighton, built a ‘moving pier’ affectionately known as the ‘Daddy-long-legs’. He is most notable for having built Volk’s Electric Railway, the world’s oldest operating electric railway, on the Brighton seafront.

Here’s a quick round-up of three of the Piers along our coast:

Brighton Palace Pier
The Palace Pier opened in 1899 and was the third pier to be constructed in Brighton following The Royal Suspension Chain Pier and the West Pier. After opening, it quickly became popular, and by 1911 it had become a frequently visited theatre and entertainment venue. It has been featured in many works of British culture, including the gangster thriller Brighton Rock, the comedy Carry On at Your Convenience and the Who’s concept album and film Quadrophenia. During World War II, the pier was closed as a security precaution. A section of decking was removed in order to prevent access from an enemy landing. The pier regained its popularity after the war, and continued to run regular summer shows, including Tommy Trinder, Doris and Elsie Waters and Dick Emery.

The pier was listed at Grade II on 20th August 1971.

Worthing Pier
By 1894 a steamship began operation between Worthing Pier and the Chain Pier in Brighton, twelve miles to the east. The first moving picture show in Worthing was seen on the pier on 31st August 1896 and is commemorated today by a blue plaque. In March 1913, on Easter Monday, the pier was damaged in a storm, with only the southern end remaining, completely cut off from land. Later, it was affectionately named ‘Easter Island’. A rebuilt pier was opened on 29th May 1914. Then in September 1933 the pier and all but the northern pavilion were destroyed by fire. Two years later, the remodelled Streamline Moderne pier was opened, and it is this that remains today.

Worthing Pier was sectioned in 1940 for fear of German invasion after the British retreat at Dunkirk. Army engineers used explosives to blow a 120ft. hole in the pier to prevent it from being used as a possible landing stage in the event of an invasion.  In 2006 and again in 2019. Worthing Pier was judged to be the Pier of the Year by the National Piers Society. It is a Grade II listed building structure.

Eastbourne Pier
Eastbourne Pier, one of the finest examples of a Victorian pier,  opened in 1872 and is a sought after film and TV location used in Angus Thongs & Perfect Snogging, and TV series including Poirot, A Place in the Sun, Art Attack, Flog It, and BBC CCTV.

On New Year’s Day 1877, the landward half was swept away in a storm. It was rebuilt at a higher level, creating a drop towards the end of the pier. The pier is effectively built on stilts that rest in cups on the sea-bed allowing the whole structure to move during rough weather. It is roughly 300 metres (1000 ft) long.  A domed 400-seater pavilion was constructed in 1888.  A 1000-seater theatre, bar, camera obscura and office suite replaced this in 1899/1901.  At the same time, two saloons were built midway along the pier.  The camera obscura fell into disuse in the 1960s but was restored in 2003 with a new stairway built to provide access.

Paddle steamers (such as the PS Brighton Queen and the PS Devonia) ran trips from the pier along the south coast and across the Channel to Boulogne from 1906 until the outbreak of the Second World War II. Although they were resumed after the war, the paddle steamers were gradually withdrawn from service.

Various traditional pier theatres were built over the years but after the last one was destroyed by fire in 1970, it was replaced by a nightclub and bar which remain to this day. During World War II, part of the decking was removed, and machine guns were installed in the theatre providing a useful point from which to repel any attempted enemy landings.

More Information

What the Butler saw…

In earlier days, no self-respecting pier would be complete without a peep-show machine such as this. By depositing a penny coin (old money) in the slot, those who wanted to do so could view ‘naughty’ films. Tut Tut!

Picture Credit: “What The Butler Saw” by the justified sinner is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

How to play Backgammon

How to play Backgammon

Picture Credit: “Backgammon” by Tord Mattsson is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Backgammon is one of the oldest known board games with a history that can be traced back nearly 5,000 years to archaeological discoveries in Mesopotamia. It is a two-player game where each player has fifteen pieces (checkers or men) that move between twenty-four triangles (points) according to the roll of two dice. The triangles are grouped into four quadrants each of six triangles.

The Quadrants
The quadrants are referred to as a player’s home board and outer board, and the opponent’s home board and outer board. The home and outer boards are separated from each other by a ridge down the centre of the board – the ridge is called the bar.

The objective of the game is to be first to bear off, i.e. move all fifteen checkers off the board.

The game involves a combination of both strategy and luck (from rolling dice). While the dice may determine the outcome of a single game, the better player will accumulate the better record over series of many games. With each roll of the dice, players must choose from numerous options for moving their checkers and anticipate possible countermoves by the opponent. The optional use of a doubling cube allows players to raise the stakes during the game.

The game is played on a folding wooden board with checkers and dice. The object of the game for the players is to remove all their checkers from the board.

The Checkers
Backgammon playing pieces may be called pieces, checkers, draughts, stones, men, counters, pawns, discs, pips, chips, or nips.

The Board
If you click here: www.shorturl.at/hosDV you can see the Board laid out at the start of a game and what happens as it progresses when the players move following the roll of their dice.

Setting Up
Checkers are arranged with two on point 24, five on point 13, three on point 8 and five on point 6.  To start the game both players roll a single dice, the player with the highest roll begins.

The points are numbered for either player starting in that player’s home board. The outermost point is the twenty-four point, which is also the opponent’s one point. Each player has fifteen checkers of his own colour. The initial arrangement of checkers is: two on each player’s twenty-four point, five on each player’s thirteen point, three on each player’s eighth point, and five on each player’s six point.  Both players have their own pair of dice and a dice cup used for shaking. A doubling cube, with the numerals 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, and 64 on its faces, is used to keep track of the current stake of the game.

Rolls of the Dice
The results of the initial dice rolls determine how many points you may move your checkers. For example, if on your roll, a 4 and 3 are rolled, you may move one checker four spaces and the other three spaces. Alternatively, you may move only one checker a total of the dice roll, in this example, 7 points.

Checkers are always moved towards your home board onto a point of a lower number and can only be moved onto an open point. An open point is occupied by no more than one of the opponent’s checkers. To move one checker using the total of the dice roll, the intermediate points must be open points.

If a double is rolled the numbers on the dice are used twice, for example, if a double 2 is rolled, checkers can be moved 2 points four times. Players must use all numbers rolled if possible. If only one can be played, this must be used. If two can be played, the highest roll must be used.

