All posts by Michael Clarke

VIETNAM: The Unwinnable War” Professor Antony Taylor 7th September 2020

Our speaker this week, Antony Taylor, is Professor of Modern History at Sheffield Hallam University.  He had pre­vi­ously vis­ited us in January 2019, when he gave a most even-handed view of Brexit and its rami­fic­a­tions.  He was to repeat this approach in tack­ling todays talk, the sub­ject of which in its day was, for nearly twenty years — along with Nuclear dis­arm­a­ment — per­haps the most con­tro­ver­sial and divis­ive topic of our younger years .

Tony began his talk by sketch­ing out the back­ground to this long and cruel con­flict (1955–1975) which was to cost 58,000 American lives. The War sprung from its routes in WW2, as the US aban­doned isol­a­tion and became a Pacific ori­ent­ated power in the after­math of Pearl Harbour. European colo­nial weak­ness, both in battle and supply logist­ics, was demon­strated by the ini­tial suc­cess of Japan before and during the early stages of the War.  Korea, large swathes of China, Indo–China and later, Hong Kong and Singapore were over run. In the vacuum fol­low­ing the fall of Japan in 1945, Communism became ascend­ant in the now restored colon­ies of Great Britain, Holland and France.  All were to exper­i­ence ‘guer­rilla’ activ­ity in sup­port of inde­pend­ence. The US, already heav­ily com­mit­ted to ‘roll back’ com­mun­ism in the shorter Korean con­flict (1950–53), attemp­ted to ‘prop up’ the colo­nial powers, espe­cially France, via ‘Marshall Aid’ funds.  This served only to stoke up the nation­al­ists of the region, espe­cially the Vietminh, who also oper­ated through­out the rest of French Indo-China. Their weapons included light armoury sup­plied from both Russia and China, light­en­ing terror attacks and indoc­trin­a­tion of the pop­u­la­tion.  No mercy was shown to any cap­tured enemy.  The reg­u­lar dis­play of mutil­ated French sol­diers had a grim mes­sage both in the jungle and in Paris.


There fol­lowed a nine year war of attri­tion between the Vietminh and the restored French Empire, cul­min­at­ing in the fall of Dien Bien Phu in 1954.  This was to give inde­pend­ence to the former colon­ies of Laos and Cambodia.  Vietnam was par­ti­tioned along the 17th par­al­lel between a Communist north under Ho Chi Minh and a US backed south under Ngo Diem.  The border was to prove unstable with con­stant incur­sions and in 1964 the Gulf of Tonkin incid­ent -another Pearl Harbour moment- in which US ships were attacked, pro­voked full American involve­ment.  Despite a vast build-up of US forces and hard­ware, America was unable to pre­vent the Vietcong enter­ing the south with impun­ity.  There was a major refugee ‘boat people’ crisis in 1978, as people tried to flee the coun­try.  Secretary State for Defence Robert McNamara acknow­ledged before his death that “the USA could never have won this war”.

South East Asia was to become the ’cock­pit’ of the Cold War with no ‘Yalta’ mech­an­ism for keep­ing the peace. The Vietnam war was to be end­lessly fought on other fronts such as Afghanistan and Iraq, blight­ing the records of Presidents Kennedy, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. With TV cov­er­age, the War attrac­ted a great deal of mainly left wing sym­pathy in the West with the Viet Cong flag (a yellow star on red back­ground) a reg­u­lar sight on uni­ver­sity cam­puses and demon­stra­tions in Trafalgar Square or out­side the White House.  It was to enter deep into pop­u­lar con­science, becom­ing the sub­ject of sev­eral films such as “Platoon”, “Hamburger Hill”, as well as plays includ­ing “ Miss Saigon” and numer­ous books eg,  Michel Herr’s ‘Despatches’.  The com­mun­ist side made much use of pro­pa­ganda pit­ting the under­dog against the bully.


 Tony moved on to dis­cuss a range of factors, which he con­sidered made the War unwinnable for America.  These included:

  • An over-dependence on static defens­ive pos­i­tions, like the French before them, losing con­trol of the coun­tryside which aerial bom­bard­ment, use of chem­ical weapons etc failed to flush out the oppos­i­tion
  • Trying to fight a con­ven­tional war against an uncon­ven­tional enemy that would go to ground min­im­ising open con­flict and tar­gets. The US army used many reluct­ant con­scripts; the Vietminh were battle hardened and had fought both the Japanese and the French before the US
  • Few ‘indi­gen­ous col­lab­or­at­ors’ and lack of sub­stan­tial inter­na­tional allies
  • Anti-war protests at home, bring­ing together young people, the counter cul­ture, black civil rights act­iv­ists and some Hollywood stars.


