All posts by Graham Snowdon

Living in Space — Dennis Ashton — 20th May 2019

When Dennis Ashton last came to speak to us, just over five years ago, his sub­ject was dog sled racing in Alaska, where he also wit­nessed a superb auroral dis­play which prob­ably gave him the inspir­a­tion for his latest talk.

Dennis, a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, kept us enthralled for an hour with his slideshow present­a­tion on the story of the space race so far, the day-to-day prob­lems facing the 236 astro­nauts who have spent time on the International Space Station, and what the future holds in terms of space travel.

The first moon land­ing on 21st July 1969.

Dennis pre­dicts that China will be the next nation to reach the moon, and that in 200 years’ time there could be a city on Mars. Before then, an inter­na­tional mis­sion to land humans on Mars is sched­uled for 2040.

And when, in 200 years from now, people look back on key moments in the space race, he believes the two great iconic images will be the Apollo moon land­ing and the devel­op­ment and con­struc­tion of the International Space Station, where man learnt to live in space.

The International Space Station is the size of a foot­ball pitch.

Man first stepped foot on the moon on 21st July 1969, and vari­ous events are planned to com­mem­or­ate the 50th anniversary in two months’ time. A new block­buster doc­u­ment­ary film, entitled Apollo 11, is due to be screened at Sheffield’s Showroom Cinema on 7th June.

Dennis’s talk was chiefly about the International Space Station, a mul­tina­tional con­struc­tion pro­ject that is the largest single struc­ture humans have ever put into space. It is roughly the size of a foot­ball pitch. Its main con­struc­tion was com­pleted between 1998 and 2011, although the sta­tion con­tinu­ally evolves to include new mis­sions and exper­i­ments. It has been con­tinu­ously occu­pied since November 2000.

Construction work being car­ried out on the ISS in 2008.

The ISS travels at a speed of almost five miles per second, or 17,500 miles per hour, orbit­ing the earth every 92 minutes while the six astro­nauts on board either carry out sci­entific exper­i­ments, under­take main­ten­ance work on the giant struc­ture, eat, exer­cise, relax or sleep, depend­ing on the time of day (which, as a matter of interest, is aligned to Greenwich Mean Time). The con­struc­tion of the ISS involved no fewer than 40 space shuttle flights between 1998 and 2010.

Whether you are a would-be space trav­el­ler or an account­ant, the stat­ist­ics are equally stag­ger­ing. Between 1985 and 2015, the bill for devel­op­ing the ISS amoun­ted to $150 bil­lion, and the annual run­ning costs come to $5 bil­lion. The United States have paid by far the largest amount, around $126 bil­lion, with Russia adding $12 bil­lion, Europe and Japan each chip­ping in $5 bil­lion and Canada $2 bil­lion.

The crew on the ISS work a 15-hour day, from 6am to 9pm, but that includes three meal breaks and two and a half hours’ exer­cise, which is essen­tial if muscles and bones are not to waste away. There is an hour’s relax­a­tion before the astro­nauts get eight hours sleep. They do not go to bed as such; in the weight­less con­di­tions of the space sta­tion, each astro­naut has a per­sonal space where their sleep­ing bag is sus­pen­ded on a wall, and they simply zip them­selves into it.

Major Tim Peake demon­strates the suc­tion oper­ated urinal.

We saw Britain’s own Major Tim Peake, who spent 185 days in orbit, doing everything from car­ry­ing out highly skilled sci­entific exper­i­ments to doing his ablu­tions, the latter also need­ing a fair amount of skill. Washing is more like a quick rub down with an oily rag as there is no run­ning water, no shower and no bath. Clothes are worn for a set number of days and then dis­carded, fin­ish­ing up in a sealed con­tainer along with human waste and then jet­tisoned in a supply vessel which burns up on re-entry to the earth’s atmo­sphere. However, 90 per cent of water used, includ­ing that which has passed through the six astro­nauts the pre­vi­ous day, is recycled and re-used, to the tune of around 6,000 litres a year, although there is also a back-up supply of 2,000 litres on board.

