ramblings

Ten Things

Summer is here. Well at least we’ve had a few glimpses of it. So Ten Things this month has a summery theme.

Ten Summer Things To Do

  1. Eat ice-cream
  2. Watch a cricket match (in person not on TV)
  3. Eat strawberries (and cream, of course)
  4. Sit in the garden (or on the beach) drinking wine
  5. Swim nude
  6. Paddle in the sea
  7. Go to a garden and enjoy the roses
  8. Sit by the river and watch nature and the world go by
  9. Spend a day in the nude – in your garden or on the beach – and enjoy the feel of sun and breeze on your skin
  10. Visit a farm to pick your own strawberries, asparagus etc.

Of course, doing these things is not necessarily restricted to summer, but they’re all better in nice weather. So now we just need the sunshine!

Shoes and Ships, but no Sealing Wax

The last couple of evenings I’ve been reading a small volume produced in 1965 by the Sussex Record Society. It’s by Richard F Dell and titled Rye Port Books; it documents shipping in and out of Rye in East Sussex between 1566 and 1590, ie. a large part of the reign of Elizabeth I. Rye, at this date, had a large harbour which irrevocably silted up around 1600.

While this might sound somewhat dull, they were interesting times (to say the least) when there was essentially a “cold war” between Protestant England and Catholic Europe. Understandably no-one was permitted to leave (or enter) the country without government permission, although many did and not a few were either Catholics fleeing to France or Italy or they were spies for one side or the other (or indeed both).

Rye at that time was one of the major ports for both passengers and freight between England and France and the Low Countries. Regrettably there is little detail of people movements in these records, apart from the occasional note of a boat carrying “20 passengers”. This is a shame because even at this date there were immigration officers stationed at every port such as Rye. Their job, as today, was to interrogate and determine the bona fides of all travellers and naturally to detain any they thought might be Catholic insurgents or spies. From reading elsewhere about the spy rings of Elizabethan England (masterminded by Lord Burghley and Sir Francis Walsingham) it is clear there was also a large amount of mail travelling back and forth, mostly being hand-carried by couriers. [For more on this see Stephen Alford, The Watchers: A Secret History of the Reign of Elizabeth I. Review when I’ve finished reading it.]

This book is more about the trade which was happening. Although there are several vessels logged which seem to do nothing but ply back and forth between Rye and Dieppe (the preferred route to France) carrying what today would be called “stuff”, there is also a large amount of goods travelling round the coast of the country, especially between Rye and London, but also as far afield as Newcastle, Spain and Portugal. Remember these are times when the roads were poor, if they existed at all, and a journey from Rye to London by cart carrying goods would take a week or more whereas in good weather a boat could sail between Rye and London in a couple of days. None of the ships involved are of any size; the largest I saw mentioned was 70 tons and they go down to tiny boats of 10 tons; the average is probably around 25-30 tons. These really are tiny boats; the Mary Rose by contrast was rated at 500 tons.

A large section of the book is a line by line summary of every ship which enters or departs Rye over this 35 year period (give or take a few gaps), all constructed from the surviving Elizabethan records in the Sussex County Archive, the National Archives and the Rye Town Records.

Most of the cargo was quite mundane, and perhaps what one might expect: grain of various sorts, wood (ship upon ship full of wood), coal, wool, cloth of various types, wine; and there were many loads which are just recorded as “mixed” so who knows what they contained. Iron appears fairly regularly, and in significant quantities too (the Sussex Downs were an iron smelting centre at this date) and there are several shipments of ordnance including the occasional iron cannon.

But there are some surprising (at least to me) things, such as: lupins, vinegar, apples (from France), oranges and lemons (yes even so; they come in from Spain and Portugal), hops (being traded in both directions), horses (strangely mostly out-bound), cony skins, wolf skins, bricks (being imported from the Low Countries; a single 40 ton ship can carry at least 10,000). And it goes on with nuts, spices, lead, paper, hosiery, cochineal, woad (presumably for use as a dyestuff), herrings (red and white), codfish, quails and scrap brass. Another ship brings in “6 asses”. All of this is, of course, taxed.

But there were several entries which really caught my eye. One cargo is documented as “Mixed inc. tennys bawles”; another contains “French playing cards”. Then there’s a mixed shipment which includes hawks (“6 Tassell hawks, 7 Falcon hawks, 3 Martin hawks, imported by Walter Libon, alien”). Lastlly, there are several shipments of old shoes to London! One can only guess that scrap leather had a value, but for what?

We think we live in interesting times, ship strange goods around in containers, using humongous amounts of oil. But all this was being done by the power of man, horse, tide and wind.

Who said history is dull!