 Our speaker con­cluded his talk by con­sid­er­ing the con­sequences of the Vietnam War.   While the British had won their war against the com­mun­ists by 1950, with the help of the indi­gen­ous pop­u­la­tion, and then grant­ing (what became) Malaysia full inde­pend­ence in 1957, Tony thought the whole epis­ode had humi­li­ated the USA encour­aging a return to an isol­a­tion­ist stance.  A more con­struct­ive approach might have been to have offered an aid pack­age to encour­age better US sen­ti­ment through greater prosper­ity.  By destabil­ising the region war, broke out between Vietnam and Cambodia, res­ult­ing in the rise of the Khmer rouge under Pol Pot. The US thus caused what it had tried to pre­vent -the pro­lif­er­a­tion of Communism in the region and an example for anti-colonial move­ments else­where.

Before our ‘Zoom Time’ was up Tony took a number of ques­tions which ranged from the role of Harold Wilson (who kept GB out) the War’s impact on France and Algeria, the use of Napalm, to the Soviet exper­i­ence in Afghanistan.   This level of interest was stim­u­lated by another com­pel­ling talk for which our speaker was warmly thanked.



































Sheffield United: Folklore & Fables John Garrett 9th March 2020

Football is 60% abil­ity and 40% sur­vival”  —  Derek Dooley

 Earlier this season I tried to get tick­ets for a ‘Blades’ match to treat my eldest grand­son.  Not having the required vouch­ers, my attempt was declined.   So instead, we went to Chesterfield to watch the ‘Spirites’ play ‘my’ team Woking: a highly com­pet­it­ive 1–2 result in the National League played in front of 4000 (OAP ticket £12, child £5).  As far as I know, United have never played Woking, but they do have common bonds: by coin­cid­ence both clubs cel­eb­rate their 131st birth­days this year, both were ‘com­munity’ clubs and both share red, white and black as their team col­ours.

 Even if we rarely go to live foot­ball, it is funny how many of us retain our boy­hood interest in our ‘home’ team, even if cir­cum­stances have taken us else­where. By con­trast, our speaker this week, John Garrett, has stayed proudly put in his native city sup­port­ing ‘The Blades’ all his life.   He has worked for this famous club in vari­ous roles over 24 years and vis­ited 148 grounds in the pro­cess.  He is cur­rently work­ing as Heritage Manager , writ­ing reg­u­lar con­tri­bu­tion to match pro­grammes.  He has been the driv­ing force for set­ting up the ’Blades’ Museum.  To attract vis­it­ors, he thought the Council should be much more ima­gin­at­ive in pro­mot­ing the City’s foot­ball his­tory.  Starting on a ”low salary but with free admis­sion to matches”, John had seen the club from many angles: its downs and recent ups and these, in the form of facts, folk­lore and fables, he was to share in abund­ance.

John began his talk by recount­ing how foot­ball had been a tread in his family life over four gen­er­a­tions.  Anyone coming to Sheffield soon becomes aware of the strong rival­ries between avian owls and sharpened swords. Loyalties within work­places and fam­il­ies are often strained.  When, as a young lady, his mother’s family sup­por­ted the other city team, she hes­it­ated to fulfil a date. John’s father was kept wait­ing out­side ‘Cole’s corner’ for three hours! His family’s exper­i­ences reflect that rivalry.  But over the years there has, in fact, been much inter­change –play­ers, man­agers, nick­names and even owners -and cooper­a­tion between the clubs in such areas as shar­ing a ground and avoid­ing clashes of match dates.

Having writ­ten two books on the sub­ject, our speaker went on to out­line the City’s and Club’s foot­balling his­tory. The game has deep roots loc­ally and Sheffield can boast a number of soccer ‘firsts’.  Recognised as the oldest foot­ball club in the world Sheffield FC (who now play in Dronfield) was foun­ded in 1857, while Hallam FC, foun­ded in 1860, still play at the same ground in Crosspool.  It was sponsored by the now defunct “The Plough” Inn oppos­ite who provided chan­ging facil­it­ies.  Sheffield Wednesday began in 1867 and Sheffield United fol­lowed in 1889.   Both teams were to go on to be founder mem­bers of the Football league, United being a pion­eer in such areas as the pro­vi­sion of toi­lets, refresh­ment facil­it­ies, pneu­matic turn­stiles, fixed cross­bars, whistles and even flood­light­ing! (A ‘night’ match attrac­ted 20,000 in 1878, receipts £890).   Their record recor­ded attend­ance is 68000 in 1936 when Leeds United were the vis­it­ors. The ground has hosted cricket Test matches, the first foot­ball inter­na­tional and major non-sporting  events over the years ran­ging from  ‘ pop’ con­certs to Billy Graham. The Club was a leader in the for­mu­la­tion of the uni­ver­sally accep­ted rules of today, which had one time varied between cities and coun­tries.

