Relatively Speaking

26 11 2016

 

Source: Goodreads

Did Einstein really illustrate relativity with an easy to grasp example?
“Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity.”

It seems numerous variations of this theme are reported going back as early as “The New York Times” in March 1929. The phrase “nice girl’ was used instead of “pretty girl”:
Numerous anecdotes are being circulated concerning Einstein. He once told a girl secretary when she was bothered by inquisitive interviewers, who wanted to know what relativity really meant, to answer:

“When you sit with a nice girl for two hours you think it’s only a minute, but when you sit on a hot stove for a minute you think it’s two hours. That’s relativity.”

The quotation in the paper was not directly from Einstein. The reporter simply noted that the tale was being circulated.
It seems fake news is not new news.
For a full analysis, check out Quote Investigator.
Or did I just make that up?




The North is dripping with history

13 11 2016

I subscribe to the print version of the BBC’s most excellent History Magazine. As is often the case with magazines, the letters page is usually quite entertaining and informative – if only for the occasional ill-informed vitriol from a reader. Being in one of the distant reaches of empire commonwealth, I receive the magazine a little later than most, but it’s a history magazine anyway, so it doesn’t really matter.

As I mentioned, the letters page was interesting, and one contributor was making the point that “collective memory” can be extremely localised. He recounted the history of the Leeds Dripping Riot of 1865 – an event I was totally unaware of, despite growing up less than 20 miles away (to be fair – significantly later than 1865, despite what my kids may think).

For those not educated in the culinary arts, “dripping” is the collected fat drippings from roast meat – particularly beef or pork. Though much less common now because it’s allegedly “not good for you”, the best tasting fish and chips of my youth were from shops who deep fried their offerings in beef dripping. As a youth, a quick snack at home would be a knife-full of dripping (collected over several sunday roasts) on a slice of white bread. A pinch of salt would just top off the snack and make sure you were hitting all the right food groups. :S

Dripping (Source: Wikipedia)

Dripping (Image source: Wikipedia)

It’s actually sold in Germany, if you go to places selling “authentic rustic food” and ask for Schweinshaxe, it’ll often come with a starter of crusty bread and a little pot of dripping.

The Yorkshire stuff – as illustrated in the Wikipedia image above – would be left to separate, and you’d get this meaty jelly at the bottom, under the thick crust of solid (at room temperature) fat. Anyway, there’s no argument that it is pretty hard (pun intended) on the arteries, but a wonderful taste sensation. It is also laden with class implications. Having read out the magazine letter to my dear wife, she commented about her family “not sinking to eating bread and dripping”. Being of English origin, and therefore not communicating often anyway, she’s still not realised I’m not talking to her. (I expect this to become more apparent as the month wears on.)

I jest of course, but the comment about sinking to eating bread and dripping was true enough. It remains one of the pointed North/South divide issues, though is making a slow comeback as we learn more about nutrition and the importance of fat in our diet. The Daily Mail valiantly tried to rehabilitate it a couple of years ago too.

Bread and dripping (Image source: Daily Mail)

Bread and dripping (Image source: Daily Mail)

So anyway – getting back to the point: I paraphrase the Wikipedia entry of the events…

In January 1865, Eliza Stafford was a cook employed by Henry Chorley, a well to do surgeon and local magistrate in Leeds, Yorkshire. He apparently discovered that Stafford had disposed of about 1kg of dripping to a local dressmaker and took umbrage and had her arrested. Being well connected, he pressed for her to be prosecuted for theft.

Stafford’s defence was that although she admitted disposing of the dripping, it was a perk of the job. (We’re not talking about stealing the meat remember… just the fatty waste that comes off it during cooking and which might simply be disposed of immediately today, without comment.) Chorley claimed that this was one of several similar incidents but that this was the only one he had any direct evidence of. The magistrates convicted Stafford of the theft and sentenced her to one month’s imprisonment in Armley Jail.

Armley Jail (Image source: Wikipedia)

Armley Jail, Leeds (Image source: Wikipedia)

The local populace were upset and many people considered the prosecution petty and the punishment harsh. Attention was also drawn to the circumstances of the trial which for reasons unexplained had been heard in private rather than in public as normal, and before magistrates known personally to Chorley. The protests culminated in a demonstration, estimated at being between 12,000 and 15,000 people, outside the prison on the Saturday before Stafford was due to be released. A smaller number of people, about 700, went on to protest outside Chorley’s house. Apart from some snowballs being thrown (how very English), these protests all passed off peacefully.

