All posts by Graham Snowdon

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.

 

 

Drax Power Station — Wed 5th Sept 2018

On a good day, the 12 cool­ing towers and 851-foot main chim­ney of Drax Power Station are a famil­iar site on the hori­zon from the uplands to the west of Sheffield, 35 miles away as the crow flies.

But 28 mem­bers and guests of Stumperlowe Probus Club were afforded a much closer look at Britain’s largest power gen­er­at­ing facil­ity with a three-hour visit during which we learnt much about Drax’s trans­ition from a coal-powered sta­tion, when it was the UK’s largest emit­ter of carbon diox­ide, to a much greener future which could even­tu­ally see it pro­du­cing ‘carbon neg­at­ive’ elec­tri­city, taking more carbon diox­ide from the atmo­sphere than it pro­duces.

In 2003, Drax took its first steps away from fossil fuel, which had defined elec­tri­city gen­er­a­tion for more than a cen­tury, and began the trans­fer to bio­mass fuel as a renew­able altern­at­ive to coal.

Fifteen years later, three of the station’s six gen­er­at­ing units now run entirely on com­pressed wood pel­lets, mostly impor­ted from respons­ibly man­aged work­ing forests in the United States and Canada, while coal has been releg­ated to a sup­port­ing role to cover spikes in demand and main­tain the sta­bil­ity of the system.

Now Drax has con­ver­ted a fourth unit from coal to bio­mass, which rep­res­ents the passing of a two thirds marker for the power station’s coal-free ambi­tions and rep­res­ents more than 600 mega­watts of renew­able elec­tri­city going into Britain’s national trans­mis­sion system. It is the largest decar­bon­isa­tion pro­ject in Europe. Drax sup­plies six per cent of the country’s elec­tri­city and 11 per cent of its renew­able power.

As well as being an import­ant stra­tegic asset nation­ally, Drax is also vital to the local eco­nomy, employ­ing more than 700 people at the plant and sup­port­ing 3,650 jobs through­out Yorkshire and the Humber. The eco­nomic con­tri­bu­tion to the region stood at £419.2 mil­lion in 2016.

Drax dis­tri­bu­tion ter­min­als are loc­ated at four ports on the east and west coasts of north­ern England – Hull, Newcastle, Immingham and Liverpool — rout­ing fuel from ships for onward deliv­ery into the heart of the sta­tion by rail. A 12,500-ton ship­load of wood pel­lets will keep Drax’s tur­bines oper­at­ing for two and a half days.

Each of the station’s six tur­bines actu­ally con­sist of five sep­ar­ate tur­bines, namely one high pres­sure (HP), one inter­me­di­ate pres­sure (IP) and three low pres­sure (LP). To pro­duce steam, Drax has six boil­ers each weigh­ing 4,000 tonnes. They con­vert energy from bio­mass or coal into steam at the rate of more than four mil­lions pounds in weight per hour inside 300 miles of steel tubing.

The steam tem­per­at­ure of raised to 568 deg C and the pres­sure to 166 bar. The boil­ers oper­ate either con­tinu­ously or on a daily cycle of morn­ing start-up and night shut­down as required by demand, known as ‘two-shifting.’ Exhaust steam from the 140-megawatt high pres­sure tur­bine is returned to the boiler for reheat­ing before being used in the 250mw inter­me­di­ate pres­sure tur­bine at 565 deg C and 40.2 bar. It then passes to the three 90mw low pres­sure tur­bines at 308 deg C and 6.32 bar.

The steam strikes and lifts a series of angled blades moun­ted on the tur­bine shaft, making it rotate at 3,000 rpm (50 cycles a second). The steam then passes to two con­dens­ers and is taken to the 12 cool­ing towers, two for each of the six gen­er­at­ing units.

To gen­er­ate the elec­tri­city, an elec­tro­mag­net on the rotor spins inside a stator (the sta­tion­ary sec­tion) of copper wind­ings, gen­er­at­ing 19,000 amps at 23,500 volts. A trans­former increases the voltage to a mind bog­gling 400,000 volts before send­ing it via cables to the adja­cent National Grid sub-tation for dis­tri­bu­tion into our homes, offices and factor­ies.