As the city indus­tri­al­ised — espe­cially from about 1860 onwards- there was a grow­ing need for recre­ation and fresh air.  Both major clubs had their roots in attempts to remedy this. , As so often in Victorian times, it was Church and Temperance influ­ences, wealthy bene­fact­ors coupled with com­munity self- help that got things moving.  Another factor was the wish of the crick­et­ing fra­tern­ity to have a winter sport.  It fol­lowed that Sheffield United had its ori­gins in the Cricket club (foun­ded 1854) of the same name.  The inaug­ural meet­ing was at the Adelphi Hotel (on the site of the present Crucible Theatre) on 22nd March 1889, presided over by local soli­citor and former player Sir William Clegg (who is buried in Fulwood Churchyard). He was also President of ‘Wednesday FC’, the prefix ‘Sheffield’ being added in 1929.

In the earli­est years, United played their matches at nearby Sheaf House and Wednesday closeby at Olive Grove (now a Council Depot).  This is across the rail­way and almost oppos­ite the Earl of Arundel and Surrey pub on Queen’s Road (now a bike shop), where teams changed. The site, then on the south­ern edge of the town, was leased from the Duke of Norfolk but in the late 1890s was sold to provide space for the Midland Railway ‘widen­ings’, which quad­rupled tracks to Totley junc­tion after the tunnel was built.  For a time, the two clubs shared United’s ground at Bramhall Lane (also shared with the Cricket club) but fell out over gate receipts and rent.  Wednesday moved to their present Hillsborough ground in 1899.  ‘Derby’ matches, as now, some­times caused much fric­tion and on at least on one occa­sion troops had to be summoned to restore order!

John moved on to sketch through United’s play­ing his­tory. He reminded us that Blades, have not won a major trophy since 1925.  He thought that the club’s heyday was between 1895 and 1925 under man­ager John Nicholson.  They were League Champions 1897–8 and won the FA cup four times in 1899, 1902, 1915 and 1925, plus twice run­ners up. Since then, and des­pite pro­du­cing the likes of Tony Currie and Derek Dooley, the club had played in all four leagues and exper­i­enced a yo-yo of pro­mo­tions and releg­a­tions under vari­ous man­agers, the nadir period being 1975 to 1981.

Bringing us up to date, things began to change for the better around 2013. On September 13th of that year Saudi Prince Abdullah Bin Musa’ad bought a 50%  stake in United’s parent com­pany, Blade’s Leisure Ltd, for £1. The Prince has kept his prom­ise to provide ‘sub­stan­tial new cap­ital’ with a view to return­ing the club to the Premier League. There fol­lowed a series of legal dis­putes with past owners, now hope­fully resolved as suc­cess has begun to flow.  Since Chris Wilder was appoin­ted man­ager in 2016 the dream has been real­ised: the club has come back to life by secur­ing pro­mo­tion to the Premier League on 28th April 2019.  As I write, the ‘Blades’ sit in sixth pos­i­tion above the like of Spurs, Arsenal and Manchester United and may qual­ify for European com­pet­i­tion next  season.

In foot­ball, the last ten minutes can be fren­etic as teams fight to seal the match.  As our speaker kept to exactly 45 minutes there was no need for the Chairman’s final whistle.   We were treated to ten minutes of extra time in the form of ques­tions stim­u­lated by an excel­lent present­a­tion given without notes or visual aids.  These ranged from the future of womens’ foot­ball (excel­lent, sup­port and media interest grow­ing rap­idly), why teams were made up of eleven play­ers (even number plus goal­keeper), Derek Dooley’s leg ampu­ta­tion, and how did Kevin Macabe com­pare with Alan Sugar?  There was no pitch inva­sion but it was quite a match and mem­bers left the ground buzz­ing.

It was sug­ges­ted after­wards that a visit might be arranged ‘behind the scenes’ at Bramhall Lane and to the Sheffield United Museum which John had done so much to develop.  All fol­lowed by lunch at the Blades Restaurant. I can vouch for the excel­lent roast beef!



