All posts by Michael Clarke

Bananas, Past, Present and Future”    Pat Heslop-Harrison 16 August 2021

Pat Heslop-Harrison is Professor of Genetics at the University of Leicester, an insti­tu­tion famous for its impact on med­ical and bio­lo­gical sci­ence through such world lead­ing research as the Human Geno pro­ject and the DNA struc­tures of animal and plant life.  Perhaps less well known is the research going on into the applic­a­tions of such sci­ence into  areas such as agri­cul­ture and food sus­tain­ab­il­ity, as we face up to cli­mate change.  Our speaker could have ensured our interest by choos­ing to focus on any one of a number of staple crops: wheat, maize, rice, pota­toes, len­tils, soya etc.  But it was to be the humble banana which was to be his choice of main dish on the menu.

Professor Harrison opened his talk by explain­ing the import­ance of the banana as a lead­ing diet­ary staple and con­trib­utor to world food supply.  Around 120 mil­lion tons are now pro­duced world-wide, with cul­tiv­a­tion mainly in trop­ical and frost-free coun­tries. But only around 15% of pro­duc­tion enters world mar­kets.  India and China are the largest pro­du­cers, all con­sumed domest­ic­ally.  Elsewhere, the main pro­du­cers are Latin America and the Caribbean Islands, export­ing to North America and Europe.  These mar­kets opened up in the late 19th Century with improve­ment to ship­ping, stor­age for con­trolled ripen­ing and onward logist­ics, the trade becom­ing dom­in­ated by the likes of Fyffes, Pratts, Dole and Chiquita, who have about 60% of the market.


Bananas are a valu­able source of Potassium, fibre and vit­am­ins B and C.   According to the Guinness Book of Records, they are now the most con­sumed fruit — not only by ath­letes want­ing an energy boost from their high car­bo­hydrate and sugar con­tent!  Although a fleshy elong­ated fruit -the banana is botan­ic­ally a berry pro­duced by herb­aceous plants (not trees) in the genius Musa.  Originating in SE Asia, they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes (and fruit col­ours) and can grow up to 16 feet.  Cultivation began around 6000 BC when the ori­ginal wild fruit had large black seeds and so was dif­fi­cult to eat.  Seedless vari­et­ies have been evolved over the cen­tur­ies.  In the Tropics, smal­ler, firmer, bana­nas used for cook­ing are called plantains. The famil­iar yellow dessert fruit we enjoy are typ­ic­ally from the Musa Acuminata ‘Cavendish’ vari­ety. This became pop­u­lar in the 1950s when the Gros Michel vari­ety became unvi­able due to Panama Disease.  These typ­ic­ally arrive in our shops via refri­ger­ated (13.5 %C) sea con­tain­ers with the on shore arti­fi­cial ripen­ing pro­cess con­trolled by ethyl­ene gas.  This enables demand and supply to be care­fully con­trolled, and waste min­im­ised, before dis­tri­bu­tion to retail­ers.


Our speaker, who shares research with uni­ver­sit­ies in China and France, moved on to give us a taste of the sci­ence behind the cul­tiv­a­tion of the valu­able crop.  There are over 2000 known vari­et­ies of banana. These have been stud­ied and recor­ded by their (mil­lions )  of cell, gene and chro­mo­some struc­tures to give ‘band­ing’ pat­terns.  (A sim­ilar approach is used in vac­cine research).  This allows sci­ent­ists to estab­lish which vari­ety is related to what and facil­it­ates the iden­ti­fic­a­tion of nutri­tional value, disease/virus/insect res­ist­ance and cli­mate hardi­ness. What fol­lowed was much above your blog writer’s head, but sens­ing that we might be enlightened by the delights of CZH2 pro­teins and single Nucleo Polymorhisms, Pat sug­ges­ted we might refer to the Banana Genome Hub on the web. (it’s worth a look!


Professor Harrison con­cluded his present­a­tion with a glimpse into the future. Food sus­tain­ab­il­ity and reli­ab­il­ity will con­tinue to be major con­cerns.  We are all aware of the effects of pop­u­la­tion growth, eco­nomic expan­sion and, increas­ingly cli­mate change: much of the world seems aflame, or suf­fer­ing from extreme storms and flood­ing. These events are clearly already having an effect on agri­cul­ture -animal and plant- and water sup­plies and levels.  And there are other threats: the pop­u­lar ‘Cavendish’ vari­ety is becom­ing affected by the Sigtoka virus and much research into hybrid­isa­tion and genetic engin­eer­ing will be required to combat it. The same threats apply to other crops and give rise to other chal­lenges such as fungi, bac­teria and weed reduc­tion.  Major pro­grammes already under way have allowed food reduc­tion to keep pace with pop­u­la­tion growth but sadly there has been polit­ical res­ist­ance to these devel­op­ments, not least in Europe.

As might be expec­ted, Pat’s talk stim­u­lated more ques­tions than time allowed.  These included:  Was the Potassium con­tent in bana­nas harm­ful? (No)  Why was the Cavendish vari­ety so pop­u­lar? (Reliability in cul­tiv­a­tion, ease of trans­port –but try others avail­able in ethnic shops)  What might be the effects of cli­mate change? (Could extend or reduce areas of pro­duc­tion). Do bana­nas help ripen toma­toes (yes, they give off ethyl­ene gas).  And what is the cor­rect way to peel a banana? (From the flower end towards the stalk).