All meals are dehyd­rated and water pumped into the con­tainer of dried food as and when needed. Drinks are vacuum packed and sucked through a plastic straw. The only fresh food such as fruit come on board when a shuttle arrives with new crew mem­bers. Bread is not allowed because of the danger of crumbs find­ing their way into del­ic­ate equip­ment, so wraps are the favoured option.

The view from space. A NASA image of the south­ern half of Britain. The red dot is Bognor Regis.

It all seems a pretty miser­able exist­ence to me, and prob­ably to any­body else who likes their creature com­forts, and yet wealthy indi­vidu­als are reportedly pre­pared to pay $20 mil­lion each for the priv­ilege of a 10-day hol­i­day on board the space sta­tion.  Give me Bognor Regis any day.

Wentworth Woodhouse — Wed 20th March 2019

Most of our mem­bers had read Catherine Bailey’s fas­cin­at­ing book Black Diamonds, the Rise and Fall of an English Dynasty, which maps the his­tory of coal mining in South Yorkshire and the down­fall of the Fitzwilliam family.

So it was with great anti­cip­a­tion that we gathered at Wentworth Woodhouse — formerly Britain’s largest private res­id­ence, with a 606-foot front­age — for a guided tour by the excel­lent volun­teers of the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust.

It was our first out­side visit of the year and one of the most pop­u­lar ever, with a party of 52 mem­bers and their part­ners arriv­ing in glor­i­ous sun­shine on the spring equi­nox for what turned out to be a 90-minute tour of just some of the more import­ant formal rooms in two sep­ar­ate groups.

The Georgian mas­ter­piece of Wentworth Woodhouse, largely hidden from public view on the edge of the vil­lage of Wentworth, boasts an east front wider than that of Buckingham Palace and in its heyday provided employ­ment for 1,000 local people main­tain­ing its reputed 365 rooms and sur­round­ing estate.

A member of staff work­ing on the res­tor­a­tion of a statue.

The Grade I listed coun­try house was bought for the rel­at­ively knock­down price of £7 mil­lion by the Trust, which aims to restore it to its former glory at a cost of up to £200 mil­lion, with assist­ance from the National Trust who are cur­rently paying the wages of the full-time staff. Scaffolding alone, which shrouded much of the famous façade on the day of our visit, is cost­ing £1 mil­lion.

Ongoing work on the East Front, as seen from the inside.

The house has 250,000 square feet of floor space and covers an area of more than two and a half acres, sur­roun­ded by 180 acres of park­land and an estate of 15,000 acres.

The ori­ginal Jacobean house was rebuilt by Thomas Watson-Wentworth, the first Marquess of Rockingham (1693–1750), and vastly expan­ded by his son, the second mar­quess, who was twice Prime Minister. In the 18th cen­tury, the house was inher­ited by the Earls Fitzwilliam who owned it until 1979 when it passed to the heirs of the eighth and tenth earls, its value having being boos­ted by the vast quant­it­ies of coal dis­covered on the estate.

However, this turned out to be a double edged sword. Following nation­al­isa­tion of the coal industry on New Year’s Day 1947, Manny Shinwell, the Minister of Fuel and Power in the Labour gov­ern­ment, ordered that the formal park­land in front of the house be sac­ri­ficed to open­cast coal mining, and the work­ings exten­ded right up to the front door of the house. Controversially, Shinwell insisted that the coal be obtained ‘at all costs’ in the interest of Britain’s post­war indus­trial drive, des­pite the pres­id­ent of the Yorkshire Mineworkers’ Association claim­ing that it amoun­ted to van­dal­ism.

A con­tem­por­ary news­pa­per pho­to­graph show­ing what the pres­id­ent of the Yorkshire Mineworkers’ Association described as the ‘van­dal­ism’ of the lawn in front of the house.

