More than ten generations ago my ancestor George Peachey was born in Mildenhall in Suffolk. I do not know what his occupation was, but as all his descendants (right down to my great-grandfather Phipp Peachey) were warreners, I think it highly likely that he was too; rabbits were virtually the only crop that could be harvested from the sandy soil around the Brecks, until the 20th century ushered in forestry and provided a substitute in the form of timber. George Peachey was born in 1662 and grew up during ‘Good King Charles’s golden days’. The reason I mention this monarch is that he was a regular visitor to Newmarket to watch the horse racing on the heath. The town is only 16 miles from Mildenhall, and George may well have seen the king as he made his regal progress into the town.
For more than seven generations the Peacheys lived in Mildenhall, or the adjoining parish of Lakenheath. In this sedentary lifestyle they were not unique; indeed such a lack of mobility was commonplace for many centuries. Others members of my ancestors, for example the Jones family who lived as farm workers within a few miles of Ludgershall in Buckinghamshire, were equally settled. The Rivetts are buried in Norfolk’s Shipdam parish churchyard from the 17th to the 2oth centuries, and members of the Mason family still live around Stone in Staffordshire. The Rutters appear to have been bakers in Suffolk throughout the 19th century and into the middle of the 20th. The Buxton family were farm labourers in the Norfolk village of Easton, and their relatives were landlords of the village pub (the Dog) for most of the 19th century. A Buxton was servant to the curate in the adjacent village of Weston Longville in Parson Woodforde’s time, and there is no doubt in my mind that he too was a distant relative of mine.
All these bloodlines would never have met had it not been for George Stephenson and the coming of the railways. Even before the first trains ran into the West Country, an ancestor of mine (a young Buckinghamshire man working as a railway navvy) had met and married an orphan in Cornwall. Domestic service also provided opportunities for employment across the land, now that universal education allowed all to read the adverts for servants and the penny post let them write a letter of application in reply. The trains provided the easy and quick access for the servants to travel to their new jobs. Not all travel was by train; this was the norm, but my uncle’s father arrived in Grimsby from Denmark by boat in the nineteenth century. Physical mobility came first, and social mobility soon followed.
All this concerns my own relatives as you might have guessed. Over the last two hundred years I can point to relatives of mine in Dover and St Austell, Stoke on Trent and Stradbroke, Fenny Stratford and Bishop’s Stortford. They have been coal miners and railwaymen, drapers and wheelwrights, pigmen and gardeners, carpenters and bricklayers. There have been no ladies or gentlemen, no clergymen or army officers. They have been ordinary working people in ordinary working class jobs. This was true until the 20th century, when all this began to change. The opportunities for social mobility expanded exponentially, so that by the 21st century the grandson of a fishmonger is a recently retired banker; the granddaughter of a waitress was a university professor. The grandson of a policeman travels around Europe on behalf of British research foundations. Other relatives have worked in the medical and teaching professions; as architects or engineers, actors and musicians.
The study of family history is very popular nowadays and many people must be able to relate similar tales. It is a tribute to the nation that all these changes should have been going on in science and technology as well as society, that enabled the population to spread their wings. Not all have taken advantage of the opportunities on offer, but they are there for the taking; this simply wasn’t true in the past.
THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF THE PAST
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What has happened to style in dress? What has happened to style in general? Now that we could all easily afford to dress well and travel in style, we ignore these niceties of life. Back at the beginning of the last century, when most people were really poor, they comported themselves with dignity. How we laugh at that today, but it was preferable to going round dressed as slobs.
This isn’t about the obesity epidemic, although that is a related problem; it perfectly possible to be fat and stylish, though this is more difficult to achieve than if you are thin. The thing to remember (for women particularly) is that if one is rather overweight you must wear loose clothing. Unfortunately many of these larger ladies seem to have the mistaken notion that tight clothes make them look thin. This untrue; in fact the opposite is the case. Leggings in particular are a bad idea for ladies of ample stature, but they are almost universal these days for all shapes and sizes of women.