The riot itself occurred on the day of her release. She’d been let out earlier than scheduled and missed all the fun. The crowd, disappointed they’d missed her, largely dispersed but about a thousand people marched from the prison to Chorley’s house and threw stones that broke several windows in the house. The Chief Constable of Leeds, William Bell, and some police officers managed to form a cordon round the house and withstood several attempts by the protesters to break through to the house.

During lunch the numbers of people in the square increased as workers came to view the affair. (There was no telly in those days). The Mayor of Leeds, John Darnton Luccock, called for assistance from Bradford police and from the army at York. At 1 pm, lunch break over, many people left, and the police decided to try and clear the square. After issuing a notice ordering the crowd to disperse, the police charged and drove everyone out of Park Square. During the charge one man, George Hudson, was trampled and severely injured – injuries so severe that he subsequently died – and a number of men were arrested for “riotous conduct”. This effectively ended the riot and reinforced by the Bradford Police with two troops of the 8th Hussars from York on standby, the Leeds police prevented any further attempts at disturbance despite a sizable number of people assembling nearby in the evening and attempting to march upon Leeds Town Hall.

The men arrested were tried for riotous conduct but the magistrates took a lenient view and only one was imprisoned and then only for a week. The sentencing magistrate described the incident as “very silly excitement” and the other four defendants were bound over in the sum of £10. Henry Chorley died in 1878, of Eliza Stafford there is no subsequent history.





Late to the celebration of Ms Earley

13 03 2016

So, as I mentioned elsewhere, I recently read an edition of Canada’s History that highlighted some of Canada’s great women. 20? 30? Let’s try closer to HALF THE POPULATION! OK – that would be quite a thick magazine, I suppose.

Anyway, though the 20 that were featured in the magazine had been selected by a group of themselves relatively well known Canadian women, there seemed to be a skewed representation towards authors. Not that they were any less remarkable for that. They opened up the Canadian literary scene to more earthy examinations of inner city issues, feminism (of course) and simply great story telling. One or two I’d heard of. One or two I’d even read – such as Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel.

Of the 20 that were featured though, my “favourite” – if that’s even a valid concept in this context – was Mary Two-Axe Earley. The accompanying illustration was an interpretation of a CP/Toronto Star photograph on the magazine’s website, and she looked like anyone’s kindly nanna. But what a force!

Canada’s History: Mary Two-Axe Earley

As I read about her life I was struck by how Canadian history – even relatively recent history – was completely unknown in the UK. Things we might reasonably expect and take for granted have been hard fought for by strong women such as Two-Axe Earley. The world – and in this case Canada in particular – is undeniably a better place for the things women like her have achieved.

Born as a Canadian Mohawk on 4th October 1911, she moved to the US and married an Irish/American engineer – Edward Earley – and had a brace of litte ‘uns. Because Edward was non-Aboriginal, she fell foul of the 1876 Indian Act and lost all her rights along with her Indian status. As well as the loss of the right to live on the land she was brought up on, she couldn’t vote in the reserve’s elections or even be buried in its cemetery. None of this concerned her at the time. She was living in Brooklyn and was very much in love. Then…

A friend of hers died in 1966 and she discovered that her friend had been ordered off her own reserve for marrying a Mohawk from a different reserve. No such penalty was suffered by men, and she was pretty sure the stress had contributed to her friend’s death. Written in the Victorian era, the Indian Act simply reflected the prevalent view at the time that women were basically possessions of their husbands.

Enraged into action, Two-Axe Earley founded Equal Right for Indian Women, which later became Indian Rights for Indian Women. The Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada was established in 1967 and gave a platform to present the case. The commission duly recommended that the relevant clauses of the Indian Act be repealed such that First Nations men and women should have the same rights with respect to property and marriage as any other Canadian. So naturally not a lot happened.

