Tag Archives: history

New Fangled Gadgets

Why, back in my day …

The height of sophistication!

Trimphone! The height of sophistication!

… we didn’t have mobile telephones. We had one “land line”. In the hall. (Actually, due to Dad being paid “in-kind” rather than in cash for one job he did, we were one of the few families who had multiple phones in the house, but I digress). It had no “speed-dial”, or saved numbers. Just a ring of digits that you could dial individually to make up the required Number. If someone else was using it, you had to wait. If you were using it, you had to endure a parent glancing at their watch, and tutting (especially if it was before the 6pm cheap-rate!). The lack of privacy became noticeable as teenage years arrived. I recall changing my pound notes(!) into 10p coins and going to a local “phone box” in the village, rather than have my family overhear conversations with my friends. Ah, good times …

Or was it? It may sound like the moanings of a pre-Millennial, but we did get by without them. Mostly. Sure, I missed a few good parties because people couldn’t contact me. I failed to talk to a local girl I fancied because both of us were being eaves-dropped on by parents. I annoyed some friends because I missed the bus, and they had to wait around, not knowing whether I was on my way or not. But we got by. Mostly.

These days …

iPhone - new-fangled gizmo

Dang new-fangled gizmo

… I see too many of my generation (and previous generations) bemoaning the very existence of Global Communication Technology. They take that last paragraph I wrote, and turn it into a crusade. “Kids these days are not social” … “they don’t play outside” … “they have no real friends” … “We got by without mobile phones!”

Who do they think kids are talking to on their phones? I understand the dangers of ‘strangers on the internet’ (better than most, my alter-ego being PC Wizard), but mostly, they seem to be communicating with their school-mates. Arranging when to meet down at the local park. Checking who is going to the football match at the weekend. Apologising for being late, and finding out where people will be. Checking that their mate who hasn’t arrived is OK. Swapping gossip, and giving out #spoilers for the latest TV shows (“Netflix”, I think they watch, these days).

Yesterday:

I went to my niece’s first birthday party. It was a wonderful affair, with family and friends gathered to wish my niece and her parents the best for the future.

I got my invite via Facebook, and texted Lucretia to arrange our attendance. I checked the location, and driving directions, from my mobile phone. We kept in touch with everyone, complicated by Lucretia’s recent illness*, via TXT, Facebook, voicemail, and email.

Would I have attended without mobile phones? Probably, but it would not have been so easy.

The Future:

Mobile technology is not going away. People who are new to it will get used to it. The newer generations will have grown up with it, and wonder how we got by without, in the same way that we wonder how the world worked without radio, motorised transport and frozen food.

It seems odd to think that the iPhone is only 10 years old. We have come so far, to be able to carry a mobile computer, capable of linking to the Global Superhighway, and processing data faster than our forefathers thought was possible. The main question it leaves me with is: What next for mobile technology?

3d Printing is becoming more common, but feed-stock currently precludes it from being truly portable. Bio-monitoring (heart-rate, pulse, sugar levels etc) is advancing. Augmented Reality may attempt to surface again, although Google Glass failed to take off, and Pokemon Go is ‘only’ a game. The veil between the “real world” and “cyberspace” is breaking down, and who knows where that will take us!

We should not mourn the loss of the past, but rather celebrate the onrushing Future, and grasp it with both hands, lest it slip past us!

*Another example of how Modern Technology helped us to communicate! Her days at the hospital were greatly eased by being in constant (txt/Facebook) communication with her nearest and dearest, even though they could not be physically at her side.

Write On, Comrade!

Poetry Can F*ck Off!
An evening of Words, at Leicester’s Upstairs at The Western theatre.

“Poetry can seriously f*ck off authority figures. It gets under the skin of those whose brains have been made rigid by power.”

I’ve been hoping to find something tempting at the Western since it opened, being one of the few pub-based theatres in the country, but this is the first show that really grabbed my attention. I wasn’t sure quite what to expect. The posters featured little more than the NSFW title, and a quick search revealed the show to be about Rebellion, Subversion and Defiance.