Hitting and Entering
A blot is a point occupied by a single checker. If a blot is hit during the opponent’s play, the checker must be placed on the ridge along the centre of the board, known as a (or the) bar. If you have any checkers on the bar, these must be entered into the opponent’s home board during your next turn. Checkers are entered onto an open point corresponding to numbers rolled. For example, if a 6 and 4 are rolled, the checker must be placed on point 6 or 4 of the opponent’s home board.

As many checkers on the bar must be entered (return to the game) as possible. If there are no open points corresponding to the dice roll, the player loses a turn. If only one checker can be entered, the remainder of the player’s turn is lost. When the player has no more checkers on the bar, play resumes as normal.

Bearing Off
When a player has all their checkers in their home board, they can start removing them from the board: this is known as bearing off. This is done by rolling both dice and removing a checker from each corresponding point. For example, if a 6 and 4 is rolled, a checker can be removed from point 6 and 4. If there are no checkers on point 4, one must be removed from a higher-numbered point. If there are no checkers on a higher-numbered point, you must remove a checker from the highest numbered point available.

Checkers can still be hit while bearing off and must be placed onto the bar and entered back into play as detailed above. When a first player bears off all of their fifteen checkers, the game is won!

Other Rules
There are other rules not covered here such as Doubling, Redoubling, and Gammons. Backgammon chouette (click here) is a variant of backgammon designed for three or more players. Before you try to play a game of backgammon chouette, you may want to take some time to learn how to play regular backgammon first and the foregoing will hopefully get you started if you haven’t played the game before. Go on, it’s fun…

Celebrity Players
Over the years, many well-known celebrities have been aficionados of Backgammon. They include Tina Turner, Cole Porter, Humphrey Bogart, John Huston, Paul Newman, Nelson Eddy and Jeanette Macdonald, and, perhaps the best known of all – Omar Sharif, whose name has been used to promote tournaments, books, and other backgammon products (there’s even an electronic version named after him).

Sources:  https://www.farrar-tanner.co.uk/


Save time by using Shortcuts on your Keyboard

Save time by using Shortcuts on your Keyboard

Are you using the shortcuts on your computer keyboard?

Ok, let’s start from the beginning.

You know what a keyboard is, I hope. There’s one above. It’s like mine.

At the bottom left-hand corner, you can see the key ctrl. That’s the Control key. It’s a ‘modifier’ key that, when pressed in conjunction with another key, performs a certain action. It rarely performs any function when pressed just on its own.

This ‘tutorial’ is about a Microsoft computer keyboard, but similar rules apply to Apple computers.

List of Control Key Shortcuts

Each of the following works by pressing the Ctrl key and, while holding it down, pressing the other key or keys as shown:

Ctrl+A These two keys will select all text or other objects in your document.

Ctrl+B Embolden the text you highlight.

Ctrl+C Copy any selected text or other object.

Ctrl+D Bookmark an open web page or open font window in Microsoft Word.

Ctrl+E Centre the text or picture in your document.

Ctrl+F Open the ‘find’ window.

Ctrl+G Open Find in a browser and word processors.

Ctrl+H Open the Find and Replace in Notepad, Microsoft Word, and WordPad

Ctrl+I Italicize text.

Ctrl+J View downloads in browsers and set justify alignment in Microsoft Word.

Ctrl+K Create a hyperlink (or edit an existing one) for the highlighted text in Microsoft Word and many HTML editors.

Ctrl+L Select address bar in a browser or left align text in a word processor.

Ctrl+M Indent selected text in word processors and other programs.

Ctrl+N Create a new page or document.

Ctrl+O Open a file in most programs.

Ctrl+P Open a print window to print the page you are viewing.

Ctrl+R Reload page in a browser or right-align text in a word processor.

Ctrl+S Save the document or file.

Ctrl+T Create a new tab in an Internet browser or adjust tabs in word processors.

Ctrl+U Underline selected text.

Ctrl+V Paste any text or another object that was last copied.

Ctrl+W Close open tab in a browser or close a document in Word.

Ctrl+X Cut selected text or another object that has been highlighted.

Ctrl+Y These keys will redo any undo action.

Ctrl+End Moves cursor to the end of a document instead of the end of the line.

Ctrl+Z Pressing these two keys will undo the last action.

Ctrl+Esc Open the Windows Start Menu.

Ctrl+Tab Switch between open tabs in browsers or other tabbed programs.

Ctrl+⇧ Shift+Tab Will go backwards (right to left).

Ctrl+⇧ Shift+Z Redo

Ctrl+[ Decrease font size

Ctrl+] Increase font size

Ctrl+= Toggle font subscript

Ctrl+⇧ Shift+= Toggle font superscript

And perhaps the most useful ones of all:

Ctrl+⇧ Shift+C Copies the format and colour of text you have highlighted.

Ctrl+⇧ Shift+V Pastes (replicates) the format. and colour of text you have highlighted, as above.


The man who almost conquered the world

The man who almost conquered the world

Picture Credit: “Genghis Khan: The Exhibition” by williamcho is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

As a boy, he was rejected by his clan yet as an adult he clawed his way to power, coming to believe he was destined to rule the world. And he all but succeeded, so writes Spencer Day in History today (click here), who says:
In the early 13th century, Wanyan Yongji, mighty emperor of the Jin, sent a message to an upstart warlord who had had the temerity to invade his territory. “Our empire is as vast as the sea,” it read. “Yours is but a handful of sand. How can we fear you?” It was a bold statement, but one that was, on the face of it at least, fully justified. For the Jin dynasty of northern China was perhaps the most powerful polity on the face of the Earth at the time. The Jin had unimaginable wealth, gunpowder and an enormous army equipped with state-of-the-art weaponry, such as catapults. What’s more, they could call upon the protection of one of the foremost engineering feats of all time, the Great Wall of China. So why should they be concerned about a nomad army riding roughshod over their land? But there were a couple of problems.

The Jin weren’t facing any old bunch of nomads, and the man commanding them wasn’t any old leader. He was Genghis Khan.

Who was Genghis Khan?
Genghis Khan (born Temüjin Borjigin) c. 1155 – c. 1162 to 18th August 1227), also named officially Genghis Huangdi, was the founder and first Great Khan and Emperor of the Mongol Empire. It became the largest contiguous empire in history after his death. He came to power by uniting many of the nomadic tribes of Northeast Asia. After founding the Empire and being proclaimed Genghis Khan (meaning ‘Universal, oceanic, and firm/strong ruler and lord’), he launched the Mongol invasions that conquered most of Eurasia, reaching as far west as Poland and the Levant in the Middle East.