It wasn’t until the 1982 Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms though that her campaign really got the teeth it needed. In 1985 the government finally amended the Indian Act so that it reflected the equality provision in the Charter. As well as returning rights to women who had previously lost them through the archaic clauses in the act and “marrying out”, there were two generations of children from those unions that were now eligible for status. More than 15,000 women were affected by this decision!

When she finally died in 1996, Mary Two-Axe Earley was laid to rest in the cemetery near her birthplace, Kahnawake. A right she had fought long and hard to gain.

If you’d like to learn more about this remarkable lady, check out her bio at Windspeaker.





Ancient & Modern

13 03 2016

As I may have mentioned – though potentially not to you – Mrs E and I marked our 6th wedding anniversary the other week. After 24 years married. The smarter amongst you will figure out how those facts are not mutually exclusive. We went to stay on the west coast of Vancouver Island, at a place called Wickaninnish Inn – a lovely place to go Storm Watching.

Chesterman Beach, Vancouver Island

Anyway, to pass the time on the ferry, I bought a copy of “Canada’s History”. This used to go by the name of “The Beaver” and was originally the Hudson’s Bay Company’s internal magazine. It’s well known for being brimful of Asha Canadiana. This particular edition was celebrating 20 great Canadian women and that was what caught my eye and lured me to part with the $8 required for the privilege to read it.

The very back cover though was also of interest. As is the norm, it was a full page advert. In this case for the Toronto-Dominion Bank . It was advertising the TD Gallery of Inuit Art in Toronto. The image they’d chosen to use was of “Young man with MP3 player” by Pitseolak Qimirpik, a Cape Dorset artist.

There is no denying the skill of the guy, and you can see more of his work at Dorset Fine Arts. The thing that made me pause though was not only the display of traditional carving skill, but the contemporary subject matter. Here was a very contemporary subject (spliff, earbuds and all), but portrayed in a very ancient way. Not with a digital image or some fancy PhotoShop work, but with time, care and skill… in a 17 inch high piece of serpentine with antler and wire. It inspired me to want to learn more. Not just of the work of Qimirpik himself, but of his culture and motivation.

pitseolakqimirpikcopy

Source: Dorset Fine Arts PITSEOLAK QIMIRPIK – YOUING MAN WITH MP3 PLAYER, 2010





A night in Broadstairs

24 01 2016

So the downside of travelling all the way up North to visit my parents in Yorkshire was that I had a substantial drive all the way back down for a meeting in Kent. I set off late morning to the discovery that it had snowed overnight. The forecast was for a warming day though, and I wasn’t expecting too much trouble as I went down the eastern side of England. Best not to tempt providence though, so I set off well before lunch.

Snowy start to the day

Snowy start to the day

The hotel I’d been booked into was allegedly one of Charles Dickens’ homes and now goes by the name of The Albion Hotel, Broadstairs. Hacking down the old A1 (originally a Roman road and the main artery in the UK in the days before the M1 was built in the ’50s) I made it to Nottinghamshire in time for lunch and treated myself to the gourmet offerings of a roadside Micky D’s. Down to the M11, M25 and into Kent, I was at Broadstairs well in time for dinner.

It was a pain to find parking, but in the end there turned out to be a car-park just around the corner from the hotel and once I’d negotiated the ridiculously narrow street, all was well. I had to walk all the way back to the hotel dragging my suitcase, but it was a lovely little place. The staircases were narrow and of course I was put in the garret so had maximum trouble with my suitcase getting up the narrow back stairs where presumably the servants used to go. The bathroom was very nicely done out though and the view over the street was “twee” in a bottle.

A Dickensian bathroom

A Dickensian bathroom

A Curiosity Shop from my hotel room

A Curiosity Shop from my hotel room

It was only later that evening I realised that the shop opposite was a book shop, so I missed my chance to buy lots of their stock! Once I’d made contact with my host for the next day’s meeting, I had an hour or so to kill before dinner. After purging the dust of the road from myself with the aid of a very pleasant shower, I headed out to see what there was to see. For such a small town, it was delightful. To be fair, things didn’t start out so well, and my first encounter was a rather run down (i.e. vandalised) pizza shop. Ironic though that it claimed to be (F)rancos Canadian Pizza. Franco presumably was targeted by the apostrophe police for making the common omission. Upstairs seemed to be some sort of religious place, but the Chippie on the corner looked normal enough.