James Bond, Espionage and Britain’s Role in the World” Professor AnthonyTaylor 6th January 2020


Ian Fleming — writer

Sean Connery as James Bond 

 Like many mem­bers, I’ve enjoyed mat­ters James Bond for much of my life: boy­hood queueing out­side my local ODEON to see ‘Dr No’ in the early ‘six­ties to 007 accom­pa­ny­ing Her Majesty on her heli­copter ride, sans corgis, to the 2012 London Olympics.  Two iconic Brits!

Our speaker this week, Tony Taylor from Sheffield Hallam University, was to enlighten us as to how the antics of James Bond and his cre­ator, Ian Fleming (1908–1964) reflec­ted British soci­ety, cul­ture, and atti­tudes from 1945 to the end of the ‘cold’ war in 1990.  Fleming, the son of the wealthy bank­ing family, was edu­cated at Eton and RMA Sandhurst and was well con­nec­ted. While not involved in direct action, his ser­vice in mil­it­ary intel­li­gence in WW2 (includ­ing plan­ning Operation ‘Golden Eye’) and later as a journ­al­ist, provided much of the back­ground of the twelve novels and col­lec­tions of short stor­ies he wrote between 1952 and his death. Over 100 mil­lion books were sold. There have been sev­eral later books and movies of the same genre, writ­ten by eight dif­fer­ent authors and no less than seven actors play­ing the lead char­ac­ter, ran­ging from Sean Connery to Daniel Craig.  A fur­ther film, ‘No Time to Die’ is due for release in 2020.  Tony divided his talk into the fol­low­ing topics.

Spy Rings and Spy Nets.  Tony out­lined how the pop­u­lar image of spies and organ­ised spying agen­cies goes back to the Edwardian era and thriller writers like William le Queux.  This cul­ture, in our speaker’s view, also had a strong imper­ial dimen­sion –in ‘the great game’, British and Russian spies battled over the latter’s aspir­a­tion to fer­ment trouble along the NW fron­tier with Afganistan (see Rudyard Kipling’s Kim 1901).  Despite much activ­ity (eg Operation Mincemeat) and mixed suc­cess on both sides in the two World Wars, it was the ‘Cold War’ (1945–1990) when spies came into their own.  ‘Operation Gold’ estab­lished listen­ing posts under East Berlin to tap into Soviet tele­phone and tele­graph traffic. The ‘Cambridge’ trio of Burgess, Philby and Mclane were the most effect­ive Soviet spy ring in Europe.  All  ended up defect­ing to Russia.  George Blake of MI6 worked as a double agent for the Soviet Union. He was dis­covered in 1961, escaped from Wormwood Scrubs in 1966 and smuggled out of the coun­try in a camper van.  In 1963,  theMinister of Defence, John Profumo, was com­prom­ised by his asso­ci­ation with Christine Keeler who was also sleep­ing with the Soviet Naval attache.  There was feel­ing through­out this period of estab­lish­ment cover ups, reflect­ing a Britain in decline and dec­ad­ence which was cap­tured in the fic­tion of John le Carre and Len Deighton.

Spy Novels and Super Spies.  Spies were to cap­ture the pop­u­lar ima­gin­a­tion during the Cold War.  In a push button world of detached mass killing, the spy some­times emerged as an unlikely hero. Ian Fleming’s hero James Bond 007 first appeared in print in the novel Casino Royale in 1952, during the Korean War. Tony con­sidered Fleming’s books to be very con­ser­vat­ive in tone and to reflect the ascend­ancy of Conservative gov­ern­ments in Britain after 1951.  Criticism of the wel­fare state, trades unions and bohemi­ans is very strong in the texts, with an emphasis on ‘sex, snob­bery and viol­ence’.

Spying and the Loss of Empire.   Imperial themes loom large in the Bond books.  Many of the set­tings are in the West Indies, par­tic­u­larly Jamaica, where Fleming had a house called ‘Goldeneye’.  Fleming liked the static social hier­arch­ies in Jamaica, and, in Casino Royale, Bond poses as a Jamaican planter. In Dr No all the action takes place in the West Indies, still an active part of the Empire at the time.  The vil­lains wear Nehru jack­ets and are often mixed race. The idea of dual iden­tity was offens­ive for a par­tic­u­lar gen­er­a­tion of Englishmen, brought up under the Empire.  Often the vil­lains rep­res­ent the foes of Empire at a time of decol­on­isa­tion. By 1950 even white set­tlers in the Dominions had nego­ti­ated sep­ar­ate treat­ies with the US.  Roger Moore’s safari jacket in the films car­ries ele­ments of the colo­nial and post-colonial iden­tit­ies.  Europe and the EEC are barely men­tioned in the books and they bear out the con­ten­tion of Dean Acheson that ‘Britain has lost an Empire but not yet found a role’.