Campaigns initiated in his lifetime include those against the Qara Khitai, Khwarezmia, and the Western Xia and Jin dynasties, and raids into Medieval Georgia, the Kievan Rus’, and Volga Bulgaria.

These campaigns were often accompanied by large-scale massacres of the civilian populations. Because of this brutality, which left millions of humans dead in his pursuit of power, Genghis Khan is considered by many to have been a brutal ruler. By the end of his life, the Mongol Empire occupied a substantial portion of Central Asia and China. Due to his exceptional military successes, Genghis Khan is often considered to be the greatest conqueror of all time.

Beyond his military accomplishments, Genghis Khan also advanced the Mongol Empire in other ways. He decreed the adoption of the Uyghur script as the Mongol Empire’s writing system. He also practised meritocracy and encouraged religious tolerance in the Mongol Empire, unifying the nomadic tribes of Northeast Asia. Present-day Mongolians regard him as the founding father of Mongolia. He is also credited with bringing the Silk Road under one cohesive political environment. This brought relatively easy communication and trade between Northeast Asia, Muslim Southwest Asia, and Christian Europe, expanding the cultural horizons of all three areas.

The Secret History of the Mongols
Genghis Khan’s birth name was Temüjin, a word derived from the Mongol word temür meaning “of iron” and  jin denoting agency, and together mean Temüjin meaning “blacksmith”.

The Secret History of the Mongols reports that Temüjin was born grasping a blood clot in his fist, a traditional sign that he was destined to become a great leader. The Secret History is regarded as the single most significant native Mongolian account of Genghis Khan. Linguistically, it provides the richest source of pre-classical Mongolian and Middle Mongolian. The Secret History is regarded as a piece of classic literature in both Mongolia and the rest of the world.

You can read about The Secret History in the book titled: The Secret History of the Mongols: The Life and Times of Chinggis Khan (Note the spelling of Genghis) available at Amazon at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Secret-History-Mongols-Times-Chinggis/dp/0415515262/

Why it ended…
In 1206, Genghis Khan, a fierce tribal chieftain from northern Mongolia, began to take over the world. His ruthless tactics and loyal horde swept across Asia, and one territory after another fell under the overwhelming force of the Mongol Empire, which would eventually stretch from the eastern shores of China. A series of successful forays in Hungary and Poland made even Europe seem within reach of conquering.  By the year 1240, my paternal grandfather’s home city, Kiev (now capital of modern-day Ukraine), had been sacked. But this unstoppable wave of victories in Europe suddenly ended. Almost as soon as the Mongols set their sights set on Austria, they abruptly returned to Asia. You need to go to https://www.sciencealert.com/scientists-finally-know-what-stopped-mongol-hordes-from-conquering-europe to find out why. It’s very interesting indeed…

Source: Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genghis_Khan

Is this the best medicine of all?

Is this the best medicine of all?

Picture Credit: “Two Men Listening” by .hd. is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Learning a new skill at any age helps to promote neural cell growth, improve concentration, and increase overall brain function… The studies provide evidence that intense learning experiences akin to those faced by younger populations are possible in older populations and may facilitate gains in cognitive abilities.
Source: https://www.country-cousins.co.uk/post/how-can-elderly-people-stay-active-at-home

Learning several new things at once increases cognitive abilities in older adults. Giving older people lessons on photography, painting and how to use iPads could make their brains up to 30 years younger in just six weeks, a study claims, according to a posting by Dianne Apen-Sadler for MAILONLINE, here.

Dr Rachel Wu, an assistant professor of psychology from California University, said the elderly should soak up knowledge as a child does.  The claims from a detailed study are staggering:

  • After six weeks, those in 80s increased cognitive abilities to those seen in 50s.
  • Course workload saw a group take on three new skills including language lessons, photography, music composition, acting painting or using an iPad. Taking on three new tasks at the same time boosts mental power, wards off memory loss and confusion as well as protecting against Alzheimer’s disease, scientists have found.
  • The course workload would be similar to that of an undergraduate and adds to growing evidence that dementia is avoidable through lifestyle changes.
  • But, importantly, ‘Brain Training’ with crosswords or sudoku puzzles actually had no noticeable benefit on thinking ability, said the researchers.

The study published last year in The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences, involved 58 – 86-year olds who simultaneously took three to five classes for three months.

“IT’S NEVER TOO LATE TO LEARN – IF YOU GO ABOUT IT IN THE RIGHT WAY”. This is what David Robson wrote on 28th August 2017 on BBC Future – click here to read the full article, but an extract is as follows:

“If you ever fear that you are already too old to learn a new skill, remember Priscilla Sitienei, a midwife from Ndalat in rural Kenya. Having grown up without free primary school education, she had never learnt to read or write.

 “As she approached her twilight years, however, she wanted to note down her experiences and knowledge to pass down to the next generation. And so, she started to attend lessons at the local school – along with six of her great-great-grandchildren. She was 90 at the time.

 “We are often told that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” – that the grizzled adult brain simply can’t absorb as much information as an impressionable young child’s. Many people would assume that you simply couldn’t pick up a complex skill like reading or writing, at the age of 90, after a lifetime of being illiterate.

 “The latest studies from psychology and neuroscience show that these extraordinary achievements need not be the exception. Although you may face some extra difficulties at 30, 50 – or 90 – your brain still has an astonishing ability to learn and master many new skills, whatever your age. And the effort to master a new discipline may be more than repaid in maintaining and enhancing your overall cognitive health.”

The House of Rothschild: How did they become so powerful?

The House of Rothschild: How did they become so powerful?

The House of Rothschild is a 1934 American Pre-Code film written by Nunnally Johnson from the play by George Hembert Westley, and directed by Alfred L. Werker. It chronicles the rise of the Rothschild family of European bankers. Of the actors, perhaps the best-known are: Boris Karloff as Count Ledrantz, Loretta Young as Julie Rothschild, Robert Young as Captain Fitzroy and C. Aubrey Smith as The Duke of Wellington. George Arliss took the lead role and played Mayer Rothschild.

To explain: Pre-code is the brief era in the American film industry between the widespread adoption of sound in pictures in 1929 and the enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code censorship guidelines, popularly known as the “Hays Code”, in mid-1934.