IMG_0106

Next, I headed down the slight incline to the sea. The first thing that took my eye was the brightly lit Pavilion. As dusk was just falling, there was still detail in the sky and the lights of the town in the distance just seemed to make an interesting composition. Viking Bay is curving off to the right. The names ooze “history” don’t they?

Lights on the Pavillion

Lights on the Pavilion

A tad further on, and I was at the harbour wall. The wind was picking up and it was bitterly cold. I had the place to myself. There was an interesting white clapper-board building at the entrance to the pier/harbour wall. It wouldn’t have seemed out of place here in BC.

Harbour, Broadstairs

Harbour, Broadstairs

The lighting was interesting. Dusk was falling fast, but there was still colour in the relatively clear sky. In addition there were some bright lights on the harbour wall so photography without flash was still an option. This pile of floats with the red boat lent a “red, white and blue” vibe to the scene.

Buoys and boat - Broadstairs

Buoys and boat – Broadstairs

Looking over the wall the other way – back towards the town – I saw a few small boats in the shallow harbour. I was reminded that this was the area that created the flotilla of “little ships” that evacuated the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk in 1940 as part of Operation Dynamo. The little ships of Dunkirk were 700 private boats that sailed from the Ramsgate area to Dunkirk in France between 26 May and 4 June 1940, helping to rescue more than 338,000 British and French soldiers who were trapped on the beaches at Dunkirk during the Second World War. To this day “Dunkirk spirit” is used as a phrase meaning to stare defeat in the face and still go ahead with brave deeds.

Little ships

Little ships

Looking a little further back towards town, I liked the mixture of lighting and the little yacht lying on its side waiting to be borne up again on a rising tide.

Dusk over town

Dusk over town

The locals seemed to have plenty of rowing boats, and I guess it was safer to pull them out when not needed. They were all lined up neatly on the wall, ready for action at a moment’s notice. For such a basic and old craft – the rowing boat – it was amazing how many variations of design there were.

Row, row, row of boats...

Row, row, row of boats…

As I headed back to the street I noticed the phone box didn’t actually have a phone in it. It had another AED (automatic external defibrillator). I’d never before seen them in public, and this was now the second in two days – the previous one being in sleepy Malham in Yorkshire (see previous post). To the left of the phone box, you can see an old WWII sea mine. You can just see the plunger detonators on the side. A ship pressing these as it passed would cause something of a loud pop. Nowadays they are used as VERY LARGE collection boxes for the Shipwrecked Mariners’ Society. You can just see the brass plaque and coin slot to the left of the detonator. Broadstairs has had an agency for the society since 1842 it seems.

Another AED. This time in a phone box

Another AED. This time in a phone box

Here’s an image of a mine “as used” from the Western Morning News last year.

Western Morning News: sea mine from WWII


As I headed back up the street I noticed the very welcoming pub “The Tartar Frigate”. Not sure what the Russians/Ukrainians were doing in these waters with their frigate, but I hope they found the beer to their liking. I jest of course – it is actually named after HMS Tartar, build hereabouts in 1801.

The Tartar Frigate

The Tartar Frigate

As I headed back up the slope to the High Street, I passed a sad reminder that Britain’s seaside towns often cater to the lowest common denominator of visitors. This sad, if bright, “Amusement Arcade” was empty on this cold night. Its garish red paint was no attraction to me.

Amused? I was not!

Amused? I was not!

Back on the main street, I liked the way the artificial light spilled out onto the darkening road from one of the chip shops next to a café. This seemed somehow more in keeping with such an old seaside town.

Blues and Bessie's

Blues and Bessie’s

Almost back at the hotel, I saw that the town was making the most of its connection with Dickens. One of the streets (and I’m sure many others I didn’t see) carried his name. The wall-mounted post box was of note also, because it was from the era of George VI. Note the “GR” on the box for George Rex. The graffiti at the bottom in felt pen was presumably more recent…

Dickens Walk, and George's post

Dickens Walk, and George’s post

Not long after I got back to the hotel, my host for the next day arrived to kindly join me for dinner. The Tartar Frigate, it turns out, stops offering food quite early on a Sunday, and so we ended up at “The Charles Dickens”… oh, how original! The food though was very pleasant as was the local beer. I opted for “bangers and mash” and greatly enjoyed three very tasty sausages whilst watching my host being defeated by her large steak, chips and onion rings.

