Sunday, 27 September 2015

Why I am reading my Electricity And Magnetism Text Book Again


Why I am reading my Electricity And Magnetism Text Book Again

As ever when I start one thing it leads to another. We Were taking a short break in North Norfolk and our host had built a personal philosophy based on his layman understanding of General Relativity and Quantum Physics.

General Relativity

This inspired me to look again at some of my physics which I studied at London University in the late 1960s. I remember that Special Relativity was mathematically easy but General Relativity was deemed to be much harder. According to the Times Reporter who covered Einstein’s lecture in London ‘there are only three people in the world who understood it’. I was told this by my lecturer in 1967 and assumed it to be true. However according to Simon Singh in his book The Big Bang Theory this was written by The Times Sports Reporter who was standing in for their Science Reporter who was on holiday. Oh, and he did not even go to the lecture but chose to spend the time in a London pub where he wrote his report.

Quantum Mechanics

Quantum Mechanics was taught in my final year as an undergraduate but had little appeal for me. I was and still am only capable of learning topics when I can follow a logical argument and in Physics this usually meant understanding the mathametical basis. I am no good at learning “parrot fashion” and found that when in exams I would always falter at the point I relied on just memory and not logic. For these reasons I quickly decided that in my endeavour for my Hon.s degree I would be better off skipping the Quantum Mechanis lecture and concentrating on other topics. The tactic was succesful in achieving my short term goal but unfortunate in the long term as Quantum Mechanics features heavily in present day science. Free of any need to pass exams and approaching 70 it is well past time I looked into this.

Special Theory of Relativity Postulates

Before delving into the details I thought I would read Why E=MC2? by Brian Cox & Jeff Foreshaw

which was a Christmas present yet to be read. I assumed it would be good overview of modern thinking but teach would me ittle new. I was wrong.

Einstein’s Special Relativity deals with Frames of Reference in constant motion whereas his General Theory includes Frames of Reference that can be accelerating. Einstein’s two postulates for Special Realtivity are :

  1. There is no preffered frame of reference.
  2. The velocity of light is the same in all frames of reference and independent of the velocity of its source.

There is no preffered frame of reference.

The first postulate is no great deal, already discussed way back by Galileo. Basically movement is relative to something which appears stationary. You drop a pen in a plane it lands at your feet but to an observer on the ground if he could have seen it it would have travelled in an arc. An observer on Mars whould see a more complicated path, and so on.

The velocity of light is the same in all frames of reference.

The second postulate for me was more surprising. Fire a missile capable of travelling a 100 mph from a plane which is travelling at 500 mph means that the missile will travel at 600 mph. If the missile is aimed at an approaching plane travelling towards you at 500 mph then the missile is travelling towards the target at 1100 mph.

Not so with light. Using a similar example as before, but this time the planes travel at half the speed of light c/2 and the weapon uses light. To the attacker the light travels away at c and not 3c/2. To the target the light also approaches as c and not 2c (c/2 + c +c/2).

This is hard to accept at first but from these simple postulates you can derive all the equations concerning the changes in time, length and mass with increased velocity and also E=mc2.

I never understood how Einstein made this apparent leap concerning the independence of the speed of light but this was where Brian Cox and John Foreshaw book helps.

Maxwell’s Equations

Maxwell’s equations describe how electric and magnetic fields are generated and altered by each other and by charges and currents. They were the culmination of the Electricity and Magnetism lectures.

I recall they express mathematically electro-magnateic waves that cover the whole spectrum from gamma rays, x-rays, ultra-violet, visible light, infra-red, micro-waves, short band, medium band etc. These various wavelengths all share the same speed, c and Cox and Foreshaw state that these equations show that c is a physical constant and independent of its frame of reference. Was this why Einstein specified his second postulate?

Anyway I enjoy this type of physics so I thought I would lok again at Electricity and Magnetism and being free of exams enjoy the exploration of the maths that accompany it. The text book I am reading is by W. J. Duffin published in 1965 (1st Edition), contemporary with my undergraduate days.

Michelson-Morley Experiment

At the end of the 19th Century shortly after the publication of Maxwell’s Equations the scientific world could not accept that light waves could travel througout the universe without a media to support it. They named this media ether and also hoped it would prove to be a preferred frame of reference.

Michelson-Morley performed an experiment to measure the earths movement through the ether in an elaborate version of the age old problem of swimming up and down stream of a river compared to swimming across and back. The stream was the earth’s orbit at opposite sides of it’s orbit and the swimmer was light. A brief description of this can be found at Michelson-Morley Experiment

The experiment revealed no effect at all and so the existance of ether was dismissed, and with it the hope of finding a preferred frame of reference.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

New Bike, Carbon Fibre and Rolls Royce

New Bike, Carbon Fibre and RR

Although my cycling experience and ability, and being aged 68, I could not justly forking out the cash for a new carbon frame bicycle I thought "To hell with it!" and a couple of weeks ago I took possession of a Ridley Fenix  complete with Ultegra Group Set (gears sprocket, brakes and levers). Ridley is small Belgium company. I bought it from a small specialist shop in Pershore called Echolon Where the staff are all keen cyclist and full of good advise.

20150821-DSCF9895 Ridley Fenix Carbon Frame Shimano Ultegra Fulcrum LG 5 Bicycle LC Worcestershire.jpg

Value and Price

You only have to watch TV programmes like Antiques Roadshow and Fake or Fortune to realise we all value things differently. I also believe that we instinctually search in others for similar beliefs and behaviour to reinforce our own and suspect, and sometimes get angry, with those that differ. We all can see on our news the effects of differing religious beliefs. I now make a conscious effort to accept that we are all different but essentially equal.