Hyperscale Data Centres — 10th May 2021

Our speaker this week, who wished to remain anonym­ous due to com­mer­cial sens­it­iv­it­ies, addressed us dir­ectly — cour­tesy modern tech­no­logy — from a loc­a­tion in the west­ern US.  He is cur­rently work­ing as a Construction Manager with one of the World ‘Premier League’ (Amazon, Facebook, IBM, Microsoft, etc.) of ‘High Tec’ Corporations, com­mis­sion­ing a new site in a remote loc­a­tion.   He is an expert in the design and imple­ment­a­tion of large scale pro­jects, who had pre­vi­ously spoken to us about how under­wa­ter cables trans­mit­ted 90% of inter­net traffic.  After leav­ing a local Comprehensive School, our speaker won a schol­ar­ship to study Construction at a University in Greater Manchester.  He went on to work on such devel­op­ments as the Manchester Arena, major hos­pit­als and a BT data centre on the Isle of Man.

Many of us recall put­ting coins in a tele­phone box, with mobile phones not common before 1990. The typing pool had not yet been replaced by the com­puter or word pro­cessor.  While our level of expert­ise varies, most of us take elec­tronic com­mu­nic­a­tions for gran­ted these days.  The World Wide Web has trans­formed the way we do busi­ness and keep in touch.  The cur­rent ‘Covid lock­down’ has boos­ted usage and caused dis­rup­tion to tra­di­tional ways of pur­chas­ing goods and ser­vices.  Family meet­ings, University lec­tures, Church ser­vices, and even Probus talks like this one, are now routinely ‘streamed’ or ‘zoomed’.  The pace and capa­city of change is speed­ing up and has become dom­in­ated by large, mostly US and Chinese based organ­isa­tions.

Having set the scene, our speaker was to open our eyes to the infra­struc­ture and equip­ment ‘archi­tec­ture’ required to sup­port and ser­vice these devel­op­ments.  He divided his illus­trated talk into four sec­tions:

 What is a Hyperscale Data Center (HDC)?

Traditional data centres are cent­ral­ised facil­it­ies that house organ­isa­tions’ crit­ical data and applic­a­tions.  They use com­put­ing, net­work­ing sys­tems and equip­ment to store data and enable users’ access to resources.  HDCs are sig­ni­fic­antly larger, to the extent that they can accom­mod­ate mil­lions of serv­ers and more vir­tual machines.  Hyperscaling is neces­sary for ‘Cloud’ and large scale pro­vi­sion, while being more cost effect­ive and improv­ing busi­ness oper­a­tions.  It allows flex­ible expan­sion to meet organ­isa­tions’ grow­ing inter­net, data stor­age and com­put­ing net­works, without requir­ing addi­tional cool­ing, elec­trical power or phys­ical space.

An HDC houses net­work­ing serv­ers hori­zont­ally, enabling them to quickly and simply be added or removed as capa­city demands increase and decrease.  A load bal­an­cer man­ages this pro­cess by mon­it­or­ing the amount of data that needs to be pro­cessed.  Customers are alloc­ated rented capa­city, reg­u­lated either through their kilo­watt con­sump­tion or the number of ‘stor­age racks’ they require.

Where are HDCs built?

HDCs facil­it­ies require at least 10,000 square feet to house 5000+ serv­ers that run on ultra- high speed fibre net­works, but many are much larger.  Our speaker’s site requires 152K sq  ft (about 350 acres) but is dwarfed by one in Texas, of 2.5 mil­lion sq ft .  Such sites are unlikely to be found within cities due to plan­ning restric­tions.  They are increas­ingly being loc­ated in run down or undeveloped rural areas where there are few job oppor­tun­it­ies.  Sites should ideally be well away from seis­mic, flood­ing and extreme weather threats.  For these reas­ons, HDCs are not freest­and­ing but typ­ic­ally linked to a net­work of five or six other HDCs in dif­fer­ent loc­a­tions, to provide both secur­ity and mutual backup. There are likely to be around 700 such sites world­wide by 2024.

How are HDC’s built?

To give us an impres­sion of the major pro­ject in which he has a vital role, our speaker  showed a video of  an HDC site under con­struc­tion.  Contractor and sub-contractors and their men and equip­ment were seen moving in sequence from ground clear­ance and ground­works to roof­ing.  We saw  trench­ing and the install­a­tion of storm drains, ser­vice duct­ing, laying  of rein­forced con­crete found­a­tions to  erect­ing steel (sourced from sev­eral sup­pli­ers) roof sup­ports and finally cov­er­ing.  The next stage was the fit­ting and kit­ting of elec­trical equip­ment and build­ing ser­vices.

