Thursday, 19 October 2017

London Greenwich

It's not the first, and certainly the not last, time I've visited Greenwich but every so often I like to go check it's still all there.  This time I was with my brother and his sons.
20171014 London KJ and Boys 14.16.16
It was a grey day but you always get good views from up by the observatory.

And I have no idea how many times I've had my photo taken with these measures and benchmark.
20171014 London KJ and Boys 14.17.51
It was time to find the meridian (well the OSGB36 variant) and stand a nephew in each hemisphere.
20171014 London KJ and Boys 14.19.23
We then wandered down to the play area, finding a lovely sun dial on the way.  It was quite hard to explain the concept of this to the boys in the absence of a shadow.
20171014 London KJ and Boys 14.29.54
After a charge around the park we visited the National Maritime Museum.  Again, I haven't been here for years and it was just oozing lovely maritime-y goodies including this absolutely monster map.
20171014 London KJ and Boys 15.28.09
I retraced a journey with my feet for the boys that I did earlier this year: Johannesburg, Bloemfontein, Windhoek, Johannesburg and Mbabane and back.  Robin scooted of towards the Middle East...
20171014 London KJ and Boys 15.34.02
I know these aren't terribly popular items but I find them fascinating.  Our history of positioning at sea when all you have is a sky to navigate by.
20171014 London KJ and Boys 15.29.37
And a familiar old face.
20171014 London KJ and Boys 16.16.28

Friday, 13 October 2017

Plymouth Remembrance

I went to Plymouth yesterday to see the 14-18 WOW poppies which are on tour following their Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red exhibition which I saw at the Tower Bridge in 2014.
2017-10-12 11.09.45
I hadn't realised they'd been touring since then, until I heard they were in Plymouth. The Wave structure is amazing.
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It is fittingly draped over the Naval War Memorial.
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2017-10-12 11.09.19 HDR
Once I'd completed the World War remembrance I started my own memories.

Plymouth and I go back a long way.  My first real memory of it was in September 1990 when we moved there just after getting married.  Our first house was in West Hoe, which one can see from the Hoe.
2017-10-12 11.16.14
We only lived there a year but I remember it being wet most of the time - it doesn't really 'rain' in Plymouth, you just get damp by being outside.  I initially worked in Saltash for a survey company so would cycle across into Tamar into Cornwall every day.  Oh, and we got burgled.

Once we moved to Exeter, and I started working at the UKHO, most of my trips to Plymouth were Navy focused.  I must have had over a 100 trips to Plymouth.  I visited the hydro school at HMS Drake numerous times to learn, teach and most recently, be an external examiner.  I've visited the Royal Marines at RM TAMAR and sailed on various Naval vessels in the Sound.  Outside of work I was in the RNR briefly at HMS VIVID and was an external examiner at Plymouth University for 4 years.  I have attended Hydro Society and RICS lectures there and even paddled across the sound with the Exeter Canoe Club.

So, memories galore, I wandered across the Hoe.  I said 'hi' to Drake and his globe.
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Smeaton's Tower. On a clear day you can see the stump where it was sited next to the new Eddystone Lighthouse.
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Indeed, welcome to Plymouth.
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It was a moody day - mainly sunny but occasionally there were raindrops (don't forget, I was in Plymouth).  However I caught a fair weather window and sat outside on the damp benches and did some work.  However, the clouds made for some atmospheric photos.
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I was also able to indulge myself with a hug of the quirkiest trig I know.  Such that you can hug a wall.
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The last time I was in Plymouth I was walking the SWCP.   Another memory.
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I strolled down into the Barbican.
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I love the light in Autumn.  It is a richer colour and the lower sun angle creates a taller Ruth (I need all the help I can get).
2017-10-12 12.17.17
Considering I only lived in Plymouth for a year, the subsequent decades have filled me with hundreds of memories.  Next to my home town, my university city and my current home city, Plymouth is a familiar and comfortable place and yesterday was another delightful memory.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

The Progressive History of the UK Census

As part of my MSc I'm studying social applications of GIS and I read up on the history of the UK census recently.  The Office of National Statistics has a collation of census data taken over the years from its inception in 1801.  It took Britain a while to get into the swing of counting people, some fearing that Biblical plagues would rain on our heads cf King David, or that if our enemies knew how many (or rather few) residents we had they'd invade.  Fortunately, common sense prevailed and the need to know more about the population that they were administrating lead the government to start regular censuses.

Since then censuses (am I the only one that wants to call them 'censii'?)  have occurred every 10 years excepting 1941 when Britain was busy.