Some people enjoy spending their money on wine, cuisine, clothes, cruising, cars, watches, antiques, horses. None of these excite me but that does not make them wrong. I spend my pocket money on cameras, technology and now cycles.

My new bike cost approx. £1600. To a minority of people this will seem cheap, but to most it will appear extravagant. You can buy what the general public call racers new for less than £200 or you can spend £8000+ on standard design road bikes before you venture into tailor made bikes when prices can be higher.

The First Rides Experiences


When researching which bike to buy all the shop assistants I spoke to claimed that I would find a carbon fibre frame and forks bike not only quicker but also more comfortable and easier to ride. This was certainly my experience when I cycled 28 miles around Bredon Hill. On my Trek aluminium framed hybrid bike I kept a keen look out for pot holes and drains to make sure I was out of the seat before being hit through the saddle. This is much less of an issue with the Ridley and increasingly I just remain seated.


The next thing noticed was how stable it was on the road. I had to make a quick serve to the left to avoid a car that decided to overtake a parked car as I as approaching. A quick jink and the bike was back into a straight direction in no time. I also found cornering much less scary when taken at speed.


This was a surprise. I do not race and my pleasure in cycling is just to be out in the countryside on my own. However there are times when you need to get out of the dangers of cars, say at traffic lights and even worse roundabouts. It is then when I realised how easy it was to accelerate clear. Also when flagging on a hill a quick burst out of the saddle will soon get the momentum up.

When buying the bike the guys at Echolon told me that weight was not the most important features of a bike, these were frame geometry and wheel weight. As they told me wheels act as fly-wheels which you have to get up to speed, hence the lighter they are the quicker they respond. I imagine this is an important factor in the improved acceleration.

My wheels are Fulcrum Racing 5 LG, which are a big improvement for me, but to put this in perspective I have compared prices for a wheel sets using the large online company Wiggle. My Fulcrum wheels are £165, Fulcrum top model wheels are £1,175 and the most expensive Wiggle sell are £2,475!

Group Set

The gears, brakes, sprockets and levers are Shimano Ultegra, only exceeded in the Shimano range by Dura Ace and I was expecting a real treat. They are the 2 x 11 gears, so the first advantage is when struggling up a hill I cannot mistakenly put the driving sprocket in the wrong direction so losing all my inertia, which I have often done on my other bike which has Shimano Deore gears in a 3 x 8 configuration.

In general the system works well, gears change smoothly, brakes work well but the one niggle I have is the gear change requires much large movement of the controls than on my much cheaper Deore system.

The gear levers are combined with the brake levers and have two parts, one the main brake lever itself which you move sideways towards the frame to change up to a bigger sprocket, and a smaller lever embedded into the back of the brake lever which you also move sideways towards the frame to change to a smaller sprocket.

Somethings I have learned about the system:
  1. Big lever to change to bigger sprocket, small lever to change to smaller sprocket.
  2. This means that when using big lever for the front driving cog you are changing up to a higher ratio (more speed more effort) and for the rear the reverse (less speed less effort).
    The reverse is true when using the smaller lever.

  3. The big lever for the rear has two very subtle clicks, the first after a shorter movement changes down one gear but if you continue moving the lever in a single action it will change down two gears. Good when you need to drop down suddenly as the hill is proving difficult to climb.
  4. There is a mysterious trim movement on the front changers. My pal from Oz is visiting in the next few days, now he is a lifelong serious cyclist and I hope he will explain this to me, but in the meantime I discovered this advice on the web

Ultegra Front Derailleur Trim Options

Your 6800 front derailleur cage will start at the very bottom. (small lever clicked until the cage doesn't move anymore)
Now you swing your big lever up 1 click (actually a half-click) and the cage has moved from the small chain ring's "inner" most position to its "outer" most position.
Now swing your big lever up 1 full-click to jump up to the large chain ring. You are now in the large chain ring's "outer" most position. Click your small lever a light click (half-click) and you notice the chain did NOT jump down to the small chain ring. You are now in the "inner" most position of the large chain ring.
From here, when you do one full-click down on the small lever now, it will jump to the small chain ring and you will be in the "outer" most position of the small chain ring. One more small click and you are now back home to the "inner" most position of the small chain ring again.
All this to keep you from rubbing against the front derailer cage in either chain ring depending on which gears (mostly inner or mostly outer) you are in.

Rolls Royce and Carbon Fibre - 1968

My new bike is the first carbon fibre I have owned but I did see carbon fibre being produced at RR. I joined RR after graduating from London University in 1968 as a Graduate Trainee.

RR had just won the first ever major contract to supply a USA plane manufacturer of jet air liners, Lockheed Trident. To ensure that the American Congress did not veto the contract Lockheed emphasised that the main reason they chose RR was because the wonder material, carbon fibre, was being used to manufacture the very large fan blades on the RR RB211.

The material was made in what appeared to be a very large horizontal food mixer with black molasses looking mixture be stirred and then pulled out into threads. The whisk was about 2 meters square.

In the end the RB211 did not use carbon fibre and the fans were built in titanium. Anyway the real reason Lockheed chose RR was because it was the first large commercial triple shaft turbo-jet engine but this would be difficult to explain to Congress. I will make this the subject of a future blog.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

How History Was Beaten Into Me

How History Was Beaten Into Me

School - Sharmans Cross

I started at Sharmans Cross High School For Boys in Shirley, Solihull in 1958, aged 11. Now do not get confused about it being called a High School, for in Solihull you needed to fail your 11+ to qualify, unlike Redditch High School which I went to when 16, where you needed to pass your 11+, but that is a different story.