After an intro­duc­tion in the ‘learn­ing centre’ where our party was split into three groups and the work­ings of the power gen­er­at­ing pro­cess were explained with sev­eral scale models, we were kitted out in in hi-vis jack­ets, plastic hel­mets and pro­tect­ive eye­wear for an out­door tour of the vast site in elec­tric bug­gies. Inside the build­ings, with the 1,400-foot tur­bine hall as the centrepiece, we were given head­phones to allow us to hear the inform­at­ive com­ment­ary by our guides in the very noisy sur­round­ings.

Our heads were buzz­ing not only with noise but a slight over­load of facts and fig­ures as we peeled off our pro­tect­ive layers and climbed back into the com­fort of our coach for the jour­ney home to Sheffield via a lunch­time stop at the Brewer’s Arms in Snaith to round off a most enjoy­able day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carr Head Farm Vineyard visit — Wed 18th July 2018

Several mem­bers of Stumperlowe Probus Club have more than a passing interest in wine, includ­ing at least two who are share­hold­ers in a commercial-size French vine­yard, but they learnt much about the trials and tribu­la­tions of smal­ler scale pro­duc­tion on a Peak District hill­side 950 feet above sea level.

A party of 26 club mem­bers enjoyed lunch at a local hostelry before pro­gress­ing to the farm on the out­skirts of Hathersage for a tour of the vines fol­lowed by a tast­ing and buying oppor­tun­ity.

Michael Bailey, the pro­pri­etor of Carr Head Farm with his wife Mary, planted the first of his 1,700 vines on a one and a half acre, south west facing slope in 2014, so the ven­ture is still in its early stages. It was largely a retire­ment pro­ject; it is very labour intens­ive and he admits that a vine­yard of that size will never become a highly prof­it­able busi­ness.

Members listen intently as Michael talks us through some of the tech­niques of grape pro­duc­tion

Michael was an engin­eer by pro­fes­sion, and his career change began when he took a course at Plumpton College, the UK’s centre of excel­lence for wine which, as well as teach­ing the skills of viniculture, has its own vine­yards in East Sussex stretch­ing to 25 acres pro­du­cing 40,000 bottles of award-winning still and spark­ling wines each year.

 

After the recent heat­wave, it has the mak­ings of an excel­lent har­vest, although the grapes still have some way to go before being picked towards the end of September

When we star­ted the course, the tutor went round the class and asked us all where we wanted to start grow­ing grapes,” Michael recalled. “There were people from the places you might expect – South East England, Cornwall, and up into the Midlands, and when I said North Derbyshire at an alti­tude of almost 1,000 feet, his reply was to the effect of ‘well, good luck to you!’”

 

 

Michael explains the use of a refracto­meter which will meas­ure the spe­cific grav­ity of the grapes and thus the alco­hol con­tent of the fin­ished wine

The sev­eral vari­et­ies of grapes pro­duced each year go to make the white, spark­ling rosé and still rosé offered by Carr Head, although there is no winery on site at Hathersage and the grapes are sent away to be pro­duced by the Halfpenny Green vine­yard at Bobbington, Staffordshire.

 

There’s more to walls — Trevor Wragg — 2nd July 2018

I sup­pose it all depends who you believe – Pam Ayres or Trevor Wragg.

To quote my favour­ite female poet’s odd ode: “I am a dry stone waller, all day I dry stone wall. Of all appalling call­ings, dry stone walling’s worst of all.”

I can’t for a minute ima­gine Trevor Wragg voicing those sen­ti­ments. Trevor lives and breathes dry stone walling, and has been a pro­fes­sional at the job for many years. He was the British cham­pion in 1996, and holds the Dry Stone Walling Association’s Master Craftsman Certificate.

Trevor, who is just coming up his 70th birth­day and lives at Hartington, in the Peak District, is a qual­i­fied instructor and exam­iner with the DSWA, as well as serving on that body’s Skills Committee and being an assessor with the National Proficiency Testing Council and the Dales Agricultural and Rural Training Ltd (DART).

Trevor at work on a length of dry stone wall

He has led assess­ment days for officers from the Department of Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Peak District National Park Authority, advising them on both good and bad work­man­ship for grant aided work.

So he clearly knows his stuff, and was just the man to come and talk to us about a fea­ture of the coun­tryside that most of us see almost every day without really think­ing too much about.

His style of present­a­tion per­haps wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea. Rather than wait­ing for his audi­ence to ask per­tin­ent ques­tions at the end of the 80 minutes, he squandered some of that time by asking us ques­tions from his slides to which he knew few, if any, of us would know the answers, so there were many preg­nant pauses.