Although the grand east front of the house is the best known and the most illus­trated, it was the west front fin­ished in 1734 which was inten­ded to be for the family’s private enjoy­ment rather than the impress­ive east front which demon­strated their social and polit­ical ambi­tions.

Wentworth Woodhouse actu­ally com­prises two joined houses. The west front, with the gar­dens facing north west towards the vil­lage, was built of brick with stone detail. The grander east front is said to have been built as a result of rivalry between two branches of the family. The Stainborough branch of the Wentworth family inher­ited the Earl of Strafford’s minor title of Baron Raby but not his estates, which went to Thomas Watson (who added Wentworth to his sur­name). The Stainborough Wentworths, for whom the Strafford earl­dom was revived, lived at nearby Wentworth Castle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We roun­ded off our morn­ing visit with lunch at either the Rockingham Arms or George & Dragon pubs in Wentworth vil­lage.

 

Britain & Germany: The War at Sea 1914–18, Part II — Peter Stubbs — 18th March 2019

We all knew how it would finish, of course, but Peter Stubbs kept us enthralled to the very end of the second part of his talk on the War at Sea, 1914 to 1918.

Peter briefly recapped on his pre­vi­ous week’s talk, when we left the British Navy and the British public in good spir­its fol­low­ing the anni­hil­a­tion of Von Spee’s squad­ron in the South Atlantic in December 1914. “Britannia ruled the waves again, but not for long,” he told us.

Only eight days later, at 9am on December 16 and without any warn­ing whatever, high explos­ive shells smashed into houses, shops and other prop­er­ties in Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool.”

Admiral Franz Hipper had man­aged to leave har­bour in Germany and cross the North Sea undetec­ted. The British Admiralty had cracked German naval codes and warned the fleet of the Germany move­ment, but Admiral David Beatty failed to inter­cept either of Hipper’s squad­rons, in part due to poor vis­ib­il­ity in the North Sea and in part to sloppy sig­nalling by his flag officer.

A post-Scarborough recruit­ment poster. 

 

Only Hartlepool could have been said to be a legit­im­ate target with its dock­yard and factor­ies. In all 86 people were killed and 443 injured. Worst hit were the Bennett family in Wykeham Street, Scarborough. Of seven family mem­bers, four were killed.

The British public was out­raged. How could the largest and most power­ful navy in the world have failed to pro­tect them? But it was also a pro­pa­ganda coup for Britain. Recruiting in the army and navy shot up, helped by dra­matic poster advert­ising.

Another recruitmnent poster, show­ing the wrecked house in Wykeham Street, Scarborough.

There was a par­tial response nine days later, on Christmas Day, when Britain inflic­ted the first ever war damage in naval his­tory by air power. Merchant ships had been adap­ted with hangars on deck for sea­planes, with hoists to lift the planes in and out of the water. When the ships got close enough to the German coast seven sea­planes were launched and car­ried out a daring bomb­ing raid on the Zeppelin hangars at Cuxhaven.

Further – and more sig­ni­fic­ant – pay­back came a month later at the Battle of Dogger Bank, when Beatty’s battle cruis­ers con­fron­ted Admiral Hipper, who had led the bom­bard­ment of Scarborough. Hipper came out of his home waters with three battle cruis­ers, three lights cruis­ers and two flo­til­las of des­troy­ers.

The British knew they were coming,” Peter explained. “They had obtained the German naval codes thanks to the bril­liance of code break­ing staff in Room 40 at the Admiralty. Admiral Beatty was aler­ted, and set off south from Rosyth to inter­cept Hipper.” The British ships, all built between 1909 and 1913, were faster than the German oppos­i­tion, and out­gunned them.

Admiral David Beatty — later the first Earl Beatty.

As soon as Hipper’s ship was in range, Beatty sig­nalled to his ships ‘Open fire and engage the enemy.’ It was the first clash between modern battle cruis­ers in the north­ern hemi­sphere.”

