Thursday, 29 January 2009

Hello. And goodbye. But not for long!

Greetings, my dear bloggy friends.

It's said that two of the most stressful events in one's life are bereavement and moving house. Well, this month I've had both. Regular readers will note that my father passed away on New Year's Day, but what you will not be aware of is my imminent move from just outside London to East Sussex; to Seaford, in fact, a small town just a few miles east of Brighton, that vibrant jewel of the south coast of England. The process of estate agents, solicitors, and stupid amounts of paperwork and delays has proved to be extremely annoying and aggravating!

All being well, me, my family and our belongings will be transported to our new home on Friday. Sadly, the move will necessitate a temporary loss of the internet, but I assure you that I shall return (I hope!) invigorated by the sea air (less than ten minutes' walk away!) early in February. My life with my current service provider has but twenty four hours to run, so any words of comfort or encouragement within that timeframe would be gratefully and graciously received.

I look forward to our future encounters.

Kind regards,


Monday, 12 January 2009

Let there be light...eventually

You will all know what I'm talking about here, won't you? Perhaps you're wrestling with something technical; say, trying to put together an Ikea wardbrobe by referring to the wordless instruction booklet. Or maybe you're trying to remember who that actor was in Brief Encounter that smacked Myrtle Bagot's bum in the station refreshment room. You can't figure out the former, and you certainly can't recall the latter. Then, all of a! You realise in a flash that you need the smaller allen key to tighten the little metal screw-type thing, and the name you've had on the tip of your tongue is, of course, Stanley Holloway. Congratulations, my bloggy friend; you've just had a light bulb moment.

Depiction of the light bulb moment is very common in advertising these days. There is an ad currently running on UK television where the husband and wife (or they could be unmarried partners or in some other informal relationship - I'm very broad-minded about these things!) have large incandescent bulbs strapped to their crania, which then illuminate, presumably at some point crucial to the purpose of the advertisement. I'm sad to say, dear reader, that the ad had so much impact upon me that I'm damned if I can remember what it's selling. Be that as it may, the lightbulb also appears above the head of cartoon characters when they are struck with some startling thought; quite often the individual will be a scientist (often mad or at least eccentric) or an inventor, perhaps. What it is intended to depict is that Eureka! moment, when an idea evolves or a solution presents itself in a flash.

So, what do we do now that the European Union has decided to withdraw the incandescent bulb in favour of its low-energy successor? The new bulb is 'eco-friendly', in that it reduces carbon emissions (but has a downside in that it contains small amounts of mercury that, in theory, require specialist disposal), and it also lasts for a ridiculously long time. However, what it does not do, when you flick the switch, is bathe your room in instantaneous bright light; no. It's a kind of 'slow burn' light; a bit like a Victorian oil lamp just after you light the wick. It seems to struggle for a bit, giving you the sort of illumination Mr. Dickens probably wrote The Pickwick Papers by. Eventually, it seems to summon up energy enough to light whatever it is you wanted to do, but by then you've finished whatever it was and you turn the thing off again. It this bulb was a person it would probably be David Essex on beta blockers.

So, not for the first time in this blog, I ask...where am I going with this? I'll tell you. Now that the incandescent bulb is on the way out, what will we use in ads and cartoons to denote the instantaneous brainwave? The new generation of bulbs seem to me to be far better suited to philosophers or 'ologists'; those who spend a bit of time pondering the existence of deities or the meaning of life, and to whom ideas come, not in a flash, but rather as a dawning realisation over the course of weeks or even months. In due course of time, the light bulb moment could be used as a derogatory term for a particularly slow-witted individual. Or a philosopher. If the two are different.

So what do we use to replace the current image? I'd like answers on a postcard, please. If you switch that lamp on now you should be able to see enough to write it by Friday.

Friday, 2 January 2009

New Year's Daze

This post is dedicated to my Dad, Roy, who passed away on New Year's Day. He was a true 'Silver Surfer', having developed a keen interest in computers late in life. He enjoyed reading this and other blogs. Dad, this one's for you.

It’s traditional to wish each other a happy new year on the 1st of January. However, this was not always the case. But before we embark upon a whistle stop tour of this curious and interesting topic, can I advise you to lay off the Cherry B and Crème de Menthe for the time being? Even sober, the subject started to give me a head ache, and I determined to keep it simple enough for me to understand. Anyway, here goes…

The ancient Romans celebrated the 1st of January as New Year’s Day, and the day was held as a festival to a greater or lesser extent in the years following the fall of the Empire. However, up to 1752, Christian countries regarded the 25th of March as New Year’s Day, and it was on this day that the year advanced. Thus (for example), the 24th March 1625 was followed by the 25th of March 1626. As you might have guessed, religion had a hand in this rather curious situation. The 25th of March was, by tradition, the date of the annunciation, when the angel is said to have informed Mary of her pregnancy (with Christmas falling exactly nine months later, you will note - would that all babies were that punctual!). Now, the church counted ‘Anno Domini’ (The Year of Our Lord) from the conception of Jesus, not from the date of his birth, and it is for this reason that the 25th of March came to be regarded as the start of the year. The day was colloquially known as Lady Day, and was one of the four quarter days; in other words, a day upon which rents fell due and contracts started or ended. It also marked the start of both the legal and the tax year.

Things poodled along happily for years, but then got a bit complicated in 1751, when England decided to replace the Julian calendar with the Gregorian one. Most other countries had already done this in 1582 (although Russia and Serbia waited until 1918 to adopt the Gregorian system). The reasons advanced for this were that the Julian system was:

…attended with divers inconveniences, not only as it differs from the usage of neighbouring nations, but also from the legal method of computation in Scotland, and from the common usage throughout the whole kingdom, and thereby frequent mistakes are occasioned in the dates of deeds and other writings, and disputes arise therefrom.

Under the Calendar (New Style) Act of 1750, the 1st of January, not the 25th of March, was deemed to be New Year’s Day. The changes were implemented in 1751/2, with the result that 1751 was a short year of only 282 days, running from the 25th of March to the 31st of December, and 1752 began on the 1st of January.

But the changes didn’t end there. Oh no. The old Julian calendar (created by Julius Caesar) had too many ‘leap days’, which meant that, over many years, the calendar was out of kilter with the solar year (the time taken by the earth to complete a single orbit of the sun). This caused problems for the church, because it used the vernal equinox to calculate the date of the moveable feast of Easter. The inaccuracy of the Julian calendar meant that vernal equinox (when day and night are of equal length) could not be guaranteed to fall upon the 21st March. The simple solution the government came up with was to advance the calendar by eleven days. So, if you had been around in 1752, and had gone to bed on the 2nd September, you might have been surprised, on waking the next day, to be told that it was now the 14th of September. It’s alleged that this action caused mass panic amongst the great British public, with demonstrations and the waving of banners declaring ‘Give us back our eleven days!’. There is no real evidence for this, but it's a good story, nevertheless!

So everyone accepted the change from the 25th March to the 1st of January, did they? Not a bit of it. The taxation authorities wanted to keep the March date as the start of the tax year, but were worried that the eleven days removed from the calendar would mean that they were able to collect eleven days’ less tax. So, they simply stuck them back in after the 25th March, so that the tax year for 1752 started instead on the 6th of April. There it remains to this day, a relic of changes to our calendar over two and a half centuries ago, and a reminder that, even then, the Government wasted no opportunity to screw every penny out of the populace.

I think I’ll stop before I get too political! May I wish you all a Happy New Year.