Even so, we learnt a lot during the present­a­tion. Personally, I thought that a dry stone wall was a dry stone wall. But you could take Trevor blind­fold to any part of the coun­try and, by look­ing at the walls, he could tell you in an instant whether he was in Caithness, Cumbria or the Cotswolds, or his native Derbyshire.

Trevor took us on a pictorial tour of the White and Dark Peaks and Staffordshire Moorlands, point­ing out the dif­fer­ent size and shape of fields enclosed by dry stone walling, and explain­ing how these came about, from the per­fectly straight ‘strip’ system of farm­ing to large, gradu­ally curving fields which gave a team of eight oxen enough space to turn round.

One of the few cor­rect answers from the floor was that sphag­num moss, found in abund­ance on dry stone walls, was once used in the pro­duc­tion of babies’ nap­pies, because of its absorb­ent qual­ity. There is more wild­life in a dry stone wall than in a hedgerow, appar­ently. And walls har­bour more than 2,000 vari­et­ies of lichen, often a source of food for the said wild­life and also used in the pro­duc­tion of dyes.

Trevor being inter­viewed by Ade Edmondson on the ITV pro­gramme Ade in Britain

And I now know, though he didn’t ques­tion us on this dir­ectly, that a smoot hole is a gap of appro­pri­ate size built into a dry stone wall to allow the free pas­sage of cer­tain creatures (such as rab­bits) but not others (such as sheep). It cer­tainly isn’t in my OED, and I’ve now found out that it pos­sibly derives from the Old Norse word smátta, mean­ing a narrow lane.

You get shoot­ing smoot holes, usu­ally on a grouse moor, and others for rab­bits, ducks and geese, badgers or, simply, water. South facing walls sur­round­ing a court­yard would some­times con­tain bee holes, and others might incor­por­ate hen nest­ing boxes. A drawer stone is one which might look indis­tin­guish­able to all the others but, if you knew where you were look­ing, could be pulled out by the fin­gers and had a hol­lowed out top to con­tain money or the keys to a gate.

The Royal Cypher seen from the middle dis­tance

One of Trevor’s most pres­ti­gi­ous jobs was to design the con­tro­ver­sial EIIR royal cypher which was erec­ted on the hill­side near Edensor, on the Chatsworth estate, to cel­eb­rate the Queen’s golden jubilee. This con­sisted of 288.5 metres of dry stone walling, but built only to half normal height so that the shad­ows cast by the walls on sunny days did not detract from the over­all ‘look’ when viewed from the best vant­age point a mile or more away.

Trevor’s design for the three-way slop­ing site and, bottom right, how it would appear from the best view­ing point

There was more to design­ing it than met the eye (lit­er­ally), because the land where the cypher was erec­ted fell away in three dir­ec­tions and Trevor prac­tised with straw bales before coming up with the final plan which made the char­ac­ters look askew when viewed from close up but per­fectly reg­u­lar from afar.

I per­son­ally, and I sus­pect many other people felt the same, admired the EIIR royal cypher, but the Peak Park author­ity decreed that it had only tem­por­ary plan­ning per­mis­sion and the walls even­tu­ally had to come down.

But thanks to the skill of Trevor and his fellow dry stone wall­ers, most examples of their work will still be around for our grandchildren’s grand­chil­dren to admire. They have been part of our her­it­age for cen­tur­ies, and will con­tinue to be so.

My Early Years In The Merchant Navy — Brian Smith — 16th April 2018

Five months after he gave us a talk on part two of his career – as a sur­veyor for Lloyd’s Register – Brian Smith, a member of the Barrow upon Humber Probus Club, returned by pop­u­lar demand to give us part one, cov­er­ing his years as a ship’s engin­eer.

Brian’s career change was forced upon him when, after just over 18 years in the Merchant Navy, he was made redund­ant, largely as a result of con­tain­er­isa­tion. One con­tainer ship could replace half a dozen ordin­ary cargo ships in terms of load car­ry­ing capa­city, and today they are even bigger. One reason why Britain cannot com­pete in the build­ing of these huge ves­sels is that there is vir­tu­ally nowhere in UK waters where they can be launched.

Not that the ships Brian worked on were exactly tid­dlers. He sailed in 15 dif­fer­ent ves­sels, and at the peak of his first career he was chief engin­eer of a ship of 76,000 tonnes. He was away for up to nine months at a stretch, sail­ing the waters of the world with car­goes ran­ging from bana­nas to cars.