Briefly, the film plot is:
In 1780 in Frankfurt Germany, youngster Nathan Rothschild warns his parents Mayer Amschel Rothschild and Guttle that the taxman is coming. They respond by hurriedly hiding their wealth, including currency, silver, etc. The taxman demands 20,000 gulden, an exorbitant sum, but accepts a bribe of 5,000 and reduces the taxed by 9/10ths. Mayer’ Rothschild’s satisfaction is short-lived, 10,000 gulden due to him is intercepted and the money confiscated by the taxmen. Mayer tells his sons that he tried to be as honest as possible, but the anti-Semitic authorities will not let him; he admonishes his children to acquire money, for “money is power” and a defense for their people.

Later, as Mayer Rothschild is lying on his deathbed, he instructs his five sons to start banks in different countries across Europe: Amschel in Frankfurt, Salomon Mayer von Rothschild in Vienna, Nathan in London, Carl in Rome, and James in Paris. That way, they can avoid having to send gold back and forth as the need arises, for in war they are in danger of being robbed by the enemy and in peace by their own countrymen. Instead, they can draw on each other’s banks.

Thirty-two years later, the five sons have established banking houses. From their humble beginnings, the business grows and helps to finance the war against Napoleon, but it’s not always easy, especially because of the prejudices against Jews. The wealthy Rothschild family undergo prejudice from the anti-Semitic society in which they live.

NOTE: The gathering of all of the five sons of Mayer Rothschild on his deathbed never happened, it was a dramatic license taken by the scriptwriters. In reality, only two of his sons were present while the others were living in different European nations at the time.

You can watch a film clip at:

The Book, by Niall Ferguson

Source: Amazon.co.uk
The House of Rothschild: Money’s Prophets 1798-1848, is a rich and nuanced portrait of the remarkable, elusive Rothschild family. Written by Oxford scholar and bestselling author Niall Ferguson, the book uncovers the secrets behind the family’s phenomenal economic success. The author reveals for the first time the details of the family’s vast political network, which gave it access to and influence over many of the greatest statesmen of the age. And he tells a family saga, tracing the importance of unity and the profound role of Judaism in the lives of a dynasty that rose from the confines of the Frankfurt ghetto and later used its influence to assist oppressed Jews throughout Europe.

It’s described as ‘a definitive work of impeccable scholarship with a thoroughly engaging narrative, ‘The House of Rothschild’ is a biography of the rarest kind, in which mysterious and fascinating historical figures finally spring to life.’

You can buy the book at Amazon from, here.

The Bible: who wrote it and why?

The Bible: who wrote it and why?

Picture Credit: “Holy Bible” by O Silva is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Not intending to be controversial, this text is simply about a book. A book called the Bible: who wrote it and why? And in what language was it written?

As we all know, the holy scripture of the Christian religion is called the Bible. It tells the history of the Earth from its earliest creation to the spread of Christianity in the first century A.D. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament have undergone changes over the centuries, including the publication of the King James Bible in 1611 and the addition of several books that were discovered later.

Whatever religion holds your belief, you’ll be interested to read about the Bible at: https://www.history.com/topics/religion/bible

A good starting point is the name. How did this holy book come to be called the Bible? The Bible takes its name from the Latin word Biblia (‘book’ or ‘books’) which comes from the Greek Ta Biblia (‘the books’) traced to the Phoenician port city of Gebal, known as Byblos to the Greeks.

Although the Bible, a collection of sacred texts or scripture, is the central book in Western culture, it seems extraordinary that there is no proper history of it. Along with the Codex Vaticanus, the Codex Sinaiticus is considered the oldest known Bible in the world. The Codex Sinaiticus was more than 1,460 pages long and measured 16in by 14in. It was written by a number of people around the time of Constantine the Great in the 4th Century. The manuscript contains the Christian Bible in Greek, including the oldest complete copy of the New Testament. The hand-written text is in Greek.

The New Testament appears in the original vernacular language (koine) and the Old Testament in the version, known as the Septuagint, that was adopted by early Greek-speaking Christians.

The entire Bible was first put together in Greek. The Old Testament came from the Septuagint, a Jewish translation of the Hebrew scriptures and related writings into Greek before the time of Christ.

The New Testament documents were all composed in Greek, although Aramaic materials may have been used in doing so.

 Biblica, The International Bible Society, say that during the thousand years of its composition, almost all of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew. But a few chapters in the prophecies of Ezra and Daniel and one verse in Jeremiah were written in a language called Aramaic. This language became very popular in the ancient world and actually displaced many other languages. Aramaic even became the common language spoken in Israel in Jesus Christ’s time, and it was likely the language He spoke day by day. Some Aramaic words were even used by the Gospel writers in the New Testament.

Greek was the language of the eastern Roman Empire, the area where Christianity first emerged. The western Roman Empire mainly spoke Latin.

The Greek bible was translated into Latin by various people, with varying quality, until Saint Jerome translated major portions of the Bible into Latin. He began in 382 AD by correcting the existing Latin language version of the New Testament, commonly referred to as the Vetus Latina. By 390 AD he turned to translating the Hebrew Bible from the original Hebrew, having previously translated portions from the Septuagint which came from Alexandria.

A timeline of events recorded in the Bible, based on traditionally accepted timeframes and general consensus of a variety of sources can be found at: https://biblehub.com/timeline/#sources. The sources include Wilmington’s Guide to the Bible, A Survey of Israel’s History (Wood), The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings (Thiele), ESV Study Bible, The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, and Easton’s Bible Dictionary. They are probably all available on Amazon.

According to both Jews and Christians, the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy (the first five books of the Bible and the entirety of the Torah) were all written by Moses in about 1,300 B.C.  Not everyone agrees, however, because of the lack of evidence that Moses ever existed and the fact that the end of Deuteronomy describes the “author” dying and being buried.

Mostly extracted from Glossary – Timeline of the Bible, published by OneSmartPlace, at: https://onesmartplace.com/resources/glossaries/ from where you can obtain a free digital copy.


What is a Proverb?

What is a Proverb?

Picture Credit: [Recoloured] “proverbs” by Totally Severe is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

I came across a great website recently. Its focus was on proverbs – you know what a proverb is, don’t you? It’s that short, pithy saying that expresses a traditionally held truth or piece of advice, based on common sense or experience. The website is at: https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/proverbs.html

According to the site, nothing defines a culture as distinctly as its language, and the element of language that best encapsulates a society’s values and beliefs is its proverbs.