Sharmans Cross had 950 boys and in my baby boom year there were 8 classes of 38 boys in each class. I was in the top class so goodness knows what it was like to be in the lower reaches.

History Lessons

In the four years I was at this school we had the same history teacher. His technique was simple, we were given a text book, told to read a chapter and towards the end of the hour lesson we would close our books and he would open his and ask us a series of questions. You were required to answer a minimum of 60% questions correctly in the first year when aged 11 to 12 an amount that increased by 5% each academic year. Fail to do this and you had to go to the front of the class to be slippered. This meant you bent down and touched your toes and then the teacher would hit your bum with one or two strokes with the sole of a large pump (plimsoll). Slippering was a lot less feared than the cane which was reserved for more serious misdemeanours although a few more sadistic teachers never bothered with the slipper but reached immediately for the cane.

Now I realise this is not a good or perhaps now even legal method of teaching but back in the late 50s and early 60s we never questioned it. We did however develop a tactic to reduce the chances of being hit.

The diagram above shows the layout of the classroom. Note the boy at Desk 28 balanced the history book on his knees beneath the desk. He got 100% every week. His answers were copied by the boys in his row and also the row behind. The answer was whispered to a boy in the row before 28 and so the answers were propagated around the class. The accuracy of these answers diminished as they travelled, similar to the game of Chinese Whispers so those further away would sometimes fail to meet the mark and be slippered.

I sat in the back row so escaped but the poor lad who sat at Desk 1 had no chance and I can see and hear the teacher even now saying "It's always you Youngblood" (not his real name, but close) as he bent over and touched his toes.

None of us thought of complaining, not that it would have done any good. The teacher was quite decent and never laid it on hard. He was probably bored with the lesson as much as we were and looked forward to his fag in the staff room whilst we looked forward to 20 minutes of mayhem in the playground.

The only time I can recall him beating me was when I tried to eat an apple. "Are you eating Tallis" he yelled. I swallowed the piece of apple and replied "Not now sir." He was not amused and I was summoned to the front and given a couple of blows.

The sad thing is I can only remember one thing from the 4 years he taught us and this was one of the rare occasions when he picked up chalk and wrote on the blackboard. It was about Charlemagne and the extent of his empire.

Change of School - Ridgeway

In the 4th year just after my 15th birthday we moved to a Worcestershire village which meant changing school. Ridgeway was much more rural orientated and only one third the size. The classes were smaller, about 30 in a class which made a bit of difference but the fact that half of them were girls made a big difference.

Mr. Lippet was our teacher and he could not have been more different. I believe he was a Baptist lay preacher, but I may be wrong on this. He controlled the class effortlessly, never spoke down to us and the thought of him beating any pupil was unimaginable. We were studying social history and I remember many small points of interest he talked about. For example he discussed with us why a man who works many hours of hard labour still works in his own garden afterwards, a mixture of necessity and the satisfaction of working for oneself he believed.

Eighteen months later I spent a day in glorious sunshine sitting on the flat roof of the local Observer Corp building on top of a hill just outside our village cramming history dates before tomorrow's O-level exam. Around me are Bredon Hill, Malvern Hills, Abberley Hill and in the distance the Clee Hills and beneath me swallows catch insects just above the grass.

It must have helped as I managed to pass the exam quite well with a grade 2, in those days grade 6 was the minimum pass level. This went towards the five passes I needed to qualify for a place in Redditch High School 6th form to study for A-level. At the time I did not realise going into the local grammar school was possible, it was only a chance remark by someone asking my father if I had started at the school that made us aware of the possibility. Dad made an appointment to see the headmaster and I started a week after the term had begun.


Friday, 24 July 2015

Childhood Speech Impediment, Maybe?

I have already described two minor problems of my childhood, colour blindness and short sightedness, and now for the third and final problem, which was many people could not understand what I said.

My older brother said I did not talk until I was two, and since then I have never stopped.

No one in the family seemed to have any problems in understanding me, nor Ricky my pal from across the street who was just two and half weeks older than me. So all was well until I went to school.

I was quite keen to learn and shine at school when five years old and so was often the first to shoot up a hand to answer teacher's question. If the teacher chose me I would immediately give the answer and the teacher would then ask Ricky what had I said and he would tell her. Now the only problem to me was I had to wait a bit longer for the teacher's response, praise or correction.

Things must have been worse than I realised because suddenly I was being taken to a speech clinic on Friday afternoons. Now this did bother me, Friday afternoon at our school was play time, you were given access to a cupboard full of toys and you chose whatever you liked. I had to go with mum, catch the bus and go to this mysterious place in Solihull.The clinician decided the root of my problem were my tonsils and the solution was to have them cut out.

I remember a lot about my stay in the children's hospital. First night two of the bigger boys got us all to bang on our bedside cupboard and shout until we saw the door being opened and then to pretend to be asleep before the nurse walked into the ward.

The day of the operation I was put into a white shroud, a "tea-strainer" placed over my nose and mouth and told to count to ten. I managed to get to seven. But I also remember waking up in a "kitchen" lying on the "table" with people in white coats all around me. On went the "tea-strainer" again and I was told to breath in and out a couple of times. I woke up with a sore throat, but this meant I qualified for ice cream meals for the next 24 hours.

Afterwards I still had to go to the speech clinic but Solihull told us that there was a new one opened in Shirley which we now were to go to. So off we went a week later. I was handed a book and told to read what I could from the page. I can see the scene plainly today 63 years later. He said "Nothing wrong with you, you just talk too quick. No need to come again."

I cannot recall any problems since with people misunderstanding me. Most of my working years were with IBM, first as a systems engineer and then a salesman, both involved giving countless talks and presentations and no one complained.