The typ­ical con­struc­tion time to com­mis­sion­ing is about 18–24 months, requir­ing a large ini­tial labour and plant equip­ment input.  The Permanent on site work­force will, how­ever, be small, per­haps 100 man­agers and tech­ni­cians.  Such remote siting needs new roads, but easing access may bring secur­ity con­cerns.  Protective meas­ures such as deep burial in con­crete of fibre and elec­tri­city cables and secur­ity fen­cing and entrance restric­tions are spe­cified.  Electricity will be sup­plied from at least two grids, from which power can be ‘stepped down’.  Cooling power, assisted by under­floor vent­il­a­tion, is con­cen­trated towards serv­ers that host high-intensity work­loads and air flow optim­ised to reclaim and recycle heat.

The Changing Landscape

Our Speaker con­cluded his present­a­tion by invit­ing us to move from present con­struc­tion to a peep into the future.  Where could we be in forty years’ time?   It’s beyond ima­gin­a­tion!  Did anyone anti­cip­ate forty years ago that today they could see (in colour) and chat to their family in Australia on their tablet or mobile?  Communication tech­no­logy is speed­ing up and widen­ing its applic­a­tions: such fields as lit­ig­a­tion, med­ical sci­ence and bio­tech­no­logy are open­ing up and net­works will both respond to and stim­u­late devel­op­ments.  He pre­dicted that there will  be a massive growth in ‘cloud’ back up/storage facil­it­ies.  There will be a need for both HDCs and smal­ler facil­it­ies, made pos­sible by the devel­op­ment of micro equip­ment, and a require­ment for rel­ev­ant tech­nical edu­ca­tion if eco­nom­ies are to remain com­pet­it­ive.  To meet local or spe­cial­ist needs smal­ler facil­it­ies such as those in the UK at Slough and Waltham Cross will have to be built.  Larger schemes espe­cially, will need to reflect grow­ing envir­on­mental con­cerns i.e., placed near hydro/solar/wind facil­it­ies or even canals and sew­er­age farms, where dirty or ‘grey’water can be recycled after use as a coolant.

 Our Speaker was warmly thanked for his fas­cin­at­ing present­a­tion.

The Chesterfield Canal ” Michael Edwards 18th January 2021

Our Speaker this week worked as a Biomedical Scientist for the NHS.  One of his many interests before and since retire­ment has been the res­tor­a­tion of the Chesterfield Canal.  He is cur­rently Vice Chairman of that waterway’s res­tor­a­tion soci­ety, the Chesterfield Canal Trust.  We had pre­vi­ously enjoyed two talks on this fas­cin­at­ing topic from other speak­ers and Michael’s talk was to make that a happy treble as he explored an import­ant aspect of our local Economic History.


Canal entrance at West Stockwith  “

With illus­tra­tions through­out, our Speaker was to take us on a ‘before and after’ trip -both vir­tual and historical- along the near 46 miles of the canal.  We star­ted at the canal’s junc­tion with the River Trent and its entrance at West Stockwith tidal Lock, and fin­ished with a glimpse of Chesterfield’s famous twis­ted spire viewed from a spot which is now becom­ing the ‘Waterside’ devel­op­ment off the A61.

Michael opened his talk with a resume of the dif­fi­culties faced by the canal’s con­struc­tion. The land­scape is fairly flat east of Worksop: there­after the topo­graphy no longer per­mit­ted fol­low­ing con­tours. There is a rise west­wards to over 240 feet above river (Trent) level reach­ing a summit at a point where the course runs under the M1 motor­way.  A 74ft drop towards Staveley fol­lows with a final 40ft rise before Chesterfield.  All this required the con­struc­tion of no less than 65 locks, two aque­ducts, sev­eral ‘feeder’ reser­voirs, a minor tunnel at Drakeholes and the major 2284 yard effort at Norwood. There were also other tun­nels which linked dir­ectly with coal work­ings.  Norwood was the scene of a major col­lapse in 1907 due to mining sub­sid­ence, effect­ively cut­ting the canal in two, isol­at­ing Chesterfield and thus losing much trade.

 “Eastern Entrance to Norwood Tunnel near Kiverton Park”

The Chesterfield Canal was con­struc­ted between 1771 and 1777 at the height of the Industrial Revolution, with its rap­idly increas­ing use of steam power. These two devel­op­ments, together with numer­ous tech­nical and mech­an­ical innov­a­tions, res­ul­ted in a grow­ing and  insa­ti­able appet­ite for coal, Iron and other heavy raw mater­i­als.  Likewise, the car­riage of fin­ished products to home and export mar­kets was being hampered by the trans­port logist­ics of the day: access to main artery of the North Midlands, the Trent, was lim­ited to horse and cart or sub­ject to the whims of the Idle and other small rivers.  Under the Leadership of the Duke of Newcastle and sev­eral other large land­lords, who owned min­eral rights – and with the sup­port of local towns along the pro­posed route- “The Company of Proprietors of the Canal Navigation from Chesterfield to the River Trent” was incor­por­ated in 1771.  The share cap­ital raised was £100,000.  The Company appoin­ted James Brindley as its Chief Engineer.  Originally the plan had been for ‘narrow boats’ (requir­ing 7ft locks) only, but nine share­hold­ers funded the extra cost of installing ’broad locks’ (14ft) as far as Retford.  Apart from allow­ing a far cheaper deliv­ery of coal (which halved in price), the canal was  also to  build up a thriv­ing trade a wide range of car­goes includ­ing iron, lead, sand, cement, gravel, bricks, timber and later, ‘wark’  (a kind of mud used in the cut­lery and other trades).  And it was carry stone from the South Anston quar­ries to the Trent (and hence to London via the coast and Thames) which was used to con­struct the then new Houses of Parliament we know today. The busi­ness traded prof­it­ably up to around 1845, at one point paying a dividend of 7%!