Jonny Fluffypunk, designated poet of the Bristol squat scene

Jonny Fluffypunk, designated poet of the Bristol squat scene

As we were seated in the warm, cramped space (every ticket sold!), a gent sporting a fine beard and steel guitar (Mike Dr Blue), alongside a man with a keyboard on shoulder-strap (this would be Roy Hutchins, narrator), tinkled out some tunes. This was to form the background (and sometime foreground) music for the show.

Once the show started in earnest, we were thrown in at the deep end, as Mr Hutchins launched into a tirade of how poetry has changed the world, forming rebellions, toppling dictators and freeing the oppressed. The three other figures on stage were Jonny Fluffypunk, Sameena Zehra (a veteran of the Delhi AIDS awareness campaigns) and Selina Nwulu (daughter of Nigerian refugees who fled their civil war). They counterpointed Hutchins’ speech with numerous diverse quotes, including Maya Angelou, Martin Luther King, William Blake and Gill Scott Heron, to name but a few, echoing them in triplicate, giving weight to the words.

Shelly’s Masque of Anarchy, as recited by Ghandi while he stood peacefully against the the British troops, rang out through the small space to remind us of what all dictators and oppressors fear: our numbers!

“Rise, like lions after slumber
In un-vanquishable number!
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you:
Ye are many—they are few!
Ye are many—they are few!
YA ARE MANY! – THEY ARE FEW!

It ran on in this vein, building a picture of the power of poetry, and how it has been used since time immemorial to embrace the suffering of the dispossessed, clarifying their feelings, expressing them eloquently, and as a clarion-call to action.

Another world is not only possible, She is on her way. On a quiet day,I can hear her breathing. Arundhati Roy

The interval came as no small relief! The heady atmosphere of rebellion was building up, and my chest was tight with emotions. The plight of those who had gone before us had been highlighted; the suffering and subjugation dating back even to Sumerian times. But also, as Jonny’s voice echoed the inscription on Ozymandias‘s statue, that no power can last. Even the King of Kings can be brought low.

We filed back in after the intermission, wary, yet hopeful, of what was to follow.

We were not to be disappointed! With the lights still low, a  local choir stood and performed a very heartfelt “Bread and Roses”. The cool evening breeze, so recently to refresh us, suddenly seemed so far away, as we were transported back to the Massachusetts textile strike, 1912, and the lines of women marching (to avoid a recent No Loitering law!) by the factory gates, demanding not only decent wages (bread), but respect, and dignified conditions (roses).

And more was to come!

The first time I heard it, I didn’t really get “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”. How could I? A naive young white boy full of hope and ambition, stretching out on my own, but with a secure safety net in place. Now, many years later, to  hear it recited by The Poetry Army, I felt I finally understood something about what it was about.

I still don’t ‘get’ “Still I Rise”, but I can see some of what it means, and to hear it in choral form set my  heart racing.

From the Peasant’s Revolt (1381), through to Occupy Wall Street (ongoing), featuring Women’s Liberation, American slavery (Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” was particularly harrowing), Vietnam (we had a good sing-a-long to Country Joe McDonald), General Pinochet’s brutal regime, and many more, we were taken through a history of Words overcoming Oppressors.

So if you, like Roddy Doyle, think that “Poetry was School. All poetry could fuck off”, why not take a moment to think on where poetry was not School, and firmly refused to fuck off, even the the face of the worst violence and oppression. Poetry that changed the world. Undermined dictators, unified protesters and brought the spotlight of the world onto injustices.

“Poetry can seriously f*ck off authority figures. It gets under the skin of those whose brains have been made rigid by power.”

Poetry Can Fuck Off!

Geocaching. How to Spot Art Without Really Trying (WARNING: Spoilers)

So, Lucretia talked me into joining her to find a local GeoCache. For those, like me, who have not encountered GeoCaching, it is like a Treasure Trail, following clues to find the Prize. Except there is no real prize, apart from knowing you succeeded. Now this may not sound too much fun, but the trails are often interesting, it gets you out in the fresh air, and the puzzles can be tricky.

The chosen trail is a Pictorial one, meaning we are given some images as clues, and must work out the GPS Co-ordinates from a set of puzzles. To help us along, we have a rough route-map, showing the direction we should be looking for each clue.

WARNING: The rest of this post contains SPOILERS about the route, clues, cache positions and all such sensitive data.

Read on at your own peril!