Spies and the ‘Special Relationship’Tony con­sidered that the Bond novels pre­serve the vision of Britain as a great power and ignore the country’s post-war decline.  Bond is a former Commander in Naval Intelligence. His boss‘ M’,  is also a former Naval Officer, hark­ing back to the days when Britain ruled the waves and her navy pro­tec­ted British interests abroad. The books provide a con­sol­at­ory myth, embod­ied in Bond’s Aston Martins and Bentleys and his liking of mono­grammed shirts and Moorland cigar­ettes.  There are Atlanticist themes in the Bond novels, some of which tar­geted an American audi­ence (eg. Live and let Die).   John F. Kennedy was a huge fan (espe­cially Russia with Love),  Bond fre­quently coming to the aid of CIA agents. During and after the 1956 Suez crisis US/UK rela­tions chilled and their ebb and flow is chartered in the novels. US war­i­ness of UK Soviet moles or Marxist sym­path­ising politi­cians is noth­ing new.

Spies and Gadgets.  Heath Robinson tricks are import­ant to spies.  Fleming’s intel­li­gence work in WW2 spe­cial­ised in out­rageous inven­tions and plans to cap­ture German mil­it­ary secrets.  In the Bond novels the emphasis on gad­gets con­sti­tuted a nos­tal­gic glance back to the days when Britain’s tech­no­lo­gical lead helped her to defeat the Germans (Radar, decod­ing Enigma, boun­cing bombs, bend­ing dir­ec­tional beams etc).  Bond has his gun sights hidden in Palmolive shav­ing foam and an explod­ing cigar­ette in From Russia with love.  Bond hides his guns in a book called “The Bible Designed to be read as Literature”and Rosa  Klebb con­ceals knives in her shoes.

Spies and enemies in an atomic mis­sile world.  The Bond books convey a strong sense of an unstable world, where nuc­lear pro­lif­er­a­tion has made atomic war­heads easily avail­able.  In Thunderball, British nuc­lear weapons are hijacked and stolen by Bond’s arch enemy, Ernst Blofeld Head of SPECTRE, a crim­inal organ­isa­tion intent on world dom­in­a­tion.  Dr No also sends rock­ets off course, so that he can sell them to the Chinese.

 Tony con­cluded his much appre­ci­ated talk by invit­ing ques­tions, which ranged from Bond’s know­ledge of wines to film loc­a­tions, sets, and the evol­u­tion of char­ac­ters.  He thought that many depic­tions in the later post Fleming  books and films appear to be out­dated, plu­to­cratic fig­ures in which their vil­lainy is expressed via dis­ab­il­ity or phys­ical impair­ment.  However, be it mis­siles or vil­lains, all were framed by aston­ish­ing back­drops in the air, under the sea and even in an active vol­cano!


Heads they win, tails you lose” -Reflections of a retired Chief Constable Tim Hollis QPM CBE — 14th October 2019

Tim Hollis on his 2005 appoint­ment as Chief Constable of Humberside Police  

(Photo cour­tesy of Scunthorpe Telegraph)

Tim Hollis, the son of a Rotherham Clergyman and now a local Fulwood res­id­ent, is a man of many parts and pos­sess­ing more than a story or three.  He has pre­ciously spoken to us on the work of the local Samaritans (2017) and on the “Police or Fascists?” (2018).

Tim began his talk -given without visual aids- with a brief resume of his career.  Before going to Bristol University in 1073 he ‘cut his teeth’ as a late teen­ager with a ‘gap’ year’s Voluntary Service Overseas in Ghana.  After gradu­ation, Tim took a Short Service Commission with the Parachute Regiment.  He then joined the Metropolitan Police in 1979 and was to stead­ily rise up the ranks to Chief Inspector (Operations) at Notting Hill.  In 1993 he trans­ferred briefly to Sussex Police, becom­ing Chief Superintendent.  In 1994, an oppor­tun­ity occurred to return to his Yorkshire roots as Assistant Chief Constable (Crime and Operations) of South Yorkshire Police.  He was awar­ded the Queen’s Police Medal in 2000 before being appoin­ted Assistant Inspector (Crime and Operations) of HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in 2002, based at the Home Office.

In 2005 Tim was ready to take on the biggest chal­lenge of his career.  Following the ‘Bichard’ Enquiry (examin­ing the police hand­ling of the Soham murder of 12 year olds Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells), Humberside Force was in need of a new Chief Constable, a post he held until retire­ment in 2013. (Tim is widely cred­ited with turn­ing that ailing Force around). During this time He retained national respons­ib­il­it­ies with involvment in poli­cing the 2012 London Olympics and vari­ous foot­ball com­pet­i­tions.  He was appoin­ted Vice President and then acting President of the Association of Chief Police Officers with spe­cial respons­ib­il­ity for drug crime.