The closest was when I was in hall in the second year of university. Around the table were people from all around the country, Yorkshire, Geordies, Londoners, Welsh and others. I commented that I was the only one without an accent. I was quickly corrected and told that I had the strongest accent of all being a brumie.

So of my three childhood problems, allthough problem is really too negative and strong a word, this one was false, short sight was corrected as a result of cataracts at an older age so only colour blindness remains. This is common in many people, especially males, so really I have nothing to complain about.

Monday, 20 July 2015

First Time Birds

First Time Birds

We are just back (July 2015) from Orkney where I managed to spot 49 different birds (see Orkney 2015 Nature for details). These included some good birds, Arctic Terns, skuas, both Arctic and Great and Hen Harriers plus the bonus of Ospreys and Golden Eagles as we drove back to Worcestershire. However the only bird new to me was a close up view of a Willow Warbler. This started me thinking of when I first noticed various birds.

I have always been keen on birds. Well before the web, even well before the existence of PCs, way back in the fifties I can recall my Mum identifying garden birds that revealed themselves through the French Windows as we sat by the radio for "Listen With Mother". Robin, 'Jenny' Wren, Bluetit, House Sparrow, Song Thrush etc. So there follows just a few recollections on the first time I saw, or to be more exact, recognised a particular bird. The first few are early memories and the latter ones are more recent.

Childhood firsts


140429-DSC06507 Lapwing Upton Warren Worcestershire.jpg

I was 11-12 years old and together with school pal Michael we were walking through the fields that 55 years ago were just outside Shirley, Solihull towards Earlswood. We noticed a large black and white bird take off and wheel about in what appeared an uncoordinated and jerky flight as it circled around us. Our interest changed to trepidation as it suddenly dived in our direction calling out peewit and continue to do so getting close to our heads until we hot-footed it to the hedge.

"I reckon that's a Green Plover" Mike said and indeed so it was.

February 1962 we moved to a village in south-east Worcestershire and the Lapwing was a common sight. Local farmer I worked for in my holidays had on occasions to stop his tractor to move a Lapwing's nest out of harms way. Mid-summer the Lapwings would gather together into a large flock of 50+ birds centred on Worcester Corner half a mile outside our village, a lovely sight but one of the first signs that autumn will follow summer. This no longer happens alas. In the last twenty years or so I can only recall seeing a flock there for a few days 4 years ago. Still you can always find them at the excellent Worcestershire Nature Trust reserve at Upton Warren between Droitwich and Bromsgrove.

House Martin

On the Stratford Road through Shirley is a public house, The Plume Of Feathers, and a colony of House Martins had set up home in its eaves. An easy bird to recognise, even if like me you are colour blind, with its short forked tail and white rump.

I read that House Martins would leave there nests before dawn en masse and fly skywards to greet the morning sun. This I must see but being only 10 years old I had to do it secretly as my mum would not let me out at 4.00 am. I arranged to go with my trusted pal Ricky who lived across the croft.

I got up at the appointed hour, crept down stairs and let myself out quietly making sure I left the back door locked and secure. Across the road I threw gravel at Ricky's bedroom window until he appeared bleary eyed at the window shaking his head and then disappeared. So I set off on my own down the croft through the cinder driveway onto Stratford Road and around the corner to 'The Plume'. I stood, cold, in the car park watching the eaves for about an hour when suddenly out popped a House Martin which flew a 20 yard circumference back into its nest. After a further half hour no other bird appeared and I had had enough so set off back home to the warmth.

But of course the back door was locked. Now I was thoroughly fed-up and it was still not 6.00 am. Luckily my elder brother's shed was not locked and I let myself in and sat on his wooden chair surrounded by machine tools and engine parts and managed a fitful slumber until my mother appeared in the kitchen window.

When we moved to the village, now 15, I was so pleased when a pair of House Martins built their mud nest in the apex of our new house. Now fifty years later the village has many more houses but the House Martins have thrived and we have colonies in both of the small estates either side of the main road.


When I was about 7 years old Dad took us to meet one of his pals, probably a fellow radio ham, who lived a few miles into the country in, what I would now describe as, a Gamekeeper's Cottage surrounded by fields and next to a large hen house. The smell of silage often triggers off memories of this place. He had a caged red and yellow small song bird which I am sorry to say was a captured Goldfinch.

I did not see another one until after we moved to the countryside and thankfully this was a pair in the wild feeding on thistles on the side of the lane. About ten years ago I noticed a flock, or to use its special noun a charm of Goldfinches gathering in the autumn evening in the same tree, about 30 all together. There numbers have increased over the years and I now seldom go up the garden without seeing one and they certainly out number the other finches, even Chaffinch and Greenfinch.

20150715-DSCF8684 Penguin The Hand Guide To The Birds Of New Zealand.jpg 20150715-DSCF8687 Goldfinch Page Penguin The Hand Guide To The Birds Of New Zealand.jpg

I took early retirement in 2000 and the next year went on our first trip to New Zealand. I purchased the NZ Observer Book of Birds in preparation for a new list of sightings. We had flown into Christchurch and the first full day my first birds were soon spotted, a colourful and tuneful pair high in the branches. I soon had them in the binoculars, or binos as the Ozs and Kiwis call them, and I immediately recognised them, yes a pair of Goldfinches!


When very young I spent a night or two with my paternal grandparents, not sure why, in Witton Birmingham. My granddad was from Dursley Gloucestershire, an athlete as a young man, walked to Birmingham and became an ace tool maker. He was also an ace gardner winning Best Gardener In Birmingham at least a couple of times. I was in his garden, miserable and missing my Mum, when I came face to face with a large dragonfly. Insects are not supposed to be this big and I was terrified and rushed indoors even more miserable. After 30 minutes my Granddad past a message via Nan saying he had something to show me. I feared it was that wretched dragonfly but crept out to him. Not a dragonfly but a couple of gardens away he pointed to a kestrel motionless in the sky.