No collection of proverbs in English would be complete without the proverbs collected and published by the Tudor courtier John Heywood.  Just in case you’ve never heard of him, or perhaps forgotten who he was, he was born (probably in Coventry) in 1497. He was best known for his plays, poems, and collection of proverbs. He was also active as a musician and composer, though no musical works survive. Although he was a devout Catholic, he nevertheless served as a royal servant to both the Catholic and Protestant regimes of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I.

The website provides a list of most of the commonly used English proverbs, with links to the meaning and origin of many of them.  Here are some to whet your appetite or grey cells (just click on the links below for an explanation):

If you want to explore further, the website has proverbs in their hundreds…


Cockney Column

Cockney Column

Picture Credit: “Hot chestnuts” by jovike is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0 

Not many people know this, but I am a Cockney.  Phew… I feel better already sharing that with you. The term Cockney is applied as a demonym (that’s a posh word, ‘invented’ around 1995-2000, for people who live in a particular location) and for Cockneys, it applies to people from defined areas of London – namely East Enders or to those born within the sound of Bow Bells.

The Cockney dialect is the form of speech used in those areas, and elsewhere, particularly among working-class Londoners.

Technically, you can only be a Cockney if you were born in the East End of the city. To be really specific, you must have been born within the sound of Bow Bells – that’s the bells of St Mary-le-Bow Church in Cheapside.

Etymologically, where does the word Cockney come from?  Good question: in 1362 the word was used to mean “a small, misshapen egg“, from Middle English coken + ey (“a cock’s egg”).

The mythical, imaginary Land of Cockaigne (a land of contraries, where all the restrictions of society are defied: abbots are beaten by their monks, sexual liberty is open and food is so plentiful that the skies rain with cheese) may have been the source of the word under a variety of spellings, including Cockayne, Cocknay, and Cockney. The word “Cockaigne” comes from the Middle French phrase pais de cocaigne, which literally means “the land of plenty.”

Worryingly, the present meaning of Cockney comes from its use among rural Englishmen in around 1520 as a pejorative term for effeminate town-dwellers, from an earlier general sense (encountered in “The Reeve’s Tale” of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales in 1386). By 1600, the word Cockney was being particularly associated with the Bow Bells area.

The connection with the bells of St Mary-le-Bow Church in Cheapside is the one I like best. Apart from the first few months of my life, after birth in Whitechapel Hospital, which was spent in London town, Sussex has been my home, perhaps because I had no wish to be called an ‘effeminate town dweller’.

My tip of the day, if you plan to visit the East End of London, is – don’t call the market traders in Petticoat Lane effeminate town dwellers. Ignore this tip at your peril.

Learn more…
Listen: Have a butcher’s hook at this video with your china plates. Not sure what this means? Learn how to speak Cockney rhyming slang with Anglophenia’s Kate Arnell, just click here to find out more.

Or try this: ‘A LONDONER Explains How to Speak COCKNEY’. Click here to become an expert, in next to no time.

Or you try to ‘Learn the Cockney accent with a Jason Statham’ look-alike), here.



Maslow, Music, Movies and Motivation

Maslow, Music, Movies and Motivation

During the summer of 1997, I attended a seminar at Roffey Park Management Institute in Sussex as part of a Masters’ degree (MBA). The topics were wide and varied and offered an opportunity to think about management issues in a new light. One interesting idea concerned the role of music to enhance the effects of positive emotion – in other words, motivation. Motivation also plays a large part in the rationale of popular films. Take a good look at psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – if you understand them, you’ll understand much more about what motivates people.

Picture Credit: “20150502 Maslows-Hierarchy-of-Needs” by cesarharada.com is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Because of direct connections with the brain, when information is linked to music there’s a good chance that the brain will encode it in its long-term storage system. Recollection of happy times and circumstances act as a stimulus for motivation. At the other end of the scale, absence of music can retard child brain development. One of the reasons that music affects learners is that the processing of music involves both sides of the brain.

Neuroscientist Gordon L. Shaw, PhD, of the MIND. Institute, University of California, says that music can entertain, motivate, inspire and calm.  Music lessons, and even simply listening to music, can enhance spatial reasoning performance, according to his research. Now, years of innovative scientific research prove that music can enhance how we can think and reason and show us how the brain works and how thought and reason can be enhanced by music.

Many feature films arouse emotions and contain profound messages of motivation. The desire for security is one of the primary motivations of characters in popular films – for example as Dorothy (Judy Garland) showed in The Wizard of Oz.  Her insecurity provides the motivation to find somewhere without problems but when she finds that Oz is a dangerous place, she’s soon motivated to return to the safety of her home.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs focuses ultimately on the person striving to attain “self-actualisation” (reaching their full potential). Maslow acknowledged that there need – lower, yet stronger – that must be satisfied before needs higher on the hierarchy are activated. After the basic physiological needs of hunger, thirst and sex, humans have a terrific need for personal safety.

Next on the Maslow’s hierarchy is the need for love and the feeling of belonging to a person or group. An example of this is in ET – The Extra-Terrestrial. Elliott (played by Henry Thomas), a lonely child abandoned by his father and excluded by his brother’s friends, finds friendship in his relationship with ET a visitor from another planet. These two lost souls find each other across the vastness of space and time. The film identifies with many childhood experiences: a broken family with a single parent and no positive role model, a child’s caring for a stray creature or pet, and homesickness.

After love and belonging, there’s the need for self-esteem and the need for esteem from others. These motivations are displayed by Marty (Michael J Fox) in Back to the Future – his humiliation and lack of self-esteem is based on his need to belong to a family he can be proud of.

Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark searches for ancient and rare objects of historical value for his museum, a selfless act of motivation that produces good for the community.

In Home Alone, Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) needs his family to love him, but he also needs self-esteem because of his inability to take care of himself, and he needs to safeguard his home against burglars.

Nick Marshall (played by Mel Gibson) a Chicago advertising executive, gets a new outlook on life when an accident gives him the ability to read women’s minds in What Women Want. He soon realises that he can use it to good effect, especially when it comes to outwitting his new boss, Darcy Maguire (Helen Hunt). In spite of his best efforts to finesse Darcy, he soon finds himself falling in love with her and then understands what women want.