The first censuses were quite elementary, compared to the booklet one now has to complete, and undertaken by parish officials or similar due to the lack of literacy from many of the population.  It's interesting to note that in 1821 around half of the population was under the age of 20.  Little by little the census grew: residents became responsible for filling it out themselves although, by 'resident', one meant 'men' or, as the census called them 'Head of the Family'.

One of the key columns in the census during the 19th Century was the requirement to list people's infirmaties.  Initially the option was just 'deaf and/or blind' but over the decades 'imbecle/idiot' or 'lunatic' was added.  Although, as the Registrar noted in 1881

“It is against human nature to expect a mother to admit her young child to be an idiot, however much she may fear this to be true. To acknowledge the fact is to abandon all hope.”

Also in 1881 a woman creatively "gave her title as Maid of Allwork, her occupation as slave and a handicap as scarcity of money."

In 1911 census highlights included the suffragette Emily Wilding Davison hiding in a broom cupboard in the House of Commons, and the census confirmed her residence as such.

One man "...described an occupant of his house as ‘Peter Tabby’ and lists his occupation as ‘mouser’. His nationality is ‘Persian’. The enumerator has crossed out the entry with red ink and noted sternly: ‘This is a cat.’"

Throughout the first half of the 20th Century the census still asked for the Head and details of his wife ("how many times had she been married?" - no idea why that question wasn't relevant for men). No, it doesn't irk me...

In 1971 it appears to be a little more neutral with the questions being pretty generic for both sexes (although still the 'Head' and 'wife').  And, at last!, in 1981, there is no 'Head' just person 1 and person 2 etc.  1991 would have been the first census I completed and, if I'd got there before my husband, I've no doubt I'd have been person 1.  By this stage the census form had grown to 12 pages.

The length dropped to 8 pages for 2001 but was a bumper 24 in 2011.  I wonder what will be in the 2021 one?

Monday, 9 October 2017

Norman Lockyer

On Saturday I visited the Norman Lockyer Observatory out near Sidmouth.  I have known of this place ever since moving to Exeter but never made the effort to get there - until now.  They have fortnightly open evenings and I joined the one called 'The Moon'.
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A lovely sunset from the hill.
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We started with a moon talk, including, during the Q&A session, a teenager posing the statement "I read on the web that the moon landings are fake...."  Oh honestly.  You can find anything you like on the internet nowadays.  [As an aside, the chief geodesist at the Ordnance Survey still has to bat off questions about how he can prove that the earth is not flat.]

We then had a planetarium show.  This is the smallest planetarium I've been to so the show wasn't as whizz, bang and pop as I've experienced before (most notably in Armagh and Cape Town).   The projector was fine however I found that it seemed to illuminate all the stars equally and you couldn't make out the constellations easily despite the narrator waving his red laser pointer at them all in turn.

We then headed out to see Norman's 1881 Kensington telescope with its 9 and 10 inch tubes.  This used to housed at the observatory in South Kensington, however Norman moved his outfit to Sidmouth in 1912 due to excessive light pollution at the London site.  This telescope has to be wound up every 30 minutes or so.
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After this we visited the Lockyer Technology Centre (LTC) which was fun for two reasons: (a) lots and lots of monitors with geeky realtime information on them and (b) it was warm!  Standing peering through a telescope in an unheated dome is never going to be an occupation that will lure me.

The LTC is geared up for meteor detection and monitors space debris and asteroids.  In fact, asteroid TC4 is heading our way later this week, 11/12 October, and passing within the moon's orbit. However it is unlikely to breach our atmosphere swinging past at a safe 50 000 km overhead.

We finished off back in another cold dome with the Lockyer telescope.  This is a smaller older one, built in 1871 and a mere 6¼ inch lens.  It was set focused on the moon which was very full and bright.  A beautiful sight.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Heading East - Mpumalanga and Swaziland

After the fabulous time in Etosha we had work in Windhoek for nearly a week then flew back to Johannesburg on the Friday.  Martin and I had to be in Swaziland for the Monday and, once again, he thought a safari was in order.  We had planned to stay in Kruger itself but the prices were extortionate so we stayed in Graskop, intending to safari on the Sunday.

On Saturday we drove out of the metropolis of Johannesburg onto the N4 and, after a few hours, stopped at the Alzu Petroport.  My third time now so it's starting to feel local.
20170909 Alzu Petroport  13.21.49
Eland drinking.
20170909 Alzu Petroport  12.24.02
And white rhino loafing around.
20170909 Alzu Petroport  12.23.33
Once you leave the N4 the road winds its way up towards Graskop through some stunning valleys on the edge of the Drakensberg escarpment. A long drive but worth it.