Kestrels became a common sight over the years flourishing along the motorway verges but recently I have seen less although things are just beginning to improve.

More recent firsts

The excitement of adding a new bird to your list is not just a childhood joy, I still get a kick even now in my late 60s


140429-DSC06686 Avocet Upton Warren Worcestershire.jpg

Every year we celebrate New Year with three other couples going away for a week to different parts of the country. About eight years ago we went to Old Hunstanton in North Norfolk, a part of the country my wife and I visit regularly, and one of the days we visited Cley Reserve. They have an excellent cafe overlooking the reserve and on this day we were rewarded several hundred Golden Plovers flying over the water. Amongst this cloud of birds I spotted a few black and white birds flying determinedly in straight lines amongst them in a territorial manner. Could they be? I was getting excited and taking advantage of the scopes available yes they were my first sightings of an Avocet.

I have now seen at least 100 Avocets so probably had seen but not recognised them before. In fact in that same year I started to regularly visit the Worcestershire Upton Warren Reserve near Droitwich, just a 10 mile cycle ride away, and discovered Avocets had been nesting on the Salt Flashes there for quite a few years. The advantage of Upton Warren are the hides are close to the birds so now I have more photos of Avocets than any other bird.

This year (2015) we were again in North Norfolk in spring and on an evening walk around the marshes from Blakeney to Cley a brave Avocet mobbed me for several minutes no doubt I was close to it's young.

On this same walk we also saw a first as described below.

Bearded Tit

This year (2015), as mentioned above, we were again in North Norfolk in spring and went for an evening walk around the marshes from Blarney to Cley. We were approaching the road into Cley with reed beds either side where a young man was standing listening and watching.

We fell into conversation and he told us he had heard Bearded Tits here that afternoon and had returned with his binoculars to see if he could find them and had. First he identified the call, a high metallic "tchkk, tchkk" we could hear. Then he pointed to the various birds which I could only see fleetingly when they flew from one side of the path to the other-side. My wife spotted them in the reed beds before me. My problem was I was looking 3 to 5 yards into the reed but they were only a yard away on the edge of the reed bed, as soon as I realised this I also began to spot them all around.

My childhood Observer Book Of Birds had a very affectionate photo of these birds.

20150715-DSCF8675-Edit Bearded Tit Page from Observer Book Of Birds.jpg

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Short Sightedness

I did not realise I was short sighted at first, but with hind sight I can now recognise the signs.

First was when Ricky, my pal from across the street, and I went every week to the children's matinee at our local Odeon cinema, known affectionately as the Six Penny Rush. Before each feature the British Board Of Censors certificate was shown on the big screen. I could never read the small letters and would ask Ricky "What's on next?". After the certificate the big title screens which I could read easily would confirm what Ricky said.

Apart from this I can not recollect any more signs in my early life. There was however one strange visit to the doctors I remember well. I could only have been around eight years old but I was aware that I felt strange, as if I was viewing life through a television and I had a feeling that things were actually smaller than they were. Perhaps my subconscious was telling me something was amiss.

I cannot remember when I first had specs. but it must have been when I was about 12 or 13, this I know because of fighting. I went to a large secondary modern school in Shirley near Solihull which was all boys and over 900 of them. One was expected to stand your ground if challenged and fight your corner. There was no disgrace in losing a fight only in refusing. Now I was just under average height for the time but I never refused a fight, never went looking for one either. I soon was one of the boys you did not bother with. However when I started wearing specs. my confidence took a dip and I think this was because for the first time I could see the determination and aggression in my opponents eyes, whereas before my short sightedness would blur this intensity. I did not turn weak overnight but I distinctly remember the change.

Another indicator of my age is given by Arthur Ransome books. I read them all at least twice before I was 13. There were a brother and sister in the later stories, Dick and the Diana I think we're their names. Dick was a keen bird watcher, as was I. When he spotted a distant bird one of the adults said he was very keen eyed and observant even though he wore specs and this simple sentence gave me solace.

At the age of 15 we moved into the Worcestershire countryside and I went to a much smaller mixed school. OK there was a couple of scraps to establish my position in the pecking order amongst the other boys but now this was secondary to trying to impress the girls. Therefore the specs. came off when not needed to see the black board.

At 17 I took my driving test for motor bike and the eye test involved reading a number plate a set distance away. As we walked out to the Test Centre the examiner pointed to a car and asked me the registration number. Well I got that wrong, I was still not wearing glasses all the time, see previous paragraph. "Never mind" he said and pointed to one half the distance "Try that one." This I managed.

At a regular checkup the local optician was horrified to think I was riding my motorbike without glasses and strongly recommended that I do so in the future, so I began to wear them permanently.

Shortly after this I started playing rugby for both the school and the local market town and for the first time I began to regret my poor eyesight. I have in an earlier post described how being colour blind had unfortunate effect on my playing and so did my short sight. A couple of examples:-

I confess that I run most of my life on the cusp of lateness. This particular away game was somewhere in Birmingham on a large municipal site with several pitches used by more than one club. I had arrived a little late on my motorbike and was the last to leave the changing rooms which were on a rise above the pitches. Now my team mates knew that with the combination of colour blindness and short sight I would have difficulty locating them. As I scanned over the various games I homed in on one team jumping into the air and waving, there they were.