For men neckties seem to be on the way out, but nobody has any idea about what should replace them. Merely removing the tie leaves a pointless turn-down collar gaping where the tie once was. A tee-shirt would be more sensible and hardly less stylish. Back in the Swinging Sixties ties were already seen as old-fashioned accessories, but the alternative was the polo necked sweater. This was stylish, but style has been ditched along with neckwear this time round. The veteran broadcaster Nicholas Parsons made a heartfelt but vain plea recently to replace the necktie with the cravat. This would indeed be a stylish alternative, but the very word reeks of the past. Nicholas Parsons may wear a cravat with style, but nobody younger than him does so.
This picture of my great-grandfather proves how even the poor could still dress well, and he certainly was poor. He worked with animals all his life, latterly as a carter for Colmans mustard. In this picture he is wearing collar and tie, suit and hat with waistcoat and button down collar, all for a stroll in his garden. His father had been a tailor back in the mid 19th century, which might account for some of his dress sense. We might think him rather overdressed for the occasion, but this was the norm in 1920. Everybody wore these clothes – for holidays even more than for work, when a slightly less formal kind of attire or a uniform might be required.
Don’t forget either that the task of laundering clothes was a huge one in those olden days. There were no washing machines or tumble driers. It was still a major undertaking in the mid-20th century, when it took up one day a week (Monday). In earlier centuries it took up a whole week, once a month. I doubt that anything was added to the hot water to help clean the laundry, because soap was a luxury then, taxed throughout the 18th century. Linen sheets and garments would be scrubbed in hot water, left on lines and hedges to dry and bleach in the sun, and then ironed. The laundry maid needed to heat the iron by the fire, so imagine how hot this would make the job in summer. In the winter drying the washing would be the problem, when the short hours of daylight and frequently damp weather made hanging the laundry indoors essential.
You can see the trilby hat my ancestor is wearing. Top hats, bowlers, deerstalkers and flat caps, all had their place in the complicated world social status. You touched your hat to acquaintances, and removed it entirely when greeting your superiors. Hats disappeared from British heads in the early 1960s; now only the baseball cap is worn by some young people (normally back-to-front). This headwear still has things to say about the social status of the wearer; I don’t think we will see Prince William wearing his baseball cap back-to-front any time soon. In this country we ought really to wear cricket caps instead of baseball caps, to put us on a par with our American cousins, but these are never seen except on cricketers on match days. BBC reporters may never appear with any form of head covering apparently; even when speaking outside the Kremlin in the dead of winter, the poor saps must speak to the camera with their heads open to the elements. (No Russian would do anything so foolish.) A warm furry hat with ear flaps would not obscure the reporter’s face, and I am sure they don something like that as soon as they are off camera; otherwise they would rapidly lose their ears to frostbite. What is the dress code that forbids broadcasters from wearing headwear? (Except for the headscarf of course.)
THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF DRESS
What records would you take to the BBC’s fabled Desert Island? The show was invented by Roy Plomley in 1942 and has been going ever since. Roy himself continued to present the show for over forty years, until his death in 1985. The format is well-known; the guest lists the eight records he would like if he was marooned on a desert island. He or she says a bit about each one, a section of which is then played.
In 1964 one of the first 45s I bought was Not Fade Away by the Rolling Stones, so it was obviously a favourite of mine at one time. That was a long time ago though, and it certainly is not a favourite of mine any longer. My musical tastes soon developed, which makes it puzzling to me that so many 70 year olds still like the music they bought when they were teenagers. None of my 8 Desert Island discs would be pop music now; this fact alone shows why, even if I were a celebrity, I would never get invited on the show. I am afraid my choice of music would be rather indigestible for the anodyne tastes of the general public. If I had to choose a pop record it would be one by Abba or the Carpenters; these are attractive and tuneful songs that are despised by many (as they were by me back then), although they would be perfect for the listeners to Desert Island Discs. Karen Carpenter in particular had such a good voice. I have always maintained that a good song is just that, and its format (whether popular, jazz, classical or art song) is irrelevant; it is the tune that really matters.
It is the almost incessant drumbeat that accompanies nearly every pop song that puts me off them personally, so pop music is definitely out of my list of discs. (How old-fashioned that word is!) Light music however is certainly in. There is such a lot of light music that it is hard to pick just one piece. Nearly everything that Leroy Anderson wrote could make it to my desert island, but there is such a lot of marvellous British music in this genre it would have to be one of our composers. The Dam Busters march is too well-known, so I would go for another march by Eric Coates, Knightsbridge.
