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Archive Entries for March 2007

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Sunday March 25, 2007

Nation on Film

Last Monday, I found myself watching a documentary about the car (on BBC2), narrated by Sir David Jason1. It was part of the Open University's Nation on Film series, which is made up of professional and amateur movie footage, using a wide variety of film to illustrate historical themes.

I love vintage film collections of this type, (even though I have little interest in the history of the car as such), in the same way that I love Stitchcraft magazine. They provide a delightful insight on contemporary society of the time - even when they are presenting an idealised view of their world (such as in an advertisement) rather than picturing real contemporary life. However, apart from it being very interesting, it threw in what was for me the most astonishing statistic - so much so that I have had to trawl the web to check up that I had heard correctly. Here it is:

In the early 1930s, there were up to 1½ million cars on the road in the UK, and there were more than 7,000 road deaths per year - about twice the present level, when traffic levels are 12 times higher. I feel I must further emphasise that these are actual deaths, not proportional to number of cars, or population, or miles driven.
A c t u a l    d e a t h s.
It certainly caught my attention.

This terrible statistic led to the 1934 Road Traffic Act, which was responsible for introducing a number of safety measures including:

  • reintroduction of a 30mph speed limit in built-up areas
  • "a code of conduct for the roads (the Highway Code),
  • the compulsory driving test2 (fee 10 shillings), from 1935,
  • stipulation that drivers had to be aged at least 17,
  • Belisha beacons3 for pedestrian crossings, and
  • "cat's eyes" , which were invented in 1933.

According to propaganda at least, one of the most effective safety measures was the painting of a white line down the centre of the road. Seat belts were not introduced until the 1950s and for those too young to remember, they became law in 1983.

In the 1930s, safety glass was made compulsory for windscreens - after "terrible injuries" had been caused by accidents involving cars with ordinary glass in their windows. This leads me to comment on Smeed, (who had a fatalistic view of traffic flow), and His Law.
Smeed's Law is an empirical rule relating traffic fatalities to motor vehicle registrations and country population. His basic proposition is that people will drive recklessly until the number of deaths reaches the maximum they can tolerate. When the number exceeds that limit, they drive more carefully.
Depressing eh? But you may be cheered by the fact that the simple graph expressing his original formula is not longer a good fit with the data.4

Moving on - I find I am eagerly anticipating the Nation on Film scheduled for April 2nd, (19:30 BBC2), "The Ramsden Archive", which tells us the story of a newly-discovered amateur archive that sheds new light on life in post-war Britain. "For 20 years, husband and wife Betty and Cyril Ramsden recorded the world around them. They captured middle-class life in the north of England. Their rich celluloid legacy challenges the clichéd view of 50s Britain as a decade of dreariness."


1 I was amused to read apparent criticism on the choice of narrator in various forum entries saying "where did he get that accent?!" (duh - he's an ACTOR...) - one participant did gently point out that it is probably his real accent, and that Sir David probably does not actually speak like Del Boy, or Pop Larkin. The critics are obviously too young to remember the voice of the suave and intelligent "Danger Mouse" , which was always good for a pub quiz question or two on Sir David.
Click to hear those magic words: "Penfold Shush!"


  • Provisional licence (from 1947)
  • Eyesight test
  • Highway Code questions
  • Emergency Stop
  • Arm signals
  • Reverse left
  • Turn in the road
  • 'General driving'

(Source: Driving Standards Agency)

3 The Belisha beacon is named after Leslie Hore-Belisha (1895-1957), the Minister of Transport who introduced them in 1934. I was, again, amused to find from contemporary sources that in the 1930s there was the same public hostility to pedestrian crossings and Belisha beacons as there is towards traffic cameras today, even though it was, and is, empirically evident that they are an effective safety measure.
Even after the introduction of the crossings, the legal point, on who has right of way on a crossing, remained unclear. In June 1938, a judge decided that a pedestrian knocked down on a pedestrian crossing had no claim for compensation because he had been standing on the pavement a few moments earlier and "not presenting the appearance of a man about to cross the road".

4 Smeed's Law merely defines the number of deaths that we find psychologically tolerable. At the time he proposed this (1949) the evidence supported the theory, but now, the actual statistics deviate widely from the maths, suggesting that his relationships are spurious. However, there is still a valid argument that the basic psychological influence is still there, but has merely been masked by what is today the overwhelming (mathematically exponential) influence of improvement in car safety through technological advances.
Vorsprung durch Technik, and all that....
A paper by Adams in 1987 states: "....the death rate per vehicle has fallen enormously as exposure to traffic has increased. The parameters of [Smeed's] original model do not fit the experience of every country exactly, but the model still represents a very useful generalisation of the relationship between death rates and exposure."

Posted on March 25, 2007 at 10:22 AM. Category: Art and Culture.

Saturday March 24, 2007

Handsome N/S (GSOH) WLTM similar for LTR

Genuine replies only please.