Before the Norwood tunnel col­lapse, the main turn­ing point in the canal’s for­tunes was the advent of what became the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincoln Railway (from 1890 the Great Central), which effect­ively took the busi­ness over in 1845.  The MSL did not, how­ever, use part of the Canal as a track-bed as ori­gin­ally pro­posed. It was to remain in rail­way oper­a­tion and own­er­ship (LNER from 1923) up to nation­al­isa­tion in 1948 thence becom­ing the respons­ib­il­ity of British Waterways.  By that point, rap­idly devel­op­ing and more flex­ible road trans­port was to take over the vast major­ity of freight traffic, lead­ing to formal clos­ure in 1960.  Under the Transport Act of 1968, the east­ern Worksop-Stockwith sec­tion (which remained in water but in parts clogged by weed), was des­ig­nated for leis­ure use, but this was only after much cam­paign­ing, led by the Worksop and Retford Boat Club.  Sadly, the sec­tion west of Norwood was to be sold off in parts for devel­op­ment.  Years of neg­lect were to follow together with some destruc­tion of locks etc and the con­struc­tion of new over bridges with insuf­fi­cient head­room to allow a boat or horse to pass.


Transformation: Turnerwood locks before and after res­tor­a­tion in 2002”

Michael Edwards then went on to out­line how the Canal Society came into being in 1978 (It became the Chesterfield Canal Trust in 1998) to spear­head res­tor­a­tion. The Trust ini­tially sought to extend the sec­tion beyond Worksop, but when pro­gress was slow, moved to work­ing on the Chesterfield end.  Over five miles of canal, includ­ing five ori­ginal locks and a brand new lock at Staverley Basin were nav­ig­able by 2017.  The east­ern end was restored from Worksop to the mouth of Norwood Tunnel at Kiverton Park between 1995 and 2003, funded by Derelict Land Grants, English Partnerships and the Heritage Lottery Fund.  Three new mar­i­nas have been con­struc­ted.  Old build­ings have been restored and sev­eral tra­di­tional ‘hump-backed’ over bridges have been rebuilt to replace the more recent ‘’flat’ intru­sions. The canal now boasts a new scratch built ‘Cuckoo Boat’ the ‘Dawn Rose’ not men­tion the tow–horse “Charlie”.  There are 4 ‘trip’ boats.

Charlie” with his keeper Dean

Less than nine miles of the ori­ginal route towards Chesterfield remain to be restored to link the two nav­ig­able sec­tions but this will require some new lengths of the canal to be built to bypass the hous­ing devel­op­ment at Killamarsh.  While the west­ern end is still in good con­di­tion, there will be a need to replace most of Norwood Tunnel  which cannot be restored.  Michael explained some of the options which might bring this about.

Inside Norwood Tunnel look­ing east toward col­lapse”

 The Eastern sec­tion here is man­aged by the Canal and River Trust and the west­ern end by Derbyshire County Council, includ­ing the vis­itor centre at Tapton. The Trust’s centre is loc­ated at Hollingwood.  It’s worth a visit to see the amaz­ing devel­op­ments and regen­er­a­tion around with more work to come.

Michael con­cluded his talk by look­ing ahead to the future. In the longer term there are pro­pos­als to make a link with the Sheffield  Canal via the Rother Valley Country Park.  In the shorter term, while the Chatsworth Estate had been very sup­port­ive, any fur­ther sig­ni­fic­ant pro­gress around the Burrow Hill/Trebor/Staverley Irons works site is cur­rently unclear. This is due to cur­rent fund­ing con­straints, and decisions over the route and main­ten­ance depot for the HST2 Birmingham Leeds sec­tion.  Funding is also a prob­lem at the waterway’s Terminus, the ‘Waterside’ marina devel­op­ment in Chesterfield, which may have to be scaled down.  But few pro­jects of the size of restor­ing 46 miles of canal go without prob­lems and set-backs.  The Trust has raised nearly £200k in dona­tions and £20m in public funds. It now has 2000 members- new mem­bers always wel­come!  The Trust has recently appoin­ted its first paid man­ager, George Roberts, ex Cromford Canal.

While much remains to be done, there has been immense sat­is­fac­tion in restor­ing a derel­ict ditch into an attract­ive public amen­ity.  The canal now attracts not only nature watch­ers and fish­er­man but cyc­lists and walk­ers (0ver 1000 a week at the latest count). We would be very wel­come to join them and thought will be given to a canal walk fol­lowed by a pub lunch when Covid per­mits.


The Spire in the dis­tance.

Our talk –via Zoom- was appre­ci­ated by a record audi­ence of 54, includ­ing one member in California and three guests.