One down, seven to go; there is some jazz I like, but not enough to make it onto the list, so it is to the music of Schubert that I go next. Some people say Beethoven is the best ever composer, and some say Mozart, but for me it is J.S.Bach, followed closely by Schubert. There was a lot of music written by Schubert, considering that he died so young, but I am going for The Trout quintet. The ensemble includes a double bass after all, and that was my instrument. The string quintet in C major is a more serious piece, and I really prefer that, but it has two cellos and no bass.
After I had passed through my Rolling Stones phase, my friend Bill did much to educate my musical tastes. Nowadays he listens to lot of Shostakovich and Borodin but these composers, although I can listen to them with pleasure, could make it into my top eight. Elgar comes fairly high up in my list. The Pomp and Circumstance Marches are so well known, and so are the Enigma Variations; Salut d’Amour is also pretty well known, but I will go for that. Chopin cannot be omitted either, and both Elgar and Chopin have been favourites for as long as I can remember. I would select Chopin’s 24 Preludes, though if I must restrict myself to only one piece I will go for number one.
Hayden is an underrated composer, and his string quartet are among his best compositions, so my next piece will be his Opus 77, No. 1. Mozart must have a place, and for something a little different I will choose his Sonata No. 10 in C Major, K 330. It is not as powerful as his Requiem Mass, but you do not want to hear a succession of heavy music. If Mozart, then Beethoven too must put in an appearance, although contrary to my opinion of Haydn, I think he is slightly overrated. Like his older German contemporary however, I regard his string quartets as some of his best music; cue the string quartet No. 15 in A minor, Opus 132.
We now come to the last piece, and this must be by that towering genius Johann Sebastian Bach. I have avoided the most serious of compositions until now, but I will end with his B Minor Mass. I avoided listening to this for many years, perhaps being a bit overawed by its reputation, but when eventually I settled down to hearing it I found it tuneful and delightful, and no at all sombre as I had feared it would be.
Bach will always come out on top, but on another day I might opt for an even older set of composers including Monteverdi, Thomas Tallis and John Dowland. I’m afraid I am really that high brow.
FOR MY MUSIC
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Although he was a local man by birth*, the Reverend Benjamin Armstrong travelled down from London to Norwich by train on the 14th of September 1850 to take up his new appointment. He came from Shoreditch station in London via Bishop’s Strortford, Cambridge and Ely by train. He remarked on the view of Ely cathedral; just six years earlier this would have been a much more arduous journey; then the only railway line open in Norfolk had been that from Norwich to Yarmouth. After the ceremony in Norwich cathedral he travelled on to his new living in Dereham, again by train. This town had been reached by railway just three years earlier. The station master was immediately an important person locally, and Armstrong makes a point of recounting his wife’s background on the day when he baptised the family’s daughter. The station master’s wife came of Huguenot stock, and her family had been involved in the shawl trade in Norwich.
With the new method of transport Benjamin Armstrong could make day trips to Kings Lynn or Lowestoft. London was easily accessible. He could travel to Oxford via the varsity line, a journey we can now can only dream about. Great Yarmouth, where he was amazed at the hundreds of fishing smacks, from Holland, France and of course Britain, was another popular destination. In the summer the flat-bottomed Dutch boats could bring tons of plaice, haddock and turbot to the shore; the fish they off-loaded onto horse-drawn carts taken down to the beach through the surf. In October the herrings arrived off Yarmouth and the docks became packed with drifters. Huge quantities of herring were salted for the export trade, and already fish trains were taking the fresh fish around the country. It was another 24 years before Cromer could be reached by train, but as soon as this town was on the railway network he was off with his family to admire the view. Then it was home to Dereham by bedtime. The day trip to the seaside had truly arrived, and the railway company ran weekday excursions with ladies going half fare.
The railway carriages in 1850 (and for decades thereafter) were simple four-wheeled affairs; heating was not at first available, and bogie coaches and corridor trains had to wait until the next century as far as East Anglia was concerned. In 1850 the locomotives were open to the elements (poor train crews!), although they were covered within ten years.