For some days now I have been hearing that lonely explosive "cough through a megaphone" very close to the house. Today he started a 6 and I finally managed to see him. I had a great view of him from my bedroom window, but had to pelt downstairs to take his photo. He wandered around and then mounted the compost heap to best express his lonely mating call a few times, before wandering back onto the common. He is in such fine fettle I think he must belong to someone, and have gotten lost.

Posted on March 24, 2007 at 6:18 AM. Category: The Garden.

Monday March 19, 2007

The north wind, and snow.

I’m not sure what the “poor robin” was doing but we returned home last night to a very cold England. Unsurprisingly, everyone here enjoyed a lovely sunny week just as we did in France. It was truly spring, if not summer weather, but suddenly today the wind has switched round to the north and we have low temperatures again. It was snowing, sleeting and hailing today - all in brilliant sunshine - very odd. I was able to use my newly created "hottie" for real (I took it to France but it was surplus to requirements; look out for the pattern in "Pattern of the Month" in the autumn).

My living room was in a bit of a turmoil as I had used up the hour or so spare before leaving for the ferry in beginning to unpack “Pete's box of doll parts”. Well... more of this later, with pictures....

Owing to the rapid weather change I was unable to finish the minor (and hopefully temporary) repairs to the windows in the cottage. I had quite a successful time though, repainting the french window on the outside, and repainting the main bedroom walls, as they had become a bit shabby. I repainted the latter with an attempt at the same colour ("Mellow Sage"), which as usual turned out darker than the original - but a nice tone, matching the rest of the room well. Peter Bridges is due to replace the dormer window within the next month or so, as we suddenly realised the whole thing was totally rotten, and water pours in when it rains. We are hoping he will also address the main window downstairs - I have abandoned all hope of getting replacements that look like the originals, and am having to content myself with the knowledge that they will at least be wooden.

The cat has developed a cough, which I treated but hope to fix properly when I return at Easter (not long now) - as far as I can gather she should be OK until then, but you never know.... she is, after all, a "wild" cat.

Posted on March 19, 2007 at 9:44 PM. Category: Oddments and stray thoughts.

Saturday March 17, 2007

That hard work.

George made up for the meal yesterday by lots of activity in the garden.

There is a rather unpleasant enclosure of an evergreen hedge around the side of the house; it is not altogether clear what its purpose is. It may be that it offers some privacy from the neighbouring house, but there may be a better way to achieve this. It also shields a view of the back of the house where the fosse used to be; however the fosse is now replaced and the area grassed over, so again it is not necessary. It may be some kind of wind break, but it is not between the house and the prevailing wind. So we decided that we would like to remove it, but have decided to do it cautiously in stages in a pincer movement from each end of the L-shaped hedge.

George began by removing the first tree. Click on the thumbnails to view the album.

Posted on March 17, 2007 at 6:14 PM. Category: France.

Friday March 16, 2007

Good food, hard work, and cheerful company.

I am not sure we qualify on the hard work front but Ava and Peter, certainly do, and we spent the evening with them. Peter was late home as he is frantically trying to finish two house refurbishments to a March deadline. Ava as been managing the small holding alone for a few days, while Peter was in England; she had a disappointing time with her tiny flock of lambs, only one surviving out of the 5 born. After that it was continuous antibiotic injections for the ewes, to deal with infections ensuing from difficult labours. [Bruno, our French gardener, says that there have been a lot of lambs lost this year, although he himself was lucky, with his 5 lambs all surviving]. Ava's sheep are Suffolk, and, taking care of my own interests, despite my friend's troubles, I have placed the order for my fleece when shearing time comes.

My sister has sadly had to have her Jacob ram put down as he has now fully matured and was dangerously aggressive. He did his duty this year, though, and sired several chocolate brown lambs, so I have also placed an order for one of those fleeces as well. I think Jacob was a cross, and apparently these usually produce chocolate fleece rather than the usual mixed. So now I can spin all shades of brown and make arty lopi (or lumpy) sweaters....

Ava had booked us into a great restaurant, Les Martinaises, just outside Ducey, which is their nearest "proper" town. I ate warm oysters, lamb cutlets, and then finished with delices de pommes. [George ate my cheese course]. We are now both so stuffed, it's hard to even contemplate getting up the stairs to bed.

Posted on March 16, 2007 at 11:08 PM. Category: France.

Monday March 12, 2007

Precocious primrose

We arrived on the overnight ferry yesterday and the weather is just lovely. George has already mowed the grass, and the garden looks great. I am feeling very complacent about the garden as there are hardly any weeds at all in the beds; I am not sure if this is due to hard work eliminating them over the past few years, or if we have just not been over here at this time of year before, and it's always like this prior to the full growing season!





Perfect primrose
Then bloom profusely
When winter's done
Like city faces lifted to the sun.

