All posts by John Abel

A Zoom Magic Show — Richard Reynolds — 21 December 2020


Richard Reynolds is usu­ally extremely busy at this time of year with his magic shows but the Coronavirus 19 has meant changes to his modus operandi.  He has devised an obser­va­tion show for audi­ences on Zoom and he kindly squeezed in, at short notice, a present­a­tion for Stumperlowe Probus.

The half hour show starts with a reminder of the Rubik’s Cube.  It was inven­ted by the Hungarian archi­tect Professor Erno Rubick and has been very pop­u­lar from the 1980’s to today.

Various people have achieved incred­ible speeds in solv­ing the game but Richard intro­duces another slant on what to do with the cube and the pat­terns that are cre­ated.  We then move onto gambling card games like “chase the ace”.  Richard con­vinces his audi­ence to never get involved with such as the dealer will through sleight of hand always win.

Lottery cards are his next focus fol­lowed by a ref­er­ence to his interest in psy­cho­logy and people’s sus­cept­ib­il­ity to sug­ges­tion.  He uses play­ing cards and prob­ably sleight of hand to guess the choices that his audi­ence will make.  As a finale he uses the basic sym­bols used by the CIA when research­ing tele­pathy to pre­dict choices that a member of his audi­ence will make.

The half hour “show” flew past with a remote audi­ence very much involved with every second.  It is not easy to fool all of the people all of the time in this situ­ation, but Richard suc­ceeded with dis­tinc­tion.


Then we had a most enjoy­able half hour, as three of our newest mem­bers “took to the floor” to intro­duce them­selves to the rest of the mem­bers. Their life exper­i­ences clearly showed that they will add  greatly to the vast fund of know­ledge within the club. Indeed one has already given us a fas­cin­at­ing talk!

Welcome gen­tle­men!


Does wealth lead to health? At home with the de Medici Part 1 by Prof. Tim Stephenson 3rd August 2020


The Medici Family Tree

Professor Tim Stevenson has retired as the Clinical Director of Laboratory Medicine at Sheffield Teaching Hospital and is now a member of Stumperlowe Probus Club.  His talk was the first of a two-part exam­in­a­tion of the early Medici family and was given using Zoom.

The story starts with Giovanni di Bicci (1360–1429) who dealt in wool in the Lombardy region of Italy.  He intro­duced and con­trolled a stand­ard system of weights and meas­ures in Italy and cre­ated the Medici Bank.

Giovanni di Bicci (1360–1429)

The weights and meas­ures were used to the Medici advant­age as was the con­trol of units of cur­rency, exchange rates and com­mis­sion rates.  This led to enorm­ous power and wealth.  Greater even than the likes of today’s Amazon, Apple and Facebook com­bined.  The family were great pat­rons of the arts.

The family has two branches headed by Giovanni’s sons Cosimo and Lorenzo di Vecchio.  Cosimo Medici (1389–1464) is asso­ci­ated with Florence and sup­por­ted Brunelleschi and Donatello amongst many artists and archi­tects.

Cosimo Medici (1389–1464)

This branch pro­duced Lorenzo the Magnificent and Pope Leo X (1475–1521) who was patron for Raphael. Plus Pope Clement VII.

Lorenzo di Vecchio Medici

The com­bined houses pro­duced 4 Popes, two Queens of France and sev­eral other kings.  With such power there was much inbreed­ing and ill feel­ing with other power­ful fam­il­ies.  For their phys­ical safety, it was neces­sary to live in for­ti­fied palaces and use tun­nels to travel between build­ings.  Family mem­bers there­fore did not enjoy much direct sun­light and were very prone to debil­it­at­ing dis­eases.

The second part of Tim’s talk is eagerly awaited, where the many dis­ad­vant­ages of such wealth and power will be con­sidered.

Can your arteries tell your age? by Professor Gerald Meininger -24th February 2020

Gerry Meininger is an Emeritus Professor and Investigator at the Dalton Cardiovascular Research Centre at the University of Missouri – Columbia.  He is a very dis­tin­guished speaker who has had a large volume of work pub­lished and has lec­tured all over the world.  Now retired he lives in Sheffield.

