All posts by Peter Clarke

Cycling across Alaska —  Andy Heading — 10th October 2016   

Andy, a very wiry, tough photographer/journalist, pre­ceded his talk with a short his­tory of the Alaskan Klondike gold-rush in the late 19th Century.  Three Swedish gen­tle­men, strolling along a beach, found sev­eral large gold nug­gets, which began what became the ‘Great Klondike Gold Rush.’  Within a year of the event a small town of 30,000 inhab­it­ants had estab­lished itself.  They all lived there in the fond hope of making a quick for­tune.  The atmo­sphere was of a dis­tinctly Wild West char­ac­ter, and included indi­vidu­als such as Wyatt Earp.  Some made for­tunes, others made and then lost a for­tune, and most were dis­ap­poin­ted.

Nome became the main set­tle­ment. In 1925 an out­break of diph­theria occurred and the need for appro­pri­ate vac­cines was urgently required.  The inter­ven­ing 1,000 miles of frozen out­back neces­sit­ated the set­ting up of dog-sled relays to bring these.  After the out­break was cleared up a com­mem­or­ative dog-sled race was set up.  Today, entries from all over the world com­pete in this and it has become a major event.

This is the point when Andy and his part­ner, John, respon­ded to a widen­ing of the race to include cyc­lists, cov­er­ing essen­tially the same route.  The event was described as ‘Impossible’ and so it nearly turned out to be.  Every hazard faced by the dog-teams was faced by the cyc­lists, only more so.  The cyc­lists were much slower than the dog teams and they had to push their bikes through thick snow for 400 of the 1,000 miles.

Before attempt­ing the trip, bikes espe­cially designed and made for them in Sheffield were sup­plied.  The tyres were far wider and stud­ded with spikes!  They star­ted train­ing in earn­est around the Peak District, fin­ish­ing up finally over much rougher ter­rain in South Africa.

To add to his dif­fi­culties Andy had a a very bad acci­dent, which nearly killed him, but he recovered and they pushed on with their plans.  All the food, bed­ding and other equip­ment had to be car­ried by them.  Some of the food included very high cal­orie diets developed by NASA. In spite of con­sum­ing 8–9,000 cal­or­ies per day he still lost 28lbs during the trip.

It was imper­at­ive they stuck to the course route, as at every 100 miles a rescue cabin allowed them to rest and shel­ter.  The rest of the time they slept under the stars.  They were not troubled by wolves, but moose could be trick­ier and had been known to charge dog-teams caus­ing big trouble and deaths.

The lowest tem­per­at­ure they exper­i­enced was -41°C.  Frostbite was obvi­ously a major con­sid­er­a­tion as it could cause injury or even death.  When par­tic­u­larly cold and tired they exper­i­enced hal­lu­cin­a­tions; in one case a snow­drift appeared to be a stalk­ing polar bear.  Probably the greatest fear was having an acci­dent, for no help would be forth­com­ing if they had an injury.

At the last check­point they real­ized they had barely 20 miles to the finish in Nome!  Only 40 of the ori­ginal starters fin­ished.

You might think that would be the last of that madcap scheme – but not a bit of it.  They repeated the exer­cise on two suc­cess­ive years.  It seems their times improved.

I per­son­ally prefer a 4-star hotel with bar ser­vice, but there you are.  Each to his own.

The Seeds of Kings — Mike Ogden — 14th September 2016

The title only gives a hint of the sub­ject. What we were offered was a learned and com­plex break­down of the British mon­archs, from the time of Alfred the Great 871 through the ages to our cur­rent royals, rep­res­en­ted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and her family. Mike Ogden per­formed an amaz­ing jour­ney in one hour or so, a remark­able per­form­ance.

The main theme he was stress­ing was the con­tinu­ation of Alfred’s blood line, from that point until now with occa­sional acknow­ledge­ments to actual his­tor­ical facts from par­tic­u­lar reigns. Beginning with the Normans, fol­lowed by the Plantagenets, Lancastrians, Yorkists, Tudors, Hanoverians and finally the Windsors. From William I, Battle of Hastings 1066, he didn’t do much to endear him­self and his fol­low­ers to the native English. Henry II, the law maker and organ­iser, murdered Archbishop Becket in Canterbury Cathedral, which was not a good move. King John, a cruel, vicious tyrant known for the Magna Carta. Richard III, uncle to the Princes in the Tower and killed at the Battle of Bosworth. Henry VII the first of the Tudors and father of Henry VIII with his six wives and the dis­sol­u­tion of the mon­as­ter­ies. Queen Elizabeth I and the Spanish Armada. James I of England and VI of Scotland. Charles I who was beheaded during the Civil War. Protectorate Oliver Cromwell fol­lowed by Charles II whose reign was known for the Plague, the Fire of London, Samuel Pepys, Wren, and Newton. The Glorious Revolution which lead to William and Mary, then Queen Anne. The Georges and their prob­lems with Charles Stuart, the Young Pretender and the Battle of Culloden. Later the Napoleonic Wars finally settled at the Battle of Waterloo. Queen Victoria and her hus­band Albert over­see­ing the Industrial Revolution and the Great Exhibition. Their chil­dren were mar­ried amongst the royal fam­il­ies of Europe, lead­ing us to the Royal House of Windsor, cre­ated during WW1 etc.