Bangers and mash

Bangers and mash

It was a great night’s sleep in a cosy room, and after a full day of meetings, it was time to head back to Heathrow and back to BC the next day, safe in the knowledge that “the old country” seemed to be doing quite well without me.

Length and bredth

Length and bredth





Be the best “you” that you can…

12 12 2015

Oscar Wilde is famously quoted (and may perhaps even have really said) “Be yourself – everyone else is already taken”. Whether or not he really said it, it’s an interesting statement. Sometimes being true to yourself is not as straightforward as it may at first appear. Even before our recent tailspin into Political Correctness and all the inanity (and even occasionally: insanity) that that produces, it hasn’t always been easy to say and act in accordance with one’s true thoughts and feelings.

The other night I was driving home late and was listening to CBC’s “Ideas”. The episode was called Shame on You(Tube). Now to be brutally honest I wasn’t listening VERY carefully to it all, but there were a few interesting ideas. Like how perhaps the concept of shame within a group helped us evolve as a species into the highly co-operative (usually) social animals that we plainly are. It is used to bring peer pressure to bear and encourage “acceptable behaviours” as defined by the larger group.

The age of the internet has made “the group” pretty much the entire species… at least those with access to WiFi or a cell signal. This has warped the concept because it is now so easy to use Twitter or FaceBook to yell “J’accuse!” when we see a perceived injustice – real or imaginary. The radio programme gave examples of a web site in China that encourages people to “out” folks with bad table manners or performing other indiscretions. They are publicly humiliated (personal details are published) in an apparent effort to bring them back in line to supposed social norms. Of course, the dark side of this is the mental effect it has on many of those “outed” and almost predictably there are several reported suicides – particularly of teenage girls – of people who see this shaming as worse than death itself.

As is so often the case in my blogging, these two ideas hung like unrelated iota in my consciousness until a third mote of an idea hove into view and created a triangle of related thought. In this particular case, it was some cheap tat of a website I happened across (“10 historic photos you’ve never seen” or “9.37 random images you couldn’t care less about”, something of that nature). This particular site had an image from 1936 of a crowd of Germans at the Blohm + Voss shipyard in Hamburg. It was taken at the launching of the naval training vessel Horst Wessel on 13 June 1936, and the group were obediently all making the Nazi salute. All, that is, with one defiant exception! The photo was published on 22 March 1991 in Die Zeit, and though there are one or two others not saluting, this individual is quite obviously not doing so with some amount of defiance.

Source: Wikipedia

It turns out that this gentleman is actually quite well known by historians. His name was August Landmesser, and he was not exactly a fan of the Nazi regime. His wife was Jewish (their marriage was not recognised at the time but was retro-actively recognised in 1951), but he’d joined the party in 1931 anyway in the hope that it would help him get a job more easily. As you might imagine in such times, he later ended up being put in a penal regiment and met his death in action in Croatia in 1944. His wife was placed in several concentration camps and died in 1942.

His story is familiar. It was lived in one way or another by literally millions of people under the Nazi regime for a decade or so. But this man impresses me. Despite the huge social pressure to conform (surely all those around him making the salute were not all dyed-in-the-wool Nazis), he stood by his principles and simply chose not to raise his arm. He felt scared, I’m quite sure… but not shamed into conforming. A simple, but incredibly brave act. If anything, I was saddened that today, 12th December 2015 was the first time I became aware of his story. Almost 80 years later.

I’m sure August Lanmesser was not a perfect person.

I’m sure he had as many faults and foibles as any other person we know. But he was not shamed into giving public support to a political system that relied as much on passive submission as it did on active support for its growth in power.

Sometimes being yourself has dire consequences. That doesn’t necessarily make it wrong.





New kids’ books for adults help with hipsters and hangovers

12 10 2015

Glory be!

Source: New kids’ books for adults help with hipsters and hangovers

I have very warm memories of Ladybird books. Now there’s to be 8 new tongue-in-cheek titles for the (sadly) grown-up fan.

Thanks Internet, for letting me know…

More can be found via The Guardian.