Many popular films are stories about characters with specific needs. Revenge is often used as the protagonist’s motivation in many films. It’s a powerful emotional force fixing direction towards a clear goal to achieve justice to counter an earlier injustice (often in the opening scene), which generates audience empathy for the character. This incident, along with the protagonist’s attempts to bring the perpetrators to justice, forms the foundation of his motivation.

In Batman, Bruce Wayne (played by Adam West) is driven by revenge to overcome his feelings of helplessness as a child while watching his parents being murdered.  Sam (Patrick Swayze) in Ghost needs to save the life of the woman he loves (Molly – played by Demi Moore) and the friend that has helped him Oda Mae (Whoopi Goldberg). Molly needs Sam’s love and doesn’t want to let him go. In Beverley Hills Cops, Eddie Murphy playing Axel Foley wants to find who murdered his friend, Mike Tandino.

Revenge is also the motivation for Andy Dufrene (Tim Robbins) in The Shawshank Redemption who has been wrongly imprisoned for the murder he didn’t commit of his wife and her golf-club lover. Prison Warden Norton uses Andy to run his financial scam empire. But Andy gets his own back – the Warden’s money, shoes and respect disappear down the dank hole Andy uses to escape to Mexico. Red Redding (Morgan Freeman), another Shawshank inmate, achieves self-actualisation in being able to make it on the outside with Andy’s help – even after 40 years of imprisonment.

What can we learn from all this?
Motivation is a very complex thing. It can mean different things to different people at different times. And its impact can be different too.

Only by understanding the need can it be satisfied. It’s that way in business too – that’s why psychology plays such a big part in marketing and sales. Take a good look at Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – if you understand them, you’ll understand much more about what motivates people.

Pandemics, then and now

Pandemics, then and now

Picture Source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/0d4d80a9-bef2-4de8-b6a9-bd15c8e5597b

Excerpted from a posting on Scientific American, here, by Scott Hershberger on 13th August 2020

The legacy of the 20th century’s deadliest pandemic shows how large groups remember—and forget—their shared past. In 1924, Encyclopædia Britannica published a two-volume history of the 20th century to that point. More than 80 authors—professors and politicians, soldiers and scientists—contributed chapters to These Eventful Years: The Twentieth Century in the Making as Told by Many of Its Makers. But the 1,300 pages of the book never mention the catastrophic influenza pandemic that had killed between 50 million and 100 million people worldwide only five years earlier. And many history textbooks in subsequent decades just note the 1918–1919 flu pandemic as an aside when discussing World War I, if at all.

Many popular museums and blockbuster movies recount the sinking of the Titanic and the Apollo moon missions. But there is barely a mention of the 1918 flu (often mistakenly referred to as the “Spanish flu”), which, although not entirely forgotten but forming a disproportionately small part of our society’s narrative of its past.

That such a devastating pandemic could become so dormant in our collective memory puzzled Guy Beiner, a historian at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, prompting him to spend decades researching its legacy. “We have an illusion. We believe that if an event is historically significant—if it affects many, many people, if it changes the fate of countries in the world, if many people die from it—then it will inevitably be remembered,” he says. “That’s not at all how it works. And the Spanish flu is exactly a warning for that.”

Historic UK (here) describes the ‘Spanish Flu’ pandemic of 1918 as one of the greatest medical disasters of the 20th century – a global pandemic, with an airborne virus which affected every continent. One of the first casualties was the King of Spain. Although not caused by World War I, it is thought that in the UK, the virus was spread by soldiers returning home from the trenches in northern France. Soldiers were becoming ill with what was known as ‘la grippe’, the symptoms of which were sore throats, headaches and a loss of appetite. Although highly infectious in the cramped, primitive conditions of the trenches, recovery was usually swift and doctors at first called it “three-day fever”.

The outbreak hit the UK in a series of waves, with its peak at the end of WW1. Returning from Northern France at the end of the war, the troops travelled home by train. As they arrived at the railway stations, so the flu spread from the railway stations to the centre of the cities, then to the suburbs and out into the countryside. Not restricted to class, anyone could catch it. Prime Minister David Lloyd George contracted it but survived.

Collective Memory
Pioneered in the early 20th century by sociologist Maurice Halbwachs, the study of collective memory has garnered widespread interest across the social sciences in recent years. Henry Roediger III, a psychologist at Washington University in St. Louis, defines collective memory as “how we remember ourselves as part of a group… that forms our identity.” Groups such as nations, political parties, religious communities and sports fandoms, he explains, weave events from their collective past into a narrative that reinforces individual members’ shared sense of who they are.

For the countries engaged in World War I, the global conflict provided a clear narrative arc, replete with heroes and villains, victories and defeats. From this standpoint, an invisible enemy such as the 1918 flu made little narrative sense. It had no clear origin, it killed otherwise healthy people in multiple waves and slinked away without being understood. Scientists at the time did not even know that a virus, not a bacterium, caused the flu.

“The doctors had shame,” Beiner says. “It was a huge failure of modern medicine.” The pandemic all but vanished from public discourse soon after it ended.

Unlike the 1918 flu, COVID-19 has had (thank goodness) no massive war with which to compete in memory. And science’s understanding of viruses has dramatically improved in the past century (although many COVID-19 mysteries remain).

The Titanic was on fire for days before it sank

The Titanic was on fire for days before it sank

The picture, above, is a screenshot from a British Pathé video Did Titanic Really Sink, which you can view by clicking here.

Another video, here, also from British Pathé, captures some of the only genuine footage available of the Titanic prior to it sinking, the rescue of survivors and The Mackay Bennet leaving Halifax in search of the dead.

The transatlantic Titanic was the largest ship of its time, but its life was very short. The first and only voyage of the ship began April 10, 1912, and ended 4 days later. This tragedy occurred on the night of April 14-15, 1912. When the Titanic crashed, at least 1,496 people died, making this disaster one of the largest shipwrecks in history. Among the passengers of the ship were some of the richest people in the world, as well as immigrants from Ireland, Great Britain and Scandinavia, who were heading to the United States in search of a better life.

Michelle Kiisa wrote on Quora.com that the Titanic was on fire for days before it sank. Almost everyone knows about the claims beforehand that the massive cruise liner ship was deemed “unsinkable”. The company that built it was so sure it wouldn’t sink that they didn’t bother with the necessary number of lifeboats. Regardless of the incident happening over a hundred years ago, its movie-like plot is still evolving. The popular explanation for the sinking is that the ship hit an iceberg.