We decided that evening that we couldn't fit in a Kruger visit as it would have meant an early start on the Sunday with a large chunk of the day in the car. We had work to do so instead spent the next morning writing up Namibia, enjoyed a pancake lunch (a local speciality apparently) then a took drive around the local area. Our first stop was Bourke's Luck Potholes. Apparently he wasn't a successful gold prospector, but his name has stuck.
20170910 Potholes  14.30.08
20170910 Potholes  14.33.27
Amazing geology.
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20170910 Potholes  14.50.33
We then drove to God's Window to see the panoramic view.
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20170910 Umbangaland   15.20.05
And, finally, we swung by Pilgrim's Rest. This was once the centre of the gold mining business.
20170910 Pilgrims Rest   16.25.20
Martin remembers this from a decade or two ago when it was a thriving tourist town but it has been sadly mismanaged. The souvenir shops are closing, the buildings unmaintained and the tourists, needed to keep the economy pumping, absent.
20170910 Pilgrims Rest   16.19.21
Anyway, a quick drive around and then back accompanied by yet another wonderful African sunset.
20170910 Pilgrims Rest   16.35.37
On Monday we drove down to Swaziland to meet the other RGC'ers at Mananga Lodge in the north east of the country. Oooh, these sunsets are so awesome!
20170911 Managa Sunset  16.39.31
On Tuesday we set to work.
20170912 Managa work 1
Bandile has such a cool shirt :-)
20170912 RGC Bandile
We had lots to discuss and spent the next two days debating current and future business plans. We sat outside all Tuesday and on Wednesday were just settling down when Sipho leapt up off his chair. And I'm not surprised. A snake was slithering out of the arm of it. Bearing in mind Sipho was bitten by a snake earlier this year, and nearly lost his foot due to the infection, he had every right to jump.
20170913 Managa snake    09.49.42
We watched it slide out and off up into the next chair. We elected to sit inside thenceforth...

In the evenings we would braai.
20170914 Camp fire
And sometimes, to break up the work, we'd shop. It's certainly cabbage season in Swaziland.
20170914 Cabbage
During my stay at Mananga I read a tourist brochure and realised that I had hardly explored this country.  I was on my third visit and yet each time we'd pretty much driven in, worked, and then driven out.  I noted that there was a nature area northwest of us which we could drive through on our way back to Johannesburg.  Fortunately, we weren't in a rush so this was do-able and, also fortunately, Martin's car is a 4x4.  That came in handy later.

So we set off towards Piggs Peak in the Hhohho district of Swaziland.  Nice and steady to start with.
20170915 Driving over Piggs Peak  09.45.22
Then the dirt section started.
20170915 Driving over Piggs Peak  10.25.20
And the views got more amazing.
20170915 Driving over Piggs Peak  10.10.03
We had a short stretch of tarmac at one juncture, which literally stopped with ~5 cm drop just outside Piggs Peak town.
20170915 Driving over Piggs Peak  11.02.03
And then we were back onto the dirt road.  You can imagine how tricky this is to navigate in the wet.
20170915 Driving over Piggs Peak  11.07.27
This is the main road to the border post of Bulembu/Josefdal but there is an impasse on who should pay for its upgrade.  The road has been partly destroyed by numerous mining HGVs using it - however the owner of the company unsurprisingly isn't interested in paying for the road to be resurfaced and the government is refusing to 100% fund it.  
20170915 Driving over Piggs Peak  11.11.51
So glad we took this circuitous route. Such scenic views.
20170915 Driving over Piggs Peak  11.16.58
We stopped for lunch at Bulembu Lodge. Bulembu has a fascinating history shaped by mining, bankruptcy, environmental contamination and Christian orphanages. The wiki link I've provided only tells half the story...
20170915 Driving over Piggs Peak  11.43.39
20170915 Bulembu Lodge 16.56.28
This was a wonderful pit stop. The sort of place you initially would be a dream to live in, until you realise how isolated you'd really be.
20170915 Bulembu Lodge 16.56.33
The border. Small and sweet. Didn't take us a minute to get through.
20170915 Swazi border
20170915 Swazi flag
The views, the views!
20170915 Piggs Peak  12.47.21
And then it was a long drive back on the N4 into Johannesburg. My last African sunset for some time to come.
20170915 M4 sunset 2
20170915 M4 sunset  17.01.21