The goals of his present­a­tion were to intro­duce his audi­ence to the Cardiovascular System with a little his­tory, a few fun facts and an explan­a­tion of big and little ves­sels.  Next to explain ageing and car­di­ovas­cu­lar change fol­lowed by some of the cur­rent research.  Luckily for the Probus Club, his present­a­tion is clearly struc­tured by many bril­liant PowerPoint slides that illus­trate his entire talk.

The earli­est writ­ings on the cir­cu­lat­ory system were in Egypt in 16th Century B.C. when it was thought that air breathed into the lungs then flows into the arter­ies.  The heart was the seat of emo­tions, wisdom and memory.  William Harvey (1578–1657) declared that the blood cir­cu­lates con­tinu­ously one way around the body.

The aver­age heart is the size of a fist in an adult and it beats 70 to 80 times per minute.  This equates to 115,000 times each day or 2.5 bil­lion times over 75 years.  The heart expels 4 litres per minute and there are only 5 litres of blood in the body.  The cir­cu­lat­ory system in our bodies stretches 66,000 miles.  Capillaries are tiny and are about a tenth the dia­meter of a human hair.

Gerry explained what is meant by large arter­ies are elastic, medium arter­ies are mus­cu­lar and the smal­lest arter­ies are arteri­oles.  He covered the aging effects on elastic arter­ies and on aortic stiff­en­ing and its impact on heart func­tion with enlar­ging the heart.


During ageing the large vas­cu­lar ves­sels get stiffer caus­ing hyper­ten­sion and dia­betes.  This effects 1 in 3 people glob­ally.  It also effects the elastic and res­ist­ance of ves­sels.  Aortic stiff­en­ing pre­cedes many med­ical con­di­tions and acts as a pre­dis­pos­ing factor.

Gerry explained the cur­rent hypo­theses about causes of aortic stiff­ness and his recent research into muscle cell ima­ging and topo­logy using atomic force and con­focal micro­scopy.

This was some talk and the Club was very priv­ileged to have enjoyed it.

The secret WW2 listeners of Gilnahirk  16th December 2019 by Professor John Guest

This talk has little to do with John Guest’s back­ground in Biochemistry and much to do with the secret world of Bletchley Park during WW2.  He struc­tured his talk as a jour­ney of dis­cov­ery begin­ning with his later school days in Belfast in 1952 where he was friends with Tony Banham.

Around 1952–53 John was in the RAF Section of his school’s C.C.F. and became involved with glid­ing and he obtained a Gliding Certificate.  He would travel past a suburb of Belfast called Gilnahirk on his way to the Ulster Flying Club at Newtonards by Strangford Lough.  He obtained a schol­ar­ship to read Biochemistry at Leeds University and left Belfast for Yorkshire.

John was intrigued by a book entitled “Gilnahirk’s best kept secret” by Benvista and first pub­lished in 2006.  John had been totally unaware that a radio listen­ing sta­tion had been oper­at­ing in Gilnahirk since the late 1930’s and this was upgraded to a full RSS (Radio Security Service) Station in 1942.  He was even more sur­prised to dis­cover the Officer in charge was Colonel Joe Banham his old school friend’s father.  He set about find­ing his friend who was now Lt. Commander A Banham RN Retired and a photo shows John with Tony together again in 2015.

He dis­covered that Tony’s father had told him very little about his war­time activ­it­ies and his con­nec­tion to Bletchley Park and GCHQ.  John was intrigued and set about trying to find more about this national secret for him­self.

The Wireless Interception Service or “Y” Service were work­ing for four ser­vices: Navy; Army; Air Force and most import­antly Military Intelligence and M18. As the RSS its func­tion was: to inter­cept and record signal traffic; to locate and close down illi­cit wire­less trans­mis­sion; to recruit and manage Voluntary Interceptors and to send signal and data to Bletchley Park.  At the start of the war radio hams all over the coun­try were invited to volun­teer as Interceptors.  Those selec­ted gave at least 2 hours a day listen­ing and log­ging radio sig­nals.  The logged mes­sages were entered onto a stand­ard RSS Log Sheet that was posted to an address in Barnet.  As soon as a Post Office received a letter with this address it was either tele­graphed or sent by des­patch rider to Bletchley Park/GCHQ.  Besides inter­cept­ing for­eign radio sig­nals, local mes­sages were also mon­itored to detect pos­sible spy infilt­ra­tion.  An import­ant part of the activ­it­ies at Gilnahirk was prob­ably to inter­cept radio traffic in the Atlantic and espe­cially sub­mar­ine sig­nals. 

