February 2017

Club News

In January there were 29 members present plus two guests, Chris Starkowski introduced by Andrew Jurenko and Bob Witham introduced by Mickael Southwell (Bob’s father was Chariman of Coulsdon Probus in 1984). We believe that both intend to become members. Absent members Tony Simpson and Arthur Trunchion were not well. On the birthday list was Bevan Taylor age 97, a Companion member of whom we since hear is in good health for his age, a little hard of hearing and suffers from osteomalacia, but his mind is still very active. The charity collection raised £32.36 and the raffle £30 – a big thank you to prize donators. Please advise news of members to almoner, hughroberts67@aol.com, tel: 01737 202243. Attendance: please notify Andrew Kellard, tel: 01737 554055.

Phil Munson who lives in Shoreham has resigned as ‘Speaker Secretary’ and has been thanked for his many years of service. Speakers have already been arranged to the end of 2017, but we will, in due course, need to fill the post. Hugh Roberts told us about the African Safaris that his son runs. The Committee welcomes any ideas for celebrating Coulsdon Probus’ 50th anniversary in April 2018 and our 600th meeting in August 2018.

Outings and Events

Half a Sixpence: We have best seats for the matinée at the Noel Coward Theatre on Wednesday 19th April 2017 (Tudor Rose 12 noon). Jim is working on Spring and Summer outings.
Contact: Please phone Jim on 01737 555974 or email jim@mulvey.uk.net


Today: Gerrard Thompson: Wots in a Name
March 2nd: Chairman’s Charity
April 6th: Andrew Banfield: Four years with the French May 4th: Gwyneth Fookes B.E.M.: Notable Ladies

Ian Payne: History and Circumstance

Ian’s talk in January was about historical circumstances as exemplified by his and his wife Pauline’s family trees. Unlike many who explore their past, they found history written in every ancestor they researched. We were treated to 60 slides of photographs and documents around which the stories were spun. Ian had started his research in 2005 when the 1901 census records first came on line. This account picks out just the highlights from a wealth of individuals each with a fascinating background.

We first met Pauline’s six-g grandfather (father’s side) born in 1648 and died in 1732. With his will there was an inventory put together by his grandson. This told us what was in the house and how much it was worth, and we learned some old Berkshire dialect words – skreen and hangel (iron bar suspending pots). On Pauline’s mother’s side, her three-g grandfather was, for his 18 years faithful service, the beneficiary of the local vicar. When he died, his wife continued to receive a pension of £15 p.a. and the free use of the cottage, orchard and outbuildings thereto. Next a great grandfather who had been a red shirt in Garibaldi’s army and was a member of the established Italian band in Torquay – and there was a photo of the 15-stong band in uniform with instruments and moustaches. Pauline’s German grandfather, also a musician, had emigrated to Canada before WW1, the family never joining him. After trying for a land grant, he finished up in Saskatchewan teaching music and leading a small town orchestra. The family, like the royals, anglicised their name.

Ian’s own family started with his great grandfather who had escaped Russian Poland in the pogroms with his family including Max, Ian’s grandfather, who was a member of the Jewish Brigade and marched through Whitechapel in 1918 – later he was naturalised. The family spoke Yiddish though Ian’s father pretended to be a monoglot. The English side of the family were also Jewish with tales of his two-g grandfather’s hardship with an ‘appeal to the benevolent’ and a great grandfather who died in a north London mental hospital for the Jews having contracted syphilis which was not recognised at the time.

Ian’s mother came from Slovakia, her parents having died in Auschwitz. Ian had managed with great perseverance to redeem two old life assurance policies on his grandfather. Finally to Ian’s parents who had never revealed their Jewish backgrounds and had cut the family off from grandparents who died in Ian’s formative years – he was denied the opportunity ever to know them

Editorial – Ian Payne

Weather and the continuing train strikes have put a strain on everyone. The Mudlarks walking group led by Dennis Evans (of which several of us are members) had to cancel. The bird flu virus meant my chickens had to be kept in. We erected an extension run which required cutting into the land due to the slope. The ground had frozen solid and we had to use a pickaxe. I understand that in 2018, Coulsdon South will have two off peak trains an hour to Victoria (from Reigate and Tonbridge) and two to Bedford or Stevenage via London Bridge.