But new information came to light in 2017 that the Titanic was on fire for days as it was sailing, possibly longer than that, according to The New York Times, here. [This information is supported in an article in The Independent on 1st January 2017, here].  A coal fire was burning below deck for days and the crew was unable to put it out. The ship sailed along anyway with a fire burning in the hull.

The fire was known about before the ship left Belfast with five men trying to put it out yet the only way to put out a coal fire in a bunker-like this was to put the burning coal into the ship’s furnace.

Coal fires are not the easiest to extinguish – take, for example, the coal fire in Centralia, Pennsylvania, a coal seam fire that broke out in a mine in the Northeast United States and has proven impossible to put out and it’s been burning since at least 27th May 1962.

The Titanic had several bulkheads designed to keep seawater from spreading in case of a hull breach and quite coincidentally,

coincidentally, the fire broke out right next to the main bulkhead with temperatures reaching around 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit causing it to be severely damaged. Yet by the time the fire was noticed, it could have been burning for weeks. The ship had been known to travel at full speed regardless of the warnings of icebergs, this could have been because of the excess coal being shovelled into the furnace non-stop for three days but we can’t be too sure, yet this could explain why it hit the iceberg at full speed.

When the iceberg hit, the Titanic’s designer was aboard the ship and evaluated the strike damage. Even at that time, he seemed to think the ship wouldn’t sink—as long as the bulkheads held up. If the Titanic could have stayed afloat for a few hours longer, the magnitude of the historic tragedy may have been averted with the bulkheads as the ship’s prime defence against the ocean.

The ship’s lack of lifeboats was rationalised because the Titanic itself was thought to be a lifeboat.

Now if you’re wondering why it left port in the first place with a fire raging below, Michelle Kiisa says that the company operating the Titanic was in deep financial trouble. The introduction of the Titanic had already been delayed and with her sister ship damaged, the Titanic needed to sail on schedule otherwise the company might have imploded. [The evidence to support that assertion is not in the Quora.com article.]

Despite the 2017 evidence, nobody can deny that the story of the Titanic is a tragedy that could have been avoided and the people onboard died needlessly horrible deaths. In the end, the only thing the new evidence indicates is a new level of negligence and risk-taking by those in charge.

British Geriatics Society (BGS)

British Geriatics Society (BGS)

Picture Credit: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/e/e2/James_Beck-1973.png

On their website, BGS have an interesting posting titled: As We Once Were: Wartime Rationing. It was authored by Michael Denham and published on 14th  November 2015, here.  The point is made that petrol was the first item rationed in 1939 but was eventually restricted to ‘official’ users only e.g. bus companies and farmers.

On 8th January 1940 butter, bacon and sugar rationing followed. Later meat, tea, jam, biscuits, breakfast cereals, cheese, eggs, lard, milk, canned and dried fruit joined the list. Babies, pregnant women and the sick were allocated additional food items such as milk, orange juice and cod liver oil. Domestic coal was rationed to 15 hundredweight in London and 20 hundredweight for those in the north. Anthracite was not rationed. All types of soap were rationed by weight or liquid quantity. Some families supplemented their rations with food parcels from friends living abroad.

By 1942, most foods were rationed except vegetables, bread, and fish. Lemons and bananas disappeared but oranges were occasionally available.  Cigarettes and tobacco were not rationed.

Strict controls produced a thriving ‘black market’: alcohol was in short supply, as Private Walker in Dad’s Army knew quite well.

From September 1939, newspapers were limited at first to 60% of their pre-war consumption of newsprint. Wrapping paper for most goods was prohibited. Whether rationed or not, many consumer goods, such as razor blades became difficult to obtain.

The government strongly encouraged ‘Growing your own fruit and vegetables’ with well-publicised ‘Dig for Victory’ campaigns and imaginative ideas about using potatoes. Women from the Women’s Land Army helped on farms. Recruitment was originally voluntarily but later conscription was introduced producing an army of over 80,000 women.

Allotments thrived with numbers reaching 1.4 million. Pigs, chickens and rabbits were reared domestically for meat. In 1940, the wastage of food became a criminal offence.


The history of the Last Post

The history of the Last Post

Picture Credit: “Playing last post Start of World War 1-2=” by Sheba_Also 17,000,000 + views is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Based on a story on BBC here

The Last Post was first published in the 1790s. It was just one of the two dozen, or so bugle calls sounded daily in British Army camps. The inspection would take about 30 minutes, and at the end there would be sounded the Last Post, the name simply confirming that the final sentry-post had been inspected. Traditionally, it is played on a bugle.

The sound of a lone bugler playing the Last Post has become one of the most distinctive sounds in the world. Eerie and evocative, it exists beyond all the usual barriers of nation, religion, race and class, charged with the memory of generations of the fallen.

But, from the 1850s onwards, it became customary for the regimental bugler to sound the Last Post over the grave of any soldier who died overseas, where often there was no other music available to accompany him on his final journey. Over time the custom was adopted at home as well as abroad and, by the time World War I broke out in 1914, it was routinely played at soldiers’ funerals.

The tune, which has gone from 45 seconds to 75 seconds, has also been played at the funerals of political leaders: this includes Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.

Read more on the story of the Last Post, here.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey

The Bridge of San Luis Rey

I see that The Bridge of San Luis Rey (Penguin Modern Classics) was published in paperback on 27th July 2020 and is available from Amazon, here.

The book was American author Thornton Wilder’s second novel, first published in 1927 to worldwide acclaim. It tells the story of several interrelated people who die in the collapse of an Inca rope bridge in Peru, and the events that lead up to their being on the bridge.  In the story, a priest tries to find the connection between the five people killed by the unexpected collapse of the Bridge of San Luis Rey (on 20th July 1714) and his faith in God. For his efforts to see a link between the character of a person and the sudden, premature death brought on by calamity, he is burned at the stake for heresy.

The book won the 1928 Pulitzer Prize for the Novel, and remains widely acclaimed as Wilder’s most famous work.

In 2004, the company for which my role was Operations Director, financed and produced the film based on the book. The film was directed by Mary McGuckian and had a stellar cast including: F. Murray Abraham, Kathy Bates, Gabriel Byrne, Geraldine Chaplin, Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel.

There’s a theatrical trailer available online, here.