VIETNAM: The Unwinnable War” Professor Antony Taylor 7th September 2020

Our speaker this week, Antony Taylor, is Professor of Modern History at Sheffield Hallam University.  He had pre­vi­ously vis­ited us in January 2019, when he gave a most even-handed view of Brexit and its rami­fic­a­tions.  He was to repeat this approach in tack­ling todays talk, the sub­ject of which in its day was, for nearly twenty years — along with Nuclear dis­arm­a­ment — per­haps the most con­tro­ver­sial and divis­ive topic of our younger years .

Tony began his talk by sketch­ing out the back­ground to this long and cruel con­flict (1955–1975) which was to cost 58,000 American lives. The War sprung from its routes in WW2, as the US aban­doned isol­a­tion and became a Pacific ori­ent­ated power in the after­math of Pearl Harbour. European colo­nial weak­ness, both in battle and supply logist­ics, was demon­strated by the ini­tial suc­cess of Japan before and during the early stages of the War.  Korea, large swathes of China, Indo–China and later, Hong Kong and Singapore were over run. In the vacuum fol­low­ing the fall of Japan in 1945, Communism became ascend­ant in the now restored colon­ies of Great Britain, Holland and France.  All were to exper­i­ence ‘guer­rilla’ activ­ity in sup­port of inde­pend­ence. The US, already heav­ily com­mit­ted to ‘roll back’ com­mun­ism in the shorter Korean con­flict (1950–53), attemp­ted to ‘prop up’ the colo­nial powers, espe­cially France, via ‘Marshall Aid’ funds.  This served only to stoke up the nation­al­ists of the region, espe­cially the Vietminh, who also oper­ated through­out the rest of French Indo-China. Their weapons included light armoury sup­plied from both Russia and China, light­en­ing terror attacks and indoc­trin­a­tion of the pop­u­la­tion.  No mercy was shown to any cap­tured enemy.  The reg­u­lar dis­play of mutil­ated French sol­diers had a grim mes­sage both in the jungle and in Paris.


There fol­lowed a nine year war of attri­tion between the Vietminh and the restored French Empire, cul­min­at­ing in the fall of Dien Bien Phu in 1954.  This was to give inde­pend­ence to the former colon­ies of Laos and Cambodia.  Vietnam was par­ti­tioned along the 17th par­al­lel between a Communist north under Ho Chi Minh and a US backed south under Ngo Diem.  The border was to prove unstable with con­stant incur­sions and in 1964 the Gulf of Tonkin incid­ent -another Pearl Harbour moment- in which US ships were attacked, pro­voked full American involve­ment.  Despite a vast build-up of US forces and hard­ware, America was unable to pre­vent the Vietcong enter­ing the south with impun­ity.  There was a major refugee ‘boat people’ crisis in 1978, as people tried to flee the coun­try.  Secretary State for Defence Robert McNamara acknow­ledged before his death that “the USA could never have won this war”.

South East Asia was to become the ’cock­pit’ of the Cold War with no ‘Yalta’ mech­an­ism for keep­ing the peace. The Vietnam war was to be end­lessly fought on other fronts such as Afghanistan and Iraq, blight­ing the records of Presidents Kennedy, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. With TV cov­er­age, the War attrac­ted a great deal of mainly left wing sym­pathy in the West with the Viet Cong flag (a yellow star on red back­ground) a reg­u­lar sight on uni­ver­sity cam­puses and demon­stra­tions in Trafalgar Square or out­side the White House.  It was to enter deep into pop­u­lar con­science, becom­ing the sub­ject of sev­eral films such as “Platoon”, “Hamburger Hill”, as well as plays includ­ing “ Miss Saigon” and numer­ous books eg,  Michel Herr’s ‘Despatches’.  The com­mun­ist side made much use of pro­pa­ganda pit­ting the under­dog against the bully.


 Tony moved on to dis­cuss a range of factors, which he con­sidered made the War unwinnable for America.  These included:

  • An over-dependence on static defens­ive pos­i­tions, like the French before them, losing con­trol of the coun­tryside which aerial bom­bard­ment, use of chem­ical weapons etc failed to flush out the oppos­i­tion
  • Trying to fight a con­ven­tional war against an uncon­ven­tional enemy that would go to ground min­im­ising open con­flict and tar­gets. The US army used many reluct­ant con­scripts; the Vietminh were battle hardened and had fought both the Japanese and the French before the US
  • Few ‘indi­gen­ous col­lab­or­at­ors’ and lack of sub­stan­tial inter­na­tional allies
  • Anti-war protests at home, bring­ing together young people, the counter cul­ture, black civil rights act­iv­ists and some Hollywood stars.


 Our speaker con­cluded his talk by con­sid­er­ing the con­sequences of the Vietnam War.   While the British had won their war against the com­mun­ists by 1950, with the help of the indi­gen­ous pop­u­la­tion, and then grant­ing (what became) Malaysia full inde­pend­ence in 1957, Tony thought the whole epis­ode had humi­li­ated the USA encour­aging a return to an isol­a­tion­ist stance.  A more con­struct­ive approach might have been to have offered an aid pack­age to encour­age better US sen­ti­ment through greater prosper­ity.  By destabil­ising the region war, broke out between Vietnam and Cambodia, res­ult­ing in the rise of the Khmer rouge under Pol Pot. The US thus caused what it had tried to pre­vent -the pro­lif­er­a­tion of Communism in the region and an example for anti-colonial move­ments else­where.