These vol­un­tary Interceptors oper­ated from home, often in roof spaces or garden sheds.  In the early 1940’s there were over a thou­sand listen­ers.

Gilnahirk was involved with intel­li­gence relat­ing to the sink­ing of the Bismark and loc­at­ing the Scharnhorst.

AfterWW2, Gilnahirk con­tin­ued as a wire­less sta­tion through­out the Cold War.  In 1951, it was rebuilt as a brick two storey build­ing that accom­mod­ated hun­dreds of per­son­nel.  In the late 1970’s it was closed down and demol­ished in 2009.  The site has now a block of flats called Gilly Court Manor.

John’s talk is not only fas­cin­at­ing espe­cially to an audi­ence born during the life­time of Gilly wire­less sta­tion but is a reminder of how such things might be recor­ded for the public before memor­ies die out.

The Neuroanatomy of Emotion by Dr T M Jenkins – 21st October 2019

Dr Tom Jenkins is a con­sult­ant neur­o­lo­gist and Senior Clinical Lecturer in Neurology at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield.

He observed that the dif­fer­ence between heart and mind is that the heart is just a pump whereas everything comes from the brain.  The brain is the sphere of interest to the neur­o­lo­gist.  Tom gave an example of his pro­fes­sional life: One Monday even­ing a 62 year old lady was admit­ted to the Hallamshire Hospital with sudden epis­odes of intense fear last­ing seconds and occur­ring in full con­scious­ness.  This had been hap­pen­ing once every few weeks but was increas­ing in fre­quency recently. The neur­o­lo­gical exam­in­a­tion was normal.  When asked the audi­ence was rather reti­cent to sug­gest a reason. Tom explained that fear sug­gests a prob­lem with the amy­g­dala part of the brain. An MRI showed a tumour to the side of the amy­g­dala caus­ing focal seizures. He described this as an example of “neuroana­tom­ical loc­al­isa­tion in clin­ical neur­o­logy”, and his audi­ence was reminded that Stumperlowe Probus has had some very bright speak­ers and Tom was one of them.

Tom con­tin­ued to give a brief intro­duc­tion to clin­ical neur­o­logy with a focus on the limbic system.  Clinical Neurology is the branch of medi­cine con­cerned with dis­orders of the brain & nervous system.  Tools at the Neurologist’s dis­posal are his­tory (what people say); exam­in­a­tion and invest­ig­a­tions.

History includes the memory clinic.  The rich­ness of detail shows how func­tional a patient may be or how dimin­ished due to demen­tia.  Who comes to see the neur­o­lo­gist – if a patient is accom­pan­ied by someone this may be a sign of demen­tia.  If a patient turns their head away during con­ver­sa­tion is another demen­tia sign.  Conversational ana­lysis where the lan­guage struc­ture is examined is another aspect.

Examination is a tool.  It’s required when his­tory doesn’t help.  As an example, a 70-year-old man was admit­ted to hos­pital in a con­fused state.  He couldn’t give an account of the prob­lem and his family said he was walk­ing round bump­ing into things.  A neur­o­lo­gical exam­in­a­tion of his limbs was normal.  He was not dys­phasic (speech defi­ciency).  He got up to go to the loo and it became appar­ent that he could not see.  However, his ocular exam­in­a­tion was normal.  He was found to be con­fab­u­lat­ing to com­pensate for his lack of vision.  The prob­lem was cor­tical blind­ness due to a stroke.  He had com­pletely lost his sight and could not remem­ber having sight.

Investigation is a large field of pro­ced­ures.  Lumber punc­ture or spinal tap has been around for some time.  MRI scans are very import­ant. Recently there has been an ima­ging revolu­tion in neur­os­cience with 3D images on com­puter.

Neurophysiology is con­cerned with record­ing and inter­pret­ing elec­trical sig­nals from the nervous system. It is import­ant in the eval­u­ation of peri­pheral nerve and brain func­tion, often a key ele­ment in the dia­gnosis and assess­ment of dis­eases of the nervous system, such as epi­lepsy, muscle and peri­pheral nerve dis­ease, sleep dis­orders or mon­it­or­ing of nerve func­tion.  Electrodes are placed over the scalp to record activ­ity.  The pro­cess is called an elec­tro­en­ceph­al­o­gram (EEG).