All Hands to the Pump or Wheel or Grindstone… and the ‘Bevin Boys’

All Hands to the Pump or Wheel or Grindstone… and the ‘Bevin Boys’

Picture Credit: “File:Clement Attlee.jpg” by Winterbergen is licensed under CC0 1.0

In 1940, Clement Attlee (see picture above), the Labour leader in Churchill’s wartime cabinet, urged everyone to stay calm and continue in his or her job until ordered to do otherwise. Attlee took Labour into the wartime coalition government in 1940 and he served under Winston Churchill, initially as Lord Privy Seal and then as Deputy Prime Minister from 1942. After the end of the war, the coalition was dissolved and Attlee led Labour to a landslide victory at the 1945 general election,

This was at a time when the government had won the right to direct any adult aged between 14 and 65 into some kind of employment. By 1942, Labour Minister, Ernest Bevin had mobilised 22 million workers and troops, causing the News Chronicle to reflect Today: ‘no country in the world has ever mobilised its manpower to this extent’, and went on, ‘that only about 350,000 men and women were directed into jobs they hadn’t chosen’. Perhaps this was government propaganda!

In May 1940, Parliament had rushed through, in three hours, the Emergency Powers Act, which gave the government unlimited authority over every person and all property in the land. Banks, munitions, industry, wages and profits where there were powers to impose 100% tax.

All strikes were banned under Order 1305, of July 1940, but there were some stoppages later in the war, in aircraft production, coal and shipbuilding. Many over seemingly trivial matters such as canteen facilities, but important when one considers the long hours and general pressures people were working under.

One concern was the abolition of differentials between skilled and unskilled being watered-down with new recruits of both sexes receiving the same, admittedly, good money.

The Imperial War Museum website summarises the position, here:
From early 1941, it became compulsory for women aged between 18 and 60 to register for war work. Conscription of women began in December. Unmarried ‘mobile’ women between the ages of 20 and 30 were called up and given a choice between joining the services or working in industry.  Pregnant women, those who had a child under the age of 14 or women with heavy domestic responsibilities could not be made to do war work, but they could volunteer. ‘Immobile’ women, who had a husband at home or were married to a serviceman, were directed into local war work. As well as men and women carrying out paid war work in Britain’s factories, there were also thousands of part-time volunteer workers contributing to the war effort on top of their everyday domestic responsibilities. Other vital war work was carried out on the land and on Britain’s transport network.

Those in vital industries were kept there by Bevin’s, 1941 Essential Work Orders (EWO), which affected eight million workers. It also stopped sacking in key industries, shipbuilding, engineering, aircraft work, railways and the building trade, where conditions were eased by better rates of pay. Women played a vital part in all areas of war work as the Daily Telegraph reported in May, of a New Register of Women for War Work.

Some 400,000 women of the 1920 Class registered under the Registration for Employment Order and would be entered on a National Work Register, and to consider what they wanted to do including uniformed services.

However, women would not be taken away from useful employment, such as looking after evacuees, and those running homes and looking after children weren’t expected to move. The EWO could be blamed for a decline in production especially in coal, which fell every year of the War, though loss of young manpower and long shifts must have contributed.

The shortage of manpower was improved later by a ballot of men which allocated many to work in mining: the Bevin Boys.

Picture Credit: [Cropped] “File:Bevin Boys memorial, National Memorial Arboretum (1).JPG” by Harry Mitchell is licensed under CC BY 4.0

Source: https://dailybritain.wordpress.com/tag/essential-work-order/

The RAF’s 100th birthday and the Bouncing Bomb

The RAF’s 100th birthday and the Bouncing Bomb

The badge of the Royal Air Force is the heraldic emblem used to represent the RAF which features an eagle superimposed on a circlet that is surmounted by a crown. The badge was based on a design by a tailor at Gieves Ltd of Savile Row. The Royal Air Force Ensign is the official flag that is used to represent the Royal Air Force. The ensign has a field of air force blue with the United Kingdom’s flag in the canton and the Royal Air Force’s roundel in the middle of the fly.

The Royal Air Force (RAF) was founded by the amalgamation of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service and was controlled by the British Government Air Ministry which had been established three months earlier. It is the United Kingdom’s aerial warfare force. It was formed towards the end of the First World War on 1 April 1918.

Following the Allied victory in 1918, the RAF emerged as the largest air force in the world at the time.

After the First World War, the RAF was reduced in size and during the inter-war years was used to “police” the British Empire.

The RAF underwent rapid expansion prior to and during the Second World War. During the war it was responsible for the aerial defence of Great Britain, the strategic bombing campaign against Germany and tactical support to the British Army around the world.

During the Cold War, the main role of the RAF was the defence of the continent of Europe against potential attack by the Soviet Union, including holding the British nuclear deterrent for a number of years. After the end of the Cold War, the RAF took part in several large-scale operations, including the Gulf War, the Kosovo War, the War in Afghanistan, and the Iraq War.

For more information, see here.

The Bouncing Bomb
The August 2020 edition of Surrey Life (here) had an interesting and very human story about Barnes Wallis and the bouncing bomb he invented.  Barnes Wallis designed the “Bouncing Bomb” (code name: Upkeep) for Operation Chastise, the attack on Germany’s Ruhr Valley dams. That Operation was carried out on 16th 17th May 1943 by Royal Air Force No. 617 Squadron, later called the Dam Busters. The bombs were given their name because they could skip on water and avoid torpedo nets, before sinking and becoming a depth charge.

Although the Lancaster was primarily a night bomber, it excelled in many other roles, including daylight precision bombing: in the latter role, some Avro Lancasters were adapted to carry the 12,000 lb (5,443 kg) Tallboy and, ultimately, the 22,000 lb (9,979 kg) Grand Slam “earthquake” bombs (also designed by Barnes Wallis).

You can see a video here taken from the 1955 classic war movie ‘The Dambusters’. Wing Commander Guy Gibson’s Lancaster crew attacked the Mohne dam while under fire from the dam’s defences. The late actor Richard Todd, who portrayed Wing Commander Gibson in this movie, was himself a veteran of WW2, having taken part in the capture of Pegasus Bridge in the early hours of D-Day, as a member of the Parachute Regiment.

The picture (bottom left) is a screenshot from the film.

Sad to note: Commander Gibson continued to fly and was killed in action while on another raid over Germany, his plane crashing in the Netherlands on 19th September 1944. He was only 26 years of age.