Embarrassed at keeping them waiting I set off at a quick trot down the slope and across the unused cricket pitch. Suddenly my motion was arrested and I was stuck by the palm of my right hand and the top of my left leg, luckily just below my testicles, on barb wire which was unseen all around and protecting the cricket pitch. Quick reverse and scamper around the square, grab a piece of mud to plug the tear in my hand and ready to start. 

This second example is a home game. I spent three years at London University but came home every third weekend to see my girlfriend. When my local rugby club were short the club would ring my folks on the off chance I was home. As mentioned in another blog entry for a small guy I was a surprisingly effective tackler, good job because I was pretty ordinary otherwise, and so occasionally I would fill in as  fullback. In this game I found myself facing a burley forward charging down on me, the try line behind and only me to stop him. Then one of their players crashed into him and peeled off to his left with the ball. Quick change of direction and I nailed him saving a certain try, but on regaining my feet  know congratulatory remarks from any team mates.

 I looked at my opponent lay full length on the pitch with his head in his hand, elbows in the mud who calmly said “I don’t mind Rod but it was a bit of a shock.” It was our stand off! At least between us the try was averted.

The above photo shows me removing the engine from my van which I had written off by going over country crossroads on a grey raining day in the path of an old Morris Minor, also a write off, probably a result of poor eye sight or maybe just carelessness. Anyway sum value of both cars at the then 1967 rate was about £25.00.  Note the specs.

Throughout most of my adult life being short sighted did not bother me. When I was about 50 and having a bit more disposable income I started collecting classical cameras. Specs were a hinderance then as most of the viewfinders on older classical cameras had a very short eye-point, the distance you place the eye from the glass. Now my correction was -5 and -6 dioptres and if the camera had a dioptre adjustment it typically was +2 to -1. Therefore to determine what the camera was capturing meant pushing the camera up to my specs and moving it about so that I could see into every corner. This tended to reap havoc with the surface of my glasses. Incidentally  this made the better TLR (Twin Lens Reflex) attractive as I the bigger screen was viewed from much further back and the Rolleiflex is a great camera as well.

Of course being short sighted means you can see things up close extremely well. So when needed I would just peer above glasses to get a great detailed view.  In my earlier days my party piece was to read a Bible with the page pressed against the end of my nose. When my record player, which was being played less and less as the industry moved to tape, and then CD,  sounded awful the cause usually was dust behind the needle. I was surprised when inspecting this less my specs that I could not focus on the needle from the customary three inches. I know that older people, a group I was joining, often need glasses to read. I had hoped this was because the ageing process caused people to become long sighted and therefore as I grow older it would be an advantage. Alas no, it is caused by the eye muscles losing strength and not being able to focus the lens as close. So instead of getting better I had to start having two sets of spectacles, one for normal viewing and the other for reading which was like the former but with reduced strength making it equivalent to the positive lens for normal sighted people.

But there was to be a cure for my short sight and this came in 2010 when I was 63 with the growth of cataracts, but I will describe this another time, but cataracts proved to be a blessing.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Cycling - The early days.

Cycling - The early days.
I am prompted to write this "muse" having today just completed a 63.5 mile (101 km) ride around Bredon Hill and passing through Fladbury, Elmley Castle, Winchcombe, Tewkesbury and Pershore. A marvellous ride and I am pleased I can do this with little difficulty at the age of 68, albeit slowly.
I am now more keen on cycling than any other period in my life although far less serious than many true cyclist. Where did it all begin?
A predecessor was my scooter when I was 7 or so years old. It was not only my personal transport but also my pirate frigate, army tank and space rocket. But this did not last long and soon my elder brother taught me to ride.
"Don't let go." I called out to my brother who was steadying the bike by holding onto the saddle.
"I won't" he replies.
The question is repeated and the reply is the same until there is suddenly no answer and I am off alone wobbling down the croft. Next Dad finds me my first bike, not sure of the make but it is a standard type, black with solid rod brakes and no gears.
This bike was to serve me for the next few years. It's main purpose was to get me to and from school only a mile at max. It's other major task was to take me fishing, with my rods strapped to the top frame.
Of course once I was off to the senior school, 11+, I wanted a racing bike. At that age a racing bike meant one like my friends, one with drop handle bars. I now know that a racing bike has a lot more requirements such as frame angles, but then it just meant drop handles. So my Dad manage to conjure up a frame which he had shot blasted and sprayed blue and then added the wheels, brakes, chain set etc. Although I wanted that most mysterious component, dérailleur gears, Dad 'explained' that I would be much better off with a fixed gear.
A fixed gear is not only a single gear, but has no freewheel mechanism, so there are only two ways to stop pedalling, you either hold your legs clear and let the pedals spin around between them or you stand stiff legged on one pedal and bob up and down as the pedals rotate. The latter was quite spectacular and drew a lot of attention.
The bike was still a means to an end, to and from school, get me to my friends, fishing trips and the like. Favourite fishing locations were Earlswood Lakes and the Cut between the Grand Union and Stratford-Upon-Avon Canals at Lapworth, both about 5 miles from home.
Earlswood Lakes
I also cycled to Earlswood to watch the fascinating courtship of the Great Crested Grebes, an activity that has been shown on the nature programmes on TV a couple of times this year. I cycled there again this year, only now they are a 40 mile round trip. There are still plenty of Grebes to watch. I expected the Lakes to be smaller than my childhood memories but the opposite was the case and I was surprised how big they are.
I do recall one memorable trip when I was 14. My pal Chris was a member of the local church youth club which was having a night away in the Youth Hostel at Stow-in-the-Wold, about 45 miles away and he suggested that together with our school friend Doug we should go as there would be girls there. We three went to a school which had 900 boys, so the chance to actually meet girls was not to be spurned. The only problem was that Doug and I were members of the school rugby team and we had a match that Saturday so we would miss the coach. No problem we could cycle in the afternoon.
After the first three miles I realised I had left the map on the kitchen table, so as Chris had not played rugby he went back to retrieve it whilst Doug and I waited. The next thing I remember is at the entering Studley you passed a Gloster Javelin jet parked by the road side.
For some reason I have a vivid picture of the main road bending to the right and we had to go straight on down a narrow country lane. Perhaps the sight of this narrow lane stretching out into the houseless countryside made me realise we were getting a long way from the security of home and suburbia. I now live close to this place which is by Ragley Hall Alcester.
One of us had a puncture but then there were small cycle repair shops in the small towns and villages and we had it repaired.
We travelled on to Chipping Campden which even to a 14 year old boy was impressive. High ancient stone houses of the Tudor era. We needed refreshments and found a sweet shop. Although the buildings were tall the shop was small and the ceiling low. Chipping Campden is still worth a visit today and I prefer it to the more touristy Broadway.
Chipping Campden
Last leg now but it was dark and I am convinced a bat's wing pressed against my face and then peeled off again as we struggled over the Cotswold plateau. Still we got there to hot food and the pleasure of mixing with girls fulfilled.
At the age of 15 we moved from Shirley just south of Birmingham to a village in Worcestershire and the bike was needed more than ever as everything was at least four miles away. School was so far away we were provided with a coach to get there. So from a school with 900 boys I was suddenly in a school with just 300 or so, and half of them girls! But now the bike was used less and if we wanted to go anywhere we would hitch hike. I also began to dream of motorised transport and by 16 I had finally managed to get to the grammar school having scraped together enough O-levels to make the jump from secondary modern. Fed up with missing the school bus I soon acquired a motor bike and the bike was sold to a young pupil of the school who lived in our village.
It would be over twenty years until I started cycling again at the age of forty and this time cycling would become the prime aim and not just a means. Oh and the bike at long last would have dérailleur gears.