Before our ‘Zoom Time’ was up Tony took a number of ques­tions which ranged from the role of Harold Wilson (who kept GB out) the War’s impact on France and Algeria, the use of Napalm, to the Soviet exper­i­ence in Afghanistan.   This level of interest was stim­u­lated by another com­pel­ling talk for which our speaker was warmly thanked.



































Sheffield United: Folklore & Fables John Garrett 9th March 2020

Football is 60% abil­ity and 40% sur­vival”  —  Derek Dooley

 Earlier this season I tried to get tick­ets for a ‘Blades’ match to treat my eldest grand­son.  Not having the required vouch­ers, my attempt was declined.   So instead, we went to Chesterfield to watch the ‘Spirites’ play ‘my’ team Woking: a highly com­pet­it­ive 1–2 result in the National League played in front of 4000 (OAP ticket £12, child £5).  As far as I know, United have never played Woking, but they do have common bonds: by coin­cid­ence both clubs cel­eb­rate their 131st birth­days this year, both were ‘com­munity’ clubs and both share red, white and black as their team col­ours.

 Even if we rarely go to live foot­ball, it is funny how many of us retain our boy­hood interest in our ‘home’ team, even if cir­cum­stances have taken us else­where. By con­trast, our speaker this week, John Garrett, has stayed proudly put in his native city sup­port­ing ‘The Blades’ all his life.   He has worked for this famous club in vari­ous roles over 24 years and vis­ited 148 grounds in the pro­cess.  He is cur­rently work­ing as Heritage Manager , writ­ing reg­u­lar con­tri­bu­tion to match pro­grammes.  He has been the driv­ing force for set­ting up the ’Blades’ Museum.  To attract vis­it­ors, he thought the Council should be much more ima­gin­at­ive in pro­mot­ing the City’s foot­ball his­tory.  Starting on a ”low salary but with free admis­sion to matches”, John had seen the club from many angles: its downs and recent ups and these, in the form of facts, folk­lore and fables, he was to share in abund­ance.

John began his talk by recount­ing how foot­ball had been a tread in his family life over four gen­er­a­tions.  Anyone coming to Sheffield soon becomes aware of the strong rival­ries between avian owls and sharpened swords. Loyalties within work­places and fam­il­ies are often strained.  When, as a young lady, his mother’s family sup­por­ted the other city team, she hes­it­ated to fulfil a date. John’s father was kept wait­ing out­side ‘Cole’s corner’ for three hours! His family’s exper­i­ences reflect that rivalry.  But over the years there has, in fact, been much inter­change –play­ers, man­agers, nick­names and even owners -and cooper­a­tion between the clubs in such areas as shar­ing a ground and avoid­ing clashes of match dates.

Having writ­ten two books on the sub­ject, our speaker went on to out­line the City’s and Club’s foot­balling his­tory. The game has deep roots loc­ally and Sheffield can boast a number of soccer ‘firsts’.  Recognised as the oldest foot­ball club in the world Sheffield FC (who now play in Dronfield) was foun­ded in 1857, while Hallam FC, foun­ded in 1860, still play at the same ground in Crosspool.  It was sponsored by the now defunct “The Plough” Inn oppos­ite who provided chan­ging facil­it­ies.  Sheffield Wednesday began in 1867 and Sheffield United fol­lowed in 1889.   Both teams were to go on to be founder mem­bers of the Football league, United being a pion­eer in such areas as the pro­vi­sion of toi­lets, refresh­ment facil­it­ies, pneu­matic turn­stiles, fixed cross­bars, whistles and even flood­light­ing! (A ‘night’ match attrac­ted 20,000 in 1878, receipts £890).   Their record recor­ded attend­ance is 68000 in 1936 when Leeds United were the vis­it­ors. The ground has hosted cricket Test matches, the first foot­ball inter­na­tional and major non-sporting  events over the years ran­ging from  ‘ pop’ con­certs to Billy Graham. The Club was a leader in the for­mu­la­tion of the uni­ver­sally accep­ted rules of today, which had one time varied between cities and coun­tries.

As the city indus­tri­al­ised — espe­cially from about 1860 onwards- there was a grow­ing need for recre­ation and fresh air.  Both major clubs had their roots in attempts to remedy this. , As so often in Victorian times, it was Church and Temperance influ­ences, wealthy bene­fact­ors coupled with com­munity self- help that got things moving.  Another factor was the wish of the crick­et­ing fra­tern­ity to have a winter sport.  It fol­lowed that Sheffield United had its ori­gins in the Cricket club (foun­ded 1854) of the same name.  The inaug­ural meet­ing was at the Adelphi Hotel (on the site of the present Crucible Theatre) on 22nd March 1889, presided over by local soli­citor and former player Sir William Clegg (who is buried in Fulwood Churchyard). He was also President of ‘Wednesday FC’, the prefix ‘Sheffield’ being added in 1929.