Our speaker went on to engage us with stor­ies and anec­dotes of an out­stand­ing career.  Although he had been a police officer for thirty-five years, that was as noth­ing com­pared to the long his­tory of poli­cing in this coun­try.  Most people regard Robert Peel of ‘Bobby’ fame as the founder of the first pub­lic­ally funded (Metropolitan) Police Force. In fact, local con­stabu­lar­ies have roots going back to medi­eval times and even war­rant a men­tion in Shakespeare. 

Tim con­sidered there had been, and always will be, the need for a pub­licly account­able non- mil­it­ary organ­isa­tion to manage civil­ian crime and high levels of risks in soci­ety.  Even at basic street level, call centres, beat officers and patrol cars have to assess risk and what to do about it; some­times ‘split-second’ decisions have to be made.  Even decid­ing to put on the blue light or siren might have safety implic­a­tions for officers and the public.  Publicity given to bomb out­rages and to such incid­ents as the Westminster Bridge murders (in this example the Police were left to deal with and urgent med­ical situ­ation while Paramedics were kept back out of danger) and Parliament Square demon­stra­tions show how fine a line has to be trod: you are either a hero or a sup­pressor of someone’s rights.

Tim thought that the role of Chief Constable was partly leader and tone setter, partly Chief Executive and partly Finance and Resources manage.  He, or increas­ingly she, has to answer to and sat­isfy three main stake­hold­ers: the public, politi­cians and the press.  The public want, and expect, pro­tec­tion.  The politi­cians want to make their mark and expect res­ults from an unreal­istic budget within-for Police Ministers-an aver­age tenure of eleven months. Tim served fif­teen Home Secretaries.  The press want someone to blame when things go wrong.  Two words sum this up: Hillsborough and the hap­less David Duckenfield.  And there were other pres­sures.  While bodies such as the inde­pend­ent Police Complaints Commission ensure fair play the advent of Police and Crime Commissioners (South Yorkshire’s was elec­ted on an 11% turnout) absorb lead­er­ship time while the impos­i­tion of ‘league tables’ has not notice­ably added to detec­tion rates.

Our speaker con­cluded his talk with a quick look into the future.  He thought that the present number of Police forces in England, 41, was prob­ably too many.  But any new arrange­ments would need to recog­nise such factors as dis­tance, rur­al­ity and urban require­ments.  Crimes by the men­tally dis­turbed, and Cyber crimes were likely to increase together with illegal immig­ra­tion and drug traf­fick­ing.  The law on drug usage needs to be reviewed.  Stresses caused by rising pop­u­la­tion such as home­less­ness and cli­mate change will require sens­it­ive  hand­ling.  And dilem­mas will con­tinue: what can the police do about thou­sands of  ‘extinc­tion rebel­lion’ pro­test­ers who glue them­selves to con­crete blocks in Oxford Street and who want to be arres­ted? And how to pre­vent them dis­rupt­ing  com­muters’ buses and trains and who want to get to and from work?

As might be expec­ted, Tim’s talk stim­u­lated a wide range of ques­tions.  These ranged from the length of Jail sen­tences, prison versus com­munity ser­vice, bail require­ments to deal­ing with trouble­some dogs!  These, and more were all answered in a direct but cour­teous way  res­ul­ted in warm applause as our Chairman closed play.



Music with Friends: The Evolution of Chamber Music — Alexandra Burns MA.B. Mus -19th August 2019

Our Speaker this week was a freel­ance musical mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sional, journ­al­ist, teacher  and trum­peter. She was much involved with local brass bands and in the wider Sheffield musical scene.  Alex was to give our senses a treat, giving a pre­cise present­a­tion of her sub­ject spiced by an accom­pani­ment of musical clips and visu­als.


Alex com­menced her talk by defin­ing what is under­stood about Chamber Music.  It was a form of clas­sical music com­posed for a small group of instruments-traditionally played by a group that could fit, typ­ic­ally, into a palace cham­ber or in private houses as “the music of friends”.  During the Middle Ages and early Renaissance (up to about 1600) instru­ments were used primar­ily as an accom­pani­ment to sing­ers.