Mike Ogden referred to the lib­eral scat­ter­ing of ‘royal seed’ over the cen­tur­ies so that many of us may well be second cous­ins, so to speak.

From here on in the mon­archy is enter­ing unknown ter­rit­ory. Our Queen has adap­ted well to par­lia­ment­ary demo­cracy and has built up good rela­tions with gov­ern­ment and former mem­bers of the colon­ies as a recon­struc­ted inde­pend­ent Commonwealth of Nations under her lead­er­ship. These are volat­ile times and one won­ders what is to come.

On another matter, lists of Kings and royal houses reminds me of a dis­cus­sion I had with some teach­ers of his­tory. My grand­son was taking his GCSE exams a few years ago and the his­tory syl­labus was ‘The Romans in Britain’, ‘Scientists in the Georgian Period’ e.g. Jenner and the small­pox vac­cin­a­tion, and finally ‘Hitler and Germany.’ All you might think very laud­able study items. My point was, what went on in the inter­ven­ing years – noth­ing? I appre­ci­ate it is not pos­sible to cover all peri­ods but surely at least and under­stand­ing of royal dyn­asties would have provided some sort of frame­work to hang events upon. I didn’t get very far with the argu­ment, I’m afraid, but the point is still rel­ev­ant.

The Woodland Trust — Alec Oliver — 1st June 2015.

The ‘Woodland Trust’ is an organ­isa­tion, which if it did not already exist, would have to be inven­ted. It was foun­ded in 1972 by a retired farmer and agri­cul­tural machinery dealer by the name of Kenneth Watkins, in Devon. By 1977 he had acquired 22 woods. The pur­pose of the Trust is to sym­path­et­ic­ally manage woods  so that they sup­port the diverse eco­sys­tems found with dif­fer­ent spe­cies of trees. It also inter­venes where neces­sary to pre­vent indi­vidu­als and com­pan­ies from des­troy­ing wood­land areas, thus pro­tect­ing plant life and the nat­ural hab­itat of birds and anim­als which rely on them.

Fifteen years ago, Bradfield Parish Council were con­cerned about some ancient wood­land near Deepcar, called Bitholmes Wood.  It was being mis­used by men illeg­ally graz­ing stock and involved in felling trees.  The Woodland Trust sur­veyed the site and enabled rehab­il­it­a­tion to be effected.  A job well done.

Our speaker provided back­ground inform­a­tion regard­ing prob­lems being exper­i­enced loc­ally.  These included ash tree die back and other dis­eases caused by rising tem­per­at­ures, human inter­fer­ence and mis­man­age­ment. Many of the dis­eases have come across from Europe and Alec explained that by study­ing what is hap­pen­ing in Europe now, in rela­tion to any par­tic­u­lar dis­ease, can tell us what is going to happen in this coun­try, so that we will know how to deal with the prob­lems. This approach is like being better informed with hind­sight. Alec explained that we now know that new ash trees appear to be immune from ash tree die back and so new ash trees are being planted in wood­lands suf­fer­ing from the prob­lem. This enables all the fungi etc., asso­ci­ated to regions around ash trees to be main­tained.

In the late 1940s after the second world war it was decided that we would be suf­fer­ing from a short­age of timber, espe­cially in the build­ing industry and so woods were planted con­sist­ing mainly of Norwegian Pine, a fast grow­ing tree which would meet our con­struc­tional needs, but these woods are devoid of the anim­als, birds and plant life which make up our nat­ural woods. As things have turned out there hasn’t been a short­age because of the devel­op­ment of plastics in industry, so these woods are being sys­tem­at­ic­ally felled and the trees replaced by tra­di­tional British trees.

Timber sales have increased around the world, caus­ing trans­fer­ence of for­eign dis­eases not known here pre­vi­ously.  Modern agri­cul­tural prac­tices have also played a part, res­ult­ing in stresses in all living organ­isms, pro­du­cing par­tial or even com­plete extinc­tion of some spe­cies.

Mr Oliver had a vast sub­ject to cover and very little time to do it but did his best to do so, coping with many ques­tions from our mem­bers.