In the earli­est years, United played their matches at nearby Sheaf House and Wednesday closeby at Olive Grove (now a Council Depot).  This is across the rail­way and almost oppos­ite the Earl of Arundel and Surrey pub on Queen’s Road (now a bike shop), where teams changed. The site, then on the south­ern edge of the town, was leased from the Duke of Norfolk but in the late 1890s was sold to provide space for the Midland Railway ‘widen­ings’, which quad­rupled tracks to Totley junc­tion after the tunnel was built.  For a time, the two clubs shared United’s ground at Bramhall Lane (also shared with the Cricket club) but fell out over gate receipts and rent.  Wednesday moved to their present Hillsborough ground in 1899.  ‘Derby’ matches, as now, some­times caused much fric­tion and on at least on one occa­sion troops had to be summoned to restore order!

John moved on to sketch through United’s play­ing his­tory. He reminded us that Blades, have not won a major trophy since 1925.  He thought that the club’s heyday was between 1895 and 1925 under man­ager John Nicholson.  They were League Champions 1897–8 and won the FA cup four times in 1899, 1902, 1915 and 1925, plus twice run­ners up. Since then, and des­pite pro­du­cing the likes of Tony Currie and Derek Dooley, the club had played in all four leagues and exper­i­enced a yo-yo of pro­mo­tions and releg­a­tions under vari­ous man­agers, the nadir period being 1975 to 1981.

Bringing us up to date, things began to change for the better around 2013. On September 13th of that year Saudi Prince Abdullah Bin Musa’ad bought a 50%  stake in United’s parent com­pany, Blade’s Leisure Ltd, for £1. The Prince has kept his prom­ise to provide ‘sub­stan­tial new cap­ital’ with a view to return­ing the club to the Premier League. There fol­lowed a series of legal dis­putes with past owners, now hope­fully resolved as suc­cess has begun to flow.  Since Chris Wilder was appoin­ted man­ager in 2016 the dream has been real­ised: the club has come back to life by secur­ing pro­mo­tion to the Premier League on 28th April 2019.  As I write, the ‘Blades’ sit in sixth pos­i­tion above the like of Spurs, Arsenal and Manchester United and may qual­ify for European com­pet­i­tion next  season.

In foot­ball, the last ten minutes can be fren­etic as teams fight to seal the match.  As our speaker kept to exactly 45 minutes there was no need for the Chairman’s final whistle.   We were treated to ten minutes of extra time in the form of ques­tions stim­u­lated by an excel­lent present­a­tion given without notes or visual aids.  These ranged from the future of womens’ foot­ball (excel­lent, sup­port and media interest grow­ing rap­idly), why teams were made up of eleven play­ers (even number plus goal­keeper), Derek Dooley’s leg ampu­ta­tion, and how did Kevin Macabe com­pare with Alan Sugar?  There was no pitch inva­sion but it was quite a match and mem­bers left the ground buzz­ing.

It was sug­ges­ted after­wards that a visit might be arranged ‘behind the scenes’ at Bramhall Lane and to the Sheffield United Museum which John had done so much to develop.  All fol­lowed by lunch at the Blades Restaurant. I can vouch for the excel­lent roast beef!



James Bond, Espionage and Britain’s Role in the World” Professor AnthonyTaylor 6th January 2020


Ian Fleming — writer

Sean Connery as James Bond 

 Like many mem­bers, I’ve enjoyed mat­ters James Bond for much of my life: boy­hood queueing out­side my local ODEON to see ‘Dr No’ in the early ‘six­ties to 007 accom­pa­ny­ing Her Majesty on her heli­copter ride, sans corgis, to the 2012 London Olympics.  Two iconic Brits!

Our speaker this week, Tony Taylor from Sheffield Hallam University, was to enlighten us as to how the antics of James Bond and his cre­ator, Ian Fleming (1908–1964) reflec­ted British soci­ety, cul­ture, and atti­tudes from 1945 to the end of the ‘cold’ war in 1990.  Fleming, the son of the wealthy bank­ing family, was edu­cated at Eton and RMA Sandhurst and was well con­nec­ted. While not involved in direct action, his ser­vice in mil­it­ary intel­li­gence in WW2 (includ­ing plan­ning Operation ‘Golden Eye’) and later as a journ­al­ist, provided much of the back­ground of the twelve novels and col­lec­tions of short stor­ies he wrote between 1952 and his death. Over 100 mil­lion books were sold. There have been sev­eral later books and movies of the same genre, writ­ten by eight dif­fer­ent authors and no less than seven actors play­ing the lead char­ac­ter, ran­ging from Sean Connery to Daniel Craig.  A fur­ther film, ‘No Time to Die’ is due for release in 2020.  Tony divided his talk into the fol­low­ing topics.

Spy Rings and Spy Nets.  Tony out­lined how the pop­u­lar image of spies and organ­ised spying agen­cies goes back to the Edwardian era and thriller writers like William le Queux.  This cul­ture, in our speaker’s view, also had a strong imper­ial dimen­sion –in ‘the great game’, British and Russian spies battled over the latter’s aspir­a­tion to fer­ment trouble along the NW fron­tier with Afganistan (see Rudyard Kipling’s Kim 1901).  Despite much activ­ity (eg Operation Mincemeat) and mixed suc­cess on both sides in the two World Wars, it was the ‘Cold War’ (1945–1990) when spies came into their own.  ‘Operation Gold’ estab­lished listen­ing posts under East Berlin to tap into Soviet tele­phone and tele­graph traffic. The ‘Cambridge’ trio of Burgess, Philby and Mclane were the most effect­ive Soviet spy ring in Europe.  All  ended up defect­ing to Russia.  George Blake of MI6 worked as a double agent for the Soviet Union. He was dis­covered in 1961, escaped from Wormwood Scrubs in 1966 and smuggled out of the coun­try in a camper van.  In 1963,  theMinister of Defence, John Profumo, was com­prom­ised by his asso­ci­ation with Christine Keeler who was also sleep­ing with the Soviet Naval attache.  There was feel­ing through­out this period of estab­lish­ment cover ups, reflect­ing a Britain in decline and dec­ad­ence which was cap­tured in the fic­tion of John le Carre and Len Deighton.