 Our speaker con­tin­ued by tra­cing the devel­op­ment of this style of music from the Baroque period (1600–1750) to modern times. She noted the con­tri­bu­tions of major com­posers such as Bach (1685–1750) to Shostakovich (1906–1975).  Joseph Haydn (1732–1809) was gen­er­ally cred­ited with cre­at­ing the modern form of cham­ber music as we know it.  His many works were to estab­lish the con­ver­sa­tional style of com­pos­i­tion and form that was to dom­in­ate over the next two cen­tur­ies.  But it was Mozart (1756–1791) who was to help seal its pop­ular­ity with his pro­lific output of mas­ter­pieces such as his six  quar­tets.

During this musical jour­ney we paused to listen to around ten samples from the mas­ters.  These included Haydn’s piece for string quar­tet Op 76 ‘Emperor’, Bach’s ‘Art of Fugue’ and Schubert’s ‘Trout’ com­posed in 1819. The latter was an unusual piece for the time being writ­ten for the piano, violin, viola, cello and double bass.

Throughout the 18th Century, a com­poser was nor­mally an employee of a king or aris­to­crat and worked for the pleas­ure of their court or house­hold. Haydn, for example, was an employee of Nikolaus 1.  The turn of the 19th Century saw dra­matic changes in soci­ety and in music tech­no­logy which had far reach­ing effects on the way cham­ber music was com­posed and played.  With the decline of the aris­to­cracy, its pat­ron­age and the rise of new social orders through­out Europe, com­posers increas­ingly had to make money by selling their com­pos­i­tions and per­form­ing con­certs.  Moving ‘from ‘home to hall’ they often gave  sub­scrip­tion con­certs or ‘recit­als’, rent­ing a venue and taking receipts. Increasingly, they wrote cham­ber music not only for rich pat­rons, but for pro­fes­sional musi­cians play­ing for a paying audi­ence.

It was Johannes Brahm’s  (1833–1897)  music which provided a bridge between the clas­sical to the modern, expand­ing the struc­ture and har­monic vocab­u­lary of cham­ber music.   A good example was his second string sextet Op.36. As we moved into the 20th Century, com­posers began to intro­duce an ele­ment of ‘nation­al­ism’ into their work. Dvorak (1841–1904 ) for example, drew on both the folk music of his native  Bohemia as well the emer­ging American style and thus chal­len­ging the tra­di­tional genre.

Our speaker then moved on to explain how tech­nical changes, includ­ing the avail­ab­il­ity of new raw mater­i­als, had influ­enced the pro­duc­tion and range of instru­ments and in turn, the musical pos­sib­il­it­ies.  After 1700, the Harpsicord gradu­ally fell out of favour giving way to the piano­forte. (Its iron frames allow­ing greater robust­ness and offer­ing a wider range of tone due to the higher ten­sions now pos­sible).  List and Chopin were to devote most of their works to the instru­ment. Changes also applied to the whole range of string and wood­wind instru­ments such as the violin, cello, flute and cla­ri­net (new woods, the intro­duc­tion of thicker metal repla­cing gut strings).  Other devel­op­ments included the intro­duc­tion of the ‘chin rest’.  Ergonomics is not a new sci­ence!  Such changes were not always wel­come and led to dis­agree­ments in musical groups over such mat­ters as style and present­a­tion. The greater volumes now pos­sible allowed Chamber music to move over the years from ‘music with friends’ in the front par­lour to the con­cert hall and now back again into typ­ic­ally small aud­it­oria.  In Alex’s view, Chamber music did not lend itself well to modern amphli­fic­a­tion. 

 While the rise of pop­ular­ity in sym­phonic and vir­tu­oso music con­tin­ues, Alex thought Chamber Music will always have a place among those who play an instru­ment and like to enjoy music among friends.  And we should not forget the silent audi­ence who listen via digital media.

Alex con­cluded her most enter­tain­ing ses­sion by invit­ing ques­tions and com­ments from mem­bers. These included the future of music in Sheffield schools, the where­abouts of the Lindsey String Quartet, the appar­ent lack of English  and women com­posers, the best musical fest­ivals , the  must hear’ ten pieces to listen to, (see sep­ar­ate post) and sev­eral more.  All this revealed a number of active musi­cians in the audi­ence. Our venue is a small aud­it­or­ium. Perhaps they could get together and give us a treat?


WaterAid”    Peter Watson 15th August 2019

 “ Clean Water, Decent Toilets, Good Hygiene”

 In the Gents’ toilet at our venue, Christ Church Fulwood, there is a notice show­ing the facil­ity we use is ‘Twinned’ with a rather charm­ing thatched lat­rine in Zambia.  It is a reminder that we tend to take our clean­wa­ter supply for wash­ing and cook­ing, san­it­a­tion, and sewage dis­posal for gran­ted. All is provided con­veni­ently and reli­ably to our house­holds at probably-if metered and paid by Direct Debit- less daily cost than the price of Costa Coffee.