Post-Truth and Alternative Facts

In 1897, Indiana in the US passed the first reading of the Indiana Pi Bill, one of the most notorious attempts to establish mathematical truth by legislative fiat. Actually, the bill was a method of squaring the circle – using ruler and compass to construct a square equal in area to a given circle – an ancient Greek problem proved to be impossible in 1882, but it would also have established a rational value for  ( is a transcendental number, not a rational). The author of the Indiana bill had already ‘proved’ how to trisect an angle (also impossible). Fortunately, a passing mathematician persuaded members not to proceed to a second reading.

‘Post-Truth’ was the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016 – an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’. Our initiation into post-truth was the Brexit debate. Boris Johnson pledged £350m- a-week NHS funding despite the fact that after discounting the UK’s rebate (£96m) and EU subsidies to the UK (£129m), our net contribution to the EU is £132m per week. And Boris was going to replace the lost subsidies and reduce VAT!

It seems as if we’ve reached an era where what is said to win the vote no longer has to be truthful. Donald Trump said he would ‘build a wall and make Mexico pay’, ‘Ban Muslims from entering the US’, eliminate climate change research (he denies climate change – maybe the jury is out on what causes it, but the Earth is warming up year by year and carbon dioxide emissions have risen in the ratios 3, 4, 5 over the period 1960, 2000, 2013), and cut down on R & D funding for science and the environment. Trump trusts his instincts rather than scientific research.

We are now straying into the world of ‘alternative facts’. President Trump knows better than his intelligence advisors and states by Twitter that Russia didn’t hack the private emails of Democrats. He also knows better than the press with their cameras and videos – ‘this was the largest audience ever for a presidential inauguration’ – the press said it was considerable smaller than for Obama.

Populist politicians both in America and Europe promise to rule for the ‘real people’. Of course, they decide who the real people are and are prepared to rule by diktat to achieve their ends. Anyone who opposes them is a fifth columnist. Does this mean the end of consensus politics or consensus in general? Fortunately our committee still believe in democracy.

The Uncertainty Principle: Vincent Fosdike

with thanks to Heisenberg

In one of my circuit of wife selected cafes the clientele speak languages which I am sure are of European origin but not Polish. I reckon I can detect Polish, French and German (never heard in the circuit), Spanish rarely, and others which defeat me.

So in this cafe I can’t eavesdrop and must amuse myself with more literary pursuits. So whilst the coffee cools I become enlightened about the stock market and the latest university league tables. Both of these come with financial health warnings on every page. Both are superficially instructive and suggest they may guide the faltering steps of the seekers after truth and cash. As students now have to find and perhaps repay serious money they are finding a very strong voice and institutions are submitted to an ever growing range of “metrics” re quality of teaching, research, likely market value of their degrees and “house name”. Low scores by students are of course met by defences from the institutions sometimes to the effect that the students themselves may not be from the top level!

Does this remind you of the old forces saying “if you can’t take a joke you should not have joined”. Still at least H.M forces paid you. Undergrads have to pay to be there. Still with the league table becoming so scientific you should know where you stand when you sign up for your long term debt. However as with all statistics it will pay to establish the detail of the data and the weighting it receives in the final grading not least if there is an interdependent mutual interest in both sides upgrading the truth to keep the value of institution and degree high up the ranking. Who wants to publicise that they got a degree from a low ranking institution?

As far as financial advice goes even the simplest (informatory and of course non advisory) articles come with a barrage of technical terms relating to highly significant ratios of company and market accounts which even graduates from life enhancing Universities may well find complex. One is encouraged to invest by experts in the market and taxation who are confident of at least beating negligible interest rates. Again we should feel there is something to be gained even if we have been warned that the only real certainty is the fees we will pay.

The waitress arrives with the coffee. I tactfully encourage conversation with a view to discovering the origin of her accent. Soon she talks eruditely of the socioeconomics of BREXIT! I feel she should be encouraged to “go to uni” and ask if she has plans. The answer is she already has a masters’ degree in something quite useful. So does she believe in the stock market? Yes she does but is too busy designing and selling items on her market stall to pick out good stocks. By the way her accent is Polish and her more illiberal customers have already asked when she will be leaving this country now that we are leaving Europe. My guesses are wrong today and I now remember that a certain acclaimed academic developed what has become an established principle of quantum mechanics. You can only ever know one of two variables at a time, viz position and momentum. Perhaps this is true of stocks and university courses and my knowledge of accents. I wonder how she selected her university. To paraphrase, perhaps you can’t have your coffee and drink it.

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