Meanwhile, with Britain now at war with Turkey, the Admiralty revis­ited earlier con­tin­gency plans for a joint naval and mil­it­ary attack on the Dardanelles. It was a haz­ard­ous plan. The nar­rows were less than a mile wide and lined with forts and gun emplace­ments, making it impossible for the navy to ‘stand off’ at a dis­tance and attack out of range of the land based guns. There were also mines laid across the straits.

HMS Lion, Admiral Beatty’s flag­ship.

Five allied ships were lost and three badly dam­aged, and in all 700 British and French sail­ors were lost, with noth­ing achieved.

 

Back in the North Sea, both sides con­tin­ued to play cat and mouse, with mixed res­ults. After one par­tic­u­larly bruis­ing encounter, when his flag­ship Lion was hit twice in five minutes, Beatty reportedly said to his officers: “There seems to be some­thing wrong with our bloody ships today. As Peter explained: “He was quite wrong. What he should have said was ‘there seems to be some­thing wrong with our bloody officers today!’”

However, Britain still had com­mand of the seas. A block­ade remained in full force pre­vent­ing much needed sup­plies from reach­ing Germany. The Battle of Jutland in July 1916 was effect­ively the end of the sur­face war.

Admiral Franz Hipper.

But the peril of Germany’s sub­mar­ine fleet was ever present. Relations between Germany and the United States had hit rock bottom with the sink­ing of the Lusitania in May 2015. The Lusitania and her two sister ships were the largest pas­sen­ger liners in the world. Although she nor­mally trav­elled at 25 knots, too fast to be at risk from tor­pedo attack, as she approached the Irish coast she ran into a bank of fog and was forced to reduce speed.

One tor­pedo was suf­fi­cient. It was fol­lowed by a large explo­sion on the ship, prob­ably some of the explos­ives and arma­ments she was allegedly car­ry­ing, and within 18 minutes she had sunk with the loss of 1,200 pas­sen­gers, among them 126 US cit­izens.

The sink­ing did not bring the US into the war, but it had a sig­ni­fic­ant effect on the atti­tude of the US gov­ern­ment and public opin­ion. In Germany, mean­while, the sink­ing was cel­eb­rated and school­chil­dren were given a day’s hol­i­day.

The unres­tric­ted German sub­mar­ine offens­ive which even­tu­ally brought America into the war was ulti­mately defeated by the convoy system, and this reversal along with a lack of land pro­gress on the west­ern front was bring­ing Germany to its knees. But although the sub­mar­ine war had been won, the damage from the U-boat offens­ive was immense; during 51 months of war, German sub­mar­ines had sunk 5,282 British, allied and neut­ral mer­chant ships.

A peace­ful Scapa Flow today — pic­ture by Graham Snowdon.

On 21st November 1918 more than 70 ships of the German High Seas Fleet suffered the ulti­mate humi­li­ation of sur­ren­der­ing to 370 escort­ing ships of the allied navies and being escor­ted to Scapa Flow to be interned there. More than 120 sub­mar­ines were also taken into intern­ment at Harwich. In an ironic twist, seven months later the cap­tured German fleet at Scapa was scuttled by its own crews to avoid the ships being taken into use by the British navy.

Peter con­cluded by telling us: “As we all know, the peace was a rel­at­ively short one last­ing only 20 years. Although appar­ently for­got­ten — or at least little men­tioned — by our modern day politi­cians, the two world wars were the real and most import­ant reason for the set­ting up of the European Community and for coun­tries want­ing to be mem­bers of it. It seems that our politi­cians now think that another European war is impossible.”

What do Councillors do all day? — Cliff Woodcraft — 21st Jan 2019

The title of this talk was in the form of a ques­tion which I could have partly answered before the meet­ing, having watched our Lib Dem coun­cil­lor Cliff Woodcraft trudging round the neigh­bour­hood in all weath­ers, at all hours, deliv­er­ing party polit­ical flyers and news­let­ters.