Friday, 29 May 2015

School 1958 and my first caning!

I went to the senior school, Sharmans Cross, a large secondary modern school in Shirley Solihull in September 1958. To get to a secondary modern you had to fail your 11 plus which I did, but I soon got over the disappointment although remained jealous of my pal from across the street who not only passed but his parents rewarded him with a new bike with deraillure gears!

It was a large school with over 900 pupils, all boys and as I was a baby boomer the new first year was very large, with classes 1A1, 1A-Inter, 1A2, 1B1, 1B2, 1C, 1D, 1E, each with 38 boys. I was in 1A1. 

So how was this school run? Basically by the slipper and cane. The slipper was the sole of a size 10 plimsoll, or pump as it was called locally, and administered by any teacher for lesser misdemeanours in blows of 1 to 4 across the backside. For more serious offences the cane was used up to six of the best. 

Even before I went to the school I knew of this as my brother, 7 years older than me, had already experienced these. I vividly remember seeing him in the bath when he was 14 or so with big blue wheals across his behind. He had been in trouble over something or other and for punishment the teacher had told him to carry all the chairs and desks out of the classroom. 

"You must think I'm a bloody fool to expect me to do that!" and for saying this he was rewarded with six of the best. 

The same teacher was to teach me science later on and he had not mellowed much, but I will expand on this in a later post. 

Before my first day my brother told me that at some time a teacher would ask for volunteer to be caned and I should volunteer because afterwards I would never fear being caned again. 

In one of the early days 1A1 was in the Art Room. The Art Teacher walked up and down between the desks looking at our work. He carried his 1 meter long cane with him, on the top he had pushed a plastic Jiffy Lemon with which he use to "playfully" strike us over the head as the fancy took him.

In the front row a boy had dipped his brush into a colour at random and splodged it over his paper. 

"What do you call that?" shouted the teacher.
"I call it 'All Colours', sir."

Obviously not impressed by the abstract side of painting "Get out to the front" he barked "and bend over! "

He rotated the cane over so that the Jiffy Lemon was above his hand and gave the budding artist two swipes. 

"Anyone like to volunteer for the cane?"  he asked after the boy had sat down. 

Remembering my brother's advice my hand shot up, "Yes please sir" to everybody's astonishment, including myself, I called out. 

So he ordered me out and repeated the punishment on me. Well I immediately began to doubt the advise once I felt the pain but on balance I think it did remove the fear as there were many times I received the cane there after. 

Now this may all sound at best silly and at worse brutal, but it was a good school with great repartee between teachers and pupils, and if we took it too far then one or several or even the whole class would be slippered or caned and the balance restored. Anyway that was the view from the A1 stream, not sure how the C, D and E streams faired. 

Still I would not be happy now for the same treatment to be handed out to my grandchildren. 

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Colour Blindness

There were three characteristics I have that as a young child I was unaware of, namely
  1. Red-green colour blindness
  2. Short sightedness
  3. Speech problem
Now none of these could be described as handicaps, at worse just deficiency, but the point is I was unaware of them. In this a post I will discuss colour blindness, the other two in later posts.

My elder brother was also colour blind so perhaps this had been discussed at home but it did not register with me. The first time it effected me was when I was 5 or 6 years old,  about 1952 or 1953. I was at school and we were drawing a picture of a daffodil, probably an Easter Card for our mothers. We were all at our desks, the old fashioned type with a lifting lid.

When the teacher saw my picture she instructed me to stand on my chair with my hands on my head and told the other children to  "Look at silly Roddy's painting, his daffodil is orange not yellow!" I gazed down from my high vantage point and for the life of me could see no difference in the colour of my daffodil to the others. Luckily these type of incidents did not bother me but I never forgot it.