We are definitely in the modern era; in those earliest days of train travel it was slower to go to London than it is today, but not by great deal. Armstrong remarked how he could be in London in the morning and by the afternoon be attending to parish affairs in Dereham. Compare this with just 25 years earlier, when no traveller went faster than a horse could take you. By coach it took all night and half the following day to go from Norwich to the capital. Nor was travel the only way things were suddenly modern; postage stamps had made communication quick and relatively cheap in 1840. The number of letters passing through Dereham Post Office went from 7000 per annum in 1873 to 25,000 just three years later. There was already the electric telegraph to India in the 1850s, and the first local telegraph lines in Dereham appeared at the same time. The first commercial use of the long distance telephone in Britain took place on the 1st November 1878. This was along the 115 mile line from Cannon Street in London to Norwich– where else? This used the telegraph line of the Great Eastern Railway to transmit the human voice. Photography had arrived and soon it was in common use; street lighting was going up in Dereham, and the parson was anxious to install gas in the church.Thomas Cook had begun his excursions, and he took a huge number of the local folk to Dublin and back for 42 shillings each. This wasn’t exactly cheap, but the idea of an overseas holiday for the masses was an incredible innovation. On the sea crossing by steamer there was nothing to eat laid on, but the travellers made do with large quantities of whiskey, cigars and a crust of mouldy bread!
The Revd Benjamin Armstrong had married Anne Duncombe in 1842, and brought up his family of five children in the commodious parsonage in the town. (One daughter died in infancy.) The large gardens made a suitable place to hold meetings, as when the Norfolk Agricultural Show was held in the town. Being in the centre of the county, Dereham was also where Norfolk County Cricket Club held its matches in the 19th century. National sporting events get a mention in Armstrons’s diary, such as the occasion in 1877 when the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race resulted in a dead heat. Mostly his diary is taken up with the daily round of church affairs; visiting the sick, chairing meetings and conducting weddings (he said he preferred funerals). It was a more religious community then than it had been in the previous century (and certainly more devout than it is today), and Armstrong held services every day of the week. Sundays were taken up with multiple church services (two, and he wanted to introduce a third as soon as gas light made this possible). As the choir sang throughout the week the vicar thought they deserved a treat; he took the choirboys on a day’s outing to Lowestoft, and only three of them had ever seen the sea before.
The health of the country was still racked by epidemics of smallpox and cholera, and the advances in medicine were slow to exert their influence on the population; anaesthetics were starting to appear (to begin with in childbirth) and surgery was slowly advancing beyond the ‘cutting for the stone’. This operation (without any anaesthetics) had been the commonest one to begin with, and was attended by some success. The wonder drugs, starting with penicillin, were not to appear until the middle years of the 20th century. In all sorts of ways the speed of change has accelerated in the last two hundred years and it still continues to do so; before 1800 many things scarcely changed from one millennium to the next.
There have been three volumes of selections from the diaries of the Revd Benjamin Armstrong. The first was published in 1949 and the most recent in 2012. These journals are not so well-known as the diaries of Parson Woodforde; Armstrong’s diaries are much more recent in their concerns, in spite of only 15 years separating the lives of the two men. That makes them more understandable but of less historical interest. Look out for further posts mentioning the Reverend Armstrong; there is plenty more of interest in his diaries to digest.
*See the correction in the comments section.
THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
The first hint of the coming revolution in road transport came with the Puffing Devil, a steam-propelled road engine built by Richard Trevithick early in the 19th century. This was in Cornwall, where Trevithick was also engaged in the development of the high-pressure steam engine. Steam traction engines were being built all across the country (including East Anglia) by the middle of the 19th century.
There were several producers of this invention in Norfolk, and two firms in particular produced many machines. Charles Burrell of Thetford was making self-propelled road engines by the 1850s. Burrells did not survive and went bust in the first half of the twentieth century, but at one time their Norfolk built traction engines were exported all over the world. Frederick Savage of Kings Lynn’s steam Juggernauts were in production by 1855; the firm moved on from making farm equipment to corner the market in fairground rides and showman’s engines, even before the 20th century dawned. They were still in business in 1973, when the firm closed.
Norfolk is a rural county, which may explain the early enthusiasm for steam engines, that were used in farms to power threshing machinery. Traction engines, which were self-propelled versions of the stationary engine, were later employed to move goods about the farm and drive ploughing machines. The steam-powered wagon made by Samuel Soames in Marsham was an early example of an automotive road engine for personal transport, but it was a one-off.