Whatever your polit­ical per­sua­sion, there could be no doubt­ing this man’s dogged determ­in­a­tion, but of course there is much more to being a coun­cil­lor than doing leaf­let drops.

Cllr Cliff Woodcraft

Cliff has been one of our three Fulwood coun­cil­lors since 2013. With 28 wards, Sheffield City Council is made up of 84 rep­res­ent­at­ives – 53 Labour, 22 Liberal Democrats, six Green Party and three UKIP mem­bers. He is deputy chair of the Children, Young People and Family Support Scrutiny and Policy Development Committee, and also a member of the Licensing Committee, Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee, and Planning and Highways Committee. He has an attend­ance record of 88.5 per cent.

Cliff showed us a photo shoot of him and a group of Lib Dem col­leagues out­side the threatened Broomhill Library, where a passing local voter asked: “Why aren’t you at the coun­cil, debat­ing this?” Cliff explained that only around one day a month was spent in the coun­cil cham­ber at the Town Hall, and most of his time – for which he receives a sti­pend of £11,000 a year – is spent deal­ing with issues in the local com­munity.

Sheffield Town Hall

A full meet­ing of the coun­cil can be split into four cat­egor­ies – peti­tions from the public, ques­tions from the public, ques­tions from coun­cil­lors and debates. If a peti­tion regard­ing a local issue receives 5,000 sig­na­tures or more, it auto­mat­ic­ally qual­i­fies for a half-hour debate. If the busi­ness of the meet­ing over­runs, items coming towards the end of the meet­ing are voted on without being debated.

Sheffield City Council is a big busi­ness, with a budget for 2018–19 of £1,344 mil­lion. Education accounts for £319 mil­lion and adult social care for £229 mil­lion, while the cost of bor­row­ing alone is a stag­ger­ing £43 mil­lion a year, part of that down to the fact that we are still paying for the 1991 World Student Games.

Cliff did not pull his punches when it came to the city’s fin­an­cial affairs, describ­ing the Town Hall exten­sion which was built in 1977 and demol­ished 25 years later as “a waste of money and resources.”

He is proud of Sheffield’s record in keep­ing fam­il­ies together through the efforts of the Children, Young People and Family Support com­mit­tee. “We have a better record than most coun­cils,” he said.

Main coun­cil cham­ber

Day to day mat­ters which the Licensing Committee has to over­see include taxis, alco­hol and late-night enter­tain­ment, street trad­ing, food regis­tra­tion, animal wel­fare, char­ity, gambling and sexual enter­tain­ment. “If there is no objec­tion to a pro­posal, then it will be handled by a case officer, but if there is an objec­tion there would be a coun­cil debate,” he explained.

On Planning and Highways, reas­ons for turn­ing down plan­ning applic­a­tions include over­de­vel­op­ment, lack of park­ing, pri­vacy and poten­tial dis­turb­ance.

Cliff engages with his local voters through meet­ings, can­vassing, sur­veys, let­ters and leaf­lets. He is not a fan of sur­ger­ies – “If people have an issue, they will con­tact us,” he says. “There is no need to wait for a monthly sur­gery. I aim to see people within a couple of days.”

If you take that as an invit­a­tion, Cliff’s con­tact details (and these are all in the public domain) are Cllr Cliff Woodcraft, Sheffield City Council, Town Hall, Pinstone Street, Sheffield S1 2HH. E-mail: cliff.woodcraft@sheffield.gov.uk. Phone: 0114 230 3627.

Clipper Round the World Race — Martin Greenshields — 12th November 2018

 

THE Clipper Race, first held in 1996–97 and the brainchild of solo round-the-world yachts­man Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, is con­tested by 12 identical yachts, each with a pro­fes­sional skip­per but crewed by a com­bined total of 700 ama­teur sail­ors.

Martin Greenshields is very much one of the ama­teurs. Before embark­ing on this 10,000 naut­ical mile adven­ture of a life­time, his sail­ing exper­i­ence, he admit­ted, con­sisted of one after­noon on Carsington Reservoir.