In the 1950s schools were visited by nurses and doctors and everyone eyes were tested and I was soon diagnosed with red-green colour blindness but I did not worry about it.

In fact it was not until I was 17 can I remember the next incident. I was now playing rugby for the small market town Alcester in Warwickshire. We played in red and black hoops, just like Moseley but some many skill levels lower. I am told to most people red is a vibrant colour but not so for me, so when the shirts were old they merged into one near black colour. Now being short and short-sighted my natural position was scrum-half and although a basically solid player I had little flair, but for a short guy I was a surprisingly good tackler. I especially enjoyed felling the big opponent forwards as they broke through a line-out and were all off balance. I was somewhat dumbfounded on one game when one of our forwards ran towards me from the line out, passed by and continued towards our try line. Why was he going that way? The opponents were Shipston-On-Stour and they played in all black shirts.

Then I started to drive and this meant I had to get to grips with traffic lights. Again not a real problem as for me they were not Red, Amber (whatever that is) and Green but Red, Yellow and White with a greasy smear, and they were normally on poles at a certain height.

When I became a parent my inability to recognise colours was of great interest and amusement to my daughter. I think it pleased her that I could get something so basic wrong. "What colour is that?"  was the frequent question. Some I got right some not. There are references one uses. Grass is green, pillar boxes are red so I try to match these. If the green is dark then I call it brown, if the brown is light then I call green. This behaviour now fascinates my grand-daughters.

Graphs can be challenging.  At one branch meeting the presenter was discussing the red line on the graph.
"Excuse me," I interrupted, "I am colour blind, which one is red?"
"The one above the green." he replied.
"Excuse me," I interrupted, "I am colour blind, which one is green?"

Final example. I was watching Prof Alice Roberts on TV regarding evolution of mankind and how man can see three primary colours whereas most animals only two. The film showed a market stall of fruit, first as animals would see it, and then as we humans see it.
"Well they seem the same to me." I said.
"Good grief," my now adult daughter said "for the first time I think I understand what you see."

Shame that teacher all those years ago never did.

Friday, 22 May 2015


Key to understanding.

Distinguish between fact, conclusion and belief. Here is an example.

I walked out of my front door and notice the roads are wet.   Fact
It must have rained.    Conclusion
God sends the rain.   Belief
Beliefs can be true or false, they are just a matter of faith, and I leave this to the individual. But just saying something is a fact, does not make it so.

To continue with my example.

I turn the corner and the road is dry.    Fact
This new fact causes me to reconsider my previous conclusion. Did it only rain on the other road? Was this road somehow covered?

Returning to the first road I see the pavement is dry though the road is wet.   Fact
The road cleaner vehicle must have been along the road.   Conclusion
I turn another corner and see the road cleaner.   Fact
Road cleaner made the first road wet.    Conclusion
Note the new fact of seeing the road cleaner adds evidence to my conclusion, but it still is a conclusion and not a fact.

(Photo by Dominik)

Emotive language.

A good technique in novels and poetry but can be counter productive in understanding.

 An example, you may think your child is independent others may see him/her as obstinate. Both are seeing the same behaviour but putting a different ‘spin’ onto it.

Gravity, Newton and Einstein

On a recent holiday in North Norfolk I had a conversation with a local person who held interesting theories regarding Quantum Mechanics ability to influence understanding. Now I have a more scientific background and his was more philosophical. Anyway this led to a discussion on gravity and he sent me the following link to a Youtube.

Gravity Newton to Einstein

This was my reply.

Just watched video. I have seen most of this before but the new bit was his 'thought experiment' of explaining why the planets do not fly off instantaneously if the sun was to suddenly vanish. Let's hope it remains a 'thought experiment'.

There is a lot of coincidences between Einstein and Newton, both studied light, motion and gravity. Both appear to have eccentric behaviours, Newton spent years studying Cabalism. However for Newton to develop his Laws Of Motion he developed a whole new field of mathematics, now known as Calculus, which is used by pretty well all of Physics to this day, including Einstein. Now no doubt Calculus would have been developed by someone else if he had not written his Principia Mathematica, in fact it was being developed on the continent at the same time by Leibniz. 

The origins of Quantum Mechanics as taught to me all those 50 years ago was the discrete energy levels of light being released from atoms. Why discrete and not continuous as expected form Newtonian physics applied to atoms. This specific energy level was called quantum. Einstein's Nobel Prize for Physics was in recognition of his work on  photo-electric effect related to this new science.

I find it interesting that Newton's theory of light was built on a corpuscular model, he believed the eye emitted small particles that were reflected back into the eye. However the alternative wave theory of light gained prominence as it explained diffraction and the dual slit patterns, and Newton rings, the interference patterns you can see if you place a convex lens on a mirror. The wave theory culminated in Maxwell's Equations of Electro-magnetic waves in the 19th century, at which point some bright spark said 'Pretty well all that is to be found out about physics has been completed'.

Then at the start of the 20th century things started to change. They could not find the ether in the universe the media through which light was suppose to travel. They could not explain the quanta levels of emission. This led to new theories about light and again 50 years ago they (academia) were beginning to think of light as a duality of particles and wave lengths, say particles that were bundles of light waves. It was at this point in my education I began to get disappointed in the loss of elegance of the solutions compared to the more classical physics so I concentrated on other areas to specialise in where I could understand and so enjoy the maths and learn enough to pass the exams.

Anyway having discussed these things with you have inspired me to look again at General Relativity and Quantum Physics, because half a century has gone by and who knows what has been happening. So I have googled around and found a reasonable book on line, but there were a couple of math techniques I have to learn first, but now maths is written all different so I am having to do a crash revision on Set Theory! I am expecting it will take a good year to do all this considering it is only going to be a background activity.