Brian, des­pite having no family sea­far­ing his­tory, was inspired to seek work in the marine world when, as a young boy being driven for days out at the sea­side with his par­ents to either Redcar or Saltburn, he would pass the large docks in Middlesbrough. He left school at the age of 15 in 1960 and obtained his first job as a mes­sen­ger boy at the local Furness shipyard.

An aerial view of Middlesbrough docks in the 1950s

As I walked around the docks area deliv­er­ing doc­u­ments I would see every aspect of the trade, from ship­wrights to port­ers, and being an inquis­it­ive type I would always ask them what they were doing.

I was soon inden­tured as an appren­tice, which involved two years in a fit­ting shop and three in a machine shop, oper­at­ing lathes and other equip­ment, and at 18 you were allowed to go out­side to work in the main­ten­ance depart­ment, work­ing on the ships.

One day I saw some­body who every­body was taking notice of – he was obvi­ously very import­ant – and I had it explained to me that he was the Lloyd’s sur­veyor inspect­ing the ship.”

Plucking up cour­age, Brian asked the man from Lloyd’s: “How do I get your job?” He replied: “Easy son, go to sea and get your qual­i­fic­a­tions,” and took a note of Brian’s name and address.

I didn’t really expect to hear any­thing, but one day I got a letter from the Board of Trade telling me that I would have to go to sea.” Brian told his man­ager that he wanted to leave his job ashore, and after ini­tially being refused because of his appren­tice­ship he was allowed to leave the fol­low­ing January to pursue his chosen career in what was then the world’s largest mer­chant navy.

He was told to report to his first ship at Avonmouth, and he star­ted work as a junior engin­eer in 1966.

Brian worked first for the Hain Steamship Company, which was estab­lished as a public com­pany in 1901 but could trace its roots back to 1816. The com­pany was acquired by the P&O Steam Navigation Company in 1917, con­tinu­ing to oper­ate as a sep­ar­ate entity, although Brian later worked for the P&O Tramp Company, based in London.

A ship engaged in the tramp trade is one which does not have a fixed sched­ule or pub­lished ports of call, as opposed to a freight liner.

After join­ing another ship sail­ing the North Atlantic, Brian came home on leave and went to col­lege to gain his Certificate of Competency as an engin­eer. He rejoined the ship as a fourth engin­eer, and cel­eb­rated his 21st birth­day off the coast of West Africa.

He returned to col­lege to gain his second engineer’s ticket and then joined the Tyne-built gen­eral cargo ship Trewidden, bound for the French island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean where, off the coast of South Africa, the cap­tain was mys­ter­i­ously lost over­board.

The Trewidden, which Brian joined as Second Engineer

Brian regaled us with col­our­ful stor­ies of his voy­ages around the world, ran­ging from the time a ship was left to pick up the tab when crew mem­bers vis­ited a house of ill repute in Mombasa, to his unwit­ting part in the so-called Great Grain Robbery of 1972 when the Soviet Union cov­ertly pur­chased 10 mil­lion tons of United States wheat and corn but were unable to use Russian ships to trans­port it.

Brian’s present­a­tion coin­cided with a very suc­cess­ful first meet­ing in our new tem­por­ary home at the Hallam Community and Youth Association hall while con­struc­tion work is due to get under way at the Fulwood Church Hall.

The Family of Oscar Wilde — Dr Michael Collins — 5th February 2018

We all knew that Oscar Wilde was a bit of a lad, and those of us who enjoyed Mike Collins’s enthralling talk about the Irish poet and play­wright now also know that he was some­thing of a chip off the old block. For while Oscar played a cent­ral part in the story, Mike’s present­a­tion – sub­titled Genius, Eccentricity and Tragedy — helped us under­stand how Wilde’s char­ac­ter was to a large extent shaped by his intel­lec­tual and upper middle class family.

Oscar was born in 1854 to William (later Sir William) Wilde, a prom­in­ent Dublin ear and eye sur­geon, and his wife Jane Elgee, a noted poet, fem­in­ist and social­ite. He was home edu­cated to the age of nine, with French and German gov­ernesses, and became fluent in both lan­guages. After uni­ver­sity in Dublin and Oxford, where Wilde proved him­self an out­stand­ing clas­si­cist, he moved to London and into fash­ion­able cul­tural and social circles.