Norfolk is not particularly notable for its place in the history of the motorcar, but that does not mean it was not involved at all. The firm of Mann Egerton in Norwich was involved deeply in the production of motor cars, building the bodywork for Rolls Royce chassis before the First World War. With the coming of war the firm moved into the production of airframes for the burgeoning aircraft industry. Two Norwich firms were involved; as well as Mann Egerton, who were commissioned by the Government to build aircraft to the deigns of others.This activity ceased with the coming of peace, but the other company who made aeroplanes during the First World War continued making aircraft throughout the Second World War. This was Boulton and Paul, whose Defiant was the most famous British night fighter of the Second World War, although by then production had been shifted to the midlands where the factory was deemed less exposed to enemy action. Earlier planes designed by Boulton and Paul had been the Overstrand and Sidestrand biplane bombers, and they had been made in Norwich.
Even railway locomotives were made in Norfolk. The Great Eastern made all its own locos, but their workshop was at Stratford in East London. When the M & G N was formed their works was in Melton Constable; although mot of their motive power was provided by other manufacturers, they did produce some of their own design of locomotives under their Chief Engineer William Marriott.
Before the coming of these mechanised forms of transport, the horse was the beast that moved men and goods on land. Before that it had been the ox, because horses were only used by the most exalted travellers; for the use of oxen as beasts of burden we must cast or eyes back to the middle ages. The great East Anglian horse was the Suffolk Punch, but this breed was apparently not popular in Norfolk.
With all the waterways in Broadland, water transport was the way we carried out trade before the coming of the railways. The high point of the development of boats for this trade was the Norfolk wherry. With just one sail to handle, this vessel could be sailed by one man, although the assistance of boy was helpful. Wheat and malting barley were taken downstream for transhipment to larger craft, or upstream to Norwich, while coal was carried by wherry upstream from Yarmouth. Lime was another common cargo.
Although the use of the wherry for transport had ceased by the middle 20th century, the importance of water transport continued on the river Yare well into living memory. Sea-going coasters carried coal and timber up to Norwich, and fruit juice from South America to Carrow Works for Robinson’s Barley Water; scrap metal was exported from Wensum wharf. This trade petered out about thirty years ago, and now all the river transport beyond the sea ports is leisure craft.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIA
In Victorian times, and even into the 1950s, the weather and the changing seasons seldom disrupted train services. Flooding may have been a problem, but there was no difficulty about leaves on the line; trees were kept well back from the track to avoid conflagrations arising from sparks from the chimneys of steam engines. If the wind blew a few leaves under the train the large wheels and heavy superstructure of these locomotives would make short work of them.
The 60 ft rails held together with fishplates could accommodate the most extreme temperatures without buckling. Now we have welded rails the passage of the trains is quieter it is true, but every year on hot days there are delays and cancellations caused by the expansion of the track.
Most recently we have had a catastrophic failure of all the colour-light signals on the Norwich to Cambridge line, caused by lightning strikes. The whole system was permanently stuck at red (which I suppose is slightly better than being stuck at green). To make things worse, the spare parts required had to be ordered from Germany. Semaphore signals never suffered in this way; these old signals were only removed from this stretch of line a few years ago, after more than a hundred and fifty years of faultless service. It hasn’t taken long for the modern signalling infrastructure to reveal its flaws.
The collision between a Cambridge bound train and a farm tractor, which happened about a year ago, was caused because (with the ending of semaphore signalling) the number of signal boxes on the line was drastically reduced. The signalman in the box at Cambridge made a mistake because, when called on the trackside phone, gave the tractor driver permission to cross. The train was already nearly upon him, and although luckily no one was killed, there was a terrible collision. Being so far from the scene must have had an effect; no signalman who had just let a train past his box would have allowed someone to cross. Also, having so much more work to do, with all the other signal boxes closed, it is perhaps not surprising that the mistake was made.
These problems are the result of recent updating on the railway. They haven’t made the trains run any faster, but they have certainly saved money on wages. Do not get me wrong; I fully accept the need to modernise a method of transport that was begun almost 200 years ago, but these improvements should be to enhance safety, not solely to protect the bottom line. They should result in a better service at all times. It should not be so easy for the vagaries of the weather, or the tiredness of the operatives, to disrupt things so badly. It ought to be possible to devise systems that would end the problem of leaves on the line for example; it might be a start to return to the old procedure of cutting back the undergrowth on embankments and cuttings along the line.