Our Speaker this week, Peter Watson, gradu­ated in Ecology from Bristol University in 1973.   He worked as a water and san­it­a­tion engin­eer for number of Water Authorities and com­pan­ies includ­ing Edinburgh, Yorkshire and Anglia.  For the last ten years of his career Peter delivered water and waste water train­ing courses, and the National Hygiene train­ing and assess­ment require­ments to water com­pan­ies’ and allied staff. 

After retire­ment, Peter wondered how he might put his work­ing life­times exper­i­ence to bene­fit others. He went on to share how his interest was aroused and how he in turn now volun­teers as a speaker to arouse, inform and update others.

Lala and her water­bucket” 

Peter con­tras­ted our lives in the UK –where we use an aver­age of 138 litres of water per head each day- with com­munit­ies  in the third world. Our speaker gained our atten­tion with a number of har­row­ing photos of urban slum and rural priva­tion. People using prim­it­ive lat­rines or earth holes which fre­quently foul water sources spread­ing such con­di­tions as Cholera and Dysentery.  On the encour­aging side, we were shown what a dif­fer­ence the install­a­tion of decent sus­tain­able if some­times low tech facil­it­ies can make (see photo at top, taken in Nigeria).  We were amused by the pic­ture of a bicycle adap­ted to pump water!   But it was the photo and story of Lala  in Zambia  which I will always recall. This young child was only four years old and one of seven sib­lings.  She had to walk four miles twice a day to carry twenty litres of water that her family needs every day. Think of the impact of all that weight, borne for per­haps two hours or more per day, on her young body. And the time wasted that could have been put to more pro­duct­ive use such as early edu­ca­tion and when older, eco­nomic activ­it­ies and skills.

While a number of agen­cies such as Oxfam had earlier involve­ment in hand­ling emer­gency situ­ations there was, by the 1980s, a grow­ing need for a more coordin­ated inter­na­tional approach with a strategy and resources to deal and find solu­tions to mat­ters on a long term basis.  It was clear that the world’s pop­u­la­tion was grow­ing and urb­an­ising rap­idly: 3 Billion in 1980 has grown to 7 Billion today. Growth for the remainder of this cen­tury was likely to be greatest in parts of Asia, Latin America and espe­cially, Africa.  Water usage was grow­ing as living stand­ards rise together with irrigation/agricultural output to feed the expand­ing pop­u­la­tion. Even today one in nine of the world’s pop­u­la­tion has no clean water, one in three has no decent toilet and one child in two dies because of unhygienic con­di­tions.

Poverty and lack of food and basic facil­it­ies can, of course, affect both men and women: but it’s the latter that seem to come off worse. Peter emphas­ised that men­stru­ation is a key area where pro­jects by his char­ity assist girls and women.  Privacy provided by a decent toilet, along with edu­ca­tion and raised aware­ness. Both can make the dif­fer­ence to encour­age a girl to stay at school.

These con­cerns about water supply and its impact on health and eco­nomic growth in an increas­ing number of third world coun­tries were the sub­ject of the ‘Thirsty World’ London Conference in 1981. WaterAid was set up as a char­ity shortly after­wards involving sev­eral UK water com­pan­ies who offered both resources and expert­ise to provide sus­tain­able pro­jects in needy nations such as Ethiopia, Zambia, Nicaragua, Bangladesh, and others. While many pro­jects are small, some are large, such as the Dolaka enter­prise in Nepal which bene­fits 30000 people.  The land­scape is moun­tain­ous.  It might be good for sight­see­ing but not so good if you have to climb a dif­fi­cult ter­rain and the carry it back to your house!

 Under the Presidency of Prince Charles, the ‘Wateraid’ concept has spread to sev­eral other ‘giving ‘coun­tries includ­ing Australia, Canada Sweden and USA.  In 2010 the organ­isa­tion became a fed­er­a­tion work­ing with 34 ‘receiv­ing’ coun­tries. WaterAid receives its fund­ing from Water Companies’ (in response to a ques­tion vol­un­tary levies from cus­tom­ers), dona­tions, fun­drais­ing events (includ­ing Glastonbury) and gov­ern­ment aid grants.

Looking to the future, WaterAid is one of the part­ners with the United Nations Millennium Development ini­ti­at­ive which is seek­ing to improve the lives for dis­ad­vant­aged peoples by 2030. While it is estim­ated that 1.4 bil­lion have benefited to date from there are many chal­lenges ahead.