He embraced the rising philo­sophy of aes­thet­i­cism, a lit­er­ary and artistic move­ment which was devoted to ‘art for art’s sake’ and which rejec­ted the notion that art should have a social or moral pur­pose. He pub­lished a book of poems, and lec­tured in the United States and Canada on the new English renais­sance in art, before return­ing to London where he worked pro­lific­ally as a journ­al­ist.

Known for his biting wit, flam­boy­ant dress and glit­ter­ing con­ver­sa­tional skill, Wilde became one of the best known per­son­al­it­ies of his day.

Oscar’s wife Constance, with their son Cyril

He had been intro­duced in 1881 to Constance Lloyd, daugh­ter of a wealthy QC. She happened to be vis­it­ing Dublin in 1884 when Wilde was lec­tur­ing at the Gaiety Theatre. He pro­posed to her, and they were mar­ried at the Anglican St James’s Church in Paddington, London.

But Wilde was lead­ing a double life. At the height of his suc­cess, Wilde had the Marquess of Queensberry pro­sec­uted for crim­inal libel after the latter had left a call­ing card at Wilde’s club, the Albemarle, on which he scribbled: “For Oscar Wilde, posing as Somdomite (sic).” The Marquess was the father of Wilde’s lover, Lord Alfred Douglas. The libel trial unearthed evid­ence that caused Wilde to drop his charges and led to his own arrest and trial for gross inde­cency with men. After two more trials he was con­victed and sen­tenced to two years’ hard labour from 1895 to 1897.

Upon his release from Reading Gaol, Wilde left imme­di­ately for France, never to return to Ireland or Britain. There he wrote his last work, the Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898), and he died des­ti­tute in Paris from cereb­ral men­ingitis at the age of just 46.

Mike Collins gradu­ated from University College, Galway, in 1973, and his interest in Wilde and his family stems largely from the fact that he grew up in the same town, Castlerea, Co Roscommon, as William Wilde, him­self the son of a prom­in­ent local med­ical prac­ti­tioner.

Mike drew com­par­is­ons between Oscar and his father. For although Sir William became pre-eminent in his field, becom­ing wealthy enough to open his own private hos­pital in Dublin, St Mark’s Opthalmic Hospital, in 1844, and being appoin­ted as Oculist-in-Ordinary to Queen Victoria, his later life was also mired in con­tro­versy.

Sir William Wilde, Oscar’s father

His repu­ta­tion suffered irre­par­able damage when Mary Travers, a long-term patient of Wilde’s and the daugh­ter of a col­league, claimed that he had seduced her two years earlier. She wrote a pamph­let crudely par­ody­ing Sir William and Lady Wilde and por­tray­ing him as the rapist of a female patient anaes­thet­ised under chlo­ro­form.

 

Jane, Lady Wilde (sketch attrib­uted to George Morosini)

Lady Wilde com­plained to Mary’s father, Robert Travers, which res­ul­ted in Mary bring­ing a libel case against Lady Wilde. Mary Travers won the case but was awar­ded a mere farth­ing in dam­ages, while legal costs of £2,000 were awar­ded against Lady Wilde.

Then, three years later, the Wilde’s daugh­ter Isola died of fever at the age of nine. In 1871, the two ille­git­im­ate daugh­ters of Sir William burned to death in an acci­dent, and in 1876 Sir William him­self died. The family dis­covered that he was vir­tu­ally bank­rupt.

Lady Wilde, who wrote under the pseud­onym Speranza, was an early advoc­ate for women’s rights and gained a repu­ta­tion for pro-Irish inde­pend­ence and anti-British writ­ing. She wrote an art­icle for The Nation call­ing for armed revolu­tion in Ireland, as a result of which the magazine was per­man­ently closed down by the author­it­ies.

Oscar and Constance Wilde had two sons, Cyril (1885) and Vyvyan (1886). After Oscar’s impris­on­ment, Constance changed her sur­name to Holland and, although not seek­ing a divorce, denied par­ental rights to Oscar.

According to Vyvyan Holland’s accounts in his auto­bi­o­graphy, Son of Oscar Wilde, Oscar was a devoted and loving father to his two sons and their child­hood was a rel­at­ively happy one.

At the start of his present­a­tion Mike had run a few of Oscar Wilde’s wit­ti­cisms past us, includ­ing one of the best known: “What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of noth­ing.” Personally, the one I like the best was reputedly uttered as he lay dying in a dingy hotel room in Paris. “My wall­pa­per and I are fight­ing a duel to the death. One of us has to go.”