As to the problem of the rails expanding in hot weather, it might be that with the increasing warming of the climate, is it time to go back to a slightly shorter length of rail? I wonder how they manage things on the new high-speed line from Djibouti to Addis Ababa? The variations in temperature between night and day must be far greater than anything we experience in this country. There are certainly clever people working in the rail industry who could come up with much more innovative solutions to these problems than me, but at present they do not appear to be doing so. Rather we are told that it is just one of those acts of nature, and we must learn to accept it. A surprising number of badly served customers do accept this, but not me. In the 21st century we should be able to travel with comfort and reliability, nor should it cost a fortune to do so; in all three respects we are worse off than our great-grandparents.
THE BLOG FOR THE FUTURE OF THE RAILWAYS
Artificial intelligence is an unnatural version of the real thing. There has been much talk lately of artificial intelligence and the threat that this may present for us, but as far as I can see it presents no threat whatsoever. Artificial intelligence is a misnomer anyway; although it is undoubtedly artificial, there is nothing remotely intelligent about any computer software that I have ever come across. Whether it is attached to a robot, or to something like correcting this blog, it is highly unintelligent. Robots are good at doing simple repetitive jobs, like filling boxes, but no one would ever claim that this involves any intelligence at all. Even a simple job like polishing my shoes is a mind bogglingly complex task. It involves finding the polish in the first place, making sure it is the right colour, ensuring any spots are removed from the leather and polishing the shoes to a suitable sheen. A robot might one day manage it, but it would still not be intelligent in any meaningful sense of the word.
There is obviously much further to go along the road before we can apply even the term comprehension to any computer program, let alone intelligence. The auto-correct facility that tries to put right spelling mistakes is pretty good at spotting the sort of typos I might make by misplacing a single letter in a long word, but with short words it always gets it wrong. Where a human being would immediately see the correct word from the context, it make ridiculous assumptions based merely on the nearest spelling.
What I am extremely dubious about is any originality of thought ever coming from a computer. Even in purely scientific terms, take for example the ‘Higgs boson’; the existent of this sub-atomic particle was postulated in 1964 by the eponymous researcher, acting on what I can only call intuition. It was only proved in recent years by the use of the CERN particle accelerator. I do not claim have any knowledge of this abstruse branch of physics, but I do not see artificial intelligence coming up with similar revelations any time soon. Perhaps artificial intuition might. But because science can eventually be demonstrated by number crunching, it may be theoretically possible to accomplish anything scientific without human input. With the arts the prospect of computers coming up with any truly innovative results is impossible. A computer may appear to be creative, but it will always be merely a mechanistic device. The original insights of a writer or an artist, or even of a musician (although music relies on mathematics to large extent) I do not see as being within the grasp of artificial intelligence.
In the arts I see no prospect of computers supplanting human beings. I can contemplate the imagination being imitated by a non-imaginative machine, but I think the results would be bizarre rather than valid. As I said earlier, we are so far from even basic tasks being accomplished by artificial intelligence. I do not foresee even my grandchildren’s grandchildren needing to be unduly concerned by the threat of artificial intelligence. On the other hand, if advances will eventually take care of all spelling errors so much the better. If artificial intelligence can answer all the questions thrown up by molecular physics I would be amazed but not concerned. But if artificial intelligence could explain the value of a Shakespeare sonnet or a Keats ode I would be flabbergasted. For one thing, in such an ‘intelligent’ discussion there is no such thing as a ‘right’ answer, although there is an almost infinite number of ‘wrong’ ones. Or how about sarcasm or irony, where you say the opposite of what you intend; try getting a computer to understand that!
THE STORY OF MODERN TECHNOLOGY
The signs of ageing are always taken to be the obvious ones like wrinkles, cataracts or greying hair. I know that for men the social attitudes to these things are different; a craggy brow and sinking jowls can produce a kind of grandeur in the male face that is much harder to replicate in women. In the not too distant future these physical signs of age may eventually be much reduced (or even eliminated) but this will not mean the end of ageing. In a less superficial sense ageing will always be with us.
“You’re as a young as you feel” is the common cry among those who feel that age is creeping up on them, and the unspoken (and rather pathetic) implied continuation of this phrase is “And I feel really young”.