On Manners, Expectations and Love

Is there a relationship between manners, our expectations of others and love?

Weaving together three articles from several years ago, I think there may be. This post is really me trying to see if this works. So you may disagree and I’m open to discussion.

First of all let’s think briefly about manners: those actions we try to instil into our children to help them survive in polite society.

According to an article in New Scientist in September 2013, “Manners maketh man: how disgust shaped human evolution” by Valerie Curtis [paywall] …

We need to better understand manners for two reasons: first, because they are a principal weapon in the war on disease, and second, because manners underpin our ability to function as a cooperative species … [M]anners are so important that they should be up there with fire and the invention of language as a prime candidate for what makes us human.
The first, and most ancient, function of manners is to solve the problem of how to be social without getting sick.

Those who master manners are set to reap the many benefits that come from living in a highly cooperative ultra-society. Manners are therefore a sort of proto-morality, a set of behaviours that we make “second nature” early in life so that we can avoid disgusting others with our parasites and our antisocial behaviour.

It’s the “cooperative society” part which interests me here as this seems to mesh with the idea (Business Insider; 25 March 2013) that

What one person expects of another can come to serve as a self-fulfilling prophesy.

This was tested on teachers and children. Teachers were told (randomly) a child was a star or a dunce; the children didn’t know how they’d been allocated. A while later when the child’s subsequent achievement was independently tested the stars had done significantly better than the dunces.

Thus we have a situation which reflects what I always say:

If you treat people as you would like them to be, you give then the space and incentive to grow and develop. If you treat them as they are, then they stay as they are.

If you expect manners, you’ll (hopefully) get manners; if you expect no manners, you’ll get no manners. And like it or not, manners oil the wheels of society.

So where does love come into all this?

Reflect on this comment from Candice Chung in an article “Why Chinese parents don’t say I love you” from the Sydney Morning Herald in July 2016.

From a sociological perspective, studies have also found that the phrase ‘I love you’ tends to be used less in a high context culture [eg. Asia] where “expectations are high and well documented”. While in the West (low context society), relationships are often managed with ‘I love you reminders’ to reassure someone of their importance [whereas], in high context culture, “intensely personal and intimate declarations can seem out of place and overly forceful”.

What this is saying seems to be that the Asian way, covert love, is thought to be less intense than the Western, more overt, way. In fact it seems to me the opposite is true and that the Asian way puts far more pressure on families and relationships than we do in the West. There seem to be far greater expectations of family connection, responsibility, loyalty etc. amongst Asians than amongst Westerners, and that the Western way appears to me to be more balanced and permissive of personal freedom.

And that amounts to essentially a difference of manners and expectations between cultures, so it is no real wonder that the cultures work differently.

Ten Things

It’s just over 500 years since Sir Thomas More first described what he called Utopia in 1516. So this month’s Ten Things celebrates More’s fabled island nation.

Ten Essential Elements of My Utopia

  1. Always a perfectly sunny warm early summer weather
  2. No death or life-threatening illness; all illness cured by love
  3. A perfect ethical code that everyone follows, hence a world without greed, hunger, thirst, violence or war
  4. No rat race and no oppressive employment
  5. No fossil fuels and hence no polluting transport or power generation
  6. Magic carpets for transport
  7. Good, free education for all; higher education which everyone wants to attend for the sake of learning
  8. No religion or politics; no political parties
  9. A universal respect for Nature and the environment, hence a green and pleasant land
  10. Everyone is open-minded with a universal acceptance of nudity, sex & sexuality, freedom of speech.

Unfortunately we all know that Utopia is, by definition, unattainable, for if we ever got there there’d be another Utopia just beyond reach. The grass is always greener, and all that!

Bidet

Michele Hanson in yesterday’s Guardian bemoans the fact that “prudish Brits” don’t have a bidet in their bathroom, and most (especially the blokes) wouldn’t know what to do with one if they did.

I agree. We don’t have bidets. And most Brits wouldn’t be seen dead using one. Why not?

I’ll tell Hanson why not. Because most of us have pathetically small bathrooms that you struggle to get a bath, loo and handbasin in. That’s why.

When we had our bathroom rebuilt a few years ago we struggled for a long time with how best to use the tiny space. Out went the bath and in went a shower cubicle. The handbasin was moved and a towel rail installed. Loo and radiator stayed in position. This made a tiny extra amount of space, but not enough room for a bidet. Despite trying hard there just is no way, short of removing a wall, to accommodate a bidet. And there is still almost no room as the space is about half the size of the average box room – cats cannot be swung.