We start the day at the Town Hall Square, and must work out “How many wings?”.

The Fountain at Town hall Square

The Fountain at Town Hall Square

As you can see, the lions on the fountain are Winged! What is less obvious from this picture is that there are four of them. My high-school maths kicks in to multiply 4 lions by two wings each: EIGHT! We have solved the first clue!

My alter-ego P.C. Wizard has made sure I brought an electronic note-pad to record everything (Technical data: Samsung Galaxy J5 running Evernote app), along with my camera to record the significant details (and any #Art we may spot along the route!)

The route now takes us out onto Granby Street, to find an avian-named cafe. It’s name has been obscured in the picture, but I recognise it instantly: The Turkey Cafe!

The Turkey Cafe

The Turkey Cafe

Obscured ornamentation

Clue B – How many letters in this bird’s name?

This clue is the number of letters. We can count to 6 easily enough, and so it is recorded, and we continue.

Now, I’m hoping you’ve got the idea by this stage. We walk around town, matching provided pictures to the local landscape, and recording the numbers for a later puzzle. So I won’t be fully describing the whole route, and each clue step-by-step.

One thing that this route really points out is the Leicester architecture. While it may seem that the town centre is just your average array of chain-stores, coffee shops (more on these later!) and charity shops, if you take the time to look above the shop-fronts, there is an amazing (as Lucretia describes it) vista of ornamentation, carvings, and designs.

For example, the local branch of Foot Locker is based in what was originally the Thomas Cook building. The ground floor shows little evidence of this, but just tilt your head up a little …

Foot Locker store-front

Foot Locker store-front

The Thomas Cook Building

The Thomas Cook Building

(The clue here was to to find a year from one of the murals. It took us a little while, but we did match the provided picture-clue to the correct train! Another number recorded, and we move on …)

Some of you may have heard about a little sports team called The Foxes, who did rather well in the football this year. (If you’re in Leicester, you’ll have heard of nothing else!). But this is not the first time we have had Sporting success! Back in 1996/7, we had victories in the Football (Coca-Cola Cup), Cricket (Britannic Assurance County Championship) and Rugby (Pilkington Cup)! As is our wont, a statue was commissioned, and placed in pride of place near the Clock Tower:

Lucretia with some sports

Lucretia, and some Sports.

There was a clue re: number of balls on the statue. While I would have made a dirty joke, with all of the featured players being male, I restrained myself, so as not to mar Lucretia’s moment of joy with her local heroes. One football, one rugby ball. Two. Answer recorded. Joke avoided. Next please!

One building that particularly caught our eye was The Singer Building, built circa 1902. Unfortunately, a large tree made photographing it difficult, but I did my best!

The Singer Building

The Singer Building

Not only does it show off the contrast of new shops vs old architecture, but it is a rare example of Edwardian lavish commercial property. The featured murals show British flags topped by depictions of Empire (A camel for Egypt, an elephant for Burmah, a Canadian Mountain Lion, etc). Mainly occupied, as the name might suggest, by the Singer Sewing Machine Company, until 1965, it is well worth seeking out. (Six flags! Another clue recorded!)

At the end of High Street is Jubilee Square, one of Sir Peter Soulsby’s Follies. Commissioned to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s 60th anniversary on the throne, and opened three years later, it is mainly an open patch of grass, crossed by concrete pathways. (At this point we were accosted by a couple of friends, wondering why we were taking pictures of Ascot House, now a bookmakers. “Art”, we told them! They seemed placated by this, and went about their business).

But take a U-turn here, and head back along Guildhall Lane, and you will find The Guildhall! (Shock! An unexpected turn of events!). Now here is proper History!

The Guildhall

The Guildhall

The exact date it was built is not known (luckily the clue just wanted the Century!), but it has been a landmark for hundreds of years. This is a particularly amazing part of the town, next to the Cathedral, and marking the Western Entrance to The Lanes. (I was a little disappointed that the GeoCachers missed an opportunity to include mention of the Great Leicester Hoax here, but I can’t have everything).

Passing onto Grey Friars, we recorded clues re: King Dick 3 and the Council Buildings. And then another statue!

The Leicester Seamstress

The Leicester Seamstress – James Butler 1990

Representing the importance of hosiery in Leicester’s history, the Seamstress has sat outside the City Rooms for over 25 years, still darning that same sock!