But  bravely under­tak­ing the first two legs of the global chal­lenge — from Liverpool to Punta del Este in Uruguay, and then back across the Atlantic to Cape Town — wasn’t quite as reck­less as it might at first appear. All the ama­teur crews had to embark on four sep­ar­ate weeks of train­ing at Gosport to turn them from novices to com­pet­ent crew mem­bers, learn­ing the basic skills of seaman­ship as well as under­go­ing sea sur­vival courses and ‘man over­board’ train­ing.

Recruits were then alloc­ated places on one or other of the 12 identical 70-foot ves­sels which make up the world’s largest matched fleet of ocean racing yachts. Martin, a retired account­ant who lives on Redmires Road, was accep­ted for the 2017–18 race as a crew member of the Sanya Serenity Coast, skippered by 53-year-old Australian sailor Wendy Tuck, from Sydney.

The boat, which went on to win the over­all race, was sponsored by the Chinese city of Sanya, a hol­i­day des­tin­a­tion on the south­ern tip of Hainan Island.

Clipper 70s are not for the faint-hearted, or the work shy. They are stripped of all lux­ur­ies. Crew must become experts at hand­ling the boat as well as living in a con­fined space, man­aging all their kit and belong­ings as they settle into their new home. We saw dra­matic onboard foot­age of the yachts encoun­ter­ing massive seas, with the hori­zon tilt­ing crazily.

Martin was quot­ing Sir Robin Knox-Johnston when he said: “In a Clipper 70 you have everything you need to sail around the world, and noth­ing you don’t need.”

The open­ing leg from Liverpool to Punta del Este involved 32 days’ sail­ing, with the 22 crew shar­ing a round-the-clock watch system with the days split into five seg­ments. Off watch, crew mem­bers could catch up on their sleep either on deck or in one of the avail­able bunks .

In the Tropics, the tem­per­at­ure down below could reach 40 deg C, so it wasn’t very good for sleep­ing,” Martin explained. Another obstacle to over­come, espe­cially in the early stages, was sea sick­ness, although Martin man­aged to restrict this to one ses­sion.

As the Sanya Serenity Coast reached halfway on the first leg across the Atlantic, Martin wrote in his diary, pub­lished on the race’s web­site: “The last few days have been noisy, with the con­stant trim­ming of the spin­naker as we seek to squeeze every last knot out of the boat. Now we are through the scor­ing gate, we are on course south to the motor­ing cor­ridor, where we are allowed to turn on the motor for 60 hours, but only 60 hours, to get through the dreaded Doldrums. Once through that, which may be a prob­lem as they are very large this year, it is a ‘sprint’ (prob­ably almost two weeks) to the finish.

The crew have agreed that I can do the blog today to ask you a favour. In a feeble attempt to regain some of the many house points lost recently at home, I did remem­ber to buy a present for my wife for our wed­ding anniversary on Monday. However, I forgot to tell her, or any­body else, where I put it. So, if there is any­body read­ing this who knows Penny, could you please tell her it’s on the seat of the car in the garage? Thanks.”

On Day 27 he wrote: “After what seems like many months at sea, we have noted a dis­tinct change in the morale of the crew. This all eman­ates from the inspir­a­tional words of Wendo [skip­per Wendy Tuck].

Early in the leg, her legendary pep talks went along the lines of ‘just don’t break any­thing.’ As the race con­tin­ued we were given strict instruc­tions, ‘drive it like you stole it.’ Now, how­ever, the time has come for the words we all needed to get us through to Punta. ‘Think of the moji­tos, smell the BBQ.’

With these words we powered ahead, the Doldrums far behind us and all the excite­ment of spin­nakers to keep us occu­pied.”

As we approach the final days of what we under­stand is the longest open­ing leg in Clipper Race his­tory, strange things have been hap­pen­ing on the boat. Jan Riley, our victu­aller has revealed that she is on Mother Duty tomor­row, Sunday, and we are to have roast beef.

