All posts by John Abel

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.

Hearing loss: the present and the future by Sandra Welburn  10th June 2019

 Sandra Welburn is based in Newcastle and is the Head of inform­a­tion coordin­a­tion for the north­ern region of the “Action on hear­ing loss” char­ity.  Its former name was the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID). It has been a national char­ity since 1911.  The area covered by Sandra is from Cheshire to the Scottish boarder.

It’s the largest char­ity for people with hear­ing loss in the UK, with an under­stand­ing of how hear­ing loss can affect everything in your life from your rela­tion­ships, to your edu­ca­tion and your job pro­spects.  The char­ity is here to sup­port and help people to take back con­trol and live the lives they choose.

On aver­age it takes about 10 years for some­body sus­pect­ing they have hear­ing loss to take actual action.  There are about 11 mil­lion people in Great Britain with hear­ing loss. About 4 mil­lion people have unad­dressed hear­ing loss and 2 mil­lion people use hear­ing aides and about sixty thou­sand people use sign lan­guage.

Sandra gave an example of a man with good hear­ing was on a hol­i­day flight, when he stepped off the plane, he dis­covered that he had lost all his hear­ing.  It was a per­man­ent change.  She asked her audi­ence to try to ima­gine what this would feel like and what aspects of hear­ing would be most missed.  She explained how as hear­ing loss increases a person becomes more isol­ated within their family as loved ones tend to cut the person out of con­ver­sa­tions and activ­it­ies.  Other people may begin to treat a person as being less intel­li­gent.  Lip read­ing becomes import­ant and tele­vi­sion view­ing requires the volume to be turned up or sub­titles restrict choice of pro­grammes.

Besides hear­ing loss, the char­ity helps with Tinnitus. Tinnitus is often described as ”ringing in the ears”, but it’s the name for hear­ing any sound in your ears or head when there’s noth­ing out­side your body that’s making that sound.  The char­ity sup­ports a Tinnitus Helpline and a Tinnitus Forum.

Action on hear­ing loss helps people to manage their lives by provid­ing care homes; an engage­ment ser­vice; research teams; a products depart­ment; cafes and cam­paigns.

Large resources are provided towards research across the world and this is bear­ing fruit.  Since 2006 in the UK new-born babies without hear­ing may get a coch­lear implant.  The implant con­sists of a micro­phone and a trans­mit­ter out­side the head, which send sig­nals to an implanted receiver under the skin. This in turn sends sig­nals to elec­trodes implanted in the coch­lea. When the elec­trodes receive a signal, tiny elec­tric cur­rents stim­u­late the aud­it­ory nerve, which car­ries sound from the coch­lea to the brain.  In 2016 a new gene was dis­covered that is related to the hear­ing mech­an­ism and gives hope that treat­ments might be developed to reduce or reverse hear­ing loss.

Soon sign lan­guage will be taught in all primary schools in England.

The char­ity in your local area provides sup­port in deal­ing with: bene­fits and grants; every­day life; your rights; com­mu­nic­a­tion tips; products and tech­no­logy; blogs and forums.


Britain & Germany – War at sea 1914–1918 Pt1 — Peter Stubbs — 11 March 2019

Peter Stubbs is a retired soli­citor who has developed an interest in naval his­tory, he has given 2 talks pre­vi­ously to the Club.  The his­tory of the British Navy during WW1 is a big sub­ject and his talk is in two parts and this report refers to the first sec­tion.

Until the 16th cen­tury war­ships had been essen­tially for trans­port­ing sol­diers for hand to hand fight­ing. Now wooden ships with gun ports and muzzle loaded guns on 3 decks were built and 250 years later in the time of HMS Victory, war­ships had changed little.  95 years later HMS Warrior was launched with iron clad­ding to a timber frame with steam engines but still with 3 masts and muzzle loaded guns.  The British Navy was com­pla­cent and set in its ways.  In 1900 it was like a rich old man, swollen with self-confidence with memor­ies of past glor­ies and little regard for modern trends.  There was much emphasis on smart­ness and little on train­ing.

In 1889 the German Chancellor Bismark stated “I see England as an old and tra­di­tional ally.  No dif­fer­ence exists between England and Germany”.  In England, France was the tra­di­tional enemy.  The Kaiser was very jeal­ous of Britain’s dom­in­ance of the seas and in 1897 he made Tirpitz Secretary of State of the Imperial Navy.  He was a bril­liant admin­is­trator and began to increase the German Navy by 38 battle­ships, 20 armoured cruis­ers and 38 light cruis­ers.  The British Navy at this time had over 900 ships.

In 1904 Admiral John Fisher became 1st Sea Lord.  He recog­nised the threat the new German naval policy rep­res­en­ted and thought that war was inev­it­able.  He removed 150 obsol­ete ships from the fleet and planned for modern replace­ments.  He cham­pioned the devel­op­ment of the sub­mar­ine and inven­ted the concept of the modern des­troyer.  He was the ori­gin­ator of the Dreadnought battle­ship.  No other ship could com­pete with her and Britain built 35 of them.  Seeing the Dreadnought, Germany halted con­struc­tion of its ships and ordered new designs to be built.  The Battleship Race was on.

HMS Dreadnought 1906

The British Navy went to war on 4th August 1914 with 609 fight­ing ships includ­ing 29 Dreadnoughts and battle cruis­ers to Germany’s 17 equi­val­ents.  It soon became clear that sea power must now con­tend with mines, tor­pedoes and sub­mar­ines.

At this time 60% of our food and other com­mod­it­ies were impor­ted.  The object­ive of the German Grand Fleet was to break out from the North Sea and to attack Britain’s mer­chant ship­ping.  The Grand Fleet under Admiral Jellicoe was sta­tioned at Scapa Flow to pre­vent this.  Britain’s block­ade covered the whole of the west­ern approaches and applied to all ships bound for Germany.  This had an ever more dam­aging effect on German pro­duc­tion and living stand­ards.

At this early stage in the war inter-ship com­mu­nic­a­tion was poor.  In the battle of Heligoland Bight it was repor­ted “Our battle cruis­ers were scattered by and made viol­ent attempts to sink a squad­ron of our own sub­mar­ines.  Our light cruis­ers sent in to sup­port were in two cases thought to be enemy ships by our des­troy­ers and in another case two light cruis­ers chased two tor­pedo boats each sup­pos­ing the other to be the enemy.”  Despite all this Commodore Tyrett won the battle and this had a sig­ni­fic­ant effect on future German policy that became more cau­tious.

Peter’s talk covered sev­eral naval battles in the south­ern hemi­sphere includ­ing the Battle of Port Stanley and the sink­ing of the Scharnhorst and the Gneisanau.  The second part of the talk will be more focused on war in the north­ern hemi­sphere.

We eagerly await Peter’s con­clud­ing talk in what is an intriguing insight into our recent his­tory that few of us have much know­ledge of.