The Limbic System is a set of brain struc­tures loc­ated on top of the brain­stem and buried under the cortex. Limbic system struc­tures are involved in many of our emo­tions and motiv­a­tions, par­tic­u­larly those that are related to sur­vival such as fear and anger.  There are two per­cep­tual areas: Memory and Emotion.  The latter encom­passes jeal­ousy; anger; envy; embar­rass­ment; dis­gust; fear; humour: love. These two areas com­bine to give drive-related beha­viour like: to avoid danger; to fight for sur­vival; to pass genes on; to pro­tect one’s young and to gain bene­fits of social group­ing.  These are related to evol­u­tion­ary bene­fit.  Tom went into some detail about memory and demen­tia and the dif­fer­ent areas of the brain involved.

For his audience’s age group, Tom’s talk was all too per­tin­ent.  It gave a struc­tured back­ground to a big sub­ject that few laymen will be versed in.  Tom’s grasp of the sub­ject was most impress­ive.

River Don – One of England’s finest salmon rivers  by Chris Firth MBE   29th July 2019

Chris Firth was born in Doncaster close to the banks of the River Don and early in life developed a pas­sion­ate interest in the river.  In 1975 he took up a post as a Fisheries Bailiff work­ing in the Lake District. In 1977 he moved to Beverley where he began work with the Yorkshire Water Authority as a Fisheries Inspector.  In 1983 he was pro­moted to Fisheries Officer based at Doncaster and, amongst his other duties, began work on the rehab­il­it­a­tion of the River Don and its fish­ery. In 1999, fol­low­ing dra­matic improve­ments in the envir­on­ment and eco­logy of the Don system, the Environment Agency pub­lished his book ‘Doomsday to the Dawn of the New Millennium’ an account of the demise and recov­ery of the fish pop­u­la­tions of the river. In 2000 he was awar­ded an MBE for ser­vices to Fisheries and the Environment.

In the six­teenth and sev­en­teenth cen­tur­ies there was so much salmon in the River Don that only poorest people ate salmon.  An indic­a­tion of this is that there were more otters along the river than any­where else in the north of England.  During the indus­trial revolu­tion, it became one of the most pol­luted rivers in England, but its decline star­ted much earlier.  To provide water power, low weirs were con­struc­ted across the river and these interfered with salmon move­ment.

In 1626 the Dutchman Cornelius Vermuyden star­ted the drain­ing of Hatfield Chase to the west of Doncaster.  The work involved the re-routing of the Rivers Don, Idle and Torne, and the con­struc­tion of drain­age chan­nels. It was not wholly suc­cess­ful, but changed the whole nature of a wide swathe of land includ­ing the Isle of Axholme and caused legal dis­putes for the rest of the cen­tury.

In 1732 a Parliamentary Act made the River Don a nav­ig­a­tion.  This encour­aged indus­trial devel­op­ment and bigger weirs were con­struc­ted that could not be tra­versed by salmon.  By 1790 there were no salmon reach­ing the river’s head waters.  By 1884 largely due to the surge of people to work in the new factor­ies, the river was grossly pol­luted and remained so for the next 120 years.

In 1975 Yorkshire Water took over the river but was mostly con­cerned with clean water supply.  In 1989 the organ­isa­tion was split into Yorkshire Water plc and the National Rivers Authority.  The latter was very con­cerned with improv­ing the River Don and began stock­ing the river with fish to act as indic­at­ors of pol­lu­tion and was more active in pro­sec­ut­ing pol­luters.  Work also began on con­struct­ing fish passes along the river system to permit salmon to reach fur­ther upstream.  £3m has been raised over 10 years for this work and last winter for the first time in cen­tur­ies, salmon were caught near Meadow Hall.  Funding has been alloc­ated for a fish pass for Masborough Weir in Rotherham and upon com­ple­tion of this pro­ject, all obstruc­tions for salmon below Sheffield will have been addressed.  It is hoped and expec­ted that the River Don will again sup­port a siz­able pop­u­la­tion of salmon in the near future.