Shirley Billing "November Primrose"

Posted on March 12, 2007 at 9:18 AM. Category: France.

Thursday March 8, 2007

Unexpected treasures


A hyacinth isn't just for Christmas.....

Two years ago, George's Mother gave me some hyacinths for my birthday. They had not progressed quickly enough to be actually flowering on the day, but they were lovely when they arrived.

Last year they did not flower, and I put them out on the porch, with a view to making a permanent home for them in one of the beds in the Autumn. Needless to say I forgot them - and this year - I found them giving it another shot, so I thought they deserved to show off in the kitchen.

Here they are emanating the most wonderful perfume, along with such a glorious colour - I would knit with them if I could!

Posted on March 8, 2007 at 7:37 AM. Category: The Garden.

Sunday March 4, 2007

Hidden treasures (aka Stuff)

We've just returned from Rotheram (Elsecar Heritage Centre, in fact) where they were holding a BBR auction today. Here is Alan, doing his stuff. All the guys are called Alan, which is very helpful for those of us who are unable to remember names.

BBR auction.jpg

George bid on a few items, in the end, coming away with two lots. He bought a couple of items from the dealers' stalls as well. There were very few doll heads on sale and while I was "just looking" at one labelled £6, (the nicest and cleanest one I had seen - even including others labelled £25-£40!), the seller said "£3 if you can use it..." - so it was a done deal. The head is a small (5 inches?) AM 1894 - not uncommon, but nice - I think I have a similar one already. Here's the swag:


On the way home, we stopped off at Leicester on a rather peculiar mission to see "Pete".
Some time ago, Pete contacted me through the China Dolls site and said he had "some doll parts" which had belonged to his Mother, and did I know anyone who would want them? I was lukewarm about this (I have a lot of "doll parts" of my own) but said I would drop in if I was ever up that way. I also failed to ask how many boxes of stuff we were talking about. Anyway, we have come away with 3 modest boxes, which seem to contain nice enough things, and I have suggested I try and put them up on eBay for him. They are certainly worth having, but there is virtually no doll market or hobby interest any more, so we will have to see. More on this when I do an inventory of the contents.

Posted on March 4, 2007 at 7:07 PM. Category: Days Out.

Friday March 2, 2007


The conference ended today, and Mickey finally put in an appearance at breakfast. Here he is Meeting and Greeting:

Mickey1.jpg Mickey2.jpg Mickey3.jpg

Strangely (to me) he is much more popular than Mini - kids queuing up to see him. Some of them were too scared to go up to him when it was their turn - which is quite understandable - faced with a huge mouse twice their size at least - he looks so tiny on the cartoons.

Anyway, here I am at home now - safe from six-foot mice, and his friends. And - what a civilised way to travel that Eurostar is; I don't think I've ever felt so relaxed on company business. On the way over I completed a bit of work left over from last week; on the way back,I listened to my talking book and completed a pair of socks. Now I am going to retire with said book - it's "Remote Control" by Andy McNabb (not usually my sort of thing but he is an excellent writer and I was very interested to hear him talking about his life on Desert Island Discs once....) - just the last few tracks to go....

Posted on March 2, 2007 at 10:05 PM. Category: Days Out.

Thursday March 1, 2007

You wanna take my picture..?


Mini posing for me at breakfast time; sadly I did not do her justice, (camera-shake sans-flash as usual).

Posted on March 1, 2007 at 8:20 AM. Category: Days Out.

Grog, anybody?

The night of the Great Gala Dinner
They kept the park open late for us, and we managed 3 rides within the hour before we were forced to go to dinner (!).

Fliss_Joe.jpg Accompanied by Fliss and Joe - and the other 3000 participants - we went on "Haunted House", "Thunder Mountain" (Fliss was very brave about this one), and "Pirates of the Carribean". Joe and I did try for "Space Tours", as Joe was enthusing about the virtual software being done by my company; however, it was firmly "fermé" by the time we got there - and I think I had a narrow escape as I was assured by several veterans that it makes you feel quite groggy.
I had a great time - but Joe explained that you haven't really had the true experience unless you have spent an hour in a queue for a ride with 2 small kids in tow.

Mini-Pete.jpg The dinner was fun - as usual they are never too good about dietary exceptions but that's usually because the organisers fail to relate the "do you have any special dietary needs?" adequately to the restaurants. Fliss, yet again, got a vegetarian meal while protesting "but it's not meat I'm allergic to!". Glad I have no problems in this area, as I would not have the endless patience she seems to have to deal with it all.

After dinner, we were treated to some excellent entertainment, (besides the "entertainment" in the photo), which was pretty high quality but a bit loud for me, and I have now retired back to the hotel, so I can get up tomorrow for the 8:30 start. I wonder how many colleagues will make it tomorrow (today!)?


Posted on March 1, 2007 at 12:12 AM. Category: Days Out.