She has, appar­ently, secreted all the neces­sary ingredi­ents around the boat and will be gath­er­ing them together for this spe­cial meal. The excite­ment amongst the crew is intense par­tic­u­larly as last night we had chicken curry that con­tained both chicken and curry. To top it off we found the spicy mango chut­ney for the first time so the curry depart­ment is firing on all cyl­in­ders at last.”

Applications are now open for the 2019–20 edi­tion of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race. Please remem­ber to men­tion Stumperlowe Probus Club when sub­mit­ting your entry.

The Causes of the Trojan Wars — Peter Miles — 17th September 2018

Peter’s talk and slide present­a­tion was more a look at Greek myth­o­logy than the Trojan Wars them­selves. In fact, he con­ceded, it is almost cer­tainly a myth that the Trojan Wars ever happened.

The jury is still out on whether there is any his­tor­ical real­ity behind the wars, and if so how much. The ancient Greeks believed that Troy was loc­ated near the Dardanelles, and that the Trojan War was a his­tor­ical event of the 13th or 12th cen­tury BC, but by the mid-19th cen­tury both the war and the city were widely seen as non-historical.

Paris, with the Apple of Discord

However, towards the end of the 19th cen­tury, archae­olo­gists found the remains of a great cit­adel that exis­ted on the west­ern shores of Asia Minor, at what is now Hissarlik in Turkey (the tra­di­tional loc­a­tion of Troy), and which appeared to have been over­run by a great war in around the year 1250 BC. On the basis of excav­a­tions con­duc­ted by the German archae­olo­gist Heinrich Schliemann, this claim is now accep­ted by many schol­ars.

So there may be some truth in the story, but Peter’s point was that — whether the wars are fact or fic­tion — the stor­ies try to explain way of the world, the rela­tion­ship between gods and humans, and the ori­gins and sig­ni­fic­ance of the ancient Greeks’ own cult and ritual prac­tices. Modern schol­ars study the myths in an attempt to shed light on the reli­gious and polit­ical insti­tu­tions of ancient Greece and its civil­isa­tion.

The main source for our know­ledge of the Trojan Wars is Homer’s Iliad, writ­ten in the eighth cen­tury BC, where he recounts 52 days during the final year of the decade-long con­flict. The war star­ted with a quar­rel between the god­desses Hera, Athena and Aphrodite after Eris, the god­dess of strife and dis­cord, gave them a golden apple, some­times known as the Apple of Discord, marked for “the fairest.” Zeus, the sky and thun­der god, sent the god­desses to Paris, son of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy, who judged that Aphrodite was the fairest and should receive the apple.

Paris study­ing Aphrodite, who stands before him naked, while Hera and Athena look on

In exchange Aphrodite made Helen — the most beau­ti­ful of all women and the wife of Menelaus, king of Sparta — fall in love with Paris, who took her to Troy. Agamemnon, king of Mycanae and the brother of Helen’s hus­band Menelaus, led an exped­i­tion of Achaean troops to Troy and besieged the city for ten years because of Paris’s insult. After the deaths of many heroes, includ­ing the Achaeans Achilles and Ajax and the Trojans Hector and Paris, the city fell to the well doc­u­mented ruse of the Trojan Horse.

Peter, from Great Hucklow in Derbyshire, has many strings to his bow includ­ing teach­ing, acting, book pub­lish­ing and glid­ing. Another of his interests is the Willow Foundation, foun­ded by his brother-in-law Bob Wilson, the former Arsenal foot­baller and TV pundit and his wife Megs fol­low­ing the death from cancer of their daugh­ter Anna at the age of 31 in 1998.

Peter’s fee for speak­ing to us has been passed on to the Willow Foundation, which raises £2.5 mil­lion a year to provide up to 1,400 ‘spe­cial days’ for young people between the ages of 16 and 40 who are suf­fer­ing from life-threatening ill­nesses.