And on to Market Street. Not actually where Leicester’s famous outdoor market lies, but part of the Victorian shopping area, now covered by a Conservation Area. Again, the ground level is a mish-mash of modernity: Greggs, StanJames, Cafe Nerd, Subways, and many more recognisable names. But above, a mish-mash of older, less known names!

Market Street

Market Street

(1876! Solved another clue!)

The Toni And Guy salon not only has one of the Fox Trail markers (A Clue!) but also a wildlife mural across its frontage, celebrating Leicester’s rural life.

Toni and Guy

Toni and Guy – with wildlife!

And that Fox Trail marker is the last clue! We now have all the information we need to solve the puzzle, and find the location of the Cache! We retire to Cafe Nerd, order lunch and rest our weary legs.

Lucretia decides upon a low-tech approach to solving our Puzzle (Nothing to do with her fruit-based device having run out of juice!), and we start scratching out numbers on my old notebook. The Puzzle requires a little maths, but the most complicated is: “f = (R – O) / (L x G)”. No real challenge for a mathematical genius .. and even we manage to solve it before too long!

The Puzzle takes the numbers we have found along the route, and calculates new numbers, which represent GPS co-ordinates of the Cache. We punch this into Lucretia’s GPS unit, and set off … but wait … that is pointing to somewhere 5 miles away! There must be a mistake! What is that “2” is supposed to be a “3”? Yeah, that would put us closer – near the Court Rooms! Without stopping to think why we have the number wrong, we set off!

Long story short, we go to the wrong place, and waste half an hour looking for something that is not there!

We decide to check the numbers. If that is a “3”, then this must be wrong … and that also affects that … the mistake is identified – we have taken the year, not the day! Aha! Luckily, we have not strayed too far, and set off confidently!

SPOILER ALERT AGAIN!

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If you don’t want to know the location of the final Cache, then why have you continued reading so far along, when I told you there were spoilers?

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Final Spoiler Alert!

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OK, now we’ve got rid of them, I can reveal where we ended up!

The correct co-ordinates take us along The New Walk, and the Final Clue leads us to a particular sign:

The Clicker sign

“You’ll see a sign that you are at Ground Zero, then everything should click into place.”

Searching around, we find the tiny container holding a list of people who have previously found it, and we add our moniker to it!

Success!

Success!

The Clicker sculpture is a homage to the shoe-workers of Leicester, made from the shapes of shoe-leathers, and named for the noises of the knives as they hit the cutting-boards! A fitting end to our journey, as we have travelled far, and surely must have worn out our soles (although our souls are in high spirits!).

If you have enjoyed reading about our GeoCaching adventure, you can find out how to do your own at https://www.geocaching.com/

Or maybe you have been inspired to take a new look at your own home town, and see the things that you normally overlook.

Either way, I would advise you to get out in the open air, take notice of the spaces around you, and find some ART!

The Cank: 12th Century Water Cooler?

Cank Street, Leicester, is a well-known thoroughfare near the Market, but do you know the origin of the name “Cank”?

Plaque on Cank Street

Plaque explaining the origins of “The Cank”

According to a brass plaque near St Martin’s, the name refers to “The Cank”, a well first recorder in 1313 AD, and is thought to be a dialect word meaning “gossip”.

A small plaque is set into the road marking the original site of the well, now long gone. Such a tiny marker is easily lost amongst the manhole covers, hydrants and drains, but a careful search of the area will find it.

Cank Well

Plaque marking the site of The Cank

It seems a shame that The Cank is not better known, and despite St Martin’s being a popular area, most people will walk past the plaque, or even sit in the seating that it is mounted on the back of, without even noticing it.

From outside the Olde Sweet Shoppe, you can view both plaques, if you know where to look.

two brass plaques

View of the two brass plaques

So next time you are out and about in Leicester, why not take time to walk along Cank Street (I suggest starting from the Clock Tower so that you can enjoy the newly re-opened Silver Arcade), and see if you can spot the site of The Cank? If you do, you can reward yourself with a relaxing drink at the nearby St Martin’s Coffee Emporium!

Cank Well Plaque

Close up view of Cank Well Plaque