The last thing I would want is to feel young again, even if this were possible. I remember only too well the lack of self confidence, tongue-tied indecision and general misery of being young. Youth has its positive side, but this is seldom apparent to the young themselves. Trying to find one’s place in the world is a fraught business at the best of times, and the problems of youth are many; young people adopt all sorts of absurd ideas; the adolescent whose legs are growing out of kilter with the rest of his body has an ungainly stride; and the embarrassing effects of a breaking voice on the pubescent male are a penance. Who would want to revisit these things? In contrast age brings a certain gravitas to even the most unlikely candidates.
Even if the passing years do not bring great wealth they bring a certain stability to one’s finances. The young always begin with nothing; wealth, influence, or the sense of acceptance at the lack of theses things – they all have to be acquired over the years. To most of us offspring come with the passage of time, and the trials of having a young family fade as one’s own children shake off the insecurities of youth and progress into adulthood.
The undoubted bodily vigour of youth is not something I would wish to retain or return to. This slowing down in physical activity is another sign of ageing that is likely to remain long after most other such indicators have been banished to the past. The middle-aged may retain a youthful appearance in the future, but I very much doubt they will ever run as fast. The sight of an 80 year old running the Marathon may become more common, but such a competitor will always come way down the field at the finishing line. The twenties are the most physically productive age, and I can see no likelihood of this ever changing.
A certain forgetfulness is a general feature of the ageing process, but that does mean we are all irredeemably stupid. Our brain mass may decrease as its age increases, but the number of wrinkles in the brain tissue grows exponentially. As the wrinkles signify knowledge, this produces the wisdom of age. We may forget more things as we age, but we have an awful lot more to forget. The young brain is a huge blank canvas; it has masses of potential but little content. Potential is a wonderful thing, but it would be sad if that was all an old brain had to offer. We have far less space to store new memories, but that is fair enough as we have little time left to acquire them.
Some people lose all their memories, and this seems sad; but if you don’t know that you have forgotten everything there is a certain seemliness about this. Senility has dropped out of the lexicon of ageing, to be replaced by dementia. This is a pity, because senility has a direct correlation with the concept of ageing, coming from the Latin word senex, an old man. Dementia merely means a loss of reason, which can occur at any age. Senility was used where now we would say an old person has Alzheimer’s. Not one in a hundred has any idea what are the precise symptoms of this disease, and the use of the term only obfuscates the condition. The non-specific term senile dementia was far preferable; we all recognise that it affects the old, but this malady is not an inevitable consequence of ageing.
Like it or not, ageing is something we are all going through. Fighting it is a pointless exercise. Rather than hanker after lost youth you should celebrate the signs of ageing; stop regarding yourself as a time-expired old has-been and return to the idea of the wise elder. You still have a lot to offer.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES
Since Sunday 21 May 2017 there has been a brand new railway station to serve Cambridge Science Park; Cambridge North in the Chesterton area of town. Now we need a similar station to serve Norwich Science Park, and a village just south of Norwich -Cringleford- is the perfect place for it. It is on the Cambridge line, and only a short bike ride from the Science Park. There is a level crossing on Low Road at Cringleford, and that means that if a station were built there it would have no need for an (expensive) footbridge; just a couple of platforms (not three as at Cambridge North). It would not need an expensive station building either. There looks to be plenty of space nearby for a car park/cycle park, and a bus service could connect the station with the hospital/science park/university. It could continue to the city cente. The station would be roughly half way between Wymondham and Norwich stations.
A short distance up the track is another level crossing on Intwood Road. A station here would be slightly less convenient for Cringleford villagers, but the station would not really intended for them. It has even more space for a car park, and this could be closer to the railway too. Either site would be much cheaper to develop than Cambridge North, although knowing the way new projects like to splash the cash it probably would not done as inexpensively as I like to think. Perhaps now is little soon to start building such a station, but if the Science Park at Colney grows as we all hope it will, it is not too soon to start thinking about it. It has more in favour of it than the proposed station in Thorpe for the Broadland Business Park; at least it is on a line between two major business hubs (Norwich and Cambridge), unlike the Bittern Line where the Broadland Business Park station would be, which only runs to the seaside at Sheringham.