To the majority of Brits, a bidet is like Europe: it’s either for the poncey well-to-do or its foreign. And God forfend we have either of those! Thank you, we’ll remain insular and isolated in out tiny little island/bathroom space.

The solution? Maybe these all-singing-all-washing-all-drying Japanese-style toilets are the way to go, but at the moment they’re way, way too expensive.

But that raises the question of whether a quick wash and dry is more environmentally friendly than 8-10-12 sheets of bog paper. Interesting one that.

Taxing Meat

Could a tax on meat help us save the planet?

That’s the interesting question posed by Simon Fairlie in a Guardian article a few days ago.

It is, I think, now becoming widely accepted that fattening livestock for human consumption is a very inefficient use of feed and water – and thus environmentally unsound. One way to reduce consumption of meat would be to tax it, perhaps treating it as a luxury item.

As usual here’s the tl;dr summary of quotes from the article.

Feeding cereals and beans to animals is an inefficient and extravagant way to produce human food … there is a limited amount of grazing land … the world will be hard-pressed to supply a predicted population of 9 billion people with a diet as rich in meat as the industrialised world currently enjoys, and … it’s not a very healthy diet anyway. [Additionally] … livestock [generate] 14.5% of all manmade greenhouse gas emissions.
… … …
Meat taxes have been proposed … the ideal solution might be not to tax meat itself, but to tax fossil fuels … meat production would decline as a consequence – partly because nitrogen fertilisers … for growing animal feed would become more expensive, and partly because there would be increased competition for grazing land.
… … …
Most proposals [for meat taxes] foresee different rates of tax applied to different animals … a pig fed on food waste and crop residues has a tiny fraction of the environmental impact of a pig fed on soya and grains.

If we were to have a meat tax, it would … be simpler to have a flat rate for all meat; and in the UK and the rest of the EU there is an oven-ready way of doing that … VAT … It is hard to think of a more seamless way of introducing consumers to the concept that meat … is a luxury item they will have to pay more for.
… … …
[Another] aspect of applying VAT to meat [is that] small livestock farms with an annual turnover of less than the £85,000 threshold could be exempt. They would benefit from an advantage of up to 20% over supermarkets for any meat they sell direct to consumers … [this] might help reverse the drastic decline in the number of small family farms, and give a boost to new entrants into farming. It would also provide a fillip to local economies, with farmers’ markets, community-supported agriculture schemes, urban food co-ops, small farms in the green belt, conservation graziers … likely to benefit.

It’s an intriguing idea, but one which I don’t see happening. The consumer in the developed world is far too wedded to meat as a staple food to accept what will be seen as an arbitrary price hike for no gain. But then again why not scrap income tax and charge VAT (or equivalent) on everything?

The Ancestors’ Commandments

I came across these a few days ago in a family history society magazine. I’ve tidied them up a bit.

The Ancestors’ Commandments

  1. Thou shalt use the same forenames for at least one person for every generation, preferably at least once in every family, just to cause confusion.
  2. Thou shalt wait the maximum amount of time before registering births and deaths, or better still somehow forget to get them registered at all.
  3. Thou shalt have two forenames, and use them both separately on official documents, but never together.
  4. Thou shalt change your forename at least once during your lifetime.
  5. Thou shalt use every conceivable spelling for your surname, and make up a few others as well.
  6. Thou shalt never use the same year of birth or birth date and always vary it adding a couple of years here and taking away a couple of years there.
  7. Thou shalt use the house name and country as your place of birth and not the village or town.
  8. Thou shalt completely disappear without trace for at least 15 years of your life and suddenly turn up again.
  9. Thou shalt use at least two different versions of your father’s name.
  10. Thou shalt not use family members as witnesses at your wedding(s).
  11. Thou shalt get married somewhere where neither of you live.
  12. Thou shalt not have all of your children baptised and shalt not always use the same church.
  13. Thou shalt move between counties at least once every ten years.
  14. Thou shalt move hundreds of miles from your home at least once.

Brilliant, aren’t they. And so, so true. I think Noreen and I each have a full house in our family trees.

Sprunging

Suddenly it’s Spring. Everything in our garden is growing, and green, and flowering. From the bright shocking pink of our “Ballerina” crab apple tree to …

… our small pendant ornamental crab apple …

Apple Blossom

… the cherry tree …

Cherry Blossom

… and the tulips.

Tulips

Our edible apple tree is just beginning to break into flower, so it should be full out in the next couple of days, and the lilac won’t be very far behind.

And just to top it all, the sun is shining!

Money, Money, Money!

Noreen and I had a fun time this afternoon: we played at the King in his counting house.