Spy Novels and Super Spies.  Spies were to cap­ture the pop­u­lar ima­gin­a­tion during the Cold War.  In a push button world of detached mass killing, the spy some­times emerged as an unlikely hero. Ian Fleming’s hero James Bond 007 first appeared in print in the novel Casino Royale in 1952, during the Korean War. Tony con­sidered Fleming’s books to be very con­ser­vat­ive in tone and to reflect the ascend­ancy of Conservative gov­ern­ments in Britain after 1951.  Criticism of the wel­fare state, trades unions and bohemi­ans is very strong in the texts, with an emphasis on ‘sex, snob­bery and viol­ence’.

Spying and the Loss of Empire.   Imperial themes loom large in the Bond books.  Many of the set­tings are in the West Indies, par­tic­u­larly Jamaica, where Fleming had a house called ‘Goldeneye’.  Fleming liked the static social hier­arch­ies in Jamaica, and, in Casino Royale, Bond poses as a Jamaican planter. In Dr No all the action takes place in the West Indies, still an active part of the Empire at the time.  The vil­lains wear Nehru jack­ets and are often mixed race. The idea of dual iden­tity was offens­ive for a par­tic­u­lar gen­er­a­tion of Englishmen, brought up under the Empire.  Often the vil­lains rep­res­ent the foes of Empire at a time of decol­on­isa­tion. By 1950 even white set­tlers in the Dominions had nego­ti­ated sep­ar­ate treat­ies with the US.  Roger Moore’s safari jacket in the films car­ries ele­ments of the colo­nial and post-colonial iden­tit­ies.  Europe and the EEC are barely men­tioned in the books and they bear out the con­ten­tion of Dean Acheson that ‘Britain has lost an Empire but not yet found a role’.

Spies and the ‘Special Relationship’Tony con­sidered that the Bond novels pre­serve the vision of Britain as a great power and ignore the country’s post-war decline.  Bond is a former Commander in Naval Intelligence. His boss‘ M’,  is also a former Naval Officer, hark­ing back to the days when Britain ruled the waves and her navy pro­tec­ted British interests abroad. The books provide a con­sol­at­ory myth, embod­ied in Bond’s Aston Martins and Bentleys and his liking of mono­grammed shirts and Moorland cigar­ettes.  There are Atlanticist themes in the Bond novels, some of which tar­geted an American audi­ence (eg. Live and let Die).   John F. Kennedy was a huge fan (espe­cially Russia with Love),  Bond fre­quently coming to the aid of CIA agents. During and after the 1956 Suez crisis US/UK rela­tions chilled and their ebb and flow is chartered in the novels. US war­i­ness of UK Soviet moles or Marxist sym­path­ising politi­cians is noth­ing new.

Spies and Gadgets.  Heath Robinson tricks are import­ant to spies.  Fleming’s intel­li­gence work in WW2 spe­cial­ised in out­rageous inven­tions and plans to cap­ture German mil­it­ary secrets.  In the Bond novels the emphasis on gad­gets con­sti­tuted a nos­tal­gic glance back to the days when Britain’s tech­no­lo­gical lead helped her to defeat the Germans (Radar, decod­ing Enigma, boun­cing bombs, bend­ing dir­ec­tional beams etc).  Bond has his gun sights hidden in Palmolive shav­ing foam and an explod­ing cigar­ette in From Russia with love.  Bond hides his guns in a book called “The Bible Designed to be read as Literature”and Rosa  Klebb con­ceals knives in her shoes.

Spies and enemies in an atomic mis­sile world.  The Bond books convey a strong sense of an unstable world, where nuc­lear pro­lif­er­a­tion has made atomic war­heads easily avail­able.  In Thunderball, British nuc­lear weapons are hijacked and stolen by Bond’s arch enemy, Ernst Blofeld Head of SPECTRE, a crim­inal organ­isa­tion intent on world dom­in­a­tion.  Dr No also sends rock­ets off course, so that he can sell them to the Chinese.

 Tony con­cluded his much appre­ci­ated talk by invit­ing ques­tions, which ranged from Bond’s know­ledge of wines to film loc­a­tions, sets, and the evol­u­tion of char­ac­ters.  He thought that many depic­tions in the later post Fleming  books and films appear to be out­dated, plu­to­cratic fig­ures in which their vil­lainy is expressed via dis­ab­il­ity or phys­ical impair­ment.  However, be it mis­siles or vil­lains, all were framed by aston­ish­ing back­drops in the air, under the sea and even in an active vol­cano!