A new station for Broadland Business Park would cost £6.5 million we are told, which is not a great sum of money as such things go. Cambridge North was projected to cost £44m has in fact cost £50m. My scheme at Cringleford could be done for far less. Nor, unlike the Broadland scheme, do I foresee a requirement to increase the number of trains on the line just to service the new station; with the increased demand for transport links with Stansted Airport and Cambridge I anticipate a more frequent service on the Breckland line anyway, once the Ely junction has been upgraded. However we must think of a better name for the new station. Nobody has a clue where Cringleford is; how about UEA International anyone? They like impressive titles in Norwich (look at the ‘international’ airport). Perhaps Norwich Science Parkway would be more appropriate. I would of course support both Broadland Business Park and Norwich Science Park stations, whatever they are called.
I don’t expect such an improvement to be built in my lifetime; I would be happy merely to see the reopening of Soham station, which everybody is talking about but nobody is doing anything to advance. The reopening of the Wisbech branch, that still has the track in place – some of it even using modern concrete sleepers, though overgrown with weeds- would cost no more than Cambridge North Station, £50m. I won’t even mention the promised link from Bedford to Cambridge which would cost hundreds of millions. Opening up the old Varsity line providing the possibility of through trains from Norwich to Oxford is a tantalising prospect. Such enhancements to the railway network are long overdue, but they are long-term projects, so I should be glad the new station in Cambridge is now open. I don’t suppose I will ever use it (not being much of a scientist), but I may see it from the train. It is a small step, but a welcome one.
THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA
It is the sheer variety of the English landscape that fascinates me. France and Germany have varied landscapes too, but they are larger countries. We in England have such diversity crowded into our small land.
I contrast the picturesque beauty of Kent (the Garden of England) with the featureless expanses of the French scene just across the English Channel. I regard this division as emblematic of the charm of the English landscape. There are beautiful parts of France, but these do not include the land around Calais.
I am sure you know what I mean, but to demonstrate this let me take you on a virtual tour of the country. We will start near the centre of England, where the Grand Union Canal makes its leisurely way through rural pastures. From there we pass across the verdant Cotswolds, the Malverns and the Mendip Hills to the bleak grandeur of Devon’s Exmoor and Dartmoor. The rocky cliffs of North Cornwall stand against the Atlantic rollers that frequently pound the coast. Returning through Dorset there are the marvellous sweeping green headlands and crumbling Jurassic cliffs that meet the English Channel. The North is a combination of moors and dales where livestock graze the landscape; further south the lower lying fields of Lincolnshire and Norfolk are the bread basket of the country, with acres of arable land punctuated by commons, streams and woodlands. Finally in the North West are the majestic mountains and still waters of the Lake District.
There is little countryside in England that could be described as boring. In contest to the interest of England Canada has vast tracts of snowy wastes to the north; there you experience a brief summer, but the vanishing snow and ice only reveal scrubby grass, firs, myriads of flies and no people. The shifting sands of Arabia consist of dunes and hills but no greenery, apart from the occasional oasis. In England the wide expanses fertile but flat lands where the watery Fens have been reclaimed by ingenious Dutch drainage experts might appear a bit dull, were it not for the towns such as Wisbech and Ely that provide such beautiful relief.
The mountains in England do not provide the spectacular crags that those of Scotland and Wales do, let alone the majesty of the Alpine peaks. Grass rather than snow graces their summits for most of the year. Nature has smiled on us, and the great variety of our geology gave our island people a head start in the push to modernity. All around our shores ports flourished as first canals and then railways connected the inland regions of England with an avid export market.
Coal mines blighted many areas of the landscape, but most of the activity took place underground and out of sight. Lead and tin mines were places of early industrial hardship, but have left behind the picturesque ruins of pumping stations on the Cornish coast. At regular intervals the cathedral cities from Canterbury to York, Wells to Lincoln and Salisbury to Durham provide centres of elegant restraint. The people of England have grown to resemble their landscape; industrious, various but accommodating and friendly; so at least I like to imagine.
Surrounding it all is the sea, that greatest boon to the country. This scenic backdrop to the countryside provides us with a bulwark against foreign invaders, an ocean highway to the wider world, a food resource in the form of fish, a place for the production of green energy from the winds and (maybe) tides.
There is so much to be grateful for in the landscape of England. Let us try to preserve it.