We have a gallon whisky bottle into which we put our small change when we come in – basically the shrapnel that weighs down the pocket. The rule is if it is less than a £1 coin and it fits in the bottle, it goes in; basically that is everything except £1, £2 and old 50p coins.

We’ve been doing this for many years, and used to collect about half a bottle a year (usually around £150-£200) which we used as holiday spending money. But now that we’re not working there hasn’t been as much small change to go in the bottle, and we’ve been lazy, so it hasn’t been emptied for quite some years. The bottle has overflowed into a plastic jar, which has overflowed into a tin.

Today we decided to count our loot. In days of old sorting and counting the coins was a horrible job (one reason we kept putting it off!); it used to occupy us all afternoon. But I knew the job was looming so I acquired, for a few quid on eBay, a nifty little machine which sorts the coins (basically by size). It’s battery driven and a devilishly clever sorting mechanism based on two disks and sized slots.

The sorted coins are output into small tubes which are calibrated so you get the value of each full pot, whereupon it is relatively easy to bag the coins in amounts acceptable to the bank. Well almost – the calibrations aren’t exact so the bags still have to be weight-checked (and as a double check we counted a few random bags).

We counted and bagged an amazing total of exactly £500 – yes a monkey! – with a couple of bags of odds and sods left over. And in just a couple of hours the job’s a good ‘un. Doing the job entirely by hand would have taken the two of us at least all afternoon, and probably all evening as well.

If you think in terms of pennies and 5p coins, you need a lot to make up even £100. But do you know what makes the real difference? 20p coins. It’s hard to believe but over half the £500 total was in 20p coins. We’ve noticed over the years that you get about 50% more 20p coins than 10p or 5p coins, and of course they’re worth more. That soon ratchets up the extra value. So if you want to collect just one coin, then 20p is the one to pick.

All we have to do now is stagger the incredible weight to the bank and hope we’ve weighed everything correctly. Wish us luck!

And then we have to decide what to spend it on!

Most Important People

I came across the attached article from the Naples Daily News (Florida) at the beginning of the year.

I don’t know I 100% agree with the author – well it is American! – as I think he has tilted the balance too far from the current norm and I think there is a balance to be struck. However from what I see around me the best adjusted children are those where the family apparently adheres, more or less, to his tenets.

Here’s an image of the article, and in case you can’t read it easily I reproduce the text below.

[ Image Removed ]


Naples Daily News, Sunday 1 January 2017

Your kids should not be the most important in the family

John Rosemond, Family Psychologist

I recently asked a married couple who have three kids, none of whom are yet teens, “Who are the most important people in your family?”

Like all good moms and dads of this brave new millennium, they answered, “Our kids!”

“Why?” I then asked. “What is it about your kids that gives them that status?” And like all good moms and dads of this brave new millennium, they couldn’t answer the question other than to fumble with appeals to emotion.

So, I answered the question for them: “There is no reasonable thing that gives your children that status.”

I went on to point out that many if not most of the problems they’re having with their kids – typical stuff, these days – are the result of treating their children as if they, their marriage, and their family exist because of the kids when it is, in fact, the other way around. Their kids exist because of them and their marriage and thrive because they have created a stable family.

Furthermore, without them. their kids wouldn’t eat well, have the nice clothing they wear, live in the nice home in which they live, enjoy the great vacations they enjoy, and so on. Instead of lives that are relatively carefree (despite the drama to the contrary that they occasionally manufacture), their children would be living lives full of worry and want.

This issue is really the heart of the matter. People my age know it’s the heart of the matter because when we were kids it was clear to us that our parents were the most important people in our families. And that, right there, is why we respected our parents and that, right there, is why we looked up to adults in general. Yes, Virginia, once upon a time in the United States of America, children were second-class citizens, to their advantage.

It was also clear to us – I speak, of course, in general terms, albeit accurate – that our parents marriages were more important to them than their relationships with us. Therefore, we did not sleep in their beds or interrupt their conversations. The family meal, at home, was regarded as more important than after-school activities. Mom and Dad talked more – a lot more – with one another than they talked with you. For lack of pedestals, we emancipated earlier and much more successfully than have children since.

The most important person in an army is the general. The most important person in a corporation is the CEO. The most important person in a classroom is the teacher. And the most important person in a family are the parents.

The most important thing about children is the need to prepare them properly for responsible citizenship. The primary objective should not be raising a straight-A student who excels at three sports, earns a spot on the Olympic swim team, goes to an A-list university and becomes a prominent brain surgeon. The primary objective is to raise a child such that community and culture are strengthened.

“Our child is the most important person in our family” is the first step toward raising a child who feels entitled.

You don’t want that. Unbeknownst to your child he doesn’t need that. And neither does America.